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An Epistle at the apex: Paul and the the Biblical basis of Libertarianism

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 15, 2017

From Turtles to Principles

You have probably heard the story of that old woman who insisted the Earth rested on the back of an enormous turtle.  If queried what the turtle rested on, she would respond, logically enough, “Another turtle.”  However if a persistent questioner asked what, in turn, the second turtle rested upon, she would laugh derisively, “Sonny, it’s turtles all the way down!”

This infinite regress of turtles is akin to the view that many Christian libertarians and constitutionalists share with regard to “the charter of our liberties.”  Now rest assured that I consider this to be the enlightened view with regard to the origin of human rights, that “We are endowed by our creator….” and that the contents of this endowment has not been left to the vague recollection of tacit understandings, but rather, made clear in major historical documents which have spelled out the liberties of free men and women without prevarication or ambiguity.  I applaud my fellow freedom lovers who have embraced the theory that the natural rights made explicit in  human covenants is founded on the will and ways of God.

None the less, it seems to me that there is a gap in the understanding of most libertarians, even among those who profess Christianity in one form or another.  On the one hand, freedom is said to be founded on the basis of a “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  On the other hand, the content of this ethos is held to have been been specified by such major documents as the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Constitution of the United States of America (1787), and the Bill of Rights (1791).  These are sometimes called “founding documents” but in fact they represent the fruits of a tradition, not an origin.  Now what was the immediate inspiration of these documents?   This is well understood and well researched, and we can trace what F.A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty” back step by step through the Whig Revolution, the English Civil War, the conflict between King John, the great barons and the church, and even into the misty years subsequent to the Norman Conquest.  Each of these epochs left a deposit of law in the form of written covenants, of which the Magna Carta (1215)is only the most famous.

However if we ask, “What is the ultimate (not immediate) origin of the Bill of Rights, etc.” we come up against a situation similar to that infinite regress of turtles which are needed to support the Earth.  All we get is a string of documents which leads back from the Magna Carta to the Norman Conquest and then, for a combination of linguistic and documentary reasons, stops.  Beyond that where do the precedents come from?  On the one hand, there are those who hypothesize a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy as the matrix from which both political liberty and common law sprang.  On the other, there are those, such as Hayek himself, who wish to tie the British tradition of liberty back to the classical political philosophy of Cicero, Stoicism etc..  Keep in mind that Hayek was an evolutionist, albeit more of concerned with cultural than a biological evolution.

On the other hand there are Christians who state that the series of freedom covenants published in the course of British and American history have their ultimate root in the “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  However the “Judeo-Christian ethos” does not constitute the first item in a series of written documents.  It is indeed a case of “turtles all the way down” where “down” is not the true bottom or rather a quasi-bottom begging for further explanation.  Of course, Christians are in possession of a document which provides them with written warrant for thought and action, and it happens to be called the Bible. Note the irony of the ambiguous “Judeo-Christian ethic” being promoted as a basis of politics and rights theory by the same Christians who would insist on a scriptural warrant for any issues outside of politics.  It would seem that there is a special fear of becoming excessively scriptural when it comes to the Biblical foundations of politics.

And as a matter of fact, this fear is well founded.  For there are at least two deviations into scriptural politics which are likely to have catastrophic results, if indeed they are not outright heretical.  I will give a capsule critique of these theological tendencies before moving on to what I consider the true scriptural basis of politics.

Bad Axioms: The Violent Bear It Away

In our search for the axiomatic we don’t want to endorse the catastrophic!   Humanity is always looking for a principle to predicate its violence upon, a “causus belli” as it were.  Marxism is the best contemporary example, though there be others.  Those sects within the church which have been unknowingly or knowingly coaxed by Marxism into a united front frequently march under the banner of “New Testament Christianity.”  In this context, “New Testament” means up to and excluding the cross.  It is the moral teaching to, and subsequently of, the twelve disciples, led by Peter. I don’t think it is putting too fine a point on this teaching to characterize it as perfectionism and communism.  It was a teaching appropriate to those who were striving after moral purity to separate themselves from an apostate Judaism, along lines similar to John the Baptist, or the Essene community at Qumran.   After the cross these teachings were replaced by the gospel.  Though they remain edifying and historically important narratives, they are not Christianity, at least, they are not the heart of Christianity.

However these teachings, perfectionism and communism, are useful for those who seek to sow confusion among Christians.  The virtue of these principles, for Marxists and other enemies of the cross, is that they don’t work, thus their adoption gives people the impression that Christians are not a church but as a camp of confused idealists. This vast camp of deluded Christians, who are not just those at the fringe of “liberation” theology so-called, but the majority of those within the mainstream denominations, are no doubt earnest in their desire to put their politics on a Biblical basis.  Unfortunately they have wrongly divided scripture, not realizing that, in truth, much of the so-called “New Testament” is in fact a continuation of the Old Testament, that the four evangelical witnesses which we call “gospels” are historical and biographical narratives which are only a preface to the Gospel of Grace proclaimed in the letters of Paul, this latter being the only operative gospel for our age.

At the other extreme from “Liberation theology”, there are genuine Christians who fuse together New and Old Testaments into a single covenant theology.  When this is applied with great rigor, the result is a rigidly legalistic system, such as was classically illustrated by Calvin’s Geneva, or the early Massachusetts Bay colony.  Unlike Marxist-inspired theology this covenant view is not a deception, but an honest error.  None the less, it is an error which has burdened and oppressed people in the past, and is likely to do so in the future, if there is any chance of its adoption.  No, we cannot go back to Moses.  Not that Moses is to be despised, for we are edified by the history of Israel.  But to treat Moses as a living letter of law is a misapplication of scripture, and inimical to the true gospel, just as Paul explained to the church in Galatia.   It is to Paul whom we must now turn.

The Pauline Basis of Christian Libertarianism

The way to make progress in ethics is through more geometrico, the much abused and needlessly feared geometrical method.  That is, in morals we ought to start with an axiom and end up with a body of legislation.  What we are offered today is, by and large, the reverse, since we begin with one or another collection of precepts in bad need of simplification and adaptation.  The precepts might alternatively be “the Judeo-Christian ethic” or New Testament theology, or the Mosaic code.  In all such systems the starting point is vague, complicated, and casuistic.  Now, reasoning out cases (casuistry) is a good and very necessary thing, but it should come at the end of a process of deduction, not at the beginning.

Fortunately, scripture is true to its word and provides us with the axioms necessary, not just for our salvation, but for organizing our societies.  The tendency towards axiomatic thinking is evident even in the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior.  Christ’s willingness to group the precepts of the law into a hierarchy, with the law of love at the apex, contrasts sharply with the predominant rabbinical teachings on the law.  According to the rabbis each of the precepts stood on its own merit, without need of justification by any higher principle.  Conversely, a constant theme of Christ’s teaching was to point out how these independent precepts, if taken literally, would lead to rote behavior drained of empathy for one’s fellow creatures.  This early teaching to the disciples, as noted above, was not Christ’s authoritative message  to the church, which would commence on the road to Emmaus  and climax on the road to Damascus.  However the former teaching was prophetic in the broadest sense, not as prognostication but as propaedieutic, i.e., a kind of introduction.  It was hinting that Christian ethics, unlike rabbinical tradition, would be fundamentally axiomatic rather than casuistic.

The Apostle Paul is the primary revelator and redactor of church truth.  If we search his letters we are sure to find, among many other treasures, the key axiom upon which the organization of a godly society depends.  This axiom is found in a few verses within the most controversial and difficult chapters in the entire Bible, the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.  Now I realize that the very mention of Romans 13 is enough to cause alarm among Christian libertarians, and it is true that this is a portion of scripture which has been notoriously wrested into a shape cut to the specifications of tyrants.  However this reading, which we may designate as the authoritarian reading of Romans 13, I believe to be profoundly in error.

On the contrary, it is Romans Chapter 13 which, read aright, contains the authoritative formulation of the non-aggression axiom.  I am not aware that this has been previously noted, even by commentators who are generally considered sympathetic to libertarianism.  Generally, commentators are mainly interested in soterological issues, therefore those portions of scripture dealing with civil society, like Romans Chapter 13, are passed over without extended comment, except to note that obedience to legitimate governance is enjoined.  Few have done entire commentaries where the primary focus is on politics, economics, or civil society.  One exception is Dr. Gary North, who has written an Economic Commentary on Romans.  Yet even Dr. North who’s  quasi-libertarian views are well known, veers off from the fundamental moral issues discussed in Romans 13, in order to pursue some rather technical observations on the morality of debt, to the exclusion of other considerations.  His commentary on the heart of Romans 13, which are found in verses 8 through 10, is worth reading, if only to note its extremely narrow approach to the content of the epistle.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” John Murray does not think that love is an obligation. Rather, the sense of the passage is this: “Owe no man any thing, only love one another.” “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that dealing with others justly is the way that we should demonstrate our love toward them? Or does it mean that loving them fulfills the law? Which law? Moses’ law? Christ’s law?

Paul says which law: the Mosaic. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The summary follows the Septuagint’s translation of Deuteronomy 5:17-21.The final clause is based on Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Here is the same theme as the one Paul introduced in the previous chapter: no personal vengeance. Christ used a similar approach in his summary of the Mosaic law. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 19:16-19).

Love is mandatory, Murray writes. “If love is the fulfillment of the law this means that no law is fulfilled apart from love. . . . It is only through love that we can fulfill the demands of justice.”Murray places the decalogue, and through it, the Mosaic law, at the heart of Paul’s injunction. “This appeal to the decalogue demonstrates the following propositions: (1) the decalogue is of permanent and abiding relevance. (2) It exemplifies the law that love fulfills and is therefore correlative with love. (3) The commandments and their binding obligation do not interfere with the exercise of love; there is no incompatibility. (4) The commandments are the norms in accordance with which love operates.”

The closest that North (here following, rather surprisingly, Murray) gets to the non-aggression axiom is his observation on the prohibition of vengeance.  Murray, North, et al, are wrong to think that Paul is endorsing the Mosaic law, although as covenant theologians we ought not to be surprised that they follow this line.  Rather, Paul is using elements of the decalogue the same way that an artist would use pigments of primary colors to paint an entirely new composition.  Romans 13 vv. 8-10 is not just a rehashing of Moses, rather, it is an entirely new revelation establishing human relations on the firm foundation of the non-aggression axiom.

In order to come to an understanding that Romans 13 is nothing less than the divine promulgation of the non-aggression axiom, it is helpful to divide the chapter into three portions.  I. 13:1-7 on civil governance, II. 13:8-10, the non-aggression axiom, III.13:11-14 provision for the coming of the Lord.  Although most readers of the scriptures read sequentially, which in the case of Romans 13 leads to highlighting the section on civil governance, as if it were the topic paragraph of an essay, an alternative method sometimes used by discerning Bible students is to structure the passage according to its “chiastic” pattern.  According to this method, the key elements in a Bible passage are liable to be found in the center of the reading, with the former and latter verses forming mirror images around a core concept.  Thus in the case of Romans 13, we would have the pattern,

I. 13:1-7 human governance ( duties towards civil magistrates)

               II. 13:8-10 the non-aggression axiom

III. 13:11-14 divine governance (duties in preparation for the return of the Lord)

Note how the non-aggression axiom seems encased like a jewel between present and future worlds, humanity and divinity.  This draws us into the center and substance of the relationship between sovereignty and justice.  Thus the student of scripture is compelled to take a closer look at the key text vv. 8-10, which appears following (in E.W. Bullinger’s translation).

8
Owe no one any thing, if not to love the other : for he that
loveth the other hath fulfilled…law.
9
For this,“Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,Thou shalt not covet;”
and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely,
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
10
Love worketh no evil to his  neighbour: therefore love
is…fulfillment of…law.
Although Paul is doing something more than simply reiterating the Mosaic revelation, the selection of Mosaic elements through which the new message is expressed is very precise and gives us the key to the new law.  Note that only those elements of the decalogue which prohibit aggression are listed.  To be sure, the decalogue also requires positive obligations such as honoring parents, but the empahsis here is on prohibitions not obligations.  Specifically, these are commandments which prohibit the violation of the rights of others.  One might quibble at the inclusion of the tenth commandment against envy, in so far as this is a psychological state and not an active violation of someone’s rights.  However this list is not a bill of particulars, but the anatomy of aggression in general, and psychological realism informs us that envy is the primary motive force for the violation of personal and property rights. What we have in vv. 8-10 is in reality a type of equation, and a very exact equation at that, such that…
Decalogue 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10=the Law of Love
Everybody who knows even the first thing about Christianity has heard about the “law of love”…in the formula “love thy neighbor etc.” the problem is to define what love really means in this context.  This is what the central passages of Romans 13 reveals to us.  Again, substituting one side of the equation,
Do not (6,7,8,9) violate your neighbor’s rights, in fact (10) don’t even think about it!=the Law of Love
or if we phrase it in terms of political theory
The Non-Aggression Axiom=the Law of Love
This formulation will startle many people on the grounds that “love” in this context seems to be divorced from passion, and typically we think of love as a passion.  However, when we are trying to approach revelation on its own terms we are not obligated to define its words according to our own preconceptions and feelings, rather we have to let context determine exegesis.
From Paul to Locke
Skeptics will claim that I am reading the Lockean theory of natural rights back into Paul.  On the contrary, I suggest that John Locke, writing at the turn of the 17th and 18th century may have got his inspiration, not just from Christianity in a general way, but from a study of Paul’s first century epistles.  We know that Locke was a close student of scripture, and of Paul in particular.  To be sure,  Locke has always been problematic for Christian orthodoxy, which is why he was received into the cannon of the West as a philosopher, not a theologian.  However here we are speaking of the divine promulgation of rights theory, and its meaning for our own times, not the question of what  John Locke as a believer thought of the Trinity, or the non-Jurors, or the Book of Common prayer.
From John Locke the tradition of natural rights flowed on to the Whig radicals, on to the writers of the American founding documents, on to the abolitionists and other social movements of the 19th century, on to the populists of the American guilded age, on to the Old Right and non-interventionism, on to those movements which today call themselves libertarian.  However this Whig/Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking has manifested as more than bare ideas, it has been written into covenants which have rendered rights explicit and binding.  To be sure, the non-aggression axiom has passed through non-Christian, even anti-Christian minds, notably Herbert Spencer, who is always mentioned in that regard.  But this does nothing to mitigate against the possibility, to my mind the virtual certainty, that the non-aggression axiom is ultimately a thing of divine institution.  Need we, like overzealous Donatists, fear that the sacrament of liberty has been defiled because it has passed through unclean hands?  Certainly not!  None the less, at the level of documentary tradition, what  a wonderful thing it would be if we could be sure that there was an unbroken chain of binding covenants, beginning with Paul’s writings and continuing down to the Bill of Rights and beyond.  Indeed, how enlightening it ought to be, for anyone to grasp that the non-aggression principle and the law of love were two but aspects of the same divine axiom.
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Posted in Christianity, Constitution, Constitutionalism, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Welcome to the Gnostic Nightmare: Blade Runner 2049

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 3, 2017

[Warning: The following review essay contains plot and character spoilers of the movies Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.  Read at your own discretion.]

Blade Runner 2049 as Symbol, not Prophecy

While I’m not sure I would recommend it to the impressionable, if, like me, you are a fan of the original Blade Runner, evading the sequel is simply not an option.  There is a seamless esthetic continuity from the earlier to the latter film which shows a deft cinematic hand at work, and makes it a shoe-in for us nostalgic devotees of classic sci-fi.  To be sure, the original film’s semi-comical portrayal of California-style corruption, cultural fragmentation, and class polarization has shifted further towards pure negativity, as fits a future world enduring steady economic and ecological degeneration, a world in which anyone who can afford the ticket moves off world.  Thus, before we continue, I’ll remind you that your best bet, if you want a good night’s sleep and pleasant dreams, is to avoid dystopian films altogether.  Still, for reasons soon explained, Blade Runner 2049 might just be worth the grief.

In what should have been an embarrassment, the original 1983 movie, set in the year 2019, is already short of its prophetic mark.  There are, as yet, no off worlds for the rich and famous to escape to, though surely they are chomping at the bit and ready to pack.  There are no “replicants” cloned quasi-humans serving in our military or walking our entertainment districts.  Neither are there any “blade runner” police units designed to track down rogue replicants and liquidate those who fail an “empathy test.”  None of this has caused the least concern to the producers of the 2017 sequel.  Rather, the pseudo-history and narratives of the original, now a classic, have been respected and embellished upon.

Everybody will accept this without qualm.  This will probably be attributed to the loyalty and fanaticism of Blade Runner fans, who, like Star Wars fans, are held liable to take anything that can be dished out.  Yet in reality, prophetic accuracy has little to do with the appeal of Blade Runner.  Rather, it portrays in excruciating detail a deeply symbolic, deeply religious, and deeply heretical understanding of the world in which we live, a world-view who’s articulation is is more significant than the prognostication of specific future events.  If we want to understand Blade Runner, it behooves us to take a close look at the world-view underpinning its narrative.

Cinematic Gnosticism

Under today’s conditions of political correctness, Hollywood is not ready to churn out many films based on an orthodox Christian world-view.  The closest we are liable to get are scripts based on a near-Christian belief system called “Gnosticism.”  Now I know that some Christians will rail at this heresy and boycott anything that smacks of deviation from Biblical truth.  However, given the importance of the cinema, I think we should be grateful for any opportunity which provokes thought on Christian themes, even if they are packaged in heretical garb.  For example, the recent rendition of Noah was chock full of embelishments from both Gnosticism and Jewish folklore, but for someone who had never considered the moral issues which might have provoked a universal flood, it was an edifying view.

One thing that we can be certain of, and that is that the narrative basis of the Blade Runner saga was not concocted by someone hypocritically “playing with religion.”  Rather, Philip K. Dick, who’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep provided the (loosely followed) basis for the films, took his Gnosticism very seriously, to the point where he disavowed originality in certain of his works, claiming to be inspired by trans-human personalities.  And while I don’t know the spiritual views of the present films director, Riddly-Scott, who directed the original and advised the sequel, has had more than a dalliance with gnosticism.  So does this make Blade Runner toxic for the orthodox Christian or a tool for greater discernment?  Obviously I am touting the latter view, but this obligates us to take up the major themes of the movie, point by point, examining the gnostic doctrines embedded in the story and offering the orthodox alternative.

Three points of Gnostic doctrine in Blade Runner 2049: Their salience and their falsity.

There are, at least, three characteristic Gnostic doctrines which underlie the narrative of Blade Runner 2049: 1) the moral superiority of the immaterial over the material, 2) the primacy of deep time over creation, and 3) the level playing field between the forces of good and evil.  Keep in mind that “gnostic” is just a category that modern scholars use to lump together a variety of religious movements, ancient and modern.  One shouldn’t make too much of the word “gnostic” in itself, since it is simply a Greek word pertaining to knowledge.  This doesn’t mean that heretics are smart and real Christians are supposed to be stupid.  The Apostle Paul used the word “epignosis” or “full knowledge” to express the ideal condition of the believer.  The Gnostic heretics (with a capital G) were, in contrast to Paul’s admonitions, advocates of knowledge which was either one-sided, elitist, or imperfect.  There are an abundance of scholarly resources for anyone who wants to pursue the history of Gnosticism, but for us non-specialists the Blade Runner corpus (one novel and two movies) provides an entertaining and cautionary excursion into the Gnostic world-view.

