In his latest book, James Kalb has produced, among many other things, a phenomenology of the modern liberal mentality. Although in design Against Inclusiveness consists, in the main part, in a sustained critique of the regnant mandatory egalitarianism, including its characteristic policies of diversity and multiculturalism, Kalb’s studious reconstruction of the self-denominating progressive Weltanschauung calls attention to itself meritoriously, not least in its repeated insistence on the paradoxical religiosity of the aggressively secular view about existence.
Kalb writes of what he calls “the inclusivist regime” that “a basic feature of inclusiveness that explains a great deal of its power is its religious quality.” According to Kalb, “Inclusiveness presents a vision of unity in the world without outsiders and without borders, one in which there is no ‘they,’ but only ‘we.’” The liberal crusader who wishes to implement inclusion everywhere sees his project as “an overriding goal, always to be striven for, though never quite achieved.” While Kalb is too careful a rhetorician to say so directly, liberalism in his presentation resembles another dubious religion. Thus in a context where the inclusivist regime has triumphed, “other religions that want to remain socially acceptable must assimilate to inclusiveness and become something other than they were.” The same animating vision functions also to fill its adherents with the glow of their own piety and to justify them in their own minds to require from all outsiders “perpetual confession and atonement” until they too have submitted to the incontestable truth.
Having delved preliminarily into the inclusivist state of mind, Kalb follows up with a critique. If inclusion were a “this-worldly religion,” which it is, then it would be vulnerable, as all this-worldly religions are, to self-aggrandizing distortion. Whereas under Christianity, for example, the universality of humanity derives from the axiom that all are children of God so that “unity transcends its visible signs,” yet under inclusion “when the vision becomes secularized … the demands of unity become more concrete” and “the approach … more activist.” The inclusivist regime, as Kalb argues, is quite as totalitarian as the ideological regimes of the last century. It has not proposed (thus far) to herd dissenters into camps or to annihilate them by punitive violence, and yet it is “no less thorough” than they. Inclusion “allows people to be different … but does not allow their differences to matter.” Inclusion operates according to an epistemology wherein “differences like purple hair are acceptable, because they have no functional significance,” but “differences like masculinity and femininity are not.”
Implacably radical, inclusiveness in Kalb’s description continues the vitalist nihilism that first manifested itself destructively in the French Revolution, especially under the Directorate. Inclusiveness thus finds itself, in its program of “transvaluing values,” perpetually at war with all inherited institutions and with every naturally developed custom and convention associated with any specifically local tradition. The universalism of inclusiveness conforms to a purely bureaucratic model and embraces only the most abstract, probably Keynesian, notion of economics. When the administrators of inclusiveness pursue their goal, in Kalb’s observation, they “insist on suppressing the effects of distinctions that have traditionally ordered social life, but do not correspond to bureaucratic or commercial ways of doing things.” The schedule of suppression extends its hostility so broadly that it must seek, according to the necessity of its conviction, the neutering of grammar, the abolition of cultural boundaries, the redefinition of the family “to cover every possible living arrangement,” the transformation of ethnic events into “festivals of inclusion,” and the so-called diversification of standing institutions “to the point of losing all definition.” Finally, “distinctions of nationality must go as well, since they stand in the way of the comprehensive organization of all human beings on the lines that are now uniquely considered rational.”
That last quotation points to another important aspect of Against Inclusiveness—Kalb’s meticulous linkage of diversity and multiculturalism to one of modernity’s central intellectual distortions, the ideology of scientism. Kalb devotes most of a chapter (“Why Such Strength?”) to his discussion of scientism and he reverts to the topic in subsequent chapters, because the scientistic prejudice sits at the very core of the inclusive regime’s utopian scheme and helps to explain that regime’s puritanical narrow-mindedness. The term scientism owes its coinage to Alfred North Whitehead; it has been a matter of critical interest over the years to writers as different as Edmund Husserl, René Guénon, Nicolas Berdyaev, Aldous Huxley, Oswald Spengler, and Arthur Koestler. Kalb defines scientism as the insistence, in respect of “patterns of life that … resist clear formulation,” that “such things be ignored.” The inclusivist regime dictates that “what is not scientific does not exist.” A thing is not scientific when it refuses the attempt to quantify it, to reduce it to a material category, to remake its premises so that they match a fixed idea, or to make it yield on inquiry what to the inquirer would be a logical self-justification. Wherever reality remains ineluctable, scientism, in Kalb’s discussion, “seems to say … let us treat something that is easier to study, understand, and make use of as equivalent to reality.” Scientism is “scientific fundamentalism.” Its consequence for epistemology is “radical simplification of the intellectual and social world” culminating in the inevitable angry decision to annihilate “distinctions that are at odds with a fully rationalized social order.”
Kalb argues in Against Inclusion that inclusiveness is a religion or at least that it is religiose. Inclusiveness is a “this-worldly religion.” That is to say, inclusiveness is ultimately irrational rather than rational, despite the fact that it conceives of itself as supremely rational. In this line of Kalb’s reasoning, two of his themes come nicely together, for when science, or rather the politicized distortion of it, becomes a religion, it paradoxically becomes a religion that rejects reality. In rejecting reality, inclusiveness necessarily rejects the millennially demonstrated human need for transcendence. Because the religion of the traditional West, Christianity, insists on a transcendent orientation (as children of God, we look beyond ourselves to God), inclusiveness, like that other religion already mentioned, takes the form of a war on Christianity, and beyond that on any metaphysical premise whatever. As Kalb writes, “Science dislikes formal and final cause … the essential features of a thing in their mutual relations and the states of affairs they characteristically bring about.” A scientistic regime will likewise ignore and, when frustrated, try to abolish essences. Indeed, there is a specific postmodern discourse that attacks what it calls essentialism, or the belief, unforgivably erroneous in the eyes of the race-class-gender professoriate, that things have inalterable essences.
