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The Good Pharisee: Meditations on Nicodemus

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 9, 2018

What was a Pharisee?  The backstory behind Christianity’s favorite religious rogue gallery

The word Pharisee has long been established as a term of abuse in Christian circles.  It does not appear as an explicitly negative term in the Gospels, but whenever Pharisees enter the story they usually serve as a foil for the actions and teachings of Jesus.  From this the most likely interpretation is that the Pharisees are either fools or villains or most likely both.   An additional historical complication arises from the fact that the Pharisees are the undisputed predecessors of all later forms of orthodox Judaism.  The hagiography contained in Pirke Avot features the same individuals who appear (albeit anonymously) as the bad guys in the Gospels.

Spoiler alert!  I am stating my conclusion right up front: Jesus was himself a Pharisee.  I am neither alone nor original in holding this view.  The statement is only shocking because of the negative connotations which have clustered around the word “Pharisee” as derived from the Gospels.  Naturally I (and the scholars who uphold this view) don’t mean that Jesus was a hypocrite or a villain.  Rather Jesus split off from a particular school of Judaism, and that happened to be the school of the Pharisees.

To see the plausibility of this thesis, look at what has frequently happened to modern social and political movements when they split, one group taking the name and the other the substance of the movement’s ideology.  Hear the vitrolic way that conservatives use the word “liberal” and you would never guess that conservatives (at least American conservatives) were the original liberals, a word which once signified free enterprise, small government, and the writings of John Locke.  At the other end of the spectrum we read about Vladmir Lenin “fighting against the socialists” …which would be quite confusing of we didn’t know the historical context of the Bolshevick/Menshevick split, and that the former renamed themselves the communists in order to signal  a purer and more aggressive form of socialism.

Given the historical context, it should be understandable that Jesus fought more often and more vigorously against the Pharisees than anyone else, precisely because we generally fight against those who are closest to us, and not in just a geographical sense.  We fight against those with whom we share our basic principles, since we know enough about their minds that we can have a worthwhile disagreement with them.  There were many other ethnic and ideological groups present in first century Palestine.  Somehow or other, it is always the Pharisees that Jesus is running into.  This is no accident.

A typology of religious attitudes

We can use the groups present on the historical scene during the generation of Jesus ( on his human side) to understand the broader religious choices which have been available to humanity before, then, and ever since.  One could endlessly ponder the particulars of the Pharisees as a religious movement, but for purposes of application to our own spiritual struggles it might be better to look at the contrasting world views which characterize the Pharisees, their opponents, and each of their moral equivalents in other generations.   This simplification leaves out a lot, but it gets to the heart of the matter.  We can distill the essence of religious life down to a few types.

The wicked believe in neither God nor Torah

The Greeks, believe in God without the Torah, (a.k.a. the “unknown God” the many gods, or the god of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.)

The Sadduccies believe in the Torah but not in God.

The Samaratains believe in God and a defective Torah

The Pharisees believe in both God and Torah

It should be fairly obvious which group Jesus lines up with.  None the less, there seems to be a problem with the Pharisees.  We might guess that they had some sort of problem even if we didn’t know about their  numerous run-ins with the John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles.  It is not a problem with the ideals of the Pharisees, who’s name meant “separate”…in the sense of separate from their surrounding Hellenistic social environment.  Perhaps they weren’t separate enough.  That was the view of the Essene sect which went to great length in forming an alternative society.  Was that also the view of Jesus?

Not necessarily.  Remember that Jesus was accused of being more lax than John the Baptist, who was probably an Essene.  John and the Essene sectaries lived in the wilderness, but Jesus was willing to go into town and fellowship with urban dwellers, Pharisees in particular.  One gets the impression that Jesus was willing to take Pharisee life and practice (their “Torah”) as an initial baseline for godly living.  The major problem wasn’t that the Pharisee interpretation of the Torah was too lax or too strict, although Jesus was forthright in offering a different interpretation of halacha (i.e., rules for the walk of life) when called upon to do so.  No, it is something more fundamental than a disagreement of halachic particulars (for example, whether or not healing is permitted on the Sabbath) however important those might be.

Nicodemus

Fortunately we have a concrete example of a good Pharisee, a Pharisee to whom Jesus could divulge his full council.    In the encounter with Nicodemus we glimpse the fundamental deficiency which rendered the walk of the Pharisees out of accord with Jesus, and by implication, with God.  This deficiency was the failure of the Pharisees to be Pharisees in the sense defined above, those who putatively believe in both God and the Torah.  It was a failure in terms of the standards which the Pharisees had set for themselves.

In visiting Jesus under the cover of night, Nicodemus was out of alignment with at least one of the two axiomatic principles of the Pharisees.  Whatever the quality of his Torah observance might have been, Nicodemus was deficient in faith towards God.  We know this because he feared men more than his Creator.  He demonstrates this visiting Jesus under the cover of night.  At this point, Nicodemus may not even recognize Jesus as Messiah.  However he knows that Jesus is “of God”…perhaps a prophet.

Yet he fears the opinions of men.  Is this what it means to believe in God and Torah?  What about “not having any idol in front of my face” as the first of the “ten words” would have it?  Belief in God doesn’t mean just understanding the concept of God, it means a living faith in God.  So is Nicodemus, who is perhaps the best of all the Pharisees, even a Pharisee himself?  Is he not a crypto-Sadducean, an atheist who conforms to Torah outwardly?

You Must Be Born From Above

Herein lies the embarrassment of Nicodemus.  He seems to have been convinced that Jesus was, if not God, at least the voice of God in his own generation, otherwise the highly respected Pharisee would not have taken the trouble to pay a visit to the upstart rabbi.  Yet he visits Jesus at night, thus testifying that for him the wrath of men is more to be feared than the power of God.  Hence Nicodemus reveals himself to be an atheist, if not in theory, at least in practice.  In some respects he is worse off than the Saducees who winked at the idea of a living God, but who, like Voltaire centuries later, understood that a facade of divinely sanctioned morality (Torah) was necessary for the functioning of society.  At least the Sadducees and kindred thinkers are only in the business of deceiving others, not themselves. In contrast, Nicodemus desperately wants to believe in God, and not just the cosmic god of the Saducees and Aristotle, but a living God who concerns himself with the welfare of His creatures.  Yet the fear of Nicodemus overcomes his faith.  As the first words in the Decalogue put the matter, he allows the face of human power to interpose itself between his soul and its creator.

Jesus, sensing this fear in the heart of Nicodemus, derails the interview by an appeal to fundamentals.  It is not that Jesus is asking Nicodemus to undergo some mystical initiation into  a higher life.  This has been the standard interpretation of much of evangelical Christianity for the last three hundred years.  In a way it is much simpler than that.  Jesus is implicitly asking Nicodemus, “Do you, or do you not believe in God and the promises of God?”  It is not a matter of grasping the concept “God” or having a historical knowledge that made promises at certain times and in certain places.  Rather, do you trust in this God and order your life accordingly?  Nicodemus doesn’t trust God to protect him from men, but relies instead on the darkness of night.  He behaves the way any frightened creature would.  He normal,  being no more than a typical creature of God.  In order to go beyond normal, he would have to be procreated, and not just created, by God.  He would have to partake in God’s attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.  Then he would no longer fear anything.  Isn’t that what we would all like?

Before the Cross

There may have been many good Samaritans, but there was only one good Pharisee, Jesus of Nazareth.  All the others were to some extent impostors.  The failure was so total that, after the Pharisees split with Jesus and the apostles, the type flipped over into its anti-type.  The word Pharisee, which originally denoted righteousness and sanctification, has come to mean a hypocrite, a make-believer rather than a true believer.  Although “Pharisee” is a useful term of abuse for any bully pulpit, if we want to approach the matter as a serious historical study, we will need to take a more empathetic view.  Then perhaps we will discover that the Pharisees are more deserving of our pity than our condemnation.

Compared to the Sadducees the Pharisees were probably a pretty stressed out group.  As a sect, the Sadducees were in the business of deceiving others, not themselves.  They reasoned that there was little harm in adopting bit of Greek culture.  The people of the country could be introduced to the world outside of Judaism bit by bit, reassured by nominal adherence to the  Torah.  Beyond the amiable conversation common to moderates everywhere, the Sadducees must have shared the secret joy of conspirators who know they are “pulling a fast one” on the general public.  Jewish on the outside, Greek on the inside.  Is not variety the spice of life?

In contrast to the genial secularism of the Sadducees, the Pharisees must have been bad company.   Far from being conscious hypocrites, their bane was their own sincerity.  Only sincere people can be stung by the accusation of hypocrisy.  We can safely assume that not just Jesus, but other Pharisees commonly accused one another of hypocrisy.  Unlike the Sadducees they each wanted desperately to keep faith with the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.  Yet each in their own heart knew that they fell short.  Though they were gregarious, their social events must have been haunted by the fear that the mask of belief would be torn from their face by less than generous colleagues.

This contrast between the happy Sadducee and the grim Pharisee is of more than historical interest.  It is a perennial paradox of the spirit.  The higher we set the bar of our spiritual life, the more dissatisfied we become.  Sometimes we become so dissatisfied that we are apt to envy the carefree attitude of stone cold atheistic secularists.  Yet we are wrong to do so, for as David frequently notes in his Psalms…”we can see their end.”

After the Cross

We shouldn’t take the story of Nicodemus and his encounter with Jesus out of context.  The typical evangelical interpretation, that Nicodemus was lacking a special spiritual experience which would have lifted his life onto a higher plane, misses the main point.  Certainly we should strive for spiritual enlightenment and edification.  However the main point is chronological.  Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus prior to the cross.  Moreover, Jesus is not just speaking to Nicodemus, but to all God-believers or wannabe God-believers.  The more sincere one is in striving towards faith the more one falls short, and in frustration things other than God often wind up being more important.  This might be called the Pharisee’s Paradox.

That was before the cross.  After the cross human inability is accounted for and redeemed.  We are all like Nicodemus, apt to wait to the dead of the night to seek God, for fear of the crowd.  As we are filled by the Holy Spirit some of us become bolder, and are willing to proclaim him in the light of day.  Either way, it is no longer a salvation issue, since God knows our weaknesses, and even, or especially, the weakness of our faith.  It is the weakness of a child, not a bond servant, and is pardoned.  Pardoned and often indulged, on the understanding that we can do better, and will be helped to do better.

Like Nicodemus we are apt to put the face of man between our soul and the face of our creator.  However our creator understands this because he is our procreator as well, and knows our souls from the inside out.  This is already foretold in the Torah and the Prophets.  When David incurred God’s wrath by enumerating the Israelites in a census he was given the choice of whether to suffer at the hand of human beings or of God.  He chose to suffer from God out of fear of human beings.  God permits this, although it would seem to go against the criticism of Nicodemus mentioned previously.  Here we have the two fears stood on their head, as it were,  since here fear means the opposite of love, not a synonym for respect.  Hence the fears of David, and by implication our fears as well, are rendered licit by a merciful God.  This is not to say that it is good to fear, even to fear evil.  Rather one should laugh at fear in derision.  However, until we are able to do that, God is a loving parent and understands.

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The Great Hero goes out with his Star

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 3, 2018

The Great Hero goes out with his Star

 

O Ruby Planet, thou who haunt our recent nights

Harbinger of a season to atone

Striking terror into gentle dames and gentlemen

But granting gifts of death to those who take you for their own

 

I ask of you, what kind of man was he?

Whom you swept up at your apogee…

…and not at all like Samuel Clemens’

Mocking meteoric sign, only showing up for curtain time

 

Rather, this was a forsworn, constant man

And a paragon of loyalty

But of loyalty to what was he?

A velvet mailed fist, worn by a hand we aren’t allowed to see…

 

Beach ball bikini

Bombing Persians into sand

These are the words of monsters, not of man

Oh yes, he was man enough, and moreover one who suffered much,

Yet few who suffer are given powers to understand.

 

“There is a current in the affairs of men, which if taken…”

And it took him and it used him well.

But to what end…O Ruby One, will you not tell?

 

He had his lovers, of that there is no doubt

And fortunate, in so far as they had clout

And for the rest of us, the fools, he did a passable John Wayne

Though “Beloved Republic” was not his true refrain.

 

This passionate and passible one, being past, is surely now with you…

O Ruby One, O shining hope!

Thou who art no pale and placid orb, but a brilliant point

Like the crimson tracer from a sniper’s scope.

 

Not like the God of Jacob, or those who enter Sabbath rest

The spouses of the ruby deity, the god of war

(and this upon their own request)

…are given more

 

Granted, it is not for us to pierce the ruby veil of mystery

For these are only speculations gleaned from recent history

Therefore, let us leave his name unmentioned

Lest it be sullied or diminished

 

For, as a greater God than even you

O Ruby One,

Once uttered,

“It is finished!”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Jesus, teacher of the full Torah

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 20, 2018

JESUS, TEACHER OF THE FULL TORAH

…work out your salvation in fear and trembling. (Phillipians 2:13)

The full Gospel and the full Torah

Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 2:2  Paul gives us the full Gospel, explaining that he is determined to convey only his  knowledge of Christ and him crucified.  This knowledge does not refer to consciousness, information, or skills.  Paul was not an anchorite meditating on the Crucifixion of Christ 7/24 in a cell with disciples shoving him meals through a crack in the wall.  Paul had skills, wrote a lot, made stuff on weekdays, like tents, and preached on the sabbath.   In Corinthians Paul writes in Greek but thinks in Hebrew, where knowledge (Heb. daát) means something like intimate connection, as in the euphemism “he knew her in the Biblical sense.”

Jesus is our exclusive savior, but the Gospel, in the sense of evangelism, is not our exclusive preoccupation.  Paul’s words in Philippians are problematic because contemporary Christians tend to jump to evangelical conclusions.  This  makes the verse liable to a salvation-by-works reading which contradicts the Pauline doctrine of of grace.  However the phrase “work out your salvation” does not refer to the initial free gift of salvation.  It refers to the unpacking, assembling, and use of God’s gift.  What are the principles which ought to guide the life of someone who has gotten Jesus for free.  Do we send a thank you note?  How do you send a thank you note to God?  Surely we send it with our lives…as a “living letter.”

But then again, do we even need send a thank you note?  The antinomian would say “no”…that sending a thank you note is an insult to God.  Rather, we ought to live our lives with riotous abandon…showing the heathen what a great God we have who saves even the most contemptible sinners.  This view, though a minority position among theologians, actually crops up from time to time.  Let’s leave that discussion alone, since most Christians, whatever their failings in practice, are unlikely to be antinomians in principle…unless perhaps their common sense has been interfered with by too much theological subtlety.