Point One: Sweet Nothings

Since Blade Runner is an amalgam of the detective fiction and the science fiction genres, from the start we enter a world of hardened, embittered characters who’s humanity is questionable, whether or not they have been synthesized in the laboratory or born from the womb.  It is this narrow, metallic, key-hole into the future which gives the series its dystopian flair.  None of the characters are particularly empathetic, and even Dekard (Harrison Ford) only engages our attention due to his dogged professional integrity.  Such, to be sure, is the stuff of hard boiled detective fiction, but Blade Runner carries the theme to ironic heights, since its central mechanism is the bullying, intrusive and literally dehumanizing “empathy test” which operates as a psychological sieve to separate natural humans from rogue replicants.

If you have seen the original movie you know how this works out.  The sequel provides some unexpected relief, presenting us with a character who seems genuinely empathetic and likable, moreover one who is exempt from tests, since her status is beyond dispute.  Her name is Joi, and she is neither a human being nor a replicant but an artificial intelligence, initially embedded in the circuitry of her master’s (Agent K’s) apartment, but early in the story liberated into a portable unit which enables her to accompany K’s misadventures in the physical world.  K is a melancholy “tame” replicant who has been assigned blade runner duty for the Los Angeles police.  It is Joi who is instrumental in fostering a sense of self-esteem in K, and indeed introducing him to the notion that he is more human than the humans.

The introduction of Joi as a major character changes and deepens the previous Blade Runner narrative, albeit in a direction which would no doubt have earned the approval of Phillip K. Dick himself.  It also tips the hand of the storyteller (or storytellers) and reveals an important Gnostic premise behind the drama.  With the introduction of Joi, the replicants are no longer the alien “others” who negatively define humanity.  Rather, in the sequel, replicants and humans emerge as rival tribes of corporal beings, separated only by mode of creation/procreation and by class subordination.  It is Joi who is the true alien, and in welcome relief, a good alien.  Nor does it hurt, at least from a male (natural or artificial) point of view, that her holographic projection is easy on the eyes, a kind of pixie-in-the-ether who is the perfect Tinkerbell companion for a bad boy.  Whether visible or barely audible (her ring-tone is the overture from Peter and the Wolf) she haunts the screen from beginning to end.  Moreover, hers is a very benevolent haunting.  Or is it?

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is the path along which Gnosticism wishes to lead our minds.  Indeed, it may be the path our minds wish to take, independently of any Gnostic propaganda.  The idea of being independent of material reality, not just for the joy (Joi?) of a painless Nirvana, but as a precondition of moral superiority, is perilously attractive.  Furthermore, the idea that only a disembodied, ethereal being could be perfectly selfless, perfectly altruistic, has a certain inescapable logic to it.  Unfortunately, such ideas imply the complementary notion that material existence is the source of all evil.  To be sure, neither species of corporial being, human or replicant, come off very well in Blade Runner 2049.  Some might dispute this, on the grounds of the revolutionary claptrap spouted by the replicant resistance, but I find it hard to believe that the replicant utopia would be much of an improvement on the tyrannical human status quo.  In short, the narrative forces one into an attitude of pessimism for the future of corporal beings in general.  That, my friends, is pure Gnosticism.

If it were not for revelation, and doctrines such as creation and the incarnation, reasoning heads would be hard put to refute the moral superiority of immaterial being.  Yet even in the movie, we can see the insubstantial (pun intended) quality of the Gnostic thesis.  By the end of the movie, K is confronted with a giant, pornographic advertisement in Joi’s image, and it seems to dawn on him that the lure of immaterial love is an illusion.  Literally, a sweet nothing!

Point Two: The Great Creation Hijack

Although the Blade Runner formula may be described as two parts science fiction and one part detective mystery, none the less, we need to add a generous dash of Mary Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein to season the brew.  The story’s import hinges on an attitude which must shared by both producers audience, the notion that “something abominable is afoot.”  To be sure, this sense of abomination would have been more clearly defined in 1983 than in 2017, but it persists.  We can’t just dismiss this feeling as revulsion to the phenomenon of artificial life, sometimes called the “uncanny valley” effect, or the chagrin that one feels when one has been “faked out” by an AI bot posing as a human.  Rather, it involves serious questions about human origins, questions which would arise even if the issue of artificial life were moot.

The loathsome Mr. Wallace, heir to Mr. Tyrell as CEO of the human-manufacturing cartel, is also heir to Tyrell’s role as villain.  Just as Tyrell is less sympathetic than the original Dr. Frankenstein, Wallace is everything evil in Tyrell raised to the umpteenth power.  From a Christian point of view we could say that Wallace is a cinematic representation of Satan.  However, keeping in mind that Blade Runner is a work of Gnostic fiction, there are quite a few mythic details to fill in, keeping in mind that in Gnosticism the character and roles of God and Satan are frequently transposed.  Without too much overstatement, we might say that in Gnosticism it is Satan (or a God very much like Satan) who has created the world, and the good God (the Christ-God) who has rebelled against him.

Satan or not, Wallace is assuredly the blind Gnostic creator-god.  This has nothing to do, except symbolically, with the absence of eyes in his head, since Wallace has enhanced himself with visual sensors far surpassing the optical acuity of average humans.  As the paragon of entrepreneurship Wallace is a creative visionary, yet his vision does not extend to omniscience nor does he have the power to thwart the designs of those who have either retained (Dekard) or discovered (Agent K) their faculty of free will.  It is his blindness towards the outcomes of the future, and the associated impotence, which enrages Wallace, and he is apt to take out his frustrations in murderous retribution against his own creations.

Yet, even given the certitude that Wallace represents the principle of evil, the question of why, and indeed whether, the replicants are an abomination remains paramount.   We can’t grapple with this issue without taking a side glance at the problems of creation and evolution.  However rather than taking sides in an empirical dispute among natural scientific theories, let’s look at how each theory, assuming it were true, would effect the question of property rights, and specifically property rights as related to humans.  This is the ethical dilemma which Blade Runner is forcing us to confront.  It is not that we are dealing with Frankenstein monsters, but rather property rights over human beings, which to modern sensibilities is a more abominable condition than mere monstrosity.

Let us begin with the assumption that to make something is to own it.  Some might dispute this premise, which was popularized by (not invented by) John Locke.  Whatever you may think about it, this premise is a powerful assumption without which it is almost impossible to frame inquiries into the origin of rights.  Now to a secular thinker the question “Who owns the universe?” would be dismissed as nonsensical.  A theist who is not a creationist, might very well consider the question, but answer “nobody” since his god and the universe might exist co-eternally.  However a consistent creationist, one who acknowledged what we call (for purposes of convenience) the Lockean principle, would have to admit that God owns the universe.  This is, to unredeemed  human beings, a terribly offensive statement, for it implies that, as creatures, we are owned by God.

Secularists, unless they are mad, understand that they are not the authors of their own existence. Rather, they ascribe their existence to procreation (sexual generation) and quite logically, extend the chain of procreation backward, effectively, towards infinity.  Thus, at least to the satisfaction of their own mind, they are able to elude the tyranny of a God who has made them and owns rights over them.  However they are not able to elude the principle of maker-rights, and in this case it is the rights of parents over children.  Modernists were not the  first to recognize and, quite rightly, condemn the abuses which once accompanied the practices of the patriarchal (and in some cases the matriarchal) principle, for in pagan society this amounted to the rights of life and death over one’s offspring.  Modernity, which has engendered idolatry of a contrary ilk, has simply plagerized the Hebrew prophets’ diatribes against the child-devouring Molochs of antiquity.

In contrast, those who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob affirm the creation of an initial pair of humans followed by an open ended sequence of generations which multiply through procreation.  As illustrated by the story of the Binding of Isaac (which in Jewish traditon is called the Akedah) , God, not Abraham, has the ultimate power over Isaac’s life, but significantly, he did not use that power.  Thus freedom, according to Judeo-Christian faith, is a space created by the dual authority of two principles and two processes: Natural and human law,  creation and procreation.

However in the modern period, scientific utopians, jealous of God and inspired by the old golem myths of the kabbalists (Jewish Gnosticism) began to dream of the manufacture of artificial life, intelligent or otherwise.  This reverses the formula of the Bible, so that procreation, rather than succeeding creation, proceeds it.  The original Blade Runner gives artistic expression to this latter world-view, treating the theme with enough cynicism to render it dystopian.  Finally, Blade Runner 2049 comes full circle with the sequence procreation–>creation–>procreation.

This is a creationism of a Gnostic stripe, a blind manufacting  set within the infinite time of a self-existent universe, a universe which provides working materials, but no blueprint for ethics.  It should be evident that this is a formula for slavery rather than freedom.  As dramatized by Blade Runner 2049, the creation of artificial humanity leads is portrayed as a tragic and barbaric act because Wallace is only a creating creature, not the uncreated Creator.  He is the maker, or what the original Gnostics called the “demiurgos.”  His ownership of his creatures is, in some sense, legitimate, yet it will tend in the direction of tyranny since, as inhabitants of the same time-space continuum, creator and creatures are related to one another in such a way that their self-interest is likely to come into conflict.  Unlike God in the Sacrifice of Isaac, Wallace will not stay the knife.

Point Three: The Level Playing Field

Gnosticism shares a principle in common with detective fiction, the principle of suspense.  This is good storytelling but bad theology.  The Bible, for all it excellent qualities, is not a book of suspense.  We can study the Scriptures in terms of its final purposes, from Revelation back to Genesis, or, as is more common, in chronological order.  We need not fear offending the Author by reading out of sequence, for unlike Agatha Christie, Philip K. Dick, et al, He is outside of time, and his narrative is a done deal.

Neither Hollywood nor the market for pulp fiction can endure that kind of finality.  That is why, even when Hollywood is trying its level best to speak with a Christian voice, it comes out garbled, and uttered in the idiom of Gnosticism.  Hollywood knows that audiences crave suspense more than they crave the sovereignty of God.  We want to see Dekkard or Agent K racing around in flying cars towards an uncertain destiny.  We will put up with a dissonant soundtrack that sounds like it badly needs a trip to the muffler shop, precisely because it grates on our nerves and puts us “on edge” expecting the next twist of the apocalypse.  Most of all, we don’t want to see the devil completely defeated, because if he is, that means there will be no sequel.

Indeed, Gnosticism has its own “fairness doctrine” in which there is a god of good and a god of evil, and they get to slug it out, perhaps with occasional intermissions and a half-time show.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looks down from heaven, and he laughs!  What a laugh He must have at fools such as us, if we think that the future of the world is somehow up for grabs.  True, Satan is in some sense the god of society, but God is the author of nature.  In any contest between nature and society there can no doubt as to the outcome.

Still, that doesn’t stop people from trying.  One of the distinctive qualities of the both Blade Runner films is how they picture the near abolition of nature by society and technology.  It is the hyper-urban atmosphere which lends these films their sinister beauty, their portrayal of a world in which even the rural landscapes are nothing more than extended city skylines, factories or wastelands.  None the less, even if the Devil seems to be winning on the level of esthetics, the narrative is forced to bow a knee towards the final victory of the good.  In the end (I warned you about spoilers, right?) the son dies for the father, and the sacrifice seems to clear the way, if not for the ultimate victory of good over evil, at least for a sequel to the sequel.  All in all, pretty good for a Gnostic flick.  Personally, I would give it a five star rating.

That is, five stars by the standards of this world.  Keep in mind that father Abraham, gazing at the sky, counted a lot more than five.

 

 

 

 

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Outer Space, Upper Space and Living Space

Posted by nouspraktikon on October 27, 2017

On Earth as it is in Heaven

This is the simple petition, recited, in whatever language, by every Christian child who has ever been taught the rudiments of prayer.  Of course it refers primarily to the return  of Jesus, when he will rule the world in his Father’s name.  As such, it refers to time, some future time, hopefully soon (though we don’t know) which theologians call “eschatological time.”  But notice that the familiar phrase also implies a view of space as well as time.  It isn’t just chronological, it is geographical (or rather, “cosmographical”) as well.  Everyone agrees that Heaven is “up” not of course, in the old Aristotelian sense, but in every other meaningful sense…hence the salient question remains: Are we going up to meet it or is it coming down to meet us?

Answer: In Heaven as it is on Earth….not!

Yet, every unsanctified human instinct and endeavor works in the opposite direction to the petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer.  That is the philosophy implicit in the phrase, “outer space.”  The space beyond the Earth might be beautiful, but it is held to be profoundly lacking.  What does it lack?  It lacks us!  It lacks intelligence.  It lacks the teeming creativity of the space between the two human ears.  It lacks the cozy cohabitation of the human race and its carbon-based companions.  It needs to be mastered, and made part of the household economy of Earth.

By itself outer space is supposed to be a void…but it is held capable of being worked up into something grand if we are willing to rise to the challenge of a “new frontier”…an ideology which is as appealing as it is contrary to the word of God.  Remember that Adam was commanded to subdue the Earth, not space.  Modern thinkers have reversed this imperative.  The ecologists tell us that our species must subordinate itself to the purposes of the Earth.  Simultaneously our entrepreneurs tell us that Humanity must transform outer space into our living space.  They operate on the premise that space, like God, is dead.  Neither are.

Space is alive.  Few have captured the significance of this as well as C.S. Lewis in his masterful science fiction overture Out of the Silent Planet.  His lead character, having been abducted (not by aliens) onto a spaceship, has time to meditate on the mendacity of the modern prejudice towards what are rightfully called “the Heavens.”

A nightmare, long engendered by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off of him.  He had read of “Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, of the utter darkness, which was supposed to separate the worlds.  He had not known how much it had affected him until now–now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead’: he felt life pouring into him from it every moment.  How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come?  He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, those blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes–and here with how many more!  No: space was the wrong name.  (Out of the Silent Planet, p. 34)

When earthlings adopt the “new frontier” mentality it is a tacit demand for more living space.  It is thought that perhaps we can avoid our earthly problems if we can just expand the economy into the cosmos.  The danger of this thinking is that “we” are rapidly losing our grip on who “we” are.  Space habitation is more likely to transform “us” into something post-human.  To be sure, humanity is in bad need of transformation, but care should be taken to understand whether specific transformations are for the better or worse.  Do we strive after Heaven, or do we wait upon Heaven to transform the Earth?  Which of these strategies smacks of pride and the wrong sort of domination?

While we may yearn for more living space, a circumspect cosmology informs us that the Heavens are already alive.  As a consolation, we have the promise that we will inherit both Heaven and Earth eventually.  If we are willing to wait.

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Is Shakespeare’s Coriolanus a key for our crises?

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 30, 2017

Shakespeare’s unknown Roman play and what it bodes for us

With its popularity trailing far behind Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus is perplexing on a number of levels.  Not lacking in ether violence or passion, the bard’s not-so-secret formulae for success, Coriolanus seems saturated with the wrong sort of passion, and by comparison to that  other dark horse, Titus Andronicus, not nearly violent enough to make an Elizabethan B-grade movie worthwhile.  Coriolanus features a Rome without romance.  Women, yes, men, yes…but in the form of a nagging mother, and a wife long past the honeymoon stage, these against a background of uncountable war widows.  In other words, it focuses on the reality of relationships, not their rosy initiation.  Today people might, out of a sense of guilt, be willing to pay to see that kind of fare, but the Elizabethans were far too sensible to put up with it.   Yet they put up with Coriolanus, and so should we, for in that play Shakespeare is telling us a story which is political in a way that is far different from his other productions. It is closer to instruction than entertainment, although, for those with an eye for the nuances of history, far more interesting than simple entertainment.   Furthermore I maintain that Coriolanus speaks to us today in a prophetic voice that few past generations could have decoded.  After a few preliminaries, I will attempt a decoding…with what success, you may be the judge.

There is a difference between narratives where politics is embedded in human (especially sexual) relationships and those stories where relationships are embedded in politics.   Yes, and I know that “embedded” will be taken as a bad pun!  None the less, we don’t go to see Anthony and Cleopatra because we want to understand how the Second Triumvirate unraveled.  For the Elizabethan, sex and circuses were still an intermission within the normal life of the body politic.  Above sex, circuses, work, and all the other activities of civil society was the dreadful, and indeed numenous, question of sovereignty.  I say numenous since sovereignty entailed not just power over life and death, but, keeping in mind that the Reformation was still playing itself out, possibly power over eternal life and eternal death.  Thus, the dark shadow of the Tower of London fell across the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, at least mentally, if not quite physically.  For frequenters of the Globe, politics was close, perhaps closer than for all the intervening generations between them and us, we whom are beset by social media, and for whom politics is becoming all-in-all.  Against this dreadful background, theatergoers were torn between the drive to escapism and the drive to understand.  Arguably, Coriolanus satisfies the latter urge.

Not only that, but in addition to being political rather than erotic, Coriolanus is political in a way which is uncharacteristic of Shakespeare, and shows a surprising grasp of issues which one might have surmised were far beyond his scope of knowledge and interests.  Arguably, Coriolanus is the only Shakespearean play in which the dramatic action takes place in the context of a still-vigorous constitutional republic.  Normally, we expect a Shakespearean narrative to take place against a feudal background.  Even where the background is nominally republican, it is likely to be a Venetian facad or a Rome in transition to empire.  After all, Shakespeare was a subject of the Tudor, and briefly, Stuart, dynasties.  Yet Coriolanus reveals that Shakespeare was fully capable of appreciating the problems of electoral politics in a state where sovereignty was divided among different authorities.  A deeper look as Shakespeare’s life and times will soon show that he had a good knowledge of 16th century Italy, where republican institutions, though mostly usurped, were still a living memory.  Furthermore, he lived at a time of emerging republican sentiment in northern Europe, stimulated by the Reformation, and various constitutional experiments, conducted by the armed prophets of the more radical (Calvinistic, Zwiglian, Anabaptist etc.) branches of the Reformation.  But whether due to his sources, contemporary events or the universal solvent of his imagination, the bard could write with conviction and with empathy about life in a republican context.

Now, allow me to briefly spoil the play for you.  Apart from eccentrics (e.g., myself) and undergraduates under harsh curricular discipline, few will ever pick up the written play, and even fewer are likely to see a stage enactment, so spoiling is eminently justified.  If you know the ways of the bard you won’t be surprised to learn that he lifted the plot from Plutarch.  Plutarch in turn based his narrative on events which allegedly happened around 493BC in Rome.  This wasn’t our Hollywood Rome of the glittering marble temples, rather, it was a village, or perhaps a federation of villages, built of mud and straw and unified by a surrounding fortification, a wall or a ditch, allegedly built by Romulus, founder of the city.  None the less, this early Rome was already showing signs of its future destiny, encroaching on the surrounding tribes and subjecting them to its sovereignty.  Most importantly, for understanding Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, the Roman state was already divided among distinct socioeconomic classes, notably the plebian class and the senatorial class.  Furthermore, the fundamentals of the state’s constitutional order had recently been consolidated, with a republic being declared one generation prior with the expulsion of the last monarch, King Tarquin.

Going by the standard sources, mainly Plutarch, the most successful Roman military leader (a.k.a. “general”) around the year 493BC was a certain Caius Martius .  As per already established Roman custom, he acquired the cognomin “Coriolanus” when he conquered Coriolus, a city of the hostile Volciian federation.  Of course, there are recent critics who claim that Coriolanus is entirely mythical.  I don’t know on what grounds this is maintained, but I do know that making these claims is a great way to gain notoriety and possibly promotion in the academic world.  Indeed, I would wager that Coriolanus was not only an actual historical person, but that about 80% of Shakespeare’s dialogue gives us, while certainly not a verbatum transcript  of what transpired in 493BC, at least the gist of the historically salient events.  The contemporary reader of Shakespeare has to be tolerant of his occasional anachronisms, and keep in mind that the historical Coriolanus was speaking proto-Latin (significantly, intelligible to nearby Italian tribes) not Elizabethan English…and of course wearing neither a ruff collar nor buckled shoes.

