Our Secular Theocracy

More from Unherd.

From How race politics liberated the elites by Matthew Crawford

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The notion of expertise is important. There appears to be a circle of mutual support between political correctness, technocratic administration, and the bloated educational machinery. Because smartness (as indicated by educational credentials) confers title to rule in a technocratic regime, the ruling class adopts a distinctly cognitivist view: virtue does not consist of anything you do or don’t do, it consists of having the correct opinions. This is attractive, as one may then exempt oneself from the high-minded policies one inflicts upon everyone else. For example, the state schools are turned into laboratories of grievance-based social engineering, with generally disastrous effects, but you send your own children to expensive private schools. You can de-legitimise the police out of a professed concern for black people, and the explosion of murder will be confined to black parts of the city you never see, and journalists are not interested in. In this way, you can be magnanimous while avoiding the moral pollution and that comes from noticing reality.

With this clerisy’s systemic lack of “skin in the game”, the idea of a common good becomes a weak abstraction. Maintaining one’s own purity of opinion, on the other hand, has real psychic consequence, as it is the basis for one’s feeling of belonging — not to the community one happens to reside in, but to the tribe of the elect.

If the ideal of a de-moralised public sphere was a signature aspiration of liberal secularism, it seems we have entered a post-secular age. Populism happened because it became widely noticed that we have transitioned from a liberal society to something that more closely resembles a corrupt theocracy.

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Which ties in rather nicely with this bit:

Covid was liberalism’s endgame by Matthew Crawford

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The Nineties saw the rise of new currents in the social sciences that emphasise the cognitive incompetence of human beings, deposing the “rational actor” model of human behaviour. This gave us nudge theory , a way to alter people’s behaviour without having to persuade them of anything. It would be hard to overstate the degree to which this approach has been institutionalised, on both sides of the Atlantic. The innovation achieved here is in the way government conceives its subjects: not as citizens whose considered consent must be secured, but as particles to be steered through a science of behaviour management that relies on our pre-reflective cognitive biases.

This is one front in a larger development: an intensifying distrust of human judgment when it operates in the wild, unsupervised. Sometimes this takes the purely bureaucratic form of insisting on metrics of performance and imposing uniform procedures on professionals. “Evidence-based medicine” circumscribes the discretion of doctors; standardised tests and curricula do the same for teachers. At other times, this same impulse takes a technological form, with algorithms substituting for individual judgment on the grounds that human rationality is the weak link in the system. For example, it is stipulated that human beings are terrible drivers and must be replaced in a new regime of autonomous vehicles. The effect, consistently, is to remove agency from skilled practitioners on the grounds of incompetence, and devolve power upward toward a separate layer of information managers that grows ever thicker. It also removes responsibility from identifiable human beings who can be held to account for their decisions. Such mystification insulates various forms of power, both governmental and commercial, from popular pressures.

Needless to say, this sits ill with the Enlightenment idea that governing authority is grounded in our shared rationality, accessible in principle to every citizen and capable of articulation. Technocratic progressivism in fact requires the disqualification of experience and common sense as a guide to reality, and installs in their place a priestly form of authority, closer to the Enlightenment’s caricature of medieval society than to its own self-image.

It also requires a certain human type which, fittingly enough, looks like a caricature of the medieval personality: a credulous, fearful person. This brings us to the Hobbesian anthropological program.

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The Establishment must have its Lord and God: Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, the Total State, justified and anointed by The Science.

I recommend that Christians keep their distance from that ever power-hungry, ever frantic and terrified idol with its forever-emergencies, it’s intense hatred of every liberty and freedom, and it’s unlimited malice for all who insist on obeying the authority over it.

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