Essays in Idleness



“In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, hatred will be dead, frontier boundaries will be dead, dogmas will be dead; man will live.”

The quote, which I found in the Wicked Pedo, is of Victor Hugo, one of the most valiant, and brilliantly obtuse, believers in the progress of man with machines, and author of the book entitled Les Misérables, which has a happy ending. He was a man who made the transition from conservative monarchist to republican revolutionary in just one lifetime; truly, a hero of our times.

It is the twenty-first century now, and I notice that war, the scaffold, hatred, frontier boundaries, and dogmas have come back into style; and man is still with us, too (for all his sex changes). I myself have proposed to send at least one libertine to the scaffold, this morning. In Paris, they cull them every twenty years.

Hugo was motivated by “a vision,” of infinite progress through nature, though it be red in tooth and claw. The very murderous and flesh-eating tendencies could be put under supervision, by man. All he would need is unrestricted tyrannical power, and the usual helpmates — arrogance, and stupidity.

Compare, exempli gratia, “the vision” of Dante, John of Patmos, or that Jew, Moses, who wrote down the Book of Genesis. Each attributed superb results to God, and not to man; while supplying an end and a beginning to his story. Whereas, Hugo starts precariously, in the middle.

A world which, by two midcenturies ago, was enchanted by machinery and progress, and impatient to wave sad history goodbye. It was optimistic to a fault: it was ready for Marx, Darwin, Hugo. Perhaps it was even ready for Freud. Truly, we could go anywhere, by railway and steamship; we would no longer have to walk, like apes.

Estival solstice

Congratulations, to us, that we have made it to midsummer alive, all of ye who may read this. It is appropriate that we celebrate Midsummer on its first day, when the sun lingers longest over the northern hemisphere. Should you have subscribed to global warming, you must consider that it may be too hot to celebrate, later; and after a few months of this, the seas may evaporate; and it appears that our forests have already caught fire.

Alternatively, you are sane, and cannot be frightened by the weather, much though it may irritate, from time to time. I exclude such as a friend of mine, who set out to traverse the Sahara on foot, back in 1977. He, I assume, evaporated (the human body being mostly water, like most of the foodstuffs it ingests, and may shrink into shoe-leather when left in the sun); but then, I doubted his sanity.

Dear Richard, for I will give him his name, wanted to contribute an adventure book to the English language, in the tradition of William Thesiger. I would rather have imitated Eric Shipton, or H. W. Tilman, for it is cool in the mountains, although I might be discouraged from climbing them by a fear of heights.

But whichever route he has chosen, one walks away from what is called “civilization.” This is a misleading term, applied by the simple-minded to cultures with indoor plumbing, and even to some with the plumbing outside. I apply it rather to religion and the arts, in both of which I seem to have minority tastes.

But whatever, “sumer is icumin in.” — Lhu-de sing cuc-cu!

Defensor pacis

Marsilius of Padua, the great neo-pagan revolutionary of the early 14th century, presented himself, as Hobbes did later, as the defender of peace. He was the precursor of Luther and Calvin (inventors of “peace through total war”) as a theorist of populist democracy, when the popes were living in Babylonian captivity at Avignon, and the University of Paris had become the centre of intellectual fashions; Marsilius was actually its rector for a while.

He taught (says I) a post-Christian theology, which diminished the worldly power of the Church essentially to nothing, and enhanced the secular power, which he imagined rising from “the people,” in the instrumental power of the Holy Roman Emperor, which, as my reader was probably taught in school, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.  In practice, a form of caesaropapistical terror was enjoined, once its defining features were all given pretty names. Political modernism was being launched.

Up here in the High Doganate, we tend to condemn the memory of Marsilius of Padua (a medical man by initial profession). We do so even although this has little effect in the world below us, which still asks how this institution is to be spelt.

