When, several semesters ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive “popular culture” course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous, hortatory guide, and their authoritative cue-giver, for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own. One film that I showed to students was the Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz. Another one, not so well known as Robin Hood, was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I’m Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905 – 1990).
Zipppy and Franklin have been having it out in the discussion thread here.
Representative quote from Franklin:
Zippy, I support your right to live without freedom if that is what you prefer. I support the right of people to live under whatever kind of culture they want. If you want a king, fine. If you want communism, fine. Just don’t impose your culture on me. The real difference between traditionalism and liberalism is that there are many different traditions and real traditionalism recognizes this and respects the rights of people to organize themselves around their own traditions.
Representative quote from Zippy:
It isn’t just my theoretical understanding of liberalism that makes “live and let live” classical liberalism (which you oddly label “traditionalism”) seem utopian and counterfactual. The actual track record of liberalism in the real world suggests otherwise too.
The modern condition is uncanny, and therefore accurate comparisons with the past can be difficult to make. In the past, man was less free in many ways, and more free in many ways. The modern man is—with certain glaring exceptions noted—more free in the non-physical realm, where he can generally choose his own epistemology, his own ethics and even his own metaphysics without lifting any eyebrows, but he cannot choose to install incandescent lightbulbs, to develop his land, or to hire whomever he wants. And, most importantly, he is not free to live well on account of living in a properly-ordered society.
Liberalism offers freedom, and it delivers a lot of it, but it fails to deliver what man needs most: order.
I side more with Zippy than with Franklin. A great nation needs a great purpose, not just a “live and let live” spirit. Moreover, tradition is to be valued because it connects us with truth, not just because it is our way.
[This is a much-revised version of an article that originally appeared some years ago at The Brussels Journal.]
Prologue: Contemporary popular culture is as jejune as contemporary politics, with which it is more or less indistinguishable: Strangled by political correctness and by contempt for form and etiquette, “pop” culture eats away like acid at what remains of courtesy and memory. But the past of popular culture – in literature, illustration, and the movies – has much nourishment to offer. One of the most widely read authors of the Twentieth Century, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950), had a penetrating insight concerning the health of the body politic and the positive relation of a vital culture to its founding traditions. The author of Tarzan (1912) and its many sequels, the inventor of the extraterrestrial sword-and-sandals romance, ex-cavalryman, admirer of the Apache and the Sioux, anti-Communist, anti-Nazi, self-publishing millionaire entrepreneur, religious skeptic, “Big-Stick” patriot, Southern California real-estate baron, sixty-year-old Pacific-Theater war correspondent, Burroughs has, with a few ups and downs, maintained an audience from his authorial debut in 1912 to the present day, nearly sixty-five years after his passing. Burroughs has a place in the culture wars, standing as he does for the opposite of almost everything advocated by the elites of the new liberal-totalitarian order. I offer, in what follows, a modest assessment of Burroughs’ work.
[Note: This article originally appeared at The Brussels Journal under the title "The Vinland Voyages, the Market, and Morality."]
Scholarship places the composition of the two Vinland Sagas in the Twelfth Century, in the case of The Greenlanders’ Saga, and in the Fourteenth Century in the case of Eirik’s Saga. But like most of the saga-literature the two narratives reflect a non-mythic oral tradition, linked with the settlement and early chronology of Iceland and Greenland, the general (if not the minutely detailed) trustworthiness of which much research both literary and archeological over the last century has attested. Quite apart from scholarly and technical arguments, even the ordinary reader must take the wealth of circumstantial detail and the laconic matter-of-factness of the storytelling as signs of an essential veracity. The two Vinland Sagas reflect the Nordic people at a particular epoch: The transformational moment, namely, at the end of the Tenth Century, when the old warrior-ethos began yielding to the new Gospel ethos and when success in the market began replacing notches on a sword haft as the paramount sign of masculine status. Both The Greenlanders’ Saga and Eirik’s Saga represent this change in the generational differences that distinguish Eirik the Red on the one hand from his male children, especially his son Leif, on the other.
I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)
My essay From Romanticism to Traditionalism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website. The argument is that numerous premises of contemporary Traditionalism find their prototypes in early-Nineteenth Century Romantic Movement. The essay cites the work of the English lake Poets, especially William Wordsworth and Samuel T. Coleridge, as well as the work of Chateaubriand and Goethe, and of the American “Hudson River School” of painting. I try to demonstrate the parallelism between Wordsworth’s outlook, or Goethe’s, and the outlook of the founders of Twentieth Century Traditionalism, such as René Guénon and Nicolas Berdyaev. I offer a sample…
The Romantic subject resembles – or, rather, it anticipates – the Traditionalist subject, as Guénon, Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), and others have defined it. Guénon himself in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945) characterizes modern man as having “lost the use of the faculties which in normal times allowed him to pass beyond the bounds of the sensible world.” This loss leaves modern man alienated from “the cosmic manifestation of which he a part”; in Guénon’s analysis modern man assumes “the passive role of a mere spectator” and consumer, which is exactly how Wordsworth saw it. Of course, Guénon does not write of loss as an accident, but as the logical consequence of choices and schemes traceable to the Enlightenment. As Wordsworth put it, “We have given our hearts away – a sordid boon.”
