Material fallacy

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land.

Marxism is back in fashion. To be more precise, historical materialism is. This is largely anecdotal, but it seems to have become a widely held theory among religious critics of modernity. Like many widely held theories, it is easier to know in one’s gut that it is wrong than to identify precisely where the fallacy lies. Nonetheless, it is fallacious, and this essay will try to explain why.

Historical materialism holds that social conditions are the result of material forces, meaning basically economic interests, though in some versions including the pursuit of political and social power too. Historical change is therefore driven by changes in those forces, with social, religious, or ideological causation playing only a minor role.

Simplistic arguments that this is an “atheistic” doctrine are no good. It is not incompatible with the existence of God and of Revelation. God just has be outside the normal process of history. Normally, humans seek overwhelmingly to pursue their material interests, but every so often God intervenes to provide guidance, which humans either accept, reject, or progressively corrupt (on the basis of their material interests). So far, so good.

The problem is with the anthropology this involves. The religious worldview holds that man is a spiritual animal. He has a faculty which naturally responds to transcendent forces. We might call it a religious faculty, but it is usually taken to include all promptings to disinterested pursuit of values, be they moral, aesthetic, or narrowly “religious”. This faculty does not rely entirely on the provision of external revelation, though without it he may not be able to acquire any certain knowledge. Man’s behaviour is essentially a result of the struggle between the prompting of this faculty and the desires of his lower, animal self.

In the Islamic tradition we call the spiritual faculty the ruh and the lower self the nafs. Christians believe that man is made in God’s image, but tempted by degenerate urges that entered the world with the Fall. In the Dharmic religions, man must escape the cycle of samsara by limiting his physical desires, which trap him in illusion. Plato, too, in his allegory of the charioteer, believed the human drama stemmed from a conflict between spiritual drive and a physical one (these being the two chariot’s two horses).

All societies until the modern age believed in transcendent values. Modernity has bastardised transcendence but the religious faculty cannot be entirely suppressed. People who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” acknowledge this fact, and modernity still believes in moral values, which can only be explained as transcendent forces. A secular human rights activist still experiences tension between her moral ideals and her personal inclinations, and how she resolves this tension determines much of her behaviour.

Historical materialism is based on a completely different anthropology. It has to hold that human behaviour, on average, is mainly the result of the animal faculty alone, because it is this that desires material comfort. The religious worldview implies a different account of history. Material forces are important, but the disinterested pursuit of values can also bring about change.

Defenders of materialism can say that God, acting outside the normal rules of history, provides guidance, which humans than interpret in light of their material interests. However, if the defender believes there is an extant religion whose interpretations of revelation are true, this creates a larger anomaly. It requires him to say that God specially intervenes in this one tradition (in contrast to the non-materialist, who can parsimoniously explain its preservation through the normal cause-and-effect relationships God has established).

Moreover, the receipt of revelation is also problematic for the materialist. Why do some humans accept it and some reject it? If this is the result of their material circumstances, can we really condemn the unbelievers, for simply–in a manner of speaking–being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Again, the non-materialist explanation is simpler: the believers believed because they had better character, leading to a choice that merits Divine reward.

Through explaining issues such as these, the religious materialist has to make more and more ad hoc exceptions to their materialism. Spiritual practises are also difficult to make sense of. Surely, the behaviour of saints and mystics is the paradigmatic example of disinterested action, and to explain it materially is silly, insulting, and possibly impious. A worldview supposed to simplify history ends up requiring more and more miracles.

Finally, what can the materialist say of other religions? Their corruption may have been the result of material causes, fine, but don’t they still contain many good and sincere people among their adherents? People can act disinterestedly in pursuit of honest error as well as truth. It seems the materialist has to either deny that significant numbers of them do, or invoke further ad hoc interventions.

Of course, I am speaking in generalities. Historical materialism does not exactly contradict the religious worldview. Rather, it requires belief in a huge number of special interventions to explain the accumulating anomalies. A theory that prides itself as being scientific should surely suspect that it might be falsified. The world of historical materialism is an arid waste land that is metaphysically hostile to Prophecy, religion, and genuine spirituality.

I would also point out that is unproductive. The world is desperately in need of spiritual renewal, but materialism would imply it is not possible. The spectre of Capital (strangely reified) stalks the land, making the triumph of secularism a foregone conclusion. We know from Prophecy that deep decline will take place before the end of times, but we do not know that this age of darkness has to be here and now.

The traditional, pre-Marxist view of history is infinitely more hopeful and inspiring. True ideas, persuasively expressed, have the power to inspire multitudes. Sound arguments really can prick the consciences of those in power and make them do the right thing. We do not need to borrow ideas from a failed revolutionary project completely hostile to our values in order to explain the modern predicament. If we do, we gain only the comfort of the defeatist, and risk condemning he who would escape the waste land before he has even tried.


The superstition of free speech

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

Social conservatives should stop banging on about free speech.

Any traditional worldview, including even the tepid conservatism that dominated Western culture before the 1960s, would involve vastly more restriction on free speech than currently exists.

Every society in human history, bar none, has tried to suppress speech that threatens the social order; contemporary liberal society is no exception. But liberalism is constrained in both the extent and the methods of its suppression by its own internal logic. There is a difference between being executed for real blasphemy, as happens in some actually existing traditional societies,  and being publicly shamed or pressured into resigning your job for blaspheming against the LGBT.

Moreover, when social conservatives had power this was an actual reality, and when we lost power, the restoration of former speech codes was a key demand.

One of the founding texts of  the modern conservative movement was William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale”, subtitled “The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom””, in which he argues that alumni should use their financial power to force professors to teach Christianity and anti-Communism. In Britain, the rise of the “permissive society” is linked to the acquittal of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  The novel’s criminality? Containing positive portrayals of extra-marital sex.

This makes the left’s view of conservative “free speech” look rather plausible. As they see it, it is nothing but the demand by former people for the restoration of privilege. Given how we used that privilege against them when we had it, they surely have a point.

It is alleged, though, that debate is being “chilled”; that we cannot campaign for faith and family because the left will punish and persecute us as much as they can. This is a cowardly argument.

All the great social movements of the twentieth century–civil rights, anti-Apartheid, decolonisation–faced inconceivably greater repression. Bullets and tear gas and decades in prison did not stop Mandela or Gandhi. We are not wrong to compare the cause of family values with these movements. Sexual liberation is a monumental evil which castrates children, slaughters millions of the unborn, and destroys the foundations of man’s happiness in this world (the family) and his success in the next (religion). The moral urgency of fighting back cannot be overstated.

What a joke, then, to complain about being banned from Twitter or ostracised by your work colleagues. The children whose heads are torn off by pincers don’t have the luxury of caring.

The worst case scenario is that we soon reach a point where most people can no more understand the pre-1960s view of sex as they can the pre-1960s view of race. This is not so bad. Overt racialist movements exist and run in general elections in European countries with vigorous “hate speech” laws. The level of repression is pretty mild.

I don’t wish to belittle real concerns about religious freedom. Problems like the imposition of trans ideology in schools are real threats to the ability of believers to raise their children in faith. But we have, to liberalism’s credit, more than enough democratic freedom to contest these policies, and in some cases the battles are winnable. The trap we should not fall into  is making libertarian arguments about “free speech” which are inconsistent with our own values, and known to be by our opponents.

Our opponents faced greater repression in the 1950s than we do now. Bertrand Russell, in one his celebrated essays on sexual liberation, commented on a pamphlet which had advised women on how to experience orgasm during sex with their husbands, and which the courts had ordered pulped for obscenity. Rather than whining, however, he and his allies simply got on with using the freedom they did have to change the world.

Social conservatives need to toughen up. If we want to change society as a witness of God and truth, we have to be prepared to suffer a little. Don’t let the history books record how
liberal activists endured the slings and arrows of tyrants while the cause of life and family surrendered to a barrage of snide remarks.

Will this be the way the world ends? Not with a bang but with a mean tweet? Please don’t let it be so.

On Englishness (2)

“To move from Christianity to Islam, for an English man or woman, is not the giant leap an outsider might assume. It is simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people.”

Sheikh Timothy Winter, British and Muslim

“An Englishman can visit his pub on the regular, but may not find alcohol there; no matter, he believes in God’s commandments on it. He may visit his Church as he used to, though the main congregation will be on Fridays.”

I have been writing about England’s virtues. Had I wanted, I could also have written about its vices. Our obtuseness, our philistinism, our cold and atomised families. Our acceptance of injustice, our enormous hypocrisy. I do not want to do so because I do not wish to preserve these things. Custom, by default, has the weight of law in shar’iah, but not vicious custom.

