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Archive for December, 2017

The mob above and the mob below

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 31, 2017

Why don’t we act like human beings?….well, actually…

Ralph Adams Cram’s 1932 essay “Why Don’t We Act Like Human Beings?” created a major sensation in its time.  Cram’s answer “because most of us are not!” was decried as elitist during that historical moment of rising populist resentment against the upper crust.  Cram was simply saying that if we frame the quintessentially human according to the inspiring heroes and saints who emerge periodically from the mass of the human gene pool most of us fail lamentably.  Or today we might say “deplorably.”

Cram probably thought of himself as one of the authentic representatives of the species.  From the retrospect of today, it is important to realize that Cram wasn’t talking about any particular group being racially or genetically superior.  Although in the 1930s there were many movements of that ilk, Cram was not talking about the superiority of one group over others, but rather the superior humanity of special individuals over and against all groups, including that into which he or she was born.  He postulated that  a “true human” was just an atavism thrust up on rare occasion from the mass of bipedal hominids.

Perhaps Cram arrived at this notion because he was a very intellectual man who embedded his most beautiful thoughts in stone, notably in Gothic cathedrals.   Because this was a new style for America, it met resistance.  Though historically an old style, it was hard for the crowd on the street to look up and appreciate Cram’s new/old style.    It must have caused a man of Cram’s sensibilities great pain to see the vulgar masses mock his works.  Hence his individualism became tinged with bitterness.

Cram’s relegation of vulgar humanity to sub-human status may be extreme, yet elitism, or perhaps contempt of non-elites , endured through and beyond the populism of the 1930s precisely because it keyed into a primal motif of all human endeavor, to rise above the crowd.  If we come from humble beginnings, we want to make more of ourselves, to rise to the surface of the human pool.  And there is an additional factor, for in addition to contempt there is actual fear.  The crowd is not just crowd, it is a potential mob.  If vulgarity is less than human, doesn’t  any gravitation back to our vulgar roots in Old Adam threaten not just our life prospects but our very humanity itself?  If the vulgar classes fall short of humanity, salvation lies in our own improvement, economic improvement, educational improvement, and social improvement.  It is a salvation for which we must heroically struggle until we have passed from the desert of vulgarity into the Promised Land of the elites.

Yet even if, perchance, we arrive in the Promised Land of elite society we may find the inhabitants uncongenial.  Like Joshua, Caleb, and the other spies sent out by Moses we soon discover that giants have occupied the territory.   These giants are likely to concur with Ralph Adams Cram’s idea, that the sub-elites are also sub-human, or they may, along the lines suggested by Frederick Nietzsche  consider the masses “mere humans” and themselves to be super-human.  The nomenclature is different but the meaning is the same.  The elites are gods, the masses are animals.  Or so say the elites.

Now, as dangerous as many animals can be, if you are going to get into the fight with someone…far better a dumb animal than a god.  The pagans indulged the gods, and worshiped them.  In Greek, these superhuman beings were called daemons, forces to be reckoned with for good or ill.  A daemon might possess a man or a woman, perchance turning him or her into a creative genius (genius being the latin equivalent of Greek daemon)…or perchance driving them mad.  With the coming of the Gospel these spirits lost much of their respect, and were hence referred to in a derogatory manner, as reflected in our English word “demon.”

Cram and Christ

Strangely enough (or perhaps not strange, since Cram claimed to be a Christian) the idea of the sub-human human finds an antecedent in Christ.  Christ’s love for all people was not predicated on any illusions about innate human nobility.  Like Cram, Christ saw that most humans are fools, and this foolishness is amplified wherever they are grouped together in crowds.  Jesus would never dehumanize anyone, but he is the ultimate originator of our contemporary term,  “the sheeple” which we use for the masses when they blindly follow their leaders.  Yet Jesus used the analogy of sheep in a compassionate manner.  Since most people can neither think on their own or stand their moral ground, they take refuge under the authority (moral, political, or educational) of some strong man or woman who may be likened to a “shepherd.”   This is a very rational system, whereby responsibility and power is delegated upward to those who can handle authority.  However it has a fatal defect.  The powerful are either corrupt from the beginning or tend towards corruption over time.  Hence they are likely to use their wards in a cunning and exploitative fashion.  What starts off as rational delegation of authority tends to wind up as a protection racket.  Jesus likened this to wolves devouring sheep.

It is important to understand that Jesus was just using these words, words like sheep and wolves as types for human tendencies.  He didn’t literally mean that people have four legs, woolly hides etc..  Likewise I don’t think that Cram really thought that the common citizens of America were of a different species, just that they didn’t have the heroic characteristics we normally associate with human exemplars.  Neither do the elites, even if they have publicity agents paid to make us think otherwise.

In fact, when the elites gang together as a mob they are far more dangerous than any vulgar crowd.  This is something that most people, in their search for upward mobility, are apt to forget.  The “rulers of this world” are not kind people, they have colluded to build a system which benefits themselves and themselves only.  To this end they have provided us with a history, institutions, and a culture which bind together society, making common cause with the most vulgar of the vulgar in order to empower the topmost of the topmost.   In the Gospel we have the classical illustration of this.  It is the elites who conspire to kill Christ, using the vulgar crowd to shout “Give us Barrabbas!”

While populists fail to appreciate the vulgarity of the crowd, libertarians and individualists are often blind to the dangers of elites.  The anthropological elitism of Ralph Adams Cram is an exaggerated instance of elite-worship.  He rightly rejected the sub-humanity of much popular culture and social behavior.  Yet his worship of a supra-humanity was misplaced.  Cram was certainly heroic himself, and in many ways closer in spirit to Ayn Rand’s  character Howard Roark than the modernist Frank Lloyd Wright.  Many have taken this fictional character as a touchstone of success and integrity, supposing that any criticism of heroic endeavor is a criticism of the basic human drive towards prosperity and success.

However we must separate out the goodness of success and riches from the perils of power.  Once again, Christ is a better guide than Cram.  While the vulgar are sinful, their sin has a ready antidote in exhortation and edification.  They are down, but they can be lifted up.  But what of those who (at least in their own eyes) are “up”?  What about those who are in the process of becoming gods….gods without godlyness?  This is perilous indeed.

