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.

The beginning of thought

Some time ago, I wrote that rejecting the Enlightenment is only the beginning of thought.

It is no doubt a great thing to free oneself from the cloud of humbug into which we are all born.  However, clearing one’s vision is only the start of seeing; next we must actually look around.  One way that the Enlightenment controls the minds of billions, locking them into a degrading and absurd mental slavery, is by making people imagine they know what’s on the other side.  “Without the social contract…tyranny!  Without separation of Church and state…religious warfare!  Without feminism…rape!  Without capitalism…communism!  Without cosmopolitanism…Nazis!  So love your chains, and repeat the slogans like a good boy.”  You know how it goes.  You heard it, and you remember how it kept you bound for a long time after you realized that you didn’t particularly like what they were pushing…It is not true that conservatism or reaction needs to postulate any kind of ideal time in the past, but the Enlightened must commit themselves to the belief that the past was an utter horror.

However, those blinded by the Enlightenment have no idea what is on the other side.  How could they, with such a narrow, unimaginative, and parochial worldview?  In fact, the world of alternatives is vast, so vast that anyone beginning to step outside Enlightenment strictures should be warned that the greatest intellectual challenge is still ahead…

Having rejected liberalism, you understand that the state cannot avoid the big questions about God, free will, and the nature of human flourishing, because any social order will represent some implicit answer to these questions.  However, this does not yet answer any of these questions.

Very well, one might grant that rejecting the Enlightenment and its political program (liberalism) in principle leaves a great deal open, in practice does our culture not have a distinct pre-Enlightenment tradition into which we can easily default?  In fact, we have quite a few to choose from–Plato vs Aquinas vs Suarez vs Calvin vs Descartes, imperialism vs feudalism vs royal absolutism–and loyalty to the counter-revolution cannot make these choices for us.  Even when we have picked a pre-modern tradition, this does very little of the intellectual work for us that needs to be done.  At best, becoming a Thomist or a monarchist removes Modernist mental clutter that would have impeded the intellectual work still ahead.

Examples:  history, economy, philosophy of science

As traditionalists, we are committed to understanding the past.  Our bonds of faith and sympathy with out ancestors make us better suited to understand them than modernity’s court historians, but our task is also more difficult, because we cannot satisfy ourselves with Whiggery’s facile narrative.  A first step to understanding the past is to reject the Whig interpretation of history.  But it would be lazy to replace a simplistic story of advance from the Middle Ages with a reverse story of decline.  Renaissance, Reformation, and early modern eras were not mere transitional forms between medievalism and modernism; understood on their own terms, they display the diversity and splendor of Christian culture.  Rejecting Whig history is only the beginning of thought.  Eric Voegelin has taught us to study the symbols through which a society represents itself and its worldview.  I have recently read a fascinating study of medieval France that fills in many details of how a sophisticated traditionalist society actually operated.  These are the sorts of intellectual adventures that can begin after one rejects the Enlightenment.

Distributism is only the beginning of thought.  It is no small thing to have recognized the importance of small-scale production in a humane economy, but this only makes the task of the economist harder.  It is no warrant to evade his modernist colleagues’ tasks of quantitative modeling and policy prescriptions; it only adds new concerns which may sometimes cut against economies of scale and government predilection for centralization.  John Medaille’s Toward a Truly Free Market is an excellent book, but there is a memorable point when, having defined the just wage in independent ways, he asks how we can know that they must agree, concluding simply that they must, since otherwise economics would be absurd.  Clearly, more theoretical work is needed at the foundations.

Accepting Thomist metaphysics is only the beginning of thought, an unpleasant surprise for those to whom it was advertised as a complete worldview.  Reading Dr. Feser’s book on Scholastic Metaphysics made me realize how boring metaphysics, properly delimited, really is.  Scholastic principles such as those having to do with powers and causality are in themselves only minimally informative, as Fester admits, when applied to particular systems.  The really interesting questions–about the natures of sets, space, time, matter, emergence, life, and consciousness–are all a step down in the study of ontology (what used to be called the philosophy of nature).  We can take inspiration from Aristotle’s own Physics, but if we insist on accepting it dogmatically in spite of its many ambiguities and conflicts with the cosmos as we actually observe it, we will be driven to “metaphysicalize” it, attributing its truth to some noumenal realm inaccessible to the phenomenal world.  But then we will not know how to apply its concepts of substance, potency, causality, etc (and those who try will often reach crazy conclusions, such as that all of chemistry is miraculous) and therefore cannot be confident that we truly understand them.  We will have succumbed to the Church’s post-Galilean retreat into metaphysics.  Fortunately, we have a great deal of freedom here.  I often find in philosophy of physics books that a generally insightful writer will suddenly start interpreting theories in a bizarre, unnatural way quite alien to how physicists actually think about them.  The reason is that the writer is tailoring his thought to the dogmas of David Hume, and at such times I am always thankful for the freedom the Schoolmen gave me.

