Essays in Idleness


Hostile inflexibility

All my life, it would seem, I have admired men (and “insolent women”) who have refused to be pushed on matters of doctrine — whether Catholic Christian or, long before, many other kinds of “doctrine.” I’ve mentioned in this space, perhaps, that my father was consistently a hero to me. This was because he would not budge on a matter of principle; nor would he “appear” to budge. He was extremely accommodating otherwise — I can’t remember him making an issue of anything else — but he lost many jobs by refusing to do what he believed to be wrong, or by telling people (such as his employers) what he thought. Of course, he hadn’t always been asked for his opinion. He’d just decide it was time to speak up.

In listening to interviews with the soon-to-be-demoted, and already papally humiliated Cardinal, Raymond Burke, this last fortnight, how vividly I recalled my father. For here is a man of courage and of truth, who will not be intimidated; perhaps our most impressive living bishop.

I was thinking of my own father again, when the pope used the expression “hostile inflexibility” on the weekend just past, applying it to “traditionalists.” Once again he insulted and belittled faithful and longsuffering Catholics, in the course of playing to the media gallery of current public opinion; once again he posed as “the people’s pope,” tilting against the hidebound reactionaries — the bogeymen of the popular imagination, who have stood in the way of “progress,” these last two thousand years. (I think of rednecks from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Karol Józef Wojtyła and Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.)

That the pope himself would not change Church teaching he has assured us on several occasions — when he has been under attack. As a hidebound person myself, the question increasingly comes to mind whether he understands the breadth and depth of that teaching. His extempore lapses are frequent and embarrassing; his association with, and promotion of “progressive” sophists such as Cardinal Kasper have alarmed everyone I know within the Church who is genuinely learned.

His sincerity need not be in question. As a product of Peron’s Argentina, and in many ways a typical Latin American bishop of his (failed) generation, it is often easy to see what he intends. Mixed, holus-bolus, with his many reckless, populist statements, are others entirely beyond criticism. I have no doubt of his “good intentions.” Yet I wonder, too, if he understands himself.

The Church has shed numbers and vocations just where she has tried to accommodate herself to the times: in Europe and the Americas. She has grown, like wildfire, in Africa and Asia where she has preached like the Church of the first centuries. Yet within Europe and the Americas there is a large constituency which believes that she still hasn’t compromised enough, and that she cannot compete with “secular humanism” unless she engages in a kind of moral disarmament, abandoning the “hostile inflexibility” of “traditionalism,” and marketing her wares in a more savvy way.

The sense of the Church as a dollar-store religion was brought home to me recently on learning that the Sistine Chapel is now to be rented out for “corporate events.” Porsche is the first client, maker of sexy cars. The rent is competitive with other venue operators, and of course the income will be “given to the poor,” as another publicity gesture. One is reminded of Paul IV — the crass and embarrassing pope who told Michelangelo to paint clothes over all those naked figures, in what is among the holy shrines of Christendom. It is a sanctuary, a temple of Our Lord. It contains an altar. It is His house, and it is not to be profaned. Read, O ye hidebound traditionalists, what Christ himself did when he found a very similar situation by the Holy of Holies at Jerusalem.

According to tradition, it was Judas who advised — in the anecdote of Martha and Mary — that the expensive ointment poured over Christ’s feet would better have been sold to raise money for the poor. He was, and remained to his self-euthanizing end, our first Church liberal.

A pope must show reverence to an office which is not his, but Christ’s. He sits upon the Throne of Peter, not on a garden chair. He is not placed in it to pursue his own agenda, or exhibit his own “style.” To the world, especially the world of today, it is a “dinosaur” office. It comes with cultural accretions that speak of many centuries of self-denying Faith — including, incidentally, that of Michelangelo, a man of extraordinary talent and almost certainly homosexual inclination, who lived a chaste and devout life, working himself to the bone for the glory of the Church in his later years, and actually refusing payment.  The monuments of this past are not to be disowned, or hawked in exchange for “charitable contributions,” more than any other aspect of the Faith is to be squandered.

If Muslims, or Calvinists, or Socialists, or Capitalists, desecrate our heritage, we can make do with what remains. We do not desecrate it ourselves.

But again, I don’t think our current pope intends to divide and overthrow the Church of which he declares himself a son, nor to play the iconoclast. He has confused “the poor in spirit” with “the poor” in our contemporary, neo-Marxist sense of “people with low income.” He has confused the humility of the inner hairshirt, with the outward, flashy display of humility by which a politician awes the crowd. Saint Francis of Assisi could correct him on that.

He is not the Magisterium, in himself. He is, for today, spokesman of the Magisterium; but I fear he simply does not understand the majesty of it.

Do not stop praying. Do not for a moment lapse from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which Christ left to be our guide. Nor will Christ abandon us, though in moments He appears to be silent. She is His Bride, and the darkness of her servants will pass.

Saving grace?

Not previously, on this little anti-blog, have I devoted so much attention to an item of “breaking news,” nor for such a duration. My “obsession” with the Synod on the Family in Rome has been consciously pursued. Something of very great importance and consequence is taking place; and it is not only an internal Catholic affair. As many Evangelicals and mainstream Protestants are aware, as well as “conservative” Jews and others, including even some atheists who care about morals and cultural values, the Roman Church has provided both front and back lines of defence. I know people, for instance, who do not agree with the Church’s “absolute” positions on divorce, contraception, abortion, and more; who nevertheless think that without the Roman tenacity, their own more “moderate” positions would be blown away. Despite the failures of her own very human staff — which are not confined to horrific sex scandals  — she is often, indeed normally, the last institution standing against that “dictatorship of relativism” of which Pope Benedict spoke; the “culture of death” against which Saint John Paul preached so eloquently.

“If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” We rely on the Catholic Church to hold her line; a line which if abandoned would portend the final disintegration of our constantly retreating “Western Civ.”


On Sunday, Pope Paul VI will be beatified. I am well aware of disappointment in him by many traditional Catholics — the belief that he let things happen that should have been stopped dead in the wake of Vatican II — especially the vicious things that were done to deface the Mass, by a circus of “liturgists” on his watch. He was surrounded and on many occasions overwhelmed by the worldly agents of the “principalities and powers” of whom the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians. He was by nature a shy and aloof intellectual — had not the sort of personality that would fit a man for heroism. Yet he was also unquestionably a man of deep faith. On one miraculous occasion, in which (to my judgement) his hand was guided by Christ, he performed an act of extraordinary heroism. This was his writing of the encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

I shall never forget a train ride I took at the age of fifteen, from Buffalo to Cleveland. From a newsstand, in the old Buffalo railway station, I had picked up a copy of the National Catholic Reporter, which contained the full text of the encyclical, in English translation. Note: I was then a fire-breathing adolescent atheist, and persecutor of nice Christian children in high school cafeterias. My intention was to provide myself with more ammunition against Christians generally, and Catholics in particular.

