Yesterday afternoon, I received a telephone call from what is known locally as an “Old Ag.” An Old Ag is a former student of Texas A&M, and more especially a former student of riper years who is troubled by what he sees happening at his dear old alma mater. This particular Old Ag was troubled by the recent ruction over the statue of Sol Ross, for which he feels affection, and by the simultaneous enthusiasm for the proposed statue of Matthew Gaines, of whom he had never heard. In an effort to learn something about Gaines, this Old Ag did some reading and stumbled upon my recent post about the short and colorful career of the former Texas Senator and slave. Continue reading
Eric Voegelin (1901 – 1985), In Search of Order (Opus Posthumous, 1987): In Search of Order followed the fourth volume of Order and History, or The Ecumenic Age, by thirteen years; and The Ecumenic Age followed the second and third volumes, The World of the Polis and Plato and Aristotle, by seventeen years. The first volume of the tetralogy, Israel and Revelation, appeared in 1956, but Voegelin commenced Order and History when he abandoned his multi-volume History of Political Ideas in the early 1950s, so that the former had its taproot in a decade of research. Order and History resists summary. In the most general terms, it explores the hypothesis that civilizational development is inseparable from two other processes: The unfolding of consciousness from mythic compactness to philosophical articulation and the “pneumopathological” resistance that constantly dogs civilization’s quest for the Logos. While Voegelin left In Search of Order unfinished, the completed portion possesses integrity. It includes a comparative reading of two works that no one else ever bracketed for contrapuntal analysis: Hesiod’s Theogony, an Eighth-Century BC genealogy of the divine order, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), which attempts to frame History and thereby to make of Hegel’s authorship History’s consummation. Voegelin’s opening chapter meditates on the paradox of beginnings, posing the question, “Where does the beginning begin?” Consciousness, Voegelin argues, necessarily initiates every task with recollection. This sentence thus depends on a previous one even if it commences the essay. It depends on the English language, which depends on its foretongues. Speculation reaches only so far. Whereas at some moment language exists, in the previous moment it existed not; but what existed then was not nothing. The barrier to knowledge remains impassable, however, because, as Voegelin writes, “the men who were present [at the origin of language] left no record of the event but language itself.”
When postmodern academics use the word ‘theory,’ they mean something very different than an ancient philosopher or modern scientist mean by that word. For an ancient philosopher, the theoretic life was a life of detachment from the passionate hurly-burly of human striving. Lucretius described it as the Ivory Tower. For a modern scientist, a theory is an explanation that has been confirmed by experiment. The ‘theory’ of a postmodern academic is also an explanation, but unlike the theory of a modern scientist, it is an explanation validated by the benefits of acting as if the explanation were true. Continue reading
The lady in the mask was back in my mailbox yesterday, undeterred, it seems, by the impertinent remarks I made after her last visit. Far from cutting me for mocking her Juneteenth posturing, she now addresses me by my first name and declares that she is grateful that I am on her team. She is, to be sure, begging for money, and we know that beggars cannot be over-particular, but I take this as an example of the broadminded magnanimity liberals so often remind us they possess in such great abundance. Continue reading
Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936), the German historian and philosopher, devotes a suite of three chapters (VII, VIII, and IX) in his Decline of the West, Volume II (1922), to what he calls “The Problems of the Arabian Culture.” The third of these chapters, “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell,” explores the parallelisms that, in Spengler’s view, and in his use of the word, make these figures “contemporary” with one another. The same chapter also contains Spengler’s analysis of Puritanism, but not strictly in the sense of Calvinist doctrine although he includes Calvinism in his discussion. Spengler views Puritanism as an inevitable phase of religion, one of doctrinal hardening and literalism in which a totalitarian impulse predominates. Puritanism has manifested itself in all the Great Cultures, as Spengler calls them, such as the Chinese, the Classical, and the Gothic. By “The Problems of Arabian Culture” Spengler does not mean to confine himself to a history of Monophysitism or Islam although these come under his three-chapter remit. Spengler subsumes “Arabian Culture” under the larger category of “Magian Culture,” which embraces both Arabia Felix and Arabia Deserta but reaches far beyond them to aspects of the late Persian and Syriac societies, to the Hellenism of Alexandria, and even to the Iconoclastic centuries of Byzantium. The term Magian also reaches back in time to the late stages of Mesopotamian society. For Spengler, St. Augustine shares rather more with Islamic theology than he does, say, with St. Thomas and the Scholastics. For Spengler, the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople anticipates the mosque. To understand the chapter-sequence on “The Problems of Arabian Culture,” however, requires that Spengler’s often shocking and sometimes counter-intuitive pronouncements, like the ones just mentioned, take their place among the over-arching assumptions of The Decline.
