Essays in Idleness


Venite post me

Andrew, a fisherman like his brother Simon Peter, and disciple of John the Baptist, is commemorated today. It was when John pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,” that Andrew took after Him, instead; quite literally, as we read. Jesus senses the man walking behind him, turns and asks, “What do you seek?” Andrew wants to know where He lives. Jesus says, “Come and see.”

There is a certain freshness and simplicity in the Gospels that does not seem to wear. A momentous event like this is conveyed, as the gentle morning. Or it is like falling in love. Whatever one happened to be thinking, in a nanosecond all is transformed. Soon Andrew and his brother will hang up their nets, walk away, with Jesus. They were seeking; they found.

Many things are lost to history, and cannot possibly be recovered in this world; the secret paths and correspondences; the sudden unexpected clarities. A thousand years is like a day, a day is like a thousand years. The days: who can count them?

The patron of Scotland, and of Russia, was martyred we cannot be sure where. The legends which connect him with St Andrews, and with Kiev, are projected through many later centuries by way of relics and inspirations we can neither reconstruct. We will never know in this world the route Andrew followed as Apostle and missionary, to Achaia and beyond. No academic will find all the missing pieces; there are too many of them. The image of the diagonal cross (the Caledonian “saltire”) to which Andrew was tied not nailed, so that he died slowly, preaching all the while — can itself be dated only to the High Middle Ages.

We follow Christ in awkwardness and confusion, even within faith. What were we looking for? Not what we imagined. Finally we ask Him rather than ourselves. And the answer as He turns is, “Come and see.”

In today’s Feast the world rolls from one Christian liturgical year towards another. The Advent lies ahead, in preparation for Christmas, when we will tell the “infancy narratives” again. All Christian roads lead from there, to Easter; all will convergence at His feet. Eternity leads thence: through the eye of the needle,  “Heaven’s gate in Jerusalem wall.” We cannot overlook the Crucifixion. We cannot forget that each owes a death. We are on pilgrimage towards it — whether with or without the Guide.

Already the road behind is fading. Where have we been and where are we going? Christ turns to us, saying, “Come and see.”


“What,” a gentle reader asks, “is the alternative to empathy, if human relations are not to sink any further into barbarism?”

To which I smoothly reply, “Compassion.” It is, to my mind, the Christian alternative, and worth exploring, the more because it is active not passive, and does not involve hypocrisy, lying, constant virtue signalling, &c. One may shut up about “feeling your pain,” and instead do something about it. If nothing “medical” can be done — and this is more often the case than we will admit in our technological enthusiasms, though we do have some effective painkillers today — there is still the possibility of visiting the afflicted; of “being there”; of being servant. This has been known and promoted in the Christian tradition, lo these last two-thousand-ish years.

I am deficient on this point myself, but discovered as my parents were dying a whole hellish world of oldies abandoned even by their own children, and in the care of semi-trained professionals, only some of whom were kind and conscientious. And now the policy is to encourage “euthanasia,” quite openly instead of quietly as a crime.

Compassion for a sick dog is nice, or for sick children is a great fundraiser, but the knowledge that suffering is real, and that human suffering is unique — that from conception to lights out on the deathbed we are the earthly embodiments of immortal souls — has been undermined. Something of a misconstrued “Buddhist” attitude, that values compassion not to the human, as such, but to “the sentient” in general, seems to lie behind our current indifference to the unborn and the comatose, and by extension to “low quality of life.” God has given us a world to take care of, but too, specific people to take care of, regardless what shape we find them in. And some of these we never met, but are thrown in front of us by surprise.

Compassion is not an emotional condition, a piece of pop psychology, as empathy is. It requires an objective analysis of duty; not an “I feel,” but an “I ought.” If you happen to enjoy the company of the very ill, the charmlessly mad, the dying, then good for you, though I may think you are a bit strange. Or, a bit holy, if you have developed the capacity to see Christ in the most unlikely faces. (God does provide the means, when He suggests the end; and His Joy in the most appalling circumstances.)

People like to feel good about themselves. I do, for instance. They like to think they are “good people,” and that that is more important than a bag of doctrines. But God also gave us brains for reason, not only to be cunning animals, but for moral purpose. It is often necessary to think things through. The philosophy of “feelgood” will not stand many moments of conscious thought. Modern empathy is part of that sprawling, incoherent philosophy.

“I feel your pain!”

“No you don’t.”

“How can you know I don’t?”

“Because I am not you. And you are not me.”

That is the sort of thing one can know. In compassion, this great truth is recognized. In empathy, it is ignored.

Against empathy

[I have added a paragraph, and a sentence or two, then placed a break, in the hope of making the connexions drawn in this short Idlepiece a little more apparent.]


Among the advantages of being an English-speaking Cath-o-lick, supposing one received some sort of education, is to know all about “fake news.” It rests on a bed of “fake history,” in turn the guarantor of fake emotions. Most of it is shallow, but some shafts are deep, and so full of (anachronistic) mud it takes pumps to get to the bottom. But once you are there, at the court of Henry VIII, for the first of his several awkward divorces, you are there.