On the train journey I was reading the encyclical with attention, to this end. I recall having read it through twice. The first reading left me in shock: the document appeared to be very intelligently argued. At the second reading, still closer, I began to see that, given the premisses openly and honestly acknowledged, the argument which followed was irrefutable. In order to mock it, I would have to misrepresent it. On thinking it through I realized that I could dismiss the premisses; but that if I did, I would have to argue that Man was a creature of no moral significance; that human life did not matter. I was a reasonably intelligent child, I could see the consequences of that position: in Hitler, Stalin, and so forth.

Nineteen sixty-eight was for other reasons a memorable year. In so many ways it became clear that Western man was attempting suicide. The convulsions on American campuses, and in her streets, can be seen in retrospect for what they were. Parallel events were happening in Paris and throughout Europe. My native “conservatism” was such, even then, that I was appalled: especially by the wincing cowardice of “authority figures,” abandoning their stations. Suddenly I saw, clearly, that Pope Paul was making a stand.

My atheism was hard-boiled, if internally scrambled. It survived this encounter for a few more years. But I was no longer able to pretend that the Catholic and Christian position on human life was ridiculous. Moreover, I could see that the line had to be drawn at the moment and in the act of conception — at contraception, not abortion. Returning to Georgetown District High School (for my last year before I dropped out), I then added to my already growing reputation for eccentricity. In the student debating clubs to which I belonged, I was now arguing — as a florid atheist — that Pope Paul was dead right in Humanae Vitae; that if we did not draw the line at contraception, we would be on the “slippery slope” to real, murderous barbarism. (In a Protestant town that despised Atheists and Catholics about equally, this was quite the pose.)

Everything that has happened in Western society in the forty-six years since, has borne this out. Moreover, every Christian denomination that has abandoned that front line — on sexual morality — is now in advanced stages of collapse, from one thing that led to another. This is demonstrable fact, not rhetorical posture; just as the emptying of Catholic churches by the innovations of the 1960s is demonstrable fact.


My latest column at Catholic Thing (see here) attempts to get at a point on which “post-modern” man is obtuse: the nature of law, and of the sophistry which tries to undermine it. That: “What was true yesterday remains true today; what is true today will remain true tomorrow.”

It is too early, by far, to see what will actually emerge from the Synod on the Family, and more broadly from the papacy of Francis. But I should add to what I have already written on this subject, that a week that began in one of the dark moments for the Catholic Church — in the release of a synod Relatio profoundly evil and destructive — has ended fairly well. The response to it from the bishops assembled in the working groups of the synod has been stellar. They have made clear to the world, or at least, that part of the world paying attention, that it was a false and lying document, intentionally misrepresenting what they had been discussing inside.

The Australian, Cardinal Pell — whose “dayjob” is currently cleaning up corruption and incompetence in the Curia — made the initial stand, leading the overwhelming majority of bishops to demand the publication of internal proceedings which the pope’s own agents were trying to suppress. I was immensely cheered, once again, by the courage and clarity of such men as Cardinals Mueller and Burke. Cardinal Napier of South Africa showed in both his clarity and his instinctive statesmanship a wonderful example of what a Prince of the Church should be. And in the “hard lines” drawn by bishops from across Africa and Asia, we could see the future of our Church: that she can indeed recover from the filth and squalour into which she has been led by compromised and compromising Western bishops. In his bigoted remarks against the Africans, Cardinal Kasper also revealed the true nature of the liberal “reformers” — calling for “mercy” in their sophistical ways. “By their fruits ye shall know them”: it was a moment when the mask came off, and anyone with eyes could see what was lurking behind it.

Make no mistake, this is war. And it is a war now raging in the highest councils of the Church herself, where an attempt is being made to overthrow Humanae Vitae. The souls of many millions are at stake, and the trumpet must give no uncertain sound. We have real scoundrels embedded in our hierarchy; but as we have been poignantly reminded, Christ will not abandon His Church. Perhaps we have seen one of the great historical moments of intervention: of what is called, “Grace.”


My brain hurts, from trying to follow reports from Rome, in languages I imperfectly understand, about the relatio mentioned in my post yesterday. Let me recommend this morning’s synod briefing by Robert Royal (here) as the best and most reasonable summary of the riotous proceedings. To my mind, it becomes more apparent that a coup is being attempted, to foist a load of liberal rubbish on the world, and give it the appearance of revised Church doctrine. But to my relief, the best of the cardinals left by Saint John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, are aware of what is happening, and have begun to take action against it. We still have good men.

Let me also recommend a patient and attentive reading of Beati Immaculata — the long Psalm CXVIII — for some context on divine law, natural law, and ultimately civil law. It is an “ABC” on these matters, following the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and may be mastered through diligent prayer. (Our monks would break it down into eleven successive pairs of the eight-verse stanzas, to pray it carefully.)

And then, the remarkable encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on human liberty, Libertas (1879, here), which I don’t think has dated as an explanation of why the Church can make no truce with modernism. The modern man thinks he has a “right” to the manipulation of his own conscience. But our ability to err is not a right to err, and the perfect liberty which Christ bestows is freedom from the tyranny of sin and error. This liberty is ancient, indeed immortal, and can never be revised or “reformed.” On the contrary, the modern project to extend liberty — to discover and to legislate new liberties — is, “to tell the plain truth, of a vitiated kind, the fruit of the disorders of the age, and of an insatiate longing after novelties.”

“Insatiate.” There is no compromise to be had with the “reform” faction. Like the Islamists we have been dealing with, in another theatre, they will take each concession as a proof of weakness, and immediately press for more. It is suicidal foolishness to believe that one may negotiate with a serpent.

Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart. Lead me into the path of thy commandments.

Something to declare

There is a wonderful passage in a memoir by the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown. (For the Islands I Sing, 1997.) He finds himself in a drunk tank in Edinburgh, with two other gentlemen: one a sailor, “who had damaged his hand in a fight in a respectable coffee-house”; the other an English tourist, pleading for a cup of tea. Brown himself had been arrested for “drunk and incapable” in Hanover Street. The three, though seriously hungover, and in some misery, spent much of the long day in laughter together.

Night came, and the policemen added a fourth customer: a gentleman blathering obsessively about his hatred of Catholics. When this became insupportable, the sailor declared himself a Catholic, in a decisive yet understated way. The Englishman then announced that he would be a Catholic, too. Our poet became the third to realize that he was a Catholic, even though he had not entertained the possibility, before. The scene ends with the fourth shrieking to the guards, to let him out of this cell full of Catholics.

