Essay on Spengler

In case anyone feels interest in it, my essay, Oswald Spengler On Democracy, Equality, And “Historylessness,” appears here at The Brussels Journal.  The essay focuses on Spengler’s second book, The Hour of Decision, whose relevance to our own situation increases daily.  It originated in a presentation that I delivered to the annual meeting of the H. L. Mencken Club in Baltimore last November.

Miscellaneous: conversations continued

Writers we should like, but we don’t

Bruce writes

It is a strange phenomenon, which may have little or no significance, but I often find that there are authors who I feel I ought to like, but who I just don’t get or else who ‘rub me up the wrong way’ and create irritation and hostility.

An example is John Henry (Cardinal) Newman.

I know just what he means!  I do like Cardinal Newman, but there are others writers who I’ve never been able to like, even though I feel like I should.  Here’s my big example:  Wendell Berry, today’s leading Southern agrarian.  I feel like I should like him–all the “right” people do–but every time I start reading one of his essays, I start to feel irritated.  That’s my example.  What’s yours?

Modern but not liberal?

David Yeago at First Things points to the Lutheran Church’s statement against racial discrimination as proof that one can accept the genuine moral insights of modernity without buying into the dubious anthropology of liberalism.  He points out that the the statement does not base itself on a notion of abstract rights or a religion-free “public reason”; rather it argues that “hatred and prejudice” destroy the unity Christ wills for His Church.  Ah, but extracting one’s soul from the clutches of liberalism is harder than Yeago realizes.  It binds us most strongly in those assumptions we don’t even notice ourselves making.  Is it obvious that all preference for our co-ethnics is equivalent to “hatred”?  Is it really impossible for such a preference–or, to bring matters from the level of feeling to that of conviction, such a loyalty–to coexist with a charitable desire that all peoples be baptized and saved?  If I don’t want race X in my family or business, does that necessarily mean I want them to be damned?  Premoderns would have found this claim odd.  I don’t find it odd (and there’s no particular race of people I would mind having as coworkers or relatives), but neither do I find it obvious as Yeago seems to.  It is in fact this very conflation of particular loyalties with “hatred of the Other” that is one of the most dangerous ideas in the liberal arsenal.

Wodehouse and the Germans

Has there ever been an alliance more obnoxiously self-righteous than the allies of World War II?  Even today, we’re still supposed to be outraged by the perfidy, not only of the Axis powers, but of countries that were neutral.  How dare they keep out of the great crusade!  Take England’s persecution of one of her greatest writers, a man who did absolutely nothing wrong.  Talking pleasantly to Germans is treason, don’t you know?  This article is still a lot of fun because it’s peppered with Wodehouse quotes.  I have trouble remembering the plot to any of the Jeeves books, but that’s not the point.  The man used the English language to brilliant comic effect.

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

[He] looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say When!

The Woosters are chivalrous, but they can speak their minds. [She was a] droopy, soupy, sentimental exhibit, with melting eyes and a cooing voice and the most extraordinary views on such things as stars and rabbits. I remember her telling me once that rabbits were gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen and that the stars were God’s daisy chain. Perfect rot, of course. They’re nothing of the sort.

Hate Speech

Having read this summary of the book, I find myself surprisingly sympathetic to the arguments in favor of hate speech laws put forward in Jeremy Waldron’s new book.  Of course, I’m sure that I would be among the first hauled into jail if he had his way, but I’m always pleased when a liberal starts to realize that the common good must sometimes win out over abstract individual rights.  His argument for banning hate speech–probably the best argument that can be made for it given America’s legal traditions–is that such speech is libel against groups.  Well then, let’s follow the logic of that.  Suppose the Lefties brought us to court for our group libels.  Could they prove both that our claims about privileged minorities are untrue and that we ourselves don’t believe them to be true?

Hell

The thing to remember about eternal damnation is that it is the choice of the damned themselves. God is just letting the damned have what they want: alienation from him (this being the basic form of all pain (of everything that is defective)). God can’t make alienation from him other than what it is; so, he can’t make hell all nicey-nice. Alienation from God just is painful, in the same way that triangularity just is trigonality. The relation between alienation from God and suffering pain is one of logical entailment.

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On Scientism

I created and regularly teach the upper-division course on “Science Fiction in Literature and Film” at SUNY Oswego, under the aegis of the English Department.  My approach to the genre is that, so to speak, everything one thinks he knows about it is wrong, beginning with the supposition that SF functions as the propaganda arm of established science.  On the contrary, the most intellectually developed SF of the twentieth century seems to me to be quite critical of the scientific establishment.  Thus, far from being generically “propaganda for science,” SF is one of the prime loci of the critique of scientism.  I wrote the following paragraphs for the students in my class, in an attempt to explain the term scientism and to suggest why the authors whom we study in the course address scientism with a cocked eye.

