Chesterton & Family

You all would be much better served if you spent the time you’re spending here reading or rereading Chesterton. But since you are here, I’ll just have to throw some Chesterton at you.

Our Chesterton Reading Group is working its way through In Defense of Sanity, a ‘best of’ collection of Chesterton’s essays.  I’ve read through it a couple of times now, and one consistent theme, especially of the essays written more toward the end of his life, is Family. On the one hand, when a really smart guy says what you have been trying to say (however infinitely better he says it), what’s not to like? On the other, being Chesterton and all, he goes much deeper and sees things better than I ever could, so it’s not just a better echo chamber. Here are some bits from an essay we read last night, On the Instability of the State (about 3/4 of the way down). Of course, you’d be better off following the link and reading the whole thing, or, better, getting and reading In Defense of Sanity.

There are certain sayings which for the last hundred years or so have not been considered quite respectable, because they were religious; or perhaps connected with the sort of religion that was not quite respectable. One of those statements is this: “The Family comes first; it comes before the State; its authority and necessity are anterior to those of the State.” This always sounded perfectly horrid to rows and rows of earnest young people, learning statistics for Fabian Socialism at the London School of Economics. To that type, to that generation, the State was everything; that great official machine, which managed the traffic and took over the telephone system, was the very cosmos in which these people lived. For them, The Family was a stuffy thing somewhere in the suburbs which only existed to be the subject of Problem Plays and Problem Novels. The only question about it was whether its gloom should be brightened up by suicide; or its selfishness exalted by self-indulgence. But the whole of this view, though it is a view very nearly universal in the big modern towns, only exists because the big modern town is an entirely artificial society. Those inside it know no more about the normal life of humanity than the equally select society inside Colney Hatch or inside Portland Gaol. In some ways a lunatic asylum or a convict settlement are much better organized, are certainly much more elaborately organized, than the hugger-mugger of human beings doing as they like outside. But it is the human beings outside who are human; and it is their life that is the life of humanity.

Written in the 1930s. Things have not improved.

Now the sweeping social revolutions that have swept backwards and forwards across Europe of late, the stroke of the Bolshevists, the counter-stroke of the Fascists, the imitation of it in Hitlerite Germany, the recovery of the secret societies in Spain, the new creation in Ireland, all these great governmental changes may serve to bring men’s minds back to that big fundamental fact which the big cities have fancied to be a paradox. The big cities had this notion for a perfectly simple reason: that in the modern moment in which they lived, and especially in an industrial country like ours, the framework of the State did really look stronger than the framework of The Family. The modern industrial mob was accustomed to the endless and tragic trail of broken families; of tenants failing to pay their rents; of slums being condemned and their inhabitants scattered; of husband or wife wandering in search of work or swept apart by separation or divorce. In those conditions, The Family seemed the frailest thing in the world; and the State the strongest thing in the world. But it is not really so. It is not so, when we take the life of a man over large areas of time or space. It is not so, when we pass from the static nineteenth century to the staggering twentieth century. It is not so when we pass out of peaceful England to riotous Germany or gun-governed America. Over all the world tremendous transformations are passing over the State, so that a man may go to bed in one State and get up in another. The very name of his nation, the very nature of his common law, the very definition of his citizenship, the uniform and meaning of the policeman at the corner of his street, may be totally transformed tomorrow, as in a fairy-tale. He cannot really refer the daily domestic problems of his life to a State that may be turned upside-down every twenty-four hours. He must, in fact, fall back on that primal and prehistoric institution; the fact that he has a mate and they have a child; and the three must get on together somehow, under whatever law or lawlessness they are supposed to be living.

This is why I’ve said, for example, here, that it’s not just wrong, not just evil, not just insane, but impossible for the state to presume it can redefine the family. The death of a state is given; not if, but when, no less certain than the death of a man. When it dies, if it doesn’t immediately fall back on family relationships, such that the dead king’s son, or some favorite of the strongest families, or Napoleon’s nephew is handed the throne, then culture and society, however much they may have to hide and no matter how attenuated, will be fostered and handed on by families.

States don’t live long enough to handle the task of creating and developing cultures. States can’t even create states.(1)  At best, as is clearly the case in just about anywhere any remotely civilized person would want to live, the state is a product of families. Sometimes, it’s the Medici (and, it should be pointed out, the dozens of other families the Medici married into or had deals with – the web of ‘family’ can extend far) who were at least a little benevolent once in a while; sometimes, it’s the house of Saud, which hasn’t worked out as well, to say the least. Once, it was Washington, Adams and their buddies, all of whom were family men, or at least respecters of families.

The destroyers of families who have tried to found states include the Bolsheviks, who founded a state-sized gulag, and others who didn’t do even that well.(2)  China is the last one standing of that crowd, and that state may not be long for this world, since it has presumed to manage families, and so is starting to run out of cannon- or factory-fodder.


