Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

How to win the civil war

It depends, of course, which side you want to win. “Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks,” as my hippie friends used to say. The methods used by what I consider to be the Other Side in the current civil war are working well for them: sneak attacks, lies, and misrepresentations. But I wonder, sometimes, what might work for us. We have tried the Enemy’s devices, but discovered that the Enemy is more proficient in their use.

Note that the current civil war started five hundred years ago — precisely, if we count from Wittenberg. (Dog-whistle: see Shakespeare, Hamlet.) This is a fairly long time, and the issues and partisans have “evolved” through the war’s successive phases. By the time of the Thirty Years’ War phase, not every one on the one side was strictly-speaking Catholic, nor on the other, strictly Lutheran; and the tactics on both sides had become much the same.

Today we call it Progressives versus Conservatives. Up here in the High Doganate, you’d think we’d be above it all, because we (I speak inclusively of my pigeons and purpled finches) are, strictly-speaking, not Conservative but Reactionary. And on Red Cross principles, I’m inclined to count the birds as non-combatants.

But at any given moment in a civil war, there are two, and only two sides, with precious few “United Nations observers.” Those constituting any “third way” tend to become casualties in the crossfire.

The entry of Radical Islam into the battle, implicitly on the side of Progress, is not really a new development. The current “demographic” siege of Vienna, for instance, was preceded by more conventional sieges in 1529 and 1683. The maritime aspect, across the Mediterranean, though again now less conventional, was decidedly an influence on this civil war, until alleviated by Lepanto in 1571. The Protestants/Progressives had the advantage of fighting on one front only; they had Muslims to assist them by enlivening the other front. Catholics/Conservatives had in effect to defend the whole European game board, while trying to play on it.

As I say, the current phase is, even at its clearest, unconventional. We have many millions — hundreds of millions for a fact — who aren’t strictly-speaking Neutrals. More precisely, they don’t know which side they’re on. The Progressive tribunes (I cite CNN for an example) wantonly confuse the issues for them, by mentioning e.g. Charlottesville and Barcelona in the same breath, then blaming everything on some orange-faced Presbyterian defector named Trump.

It is now explicitly Progressive versus Conservative, and even at Rome, denominational affiliations have lost their poignancy. Not any more a “religious war” by the sound of it, but in one sense all wars are religious, as in another none are.

The current Progressive mission is to erase history; the Conservative rearguard is to preserve some knowledge of it. (See also here.) There are front lines passing through every formerly-Christian Western nation, and each formerly-Christian Eastern nation, too — like the old one running through each human heart. But today we are reviewing the visible external civil war, only.

Let me tell gentle reader something interesting about that populist (apparently they’re on our side at the moment), Trump. His personal popularity inflates and deflates, from poll to poll; but not the issues on which he is instinctively excoriated by all Progressives. According to polls that have been fairly consistent, whether the topic be immigration, healthcare, taxes, infrastructure (including military), keeping statues, and so forth, the great majority of the USAmerican electorate are essentially on his side. Something similar can be said of almost every, if not every other Western polity. Alas, “democracy” replaces issues with personalities.

The great majority, now as ever, would like the civil war to be over, and often “cuck out” in the hope that thereby, peace can be obtained. Most do not understand that the Progressive agenda is progressive. Their supposed leaders have likewise perfected the art of flinching, and are eager to negotiate or “McConnell” every truce. The Other Side will always want more, however. Nor are they grateful when they win concessions.

It occurs to me that this is the secret for winning the civil war. End “strategic retreats.” (The odd tactical one may still be necessary.) Demand not peace, but Victory, and be prepared to die on every hill. I think in this respect Mr Trump has the right idea, and Mr Bannon has become one of my favourites, too. And a few more in countries like Hungary and Poland.

That they will all go down in the battle, can go without saying. They are, after all, on the front line of this seemingly perpetual Verdun; and everyone dies sooner or later. The trick is to replace them, when that happens, with characters equally feisty, and offer no truces whatever. Never ever let the [bad word] regroup! Pour through every breach in their defences! Onward to Berlin, as it were.

Steadfast is the word; though I think tenacious will do around tea time.

There is a motto once woven with gold thread into the pallium of each Roman pontiff. It is out of Saint Paul, and it sayeth, Deus vult!

____________

POSTSCRIPTUM. … Ah well, I see from the yellow media that Bannon’s down now. This has long been a problem for monarchical governments, and family businesses generally. You have friends and family; they fight. You can’t get rid of family, so you have to dump your friends. Unless of course (little light comes on) you are sufficiently ruthless; and have tired of, say, the squirt your daughter married. In which case Italian, Cinquecento precedent offers a broader range of options. … Forget orderly; often chaos works better against the anarchic foe. You (I am now addressing Mr Trump directly) won’t be able to get anything through Congress, anyway. So stop worrying about it. Rule by decree like Obama. The generals are still with you, sir.