Even so, if anyone wants to doubt the historical existence of Coriolanus (the person) it need have no bearing on the value of Coriolanus (Shakespeare’s narrative) as useful matrix for political thought.  To that end, all we need is a capsule summary of the the story’s highlights.  The play begins as Coriolanus, a Roman senator, returns victorious from beating the Volcii, and capturing one of their cities Coriolus.  He is promoted by his friends as candidate for counsel, the supreme magistrate of the Roman republic.  However Coriolanus refuses to make the obligatory and traditional appeal to the masses (the plebs) by showing his war wounds publicly.  The representatives of the pleb class, the tribunes, distrust Coriolanus from the start, knowing that he despises the common people as cowards and moochers on the public purse.  The inability of Coriolanus to change his public image by pandering to the masses gives the tribunes an excuse to revoke the election of Coriolanus to the consulate.  This causes a row with Coriolanus counter-claiming that the tribunal authority has been abused and that the office of tribune should be abolished.  Through all these altercations both the friends, i.e., senatorial class peers, and family (mother and wife) of Coriolanus urge their stubborn leader to tone down his rhetoric and appease the common people with flattery, or at least tolerance.  These attempts fail to make any headway with the proud and stubborn Coriolanus.  The issue is decided in favor of exiling Coriolanus, on the grounds that he was plotting to unilaterally change the constitution (abolishing the institution of the plebs’ tribunes) albeit exile is a milder sentence in lieu of capital punishment.  Bitter and seeking revenge, the exiled Coriolanus shows up at the doorstep of his, and Rome’s, arch-enemy Tullus Aufidius, leader of Antium, chief city of the Volcian federation.  Coriolanus offers to join his invincible military skills with that of Aufidius in a war against Rome.  Aufidius agrees and together they conduct a successful military campaign all the way up to the gates of Rome.  The terrified Romans send out emissaries to Coriolanus asking him to have mercy on his own people.  Coriolanus, in character, refuses all attempts at compromise and threatens to sack the city.  At last his mother and wife come out of the gates to beg mercy from their son and husband.  Moved to pity by this maternal and conjugal appeal, Coriolanus at last relents.  Hence the Roman General of the Volcii, having liberated the lands that Rome had taken from her enemies, even though sparing Rome itself, returns to Antium, expecting to be hailed as a hero.  However Aufidius, jealous of being overshadowed by his Roman ally, gathers together conspirators from those who’s families were harmed by Coriolanus during his earlier, anti-Volcian, campaigns.  They assassinate Coriolanus in the public square of Antium.  As soon as they are satisfied by the death of Coriolanus, their mood instantly changes and they decide to grant full honors in burial to him as a military genius and ally.  Thus ends the play.

Pondering this old story from the perspective of the here and now, situations and personalities jump out which are disturbingly familiar.  The old saw about history repeating itself tempts us to judgement.  And yet…not quite so fast, for as soon as we think we have recognized a familiar face, the image dissolves into a kaleidoscope of incoherent fragments.  Therefore it will behoove us, before we join in the chorus of moral indignation, to familiarize ourselves with some classical political concepts.  Don’t worry, I will soon lead you to where we all want to go…an encounter with the clear and present dangers, here in America, now in the 21st century.  But if we want Coriolanus to serve us faithfully as a tool of political analogy to our own times, we will have to take a leisurely stroll through the forum of political conflict.  Then, perhaps, we will be able to separate ideas from innuendo.

The Fourfold Root of Classical Political Analysis

Why is Coriolanus important?  Not, as Freudian critics might wish, because it yields novel insights on the mother-child relation.  Indeed, not due to the depth of any of  its corporal characters or their mutual esteem or lack thereof.   Rather, the republic itself, is a kind of intangible lead character in its own right. Coriolanus is important because it deals exhaustively with the problem of sovereignty.  Our contemporaries have lost sight of the ultimate significance of sovereignty, and would rather avoid its correlative truth, which divides the ethical world into four parts, two pertaining to the sovereign, and two to the subject.  If the fundamental concept of politics is sovereignty then all permutations on politics will pertain to valuations of either the sovereign or the subject, which may be expressed as positive and negative couplets.  The classical term for wicked sovereignty is tyranny, while the classical term for the condition of being a wicked subject is treason.  Conversely, the good subject is the loyal subject.   The only terminological issue is how to characterize the antithesis of tyranny.  Coming at the end, not of history, but of Whig history, libertarians and conservatives are apt to characterize the couplet as liberty vs. tyranny.  However this opposition, however dear to us it might be, is not as robust a characterization as the classical usage which simply contrasted tyranny with justice.  So our classical couplets are justice/tyranny and loyalty/treason.  Obviously we can schematize this as a four cell diagram and use it as a general framework for any political situation involving sovereignty. This might refer to this as a political quadrilateral, namely, tyranny:justice::loyalty:treason.

I have outlined what seems to me the common sense framework for understanding politics.  However, there are numerous others,such as the Marxist interpretations. There are infinite variations on modern positivist and quantitative political analysis, some of which, and I am thinking particularly of the Public Choice school, have considerable merit.  Then there is Leo Strauss and his school, which sees misdirection, obscurity and esoteric meaning behind every political movement and manifesto.  While all these claim to be schools of politics, for none of them is sovereignty paradigmatic, rather, they embrace a bevy of other notions such as class struggle, human choice, literary deception, or simple “force.”  Any of these might be, for all I know, the key to the kingdom, but they differ from the classical consensus about the state and sovereignty.  The latter was a useful tool in the days of Aristotle and also those of Cicero, and it was also the mental window through which Shakespeare’s audience enjoyed and understood his political works, plays such as Coriolanus.  Even today, it still lies at the bottom of libertarian and conservative political theory, but usually in tacit form.

Armed with this classical framework, we should be able to read Coriolanus as something other than a simple morality play.  To be sure, our purpose should be to extract some moral conclusions from the work, however it will not be a “morality play” in the sense of positing a war between predetermined “children of light” and “children of darkness” from the outset.  We shall be called upon to judge, but our judgement should strive to be Christian, not Manichean.

First I will show how one could treat Coriolanus using a populist-leftist formula, and subsequently show how the same material could be used as the apology for a dictator.  Neither of these completely faithful to Shakespeare’s narrative, and both are unedifying for contemporary political discourse.  They both stop short of recognizing that  the dramatic action in the play consists of an exchange of places between the tribunes and Coriolanus who are each in turn tyrannical and just, loyal and treasonous to the Roman state and its constitution.  In other words, if we go beyond persons to principles we will see that there is no one character or group of characters who personifies either justice or tyranny.  Rather, in unpleasant reflection of both past and  current politics, the protagonists exhibit, by turns, integrity or corruption of character depending on their ever-changing relationship to the political order.

 

How to misinterpret Coriolanus, Personality over Principle, the Left-Wing variation, “The tyrant exposed.”

Unfortunately, Marxism (defined as including those schools which are derived from it) seems to be the main highway of contemporary literary interpretation, preeminent on account of popularity, ease of understanding, and safe passage through the labyrinth of academic acceptability.  Honestly, I don’t have any particular critic in mind, but the method is so obvious that you or I can quickly whip up a dissertation with all the aplomb of a literary short order cook.  For starters, we can take it as axiomatic that Coriolanus is a simple tale of conflict between good and evil, between the masses of humanity and fascism.   It is an edifying and cautionary bit of ancient lore, featuring a particularly obnoxious villain as its protagonist.  The moral?  Stick on the right side of history and “the People”…or risk an unpleasant end.

Because the theme of Coriolanus is perennial, the left-wing critic need never fear obsolescence or  lack of employment, since in every generation the nuances of politics will easily reduce themselves to the same common denominator.  All that needs to be done is to find your man, your Coriolanus, your aristocratic bully, and voala! therein lies the contemporary political analogy.  But today, circa 2017, there is no need to search around for a scapegoat since ubiquitous Trump-hatred makes the choice obvious.  We all know that Donald J. Trump is bad, and with just the right reading of Coriolanus we might actually discover, if not precisely why he is bad, certainly just how bad he truly is.

While, obviously, I am being sarcastic toward the left-wing method, I am not saying that it is completely inaccurate.  Since left-wing literary criticism is always a species of propaganda, it behooves us to remember that effective propaganda must invoke a sufficient array of sound facts and verities to convince the target audience.  There is something incontestably sound in the identification of Donald Trump with Martius Caius Coriolanus.  We easily see the blowhard egoist in both, and frequent resonances of an all too familiar and obstinate pride in Shakespeare’s prose.  Coriolanus, like Trump, is not willing to stick to anyone’s script, however well intended or lovingly suggested.

A very little I have yielded to.  Fresh embassies and suits,  Nor from the state nor private friends, hereafter will I lend an ear to.  Coriolanus Act. 5, scene 3

But there is more to both Donald Trump, and even Coriolanus himself, than pure villainy.  The problem for the left-wing method is that it dare not go beyond this initial purview, lest the power of moral condemnation be dissipated within the complexities of the play.  It is only a safe method as long as the critic is restricted, either freely or under duress, to the stereotypes of class conflict.  It doesn’t particularly matter how these classes are defined, whether as a classical proletariat or the numerous victim classes of contemporary cultural Marxism.  What is important is that everything be seen from the point of view of distributive justice, that is, an unequal distribution of “stuff” among concrete persons and groups of people.

Now as the left-wing critic would surmise, Coriolanus has lots of “stuff” which the plebs lack.  Naturally, a significant part of this rests on an economic foundation, and an important conflict within both the play, and the early Rome which it portrays, was the bread dole for the non-landed citizens.  Whether to provide or withdraw this entitlement serves as an initial ground for the conflict between Coriolanus and the tribunes of the people.  However the most prominent “stuff” which Coriolanus flaunts, and the tribunes envy, are the intangibles of life such as dignity, reputation, virtue (especially courage) and power.  It is the attacks on these intangible disparities which drives Coriolanus to fits of self-justification, therefore confirming his status as a “hater” according to the nomenclature of modern leftism. Thus Shakespeare portrays him as cursing the common man, and under the only condition that Coriolanus would stand a chance to respect: man-at-arms.

You souls of geese, that bear the shapes of men, how have you run from slaves that apes would beat!  Pluto and hell!  All hurt behind.  Backs red, and faces pale with flight and augued fear!  Mend, and charge home, or by the fires of heaven I’ll leave my foe and make my wars on you.  ibid, Act 1., scene 4.

Vitrolic words, but prophetic ones as well!  For we observe General Coriolanus progressing from “international” conflict to internecine class conflict and finally waging war on Rome itself as a kind of one-man government in exile.

The list of putative villains, especially of the “fascist” ilk, could be extended almost indefinitely.  But Donald J. Trump?  Really?  Yes, really, albeit in a reality which is dictated by the rules of left-wing interpretation.  You see, the secret of left-wing interpretation is that it isn’t interpretation at all, rather, it is what more properly is called imputation.  The difference between interpretation and imputation is that interpretation uses observation and induction to guess the nature of external things, while imputation determines unilaterally the nature of external things based on its own unchallenged and supreme judgement.  A good example of imputation, and the one most germane to our inquiry, is the indisputable (within the sphere of political correctness) fact that Donald Trump is a fascist.  True, Donald Trump might be mentally and emotionally opposed to fascism, and his actions might also be inimical to fascism, but none of these factors count from the point of view of left-wing criticism.  The criteria of left-wing criticism regarding whether a person is a fascist or not, lies in whether fascism has been imputed to the person in question by the left-wing critic.  Of course the critic does not exercise any autonomous authority, but rather exercises a mandate, within the bounds of a specialized field, derived from the collective will of society.  The collective will of society, in turn, derived its authority over reality by displacing the sovereignty which had once been the prerogative of God.

 

 

How to misinterpret Coriolanus, pt. 2 Personality over Principle, Right-wing version, “The strong man pushed out” or “The scapegoat.”

 

Coriolanus starts off his career as a harsh but just military taskmaster.  That he is a hero of the republic is admitted not only by his peers in the senatorial class but even the common people, although the tribunes are uncomfortable with this admiration and seek to subvert it.  However Coriolanus gets into the danger zone when he, at the behest of his friends, begins to seek high civil office.  Although the masses of the people recognize his merits, they are offended by the aristocratic pride which is inseparable from the career of a roman warrior during the early republic.

The symbolic gesture, or rather non-gesture, which brings this antagonism to a crisis, is the ritual showing of the warrior’s wounds, an acceptable “political advertisement” in early Rome which is all but guaranteed to secure office for a qualified (i.e., wounded) candidate.  Coriolanus is over-qualified, with more than a score of war-wounds to his credit, but he refuses to show them in public, on the grounds that this would be pandering to the sentiments of the masses.  The refusal of Coriolanus to remove his robe might be  mischaracterized as  “a failure of disclosure.”  This, however, is one instance where a concrete action reverses the psychological reality behind the symbol.  If Coriolanus had divested himself of his robe and shown his wounds, he would have joined the ranks of candidates who were willing to purger themselves behind a mask of false humility.  However in failing to remove his clothes Coriolanus actually exposes his psychological nudity, revealing to the masses his proud contempt for their opinions.  A possible modern misinterpretation, though far closer to the spirit of the events than any anachronistic  notion of bodily modesty, would be that Coriolanus was “refusing to play the victim card.”  On the contrary, these ancient wounds were a source of pride, like the “fruit salad” ribbons worn on modern uniforms.  Remember that this (5thc.BC Italy) was still a primitive era and military decorations for the Roman army were far in the future.  In the mind of Coriolanus, the wounds were not too cruel, but too honorable, to be exhibited in public.  The non-landed classes had not earned the right to view them.

Although this is a major turning point early on in the drama, it does not manifest a clear division in the body politic over legitimacy or sovereignty.  There are as yet no clear tyrants or traitors.  The refusal of Coriolanus to reveal his wounds is a breach of custom, not the constitution.  It hurts his electoral chances, but not so badly that he doesn’t squeak by to victory at the polls.  The common people, or at least the politically aware among them, are deeply offended by the attitude of Coriolanus.  However offense is a psychological state, not an institutional reality.  Shakespeare shows himself wiser than our Postmodernist philosophers, and never conflates public action and objective states of affairs with the psychological reactions of his characters.  His masterful art in portraying the latter shows that this is not the result of an inability to portray mental states, but a respect for the independence of public institutions from subjective consciousness.  Significantly, in the play which bears his name, Coriolanus never engages in soliloquy, which further encourages us in the belief that this drama is fundamentally about political actions and institutions rather than psychology or human nature in general.

Actual constitutional problems start to arise in Coriolanus when the tribunes, further appraised of Coriolanus’ intended austerity and disciplinary program, threaten to revoke their election of him as councilor magistrate, Rome’s highest civil office.  Arguably, the tribunes have, through violation of due process, put themselves in a potentially seditious posture.  They are understandably incensed at what they consider a threat to the interests of the class which they represent, but this does not justify voiding the election.  One of the tribunes warns of Coriolanus,

Did you perceive he did solicit you in free contempt when he did need your loves, and do you not think that his contempt will not be bruising to you when he has power to crush. ibid, Act. 2, scene 3

The senatorial class rallies around Coriolanus and, for a while he is saved from the crowd, albeit his office is in jeopardy.  Due to the the impetuous and possibly unconstitutional stance of the tribunes, the impeached consular magistrate is in a position of relative strength which his friends and family urge him to capitalize on through a judicious and moderate appeal to the public.

Instead of moderating his tone, the irascible Coriolanus ups the ante by calling for the abolition of the people’s tribunes.  Now it is Coriolanus himself who seems to be threatening the constitutional order, hindering his friends from saving his career and possibly his life.  A decree of exile is passed, and Coriolanus leaves Rome, a putative tyrant but still not a traitor.  The final step is taken when he arrives at Antium and offers his services to Aufidius, the premier military leader within the Volcian federation.  As Coriolanus himself explains the situation,

Farewell, O world, thy slippery turns!  Friends now fast sworn, who’s double bosoms seem to wear one heart, whose hours, whose bed, whose meal and exercise are still together, who twin as ’twere in love unseparable, shall within this hour, on the dissension of a doit break out to bitterest enmity; so fellest foes, whose passions and who’s plots have broke their sleep to take the one the other, by some chance, some trick not worth an egg, shall grow dear friends and interjoin their issues.  So with me, my birthplace hate I, and my love’s upon this enemy town.  I’ll enter.  If he slays me, he does fair justice; if he give me way, I’ll do his country service. ibid, Act 4, scene 4

This is the penultimate turn, with Coriolanus cast as traitor against just Rome.  Unfortunately for Coriolanus, the potentially ultimate turn of events, which would have featured the sack of Rome as the epitome of a tyrannical city, and the apotheosis of its conqueror as the incarnation of justice, is averted by the timely supplication of his wife and mother.  Failing to nip Rome in the bud, the reputation of Coriolanus is hence fixed in amber as not so much a tragic as a pathetic figure.

However one must question whether, even if Coriolanus had sacked Rome, whether his action would have been rendered just simply on account of his success.  Indeed, Shakespeare’s play is a testament against the “might makes right” philosophy which the left has inherited from Machiavelli.  In the end Coriolanus recognizes that triumph over his native city would have been an empty victory, and there are higher principles of justice than military success and avenged pride.  The tendency of modern criticism, influenced by Freud and feminism, is to highlight the relationship between Coriolanus and his mother, and indeed much can, and has been, said in that regard.  However the general’s abdication of final victory can also be seen as a surrender to higher principles of political morality, albeit the sanctioning power of this Platonic ideal is conveyed through the very tangible force of maternal and conjugal affection.

This principle of justice restrains both collectives as well as individuals.  The minions of Coriolanus refer to him as an “engine” which in Shakespeare’s English means a siege mechanism such as a battering ram or a siege tower.  When the “engine” comes to a halt before appeals to pity, we have a good example of a “right wing dictator” being stopped in his tracks.  However we have also observed that tyranny and justice are categories which can be occupied by the same people or groups of people successively.  Significantly “democracy” is a word which never drops from the lips of the tribunes, although it would have been totally within their character to use the term.  Rather, Shakespeare shares with most pre-Enlightenment thinkers a wary suspicion of what has, since Rousseau, been called the general will.  Although the late modern terms “democracy” and “general will” were not current in Renaissance times, Shakespeare and his contemporaries were well aware of the general formula.  Thus a tribune declares,

What is a city but its people.   ibid, Act 3, scene 1

The events which transpire throughout the drama show that Shakespeare, though recognizing the populist formula as a truism, was keenly aware of the mischief which results when raising it to a supreme political principle.  The rejoinder of Coriolanus, though he speaks as an antagonist, and no doubt a villain in the eyes of the tribunes, utters verity when he cynically observes,

That is the way to lay the city flat, to bring the roof to the foundation and bury all which yet distinctly ranges in heaps and piles of ruins.    ibid.

Principles above Personalities: The Constitutional Reading

Both the action of the tribunes and the action of Coriolanus, taken to their extremes, threaten to ruin the city.  The injured pride of the general, unchecked, will burn the city to the ground in vengeance, while the envy of the tribunes, in promoting a forced equality, threatens to reduce the order of society to chaos.  In spite of their atavistic tendencies, neither the tribunes, nor Coriolanus, nor any of the other characters can escape the equilibrium of the political quadrilateral, namely, justice:tyranny::loyalty:treason.  Loyalty to justice is treason to tyranny, while treason to tyranny is loyalty to justice.  The principles involved are transparent, however the placement of particular individuals and groups within the quadrilateral are, at least in real life, opaque.  One virtue of the stage is that heroes and villains can reveal their status with impunity to the audience.  Shakespeare is notoriously complicated, and instead of heroes and villains we often get synthetic hero/villains.  So in a psychological play like Hamlet these compound characters lend themselves to a kind of psycho-analysis, with fragments of the protagonist’s mind in constant motion.  However Coriolanus is a political play, and the various dramatis personae, while retaining their unity of character, move about within the space of the political quadrilateral, being treasonous villains in one instance, and loyal heroes the next.  Now, if you don’t see something very contemporary about this, I suggest you may be living on a desert island.