Jesus the Teacher of the completed Torah

Most people will want to send God a thank you letter with their lives.  They will want to live their lives according to a pattern which is pleasing to God.  However they will also be careful not to give others the impression that they have earned their salvation through good works.  The antinomian is a rare but dangerous breed, and ever ready to pounce upon those who “trust in the law and not in grace.”

Yet, apart from those rare and eccentric antinomians , it is usually acceptable to be good, and even ever so, very, very squeaky clean good if you really want to be.  However if you ground your goodness according to Biblical standards, be prepared to face criticism, and not just from hard-core antinomians and kindred free-spirits.  Be prepared to face criticism from Christians, and even, perhaps especially, from morally rigorous Christians.

Morally rigorous Christians will agree that the gift of the gospel should evoke an ethical response from the believers.   However they are wary of the so-called “Old Testement”…a.k.a., the Torah that both Jesus and Paul knew and taught, albeit in a way which differed radically from the teachings of the Jewish rabbis of their times.  Torah (the life instructions and guidelines found in the beginning of the Bible) is supposed to be something other than, if not contradictory to, Christianity.  If you are determined to be good, then at least you should add some extra-Biblical criteria of goodness to your faith.  How about some virtue-ethics from Aristotle?  Or how about some Stoicism or Buddhism?  Marx anyone?  The last thing we want is an ethics drawn straight from the Bible, lest we be called Hebrisers…or worse, actual Jews!

Furthermore, weren’t the lives of both Jesus and Paul a string of unrelenting debate with Torah rabbis?  Well, yes, but that actually proves the opposite.  Jesus and the Pharisees were rivals, which means that both were struggling for the same thing.  They were both struggling for Torah.  The Torah of Jesus seems like a “new” teaching, or Torah.  However it was actually the teaching of the Pharisees which was new.  The teaching of Jesus was actually the old Torah of Moses, which was new in the sense that we speak of a priceless antique being “made like new” once the patina has been removed from its surface.

What was the difference between the Torah of Jesus and the apostles on the one hand, and the Torah of the scribes and Pharisees on the other?  Jesus taught the full Torah, his contemporaries taught only a partial Torah.  What does this mean?  Well, it is said that there are 613 precepts in the Torah.  Does this mean the Pharisees were teaching only 612 and Jesus was preaching the full 613?

Is this numerology or something?  Heaven forbid!

To avoid majoring in the minors, we need a succinct summary of the Torah.   As long as God has been kind enough to provide us with just “ten words” in the Bible which we need to obey, let’s lay aside the notion of 613, or some such number, precepts.  Usually these Divine Words are called “the ten commandments” but out of sensitivity to the law-phobic let’s call them words.  There is another reason to call them the “ten words”…since God’s words flow together as a single idea, expressed in a complete sentence.  If you take one of the words out it changes the meaning of the sentence completely.  That is the meaning of “you must keep the whole of the law”…not that anyone is actually expected to keep 613 “mitzvot” or commandments.

The scribes and the Pharisees were very good at keeping nine out of the ten commandments.  These nine are all things that one can do, or refrain from doing, with the body or using outward verbal expression.  The tenth commandment is different.  It is completely mental.  Superficially it seems to be a law against envy.  The authorized version uses the old-fashioned word “covet” which means “wanting to have something which other people have.”

Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t cheat on your spouse.  So far, if your conscience has even a spark of life in it, so good.  But what about “Don’t even think about any of that stuff!”

That’s the Jesus difference.  Jesus was teaching the full Torah, the scribes and the Pharisees were teaching only 9/10ths of the Torah.  It is not that most scribes and the Pharisees fit the cruel caricatures in which they are often depicted in Christian drama.  As far as intentions are concerned, they were probably outstanding in the degree of kindness and consideration they exhibited towards their peers.  In particular, they wanted to exculpate their contemporaries, and especially themselves, from the onus of violating the psychological implications of Torah. Their reasoning was as follows:

“Look, we know that the human mind is impossible to control.  The prophet Jeremiah himself said that it is the slipperiest and most deceptive thing in all creation.  Let’s be realistic.  If you will just act in a way which is socially responsible and morally decent, we will give you a pass.  What you think is your own business.”

This sounds reasonable, but unfortunately it stumbles on the last word of the ten words.  That word is not just about cravings for sex or the possession of buildings and domestic animals.  It is about the normal mental disposition of fallen humanity, a disposition which makes us so unsatisfied with our lives that we are, in extremity, driven to lie, steal, cheat, and even kill.  These actions don’t suddenly appear without cause.

The late Rene Girard, a French emigre who taught anthropology at Stanford University, noted that the object of the tenth word, i.e. “coveting” was the wellspring of all fallen humanity’s actions.  According to Girard, we are driven by a desire, not just to usurp the possessions of others, but to displace them in their very existence.  In the eyes of the (tenth) commandment breaker, the crime of the man or woman in our own chosen field (our neighbor) is not just that they have more “stuff” than we do.  Rather, it is their existence itself which is offensive to us.   We think, even if we do not say, “So and so has my same ideas, aspirations and attributes, and in fact is more successful than me in promotion of these things, yet paradoxically, so and so is not me!   What am I to do?  I must displace him or her…since there cannot be two of ‘me’!”  The preferred method of rivalry is to imitate the rival, to become a more successful version of the rival.  Yet who can become a better ego than their rival alter ego?  Hence elimination follows upon the failure of imitation.  Indeed, if things were allowed to take their natural course, breaking the Tenth Word in thought would lead back, by degrees, to breaking the Sixth Word in practice.

Jesus had an intuitive grasp of all these deep and unsettling truths, since they lurked at the bottom of the Tenth Word of the Torah, disguised by homely language about houses and cattle.  He recognized the essence of the matter and was not afraid to teach it.  He knew that breaking the last word, like removing the keystone from an arch, would cause the structure of the prior commandments to collapse. His rivals, intent on establishing a practical religion of action (both performed actions and prohibited actions) were horrified that the firewall between the body and the mind had been breached.  They feared that a psychological Torah would be impossible for anyone to keep.

Their fears were well founded, but Jesus continued to preach a psychological Torah anyway.  In this regard, as in all others, it was Jesus who was the orthodox Torah teacher, since Moses had already insisted on purity of mind as well as body.  His rivals were content with a seemingly tolerant, but increasingly minute religion of actions, an “orthopraxy” in the stead of “orthodoxy.”

Fear and Trembling

It is not that anyone needs to practice the Ten Words in order to get into heaven.  That is not what the “fear and trembling” is about.  The fear and trembling is the vision that we all should have of the contrast between a perfect God and the manifestly depraved tendency of the human mind when left to its own devices.  The Tenth Word, the word against Envy, is the capstone of Torah, just as the monotheism of the First Word is its foundation.

Just as his rivals feared, Jesus, in preaching a Torah which condemned the mental quality of envy as well as the increasingly vicious actions which proceed from envy, was preaching a Torah which is impossible for human beings to keep.  Moses had already understood the incompatible relationship between the moral teachings of Torah and the imperfections of human life, which is why the sacrifices of atonement were instituted in the temple.  With much greater confidence, Jesus, looking forward to the Messianic atonement, taught perfect doctrine to imperfect creatures.

We cannot live utterly without envy, and even if we could, it would not get us into heaven.  However we can “work out” our heavenly destiny by unpacking and living out the teachings of the anti-envy doctrine, which is one of the treasures which has been delivered to the saints.  It is edifying for us, and also a great way to say “thank you” to the God of our salvation.

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The Four Story Mountain, or, the Judeo-Christian worldview explained while standing on one foot

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 15, 2018

Four levels of reality

Perhaps these should be called dimensions.  I know some will think that the term “dimension” has a kind of flaky New Age feel to it.  Actually if I were going to be precise I would prefer to call these four pairs of antinomies.  You like dimensions better?  I thought so.

The first level of reality, the dimension in which we live and pursue our life-goals,  is the world of the good and the bad.  I don’t need to tell you about this.  We know, inherently, when we are in a good state of mind and when we are feeling bad.  In this dimension life is about getting into the pleasant, the successful, the desirable, and avoiding their opposites in all departments of our experience, aesthetic, gustatory, sexual, social, intellectual…and so forth.  We can call this the natural dimension.  There is nothing wrong with it, we can say it “is what it is”…since rightness and wrongness only arise when we proceed to the next level.

Ethics

This is where it gets dicey.  I’m defining each dimension of human life in terms of an opposition between a positive and a negative state.  The problem is that the words “good” and “bad” in English and many other languages refer to several opposed qualities which are quite different in nature.  Initially I mentioned those good things and situations which were pleasant or desirable.   There “good” and “bad” referred to contrasting states which were distinct from a moral goodness which is opposed to wickedness.

This is the major donkey bridge on the entire route up the four story mountain.  Many people maintain that ethical goodness and material well-being are just two aspects of the same thing.  The usual suspects when it comes to this error are naturalists, materialists, and utilitarians.  Yet even apart from these hardened expositors of a world which is confined to a single dimension, there is a popular prejudice that happiness and goodness ought to go together.

It is hard to argue people out of this position, since it is so appealing.  Only experience can teach that there are many wicked people who seem perfectly happy.  Of all those who have lived on Earth few have had David son of Jessey’s range of experience, from shepherd to king and both sinner and saint.  A major theme of his poems is the disjunction between existence and ethics.  The evidence of human affairs is that there is little if any connection between happiness and goodness, or wickedness and suffering.  Only by raising himself out of the mire of human affairs and seeing that there was a higher level of accountability outside of creation was David able to assure himself that  the principle of justice was ultimately vindicated.  The very souls which wax fat in the material world become lean in the spiritual world.  Virtue is its own reward and vice its own punishment.  But not here…somewhere else.

The Spiritual

So there is a somewhere else.  However this somewhere else is separate from not only the material pleasant and unpleasant, but from the ethical and the unethical.  Material pleasure and ethics pertain only to life on Earth.  The goodness of the spiritual world is not the same goodness as the indulgences of this world.  In the material world goodness is a goodness of confluence with experience, while the essence of spiritual goodness is separation from worldly delights and desires.

Likewise with ethics, since where there is no desire, there is no need for such.  Ethics is only necessary when there is a need to apportion Earthly goods among rivals.  Once again, we have to disentangle ourselves from that homonym “good” which means something entirely different in a different world or dimension.  The opposite of spiritual goodness is not badness or wickedness in an ethical sense.  Its opposite is whatever is not spiritual, whatever is not separated from the material world, a.k.a., the “unspiritual.”

The more spiritual one is the less one is afflicted by the pleasant/unpleasant and the good/evil of the lower dimensions.  This is an attractive path for some, especially those who are attracted to the Eastern Religions.  However it is ultimately a wasteful trajectory since it consigns the lower two levels to the garbage heap.  In spite its apparent monism, spirituality apart from redemption is actually a duality comprised of a despised world and an attractive refuge.

Godliness

The worldview of the Judeo-Christian scriptures posits a further dimension beyond that of any agnostic “spirituality.”  It is a world of Godliness in opposition to…well, really nothing since everything is of God, however for the sake of the argument, let’s say ungodliness.   Not just any god (everyone has a god) but the Creator, who, while a spirit, made the material world and is determined not to waste it.  This means that the spiritual cannot be “beyond good and evil” since God must bend down to concern himself with even the lowest, the natural (or rather the created) world.  This requires an act of redemption, but in the end it unifies everything, in contrast to the dualism of the Eastern paths.  And you thought it was the other way around didn’t you!  So in essence we have four dimensions or worlds and each defined according to the polarity of a different “good” and “bad”

desirable/ undesirable

righteous/wicked

separated/engrossed (from the material world)

Godly/separated (from the Creator)

Of course if we take these out of our sequential argument, label them, and flip them over so that they correspond to a hierarchical order we have

Divinity

Spirituality

Ethics

Creation

That, to the best of my understanding, is about the simplest outline that you are likely to find that maps out the Judeo-Christian world-view.  However it is not the simplest possible account of the universe, and hence it fails by the criteria of Occam’s razor.  The simplest account would be that of the materialistic naturalists.  None the less, I feel that this account has one overriding advantage…it’s true.

Furthermore, I must confess, I couldn’t stand on one leg throughout that exposition.  So any apostles of yogic duality who have been holding their stork posture, yeah, you win.  The posture competition…not the argument.

 

 

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The argument which God has raised to establish Objective Law is the Cross

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 29, 2018

Floating cities

“For he [Abraham] looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”–Hebrews ch.11, v.10

Humanity must live in cities, if we define a “city” as any political association, whether a walled city of antiquity, a camp of pastoral nomads, or a modern state circumscribed by nothing more than imaginary lines.  The flesh of the city is human life itself, its desires and aspirations, but its bones are the laws.  If human beings were angels, there would be no need for cities.  An angel exists in harmony of desire with the rest of the cosmos, indeed the desire of the angel is for harmony itself.

Some fools mistake human beings for angels.  I won’t try to argue them out of this charming supposition.  In fact, it is a pity that they aren’t right.  However the rest of us must proceed on the assumption that human life and desire is a conflicted affair, and that without law, without the city in its broadest sense, everything would decline into violence and chaos.

This stark reality has not escaped the notice of secular philosophers.  The more thoughtful of them have realized that the volatile desires of humanity must be contained within some sort of objective law regime.  Hence the ubiquity of the subjective/objective dichotomy in the human studies.  On the one hand, or so it is maintained, we have psychology.  On the other hand, we have social institutions.  The first is the matter of the subjective world, the second is objective.  What to call this second, objective, world is a matter of dispute among various disciplines and schools of thought.  Viewed from different angles it has been called the state, or society, or tradition, or custom, or the laws.  At one point anthropologists thought they could wrap everything up in an omnibus term and call it “culture.”  Perhaps the deepest articulation of the notion was in the philosophy of G.H.W.Hegel, who called all the ideas and things making up the persistent social world “objective mind.”

It seems to me that the whole subjective/objective formulation is a mistake.  What we really have are two subjectivities, one more or less dynamic (subjective subjectivity) and the other one more static, or crystalized (“objective” subjectivity).   The static institutions serve as inhibitors of the volatile desires, both individual and collective, among the population of a city.  We might call these the laws, but they are no less based on human desire than the sudden impulses of fashion or the mob.  The laws of the city are slow, stable desires, desires for harmony and equity.  They emanate from the more sensible and prudent desires of human flesh.

