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In the aftermath of Irma, these volunteers won in Florida

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Bowling Green, Bowling Green

I wish I was in Bowling Green

Good old Bowling Green

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

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

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

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

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The Surprising Salvation in Salvador Dali!

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 27, 2017

Art (1930AD) catches up to Augustine (400AD)

For several decades had I tried, without much success, to understand the work of Salvador Dali.  And “if” (the obligatory caveat) I understand his work now, that is only because my fumbling around finally located the key to Dali, a key hidden in plain sight, and a key which I am willing to share with you now.

Dali was a Christian.

Pay no attention to the fact that Dali wasn’t your kind of Christian.  Dali wasn’t anybody’s kind of Christian, except Dali’s and (hopefully) Christ’s.  Nominally, he was a Spanish Catholic, and while nobody has ever doubted that he was very Spanish, the assessment of Dali’s Catholicism remains dubious.  Towards the end of his life the priest assigned to Dali “suggested” he illustrate the Jerusalem Bible.  These illustrations, while excellent, were hardly Dali’s best, and show uncharacteristic restraint.  Evidently Dali was put on some sort of spiritual diet, and in the process of “trying to be good” produced, predictably, good rather than great art.

When I mention Dali’s Christian art, I don’t mean his sunset productions as a Biblical illustrator, but those most tortured and characteristic works which the whole world recognizes as Daliesque.   To me, and I’m hardly alone, this art initially seemed utterly grotesque, or at best interesting as a stage in art history.  I vastly preferred Classical art, and some of the more lean and geometrical modern works.   However I was wary of the surrealists, and for that matter, today I’m more wary of them than ever.   Yet I have come to love Dali.

What changed was my perception of Dali.  I no longer hold him to either the cannons of Classical or Modern art.  I see him as a Christian artist, mediating the dispute of the ancients and and moderns, and overcoming both.

Keep in mind that Dali was always respectful of (or if “respect” is too un-Dali, “consciously indebted to”) Classical art.  In particular, he lionized Vermeer and Velasquez.  This must have irritated the artistic and literary radicals of  the mid-20th century.  The best thing that George Orwell (more sympathetic than most) could say was that Dali could pose as “a great draftsman.”  Modernists portrayed classicism as pictorial realism which had been rendered obsolete by the invention of photography.  Hence to imitate the classics was to reduce oneself to the level of a draftsman…an artist’s apprentice.

However the Christian critique of Classical art goes much deeper, in that, from the point of view of Christian witness to the effects of sin, any Classical “realism” is a lie.  However pious a Michaelangelo or even a Vermeer might be in private, the public image of their art remains essentially pagan, a portrayal of the beautiful surface of reality.  A panting like “The Artist in His Studio” by Vermeer, is either trivial or Platonic.  At worst it is trivial, a kind of pre-photograph which entertains us with the glimmering play of light on human and artificial surfaces.  At best, it is a Platonic illustration of timeless perfection, which unfortunately ignores the sin nature of both the artist and the subject.

This is the kind criticism of pagan art which Augustine of Hippo (c. 400AD) would have understood.  My hypothesis is that the young Dali had some similar inkling when he was a young man transiting from the drafting table to the surrealist salon.  Of course Dali was no theologian at the time, and whether he ever became one is a matter of conjecture.  But his intuition told him that representative art was either trivial or a lie, and thus to overcome Classical art, Dali would have to bear his cross and descend into hell.  And thus he entered the hell of surrealism.

Dali’s Divine Comedy

Here I must treat Dali’s decent into hell as a parenthesis.  The whole story is best categorized under the rubric of Cultural Marxism and sundry systems which have substituted the worship of the human mind and society for that of Abraham’s God.  I have written elsewhere, and at length, on this subject, and pending God’s permission, may do so in the future.  Suffice to say that Dali learned all the techniques of the diabolical arts and propaganda better than his masters themselves.  This greatly irritated them at the time and increasingly thereafter.

At the risk of oversimplification, a risk that I will harrow in preference to ambiguity, the surrealists were developing a technology which they hoped would drive men and women mad, not just as individuals, but in the mass, through the propagation of mass-art.  Today we are inured to the aftereffects of surrealism, in venues as diverse as European politics and American advertising.  We dismiss the MAD men as little more than a toponymic pun and reassure ourselves that nobody ever got food poisoning from watching a can of Andy Warhol’s soup.  However at its inception, the surrealist movement developed a toxic concentrate of images which were intended to drug the senses and more particularly to destroy the “common sense” of Western Civilization.  Today we can see that they, in collusion with other forces, have been quite successful.  However it took more time than the surrealists (mostly “revolution now” types) were willing to envision, which in turn has obscured their cause on our effect.

But for the moment, let’s voyage back to the mid-20th century, back to Dali.  Gradually it became clear that either Dali was not a genuine surrealist or that (as per Dali’s own view) he was the only surrealist and the others were all frauds.  Beyond the name-calling, what was really going on?  The surrealists expected Salvador Dali to put his technique at the service of their ideology.  However for Dali surrealism wasn’t an ideology, just another technique for the artist to command.  The Marxists and Nihilists could never understand this.  You aren’t supposed to be able revolt against the revolution or to annihilate nothingness.

