Nothing can survive in a vacuum
No one can exist all alone
- Turn the Page, Rush
The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom, by Robert Nisbet
You might think from the title of Nisbet’s book and the title of this post that I have reached the end of Nisbet’s analysis. Wrong. This post will cover chapter two.
Out of intimations of dissolution and insecurity has emerged an interest in the properties and values of community.
Remember, this book was published in the early 1950s; you might think, in reading this line, that it is a more modern analysis – something akin to the backlash of the right in both Europe and the United States. In any case – as I imply by my title, that community was “found,” – you might be curious: is this nothing more than an ode to the storybook version of the Eisenhower years?
Let’s give Nisbet more credit than this.
It is in the conservative philosophers that the desire for community is both examined and understood. Nisbet finds the roots of this in the conservative reaction to the French Revolution, where the greatest crimes “were those not committed against individuals but against institutions, groups, and personal statuses.”
It is not an easy idea for one so grounded in valuing the individual to get my mind around; it seems that the idea is something along the lines: it is bad enough that people were killed by the tens of thousands; even worse, the institutions that helped to form community were killed off for untold generations.
These philosophers saw in the Terror no merely fortuitous consequence of war and tyranny but the inevitable culmination of ideas contained in the rationalistic individualism of the Enlightenment.
This theme keeps coming up in Nisbet’s work – the connection of the Enlightenment to many of the horrors that came after. I believe the roots can be traced even further back in European history, but I agree with this line of thinking.
…the Revolution had opened the gates for forces which, if unchecked, would in time disorganize the whole moral order of Christian Europe and lead to control by the masses and despotic power without precedent.
It is these institutions – family, community, religious association; or, as Burke wrote, a partnership of the dead, the living, and the unborn – that support man’s freedom:
Release man from the contexts of community and you get not freedom and rights but intolerable aloneness and subjection to demonic fears and passions.
Nisbet saw in his time a revolt against this individual rationalism – a desire for identification with race, culture, religion and family. He saw Protestant leaders showing respect to traditional doctrines that bear the mark of Catholic or Jewish orthodoxy. It took me some time to understand where he was and where he was headed; let’s see if my understanding makes any sense to others.
The key to unlocking this puzzle is to understand: in what institutions is man turning to for community? It is not in the traditional, relatively voluntary organizations, but in the institution that has assumed the role of all other institutions:
It is hard to overlook the fact that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent in the family or the church.
Destroy all other hierarchies and all that is left is the State. This should not be a difficult concept to grasp. It takes little more than opening one’s eyes to our daily existence.
Where during the Middle Ages the quest for community might lead one to the Church, today the journey often ends in the political party. Eventually, when man feels he has lost all control of his destiny, he willingly turns to the totalitarian state.
Nisbet makes a very interesting observation about Marxism, one that points to (and, perhaps, predicts) the success of the Frankfurt School and Cultural Marxists:
If we wish to understand the appeal of Marxism we should do well to pay less attention to its purely intellectual qualities [and, I will add, its economics] than to the social and moral values that inhere in it. To a large number of human beings, Marxism offers status, belonging, membership, and a coherent moral perspective.
What we see playing out today is this very radical “moral perspective” of the radical left.
Until we see that communism offers today, for many people, something of the inspired mixture of community and assertive individuality offered two thousand years ago, in the cities of the Roman Empire, by the tiny but potent Christian communities, we shall be powerless to combat it.
But how do the words “communism” and “individual” end up conjoined? Citing an unnamed author, Nisbet offers:
“It is easy – only too easy – to say that these people have sacrificed their individuality and become units in an undifferentiated and soulless mass…. A truer psychology may suggest that what has happened is the exact contrary and that for the primitive millions it has seemed rather an assertion than a denial of individuality.”
Picture a dozen screamers at any SJW event – you have all seen the videos, if not witnessed it firsthand. All are certainly part of a group, yet each one’s individuality on full display in costume, hair, sexual orientation, and piercings. Nisbet doesn’t put it this way, but he seems to have foreseen our age. Individual misfits – for that is certainly an apt description – finally fit in to a group.
But the road to community is not only found leading to the State or communism; it is found in a matter very well-known to individuals who believe that they live in the land of the free and the home of the brave:
So, too, in the changing moral character and growing spiritual influence of mass war can we observe the contemporary image of community. It is hard not to conclude that modern populations depend increasingly on the symbolism of war for relief from civil conflicts and frustrations.
War creates a sense of moral meaning; war is sold as a moral crusade; this moral crusade brings together the nation in community.
One of the most impressive aspects of contemporary war is the intoxicating atmosphere of spiritual unity that arises out of the common consciousness of participating in a moral crusade.
And this was written four or five decades before military flyovers became part of the pre-game ritual at every major and many minor sporting events.
War is sold aspirationally: we fight for freedom, self-determination, democracy, justice. Society demonstrates maximum community in times of war. This in “contrast to the instability and the sense of meaninglessness of modern industrial and political life.”