These human cities are goodly, but not godly.  They inhibit chaos, and thus frustrate the ideals of the social anarchist.  However they are also a source of frustration to the state-worshiper who sees in the city a manifestation of the Absolute.  Since the human city is constructed from the same material (desire) as the volatile will of the individual or the mob, it is worn down over the course of time, until a breach is made in its walls, whether or not the walls are literal or ideal.  The human city has no firm foundation.   It floats in the air of the ideal until it is brought low by chaos.

Law and Gospel

The city with foundations is one which is not promulgated by human will but rather has its origins in eternity.  There is no argument for this city on the model of G.F.W.Hegel’s argument for the modern state.  It’s nature can be articulated but its existence cannot be proven.  In schematic terms we can view it as follows

human life (subjective)/human city (subjective, pseudo-objective)//City of God (objective)

but it must be grasped by faith.  So far, everything which I have said should have been non-controversial among Christians.

The controversy among Christians centers around the relationship of Law to Gospel.  Did Christ die to make us free of the city?  Did he die to abolish the law?  Certainly there are many unjust laws among the pseudo-objective cities of humanity.  These richly deserve abolition.

However Christ did not die to institute anarchy.  He claimed that he came not to abolish the law but to complete it.  The completion was the execution, in principle, of the Adamic race which had seceded from the Divine City.  However there was also pardon, not of the race but of individuals in the New Man.  This new creature is a citizen of the Divine City, the city with foundations.  However it has more than a foundation, it has walls, buildings and all the other things which are necessary for a city.

The laws of a city must be specific.  It is not just the dream of a city floating in the air.  All philosophers have understood this and tried to flesh out their ideals with concrete proposals.  Plato, perhaps the greatest of all philosophers, wrote not just one, but two thick books on the organization of his ideal city The Republic, and The Laws.

Is Christianity less real than the philosophy of Plato?  Is it just a day-dream to be indulged in for comfort during intermissions of “real life”?  Heaven forbid!  Neither I nor anyone else can make an adequate argument for making the principles of the Bible your rule of life.  There is no argument adequate to the task.  There is only the Cross.  The Cross itself is the foundation of the Divine City.  With the foundation secure, a superstructure may be safely built up.  From Calvary we can return, like Paul, to Mt. Horeb and rediscover the life giving commandments of the Creator.  Then we will find that we are dwelling in a city which rests on firm foundations.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism | Leave a Comment »

Big Science and the shrunken head of post-modernity

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 26, 2018

Its a small world after all

Occasionally the geeks “get it” and see beyond the multiple layers of illusion spawned by “big science” a somewhat more euphonious term for what scholars call “scientism” or “the religion of science.”   Any random geek in meditative reverie risks, like Toto pulling at the veil of the Great Oz, seeing a glitch in the matrix and hence being compelled to write or say something courageous about an alternate view of reality.  This is apt to causes a flutter of journalistic butterflies until the inevitable default back to the standard naturalistic model.  The geek (i.e., science journalist) then goes on to some other theme, because the market for science columns is based on wonders, not world-views.

An amusing example is the article by Frank Wilczek, “Intelligent Life Elsewhere? Maybe It’s Hiding” Wall Street Journal Feb 17, 2018.  Wilczek points out that the universe is too big and too old to conceal the alien super-civilizations which have not only a probable claim to existence, but indeed the probability of existence in great abundance.   Of course his tacit reference point is the standard naturalistic model of the cosmos, concerning which he has, perhaps unwittingly, managed to articulate a glaring contradiction.  Dismayed by the non-appearance of aliens, who should have (probability remember!) arrived long ago, Wilczek comes up with what he deems a novel solution to the problem.  Epitomized, the solution is “good thinks come in small packages.”  In other words, those alien civilizations are surely out there, but they may have lost their taste for expansion, for trekking bravely where no species X,Y, or Z has ever gone before, or even for communicating over vast distances in search of their alien alter-egos.  Rather, it may be that the super-aliens have forsaken extensive for intensive development, and that they now pride themselves in a miniaturized obscurity.

The plausibility of Wilczek’s thesis is dependent on everyone’s (on Earth that is) familiarity with the development of information technology and the relentless progress of Moore’s Law, especially in relation to the concentration of data within the ever narrowing boundaries of electronic micro-structures.   We are reminded that computing speed puts a premium on compact space such that the light-inch has become more germane to transcendence than the light-year.  Hence we are supposed to think that this talk of small, hidden, aliens is terribly novel since, after all, IT is today’s “it” and yesterday’s future.

Not so fast, and I mean that in terms of inference, not computation.  Please if you will, try to recall a certain wrongheaded fellow named Rene Descartes who was raving four hundred years ago about something called a “soul” and how it didn’t have any extension in space.  You don’t remember?  Well, it doesn’t matter much, but keep in mind that “mind” has rarely been portrayed as something large, slow and observable.  The dimensionless soul of Descartes was no doubt a late corruption of   widespread traditions concerning extra-corporal intelligence (among divine, human, angelic, or demonic entities) as small, intense, and quick.  Egos may be big, brains may be massive, but the soul, the actual operating soul (or mind if you prefer that term) is small…perhaps vanishingly small.

Of angels and pin-heads

The mocking moderns, prior to assassination by their post-modern children, were notorious for “angel jokes.”  Nobody in the scholarly world makes these jokes any more, although the genre has lingered on in politically correct late night television.  The jokes were never really about angels but about people stupid enough to believe in them.  Correspondingly, it is one of our blessings that we have been liberated from fake Christianity and the equally fake Botticelli angels which once guarded the ceilings of the Western imagination.  Today there are those among us who have recovered what the Apostle Jude called “respect”… acknowledging that angels (divine or fallen) are beings of numinous terror and the question of how many can dance on the head of a pin, whether capable of any ultimate solution, can again be posed in earnest.

Indeed, that is precisely the question that Mr. Wilcezk and his scientific mentors are asking, albeit without recognizing the question itself.  If they don’t actually pose the question in its angelic form, it is not on account of any lack of intelligence on the part of their own tiny souls.  Rather, as in the words of the pop song, they have been blinded by science, big science.  The blindness is so comprehensive that even when Mr. Wilczek and his like summon up the courage to “think small” big science tricks them down a false path, just as it did back in the days of that Cartesian rationalism which we now consider transparently false.

The alien vs. the spiritual

The trick which late modernity fell for was the substitution of extra-terrestrials for the extra-corporeal.  Big science could get away with this ruse due to its very bigness.  Similar to big banking, big science has managed cause inflation, not of the currency, but the cosmos.  The accelerated expansion of the nebular hypothesis, dogmatically expressed by LaPlace and Kant in the 18th century, has today inflated into a cosmos so enormous that it can no longer satisfy the gnostic aspirations of its designers.   The increasingly empty universe which first destroyed geocentric humanism, now threatens, to the chagrin of Mr. Wilczek and his scientific betters, even the aliens.  Like the wheels within wheels of the Ptolemaic system, the bad infinity of modern astronomy is starting to show signs of internal contradiction and over-complexity.  The equivalent of currency collapse in the sphere of cosmology is likely to occur when it is realized that neither time nor space are substitutes for the primacy of personality.  Then the world will turn either magical or godly.

Either way, humanity will have to recognize that the world is a much more wonderful, and dangerous, place than the materialists were willing to admit.  The faithful, and those who have managed to escape deception, have known this since long ago.  We don’t need to pierce the canopy of outer space to search out alien intelligence.  Indeed, there are intelligent beings which always are seeking us out, beings smaller than a light-nanosecond, from arguably closer than a light-year.  Some will bear true light from true light.  Others otherwise.

This isn’t rocket science, but neither is it just words.  The coming deflation of cosmology and the revelation that personality, not time-space, is the primary substance, is something which is going to be very tangible.  It is something well underway, and understood intuitively by many people who are rejecting “big science.”  Unfortunately just rejecting science isn’t good enough.  Post modernists reject science, but often they substitute it with something even less substantial, with movements like the “literary turn.”  This is the same kind of turn that an ostrich performs when it turns its head down and plunges it into the sand.  The scientists themselves have never heard of this turn from science to literature.  They will never hear of it unless it affects their funding, which not likely to happen soon.  Until then the Frankensteins will just keep on frankensteining.

All souls are small but some are smaller than others

We ought to pray that our souls, though small, are not small in the wrong way.  Mr. Wilczek has alerted us, or rather anyone who needed to know, that the world might be the size of a thimble and yet be burgeoning with a myriad of civilizations.  Actually, he thinks it is much larger than a thimble, but the cat is out of the bag none the less.  A little further reflection will convince you that ideas like proximity and scale are equally negotiable, and soon you will be packing away your telescope and returning to your garden with your trowel and your soul.  At that point you will be prepared to encounter, not an extra-terrestrial, but an extra-corporeal.

However a word of caution is in order.  Small isn’t good, it is just small.  There is good small and bad small.  The good small is the real scientist, puttering in whatever restricted field providence has planted a tiny scientific soul, be it Mendel laboring at his bean-pods or Archimedes in his tub.  The good scientist does not seek to form a theory of everything.  The good scientist seeks to understand bats and butterflies, but not Being.  Being is not an object of study, it is a name of God.

So much for the good small.  As for the bad small, it is really too terrifying to commit to exact description.  Suffice to say that the the Garradine demoniac, restored to his right mind, probably knew more about it than anyone in recorded history.  He knew precisely how many entities could dance on a head… his own head.  The knowledge did not make him happy, let alone a great scientist.  He just happened to have the great fortune of being in the path of a perfect man who perfectly understood his condition.   The perfect man not only understood the condition, he cured it as well, and that without compensation.

The Greeks, with their imperfect understanding, called that act a sign of “magnaminity.”  In our language we could translate it as “great-souled.”  Of course there is no reference to physical scale implied.  None the less, it is comforting to know that there is a good big as well as a bad big.

 

Posted in Appologetics, Christianity, culture, Culture & Politics, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Science, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

American dark age: How did the Cold War Era change from history to politically correct mythology

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 18, 2018

Rightly dividing historical periods

Schopenhauer said that the world exists as our representation.  No where is this more true than in the field of history. Yet God has not shared with humanity His prerogative of creation-from-nothing rather, even in the world of fiction we are but sub-creators, building our worlds up from the elements of thought and language with which our Creator has endowed us.  Moving beyond fiction we come to history and journalism, where we may bring our narrative style to the table of fact, but we are forbidden to create fables.  None the less, the falsification of history by a sinful humanity is ubiquitous to the point that even the best  chronicles contain a great deal of myth.   Contrary to the expectations of the Enlightenment, this promiscuous myth-building has not been dispelled by the dawn of scientific historiography or the rise of quantitative methods in the social sciences.  Rather, increased sophistication of technique has led only to larger and more comprehensive myths.

As Jaques Elul would no doubt reminds us, we have long since passed through the ominous portals of the Propaganda Age and are now deep into its final, most degenerate stage. And was it not another Frenchman, Malbranch, who assured us,

Fear not that I will lead you into a strange country

Perchance I will teach you that you are a stranger in your own country

Alas, and passing strange would it be if this very America that we claim to know and love is little more than a tissue of myths held up for our mental adoration.   Yet that is the very claim of those who are generously denominated “the left”…those who have reduced the early history of Anglo-America to little more than caracature, a semi-comic tableau of Delaware crossings, cherry tree choppings, of log cabins and caps made from the fur of raccoons.  Against this bathos they juxtapose the high seriousness of critical history, with terse chronicles of minorities and women struggling for various quanta of equality along a variety of indicators.  In all this struggle between the comic and the tragic side of American history, the left fails to tell us that it is they, not conservatives, who are really teaching us only the expurgated and trite Classics, and that we are not supposed to raise any embarrassing questions about the origins of our actual social order, not quite the ominous “New World Order” but the socialized American order, one settling into a cantankerous middle age.

This is quite marvelous, since we are forever hearing that the left is the sworn enemy of Classicism, and champions of the raw, the real, and the contemporary.  Yet the truth is almost the exact opposite.  The left is loath to depart from the most ancient and shop worn narratives of early America.   It avoids talking about recent times, at least anything which is genuinely novel, except where it can find some narrative continuity with the corrupted remains of the ancients.  I know that this sounds paradoxical to the point of incredulity, but you will find that it is true if you can see history, and historiography, with new eyes.  The key to this paradox is simple.  The left only wants to talk about those periods of American history prior to the left’s complicity in establishing the present regime.  Everything after this establishment is taboo, while everything before the present regime is seen through a standard narrative, a new Classicism where America plays the same part that Rome did in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Finding a starting point

Dredging up facts is the herculean task of journalism, not history.  For history the great work is establishing the correct boundaries between eras which differ in their essential characteristics.  The standard narrative of American history has not been mythologized through the inclusion of false facts, plentiful as such errors might be.  Primarily, history has been mythologized because the boundary markers between different regimes have either been moved, or were never clearly demarcated to begin with.  It is the very chronological framework which has been tampered with, and false facts have only been introduced where they have been required to shore up a fictional framework.

The idea that there have been fundamentally different regimes operating underneath the legal and symbolic superstructure of American history, while hardly the staple of public school history, is a reality tacitly acknowledged by historians of various political ilks, all of whom can hardly be brushed away as eccentric or biased.  A good synoptic vision of America’s saga through tacit regime change can be found on the website (  http://www.friesian.com/presiden.htm#new ) of neo-Kantian philosopher Kelley Ross, where he refers to the First (1789-1860) Second (1861-1933) and Third (1934-present) Republics, which to any historically educated mind recalls the similar sounding, but standard, divisions of French political chronology.  Of course the reason this kind of division is non-standard for American history, reflects a situation where each of the “republics” in question did not, as in the case of France, originate through the public proclamation of a new constitution.

Admittedly,  the idea of constitutional emendation crops up during and immediately after the Civil War of 1861-1865, endowing the “Second Republic”with three amendments pertaining to slavery, citizenship, and civil rights.  Conversely, the onset of the third regime, dating from 1934, exhibits no explicit change whatsoever in the organic foundation of the American state.  The legal framework remains fundamentally the same as that promulgated in the Constitution of 1787, but the  interpretation and application of that framework is fitted to an entirely new understanding of governance and policy.  Therefore, this third change in regime was not so much a change in the laws as a transition from legal to post-legal norms of social governance.

