Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Still true...

"Certainly there was once a superstition that all that was old was true; but we are now suffering from the contrary and no less dangerous superstition that all that is old is false and all that is new is true.  In fact, time has nothing to do with truth.  New truth can and must replace old errors, but it cannot replace older truths.  If you have a right to say that nothing is true until it has become true to you, this does not mean that it is because a truth has become your own truth that it is true; on the contrary, it had to become yours because it was, is, or will be true to every normal human mind that is able to grasp it.  It was very foolish of some men of the middle ages to believe that everything Aristotle had said was true, just because he had said it.  But would it not be equally and perhaps still more foolish to believe that everything Aristotle has said is false because he said it four centuries before Christ?  When I read in his Ethics that justice is the supreme and ruling principle of social life, or that scientific knowledge is the highest form of human activity, am I bound to believe, in order to be original, that injustice is the ideal type of social life and motor driving the most perfect form of human activity? Let us, on the contrary, keep our minds open to every truth, whether it be old or new; let us joyously submit to it, whatever may be the time or the direction from which it comes.  Be ready always to yield to it, resolved to stick to it, and it will spare you the burden of yielding to anybody or anything else.  Truth will make you free; submission to it will make you great."

—Etienne Gilson, "The Ethics of Higher Studies" (1927)



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sketchy opinions of a Catholic anarchist

Much as one might have loathed them during and after, when we were teenagers, we had the Youth Groups. Out of the latter grew the various ministries which, once Confirmed, we had the right — nay, the duty — to participate in. More than anything, there was a social framework, outside of, but (presumably) centered around, the Mass. This “community of Christians” became, for many, the very reason to show up for several hours every Sunday, and sometimes even during the week; for many, the Catholic youth community was a refuge from the pangs of adolescence and the social farce of public school life. There is no great loss in the fact that most young minds cannot perceive that they were missing the bigger point, namely the Eucharist. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor — specially your Christian neighbor — is the holiest thing that can be presented to your senses in this life.

Something that the Youth Groups never prepared you for, however, was What To Do after high school graduation. Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends; some people (often accidentally) have children and get married before the age of 23; others move away, even out of state, to go to college; many move away simply and solely to move away. There are a variety of dividing tactics which (I believe) the Dark One employs at this part of our lives. The bottom line is that the security of a “faith community” that had been built up over several years is promptly obliterated. And since so many at this age based their “faith life” on their “faith community” — and to re-build a new one would require all the work involved in meeting a host of new people that one gets on with fairly well, and to balance this with all the other concerns that come with “growing up” — many will backslide, and the Church becomes an afterthought. “Church” quickly comes to mean “the place one ought to have been last Sunday.” And so it goes, or might go, for several years.

In my early-20s, I encountered a few organizations that tried to do for “young adults” what the Youth Groups did for us as teenagers. But rather than getting into more serious, adult issues of faith, these groups tended to remain at the intellectual level of a 15-year-old. They seemed simply to say, “What we had a few years ago — it doesn’t have to go away! And this time around we get to go out for beer and hotwings!” The only way such assemblies “progress” is by the addition of alcohol and the occasional tryst (which will promptly be confessed by Saturday). The only “progression” is, in fact, toward newfound secular freedoms, predicated on a religious context: not religious progress. This is not to say that there are no sincere efforts on the leaders of such groups, nor that one may not find members who make the most of what they can get. My point, however, is that they shouldn’t have to make the most of anything: the “most” should already be there, and they should be the recipients of it — just as the Church as a whole is “already there.” What began in the “youth groups” ought to continue into adulthood, the former being the foundation for something more complex — spiritually, theologically, and communally — that would come later. Yet for this to happen, the original “faith community” should have had to remain together, and so continue to grow together. But this does not — perhaps can not — happen. One might chalk it up to the very mobile nature of the contemporary world. No one has any roots anymore. Gone are the days of knowing and living in, for one’s whole life, the same neighborhood as the people one grew up with. Had people stayed put in the first place, we shouldn’t have even needed the “youth groups”: from the outset our Catholicism would simply have been part — indeed the very centerpiece — of our local culture.

