There is always a king. The rightful king is always out there. He is the noblest man of his generation, and (by definition) there is always such a man. The only question is whether he is known, recognized and honoured as such. Where he is not, all men worry whether they might themselves be the rightful king; and, thinking they might be, feel resentment that their dignity is not properly recognized. A fortiori, they resent anyone who lords it over them. In such circumstances is individual liberty most jealously, zealously guarded. In such circumstances, it must be.
We can love only concrete reals; this because to love is to will the good of another, and we cannot do anything good for an irreal idea, but only for a real being characterized by that idea. You can’t benefit autonomy per se. You can however benefit people, by granting them autonomy; and while that will lead to an increase in the quantity of autonomy present in a people, it will not benefit the notion of autonomy itself.
The code of chivalry fused Christianity and the ethos of the German warrior (1). This is evident in the two rituals by which a man was ordained a knight: the German dubbing, by which his sword was placed in the service of his king, and the Christian vigil, by which it was placed in the service of his God. We must not, of course, mistake the code for the actual conduct of knights, since many of those who rode out cased in iron were simple barbarians. But neither should we dismiss the code as a mere fancy wrought in minstrels’ dreams. Continue reading
I read that some priggish Evangelicals are abandoning Trump after hearing the recording in which he talked about women with an abandon that was calculated to scandalize Sunday-school teachers and women’s studies majors (between whom it is often hard to distinguish). These bloodless ingénues (of both sexes) need to get out more. When Henry Kissinger said that, “power is the greatest aphrodisiac,” he was not speaking primarily about the effect that power has on powerful men. Power also works its titillating magic on not-so-powerful women, and although they do not always yield to its charm, neither do they always resist. Continue reading
A cantankerous quarrel has been roiling the philosophic guild in the aftermath of Richard Swinburne’s address to the Society of Christian Philosophers. As I explained a few days ago, one side of the quarrel is outraged because Swinburne committed sacrilege with his irreverent handling of the holy object of homosexuality. Since I made this trenchant (albeit ignored) observation, the quarrel has evolved. The anti-Swinburne faction is now howling against the plucky website Rightly Considered, which has published screenshots of some of their salty philippics against traditional Christians, and by so doing has allegedly violated their right to privacy. Continue reading
Not, “how I became religious,” but “how I came to understand religion.”
It is extremely difficult for most moderns to negotiate the passage to the fundamentally spiritual perspective that all humans shared before the Enlightenment. At least, I found it so, for the longest time. Despite a number of spiritual experiences that I could nowise gainsay, I could make no philosophical sense of spiritual realities using the intellectual tool kit my Modern education had provided me. I got a lot of training in how to think about the physical, but I didn’t know how to think about the spiritual (or, for that matter, anything not physical). That made it somewhat incredible, and indeed somewhat scandalous. And this made it quite difficult to be wholeheartedly religious – to worship or say the Credo without invoking a string of philosophical hedges and equivocations that rather emptied the whole procedure of its numinous, compelling quality, and thus of its point.
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship. I now realize that I often encounter that same incapacity in atheist interlocutors. They don’t seem to have a way of understanding what it is that theists are talking about. So their arguments often miss the point entirely, and when theists point this out to them they simply can’t see that they are fundamentally misunderstanding the terms of the dialogue.
Modernity’s inadequacy to spiritual realities is echoed in its incomprehension of consciousness, agency, meaning, value, morality, and in the limit truth, beauty, and virtue – or their antipodes. Under its own terms, Modernism cannot account for these things, and must if it is to discuss them at all resort to unprincipled exceptions. This renders it incapable of coherent treatment of any of the basic aspects of life as it is actually lived and experienced. It is, in a word, unable to understand minds, or therefore persons, or a fortiori their lives.
Modernity does however comprehend bodies, better by an order of magnitude than any previous age. So naturally, and like any other successful weltanschauung, it wants to interpret everything under its own terms. It wants to make bodies basic, and reduce all experience to motions of bodies.
Modernism takes bodies to be utterly dead. It wants to say that everything is motions of those dead objects. But as is obvious to the most cursory consideration, the life of the mind is not a congeries of dead things, or of their lifeless collisions. It is an active, lively process. It is a series of happenings, a temporal assemblage of occasions, each of which – whether conscious or not – is in some degree alive to its past and intends some future.
[Of such lively intensions implemented in actual transactions among entities is the causal nexus that connects and relates disparate events constituted as a coherent integral world system.]
It is furthermore transparently obvious that no configuration of dead things can be alive. Only what is alive can be alive.
As incoherent, then, the Modern project of reducing life to motions of dead bodies is, not just doomed to failure, not just impossible (as a complete consistent logical calculus, while conceivable, is not possible), but strictly meaningless, ergo unthinkable: not even wrong.
There has been a dustup in the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) over a keynote address recently delivered by the great Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne. Apparently many not-so-great Christian philosophers were triggered, traumatized and terrorized by his remarks, and the SCP president consequently felt himself constrained to issue what may or may not be an official apology. Swinburne reportedly had the cheek to publically agree with the two thousand year Christian tradition that homosexual behavior is very hard to reconcile with scripture, the magisterium, and natural law. This was too much for New Light Christian Philosophers, who apparently have some clout in the SCP, the result being the aforementioned apology and dustup. Continue reading
This is a response to – not a critique or attempted repudiation of – J. M. Smith’s two most recent postings.
