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

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 15, 2018

Four levels of reality

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

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

Ethics

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

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

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

The Spiritual

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

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

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

Godliness

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

desirable/ undesirable

righteous/wicked

separated/engrossed (from the material world)

Godly/separated (from the Creator)

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

Divinity

Spirituality

Ethics

Creation

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

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

 

 

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Posted in Appologetics, Kabbalah, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 29, 2018

Floating cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law and Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Science and the shrunken head of post-modernity

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 26, 2018

Its a small world after all

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

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

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

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

Of angels and pin-heads

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

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

The alien vs. the spiritual

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

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

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

All souls are small but some are smaller than others

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 31, 2018

Of time and the river

Why do the heathen rage

against God and his anointed? (Psalm 2)

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

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

The Christian and the Magical view of time

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

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

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

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

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

Of men and women, time and monuments

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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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.”

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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.

 

 

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

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.

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