The role of the laity

Vatican II, we are told, transformed the Church’s attitude toward the laity.  This is true, but it did so in a paradoxical way.  On the one hand, the laity are inordinately praised (and for all the whining about “clericalism”, few professions have for the past 60 years been as demoralized, as forbidden the ordinary pride in one’s work, as priests).  On the other hand, their historic roles have been undercut.  The only way we can now find to express this awesome dignity the laity supposedly possess is to give them quasi-clerical make-work during Mass.  This paradox is the subject of an excellent new essay at The Josias by Alan Fimister.  He points out that the formula “separation of Church and State” entails a sort of clericalism, in that it identifies the entire Church with the activities of the clerical caste.  In Christendom, the temporal order was not separate from the Church; it was the other half of the Church, the half of the laity bringing the order of Christ to this life.

A better way to promote the dignity of the laity, instead of simply flattering them for being so very educated and moral, would be to rediscover the importance of their distinctive role in the Church Militant.  Part of that is political; it involves fights over culture and over control of the coercive apparatus of the state.  Pope Francis is right to say that these fights cannot be one of the clergy’s main tasks; the other side of this truth is that they are the one of the laity’s main tasks.  Fighting is one of the things we do; it’s good, holy, and necessary work.  Intellectual work, especially outside theology, is another.  We probably are guilty of ignoring this work, not because thinking must necessarily lead in the direction of liberalism and apostasy, but because the enormous intellectual freedom our illiberalism gives us makes the task so difficult.

64 thoughts on “Becoming a reactionary is only the beginning of thought.

  1. Chesterton thought and wrote like a man! How perfectly refreshing, like the taste of water from natural spring, after years of subsisting on bracking tap water, or worse.

    I’ve just read his “Orthodoxy” which I discovered in a free online PDF. To say that nobody writes like that today would be an understatement of absurd proportions.

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  3. “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 [an] altogether… petty and pedantic mood; not only lower than Catholicism but lower even than Mithraism.”

    The discourse of the liberal academy, which claims to be the preserve of thinking, on any of its limited range of pseudo-topics is lower in intellectual quality than that of George Adamski’s autobiographical books concerning his frequent meetings with space people and his trips to Venus and Saturn; or than that of of Lewis Spence’s books about Lemuria; or than that of the pamphlets of the John Birch Society circa 1965. In comparison to pomo-academic discourse, I find Adamski, Spence, and the pamphleteers of the John Birch Society positively brilliant and actually nourishing. Long live the redoubtable Mr. Chesterton!

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  5. Thanks, Bonald, this is great stuff. I had – have – exactly the same experience.

    One of the attractive things about a liberal/nominalist/naturalist/materialist take on things is that it feels as though it resolves all sorts of thorny (interesting, important, and pressing) philosophical perplexities by simply eliminating the entities involved by means of a reduction not just improper, but – in retrospect, from the richer reactionary position – positively brutal, and certainly vicious.

    Consciousness is the best example I can think of. If you can convince yourself that eliminativism is true, you never have to wonder about consciousness again. Likewise, if you can convince yourself that Ricardo is the last word on trade, you never have to think about it again. Or if there is nothing but matter, you can just stop worrying about forms, teloi, and so forth. If only liberal democracy is morally tolerable, then hey, monarchy and aristocracy, together with all their attendant complexities, are simply off the table. And, obviously, if there are no moral absolutes, then there’s no reason to fret about sex, at all, one way or the other. Which is cool.

    Big, big relief!

    Richard Weaver says somewhere that liberalism is the materialism of religion. It’s *so simple*! Yay!

    But, lazy, incoherent, autophagous, and inadequate both to the explananda and to life as lived.

