An Acerbic Opinion

TFB comme Frenchman

Moi comme un Gentilhomme de la Belle Nation

The other day in my Introduction to Literary Criticism course, I contested a student’s objection to my thesis that, whereas there might be many plausible interpretations of John Keats’ poem “Ode on a Grecian urn,” it would nevertheless not be the case that every interpretation of “Ode on a Grecian urn” was equally plausible or even plausible at all.  Furthermore, I reasoned, the range of interpretations might be graded according to their plausibility, from least to most, in a hierarchy.  The student’s agitated insistence was that, “everybody has his own opinion.”* (As if no one had ever heard that before.)  I immediately responded that “opinion” was an irrelevant category; and that, in any case, where it concerns any particular topic, the number of opinions is strictly limited.  In respect of Topic X, there are probably only two opinions, or at most three.  The claim that “everybody has his own opinion” is therefore absurd.  To put it in plausible English, one would have to say that, “In respect of X, everyone has one opinion or another, of a limited set.”  One of the definitions of “opinion” is that an opinion is a freely circulating, conformist view about a topic, entirely unoriginal and non-proprietary.  People never have opinions; they borrow or endorse them, at which point the opinions have them.

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The Wages of Moral Nominalism is Rage

It’s amazing how quickly liberals – and especially Social Justice Warriors – descend into rage, into foaming at the mouth, screaming, insults, violence – whenever they suffer the least jot of cognitive dissonance at the hands of a based Reactionary interlocutor. How come?

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Hate and Hateful Hatreds

I have been preoccupied with soi-disant enemies of Hate, those men and women who are on fire to abolish what cooler heads must recognize as a highly ambiguous sentiment. Hate is an ambiguous sentiment because it is always joined to love, like follow and lead in a partner dance. Thus a world without hate would be a loveless world, an apotheosis of apathy, a United States of Whatever. Continue reading

Refuse the Insult

A commenter on my “Shambolic Circus” post directed me to a CNN report on Spencer’s Texas A&M speech, and specifically to what it said about the temporary disorder occasioned by the protest of Quentin Boothman.  Here is the relevant excerpt: Continue reading

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011) & the Crisis of Subscendence

Damsels in Distress CD COVER

Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011).  In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film.  Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education.  In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.

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Two Christianities (and Islam)

Constantine the Great

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.

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More on Subscendence

Monkeys-typing-Shakespeare

It is a well-known implication of Darwinian evolutionary theory that one thousand monkeys, furnished with as many word-processing devices, and ensconced both gratis and in perpetuum in a mid-priced traveler’s hotel such as the Marriott Suites, would, by their inveterate although quite random keyboard activity, eventually produce either –

1. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; or –

2. The generic mission-statement of any graduate-level “studies” program at any state-supported consolation-university in North America.

I place my bet on Atlas Shrugged, but in my circle of intimate friends, to whose wisdom I defer, the majority of opinion favors the generic mission-statement.  A consolation-university, by the way, is any state-supported, doctorate-granting institution of higher education that is not, for example, Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  Let us say that Michigan State and UC Irvine are paradigms of the consolation-university.  (Not that I hold any brief for Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  My consolation-university was UCLA.)

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The Non-religious Objection to Homosexuality Cannot be Sustained

At his blog, [Correction: A commenter says she’s a woman] in a post having nothing to do with the present topic, EvolutionistX writes

Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

She’s not the only one to make such an observation. Radio talk show host Michael Medved has said much the same thing, that we should avoid religious arguments against homosexuality in the political arena.

Problem is, if God doesn’t oppose homosexuality then there’s ultimately nothing wrong with it. Continue reading

The Temptation to Improper Reduction

One of the things I have noticed over the short course of my career as a blogger, and before that as a commenter on blogs, is that I often find myself responding to interlocutors with statements of the following general form:

To say that x is y is just not the same thing as saying that x is *nothing but* y.

I sooner or later say something like this in almost every comment thread. Almost every time I say, “x is y,” it generates an irate response from someone or other, sooner or later, to the effect that “x is not entirely y,” or even, “x is not entirely z.” This, despite the fact that I had not said, or implied, anything of the sort to which such responses might be apposite.

It’s a curious thing. I have begun to think that there is a universal temptation to improper reduction – to thinking that x really is nothing but y, so that y totally explains x. Once you have latched on to such a y, you hold onto it for dear life, because it seems to give you so much intellectual leverage. When that happens, you have become an ideologue, and your y has become your obsession – your precious.

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Plotinus and Augustine on Gnosticism

Gnosis 02The trend of politics in the Western nations since Eric Voegelin’s death in 1986 has made his work increasingly relevant to any philosophically rigorous Conservatism or Traditionalism. In particular, Voegelin’s argument that liberalism and its Leftwing metastases constitute an evangelical religious movement, mimicking and distorting Christianity, has gained currency. The pronounced irrational character of the “Global Warming” cult and the obvious messianism of Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency have together sharpened the perception that contemporary Leftwing politics shares with history’s specimen-type doctrinally intransigent sects an absolute intolerance for dissent, even for discussion, along with a conviction of perfect certainty in all things. The sudden experience of Leftwing triumph attests that, indeed, utopian radicalism draws its strength from a deep well of resentment that puts it in conflict, not merely with those whom it regards as heterodox, but also with the unalterable structure of reality. Voegelin argued – in The New Science of Politics (1952), Science Politics & Gnosticism (1965), and throughout Order and History (1957-65) – that the rebellion against reality was a recurrent affliction of civilized life; he pointed to the acute anticosmic sects of Late Antiquity as offering a paradigm of the phenomenon and expanded the scholarly designation of them as “Gnosticism” to cover insurgent ideological doctrines of the modern period, particularly Marxism and National Socialism.

Thus Lawrence Auster, the late creator and supervisor of the (now inactive) View from the Right website, explicitly links his understanding of the Left and his idea of Traditionalism to Voegelin’s argument that modernity is essentially Gnostic. A somewhat less focused acknowledgment that the Left is cultic in its behavior has surfaced now and then at The American Thinker and the name Voegelin has occurred in that venue. Again, nationally syndicated “conservative” columnist and radio-host Dennis Prager, while not citing Voegelin, has nevertheless in a recent essay declared explicitly that Left-Liberalism is a religion and can be understand in no other way. In my own contributions to The Brussels Journal and in various print articles (for example, in a Modern Age essay on V. S. Naipaul) I have frequently invoked Voegelin, often quoting his pithy sentences, as a rich and clairvoyant explicator of our straitened times. Are we certain, however, that Voegelin’s disapprobation of Gnosticism is valid? And might Voegelin’s insistent parallelisms of the ancient and the modern be a result of an idiosyncratic view?

The topical literature is fortunately large. It reaches back to the Late Antique primary texts of Gnosticism – such as the Valentinian Gospel of Truth (ca. 150) – and the accompanying critical and anti-heretical discourses of the philosophers and the Christian Patres; and it embraces a rich scholarly investigation beginning in the early Nineteenth Century, continuing to the present. What do the ancient sources tell us about Gnosticism? And what does the scholarship of Voegelin’s Nineteenth-Century precursors, his contemporaries, and his successors tell us about it? Continue reading