Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Fourth of July

There are three Americas left, north of the Rio Grande; only two of them are countries. I live in one; most of my readers now live in the other. Since the spiritual disintegration of Quebec in the 1960s, however, we are really just one cultural space: about seven million square miles of “Middle America,” ignoring minorities and the freshly-arrived. The divide between “conservative” and “liberal” within both Canada and USA is now much deeper than any cultural divide between the two countries. A “conservative” in Canada has almost everything in common with a “conservative” in any of the “red states”; a “liberal” here is almost indistinguishable from a “liberal” there. They hate each other, ever more viscerally, but both are products of the same basic culture, that is now divided against itself, but might as well be having its civil war in the same country.

The third America is entirely uninhabitable. It is an “idea.” The politicians, south of the border, call it, with unintended accuracy, “the American dream.” It can be called, and has been called, many other things, from Manifest Destiny, to Get Rich Quick. Though puffy and evanescent on the surface, it has a hard core: an abiding and unthinking materialism. While the two current political factions may disagree on everything else, there is fundamental agreement on the purpose of life. It is to be “successful.” We are a “land of opportunity,” where the little guy makes good, because he has been freed from all the traditional constraints of history and nature. (Not like Europe, where they still have slavery.) In point of fact, the little guy very seldom makes good, here or anywhere, but he could if he wanted to, according to the myth, if he would only buy into “the American dream.”

The Republican version of this pipedream currently dominates. It requires the believer to know no history at all. According to the narrative, the Europe of socialism, bureaucracy, and the Nanny State was a product of the paternalism of the old ruling classes, going back let us say to George the Third — from whom America wisely broke free. “Freedom” is American democracy; “oppression” is European aristocracy. In reality, socialism, bureaucracy, and the Nanny State, were a direct result of the spread of working-class democracy through Europe, and the removal from power of aristocrats among whom personal independence (i.e. “freedom”) had always been extremely important; their interest in “equality,” high taxation, and the redistribution of wealth being — of course — nil. A few seconds of thought would burst the illusion that an aristocracy could have any possible interest in the creation of a Nanny State; but it is the function of secular myth to prevent those few seconds from happening.

Let me rub this in a bit, by alluding to the Magna Carta. The late King John was not brought to trot by “the people” of Olde England. He was made to sign the unpleasant document by a posse of titled nobles. And it was a mediaeval document, whose context is light years removed from our politics, eight centuries later. A shrieking anachronism is required, to present it as a harbinger of democracy. In this case, Americans subscribed to an old British Whig constitutional myth, or more precisely, hallucination.

To my own essentially mediaeval Catholic view, there is little to choose between Left and Right, once the argument is reduced to the profane; although that little surely makes me a rightwinger. “Democracy,” “Freedom,” “Capitalism,” “Socialism,” “Civil Society,” “The Welfare State” (I could go on listing these slogans) come down to much the same thing: a way of living from which both God and Man have been excised.  They are the signboards of the new Mass Man, who began to emerge in the conditions of the “Industrial Revolution.” I use the quotes because the term makes something vague, too specific. An urban proletariat appeared, first in the north of England, associated with coal and cotton. But before that, in such a country as France, still substantially agrarian long decades after the British economy had turned to manufactures, one may trace the growth of a new kind of class consciousness, the product of the rise then defeat of Huguenot factions. The central management and authority of the French Sun King had much to do, quite inadvertently, with the creation of the conditions for the French Revolution, for which both urban and rural “proletariats” served as manipulable powder.

In Scotland, too, by the triumph of Calvinism, a new sense of “the people” emerged, as the result of novel religious doctrines — such as the notion that everyone must be made literate, so everyone may read the Bible for himself, and be freed of the oppression of priestcraft. Ditto, elsewhere across northern Europe, Calvinist and Lutheran revolutions lie under the later, Godless, Enlightenment ones, for the whole organic, hierarchical ordering of mediaeval society was disrupted. To my mind (and no other governs these Essays), Max Weber’s thesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is half true. The actual methods of modern capitalism, of banking and trade finance and double-entry bookkeeping, had been invented mostly in Florence and developed in the other sophisticated city states of northern Italy, long before they were copied in the less sophisticated north. That “spirit of capitalism” was already well-established, and was in fact a mediaeval development. And yet the detachment of economic from spiritual life was a product of the Reformation, and had a lot to do with new forms of asceticism that developed, beyond the reach of Holy Church.

*

The “little guy made good” is an atom of this Mass Man, this “proletarian” of whom I’m writing. He has no real identity. He is an economic operative, working outside the older social order; a man for whom even land becomes a commodity. He does not owe anyone for his own success. The income he makes goes entirely to himself, unless someone robs him. This is a dimension of economic history that is lost on post-moderns, who cannot imagine the forms of income redistribution that exist in an organic order, which has grown around the requirements of family and Church, and in which one has irresistible duties — much more by custom than by law. The very concept of “the voluntary” has changed, but may be masked where the changes are gradual. But over time, well before the American Revolution, the lion’s share of Western society (in Catholic as well as Protestant countries) was radically transformed, into what today we take for granted.

When the British moderns acquired India — through the East India Company, more as an investment than from Imperial pretensions — their economic ideas were already so advanced that they were appalled by the caste system. They could only understand it in terms of oppression. They could not understand that for innumerable centuries, caste obligations, which included duties towards far extended family, had provided for the sick, the aged, and the poor, and had maintained the temples, teachers, and priests who in turn steadied the social and spiritual order. For a Briton even of the late XVIIIth century (let alone the middle of the XIXth), with his Western, analyzing mind — the kind of mind that could think in discrete, reductionist terms of investment and return — the material and spiritual orders were detachable. And each could be consciously “improved,” by prescriptive law, and decisive, rational human action.

*

We should try to remember the age in which the United States came into being. It was quite unlike the present. But it was also very much unlike the deep European past; and for people who spoke and thought in English, already vastly removed from mediaeval traditions which persisted, in parts of the West isolated from the metropolitan centres, right into the XXth century. For instance, in Quebec.

It is arguable, but unreasonable, to describe this new, universal, proletarian, atomized and “alienated” Mass Man, as a product of America. (Europeans like to think of it that way.) America, it might outwardly seem, was the place where he was first deracinated; melted in the pot, as it were. The American Revolution preceded the French — and almost certainly made the French one possible — but the idea of man stripped down to a particle, detachable by heat, came from the Atlantic’s other side. Nor was it intentionally embraced, by the Founding Fathers of the USA.

In my view (for yes, it is still I who am writing), they made the same simple mistake as Immanuel Kant, when he absent-mindedly assigned a series of synthetic propositions to the analytical reason. (I am now using both terms as Kant proposed them.) It was the kind of mistake (or series of mistakes) that came naturally to a Prussian, however humane. The effect was to reset Reason itself to the default position of Atheism, in the course of disposing of the claims of metaphysics. Kant was unquestionably a Christian, but engaged in a philosophical enterprise which he conceived as unambiguously “secular” or profane. This contributed to the philosophical inattention, into which the Founding Fathers of USA had already slipt: the notion that the religious dimension of human life is tautological; that it lies outside empirical inquiry; that it can be neatly hived off from consideration, when forming a new kind of State for all men. Instead they need only focus on contractual principles.

When I write of “the default position of Atheism,” I do not mean to imply that Americans, or anyone else, became atheists directly because of it. Kant himself would never have dreamt such a thing. I mean instead that religious faith itself had now to contend with a secular default position that was irreligious. In effect, it had to pretend to be irrational, in order to be allowed. In addition to the Puritan heritage of English-speaking America, supplemented by Protestant immigration from northern Europe, the Evangelical streak in American Christianity owes to this inversion, in which religion came to be associated with the irrational; and the rational conversely associated with worldly power. This is prior to any consideration of what ideology we should buy into: for ideology had now replaced religion as the thing to be publicly fought over. Religion became a private matter. (In this respect, I pine for the religious wars.)

“Ideas have consequences,” I was taught in my youth. I daresay they have. In particular, the idea that “ideas have consequences” has been tremendously consequential. It was a replacement for the mysterious notion that faith has consequences.

*

As still a child, really, I got my first good taste of the United States by busing and hitch-hiking around her. I found the country unusually large. To most foreigners the diversity or variety of her parts is also unusually small. This is less apparent in the superficial conditions of “globalization” today, than it was a generation or two ago, to the bus traveller, or other explorer. But it is still quite apparent. One might drive a thousand miles, two thousand, nearly three in some directions; indefinitely, if one includes the English Canada that belongs within the same cultural sphere. And stepping out of the bus, one would still be hearing not only the same language, but the same dialect, more or less. One would encounter towns and cities on the same grid plan; see the same shops; hear the same music from the radios. In restaurants they served exactly the same food. As a young explorer myself, with an unhealthy curiosity for journalism, I remember thinking that every town seemed to have the same newspaper, with the same columnists and comic strips, and the same advice from Ann Landers.

It wasn’t like that in Europe, where a journey of a hundred miles would take one to another country, often within the same national borders. One was bewildered by Europe in a much different way. In England, I could cross two county lines and begin to have trouble understanding what people were saying to me, in English. In America I could fly from New York to Los Angeles, and have no trouble at all. For sure, I was still in the same country, although with acclimatization I began to discern some regional variety. The cities, too, had different flavours: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were not quite the same, though in the same state. Notwithstanding, the differences were subtle, compared to Europe where they hit you in the face.