Citing Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor:
“So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men will agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but find something that all will believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.”
I know, I know… “I am an individual; I am strong; I am a libertarian.” OK, so pretend Dostoevsky isn’t writing about you. Instead, just look at the 50,000 others cheering wildly for the troops next time you are at the ballpark.
Just who is the one who doesn’t fit Dostoevsky’s description? Who is the oddball?
Man, this is a good synopsis.ReplyDelete
"Nisbet doesn’t put it this way, but he seems to have foreseen our age. Individual misfits – for that is certainly an apt description – finally fit in to a group."
Going a step further, the SJW's know it internally, but want to use government to force others to accept them into a larger group under the guise of "equality" and trumping private property rights.
"Eventually, when man feels he has lost all control of his destiny, he willingly turns to the totalitarian state."
And there's someone well down that road here in our little cloistered world in the comment section of your blog that exemplifies this. He's intelligent, and thoughtful, and desperate. Hopeful he can use the very monster destroying his autonomy, and currently controlled by SJW's in many areas, to reverse the course.
I think our best chances for more libertarian outcomes is to prepare for the eventual implosion coming to the US government by way of it's debt by continuing to talk about decentralization and getting "governance" as local as possible to give everyone more choice/options in terms of community.
I loved when Lew Rockwell used to reference the superiority of the Article of Confederation over the Constitution as it subtly hit on all points. Maybe a "private army" is feasible, but it's a lot easier to have a compact for protection under the "state" model and at least allow cultural trends to be reflected outside of that across more local "governance" in the short term while man tries to figure out how to "privatize everything". (that assumes one day you get people able to agree on such a thing)
I just hope that when the USA Titanic starts to breakup that it remains a fairly peaceful affair, like the old Soviet Union breakup...instead of the "other" possibility.
"I think our best chances for more libertarian outcomes is to prepare for the eventual implosion..."Delete
I think it is our only chance because it will happen regardless of our desires to the contrary, but the possible outcomes vary widely, and could be disastrous for liberty.
It seems to me that if our focus is strictly the NAP, we are certain to fail. This is what I am concluding due to my journey through culture and tradition. I mostly thank Hoppe for starting me down that road, but I must also thank the "...someone well down that road here in our little cloistered world..."
Of course, as he knows and as I have written, there are paths that his road leads that I will never take; I hold some things in higher value that prevent me from going all the way (and I do not mean to imply that the NAP is that thing).
As to the Articles of Confederation, if you haven't done so it might be worth reading Merrill Jensen. For a few posts on his book about this period, go to the bibliography tab above.
"I think our best chances for more libertarian..."Delete
I agree. Subsidiarity, secession, and association. States need to secede. Counties and cities should do the same. We need to start building/joining the associations now in the social realm, so that in the future there is the social capital to draw upon when steps can be taken towards dispute resolution and private defense.
"I just hope that when the USA Titanic starts to breakup that it remains a fairly peaceful affair, like the old Soviet Union breakup...instead of the "other" possibility."
If the Soviets can break up peacefully, what does that say about us if we can't? Sadly it is not a sure thing in my mind, but I have hope.
"If the Soviets can break up peacefully, what does that say about us if we can't?"Delete
I suspect it is because most of the people knew that the system was corrupt and couldn't be sustained - but I can't say this with any certainty.
In any case, people in the US are a long way from this realization.
For the "Anything for-the-children versus multi-culturalism" file.ReplyDelete
This is revolting.
Outcry in Mali after albino child beheaded in 'ritual' murder
"So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and painfully as to find someone to worship...This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time."ReplyDelete
I've never read Dostoevsky. From your quote he seems a bit of a pretentious snob. Perhaps this was just from a character in his novel and doesn't reflect his personal views.
One could rather say that so long as man remains free he strives for something to give his life meaning, something to believe in, something true to hold onto in the face of all the uncertainties of life, not only an anchor, but a rudder, a purpose. I don't see what is so miserable about that.
I believe the chief misery of the world comes as a result of both successfully holding things to be true which are not, and failing to uphold true things with fidelity. The problem is choice (not only in what maxims to live by, but in maintaining consistency in their application), but it is not a problem we can avoid.
"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." - Neil Peart
It seems to me that history demonstrates that man does strive for someone (or something) to worship. I do not say anything about "well-adjusted man," as this is beside the point - and even well-adjusted (and free) men strive for this.
I consider the second part of the statement: "This craving for community of worship...."
It cannot be denied that this craving exists in almost all men. Whether a community worship of the military, the local football team, whatever.
As I asked, who is the oddball in this picture? I know my answer, every time I don't stand for the national anthem or a military honor guard at a sporting event.
