The fire this time

Angelo Codevilla takes an eagle flight over the Black Lives Matter riots, in his latest essay for the Claremont Review (here). Of course the cause I mention is only the one that is currently newsworthy; Codevilla looks back upon great riots of the past. And, while it was often a component, “racism,” as the slovenly define it, was never previously the banner. Were it defined more strictly, it would not be the cause even of slave revolts, for the idea of racial solidarity is historically recent. (I think the English invented it.)

“Us versus Them” is, however, a conflict that can be packaged in many different ways, which may seem ludicrous in retrospect, but when fresh could inspire riot, rapine, and murder. There has never been reasoning in a mob, as there has never been reticence in a tornado, though it tracks according to rules of a kind. One tornado is rather like another, and while none is sustainable, a tremendous carnage will be done while it lasts.

Later, when the sun comes out again, the victims pick up the pieces, often in despair. But they have nothing else to do. The wreckage might have permanently altered a landscape, once peacefully inhabited; whole cities have been altered, as if by a Great Fire. But with the sun again shining, the ruin seems unaccountable. It is time, as Christ says, for the dead to bury their dead.

Codevilla checks through an entertaining  list of revolutionists — “Pastoureaux, Flagellants, Cathars, Free Spirits, Ranters,” &c — none comprehensible until their causes are rewritten by the revisionists of another age. The targets of the time seemed plausible enough, once — enemies demonized by the devil, as it were — but are themselves transient features of history. For establishments change generationally, and who was up yesterday is down tomorrow. Families may endure, relatively, but members of a family don’t.

In most cases, we could see rebellion rising, but only after we had seen the result. In our own time, we can follow the rise of “virtue signalling,” from a long way off, but only now begin to realize its importance, as we see where it leads. But the “cosmic smugness” of the godless is nothing really new.

Millenarianism is Codevilla’s organizing principle — the sudden appearance of hordes demanding apocalyptic perfection, and naturally, claiming it for themselves. Plus, too, one needs a cynical political class, exclusively concerned with increasing their own power. The mobs, after all, don’t only need egging on. Oddly, they also need the cynics’ permission. Some will think of the rioters as their clients, until they find that they are first to go up against the wall. But they are not totalitarians, only cynics; whereas the successful revolutionary will be a totalitarian, en plein air, painting his canvas in blood and excrement.

An age which is capable of thinking that the Batflu could be stopped by political measures, is capable of thinking that political adjustments can prevent “the fire next time.” But we’ve had viciously evil mobs through history, as we have them now, and I do not doubt we will have them to come.

Curiously, the prescription of Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humourist — “mow them down to marmalade” — is the only police method with a chance of working. But as the French humourist, Louis Capet, observed, “pas d’argent, pas de Suisse.” Had he paid his Swiss Guards better, and given more intelligible orders, the French Revolution might never have happened. But then, had their wits been about them, the CCP’s virus would never have spread.

Our present worldview is that events are inevitable. We believe that, because we don’t believe in God. But if, for instance, Calvin had been beheaded, and Luther burnt at the stake, perhaps we wouldn’t have had a Reformation. By now it is too late to test this hypothesis, but when I think what chaos the Church had muddled through during the five previous centuries, I can’t see why she couldn’t have muddled through again. The same for the French monarchy, or conceivably, the Constitutional Republic to our south.

When you see mobs, it is time to put down your tea. For time is at a premium, and as Mrs Thatcher used to say, “this is no time to go wet.”