My objective here is not to suggest a solution to this pathology, but to call to mind that such a pathology does, in fact, exist. Regardless of the diagnosis, I don’t believe, such as the world is today, that the prognosis is very good. And I certainly don’t believe there is a cure, not unless there were a veritable revolution in public mores. Public mores, however, are informed by religious mores — and our religious mores are weak. Furthermore, they are under constant assault by ideologues of many stripes (often on the basis of the erroneous and backward assumption that the First Amendment was written to keep religion out of public life). Perhaps sanity can be restored, but I personally am of the opinion that the world we have built needs be burned to the ground, the pig fully eviscerated, before the proper foundations can once again be laid.

At this point, I would like to reply to a possible objection raised by the language which I have just used. This objection was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, a Monsignor, with whom I discussed this problem. He pointed out that, while he appreciated my “inclination toward an anarchistic remedy for all that ails us,” nonetheless “burning the house down kills people as well as all those things that afflict them”; furthermore, “their successors would also be born with the affliction of Original Sin and its consequences.” There is of course great wisdom and truth in this point, but I think it betrays a misunderstanding in what I have said. Thus I shall use it to clarify my wider political theory. This is not (so far as I know) church doctrine; it is solely my preliminary, “sketchy” theory about the possibility of a peace which, I think, should follow upon the coexistence of Catholicism and anarchism.

Now, first of all, I would like to make perfectly clear that I am not proposing an “anarchistic remedy,” if by “anarchy” we mean, so to speak, a Bolshevik Solution. One needn’t define anarchy as anything other than what its Latin word-parts suggest, viz., the absence of government; and that absence needn’t mean destruction nor chaos. The French Revolution — the origin of Liberalism, and, by circuitous routes, all our modern “ideologies” — was indeed a “burning to the ground” which was merely to replace one government with another. “Revolution” is frequently a misnomer. Historically, so-called revolutions have a curious way of not “reverting back” to anything that was previous and/or preferable: more often they are devolutions. As to anarchism, my own view is that an anarchistic society — more properly: anarchistic societies — could enjoy more religious and civil freedom than anyone has known for a long time, if people but had the courage to abandon government and defend their own natural rights. The Constitution of the United States of America is, however, an ingenious compromise between the extremes of anarchy and the contemporary omnipresent State, if only our government would follow it. If government in the U.S. would but restrict itself to doing solely what the Constitution says it can do and nothing more, we might enjoy all the freedoms one could ask for in this life. As it stands, however, our government seems to far exceed its originary, Constitutional mandate. To scrap the current regime — that endlessly complex federation of bureaucracies and bylaws — to return to a pure and commonsense execution of the Constitution just as it was written: that would be a true revolution, a “going back.”

This proposal, nevertheless, presents us with yet another pathology in want of a cure. It is difficult to see how, in our Nuclear Epoch, such rejuvenation would be possible. The bureaucratic complexity of our world has ensured that any kind of re-simplification would result in serious threats to our safety, namely, from foreign enemies, and certainly, due to our modern money system, an economic disaster. We are locked in a cultural and socio-political vice by the very edifice of modernity.

Another point I would like to clarify about my so-called “anarchistic solution.” I did not mean to suggest that we ought to rally and “burn it all down” ourselves. What I meant to imply was that the possibility of a solution might only come about if (or when) the Nations do indeed destroy themselves; as, for example, in nuclear fire or economic collapse. What remained of humanity, being thus able to start from scratch, as it were, might then work toward a truly purged civil society. The Church, incidentally, by necessity of Her “mandate,” would remain the last standing authority — the only non-factitious authority on Earth, and therefore one worth following — and the people might see that She provides all the “governance” we really require on any large scale: a “bureaucracy” whose only purpose is the salvation of Man. As for the “small” scale, each community could choose their own ways and means of living: and that is all that “anarchy” means. As for the original pathology, I don’t think the problem of “youth groups” or “young adults” would come up in the peace of a Catholic anarchy.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pearce quotes Flitcraft

The great Catholic biographer and literary scholar Joseph Pearce recently quoted little old me in an article at The Imaginative Conservative.  How funny.  My comment is the third from the top:

Chesterton & Eliot: Friends or Enemies?


