Whose Service is Perfect Moksha

Orthosphereans – not just the contributors, but our formidable commenters – write to explicate the Tradition of the Christian West: to those who are not Traditionalists, or Westerners, or Christians; to each other; perhaps especially to ourselves.

“Explicate” is a lovely word. It derives from the Latin explenare, literally “to out-fold;” although in English we would translate it as “to unfold.” And there is no better way to explicate an idea for one’s own edification than to explain it to someone else. The process of explanation is an exploration. All these verbs are related: “explain” derives from explanare, “to out-plane” – i.e., to make the crooked straight, the rough places plain – while “explore” is from explorare, “to out-flow,” or as we would say, “to pour out,” as of living water, or worlds. John Evelyn combined all three notions in the first text on forestry, presented to the Royal Society in 1664, in which he spoke of buds that “explain into leaves.”

When we explain, explicate, or explore, we become the occasions of novel introductions to the world, new creations; for such motions result in the concrete implementation in our minds, and ergo our lives, of conceptual configurations that might otherwise have lain forever dormant in the realm of the possible, unexpressed except in the eternal contemplation of the Logos. All such apparent novelties are, of course, in one way or another, types of an archetype that has often otherwise iterated in the history of the world; new buds explicating on an ancient tree. There is nothing new under the sun; yet utterly new every morning is the love our waking proves.

So it is with the renascence of Tradition, whose renewed flux from the womb of time we would attend as doctors.

We are all of us engaged in a massive fathomless project – intellectual, moral, sophialogical – of rediscovering our true and ancient Tradition: what it is, whence it springs, how it works, what it means, and how we may show it forth, not only with our lips, but in our lives. Like any flow, a conversation such as ours here is a turbulent process, although by no means chaotic. One never knows what might next rise to the surface. Is it mere flotsam, or is it a turtle, old and wise? Is there ever after all such a thing as “mere” flotsam on the stream of time? Is Providence, however profligate, ever just sloppy? No; full plenary is a completion. So, as each atom is a system of all things, each signifies all things. No matter how humble or unexpected, then, anything may provide to us a moment of holy delight.

This happened for me just the other day, when an amiable new commenter disagreed with my post about morality, and urged that Buddhism provides a truer notion of moral salvation than Christianity. I was happy, because his comment elevated to my attention a misapprehension about the Christian understanding of moral salvation that is quite common, not just among the unchurched but among Christians too. His admirable description of Buddhist moral theory was, in fact, quite a good explication of the Christian doctrine of moral salvation; and his innocent caricature of the Christian doctrine was an apt description of the moral predicament of those who have not gotten the Gospel, and are therefore still subject to the Law, rather than masterful exponents and flowers thereof – slaves, rather than Kings and Queens.

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“At What Point Does One Become Entitled to an Opinion?”

In the discussion following Jim Kalb’s Orthosphere post “Women, Catholicism, and Impending Architectural Catastrophe”, commenter Aegis asks


At what point does one become entitled to an opinion on such matters?

And if some of us can never get to the point of truly understanding certain matters, then how can we assent to them as true let alone defend or bear witness to them as true?


He was responding to Bruce Charleton’s assertion—in the same comment section—that


…it is a major error to engage in rational argument trying to convince people who have no right to an opinion…Some issues are way beyond us – we have no right to change things about which we know little, have thought little, and lack the necessary spiritual depth to understand.


What to say in response to Aegis? At what point does one become entitled to an opinion? Continue reading

Wives, submit to your husbands.

Okay, how many of our Catholic readers had to endure one of those “of course Saint Paul didn’t mean that” homilies this past weekend?  Or the even worse “Paul did mean it, but that was just his evil cultural conditioning speaking” homily?  Maybe a better question would be whether any of you didn’t hear one or the other?  Was their one priest in all of Christendom who was willing to agree with and defend the revealed word of God?  (For why Paul’s belief in distinct normative gender roles is perfectly reasonable, apart from his being divinely inspired, see here, here, and here.)

Reactionary Composer of the Week: Ralph Vaughan Williams

When I talk about classical music with people, they sometimes ask me who is my all-time favorite composer. I never quite know what to answer, but the name I usually mention is that of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (The “Ralph,” by the way, is pronounced “Rayf,” as with the actor Ralph Fiennes.)

You may or may not have heard of Vaughan Williams before—he’s considered a national treasure in the UK, particularly in England, but is much less well known on my corner of the continent—but even if you haven’t, chances are good that you’ve heard his music. For example, his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis for—get this—two string orchestras and string quartet has been used in several film scores. Many of Vaughan Williams’s works have a nationalist tint, and often take their inspiration from English folk music and Tudor-age hymns and dances. (Apart from composing, Vaughan Williams also did groundbreaking work in the collection and study of English folk songs, and was one of the editors of the first English Hymnal.)

I can pinpoint the moment Vaughan Williams became one of my favorite composers Continue reading

Atheism is Acosmism

Whose perspective is that of the whole world? Whose comprehension is competent to the whole world?

At the end of my last post, I said:

In the absence of God, both the theories we’ve talked about boil down in the end to “there is no absolutely binding, objective moral truth, but rather only happenstance.” When push comes to shove, then, the only way there can be such a thing as morality is if there is an omniscient, necessary God who knows without possibility of error what is right.

But watch what happens when I make a few substitutions:

In the absence of God, there is no absolutely binding, objective truth, but rather only disparate subjective impressions. When push comes to shove, then, the only way there can be such a thing as truth is if there is an omniscient, necessary God who knows without possibility of error what is true.

