What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images . . .
—T.S. Eliot, “The Burial of the Dead,”
The Waste Land
The body of the hapless American missionary John Chau has been abandoned to the North Sentinelese. By the lights of the Indian government and the leaders of the Western world, the savages may do with it as they please. A trespasser, he was not worthy of forgiveness, or even of Rousseau’s famous pity, for his ultimate trespass was to threaten the amour de soi of an unspoiled, “uncontacted” people. And that, my friends, is a crime against humanity; the oldest crime against humanity, according to Rousseau, the Muhammad of the West.
The First Pillar of Postmodernity is this: There is one god, Ourself, and Rousseau is his prophet. Our elites follow his sayings virtually without question, the hadith of the man who explained to us the origins of inequality and showed us the better way of the social contract. Look around you and witness the manner in which moral, cultural, social, and religious issues are discussed. Equality—a state but also a feeling—is our cardinal virtue, our base assumption regarding what is good and what is necessary for happiness. Why, we sometimes even go to war to bring it to other benighted peoples, for it is their privilege to be “forced to be free,” per Jean-Jacques.
In conversations between what we call left and right, one side speaks with complete confidence in favor of equal rights, equal treatment, equality of outcome, equal pay, and so on, knowing it is safe from being harried out of a job, deplatformed, or arrested and charged with trespassing and assault at the conclusion of the Antifa “protest.” The other side is always outré. In debate it hesitates, shrinking from its true opinion and falling back on the unbiblical scripture, “To each his own.” It acts as if Moses came down from Sinai bearing tablets of stone on which the finger of God wrote, “Congress shall make no law . . . ” When it does attempt to speak the wisdom of the ages (“Men and women are different”; “countries have borders”), it must hedge and qualify: I’m not saying that, um, you know . . . Please don’t misunderstand.
“I love Mexicans!”
“Who doesn’t love China?”
Conservatives—clergy in particular—must always give ground in debate and public discourse, apologizing for the sins of the past while hoping for a few crumbs of concession from the master’s table. I’m not in favor of gay marriage, but I’ll support civil unions. Deal? As it turned out, there would be no deal. Or: I’ll sell you a cake for your gender-confirmation-surgery party, but only if I don’t have to use my “art” in designing and baking it. Will you grant me my “religious freedom”? No?
Now, to be sure, my point at present is not to question the prudence of acting in kindness and generosity within today’s “diverse” and litigious marketplace, or to undermine your defense attorney’s “first freedoms” strategy. I am simply emphasizing what stares us in the face every day—our conventional morality in the West; that which we do not question. Again, consider what hell you might encounter personally if you wondered out loud why inequality as such should be deemed a problem to be solved in the first place. Or whether, in light of our near-religious commitment to “science” or “what the science says,” equality is a goal that can be grasped, or should be.
Answer: You would reap the generous rewards that follow from having every damning ism imaginable attached publicly to your name.
Rousseau tells us what we instinctively want to hear in our fallen state: Traditional authorities are evil because they were created (and are sustained) by men who seek to promote inequality. Thus, we are free, if not morally obligated, to disobey them and, if necessary, destroy them. It is a convenient philosophy for an age of revolution. According to Rousseau, the civil order produced by Western Christendom—churches, kings, magistrates, common law, cultural institutions—fosters amour propre, an illegitimate regard of the self by which man judges himself in relation to others. Go to Sunday service, or math class, or the bank, or the realtor’s office, and what do you find? Judgment, without and within! Inequality (not a sinful nature) breeds resentment.
Rousseau never saw a nature film in which chimps beat one of their own tribe for entertainment or tear an enemy chimp apart limb from limb, eat him, and do a victory dance. The savage Ape-Man, J.-J. imagined, had only his own self-preservation (amour de soi) in mind, if you can call it a mind. The Ape-Man was unselfconscious and therefore innocent. He flounced about the forest in harmony with everything and everyone else, eating and screwing whatever he liked—but with one caveat: He was restrained by an innate sense of pity. He did not enjoy witnessing the suffering of his fellow fellows. Why? Was our immediate ancestor an I-feel-your-pain sort of creature—a Homo clintonus? Not quite, for that would entail too much self-awareness. Absent a God, a king, a child-support payment, and an independent-counsel investigation, he was simply a feeler.