According to Berdyaev, writing in The Destiny of Man (1931), “Man is not a fragmentary part of the world but contains the whole riddle of the universe and the solution of it.” Berdyaev asserts that, contrary to modernity, “man is neither the epistemological subject [of Kant], nor the ‘soul’ of psychology, nor a spirit, nor an ideal value of ethics, logics, or aesthetics”; but, abolishing and overstepping all those reductions, “all spheres of being intersect in man.” Berdyaev argues that, “Man is a being created by God, fallen away from God and receiving grace from God.” The prevailing modern view, that of naturalism, “regards man as a product of evolution in the animal world,” but “man’s dynamism springs from freedom and not from necessity”; it follows therefore that “evolution” cannot explain the mystery and centrality of man’s freedom. When Berdyaev brings “grace” into his discussion, he echoes the original Romantics, whose version of grace was the epiphanic vision, the event answering to a crisis that brings about the conversion of the fallen subject and sets him on the road to true personhood.
Angel Millar has done an exceptional job in presenting the essay. I take the opportunity here to thank him publicly.
Various months have been officially designated Ethnic Group History Month, times set aside for the group’s members to express reverence for their ancestors and their people, and those outside the group are expected use the occasion to acknowledge virtue in another people.
As conservatives, we recognize that all people ought to cultivate reverence for their ancestors and their group. Therefore there ought to be an American History Month.
The value of such a celebration becomes clear upon reflection. Although there is a great deal of interest in and discussion of American history in the public square, the systematic instruction of the young in American history is seriously lacking: Continue reading
I argue here that most men should attempt to marry, for several basic reasons. First, marriage is necessary for the survival of a people. Second, men (and women) need to be a part of a good order if they are to live well and a good social order includes marriage. And three, men were designed for leadership, as they are more attuned to the practical application of truth and justice, and are more able to impose their will on a situation, than women are.
This essay does not refer much to Christianity. Of course, all men and women should be Christians. But that is a subject for other essays.
Throughout our Western Civilization there is a crisis of marriage. Not enough marriages occur. Homosexual pseudo-marriage is causing (and reflecting) extreme moral confusion and devaluing real marriage. Many people marry later in life than is healthy for them and for their children. Many fewer babies are born per woman (married or not) than is healthy for our nation. And many children are no longer raised properly, that is, with a father to provide masculine order and authority and a mother at home most of the time to supervise the children.
So what can be done to make things better? And who’s at fault?
The basic answer to the less important question, the second question, is this. In the immediate sense, and with exceptions acknowledged, it’s more the fault of women than of men. Men, by nature, are always seeking relationships with women, but women do not always seek relationships with men. Therefore womankind is always the ultimate factor determining whether relationship occurs.
But in a broader sense, marriage is in crisis because our entire society is in crisis. America is not a basically healthy nation in which, for some mysterious reason, marriage is failing. No, American society is fundamentally and radically disordered, and one manifestation of this disorder is that marriage is generally no longer done correctly, or even adequately. The proper way to do marriage is rarely taught, and when it is, the teaching is often rejected. Continue reading
I’m convinced that non-conservatives have the following view of the basic message of conservatism. [Here, “conservative” denotes the largest tribe to which we traditionalists can with any validity be said to belong]:
The Basic Conservative Message, as seen by Non-Conservatives:
[Intoned in a solemn, menacing voice.]
“We are Conservatives!
You must obey our Rules!
If you do not obey, you are Sinners!
We are Conservatives!”
In other words, they think we’ll hate them unless they’re just like us. Continue reading
An essay of mine has gone up at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website, on the topics of “Traditionalism, le Wagnerisme, and Vincent d’Indy.” D’Indy (1851 – 1931) was a French and decidedly Catholic composer who responded positively to the innovations of Richard Wagner; he founded the Schola Cantorum, a conservatory in Paris dedicated to the proposition that art is in service to civilization and has a moral as well as an aesthetic role. D’Indy was a lifelong monarchist and satisfyingly reactionary in most of his views.
I offer a sample –
When in 1894 d’Indy with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant established the Schola Cantorum, a school for composers and performers that would concentrate on instrumental and orchestral music rather than opera, he began his project of realizing his ideals in a functioning institution that would compete with the other conservatories already in existence. D’Indy believed in the absoluteness of counterpoint as the basis of compositional excellence; he believed that musician-composers should know not only music but also the history of music – and alongside all that be well grounded in the other arts and the humanities. D’Indy believed that a truly French music, reflecting France’s Catholic civilization, would find its natural soil in the Gregorian repertory and in regional folk music. He believed that music should participate in all the central institutions of a society, beginning with the Church, and that in so doing it would contribute to the moral health of the nation.
D’Indy’s emphasis on the regionality of folk-music sources indicates his appreciation that the French nation was forged by the union of distinct smaller polities and local dialects. Although d’Indy’s own music would become progressively less Teutonic, his ideas about music as a moral and cultural force remain identifiably Wagnerian.