Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Trump as Constantine

I do hope Mister Trump lives, and that he recovers fully. I do not mean this as a nice sentiment, for he is not in my circle of family and friends, so as a personal matter, I couldn’t care less. That’s not what our relationship is about. I try not to form emotional attachments to pixels on my computer screen. I view historical characters through a different lens. I rate them below characters in literature and art, as portals of experience and consciousness. And I put friends and family, even, below God. If this makes me, in the modern tabloid view, mean and insensitive, very well. Let me reach for my Browning.

Trump is, for the moment, historically useful. The moment must, inevitably, pass, but I don’t think he has completed his job yet. Those who say that the man is a vulgar oaf, might as well be complaining about Constantine. He could be “insensitive,” too; and probably worse than Trump who, according to my information, doesn’t drink or swear. (From a bitch who went to CNN, we learn that Melania swears, however.) Well, I was never on the town with Constantine, or for that matter, with another Roman emperor; I have no idea whether any of Geoffrey Monmouth’s stories are true. (He says Constantine was the successor to King Arthur. Other historians beg to differ.)

But the Constantine who founded Constantinople, arrived at a low point in Christian history, and left us at a high point. He broke the logjam of persecution, that had been turning our elites inwards, into hypocrites and heresiarchs. There were many later setbacks, but after Constantine, the lethal “political correctness” of the pagan Roman state was done for. Julian the Apostate could not bring it back. I do hope this Constantine died, after his own Batflu, truly in the bosom of the Church, but as a Christian I must hope this for everybody.

To my mind (and it is the only mind in the High Doganate, at least until tea), the significance of Constantine is not, as received from standard references, that he conquered, or changed the regime of the formerly anti-Christian empire of Rome. It was that by his conquests, he broke the logjam; cut the noose around all Christian enterprise west of Persia. (Or, Sassania, if you insist.) Now, Trump by comparison has a rather more modest task, but he has confronted our own “cancel culture.”

Is Trump a White Supremacist? Am I? Are you, gentle reader? It is worth pausing, to consider briefly what any accuser might mean by this. The conclusion must then be, that he has an ulterior motive, for the question itself is (if I may use current jargon) batshit insane. That is what we’re up against, now — people who will say anything — and we need Trump to do lasting damage to what we laughingly call the “deep state.” He cannot eliminate evil, of course; that’s “above his pay grade.” But at the moment we need him to do as much damage as possible, to an enemy that grows daily more explicitly Satanic.

An ill-spent youff

“My pen is my harp and my lyre; my books [library] are my garden and my orchard.” Perhaps gentle reader has seen this on a sentimental greeting card. I did once, according to my memory; and the compacted, architectural idea of a “lyre garden” sometimes visits me in dreams. The words originate with Yehudah Halevi, poet and physician from the Hebrew “golden age,” in Iberia nearly one thousand years ago.

Today we call it “Muslim Spain”; and there is a great deal of academic bafflegab, dedicated to selling Muslim mediaeval tolerance — simplifying from a history immensely more complex.  The poet himself apparently said that he came from Christian territory, and came of age in Christian Toledo. He died a pilgrim to the Holy Land, then a (Christian) Crusader kingdom, and by legend at a gate of Jerusalem. (Although there is evidence for this, it is of course disputed by the perfessers.) Traces of his life could be reconstructed from worn documents and fragments that were in the genizot of a Cairo synagogue; within a little mountain of records going back to our (misnamed) “Dark Ages.” Materials from that storage house are now archived in universities around the Western world, thanks to the Imperialist 19th century.

It is curious how history is reconstructed. Marvellous things emerge from manuscript “middens” in unexpected places. Thanks to American soldiers, rooting the Taliban out of Afghan caves, treasures of other ancient synagogues were found. Their purchase by Israel’s national library represents a (discreet) avenue of trade between the two countries. The Jewish community in Afghanistan has been much reduced recently, from what it had been over fifteen centuries — to approximately zero. But as I learnt at firsthand in my rambling youff, there are Hebrew letters carved into mountain rock, north-east of Herat. These are relics from the prayers of travelling Jewish merchants, who came this way long-forgotten generations ago.

