An old song

“It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody,” as gentle reader may recall from the lyrics of Mr Bob Dylan. The song, from what the smug call Dylan’s “gospel period,” was written so long ago that it was able to get up John Lennon’s nose. I think of it as the antidote to Lennon’s dark satanic hymn, “Imagine.”

Before I lapse further into pop history — those born in 1979 have now celebrated their fortieth birthdays — I must Keats-like play the Jilt. There is constant time, and fluctuating time. The two are interspersed, giving the impression of change and constant movement, when nothing is new. One of the purposes once assigned to education was to make our “youff” aware of this. They were gonna-have-to serve somebody then, now, and always. They would also be faced with the denial of history and reality, again and again.

We are living in seriously troubled times, but the more I read of history the better I am convinced that all times are troubled. Perhaps there are advantages, for us, when the trouble comes plainly to the surface; though we are unlikely to see this at such times. But it is there to be seen. Only when we recognize an evil, have we any chance to escape it — socially or personally.

This morning a lady in Australia sent me a link to the best historical essay I have read, on the Internet, in a long time. (It is here, and I would enjoin everyone to read it.) It describes a previous “woke” phenomenon, in Tsarist, pre-Communist Russia; indeed something that contributed powerfully to the subsequent Leninist revolution. It was not just anarchists assassinating police, and anyone they could find in a uniform. Nor was it just the tacit, then active support, given to the anarchists in nice liberal, bourgeois society. It was more the capture of the public imagination by forces not merely irrational, but increasingly satanic, and overtly so.

Outwardly, nothing good would come of it, for seventy-something years of Communist tyranny, murder and slavery, should not be confused with something good.

Yet in a small minority of people, and through their suffering, something good was served. In its violent departure from Christianity, the revolution instilled real faith. From Dostoevsky to Solzhenitsyn, Russians have been telling us hard truths about the nominally modern world, which we might otherwise lose sight of. In the immortal works that emerge from times of trouble, we find our Christian heritage.

Good and evil are not glib things. They are more real than any passing physical objects, from Walmart stores full of shoddy goods, to cloud-capped towers and gorgeous palaces. The world is beautiful, to those who can understand some part of it, or ugly when they make it so. Detached from any principle of politics or trade, its beauty remains always accessible to us — appearing, often, in the most unlikely places.

We gotta serve somebody: this is the way of the world. So long as we must eat and breathe, it will be that way. We may put our faith in God, or in Rebellion. There are many illusions, but there is no third choice.