Yet Dali did precisely that, through the employ of his not-so-secret weapon…humor.  Like Dante, he had descended into hell and emerged on the other side of the world, the side of God.  However there is a great difference between Dante’s Divine Comedy and that of Salvador Dali, i.e., the latter is actually funny.  Dante edifies but Dali entertains.

Yet there is a serious side to Dali as well.  Armed with two contrasting techniques, Classical realism and Surrealist illusion, the Spaniard was able to work in high fidelity to the message of the scriptures.  Humanity is indeed distorted and grotesque, an agent of sin descended from generations of twisted experience in the vicissitudes of time and lust.  None the less, the primal image of God is never quite erased.  Classical form remains as the necessary substance which perpetuates human existence, even when that existence has been twisted into monstrosities.  From this duality emerges an authentic picture of the human condition, a picture which neither Modernity nor Classicism on their own can portray.

Like his great predecessor El Greco, Dali distorts the classic form.  But while El Greco could only distort along one dimension (height, and that perhaps due to an ocular distortion) Dali could distort along multiple dimensions.  To give the devil his due, Dali learned this as a journeyman surrealist. Consequently, in Dali we see the painful weaving together of Humanity it both its fallen and its original state.  That this groaning of the  fallen world creates pleasure, even levity, when viewed as art is one of the enigmas of Dali, and not just of Dali but of that larger mystery of Christ in which that artist participated as a witness.

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Constitutional Contrary or Conundrum? The Imperial Presidency vs. the Unitary Executive

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 4, 2017

Strong President, Weak President

Setting boundaries and limits to power is the essence of politics in a republic.  No Latin word was ever belabored more than imperium in the era prior to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon.  Originally it referred to the “sphere of power” which was exercised by a magistrate, great or small, beyond which the office holder infringed upon the rival authority of some other elected official.  With the atrophy of the Republic, it became a personal noun, the Imperator, the root of our term for a King of Kings, an “Emperor.”  The word, thus transformed, described a  person who’s “sphere of power” had become the whole world, thus annihilating the use to which its root had once been put, namely, to define and limit power.

Last year I predicted that Donald Trump, if elected President, would not become a fascist dictator, an “Emperor” so to speak.  Rather, the tremendous forces arrayed against him would ensure that the office would be brought to heel to a much greater degree than those who fear an Imperial Presidency are wont to imagine.  None the less, even I have been surprised by the extent of the weakness in the executive.  If we have passed any Rubicon, it seems rather that we have passed over from a concealed, to an open, form of oligarchy.

One way of coming to grips with this non-revolution is to admit from the outset that 1) the Imperial Presidency, and 2) the unitary executive, are contraries, not complements.  If we were to talk about official spheres of power with the fastidiousness of the ancient Romans, we might call the first, the President’s “lateral power” and the second the President’s “upright power.”  Imagine that presidential power is a rectangle of fixed area which loses depth whenever it is stretched horizontally.  I know that is a rather strange image to put in the service of a radical hypothesis, but bear with me.

Why the unitary executive is a great Constitutional doctrine

Generally when we ( and by “we”I mean, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, natural rights advocates, strict constructionists, etc.) hear the word “president” modified by the word “strong” we go into a fit of moral indignation, if not outright hysteria.  Yes, generally heads of state should be weak, lest they turn into tyrants.  However the American presidency is a unique institution, one which the founders of the Republic intended as a safeguard of liberty, just as much as the legislative and judicial branches.  To begin with, the very notion that the American president is a “head of state” is an extra-Constitutional notion, one which arises from the necessity of adjusting American nomenclature to the standards of  diplomacy.  Indeed, since the Congress is our premier branch of government, the Speaker of the House has a fairly good claim to be the federal head of state, on the analogy of parliamentary systems.

Leaving aside the symbolic, and rather silly, issue of heads of state, let’s turn to a more fundamental question which impacts on the idea of the unitary executive.  Each of the branches of the Federal government must conduct its internal affairs in hermetic isolation of the other, while being in constant cooperation as corporate bodies to conduct the governance of these United States.  Naturally, each of the branches will attempt to extend its sphere of authority, or what the Romans called, their imperium.

Now the matters which are of concern to each branch are well spelled out in the Constitution, but each of the branches always attempts to grow its authority by multiplying those things by which it exerts authority.   Thus the legislative branch attempts to grow its authority by increasing the volume and complexity of legislation, while the judicial branch attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of rulings, judgements, and injunctions.  On the other hand, it is primarily the executive branch which attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of offices.  Sad to note, but the three branches may remain evenly balanced while all of them grow in concert, disrupting the larger balance between governmental and non-governmental institutions in civil society.

Whatever cure there might be for the exponential growth of government in the legislative and judicial spheres, the theory of the unitary executive provides both a unique analysis and possible cure for burgeoning bureaucracy.  How so?

Strictly speaking, in the American republic there can never be more than one government officer at a given time.  The name of this officer is the President of the United States!

Oh yes, if you must quibble, there is also a deputy in case of death or incapacitation, the anomalous Veep.  None the less, two officers is a pretty strict limit for the bureaucracy of a large republic.  It reminds one of the twin consuls of Rome, a historical precedent which was never far from the thoughts of the American founders.  In terms of modern political theory we have arrived at genuine “minarchism”…an ungainly word which has been coined to express the most limited of limited governments.

