Seeds of Sedition

You have perhaps noticed that we are living in an age of Völkerwanderungen.  The German word means wanderings or migrations of peoples.  To some English speakers, the word “wander” connotes aimlessness and lack of direction, but the word in itself means only unfixedness and mobility.  This is why the planets were anciently called  “wandering stars.” 

An age of Völkerwanderungen is an age of unmoored peoples on the move. 

Such ages are, of course, by no means new.  The phrase Völkerwanderungen was first used to describe the wanderings of the German and Slavic tribes that pressed south and west into the pleasant, depopulated and undefended provinces of Rome.  Here is John Ruskin describing the situation on the eve of this momentous movement.

North of [the] resident races, possessing fields and orchards, quiet homes of a sort, moralities and memories not ignoble, dwelt, or rather drifted, and shook, a shattered chain of gloomier tribes, piratical mainly, and predatory, nomad essentially; homeless of necessity, finding no stay nor comfort in earth, or bitter sky: desperately wandering along the waste sands and drenched morasses of the flat country stretching from the mouths of the Rhine to those of the Vistula, and beyond the Vistula nobody knows where, or needs to know.

And yet Ruskin admitted that it was these wretched men, shivering beside some frozen Baltic bog, who were “in all felt force, the living powers of the world.”

These starving troops of the Black forests and White seas, themselves half wolf, half driftwood . . . . you will hear of few besides them for five centuries yet to come”

John Ruskin, Our Fathers Have Told Us: Sketches of the History of Christendom, part 1, (1884), pp. 47-52.

The term Völkerwanderungen has also been used to describe the great westward trek of European peoples into the New World.  Indeed, by some accounts the European conquest of the New World was simply the final leg in the journey that began, some two thousand years before, when those shivering Germans resolved to quit their frozen bogs and seek a better life in the sunny plains of Lombardy, or the fair green fields of France.

In an introduction to Francis Parkman’s great Oregon Trail, one editor described the trains of lumbering wagons that followed the valley of the Platte across the Great Plains in precisely these terms.

“It was the last great migration of the Aryan race; when it was accomplished, the Völkerwanderungen were over forever.”

In his first clause, this editor was correct; in his second, he was mistaken.  That was the last great migration of what might be called, with a degree of poetic license, the Aryan race.  But it was by no means the end of Völkerwanderungen.

* * * * * *

Today’s age of Völkerwanderungen differs from those of the past in a great many ways, but none of these differences is to my mind more remarkable than the sanguine outlook of so many in the “resident races.”  These optimists believe that the only serious snag in mass migration is an unwelcoming miserabilism on the part of some other residents.  If only this miserabilism were removed, the optimists are confident that all will go swimmingly.  And this, so far as I can see, without anything in the way of a plan for assimilation, or even a common culture to which immigrants might, should they so choose, assimilate.

What the optimists seem to propose, in other words, is that we all keep smiling and hope for the best.  As to the grounds for this cheerfulness and hope, we must, I’m afraid, look to our own good nature (in those cases where we have one), for we will not find them in history or philosophy.

Consider these lines from three translations of Aristotle’s Politics (Book 8, chap. 3).  The emphasis changes from one translation to the next, but the central point does not.   Were Aristotle to remark on our age of Völkerwanderungen, he would tell us to prepare for revolution and sedition.

“Nothing is more unfriendly to public tranquility than dissimilitude of character in the citizens.  A heterogeneous assemblage of mixed tribes, cannot speedily coalesce into a nation; and communities, which have grown populous by sudden accessions, are generally torn by sedition . . . . Every promiscuous multitude cannot be fashioned into a commonwealth, the formation of which requires materials skillfully prepared, and must be the work of time; for the causes of dissention are innumerable.”  Aristotle, (trans. John Giles, 1797)

“Another cause of revolution is difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit; for a state is not the growth of a day, neither is a multitude brought together by accident.  Hence the reception of strangers in colonies, either at the time of their foundation or afterwards, has generally produced revolution.” (trans. B. Jowett, 1885)

“Diversity of race among the citizens is another cause of sedition, so long at least as different elements have not been welded together.  For it is as little possible to create a State in any arbitrary period of time as to create it out of any arbitrary population.  Accordingly the great majority of States to which a number of alien colonists have been admitted at the time of their foundation or at a later date have been scenes of violent sedition.” (trans. J.E.C. Weldon, 1901)

11 thoughts on “Seeds of Sedition

  1. Pingback: Seeds of Sedition | @the_arv

  2. Aristotle? Sure, what would he know? We are the ones we have been waiting for and we know better. Therefore, it will be different this time. We have evolved, you know.

