Land of Lost Content?

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As some of you know, I am fond of poetry. The older I get, the more I think it almost the only thing outside of my Bible that’s worth reading. Yesterday, whiling away time I should have been doing something else with, I told Neo that I was overcome with a sort of melancholy – we have a word for that sort of feeling in Welsh, we call it ‘hiraeth’, and there’s a good article here about it and the context in which we Welsh feel it. I was brought up in the English-speaking part of Wales by a German father, so my Welshness is one of geography and feeling rather than one of language. Those great, grey, wild skies, framing the mountains stirs something in my blood, some deep ancestral memory on my mother’s side, all the more poignant and powerful because I never knew her. That speaks to something the English poet, A.E. Houseman wrote in what is perhaps his most famous poem, A Shropshire Lad where he writes with melancholic longing:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

That captures it well. It has in it something of our primal deprivation of Eden, that sense we have of exile, mourning and weeping in a valley of tears which is not our real home – we have a feeling of dis-ease, of unease, of not belonging, of being out of place.

Much of our lives are spent in unconscious combat with that feeling, and sometimes, when we are not looking, it can break through our defences, and manifests itself in nostalgia for our childhood, or if that won’t give it to us, a lost golden age when things were better than they are now. For poets like Houseman or RS Thomas, these feelings were turned by the imagination into poetry which catches in distilled form a feeling which we find hard to describe, because there are moments when words will not convey what we have in our hearts. How can we speak of exile from Eden except with a catch in our throat?

One of my favourite poets, RS Thomas, a Welsh Anglican clergyman, wrote of this in his poetry, not least of the difficulty of the living in the present in Wales – and here’s a taste of his poetry – where he finishes by writing of ‘sick’ people’ worrying at the ‘carcase of an old song’. There’s a warning there of the sterile nature of too much nostalgia – we can inhabit a vanishing past, but it cannot nurture or feed us. We can only, as Thomas said, turn aside from these things and find life where it is truly to be found, which is where redemption is to be found – as in one man, Adam, all men fell, so in one man, Christ, will all rise again. Here’s a taste of that to finish with from Thomas:

 

 

Saturday Links

Well, I’m more or less recovered, but there is a mass of stuff I read (and archived for use) while I was ill. So how ’bout some links today to help you (and me) catch up?

Hillary Clinton & Double Standards on the Left

The Flint Water Scandal

The Tribal War with Islam

This refers to much the same thing I said yesterday.

Obama’s Middle Eastern policy is a bad replay of Woodrow Wilson’s post-WWI efforts (and we know how that ended)

What we really need to talk about after Cologne

Europe Braces Itself for Terrorism as Germany and Other Countries Experience Sexual Jihad Firsthand from Rapefugees

Are there really two popes?

Affirming Anglicanism

The one thing most people think they know about economics is wrong

Sell everything ahead of stock market crash, say RBS economists

Oil could crash to $10 a barrel, warn investment bank bears

Project Fear: how Cameron plans to scare us into staying in the EU

The Brexit vote: it’s neck and neck

Why farms die and should die

And finally, only marginally suitable for work, but an example of “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome”.

How To Use A Thong

Well that cleans up some of my archives, and there’s something for nearly everyone there! :)

 

Is Donald Trump is destroying the Republican party?

David Frum published an article in the Spectator this morning. It’s pretty good.

[…]The day after the State of the Union, I’ll take the train to New York to debate opposite David Miliband at the IQ Squared Series. The motion: ‘The United States should accept 100,000 Syrian refugees.’ When the debate was planned, sceptics of the mass resettlement of Middle-Easterners in the West were taunted by President Obama as ‘scared of widows and orphans’. A few weeks later, the government of Germany has been rocked by mass co-ordinated sex assaults by migrants and refugees on German women in Cologne and other cities.

The first response of the authorities was, of course, to suppress accurate information about what had happened. It was like Rotherham, only in full view of thousands of people in the centre of one of Europe’s greatest cities.

Only this time… the suppression didn’t work. The truth, or some of it, came into the light at last. Past evasions have served nobody — except of course the Trumps and the Front National and all the other extremist groups that have flourished because more responsible leaders have ignored or denied urgent voter concerns.

via America notebook: How Donald Trump is destroying the Republican party » The Spectator.

That in one way is the meat of the article. It’s very true, the trouble with covering things up, as we’ve known since at least Nixon, is that whatever you want to cover-up is not good wine: it doesn’t get better with age. This immigrant thing in Europe has the power to deliver them right back to the ’30s if they aren’t careful. Increasingly, I’m beginning to feel that the Britsh referendum on the EU is redundant, the EU itself is about to implode, leaving a continent of angry people behind.

What happens then, is anybody’s idea, but it’s unlikely to be pretty.

