A Cartoon Graveyard – An Analysis of the Left’s Postmodern Attack on Excellence

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

There is an old idea that excellence in any discipline is difficult to achieve. Perhaps that idea suggests another similar, though unconnected one: that those who have achieved excellence are difficult to enslave. In the movie 13 Assassins, Shinrokuro Shinmada says, “Ruling is convenient, but only for rulers. The people must learn to serve.” He might have said, “Ruling is possible, but only for rulers. The people must learn to serve.” Notwithstanding that this is the philosophy of the world elite, our reformulation begs two interesting questions: what are the qualities of a ruler? What are the qualities of a servant?

 Historically, there have been many answers offered for both. Mostly, they are unsatisfying, but some answers to the first question include: bloodline, extraordinary wealth, special knowledge, etc. Though the Western inheritance is partly Greek, even the Greek philosophers believed that self-governance was the privilege of a very few. Aristotle believed in natural slaves, people who by their nature would be better off governed by others.

Plato did not believe in self-governance. He was one of the first Western philosophers to articulate the idea that expertise, or possession of special knowledge, is what empowered one to rule over others (instead of the expert, he called such an individual a philosopher-king). Furthermore, if Plato’s conception of the philosopher-king has any validity, then in a Republic governed by the people and for the people, every man must in some sense become a philosopher-king. Unfortunately, that is impractical.

For the Founding Fathers, impracticality was not an option; an experiment in popular government, one in which both poor and rich would vote, educated and uneducated, had to take into account the wildly varying dispositions of the American public.

This is why the American Founders were conservative in their orientation towards institutions.  As long as churches, schools, the free press, and other guardians and educators of public thought and action thrived, the Republic which the Founders established was protected against the inevitable stupidity, vices, and weakness inherent in human nature.  This, in fact, is the point of having strong institutions such as the Church, the free press, etc., and it is also the point of being a conservative—to preserve the institutions which offset the worst of mankind’s tendencies.

On that score, we’ve run into problems, the biggest of them, at the moment, being that our institutions have been stolen from us and corrupted. This is why conservativism is no longer practical; for the near future, populism must be our political orientation.

The founding generation understood this too: there was a time when they realized their freedoms were being taken from them, that they could not preserve them through the usual means of institutions. They realized that they had to become revolutionaries, not for the sake of revolution, but for the sake of winning their freedoms back. It was only then that they could re-assume their natural conservative ethic. Our choice is nothing more or less. A revolutionary moment is upon us; wars are being waged on our freedoms. We cannot conserve what we do not have.

For the remaining paragraphs, I’d like to ponder only one of those wars, perhaps the most important of all for a free and self-governing people: the war on excellence. This war was declared almost 120 years ago with the advent of postmodernity, and what Nietzsche would have called the attack on foundations.

 Like most attacks in most wars, this one was tactical. In order to destroy excellence (and therefore virtue, which is the individual expression of excellence), the enemies of the West first had to destroy the standards which enshrined excellence as good, as desirable.  So gradually there emerged the notion that beauty was not objective; rather, it was a way of pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  It was a clever method of justifying the preferences of white European males at the expense of everyone else’s preferences.

Likewise, truth was not objective.Truth, as a normative concept, emerged out of the institutions established to preserve the status quo—the power of white European males.  Tradition gave Truth the guise of respectability; normativity made sure it could not be questioned.  It followed logically (there’s irony for you) that truth could not be timeless, could not be meaningfully normative or objective, in short; truth changed, if not day to day, at least century to century, or era to era.

In an age of popular government, the post-moderns took advantage of the crumbling philosophical standards and the newly ascendant politics based on consent of the governed.  To hold people to standards which they hadn’t consented to, such as tradition supplied in the forms of objective truth or beauty, was akin to governing another without his consent. Consent became the foundation of every action, from sex (consensual sex is always “good”, no matter how perverse the actual act) to art (what I prefer may not be what you prefer).

The essential problem was never with popular government, but always with postmodernity. Consent can be the basis of the exercise of power over others, especially a community of adult citizens, but it cannot be the basis of what makes knowledge legitimate, because of the very nature of knowledge itself. Namely, that knowledge itself is a commonwealth, added to over time, improved and perfected over time. The “over time” part is where tradition comes in.

 Likewise, consent cannot be what justifies standards of beauty because in order to discern beauty one must have some sort of aesthetic education (though the education need not be formal); all education is rooted in a tradition because—well, because education is meant to impart knowledge, and knowledge is accumulated over time, or as I put it, in a tradition.

Moreover, the artifacts of beauty—artworks—are generated using specific techniques, specific symbols, in short, specific forms of know-how. Again, know-how is a form of knowledge, so we’re back at education which is rooted in the accumulation of knowledge which is preserved and propagated within a tradition. I assume I don’t have to rehearse why consent can’t justify the standard of what is Truth (although I’ll just mention it has something to do with knowledge and tradition).

If only it were that easy. As it turns out, the post-moderns had a simple response. Remember how I said that consent can be the justification of the exercise of power? The post-moderns took that and ran: everything, they said, is a form of power. Love, beauty, truth—they are all functions of power. The conclusion (ironically again) was only logical: if everything is a form of power, consent can be the justification of everything. It can be the justification for having a baby, for God’s sake; if I, as a woman, don’t want to have a child, abortion is my right. MY RIGHT!

Of course, all of that jabbering about power was only a front Is it any surprise that a group of people so obsessed with power were after power themselves? The whole postmodern explanation of power and historical oppression was a reverse-justification of taking power and reapportioning it generously to themselves.

After destroying the standards of excellence, excellence itself evaporated. Math is racist, intelligence is racist, logic is racist, truth is racist, beauty is racist, goodness is racist, wanting to be physically fit is racist. Why?  Because all of the above require the cultivation of virtue to achieve, and people who are excellent are not easy to enslave. Fatphobia is bad, but not fatness, because fatness is a form of mediocrity. Unlike fitness, which requires at least discipline and self-control, fatness requires no virtue. It may even require vice (laziness, sloth). Fatness is not an unattractive trait, because unattractive is purely subjective. You can’t hold me up to your standards (but they can sure as hell hold you down to theirs).

The last problem the post-moderns had to solve was how to spread mediocrity around like butter on bread. The answer: simply reverse the process by which a society cultivates excellence. Take over the institutions and have them form people poorly.

 Let the universities dumb people down instead of smarten them up. Let the press tell falsehoods instead of truths. Let the churches preach the message of anti-christ, instead of Christ. Let them say that virtue is not required to attain salvation, only social justice. Let the entertainment business weaken imagination through graphic images and cliché-ridden stories, rather than stimulate imagination through subtle, refined, symbolic imagery and complex stories.  (I’ve always suspected a connection between when our understanding of the human person became more caricatured and cartoonish and so did our artistic depictions of him.)

Create identity groups and tell people they must belong to them and tell them that they are expected to parrot certain traits to signify their membership within these identities. Let these traits be easy to adopt, hard to get rid of, and absolutely unfulfilling to the deepest needs of the human heart. Create stereotypes, suggesting that all members of a certain group possess negative traits, such as all white people are oppressive; create stereotypes suggesting all members of a certain group possess positive traits, such as all black people are oppressed. And these are only examples: the assault is on all fronts.

Friends, we are on the verge of losing this war, as we are with so many others. We need a photo opportunity. We want a shot at redemption. Otherwise, we’re going to end up cartoons in a cartoon graveyard.


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