Now, everything changes, as sage Heracleitus says, and outwardly the rest of the world has been changing more than America, and becoming superficially more like America as, for instance, all human life is progressively adapted to the requirements of the motor car, and Western Europe especially to the requirements of central planning, on a scale not seen since the Mongolians descended upon the Hungarian plains. The Internet is the latest of media to provide a powerful universal homogenizing force, and sameness is increasingly enforced in commerce by international branding. In politics, Left and Right have agreed, everywhere it seems, not only that “progress” is ineluctable, but that it comes with “democracy” which in turn requires the reduction of everything to the lowest common denominator — including the human himself to the condition of an animal seeking food, comfort, and sex (though sometimes he cavorts irrationally). In such an age, the sameness of America seems truly pioneering, with her Puritan/Protestant heritage of social pressure to conformity, eventually turned to unChristian ends.

*

So far, so Fukuyama, and to be fair to the fellow it ought to be said he wasn’t entirely happy with what he could foresee, nor entirely complacent about new challenges that would rise through human rebellion. For in the end, humans are not like other animals, and they will push back in the strangest ways. That tiny, God-given sparklement of soul — that irreducibly unique quality in each of the persons He has created — will “express itself,” for better or worse. It is in the strictest sense, immortal, so that nothing can quite snuff it out.

In America, they had hobbies. I bet they still have. It was the little secret I discovered about American suburban life. The living rooms were much the same. The kitchens were much the same. The bathrooms were much the same, and one caught glimpses of kids’ bedrooms decorated with the same pop posters, &c. But down in the basement, personhood would out. There would be, for instance, a “rec room,” which though it might sport the same bowling trophies, as a kind of protective coloration, would also contain evidence of the hobby. It might be a secret collection. One could see it if one gained the confidence of one’s host, and showed the proper kind of respect and interest. It might be a collection of stamps, or cigarette cards, or obscure jazz records; an aquarium full of exotic fish; a trove of genealogical documents; butterflies pinned on carefully captioned boards. Or perhaps in the garage, some antique vehicle being patiently restored. Or a workshop in which a model was being meticulously assembled, of some ancient sailing vessel. It would be “daddy’s little secret,” or secret world, in which his masculinity went secretly unchallenged.

For God gave gifts, special talents, to every being he placed in this world. And to every man, remarkable gifts and talents, with which to find his way. And men need an outlet for them, from the way we were designed; for without the means to use God’s gifts, we are stifled and unhappy.

And upstairs, hidden in plain sight, mommy has been collecting tiny blue glass bottles, which she has set on the muntins of the window over her sink. And when she does the dishes, she is in a secret reverie, of contemplation on the colour, blue. Nobody needs to know about this. All they need to know is that, on Mother’s Day, they may give her a new tiny blue glass bottle. And perhaps a little understanding wink. (I’ve known other women who have mastered baking, and done so for no reason at all, baked goods being cheaply available in the supermarket. And it takes time, and it takes attention. And nothing can make her stop. And when someone notices what she has done, she glows in a way that is unearthly.)

This is something I love about the human condition. It may even be true of God’s other creatures, for I study the finches I have attracted to my city balcony, and the sparrows I feed while picnicking in the park, and each one has his little foibles. And God has this infinite foible, for he never makes quite the same creature twice.

America, with perhaps the most conformist society I have encountered in my travels, once created the myth of “rugged individualism.” There was some truth to it, in pioneering conditions, both for men and women, from the time when women, as men, had to help shift rocks, and pull tree stumps out of the ground, and the two learnt to look each other in the eye.  (For there was nowhere else to look for help.) But there’s not much truth to it, under our present economic conditions. As I like to say, “Look at all the rugged individualists, lining up for their Big Macs.”

America is however not responsible for the conditions of factory labour, and the administrative offices that came with that, and the principles of management and salesmanship that emerged — the basic productive arrangements by which the gifts and talents of the great majority of people are made to count for nothing, and their lives reduced to sterility, in an environment made quickly replaceable, and almost purposely ugly. That was an English invention, and for decades through which English and then Continental industry “progressed,” America was still basically agrarian. Her very culture resisted, for long, the imposition of machinery, with an attitude inconceivable today: that you must never buy what you can make for yourself. Americans copied the fashions of European high society before they copied the techniques of European industry. (Go look at the history with fresh eyes.) It was, I believe, paradoxically because of American naïveté, in the face of the machine, that America was able actually to lower the aesthetic standards of machine production, while leap-frogging over the Europeans on the point of industrial “efficiency.” (I write as the son of an industrial designer.)

The myth does not account for all this. Even on the purely material plain, it does not account for the dunkle Materie.

*

America is human, but she is also a country; and as I said when I began, an idea, too. The country might be rather over-large — I think of her often as “the supersized country” — but she is lovable on her own terms, and the terms are really not that demanding. The old Norman Rockwell America has passed, yet is something we can still almost touch, and cherish, so recently has it been eradicated. America has “hoped and changed” in many apparently fundamental ways, as she has chosen to follow a more ambitious, Kafkaesque model of cradle-to-grave bureaucracy and regimentation. But the changes are in detail, and her allegiance to the ideals of the Enlightenment, in the form of “the American idea,” has not wavered. It is an idea which, paradoxically enough, contains the idea of “American exceptionalism,” as if America really were the foundry in which the New Man was forged. But no, I will not blame America for him, but instead the larger circumstances of modernity, and post-modernity.

I have made several provocative assertions, and I have made them on Independence Day: so that I hasten to remind gentle American reader that I include English (and now, French) Canada in every part of my critique; for we, up here, have long since abandoned every principle of our own Loyalist founding, and embraced “We the People” in our turn. I might even, at this point, be accused of agreeing with Obama, when he mentioned that the Greeks also think themselves exceptional, and the Bolivians, too, and the Sri Lankans. It rather goes with being anything at all.

But so what? Let’s just say America has been an exceptionally benign superpower, since the last World War. I don’t like it when Obama lets the world push America around, for the United States has been our protector. It is for the very reason that the world is full of exceptionalisms — many of them quite monstrous — that we have needed America. She was usefully employed standing up to the truly Evil Empire of Soviet Russia; chasing off Jihadis; stopping other murderous nonsense here and there; racing to the scene of natural catastrophes; patrolling aerospace; preserving some order on the high seas. For the Royal Navy sailed away; and the alternatives to “American Imperialism” have been consistently much worse. (Or when they were not so bad, too small.) We, who have received such services gratis, could afford to cut her a little slack, or alternatively pick up more of the bill.

The part of “the American idea” which has proved most attractive to people of far countries is its essentially peaceable nature. Since the heyday of land grabs from Mexico, and less successful invasions of our North, the Americans have shown little interest in conquest, though no little interest in right and might. I write as a Canadian, so I know. We are a big empty nation of sitting ducks, with a cornucopia of natural resources. If Americans were Russians they’d have walked over us a century ago. Instead they are content to sell us things, and buy what they want in return.

American arrogance has been decried by the world, but it is mostly a response to American generosity. It is the one American crime that can never be forgiven: that she has placed the rest of the world in her debt.

Nor were we ever “Americanized” — nor could be since, after all, we were Americans ourselves to start with. Nor have they tried, very hard, to Americanize anyone else. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the rest of the world has been flattering America in its sotto voce way. They like wealth. They like taking a break from “history.” They have visions of the easy life.

*

Years ago, a young Chinese lady of my acquaintance, who had spent two years as an exchange student in an American high school, in a small town in the Midwest, explained the attraction perfectly, when I asked her to tell me what “freedom” meant:

“Freedom is walking down Main Street in jeans, eating an ice cream cone, and nobody thinks you are a prostitute.”

Not anything specified in the Declaration of Independence, we agreed. For this was a way of life that was prior to that, which had actually preceded it in time, and may have been one of its principal causes. It was a particular form of freedom, that had something to do with far horizons, and enemies easily annihilated. America was “the world’s safest place.” It was a country in which the people were at ease. It was a whole culture that had been built upon ease, and a genuinely classless informality.

“In America, you can talk to anyone,” she said, “and say please and thank you in the same way.”

Now, this was an exceptionally astute young Chinese lady (with whom, at the time, I happened to be in love). She had a high regard for America, and I asked her if she would like to live there.

To my surprise she replied, “No. … I am one of the nine in ten who does not want to emigrate to America. Or maybe it is ninety-nine in a hundred. We are the people the Americans can’t understand.” And moreover, she added with a glint of arrogance, “And they think we don’t understand them.”

The two of us used to translate poetry together, which is how we came often to discuss cultural differences — and similarities, too — not only between places, but also over time. She was familiar with major American poets, and popular songwriters, too. She could do good parodies of American music that was excruciatingly sentimental. (Once, in order to test my patience, when I asked her who was the greatest American poet, she fluttered her eyes and said, “John Denver!”)

I am suddenly reminded of something else she said; that, “If you want to make money, then the important thing is to get to America. But if you want to write poetry, then the important thing is to get out.”

For that “American idea” is anti-poetic, as well as intrinsically irreligious, and finally irrational. It is full of a sometimes impressive optimism. There is no tragedy or comedy in it, however. It is a success story, plain and simple, and now there is nothing left but to cling, in a time of failure. The sunny optimism of Reagan has now set, and for the future America hopes for leaders who can “manage decline,” like the European leaders.