Frum’s main point, and it is not unconnected, is that Trump seems to be running like a buzzsaw through the Republican candidates. Trump is hardly my candidate, I consider him a sleazy crony capitalist. But the answer to that is that he didn’t write the rule, but he played the game to win, and did. Fair enough, I guess. Would I vote for him? Maybe. I would vote for Mickey Mouse before I voted for any of the Democratic nominees this year. I don’t think, or more importantly, believe that any of them have the best interest of the US as their main goal. That is completely unacceptable to me. Obama is going to leave a hell of a mess behind him to clean up, and that is the first prerequisite.

But there are some very good republican candidates in the campaign, who, I think, would be quite good presidents, especially to my mind, Ted Cruz. There are also clunkers, who would make me consider Trump on a third party. We’ll simply have to see.

Then there is the headline, “Is Donald Trump Destroying the Republican Party?” You know, I don’t know. I do know this. the party has long since lost touch with people like me. Like everybody, I liked Ike, but unlike the Republicans I liked Goldwater, and Reagan I adored. So maybe it is time for the GOP to join the Whigs on the scrapheap of history, if he does that, it may come to seem Donald trump’s signal gift to history, because I think the GOP is pretty much played out, and as obsolete as a buggy whip.

All that said what we really need is Calvin Coolidge, but who would listen to a man who spoke softly these days?

Born free?

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We all make sense of this world as we can according to what is given to us to do that with. One of the pieces of foolishness which twentieth century politicians and thinkers adopted was the notion that man was a wholly rational animal, and that if one could only ‘explain’ everything, then we would all see things the same, and we could move to some sort of one world government. To those who are children of the idea of Rousseau, who believed that ‘man was born free and is everywhere in chains’, politics was the art of removing those chains and freeing him up to realise his full potential. This ignored the idea of original sin. Marx and Engels, disciples of Rousseau, assumed that whatever was bad in our species was the result of the distortions of bad rule, and that if that went, all would be well. The twentieth century provided a scathing commentary on this academic idea. In the name of ‘the people’ more people have been killed than ever in human history. Vanguardists, freed up from the moral restraints of Christianity, have felt able and willing to destroy millions, all in the cause of creating a utopia; those utopias have been places that men and women have fled from whenever they could do so.

The obvious conclusions continue to evade so many of our rulers because to come to them would require some big changes of assumptions on their part. Take the hot issue of gun control. To liberals it is logical that if you remove them, no one will shoot anyone. To conservatives it is logical that what will actually happen is that criminals will continue to be able to acquire guns and will feel free to use them because they will not risk being shot at by armed citizens. It is people who kill people, if they don’t use guns, they will use knives, and if you can remove all the knives, they will use their hands – perhaps move to the Sharia principle and chop off hands next?

Christianity has worked so long in our civilization because it speaks to a truth we wish to avoid admitting, that, left to ourselves, we too often choose the bad over the good, or, that in identifying what we think may be good for us, we tend to ride rough-shod over others, which creates situations out of which conflict arises. If being here is all our lives are about, then it makes sense that we should band with others to seize as much of the things which make life comfortable as we can for ourselves, and the devil can take the hindermost.

What Christianity does is to explain that this is the result of the Fall, that however we explain it, our true natures have been warped by sin so we tend to the bad even when we will the good; only through receiving Christ can we escape this endless cycle of sin. If there is another way, it would be good to know what it might be. Our history suggests that Christianity has a civilizing effect on us, so, as it recedes from the public sphere, it ought to worry us. Rousseau was an optimist – man may be born free, but he is quite capable of slapping all sorts of chains on himself. Liberalism offers no solution, conservatism thinks there isn’t one, Christianity says otherwise to both.

Modelling the Roman Empire?

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No one who goes to DC can help being struck by how much of the governmental architecture is modelled in Rome – the Supreme Court building even has the sign of the Roman legislators – fasces – on its facade. There is no doubting that what you are seeing is the new Roman Republic. That’s not a surprise, When the Founding Fathers did what they did, the world was ruled by kingdoms and empires – republics were, if not unknown (there had been Venice after all) a rarity. It was not surprising that agrarian republicans saw the Republic of Rome as their model – civic virtue ruled. Men like Washington, who could easily have afforded to have lived a life of leisured ease, took time away from that to help govern the republic – the res publica – literally ‘the thing of the people’. They were not in it for the money – they had money – they were in it because that was what men of their standing did – just as in the Rome of old.