Catalina de Aragón was not the only thing on his mind (nor the aristocratic tart, Anne Boleyn). He was an extravagant king (which made him quite popular, early in his reign), and there was terrible inflation. The court and whole nation was heavily in debt. Those were the days before the skills of English pirates had been honed on the interception of Spanish cargoes, and as the marriage had attested, there was friendship with Spain. The court had to borrow from bankers on the Continent, who were not naïve; the rich of England were being taxed threadbare. The dissolution of the monasteries, the appropriation of the wealth of the Church in England, the redistribution of lands to leading families that sorely needed buying off — I will guess gentle reader has heard parts of this story already. It is called the English Reformation, though we read it today through many centuries of spin, some of it set like spun concrete.

King Henry VIII essentially disappears from the later account, built upon the clichés of modernity. The Reformation happened because of English “feelings.” They were tired of monks and monasteries, tired of the corruption, the “clericalism,” the  tyranny. The country was tired of living in the Middle Ages. It wanted something new. Presto, the people snapped their collective fingers, and along came the Elizabethan Age. They had voted, for Progress. Onward and ever upward from there, thanks to everybody’s feelings. A more caring and sharing society emerged.

What Eamon Duffy and the revisionists have provided, for our generation, is a much better appreciation of England before the fall. It was arguably the most Catholic country in late mediaeval Europe, and among the least rebellious; the heritage of its Marian devotions may be discovered in the names of the Anglican parish churches still, if one takes a walk from, say, London to Walsingham. There were rebellions against Henry in north, south, east, west, and middle. They were ruthlessly put down. The rising Protestant spin-doctors went to work quickly, to re-characterize this past, which Shakespeare evokes in four lines of a sonnet, spoken as if from the mouth of Holy Church, over a devastated monastic landscape:

That time of yeare thou maist in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few doe hange
Upon those boughes which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d quiers, where late the sweet birds sang. …

The need for lies, to cover monstrous crimes — for lies made plausible by incessant repetition — was not an invention of the twentieth century, nor even the sixteenth. They are needed from the moment Faith turns to Politics, and Power must make its excuses to the world. In a world like ours, where “the personal is the political,” along with everything else, it is reasonable to expect lies stacked on lies, to wobbly heights. Refusing to lie is dangerous. Saint Thomas More puts his neck out and, in the words of a forgotten Russian poet, “waits patiently for the lick of the axe.”


Forward to the Enlightenment, and the full de-Christianization of Europe begins — when periodical journalism and the “realistic” novel arrive in England and elsewhere, paralleled by evolutions in portrait painting, in chamber music and a hundred other things; then Romanticism and the worship of “nature.” In my view, this was the age in which modern Empathy was invented, too; the “I feel your pain” that in so many ways has detached us from comprehension of all history before. (I blame Samuel Richardson! … but hardly him alone.)

Everywhere I turn I see Empathy triumphant; along with wicked cruelties, done without thought. It is the moral dimension of our secular religion; of the heart of man turned to his own devices — away from the Sacred Heart. We will be the judges of good and evil, no longer in any objective dogmatic sense, but according to our “feelings.”

The Catholic Church has been lonely, these last centuries: first bereft of her material standing in the Western world, then of her authority. Finally she succumbs, not to a Church Council but to “the Spirit of Vatican II” in its wake, and a last explosion of universal Empathy. The institution is large, will take many decades to melt away, yet its actual survival is already in a remnant, small but continuing to pray.

Give no empathy to this fallen world, and expect none from it. Cling, as it were, to your Bible and your guns; to the liturgy of Catholic Christian truth, and to the rational, dogmatic, catechetical teachings. Ignore your “feelings.” Do not give an inch.

Annals of convergence

“Remember to keep your Masarati painted flat black, nothing ostentatious or attention-getting,” writes Baggins the Pharmacist — among my most generous patrons. He adds good, solid, worldly advice to his donations, and some spiritual nuggets, too. My gratitude for him, and for each of the others who through nuisance and expense have conveyed, since Friday, their kind regards to this mendicant antiblog and its author; none go unnoticed, by my banker or by me. Our chance of surviving the winter has increased. A blesséd Advent to all! My renewed appreciation, for all who sent donations in the past; and to other gentle readers, my humble thanks in future.


The world continues to disregard my instructions. Its motive begins, to my mind, with the fear of individual human freedom, and the individual human responsibility that goes with that. It also fears relationships, such as with God. It cannot hear the angel of, “Fear not!” — on which the last two popes were so eloquent.

We choose to remain children, if delinquent on occasion; we agree to be enslaved, in deference to the mediocre agents of the Father of Lies — to “fit in” with the requirements of Twisted Nanny State. The collapse of true religion is the consequence of that. For God is replaced in our hearts by baubles, idols; by objects of the moment that will not, verily cannot help us when the trial comes.

But what do I mean by the Twisted Nanny State?

Communism, socialism, was and is a design to impose it by main force. The current mayor of New York, and the president of Venezuela, do not differ on that “ideal.” I see the former looks forward to a day when the City will take charge, completely, of all building and property decisions, and make everything conform to its planning policies. Thus it would become “Caracas North,” but will need a wall around it, to keep its inhabitants from escaping.