Monday, September 29, 2014

Philosophical Anarchism in a Nutshell

"The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state's claim to have authority over him. That is to say, he will deny that he has a duty to obey the laws of the state simply because they are the laws. In that sense, it would seem that anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy.

"Now, of course, an anarchist may grant the necessity of complying with the law under certain circumstances or for the time being. He may even doubt that there is any real prospect of eliminating the state as a human institution. But he will never view the commands of the state as legitimate, as having a binding moral force. In a sense, we might characterize the anarchist as a man without a country, for despite the ties which bind him to the land of his childhood, he stands in precisely the same moral relationship to 'his' government as he does to the government of any other country in which he might happen to be staying for a time. When I take a vacation in Great Britain, I obey its laws, both because of prudential self-interest and because of the obvious moral considerations concerning the value of order, the general good consequences of preserving a system of property, and so forth. On my return to the United States, I have a sense of reentering my country, and if I think about the matter at all, I imagine myself to stand in a different and more intimate relation to American laws. They have been promulgated by my government, and I therefore have a special obligation to obey them. But the anarchist tells me that my feeling is purely sentimental and has no objective moral basis. All authority is equally illegitimate, although of course not therefore equally worthy or unworthy of support, and my obedience to American laws, if I am to be morally autonomous, must proceed from the same considerations which determine me abroad.

"The dilemma which we have posed can be succinctly expressed in terms of the concept of a de jure state. If all men have a continuing obligation to achieve the highest degree of autonomy possible, then there would appear to be no state whose subjects have a moral obligation to obey its commands. Hence, the concept of a de jure legitimate state would appear to be vacuous, and philosophical anarchism would seem to be the only reasonable political belief for an enlightened man."

—Robert Paul Wolff
In Defense of Anarchism, "Conflict Between Authority & Autonomy"


Saturday, September 27, 2014

I think I might actually like this place better than Medium. I find Medium to be kind of pretentious. If I can't stomach it much longer there I'm going to spruce this place up a bit (actually, a lot) and reboot it. (Plus, you can't make any money at Medium whereas here you can eventually earn some passive income using Google AdSense.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

a surface scratched

I am here but scratching the surface of my 'philosophy of education'. Those who know where I'm coming from, will understand. Those who don't, probably never will, though I am open to expounding further should I receive the unlikely request to clarify further.

C. S. Lewis once pointed out (even in the 1950s!) that the contemporary system of education (including the university) is systematically designed to weed out the types of people that, in ages past, were the only people who were commonly accepted in to higher education to begin with.  He said, e.g., a Wordsworth would have been detected, discouraged, and ultimately discarded as early as possible.  All of this, of course, follows upon the 'democratization' of modern civilization; regardless of the motivational posters one sees on classroom walls, the truth is that Excellence is frowned upon. Contemporary Western education wants people who Play By The Rules to 'make it' in higher education (an old professor of mine called such as these [e.g. nearly all his graduate students] "Grinders").  This System in fact wants to validate all those many thousands of students who don't really need to receive formal education in the first place.  Probably the most popular 'case study' of this type situation is Albert Einstein. I think perhaps that in the popular imagination the moral of his story is misunderstood; people ought to conclude that perhaps schools need to be altered such that our Einsteins might flourish in them, rather than singling him out as a totally unique case (not that he was not a genius beyond reckoning).  I think one of the reasons, for instance, that people of my own Myers-Briggs/Keirsey "personality type" (INTP; Einstein, by the by, is frequently cited as the Archetype of this personality) aren't particularly suited to contemporary academia is that the latter is dominated by that oh-so-bureaucratic Extraverted Thinking function, and INTP's dominant Introverted Thinking is so often violently opposed to this kind of systematization and (even worse) authoritarianism.

