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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.

 

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The pre-history of Leftism in Christian heresy

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 21, 2018

What is a “leftist”?

We hear the word “leftist” a lot, but what does it really mean?  Is the left good, or bad, or just ugly? Should we moralize about leftists, and does leftism have an actual history which can be discovered? I heartily embrace the notion that the left/right schematic for understanding politics is a distorting mirror which would best be discarded.  None the less, there was for the last two, or even three hundred years, an identifiable line of thought called “left” first in Europe, then in North America, and then throughout the world.

I do not think the left was always evil.  In that respect it is different from Communism, which may be defined as that tendency within the left towards domination for the sake of domination.  In contrast, it would seem that leftism originally had some motivating ethical ideal, in relation to which politics was only a means to an end.  The ubiquitous yet morally ambivalent nature of leftism has echoed through the chronicles of American popular culture, ranging from the communistic to the comic.  In the 1960s Al Capp, the creator of the Líl Abner cartoon series, introduced a new character into his strip,  Jeannie Phonenei.  Jeannie Phonenei was Capp’s attempt to mock everything which was wrong with the left wing activists of that day: she was a narcissistic hypocrite who drove around in a Mercedes and composed folk songs like “Molotov Cocktails for Two.”

Taking the characterization personally, the celebrated singer and war protester Joan Baez objected to Capp’s sense of humor.   Truly, if Capp had intended to needle the anguished, earnest and (significantly) Christian Joan, it was a cruel joke.  Rather Capp’s jests would have been better aimed at that other siren of the sixties, the opportunistic actress Jane Fonda, who was a professed Communist.  Later it would turn out that she would profess anything, including Christianity.  However Joan Baez was the real deal, not a Communist, but a genuine leftist…whatever that might be.  Yet, even though Communism and Leftism are distinct ideologies, history has repeatedly shown that leftists tend to wind up as the enablers of Communist movements and, ultimately, states.  From their initial position as idealistic activists, they quickly become tools for persons far more cunning and devious than they originally bargained for.  Why is this?  It is a tragedy which has been reenacted numerous times and in sundry places, yet before we review the tragic destiny of leftism, we need to investigate its origins.

Towards a Critique of Pure Goodness

To reiterate, I deny that all leftists are intrinsically evil. Rather, I would have you draw a picture of good people when you think of the early leftists, indeed, of super-good people!   Of course, since we all have become wary of the Hegelian dialectic, from the outset “super-goodness” tends to give us the uneasy feeling of sitting precariously on a Humpty-Dumpty wall of perfection, not only a fragile position, but one containing the seed of its annihilation through the wrath of its contrary.

Leftism, as a self-defined movement, dates only from the French Revolution and the spread of J. J. Rousseau’s secularist, populist notions.  However the ethical roots of leftism go back much deeper, into what we call “Western history” or more properly Christendom.  The West got its start as the remaining crust of Christendom, after Mohammad, the Caliphs, Tammurlane, and the Turks had gobbled up much of Africa and Asia.  Thus the political movements which would later emerge as “the left” were essentially Christian, and only accidentally European, in their origin.

This is not my own hypothesis, or a special theory devised by those among us who are seeking to expose the errors of the left.  To say nothing of Max Weber, this religious pedigree was mooted about proudly by the cultural Marxists themselves, notably Adorno, Horkheimer, and other luminaries of the Frankfort school.  They pointed out that the earliest radical movements in the West were “chiliastic” in nature, or what might be dismissed as outbreaks of mass hysteria premised on a speedy end to the present world and the establishment of the kingdom of God on Earth.  Having scant interest in theology, the Frankfort thinkers moved on to develop their ideas about a sociology of knowledge.  From an opposing view, the cognitive content of this early chiliasm was closely examined in the voluminous works of conservative philosopher Erick Voeglin.  Both the Frankfort School and Vogelin concurred that Western radical thought had been initiated as far back as the middle ages, the former lauding these early movements as “chiliasm” while the latter deplored what he termed the persistent “gnosticism” of the West.

Voeglin, a brilliant thinker, was prone to stuff every development in Western thought into his portmanteau term-of-art “gnosticism.”   For Voeglin, and many others, “gnosticism” is the penchant of elites for using esoteric knowledge to control mass movements.  I would agree with Voeglin, that this is the very quintessence of Communism.  However I want to make a clear distinction between Communism and leftism.  If Communism is, as Voeglin proposes, a disease of the mind, perhaps leftism is a disease of the heart.  Therefore, if we look at the Christian pedigree of leftist movements we will have to become theologians.  However it is not the theology of the Trinity, of creation, or of any other metaphysical principle that will concern us.  Rather we will need to take a close look Christian ethics, and especially, heretical Christian ethics.

What the early Church Fathers knew, and Voeglin often omits, is the source of heresy, invariably, the twisting of scripture.  Proof-texts are the bane of theology, but the essential starting point of all heresies.  Thus…

…for him that takes your cloak, forbid not to take your coat also. (Luke 6:29b)

Is a famous “twister” (not to be confused with the party game) that has entertained nudists, naturalists, and sundry Adamites for two millennia.   Of far greater historical significance were the mendicant friars, whose bonfire of vanities were sparked by Francis of Assizi giving away his clothes and walking around town naked until someone thoughtfully provided him with a brown burlap sack, thus instituting the habit of a new order.  This holy striptease might be described as extremism in pursuit of literalism.   To the credit of the order Francis founded, the poverty-loving “spirituals” were quickly purged and the monks got back to what monks do best: working, praying,  and building up vast quantities of tangible, informational, and social capital.