But alone among the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths, the Qu’ran does not mention the Tower of Babel. Man’s division into nations and tribes is not a punishment. We are enjoined to love and to enhance the particularities of our native lands, but also to purify them. Englishness is a constellation of customs, institutions, and traits of character that flourished in a particular spot of dunya, and which, lacking God’s guidance, often veered to excess. Islam offers a middle way between extremes of any trait; and Aristotle, in the Western tradition, also recognised that both too much or too little of a virtue can make it into a vice. What is precious in a specific inheritance is generally the constellation and not the stars within it, some of which may in themselves contradict the Sacred Law. An Islamic England will not, therefore, be unchanged, but it will be enhanced in its distinctive cultural genius.

Exactly what should an English Islam look like? How should the Sunnah be instantiated in our sceptered isle? What of its ‘urf should be preserved, what should be revived, and what should be forgotten? These are difficult questions, complicated even more by the confusion created by the dominance of the global monoculture and its war against the fitrah.

Thankfully we do not have to begin afresh. The British Isles have a tradition of native Muslimness going back to the middle of the 19thcentury, when Darwinism and modern archaeology began to disrupt Christian self-confidence, and after the Trinitarian Act of 1812 removed the legal penalties on non-Christian worship. The outstanding figure in this movement was Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor who converted to Islam in the 1880s after a trip to Morocco and, in recognition of his efforts to spread the faith in his native country, was appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman Caliph to have real power.

The Liverpool Muslim Institute which Sheikh Quilliam founded involved close to a thousand people at its peak, and gained enough respect for the city’s mayor to attend their celebration of Eid. As part of their daw’ah at a time when most English men and women were still at least occasional churchgoers, the Institute offered Sunday “services” to the city’s non-Muslim population in competition with the local churches, at which they would explain the message of Islam in a familiar idiom. As part of their missionary effort, the city witnessed a brief flourishing of genuinely indigenous English (and Welsh and Scottish) Islamic forms of music, poetry and art. Notable examples from Quilliam’s time include Yahya Parkinson, whose martial poetry is redolent of Men of Harlech, and Amherst D. Tyssen, who composed Islamic songs in the style of the Anglican Hymnal. This tradition continues today in the poetry of Paul Sutherland, who celebrates the landscape of both England and his native Canada through the medium of his Muslim faith. The lines below are taken from Tyssen’s An Appeal to Christians, and were probably sung during one of the LMI’s missionary services:

And Jesus to his hearers
Prescribed a rule divine,
Call no man Lord, but worship
One God, your Lord and mine.

Then hold his name in honour,
Pursue the path he trod,
Observe his worthy precepts,
But make him not your God;

Nor list to heathen fables
That picture him God’s son,
For God was ne’er begotten,
And He begetteth none.

When He on aught decideth,
He saith – So let it be;
And lo! It is; for all things
Conform to His decree.

Then all good Christian people
Come worship God alone,
And place not Christ nor Mary
As rivals on His throne.

Sheikh Quilliam always claimed to be a patriot and a loyal British subject, but living at the time of the British Empire’s most rapid expansion, he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his loyalties to Queen and Caliph, and eventually left for Turkey, only to return to England after the Ottoman collapse to live a strange, more private existence under a new name and identity. The Liverpool community floundered in the absence of their charismatic leader, but he remains the spiritual grandfather of English Islam. Since his time, and throughout the twentieth century, a succession of English (or British) men and women have made great contributions to the din, from Marmeduke Pikthall, who translated the meanings of the Qu’ran, through Martin Lings, famous for his biography of the Prophet(saw) and Sheikh Abdulqadir As-Sufi, to Sheikh Winter today.

Almost all these men seem to have felt that being Muslim not only did not contradict their British patriotism but actually strengthened it. This is surely because of the deep areas of convergence which I explored last time. When he was not receiving prizes from Al-Azhar for his English sira, for example, Dr Lings was also a world-renowned scholar of Shakespeare and even published several books in which he argued that his plays amounted to an expression of the sufi path. Today, even His Royal Highness Prince Charles has shown he has a deep and genuine sympathy for the faith, to the point of penning forwards to Dr Lings’s books and serving as the patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and accompanying the ulama there on foreign trips.

There have been significant converts from other European nations. One thinks of France’s René Guénon or the Italian sufis inspired by Julius Evola. But there is not, I think, the same sense of convergence between Islam and native patriotism.

I have been writing about English culture as if it still exists. It does not. Scruton called his book An Elegy for a reason: he describes a period of cultural destruction in the late twentieth century which he calls the “forbidding of England”.

England has a complex relationship with modernity. On the one hand, it was the first country to become “modern”, so much so that in many ways modernity is really the export of Englishness abroad. Society based on the individual, government based on consent, the impersonal rule of law, a privatised religious faith: all these archetypical features of modernity were native to England, the only difference being that here they actually made sense, because part of a wider culture in which they had evolved over centuries.

Consequently, for a time England weathered modernity very well. One of our greatest achievements in this period was the maintenance of domestic peace and political stability; there has been no fundamental revision to our constitution since 1688. Even industrialisation did not really disrupt our sense of belonging: doubtless it was traumatic for the labourers fleeing rural starvation into the armies of the dark, Satanic mills—in the 1840s, Edwin Chadwick found that life expectancy in the slums of Manchester was nineteen. But culture survived. We never felt truly at home in the city, and the nineteenth century witnessed the strange spectacle of the world’s first industrial nation setting almost all its art and literature in the countryside. Meanwhile, in an effort to re-enchant their world, the Victorian bourgeoisie built themselves little suburban imitations of the gentry’s stately homes, while they built whole districts of their commercial cities in sweeps of fairy-tale neo-gothic, full of crenulated office blocks and turreted warehouses that sicken contemporary onlookers because they try so desperately hard not to be what they are.

As England’s folk traditions disappeared in the grist of the factory floor, they were recovered and preserved for posterity by men like Vaughan Williams, who collected dying folk songs and set them to modern music, at the same time as the expansion of hymn-singing, music hall, and brass bands ensured that some of the old cultural expressions could be preserved in modernity, distributed by the phonograph record and then the wireless in the industrial cities. Civic life eventually came to flourish too, with a network of institutions—the boy scouts, the Rotary Club, the cricket team, associations for every conceivable kind of hobbyist—evoking in their half-contrived rites and rituals a sense of continuity with the rural past which was more than half real. In the mid-twentieth century English schoolchildren played the same outdoor games as they had in the eleventh. Now, of course, they play Angry Birds.

The forbidding of England is a phenomenon of the last few decades, beginning in earnest only in the nineteen sixties. Peter Hitchens is right to call this period a “cultural revolution”: it was the beginning of the greatest, most rapid and most unprecedented change in the way of life of any people ever experienced. The collapse of religious belief, the sexual revolution, the growth of pop culture—all these things transformed every Western country, not just England, and they are now being rapidly exported to the rest of the world through accelerating globalisation.

But in England their effect was qualitatively different. Our identity as denizens of an enchanted land was dependent upon the feeling that it was enchanted. The revolution destroyed that feeling because it destroyed the beliefs, customs, and moral code that sustained it. It destroyed the Anglican Church, which baptised over half the nation’s new-borns in 1960 and claims barely ten percent of them now. It destroyed our ethic of restraint and self-control. It destroyed our customs and institutions of leisure and replaced them with the habit of gawping at screens.

At the same time, it was accompanied by two phenomena that were peculiarly English: an upheaval in the physical environment and a deliberate assault on historical consciousness. Until the ‘sixties England had resisted the excesses of modernism in architecture, and had refused to adopt the utopian experiments of the likes of Le Corbusier. Since town councils started re-housing slum dwellers in the late 19th century, council houses had been imitations of the homes of the middle class, suburban villas in miniature, complete with bay windows and tidy front lawns. Suddenly, the last of England’s slum dwellers found themselves in giant towers of concrete, blasphemously gesturing at the heavens, trapped in box-like apartments where the only neighbours were the people on television. A people who define themselves through privacy and rootedness cannot live in such conditions and remain themselves.

Simultaneously, the countryside was transformed through a wave of agribusiness, motorway-building, and suburbanisation. The great industrial cities were tight and compact and did limited damage to the rest of the country, for all their filth and squalor, but until this time we could live in them while still pining for the familiar old pattern of the countryside that was our spiritual home. When the landscape of that countryside was transformed beyond recognition this was no longer possible and we began to despair. And as if to add Divine insult to this injury, from 1967 Dutch Elm disease swept the country, all but wiping out the giant guardians of England, often growing to over a hundred and fifty feet, so prominent in the landscapes of Constable and Turner, towering over our churches and houses like haggard soldiers, whose disappearance left the landscape unprotected and spiritually flat.

