Futurism and Shoepiles

Too often we Catholics have been criticized, nay, have been savaged, for being mere medievalists, disloyal to the modernism; the Christianity we confess has been dismissed as an anachronism promoting a moral code past its sell-by date.

I confess I am always amused when those who denounce eternal truths as old-fashioned seem not to realize this denunciation was fashionable in the days when Marx and Hegel, bastardizing Darwin, took pen to paper. The idea that truth is relative to its time period belongs to the optimistic Victorian Age. It is an idea long past its sell-by date.

The argument about anachronism is itself anachronistic: the last gasp of grayhaired and dying conformity in no sense fitted for life in the future. It is not an accusation one needs soberly to answer, since it is not a sober accusation.

But I was reminded of this recently. Crisis Magazine has an essay written by Jason Jones that you would do well to read. It is from last month, the dread date of January 22. (Hat tip to Frank Weathers at Why I am Catholic). Allow me to recite some telling paragraphs:

For most of you this weekend contains a date you’ll never forget, along the lines of September 11, or December 7 — anniversaries of profound wounds to our country as a whole, even if we didn’t lose a relative in those surprise attacks or the wars that ensued. For millions of Americans, however, January 22 portends a loss that is much more rawly personal. One woman in three who came of age after Roe v. Wade has exercised the “right” the judges discovered in 1973 to terminate a pregnancy; millions of men took part in those decisions; too often forgotten are men who (like me at 17) were bereaved of our unborn children against our wishes. All those Americans lost a family member in the events of January 22, and so this day will never slip by unnoticed, much as most of us wish it would. We’d rather not “go there,” not dredge up the guilt of many flavors—participant’s, bystander’s, survivor’s. It all feels much the same. If I can speak for the many, let me tell you we’d rather think about almost anything else, be it baseball, stock prices, or shoes.

So let’s talk about shoes.

One of the authors to whom I owe the most intellectually is the political philosopher Hadley Arkes, of Amherst College. Arkes is the world’s leading advocate of a deeply unfashionable theory called Natural Law. You never hear about that notion any more, but it played a major role in certain historic events: the American Declaration of Independence, the Abolitionist movement, the U.N.’s post-war assertion of human rights that transcend the laws of nations, and the U.S. Civil Rights movement. It’s almost stunning to think that an idea with such a pedigree could simply be dropped by the world’s intellectuals, like a toy that a child grew bored with, but that is what has happened. People will still assert human rights, or insist that our government act with justice, plucking fruit from the branches of a tree they pretend isn’t there. (I won’t speculate for the moment why they do this. Just take it from me that “Natural Law” is a term you shouldn’t use in academia, law, or politics. It will brand you as an extremist.) Anyway, in one of my favorite books by my favorite thinker, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, Arkes starts by talking not about abstract right and wrong but a particular pile of shoes. That has a better philosophical precedent than you might think: One of Heidegger’s most famous essays concerns the making of shoes.

But Arkes isn’t interested in what Germans have thought about crafting shoes, as in the careful way they protected them, kept shoes safe from heedless destruction in time of war, gathered them carefully and avoided wherever they could the needless waste of a single shoe—almost as if each pair had a unique and irreplaceable destiny, a dignity no man could rightly ignore.

The Pile of Shoes at Dachau

You have probably guessed by now where the shoes that interest Arkes were found: piled neatly, outside the gas chamber at an extermination camp. Those shoes, and other personal items like gold teeth, were extracted from the items of human waste those plants efficiently processed into smoke. They remain with us as a testimony to modern economy and thrift. Really, I can think of no other single thing (not a skyscraper or a space ship) that sums up the essence of what it means to be modern as that pile of Jewish shoes.

