One worry about formalist schemes such as have interested me is that their necessarily bureaucratic and legalistic formality would flatten political life, eliminating its sacred aspect – which is to say, the fully human aspect, in virtue of which our common life takes its transcendent meaning, and thus earns our allegiance. How is it possible, an orthospherean ought to ask, that any merely formal, bureaucratic scheme ignorant of the sacred character of the Logos, and so of any order deriving from him, including its own, should ever be any real good? Can a society that is not somehow intended to a superordinate consecration – intended, i.e., to be truly and really Good – fail to be essentially wicked? Doesn’t formalism reduce politics to mere business? What man would pledge fealty – would pledge his life in battle – to a business tycoon?
Once we understand a doctrine properly, it becomes much easier to relate to the rest of the intellectual economy, ergo credible. Indeed, only with elimination of incomprehension is belief really possible. We can’t decide whether we think a notion is either true or false – cannot come to a belief about it – until we know what exactly it is, what it means and portends, how it links up (if it does) to the rest of our experience and knowledge.
Not that we ever attain complete exactitude in our understanding of anything, for we don’t.
Nevertheless there is such a thing as understanding that is good enough for our purposes. Such understanding of a concept generally takes the form of seeing how it fits with other more familiar concepts. What we are really trying to do when we try to understand something new is relate it intelligibly to familiar concepts that have proven reliable in practice – tried and true, as the saying goes.
Once we have arrived at clear comprehension of a proposition, a judgement of its truth often follows with little further ado; or else, the research needed to confirm or deny it makes itself fairly obvious, even straightforward.
Thus the lion’s share of most intellectual work is just getting clear on what is being considered. Once we’ve done that – and provided that a proposal has not in it revealed its utter absurdity – it becomes much easier to see how belief in it could actually work. And once we see how it *could* work, it becomes ipso facto credible. It *could* be true. We then take it more seriously, and then lo! Not infrequently, finding it credible, we find that we credit it. Seeing how it fits into reality as we have understood it, we can find it compelling to accept that in fact it *does* fit into reality.
Our friends at Sydney Trads have just published their 2016 Symposium, the latest in what must be hoped will be a long series of similar collections. Among the essays are three by Orthosphereans: Tom Bertonneau, Jim Kalb, and myself. The other contributors are Barry Spurr, Alain de Benoist, Krzysztof Urbanek, Peter King, Gwendolyn Taunton, Luke Torrisi, Michael Tung, and Valdis Grinsteins.
Many thanks to our antipodean colleagues for their efforts in mounting the Symposia.
Courts and laws
Humans are social beings and we have a sense of justice, just as some furry animals do. This sense of justice seems to be innate – certainly furry animals are not taught it. Young children consider it unfair if they get a small ice cream and someone else gets a bigger one. This complaint has a dose of egocentrism, but also relies on notions of fairness. Fairness means getting one’s just deserts and desserts, and involves reciprocity e.g., one good turn deserves another.
Scruton points out that “law” preexists written law. The original law embodies customs, traditions, and expectations that involve notions of justice/fairness. British common law is an attempt to make implicit law explicit. In this way, the law is discovered, not invented. Even parliament was seen originally as having the function of a court, making commonly agreed upon laws explicit in the interests of resolving disputes.
Common law thus arises organically from the bottom up in patterns of social behavior embodying intuitions of justice. When a judge adjudicates a case he is trying to settle it in terms already being employed by members of the community. Common law represents a piecemeal attempt to solve unanticipated problems as they arise with a degree of trial and error. If a new decision seems to make things worse, then later decisions can modify the law.
Ned May has posted my essay “On the Ontological Sickness” at his website The Gates of Vienna. The essay is a much rewritten and expanded version of the last article to appear under my name at The Brussels Journal, in December 2014, just before the site became dormant. On the Ontological Sickness explores the late René Girard’s theory of “mediated desire” and applies it to an analysis of current social trends. I offer an excerpt:
In I See Satan Fall like Lightning (1996; English edition, 2001), Girard returns to the relation of mimesis and resentment by commenting, in his first chapter, ‘Scandal Must Come,’ on the text of the Tenth Commandment. Girard remarks how the Tenth Commandment calls attention to itself: ‘The tenth and last commandment is distinguished from those preceding it both by its length and its object.’ Where the other commandments prohibit acts, the final one ‘forbids a desire.’ Girard quotes this version: ‘You shall not covet the house of your neighbor. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbor, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or his ass, nor anything that belongs to him.’ Girard argues that the slightly archaic character of the verb to covet makes it seem as though the Tenth Commandment only prohibits a species of exotic or exaggerated desire; but this is not so. The noun covetousness in the King James Version means, not exotic or exaggerated desire, but only ordinary desire, experienced by everyone since the Serpent convinced Eve to covet the forbidden fruit. The injunction is so familiar and, apart from the archaic verb, its language is so seemingly banal, that, other than frowning at it as a formally hate-worthy interdiction, the modern self-liberating consciousness might wonder what the fuss is about. Girard often exhibits his exegetical strength in recovering the significance in what has come to seem flat and obvious. He does so again here.