In his day, Yehudah Halevi also travelled widely. En route to Jerusalem he was encamped in the Jewish quarters of Alexandria and Cairo (then named “Fustat”) for extended periods. One did not need passports or identity cards in those days; only to risk one’s life. There were no trains or aeroplanes, yet with some determination, one could go anywhere that was known, by sea; and everywhere else with a walking stick. We seriously underestimate the cosmopolitanism of all worlds before our “modern” time.

Awakened, once again, by the jackhammers, from a dream in which I was in my lyre garden, I make my homage to this ancient Jewish sage. His works are recited by religious Jews today — much of his oeuvre is mystically religious — yet I know almost nothing about him. What an ill-spent youff!

The streetfight

While I love the man, I must admit Donald Trump is a bit of a savage. I’d hardly let him into a meeting of my Borborygmatic Society, and while I might follow him up a creek on a fishing expedition, my understanding is that he prefers golf. (All the real savages do.) I watched him “debate” a certain “Joe Biden” the other night, and he was true to form. It was a first round knock-out. I know the meejah didn’t tell you this, but I will, being an expert in pugilism, which I studied when I was an adolescent, for a while.

Those Lefties should listen to Michelle Obama. She understands. She said Mr Trump “did it on purpose.” He was rude and abrasive and constantly interrupting. He has a voice and presence that is intimidating, even at Batflu distance, and he wouldn’t give that little Biden fellow an even break. He was also able to out-cancel Biden’s sparring partner, a certain “Chris Wallace,” and make him eat his “rules.”

Not everyone has a taste for this — I certainly don’t — but that’s why Mr Trump is President. The electoral public is unpredictable this year; too many things have happened that they are not used to; but if Trump wins by the landslide I expect (minus corrupt mail-in ballots), it will be because, as usual, electors vote for the strongman. This has nothing to do with policy, alas. If, for instance, one consults the history of general elections, one will find that the taller candidate almost always wins. (This is why so few women make it to the top.)

One’s commander-in-chief is one’s leader in battle. When in battles, one prefers to win. Life is a battle, get used to it, cissies.

Too, the voters like Trump (the broad majority) because he doesn’t lie, at least not that knowingly. He blusters. He says things that are simplified until they aren’t quite technically correct, and he repeats these things over and over, but they aren’t exactly lies. Whereas Mr Biden, for instance, has been telling little whoppers, and repeating those, to a complacent meejah, for as long as he has been practising politics, i.e. since before he was born. I noticed his pants igniting repeatedly, because I know some of the facts he was openly contradicting. His curriculum vitae is a string of little fibs. He also makes mistakes, that are egregious, but that’s not against the law for a politician. The point is, Biden lies smoothly, and naturally, like a good Democrat.

Moreover, Trump is an entertaining stand-up comic, and tells lots of good belly-laugh jokes, including self-deprecating ones, that humourless Lefties just can’t understand. But normal people can.

Let this not distract us from the fact that Trump is, overall, brash, crude, and a bully. Putting on my old tinfoil hat as a hack prognosticator, I think that’s why he is going to win, even though the Merican public is in a mood, or perhaps because they are. Few are so foolish as to tell a pollster, or any other “progressive,” that they intend to vote Republican — there are costs involved — but there you go. I don’t believe the polls any more than I believe the Batflu numbers. (I do believe dead people are dead, however.)

The necessary angel

Why would Modern Man believe in angels? He does, of course, but only in a “poetical” way. He will not let his reason (and he does have some) close to this topic, and will go to the wall before he will confront it. This, paradoxically, might be seen as a favour to the saintly angels, who have this much in common with the fallen ones, that they don’t like to make a scene in public. They are content to be “influencers,” as it were.

This Modern Man can believe in devils, in a less poetical way, but needs to be in a spitting rage first.

