Retreat or Rout?

“‘Passive evangelism’ goes both ways, and you don’t look winsome to the abyss without it looking winsome back to you, or, more importantly, to your kids.”

The epigraph comes from a review of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option (2017) by the intermittent but invariably impressive blogger known as Handel. I strongly encourage you to read the whole review here, but advise you to first brew a very large coffee, since it is very long. For those who are too harried or impatient for that, it may be enough to know that Handel says to Dreher what Aragorn said to Frodo after the calamity at the Prancing Pony. Continue reading

On Stuffed Shirts and Pushy Squirts

Personal circumstances have given me occasion to think about the resentment that naturally festers between young men who are trying to get ahead and old men who are trying to hold on. To a young man, an elderly colleague appears as a creaky and long-winded valetudinarian, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of napping when his office door is closed.  To an old man, a youthful colleague appears as a brash and bumptious braggart, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of sexual improprieties when his office door is closed. Continue reading

Identity — The Future of a Paradox

Identity 16 Masked Antifas

Those Highly Individuated Champions of the Oppressed Bravely Hiding their Faces

When Publius Virgilius Maro, more familiarly Virgil, accepted the commission from Augustus, formerly Gaius Octavius, to create a national identity for the Roman people by matching the epic precocity of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in Latin verse, the imperial presumption can only have been that such an identity did not yet exist or, at least, did not adequately exist, but required to be conjured into a useful state of being.  Virgil’s famous ambiguity about his manuscript of the Aeneid – his having composed a note during his fatal illness asking his friends to burn its pages on his death – has been ascribed by one faction of scholarship to his worry about metrical imperfections in some verses of the poem’s second half.  As only a few such technical flaws make themselves evident, however, some other explanation must be sought.  The German novelist Hermann Broch, in his Death of Virgil (1945), suggests a crisis of conscience, reflecting the poet’s qualm that in synthesizing a myth of Latin and Roman origins so as to settle legitimacy on the adoptive heir of Julius Caesar, and thus also on the newly constituted monarchy into which the Republic had been absorbed, he had falsified tradition and served propaganda, whereas his highest calling was to honor the muse by cultivating her art.  The crisis of identity appears as a theme in the Aeneid, the first six books of which narrate the exile and homelessness of the refugees from Troy, whose buildings the besieging Greeks have toppled and burned, whose men they have slaughtered, and whose women and children they have impressed into slavery.  Troy is no more and no more is the Trojan people.  There is only a desperate remnant in the urgency of its flight. Continue reading

Muh Merit and the Nepotists

“It is at once humane and just to give preference to one’s friends.” (1)

The notion of merit is very dear to the right liberal.  Whenever he hears of favoritism, the right liberal begins to shift uneasily in his chair and may attempt to ease his discomfort by issuing a warm discourse on the utility and morality of merit.  He has a bad case of what men hipper than I might call, “Muh merit.” Continue reading

Utilitarianism: a new kind of evil


[I have so revised Utilitarianism: yet another sacrificial cult, including insights from my article The Trolley Problem Explained, and from thoughts arising from teaching this topic, that I am publishing this new version with a new title.]

Utilitarianism represents a nadir in philosophical moral reasoning, more corrupting and evil even than the spontaneous tendency to scapegoat.

Before Plato, the Ancient Greek attitude to morality was “help your friends, harm your enemies.” Modern people can see that such a point of view is grotesquely immoral. It is a description of corruption. Plato’s suggestion was “harm no one.” This is obviously a vast improvement.

The Bible states that “you should love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus took this even further and said “love your enemy.” Continue reading

The Tears of Terpsichore

I do not delight in dance. Forced to dance, I am clumsy; forced to watch dance, I am bored; so although David danced before the ark and Socrates would have danced naked before Menexenus, I leave the terpsichorean rites alone. But if one who leaves these rites alone may venture an opinion, I believe dancing should remain a rite. My employer disagrees. I just this morning saw that students at this university can earn a Bachelor of Science degree in “Dance Science.” Continue reading

There must be Chains and the Lash for the Scowling Id

“ ’Tis a very foolish piece of business; good for nothing but to promote idleness and the getting of bastards.”  (Isaac Bickerstaff, Love in a Village: A Comic Opera (1767).)

Utopias fail for two reasons.  Actually, they fail for the one reason of utopianism, but at the head of the utopian agenda, there are always these two fatal items:

Less work
More sex Continue reading

The New Priestcraft

“Let the people shake off the shackles with which they are bound by the existing priestcraft . . . and they would soon find teachers enough.” (Editor’s Preface, The Theological Works of Thomas Paine (1830)).

Indeed, wherever Christianity has been abandoned, new teachers have been found, and with these new teachers has come a new and more sinister priestcraft.  From the time of Lucretius, the doctrine of priestcraft has stated that religion is mere hocus pocus, a stupendous fabric of lies and thaumaturgy whereby conniving priests have frightened the peasants and ended each day with a good meal, a soft bed, and a grateful smile from their king.  Thomas Jefferson was a disciple of this doctrine, which he neatly epitomized in this line: Continue reading

Dr. Ford’s Poetry

The American Civil Liberties Union has announced that it will deviate from its policy of political neutrality and oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, “in light of the credible allegations of sexual assault against him.” I believe comprehensible is the word they wanted. And Dr. Ford’s allegations are comprehensible because they do not ask us to believe something we cannot under any circumstances believe, such as that a middle-aged Judge Kavanaugh traveled back in time to assault young Miss Ford, or that young Kavanaugh assaulted her in Maryland while he was at the same time playing the cello to a packed house at Carnegie Hall. Continue reading