We must also guard against the perversion of Christianity into tyranny.  While Christ said “the poor you shall always have with you” he didn’t mean that the Church should turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy by making a virtue of poverty.  Christ used the words “rulers” and “the rich” interchangeably, so one must be careful to distinguish prosperity (good) from oppression (bad).  It is not wealth itself which is bad, but those who use wealth and power as a means of social control who are subject to Christ’s condemnation.

Indeed, the “gods” are more dangerous than the “animals” and that on two counts.  First, they are more dangerous to society, because “society” is actually their creature.  What we call “society” is what the Bible calls “the world.”  The world would be no better if it were controlled by the masses, but in fact it is controlled by the elites, sometimes directly but more often through manipulation of the masses.

Second, the gods are dangerous to themselves.  They are most dangerous when they are successful, but sometimes they fail, to their own salvation.  As Christ said, “With God all things are possible.”  So in conclusion we may concur with Ralph Adams Cram, short of anthropological literalism, concerning the inhumanity of the vulgar.  However it is not the only inhumanity that we must confront, nor is it the most compelling.

 

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Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Art, Christianity, Culture & Politics, History, Movies, Philosophy, Politics, Ralph Adams Cram, Theology, Traditionalism | Leave a Comment »

The Three Liberals from the East and how they found the Promised Child

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 22, 2017

The Three Liberals from the East and how they found the Promised Child

{Disclaimer: The following is a fictional narrative.  It is not a genuine portrayal of any real persons or events featured in Biblical, Historical, or Contemporary records.}

Once upon a time in the days of the of the census and Caesar and the tax all that other stuff there were three Liberals who dwelt in the East, not very far to the East necessarily, or even as far as the East River, but possibly somewhere in Manhattan or Jersey.  Now these were very wise Liberals, wise enough to realize that, in all likelihood, everything they had ever been taught was a bunch of hokum, so they unsubscribed from their newspapers and turned to watching the sky for fun and profit.  It was in the sky that they first saw the sign of the Promised Child, and so they hastened to sell all that they had and take the long and dangerous journey through fly-over country in search of the Promised King.

After many terrifying adventures among the deplorable residents of the fly-over country the three Liberals from the East arrived on the Left Coast.  Now in those days Soros was King of the Left Coast and the wise Liberals hastened to his court, in order to tell him the glad tidings of the Promised Child.

“Oh yes,” said Soros, “Tell me of this Promised Child and how you came to seek him!”

The three Liberals were eager to divulge everything they knew to Soros.  They explained that the Promised Child was one who would bring justice to the world.

“Excellent,” King Soros exclaimed, “We need more enraged prophets who will bring social justice to this land!”

The three wise liberals shook their heads in disagreement.  “No,” said Durrell.  (Durrell was their spokesperson, who was much better known by his pen name, ‘Balthazar’.)  “We discovered the prophecy of the Promised Child by searching the scriptures.  At first we thought he would be an incredible bad-ass, like some sort of comic book hero.  We thought he would smash everything and then hand out the fragments of civilization to his cronies.”

Soros nodded with enthusiasm. “Yes, a bold plan indeed!”

“And of course, we imagined that we would be some of his closest cronies…getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.  After all, he’s only a kid, and we might show him a few tricks in exchange for a piece of the action.”

“I can see that you are indeed very wise Liberals.”

“Well, that was at first….but for some reason we developed a compulsion to keep searching the scriptures. Gradually it dawned on us that the Promised Child would never violate any of the basic commandments written in scripture.  For example, in the scriptures it says that one ought not to steal.  So if the Promised Child is indeed the King who will enforce the law of scripture, he won’t do what all Kings always do, taxing and debasing the coinage and all the other tricks that they use to raise revenue.”

“Is that so?” King Soros mused, donning his best poker-face.  “Tell me what other discoveries you have made in scripture.”

“Oh, we won’t bore your majesty with the details.  There was a bunch of stuff like not killing people except in self-defence.   Really just common sense items.  But then we thought ‘wait a minute, this is kings we’re talk’n here’….so, maybe if you held them to the same standard as the rest of us, wow, that would really be something different.  Of course nobody ever does…but then, they predict that  this Promised Child guy is actually going to be rule-compliant.  If and when he comes, that is.”

Soros, who had been listening very intently to all of this, let out a sigh.  “A big if!  And what kind of a king would that be anyway?  You claim to be liberals, and you know very well that a king, in order to maintain a high standard of liberality, must have access to vast revenues.”

Durrell and his companions looked at one another in embarrassment.  “That’s the thing.  We’re not even sure we’re liberals any more, at least in the sense people use the word today.  I suppose if we are liberals at all, we’re old fashioned liberals, or classical liberals.  I know it sounds utopian, but if this Promised Child turns out to be the true King, everything is going to be on the up and up from now on.  No more funny business, no more financial, political and military cabals, no more fractional reserve banking, no more false flag operations, you know, all that bad stuff, it will be over with…. just honesty and righteousness for ever and ever.”

King Soros turned aside to his minions, instructing them to see that all of the Three Liberal’s needs were amply provided for.  Then returning to the wise Durrell and his two equally wise associates, Soros exclaimed,  “You have greatly aroused my interest in this Promised Child.  As a reward you can have the run of the palace, and anything your heart desires which can be found on the Left Coast is yours.  In return all I ask is a single favour.  When you locate the Promised Child wire me his coordinates.”

The next morning the Three Wise Liberals, having overindulged somewhat and seeing more stars than were actually necessary to find their way to the Promised Child, assured Soros that they would describe the location of the Future King with pinpoint accuracy.  Low and behold, they did indeed find the Promised Child, adored him, and gave him lavish presents from the up-scale Eastern merchandise houses.  However in all the excitement they forgot to inform Soros of their location.  Moreover, being very wise, they had a vague premonition that it might be prudent to put some distance between themselves and the Child’s location before giving Soros the exact coordinates.  Therefore they checked into a motel and resolved to communicate their findings to the government the next morning.