Garet Garrett, journalist and political commentator, coined the phrase “revolution within the form” to describe the political transition beginning in 1934.  As per the above, the constitutional form was retained, giving all subsequent political life in America a duplicitous flavor, since there was, even at the level of ideas, a double standard of constitutional standards and policy goals, a duplicity qualitatively different from the corruption of moral and legal norms which characterize all political systems to one degree or another.  Unlike “corruption”, i.e., evasion of public morality, there were now two established but competing systems of public morality.

To Garet Garrett’s mind this “revolution within the form” was a veritable coup d’etat against the constitution.  However he was singularly unsuccessful in convincing his compatriots and contemporaries that a genuine regime change had been effected.  Hindsight has vindicated Garrett, but at the time there were a number of factors which rendered this regime change opaque.  I refer to factors other than the popularity of the New Deal, and that many felt it to be both a boon to the American people and in their own advantage.  Rather, those who opposed the New Deal rarely saw its revolutionary character.

There were a number of reasons for this, beginning with the relative ease with which the  New Deal revolution was commenced.  It seemed to be a revolution accomplished almost entirely without violence, commendable at first blush, but serving to desensitize the public to the magnitude of the changes which were being worked on the body politic.   Furthermore, the ways in which the new managerial state differed from a constitutional republic were obscure to the public.  It was not immediately apparent that the combination of legislative/judicial/executive functions within the “alphabet agencies” were at fundamental variance to the principles of classical liberalism and the separation of powers.

Change in parties vs. regime change

However the most important reason why the public was not alarmed at the occurrence of regime change in 20th century America was due to the conflation of two qualitatively different processes, change in parties within a parliamentary republic, and regime change.  The latter was made to look like an instance of the first, and more over, was dragged out  over such a long period of time that the process looked legitimate and moderate.

When we take a slice out of time and see party X (supposedly committed to ideology A) and party Y (supposedly committed to ideology B) iterate between themselves, it is electoral politics, in all its glory and/or shame.  However when we take two slices of time and see that, at time T1 party X was espousing ideology A and party Y advocating ideology A’, and at time T2 party X is now espousing ideology B and party Y is advocating ideology B’ we know that sometime between T1 and T2 regime change has occurred.   The problem is that it may be hard to locate the precise moment when this happened, since the process is likely to have been both covert and insidious.  Certainly this is what we see in the extra-constitutional evolution of the body politic in the United States.

Not for Americans the Gallic clarity of having a “Second Empire” or a “Third Republic”, or a historical deluge marked by barricades and clarion voices chanting the Marseilles.  Rather, it is as if we wanted to be tricked into our future, without either violence (commendable) or deliberation (lamentable).    Perhaps two theories, both inherited from perfidious Albion, explain this susceptibility to “revolution within the form”: Whig history and Darwinism, which are just the natural and political sides of one potent thought, both internally coherent and morally ambiguous, if not catastrophic.  For those convinced that change is both incremental and beneficial, there seems no compelling reason to set boundaries or limits to anything.  This is particularly obvious with regard to legislation, since continuously sitting legislatures guarantee that there will always be more statutes, not fewer, until the very notion of laws becomes too complex for the human mind and everything defaults to judicial fiat.  Hence there can be no such thing as regime change, even if moral day turns to immoral night, since all variations are points along a continuum.

The War Against Clarity

None the less, a good case can be made that the era of regime change, that is,change into the political system that we know and love (or love to loath) happened sometime early in what we call “the cold war.”  We might even accept the nomenclature of Dr. Ross and call ours a Third Republic, and yet dispute his identification of 1934 and the start of the New Deal with the start of a new regime.   During the 30s and 40s there was still an opposition to the New Deal, which maintained its status as a partisan ideology.  Only in the 1950s did the New Deal (as substance, not slogan) become the actual regime.  This is because the old Right, largely the Republican party, maintained its stance of opposition.  Granted the opposition was sporadic and not particularly effective.  However there was still some unknown quanta of potential energy stored up in the opposition, and the hopes and fears of those alive at the time were limited by the thought that the hammer would drop and the normality which had existed before the depression and the war would be restored.  After the election of Eisenhower the kinetic energy of this dream had been expended, and it quickly became apparent that bureaucratic centralism was the new normal.

The “Cold War” is in some sense a misnomer.  First if all, it contained within its ambit a number of very large-scale hot wars.  However it was also a kind of dark age, in the sense that it was a time of multiple contradictory narratives which entwined in such a way as to mutually invalidate one another.  Following upon WWII, the American people had gotten used to conditions of censorship in the media and the public square.  The half-light of a cold war prolonged the obscurity, and lowered public, and even Congressional, expectations of executive transparency.  Those elements of the left which remained embedded in the government continued their duplicity, which may be taken as a constant.  More salient was the failure of the conservatives at the time to understand the situation with any degree of clarity.  On the whole they seem to have been incensed by the threat of foreign operatives, and unwilling to see that there were flaws in the  body politic which automatically generated leftward drift.

It all depends on what you mean by “was” was

As Garet Garrett famously noted in the 50s that “the revolution was” and the republic of Lincoln had long since been supplanted by the social democracy of Roosevelt by the cold war.  Furthermore the social democracy and the national security state were essentially the same organism, continuing the apparatus used to fight the depression and WWII into the Truman years, and then normalized by Eisenhower.

The Old Right of the time was powerless to do much more than react with righteous indignation at the post-Constitutional character of the new order.  Part of this was due to a lack of developed economic and historical doctrines on a par with the seemingly sophisticated Marxist system.  Granted, a renaissance in conservative thinking was well underway, first popularized by the publication of F. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in 1944.  However these findings, notably those of Austrian economics, were still ill-digested among conservative politicians and poorly propagated within society.  As a result conservatives gazed outward at the Soviet threat, and their program was easily confused with that of the national security bureaucracy.  Initially, these were two distinct tendencies, and only later would a political ideology arise (neoconservatism) where they merged.  Moral consistency and concern for the rule of law were largely restricted to anti-communist investigations, and even this was dampened down after the demise of McCarthy.

Hence Social Democracy had crept in over the objections of the Old Right, and even over the will of the American people to replace a Democratic administration with a Republican one.  However, if we can epitomize those Old Right objections according to the understanding of Garet Garrett, that “the revolution was” we are left with an enigmatic doctrine of history, one that is conspiratorial in the pejorative sense of the word.  This would be the notion that, through a ruse, the government had been cunningly usurped by social democrats in 1934.  That was the best historiography that most conservatives could muster in the 1950s.

Now that was certainly a true thesis as far as it went, it is just that it didn’t go back far enough, either in terms of chronology or causation.  In fact the Great Depression, long presumed to be the socio-economic Big Bang which necessitated the New Deal, in fact had antecedent causes in the policies followed by central bankers.  American central bankers were, in turn, creatures of the Federal Reserve Act (1913) which was in turn the outcome of a confluence of interests between the Trusts and the legislators of the Populist era.  Contrary to Garrett, this was an era in which both the constitutional form and the social substance changed.

So how many revolutions does that leave us with?  Well, following on the Civil War we have the Progressive era as our Third Republic.  Thus we must revise the scheme of Dr. Ross and rename the New Deal, and all subsequent to 1934, the “Fourth Republic.”  Nothing has really changed since then in terms of the extra-constitutional organization of the state.  The significance of the 1950s is that this was period in which reorganizations of America’s system of governance (not necessarily something sinister in itself) was surreptitiously and, as it were, retroactively codified into regime changes.

Propaganda, then and ever since

This metamorphosis of America’s history, from the story of constitutional development to the story of extra-constitutional evolution, is an artifact of the Propaganda Age, whose unstated goal is to remove from the population its capacity to rationally articulate the basis of the commonwealth in an objective social contract.  This inability has, as one of its major consequences, an incapacity to distinguish between licit behavior and criminality.  What then, is this “propaganda” this potent elixir which is deemed capable of thrusting civilizations back into a state of nature?

Ellul informs us that this vaunted “propaganda” is nothing more than “technique.”  Not all technique is propaganda, but all propaganda is technique.  Specifically, the technique of persuading populations to concerted opinion and action.  The replacement of contract with propaganda as the major bond of society is correlated with the replacement of principles by psychology.  We see the effects of this in the postmodern world with the increased emphasis on feelings at the expense of facts, particularly in educational contexts.

However this is only the consequence, of which propaganda is the cause.  The early 21st century is no more propaganda-driven than were the 1950s, at which time the process had already attained full-throttle.  The cold warriors found themselves in the middle of this syndrome, and not just on account of the bitter American-Soviet rivalry.  Due to the perceived necessity of bureaucracies to protect themselves and the ongoing alarms of perpetual war, information restriction and manipulation became normalized, with consequences too far ranging to be mentioned in a short essay.

Here I only note that the most important consequence of this fostered ignorance was the retrospective understanding of America’s history itself, which ceased to be the clear outline of a constitutional republic, but the narrative of a democracy in which the popular will was constantly engaged in social metamorphosis.  From a progressive point of view this is a good thing, and of course we are not arguing about that here, since there can be no dispute over first principles.  However what can be stated without argument is that the normalization of this “progressive” viewpoint was attained through propaganda, or the substitution of objective cognition by emotional manipulation.  Clarity was the first casualty.

Political Mythos or Political Logos: The Ultimate Significance

If the principle of the rule of law is to have any meaning then the operations of government must be deduced, if not to philosophical premises, then at least to an original law-establishing covenant.  There must be an unbreached historical and legislative continuity from the moment of the covenant to the present moment of application.  If we focus on the moment of the covenant, through promulgation or revelation, the regime in question has a revolutionary legitimacy.  If we focus on the transmission, through time and legal deduction, then the regime has a traditional legitimacy.  Actually, revolutionary and traditional legitimacy are two sides of the same coin.  One might even venture that it doesn’t matter so much if the American regime was established in 1776, or 1787, or 1865, or 1913, or 1934, provided we can all agree on a starting point and then deduce the proper moral, judicial, and legislative applications for the present.

However this rational model of statecraft has ceased to be salient ever since we have entered into the Age of Propaganda.  Propaganda is not concerned with truth but with the power of information, be it true or false information, to control the commanding heights of society.  Hence in order to establish a propaganda regime it is necessary to obstruct any logical regression of current policy back to first principles.  Is it not fairly clear that something like this has been going on in America ever since the middle of the twentieth century?  Moreover this was not the predetermined outcome of technological development, but a consequence of the government’s vastly increased responsibility over welfare and warfare, responsibilities which required control over both the dissemination and restriction of information.

This is why even people who enjoy the study of American history are inclined to skip over the cold war.  It is, by very definition, a period of collective “black out” after which the body politic wakes up in a strange bed, forced to reorient and go on as well as possible.  The way back to any possible Age of Reason is blocked by multiple taboos, “McCarthyism” and whatnot, guarding the  historical rupture with all the assiduity of cherubs policing the portals of Eden.

Of course there are those, including Ellul himself, who suppose the  political Age of Reason, to be itself a myth.  Ellul bases his view on an argument that both reason and propaganda are the morally indifferent contraries of grace.  However this is theological meat too gristly for the children’s table, and since here we are dealing with simpletons, politicians and policies, I will leave the topic for future discussion.  Rather, let us suppose that it is better to persuade people with reason than to manipulate their desires.  Let us suppose that while Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx were equally sinners there was a significant difference in their policies.  Let us suppose that there is a logos, a fundamental sense of justice, or what C.S.Lewis called a “tao” innate in natural humanity which, while but the shadow of grace, still merits consideration and preservation.

On the basis of such principles, however endangered, conservatives and libertarians may go back and declare that the “revolutions” of 1913 and 1934 were deviations from correct constitutional practice, and anticipate a future restoration.  To that end it is imperative for historical investigators to penetrate the dense ideological, policy, and social fog of the cold war era, in the prospect of finding a genuine logos behind the standard mythos.

 

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“The greatest book since the Bible”: M. Stanton Evans and the vindication of Joe McCarthy

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 13, 2018

The best book since the Bible, kinda…

Alright, there are some serious competitors for that title, even if we limit ourselves to books on the cold war era.  Notably, Witness by Whittaker Chambers is a more literary, though less learned, revelation.   Yet beyond the hyperbole (courtesy of Miss Coulter) there lies a kernel of truth, or at least an application of the marginal utility theorem.   Unless you have, Blacklisted by History: The untold story of Joe McCarthy is the most important book that you have not yet read on American politics.  Indeed, it bears some faint likeness to the Bible, in that it centers around a resurrection, albeit in this case the resurrected reputation of a man who has been damned repeatedly by the Pharisaic court of American establishment history.  Like a Biblical epic, this damnation of Joe McCarthy transcends the fate of any particular man, however laden with interesting vices or admirable virtues.  Rather, this verdict has shaped the moral and legal precedents which have become the rotting core of modern America’s extra-constitutional political framework.  McCarthy and so-called “McCarthyism” (a term which is taken as synonymous with “witch-hunting”) have become the bywords and shibboleths of partisan conflict within our body politic, entailing the suppression of ideological meaning and accountability.

Indeed, the very contours of American history since WWII have been distorted through the astigmatic lens of Anti-McCarthyism, a standard narrative by which we presume to distinguish not just right from wrong, but left from right.  Yet, what if the standard narrative were itself wrong?  What if, instead of an ogre, Senator Joe McCarthy were a mid-20th century Paul Revere, cruelly shot off his horse while attempting to warn his fellow citizens of a stealth attack on their freedom and fortunes?   What if the opprobrium of  “McCarthyism” were a better characterization of the malicious and deceitful tactics of those who sought to thwart McCarthy’s investigation and subsequently endeavored, with near total success, to destroy his reputation?  If we are to believe M. Stanford Evans (1934-2015) the answer to all these questions is in the affirmative.  Moreover this is not just an impassioned cry by the late Evans, who as a libertarian and anti-communist might be expected to favor “tail gunner Joe”, but a measured verdict drawn from the vast amount of relevant empirical evidence which had become available by the time he started doing research for Blacklisted by History (2007).  This work stands at the apex of Evans’ long labors in the field of American political history, during which he was able to sift and reassess much of standard cold war narrative.