Atheism, then, is acosmism.

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Atheism is Amoralism

There are atheist Traditionalists. But apart from an appeal to their own personal preferences, they cannot propose any arguments that support their Traditionalist views. This because if God does not exist, then as Dostoyevsky pointed out, everything is permitted.

Secular rightists are generally indignant at that notion. They’ve got plenty of arguments! Evolution has formed us as moral animals, and that justifies characterizing human moral sentiments as founded in objective reality. I get this argument all the time. Less often, I hear appeals to non-theistic Natural Law. While I appreciate the earnest honesty of their professors, these arguments won’t do. Why?

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Women, Catholicism, and Impending Architectural Catastrophe

It’s all one struggle! Anyway,

  • Here’s a piece I did for Crisis on feminism, in which I try to suggest why the idea’s hard to stabilize and always ends in something pretty inhuman. The topic presses people’s buttons, so the comments go off in all sorts of directions. (Ditto at Front Porch Republic, where  the piece got linked.)
  • And here’s an account written by a friend of how the (starchitectural) space aliens are about to eat Paris. The pix alone are worth the price of admission.

What Good is the Order of Fallen Being, Anyway?

Jeremy Smith posted a trenchant comment to one of my essays here, Liberals Anonymous. In that essay, I said:

Liberalism errs about the order of being, and so disagrees with the world. It’s poor policy to argue with the universe, no? Yet that is just what liberalism does …

Jeremy made a really excellent point:

But the world is fallen. Nature is fallen. The UNIVERSE is fallen. … Not just liberalism, but Christianity itself “disagrees with the world.” “The order of being” of the world is also fallen. The world is not the final authority.

He’s perfectly correct, of course. “My Kingdom is not from this world.” What then is all this traditionalist talk about how the Good Society conforms itself to the Order of Being? Ought we not to live away from this world, and toward Heaven?


But this is just what the world is doing; that’s the only reason it still manages to constitute itself a world from one moment to the next. If in order to continue in being the Fallen world were referring only to its own depraved past, and relying only on its own creative resources to cobble together a future, it would devolve almost instantly into chaos, as disparate creatures went each like sheep to his own disparate way. So it would dissolve. But it doesn’t dissolve. So that’s not what it’s doing. What the heck is going on, then?

Let’s unpack this.

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There is Always a State Religion

There is always a ruling oligarchy; in no other way can a society be governed, than by designating – somehow or other – a set of people to whom the power of government shall devolve. And if they are going to coordinate their decisions, the oligarchs must all speak the same language; must share certain categorical convictions about the nature of reality, and speak of these notions in such a way as to be able to understand each other.

So it is that the oligarchs must all at least give lip service to certain propositions about reality. They must at least ostensibly share a philosophy, in at least the most general terms. And this philosophy cannot but rule on first principles, on ultimate questions. If it does not, the oligarchs will not be able to stipulate to it in the practical operations of political life. If their basic convictions furnish no rationale for the dreadful decisions government inevitably entails, the oligarchs cannot be encouraged in taking them, and will quail and hesitate. Indeed, the best most courageous leadership comes from men so devoted to the noble ideals of their polis as to be motivated to the ultimate sacrifice in her behalf. Thus the oligarchy’s philosophy cannot but opine upon being, becoming, the supernatural and the divine, personhood, citizenship, the good, and so forth. Only thus may the oligarchy possibly agree amongst themselves about what is important – about the goods toward which the society they govern should be ordered, and thus what policies they ought to pursue. Only thus may the oligarchs order their own lives towards common purposes, or therefore rule effectually.

In other words, the oligarchy must have a religion, in the loosest sense of that word: an ordered system of principles, reaching all the way to ultimate things, under which they interpret all their experiences, that coordinates and binds together those experiences in a satisfactory order – not a perfect order, to be sure, but not so messy as to create intolerable cognitive dissonance, and coherent enough, and true enough withal, to enable them to devise policies that can succeed.

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Reactionary Composer of the Week: Stefania de Kenessey

Today’s reactionary composer, Stefania de Kenessey, is a recent discovery of mine. De Kenessey is a Hungarian currently living in the United States, and is the founder of the Derriere Guard, an affiliation of anti-modernist artists whose best known member is the author Tom Wolfe. While I’ve heard de Kenessey’s highly tonal music described as “neoclassical,” it differs in some very important ways from the compositions of the original neoclassicists, an early to mid-20th century school whose most notable representatives were Igor Stravinsky and the group of French composers known as Les Six. (No bonus points for correctly guessing how many members Les Six had.) For one, it seems completely free of the winking, self-conscious irony typical of the original neoclassicists. For another, de Kenessey is not, as many of the original neoclassicists were accused of being, a dry and unemotional composer. Her music is earnestly lyrical, as neoromantic as it is neoclassical. The name that kept popping into my head as I listened to this CD of her chamber music was Schubert’s; in particular, I hear strong echoes of the first movement of the “Death and the Maiden” quartet in parts of the first movement of the clarinet quintet Shades of Darkness. My one major complaint about the music on the CD (which is my only exposure to de Kenessey so far) is that I found it a little tiring in large doses, as she has a tendency to overuse certain motifs and ideas. (To see what I mean, listen back-to-back to Shades of Darkness‘s “Death and the Maiden”-ish opening and the very beginning of the piano trio Traveling Light, or compare the first entry of the clarinet in that same movement to the first entry of the flute in The Passing.) I couldn’t find excerpts from the CD on YouTube, but on Amazon and ClassicalArchives.org, you can listen to some free samples and buy full MP3s for a pittance.