    Once you twit to that, and step away from improper reduction, your intellectual life becomes much more exciting – if only because the stakes thereof have become real, and therefore the project of understanding properly is much more interesting and important than it had been. But it also becomes a lot more challenging, because suddenly all sorts of things you had thought nicely settled in your naturalist days – consciousness, sex, metaphysics, etc. – have been added back to your list of things you must think about well enough to come to a decision about them – quite often a fraught decision, even perilous.

    And while my intellectual toolkit is much more powerful than it used to be, I find that the more I think about, say, monarchy, the more the subject expands and ramifies. But, also, the more beautiful it gets. I find there’s something like a fractal character to these things. You drill in, and a world opens up. You drill into that, and another world opens up.

    It’s nifty. Heck, it’s hair-raisingly spooky, and aweful. Numinous, that’s the word. Especially when you get a glimpse of how it all hangs together. But it can indeed be exhausting, like day after day of climbing. Sure, you reach the uplands. But, you pay.

    Totally worth it, though.

    • I disagree with Kristor here. Liberal elites understand that their “elimination” processeses are a form of camouflage. For example, they are aware that they are eliminating monarchy and its inherent hierarchy, but replacing it with other forms of “necessary” hierarchical systems. Politicians (for the good of the people), journalists (to tell “the story”), intellectuals (to discover “truth”), artists (to create beauty – or a superior form of ugliness) all believe in the hierarchy of their positions, and that they are the elites who can do this.

      But they all disagree with the hierarchy that comes with Western, Christian tradition, as their contention is with the “Christian” part, the Godly part. Theirs is afterall a “free-for-all” hierarchy, based in some way on arbitrary, or man-made rules and definitions (e.g. what is truth and how does one tell the truth, what is beauty, etc.) and they know that they stand on fragile ground of wavering principles that are ready to crumble, which makes them especially viscous when confronted or pressed to define, or to declare, their principles.

      • I find the liberal elites especially viscous when smarmingly smothering all opposition on the mainstream media.

      • Kidist, I was referring not to pragmatic political and personal life – in which, of course, as you say, the impossibility of actually implementing an improperly reductive philosophical scheme such as egalitarianism forces egalitarians to employ all sorts of unprincipled exceptions – but only to philosophical life. In practice, you can’t do without hierarchy, rules about sex, moral principles, property, and so forth. So when your ideology commands you to do away with such things, you must sooner or later sneak them in by the back door, and in disguise, in order to get along in life.

        As I wrote, improperly reductive philosophical schemes are “incoherent, autophagous, and inadequate both to the explananda and to life as lived.”

        Noticing this, a truly philosophical mind will doubt his principles are true, and begin deliberating about how they should be corrected.

        Not all minds are truly philosophical.

        Improperly reductive philosophical schemes carried speciously into practice are all throughly shams; all the Emperor’s New Clothes. But everyone must treat such a sham as if it were true, even though obviously, as a sham, it is incredible. Some are better at pretending they believe the sham than others. And as you say, because it is a sham, it is terrifically weak, and vulnerable to threat – i.e., to the slightest incredulity. That’s when the Revolution begins to devour itself. That’s when the holiness spirals begin, and then the Terror.

    • Thanks Bonald and Kristor. I have a question in relation to your views below:

      “…our ancestors make us better suited to understand them than modernity’s court historians, but our task is also more difficult, because we cannot satisfy ourselves with Whiggery’s facile narrative. A first step to understanding the past is to reject the Whig interpretation of history. But it would be lazy to replace a simplistic story of advance from the Middle Ages with a reverse story of decline.”

      “One of the attractive things about a liberal/nominalist/naturalist/materialist take on things is that it feels as though it resolves all sorts of thorny (interesting, important, and pressing) philosophical perplexities by simply eliminating the entities involved by means of a reduction not just improper, but – in retrospect, from the richer reactionary position – positively brutal, and certainly vicious.”

      Have either of you encountered the thought of the traditionalist/perennialists (Guenon, Schuon, et. al.)? It seems to me that their thought, which they claim – rightly – is not novel, best manages to avoid the reductions of so many other systems/modes of thought.

      • The Traditionalists are a mixed bag. I would encourage anyone to beware of Julius Evola, who does exemplify the “lazy” reverse-Whig view, declaring whatever he likes in ancient traditions to be part of the primordial Tradition, rejecting the rest as lunar corruption or intended only for the unenlightened. There is a tendency to interpret everything between his imagined pre-historic North Pole supermen and modernity as transitional between one and the other. Not coincidentally, his driving passion is the same as the Whigs’: hatred of Christianity.

  6. Real life just isn’t complex in practice, indeed beyond vey modest complexity it simply becomes a linear sequence of rules (flow chart). Most comp!exity we see is merely an attempt to explain away the contradictions from false metaphysical assumptions.

    • Most of the big ideas are actually very simple: heliocentrism, the kinetic theory of gases, evolution by natural selection, the Turing machine, supply-demand equilibrium… It still takes geniuses to come up with them.

  7. “(and those who try will often reach crazy conclusions, such as that all of chemistry is miraculous)”
    I believe it was presented at this very site not far ago (by Kristor if I am not mistaken) that angels mediate all interactions that take place in the world. This is precisely a possibility that is also favorably entertained by Aquinas.

    • To suggest that angels administer the cosmos is not to suggest that all cosmic motions are miraculous. Likewise – for example – to suggest, as STA does, that God maintains all creatures in existence at every moment of their existence is not to suggest that all moments of creaturely existence are miraculous. If God creates each moment of creaturely existence, and coordinates all such moments via the agency of his ambassadors the angels, that makes the Divine and angelic involvement in each creaturely moment *completely normal and routine.* I.e., *not* miraculous.

      • Kristor, I’m really interested in your thoughts about the angels, particularly the notion that Platonic Ideas/Forms might be/are akin to the angels. A philosophy professor of mine (an avowed Platonist) once said much the same thing. What sources should I read to get a bit more of an understanding?

      • I have not actually read much about this topic specifically. I profited from reading Margaret Barker on the angelology of First and Second Temple Judaism and of the Intertestamental Apocalyptic literature, but I have read a number of her books, and – because I have not yet found and unpacked them since I moved houses earlier this year – I honestly can’t remember which book had the most material on the topic. Anything of hers is worth reading, though; she’s in the mind-blowing category. Plus the fascinating factoid category; some of the yummiest mind candy I’ve read.

        I also learned a fair bit from The Angels and Their Mission, by Jean Danielou, which focuses on the angelology of the Fathers. In looking up the exact name of that book just now, I stumbled upon some others that I have not read, but which I am about to order: Angels & Angelology in the Middle Ages, by David Keck, and The Angels & Us, by Mortimer Adler (come to think of it I might already own that one … seems to me I unpacked it last week).

        Then of course there is the locus classicus of this topic, Dionysius the Areopagite. Philo of Alexandria also wrote on the subject. He insisted that Plato got the Forms from his time in the Hebrew schools of Egypt and Syria (i.e., Palestine); that the Forms are all right there in the Pentateuch, as angels.

        The bottom line is that substantial beings are concretely actualized forms – which is to say nothing more than that they are definite things with definite properties. This is so whether or not those concrete actualizations are material, as we are. Angels are immaterial substantial beings. So, they are immaterial concretely actual forms. Whereas we are material concretely actual forms. It all falls quite straightforwardly out of Thomist metaphysics.

      • Miracle is the question of agency rather than routine. If oxygen and hydrogen combine on their own and produce water, it is non-miraculous. But if an angel is required to mediate the process, it IS miraculous, in the sense used in OP.
        Chemical reactions ARE routine, nobody questions that. But do they require angelic intervention or not, is the question. And this question is “crazy” by Bonald, naturally as he is a physicist.

      • If agency is the criterion of the miraculous then all my acts are miraculous. They are not. So it isn’t.

        On theism, God is involved in every act of becoming. If divine involvement – either directly or via his agents the angels – is the criterion of the miraculous then all acts are miraculous. They are not. So it isn’t.

        The notion that all events are miraculous is crazy because it entails that every event is adventitious, thus extraordinary; and if every event is extraordinary, then the category of the ordinary is empty; there then are no real, but rather only specious, natural regularities, so no order, no cosmos. And that’s silly. Only such as Hume or al Ghazali would seriously entertain such a notion.