Of course, for true unity of will and purpose, a person can never really trust anyone else to do their own job.  Hence the most pristine unitary executive would be one in which the President did all the work of executive branch personally.  We can imagine a President who, dispensing with the service of a secretary, was able to handle all executive correspondence personally.  (NB: The reason we can imagine it is that we live in a world of word processors, computers, and the internet.)  However other things, such as warfare, might be a bit more tricky, unless our chief magistrate had the strength of the Biblical Samson or a modern-day comic super-hero.

So to be on the realistic side, even our pristine unitary executive would, of necessity, need to contract out for a few staffers.  Hopefully these would all be temporary workers.  After all, the chief magistrate himself is a temporary worker, limited to four, or at the maximum, eight years of employment by the American people.

Now before you dismiss this as nothing more than utopian swamp fever, perhaps we should take a look at the way the doctrine of the unitary executive has played out in the history of the Republic.

 

The historical roots of a weakening unitary executive

Unfortunately, while the imperial Presidency is the most realistic of real-political realities, the concept of a “unitary executive” is little more than a constitutional doctrine which has had to go hat in hand through the corridors of history in search of application.  To put the theory in its clearest form, the unitary executive is the President himself, who is at once both the only employee of the American people, and also the boss of every federal office holder outside of the Congress and the Judiciary.  The theory seemed most incarnate in the reign of those generals who seemed to be able to wield their authority with the same imperious might in the Oval Office as on the battlefield.  One thinks of Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt.

That was then, and now is now, when Mr. Trump’s executive leadership seems more like an exercise in herding cats.  Yet people with even a tad of historical lore under their skulls recognize that The Donald didn’t suddenly fumble the unitary executive to the horror of his fans and the delight of his detractors.  Common wisdom suggests that the unitary executive began to unravel, at the very latest, in the aftermath of the Watergate (1973) scandals.  Legislation which sought to limit the presidential imperium resulted in severe checks on arbitrary presidential power.  However these reforms failed to check arbitrary governmental power in general, or to stave off the multiplication of executive projects, expenditures and offices.  Rather, by setting up checks and balances within the executive branch of the federal government, they added to the executive bureaucracy.  And this went to the extent that the “special prosecutors” who were the plumb in the cake of the post-Watergate reforms threatened to become a “Fourth Branch” of trans-Constitutional governance.

Those who can see beyond the historical horizon of Watergate are more likely to see the first unraveling of the unitary executive in the New Deal, and the multiplication of those “alphabet agencies” such as the ICC, TVA, and NRA, each of whom were endowed with judicial as well as executive authority.  Yet an earlier starting point is the Progressive era, which saw the rise of the intellectual in the federal administration, a creature who was less likely to be constrained by, or even understood by, whatever folksy president inherited the legacy of those hybrid characters like Wilson who both studied and practiced administration.

Loyalty vs. Merit

However these movements were actually just footnotes to the unitary executive’s original fall from grace, which coincided with the rise of a merit based civil service.  It was the Pendelton Act of 1878 which consolidated the system of permanently employed government service.  After that there was little reason to think that officers would be loyal to a politician who’s term of office was likely to be far shorter than the duration of their career.   Like all sea changes in the policy of the republic, the effect of this reform was not immediately apparent.  After all, presidents in the late 19th century were just expected to be “weak.”  Think Grover Cleveland.

Today, because we read history from public school textbooks, the pre-reform civil service gets a bad press.  Typically it is referred to as the “spoils system” which conjures up images (not entirely unsubstantiated) of bribery and largess.  However there is another side to this issue.  We should at least try to be “Mugwumps” that fanciful word for a person who was willing to consider the merits and demerits of a permanent civil service.  In the interests of fairness, I would like to exercise a bit of Mugwumpery and dub the temporary civil servant system the “Loyalty System.”  After all, the politically appointable (and removable) civil servant would at least have no vested interest sabotaging the chief executive who, unlike him or herself, was directly chosen through the electoral mechanisms of the Republic.

In certain moods our progressives and our conservatives might even agree that disloyalty is a bad thing and moreover presidents should at least have the chance to formulate policy on their own turf before being challenged by either the courts or the legislature.  However there is a libertarian remnant which stubbornly insists that a strong president is a bad president, and indeed that a strong administration is nothing more than a step along the primrose path to empire.

However, as illogical as it may seem, the presidency became “weak” before it became imperial.  After WWI and as the 20th century wore on, there was need to have an emperor to complement the existence of an empire.  However the discipline of the bureaucracy which manifested itself at this time was not due to the charismatic appeal of those politicians who became, willy-nilly, chief magistrates of the republic.  Rather, it was due to the professional association of those who had a vested interest in the expansion of state power, both internationally and domestically.  Presidential orders were obeyed because presidents of whatever party were (to a greater or lesser extent)  aligned with the expansion of a robust administrative state. In 1952 Sen. Taft of Ohio lost the Republican nomination against General Dwight Eisenhower.  Taft was the last mainstream presidential candidate to seriously challenge the operational premise of expanding state power.  Barry Goldwater and Ron Paul would later mount doomed, albeit educational, campaigns dedicated to challenging that same premise.

Then in 2016 Donald Trump was elected after campaigning on many of the same anti-statist planks that animated Taft, Goldwater, Paul and (very inconsistently) Reagan.  Trump had the good sense to mix his contrarian rhetoric with a dash of jingoist appeal.  So far, the bureaucracy is in somewhat less than full scale revolt.  But only a very naive observer would be surprised that the doctrine of the unitary executive has been utterly abrogated.