Of dog-whistles & duck calls

“Gawd I hate white people.”

This did not come from the mouth of a BLM, or an SJW, or other DMI (my abbreviation for, “drooling malicious idjit”); rather, from that of an ageing white male.

I knew exactly what he meant. We had been discussing the SFs among the overmonied and underbrained in one of this city’s more prosperous neighbourhoods. Virtue signallers, the lot of them: unctuous and asinine to a fault. It’s true, we’re both prejudiced against these constipated caucasoids. And better yet, it costs us nothing. For we aren’t invited to their parties, anyway.

On the other hand, one is in a poor opening position when one must argue that one is not a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. I dislike poor opening positions, so am inclined to omit them. Having been called everything in my time, even “a gentleman and a scholar” (exceptionally low blow), I happily admit to being a fascist, a leper, a racist, and a rightwing troll. I take particular pride in “Jew-lover,” for in that case the description fits. (Twice I’ve been called that over a ’phone; and once, in the course of a single “debate,” both an anti-Semite and a Jew-lover.) I am also every kind of phobe, and hater, including self-hater; a misogynist and misandrist, and a misandronist, to be perfectly inclusive (it’s like the difference between a racist and a racialist); people with slant eyes and people with round ones. And beyond the more pressing individual cases, I like to cultivate a general misanthropy in my spare time.

“Sticks and stones,” my mommy told me: dodge ’em when you can. But let the verbiage pass off your back like a duck’s. Or should the mood bloom, go diving for more.

An editor somewhere has changed my word “nigglers” to “sticklers.” I wonder what he’s got against sticklebacks?

I have consulted a pochard in the High Park Pond, on this important matter. I wished to know what he was diving for. (Fish? Salad? Dimes and nickels perhaps?) But like someone instructed by my mother, he just ignored me.

The Google archipelago

On the 4th of December, 1999, I first became acquainted with Google. I know the date because I recorded it, with a pen, in a notebook. My elder son, the techie — then age thirteen — explained to me what a “search engine” is, and why I must use it. Too, why he was setting up an email account for me, over my confused objection. For he was tired of running messages for me through his own advanced equipment.

Google was something new; it was chic to all geeks; it would change the world. My little boy saw which way the wind would blow, with fair precision. The printed page was doomed, except as print-out and back-up. He was excited; I was appalled.

Of course I am appalled by any kind of “progress.” But there was more to it than that. The ability to send and receive, to store and retrieve, at such speed with such ease on such a scale, would indeed change everything. It did not portend the final victory of mere data and information over knowledge and wisdom; it achieved this. And while I could not yet envisage, in detail, the new zombie world of people attached to their “devices,” as to their clothing and tattoos, I could within a year.

I was in Seoul, Korea, the next summer, and beheld the tides of willowy chittering maidens walking that city’s sidewalks, speaking not to each other but constantly into tiny bejewelled cellphones. Yes, this was the future: everyone “linked” in the electronic cloud, progressively freed of physical interaction.

Another thing struck me, over “corporate values.” I was told the Google motto, “Don’t be evil.” I could see that it was mindlessly smug and insinuating. From experience I knew it would prove a sick paradox.

With traditional religion already washed from the brains of the young, we would now be swept by the new religion of the electronic mob. It could have no anchor. Words themselves would humpty-dumpty at a greatly accelerated pace. The great mass of the deracinated were, in a sense, passing outside time. Henceforth they would live only in the present, with no conception of the past; and too, no appreciation of the future. They would cease to feel responsible for the consequences of their acts.

For morality would be reduced to opinion, and opinion dictated by the electronic mob. The “winners” in the new political order could only be the purveyors of fashion; and fashion is on the Left. This has been so since the French Revolution. Style means Left; Right means outmoded.

We come to James Damore, a young man of partially independent mind, who wrote (at management request) a memo on the Google company’s “diversity” efforts. With all statements of fact carefully sourced, and all arguments modestly reasoned, he suggested that certain known realities about human nature might play a part in human behaviour; that there could be reasons beyond conscious oppression why, for instance, women were so rare in high tech. When this memo was “outed,” he was not only fired, but then exhaustively smeared, not only by his employers but by millions who do not feel the slightest compunction to read what they attack, and could not follow it if they tried. This is our brave, unctuous new world of “shamestorming.”

Alas, it is just what I was expecting, from Google of course, but also from all major Internet operators (from Facebook to GoDaddy). They take upon themselves the “Don’t be evil” responsibility to censor and smear all viewpoints that vary from their own passing notions. Combining intellectual mediocrity with unprecedented power, they will now “command the good.”