There is no better support for this assertion than to note how Coriolanus would have been a tragedy even if, or especially if, the treasonous general had been unconvinced by the supplications of his wife and mother.  If Coriolanus had sacked Rome he probably would have emerged as a king, the first king of a new dynasty.  Ironically, we are told that at the age of sixteen he was one of the heroes of the fledgling Roman republic, and had fought to expel the last Roman king, King Tarquin.  Unquestionably, Coriolanus sincerely believed in the principles of the republic, and that King Tarquin had been a tyrant.  If he had set himself up as a king at the end of his life, he would have effectively canceled his actions on behalf of the republic during his youth.  In effect, he would have annihilated the meaning of his own life.  As it was, listening to the plea of his family, he simply vanished from history, a tragic character perhaps, but not a true villain.

So yes, we may call Coriolanus a tragedy by common consent.  However when we resort to that label, without reflection, we are in fact highlighting the fate of personalities rather than the application of principles.  From an institutional point of view, Coriolanus is actually a comedy, in the sense of a drama with a fortunate ending.  After all, the republic is saved.  It is saved primarily from the revenge of Coriolanus, but in such a way as preserves the prestige and influence of the senate over the tribunes.

So what is the moral of this story?  And does it profit us in the least?

 Coriolanus is a play in which the  dramatis personae exhibit a chameleon-like shift of moral meanings, where a man’s virtues in war may be vices in peacetime.  It is Shakespeare’s gift to us, showing us, on the one hand, that politics has made a hell out of the blessings of creation, and on the other that personalities in the political world are not so much good or evil, as droughts on a checkerboard who take on their meaning from their position.  None the less, it is not an illusory or relativistic world.  The positions, the quadrilateral of justice:tyranny::loyalty:treason, are timeless principles.  Rather, the personalities and factions which occupy them are subject to maturation and degeneration, from time to time exchanging position, which creates the illusion that the categories themselves have undergone a metamorphosis.

Once we recognize the difference between personalities and principles, it will be safe for us to handle the knowledge which Coriolanus imparts.  The main principle which Coriolanus can teach us is that the problem of sovereignty is fundamental, however that sovereignty works itself out differently in a republic than in a monarchy.  If sovereignty is real, then each of the terms of the political quadrilateral is also real, and there can be no escape from coming to terms with justice, tyranny, loyalty and treason.  The sanctions which underpin sovereignty may be terrifyingly present, like the axe and bound rods carried in front of magistrates of the Roman republic, which give us the root of our word “fascism.”  Or the sanctions may be conveyed through some subtle nemesis, like the persuasive, maternal, embrace of a treasonous son.  However the sanctions are just symbolic of a higher reality, which is sovereignty itself.

However in a republic the political quadrilateral is not fated to to go through the endless cycles of musical chairs characteristic of a monarchy.  If “republic” and “justice” are synonymous, then the fatal symmetry of the political quadrilateral can be broken by bracketing out “tyranny.”  Hence in the schema of a republic may be represented as  Justice:[tyranny]::loyalty:treason.  The constitution provides a touchstone which prevents the formula from endless iteration among favored personalities, a relativistic cycle which leads ultimately to nihilism.  In a republic loyalty is absolute loyalty and treason is absolute treason, for which reason probity and forbearance is more important in a republic than any other form of government.  Thus Coriolanus and the tribunes are on alternative occasions absolute traitors and absolute loyalists, because the system is asymmetrical and unchanging.  How radically this differs from Shakespearean dramas which take place in monarchical contexts, plays such as Romeo and Juliet with their factional cries of “Montague! Montague!” or “Capulet! Capulet!”  In these factional states, it is hard to feel any strong dramatic appeal to justice, rather pathos is the predominating sentiment.  However Coriolanus, while personally pathetic, is just one personality in a drama with broader implications for justice.  If Coriolanus is Shakespeare’s most republican play, then it is the one which comes closest to an adequate treatment of the relationship between sovereignty and justice, a relationship which can only be resolved (at the human level at least) by a republic.

It is characteristic of our present, globalized world, that  people have lost their belief in sovereignty.  It is a corollary of modern atheism, especially prominent in the peculiar atheism of people who profess to be religious, and who may even profess to be Christians.  We moderns, in our desire to be both enlightened and spiritual, find it most convenient to worship a god who has been emptied of the primary characteristic of God.  This theology is not without ramifications on the mundane level, and has led to a hollowing out of the social order.  It is leading to the abandonment of the nation state, to what one commentator has called the abolition of “borders, language, and culture.”

However if the question of sovereignty is inescapable, then it behooves our contemporaries to consider which kind of sovereignty is more palatable, monarchy or republic.  A republic is characterized by division of powers and geographical limitation.  Rome was a republic because there was a division of powers between the senate, the tribunes, and various other institutions.  Even more fundamentally it was a republic because it was limited by boundaries.  Originally this boundary was the ditch plowed by Romulus, but ultimately the boundaries became the limits of the known world.  In the process of boundary expansion and effacement, freedom was lost.  Coriolanus represents an early, unsuccessful, attempt to breach to the wall.  Much later, Caesar would successfully breach the Rubicon, a kind of symbolic wall.  The former action was, both dramatically and politically, comic, the latter tragic.  Today the citizens of sovereign nation-states should consider whether, as bad as the tin-horn dictators of yore might have been, whether our masked globalist elite (remembering that Greek for mask is “hypocrite”) is playing their role of the vengeful spoiler today, and with far greater sophistication.

 

 

 

 

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In the aftermath of Irma, these volunteers won in Florida

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 19, 2017

We were still surrounded by the debris of Hurricane Irma when the Volunteers showed up

Actually, it was a football game, one of those compulsive rituals which neither “the powers that be” nor the hoi poloi can ever say no to.  After all, who could deny the local fans their bread and circuses in the aftermath of a disaster?  Well, everything depended on who won…whether the spectacle would go down in the record books as a morale booster or moral misdemeanor.  As providence (do I hear someone say luck? Nah!) would have it, Florida won in the last seconds of a crazy game who’s merits on either side will be endlessly debated.  The Tennessee Volunteers returned home, perplexed and saddened.  Florida had, once again, been saved from itself.

But there were other volunteers in town that day.  Linemen of a different sort, hailing from Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and even parts of the state which were nursing their own hurts.  They weren’t watching football, although sometimes they worked within earshot of cheers and jeers from the high-tension game.  And yes, they were volunteers, even though they had been sent down by mammoth utility firms and could expect to draw overtime.  This is still America and nobody is forced to do any job they can walk off from.  But instead of “You can take this job and  shove it!” they arrived in large numbers, willing to work 24/7 in the humidity, often in the dark, and among the local fauna (think “gators” of the non-football ilk) which were spreading out into newly flooded zones.

In our neighborhood we had transformers down.  On the night of the storm, people had heard the  blast and seen the blinding blue ark light as the lofty cylinders seemed to turn into electric grenades.  Then darkness.  Days later there was still no electricity, and the Florida jungle was beginning to reclaim its own.  No heat, no cool, no refrigeration, no communication, and living off of canned and dry goods.  It could have been far worse as the water mains had kept their integrity.  Still, we were starting to wonder…

Then we saw the trucks.  We noticed (by we I refer to those who could read a map) a seal with the outline of the state of Indiana on its sides.  They had come a thousand miles, but the hardest part of their journey were the days of street by street, block by block progress until the worst hit part of town was rewired and on line.  They weren’t all from Indiana.  The man who went up in the bucket to replace our utility pole was from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Bowling Green, Bowling Green

I wish I was in Bowling Green

Good old Bowling Green

And I bet he did!  But he had heeded the call to do a job which required a critical mix of physical endurance and intelligence.  The dead transformer was dangling in a virtual cats-cradle of wires and woods. When I murmured, “I can’t see how you will ever get that pole up.”  The Kentuckian answered, “Stick around and you may see more than you wager for.”  By literal hook and crook, mechanized to be sure, it all got up, poles, wires, transformers, until we heard the go ahead signal and the power returned.

I couldn’t help thinking that these men, who had come down from the regions around the Ohio river, were lineal descendants of the “volunteers” of yore, legendary men like Boon and Crockett, and the countless others who never became legends.  Historians can argue ad infinitum whether or not these were the men who “made America great,” or as per cultural Marxism, they were just land-pirates building a sand-castle civilization called the United States.  What is not arguable is that on short notice, their descendants had been mobilized and formed into an effective army to see that the swamp (here literally!) didn’t reclaim that network of urban humanity which calls itself modern Florida.

My general impression was that the whole operation, as befits volunteers, looked more like a “spontaneous order” than a command structure.  This was not to say that there was no planning, of which there was much evidence, but that the planning was horizontal rather than vertical, with the local agency and the out-of-state personnel cooperating on a case by case basis, combining local knowledge with volunteer can-do.  The federal government was invisible, although you could say that Floridians were the beneficiaries of a “national” effort by localities which had sent their people and resources across state lines to get the job done.  In military lingo you couldn’t say they weren’t regulars…just regular folks.

And that, my friends, is what makes America great.

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The Gentile Origins of Communism: A serendipitous case of faith and freedom against anti-Semitism

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 8, 2017

 Things that go bump in the night of civilization

So the most valuable…Communist strategy was the revival, nourishment, and magnification of the dislike, distrust, and bitterness now associated with the term Anti-Semitism.  The Communists are always sharpening and using both edges of this sword.  In their efforts to weaken and destroy the John Birch Society, just for an illustration, they have dupes and agents clamoring incessantly that the Society is anti-Semetic; and at the very same time they have agents provocateurs everywhere trying to persuade members of the Society that the whole Communist movement is simply a Jewish conspiracy, and that these members are wasting their time in The John Birch Society because its leaders do not  have the courage to name the enemy.  And by this typical Communist method, they have made anti-Semitism into one of the most powerful weapons in their whole arsenal of destruction.–Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, The Truth in Time.

A specter is haunting Western Civilization, and unfortunately it isn’t Communism.  If the average citizen spent more time worrying about Communism, even if Communism were only a secondary factor among the world’s ills, at least we would be, in the words of Immanuel Kant “on the road to a true science”…that is, our tenor of mind would be serious enough to get to the bottom of whatever the ultimate problem really was.  Instead we see that Communism, like the devil, has convinced most people that it no longer exists, if indeed it ever did.

It isn’t as if there was not enough fear in the world already.  Our minds are haunted by numerous specters, ghostly apparitions which often have little semblance of reality, ranging from the quasi-real, to the foolish, to the vicious.  Among the quasi-real are those derivative problems like “inflation” which is an illusion produced by monopoly banking and credit.  Another quasi-real is war itself, which is deadly in its effects but universally misunderstood as to its cause and nature. Among the foolish specters would be things like “peak oil” and rising sea levels, which are simply the result of observational error and cupidity.  Yet there are also specters which are properly called vicious, since they are the fabrications of malice as well as fear, and not only harm those who fall their victims but also corrupt the souls of those who adhere to their tenets.  Notable among such vicious specters are all forms of xenophobia, unreasoning fear and hatred of people for, as it would seem, simply being ethnically different from the xenophobe him or herself.

I interjected the qualifier “as it would seem” since, there is always some rationalization attached to the prejudice against one or another group.  Now it seems to me that of all the groups which have suffered xenophobic persecution, only the Jews have been so abused that xenophobic prejudice against them merits a basic item of English vocabulary.  “Anti-Semitism” although not particularly accurate as an ethnological term, is popularly understood as hatred, fear, and prejudice against the Jews in particular.  That all the members of one ethnic group, Jews or anyone else, would be evil without exception, is a proposition which no rational person would want to entertain without compelling arguments produced in its support.  Predictably, anti-Semites are willing to brandish arguments exposing what they deem to be a uniquely  Jewish propensity towards evil, but such poor rationalizations as ancient and early modern Anti-Semites could muster are even less convincing today than they were originally.  Indeed, most of their so-called reasons are so inane, claiming that Jews are ritual cannibals or whatnot, that only children or mentally challenged individuals would give them a instant of credibility.  Indeed, most of these traditional canards are such obvious slanders that they have fallen out of circulation even among hard core anti-Semites.  None the less, these slanders could on occasion be deadly to Jews, since most people who compose society are not reasoners, but potential hysterics.  Thus many Jews welcomed the European Enlightenment of the 18th century, a promised “Age of Reason” which would  restore the control by the rational human mind over the emotions of the crowd.  Unfortunately, this was a tragic misreading of the  so-called Enlightenment’s inner meaning.

Ironically, post-Enlightenment modernity gave birth to new arguments for Anti-Semitism, most of them as ridiculous as their ancient predecessors.  However there is a kind of argument, in two variations, a weaker and a stronger one, added in modern times to the usual libels of Anti-Semetism, which is somewhat more plausible than previous claims.  The question is posed whether it was Jews, perhaps not all Jews but disproportionately people of Jewish background, who foisted the Communist system upon the world.   While this argument is defective, for reasons which will be illustrated below, it is far more plausible than the crude slanders of pre-modern anti-Semites.  Jews, as a population, cannot be evil.  However an idea, unlike a population, can be evil.  Hence if we link a population (neither good nor evil) to an idea (good or evil) one might think that this renders the population good or evil according to our evaluation of the idea.  Think about that a moment.  Well, if you are not buying this idea of transitivity between a concrete (a population) and an abstract (idea) then good for you, because transitivity doesn’t actually hold in this case.

However as rhetoric arguments such as “the Jews gave us Communism” or “Most of the Communists I know of were Jews” might do in a pinch for a desperate Anti-Semite.  To demonstrate its effectiveness let’s turn the second proposition on its head.  Let’s suppose that Communism were a wonderful thing.  In that case the statement, “Most of Communists that I know of were Jews” would be rightfully be taken as a compliment to Jews.  Here I am working on the opposite assumption, that Communism is definitely not a good thing.  In fact, it should be fairly obvious that under a system of universal Communism everyone, including Jews, would be reduced to slavery.  Due to the negative nature of Communism the statement “Most of the Communists I know of were Jews” is morally problematic because it seem to gives aid and comfort to anti-Semites.  Of course, the Communists have their own solution to this moral dilemma, one that they would like everyone to embrace.  They want, as per the above, everyone to trans-value Communism from something evil to something good.  This, they would urge, would rob the anti-Semite of his or her best argument.  Expect to see this message pushed in the left-wing media.

Actually the statement “Most of the Communists I know of were Jews” could never have much bearing on the moral quality of Jews in general.  It rests on a subjective sample drawn from someone’s arbitrary experience, and even if it illustrated some general truth, it would still fall afoul of the intransitive relation between ideas and people, since these putative Jews, whomever they might be, might  have caught “Communism” as a kind of contagion, a kind of hysteria, as is often the case in the adoption of bad ideas, with the consequent increase in quantity by epidemic proportions.  So even in the abstract, the proposition “Most of the Communists I know of were Jews” is pure rhetoric with no possible imputation to Jews in general.  Finally, putting these logical clarifications to one side, anyone with any historical sense knows that the vast majority of Jews throughout history were either 1) blissfully unaware of Communism in its modern form, or 2) indifferent or hostile to Communism.  The Jews among the revolutionary elite were a minority within a minority.

Unfortunately we have yet to dispose of the stronger of the two Anti-Semitic arguments linking the Jewish people to Communism.  Note that “The Jews gave us Communism” and “Most of the Communists I know of were Jews” are two very different propositions.  The second was quantitative and abstract, while the first is qualitative, originary,  and historical.  The first is much stronger since it deals with the phylogeny of ideas, and originary thinkers share a relationship to their thoughts which is indeed transitive.  Rather than the accidental relationship to ideas which is characteristic of a general population, an originary thinker bears an essential relation to his or her own idea.

If it could be shown that “Communism” was invented by a Jew, might one not assume that there was some intrinsic relationship between Jews and Communism?  And was not Marx a Jew?  Not so fast!  Just as one must determine who is and is not a Jew, it is equally necessary to understand what Communism is and when it originated.   But we all know that don’t we?  On the contrary, the conventional understanding of Communism is both shallow and misleading.  One group which has sought with extreme diligence and precision to both define and understand the nature of Communism is the John Birch Society, founded by Robert Welch in 1958.  Once surprising consequence of the research uncovered and disseminated by the John Birch Society has been to deprive Anti-Semites of a major support for their ideology.  As it turns out, Communism was birthed, not by Jews but by Gentiles!

How enlightening research and education sponsored by the John Birch Society has discredited one of Anti-Semitism’s flawed assumptions

The standard textbook treatment of Communism states that it was an ideological movement born in Germany in the years surrounding the revolutions of 1848.  Furthermore, it is widely conceded that Karl Marx, while not exactly the “inventor” of Communism as an idea, was the person most responsible for fleshing out the theory of Communism and urging that this theory be applied to the practice of revolution.  Furthermore, most people are at least vaguely aware that Marx was born into a Christianized Jewish family, that he became a radical follower of Hegel’s philosophy in his university days, and that he subsequently developed his own materialistic twist on Hegel, which today we call “Marxism” and that he published an outline of this philosophy together with his collaborator Fredrick Engles (who, incidentally, was a gentile, a gentleman, and an Englishman, albeit not necessarily in that order or by conviction.)

There is nothing necessarily wrong with most of that story, except that it is woefully incomplete.  Perhaps the most damning hole in the narrative is Marx’s own disclaimer as to being the actual founder of Communism.  Marx only claimed to have sharpened Communism’s edge by making it “scientific.”  Marx was well acquainted with, and drew upon the ideas of, various schools of Communism from the early 19th century, however he criticized those schools as “utopian.”  Actually, the utopian/scientific narrative drawn by Marx has less to do with hard science and more with the jealousy of a left wing journalist who wanted to draw both the ire and admiration of the world to his work.  The “science” gambit worked because Marx claimed to discover Communism in the philosophy of G. F. W. Hegel (1770-1831) at the time the “cutting edge” of philosophical speculation in Germany, but hardly what most people would call science today.  Marx subsequently dumped Hegel’s system in favor of Darwin’s materialism in the 1860s, when materialism was in vogue. Whatever one might think about Darwin, the salient point is that Marx was willing to tack any sort of prestigious metaphysics on the front of his socialist system as long as he could justify it in the name of science.

In short, for Marx science was anything which was useful in promoting his ideas about the decline of capitalism and the rise of the proletariat.  Hence, there is really no meaningful difference between “utopian” and “scientific” communism.  Chronologically, this means that what we call Communism has a much earlier origin that its conventional dating around the 1840s.  Indeed, as both an idea and a movement, Communism goes back to the 18th century Enlightenment.  The essence of communism is its anti-Christian bias and revolt against all religious restraint, which was likewise  a major theme of the Enlightenment.  Attempts by secular apologists to claim that Communism was primarily an economic theory which, perhaps due to the religious preoccupations of Karl Marx, became allied to atheism, overlook the way in which the ideas of the Enlightenment were already spilling over into radical social movements by the late 18th century.