Indeed, the late John Muggeridge, who taught me to stop calling hot weather “muggy,” but call it “lutherish” instead, did not blame Martin Luther for the Reformation, in which he (Luther) was only among the more recent participants. We gave that honour personally to the Devil, as Doctor Johnson had also declared the Devil to be “the first Whig.”

This was when I was living with Mr Muggeridge, in what we called “Manning House,” immediately before I took up my station in the High Doganate, and set up as the author of this blog.

I have just written to a confused reader, who asked whether it should be spelt “Dogan,” or “Dogon,” or like the Philistine god, “Dagon.” I take it the altitude “high” will need no gloss, for we are eleven floors in elevation.

My own preferred spelling is the High Doganate, for it contains myself, a Dogan, named after the primitive tribes of Mariolaters in West Africa who were discovered — to their shock and discomfiture — by Cape Breton Presbyterian missionaries when meandering upon the central plateau of Mali in the last but one century. They wrote home about their adventures.

These Dogans themselves, who claim to have descended from the stars as extra-terrestrials, seem to prefer the spelling, “Dogons,” but I subscribe to my mother’s transcription of their demonym. Catholics in insular Nova Scotia and western Newfoundland came to be called (informally) “Dogans” and, as it were, negrified.

Indeed, when I converted to Catholicism (and Mariolatry) myself, my Cape Breton mother shrieked that her son had “turned into a Dogan,” and added (perhaps facetiously) that they eat Protestant babies at Easter.

“Only when they can find one, mama,” I replied.


The Catholic Church is an absolute tyranny. This is my political thought for this morning.

She, the Church, is animated by only one person — Jesus Christ. She has other officers, of course; some of them saintly, though most of them not. But she is not a democracy, nor an aristocracy, nor a kakistocracy like our modern states, but a permanent monarchy. The pope merely stands in for the monarch, rather as the governor-general represents the king in the Canadian constitution. He has an essentially ceremonial function, except when he is carrying orders from on high.

Most particularly, the Church is not a corporate body, by any political, or business definition. That is why she is still alive, after two thousand years, or a few more thousand dating from the beginning of Judaism.

Whereas, corporate bodies have no life, no living soul, as William Hazlitt points out (in his Table Talk):

“Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individual, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to disgrace and punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor goodwill” — all of which Our Lord is reported to have felt, in the course of the Old Testament.

We should make no distinction between public and private corporations. In none can natural conscience exist. I might refer the reader to Hazlitt, and some others, for a synopsis of what corporations have instead.

Heraclitean fire

“What I see coming is a gigantic slaughterhouse, a molecular Auschwitz, in which valuable enzymes, hormones and so on will be extracted instead of gold teeth.”

This was the judgement of Erwin Chargaff, in his scintillating book, Heraclitean Fire, published in 1978. It is a memoir of his early life (in Austro-Hungary) leading to his condemnation of Big Science, in which he became a formidable biochemical researcher — who assembled the paired ingredients for the double helix of DNA, but was omitted from the Nobel Prize. Indeed his ridicule of gawky young Watson and Crick, who had been his students, is deliciously apt. He is ungraciously stylish and wittily sharp, as he waltzes through the fields of literature, music, and high culture in a way that offends most American reviewers. For the gentleman could read at least fifteen languages.

I am not a biochemist (you may be surprised to learn), but this is theoretically a free country, and my admiration for the late sapient Chargaff (1905-2002), as also for his Pre-Socratic mentor (Heracleitus, not a professional biochemist either), is unrestricted.

“Science is not a mechanism for exploring the unexplorable.”

Chargaff was among the last scientists to grasp this, before “progress” began to explore such creations as Dolly the Sheep. He was among the first to grasp that the dependence of scientific research upon extravagant bureaucratic funding would make it more tedious than accounting, and more monstrous than crowds. The law of unintended consequences would apply to every arrogant step into “the unknown.”

The first discoveries are done by brilliant and imaginative men. But as Chargaff noted in his last year, they are trailed by the mephitic smell of a mob; by the touts and sly grins of the wizards of technology.


