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A Response to Hanania

A Response to Hanania
Questions concerning moral ideology and belief are substantive, Richard

A lot of people had strong reactions to my last article on the “New Secular Right”. However, it seems that most readers with objections didn't actually read my piece through entirely. It's probably my fault for leaving the substantive points at the end of the post, prefaced with more light-weight observations about the vibes within our given political moment. Would there be less confusion if I made my criticism more direct? But it‘s hard when discussing broader philosophical problems undergirding a loose group of people.

One person who is not very happy about my take is Richard Hanania, one of the main thinkers discussed in my article. At a broad level, Hanania thinks I was sloppy in my description of his work as I grouped him with myriad other (similar) thinkers and was therefore forced to use only the loosest terms to describe his political preferences. Although, in my defense, I do think I did a better job than Hanania did when he described me as someone who is “mad about ‘Jewish influence’” and who “post(s) all day about how brave they are in the face of so much oppression”.

However, beyond his initial complaints, the main force of Hanania’s article (as far as I can figure) is that my piece lacked “substance” because it did not directly address  specific policy positions. My article wasn’t about a disagreement on policy, it was about the interaction of metapolitics and broad moral worldviews, so it seems Richard may be making a category error here.

Nevertheless, perhaps I should take Hanania’s advice and stick just to substantive disagreements about statistics and policy stuff. In fact, I seem to remember disagreeing with Richard on statistics a while back. Twitter's advanced search will allow me to recall this interaction, at least using my browser’s incognito mode.

Oh right! This is one of the few tweets I ever sent to Hanania, and (probably?) the one that earned me Richard’s ban hammer. But, in hindsight, I probably did cross a line. Contesting statistical causation inside sociological data can be quite offensive to these liberal intellectual types. And you have to be aware of people’s sensitivities.

I bring this tweet up, not out of bitterness (the last thing I need is more people to argue with on Twitter) but to put things in perspective. Namely, it’s pretty obvious that Hanania’s objections to me and other right-wingers, do not lie in contentions over facts, statistics, or legislative priorities. Rather, Hanania’s objections are foundational, moral, and aesthetic.

Not that there is anything wrong with moral and aesthetic disagreement. But I think we need to establish whether such topics are proper objects of public discourse in the first place.

For Hanania, this question seems contentious. After spending the majority of his response criticizing me for not addressing specific policy opinions inside an article about meta-politics and moral ideology, Hanania then concedes that, indeed, sometimes, meta-politics are necessary.

However, his concession doesn’t do much to clarify the issue at hand. Writes Hanania:

Sometimes it does make sense to discuss metapolitics, but you have to agree on the substance of politics first. The question of whether a group of people should talk about stopping mass immigration presupposes that they share the same opinion on the subject. There’s no point in a pro-life Christian debating the metapolitics of abortion with someone like me or Anatoly Karlin. A person on the dissident right might as well go talk about strategies for saving DEI with Ibram Kendi. To criticize someone for not advancing a position they don’t hold is nonsensical.

I have read this paragraph several times, puzzled, since it seems Hanania is undermining the points he made earlier in his response and endorsing my general opinion that discussions concerning moral ideology are more important than relitigating specific legislation or circumstantial facts.

As Hanania, points out, I don’t want to disagree with Ibraham X Kendi over WHICH specific DEI policy proposal is less harmful. I want to contest his entire worldview, expose its internal incoherence, and show that, if its logic is taken to its conclusion, it will have disastrous outcomes for society.

Furthermore, while I certainly could argue with Hanania or Karlin over which social policies might lead to fewer abortions, isn’t that the least interesting thing about our disagreement? The real issue is about technology, ideology, and the dangers of giving people license to torture and kill a human life that they decided to create. The real contention concerns meta-politics and normative worldviews; in this case, whether we should put the value of liberty AHEAD of the value of human well-being, or whether, as I would argue, it needs to come AFTER.

It’s this kind of meta-political question that is truly relevant.

And even as such, I would certainly be willing to debate Hanania on any, more particular, “substantive” policy position he has written about. I would happily outline why his economic case for mass immigration is absolute dog shit; how his argument is totally reliant on fake measures of human well-being like GDP, and based on a tenuous set of statistical projections that are in the process of collapsing. I would also be eager to review the unhinged insanity of Hanania’s belief that the mere existence of native lazy people creates an undefeatable moral imperative to import hundreds of millions of migrants from the third world who might be willing to work. I would be glad to take down Richard’s belief that "diversity is our strength", despite, or because, it destroys a country’s social cohesion. Hell, for old times’ sake, we could even debate whether secularism causes prosperity, even though the reverse has been demonstrated across the entire historical record of the 20th century.

