The Long View 2006-08-07: From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836  By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836

By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Two great lines today:

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.
Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

 

Francis Fukuyama does still agree with himself, recent evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, or so we may judge from his piece in yesterday's Washington Post:

Early on in Hugo Chávez's political career, the Venezuelan president attacked my notion that liberal democracy together with a market economy represents the ultimate evolutionary direction for modern societies -- the "end of history." When asked what lay beyond the end of history, he offered a one-word reply: "Chavismo '...a new future for Latin America that by preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections [constitutes] what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro's Cuba or in the Soviet Union...Latin America has indeed witnessed a turn to this postmodern left in some countries, including in Bolivia, where Evo Morales, Chávez's kindred spirit, won the presidency last year. Nonetheless, the dominant trends in the hemisphere are largely positive: Democracy is strengthening and the political and economic reforms now being undertaken augur well for the future. Venezuela is not a model for the region; rather, its path is unique, the product of a natural resource curse that makes it more comparable to Iran or Russia than any of its Latin American neighbors. Chavismo is not Latin America's future -- if anything, it is its past.

I can only repeat (and repeat again, until my readers' eyes glaze over) that Fukuyama's end-of-history thesis is perfectly valid as a statement about intellectual history: political theory is complete, in the way that Euclidian geometry and the canon of classical music are complete. Liberal democracy is the crowning achievement of that history, but the achievement is an ideal, not a prediction. Petrolism is one of the non-liberal-democratic forms of governance that can materialize in certain circumstances.

Note, by the way, that petrolism is only a special case of what happens when the state finds that it can support itself from revenues other than tax receipts generated by the incomes of its citizens. Municipal governments that squeeze major industries that cannot move elsewhere tend to become pretty thuggish, too.

* * *

The rationale for opposition to gay marriage finally makes sense to Ellen Goodman, she informs us with lugubrious irony:

BOSTON - Now I got it. After hours spent poring over Washington state's Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on same-sex marriage, I've finally figured it out. The court wasn't just ruling against same-sex marriage. It was ruling in favor of "procreationist marriage."...This is where the courts' reasoning leads us, and I use the word "reasoning" loosely. If anything, [the recent decisions by the New York and Washington State courts] are proof that the courts and the country are running out of reasons for treating straight and gay citizens differently.

Readers may amuse themselves answering her arguments point by point, but I don't think I need to. . To strike down a traditional marriage law now, a court has to say that its sees no essential connection between marriage and child-rearing. You can make your mouth say that and you can even make other people listen, but it's pretty clear you're telling a whopper. This Whopper Effect has repeatedly had unfortunate results for proponents of gay marriage whenever the matter has been on the ballot.

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.

* * *

What exactly did Mel Gibson do? I heard about the DUI arrest and the antisemitic tirade, but I wasn't really paying much attention. Now I find the incident was become enough of a running gag to be mentioned in all ten of the items on the Zeitgeist Checklist. For instance:

(7) Cars. Ford Motor Co. is outsold by Toyota for the first time, announces a $250 million loss, and recalls a million vehicles to prevent their engines from catching fire. Analysts say CEO Bill Ford Jr. needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of consistent excellence, just as he has done with the Detroit Lions. Mel Gibson says the company needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of anti-Semitism.

I mention this not because I think the media have some special animus against drunken, abusive Irishmen, but I really have yet to hear an actual human being mention the incident.

* * *

Interested in Apocalyptic novels this summer of untoward events in the Holy Land? The best survey I have yet seen of the genre comes from Tom Doyle (whom I know slightly). He argues that, as a form, the apocalyptic novel closely resembles the techno-thriller. The one apocalyptic novel that he repeatedly cites simply for literary merit is Brian Caldwell's We All Fall Down. I will try to read that this summer, before something even worse happens.

* * *

The problem with conservatism is the lack of a serious cultural alternative, according to R.R. Reno at First Things:

But the failure of the modern aesthetic and its assault upon the sacred does not translate into a victory for tradition. I think it is also fair to say that the emergent conservative populism that has put conservatives in power is primarily a “no” to the transgressive elite culture. But populism rarely provides alternatives. The silver standard proclaimed by William Jennings Bryan was patent medicine, just as family values are a two-dimensional solution to an all-too three-dimensional problem of social degradation. It will take a deep transformation of our collective artistic, moral, and spiritual imagination to change the direction of culture.

Shelley once wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. On this point he was right. What is needed is an aesthetic of love and life to replace the anti-sacral aesthetic of contempt and death.

Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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