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Editorial Reviews. nvrehs.info Review. Robert Bork will go down as one of history's footnotes. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Kindle Store; ›; Kindle eBooks; ›; Politics & Social Sciences. Read "Slouching Towards Gomorrah Modern Liberalism and American Decline" by Robert H. Bork available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off. To read e-books on the BookShout App, download it on: . Slouching Towards Gomorrah is a penetrating, devastatingly insightful exposé of a country in crisis at .
What is responsible, in Bork's view, for much of our current plight is modern liberalism. And modern liberalism has developed from classical liberalism.
But why does Bork think this? In his view, two doctrines underlie liberalism: individualism and egalitarianism. These doctrines need not lead to disaster; if a society limits their application by discipline and restraint, matters will go reasonably well. Absent these restraints, classical liberalism degenerates into radical individualism and egalitarianism, the defining characteristics of modern liberalism.
Bork once more combines insight and error in an odd mixture. His assault on modern liberalism is on target; but his presentation of classical liberalism is a caricature.
The individualism of the classical liberals does not stem from the pursuit of self-gratification, but from a view of the requirements of natural law. And egalitarianism seems to me not a principle of the classical doctrine at all.
Our author's misleading view of classical liberalism in part stems from his taking John Stuart Mill, rather than Locke, as the key philosopher of the movement. What little he does say about Locke is mistaken. He did not hold an optimistic view of man, nor did he believe that man is "inherently self-sufficing" and autonomous, Robert Nisbet to the contrary notwithstanding. In my view, he is most plausibly read as a somewhat heterodox Calvinist. This, admittedly, is controversial; but Bork's principal point fails even if I am wrong about Locke.
Bork himself acknowledges that modern liberalism "has now turned classical liberalism upside down with respect to both liberty and equality" p. If so, why take the two divergent doctrines as parts of a continuous movement?
And Bork's conflation of classical and modern liberalism is no mere mistake of theory. Since he rejects individual rights, as the classical view professes them, nothing stands in the way of a virulent statism. Thus, censorship is the order of the day. Those who protested spending public funds on Robert Mapplethorpe's obscenities have missed the real issue, according to our author.
What could be more ridiculous than people thinking they are entitled to their own money? If that were the case, government would have to close down altogether. Both spending and taxation would be at zero" p. The omnicompetent state is, for Bork, not a monster to be dispatched but a tool to be used. Whether the state is likely to enforce the values he favors is a question he leaves unexamined. Our author's statism extends beyond culture. He gives as an example of a "demonstrably irrational" proposal "reviving the Tenth Amendment to confine the federal government to the enumerated powers" p.
Bork asserts that ''we are no longer free to make our own fundamental moral and cultural decisions because the Court oversees all such matters, when and as it chooses.
Bork adds, it's simply because ''the left is no longer terribly interested in economic matters. Well, says Mr. Bork -- whose own nomination in was rejected -- ''most of those appointed turn out not to be restrained or start that way but then, having no firm judicial philosophy, migrate to the left. Though Mr. Bork vigorously complains about the ''larger and more intrusive'' government that has developed to carry out liberal policies, he seems to have no fears about arming that same government with the powers of censorship.
Bork characterizes ''the intellectual class'' as sharing a radical mind-set and accuses it of trying ''to weaken or destroy Americans' attachment to their country,'' he passes over the influential role that conservative thinkers -- many of whose ideas he appropriates in this book -- play in the national discourse.
Throughout this volume, Mr. Bork argues that 60's utopianism was based on the mistaken notion that human nature was malleable and infinitely perfectible. If these views now seem hopelessly naive, however, Mr. Bork's own view of human nature feels depressingly cynical.
Again and again, he attributes the worst possible motives to his adversaries. America's toast. If you don't believe my characterization, here it is in his own words: "This is a book about American decline. Since American culture is a variant of the cultures of all Western industrialized democracies, it may even, inadvertently, be a book about Western decline. In the United States, at least, that decline and the mounting resistance to it have produced what we now call a culture war.
It is impossible to say what the outcome will be, but for the moment our trajectory continues downward. This is not to deny that much in our culture remains healthy, that many families are intact and continue to raise children with strong moral values.
American culture is complex and resilient. But it is also not to be denied that there are aspects of almost every branch of our culture that are worse than ever before and that the rot is spreading. As the title implies, the fault lies with modern liberalism, particularly the two components that comprise it: radical individualism "the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification" and radical egalitarianism "the equality of outcomes rather than of opportunities".
As Bork points out, it's difficult for radical individualism and radical egalitarianism to co-exist, because the liberty required for individualism leads to inequality. But the two operate in different spheres. Radical egalitarianism hereafter known as RE rears its ugly head in "areas of life and society where superior achievement is possible and would be rewarded but for coercion towards a state of equality," like quotas and affirmative action.
Radical individualism hereafter known as RI "is demanded when there is no danger that achievement will produce inequality and people wish to be unhindered in the pursuit of pleasure.
RE "presses us towards collectivism because a powerful state is required to suppress the differences that freedom produces. The family is said to be oppressive, the fount of our miseries. It is denied that the church may legitimately insist upon what it regards as moral behavior in its members.
Private associations are routinely denied the autonomy to define their membership for themselves. The upshot is that these institutions, which stand between the state and the individual, are progressively weakened and their functions increasingly dictated to or taken over by the state.
The individual becomes less of a member of powerful private institutions and a member of an unstructured mass that is vulnerable to the collectivist coercion of the state. Thus does radical individualism prepare the way for its opposite.
Bork cites our use of technology that makes our lives easier. Hard labor has rapidly given way to white collar work, in which typing at a keyboard for eight hours is considered work. This absence of true labor can lead to boredom, which causes people to pursue pleasure in other areas, some constructive, some destructive.
Envy also plays a role, because American is a wealthy nation, and those who are not wealthy often are jealous of those who are. Students and other activists rebelled against authority and sought to tear down institutions or at least bully them into adopting reforms, and our institutions proved too weak or unwilling to put up much of a fight. So they caved and the "barbarians" won, and these same barbarians now run these same institutions, thus becoming the establishment, the intellectual elite that wields so much influence in America.
However, unlike may conservatives, Bork believes the Sixties were merely the time that RE and RI rose to full prominence. In fact, RE and RI is ingrained in our culture by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which claimed that all men were created equal.
This gave birth to the rise of RI, and is also why Bork is so pessimistic about America's chances. This is all part of our nature and character as a nation - we can cut it out no more than we can remove our hearts and still live.