Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Traditionalists Can Never Agree, and a Solution

There is a scandal of traditionalists, like the scandal of the philosophers. Philosophers say that they are the ones who really want truth, but philosophers can never agree on what this is; they disagree more than most. Similarly, traditionalists say that they are the ones following the wisdom of the past, but they can never agree on what that is; they disagree quite a lot as well. Both sets of arguments are often apparently interminable.

There are at least two reasons I can see for why this happens.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Forgotten Works: The Integration of Theory and Practice

The Integration of Theory and Practice is the sort of essay that liberals like to scream shows how the Christian Dominionists are taking over the political sector of the United States. If only. The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement is instead a perfect example of a program conservatives do not follow, and a perfect critique of mainstream movement conservative.

It was written by a student of Paul Weyrich. Weyrich was involved in founding some extremely important (mainstream) conservative organizations in both the US and Canada, and is generally considered a very Practical Person not given to Idealistic Dreaming. This makes the advice he gives all the more interesting, because it sounds like advice a philosophy professor or Wendell Berry would be apt to give. Allow me to summarize some major points.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dicta, no. 3

The epidemiology of liberalism is typical of all diseases; the most successful strains kill their hosts more slowly than the others, thus both allowing themselves to spread and making their eradication at first appear unnecessary.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Democracy as Acedia / Sloth

"There is undoubted danger in looking upon politics as a deeply interesting game, a never-ending cricket match between Blue and Yellow. . . . Neither experience nor probability affords any ground for thinking that there may be an infinity of legislative innovation, at once safe and beneficent. On the contrary, it would be a safer conjecture that the possibilities of reform are strictly limited. The possibilities of heat, it is said, reach 2,000 degrees of the Centigrade thermometer; the possibilities of cold extent to about 300 degrees below its zero; but all organic life in the world is only possible through the accident that temperature in its ranges between a maximum of 120 degrees and a minimum of a few degrees below zero of the Centigrade. For all we know, a similarly narrow limitation may hold of legislative changes in the structure of human society. We can no more argue that, because some past reforms have succeeded, all reforms will succeed, than we can argue that, because the human body can bear a certain amount of heat, it can bear an indefinite amount."
--Sir Henry Maine, Popular Government
And a nation that is constantly tossed between the reforms of two opposing parties, when each of these reforms are large and sweeping, must be subject to much bad legislation. The nation will thrash about like an animal with a disease, doing much but accomplishing little, until whatever innate tendencies lie within the government, ignored by both parties, ruin it.

And so one of democracy's ostensible advantages is in reality a serious flaw: democracy is interesting.  It distracts us.  And as Pascal loved to point out, diversion is what ruins life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dicta, no. 2

Trees have colors in the fall, dying men have their last strength, decadents their last great works, and failing civilizations their last bloom.  In each case, creative energy increases because the operations required for survival have been abandoned.

Dicta, no. 1

I enjoy living in rural lands, near the wonder of God's works; I can stand living in a city, near wonder of man's works; but I prefer either to the suburbs, where man has destroyed one without bringing about the other.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nassim Taleb . . . and Alasdair MacIntyre

The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes

Friday, February 11, 2011

Not Requiem for a Dream

So the poem is "Dover Beach," by Matthew Arnold. It is, however, a beautiful requiem for what Arnold regarded as a dream: faith, once so strong in Europe, has been abandoned. Nor can reason help: "Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain."

Arnold is therefore, of the moderns, the first to be postmodern--the first to see that reason could not fulfill the role of faith, and that, because he thought faith could not be regained, the world was sunk in darkness.

He is correct, of course, inasmuch as men cannot regain faith. But that is why faith is a supernatural gift, not a natural attainment.

Poem beneath the fold.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Democracy as Monarchy Inverted

"Democracy is Monarchy inverted, and the modes of addressing the multitude are the same as the modes of addressing crowds. The more powerful and jealous the sovereign, the more unbounded is the eulogy, the more extravagant is the tribute."
--Sir Henry Maine, Popular Government

Now, note that while a monarch might be on guard against such flattery, given the position that he is in, the people are nearly never on guard against such things, because they do not see themselves as sovereign.

In any event, if I were to praise a dissolute sovereign, I would praise his honorable and courageous ancestors (because my praise would be true) and I would praise his great and glowing potential (because my praise could not be shown to be false). And I would praise them with rhetorical flourishes that remembered all the emotionally-charged events of his dynasty's history, even while I anticipated similar events in his dynasty's future.

Apparently the current leader of the United States agrees with me in this policy.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Femina Contra Mundum

Chesterton had an excellent sense both of the beauty of the world and of its ephemerality, weakness, and dependence on the supernatural. He could affirm, with Juan Donoso Cortes, that all human efforts are likely to flounder and fail; but he could also affirm that each blade of grass was a miracle of divine goodness. The second element comes through more clearly in this somewhat romantic poem.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Metaphysics and Monarchy

Arguments against monarchy--and authoritarian, non-representative government in general--tend to focus on the possible evils of such a government. The argument generally goes something like this.

(1) In monarchy, if you get a bad monarch, then the whole country might easily go to hell for the next half-century.
(2) In democracy, if you get a bad president, the whole country (probably) won't go to hell for the next-half-century.
(3) So democracy is better than monarchy.

One might question the premises of this argument: presidents can also easily convert themselves into despots. But leaving that aside, the argument at least appears to work. Why?