The Yahoos Will be With You Always

“He goes to the riverside —
Not hook nor line hath he:
He stands on the meadows wide —
Nor gun nor scythe to see
. . . .
Knowledge this man prizeth best
Seems fantastic to the rest.”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wood Notes,” 1840)

I took my two sons to the river the other day.  They fished without success, and later wrestled in the chattering water on the shoal. I sat on the river bank, dry and toying with neither “hook nor line,” only refreshing myself with “a green though in a green shade.” Continue reading

The Philanthropic Sneak

If there are graduate students two hundred years from now, and if one of those graduate students sits down to write a dissertation on the morbid mentality of our times, he will have to devote a chapter to our curious combination of broadmindedness and bigotry. “In the early twenty-first century,” he may write,

“most men and women in the West were marvels of complaisance and clemency.  They smiled on conduct that would have caused their grandfathers to call the police, and their critical faculties were so strictly curbed by moral modesty that their motto might have been: Who am I to judge!”

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Of Possible Interest

My essay A Westerner Reads the Koran appears at the Gates of Vienna website.  In it, I offer a type of reader-response critique of the second surah of the Koran.  That surah bears the title “The Cow,” which possibly entails a rather oblique allusion to the episode of the Golden Calf in Exodus or, as a scholarly footnote suggests, to a passing reference to an occasion of heifer-sacrifice overseen by Moses, as recounted in Numbers.  I offer an extract:

The Western layman approaching the Koran for the first time must experience something like befuddlement.  Supposing that the layman possesses a good education, including knowledge of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the core classics of the Greek and Roman worlds, the Koran will strike him as something like the opposite of that with which he enjoys familiarity.  Take the Bible’s Genesis: It deals in straightforward narrative, as does its Near Eastern precursor texts such as the Babylonian Creation or Enuma Elish.  The very opening words of Genesis invoke the concept of a beginning, which implies in advance both a middle-part and an end.  The same is true of the Greek poet Hesiod’s account of the generations of the gods – Elemental, Titanic, and Olympian – in his Theogony.  After Hesiod explains his own function as an interpreter of the lore concerning these things, he launches into his genealogical story whose episodes follow one another in comprehensible sequence: Once again, a beginning, a middle-part, and an end.  In much the same way, the New Testament follows the Old Testament so that, taken together, they constitute a unified tale.  The events in Homer’s Odyssey similarly follow in a comprehensible way the events in Homer’s Iliad.  The essential seriality, as it might be called, of Western narrative and exposition contributes mightily to their seriousness and comprehensibility.  Both the Old Testament and the New also sort out their chapters so as to keep non-narrative prose separate from narrative prose.  This consideration helps the reader.  To whomsoever compiled the Koran these principles meant nothing.  The Koran lards non-narrative exposition into its narratives – promiscuously and confusingly from a readerly point of view.  A properly chronological narrative can, by a difficult labor, be reconstructed from the Koran’s chapters or surahs, borrowing the history of prophecy from the Old Testament, but the naïve Western reader who proceeds from one surah to another will encounter no orderly arrangement of episodes such as he might expect in the Bible or Homer.

Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Yet More on Angels

I’ve been thinking about angels a fair bit recently on account of the fact that my wife and I moved houses this last spring. Hard to see the connection between those two topics, I know. But it’s there.

Shortly after we moved, a realtor friend responded to my newsy message about all the problems we were suffering in the new place (and still are, to a not inconsiderable degree):

… I sympathize with your after move feelings. In addition to what to do with [all your] stuff, issues with the new house are appearing. This is because the house typically goes into shock when a new owner arrives and it starts acting out. You want to be there, but the house is not sure it likes you or the new arrangement.

Patience is the key. Gradually, the house will accept you and all will be well.

I tell all my clients the above and may have already shared this with you.

I realized with something of a shock that this had the ring of truth. The house seemed to be *resisting* us.

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The Geography of Orthosphere Readers

“I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” Jeremiah 1:5.

I do not wish to make grand or impious claims for the providential purpose of the Orthosphere, but would like to show you some indications of our international reach.  This site has been operating for six years, and in that time has had the good fortune to find readers in all but five of the world’s sovereign states.  Our readers are, to be sure, preponderantly Americans, but we also enjoy a substantial international public. Continue reading

Fixing Popular Legislature

As there is always a king of some sort, so is there always a popular legislature of some sort. Whether or not there is an *ostensible* House of Commons, there is always an *effectual* House of Commons (as mediated through their Lords, if in no other way (this, in exactly the same way that even in the absence of women’s suffrage, the interests and judgements of women are politically reckoned via their patriarchs)). And the problem with popular legislatures is that they are ever prone to enact legislation that imposes costs upon the whole polis to the benefit of but a few.

It’s a design problem. Legislatures are commons. They establish a positive feedback circuit, under which it seems to become rational (at least in the short run) for the legislature to vote itself ever more goodies at ever diminishing apparent marginal cost – and at ever increasing real marginal cost. So uncorrected legislatures ever tend toward economic and social disaster. To correct the circuit design, the feedback must be negative. It must be closed, so that costs bear upon those who benefit from them.