Most socialists, however, adapted their “vision” in the generation of Thatcher and Reagan, and as the Berlin Wall came down. The crackpots quickly swivelled to feminism and environmentalism, but although they are forgetting now, most came to realize that state power is compatible with the consumer society. That it works better that way.

The Chinese state ideology was also “liberalized,” under Deng Xiaoping; we began converging. The State needs mountains of wealth through taxes; the people need illusions; so why not encourage their empty consumerism?

“To get rich is glorious!” Deng declared, himself looking forward to the convergence of which I write. “A basic contradiction between socialism and the market economy does not exist,” he famously observed. “We must adopt the advanced management methods applied in capitalist countries,” he added. He persistently defined socialism not in relation to a people, but to the development of production systems. In this, he was in perfect agreement with the advocates of capitalism, American-style. He even shared their dislike of “leftwing deviationism.”

Some readers of this antiblog are under the impression that I support Trump, and oppose Deng’s successor, Xi Jinping. But to my mind they are variations on the same theme, dedicated to success in the same contest between manufacturers of GDP. Trump, the lesser genius, may honestly believe he is serving American traditions in this way, and is (as his Evangelical enablers affirm) not in conflict with faith and family. Indeed, he flatters them as allies in his own reach for power.

So does the greater genius, Xi, who is in the bigger hurry to secure national dominance. But he realizes, as we are reminded by underground news from China every day, that “faith and family” are essentially in the way. Unless they are entirely committed to the State’s power, and the State’s priorities, they are at best useless. Hence the bulldozers currently levelling the ground, that was occupied by Catholic and other churches in that realm. (With the polite cooperation of the Vatican, incidentally: negotiated by Bergoglio through the sex-pervert McCarrick, with provisions that remain “top secret.” Words cannot describe the totality of the betrayal.)

The Chinese communists want to catch up with what, in the West, mass-market capitalism has already accomplished: the phasing out of religion.

My notion of the Twisted Nanny State encompasses capitalism and communism alike. It is the creation of an immense, and necessarily Kafkaesque, bureaucratic machine, nominally both “publicly” and “privately” owned, irresistibly controlling every aspect of human life, with or without the legitimization of “democracy.” It is founded in a view of the State from which the Church (and with her, all spiritual life) has been permanently and effectively “separated” or excluded.

This, curiously, is what Pope Leo XIII identified as the heresy of “Americanism,” though it is currently advancing faster in China.

In North American history, this is what the Patriots unknowingly fought for, and my ancestor Loyalists unknowingly fought against. Today a pope in Rome, though superficially anti-American, struggles to impose a post-Christian political agenda — that of the Twisted Nanny State — on the ancient and changeless order of the Church. It is the heresy of “Americanism,” the murky legacy of rejected Modernism. One might almost call it, “The separation of Church and Church.”

O brave new world!

And yet it serves as a reminder, that only Christ can save us.

Black Friday appeal

A strong argument could be made against sending any sort of donation for the support of this Idle website, and its miserable (if madly gleeful) author. Rather, arguments, in the plural, for he often thinks of new ones. Today is the day of his annual “Black Friday” appeal for donations. Think of that: you could just say, “No!”

It is a dreadful nuisance. Once every year, he begs.

Yet he himself finds every sort of electronic banking to be a cause of bewilderment and irritation. He sacked PayPal after an altercation last winter, crawling back to them on hands and knees only after his donations flatlined. They and other transporters of cash usually charge a fee, invisible to the sender but quite apparent to the receiver. This may be only a dollar or five, but how dare they charge for their services? (Moneygrubbing capitalists, dontcha know!)

And if you send a cheque (“check” to the Mericans) you must fill it out carefully, find an envelope and what is worse, a stamp. That may not sound like much imposition, until you realize that you have run out of one or the other; and (if you are Canadian) the postmen have been on their near-statutory, pre-Christmas “rotating strike.” (We remember them from childhood, when the whole post office was under the union control of angry immigrant Scottish Marxists.)

But even before this, what is the point? The author may live well below the official “poverty line” in his jurisdiction, but he has been turning out this rubbish for more than six years, without the slightest indication that he will stop if his donations disappear. He must be a graphomaniac. He has no way to enforce payment, and from his snooty tone, he acts as if he were above it all. He even says so, in phrases such as, “Up here in the High Doganate.”…  Et cetera.

And have you noticed that he is some sort of reactionary, Catholic nutjob? Probably has a Rosary in his pocket. Before he was removed from the “mainstream media” there were innumerable complaints about his “conservative” opinions, including allegations of “human rights” violations such as political incorrectitude. The only reason he wasn’t silenced by a tribunal was their fussy requirement for evidence. But that’s changing now.

So, what if the police traced your donation, and arrested you the day after him? What would your wife say? Or your husband, should that be the case? You’d feel pretty silly, no? And the neighbours, when the men in blue come to take you away? Imagine them gathered in your front yard, shouting, “No free speech for fascists!” Possibly trampling your garden.

Moreover, he is getting old. He freely admits to being sixty-five. What if he dies while your payment is in transit? How will you get your money back, then?