The age we mark as modernity began with grand, exhilarating gestures: discourses on method that would set us free from the dead hand of tradition (Descartes); declarations of the rights of man (the French Revolutionary Assembly); manifestos rejecting the tyranny of mere economic laws over the lives and labor of men (Karl Marx). The grand progression of the movement Henri de Lubac dubbed “heroic humanism” was full of such golden moments, which moved through the dark night of history like torches leading us forward, ever forward, to a glittering future that would make life at long last worthy of man. At the end of all the struggles, after the next (surely final!) conflict, or the next, we were promised without any irony a brave new world, an earthly paradise. Descartes had no doubt that science would end disease and aging, so men could live forever. Robespierre offered public safety and a reign of absolute virtue. Marx fought to eliminate war, inequality, and even boring jobs: in the stateless, classless Communist endpoint of history, no one would even have to specialize in anything. We could move from one career to another from day to day, and have ample time in the evening to philosophize or write poetry. As Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

And we did. That’s what we spent the 19th and 20th centuries doing, energetically. We broke up historic empires into nation-states, where men forgot their loyalty to tiny village or global Church, and learned to think as members of ethnic tribes or aggrieved social classes. After these collectives had done their work, and proved themselves too dangerous (in 1945, and 1989, respectively) we set about smashing them, too. We broke down the ramshackle, inefficient structure of the old extended family to its minimal, nuclear core—and then when that didn’t prove as economically useful, we split that into atoms. When we learned that families have no economic use or political import, we redefined them at last as consensual, temporary alliances of adults—to whom the State contracts the duty of caring for children overnight, in the hours when schools and daycare facilities aren’t open. We have very thoroughly accomplished the job modernity’s founders set us: liquidating every barrier to the assertion of the Self, short of the laws of physics. We have killed all the fathers. We are free to make of ourselves exactly what we will, no less and no more. And here we sit with the treasure we’ve won: this pile of shoes.

Go and read the rest.

My comment:

Like most Catholics at some point in their lives, I found myself upbraided for my disloyalty to the modern age and to the grand march from apehood to supermanhood the modern age has so brashly promised.

I was told that the work of creating the superman was important, and that it was sad that a man of my intelligence would not join the glorious triumphal procession away from the musty superstitions of the past into the iron immensity of Tomorrow, lit by cold and metallic greenish light, roaring with the turning of wheels, ebullient with the shouts of multitudes speaking in unison, and no silence any where, and no music.

The criticism was of course meaningless pro foma, uttered by someone unfamiliar either with my public statements and private opinions: to a bigot, whatever bigotry says Christians are like, all Christians must be like! The cirtic failed to note that I am a great fan, booster, and supporter of the future and futurism. I am, in fact, a science fiction writer. My assigned task in life is glamorizing the future.

What I do not do is glamorize the past.

The cheerful Victorian utopianism which pretended whatever the calendar brought next must of course surpass what the calendar left behind was an idea found quaint and unscientific 120 years ago, back when the meat of the idea was fresh. That very scientific notion called entropy belies the concept that mere passage of time makes things better. If you prefer frontiers to factories, a world with fewer frontiers and more factories may not win your enthusiasm.

The notion was revived in the 1930’s in Russia and Germany.

The idea of the bold march over the smashed statues and toppled spires of the Church by jackbooted echelons of scientifically efficient secular visionaries reaching the immanent eschaton is also one which, to me, has the odor of antiquity, a quaint “diesel-punk” anachronism.

I get the same sensation seeing retro-futuristic images from the 1930’s and 1940’s, or seeing the Red Skull’s Flying Wing from the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA flick, or the Youtube commercials for IRON SKY of Luftwaffe Flying Saucer bases on the Moon. To be blunt, it is an idea that our fathers bled to extinguish on VE-Day.

My loyalty to the Modern Age, or to the Glorious Future cannot be questioned by any quaint retro-futurian still drunk on the unmixed wine of Victorian promises of progress, or fascist daydreams of eugenics.

