Essays in Idleness


The mess through history

It is well, I reflect on this Feast of Saint John of the Cross, that there were no bloggers in sixteenth-century Spain. Saint John himself would never have been among them; nor Saint Teresa of Jesus, though the poor woman might have been sorely tempted. These two, among the three dozen or so Doctors of the Church — the whole Church — were, ignoring other things, at the spiritual heart of the “Discalced” Reform of the Carmelite Order. It was the kind of “reform” that deeply appeals to me, for in its nature it pulled the Order back to its regenerative roots. Ditto, I think, with the Mercedarians and other orders, being turned wonderfully backward in that age. For it was the century of the Reformation, across Europe; and thus the Counter-Reformation in which, whatever the Protestants were doing, the Catholic Church had become deadly serious about mending her ways, and ending the decadence that the Protestants had exposed. No such amendment is painless.

Somewhere up here in the High Doganate, in addition to the works of those two from Ávila, which are simply astounding and must be read by all, is a copy of the useful Handbook of the learned E. Allison Peers, to their lives and times (1954). I almost fear touching it again, from having once got migraines trying to follow a daily story through decades in which there are e.g. five distinct Graciáns, and innumerable Diegos, and bless me if I could tell them all apart. Especially as some wear black hats on one page, and white hats on another, and the excellent Peers is so oppressively fair-minded that one almost wants a blogger with a scythe. Some are coming and going from Rome, some are Bishops and Abbots, commanding in place, and some, of the Royal Court, are sometimes more religious than the professed. Except the Saints, who emerge as the only level-headed, we have a cast of thousands, or dozens at least of major players, any of whom may suddenly veer, from wild arrogance to obsequious contrition. Imagine if they all had blogs.

One might say none of it really matters any more. The Discalced Carmelites emerged, from the wreckage of an older Order that wasn’t about to surrender its interests to such holy upstarts; yet in the end, towards the end of the century, all was (reasonably) fitting and good. Or rather it does matter: to understand sometimes the infighting and human political nastiness, which is the background for sudden irruptions of the Holy. God knows what He is about, as Newman said in his prayers, and His Saints do His bidding, often without knowing what they are about. (‘Twas Newman, too, who said that we walk to Heaven backwards.)

The Church is not some sort of Edenic, whole-earth alternative to worldly strife. (That we find only in a well-sung Mass.) Sometimes it gets worse in here, than it is out there. Catholics should not fail to understand that, by reading a little history; and potential converts, too, should not let it get in their way. For in the end no Nuncio, no Prince, no King, no Abbot, no Bishop, and not even the Bishop at Rome, has charge of her. From them, except perhaps Saints and Martyrs, comes little not admixed with chaos.

But in the end, Christ rules. Okay?

The Wraith

Getting up in the middle of last night, for whatever reason, I could not help noticing a Wraith — for only thus would I describe it — fleeing down my little hallway out of sight, having emerged from a shelved doorless closet. Yes, definitely a Wraith, I concluded, from its Edward Gorey style and appearance, to say nothing of the way it preserved an angle as it flit, disturbing like a reverse italic. Did not pursue it; knew it would escape. At least, they always do in the literature.

What was a Wraith doing in the High Doganate, I naturally wondered. The tenant before me died in this place, but he was quite male, the Wraith seemed female. Or rather, something between a she and an it, and nightgown’d accordingly. The feet, I noticed, were bare and hardly moving as they dashed along an invisible platform, perhaps twelve inches above the floor. Perfectly silent. The height, after mentally straightening her angle, would be four foot at most. The face was distinctly angular in profile, and the shoulders seemed uneven. The left eye was twisted, though not towards me. There I must leave my police description for she, or it, went by me fairly quickly.

I should mention, too, (your honour,) that I’ve seen something like this before, but not often, and only once in this country. Perhaps it is because not enough people have died here yet, and only one in a million leaves a Wraith. But that is just theory; we must deal with facts. Theories only make the facts disappear.

Do I believe in ghosts? Of course not. What do you take me for, a Pagan? Ditto gnomes, elves, dwarfs, fairies, hobgoblins, leprechauns, pixies, and — well, I’m not sure about witches (but we won’t go there).

Perhaps I should specify the lights were still out, and my Wraith was quite visible notwithstanding, yet did not appear self-illuminated. (I live in a city, there is ambient streetlight.) Nor was she a creature of my sleepy eyes, or rather, the sharpness with which she appeared and disappeared was noteworthy. I might also mention that for some reason, fear did not enter into the experience, though I must say my alertness was raised. And when I considered her — now under full electric lighting, with a cup of strong tea — I could not think of anything in recent experience, including my diet of the previous day, to account for such a phantasm.

It is anyway a mistake, in my judgement, to become immediately “subjective” in such things, as modern science insists in the cause of its false “objectivity.” A good old-fashioned police witness, ideally formed in the Sacrament of Penance, knows to separate what he saw from his inferences upon it. (Which does not mean he suppresses those inferences, only that he flags them as his own.)

For the real method of modern science, or more precisely scientism, is to deny whatever it can’t explain. Then affirm what it previously denied, once it thinks of a plausible explanation.

I simply saw what I saw, and can’t begin to explain it.

My paternal grandmother, from Torquay in Devonshire, and raised by Anglican nuns (she was the unwanted daughter of a Torquay prostitute, in a brothel with a French clientele, hence my proud assertion of French ancestry), often saw ghosts, and said they sometimes followed her around, as, for instance, to the New World from the Old, when the nuns sent her on her way. She was not even slightly mad; only half English. I do now suddenly remember that she told me in childhood there is a species of Wraith that inhabit such as large closets, and are loath to stray very far from them. Perhaps I had disturbed one of those.

Her husband (my grandpa) never listened to her on such matters, and neither, much, did anyone else, but I was a curious child, so she told me everything. I would not go so far as to say that any of her stories were probable; but I think she believed them herself. She claimed, too, the ability to communicate, not with all ghosts, but certainly a broad selection of them. She was also, by claim, somewhat clairvoyant, and especially so on her deathbed, by which I sat on her last night, now forty-six years ago. But all that for some other occasion, I am running late on this Idlepost today.

Make perfect thy will

An item linked by my Chief Indianapolis Correspondent (this one) caught my attention last night, and gave me something to pray on. The essay, by a wise Evangelical, is on the lust for respectability. I know it so well. Embraced, this lust consumes us; rejected it returns again and again, and I would play the Pharisee if I denied its attraction.

The storms seemed worse in my youth, though perhaps only because I still stood a chance of becoming a respectable person. I think back to a time when all I wanted was a lot of income, a pretty girl, and people to take me seriously. It was fortunate for me that the little angel, who has ever ridden on my right shoulder, and sometimes speaks into my right ear, is a mischievous little thing. Not from my own will, but the angel’s, have I been saved from various grave temptations, from time to time. (And sometimes not.) The angel puts an idea in my head, for something clever to say or do, and the consequence is, that I don’t get the prize. (Who knew that God employs mischievous spirits?)

Allen Guelzo’s article reviews the capture of Evangelical Christianity in those USA, by the forces of politically correct respectability, in the course of the last generation. It explains why they are no longer “an embarrassment,” having learnt how to remain silent when called to the service of Our Lord. For contrast he recalls, from his own youth, a certain retired Professor of Apologetics, into whose motives he had inquired. Why had he recklessly devoted his whole life to philosophy, and Christian teaching?