No one can look realistically at such a phenomenon, as the re-election of Barack Obama, without entertaining the proposition that America’s remarkable historical run is over. The people themselves have abandoned God, and in so doing lost faith in themselves. As all who break faith, they have embarked on the path to self-destruction.

Or rather, we have embarked; for again, Canadians made the same choice: to live and die for nothing but pleasure. (And lost our pleasure, into the account.) In many ways we have been ahead of the curve, to perdition. Our re-election of Pierre Trudeau, all the way back in 1972, showed that we, too, as a people, had lost our dignity and self-respect, in the course of losing our religion. “Canada” may remain on the map, but there is acá nada (“nothing here”) any longer much worth defending, our achievements being all in the past.

Here, as in USA, the ideology itself is changing, yet on the same premisses first invoked, of citizen and state in contractual obligation. It took time for the full depravity of that rationalist “theory” to be realized; but we have had the time. In the age of Obama, it gets farther and farther from Washington and Lincoln, closer and closer to Marx and de Sade. But still there is a flag flying, whether the stars are white or yellow, or on a field of blue or red. And the pledge of allegiance is to the flag, not to God; and the anthem is not cast in the form of a prayer, but as an exaltation of revolutionary violence. (Nota bene: “Ideas have consequences.”) Lady Liberty stands in the place of Mary Mother of God, and licentiousness in the place of freedom.

We have come, as it were, to the reductio ad absurdum of the premisses on which the Enlightenment was lit, after a full century of violent post-modernism. Yet it passes as inevitable, as still the only way forward, for by now the idea of the State as the ultimate source of authority, and idol for collective public worship, has travelled the world. It was enhanced in the French and Russian Revolutions, and the sheer obscenity of it is lost on men who have come to take the contractual State as a fact of nature. The State’s claims bathe in spilt religion, as well as in that legacy of blood, and by now the man who hesitates to bend his knee to the latest “politically correct” ukase is denounced as “an enemy of the people.”

*

But I adhere to an older notion of patriotism, of a pre-revolutionary, or pre-ideological kind, in which the nation was more the product of its people than the other way around. I think back, in this anniversary year of the coming of the Great War, to the waning moments of the Habsburg realms, and the many small nations living in peace within a comparative paradise, each set in its own ancestral ways, yet with roads open and passing over every rise to a new vista of quiet beauty. Instead this order would be overthrown by the blood-curdling cry for “democracy,” and the jackboot of violent secular nationalism, descending on every human face.

One hears the echo of it today, in the roar of the football crowds contending for the World Cup: the car-horns beeping and the flags waving as the victors parade their ugliness through the city streets.

But the love of one’s own is not evil; and there is much in the hearts even of football supporters of an innocent pride, founded on that love of one’s own; a pride that is not hooligan, and a joy that includes love of the game. True patriot love is thrilled, when something fine is accomplished by one’s own countrymen. Yet it is also shown in the shame we feel, when our countrymen behave badly. A patriotism which takes pride in victory alone, is unworthy; it is the patriotism, or rather chauvinism, of the thug.

We might take honest pride, even in a State that avoids evil works, which rules with a light hand and with the consensus of all honest and reasonable men. For long Americans could take honest pride in a State that was, in the balance, a decent thing; which enforced reasonable laws at home, and defied despotic tyrants abroad; which was “a duly constituted authority,” not eager to make extravagant claims. To my mind, that America was indeed a blessing for the people, and a triumph, in the sense that the old freedom of America, of which I wrote above, prevailed in the face of new government agents.

Yet to my old Loyalist mind, too, the seeds of the new statism were planted in 1776; and in the defeat of a distant and gratuitously demonized monarch, the principles were laid for what could become, merely by the manipulation of words, and the extension of the franchise to the easily befuddled, a revolutionary totalitarianism. For all its strengths, and weaknesses, the American culture resisted the spread of this cancer, more effectively than many other cultures. And the seed itself was not particularly American; it was imported with the ideals of the Enlightenment from the Atlantic’s other side. Still, it was the fate of America to show the way, to create the precedent, to plant the insidious Tree of Liberty in soil watered by blood. The American Revolution made the French one conceivable, not under a paternal and aristocratic General Washington, but now a sans-culotte Robespierre.

A constitutional order was nevertheless enacted which has survived to the present day, and makes the United States after two hundred thirty-eight years one of the world’s oldest continuous constitutional regimes. It should be respected, not only in itself, and in its authors, but in the wisdom of later men who did not overthrow it, but struggled to make it work. It should be maintained, for the good of all; revised only by necessity; restored, where foolish changes have been made. It is right that, in America, each anniversary should be celebrated, as such anniversaries are celebrated in every other country. A flourish, some pomp, is certainly in order: and there are moments when everyone loves a parade.

I think we should keep what is good and what works; but we should never worship the works of man. That has been the Hebrew, the Christian and Catholic teaching, found throughout Old Testament and New, standing today against nationalist idolatry. So far as America has been good and has worked, we should thank God for her, not men. So far as she has failed, we should also turn to God. And in a time of trial and encroaching darkness, likewise turn, with our better angels, and make our appeal to Him, to “stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above.”

A test

Yes, this post is a test, merely a test, and I am testing, one-two-three. A test of whether a few little changes can be made, without blowing up the whole website. So that, whether it succeed, or whether it fail, it is likely to disappear. … Along, of course, with the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. … But I would guess a little sooner.

Now, as an aside, let me mention the importance of heating the butter separately, when making mashed potatoes. There are reasons for this, but I have not the patience for a little science lesson at this moment. And besides, I have forgotten it. But trust me, you don’t want gummy mashed potatoes.

You needn’t use a separate pot, however. Quarter, or better, octuply your spuds and set them in that pot in salted cold water, along with as many cloves of garlic as your conscience will allow. Thus, we bring all together evenly to a gentle boil. (Never violently boil a potato!) Fifteen minutes should be more than adequate. You’ll want the potatoes still somewhat firm. Drain (but you can keep potato water for stock). Then leave the potato chunks (and mooshy garlic cloves) in a bowl (or whatever), to steam off moisture. This will make them more absorptive.

I hope you used baking potatoes. I’m currently partial to Yukon golds. If you want to peel off the skins, you will find that it is now dead easy.

Melt a great dollop of butter in that emptied pot. … No, more than that. … A spoon of lard or bacon grease would be copacetic, too. … Stir cream into the melted butter. Others say milk, but I suspect they are Protestant. We are Catholics here, and Catholics use cream. Salt, black pepper, and to my mind, finely-chopped chives or green onions may be sprinkled, or any of many other modest herbal amplifiers. But all this is Option City.

The potato chunks (and garlic cloves) may now be mashed in. Do this a few chunks at a time, and with an old-fashioned, flat-bottomed wooden pestle. This is not hard work. And it is anyway morally wrong to use powered machinery in a kitchen. So that if you happen to own any such “labour-saving devices” (pshaw!) you may use the time while your mashed potatoes are cooking (let’s say, another fifteen minutes at low heat) to locate and destroy them.

Note to readers

These “Essays in Idleness” have had a run of twenty-one months, with what success their author cannot gauge. He has become displeased with the format of them, and will, should God permit, soon resume, after making a few simplifying changes.

The chief one is to eliminate Comments. I can imagine objections from the Commentariat, so will provide a thread for them below this post, where each member will be allowed one good swing of his bat, as in the old Fall Fair smash-the-jalopy contest. (Please leave a quarter for each additional swing.)

Let me provide three arguments, each of which could be cleverly refuted:

First, and most obvious, this site is under frequent attack from that class of censorious busybodies whom I affectionately describe as “communists and perverts.” The Comments threads give direct access to mount “denial of service” campaigns. As well they open the portal to routine spam that creates mountains of administrative clutter. I may still get shut down from time to time, but not so easily. (I think once again of the Duke of Wellington, who had iron shutters affixed to the windows of Apsley House in London, so that whenever the filthy democratic mob came to put out his windows, he could close the house into a tight masonry shell.)

Second, the moderation of Comments requires time and energy I am no longer willing to expend. This has been constantly increasing, not only from the number of Comments, and their growing length, but from the overall tone, as members hurl abuse at one another, while drifting far, far away from the topic at hand. Many of the Comments, although themselves reasonable, require editing to make them fully comprehensible to native readers of English, and to impose a consistent house style against typographical distractions. This is wearying, and I should rather spend such time as I can devote to this website writing “Essays in Idleness,” than playing Speakah, or otherwise preventing the threads from going rancid. (Lately, indeed, I have been getting abuse myself from those impatient to see their views displayed, or outraged that I have deleted this remark or that. Were I to please them, I would have to carry some “device” with me everywhere and always. I refuse to be enslaved by electronic gadgets, however.)

Third, and most subtly, I have found that the very existence of Comments alters the nature of what I am writing. For what I intended, from the beginning, was not to inspire public debate, but to make the kind of idle observations any individual reader could take or leave. I am trying to operate on the reader’s mind, not on his mouth, throat, or intestines. The nature of a conversation is changed in anticipation of hecklers.

I was told when I began that, in order to attract readers, I must absolutely provide a Twitter feed (plus Facebook, &c); that I would need enticing “graphics”; that Comments “build readership” along with any other form of “participation” or “interactivity.” What I discovered in my three-month Twitter experiment, not entirely to my surprise, is that such tactics do indeed attract “eyeballs.” But naked, sexy women attract more, and tabloid hysteria dominates a market, in which drooling ignorance has become quite acceptable. Who wants to “compete” in an environment like that?

