“Thou shall abandon everything beloved
Most tenderly, and this the arrow is
Which first the bow of banishment shoots forth”
Dante Paradiso XVI
“It is a miserable thing to go from house to house; for where thou art a stranger, thou darest not open thy mouth.”
It has often been remarked that a man will become a right-winger by simply standing still. If he lives long enough, a man of fixed principles will find that moral immobility has changed him into a reactionary and a reprobate. His former friends will shake their heads and say that he has sadly changed. In the absence of a deathbed conversion, his descendants will dance, and then quite possibly urinate, on his execrated grave.
Orthodoxy likewise carries a man out of the Church into heresy, just as patriotism carries him out of his country into treason. It is in the very nature of modernity that the loyal must be at last banished, the faithful at last excommunicated, the true at last chastened and penalized.
Dante was himself condemned to the older form of exile, but the modern man of fixed principles knows the arrows that Dante says are shot from the bow of banishment. The first arrow is the pain of saying goodbye to a beloved and familiar world. The arrows that follow are the discomforts of living as half a man in a strange country where he is not wanted and does not belong. As Dante put it,
“Thou shall have proof . . . how hard a road the going down and up another’s stairs.”
Dante is referring, I believe, to going down to meals and up to bed with the timid tread of an unwelcome guest. Anyone who has walked the hard road of a houseguest knows what this is like. Few things fade more quickly than a householder’s welcome, and the hard road of a houseguest is especially hard for the houseguest who has nowhere else to go.
As the son of Sirach says in Ecclesiasticus, it is hard to be a vagrant living on charity, because, in addition to tiptoeing up and down other men’s stairs, a man with no home darest not open his mouth. A man feels free to open his mouth in his own house, because he is in that house by right, and if he feels the urge to cavil at the meals to which he comes down, or at the bed to which he goes up, that is his right as well.
A man feels a similar freedom to open his mouth in his own country, because he feels he has a similar right to be there. His right to be there carries the right to open his mouth and object, reprove, admonish and complain. I know I have felt this freedom fill me like a divine afflatus when I stepped off the airplane after some weeks of tiptoeing reticence in a foreign land. The felt freedom to have and express opinions is a large part of what it means to be at home, whether in one’s own domicile, or in one’s homeland. The felt need hold one’s tongue is a large part of what it means to be a guest.
And this felt need to hold one’s tongue is one of the arrows that shoots from the Dante’s bow of banishment.
This is one reason Hilaire Belloc said,
“I have said we live as part of a nation, and that there is no fate as wretched as to be without a country of one’s own—what else was exile which so many noble men have thought worse than death, and which all have feared.”*
Belloc made this remark after speaking with a Frenchman who had gone into voluntary exile to escape punishment for some crime. The man was an anarchist, and we may suppose that his crime was a terrible crime of anarchy. But Belloc parted from the man with a feeling a pity, because he could see “that hankering for France all those years had soured his temper.” Whatever his crime, the man was maimed by the arrows that flew from the bow of banishment. He had said goodbye to everything he loved, and had thereafter trod the hard road of an unwelcome guest in a land where he was not welcome and did not belong.
Most readers of the Orthosphere are going into exile by standing still. Because they have tried to adhere to fixed moral principles, they will be reviled as reactionaries and reprobates. Because they have tried to remain orthodox, they will be anathematized as heretics. Because they have tried to be patriots, they will be banished as traitors and denounced as renegades. Thus they will be pierced by every arrow the bow of banishment can shoot, and when that happens, they will suffer in the silence of beggars who darest not open their mouths.
*) Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (1902)