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.