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.
The formidable friend of the Good and defender of good sense, Phyllis Stewart Schlafly, died yesterday. May her memory be eternal!
Ann Coulter has a lovely obituary to honor that fine American woman: “Phyllis Stewart Schlafly, 1924-2016.”
Steve Sailer’s commentators have recently offered a few aphoristic gems from the Colombian intellectual Nicolás Gómez Dávila, to which I have added some worthies:
In philosophy, a single naive question oftentimes suffices for the whole system to collapse.
The cause of democracy’s stupidities is confidence in the anonymous citizen; and the cause of its crimes is the anonymous citizen’s confidence in himself.
Being a reactionary is not about believing in certain solutions, but about having an acute sense of the complexity of the problems.
I distrust every idea that doesn’t seem obsolete and grotesque to my contemporaries.
For the progressive modernist, nostalgia is the supreme heresy.
The intelligent man quickly reaches reactionary conclusions. Today, however, the universal consensus of fools turns him into a coward. When they interrogate him in public, he denies being a Galilean.
Nothing is more dangerous than to solve ephemeral problems with permanent solutions.
Modern persons believe that they live in a plurality of opinions, whereas in fact what reigns today is an asphyxiating unanimity.
Stupidity appropriates with a diabolical ease whatever science invents.
In augmenting its power, humanity is multiplying its own servitudes.
The much celebrated “dominion of man over nature” resulted simply in an immense homicidal capacity.
The anarchy that threatens a degrading society is not its punishment, but its remedy.
Modern society works fervently to put vulgarity within the reach of everyone.
A simple fit of impatience often soon bridges the distance between utopia and murder.
Modernist mentality is the daughter of human conceit inflated by commercial propaganda.
Many love humanity only in order to forget God with a clear conscience.
Rather timely untimely observations, no?
A few weeks ago on my mother’s birthday, anthropologist Henry Harpending died. Steve Sailer wrote a thoughtful obituary of sorts for him on Taki’s Mag that also reminds us that we live in interesting times: “The Scientist vs. the SPLC.” Sailer also commemorated the man on his blog by quoting Harpending’s lively account of hunting Cape Buffalo: “Henry Harpending, RIP.” May his memory be eternal.
I suspect that his University of Utah replacement will not follow in his footsteps. It’s sad how often I have occasion to think, “Sic transit gloria mundi,” but that has probably been true for most men throughout history. It’s even sadder how often I wonder whether we are entering a new dark age.
When I was growing up, the adults in my world seemed pretty unanimous in thinking that defacing a dollar bill in any way was against the law. Later, I started noticing more and more writing on bills, and I eventually concluded that the illegality of defacing currency must involve counterfeiting. “Call Brandy for a good time” or “Cheeseheads Rule!” clearly are not attempts to trick anyone about the value of the bill upon which they are written. I assumed that those tut-tutting adults were just generalizing a specific prohibition from confusion. So, I read the following article on McClatchyDC about what Americans may do with their dollar bills with much interest: “Ben & Jerry’s co-founder tempts Secret Service by stamping messages on money.”
As I read the story, I thought about how such controversies should be the meat and potatoes of politics. For both sides (the Secret Service and StampStampede.org) have reasonable positions that are grounded in our law and traditions, though each proceeds from and focuses on a particular perspective and interest. Issues and disagreements like this are intrinsic to human society. Unfortunately, they seem so petty to us latter day Americans because our political arguments have shifted toward fundamental principles. In the Kulturkampfalter, our society debates its very understanding of the Good; the dominant American beliefs about morality and human nature are “to be decided.” This is a sign of profound national sickness. In a healthy society, Ben Cohen’s challenge to the Treasury would be front page news.
A blessed synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel to you!
I’d like to share a short excerpt from L. Scott Smith’s essay, “America’s Lost Sense of Community”: “Is American Community the Result of Its Constitution?” The main point:
The truth of the matter is that America’s sense of community is not now, nor has it ever been, predicated upon the Constitution. Robert A. Dahl, Yale University political science professor, notes that a constitutional system is a reflection of a people’s identity and needs “to be tailored to fit the culture, traditions, needs, and possibilities of a particular country.” For this reason he maintains that the American constitutional system “is probably not suitable for export to other countries.” He points out that, although our Constitution and the institutions it created were in place for over a half century, the Civil War still occurred, thanks to “the extreme polarization in interests, values, and ways of life between the citizens of the slave states and those of the free states.” The professor observes that he “cannot imagine any democratic constitution under which the two sections [North and South] could have continued to coexist peacefully in one country.
If the American people are the chicken and their Constitution the egg, then for Professor Dahl the chicken came first. It will not do to ascribe the sense of community ot the power of a single solitary document, even one that is foundational. A scheme of government, including a declaration of rights, is a reflection of a people’s traditions, habits, mores, and customs, and arises from deep within their very soul.
The founding stock created the American regime according to their own values. Let’s call that W.A.S.P. privilege. The various immigrant groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought their own ideas about community and governance, and the country transformed as a result. The New Deal depended on those New People. The drastic demographic changes of the last fifty years are having their effect, as well—slowly transforming us into the Brazil of North America. It ought not to be necessary to remind people that São Salvador looks a lot different from Boston.
Today my father told me that he had listened to an interesting lecture by Steven Pinker wherein the professor defended the American tradition of free speech. I responded by saying how sad it was that a noted intellectual has to defend the “controversial” notion of free speech in contemporary America. Yet, America today is not the America of yesteryear, and the change is not simply or even principally a matter of generational change. A people makes a nation; change the people, and you change the nation. By electing a new people, the American elite are creating a new country—what Lawrence Auster called America 2.0. I suspect that such was the plan all along—the plutocrats of Brazil have far less obstacles in controlling their fragmented society, a significant portion of which consists of habitually servile and occasionally violent halfwit proles ready to run amok when an elite faction requires a crisis that will not go to waste. How our managerial class must envy those white masters of the brown masses. As long as they can escape the occasional bloody coup and calm proletarian rage with just enough pão and carnavais (only enough to placate the mules—one wouldn’t want to waste resources), they have it so much easier—without that annoying Anglo-Saxon insistence on due process or that Germanic civic engagement that complicates inside business dealing, which the Protestant types quaintly call “corruption.” So, let’s flood the country with hordes already tamed by the husbandry practices of oligarchic societies while we prevent a negative reaction by the natives through dishonest but effective brainwashing. As the butcher trains livestock to behave complacently to make his job easier, so the elite have convinced Americans that “diversity” is a great good—good for the butchers, that is. Divide and conquer 101. Welcome to the America of the future (or, more precisely, a possible future, which will occur unless radical measures are instituted).
Mark Christensen has an interesting article on Social Matter: “The State Reborn: Abandoning a Liberal Mythology.” Christensen reviews Italian fascist criticism of liberal political theory. From the essay:
The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors.
As Kristor and others like to say, there is always an established religion. Contemporary Westerners, however, appear unaware of their own devotion to their tribe’s sacred idols.
David Horowitz provides sage counsel for Republicans concerning the election: “How Not to Fight Our Enemies.” I would like to believe that it is common sense and common decency that one ought not to indulge bullies, ne’er-do-wells, and the mob. Alas, the American media and political establishment have proven otherwise. We live in an age of wicked lies and unbelievable stupidity.
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.
Daniel J. Mahoney has an insightful essay in the Intercollegiate Review: “The Healthy Boundaries of Democracy.” A selection:
“Progressive” thought is defined by the view that liberty and equality are unproblematic, and that the great task before democratic peoples is to maximize them, to make the world ever more “democratic” and egalitarian. The solution to the problems of democracy is said to be more democracy, as the philosopher John Dewey famously proclaimed at the beginning of the twentieth century. True democracy must move to the left, becoming ever more inclusive, tolerant, egalitarian, and relativistic. To realize the democratic ideal, we must reject antiquated truths and insist on extreme equality and unlimited personal choice (think “the right to choose” or the self-reinvention central to “gender theory”). In this view there is no such thing as loving democracy (or liberty and equality) too much.
What could possibly be wrong with such an uncompromising commitment to the “democratic” ideal? To begin with, progressivism (and extreme libertarianism) forgets the goods, habits, and traditions that make a free society cohere. Elsewhere I have called them the “conservative foundations of the liberal order.” These goods—healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth—were largely taken for granted by the Founders of the American republic. As the philosopher Michael Polyani put it in the 1960s, the best of the liberal tradition, including the American Founding, presupposed an “authoritative traditional framework” that could protect, nourish, and inform “the new self-determination of man.” Liberalism, properly understood, presupposes the continuity of civilization. It undermines itself if it demands “liberation” from all moral restraints.
At its best, liberalism must include a self-consciously conservative dimension. Rational self-mastery and the freedom to choose, goods cherished by liberals and conservatives alike, do not mean that individuals are radically independent, that they are completely sovereign over themselves and the world. Progressivism is that crucial moment when liberalism succumbs to an ethic of absolute autonomy, when it liberates human beings from an order of nature or justice above the human will. It is that moment when liberalism subverts itself by negating the goods that truly allow it to flourish.
I considered myself a classical liberal as a teenager, but I began to reject the Anglo-American liberal tradition during my first month at college. While I value certain aspects of liberalism, I cannot see how one may have the tempered liberalism that Anglosphere “conservatives” frequently champion as the best political arrangement. Liberal regimes appear to unfold according to their basic principles, which esteem human equality and liberty and deny the existence and/or the intelligibility of the (natural) human good. Because such principles conflict with reality, liberal regimes are inherently unstable. So, the mixed regimes of nineteenth century Britain and America that the English speaking Right holds up as exemplars of strong societies were not balanced, constitutional orders but rather a stage of social decay with many admirable but fleeting qualities. History appears to confirm this insight of political theory in that there has always been a significant presence of radicals in the modern English speaking world. Consider the Unitarians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the multitude of sects and communes in the nineteenth century, the rhetoric and ideals put forth by abolitionists and suffragettes—indeed, there is nothing new under the Daily Kos sun. The glaring exception appears to be “homosexual ‘marriage,’” as I cannot find any precedent for it before the last century. Yet, the revolutionaries have been attacking traditional Christian marriage since the misnamed Enlightenment. In every way, it seems that the wackydoodle fringes just have to wait for the larger society to “catch up” with their progressive stance. Indeed, their positions are progressive—because their features characterize a more advanced stage in liberal evolution. Leftists mistake this particular evolution for the general advance of human civilization (the existence of which I seriously doubt), but they are correct in judging the “correct side” of liberal history.
Thus, I doubt that conservatives can salvage liberalism or its pantheon, including the chief among its gods, democracy. Abandon the trap; reject the bait—hook, line, and sinker. Let us rather orient ourselves according to what sage men call perennial wisdom and swim in the currents of the ages.