And as their world was being turned into a concrete playground, the English found that even their memories were under attack. At the exact moment that the family was breaking down, that rebellious youth cultures were breaking out, that the rising generation began to adopt more of their values from their peers than from their elders, England’s schools ceased to teach its young about its culture. Even today, French schoolchildren are expected to be able to quote from an established literary canon in their exams and are taught a sweeping narrative of their country’s history designed to instil pride and confidence. To some extent, the other countries of Great Britain also still promote this form of patriotism, through, for instance, the celebration of Burns Night or the invocation of the alleged heroism of William Wallace. England has no equivalents with any hold on the national consciousness. This is the result of choices made quite deliberately.

In 1960, O-level exams in English literature (the equivalent of today’s GCSEs) involved the study of a list of canonical writers, from Chaucer, through Spencer, Milton, and Swift to Wordsworth, Dickens, Arnold, and Kipling; whilst history was a (not uncritical) narrative arc from Anglo-Saxon settlement to the First World War via Agincourt, Plassey and Waterloo. Within a few years, the authorities, wracked by anxiety about identity in the wake of Imperial collapse and trying to accommodate new arrivals from former colonies with their own cultural heritage, dropped all this and replaced it with a course in multicultural citizenship. Today children learn no history to speak of. They might analyse in minute detail the causes of some specific development in the Civil War, and probably know a lot of random biographical facts about Hitler or Martin Luther King, but for the most part, the new history, which focusses on so-called skills that children will only use if they choose to become historians, goes completely over their heads and leaves them with no story to make sense of whom they are.

The trashing of England’s literature is even more tragic. GCSE candidates study one play of Shakespeare and are lucky to even read all of it, while the rest of the course is a dreary dissection of Of Mice and Men and possibly another short novella, and the dredging up of “personal responses” to an anthology of seemingly randomly selected poetry, most of it subversive, postmodernist drivel written by the sort of fake intellectual who thinks that neglecting to use punctuation is a challenging metaphysical statement.

Wisdom, as the Prophet(saw) said, is the lost property of the believer; and the English have lost a treasure-house of wisdom in their literary heritage. William Blake, for instance, who penned Jerusalem, the closest thing England has to a national anthem, rejected Trinitarian obfuscation in favour of pure monotheism and consequently expressed a moral vision very close to that of Islam. And this is to say nothing of the profundity of Shakespeare, who is plausibly the greatest English-language articulator of the inner realities of the din that we will see. As Hitchens sums up this work of destruction, “a culture that in living memory still read The Pilgrim’s Progress and readily recognized quotations from Isaiah now watches Sex in the City and thinks Vanity Fair is a magazine.”

Last glimpses of this culture can still be seen at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning in a village or market town. In the ancient parish church, a dozen or so octogenarians, stiff and formally dressed, will assemble to celebrate Holy Communion according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer, in a cold stone house whose walls exude English modesty, with no music and no jolly modern hymns, with only the occasional cough interrupting the haunting, melodious liturgy of Thomas Cranmer. This is what England must have been like: but it is extinct.

Thus, a great culture and a great country was trashed, sold off, and concreted over. All the facets of this revolution taken together amount, for Scruton, to the Forbidding of England: the loss, never to be regained, of an enchanted home, of those “happy highways where I went / and cannot come again” as Housman put it. It is not, therefore, for nothing that Hitchens can write, with justice, not just of England’s decline but of its abolition.

And yet. Though England may be extinct as a culture, the English still exist as a people. Hitchens did not think it would be so. Seeing the revolution ultimately as a political project, he foresaw the next stage being England’s final dismembering and carving up into administrative regions of the European super-state, shortly antecedent to the abolition of the monarchy and the smashing of the altars. He has so far been wrong.

In the referendum on leaving the European Union, Britain (really, England: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain) was faced with a choice about whether it wished to continue to exist as a people. The EU is a bureaucratic, Bonapartist institution based wholly on the Continental model of civil law and completely alien to England’s legal and political traditions. It is also wholly committed to the never-ending process of “ever closer union” and the final merging of European nations into a single repugnant super-nation. It does not aim in doing this to transcend the nation-state, a modern political contingency that is an improper object of a Muslim’s patriotism; merely to recreate it on a larger scale and a more arid and artificial basis. If England had voted to remain it would have been our end as a people and a nation. Instead, in the face of the almost unanimous advice of our supposed betters, of legions of technocratic “experts”, of armies of economists, econometricians and professional politicians, we voted to be a nation and not an aggregation of cheap labour.

So if England was an enchanted land, we might say that though it has been destroyed, the English have not. Critics of so-called “nationalism” claim that nations are invented by the states they claim to represent. There is some truth in this; certainly, the idea of a British people seems to have been partly constructed after the Act of Union with Scotland, and involved the expropriation of the culturally dissident crofters of the Scottish highlands after they revolted against our Protestant constitutional monarchy in 1745. England is obviously not a modern invention, however: the concept was already a basis for governance from the earliest period of political unification in the 10th century; consequently, the Anglo-Saxon historian Nicholas Higham has even claimed England could somewhat plausibly be considered a nation-state at this time. And far from being sustained in existence by the British state, that state has actually been considerably hostile to specifically English patriotism over the last few decades, especially under Labour governments. So what we are dealing with is a reality, an authentic instance of the nations and tribes into which man has been divided by God.

And the English have one enormous strength. Other Western nations base their identity either on ethnicity—as in most of Eastern Europe—on Christianity, or on secular liberalism, as in America and to some extent France. English identity is based on none of these things: we are simply the people who identify with the memory of our once-enchanted land; a community grounded in residence, not race or creed. Becoming Muslim will therefore not change this identity. Whereas it must in a nation whose very being consists in rejecting Islam, as in constitutionally Christian or liberal societies, and generally, too, in an ethnic nation. In Germany, for instance, Turkish migrant communities were expected to eventually return home until the middle noughties. Consequently the idea of being a fully German Muslim is still very difficult for the natives to comprehend. State-led promotion of a multicultural identity is therefore provoking huge resistance because it so obviously makes no sense: it seems to deny the distinctive existence of the group who until yesterday defined the German nation.

This is why odious movements like Generation Identity seem to be flourishing on the European Continent but are not doing so in Britain. The Alternative für Deutschland, which came third in the last Federal election, claimed in 2016 that “Islam…is not compatible with the constitution” and calls for bans on burkhas and minarets. Similar movements thrive in Norway and Denmark, while Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid declares that it will fight the “growing influence of Islam in Dutch society”, inspired by the memory of Pym Fortuyn, murdered by a left-wing activist in 2002 and the grandfather of a specifically homosexual strain of anti-Islamism, who argued that our religion must pass through the “laundromats” of Reformation and Enlightenment before it will be compatible with the liberal, fun-loving Netherlands.

This kind of open hostility is not, thank God, anywhere near as prominent among serious movements in the UK. Of course prejudice and hostility exist, but our own version of the recent populist uprising, the bucolic UKIP, largely stuck to the rhetoric of a banal civic nationalism. In Europe, a multiculturalist political elite utters platitudes about tolerance and diversity that make no sense to peoples who define themselves in opposition to Islam; in Britain, this tension does not exist, and polling evidence also suggests that popular hostility to Islam is far less intense. It is, at any rate, less bound up with the state: it is impossible to imagine the vicar’s daughter Theresa May telling Muslims to rewrite the Qu’ran as France’s former President Sarkozy recently did.

The English, therefore, have the opportunity to become a Muslim nation while still remaining themselves, in a way that other Western countries perhaps do not.

And we will become a Muslim nation—or we will perish. All particular communities will eventually perish in the monoculture beneath the weight of global capital and communications, and sink giggling into the sea in fits of fornication. Ultimately, of course, unless stopped, the monoculture will abolish humans altogether: its scientists are well on the way to working out how to replace us with an upgraded, more compliant model.

If I am right, we English still have a better chance of combining orthodox Islam with genuine indigeneity than the other parts of the West.  In doing this we have, already, a trail blazed for us in the work of Sheikh Quilliam and his successors. Our people are of course still prejudiced. But they will be cured of this only by this indigenisation of Islam; for although they are alienated from their heritage, they still define themselves in terms of its memory—the memory of their land of lost content.

Let us pray that Allah(swt) makes that land once again the home of angels as well as Angles.

Wa allahu alam.

The Closing of the Western Mind

Published at:

Last year marked the thirtieth anniversary of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. Described by Camille Paglia as “the first shot in the culture wars”,[1] it still has the power to provoke visceral reactions from politically engaged Americans of a certain generation. But Bloom’s analysis goes far deeper than the typical partisan tract, and explains a great deal more than the state of higher education in America. In this essay, I contend that it is a valuable starting point for a deeper philosophical anthropology of the contemporary West than has thus far been offered.

