Monday, November 27, 2006

John Laughland, my cousin

As my friends have come to discover, I have lots of cousins. If I were to mention some of them on this blog, they might not be too pleased. I do not think my second cousin once removed John Laughland will mind, however. John is a distinguished Bristish journalist who writes for The Spectator, The Guardian, Lew, The American Conservative, and many other political journals. He is also the author of several books, including Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, The Death of Politics, and The Tainted Source. He seems to enjoy taking on controversial issues, but then a taste for controversy is a very distinct family trait. He was the last Western journalist to interview Slobodan Milosevic before his death, I am told.

Here is an book review written by John Laughland on Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt by Paul Gottfried, originally published in Insight on the News in April, 2003.

If nature abhors a vacuum, this is nowhere clearer than in the one created by modern secularism. Theological discourse having been banished from the public realm--or the churches, at any rate, having abandoned it, preferring instead to restrict their own pronouncements to tepid endorsements of the latest social and political fads--it is now only militant secularists who utter theological language.

In Britain, where child-murderer Myra Hindley died in prison recently, the tabloid press excoriated her claim to have converted to Catholicism by screaming that she was "a devil" who should "go to hell"--words which hardly ever now pass the lips of your average modern cleric. Similarly, those who attack the Catholic Church for allegedly harboring pedophiles demand from the church "a sincere act of repentance for its sins" at the very moment when the administration of the sacrament of confession has been effectively diluted out
of all existence.

If Paul Gottfried has established himself as a virulent critic of the cultural Bolshevism which has forced the progressive abandonment of such collective nostrums as national identity and Western values, he now takes that reasoning to the next logical step. In Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt (University of Missouri Press, 2002), he shows how the secularist project merely causes theological forms of behavior to erupt into the political realm, albeit in a particularly nasty and deformed way.

Gottfried speaks of the "managerial state"--he has appropriated James Burnham's phrase to lambaste the modern liberal state, which regards it as its vocation to administer the behavior and even thought processes of its own citizens. Gottfried says it has now transmuted into the "therapeutic state" in which state action is devoted to expiating the self-inflicted and unmerited guilt at the very fact of being a developed Western society.

While the United States generally is considered less "socialist" than Western European societies, Gottfried convincingly argues that the leftist project is ultimately just as strong in America, where the campaign to enforce political correctness is probably even more virulent than in Europe. But it is pretty bad over here, too. British television, for instance, recently produced a multiparty documentary about the hajj in which devout Muslims explained at length during prime time the religious significance of their journey to Mecca. It is inconceivable that the same time or prominence would be devoted to a series of programs with Christians explaining in all seriousness why walking to Santiago de Compostela obtains you a plenary indulgence, or why Our Lady of Lourdes has proven healing powers. Far from it: In Germany, as Gottfried shows, one bishop has joined the campaign to remove crucifixes from school classrooms in Bavaria.

Gottfried argues that the modern Western state now encourages the behavior patterns of a "deformed Protestant culture." The individual inheritance of Protestantism has, he says, ultimately caused the destruction of communal ties and of any sense of a common past. But, as he rightly points out, and as we see in the current crisis over Iraq, the politics of guilt does not lead to any genuine humility. On the contrary: "The repentant Protestant is allowed to go forth and bring enlightenment to others--the humbled, self-debasing sinner achieves ultimate purpose as a crusader on a never-ending global mission." George W. Bush, please note.

Literally nothing is then allowed to stand in the way of this crusade. Francis Fukuyama, as Gottfried reminds us, thinks it is wrong to agonize too much over the mass slaughter of the wars of the 20th century because, says Fukuyama, that was "the price paid" for democracy. Such universalism forms the backbone of the neoconservatives' commitment to nation-building, the export of democracy and wars to "protect peace." Even the supposedly conservative Bush administration legitimizes its attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan in the language of gender empowerment--as if bombs were the right price to pay to get Afghan women to throw off their burkas (which, in any case, few have done).

Although in some instances, the neoconservative message seems to be at odds with Gottfried's portrayal of the neoconservatives as part of the problem (David Brooks of the Weekly Standard, for instance, writes fervently of the need for a "return to national greatness"), Gottfried is right to say that important elements of the left around the world now regard the United States as their Utopia. The so-called collapse of communism was in reality the result of the abandonment by a crypto-Trotskyite new generation of communists of precisely the most conservative aspects of the late communist regime: its social prudishness
and its belief in national sovereignty.

Faced with their desire to create a nihilistic and rootless world regime of open borders and cultural cosmopolitanism, such new leftists naturally turned to America. But the Iraq crisis has produced an unexpectedly strong counter-reactionto such U.S.-imposed globalism, mainly driven by the old left. And it may therefore be that the high-water mark of U.S. crusading adventurism is also the beginning of its end.
—John Laughland, April, 2003



Anonymous said...

What a family. Here is the website for the organization to which your cousin John belongs.

British Helsinki Human Rights Group

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Wordsmith.

Jeffrey Smith said...

Refreshingly blunt. I'm going to have to re-read this later, when I can savor it at length.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Jeffrey. Yes, bluntness is a family trait as well.