Santa Maria Assunta

A person who, in her very conception, is freed of the corruption of original sin, cannot die in the way that we who are not are given to dying. Death has no dominion in that case. It was the case of the Immaculate Virgin, as Catholic Christians have believed from the beginning, though it was only in 1950 that our pope, Pius XII, spelt out the dogma. He did not specify when, where, or how Mary was assumed into Heaven, at the end of her earthly sojourn; only that she was. Verily: given who she was, it could not be otherwise.

That is why in the Mass for today, and last evening’s Vigil, “avatars” of the Virgin are presented in their scriptural dress. We have the woman who crushes the serpent’s head, from Genesis; the embodiment of Wisdom, from Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus; the spouse from the Canticle of Canticles; Judith, the Queen; Mary, sister of Martha; and from the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle, the woman clothed with the sun.

The tradition and its corresponding associations — “the cultus” — goes back to the East. It was celebrated in Greek before it was celebrated in Latin. “The Dormition of the Theotokos” is exactly the same thing as our “taking,” our Assumptio. The cultus was fully formed and realized in the Greek liturgy by the fifth century. Pope Pius affirmed that it goes back to the Apostles, and is thus part of what we call in our Catholic language, “the Deposit of Faith.”

One may accept this or not, take it or leave it; for one does not even have to be Christian, let alone catholic and orthodox. One may be governed instead by one’s own vagrant notions, and needn’t be detained by the testimonia of twenty centuries or a billion souls, in the sight of all the heavens. Perhaps my reader is smarter.

Think, David: what is one to think?

There are, of course, theological subtleties, founded on imagined material subtleties, to fuel unnecessary sceptical debate. Did she physically die and was resurrected, in the manner of her Son, or in some other manner? The Greek habit is to be mystical, the Latin to be dogmatically cautious. But which part of “Assumed into Heaven, Body and Soul,” does one not understand? There are other eastern traditions indistinguishable from the Greek; though among our Western Protestants, the usual objection that the sources are extra-biblical (just as the biblical sources are).

Notwithstanding, everywhere, the date of 15th August has been reserved (not the Ides, incidentally; a mistake commonly made). It is a day for Mary; a day when Death is swallowed up in victory.

Well, gentle reader, here is what I am thinking:

“O Virgin prudentissima, where goest thou, bright as the morning? Fair as the Moon, shining as the Sun. O daughter of Sion.”

Charlottesville

Robert E. Lee would be mightily offended, to see what sort of rabble imagine they are defending his honour, back here on Earth. He would think of them, and the other trash attacking them, in much the same way. He would look over the New South, and much prefer the old one. But he has better things to do now, and incontestable reasons to look away, look away.

A lot of people died in what — as a descendent Loyalist, long transplanted to the northern wilds — I think of as the Third American Civil War (1776; 1812; 1861). We lost the first one, stretched the second to a draw, and weren’t invited to the third. (Though of course, we were discreetly cheering for the Confederacy.) If the issue were slavery, our consciences are fairly clear. The slaves who could run all ran to our side in that first encounter, and many fought heroically for our King. The grand question of racial bigotry — the strange prejudice that exists in almost every culture against the darker-skinned, that shames the lighter-skinned — shadows with confusion. It is some existential issue, traceable to fear, and through fear to the Sin of Adam.

But slaves have come in all colours. My own maternal ancestors enslaved an Irishman once — with, let me add, his glad cooperation. He was a starving squatter on the poorly-surveyed plot near Louisbourg in Cape Breton, which they were entitled to occupy by a ridiculous sheet of paper, signed by some bored office drudge in Halifax. “Holmville,” now Homeville; founded on slavery like the Southern plantations. Now the site of some USAmerican’s monstrous summer cottage. But in the woods adjoining, the old stones, the forgotten monuments of a few generations; and among those somewhere the marker for this poor old man — who helped clear the trees now grown back around him. Who will, I earnestly pray, be resurrected to glory in the final hour; and whom in the end we shall ourselves recognize, as a beloved member of our family.

Reconciliation is not an easy thing, the way things go on this planet. It is more like mercy than like justice; and justice, though rare, is actually more common. There can be no end, if we decide to re-litigate the past, armed as we are, with our ignorance, only.

There was much good and much evil in the Old South; and so, too, in the old, sanctimonious Yankee North. The hairs on our heads are beyond counting. Let the dead sleep; let their monuments stand.

Mysterious West

Early Irish poetry can be disorienting, to a poor modernist like me. I refer to verse from the sixth to ninth centuries, in Gaelic and in Latin (often with an irrepressible brogue) — what the Irish call “Old,” to distinguish from their “Mediaeval” verse in the tenth through, say, the seventeenth century. Ireland is special in that way; having in some sense invented Europe, she then became aloof, ignoring Renaissance and Reformation. Hence a modernity which becomes fully apparent only in the eighteenth century. But this is merely to arrange our file folders.

