Untimely Observations

Hipster Liberalism: Evolved or Designed?

Paul Gottfried's comments on my post on shrinks and hipsters raise several interesting points: is the social outlook found among the modish half-educated young an organic development or an intentional construction? Can we can do something about it and the broader stream of advanced liberalism of which it is part? And if something can be done, what's the key?

On the first point, there's no doubt a bit of a mixture but organic development seems more basic. Today's education is propagandistic but a system of propaganda can grow up organically. There's nothing radically autonomous about liberal theorists and propagandists. They function as part of a system that's evolved historically.

Paul's books have shown that major political traditions--liberalism, leftism, Christian activism--have all sunk into the same politically-correct mush. I've followed up with a book of my own claiming that the degeneration is a result of current understandings of knowledge and reality. If all that's even partly true, how can our situation at bottom be something that's constructed?

In any event, an emphasis on organic development helps avoid conspiracy theories and false optimism. If our present situation were simply a construction it could be dealt with by finding the bad guys who are doing the constructing and getting rid of them. That would be good if true, but our problems are too basic for that.

"Organic development" is another way of saying that a lot of things have grown up that are working together to promote advanced liberalism. That seems to be the case. It's conceivable that the bad guys continually win overwhelmingly because they're demonically powerful and clever, but more likely it's because the wind is blowing their way.

The point of my initial posting was that one notable version of advanced liberalism expresses a psychological type that is produced by the conditions of life today, in particular by the expectations and presuppositions that surround young people as they grow up.

To mention such influences isn't to claim they're the whole story. The (at least short-term) stability of the present situation shows that the hipster psychological type and its conditions and consequences are part of a package in which one part supports the others.

That package includes the people and institutions present-day trends make socially dominant. Those people and institutions naturally favor the trends and understandings that secure their position.

Hence the system of indoctrination that passes for education today. If liberalism makes you law school dean, you'll use your deanship to promote liberalism. And if hipsterdom destroys human ties and makes tradition inconceivable, the managerial state will be perfectly happy to promote hipsterdom.

Indoctrination is certainly part of how things work now, but it wouldn't turn people into self-satisfied true believers unless they were more than ready to accept the message offered. Nor would it be so consistent and pervasive if it didn't express a self-sustaining system of concepts, attitudes, and understandings that makes the message seem self-evidently correct.

On the question of what to do, it's worth noting that the "organic development" guy in the discussion (me) is more inclined to say something can be done than the "intentional construction" one. Even so, I wouldn't carry the point too far. No law, policy initiative, or corps of administrators is going to get us out of the hole we're in. We need a basic shift in outlook and how people carry on their lives.

Something so basic and comprehensive would amount to a religious conversion. If that's so, then "nothing can be done" does sound like a sensible comment. You can't just will a mass religious conversion, especially on the grounds it'll have political benefits.

On the other hand, it seems right to look for what's possible. Basic transformations do come about, and people can do things that further or retard them. So why not try to understand what's going on, what's needed for something better, and what we can to promote it? If political difficulties lead us to notice that some things are more basic than politics, then that's a good thing too and it can tell us something about what we should attend to.

What sort of transformation is needed is a big topic. Here are a few points that seem worth mentioning:

  • Ideas have consequences, and the nature of man, the good, the world, moral obligation, and so on affects the public order. For that reason Christianity is prepolitical rather than apolitical as some of the comments suggest.
  • In a totalitarian age even nonpolitical religion is political, because it challenges official doctrine by denying the ultimate significance and authority of the regime. That's why commies past and present have wanted to squash Christianity.
  • That's also why the purely political is no longer politically serious. We can't challenge the status quo unless we emphasize what precedes politics.
  • When you've got big problems that aren't going away, basic principles are more important than current manifestations. The Catholic Church formed the West, and I think it remains essential to the West, but like much else it hasn't been in great shape lately. A basic question is whether that's a matter of fundamental principle or of stupidities and corruptions that won't necessarily last--in other words, whether the essential points are still there that would enable a return to type.
  • Another question, assuming (as some suggest) that today's basic understandings and institutional arrangements make radical secularity inevitable, is whether those things can sustain themselves or whether we're living on borrowed time and a basically different understanding of man and the world will be needed for social order to remain functional. If the latter is true (which is my view), then the serious political question is what that understanding will be.