While there is something charming about the voluntary poverty of the friars, the antics of the early Anabaptists were positively horrific.   Before they flipped into their benign opposites, e.g., pacifist Amish and Mennonites, they terrorized reformation-era Europe with the prospect of a perfect commonwealth, (a.k.a., your wealth is mine to share in common) and their “twister” included the more  famous first half of Luke 6:29.

And to him who smite you on the cheek, offer to him the other… (ibid. 29a)

Much as the early Franciscans stripped unbidden by any request from the poor, the pastoral wolves of the fringe reformation were willing to start the smiting, on the understanding that their bullied flocks were honor-bound not to resist.    A city was infiltrated, a monarchy was established under the vicarage of a prophet, and utopia was commenced.  This experiment proved so popular that the citizens welcomed back their previous oppressors with open arms and hung the  prophet on a gibbet….in perpetuity.

Scriptural hermeneutics over superheros

Granted, both the spiritual Franciscans and the early Anabaptists interpreted the scripture in a way that was not just literal but pro-active and extreme.   My contention is that a more passive reading of the texts, though perhaps even more literal, is still socially disastrous in the long run.  Let’s take the example, drawn from countless incidents in real life, of a child who comes home crying because a bully has stolen his or her lunch money.  You and I know both what the reaction of a normal parent would be, so we can skip the pyrotechnics.

However let’s examine the case of a not-so-normal “spiritual” parent.  Little Johnny or Jill comes home to the following comfort.  “Yes, I know you feel bad, but you really should allow that bully to steal from you…it will make you more Christ-like.”  The following day the situation repeats itself.  “Really you shouldn’t cry…every time you are being bullied you are becoming more Christ-like and are bringing your tormentor closer to salvation.”  Where do you think this is likely to end up?  Perhaps, indeed, it will lead to the sanctification (or even martyrdom) of the child and the salvation of the bully.  If J.J. Rousseau is right and all people are benevolent beings who just need to have their non-benevolent inconsistencies pointed out to them…in such a world perhaps this schoolyard tragedy will have a happy ending.  That is not, however, the world portrayed by scripture.

The scriptural passage in referred to above is contained in one of the great ethical discourses of Jesus, the one which extends through Luke v.v. 19-49.  Towards its end it includes the exhortation to “build a house upon a deeply dug foundation, a foundation of rock”(paraphrase v. 48) which might be taken as a hint that this, and other, ethical discourses are in fact parables which compel deep study and interpretation.  Read in the most superficial manner, the ethical discourses seem to enjoin charity, kindness, and goodwill to all our fellow creatures.  Surely there can be no objection to such an interpretation.  However if we meditate on these passages in a more somber vein, we begin to notice the urgency and hyperbolic nature of the sayings, and from this we may surmise that they reflect a unified ethical doctrine, the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  I have characterized the doctrine of non-resistance to evil as the “doctrine of giving the bully your lunch money” which seems, on the face of it, a moral absurdity.

In the face of moral absurdity, we can either give up and go back to explaining the ethical discourses as “exhortations to charity” or dig even deeper and see if we can uncover anything more solid than the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  Now it seems to me that we can interpret the ethical discourses in at least four ways: 1) the literal, 2) the spiritual, 3) the historical, or dispensational, and finally 4) the Christocentrc, or Messianic.  Now, my main task in this writing is to critique the ancient Christian origins of the modern left.  Furthermore, I discern a salient connection between the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses and the rise of the left.  Therefore, since we are rejecting the left and not Christianity, an exposition of scripture deeper than the literal is required, especially since the literal interpretation drives the interpreter towards the deadly doctrine of non-resistance to evil.

The immediate alternative to the literal-ethical interpretation is the spiritual interpretation.  If we are indeed vessels of the Holy Spirit we will have an infinite amount of energy, health, and wealth at our disposal.  Thus we will not only be able to give the playground bullies of life all our lunch money, but lead them towards salvation.  Unfortunately this is not an interpretation which is accessible to skeptics who masquerade as Christians, since the only parts of the Bible they take literally are the ethical discourses, and any hint of a reality beyond the flesh  is dismissed as a fairy tale.   Personally, I am overjoyed to assent to all the implications of the spiritual interpretation.  Unfortunately, mere assent does not automatically turn on the spigots of the Spirit.  The actual activation of these powers requires faith, and deepening faith is the work of a lifetime.

The next alternative to the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses is the historical interpretation.  This might also be called the “dispensational” interpretation, albeit the notion of dispensations comes freighted with all sorts of diverse and divisive implications.  None the less, perhaps we can simplify things by limiting ourselves to a transposition of the terms in Luke 6: 29 as they might have been heard c. 30AD by an ear straining for a word of prophecy.

“the smiting”=the Romans

“the other cheek”=lay down your arms, flee to the hills

“giving the outer garment” = let the Romans take Jerusalem

“giving the inner garment”=let the Romans defile the Temple

This is indeed a bitter prophetic brew, however unlike the general doctrine of non-resistance toward evil, it is a particular bitterness in the cup of the Jewish people.  Christ wasn’t rejected because he spoke about the lilies of the field.  Since it is tangential to the purposes of this writing I won’t pursue the historical interpretation any further.