That night Durrell, Charley, and Monroe each had the worst dream of their entire lives.  The creepy thing about it was that it was the same dream, dreamed simultaneously by each of them, with the exception of a few highly significant details.  In the dream each of them was being stuffed into a sandwich and eaten by King Soros.  Durrell had been stuffed into a Pastrami on Rye, Charley into a Philly Cheese Steak, and Monroe into a Hamburger-all-the-way-but-hold-the-pickles.  After they had stopped screaming they turned on the lights and sat around discussing what to do.

“I think,” Durrell gasped, “that is what they call ‘lucid dreaming’.”

Charley shook his head, “No, It’s an omen.  The last thing that we need to do is have any more doings with that King Soros guy.”

“But,” Monroe ventured in a trembling voice, “we gave him our word that we would help him pinpoint the Promised Child’s location.”

Durrell concurred, “We would seriously undercut our reputation as wise men if we breached a contractual arrangement with someone as celebrated as King Soros.  On the other hand, I have the distinct feeling that we’ve gotten ourselves way over our heads with this one.”

They continued to ponder their dilemma until the early light of the morning started glowing through the motel window.  Finally Durrell came up with the semblance of a plan, one which adequately managed their risk without defaulting on their basic contractual obligations.

“Ok, here is what we do,” Durrell said in an authoritative voice, “…we put everything on hold until we find out the exact meaning of the dream.”

That settled everything.  None of the wise Liberals was wise enough to understand their dream, but being from the East they were wise enough understand that they needed to call on the help of competent professionals in the relevant field.  Returning hence, they looked up the most reputable dream-workers that money could buy, and, not to skimp, each wise Liberal agreed to undergo a complete psychoanalysis.  Durrell and the others resolved not to contact the government on the Left Coast until everyone’s analysis had been completed to total satisfaction.

And that is how matters stand until this very day.

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Centers of Barbarism: An Architectural Parable for America’s Academic Apocalypse

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 20, 2017

Reverting to Pictures…and Structures

Words cannot describe, indeed, words are no longer permitted to describe, the tragedy of American higher education.  From beacons of light, freedom of thought and expression, edification, and religion, our universities have become Centers of Barbarism.  Today, the untutored thought of the average garage mechanic is likely to be more liberal, more sincere, more unprejudiced than the snarky chit-chat of today’s illiberal colleges of arts, and I might even venture, that the mechanic’s conversation is actually less “mechanical”  in terms of knee-jerk predictability.  With but a few rare exceptions, the American academy has become noxious, a parasite both dependent upon and poisoning society as a whole.

We are left speechless, which is the intent of the modern educators, namely, to destroy language and hence the capacity for thought.  What use is dialectical refutation when the evil a person tries to denounce is embraced through what Friedrich Nietzsche called “the trans-valuation of values.”  I show you the evil of your ways, you say that yesterday’s evil is now good, and rejoice.  As the expression goes, what can a person wash down their throat with when they are choking on water!

Indeed, how should we argue, we who are sworn against the evils of the times?  Well, perhaps when words become vain, pictures will suffice, for a timely parable will often quicken the spirit even while reason slumbers.  Sadly, but usefully, the Academic apocalypse has a material analogy, for the very stones cry out in an elegant revelation of our tragedy and its origin.  Anyone who strolls through an old, established, American campus can see this great tableau of moral and intellectual decline engraved on the monuments which have been erected by successive generations of scholars, students, and sundry souls.  I’m talking about buildings, or what the moderns and their post-modern heirs would call “the physical plant.”  There is good and bad architecture, and their correspondence to correlative moral epochs is no accident.

Physical light has always been the analogue of mental enlightenment.  Where do we see this amplification of light but in the architectural style exclusive to Western Europe and its outliers, the vertical  style of the great cathedrals of the middle ages.  Abbot Suger (France 12c.) put it best when he described the upward intensity of light leading the soul to the Father of Lights himself, an experience which was made available in the ancient “virtual reality” of stone and glass work, the “poor man’s bible” of the middle ages.  Yet this style has been stuck with the label “Gothic” since the late Renaissance, the Renaissance being the first attempt by Westerners to sweep their own past into the dustbin of history.  Originally the Gothic style had been called “French-work” from the epicenter out of which it spread over the civilized world.  Yes, I make bold to say, over that portion of the Earth which was then most civilized, an inescapable value judgement.   One can never avoid aesthetic judgments, and neither can one avoid moral judgements.  No two things are ever equal in value, least of all architectural style.

We may not agree on either our opinions or our nomenclature,  but the fact remains, some things (including buildings) are essentially barbaric, while other things are essentially civilized.  Note that on the surface, the advocates of multiculturalism seek to abolish the civilization/barbarism duality.  However in practice, even they cannot avoid valuation.  Rather, they now stigmatize Western Civilization as barbaric, even if the word “barbarism” is avoided to give the illusion of value-freedom.  The previous valuation has simply been inverted, with the non-West now being viewed as civilized in relation to the barbaric West.

Where have we seen this before?  We have seen it in the literal demonization of traditional Christian architecture ever since the late Renaissance.  It is called Gothic,  but  what does that mean?  To those who revived the classical architecture of pagan antiquity, Gothic meant barbaric, while to our contemporaries, “Goth” is something or someone dark, dangerous, perhaps even satanic.  In reality, the Goths were an ethic group, now vanished, who were migrating into Christendom, struggling, however inconsistently, towards the light.  They had nothing to do with the architectural style now called “Gothic.”  Therefore, even if we must conform to the accepted nomenclature and call this style Gothic, we must remember that it is the physical embodiment and symbol of civilization, while its critics (Islamic, classical, or modernist) are to varying degrees  barbarous.