In fits of harmlessness, he will believe in God. This is because anyone’s reason, once indulged, will tell him that the “existence of God” is irrefutable. But we draw the line at angels. From the moment they appear, we fear that we are being corruptly lured into “organized religion.” We might have to do inconvenient things, such as kneel.

And this is a paradox, for we are comfortable with everything else being organized. The bureaucracies we form are entirely angel-free.

Consider Michael, Raphael, Gabriel; and Uriel although he isn’t named in the Bible. Their presence isn’t vague. The prophets of the New Testament have no trouble with them, but neither did the prophets of the Old. Jews and Muslims greet them freely, and Christians too, of course; but Modern Man has issues. Yes, he will take them, but only as “figures of speech.”

As Wallace Stevens said, “Philosophy is the official view of Being. … Poetry is the unofficial view.”

My father, who was my model for the “good pagan” (a phrase I lift from Rosalind Murray, 1939), did not object to angels in the least. But he did not accept them in the way Thomas Aquinas did — as beings who will have to be carefully thought through. Papa did accept them as beings, however, until, I think, on his deathbed, he accepted them whole. For he was clutching a Benedict Cross, and that helps.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Michael, “and all angels.” Gabriel and Raphael used to have their own prominent Feasts, but the Church for Modern Man never tries to push it. We get them all over with in the one Mass. Convention, at least English-speaking convention, still almost accepts today’s Michaelmas as the beginning of term. I think it still is, in places like Oxford.

For all we know, we’ll need some angels going forward. (“Wokeness” isn’t working out for us.)

At least, I’ll say that, but I am a notorious reactionary. The Sword of Saint Michael is figurative, at some level, and at another level it is not. It is not something to praise, so much as something that Michael wields, with us figuratively cheering him on, or maybe sometimes cooperating. It is wielded against the evil spirits who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.

Amen.

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ANNIVERSARY. I started the “Essays in Idleness” precisely eight years ago, as part of my transition from a paid hack, to an unpaid one. Perhaps I should wish these Idleposts a happy birthday.

A visit from Mr P

Over the weekend, during a holiday pause in the jackhammering of Castle Maynard, I had the honour of receiving a certain Mr P to tea, up here in the High Doganate. (The workmen are now on my very balconata as I write, armed with machinery to detach my railing.) A long-time reader of my obnoxious columns, when they appeared in a certain newspaper, Mr P assumed that I had perished when I disappeared from its pages. Only recently did he discover that I had not been “cancelled” entirely, and was still squeaking electronically, eight years now since I was removed from my last gigue in the Canadian meejah.

His politics probably don’t match mine, very closely, but I loved him on sight for other reasons.

Mr P is an Old Antonian. Like me, he attended St Anthony’s in Lahore, but as he is one full Metonic cycle older (or enneakaidekaeteris, if you prefer) — he was a live-in pupil before Partition. Whereas, I was a day-boy after that unfortunate event. He fled Pakistan, thus, when it was created (in 1366 of the Mohammedan calendar, 1947 on the Christian one). As they were not Mussulmans, it seemed to his parents to be the right thing to do. For Catholics, other Christians, Jews and Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and most numerously the Hindus — half the country — were being “ethnically cleansed.” Whole trainloads of them were being massacred, as they attempted to leave.

Some stayed, however, and managed to keep their heads sufficiently down to survive, if not to flourish, in what was once their homeland, no longer under the protection of the British Raj. And yet to this day, Pakistanis exhibit a common heritage with others of the great Subcontinent, and traces of British rule.

I arrived much later, after the bloodied dust had settled, towards the end of the 1950s, as a wee tot whose father was teaching in the College of Art. As Partition was no longer discussed by the elders — in fact it was quite verboten — I was barely aware of it. Children have the luxury of imagining that everything was always as it is now, whether they live in a time of war or peace. That is why they are so conservative.

And while Mr P has never been back — he thinks of himself as coming “from India” — I have revisited the scenes of my childhood several times over the last growing number of decades.

