Things happen in threes

In my piece at the Thing, this morning (this one here), I refer parenthetically to the three (3) Reformations. As ever, my most whimsical asides are meant with deadly seriousness. Had I the learning, wisdom, and energy, I would write a book on it. Fortunately, perhaps, for the world’s paper supply, I have never got in the habit of writing books. Call it a conceit. Everyone I know, it seems, has written at least one book, and got it published, too. Some have written twenty. I should like to be remembered as the man who never wrote a book. It makes me feel like Socrates.

People (not my friends, of course) write “piffle,” that can go on for hundreds of pages. The word is my father’s, who would use it when he thought I was talking nonsense. If so, better to stop after a few hundred words.

Or my hero (when young), T. E. Hulme (1883–1917, another non-author), who read or scanned a lot of big fat books by then-contemporary philosophers, and replied to them in much the same way. He said don’t waste your time. Read the last page first. See where the author is going. If he is going to end on some commonplace fatuity, you may spare yourself the trouble of mastering his jargon. (He got this tip from Bergson.)

Hulme also said that the content of most philosophical tomes could be scrawled on a half-sheet of foolscap paper (one side). He did not mean it could be abstracted or précised at this length. Rather, that the whole argument could be made, without significant omissions.

So in that spirit, this morning I will present my latest “book,” on the half-sheet. Notice that most of it is filled with my introduction.

My thesis: everything in history happens in threes.

I know this sounds Hegelian — thesis, antithesis, synthesis and all that — but I mean, literally, something closer to Marx: 1. Tragedy, 2. Comedy, 3. Farce. Surely, were it not for the high body counts, everyone would see this.

There were, for instance, not one but three American Civil Wars. They started in 1776, 1812, and 1861, respectively. The first was a tragedy, in which the principles of legitimacy and continuity, and those of popular will and freedom, met head on. The second was just unfinished business. The third was a horrible misunderstanding, within the “will and freedom” camp. In each case honest, hard-working, God-fearing American people were diverted by the prospect of killing each other.

Today’s initial Tragedy is what everyone who has read a little history (and that’s not a lot of peoplekind, any more), knows as the “Reformation.” A rebellion was mounted against the claims of the Catholic Church, by men who nevertheless considered themselves Christian. The whole of Western Christendom was rent in two, thereby; with predictable further schisms within the schismatic camp.

That was in the sixteenth century, though much of the bloodshed extended into the seventeenth, increasing until all parties were inclined to make peace.

We had round two, the Comedy, when we got our energy back. We call that the “Enlightenment,” but it was a continuation of the same trend. The rebellion was now against Christianity, tout court. By this time, the Catholic Church was trying to stay out of it, but of course without luck. The bloodshed from this Second Reformation began seriously pouring in the French Revolution, then resumed in nationalist and ideological revolutions sporadically thereafter.

In the twentieth century, for instance, the body count easily surpassed one hundred million, from the triumphs of the “cutting edge,” atheist regimes.

Now we are in the twenty-first, and enjoying yet a Third Reformation, and in my terminology, the Farce. In this one, the rebellion has “moved on,” from Faith to Reason. It challenges the authority of sanity, itself. It is founded on propositions that are, even compared to those previous, utterly insane. The body count for this one hasn’t properly begun. Be patient, gentle reader.