Consider the neighbor. Excepting the subject’s family, the neighbor hovers nearest and most familiarly in the subject’s social awareness. The neighbor reproximates and omnipresents himself like none other. Yet what belongs to the neighbor falls under the constant rebuke of that very property line that so aroused Rousseau’s ire in his study of inequality; whose claimant indeed stood, in Rousseau’s rhetoric, for the total scandal of structured, and therefore of oppressive, society. It is the property-line that makes the neighbor. It is the property-line as injunction that makes the neighbor to loom so large, endowing him with apparent privilege. To the speaker, for example, in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall,’ the neighbor appears ‘like an old-stone savage armed’; and when, as the monologist says, ‘we meet to walk the line… we keep the wall between us as we go.’
In an “Afterword,” I explore the relevance of “the ontological sickness” to grasping the essence of Islam. Ned and Dymphna, as they call themselves, have made a handsome job of formatting and presenting my text. I would not suppose that I need to remind Orthosphereans what a fine site The Gates of Vienna is; but in the unlikely case that a reader of The Orthosphere is unfamiliar with The Gates, I urge familiarity with it as soon as possible.
Whosoever curseth his father or his mother His lamp shall be put out in deep darkness
Proverbs 20: 20
This past December I was standing outside a Louisiana filling station, waiting for my children to do what children do at filling stations on a long drive. To pass the time, I idly read the portion of the first page of the Times Picayune that was visible through the window of the newspaper dispenser. This included a headline announcing the New Orleans City Council decision to remove four Confederate monuments from prominent places in that city, an act in line with the flurry of iconoclasm that had been roiling the South since the Charleston shootings earlier that year. Continue reading
Market perfection requires internalization of all externalities, and enclosure of all commons (these are two different ways of saying the same thing). The last commons to be enclosed is the state. It must be owned, or all its operations will tend to social vitiation.
Realized market perfection entails feudal monarchy. As markets operate and seek the healing of their own failures, then, so will they tend toward feudalism – or, at least, in conditions of high trust and confidence, and of general competence, its cameralist approximate.
A thing is in part according to what it does – to its historical consequences. But these cannot be fully known until history is complete – and even then only God may know all things about the world. The character of any mundane event then is a function of the character of the whole System of Nature as it is known in its completion at the eschaton by God.
Each thing is what it is in virtue of the Omega toward which all things tend, and yearn. As the ultimate terminus ad quem of all termination, and so of all terms, the Omega is the basis and matrix of their meanings, and so of their historical operations in the intercourse of creatures.
The Omega is not, of course, in time. He is eternal. The Omega always knows all that is to be known of the history of our System of Nature at its completion in the eschaton. It is in virtue of that knowledge – his Providence – that he provides to each occasion its particular locus in history. The Omega is the creative source of the material occasions that form the objects of his eternal knowledge.
It is in the Omega that each creature has its Alpha.
Modernist architecture’s rejection of ornament is understandable. The Modernists had no idea what any of it meant. So it seemed stupid to them. So they excised it.
Ditto for all traditional forms. These were all meaningless to the Modernists. So they rejected them, root and branch. In this, they were aided by developments in the economics and technology of building. But the impoverishment of modern architecture was spiritual before it was material.
*Everything* is spiritual before it is material.
In traditional architecture, ornaments all signify. They all have meanings, and those meanings all terminate ultimately (albeit generally by way of a chain of connotations and denotations) upon the Ultimate and our proper relation to him.
The coinage subscendence is modeled after the standing term transcendence and is intended to be the antonym of transcendence. The verbal form would be to subscend; the adjectival form would be subscendent. The High Middle Ages – expressing themselves in Gothic architecture, in polyphony, and in spiritually heroic narratives such as the Grail sagas and the Divine Comedy – properly deserve to be called transcendent. The current phase of Modernity – expressing itself in the cinder-block architecture of the strip mall, in amplified beat-based “pop” tunes, and in crude cinematic narratives of sex and violence – properly deserves to be called subscendent.