The currently available evidence, together with Evans’ skillful unraveling of the historical incidents which impacted McCarthy’s investigations, has newly empowered the pro-McCarthy narrative.  Yet even today, or rather especially today, truth telling is not a safe occupation.  Perhaps some future Oswald Spengler will pronounce the first half of the 1950s and the last half of the 2010s as the upper and lower harmonics of the same historical chord, or discord.  Evans termed the McCarthy story “the third rail” of cold war history, containing dangerous truths which, once grasped, might prove fatal to apprentice historians who long to stay respectable, employable, and keep up relations with polite society.   Fortunately Evans had the courage to grab the story and explore it with solid documentation and readable prose.  Hence today in the Trump era, as we labor under corresponding tales of deceit and betrayal, we can at last draw on the analogous events of a highly relevant historical period for our intellectual ammunition.  In the long run, Americans and all humanity have a vested interest in the vindication of truth, however distasteful such revelations may prove to be.  Where such revelation is rendered impossible, factions will be reduced to those modes of conflict resolution where the ammunition has ceased to be intellectual.

Context not pretext

Much of the value, and readability, of Blacklisted by History stems from the late Evans’ patient work as a re-educator, explaining the forgotten historical context of the cold war era, without which we can hardly form an intelligent judgement on its politics and policies.  The fact is, regardless of political opinion, that era, though within living memory, has become a persistent blind spot for the American public.  There are two reasons for this historical amnesia, the first being the conspiratorial motives of those who want the whole period either distorted or dropped down the proverbial memory hole.  However the public’s understandable distaste for an ugly era is perhaps an even greater factor.  American history nerds who can rattle off the precise number of musket balls embedded in the soil of Gettysburg are likely to profess astonishment on learning there were Soviet moles embedded  in Washington just sixty years ago…not to mention before or since.    As Evans notes, the fruit of this ignorance (whether willful or on account of deception) often leads to ridiculous error, like the popular image of Senator McCarthy chairing the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).   After all, you may not like the Electoral College, but you can hardly abolish bicameralism, at least not retroactively.

Evans begins by recounting the historical background which gave both meaning and impetus to McCarthy’s political mission.  Prior to some indefinable tipping point, possibly as early as the German defeat at Stalingrad, the synergy of the Soviet-American military alliance was nudging the two societies in the direction of an insidious moral convergence.  One concrete manifestation of this was the participation (at the time not considered infiltration) of Communists in the intelligence and foreign services of the United States.  Evans notes that it would have been miraculous if there had been no Communist personnel in key governmental positions, given the political dynamics of the period.  However all this changed with the onset of the cold war, after which Communist staffers were considered, quite rightly, to be a security risk.  During the immediate post-war period two broad developments occurred which were to have significant impact on the subsequent “McCarthy era” of 1950-1954.  First there were a series of preliminary investigations which identified, and presumably routed out, known Communists working for the American government.  Second, there was a changing of the old guard in the diplomatic and intelligence services, with stodgy conservatives being replaced by younger, more progressive, officials.  The new guard included such rising luminaries as Dean Achenson.  These two developments (the termination of the early investigations, and the rise of the new guard) would prove to be somewhat more than coincidental.

Two years after these preliminary investigations had been concluded, Senator Joe McCarthy raised the question of whether Communists were still being employed in sensitive government positions, issuing his challenge at first in a speech given in on February 9, 1950 in Wheeling West Virginia.  Clearly, the salient assumption in McCarthy’s mind was that the preliminary investigations had somehow been stalled, and the work which had commenced with great earnestness had at some point been broken off and left incomplete.  It is equally clear that, for whatever reason, certain people in the State Department and other agencies of the government didn’t want the issue of Communists working in the government reopened in public fora and, from the moment that McCarthy began speaking out, launched efforts to discredit his claims.  For the next several years a titanic battle waged over security and espionage in the Congress, the courts, and the media.  During these conflicts “tail gunner Joe” won some and lost some, but in the end was forced to retire from the field of battle in disgrace.  For several subsequent decades the moral credibility of Joseph McCarthy was generally ranked on a par with the divines of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the aftermath of the Salem witch trials.

However during these same decades, new archives and records have been made available to researchers such as Evans, frequently containing evidence which have compromised the exculpatory claims of McCarthy’s opponents.  Foremost among these are the Venona documents.  These are deciphered messages from the correspondence between Soviet intelligence headquarters (predecessor agencies of the KGB) and its operatives.  Actually cracked early in the cold war, this data could not be released during the “McCarthy era” for the same reason that the Enigma machine decodes could not be revealed until the Axis powers were defeated.  The personae mentioned in Venona bear a damning resemblance, not just to such celebrated Soviet assets as Alger Hiss and Robert Oppenheimer, but to many lesser targets of McCarthy’s investigations.  Apart from, and corroborating Venona, were piles of documents made available after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Last but not least were the dribs and drabs of documentary evidence released by the FBI and other alphabet agencies of the American government after their various statutory periods of sequestration had expired.   From these sources and others (i.e., retrospective witnesses and confessions) a very different image of the “McCarthy era” has emerged, and it is from these that Evans has assembled the most through vindication to date of the much maligned senator.

Manufacturing “McCarthyism”

At the beginning of the 1950s the Democratic party was still in control of Congress, and in response to the allegations which McCarthy had been making since the Wheeling speech, a select sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was empaneled  to examine the possibility of security risks lurking in government employ.  The chair of this sub-committee was Millard Tydings (Dem-Maryland) who from the outset of the proceedings assumed an adversarial stance towards McCarthy and his claims.  Rather than pursuing the question of whether there were in fact Communists and Soviet infiltrators embedded within the State Department and related agencies, Tydings focused on McCarthy himself, faulting him for reopening cases which had already been disposed of by previous committees.

Tyding’s overall strategy was to portray McCarthy as a hothead and a dissembling researcher who had failed to turn up any new evidence since the previous investigation of security risks at  State.  That previous investigation, conducted  in the late 40s, had managed to generate a list of persons considered security risks, called the “Lee list” after the clerk responsible for assembling eighty or so cases.  This was a masked compilation of data in which the persons described were designated by numbers rather than names, preserving their privacy.  Tyding’s initial strategy was to trivialize McCarthy’s claims by insinuating no new research had actually been added to the Lee list by McCarthy and his staff.  Since names were not mentioned at the outset, identifying how many security risks McCarthy had uncovered, rather than who they are, became the focus of inquiry.  This derailed the hearing into a ludicrous debate on the number of people under investigation, with Tydings and his allies focusing exclusively on the number (was it 57 or 81 or 108, or did it keep changing?) rather than the substance, of the charges.  All of this, of course, for the purpose of making McCarthy look like a fool who couldn’t even keep the accurate number of cases straight in his head.  The possibility that there were still active Communist cells operating in government employ took a back seat to debates over McCarthy’s competence and character.

As bad as such misdirection might be, as Mr. Evans reveals, there was worse to come.  Today our politically correct language virtually equates “McCarthyism” with slander.  Yet Senator McCarthy’s initial intention was to preserve the anonymity of his cases to avoid any stigma being attached to possibly (though unlikely) innocent individuals.  However, with  the validity of McCarthy’s research in question, Senator Tydings pressed him to reveal the identities behind the cases, presumably in order find out if new and ongoing security risks had been uncovered, or if McCarthy was just trying to ride to glory on the back of the now stale Lee list.  Evans, with the benefit of historical retrospect, informs us that McCarthy had indeed uncovered a significant number of new cases and data, and furthermore that many persons initially placed on the Lee list were still in government service.  However, at that time, McCarty was under tremendous pressure from Tydings, and consented to release the names at the outset of the investigation, proving that there were indeed real persons connected with the suspicious, but hitherto anonymous, case histories.  Thus McCarthy evaded the ridicule of conducting a snark hunt only by putting his investigation in danger of being called a witch hunt.

Hence, as Evans painfully demonstrates, the cruel Inspector-Javert-like persecution which we wrongly denominate “McCarthyism” was initiated by this unmaking of identities upon the insistence of Tydings and his allies on the sub-committee.   Indeed, if our language accurately memorialized historical realities, we would be calling this kind of hounding “Tydings-ism”!  The procedure adopted by Tydings was that of slandering the innocent (McCarthy himself) or one might say “McCarthying” (here the term is apt!) his opponent.  However in terms of outcomes, this Tydings-ism, rather than convicting the innocent, protected the guilty.  Even unmasked, the targets of McCarthy’s accusations were generally able to deny the charges, either through skillful evasion or invoking the Fifth amendment clause prohibiting self-incrimination.  In the meanwhile many of them continued to work in their government positions.  In hindsight, the Venona transcripts and  other corroborating evidence indicates that many, if not most, of these were Soviet agents.   To maintain that no innocents were convicted at the time is not to say that, as a result of the miscarried proceedings, great and incalculable harm was not done to many innocents, however indirectly.

Truman or Truth?

Hence Tydings and his allies nearly succeeded in obscuring the actual security issues involved, deflecting the investigation with procedural, technical, and ad hominim  material which resulted in a committee report which largely exculpated the targets of McCarthy’s investigations.  Evans notes that this report (and others of a similar nature) was written by a then-anonymous staffer at the behest of Tydings, and its unequivocal findings did not accurately reflect the give-and-take of the bipartisan sub-committee.  So ended the first “round” in the McCarthy era battles.  Tydings was soon to get his comeuppance  when he lost a bid for reelection to his Maryland seat.  Yet during the process of the Senate investigation a broad range of institutional actors had been brought into play, ostensibly to cooperate with, but more often to hinder, McCarthy’s investigations.   These included Truman’s White House and the State Department.  The FBI, then under J. Edgar Hoover, was savvy to the truth of McCarthy’s claim that espionage within the government had managed to survive the investigations which had generated the Lee list a few years earlier.  However the FBI was largely sidelined due to its subordination within the executive branch teamed with an often adversarial legislative branch.

Indeed, with so many (and such opaque!) agencies, actors, cases and claims involved, the McCarthy era is difficult to resolve into a simple narrative.  Thus the unbiased but superficial observer of the era is likely to turn away, citing the tangle as an excuse for moral indecision.  However Evans copes with the complexity by taking up each cluster of actions, organizations, individuals and outcomes separately, weaving each thread into a loose chronological order.  It is the task of the reader to keep this overall chronology in mind, as each strand of narrative weaves into and reinforces the other.  The end result is a unity and a vindication.  Not necessarily a vindication of McCarthy the man so much as of the essential rightness of his cause.

Many of the narrative strands which Evans picks up for the edification of today’s reader concern well recognized institutions and personalities of the WWII and cold war eras which have since dropped below the horizon of public recollection.  Outstanding in this regard was the notorious Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR) and its associated journal Amerasia. both of which operated as poorly disguised Communist fronts.  This is one of the major strands woven back and forth within the chronological framework of Blacklisted by History, in such a way as to illustrate the intimate connection between blatant Communist propaganda and the manipulation of American foreign policy during the 1940s.  The often cited (by Evans) Amerasia case is a good example of the kind of evidence which should have been common knowledge among McCarthy’s contemporaries, as opposed to the kind of evidence (like Venona) which we are only privy to in historical retrospect.  Thus, while we are on firmer grounds today than ever before in validating McCarthy’s claims, those claims ought not to have initially outraged his contemporaries since they were made against the background of, and links to, cases of betrayal and infiltration which had already received public censure.  Rather, any skeptical reception of McCarthy’s claims about ongoing espionage and sedition within the government had less to do with the plausibility of the cases, than with obstruction by gate-keepers who both withheld information from the investigations and harbored their targets from any severe sanctions.

This obstruction took a number of forms during the period of the Tydings investigation.  First of all, under Truman, a doctrine of executive privilege had been promulgated, which placed severe restrictions on the ability of Congress to subpoena documents from executive departments without the authorization of the President.  For those of us who interpret the Constitution as a document establishing the supremacy of the Congress, this seems like an odd practice.  None the less, under ongoing conditions of war (both cold and hot) the American people and Congress itself have long acquiesced to executive prerogatives which seem contrary to constitutional principles.  In this instance, as detailed by Evans, background dossiers on the subjects of  McCarthy’s investigations were either embargoed or delayed by the State Department, which pleaded the necessity of authorization by the Truman White House, a Democratic administration which was in no rush to grant any such authorization.

Another way in which the Truman administration ran interference to McCarthy, albeit in place prior to the Tydings hearings, was through the institution of an in-house loyalty system which seemed to obviate the necessity of any outside audit of executive personnel.  As Evans documents, both the Congressional interviews with suspect officials and, presumably, the in-house loyalty system, were based on the honor system.   A denial that one were a subversive or the agent of a foreign power was always taken at face value by Tydings, the majority report, and the Truman administration itself.

McCarthy agonistes

None the less, in spite of vigorous opposition on the part of a Democratic establishment, McCarthy was able to raise public awareness of the espionage threat.  One by one, the more egregious cases on McCarthy’s list were exposed and turned out of the government.  Of course, the anti-communist momentum in Congress and the country wasn’t an exclusive result of McCarthy’s efforts.  Alger Hiss, the biggest fish in the barrel, had been brought down by the testimony of Whittaker Chambers with the support of a young Senator from California, Richard Nixon.  In those days Nixon was still a hero, and his time of demonization was still far in the future, but McCarthy’s nemesis was much closer at hand.  Initially McCarthy benefited from the common front among Republicans, then operating as a minority.  Thus even future enemies such as liberal Republican senator H. Cabot Lodge were in momentary alliance with McCarthy during the Tydings period.

