Sir Robert Scruton

RICH’S MONDAY MORNING VIEW

First a personal note, it is good to see ‘The Unit’ liking posts, here again, he has been missed since the first of the year. I look forward to his resumption of commenting. 🙂

Sir Roger Scruton died of cancer over the weekend, at home in England surrounded by his family. As Steven Hayward says on PowerLine:

Sir Roger deserves to be considered the greatest conservative thinker and writer of the last generation—full stop—certainly the most prolific and wide-ranging since G.K. Chesterton, having published more than 50 books and countless articles.

And yet he’s very hard for me, at least, to write about. I agreed with him almost always, but what he said was in a way so simple, so commonsensical, that it seemed to hardly need saying, and yet it did, and he always said it well, with great humor. Steven again.

Although Scruton can throw down with the deepest and most complex of modern philosophers such as Wittgenstein, when it came to conservatism he was not a dense theorist or systematizer. To the contrary, he liked to say that conservatism should begin with love—the things we love, the places we love, and the institutions we ought to love, but often don’t, because of the imperfections in all things human. In the introduction to his book The Meaning of Conservatism, Scruton writes that “Conservatism may rarely announce itself in maxims, formulae, or aims. Its essence is inarticulate, and its expression, when compelled, skeptical.”

Why “inarticulate”?  Because, as he explains elsewhere, the liberal has the easy job in the modern world. The liberal points at the imperfections and defects of existing institutions or the existing social order, strikes a pose of indignation, and huffs that surely something better is required, usually with the attitude that the something better is simply a matter of will. The conservative faces the tougher challenge of understanding and explaining the often subtle reasons why existing institutions, no matter how imperfect, work better than speculative alternatives.

This is true, and pretty obvious, really. It’s always easier to criticize and show what’s wrong, even if one sticks to the truth, which these days is not a given. It is always much harder to see why the time-honored system works although imperfectly, better than any of the simplistic proposed replacements.

Kevin Donnelly in the Spectator Australia has some thoughts as well.

In opposition to the nanny state and big government much like Edmund Burke’s vision of little platoons, Scruton in his book Conservatism stresses the value of “the networks of familiarity and trust on which a community depends for its longevity”.   Scruton also suggests ordinary people are conservative by nature; something not acknowledged by society’s intellectual elites.

An intellectual class that sees itself as “gifted with superior insight and intellect and therefore inevitably critical of whatever it is that ordinary people do by way of surviving.  An intellectual class that does not identify with the way of life around it”.

Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States by Hilary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, Scott Morrison’s ability to win the support of the “quiet Australians” and Boris Johnson’s success attracting traditional Labor voters are proof of Scruton’s thesis.

He’s correct and if they do their jobs well, the continued strength of the Anglosphere will be his greatest memorial.

Scruton, like the poet T S Eliot and the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. believed the purpose of education is to initiate succeeding generations into what Matthew Arnold described as “the best that has been thought and said”. 

For Scruton what mattered most “is the spiritual and moral health of a community” and it’s understandable why he abhorred the destructive impact of cultural-left theory on the academy especially the impact of postmodernism and deconstructionism on music, art, literature and history.

When discussing the threats to modern conservatism Scruton identifies one of its chief enemies as political correctness and “its restraint on freedom of expression and its emphasis in everything on Western guilt”.

A very great man of towering intellect and peripatetic interests. His loss will be keenly felt.

Godspeed, Sir Roger.

The Middle of What?

Victor Davis Hanson has a question, “What Is the Middle East In the Middle Of Anymore?” As usual, it’s a good one. Let’s see what he has to say.

Since World War II, the United States has been involved in a series of crises and wars in the Middle East on the premise of protecting U.S., Western, or global interests, or purportedly all three combined. Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the hub of three continents, and of three great religions, and the maritime intersection between East and West.

In modern times American strategic concerns in no particular order were usually the following:

1) Guaranteeing reliable oil supplies for the U.S. economy.

2) Ensuring that no hostile power—most notably the Soviet Union between 1946-1989 and local Arab or Iranian strongmen thereafter—gained control of the Middle East and used its wealth and oil power to disrupt the economies and security of the Western world, Europe in particular.

3) Preventing radical Islamic terrorists from carving out sanctuaries and bases of operations to attack the United States or its close allies.

4) Aiding Israel to survive in a hostile neighborhood.

5) Keeping shipping lanes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and the Persian Gulf open and accessible to world commerce at the historical nexus of three continents.