But the ancient republic rotted from within. Men who sought power and more wealth, bribed senators to do their bidding, masters of war used their positions to bid for power, and everything – and everyone – had a price if someone was willing to pay enough. The people could be bought off with bread and circuses, all paid for by others, and they could be brought on side by the military might of Rome. It was, in the end, easy enough for Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, to proclaim himself emperor and bring the republic to an end. Civic virtue had been hard work, and it didn’t pay well – indeed it cost you money. The temptations of power, of fame, of wealth, proved too much. No one man thought that his own corruption would bring down the republic, but when all men were corrupt, that brought it down easily enough. The temptation to go for the strong man, the man of power who would deliver security and prosperity in an uncertain world was too easily succumbed to. What was the point of being a senator if you didn’t make money by it? What was the point of office if it was not a career for life? Who really wanted to put in all that effort and find himself poorer at the end of the process? Power corrupted, and men fell for it.

The price of civic virtue was too high for the Romans of old. Has it become so for the new Romans – for the USA? Why should a President who wants to do something and has a popular mandate be blocked by Congress? Surely an executive order or two (or more) would be fine? True, Supreme Court Justices might stand in the way, but they can be replaced, and if you get your timing right, you can pack the sourt to secure the result you want? There is an awful lot of money in DC, and money talks – usually it says ‘come to me papa’ to the unwary legislator. Your state or district can have whatever infrastructure schemes will help it (and keep you in power) if only you vote the right way. There’s a reason lobbyists swarm round Congress – the same one that sees flies do the same round a cow pat.

Have we reached a stage where the old American Republican ideal (and that is Republican aas in supporters of a republic, not a party) is about to go? One of the things at issue in this year’s election will be whether the pass has already been sold, whether America is already too far down the slippery slope. It is clear that among the people there is still a longing for the old virtues – but is that so among those who aspire to lead? we shall see.

The tectonic plates shift?

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I grew up, as most of us did, in a world where the Cold War was a constant. In between the bouts of anxiety at times like Cuba or the deployment of Cruise Missiles, it was almost restful, if that’s not too odd a way of putting it. You knew where you were, who the bad guys were, and that we were the good guys; you could tell because no one much was taking huge risks with life and limb to climb the Berlin Wall to go their way. Sure, there were some leftists who saw it differently, but not even they were knocking at the door of the Soviet Embassy to say ‘let me in’. So, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (learning nothing from what had happened to the Brits when they did it in the nineteenth century) we rushed to help those fighting them – fellow called bin Laden even got a celebratory write up as a freedom-fighter. But it turned out the world was more complicated, and it turned out that the Cold War was not for ever, and as it receded into history, like a flood when the waters go, it left some odd stuff on the road. But we still assumed one thing, the USA, and NATO, were top dogs, we’d won and the world would be the safer for it. We could disarm a bit, spend less on the military, and concentrate on the stuff that really mattered, climate change. But history had not ended, and the tectonic plates are shifting. Our perceptions have not caught up, and unless they do, there will be hell to pay.

Old perceptions said that the USA could reset it relations with Russia and with the Middle East, but they seem to have blinded US policy makers to the reality we were now in a multi-polar world – and one where American perceptions of what mattered were not the only game in town. In this situation, a background in community organising was not the perfect cv for what was needed.

As it transpired it was not Obama’s old bogey – old white men – who held on to their religion and guns, about whom he really should have been worrying; nor was Islam quite what he’d been taught it was. It was the Shiite Muslims, who had collected quite a lot of our guns in Iraq, and who took their religion with lethal seriousness, we should have been worrying about. We read the “Arab spring” through the lenses of our secular preoccupations – liberal democracy was on its way we thought; the Islamists knew that ‘one man one vote’ might well give them a chance of power and took it in places like Egypt, and tried to in Syria. The Iranians, always happy to help their fellow Shiites, were happy to stir up trouble. The Russians, always happy to stir up trouble, added their bit too. Anything to distract us from the fact they’d just seized the Crimea and part of the Ukraine.

All this was clearly bewildering for our policy-making elites. This was not what they had trained for, this was not in their text-books or games. It looked as though the US was no longer the most powerful actor. That was because the tectonic plates were shifting. Power is often a matter of perception. In reality the British presence east of Suez was never very great in terms of armed forces. but the Powers of the region were frightened of British power, so they didn’t test that. When the Japanese did in 1941/2 the whole edifice collapsed at once – and not even Churchill thought it could be reconstructed. Obama has given the impression that America isn’t much interested in the rest of the world except as far as climate change is concerned, so the Chinese, the Russians and the Iranians have taken the cue. There’s no point having lethal power on the scale America has it if you are thought never likely to use it. No one thinks Obama will use it, and no one would believe him if he said otherwise.

Those in Europe – and America – who did not want the USA to be the world’s sheriff have gotten their wish. Hope they’re happy with it – many of us aren’t and want our sheriff back. But whether he comes back or not, if he does, he’s going to find the change in the tectonic plates hard to deal with. The landscape has changed, and unless our policy-makers come to terms with this, it is only going to get worse.

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