It is not that I (or any Christian) can be called disloyal to the future. It is that we Christians, and all men of good will of any faith, must be the enemy of the particular future which equates “progress” with the extinction of human decency and human life and perhaps even human nature. It is “progress” in the sense that burning a Cathedral and all its books is progress away from civilization and progress toward glowing ashheaps beneath gasping clouds of smoke.

It is progress in the same sense leprosy or senility progresses.

That pile of shoes is not an aberration to the modern age. It was erected in the most modern and scientific of nations, Germany, renowned alike for its mathematicians and technicians as for its militarism and Progressive programs under Bismarck. Those shoes are a monument to modern ideals of Darwinian eugenics, of placing emotion over reason, of saying truth is relative to era and class and race: all notions repudiated and denounced in Christian doctrine.

So, Christian gentlemen and ladies, and all men of good will, the next time a Progressive sneers at your disloyalty to the glorious future of glorious modernity and postmodernity, as we slouch from the Age of Reason into the Age of the Postrational, ask yourself this:

Is there nothing to criticize in the Modernity? Truly? Not a thing?

Philosophy is as luminous as ever it was in Athens, art as divine as ever shined from the hand of Phideas, our music as wondrous as that of Beethoven, our poetry as sublime as what lept from the lips of Milton, and our women are as chaste as St. Agnes and pagan Diana, our men as concerned with honor as the passengers of the Titanic, our courts of law as careful of justice as Trajan?

The Modern Age has given us wealth and liberty undreamed by our ancestors. It would be wrong to be ungrateful for these blessings. Science has opened creation like a vast treasure hoard of wonders, and, unlike earthly treasure, this grows ever greater the deeper we go. Medicine has abolished countless forms of suffering. The slave trade has been abolished world wide.

But those who say that it was not Christendom that did these things tell lies. Where Christian virtues fail, the liberty turns into license and licentiousness: pornographers admired as men of business. Wealth promotes an industry of envy, as a lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians make it their daily business to loot what others produce. Medicine turns to infanticide, and the Hippocratic Oath languishes. Science goes mad, and says the universe is nothing but a carousel of atoms, and your brain a defective calculation machine that merely hallucinates self-awareness and free will.

These are not inevitable. There is nothing in modernity which make these evils necessary evils, and no rule of history which decrees that liberty must evolve into tyranny,  capitalism to socialism, virtue to vice, chastity to all-permissive hedonism. These things are not the goods whose price tag demands we abandon Judeochristian virtues, values, traditions, goals and goods. Indeed, this wealth and virtue and goodness are the outcome and by-product of the Christian world-view.

There is a reason why other great civilizations in South America, India and China stagnated before their discovery by the West, and why only the civilization of the Mediterranean produced modern science: that reason is Christianity.

It is not a trade-off and not a zero-sum game. When the Roman Empire converted, it gave up slavery, gladiatorial games, abortion, infanticide, divorce, sodomy, pornography, temple prostitution, and other inhuman practices. Nothing good in the pagan world was lost, and must pagan virtue and learning preserved through the Christian era.

Then, as the Modern Era devolved into the Postmodern, one after another, the Old Ways came back, and the rate of Progress slowed. The traditions we were told were the obstacles standing in the path of progress, the faith of our fathers, was nothing other than the engine of progress. As is the coachman shot the horses to prevent them from blocking the career of the coach, and then wondered why the coach ground slowly to a halt.

Have you ever wondered where your Flying Car is, now that you live in the Age of the Jetson’s, dead reader? Answer: you sold it for a mess of pottage. When civilization abandoned institutional Christianity for liberalism, then abandoned Christian notions of decency and individualism for socialism, and then abandoned Christian notions of chivalry and truth for political correctness, and then abandoned Christian notions of the objectivity of truth, beauty and virtue for the roaring abyss of nihilism, civilization lost the engine and motive of its progress.

When you stopped calling yourself sons of God and started calling yourself naked apes, you stopped climbing Jacob’s Ladder toward the angels, and slumped instead toward the jungle where Nature red in tooth and claw holds reign.