This would be important in and of itself, but it has a correlative import which is pertinent to how one confronts the problem of Anti-Semitism.  If Communism originated in the 18th century rather than the 19th century, its originators could only have been gentiles, not Jews.  Fundamentally, this is because the Enlightenment was a movement of Western thinkers who were rebelling against Christianity.  They started off as Christians and then became something else, i.e., they were not Jews but gentiles.  Granted, there were some Jews, such as Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelson, who attained stature in the pantheon of the Enlightenment, but these were exceptions who prove the rule.  They were honored guests, as it were, in the house of gentile infidelity.

One might object, “If the essence of the Enlightenment was anti-Christianity, would that not have included all Jews as well?”  However the term “anti-Christianity” in this proposition actually refers to two distinct things.  Judaism, in the form of Talmudic orthodoxy, was and is “anti-Christianity” in the sense that it rejects the person whom Christians hail as the “Christ” i.e., the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  However “anti-Christianity” in its Enlightenment sense, rejects not a particular Messiah, but religion in general.  Indeed, although there were certainly “fifty shades of anti-Chritianity” among the Europeans of the 18th century, ranging from Unitarianism through skepticism…the tendency was always in the direction of unadulterated atheism.  Without undue exaggeration, one can say that the Enlightenment was essentially atheistic.

Granted the above, one might still legitimately wonder what the Enlightenment, atheistic though it might have been, had to do with Communism.  After all, Communism is a social doctrine, and atheism is a metaphysical view.  None the less, their origins are intertwined, since the common denominator of both is a quest for power, power over human beings and autonomous power over the universe, unconstrained by any Divine supervision.  The 18th century was a power quest by rebellious men, and while Jews, like all men, are rebellious, the men in question were not Jews, although they shared with unconverted Jews a rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  But more important than what or who they rejected, was what they sought.  They sought power.

This is the seldom told story which needs to be understood if we are to grasp the essential relationship between the Enlightenment and Communism.  The story which traces the main line of descent towards modern Communism concerns neither the proclamation of the pulpit nor the chat of the philosopher’s salon, but the hidden world of power…replete with secrecy, espionage, sabotage, and sundry skullduggery… a story seldom told to be sure, but seldom isn’t never.  Fortunately the secret movers and shakers of European society immediately prior to the French revolution were revealed at end-century by John Robison’s  Proofs of a Conspiracy (1798), an expose of the influence of secret societies on the French Revoluion.  This is a tome, composed in the minute style of an early modern treatise, which would have been difficult to procure had it had not been for the John Birch Society, which has kept it circulating and in print.

According to Robison, the radical wing of the Enlightenment, the Illuminati, was not just an ideology, but a conspiratorial organization.  Today, the word “Illuminati” congers up all sorts of occult and arcane images.  However Robison makes no supernatural speculations, but rather, his narrative falls well within what secular historiography would recognize as normal chains of cause and effect, albeit of a secretive and revolutionary nature.  It is this secretive and revolutionary quality which is the defining nature of Communism, and not something as academic as, say “the labor theory of value.”  If we are to recognize the data which Robison so amply references, we must recognize that a proto-Communism existed as early as the 1770s.  One symbolic indication that this backdating of communism is valid is the institution of May Day, widely recognized as Communist festival.   May Day actually commemorates the foundation of the Illuminati on May 1, 1776, shadowing the simultaneous war for the restoration of natural rights in British America, which was climaxed by the Declaration of Independence on July 4 of the same year.

From the vantage point of standard historiography, any talk of “Communism” even during the 1790s (think, French Revolution!) let alone the 1770s, seems like a gross anachronism.  However if we consider the quest for power, secrecy, and a desire to fundamentally transform society according to the whims of a revolutionary elite as the salient characteristics of Communism, then we can safely push the horizon of Communism’s advent back to the 1770s rather than the 1840s.   We can confidently refer to Robison’s description of the Illuminati as a account of early Communism because he demonstrates a seamless continuity between the secret societies of that period and the outbreak of the French Revolution.  As Robison explains, the groundwork for the revolution was laid decades in advance.  This is the hallmark of what we would call Communist propaganda and agitation.  Since the Jews of that period were still marginalized and ghettoized, the primary agitators within the movement were apostate Christians, a.k.a., “gentiles”…and only later with an enfranchised Jewry did Jews get recruited into European radical movements in significant numbers.

So yes, Communism is a conspiracy, but it is not a Jewish conspiracy.  In fact, originally it was an exclusively Gentile conspiracy.  Even in the 20th century Communism was neither exclusively nor even mainly a Jewish movement, in the sense that Hertzel’s Zionism was exclusively Jewish.  However the truncation of Communism’s history gives the impression that the movement was more Jewish than it generally has been, and moreover obscures the fact that the movement was not a Jewish movement in its origin.

It is notable that the John Birch Society, which has rejected the truncated chronology of “scientific Communism” in favor of a historiography based of Robison and like authors, has struck a blow at anti-Semitism.  The original motivation for embracing this historiography was, however, a disquisition into the facts of early European and American radicalism, not necessarily an exoneration of the Jewish people.  This is a sterling example of how the love of truth, animating research in some specialized field, can have an benign effect on a cognate area of human relations and understanding.

 

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A god who failed: William F. Buckley and his “conservative” movement

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 30, 2017

A Fabian Conservatism?

There are two systems operating on this Earth.  According to one, every man, woman, and child strives with carnal jealously to grasp and hold on to their rights to self and things, and when there is more than enough, the excess is disposed of, given away, or traded on the open market.  That is the better of the two systems.  According to the other system, men and women quest for virtue and renown, seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to this world, by violence if necessary, and we are further told that at the end of this process a man shall appear who resembles Christ in certain regards.  It is this second system which attracts the best and the brightest.  The late William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008, practicing Catholic, family man, nominal patriot and putative spy, Yale graduate, novelist, journalist, polymath and polyglot, yet above all things, “intellectual”, was certainly among the brightest of his generation.  As a general principle, we ought not speak ill of those whom God has loved and endowed with great talents, yet it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to preserve both truth and memory to render judgement on matters of public record, and especially those actions or omissions which have led the American body politic down its present primrose path.  If we are the proverbial tin can, well then, Mr. Buckley was a chief contender among those who kicked us down the road and into the ditch.  Assuredly, we have every right to inquire into his mind and motives.

My first memory of William F. Buckley is the televised image of two posh, erudite men engaged in a furious altercation over the merits of the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.   The one on the left (from the viewers perspective) was a scandalous representative of the liberal avant guard, an inconsistent and curmudgeonly  libertarian/left/democrat, surely an entertaining character if one were to consider him in isolation.  However he could barely gain a point against the other man, the one on the right (again keeping perspective in mind) who seemed an utter novelty, the Adam of a new race which was awaiting formation, or rather self-formation.  Gore Vidal, (stage left) has kept a loyal following of fans and detractors, yet Vidal by himself would never have become an epochal, or a defining figure of those crisis years.  It was Buckley’s, not Vidal’s, video debut , which marked off a new era, not (sadly) of American political thought, but of rhetoric and reality television.

Thus was born, at least in the viewing public’s mind, that oxymoron, the “conservative intellectual.”  The hokum of Dogpatch, an image of the American right as rustic buffoons so carefully crafted by liberal opinion makers was momentarily shattered by a visible presence.  Since I was a kid, I didn’t know that Buckley had already attained considerable celebrity in literary and journalistic circles, as early as 1950, with the publication of his  God and Man at Yale, but now the word had become flesh, visible to millions upon millions of couch dwellers and potato chip eaters.   He spoke, and he spoke well, interspersing his verbal darts with the flick of a serpentine tongue across tightly drawn lips.  Suddenly, the viewers glimpsed a crack of light shining through the deadening conformity of consensus politics.  Was this the chiaroscuro dawn of a new day, or just a hoax?  It was ominous when, in a fit of peek, the new god dropped his smooth mask to coin a notorious neologism.  Vidal, he fulminated, was an “octo-moron!”  In those days of civil discourse you didn’t just go calling someone an eight-fold idiot in front of America’s families…not to mention the lexicographers!

Fast forwarding to the present, and the perspective of the post-Trump, post-civil discourse era, it becomes painfully clear that this erudite “conservatism”  has failed. Someone once observed that Hegel only “died” in 1933, a watershed beyond which many conceded that his “dialectic of history” bore scant resemblance to the logical deductions of some charitable and edifying Deity.  We might likewise reckon that  Buckley “died” in 2016, when it became abundantly clear that the chattering of the political class could no longer be confined to a salon discussion constrained by the niceties of an Americanized high tea.   Today we must reluctantly acknowledge that even domestic politics is war, perhaps not quite violent war, but war none the less.  But then, shouldn’t we have known that all along?  If we didn’t it was mainly our own fault, yet no thanks to Bill Buckley and others who were only too happy to perpetuate our fond illusions.  Hence, those moderates who have managed to wake up to the situation often discover that they are very late into a long war of attrition conducted by the left, poised on unfavorable terrain, and desperately short of intellectual ammunition.

Not that all possible ideologies which might be denominated as conservative are bankrupt, rather, it is especially the smug, above-the-fray “conservatism” defined by William F. Buckley which circumstances have rendered impotent.  Herein is the real eight-fold idiocy, not that Buckley was able to concoct a new ideology, which he had the brains and the perfect right to do, but that he usurped the nomenclature of a previous movement, the Old Right, and applied it to his novelties.  A guileless Buckley would have decanted his fresh ideological wine into new, or at least newly labeled, wine-skins.  Accordingly, Buckley might have dubbed his concoction “Fabian Conservatism” or some such critter…but he insisted on preserving the illusion of continuity with the anti-New Deal coalition.   Ironically, the moderate Socialists of the early 20th century showed a greater respect for intellectual property rights by relabeling themselves as Fabians, thus permitting the revolutionary Bolshoi to maintain their identity as “Reds.”

Actually, “Fabian” would have been a far better moniker for whatever Buckley was up to.  For one thing, the progressives, then and now, have never intended to give up a single inch of political gain.  It is always a matter of advance to the front, either slow and Fabian or fast and revolutionary.  In contrast,”conservatism” as it was reinvented by Buckley’s National Review in in the 1950s, has been much closer to the strategy of Quintus Fabius “the delayer”(Rome, 3rd c BC)…defining itself as the weaker side and then enlisting for a long, indeed perpetual, retreat.  Today we are experiencing the results of this capitulation.   Buckley, much like Keynes “in the long run”, did not live to see the full consequences of this “Fabian” defeatism, a nation in which the conservative brand as a whole has been discredited, and where only a retrenched populism and leftism remain as the primary  engines of our uncivil  discourse.

Pied Piper of the Establishment

Was Buckley’s defeatism a matter of principle?  Was it motivated by an Oswald-Spenglerian ennui in the face of irresistible winds of change?  Or was it something else, something less intellectual but more human, a quest for power and social acceptance by a man with the smarts and social connections to become a celebrity, combined with a secret contempt for moral absolutes?   John F. McManus considers this question in his William F. Buckley Jr.: Pied Piper of the Establishment, a look at the public words and actions of America’s most famous, so to speak, “conservative.”  In this concise and readable work McManus illustrates how virtually every major premise of conservatism was contravened by Mr. Buckley and his associated writers at National Review.  Did Buckley really “delay” the advent of the current unpleasant situation through judicious compromise, such as might merit the title Fabian Conservatism?  Or did he hasten on the day of reckoning by sapping the bulwarks of more authentic brands of resistance?  Mr. McManus doesn’t rush to judgement, but judge he does, by patiently building up a bill of particulars which will strongly incline the reader to embrace the latter hypothesis.  The major, though not the only, items that McManus itemizes in the antithetical “conservatism” of Mr. Buckley are the following.

  1. Buckley substituted an unidentified “conservatism” for the explicit definition of good government found in the Constitution.
  2. He shielded an unholy alliance between leftists, capitalists, and statists, or what Mr. McManus calls, “the conspiracy” from the public, by denying its existence and targeting its foes.
  3. By accepting membership in the Council on Foreign relations, he supplied dignity and cover to a key element of this conspiratorial apparatus, or what today might be called the shadow government of the deep state.
  4. He contributed to the undermining of the nation’s morality.
  5. He led Americans away from involvement in the kind of principled activism (a.k.a. any continuation of the anti-war, non-interventionist Old Right conservatism, such as flourished in the Robert Taft era).

If Mr. McManus has been able to give us a comprehensive account of Mr. Buckley, his ideology, friends, and actions, it is because, as a young conservative he was a Buckleyite himself.  Initially having no alternative to the narrative introduced by National Review which smeared the remnants of the Old Right, and in particular its revival in the organizational form of the John Birch Society, Mr. McManus was an enthusiastic “Fabian” conservative.  However the providential arrival of a letter from a total stranger (in those days before the internet when it was hard to canvass opinions beyond one’s circle or standard journalism) led McManus to question the spin which National Review had put on the distinction between “right-wing” and “conservative.”  Subsequently, McManus did his own investigations which forced him to completely rethink the ambiguous ideology of William Buckley and embrace a principled philosophy of freedom.  This in turn led to membership and later leadership in his once-scorned but now beloved John Birch Society.

Now in order to form a just estimate of William Buckley, such as McManus and others have attempted, one has to understand the context of the world into which this new “conservatism” (Buckleyite, Fabian, or just “faux”) emerged.  The Second World War had been a global victory which came at the price of weakening every domestic institution in America other than the state, and the conscience of the Old Right urged a return to something like a peacetime society and economy.  It was well understood, and not just by conservatives, that there was a natural iteration between times of war and times of peace, and that a condition of perpetual war was a recipe for tyranny.  True, there was the very real threat of Communism to be dealt with, but it had to be dealt with in such a way that the very institutions used to fight Communism did not replicate the evil they were designed to overcome.

However the wisdom of turning America back into a normal society was not so easily put into practice.  The vast wartime tangle of bureaus and red tape (into which many actual “Reds” had insinuated themselves) proved easier to dedicate to new missions than to mothball.  Predictably, the same political party which had given America the New Deal were enthusiasts for the National Security State (activated by legislation passed in 1947) which perpetuated and legitimated all the essential wartime security and military apparatus.

This rapidly consolidating system was rightfully seen by many conservatives as “Orwellian” (a coinage of that era, since 1984 was written in 1948).  Moreover, for objectors the remedy was both obvious and Constitutional, i.e., “Throw the bums out!” and restore a peacetime, lassez-faire economy.  According to the myth of the two party system, that was the expected order of things, with frequent turnarounds in power both affirming the sovereignty of the people and harmonizing  extremes of policy.  Around 1954, similar to the Trump election of 2016, enemies of the status quo envisaged that if their party won fair and square the “loyal opposition”  would consent to a fundamental reorientation of national policy.  Alas, then as now, the concept of “loyal opposition” proved to be an oxymoron…if not an eightfold idiocy!  Whatever the hardships and tragedy of the New Deal and the Second World War, the truly sinister development wasn’t triggered until, after a twenty years hiatus, a Republican administration was finally inaugurated.  To the shock and dismay of genuine conservatives, rather than a return to normality, under Eisenhower the progress towards a managerial welfare/warfare state was affirmed and even accelerated.

It was at this juncture of history that William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the forums of public life.  Initially National Review shared the outrage of the Old Right, sill smarting from the primary defeat of Taft, at the wholesale adoption of New Deal programs and apparatus by the nominally Republican administration which had replaced Truman.  McManus notes that…

In December 1957 Buckley himself scolded President Eisenhower for his sorry leadership.  During a forum in New York City sponsored by National Review he excoriated Ike for having allowed the “problem of internal security” to grow to “to a state far worse than that under Mr. Truman.”  Insisting that “Mr. Eisenhower must, inevitably, be repudiated.”  Buckley lamented that he didn’t expect anything to be done because “Eisenhower does not take stands, except against [Senator Joseph] McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment [stipulation that treaty law did not supervene US sovereignty].”  His remarks were later published in the National Review.

Thus, early on in the editorial career of the National Review, a policy line was taken which seemed indistinguishable from the base of the Old Right/Taft Republican movement.  However as soon as these conservative bona fides were established, Buckley took a new tack, ingratiating himself to left and center by taking a more establishment approach to the issues, and, most importantly, positioning himself on the acceptable side of the “right-wing extremist” vs. “conservative” divide.   Conveniently, the criteria for judging this distinction were largely devised by Mr. Buckley himself. An initial omen of this strategy was McCarthy and his Enemies (1954) a book coauthored by Buckley  on the anti-Communist investigator, an ostensible defense which contained so many unseemly observations of its subject and his cause that it diminished both.  By the early ’60s it should have been clear that Buckley had done a two-step, 1) appropriate the label “conservative” through his initial appeals to the Old Right, and  2) change the definition of “conservative” by stigmatizing most of the positions traditionally held by the Old Right.

It is important to remember that the Old Right (used here as equivalent to the anti-New Deal coalition) was a lassez-faire, generally anti-war, limited government movement.  It was not “right-wing” in the pejorative sense that subsequent political rhetoric has framed the term.  Significantly, such genuine rightists as existed in the America of the ’30s and ’40s seldom opposed the New Deal in principle.  The segregationist “Dixicrats” were all aboard FDR’s gravy train, and the scattering of minuscule groups which sought to ape European fascism could only complain that the New Deal was insufficiently centralized, militarized, technocratic, paganized or dictatorial.

The making of a god

However, if one is positioning oneself as the ascending god of public opinion, it is not sufficient, though it may be necessary, to redraw a nation’s ideological cartography.  As McManus repeatedly points out in his criticism of Buckley, which is in fact a criticism of the way conservatives “do politics,” ideology is generally overrated as a ground of human action.  Contrary to whatever Richard Weaver may have intended, it is people, not ideas, who create political  consequences…at least in the short run.  To put it according to the myths of the old pagans, whether one is Oedipus or the King of Alba Longa, one must slay the god of the harvest if one wishes to establish a new religion.  In the case of William F. Buckley Jr., it was not enough to displace, disparage, and assume the mantle of a bloodless abstraction such as “conservatism” or the generic, and geriatric, “Old Right.”  As in days of yore, a living sacrifice was necessary.

Now it so happened that, preceding and shadowing the career of our Ivy League tyro was another man, a very different sort of fellow, a practical businessman and independent researcher, yet one who, in the technical definition of anthropologist Rene Girard might be reckoned as Buckley’s “double.”   That man was Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  Whatever the merits of Girard’s theories might be, it  is said that in a mimetic universe (that is, a society populated by imitative creatures, which indeed sounds rather familiar) it is impossible for doubles to long coexist.  Buckley and Welch were doubles in the sense that one or the other was destined to become the rallying point of the conservative cause.  One or the other, not both.

To translate from mythic to political terms, an assassination was in order!  Fortunately for Welch, especially considering Buckley’s career in operational intelligence, assassination of character was deemed sufficient.  Welch, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil  (something Buckley was especially dedicated to preventing among his fledgling “conservatives”) was cast out of the paradise of polite company, and into the valley of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Except that Welch neither wailed nor gnashed his teeth, but took his public stigma, or what Girard would call his “skapegoating” with charitable fortitude.

Just as Girard’s mimetic theory would predict, it worked like a charm, this exchange of fates between Welch and Buckley.  McManus quotes Buckley biographer Judis on the potent effects…

Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society also transformed him as a public figure.  He [Buckley] was no longer the pariah of the McCarthy days.  He was a public representative of the new conservatism that television producers and college deans could invite to appear without provoking an outcry.  Whether intentional or not, Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society prepared the way for his own celebrity. (McManus p. 153)

[N.B., Pay attention to how  “without provoking an outcry” appears, from the vantage of the present,  on the forward side of a half-century historical parenthesis! Intimidation of speech outside of the left’s allowed parameters is not a novelty of the post-Trump era, but has been a frequent academic constraint in both 20th and 21st century America.  Perhaps the intermission of good feeling and toleration was only due to “Fabian” self-censorship on the part of conservatives.]