My personal opinion is that 'schools' ought to be sort of like, if you will, Intellectual Monasteries; consider, e.g., the Sicilian Pythagoreans, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, or even the circa 13th-century University of Paris -- this is how education/schools/universities ought to be.  And on such models it would follow that education (perish the thought!) is not for everyone.  The ancient Greek term σχολή -- and its Latin equivalent
schola -- from which we derive the term 'school' meant Leisure (Latin Otium, as opposed to Negotium, i.e. worldly-affairs, business):  a life of free inquiry. This, indeed, is where our term Liberal Arts (artes liberales, associated with Otium / Leisure) derives from. The latter used to be juxtaposed to the Servile Arts (artes serviles, associated with Negotium / Business), which focused on more 'practical' matters, providing goods and services necessary for material and/or daily living. This modern notion that one needs a BA to "get a good job" is a complete non sequitur; education should not be seen as a 'preparation for the workforce'. Knowledge (scientia) is, or ought to be, an end in and for itself, and Education with a capital-E ought to be set up so as to accommodate that fact.  

Incidentally, the theory of personality as per Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, etc., could very well serve as grounds (however 'theoretical') for making the case for a return to more classical forms of education.  Consider:  does an ISFP artist really need to learn about the sciences? does an ENTJ inheriting a 'family business' really need to know anything about the Humanities?  I say if it's a life of work that you desire, just go work. Education ought to be for those whose priorities lie within the Life of the Mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

de amicitia

"When either Affection or Eros is one's theme, one finds a prepared audience. The importance and beauty of both have been stressed and almost exaggerated again and again. Even those who would debunk them are in conscious reaction against this laudatory tradition and, to that extent, influenced by it. But very few modern people think Friendship a love of comparable value or even a love at all. I cannot remember that any poem since [Alfred, Lord Tennyson's] In Memoriam, or any novel, has celebrated it. Tristan and Isolde, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, have innumerable counterparts in modern literature: David and Jonathan, Pylades and Orestes, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amile, have not. To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few 'friends'. But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as 'friendships', show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's time....

"...few value it because few experience it. And the possibility of going through life without the experience is rooted in that fact which separates Friendship so sharply from both the other loves. Friendship is -- in a sense not at all derogatory to it -- the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd. Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it. The pack or herd -- the community -- may even dislike and distrust it. Its leaders very often do. Headmasters and Headmistresses and Heads of religious communities, colonels and ships' captains, can feel uneasy when close and strong friendships arise between little knots of their subjects.

"This (so to call it) 'non-natural' quality of Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own. The deepest and most permanent thought of those ages was ascetic and world-renouncing. Nature and emotion and the body were feared as dangers to our souls, or despised as degradations of our human status. Inevitably that sort of love was most prized which seemed most independent, or even defiant, of mere nature. Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship -- in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen -- you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels."

+ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960)


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eliot Rip-off

Probably more than anything else I've written, this is a total rip-off of
T. S. Eliot; cf. The Hollow Men. But here it is nonetheless. The ideas I intend to re-appropriate somewhere else, so it goes without saying this is a 'rough draft'.

God, and Love, and Death.
That’s all’s been sung in ages past—
God, and Love, and Death.
But now, in this forlorn land,
Nothing’s sung but Death.

City song
Death song
Chants of this forlorn land

No more cries chivalric
which were cries of
God, and Love, and Death—
rolled in to one,
distinct but not separate,
one organ, one act—
Battle cries of God, and Love, and Death.

City poem
Death poem
Croaking in this forlorn land