Let us take boy-girl love poems. They are found in all cultures, but one becomes accustomed to the girl being the object of a prodigal affection. In Old Ireland it was usually the boy. This is not because those Irish were all faeries or fancy elves, for the atmosphere is plainly heterosexual. Nor is it because the poets were all female, though being mostly anonymous we must guess what they were. Rather, the convention runs the other way. It is the young woman serving the table of princely warriors who falls, hard, for one or another. And, owing to high mortality among the princely warrior class, the woman may have a succession of husbands. The men, for their part, celebrate the chastity of field and fount; those who live to become sages throw in with the monastery and “give women the laugh.”

But the old sage may, too, be a woman. She may have burnt through men like a harlot, by her own account, but now the long year has passed, and it is time to pray, in winter. The case is complicated, because it may be a man writing the poem, presenting himself as the aging harlot, in dry wit threading through asceticism.

I mustn’t stereotype, mustn’t I? … I squib upon one corner of a poetry I cannot read, except in translations; a poetry most nimble across a wide range of spiritual, and material themes. It is unmistakably Christian, but from the intersection with the ancient pagan world, in a place where Gaelic and Latin meet, also. Only in the last century did the scholars realize that the Gaelic metres are not copied from Latin hymns; that both, as Greek, have deeper “Indo-European” antecedents.

I think back to it today, in struggling with Saint Augustine. I am hardly the first to discover in his (prose) homilies the presence of spooky internal rhymes. These, too, are in the Gaelic Irish; and they are not like jingling modern rhymes. There are strict rules, which we might associate with “good taste,” that limit the rhymes to the vowels, in combination with consonants that must be “broad” or “slender.” Only gradually do they migrate to the line endings, where the danger of a jingle comes into view, and the challenge is to enlarge their resonation, as the bells on the cathedral towers.

Here is where our world starts — our post-classical world as it floats free of the elderly pagan, in buoyant genius, ascending everywhere. We can admire Cicero, as Augustine certainly did, yet read him as something exotic and foreign. In Augustine we read something exotic, turning familiar, such that his distance from Cicero is greater than Augustine’s distance from us. And the oldest Irish verses are on this side of that mysterious divide.

It is strange, how Europe was invented. One would expect the thrust to come marching through Anatolia, from the south-east to Rome with the Apostles. And it does, but it also sings across the sands of Egypt, across North Africa, then up through salt Atlantic water. The heart of the dark savage Continent is penetrated, as much from rural Ireland as from the crumbling urban centre. A kind of halo comes to surround the new, the unimaginable land, and a voice as if from nowhere.

Oh sing unto the Lord a new song.

Notes from the sheepfold

An email from a correspondent, who is not in Guam, reminds me to remind gentle reader of a truth I take for self-evident, but perhaps others don’t. We personalize the State. I do myself, when I refer to it as Big Brother, Big Sister, Twisted Nanny, &c. But this is a conceit. As anyone caught in the jaws of Big Shark should realize, it doesn’t think like a human. It thinks more like a mechanism. Of course, when the mechanism has selected one’s own person for food — I am thinking here of the Revenue Department, but government agencies are all much the same — little can be done. One might beg for mercy, but the thing is not designed to dispense mercy. That is not its function. Its function is to absorb protein.

Guvmint agents themselves — the cells and their switches — are task-oriented. Each signed off his right to make humane judgements when he took the job.

We used to have reactionary courts, to restrain the creature. Now we have progressive courts, to urge it on.

Among the foibles of democracy, is the notion that “the peeple” are somehow in control. The people, however, consist of persons, with their quite various moral flaws, which tend to cancel each other. They elect politicians for show. This helps them put a human face on the enterprise, so they have someone to blame at the electoral intervals. It is true that a government with a majority and a will can alter the course of history: usually by putting more sharks in the tank. And that the policy wonks are, arguably, human. But they are cells themselves, within Leviathan.

We live, I say from time to time, in an age of “total war” and “total peace.” The one condition resembles the other: a command economy, focused on results. We have, as it were, totalitarianism with a human face. It is a kind of smiley face, painted on the tip of the missile.

When, as yesterday, I give pointless advice to our political “masters” (themselves operating within greater constraints), I do not imagine it will be taken. I cannot even know what they know, in the control room they briefly occupy, trying to override this automated switch or that.

More fundamentally, I do not think that the morals which pertain to the individual conscientious human, can apply to Leviathan. This was never possible, though a simple absolute monarchy comes closer to the humanized ideal. Properly constituted, a State is only a protection racket, for a group of “citizens” legally defined. Its job should be to eat sharks and not men; or sheep and not men as Thomas More put it, noting in the first age of Enclosure that the attraction of fine wool was so great, that pasturage was erasing husbandry, so that in practice sheep were now eating men.