The latest Gallup poll shows that a clear majority of Americans rate “the state of moral values” to be poor, in America (they were not asked about elsewhere). And by an overwhelming majority (83 percent), they think that these moral values are getting worse. Among Republicans, this worsening is declared to be more or less total (97 percent), compared to Democrats (74 percent). If the Republicans were indisputably in power, nationally, I imagine these numbers might be reversed.

But note, the proportion of the despairing is the highest, in all categories, since Messrs Gallup first thought of measuring public attitudes in this (asinine) way.

In fact, public morals have always been low, as we might learn from reading some detailed history. My insertion of the word “despairing” in the last paragraph was illegitimate; the proportion of those who actually despair must be much smaller. The properly despairing kill themselves, and not all of these in response to the perceived decline in moral values.

One does not have to be a jolly soul, to think that the world is, over all, at its worst, — not bad. Indeed, being a jolly soul is an end in itself, quite regardless of social conditions. One of my (frequent) disputes with modernity is the notion that jolliness needs a cause, and that it can be identified by such as pollsters and scienticists. On the other hand, I think that it may positively exist, and that it works against suicide.

But jolliness, like a high state of moral values, is something only possible to the individual person. To assess it socially is to fall for a political presumption that has pestered us, and certain prominent philosophers, for the last few centuries. It is one of those dubious terms gliding from late Latin into mediaeval French, then twisted through “The Enlightenment” with mechanistic torque. It declares that there is such a thing as “humanity,” and that it can behave like a creature.

In reality, all creatures, including humans, are distinct.


Surely I’d be wiser to give up having any opinion about “world affairs.” It is one of my bad habits, acquired, as I remember, about the age of five; but becoming seriously debilitating later, about age eleven, when I acquired my first paper route. You see, by this time, I was actually reading the newspaper; my nose was inserted, straight in. It was, I suspect, an infection carried on the newsprint (rather like the addictive substances the capitalists put in junk food), and that is also transmissible through electronic hyperspace. The cure, as for everything, is genuine religion. But I’ve seldom seen a cure effected all at once, though I see hints of it in William James (see, The Varieties of Religious Experience).

And so, pending my cure, I will present my views on international political provocation. Professor John Mearsheimer holds the floor at the moment, with a theory I shall oversimplify by saying that he thinks the United States is responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for having provoked not only Vladimir Putin but all Russia by persistent interference in Ukrainian affairs.

My own view is a variant of this. I hold that Mr Putin must be an agent of the CIA (perhaps recruited by Donald Trump), because everything he does seems to advance American interests. Mr Putin’s invasiveness also assures Ukraine of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and probably Georgia, too; as well as Finland, Sweden, &c.

Compare, if you will, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, which was a plausible cause of the Second World War, in the Pacific. Prof Meersheimer hasn’t actually argued that the Americans were responsible for that, but I’m willing to present Japanese friends who could list the many previous American provocations. The American (and British, and Dutch) oil embargoes on Japan were an obvious cause, though technically these were a response to previous Japanese provocations (in Manchuria, &c).

We all remember (at least us aged folk) the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, against the United States. It led inevitably to World War Three, and the American conquest of the entire Middle East. Or rather, it didn’t.

Provocations of this sort are generally accepted as casus belli, and in a fine intellectual debate, we can stay up all night suggesting provocations that were earlier, and earlier.

But again, genuine religion is the only cure. Given choice between “turning the other cheek,” and murdering someone who has annoyed you, the preferential option is usually the former.

Counter-revolutionary thought

The traditional argument, for tolerating intolerance in a liberal society, is that so long as there is freedom to expose and argue against intolerance, intolerance cannot succeed. It will instead perish in peaceful, open debate.

Like all liberal arguments, this one is quite naïve. Gentle reader would be unwise to count on it. But it used to work, and will generally work, where the freedom in society is robust. How sad, therefore, that it is not robust, around here, at present.