In the break-up of the modern world, The Family will stand out stark and strong as it did before the beginning of history; the only thing that can really remain a loyalty, because it is also a liberty.

  1. Look at Europe after WWI, when Wilson, Clemenceau and George (but mostly Wilson, a self-righteous elitist pig if ever there were one, the very personification of C. S. Lewis’s warning about moral busybodies) decided to divvy up Europe and the Middle East into ‘nations’ more to their liking. The old practice of merely plundering the defeated would have done less damage, if afterwards they’d have let them be. The next 40 years, indeed, the next 100 down to us, have their piles of dead to show how well this sort of thing works out.
  2. I’d laugh to see Castro’s brother ruling, Hugo Chavez daughter living on ill-gotten billions  and North Korea run by the funny-looking son of the dictator. Communism: a family business! I’d laugh, except for the millions murdered or suffering under these hellspawn.

Bumper Sticker Sighting

I mentioned on somebody else’s blog that, even here in San Francisco Bay area, about as liberal and progressive an area in America, I rarely see any Hillary bumper stickers even now, mere weeks before the election – in fact, I see an order or two of magnitude more old Obama ’08 bumper stickers than ones backing the current Democratic candidate.

So yesterday, I pull up at a stop light and am and brought face to bumper with this:


A Saturn, which was the Prius-lite of an earlier generation, festooned, even, with bumper stickers. In case you can’t make them out in this blurry-through-the-window-at-a-traffic-light masterpiece of picture-taking:


We’ve got the classic ‘coexist’ concept, including, on the same tag, symbols of Islam, which has only occasionally coexisted with anything else, usually right up until the time when somebody reads what the sacred texts actually say, and Judaism, which has been on the receiving end of a lot of not-so-coexistence-promoting violence, and Christianity, which at least preaches peaceful coexistence, which has been every bit as effective as its preaching of humility and self control in other areas (1).

CORRECTION: a reader with the handle VFM and better eyes notes that this particular subspecies of COEXIST bumper sticker is the way cooler Sci Fi version, with the Death Star, a Klingon warbird and so on. If only I could be convinced that this is subversive mockery of the coexist concept rather than somebody thinking it cool to extend to concept to fantasy sci fi universes, I might have to reevaluate my whole view of this rolling sociopolitical statement. How ironic can one car be, after all? It would help, perhaps, if I could read the other stickers…

Then come a couple Hillary stickers, looking like losing entries in a ‘spiff up roadside Hospital Ahead signs’ contest. What might at first strike an outsider as discongruous – the Oakland Raiders sticker placed above the Hillary stickers  – is, upon a moment’s reflection, the cherry on the top its front and center location on the car suggests. The Raiders are a legendarily violent team which in its heydey had a bunch of thugs and criminals on the roster. The founding genius, a man with some noticeable sociopathic tendencies  named Al Davis, had the motto: ‘Just win, baby!’ Davis used the court system to finagle his way in and out of contracts and punish his enemies, leaving grieving fan bases – you know, the people who pay the bills – behind. And Raiders are, as the logo makes clear, pirates – people who violently and most often murderously take from those who have and give, well, to themselves.

So, the Raiders are deeply loved in liberal Oakland and Berkeley. Go figure. And sit here, in this artful array of stickers, atop the Hillary ones. I don’t know if it’s scarier to imagine this as a conscious or unconscious arrangement….

Anyway, the final kicker, the car-based message that kicks this vehicle up from mere Rolling PC Billboard & Virtue Signal to Cosmic Reality Assault Vehicle is the license plate frame:


Yes: Leap!!! The Net Will Appear. If this lady – it was an ancient (as in: even older than me) woman with flowing grey locks and a look of fury on her face (but, hey, to cut her some slack – if you were commuting home at that hour, you’d look less than completely composed, too.) – would actually leap with no net, maybe from the top of Half Dome, she could sell tickets. Heck, I might buy one.

But, alas! The True Believer, the acolytes of magical thinking, whereby the Forces of Nature or Karma or Fate or History or Anything-Just-As-Long-As-It-Isn’t-the-Christian-God make the Magic Pumpkin/Worker’s Paradise to appear just when we need it, no doubt with an audible pop, just as it appears we are heading for a moment of rapid and messy deceleration, seem disinclined to test their own theories with their own selves (2).

But we – the people who doubt somehow the efficacy of this particular brand of magic, and who are not in favor of pirating as a method of gaining and keeping political office and redistributing the wealth – we provide an abundant resource, as it were, with which to test the power of this magic, if only we will sidle up to that there cliff. All we need is a little push.

A hundred million corpses at the bottom attest to the vigor, if not the success, of this approach. But next time, for sure!