We’ve come a long way since then — five centuries long — in the art of Enclosure. Each advance of the so-called “capitalists” was made possible by extension of government fiat, to support the development of economies of scale. By now the supply of fine wool is assured; and all we ask is for sufficient “employment,” that we may fatten ourselves for the next cull.

I wish that we could ask for more; I wish we could be treated as more than livestock. But I am not under the absurd impression some politician can provide this liberation. Things are as they are. It is true I am something of a “libertarian” and a “distributist” — a goat in the sheepfold perhaps — but I do not think we can save ourselves.

My Catholic Sola is Our Lord: Christ alone can save us.

Oh no not Korea again

There are conflicts that cannot be resolved peacefully. Perhaps this does not come as news to gentle reader. By “peacefully” I mean with the consent of all parties. Not all wars, not all defeats or regimental extinctions, involve much bloodshed. The Soviet regime, for instance, collapsed with only a murder or two, by trigger-happy border guards; it was peace that allowed the Soviet Union to accumulate many million corpses. Did their defeat require a war? Yes, I would argue: that Cold War, which the Western powers remarkably fought and won. You stand your ground and it happens, sometimes, that your enemy loses his nerve. Reagan, Thatcher, JP-II and others contributed largely to that final act, in which the Communists embraced pacifism and appeasement. Let the other side do that, then magnanimously accept their capitulation.

Unfortunately the successor regime of Vladimir Putin has recovered some spunk. And Red China, having mastered certain economies of scale, under the aegis of its more deft Communist Party, can find no reason to retreat from its Stalinist (in the sense of a nationalism of convenience) aspirations to a permanent and central place in the world, to which China (with or without totalitarian rule) would be anyway entitled by size.

The Korean War was never resolved. We are still working with a ceasefire dated 27 July 1953. The line that divides the two Koreas is only an armistice, yet like the arbitrary line that divided Canada from USA (1783, with adjustments) it is sufficient to create two polities which will “evolve” in different ways, even if the people were much of a muchness. The “Martian” (in two senses) North Korean polity has weirdly been given sixty-four years, by Western irresolution.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” is the socially-approved Yankee approach to diplomacy. “Shoot the dog to scare the monkey,” is the nearest Maoist equivalent. “Wave the stick and shriek like a maniac” would seem to be Mr Trump’s current compromise in the interesting cultural exchange between Far East and Far West, as their interests collide across the Pacific. Except China, and of course North Korea, we have other Rim powers on our side, and the Russians merely fishing in troubled water — unable to rival the kind of subsidies from China that keep the Pyongyang regime afloat. (“Why don’t you shoot them to scare us?” is an eccentric approach not yet tried.)

I find the pragmatism of the Chinese most encouraging. I’m sure they’d never trust Kim Jong-un with the sort of ICBM technology that might be accurate and effective. They’d rather stay alive, and in power. They will cling to North Korea for as long as they can find advantage in it. But they also have a lot of face to save, so I can understand the occasional American attempt at subtlety. The preferred solution is for Peking [stet] to puncture that little fat Kim boy [stet]. What, I wonder, is the best way to inspire them?

The North Korean missile inventory, which to my mind does not seriously threaten either Guam or any protected species in Alaska, is troubling for other reasons. They pass technology under the table with Iran, and worse, could incinerate heavily populated bits of South Korea and Japan in a hit-or-miss way. In diplomatic terms, the consequences of that would be “too unpredictable.” That little Kim is mad, goes without saying; most politicians are. Perhaps not all become quite so psychopathic; most lack the opportunities. Alas, Kim was never house-trained. Even the mad can be taught to beg under carefully-staged conditions.

The trick, to my mind, as a former international affairs pundit, to whom no one ever listened, is to rhetorically ignore China (Mr Trump: restrict your entertaining tweets to domestic affairs!) while keeping the usual secret channels open. Call in another aircraft carrier fleet, pile defensive measures into South Korea (get some “Iron Dome” from Tel Aviv), return a few nukes to their abandoned peninsular silos (that was Bush’s bad, not Obama’s); load the Japanese up with the same. (There’s money to be made in this, incidentally.) Aim so much at North Korea that their own generals begin to wet themselves, then shoot down a “missile test” to help them imagine a coup. Let the porous State Department leak the extravagant details to the U.S. media. I think the need for a regime change would then spontaneously occur to the other side.

Shrieking like a maniac is optional.

So is piously hoping it will end well.

Combat

There was a point to yesterday’s effusion, and let me write it down before I’ve forgotten what it was.

When we say, “Nothing is perfect in this world,” we do not mean perfection in the sense of “the perfect world of scientific socialism.” (I lived with a socialist once, and would goad him in the kitchen with remarks like, “In the perfect world of scientific socialism, that toast would not have burnt,” &c.)