Indeed, the most shocking thing about “climate change,” and the many associated labels governing environment and health, is that, like Darwinist evolution, they are asserted to be scientific fact. And this, not jokingly, as I may sometimes assert it. Even more, “climate change” is stated confidently as a prediction of the future; and without convincing evidence to be progressing now. The whole of “settled science,” and “environmentalism” (as opposed to conservation policies), and popular medical beliefs are like that.

They are, like Darwinism — or perhaps I could more accurately call it “Neo-Darwinism,” since the original Darwinism was presented only as an hypothesis — a clutter of “just so” stories, which is to say, a pseudo-scientific ideology, defended by (as we might say, informally) “a bottomless moat of bullshit.”

But legal institutions have been, and are being, set up to enforce this determinist worldview; as they were in Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, and a few other places. They are at the cutting edge of what we might call “Woke Fascism.”

To be fair to Darwin, he acknowledged that his Theory of Evolution was falsifiable (as Karl Popper would later put it; or “fallibilist,” as Charles Pierce expressed it, reverting more correctly to scholastic Latin). There were ways to prove it wasn’t true, and Deus laudetur, they were found and the theory was sunk. But not yet in our schools and universities, where the rule of “Neo-Superstition” still prevails.

The difference between science and superstition is, by the way, surprisingly simple. In science, things may only be accepted as true until they are proven false (and may be so proved by a single exception). Whereas, in superstition they may be perpetually “settled.” We have, for instance, a phrase that shrieks moronic ignorance: “it is settled science.”

But the imposition, by political means in contradiction to previously recognized human freedoms (the vast quantity of things that a citizen could do if he wants), has created conditions where intolerance cannot be peacefully resisted. I think this is our current misfortune. For there must eventually be a fight, unless the forces of intolerance evaporate.


Vandalism is among our expressions of democracy. I am opposed to it, on behalf of the aristocratic party. It is not that the people are ugly. They haven’t all voted to be ugly yet. It is that in democratic arrangements, the worst and most unsightly features of society go on display.

This is true from the sides of buildings to the tattoos that are inscribed on human flesh.

As Christians, it is important for us to realize that one thing leads to another. The vandalism is a response to a brutally ugly urban environment. The urban vandals show a sensitivity to the most modern and gleaming “incidents” in that environment. Smooth metal is the preferred medium for their “artistic” self-expressions, and anything new and clean that is given to them (such as public housing) will soon be touched up. The modern city — the radiant city of “Le Corbu” and “Mies” — increased demand for this kind of art.

For over the centuries, vandalism had been contained. This was because the inhabitants took pride in their cities, and would not tolerate the application of filth.

The same is true of “environmentalism,” for that matter. The essentially fascist government edicts that ban, for instance, the use of nitrogen fertilizers on farms, are a development from the promotion of nitrogen fertilizers — by progressive chemical investors in the previous generation, to create “efficient” monocultural agriculture. In this sense, the destruction of the once-beautiful countryside was a two-step process, or rather, on closer view, it required many stages of “progress.”

I have argued, perhaps pointlessly, that urban ugliness was invented in Renaissance and Mannerist Italy. It was a style innovation, not yet requiring technological advance. We do not recognize this ugliness by comparison to the urban toilets in which we now swim. It was in its context a fashionable novelty, in the pursuit of personal attention.

In the preceding “Middle Ages,” urban ugliness had not been developed, although poverty was certainly common. But no one was inspired to make anything provocatively ugly. I think modernity first appears in the Italian streets, where extravagance and “conspicuous consumption” are becoming “socially acceptable.”

Similarly, in England, at the dissolution of the monasteries, the profound religious architecture is replaced by vacuous secular domesticity. People want to display how much wealth they have obtained by the plunder of the Catholic Church. We have the first explosion of ugliness from “the people,” when they are freed by politics from their ancient inhibitions.

What we see, from our modern beginnings in the New Age of the 15th and 16th centuries, to the abounding vandalism in our urban life today, is one continuous event. It is the historical triumph of the idea of progress.