There are so many reasons not to donate. For even if you’re Catholic, you should be told that this guy does not worship the pope, and is against all the recent changes in Church teaching. Nor does he worship “The Spirit of Vatican II.” He is a Latin Mass type, and what they call a Traditionalist. You know what that means: the Spanish Inquisition! How can you encourage such an enemy of Progress?

Someone once called him on television, “A man of the thirteenth century,” and how did he respond? By going all weepy and thanking his critic for “the nicest compliment I have ever received.”

Your kids need more toys for Christmas. You have other bills to pay. Maybe you are running an overdraught. And there’s some good sales on: it’s Black Friday after all.

I know for a fact that this “Otiosus” (what cheek!) is down to his last few ducats. At this rate he’ll be defaulting on rent by midwinter. He belongs on the street. Time to starve him out.

The donations button is at the top right. Do yourself a favour: ignore it.


Another of this fellow’s effete rambles over at Catholic Thing today. (Here.)

The echo

Does God in fact “exist”? (The term seems rather mild if He does.) Did Christ come down from Heaven, and are the Gospel accounts of Him essentially true? Did He found a Church, and was it the Roman one? (Was Peter the first pope?) Is the Holy Spirit present in this and all worlds, something not reducible to “a concept”? Are there Angels and Devils? Are there Saints made from humans? Is the material world (which incidentally includes the Sun, the Stars, and all the other detectable contents of space and time) subordinate to the Spiritual? Are men (including women) endowed from conception with immortal souls, and is there actually a Heaven and a Hell? Purgatory? Will Christ come again, to judge the living and the dead, and do events prophesied in the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle, correspond to events in the future of our “real world”?

Is any of this plausible?

Speaking for myself, as is my settled habit, I would say, No. When I think of these questions again, as I thought of them well before my Christian conversion (15th April 1976), or my walk-in to the explicitly “Catholic” Catholic Church (31st December 2003), I still think none of it is plausible. Therefore my question becomes, is any of this true? Could it all be?

For I have been hanging about this Earth for long enough to know that what is plausible and what is true are two different things, and one often contradicts the other. I might almost add that, in my experience, the fact something is plausible is a count against it — though it is not a count in favour of the opposite. From the start I think I must have been sceptical, even of the Alexander Calder mobile that my father hung over my cradle. (It was modern art, there was nothing plausible about it, though I had yet to formulate critical terms to give my opinion on it.)

But all light banter aside, I was asking some serious questions at the start of this Idlepost. Each was deadly serious, “life or death.” One asks such questions first to oneself, then does an inquiry, then reflects. Finally one returns to asking oneself, for there is no one else to ask, until one asks Jesus. Which is just what I recall doing on Maundy Thursday, some forty-two years ago. The answer I received brought a sharp conclusion to my pose as an earnest young atheist.

It was, “I will cross this bridge with you.” … (We were crossing the Thames on the old pedestrian footbridge of Hungerford.)

Or in the Biblical phrase, “We have found the Messiah!”

For I’d already concluded from my thinking and reading that the questions were interdependent. Get one right, and the others gradually follow. Too, they were the elementary, “starter” questions, leading in turn to questions, ever more subtle and joyful. “If you came this way. …”

One of them has to do with Thanksgiving, as a mode of prayer and being. I associate it with the grand issue of Freedom, for having given the Yes to each elementary question, we might still ask, are we truly free? But the answer to that will be Yes, too, if we consult the Source to all sources. In childish terms, I believe it because “Jesus told me so,” and He wouldn’t lie. I also believe it because, as Doctor Johnson replied to the abstract idealism of Bishop Berkeley, “I refute him thus.” He kicked a stone down the road, for the edification of Boswell. Abstract ideals cannot withstand such behaviour.

The interesting thing about American Thanksgivings is that they originate in the free offering of man. They are not a “symbolic,” nor any other imposition of religious truths, through liturgical rituals — rather a free response to them. They are an acknowledgement that “life is good,” and the harvest is in.

Gratitude for that harvest — for not the possibility but actuality of life — is not so automatic. One has also the potential to be ungrateful.

Or to take it all for granted, whether one’s answers were “Yes,” or perhaps even the odd thick-hided “No.” There is something to thank God for. It is implicit in everything we do and are. Behind each “Yes” is that extraordinary, voluntary Yes of Mother Mary: echoed down the ages.

Alternative news

I am not a proponent of metempsychosis, whether in the Hindu or other ancient forms, though I do believe in former lives. Take me, for instance. I had a former life as a journalist. I can prove this with documents. The transmigration of my soul (to Parkdale) I consider to have been, in the balance, a blessed event; for there were moments when I thought my erstwhile colleagues might never find an adequate excuse to be rid of me. Suddenly, the downsizing of newspapers gave them the clew.

As I was just explaining to a fellow pariah (the estimable Faith Goldy), there are many advantages in this new estate. Not only is one free of the chattering monkeys with whom one used to consort in that jungle of “dead trees”; one is not even invited to their parties. There are additional advantages. For instance, much less accounting to do; and simpler domestic arrangements and cuisine. Verily, Friday this week will be Black Friday, the day of my annual begging letter, in which I intend to grab gentle reader by lapels, and plead for his (or her!) spare change.

