Heresies of the Left: Unholy Trinity

Evil does not exist except as a corruption of the Good. Every falsehood or lie contains something of Truth. The same is true of heresies. Every heresy is a corruption of some aspect of orthodox doctrine, which is why heresies are so hard for the orthodox to answer. The orthodox trip themselves up trying to negate the heresies directly, which they cannot do without denying the truth and goodness at their core.

This is why conservatives have so much trouble answering the Left (other than the fact that, as Milo rightly says, we are too often spineless cunts). Everything that the Left believes is grounded in a central claim of Western civilization, more often than not a central claim of Christianity or the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Left, of course, denies this hotly, pointing for support for their doctrines to the "scientific teachings" of the prophet Marx or the "Enlightened" ideals of the prophet Robespierre. But the Left defend their beliefs with the vehemence that they do--as every conservative who has ever tried to engage them in debate instantly learns--because their beliefs are neither "scientific" nor "rational," but matters of faith.

For example, the claim that all men and women are created equal, to which both conservatives and Leftists in the West subscribe, albeit they differ on what it means for social policy. Or the claim that it is the responsibility of those who have, to care for those who have not, ditto on application. Or the claim that every human being has an inherent dignity and right to life, to which even the Left subscribes when the mother says so. (I'm sorry, I am having real problems not being catty about abortion these days.)

Just as the above claims have their root in the belief that all human beings, male or female, are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), so the tenets of multiculturalism, identity politics, and the fear of hate speech--to name only some of the things that the Left is currently up in arms about, sometimes literally--have their roots in orthodox teachings of Christianity. The problem, which is what makes these tenets heresies, is that they have become unmoored from their orthodox origins and allowed to drift.

If they seem to have no bottom and to be sinking Western civilization fast, this is why. Each of these three is a heresy against one of the Persons of the Trinity, a distortion of the proper relationship between the Idea (Father), Energy (Son), and Power (Spirit) of the Divine Artist's working in the world.

Dante and Virgil at the bottom of Hell, where they see Satan with his three mouths eating Cassius, Judas, and Brutus

The Heresy of the Spirit: Multiculturalism 

Not every culture in the world is as welcoming of other cultures as is the West. Yes, the world is now aesthetically and technologically Westernized--everyone who is anyone wears jeans or business suits, drives cars, watches television and movies, talks on mobile phones, builds skyscrapers and highways--but this is not so much multiculturalism as, in Milo's words, the way art and technology work. Human beings are great imitators. If we see something we like, we try to make more things like it.

Multiculturalism is not just enjoying food or clothes or music from other parts of the world. It is the insistence that every human culture is equal to every other in dignity and value, much as is every human being. What those in the West who enjoy traveling to other countries and appreciating the differences in customs and mores do not typically appreciate, however, is that their admiration for other cultures and mores is not necessarily reciprocated.

Many Muslims have no interest whatsoever in becoming Westernized or appreciating the differences between Muslim and Christian culture. Likewise, many Chinese or Indians are quite happy being Chinese or Indian and not Westerners. What we Westerners admire as the rich diversity of human experience, others see as vice or disorder, the breakdown of proper custom, disrespect for tradition. They don't care if we come in and praise their culture: they know their culture is superior to ours.

So why are Westerners so keen on other cultures, sometimes even at the expense of their own? In a word: Pentecost, the moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and they were empowered to speak so that everyone who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast (Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast) heard them speaking in his or her own tongue:
And [the people] were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes [Gentile converts], Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:7-11). 
Christians took this moment of multilingualism as a guide: God meant to speak to humanity in all the languages of the world. There was no one language, for example, Arabic, in which the divine words needed to be preserved. Rather, the Scriptures were to be translated, made accessible to everyone in his or her native tongue.