Readers who scan at half-attention are no more use to me, than they are to themselves. I don’t mind if I lose them all, and would be happy to tap the dust off my flip-flops and move on to the next electronic town. I certainly cannot wish to prostitute myself for customers who are anyway loath to pay. (Ten dollars through PayPal the week before last; twenty the week before that, &c.)

But those who wish to speak to me directly may reach me by email, as many already do, and I will try to keep up with them. Many of the most astute comments have arrived in that way, and in future posts I will sometimes excerpt such correspondence. To be sure, I am glad of many of the people I have met, whom I would not have met otherwise. My email link will remain on the “About” page.

*

In the meantime, everyone is instructed to be virtuous, and my Canadian readers to exhibit true patriot love on this one hundred and forty-seventh Dominion Day — Le Jour de la Confédération — with pennants flying (“One Flag, One Fleet, One Empire”) and ideally, a slice of deep-dish maple-syrup apple crumble pie, and a generous wedge of sharp, five-year Ontario cheddar.

God save the Queen and Heaven bless: the Maple Leaf forever!

Latest from Iraq

I sometimes think that as a pundit in the newspapers I was too realpolitik; whereas now, in my enforced leisure, writing these idle essays, I am too pixie. Put this another way. In my newspaper columns I would take the position, “If you want to achieve that, you must do this.” Whereas, now I am more inclined to say that the this is not worth discussing, because the that is not worth achieving.

“Democracy” is a word I have put in quotes often lately, in the hope that the more intelligent readers with whom I am now blessed will detect shadings of irony. No Catholic can be against voting, per se, since after all our Popes are elected by ballot; and even the Holy Roman Emperor was thus elected, albeit the franchise was limited to seven persons. My objection is to the use of the word “democracy” in an abstract and utterly irresponsible way, as in for instance the phrase, “bringing democracy to Iraq,” when the speaker (unwittingly) proposes to bring chaos and violence instead.

But I could equally place the scare quotes around e.g. “capitalism” and “free markets,” often around “Western,” and even around “constitutional” and “the rule of law.” All such terms and many more are used in a slovenly way, which under cross-examination comes down to, “You know what I mean.”

No, Mr Bush, I don’t know what you mean; though I must allow that compared to Mr Obama, Mr Bush was almost comprehensible. Moreover, in my unchanged opinion, the 43rd President was, by the standards of politics, a good and decent man, doing what he believed right by the light of his understanding. (“The light that failed,” in Kipling’s haunting phrase.) Demonized, as it were, by demons.

Iraq has been much on my mind and in my heart, these last weeks. News junkies may refer to the standard junk sources to get some idea why. The “journalists” seldom get the details right, confuse matters further by their pig ignorance of history, and by writing a farrago of meaningless abstractions, clichés, and desperate nonce words. Nevertheless, a reader acquainted with Iraq may extract some vague shape within their slurry: of another civil war in a Middle Eastern country where there are (a lot) more than two sides. We get, for instance, “Sunni versus Shia,” presented with the same glib assurance as “Brazil versus Cameroon” with a half-time score. Suffice to say, there are many factions of Arab and non-Arab Sunnis, of Arab and non-Arab Shia, of communities neither Sunni nor Shia, and “terrorists” in multiple and mixed flavours. We would seem to be coming down to a “final” between ISIS-faction Sunni Islamist terrorists and Iranian-sponsored Shia Islamist militias, with Team Obama proposing to drop bombs on behalf of the latter. But I wouldn’t be too sure, of anything in Iraq.

Now, in the olden days, earlier in this century, I was an enthusiast for invading Iraq, for smooshing the monstrous regime of Saddam Hussein, and replacing it with a more benign dictatorship under, say, Ahmed Chalabi, with American and European help cleaning up. On the assumption it was too late to restore the Hashemite dynasty, I thought, go for the next best alternative. Given the borders as drawn by Gertrude Bell, and the variety of peoples contained within them, and immediate external threats on all sides, it did strike me that an essay in mass democracy would be exceptionally obtuse. I regret that I did not make this argument (which disturbed my editors) plainer.

The interest of United States and allies, with electorates lacking moral or intellectual stamina, was to get out as quickly as possible, consistent with leaving a stable regime that would not be a threat, at least to us. Under circumstances of real and present internal and external dangers, it would be necessary to leave a few bases behind, with troops and equipment ready to dance at short notice, and the back-up of, in effect, a fully reconstituted American Fifth Fleet, receiving more generous contributions from all NATO allies. That’s what kind of Imperialist I am.

Not, alas, the older sort of Imperialist, who might have put Iraq under the rule of a British Viceroy; but only because the option was not at hand. Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible (notwithstanding the way they are conducted today), and even I, like other Canadians, have noted the decline of the British Empire — as, too, the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, &c — with their more “hands on” approach to persistent sources of disorder. The problem with American Imperialism being, they don’t know how to do it, and keep messing up, even with military resources that any of the old Imperial powers would have envied.

This is because they keep trying to sell “democracy.” They have been doing it for several generations, and they will not learn from experience, nor accept any criticism on this point. Power may be projected, but “democracy” cannot be imposed in a place like Iraq (let alone Afghanistan) without easily foreseeable, shall we say, negative consequences. Nor should one persist in giving lip service to an ideal that is impracticable, to such a ludicrous degree. As we have seen, it is not even working in the United States of America, where “the people” have voted themselves government benefits and entitlements (as the Europeans before them) to the point of spiritual as well as fiscal bankruptcy.

But let’s stick with Iraq. There are at least a dozen countries within that country, some larger, some smaller; and the challenge for any central government is to keep them out of each other’s affairs. This was the normal and traditional challenge for governors of vast dominions, and I mentioned the British with approval, above, because they were (once) rather good at it. It is exactly what mass democracy ignores, as in the case of Iraq, where the Shia majority were given the opportunity to vote on how the Sunni minority should be treated.

Just as “socialism” is only possible among friends, “democracy” is only possible at the small level, and then depending on the local mood. Trying to forge a nation on this “one size fits all” ideological principle is asking for … what we have been getting for the last century and more. Indeed, the Ottoman regime was more benign than any of the nation states that replaced it, because the Sultan in Istanbul still recognized, in the old-fashioned way, that his dominions were various. If they were sincere in arguing, “that government is best which governs least,” North American libertarians would take a good look at the Ottoman administration, and stop reflexively supporting Young Turks.

The task of statesmen — long before “Democracy!” became the cry of the mob — was to promote peace, order, and good government, given the kaleidoscopic reality of “facts on the ground.” An important part of that task, as I was reminded recently in reading at length of Talleyrand, then Wellington, was subverting megalomaniacs in their dreams of glory. They were mutual admirers, these two, incidentally. Talleyrand from within, Wellington from without, worked on the problem of Napoleon, whose immense popularity in post-revolutionary France, when he was winning, was compounded by his genius on the battlefield. This would require a very long historical essay, but for my present purpose I will cut to the chase: Both of these very different heroes understood that the cause of peace, order, and good government, could only be achieved by carefully resisting anything like mass democracy, or the popular will. For both understood the first thing: that “the people” are fools.

*

We are five days short of the most important centenary we will observe in our lives: that of June 28th, 1914 — the day from which I date “post-modernity,” in the work of an anarchist for “the people” of Serbia. The Great War happened because there were madmen in high stations — Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany being the prize example — but more consequentially, because the popular will had been teased into irruptions of nationalist, chauvinist hysteria in every European capital, by the newly emergent yellow press and cheap, demagogic politicians. It is sickening, today, to look back over the huge demonstrations that assembled for war in Berlin, Paris, London, elsewhere. In the background, intelligent, aristocratic statesmen of the old school were scrambling to avert it. They, unlike “the people,” knew what this world war would mean: that it would destroy Europe; that it would overwhelm every remaining vestige of peaceful and traditional ways of life. But the ideal of “democracy” had already gone too far. The mobs wanted action. And they soon got what they were lusting for.

In the aftermath of that War, in the dealings at Versailles and in constitutional developments throughout the West, it became evident, to a few of the wise, that no lesson had been learnt. And how could it, given the deceitful rewrite of history already proceeding to serve new “democratic” purposes? The very men who had struggled to avoid war were now said to have conspired to start it; the vulgar mob that had demanded it, were now cast as their innocent victims. (The media then as today delight in flattering their uneducated audiences with reversals of that kind.)

There was no turning back from what man had wrought, on his own wilful initiative. In the shadow of Total War, a new generation of populist politicians went to work on delivering Total Peace. The voting franchise, already dangerously over-extended, was now doubled; men of no distinction rose from the bottom on the churning thunder of the populist tide. Politics became everyone’s business, whether or not everyone knew the first thing, and the experienced statesmen of past generations were systematically replaced by the crowd-pleasers with their electoral circus acts. A new world of technology also burst forth, thanks to the inventions of war, helping to divert the attention of men from the life everlasting, to instant material gratification. Men were “progressively” set free of all customary restraints, especially the restraint of honour.

And what we were selling in Iraq — an artificial nation already deformed from the clash of ancient and post-modern forces — was more of this same poisoned porridge. It hasn’t worked out. It could never work out. Even had it been entirely successful, it would have delivered only another “globalized” culture of depraved men and women, shorn of their identities as souls, enslaved by their own greed for things that can only distract from Heaven.