As a preliminary exercise, let’s compare the Gothic cathedral of the middle ages and the mosque of the same era.  We will make a little gamble, and the winner will get to pick what we call “civilization”.  After all, we have to play the game fairly. If I maintain that there is always a preeminent civilization, and that all other cultures must be evaluated according to its standard, then we must entertain the possibility that this preeminent civilization is not the West, but some other culture on the face of the Earth.  The middle ages is an interesting case in point, for there are many sober and diligent scholars who claim that the Islamic world was the most advanced portion of the globe during the time span of roughly 1000-1500AD.  During this time, it is claimed, the Christian West declined into relative barbarism. Furthermore, this is is not just a sectarian dispute, since the thesis is upheld by many Christian and secular scholars as well as by, of course, most muslims.  If you are a philosopher and can judge the works of say, Averroes against those of, say, Aquinas, then perhaps you can form an educated opinion on the matter.  Most people can’t, so they need a “poor man’s bible”…a sensory object against which they can make an aesthetic judgement, and hence to the basis of a moral judgement.  An aesthetic judgment goes as follows “…yes, that is beautiful…but not as beautiful as this.”  Of course, aesthetic judgements may be wrong, and may even change as a person’s perception becomes more refined.

Now, compared to the barbarism of modern secular architecture, the classical Islamic mosque is beautiful indeed.  However compared to the Gothic cathedral, the mosque seems unoriginal, even boring.  The enthusiast for mosques will, at some point, try to diverge into the subject of ornamentation, however I want to stick with the fundamental structural principles characteristic of architectural styles.  The mosque (and yes, anything can be a mosque in a religious sense, I am talking about the typical mosque of the Near East during what we call the middle ages) was largely dependent on the architectural principles which had already been developed by the time of the late Roman empire.  Interior space had been enlarged by putting a dome upon four supporting walls, a feat made possible by the plasticity and strength of Roman concrete.  A prime example of this is Haggia Sophia in what was once Constantinople, now Istanbul.  One or more towers was added to this Roman design, and voila, we have a mosque.

The development of the Gothic Cathedral also started out on the basis of late Roman, or “Romanesque” architecture.  However the cathedral diverged from the Roman plan in a radical way that the mosque did not.  Height and interior space was enlarged by buttresses, and the ratio of building material to surface was minimized, making room for enormous, translucent, windows.  The salient point here is that while the Roman and Islamic form depended on material strength, the Gothic style solved the problems of height and space through pure geometry.  To put it in more prosaic terms, it was by structural engineering rather than by material engineering that the cathedrals were constructed.  The cathedrals did not spring up from the Earth, they were translated to their sites from the heavens of the mind.

I know that this sounds fanciful, but the builders and patrons of the cathedrals themselves saw their works not as mere constructions, but as the manifestations of pure geometrical forms, sometimes called Platonic Ideas, and being Christians, they believed that these Ideas were not naturally birthed in the minds of mortals, but rather needed to be quickened in their souls by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

From Gothic to Barbaric

The “Gothic cathedral” cannot be stuffed into a secularist pigeonhole called “religion.”   During the middle ages the cathedral was also a school, until it got too large and had to be moved into an annex and called a university.  Thus Gothic style and the Western academic tradition were coeval and indistinguishable.  One was the physical correlative of the other, but as we have seen, even the physical plant of the early academy was spiritual in both design and intent.

In contrast, the architecture of modernism reflects the fact that today’s academic system is, for the most part, a vast money-making and consciousness-molding machine.  To go into the details of the machine would be tedious, but simply to consider, in the eye of the mind, the structural principles which house the machine is  revealing.  The modern university consists mainly of large rectangular concrete blocks, devoted to residence, instruction, and administration.  The academic environment is marked off from the rest of the urban environment by greater uniformity of structure which creates a clean, almost antiseptic, space which is generally safe for both humans and their supporting devices.  There are also oblong temples for the body, called sports areas.  These arenas augment the otherwise soulless academic environment with a kind of spirit, ostensibly a clean spirit, though never quite the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not expelled from the academy in a single act of apostasy.  Here we are eschewing intellectual history, the insidious and multi-faceted rise of secularism, but rather would epitomize the fall of the West through the story of its monuments, the degeneration from Gothic, to neo-Classical, and finally the modern.  This was not a single line of development, but a surge of iterating movements, each adapting, rejecting, or ignoring the stage before it.  Originally there was no such thing as “academic Gothic”   for there was no separation between school and church,  and hardly any between the chapel and the quadrangle, the vertical and the horizontal Gothic.

The classical style was a step backwards, quenching the Spirit, yet initially it was the product of good intentions, a quest for purity.  Granted, the mental and material reformations were somewhat out of sync.  While Cranmer and Hooker both preached and studied in the Gothic halls of England, their American successors took up lodgings in the neo-Classical as soon as they could move out of log cabins.  Even Darwin was a Cambridge divine at first, and it took many decades before the acid of his thought was able to eat away at the stones which nurtured him.  It was in America where academic and ecclesiastical architecture first parted ways, but not for long, as the neo-Gothic movement surged back and captured the imagination of the romantic generations.   The enthusiasm for the old architecture soon infected the academic world, even though 19th century materialism had given secular studies a charter of independence from the church.  It was a revival in stone which mirrored the many spiritual and intellectual revivals of America’s new republic.

Despite the church bona fides of the neo-Classical style (eg., St. Paul’s of London) the Gothic revival arrived as a protest against secularism.  Is it too broad an accusation to claim that the neo-Classical was a secret portal to atheism?  We may esteem Jefferson and his practical design of Monticello, but the faith of Jefferson was that of an Epicure who admired Christianity from afar.  Neo-Classical was the style of the Puritan divines, but also of men who’s orthodoxy was less than pure.  The rational principles of Neo-Classical  architecture became embedded in the secret language of deists and occultists, and the building profession itself lent its name to a great secular fraternity which in some times and places has operated as a secret alternative to the church, even to this day.  In contrast to this modern Masonry, neo-Gothic raised the banner of that faith once delivered to the cathedral builders.

In American Gothic (the movement, not the painting!) one name stands out above all others.  It was Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) who revolutionized, or perhaps we should say, “reactionized” American ecclesiastical architecture.  Yet this Gothic tsunami swept beyond the church and into the heart of American higher education, and without this revolution we would scarcely even have our stock image of “ivy covered halls.”  Apart from his church buildings, the palisades of Rice University (Texas) are usually considered Cram’s masterpiece.  It was with Cram’s style that, as a child living in a another university town, I grew up.