“Why, to protect Christ’s little ones,” the old man replied.

The young Guelzo was gobsmacked, and remains so still; and I, too, am impressed by the profound simplicity of the answer. Here was that rarest imaginable thing: a man teaching in a university, disposed to truth and light. What a scandal! … But of course, it happened a long time ago.

And of course, such a man was hardly respectable, even then. Today, like Saint Paul, he’d likely as not be run out of town. There is no secular university on this continent that would dream of giving such a man a job, let alone tenure. He could learn to shut up, or he could seek another trade. (Fireman, for instance: Christians seem welcome wherever there is a fire.) And how I know the envy of the “tenured,” and of the prizes that could be won, if only I wasn’t so ashamed, in the presence of my Maker.

How often one is offered a reward, if one will just shut up about Jesus. It is the price of admission, even into the rightwing media. I was asked if I would pay it, just the other day. But by now I prefer braying at the Moon.

“In every example where the courts, the celebrities, or the culture-makers, have trampled heedlessly on biblical norms, there are some initially robust outbursts of resistance, then a nervous glancing around to see whether anyone has joined the resistance.” O Lord, have I noticed this phenomenon myself: the case of the disappearing allies.

Governor Winthrop is cited, addressing the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. After much rhetoric on Truth, and suchlike, he concludes: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

As Guelzo puts it: “Winthrop and his fellow exiles gave themselves over hostage to applause.”

Christ Himself was leery of large audiences, and did not seek any of the forms of respectability then available in Roman provincial society, including that of the Pharisee preacher. He ended not with laurels, but tacked to a Cross, wearing the crown of thorns that is the ultimate award for moral and spiritual perfection. And his final homily was from that Cross, and in those startling words echoed from a Psalm through His torment: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” …

Before, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (At which Jesus died; but the Psalmist continues: “Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord.”)

Words not addressed to the crowd; and not at all in fashionable garments. Christ our exemplar has turned His attention entirely to the Father, as he leaves our world, having done nothing but the Father’s will through the length of his sojourn. We saw him “respectable” in society, only in a moment riding on an ass, the palm fronds thrown before him: entering Jerusalem by the humble eastern gate. (Well, this wasn’t very respectable, either.)

There is the, usually droll, question, “What would Jesus do?” Right question, perhaps, but in the wrong tone. Better would be, “What would Christ have me do?” For his Life was not a catalogue of situations and responses, and God did not create us to do what has already been done. He did not make us for statistical purposes. Instead He made each to be a new Saint, providing each with the light to show his steps forward, like the lantern on a miner’s hat — not towards, but away from the light of this world, by which we are dazzled.

But of course, this is a “counsel of perfection,” as I notice all of Christ’s counsels were. No one, among us sinners, can be completely free of the desire to avoid the embarrassment that comes from standing alone; only the saints and martyrs overcome it.

Even in death, we want to make a show, so that even if we failed to make tenure, we might still be respectable in the eye of Fame. Guelzo here cites Thomas of Canterbury, in T.S. Eliot’s play, who is surprised by his final temptation — which is to Martyrdom itself. We want a crowd when they carry us away; we want to know our last words will be recorded; so people may finally learn that we were right all along. We hardly want to go through all this, and not get credit. Not with our reputation at stake.

What a comedown, to have spent one’s life preparing for this final act, and no one there to see it. To find that the audience has all gone away. It is the last and most terrible temptation, to do other than God’s will.

Which is to throw that bag of swag away; to discard the lust that fondles it, and the fear of life without it at one’s side.

No-go & safe zones

On this planet, there are no permanent “safe zones,” for Catholics or others of the Christian persuasion. Or anyone. But that’s not something to wring hands over. There never were, there will never be — till God pulls the curtains on our sordid drama. We have the advantage over other communities of barely stable human beings, in having been taught to expect invasion, these last two thousand years. Christ spoke to adults, not children; we should be teaching children in our turn. (First, of course, we have to beget them.)

Grown-ups should know they have what they can defend, individually and collectively. Graced with basic intelligence, we can also begin to appreciate that “defence” is required on many levels: some very plain, others rather subtle.

The idea of retiring from the world, to the monastery or the hermitage, has, approximately, nothing to do with the “no-go” and safe zones demanded by Muslim psychopaths and campus liberals. Those a little acquainted with history will know there is no mountain so high, no desert so wide, to keep off the Devil. He is familiar with our earthly geography, and has that spirit of enterprise that progressive folk so honour. He’s comin’ ta get ya, and only those already got will fail to discern his approach.

We have been invaded, we are going to be invaded: stop whining about it. We are under spiritual attack, every day, and what is more we may be under physical attack, too. Christ did not even bother to teach about the “kill or be killed” situations. I think this is because they were too simple to be worth His time. The human organism is anyway endowed with the capacity to suss out the advantages of self-preservation. Even in Parkdale, the pigeons have figured that out, and keep their “safe zones” moving. (I have, incidentally, an excellent Egyptian recipe for squab.)

On campuses such as that of the University of Missouri — where the law of non-contradiction has been abrogated, and the norms of civilization no longer apply — we have by contrast the demand for stationary safe zones. And from the Muslims in recent immigrant ghettos across Western Europe, we have not merely the demand, but the actual establishment of “no go” areas, where the police and other public services — including fire trucks and ambulances — will be met with rocks. To wander in, improperly dressed for Shariah, would be like taking an evening stroll into Palestine, for a skull-capped Jew. Which is to say, extremely inadvisable.

There are, to any reasonably intelligent young woman, wishing to forego molestation, parts of many cities best avoided. This is a fact of life, and not an acceptable one, either. Such women may want “safe zones” for themselves, but are insufficiently ambitious. The job of the cops is, on the contrary, to remove the safe zones for rapists and muggers — regardless of the local ethnicity. (This is also a task for any healthy young man.)

I am encouraged, for at least a moment, by the official reaction to the shootings in Paris, even if discouraged by the popular reaction, that will eventually tell in the polls. Notwithstanding the hand-wringing, and candlelight displays, Hollande and the more than one hundred thousand troops he has now requisitioned, seem ready to rumble. His aubergines (I love this old French slang for gendarmes, that sadly passed away with their puffy black raincoats) sprinkled five thousand bullets around the safest of the Jihadi safe places within Saint-Denis, and I think this was about the right number. Better still to test the next barrier with a tank.

Why should the adepts of Jihad be made to feel any more comfortable in the West, than we do? Especially when they are the principal source of our discomfort. My mediaeval conception of “rights” does not extend to ethnic factions. What does not further provide for all human beings from the moment of conception, should rather be considered case by case.

Unfortunately we no longer have that class of politicians, which I am persuaded we once had in both “conservative” and “liberal” ranks, who understood well and quickly that intimidation requires a virile response; and who would turn even upon their own supporters when unreasonable demands were shoved forward. Alas, I am referring mostly to times before the First World War. But the sense of irreducible public responsibility can, in principle, be stirred from slumber; and if those “Syrian refugees” with Kalashnikovs will keep it up, who knows what they may awaken. We can only hope for politicians who will not only rise, but shine.

“Comfort zones” is another term, for what Muslim psychopaths and campus hotshots think should be provided, at the expense of others. The liberals, as usual, were late to the discovery; the Muslims have many centuries on them, with their concept of the Dar al-Islam. It goes back to the Koran. In English it is conveyed by the phrase: “Mine is mine, and yours is for sharing.”