I think it is the happiest triple conversion story I have read. I must thank my gentle reader, Lord Jowls, for sending the book to me.


My intention had been to write, today, about the bizarre document that came yesterday out of the Vatican. It is the relatio post disceptationem, for the first week of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. ​I’m scratching my head trying to guess what it was meant to accomplish, and whom it was meant to please — besides people who loathe the Church, both within and outwith her. Scratching my head till it is bleeding.

Questions come to  mind. Do the bishops not know what this is doing in the parishes? What doubts and divisions are being sown, by their posturing vanities? The discouragement they are spreading among Christ’s faithful and obedient? The encouragement they are giving to the wolves? About the rancid smell in the peanut gallery?

Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they just want to pleasure one another.

It is statistically unlikely that all two hundred bishops are at fault. We know with certainty that many in there must be as appalled as many out here. But it is becoming apparent that a considerable number, perhaps even the majority, are devoid of shame.

We should pray for them, I suppose, as we pray for practising homosexuals, and the squalidly remarried, and others who find themselves trapped in a situation that is objectively and inherently disordered, just as they begin to realize that it is disordered, and there will be no easy way out. Bishops playing fast and loose with Church doctrine are especially in need of our prayers. Christ give them strength to confront their own degradation.

The press conference after the release of this relatio was, if possible, worse than the document itself: the sight of bishops tacking and weaving in the spin mode, which we rightly associate with sleazy politicians. Christ inspire them to begin answering direct questions, honestly.

Meanwhile: “Whatever they do in the Vatican, I’m staying Catholic.” Even if the pope should be objectively disordered — and we have had some right scoundrels in the past — we must stay the course. It is up to us now, to show an example to our bishops, and hope they come to their senses, soon.

My particular prayer is that, in the face of this Vatican abomination, people may react by Grace, as the gentlemen did in that Edinburgh drunk tank. I pray that Christ may come to us directly: in His unexpected ways.

To those sincerely Christian, but not Catholic, I would plead: come. Come into the Church now, and help us fight the contagion within.

Whom to thank?

Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October. It is earlier than American Thanksgiving, because we are farther north. Our growing seasons are shorter, and our farmers need more wit. Comparing available arable land between the two countries (which are approximately equal in total land area), a geographer could explain why the USA has ten times the population. It is because our farmers have approximately the same amount of wit.

Farmers: God love them. There was once a time when four in five of our Canadian workforce were farmers or fishermen; now they are perhaps one in fifty. Those still in the trade grow older; the median age of farmers in Canada is now fifty-six, and so retirements are accelerating. There are far fewer farms than a century ago; but much, much larger. The industrialization of agriculture, and the persistent growth of government regulation, has changed the nature of farming; and methods of distribution have been centralized to the point where I know country people who drive into the big city, specifically to buy fresher food. The transfer of population from rural to urban locations likewise changes consumer attitudes, including those towards politics. City folk tend to have no clew what is involved in food production; contemporary “environmentalism” depends upon this profound ignorance. We think there are “solutions,” that can be legislated.

According to the city dweller, the world has become over-crowded. It certainly uses a lot more electricity, as we may see from satellite photos, overhead. But over most of the world’s habitable surface, the density of population is actually less than it was a century ago.

When the cost of labour goes dramatically down, and the cost of materials proportionally up, the “natural environment” will be restored. All trends in the last couple of centuries have been the other way; yet it is easy to imagine combinations of circumstances which might restore that natural order, and meanwhile solve all the infrastructural problems in the cities: by depopulating them. (Do not allow yourself to wish for that.)

Assuming some memory of technology is retained, the situation would not last long. We don’t need old machines when we can build new ones. For that matter, the evidence of the past speaks for quick recoveries. In looking into, for instance, the Black Plague, I am often impressed by this speed. Within a generation, “normal” seems to have resumed, even in places that lost more than three-quarters of their people. True, many villages are no longer there, and open spaces remain available for market gardening within city walls; but life goes on as if nothing much happened. Glibness rules.

This is why, I think, we would have to choose to live differently: to make genuinely hard choices, collective as well as individual, towards a simpler and more independent way of life. We would have to agree to be, on balance, poorer in conventional material terms, to become richer in the moral, aesthetic, and spiritual. We would have to do something frankly faith-based. This is also why I think we are unlikely to choose, until, like illness or death, the choice is made for us. Human sloth — the habit of following the path of least resistance — is not an especially modern phenomenon.

The farmer had time to read, and make his own music; to enjoy his family, and make real friends; to attend to the requirements of God, and of his neighbour. He could afford to be “idle” in this way. Paradoxically, our sloth now dictates that we participate in a rat race, mostly on terms resembling those of old-fashioned indentured labour. It is not that we work as hard as old farmers; but our exhaustion, at the end of the day, is a spiritual exhaustion, that leaves room only for passive entertainment. It blights the lives of employees and employers, alike.

Notwithstanding, the sense of gratitude, for life and the means of sustaining it, seems innate. Even in the heart of the city, we want to thank someone. We live, necessarily, in a state of confusion. And yet the clock still hasn’t run out on us. If only we knew Whom to thank.

Kojo no tsuki

Twice this evening I have played through “Kojo no tsuki” — the jazz version by Thelonious Monk. It is nearly seventeen minutes, on the 1996 CD re-issue of his album, Straight, No Chaser, from 1967. The full recording was resurrected from the old tapes; time limitations on the original LP had made abbreviation necessary. On that LP, the piece was identified as “a Japanese folk song.” This it was not. It began instead as an offering by the Japanese composer, Rentaro Taki, to his high school music students around the turn of the last century. The title means, “Moon over ruined castle.” Several Japanese musicians had already adapted both song and lyrics. It became a popular hit in Tokyo, in the early 1930s, changed from B minor to D minor, and slowed to a dirge: impossibly exotic to my Western ears. Monk probably had heard this best known version, and instinctively sped it up again.

The correct attribution might have been supplied sooner, had Monk bothered to tell anyone where he had found the extraordinary tune. A musician, not a punctilious scholar, he did with the Japanese raw material what he’d done with standards by Ellington and Arlen. There was no intention of plagiarism. The very idea is missing from traditional art. He was doing just what “early musicians” did when, for instance, they picked up tunes from the street, and transformed them into profound Mass settings. “Classical music” tends to trickle upwards, or percolate. What emerges is shockingly original: extremely complex, and totally unified. But it began with some tune someone was whistling. (Sometimes it is an angel who has whistled the tune.) Great art is like that. Inferences are drawn from a simple mystery: a few notes strung together that mean more than they can ever say.