Whatever Cram’s faults (and he was more than a bit of a snob) he understood the essential principle, that the spirits of men must exist in harmonic resonance with their dwellings.  Cram, the arch-Goth of American architecture, imitated his Creator by placing a firmament between the ecclesiastical and academic applications of his art.  He understood that that the era of transcendence was past, and that the Man of the Earth had arrived.  Accordingly, when he designed Rice University he eschewed the vertical architecture which characterized his cathedrals.  A comparison of St. John the Divine and the Rice administration building gives a wordless testimony to how, even by the early 1900s, a half-way covenant had been made with secularism.  Rice is more Romanesque than Gothic, and indeed has a Moorish flavor about it, as if the Alhambra had been spirited off to Houston.   The temple of American learning remained a palpable temple, however it was no longer the First Temple, that of Solomon, but the Second Temple, that of the Idumeans and the Arabians.

It would seem that Cram, cathedral architect, had taken (or mistaken) modern scholars to be children of lesser gods, hence he stooped down to provide them with decent, if not uplifting, habitations.  The experiment worked, and for several generations thereafter it was possible to stroll along an academic porch and gently converse over the ideas of Nietzsche and Freud with the same tenor and consideration that one might grant to a reading of Jane Austen.  The eclectic architecture of the mid-20th century reflected a half-way covenant between civilization and barbarism, and indeed, it lasted so long that people began to mistake it for a genuine covenant, rather than a truce.

Insidiously, the corrosive ideas of modernity began to eat away at the stone, as each cohort of graduating scholars received a fainter imprint of the original Spirit which had animated Western learning.  A time came when it was thought suitable to construct buildings without any reference to antecedent human tradition, buildings which were smoothly operating machines designed for human habitation.  Such machines can be well oiled without being truly anointed.

I will not foster any hypotheses on you.  Did the minds make the buildings or the buildings make the minds?  I have my notions about efficient and final causes, but they are irrelevant here.  I am not interested in making arguments or “causing a scene” in front of those whom I would deem barbarians, those who have made civil discourse impossible.  Rather than my words, look at the scene itself, look at the bricks and the stones, and see if you can draw out their inner spirits.  Stroll through any college campus and look at the testimony of those monuments which speak softly of antiquity and modernity.  See when they were built, and imagine what kind of person would have constructed such an edifice.

Then use your own mind, use it like the staff that Moses used to strike the rock in the dessert.  You will find palpable truths written in stone, and discover that you have become an archeologist, a discoverer of the past, present, and possible future of Western civilization.  Not, “an” endangered civilization….but civilization, which is endangered.

 

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Architecture, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Three possible anthropologies: the Man, the Crowd, or the Battlefield

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 13, 2017

Christ, Durkheim, Marx

There are only three anthropologies (and here by an “anthropology” I mean what most people would call a “world-view”) which remain possible for the West as it vanishes into post-modernity 1)Christianity, 2)Positivism, and 3)Marxism.  It is not a choice between three men, since two of them, by their own admission, are dead.  It is a choice between one living man and two systems struggling for the loyalty of the world.  These three are irreconcilable, yet those people who once prided themselves, whatever their background, as “children of the West” generally tried, with varying degrees of success, to mix the three principles.  Here I just want to sketch their differences and send the reader off on a rewarding path of future research.  I think this is an important course correction for conservatives, since I have noticed that Marxism has come under under a more than sufficient amount of criticism.  I say amount rather than degree of criticism, since the depth of Marxian evil is difficult to overestimate.  However Marxism didn’t just break into the sanctuary of Western thought like a thief, carrying away the chalice of impeccable philosophy.   Long before the barbarians broke through the gates, the capitalist West had yoked itself to an ideology which was more than sufficient to destroy religion and morality.

That ideology was, and remains, the Positivism of Auguste Compte and his disciple Emile Durkheim.  Today Positivism is buffeted by the scathing winds of post-Modernity, and the uncritical observer might presume that its supporters had dwindled to a deplorable basket of geeks and nerds, eking out a troglodyte existence in the basements of Engineering departments and Physics laboratories, while pathetically awaiting replacement by their own robotic creations.  Yet while mechanistic materialism remains a distinctive legacy of Positivism, its influence within the social sciences is far more alive and important today, for it continues to shape the moral presuppositions of many who consider themselves sober, mainstream thinkers…even self-described conservatives.  And while the physical philosophy of Positivism has been outflanked by quantum theory, its sociology has only been enhanced by bureaucratic globalism.

When we hear the word “collectivism” we are apt to think of Karl Marx and his disciples, and in a rhetorical sense both the friends and foes of Communism have gotten a lot of mileage out of the term.  However it is Positivism, not Marxism, which has been the major source of Western collectivist ideology since the early 19th century.  It is Positivism, not Marx, which replaced God with Society as the ultimate object of fear, concern, and worship.  We must at least credit Marx with intellectual consistency, since he recognized that God was irreplaceable and that respect for anything, be it Human Society, the Earth, the Moon, or the Cow that jumped over it, would soon go out of vogue among a population of convinced atheists.

Positivism is nothing if not respectful.  We can briefly pass over the career of August Compte, since the man was a hopeless lunatic.  Most atheistic conservatives, while craving order and respect, are unwilling to enlist in an organized “Religion of Humanity” with an actual atheist pope (as per Compte himself!) or ritual postures of adoration towards women (theoretically, as the respected “bearers of Humanity” but in practice, Compte’s mistress playing the Virgin!).  Even gender feminism hasn’t quite gotten to demanding that!  Atheists, on the whole, just want to get rid of God, they don’t want an atheist church preaching morality and sentimentality.  They may, some future day, be coerced into joining something like an atheistic church, but they won’t join one voluntarily, as per Compte’s abortive experiment.  This is significant.