  1. In other words, surprisingly effective, given baseline human behavior as observed in all non-Christian cultures. If the standard is, say, how the Chinese or Yanomami treat outsiders, then Christians (and Jews, too!) rock – way more peaceful and tolerant. Of course, in the flat moral universe inhabited by moderns, not having succeeded perfectly is equivilent to have completely failed.
  2. To be completely fair, each generation of Marxists contains at least a few True Believers who take the leap. They are know as ‘corpses’.

Quick Reading Update

A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.

B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense.  Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”

A Whirlwind Tour of Christian Rationality by John C. Wright

In his inimitable style, Mr. Wright sums up the arguments against the proposition that, while Atheism is utterly rational, belief in Christianity is irrational in all respects. In the course of doing so, he produces a syllabus of philosophical errors tracing back to Descartes.

Mr. Wright begins with something he (and I and, frankly, anyone who tries to make a purely rational point in this woeful age) always run up against: the near total inability of a modern person to follow an argument. Education only increases density, until the typical PhD is diamond-hard in his resistance to reason, while you might have some luck with a first grader. It is both insightful and entertaining. He then compares the rationality – not the truth, but merely how rational they are – of the positions of atheists and Christians.

Keeping with my strategy of being as lightly read in as many places as possible, I paste here my long comment from there:

One other thing, to pile on a bit: another thing people don’t get (likely because it is studiously avoided in everything they’ll ever hear or read) is how the Perennial Philosophy came to be discredited. Luther and Calvin both waged war against human reason (Luther’s criticisms are legendary (and legendarily scattological) “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore” and so on, Calvin is more subtle, as in making reason a competitor with the Spirit, as it were, in the proper understanding of Scripture). They were competing against the Scholastics, who famously trusted reason as a gift from God that tended by its nature to move the reasoner toward Him, staffed and founded Universities all over Europe, and educated all the key players in both the Medieval industrial revolution and the birth of Science.

In 1630, Descartes comes along with his radical skepticism, and all Hell breaks loose with Hume, Kant, etc. Descartes proved a good stick with which to beat the Scholastics. One of the peculiarities from that time on: nobody even talks about the Thomists, except to dismissively wave them off. It’s like how the Enlightenment slandered the great cathedrals as ‘gothic’ – i.e., barbaric – when they themselves could produce nothing nearly as original and beautiful.

On marches science, using the logic of Aristotle by way of the medieval Questions method + gadgets and math. Meanwhile, Kant finally runs radical skepticism to ground, or perhaps into the ground – dead end. Hegel then reanimate Calvin’s corpse, declaring that reason (as understood by everyone prior to him with the possible exception of Fichte) is for the little people, that real philosophers just get stuff unfolded to them by the Spirit in History. Finally, a philosophy that makes sense out of Calvin and Luther – they’re not reasonable, but they’re not supposed to be! They are instead on the right side of History, where the Spirit unfolds, where you just have to be right.

Somewhere in here, science decides it’s all about making practical discoveries (see Boyle’s list h/t to TOF) and basically lobotomizes itself to get rid of all that pesky philosophy that doesn’t help further that goal (more or less). Science and philosophy march more or less side by side, but more and more aren’t on speaking terms. A century and a half later, Von Humboldt invents the research university in Prussia: practical research (and the birth of publish or perish) over here, other stuff over there.

Meanwhile, the Puritans come to America to escape religious freedom – they are very sure they have a handle on the best way to live, and want anybody under their jurisdiction to live that way – and establish Harvard and staff it with people from Cambridge even the English Protestants at the time thought a bit much. The model of the American University is established: the place where we train the people who will make other people conform to our ideals. While those ideals sure changed – from Calvinist Puritanism (see the connection? Way ahead of me…) to Unitarianism to secular humanism all within a few generations – the belief that the University’s mission is to teach the one best way everything should be and enforce it on everybody else did not change.

So Harvard, and, through its role as intellectual disease vector, all other American universities, knows that what it wants is right, not by reason – that would play into the hands of the Thomists, even though their very existence is whistled past – but, as Calvin might say, vouchsafed by the Spirit – the Spirit of History, of the age, the Spirit of Progress.

Thus you, and anyone educated in the Universities, if he is so unfortunate as to take philosophy, will hear plenty about Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx and on through the current schools (last count: 1,476) of Analytic Philosophy but will hear nothing of A-T (Aristotelian-Thomistic) Philosophy except to have it dismissed. The truly enlightened are not subject to reason, which is, after all, a construct of the white male patriarchy meant only to oppress this week’s designated oppressed group – reason is for the little people. You know, the people who use reason to build the power plants that supply the lighting in the room where Woman’s Studies majors fire up their laptops to send emails about how oppressed they are.

But I digress.