Monk’s setting of “Kojo no tsuki” was one of my mother’s favourite pieces. That’s why I put it on my machine, this evening: she died one year ago. It is Canadian Thanksgiving again; a year has passed. Mama seldom admitted to preferences in music; I did not know she adored Thelonious Monk, until she mentioned the fact, at age ninety. It was something I could not have guessed. There are many things people don’t say, or may not get around to saying unless they live a long time.

Time hurries on. I left home at the age of sixteen. Then four decades passed, very quickly. Then I was attending to my mother in a nursing home, around the corner in Parkdale, here. We had been around the world together, when we were all young (my father and sister come into this). She was in a bad way her last few years, after my father died; my hardest task was to jolly her. (My sister worked harder.) We drew closer to each other than we had been since, I think, she had been pushing me in a stroller. Her remarkable memory held out to the end. My memory was inherited from her: the ability to recall small things from many years ago, “as if they happened yesterday.” Between the two of us we could reconstruct quite a lot of pointless detail. Except, as one grows old, one begins to know that every detail is important.

That was one of the details: “Kojo no tsuki.” She didn’t remember the title, but when I asked for it, she hummed out the melodic line in her fading mezzosoprano voice. It was an “aha” moment: I loved that piece myself. “The two of us must be related.”


I have a picture here, of refugees, fleeing across France (I think it must be) in the last World War. There is a mother clutching a little baby; a boy fitted out as a beast of burden, carrying what he can; a girl, being yanked along, looking to one side. She’s a child, but there’s an adult expression on her face. There is no man with them. They appear to be walking fast, through open country. They look Jewish to me. No caption: and I have no idea what their story was. But there are four of them, and one can see they are related.

The picture fell out of a book. I was thinking about “family,” and there it landed. Horrible cruelties are endured in this world; the “culture of death” is all around us. But there are families; and there will be families.

Synod on the family

The Pontificium Consilium pro Familia has begun in Rome, God help us. This “extraordinary synod” will feed into a general synod next year, with plenty of opportunities for mischief along the way. Already, all over this continent, and I should think the world, liberal clergy are using the new signals from the Vatican — of which this unprecedented synod is the most spectacular — as their cue to “make a few changes.” We have a resurgence of the fever that swept the Church in the 1960s as “the spirit of Vatican II” — to my mind, a kind of spiritual Ebola that left churches closed and pews empty throughout the once-Christian West.

We now have two hundred bishops discussing e.g. how to deliver Communion to people who have failed to conform to the long-settled arrangements of Holy Church; and the dogma that follows, slam-dunk, from Christ’s plain words in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a marvellous opportunity — but only for the Devil to excite factional emotion and magnify dissension within the Church. Those who continue to adhere to what she has taught these last twenty centuries can now be cast as “a faction” in themselves, and faithful priests mocked as “old celibates.” (Jesus was a celibate male, incidentally.) Given our experience since Vatican II, our prelates should have known better.

There is no satisfying demands for “reform”; there never will be. It is a destructive force. It is a political rather than religious inspiration, directly opposed to reverence, and like a cancer it will attack every form of continuity which it is capable of reaching. It conducts the voice of worldly power — the howl of the wolf in his insatiable hunger — and when challenged it answers with a sneer. The vocation of the shepherd is not to negotiate with the wolf, but to guard his sheep. Read again the 10th chapter of Saint John.

“Reform,” in the sense of change and novelty, is what you wish upon your enemy. What you wish upon yourself is recovery.

Contrary to the argument of the wolf, circumstances have not fundamentally changed. Men have long been sinful, and long have tried sophistical arguments to justify themselves. It is for the Church to tell them they are in the wrong: the more brutally if they have convinced themselves they are in the right. The task of the Church, in this instance, is to change the squalid public view of marriage, not accommodate it. It is the task of restoration; of restoring Christendom. Paradoxically, it is most likely to begin again among the celibates — both male and female — rekindling the fires of the monastic life, and restoring the prayers by which the world is invisibly warmed and enlivened, against the cold shadow of the “culture of death.”

We might charitably argue the difficulty is that reading standards have sunk so low: an argument, I suppose, against spreading literacy too widely. Those who wish to finagle on the sanctity of marriage, point for instance to “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” in the same section of Scripture. No, Christ was not telling us to gouge out our eyes, immediately after noticing a pretty girl. This was an example of a rhetorical figure — it is called hyperbole — which Christ employed, along with many other figures of speech, and an array of parables. It was recognized as such from the beginning, for it required only moderate intelligence to get the point. It is indeed hard to help the clever types, who pretend to be unable to tell the difference between a rhetorical figure, and laying down the law. By context, and allusion to Moses, Christ’s ruling on marriage was made abundantly clear.

Modernists who imagine themselves very clever, as the Scribes and Pharisees before them, try to work around this unambiguous ruling by constructing hard cases. For instance, what about the guy who married some strumpet when he was very young and stupid, later resorted to civil re-marriage, and now has an adoring mate and five smiling children? Should the Church tell him to abandon them, now that he is starting to feel some compunction for his past mistakes, and instead resume his devotion to the little vixen who has moved to another country and is “married” for the fourth time?

No, the Church is not that obtuse. The man in this example should face the music, however. He should attend Mass like any good Catholic, and rather than take Communion in his present state, he should approach the rail and ask a blessing — alongside the mother of his children. And he should do so until his annulment comes through, and his marriage to her can be recognized.

Rather than demand the Church change her ways — which suggests the man is still too stupid to contract a valid marriage — he should use this potentially humiliating situation to wise himself up. He should set an example to his children of just how seriously marriage is to be taken; and Christ is to be taken. He should extract himself from the mess he has made in such a way to show — before Christ, and his fellow Catholic Christians — that he is now, finally, capable of love, and honour, and obedience. Likewise, this is an opportunity for the couple to show, before God and man, the sincerity of their attachment.

Demanding to have things both ways is not a sign of sincerity.

Meanwhile, it would be nice if the Church could clean up her bureaucracy, so that annulment decisions do not wait in piles of paper for months or years to be rubber-stamped. But Pope Francis is already doing something about this, I gather. And patience is a virtue.

Communion is not to be taken lightly. It can be a source of tremendous strength: but only if it is received humbly, and faithfully, and reverently. To acknowledge the truth in the presence of Christ is also a source of strength. This is why men and women in a state of mortal sin attend the Mass and do not take Communion — until they have fully confessed their sins, and received full absolution, after the restitution that this may require. To take Communion some other way — as if it were an energy wafer — is to compound the sin. And liberal priests are doing their penitents no favours by helping them compound their sins. Nor — need it be mentioned? — are they doing themselves any favours, with respect to the fate of their own immortal souls.


My mention of Immanuel Kant, over at Catholic Thing yesterday, was to a single purpose: reminding the philosophical types of his role, anticipating Hegel’s, in shaping our modern or post-modern notion of History, and thus the full modern jet stream of “progress.”