A generation after Compte, in order to divest Positivist ideology from its ridiculous cocoon of pseudo-Catholic ritualism,  Emile Durkheim founded the modern discipline of Sociology as a (supposedly) objective line of academic  inquiry.  Yet the core ideology, that religion is “Society worshiping itself” remained the guiding principle of this modernized Positivism.  This is the ideology of the group-mind, an ideology which no longer is likely to absorb the world into an atheistic variant of the Jesuit-Catholic church (in spite of the efforts of the present pope!) but which is implicit in the modern network of banks, bureaucrats, and the modern media.

Durkeheim saw 19th century society slouching towards what he termed an “organic” society.  In a surprising reversal of the usual technical nomenclature, he described traditional societies as “mechanical.”  In other words, they were societies which were built up of homogeneous blocks, families grouping together with similarly structured families to form communities, tribes grouping together with similarly structured tribes to form nations.  In contrast to this building block world, modern society is based on functionally different groups interlocking with each other to form wholes, much like an organism.  Thus the modern bond of social solidarity is actually stronger and more permanent than the traditional versions.  Tribe A and tribe B can separate (secession) but industry or profession A cannot separate from industry or profession B without collapsing the interdependent system.  Hence, whatever your feelings about today’s processed foods, modern society is intrinsically “organic” in Durkheim’s scheme of things.

From a Positivist point of view, even in lieu of a formal “Religion of Humanity” this increasing interdependence should create ever deepening harmony and unity of mind, albeit one person’s harmony and unity of mind is another person’s tyranny and death.  Dream or nightmare?  It largely depends on what one thinks about individual sovereignty in contrast to the efficiency of ever expanding spheres of collective responsibility.  For the collectivist, there is a spiritual release in surrendering the individual ego to the will of the crowd.

Marx, no lover of the individual, none the less thought he saw a flaw in the Positivist program.  Anti-religious to the core, the pseudo-Catholic regalia of early Positivism spurred him to ridicule.  Marx didn’t want to worship society, he wanted to destroy it, and replace it with something better.  He reasoned, correctly, that society, conceived as an aggregated whole, was illusory.  For Marx classes were the actualities lurking under the mask of “society.”  However Marx didn’t protest against one abstraction only to replace it with another, for he knew that “class” was just as much a mutable phantom as “society.”  Rather, the core of human reality, according to Marx, was conflict, an idea which he found robustly confirmed in the works of Darwin.  Love and harmony among or within a class or classes was not the object.  The object was war, class war.  For Marx there is no such thing as humanity in the abstract, there is only a battlefield called human history.

Can you see the trap into which the conservative, the moderate, the well wisher of humanity is likely to fall?  Sober and sensitive minds will exclaim, “Surely we cannot allow chaos to reign, we must return to order and harmony!”  Surely, but how?  “We must not let particular class-interests guide our actions, we must do everything for the good of society as a whole!”  Really?  But what is society?  It is a ghost, an abstraction…in short, it doesn’t exist!  None the less, this phantom of the social god, first hatched in the lunatic mind of Compte, has been clothed in scientific legitimacy since the time of Durkheim.  Today’s college graduates assume that society is a reality, and that it obliges us to do something, ether for it (conservative) or to it (radical).

Anyone who is seriously opposed to collectivism must recognize that collectivism antedates Marxism, and moreover that Marxism is a reaction to the collectivist notions of Positivist social science.  These two systems, Marxism and Positivism, are both hostile and irreconcilable.  None the less they reinforce each other, order breeding chaos and chaos breeding order.  Is there no way out of this ring of fire?

Well, here is a hint towards the way out.  Readers of my essays know that I am always talking about something called “anthropology” and that this “anthropology” means something very different from what most people think.  Neither Marxism nor Positivism have use for anthropology in this special sense, although they both recognize that there is an anthropoid species homo sapiens, which has somehow or other gotten control of affairs on planet Earth.  Hitherto this dominance over the planet has just been due to chance and good luck.  But now a self-conscious elite of planners is ready to take control.  For Positivists the planners are social scientists, for Marxists the planners are revolutionary agitators.  For the time being these planners are, or seem to be, members of the human species, but this is not essential.  In the future they may be machines, or spirits, or space aliens.  From a scientific perspective (either Marxist or Positivist) it doesn’t particularly matter, as long as someone is in control.

However there is also a third way, the way of Christianity, which is a genuinely anthropological way.  A hint that Christianity might not just be “a” way, but actually “the” way, is the manner in which it solves the problem of love.  In Christianity love is not just an abstract humanitarianism, it is manifest in the special love of individuals for other individuals.  From the point of view of both Positivism and Marxism, special love-relationships seem narrow and privileged.  Even humanitarianism must give way to love for the Earth, and ultimately the Universe.  The individual, from the point of view of Positivist science, is a small affair, and liable to be sacrificed on the alter of the greater good.  From the point of view of Marxism, the individual may be unknowingly evil or heroic, depending on where their fortunes fall in the bloody wars of the historical dialectic.  Only in Christianity is the individual, not just the species, conceived as the image of God.

This Christian view of the individual, as image-bearer, is attractive to many people who aren’t even professing Christians.  Indeed, the image-theory lingers in the minds of many who profess various scientific or revolutionary creeds, softening morals and manners, and making their adherence to Positivist or Marxist in-humanism inconsistent.  This phenomenon is what Alexander Soltzhenitsyn called “…the ever diminishing social capital inherited by the West from the Gospel.”  Today we are down to our last pennies.  To replenish that capital would require a revival, a return to the belief which engendered all the humane consequences of the Christian world-view.

Modern common sense tells us that anthropology (humanity) is included within ontology (the universe), not the other way around.  Whatever their disagreements Positivism and Marxism are of one accord in rejecting any special status for humanity in the cosmos.  There is no King except the momentary “king on the hill” of survival.  Therefore, as much as people might wish to return to the Christian world-view in order to experience the ethical benefits of living in a Christian society, there is a stumbling block which bars the way.  That stumbling block is a seeming absurdity.  In Christianity the divine essence incarnates in an individual, the individual saves the species, and the species saves the universe.  Why, this is virtually Darwin stood on his head!  Instead of mankind being inside the universe, the universe is, so to speak, inside a Man.  Most people find this grossly insulting to their common sense.  Rather, the Earthling is more willing to render assent to Carl Sagan’s expression “We are star-stuff.”  Better a lonely, dead universe, which can somehow be rendered romantic through poetry, than to risk a “leap of faith.”