St Anthony’s is utterly transformed. The liturgical desecrations that followed Vatican II reached even to Pakistan, and the Mass is now celebrated in my old school chapel with tabla drums. (In my day, as in Mr P’s, they did it in Latin.) Too, he doesn’t remember any girls about, but by my time there was a girl’s section next door, behind what I remember as a forty-foot wall. (Fortunately, I had a little sister at home, so I was able to learn what they look like. Her Urdu was also more fluent than mine.)

In other respects, nothing really changes, and we could both fondly recall the kites (hovering vultures) swooping down to steal little boy’s lunches as they crossed the principal quad. Clever birds, they could judge from a distance which part of the boy was most immediately edible, and take it from his hands.

The character of the teaching, under Irish Patrician brothers and their hangers-on, had likewise not yet deteriorated. My papa sent me to St Anthony’s, even though I wasn’t a Cath-o-lick child, because it had a reputation not only for “toughness,” but for academic excellence. On the former point, I think neither Mr P nor I have much sympathy for the “survivors” of Canada’s Indian “residential schools.” Buncha whiners.

What fascinated me, was Mr P’s (very charming) demeanour. It is like an accent, formed in a far-off age, that you still have as an octogenarian. But it was not the voice, precisely, in his case. Within a minute I could tell he was a genuine Old Antonian, and had the dry humour of the classical Lahori.

This is what a person is: particular. As God intended, a whole species, within himself. He may be like an old tin can, that has been kicked around the world until it has acquired its distinctive shape. (A former girlfriend gave me this compliment.) No ideologist will be able to smooth him out. We are marked by our irreducibly particular histories, and this applies also to those lucky ones who “never went anywhere.” We are NOT “the peeple.” We are more than Black, White, or Orange. We have individual souls.

On our modern audio

When an Elizabethan reads the phrase, “Musique of Violenze,” he will be thinking of a parley of string instruments. He might be expecting dances from the Arundel Part-Books, or a galliard by William Byrd. Perhaps a hot little number by Clement Woodcock (c.1540–1589). You know: viols, violas, violins.

Whereas, a wretched, half-demented Modern, like me, sees the word “violenze” and thinks of “mostly peaceful protesters.” And then of the need to lock them in with “often non-violent prison guards.” Or today, I listen to the anti-symphony of jackhammers, ministering to the balconies around Castle Maynard (what I call the larger complex within which the High Doganate is housed). The east side of this building now looks as though it had been facing the port, when Beirut blew up recently. Listening (involuntarily) to these instruments (the jackhammers), I pick up on accidental sequences, that are strangely “musical” — in the inverted way that, for instance, rap music is musical.

I own a little CD player — useless against this racket. (The tea I just poured is jiggling in the cup, and my other pottery rattles as if to confirm an earthquake.) It has been “recommended” that tenants wear earplugs, for the next few months or years, as a supplement to their Batflu muzzles. Who knows? Maybe they would make the difference, between mere skull-cracking, and permanent hearing loss? But CD earphones make no difference at all.

My taste in recorded music tends to be old; so old, that even the recording labels have gone out of business. It is hard to make money, I gather, when the late Steve Jobs is giving all your “product” away for free. To add subtlety to that argument would require a long and rather tedious Idlepost, so I will leave it until after I am dead, myself.

Pressed for time at the moment, inexplicably. But I thought I should do another quick howl, before I had lost the attention of all my gentle readers.

My correspondents must also be patient with me, if I have any left.

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FOOTNOTE, at a more optimistic pitch. In the land of the completely deranged, the half-demented man is king. (This may not be true, but it is encouraging.)

Tanagra

My Chief Texas Correspondent forwards an item from the Wall Street Journal. It documents an art exhibition in Houston, that includes a sculpture, carved, or more likely “shaped,” from bat guano. (There is a picture.) Except, though I did not think Texas deficient in bats, this medium had to be supplemented, with seabird droppings.

“Less is more,” was my first reaction. Always competitive, my CTC asks if Toronto can offer anything to match this mechanical-looking, batshit display. I hope to be defeated.

