Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are We Truly “Doomed?” John Derbyshire Says “Yes.”

Last week, I finished reading John Derbyshire’s new book, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. As most of you know, Mr. Derbsyhire is a regular columnist for National Review who isn’t afraid of speaking candidly about controversial topics.

What’s his book about? As he explains on the opening page…

This book is addressed to American conservatives. It’s argument is that things are bad and getting worse for our movement, for our nation, and for our civilization. A large part of the reason they have gotten so bad is that too many of us have fallen into too foolishly utopian ways of thinking.

I agree with all that. As I wrote in my Sep. 22 essay, “Will Western Civilization End in Your Lifetime? Yes, Probably”…

If I was a betting man, I would bet on the collapse of the West in my lifetime. But it’s far from guaranteed. And it will almost certainly be a gradual process – with some brief recoveries in between.

Why the pessimism?

First let me set the context: The mystery isn't why the West will collapse ("all good things must come an end"). No, the mystery is how the West was able to last as long as it did!

Think about it: For thousands of years of human history, life all across the world life was - to quote Hobbes - "nasty, brutish, and short." Then, in one small region of the world in one brief window of time, a civilization emerged in which people (on average) lived for 75+ years in excellent health, enjoyed an economic quality of life unimaginable to their ancestors, experienced freedom from tyranny and violence, and entertained nearly limitless opportunities for creativity and self-expression.

This civilization (first blossoming in the US, Great Britain, France, and Holland in the 18th century, spreading to most of Western Europe by the late 19th century, and spreading even into remote corners like Latin America by late 20th century) was no accident. And it was not inevitable. It was a coming together of a religion and a philosophy.

As I wrote in January...

I've never felt comfortable when politicians describe America as a "Judeo-Christian country" or reaffirm the need to preserve our "Judeo-Christian values"...It defines our country, our values, and our heritage through religion alone.

About a year ago, I coined the term "Christian-Enlightenment" because it combines the religion of the West (Christianity) with the ground-breaking Enlightenment ideas (freedom, reason, the Scientific Method, etc.) that enabled the West to dominate the world.

Ethiopia is a "Judeo-Christian" country, but it's one of the worst countries on Earth because it doesn't have the Enlightenment heritage of Europe and the United States.

The West is a product of the "Christian-Enlightenment." The "Christian Enlightenment" unlocked the "genius of man" - the genius of the rational man - unencumbered by religious superstition or political oppression. But how many people in the West realize that? Not many. And therein lies our problem. How can we preserve Western civilization when so few of us understand it?

Thankfully, the Founding Fathers understood it. They were the product of "The Age of Reason." They created the institutions and customs to preserve it. And when the European intellectuals started abandoning Reason in the mid-19th Century (and totally gave up on it by the end of World War One), only the U.S. was able to stop the descent into the abyss.

Why? Because of the Founders. They created the framework for the U.S. to become an economic superpower - and that economic power - in time - became military power - unprecedented military power.

However, that “Christian-Enlightenment” framework is eroding. Why? Because the ideas that motivated the Founding Fathers (upholding reason while balancing faith) are no longer in vogue among the Elites. The conservative elites are beholden to Christian fundamentalists who genuinely fear Reason because it contradicts Scripture. Meanwhile, the Liberal elites are “Reductionist.” What is Reductionism?

As I explained in an earlier essay, Is “Atheist Conservative" an Oxymoron?…

Reductionism is the idea that we're all mindless meat puppets manipulated by our selfish genes to survive and reproduce. Even human reason (which was championed by Ayn Rand) is impotent in the reductionist/atheist worldview. As David Brooks says, "Reason is just the press secretary of the emotions..."

A free republic has to believe that its citizens have the capacity for reason and morality (two things denied by the atheist/reductionist crowd). Otherwise, it is intellectually defenseless against Washington elites who want to lead their brethren around by the nose.

In conclusion, for me, it's not the principle of atheism ("no God") that is incompatible with Western civilization; it is the modern practice of atheism ("reductionism") which denies not only God's existence, but the existence of a truly rational, moral human being.

Mr. Derbyshire is one of the few conservative leaders who is also a Reductionist. Indeed, he’s taken it upon himself to become a leader in the fight against Intellectual Design (and a disingenuous leader at that. I criticized him here).

Regardless, Mr. Derbyshire – to his credit – validates my point (a point made by many others, such as Larry Auster, Tom Wolfe, etc.) which is that civilization can not survive such a debased view of itself.

As I wrote in my essay, Ideas Have Consequences

If the day should come when a critical mass of Americans believe… 1) We are nothing more than hairless apes, and 2) Free will is an illusion...Then it’s hard to see how freedom can survive more than another 1-2 generations...unless, of course, there's some sort of intellectual renaissance.

Ironically, Mr. Derbyshire seems to agree. This gives him more intellectual credibility than other conservative Reductionists, such as Charles Murray, who honestly think that conservatism and Reductionism can get along quite swimmingly.

As I wrote in my critique of Mr. Murray’s speech, The Happiness of the People

Mr. Murray correctly diagnoses the "bag of chemicals" philosophy as the source of the "Europe Syndrome," but he doesn't recognize that the syndrome can't be defeated by only treating the symptoms (in this case, rolling back the welfare state). The syndrome itself (reductionism) must be treated, as well. In some of the best unintentional comedy ever found in a political speech, Mr. Murray thinks reductionist science will help advance the conservative movement and facilitate the "happiness of the people!" Ha!

I give Mr. Derbyshire credit for being honest enough to see the negative consequences of his own ideas. So why does he propagate those ideas? Well, because he thinks they’re “The Truth.” Of course, I don't think they're "The Truth" at all. I think they're a bunch of B.S.

As I wrote in my essay, Materialism is Dead: Now What?

In the last few decades, there has been a quiet revolution in the scientific community – especially in the areas of physics and biology – whereby a growing body of evidence leads to an inevitable and surprising conclusion: it is “rational” to believe in God, and even better, a personal God who has a loving interest in our lives.

Despite the hopes of millions of atheists who hoped that science would eventually destroy God, today there is more “reason” to believe in God than at any time in history.

This isn’t the time and place to go over those arguments (they’re peppered throughout my blog). Rather, I just find it curious that Mr. Derbyshire has chosen to remain in his Reductionist prison rather than reevaluate whether or not Reductionism is true (and thus, helping to rescue the civilization he loves so much).

Overall, though, I do highly recommend the book. While I don’t share Mr. Derbyshire's views on Reductionism, we still have a lot in common when it comes to other issues (the size of government, immigration, foreign policy, etc). Also, no one doubts that he’s a talented writer. Indeed, I’ve read nearly everything he’s ever written. Seriously. Lastly, he seems to be a man who enjoys good-faith, spirited dialogue (for the most part), rather than recoil from it. That’s why I recommend the book and I hope it receives a large audience.


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