And these are not indifferent things. In order to please the mass market, in politics as in trade, we must pile up the bodies in the mortuaries. Murder is at the root of all revolutionary zeal, and as Jefferson said, the tree of his new, revolutionary liberty “must be refreshed with blood.” (Even where there is outwardly no war: for I think of the blood of forty million North American babies, shed to refresh “the liberty of women.”)

We have been piling them up for a century, on a scale not seen since Tamurlaine, all in the name of “the people” and “democracy.” Or as a Canadian sage liked to put it — the Nova Scotia Yankee, Thomas Chandler Haliburton — “vox populi, vox diabolus.”

*

Let me add, for the benefit of at least a couple of readers who lost boys in Iraq or Afghanistan, that their deaths were not in vain. It is at another level from “foreign policy” that they became engaged in the struggle. What we fight for, what we achieve and don’t achieve, has a reckoning beyond the confines of this world. Those who died trying to protect the harmless — the common simple people of Iraq and Afghanistan, longing to live in peace, yet oppressed by psychotic tyrants and caught up in their wars — died well.

The real testimony to the value of their service comes from love. I was deeply moved by several allied soldiers who, in letters to me in the course of their field service, wrote with great affection for the people they had met in towns and villages — that is, real, actual, singular people, as opposed to statistical counters. They went to fight for USA, or for Canada in several cases; they stayed to fight for the Iraqis, for the Afghans, as they had come to know them — hoping to build them a better future, in safety and in freedom. Those who died, died also for them.

One is heartbroken for their loss, in the flower of youth. For their families: their moms and dads, their wives and kids, their brothers and sisters; for their friends and their lovers. But I absolutely refuse to agree that their lives were “wasted,” in the manner of newspaper pundits and the asinine liberals on TV. No matter how badly the mission failed, in the end, so many engaged with pure hearts and fine courage. And every human mission fails, in the end. We cannot judge on the basis of worldly success or failure.

The axeman

So far as I am aware, there is yet no law against carrying an axe openly around the city; or a concealed hatchet for that matter. A broadaxe might get you stares on the trolley, but only brief, silent, and thoughtful ones. Whereas, a gun — even an innocent hunting rifle — would be a problem anywhere in the Greater Parkdale Area. The police are increasingly well-armed, but among the citizens, only criminals are allowed “to carry” in these parts. (Of course, we could discuss my use of the word, “allowed.”) Gun clubs and gun ranges have been made unwelcome, too, within city limits. This may be among the reasons the military, nowadays, can forget about recruiting in most urban areas: for the city boys have grown up fey, and show the product of indoctrination, to the effect that war is hard on children and animals.

Truth to tell, there is very little use for an axe, almost anywhere in a modern conurbation. I am unfamiliar with the minutiae, but was told by an interested party that wood-burning stoves are now verboten, not as fire risk but thanks to “air quality standards.” The Smuglies (my short, affectionate term for our ruling class of affectedly nice, self-consciously “progressive” people, who live almost entirely off our tax money) often suffer from asthma, and it appears to be triggered by the sight of anyone smoking a cigarette. The idea of a wood stove threatens them by analogy. Barbecues are still permitted, but only for people in single dwellings with back yards (i.e. above a certain income level).

One does not need an axe for a barbecue, I suppose, unless one has seriously tired of its appearance. Ditto, with other household furniture and appliances. I think of a young Czech friend who was being shown a flat which contained a shoddy built-in “shelving unit,” of an exceptionally painful colour. The landlord said he could re-paint it.

“Why don’t we paint it with an axe,” my friend suggested.

We had only the one modest hatchet up here in the High Doganate, used only once since moving in, and then only the poll, as a mallet. It was a small (15-inch), modestly curved single-bit affair, with a plumpish profile: a good compromise about equally efficient for cutting, splitting, or shaping. Left only with this one tool, a skilled axeman could fell trees and build a log cabin (starting, perhaps, with the sculpting of a longer haft). Our pioneers, in the woods of Canada, were very particular about their axes. Many a Loyal pioneer began as a man of one axe, and it would have become his most valuable possession (after his Bible had been memorized).

Alas, I gave my hatchet as a gift to a friend who was moving upcountry. (I lack prudence and foresight, sometimes.) But more axes are available in the flea markets, much better than I have seen in any chain hardware franchise, and I will obtain another in due course.

Meanwhile, I have retained a fairly manly Chinese cleaver, in forged iron that will hold an edge, that would serve for a hatchet should some sudden need arise.

Promoting intolerance

This morning’s treat: an inbox full of extremely obvious “phishing” try-ons, from something falsely describing itself as the “Gmail Team.” …

I am hardly the first to observe, that if people behaved on the street the way they behave on the Internet, they would be punched — even in Canada, I think, where tolerance for fiendish behaviour has replaced watching hockey on television as our national sport. For Canadians, I have observed, are like Cambodians. And Cameroonians, I might add; to say nothing of Cape Verdeans. You can push us only so far. This is indeed true of the people of all countries beginning with the letter C, right down to Cypriots and Czechs.

Well, it is amazing how far you can push us, before we snap. Every day, in my walks around the Greater Parkdale Area, I acquire new anecdotes. Perhaps my countrymen have forgotten that civilization depends far more on intolerance, than tolerance. Perhaps, now that I think of it, civilization depends entirely on intolerance: on what people are unwilling to put up with. Discomfort, if you will: with the small, the sleazy, the crooked, the cheap, the noisome. A certain willingness to eliminate hucksters. Unwillingness to take “the easy way out.”

Do the good, speak the true, make the beautiful.

Stop tolerating the bad, the false, and the ugly: starting with yourself, and perhaps continuing discreetly with your neighbours. (Eventually, they will stop tolerating you.)

Another item in my inbox this morning is an article by Francis Fukuyama, the dime-store Hegelian. He writes in the Wall Street Journal, as the subhead neatly summarizes, “Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall’s fall, liberal democracy still has no real competitors.”

It is a quarter century now this gentleman has been backpedalling on his End of History “thesis.” One may make a good living on backpedalling, I have observed. First make your name with an absolutely ridiculous claim; then devote the rest of your adult life to qualifying it. Yet all along, the premiss of the argument could be confuted with the words, “Oh, please.”

Or let me put this another way: “We have enough quantity now. We need more quality.”

And quality does not depend on liberal democracy. It depends on intolerance.

Calendar notes

There is a fine piece of Chinese calligraphic brushwork, rolled in a tube in the corner of a closet, up here in the High Doganate. Or rather, unrolled, on a table, for I took it out this morning to admire it again. It was done by a Chinese engineering student — on exchange to the University of Toronto, at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer. He painted it on the back of an (ancient technology) blueprint sheet, mounted that on cardboard, then fixed it to a stick of bamboo. (The board and stick are long gone.)

It was a placard. My Chinese is a bit rusty, but I trust it still demands, in effect, “Freedom and Democracy for China!” The use of classical instead of Pinyin characters was an effete touch, that pleased me then as now. The elegant brushstrokes made the sheet itself worth keeping.

Twenty-five years have passed since the little man in front of the column of tanks in Peking, and all the other events, in Tiananmen Square, and elsewhere across China. I was thirty-six then, I am sixty-one now; but my desire to overthrow the Communist Politburo is easily rekindled.

It is twenty-five years since I was waving that placard, among my Chinese brothers and sisters, pointlessly in front of the Red Chinese consulate on St George Street; and characteristically struggling with the tones, to chant the slogans. The officials inside were pretending not to be there. They had turned off all lights, and locked the doors and gates. The demonstrators outside, though fairly numerous, were behaving like Canadians, i.e. too polite to put out their windows.

Looking back, over this quarter century, I see that my political views have “evolved.” I cannot use such terms as “freedom” and “democracy” quite so glibly as I could, then. My sympathies have hardly shifted to the Maoist party, however. On the contrary, my disgust may actually have increased, at their success in delivering to China the bourgeois, consumerist non-paradise that has changed everything. The young who were mercilessly gunned down, by their hundreds and probably thousands not only in Peking but in other cities away from Western media, could hardly have realized the cause they were serving: which is to say, inspiring their government to a more cynical exploitation of themselves, and the masses.

Had the Chinese “counter-revolution” prevailed, it is quite possible the result would have been worse for the Chinese people. It is likely that many, many more would have died violently, and perhaps also, starved, as the vast country disintegrated; it is unlikely the transition of power would have been so outwardly smooth as it was throughout the old Soviet Empire.

But here I propose to be rather mysterious. The savage, murderous, evil Maoist “dictatorship of the proletariat” had produced those students, willing to put their lives on the line for what they took to be unambiguously noble ideals. They were courageous young people, grown up entirely under Communism, committed to a cause that was above their own immediate personal interests. As most observers agree, after a quarter century, the young now want a house and a car, and with a better income, a variety of consumer durables still largely beyond their reach.

There are exceptions, to be sure. A small minority have sincerely embraced Christianity, for instance, through the generation since the “events” (i.e. massacres) of 4th June 1989. I am aware, too, of a quite voluntary “back to the land” movement, from young people rejecting the consumerism, and the office and factory regimentation, and the pollution and vileness and spiritual desiccation of those new cities, which seem so gleaming from afar. They have no interest in politics. They stay away from that. They, like the office and factory workers, get as far away from politics as they can.