My own nocturnal reveries, last night, were on a topic not unrelated. I dreamt of Greek Terracottas. Specifically, I was haunted once again, by Tanagra figurines once seen in a museum at Alexandria, twenty years ago — until awakened by the jackhammers of the morning.

Terracotta is fired clay. Tanagra is (or was) in Boeotia — the magnificent countryside north-west of Athens. The habit of shaping figures from clay, for all purposes from funerary to toys, is of great antiquity, and followed the Greeks wherever they travelled. Then in the 4th century before Christ, Tanagra’s craftsmen became dominant in this trade. Their painted, clay, sculptural maquettes (most between four and eight inches high), were a marketing revolution. Whereas, through previous centuries, the figurines were what we instinctively call “archaic,” and brimming (to my eyes) with a religious spirit, a new vogue entered with the Hellenistic age.

Many of these “Tanagras” (I doubt this is a valid plural) depict elegant women, in their himations (light wraps), often under wide suspended hats that look devilishly fashionable. Others depict actors, from Menander and the New Comedy, or their theatrical masks. This is satirical caricature — enlarged expressive mouths and extravagant gestures; professional mourners weeping; naughty slaves and lazy boys. But the ladies show what we call “naturalism,” in its most subtle forms. Beneath the wind-caressed veils of their drapery, exquisitely creased and folded in the clay, one is aware that the women have human bodies. The artists hint at shoulders, waists, thighs. The faces are serene. These are Muses, but fully descended from the heavens.

Gentle reader may have called upon the “Lady in Blue,” at the Louvre in France. It is sure to be on the Internet. It still has faded colouring and gilding, and sweeps your head away. Those I examined in Alexandria were down to the clay potter’s slip with, at most, tiny flecks of paint adhering. But they were still devastating.

The city itself — long has it obsessed me — was Queen in its era. In several ways it is the first modern city, though without all our machines. The Ptolemies invented the academic, and sub-academic “cultures.” The Egyptian Quarter was our first ethnic slum. (The city was in the Greek linguistic realm; always “Alexandria-by-Egypt.”) Below the surface of what is now a sprawling Islamic conurbation, lie the jagged ruins of what once became the Roman “second city” — Cleopatra’s town, larger in population than Eternal Rome at times. It was that Empire’s principal wheat port, as Egypt was its bread basket. It offered thrilling juxtapositions of poverty and wealth.

Scrambled in the subterranean mush lies, reputedly, the tomb of Alexander the Great. The Pharos — the vertiginous skyscraper lighthouse, wonder of the world — still exists but only as a stub, no longer even an Ottoman fortress. An earthquake tumbled it; sea levels around it rose and fell. The Library of Alexandria was burnt out more than once; pylons were driven through what may have been its buried foundations, for a sparkling, UN-funded “New Library” — immense, but without books.

These ladies from that Hellenistic world — like stunning runway models from Paris, now twenty-four centuries in the grave. They stand at the beginning of our adventure in naturalism (between the “Sun Gate” and the “Moon Gate”); and at the rebirth we tumbled into, as the ancient gods were dying, or losing their credibility. As it were, we were being “reborn,” as orphans.

But then the jackhammers return, and even our latest irreligion is smashed and crushed to gravel.

Getting married

The best love story I have gleaned from a correspondent, was about his marriage, nearly seventy years ago. He was fifteen at the time, and his bride was fourteen. Well, almost fourteen; for even in those days — in the rural hick Midwest — she had to exaggerate slightly. Neither was “properly” schooled. They met as near neighbours (only a few miles between their family homesteads). But he was already a man of means; had been working a couple of years with “beeves.” I bet he wasn’t a vegetarian.

I don’t give names or addresses of gentle readers — unless of course they are Democrats or Liberals — but lets call this man Fred. How he came to be reading the Essays in Idleness, might also be our little secret, except I will tell it. He reads Christian websites, sometimes, and one thing led to another. I noticed that he wrote English well, and could spell; there was a quote from Shakespeare.

