Becoming a reactionary is only the beginning of thought.

My quarrel with the thinking man

In his essay What we think about, G. K. Chesterton relates his perplexity at finding someone  write “Mr. Chesterton does not mean to enlighten us, for all we know he is modernist enough in his own thoughts.”

What the man really meant was this:  “Even poor old Chesterton must think; he can’t have actually left off thinking altogether; there must be some form of cerebral function going forward to fill the empty hours of his misdirected and wasted life; and it is obvious that if a man begins to think, he can only think more or less in the direction of Modernism.”  The Modernists do really think that.  That is the point.  That is the joke.

Now what we have really got to hammer into the heads of all these people, somehow, is that a thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, but not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism.  We have got to make them see that conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive, and even adventurous life of the intellect.  For that is the thing that they cannot at present bring themselves to believe.  They honestly say to themselves:  “What can he be thinking about, if he is not thinking about the Mistakes of Moses, as discovered by Mr. Miggles of Pudsey, or boldly defying all the terrors of the Inquisition which existed two hundred years ago in Spain?”  We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle, and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow, and dusty as a nasty piece of scandalmongering in a New England village.  Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world….To set out to belittle and minimize the Mass, by talking ephemeral back-chat about what it had in common with Mithras or the Mysteries, is to be in altogether a more petty and pedantic mood; not only lower than Catholicism but lower even than Mithraism.

In our day, we are familiar with the “thinking Catholic”.  “Thinking” means that he accepts the modernist consensus without question, and “Catholic” means he insists the Church adjust herself to accommodate his lack of imagination.  Similarly, we all know the “thinking conservative”, the type who only ever thinks about what new concessions we must make to liberalism.  I have pointed out before this asymmetry between the Left and Right, that the intellectual leadership of the Left is expected to be more radical than most Leftist voters, whereas the intellectual leadership of the Right is expected to be more moderate than most Rightist voters.  This is one of our major disadvantages.

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The Sufficient Conditions of Social Trust

Ethnic homogeneity (somehow or other construed) is necessary, and indeed important, but not sufficient to a trusting society. If ethnic homogeneity were sufficient to social trust, then all ethnically homogeneous societies would be trusting. Obviously, they are not.

More is needed.

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The Future that Did Not Happen

I have just been looking at a 1943 report of population projections for the United States through the year 2000.  This was produced by the Scripps Foundation for the National Resource Planning Board, and so reflects the best estimates of the big brains of that time.  As with all such projections, this report describes several possibilities based on various assumptions with respect to fertility, mortality and immigration.   Their absolute high-end projection for 2000 was just over 198 million, which turns out to be a little under 100 million short of the actual number. Continue reading

Bystander or Busybody?

Our local newspaper reports the publication of an article by “three women leaders” in what amounts to our medical school. One is a “senior vice president and vice chancellor,” another an “associate vice president,” and the third the “chair of the Diversity Leadership Committee.” Their article, published in a major medical journal, contends that misogyny pervades American medicine, that outstanding women are daily driven from the field by a “climate” of “‘incivility’ in which women aren’t given mutual respect,” and that this disrespect for women is an unrecognized form of “sexual harassment.” Continue reading

The Handmaiden of Leviathan

I have often heard it said that the word university indicates the offering of universal knowledge.  Like a great many things I have often heard said, this is not true.  The word university means and always has meant a corporation, since a university is nothing more or less than a corporation of learned men.  The collective knowledge of these learned men may be patchy and partial, but the learned men are unified.

That is the unity indicated by the word university. Continue reading

“It Will Become All One Thing or All the Other.”

You may recall that Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and that the old girl did not take kindly to this slight.  Her revenge was to toss a golden apple into the midst of the banqueting Olympians and declare that it would be the prize of the fairest goddess present.  This triggered a hot rivalry between Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, and lead, at length, to the Trojan War. Continue reading

Sunday’s Symposium

Richard Fader Lazar

Left to Right: Richard Cocks (philosopher and writer); Richard Fader (ex-city worker and philosopher); Lazar Sokolovski (Russian expatriate resident of Oswego; poet and philosopher). The scene is Old City Hall (cornerstone laid 1832; building completed in 1836) in Oswego, on Water Street. Old City Hall is the cultural heart of Oswego, which was in the Eighteenth Century America’s first frontier. The City of Oswego perches itself on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the Oswego River.  I tell my visitors, if your feet are wet, you have gone too far to the north!

The Occasion: The usual Sunday-afternoon symposium at Old City Hall; and I am learning to use my new digital camera. Topics of conversation: Nicolas Berdyaev (Russian philosopher); Vassily Kallinikov (Russian composer); Dmitri Shostakovich (Russian composer); Boris Pasternak (Russian novelist); James Fennimore Cooper (American historian and novelist); Edgar Allan Poe (American poet and philosopher); Konstantin Balmont (Russian translator of Poe).

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You Are the Alien Now

A culture is defined by its heroes, a hero being one who embodies the virtues and advances the idea of that culture. Most heroes have embodied the military virtues of valor and marital skill, but it is perfectly reasonable to say that there have been cultures in which the heroes were holy men, philosophers, artists, or men of science. The key is that the hero is held up as an object of emulation, and that he was, in his day, an agent of the culture’s telos. Continue reading

To Spite the World

Spite is a little word; but it represents as strange a jumble of feelings, and compound of discords, as any polysyllable in the language.”  (Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1839)

I sometimes wonder if I am, at heart, a spiteful man.  I do not mean that I am an insidious mischief maker who delights in doing harm.  While I am not above feeling (or even wishing for) schadenfreude, I generally leave the comeuppance of my enemies to fate.  And I do not mean that I am given to backbiting or defamation.  I abhor slander, if only because it suggests the envy of a scheming squirt. Continue reading

Jorge Luis Borges and Karen Blixen on Ideology and Violence

Borges 08 Orqwith

A Comic-Book Riff on the Second Reality

That most clear-sighted of critics of ideology in the Twentieth Century, Eric Voegelin (1901 – 1986), often called on literature for the light it sheds on distortions of perspective in social doctrine and deformations of consciousness implicit in political movements.  The novelists, poets, and essayists, being often, to the extent that they are non-ideological, highly attuned psychologists and social observers, can penetrate, with heightened perspicacity, into derailments of orderly life and the demonic workings of the libido.  The obvious examples are the novels of the dystopian tradition beginning with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Possessed (1871) and embracing Valery Bryussov’s Republic of the Southern Cross (1903), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1922), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Karin Boye’s Kallocain, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948).  Novels that one would not ordinarily group with the dystopias can, however, penetrate just as deeply into the genesis of totalitarianism.  The Princess Casamassima (1886) by Henry James is one such brilliant work; Under Western Eyes (1912) by Joseph Conrad is another.  Two even less obvious — but remarkable — cases present themselves in the form of mid-Twentieth Century short fictions by authors whom one would not ordinarily conjoin:  “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940) by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986) and The Poet (1934) by the Danish writer Isak Dinesen (the pen-name of Karen Blixen, 1885 – 1962).  A consideration of the two stories will show that Borges and Dinesen had insights that run in parallel with Voegelin’s analysis of totalitarianism as a type of secular religiosity or “Gnostic derailment,” a term whose meaning will emerge in the discussion.

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