The other day I wrote: “Democratic modernity believes its corrupt notion of equality and tries to enforce it at all cost.”
This provoked an interesting question from a reader: “And who enforces it? Are the enforcers way above governments nowadays?”
The answer is yes, the enforcers do tower above governments. They are our societies, the depositories of our civilisation. And society can impose its will more effectively than even a totalitarian government.
The blueprint for this observable fact was drawn by Matthew: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Having grown up under a totalitarian regime, I can testify that it failed as spectacularly in killing the soul as it succeeded in killing the body, 61 million bodies to be exact.
The bodily destruction was perpetrated in the name of equality, yet the Moscow of my youth was culturally the most hierarchical society I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a few).
We feared our potential killers, but we never fell in love with them. In the rarefied atmosphere of Moscow’s cultural elite I don’t recall meeting a single person who felt anything other than contempt for the regime, noticeable even among those who collaborated with it.
Our society is different. In addition to demanding passive acquiescence it seeks to inspire love, and largely succeeds. Rather than relying on violence, modern egalitarian society enforces its standards by seduction, making sure the soul follows the body into captivity.
Over the last 500 years, we’ve gradually lost the great Western civilisation of Christendom based on a social, cultural and intellectual hierarchy underpinned by equality before God.
This has been replaced by its perverse simulacrum: striving for earthly equality (in effect stultifying sameness), with religion relegated to the status of quaint personal idiosyncrasy.
Christendom was gently pushed over the edge by the Renaissance, but the ever-accelerating slide really began with the Reformation, which Belloc correctly listed among history’s greatest heresies.
Luther’s declaration that every man was his own priest effectively meant that every man was his own God. The other God could be worshipped in any way a person chose, which eventually got to mean in no way.
Calvin drove another nail in by doing a nice job of reductio ad absurdum on the Augustinian doctrine of predestination. Man’s perdition or salvation was predestined, and nothing he did in this life could change that one way or the other. But God hinted at salvation by making a man rich.
That was the first time in history that divine grace found a monetary equivalent. That’s why, as Max Weber explained, the Protestant work ethic lay at the foundation of capitalism.
Witness the fact that even now Protestant countries boast a per capita GDP 1.5 times higher than in Catholic countries, three times higher than in Orthodox ones, and five times higher than in Muslim lands – this despite an ocean of petrodollars sloshing underfoot in the largest Orthodox country and quite a few Muslim ones.
But Protestantism promotes a thirst not only for money but also for equality. It’s essentially a middle class religion, and the middle class has always sought to be the only class. If you look at the first three great revolutions of modernity, English, American and French, they were all reflections of the egalitarian bourgeois impulse.
France was a predominantly Catholic country, but the principal revolutionary animus came from the largely agnostic bourgeoisie and also from protestant Germany and Switzerland (not only Luther and Calvin but, even worse, Rousseau – a nexus of Württemberg and Geneva).
The predominantly Protestant USA is a prime illustration of modern egalitarianism, with Americans proudly declaring that they’re all middle class. So they are: it’s as if a vertical stencil has been imposed on the nation, with everyone above it pulled down and everyone below pushed up.
Versions of the same are noticeable everywhere, certainly including England.
Our public schools, supposedly the bastions of class privilege, illustrate this. They typically stress collective over personal, trying to clone a uniform human product. Brilliance and academic excellence are routinely despised, with those venerable halls alive with reverberating phrases like ‘too clever by half’, ‘swot’ or ‘clever boy’. Only in England is ‘clever’ a pejorative term.
The nature of modern manufacturing is also egalitarian, with the assembly line replacing individual craftsmanship to produce uniform people cranking out uniform and uniformly available products for the uniform masses.
Illustrations of how effectively modern societies enforce uniformity are staring us in the face everywhere we look. Even our speech has become standardised, with all regional and class accents converging in the middle slowly but surely.
People rely more and more on swapping clichéd expressions, with formulas ousting original expression. For example, I’d be a rich man if I could get $10 for every time I heard this exchange on a hot day in New York: “Hot enough for you?” “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”. Or, in Texas, “It’s so hoat you could frah an egg.”
Man’s apparel provides another striking example. Look at any eighteenth century painting of a formal aristocratic occasion. Though all the men’s clothing would display a certain similarity of general line, in every other aspect, such as colour, fabric, decoration, their suits would be strikingly individual.
At an equivalent do today, all those public school alumni will be wearing identical clothes: black tie, white tie or morning dress, depending on the occasion. I remember the furore caused at Cambridge’s Peterhouse College when a chap wore tails to a black tie dinner. He dared to be different, breaking the code of uniformity.
I’ve written a few books on this subject, but in short format this is the best I can do. I hope the inquisitive reader will find the reply satisfactory.