The Hebrew Bible had already been translated into Greek in the third century BC. In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Scriptures including the New Testament were translated into Latin, Gothic, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Old Nubian, Ethiopic, and Georgian. Even in the darkest of the Dark Ages, there were translations into Old English, Old Saxon, and Old Church Slavonic. By the high Middle Ages, there were also translations into Old French, Middle English, and Czech. The Reformation brought a great landslide of new translations, but the ideal had long been in place. When the Spanish arrived in the New World, one of the first things the missionaries attempted was to translate the Scriptures into Nahuatl. According to Wikipedia, the Bible has now been translated in full into 636 languages and into 3,223 in part. (Here's another Wikipedia list with different numbers. Let's go with "lots.")

What to many modern Leftists looks like cultural appropriation or, worse, cultural imperialism on the part of the Christian missionaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was seen at the time (and still is by those who care about spreading God's word) as a way to fulfill the promise of Pentecost: that God's mighty works might be told to everyone in his or her own language so that all might hear and be saved. This is likewise the source of the admiration in which Western Christians hold all the cultures which produced these languages. God, they believe, did not privilege any particular language or culture, but meant for his works to be made known to all.

This is the reason that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century missionaries made such great efforts to learn the languages of the peoples to whom they were sent and why the West to this day is convinced that everyone ought to be brought into the literate, developed world, regardless of culture or tradition. The irony, of course, is that without the belief in Pentecost, multiculturalism has no creed, no reason for all peoples to become one in their diversity. As a heresy of the Spirit, this means that rather than an expression of the Power of God's word acting for the salvation of all, it becomes simply an expression of power, the imposition of a single cultural ideal (diversity for the sake of diversity) on every culture in the world.

The Heresy of the Son: Hate Speech

"What is hate speech?," Tucker Carlson asked Milo the night after the Berkeley riots. "I don't know!," Milo replied.
I'm probably going to get into terrible trouble with [Simon and Schuster], but I have no idea and I don't think anybody else knows either, I mean it seems to be speech that somebody doesn't like somewhere, a joke that's wrong, something that offends somebody's sensibilities or hurt feelings or politics or something, certainly the Supreme Court doesn't recognize it as a kind of speech that should be treated with any special reverence or whatever. 
Hate speech, it seems to me, has been defined by the political left as "anything we don't like", anything that violates social justice doctrine, feminism, Black Lives Matter kind of ideology; it's not something that I have ever heard particularly effectively defined.
Milo is right to be confused. There is no such thing as hate speech in the sense of speech that by its content can be identified as such, and thus, for example, edited out of a book. Hate speech is not about the content of one's speech, but about speech conceptualized as a form of action. It is speech as an act, in the formulation made famous by J.L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words (1955/1962).

The most famous example of Austin's premise--that words are sometimes not just expressive of ideas, but themselves actions--is the wedding vow: "I do." Such utterances are not assertions of truth or falsehood, but performances, what Austin would call "speech-acts," speech that effects the thing that is said. Saying "I do," the bride and bridegroom effect their marriage. It is their speaking the words that makes their marriage real. Naming people or things, making a vow or a bequest in a will are other examples of such "speech-acts."

Judith Butler--who teaches at Berkeley and is, not incidentally, one of the most prominent gender theorists in the academy--took this idea of performative speech and ran with it in her Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1997). According to Butler, hate speech, given that it is a kind of performance rather than content (which is why Milo can't define it) exists only retrospectively (I am cribbing here from Wikipedia), making it a matter for the state to define--and silence--regardless, it would seem of the intent of the speaker. Here, therefore, Milo is right: hate speech is what those in power do not like.

Which in itself is pretty terrifying. What should be even more terrifying, however, is the reason that Butler gives for the state to become involved in censorship at all. Here I am dependent on my colleague Amy Hollywood, who has studied Butler's work in depth. Bear with me, I think the answer to Tucker's question is buried somewhere in this passage from Hollywood's most recent book:
To clarify the relationship between the force of the performative and the body, Butler points to the importance of body lying behind the threat of hate speech. The language of the body itself, in fact, is part of the speech act and determines its force and how its force is read (that is, as threat, joke, citation). When asked why speech and the body should be given precedence given the fact that anonymous hate mail is potentially as hurtful as spoken utterances, Butler suggests that even if "performatives cannot always be retethered to their moment of utterance...they carry the anemic trace of the body in the force that they exercise." In other words, hate mail threatens insofar as it carries the trace of the addresser's body and the body of the addressee is then marked by the force of the utterance. There seems to be a certain circularity to Butler's argument, however, for the force of the utterance on the body of the addressee points to the speaking body. Perhaps the materiality of hate mail and of language itself effects this movement from the body of the addressee to that of the speaker.
With all due respect to my academic colleagues, again in Milo's words, this is bonkers. Speech cannot act on bodies, only on minds. (Unless perhaps you are yelling loudly enough to hurt someone's eardrums, in which case it is not what is said, but the volume that hurts.) Words cannot do anything except change people's minds or excite their emotions, and even then, as every good Stoic knows, it is up to the listener how to respond. Why, then, do so many people believe that there is such a thing as hate speech, speech that as speech can hurt?