But what would the point of any of these conversations be?

Most people have heard these arguments; they know the ins and outs of each position. In fact, despite his unorthodox pretensions, Hanania doesn’t have many takes that are very different from those already in the mainstream. His case for mass migration looks identical to the one promoted by the CATO institute for decades, his understanding of HBD and its consequences looks very similar to that of Steven Pinker or Charles Murray, his attitudes towards diversity and abortion are more or less the same as any Silicon Valley progressive, and his case against the Civil Rights Act appears to be a slightly modified version of the one made by Christopher Caldwell.

However, what I have always found interesting about Richard Hanania is how his  various opinions fit together into a coherent philosophy. Certainly, that’s what most people who have followed his career have been wondering.

For instance, Richard understands the problem with our closed-minded and cowardly journalist class, who have spent an enormous amount of their collective efforts  corrupting the mainstream media and trying to destroy the careers of their political enemies (including Hanania himself). Nevertheless, in other articles, Hanania praises just this class as being fundamentally honest and a bastion of  procedural truth-telling. Does this make sense?

But Hanania’s contradictions continue. And I must ask some follow-up questions.

If Human Bio-Diversity is true and Democracies are ruled by political coalitions, how will mass third-world migration not capsize our liberal political order and thrust our society into chaos, especially when we have already admitted that diversity destroys social cohesion?

If A.I. is going to solve the competency crisis by automating virtually all jobs, then why is there an economic imperative to flood the country with foreign workers? In such a scenario, what would an “increasing GDP” even mean?

And finally, if “Women's Tears Win in the Marketplace of Ideas”, what is the utility of a politics ruled by liberal open discourse? Won’t it just bend our government to the whims of fickle female irrationality?

We could keep going, but I think my readers get the point.

Of course, Hanania has offered some answers to these questions in the past. But his attempts to reconcile these issues are deeply unconvincing and depend on idealized scenarios, too cute policy fixes that are at odds with human nature, and public moral contradictions that would need to be papered over with giant society-wide lies.

But even with these convenient fixes, none of Hanania's views fit together coherently, much less resemble a consistent worldview. Instead, Richard’s philosophy always appears to be a jumbled patchwork pieced together, post hoc, from a set of attention-grabbing article headlines. It's impossible to find a motivating internal logic or an under-girding moral ethos that might be followed by other people.

But does that even matter? Perhaps Richard would dismiss the question of a consistent motivating ideology altogether as not having “substance”? But I don’t think that you can avoid this question. Because belief and mass ideological persuasion are the main ways societal changes manifest and take root in the long term.

Take for instance the Civil Rights Revolution, a topic that Richard Hanania has written on extensively. At this stage, it seems clear to most that the societal changes made during the Civil Rights era are the proximate cause of our modern “woke” insanity. However, you won’t find the core problem in the text of the Civil Rights Bill itself, nor even the many modifications that followed in the decades afterward. Instead, the critical changes came via belief in the ideology of Civil Rights, by the many small actions performed by the generations taken in by Martin Luther King’s message, and those who came after who were educated to see the Civil Rights dream as the highest good that society might pursue.

It was these people and their beliefs that created the demand for DEI and “wokeness”  broadly. They were the HR managers, the assistant university professors, circuit court judges, and teachers who transformed the goals of the mid-20th century equal opportunities bureaucracy into a reigning society-wide religion.

Does it matter that these new “woke” policies violate the text of the original Civil Rights Act? Of course it doesn’t. No more than it matters that huge swathes of the Federal Government are technically “unconstitutional". It doesn’t matter because law is always secondary to belief.

Joseph DeMaistre could have told us as much. The words of a given legal policy don't ultimately restrain human action, they simply embody an existing moral ethos. Without alignment with this moral ethos, laws literally become dead letters.

As such the goals of the Civil Rights Revolution are always expansive, reaching beyond the text itself, embodying its role as the main motivating faith of our civilization. Conversely, attempts to restrain its excesses in law are narrow and frequently ignored by the parties supposedly in charge of enforcing them. This is because no one thinks their actions are constrained by a dead god, and anti-woke liberalism, as Richard Hannia imagines it, is as dead a god as can be.

You can’t have permanent societal change without changing society’s moral belief system. And you can’t change people’s beliefs without an alternative moral ethos which, everywhere and always, is deeply connected to the ultimate question of human meaning and purpose.

