The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.
I offer, as best I can, a translation of a section from Dominique Venner’s masterwork Histoire et tradition des Européens: 30,000 ans d’identité [The History and Tradition of the Europeans: 30,000 Years of Identity,] published in French in 2002 by Éditions du Rocher. The excerpt originates in Chapter 10, “Nihilisme et Saccage de la Nature” [“Nihilism and the Exploitation of Nature”]. Venner wrote in a style that runs to the ironic and telegraphic: Phrases in brackets represent my attempt to overcome the occasional obscurity that his tendencies of irony and compression, or self-allusion, entail. Flora Montcorbier, whom Venner cites in the excerpt, is a writer of the French New Right. I give the French original of the text first, followed by my attempt at an idiomatic English rendering.
A hard-working, well-liked, and professionally productive Associate Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Upstate Consolation University has hired a law firm to help him in his fight to have his recent summary termination of employment overturned and is promising to take his complaint to civil court. Brainerd Feta-Stilton’s firing came astonishingly enough just after he had generated major publicity for his institution by discovering a new Trans-Neptunian object. Even more surprisingly, Feta-Stilton had tentatively named the object Ugna, in honor of Dr. Edwima Ugna, the very same university official who subsequently terminated him. Ugna, who has served as Upstate Consolation University’s Provost since 2006, had in the past praised Feta-Stilton for his scientific achievements, which have brought many grants and endowments to the institution, as well as much positive exposure.
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.
I am pleased to report that an essay of mine, René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order, has appeared (Part I of two parts) at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. I hope that it might be of interest to Orthosphereans. The essay discusses the disastrous cultural and civilizational consequences of the ancient empires, especially those empires whose ambitions intersected in the Central Asian region known in Antiquity as Bactria. Both Guénon and Voegelin were fascinated by the seemingly perpetual flux and reflux of imperial ambitions in that region, where global powers remain locked in contention to the present day. The essay explores Guénon’s discussion in Spiritual Authority & Temporal Power of the “Revolt of the Kshatriyas,” a social upheaval that weakened the Indian states in the Fifth Century BC and made them vulnerable to Persian and Macedonian intervention; it also explores Voegelin’s discussion in The Ecumenic Age of “concupiscential exodus,” exemplified by Alexander’s Asian campaigns, as a destroyer of the civilized order. I argue in Part II, which will appear in the same venue next week, that the commentaries of Guénon and Voegelin on this topic are eminently applicable to the modern condition.
Eric L. Gans has written about the Left’s total submission to its own unacknowledged resentment in his latest Chronicle of Love and Resentment (No. 514) at the Anthropoetics website. Here are the first three paragraphs of “The Triumph of Resentment”:
Some decades ago when I was still naïve enough to think I could win a competitive grant I proposed a study of resentment, beginning with Achilles’ “rage” and running through Hamlet down to Nietzsche’s “discovery” of le ressentiment. When I received the comments of those who had turned down my application, I was struck by their tone of irritation. In effect, they were saying “we resent your interest in resentment,” which proved both the validity of my project and its impossibility of attracting either funding or readership. This is pretty much how the subject is viewed today.
The reader of the new New Republic or similar publications—and sometimes even conservative ones—is struck on the one hand by the extraordinary level of gender, racial, and miscellaneous resentment in almost every article, and on the other by the exclusive insistence on the resentment of Trump’s alt-right supporters, and that, slightly less virulent, of Republicans in general. The “hate the haters” line is applied without the least admission of the symmetrical and, recalling the origin of the left-right dichotomy in the French Revolution, originary political resentment—on the Left. Refusal to assume its own resentment has always been a defining feature of the Left, the source of its moral strength in denouncing inequities, but also of its arrogance and its crimes, and never before has it attained this degree of power in a functioning democracy.
The nineteenth century maintained considerable social stability despite its frequent political turmoil because the power base of society remained in traditional hands, meaning both that radical governments were of limited duration and that radical movements had a prima facie claim of speaking for the “oppressed.” The twentieth century was quite different. It’s no secret that Stalin and then Mao killed many more people than Hitler, that Pol Pot massacred a larger portion of his population than any of them, yet Mao still appears on Chinese currency, Fidel Castro and his henchman Che remain heroic figures to many (and our president does not fear association with their images), and even Stalin seems to be making a comeback under Putin, who sees the demise of the USSR as “the greatest tragedy” of the previous century. And we had a “socialist” running almost neck and neck for the presidential nomination with the former representative of the New Democrat faction of the Democratic Party.
The rest, which I strongly recommend, is accessible here. Gans wrote the item before the “Brexit” returns were in, but his discussion, which involves Donald Trump, is relevant to the “Brexit” phenomenon, which is, itself, relevant to San Bernardino and Orlando.
When you carry an improper reduction into practice, you end up destroying valuable things – you make your theory a weapon. This can end in only two ways: you drop your weapon, or you use it to hack at yourself.
Take, for example, libertarianism.
Politics – the abstract discourse upon how best to order the City – can proceed only within the City itself, and among its citizens: men who have taken personal responsibility for its welfare and defense, pledging their lives thereto, and thus in extremis to each other. It can proceed then only when there is a City in the first place: when the City itself is coherent; when, in other words, essentially all the citizens have the same basic ideas about what is fair and right, so that the matter of political discourse is concerned with how best to achieve it. Its foreconditions are widespread adherence to a common cult – i.e., to a common understanding of what is good and proper and just – and a common native tongue, the moral terms of which, as shared from the cradle, are therefore transparently clear to everyone, so that conversation can proceed.
In case my tendency to allude to the classroom might strike anyone as tedious or repetitive, I offer an apology in advance and invite the uninterested to skip the following. The classroom is nevertheless a consistently renewed sample of the contemporary cohorts as they advance up the ladder of what remains of actual social initiation hoping to join the ranks of the accredited when testing the job market for the first time as prospective adults. In my classroom, a mid-tier state-college classroom, I therefore have the opportunity (and I take it) to observe the diminishing returns of the near-criminal enterprise of North America’s public primary and secondary instruction, especially where it concerns the inculcation of literacy of both the strict and cultural varieties.
In the just-completed semester, my department chair had asked me, as she regularly does, to supervise the graduate-level “Business in Literature” course that English teaches at the behest of and as a favor to the School of Business’s five-year accountancy program. I like teaching this course because over the years the five-year accountancy students have demonstrated themselves to be cooperative and disciplined in degree sufficient to distinguish them from the general run of students. In any given semester, I ask the students to read a short anthropological study – The Gift (1925) by Marcel Mauss – and three or four novels that take as their setting a recognizably “business” milieu. This semester’s syllabus obliged the enrollment to read the two “Vinland” sagas, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells, Tono-Bungay (1909) by H. G. Wells, and The Paradise of Women (1883) by Emile Zola, the last the basis of two recent television serials and a forgotten French sound-film from 1932. As a means of putting moral pressure on students to complete the reading, I require them to turn in reading-notes, documenting in detail their progress through the chapters, on a regular basis. I am fairly certain that most of the accountancy enrollment in the just-completed semester did ninety percent of the reading. (By contrast, in most of my classes, I would estimate that only sixty per cent of students do as much as sixty per cent of the reading.)
Modernist architecture’s rejection of ornament is understandable. The Modernists had no idea what any of it meant. So it seemed stupid to them. So they excised it.
Ditto for all traditional forms. These were all meaningless to the Modernists. So they rejected them, root and branch. In this, they were aided by developments in the economics and technology of building. But the impoverishment of modern architecture was spiritual before it was material.
*Everything* is spiritual before it is material.
In traditional architecture, ornaments all signify. They all have meanings, and those meanings all terminate ultimately (albeit generally by way of a chain of connotations and denotations) upon the Ultimate and our proper relation to him.