Here's an even more famous example of words doing something: "And God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light." (Genesis 1:3). (You can see where I am going with this, yes?) Here's another: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). If Butler insists that words can take on flesh, "carry the anemic trace of the body in the force that they exercise," this is why. Deny it though I am certain she would, she is thinking Incarnationally, within a tradition that asserts that the Word became Flesh. Speech became Body. Locution became Act.

As a heresy of the Son, the idea of hate speech has terrible energy to work on the world. It is a distortion of the mystery of the relationship between God and creation, of the outpouring of love by which God entered into the world he made in order to remake it through his own suffering. Yes, incarnation hurts, bodies feel pain. But that is not the fault of speech; it is the fault of our fallenness for believing a lie.

The Heresy of the Father: Identity Politics

Identity politics defines people according to their physical and heritable attributes rather than their ideas or character. Women, blacks, gays, Muslims: all are essentialized by identity politics according to their biology (women), biology and heritage (American blacks), biology and behavior (gays), biology defined as religious belief (Muslims).

The idea behind identity politics is that you, regardless of what you think about God or the relations between the sexes or the morality of abortion or the benefits of restrictions on government authority, ought to participate in a consciousness of yourself as a member of your identity group. From this perspective, thinking differently from other members of your identity group is not just unthinkable, but evil.

Why should it matter so much that Milo thinks about homosexuality differently from other gays? Or that I think about abortion or feminism differently from other women? Or that Stacey Dash thinks about the role of the State differently from other black Americans? Why? Because thinking differently quite literally threatens the existence of the group.

All human groups depend to a certain extent on ideas, even families, certainly neighborhoods and nations. With most such groups, the big question is how individuals come to understand themselves as belonging, with such understanding recognized as a voluntary act. I may be born an American citizen, but growing up, I need to be educated in order to understand what acting as an American means. I may be baptized as a baby, but growing up, I need to be educated in order to understand what believing as a Christian means. Neither state of belonging is a given: I may choose to renounce my American citizenship or apostatize from the faith. I may even choose to distance myself from my family, for example, by following Christ.

With identity politics, there is literally no way out: I am born a woman, white, heterosexual, Christian (see why the category "Muslim" doesn't quite fit?) To think differently from other women, whites, heterosexuals, or Christians is to deny my very existence as a white, heterosexual, Christian woman. It is not voluntary, it is determined, much as my species is determined: I am human.

Can you think of any other categories for which it is typically claimed that there is only one proper way to think about what it means to be a member of that group? How about "bourgeoisie"? (Do you see where I am going with this argument yet?) Or conversely, "proletariat"? What is the central claim of Marxist thinking about these two groups?

The ABC of Communism is helpful here. In Bukharin and Preobrazhensky's words:
In order that the proletariat may gain the victory in any country, it is essential that it should be compact and well organized; it is essential that it should have its own Communist Party which has clearly recognized the trend of capitalist development, which has understood the actual situation and the true interests of the working class, which has adequately interpreted that situation, which is competent to marshal the ranks and to conduct the battle. 
And why do the proletariat need the Party to act for them?
Nowhere and at no time has any party been able to enroll all the members of the class which it represents; never has any class attained the requisite degree of consciousness.
The proletariat exists as a class, but it is oppressed by the bourgeoisie because it is not conscious of itself as a class. The bourgeoisie, of course, are conscious of themselves as a class and work always to further their own interests, but the proletariat, in Marxist thinking, needs leaders to act for them, because otherwise they will be duped into acquiescing to bourgeois thinking about the nature of society and never come to consciousness of the struggle in which they are involved.

