Blessed be the Egotist Individuals – by Paul Kelly
The past decade has witnessed a shattering of trust across the Western world including Australia between the people on one hand and politicians and elites on the other. This dysfunction in Australia has multiple causes within politics itself: the identity crisis of the major parties, the rise of negative politics, a self-interested Senate, leadership failures and internal disunity.
Not to mention the even more obvious factors of identity politics and diversity pushed by the new left.
The sense of a community of shared values is disintegrating. The most fundamental norms, accepted for centuries, are now falling apart as disputes erupt about family, education, gender, sexuality, marriage, tradition, patriotism, life and death.
The decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded, the idea of a common community purpose is undermined, trust is in retreat but the most important singular development is the transformed notion of the individual — the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life: love, work, race, sex, culture and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realization and human rights.
The idea that our democracy is founded on core moral truths about human nature has collapsed — or is collapsing. Donald Trump’s election as President was driven by fear the American dream had been cancelled and by alarm that elites led a separate life and used power for their self-interest. But the deeper source was a feeling that the moral foundations of the country were eroding.
Narcissism is on the rise:
New York Times columnist David Brooks … says: “Psychologists have a thing called the narcissism test. They read people statements and ask if the statements apply to them. Statements such as ‘I show off if I get the chance because I am extraordinary’. The median narcissism score has risen 30 per cent in the last two decades. Ninety-three per cent of young people score higher than the middle score just 20 years ago.
“By 2007, 51 per cent of young people reported that being famous was one of their top personal goals. …”
As I look around the popular culture I kept finding the same message everywhere: You are special. Trust yourself. Be true to yourself. Movies from Pixar and Disney are constantly telling children how wonderful they are. Commencement speeches are larded with the same clichés: Follow your passion. Don’t accept limits. Chart your own course. You have a responsibility to do great things because you are so great.”
The greatest generation:
The generation of the Depression and World War II — described by writers but not themselves as the “greatest generation” … won a war, beat the Germans, beat the Japanese, changed the world, backed their mates, returned home, raised families and contributed to their society. Guess what: they stayed humble. … Not only did they not boast about their achievements. Often they refused to even talk about them. …
Many of the virtues of the greatest generation are lost or fading. Some people fight to retain them and are traduced as a result. It is impossible, however, to separate those virtues from the Christian norms that were so pervasive at the time. Narcissism was in short supply and never rewarded. In those days Christian virtue was the norm and, critically, it was always the default position.
What does the rise of narcissism mean for politics?
It requires little insight to conclude such a society and culture that prioritizes a cult of “individualism” when translated into the political sphere is less cohesive and united, more divided over existing norms, less willing to accept the decisions and compromises of political leaders, far more difficult for politicians to manage and persuade and, above all, from which to extract a working majority position. In short, governing is harder, the gap between politicians and public more difficult to bridge and the society divided at its essence.
There is, however, an even deeper problem.
As the moral status of the church declines, the moral status of progressive ideology grows. Vacuums will be filled. Because the Christian ethos was tied to the past and tradition, it became a target for the new ideology of personal freedom. This is founded in the view that settler societies such as America and Australia have failed to come to terms with the racism, indigenous exploitation, sexism, patriarchy and mono-culturalism at their heart. The task of community leaders was once to uphold the values of the civilization; now, more often than not, it is to dismantle them.
The new society is a poor replacement for what is being torn down:
Pivotal to this transition is the progressive attack on the Aristotelian framework that made the West a success. This concept was articulated at various stages by the popes, notably Leo XIII and Pius XI. As outlined by Tulsa University professor Russell Hittinger, this envisages three “necessary” elements for human happiness: domestic society (marriage and family), faith and church and, finally, political society. A brief reflection might confirm the wisdom of this framework.
It is, however, now being dismantled in the new and manic crusade of human freedom. Progressive doctrine denies any preferred model for family structure since that would be prejudicial and discriminatory; it now approaches its ultimate objective in the realm of faith — to drive religion from the public square and reject the role of religion and church as a mobiliser of social capital in a secular society.
The final logic is that everything depends upon politics. As the society of family and marriage becomes mired in confusion, as the society of church and religion is the target of assault, so the society of politics is being asked to assume a role and burden utterly beyond its capacity and guaranteed to leave community-wide unhappiness.
The tripartite design that made the West such a workable and successful proposition is being torn part. Once dismantled, it cannot be put back together. This is being done in the name of justice, rights and progress. There was an inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.