The not-so-deep-state and the demise of the unitary executive

Today when “deep state” has become a household expression, it is easy to substitute James Bond intrigue for fundamental political analysis.  No doubt there is a great deal of skulduggery going on in high places these days, but the unitary executive would have floundered without any alienation between the Oval Office and the intelligence services.  It is not just the Praetorian Guard who are in revolt, but the clerks…and there are a lot of clerks.  It is not just a cabal, but the system, a system in which managers are independent of elected policy-makers.  In the EU this system appears in its most naked form.  In the US it still has to make end runs around the remains of a Constitutional Republic.

As Richard Weaver said, “Ideas have consequences!”  One of the great, pure, ideas of the 19th century was civil service reform.  However in creating a permanent state independent of politics, civil service reform ensured that all future reforms would be bound inside the parameters of the managerial state.  The owl of Minerva takes flight at night, and only now do we see the luster of those single-minded individuals whom the progressives have been eager to denounce as dictators-in-waiting.  The aristocratic Washington, the Jacobin Jefferson, mean old Andy Jackson, the imperious Polk and (though they were already compromised by the permanent state) later figures such as Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

Finally, we can at last see the wisdom of the Founders in endowing one third of the federal government with a vestige of monarchy.  At very worst a monarchy, but never, ever, an empire, since a strong individual, unencumbered by bureaucracy and backed by the people, might indeed succeed in ruling the daily affairs of one nation…but then it would be bedtime.

 

Posted in Constitution, Constitutionalism, culture, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Law, Paleoconservativism, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Dammit Man!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 18, 2017

A Pickup Placard Peccadillo

Driving along a trunk route of my community I was “shocked, shocked I tell you!” (well, kinda) to see an advertising placard on a pickup blazoned with the unique corporate moniker Dammit Man!  Dammit Man?  Not, mind you, a bumper sticker, but the name of the firm!  Well, context is everything, and from the barrels and tools in the back of Dammit Man’s pickup, it was evident that the  cussing commercial was advocating the services of a lawn care and cleaner-upper specialist.  Since my town is full of trees, deciduous and otherwise, there is a huge market for lawn waste removal.

Thus it took me less than two seconds to figure out the reference, which is a mark of good ad copy in itself.  Clearly, Dammit Man! was an unexpurgated expletive prefacing the tacit, but easily guessed proposition: “Dammit man, how did you get that lawn cleaned up so well…and in record time!”  Perhaps a local ordinance needs to be passed prohibiting foul language appearing as part of a corporate logo.  I suspect that most of our churches would line up in support of the motion.

However that really misses the point, both of the joke and the phrase itself.  Somehow I suspect that the Dammit Man, whether or not he can dispatch decaying vegetable matter with the celerity implied by the slogan, is a better Christian than most of us.  He has that seldom mentioned but welcome Christian virtue: Hilarity…or in plain language, a sense of humor.  It is the note of the pilgrim who is both seasoned and sincere on the spiritual path.

(And , incidentally, since I can’t resist a snarky soliloquy, this virtue was notably absent from the recently trounced politician who bore the name!)

On a deeper level, “dammit” is not an obscenity but an imprecation, and since we really don’t want to send our lawn-care specialists to the infernal regions, at least if they have done a good job, the expression in context has to be taken as an effusion of rare praise, not condemnation.  Therefore, since the vendor is praising himself using a curse word, the ultimate intent is humorous, even if the humor doesn’t exclude the likely “damn” goodness of the lawn care specialist.

But of course, real damnation is no laughing matter.  By “damnation” I don’t just mean the final, definitive judgement of sin before the throne of God, I mean condemnation in the broadest sense.  Every atheist dog-and-pony show purports to demonstrate that “damnation” was an innovation foisted on mankind by the God of Abraham, or rather by His ameneusis.

However damnation, in the broad sense of condemnation, is not something which we would have to wait on revelation before we learned of it.  True, when we consider “last things” there are some elements which natural reason could never have guessed, such as the immortality of the resurrected body, either for good or for ill.  That knowledge only comes from revelation, and admittedly it complicates things.  But that is not what we are concerned with at present, however much atheists would like to “put God in the dock.”

Rather, we are talking about what happens when human beings put each other “in the dock” or to paraphrase what Voltare said of God, “If damnation didn’t exist we would have to invent it.”

My contention is that we did.

 

When Man Damns

Indeed, damnation, rather than being fostered upon the human race by bad religions (Abrahamic or otherwise, indeed, there are Buddhist hells, and nasty ones at that) is an intrinsic category of the human mind.  Just as Adam Smith told us that “humanity has an intrinsic propensity to truck and barter,” likewise there is an “intrinsic propensity to damn” which has been shared by all human beings since the time of that Adam who was the progenitor of Mr. Smith and the rest of us.  For though the human race has no brimstone (or at least it didn’t prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) it has the faculty of condemnation in abundance.

Consider that we get our English word “damnation” from Latin.  Now in secular history the most revealing instance of total condemnation is the custom of damnatio memoria which was exercised from time to time during the Rome’s late republic and empire.  After an unpopular politician or emperor had been removed, either by natural causes or assasination, the Senate, by official decree, would order the erasure of all inscriptions mentioning the tyrant, and the removal of all his statues from public view.  Historians dispute how often and how effectively this rite was observed, but the intention was clear.  The victorious party in the Senate wanted to consign all memory of the condemned emperor to oblivion.