The grammarians among my gentle readers will know that the past tense is “perfect,” when the action is complete. For it is in this that the perfection of the past consists: it is truly settled, unchangeably over. It is immortal in that way. That is what the word means to the wise; and this meaning survives in such locutions as “a perfect fool.” One might say, “a complete fool” and mean the same thing exactly, although in both cases some hyperbole is involved. But no hyperbole in the Christian (and classical) conception. Nothing living in this world is complete, and were we to understand anything completely (supposing our understanding were important), we would have to pass beyond our natural limitations into the supernatural realm, where the actions of this world are completed, and the justice of the Creation is fulfilled.

But the boundary of death lies in our way. We can, especially near the border itself, see a little beyond it into what we might poetically call that green and pleasant land, which cannot be literally so because it is unearthly. We can rather sense in moments, or in sanctity perhaps as a matter of course, that which transcends our human experience, and leads beyond to its completion.

We might say that, through appearances — by which I mean going beyond appearance — we can discern some good in each imperfect evil and discount some evil in each imperfect good, yet one hesitates to put this in a way that might be exploited by the administrators of the Dictatorship of Relativism, whose notion of “beyond good and evil” is devilish and inverted. What we see is “a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower.” Blake, who wrote this, carefully avoided heresy in this instance at least, by his use of the indefinite article: “a heaven” and not the Heaven that lies beyond the possibility of human understanding.

In Augustine’s De Agone Christiano, or as we might say, Le Combat Chrétien (I am trying to read his earlier opuscular works in a pocket edition with Latin on the left, French on the righthand pages, and me in the gutter, somewhere between), the Saint of Hippo takes on the Donatist nutjobs of his day, whose paramilitary Agonisticici (“those who engage in the martyr’s struggle”) are not without some distant resemblance to our post-modern “martyrs” (of Manhattan, Madrid, Baghdad, Mosul).

As ideologists, they locate perfection in this world, and verily the next world in terms of this one, thus imagine that by simply killing a lot of people the good which Mohammad “commands” can be accomplished. This is true even for those Donatists/Islamists who do not kill but engage in what we might call the intellectual equivalent of global bisection. The Christian, Augustine says, must not be like that, and so he draws a colourful contrast between the catholic sane, and the uncatholic fanatical, while playing aggressively with the Donatists’ own propaganda terms.

We are engaged in a Combat, to be sure, which in moments seems to reduce to a streetfight, but is no streetfight in its ends. We have an Enemy, to be sure, but he is not human — not a physical person nor some abstract complex of human souls. We meet this Enemy in nature and in supernature, yet our “soldiers of Christ” will get nowhere unless they begin to understand what this Enemy is, and what he is up to.

He is trying to lead us away from God, to a place infinitely apart (Hell). Our struggle is to prevent him from doing so. Our tactics must lead us to God, through or around every obstacle. Our advantage comes when we follow those orders, which originate in the Divine, and use our freedom and intelligence to discern this light from that darkness — with the calm exhilaration of the happy soldier who sniffs victory in the air.

For sure, this is war. But to win we must not conduct it on the Enemy’s terms. Like a terrorist, he actually wants us to hate him, almost as much as he hates us, just for being alive. Let us not be suckered; let us double down on Love.

Summer reading

As a pretentious young viper, I would sometimes pick fights with my mother over what she was reading. I would examine some paperback she had set down, and pronounce it to be trash. She would agree, with the qualification that “light reading” was the more genteel expression. I cannot now remember what many of the books were, but the genre of detective fiction was well represented, and then-recent novels which could be located on bestseller lists. Sometimes it would be a pop “major author” — say, D. H. Lawrence in one of his repetitive attempts to write sentimental pornography on the virgin-and-gypsy theme. Once I congratulated her on attempting something translated from German. “Oh, it’s your father reading that. I don’t read books by foreigners.”

She had the habit of reading, formed early, and could often be found lost in a book. To her mind literature was meant for an escape: from nursing, housework, and raising difficult children. So if the book was arduous, it was also useless. “You can’t be serious all the time,” she would say, “you have to take a break from it sometimes.” To which I would reply, “But surely you can be serious some of the time.” For I wasn’t only a viper. I was also a little jackass.

It was the same with music. She came home once, to say she could hear the Bach fugue I was playing, two blocks down the street. Dropping groceries and rushing to turn it down, she then swivelled to confront me. “Why can’t you be a normal child, and listen to rock music!” (Her sister was a church organist back in Cape Breton; she actually knew a great deal about Bach, including how to introduce jazz syncopations, to fly by one’s tone-deaf Presbyterian minister.)

Needless to say, I regret most of my earlier selves. But I can still understand them. My campaign against the de-civilization of the West began a decade before I thought it did. The idea arrived ready-made, that one ought to indulge in “self-improvement.” From the moment I discovered there was such a thing as historical time (via Kipling), I was determined to perform an investigation. To this day, I am still trying to fill the holes, in my head, but also in my knowledge of times and places; trying to see things whole, as Augustine was doing in his City of God. (Now there’s a fine weighty volume.)