Too: the concept of constant progress, in a sense unknown to the classical world. (I am uttering an opinion with which, I admit, some classical scholars might disagree.) For the religious idea that this Dar al-Islam, or gigantic “safe zone,” must be constantly expanding, against neighbours who have only such rights as Muslims are in a mood to confer, is also an Islamic invention. Congratulate them at least for their originality; our liberals came to the “ratcheting principle” rather late in the day.

Charles Martel was the Western refutation: “So what happens when your frontiers contract?”

A shark, if I may revert to my earlier mention of animal life, is rather different from a pigeon. (Trust me on this, I was a science kid.) There are many kinds of shark, some of which (like Sufis) are habitually peaceful; but most sharks, from viviparous birth, are endowed with a system of respiration that requires them to ceaselessly swim forward. Stall, or push them backwards, and they asphyxiate. Their aggressive hunting customs are of a piece, reflecting this “progressive” need.

Sharks are sharks and will be, whether from the East, or from the West. Who am I to judge their nature? But it is not their nature that I oppose. Rather, it is the idea that we should keep backing off, so their comfort zones will not be impeded, when some kind of wall would be much more effective.

Call it, if you will, our own “comfort zone,” and grow it. Or as the feminists like to put it: “Take back the night.”

Silence of the lambs

In principle, I am against hotheads. Indeed, I am somewhat hothead on the issue, for in truth, I am one of nature’s hotheads myself — a loud, fanatic, combustible advocate for quiet and moderation. A day hardly passes when I do not contemplate numerous homicides; though I try not to act on them. My little sister could perhaps testify to the continuities in my personhood, through six decades. Among her gifts, and the pleasures of her childhood, was an instinctive knowledge of how to provoke me — though without malice, of course, and strictly for her own entertainment. (Oh yes, I remember, my darling.) I co-habited with a woman in the state of marriage for some eighteen years; she could perhaps provide the most thorough inventory of my little foibles. And over the years I have fallen out with various other partners, in my farcically unsuccessful professional “career” — firing those below me; quitting (or being quitted of) when they were above me in rank.

These, I would say, in quiet reflection, are marks of a hothead.

My beloved papa, the seventh anniversary of whose death I observed the other day, was a great destroyer of teapots. And my mama was of the Gaelic genetic disposition; though strangely enough, a peace-maker. The two of them never fought; but my father sure took it out on the world, and on himself.

And too, on teapots. …

He would come home steaming from some unpleasant encounter with Power in some animate form. Or inanimate, as was sometimes the case. One could feel what were called in the ’sixties, “the vibrations.” For some reason it seemed often the sight of a harmless, silent teapot that triggered the final explosion. He’d be invariably sitting alone with it, so that apart from the pot, only he was ever scalded. Yet within ten minutes, he would apologize profusely, for being in such a temper, then become rather saintly again.

On one occasion, he returned from a battle royal with the (malicious) idiot who was the “chairman” of his “department,” out there in the world. Those vibrations were detected as he passed. He sensibly conducted himself down the stairs to the basement, where he had his workshop. Perhaps he would just hammer some nails into firewood today.

But know, there were shelves on the way down the stairs, on which crockery was set. He spied not one, but four identical teapots, which my mother had recently purchased on sale, in order, I suppose, to have one always in reserve. One, two, three, four: he smashed them all in succession. Then emerged from the basement within the usual ten minutes, looking rather sheepish; to find mama not weeping as he may have feared, but instead, still laughing.

It was only when reading his diaries, after his death, that I realized how much he had depended upon his wife’s good humour, good sense, iron loyalty, and forbearance; always, “My pillar of strength.” Notwithstanding, she would sometimes kick his shin, gently, under a table. And here I had always thought him the strength in that union. (No one outside, I observed, not even the children, can see inside a marriage.)

I think even the jolly, astoundingly well-adapted, and wonderfully caped G.K. Chesterton, may have had his inner asymmetries. Reading a biography of him, last week (by Ian Ker, and quite good, published 2011), I noticed that not only G.K.’s passing hackwork, but his books, were dictated to secretaries. And seldom corrected before the copy was rushed off to an editor somewhere; for like the rest of us the great man was working towards tight deadlines. And tended to put off, until each deadline was at hand.

Now, all these secretaries seem to have affirmed that he was the perfect knight and gentleman; a man of extraordinary thoughtfulness and kindness, though sometimes obtuse about the hour of day. These would include the mild feminist who thought his wife, Frances, rather weak for always taking her husband’s side, when surely he must be wrong, sometimes. This is just an aside (like everything I write), but I began to notice that the outward “weakness” of Frances (an interesting authoress on her own) was feint to an inner strength. She knew her husband drew enough nastiness from his assailants in the opinion trenches, to need any more at home.

Rather, I wanted only to suggest that the cause for sainthood, of both, could be more aggressively pursued.

G.K. liked to play with weapons while he dictated: a sword, dagger, or whatever, that he would twirl about. (I gather he collected fine examples.) Sometimes he would seize a bow, for instance, and fire an arrow through an open window (alas once to the surprise of a dog, whom we are assured was more shocked than injured). He may also have alarmed a secretary, or two, before she was broken in.

Let me not say that we live now in a world where people like G.K. Chesterton could be prosecuted; gentle reader will know this already. My father, on the other hand, lived in a world more “democratic,” where a man could be casually fired for speaking some self-evident Truth, to Power. Or to some other, who goes running to Power to settle his score. (Papa was fired often.)

The Truth I was intending to speak, this morning, was to some Power in Rome. But I’ve erased it all. For, being a hothead, I went immediately overboard. And after all, I now lack a mistress, to kick me under the table, so must try to administer such medicine to myself; or look for admonition elsewhere.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us. She whose strength and patience, the world could not explain.


POSTSCRIPTUM. Perhaps, instead of me, one might read another hothead, whose remarks appear to be correct in every particular. (Here.)

Mewling & the lie

The tide has turned, and I am now assured that the plurality of my female correspondents took no offence from my recent diatribes on Paris, but rather were quietly cheering me on. This, now balanced against a single instance of condemnation by a male; but he sounded like a wuss to me. Hereunder I post another item, in which I triple down on my original position, designed to test for bad nerves. I am determined to make myself tedious on this topic.


Through that unimpeachable news source, The Drudge Report, I learnt this morning not only of the latest blasts and shoot-outs, in what was once the holy quarter of Saint-Denis (north of Paris in the old Catholic France), but of football news. There is a link to one of those stories the “mainstream” media omit, since it interferes with their liberal “narrative.”

When a minute’s silence was called, to commemorate the dead in Paris, before a “friendly” match between the national soccer teams of Greece and Turkey in Istanbul, the fans booed. But this was only for a moment. For then a chant of “Allahu Akbar!” broke out through the crowd. It is moot how many were chanting this: it could be heard outside the Basaksehir Stadium. Soundtrack and video were supplied, along with a link to a tamer, originating Reuters story, which has already been removed from their thread. (Go there and it now says, “Page Not Found.”)

Not just a few disaffected psychos, but resounding through the stadium. The (famed) Turkish footballer and now coach, Fatih Terim, went on record after the match to criticize his own fans. I’m sure many other Turks were and are ashamed. But again, this is moot. They have something to be ashamed of.