Decidedly, the sort of character whom any progressive would smear on contact. Indeed, I tested this supposition by repeating Fred’s story to one of my more progressive friends (a schoolteacher) — who wrinkled his nose, and asked if Fred is “a Catholic or a pedo,” with that hard bigotry that is always looking for a soft target.

He isn’t Catholic, but I said he was. (I meant it with a small “c.”) Being misinformed gives schoolteachers pleasure, and who was I to deny this to the grim little fellow, childless and three times divorced?

Fred had, I think, nine children, plus two or three more (locals) by adoption. He and his wife were disappointed by the total, but as their grandchildren may be counted in the dozens, they have made it up. They were, by his account, very happy, still living in the house he inherited, though now somewhat retired from his beeves. One never retires, completely, he explained, the animals make such good company. But the people are even better, out there, and let us not forget the books. Both he and his wife learnt to read, young, and were avid consumers of novels, together, until recently, when she died.

“Just sitting quietly, on the verandah, with your books and each other, and maybe a beer and a pipe, is God’s plan for the early evening, and the sunset of your life.” Grandkids will be somewhere, playing in the dirt.

Fred’s philosophy of marriage is, to marry your childhood crush. She should be pretty, but not too much, or she might grow vain. The important thing is, she should laugh at your jokes, and know how to cook. His wife was a fabulous cook, and taught all his daughters. Good plain wonderful “comfort food,” everything turned just so. The years pass, and you grow together, “in the Christian way.” And if you lose her, it is only for a time. Fortunately his kids would never put him in a nursing home, which is truly “the end.”

He has one son who turned out bad, however. Went off to the city (a large town, by contemporary standards), and fell in with troublesome sorts. Became a lawyer. Didn’t marry until he was thirty, and then just abused the woman until she left; she was a fool for marrying him. He’d already wasted ten years “dating” one victim or another. No woman was good enough for him: he’d been to a college. Godless, he specialized in evicting people.

Every good-sized family produces a black sheep, unless it doesn’t. Or often the black sheep is an only child — spoilt rotten. But he met an only child once, who was a saint. “You get what you get.” And anyway, you have to love them, you don’t have a choice.

Back to stability

There are two candidates for President of a neighbouring country, which will have a general election in six weeks and one day. They are, “Trump,” and “Not Trump,” respectively. There is tremendous enthusiasm for both candidates, though only one of them is a living biological entity. There may be others running — a rumour says one of them is named “Joe Biden” — but no one cares about the “also rans.”

Should “Trump” be elected, there will be violence and chaos. Should “Not Trump” be selected instead, there will be chaos and violence. This will increase the longer it takes to reach a definitive result, which, given the existence of some tens of millions of eminently disputable “mail-in” ballots, could take several years. The candidate, “Not Trump,” has been indicating that he will not accept the result if he loses. He accuses the other candidate, “Trump” (who is incidentally the incumbent), of secretly intending the same, and says the military should be ready to remove him. This used to be called, “high treason.”

While one candidate is associated with numerous specific policies, the other is quite vague. This may have something to do with his not really existing — except in the imaginations of the deranged. The opposite of what “Trump” says or has been doing, is promised, but this produces policies that cannot be coherent. Were I a Merican elector, I might vote for the negation of a negation, on the principle that two negatives makes a positive. I would describe myself as “Not ‘Not Trump’.”

This, while I oppose almost all of “Trump’s” policies — although not necessarily in their contexts. For instance, even I would call the zapper robots, on a criminal mob; possibly with even more alacrity. However, I wouldn’t be so willing to spread cash around, to strangers.

Frankly, I think “Trump” is a spendthrift liberal, and dangerous because he’s a fairly honest man. While I’m not an opponent of the rule of law, which he seems to favour, he accepts massive intervention by the state, which has been consistently counter-productive, not only recently, but through all time. I would recommend that “Trump” take counselling from me, on how to do nothing. A great deal of trouble is created by politicians, who feel neurotically compelled to take action of some sort, after foolishly listening to “do something” counsellors.