This desire to condemn and erase the past, or at least that part of the past connected with unpopular personalities, was by no means a uniquely Roman obsession.  Rather, contrary to the intentions of the Senate, the abundance of historical records during the Classical period, combined with a human delight in monstrosity, has assured an unwonted immortality to such “damned” creatures as Caligula and Nero.  Among more ancient civilizations, the local equivalent of the damnatio memoria was more effective.  Until Carter’s discoveries in 1922, Egyptologists had no more than an inkling of King Tut’s existence, since the boy monarch and his heretical Sun-worshiping dynasty had been rubbed out of the historical record by pious defenders of Egypt’s polytheistic faith.  This remarkably effective act of collective forgetfulness endured for three thousand years.  But as the saying goes, truth will out.

However we must go beyond the early civilizations to primordial times if we want to find the origins of damnation.  Was it not Cain who first issued a decree of oblivion to his brother?  He did not just murder, but buried Able, for we know that “his blood cried out from the ground.”  The mind of Cain, full of wrath, was inconsolable at the offense of Able.  And what was that offense?  Surely that his brother had been judged acceptable in the eyes of God, while he had been found wanting.  Cain had the choice of repentance…or, or what?  The only way to restore reality to its pre-judgement status was to erase the very idea of Able as an alternative to Cain.  It wasn’t enough to just terminate Able’s existence (murder), it was necessary to deny that Able had ever existed (burial).

If there had been no outside observer, it would have been the perfect crime.  However the Holy Spirit was recording the incident for our benefit.  Cain did have a brother, and though he failed as his “keeper” neither did he succeed as his “thrower-awayer.”  In this first case, and ever since, it has been hard to make the damnatio memoria stick.

If there is a God, history is for keeps.

The Rise of the Orwellian Memory Hole

As God-centered world views have been nudged aside by various forms of Humanism, especially the most consistent form of humanism, Marxism, the damnatio memoria has experienced a modern renaissance.  Instead of statues of Caesar being removed from the Roman forum, the images of Stalin’s rivals were airbrushed out of the picture.  Before…

And after…

This process was frequently repeated until only the reigning god, “Uncle Joe” himself, remained.

Marxism is not only the last stage of humanism, but it brings to moral completion the views of time that are implicit in all forms of secularism.  According to this world-view, only the visible world is real, and all unseen worlds are either imaginary or manipulable fictions.  This means that the present always has domination over a past which has disappeared from sight and only exists in archival or artifact form.  Thus the past is worse than non-existent, it is plastic in the hands of the present…liquid, and ripe for liquidation.  To the primordial animus which the human mind harbors towards its rivals, past, present, and future…Marxism has added a theory of history which grants moral superiority to whatever faction has most recently emerged from the struggles of time.  Add to this a penchant for organization and propaganda, and one gets a veritable “science of damnation.”

As Marxism has become the hidden, but hegemonic, ideology of America’s academic and journalistic institutions, this penchant for damning the past, rather than trying to understand it, has ascended to power.  Today, in the world of Photo-shop, Stalinist airbrushing seems crude and cartoonish.  But what can be done with the more substantial archives of the past, those made of bronze and stone?  Sadly, we discover that they are scheduled for removal in cities across the nation.

Like the busts of Caesar, the generals of America’s public squares are disappearing, and not just those who fought for the South during the disturbances of 1861-65.  One wonders how long Andrew Jackson, who conquered New Orleans from the British, will be left unmolested.  Certainly, Jackson was a flawed man, but none the less a man whom it is important to grapple with in order to understand vast chunks of American history.  He is now high on the list of those scheduled for the damnatio memoria.

And who shall replace General Jackson?  Dr. King perhaps?  Whomever it might be, it will not be someone who will be able to escape the gnawing criticism of the future.  New values and new demographics will come to the fore, and then the politically correct heroes of today will themselves fall victim to future damnatio memoria.  I believe it was Chateubriand who observed, “Like Father-Time, the revolution devours its own children.”  And what does this devouring consist of but a desire to see the past as totally evil, and the present as justified by its condemnation of the past?  However this is ultimately a suicide pact and a self-imprecation, since time flows onward, and in the Marxist view this flow is not morally neutral but a process of continuous judgement and re-evaluation.

History, thus construed, becomes a pyramid of skulls with a small band of executioners at the top.  From time to time there is a new work shift and the past shift’s executioners become the next band of victims, hence providing more skulls for the pyramid, ever growing in height and volume.  This is as good an illustration as any of the human form of damnation.  It is a damnation which, if not eternal, is at least infinite.  For time has no end.

Except that, in the Christian view, it does end, and the infinite damnation that humanity wished upon itself is eclipsed by eternity.

It makes me sad.  And I wish I had the innocent guile of that bold lawn-cleaner to say,  “Dammit man!  Stop your damn man-damning man!  Just look, listen….and repent!”