I note as ironical this use of the term “friendly”; especially when applied to a match between Turkey and Greece. For even in unexceptional circumstances, there is nothing less friendly than a soccer match between rival national teams. The modern worship of the state, as the source of human identity, assures this. Professional sporting activities are justified as a proxy for war. It is suggested that casualties may be lowered that way, and property damage contained. I think this is often the case. Too, the games please the masses, as the bread and circuses of ancient Rome. (The distribution of free bread being the Roman equivalent of food stamps.)

The “narrative,” supported by President Obama in the States, and by the fellow we just elected in Canada, whom I will not stoop to describing as, “Pierre Trudeau’s idiot child,” is that the world shares our Western, post-Christian values, with perhaps the exception of a tiny minority who practice a religion called “Extremism,” which is understood to be in no way related to Islam. These values include the need, after every reasonably large terror attack, to go all soppy, with a tenderness that is a tendresse for Death.

How embarrassing, in retrospect, those Londoners during the last World War, who failed to bring flowers or to light their “candles in the wind,” in response to the Blitz. Who instead went all gritty and determined. Who did not demand retaliation, because they could rely on it; and in thinking of it, had something to which they could look forward. I’m not saying their attitude was especially Christian. But at least it was normal. Dresden was the reply to Coventry, and so forth: one mediaeval city centre for another. (It is a little known fact that “an eye for an eye” is a counsel of moderation.)

It is incidentally a lie that Coventry was targeted as an industrial centre. St Paul’s in London and Canterbury Cathedral were also targeted, but survived by miracle, in raids that left a great ring or halo of fire burning around each shrine; and it was the centre of Coventry that was X’d on Hitler’s map, not the suburbs where all the big factories were. It is instructive that the liberal account, that decries the “gratuitous” bombing of Dresden, is fixated on excusing Hitler.

Little lies, supporting bigger ones; lies as huge as the mantra that, “Islam is a religion of peace.” It would be unreasonable, in the light of fourteen centuries of cultural as well as political history, to say Islam is a religion of violence, only; though perfectly reasonable to observe that the recommendation of violence begins in the Koran.

But neither is Christianity, nor has it ever been, “a religion of peace.”

“Do you think I came to bring Peace on Earth?” … I am quoting Our Lord: check the gospels for the answer. There, if one is attentive, and has the requisite brains, one will discover that “the peace which passeth all understanding” is different from “Peace on Earth”; and that the two may at times be in direct conflict.

For now that gentle reader has found, for instance, Matthew 10:34 and Luke 12:51, he has also found, in the original or a good translation, the curious word “separation.” Among other things, Christ is separating the concepts. On Earth, as He makes very clear, the peace of heaven does not prevail, and cannot prevail in the shadow of Adam. The truth is that sanctity invites persecution; and that the worse take the better for suckers. And that, as Nehemiah projected, the walls of Jerusalem must be built with one hand on the trowel, and one on the sword. (In T.S. Eliot’s paraphrase: “The trowel in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster.”)

Serious Christians have always understood this. (Saint Francis of Assisi, for example.) We have public record through twenty centuries of Christians who were not wimps. This is true of Christians both East and West, though I observe that the lands of Eastern Christendom all fell under the Islamic sword. Thanks to such men as Charles Martel, and his many successors, Western Christendom did not. We showed ourselves, even in the Crusades and the (several) Reconquistas, to be more pro-active. We did not accept the inevitability of retreat. Decadent as it may now be, that is why there still is a Europe. Because it did not fall through the centuries and centuries of previous Islamic invasions.

The vision of Christ turning the tables on the merchants of the Temple compound, is not that of “a nice man,” but of One divinely “good.” Likewise, there are real consequences when “men of goodwill” is altered to “all men” in the annunciation to the shepherds. It is, “Peace on earth to men of goodwill.” It is not, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.” Again, the “modern” translation is not a mere variant. It is a lie.

At the heart of all this mewling and soppiness over the most recent massacre is thus a big lie. It is moreover a big pharisaic lie, resting on the unshriven idea that, “We are all nice people, innocent victims.” Much is made of the fact that the victims were merely out enjoying themselves: listening to rock music; sitting in cafés; attending a football game. They were “innocent bystanders.”

For sure, they did not “deserve” to be murdered. No one “deserves” murder, though many may deserve hanging. But people get murdered anyway. There are devils in this world, and to mewl about the unfairness of it all, and whimper, “peace, peace,” does nothing more than to excite more chants of “Allahu akbar.”

The paradox here is that weakness invites attack. Strength and resolution discourage it. The Enemy needs to be assured that he can’t win; that every attempt he makes to push his infernal envelope will result in more lost fingers. (And yes there will be “collateral damage,” no matter how we try to avoid it; for we are not playing touch football here.) That is how “Peace on Earth” is actually kept, or restored.

On balance, I think President Hollande has the right general idea, for the moment. It is to escalate against the Daesh in Syria, and send the cops into such suburbs as Saint-Denis, backed up by troops if necessary. France, as all Western countries, needs to mind her borders more carefully; to stop and then reverse the flow of Muslim migrants, as humanely as possible; to accept only those whose willingness to accept us can be tested. (This is Lockean, too: that tolerance must never be extended to those who will not tolerate us.)

But these are only half measures. We cannot even trust our politicians to do the minimum necessary: for like “global warming” they have found Muslim terrorism useful. It is a way to increase their power, and expand the supervision of Nanny State. In the end, only by the faith, of men of goodwill, can a society stand against barbarism.

More deeply, we must rekindle the Christian faith, among people who no longer reproduce, and are slipping into the fear and despair natural to those who have abandoned their heritage; who have become empty husks. For that is the background against which Islam is advancing.

Blow blow thou winter wind

I have much to do today, and cannot think of a topic I wish to take up, given the time available. Therefore I will present gentle reader with items I transcribe from random pages of my scratch pad. This will have the further advantage of relieving me from the need to reply to various emotive critics of my last two Idleposts, almost all of whom, I notice, are women. (Or deflect such praise as came, coincidentally, only from a few men.) Gentle reader, by now familiar with my style, may simply add water to any of the following, to fluff them out to the usual Idlepost dimensions.


If we must have a government, and I think we probably must, I want a Tory government, peopled by geriatrics of sufficient number that one may stand in for another when he is ill. The electorate (which should be reduced as much as possible) should be promised, in every party manifesto, a policy of “no excitement at all.” Perhaps, as a compromise, to alleviate populist pressures, pretty much everyone could be allowed to vote; but then, most of the ballots would be quietly discarded.


“What is the first business of philosophy? To part with self-conceit. … It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” (Epictetus, Book II of the Discourses, chapter 17.)


Thomas Aquinas opposes the cardinal virtue of Prudence, to its counterfeit, “craftiness.” (Summa II-II, q. 53, a. 1 & q. 55, a. 3.) … Cites adultery as one of those acts deformed, incompatible with the life of sanctifying grace, and always wrong. (Quaestiones Quodlibetales IX, q. 7, a. 2; Summa II-II, q. 154, a. 8.) … Mentions that the guilt of mortal sin is aggravated if the unrepentant sinner receives the Eucharist. (Summa III, q. 80, a. 4.) … Notes from scripture, that in this case the Eucharist becomes not a spiritual medicine, but a poison. (In I Cor. c. 11, lect. 7.) … Adds, that the Sacraments do not work “like magic,” for even Confession fails if the penitent intends to sin again. (Summa III, q. 86, a. 2.)


“Sacrilege is a grave sin, especially when committed against the Eucharist.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2120.)