The scapegoating of Welch and the new ideological cartography mutually reinforced and validated each other.  One doesn’t have to be a Harry Turtledove to imagine an alternative historical scenario, a world in which Welch did the scapegoating and Buckley became the sacrifice.  The major obstacle to the realization of this alternative universe was the basic decency and fair-play of Welch himself, who refused to be drawn into mimetic rivalry with fellow conservatives.  Welch illustrated his own attitude by prefacing his response to the scapegoating with lines from the poet Edwin Markham…

He drew a circle and shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!  (McManus p.154)

Furthermore, the inverted ideological map of the alternative universe would actually make far more sense, with Welch positioned as the centrist and Buckley as “far right-wing.”  Most people at the mid-point of the 20th century would, setting aside propaganda, have regarded Welch as the solid “bourgeois” and Buckley as the scheming, effete, aristocrat.  Indeed, it was this almost French Bourbon air of amorality and private immunity which gave Buckley much of his charm and influence.  And if such quirks of character were not enough enough to make one suspect that Buckley was far to the “right” of Welch, what about the secret societies, the espionage, the pornography and similar intrigue?  I won’t go into the details here as McManus documents them extensively in his book.  However it might be  useful to take a synoptic glance at what McManus evidently considers Buckley’s most damning characteristic.

Barking up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

To reiterate, Buckley made a sacrifice of Welch, thus becoming a divinity, the god of a new conservative movement formed in his own image.  However, there is a curse attendant on all mortals who pretend to godhood, that they must sleeplessly patrol the bounds of their sacred groves against the onslaught of fresh rivals.  We may liken Buckley to the cherub charged with guarding paradise, however the tree that he was set guard over was not that of life, but rather concerned a very specific form of knowledge.

To be sure, Buckley was not against knowledge or intellect, and with the exception of one particular form of knowing, he was pleased to spread abroad all sorts of chatty information and innuendo.  This included exposure of the more outrageous left wing follies, and to this was added his police function as a maintainer of conservative standards of belief and decorum.  In short, he was smart, and he was on a mission to save America from its own stupidity, stupidity and error of such magnitude that it threatened to lose the Cold War and bring Western Civilization to an untimely end.  Nor was he against knowledge in the sense of “carnal knowledge” and he had a Playboy interview to prove it.  That too was smart, in the sense of currying favor with “the smart set” of the ’60s.

Most significantly, as intellectual-in-chief, Buckley enjoyed the role of contrarian, stimulating all sorts of fascinating conversations by reversing conservative thought on key social and economic issues.  Should Richard Nixon have instituted wage-and-price controls?  Well, why not give it try?  Contrary to everything which the Austrian school of economics had painstakingly demonstrated, that wage-and-price controls would sabotage production and exchange, Buckley felt that one had to be open minded on the topic.  Should the Supreme court have had authority to determine whether abortion was murder?  Why not?  True, two-thousand years of Christian teaching had already provided a clear answer to this question.  However Mr. Buckley, though a Catholic, felt that discussion on the topic needed to be opened up and freed from dogma.  In addition to abortion and price controls, Mr. McManus lists over a dozen “indefensible positions”(pp. 220-229) where Buckley either reversed the conservative stand or introduced moral ambiguity.  And should we have been surprised?  After all, settled doctrines don’t sell magazines or increase the ratings of televised talk shows the way that controversy and factional in-fighting do.

Yet for all his delight in upsetting the apple cart of knowledge, there was one angle which Buckley declared taboo.  With regard to American government policy, and to some extent other institutions of society, all investigation had to take place within the smart/stupid framework.  The alternative framework, the good/evil framework, was strictly out of bounds.  Any policy commentator who suggested that there was a conspiracy in high places actively engaged in undermining America’s best interests, was just a dog barking up the tree of forbidden knowledge, and needing to be silenced.  These barking dogs were many, including not just Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and Herbert Hoover, but ironically Buckley himself together with the staff of National Review, prior to his apotheosis as the god of a new conservatism.  Yet as early the mid-’50s it was clear that a new paradigm was taking hold.

In August 1956, at about the same time that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was warning of a “conspiracy so monstrous” that one “cannot believe that it exists,” Buckley offered his contrary view that America’s problems were occurring “spontaneously, not in compliance with a continuously imposed discipline.”  In effect, he was saying, “Don’t listen to Hoover, the House Committee, or the Senate Subcommittee.  Ignore even my own statement in McCarthy and His Enemies.  The bad that happens to our nation is the result of spontaneous stupidity, not orchestrated design.”  (McManus pp. 128-129)

Apart from questions of historical accuracy, why is this still a big deal?  Of all the trees in the political garden, why does the fruit of this one matter in a unique way?  Let’s pay attention to the observations of Mr. McManus….

Concluding that willful conspirators rather than mere bumbling do-gooders are at the root of such problems stimulates activity because of human nature’s most powerful instinct: self-preservation.  Most who decide that the disastrous transformation of America is the work of deliberate evildoers will do whatever they can to save their country, themselves, and their loved ones.

But those who become convinced that the damage being done results from well-intentioned mistakes will do little except grumble.  Even while witnessing the ongoing destruction, they will shrug their shoulders, continue working to keep their heads above water, and naively expect others in government and elesewhere to eventually see the error of their ways and take corrective action.

Today, as never before, many are willing to impute evil to their governing officials.  Unpleasant as this might be, it at least gives us grounds for reevaluating Buckley’s assessment that stupidity and not conspiracy was at the root of America’s ills.  Fewer and fewer people today would concur with this assessment, however time and energy have been lost through distractions…not the least of distractions being Buckley’s influence, an influence which both intellectualized and demoralized political discourse on the right.

Postscript on Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals

It was a balm to the pride of conservatives in the 20th century that thinkers on the left consisted not of actual, but of false or “pseudo”, intellectuals.  In contrast, Mr. Buckley and his cohorts could be trotted out as examples of the genuine article.  To be sure, Buckley and his friends were more erudite, not to mention amiable, than your average Weatherman.  However, in some ultimate sense Mr. Buckley was as “pseudo” as they came, and for reasons that should now be apparent, that, being a conscientious objector to the war against evil, he whiled away his time in the garden of ideas.

That is not to say that ideas cannot be serious.  However the number of people for whom ideas are central to existence is few indeed.  For Bill Buckley ideas were toys, baubles of the mind which could be entertained as hypotheses, not principles which compelled moral action.  How many of us can say that we deal with ideas in any other way?  Are we all not pseudo-intellectuals to one degree or another?  Perhaps that is our nature, the nature of those of us who are less than gods.  Perhaps it is good to be only a pseudo-intellectual.

Those who truly sought salvation in ideas have nearly vanished from the Earth.  Plato, Plotinus, Hypatia of Alexandria, and later during the Renaissance, Pletho and  Pico before his conversion by Savonarola, and perhaps a few others.  William F. Buckley was not among their company, and neither was Jesus of Nazareth.  So in spite of old Bill’s long list of sins, which I have barely touched upon here, this speaks well for his soul, that he was not an intellectual in the absolute sense.  There is always hope.

 

 

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Sayings beyond syllogisms

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 10, 2017

Is it possible to straight talk to sinful human nature?

Skeptics argue that since the apostles were “illiterate peasants and shepherds” their moral teaching was  inferior to that of, say, the Greek philosophers.  Of course that characterization is false, and would be slanderous if peasants and shepherds were not generally wiser than Higher Critics.  James was one of many early followers who were educated to the standards of the rabbinical scholarly class, while Luke was certainly abreast of the latest developments in Greek science.  However the palm for scholarship, whatever value that might have, undoubtedly goes to Paul, who was adept in both Hebraism and Hellenism.

Indeed, to Paul’s contemporaries, the opposite side of the criticism was made.  Thus a Roman proconsul (no doubt vexed by Paul’s compelling but offensive reasoning) exclaimed in exasperation, “Too much learning has made you mad!”  This was a far more effective criticism than calling out the Apostle to the Gentiles as an “illiterate tentmaker.”  Think of Paul as a world-class scholar living in a world without grant applications…hence the day-job.  None the less, while it might be considered flattering to some people, the accusation of “to much learning” driving someone mad is preposterous.  I don’t mean that it is preposterous from the point of view of those who think more learning is always a good thing.  I doubt that endless learning is always beneficial.

Rather, from a specifically Christian point of view the statement, “too much learning has driven you mad” is utterly false.  It is false because people, all people, are mad prior to attaining any education whatsoever.  Surely this is what one must believe if the doctrine of total depravity has any meaningful application.  Whatever one might think of Calvinism, and this writer is several points short of full “five-point” affirmation, total depravity is one point which all Christians need to take seriously.  Our thinking part, wherever that may be located, has been as much afflicted by sin as any other portion of our being.  Paul never talked about our “good brain” struggling against our “bad genitals” for him it was all “our flesh.”  Contrary to Plato, the Prophet Mani and many other speculators, the good/evil cutting off point isn’t at the neck, its above the head or wherever our relation with God has been broken.

Yes, the shocking truth is that from God’s point of view all human beings are mad according to their sin-nature.  From our point of view, there is a kind of normative rationality which prevails in society, sufficient sanity to maintain morality and civil order, which individuals participate in to various degrees.  However this “rationality” is essentially a makeshift arrangement, capable of breaking down whenever societies as a whole consent to manifest the irrational in collective hysteria.  It is no substitute for God’s objective truth.

A preference for parables

Hence, from God’s point of view, the problem is how to communicate saving truth to those who are mad, considering that this is a pandemic and essential madness, not the isolated and accidental madness of those individuals who are considered insane by society.  It is important to realize that this is not a madness which has been “caught” by individuals due unfortunate turn of events.  We have been born that way.  In particular one cannot have been driven mad by any amount of learning.

However, and this is an important caveat, certain kinds of learning are likely to exacerbate the essential madness of mankind.  The most notorious, though not the only, learning which exacerbates madness is any kind of dabbling in the occult.  I strongly suspect that the unfortunate character who became the host of “Legion” had once staked out a career for himself as a sorcerer or a fortune-teller.  Inevitably his “familiars” got the better of him.  So yes, demoniacs and other afflicted persons are notably insane in a sense which goes beyond the ordinary madness of mankind.  One has to be careful what one let’s into one’s mind!

Yet nobody is saved by either prudence or philosophy!  If the major problem were keeping Satan out of our minds, then yes, it would make sense to complain of “too much learning (or other experience) driving someone mad” but it has long since gotten beyond that point, since Satan has been there all along in our individual minds, and since the Fall in terms of our species.  Rather, the problem is how to get God into our minds, minds which have been shut up against God by the ubiquitous insanity of sin.

Perhaps an insight is beginning to dawn upon you.  Perhaps you are now in a position to grasp what has eluded many philosophers: If sin is madness, then nobody can be reasoned out of sin!  Logic and the Socratic dialectic are fine tools, but they are only tools which work when the premises upon which they operate are true.  In the world of computer programing there is an expression “garbage in, garbage out” since even the most superb algorithm will crank out false results when incorrect data has been fed into the program.  Likewise, the human mind has superb powers of inference, both inductive and deductive.  However, to the extent that humans are self-programmed and not God-programmed, the premises of their reasoning will be based on sin, or more precisely, sin-as-thinking, i.e., madness.

Fortunately God has ways of getting around the obstacles which mankind has put in the way of communicating truth.  Christian apologists are the most unlikely of God’s angels, and their well intended attempts at dialectic are typically effective with those who have already surrendered to the Truth.  Salvation, as opposed to illumination, can be brought about through the teaching opportunities pregnant in all of life’s struggles.  For this reason Paul was more apt to use exhortation than discursive reasoning, although he was fully capable of the latter.  Finally, the Lord Jesus himself, though the Logos incarnate, preferred the obscurity of parables to straight on logical ( a.k.a.,”logos-ish”) demonstration.

This reaching out of the sane to the insane, the holy to the unholy, through the artful working of the Holy Spirit, has been misconstrued by secular critics as Christian “misology.”  On this misunderstanding rests all the scornful imagery of “illiterate peasants and shepherds.”   What the secularists fail to realize is that these soft admonitions of the Holy Spirit are a condescension to human weakness, to minds which would inevitably reject truth if it were presented to them in propositional forms.  Yet somehow, not through reasoning but through revelation, minds are transformed.  On the basis of this tacit operation some theologians, notably existential ones, have gloried in the supposed irrationality of the gospel.  However this is misleading.  It would be better to say that human minds are led to conclusions which can be rationally demonstrated, but which would never gain the assent of sinful minds without the subtle intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Of course He can do it any way he choses, but it would seem that the Holy Spirit prefers to play divine music on the soft strings of parable than the harsh cords of dialectic.

Posted in Appologetics, Charismata, Christian Education, Christianity, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

The singularity…was

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 31, 2017

A meditation on the space between Genesis 11 and 12

Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah fathered Abram…

(Genesis 11:27)

Today we hear more and more about the “singularity”…a near future techno-event which will flip our reality upside down with the ease of a skinny judo sensei slamming a portly yellow-belt to the floor.  No doubt the future will witness some startling transformations in the relationship between the human species and whatever salient force is supposedly controlling our environment, therefore we reckon that Biblical prophecy should be flattered, not by these ominous portraits depicted through science fiction and futurology, but that imitation affirms the original.

It is not that I doubt “the singularity” rather, I think it is a more apt term for an event which took place long ago, somewhere in the range of thirty-six or thirty-seven centuries before the present.  This was an all encompassing event which, in the twinkling of an eye (historically speaking!) altered the human condition forever, and it had nothing, or very little to do with technology.  It wasn’t the so-called “Neolithic Revolution” or the “Urban Revolution” although such changes in technology and demographics were certainly ongoing at the time.  Rather, it was a change in the relationship between Man (a.k.a.,humans of both sexes!) and God.

Having let that slip, the atheists have got up and left the room!  Well, fine, because I’m not talking to atheists, I’m talking to philosophers, which (contrary to the prejudice of some believers) is not a distinction without a difference.  The true philosopher not only believes in God, or at least a god, but can even affirm the Hebrew scriptures…up to a point.

That point is the singularity, not a hypothetical future singularity, but the real, past, singularity which transpired once, and only once, at a time and place which we can determine with fair accuracy.  Before that time the human species as a whole was to worship God through reason.  Then suddenly, one man began to worship God through faith.  Understandably, the philosophers think this was a wrong turning, a path out into the wilderness which has distracted humanity from the level causeway of science.

To the philosophers, this turning is doubly offensive.  The first offense is the alleged substitution of faith for reason.  Endless lamps have burned late into the night refuting this accusation, but allow me a momentary respite from this main theme in Christian apologia.  The second offense is the shift from universal to special revelation.  I think this second issue strikes deeper into the heart of philosophical objections to scripture, that is, the narrative as it has been received from Moses onward, where the story of the world up through Genesis 11 must make way for the story of a family, the family of Abraham, beginning with chapter 12.

On the face of it, the philosophers have an easy case to make.  Perhaps that case is better stated in terms of science fiction rather than science.  For Christians, the Hebrew scriptures and their Greek sequel are a  kind of Guidebook to the Universe.  Now, one would expect a Guidebook to the Universe to explain the entire universe in sweeping and satisfying generalities.  Of course the Bible does no such thing, and for that matter, neither does the Guidebook to the Universe.  Any book which did would be a colossal bore, with the emphasis equally distributed between “colossal” and “bore.”   The Bible was written by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the human race, no doubt in the knowledge that a book without human interest would never find a human reader.

That is about as far as pastoral theology is likely to take the scene-change between Genesis 11 and 12.  However I know that the philosophers are unimpressed by folksy analogies, and I am determined to meet their objections in earnest.   I know that for the good philosopher, the kind who wants to believe in a Creator God and an orderly world, Abraham  is a stumbling block.  Such a philosopher, if pushed into a corner, will even declare that he or she could write a better Bible than the one which the Holy Spirit has authored.  Furthermore, some have gone ahead and made the attempt.

From the Universal to the Individual

And the whole Earth was of one language and one speech…

(Genesis 11:1)

Now, in the interests of clarity, let us absolve our hypothetical philosopher of any prejudice towards Abraham qua Abraham.  In 1800BC we are still too early for anti-Semitism, but not too early to get derailed by irrelevancies.  No, the hypothetical philosopher against whom we are arguing objects to the naked singularity, not to the qualities which make Abraham “the father of faith.”

For purposes of illustration lets do a thought-experiment.  Let’s take Genesis 1-11 as a unit, a unit which can be accepted by anyone who is a theist and a creationist.  Of course this will include Christian and Jewish creationists, but it will also include any “pagans” (or whatever you wish to call them) who acknowledge the High God who created the heavens, the earth, and the human race.  In our Bible, Genesis 1-11 is followed by Genesis 12-50, Exodus, Leviticus…and so on.  However in their “Bibles” after Genesis 1-11 the succeeding traditions go on to record the various ethnic histories other than that of the family of Abraham.  Keep in mind, this is only a thought-experiment, and I don’t claim that the nations actually had an accurate narrative of Genesis 1-11.  So in the case of some hypothetically creationist Greeks, the books in their “Bible” would be Genesis 1-11, followed by the Illiad, then the Odyssey, followed, perhaps, by the Works of Hesoid…and so forth.   I wont insist on the details as long as you see the general drift of the argument.

The import of the illustration is not to call attention to the ubiquity of creationism, but to pinpoint the disjuncture where our hypothetical philosopher has become scandalized.  The philosopher whom I am imagining would be just as offended by Achilles as Abraham.  As an apostle of reason, the philosopher does not want science mixed up in personal narratives.  The reasoning is that once personal narratives get mixed up into our scientific premises those premises cease to be objective.  In this view, the Bible from Genesis 12 and beyond is tainted by particularity, just as much as the Illiad, or any other tribal lore.  Granted there are names and persons in Genesis 1-11, but the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the Dispersion can all be affirmed as principles of doctrine, of whom the associated personalities are either real or mythical archetypes.  However once we get characters like Achilles or Abraham mucking around, not as representatives of humanity, but protagonists of particular families and nations, then the high ground of objective discourse on the nature of the world has been surrendered and we have seemingly landed in a pandemonium of  individual conflicts and claims.  Personally, I think there is far more depth to Abraham than Achilles, but I have pledged not to pull that card.  Doing so would be to argue for or against particular individuals, and it is particularity itself which the philosopher objects to.

To be blunt, what the philosopher wants is a Bible which only contains universal truths, and does not descend into the conflicts of individuals.  To take up the cause of Abraham, Achilles or anyone else would, in the mind of such a philosopher, betray the universal fatherhood of God to the idols of the tribe.  Moreover, the zealous among the universal philosophers have not contented themselves with carping at the Hebrew scriptures, rather they have authored many substitutes, sundry tomes which could be considered”corrected” Bibles, redolent of reason and purged of particularity.

A Monument of Monotonous Monotheism

Neither shall your name any more be called Abram but Abraham for a father of many nations I have made you…

(Genesis 17:5)

One of the better thought out and well-intended Bible-substitutes was Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, written in the mid-17th century Netherlands, by a Jewish philosopher who worked a day job as an optician.  As befits the masterpiece of an optician, the Ethics is a very clean and translucent book.  A virtuous philosopher might carry it about as a vaudemecum, a portable Guide to the Universe, and never suffer any embarrassment.  Since the Ethics reduces reality to a set of logical propositions, it contains no narratives of rampaging heroes like Homer’s Achilles, or worse, perplexing anti-heroes like Abraham.  Already, in the war against religious perplexity, Maimonides (1135-1204), an important influence on Spinoza, had explained away God’s body.  Spinoza got rid of His emotions and personality as well.  Thus, Spinoza’s God was essentially the same as nature, although he made a distinction between two kinds of nature, creating nature and created nature.  Hence much of posterity has come to the conclusion that Spinoza was an atheist, either because they were scandalized by his ideas, or conversely, as atheism became stylish rather than stigmatized, they wished to honor him as a forerunner of Enlightenment infidelity.