Only those “in Christ” are likely to see the sanity of the alternative.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Lawrence Dorr, Witness

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 7, 2017

Witness to….

The late Hungarian-American emigre who went by the nome de plume Lawrence Dorr has endowed us with a troubling but beautiful deposit of literature, loosely disguised as fiction, they chronicle a life born into the European gentry, ending up in the American suburbs, and passing through the torment of WWII and its aftermath, depicting life behind, and escaping from, the Iron Curtain.  I am wont to call him a witness to the tyranny of human passions and systems, yet he would not have it so.  Rather, Dorr (1921-2016) saw himself as a witness to Divine grace, that unaccountable influx of godly symbol and substance which makes bearable even the bleakest winters of the human soul.  And while I would gladly enlist him in the slender honor roll of American conservatives who wrote fiction, that would be a false characterization, somewhat on the order of dubbing Flannery O’Conner an activist for a Southern varient of Christianity.

Yet politics is in some sense unavoidable even though, in Dorr’s own order of importance, it was far down on the list of immanent concerns.  His hierarchy of values was readily apparent to anyone who met him.  God always came first, followed by family, relatives, friends, and associates.  Third in significance, after a multitude of significant others, was the written word, especially the living literature of his adoptive language, English.  Those who knew him in the flesh only saw a tall bearded man, ruggedly handsome even in old age, large hearted and forever either exposing or committing some folly.  Yet his thick Hungarian accent would have perplexed anyone who only knew him in print as the master of English prose whom he truly was, or as an incisive, Christian, critic of contemporary best-sellers.  This disjunctive impression was a mystery which could have been accounted for by Dorr’s polyglot past, since he had grown up among cosmopolitan folk who’s parlance in French and German was more in vogue than the curious, non-Indo-European, language of his native country.  Moreover, literature was Dorr’s life, and he made a special study of English, which to him was more than just a medium of communication, but rather, one of those several means of grace which the Lord had used to save him, since,  having escaped from the warring tribes of the European continent, he had found solace in the arms of a nurse, the daughter of an English parson.  Subsequently they married and moved to rural Florida.

I am tempted to list politics as high as number four in Dorr’s scheme of values, far behind literature and slightly ahead of sports, but if you include the equestrian sports of rural Florida, of which he was an enthusiast, I’m not altogether sure even of that.  None the less, the political cannot be expurgated from an understanding of Dorr’s writing without anesthetizing the reader from the historical context of his life’s odyssey.  And what an odyssey it was!  One writer provides a brief summary of its highs and lows…

At 20, he served in the Hungarian army during World War II, and later became a political exile after his association with a capitalist newspaper in the newly communist Hungary. After leaving Budapest, he took odd jobs across Europe, once performing as the front-end of a zebra in a traveling circus, serving briefly in the French Foreign Legion and working as a masseur in an Austrian entertainment house. He met his wife Clare in an English mental hospital, where he was an orderly and she was an occupational therapist. Together they immigrated to the United States, where they spent time in South Carolina and Philadelphia before becoming missionaries in the rural town of Frostproof, 70 miles from Orlando. The couple and their two small children later moved to Sebring, where Dorr worked as a cowboy until he suffered a serious back injury. The jack-of-all-trades even found himself working as an artist’s model in Miami, draped for hours across a crucifix while posing as a Christ figure. (from April Patten “The words of a master”July 25, 2004, Gainesville Sun)

These encounters with the tragic and the comic, often simultaneous, were buffered by Dorr’s faith and the uncanny intervention of providence into the life of a man who should have died a thousand times over, and yet was continually being reborn into new personae and circumstances.

Although, like most emigres, Dorr longed to put the sins and the sorrows of the Old World, especially its politics, behind a wall of forgetfulness, his vocation as a writer forced him to witness to the realities which he had suffered.  There is a chiaroscuro quality to his short stories, at least those set in Europe, some cloud or nemesis which stifles the life if the protagonist until the light of revelation breaks through.  The earliest stories, in terms of chronology, not writing, record the nationalistic animus which which pervaded the pre-war period.  Dorr, though an anti-communist was not, unlike many on the European right, a fan of ethnic nationalism.  Some of this may have been due to his background in the minority Calvinist tradition within predominantly Catholic Hungary, as well as as his houshold’s marital alliances with foreign, French, gentry.  However in the main this moral universalism was the product of his personal enlightenment, the shock of realization, once the dreaming was over and blood had been drawn, that the heroism of youth was being perverted towards criminal ends.  For most Americans the Second World War begins at Pearl Harbor, or for more objective students of history, Hitler’s invasion of Poland.  Yet for those, like Dorr, who lived through it, the pre-war animosities already included the substance of the wider conflict.  Hitler himself was not a novelty, he was the old man of sin, equipped with terrifying technology and gone wild.  It was this inescapable beast, the beast of European tribalism, into which Dorr was born.  Indeed, in brutal manifestation of the symbol, he eventually found himself in the bowls of a tank retreating from the Red army.

Witness against….

The second strata of stories concern the post-war period.  Again, there is a stifling cloud of material want and mental anxiety, and a new antagonist, Communism.  For Dorr, an adherent to the doctrine of original sin, the potential for evil is inherent in all flesh.  None the less, in Communism he saw an evil which was somehow sui generis.  This isn’t articulated in the stories so much as felt.  Unlike the prewar animus, Communism is a novelty, something which comes in imitation of Christ rather than in ignorance of Him.

In this second strata of stories, unlike the first which is clearly autobiographical, there is some ambiguity about the “he” who is the protagonist.  Dorr is writing from his own perspective, however it is not clear that he is writing purely from his own experiences.  Was he the first lieutenant who was held in a Russian concentration camp, or was he the resistance fighter who nearly eluded capture after sabotaging a supply truck of the Red army, or was he the refugee who managed to scrape together enough food to sustain his grandmother, only to find that she had died during the war?  Since Dorr is writing fiction there is no need for a definitive answer to these questions, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.  The various stories may each be segments of a single connected narrative, or they may be the record of several independent chains of events.  They may or may not be factual, but they are all truthful, in the sense of faithful witness to the realities of the human heart.  All these hearts are sinful, but some have been left to supervise the inhumanities of the system while others struggle to survive, and perchance attribute their survival to divine grace.