Like most retired bomber pilots, of Thomist and Aristotelian views, he is of a phlegmatic disposition.


I, my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, all collected stamps; my boys, I am sorry to say, not so much, from being born into email. For most, stamps provided lessons in geography. But for each of us elders — weird artists in one kind or another — they provided lessons in aesthetics and craft. I see that my files contain notes on fifty-two postage stamp engravers, from the Madagascar Frenchman, Pierre Albuisson, master alike of copper and steel engraving, to the late Viennese, Rudolf Zenziger, whose rather hasty work for Nazi postal authorities was redeemed by the beautiful etched bookplates and portrait engravings he contributed to the post-War Austrian reconstruction.


With its freedom from moral, intellectual, or spiritual content, the newborn baby has a truly open mind.


A last passing word in defence of René Descartes, whom I’ve been known to troll. His “mind and body” distinction is not nearly so glib as his naturalist descendants imagine. The man who may well have converted Queen Christina of Sweden to Roman Catholicism (he was the only Catholic she had ever had serious conversations with), so that she abdicated her Protestant throne, took a view of “mind and body” that was necessarily interactive. Pascal’s depreciation of Descartes is not fair: he was not trying to dispense with “God” nor “soul” nor “spirit,” but to understand them in terms that could escape late, decadent, scholastic befuddlement. He may have been profoundly in error, but he was also brilliantly and sincerely in error. Let us not blame him for progeny who had and have nothing of his passion for Truth, and sire notions upon him that would only have aroused his contempt.


Our gross, gross domestic product.


“Price, quality, speed: pick any two.” (Old saying in the printing trade.)


From the gallery of my favoured politicians, Arthur Balfour (1848–1930), who served as prime minister of the UK from 1902, to 1905, when he had to be removed. Got the job in the first place because Lord Salisbury was his uncle. If we omit the unfortunate “Balfour Declaration,” he seems to have been perfectly effete. Trained in philosophy, his wonderful intellect was able to discover an argument to prove that human reason is of no use to anyone. (See his Defence of Philosophical Doubt, 1879.) He then applied this to politics by the formula, “Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.” Sexless, by all contemporary accounts (lascivious lords were at the time a problem), except Beaverbrook thought he might be an hermaphrodite. As leader of a quickly shrinking Conservative Party, he could put the House to sleep with long, abstract, rambling disquisitions, on topics of no pressing interest. These would end, abruptly, when his opponents shouted, “Enough of this nonsense!”


My favourite Canadian politician was of course John Abbott (1821–93), an Anglican cleric’s son from rural Quebec, who accidentally became a successful Montreal corporate lawyer. The man was repeatedly elected to public office against his will, and often active resistance; to ever higher positions, until finally he was made our first native-born prime minister. This because the only alternative was a Catholic (whom Abbott himself was trying to support). Tried repeatedly to resign, but it took months before anyone would accept it. His most memorable quote was first heard from within a vexed caucus meeting, over which he was presiding, having been compelled to attend. … “I hate politics!” he bellowed.


Fact: Alexander Graham Bell refused to have a telephone in his study.


Parishes within the imaginary township of Esquesan: … Glenwil, Norval, Stelwar, Lime, Teracot, Balinafal, Domiris, Horn, Ashgal, Rockwil, Craik, Snel.


People who live alone are a danger to society, and to themselves.

On candlelight vigils

The refusal to deal with reality — and I mean hard-tack, material, worldly reality here — is paradoxically the consequence of refusing to deal with spiritual realities. It comes home to us again as the fatuous displays of an affected grief continue in Paris, and sympathetically all over the West, as also in the cells of secular Westernization, elsewhere. Of course, many in the Islamic world are not soi-disant “grieving” at all. They are quietly, and in some places noisily, exulting.

Our media do not like to report that: it contradicts the narrative of “universal values” that, for instance, President Obama was supporting, when he managed to deliver an address on the occasion of the massacre in which, so far as I can count, every single statement was demonstrably false. He is a more extreme case of ideologically-based mental dysfunction; though to be fair to him, President Bush shared many of his delusions, being possessed by the idea that Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries could be pacified, by means of these same “universal values.” (I notice that, in his moment of shell-shock, President Hollande of France is temporarily freed of them, his mind wandering instead to the promise of some perpetual state of emergency.)

There is such a thing as human nature, and one might say that it is universal to our species. But “universal human values” are another thing entirely.

For no: down here on Earth the human values are invariably contested. We who live in anno 2015 should be — though we are not — especially familiar with this, having witnessed a radical transformation of values within our own societies over the last few decades. We are not, however, because our new “multicultural” values forbid us to think about such things. As Obama was demonstrating, “we” (I exclude a certain shrinking proportion of the general population) have become immune to the factual.

But I would be delusionary myself, if I were to suggest there is anything an individual can do, to divert the course of history. We can — and here I am reverting to the “Reason and Revelation” upon which our civilization was founded — most certainly do things to help God save us, and to save those we truly love, in the face of Eternity. But the course of history, including wars, will always remain “above the pay grade” of any particular human beings.

This is the answer to all the “what if?” questions at the root of our current politics; all premissed on the idea that “we,” the enfranchised voters of America or wherever, are as gods. It is what got us evicted from Eden in the first place. We try to exercise a power we do not have, in the course of which we “make a lío” of everything we touch.

Of wars, for instance. We think, par example, “What if Winston Churchill had prevailed sooner, and stopped Hitler in time?” Or anyone else for that matter: say, an assassin in the Munich beer hall. (I give the “or” because the belief that Churchill understood what was happening in the 1930s was a myth of his own invention, constructed in the decade after. Check the records and one finds that he wobbled like everyone else between believing this, and believing that; there were even moments when he was recommending defence cuts.)

For no: great wars do not happen because nameable individuals have made “mistakes”; nor can be avoided by making the right calls. This is something only the worshippers of technology are capable of believing. Instead, wars happen when, as a consequence of the aggregate “mistakes” of many million people, circumstances emerge that are truly beyond the possibility of sane, or insane, human control.

I fear that, with respect to the next war that will engulf Europe, and cause catastrophes still unimaginable, we have again reached that point. As I watch the great masses outpouring their fake grief in fits of populist emotion, I realize that they, much more than any Muslim fanatics, have determined what that future will be. They are, in the strictest sense, de-moralized. The fact that they indulge in the sacrilege of godless “candlelight vigils” is an indication of how far gone they are: to a mess no longer within the human capacity to repair. They are — and have been for some time — completely incapable of defending what remains of our civilization, against a quite straightforward threat. They no longer even belong to what is, for them, only a museum relic.

But in saying this I am no Cassandra. The most of which I can be accused is parody of some wizened, minor, Old Testament prophet: for the prophets of Israel did not consciously predict anything. Rather they understood the present, thanks to God-widened eyes. They described the horror that was plainly before them, in the souls of men. They did not prescribe happyface political solutions. Their message was instead: Repent!

Which is something each of us can do, and no one can do for another, except through Love. And by capitalizing that word I mean to distinguish it from what is trite and comforting and charming.

Our civilization was able to flourish, for all its sins, because God permitted it to flourish; because the Holy Spirit persistently intervened in response to the calling of real Faith. But where there is no Faith, there is nothing for Him to respond to. At least, that is my cruelly limited, but sincerely Christian understanding of how things are.