      • In the first chapter of the Greek Gospel of St Mark, John the Baptist (a flesh and blood human being) is specifically called an angel. A few verses later, in the same chapter, we are told that the angels ministered to Jesus when he was in the desert. We are not told whether or not these angels were purely spiritual or were flesh and blood like John. That we are not told suggests it doesn’t matter in the context of the Gospel.

      • A good point, and interesting. These days we think of “angel” as referring only to the immaterial messengers of God (and that’s how we’ve been using the term in this thread so far); but technically – even now – “angel” refers properly not to a type of being, but to the office of messenger. To that office, obviously, spirits both material and immaterial may be appointed. So is it that priests and kings and prophets were understood in ancient Israel as angels. It is on account of this ancient understanding of the priestly office that even today, priests of liturgical churches are clad in white for their commission of their liturgical duties. is why white is the color of the baptismal gown: to be baptized is among other things to be commissioned an evangel of the Logos.

        The white of the alb and the baptismal gown (and for that matter the wedding gown) refers to the Resurrection Body, which while material shares certain properties with the substantial immaterial beings we nowadays call angels – in particular, shining glory.

      • Boy, ain’t that the truth. Like the true prophets, the heretics tend to think the priesthood corrupt. And heretics are the reason you need an ecclesial hierarchy: to keep the enthusiasts in line.

        There has always been a bit of salutary antagonism and mutual suspicion between the monks and the priests.

      • I love the ‘seemed to think’. 🙂
        However, compare Moses and Aaron.
        Which was the angel/messenger?
        Or Amos and whoever was the priest?

      • I think of Aaron as a messenger of Moses. A viceangel, as it were; a vicar. As Peter is the vicar and viceangel of Jesus. By definition, the vicar is weaker and baser than his Lord. That’s what makes him useful to his lord, as vicar. It is the weakness of the vassal in respect to his Lord that, in virtue of their fealty to each other, infuses the weaker vassal with the derived nobility, majesty, dignity, mana of his Lord. It is that mana of his Lord shining through the vicar like light through a crazed glass that makes the vicar efficacious as such, in the lives of his inferiors.

      • So Aaron was a very angel of God. That would not prevent his being also an angel of Moses, the viceangel of Moses, and subsidiary to Moses. Or vice versa, for that matter; perhaps Moses was the viceangel of Aaron. This in just the way that being a priest of a diocese does not conflict with being a priest of Christ, or in the way that being an angel subsidiary to Gabriel and under his command does not conflict with being an angel of YHWH.

      • Too many notes, Herr Mozart, dilute the message.
        As Priest, Aaron was not a messenger of Moses.
        As Prophet, Moses was not a messenger of Aaron.

      • My dear Salieri, I took you to be asking which one was the angel of YHWH, Moses or Aaron. I said, in sum, “both.” But, nodding to your implicit point that Aaron was second to Moses, I agreed that I had always thought of Aaron as Moses’ right hand man, as his lieutenant and subsidiary. Qua men, that is, and qua mundane authorities over Israel. Their relative status as men did not conflict with their offices as angels of YHWH.

        It is for just this reason that “I was just following orders” is no defense. No one is ever conceivably excused from his first and primordial duties as a servant of the Good. If per impossibile Moses had ordered Aaron to organize and facilitate the worship of the golden calf in his absence, and Aaron had then done it, the fact that Moses had ordered him to do it would have furnished him no defense in the court of heaven.

        As it was, of course, Aaron had not even the excuse that he had only been following orders. He was an angel of YHWH, like Moses. But, he was not as good an angel as Moses, was he? Which was perhaps the reason that in the order of society he was (despite his High Priesthood) second to the Prophet Moses.

        It might also be pointed out – as indeed it later was, by God himself, in the Psalms and in Hebrews – that the Priesthood of Aaron was but an image and likeness of the true Priesthood of Melchizedek. Indeed, the Priesthood of Aaron seems to have been challenged pretty consistently both by prophets and kings, a tradition that culminated in the prophecies of John Baptist, and then of course of Jesus, in whom the offices of prophet, priest, and king were all sublimely and perfectly integrated and reconciled and fulfilled. Jesus *is* the Melchizedek: the righteous King.

      • Apart from that, however, I notice you have not addressed
        the relationship between ‘Amos and whoever was the priest’.

