Brief update before this unrelated post: revised, and revised again, the outline for the proposed book on Catholic education, and began to revise and expand the bibliography. There are maybe 20 core books, and 2-3 times that in more peripheral stuff. Yikes – what have I gotten into? Both the outline and the bibliography will become permanent pages on this blog, to be updated and revised as I progress. But let’s talk about movies as propaganda first:
Maybe my overactive imagination is getting off leash again. Maybe not.
A few years back, I made a few comments on the movie Lincolnhere and here. At the time, while bending over backwards to give the man Lincoln every benefit of the doubt in a horrible and horribly complex situation, I complained:
Certainly, Lincoln was in a tough spot no matter which way we slice it. And, since we all seem to agree with his gut feelings about what is right, we tend to overlook how dubious his logic is in many places. The important thing, we say, is Justice: slavery was such an overwhelming injustice screaming out to Heaven that Lincoln – or any man – is justified in whatever he may do to end it. As the speech above suggests, Lincoln would ‘catch at the opportunity’ even if the mechanism by which he justifies his actions are questionable.
In the hands of a man of deep morals and honor such as Lincoln, perhaps we can hope the powers seized will be used only for good, or at least only toward some ultimate good like ending slavery. But the same concepts, having shed the rhetorical splendor Lincoln vested them in, lurk in the claim: “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” This is the anthem of the rule of men, not law.
That quote within the quote above is, of course, from Obama, who was sworn in on Lincoln’s personal Bible. (1) This movie came out just as he began his second term, during which, in continuation of the precedent established during his first term, he routinely ruled by executive order. Funny timing, huh?
The entire movie is about the four months leading up to the passage of the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865. Historians evidently refute much of what is presented as Lincoln’s motivation in the movie, where he is shown as desperate to get the 13th Amendment passed in order to ensure the end of slavery once fighting had ended. The Emancipation Proclamation was just an expedient enacted under the President’s war powers, and could, the movie states, be reversed once the South surrenders. So, Lincoln had to do whatever he had to do to get the Amendment passed, including a bunch of stuff that, if the end did not justify all means, would be considered patently immoral and illegal.
But Lincoln is a secular saint, and it all worked out, right? So no harm no foul. Everybody wants to think the evils to be addressed are just like slavery, obvious and vile, and that the guy who violates law, morals, and all propriety to right them is another Lincoln – like Obama, right? It doesn’t even occur to them that he might be more along the lines of the H-man, or even just a Franco, or a Pinochet handing out free helicopter rides. Unlike Messiah-O, those three guys DID face situations as desperate or worse than what Lincoln faced, and did take action to right the wrongs as they saw them. Yet, we very correctly have our reservations, to say the least, about not just their methods, but – and this is critical – their assessments of the problems and required solutions. But I don’t suppose a movie about a well-intentioned hero trying to do the right thing by making a mockery of law and morals, killing people and blowing stuff up along the way, only to have everything turn out just as his opponents warned him would, leading to a situation much worse than where he started, would sell many tickets.
I’d go see it.
The framing stories are of Lincoln’s disregard for the law when it was, in his sole judgement, antithetical to justice. He tells this story in the movie:
Back when I rode the legal circuit in Illinois I defended a woman from Metamora named Melissa Goings, 77 years old, they said she murdered her husband; he was 83. He was choking her; and, uh, she grabbed ahold of a stick of firewood and fractured his skull, ‘n he died. In his will he wrote “I expect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.” No one was keen to see her convicted, he was that kind of husband. I asked the prosecuting attorney if I might have a short conference with my client. And she and I went into a room in the courthouse, but I alone emerged. The window in the room was found to be wide open. It was believed the old lady may have climbed out of it. I told the bailiff right before I left her in the room she asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her Tennessee. Mrs. Goings was seen no more in Metamora. Enough justice had been done; they even forgave the bondsman her bail.
(Aside: I observed a similar coincidence when the NYT published an article defending and even praising Tammany Hall for its “honest graft” right around the time a few hints that not all Obama-era actions were strictly speaking composed entirely of sweetness and light. Thugs beating up people and holding the government for ransom are OK, the Times informs us, so long as it makes sure every Paddy get a job as a cop right off the boat – even if it’s some other Paddy that gets beaten up. Well, logic has never been the Left’s strong suit.)
In my extremely fruitful efforts to waste yet more time, I watched the trailer for the latest installment in the very successful Kingsmen franchise, of which I have seen none and have no intention of seeing any. In it, the Kingsmen are explained: “We are the first independent intelligence agency” and “preserving peace and protecting life” and “While governments wait for orders, our people take action.”
Hmmm. Now, while the vigilante theme is as old as comic books and The Shadow, this takes it to a new level: a CIA-like (intelligence agency, remember?) group of spies who answers to no government, but takes action to preserve the peace and protect lives by blowing things up and killing people, it would seem. Of course, it fun and British and all that, but the underlying concept – that the people who protect life and preserve peace can’t be beholden to any government – seems, I don’t know, strangely appealing to certain groups just at this particular moment in history.
“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is who you are.” The CIA and its punk little brother the FBI, long having enjoyed the reputation among the non-comatose as, effectively, evil little empires with all the morality and respect for authority of J. Edgar Hoover, are now being framed up as the last, best hope of saving us all from Trump and The End of the World as We Know It ™ (see Severian’s latest for a terrifying yet humorous take on this). Just now, we get a series of movies based on the premise that we need saving and can’t wait for governments to do it! But our freshly scrubbed and loyal and patriotic ‘intelligence community’ can save us! Never let a crisis go to waste!
Posted a series of tweets pulling together some new and some old stuff about how to take over an organization. Many thousands of ‘engagements’ later – and my typical tweet gets well under 100 – I’m getting the impression this might be of interest to my well over 10 readers here. Note that I’m congenitally disinclined to be a leader, but, because I like getting things done, I often find myself leading this or that. Anyone with experience in a bureaucracy or volunteer organization should recognize how this works. Also, wanting to be in charge and being good at being in charge are independent variables, as it were.
At the end, I point back to a specific post on Rotten Chestnuts, but should say up front that Severian there is the source or inspiration for many of the points below. So, check ’em out. Anyway, recapped and expanded upon:
1 How do you take over? 90% of success is showing up. Therefore, you want to take over? Show up.
This should be obvious. It is almost a corollary to Pournelle’s Iron Law, which states that, in any organization, there will be two broad classes of people: those who work for the aims of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. In every case, Dr. Pournelle asserts without fear of contradiction, it is the latter group who will end up in charge.
Standard example is NASA: There are, or at least were, many dedicated engineers who were inspired and driven by the goals: put a man on the moon, send a probe to Pluto, build a space station. Meanwhile, there are those charged with the day to day operations, for whom interest in the goals is strictly optional. It is this second group that will end up in control.