Let me bring that up to date. Wars are not won and lost by the number of soldiers, nor the calibre of their weapons. The godless believe that, but they are wrong. With every possible material advantage, the United States lost wars in, successively, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

My views have changed over the years. Once I thought that “ideas have consequences” — which they do, perhaps, but only within human souls. They do not, and cannot, “fix” anything. In the face of reality, no human five-year plan is ever going to work. There are consequences, I have come to think, deep within the ocean of human history, not of ideas but of human Faith, and of its failure. We work with Christ or — God help us — we work against Him.

“Sacrilege” was the word — I am trying once again to be “insensitive,” as I was doing in my last Idlepost — for these candlelight vigils, and this foolish little inverted-crucifix peace sign, overbrushed with an image of the Eiffel Tower. What the masses are proclaiming is their faith in the efficacy of human emotion. It is the faith of Peter Pan.

But it is worse than that. They are using a means long hallowed within the Church, and adapting it to the worship of some other God than Our Saviour. Their only defence is the bottomless, “invincible” ignorance in which they live, as a consequence of Europe’s abandonment of the Faith. They are not projecting, but rather exhibiting, the collapse of our Western, and once unambiguously Christian, civilization — into the hands of the very people who have been murdering them.

As some other strange Catholic observer recently remarked (I’ve lost the link), we did not win the Battle of Lepanto with superior force. We had just enough to make it physically possible; hardly enough to make it likely. What tilted that playing field was many millions of humble peasants, praying their Rosaries that God would help us. He heard them, and did.

To the masses of today in their candlelight vigils, this remark will seem utterly absurd. But I believe it to be the truth; and that, because we can no longer grasp it, we can no longer understand more mundane realities, either. They — we — do not know where to turn for help.

Sainte vierge Marie, Reine de France, priez pour nous!

Paris in the fall

A cold, heartless person, such as myself, would observe that the death toll in yesterday’s terror strikes across Paris aggregated to about one downed airliner. This is certainly news, but not on the scale the media are reporting. The attackers wanted a lot of attention. The media have provided it for them. Paris went in lockdown, and under curfew for the first time since the Second World War; the borders of France were to be sealed as part of a “declaration of urgency” by the President of France, who also put troops in the streets. Though in fact, it was less than two thousand troops, and the borders of France cannot be secured. (Hence the climbdown from the Interior Ministry an hour or two later; the few guarded entry points would instead be “tightened.”)

I looked last evening through Twitter to watch my old journalist friends ululate, in 160 characters or less. I look this morning through the front pages of the French press. C’est la guerre! they all declare. And of course, they are kidding themselves. No army is mobilizing, although the police are perhaps a little busier than usual.

Ditto, the innumerable declarations of “Solidarity with France!” from the preening politicians, all over the world. With all this publicity, they want some for themselves. My compliments to President Obama, who in the course of one of his posturing displays, at least said he had not called President Hollande, guessing the man did not need distractions. (“Those who think they can terrorize France are wrong,” he said: the contrary being obviously true.)

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January, I was so vulgar myself to note that the great outpouring of crowds, boasting, Je suis Charlie! — was the most counter-productive tactic available. They gave the Muslim terrorists exactly what they wanted: a national, nay, international display of wet narcissism. This is how the post-Christians demonstrate their effeteness: with a parade to celebrate their self-esteem.

Why don’t they just go home and make babies?

For it is not their own grief; it is appropriated. Those who lost family and friends have legitimate cause to grieve. Condolences should be sent, where appropriate. The other millions are putting on a show.

Perhaps I am obtuse to be less excited. It is bad when an airliner goes down, I acknowledge. It is bad when as many die in cars, over the course of an average U.S. weekend; or it was bad when some portion of a million were killed in the Battle of Verdun. Yet somewhere in the back, the sun was still shining.

Don’t get me wrong; Islamic terrorists should be squashed like bugs. But this should be done as discreetly as possible. Indeed, I don’t mind if they are not Islamic: any similar enemy should be dealt with the same. But our publicity is their recruiting device; and in practice, it is the means by which — in multicultural political correctness — the Muslim community is accorded ever greater “respect.”

The Catholic community, for example, gets none, for consistently better behaviour. Perhaps turn Opus Dei into a paramilitary, on the model of the Daesh, and Catholics will be better accommodated by the liberals. For as I’ve written elsewhere, the liberal mind instinctively rewards criminal behaviour.

In practice this would not work, however, owing to the law of alliances. (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) For the Western liberal, and the Muslim psychopath, have something more deeply to share: opposition to what remains of Christian civilization. The one might promote sexual perversion, the other stone it; the one wants women stripped of their modesty, while the other wants them in sacks; but their respective radicals make common cause on every university campus. It is a matter of indifference to the Devil which tactics to employ. Whatever works. His object is to undermine human decency.

His strong suit is, that evil is contagious.

It was the wisdom of our ancestors to maintain moral vigilance, within the framework of a coherent moral order, founded upon natural reason and the Christian revelation. Both are largely abandoned today, or rather, have been “progressively” inverted.

For a brief moment, reality cuts through, as it did in the days after 9/11. The idea that there is such a thing as evil, which cannot be stopped by a few choice words, is once again discerned. But that is only for a few days or weeks: by Christmas, all the liberal fantasies had been restored, and the cause of all the trouble was once again, “Bush.”

Is it not, gentle reader, a monstrous observation, that the dead in Paris amount to the loss in one crashed, mid-size commuter jet? That we have often seen, and will see again, “much better than that”? Would it not be extremely tasteless to write of, “two Muslim kids with Kalashnikovs and a captive audience”? (It is true, I am rather insensitive.)

They wanted publicity. So we gave them publicity. We give them whatever they want.

Ste Geneviève, patronne de Paris, priez pour nous!

The life of Bree-an

Hardly do I ever see films, big screen or small, so when I do, I am often quite affected. In my piece over at Catholic Thing today (here), I mentioned one I saw last week, from 1973 (here). It is entitled, Catholics, and is by the late talented novelist, Brian (pronounced, Bree-an) Moore. He wrote screenplay as well as the underlying novella, and from my email I already see that plenty people of a certain age remember it. A nice hand also to the directors and actors — now all but the youngest, dead — for a made-for-TV movie so memorable.

As it is still in my head, I am still wondering why it should haunt me. I can think of three reasons: the simple explanation of the Sacrifice of the Mass by the character Father Manus (played by the late Cyril Cusack), for the benefit of a sophisticated young idiot from Rome; the imagery of the ruined, re-inhabited Abbey (shot on Sherkin Island, in County Cork); and the fact that we are once again passing through a “conflict” in which the Catholic faith is under a focused and hugely destructive attack, from Rome itself. This gives the film a frisson of the prognostick.

On the surface it seems as if its purpose had been to help crush the hopes of Catholic “traditionalists,” back in the day; to show that, deary me, their days were numbered. In the “spirit of Vatican II” it imagines the “spirit of Vatican IV” — the inevitable push forward against the sentimental pull of the past. The past might be pretty; and progress might be ugly, but it will win out.

The Abbot himself in this remote “Muck Abbey” privately reveals that he is an atheist. He is a stoic, who, lacking all conviction, but by stolid, personal, Nietzschean will — plus good cheer, and a joking disposition — views his job as that of a foreman. This is psychologically implausible; which is to say, a dramatic lie. No man, eschewing divine grace, nor alternatively the strange energy of the devil, could have lasted for decades in such a job. Not when he has been intimately surrounded by unambiguously faithful monks, equally inured to the hard life. He would have cracked, or converted.