One of my courses in the current semester is a course with the catalogue-name “Writing about Literature.” Like many college-level courses nowadays, “Writing about Literature” is an exercise in absurdity. Only those who have literature, and who have it massively, are ready to write about literature. My students have almost no literature. The men especially have never been readers. The women have read recent consumer-fictions in which young female protagonists singlehandedly overthrow murderous “patriarchal” dystopias with the same police-state resources at their disposal as the modern Federal Government of the USA, but they cannot name the authors of these fictions.
I agree with Smith that ninety-nine per cent of public words nowadays are otiose and fugacious when they are not cases of downright mendacity and meretriciousness. On the other hand, it is possible that in some venues there might be an unhealthy dearth of words. I cite my “Writing about Literature” class as an example.
We are five weeks into a fifteen-week semester. As my students have no literature, I have not worried about the writing element in the course-title; I have simply been giving them an essential minimum of literature – specifically the quaternity of English Romantic poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. I have been encouraging the students to speak coherently and systematically about the poems of these poets, beginning with the paraphrase, and proceeding to the interpretation that takes into account the web of connotations woven in the syntactic warp and dictional weft of the rhapsody.
If anyone ever designed to utter a single phrase – in a discursive context of other phrases – that might “work a miracle” in a responsive audience, let us say, of one, so that the singular utterance would elicit a correspondent testimony of many words, then any member of the aforementioned poetic quaternity would qualify. Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper” should provoke conversation, at least.
Alas! My students – whether out of timidity, alienation, vocabulary deficiency, or total inexperience with the connotative aspect of language, all of which are probable – have tended to respond to promptitude almost solely in the medium of monosyllabic utterances. If the question, intended to elicit the beginnings of a paraphrase, were: “Who is the ‘solitary reaper’ in the poem?” – the answer would be, with the lilting diffident uplift in tone that denotes questioning uncertainty, something like, a girl? – or nature? – or a peasant? There is never a sentence. And there is never much possibility of a discussion, which can only be conducted in sentences.
I had to say to my students last Friday, in a delicately worded appeal, that I wished them henceforth to speak to me as I speak to them – in sentences. Whether they will respond, I have no way of predicting although I am not sanguine about the likelihood.
My point is simply this: That while there can be too many words, useless words, meaningless words, there might also be too few, hence only a sub-minimum of meaning, and no possibility of a meaningful parliament. I daresay that we are afflicted, at this stage of American modernity, with both maladies: A surfeit of words and a poverty of them. I daresay that one way to die is to give up on language, to revert to speechlessness, so that, at first, one can only say yes or no, and finally only yes.
I was just reading an interesting post by William Briggs, in which he questions the future of religious liberty under an administration of vindictive social justice warriors. He quotes some splenetic government reptile to the effect that this future is not sunny. This prompts me to make a simple point that cannot be too often asseverated. The government does not give you this right, it only guarantees it. In exactly the same way, the government does not give you a right to your property or to fulfillment of contracts you have signed; it only guarantees that these rights will be honored. And in all cases it does this because to do so is more orderly than it would be if it were left to you to ensure that these rights be honored.
If you were to ensure that these rights be honored, you would have to say that, in the event of anyone trying to take them from me, one of us must yield or die. In other words, the old cry of “liberty or death.” Religious liberty is something you claim, not something you are given. When you claim it, you say that this is mine, and if someone tries to take it from me, one of us is going to die. All that the government can do is recognize this claim, and, to the end of public tranquility, guarantee this right. If the government declines to do this, it does not destroy the right, only the tranquility.
Public tranquility is a very fine thing, but it is by no means the finest thing there is. Any man who can imagine no condition under which he would be prepared to disrupt that tranquility, and suffer the consequences of disrupting that tranquility, is only nominally a man. When you speak of a right to religious liberty, therefore, you should certainly hope that this will be guaranteed within the tranquil order of positive law, but you must also mean that, in the absence of such a guarantee, you will personally insist upon this right. And to personally insist upon a right is ultimately to say, if you try to take this from me, one of us going to die.
Our liberal regime demands a belief, mostly groundless, in the efficacy of talk. This belief is the source of our parliamentarian prejudice that a talking shop should lie at, or near, the heart of government. This belief stands behind our fawning exaltation of the garrulous gabblers of “the press.” This belief is why you and I feel moved to discourse like Demosthenes at the meeting of our Parish Council, or the Christmas Party Subcommittee. It is why we believe that the balance of history depends on a galvanic utterance in a presidential debate.
But there is a reason that Flannery O’Connor wrote that it is the violent, and not the voluble, who “bear it away.” Words are mostly wind, and the Big Men of this world are, by and large, forceful but taciturn. Power mostly resides in a capacity to mete out boon and bale, while a silver tongue is a dancing fool.
It is said that the wind god Aeolus penned the winds inside a cave on his island of Aeolia, releasing them on command of the higher gods. When seafaring Ulysses came to Aeolia, Aeolus gathered some gusts from his Cave of the Winds, bound them in an ox-hide bag, and presented the bulging bundle to Ulysses as a means to propel his ship home to Ithaca. This bloviator was the original windbag, and it was by release of carefully regulated puffs from the mouth of the windbag that Ulysses brought his ship within sight of Ithaca’s shore. Alas, he then fell asleep and his greedy crew untied the mouth of the windbag, which they believed was filled with gold. And from the mouth of the windbag rushed a mighty tempest that tossed the waters and drove the mariners back to wander once more over trackless seas.
There is a lesson here for all who believe in the gift of a gushing windbag.