Others, and I am counting our hypothetical philosopher among them, have taken Spinoza at his word, as a “God-intoxicated man” who sought to preserve the honor of the Deity from the scandal of particularity, and in particular from association with Abraham and his descendants.  One must wonder if Spinoza also wished to clean up the image of his people among the gentiles, an image formed by Abraham, David, and a rogues gallery of assorted sinners, to be replaced by gentler and more edifying examples of Hebrew scientists and scholars…a people among whom Baruch Spinoza himself stands out as a respectable archetype.  None the less, and without respect to Spinoza’s motives, we ought to deal with his theology on its own terms, as a theology and not (as per Leo Strauss and others) a crypto-atheistic doctrine, for we are trying to find out what kind of God would stand above all the messy facts of human history, and whether, as claimed, such a God is preferable to the God who reveals himself in Genesis 12 and beyond.

The value of philosophy is its ruthless consistency.  Many people reject the Bible out of squeamish aversion to nasty particulars, but they have no alternative world-view to substitute for scripture.  However rationalistic philosophers, of whom Spinoza is typical, have taken great pains to describe a God who is above all passions and particulars.   Now the salient characteristic of such a God is that He (if He is a he!) is closest to general laws and further from particular instances of those laws.  One might go so far as to say that He is the laws of the universe Himself.  This sounds quite reasonable, as does the converse, that such a God is furthest from individuals, since individuals are the most particular things in the universe, at the opposite pole from general laws.

Such a God, a god of generalities, might be reconciled to a Bible which ends at Genesis 11.  In the first part of Genesis God is seen as the creator of kinds, or what we call species.  In His dealing with men, it is as representatives of moral types, thus Cain is rebellious and Able is obedient, however after the Flood, and particularly after the Dispersion, the differentiation between individuals and races no longer expresses clear moral contraries, rather, it is variegated in the common sense of non-moral distinctiveness.   The human tribes emerging from the Dispersion are no longer different the way that Good and Evil are different, rather, they are different in the way that Apples and Oranges are different.

The Singularity

And I will make your seed as the dust of the Earth…

(Genesis 13:16)

The various “tables of the nations” after the Flood bear out this “Apples and Oranges” ethnology.  Gone are the scary Antediluvian cast of characters who are susceptible  of a Manichean interpretation.  After the early chapters of Genesis, people are just people, though chastened by the Flood and the Dispersion, and for a while God deals with them just as any rationalistic philosopher would have Him do, through the means of common grace and natural revelation.

Until Abraham.

This is the point at which human reason chokes.  Why, after having created a variegated species does God pick out one man in one family for special revelation?   The rationalistic philosopher would have God blaze his laws in the sky, for all the Earth to see without particularity or prejudice.  Instead, the singularity takes place in the nocturnal solitude of Abraham’s tents.  Humanity has never quite gotten over this event, this solicitude of God to one man and his family.  Here we are not concerned with the problematic reactions of posterity to “the choice” either the complaints of the Anti-Semites that the whole thing was a hoax or the apprehensions of Jews who feel it as an albatross around their neck.  Like it or not, the singularity was.   Rather, we are trying lift our eyes up to the purposes of the Creator, and weigh the claims of His two most plausible and noble interpreters, reason and special revelation.  Make no mistake, one of these two must be primary, and the second reduced to either a handmaiden or an allusion.

What we think about the source of our knowledge (reason vs. special revelation) will determine how we think about the the singularity, i.e., the “Abraham event.”  Conversely, how we understand the Abraham event will determine which is primary, special revelation or reason.  If we are to proceed philosophically, we will first want to understand in what sense these two sources of knowledge are similar, and then examine their differences.

At the risk of appearing commonplace, it needs to be acknowledged that both rational exposition and Biblical revelation are propositional forms of knowledge.  Now some people, especially those who claim to be mystics, are going to want to cavil at this assertion.  However I am not saying that all the things which are communicated by God to human beings take the form of propositions.  None the less, if we restrict ourselves to the revelations in the Bible, they are clearly propositional statements, such as “thou shalt not kill,” or “Cain traveled to the east and founded a city.”  They are logical statements intended for human comprehension.  Famously, during an age when men and women had drunk too deeply from the tap of mysticism, Dr. Luther objected that the Bible was a model of perspicuity, a plain message which didn’t require any spiritual advancement or academic prowess to understand.

Once we have acknowledged that both rational exposition and special revelation are propositional, it is easy to find the critical difference between these two sources of knowledge.  Rational exposition is dialectical, that is to say, it is a kind of machine for finding truth.  On the other hand special revelation is relational.  From our human standpoint, we could say that special revelation is similar to rhetoric, providing we are willing to ignore the negativity which surrounds the word “rhetoric.”  The ideal of rational exposition is independence from the prejudices of any hypothetical auditor.  In contrast, special revelation is more than just exposition, it is communication.

This is the “secret” of special revelation, which is not really a secret, but rather so obvious that it seldom occurs to anyone to give it much thought: The message of revelation is not just the propositional content of what is being revealed, rather the persons from whom and to whom the message is sent is part of the meaning itself, indeed, sometimes it is the main import of the revelation.  Revelation, i.e.,special revelation, can be defined as relationship + content.

Therefore something of critical importance is going on from the moment that God starts speaking with Abraham.  Personality, rather than matter, has been affirmed as the building block of the universe.  Or rather, since God is on one side of the equation, personality has been affirmed as the builder/building blocks of the universe.  An occasionalist would say that while he was talking with Abraham, God was actually creating the idea of personality.  Fortunately occasionalists (philosophers who think time is an illusion) are pretty nutty, so we can ignore their opinion.   Rather, if we adhere to the reality of creation, we can safely assume that personalities, both Divine and human, existed prior to the Abraham event, but that with that event the full meaning of “personality” was revealed to us.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the content of the revelation was irrelevant or trivial.  God didn’t tell Abraham “one two buckle your shoe” although that would have sufficed to initiate a Divine/human relationship.  Rather, all the things that God told Abraham and asked him to do were intended for not just for his good, but for our edification as well.

Singularity over Substance

…and the souls that they had gotten in Harran.

(Genesis 12:5)

Perhaps I am picking rather unfairly on Baruch Spinoza.  I am sure he was a very nice man.  However the great divide in this world is not between nice men and not-so-nice men (and ditto for women).  Rather, the great divide is between those who are on the side of Abraham and those who are on the other side, and I am not talking, at least primarily, about ethnicity.  In his goodness, Spinoza took solace in the concept of “substance” which was universal and inclusive of all people and things, the all-in-all.  Was this a universal cosmos-worship which denied a separate God, or a universal theism which denied the created universe?  I am sure that God  is not particularly troubled by the confusions of philosophers over nomenclature.  What should be troubling for us is the absence of personality in this metaphysical system, an absence which oddly manages to coexist with the egoistic basis of Spinoza’s ethics.  It is as if Spinoza were telling us, “Take care of yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously…in the end you will drift away into the vapors!”

In contrast, Abraham takes himself and the fortunes of his family very seriously.  We would tend to count this as one of Abraham’s many faults if it were not that God took Abraham at least, if not more, seriously than Abraham did himself.  Abraham is a singularity, not a spoonful of the universal substance, but rather, a substance-in-himself.  Paradoxically, the fact that God authorizes Abraham’s uniqueness, and takes an interest in his survival, confirms the substantial reality of all the individuals who ever have and ever will exist throughout human history.  Not in vain was it written that those who bless Abraham will be blessed by God.

At last we have arrived at the point were the philosopher is most offended, yet the very point were the believer takes most satisfaction.  This is the scandal of the inclusion of the species inside the individual.  Here we are not speaking, primarily, about procreation.  Adam, Noah, Charles Darwin, or whomever,  may contain a population within their body, as we all know.  However Abraham is different, as all are different who are “in” Abraham, whether they be his biological descendants or not.  The naturalistic philosopher puts this “in” stuff down as an aberration of the apostle Paul, who is summarily dismissed as a poor logician, if not totally insane. However it is not logic which motivates these skeptics, but rather a nagging apprehension that Abraham is just the opening wedge in a fault line which will eventually pull asunder the veil between God and humanity some seventeen centuries later.  They want the veil to stay.

The common sense objections to “in” are based on a conflation of logic and ontology.  Although there are certain kinds of fanatics who delight in the irrational (a generation ago they were called existentialists, today it’s postmodernists)  God never contradicts himself.  He made the laws of logic and He’s sticking to them. To say that a species can be “in” an individual is not the same as claiming that a genus can be inside a species.  If I start a religion which claims that all mammals are zebras, I may have great faith, but  it is bad faith because the object of my faith is a falsehood.  A genus cannot be part of a species.  That would be a logical contradiction.

However a species can subsist within an individual.  This might be true in any number of senses, most of which are irrelevant to the issue at hand.  Procreation has already been mentioned.  Even people who don’t believe in Adam and Eve have heard of “mitochondrial Eve” although there might be resistance to talk of being “in” her, since secularists don’t like bracketing out time in their speculations, not to mention more commonplace squeamishness.  And speaking about what makes us squeamish, what about Legion?   Although “he” is hardly an pleasant topic, we have as sure testimony to Legion as anybody in scripture, including Abraham.   Legion was a species, or at least a population, who (prior to the Lord’s intervention) inhabited an individual.  Skeptics can dispute the truth of the story since they deny the reality of demonic possession, however they cannot claim that the story is logically contradictory, only that it violates their notions of ontological possibility.  If “he” had been a species of bacteria, it would be acceptable to naturalists.

However there is nothing of this biological or spiritually squeamish stuff going on with the “in” of Abraham.  Incorporation into the body of Abraham is incorporation “only” in the sense of being part of a body politic.  Although this may seem intangible in comparison to biological descent, nothing is more fundamental to human existence than having a legal personality which allows one to function in society.  This is easy to see in a worldly sense.  However when one has a standing in relation to Someone who is outside of time and space, it means that one is no longer just a drop in the ocean of universal substance.  Rather, it means that you have your own substance, an individuality which will persist beyond time.  It means that whatever you do will effect eternity.

Whether this is a good thing or not is yet a different question.  In the absence of some mechanism for the atonement for sin, one would have to be very careful indeed.  Considering the liabilities of eternal, individual, existence, it is easy to sympathize with those who wish nothing more than to dissolve into the ocean of Being.  Should life be lived seriously, or should it be viewed with amusement as a passing vanity?  The serious life begins with the singularity of the Abraham event, but fortunately it doesn’t end there, since with individuality comes the recognition of responsibility for sin, and setting sin straight would be a crushing burden if outside help were not forthcoming.  The help arrives when the outside help becomes inside help, and only those who have been tutored in the school of Abraham are prepared to understand how the “out” becomes the “in.”  They are the ones who understand that the uniformity of nature has been split apart, giving rise to individuals, nay, to souls, perchance saints.

Grace is now, but the singularity…was…

 

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In Defense of “Man”

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 15, 2017

Not Even Wrong

Suddenly.

Not suddenly as you or I measure time, but suddenly according to the stately cadences of historical events, we have lost, if not yet our species, at least, and ominously, our name for it.  At some point in the not very distant past, “Man” vanished…not extinguished as an  organism, but as an object of consciousness.  For where there is no name there can be no consciousness, where there is no consciousness there can be no science.  Today there is no longer a science called Anthropology worthy of its name, for the name has been banished.   I don’t mean the entertaining science of bones and basket weaving and many other shining objects which is offered in college curricula as “Anthropology.”  I mean Anthropology in the most specific of species-centered meanings, inquiry into that simple question….”What is…what is…[bleep!].”   It is a question which can scarcely be asked today, let alone answered.

This masking of “Man” strikes me as an important development which deserves an extended and serious discussion.   To that end, some ground rules are necessary, concerning which I have some good news and some bad news.  Here goes both:  Sex will not be mentioned in the course of this article.  I have no interest whether the reader be sex-crazed or celibate, male or female or anywhere on the spectrum in-between.  I am only interested in whether you think this Anthropological murder mystery is worth of your time and consideration.

If you concur, then the omission of sex and his/her ugly sibling “gender” is good news indeed, because these things are monumental and, I would argue, intentional, distractions from the difficulties involved in Philosophical Anthropology.  Those bad news bears,  non-adults who think sexuality is the central, nay exclusive, issue in life, can adjourn to their favorite safe space, the Reading Room on Gender, where they can reinforce their own bias among those vast collections of literature which are supplemented daily by our subsidized scholars and their media mimes.

Now to be sure, there are other rabbit paths leading away from the essential inquiry, its just that sex and gender are the most obvious, if not the most obnoxious, and hence need to be eliminated first.  However, those other anti-Anthropological rabbit paths, though less celebrated, become increasingly subtle as the core of the problem is approached.  In any subject, the task is hard enough when we have been force-fed the wrong answers…the real difficulties start when we realize that we started off on the wrong foot by asking the wrong questions.  Today, when we encounter the fundamental question of  Philosophical Anthropology, to paraphrase the incidentally sexy but essentially humane Erin Brockovitch, “..all we have is two wrong feet and damn ugly shoes.”  We don’t know”bleep!”…and the absence of the word doesn’t help.

If we wish to restore that lost science, it will prove necessary to go back and wrap our brains around that simple word “Man” which was once the standard English term for the class of all human beings, much like its French equivalent “l’homme” etc..  Man has long since disappeared out of scholarly, correct and polite language , which means pretty much everywhere, since in casual idiom, if we discount “Man oh man!” and similar oddities, the universalizing nomenclature of Philosophical Anthropology is worse than useless.  After all, you can tell a good joke about Poles, or rabbis, or priests, or homosexuals, or women, and yes, even about “men” qua the male gender, but its hard (short of aliens or the envious algorithms of The Matrix) to envision a “Man” joke.  However, while the comedians won’t notice, there might be a few instances where, for the health of civilization, the ability to have a word for the human species could come in handy.  From this, we can derive another important consideration, once “Man” has been abolished, it  is unlikely to be missed by the broad masses.  The only people who are likely to be bothered are a few specialists in what it means to be a unique species, and these specialists are generally regarded an over-serious, isolated and boring bunch.  Likewise, if the word “epidemic” and all synonyms for “epidemic” were outlawed, the only people likely to get in a panic would be epidemiologists.  Everyone else would get along quite splendidly…at least for a while.

To be sure, the abolition of “Man” and the Abolition of Man, as per the essay by C.S. Lewis are not identical.  The latter concerns the weakening of the species, the former concerns the loss of its name.  Indeed, the distinction between signs and things signified is another treasure which must be jealously guarded against the ravages of post-modernity, which is trying to slouch its way back towards a magical worldview.  Be that as it may, we can still surmise that in the defense of something it might prove essential to be able to speak about it.

On the other hand, we have to make especially sure we don’t get lured down another popular rabbit path, a highly respectable path none the less leads away from the Anthropological core: The path of language.  For example, we could easily lump this abolition of “Man” (the word) together with similar language “correction.”  Pointing out the absurdity of these corrections is the strategy of many conservatives, such as British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who talks about the way that gender neutrality reforms have “violated the natural cadences of the English language.”   On an esthetic level, there may still be some residual irritation at “people” (or similar substitutes) in lieu of “Man”.  Yet, while this is good Edmund Burke-vintage common sense, it heads off in a trivial and logic mincing direction, of the kind favored by British analytical philosophers and American word-pundits in the Bill Safire tradition.  It expresses a futile, rearguard, hope that inane reforms, like the substitution of his and hers by “hez” can be reversed by a return to  convention, or even mutual rationality.  Rather, the Postmodernist hoards are not likely to be stemmed by a grammar policeman, policewoman, or even policeperson holding up a gloved hand, shouting “Stop!”  Its not that the “reforms” can’t be exposed as illogical and unappealing, its that they are just the tip of the spear carried by acolytes in a far deeper struggle.

Whether the war over language is winnable, I maintain it is the war against Man (as a concept) which is primary, a battle with ideological motives rooted in the hoary past.  Call it a “conspiracy” if you will, keeping in mind that conspiracy is just  popular philosophy prosecuted by cadres of minimally educated but highly motivated minions.  The generals in this conspiracy knew that they could not launch a frontal assault on Man (a.k.a. the human race), so they focused their attention on “Man” at first as a concept and then as a word.  This history of this war is better measured by centuries than by decades and has taken many a convoluted turn.  Hence my belief that contemporary Feminism is, at best, a secondary effect.  It is the Amazon battalion thrown into the breach of the citadel after the the groundwork had been patiently laid and the initial battlefield secured.  That crucial battlefield was anthropology, and not what one is liable to think of as the field of anthropology, but its philosophical cousin, that key science of all sciences, namely, the “Philosophy of…[bleep!]…”

A good “Man” is wrong to find

One can admit something exists and is important without idolizing it.  There was all too much idolization of the human race after the Renaissance and building up to the Enlightenment, a period bookended by Pico de la Mirandola’s On the Dignity of [Bleep!] and Alexander Pope’s Essay on [Bleep!] tomes which style and economy have rendered, perhaps mercifully, unreadable today.  In those days, whenever errant scholars ventured too far from the Pauline/Augustinian double anthropology of fall and redemption, it spelled trouble.  However, personal repentance generally put a  limit to the damage which could be inflicted before the toxic juice of self-worship became endemic to society.  Mirandola befriended and was converted by Savonarola, that misunderstood Catholic puritan, while at least Pope never became the Pope nor were his verses rendered into binding encyclicals.  Savonarola taught the early humanists the secret of Christian Anthropology, that Man is both sacred and bad.  For his tuition, and other causes, he was burned at the stake.

The last child and virtual apotheosis (that is, one “made into God”) of the early modern period was Voltaire, who’s hatred of religion was legendary.  None the less, even Voltaire had too much common sense to think that his animus towards Christianity could be transmuted into a new and living faith.  He noted that “It is easy enough to start a new religion, all you have to do is get yourself crucified and then rise from the dead!”  In recent years, the late Rene Girard has documented Voltaire’s insight with numerous case-studies, illustrating how most human religions originate in scapgoating, death, and subsequent apotheosis.  However the wily Voltaire could see where all this was heading, and limited his disciples to the “cultivation of  their gardens” i.e., the enjoyment of a quiet and restrained sensuality.  We might call this soft-core Humanism, or the humanism of the self.   This early modern Man-ism, which today is probably the most popular (albeit unconscious) religion on the planet, is little more than a recrudescence of old Epicurus, whose famous doctrine Paul once debated on the field of Athenian Mars.  At worst the virtues of this philosophy, such as conviviality, apolitical repose, refined aesthetics etc., are disguised vices, vices centered on feelings.  Think of the the steriotypical Country Club Republican of today’s America.  Such people are pathetic, but not in any superficial sense of the word, since the purpose of their  life is “pathic”…that is, to have feelings, high quality feelings.

Hard-core Humanism was a novelty of Voltaire’s rival, J. J. Rousseau.  In contrast to the soft doctrine, here the object of action is the ideal of Man, not the feeling-satisfaction of individual human beings.   It was Rousseau who managed to transmute the Enlightenment’s carping animus against Christianity into something resembling a true religion.  As the founder of this new religion, which has variously been termed Modernism, Humanism, Socialism and much else, Rousseau should have found himself subject to the pitiless Law of the Scapegoat.  However he eluded martyrdom, and not just because he died a natural death nineteen years prior to the outbreak of the revolution he had inspired.  Rousseau’s Man differed in important ways from both Christian and Renaissance conceptions, which were predicated on either a personal God, or at any rate, a hierarchy of beings of which the human race was but one link in the chain of existence.  Although initially disguised by Deistic code-words, the new religion lifted up Man as the Head of the Cosmos.  Since this Man was a collective, it was not expedient that any individual anti-Christ need suffer the Law of the Scapegoat.  If there were to be any suffering, it would only be in accord with the tyrant Caligula’s wish for the Roman people, “If only they all had but one neck!”  In principle, the head which lifts itself too high gets chopped off.  Caligula himself  proved  no exception to the rule.

At all events, by the 2nd or 3rd  year of the Human Revolution (c. 1793AD) modern technology had outstripped antiquity, democratizing death and allowing Caligula’s dream to come true.  The guillotine enabled the disciples of Rousseau to liquidate the old political class en mass, and then in a predictable turn of events, those disciples themselves mounted the scaffold, suffering a kind of mechanical crucifixion to the god whom they had lifted up, Man.  It was a collective crucifixion to a collective god, for this “Man” was not the same as in the soft Humanism of Voltaire, which was just a category designating a collection of individuals.  Rather, this post-Rousseau “Man” was, if not quite a concrete organism, at least cohesive enough to have a single will, a doctrine as lethal as it was democratic.

The carnage of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period was not repeated in Europe until 1914 and thereafter, after which great quantities of men and women again began to be killed as a consequence of political and military action.  Here  we would like to inquire whether this carnage (lit. carnal death) was in some sense related to the death (or life) of an abstraction.  Is there a relation between the death of humans and the death of “Man” as a concept and a word, and if so, is that relation positive or negative?  The example of the French Revolution would seem to caution us against a laudatory Humanism, on the suspicion that the higher the ideal of “Man” is lifted up, the more human individuals are likely to be subjected to political violence.

At this point in the argument however, such a conclusion would be premature.  The period between the exile of Napoleon and the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, which saw relative calm in European politics was conversely that period which witnessed, for good or ill, a wholesale revolution in popular concept of “Man” under the impact of Evolution, Marxism, and Psycho-analysis.  However none of these epicenters of scientific upheaval were directly concerned with Anthropology, at least Philosophical Anthropology, rather they were centered on the cognate disciplines of biology, economics, and psychology.

More to the point, none of these revolutionaries set out to solve the problem, “What is… [bleep!]…”   However others took up that now forbidden question, and we should try to pick up their tracks from where they left off in the tumult of 19th century thought.

Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens

Today if you mention “Illuminism” it is likely to conjure up secret societies, occultism and political skulduggery, critical investigation into which is no doubt important and proper.  However in the literary salons of Europe and America during the 1840s and 185os Illuminism had a second, though in all probability related, meaning.  It referred to the then-novel research which today’s theologians refer to as the “Higher Criticism.”  If you know about, say, the “Jesus Seminar” then you pretty much know what Illuminism a.k.a. “Higher Criticism” was, except that the contemporary Seminar is pretty much an isolated rehashing of themes which were treated with greater plausibility and seriousness 170 years before.  Those earlier 19th century critics of religion were advancing along the front of a broad intellectual movement which was in the early stages of transiting from spiritualism to materialism.  The cynosure of the movement was Germany in the years following, and in reaction to, the death of philosopher G.F.W. Hegel.  To simplify a very complex way of thinking, many people of that time had accepted Pantheism, the idea that the universe and God are the same thing.  Since most people are not very quick on the uptake, and are willing to sign on to a belief systems before they grasp all of its correlative implications.

Thus, many a happy Pantheist, circa 1840AD, was surprised and saddened to learn that their system no longer permitted them to believe in the personal divinity of Jesus, whom they had hoped to retain as a spiritual hedge in spite of their infidel inclinations .  They should have figured this out from reading Hegel, but it took the shock treatment administered by some young, radical, German intellectuals of the time (a.k.a.,  the Illuminists, Higher Critics etc.) to rub the noses of these au currant ladies and gentlemen in the compost of atheism.  After a halfhearted embrace of Pantheist ambiguity, some among the elite classes of Europe were again courting hard-core, Rousseau-vintage, Humanism, very much along the lines of the original French Revolution of 1789, albeit the European political revolutions of the 40s didn’t amount to much.  This time, humanism broke out with more scientific rigor and less heartfelt enthusiasm, “Man” was made the vehicle of those hopes and dreams which had previously been invested in God.  Moreover, the unprecedented technological progress of the times were conducive to putting faith in human works.

Yet those works, splendid as they might be, begged the nature of their creators.  What was the essence of Man?  Or as we would say today, “What is the essence of….[bleep!]?”  Amazing though it might seem in retrospect, some people of that era actually took the time and pains to ask the Anthropological question.  The man who best serves as archetype of those questioners, actually proposing and discarding several solutions over the course of his life, was the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).  One thing that can be said of Feuerbach, even if we dismiss him as a serial wrong-guesser who justly earned posthumous obscurity, was his persistent and scrupulous engagement with the Anthropological question.  His best remembered quote,”You are what you eat!” might ornament a nutritionist more gloriously than a philosopher.  Yet we must consider that, as a thinker, he was an anvil and not a hammer, pounded left and right by forces which were not just making Modernity but shattering the classical mirror of Man (better known to us as “bleep!”).  Feurerbach’s lifetime bracketed an epochal turn in human self-definition, a turn which Feuerbach didn’t initiate so much as chronicle.

Therefore, meditate on the chronological sketch below and notice how the the turn from Anthropology to anti-Anthropology transpired in the space of a specific, species-haunted, generation.  I know this narrative will be easy to dismiss as a curmudgeon’s rant on “the origins of the left”  but if you visualize the broad movement behind, and independent of, individual intentions will you grasp  its Anthropological significance.  In spooky confirmation of a simultaneous and  universal (or at least pan-Western) turn of thought, the history of early Positivism could be adduced as  a development in synchronicity with Idealism, but in this case the decapitation of Man being conducted by French, and allegedly “conservative” social scientists from August Compte to Emile Durkheim.  But I rather prefer the bold and brooding history of Anglo-German radicalism.

1804  death of Immanuel  Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach

1806 Hegel publishes his Phenomenology, consciousness posited as the motive force in the history of the world, subjective (individual) consciousness conditioned in a “dialectical” relationship to objective (collective) consciousness.

1818-19 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, S. T. Coleridge introduces German Idealism to the English reading public, slowly Idealism will replace the reigning Scottish “common sense” philosophy in the English speaking world.

1831  death of Hegel

1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss

1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach

1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot

1844 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, critical of objectivity and lack of political engagement in speculative Anthropology

1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe

1848 The Communist Manifesto

1850 The Great London Exposition, popular vindication of applied technology over philosophical and scientific theory

1854-56 Crimean War (only major European war between 1815-1914)  Nightingale, progressive transfer of humane care from family and church to state

1859 Charles Darwin, the Origin of Species, natural selection adduced as motive force in natural history

1860 Essays and Reviews, English theologians embrace the methods of Higher Criticism

1861-65 American civil war, first modern “total” war

1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published

1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man

1872 Death of Feuerbach

Note that at the outset Man was The All-In-All, but at the end of the period, not even the  child of a monkey, rather, a scion of some anonymous animal.

In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach attempted to equate God with “good.”  In his view all the things which were posited of a Supreme Being were actually virtuous attributes of the human species-being.  Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, etc., were human characteristics, which had been mistakenly projected on to an alienated figment of the collective imagination and deified.  However, and here’s the rub, the human individual had no more ultimate reality than God.  Feuerbach’s Man was not men, or men and women, or even people, but the species as a collective.   Individuals were mortal but the species was immortal.  Man was God, Man was good, and Man would live forever.  At the time it seemed like a grand faith, a devotion to something tangible which might give meaning to the limited and fragile life of individuals.

Feuerbach’s intention was  to make a smooth transition from the crypto-Pantheism of Hegel, to a less infatuated, more earthy, Humanism.  Yet  his critics were were more likely to see this continuity with idealism as contamination by unrealistic nonsense.  As thinkers more cunning and sanguinary than Feuerbach were quick to point out, this alleged Human species-being never managed to will anything concrete and  unanimously, but rather, all real  history has been the history of antagonistic groups engaged in fratricidal strife.  For the critics, the ultimate meaning of history was far better illustrated by victorious parties dancing on the graves of the defeated than a universally inclusive chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  According to Karl Marx the antagonistic parties were economic classes, and to some extent nations.  Today we would add genders, races, religions, and even sexual orientations.  Under fire from its radical critics, Human species-being quickly melted into the solvent of class analysis.

Small wonder that Marx happily discarded Feuerbach’s anthropology for the naturalism of Darwin, at one point seeking (and being refused) permission to dedicate Capital to the British naturalist.  Darwin’s system was founded on the assumption of conflict and competition, not the deduction of human from divine virtues.  Feuerbach continued to revise his system in the direction of increasingly consistent materialism, but was no longer in the forefront of a generation which had jumped from philosophical speculation to natural science, now that the latter was backed up by the prestige of  rapidly developing technology.

More significantly, the capital which Darwin did not endorse was the capital M in Man.  In classical anthropology Man had been one of the primordial kinds, as in Spirit, Man, Animal, and Mineral.  Naturalists from Aristotle to Buffon had recognized that  qua organism, the human body was akin to other mammals, and especially to apes and monkeys.  However in a consistently despiritualized science, the one human species was no longer set apart from the myriad of other animals, but rather fell under the same biological and ethological constraints as any other organism.  This reduction may have deeply bothered Darwin personally, but as a scientist he never really posed the Anthropological question the same way that Feuerbach had done, rather he was resigned to viewing homo sapiens as a single object within the purview of the natural science.  In spite of the title, after The Decent of Man, Man ceased to exist as a problem for natural science.  Or more precisely, from a Darwinian point of view, Man, as a unique aspect of the world, had never existed to begin with.

From Man to “Man”

We began by hinting that the loss of “Man” was a harbinger of the death of our own species.  After some clarification we can now understand that the situation is rather worse than we had initially feared, in that, conceptually, Man was killed off sometime in the middle of the 19th century, while “Man” (the word) actually survived the concept by more than a hundred years.  To maintain clarity, we must remember that there are actually three deaths.  First, the death of the concept, second the death of the word, and third, and yet to happen, the actual species extinction of homo sapiens.  That the third death is yet to happen should not imply that it necessarily will, it is only a hypothesis.  None the less, the three deaths are cognitively related.  In particular, the death of Man (the concept) at the hands of Darwinism, is strongly associated with the putative mortality of the species.  If Man is subject to species extinction, as are all organic taxa according to the laws of natural selection, then Man cannot be considered a primary aspect of the world.  As an analogy, consider the concept of “states of matter” which are generally accepted as uniform, or at least ubiquitous, aspects of nature.  If, say, all liquids could disappear from the cosmos, it would put the schema of “states of matter” in serious doubt.  Something of that nature is what has happened with Man, due to the anti-Anthropological turn circa 1860.

Now, would it be too wicked for me to suggest that while Man is not a “species” in the same sense that felix domestica is a species, none the less Man bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat, that enigmatic creature of the proverbial nine lives?  Not only did the word “Man” persist far longer than one might have expected, but Anthropology entered a period of great fruition after the death of Darwin.  Here I’m not referring primarily to what people ordinarily think of as “Anthropology”, the post-Darwinian people-within-nature paradigm which covers everything from bones to basket weaving.  Be wary that, just as in politics, where the nomenclature for everything gets twisted around to its opposite, and we now are forced to call socialists “liberals” in similar fashion those post-Darwinian scholars who no longer believe in a human essence are liable to call themselves “Anthropologists.”  In fact, they are mostly anti-Anthropologists who just want to study the secondary attributes and accidental properties associated with human beings.   Granted, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and on the whole these so-called Anthropologists are not a bad lot, being no more consistently anti-Anthropological than the other professionals who have have inherited scattered fragments among the human sciences.  If the so-called Anthropologists have any besetting sins, those would be 1) they stole the name away from genuine Anthropology, 2) some sub-schools were virulently anti-cognitive, for example the ethnologist Franz Boaz who never saw a theory that he didn’t want to grind down into a powder of facts, 3) others, notably the Structuralists, were hyper-cognitive, and sought to gin up a Theory of Everything, based on some attribute (usually kinship or language) of human thought or behavior.

The anti-Anthropologists who called themselves “Anthropologists” loved “Man” (the word).  After all, it was their schtick, and made a nifty title for textbooks, even textbooks written by sophisticated Darwinians and Marxists who knew that human species-being had gone out of fashion with Feuerbach.  In the meantime, anything on two legs with an opposable thumb would do, and it was all great fun until Feminism put the kibosh on that particular branding.  None the less, so-called  “Anthropology” took the ban on “Man” in stride, since their usage of the term was based on a consistent nominalism, if not on a conscious memory of the anti-Anthropological roots of modern natural science.  Fortunately, due to the exclusion of classical languages, undergraduates could still take “Anthro” and not worry their heads that banned “Man” had never meant just  andro…indeed, that it had meant much more than both andro and gyno put together.

Yet, I wanted to mention the 2oth century miracle of Anthropology, not so-called “Anthropology” but genuine Philosophical Anthropology, as it flourished after, and in spite of, the anti-Anthropological turn of the previous generation.  If I thought that Man were a mere species and not an attribute of Created Being, my inclination would be to classify it somewhere within the family Leporidae, as a mammal with a capacity for making unexpected intellectual leaps, and multiplying thoughts faster than other species can reproduce their genes.  To that end, what great broods have been spawned, not just among the anti-Anthropologists, which is only to be expected, but even among genuine Anthropologists during the 20th and even 21st centuries!

Now remember, when I heap praise on the battered remnants of genuine, philosophical, Anthropology, I’m only lauding them for asking the right question, namely: “What is…[bleep!]”  And by now you understand what “bleep!” is and that a Philosophical Anthropologist is one who would know and say that “bleep!”=Man, and that possibly we should even come out and say “Man” when we mean Man.  I am not saying that many, or even any, of these Anthropologists have answered the question correctly, although I think there is an answer, and that some have made a closer approach to the correct solution than others.  Naturally I have my own views, but I would consider anyone a legitimate Anthropologist who asked the question aright.

There are schools of Philosophical Anthropology of every description.  Some are religious, some are frankly atheistic, but even the most starkly atheistic Anthropologists demure from post-Darwinian naturalism in positing something unique and essential about the human race.  In that sense, all Anthropologists, from atheists to Christians, are tendering a kind of “minority report” against the consensus view of modern science and society.  An atheistic, but genuine, Anthropologist might posit that the human race has a unique responsibility to conserve the cosmos and bring it to its best potential.  Countering this, the consensus view would maintain that such an assertion was errant nonsense, an arbitrary projection of human values into the unthinking and unthinkable void.

In a brief treatment, it is impossible to do more than allude to all the speculative “minority reports” which have been filed by Philosophical Anthropologists against the hegemony of post-Darwinian naturalism.  No doubt many of these speculations have been wrong-headed, but they have at least kept a window open to world-views outside the standard narrative.  If I had to pick a representative of the type it would be Max Scheler(German, d. 1928).  Feuerbach’s anthropolgy began with materialistic idealism and sloped inexorably down to idealistic materialism, however Scheler’s thought described a parabola, which at its height sought the divine in Man.   Personality, both Divine and Human, was arguably Scheler’s main concern, however his reluctance to deal with the limits imposed by a temporal creation, as per the Judeo-Christian scriptures, subordinated individuality to the vague infinity of deep time, a dilemma similar to that encountered by the ancient Gnostics.  Abandoning his initial, and intentionally Christian, viewpoint, Scheler made the alarming discovery that, in precluding a personal God, the amoral instinctual urges of the Cosmos were far stronger than  any principle of spiritual form or sentiment.   The intellectual public in Germany and beyond, repelled by such otiose metaphysics embraced existentialism, a doctrine which gave up on the reality of anything but individuals.  Anthropology once again retreated to the shadows.

In retrospect, Feurebach and Scheler seem like tragic figures who lifted up Man, in one or another guise, as a god, only to see their systems crushed down by more consistently nihilistic doctrines.  However it doubtful whether their contemporaries saw the loss of Anthropological hegemony as something to be lamented.  Rather, they were relieved to be unburdened of Man, just as they had greeted the earlier, and logically prior, “death of God” with satisfaction.

The return of Man, and the return of “Man”…which, both or neither?

The operational assumption is that people can get along perfectly well without a conception of their own species occupying a special place in the system of the world.  Underlying this assumption is the more fundamental axiom that the natural science narrative is our default outlook on the world.  After all, its “natural” is it not?

However the “minority report” of Philosophical Anthropology raises the  specter of a completely different world, a world in which the unique bearers of the divine image have been persuaded that they are but one of a myriad of animal species.  By this account, the conceptual framework of natural science within which the image bearers were circumscribed, was not so much a “discovery” as the imputation of a belief-system.  From this perspective, it is naturalism, not the classical Man-centered cosmology, which is fabulous.  To get the masses of humanity to believe such a deflating fable in the course of a few centuries, has been a superbly effective triumph of propaganda.  Although we have some hints as to who has disseminated this propaganda, the question of in whose interest it was disseminated remains enigmatic.

Within the English-speaking world, the banner of the old classical Anthropology (Christian or secular) was “Man.”  The banner was not furled up until long after the cause was lost.  Yet the banner itself was essential, so essential that the high command of anti-Anthropology decided to send in the Amazonian battalion to haul it down under the pretext of the gender wars.  Lost in the confusion of that particular skirmish, was the deep import of having a proper name for that key nexus of Creation through which the Divine, ideally, was to communicate its dominion over the visible world.  “People” is more than just an innocent substitute for “Man”, since, being a plural, it serves as a pretext for importing the entire philosophy of nominalism into the human sciences.  Nominalism views entities (you and me and the cat and the carpet) as capable of being grouped into any category which happens to be convenient.   Who’s convenience?

It can be safely inferred that this is a view well suited to those who want to abolish the boundaries between species.  Perhaps now the reader can see the relevance of all the preceding esoteric Anthropology, for looming on the event horizon of our world are a thousand crises brought about by relation of the human to the non-human.  Indeed, we are conjuring up new categories of non-humans day by day.  AI and aliens, robots and Chimeras, not to mention all those entities of the natural and spiritual world who are ancient in human lore.  I eagerly await the rebirth of the “dinosaur” from its amber-encased DNA.  Or will it be a dragon?   Names make a difference.

None the less, we proceed without caution, for the night-watch has been relieved of its duties as the evening of human history encroaches.  Isolated voices cry out, “There may be a problem here!” and anxiety is ubiquitous, but few are willing to “get real.”  This is not an accident.  The “real” tools, nay, the “real” weapons with which we might have fought were long ago taken away and beaten, not into plowshares, but into the bars of zoological confinement for what remains of the dignity of Man.  The “real” tools were realistic in a properly philosophical sense, exalting created kinds as the unalterable building blocks from which God created our world.  Such was Man.  Hence the necessity of having a personal name for the species.

Will Man come again?  I think so, but more on the basis of faith than calculation.  In the meantime others look towards a rapidly accelerating future, and begin to realize that “Nature” is hardly a better idol than secular Man, that the sense of “nature-in-itself” is an illusory effect of what psychologists call normalcy bias.  None the less, something is approaching, we know not what.  Intellectuals call it “the end of history” while technologists speak of “the singularity.”  Most just ignore it, but it will come nonetheless.

Suddenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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