A further alternative to the literal-ethical, and arguably the most on target, is the reading which allows Christ to be speaking self-referentially of his soon-to-be-accomplished Passion.  Again, the same sort of prophetic transposition can be made of the terms which appear in Luke 6:29

“the smiting”=totality of Anti-Messianic forces: Herodians, Pharisees,  Roman government, etc.

“the other cheek”=”Not my will but that of my Father be done!”

“giving the outer garment”=the Kingdom taken away from the people

“giving the inner garment”=the Messiah taken away from Earth

Undoubtedly there are other interpretations, but the addition of these three to the literal-ethical should highlight the parabolic nature of the ethical discourses, teachings which require study and some sort of response, albeit a response which we may have to “dig” to discover, rather than a systematic code of ethics intended to replace the mitzvah of the Old Testament.  Indeed, if these teachings are ethics at all, they are an ethics of crisis, intended to guide the initial band of believers before, during, and perhaps for some time after the Resurrection.  They are not, and this is really the main point, intended as the immutable charter for a sustainable human community.  This should be all the easier to see since the Bible does indeed contain such a charter…the Torah.

Red Letter Bibles and Reds 

The ethical discourses of Christ are indeed the proof tests of the leftist (or liberal, progressive, social, call it what you will) heresy, that grand attempt to re-found and remold the Christian religion.  Just as the peroration on Wisdom in the Proverbs of Solomon provided Arius with a proof-text for Unitarianism, the pretext for Leftism, in a still Christian Europe, was the ethics of Jesus.  Unfortunately this Jesus was not Jesus the Christ, but a Jesus who was a philosopher, seer, wonder-worker and perapatetic prophet.

This was the Jesus of the so-called Enlightenment (18th century and afterwards) and it marked a further worsening of Europe’s moral and religious condition.  In contrast, the spiritual Franciscans and the Anabaptists, whatever their excesses, at least had continued to believe in God and the supernatural.  Their ethical extremism was difficult to constrain, but their heterodoxy could be exposed in conclave with fellow Christians, since they still  operated on a common set of principles, facilitating the escape of wandering sheep from ravenous wolves.

However the atheism of the Enlightenment tended to displace the spiritual center of gravity of all who fell under its influence, even those who continued to profess Christianity.  Whereas the churches had previously treated Christ’s claims to divinity literally and treat the ethical discourses as parables, this polarity was reversed among all who fell under the spell of the Enlightenment.  Now, in metaphysics this view (with no afterlife, judgement or so forth) alternately scandalized and relieved the thinking public, but for ethics the new attitude it was supposed to be an unqualified benefit.  And why not?  At last ethics was liberated from theology.  At last one was free to consider Jesus, not as a savior, but a philosopher, and indeed the best, the most heroic, the purest of all philosophers who ever lived.  It was just the sort of philosophy which might prove capable of uniting all of humanity in a common band of brotherhood.  It was under this banner that the sans-coulotts (a moniker reminiscent of Luke 6:29b!) marched…unfortunately to the guillotine.

Two generations later on we find similar views still attracting followers, even in France where the failure of the Revolution should have been obvious.  Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a monument to a reinvented Christianity where altruistic ethics triumphs over law, theology, and sometimes common sense, yet we still applaud wildly even in the 21st century.  We applaud because Hugo gives us what we want, a feel-good ethics based on the most superficial reading of Christ’s ethical discourses, a reading where Jesus is telling us “be nice”…especially when you encounter the hard-luck cases.  I don’t dispute that this is a correct application of scripture, but I would warn that separation of ethics from theology becomes increasingly perilous the deeper down the philosophical rabbit hole you go.  The saving grace of Hugo was his superficiality as a thinker.  Hugo’s  contemporary, Ernst Renan, pursued the subject more carefully in his Life of Jesus, but stopped before plumbing the full implications of making non-resistance to evil the primary axiom of human life.  Schopenhauer could see further into the abyss, and rejected ethics for aesthetics.  Nietzsche saw even further and decided to join what he deemed the winning side, evil itself.

Until very recently few people have been willing to go “the full Nietzsche.”  The more popular option has been to keep the form while neglecting the substance of Christianity.  This is a gambit with many variations, most of the variations involving indifference and dry formalism.  However, since the Enlightenment and growing in popularity, there has always been a hard core of “atheistic” Christians, deadly serious in their desire to see the Kingdom of God established on Earth.  For these people, were they have to a church, it could only be humanity as a whole, and if they were to have a spirit it would not be the separated and Holy One.  Such people, on the whole, have the appearance of goodness, and significantly they have the scriptures…or at least a part of the scriptures, what Erick Voeglin would call a “qurán.”  In Voeglin’s nomenclature a qurán is a text used to enshrine the principles of a social movement.  Obviously, the Qurán is the qurán of Islam, but the Communist Manifesto is the qurán of Marxism, Interpretation of Dreams is the qurán of Freudianism and likewise for each movement there is more often than not a privileged and authoritative text.

Unsurprisingly this atheistic or liberal Christianity, that very Christianity which is the font and origin of Leftism, has its own qurán.  Yet what makes this movement such a singular phenomenon is that the qurán in question is found in the Bible itself.  To be sure, this qurán is only a fraction of the entire Bible, yet for the atheistic Christian it is the only part of the Bible worth preserving, and as you have no doubt guessed, it consists mainly the the ethical discourses of Jesus.  Another distinctive of this qurán is that it is generally not found bound in a separate codex, but rather is almost always found anthologized with other books of the Bible, though from a purist perspective of an ethical and atheistic Christian these are clearly dutero-cannonical.  Perhaps in the spirit of toleration the liberal and ethical Christian is unwilling to excise such barbarous relics as the book of Genesis or the salacious Song of Songs.

In fact, the only editorially consistent attempt at purifying the ethical qurán of the philosopher Jesus from the dross of Hebraic literature was the work of our own libertarian idol, and all round rock-star, Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson did a heroic cut-and-paste job back when that phrase meant hands stinking with glue rather than clicking on a drop-down menu.  The resulting Jefferson’s Bible, composed primarily of philosophical discourses by the Jesus-guy, is one of the world’s greatest literary curiosities.  Jefferson commended it to Congress, which, with typical celerity, took a half century to consider declaring it as the fundamental qurán of the American nation.  So much for separation of church and state.  In reality budgetary restraints prevented the dissemination of TJ’s qurán, and as we all know, a creed without a propaganda organ dies the slow death of obscurity.

However the absence of a handbook never seemed to bother the Christian proto-leftists very much.  They knew what to reverence and what to discard.  For those lacking in discernment, bibles began to be printed with the words of Christ in red.  This keyed the reader into what had really been said by Jesus and what had been crammed surreptitiously into the margin by apostles, evangelists and sundry rogues.  As it turned out, pretty much everything other than the ethical discourses.   In the long years between the Jefferson Bible and he Jesus Seminar, each believer had the resources to do his or her own cut and past job…a personal qurán.  Today we also have multiple English translations which turn the meaning of both red and black letter passages into misleading fluff.

Parting the Red Sea

Those of us who believe in the whole Bible, and not just the passages in red, must none the less acknowledge the inspiration of the red passages.  Normally the ethical discourses are honored as exhortations to charitable acts, this is a benevolent but superficial response to the hard doctrines found in the ethical discourses.  We might picture this  “kindness and good-will interpretation” standing on the Egyptian side of  a Red Sea which must be traversed to get at the deeper meanings declared in Chist’s parables which await like a Promised Land.  This Red Sea, in which we are likely to perish if we don’t march through in good order, is the ethical-literal interpretation.  The depths in which we risk submerging  are the consequence of applying the ethical discourses as standards for normal social life, since they imply the doctrine of non-resistance to evil, a doctrine which, by extension, is in itself evil.

The doctrine of non-resistance to evil is not authentically Christian.  Rather, it is an atheistic doctrine disguised by Christian rhetoric.  It is a look-alike counterfeit of the Golden Rule, which states that one ought to treat others the way that you would wish to be treated yourself.  This is not the same as giving people whatever they want, which is neither just nor always in the best interest of the receiver.  Rather, if you abet someone’s corrupt desire, you are committing, rather than resisting evil.  Indeed, Jesus said and did several things which sounded like he was recommending non-resistance to evil as a general principle, however his immediate intention was to defeat evil.  His non-resistance in certain instances was more of a tactical maneuver, designed so that the powers and principalities of this world would not guess that he was sacrificing himself as an atonement for the sins of the human race.  Of course this is nonsense from the secular, atheistic viewpoint, since for them there can be no such thing as a sacrificial transaction between human beings and God.   For secularists “sacrifice” is a concept within the closed system of human ethics, essentially a zero-sum game.

If human life is a zero-sum game, then the number of ethical options is limited.  One may strive for more at the expense of others, or one may resign from the game.  Schopenhauer and sundry Eastern teachings recommend resignation.  There is a seeming benevolence and nobility in this.  One might also aid the underdog in the struggle, extorting wealth and being extorted until all beings settle down in a sea of level equality.  Although it is seldom stated so baldly, this is the root notion of what we are calling “leftism.”  As an encomium to extortion, the ethical sayings of Jesus, given the appropriate twist, fit perfectly into this program.  Except that they were never intended as such, self-sacrifice being a unique prerogative of the Messiah.

Beyond non-resistance to evil is the ethics of extortion.  Once we have abetted coercion and theft, what difference does it make whether we are the perpetrator or the victim?  A lot, believe me!  None the less, the question needs to be posed in order to understand the psychology of idealists, the mentality of leftism.  The psychology of aggression requires no great feat of interpretation.  But the psychology of those who would do anything to promote an ideal, including self-victimization, is a mystery.  In the mind of the leftist, a world of universal, mutual, extortion and theft would be a fast track to equalization of life conditions for all human beings on Earth.  However we know, from the record of Communist ruled countries, that this in fact never occurs.  Rather, as George Orwell, himself a leftist, bitterly observed “some animals are more equal than others.”

Did Jesus deliver the ethical discourses in order to institute equality of life results among the people of Earth? It would seem that yes, the Jesus the philosopher might have.  However this is a Jesus who lives exclusively in the mind of expositors such as Ernst Renan in the 19th century or the Jesus Seminar in ours.  He is not the Jesus of scripture, the one who said “the poor you shall have with you always” nor the Jesus who said that “not one jot or tittle” would be removed from the Torah, a code which certainly does not endorse equality of life results.

However since the Enlightenment it is the philosophical Jesus who has been admitted into the pantheon of secular saints.   Therefore, we ought to return to the question of whether leftism is a continuation of earlier Christian heresies like the spiritual Franciscans and the political Anabaptists, or whether it is a novelty of post-Enlightenment times.  I have no definitive answer to this question, but if I had to make a hypothesis it would be that power-seeking elites infiltrated the churches with their propagandists, and that part of the propaganda involved turning Christianity into a new religion.  The power seeking elites aimed at extortion, and all they needed was a population which accepted being extorted as an ethical duty.  Suffice to say this post-Enlightenment movement has been wildly successful, as all the political institutions of modernity, from the military draft to taxes on incomes and mandatory schooling to fractional reserve banking and deficit spending are all meritorious examples of rendering up our coats and cloaks on demand.  None dare call it extortion.

All of this would have taken place in the run up to, or the aftermath of, the French Revolution.   About the same time that Thomas Jefferson was busy editing his Bible in America, Schelermacher was editing orthodoxy in Germany.  From now on, religion was to be something one felt, not anything based on clear messages from God.  The ethical discourses had been abstracted as primary, while believers were made mentally incapable of objecting to the resulting theological lacuna. It was these very tendencies, namely, anti-intellectualism combined with an anti-elitism in secret servitude towards elites, which formed the mentality of the early modern left.   Their god was a god who came down from heaven,  commanded altruism, and then left humanity to work out its own salvation…not in fear and trembling, but in extortion and violence.

 

Posted in Christianity, Conspriacy Theory, Culture & Politics, Hermenutics, History, Law, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The case against Space

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 7, 2018

Losing my religion?

Space is a hoax!

I don’t mean that Apollo 11 and the others didn’t go to the Moon.   I’m quite sure they did, and although I can’t prove it, nobody can prove the contrary.  Sure, we all know that it is harder to prove the non-existence of a nothing-burger than a fistful of factual fries, but clearly, even the best (non-rocket) shots of the Apollo skeptics miss their target by a wide margin.  By far the most salient objection to the historical reality of the Moon landings is the supposed impossibility of passing through the Van Allen radiation belts.  Although these ugly belts (which actually make life on Earth safe from cosmic rays) conjure up grotesque images of astronauts being zapped into zombies, they are actually pretty easy to navigate, once the ballistics of trans-orbital insertion has been mastered.  Granted the belts are not very good to lounge around for any considerable duration, which is why the International Space Station and similar ventures always park themselves at disappointing altitudes like 200 miles above Earth.  However the Apollo rocket was able to zip through the belts before the astronauts got zapped through the guts, at least by anything close to a lethal dose.  And from an engineering point of view, it was actually easier for the vacuum-tube technology of the 1960s to traverse the belts than for the sensitive circuitry of the 21st century to endure cosmic bombardment.  Even down on the ground, our cell phones, TV remotes, bluetooth interface and other devices, the more intelligent they seem, the more they seem to go haywire.  Back then,  they had safety brakes called “retro-rockets” and it seems that when it comes to rocket science, retro often rules!

Oh yeah, and there is all that suspicious photography.  I still can’t figure out what made the American flag flap in a vacuum, but I am sure some future genius will figure it out.  To me, a far greater enigma would be some sort of omnipotent gag rule which prevented tens of thousands of NASA and affiliated personnel from leaking the hoax of the millennium.  Furthermore, it would be a sad comment on some of the most intelligent and heroic persons in our nation’s history if they had been secretly recruited into a conspiracy to hoax the public.  These persons, the engineers, scientists, technicians, support staff, and (most importantly) the astronauts themselves, were the cream of American society in the ’60s and early ’70s.  Whatever their failings as sinful human beings might have been this didn’t extend to such a gross crime as faking a Moon shot.

None the less, while the astronauts and their support team did their jobs superbly well, like anyone else they were not necessarily happy with the way their “shop” was run.  With the termination of the glamorous Apollo space program they were “rotated out.”  In other words, they lost their jobs on a massive scale.  Today, those of us struggling between the heroic official narrative and the inverted narrative of the Apollo deniers have to be willing to lose something more than a job, we have to be willing to lose our religion, the Religion of Space.  This is hard, because the Religion of Space is one of the most beautiful and compelling myths ever to be hatched from the minds of men or demons.  Let me elaborate on that.

Misdirection more powerful than any hoax

Even though the Apollo astronauts really did go to the Moon (albeit Apollo 13 only orbited, not land) the space program of the 1960s was in essence a grand illusion.  Subsequent programs have also been illusory, albeit progressively diminished from the grand gesture of the Moon landings.  That those landings had a palpable reality adds, rather than subtracts, from the illusion.

Consider stage magic.  A magician might draw the attention of her audience to an egg in her right hand while concealing a bird under her left sleeve, ready to be produced as “the prestige” i.e.,the reappearance of something which had mysteriously vanished.  Now does the egg itself have to be illusory?  Certainly not, and in fact a tangible egg is all the better, since its function is to misdirect the attention of the audience from the bird.  Likewise, the space program has accomplished actual feats of engineering and events in space.  However it has seldom (even today, and certainly in the 1960s)  been motivated by any intrinsic scientific or economic benefit.  Rather, it has functioned as propaganda for a hidden political order.  Much like the misdirecting egg in the hand of the magician, the space program has managed to draw attention away from affairs on Earth which were thought best unnoticed.

Thus have our eyes been drawn towards the Heavens.  Compare the space program to the Bible.  Perhaps 2% (being very generous!) of the Biblical narration consists of scenes which take place in the courtyards of the Lord.  For example, there is the famous audience of Satan with God at the beginning of the Book of Job, and a few other passages scattered throughout scripture, which leaves  98% of the action to occur on planet Earth.  Indeed, the Bible is an anthropology book written by God, not a theology book written by men.  Since the Bible is intended to enlighten us, it  draws our attention towards those matters which ought to be of most concern to us.  Thus there is mention of angels in the Bible, enough to let us know that angels exist and have importance, both to our persons and in the history of the world.  However those individuals who have sought to major in “Angelology” often express frustration at the lack of information provided by scripture, and eventually resort to extra-canonical sources.

Hell on Earth and Pie in the Sky…circa 1957

The Cold War was a kind of hell on Earth, a hell with which historical accounts have never been adequately settled.  Of course, as General Grant famously said, (hot) war is  hell, however the Cold War had certain peculiar characteristics, for in addition to circumscribing a number of actual hot wars, it raised the level of political duplicity to heights perhaps unparalleled in the history of civilization.  If the general run of American citizens had possessed both discernment and adequate information, and they had access to neither, they might have sensed something sinister in the zeitgeist…left wing Western elites professing opposition to Communism, joined in semi- (or perchance pseudo-) conflict with right wing Eastern elites professing opposition to Capitalism.  These battle lines, or lack thereof, were fundamentally at variance with the narrative which represented the acceptable limits of opinion for the ordinary citizen, a narrative in which the American government was supposed to be a sincere advocate, on a global scale, of freedom along the lines represented by its Founders.  Actually, though the fearful motifs of the Cold war were ubiquitous throughout the 1950s and early 60s, sustained meditation on the topic was tacitly discouraged.  It was just part of the atmosphere, something not to be analyzed.   Then as now, there were plenty of distractions, from music to movies to sports to humor…but the situation was so grave that mere distraction was insufficient.  What was needed was misdirection, and misdirection on that order of magnitude required nothing less than a new religion.

“Sputnick,” the first man-made satellite, provided the new gospel with a convenient incarnation, an orbiting spermatozoon launched by the spirit of Antichrist.  After a moment of terror, it impregnated the American consciousness,  eliciting admiration, and more importantly, emulation.  Suddenly, the Religion of Space, which had been little more than a cult of Russian rocketeers and futurists dating back to the early 1900s, acquired a mass following in America.   It broke in at an opportune time, when political sleight of hand was gestating what we today call “the deep state” and when the traditional Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism of America had lost their unifying power.  Americans at last had something which would provide them with a rallying point.  Not something negative like anti-Russian xenophobia, but something they could be proud of, something daring, and something which prolonged the traditions of manifest destiny all the way to infinity…a “new fronteer.”

A god which failed

If the Apollo moon landings had been a hoax, they would have been much more cost-effective.  For better or worse, they were for real, and drained a vast amount of revenue from the federal government at the time.  By any objective measurement, it was a colossal waste.  However values are not objective.  The value of a national religion, one which persisted throughout the otherwise factious 60s, was incalculable.

Furthermore, affection for the religion was not feigned.  I know because I was one of the more fanatical followers myself.  Even after official support for the faith had been withdrawn, it experienced a major revival during the late 70s, with the “O’Neel concept” of artificial habitats in space.  Leading the charge was the arch-hippy Timothy O’Leary,  for whom psychotropic chemicals were but an entrance drug to the stronger and more addictive Religion of Space.  However time and tragedy took their toll on the faithful, until the Religion of Space dwindled to what it is today, a minor cult within the pantheon of the 21st century’s secular gods.  On a positive note, space is at last becoming a legitimate industry, with sustained revenues flowing from essential services.  That holds true especially for near space, however the further out in the cosmos one goes, the more likely that the old religious mentality will cling to a project, the latest refuge of dream-mongering scoundrels being…drum-roll….Mars.

In retrospect, the period from 1957 to the mid-70s of the last century witnessed a dislocation of America’s social consciousness, not dissimilar to the dislocation created by the events of 9/11 post-2001.  However there were significant differences.  The shock of Sputnick was not altogether unpleasant.  Rather, it combined on the one hand numenous terror with, on the other, an almost erotic desire for rapture, the essential components of all religious feeling.  It was remarkably effective for many years, then, like a drug, it wore off.  Most people barely noticed its disappearance, but others, addicted to space, fought against the powers that be to reinstate the “new fronteer” on something like its 1960s scale.  To no avail.

The moon landing denial movement, though bizarre in its claims, is perhaps the final stage in the extinction of the Religion of Space, at least in its classic 1960s form.  As with any broken trust, the victim lashes out in hostility to whatever has previously given life meaning…now exposed as a fraud.  In the case of space, not a literal fraud, and we can expect the garden to technology to continue its outward growth from the Earth.  None the less, the materialistic spirituality of the Religion of Space served the forces of corruption well, a story which is seldom grasped in its entirety.  The damage that it did was commensurate to the high ideals and daring that it exploited.

 

 

 

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The mob above and the mob below

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cram and Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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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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Is Shakespeare’s Coriolanus a key for our crises?

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fourfold Root of Classical Political Analysis

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles above Personalities: The Constitutional Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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In Defense of “Man”

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 15, 2017

Not Even Wrong

Suddenly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good “Man” is wrong to find

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens

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

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

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

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

1804  death of Immanuel  Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach

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

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

1831  death of Hegel

1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss

1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach

1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot

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

1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe

1848 The Communist Manifesto

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

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

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

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

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

1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published

1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man

1872 Death of Feuerbach

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

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

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

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

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

From Man to “Man”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Ike with love: The Age of Deception (1952-2016)

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 5, 2017

Nothing has changed except our point of view, but that counts for something

It is easy to think, as the left continues to overplay its cards, that something significant has occurred, and that our trajectory towards an Orwellian future has accelerated .  On the contrary, the Trump victory has triggered a new gestalt in people’s minds.  By 2017 fairly average people can see what only hardened conspiracy theorists were willing to hypothesize as late as 2015.   Whether or not we are at the beginning of a new era, for good or ill, is a matter of conjecture.  Indisputably, we have taken our leave of a period in political history which will prompt nostalgia among anyone but truth-seekers.  While it was hardly an era of good feelings, it was held up by its laureates as a time of consensus, or at least bi-partisanship.

Rather, it seems better to call our recent past the Age of Deception.  The Great Deception consisted in draping a de facto one party system in the vestments of a two party system.  If you had said this in 1965, or 1975, or 1980, or 1994, or 2001, or perhaps even 2008…most people would have called you an extremist.

However somebody, somebody who thought extremism in the cause of truth was no vice, had already pointed this out as early as 1958.  Sure enough, his opponents, and they were legion, labeled this man a slanderer, effectively burying  his work from the sight of the general public, first using savage opprobrium, subsequently silence, and at last retrospective ridicule.   The man was Robert Welch, and the “book” he wrote, initially penned as a private circular and later published as The Politician, targeted none other than President Dwight Eisenhower as an agent of communism.

Then as now, to the half-informed mind of the general reading public, such an allegation was patently absurd.  Eisenhower was venerated as a war hero on the basis of his direction of the Allied war efforts in Europe.  Now admitedly, there are a number of ways to think about the “heroism” of strategic commanders as opposed to direct combatants, but generally, if the war is won, the public will grant the former a triumph and allow them to retire in luxurious obscurity.  “Ike’s” not-so-obscure military retirement consisted of becoming President of Columbia University.  After that, for reasons most people are rather vague about, he was drafted to become the Republican candidate for another kind of presidency, nominated over Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, the last champion of the “Old Right.”

After that, we usually go to sleep in our American history class until it is time to wake up for Kennedy.  Indeed, this might be a kind of clue that something is amiss in the standard Eisenhower narrative, like the barking dog who falls strangely silent in the dead of night.  How many books, popular and scholarly, are published each year about JFK in comparison to good old “Ike” (even subtracting those chillers which focus entirely on Kennedy’s murder)?  I doubt that a ratio of a hundred to one would be far off base.  Either America’s political ’50s were incredibly boring, or there is a story which, in the view of some, were best left untold….

A few history mavens might even remember that “We…(presumably all Americans)..like Ike”…because (warning, redundancy!) he was “…a man who’s easy to like.”  And furthermore, as the campaign jingle continued with mesmerizing repetition…”Uncle Joe is worried, ’cause we like Ike!”  Of course, if Mr. Welch was anywhere close to on-target in The Politician, “Uncle Joe” a.k.a. Joseph Stalin had little to be worried about, at least in regard to Dwight Eisenhower.

If you are skeptical that “Ike” could have been a communist front man, then I can sympathize with you.  Frankly, I was skeptical myself…indeed, everybody has a right to be skeptical of startling claims.  On the other hand, if you think that it is disrespectful to raise the issue of presidential duplicity at all, then you are on shaky grounds.  You are on especially shaky grounds if you happen to be one of those people who think that our sitting president was sponsored by (today’s post-communist) Russia.

You see, after 2016 everything has changed.  Whether or not Mr. Welch’s claims regarding “Ike” can be vindicated, at the very least we are now in position to read The Politician as an objective historical account.  The Politician is a strong and scholarly witness of an already forgotten time, one that now can, and should, be approached without bias or malice.

Why Robert Welch didn’t “like Ike”

It is an uncomfortable but inescapable truth that once certain things come to one’s attention it is impossible  to “unsee” them.  There is a shift in perception which renders impossible any  return to “normal” however rosy that mythical past might have been.  For example, a beloved though eccentric uncle can seldom be restored to a family’s unguarded intimacy once he comes under suspicion of pederasty, and rightly so.  Likewise, the image of Eisenhower would be shattered, not so much as war hero, but as the epitome of a stable, normal and normalizing politician, were he to be exposed as a willing agent of communism.  Conversely, just as the suspect uncle would insist on due process, even if he knew himself to be guilty, the upholders of the Eisenhower legacy are apt to clamor for iron clad proof of what, according to mainstream historiography, would be considered an outrageous accusation.

Sadly, for the reputation of Eisenhower and our national narrative, the claims of Mr. Welch are well documented, coherent, detailed, and were compiled by a contemporary who knew the American political class of the 1950s like the back of his hand.  If you wish to keep Eisenhower in your pantheon of heroes, read no further.  If, on the other hand, you would like to see the claims against him substantiated, read The Politician.  Here, I can only provide a brief, albeit damning, sampling drawn from Mr. Welch’s researches.  Therein he documents the following egregious policies which were either authorized or enabled by Eisenhower:

*Even in his role as allied commander, the fountainhead of his public esteem, Eisenhower was allegedly (The Politician provides graphic details) complicit in the nefarious Operation Keelhaul, a rendition program which forcibly repatriated ex-Axis agents collaborating with the American forces to their home countries behind the iron curtain.  This eliminated numerous sources of “worry” for “Uncle Joe.”

*Eisenhower was instrumental, as President of Columbia University, in pushing that already left-leaning institution further in the same  direction.  He continued to associate with and hire left-wing and communist front faculty, procuring for them teaching/research endowments.  Again, the allegations in The Politician have been strengthened in the light of subsequent events.  Just ten years after the publication of Welch’s Eisenhower exposure, the University of Columbia erupted as an epicenter of the spreading “new left” movement of the ’60s.

*At the heart of The Politician’s allegations is “the politician” himself.  Prior to Eisenhower’s nomination as a candidate for president on the Republican ticket, all of his political associations had been with the left-wing of the Democrat party.  This is perhaps the most uncanny aspect of Eisenhower’s career, and the one most germane to the establishment of a faux two-party system beginning in the ’50s.  The only fig leaf concealing this duplicity was the absence of any prior political office holding (Democrat or Republican) by the President-to-be.  Again, historical retrospect adds, if not new facts, new irony to the narrative of The Politician.  Our current presidency is commonly considered exceptional, if not down right illegitimate, on grounds that Mr. Trump held no prior office and was not sufficiently initiated into the mysteries of the political class.  In the light of Eisenhower’s prior example this current “exceptionalism” can only be caviled at by those who either 1) adhere to the dangerous proposition that generalship is a political office, or 2) are willing to admit that such rules can only be broken on the left.

*Once inaugurated President Eisenhower continued the policies of FDR’s New Deal.  Indeed, programs and bureaucracies which existed only in embryo in previous administrations were fleshed out, expanded, and duplicated.  The agricultural sector is typical, and just one of the many that Welch enumerates. Amazingly, farm subsidies swelled to half of farmers’ revenue, a fact of which “Ike” was very proud.  Moreover, unlike FDR and the Democrats of the ’30s, these programs were not justified as “emergency” measures, but were considered a permanent and “normal” restructuring of the relation between the public and the private sector, i.e., de facto socialism.   This was enabled by the collapse of any meaningful two-party opposition due to the alliance between left-wing Democrats and the establishment Republicans who backed Eisenhower.  The monolithic bureaucracy, exemplified by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, long resisted by the “Old Right” was institutionalized under the faux two-party consensus.  Hence the public sector actually saw a spurt of growth in terms of employees and expenditure in the transition from Truman to Eisenhower.  Consequently, the national debt rose at a rate several times higher than even the Democrats had been willing to incur.

*As shocking as many of the above allegations might seem, the most controversial aspect of the Eisenhower administration was its acceptance and further entrenchment of the post-WWII National Security State system inaugurated under Harry Truman.  This has to be remembered both in conjunction with, and contrast to, the only quote that most people today are likely associate with Dwight Eisenhower, namely, his “prescient” warning against the dangers of the “military industrial complex.”  This utterance was prescient only in so far as Eisenhower was speaking prior to the Vietnam debacle, after which such forebodings became commonplace.  To the best of my knowledge Mr. Welch doesn’t reference this quote, which dates from a time subsequent to the initial redaction of The Politician, although not prior to later editions.  However, Mr. Welch frequently draws attention to rhetorical gestures made by Eisenhower through which he exculpated himself from responsibility for his suspect policies by seeming to condemn their inevitable negative consequences.   Thus he might condemn “galloping socialism” while rapidly expanding the public sector.  Seen in this light, we might take Ike’s warning against the “military industrial complex” to heart, while doubting the speaker’s innocence of the very thing he condemned.

Does this “Ancient History” even matter?

The short answer…yes, it does.

You might recall a scene in Starwars where Luke Skywalker asks Yoda about the future.  Yoda answers, “A strange thing the future, always in motion it is…”  In a sense the past is also in motion, shaped by the interpretation given it by the present.  Yet it would be too great a concession to the irrational forces of our times to say that this was a real, and not an apparent, motion.  The past must be uncovered, not invented…although the temptation to  invent myth is strong.

There is always a strong mental resistance to meddling with any society’s pantheon, or in more American terms, we might say, tampering with Mt. Rushmore.  In Mr. Welch’s day, The Politician seemed rude to the point of slander, while today it seems impious.  We might say “only” impious, when actually it’s the primal sin.  Mr. Welch mentioned something nobody was supposed to notice.  That’s impiety.

Or is it?  Note another odd thing about the Eisenhower myth, that there is no such myth!  Somehow or other Eisenhower has eluded both the pantheon and the rogue’s gallery of American history.  If the entire history of the Presidency during the ’50s elicits very little commentary, is that because the whole period was boring?  Hardly.  Rather, might not such a presidency be likened to a constant background noise, or better yet a universal solvent…the purpose of which is to set the standard of normality for “the end of history”?

Today we have come out the other end of “the end of history.”  Not that we really know how things will end, or for that matter continue.  All we know is that, for the first time in a long time the carefully scripted design for the future has suffered a setback.  The planners, whoever and whatever they may be (though from a galaxy far away I think they be not!) are in disarray and many things are back on the table which once were considered “settled.”  This may be a good thing, it may be a dangerous thing, and most likely both, but this is where we seem to be at present.

Consequently, under today’s conditions, reading, and taking seriously, the thesis in Mr. Welch’s The Politician, is no longer an act of impiety.  It is an essential measure of the road which we have traversed through the land of manipulated consensus.  Having finished that journey, we can look back at the trail-head, take stock, and get a new perspective.  However, in contrast to the fantasies of the “progressives” no perspective is better just because it is newer…only if it is truer to realities which transcend perspective itself.  Furthermore, to get at those realities one has to crunch a lot of historical data, and there is a lot of data to crunch, most of it rather unpleasant, in The Politician.

Only those with a deep urge for enlightenment need apply to the task.

 

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