      • As for whether Amos or Amaziah the High Priest of the Northern Kingdom was the true angel of YHWH, the fact that the Holy Spirit saw fit to include in the OT the testament of the former but not of the latter seems dispositive, say what you will about the victors – or, in the case of the Kingdom of Judah, the mere survivors (is there a difference?) – writing the history.

        God is the victor; God writes the history written in the OT. God says Amos was his angel, and not so much Amaziah.

      • ‘My dear Salieri…’
        Err… Emperor Joseph, actually… 🙂
        ‘I took you to be asking which one was the angel of YHWH, Moses or Aaron. I said, in sum, “both.” ‘
        One was called ‘Priest’. The other was called ‘Prophet’.
        The roles were not the same
        One sacrificed for the people to God.
        The other spoke for God to the people.
        In the Attic/Platonic style of explanation, the difference is easily lost.
        In the Laconic style, it is preserved.

      • But the Emperor deferred to his court musician. It was Salieri who authoritatively affirmed that too many notes are problematic per se.

        Both the Temple cults understood priests vested for liturgical service as angels. The Temple rite was a participation of the rite in the Throne Room of Heaven; the priests in the Jerusalem Temple were performing the same acts as their angelic counterparts in Heaven.

        The priestly and prophetic offices are indeed different. But they are not mutually exclusive. Likewise the offices of Chairman and CEO are different, but not mutually exclusive. Psalm 99:6 characterizes both Aaron and Moses as priests. Samuel offered sacrifices. Ezekiel was a priest. The Twelve were priests; they were also evangels – good angels.

      • Salieri did not ‘authoritatively affirm’ it. The Emperor stated it and Salieri went along with it reluctantly in his office of Court Composer – which the Emperor had just reminded him was a grace and favour position by calling him ‘Court Composer’. See:
        On which note, I am now out of this discussion.

    • Kristor,
      I didn’t say “human agency”. The context makes clear that we were talking about angels.
      To be more precise and borrowing from CS Lewis, the angels are supernatural with respect to us. Either the substances such as chemical substances can react on their own (without angelic administration) or each chemical reaction does require angelic mediation. What would you have?
      Do angels mediate and administrate our physical world?

      • Nature cannot explain itself, let alone create itself. This is so, both in whole and in every part. There is no part of nature that can be totally explained only by nature. So there is no part of nature that can be *caused* only by natural causes. So there must be supernatural involvement in causation of natural events – all of them.

        That does not make all natural events miraculous.

        The Tradition of the Church is that God administers the creation through the agency of his angels. On that account, yes, the processes of the natural world proceed as they do thanks to the involvement in them of angels.

        That all natural events are in part supernaturally caused does not mean that supernatural agents are jumping into the natural course of events and pushing things around efficiently. On the contrary. The supernatural causes of events are not efficient, for that would make them simply *natural.* It would make them *material.* Rather, supernatural causes are *formal.*

      • Hello Kristor and Bedarz Iliachi.

        Here’s how I understand the disagreement between Kristor and myself. We’re talking about formal causes, so in the case of water, let’s say we mean some particular solution to the time-independent Schroedinger equation corresponding to a water molecule. Everyone agrees that such a thing must exist in some abstract sense for water to come into existence. I believe Kristor also claims that this mathematical structure needs some sort of repository (other than the divine intellect) for the time, e.g. shortly after the big bang, before there were any actual water molecules, and that this repository is an angel.

        I admit that I’m still not convinced of this, although it is not absurd in the sense that the positions of Fathers Chaberek and Austriaco are absurd. Those two are speaking of efficient causality, and the former presents an argument that would actually rule out many ordinary physical processes. Kristor’s position doesn’t present the same danger of occasionalism. It’s just that his arguments for it invoke principles of Whitehead or the Scholastics whose veracity I think uncertain.

      • Bonald, you’ve put your finger on it. I was just before I checked in at the Orthosphere this morning noodling over how to explain that. It’s not just Whitehead and the Scholastics, though; it’s Aristotle, too. Indeed, even for Plato, the Forms are supereminently real in their own right – which is to say, even more concretely real than our phenomenal world – and the repository of the Forms you mention he calls the Receptacle or krater. And then there’s Philo, too, of course. And the Fathers.

