On Michael Brendan Dougherty’s “The Church of Grievance”

In “The Church of Grievance”, Michael Brendan Dougherty distills the sense of transcendence that SJWs long for:

But something is changing in victim politics. It is no longer an emotive call for political reform, or restitution for wrongs done. The young activists whom conservatives call “social-justice warriors” practice politics in a form that looks spiritual, and their Marxoid political theories are effulgent with longings and aspirations that point far beyond what we normally think of as politics.

Dougherty correctly diagnoses things, but what category of discussion is conspicuously absent?

The new dominance of victim politics has exerted a gravitational effect on all of American political discourse. The shift in Marxist rhetoric from the proletariat to the subaltern has foreshadowed shifts in American politics writ large. In the 20th century, Americans often claimed their rights and privileges as members of the middle class, demanding what was owed to “people who work hard and play by the rules.” Many Americans who were a bit poorer or a bit richer than the middle class still politically identified with that great mass of citizens. It was a rhetoric built around the idea that the middle class works to create wealth and deserves its share of it.

Now, Americans group themselves into ever smaller and more-besieged minorities…

Nowhere in his otherwise excellent essay will one find any discussion of whites becoming a minority, how the displacement of whites has led to the multicultural war of all against all we now find ourselves in, and how a rekindling of ‘ethnic pride for white people’ may be the most rational group strategy for whites to organically take.

Instead of each person’s speaking for himself, people now issue political demands “as a member of” this or that community. It’s almost as if each individual finds meaning only insofar as he conforms to an abstracted or imagined political model.

In my own recent readings in sociology of religion, I am struck by the parallels of cult formation with the increasingly theological dynamics of political correctness. PC has entered the realm of worship of pure abstraction, empirical reality be damned. As an operative concept, the status of ‘identity’ (framed only in the ways that Leftists allow) is currently at a stage antecedent to… Pure Being.

Dougherty points to the art world as a representative example of a cultural category that has become completely subsumed by PC’s will to power:

It is also likely that the new victim politics is channeling energy that would otherwise express itself in other projects. The ever-narrowing mission of the art world is a likely culprit. Haunted by the corruption of commercialism and disillusioned with the pursuit of genius for its own sake, almost the entire artistic world has looked to politics to find a new purpose. And so every field, from abstract sculpture to film to stand-up comedy, has started to mimic the hectoring voice and social goals of progressive politics. Those seeking to express or sublimate their deepest longings almost inevitably turn away from contemplation and creation and toward activism. Tragedy and comedy are supposed to offer catharsis and make living in an imperfect world easier. But, given an overtly political role, these forms now essentially withhold that salve; their mission is agitation in the service of social reform. We have an art world that satisfies us less and diverts more dissatisfaction into the political realm.

There are the ritualistic (and creepy) call and response patterns of leftwing rallies, the demonization of anyone and everyone to their right, and the absolute, all-consuming desire to silence (no, make that shut down) all dissent:

Here victim politics recasts disagreement as desecration and defilement. Someone who walks into these environments looking for the intellectual parry and thrust of debate is instead told, “Your job is to listen.” The expectation that no one would dare to interject or question the personal testimony of the victim of oppression is not so different from the expectation of silence during the reading of the Gospel in a church service, or during a homily. Your job is to listen.

And it is here, I would suggest, that the politics of the victim touch something deep in the soul of modern man. They are in some ways the residue of Christian thought and ritual in a Western world that offers little traditional religious education or formation. The premise of victim politics is like a mirror image of devotion to the Suffering Servant…

Putting this Victim at the center of the social order, in ritual or in preaching, begins the redemption of all humanity…

Depending on your disposition, you can take this mimicry of the Christian myth and ritual and its transmutation into politics as either a perverse compliment about the endurance of Christian thought or a kind of demonic parody. Either way, we are not here contending over something exclusively political. Once the explicitly political claims are filtered out, what is left over in victim politics is a churchly way of being in a world that has escaped the bonds of religion. We are contending with a longing for recognition and esteem and for a mission that has a transcendent horizon; no form of human governance can ever satisfy such desires.

Dougherty concludes his piece with another disappointing failure to look at the obvious, growing, counter-cultural trends happening in the Dissident Right, trends which emphasize white identitarianism and a sense of transcendence based on ancestral accomplishments and historical greatness:

And so we must be careful. An anti-PC politics that takes the form of mockery will win converts only among those who are already primed to be disillusioned. Conservatives need to think more holistically. We need a politics freed from the strictures of utilitarianism so that it may admit human passions, in forms other than suffering. The aspirations for transcendence that young people feel so keenly need outlets for expression and cultivation in art and in the devotional life of religion. Young people need to feel that their travails have purpose and meaning beyond the way they might manifest societal dysfunction or be recast as a symbol of political oppression.

Dougherty is correct here to point out the spiritual emptiness and gray utilitarianism of conservatism-as-the-latest-tax-cut, and it would here that one would expect a rational surveyor of the situation to at least acknowledge the counter-trend of white identitarianism, which is an affirmative enterprise, very different from forms of white identity politics where whites play the victim card (although I do not repudiate this latter tactic as a rational short term strategy.)

Instead, we get vapid Dreher-like monotones about a ‘renewed’ civic nationalism:

If we want a politics that is less histrionic, and a society that offers something more empowering than the campus star chamber, what we really need is to re-create our civic, social, and familial life so that people’s disappointments and outrages will be met with compassion and understanding, or channeled into great works of art and humble prayers. No small task, I know.

It never fails to amaze me how NR types like Dougherty simply cannot get themselves to acknowledge where all of this is heading. Having purged all race realists from NR and the like, these CivNat types consigned heretical thinkers like Samuel Francis, John Derbyshire, and Peter Brimelow to the ‘white supremacy’ category.

And so, finding themselves unable to engage with the ideas of those previously ‘respectable’ thinkers (for fear of losing their jobs or standing in polite society), Dougherty et al find themselves with no quarter.

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