There is a young gentleman whom I shall call “Z.” — for that is his initial. He is a lawyer who would go far, were he not also a Catholic. The product of Ontario schools, he has become starkly aware that he was cheated of an education. He has wife and childers now, and little leisure, but in each free moment he tries to “fill his gaps.” Alas, like mine, there are gaps within his gaps, and so he flits like a butterfly through the extensive meadow. Donate some duplicate odd volume of a Loeb, and he grabs it lustily — as another key to how everything fits together, another door in the treasure vaults.

I applaud this form of idleness, which, I should mention, my mother graciously encouraged. This is “the higher environmentalism.” We can’t save the intellectual, any more than the biological environment by teaching the ignorant to protest. We can do so, however, by teaching them to love: the books, the music; the birds, and all Creation.

“The organs of recognition, without which no true reading is possible, are reverence and love. Knowledge cannot dispense with them, for it can grasp and analyze only what love takes possession of, and without love it is empty.” (Emil Staiger.)

Rejecting what is bad, fails. We must teach ourselves instead to seek the good, which exposes the bad of its own; or as Augustine reminds, not merely seek but find it.

And that which is loved is spontaneously protected.

On mercy mild

Jalapeño peppers come in many cultivars: some quite hot and interesting, others mild, dull and, you know, “Canadian.” I first encountered them in a hamburger joint, many years ago. They were then a “new thing.” These were fine, fiery jalapeños, unexpected from any purveyor of mass-market food. I gathered it was an experiment, so to tip the scale, I resolved to eat all future hamburgers in that shop. All continued well.

But one day something horrible happened. It had to do with the jalapeños. Some other variety had been substituted, that tasted more like lettuce. And I don’t like lettuce. I wanted an explanation.

And an explanation I received. Customers had complained that the “hot peppers” were hot. One said that her mouth was burnt off, another that his tongue had turned red, et cetera. Management found a new supplier, and there had been no complaints since. I thus took upon myself the moral responsibility to make as big a scene as I could, to compensate for all the silent types.

“So now you are offering hot peppers for people who don’t like hot peppers.”

“No, no,” the manager explained, “they want hot peppers, they still ask for them.”

“For hot peppers that aren’t hot.”

“Yeah.”

“So why don’t you tell them not to order hot peppers if they don’t like hot peppers?”

I left. I cannot argue with people who reject the law of noncontradiction.

The experience was not a dead loss, however. For a half-dollar (which was the price of a hamburger in those days), I had received an insight into capitalism, and a glimpse of the collapse of Western Civ.

The Catholic Church comes into this, of course. In the time since, I have noticed that her managers have been redesigning what they must think is “their product,” for people who don’t like it. It began with a Mass for people who don’t like the Mass. Now we have doctrines for people who don’t like doctrines. Lettuce options everywhere one turns. For some reason the customers have been disappearing; perhaps the lettuce is too crunchy.

When I write a piece like my column today at the Thing (over here), I get “letters.” Some will argue for “the new evangelism,” which is for people who don’t like evangelism. They say we can only approach those who don’t like Catholicism, by being softer. Maybe associate it with football, or environmentalism, or something. Something they like. Maybe that’s how we will attract new customers, from places where not one customer can be found. “It can’t hurt to try!”

True enough, it doesn’t hurt to sell out. It is, generally, the least painful option.

But if there were people who might like hot peppers, we will never know.

My approach would be more confrontational. I’d go 20,000 Scoville — the way Saint Paul used to do.

Then if someone doesn’t like it, tell him he has an easier choice.

“What can I do instead?”

“Go to Hell.”

On breaking the law

As the old Scottish jurisprudes taught, and other sages since time out of mind, one cannot break the law. One can only break oneself upon the law. They referred to that “natural law” which underlies all human legislation; or if it doesn’t, the human laws will perish. There are laws in physics and chemistry, laws implicit in the design of organisms, laws governing geometry and number, and all these laws are related. And there are laws of behaviour which govern the creatures, and govern man in a peculiar way, for man is granted wit with some small degree of freedom and wonder. The moral law is one with all the other laws of the universe, that we may dimly descry. Things could not be otherwise because the universe coheres. We may choose to obey or contest.

To that Scottish jurisprude (we are travelling back centuries here), raised in the genius of the Common Law, on its own and as embedded in Scots law with its complex antecedents, law is not essentially “written.” Rather, it is “discovered,” and the discoveries are accumulated. To this day, a litigious Scot will take you to court, “To see what the law says.” She (the example I had in mind was quite female) does not mean that the lawyers will simply look it up in a book, or use the algorithm in a computer program. Nooo. They will try the case. She means they will examine precedent, with a natural discernment of right and wrong, in light of the circumstance presented.