A popular starting point for thinkers who wish to step back from our spiritual condition is Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. The work is a profound and wide-ranging critique of the Enlightenment, its metaphysical and meta-ethical assumptions, and its consequences for our present-day culture. MacIntyre blames the Enlightenment’s project of justifying morality from secular premises for what he sees as the disordered state of modern moral discourse.[2] In its shadow, we cannot reach consensus through moral debate, because we have no common meta-ethical framework to rely on, only fragmented and undefined ethical concepts. In particular, by making individual reason the ultimate arbiter of morality, the Enlightenment gave rise to the ideal of individual autonomy, and much of the story of modernity concerns this ideal’s gradual working out as we progressively shed our inhibitions. The zeitgeist of 2017 is very different from that of 1917, but both are based on the same ultimate premise. Autonomy, says MacIntyre, has become the centre of the “self-image of the age”.

Something like this analysis has become almost standard among radical traditionalist conservatives. Once, in the halcyon days of Thomas Aquinas, the West possessed a teleological morality in which the ultimate human good was the uninterrupted beatific vision of God attained through faith in Christ, and an entire, communally-embedded schema of human flourishing was based on this telos. Then along came the forces of secularism and modernity, peddling spurious enlightenment and material wealth, and gradually opened a Pandora’s Box of horrorsthe French Revolution, the sexual revolution, homosexual marriageas we learned to stomach the consequences of our new individualist morality.[3] As the “reactionary” blogger Mencius Moldbug (though not a true traditionalist) puts it, culturally, “Cthulhu always swims left”.[4]

Variations on this narrative exist. The “Scotus story” blames nominalism, the belief that particular objects have no mind-independent essences, and its late medieval advocates William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus. Once the notion that concepts are human creations and reality just a collection of objects became widespread, our teleology became unsustainable, authority and distinction were undermined, and morality became arbitrary and individualistic. This theory can be traced back at least to Richard Weaver’s 1948 Ideas Have Consequences.[5]

These theories explain a great deal, but leave at least as much unexplained. Why, for instance, does a society which valorises sexual freedom maintain some of the highest ages of consent ever seen in human history, and subject violators to brutal legal and cultural punishment? Why do we treat autonomy as absolute and axiomatic in the sphere of sexuality but largely see no problem with regulating how people may end their lives or the substances they may put into their bodies? We idealise romantic love and find prostitution repellent, but marrying for love was rare in most traditional societies, while traditionalist hero Aquinas considered prostitution a necessary evil when marriage was delayed past puberty.[6]

Moreover, contemporary China is in some respects much more hedonistic and amoral than the West. Prostitution is openly practiced at almost every hotel in every large town or city. Nightclubs usually feature near-naked pole-dancers and professionally flirtatious waitresses. Business deals are cemented with visits to bars or karaoke clubs, where after publicly proving their virility by verbally degrading and abusing the hostesses, the men will retire with them to private rooms. In extreme cases businessmen will even bond with each other by engaging in public group sex with prostitutes. And these practices are so common that it is not unusual for newlywed brides to tell their husbands they’ll tolerate faithlessness so long as it’s all paid for and no affection is involved.[7] This, of course, occurs in a society a long way from valorising autonomy. All of this is influenced by the country’s westernisation, but prostitution was widespread under the 1912 Republic, long before the West embarked on the path of sexual liberation, and its visible forms were only briefly stamped out by Mao’s bloody totalitarianism.[8]

It is hard to see how the principle of autonomy doesn’t require the legalisation of sex work, and the feminist movement seems to be gradually shifting Western public opinion in that direction. It ought therefore to be a cause for reflection that some non-liberal societies are further down this road than the West. The idea that the modern West worships autonomy can explain our general direction of travel but not the route we are taking along the way. Cthulhu may swim left over time, but it would be nice to understand more about his stranger twists and turns.

This is where Bloom can help us. Traditionalists tend to focus on the Enlightenment, but Closing provides a philosophical anthropology of the culture produced by the nineteen-sixties. Bloom, a professor of philosophy, begins by describing the huge change in the character of his students that he observed in the second half of that decade. Previously, liberal arts students arrived at university eager to learn about the good life, with minds furnished with Biblical motifs which gave them an inkling of life’s gravity and a model moral cosmology that could be used as a template for conceptualising a new one. Ignorant, but aware of their ignorance, they assumed at least that real answers could, with effort, be found to life’s perennial questions.

In the space of just a few years, all that disappeared. Instead, students began to arrive with an almost unshakeable belief in a kind of lazy relativism, in which no way of life could be said to be better than any other. They believed in “values” and were not actually amoral, but couldn’t understand the idea that there is any real truth about what makes a human life good. He describes challenging this notion with incoming freshmen by asking them whether, as a colonial administrator in British India, they would allow natives to burn widows at their husbands’ funerals. The best response he could provoke was the retort that “the British shouldn’t have been there in the first place”.[9] From a humanistic standpoint, teaching them philosophy was therefore almost pointless. This is the “closing” of the American mind that he addresses.

How does he explain this transformation? Essentially, Nietzsche, and his revolt against the Enlightenment, triumphed. For Nietzsche, the morality of the Enlightenment was nothing but a hangover from a senescent Christianity whose God had vanished from the universe; a set of confused, incoherent, and fragmented injunctions preserved out of idleness and conformity. Secular liberalism retained the Christian belief in the equality of man but ignored its grounding in the equal status of created human souls before God. A garbled mess, lacking any justification without the religious orthodoxy it rejected, it deserved to be cast aside, allowing a new, heroic human type to come to the fore, who would create his own set of values and thus live a truly noble life.

Bloom describes how, by the mid-1980s, a banal and trivialised version of this philosophy had utterly saturated America’s popular culture:

In politics, in entertainment, in religion, everywhere, we find the language connected with Nietzsche’s value revolution, a language necessitated by a new perspective on the things of most concern to us. Words such as “charisma,” “life-style,” “commitment,” “identity” and many others, all of which can easily be traced to Nietzsche, are now practically American slang, although they, and the things to which they refer, would have been incomprehensible to our fathers, to say nothing of our Founding Fathers.[10]

American democracy, Bloom writes, provided fertile soil for this new philosophy. Previously, the basic ideas of political liberalism (democracy, human rights, the rule of law) were supposed to be based on objective moral truths discernible through reason. Gradually, confidence in this belief waned, the crisis reaching its apogee during the moral and social upheavals of the 1960s. At the same time, the framework of value-relativism, transmitted through Frankfurt School intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm, came to dominate the social sciences and humanities. By the mid-1970s, the revolution was complete, and a generation had been formed who could hardly conceive of the idea of objective moral truth. They still believed that theft and murder were wrong, and they were still political liberals, but they conceived of these things in a wholly different way. For them, liberalism was reflexively recognised as the natural framework for allowing individuals to posit and live by their own values in peace, not a rationally discernible truth which followed from the nature of mankind and the cosmos.

This new attitude to liberalism was given its most self-conscious expression by John Rawls, whose epic A Theory of Justice, now required reading for every undergraduate studying political theory, tries to justify liberal democracy through a kind of imaginary consensus while remaining wholly agnostic about every deeper moral and metaphysical issue. The project is, of course, ultimately incoherent: as Bloom writes, when freedom is justified only through the rejection of absolutes, “the argument justifying freedom disappears and… all beliefs begin to have the attenuated character that was initially supposed to be limited to religious belief.”[11]

Moreover, the democratisation of Nietzschean value-positing completely trivialised it. A Romantic poet can make the idea of casting off the constraints of reason and tradition seem glamorous, even profound; but most people struggle to reflect on their presuppositions, lack awareness of their deeper motives, and are deeply conformist in behaviour. With no belief in objective moral truth to guide them, but no desire to live wholly amoral lives, the norms of the sixties generation became those of distraction and bland conformity. You express your “values” but you do so in the same way as everyone else because you’re just another consumer and another democratic man; nothing systematic can be deduced from them because they reflect little more than the reification of fleeting desires and impulses. “What poor substitutes for real diversity”, Bloom writes, “are the wild rainbows of multi-coloured hair and other external differences that tell the observer nothing of what is inside”.[12]

Thus, the Enlightenment died. Popularly, and to an only slightly lesser extent among intellectuals, its central projectjustifying a new morality through reasonis over. If we can even conceive of the possibility, we are likely to dismiss it as just another “meta-narrative” and ask whom the idea serves to profit. Professional philosophers specialising in ethics still employ reason to solve moral conundra, but they do almost nothing to engage with the meta-ethical and metaphysical presuppositions they must make, which are the preserve of different specialists in a different office. All the allure of participating in a great, overarching project of rational emancipation has vanished. Postmodernity has not banned reflection on the good life but turned it into a salaried occupation.