>All are certainly part of a group, yet each one’s individuality on full display in costume, hair, sexual orientation, and piercings.ReplyDelete
This is a great point and supports what I was saying in a previous article. Communists are not Borg Ideolgoues despite the common libertarian/randian charicature of them. They place a high priority on individuality but they are willing to subordinate individuals to a political structure in order to achieve results- which they have been very effective at. Libertarians on the other hand have never had a single effective local organization. They can't put pressure on local politicians, they can't shut down their enemies, and they can't even do good will actions like Food Not Bombs.
Pretty harsh, UC. Pot is legal in many states, and today the Supremes legalized sports gambling!Delete
You know, the big stuff.
Individualism or self reliance is a hard sell to a populous whose Individualism is nothing more than Window Dressing. Besides when has a Marxist political action or movement hasn't been a funded product of Top Down European Style Socialist (wink wink) or the Priviledged Oligarchs?Delete
Individualism/self reliance doesn't need to be sold at all when it's the organic cultural expression of a Volk- in the America it was Anglo-Protestants and it was how we were (are?). Samuel Huntington was wrong when he suggested WASP culture would outlive the the disintegration of the WASPs as the dominant ethnic group. In other words it *cant be sold.*Delete
>Besides when has a Marxist political action or movement hasn't been a funded product of Top Down European Style Socialist (wink wink) or the Priviledged Oligarchs?
LOL. You are no doubt right about that but Oligarch funding would be useless if the marxists weren't skilled at organizing, committed to their ideal (which has of course changed with what the Oligarchs want at any given time but don't tell them that), and willing to sacrifice.
Willing to sacrifice. This is key to the whole thing.Delete
Sacrifice is an act of worship...of something or someone. Nothing of any value is accomplished without some level of sacrifice and that takes one of two forms--voluntary or compulsive. If the individual is not willing to sacrifice for the good of others voluntarily, then the "others" will demand that he sacrifice involuntarily. And sacrifice he will--one way or another.
In your conclusion referencing Dostoevsky, “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and painfully as to find someone to worship,” it reminded me of something Ayn Rand said long ago, to the effect that the difference between man and the other animals is man’s capacity for reverence. Not so far off the mark from Dostoevsky.ReplyDelete
I’m enjoying this post and its comments very much. Thank you. Peggy in Oregon
Just wanted to make a few observations here.
Consider the truism "Divide and Conquer". Is it not true that a cohesive group of individuals working towards a common end can accomplish much more than a single individual in NEARLY every endeavor?
Is it not true that we who are dedicated to individual freedom lose each time we combat cohesive groups? Do we not see the rise of the socialist / Marxist philosophy and the decline of our own in spite of the fact that our way offers more and greater advantages than a totalitarian philosophy?
Libertarians can't even agree on what they, themselves, believe. The idea of a "libertarian group" approaches the extremes of an oxymoron. How then could libertarians organize against such pervasive and powerful influences such as group identity, group purpose and working for something "greater than oneself"?
Extending the idea of "Divide and Conquer", if someone wanted to divide a society, would not the best method be to emphasize individuality over all, even common decency and the most basic societal norms? And the younger the mind, the greater destruction that can be reeked. This destruction is evident in the very many methods employed for generations to take the young away from the influence of the family. At this point, the minds of the parents have become so perverted, so twisted, that it no longer matters - it has become completely self-perpetuating.
My own philosophy and religion has brought me intolerance from many individuals so I must support individual liberty just to maintain my personal principles. However, Mr. Nisbet is correct - individualism can only be tolerated in certain societal frameworks and is completely destructive without some common base.
So, what is needed? As much as I hate to say it, one liberty-minded, clear-thinking and inspired individual must rise up. He must publish, he must speak, he must convince the masses to come together under a common ideal, a common culture and a common purpose. There will, of course, be war, both with the totalitarians craving power and with libertarians who reject whatever commonality is espoused - and there is no guarantee that such an individual can win the day - but I see no alternative.
"...one liberty-minded, clear-thinking and inspired individual must rise up. He must publish, he must speak, he must convince the masses to come together under a common ideal, a common culture and a common purpose."
But, why do you hate to say this? If this is the only way, then it is Truth and there should be no reticence in speaking the Truth.
Before this can happen, however, the common ideal, culture, and purpose must be identified. You can't fight something with nothing. The search for identification is what drives the world debate and causes all the problems, because there will never be a common ideal, culture, and purpose. As long as good and evil exist within the heart of man, there will be conflict.
There is an answer, though, and it can be seen in one sentence--"Love your neighbor as you do yourself." Community and individualism all wrapped together seamlessly. The only conflict is getting to that point and that is something everyone has to go through. Some of us might come close, most won't.
The willingness to voluntarily sacrifice oneself for the good of others is probably the most important attribute of love and probably the most difficult to attain, but we do have such an example--Jesus the Christ, Who accomplishes everything that you listed, albeit through the lives of others.
The guarantee? "I will build my Church..." Here are the individual and the community working together to win, not just the day, but eternity.