Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Review of Against Inclusiveness by James Kalb


Kalb, James. Against Inclusiveness: how the diversity regime is flattening America and the West and what to do about it. Angelico Press, 2013. ISBN-10: 1621380408 ISBN-13: 978-1621380405 


This book is the best I have seen, and probably the best which could be written, that discerns and describes a single systematic ideology behind Liberalism/ Leftism/ Progressivism.


The key word to describe this book is thorough.

Even if, like me, you have given a lot of thought to these linked issues of Inclusiveness, Tolerance, Diversity and Multiculturalism - Kalb will impress by the way in which he joins the dots, fills in the gaps, makes logical links, and provides telling examples (in this last respect being bold and specific far beyond my own deliberately abstracted and decontextualized efforts). 

I find Kalb's prose style extremely pleasing - calm, reasonable, cultivated, yet quietly witty and with some pointed summaries, such as:

[p78]..inclusiveness reduces ethnic culture to ethnic-themed fast food, religion to self-indulgent reverie or poeticized versions of liberalism, and marriage to a sentimental recognition of almost any human connection with sexual overtones The end result is a single liberal way of life based on career, consumption, and diversion variously accessorized in ways not allowed to matter.

[p82] ...the destruction of the authority of particular culture bears especially heavily on cultural institutions. Rather than presenting, defending and developing a particular culture, which is likely to be one traditionally dominant at least locally, they must subvert it. Anything else would make them agents of oppression. Traditional and high cultures thus turn against themselves. They lose their specific function in the ordering of the life of a people and, to the extent to which they are not replaced by commercial pop culture, become hobbies, theaters of careerism, markers of status, or instruments of subversion.

[p108-9]  The liberal order is irretrievably prosaic and boring... A makeshift remedy, but the best available within the liberal order, is provided by 'coolness'. It seems trivial, but people take it much more seriously than they admit. After all, what else is there?...

At bottom, coolness is as silly as people think. It is notoriously unsustainable. Those who live by it either crash and burn, fall into gross hypocrisy ("sell out"), or grow out of it. Within the liberal order, though, growing out of it means growing out of the only thing - other than sex, drugs, celebrity, or lots and lots of money - that redeems life from quotidian dullness. It means turning into a boring, conventional, older person - just like Mom and Dad.


I don't think I have any substantive disagreements with Kalb - merely differences of approach, and a lower level of optimism concerning what is likely to befall.

For example, I give the mass media a much greater role than does Kalb, and he gives a greater role to the effect of abstract ideas as causes. He sees reasonable hope for a smooth transition to a better polity, where I find this hard to imagine. Of course, I live in England whereas Kalb lives in the US, and it could well be that the realities here are significantly worse than there.

In general, I tend to regard the abstract ideas of Leftism/ Liberalism as mainly post hoc consequences of the over-riding anti-Good destructiveness which causally motivated the Left, rather than as themselves causes of destruction.


And whereas Kalb elucidates and inter-relates the principles and ideologies of the Left (while making clear that these are each and collectively incoherent and unrealizable); I tend to notice the way that the Left switches-between these ideologies in an unprincipled manner which seems impossible to capture in terms of an over-arching unified positive goal. Rather, it looks to me as if the over-arching principle is negative and destructive, and the principles are used or discarded in accordance with this bottom-line nihilism.


As a focus of hope, Kalb puts the Roman Catholic Church, whereas I would emphasize the LDS church; Kalb emphasizes the potential benefits of studying great authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Pascal, Burke and Newman, whereas I think that reaction (when it comes) will necessarily be simple and straightforward enough to be comprehensible by the average man.

But these are not substantive disagreements, they are merely different emphases.

And on the whole, on those points where we disagree, I would be glad if Kalb turned-out to be right and I to be wrong!



Arakawa said...

It's interesting that US writer Kalb looks across the pond to the (European-based) Catholic Church as the source of a possible revival, whereas you are looking in the opposite direction to the (USA-based) Mormon Church, hoping to see the same thing.

I'm wondering if there's (a slight bit) of a 'the grass is greener' effect going on here....

Arakawa said...

Incidentally, this review has convinced me to keep an eye out for the ebook version of Kalb's book, that should be coming out eventually.

The thoughts on 'coolness' you quoted in particular jibed with a recent conversation I had elsewhere; the thought came up that the post-Fall world is like a monastery, with peculiar condition of penance imposed on anyone living there, meant to assist in spiritual development. Actual monasteries are a way to intensify these conditions which are, in fact, generally available.

(For instance, monasteries can impose a discipline of labour that tries to preclude sloth, despondency, or acedia; but it's a thing to be vehemently shunned in any sort of life whatsoever.)

But in general, life in a monastery is more or less the polar opposite of 'cool'. (If it's being presented or perceived as 'cool', something has gone wrong.) So 'coolness' in general is just one of the ways in which the monastic attribute of life -- and the attendant spiritual discipline -- is rejected, as symbolizing the "boring" parents being rebelled against (and thus, transitively, God the Father).

Thus any pursuit of coolness leads to burning out (self-destruction), selling out (upgrading to some other form of evil), or "growing up" and embracing the monastic ("staid and boring") attributes of life, such as patience, hard work, and the acceptance of one's station in life.

The latter course, incidentally, does not preclude taking various enjoyments as they come in the course of proper living, even ones that other people happen to idolatrously worship as 'cool'; though they certainly cannot be the main focus and pursuit of life.

To expand on the point that it is possible to correctly enjoy what other people treat as 'cool':

The most bizarre aspect of the 'coolness' culture is some of the mass media that results from the attempt to straight up associate in the viewer's mind that (Sin=Cool). This identification has gone to the point that now sin is being used as a selling point for otherwise entirely ordinary things; sometimes one sees an advertisement that takes something like strawberry jam or laundry detergent, and tries to convince the viewer that, unlike the competitor's detergent, using Brand X detergent is a hideous transgression against all that is good and holy (and this is therefore Cool or Exciting).

This does not mean that strawberry jam or laundry detergent is now suddenly evil, unless of course one is using it for the specific (perverse) purpose of making a statement about how Cool (sinful) you are.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - I don't think there is a symmetry. Things are genuinely more pessimistic in the UK - mostly because Christianity (of all denominations, but especially including Roman Catholicism, which has collapsed very rapidly in recent decades) is so very weak here - and the LDS church is low in numbers and thinly spread.

Arakawa said...

Point taken. It seems to me that the agreement between both of you is that Hope must be placed (as indeed it must) in some portion of the Christian Church; but the basis for reasoning as to which part of the Church it should be placed in, is somewhat different.