Of course, we still live within the Enlightenment’s structures. Secularism, liberalism, systematic natural science, and the nation-state, all products of the world the Enlightenment created, are still the fundamental structures of our world. But we have lost the content that gave life to them.

The revolution Bloom describes was not merely an American phenomenon. It affected all liberal societies through broadly the same mechanisms: a substitution of one set of justifications for liberalism for another, and a saturation of popular culture with a new philosophy of value-relativism. Its consequences have also been broadly the same: a break from tradition and a growing mistrust of all authority, religious and secular; a trivialisation of culture; and a great confusion of moral norms. And it is now rapidly transforming the lives of the whole population of the world, through its control of the West’s ubiquitous system of digital communications.

By undermining any claim to absolute moral truth, this philosophic revolution was also responsible for the sexual revolution which occurred at around the same time. Traditionalists usually blame Enlightenment liberalism for this phenomenon, but the connection is not necessary. The valorisation of autonomy tends to lead to the demand to throw off social constraints, but by itself it need not entail the principle of sexual freedom. For instance, if liberal sexual norms could be shown to actually reduce the ability of most people to enjoy satisfying sexual and familial relationships, an argument could be made against them from liberal premises. This would be no less plausible as arguments for social democracy and liberal socialism are with respect to material resources. Sexual freedom is really a right-wing, libertarian idea.

The sexual revolution is, instead, the corollary of value-relativism. If the individual is to posit his own values, and become the author of his own “life-style”, he must have control over the area of life in whichat least between the cradle and the gravewe experience most keenly the penetration of the transcendent, and the tension between the sacred and profane. As Roger Scruton argues, only recognising this dynamic of purity and pollution can explain why rape is such a great and wicked violation; why it is so much worse than, say, spitting into someone’s mouth.[13] If there are public standards of sexual morality to which individuals must conform, they cannot truly be value-positing personalities, because many of their most important “values” must be taken from authority.

Sixties sexual adventurers like Margaret Mead were right to point to the diversity of sexual norms in human cultures as evidence against the universality of the West’s traditional morals, and correct that few of them were as unworldly and anti-erotic as historic Christianity.[14] They were wrong, however, to neglect the fact that sexuality is almost never unregulated. The idea of sexual purity is common to all traditional societies, and seems to be as foundational to moral psychology as the beliefs in protecting against harm and reciprocal fairness.[15]

The sixties therefore created a totally new experiment in human living: the privatisation of purity. We still experience the dynamic of purity and corruption as keenly as everhence the great import attached to losing one’s virginity, the awkwardness which the subject of sex still provokes in polite conversation, the continued insistence that it be enjoyed only in privacybut we have no way of recognising these feelings as moral ones. This surely explains a great deal of the spiritual stunting that Bloom observed.

This also explains the dogmatic way in which the belief in sexual autonomy is held by educated elites. Over the last thirty years, the LGBT movement has convinced much of the population of the West that the ideal of absolute sexual autonomy follows from the recognition of others as equal value-positing personalities. Once we become self-aware enough to recognise that our basic experience of personhood seems to involve the choice of values to live by, any more conservative values we might posit lose their social force. How can I restrict the right of others to live by their chosen values on the basis of my own, which are necessarily no more objective than theirs? If I “value” family and commitment, and you “value” promiscuity and pleasure, neither of us has any claim to impose our choices on the other.

Between the sexual revolution and the present, social conservatism of a sort could still exist. Most people still felt that total sexual freedom would threaten social stability and the wellbeing of children, and therefore opposed experiments like homosexual marriage. But this was an unstable equilibrium because social conservatives adopted the value-relative vocabulary of the cultural revolution. If you can’t speak of good and evil, but only “traditional values”, the morality you are praising is already dead. Bloom writes:

“There is now an entirely new language of good and evil, originating in an attempt to get “beyond good and evil” and preventing us from talking with any conviction about good and evil anymore. Even those who deplore our current moral condition do so in the very language that exemplifies that condition.”[16]

Since his time, the LGBT movement has raised the consciousness of the educated and we have learnt to recognise ourselves as value-positers, and thus the importance of respecting others’ rights to posit values. We are no better at reflecting on our values, though, which is why sexual autonomy has become a dogma. We perceive that it follows from the very structure of our personalities, but we have no way of getting outside of the modern personality and seeing that it is not universal. We cannot empathise with social conservatives because we cannot understand how any decent person could not see that their own sexual values are as relative and chosen as our own. It is only natural, therefore, that a movement premised on the idea of freedom grows more and more restrictive of the freedom of dissenters with each passing year.

Charles Taylor tells a similar story about the nineteen-sixties in his monumental A Secular Age, calling our era the “age of authenticity”.[17]He identifies its origins in the Romantic movement rather than Nietzsche, and adds some complications, such as the influence on the student movements of a neo-Marxist critique of capitalism as repressing the integral and holistic aspects of human nature. But democratised Romanticism looks pretty similar to value-relativism: a discrediting of all moral narratives as obstacles to the free reign of self-expression. Something like Bloom’s analysis seems, therefore, to be broadly correct, and in the remainder of this essay I will further explain its great explanatory power.

The collapse of organised Christianity in the West is one of the defining features of the last sixty years. Before the 1960s, its erosion resembled Matthew Arnold’s “long, withdrawing roar” as the sea of faith retreated.[18] Church attendance in most Western countries was stable or falling slowly. In Britain, rates of baptism and confirmation remained at mid-nineteenth century levels.[19] Suddenly, between 1960 and 1983, they dropped by three quarters, and have since done so again.[20] And similar statistics apply to most other Western countries. Clearly, this was a result of the cultural and sexual revolution we have just described: Prof. Taylor explains how the liberalising of sexual mores alienated populations from the moral narratives of the church.[21]

But it is not just religious authority that has been weakened. Secular moral authority has collapsed too. Prof. Taylor describes how, in France, “Not only did the church see a sharp drop in adherence, but young people began to drop out of the rival Jacobin and/or Communist world-views as well…. It is not surprising that both Catholicism and this brand of republicanism undergo defections in the new…dispensation of expressive individualism.” [22]

Or consider the fate of Dutch “pillarization” at the same time. Until the late 1960s Dutch society was divided into four vertically-integrated “pillars”Catholic, Protestant, liberal, and socialisteach with their own political, economic, social, and media institutions, to the point that members of different pillars would attend separate football matches and use different hospital unions. Under attack from the new radical-liberal D66 party and the Nieuw Links movement, the upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s caused the system to break down.[23] Thus value-relativist culture is characterised by an undermining of all institutions that presume to pronounce on human goods, whether religious or otherwise.

And Bloom’s analysis of our culture can also help us explain some of the paradoxes listed earlier. We take sexual autonomy to be axiomatic because it seems the only way to respect the right of others to posit value, but the logic doesn’t work for narcotics or euthanasia. Death is, of course, traditionally imbued with religious meaning, but the transcendent doesn’t force itself upon us as unavoidably as it does in sex. Plenty of atheists go cheerfully to the grave expecting to experience nothing, but the feeling of exposure to pollution involved in sexuality is ineradicable, as the endless anxieties over harassment and objectification seem to attest. And in modern conditions, where most of us die out of sight and out of mind, death is relegated to the margins of our consciousness and our life-narratives, whereas sex is the main concern of most humans for forty or fifty years.

We retain a high age of consent because our society preserves the structures of Enlightenment modernity, one of which is an extended period of immaturity deriving from the educational needs of the modern economy, reinforced by a Romantic valorisation of childhood and innocence. This valorisation of course, also explains our obsession with romantic love, closely tied to our aversion to prostitution, which we seem to fear would cheapen it. A non-liberal society like China can travel further down the road to Perdition in this respect while remaining closer to historical normalcy: prostitution has been widespread in many traditional societies, but no society has ever done less to regulate other forms of extra-marital liaison than the modern West.

All this is intended to show that Bloom’s diagnosis has extraordinary explanatory power, not to prove that it is the absolute truth. It can, at least, explain far more about our condition than popular stories which blame the Enlightenment, or democracy, or medieval nominalism. And it is therefore a valuable starting point if those of us who aspire to something higher are to formulate a coherent response.

To return to MacIntyre’s thesis, autonomy is indeed central to the self-image of the age: But it is little more than that. The actual substance of life in the contemporary West, the everyday structure of our experience, involves very little meaningful autonomy. We live by swimming through a kind of effervescence: fleeting desires, temporary passions, shallow relationships all pass through the modern consciousness like ghosts, unrelated to any larger sense of our purpose or place in the cosmos.

Timothy Winter, arguably Britain’s most influential Islamic thinker, describes our culture as dominated by “a trivialisation so extreme that we fear to consider its destination”.[24] If we are to avoid arriving at a destination we find quite intolerable, we could do worse than to start our reflection with Allan Bloom.


