The Counter-Enlightenment as Gotcha!

It’s hard to find time to blog when one of your hobbies is reading Rod Dreher. Dude doesn’t stop!

Where to start, where to start? Dreher, like a lot of conservatives, is aghast at the Kipnis case.

Dreher finds all this ‘chilling’, stunning’ and ‘scary as hell’. I agree that it was very, very bad and not the sort of thing – at all – that Title IX ought to entail. (Congratulations to all involved for providing the anti-PC brigade with such high-quality ammo!) That the charges were dropped is a good thing, but they shouldn’t have been brought in the first place. (The only semi-defense of the logic of the Kipnis charge I have read is here and I don’t think it works, although you can yell about it in comments if that is your bliss. If it calms you down, I might go this far: the case isn’t as utterly nuts as it might look, but it’s pretty damn nuts.)

Here’s the Dreher thing. Just a week earlier, he kinda sorta said farewell to all that – the Enlightenment, that is.

One of the most difficult things for many American conservatives, especially religious conservatives, to accept is that gay marriage did not come from nowhere. It is the logical outcome of the Sexual Revolution, which in itself is the logical outworking of Enlightenment liberalism. What do I mean?

It may be helpful to draw on a recent book that is not at all about the culture wars, but that offers a perspective on them: Matthew B. Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head. Crawford says that “autonomy is arguably the central totem of modern life. It hovers about our concepts of individuality, creativity, and any number of other terms that convey the existential heroism we’re expected to live up to on a daily basis. It is an idea that we moderns have made our dignity hinge on.” And he says it was baked in the cake from the Enlightenment:

I’ll snip the long block quote from Crawford and proceed to Dreher’s conclusion. Kindly note that Dreher does see – surely correctly – that he can’t really give up on everything associated with the Enlightenment. “All of us Americans, whether we call ourselves liberals or conservatives, are liberals in this sense. I am no different. I believe in free speech, freedom of religion, civil rights and the other hallmarks of liberalism.”

And yet he is torn:

Now that liberalism has evolved into hostility to what I believe to be true about religion, morality, and human nature, I — like all orthodox Christians — have to face the fact that liberalism, which all of us Americans took in with our mother’s milk, may ultimately be alien to our faith, because in the end, it enthrones the choosing Self over God or any conception of external, transcendent Truth.

There are problems, boy howdy. ‘Liberalism has evolved into hostility’? But let’s grant Dreher that, for argument’s sake (I feel confident in my ability to take it away from him, at any time, by judicious application of reason and evidence.) We have a dilemma. Either he’s basically on board with the Enlightenment or he isn’t. If he is, he’s on the hook for same-sex marriage, by his own lights. If he isn’t, then why the hell is he so bothered about the Kipnis case? The very worst you could say about those who brought charges against Kipnis is that they are, in effect, shit-canning the Enlightenment. (Would I say that? No. I like to maintain a sense of proportion.) Dreher himself is considering doing this anyway. So how horrifying can he seriously think it would be, in principle, to do a thing he himself was thinking about doing, on principle, last week?

If the very very worst were true about the Kipnis case – namely, enforced orthodoxy, to rule out ‘wrongthink’ – then the best would be achieved, by Dreher’s lights: orthodoxy, keeping out wrong-thinking! Am I right (or am I right or am I right?)

As I said in my previous Dreher post, we are seeing here the limits of doing political philosophy entirely by means of tu quoque: you do nothing but turn the tables, without noticing the table must have two sides. If liberals should hate themselves, by their own autonomous lights, because (academic) liberalism has devolved into groupthink, then conservative lovers of orthodoxy should love (academic) liberalism, by their lights, since it has transcended autonomy, arriving at new appreciation of the value of respecting authority.

Dreher hears the Enlightenment knocking, telling him his conservative views place him on the wrong side of the value of individual autonomy, and all he’s got is ‘I know you are but what am I!’ The first half may be a fair retort, in Kipnis cases, but he still owes a positive answer to ‘what AM I?’

Now, in a sense, Dreher’s response is simple. He will say conservative orthodox views are right, whereas liberal orthodox views are wrong. But that is rather question-begging (and you can divide through by the ‘orthodoxy’, without remainder.)

I know, I know, I’m just repeating myself. So let me try to add something useful, facts-wise. Here’s a weird fact (which might be more fun to discuss than the Kipnis case, which you can discuss any old place): way back in olden days, in 2012, there was a pretty big deal religious liberty case. At the time, it was kind of a big deal (everyone said so), but no one talks about it anymore, although everyone talks about alleged legal threats to religious liberty these days.

As I was saying: way back in olden days, in 2012, a unanimous decision gave religious organizations pretty much as much authority as you could possibly give them to manage their own ministerial affairs – hiring and firing, that is. It’s strange how far the public conversation has come. Christians now a severely persecuted minority, to hear folks tell it.

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