6) To the extent we could articulate our interests, U.S. policy was reductionist and simply deterred any other major power for any reason from dominating the quite distant region.

7) Occasionally the United States sought to limit or stop the endemic bloodletting of the region.

Those various reasons explain why we tended to intervene in nasty places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria. Yet despite the sometimes humanitarian pretenses about our inventions in the Middle East, we should remember that we most certainly did not go commensurately into central Africa or South America to prevent mass killings, genocides, or gruesome civil wars.

But two questions now arise in the 21st century: to what degree do strategic reasons remain for a strong U.S. ground presence in the Middle East and, in terms of cost-benefit analyses, how much material, human, and psychic U.S. investment is necessary to protect our interests to the extent they still matter in the region?

One of the basic things that have changed is that we (and Russia, for that matter) do not need middle eastern oil. Europe does, and China does, but both depend on the United States to make sure they get it, just as Europe depends on Russia for natural gas.

Maybe it remains in our interest for middle eastern oil to flow at reasonable prices, but maybe we should look at that again.

VDH comments that no one has ever done well trying to control the middle east. He’s right. We’ve done OK, better than most, but do we really care anymore, or is it time to let it fall back to the 11th century, with somewhat better weaponry?

Israel still matters to us, but it can (especially with its local allies) pretty much take care of itself, and we can, of course, continue our commerce and alliance with her.

Commerce is shifting to the Indian and Pacific ocean areas, and that too includes Israel who (for the first time) last year participated in a Pacific Fleet exercise. China, and India, are the future, and I doubt either are going to make too many Arab friends.

And VDH touches on war-weariness in the US (probably the UK as well). It’s real enough but is it really war weariness or simply being weary of never winning, and then get a bunch of gimmiegrants who exploit the system for our trouble.

VDH’s final words will do for me as well.

In other words, the United States is trying to square a circle, remaining strong and deterring our dangerous elements, but to do so for U.S. interests—interests that increasingly seem to be fewer and fewer in the Middle East.

Or in simpler terms, what exactly is the Middle East in the middle of anymore?

Read it all at the link above.

Hell Hath No Fury

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
 When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy-willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the State.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred,
 It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate.

[Feel free to substitute American for English, both are quite valid these days]

This has an accurate feel to it, for me, from Brian C. Joondeph at American Thinker.

We’ve all heard the expression, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and most of us have witnessed it at some point in our lives. It typically refers to betrayal, especially regarding love, when a woman is spurned and replaced by another.

It could also explain the righteous anger and rage one would feel if their greatest effort and achievement were taken from them, even more so if it was taken under false pretenses and through illegal subterfuge.

Is anyone surprised that President Donald Trump would be royally pissed off over how his political opponents have treated him during the first three years of his presidency?

In a way, I can’t say how Trump feels about it but can certainly infer from his actions that he is not pleased. What I do know is how I have felt the several times that I have been unfairly persecuted, especially by those with some petty power over me. So, I’d guess do all of you. Like me, you likely held your tongue, swallowed hard, and did what you had to do. But you know, while I don’t much believe in revenge if I caught those a***holes doing something illegal still today, I’d laugh at them on the way to jail.

That’s me, a cog at most. Trump is the central engine leading an American resurgence, care to guess how he feels about it? Yeah, me too.

Trump was branded a modern-day Hester Prynne with a “Scarlet I” for all eternity all because he had the audacity to beat the deep state’s chosen candidate and threaten the corrupt global order. After assuming office, he had the further gall to quickly accomplish what so many Republican presidents promised but couldn’t deliver, and what Democrat presidents said could only be achieved with a magic wand.

And now he is rightfully pissed off. His greatest achievement, winning the presidency as an outsider and proving all of his detractors wrong, continues to be taken from him, through any means necessary, from the unethical to the illegal.

He has been accused of cheating and winning the presidency fraudulently, ignoring his focus, persistence, and hard work. His family has been impugned and threatened. He has few true friends in Washington, DC. But he has 60 million plus loyal supporters across the fruited plains.

Trump supporters have faced their own derision, from losing jobs and friendships to strained or alienated family relationships. They are spit on, attacked, denied service, and called names like deplorable, racist, or Nazi. […]

As Dov Fischer recently wrote, “Those pathological haters and congenital liars impeached not only President Trump on Wednesday night. They impeached us.”