Why Islam is True (2)

Secondary evidence for Islam


In January’s essay on Why Islam is True, I explained my understanding of what we might call the primary evidence for its truth: the existence of God and his unity and simplicity, the possibility of Prophethood, and the divine origins of the Qu’ran. Here I will try to explain secondary evidence, points which do not, even if correct, make it certain that Islam is true, but make it substantially more probable.


As all the points I will discuss here appeal to a notion of what a true religion should look like, I will combine my analysis of Islam’s superiority with discussion of this question.


The first piece of evidence is that Islam has not changed over time. A true religion should have  teachings that are unchanged since its inception. This is because a revealed religion claims to be based upon a message from God, who does not change, and if it deviates from the original message it becomes false. God might, of course, tell us that he will update the message in the future, but the criterion then just applies to whatever is the latest message.

The Church has used the notion of the Holy Spirit to justify justify changing its teachings, claiming that God is imminent within the institution and guiding it ever closer to the truth. However, this can’t explain either why it didn’t even reach the core doctrines of what we now call Christianity for three hundred years after Jesus’s(pbuh) death or why it initially claimed that the Spirit would actually prevent it from changing its mind. Moreover, reforms like those of Vatican II were blatantly following secular values.


Also, the Holy Spirit does not exist because the doctrine of the Trinity is false. Dr Brian Leftow at Cambridge, one of Christianity’s most eminent theologians, has spent over a decade trying to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is internally coherent and has admitted that so far it has been a failure. After two thousand years, with all the resources of modern logic, Christianity can’t even prove that its basic conception of God is logically possible, let alone true. So we should probably forget about it.


Fragments of the Qu’ran have been carbon-dated at the University of Birmingham to within the lifetime of Muhammad(pbuh), and even before this, hardly any Western scholars seriously doubted that the Qu’ran we have now is the version assembled by Uthman in 651AD. The few who did, like Patricia Crone, have mostly retracted their theories.


Uthman’s manuscript was assembled from the oral traditions of those who had heard Muhammad’s(pbuh) recitation of the Qu’ran, each of whom had to provide two witnesses for their verses. Western scholars have only been able to doubt the validity of this guarantee by assuming that his Companions were basically dishonest and cynical, an arbitrary supposition that goes against everything else we know about their lives. Even the modern critical method, applied properly and without prejudice, would find that the Qu’ran is unchanged.

The same goes for the Muhammad’s(pbuh) sayings, the hadith, from which most of Islam is derived, which were meticulously investigated by Islamic scholars and graded according to the reliability of the people who transmitted them, using normal (and very exacting) standards of honesty and intellectual competence. One of the greatest hadith collectors, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, is once supposed to have traveled from one end of the Arabian peninsular to the other in search of a single hadith. Seeing the transmitter trick his donkey into obeying him, he decided immediately that this treachery undermined his trustworthiness, turned on his heels, and left.


Western scholars who criticised the hadith collections either knew nothing about the subject, or, once scholarship improved, used completely illogical strategies to undermine them. Some used a cynical understanding of human nature to convict transmitters of forgery, with Joseph Schacht notably assuming that any common link in the transmission of a hadith through multiple chains must have been the person who forged it. As Dr Jonathan Brown has shown, this is all very well if you believe all humans are naturally liars, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the case of the transmitters of (most) of the hadith that Islamic scholars assembled over centuries; but it suffers from the same problem of all such ridiculous, simplistic theories of human nature, like classical Marxism. All humans are basically machines, their adherents, proclaim, motivated only by this or that and not by truth or righteousness—except I, exalted be my genius, who truthfully discerns this and judges them. Well, I wish the best of luck to people who can stomach this approach.

The other strategy they used was to question the content of the hadith. If they report miracles or other seemingly unlikely events, Western scholars claimed they can’t be true, no matter how reliable their narrators. This approach defeats the entire point of religion. If God exists—and He does—He can do anything, and so can His messengers if He lets them. So evaluating the content of hadith in this way only makes sense if you presuppose that Islam is false, and thus is completely useless as a criticism of it.


So Islam has an unchanged scripture and unchanged sources of authority. Of course, some of its moral and spiritual teachings have varied between time and place, but the unchanged texts give us constant standards of orthodoxy. There are also constant methods of interpretation. The four madhabs, or schools of jurisprudence, have not altered their methodology in the twelve-hundred odd years since their codification. Four schools exist, and even within them they allow different opinions on many subjects, because some of Islam’s texts are genuinely ambiguous, so multiple equally valid interpretations are often possible. But there are very strict limits to this, established through application of rigorous, scientific study of Arabic grammar, logic, and rhetoric, to make sure reason operates only within the boundaries of revelation. Sects that deviate from this, like the so-called Wahabbis, are easily identified and rejected by mainstream scholars.

And consequently basic fundamentals of the religion are exactly the same as they were in the time of Muhammad(pbuh). The method of prayer, the five pillars, and the essential moral commandments have not changed one iota in fourteen-hundred years, and they obviously come from an unchanged scripture.

This is not true of other religions. As I mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church has constantly changed its teachings over its history, preserving the fiction of “unchanging doctrine” only through slight of hand, and has now adapted most of its values to secular modernity. How many “conservative” Catholics now believe that error has no rights, which was the official teaching of their Church in the nineteen-fifties? The point hardly needs to be made about liberal Protestants, whilst “conservative” evangelicals like America’s Christian Right want, at most, to selectively restore parts of the status quo of around nineteen-sixty, minus the overt racialism, and actually see secular ideas like liberal democracy as sacred. The Orthodox churches, though retaining a more ancient liturgy, were just as mired in the theological controversies of the first five Christian centuries and have also now changed their historic teaching on matters such as the morality of contraception, divorce, and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Similarly, in the Jewish tradition, all groups aside from the “ultra-orthodox” haredi consciously interpret religious law in light of modernity, even if they retain orthodox beliefs about the Torah’s ultimate origins. This approach is rare and marginal in Islam.


Secondly, Islam is untainted by the modern world. The so-called Enlightenment was a giant movement away from understanding God to manipulating His creation, and involved a disastrous attempt to derive secular values from unaided reason. It destroyed the Christian tradition in the West and the traditions of most of the societies the secular West colonised and put nothing substantial in their place. No uncontroversial moral conclusions were reached because none can be reached without God; we have never been more morally ignorant, to the point where most Westerners believe that morality is subjective, putting them one stop away from total nihilism. The Enlightenment was wrong: its premises are false. Adapting religion to them is therefore also wrong, and will render an adapted religion equally false.


We don’t need to prove how Christianity is compromised by the Enlightenment. Consider some of the world’s other traditions. In China, “neo-Confucian” scholars claim to be continuing an indigenous tradition but their political theory, based largely around the idea of a “fiduciary community”, is basically the secular, Western theory we call “communitarianism”, and consciously draws on Enlightenment methods of analysis. There are even neo-Confucians who develop complex communitarian arguments for “homosexual” “marriage”, but the idea that Confucius would have endorsed this is absolutely deranged. Buddhism, similarly, has compromised much of its historic integrity. Western “buddhism” is obviously a joke, but even in the East, Tibetan lamas teach ignorant foreign seekers advanced yogic practices previously accessible only after years of spiritual training.


Thirdly, Islam is vibrant and alive. While Christianity evaporates in the West, violent atheism remains state orthodoxy in China, and most of the rest of the world muddles along by retaining some kind of superficial commitment but adapting its important beliefs to the demands of modernity, only in the Islamic world is serious, orthodox piety still normative.


Islam is the world’s only complete din, a total, fully-described religious way of life with its own source of authority, that can in any way compete with secular modernity. The pre-colonial traditions of America have been almost completely destroyed. Native African religions are rarely practiced in a manner uninfluenced by Islam or Christianity. Some Hindu traditions have retained genuinely ancient worldviews and practices largely intact, but most do not offer a complete way of life, and are part of a hugely fragmented religious system, and the ruling BJP’s Hindutva ideology is utterly modernist. China’s Daoist and Confucian traditions are almost dead as lived systems, the former retaining only some fading practices in rural areas, largely stripped of their original meaning-giving context, and the latter only the nominal adherence of certain scholarly and political elites. In a very real sense Islam is therefore the only alternative to modernity and secularism.


This is important evidence for its truth because a good and loving God would not allow a true religion to go extinct. God promises in the Qu’ran to preserve the revelation for humanity; if other religions claim similar promises, they cannot claim they have been fulfilled.