Kant came late in the Enlightenment, as the Prussians generally came late to things, therefore had the advantage of his precursors. The hose of the Enlightenment was already flowing copiously. What Kant did was to choke the nozzle, in order to increase the spray velocity. He was a Christian, at least in his own mind: a forward-looking, “Evangelical” Christian (in the conventional Lutheran sense). But the fluid passing through the hose of the Enlightenment was not Christian. It was the aspiration to a pure Reason, which could be pursued without any need of Revelation.

Two things were being accomplished, by focusing this stream. The first was to make religious belief “optional.” Without, I think, intending it, Kant helped to re-set the default position of Western Civ to Atheism, from Christian Faith. This he did for the benefit of intellectuals and elites in society, who would actually be attracted to his impenetrable jargon. But the loss of faith is something that trickles down — like cowardice, from a field commander.

It would of course be devilishly unfair, to say nothing of untrue, to give Kant sole credit. As I say, he only worked on methods for narrowing the nozzle, at the delivery end of the hose. Many others contributed to the pneumatic adjustments (replacing water with air), and the swirling techniques.

Kant’s other transcendental accomplishment was to secure the triumph of “theory” over “praxis.” This latter term is inadequate, and perhaps a better juxtaposition would be, theory over knowledge. The latter presupposes, among many other things, an intangible which we might label “wisdom.” The former, to paraphrase Laplace, has no need of that.

In the old intellectual regime, which had largely survived the Reformation, hypothesis had not yet graduated in the elegant robes of Theory. I don’t think they even knew what it was. True, by acts of theological reductionism, the human brain had already been made self-idolizing. And the greatest accomplishment of all had been that of René Descartes — the man of awesome genius who had “split the atom,” of body and soul. (In the Anglosphere, Francis Bacon is usually credited with inventing our “scientific method” but, alongside Descartes, he was a conceptual bumpkin.)

This is rocket science. Normally one mentions these names as part of a paean to modernity — liberation, democracy, penicillin, and so forth. “Ideas have consequences,” as the Owl of Minerva mutters at dusk, and these were the men whose ideas cleared the ancient, church-ridden ground for the factory of science and technology. Their portraits are hung like those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, above the reviewing stand in modernity’s Red Square.

They are the prophets of speed; a speed disencumbered from the old constraints of wisdom and experience, anchored as they were in the hard goo of Revelation. While the utopian conception of where we are going can itself be shrugged, as a thing of the past, we may nevertheless boast that we are getting nowhere faster and faster.

Yet the signpost persists of that old destination: a cradle-to-grave Nanny State embracing the whole planet, from which everything “non-rational” has been scoured, by the hose of pure Reason. I mentioned Kant in this connexion for it was he who drew the arrow pointing “forward” in his Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. Philosophers could thenceforth forget about God, and focus on the velocity issues.

We need to draw an X through that arrow, and scrawl underneath the words, “Wrong way!” For it is because we have come such a long way, that we have such a long way to go: backwards.

The necessary angel

It has been the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels today, with all that we associate with that, in Christendom. One cannot be Christian and deny that angels exist: the most literal will find several actually named in the Bible (Old Testament and New), and their messages received, and their presences acknowledged, page after page. Their choirs ascend, in greater and greater proximity to God in the highest: Angels, Archangels, Principalities; Powers, Virtues, Dominations; Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim.

There was a post on this topic one year ago. I tried to supply a suitable affront to the contemporary mind, which is indifferent to angels. Merely to mention them is probably enough, to set scientistic eyeballs rolling. The more poetic will accept them as figures of speech. But let us insist on a religious hard line: that angels be not only publicly recognized, but deferred to in their spiritual place, delectated in the liturgical order, and comprehended as Beings about whom we can know little, but much more than nothing.

In his poem, “The Necessary Angel,” written by an atheist about to lose his faith, Wallace Stevens accepts “the Angel” as metaphor, needed to save reality from cliché; then comes so close to prophetically accepting that angel itself as real, that he makes the reader’s hair stand on end. (He died Catholic, to the scandal of his wife, daughter, and the extended tribe of his liberal-agnostic admirers.) By reason alone, that is as close as one may come to angels.

In Christian teaching, the angels were created, as we were created; but prior to, or before us. They defeat our conceptions of space and time. But Love itself defeats our conceptions, and Faith and Hope are anchored in an Eternity that remains bottomlessly mysterious to our human minds — richly repaying contemplation, but solving no riddles. For a Mystery is not a riddle or puzzle, with a set answer waiting overleaf; and our modern attempts at this sort of reductionism all end in farce. Our own Being is anchored in Mystery, and what can we do about it?

As I grow older, I become more amazed by the “materialism” that must necessarily deny its own foundation; which cannot account for the primal existence of a single particle within the void. What once seemed merely glib, now strikes me as more deeply monstrous: a purposeful refusal of Grace.


I haven’t mentioned Darwinism in a while, let me dredge it back up.

There will be no comprehension of “the origin of species” unless we accept the reality of angels. William Blake came closer than Darwin, to an understanding of evolutionary process, in his depiction of the Soul of a Flea. From the Bible itself, and from early Christian literature, we receive a sense of the angels, assigned to their places in the cosmic order of things. (Consider, for instance, Saint Paul at Troas, receiving the “man of Macedonia,” in Acts XVI.) What Plato conceived as “forms,” Christians have perhaps discerned as “angels,” in their nested hierarchies. It could be said that they are “living forms.” That would not exhaust what could be said, but might serve as an orienting start. For in any broad view of things as they actually are — of the universe as we may perceive it — the place of the angels must not be overlooked.

I had a dream or “vision” of this once, which I will exchange for a small share of public ridicule. It had to do with the lemurs endemic to Madagascar, who filled the forest niches of that island near to, and yet isolated from, the great continent of Africa. Over the last sixty million years or so, they came to range over that large island: from wee “mouse” lemurs, barely an ounce in weight, to others (only recently extinct) on the scale of gorillas. For all this variety, each is unmistakably a lemur, perfectly adapted to its habitat.

In my dream I imagined the operation of an “Angel of Lemurs,” among God’s messengers to that place. I imagined that Angel, by whose higher and exalted consciousness each new forest niche was detected, as it appeared or developed in the unfolding narrative, told in earthly flesh by the descending choirs, and innumerable other agencies of the Divine Will. I imagined this Angel presiding over the metamorphoses of the lemur clade, filling each opening corner with another of these creatures, and therefore with its irreducible joy in the echo of its Maker; or parting one species from another to serve the forest in its overlapping heights, and from its variously breathing angles; and then withdrawing each species of lemur in its turn, upon the completion of its season, and place or station in the dance of Time. And the Angel itself: as perfect expression of the godly idea of lemur-ness, bearing the spiritual countenance of the Lemur-before-all-lemurs. And likewise I imagined the descent of the lesser Lemurian Angels: the guardians of these animals in each kind, and bearers of God’s love towards them, “telescoping” from that guardian spirit of all lemurs, through the wormholes of space and time.