But even were he to come round, I fear he has done too much already, and thus inspired his opponents to do the opposite, to our perdition. Let us take the “Batflu crisis” as an isolated example. His predecessor had much more success with Red Chinese viruses by doing almost nothing about them. It is seldom that I praise Mr Barack Hussein Obama, so delight in the opportunity to make exceptions. I admire him for many things he didn’t do; or was stopped from doing. Though from the things he did, he made “Trump” inevitable.

I have many friends in the Natted States, and feel sorry for them. But not, perhaps, as much as I feel sorry for myself, just having to watch, and in view of the fact that we have poorly defended borders. I cannot currently foresee that any of this will end well. I’m almost beyond blaming individuals, or even democracy, which gave vast hordes of irresponsible people not only the right to vote, but encouraged them to try it.

By the time this is over — probably a long time off — many even of them may wish to return to the only political system that works. I refer, of course, to hereditary monarchy. Yet even that fails, sometimes, when nature provides us with a monster, and his aides are unable to contrive a riding accident for him. For symbolic individuals can be useful, but we also need a stable, theocratic order, in which morality may be loose or tight, but what it is won’t be frivolously debated.

Perhaps this is enough for a short Idlepost.

Mrs Ginsburg

Death has a way of altering the circumstances of the living, not only for those who die. I have several times, and recently, noticed that with the death of some already aged person, who seemed not to be doing much except staying alive, “everything” changed. Well, perhaps not “everything” universally, but all within the compass of his settled influence, extending always farther than we can immediately see. The manner of his death might be the passing news, but the death itself was “significant,” as we say. Someone else steps up to the batsman’s crease, or some other persons are empowered when the dead man turns away from his hillock, and walks into the clouds.

The death of the prominent American jurisprude, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will be this morning’s example. I noticed that a favoured rightwing blog said, “Breaking news. Try to show some respect for the dead.” This comes more easily to a human being, if he is at least superficially decent. Self-discipline may make it possible for others.

Mrs Ginsburg was toward the left side of the Supreme Court in Washington, in her rulings and often articulate dissents, but I loved her anyway. So did the late Antonin Scalia, who when he died inspired real grief to exponents of the other side. They were notorious buddies, Ginsburg and Scalia. They were more than willing to hear each other out; neither was a hothead. Both were deeply informed about Yankee law, and human law generally, unlike most judges. They could discuss its principles at a high level; and at a low, with a sense of humour. Their mutual respect set an example in their vicinity, claquers who included other Court members. They were both utterly worth having at their stations.

One wonders if those days are gone, for the foreseeable future, when some degree of civilization was possible in legal and political debate. When I look instead at electoral campaigns, in which knowing, malicious lies are repeated by both sides, and both are trying to raise the temperature (I won’t say “equally”), I see something larger than the current political issues. We cannot have public order if this continues; only tyranny can be imposed by one side. Mistakes are being made by “my side,” when we forget that daily life requires negotiation. Or rather it doesn’t, if one prefers civil war.

On a practical level, as the newsmen have observed, Mrs Ginsburg’s departure from the circus changes the show completely. Mr Trump and the Republican Senate will try to replace her with a “conservative,” immediately. Those politicians currently associated with Mr Biden will resist, hoping for their own party candidate, come January. This wrestle, likely to be vicious, now happens during the countdown to a general election, that is likely to be disputed to the highest court — the way things are done in those Banana Republics. The idea of impartiality, even in the counting of votes, has lapsed, and hell follows. Had Mrs Ginsburg lived, the game might be a little more predictable. She was able to understand a system, in which the other side should be allowed to win, even if in your heart of hearts you think they are very devils.

Thomas More was good on devils in public life, and on giving them their due. The law is, and is meant to restrain them — and what we think our own better angels, alike. Without the law, there are no restraints. The Devil himself must be given benefit of law. This seems sometimes to be inconvenient, but we are not in heaven yet. And the way we are behaving, we may never get there.

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.