Kalb writes that when the dogma that “there are no essential functions or qualities” prevails, the conclusion must ensue “that traditional culture, which is always based on particular connections, identities, and meanings, is intrinsically oppressive.” For the inclusivist, who rejects the symbol of God as Creator in favor of the idea that the ego is self-creating, its own malleable creature, and that the ego can transform everything at will, self-definition comes to substitute for essence, an absurdity the implications of which it would take a resurrected Søren Kierkegaard fully to work out. With apologies to the Dane, Kalb acquits himself impressively. “Self-definition is now our essence, but it can have no positive content, when all definitions have become utterly unstable, and so it can only be negative.”
Kalb never employs the term gnostic in respect of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism, but the politburo that submits to their common agenda is gnostic in the classic mode: It is at war with Creation and its full vehemence is therefore directed to radical de-creation, or nihilism, which it calls liberation. As Kalb writes, “Self-definition … takes the form of opposition either to other people or to any remaining limitations on its own absolute freedom.” Such a mentality (it is more like an anti-ethos) will peremptorily “treat the world as a resource and turn the social order into a kind of machine for giving people in equal measure whatever they happen to want, as long as what they want fits the smooth working of the machine.”
It would be interesting to know whether Kalb is familiar with the little book The Gift (1925) by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss, a study of archaic exchange-customs in the Old Germanic, Polynesian, and Northwest American Indian worlds. It might seem at first blanch that such a book as The Gift and such a one as Against Inclusiveness must have little in common. One of Mauss’s motives, however, for undertaking his study was his concern that the ancient conventions of donative reciprocity had extensively humanized social existence and enabled different groups that might otherwise be in a hostile relation to communicate and trade and so also to remain at peace with one another. Mauss held the conviction that the modern world, with its tendency towards abstraction in all things, would, like some blithe juggernaut, swiftly abolish the remaining vestiges of archaic exchange. But that would be to abolish the habits and prejudicial expectations that made life human. In his Conclusion, Mauss wrote: “One might even say that a whole section of [modern] law, that relating to industrialists and businessmen, is nowadays at odds with morality.” Mauss invokes “the rigour, abstraction, and inhumanity of our legal codes” and “the cold reasoning of the merchant, the banker, and the capitalist.” To the modern order, Mauss preferred “the supreme art, Politics, in the Socratic sense of the word.”
Kalb’s argument is the latter-day, rather more emergent, counterpart of Mauss’s argument of eight decades ago. To say so is not to attribute to Kalb a panicky attitude, where Mauss was merely wary. On the contrary, Kalb’s presentation is never other than serene in the face of the threat whose soulless soul it recreates in order then to submit it to a critique. In the chapter on “Effects of Inclusiveness,” Kalb remarks how, in endeavoring “to eliminate the effects of important human differences,” inclusiveness “quickly becomes tyrannical.” He notes that implementing inclusiveness, because it is so contrary to settled custom and even to consciousness itself, requires “a comprehensive scheme of control that is fine-grained enough to govern everyday human interactions and exempt from popular influences and traditional limitations that would otherwise protect and empower prejudice.” Inclusiveness leads to extremism, lying, and abuse. It amounts to “the destruction of thought.” Given the enormity of what Kalb describes, and what every unblinkered observer of the contemporary world can see, whence comes his calmness?
Kalb remains calm in part because, on his analysis, the modern liberal regime, fixated on inclusiveness through its undertakings of diversity and multiculturalism, is even more replete with contradictions than capitalism was according to Marx. Thus, “scientific fundamentalists are unable to deal rationally and appropriately with human and social reality.” Again, the demands never to discriminate, always to tolerate, everywhere to include have, as their palpable consequences such phenomena as “the irrationalism of much modern thought, the coarseness and inhumanity of modern culture, the narrowness of many apologists for modern science, the abusiveness of discussions relating to religion and traditional morality, and the replacement of discussion by censorship, which in much of the West is now backed by fines and imprisonment.” Everywhere the supposed liberation turns out to shackle and bind, to censure and humiliate. At some point, Kalb argues, the cost of inclusiveness for the non-ideologically committed, for ordinary people, will become too high whereupon active, if not articulate or organized, thwarting and avoidance of the system will become widespread. People crave reality. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are real and they perdure even where the mention of them is banned. Sooner or later the need for them, unsatisfied by propaganda, will reassert itself.
As in the case of the ideological Soviet-Communist government under Mikhail Gorbachev, it is likely that the bloated bureaucracy of inclusiveness will remain in place, its functionaries drawing their salaries and issuing decrees, but that the effectiveness of the system will deteriorate as, locally, people jerry-rig new, informal institutions to replace those that the juggernaut has destroyed. The lesson of the USSR is ambiguous, however. Eight decades of Bolshevism obliterated civic society in Russia. Gorbachev’s departure from power and the collapse of Communism led to the confusion and low-grade civil war of the Yeltsin years and to the nationalist dictatorship of today. As for the United States of America, especially due to virtually unrestricted third-world immigration, the future nation will likely be heavily balkanized, full of tribal aggravation and resentment, with less and less of a true public square. As Russia shows, it is difficult in the extreme to rebuild in a short time institutions that took centuries to develop and were then violently abolished. Life in post-inclusionary America will have perforce become more private and domestic.
Thomas F. Bertonneau is a long-time visiting professor on SUNY Oswego's English faculty. He writes about literature, music, religion, politics, and culture.
Posted: May 25, 2014
Passos and Century’s End
Pedro Blas González