Yet the Abbot, who in this instance bends to the times, is cast as a noble and heroic figure; his faithful monks, however sympathetically portrayed, are cast as naïve victims of superstition. Through forty-five years, we learn, they never noticed that their Abbot never prays. Nor do they suspect, now. … Please!

(More brilliant casting, by the way. For the Trevor Howard who played this role was, it turns out through his Wiki profile, a man who concocted an heroic war record for himself, when in fact he had dodged military service. But only after his death was this discovered.)

Our attention is centred on the fate of the Latin Mass. That is the foreground issue; the real issue is mentioned only in passing. Rome, in the film, after Vatican IV, has denounced belief in miracles — including the Real Presence in which we find the central miracle of the Incarnation. Visitor and Abbot have contrived to sweep that off the table; and the sweet, but rather dithering monk who takes it up (that Father Manus), invites our knowing condescension. His tougher fellow, who insists upon the miraculous — quoting Augustine to clinch his point — is presented as a charmless zealot. Others, deeply upset by what is happening, come across as mentally unstable.

Psychological implausibilities are more damaging than material implausibilities, in drama; and so one cannot be surprised that Brian Moore was reduced to a trick ending.

The dramatic flavour of the film (I never read the novella, and am not moved to do so now), is in the juxtaposition of the smart, professional, yoga-mastering jetsetter from Rome (well represented by the young Martin Sheen), and the bleak, isolated, fisherman surroundings. He who is used to speak power to truth, has come to the one place in the world where he may be outnumbered; and with the lie that is the premiss of the film. It is by the visuals, and the soundtrack of the old Irish voices, that we are placed under enchantment; the script is merely clever. Moore, himself the professional lapsed Catholic, by depicting a confrontation over the Latin in the Mass, deflects from the issue on which it depends.

For if one does not oneself believe, or more precisely, stake one’s soul on the Real Presence, one cannot understand a real Catholic. It does not matter how powerful the thing may be as “a symbol.” If the Real Presence is not really present, the whole Catholic Church is hogwash, and her purported Founder was a snake-oil salesman. Scientology, or Wicca, would make as good a hobby.

It does not matter how thoroughly one was once immersed in a Catholic “culture”; or how much nostalgia one feels for it. It does not matter how talented a writer is, how well-informed, or even how fair in presenting the “debate” from all sides. It does not matter if the cinema is filled, or even the church, by paying customers.

The real deficiency of the late author, that professional Irishman, Brian Moore, may be seen in the deflection: his trying to write “meaningfully” about a place where he is only a tourist. Or if he claimed more, a fraud and a poseur.

On further thought, nor is the Latin Mass the secondary issue. Rather more immediately it is the credentials of this cocky Inquisitor from Rome, whose papers are those of the men who sent him. For if, after two thousand years, in the founding commission of Our Lord, they claim the right to revise their orders — they have no authority. They become tourists in their own Church, and when they claim more, imposters.

Death of a smoker

Helmut Schmidt was a highly unusual politician: “intelligent, honest, candid, decent,” as described by old colleagues in Germany; and a smoker, as everyone noticed. This last was important. He smoked everywhere, paying no attention to Nicht Rauchen signs, right up to the day before yesterday. (Literally.) It was part of his charm, a way to signal that he did not care for anyone’s opinion. It was not the occasional cigarette; witnesses, including television audiences, calculated that he lit another every seven minutes.

When the EU threatened to ban his brand, two years ago, he went out and bought two hundred cartons. (At the rate indicated, he must have smoked them all by now.)

If I have one criticism of the man (former Bundeskanzler, who died Tuesday, age ninety-six), it is that he smoked menthol cigarettes. I do not like them. But he was a generous man, who kept non-menthol packs, too, which he distributed to visitors in his office, from a giant candy bowl loaded with all brands. He would force them on people, and make them feel self-conscious if they were not smoking with him.

The Germans are notoriously a disciplined, rule-bound people. But they hate themselves for it, and they loved Helmut Schmidt. There were polls to show, right up to his death, that he remained the country’s most popular politician, even if few wanted him back in office again. They always wanted to hear, however, what he had to say. And to watch the way he said it: like a captain. He could enchant foreign audiences, too, but especially German ones, by being so un-German. But of course he was from Hamburg, the ancient Free and Hanseatic City, which is full of un-German types.

His manner was commendable. People would come to him with some policy matter they thought he must urgently address, and he would say, “That doesn’t interest me.” Then change the subject to something more amenable.

From what I gather, he was miscast as the equivalent of a prime minister. He would have been entirely acceptable as a kind of “constitutional” Holy Roman Emperor; powerless, but constantly telling the merely departmental figures what’s what. It is unfortunate that the office has lapsed; I think Schmidt would have enjoyed it.

The next best thing was writing for Die Zeit. This wonderful post-war German institution is a fat, weekly broadsheet. When displaced from federal office he bought a stake in it, and held court from there as one of the co-editors. Since adolescence, when I could almost read German, I have been trying to follow it. The articles are long, both serious and light, and the attitude is like Schmidt’s: Social Democrat, technically, but against almost everything the Left stands for. And a shameless bastion of pro-Americanism.

Schmidt, older readers may recall, was the Bundeskanzler (I almost wrote Reichskanzler, OMG), who, in defiance of millions of Leftist hooligans in the streets, invited the Americans to put fresh nuclear missiles in silos all across West Germany — at a time when the Soviets were getting too pushy. Ah, the old Cold War: how we miss it. He was the man who refused to negotiate with the Baader-Meinhof gang, and when they hijacked a Lufthansa plane to Mogadishu, sent commandos to rescue all the passengers, and bring the terrorists home in body bags. This is how it should be done.

He was also a persistent architect of Ostpolitik (in continuity with Willy Brandt); and a proponent of “Europe.” His reasons, in every case, were the common ones: e.g. a statesman should try to avoid war. And yes, he had served in the Wehrmacht (having joined the Hitler-Jugend at age fourteen, like all the other kids). Indeed he had served on the bloody Eastern Front; he had some inkling what war is like, along with his Iron Cross. Too, on the Western Front, where he was captured and interned in a British POW camp; and wherein he became something of an Anglophile, and a thoughtful politician.

Showing strength is one aspect of maintaining the peace; arranging alternatives to war is another. We could argue the fine points; not today.

A “progressive,” I suppose, but according to the tenets of another generation; the German equivalent of my father, in some ways, who was a “liberal” in the 1950s sense, which is to say, free markets and total opposition to Communism. Who wanted a “social safety net” for the hard cases, but hardly a Kafkaesque welfare state for all. Too, a form of “open-minded” tolerance for what the kids get up to; but nothing like what we tolerate today.

His wife Hannelore, or “Loki,” to whom he was very happily married for sixty-eight years, was another of those: an “environmentalist” but of an earlier generation that stressed conservancy, and public education. Her (and their) notion was that, the more people know about nature, the safer it will be from depredation. It was not, vegans in jackboots. The two were inseparable as a political team. She was a chain-smoker, too. Sad to say, she died young, at age ninety-one.

After which, in his own nineties, Helmut scandalously took a mistress. (He was lovable, what can one say?)