Monks have more fun

All my life, it seems, I have been learning that Patience is a Virtue. So that I still look forward to graduating from the junior school, and learning patience itself. This virtue may have applications in both Action, and Contemplation — as Cluniac and Cistercian may argue between themselves. One should at least try to be on both sides of such issues.

This is part of my ambition to be an Unmodern — to be on both sides — a goal that might not require patience, per se, but in which it would be very useful. Ironically, it embraces the modern irony, which George Grant once illustrated for me, as the fact he owned a Volvo.

I, truly, once owned a rusty-trusty Volkswagen Rabbit, in what I claimed was an unmodern way. I never condescended to drive it, awarding my then-unestranged wife that thrill. For looking into the matter quite generally, we should perhaps avoid mere unmodern postures; lunging instead towards the more heroic conceits. Sometimes, I reflect, a car may be necessary; for another, though surely not for me.

I had a Spiritual Director, once, to whom I repeatedly asked the question, Why? As in, “Why has this happened to me again?” … referring usually to some personal disaster. “Because you haven’t learnt yet,” this often-patient priest would reply. “Keep trying.”

He said all we can do is keep trying, and fight discouragement when it comes our way. We must be, or become, patient.

“God is not out to get you, you know.”

Now, the very mention of a Spiritual Director is an affront to the modern ear. With his, essentially false, idea of personal freedom, he thinks having one would abridge his Rights. But the religious have no power to stop you doing anything, unlike the civil authorities. The worst they can do is wash their hands of you. It is not your Freedom, but your Conscience, they afflict.

(Of course, in the good old days they had some civil powers; and even the Presbyterians left the civil authorities to hang you. They just made suggestions. And where would the lamented Spanish Inquisition have gotten, had it not been for enforcement by the Spanish State?)

The monk is happy, because, through the mastery of patience, he can be free. It is a series of unmistakably voluntary actions that leads him deeper into the life of prayer. Even outside a monastery, I have noticed, saying one’s Rosary requires a little determination. Not as much as it would take to read Heidegger, but some.

Patience, on the road to real Freedom. This is a peculiarly Catholic (or Orthodox) way to read the map, along the pilgrim stations. It might also be read as the order of generalship; the route of a Crusade. Though we think them rather confused, the Mussulmans may have something in their notion of Jihad. Their shaheeds can be somewhat impatient, however. (So can some of ours.)

To Witness, in the Christian idea of sanctity, requires a motherlode of patience. As I understand, it requires emptying oneself, of one’s ego. It is bound up in fussy rules, such as, you mustn’t kill people. (Except when they don’t leave you a plausible alternative.) It demands the highest possible reach of “objectivity” — when you acknowledge something that you’d rather not.

It is Temperance, a word which conveys more than “patience,” including chastity against the forces that burst through its walls; chastity in sex, for instance; but also chastity in everything else. The modern world makes jokes about this. We are obliged to make jokes about the modern world.

The monk is happy in his cell, where, as in a fortress, he is hard to assail. I’d say the same for nuns, but I don’t even try to understand women any more.

On the bright side

If thou hast ever been driven into the desert beyond Basra, gentle reader — and I have known men who were — you may think twice about returning on holiday. “Iraq is not a country which I would recommend to mountaineers,” wrote H. W. Tilman. (He more enjoyed the Himalayas.)

Among the peculiarities of its climate, the desert beyond Basra offers violent gales, accompanied, naturally, by sand storms. These begin quite early every morning, and continue into the late afternoon. The sand, chiefly, makes it impossible to do anything between those hours, except cower in one’s tent (“until it collapses”). Evenings are devoted to digging out half-buried trucks.

In my present circumstance, within a construction site (see here), I try to think of this. Similarly, during heat waves in summer, I imagine myself sailing on the windless waters that circle the earth around the equator. (“Doldrums,” I think they’re called.) Or in winter, I could be crossing the Greenland ice cap, on snow shoes, with no end in sight.

The fires are raging, I hear, in California. Just now I was listening to some global environmentalcase, talking his rot about “climate change.” I reflect on my good fortune. Without resorting to anything so fanciful, I am able to conjure places slightly worse.