Another old Chinese friend, an exiled municipal politician from Hong Kong, ran a book store for a while after he washed up in Toronto. It failed, for lack of customers. His interests went beyond politics to Chinese history and culture, and he was a genuinely thoughtful soul. (I’ve lost track of him since his store on Harbord Street closed.) By increments, he had come to the view that “there are no political solutions, to anything.” Freedom might even be, “freedom from politics.” But politics were in his soul, and he could not help (like me, perhaps) trying to devise a “politics of the apolitical.”

His China — the China of his dreams — was revealed under cross-examination. It was the China of the Chiang-nan (“South of the River,” i.e. the Yangtze) — for eight centuries or more the prosperous heart of the civilization, and her artistic and intellectual centre, speaking the gracious Wu dialect, in such beautiful cities as Soochow and Hangchow. The political centre of the empire was invariably elsewhere, usually far to the north and west. That was a natural advantage. It contributed to the atmosphere of freedom, in the Chiang-nan.

That is my China, too. It has nothing to do with “democracy.” It will never have anything to do with that; nor could it ever be restored by any imaginable kind of political action.

The old Soochow, for which I have shed strange tears of nostalgia, was a flower that grew up of its own, because it was not uprooted. Now it has been uprooted. And should anything like it come again, it will have to grow again, from seed.

*

It was yesterday the 51st anniversary of the death of Saint John XXIII. This is another event I remember personally, though I was just a child of ten. I feel as if I were once again touching the black headline, in the broadsheet newspaper I was then holding. I was gradually taking in what a Pope is, and where he lives — in Rome. I hadn’t devoted any thought to the topic beforehand, but in the course of struggling with an obituary notice, I was beginning to grasp a few straws — of the institution, and of this man, once Angelo Roncalli. (How odd that one’s acquaintance with a man, so often begins on the day of his death.)

A priestlie friend forwarded an item from the “Salt & Light” blog. It quoted the “Daily Decalogue” of this pope. My views on him today are vex’d and complex’d. But rather than trouble gentle reader with these views, let me instead transcribe the same document, in the italics below. For they remind me very much of my beloved Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who seemed to understand everything, and to have about her a serenity that was truly not of this world:

*

Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

Only for today, I will make a plan for myself. I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Supplementary, Mr Speaker

In the Comments thread, beneath the last post, there was a storm forming, with a conservative, Catholic, American Patriot waving Dignitatis Humanae at me (the Vatican II document: go look it up) — in defence of America’s gift to the world, of Church/State separatism. John Courtney Murray, SJ, was the original drafter of that document. (Look him up.) Controversy rages still, over whether it represented a fair development of, or deviation from, previous Catholic teaching on the political order. (Look it up! Look it up!) What I append below is a few disjointed notes from that controversy, carried out of Comments and into email, touching on relations between Church and State.

Gentle reader may make of these items what he will. Should he find them utterly baffling, don’t worry. An agent of the Inquisition will be around shortly, to tell you what to do.

*

Item, what I found odd, was that Murray went to Rome in the train of Cardinal Spellman, and enjoyed more protection there than he had ever received in USA. The final vote within the Vatican Council for Dignitatis Humanae was so lopsided, that even without reading it I would have assumed that the Fathers had succeeded in excising anything genuinely novel. Pope Benedict’s deep parting remark about Vatican II applies here: the damage would have been done, not by the content of the document, but in its presentation by the “Council of the Media.” Not the thing itself but, as it were, “website comments” on it.

Item, Murray was a Jesuit. I note he was convenor for the first “oecumenical” declaration of “peace, peace” back in 1944.

Item, some priest once said to me, “Jesuits should be turned loose on the pagans, not within the Church.”

Item, Leo XIII did not say that the Church is the State. Though sublimely simple, I’ve noticed this point is lost on many from both sides of the hall. They cannot conceive of it except exclusively in terms of worldly power, and bureaucratized at that. People like my Chief Texas Correspondent cannot be shaken from a vision of the Nanny State (which we both despise) whose capital is merely transferred from the Potomac to the Tiber. The point he won’t get is that the Nanny State is itself an unavoidable by-product of secular democracy, wherein the people vote to appropriate each other’s property, under the inspiration of demagogues. But also, in their fantasy lives, we have Trad Catlicks dreaming like Leninists, of taking everything over and ruling by decree. It is hard to argue with morons.

Item, nor does it follow from anything Pope Leo wrote, or the other popes of the XIXth century, that a Catholic order must persecute non-Catholics. That, perhaps, is what we were trying to clarify in Vatican II — that we’d done a few mean things in the past that we don’t feel especially proud of, even when they were just retaliation. In particular: Christ did not preach forcible conversions.

Item, “Are Non-Theocratic Regimes Possible?” by Rémi Brague. Here we get to the crux of the matter. There will always be a theocratic order, even if it is an “atheocratic” pastiche. The question is not “whether we should have a theocracy or not,” as the progressives say — defining their own atheocratic order falsely as a non-theocratic order, when it is as arbitrary as any theocratic order the world ever endured. Rather: Which theocratic order should it be? (Shariah? Rabbinical, perhaps? Lamaist? Shinto? Lutheran? Calvinist? Marxist? Feminist? Gaian? Catholic?) Truly, we are spoilt for choice, but as the modern consumer can hardly understand, you can’t have everything. You have to choose one, to be morally coherent; or if you choose “none,” … someone else chooses for you.

Item, let me emphasize this point. Should the principles be not those of the ancestral Catholic Christendom — buried beneath our Western feet, yet serviceable still as foundation — then they will be of something else. We hardly got e.g. quickie divorce, or no-questions-asked abortion, or gay marriage for that matter, or soon, no-questions-asked euthanasia for your unwanted granny, because the masses suddenly spontaneously rose up to demand them pronto. We got them because the gods we are currently serving required them; and of course, we got them “democratically,” but only in the sense that the people are made to vote until they deliver what these gods require. … (Good news, incidentally. It turns out these gods may not want polygamy after all, so we won’t have to deliver that at the polling booths.)

Item, therefore what I modestly propose is only that a Christian order supplant the current Satanic one. And, Catholic Christian, I was thinking: not some other kind, replete with heresies or, if you prefer, “inconsistencies.”

Item, now, getting back to that American Revolution (or, First Civil War, as I think of it). … For your information, my Loyal ancestors understood all this above, right up to the Catholic part, which, I must admit, they flubbed. There was an established church in most of the Thirteen Colonies, though it was not the same one in all. American federalism required a “workaround” for this sectarian issue, since the probability of reaching agreement on which should be the established church for the whole New Republic was nil. It is an angle from which the issue is seldom assessed; especially by Protestants, to my mind. And this because it perfectly illustrates how easily sectarianism lapses into godless vacuumism — for from a choice among vexatious somethings, we go to a default nothing, which were the devil’s choice.

Item, to be almost unnaturally fair, we wound up with the same thing (i.e. nothing) up here in the Great White North, where, to start, Lower Canada was effectively a Catholic jurisdiction; and Upper Canada a Protestant jurisdiction — but under conditions of Loyalist flight, ridiculously subdivided township by township among the various Protestant factions, with clergy reserves all round.

Item, it was generally assumed, at one point in history, that Jesus Christ had founded only one Church. It took fifteen centuries (in the West) for this point to become controversial.

That peace is indivisible

“The definition of ‘peace’ in our common usage, as in our politics, has been narrowed to the absence of armed conflict. This is extremely suggestive, of an order in which peace, as any good, must be humanly imposed. Peace, to the mind that has taken the transcendental claims of democracy for granted, is a question of law enforcement. It is thus paradoxically the product of contention.”

I flag this graf from my column entitled, “Mandate of Heaven,” over at Catholic Thing this morning. Perhaps it is incomprehensible. Often things which seem obvious to me, prove incomprehensible to my readers, though the explanation may be my incompetence as a writer. In this case, the understanding of the rest of the column depends upon the understanding of this graf. So let me take another kick at it.

There is a natural order. The Chinese understood this; we understood it, once upon a time. I would go so far as to say everyone is born understanding it, but I mentioned ancient Chinese, and mediaeval Europeans, because they were able to articulate it, superbly. I count this a magnificent civilizational achievement on both sides: even more for the Chinese, for they did not have the advantage of the Hebrew and Greek theological foundation upon which our western, Catholic sages could build; let alone the Christian scheme of prayer to guide them.

On both sides, today, some of the general comprehension remains, but in a degenerate form. This is like the decay of empirical science, through the pagan Roman era, after the achievements of the Hellenist Alexandrians — when what had come to be understood, chastely, continued to be understood, but in a manner applied, technocratic, superstitious, scientistic. (Something similar has been happening in our own day, wonderfully captured in the term, “settled science.” That is to say, empirical science put entirely at the service of prognostication, technique, magic, and of course, a gnostic pursuit of power.)

Similarly, in China, a philosophy which from its height provided a vista over what we in the West would call “natural law,” decayed into cast straws and what falls now under the generic term, feng shui. That there is “something in it” could go without saying; but that something is a more vivid and, as I have said, more chaste comprehension of the natural order — and with this the requirement for humility in all human enterprise, and the need, patiently, quietly, and as it were, “aesthetically,” to discern the grain of moral nature, and cut with it instead of trying to cut across it.

For we have come to want what we must serve, to serve us instead.

