In Crisis Magazine, Anthony Esolen has responded to James Martin, S.J. of America Magazine and to his pontifical attempts to ferry Sodom across the Tiber. I recommend his jeremiad, “Open Your Eyes, Father Martin.” Esolen is always worth reading, and this rebuke serves as a suitable brevem coram Deo against the Sexual Revolution.
I hope that you are enjoying a lovely October.
Public affairs in our degenerate society are cause for dismay, but I read a stirring account today of what the men of the West can be in “The Siege of Sziget, 1566” on Nobility.org. I was previously ignorant of this battle. In 1566, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (whose lovely Süleymaniye mosque I visited in Constantinople) set off to settle political matters in Hungary, during which campaign the Croatian noble Nikola Šubić Zrinski caused him some annoyance. To deal with Zrinski and to open a path to Vienna, Suleiman directed his massive 100,000+ man army to take the towns and fortress of Szigetvár, defended by Zrinski and only a few thousand Hungarian and Croatian men. Zrinski’s forces defended the fortress for over a month. On the night before the final assault, the sultan died (of natural causes) and never saw the castle taken. The following day—the last day of the seige—when the Ottomans were about to break through, Zrinski opened the gates, mortared the Turkish forces, and charged. Zrinski died during this counterstrike, and the Turks overtook the castle. However, Zrinski had prepared the castle as a trap, having instructed his men to blow up the place by lighting the gunpowder stores once the Turks had invaded. And so it happened.
Read the linked account or look up other articles about the siege. The story is so wonderfully heroic that I doubted its veracity, but it appears to be true. The episode had to have served as an inspiration for the defense of Helm’s Deep—either for Tolkien in the original or for Jackson’s interpreting the story on film. Superb. Ban Zrinski, may his memory be eternal.
By the way, the Süleymaniye mosque was completed the following year, and the great sultan never beheld it in its full splendor. Of course, I cheer for the Christian defenders of Europe, and I would gladly see the old imperial capital returned to Christendom, with majestic liturgies served in the Church of Holy Wisdom and an Orthodox emperor on the throne, but I still acknowledge the merits of the Ottoman Empire. We expect the Persians to maintain an impressive civilization, even under the Mohammedan yoke, because that is what they have always done. The Turks, however, went from being martial nomads to creating one of history’s high culture civilizations. Yes, yes, they conquered more culturally advanced folks and adopted their ways—but they did adopt their ways. The Ottomans employed Greek Christians in Anatolia, whereas more savage tribes would have slit their throats. Quite in contrast to the idiocy that we sometimes hear today, cultural appropriation is commendable when men improve themselves by learning the knowledge of others. Anyway, kudos all around in this story—awe inspiring bravery by Zrinski and his men and the impressive ambition and alexandrine vision of Suleiman.
I recommend Bonald’s article on the Roman Catholic prolife scene: “I’m not pro-life; I’m anti-abortion.” It is characteristically sensible. Bonald raises a great point for those Seamless Garment types:
. . . No one complains that environmentalist organizations don’t devote any of their attention to making health care affordable, or that the National Rifle Association has no plan to end homelessness, or that the Anti-defamation League isn’t doing anything to fight pornography. There are a lot of ills in the world. Doesn’t it make sense that we allow a division of labor, with multiple organizations to tackle different issues, each one drawing the support of those who–for whatever reason–feel particularly passionate about a particular issue? If someone decides to spend his life introducing lower-class kids to Shakespeare, or something like that, would we reproach him for not also having a scheme for world peace? Why, then, are we so hostile to someone wanting to devote his attention to what he believes is mass murder? In any case, it’s not true that anti-abortion activists qua individuals have no interest in other issues. The question is whether anti-abortion organizations qua organizations should have such interests. I say the answer is no.
Demanding pro-life organizations take on a raft of other issues would surely compromise their main purpose. It unnecessarily divides people who agree on abortion but disagree on other issues. What’s my plan for eliminating the scourge of unsupported unwed mothers? Shotgun weddings. Should I demand the folks at The Distributist Review get on board with this before we work together against abortion? Only if I don’t really care much about abortion. More importantly, the original purpose of restricting abortion would quickly get sidelined by the other issues. If we can’t criminalize abortion until all expectant mothers have the support they need, then criminalizing abortion has stopped being a genuine policy position and become an eschatological hope. Even if we decide to pursue both ends in parallel, abortion would quickly be dropped, because organizations would start admitting members who don’t take the “pro-life” position on abortion but make up for it by being “pro-life” on many other issues.
R.J. Snell has a brief but important article in the Intercollegiate Review about the nature of God and how that theological issue has affected the West: “The God Confusion: An Ancient Dispute in the Modern Heart.” I have addressed the same point several times on this site, starting with “Square Circle.” The rational order of the universe reflects God rather than constrains him. Nature is not a threat to omnipotence but a manifestation of such.
I should note that I have since softened my stance about the square circle; I am no longer sure that God could not make a square circle. This change has nothing to do with theology—I still affirm the same theological point. Rather, it has to do with the limits of human understanding. From our perspective, it is clear that a square cannot be a circle—and vice versa. Yet, it seems possible that there could be some possible coherence of the shapes at another level of understanding. I do not wish to indulge postmodern attacks on our knowledge; fie, fie, fie upon such a suggestion! However, as I have noted before, the flatland principle seems quite reasonable to me, given the general myopia and widespread ignorance of mankind. Imagine how geometry might appear to a two dimensional perspective. Several Euclidean rules would strike a two dimensional mind as ridiculous, and we see a similar relationship between hyperbolic geometry and the Euclidean tradition. It seems obvious that the distinct natures of the square and the circle rule out a square circle, but, contra my post from seven years ago, we do not comprehensively and exhaustively understand geometry. Intellectual humility does not necessarily lead to po-mo misology—or even to its more respectable Kantian precursors.
Христос Возкресе! And happy feast of Saint Athanasius the Great!
In her last two weekly columns, Ann Coulter provides Clayton Lockett’s gruesome backstory and then marvels at the Left’s souciant concern for Lockett’s “botched” execution: “Lockett & Load” and “Death Penalty Opponents, Have I Got a Deal for You!” From the latter:
As described in last week’s column, The New York Times and other sanctimonious news outlets censored details about the crime that put Clayton Lockett on death row, the better to generate revulsion at his deserved execution. You might say they buried the facts alive. [J.A.: In the first article, we learn that Lockett buried one of his victims alive.]
For example, the Times neglected to mention anything about the raping that preceded the murdering, which seems odd for a newspaper so consumed with the “War on Women.” (At least Lockett never refused to pay for a woman’s birth control pills!)
The Times also dropped the part about Lockett’s dangerous behavior while incarcerated, such as ordering hits on the witnesses against him, his threats to kill prison guards, and the bounty of homemade weapons seized from him in prison—saw blades, sharpened wires, shivs and shanks. (Old Times motto: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” New Times motto: “Nobody Likes a Rat.”)
The newspaper also failed to report that Lockett had ended up in an adult prison by the age of 16 and then was convicted of four more felonies before committing the torture-murder of Stephanie Neiman that sent him to death row.
No, that information might distract from the Times’ florid descriptions of Lockett’s execution.
Bless their hearts, they gave it their all, but even the Times could not make Lockett’s “botched” execution sound particularly grisly. Here is the paper’s full, terrifying description:
“According to an eyewitness account by a reporter for The Tulsa World, Mr. Lockett tried to raise himself up, mumbled the word ‘man,’ and was in obvious pain. Officials hastily closed the blinds on the chamber and told reporters that the execution had been stopped because of a ‘vein failure.’ But at 7:06, the inmate was pronounced dead of a heart attack.”
HE RAISED HIMSELF UP? WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY ARE WE???
Actually, I’m not that horrified. It sounds as if he suffered a bit, which is nice, and he’s dead, which was the objective of the whole enterprise.
You want horrifying? Imagine a 2-inch baby being chopped up with scissors. That can’t feel great.
Maybe they—and MSNBC’s similarly high-minded Rachel Maddow—should comfort themselves by thinking of Lockett’s execution as a very, very, very late-term abortion. You know, the kind that liberal darling Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours to keep legal.
Since Rachel and the Times are such big fans of partial-birth abortion, would they mind if we took a gigantic pair of scissors, jammed them in the back of Clayton Lockett’s head and let his brain slide out? Let’s get Kermit Gosnell working again!
Or how about giving the citizens of Oklahoma the right to choose an acid bath for condemned murderers? We’ll submerge people like Lockett in a tub filled with burning fluid until he’s mostly disintegrated and can be flushed down the toilet. (If it’s low-flow, flush twice.)
Or maybe an industrial vacuum designed to tear Lockett’s body apart.
Which reminds me: Would the Times ever give as detailed a description of an abortion as it does for the execution of a remorseless killer? The odds are pretty high that the baby isn’t even a rapist/murderer.
Opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with compassion. Liberals weeping for murderers have zero compassion for an innocent baby trying to escape an abortionist’s cranioclast. Their dead earnestness about monsters like Clayton Lockett is solely designed to demonstrate how virtuous they are.
Coulter treads close to Steve Sailer in her analysis of leftist opposition to the death penalty. I know that she reads Sailer as she links to him occasionally. I wonder if she also read Lawrence Auster’s site. Speaking of Auster, Coulter’s current topic reminds me of a thread from a couple of years ago in which I caused some dismay to Lydia McGrew and others for defending the subhuman characterization of men like Lockett. From “Feral blacks and the image of God”:
The discussion in “Feral blacks and the image of God” requires some useful metaphysical distinctions.
As Lydia McGrew notes, Christians affirm that all human beings are made in the image of God. However, we often fail to live up to the high calling that our nature demands. Church Fathers from Irenaeus of Lyon to Bonaventure distinguish between God’s image and God’s likeness in which we are made. The image is in our essence; we cannot lose that, just as we cannot become oak trees or bullfrogs. However, through sin, we lose the likeness, and thus the way that the divine image manifests itself becomes marred. Therefore, it is correct to call evil people subhuman or bestial if we mean that they are failing to live up to the fully human standard of a rational creature oriented toward the good. This is true of everyone to some extent and at certain times, but it is sadly holds for certain souls to an extreme degree most or all of the time.
Consider the wicked boys who tortured the Haitian mother and her son in Florida five years ago (I wrote about it here). Such boys are human beings in that they have a human nature; they do carry the image of God. However, they have been so fully perverted that it is sensible to say that they are less than human. They are like Dionysius’ demons or Tolkien’s orcs—so fully corrupted that they no longer appear to have the essence given to them by God—though they fundamentally do.
In the Nicomachean Ethics [typo in the original], Aristotle recognizes that repeated vicious actions slowly pervert one’s practical reason, and this process eventually leads to the complete destruction of one’s moral compass. Therefore, the vicious man is no longer fully human in that he has lost his ability to perceive the moral good. Of course, his essence remains human, but his actuality is not.
Such appears to irk certain folks for two main reasons. First, any suggestion that dehumanizes a member of Homo sapiens troubles them greatly. “First, they came for the men who raped and killed infants. Then, they came for the unrepentant matricidal maniacs. When will they come for me?!?!?!” That is a K-Y slippery slope, but Godwin’s Law is absolute. Second, the modern mind has difficulty in grasping “vertical” metaphysical distinctions, as the thread demonstrates.
Here are some links to posts about our sorry academic and general intellectual situation:
“College Students Demand Respect” on The Thinking Housewife with a guest article by Richard Cocks
“The Academy Then and Now” by Paul Gottfried at the the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy site (courtesy of Thomas F. Bertonneau)
“Arguing Over Argument in the Internet Age” by James Kalb in Crisis Magazine
If that was not enough doom and gloom for you, check out this enthusiastic support for constructivism: “Constructivist Learning and Teaching.”
Sigh. I stand by my belief that nominalism has been the chief specific cause of the West’s decay.
Rend your clothes and toss dust.
Below is a comment that I made earlier to Kristor’s Onward, Christian Bloggers Orthosphere post. The readers there are trading words over several issues, and I decided to respond to an objectionable comment:
If you want to talk about CS Lewis and fantasy stories than there’s always Charlton’s blog. Because you know, that is what traditionalism really needs another commentator on the Inklings.
Egads! I find Charlton’s commentary on Tolkien et alia very interesting. Do we really need to reduce ourselves to one thing needful? The inhuman Left is full of tedious bores who fanatically confuse the personal and the political, who won’t ever bury their bone du jour, and who bother everyone around them with their passing obsessions. For the love of the world, we need more folks to comment on the Inklings . . . as well as on patterns of seasonal duck migration, the spiritual benefits of tinkering on old machines, the best ways to incorporate spinach in baked goods, how to entertain jack russells, and so on. This is what we traditionalists claim as our “seamless garment.” Life and the world are unified—the cosmos and our participation in it are divine gifts, and we should comport ourselves appropriately and with gratitude.
I agree that our society is going to hell in a shoddy handbasket, but we cannot reduce our lives to that decay—or to the response to it. If we were really on a sinking ship (not metaphorical), then, of course, it would not be the time to talk of Dickinson or blueberries, but that is due to the allotted time and urgency. Our civilization is breaking beneath the waves, but man cannot live so single-mindedly for long without becoming monstrously imbalanced. Plan, strengthen yourself, manipulate the enemy, but do so as a man rather than an ideologue. And men eat, laugh, play, sing, read, and ponder. Act this and act that . . . this cult of doing is largely how we ended up in this mess. To quote Eliot’s Harcourt-Reilly:
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
Quite true—it is as if post-Christian society has perverted Paul’s redeeming the time with anxious busy-ness for some cause or other. Maybe, if we crossed a Yankee Presbyterian with a Zen Buddhist, we might get a balanced human being—geographically and temperamentally, we’d come up with a good Bavarian Catholic who works hard, loves his family, minds his manners, and enjoys beer and dancing on Saturdays.
How I love Bavaria.
Well, spring is reportedly on its way. At least, my crocuses are blooming, and I have the blue orchard mason bee houses hung around the yard awaiting their springtime occupants. If better weather is nigh for you, enjoy the outdoors—and the rest of March.
Some years ago, I admitted that I had never read anything by Ayn Rand. Since then, I have read selections, but I have yet to tackle a major work. However, I did watch the first two parts of the Atlas Shrugged movie trilogy. Although the films had an indie film budget and less than spectacular production values, I enjoyed them. Having never read the book, I could not judge textual fidelity, but I did enjoy the brutal portrayal of leftist malice and stupidity. The American Left gets to indulge in the worst human tendencies toward cruelty every day; the society belongs to it, and it dominates the organs of culture. Hence, we must tolerate a constant stream of film, television, and journalistic material that depicts whites, conservatives, Christians, and the combination of the three in the most revolting way. Rightwingers do not have many opportunities for such pleasure—but, judaeae gratias, Atlas Shrugged provides it in abundance. The story depicts the hypocrisy, inanity, cowardice, parasitism, and idiocy of the Left in a delightfully decadent way! Indeed, as I watched the films, I almost (but not quite) felt ashamed in enjoying the spectacle, suspecting that the depiction might not be fair. “The real ones are bad—but are they that bad?” I just do not like thinking of my fellow men in such a low way. Yet, reality asserts itself and reminds me that, yes, they are that bad—indeed, worse than artifice conjures.
As few weeks ago, I read an unbelievable article by Lynn Shepherd in The Huffington Post: “If JK Rowling Cares about Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.” Shepherd’s main point is that Rowling has enjoyed much success as a children’s literature writer with the Harry Potter series and now her name recognition is leading to success in her ventures into adult fiction. As such, she is crowding out lesser known writers. So, Shepherd reasons, Rowling should mind her place and stop taking up bookshelf real estate.
As I read Shepherd’s opinions, I immediately thought of the regulators in Ayn Rand’s tale. I also reflected how, notwithstanding how much I want to give the enemy the benefit of the doubt, he always justifies my initial misgivings in the end. Leftists refuse to be outdone by their opponents’ mockery of them.
Later, I read the following post by John C. Wright, “The Orcs and the Books,” where Wright describes the same experience—only a thousand times better:
. . . Second, some readers might wonder why a loyal Catholic zealot like myself has such affection for a adulterous heretic like Ayn Rand, the Apostle of the Sin of Pride. Our philosophies are opposite. I say that the greatest evil in the world is to turn away from that self-sacrificing love which is like God and which is God. She says the greatest evil in the world is to live for another or to allow another to live for you.
Well, despite all differences, here is why I like her: Every time I am tempting to think the bizarre and grotesque portrayals of the collectivist villains in her novels are exaggerations, or are simplistic, or are unrealistic, real life sharply checks me.
Every time I think that the jeering gargoyles she portrays in her books could not possibly exist in real life, a Gothic rainspout shakes itself awake and speaks.
There is a scene in ATLAS SHRUGGED where no-talent writers conspire with no-talent businessmen and no-talent political hacks to pass a law forbidding any change in the production of new books or artistic products.
For a moment, the goons are puzzled as to how such a law would be played out, but the no-talent writers are relieved to hear that under this plan, their old books would be ceaselessly reprinted, and offered in bookstores, and the bookstores will be punished at law if they fail to sale the exact same number of books next year and ever after as this year. The obvious impossibility of this is not a defect in the plan, but the point. The laws are made so that everyone will be in violation of one part or another.
Under the fair-share law, successful authors have to share their success with unsuccessful authors, and the talented be punished, and the lazy be rewarded.
The argument made above that successful writers should bow gracefully aside to allow unsuccessful writers a fair share of the market is so economically illiterate, so childish, so vile, so shocking to the mind of any honest man, that it acts in part like camouflage. Upon hearing the orcs talking in their orc-talk about ruining the writing field, making the writing field worse, driving good books away and shoving bad books into their shelf space in the name of fair play, and, in short, talking about heaping the writing field high with warm filth and stinking ordure, flies and rivulets and urine, the sane people react with a blankness of mind akin to shutting one’s eyes at too great a shock. We cannot believe the orcs are serious. We assume they cannot mean that.
You want J.K. Rowlings, the most celebrated writer of our age, to write LESS? The mind reels, we think the orcs do not mean it, we do nothing to shut them down or shut them up, and then the orcs carry out their program, while we scratch our heads, puzzled that no one told us that this was exactly what they meant all along.
But it is what they mean. . . .
“Every time I think that the jeering gargoyles she portrays in her books could not possibly exist in real life, a Gothic rainspout shakes itself awake and speaks.” How marvelous! And apt to the situation!
I often notice that others in the traditionalist realms of the internet have had the same insight or made the same point on a given topic. For a recent example, I read George Michalopulos’ observations about the Winter Olympics a few days after I posted “Sochi Sour” and found quite similar arguments. We posted the entries on the same day, and yet we independently came to the same conclusions. When I find such cases, I wonder for a moment if perhaps we are suffering from a hive mind, but I do not think so. Rather, we dissenters witness the madness of the world on a daily basis and, being sane, call lunacy its proper name. The real shock is why more people do not have the same response.
Concerning Shepherd’s argument about Rowling, I find it abhorrent and shamelessly self-serving. If we want the world to become better, then why would we ask someone who makes it better by creating works of value to stop such production? Why would one wish to deprive the world of more treasure? It is wicked! Shepherd admits that she has never read any of Rowling’s books, but she questions the literary value of Rowling’s adult works based on others’ criticism. So, maybe Shepherd’s position could be defended as simply sensible aversion to hype. Yet, that hype developed from millions of readers’ experiences with her books rather than a suave media blitz, and the reputation has held up well over the last seventeen years. It is not a passing fad. Of course, a million Brits could be (and frequently are) wrong, but it is niggardly of Shepherd to refuse to grant Rowling her laurels of talent—especially when she refuses to read the author whom she judges so. Shepherd’s position is not that Rowling writes worthless drivel. In Shepherd’s own words, “when it comes to the adult market [Rowling has] had [her] turn.”
I think of Nietzsche’s reflections on Raphael in On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, “That a Raphael had to die at the age of thirty-six, for example, is offensive to morality: such a being ought never to die” (page 48, tr. Preuss). Consider what mankind lost at Raphael’s young death. Think of what such a man could have done with another forty years. Only demons rejoice at such facts. I am not equating Harry Potter with the Italian Renaissance, but the principle applies regardless. We should rejoice at the enrichment of the world. Only the servants of hell want to make the cosmos worse rather than better. And Shepherd desires such perversity from egoism . . . how satanically fitting. It is ironic that Ayn Rand, the preacher of selfishness, should be the one who delights in the excellence of others while the “altruistic” Left allows egoism to blight the world.
I discovered a disheartening but interesting list while reading one of John Derbyshire’s recent posts on Vdare, “The HANDLE’S HAUS List Of PC Purges—And Dogma, Dissent, And Duty.” Derbyshire, who makes the list for the Lowry treatment at National Review, shares the moment that inspired him to stand athwart the spirit of the age, yelling “Liar!” He further analyzes the record to see if there are temporal trends in contemporary leftist witch-hunting (answer: inconclusive). I commend Handle for compiling a list of contemporary shame; read it: “Bullied and Badgered, Pressured and Purged.” On it are so many people whose attachés our cultural elites are not worthy to loosen . . .
Merry Christmas, blessings on this feast day of the Lord’s Circumcision, and happy Saint Basil’s day!
Weapons history enthusiasts were sad last month to see the passing of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47. The Telegraph posted a short article with photographs and video: “Kalashnikov inventor dies aged 94.” Correspondence between Kalashnikov and Patriarch Kirill has publically surfaced; read “Kalashnikov ‘feared he was to blame’ for AK-47 rifle deaths.” Alfred Nobel had similar concerns about dynamite, but he willed his fortune to award the Nobel Prizes as an atonement. Maybe, the Russian state could offer a similar honor in Kalashnikov’s memory. However, the Russkies should ensure that such awards not end up in the hands of men like Le Duc Tho, Yasser Arafat, and Al Gore and that they would go to worthy recipients—unlike Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama not even nine months into his first term.
Speaking of weapons history, I recommend that you visit the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum if you ever get the chance. It used to be at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, but the military is moving it to Fort Lee in Virginia. The place pretty much has every kind of gun, ammunition, and tank ever made. The museum director used to be an eccentric but genial officer who knew everything about the evolution of arms. He may still be there. He was a tough guy and may live forever.
Mikhail Kalashnikov—memory eternal!