It is silly to suggest that morality cannot be legislated. Legislation *just is* the legislation of morality. Laws are formal promulgations of the convictions of the mighty regarding what is ill done, and by implication what is well enough done. Laws tell us what it is important to do, and what it is important not to do; by what they omit to cover, they tell us what is not important, what is in the eye of the Law neither here nor there. Statute by statute, they constitute a written and procedural record of a comprehensive moral vision of things.
Given the productive discussion that has ensued from my quotations from Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Theodosius’ Codex here at The Orthosphere, I thought that it would not be inappropriate to call attention to an article of mine that appears in the latest number of Anthropoetics, the online journal of Generative Anthropology and related sciences. The article bears the title, Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint-Antoine : Three Approaches. Educated people know Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) mainly as the author of Madame Bovary (1857) and A Sentimental Education (1869), classics of the Nineteenth Century social novel – and simply of the novel. Like the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), Flaubert stands in a line of dissentient artists and intellectuals who, in France, stem from the counter-revolutionary thinking of Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821). That fact by itself should attract the interest of Traditionalists; but more than that, Flaubert maintained a lifelong fascination for the history of religion, most particularly that of Christianity. Indeed, the work that occupied Flaubert longer than any other and which he considered to be his masterpiece, is La tentation de Saint-Antoine (final version 1870). La tentation is difficult work to describe. It is in some fashion a novel, but it is otherwise a drama of the imagination in the form of an internal monologue by the famous instigator of desert monachism (the Thebaïd) whose life spanned the last half of the Third and the first half of the Fourth Centuries.
Flaubert wrote a number of other works with a religious content, notably his Trois Contes or Three Tales (1877), one of which is about Herod, John the Baptist, and Salome, another about St. Julian the Hospitaler, and the third about a naive but pious woman who lives out her life in the confines of small village. Flaubert’s Salammbô (1862), set in Carthage just after the First Punic War, treats the notorious Moloch Cult in detail.
The article not only offers an interpretation of La tentation from three perspectives – Voegelinian, Girardian, and Gansian – but it also traces the unexpected influence of the masterpiece on later writers. John Dos Passos’ first important novel, Three Soldiers (1921), an autobiographical fictionalization of its author’s wartime experiences, frequently alludes to and may be said to absorb La tentation.
From The Edict of Milan (February 313 AD): “Perceiving long ago that religious liberty ought not to be denied, but that it ought to be granted to the judgment and desire of each individual to perform his religious duties according to his own choice, we had given orders that every man, Christians as well as others, should preserve the faith of his own sect and religion.
In a comment here at the Orthosphere, Wm. Lewis quotes Lawrence Auster to great effect in responding to the claim made by some that Protestantism is the mother of Liberalism:
Some commenters have observed, correctly, that formerly Protestant countries are in the vanguard of liberalism and its destruction of the West. This is due not to some defect within Protestantism; formerly Roman Catholic countries are also being destroyed by liberalism. We also see leaders within the Roman Catholic Church advancing liberal destruction (e.g., American bishops advocating open borders), so vulnerability to liberalism is unique neither to Protestantism nor to Roman Catholicism.
One worry about formalist schemes such as have interested me is that their necessarily bureaucratic and legalistic formality would flatten political life, eliminating its sacred aspect – which is to say, the fully human aspect, in virtue of which our common life takes its transcendent meaning, and thus earns our allegiance. How is it possible, an orthospherean ought to ask, that any merely formal, bureaucratic scheme ignorant of the sacred character of the Logos, and so of any order deriving from him, including its own, should ever be any real good? Can a society that is not somehow intended to a superordinate consecration – intended, i.e., to be truly and really Good – fail to be essentially wicked? Doesn’t formalism reduce politics to mere business? What man would pledge fealty – would pledge his life in battle – to a business tycoon?
Where God is not reckoned, no lesser authority whatsoever can seem quite legitimate. It’s not just that lesser authorities derive their authority from the supreme authority of God (although they do), but that if there be no supreme authority then there can be no perspective upon things that is indubitably, certainly more competent to reckon truth than any other. And this means that the competitive advantage of competence to truth must be distributed among men more or less adventitiously, rendering any such authority as is anywhere to be found merely capricious, nowise founded upon objective intelligible reasons – which is to say, unjust.
American conservatives are wont to say that the word “liberal” at one time denoted a person who believed in free markets and limited government, and that the word has only recently been twisted to mean a person who believes in free love and big government. This is false, so far as the United States is concerned, and results from conflation of the history of Europe and the United States. Continue reading
I agree with the epigraph that stands at the head of the Orthosphere webpage. “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” If the wise Savoyard had ventured the converse formulation, I would agree with that also. For there can be no civilization where an altar is absent. The reason for this is plain enough. Civilization is man’s attempt to rise from brutality; an altar is a barred gate through which we see how very far we have to go. Remove the altar and there is no prospect of higher ground; remove the prospect of higher ground and we will shrug, turn away, and trudge back to the mire from whence we came.
The same might be said of prayer, as it both confirms and reveals the higher ground. Prayer is rather like a rope with which a benighted wanderer hopes to raise himself from a sucking morass. He casts his coil into the gloom, perchance it catches or is caught, and with this anchored line he heaves and hauls and slowly makes his upward way. This is why civilization cannot survive without prayer. If the rope does not catch, if the rope is not cast, there is nothing to climb. There is nothing but the sucking morass.
A public discourse that recuses from any reference to a supreme and ultimate and ultimately binding moral order – that is, i.e., morally relativistic – forecloses any possibility of investing any public act with true and perfectly general meaning. When there is nothing that must in virtue of its factual meaning under the highest heaven certainly mean therefore at least one same thing to everyone beneath the orbit of the moon, nothing can mean the same thing to anyone except by happenstance, or by the constraints ever imposed upon all creatures by the logos of corporeal becoming (as, e.g., when the flood approaches and everyone feels it truly and existentially important and valuable to flee, regardless of their politics or sexual identification).
To put it bluntly: if you can’t talk of God and his will for us in a language that everyone understands and accepts (even if only pro forma), then nothing you say can be quite definite, in the final analysis, or therefore definitive, or then authoritative, or suasive. Every utterance then will be tentative, merely pro forma and nothing more; ergo, not really binding, or even interesting, but only conventionally. At most, you’ll muster only indignant insistence about this or that outrage, full of sound and fury but, as signifying really nothing, empty of any real conviction.
Despite their many differences, Traditional Christians of diverse sects seem doomed to each other as shield mates for the foreseeable future, willy nilly. But someday their common dire enemies – modernism and Mohammedanism – will have been vanquished, if only in virtue of their enmity to Truth and disagreement with reality. The spectrum of doctrines found on the orthogonal Right will then constitute the full diapason of political discourse. Assuming they have not by then been forced by exigencies of war into a single catholic confession of brothers in arms – a not unlikely eventuality, in my opinion – will the Christian sects be able to live thenceforth together in peace?