We are incidentally in grave danger, within the Catholic Church today, from the invasion of a very worldly, “happy-clap,” cafeteria gnosticism — not outside but now inside the Church — undermining and subverting a doctrinal edifice that was maintained over twenty centuries in accord with both faith and reason. Prayer ceases to be anchored in the clarity of the Sacraments, and becomes increasingly a private appeal to the sky-gods for the provision of signs and wonders. Rather than purify ourselves for the Communion, we demand that the Communion be served to all regardless. Rather than be reconciled to Christ, we demand that Christ be reconciled, to our own recklessly sinful behaviour — and just “be there for us,” like any pagan sky-god.

In my interminable mutterings against “democracy,” I draw attention to this inversion: the notion that God must serve Man at Man’s pleasure, for it is beneath the dignity of Man to serve God. We are the Arbiters of Being, on this view, and if God will not bless and advance our lusts for sex, wealth, knowledge and power, then “God is dead”; or to be killed; or if he cannot be killed, banished. And those who persist in invoking Him will be dealt with, in due course, to the full extent of Man’s Law. That is what “democracy” has delivered for us: the condition exactly opposite to that of being at peace with God and His Creation.

In pointing to this, and with it to the monstrous, Kafkaesque, “Nanny States” which men have invented to serve their own humanly-constructed formulas of justice, I am consciously overriding the first principle of the “Americanism” against which Leo XIII wrote, in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. I am plainly denying “the separation of Church and State.”

It is interesting to me, that most of the discussion of that encyclical is nonsense. Pope Leo, writing in 1899, is assumed to be ranting against a wide range of modern tendencies which he vaguely associates with faraway “America,” and hardly understands. I doubt most of its smug critics have actually read the document, for they betray ignorance of its content and structure at every turn. But those who give some indication that they have at least glanced over it, including those of a mind to half-defend it, often either fail to understand, or more likely, flinch from understanding.

The encyclical is not vague. It boldly, courageously, directly takes on the specifically American constitutional precept of “the separation of Church and State,” which had evolved, by the end of the XIXth century, even beyond what its original authors intended. He takes it on because, even by 1899, it has come to be accepted within many limbs of the Catholic Church herself. The pope declares that in Catholic teaching — which even the bishops of America are obliged to maintain — there can be no such separation, no such divorce, no jurisdictional trick by which God may be “privatized.” In effect, a nation or society that has chosen to erect, publicly, a Berlin Wall between Man and his Maker, has chosen to go to Hell. And even in strictly worldly terms, after more than two centuries of that official “separation,” we are getting there: paying for the consequences of a mistake that we refuse to correct.

(Note, that “the separation of Church and State” was not an issue in the Treaties of Westphalia, where it occurred to neither Protestants nor Catholics to suggest that religion could be a matter of personal taste; for the full atomization of Western man came later. And that even among the Founding Fathers of USA, the point was to avoid Christian sectarianism, not to challenge America’s unambiguously Christian heritage and identity.)

Pope Leo’s Catholic teaching is hard, for Americans especially but, too, for democrats everywhere. It flies in the face of everything we now believe to have been established, once and for all time, in the Enlightenment — signed in the blood of the American and French Revolutions. Verily, we think our freedom depends, not on God, but on the guarantees of personal autonomy dictated by the authors of revolutionary law.

We truly believe this — as the result, I would say, of generations of intense Statist propaganda, going back well beyond the Enlightenment, to the Reformation. We believe this to the extent that Catholic Christians imagine Christ’s, “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” to be an affirmation of the separation of Church and State from the other, divine side. On this basis, generations even of Catholics have been raised, affronted by the claims of their own Saviour, and quick to side with Caesar in any public clash.

As a Loyalist, myself — i.e. descended from people who fled the newly-created United States rather than be subjected to that new, revolutionary order — it is a little too easy for me to overlook the pain every patriotic American Catholic must feel, however sublimated, at the root of his being. He must, as a patriotic citizen, pledge allegiance to a flag, and Constitution, premised on the denial of an irrefutable tenet of his Catholic faith. He must either ignore, or find a sophistical way around, the very question of conscience that led Saint Thomas More to the Tower. For More, too, refused the separation of Church and State. That was the profound divorce he opposed, vastly more significant than the desire of Henry VIII to be copulating legally with his wife’s chambermaid, Anne Boleyn.

But there I have taken it back to the first delicate point of fission, the modest launch of the Modern Schism in small, selfish, and sleazy acts of statecraft so many centuries ago; the butterfly sneeze as it were, which begat the hurricane, which tore through Western Civilization — just as Saint Thomas More foresaw — leaving moral, spiritual, and material wreckage not only in its direct path, but swirling abroad to every horizon.

I’ve been trying to write a book on this, incidentally. It distracts me from this Idleblog sometimes. I’ve been trying to do it for years, under the provisional title, Christ the King — scattering little fragments here and there along my way. For I know it is impossible for the modern man, after these intervening centuries, to conceive of his religion as anything other than a “compartment” of the mansion in which he lives; that he has been raised, trained, tested to think that way, and to feel mightily oppressed by any other suggestion. I know that this man cannot imagine the Christendom which he believes even his own Church abandoned, centuries ago. By now, one impossibility has been heaped on another, till we have a Babel of impossibilities, reaching up into the clouds. It is impossible for this man to imagine his own city, our old familiar City of Man, as if that Tower had never been erected.

But with God, all things are possible.

Hapless voters

There is, so to say, good news and bad news for democratic European Unionists. The good news is that, for the first time, voter turnout actually increased from the previous election to the European Parliament. Just over 43 percent of the eligible bothered to vote, up 1/10th of 1 percent. The bad news is that so many of these voters selected parties devoted to the destruction of as much of the European Union as possible.

We are laughing, up here in the High Doganate. Or rather, no, we are not laughing, it is all a pose. Still, there is a glint of recognition, gleeful in its own way. The voters, especially in England and France — the pioneer “Nation States” from the later Middle Ages — appear to have been motivated by something akin to the feist that came over the municipal electorate in the Greater Parkdale Area, the last time we voted. That was when we chose the notorious drunkard and drug addict, Rob Ford, to be our mayor. As polls since have repeatedly confirmed, we knew what we were doing. We had a task for him. It was to destroy as much of the vast municipal bureaucracy as possible. Our instruction was: “Keep smashing everything you see until they take you away.” Finesse would not be required, and the licker and crack might be an advantage.

One may love “the people,” without being especially impressed by them. They are stupid, but as the stopped clock, there are moments when they are stupidly correct. These are very brief moments, but let us enjoy them while we can.

Normally, they (“the people”) are suckered. The political class — the class of politicians, senior bureaucrats, self-interested lobbyists, and all their paid flunkeys in media and elsewhere — are much cleverer than “the people,” on political questions. “The people,” for their part, may be individually cleverer than they, but not, as a rule, on political questions, which don’t much interest the great majority of them. The political class have, in addition to whatever native smarts, plenty of experience manipulating “the people,” and the contempt required to be ruthless about it. In a fully-fledged “democracy,” it takes little sophistry for the bad guys to win. But the term is relative, and should the good guys win, it will be another victory for the politicians.

A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain this to a well-intended, rightwing person. He complained that the Conservative Party had turned its back on “conservative principles.” This struck me as an unfair allegation, for the party had never once in the history of Canada, whether at the provincial or Dominion level, embraced “conservative principles,” nor shown the slightest curiosity over what they might be. The purpose of a political party has nought to do with such “principles.” (This goes for all parties including, within five years of their founding, those founded on “principles.”) Rather it is to tax as much as they dare, and distribute the takings among their friends, while “nation building” — i.e. adding to the machinery of State. A party unclear on this essential “principle” of democracy (the one that defeats every other principle) might get itself elected by some fluke, but will not long retain power.

It is objected that the proponents of UKIP in Britain, and the Front national in France, are crass. So, too, has this been suggested of Tea Party enthusiasts in the USA. It has moreover been remarked that Mayor Ford (currently languishing in a drunk tank somewhere) is crass. As those objecting would never vote for them anyway, the insult can be casually ignored. The strength of the populists consists in a certain naïveté. They actually believe in “democracy.” And they are all mystical “nationalists” within their respective statist domains. They think that the nature of the modern State can be changed; that it would be possible, for instance, to downsize it, to reduce taxes, to maybe pay down some debt, to make the agencies of the State responsive to their individual customers, more reflective of human decency, &c. In power, they confront the reality, of machinery vastly large and complex, regulations fantastically detailed and comprehensive, all backed by the power of written law, to be enforced when necessary by violence. And being crass, the best they can do is empty their chamberpots into the machine, here and there. They prove rank amateurs, and upon their removal from office, the “natural party of government” returns, to make some minor sloppy repairs, then resume the mission of Nanny Statecraft — with ambitious new programmes and departments to reward dependency, and crush the spirit of liberty and enterprise; focusing their efforts to make sure that trouble does not arise from the same quarter again.

The citizen of every modern Nation State is fully integrated with that machinery: strapped into place and identifiable by serial number. There is nothing voluntary in his participation: the definition of an “outlaw” has been amended over time, to mean specifically failure to cooperate with any government agent, or to surrender immediately to his demands. (I laugh, bitterly, when a media smartie proposes e.g. mandatory voting, as if adding more idiots to the electorate will improve anything. And yet I welcome it as a frank admission that democracy is a totalitarian creed.)

I do not see how this machinery could ever be peacefully dismantled, given not only its scale, but its claim to the universal authority once accorded only to God. Now that it has had five centuries to grow (counting from the real Reformation, when such as Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and appropriated Church property and titles to the State, subjecting divine to profane authority throughout his realm) I do not anticipate a quick turnaround. I do, however, see that when it collapses, the machinery will come down directly on top of all of us.