People with any focus other than being in control- families, a job, hobbies – are at a severe disadvantage. Those people – normal people – would much rather show up at home or work or with friends who share their hobby than to show up where decisions are being made that don’t really seem to touch those things. People with few or none of those things are much freer to simply show up.
2 Next, volunteer for committees & projects. Normal people do as little of this as possible, because it is generally a thankless task and normal people aren’t compelled to take over. Soon, you will be treasurer, secretary, chairman. Soon, you’ll know who need to defeat.
Those NASA engineers are likely to see all the meetings where mundane things get decided, the planning and budgeting and coordination, as a bother, and only show up when they are either compelled to or the specific meeting is about something they care about. They will be hesitant to volunteer, and get out as soon as they can. They have much better things to do than sit in meetings.
Those in admin do not have anything better to do than call and run meetings. Generalized, as above, people with families, jobs and simple concrete goals will minimize showing up. Those with nothing better to do are thus handed control.
One you get to be chairman or the valued sidekick who is able to set agendas, stonewall, add a little poison here and there, you will be able to see who it is in the meetings that is a threat to your control. You can do any of a number of things to eliminate them: stop inviting them to the meetings – chances are they don’t really want to be their anyway – pooh-pooh their positions, let them know that you sympathize but what they want really isn’t in harmony with the purpose of the committee, propose them as leaders of crap subcommittees (Minister of Agriculture, say), etc.
3 Patience. You need to be patient, as you will probably be in a minority at first. It will take time to weed out the troublemakers. You will need to be charming and seemingly cooperative. (Aside: a characteristic of sociopaths and borderline personality disorder folks is the ability to come off as completely sympathetic at first. Only later does the bullying, manipulation, and crazy reveal themselves. True high functioning sociopaths are able to bluff, lie, and gaslight their way to the top in a way that is almost completely invisible to normal people. So, if you want to try this yourself, beware that you may be up against people who will stop at nothing, feel no empathy, and cannot be shamed or embarrassed.)
But you keep showing up. You talk to people sympathetic to your cause, or easily influenced by the attention of someone who so clearly gets it, or a simply sheep that will follow anything that moves, and get them to volunteer. Over time, normal people will burn out & cycle through, and you can start to stack the committee/project with your team. This takes time.
4. You and your team, who are all people who want desperately to be in the inner ring, then scale it up. You are now the gatekeepers. Soon, at first subtly and then baldly, you promote your people and eliminate/marginalize your enemies. Your enemies, of course, are people who haven’t done the work, don’t really understand the issues to the depth the dedicated committee members, who have *devoted their lives* to solving a ‘problem’ that they, themselves, are the sole people qualified to define. Etc.
Sometimes, rarely, your opponents will put up a big fight, try to organize opposition, try to unseat you. If you are patient, you can probably just wait them out. Knowing your way around the bureaucracy as expressed in the committee structures and hierarchy is a huge advantage. Again, keep showing up and be patient. (1)
5. Get your people to join other committees, or, better, form new committees to address the ‘problems’ you see. It seems a few decades ago, academics proposed to form committees or subcommittees to address a load of issues, for example, lack of women in the physics faculty. Once the committee is formed, the leadership can simply refuse to accept or even consider any answer other than blatant discrimination and institutional misogyny. Repeat.
6. Soon enough- maybe weeks for a small thing, decades for large institutions – you can exercise complete negative control: you can stop any initiative you don’t like. Everyone will know this, adding a second layer to the filtering: people who won’t play that game self-select out.
As for where to start, you would want to target the Human Resources department in a large company and hiring committees in public institutions. Leadership roles in voluntary organization such as unions and political parties are often surprisingly easy to get – they are always looking for people for these roles because normal people don’t want them.
If you have the resources to start your own organization, do it, and give it an attractive, Orwellian euphemism of a name. But it is more effective, I think, to subvert existing organizations because that both strengthens you position and removes a platform from which you could be opposed. Note, for example, how any would-be professor who might teach anything other than what the hiring/tenure committee would like to see taught simply never gets a job in the first place (unless he is both very subtle and more than a little masochistic). Thus, the Frankfurt School’s takeover not only provides a platform from which to promulgate and enforce Marxist dogma, but has removed the logical and traditional platform from its opponents.
This is pattern followed by Stalin, who, according to Sevarius over on Rotten Chestnuts, was a career bureaucrat and dedicated committee member. It has been followed at every university in America. Marxists have turned this approach into a science, so much so that even Ms. Bluehair Nosering can pull it off.
We, by which I mean sane people with lives, could try this. But unlike career activists, we won’t like. Nobody said cleaning the sewers was going to be fun.
When a couple New York State legislators started an investigation into the Communist control of the New York Teachers Union in the 1940, Bella Dodd and her team launched a three-pronged attack: First, identify the teachers who had no plausible deniability, and have them take bullets for the team, and deflect attention by claiming responsibility for every initiative of the Party; second, for those teachers who could plausibly deny any association with the Communist Party, have them lie; and third – I just know you won’t believe this – launch a smear campaign against the politicians behind the investigation. All the sudden, Rapp and Coudert found themselves facing well-organized and completely unscrupulous opposition to their reelection, and had to fend off all sorts of outrageous slander. End result: about 40 teachers lost their jobs, each a committed Red, while over a 1,000 operative skated. Two years later, when the investigation ended, the Communists were still in complete control of the union, and thus of teachers in New York. The follow up: have your guys write the history: it was a Red Scare! Completely unwarranted! Poor victimized teachers! This is the state of things today.
That this is a preposterous title for any essay I, a lightly-read non historian who would have to crawl to the starting line to even begin serious study of the subject, would write is part of the point. Spoiler: the promulgation of what now passes for history has fallen to anti-historians. It won’t do to call them non-historians, less to call them amateurs, a word that means at it root ‘lovers.’ Here’s what they hate:
History is the telling of tales. I don’t mean this in any derogatory sense. Among the most basic and characteristic activities of people is telling stories. ‘True’ stories, in the modern sense, are those where the ‘facts’ check out. Our more sophisticated ancestors would not have been as interested in those facts. In past eras and in all other cultures, stories were ‘true’ were those that conveyed something real about people. An infinite number of things happen. Few make good stories. Among those few, we love and retell those that reveal to us something about ourselves. In this sense, those who know no history have forgotten who they are.
The modern distinction between history and myth would, I think, have been a bit baffling to most people in times past. I don’t know what the reaction the children of the original Hawaiians had to the stories of Maui and his fishhook, but it is true that the Hawaiian Islands are surprising and a gift from the gods, and that it is delightful that people get to live there. That some demigod would play tricks on his brothers and yank them up from the deep is hilarious – and just about right.