So, tell me what’s wrong with this notion, that came to me the other day like a zephyr unbidden: let the whole cost of any legislation be borne only by those districts whose representatives voted for it.

You want freeways? You pay for them. So far, so uncontroversial, perhaps. But then it gets interesting. You want welfare? You pay for it.

My main worry is that under such a system, federation would simply dissolve. Is that a bad thing? I’m pretty sure it isn’t. Subsidiarity, you know. This design constraint would force the local solution of local problems. That might actually end up making federation easier, when it came to problems of federal scale.

Just a thought.

Consciousness & Time: Part II: A Little Consciousness

A second guest post by our commenter PBW, continued from Part I:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

TS Eliot, from Burnt Norton Stanza II

In 1937, The Philosophical Review published an article by Hermann Hausheer (HH) titled St. Augustine’s Conception of Time. It’s a lovely discussion of Augustine’s wrestling with the mystery of time, by a writer with great affection for the saint. He invites us to ponder, yet again, Time’s inescapable coils. Hausheer’s sources are primarily from the book in which autobiography, as we still understand it, seems to have been invented – Augustine’s Confessions – with some additional material from The City of God.

Augustine’s examination starts by laying out the conventional three-fold division of time into past, present and future, and finds stumbling blocks of paradox. For the past has ceased to exist, the future does not yet exist, and only the present is actual. The present, however, is itself a paradox. For, the present is an instant which can no further be divided into smaller particles … This time-particle or present … being the only real time … is diminishing to an inextensive point. [HH, 593]  The current moment, the present, the only realisation of time, vanishes to a mathematical concept, like the derivative of a function at a point which has no dimension, no extension in space.

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Incivility and its Discontents

You do not need me to tell you that American political discourse is being soured by extraordinary discharges of vitriol, rancor and spleen, or to explain that these discharges are occurring because of tectonic shifts in the deep structure of American politics.  Both of the political parties have lost control of their constituencies, the established teachers (i.e. journalists and professors) have lost control of public doctrine, and a great many plebeians are, in consequence, as touchy as a beehive and looking for a fight. Continue reading

Consciousness & Time: Part I: Vulcans, Zombies, & Desert Islands

A guest post by our regular commenter PBW:

Imagine, for the moment, that at some time in the 1850s a Royal Navy vessel, operating to the south of Samoa, in running from a cyclone, finds a large uncharted desert isle. Inhabitants are nowhere to be found, but inhabitants there were, at least under the analogy of William Paley’s Watchmaker, because the island is replete with the artefacts of a much more technologically advanced civilisation than that of the explorers. There are buildings of peculiar construction and materials, and most mysterious of all, in all of these buildings are large “moving picture” frames. At one moment they will display scenes as from a play, though switching rapidly between characters who, while speaking, fill the whole frame. At the next, they might display scenes in strange cities of similar construction, filled with self-propelled vehicles moving at dizzying speed. In the skies are machines that fly. Again, they might show scenes from exotic landscapes, or views from the heavens onto the country far beneath, presumably from the flying machines. The people are heard to speak in a strange language, and music, often discordant, accompanies every scene. The people represented in these frames display a moral degeneracy as astonishing as the engineering itself.

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Berdyaev on Culture and Christianity

Berdyaev 05 Fate (Cover)

Current Edition of The Fate of Man

The reality that modernity is and that it also causes crises, severe ones, in the cultural and civilizational fabric dawned on perceptive observers at the turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  Joseph de Maistre in the Francophone world and Edmund Burke in Anglophone offer themselves as early outstanding analysts of emergent modernity.  Their work constitutes the bedrock of a steady tradition of anti-modern criticism that has, somewhat paradoxically, accompanied modernity for more than two centuries, becoming ever more acute as modernity increased in its perniciousness.  The first half of the Twentieth Century produced a number of outstanding commentators in this vein – not least that Colossus Oswald Spengler, but also René Guénon, Julius Evola, José Ortega, Simone Weil, Paul Valéry, and Eric Voegelin, to name but a few.  And that is to count only the essayists.  Poets and novelists add themselves to the tally.  Another important name that wants a place in the list belongs to Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), whose curriculum vitae heightens the plausibility of his critique.  Born of the minor aristocracy, Berdyaev in his youth associated himself with Marxism and the Bolsheviks even to the extent of supporting the October Revolution.  The regime permitted Berdyaev to teach and to publish, but the brutality of Lenin’s new order swiftly alienated the philosopher, who began to criticize the state and its actions from a specifically Christian point of view.  At one point the police arrested Berdyaev but then released him.  Berdyaev continued his criticism until finally Lenin exiled him in 1922.  He went first to Berlin, but the chaos of the early Weimar years made it impossible for him to work.  in 1924 he traded Berlin for Paris where he remained.  Berdyaev lived by writing and lecturing.  His authorship offers itself both as an intrinsically useful assessment of the modern deformation and as a complement to the work of those other, mainly Western European writers named above.  Berdyaev possessed a perspective all his own.

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