 

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, culture, Esoterism, History, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

How Churchmen are changed into Ducks

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 9, 2017

George Whitfield (1714-1770)

Among the more formidable characters in church history is George Whitfield (sometimes spelled Whitefield but pronounced without the “e”) the preacher who spread a Calvinistic variety of Methodism in colonial America.  You must understand that at the time Methodism was, as the very name indicates, a methodology and not a sect.  It was Whitfield’s aggressive preaching method, not to the taste of some, which had such a tremendous effect on forming the unique spirituality of early America.

His odd looks (he was cross eyed) and forceful rhetoric must have convinced many that Whitfield  was more an angel than a man.  It was related that he could pronounce a word as neutral and exotic as “Mesopotamia” in such a way as to draw tears from his audience.  For some this was sorcery, but for others it was salvation, and the crowds that he was able to gather were a mighty tributary in that powerful river of revival which we call America’s Great Awakening.

Like his rival in preaching the good news, John Wesley, Whitfield was a life long clergyman in the Anglican church.  Oddly enough, this evangelist with Tory sympathies earned the esteem of freethinking Benjamin Franklin, and the two struck up a friendship which lasted throughout their mature lives.  None the less, it is hard to imagine Whitfield, who died five years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, throwing in his lot with the founding fathers.  For Whitfield being an Anglican was not a doctrinal affirmation, and indeed he despised most of what today would be called “Anglican theology.”  For him, membership in the established church was just the normative state of being born into the British branch of Christendom.  In the Whitmanian view, the established church didn’t get you into heaven, but you couldn’t get out of the established church.  A questionable deal, but a deal nobody could refuse in Britain or its colonies.

To Whitfield’s amazement, many of the Americans whom he had converted on matters spiritual in the 1740’s were loath to join his church, preferring to form into autonomous assemblies, notably Baptist associations.  Whitfield sighed, in reference to the immersion of his converts, “It seems that my fledglings have become ducks!”  From our modern perspective this seems odd as well, why would someone get evangelized by a preacher from one denomination and then go out and join another denomination?  Why did the Whitfield Christians “become ducks”?

Erastianism

To begin with, “denominations” in our contemporary sense didn’t exist, although there were already a multitude of sects.  What did exist was a passionate clash of opinions over ideological and theological issues which today seem obscure and unimportant.  A key word in these debates was “Erastianism” which dropped out of our household vocabularies a century and a half ago and has not been missed yet.

However, unless we know how this “Erastianism” could get people hot under the collar (both clerical and lay collars) we wont understand how churchmen became ducks.  Fortunately there is a term of  recent coinage which conveys much the same meaning to modern ears.  Among libertarian, Constitutional, and conservative circles “statism” has become the contemporary opprobrium of choice for what the colonists called “tyranny.”  Today we can define Erastianism as “statism applied to church governance”, or church-statism.  Keeping that in mind, and equipped with a Bible in one hand and the Declaration of Independence in the other, we are well underway to unravel the ecclesiastical conundrums of 18th century America.  We know what the outcome was, the rise of the Methodists and Baptists and the decline of the Anglican/Episcopalians.  Was this due to the vagaries of demographics or was there some underlying principle working itself out in the lives of Christian men and women?

Going back to the mid-18th century British America, one must keep in mind that Erastianism was not just a theory but a practice.  Take the colony of North Carolina as an example.  The Church of England was established as a public institution, essentially an arm of the state.  Did this mean that those early Tarheels were enthusiastic Anglicans?  Hardly!  In fact the region was largely unchurched during its early history.  None the less a system of church vestries (lay committees) was established paralleling the civil administration, and all subjects were required to pay taxes to maintain this apparatus.

As in all monarchical church-state systems the organization was pyramidal.  Yet, curiously, within British North America this was a truncated pyramid.  Above the vestries and the occasional parish priest, there were no high church officials.  North Carolina, and all other colonies (mostly outside New England) where Anglicanism was established, reported to the Bishop of London.  This led to a curious ambivalence on the part of the colonials.  Some persons, of an Episcopal persuasion, were eager to have cathedrals and bishops established on American shores.  They blamed the crown for foot-dragging on this issue.

Another, and presumably larger, party was heartily glad that the bishops had not yet arrived.  Their fear was that the crown was scheming to impose a hierarchy on the colonies, a hierarchy which would coerce believers in matters of doctrine and impose heftier church taxes.  This was a major item of contention among the colonists in the run up to the revolution, and the fact that it was not directly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is, like the dog that doesn’t bark, rather a testimony to the seriousness of the issue than the contrary.  It was, like slavery, one of those issues that divided the Founders at a time when it was crucial to present a united front against the crown.

Voting with their (webbed) feet

Keeping these things in mind, perhaps it is easier to understand why the fruits of the Great Awakening, sparked by the evangelism of Anglican priests, did not redound to the Established Church.  Again, taking North Carolina as our example, there are records of a great increase in the membership of Baptist assemblies, while the Established Church remained largely a bureaucratic skeleton.  Converted by the Spirit (through the preaching of Whitfield, Wesley et al) the rustic colonists saw no need to perfect their salvation through works, where the “works” in question were attendance on the ceremony and obligations of local established parishes.  Moreover, such were were added on top of (prior to the revolution)the “work” of paying the church tax…that is regardless of one’s belief, atheist, dissenter or whatever.

Really, Whitfield ought not to have been surprised, for the Spirit was working through his eccentricities, not his Anglicanism.  The crowds swooned at his uncanny words such as “Mesopotamia”…I know not whether they would swoon at “Mother England.”

