The Upheaval Reading Thread (#4)

Heads up that I’ve been writing several pieces for external publication in order to promote the blog a bit, hence why the pace has slowed a little here recently. The first of those should hopefully be out in the next week.

Here’s another round-up of interesting reading for you.

1. Antonio García Martínez, “Why Judaism? On abandoning secular modernity” (Substack) + Katherine Dee, “Stumbling into Celibacy” (American Mind) + Maggie Phillips, “A Market for Meditation” (Tablet)

Tech writer Antonio García Martínez writes about his personal journey to taking religion seriously. “Every society needs a metaphysics that allows it to have moral and political conversations with itself,” he says. But, “For the first time in my life, no political faction in the West has anything like a generative vision of the future.” Instead, he writes, “More and more secular modernity looks like a shaky edifice of convoluted fantasies built over an abyss, and I for one am tired of pretending to take it seriously.” But: “Those who reject the modern sham and wish to reason seriously about politics or morality must necessarily strike a pose—half-pointing, half-saluting—toward some set of sacred principles.” He chose Judaism.

Meanwhile, Katherine Dee writes about the growing presence of secular abstinence clubs on elite U.S. college campuses in the United States. Such as one at MIT where members sign a pledge “to make an effort to live a chaste lifestyle,” meaning “using the gift of my body honorably and respectably.”

Dee presents two theories for why this is happening now. First, that these provide a “place to defect from an oversaturation of sex for people who are just sick of it,” and who while generally fine with casual sex, have had enough of “the BDSM workshops being advertised in broad daylight.” Alternatively, she muses that, for those who are hearing all the time about sex but not having very much of it (i.e. quite a few people), the options are either to “turn inward and fall into a pit of despair,” or to “sacralize sex.” In other words, she asks: “What if abstinence clubs are a way to reintroduce structure into students’ lives, and combat nihilism?”

Dee has previously predicted that we are on the very edge of the cultural pendulum swinging back hard toward more conservative sexual and gender norms as younger generations react to a dating culture in which almost everyone is absolutely miserable (see her Substack on this here): “It’s not that trad LARPers will inherit the earth. It’s that they’re the canaries in the coal mine. This is a movement that’s been simmering for a long time now. The pot is about to boil over.”

Maggie Phillips’ piece in Tablet explores the rapid growth of the Catholic meditation and prayer app Hallow. Despite polling showing rapid secularization of America, many of those ostensibly secular people are apparently now using a Catholic prayer app, with the company saying they see “a pretty big hunger for spirituality.” As one of the venture capitalists now dumping money into the startup puts it:

“For a long time we’ve been, probably for 30, 40 years, we’ve been hearing from Pew Research Forum and we’ve been hearing from the media that religion is dead. And the metric that Pew uses is the ‘butts in seats’ metric, which is that on Sunday, are Catholics going to church, and what demos are going to church. And what I think Hallow is showing is that there is just this, in some ways like this desperate consumer need that is manifesting itself… they’re growing extremely fast.”

This VC’s conclusion: “she believes America is on the cusp of a religious revival as people exploring spirituality ‘realize that actually these ancient religions are good for something.’”

I’ve combined all these together because I’m starting to think over the chances of some kind of broader religious revival indeed being in the cards as a societal reaction to the pressures of liquid modernity (and as a genuine alternative to crude replacement faith structures like the New Faith of Wokeism that have sprung up so far). This would certainly be a reversal of recent trends, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

What do you think? Is this plausible? And if so, what might it looks like? Would this imply an accompanying broader conservative/reactionary turn politically, or not? I’d appreciate any thoughts you all may have on this, so leave a comment below. This is an open thread.

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2. Andrew Tettenborn, “Poland’s top court has finally called the EU’s bluff” (The Spectator)

Writing on the Polish constitutional court’s ruling last week that some EU laws are in conflict with the country’s constitution, and that Polish sovereignty takes priority, Andrew Tettenborn predicts that this marks a sea-change for Europe:

For many years, the EU has posed as a kind of overbearing imperial leviathan, which insists its law has to prevail over that of the states that make it up. Now its bluff appears to have finally been called... Even though the makeup of the Warsaw judiciary is remote from events 700 miles away in Brussels – and highly unlikely to affect them in any noticeable way – this event has spooked the Eurocracy big-time. Until this decision, there was an agreement between Brussels and local elites that the integrity of the EU legal order had to be preserved at all costs. Now that has gone. This opens up the frightening prospect that member states generally might dare to question Brussels’ dictat; a fear aggravated by the fact that the German constitutional court has already made guarded suggestions to much the same effect.