        The question is why the angels are needed as intermediaries – as, precisely, angels – in order for creatures to participate their forms. Are not the angels superfluous? Why could not creatures participate the forms as they exist in the Logos? Why not go straight to the source?

        To me it has long seemed apparent that the angels are needed on account of Divine Simplicity.

        God has to be Simple in order to be Ultimate; for, what is composed is posterior to and dependent upon the parts it composes, and therefore is not Ultimate.

        In Simplicity all the forms are indeed present, for as Perfect the Ultimate necessarily exhibits all the perfections – i.e., all the possible ways to be good, which is to say, all the ways it is possible to be. But, in Simplicity, these perfections are not discrete. They are, rather, all integral as one Simple thing, God himself, who is just Perfection as such. In God, e.g., perfect beauty, goodness, power, knowledge and truth are not different perfections, but one; furthermore, they are one with his being.

        In God, all the nodes of all the configuration spaces are a single node. The only way to participate that node is to become God – i.e., to take the nature of that node as one’s own. But there can be only one Ultimate. So taking the nature of that Simple node as one’s own is not logically possible.

        So it is that to participate its form a finite creature must participate that form as it is already actual in some other finite concrete creature that is not Ultimate. That form must be actual – must be concretely real – in order for any other creature to encounter it and be affected by it in any way. Put another way: in order for a form to cause anything formally, the form must be itself real.

        So, whether or not we want to call the concretely actual archetypal forms angels, they have to be concretely actual. They must be substantial beings.

        So far so good. We have not yet demonstrated that the concretely actual archetypal forms must be persons, or aeviternal, or ordered in a hierarchy of choirs, or special rather than individual, or any of the other characteristics that Tradition ascribes to the angels. That would take a lot more work.

      • Hi Kristor. This could be, but if you had argued that we need a more flexible, analogical understanding of participation to understand how disparate creatures participate in a simple God, or that we need to understand participation as applying only to those qualities that all creatures share (and understand those qualities univocally), I would have been just as inclined to nod my head and read on. I don’t feel confident enough in my understanding of any of these words to trust my reasoning with them, or even to verify another’s reasoning.

        This is not an objection to what you wrote, just an admission of my incompetence to speak.

      • Well, even in what I’ve sketched out – both in this thread, and in my own thought on the subject – participation of one creature B in another A is a pretty doggone fuzzy notion. It is difficult to say exactly how it might work. Perhaps that is because it is so basic, that you *can’t* explain it in terms of anything else, so that it remains a thundering great impenetrable mystery.

        So, all we have at this point for participation (so far as I have read) is an analogical concept. The most we can say is that B somehow “takes” some of the forms present beforehand in A, so that they share some characteristics. What is that taking? How does that work? You got me.

        Things affect each other. How? It is easy to see why Hume and al Ghazali decided the question was incoherent.

        Divine Simplicity is even harder to understand. I only began to get comfortable with the notion about three years ago. I had been working on it for 15 or 20.

      • Well Bonald, being a physicist, calls this crazy. And we are not talking about how God keeps everything in existence. So your first point is red herring.
        Let me re-state the point I was making. Bonald linked to another of his article.
        “Recently, Fr. Michael Chaberek has written a book, Aquinas and Evolution, arguing that the evolution of new species is incompatible with Thomism because it violates this principle; at some point (if species are equivalence classes, as a Thomist will no doubt insist they are) parents must produce an offspring of a different species. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco replies in Public Discourse, quite correctly, that the same argument could be made to prove that hydrogen and oxygen cannot combine to form water.”
        “Austriaco suggests (with precedent in Aquinas’ Aristotelian cosmology) that more perfect substantial beings may be involved, namely God or His angels. Just as such beings can enable chemistry, so could they enable the evolution of new species, and before that the origin of life itself. The appearances are saved, and we needn’t deny that chemical reactions happen, but look at the price! We must invoke miraculous divine (or at least angelic) intervention to explain perfectly ordinary (actually, ubiquitous!) natural phenomena. We have been led to a position not far from occasionalism. ”
        The issue can’t be answered with platitudes about “Nature can’t explain itself” etc etc.

      • Bonald,
        You go straight to the formalism of physics and thus you have a recourse to forms and thus to angels that mediate (before the Big Bang?).
        Bu the point to which the authors you linked were talking about was simply–Are there real substances or not?. Nothing to do with the formalism of physics. If angels are required, here and now, to mediate each chemical reaction as it occurs, then there are no real substances (except for the said angels, I suppose). The physical world is entirely illusory. Animals aren’t real-they are just agglomerations of matter directed this or that way by angels.