Armistice Day

An army moves on its stomach; though it is hard to find in the historical record an army that enjoyed this much. The culinary standards among officers is usually low; those imposed upon their men often lower. It must be sufficient in bulk and nutrition to carry them along; it must not, at least not intentionally, inspire mutiny. Something between prison and monastic will pass among men who are genuinely hungry (I’m not sure which is lower); the presentation is, traditionally, in metal bowls.

For it must be served in less than Michelin-star environments. War is not a picnic, it has been said. I have had the experience of trying to cook in the presence of squalling children; I can imagine that incoming mortars provide their own distraction from le haute cuisine.

But the circumstances of a field kitchen are not necessarily grim. Dried herbs and spices are light to transport, and wherever one happens to be on campaign, there are the natural fresh stocks of that country. These, by convention, may be appropriated. (Wellington, when told that Napoleon’s men did not pay for what they took from their own French peasants, gallantly said, he was sure they would have paid had they thought of it.)

Moreover, as old soldiers will recall, and the readers of their diaries and memoirs in their absence, most days are not that exciting. There is plenty of time to think about food. There are long, seemingly interminable periods of boredom and waiting with nothing to look at except the sky; interspersed with short periods of pant-shitting terror.

Suppose, for a moment, a little imagination on the part of quartermasters and cooks; and semi-intelligent commanders, bent on showing a bit of style. There could be rivalry between regimental kitchens, or between galleys in Her Majesty’s fleets. Food could be made an inducement for recruiting, and raise morale, incrementally, at the front.

The idea is not original to me.

In the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale — that extraordinary nurse and angel, who haunts my dreams, walking with her lamp — procured the help of an adoring Alexis Soyer. (At the time he was London’s leading hotel chef, and kitchen god of the Reform Club.) She wanted him to advise her on the organization of field hospital kitchens. On his own dime, he travelled to the front. They made sick bays the place to eat: almost worth getting wounded for. Soyer applied his broad mind to analyzing the limitations of field cookery, under enemy fire, then turning each limitation into a strength. (See his, Culinary Campaign in the Crimea, 1857; reissued 1995).

Soyer is among my maximal culinary heroes. The portable field stove he invented was (with minor modifications) still in use during the Gulf War. So, to this day, are some of the logistic principles he had developed previously in his private campaign to deliver food to the poor Irish, during their Great Hunger. He was, to my mind, quite possibly a saint; though with his little foibles, like all the other ones. (See also his biography, Relish, by Ruth Cowen, 2007.)

Morale is, after all, not a small thing in the conduct of a war, or any other large, destructive venture. A hot meal served in defiance of the cold wet conditions in the hideous trench is more than welcome in itself. It tells the soldier there are others, risking their lives for him, as he risks his life for them: Solidarity! And the Psalmist, too, may be invoked, for, “Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies.”

Alas, the background tradition of food service, at least in British armies, has been that of the Scots — those bold, hardy warriors sweeping down through Northumberland in the fourteenth century, on horses and ponies, without baggage carts. In Froissart’s Chronicles we read of their diet: underdone meat from rustled local cattle, oatmeal cakes, and river water. To be fair, the provisions for the Khan’s Mongols was less luxurious than that.

Perhaps that is the way it has to be. I can still remember my grandfather grumbling about the dinners, half a century after the Great War. (My father, flying Spitfires in the Second, was less of a complainer.)

So in remembering the men, and women who served, we might adjust our eating today, by deferring breakfast. Lunch could be delivered in a tin can: a little tough stewing beef and a lot of barley, in a thin broth with a slab of stale bread, sans beurre. Especially in commemoration of those for whom this meal was their last — this side of paradise.

It is a day for platitudes, and old platitudes are best:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Democracy versus God

It is possible I spend too much time on the Internet. And if you are reading this, my gentle, it is possible that you do, too. I must make these posts shorter for both of our sakes. The problem being, that as a typical post-modern, I think I have so much to say, and the medium makes it possible to blather. And then there are the links!

This, for instance, stolen from the website of another self-styled hack. It is a passage transcribed from one of Étienne Gilson’s public lectures in the early 1950s, and let it be said that a man in the Deep South who signs himself N.W. Flitcraft, found it first. (He is here.) Gilson has been one of my own “heroes,” or guiding lights, these last few decades:

“If our school system exists, not in view of a chosen minority, but in view of all, its average level should answer the average level of the population as a whole. Hence the unavoidable consequence that the best gifted among the pupils will be discriminated against. Nor should we imagine that creative minds will multiply in direct proportion to the growth of the school population. The reverse is much more likely to happen. In aristocratic societies, genius has often found access to higher culture, even under adverse circumstances; in democratic societies, it will have no higher culture to which to gain access. Since equality in ignorance is easier to achieve than equality in learning, each and every teacher will have to equalize his class at the bottom level rather than at the top one, and the whole school system will spontaneously obey the same law. It is anti-democratic to teach all children what only some of them are able to learn. Nay, it is anti-democratic to teach what all children can learn by means of methods which only a minority of pupils are able to follow. Since, as has been said, democracy stands for equality, democratic societies have a duty to teach only what is accessible to all and to see to it that it be made accessible to all. The overwhelming weight of their school population is therefore bound to lower the centre of gravity in their school systems. The first peril for democracies, therefore, is to consider it their duty, in order to educate all citizens, to teach each of them less and less and in a less and less intelligent way.”

Pause, gentle, then read that through again, until committed to memory. I cannot think of a better single-paragraph explanation of how John Dewey’s “democratic vistas” sent us all to hell. Verily, I wish I’d been armed with that when asked, some forty-six years ago, why I was leaving school with only a Grade X education (plus, to be fair to me, nearly one full term of Grade XI). It explains everything, in less than three hundred words.

Up here in the northern urban bush, the magnificently focused institution Gilson founded and animated, “PIMS” (the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, on the formerly Catholic campus of St Michael’s College), is in course of remodelling. A well-informed friend tells me that the current plan is to de-Christianize it, and collapse what remains of its once superb academic standards, by turning it into some kind of “centre for the study of Abrahamic religions.” The very term gives the story away: for “Abrahamic religions” is used to refer to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by people who know nothing about any of them. It is as much a source of local grief, as PIMS was once an international beacon of inspiration.

At every level, our society has been idiotized, in fulfilment of the democratic ideal. As I am reminded by each and every remark, from all candidates in televised political debates, we are now living in Flatworld.

God created, and continues to create, men and women of extraordinary diversity, in natural interests, native motor abilities, and the potential for what the Greeks called “genius.” That is to say, not simply brains, but what can be done with the brain you were provided.

I have noticed from my own teaching experience that, the smaller the class, the harder on a teacher. This is because the needs of individuals can better be discerned. The hardest teaching is under the old, indeed mediaeval, tutoring system: the one-to-one that used to be standard in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which continued to distinguish them from the drive-in, red-brick, fake universities. For at that “tutorial” level, student and teacher are both fully exposed, each to the strengths and limitations of another, non-abstract, human mind. It becomes impossible to “go through the motions.”

And it is like this, ultimately, in the tutoring of Christ Our Saviour. Every one of His students is a difficult case; the smart ones usually the most difficult. And so, likewise, with parent and child; with master and apprentice. It is so, by analogy, wherever men try to teach one another. The sermons and parables, the public lectures, are only the beginning of it. Then comes a process of discovery: “Which part of this do you not understand?”

Compare: the ideal of the “lowest common denominator,” appropriate perhaps for the management of pigs and cattle, on a large industrial farm. But evil when applied to human beings.