We too should cry when we hear the world “Mesopotamia”!

These things are of interest to me since I am persuaded by a kind of Calvinistic Methodism myself.  Albeit that I am only a Calvinist in supposing that all people are sinners, while my Method has little in common with that of the Wesley brothers.  Rather, the method consists in this, that (at least under ceterus paribus conditions, a.k.a., all things being equal) freedom is a good thing and coercion is wrong.

Now today in Christendom (or rather post-Christendom) we are no longer so clearly divided into and Established Church and Dissenters.  However the same perennial urges resurface under different guise.  Thus today we have Liberal churches and Conservative churches.  In both these “denominations” there are churches and individuals who seek to become an Establishment.  Both seek to establish a church-state, albeit according to a different view of what the proper function of the state might be.  The liberal churchmen, and churchwomen, want to be the altruistic cheerleaders of the journalistic-academic-welfare-health complex, while the conservatives want the church to be an official apologist for the military-industrial-banking complex.

However there is always a remnant which has been granted the wisdom to understand human folly.  Among the greatest of follies is what has been called “the tyranny of good intentions.”  This is when we try to force something good on someone.  If we try to force Christ on someone we get the Inquisition.  If we try to force “democracy” (a problematic concept in itself!) on a people we get…well, we get something like the contemporary Middle East, a region in constant turmoil where two thousand year old Christian communities are today on the verge of extinction.

It is we, not Whitfield’s auditors, who should weep when we hear that old name for Iraq and its neighbors…”Mesopotamia”!

Yet through the gloom of it all, let’s remember that Jesus loves us.  I’m afraid I may have increased the gloom by throwing a heavy theological tome at your head.  But at least I warned you…

Duck!

 

 

Posted in Appologetics, Charismata, Christian Education, Christianity, Constitution, Constitutionalism, culture, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Captain Obvious calling: What if Myths are just (you guessed it!) myths?

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 3, 2017

From unsophisticated lies to sophisticated rationalizations

I have spent more of my  life than I would care to admit trying to unravel the mysteries of myths and mythologies.   The dominant theories among anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars reflects the prevailing assumption that myth reflects a key to some deep primitive wisdom which modern people have gotten out of touch with.  Thus for Levi-Strauss, myth reveals the primitive meta-logic of the mind which is far more socially cohesive than the analytical categories of common sense logic.  Carl Jung goes further in seeing the primal spirituality of all human beings stored in a collective unconscious which from time to time is expressed in mythical terms.

The assumption is that there are truths too deep to be expressed in plain expository language.  But what if myth, far from expressing truths, is actually giving vent to falsehoods.  This is the viewpoint of Rene Girard, who sees in the incoherence of myth, a similarity to rationalization.  When the main character of a mythical narrative suddenly turns into a god or a totemic animal, Girard suggests that the hero was the subject of envy and fell victim to murder most foul.  To disguise the crime the survivors in society changed the narrative and promoted the hero from the status of victim to god.  Those who notice some similarity to Christ’s passion will not be surprised that Girard is a Christian and was influenced by the gospel narrative in framing his social theory.

One need not concur with all the details of Girard’s anthropology to see the wisdom of applying a forensic approach to myth.  If myths are primitive rationalizations of the great crimes committed in antiquity, this would go a long way to explaining the convoluted and contradictory logic which seems characteristic of all primitive societies.  As Mark Twain once said, “I don’t tell lies because its too much work to keep them all straight in my memory.”

From Fall to Falsehood

However the human race seems, on the whole, to have taken liberties with the truth at the price of developing a vast and often incoherent body of narratives which we call mythology.  To say that myths are lies and nothing more than lies, would seem to put the work of generations of anthropologists and folklorists to naught.  Yet this might be a true key to understanding the enigma of the human past.  All myths might be variations on one Big Lie which has been told generation after generation, growing in detail and complexity as each narrator attempted to put more distance between his contemporaries and some Primal Crime of deep antiquity.

In this context, it might be useful to note that the Bible, whatever “genre” we might assign to it, most certainly is not myth.  Even the most superficial acquaintance with scripture shows that its style and method is completely different from all the mythological systems which have been passed down through the traditions of the nations.  Indeed, scripture and myth are not just different but opposite, and comparing them is much like looking through a telescope alternatively from different ends.  Thus, while myths are human attempts at making a theology, the Bible was given us by God as a book of anthropology.  In understanding ourselves, we understand our relationship to God, or lack thereof.

Unlike myths, the Bible reveals to us the Great Crime which broke our fellowship with God.  It tells the truth in straight, unambiguous terms, in terms which would be recognized by any logician, whether or not such a logician accepted the moral of the story.  In contrast, mythology, the Bible’s primitive rival, is forever losing the logical thread of its narrative, much like dreams, which are simply the nocturnal counterpart of the mythological madness told in broad daylight.  When myth is on the witness stand the story is always changing, backtracking, and the names are changed to protect the guilty.

Not so with scripture, which radiates a clarity similar to the last pages in a classical “whodunit.”  Of course, this makes it unpopular with the criminal class, a class which (in regard to the Original Crime) includes the entirety of the human race.  Conversely this explains the popularity of myth which is, in the absence of other virtues…at least highly creative.

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Christian Education, Christianity, culture, Fiction, History, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Gun You Should Reach For When You Hear the Word “Culture”

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 24, 2017

Why “Culture” is a loaded word which needs to be disarmed

All advocates of a civilized world, and most emphatically all Christians, need to be skeptical every time the word “culture” is mentioned.  Evolution and culture are the two key concepts which have destroyed genuine anthropology, anthropology in the Christian sense of the word.  If today we live in a world where the barbarians are at the gates, it is only because the vital distinction between civilization and barbarism was first erased from the scholarly vocabulary in the name of an ambiguous and relativistic understanding of human nature, an understanding which is encapsulated in the term “culture.”

The word “culture” (an otherwise unobjectionable term) was adopted by secular anthropologists as the label for a mental package deal known as “the culture concept.”  The essence of this concept is that human beings create their own mental reality.  Even humanists are humble enough to realize that human beings do not create their own physical reality.  That sort of thing went out of style with Renaissance magic.  Humanists claim that the universe has arisen through something other than human agency, and since human agency is the only rational design they recognize, they conclude that it is a result of chance plus vast quantities of time.  This is the celebrated theory of evolution.

There is another sense in which Humanists exhibit a minimal degree of humility.  The culture concept implies that “Man Makes Himself” to quote a title  from V. Gordon Child, from a day when even left-wing scholars could use masculine pronouns.  However the culture concept admonishes the would be Ubermench that human individuals do not make themselves, only groups have the power to shape the mental environment of their members.  Since the culture concept derives ultimately from the thinking of Immanuel Kant, this is an important revision in the theory.  Kant asserted that the human mind creates its own reality, but he was very abstract in his presentation.  He didn’t stress the role of groups in forming their own environments.  This was worked out in the century after Kant by various neo-Kantian scholars and passed down through the educational system in the form of anthropological dogma.

This formula, that 1) evolution makes the physical environment, and 2) culture makes our mental environment, is the one-two punch of all Humanist thought.  It is diametrically opposed to Christian anthropology, which sees the human race as part of creation dependent upon almighty God.  To be sure, in the Christian view the human race occupies a unique role in creation, as the thinking and governing part, just as in Humanism the humans are unique in possessing “culture.”  However there is a world of difference in these two forms of uniqueness.  The first uniqueness is related to something personal outside itself, a condition which renders objective morality possible.  The second uniqueness, the uniqueness of “culture” is purely self-referential.  It cannot be brought to the bar of any moral standard higher than itself.  From the Humanist viewpoint, this isolated uniqueness reflects the principle of human autonomy.  From the Christian viewpoint, it is an illusion resulting from sin.

Culture as the moral ultimate means that culture itself cannot be judged, and implies relativism.  The history of the culture concept is the progress of increasingly consistent forms of relativism.  In the 19th century anthropologists tried to rank cultures on the basis of degrees of civilization, or put negatively, emergence from barbarism.  However as the relativistic implications of the culture concept were systematized, notably by Franz Boaz and his followers, attempts at judging cultures were suppressed.   Today, all judgments of different cultures according to some objective standard outside culture are considered prejudicial.  However this moral conclusion is the consequence of the supposed impossibility of any objective standard.

When the Nazi German Propaganda Minister Goebbels famously exclaimed, “When I hear the world culture I reach for my gun!” he was diametrically opposed to the cultural criticism which we are trying to undertake.  Like Franz Boas, Goebbels was aiming for the idea of “high culture” as opposed to barbarism.  We should translate his words as “when I hear the word ‘civilization’ I reach for my gun.”  Both Nazism and cultural relativism have tried to make it impossible to isolate barbarism as a descriptive category and set it over against civilization.  Of course there were profound moral differences between Boaz, the liberal Jew, and Goebbels, the German fascist.  The latter went beyond theory and was determined to normalize barbarism by acting it out in real life.  However in the long run it has been the gentle scholar who has been more effective in destroying civilization, first as an ideal and then as a reality, among people of good intentions.

Yes, traditions exist

The major opposition to a frontal assault on the culture concept is the contention that culture aptly describes the variety and richness of human traditions found throughout the world.  However this diversity has always been recognized, certainly prior to the academic hegemony of the culture concept.  Some of these traditions were instituted by the Most High God, some are human innovations, and some have been inspired by lesser spirits.  Human innovation is not to be gainsaid, either for good or for evil, and neither is the vast diversity of traditions.

The culture concept adds nothing to our understanding of the richness of human institutions.  However by insisting on the human origin of our mental world, the culture concept begs one of the most significant questions which can be asked about history: Who, or what, instituted institutions?  Its long range effect is to flatten out the mental world into the single, flat, plane of human reality.  Cultural Humanists boast of having an “immanent frame” in which they are free to make any judgement they wish about human affairs.  However “any judgement” ultimately means that no judgment is authoritative, and hence that all are meaningless.  This default to meaninglessness and nihilism is the next to last stage in the decline of cultural relativism.

The final stage occurs when “culture” having outlived its usefulness in the promotion of nihilism is reabsorbed by “evolution” the master-concept which required culture as a temporary supplement and diversion.  When the ideals of humanity have lost their charm, the spiritual descendants of Goebbels will round on the spiritual descendants of Boaz, with guns metaphorical or otherwise.

It is to save these people of good intentions, these so-called “Humanists” from the fate which dooms their concepts, their bodies, and their souls (not necessarily in that order) that we must insist on a God beyond culture.

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