That pile of shoes makes a lie of notions that all things of the modern age are wonderful, and all things of all times past abhorrent.

31 Comments

  1. Comment by Sean the Sorcerer:

    This is good stuff. However, if ever there was a better past to pine for, surely it was long before the appearance of Christianity, organized religion or even civilization upon the scene. We are, after all, designed by the evolutionary crucible for life as pre-civilized tribal “savages”, living free and wild beneath the stars and taking our food and water wherever we find them. If this wasn’t the closest thing to Eden that mankind has yet experienced, I don’t know what was. Oh sure, there was tribal warfare, infant mortality and disease, but there was also a relative equilibrium with our planet which has been totally overthrown since the dawn of agricultural civilization — a problem which is now reaching apocalyptic proportions, and for which the sheep-herding religions offer absolutely no solutions.

    Why are Christians and secular religionists of progress both so blind to the vast majority of human historical existence? Are they you ashamed of your humanity that you are prepared to write off 99% of our species’ history as primitive savagery, superstition and ignorance, as monotheists and modernists alike are wont to do? And please don’t tell me that you reject the evolutionary narrative of human history, or I will forever reject your claims of rationality and consign you to camp of the mad irrationalists you so often condemn.

    In summary, I hope you agree that all religions and civilizations are, from any balanced historical perspective, radical modern abominations, and the most conservative and time-tested way of life *by far* is that of our stone age ancestors, who lived not as Christians, but as natural men.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      But evolution only “designs” the biology. The essence of humanity is to be not merely an animal, but a rational animal; that is, one capable of abstracting universal concepts out of the particulars of concrete percepts.

      When a primitive hunter utters the cry that means he is seeing a bison and the remaining hunters mover toward his location, that can be explained by stimulus-response. When the same hunter, later around the campfire, remembers that bison and utters the cry, he is doing something else entirely. He is “talking about” the bison-that-was, and perhaps experiencing the same breakthrough as did Helen Keller, when she suddenly realized that the letters traced out on her palm were not only a sign for water, but actually meant the cool, wet wonderfulness coursing over her hand. That it was a symbol, and not merely a sign.

  2. Comment by frankweathers:

    That was a hell of a great read, John. Thanks for the H/T.

    Listen, 1,340 people signed this petition at the white House yesterday, on Super Bowl Sunday. So far, over 21,000 people have signed it. You can learn more about it here,

    http://fb.me/1kCEs81uk

    Thanks again for a great post.

    Frank

  3. Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

    Great post.

    You might enjoy this podcast from Dr. Rodney Stark about his book THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY.

    http://www.researchonreligion.org/church-organization/rodney-stark-on-the-triumph-of-christianity-part-1

  4. Comment by Stephen J.:

    I thought about the Flying Car issue, and my first response to it, which was, “No, we didn’t sell the Flying Car for pottage; we gave up on it for a very good reason, which was that there weren’t enough of us who wanted to operate a vehicle which, if it broke down or ran out of gas or had a fender-bender mid-travel, would cause not inconvenience and aggravation but most likely death.”

    (The flip side to this, of course, comprises those disillusioned Flying Car fans who realized that you can never have a Flying Car without Flying Traffic Lights, which pretty much obviates the whole point of the Flying Car fantasy.)

    And then I thought about the cultural transformation that has made the risk of death and harm so unacceptable a price for attempting wonders and glories, the same Zeitschreck that would probably prevent perfectly ordinary road vehicles being certified as safe if they were first invented now (what Western government today would approve a device whose use caused over 100,000 deaths a year worldwide?) and which every day impedes and thwarts efforts to build or rebuild bridges, skyscrapers, roads and power plants out of fear for the human or environmental suffering they may cause. And I wonder if this post-modernism is really founded on an ambitious “Progress To The Future” any more; I wonder if perhaps it is not founded on the unspoken terror, “Resist Returning To the Past”.

    The price of setting people free of suffering is that you create a people unable to bear it when it comes again in a manner you can’t prevent. Yet cold-bloodedly choosing to allow or inflict suffering for another’s “own good” is not a moral option, either, at least for free adults dealing with other free adults. Which is why trust in Providence is so indispensable for doing anything.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      “power plants out of fear for the human or environmental suffering they may cause.”
      There is the exception that if the power plant is somehow “green” it can cause as much environmental suffering as one could possibly desire.As detailed here.

      Then you have others arguing that all the conservation efforts are pointless as they will lead to more consumption and that we should all just stop having children so that we can feel good about jumping on a jet to play golf on various continents.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Ah, I was just using the Flying Car as a general metaphor for the lack of a Moonbase, a working Space Station, manned expeditions to Mars and Jupiter, a rising standard of living, and the greater freedom and progress promised by the optimism of the past.

      Instead we have decline, underpopulation, a spread in the number of women living in Burkas, facing rape and honor killing if they dissent from their male relatives. Instead of the Jetson’s, we are returning to the Seventh Century.

      Myself, I bless the lack of Flying Cars because of the absence Flying DUI and DWI.

  5. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    You can buy a flying car if you’re willing to shell out a few hundred thousand. The problem is in ensuring they don’t crash into each other, not in the engineering.

    As for the piles of shoes, atrocities we’ve always had; neither ancient nor modern has any claim on superiority in that regard. Moderns just have more power, for evil as much as good. These are the same decadent modern states, after all, which have had nuclear weapons for six decades, and still managed not to fire them in anger. (Well, except for the Christians of 1945 America, but to be fair they had pretty good reasons; and anyway they didn’t really understand what they had made.)

  6. Comment by The OFloinn:

    It wasn’t the “atrocity-ness,” so to speak, but the mechanical, bean counter obsessiveness of it. It wasn’t that all those shoes once had wearers, but that the murderers had thought it a sane, rational thing to collect and sort the shoes. And the gold fillings in the teeth. What had once been the work of barbarian hordes or even armies run amok (usually after long sieges) was turned into an industry with all the dispassionate efficiency and planning of the modern scientific State, and in what had been the most scientifically advanced and civilized state in Europe. Only the Terror of the mercifully brief regime of the rationalist Directorate of the French First Republic rivals it in spirit.

    • Comment by momofthree:

      You said it.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      There were children going shoeless; Europe was at war and the factories had been bombed. And people were poor then; shoes were valuable. You may recall the “robber barons” of the middle ages; one of the chief things they robbed was clothing, because that was the most common form of movable wealth. Hence the injunction to “clothe the naked”; it is not metaphor, it was a common reality for much of history. Piling up the shoes of the dead is not bean-counting, it is counting of valuable resources. You might as well accuse the US of bean-counting for keeping track of their Sherman tanks.

      Loot is loot, it is not a modern invention. The people who built piles of the skulls of their victims also took clothes and shoes for their families; they were just less systematic about it. Recall that the earliest writings we know of are lists of possessions, so-and-so many sheep owned by such-and-such, including the distribution of loot to the victorious soldiers of returning armies. Here is nothing new under the sun except perhaps for scale.

      • Comment by lotdw:

        “There were children going shoeless”

        Yes, they were Jewish, and these are their shoes.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          To kill the Jewish children was undoubtedly evil. Can we please take that as read? The point in dispute is whether piling up their shoes for redistribution was uniquely mad, or evil, or modern. I say that medieval looters, Christian and otherwise, would have done the same had it been in their power, and that they did in fact loot the clothes and shoes of their victims, when possible. The pile of shoes is new in scale, but not in concept.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            There is a distinction between the cold, bean-counting efficiency of the Modern Scientific Total State and a berserk gang of ruffians, whether an army or not, rampaging through a just-conquered city. Looting, in the latter case, was never so carefully organized as by Moderns. Consider the distinction in murder between a killing in the heat of passion and a killing that was premeditated and carefully planned. You may find such methodical slaughter in the annals of Timur Lenk, but he led a barbarian horde, not a civilized state.

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              There is a distinction between the cold, bean-counting efficiency of the Modern Scientific Total State and a berserk gang of ruffians, whether an army or not, rampaging through a just-conquered city. […] Consider the distinction in murder between a killing in the heat of passion and a killing that was premeditated and carefully planned.

              Morally, I don’t think there is. The gang of ruffians also planned out their crimes beforehand; although they are more passionate and less efficient in execution, their crimes are not ones of passion, but premeditated. Or do you assert that premodern armies consistently planned to win their battles but not do any looting, and only started looting because their blood was up? Once you form the intent to kill someone and take their goods, I do not see that it matters whether you do so efficiently or haphazardly; nor how much adrenaline is in your blood at the moment of killing.

              The barbarians rampaging through the city may be quite angry, drunk, hopped up on hashish, or plain dizzy with aggression at the moment that they dash their axes through a random civilian’s head. But the night before, sitting around their campfire and planning their assault, they knew perfectly well what would happen; indeed, the rape and looting is the very purpose of the fighting, not an incidental byproduct. Their anger at the moment of action cannot excuse them from the accusation of premeditation; they planned to be angry.

              Consider: If a man comes home drunk and catches his wife in the act with a lover, we may excuse him, at least partly, if he draws out his gun and shoots them both. But if we discover that he knew his wife would be unfaithful that night, that he carefully placed his loaded gun where he would be sure to find it on coming in early, that he drank to loosen his inhibitions on pulling the trigger… then we do not call the murder an act of passion, however hot his emotions ran at the moment of the shot. Likewise with the barbarians. They knew what they were doing.

              • Comment by lotdw:

                “Once you form the intent to kill someone and take their goods, I do not see that it matters whether you do so efficiently or haphazardly; nor how much adrenaline is in your blood at the moment of killing. … they knew perfectly well what would happen; indeed, the rape and looting is the very purpose of the fighting, not an incidental byproduct.”

                But this is exactly the problem – the intent of the invasion of Russia was to conquer Russia; the intent of the Holocaust was to kill Jews. Hitler would gladly have taken Russia’s goods without killing a single Russian. Well, a single non-Jewish Russian. The intent is to FIGHT someone and take his goods.

                I would add the purpose of the fighting, in another sense, is conquest and victory itself, not just the loot. But I agree that loot is not an incidental byproduct.

                • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                  The intent is to FIGHT someone and take his goods.

                  I don’t think this is an important distinction, morally speaking.

                  But had the Nazis taken France without a single casualty, still the Jews would have died.

                  All right, but what you’re objecting to here is the hatred of Jews, not the methodical-ness of the execution; you’ve shifted the moral ground of the argument. Obviously it’s wrong to hate and wish to exterminate a people; no argument. But the indictment of modernity wasn’t of the hatred as such, but of the method and industrial thoroughness. This is a separate argument. I note in passing that genocides were not strictly a new thing, nor pogroms; “Kill them all, God will know his own” was not intended to be restricted to soldiers.

                  Third, is the ability to pile shoes some unique modern invention? I think not. So why assume the medievals did not have the capability to, rather than that they could and did not?

                  Well, the medievals could have made piles of shoes, certainly, as they made piles of skulls. But what they didn’t have was the infrastructure to profitably send the shoes back to their homelands and redistribute them. The photograph isn’t showing the end product, you’ll note; it’s an intermediate step in getting the shoes into the hands, or feet, of Germans. The medievals didn’t lack for piling-up technology, but for highways, railroads, and trucks.

                  • Comment by lotdw:

                    I didn’t shift the moral grounds of the argument because it wasn’t my argument. I was disagreeing with your statement “Loot is loot, it is not a modern invention,” rather than necessarily agreeing with everything Flynn said (as I said at the end of one of my replies). I was bothered because your response did not seem to take into account important differences between the Holocaust and medieval wars and massacres. I still, for the reasons expressed in my responses, believe that there are several, and “Loot is loot” is reductive of what actually happened in these cases.

          • Comment by lotdw:

            First of all, the Jews were not a conquered people; they were a race specifically targeted within Germany, Austria and nations conquered by the Nazis to be exterminated. (Likewise the Slavs, homosexuals and religious.) The object of those medieval wars was generally conquest, and almost never extermination, though there were certainly still massacres (like Beziers) and pogroms and the rest.

            Second, and relatedly, you will also find in medieval history numerous accounts of leaders attempting to stop or limit looting of conquered cities, because they had to rule them later (see Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, etc.). The Nazis had no care for such – because this was not loot; it was the useable part of otherwise useless things. It is the skin of the hunted animal, the hated Jew. If Britain could have conquered France without a single death in the 100 Years War, they would have, and their men would have done less looting as the cities would not have been in chaos and on fire. But had the Nazis taken France without a single casualty, still the Jews would have died. In both cases the leaders would, of course, have taken loot to pay their men and themselves. But in the case of the Nazis, they were going to take everything from the Jews, and the rest of the untermenschen, no matter what. Had they been no war, they would have done it still.

            Third, is the ability to pile shoes some unique modern invention? I think not. So why assume the medievals did not have the capability to, rather than that they could and did not? The ideological explanation the OFloinn gives is a much better explanation. Indeed, a more organized and obedient medieval army would have resulted in less loot, for reasons given above. Indeed the Sack of Byzantium during the Crusades would never even have occurred.

            Fourth, I would note that the numbers of the dead and loot collected in the medieval ages were often for reasons of propaganda – look at how many we defeated and how strong we must be! The loot taken was a trophy – you lost, so we get to have your stuff! (And the Nazis too had their triumphal parades.) But the Holocaust was not counted that way, was not publicized that way (or indeed at all). That’s because the concentration camps were factories, not conquered cities – they took in Jews as so much raw material, and they produced shoes and gold fillings, with ashes as their runoff.

            I agree with you that there is a relationship here. I also think that it is important not to set the Nazis up as some completely unique evil with no relation to others before or since. But I do not agree that there is no difference, because of the above, among other reasons.

  7. Comment by Gian:

    Mr Wright,
    You denounce Descartes, The French revolutionary assembly and Karl Marx but do not mention Bentham, Mills and Adam Smith. Their collective heresy was called Manchester Individualism by Chesterton and it is the father of Libertarianism.
    It is arguable that the a lot of modern evils and abortion in particular are sustained by the error of Individualists. Them you find admirable hut why beat up long dead Descartes? Who reads Descartes now?
    But Bentham and Mills are in syllabus of many a Anglosphere college.

    • Comment by robertjwizard:

      But Descartes is the father of modern philosophy, he is the catalyst that started the personal subjectivist view on its way with his cogito. I would posit that the whole chain of modern philosophy started with answering Descartes and “developed” or descended from there. The Christian may also start with consciousness as its metaphysical primary, but Christian philosophy roots its objectivity in God – something that cannot be done with a personal prior certainty of personal individual consciousness. From Descartes starting point only rampant subjectivity can result.

      I would submit that outside of Aristotilian philsophy only a grounding of a monotheistic God can have a hold on a form of objectivity. That is why I would pick on Descartes, IMHO.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I said nothing against Descartes. I admire the man immensely.

      • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

        You did speak about ‘discourses on method that would set us free from the dead hand of tradition (Descartes)’ and it was very well said. Descartes was certainly great in natural science, particularly physics, but there is nothing to be admired in his philosophy. A philosopher who begins with dismissing the great platonist, aristotelian and thomist tradition cannot be a good philosopher. He reasoned well enough, but from a false principle: he believed that we humans have the same way of acquiring knowledge than pure spirits (angels) and that we grasp reality in a comprehensive and instataneous view of the intelligence. His theory of the ‘tabula rasa’ is utterly unrealistic about how the human intelligence works. Maritain wrote two very enlightening essays about him, one in ‘Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau’, the other is titled ‘The Dream of Descartes’.

        P.S. Thanks for adding the edition and delete options! It will be very useful.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      Descartes was deeply flawed – he denied the reality of color, sound, and final causes – but was not nearly as bad as the others. In many ways, he was the first squirt of 400 years of philosophical squid ink.

      Of course, while “cogito, ergo sum” is bad reasoning – the “cogito” tacitly assumes the “sum” – the notion that self-existence was the only evidentia naturalis that had the same absolute epistemic status of evidentia potissima was (IIRC) expressed by Nicholas of Autrecourt in the 14th century. But compare that to the Late Modern conclusion of bio-physical faux-philosophers (phaux-philosophers?) who conclude that ego ipse does not even exist. (“There is no ‘me'” or “non sum”) We’ve come a long way from Descartes.

      But “if cogito, ergo sum”
      and “non sum”
      Therefore, “non cogito”

      Which is a heckuvan admission for Brights of the cult of the cerebral.

    • Comment by Mary:

      was called Manchester Individualism by Chesterton

      Now there is a weird statement. Would you say that the philosophy of the Soviet Union was called Marxism by Churchill, too?

  8. Comment by TheConductor:

    I have found that when you bring up images like the stack of shoes illustrated in this essay in the course of any argument with modernists, they howl “Godwin’s law” as a means of shutting down further discussion. No matter that the comparison to the Nazis has a direct relation whatever they are saying. They can be discussing building gas chambers and ovens, and if you point out the obvious, they will shout “Godwin’s law.” It’s always a shame when someone teaches those poor souls a new phrase.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      But Goodwin’s law only applies to situations where you talk about something else, and eventually someone likens it to Nazism. Here, we are starting out talking about Nazism.

      The chilling thing about Nazism is that is it uniquely modern, even futuristic. These were not barbarians. They were the product of a cult and a culture that quite deliberately and coolly abandoned its medieval Catholic roots, the culture of Europe, and then abandoned the Lutheran faith and all Christianity in the name of Darwin, and Nietzsche, and Eugenics, and all the latest and most modern fad for romanticism, socialism, anti-rationalism, and moral relativism. Oh, yes, the National Socialists were great moral relativists: one of their claims was the logic for higher races differed than for lower races, due to innate differences in brain structure. Very scientific, or, rather science fictional.

      All their science was science fiction science: make believe. The same make believe is believed by materialists and eugenicists to this day, and will eventually lead to similar results, even if the peculiarities of militarism and cruelty differ, or some other group aside from the Jews is selected as the People’s scapegoat.

      • Comment by Gian:

        “it is uniquely modern, even futuristic. These were not barbarians. They were the product of a cult and a culture that quite deliberately and coolly abandoned its medieval Catholic roots, the culture of Europe, and then abandoned the Lutheran faith and all Christianity in the name of Darwin, and Nietzsche, and Eugenics, and all the latest and most modern fad for romanticism, socialism, anti-rationalism, and moral relativism.”

        Exactly the same might be said for 20C Americans. But save for abortion, Americans are not Nazis They don’t demonize anybody. So what was something extra going for Germans?. Being extra-logical? Willing to pursue things to their logical conclusions?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          The Germans had lost the First World War, while at the same time convinced they were winning and should have won. They had been living under Bismarckian centrally managed state for a generation. The Classical Liberal policies which ushered in the Wiemar Republic had been discredited in their eyes. And, most importantly, the aggressively anti-Christian doctrines of socialist economics and Freudian soteriology and nihilist metaphysics and Darwinian views of eugenics and history had been prevalent among German intellectuals for more than a generation.

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