And then, the tribes of primitive men who, living undisturbed in this place before its despoliation, honoured and instinctively propitiated these angels — because their ability to know them had not yet bled away. Who knew them in ways that could not be explained, to those who honour nothing; who understand nothing, and cherish nothing, and therefore despoil everything they touch. (As I write, I am listening to their jackhammers.)

The incredibly subtle and complex, yet often sudden adaptation of old species to new niche, cannot “just happen” — as we know a coin will not land consecutive heads, a million million times. Not ever, within a universe that was itself expressed into Being less than fourteen billion years ago — with all of its potentialities presented in a singular moment. A larger intelligence must not only invent but coordinate, as I imagine: provide the metaphysical “RNA” to choreograph the supernatural dance, from the boldest outward attributes of impossibly gigantic and sophisticated creatures, down to the finest flections within the molecules from which they have been composed. And from this we may reasonably infer the action of angelic forces.

Which cannot be studied by the dead reckoning of empirical science because — in biology, or even chemistry sometimes — we are not dealing with simple, predictable “laws of nature,” rather with living, sentient powers; with Beings, who turn and act according to a nature that is not ours, nor answerable to our wishes. Who cannot be approached, except by supernatural means. We may trace effects, solve technical puzzles, to the modest limits of empirical science; but above and beneath and beyond lie angels.

The world in small

Commending the works of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in an article that was really about something else (see here), I mentioned the SMOM’s stamp issuing authority.

The Poste Magistrali was established as a modern postal administration only in 1966, but a philatelic survey would have to review a much longer history of mail delivery, as a function of the SMOM, attestable to the early XVIth century, and probably going back to the Crusades. Couriers have, after all, been employed by every sovereign order. Postage stamps were invented in England so recently as 1840, as a convenience; but in one form or another, the mails were being delivered in ancient Rome, Greece, and Persia; in Babylon and Egypt; in the Indus civilization, the Mauryan, across China, and everywhere else authority has been exercised on larger than the tribal scale. (From this information alone, we can see that the Internet is a shocking novelty, and guess that its implications go well beyond what we can discern or imagine.)

As a lad, in wonderfully backward British schools in Asia, I began seriously to collect and trade stamps. This was not really an option. All boys were expected to collect stamps, and those who tried to avoid the hobby were marked as dangerously odd. Other deficiencies — moral, material, spiritual, and intellectual — could be overlooked in a boy, but one who did not collect stamps was confessing to a more fundamental weirdness. This is because, I think, the collecting impulse is itself fundamental to human nature — especially, masculine human nature, and we are talking boy schools here. And, stamps and coins were until recently the most obviously collectible artefacts of human manufacture. Which is to say nothing against the collection of butterflies, or beetles, or books into vast libraries.

Or, works of art. “The aesthetic” was, from the beginning, my principal attraction to stamps, though it took some time for me to appreciate that it was. By mimicry, I quickly acquired the lust to complete a set. If a set of stamps had four members, and I had three of them, I could not rest until I’d acquired the fourth, no matter what its condition, or how unpleasant the underlying design.

I suspect this is at the root of the bureaucratic impulse. It is to complete, to collect everything that can be collected, to regularize and schematize the collection, and eventually to make everything the same. Nothing offends the sensibility of the bureaucratic soul so much as an omission, or an exception. It disturbs his sleep.

Towards the end of my boyhood, and with the help of my father, whose preaching on this topic I took to heart, my own views “evolved.” I developed the concept that certain stamps were TUTO (“too ugly to own”). Not simply stamps, but stamps beautifully designed, skilfully and ingeniously engraved (or sometimes typographed, or lithographed) called to me, cor ad cor. Had I a set of four, and three exquisite, but the fourth a poorly executed afterthought, I would actually get rid of that fourth. And I learned to take pleasure in the riddance. (This is how I became an “editor.”)

It was my great grandfather who began soaking stamps off envelopes; the man to whom I owe thanks for having provided a miscellaneous mound of Canadian orange three-cent “small Victorias” from which, many decades later, I was able to extract an inspiring range of local post office cancellations. His son, my grandfather, the cartographer and illuminator, became a systematic and obsessive collector, and evangelist for the hobby, which he pressed upon each of his innumerable children and grandchildren. My father’s mounted collection ends suddenly in 1940, when in an instant he stopped being a boy in a world at war; I keep it intact as a memento of his childhood. I, for my part, have never been able to shake off a kind of irrational exhilaration, at the discovery of a stamp shop or a stamp fair. My sons, however, escaped this fascination, despite my best efforts to enchant them. Alas, though fine upstanding young men, they were born into the age of email; an age too busy for truth, goodness, beauty, or the chaste solitude they often command.

Let me say that the quality of the SMOM’s stamps is not very impressive. I see missed opportunities in almost all their issues. Inflation now governs the world, and while conventional post offices are everywhere in recession, approaching bankruptcy, the number of new stamp issues constantly increases from almost all of them. This is for the most part a cynical effort to obtain a (diminishing) revenue from the (dwindling) horde of naïve stamp collectors; sometimes (as in the SMOM’s case) for charitable purposes. Hardly anyone puts stamps on letters, and even bills are now paid online.

Somewhere around 1970 (a little sooner or later, depending on the country), engraving was replaced with “modern offset printing” by almost every stamp issuing authority, and by now, at least ninety-nine new stamps in each hundred are complete rubbish — as may be seen immediately through any 5X magnifying glass. Instead of a finely executed, tiny work of art, which will acquire patina with age, you have under your nose what might as well be a square inch cut from a glossy magazine: a meaningless slur of tiny, multicoloured dots. Whereas, every minuscule stroke in an engraved stamp adds to, or subtracts from, its aesthetic meaning, and is potentially a delight in itself. For art is not a mash. Every gesture is significant.

What we see in stamps is generally the case whenever human handicraft is obviated by large-scale machine production. A world that has quite consciously discarded civilizational values, and replaced them with ruthless economic calculations, degrades everything it touches, and industriously replaces the authentic with the fake. It actually takes pride in doing this. Socialists and capitalists alike share in competitive zeal, as they seek out “the lowest common denominator.”

I thrill to examples of resistance, however quixotic they may be. The French, the Austrians, several Scandinavian countries, Italians, Germans, and some others from time to time, have mounted rearguard actions, sticking with or reverting to engraved stamps, in some cases even to the present day. The Czechs, even under Communist rule, were regularly issuing stamps of the highest craft standards, magnificent design, and genial spirit. All these authorities also issued garbage stamps, to keep up with the times; and the trend is certainly towards the bureaucratic consistency of all-garbage. Yet by the grace of God, some of the greatest stamp engravers have flourished within the last two generations, their art still in (shrinking) demand.