This was, in short, the main thesis of my original article, though Hanania only dedicates one paragraph to address the issue.

Richard closes his article with the following thought:

I think the best thing that the average person can hope for is to find meaning in the ordinary business of everyday life, which in practice means busying themselves so much with work, family, and hobbies that they don’t bother thinking too much about philosophical or political issues, which most people are terrible at. As for the higher type of man, the most important thing he needs to reach his full potential is freedom, which liberalism has historically proved the best system for delivering.

Ok fine, I guess.

We can leave aside the obvious problem that Richard is treating the question of meaning like it is a question of diversion. We can also table the question of how telling people not to “think too much about political issues” can be reconciled with Hanania’s professed belief in participatory Democracy. Fundamentally, the problem with Hanania’s concept of meaning is what it would practically look like in the early 21st century.

So people are supposed to find meaning in family and friends?

Well, that might be tough considering that family formation is cratering, and people increasingly have fewer friends. Even inside hobbies, modern people are getting less social overall. Could this be due to the absence of social cohesion that Richard is so glad we destroyed?


But with the increasing absence of social outlets, Richard is left recommending that people find meaning from, well, their jobs.

Great. So after all of this, our secular friend has once more found himself commending the spirituality of my LinkedIn feed. The notion that people should find their life's true purpose in their effort to make corporations more money is a manifest dead end. Mind you, here we are talking about average people with average jobs. We are not talking about artists, thought leaders, or cutting-edge scientists. We are talking about people doing data entry, food preparation, and low-level office work. The idea that atomized individuals are going to perform their menial jobs, consume their meaningless products, and exist in comfortable isolation while still finding deep purpose in the fact that they economically contributing to the all-important GDP number is ludicrous, and out of sync with everything that we know about human nature.

Do I need to reiterate the obvious?

People require more than consumer products to feel fulfilled. And liberty without a  specific understanding of human thriving does not create a sense of purpose for anyone. It doesn't create meaning for your average or below-average citizen, and it certainly doesn't create meaning for your society’s elite who ask deeper questions. And that’s a problem because if your ruling class doesn't feel like they have a moral ethos outside their own concept of choice and pleasure, it will manufacture one.

Vacuums of meaning are like vacuums of power. Nature abhors them. And they eventually get filled by something. Most often something that is not conducive to long-term human thriving.

At this point, I couldn't help but think back to a viral video I came across the other week, depicting an all too familiar internet trope, the “Millennial swimming pool Nihilist”.

Ok, so that song is pretty irritating. However, while the singing shirtless soy boy seems to be under the impression that his proclamation of nice guy nihilism is original, his philosophy has been the main message targeted at young men for the last three decades, brought to us by every freshman philosophy seminar, quite a few Holywood movies, not to mention most of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim TV shows.

But what fascinated me about this viral clip was how people’s reactions to this perspective have changed across the years, including my own.

In 2004, at the height of my progressive atheism, I might have chuckled and nodded in agreement.

In 2008, fresh from discovering Platonism, I might have written a wall of text on “why Nihilism is dangerous”

In 2016, with my beliefs more developed, I might have tried to offer some neat insight to address the core spiritual problem

But, in 2024, all I can do is point and laugh at the idiotic pretense on display. And it’s not just me. It’s everyone who hears this routine.

Because we know that this attitude is fake. Mr. Poolboy’s nihilism isn’t sincere. He doesn’t think that “nothing matters” because he believes that “Black Lives Matter”. He doesn’t think the universe is meaningless because he believes in Hillary Clinton’s “politics of meaning”. He doesn’t believe we should all “do what we want to do” because he would be very willing to crush people who dissent from him politically in the slightest. And you just know that Mr. Poolboy has a girlfriend standing behind him ready to shed some very meaningful female tears which he would certainly take very seriously.

So maybe something matters after all? Ultimately this is what the Millennial generation learned over the last decade. We tried to become atheist Nihilists and just ended up becoming social justice puritans. There are many memes about it.

The lesson here is that public nihilism is never simply nihilism. It’s usually a stand-in for the beliefs of the status quo. Saying that “we don’t need an alternative moral ethos to drive our politics” is just a longer way of saying “I support my society’s reigning moral ethos”. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that. But let’s just be honest about what we are doing.

Real politics is always about belief. It is always about meaning. It is always about an undergirding spiritual ethos, at least when humans are involved. And if your political takes don’t seriously address this anthropological reality, then they just aren’t substantive.

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