Sound familiar? I, as a woman, am not conscious of the degree to which I am oppressed by the patriarchy, so feminists need to speak for me. I, as a white person, am not conscious of my privilege, so I need Black Lives Matter to point it out for me. I, as a heterosexual, am not conscious of my normativity, so I need gender theorists like Butler to raise my consciousness. I, as a, you can't get me there, as I hope I am making clear.

Marx focused mainly on class, but as feminists, Black Lives Matter, and gender theorists have made clear, this idea of group self-consciousness has broad applications. (If you want to understand the force of the accusations "male," "white," "heterosexual," just substitute "bourgeois." The sneers are all of a piece.) This is because the idea wasn't originally Marx's and wasn't, in fact, about class. It was about our consciousness of ourselves as a species, that is, as human.

Here is the argument as Marx discovered it in Ludwig Feuerbach. (You may have heard Milo mention Feuerbach, here's why).

According to Feuerbach, the essential nature of man, as opposed to that of animals, is to be conscious of himself as belonging to a species. While animals may think about themselves as individuals, human beings think not just about themselves, but about all human beings as if they are one: "Science is the cognizance of species. In practical life we have to do with individuals; in science, with species. But only a being to whom his own species, his own nature, is an object of thought, can make the essential nature of other things or beings an object of thought."

Feuerbach moves from this essential characteristic of human beings--that we think about ourselves as human--to posit how we think about God. "Man," he says, "--this is the mystery of religion--projects his being into objectivity, and then again makes himself an object to this projected image of himself thus converted into a subject... Man is an object to God... God is the highest subjectivity of man abstracted from himself." In Feuerbach's argument, what we think about as God "is nothing else than...the human nature purified, freed from the limits of the individual man, made objective--i.e. contemplated and revered as another, a distinct being."

To talk about God, according to Feuerbach, is in effect to talk about man: "To doubt of God is to doubt of myself... Hence he alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being--for example, love, wisdom, justice--are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.... The fact is not that a quality is divine because God has it, but that God has it because it is in itself divine."

Think for a moment about what Feuerbach is arguing here. Our highest being, our humanity, is defined by our consciousness of being human. Conversely, not to be so conscious of ourselves would be to descend to the level of the beasts (George Eliot used the word "brutes" in her translation of Feuerbach), to become subhuman, dehumanized. Arguably, therefore, only those who attain full consciousness of themselves as human are, by Feuerbach's definition, human, meaning that those who do not, are not. They are animals. Bourgeois. White. Heteronormative. Not-us.

This is the heresy against the Father, against the idea according to which all human beings were created in the image and likeness of God. Feuerbach thought he was being clever, making God a projection of human self-consciousness, an artifact of human making, but as with the heresies of multiculturalism and hate speech, his argument makes sense only from within a Judeo-Christian understanding of God. Feuerbach made of God the Great Artifact. But, as Dorothy Sayers would put it, he was already primed by the Christian creed--"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"--to look for an Artist in whose image and likeness he had been made.

Identity politics are evil because they insist that only some of us share in this image. That because only some of us are conscious of ourselves as certain kinds of creatures, only some of us are fully human beings.

Bishop Reynard raises the animals' consciousness--before he eats them.


"Full Transcript: Milo on Tucker Carlson Tonight," February 2, 2017 <>

Amy Hollywood, Acute Melancholia and Other Essays: Mysticism, History, and the Study of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016)

N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, The ABC of Communism: A Popular Explanation of the Program of the Communist Party of Russia, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966; first published 1919)

Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper, 1957; first published 1841)

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (New York: Harper Collins, 1987; first published 1941)


London, British Library, Yates Thompson MS 36, fol. 62v: Dante and Virgil in Hell

London, British Library, Royal MS 10 E IV, fol. 49v: Reynard preaches to the animals

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