Just like the ubiquitous genealogies, myths tell us who we are. More important, they tell us how we know who we are: by our relationships to particular people, places, and nature. In stories from every culture I’ve ever heard of, every so-and-so is introduced as the offspring of a string of forefathers, often pointing back to an ancestral hero or demigod. A place and social setting get named: Abram is introduced as descended from Terah, Nahor and Serug, and ultimately Adam. He is from Ur. The importance of parentage and place are illustrated by Oedipus, who doesn’t know who his parents are nor where his home lies, and is the most cursed of men, and as a direct result of his foundational ignorance, commits the greatest sins of patricide and incest.
Since there will be an infinite number of potential stories to choose from, the ‘historian’ in the sense I’m using here is the one who chooses the stories. Each generation will inherit some stories that are just too good to forget, and generate more potential stories in their own time. The good ‘historians’ will tell their stories in memorable, exciting form, and emphasize what is most telling in the stories. A little or a lot of embellishment is to be expected. Some stories survive from generation to generation, and become defining to the point where not knowing that story is a sign you are not of the tribe. Greeks memorized Homer; Jews memorized the Bible.
A famous incident (that a few minutes of web searching failed to turn up, so we’re working without a net here) concerned some anthropologist who was studying some tribe in New Mexico (I think) shortly after the kind of incident that generates History had come to pass: a party of this tribe had gone to do some official business and had strayed into the territory of an unfriendly tribe. A fight broke out, and one tribesman was killed. The factual story was relayed to the anthropologist. A couple generations later, after the participants in the event had all died, another anthropologist followed up. The story he heard was recognizable, but different: it concerned how the tribes had had to work out that territorial dispute, had retconned the dispute into a central place in the original purpose of the trip, and made the man who had died into a sort of martyr for intertribal peace.
Was this wrong, or a lie, or primitive propaganda? No. What had made the story memorable once it had passed from living memory was the resolution of the tribal territorial dispute. The myth now contained important information: at great cost – the death of a tribal leader – peace had been established and borders set with a neighboring tribe which had earlier been antagonistic. I don’t know, but I would be surprised if the actual ‘treaty’ was not included in the story, so that future generations would know the territory and the rules agreed to.
In the West, starting with Herodotus, we start to have a different set of standards. Drenched in myth from every direction, Herodotus wants to know what’s true in a typically Greek abstract sense, not merely what are the stories each people tell themselves. He finds himself in Tevye’s position: He might be able to acknowledge that the stories of People A are true, and that the stories of People B are also true, but when it is pointed out that they can’t both be true, the old Greek isn’t quite magnanimous enough to allow that they can remain true even if contradictory.
Nope – Herodotus wants to settle the differences. He turns to the blunt instrument of facts. This appeal to facts, perhaps most celebrated in the discovery of the ruins of Troy in the late 19th century, tends to obscure the truth that the stories that make up history, even or perhaps especially in our enlightened postmodern age, remain selected and embellished.
While Herodotus wanders a bit and clearly delights in the odd tall tale at the expense of more focused storytelling, Thucydides is recognizable as an historian at all points. He’s followed by Livy and Tacitus (and a bunch of guys I’ve not read – poser, remember?) who also read as history. But while these men were at least trying to tell us What Happened, the usual filters were in place. Thucydides was an exiled Athenian, writing about a war Athens ultimately lost due to horrible political stupidity. I find him very circumspect and even-handed, under the circumstances. It’s not all ragging gleefully about the fall of the people who exiled him – that doesn’t come across at all, at least to me. He seems to think the truth, and as full a record as he can manage, is important. We should all do so well.
Thus, a standard for historical storytelling was established, against which other historians might be judged and to which they might aspire. Yet, other than scholars, people still got their stories by word of mouth, and remembered, embellished and repeated those that they found interesting. The lives of the saints, especially the dimly-remembered but much loved early martyrs, are classics. Butler dutifully repeats the general lore, while always noting when there’s nothing but legend to back them up. He assumes, prudently and piously, that there’s most likely something to a story when centuries of storytellers have passed it on, even if the name and naked fact of martyrdom are about all we can be confident in. This is the way History works, more often than not. We have stories. They are almost always filtered by the preferences of the ancestors who passed them on. When available, the luxury of the written record supplies us not only with facts we may not have had, but perhaps more important, with what the more thoughtful, or at least more literate, people at the time thought worth remembering.
Before the written, then recorded, then broadcast, then videoed, word displaced the spoken as the conveyor of stories, it would have been difficult, I suppose, to tamper with history as the term is used here. Things might have changed in the telling over time, but not too much, when the hearers were as familiar with the stories as the tellers. Long after the invention of writing, it would still be the case that most people in just about any culture would learn the stories from hearing them.
Theological issues in the West are inseparably entangled with history, since any Christian theology must deal with real, named people in real, known physical and historical places. The stories about Jesus and His companions and Apostles were literally sacred, written down and copied and told with great care; the writings of the early Fathers and the hagiographies of early saints were also nearly as sacred. To dispute a dogma all but requires, at minimum, a repackaging of history; to refute the Church calls for a major rewrite.
The serious, conscious rewriting of history in the West seems (for I am not an historian) to have begun with, maybe, Wycliffe? Certainly, he didn’t like the history/stories he’d received, and proposed a hermeneutic of Bad Clergy, Monks, and Pope! Bad! as the filter to use on his revisionism. Not sure if he adopted a Great Apostasy theory, but such a moment of presumed fracture is required, as was recognized within a century or so.
The Protestant Reformation represents the first major attempt at rewriting history, both in the formal sense of drafting new texts that tell a different story according to new selection and embellishment criteria, and in spreading new stories among the people. Ever since 1517, a second set of stories parallel to the existing set have been developed and told, with written histories revised accordingly. The old set, dating back to at least Ignatius of Antioch if not the Apostle Paul, tells of Jesus founding a Church and commissioning very fallible Apostles to spread and maintain it, so that the history of the West consists of stories about very human men taking boneheaded if not out and out evil actions over and over again AND of a Church nonetheless effecting the conversion of the known world from India to Ireland and Russia to Ethiopia within a couple centuries of the Founder’s birth, despite 300 years of secular persecution and zero political power. The newer second set tells of Jesus founding a church which quickly all but vanished, to be replaced by evil men enforcing vile lies as dogma, only for a 16th century German Augustinian monk and a couple of other firebrands, building on Wycliffe and Hus, to reestablish the original Church, bring it out of (presumed) hiding and fight the Antichrist, which is the Pope, and his horrible church.
“To be deep in History is to cease to be a Protestant.” Newman may be overstating it a little. To have any grasp of history at all is to cease to be a Protestant, because the essential claims, such as the Great Apostasy and Sola Scriptura are historically unsupportable: no one ever imagined them, until Protestantism required them. I have great sympathy with people raised as Protestant intellectuals, who have inherited and personally invested in the second set of stories with the hope that they might thus be saved. That’s powerful stuff, and not to be denigrated. But on a simple, logical level, I have to fight off the ‘Oh, come on!’ response to patently nonsensical historical positions.
