With Fear and Trembling, not Pique and Grumbling

“How filthy, how abominable, how mischievous a thing sin is; on the other side, how great is the dignity of man.”  Erasmus Desiderius, Manuel of the Christian Knight (1501)

One hears a good deal about human dignity these days.  Yet, having recently spent a few days on beaches where thongs, paunches and tattoos were very much in evidence, I am finding the notion of human dignity hard to credit.  That humans are vain is, I trust, apparent to the meanest intelligence.  That we are egotistical has been taught by almost all prophets, philosophers and sages.  But when it is said that we are endowed with natural dignity, and more especially when it is said that this natural dignity is ineradicable, my mind is flooded with doubts. Continue reading

The evolving narrative of conservative stupidity (updated)

It’s hard to avoid noticing that egalitarians think they’re better than the rest of us.  After all, there must be some difference between people that makes progressivism convincing to some but not others; that they are smarter and more compassionate they no doubt find an agreeable hypothesis.

To be fair, there is some evidence in its favor.  Some studies have found a definite trend of increasing liberalism with IQ, with the “very liberal” having as much as an 11.6 point advantage over the “very conservative”.   (See here and here for a bit of the literature.)  While this data is of some interest, most of the attention has gone to the proposed explanations, often some variation on the idea that liberalism is cognitively challenging and too difficult for the dim-witted.  Liberalism involves empathizing with strangers, or being comfortable with ambiguity, or challenging received notions–whatever it is, it’s something that smart people do better, or more often, or more easily.

Add to this the longstanding Whig historical narrative that the great men of the past–inventors, writers, artists, scientists, philosophers–have always been “ahead of their time”, i.e. different from their contemporaries in ways that make them more like us.  Of course, it will be granted that one may find in any of them this or that regressive opinion, but this is just the influence of their wicked culture.  They themselves always broke the mold in a progressive direction, and this is what constitutes their greatness.  To sum up, the host culture (if it is a Western culture) gets all of the shame that their great men retained now-disapproved beliefs of their time, but it gets none of their glory.

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Hellebore, Nettles and Jimson Weed

Let me begin by confessing that I have edited academic anthologies, and published several chapters in them, so I am guilty of adding my mite of bombast to those miserable magazines of bombastry.

We have the word anthology from the Greek anthologia, which is literally a bouquet or collection of flowers.  The metaphorical nosegays that we call anthologies of literature appeared in the Renaissance, and were collections of the “flowers” of classical poetry, epigram and myth.  The editors of these anthologies collected texts that were scattered, but also selected texts that were best.  It was their selecting of the best that justified the comparison of their collections to bouquets of flowers.

If the modern academic anthology has a botanical analog, it is not a fragrant bouquet, but rather a ragged bundle of hellebore, nettles and jimson weed.  The editor of an academic anthology does not collect the best.  He scrapes together whatever he can find, packages these sweepings under a specious title, and then sells the collected gibberish to saps.  These saps are in most cases graduate students and university libraries. Continue reading

Redacting Texas

The Equity Office in the city government of our state capital has recommended that a number of that city’s place names be changed, foremost among these being the name of the city itself. The namesake of Austin, as many people know, is Stephen F. Austin, founder of the largest Anglo colony in the old Mexican province of Tejas.  The Austin Colony was centered on the alluvial bottoms of the lower Brazos River, and was in most respects a small duplicate of the great Mississippi Delta back east.  That means that the Austin Colony raised sugar and cotton with slaves.  Oh yes, it also handed Santa Anna his hat on the banks of the San Jacinto River. Continue reading

“That Foul Great Swallow”

Have you ever stepped up to the edge of a cliff, and then stepped back suddenly, shaken and appalled that the drop-off was much worse than you expected?  This experience is not at all uncommon, and it serves as the basis of our metaphysical expression “stare into the void,” or, as some say, “the abyss.”  What men see when they stare into the metaphysical void is not entirely clear, but there can be no doubt that they see something, and also that it is a very curious sort of void in which something may be seen. Continue reading

Blood and Soil Nationalism in Sidney Lanier’s “Corn”

Many people find it hard to grasp the notion of a nation because they try to grasp the notion too tightly.  It is, we might say, like a wet bar of soap that flies out of the hand when it is squeezed.

I suspect they do this because their minds are modern, and therefore trammeled by the Cartesian prejudice that a “clear and distinct idea” must stand at the head of every rational thought.  But when nation is apprehended as a clear and distinct idea, it is always reduced to one aspect of the real thing, which is complex, indistinct and obscure.  In a recent post, for instance, I wrote about the way that men like Paul Ryan reduce American nationality to a doctrine, and about their fierce hostility to men who (they allege) reduce that nationality to blood and soil. Continue reading

The Shabbiest Gospel

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan was recently interviewed by the journalist Jonah Goldberg, and the congressman’s remarks disclosed a curious map of the political landscape. Not an accurate map, mind you, or even an honest map, but an inaccurate and dishonest map of the sort that too many Americans still consult as they stumble, thirsty and fly-bitten, through our political wilderness. Continue reading

Social Justice: an analysis – part 1 of 4

poster,210x230,f8f8f8-pad,210x230,f8f8f8.lite-1u1Part 1 of Social Justice: an analysis has been published at Gates of Vienna. This essay began as an attempt to summarize the key arguments of Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice. This is what I had done for Thomas Sowell in “Intellectuals and Race.” As writing proceeded, however, the discussion broadened to take in topics not explicitly covered by Sowell – so while The Quest for Cosmic Justice is the inspiration for the final result and many of the points are Sowell’s, it no longer seemed appropriate to give the article the same kind of title as my piece on Intellectuals and Race.

Since social justice is driven by resentment towards the successful resulting in their scapegoating, this is very much the territory analyzed so successfully by René Girard, hence his thinking is especially relevant.

Name any human characteristic and barring two individuals, someone will be better than you and someone worse than you. To reject this is to reject Being and existence. It is nihilistic.

The article begins by distinguishing between justified resentment at unprovoked attacks and actual unfairness versus unwarranted and essentially puerile resentment. It is important to recognize that all human beings are prone to resentment at those perceived to be superior and more successful. To exist is to have limits and those limits tend to produce frustration and resentment, a point made by Jordan Peterson. One student asked last semester whether it was possible to resent God. Yes, indeed! Even Sophia, in Gnostic theology, second only to The One, is said to be driven by resentment. What hope for the rest of us? Continue reading