Sundance at Conservative Treehouse describes this as “Cold Anger”

There’s a level of anger far deeper and more consequential than expressed rage or visible behavior. Cold Anger does not need to go to violence. For those who carry it, no conversation is needed. You cannot poll or measure it; and even those who carry it avoid discussion. And that decision has nothing whatsoever to do with any form of correctness.

President Trump and his supporters have had enough. His greatest life achievement, something no one else could come close to doing, is being smeared and taken from him. His supporters are being tarred as mind-numbed jack-booted brown shirts.

Now that the build-up to impeachment is behind him, expect Trump to release the hounds of hell on his deep state persecutors. His daughter Ivanka says “Impeachment energized her father and his 63 million supporters.” Welcome to cold anger.

Indeed so. In my reading of military history one thought lept out at me, American soldiers always sang on the march, until 1942, then the singing stopped until the job was over. Oh, they listened to it and danced with the pretty girls, and such. But the marching columns were pretty silent intent on the job.

That’s how America feels today, the fun times are over, this is the last chance for the politicians to solve it, or it will move beyond their power forever. Between December 1941 and September 1945, 46 months, the allies destroyed Germany, destroyed Italy, and destroyed Im[erial Japan. That is less than on Presidential term. Now is the time for the disruption to begin.

Solzhenitsyn and Alfie Evans

This leads into tomorrow’s post but also harks back to 2018 when we (many of us) anyway re heartbroken at the enforced death of Alfie Evans. Everything said here is still true and now there are more examples of the cold disdain of the NHS (in fairness, there are also some good stories out there). And yet, a near clone of this heartless machine is what some of our presidential candidates want for Americans. That is all the reason I need to vote against them.

Well, it’s been a bit over a day since Alfie went home, and perhaps we can start to draw some lessons. For me, personally, it has been a long time since I have been called both ignorant and stupid, within two sentences. I found it rather funny, in truth, since I know what I believe and why. It has been built up over many years and does not change with the wind. And besides, I understand that some Britons believe the state to be god, and the NHS its religion, so I’m an apostate. I’ve learned better, as has anybody that has studied American history.

Over Christmas in 2013, Jessica undertook to analyze in part Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Commencement Address at Harvard in 1978. Applying it to Alfie’s ordeal is illuminating, I think. As Jess indicated, many expected it to be a paean to the west from a man who escaped from the Soviet system. It was anything but. He deplored the Soviet system, but he saw very clearly the flaws in the west, those cracks have widened considerably since 1978, and now threaten to tear us asunder.

In her post entitled The Exhausted West?, she quoted this:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

It’s a theme we hit hard and often here, libertinism opposed to liberty with its duties.

The West was, he said, ‘spiritually exhausted’. The ‘human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.’

The origin of this decadence lay, Solzhenitsyn suggested, in the anthropocentric views of man’s destiny which came in with the secular thinking of the Enlightenment. Man was at the centre of all things, and the ends for which he was meant were material ones:

As an aside, I believe and Melanie Phillips wrote convincingly that:

Some of this hostility is being driven by the perceived threat from Islamic terrorism and the Islamisation of Western culture. However, this animus against religion has far deeper roots and can be traced back to what is considered the birthplace of Western reason, the 18th-century Enlightenment.

Actually, it goes back specifically to the French Enlightenment. In England and Scotland, the Enlightenment developed reason and political liberty within the framework of Biblical belief. In France, by contrast, anti-clericalism morphed into fundamental hostility to Christianity and to religion itself.

“Ecrasez l’infame,” said Voltaire (crush infamy) — the infamy to which he referred being not just the Church but Christianity, which he wanted to replace with the religion of reason, virtue and liberty, “drawn from the bosom of nature”.

Returning to Jessica’s point.

Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones. 

All very very true, and phrased better than I could have then or can now. In her next post, Light from the East?, she continued the thinking with this:

in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.

When America’s Founding Fathers separated Church and State they did not do so because they were atheists or thought Christianity wrong, they did so because they did not want one Church to dominate in their society; they do, indeed, seem to have assumed that man would be bound by the responsibilities which the Christian faith laid upon him; realists, they did not think man would always live up to these, but they did not see freedom as license; can we now say that of ourselves and our leaders? What is it which binds us? […]

Solzhenitsyn’s critique is a Christian one:

There is a disaster, however, that has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.