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Quiddity Presupposes Currity

Apologists for theism often point out, correctly, that science cannot tell us why things happen, but only what happens and how. As what was once called natural history, what we have lately called science can provide, not explanations, strictly speaking, but rather only more or less precise and accurate descriptions (and their formalizations). Proper scientists would as natural historians presumably be the first to agree. Scientism, the metaphysical doctrine erected upon this lacuna of science, argues that it is due to there being no such thing in reality as a why; no purpose, no end or telos or reason to things. Devotees of scientism rarely notice that if there is no reason to things, there is then no possibility of explaining or understanding them; so that scientism, if true, is incomprehensible.

The devotees of scientism render themselves absurd, and we needn’t trouble ourselves further with their arguments against competing metaphysical theories.

This of course does not at all mean that we may disregard science or its findings; nor does it mean that there is any necessary correlation between being a scientist, or as a scientific layman crediting the discoveries of science, and being an absurd devotee of scientism. It is perfectly possible, in other words, to be a believer in science, its findings and methods, and to be rational and coherent.

But this is possible only for those who are ready to admit that there must be a purpose, a reason and therefore an explanation of things, even though science cannot tell us what it might be. Indeed, it is possible only for those who are ready to admit that science cannot even get started unless there be such reasons and purposes.

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Miscellaneous: around the web

Nerd Princesses and Babies

Did you know Alte is the “true Nerd Princess of the Orthosphere“?  Awesome!  I get all giddy just thinking about our “sphere” having a nerd princess.  I’m such a beta.

Speaking of which, Traditional Christianity had a post up (by Elspeth, who’s also an Orthosphere Princess) on co-sleeping a while ago.  Apparently the city of Milwaukee is on a jihad to stop mothers from sleeping with their babies.  They’re worried parents will roll over and squish the little ones, or something like that.  I have some experience in this matter–Julie having decided a little before her first birthday that it was time for her to move into bed with mommy and daddy, and the stronger will overpowering the weaker two–that cribs were not designed to protect babies; they were designed to protect fathers.  Trust me, little people are total bed hogs.  More mornings than not, I’ll wake to find myself holding onto the edge of the bed–where someone has pushed me–trying to keep from falling off.

Men and Women

Will S. at Patriactionary links to a brilliant set of posts F. Roger Devlin defending patriarchy.

Whither Jewry?

Justin helpfully summarizes the statistical data showing that American Jews remain overwhelmingly a Leftist bunch.  (The alleged tendency of Jews to disagree with each other doesn’t extend to the topic of abortion, for example.)  What happens, though, when we look to the future, or even to the present outside our own country?  Will the growth of Orthodoxy and the political experience of Israel (where Jews must take responsibility for preserving a nation with which they identify, and criticizing from the sidelines from a position of morally superior alienation is not an option) strain this love affair with the Left?  They already are.  Steve Sailer is already pointing to Israel for an example of how intelligent people deal with “illegal infiltrators”.  Also, the Tablet has a fascinating report on a recent academic conference on the death of the Jewish-Leftist alliance.  Since these are academics, they see the question as whether Jews shall be revolutionary Leftists or only liberals–as if those were the two extremes of the political spectrum.  Still, some of the statements made were notable.  Michael Walzer argues that Jewish Leftism’s invocation of the prophets is illegitimate.  The prophets had no interest in democracy or revolution; what they wanted was an end to idolatry and submission to God.  Other speakers spoke harshly of the Jewish Left’s dalliance with communism, properly treating communism as a genuine evil rather than an excusable excess of enthusiasm.  I noticed that English-speaking Jewish magazine articles like this one still write as if it were a proven fact that the Torah is not divinely inspired.  I suspect (and hope) that is will not be true a century from now, given which Jewish groups are most likely to still be around then.

Thinking about the Right

Summaries of conservative belief vary widely in quality, so throwing up a picture of Joseph de Maistre on top is a good way of signaling that you’re going to do a good job of it.  And Samuel Goldman does do a good job here of explaining to the Corey Robins of the world the differences between an extreme reactionary and a fascist.

See also R. J. Snell’s post on the Trinitarian grounding of the Right’s anti-individualism.

Sacred architecture

A friend of mine recently referred me to an excellent talk by Denis McNamara, an energetic and extremely knowledgeable historian on the liturgical importance and implication of Church architecture. For reactionaries concerned with transcendental representations and the need for a coherent and recognizable social order, this is a talk you can’t miss. McNamara is a Roman Catholic, but his sensibilities shouldn’t offend anyone except those, perhaps, of an iconoclastic bent.

Credo: ante omnia saecula

Eternity is prior to time. This is not to say that eternity is before time; “before” is a temporal relation. Eternity happens prior to time in the order of logic, rather than in the order of time. So, eternity is happening right now. This is true at all nows.  

Eternity, then, subvenes all times. But this means that, from the perspective of any particular instant of time, eternity is prior to it in time. It is the concrete contemporaneity of eternity with all the prior moments that contribute causally to a given instant of time that makes it proper to say straightforwardly that eternity is “ante omnia saecula,” as the Creed has it.

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