My latest accommodation to the vita nuova, has been to eliminate the whole column of meejah “favourites” on my computer. This puts me to trouble should I experience the slightest temptation to consult the “mainstream” purveyors of “news.” In addition to saving me more time for book-reading, music, art, Latin Mass attendance, and so forth, I find that I am now much better informed. The same gentle readers continue to advise me of “breaking news,” often linking items from remote and interesting websites of which I had been unaware. I am grateful to them, for by their direction I am able to avoid so much repetitive filth and sludge.


One of my best informants, a lady in one of those Dakotas who signs herself Vespertilio Antiqua, drew my attention just yesterday to an item from Mauritius. Till then, I was largely unacquainted with current events in the République de Maurice. It seems the authorities on that island have “culled” forty thousand fruitbats in the last two years, and intend to kill thirteen thousand more in the year upcoming. And while these numbers are tiny in proportion to the number of human babies “culled” by the (immensely profitable) abortion industry, each year in this jurisdiction, the matter is a scandal in itself.

True, fruitbats are a competitor for the fruit grown in Mauritian orchards, but they are also a natural pollinator. The injustice of denying them their share of the harvest should be apparent to every reasonable creature. To do so by slaughter is especially obnoxious. The practice shines light upon the monstrous nature of modern agriculture. There are much better ways to manage an orchard, as centuries of tradition will attest.


Indeed, there are solutions to all our more acute problems, that can be discovered by conscious thought. It was no less than my (non-Catholic) Chief Texas Correspondent who drew my attention to an excellent suggestion from Monsignor Nicola Bux — prominent theologian and reliable consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Benedict XVI — already on record decrying the doctrinal anarchy that followed immediately upon his retirement. He (Monsignor Bux) demands that the Argentine gentleman elected by the subsequent (itself dicey) conclave make a clear and plainly Catholic profession of faith, then start to act on it.

But here’s the problem: What if he will not?

The proposed solution intrigued me. What if Pope Benedict’s “resignation” were properly reviewed, in light of Church History and Canon Law? What if having two living popes were found to be irregular? And this, even before (logically prior) to observing that one of them is persistently teaching something other than Catholic faith and morals. The question becomes: Which one is the antipope?

It was the idea of rescinding all of Bergoglio’s pronouncements, vacating all of his appointments, and sending him personally home to Buenos Aires (first class Alitalia, of course) that appealed to me. It was such an elegant solution to difficulties that have become unnecessarily compound and vexed.

For while I am no flaming Occamist, I do appreciate an elegant solution.

Instructions to educators

A useful tip for improving educational standards I will take from the great chef and nutritionist, Édouard de Pomiane. (It was in one of his recipe collections.) Under surname Pozerski, he had been a Polish refugee in France, age five or six. He remembered being always hungry. Life was hard, and the school to which he was sent bestowed no luxuries. The teachers were doing their best, however, and at the start of drawing class each child was provided with a stick of charcoal, and a morsel of stale bread for rubbing out. But the boys would all eat the bread, immediately.

According to Pomiane, having no erasers, they became excellent little draughtsmen.

The exercise would be good preparation for watercolour, or stonecarving for that matter. Every stroke right, or everything is ruined. The Chinese drawing masters were very strict (in the days before the destruction of their civilization). Any sign of an attempt to “fix” would be punished, audibly. Mistakes were punished, too; but trying to conceal them was understood to be the worse evil.

We have a fine principle, here, with many applications. Gentle reader will surely be imagining some. I tell my own “lit” students, when I have any, not to bring laptops or any other modern gizmos into class. They should make notes, even copious notes, by legible hand in bound cahiers instead (not loose-leaf). They must fight each temptation to replace, revise, amend. Leave margins for later comments. For the first thing is to think and write, without error, in the classical, linear way (staying “inside the box,” never straying). Later they may look back, and see all their stupidities clearly. This will make them less inclined to repeat them. Perhaps they might even discern some improvement, having become a little more coherent by the end of the year, than they were at the start.

(Often I wish that I would follow my own advice.)

We have become a society of oil-painters, laying everything on thick, assuming each mistake can be corrected, overlaid. That each of our crimes may somehow be covered. But God is in the details, as my father often said.

Recently I noticed, in a 12th-century book of Treasury instructions (the Dialogus de Scaccario, by Richard, Son of Nigel), the same principle, raised to law. The young accountant must enter all figures carefully, on the wrong side of the sheepskin. This will make any attempt at erasure obvious; and as we ought to know, dishonesty loves to hide. Should a mistake be made, it must be flagged, then corrected in the margin, in plain view. No tricks.

If a moment of nostalgia will not be condemned, I have my own memory of being five or six, and in Mrs Abassi’s kindergarten at Lahore. It is a two-fold echo of Pomiane’s. In the first fold, there is being hungry. We were issued a single biscuit at recess, by when we truly longed for it. (We would also steal fresh peas and beans from an adjoining market garden; they were delicious.)