This was all to change when the Democrats were swept out of power in 1953.  With the 83rd Congress, the Republicans were in the (what would seem) enviable position of having captured the Presidency as well as both branches of Congress.  Yet with hindsight the historically informed know that this will be McCarthy’s apogee, and his doom is near, irrespective of our sympathies and whether we focus on the hubris of the man or the nemesis of his enemies.  Yet, while Evans prepares us for this fall from grace by titling one of his chapters “The Perils of Power” it would seem that McCarthy handled the temptations of power about as well as anyone could.  It was during this time that the junior Senator from Wisconsin, still a relative rookie, got his chance to chair the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI).  Obviously this was a prize bully pulpit, apart from any implication that the man who filled it was a bully.  Again, Evans informs us that our current state of illumination has benefited from the unsealing of the Senate’s own records, which for fifty years had shielded confidential and security-related testimony.  Out of this mass of data Evans has extracted a picture of McCarthy completely at variance with the prejudicial stereotype.  Unchained and in charge of his own subcommittee, McCarthy was, if not quite a perfect gentleman, “politic” in the mannered sense of the word.   More fundamentally, due process and confidentiality seem to have been upheld in the PSI hearings. As Evans explains it,

Another salient rule of the McCarthy hearings was the rule that no one should be named as a Communist or a pro-Communist or subversive unless the person named was given notice and opportunity to respond directly–though there were exceptions when another witness would do such naming on an impromptu basis.  McCarthy repeatedly admonished people testifying not to use the names of those they were accusing until these conditions could be met with.  One result of this procedure was a series of face-to-face encounters in which accusers and accused were brought together in dramatic fashion.  Blacklisted by History p. 457

Apart from the success or otherwise of the PSI at the start Eisenhower era, at this juncture the bitter divisions between ideological and establishment Republicans were starting to manifest themselves publicly.   In part this was a reaction to McCarthy’s activities, and would soon would lead to dire complications for the crusading senator.  Furthermore, a dedicated anti-McCarthy cabal was growing in numbers and sophistication, with the senatorial cudgel taken up by the newly elected  Benton of New York after the defeat of Tydings.  With the Democratic recapture of the 84th Congress, Benton was able to launch his own counter-investigation of McCarthy.  This counter-investigation did not restrict itself to the refutation of anti-communist claims, but began to burrow deeply into McCarthy’s private affairs and character.  Brick by defaming brick, the towering mythology of “McCarthyism” was being patiently constructed by the enemies of McCarthy.

Diverging legends of demonization and sanctification

A surprising plus for McCarthy, albeit one which failed to save him in the long run, was his capacity for genuine bipartisanship.  As an anti-Communist first and a Republican second, he welcomed allies wherever they could be found, and find them he did.  There is nothing more shocking to modern political sensibilities than to discover that the Kennedys, Democrats to the core, were ardent supporters of tail gunner Joe in his heyday.  Undoubtedly, today’s identity-obsessed left would dismiss this as no more than Irishmen scratching each others backs.  Yet, in those days  there were plenty of Irishmen in politics, but not so many political philosophers, let alone potential martyrs.  There appears to have been some zealous affinity at work here, especially between McCarthy and the solidly anti-Communist Robert F. Kennedy.

To Evans’ credit, the Kennedy connection isn’t used as a magical vindication of McCarthy.  Tail gunner Joe’s reputation must stand or fall on the basis of whether his investigations were honest and beneficial to the republic, not on the borrowed glamor of charismatic associations.  Regrettably, any excursion into Kennedy lore entails a certain amount of tabloid voyeurism, but Evans keeps this to the minimum, focusing on the unavoidable intra-staff jealousies which played a subsidiary role in derailing McCarthy’s career.   More importantly, the point in history when McCarthy-saffer RFK was striving (unsuccessfully) to be McCarthy’s right-hand man, was still an age of aspiring ideologists.  Later, as America ripened into an age of propaganda, principles would become less important than personalities, and a steamy mysticism would envelop chosen political bloodlines.  Evans draws our attention the disturbing power of this myth-making, which took as its substance two zealous co-workers in the garden of justice, Robert Kennedy and Joe McCarthy, molding them into opposing icons of good and evil.

To schematize a story which Evans tells in satisfying detail, the political chessboard as it was arrayed at the onset of the Eisenhower era was roughly as follows,

Pro-McCarthy: old right Republicans (Taft etc.), the Kennedys and a few other anti-communist Democrats, some regional press, Hoover’s FBI, conservative groups

Anti-McCarthy: liberal Republicans (H. Cabot Lodge etc.), most Democrats, most Ike staffers, State Department, other bureaus of the federal government, national press (New York Times, etc.), left wing press and organizations

As the battle lines were drawn with increasing precision, the tendency was for individuals and groups to defect from the pro-McCarthy camp, and for previously uncommitted groups to opt in favor of the anti-McCarthy front.  Notably, certain persons connected to the armed services, which at the beginning were not affected by McCarthy’s crusade, became increasingly critical of him as his investigation broadened into areas the military considered its own.

McCarthy’s “Waterloo”

Regarding his taking on of the Army, there might be some, however sympathetic, who would claim McCarthy’s crusade went a bridge too far.  Yet as Evans points out “Army-McCarthy” taken as terms of opposition, is a misnomer.  In the wake of security concerns being brought to the attention of McCarthy’s committee, he authorized an investigation of the huge Signal Corps facility at Monmouth NJ.  Initially things went smoothly in cooperation with on-site Army personnel, who were generally enthusiastic about the senator’s support of their own internal security investigations.  However  McCarthy quickly  ran afoul of a supervening bureaucratic apparatus charged with monitoring loyalty within Monmouth and other facilities.   As soon as the commandant of the Monmouth facility was blackballed for cooperating with McCarthy, the commander of the next base under investigation suddenly became uncommunicative.  Apparently some network operating within the Eisenhower administration was running interference.   The next obvious step would have been to ferret out and identify the higher ups who were shielding the Monmouth moles.  This was never done.  Not, to be sure, for want of trying on McCarthy’s part.

A number of factors contributed to this inability.  Foremost among these was the penchant of his  enemies for countering investigations by McCarthy with investigations of McCarthy and/or his staff.  Evans enumerates a minimum of five separate instances where hostile inquiries were instituted against McCarthy 1) the Ad hominum attacks which diverted the Tydings probe,  2) hearings by Benton (pinch-hitting as chief nemesis post-Tydings) on allegations that McCarthy’s allies had influenced Tydings’ electoral defeat, esp. concerning one particular libelous image (what we would today call a “meme”) , 3) a spin-off of the same hearing which made a lengthy foray into McCarthy’s personal finances, 4) the Army-McCarthy hearings, 5) hearings by Sen. Watson (R. Utah) on McCarthy’s misconduct on 47 counts which resulted in censure on 2 counts.

Of these, the most formidable sounding are the Army-McCarthy hearings.  However as Evans tells the tale, it smacks of harassment (by unknown somebodies) of McCarthy’s staff.  G. David Schine, a youthful staffer, was suddenly called up for military service.  This sounds cruel by the sensibilities of any era post-Vietnam,  but even by the compulsory standards of that time it was a fishy move.   People working in sensitive positions (like congressional security investigations) were frequently granted draft deferments.  Furthermore, as the skeptical Evans is quick to point out, nefarious bigwigs such as the youthful Alger Hiss had been exempted from conscription during WWII, enabling them to do their country (dis-) service in other fields.  Thus the staffer’s drafting smacked of a gambit in which a McCarthy pawn was being put in jeopardy in order to exert pressure on the senator and his investigation.  Unfortunately another staffer (Roy Cohn) took the bait and began pestering the Army on behalf of his erstwhile colleague, whether for deferral or promotion or either.  This was portrayed as political interference with on-duty military personnel.    It was this petty and misdirecting affair which formed the basis of the Army-McCarthy hearings, and which managed to distract and irritate a senator in mid-investigation, a veteran himself, who had initially tried to enter into an alliance with the security hawks of the armed forces.   Of necessity, Evans goes into the matter in great detail, but this becomes less a history of the cold war than a history of the degeneration of policy debate into tabloid journalism.

The fifth column and the fourth estate

Although inconclusive, the Army investigation served McCarthy’s foes well, forcing him on the defensive and evoking his ire, consequently viewed as intemperance.  The same distortion and sensationalism which hounded McCarthy and his staff were also impeding his own attempts at rooting out Communist agents in the military and the government.  Evans covers all the highlights of the various investigations, not just those of the PSI but those in which McCarthy himself was the target.  More importantly, he explores the context within which famous testimonies were made, context without which excerpted highlights serve only to confuse and malign.

The highlights (which frequently became misleading headlines) analyzed in Evans’ volume are too numerous to mention within the space of a short review, but a single instance should suffice.  If any one phrase from the “McCarthy era” has survived in the fading American mind,  it would surely be Army prosecutor Joseph Welch’s famous j’accuse  “…sir, have you no decency!”  This was uttered in reference to the supposed victimization of the Army counselor’s understudy, Frederick G. Fisher Jr..  The indecency in question was McCarthy’s alleged outing of Fisher’s association with a Communist front organization, on the grounds of which the assistant counselor was removed from the prosecuting team.  Whether or not this was a career-ender for the young attorney, it was Joe Welch, not Joe McCarthy, who first brought Fisher’s fellow-traveling to the attention of the public.  Evans, always scrupulous in documenting the relevant paper-trails, in this case provides a photocopy from an actual paper.  The skeptical reader can find the clipping from the New York Times story of April 16, 1954 reproduced on page 568 of Evans’ amply referenced tome.  The relevant passage reads,

Mr. [Joseph N.] Welch today confirmed reports that he had relieved from duty his original second assistant, Frederick G. Fisher Jr. of his own Boston law office, because of admittted previous membership in the National Lawyers Guild, which has been listed by Herbert Brownell Jr. the Attorney-General, as a Communist-font organization. (ibid. p. 568)

By the date of the article it would seem that the actual outing of Fisher took place six weeks prior to the famously “indecent” remarks of McCarthy at the Army hearings.  None the less, it is the latter exchange which lingers in public memory.  As Evans remarks elsewhere, “…in political Washington, then as now, reality often ran second to perception.”

In similar fashion Evans proceeds to deconstruct the entire litany of incidents used to build the edifice of the anti-McCarthy legend.  Case by painstaking case he is able to apply new or neglected evidence in support of McCarthy’s exoneration.  Retrospectively, McCarthy can be saved, because Evans, and we who read his and similar works have what McCarthy’s contemporaries lacked, time and perspective.  However in the rapid flow of simultaneous events it was indeed perception, not reality, which won the race, with the Senate’s motion to censure McCarthy being his final lap around the political track.  The censure proceedings were themselves characterized by a hysterical zeal similar to that which had been used in false characterizations of McCarthy himself.  Thus the Republican dominated Senate, filled with enemies and fickle friends on both sides of the aisle, allowed itself to be buffaloed into voting two counts of censure.  That was one out of 46 ad-hock charges submitted by an anti-McCarthy interest group, plus one for good measure on account of nasty remarks by McCarthy during the proceedings.  After all, the Senate had to look like it was doing something about the McCarthy “problem.”

Scapegoat and Savior

After the censure McCarthy was shunned, his effective career ended.  He died, as they say, a “broken man” at the ripe age of 48, disheartened but still in harness.  After a mid-term election William Proxmire (Dem-Wisc.) a veritable photographic negative of everything Joe McCarthy ever thought or did, gained his seat in the senate.  It might be said that if ever someone had lived in vain, it was old “tail gunner Joe.”  Of course, that is precisely what the authors of the mainstream narrative want you to think.  However the reality is far more complex, and it is gradually being articulated by dissenting voices, among whom M. Stanford Evans is thus far the most readable and convincing.

Perhaps you, having read my summary article, find yourself intrigued with this fallen hero of anti-Communism, or conversely, it may be that you cannot shake the impression that Joseph McCarthy was a moral monster.  In either case, I urge you to fortify your knowledge by obtaining and reading Blacklisted by History: the untold story of Senator Joe McCarthy.  I think you will find the late Evans a safe and trustworthy guide into the underworld of cold war history and the McCarthy era, and not only because the book is voluminous and packed with footnotes and hints for further research.  I trust this book because it is the fruit of a lifetime of investigation into the invisible war between freedom and its cruelest enemies.  M. Stanford Evans ran the gauntlet of 20th century scholarship and journalism, scion of the heartland (Texas) yet Ivy league grad (Yale), conservative activist and journalist, he knew his sources and their backgrounds with the immediacy of an insider who was a political outsider.  Most importantly, the theme of his work is not trivial.

It is not trivial because, as literary anthropologist Rene Girard has taught us, all regimes are built on the bones of scapegoats.  In many ways, the nuances and taboos of American politics are dependent on a negative evaluation of the McCarthy era.  Now that, for better or worse, the Trump administration shows signs of violating certain of those taboos, it is important that we reexamine the origin of those taboos in the past.  This is not a matter of whether one approves or despises the present administration, it is simply that the course of events are forcing us to ask questions which were long left dormant.

One very non-trivial issue concerns how the doctrine of separation of powers should affect the transmission of information within the government.  A study of the McCarthy era reveals that the present virtually hermetic seal between the executive and legislative branches is neither an artifact of the constitution, nor a holdover from wartime secrecy, nor even a promulgation of the security state and its notorious “three letter agencies.”  Surprisingly, it turns out to have much more to do with “gag orders” instituted by the New Deal administrations to obstruct prying by the Dies and McCarthy investigations into security matters.  Even more surprisingly, this informational firewall between the branches was continued and reinforced by the Eisenhower administration, and for much of the same reasons.  You don’t believe me?  Read Evans.

Which leads us to the final consideration, did McCarthy actually live in vain?  Of course not, and Evans devotes the postscript of Black Listed by History to an enumeration of our ingrate  inheritance from tail gunner Joe, that alleged ogre.  Without belittling the  long list of secret and not-so secret agents who were turned out of their top-secret clearances, it seems to me that the salvation of much of Asia is the most relevant legacy which we can celebrate today.  Imagine a world without a Taiwan or a South Korea.  True, it may come about in the near future, but it was scheduled to come about in the 1950s.  I don’t refer to the very understandable cupidity of a Mao or a Stalin, but of the ideologues embedded in the IPR and Amerasia who had the power, at a perilous moment in history, to turn off the spigot of American support.  Admittedly, McCarthy was not alone in preventing this, but he was part of the essential follow up.  You don’t believe me?  Again, read Evans.

In conclusion, I must apologize for comparing a profane (although gentlemanly) work to Holy Writ.  Allow me to explain that there is an extenuating circumstance, apart from merely seconding the redoubtable Miss Coulter’s opinion.  Evans concludes with the Biblical analogy of Samson bringing down the temple of the Philistines on his own head, and likewise the untamed McCarthy, whatever his subsequent reputation, was effective in causing a great deal of collateral damage among the enemies of freedom.  It is an analogy drawn, appropriately, from the Book of Judges.  At last in Evans’ book we may have a valid judgement of McCarthy’s work, and of blood which cries out from the ground, not just for vindication but for succession and continuation.

 

 

 

Posted in Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, culture, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Why do the heathen rage? In part, the futility of futurity.

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 31, 2018

Of time and the river

Why do the heathen rage

against God and his anointed? (Psalm 2)

Time is a slippery thing, it gets away from you quickly.  None the less, in our minds we attempt to catch it, pinning moments of time down the way a collector sticks a pin through a rare specimen of papillonoidia.   Time is the last thing we are likely to think of since it is a ubiquitous river in which we float, swim, or sink.  Economists talk about time-preference.  People who value the enjoyment of present time often wind up as debtors to those who value the goods of future time.  The moralists have a great deal to say about this, which is of value to those who would be prudent.  All other things being equal, as the economists are wont to say, planning is a very good thing for families, firms, and fellowships.