The Pole, Czesław Słania, died 2005, is widely appreciated as “the Picasso of stamp engraving”; the Austrian, Wolfgang Seidel, always takes my breath away; perhaps the Norwegian, Martin Mörck, is the most talented stamp engraver still fully active; but there are several dozen other living or only recently deceased stamp engravers, including an admirable disproportion of Frenchmen (and a couple of women), quite incapable of producing inferior or prostituted work. Yves Baril is, incidentally, the name of our greatest Canadian stamp engraver.

Let me add, before resuming my silence, that it was through stamp collecting that I absorbed the outline history of the (post-1840) modern world, and indirectly acquired many of my views on subjects superficially removed. For instance, I early developed an aversion to “propaganda stamps,” together with an awareness that they were not restricted to formally totalitarian regimes. I could say that my whole view of the evil of Statism, and the Nationalism on which it feeds, began with a mysterious distaste for certain kinds of commemorative stamp, as commonly produced in the United States as in the Soviet Union. My very preference for monarchic over republican constitutional orders may follow from the triteness and narrow, jingo viciousness displayed in the stamps of most republican regimes. And with that, a perception that the handmaid of our post-modern inflation — not only of money but in every other aspect of our lives — is the cancerous growth of Ideology. On a planetary scale it has been, with growing confidence, subverting and destroying Religion. Political ideology turns men away from the grace of God, and instead towards “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” and all the poppycock and hogwash that flows from that. By accelerating increments, God is rejected, and Satan embraced.

But that is a larger topic.

The Braveheart chronicles

Before voting in the referendum on secession from the United Kingdom, Pat Robertson implored ye Scots to ask, “What would Braveheart do?”

For an opponent of “democracy,” I spend too much time studying election results. I see that “No” swept all the old Gaelic and rural constituencies; and Aberdeen, where they have some private enterprise; and Edinburgh, where many of the inhabitants are educated. Dundee, however, broke from the pack, and voted “Yes” by a margin. (It is the Fallujah of Scotland.) And of course, “Yes” took Glasgow and Environs, where half the population are psychotic (regardless of race, creed, colour, or political affiliation).

Like most pseudo-Scots, I was for “Yes” myself; especially after Mr Fish Eyes assured us that he’d keep the Queen. I gave my reasons last week: essentially, the more flags the better. Did not even ask for the return of the Stuarts.

Indeed, the referendum result is a disaster. In return for the scare, Westminster politicians of all stripes now plan more tampering with the British Constitution. More “devolution” as they call it, by which they mean, more bureaucratic layering. And the Scots have learnt what our Quebeckers taught themselves: that the threat of secession may be used to make them pull their spigots and vent their welfare casks.

The sight of the Lairds of London telling ye Scots how much they love them, and making their expensive promises — on behalf of English, Welsh, and Orange Irish who had not been consulted — is what we should retain as “the lesson of democracy.” It is government by sleazy politicians. Braveheart would have slain the lot.

Morbid happiness

An item on the Beeb alerted me to the fact that the Danes have — yet again — scored highest in some international measurement of happiness levels. Gentle reader read that correctly: the Danes. I do not, as the same reader will know, take much delight in statistics, and so am inclined to manifest scepticism. I do not know, for instance, whether an objective test of happiness (the murder rate), or the corresponding subjective test (the suicide rate), will confirm the surveyors’ findings. The Danes may consistently say they are happy, but are they really? And if it is so, why?

My own anecdotal approach is at odds with the methodology of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, but there you go. The Danes I have met are, even in the aggregate, statistically unrepresentative. Therefore my observation, that Danes tend to be less playful than Germans, more dour than Scotsmen, and cautious like Swedes, may be dismissed as the product of bigotry. (I have enjoyed their company, nonetheless.) The one truly happy Dane I met seemed pleased mostly by his distance from Denmark (we were somewhere in East Asia at the time). He assured me that his countrymen wouldn’t recognize “fun” if it dribbled all over them. I have heard Copenhagen compared to Ottawa. I would have thought the whole point of Nordicity, or Northernness, after all, is the mastery of indifference to merriment.

But then, happiness would seem to be defined by the UN happiness bureaucracy as “self-satisfaction.” This means high points for smug. It could explain why, for instance, the Italians, who still do “merry” by unlapsed Catholic instinct, and have no very high opinion of themselves, failed to score on the survey questions. They might not even have taken them seriously. There is a certain earnestness in the Northern psyche; I’m sure the Danes took the time to figure how to ace the test.

Oh dear, now I’ve gone and looked it up. As I suspected, the Danes are near the top of the world suicide table. They’re not actually at the top, but the countries ahead of them are just what you’d expect. Lithuania wins first place; it is amazing they have any people left. In their disposition to kill themselves, Baltic countries, and other Scandihoovians, are all competitive, with Russians. Bhutan is right up there, too, incidentally (I believe their government inspired the creation of the UN’s new happiness index); and the one mystery is how Canada fell behind the United States. I should have thought everyone knew what high latitudes do to the human soul, through the long winter nights. (Living permanently in the shadows of great mountains explains most of the other cases.) Humans were designed to sometimes feel the sun. Deprived of this, they work themselves slowly off their hinges.

But again, statistics don’t explain anything, and those which report what people think — especially what they think about themselves — are least likely to be useful. I don’t trust the correlations; even after explaining in the usual yawning way that correlation is not causation. The most you can hope from this pseudo-science is for a number to quote, as a mnemonic aid, to support some belief pattern. A random number would do as well, which is why most people with axes to grind simply make numbers up on the fly, then repeat them back and forth to each other until their friends in the media take up the mantra, and there are more little lies to buttress the big ones.

“Happiness” is anyway a vague concept. It had some meaning two or three centuries ago, when it suggested not only prosperity but the “fittingness” with which it had been achieved, so that a man who had earned his good station through work, foresight, and good living, would be thought happier than a man who had, say, just won the lottery. And, people not being all quite the same, happiness might take different forms in different individuals; thereby becoming unmeasurable in a final, categorical way. Nor could there be any need to measure it. Not so today, when the need to measure everything is taken as self-evident, and what can’t be measured is held to not exist.

The current sense assumes that happiness is indistinguishable from pleasure, and that it is therefore bestowed by some external agency — as when you do something, or go somewhere, that will make you happy. In the clip I saw, the BBC cameras took us straight to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, by way of exhibiting this empty modern ideal. The presenter — gesticulating in that trademark, jackass, BBC way — then interviewed some smiling young student of sociology, who thinks the Danes must be happy thanks to their highly evolved welfare state. (To which one might add the loss of that old Bible-thumping premonition of eternal hellfire.)