Fourth, Islam is the din-al-fitr, the religion of primordial human nature. It did not begin with Muhammad(pbuh) but with the first human, Adam(pbuh). There is nothing more basic to humanity than the prostration of the Islamic prayer, which involves the entire mind and body in the affirmation of the foundation of all religious and spiritual life, the sense of dependence on something that transcends the physical universe. Equally, there is no better antidote to the baffling world of electric light and heat than the compulsory timing of the prayer, tracking the movement of the sun’s disc across the sky. It forces you to connect with the rhythm that is supposed to govern our lives, awareness of which is itself a form of ibada or worship. In this and other ways Islam fulfills the intimation, common to every single human being, for a way of life that is oriented to the transcendent, and does so in a way that is complete, systematic, strict but not rigid, and completely rationally satisfying.


Finally, and related to this last point, Islam’s moral system is evidence for its truth. Secular moral philosophers use a method called “reflective equilibrium”, in which they weigh general and specific intuitive judgments against each other until they reach a consistent overall system. A true equilibrium, however, would accord different weightings to moral intuitions depending on how universally they are shared. The people who do moral professional moral philosophy are almost all WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic) and therefore have totally different intuitions to most humans, especially if you count the ones who are already dead, i.e. most of us. If we do reflective equilibrium properly we will get to a moral system very similar to that of Islam. As Jonathan Haidt has shown, authority, loyalty, and purity are as integral to moral psychology as the fairness, freedom, and prevention of harm valued by WEIRDos.


Islam strikes the perfect balance between these values. It is neither hedonistic nor repressive, neither enjoining celibacy and asceticism nor the wanton enjoyment of the flesh at the cost of family, health and sanity. It recognises the equality of all individual souls before God while supporting the authority of the righteous and knowledgeable among us, and acceptance of the complimentary roles of the sexes and of a society’s different social classes and stations. It commands us to fight oppression, cruelty and the worship of worldly power wherever we find it while also forbidding the sowing of discord and sedition against any reasonably just ruler. It makes salvation a matter between the free individual and his Lord but forbids him from neglecting his duties to others. It is neither belligerent nor pacifistic. It is universal but particular, uniting all nations and tribes with a single direction of prayer while elevating their local customs to the status of sacred law. It tells us firmly that we must live in the world but not for it.


It is, in short, the middle way between our competing moral intimations, and at a deeper level the middle way between pantheism, which sees God everywhere, and atheism, for which He is nowhere.




All these are among God’s signs and among the ways He calls us to Islam. All are evidence for its invincible truth. If I have not proved this here, it is partly due to my own ignorance and partly because this world was made for us as a test, in which we must use our own intellects and our other faculties to come into God’s presence, and seek his guidance for ourselves, insha’allah.





















Gender, troubled

Our shared public spaces are becoming unbearable. Log into your email and avoid the bellies of obese women thrust at you from the sidebar as they flaunt their self-esteem. Travelling home from work, on the platform of the London Tube a lingerie company is suggestively advertising tights that fit snugly around their wearer’s, um, penis. Out in the street a rainbow-coloured poster proclaims a ghastly slogan about the joys of promiscuous homosexuality–“the family tree stops here, darling!”–without even the excuse of selling some unnecessary frivolity, apparently as part of some sort of obscene parody of a public information campaign. At home, turning on the TV, a gaggle of androgynous dancers gyrate vapidly to promote the latest alcoholic beverage, which we are supposed to want because it is apparently as resistant as they are to tyrannical “labels”.

Five years ago this was unthinkable. Remember when “because you’re worth it” was the epitome of narcissistic consumerism? It seems almost like an age of stultifying conservatism. We all laughed at Little Britain‘s Emily Howard (“I’m a laaady!”) because he obviously wasn’t. Now, high street shops are selling “gender-neutral” clothing to children.

Our culture was coarse, trivial, and hollow in 2013 and it is coarse, trivial and hollow now. But something deep seems to have changed. Our dominant motif has for some time been amoral self-expression, but it persisted within the limits of minimal human normalcy and common sense, which were reflected in our public spaces. Fathers would rail against boyfriends exploiting their daughters; men would boast about their virility while women tried to appear (relatively) chaste; everyone knew that obesity is unhealthy and unattractive. That common sense has now been declared thoughtcrime.

James Bond’s seduction and exploitation of women was glamorised following the cultural upheaval of the 1960s but it at least reflected a natural male desire. Contrast the trivial 2017 imitation xXx: Return of Xander Cage (sic), in which the eponymous hero’s female counterpart to Bond’s Q almost collapses with lust on setting eyes on his heaving chest and immediately starts telling him her “safe word”. A Bond girl would be ashamed of such wantonness.

The recent silly furore over millennials shocked by the “homophobia” of Friends shows just how fast our standards have changed. Even more so when you think that, at the time, shows like it were blasted by social conservatives for promoting degeneracy and fornication. Where are the social conservatives now? How many millennials have considered that within their short lifetimes, campaigns by churchgoing women to “clean up TV” had more power to promote censorship than the feminists did? Now, media bosses fear only movements devoted to promoting fornication. Perhaps this should prompt a moment’s reflection.

Exaggeration doesn’t behove serious analysis so we mustn’t proclaim a social apocalypse. Lifestyle magazines were pretty much the same bottomless cesspits of total permissiveness in the hedonistic ‘nineties. Christianity continues its rapid evaporation and marriage is in steep decline in the US, but there doesn’t seem to be a total collapse of social stability just yet. British women are moving in with partners and having children at almost the same age as the turn of the century, and the divorce rate has even fallen slightly. And while social norms do seem to be changing for the worse, the poisonous “hook-up culture” is only really entrenched in universities, and even in our Tinderised dating scene most young people have, or seek, some kind of stable romantic relationship. In fact, rates of teenage pregnancy, a bugbear for the old kind of anxious conservative, have actually fallen drastically. The curious fact is that this is probably because young people are having far less sex — one of the many bizarre paradoxes that exist in the age of authenticity.

What seems to be total is our anomie — the sense that there are no norms outside our own desires to regulate our choices. We live in a world of impersonal real or virtual public spaces and the image of human life they reflect and reify is no longer tempered by common sense. More than ever before, we are faced with a near-infinitude of choices and a minuscule number of norms to help us navigate them. You can review a thousand potential sexual partners on your phone in one evening and no one is allowed to tell you how to cope. Of course, healthy people still have a sense of indecency and abnormality–it’s an ineradicable part of the human condition–but with no public recognition of this, the instinct starts to press on the nerves.

And it is our nerves that are fraying. British medical statistics show that the number of teenage girls reporting mental health problems rose by fifty percent since 2012, and is now at nearly one third of the total. The frequency of suicide attempts and self-harm is skyrocketing too, and there are now large areas, like many of our universities, where you can almost smell neurosis poring out of the dorms and lecture rooms.

The website of Metro magazine yesterday featured a lifestyle article entitled Meet the polyamorous trio who are expecting their fifth child together (carefully purged of any hint of judgement). Politely declining, two articles below we have What it’s like when anxiety makes you spend every waking movement fearing for your life. What a world we’ve created for our children.

At the centre of all this is a weird new belief, the idea of “gender-fluidity”, which seems to be the central motor of this profound cultural change. It’s an idea so obviously false that it doesn’t need refuting, and this probably explains its great appeal in an era that professes radical scepticism about objective truth.


“What sex am I, Winston?”

“You are a man”

“And if the party says I am not a man but a woman – then what am I?”


Calling your opponents Orwellian is just about the cheapest move in the political play-book. A kind of lowest-common-denominator given our abysmal cultural literacy, Nineteen-eighty-four is pretty much the only political book every educated person has read. And worse, of course, it’s downright silly for those who object to our present gender trouble to cry persecution. When social conservatives were the establishment, in the 1950s, publishing the kind of fare we now read on a daily basis was a criminal offence, and rightly so.

But the usefulness of Orwell’s book is not in its description of hyper-totalitarianism, which shades at times into sadomasochism, but its social anatomy of a society that denies objective reality. Roger Scruton has said it was the first attempt in English to imagine a fully secular society, and he seems to be on to something — the party allows no trace of our post-Christian humanitarianism to survive in Oceania, and directs every religious impulse into war and state-worship. Freedom is Slavery and God is Power. Nietzsche would be proud, right before he was vaporised by the Thought Police. And truth, crucially, has no place in the radically disenchanted world that subjects everything to the will to power. O’Brien, Winston’s interrogator in the hateful Ministry of Love, explains:

Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation — anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.

This is startlingly similar to the new ideas about gender. We need only replace the party with the sovereign individual and we have pretty much what we are now supposed to believe. Biology is ever so old-fashioned; Nature is dreadfully Victorian. If I think I float, and I identify as a soap bubble, then I drift away in effervescent bliss. Or something along those lines.