The second fold contains the learning of the Persian alphabet: how to reproduce it in brush or feather pen from chalk models drawn on a slate board. (Right to left, which makes more sense for right-handed persons, who would otherwise block the light with their hands.) Mrs Abassi did not tolerate fussing or hesitation: every writing stroke rhythmic and whole. “Purity” was her word. A boy could repeat the exercise all afternoon, until he got the hang, or rather the sweep of each precious letter.

So to review: the pedagogical practices that simply must be restored. One, keep the children hungry. Two, detain them until they get it right.

A problem in higher education

A growing problem in higher education — actually it has grown, and matured — is that of the proliferation of aggressive, semi-literate morons. One could write a tedious book on how this came to be — it is one of those effects that has multiple causes — but the problem would not be solved if one did. It would have to be “another” such book; by now it is a genre.

Perhaps the qualifier, “aggressive,” could be relaxed. From my own experience of university campuses, visiting libraries, museums, sometimes auditing a lecture; knowing more than my share of perfesser types, and a few exceptional students; and reading; there is not that much aggression.

As Jordan Peterson has usefully demonstrated, when you make what merely looks like it might be a stand the Enemy usually runs away — even when it has you hugely outnumbered. Not all modern university inmates are moral and intellectual ciphers, to be sure, but at least nine in ten. They can be stirred into a mob on special occasions, by a few silly slogans from a “bad mouth.” But left to their own devices, the great majority are apparently harmless. I write “apparently” because most harm in contemporary society, on campus and off, is invisible to most participants. It is casual vice, by spreading example — behaviour that is vicious, but in no way exciting.

My late friend George Jonas, in conversation and in his writings, too, reserved the phrase “sub-literate moron,” cautiously (using “imbecile” sometimes, for elegant variation). Hitler’s, for instance, was a case he mentioned. Nietzsche, quite certainly, would not have been. But, “Nietzsche and Hitler created an explosive mix. …

“One can easily see the dangers of a Viennese flophouse inmate like young Hitler fancying himself a Superman, belonging to a master race, possessing the Will to Power, shedding the slave morality of an enfeebled Judaeo-Christian ethic, taking the place of a dead God, and when going to woman, like Zarathustra, not forgetting his whip. Ideas have consequences, one of them being that semi-literate morons may read them.”

Parse these remarks attentively, and it will be observed that the list of idjits will not be restricted to the Führer und Reichskanzler, though I daresay he was among the more aggressive. Most are followers, however, not leaders.

Returning to contemporary university life, the question arises: “Should we ban Nietzsche?” Or anyone else that Hitler tried to read? Or Marx, for that matter, to provide some balance? Or Shakespeare, or Dante; or other white males? Starting perhaps with Moses, and Homer? I am not going “over the top,” incidentally. These are among “serious” views sported on campus by semi-literate morons, today; including a young white male I spoke with recently, to cross purposes. (He is on his way to an advanced degree, in one of the latest sociological “disciplines.”)

And let me say, he cannot be confuted, for in pointing out that as a white male himself, his views are eminently eligible for suppression, I got no response; not even an ironical shrug. It was a point he could not hear, let alone reason with. Guess why?

Where do you start with these people? I should think in the cradle, were it possible to go back. But since it is not, we might pray for angelic intervention. There is certainly no public policy I can imagine that would deal effectively with the issue, except a partial one. It would be to cancel tax-funding, and make the universities beg. I should think they would return to their original “elitist” function fairly quickly, just to raise money; and that meanwhile departments of no conceivable value would be obliged to close.

Yes, I think money is an answer. All kinds of evil can be reduced, by withdrawing the money that supports it. But that is only a makeshift. The real solutions begin at the cradle. New parents should bear this in mind.


CHRONICLES OF THE UNFORESEEN. — My Chief Pittsburgh Correspondent (if I am not mistaken) writes to warn that if the universities were cut off tax money, we might expect such as Lord Zuckburgers (of Facebook), Lord Bezos (of Amazon), Lord Soros (of Euromoney), or Lord Gates (of Hell), to step in with their zillions. I would welcome the bankruptcy of any of these, and as a bonus the loss of their respective enterprises. For the amounts of money that are currently absorbed by the four thousand six hundred and twenty-seven “accredited” Title IV colleges and universities in the Natted States Merica alone, could eliminate their entire wealth stratum. Merely making them the dispensers of student loans would do a world of good.

Talks with grandpa

My grandpa (Harry Roy Warren, 1896–1978) was one of those vets from the Great War; a cartographer by later profession and in every spare moment, an illuminator. How he lived to become that, get married, have kids, then grow into the paterfamilias of an immense brood of grandchildren, is hard to explain. His diary is consistently matter-of-fact. Though capable of sentiment, he would not record it. But knowing where he fought — pretty much every major battlefield in France to which Canadians were assigned — the fact he came home at all was remarkable.

Dozens of grandchildren; but as the eldest son of his eldest son I considered myself special. He had the time of day for me, too, and I often asked about his experience of war. He would then fall silent. Getting exciting, boy’s-own anecdotes from him was pulling teeth. He had, as it were, been there, done that, and didn’t want to talk about it.