This is not the way revolutionary Frenchmen thought, who, in their perverse rationalism, decided we must all have a Code. Like the satanic metric system (designed for administrators, not makers and traders), the Napoleonic conception of law has apparently swept the world. With it travels that blithe arrogance with which the liberal and progressive mind solves its imaginary “problems,” under the illusion that it is “scientific.” There is still some resistance in e.g. the despised “Anglo-Saxon” realms, which have yet entirely to detach themselves from the old mediaeval sense of play. Americans (USAnians and Canadians alike) find themselves stretched between these poles — discovery by natural reason, and imposition by “theory.”

Realism versus nominalism, as we used to say.

We have “natural law theoreticians” which is a flagrant contradiction of terms. Nature abhors a theory, in the modern sense of that word. There is nothing experimental about her, and she sneers at those smug who claim to perfectly understand her. She has ever another trick up her sleeve, to surprise her investigators. Just as they declare her asleep, the bats fly out. We must take her at her own evaluation, with all the caution that must imply; or take the alternative, and die.

Her laws are not negotiable. All are instantly enforced, in every increment along our way. She lets us jump; she does not let us fly. She does not allow abstraction on abstraction. Pile one assumption on another and we are soon crushed.

To say that a human act is “unnatural” was, until very recently, to say it should not be attempted. There will be a cost, and the cost is very likely to exceed what the experimenter can afford. The cost may be displaced for a time, as the cost of our “gay revolution” has been displaced in the destruction of natural families. Governments may legislate such displacements of cost: they may tax A for the benefit of B. They are under the impression that they make the laws. But no such effort is sustainable.

For in the end, we will see what the real Law says.

Rowing to Paradise

My Chief South-Western Ontario Correspondent has got married again, after forty years. The children were in attendance, I gather, and the Church entirely onside, for you see, he made his commitment to the same woman. I recommend these churchings, these “renewal ceremonies,” to those whose first, “starter” marriage was performed in Las Vegas, or in front of some tedious provincial bureaucrat. They are like the conditional baptisms that become necessary these days. For it is not only a re-affirmation of now-distant vows, but a noble effort to sabotage any future request for an annulment.

One might even say they restore an aristocratic tradition, for in Europe over the centuries the high-born would (and could afford to) get married twice: first in a modest civil ceremony for the paperwork, then more extravagantly (both materially and spiritually) in the Cathedral, once that is filed away. Our contemporary ecclesiastical authorities tell you to get a civil divorce first, before applying for an annulment. This is the same idea, except, morally and spiritually upside down.

I realize that not all marriages work out. Hooo, do I realize. I favour allowing some separations, though regret that no one seems to seek ecclesiastical permission for them. This is not an Age of Faith, unless we count faith in technological progress, which, by comparison to Christian beliefs, is so recklessly naïve. The idea of seeking permission from anyone for anything is largely in abeyance. It does not surprise me that, for instance, as annulments are now available with almost the ease of transit tokens, the number who seek them is falling. Why bother? The consequences of riding the trolley without a ticket would be more grave; so that fare you pay.

We have odd ideas about which way is up, and for a legalistic culture, strange notions about the Law of Contract.

My S-WOC preceded his wife into the Church, by decades. It is an impressive story, but not my business to tell. He was first lured, as so many of my convert and revert friends, by reading the works of such as Messrs Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, Muggeridge. Oddly, Muggs was the only one of those I’d read, before I converted, and him not for religious edification. So how did I wind up in this place?

On the intellectual side, I think it began wrestling with Aristotle’s Organon: with the possibility that the world might make sense. Aristotle delivered me into the hands of his commentator, Thomas Aquinas. I have a gift for finding the hard way home. Eventually I learnt the correct question to ask, of Jesus Christ — “Are you there?” — to which in due course He replied, Yes.

But as He may lie in ambush down every path, I think, all roads lead to Rome.

Our current pope reminds me that among the Holy Fathers I most admired were Borgias and Medicis. (And among my biggest crushes, that on Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of a pope — a girl with even more style than Ivanka Trump.) Even in those days before conversion, I gathered that the popes’ job was to backstop on doctrine and liturgy; but if they could add by glorious patronage to the inventory of Western Art, the more power to their respective right arms.

My views have developed over the years, mostly by expansion. I continue to think we can survive bad popes, and that there might even be some value in them, obscure to us because we cannot see things whole. But setting that observation aside, it is of the greatest possible importance to us — in the care and feeding of our immortal souls — that we continue in the practice of the liturgy and doctrine, upholding not only the law, but the spirit of the Law, regardless of personal convenience.

And marriage, we can know, is sacrosanct. This does not mean it is always convenient. It could not mean anything like that. It means: hold the oar, keep rowing.