Christ is born!
Merry Christmas on this seventh day of the Nativity and happy birthday to my nephew, Austin. Many years and blessings to him! He was born on Friday the thirteenth of January (December 31 on the Church’s calendar), and so the cycle has revolved, again.
Yesterday, Lawrence Auster explained a bit more of his recent change in outlook in “Small moves away from liberalism are not going to turn around the society as a whole.” Auster states that he no longer thinks that our civilization will repent from its spiral toward nihilism and barbarity. He therefore counsels what we may do without falling into despair. The ever insightful Kristor adds the following comment:
Back in 1973, when I was a teenaged commie, I used to engage with my commie friends in political discussions that would go on for hours and hours. The only thing I remember from those discussions is a dictum that arose from within me one day, unbidden, yet fully formed, when we were talking about what it meant to be a radical: “To be a radical is to be forever unsatisfied with the content of history, yet reconciled to the process of history.” This attitude will be familiar to readers of VFR from the phenomenon here oft noted, of the fact that liberals understand there to be no limit, no stopping point, to the process of social reform. What has happened and is now happening, however many improvements there might have been, is totally unsatisfactory, and awaits the incipient onset of a gnostic New Age, in which every sordid thing that has come before will be repudiated and destroyed. Nevertheless, however, the ugly things that are happening now are the birth pangs of that New Age, and since birth is painful, it is to be expected that the process should make most of us quite uncomfortable (and even, many of us, dead); yet for the sake of that glorious New Age, we should not chafe at our discomforts of ugliness, but rather shoulder them cheerfully, happy with the way things are tending. That’s a radical: forever unhappy with things as they are, while delighted with the endless evolutionary/revolutionary process of history as it works its way toward a new utopian order.
It strikes me that this dictum is just as applicable to Traditionalist radicals as it is to those of the Left, albeit along a diametrically different vector; for the Traditionalist sees history as having Fallen from a Golden Age, and tending toward an ultimate, inescapable eschatological catastrophe, while the Leftist sees it as going the opposite direction. As pessimists about the prospects for a merely human project of saving the world, Traditionalists are more apt to respect and cherish the beauties it has so far produced, that are in the nature of things always eventually lost to the flux of time, and skeptical about their “new, improved” replacements. Until the Enlightenment, such was the prevalent attitude—the traditional attitude—in all cultures and throughout history. The hope added thereto by the Christian Gospel, of an ultimate, permanent, and total redemption of history at the eschaton, completed that vision, healing and correcting the despair that it had recommended to men, and nerving them to the creation of new and sublime creaturely beauties: cathedrals, songs, voyages, poems, discoveries, philosophies, enterprises of all kinds.
Our job then—indeed our duty—as Traditionalist radicals is, to name the uglinesses now pervading our world, not surrendering to despair thereat, but rather rejoicing nonetheless in the marvelous and orderly beauty that still, always, nevertheless surrounds us, and determined to enact such new beauties as may be within our poor powers. We are all of us engaged throughout our lives in a steady progress toward our own personal holocausts, in which every good thing we have loved will be immolated. Yet we may have confidence that, as all of history is an instrument and expression of Beauty Himself, so must that Beauty which is the source of all things eventually, utterly prevail in and through all things. We may therefore—indeed, we should—make our way toward our common doom, singing and rejoicing, if only to adorn this world’s everlasting resurrection. For, thanks to the Divine omniscience, no worldly good can fail of resurrection in the life to come.
And that, in the final analysis, is why we humans have children, and want to have children. It is why we want to preserve them, and to preserve our culture, and our lives. It is why we are ordered toward reproduction, survival, prosperity, enjoyment. Mere death makes all these things vain, empty, stupid. If death were the end of the story, none of these things would be worth doing, much; so that as our culture has come to believe in the ultimate finality of death, it has done less and less of them. But if death is not the end of the story, and the goods of this world are destined to permanent life in the world to come, then all these vital pleasures are objectively and immensely important—not all-important, to be sure, not first things, but important nonetheless.
What then ought we to do about the death of our culture? Do what is good, and beautiful, and virtuous. Nothing will be wasted, no good thing forever lost; everything will be remembered, and accounted for. From the good and virtuous things that we engender—children, mostly, but also our work, our charity, our thought, our art—something appropriate will arise. We may trust in that.
Kristor beautifully reminds us of the Christian hope and offers sage advice on how we may act as instruments through which the Lord transfigures the world into his perfected creation. Moreover, I found it more than a little ironic that Kristor begins his comment, “Back in 1973, when I was a teenaged commie,” in a thread about the hellish trajectory of the modern West. If a Communist can become what Kristor is now, then anything is possible! But, of course, we have always known this. The hagiographies of the saints remind us over and over of the power of repentance and of the transformation that God affects upon men and women who allow him to do so. Mary of Egypt and Moses the Black come to mind.
I had a friend in college who was raised in an extraordinarily pious Roman Catholic family. His mother appeared to me as the very incarnation of the traditional Catholic maternal presence. His parents and siblings would continually pray together; road trips would be opportunities to say the rosary as a family. Very Catholic! Then, one day, my friend told me about his parents’ youth. His mother was a radical feminist in college, rebellious against traditional society and the Church. The Lord works many wonders, and the human mind may be surprisingly resilient in struggling for truth in the midst of lies. Given such examples, it is reasonable to hope for the salvation of our civilization in time and not only in the eschaton.