This theological division not only lead to the historical division described above, but to a corresponding philosophical division. The mundane, work-a-day, logical process described by Aristotle and greatly enhanced and developed by Aquinas and that crowd, was hopelessly tainted by its association with the Antichrist. Therefore, and, evidently, because of something like boredom (Descartes, I’m thinking of you!), new or at least recycled philosophies were developed.
These philosophies, like Protestantism itself, quickly metastasized. As I’ve mentioned before, the difference in Philosophy results from or at least reflects the theological division: Sola versus Scola. Catholicism and the Perennial Philosophy are team efforts, with the archetype of St. Thomas leading students through the Questions Method, where different views are expressed and refined before being being challenged, and the result is almost always a ‘given what we know now’ conditional truth. Protestantism’s end point is a man, a plow boy even, alone with his Bible, enlightened without the mediation of church or priest. The final authority is the Good Book itself, trumping anything a priest or scholar or anyone else might say. Similarly, Descartes, Hume, and Kant speculate not in a classroom with their fellow man, but in their own private rooms, alone, with the shades drawn. TRVTH must be found looking inward; the rough and tumble of the Schools is not for them.
A function of their protests against the Church, the one thing that unites our Protestant brethren no matter how fragmented their theologies, is a dismissal of the Church’s history. But as Belloc points out, the history of Europe IS the history of the Church. Awkward.
A little timeline:
1781 – Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
1800 – Age of Enlightenment ends (more or less)
1822 – Hegel begins delivering his lectures the Philosophy of History at the University of Berlin
Busy time. Kant pushes reason, in the sense of reasoning alone within one’s own head, to its extreme. He famously states that “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” What could go wrong with that? Note that Catholic doctrine, the Scholastics, as well as pretty much every Catholic thinker back to St. Paul and back on into the Old Testament writers, states that, while God is beyond our mind’s grasp, we can know His existence by very straightforward use of reason. Kant denies this. After him, the non-perennial philosophers seem to have had enough with reason. Today, such lines of thought are labeled metaphysics and largely shoved under the rug.
Hegel changed the way people talk about history. The emphasis is taken away from recounting What Happened as honestly as possible, and even away from telling a good story, to deciphering what the Spirit is unfolding ™. History is seen as having a direction and goals; the historian’s job is to get himself aligned with the Spirit such that he knows that direction and those goals.
Hegel considered himself a good Lutheran. Luther was an Augustinian. Augustine developed the idea of Salvation History as the hermeneutic for understanding Scripture. So the God of History, in the sense of history as the stories that tell us about ourselves, informs our lives and aides our salvation through the story of salvation as told by Him in Scripture.
One catch: the God Who Is becomes, under Hegel, the God Who Becomes. Being, far from the ultimate reality, is illusion. What is real is Becoming. Since logic depends on statements of being, and the Law of Noncontradiction upon which all logic hangs is a statement about being, logic in the form everyone had understood it up to that point must be jettisoned.
Again, what could go wrong? The filters used from the beginning of mankind to select what stories would be told are now replaced by a filter that selects stories, and how they re to be told, for how they best illustrate the historian’s idea of what man is Becoming, to best show Progress.
In the hands of a really humble and honest historian, this might not be too bad; in the hands of a Marx, it becomes a blunt object with which to beat people. In the hands of his even less stable followers, it was used to beat 100 million innocent women, children, and men to death.
The switch from the primacy of Being to the primacy of Becoming leads, with an irresistible logical gravity, to a dismissal of the past. This switch is clear in the now-fashionable formulation of Marxist dogma: everything is a social construct. Under this rubric, nothing *IS*. Everything is no more than an evanescence of some mystical social consciousness, as real as a dream and in any event merely a meaningless and mutable moment along the way toward Progress.
While Protestants had practiced historical revisionism to move the Church from a white hat to a black, they all still very much wanted Jesus at the center of the story. The philosophical giants – Kant and Hegel – certainly wanted not just God, but a recognizably Christian God, playing the central role, and remaining in some sense the eschaton. When Marx came along and set Hegel upright, God Himself was cast into the dustbin of history into which the Protestants had long cast the Church.
The sheep must be lead gently at first. When the Fabian communist H. G. Wells wrote his Outline of History in 1919, all he did (so I am told – not an historian) was remove Christianity from the center of the story, where it had appropriately been since the time of Christ. The story remained recognizable in outline, naturally, it just now made different points and punchlines.
Wells was not an historian, but that hardly mattered. To write this work, he needn’t do any beyond reading what historians had written, and then apply his Marxist hermeneutic to it: History is unfolding itself, leaving behind outdated concepts such as God and personal responsibility and the individual as more than a bee in a hive. We are where we are as the result of huge, irresistible forces. History will lead us inevitably into the future, where outdated ideas (and the people who hold them) will be excised. The eternal God and the poor saps who worshipped him didn’t really do anything, they were just along for the ride, at best an expedient used and now discarded by History.
Belloc, a real historian, promptly wrote a long essay in rebuttal. He traces how the West is the Church and the Church is the West, in that it was in the Church that all the good new ideas were developed, the good old ideas were preserved, and both old and new were promulgated and physically expressed. The story of the West – of Christendom – is the story of martyrs and missionaries, monasteries and monks, who, inheriting a Roman social order, spread order and rational hierarchy and learning with the Good News. Bloodthirsty tribal cultures, admiring the Romans and drinking deep of the Christian ideals, became feudal societies where rights and duties bound peasant, priest, and prince to each other and to God. These Europeans built the great cathedrals, the first universities and hospitals, invented modern science, saved ancient learning, and slowly and imperfectly turned barbarians into civilized peoples. The Church forbade divorce and the bartering off of daughters into marriages against their wills: she condemned the endless cycles of revenge murders; she placed the mother and father in the center of the home, with rights and duties no king could justly violate.
Likewise, Chesterton wroteThe Everlasting Man, in which he, tongue firmly in cheek, thanks Wells for have removed the barrier to non-historians writing history. (1) Thus justified, Chesterton lays waste to Well’s underlying and unspoken assumptions, destroying the idea that we know the history of prehistory, for example, or that cosmic generalizations somehow reduce individual men to dust grains in a breeze, or that ‘comparative religions’ is comparing like things.
In a broader sense, Belloc and Chesterton were assuming their customary good cop/bad cop roles, each taking Wells to the woodshed. Much of educated society, however, was on the side of Wells, including specifically the Fabians, who saw no need to play fair (what is ‘fair’ anyway, in a world of becoming?) when working for something as noble and desirable as the Worker’s Paradise.