And:

[T]his is likely to alter the relation between Brussels and the EU members irrevocably. The European Commission will be forced, through gritted teeth, to accept that the days are over when it could impose its will on member states simply by mouthing the words 'superiority of EU law'… In future, whether they like it or not, the elite in Brussels will know that any drastic attempts to interfere further in its members’ internal affairs will be subject to a de facto veto. To this extent the Warsaw court's judgment may well have changed the nature of the bloc forever.

We’ll see. Brussels is definitely hopping mad about this.

3. Gavin Mortimer, “France’s political elite created Eric Zemmour” (The Spectator)

Something fascinating is happening in France: the essayist Éric Zemmour (author of such books as “Le Suicide français”) is, as one article headline put it, “eating Marine Le Pen alive.” By cannibalizing the right-wing vote, the formerly ignorable Zemmour is suddenly polling as high as 17% as a contender in the upcoming French elections, putting him in reach of challenging Macron in the first round (though he has not yet declared his candidacy). Why?

Gavin Mortimer writes in a colorful piece that Zemmour has captured an energetic wave of populist frustration in France created by the out-of-touch and condescending French elite, and that those voters are tired of Low-Energy Le Pen’s losing:

Before he appeared as a contender it was the usual worn-out figures lining up for next year’s presidential election: Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Xavier Bertrand, Valérie Pécresse and Arnaud Montebourg. None of them have anything new to say and, even if they did, the electorate have stopped listening. Same old same old. Zemmour, on the other hand, despite the fact he has yet to declare his candidacy, makes for compelling TV. He was at it again on Wednesday evening, this time calling gender conversion therapy ‘criminal’ and comparing its medical facilitators in the USA to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. The presenter nearly fell off her chair.

But still they refuse to heed the lessons. Zemmour and his supporters are the new ‘deplorables’. The president of the Republicans, Christian Jacob, stated last month that his party has no common ground with Zemmour. The Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, a candidate in next year’s election, said recently that his popularity made her ‘disgusted to the point of nausea.’ Such comments help explain why Hidalgo’s campaign has so far been a disaster. The French electorate aren’t stupid. Voters know that when Hidalgo et al rage at Zemmour they are raging really at them: their lifestyle, their values, their views.

It’s the political class that are responsible. I’ve written before about how the French electorate have never forgiven the political establishment for ignoring their ‘no’ vote on the EU constitution in 2005. Add to that their refusal to listen to voters’ concerns about mass immigration, Islamic extremism, identity politics and violent crime and is it any wonder that they will back the first person who dares speak up for them?

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4. Malcom Kyeyune, “Sweden’s cultural revolution” (UnHerd)

In a dispatch from Sweden, Malcom Kyeyune writes that:

The West is currently undergoing a series of political and social upheavals. Attention tends to focus on America, where cancel culture and “woke” corporations are part of a process that’s pulling the country apart. From Sweden this all looks disturbingly familiar. In 2015, we experienced our own form of cultural revolution, with many of the same symptoms as its more potent sequels in America, Britain and elsewhere. Before “Trump derangement syndrome” was a thing, people in Sweden were denouncing each other, unpersoning each other for wrongthink, and having frenzied public struggle sessions.

(I’d dispute this by the way: 2015 was also the first breakout year for the cultural revolution in the USA, notably pre-Trump.)

But interestingly, he claims things calmed down quickly after a period of craziness from about 2015-2018, sparked by the 2015 European migration crisis and the birth of an “extremely familiar Western pattern” of cultural elites wanting no association with backwards Swedish “deplorables” who opposed unrestrained immigration.

How did this end? Because of the “the belated discovery [by the upper-middle class] that [the] consequences of immigration are in fact very real, and that methods of ‘shaping the narrative’ cannot really change material reality. More critically, there is the realisation that nobody — certainly not middle class progressives — wants to live with those consequences at all.”

This is essentially the same argument now being made by some in the U.S. that the negative effects of progressive policies, such as rising crime, are starting to effect some parts of the elite classes, and this will soon cause a political counter-reaction.

According to Kyeyune:

Today Sweden’s cultural revolution finds itself in an odd spot. An uneasy ceasefire prevails in Swedish society now. While the deplorables are still mocked, there is no bite to it anymore. SD voters are no longer at risk of having their careers cancelled. In 2021, an unspoken attitude of “don’t ask, don’t tell” prevails… The hard, eliminationist edge of Swedish politics is mostly gone.”

Is this true? I don’t know. I would be interested in hearing from anyone in Sweden on the state of politics there now.

That’s it for this week. If you’ve been shared this from elsewhere, don’t forget to subscribe: