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

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 31, 2018

Of time and the river

Why do the heathen rage

against God and his anointed? (Psalm 2)

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

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

The Christian and the Magical view of time

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

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

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

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

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

Of men and women, time and monuments

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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 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.

 

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

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 20, 2017

Reverting to Pictures…and Structures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Gothic to Barbaric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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An Epistle at the apex: Paul and the the Biblical basis of Libertarianism

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 15, 2017

From Turtles to Principles

You have probably heard the story of that old woman who insisted the Earth rested on the back of an enormous turtle.  If queried what the turtle rested on, she would respond, logically enough, “Another turtle.”  However if a persistent questioner asked what, in turn, the second turtle rested upon, she would laugh derisively, “Sonny, it’s turtles all the way down!”

This infinite regress of turtles is akin to the view that many Christian libertarians and constitutionalists share with regard to “the charter of our liberties.”  Now rest assured that I consider this to be the enlightened view with regard to the origin of human rights, that “We are endowed by our creator….” and that the contents of this endowment has not been left to the vague recollection of tacit understandings, but rather, made clear in major historical documents which have spelled out the liberties of free men and women without prevarication or ambiguity.  I applaud my fellow freedom lovers who have embraced the theory that the natural rights made explicit in  human covenants is founded on the will and ways of God.

None the less, it seems to me that there is a gap in the understanding of most libertarians, even among those who profess Christianity in one form or another.  On the one hand, freedom is said to be founded on the basis of a “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  On the other hand, the content of this ethos is held to have been been specified by such major documents as the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Constitution of the United States of America (1787), and the Bill of Rights (1791).  These are sometimes called “founding documents” but in fact they represent the fruits of a tradition, not an origin.  Now what was the immediate inspiration of these documents?   This is well understood and well researched, and we can trace what F.A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty” back step by step through the Whig Revolution, the English Civil War, the conflict between King John, the great barons and the church, and even into the misty years subsequent to the Norman Conquest.  Each of these epochs left a deposit of law in the form of written covenants, of which the Magna Carta (1215)is only the most famous.

However if we ask, “What is the ultimate (not immediate) origin of the Bill of Rights, etc.” we come up against a situation similar to that infinite regress of turtles which are needed to support the Earth.  All we get is a string of documents which leads back from the Magna Carta to the Norman Conquest and then, for a combination of linguistic and documentary reasons, stops.  Beyond that where do the precedents come from?  On the one hand, there are those who hypothesize a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy as the matrix from which both political liberty and common law sprang.  On the other, there are those, such as Hayek himself, who wish to tie the British tradition of liberty back to the classical political philosophy of Cicero, Stoicism etc..  Keep in mind that Hayek was an evolutionist, albeit more of concerned with cultural than a biological evolution.

On the other hand there are Christians who state that the series of freedom covenants published in the course of British and American history have their ultimate root in the “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  However the “Judeo-Christian ethos” does not constitute the first item in a series of written documents.  It is indeed a case of “turtles all the way down” where “down” is not the true bottom or rather a quasi-bottom begging for further explanation.  Of course, Christians are in possession of a document which provides them with written warrant for thought and action, and it happens to be called the Bible. Note the irony of the ambiguous “Judeo-Christian ethic” being promoted as a basis of politics and rights theory by the same Christians who would insist on a scriptural warrant for any issues outside of politics.  It would seem that there is a special fear of becoming excessively scriptural when it comes to the Biblical foundations of politics.

And as a matter of fact, this fear is well founded.  For there are at least two deviations into scriptural politics which are likely to have catastrophic results, if indeed they are not outright heretical.  I will give a capsule critique of these theological tendencies before moving on to what I consider the true scriptural basis of politics.

Bad Axioms: The Violent Bear It Away

In our search for the axiomatic we don’t want to endorse the catastrophic!   Humanity is always looking for a principle to predicate its violence upon, a “causus belli” as it were.  Marxism is the best contemporary example, though there be others.  Those sects within the church which have been unknowingly or knowingly coaxed by Marxism into a united front frequently march under the banner of “New Testament Christianity.”  In this context, “New Testament” means up to and excluding the cross.  It is the moral teaching to, and subsequently of, the twelve disciples, led by Peter. I don’t think it is putting too fine a point on this teaching to characterize it as perfectionism and communism.  It was a teaching appropriate to those who were striving after moral purity to separate themselves from an apostate Judaism, along lines similar to John the Baptist, or the Essene community at Qumran.   After the cross these teachings were replaced by the gospel.  Though they remain edifying and historically important narratives, they are not Christianity, at least, they are not the heart of Christianity.

However these teachings, perfectionism and communism, are useful for those who seek to sow confusion among Christians.  The virtue of these principles, for Marxists and other enemies of the cross, is that they don’t work, thus their adoption gives people the impression that Christians are not a church but as a camp of confused idealists. This vast camp of deluded Christians, who are not just those at the fringe of “liberation” theology so-called, but the majority of those within the mainstream denominations, are no doubt earnest in their desire to put their politics on a Biblical basis.  Unfortunately they have wrongly divided scripture, not realizing that, in truth, much of the so-called “New Testament” is in fact a continuation of the Old Testament, that the four evangelical witnesses which we call “gospels” are historical and biographical narratives which are only a preface to the Gospel of Grace proclaimed in the letters of Paul, this latter being the only operative gospel for our age.

At the other extreme from “Liberation theology”, there are genuine Christians who fuse together New and Old Testaments into a single covenant theology.  When this is applied with great rigor, the result is a rigidly legalistic system, such as was classically illustrated by Calvin’s Geneva, or the early Massachusetts Bay colony.  Unlike Marxist-inspired theology this covenant view is not a deception, but an honest error.  None the less, it is an error which has burdened and oppressed people in the past, and is likely to do so in the future, if there is any chance of its adoption.  No, we cannot go back to Moses.  Not that Moses is to be despised, for we are edified by the history of Israel.  But to treat Moses as a living letter of law is a misapplication of scripture, and inimical to the true gospel, just as Paul explained to the church in Galatia.   It is to Paul whom we must now turn.

The Pauline Basis of Christian Libertarianism

The way to make progress in ethics is through more geometrico, the much abused and needlessly feared geometrical method.  That is, in morals we ought to start with an axiom and end up with a body of legislation.  What we are offered today is, by and large, the reverse, since we begin with one or another collection of precepts in bad need of simplification and adaptation.  The precepts might alternatively be “the Judeo-Christian ethic” or New Testament theology, or the Mosaic code.  In all such systems the starting point is vague, complicated, and casuistic.  Now, reasoning out cases (casuistry) is a good and very necessary thing, but it should come at the end of a process of deduction, not at the beginning.

Fortunately, scripture is true to its word and provides us with the axioms necessary, not just for our salvation, but for organizing our societies.  The tendency towards axiomatic thinking is evident even in the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior.  Christ’s willingness to group the precepts of the law into a hierarchy, with the law of love at the apex, contrasts sharply with the predominant rabbinical teachings on the law.  According to the rabbis each of the precepts stood on its own merit, without need of justification by any higher principle.  Conversely, a constant theme of Christ’s teaching was to point out how these independent precepts, if taken literally, would lead to rote behavior drained of empathy for one’s fellow creatures.  This early teaching to the disciples, as noted above, was not Christ’s authoritative message  to the church, which would commence on the road to Emmaus  and climax on the road to Damascus.  However the former teaching was prophetic in the broadest sense, not as prognostication but as propaedieutic, i.e., a kind of introduction.  It was hinting that Christian ethics, unlike rabbinical tradition, would be fundamentally axiomatic rather than casuistic.

The Apostle Paul is the primary revelator and redactor of church truth.  If we search his letters we are sure to find, among many other treasures, the key axiom upon which the organization of a godly society depends.  This axiom is found in a few verses within the most controversial and difficult chapters in the entire Bible, the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.  Now I realize that the very mention of Romans 13 is enough to cause alarm among Christian libertarians, and it is true that this is a portion of scripture which has been notoriously wrested into a shape cut to the specifications of tyrants.  However this reading, which we may designate as the authoritarian reading of Romans 13, I believe to be profoundly in error.

On the contrary, it is Romans Chapter 13 which, read aright, contains the authoritative formulation of the non-aggression axiom.  I am not aware that this has been previously noted, even by commentators who are generally considered sympathetic to libertarianism.  Generally, commentators are mainly interested in soterological issues, therefore those portions of scripture dealing with civil society, like Romans Chapter 13, are passed over without extended comment, except to note that obedience to legitimate governance is enjoined.  Few have done entire commentaries where the primary focus is on politics, economics, or civil society.  One exception is Dr. Gary North, who has written an Economic Commentary on Romans.  Yet even Dr. North who’s  quasi-libertarian views are well known, veers off from the fundamental moral issues discussed in Romans 13, in order to pursue some rather technical observations on the morality of debt, to the exclusion of other considerations.  His commentary on the heart of Romans 13, which are found in verses 8 through 10, is worth reading, if only to note its extremely narrow approach to the content of the epistle.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” John Murray does not think that love is an obligation. Rather, the sense of the passage is this: “Owe no man any thing, only love one another.” “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that dealing with others justly is the way that we should demonstrate our love toward them? Or does it mean that loving them fulfills the law? Which law? Moses’ law? Christ’s law?

Paul says which law: the Mosaic. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The summary follows the Septuagint’s translation of Deuteronomy 5:17-21.The final clause is based on Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Here is the same theme as the one Paul introduced in the previous chapter: no personal vengeance. Christ used a similar approach in his summary of the Mosaic law. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 19:16-19).

Love is mandatory, Murray writes. “If love is the fulfillment of the law this means that no law is fulfilled apart from love. . . . It is only through love that we can fulfill the demands of justice.”Murray places the decalogue, and through it, the Mosaic law, at the heart of Paul’s injunction. “This appeal to the decalogue demonstrates the following propositions: (1) the decalogue is of permanent and abiding relevance. (2) It exemplifies the law that love fulfills and is therefore correlative with love. (3) The commandments and their binding obligation do not interfere with the exercise of love; there is no incompatibility. (4) The commandments are the norms in accordance with which love operates.”

The closest that North (here following, rather surprisingly, Murray) gets to the non-aggression axiom is his observation on the prohibition of vengeance.  Murray, North, et al, are wrong to think that Paul is endorsing the Mosaic law, although as covenant theologians we ought not to be surprised that they follow this line.  Rather, Paul is using elements of the decalogue the same way that an artist would use pigments of primary colors to paint an entirely new composition.  Romans 13 vv. 8-10 is not just a rehashing of Moses, rather, it is an entirely new revelation establishing human relations on the firm foundation of the non-aggression axiom.

In order to come to an understanding that Romans 13 is nothing less than the divine promulgation of the non-aggression axiom, it is helpful to divide the chapter into three portions.  I. 13:1-7 on civil governance, II. 13:8-10, the non-aggression axiom, III.13:11-14 provision for the coming of the Lord.  Although most readers of the scriptures read sequentially, which in the case of Romans 13 leads to highlighting the section on civil governance, as if it were the topic paragraph of an essay, an alternative method sometimes used by discerning Bible students is to structure the passage according to its “chiastic” pattern.  According to this method, the key elements in a Bible passage are liable to be found in the center of the reading, with the former and latter verses forming mirror images around a core concept.  Thus in the case of Romans 13, we would have the pattern,

I. 13:1-7 human governance ( duties towards civil magistrates)

               II. 13:8-10 the non-aggression axiom

III. 13:11-14 divine governance (duties in preparation for the return of the Lord)

Note how the non-aggression axiom seems encased like a jewel between present and future worlds, humanity and divinity.  This draws us into the center and substance of the relationship between sovereignty and justice.  Thus the student of scripture is compelled to take a closer look at the key text vv. 8-10, which appears following (in E.W. Bullinger’s translation).

8
Owe no one any thing, if not to love the other : for he that
loveth the other hath fulfilled…law.
9
For this,“Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,Thou shalt not covet;”
and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely,
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
10
Love worketh no evil to his  neighbour: therefore love
is…fulfillment of…law.
Although Paul is doing something more than simply reiterating the Mosaic revelation, the selection of Mosaic elements through which the new message is expressed is very precise and gives us the key to the new law.  Note that only those elements of the decalogue which prohibit aggression are listed.  To be sure, the decalogue also requires positive obligations such as honoring parents, but the empahsis here is on prohibitions not obligations.  Specifically, these are commandments which prohibit the violation of the rights of others.  One might quibble at the inclusion of the tenth commandment against envy, in so far as this is a psychological state and not an active violation of someone’s rights.  However this list is not a bill of particulars, but the anatomy of aggression in general, and psychological realism informs us that envy is the primary motive force for the violation of personal and property rights. What we have in vv. 8-10 is in reality a type of equation, and a very exact equation at that, such that…
Decalogue 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10=the Law of Love
Everybody who knows even the first thing about Christianity has heard about the “law of love”…in the formula “love thy neighbor etc.” the problem is to define what love really means in this context.  This is what the central passages of Romans 13 reveals to us.  Again, substituting one side of the equation,
Do not (6,7,8,9) violate your neighbor’s rights, in fact (10) don’t even think about it!=the Law of Love
or if we phrase it in terms of political theory
The Non-Aggression Axiom=the Law of Love
This formulation will startle many people on the grounds that “love” in this context seems to be divorced from passion, and typically we think of love as a passion.  However, when we are trying to approach revelation on its own terms we are not obligated to define its words according to our own preconceptions and feelings, rather we have to let context determine exegesis.
From Paul to Locke
Skeptics will claim that I am reading the Lockean theory of natural rights back into Paul.  On the contrary, I suggest that John Locke, writing at the turn of the 17th and 18th century may have got his inspiration, not just from Christianity in a general way, but from a study of Paul’s first century epistles.  We know that Locke was a close student of scripture, and of Paul in particular.  To be sure,  Locke has always been problematic for Christian orthodoxy, which is why he was received into the cannon of the West as a philosopher, not a theologian.  However here we are speaking of the divine promulgation of rights theory, and its meaning for our own times, not the question of what  John Locke as a believer thought of the Trinity, or the non-Jurors, or the Book of Common prayer.
From John Locke the tradition of natural rights flowed on to the Whig radicals, on to the writers of the American founding documents, on to the abolitionists and other social movements of the 19th century, on to the populists of the American guilded age, on to the Old Right and non-interventionism, on to those movements which today call themselves libertarian.  However this Whig/Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking has manifested as more than bare ideas, it has been written into covenants which have rendered rights explicit and binding.  To be sure, the non-aggression axiom has passed through non-Christian, even anti-Christian minds, notably Herbert Spencer, who is always mentioned in that regard.  But this does nothing to mitigate against the possibility, to my mind the virtual certainty, that the non-aggression axiom is ultimately a thing of divine institution.  Need we, like overzealous Donatists, fear that the sacrament of liberty has been defiled because it has passed through unclean hands?  Certainly not!  None the less, at the level of documentary tradition, what  a wonderful thing it would be if we could be sure that there was an unbroken chain of binding covenants, beginning with Paul’s writings and continuing down to the Bill of Rights and beyond.  Indeed, how enlightening it ought to be, for anyone to grasp that the non-aggression principle and the law of love were two but aspects of the same divine axiom.

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Outer Space, Upper Space and Living Space

Posted by nouspraktikon on October 27, 2017

On Earth as it is in Heaven

This is the simple petition, recited, in whatever language, by every Christian child who has ever been taught the rudiments of prayer.  Of course it refers primarily to the return  of Jesus, when he will rule the world in his Father’s name.  As such, it refers to time, some future time, hopefully soon (though we don’t know) which theologians call “eschatological time.”  But notice that the familiar phrase also implies a view of space as well as time.  It isn’t just chronological, it is geographical (or rather, “cosmographical”) as well.  Everyone agrees that Heaven is “up” not of course, in the old Aristotelian sense, but in every other meaningful sense…hence the salient question remains: Are we going up to meet it or is it coming down to meet us?

Answer: In Heaven as it is on Earth….not!

Yet, every unsanctified human instinct and endeavor works in the opposite direction to the petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer.  That is the philosophy implicit in the phrase, “outer space.”  The space beyond the Earth might be beautiful, but it is held to be profoundly lacking.  What does it lack?  It lacks us!  It lacks intelligence.  It lacks the teeming creativity of the space between the two human ears.  It lacks the cozy cohabitation of the human race and its carbon-based companions.  It needs to be mastered, and made part of the household economy of Earth.

By itself outer space is supposed to be a void…but it is held capable of being worked up into something grand if we are willing to rise to the challenge of a “new frontier”…an ideology which is as appealing as it is contrary to the word of God.  Remember that Adam was commanded to subdue the Earth, not space.  Modern thinkers have reversed this imperative.  The ecologists tell us that our species must subordinate itself to the purposes of the Earth.  Simultaneously our entrepreneurs tell us that Humanity must transform outer space into our living space.  They operate on the premise that space, like God, is dead.  Neither are.

Space is alive.  Few have captured the significance of this as well as C.S. Lewis in his masterful science fiction overture Out of the Silent Planet.  His lead character, having been abducted (not by aliens) onto a spaceship, has time to meditate on the mendacity of the modern prejudice towards what are rightfully called “the Heavens.”

A nightmare, long engendered by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off of him.  He had read of “Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, of the utter darkness, which was supposed to separate the worlds.  He had not known how much it had affected him until now–now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead’: he felt life pouring into him from it every moment.  How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come?  He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, those blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes–and here with how many more!  No: space was the wrong name.  (Out of the Silent Planet, p. 34)

When earthlings adopt the “new frontier” mentality it is a tacit demand for more living space.  It is thought that perhaps we can avoid our earthly problems if we can just expand the economy into the cosmos.  The danger of this thinking is that “we” are rapidly losing our grip on who “we” are.  Space habitation is more likely to transform “us” into something post-human.  To be sure, humanity is in bad need of transformation, but care should be taken to understand whether specific transformations are for the better or worse.  Do we strive after Heaven, or do we wait upon Heaven to transform the Earth?  Which of these strategies smacks of pride and the wrong sort of domination?

While we may yearn for more living space, a circumspect cosmology informs us that the Heavens are already alive.  As a consolation, we have the promise that we will inherit both Heaven and Earth eventually.  If we are willing to wait.

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A god who failed: William F. Buckley and his “conservative” movement

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 30, 2017

A Fabian Conservatism?

There are two systems operating on this Earth.  According to one, every man, woman, and child strives with carnal jealously to grasp and hold on to their rights to self and things, and when there is more than enough, the excess is disposed of, given away, or traded on the open market.  That is the better of the two systems.  According to the other system, men and women quest for virtue and renown, seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to this world, by violence if necessary, and we are further told that at the end of this process a man shall appear who resembles Christ in certain regards.  It is this second system which attracts the best and the brightest.  The late William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008, practicing Catholic, family man, nominal patriot and putative spy, Yale graduate, novelist, journalist, polymath and polyglot, yet above all things, “intellectual”, was certainly among the brightest of his generation.  As a general principle, we ought not speak ill of those whom God has loved and endowed with great talents, yet it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to preserve both truth and memory to render judgement on matters of public record, and especially those actions or omissions which have led the American body politic down its present primrose path.  If we are the proverbial tin can, well then, Mr. Buckley was a chief contender among those who kicked us down the road and into the ditch.  Assuredly, we have every right to inquire into his mind and motives.

My first memory of William F. Buckley is the televised image of two posh, erudite men engaged in a furious altercation over the merits of the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.   The one on the left (from the viewers perspective) was a scandalous representative of the liberal avant guard, an inconsistent and curmudgeonly  libertarian/left/democrat, surely an entertaining character if one were to consider him in isolation.  However he could barely gain a point against the other man, the one on the right (again keeping perspective in mind) who seemed an utter novelty, the Adam of a new race which was awaiting formation, or rather self-formation.  Gore Vidal, (stage left) has kept a loyal following of fans and detractors, yet Vidal by himself would never have become an epochal, or a defining figure of those crisis years.  It was Buckley’s, not Vidal’s, video debut , which marked off a new era, not (sadly) of American political thought, but of rhetoric and reality television.

Thus was born, at least in the viewing public’s mind, that oxymoron, the “conservative intellectual.”  The hokum of Dogpatch, an image of the American right as rustic buffoons so carefully crafted by liberal opinion makers was momentarily shattered by a visible presence.  Since I was a kid, I didn’t know that Buckley had already attained considerable celebrity in literary and journalistic circles, as early as 1950, with the publication of his  God and Man at Yale, but now the word had become flesh, visible to millions upon millions of couch dwellers and potato chip eaters.   He spoke, and he spoke well, interspersing his verbal darts with the flick of a serpentine tongue across tightly drawn lips.  Suddenly, the viewers glimpsed a crack of light shining through the deadening conformity of consensus politics.  Was this the chiaroscuro dawn of a new day, or just a hoax?  It was ominous when, in a fit of peek, the new god dropped his smooth mask to coin a notorious neologism.  Vidal, he fulminated, was an “octo-moron!”  In those days of civil discourse you didn’t just go calling someone an eight-fold idiot in front of America’s families…not to mention the lexicographers!

Fast forwarding to the present, and the perspective of the post-Trump, post-civil discourse era, it becomes painfully clear that this erudite “conservatism”  has failed. Someone once observed that Hegel only “died” in 1933, a watershed beyond which many conceded that his “dialectic of history” bore scant resemblance to the logical deductions of some charitable and edifying Deity.  We might likewise reckon that  Buckley “died” in 2016, when it became abundantly clear that the chattering of the political class could no longer be confined to a salon discussion constrained by the niceties of an Americanized high tea.   Today we must reluctantly acknowledge that even domestic politics is war, perhaps not quite violent war, but war none the less.  But then, shouldn’t we have known that all along?  If we didn’t it was mainly our own fault, yet no thanks to Bill Buckley and others who were only too happy to perpetuate our fond illusions.  Hence, those moderates who have managed to wake up to the situation often discover that they are very late into a long war of attrition conducted by the left, poised on unfavorable terrain, and desperately short of intellectual ammunition.

Not that all possible ideologies which might be denominated as conservative are bankrupt, rather, it is especially the smug, above-the-fray “conservatism” defined by William F. Buckley which circumstances have rendered impotent.  Herein is the real eight-fold idiocy, not that Buckley was able to concoct a new ideology, which he had the brains and the perfect right to do, but that he usurped the nomenclature of a previous movement, the Old Right, and applied it to his novelties.  A guileless Buckley would have decanted his fresh ideological wine into new, or at least newly labeled, wine-skins.  Accordingly, Buckley might have dubbed his concoction “Fabian Conservatism” or some such critter…but he insisted on preserving the illusion of continuity with the anti-New Deal coalition.   Ironically, the moderate Socialists of the early 20th century showed a greater respect for intellectual property rights by relabeling themselves as Fabians, thus permitting the revolutionary Bolshoi to maintain their identity as “Reds.”

Actually, “Fabian” would have been a far better moniker for whatever Buckley was up to.  For one thing, the progressives, then and now, have never intended to give up a single inch of political gain.  It is always a matter of advance to the front, either slow and Fabian or fast and revolutionary.  In contrast,”conservatism” as it was reinvented by Buckley’s National Review in in the 1950s, has been much closer to the strategy of Quintus Fabius “the delayer”(Rome, 3rd c BC)…defining itself as the weaker side and then enlisting for a long, indeed perpetual, retreat.  Today we are experiencing the results of this capitulation.   Buckley, much like Keynes “in the long run”, did not live to see the full consequences of this “Fabian” defeatism, a nation in which the conservative brand as a whole has been discredited, and where only a retrenched populism and leftism remain as the primary  engines of our uncivil  discourse.

Pied Piper of the Establishment

Was Buckley’s defeatism a matter of principle?  Was it motivated by an Oswald-Spenglerian ennui in the face of irresistible winds of change?  Or was it something else, something less intellectual but more human, a quest for power and social acceptance by a man with the smarts and social connections to become a celebrity, combined with a secret contempt for moral absolutes?   John F. McManus considers this question in his William F. Buckley Jr.: Pied Piper of the Establishment, a look at the public words and actions of America’s most famous, so to speak, “conservative.”  In this concise and readable work McManus illustrates how virtually every major premise of conservatism was contravened by Mr. Buckley and his associated writers at National Review.  Did Buckley really “delay” the advent of the current unpleasant situation through judicious compromise, such as might merit the title Fabian Conservatism?  Or did he hasten on the day of reckoning by sapping the bulwarks of more authentic brands of resistance?  Mr. McManus doesn’t rush to judgement, but judge he does, by patiently building up a bill of particulars which will strongly incline the reader to embrace the latter hypothesis.  The major, though not the only, items that McManus itemizes in the antithetical “conservatism” of Mr. Buckley are the following.

  1. Buckley substituted an unidentified “conservatism” for the explicit definition of good government found in the Constitution.
  2. He shielded an unholy alliance between leftists, capitalists, and statists, or what Mr. McManus calls, “the conspiracy” from the public, by denying its existence and targeting its foes.
  3. By accepting membership in the Council on Foreign relations, he supplied dignity and cover to a key element of this conspiratorial apparatus, or what today might be called the shadow government of the deep state.
  4. He contributed to the undermining of the nation’s morality.
  5. He led Americans away from involvement in the kind of principled activism (a.k.a. any continuation of the anti-war, non-interventionist Old Right conservatism, such as flourished in the Robert Taft era).

If Mr. McManus has been able to give us a comprehensive account of Mr. Buckley, his ideology, friends, and actions, it is because, as a young conservative he was a Buckleyite himself.  Initially having no alternative to the narrative introduced by National Review which smeared the remnants of the Old Right, and in particular its revival in the organizational form of the John Birch Society, Mr. McManus was an enthusiastic “Fabian” conservative.  However the providential arrival of a letter from a total stranger (in those days before the internet when it was hard to canvass opinions beyond one’s circle or standard journalism) led McManus to question the spin which National Review had put on the distinction between “right-wing” and “conservative.”  Subsequently, McManus did his own investigations which forced him to completely rethink the ambiguous ideology of William Buckley and embrace a principled philosophy of freedom.  This in turn led to membership and later leadership in his once-scorned but now beloved John Birch Society.

Now in order to form a just estimate of William Buckley, such as McManus and others have attempted, one has to understand the context of the world into which this new “conservatism” (Buckleyite, Fabian, or just “faux”) emerged.  The Second World War had been a global victory which came at the price of weakening every domestic institution in America other than the state, and the conscience of the Old Right urged a return to something like a peacetime society and economy.  It was well understood, and not just by conservatives, that there was a natural iteration between times of war and times of peace, and that a condition of perpetual war was a recipe for tyranny.  True, there was the very real threat of Communism to be dealt with, but it had to be dealt with in such a way that the very institutions used to fight Communism did not replicate the evil they were designed to overcome.

However the wisdom of turning America back into a normal society was not so easily put into practice.  The vast wartime tangle of bureaus and red tape (into which many actual “Reds” had insinuated themselves) proved easier to dedicate to new missions than to mothball.  Predictably, the same political party which had given America the New Deal were enthusiasts for the National Security State (activated by legislation passed in 1947) which perpetuated and legitimated all the essential wartime security and military apparatus.

This rapidly consolidating system was rightfully seen by many conservatives as “Orwellian” (a coinage of that era, since 1984 was written in 1948).  Moreover, for objectors the remedy was both obvious and Constitutional, i.e., “Throw the bums out!” and restore a peacetime, lassez-faire economy.  According to the myth of the two party system, that was the expected order of things, with frequent turnarounds in power both affirming the sovereignty of the people and harmonizing  extremes of policy.  Around 1954, similar to the Trump election of 2016, enemies of the status quo envisaged that if their party won fair and square the “loyal opposition”  would consent to a fundamental reorientation of national policy.  Alas, then as now, the concept of “loyal opposition” proved to be an oxymoron…if not an eightfold idiocy!  Whatever the hardships and tragedy of the New Deal and the Second World War, the truly sinister development wasn’t triggered until, after a twenty years hiatus, a Republican administration was finally inaugurated.  To the shock and dismay of genuine conservatives, rather than a return to normality, under Eisenhower the progress towards a managerial welfare/warfare state was affirmed and even accelerated.

It was at this juncture of history that William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the forums of public life.  Initially National Review shared the outrage of the Old Right, sill smarting from the primary defeat of Taft, at the wholesale adoption of New Deal programs and apparatus by the nominally Republican administration which had replaced Truman.  McManus notes that…

In December 1957 Buckley himself scolded President Eisenhower for his sorry leadership.  During a forum in New York City sponsored by National Review he excoriated Ike for having allowed the “problem of internal security” to grow to “to a state far worse than that under Mr. Truman.”  Insisting that “Mr. Eisenhower must, inevitably, be repudiated.”  Buckley lamented that he didn’t expect anything to be done because “Eisenhower does not take stands, except against [Senator Joseph] McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment [stipulation that treaty law did not supervene US sovereignty].”  His remarks were later published in the National Review.

Thus, early on in the editorial career of the National Review, a policy line was taken which seemed indistinguishable from the base of the Old Right/Taft Republican movement.  However as soon as these conservative bona fides were established, Buckley took a new tack, ingratiating himself to left and center by taking a more establishment approach to the issues, and, most importantly, positioning himself on the acceptable side of the “right-wing extremist” vs. “conservative” divide.   Conveniently, the criteria for judging this distinction were largely devised by Mr. Buckley himself. An initial omen of this strategy was McCarthy and his Enemies (1954) a book coauthored by Buckley  on the anti-Communist investigator, an ostensible defense which contained so many unseemly observations of its subject and his cause that it diminished both.  By the early ’60s it should have been clear that Buckley had done a two-step, 1) appropriate the label “conservative” through his initial appeals to the Old Right, and  2) change the definition of “conservative” by stigmatizing most of the positions traditionally held by the Old Right.

It is important to remember that the Old Right (used here as equivalent to the anti-New Deal coalition) was a lassez-faire, generally anti-war, limited government movement.  It was not “right-wing” in the pejorative sense that subsequent political rhetoric has framed the term.  Significantly, such genuine rightists as existed in the America of the ’30s and ’40s seldom opposed the New Deal in principle.  The segregationist “Dixicrats” were all aboard FDR’s gravy train, and the scattering of minuscule groups which sought to ape European fascism could only complain that the New Deal was insufficiently centralized, militarized, technocratic, paganized or dictatorial.

The making of a god

However, if one is positioning oneself as the ascending god of public opinion, it is not sufficient, though it may be necessary, to redraw a nation’s ideological cartography.  As McManus repeatedly points out in his criticism of Buckley, which is in fact a criticism of the way conservatives “do politics,” ideology is generally overrated as a ground of human action.  Contrary to whatever Richard Weaver may have intended, it is people, not ideas, who create political  consequences…at least in the short run.  To put it according to the myths of the old pagans, whether one is Oedipus or the King of Alba Longa, one must slay the god of the harvest if one wishes to establish a new religion.  In the case of William F. Buckley Jr., it was not enough to displace, disparage, and assume the mantle of a bloodless abstraction such as “conservatism” or the generic, and geriatric, “Old Right.”  As in days of yore, a living sacrifice was necessary.

Now it so happened that, preceding and shadowing the career of our Ivy League tyro was another man, a very different sort of fellow, a practical businessman and independent researcher, yet one who, in the technical definition of anthropologist Rene Girard might be reckoned as Buckley’s “double.”   That man was Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  Whatever the merits of Girard’s theories might be, it  is said that in a mimetic universe (that is, a society populated by imitative creatures, which indeed sounds rather familiar) it is impossible for doubles to long coexist.  Buckley and Welch were doubles in the sense that one or the other was destined to become the rallying point of the conservative cause.  One or the other, not both.

To translate from mythic to political terms, an assassination was in order!  Fortunately for Welch, especially considering Buckley’s career in operational intelligence, assassination of character was deemed sufficient.  Welch, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil  (something Buckley was especially dedicated to preventing among his fledgling “conservatives”) was cast out of the paradise of polite company, and into the valley of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Except that Welch neither wailed nor gnashed his teeth, but took his public stigma, or what Girard would call his “skapegoating” with charitable fortitude.

Just as Girard’s mimetic theory would predict, it worked like a charm, this exchange of fates between Welch and Buckley.  McManus quotes Buckley biographer Judis on the potent effects…

Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society also transformed him as a public figure.  He [Buckley] was no longer the pariah of the McCarthy days.  He was a public representative of the new conservatism that television producers and college deans could invite to appear without provoking an outcry.  Whether intentional or not, Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society prepared the way for his own celebrity. (McManus p. 153)

[N.B., Pay attention to how  “without provoking an outcry” appears, from the vantage of the present,  on the forward side of a half-century historical parenthesis! Intimidation of speech outside of the left’s allowed parameters is not a novelty of the post-Trump era, but has been a frequent academic constraint in both 20th and 21st century America.  Perhaps the intermission of good feeling and toleration was only due to “Fabian” self-censorship on the part of conservatives.]

The scapegoating of Welch and the new ideological cartography mutually reinforced and validated each other.  One doesn’t have to be a Harry Turtledove to imagine an alternative historical scenario, a world in which Welch did the scapegoating and Buckley became the sacrifice.  The major obstacle to the realization of this alternative universe was the basic decency and fair-play of Welch himself, who refused to be drawn into mimetic rivalry with fellow conservatives.  Welch illustrated his own attitude by prefacing his response to the scapegoating with lines from the poet Edwin Markham…

He drew a circle and shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!  (McManus p.154)

Furthermore, the inverted ideological map of the alternative universe would actually make far more sense, with Welch positioned as the centrist and Buckley as “far right-wing.”  Most people at the mid-point of the 20th century would, setting aside propaganda, have regarded Welch as the solid “bourgeois” and Buckley as the scheming, effete, aristocrat.  Indeed, it was this almost French Bourbon air of amorality and private immunity which gave Buckley much of his charm and influence.  And if such quirks of character were not enough enough to make one suspect that Buckley was far to the “right” of Welch, what about the secret societies, the espionage, the pornography and similar intrigue?  I won’t go into the details here as McManus documents them extensively in his book.  However it might be  useful to take a synoptic glance at what McManus evidently considers Buckley’s most damning characteristic.

Barking up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

To reiterate, Buckley made a sacrifice of Welch, thus becoming a divinity, the god of a new conservative movement formed in his own image.  However, there is a curse attendant on all mortals who pretend to godhood, that they must sleeplessly patrol the bounds of their sacred groves against the onslaught of fresh rivals.  We may liken Buckley to the cherub charged with guarding paradise, however the tree that he was set guard over was not that of life, but rather concerned a very specific form of knowledge.

To be sure, Buckley was not against knowledge or intellect, and with the exception of one particular form of knowing, he was pleased to spread abroad all sorts of chatty information and innuendo.  This included exposure of the more outrageous left wing follies, and to this was added his police function as a maintainer of conservative standards of belief and decorum.  In short, he was smart, and he was on a mission to save America from its own stupidity, stupidity and error of such magnitude that it threatened to lose the Cold War and bring Western Civilization to an untimely end.  Nor was he against knowledge in the sense of “carnal knowledge” and he had a Playboy interview to prove it.  That too was smart, in the sense of currying favor with “the smart set” of the ’60s.

Most significantly, as intellectual-in-chief, Buckley enjoyed the role of contrarian, stimulating all sorts of fascinating conversations by reversing conservative thought on key social and economic issues.  Should Richard Nixon have instituted wage-and-price controls?  Well, why not give it try?  Contrary to everything which the Austrian school of economics had painstakingly demonstrated, that wage-and-price controls would sabotage production and exchange, Buckley felt that one had to be open minded on the topic.  Should the Supreme court have had authority to determine whether abortion was murder?  Why not?  True, two-thousand years of Christian teaching had already provided a clear answer to this question.  However Mr. Buckley, though a Catholic, felt that discussion on the topic needed to be opened up and freed from dogma.  In addition to abortion and price controls, Mr. McManus lists over a dozen “indefensible positions”(pp. 220-229) where Buckley either reversed the conservative stand or introduced moral ambiguity.  And should we have been surprised?  After all, settled doctrines don’t sell magazines or increase the ratings of televised talk shows the way that controversy and factional in-fighting do.

Yet for all his delight in upsetting the apple cart of knowledge, there was one angle which Buckley declared taboo.  With regard to American government policy, and to some extent other institutions of society, all investigation had to take place within the smart/stupid framework.  The alternative framework, the good/evil framework, was strictly out of bounds.  Any policy commentator who suggested that there was a conspiracy in high places actively engaged in undermining America’s best interests, was just a dog barking up the tree of forbidden knowledge, and needing to be silenced.  These barking dogs were many, including not just Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and Herbert Hoover, but ironically Buckley himself together with the staff of National Review, prior to his apotheosis as the god of a new conservatism.  Yet as early the mid-’50s it was clear that a new paradigm was taking hold.

In August 1956, at about the same time that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was warning of a “conspiracy so monstrous” that one “cannot believe that it exists,” Buckley offered his contrary view that America’s problems were occurring “spontaneously, not in compliance with a continuously imposed discipline.”  In effect, he was saying, “Don’t listen to Hoover, the House Committee, or the Senate Subcommittee.  Ignore even my own statement in McCarthy and His Enemies.  The bad that happens to our nation is the result of spontaneous stupidity, not orchestrated design.”  (McManus pp. 128-129)

Apart from questions of historical accuracy, why is this still a big deal?  Of all the trees in the political garden, why does the fruit of this one matter in a unique way?  Let’s pay attention to the observations of Mr. McManus….

Concluding that willful conspirators rather than mere bumbling do-gooders are at the root of such problems stimulates activity because of human nature’s most powerful instinct: self-preservation.  Most who decide that the disastrous transformation of America is the work of deliberate evildoers will do whatever they can to save their country, themselves, and their loved ones.

But those who become convinced that the damage being done results from well-intentioned mistakes will do little except grumble.  Even while witnessing the ongoing destruction, they will shrug their shoulders, continue working to keep their heads above water, and naively expect others in government and elesewhere to eventually see the error of their ways and take corrective action.

Today, as never before, many are willing to impute evil to their governing officials.  Unpleasant as this might be, it at least gives us grounds for reevaluating Buckley’s assessment that stupidity and not conspiracy was at the root of America’s ills.  Fewer and fewer people today would concur with this assessment, however time and energy have been lost through distractions…not the least of distractions being Buckley’s influence, an influence which both intellectualized and demoralized political discourse on the right.

Postscript on Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals

It was a balm to the pride of conservatives in the 20th century that thinkers on the left consisted not of actual, but of false or “pseudo”, intellectuals.  In contrast, Mr. Buckley and his cohorts could be trotted out as examples of the genuine article.  To be sure, Buckley and his friends were more erudite, not to mention amiable, than your average Weatherman.  However, in some ultimate sense Mr. Buckley was as “pseudo” as they came, and for reasons that should now be apparent, that, being a conscientious objector to the war against evil, he whiled away his time in the garden of ideas.

That is not to say that ideas cannot be serious.  However the number of people for whom ideas are central to existence is few indeed.  For Bill Buckley ideas were toys, baubles of the mind which could be entertained as hypotheses, not principles which compelled moral action.  How many of us can say that we deal with ideas in any other way?  Are we all not pseudo-intellectuals to one degree or another?  Perhaps that is our nature, the nature of those of us who are less than gods.  Perhaps it is good to be only a pseudo-intellectual.

Those who truly sought salvation in ideas have nearly vanished from the Earth.  Plato, Plotinus, Hypatia of Alexandria, and later during the Renaissance, Pletho and  Pico before his conversion by Savonarola, and perhaps a few others.  William F. Buckley was not among their company, and neither was Jesus of Nazareth.  So in spite of old Bill’s long list of sins, which I have barely touched upon here, this speaks well for his soul, that he was not an intellectual in the absolute sense.  There is always hope.

 

 

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