Social planning is a different matter.  I have in mind the great five, ten, fifteen, and twenty year plans of the Soviet Union.  These were plans drawn up by politicians, technicians, and engineers and imposed on people who had scant notion of what they were being drafted into.  They were great leaps forward which inevitably landed flat on their face.  The failure of these grandiose plans often led to want, starvation and death.  We look back at this kind of 20th century socialist experiment with the same kind of detached historical curiosity with which we gaze upon the cuneiform records of the Assyrian conquests.   The Age of the Soviet Planner has become a byword for past iniquity, and so we shudder and exit the museum, grateful that we are no longer blighted by the ancient curse.  Except that the death of Total Social Planning has been greatly exaggerated.  It did not depart on the last comet for oblivion but remains among us, incognito but in plain sight, and arguably stronger than ever.

The Christian and the Magical view of time

These thoughts came to me as I watched the gnashing of teeth by the Democrats during the President’s State of the Union message.  It is frequently observed that many on the left have been driven mad since the last election.  What is driving them mad and who (if anybody) is in the driver’s seat remain open questions.  I don’t seek to exonerate the President or the Republicans, who are far from perfect, but when I look at the emotional reaction of their opponents, I smell a whiff of some far deeper mystery, a mystery of malice and iniquity…and my hunch is that it has something to do with different attitudes which mortals can take towards that one medium in which we are all embedded…time itself.

The pagan world, the world outside the gospel, is fatally divided on the subject of time.  Indeed, what divides pagans is the notion of “fate” itself.  Throughout the millennia fate has served as the high god of the wretched.  Whether in the field or in the kitchen, they knew that their mumbled invocations, however sincere, were ultimately impotent to break the chains of the celestial powers-that-be.  Thus they trudged obediently through the corridors of time from birth to grave for countless generations, alternately blessing and cursing their stars, but always knowing them to be immobile.

Against this universal fatalism arose the select company of the magicians.  Originating in the dazzling enchantments of the East, but reborn (hence “renaissance”) around the 15th century in Western Europe, they sought to break the high edicts of fate through a combination of science and alliance with lesser, presumably manipulable, gods.  Perhaps in the beginning the magicians just wanted to wrest more of the good things of life from the hands of fate itself, more love, more wealth, more health and ultimately an unlimited amount of time on Earth, a false immortality. Understandable, albeit futile, goals.

Insidiously, this program of self-betterment was transmuted into an agenda for dethroning fate and establishing total control over reality by an elite.  I cannot say whether Giordanno Bruno was the last of the old magicians and Francis Bacon was the first of the new order, but the emphasis gradually switched from the individual and the eccentric, to the orderly and the planned.  However the goal remained the same, to hammer the edicts of fate into the instruments of a chosen destiny.

What a difference there is between the Christian and the magical view of time!  So different that the magician will sneer at the gospel and claim that the whole system of Christianity is just a variation on the old idea of fate.  Indeed, the Christian is taught to be humble, to “wait on the Lord” and to be patient.  However this is not fatalism.  Rather we have the supreme magician on our side, Jesus, who has broken the celestial powers of fate and rewritten our stories with the happiest possible ending.  The Christian remains inside of time, but trusts that there is a Power far above either the edicts of fate or the wiles of the magicians.  In the meantime, the Christian should not be too interested in predicting the distant future, or determining social outcomes with quantitative precision.  The future belongs to the Lord.

Of men and women, time and monuments

So we return to the present, since (apart from prophecy which is a different subject) the future is not ours to see.  However there is no prohibition against knowing the past.  In fact, one of the most common criticisms that Christians encounter runs “why are you always sticking your nose into that ‘old book’ [a.k.a., the Bible]” Indeed, the Christian is not just allowed, but enjoined, to study the past.  However this study comes with the admonition that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  In other words we study the past in order to understand human nature, not to change human nature.  Thus throughout history we see men and women engaging in complementary roles, even though the content of these roles may alternate given variations in technology, environment, region and epoch.   However we never see men turning into women or women turning into men.  Or rather, when we see these things happening we know that we are dealing with fables, like Ovid’s Metamorphosis.  As we mature in our study of the past we gradually sharpen our ability to distinguish fact from fable, and notice that magic is subject to severe limitations.  For,

It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves (Psalm 100)

Today very few people, outside of entertainment and the occult, would describe themselves as magicians.  Even fewer would fess up to being social planners in the grand Soviet sense of the word.  Simply because the word is not used doesn’t mean the thing itself has vanished.  The thing itself wants us to think that it has vanished.  However sometimes there are slip ups when we can see the ugly shadow of the thing itself.

I told you that I saw the shadow of the thing itself on the faces of the Democrats at the State of the Union message.  Not that those Democrats are any worse sinners than you or I, but in this instance the shadow of an ugly spirit possessed them.  Why?  Well, during the last election time had come to a certain juncture, and the train of events went off on the right rail rather than the left rail.  People talk about “parallel universes” which is bad science but a good metaphor here.  Those Democrats felt themselves hurtling down the wrong branch of a parallel universe which they hadn’t bargained for.  It wasn’t that they were angry at a man named Donald J. Trump.  Of course they were, but only superficially.  The real source of their anger was far deeper…they were losing their religion.  They had lost control of time itself.

To speak of human beings “losing control of time itself” seems like a lunatic notion.  I doubt that any of the Democrats grinding their teeth in the chambers actually thought they were personally in control of future history.  Rather, they were the hitherto happy minions of persons or beings who had mapped out a line of events far into the horizon of futurity.  That future had a palpable reality for them, and the destruction of those future mile stones was as disorienting as pulling down a beloved monument to the Founders would be to us.  Hence the madness.

No, we conservatives don’t worship the past, we just respect it.  When we raise our Ebenezer stones it is to memorialize the blessings which we have received in the past, and it is the Lord and giver of the blessings whom we honor.  However there are those who actually worship the future, and try to tie it down to a certain destiny.  I have not been there myself, but I have heard that on a desolate patch of soil in the state of Georgia, a monument to future events has been raised.  You might consider that an uncanny thing, but mental monuments to an uncertain future are endemic to our present society, and capable, when disturbed, of driving people to desperation.   I don’t know of any remedy to this epidemic other than a gradual and delicate reeducation, unless it were prayer.

 

 

Posted in Appologetics, Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Law, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The pre-history of Leftism in Christian heresy

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 21, 2018

What is a “leftist”?

We hear the word “leftist” a lot, but what does it really mean?  Is the left good, or bad, or just ugly? Should we moralize about leftists, and does leftism have an actual history which can be discovered? I heartily embrace the notion that the left/right schematic for understanding politics is a distorting mirror which would best be discarded.  None the less, there was for the last two, or even three hundred years, an identifiable line of thought called “left” first in Europe, then in North America, and then throughout the world.

I do not think the left was always evil.  In that respect it is different from Communism, which may be defined as that tendency within the left towards domination for the sake of domination.  In contrast, it would seem that leftism originally had some motivating ethical ideal, in relation to which politics was only a means to an end.  The ubiquitous yet morally ambivalent nature of leftism has echoed through the chronicles of American popular culture, ranging from the communistic to the comic.  In the 1960s Al Capp, the creator of the Líl Abner cartoon series, introduced a new character into his strip,  Jeannie Phonenei.  Jeannie Phonenei was Capp’s attempt to mock everything which was wrong with the left wing activists of that day: she was a narcissistic hypocrite who drove around in a Mercedes and composed folk songs like “Molotov Cocktails for Two.”

Taking the characterization personally, the celebrated singer and war protester Joan Baez objected to Capp’s sense of humor.   Truly, if Capp had intended to needle the anguished, earnest and (significantly) Christian Joan, it was a cruel joke.  Rather Capp’s jests would have been better aimed at that other siren of the sixties, the opportunistic actress Jane Fonda, who was a professed Communist.  Later it would turn out that she would profess anything, including Christianity.  However Joan Baez was the real deal, not a Communist, but a genuine leftist…whatever that might be.  Yet, even though Communism and Leftism are distinct ideologies, history has repeatedly shown that leftists tend to wind up as the enablers of Communist movements and, ultimately, states.  From their initial position as idealistic activists, they quickly become tools for persons far more cunning and devious than they originally bargained for.  Why is this?  It is a tragedy which has been reenacted numerous times and in sundry places, yet before we review the tragic destiny of leftism, we need to investigate its origins.

Towards a Critique of Pure Goodness

To reiterate, I deny that all leftists are intrinsically evil. Rather, I would have you draw a picture of good people when you think of the early leftists, indeed, of super-good people!   Of course, since we all have become wary of the Hegelian dialectic, from the outset “super-goodness” tends to give us the uneasy feeling of sitting precariously on a Humpty-Dumpty wall of perfection, not only a fragile position, but one containing the seed of its annihilation through the wrath of its contrary.

Leftism, as a self-defined movement, dates only from the French Revolution and the spread of J. J. Rousseau’s secularist, populist notions.  However the ethical roots of leftism go back much deeper, into what we call “Western history” or more properly Christendom.  The West got its start as the remaining crust of Christendom, after Mohammad, the Caliphs, Tammurlane, and the Turks had gobbled up much of Africa and Asia.  Thus the political movements which would later emerge as “the left” were essentially Christian, and only accidentally European, in their origin.

This is not my own hypothesis, or a special theory devised by those among us who are seeking to expose the errors of the left.  To say nothing of Max Weber, this religious pedigree was mooted about proudly by the cultural Marxists themselves, notably Adorno, Horkheimer, and other luminaries of the Frankfort school.  They pointed out that the earliest radical movements in the West were “chiliastic” in nature, or what might be dismissed as outbreaks of mass hysteria premised on a speedy end to the present world and the establishment of the kingdom of God on Earth.  Having scant interest in theology, the Frankfort thinkers moved on to develop their ideas about a sociology of knowledge.  From an opposing view, the cognitive content of this early chiliasm was closely examined in the voluminous works of conservative philosopher Erick Voeglin.  Both the Frankfort School and Vogelin concurred that Western radical thought had been initiated as far back as the middle ages, the former lauding these early movements as “chiliasm” while the latter deplored what he termed the persistent “gnosticism” of the West.

Voeglin, a brilliant thinker, was prone to stuff every development in Western thought into his portmanteau term-of-art “gnosticism.”   For Voeglin, and many others, “gnosticism” is the penchant of elites for using esoteric knowledge to control mass movements.  I would agree with Voeglin, that this is the very quintessence of Communism.  However I want to make a clear distinction between Communism and leftism.  If Communism is, as Voeglin proposes, a disease of the mind, perhaps leftism is a disease of the heart.  Therefore, if we look at the Christian pedigree of leftist movements we will have to become theologians.  However it is not the theology of the Trinity, of creation, or of any other metaphysical principle that will concern us.  Rather we will need to take a close look Christian ethics, and especially, heretical Christian ethics.

What the early Church Fathers knew, and Voeglin often omits, is the source of heresy, invariably, the twisting of scripture.  Proof-texts are the bane of theology, but the essential starting point of all heresies.  Thus…

…for him that takes your cloak, forbid not to take your coat also. (Luke 6:29b)

Is a famous “twister” (not to be confused with the party game) that has entertained nudists, naturalists, and sundry Adamites for two millennia.   Of far greater historical significance were the mendicant friars, whose bonfire of vanities were sparked by Francis of Assizi giving away his clothes and walking around town naked until someone thoughtfully provided him with a brown burlap sack, thus instituting the habit of a new order.  This holy striptease might be described as extremism in pursuit of literalism.   To the credit of the order Francis founded, the poverty-loving “spirituals” were quickly purged and the monks got back to what monks do best: working, praying,  and building up vast quantities of tangible, informational, and social capital.

While there is something charming about the voluntary poverty of the friars, the antics of the early Anabaptists were positively horrific.   Before they flipped into their benign opposites, e.g., pacifist Amish and Mennonites, they terrorized reformation-era Europe with the prospect of a perfect commonwealth, (a.k.a., your wealth is mine to share in common) and their “twister” included the more  famous first half of Luke 6:29.

And to him who smite you on the cheek, offer to him the other… (ibid. 29a)

Much as the early Franciscans stripped unbidden by any request from the poor, the pastoral wolves of the fringe reformation were willing to start the smiting, on the understanding that their bullied flocks were honor-bound not to resist.    A city was infiltrated, a monarchy was established under the vicarage of a prophet, and utopia was commenced.  This experiment proved so popular that the citizens welcomed back their previous oppressors with open arms and hung the  prophet on a gibbet….in perpetuity.

Scriptural hermeneutics over superheros

Granted, both the spiritual Franciscans and the early Anabaptists interpreted the scripture in a way that was not just literal but pro-active and extreme.   My contention is that a more passive reading of the texts, though perhaps even more literal, is still socially disastrous in the long run.  Let’s take the example, drawn from countless incidents in real life, of a child who comes home crying because a bully has stolen his or her lunch money.  You and I know both what the reaction of a normal parent would be, so we can skip the pyrotechnics.

However let’s examine the case of a not-so-normal “spiritual” parent.  Little Johnny or Jill comes home to the following comfort.  “Yes, I know you feel bad, but you really should allow that bully to steal from you…it will make you more Christ-like.”  The following day the situation repeats itself.  “Really you shouldn’t cry…every time you are being bullied you are becoming more Christ-like and are bringing your tormentor closer to salvation.”  Where do you think this is likely to end up?  Perhaps, indeed, it will lead to the sanctification (or even martyrdom) of the child and the salvation of the bully.  If J.J. Rousseau is right and all people are benevolent beings who just need to have their non-benevolent inconsistencies pointed out to them…in such a world perhaps this schoolyard tragedy will have a happy ending.  That is not, however, the world portrayed by scripture.

The scriptural passage in referred to above is contained in one of the great ethical discourses of Jesus, the one which extends through Luke v.v. 19-49.  Towards its end it includes the exhortation to “build a house upon a deeply dug foundation, a foundation of rock”(paraphrase v. 48) which might be taken as a hint that this, and other, ethical discourses are in fact parables which compel deep study and interpretation.  Read in the most superficial manner, the ethical discourses seem to enjoin charity, kindness, and goodwill to all our fellow creatures.  Surely there can be no objection to such an interpretation.  However if we meditate on these passages in a more somber vein, we begin to notice the urgency and hyperbolic nature of the sayings, and from this we may surmise that they reflect a unified ethical doctrine, the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  I have characterized the doctrine of non-resistance to evil as the “doctrine of giving the bully your lunch money” which seems, on the face of it, a moral absurdity.