Thus, Well’s approach of setting Religion, by which he meant Christianity and most especially Catholicism, aside, and teaching history as if it were a string of inevitable developments under the guiding hand of (the totally not a god!) Progress, has won the day. That’s the history taught K-18 to this day. Any attempt to acknowledge the role of the Church in history in a positive way is shot down before it can arise. By now, with our education system in the unchallenged hands of Marxists for at least 30 years, there will be very few with credentials able to even raise the issue. It would be career suicide.
Since before Wells, but evidently much accelerated since, the rewriting of history, of the stories that tell us who we are, where we belong, and what is important in life, have been a major academic endeavor. As time has gone on, as academia has been more and more taken over by Marxists and their Useful Idiots, history as taught is a slate upon which to expound Marxist dogmas. No longer is history an art meant to convey important information about what has happened, what the people involved did and thought, what lead up to events and what followed. History as the stories that help us see who we are has been denied to almost everyone. The individual is nothing, the collective everything. What is truth?
History is today taught in America to convince our children that they are victims of vast forces of oppression who can only be overthrown by a revolution. Nothing they do matters for good or ill: the only cause of unhappiness is oppression. Therefore, the only valid academic exercise is to search out the oppression that causes any particular unhappiness and oppose it with activism designed to bring about the revolution. The Useful Idiots may not know this – dear God, I hope not! – but the true believers do.
As Chesterton say about dragons: children don’t need to be told they exist. Kids already know that. Children need to be told that dragons can be defeated. A history in which personal action is pointless, in which all victories and defeats are inevitable or meaningless, and in which the only goal is destroying a ‘system’ without the faintest understanding of what that system is: such a history leaves the heart terrified and the body petrified. Here be dragons, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Belloc and Wells were at the time engaged in a rather heated public exchange over Well’s playing fast and loose with the facts. Chesterton enters with: “As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide. ” – intro to the Everlasting Man
I awoke this morning to discover there was no climate. The mystery of why we had no climate today is that Our Betters ™ had called a “climate strike.” The climate, which, low, these past decades has been awaiting orders from the Right People, complied, as any right thinking climate would. That will show ’em! Us, I mean.
I kid, of course. Our little piece of Northern California is having one of those envy-of-the-world perfect sunny California days, mid 80s, very light breeze, totally beautiful. So Climate, anthropomorphised or not, is on the job!
I was blissfully unaware that a Climate Strike had been called, until I was in a little business meeting across the street from the City Hall of an adjacent suburb, and saw a small crowd of children and a few adults who could very well have been Professionally Aggrieved Grievance Professionals, but since the uniforms are somewhat inconsistent, I can’t be sure.
Several of the signs called for passing motorists to honk in support of climate action. I suppose driving a Hummer (one went by as I watched – this is a medium-tony suburb – couldn’t tell if the driver honked) could conceivably be seen as taking action on climate change, although not it the direction these gullible rubes protestors might desire. The Left’s irony deficiency, not to mention hypocrisy, was on full display. I’d bet, based on the neighborhood, those kids are living well above average material lives, and have their own cell phones and computers and video games, if not their own cars for the oldest ones. Mom probably drove them to the protest. Every one of them lives in a house with a carbon footprint bigger than several third world villages put together. But it’s those *other* people who are the problem!
A foul-mouthed girl, dropping F-bombs and calling B.S. on everybody, stated to applause and cheers that Capitalism is the problem, that money-hungry business people are destroying the planet, and we must overthrow the system and institute Socialism. People cheered, including the children of all ages who it would strain credulity to think could explain the difference between free markets and totalitarian state control. Little Miss Trotsky then unloaded on the mean schools that told students not to ditch class, stating that they – the schools – were tools of Da Man. Out of the mouth of babes!
I wonder where she got this idea?
I like the clenched fists. Very original.
So, on the one hand, we live in a world where children are indoctrinated and used (and discarded as soon as they are no longer useful, but that part isn’t in the marketing materials) such that what should have been a pretty young lady learning how to behave as an adult is fashioned into a podium-banging mini-Khrushchev cursing like a sailor, railing against a system that has given her the opportunity to comfortably and safely play the fool, and for a system she doesn’t in the slightest understand. On the other, despite vast efforts and the complicity of the press, they got 50 people to show up. That a whole bunch of kids somewhere would rather sleep through Algebra II than be seen with these goofballs gives me hope. Unless they ditched, but then went to smoke weed behind the dumpster or something – which, all things considered, isn’t the worst alternative.
While I have my strong doubts about Trump, I will crawl over broken glass if need be to vote against the manipulative child abusers behind these ridiculous photo ops.
Aristotle, on a couple of occasions (Nicomachean Ethics, for one, I think) mentions how poorly raised men are incapable of philosophy, while well-raised men love excellence, beauty and truth, and are therefore well-prepared for at least undertaking philosophy. He recognized, from an unredeemed pagan perspective, that men could be ruined.
Aristotle was also famously not a democrat, in the sense that he did not think men in general, nor women, children and slaves, were fit to rule. They could not rule themselves, but were subject to passion and impulse. A city that promotes happiness, defined by the Stagirite as the activity of the soul in accordance with excellence, could not be governed well by those who did not understand, appreciate nor desire excellence.
One might say his dim view of the common man, let alone women, slaves and children, reflects the world he grew up in and not so much how people are in and of themselves. The problem with that view is that we still inhabit that same world Aristotle observed. Check the news lately? How many of your friends and coworkers and acquaintances would you feel good about being ruled by, unchecked? I mean, where they are making all the calls, not constrained by other, perhaps better, men such as the authors of the Constitution? How soon before summary executions and the payment of tribute in the form of nubile youngsters? By the second generation, tops, and that’s assuming some residual decency that takes a generation to dissipate. Tyranny doesn’t stop just because you have 1000 tyrants rather than 1. (1)
Thus, the idea of a Republic, which considered from this perspective is the required universal acknowledgement of a common wealth of morals, traditions, and aspirations (which often boils down to religion), plus some of the following: territory, language, stories, heroes – culture. This commonwealth, shared and enforced by all, shapes the laws and reigns in the sociopaths leaders who inevitably arise. Within a Republic, you can have democracy – a democracy in which all the truly important stuff is off the table, and the voter and candidates and issues all fall within the bounds, in both senses of the word, of the Commonwealth. (2)
In this sense, Aristotle and the Founders pretty much agree: only men who love truth, beauty and excellence are fit to rule. The Founders thought, or hoped in the face of thought, that a free people who nurtured and handed on an American Republic could be such a people as could rule themselves. Aristotle’s requirement of the love of truth, beauty and excellence are concretely expressed in those morals, traditions, and aspirations that form the core of the Republic – learn and love your Republic, and you could be trusted to rule as well.
I can just see Aristotle raising an eyebrow and saying a very dubious: maybe. He would, I think, completely understand Franklin’s ‘if you can keep it.’