  3. Pingback: Seeds of Sedition | Reaction Times

  4. The Goths eventually became the preservers of Romanitas and ultimately they became the defenders of Western Europe against the Islamic jihad. Let us thank God for the valor of Charles the Hammer at Poitiers. Nowhere in 1500 years have Muslims preserved or assimilated themselves to a foreign ethos and that is because to do so would be utterly foreign to Islam. Not only did the Goths romanize themselves; they also Christianized themselves, it is true, to Arianism at first, but soon enough to Nicene Christianity. Even in the early days when the Goths were still heathens, and Romans were still pagans, the two peoples worshipped the same gods. The German-speakers and the Latin-speakers were thus not entirely foreign to one another. They could merge without mutual annihilation and find their way together to a new creed.

  5. Assimilation of a minority population is neither impossible nor inevitable. This would seem to be Aristotle’s opinion and the lesson of history. I don’t mean that any group you might name has a 50 percent chance of assimilating, but that some groups (e.g. your Goths) will very likely assimilate, and other groups (e.g. your Muslims) very likely will not. Of course when an outcome is neither impossible nor inevitable, the prudent man proceeds with caution, paying very close attention to the data of experience. Needless to say, prudent our leaders are not.

    In any case, I think this is one of the main reasons the U.S. now has factional rather than party politics. Perhaps we’ve crossed the line into conspiratorial politics. But my point is that, once politics become factional, the actions of the party out of power are primarily sedition.

  6. “The party in power” is, where it concerns the USA, an ambiguous phrase. Nominally, the GOP is the party in power, but the party in power in the institutions is the Left. Trump seems to grasp this. His program consists of ceaseless sedition against the domination of the Left over tradition, and, as far as possible, the restoration of tradition. The Left continues, inside the institutions, to engage in sedition against all inherited arrangements. If what you were asserting was that sedition is now the only possible modus operandi in politics, I would both take your point and subscribe to it.

  7. I noticed the reference to Francis Parkman. While I have not read his writings (which I should have done by now given my love of Western US History so please forgive this transgression), over the years a love for US indigenous history has developed within me. This common spirit being refered to has been missing in European dealings with Native Americans from the time of Columbus’s landings into todays current policy. If many people from outside of Native American communities have an interest in First Nations societies then it is often superficial or materialistic. I just think about the destroyed mounds at Cahokia with all of the lost archeological treasures they couod have told us except many of the people who tore down those mounds did not share this common spirit being spoken of here.

    • There are still mounds at Cahokia, but we should not wish to share their “spirit.” These were most probably sites of human sacrifice, and they were most probably constructed by slaves who really had something to bitch about.

      • Many of the mounds at the Cahokia were destroyed, as were many other indigenous sites over the last few centuries, so much of their historical and archeological treasuries have been lost. Cahokia is just one example and not a relgious one I was meaning to highlight. I am aware of the possible human sacrifices as this site. I see I am using a different defintion of “spirit”. I was referring to a spirit of learning and cultural exchange (there is a reason many Native Americans practice Catholicism to this day).

  8. And this, so far as I can see, without anything in the way of a plan for assimilation, or even a common culture to which immigrants might, should they so choose, assimilate.

    As a young man, newly wed and even more recently employed in a new line of work, I once overheard my new employer matter of factly explaining to a particularly unrealistic customer that, given the condition of the materials he had provided us to work with and his insistence on a guarantee on labor (as if the materials were in top condition), “the only guarantee is that there is no guarantee.”

    Similarly we might say that the only common culture immigrants are asked to assimilate to in the good ol’ US of A is that there is no common culture that one can rightly call a culture, and moreover that there need not be one.

    Is life so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery [to a common culture]? Forbid it Almighty God!

    Hear the heathen rage and the people imagining vain things:

    Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their chords from among us.

    ‘What we once were, we no longer are,’ as BHO so eloquently put it once upon a time not so long ago. And of course, speaking in behalf of BHO’s eminent qualifications for the US presidency prior to his election, Colin Powell once reminded us on national tv that there is nothing wrong with (i.e., everything right about) a child of Islam aspiring to be POTUS. Quite so.

    21I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: 22That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.

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