Spengler’s opus impresses the first-time reader as a colossal improvisation. Its erudition and seeming formlessness put off many would-be explorers. Spengler’s basic propositions nevertheless lend themselves to summary. Spengler rejects the idea of a universal history. He recognizes no singular history but a number of histories in the plural each one peculiar to its own Great Culture. Thus the Classical or Mediterranean Culture begins with the palace kingdoms of Mycenaean Greece and ends with the Severan Dynasty of the Late Second and Early Third Centuries. Indian Culture begins with the Vedas and ends with Buddhism. Western or “Faustian” Culture has its earliest glimmerings in the Eighth Century but really only leaps into being after the year 1000. Western Culture preserves a profound awareness of Classical Culture but this awareness implies, for Spengler, no actual continuity. Each Great Culture constitutes itself hermetically as an organic whole without debt to adjacent or precursor cultures. Borrowings are never essential, but only ornamental. Spengler emphasizes the organic character of culture. He regards each Great Culture as a living entity, whose mortality impends as soon as it comes to birth. Each Great Culture follows the same seasonal life-course – a vivacious and creative spring, a productive summer, a crisis-afflicted fall, and an increasingly inflexible winter. Spengler also makes a distinction between culture, as such, and civilization. Culture flourishes as the vital phase; civilization takes over as the mechanical phase, becoming more and more rigid until the machine stops.
This winsome visage was stumping for votes in my email last Friday, modern communication technology sparing her the rigor and possible embarrassment of bounding to the top of an actual stump. Back in the day, bounding to the top of an actual stump was the technology whereby a democratic politician would make himself both audible and visible in a crowd; but the podium of pioneers is now only a metaphor, replaced by the e-mail blast.
The Aunt Jemima brand is no more, so I’m reposting this old item on my visit to Aunt Jemima’s grave.
“Ours has been a desultory ramble, as rambles should be.”
William Senior, By Stream and Sea (1877)
I was rambling over back roads and chanced to pass a cockeyed gate. Over the gate there was a sign indicating that it gave way to the Hammond Colony Cemetery. Now when I ramble over back roads, I ramble slowly, progressing when possible at about ten miles an hour; but even to the eye of so sedate a traveler, this Hammond Colony Cemetery appeared to be nothing but the usual mix of dusty thickets and rank bunchgrass. It lays on one side of the valley at the head of Pin Oak Creek, in the sand hills of Robertson County, and in comparison to its surroundings looked like much of a muchness. Continue reading
“Eventually they will win, because it is their movie—Gotcha!”
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)
All histories are semi-fictions. There are historical facts induced from various kinds of evidence, but these facts are mere fragments, and to write history you must select the fragments that you think are important, arrange these fragments into a pattern that you think is significant, and then fill the gaps between these fragments with the theoretical mortar best suited to hold them in place. Continue reading
At the beginning of the Great Disruption, I wrote that it would serve, and was possibly intended, as a “habit breaker.” It will also serve as a habit maker, since “social distancing” entails snuggling up with the Global Machine. As the advertisement below says, we have all now had nearly four months to “get comfortable doing things digitally,” so there has never been a better time than now to lock in the new normal and “go completely paperless.” This is naturally presented as more convenient for me, should I wish to check my retirement account while waiting at a stop light or vacationing in Astrakhan, but the lion’s share of advantage is obviously on the other side. Companies will be able to cut costs through further automation and spies will no longer have to get out of bed. As Neil Postman used to argue, technological change always favors those who are most adept in the new technology, which in this case means the early adopters who did not need a Great Disruption push them into the arms of the Global Machine. When the Great Disruption has done its work, those who needed the push will find that they are cripples limping about in a world that other people made. I am, for instance, destined to spend my golden years being humiliated by the paperless TIAA system. Continue reading
From the late, great traditionalist blogger Lawrence Auster comes this min-essay clarifying the meaning of transcendence. Auster points out that unless our activities, loyalties and institutions have meanings that transcend their merely physical elements, we cannot understand them, love them, or act to protect them.
In a postscript to the essay, Auster observes:
My main purpose in this discussion is to get at the root of why we our letting our culture be destroyed. I’m saying it’s because we have lost the experience of the transcendent as it is related to our specific culture, and therefore we don’t have the will to preserve or defend our culture. [Emphasis added] The transcendent needs to be understood not only in relation to the idea of God, but in relation to culture. If the transcendent is only experienced in relation to universal morality or God, then we end up with modern conservatism, which worships universal ideas of democracy and puts 99 percent of its moral energy into opposing abortion, but which fails to defend our culture as a culture from the innumerable ills that threaten it from without and within. It is no coincidence that both neoconservatives and evangelical Christians favor mass non-European immigration. It is because they lack a sense of the transcendent quality of our particular culture and nation.