Immediately we are faced with a contradiction. For of course Rousseau knew that there had to be some sort of state to police inequalities, and some sort of religious-educational structure to disseminate the dogmas of egalitarianism. He also was quite convinced that there would be no return to his fictive “state of nature.” Rather, the people must be taught that government among men is not instituted by God (as in “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God,” Romans 13:1-2). Instead, governments are mere social contracts orchestrated by men, and, in order for any government to be just, it must be sensitive and subject to the General Will. In a more perfect union, shorn of evil institutions, the General Will would consistently draw barrels of equality out of its deep wells of collective pity.
All of this is, of course, absurd as well as unattainable. (Armed with Rousseau’s Social Contract and the guillotine, the Jacobins gave it the old college try.) And yet, that very unattainableness is the genius of Rousseau as political guide: Resentment may always and ever be stoked by those who seek power, because inequality, like the poor, we will always have with us. For sinful human beings in a fallen world, it is resentment, not pity, that has a bottomless well. The key is to convince people that inequality—in abstracto, an sich—is both evil and the root of all evil.
And there we are; we are there. So axiomatic is Rousseau’s doctrine that even our conservative slogans take on new meaning. “The government that governs best is the government that governs least”—a saying not of Jefferson’s but of Thoreau’s in his Civil Disobedience—can readily translate for today’s young public-school-educated Republican into a belief in the obligation of civil authorities to help and not hinder homosexuals who wish to marry, adopt children, or express their licentiousness while wearing leather in the Pride Parade.
Protestant evangelicals who engage in the debate of “egalitarianism” versus “complementarianism” with regard to marriage and the roles of the sexes (if such there be, you patriarch!) tend to assume that our goal as Bible-believing Christians ought to be to afford as much equality as possible within the bounds of Scripture, just as the Protestant Mainlines did decades ago. This impulse is drawn not from the totality of Scripture, nor from any individual text, but from the dominant culture of the West. Indeed, they will not find it in the Bible at all, for only its opposite is there, beginning with God, Who has no equal, and proceeding to fallen man and to woman, to whom the Lord says, “Thy desire shall be for thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Male and female equally bear the imago Dei, yet the Bible clearly and repeatedly states that men and women are so fundamentally different that there are attitudes and actions that pertain to one sex and not the other, bringing glory and shame, respectively. Angels are horrified at effeminate men.
Every sort of social inequality is blessed in Scripture, from Genesis to Onesimus. Instead of being presented as evils to be eliminated (or resentfully tolerated by the faithful until the Cult of the Supreme Being can finally be inaugurated in Paris, France, 1794) these inequalities are presented in the Bible as the basis of the orders of creation and vocations within which people successfully pursue virtue. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” Even private property, Rousseau’s bête noire of primal inequality—Karl Marx learned this from him—is affirmed in the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not steal” is otherwise impossible), where ressentiment is forbidden (“Thou shalt not covet”). And private property requires national borders as well as the king’s use of the sword to defend them.
Revitalization efforts in Western culture’s late and overripe sensate phase will be doomed to failure if we do not address and destroy the core Rousseauian value of equality. Even that is not enough: What is needed is a recommitment to the true vision of man and his place in both the world and society under God. To eliminate egalitarianism apart from a re-assertion of the classical Christian vision of man is to invite seven Hobbesian demons to replace Rousseau—an observable phenomenon in some, though not all, corners of today’s Alt-Right.
First we must strike the root. And that root has burrowed itself so deeply into the Western mind that the ground will be profoundly disturbed when we do so. The root, the sine qua non of Rousseau’s ideology is the descent of man from lower life forms, the primitivist and naturalist assumption that gave the West Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 105 years after the publication of J.-J.’s Discourse on Inequality. Taken together, these two books explain exactly why the West gaped in horror not at the North Sentinelese’s savage treatment of Mr. Chau, but instead at Mr. Chau himself.
Do you dare question “the science”? Richard Weaver, in Visions of Order, calls “the science”—as postmodernists say so blithely and dogmatically when confessing it—a magnificent instance “of the question-begging fallacy.” But it is a fallacy that serves well the hatred and removal of hierarchy, order, and tradition. “More than likely what this revelation inspires in the average consciousness,” writes Weaver, “is the thought, ‘Well, if we are animals, let’s be real ones.’”