Men can be ruined. This is the underlying truth behind the damnable half-truth of the Marxist/Gramsciite dogma of social oppression: it is true that people can be ruined by the wrong influences and the lack of proper guidance, and, ultimately, the lack of love. But all these things are, ultimately, personal. Parents and family, teachers and neighbors and priest are supposed to help us to know and love the true, the beautiful and the good and to want them above all else.
They will fail to a greater or lesser degree, and there is always the mystery of Free Will. What there is not is Society or some other abstraction acting as an agent. Society is a collective noun, a description, not an actor. The people within a society act, and by their actions sustain or change ‘society’.
Shifting the emphasis from individual people to collective abstractions means that personal behavior no longer matters: “the individual is nothing, the collective everything.” You see this everywhere. Refusing to look at individuals as individuals but rather seeing each of us only as instances of ‘Society’ stands the world on its head, and dictates the crazy and crazy-making efforts to change ‘Society’ in order to change the people in it. It’s a wet sidewalks cause rain problem.
There is a divide between ruined and not ruined people, with plenty of gray area between – a divide between those who just might be able to rule themselves and their country, and those for whom such tasks are asking far too much. At the far end are sociopaths, who never should but often do lead. Even the most pessimistic estimates put them at ‘only’ 5% of the population – one in 20 people have no empathy, no hesitation to use people, and often take pleasure in manipulating and lying. (3) On the other end are great saints and lovers of truth (4), who characteristically want nothing to do with ruling, or, more properly, nothing more than is strictly necessary. (5).
In the middle are 7 billion sheep. Me, you, anybody. Some sheep try to follow the Good Shepherd. Some, as stated in the seed quotation to this series of posts, follow anything that moves. Setting aside for the moment miracles, even while acknowledging that all true conversions are miraculous, what seems most often to be the case: those raised with love, who see the true, the good and the beautiful recognized and honored, have a better chance to become the sort of reasonable and responsible people who stand some chance of governing themselves well, and therefore might have a chance to govern the polis well. Those who are raised among The People of the Lie will not be able to govern themselves, and will misgovern the polis horribly if given the chance. They have been poisoned. They have been ruined. They are unconstrained by traditions they neither know nor love – family and personal honor, the law as a positive good, a life among family, friends, and neighbors directed to something other than self-fulfillment. Lacking these and similar things, and lacking a miracle, there’s simply no chance that the rule of such as these will result in anything but envy run amok, tyranny, and chaos. In short order, they will be lead by the most unscrupulous and violent, whether they like it or not. Their personal slavery to their passions will soon become a physical slavery to ‘anything that moves’.
That love of tradition, of place, of family, friends, neighbors, and the shared life in which human beings find expression for their freedom and personal genius is a key part of the Commonwealth. I’m not sure the two are not the same in practice. Lacking such roots and the humility that comes with gratitude for them, there simply is no chance a person could rule well.
I’ve long contemplated how there is always ruin in any culture, always those who through no fault of their own come from a situations without the basic love and support needed to grow up healthy. The difference today is, first, such people used to grow up in a culture where everyone understood that the orphan, the abandoned child, the broken home were wrong. Thus, even if I drew the short straw, I knew I’d drawn it and that there were better fates, better expectations, and that I could aspire to them. The result was that even those from horrible circumstances would often try to behave like people who had been properly raised. In other words, the idea that one could be properly or improperly raised was understood by everyone.
Second, today dysfunction is not only not recognized as dysfunction, it is positively cultivated. It only takes a few leaders to lead millions astray. Today, the critical theorists and their useful idiots disparage all healthy behaviors and beliefs, and promote anger, envy and bitterness. Marxist end up creating something like the world they hate, with hatred, bigotry, alienated individuals, oppressive structures, and a yearning for totalitarianism. The delusion is that this evil, oppressive world is Out There, not merely a reflection of their own emotional and mental states. (6)
For people so damaged, projection is irresistible: the flip side of Goebbels’ rule to always accuse your enemy of what you’re doing is that people will willingly ignore what they are doing and know is true in order to hate the enemy. If this were not so, Goebbels’ rule wouldn’t work – yet it does.
This hatred of happiness and normalcy is completely insane. Attempts at reason, appeals to fact and objective reality, application of logic: not only do these not convince, they are taken as signs that anyone who uses them is the enemy. Peopled are ruined; they have built defences against anyone who could really help them.
By these standards, I should not be allowed to rule, as I am largely a failure in ruling myself. By this standard, few, indeed, would rule. The choice is not available to me and probably never has been to anyone, but if it were, I would humbly submit to being ruled by sane, good people. As it is, representative democracy within a solid Republic is the best we can get.
That Republic, that American Commonwealth of shared morals, traditions, and aspirations, if it ever really existed, is gone. A huge percentage of people are ruined, in that it would take a miracle for them to submit to any set of consistent and non-self-refuting morals, traditions, and aspirations such as a Republic could be built upon. Their ruiners run loose, and run our colleges and universities. Poison is everywhere. It’s gotten to be a cliche to post pictures of happy high school seniors, fresh scrubbed and smiling, next to their pictures as sullen, angry (and blue-haired and nose-ringed) college students.(7)
Where do we go now? Speaking theoretically, we can only have a Republic if we’re willing to enforce a certain minimum uniformity (this is where the Ruined scream ‘fascist!’) or willing to break the country up into two or more territories in which some set of shared morals, traditions, and aspirations are pervasive. Failing that, we fall back on 1) Empire: imposed rule on sets of people who each may or may not have a commonwealth. Empires tend to rule without an interest in enforced homogeneity, at least for a while; 2) Totalitarianism, after quick pit stops in ‘true’ democracy and anarchy; or 3) Aristocracy, where all pretext at equality before the law is jettisoned, and our betters simple make the rules outside the reach of the people.
Or we pray for a miracle, which I would recommend in any case. Interesting times, indeed.
The infighting is the only potential positive, knowing the pigs will fight to the death. However, I don’t know if the grim satisfaction of knowing many of the leaders of the French Revolution were themselves guillotined outweighs the disgust at knowing some weren’t. But, overall, there can be only one, so most people will die fighting to be that one.
We don’t have this anymore, here in America. I wish we did. But the Marxists who control our schools and all the non-RAD professions explicitly reject the Commonwealth. Objective reality being a social construct and history and religion tools of of oppression, ya know.
A genius move by Kazantzakis was making St. Matthew a sociopath in The Last Temptation of Christ. Matthew just figures the odds: he’s seen the miracles and seen the effect Christ has on people, and figures the best angle is to be a follower, which he then does unto his own martyrdom. Kazantzakis wrestled, in other words, with how that 1 in 20 might be saved.
C.S. Lewis portrays, almost as comic relief, such a one in That Hideous Strength: Andrew MacPhee is a sceptic to his core, but can’t quite let go of Ransom, an old friend, who is true be believer and surrounded by Divine Evidence great and small – and MacPhee sees, but remains skeptical, and stays! He is on the side of the angels whose existence he doubts.
