War, famine, plague, sedition

I present the Four Horsemen in this rather Florentine way, to end on the surprise of “sedition.” In the revelation to John, on Patmos, the one thing clear is that they ride out on horses “white, red, black, and pale.” I think then as now the association of pale was with ghostly, “ghastly,” not beige. This last harbinger of pestilence and death is followed by Hades, with jaws yawning to receive the slain. Note that what may merely kill us, is nothing to that death behind death.

War, famine, plague may be said to have worldly causes, abetted by men but not originating with them; for even war may arise as the consequence of irremediable conflicts over food and land, beyond the power of Man to resolve (and no, nor Woman neither, as Hamlet might add). What statesmen could not resolve, in decades or centuries, the generals may fix in a few afternoons; or not, in which case the pestilence spreads. Hence the ancient Christian warning to avoid any war that cannot be won, however just it may seem to the inducted. Moreover, it is better to endure injustice — infinitely better — than to inflict it, as Socrates had said centuries before, and as the Hebrews uniquely taught among the ancient nations of the Middle East.

“War never solves anything,” the pacifists claim, but a candid review of history will show that it has solved quite a lot. So has death in its many forms; it is even a way to avoid taxes. And where would technology be today without war, famine, plague? Each puts ingenuity at a premium.

But sedition: what good is that?

“Tyranny” is sometimes substituted in the Cinquecento lists, and sometimes presented as the opposite of sedition: as the power which the seditious oppose. But Shakespeare knew better in his Histories, and so, I believe, have all wise men (including wise women). The two may be opposed in chambers or in the streets, but are the obverse and reverse of the same coin, minted by our ancestor, Adam.

The will to rebellion lies behind both. The rebellion is against God. The tyrant, as the rebel, seeks for himself a power to which he was never entitled. For justice requires deference to the Lord, in all times and from all stations. The loss of this deference — atheism, in a word — must necessarily involve the loss of all natural order.

To the mediaeval Christian mind, as to the humanist Florentine, the only argument for the overthrow of a tyrant could be the restoration of order — of an Order both natural and divine, scandalized by the raw human. The word “revolution” itself formerly connoted the turn and return to restoration. It must not be an act of, but a response to an act of sedition; and thus must never be undertaken in the raw human way, with a light head and a heavy hand. For the object cannot be to replace one tyrant with another; one party with another party. It must be limited to the restoration of order.

It seems to me that at a deep level, “democracy” can be criticized for its intention: to replace the sometimes inscrutable judgement of God with the too-scrutable judgement of humans. Or to put this more plainly: it is seditious and tyrannical, both, from the start. Its effect can be seen from this cause: for we are all atheists today, insofar as we are enfranchised; all fully “secularized” in the public square.

And what politician would dare to utter the simple words, Deus vult?