On art and particularly on calligraphy, draughtmanship, engraving, he was full of words. His views on “modern art” were deliciously unrestrained; though he went to lengths to avoid knowing anything about it. There were the “great masters” of the Renaissance, and after them, nothing. A Methodist from the farmland of Ontario, who made careful notes on every Sunday sermon; he wore the apron of the Freemasons. He was not in the habit of befriending Catholics and yet, I noticed everything he loved was essentially Catholic, and near to mediaeval. (Among his heroes, I discovered, was Savonarola. I’m still trying to get my head around that.) I daresay he is Catholic, now, but I will stick to history.

He was a patriot of the kind I can understand. He thought the land of his origin, holy. He could not exist without it; could not be what he was. More abstractly, he thought our British connexion — “One Flag, One Fleet, One Empire” — a gift. We were part of a family, extended round the world. When the war in Europe broke out, Canadians answered the call of Mother England, promptly. Grandpa was eighteen, but one had to be nineteen to sign up. Therefore he lied. He was on the boat by Christmas.

In the diary he refers casually to the enemy by “Fritz,” “the Bosche,” “Heinie Hun,” and some livelier epithets. His neat tiny finical entries mention great and famous battles as passing, workaday events. Perhaps the biggest event the diary records is the day in the spring of 1917 when his horse broke legs in a mortar hole, and he had to shoot it. (This horse had been his stalwart companion through more than I can imagine.) And there is more, but it requires close attention. In the same diary, from that day forward, he now refers to the enemy as, “the Germans.”

Cheerful he remains, through every adversity, and to an album he assembled of diary excerpts, souvenirs and photographs, he affixed the happy title, “Up the Line with the Best o’Luck.” There are moments when it reads like an appointment book, so well does he conceal dark matter.

I said little sentiment and yet, towards the end of his five-year European tour, I sense a terrible pity. He was among those who advanced to the Watch on the Rhine, expecting guerrilla attacks and possibly larger surprises from a defeated and embittered foe. But there were none. No one had the stomach for fighting any more. He was now among the occupiers of a smashed Germany; among people desperate and starving; women and children begging for scraps. His heart went out to them. Late in his life, when I asked him again to tell me about the War, he spoke very movingly of this.

And of the War itself, he would only say, that it wasn’t worth it. That it was the stupidest thing men had ever done. That he was speaking for himself, but also for all of his comrades, standing and fallen. That they had descended into Hell, for no reason.

One hundred years later, what is there to add?

Saturday rescript

A rescript, according to my feeble understanding, was a written document from the Emperor at Rome, clarifying some legal point upon which direction had been sought by an Official. It was not an edict out of the blue, rather something like a bit of proofreading. By extension, or temporal succession, it became such a document from the Pope at Rome.

Being neither Emperor nor Pope, but merely Lord Denizen of the High Doganate, my own rescripts only clarify pronouncements previously made in these Idleposts. Please, gentle reader, do not take them for edicts in themselves. I am responding instead to queries that emerge from reader mail.

Lately, a lot of comments and queries about my edict to stop watching meejah news. I think by this method we could at least disempower some part of our rival authority, who as every Catholic must know, is the Prince of This World. His agents blather away with “fake news” and “infotainment” (the latter a malignant refinement upon the former), against a background of ambulance-chasing and pornographic, illustrated “features.” They do this from both Left and Right.

They present an image of the world that foments wrath; a wrath designed to draw the viewer in. Angered, he wants to “do something” when there is nothing he can do, for by degrees he has been placing himself in the power of the Devil, who manoeuvres to make his subjects powerless, and to feel their powerlessness, until it extends to their consumer behaviour and every little aspect of their lives.

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, it has flattered itself with the title of Democracy. Most recently it has spawned the Social Media, an expression of individual powerlessness writ even larger.

This has everything to do with the anniversary we darkly celebrate tomorrow: the centenary of the Armistice which formally concluded the 1914–18 Great War, setting the stage for endless wars to follow.

I will hardly review the whole history of its causes, except to repeat my constant point: that it would hardly have been possible without the preceding triumphs of Democracy and Nationalism and Mass Media in all the major European realms.

There had been relative peace across the Continent continuously since 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic Wars), with irruptions of violence successively contained by the machinations of the old aristocratic order. But as the lordly whig Asquith said, as the clouds gathered in 1914, suddenly he felt trapped in a lunatic asylum. He was referring specifically to the extraordinary power of manipulated mass movements, which restricted the diplomacy of the statesmen, and compelled them to persist on courses they knew to be unwise and potentially catastrophic, under the impulse of national (as opposed to personal) “honour.” To do otherwise would mean losing power themselves — to be trampled under the mob, as it were — which was of course unthinkable to them. For they were no longer statesmen, but had become politicians.

Well yes, I have shed a lot of detail, but what strikes me most forcefully when I read the histories was the inevitability of the catastrophe that was approaching through the Edwardian era, once “power to the people” had prevailed. Which is to say, power to the least informed, most irresponsible factions. By increments, responsible government disappeared; for it requires the “honour” of actual individuals. “Historical forces” have no honour at all, only appetites.