I would instead suggest looking for an explanation in geology. From some shrink, writing in the New York Times, we learn that lithium levels vary in the local rock, and that considerable differences in human behaviour (as statistically indicated) may be attributed to local concentrations, carried in the water supply. Moreover, one may ask what else the people are drinking. For while lithium may have toxic and sometimes lethal effects in high doses and chloride form, it can be used more subtly. Apparently, Americans were much happier before 1950, when moderate doses of lithium were added quite purposefully to commercial soda drinks. That’s what put the “up” in “7-Up.”

Today, after the discovery of how useful lithium can be in helping to level, if not lobotomize, some of the more alarming “bipolar” cases, the proposal to add it methodically to the water supply, along with fluoride, is coming into vogue. It may soon be a “progressive” cause, such that no one will be asked to vote on it. What better way to deal with a general population which, thanks to the success of other progressive causes, is now going insane?

Pourquois pas, as they say. We may not realize this trace element is already present in the water, and in everything else — just as we do not realize that e.g. apples are mildly radioactive. This knowledge tends to be suppressed, to save us all from malades imaginaires — the hypochondrias and hysterias that overload our socialized health-care systems — until it is needed to promote some environmental scare. Unfortunately, the Internet has now pulled out all the stops, and people can scare themselves without organized assistance.

My speculation is that little Denmark may be sitting on peat strata with a remarkably high lithium concentration. This might explain a lot of things about Denmark — a world leader in ion-lithium battery technology.

Alternatively, one thinks of Mogens Schou, the Danish pioneer of modern psychopharmacology, who began testing the effects of lithium on his co-workers and many others back in 1949, on such a scale that one thing may have led to another. Perhaps the Danish authorities are secretly putting tonnes of lithium into the water supply, merely as an extension of Dr Schou’s research, not realizing that the man is dead and they can stop now.

There is, of course, a little problem with lithium as a catch-all cure for ambient mental illness, for while the “don’t worry be happy” response to increased lithium doses is a commonplace of current psychiatric medicine, it does not have the same effect on all customers. Some, reasonably tame before, flip right out upon receiving it. Others are inspired to feel better about themselves while committing major crimes. Yet the prevailing statistical utilitarianism continues to insist on “the greatest good for the greatest number,” and it is the presumption of modern technology that exceptional cases may be overlooked.


I can understand why Englishmen might support Scottish independence, but not why a Scotsman would do so. Scotland has been a dead weight on the English economy, and increasingly on the English psyche. It has a population overwhelmingly dependent upon government employment, contracts, and hand-outs. It has had, and may corner, the diminishing revenue of North Sea oilfields, but unearned wealth is a destructive force. It has much deeper “attitude problems,” for as everywhere Left politics have triumphed (and Scottish politics have long been a contest between Left, and more-Left), public spirit chokes in the collectivist sludge. Scotland has become a cultural as well as economic basket case, in which subsidies have reduced the arts to the service of tedious agitprop campaigns. It is a spiritual desert, in which even the driest Presbyterian traditions have been desiccated. England, too, is a miserable country, but the loss of Scotland would make it a little lighter.

The independent and enterprising spirit once associated with Scotsmen had nothing to do with politics; unless it had something to do with freedom from politics in the Scottish national order, since decision-making migrated from Edinburgh to Westminster, more than three centuries ago. Scotsmen were left with better things to think about, than how to appropriate each other’s incomes. In general I would recommend government by foreigners, who will almost invariably interfere less in local affairs, customs and traditions. Foreigners, especially those with imperial experience, can provide a more chaste and disinterested approach to the problems of governance that are unavoidable; and will be less apt to champion the envies of one group or class against another. The ideal, to my mind, is an hereditary monarchy far, far away — as indifferent as possible to the fate of “the people,” and answerable only to God. But even government by a distant republic is preferable to the settled mendacities of home rule, and the nauseating poison of nationalism.

From a view to strict and immediate self-interest, the Scots should see where independence will take them. Note the flight of capital out of their country as the polls have shifted to “Yes.” The idea that continental European taxpayers will be eager to pick up the tab for another Greece, is not a sound one. A cannier Scottish electorate would be careful to leave the English on the hook. They would not dream of depriving the Scottish National Party of rivals. They would not play with the idea of outwardly defaulting on debts, when they live on the goodwill of creditors.

But therein lies, to my mind, the strength of the argument for independence. The smaller the country, and less it can rely on bail-outs, the better for the population at large. As with the Slovaks, upon their “velvet divorce” from Czechia, they are left with no choice, after generations of whining, but to get their act together. The prospect of starvation is a fine goad, and the ability to recall what is required to avoid it seems innate to the human condition. There is, as ever, a new generation arising, with the frustrated energy associated with youth, and every reason to find the habits and worldview of their parents contemptible. Even in Greece, I gather from reports, the young are researching topics such as how to grow food, start businesses, and so forth. Many have proved surprisingly amenable to the notion of working for a living.

The constitutional argument against Scottish independence — which must necessarily involve the breach of state tradition and continuity after so many centuries — has been shown by the politicians of “No” to be much weaker than they supposed. In Britain, as in Canada when the threat of Quebec secession has become palpable, they scurry to vandalize the same constitution, by way of buying the voters off. The truth, on that side of the sea, is that Scottish “devolution” in 1999 wrecked what remained of a national constitution which had already been toyed with from many other angles. “Hope and change” are the norm today of politics throughout the Western world, and even where the letter of a constitutional order is retained, the principles are systematically betrayed for short-term party purposes — in the name of “democracy,” “freedom,” “equality,” and other cant terms, designed to baffle the innocent. The Dictatorship of Relativism demands no less, than constant change and the vacation of substance. The very structure of our laws and social order has come to depend on the kind of “consumer confidence” that underpins our essentially worthless paper currencies. Sooner or later there is a crisis, and the confidence evaporates. Hyperinflation follows.

So that again, it makes sense to leave people to their own resources in the smallest practicable territorial units. For the larger the unit, the easier to mesmerize public observation of cause and effect; the easier to confuse the perception of local realities, and give the appearance of solving problems by transferring them to those not responsible for their creation.

Opponents of Scottish independence are naturally a closed camp among the functionaries at Westminster. The bureaucratic mind cannot bear to contemplate the possibility of bureaucratic contraction. It is like thinking of death, for the modern, fully secularized mind. There is no upside to it, until the pain becomes excruciating. If the entire political class are convinced that Scottish independence will be a disaster, then I think we can be reasonably certain it will prove a boon — for England now, in a small way, but for Scotland in a larger, over time.