It goes without saying that this subjectivism is false. No matter what the party may say, two and two will never make five and humans will always be divided into men and women, and this distinction will be important. There are empirical arguments for those who want them, but sanity should not be craven enough to need them. If freedom is the freedom to say that two and two make four, we should be grateful we still have it, and assert these obvious truths whenever they are contradicted even if we encounter unpleasant reactions.

Orwell warned us in this way that modernity could culminate in collective solipsism. This was the twentieth century’s biggest fear: that the forces of Progress, rationalising, homogenising, regularising, would develop their incipient totalitarianism until truth itself was redefined by an omnipotent nomenklatura or Inner Party. Oceania’s Ingsoc was the logical next step from the Nazis and the CPSU.

We now live in what Ulrich Beck called “second modernity”, in which Progress’s destructive work is turned from the forgotten ancien régime to its own structures. The nuclear family, having replaced extended kinship structures, is ripped apart by divorce and cohabitation; the nation-state, abolishing tribe, is in turn made irrelevant by globalisation; the Fordist factory makes guild impossible, and then is asset-stripped and sold off, its owner downsized and the redundant time-and-motion men told to celebrate this “disruptive innovation”. When once, to be modern was to race to rationalise and categorise every speck of dirt, it is now to slyly tell those engaged in the counting not to impose their pre-conceived notions of space and number on the clods of earth, which are really very special snowflakes. We first broke down traditional structures in order to replace them with new, improved and efficient versions; and now we break down these, too, to prove our ongoing dynamism, undermining all stable markers of identity, making everything light, liquid and subjective to indefinite revision, bar the individual’s power of redefinition. The only thing that is certain is uncertainty and the only thing constant is an individual’s ability to change. The natural epistemic corollary is radical subjectivism, of a kind that easily supports our troubled sense of gender-fluidity.

It is logical, then, that while the totalitarian twentieth century came close to embracing collective solipsism, our individualist twenty-first is now approaching solipsism simpliciter. This is the real meaning of the gender revolution.


What is the connection of all this to the degeneration of the last five years? Gender is at heart of the change. It drives the whole motor of decay forward by breaking down our defences. If you accept the solipsism of the transgender advocate, how can you resist anything else? There is no possible basis on which to criticise the promotion of sodomy, promiscuity or obesity if you’re committed to the belief that the individual will is the ultimate arbiter not just of values but of reality itself. If you can believe that a man who affects a falsetto accent and wears a dress is a woman just because he says so, you can believe just about anything the monoculture tells you to.

The upheaval is sudden but it has roots in the basic structures of second modernity. TV docudramas about “trans teens” were pushing almost the same agenda in the early ‘noughties. Already in 1990 Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble had arrived at the mountainously incoherent conclusion that not just “gender” (a term not actually in use outside of grammar textbooks until the middle ‘fifties) but also what we take to be biological sex were really “social constructs” rather than features of mind-independent reality. The idea of gender-fluidity, that gender is only a malleable social performance, was already de rigour among academics in the humanities and most of the social sciences before that, and can be traced back through the (mostly fraudulent) work of “sexologist” Alfred Kinsey to the early twentieth century studies of Havelock Ellis, who coined the term “eonism” to describe the then unstudied trans phenomenon.

For the most part though, gender-fluidity only became a plank of a major social movement in the nineteen-seventies, and reflected the sudden shift in the discourse of the “liberation” movements of the previous decade from majority to minority rights. Once it seemed that the establishment would no longer begrudge the youthful masses their rights to sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, the revolutionary energy was transferred to liberating those whose deviant desires the suburban bourgeoisie still found hard to stomach. The soixante-huitards rioted for the right to visit the girls’ dorms at the Sorbonne, but within a decade their successors would have scoffed at their selfish desire for gratification when women, homosexuals, and other minorities still suffered such oppression. This is still basically the response when people wonder why the orgy of negative freedom hasn’t actually led to erotic satisfaction.

By the middle nineteen-eighties the contemporary language of “freedom” and “equality”, contrasted against the “phobias” of their opponents, had already become mainstream discourse, but its power to reshape society was constrained by several factors. First, the liberation movements initially had major difficulties in deciding exactly who deserved to be liberated – in the ‘seventies, Britain’s Paedophile Information Link embarrassingly attracted the youthful support of several of today’s feminist matriarchs; but it was then decided that the modernist, Victorian age of consent would have to be maintained, perhaps because teenage marriages would bring us too close to the normal state of humanity.

Second, they were resisted by political conservatives. America’s Culture War was really a battle between opposing readings of their civil religion and its Constitutional Scripture: did it found One Nation Under God or a contract for mutual benefit between consenting adults? Conservatives resisted the ‘sixty-eighter ethic of free love and fornication in the name of family, community, and tradition, and fought bitter battles over contraception, school prayer, and same-sex marriage; liberals felt obliged to moderate their goals in response. In Britain, there was never a general assault on the cultural revolution, but Thatcher’s government at least liked to sound critical of the “permissive society” and she clumsily tried to fight the LGBT movement by banning it from schools and cutting government grants to the “loony left” local councils that it influenced.

Today, conservatism is in more-or-less open retreat. The American Conservative‘s Rod Dreher reports almost daily on the surrender of Christendom to the sexual revolution, and with the partial exception of the hot-button issue of abortion, demographic shifts since the turn of the century have led the conservative coalition give up the ghost on these ephemeral “values” and return to the red meat of war-mongering, Zionism, and tax cuts for billionaires. The core Christian Right is still plugging away, but at least at a Federal level their notional allies have abandoned their goals, and are content to try to scoop up a little “religious liberty” in consolation as they negotiate surrender. And Britain’s so-called Conservative Party have given up the slightest pretense of standing for traditional values and embraced every single plank of the left’s lunatic agenda, and more.

Third, the sectors of society that always supported the liberationists has lost its sense of moderation. Gay civil partnerships sufficed for many liberals in the ‘nineties and ‘noughties but this is now unthinkably reactionary. The whole rhetoric of this group has changed, and their writers and bloggers now treat their goal, increasingly acknowledged to be absolute sexual autonomy, as some kind of axiomatic value, rather than a fallible moral belief whose detractors deserve a degree of respect.

This is closely tied to the rise of new media, which have allowed the ideas of lonely academics to penetrate deep into public consciousness. Millennial are probably no more likely to have read Judith Butler than their parents, but everyone has read her third, fourth, or fifth-hand commentaries on Tumblr and Twitter. These new fora disembed individuals from the epistemic structures of “first modernity” with its hierarchical NewsCorps and ponderous editorials; no grey-suited editor can tell you what to believe. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers claimed to be able to decide a British election with a single front-page, sending thirty million empty vessels marching to the polls; their power is vanished now, and we curate our own front pages on Facebook, filling them with specially-selected articles that appeal to our individual tastes.

But this very dis-embedding is what has made young people so conformist in their beliefs. Social media weakens the power of cartoonists and op-ed writers but it also undermines the capacity for independent thought. You no longer engage with ideas as an individual, because the decisions about what to read, whether to believe it, and how to interpret it are all made socially, according to the rhythms of a network where every comment is scrutinised publicly and the effect of each individual’s actions on others are instantaneous and mediated only by algorithms. There is also a growing body of evidence that the use of online media undermines not only memory but the ability for deep and sustained reflection. Without this capacity for autonomous thought, for escaping the unconscious conformity that Heidegger called thrown-ness, humans are not so different from linguistically-gifted chimpanzees.

At the same time, it is the perfect medium for the ethic of self-expression. We blow our little trumpets through carefully designed profiles where every wart can be concealed, showing only the face we wish to prevent to the world in a space where the sovereignty of our own life-styles seems absolute.

So self-expression becomes an axiom because it is experienced as the foundation of our mode of congition, which itself permits reflection only through the mediation of others. Hence some millenial college students can be reduced to apoplectic fits by questioning ideas they would have laughed at ten years ago. No society could hold together if humans weren’t intellectually conformist to a point, but this involves a step-change in that disposition.

This explains the loss of restraint from liberals. Combined with the dwindling of the older, socially conservative generations it probably explains the surrender of conservatism too, and the centrality of gender-fluidity to our cultural gear-change is probably the cause of the wider shedding of inhibition documented in part 1 of this essay. Finally, the suddenness of the tipping point probably reflects a critical mass of consumer demand. The coporate brands who run our public spaces have realised simultaneously they can maximise profits by promoting themselves in a new way, and now you can barely walk down the street without encountering glamorous images of the utmost depravity.

What can be done? In the short-term, not much will change. Perhaps, before too long, the system will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, and dissolve into a puddle of serotonin. In the meantime, it seems a duty, when possible, to tell the modern world that its sacred beliefs are false: and in view of the destruction toward which we are heading, it will be worth it if even one person listens.