The third, and final, strata of stories deal with the homely adventures of an American family in the suburbs and rural areas of Florida.  When I gave a volume of Dorr to a young woman her comments after reading were, “I enjoyed the early, scary, stories but I didn’t like the later ones.  I felt envious of him and his family because they had such a happy ending after their troubles.”  That’s really the root of all our attitude problems isn’t it?  Envy, better known to Christians as breaking the tenth commandment.  It starts off as a kind of whimsical discontent, so  amusingly expressed in the young woman’s candid admission.  However after numerous historical and/or personal iterations it can develop into a truly hateful view of life,  and ultimately putrefies into the radical egalitarianism which converts people to the Marxian world-view.

The third strata of stories returns to something akin to an autobiography of Dorr, albeit the third person protagonist remains unnamed.  However it should not be assumed that Dorr’s American period was an uninterrupted Cinderella tale.  Like all emigres from Communist lands, he experienced the angst of knowing that his personal fortune was all the more bright in comparison to the continuing tragedy of those who had been left behind the Iron Curtain.  Furthermore, his day job as a technical writer surrounded by academics in an American university town subjected him to the condescending attitude of those who who’s leftist ideals had not been tempered by experiencing the realities of Communism. It was with impotent anguish that he followed the news of the Budapest uprising in 1956, and a heart rending discovery that many of his newfound academic peers were secretly relieved by the failure of an anti-Communist rebellion.

None of these experiences ever turned Lawrence Dorr into a conservative, let alone a movement conservative.  Like Solzhenitsyn he was a Christian whose Christianity had been tempered in the crucible of Communism, but he never became an activist.   Still he remains a witness, and a powerful one.

 

N.B. Lawrence Dorr was the author of A Bearer of Divine Revelation (2003) and several other collections of short stories, which can be obtained through Amazon and other book vendors.

 

 

Posted in Appologetics, Art, Christian Education, culture, Culture & Politics, Fiction | Leave a Comment »

Human Action as a treatise on Philosophical Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 4, 2017

Human Action;  It’s not your college “Economics”…but what is it?

Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the works of Ludwig von Mises knows that, while his works deal with economics, his thought is distinguished by what might be called,  misleadingly, a “multidisciplinary” approach.  I say misleading because Mises doesn’t just wander into various fields of history and policy at random.  Rather, at least in his magnum opus, Human Action, von Mises bases his exposition of economics and other social phenomena on a level of abstraction far too general to be circumscribed within one particular field of the social, or better said, the human sciences.  Even the term “science” here is somewhat suspect as importing all sorts of positivist notions regarding predictability, measurability, and so forth.  Perhaps “human studies” is the broadest description of areas which Mises was wont to involve himself in.  If we were to find a single word equivalent to “human studies” then certainly Anthropology would be the most apt substitute.  Yet nobody calls Human Action a work of Anthropology.  Why?

Superficially, this is because Mises takes an implicit understanding of Classical Christian anthropology and develops it in the direction of what we call “economics.”  More fundamentally, it is because few people today would even recognize Classical Christian anthropology, especially when it manifests itself in the work of an author who neither professed Christianity nor was writing explicitly on anthropology.  After all, von Mises embraced all sorts of moral and intellectual tenants which comport poorly with the classical Christian world-view, such as evolution and (fortunately, non-quantifiable!) utilitarianism.  None the less, because von Mises was part of the broader Judeo-Christian tradition, the bedrock of Christian Anthropology frequently breaks through the surface exposition of his putative “economic” treatise.  However, you won’t see it if you don’t know what to look for, and it doesn’t help that this classical, or Christian, anthropology goes against the very grain of Modernist and Post-Modernist “common sense.”

While in most Modernist views the human race is little more than the end result of myriad material causes, in classical Christian anthropology, “Man” in the sense of a singular “Anthropos” is the principle behind the universe, from which, as “Word” or “Logos” all other realities proceed.  The entire framework of this classical anthropology can be summarized as a movement through four terms, as follows:  From the Anthropos proceeds the individual, from the individual proceeds the species, from the species proceed groups.  Elsewhere I will try to explicate the framework in more detail, here I want to show how it is manifested in such an unlikely place as von Mises’ treatise, Human Action.

Again, I don’t want to make von Mises into some sort of Christianizing Platonist, or deny that much of the content of Human Action is based on Neo-Kantian or utilitarian principles which are alien to the basic framework.  None the less, the classical framework manifests itself in the very organization of the work, as can be seen from the arrangement of the contents.  The organization of the work in seven parts actually can be reduced to four themes.  I have highlighted the ontological/anthropological categories which Mises seems to have in mind at the right hand column.

I. The ideal

  1. Action as human essence         pt. 1            Anthropos–>Individual
  2.  Society                                         pt.2            Species–> Groups
  3. Individual exchange                 pt. 3             Anthropos–> Individual
  4. Market                                        pt. 4           Species–> Groups
  • The pathology, collectivism pt. 5              Groups–>Individual
  • attempts to compromise the ideal and pathology  pt. 6
    • History                              pt. 7

Structure of Human Action itself points the reader in the direction of methodological individualism.  You should be able to see the topical movement from essence, to individual, to species to group, repeated twice.

It may be that this organizational structure is not to be taken literally as von Mises’ last word on the ontological place of humanity within the universe.  It may even be that this organization was just the way von Mises thought a primary treatise on human action should be properly structured, somewhat like the scholars of the middle ages who felt that all treatises should be arranged according to the framework of Peter the Lombard, whether or not they agreed with Peter’s content or not.  None the less the framework bears the imprint of the classical Anthropological model, and testifies to  that model’s ubiquity and importance.  Certainly it differs from standard modernist and positivist expositions, which are based on the framework “from matter proceeds things.” This latter being what your man or woman on the street thinks of as “economics.”

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christian Education, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »