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Archive for February, 2009

The Arcana of “The Lovers”

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 14, 2009

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

By the way, nobody seems to know who, if anybody, this St. Valentinius was.  Valentinius means “valorious one” in Latin, or something like that, so if you picture “Prince Valient” from the old comic strip you won’t go far wrong.  At one time I thought that it was a recrudecence of Gnosticism which had somehow been preserved in the Catholic calender, since there was a famous heresiarch named Valentinius who lived in Alexandria during the 2nd  century, but I have now come to doubt that hypothesis.  As it turns out there were at least half a dozen saints who had local cults named Valentinius in places ranging from Romania to France.  But this too, has become a dead letter, in so far as some pope or council a few decades ago, in a fit of rationalism, decided to dump the whole lot of them.  Needless to say this has never fooled the common people, who in their own cunning perspecacity know perfectly well who is and is not a saint, the genuine saints being, of course, St. Nicholas, St. Valentine, St. Martin of Tours, St. Martin Luther, and St. Martin Luther King.

And of course this blog also has its two patron non-saints, or perchance patron sinners, Pico della Mirandola and Valentin Tomburg.  Both of these are long shots, albeit not impossibilities, for sainthood within the cannons of the Roman Catholic Church, but as far as I am concerned here, few voices speak to the dynamics of modern spirituality as well as Tomburg.   This is slight commendation, since Tomburg’s modernity, like Mirandola’s renaissance, is a very dark place, spiritually speaking.  But we have to work with what we have, and it is better to light one taiper, however slender, than to curse the darkness.

This morning I drew the lover’s card from my tarot pack.  For better or worse I was working with the Connally Tarot, and as I explained in a previous post, Connally has bowlderized many of the spritual arcana of Christian Hermeticism.  It shows a naked man and woman tristing under cherub and a solar disc.  In other words, it is less an alegory of profane love than an indicator (as in the case of divination or meditation) of profane love itself.  This is only the first level of interpretation for the Arcana of The Lovers.  However it is not to be dispised on that account, since all further levels of interpretation are based on the literal.  In that regard, one must become a fundametalist before one proceeds to mysticism.  The Arcana of the Lovers would make no sense to some being (like the proverbial man from Mars) who had never experienced sexuality or gender differentiation.  Any sort of sexuality might do, since they are all permutations on the fundamental structure of male/female polarity…but it is inadmissable that a soul capable only of nongendered abstract thought could ever be initiated into the mystery of the Lovers.  Even Socrates, for all his brilliance and mysogeny, had to learn this secret from an Athenian prostitute, as  he recounted in the Symposium.

Needless to say, it is perilous to dwell exclusively on the level of sensuality, and so the next higher level of interpretation is that of moral alegory.  This is well illustrated by the traditional Marseilles Tarot decks (pictured below) and derivatives such as the Oswald Wirth tarot.  Significantly in these traditions the name of the mystery is rendered in the singular, “the lover” in so far as a single male has been interposed between two alegorical females, with the cherub menacing one with an arrow from his quiver.  The females represent profane and spiritual love respectively, with the male at the point of decision between the two.  A valuable meditation for anyone in any circumstance, but in particular for anyone on Valentine’s day who has had the (mis- ?) fortune of getting more than one box of chocolate!

However the moral interpretation, however essential, is only the anteroom to the higher mystical understandings of Hermeticism, which concern the alchemical wedding of the anima and the animus, or to put it in non-latinate terms, the higher and the lower self.  This is a tricky bussiness since there is much imposture within the human heart and what is “higher” or “lower” at any given time is a difficult matter for dicernment.  For example there is a stage in development when people assume an identification of “higher” with the reasoning faculties and “lower” with the emotional life, but this  is a gross oversimplification upon which many a soul has been ruined.  A great deal of ink (or rather electrons these days) has been spilled over the methodology of the alchemical wedding, and I, for one, have been back and forth through the Collected Works of Carl Jung on it.  But in the final analysis, Tomberg is right, one just has to pick an iconographic system (Tarot in this case) and start doing the meditations.

Finally, it is important to understand that progress in one’s meditations depend entirely on the operation of the Holy Spirit and not on any artificial time table or schematic one posits in one’s head.  To this end, it is none the less helpful to compare notes with wayfarers who have been on the path before, and I find Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot servicable in that regard.  In Tomberg’s treatment of this Arcana we find a fourth level of interpretation beyond the literal, the moral, or even the alchemical, in so far as he identifies the fourth, fifth, and sixth (lovers) tarot cards with the evangelical councils of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Now for anyone to be meditating on chastity on Valentine’s day would seem, by the common standards of this world, to be a bit odd to say the very least, yet there is an irrefutable logic, or rather logos, which flows from profane love up through the alchemical wedding of the soul and then back towards engagement with the world,  not on the basis of desire, but of chastity.  This is the dialectic of the soul as it travels from secular time to the empream of the non-temporal and then back again into the Herecletean flux.  If you read Tomburg’s chapter on the lovers you will see that a mediation on the Lovers will solve any doubts you have about the created nature of the world, in so far as a vision of the  paradise described in the book of Genesis, validates the doctrine that the world was created through divine fiat.  None the less, one is not permitted to enter, in so far as postlapsarian humanity is forced to dwell not in that antechamber of eternity called paradise, but astride the horizontle pseudo-eternity of infinite linear time.  Tomburg shows a great measure of intellectual chastity in refusing to compromise the perpendicular infinities of the verticle and the horizontile worlds, in contrast to those forms of gnosticism which try to butress, as it were, the two infinities with a convenient mixture of creationist and perpetualist mythologies, a slanting plane which we generally refer to as “evolutionism.”

Thus we see that chastity can be raised the the level of an intellectual virtue, which is one of the reasons why it is considered a genuinely Christian and evangelical virtue, rather than simply the department of prudence having to do with avoiding sexual risk-taking, as in “she’s such a prude!”  This is because, rightly considered, chastity is the eroticism of concentration, as opposed to promiscuity which is the eroticism of dispersion.  Of course this involves turning down the importunities of fleshly lovers in favor of God, for monastics absolutely, and for the married through “Mary” to Christ.  For occultists it means that one must be warry of the intrusions of lonely entities, whether these be real or figments, who have wandered out of faery land in quest of impossible human love.  But most important of all, in our day and age, is the chastity that a spiritual warrior must have in the face of the terrible ideological constructs of the modern world, for these are precisely the “adulteries” of which the prophets and the apostles warned.  To resist these seductions is, in truth, beyond the powers of the unaided human spirit, and one can only pray for the grace of strength, the eroticism of concentration, and the mystery, sometimes called the arcana, of true love.

The Lover

The Lover

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For Old Authority and New Liberty

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 8, 2009

Why,In Spite of Certain Rhetorical Excesses, the Modern Libertarian Movement was not Born from the Spirit of Antinomianism

A while ago, in the comments to a blog that I read regularly, another reader suggested that the late Murray Rothbard was a “psychopath.”  This particular reader was evidently a sincere person, worried, as am I, about the decline of Western civil society.  Yet, somehow, I doubt that he knows a great deal about Rothbard, the most prominent property rights libertarian of the 20th century, or that his opinion merited any extended refutation.  None the less, it made me recollet that many years before, while I was studying political economy at George Mason University, persons less disinterested but more knowlegable, had made similar accusations.

My personal acquaintance with Rothbard was brief and unsatisfactory.  He was indeed your cranky kind of genius, quick to enthuse, but also quick to take offence…not so much personal offense as a protective mother-hen kind of offense towards any person or party threatening his own ideas and projects.  He was the most clear and consitant thinker that the American libertarian movment ever produced, yet he wound up alienating almost every faction of that movement, inside or outside of the Libertarian party.  The economic faculty at GMU fell largely into the category of the alienated, and during my time there I overheard a great deal of innuendo to the effect that he was a crank and increasingly off his rocker.

None the less, everybody in the Austrian program at GMU liberally used his works, especially his systematic exposition of political economy: Man, Economy, and State.    Over the long run I have come to the conclusion that the antagonism towards Rothbard among radical libertarians was largely oedipal, a breaking of the transference onto the father-figure once his precepts had been sufficiently internalized.  I was fighting my own demons at the time, and eventually dropped out of economics.  To put it in the dismissive tones of the Randians I “turned to mysticism.”  Yet I always hoped that some day I would be able to help forge a synthesis of faith and reason for our own times.  Oddly enough, at this juncture I find myself defending the sanity of an atheist to that end!

The Alchemical Wedding of Authoritarianism and Libertarianism

I doubt that the man I mentioned, who recently called Rothbard a “psychopath” is  a GMU educated Austrian economist.  Rather, I suspect he is a concerned conservative who thinks all professed libertarians are missing a critical number of their cognitive marbles.  In fact, there are certain well known pathologies rampant in libertarian circles.  Let me rattle off just a few.

There is the LP candidate who in his or her “heart of hearts” really thinks there is a chance of becoming a state Governor, a US Senator, and yes…some day, but inevitably the first Libertarian President of the United States of America.  All that, and on a small govenment platform none the less.

There is the doper libertarian, who rages against the state narcotics laws though active resistance.  While I agree that the “war on drugs” is madness…I am less convinced of the shamanic revelations of these theogenic practitioners.

There is also a special kind of madness, peculiar to property rights anarchist and virtually unknown in other circles.  This is a person who patents his or her ideology, and then allows other people to use their ideas for a price.  Rothbard was not one of these people, and we can therefore freely think, read, and write about his ideas without sending the royalties to his heirs.

Finally, and I think this is really what the concerned conservative was getting at, there is the libertarian who has migrated in from left-anarchism who really is an antinomian.  He or she will steal your loaf of bread, on the premise that the oil cartel has stolen the world’s petroleum reserves, and all is fair in love and war.  The nub of the problem here is that “libertarianism” is not a univocal term.  It means many things to many different people.

And here we finally get to the roots of Rothbard’s (and the libertarian movement’s) madness.  It was, and is, a rhetorical madness…a matter of overstating the case for economic and civil freedoms during the Cold War era, since such an overstatement  provided a convenient line of demarcation from the nationalists, centralizers, and militarists in the conservative camp.  For example, I once heard Rothbard, who was never hesitant to call himself an “anarchist” state plainly that he would be happy to go back to the Articles of Confederation.

The rhetorical problem for libertarians (and I am just using Rothbard as the prime example here) is that they cannot state the implicit premise in their argument, for if they did they would have to call themselves “authoritarians.”  Yes, libertarianism is ultimately dependent on the authority of law, natural law, and in the most profound and benevolent sense could be called authoritarianism.  The choice is not between liberty and authority, but rather “each together with the other.”  This is the secret of libertarianism, or at any rate the paleolibertarian tradition that characterizes Albert J. Nock, Garit Garrett, Isabel Patterson and, if you read him closely, Murray Rothbard.  Authority is the stable solution into which the elixir of liberty is poured, thus producing a free society.

The Old and the New vs. The New and the Old

At this point any reader with a healthy sense of skepticism will suspect me of introducing Hegelian sophisms into the otherwise straighforward arguements of the Austrian economists and other libertarian thinkers.  Do we combine one part authoritarianism, and one part libertarianism into the pot and then, perhaps using that magic Hegelian word “aufheben” derive a dialectical synthesis called the free society?  Doesn’t this sound like a obscuring cover for the well despised tactic of compromising principles for immediate advantage?

A few things need to be taken into consideration.  First of all, the historicist dialectic of Hegel involved more than the combination of opposites, it required an infallible melioration in the direction of the future.  In other words, it was modernist rather than conservative.  If we have arrived at such and such a point in history, then we are “the crown of creation” because we stand higher on the strata of previous thought epochs.

What I am saying is that the thought of classical (Nock etc.) libertarianism is in some way an inverted figure of Hegelian logic.  The authority of reason, natural law, and Christian revelation was never abrogated by historical evolution, rather it must be retained as the bedrock of future developments in freedom.  What is new in every epoch is a liberal movement for the restoration of natural rights.  To quote Rothbard’s most popular title, we are always striving for, intending “a new freedom” but such movements are only sucessful when they reinstate conditions of natural law.

To put this in a more concrete context, lets consider the constitution, or rather constitutions, of the United States of America.  Depending on the depth of our time horizon, America may be said to have several constitutions, of  various depths, operating simultaniously.  At the its most shallow, what we could call the “short constitution” is what is vugarly called the “living constitution” i.e., the decision of the most recent Supreme Court Case on any particular matter.  But of course there is also the constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights of 1791, which some would prefer to interpret in terms of the intentions of the framers.  Yet this itself is nothing more than a kind of “middle length” constitution.  The real “long constitution” of the United States (possibly excepting the state of Louisiana) is the tradition of common law and rights theorists going back to the Magna Carta.

But when we go back into the depths of history, we get to a point in natural law theory (whether we take the “northern route” of Grotius or the “southern route” of Suarez) where rights and duties merge into a single authoritative oracle.  It is grounded, not in the social statics of Herbert Spencer (as certain left libertarians would wish) but in the primal theories of Christian anthropology, these themselves resulting from a rigorous operation of reason on the data of experience combined with the premises provided by revelation.  How could it be otherwise?  A theory of rights based on further rights is like a cosmology based on the backs of decending turtles, and in the case of liberal theory the last turtle would be suspended precariously sometime during the generation of John Stuart Mill!

I don’t think Murray Rothbard ever put it in such definitive terms…but then how could he?  He would have lost all his rhetorical clout if he had simply said “individual and property rights are ultimately based on an authoritarianism based on tradition and revelation.”  None the less, for all his vaunted “atheism” Rothbard unerringly came down on the side of the conservatives in the culture wars.  For that reason he left much of what I have said here as a tacit understanding, the necessary authoritarian cultural background against which the gestalt of personal freedom could form.

To reiterate, this is precisely the opposite of the proceedure of post-Hegelian (or rather post-Rousseuvian, and perhaps even post-Hobbsian) thinking.  In these theories freedom is primal, and the accomplishment of culture is precisely the construction of larger and better systems of order.  In natural rights theories a divinely mandated order is primal, and movements for “new freedom” are required whenever, on top of the natural order, a userping cultural order has been imposed.

I submit that this is the logic that motivated the “Old Right” which, for better or worse, became known as the “libertarian movement” towards the middle of the 20th century.  It needed terms to differentiate itself from both the right-nationalists and the “liberals”…i.e., the social democrats, who have once again reclaimed power in the most recent elections.

Of course there will be left-libertairians who deny that there was any connection between the movement of the latter 20th century and the Old Right.  I leave them as they are, standing on a rather short stack of ideological turtles.  For the present I assume that I  have shown that “libertarianism” as defined above is not antinomian…or even crazy.

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