A hierarchy that is not consecrated and thus ordered in all its parts to the vision of the Good vouchsafed by the common cult is as likely to work good as is a broken clock to display the correct time. A profane institution is finally, and thus fundamentally, and thus thoroughly misdirected away from the proper mundane end of all human acts: the achievement, maintenance, repair and restoration of that proper harmony among and within things under and toward heaven, in virtue of which alone is there any health, prosperity, propagation, contentment, wisdom.
As each level of a subsidiaritan political hierarchy fobs off upon its subsidiaries every duty it possibly can, each level of the hierarchy will interfere with subsidiary systems less and less. The result should be a libertarian’s dream – and quite nice for sovereigns, too (indeed, optimally nice).
Holiness spirals are a problem only insofar as those who in them signal their virtue are not in fact auguring in on true sanctity. Truly holy men are the *opposite* of a problem; rather, they are the whole point and summit of the human endeavor.
But most public protestations of “holiness” are in fact evidence of profanity.
How to tell the difference?
Utilitarianism is a moral theory associated with the Enlightenment that attempts to provide a universal solution for dealing with moral dilemmas. It claims that the correct course of action is that which produces “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” The option with the best consequences, defined in this way, is the correct moral choice.
The Enlightenment was a period where many thinkers imagined that social progress was to be achieved through a heightened use of “reason,” and reason meant science. Emulating and trying to join in the prestige of science, utilitarianism focuses on quantitative analyses; what is objective and measurable, to promote the greatest happiness.
As the optimal strategy for iterated games, Tit for Tat long ago became the norm and basis of human social coordination. It is manifest in our sense of fair play, in our customs and laws, and in all our economic exchanges. Tit for Tat is then a strange attractor for human societies. They all tend toward it, homeostatically. The further you push a society away from Tit for Tat, the harder will it try to get back.
Prevent a people from responding to tats for a long, long time, and eventually they will snap. The frenzy of the explosive rush to restore equilibrium will manifest in a million tits for every tat. Those who had lately done well by tatting will find themselves all tits up.
It will be a bloody ugly rebound.
This brief essay proposes two conjoint and mutually implicate notions: Authority must come down from on high, or it is not authoritative in the first place; and, it must flow downward, from those to whom it has been granted, to their subsidiaries, or it is not effectual, or therefore in the last place actual.
On the walk from my office to the train a week ago last Monday, I reflected on the fact that I had all day been curiously alive to moments from my past. In part this was due to the fact that it was my birthday, and people from every era of my life were reaching out to wish my happiness. But other factors were at work, too. I ran into a blog post that linked to a recording of Allegri’s Miserere Mei – one of the most sublime works ever written – and vividly remembered singing it as a boy, and so enacting Heaven. A story I had told my little granddaughter the day before, about the time when I was only four, and went camping with my Dad, and woke up unable to find my way out of the mummy sleeping bag, so that I tried to stand up and get his help, in the process falling down the steps out of the open forest shelter (and almost into the fire he had started), made me chuckle again. So did the memory of her reaction: “Silly Poppy!” I began to remember lots and lots of things from long and not so long ago – some of them tagged (oops!) for later use in the confessional – and suddenly as I walked the moments all crowded in upon me at once. Not in a chaos or a hurry, but as it were quietly, softly.
It was no stampede. Rather, it was a stately pavane.
Suddenly I staggered, thunderstruck by a completely unexpected notion: what if those moments *really were* immediately present to this one? What if I could feel that moment of suffocated terror in the mummy bag as if it were still happening? Clearly, I could: all that I had to do, in order to make that happen, was simply attend to it carefully enough, and without distraction. It might take a few moments of concentration, but if I wanted to I could, I knew, bring back any moment I wanted with as much clarity and intensity as I wished.
Then – this was the strike of the thunder – I thought: “That’s what dreams are like; and it is the way things really are; for, in Eternity, and to Eternity, everything (whether actual or not) is all at once together.”
Introduction. The action of Flaubert’s Herodias, one of the Trois Contes or Three Tales of 1877, occurs on the birthday of Herod Antipas or Antipater, the Hellenized “Tetrarch” of Judea who is in fact a client-king permitted to rule over his people solely by the political calculation of reigning Roman emperor, Tiberius. Tensions run high in Judea. The influential preacher John the Baptist, whom the Tetrarch currently holds imprisoned in a dungeon, has denounced Herod for his marriage to the divorced wife, Herodias, of the Tetrarch’s exiled brother, Herod Philip I. The marriage amounts, says John, to incest. Apart from the specific charge, the Baptist’s preaching has stirred up religious turmoil in the kingdom, encouraging a general dissidence. The Pharisees, for example, feel displaced in piety and thus in status as strict interpreters of the law by John’s extravagant Puritanism; they already incline to distrust Herod, largely Greek in education and taste, an obvious puppet of Rome, and in these ways only barely a Jew. Flaubert writes, “The Jews were tired of [Herod’s] idolatrous ways.” As readers later learn, Sadducees, Essenes, and Samaritans, and others live grudgingly with one another in Herod’s realm; the reasons for their mutual mistrust seem more or less exaggerated and ritually or tribally driven. Herod’s factional ties in Rome also complicate his life.
In Rome political jockeying takes place ceaselessly among various power brokers who would gain influence over the monarch for their own corrupt benefit. Herod thinks to himself, for example, that, “probably Agrippa [one of his rivals] had ruined his credit with the emperor.” His other brother Philip is meanwhile “secretly arming” behind his borders while Arab warriors in service to an ambitious raider-king have encamped themselves on his southern march. Herod vacillates between the possibilities of making a pact with the Arabs or making one with the Parthians, Rome’s enemy and counterweight in the East. Herod is proverbially between a rock and a hard place – or between the abyss and the Resurrection.
It is *amazing* to me, the lengths to which people will go, to try to circumvent the *utterly obvious,* the *utterly ineluctable.*
Not that I am different.
It’s like, “No, I’m not actually damned on my present course, cause, cause, cause, you see, cause …” Eyes frantically casting about for a way out.
But there is no way out. Under Omnipotence, the very notion is absurd.
Violence and deceit are the only options of the slow and the weak; the last resorts of the strong and the fleet.