Of such consciousness man is the touchstone, in judging everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes that were not noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our day we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity, which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

I doubt that I am the only one to see this applying to the NHS certainly, but also to the lawyers, and judges of the British legal system. My question for them is this, “What besides self-pride, drove you to remove Alfie’s parent’s God-given responsibility for their son, even to prevent them from choosing another caregiver, futile though it may well have been. What were they so afraid of that they were willing to risk a storm from Europe, especially Italy and Poland,  and the United States? I think it was exactly that exacerbated by the fact that the Italian hospital is supported by the Vatican. How shameful if Christians could help this little boy when the minor god-emperors of the NHS could not. Remember this is the health care system that was hubristic enough to proclaim themselves, at the 2012 Olympic games, as the best in the world. While providing 2d world, at best, care to their inmates.

For a true understanding of man’s real destiny, God is essential:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature.

But if we refuse to recognise this, or think it of no importance, then we shan’t see any reasons for exercising any self-restraint save for that imposed by the law – and if the law is the only guide we have, then we have become a society without a spirit of self-sacrifice or restraint:

People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. 

And that is the root of the decadence in our societies, and why they will not last as they are. How they will change, is not in sight, perhaps they will reform, under duress, as they have before, perhaps our societies will be subsumed in Islam, perhaps something else, but what cannot continue, won’t. And that is the lesson Alfie has for us.

 

Something New, for Pagans, from C.S. Lewis

From 2017, and as valid now as then, maybe more.

 

CS Lewis, is there anyone better in the twentieth century? How about a Christmas sermon from him? How about a newly discovered one? Yeah, me too. From Gene Veith.

In an article for Christianity Today entitled Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Yearsshe summarizes the two articles that were published in The Strand in the late 1940s.  Because that magazine was not indexed until 1983, which was after the standard Lewis bibliographies had been compiled, they were not included in bibliographies or collections of his works.

Dr. Derrick says of the Christmas essay that the editor of The Strand gave Lewis the topic of preaching about Christmas to modern “pagans.”  But Lewis, as he does elsewhere, pointed out the difference between modern day secularists and actual pagans.

Lewis proceeded to use his Christmas “sermon” as an occasion to draw distinctions between the true Pagans or Heathens of old—“the backward people in the remote districts who had not yet been converted, who were still pre-Christian”—and modern people in Britain who have ceased to be Christians, who are sometimes referred to as “pagans.” To confuse these categories, Lewis says, is “like thinking … a street where the houses have been knocked down is the same as a field where no house has yet been built. … Rubble, dust, broken bottles, old bedsteads and stray cats are very different from grass, thyme, clover, buttercups and a lark singing overhead.”

Real Pagans differ from post-Christians, Lewis continued, firstly in that they were actually religious: “To [the Pagan] the earth was holy, the woods and waters were alive.” Secondly, they “believed in what we now call an ‘Objective’ Right or Wrong,” that is, that “the distinction between pious and impious acts was something which existed independently of human opinions.” Finally, Pagans, unlike “post-Christian man,” had “deep sadness” because of their knowledge that they did not obey the moral code perfectly. To compensate for this shortcoming, the Pagan developed a wealth of ceremonies to “take away guilt.”

Harris talks about the difference between the enchanted worldview of pagans and “universe of colorless electrons.” Yeah, I find the world of Thor, Odin, Freya, and Loki (never forget Loki!) a far more natural belief set than what modern secularists believe. How anyone can believe everything came from nothing is beyond me. It requires too much stupidity for me to get there. From the conclusion:

It looks to me, neighbours, as though we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans if only as a preliminary to becoming Christians. … For (in a sense) all that Christianity adds to Paganism is the cure. It confirms the old belief that in this universe we are up against Living Power: that there is a real Right and that we have failed to obey it: that existence is beautiful and terrifying. It adds a wonder of which Paganism had not distinctly heard—that the Mighty One has come down to help us, to remove our guilt, to reconcile us.

Indeed, a remedy has been provided for the “deep sadness” brought onto the world by sin. The very Pagan thing we do on December 25 of “singing and feasting because a God has been born” just may be, Lewis suggests, our “way back not only to Heaven, but to Earth too.”

This essay, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” which had also been discovered by Christopher Marsh in 2015, will be published in its entirety in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in January 2018.

Indeed it does, and even to rationality, which has been so lacking in our societies the last few years. What could be better this Christmas week, than some new C.S. Lewis to challenge and delight us?