In the face of moral absurdity, we can either give up and go back to explaining the ethical discourses as “exhortations to charity” or dig even deeper and see if we can uncover anything more solid than the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  Now it seems to me that we can interpret the ethical discourses in at least four ways: 1) the literal, 2) the spiritual, 3) the historical, or dispensational, and finally 4) the Christocentrc, or Messianic.  Now, my main task in this writing is to critique the ancient Christian origins of the modern left.  Furthermore, I discern a salient connection between the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses and the rise of the left.  Therefore, since we are rejecting the left and not Christianity, an exposition of scripture deeper than the literal is required, especially since the literal interpretation drives the interpreter towards the deadly doctrine of non-resistance to evil.

The immediate alternative to the literal-ethical interpretation is the spiritual interpretation.  If we are indeed vessels of the Holy Spirit we will have an infinite amount of energy, health, and wealth at our disposal.  Thus we will not only be able to give the playground bullies of life all our lunch money, but lead them towards salvation.  Unfortunately this is not an interpretation which is accessible to skeptics who masquerade as Christians, since the only parts of the Bible they take literally are the ethical discourses, and any hint of a reality beyond the flesh  is dismissed as a fairy tale.   Personally, I am overjoyed to assent to all the implications of the spiritual interpretation.  Unfortunately, mere assent does not automatically turn on the spigots of the Spirit.  The actual activation of these powers requires faith, and deepening faith is the work of a lifetime.

The next alternative to the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses is the historical interpretation.  This might also be called the “dispensational” interpretation, albeit the notion of dispensations comes freighted with all sorts of diverse and divisive implications.  None the less, perhaps we can simplify things by limiting ourselves to a transposition of the terms in Luke 6: 29 as they might have been heard c. 30AD by an ear straining for a word of prophecy.

“the smiting”=the Romans

“the other cheek”=lay down your arms, flee to the hills

“giving the outer garment” = let the Romans take Jerusalem

“giving the inner garment”=let the Romans defile the Temple

This is indeed a bitter prophetic brew, however unlike the general doctrine of non-resistance toward evil, it is a particular bitterness in the cup of the Jewish people.  Christ wasn’t rejected because he spoke about the lilies of the field.  Since it is tangential to the purposes of this writing I won’t pursue the historical interpretation any further.

A further alternative to the literal-ethical, and arguably the most on target, is the reading which allows Christ to be speaking self-referentially of his soon-to-be-accomplished Passion.  Again, the same sort of prophetic transposition can be made of the terms which appear in Luke 6:29

“the smiting”=totality of Anti-Messianic forces: Herodians, Pharisees,  Roman government, etc.

“the other cheek”=”Not my will but that of my Father be done!”

“giving the outer garment”=the Kingdom taken away from the people

“giving the inner garment”=the Messiah taken away from Earth

Undoubtedly there are other interpretations, but the addition of these three to the literal-ethical should highlight the parabolic nature of the ethical discourses, teachings which require study and some sort of response, albeit a response which we may have to “dig” to discover, rather than a systematic code of ethics intended to replace the mitzvah of the Old Testament.  Indeed, if these teachings are ethics at all, they are an ethics of crisis, intended to guide the initial band of believers before, during, and perhaps for some time after the Resurrection.  They are not, and this is really the main point, intended as the immutable charter for a sustainable human community.  This should be all the easier to see since the Bible does indeed contain such a charter…the Torah.

Red Letter Bibles and Reds 

The ethical discourses of Christ are indeed the proof tests of the leftist (or liberal, progressive, social, call it what you will) heresy, that grand attempt to re-found and remold the Christian religion.  Just as the peroration on Wisdom in the Proverbs of Solomon provided Arius with a proof-text for Unitarianism, the pretext for Leftism, in a still Christian Europe, was the ethics of Jesus.  Unfortunately this Jesus was not Jesus the Christ, but a Jesus who was a philosopher, seer, wonder-worker and perapatetic prophet.

This was the Jesus of the so-called Enlightenment (18th century and afterwards) and it marked a further worsening of Europe’s moral and religious condition.  In contrast, the spiritual Franciscans and the Anabaptists, whatever their excesses, at least had continued to believe in God and the supernatural.  Their ethical extremism was difficult to constrain, but their heterodoxy could be exposed in conclave with fellow Christians, since they still  operated on a common set of principles, facilitating the escape of wandering sheep from ravenous wolves.

However the atheism of the Enlightenment tended to displace the spiritual center of gravity of all who fell under its influence, even those who continued to profess Christianity.  Whereas the churches had previously treated Christ’s claims to divinity literally and treat the ethical discourses as parables, this polarity was reversed among all who fell under the spell of the Enlightenment.  Now, in metaphysics this view (with no afterlife, judgement or so forth) alternately scandalized and relieved the thinking public, but for ethics the new attitude it was supposed to be an unqualified benefit.  And why not?  At last ethics was liberated from theology.  At last one was free to consider Jesus, not as a savior, but a philosopher, and indeed the best, the most heroic, the purest of all philosophers who ever lived.  It was just the sort of philosophy which might prove capable of uniting all of humanity in a common band of brotherhood.  It was under this banner that the sans-coulotts (a moniker reminiscent of Luke 6:29b!) marched…unfortunately to the guillotine.

Two generations later on we find similar views still attracting followers, even in France where the failure of the Revolution should have been obvious.  Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a monument to a reinvented Christianity where altruistic ethics triumphs over law, theology, and sometimes common sense, yet we still applaud wildly even in the 21st century.  We applaud because Hugo gives us what we want, a feel-good ethics based on the most superficial reading of Christ’s ethical discourses, a reading where Jesus is telling us “be nice”…especially when you encounter the hard-luck cases.  I don’t dispute that this is a correct application of scripture, but I would warn that separation of ethics from theology becomes increasingly perilous the deeper down the philosophical rabbit hole you go.  The saving grace of Hugo was his superficiality as a thinker.  Hugo’s  contemporary, Ernst Renan, pursued the subject more carefully in his Life of Jesus, but stopped before plumbing the full implications of making non-resistance to evil the primary axiom of human life.  Schopenhauer could see further into the abyss, and rejected ethics for aesthetics.  Nietzsche saw even further and decided to join what he deemed the winning side, evil itself.

Until very recently few people have been willing to go “the full Nietzsche.”  The more popular option has been to keep the form while neglecting the substance of Christianity.  This is a gambit with many variations, most of the variations involving indifference and dry formalism.  However, since the Enlightenment and growing in popularity, there has always been a hard core of “atheistic” Christians, deadly serious in their desire to see the Kingdom of God established on Earth.  For these people, were they have to a church, it could only be humanity as a whole, and if they were to have a spirit it would not be the separated and Holy One.  Such people, on the whole, have the appearance of goodness, and significantly they have the scriptures…or at least a part of the scriptures, what Erick Voeglin would call a “qurán.”  In Voeglin’s nomenclature a qurán is a text used to enshrine the principles of a social movement.  Obviously, the Qurán is the qurán of Islam, but the Communist Manifesto is the qurán of Marxism, Interpretation of Dreams is the qurán of Freudianism and likewise for each movement there is more often than not a privileged and authoritative text.

Unsurprisingly this atheistic or liberal Christianity, that very Christianity which is the font and origin of Leftism, has its own qurán.  Yet what makes this movement such a singular phenomenon is that the qurán in question is found in the Bible itself.  To be sure, this qurán is only a fraction of the entire Bible, yet for the atheistic Christian it is the only part of the Bible worth preserving, and as you have no doubt guessed, it consists mainly the the ethical discourses of Jesus.  Another distinctive of this qurán is that it is generally not found bound in a separate codex, but rather is almost always found anthologized with other books of the Bible, though from a purist perspective of an ethical and atheistic Christian these are clearly dutero-cannonical.  Perhaps in the spirit of toleration the liberal and ethical Christian is unwilling to excise such barbarous relics as the book of Genesis or the salacious Song of Songs.

In fact, the only editorially consistent attempt at purifying the ethical qurán of the philosopher Jesus from the dross of Hebraic literature was the work of our own libertarian idol, and all round rock-star, Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson did a heroic cut-and-paste job back when that phrase meant hands stinking with glue rather than clicking on a drop-down menu.  The resulting Jefferson’s Bible, composed primarily of philosophical discourses by the Jesus-guy, is one of the world’s greatest literary curiosities.  Jefferson commended it to Congress, which, with typical celerity, took a half century to consider declaring it as the fundamental qurán of the American nation.  So much for separation of church and state.  In reality budgetary restraints prevented the dissemination of TJ’s qurán, and as we all know, a creed without a propaganda organ dies the slow death of obscurity.

However the absence of a handbook never seemed to bother the Christian proto-leftists very much.  They knew what to reverence and what to discard.  For those lacking in discernment, bibles began to be printed with the words of Christ in red.  This keyed the reader into what had really been said by Jesus and what had been crammed surreptitiously into the margin by apostles, evangelists and sundry rogues.  As it turned out, pretty much everything other than the ethical discourses.   In the long years between the Jefferson Bible and he Jesus Seminar, each believer had the resources to do his or her own cut and past job…a personal qurán.  Today we also have multiple English translations which turn the meaning of both red and black letter passages into misleading fluff.

Parting the Red Sea

Those of us who believe in the whole Bible, and not just the passages in red, must none the less acknowledge the inspiration of the red passages.  Normally the ethical discourses are honored as exhortations to charitable acts, this is a benevolent but superficial response to the hard doctrines found in the ethical discourses.  We might picture this  “kindness and good-will interpretation” standing on the Egyptian side of  a Red Sea which must be traversed to get at the deeper meanings declared in Chist’s parables which await like a Promised Land.  This Red Sea, in which we are likely to perish if we don’t march through in good order, is the ethical-literal interpretation.  The depths in which we risk submerging  are the consequence of applying the ethical discourses as standards for normal social life, since they imply the doctrine of non-resistance to evil, a doctrine which, by extension, is in itself evil.

The doctrine of non-resistance to evil is not authentically Christian.  Rather, it is an atheistic doctrine disguised by Christian rhetoric.  It is a look-alike counterfeit of the Golden Rule, which states that one ought to treat others the way that you would wish to be treated yourself.  This is not the same as giving people whatever they want, which is neither just nor always in the best interest of the receiver.  Rather, if you abet someone’s corrupt desire, you are committing, rather than resisting evil.  Indeed, Jesus said and did several things which sounded like he was recommending non-resistance to evil as a general principle, however his immediate intention was to defeat evil.  His non-resistance in certain instances was more of a tactical maneuver, designed so that the powers and principalities of this world would not guess that he was sacrificing himself as an atonement for the sins of the human race.  Of course this is nonsense from the secular, atheistic viewpoint, since for them there can be no such thing as a sacrificial transaction between human beings and God.   For secularists “sacrifice” is a concept within the closed system of human ethics, essentially a zero-sum game.

If human life is a zero-sum game, then the number of ethical options is limited.  One may strive for more at the expense of others, or one may resign from the game.  Schopenhauer and sundry Eastern teachings recommend resignation.  There is a seeming benevolence and nobility in this.  One might also aid the underdog in the struggle, extorting wealth and being extorted until all beings settle down in a sea of level equality.  Although it is seldom stated so baldly, this is the root notion of what we are calling “leftism.”  As an encomium to extortion, the ethical sayings of Jesus, given the appropriate twist, fit perfectly into this program.  Except that they were never intended as such, self-sacrifice being a unique prerogative of the Messiah.

Beyond non-resistance to evil is the ethics of extortion.  Once we have abetted coercion and theft, what difference does it make whether we are the perpetrator or the victim?  A lot, believe me!  None the less, the question needs to be posed in order to understand the psychology of idealists, the mentality of leftism.  The psychology of aggression requires no great feat of interpretation.  But the psychology of those who would do anything to promote an ideal, including self-victimization, is a mystery.  In the mind of the leftist, a world of universal, mutual, extortion and theft would be a fast track to equalization of life conditions for all human beings on Earth.  However we know, from the record of Communist ruled countries, that this in fact never occurs.  Rather, as George Orwell, himself a leftist, bitterly observed “some animals are more equal than others.”

Did Jesus deliver the ethical discourses in order to institute equality of life results among the people of Earth? It would seem that yes, the Jesus the philosopher might have.  However this is a Jesus who lives exclusively in the mind of expositors such as Ernst Renan in the 19th century or the Jesus Seminar in ours.  He is not the Jesus of scripture, the one who said “the poor you shall have with you always” nor the Jesus who said that “not one jot or tittle” would be removed from the Torah, a code which certainly does not endorse equality of life results.

However since the Enlightenment it is the philosophical Jesus who has been admitted into the pantheon of secular saints.   Therefore, we ought to return to the question of whether leftism is a continuation of earlier Christian heresies like the spiritual Franciscans and the political Anabaptists, or whether it is a novelty of post-Enlightenment times.  I have no definitive answer to this question, but if I had to make a hypothesis it would be that power-seeking elites infiltrated the churches with their propagandists, and that part of the propaganda involved turning Christianity into a new religion.  The power seeking elites aimed at extortion, and all they needed was a population which accepted being extorted as an ethical duty.  Suffice to say this post-Enlightenment movement has been wildly successful, as all the political institutions of modernity, from the military draft to taxes on incomes and mandatory schooling to fractional reserve banking and deficit spending are all meritorious examples of rendering up our coats and cloaks on demand.  None dare call it extortion.

All of this would have taken place in the run up to, or the aftermath of, the French Revolution.   About the same time that Thomas Jefferson was busy editing his Bible in America, Schelermacher was editing orthodoxy in Germany.  From now on, religion was to be something one felt, not anything based on clear messages from God.  The ethical discourses had been abstracted as primary, while believers were made mentally incapable of objecting to the resulting theological lacuna. It was these very tendencies, namely, anti-intellectualism combined with an anti-elitism in secret servitude towards elites, which formed the mentality of the early modern left.   Their god was a god who came down from heaven,  commanded altruism, and then left humanity to work out its own salvation…not in fear and trembling, but in extortion and violence.

 

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