Why our problems are insoluble

As previously reported on this website, the world is falling apart. It has done so before, however, so we should not be unduly alarmed. Given only a few centuries of “dark ages” with physical insecurity and economic stasis, it is quite capable of reassembling itself. Patience is the key.

Let us take Turkey, for this morning’s lay sermon. The democratically-elected tyrant, Erdogan, has now been entrenched and in growing power for about fourteen years. During this time he has “transformed” his country. This invariably requires turning each section of the population against each other. The “Islamic” constituency was already growing, from its habit of generating more children than the “secular” constituency. This was the demographic wave on which Erdogan surfed to power; the tiger he continues to ride — upon the illusions of the ignorant masses who, unbeknown to themselves, are truly godless on both sides.

To the best-informed sections of the Western media, misreporting events in Turkey as elsewhere — and even to media in Turkey herself — the country has been moving “backward” from its “forward” inclination through the decades after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the “transformative” presidency of Kemal Ataturk. This reflects the media’s settled bias towards some antique and incoherent (because self-contradicting) revolutionary goal of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Turkey was becoming “modern.” Now, according to the gliberal sages, it isn’t any more.

By this callow definition of progress, Turkey is moving backwards; but the real gift of modernity is not “secular humanism,” per se. It is popular enthusiasm for the organized, centralized, transformation of society, by political means to idealist ends; for the grand Pharaonic projects of social engineering.

A term like “progress” is meaningless without at least an implied direction. Erdogan in Turkey, as the ayatollahs in Iran, or before them the sheikhs of Wahabi Arabia, show us that the direction need not be towards the liberal, Enlightenment ideals. It could be “progress” in some other direction. What we have in common is the machinery for “change”: the large, bureaucratized, central state, with its monopoly on worldly power.

We will eventually learn if Erdogan “staged” the incredibly naïve and disorganized weekend coup attempt. This would be his style. His theatrical return from holiday to the Istanbul airport stank of it; his calls to the mass of his supporters to take to the streets in defence of his authority. He often creates crises, to justify the violent extension of his personal control. Like the French revolutionists of 1789, he knows how to use the aroused masses as a battering ram or siege engine.

I put “staged” in sceptical quotes, for the method was most likely focused provocation. The high command of the Turkish military was already purged of men whose personal loyalty to Erdogan was in question. He has been replacing or imprisoning “secularist” generals for years. (He also gaols prominent “secularist” journalists.) By threatening to purge lower ranks, he could induce the hopeless rebellion that would then justify their purge. It would further help him identify his opponents (arrests so far announced include 8,000 police and 6,000 soldiers). Several hundred are dead in the crossfire (again, official numbers), but to a psychotic, this is a small price to pay.

Friday night, no one knew what was going on. As of Monday morning, we know that Erdogan’s power has been considerably extended. This does not portend increased law and order. It creates instead a more profound disorder: “progress” towards a more terrible catastrophe. As we have seen through history, especially that of this last and most violent of centuries, tyrannical regimes will eventually disintegrate by their own internal contradictions, if they are not first consumed by war.


Civilizations are created by religion, and destroyed by politics. In the very word, “religion,” we find the principle of true social order — the voluntary direction of each human soul to a higher, encompassing, futurity. It is the unifying principle: men, animated by faith, gathered to serve something “higher” in the sense of transcending the conditions of human existence.

Politics consist in the appropriation of this organic authority by specific men, who put themselves above God, and naturally demand worship. (The vanity of tyrants is on public view.) The religion itself becomes a political tool, as today throughout the Islamic realm. In the West, the triumph of Man over the fear of God is more openly celebrated.

Men today cannot imagine an auctoritas like the mediaeval Catholic; or even like the bourgeois Christian order that persisted into the twentieth century. This is because the present generation have never seen such a thing: even in the debased currency of “motherhood and apple pie.” To them, as to Mao, authority comes down the barrel of a gun. They quail only when it is pointed at them.

From what is familiar to us, we can imagine only a mediaeval Church with the legislative power (which it never had); and popes commanding police and armies (which never existed). We cannot imagine an authority in the minds of men, that was not installed by brain-washing. We do not “reject” the authority of religion. Rather, we cannot imagine it.

We cannot imagine a society — whether Christian or of some other religion — governed ultimately by faith, or genuine belief in a cosmic order, which the ruler himself must serve, and to which he must appeal for his own brief authority. The integument of every such social order has been shattered, in the course of “events.” At best, we imagine a ruler responsible to the wayward people; or to a magically non-violent “multiculture” from which all positive virtue has been eliminated.

Saint Thomas More is to my mind among the greatest statesmen because he could, with sublime courage, articulate the limits of political power. He was martyred because he delineated them in the presence of a great tyrant. He was not executed because the monster, Henry Tudor, was stupid or a hothead. He was executed because Henry was intelligent enough to see that More had got to the crux of the matter. He knew, in effect, that More was a saint, and that other people could see that he was. And that was the very reason he had to kill More — to “gore that sacred cow”; to cow his opponents by showing that he would stop at nothing.

For the man in pursuit of absolute power dares not stop at anything. He dares not ever be humble and meek, nor dream of reconciling with his enemies. He must not concede; he must break them; he must be seen to break them. It is “triumph of the will.”

Religion, by contrast, is ever commanding us to stop; to study and to know our limitations. It builds upon humility, not wrath.