Footnotealanche! A Thomas More or a King St. Louis of France found it necessary to wield great political power, but remained heroically detached from it. That alone – having great power yet not clinging to it – should merit beatification. Well, and that Jesus thing.
There is real oppression, of course. If Marxism were defined as an effort to redirect attention away from actual oppression toward delusions of oppression, there would little data to contradict it.
On the flip side, over the last decade, we’ve had 5 children pass through their teenage years under our roof, and 4 go to college. To my surprise, they were and are each fun, helpful and pleasant. I’m nothing special as a dad, except for one thing: we kept them away from the ruiners. No graded classroom schooling; Newman list colleges. I was surprised because I had uncritically accepted the idea of the rebellious teenager. Truth is teenagers want very much to become adults; help them, and that rebelliousness may not surface.
Got some good feedback On Followers & Humility. Commenter Billy Jack raised some good points, and I of course have some further thoughts. So here we go:
One of the interesting wrinkles here is that the idea that it is inherently oppressive for a marriage to be chosen by fathers (or anyone else) rather than the spouses themselves comes not from “Modernity” or “Modern People” but from the Church. Trent, for example, was pretty clear on this. And I think Luther disagreed.
While it is true that the Church, in the face of Frankish and Germanic tribes that tended to treat women as disposable and in any event not fully human (1), taught that, for a marriage to be sacramental, both parties had to freely submit to it, that just gives the woman, in theory, veto power. It does not mean she was expected to go find a husband on her own. It’s a huge difference, it seems to me, to say that one cannot be forced to marry against one’s will and saying that every daughter was now a free agent who needed to find her own mate. What the Church’s teachings put a stop to, or at least slowed down a bit, was the bartering off of women. So, as I described in the last post, a Christian father, who loved his children and wife and so would not want to run roughshod over their desires, was assumed to have a heavy hand in the selection of mates for his children, for their own good. The shadow of this practice persists in the fading tradition of a suitor asking his beloved’s father for her hand.
Nothing here is meant to suggest that all arranged marriages were smooth and the process was never abused, just that the idea that a good father would arrange for the marriages of his children is not an outrageous idea. I know a couple of Indians here whose marriages were arranged, and I asked them, and they weren’t bitter about it. They felt more like Tevye and Golda in Fiddler on the Roof who grew to love each other even though they hadn’t even met before they were married.
Women gained immensely from the Church’s many-century-long efforts to protect them from being viewed as less than human and bargaining chips to be sold for political gain or to the highest bidder. It’s not for noting that all those 12th & 13th century cathedrals were named after Our Lady. Nothing in this effort contradicted or disputed the practice of fathers, in conjunction with their family and other fathers and families, from arranging the marriages of their children.
So it’s funny for progressives who are dislike the Church to pride themselves on this view as an accomplishment of secular progressives, but it’s also funny for Catholic bloggers to be down on the idea.
Up until current times, it would have been scandalous for a woman in a Catholic country to arrange her own marriage in defiance of her father. Romeo & Juliet is a cautionary tale against just such presumption. The nurse and the friar are the villains of the story, overstepping their rightful duties. Until modern times, readers of the play all understood this.
That Progressives and American Catholics (in so far as those two categories are different) don’t understand this is not surprising.
The case with religion vis-a-vis tribe or family is not identical, but it’s similar. Sure, we can point to villages and nations converting together. But while conquered pagan cities typically adopted the conquerors’ gods, conquered Christians generally didn’t, or at least knew they shouldn’t. And sometimes the leaders converted first but in other cases individuals converted first, and faced persecution and ostracism. The same goes on the family level. On the Christian view, religion is not something that a father or king has complete authority to choose on behalf of children and subjects. As Jesus said: within a family, it will be three against two, father against son, etc.
Certainly, I over-generalized quite a bit. You are correct that conquered or proselytized people responded in a variety of ways, and that Christians seem to have generally put up a better fight than most against forced conversions. My point was that, for much of mankind over much of history, it would not seem at all outlandish or unusual for a family or tribal leader to make a decision of what religion he and his would follow, and that the members of the household, village, tribe or even nation, would see that as appropriate and go along with it. That it didn’t always happen that way is not the point, really, it’s rather to highlight how we moderns tend to automatically recoil at the very thought, when, in fact, our ancestors at least for a good part didn’t.
The more general point I was trying to make: we all very much tend to overinvest in our own autonomy. We aren’t really nearly as ‘free’ as we thing we are, in the ways we think we are. And further, that this dependence on the wisdom and decisions of others is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a family or tribe or village in which we have well understood mutual duties, rights and privileges.
More generally, sure, some of things that Catholics inveigh against about our time–and often rightfully so!–are just a return to things that were common before Christianity. Killing unwanted children, for example. But most of the unique characteristics of modernity, good or bad, would be unimaginable without the influence of Christianity, and I tend to think that much of the radical individualism that we see today falls into the category. A huge number of saints flat-out disobeyed their parents to follow their call. Did the ancient Chinese venerate that sort of thing? The Iroquois? Do any of the Bantu peoples have pantheons of people who told their parents to get lost? Well, I do think that Siddhartha Gautama did something like that, now that I think of it.
Both/and is the key Catholic teaching that is being lost. The radical part of radical individualism is placing the individual and his naked will first. The Church’s view is rather that we are each individually precious children of God AND members of the Body of Christ, and that these roles are not in conflict but rather arise one from the other. To paraphrase Paul from 1 Corinthians 12, we don’t get to choose if we are a hand or an eye or a foot. We are given those roles, and find our happiness and fulfillment in them, and should not envy any other roles. The whole point of that passage is that we do not get to be whatever we chose to be, but find ourselves when we surrender to the role we have been given.
So, I would disagree with the notion that radical individualism is a byproduct of Christianity, except in the sense in which it is a perversion of Christianity.
Right, I think the Buddha rejected his parents, I don’t know of any other such traditions.
The traditional Catholic stories in which a child defies his or her father tend to fall into 2 classes: the child having heard a call from God to a religious life, or cautionary tales. I can’t remember a single traditional story in which the defiant child is a hero, except those where that child follows a religious calling, obeying his Father over his father.
St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, a bunch of the early virgin martyrs and a scad of others – these folks defied their fathers in order to follow Christ. For a traditionally catechised Catholic, these stories are all familiar. The point of these stories is not that one should not obey one’s father, but rather that the authority of our fathers comes from the Father, of which they are only a vague, tiny shadow. It is the both/and teaching: we are virtuous to obey our fathers on earth AND our Father in Heaven, right up until that obedience conflicts – then, and only humbly and cautiously, we may defy our fathers to obey the Father.
I think part of our individualism comes from economic conditions, too, but that’s another story.
Yes, it is. I’d love to hear it. Once family, village and church are gone, what’s left but the individual? Not a happy situation, however.
See, for example, ‘Merovingian Divorce’ as described in A History of Private Life, v. I, where the Church’s teaching against divorce was taken by the Franks as mandating the murder of any undesired wife.
The thoughtful comments to this line of thought from a month and a half ago were so good and worthy of further discussion, I have been meaning (for looking at two months now!) to do a post to talk about them. Here we go:
I have long thought that this is why the notion of “overpopulation” is so prevalent among academics. Since we naturally assume that everyone else is like us, what other conclusion can one come to when one makes an appraisal of his life and realizes that the value of what he consumes is vastly greater than the value of what he produces?
I have generalized a parallel idea: that those who think it their jobs to direct the lives of little people think there are too many people once they run out of ideas on tasks to assign to us.
Here’s Woodrow Wilson, often quoted here, summarizing Our Betters’ view of our value, in a speech to a graduating class of – teachers!: “We want one class to have a liberal education.We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” Who is the ‘we’ in this picture? Who is deciding which difficult manual tasks are needed?
Wilson, nearly a caricature of the blue-blooded racist pig, is attempting to get the future teachers he is addressing to identify with him and his buddies. He will succeed: everybody wants to be a part of the team, and teacher’s colleges are set up by design to select those least willing to oppose the decisions of their leaders. Further, as Machiavelli pointed out in The Prince, when the time comes for dirty deeds, a prince needn’t worry about finding people to do them – courtesans are legion, and are desperate to find ways of ingratiating themselves to the prince. These are the people Bolt was referring to in A Man For All Seasons: “… those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth & I’m their tiger” (Cromwell was just better at it than most; think rather of Richard Rich as portrayed in the movie) Packaging it up as ‘helping the children’ makes the pill go down easier.
In a world such as this, where success is measures in team membership and advancement achieved by the usual activities of courtesans, uneasy sleeps the head that wears the mortar board. On the one hand, you got the professor job, so you are a winner! On the other, nipping at your heels are scads of people who could do your job as well as you can. Since projection is the go-to psychological defence of the well-educated, you conclude, not that your job is not very valuable and your position tenuous, but rather that there are just too many darn people! Delicious.
Hard to find an academic now who honestly believes his role is to maintain the ideals of Western Civilization.
I was thrilled to hear a commencement speaker at TAC spell out exactly that: that the Great Books and Catholic education the students received was to prepare them to defend Western Civilization and Christendom.
The exploding heads and subsequent clean-up at a ‘normal’ college if anyone were to say anything like that is beautiful to contemplate.
I suspect if we start cutting professors salaries we will soon end up paying nothing at all because there is always some wise guy willing to do it for less. And then colleges will start going the way of newspapers. College’s biggest value is in maintaining the ideals of Western Civilization, and that might require paying professors real money.
I think in some ways the burgeoning opportunities for adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants is running exactly that experiment. In the old days, when 10% or so of people went to college, instead of the 50%+ we have now, and the scions of the rich were overrepresented in that 10%, AND colleges required few expensive labs AND admin was a fraction the size of teaching staff, AND government make-work programs hadn’t yet created professorships in Studies and related fields, THEN not only could the much smaller number of professors be counted on to, for example, know Greek, Latin, History, Logic, etc., but they could receive comparatively fabulous salaries and get tenure. Now? Just as the professors who actually knew something were outnumbered by those who merely parrot the party line starting about 30-40 years ago, professors who need the money will be replaced by those who don’t.
Something I’ve not written much about here is how low salaries can be used to limit jobs to the ‘right’ kind of people. The wrong kind of people need to make a living, because A. they are not independently wealthy; and B. they want to have something approximating a normal life. Low paying/high prestige jobs end up going to people who either A. are independently wealthy, and thus more likely to be on Team Woodrow already; or B. people who have little or no desire to live an approximately normal life.
I first began to understand this feature of modern employment when, around age 30, I attended a talk by a retired US ambassador and State Department lifer at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Prior to the 1960s, those overseas embassy jobs tended strongly to go to the sons of the wealthy – just the thing to introduce Skippy to politics and broaden his horizons. For the entry-level positions, the salaries were very low, too low for any but the independently wealthy or ascetically fanatical to accept. Thus, normal people, a man who aspired to a wife, home, and family, for example, simply could not take these jobs. They were securely reserved to the rich and their dedicated courtesans. Just as they should be, from the Woodrow Club’s point of view.
Similarly, journalism – a title, like ‘educator,’ that seems to have been made up to provide more gravity to a fundamentally simple and personal occupation – is peopled largely by folks willing to be woefully underpaid, with the same result: a startling uniformity of opinion on just about everything. (That there’s never been much money in telling the truth is hardly a relevant fact for the would-be next Cronkite.) Journalists, appalled that relatively normal people are willing to do their presumed job for them for free, want desperately to recast their role into some sort of public servants, to be subsidized for our own good.
It’s obviously not something talked about a lot with non-academics, but when academics get together and talk, it sometimes comes up explicitly. While there are exceptions, a lot of fields have been glutted for a time right now, and it’s hard to give a reason, other than luck of timing, why they have a tenure-track position and someone else is an adjunct — all the ones who are honest will admit that they know at least one person less well off in position but more talented than they are.
And the whole thing is worse because academia is a reputational field — everything depends on your reputation, and so anything that could possibly threaten that is a threat to your career. But at the same time, there’s really not much you can do to build reputation without being able to get your hands on a lot of money. It’s why science faculty spend endless time writing grant proposals and humanities faculty are always desperate for another conference on a faddish topic (excuse me, thriving topic of research).
Always informative to hear from someone on the inside. Thanks.
I like the term ‘reputational field’ as well as the observation that gaining a good reputation is outside the direct control of the academic himself. All he can do is pitch hard for grant money, write ever more outlandish papers, and perform ever more ‘challenging’ and ‘subversive’ studies. Nobody is gaining a reputation by authoring a paper based on the idea that Shakespeare was really good, or that the use of proper English is an aid to communication, or that progress is intermittent, uncertain and in any event hard to define; nobody is cutting to the front of the line because their study showed hard work and discipline are more important than skin color in success today, or that girls are just different from boys, (those last two, on the contrary, will get you hate-mobbed out of a job). No: to gain the reputation that gets you ahead you must write papers claiming there is no biological difference between the sexes, that 6’5″ 350 lbs left tackles who move like ballerinas and can bench press a Buick are all men because something something oppressive hegemony. Or similar.
A reputational field where gaining a reputation is largely outside the power of the individual will be ruled by intrigue. It is a courtesan environment, where knowing who is in power and what they want is the real key to success. Being merely talented but not playing the game just makes you a road bump on somebody else’s career path.