It takes, verily, a long historical view, to begin to understand the triumph of politics in the modern, statist order; to grasp the evolution from the “divine right of hereditary kings” to the “divine right of successful politicians.” Not one in one hundred electors would have the patience for that; nor remember, tomorrow, what you told them today.

To my mind, it is nevertheless incumbent upon every Christian: to understand the nature of our political order; that it is answerable, ultimately, to the Prince of This World; that it stands in open defiance to the claims of Christ; and that we, as Christians, cannot honour it without dishonouring Our Lord. For the demands of pagan Caesar are no different today than they were in the first centuries: that we bow before his abstract image, worship and pay taxes to him; that we publicly subordinate our conscience to his ghastly will.

The lie in the black heart of democracy is that we can overcome Caesar by electing another Caesar.

Hierarchy or mediocrity?

It is for others to judge our merits, defective as their judgements may be; it is for Another to come to the correct and final Judgement. It is not, as I was taught even by post-Christian parents, for us to put ourselves forward. For that is in poor taste at the least, and ugliness provides, like pain, the signal that something is more deeply wrong. (That is why the aesthetic aspect of education must never be neglected.) Our task should be acquiring the merit instead, and should it go entirely unrecognized in this world, perhaps we should be grateful for having been able to avoid much unnecessary grief.

When the prize is power, the ambitious man becomes more than a bore and a jackass; he becomes a public threat. It grieves me that our entire political system is based on the notion that candidates for public office should compete for it.

I was pleased to see, in the penultimate thread, a member of my Commentariat, who wanders off and wanders back, finding solid Augustinian and Thomist ground from which to mount one of my own favourite attacks against bourgeois democracy. It is this notion that men shall not push themselves forward. The point, as Mr Prenot understands, pertains to more than candidates for election, strutting on their own supposed virtues. We have a political system in which, to get the job, one must demonstrate convincingly that one is the person least suited to be trusted with it. But the issue is much broader than that: broader than party politics, in the strict sense.

(Now curiously, Mr Prenot’s adversary on that thread, made an equally compelling point, describing, as it were, the flip side of the same coin. When a man is called to a task, including the task of captaincy, it ill suits him to decline the responsibility, and go off to be a hermit somewhere. The saints understood this: that God has placed us in this world, and under obedience.)

Our whole economy is based on advertising, and our (North) Americanism is anchored in an ideal of commercial aggression. The competition we hail has little to do with the quality or even price of the goods, but rather with cheap “lifestyle” or “coolness” factors. Goods not advertised disappear from view, and in corners of the economy where I happen to know something about the goods themselves (the word encompasses “services” incidentally), I often regret the ease with which the mass-market publicity specialists are able to abet Gresham’s Law. Codes of “truth in advertising” only contribute to this. By a common agreement to forego the overt lie, the advertisers are able from all sides to focus their pitches on claims that cannot be disproven; in other words, claims that have no substance whatever.

Which takes me to a further point. While it is unbecoming in any man to push himself forward, or make a garish display of his wares (or hers), his success will not be assured in the small society, where people know each other by name and reputation, make observations with their own eyes noses and ears, and decisions whose consequences will be felt immediately. The mass market, in politics as in business, makes such direct human judgement nearly impossible. We are atomized — one man one vote, whatever the product that is for sale — and each man is very far, from power even over his own immediate environment, as from anything resembling real information. “Democracy” (and I mean this term to apply to more than the mechanics of elections) has made him a truly meaningless cog in a machine that is ultimately controlled by faceless yet self-interested characters.

The mass market, in politics as in business, works with statistics. The individual voter or other consumer is digitized — is reduced, in each and every calculation, to a one or a zero. Only ciphers can be “equal,” and men are made ciphers for the express purpose of manipulating them.

In the small society, people can see who is the natural leader, and instinctively support him. No one needs to strut: whatever the job, the man who can best do it will be revealed in the doing itself. Whether that small society is a village, or a chamber ensemble, we can see who should play first violin. I have myself been fortunate to obtain plenty of experience in such small societies wherein, from top to bottom by a natural hierarchy, the members were not externally sorted, but in effect sorted themselves, into a team with their natural captain. This is how the world works, by natural design. Our abstract and artificial arrangements subvert this natural order, with results we can see all around in the triumph of ugliness and mediocrity.

*

An aside. The next person to quote Churchill’s, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others,” will be shot.

It would be truer to say, “Democracy is the worst form of totalitarianism, except for all the others.” But unlike that typical liberal, Winston Churchill, I am no fan of totalitarianism.

The floor-tile calculator

On some item of news (it doesn’t really matter which), I was just reading some (better than average) media “analysis.” It told me things could get better, or they could get worse, thanks to the election of a charismatic, and intensely sectarian, politician. (Okay, it was India.) Which will it be, good or bad? The journalist hedges his bets.

I haven’t hedged mine, and it wasn’t my habit to hedge when I was myself in the sooth-saying trade. That struck me as cissy, then as now.

It is going to be bad. …

Of course, I am a pessimist in all worldly matters. …

“That’s why I’m always right,” I used to explain to my newspaper colleagues, when they accused me of being a pessimist. It is also why, unlike them, I was able to remain reasonably cheerful; for even on a very bad day, I could always say, “I told you so.”

I find this sort of pessimism is also unpopular among contemporary Catholics. Having been infected by the “evangelical” happy-clap they say, pray and God will make everything better! (We’re even getting this attitude from Rome.)

By all means we should pray, that the idiots come to their senses. But I’m not sure we should pray, for God to fix their mistakes — for Him to, in effect, intervene on behalf of the idiots with His signs and wonders.

The secret of worldly pessimism is to look at each situation deadpan. You don’t even have to be jaded; just look at what’s there, and ask yourself what it looks like, with all excuses and extenuations removed. Making a good Confession frequently is tremendously useful in developing this skill.

In mysterious ways, God is indeed constantly saving people from the consequences of their own stupidities, so they may live a little longer, and try to improve the next day. But this happens invisibly, and to count on it in any specific case would be rather sinful.

God wants us to fix our mistakes. I am convinced of this, from what I have seen of the teachings of Holy Church. It would seem that He makes serious interventions on behalf of people who are merely trying, however incompetently. But why would He help people who do not even try?

The Parables are clear: Christ expects us to make an effort.

We can also know, by observing the world with our eyes open, that He actually allows bad things to happen, including, most particularly, bad things to “good” people. They get victimized, scapegoated, just like Himself. According to my theological understanding, He does not Himself do bad things to anyone. But He allows this dangerous freedom, this wild skelter of cause and effect. From a worldly perspective one might even accuse Him of being a crazy libertarian.

From the divine view, as we understand, things will work themselves out. But to imagine they will resolve themselves happily and clappily, entirely within this tiny corner of His Real, is nincompoopish.

It takes many floor tiles to accommodate a ballroom dance.

Manifesto

For some reason I do not understand, my invitation to speak at a fundraiser for some remote riding association of the Conservative Party of Canada has been withdrawn. I learnt this only last night, although the message was relayed many days ago. Somehow I had missed it. It would seem my email receiver marked it as spam, deflecting it into my electronic trash bin. It does that with a lot of incoming mail, perhaps because I instructed it to do so. I only wish I knew how to program my telephone in a similar way.

As I say, I can’t imagine why I would not be the ideal speaker at any gathering of the Conservative Party. My political views are well formed, and I think I would be able to express them succinctly. I am well disposed to conservative people — the more extreme the better. Surely they would find me charming.

Indeed, I had a rabble-rousing speech all but prepared: one which, I sincerely believe, would have gained the little riding association some national attention. It is a great pity the invitation was withdrawn; the more because I could have used the fee, to say nothing of the publicity. Gosh, it might have launched my political career.

The gentleman who’d proposed me in the first place — an Idleblog reader — asked me for the gist of my speech. Proudly, I provided him with this conspectus, in which I outline a new Manifesto for the Conservative Party, one that will break decisively with its dreary past:

“If elected, we promise to do nothing. There will be no new initiative in any area of government. Should some foreign power threaten us, we shall smoosh them promptly. Should some other unforeseen event positively demand our attention, we shall respond in like spirit to make it go away. Such contingencies aside, we shall avoid enterprise of any sort. Instead, we shall devote our entire attention, not to doing, but to undoing things. And not just little things but big things; and not just a few notoriously rotten apples in the eyes of vested interests known to be unloved, but the whole apple pie, the whole bakery. We shall make the Tea Party in the United States look like a bunch of socialist whiners. We shall make the UKIP in Britain look like Europhiles. Our ambition, as we cling to power, shall be to undo every gratuitous Act of Parliament, or other superannuated government measure, going back to Confederation, if not to Champlain. We shall repeal legislation, erase regulations, close government departments, demolish the buildings, salt the earth on which they stood, fire and retire civil servants by the refugee shipload. We shall sack them on the beaches, we shall sack them on the landing grounds, we shall sack them in the fields and in the streets, we shall start with the CBC. Our motto shall be that of the Machine Gun Corps of the British Army in the Great War. (‘Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.’) We shall do this deliberately and persistently and remorselessly with no more attention to public opinion than will be necessary to lure our opponents into traps.”

Surely this would be better — more refreshing, more inspiring, more galvanizing — than what might be offered by any other old hack or party bagman of a speaker. And yet it was dismissed out of hand. I feel hurt by this rejection; I am sulking as I write.