 

I never checked if it became available. If anybody has, please let me know. Neo

The Anglo Saxon O Antiphons

I wanted to give you a Christmas Eve post of mine, but in looking around, I find I haven’t written one, and I have no time to do so now. So we go back to one of my favorite bloggers, “A Clerk of Oxford” who did a wonderful job of explaining the Anglo-Saxon versions of the O Antiphons and how they relate to the seasons. Enjoy

The Trinity, surrounded by angels with multi-coloured wings
(from the Grimbald Gospels, made in Canterbury in the 11th century, BL Add. 34890, f. 114v)

A Clerk of Oxford always manages to give us an appreciation of how much we owe to the Anglo-Saxons. Many of us who are Anglophone Christians are likely aware of the O Antiphons, which we share with the Catholics, but how many of us know that there are Anglo Saxon versions of them. There are, and they are quite beautiful, and echo down in our liturgies as well. Here is one she calls O Beautiful Trinity and you really should read her article, I’m simply pulling her translation here, and the article is fascinating.

O beautiful, plenteous in honours,
high and holy, heavenly Trinity
blessed far abroad across the spacious plains,
who by right speech-bearers,
wretched earth-dwellers, should supremely praise
with all their power, now God, true to his pledge,
has revealed a Saviour to us, that we may know him.
And so the ones swift in action, endowed with glory,
that truth-fast race of seraphim
and the angels above, ever praising,
sing with untiring strength
on high with resounding voices,
most beautifully far and near. They have
a special office with the King: to them Christ granted
that they might enjoy his presence with their eyes,
forever without end, radiantly adorned,
worship the Ruler afar and wide,
and with their wings guard the face
of the Lord almighty, eternal God,
and eagerly throng around the prince’s throne,
whichever of them can swoop in flight
nearest to our Saviour in those courts of peace.
They adore the Beloved One, and within the light
speak these words to him, and worship
the noble originator of all created things:
‘Holy are you, holy, Prince of the high angels,
true Lord of Victories, forever are you holy,
Lord of Lords! Your glory will remain eternally
on earth among mortals in every age,
honoured far and wide. You are the God of hosts,
for you have filled earth and heaven
with your glory, Shelter of warriors,
Helm of all creatures. Eternal salvation
be to you on high, and on earth praise,
bright among men. Dearly blessed are you,
who come in the name of the Lord to the multitudes,
to be a comfort to the lowly. To you be eternal praise
in the heights, forever without end.’

And here in a post called O Wondrous Exchange, she brings us the last section of these. Again, I’m merely giving you the translated poetry, its story is fascinating.

O, that is a wondrous exchange in the life of men!
that mankind’s merciful Creator
received from a maiden flesh unmarred,
and she had not known the love of a man,
nor did the Lord of Victory come
by the seed of a human on earth; but that was a more skilful art
than all earth-dwellers could comprehend
in its mystery, how he, glory of the skies,
high lord of the heavens, brought help
to the race of men through his mother’s womb.
And coming forth thus, the Saviour of the peoples
deals out his forgiveness every day
to help mankind, Lord of hosts.
And so we, eager for glory, praise him
devotedly in deeds and words. That is high wisdom
in every person who has understanding,
ever to most often and most intently
and most eagerly praise God.
He will grant him the reward of grace,
the holy Saviour himself,
even in that homeland where he never before came,
in the joy of the land of the living,
where he will dwell, blessed, from thenceforth,
live forever without end. Amen.

How glorious these are, even in translation, how wonderful they must have seemed a thousand years ago, in the language of the people. Then at the very end is a promise in a wonderful muddle of pronouns. Let’s let the Clerk explain and then it follows.

This individual with whom the poem closes is anyone who chooses to gather up the powers of their mind, to reflect upon the mysterious ‘exchange’ of human flesh and holy spirit, and – here at the end of the poem – to hold in memory all that has come before. By doing so this ‘he’ (who is any of us) comes to an eternal joy which is expressed, oddly but rather beautifully, in a closing muddle of pronouns:

He him þære lisse lean forgildeð, 
se gehalgoda hælend sylfa, 
efne in þam eðle þær he ær ne cwom, 
in lifgendra londes wynne, 
þær he gesælig siþþan eardað, 
ealne widan feorh wunað butan ende. 

He will grant him the reward of grace,
the holy Saviour himself,

even in that homeland where he never came before,
in the joy of the land of the living,
where he will dwell, blessed, from thenceforth,
live forever without end.

Who is ‘he’ here? Sometimes clearly Christ, and sometimes the mindful man, but the last, at least, might well be both. Perhaps they become one in that strange place, a final wonder from a poem full of marvels: a land where humans have never yet been, but which is their true home.

Have a wondrous Christmas week.

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