  8. Becoming a reactionary is a bit like becoming a radical, insofar as it entails a radical change in consciousness. It’s not just an additional piece of knowledge, but a transformative or catalytic piece of knowledge. Philosophers sometimes speak of “noetic ecology.” Well, reaction is like the introduction of rabbits to Australia (or white people to the New World).

  9. There’s a beautiful bit in George MacDonald’s The Wise Woman, a children’s story in the best didactic tradition:

    By this time her old disposition had begun to rouse again. She had been doing her duty, and had in consequence begun again to think herself Somebody. However strange it may well seem, to do one’s duty will make anyone conceited who only does it sometimes.Those who do it always would as soon think of being conceited of eating their dinner as of doing their duty. What honest boy would pride himself on not picking pockets? A thief who was trying to reform would. To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and a sign of how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.

    This strikes me as applicable to the habit of thought as any other habit, and sad to say we do see a lot of conceit in the broader Dissident Right about membership therein.

  10. This is an extremely good essay, Bonald, and you should be proud of it.
    One thing this points out, though: it seems to me that our work must focus on the Church. She is wounded, these days, by too ready an acceptance of the enemy’s claims. Our task, as the laity, should be to show what it really means to be ‘the other half of the Church Militant’, to condense.
    Which doesn’t mean we don’t have battles to fight in ground that is currently outside the Church. In fact, it means the opposite: fighting to reclaim that ground for the Church, so that she can once again make a real social claim to be more than just an old, rich club for old, rich women and a bureaucracy with nothing to run.

    • Thank you, Rhetocrates, and I agree about our task. It is to re-establish the background beliefs the Church needs to build upon. Someone (anyone remember who?) once said that we need to bring people from materialism/secularism to paganism first so that then they can convert.

  11. Your hubris is well balanced by your dismissiveness and stereotyping of opposing views. Do you feel any duty to warrant your opinions, or do you, like Chesterton, take your own level of conviction as sufficient evidence of truth? The authority of Catholic dogma relies entirely upon the trust of its congregants. But that trust binds dissenters not at all, and the sort of world-building expansiveness—and world-destroying dismissiveness—you indulge in your writing is unlikely to convince the unbiased reader. Without the kind of disinterested rational appraisal that is a modernist axiom of commitment, trust is all your kind of authority can ask for. And trust is as easily revoked as granted, as Catholicism learned in the Reformation.

    • The ‘unbiased reader’? Who is he?
      The ‘disinterested rational’ appraiser?
      Where is he to be found?
      In your dreams…
      Everyone has an agenda.

    • I think perhaps you have mistaken the purpose of this essay. It appears to me not to be an attempt to convince the outsider, but rather to exhort those within the fold to greater efforts. It is, therefore, unlikely to be appealing as a piece of apologetics.
      A small corrective to your point, however:

      The authority of Catholic dogma relies entirely upon the trust of its congregants.

      Not at all. Christianity claims authority not from man, but from God. Authority, being the capability of creating moral obligation, requires no trust whatsoever to function. Trust only enters the picture in figuring out whether one is bound by a particular authority or not – and then only in figuring out to whom one should listen to figure that out.

      … the kind of disinterested rational appraisal that is a modernist axiom of commitment …

      … is nothing but a piece of propaganda.

    • Stephen,

      Actually, I think that an Enlightenment partisan would agree with my main point. To put it positively, the tenets of the Enlightenment–that society exists solely to promote individual rights and happiness, that matter conceived mechanistically is all that exists, etc–are, if true, a great aid in thinking. Of the entire space of imaginable possibilities, modernism occupies a very small part. If, on the other hand, one has reasons to reject modernism, then one has rejected a very small subset of the possibilities for the way the world might be, leaving a much larger region open to explore.

      Combine Catholicism and Distributism with illiberalism, and one has again marked out a block in possibility space, excluding the rest. What may be contentious is my claim that this block is larger than the one marked out by the Enlightenment. Thus, the illiberal, distributist Catholic has more work to do whittling down the possibilities to find his best guess at the truth about how the world is.


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