My rescript for today is to the question, “But how can we become better informed?”

The answer is by religious obedience in the received Faith: the truest of enlighteners. Practically, it may involve broad reading, and serious contemplation of spiritual as well as material things. “Direct action” must be taken, unexcitedly, upon one’s own soul — by invitation to the Grace of God. One’s vote should be transferred to one’s better angels.

In all these areas one has power, and power for good. On the battlefields of France, and elsewhere, the power is only for horrendous destruction.

As Simone Weil said, we must identify with the victims. And this means identifying with the victims on every side.

Book merchandising latest

There is a new junque shoppe in Parkdale, or rather it is an old one under new management. The previous owner and his young collaborators were charming, thoughtful, sincere, and a delight to drop in and converse with. They loved old books, which they acquired by the cartload (usually for free), then sold very cheaply. If I bought one, the lad behind cash would ask me about it. He would listen with ears and eyes focused, if I could tell him something of the author and his times. The store being seldom visited by customers, I would often find all hands intently reading.

There are still some young people like this, even today in Parkdale; the Seminary where I sometimes teach, is swarming with them. They are a joy to be with.

I must bite my tongue, however, ere I call the new proprietor a “junk-shop dog.” (Ouch! that was painful.) Instead, one is now greeted by a sneering face, which one might immediately identify as that of a liberal or progressive person. Alas, since he took over, I have made the mistake of going into the shop, twice.

“Books by the foot!” was the draw, for my second entry.

This was truth in advertising. He was clearing the large inventory he had found in the cellars by arranging all the books in stacks, by size and colour, then using such substances as packing tape to fuse each pile together. Perhaps, for fear of discounting his intelligence, I should explain that the tape was applied vertically, so that only outside covers were destroyed. The spines would still show, relatively undamaged. I noticed that when marked, the bundle prices would be an astronomical multiple of what the most valuable book in each pile would fetch in a “normal” second-hand bookstore; and that there was a premium on white spines. They were selling fast, I was told.

I can provide a simple explanation for this. The principal buyers of old books are now interior decorators, and the designers of movie sets. They will sometimes clear second-hand shelves like locusts, not caring what they must pay, for the bill is passed along to their “clients.” Indeed, the movie-set people are likely as not to donate the whole load back to the store, when they are finished with them.

Why am I not thrilled by the booksellers’ good fortune?

Because I’m a blue meanie, I suppose. Too, a fanatical, antiquated bibliophile, who looks on these objects as precious things, and cannot bear to see them treated in such a way. (Unless the books are heretical or immoral, in which case they should be burnt, of course.) And because, in this environment, the single soul seeking specific books must become a public nuisance. But then, I have been accused of holding an unmercenary attitude; one in conflict with the spirit of our age.

I told a (fellow book-loving) priest of the packing-tape fiasco. His response was more cheerful.

“Fortunately people don’t read books any more anyway,” he assured me.

He thought he might do colour schemes on the bookshelves in his own quarters: black for All Souls, purple for Advent, though darn, he would have to pay extra for the whites through Christmas and Epiphany. But what a good idea, to tape the books shut, lest he be tempted to read one and disturb the decorative scheme.

Indeed, he would recommend to the Librarian that all the books in his religious house be rearranged by size and colour, now that all the best people are doing that.

“The Dewey Decimal system is Hegelian anyway, and God only knows what Enlightenment ideology lies behind the Library of Congress system.”


POSTSCRIPT: On the burning, not of books but of witches, I have a piece today over at the Catholic Thing (here).

Within the Octave

One looks through the drizzle on a day like this (we are passing through what I call the Northern Monsoon) — upon the glories of this world, from the incomparable height of the High Doganate, above magnificent Inner Parkdale, diadem upon this Fine Province of Ontario.

The glories, and the glorious of this world, which a retired signals officer just listed for me — Lord Zuckerberg of Facebook, Lord Bezos of Amazon, Lord Gates of Microsoft, in their sparkling might — Lord and Lady Celebrities of Hollywood and #MeToo — Dukes, Duchesses, or equivalents; Buffett Captains of Industry and Investment; the Marquesses and Marchionesses, in their Nikes — all the great and marvellously incomed! King Donald, Master of the Reality Show, to his grand courtiers, and jesters from Hannity to Acosta — what a splendid cast! How fortunate to live in such a democratic age, when even the talking heads in the box reach out through the screen to lick us! The Poets singing in the Supermarkets, immortal in their recording loops, or gathering for their Grammy Awards! The unemployment numbers down, ever down; the GDP up, ever up; and in the world at large, “Peace, peace!” Surely we live in times when giants walk the Earth; astride the giant of The People, the Leviathan!

Yet there is truth, too, in what Mephistopheles says:

Brief is the noise of Fame, the passing guest.
They all must die, the hero and the knave.
The greatest king goes to eternal rest,
And every dog comes pissing on his grave. …

(Or rather, Mephistopheles said, until Goethe decided that the lines had better be deleted.)

I gather there is some sort of election today, in the Republic of the American Dream. All very well, quite wonderful, unless it should happen that some party wins.

Don’t watch; don’t vote. Don’t eat Pringles, either.