Politics as the Least Important Thing

Not really, not the very least, but not nearly the Most Important Thing. (pulling this off the back burner, where it has long simmered…)

How is it, I was once asked in so many words, that the Founders of this country could write laws that deprived women (and men without property) of the right to vote? Implicit in this question is the assumption that ‘does not have the right to vote’ = ‘subhuman’. (1) In other words, a right exercised only occasionally and in public defines human worth and freedom in the highest sense, above the rights exercised daily in our private lives. We would denigrate and then sacrifice the social structures – most especially, the family – within which our freedom is routinely expressed, in order to make more universal a right which is by its nature very specifically limited – vote on what? – and in any event exercised only rarely. We run the risk, in our headlong quest for equality, of ending up having the right to vote – and no other rights at all.

This is not to say that women’s suffrage is a bad idea, only that it is a subordinate idea. The Founders knew that life was lived in the home, the pub, the park, the chapel, and only for the sake of those things was a right to the voting booth important at all. Why risk disturbing the higher good of domestic tranquility by introducing the possibility of friction and division over something as relatively trivial as who gets to pull the lever?

Politics, in the broad sense of the process through which we end up with the government we live under, is, as Chesterton would say, a paradox: government is a very good thing, we are assured by Peter and Paul, as well as by the Catechism, yet it amount to nothing without a private life, especially a family life, within which to quietly enjoy its fruits.

Even apart from voting, freedom is devalued when its public expression is considered its highest expression. It is too easy to think that we are free when all we’re really free to do is follow the whims of the crowd.

In the words of the master:

If a wealthy young lady wants to do what all the other wealthy young ladies are doing, she will find it great fun, simply because youth is fun and society is fun. She will enjoy being modern exactly as her Victorian grandmother enjoyed being Victorian. And quite right too; but it is the enjoyment of convention, not the enjoyment of liberty. It is perfectly healthy for all young people of all historic periods to herd together, to a reasonable extent, and enthusiastically copy each other. But in that there is nothing particularly fresh and certainly nothing particularly free. The girl who likes shaving her head and powdering her nose and wearing short skirts will find the world organised for her and will march happily with the procession. But a girl who happened to like having her hair down to her heels or loading herself with barbaric gauds and trailing garments or (most awful of all) leaving her nose in its natural state– she will still be well advised to do these things on her own premises. If the Duchess does want to play leap frog, she must not start suddenly leaping in the manner of a frog across the ballroom of the Babylon Hotel, when it is crowded with the fifty best couples professionally practising the very latest dance, for the instruction of society. The Duchess will find it easier to practise leap frog to the admiration of her intimate friends in the old oak-panelled hall of Fitzdragon Castle. If the Dean must stand on his head, he will do it with more ease and grace in the calm atmosphere of the Deanery than by attempting to interrupt the programme of some social entertainment already organised for philanthropic purposes.

My complaint of the anti-domestic drift is that it is unintelligent. People do not know what they are doing; because they do not know what they are undoing. There are a multitude of modern manifestations, from the largest to the smallest, ranging from a divorce to a picnic party. But each is a separate escape or evasion; and especially an evasion of the point at issue. People ought to decide in a philosophical fashion whether they desire the traditional social order or not; or if there is any particular alternative to be desired. As it is they treat the public question merely as a mess or medley of private questions. Even in being anti-domestic they are much too domestic in their test of domesticity. Each family considers only its own case and the result is merely narrow and negative. Each case is an exception to a rule that does not exist. The family, especially in the modern state, stands in need of considerable correction and reconstruction; most things do in the modern state. But the family mansion should be preserved or destroyed or rebuilt; it should not be allowed to fall to pieces brick by brick because nobody has any historic sense of the object of bricklaying. For instance, the architects of the restoration should rebuild the house with wide and easily opened doors, for the practice of the ancient virtue of hospitality. In other words, private property should be distributed with sufficiently decent equality to allow of a margin for festive intercourse. But the hospitality of a house will always be different from the hospitality of a hotel. And it will be different in being more individual, more independent, more interesting than the hospitality of a hotel. It is perfectly right that the young Browns and the young Robinsons should meet and mix and dance and make asses of themselves, according to the design of their Creator. But there will always be some difference between the Browns entertaining the Robinsons and the Robinsons entertaining the Browns. And it will be a difference to the advantage of variety, of personality, of the potentialities of the mind of man; or, in other words, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


In a properly ordered society, the greatest care and effort would be focused on supporting and defending the families that raise the citizens that make government tolerable or even possible. When the rights of individuals discovered and enforced by government supercede the rights that support the duties of families, we’re in trouble.

The idea that a government would see it as its duty or within its power to redefine what a family is is a sign of a fatal misapprehension.  A culture is not defined by its laws; rather, the laws are defined by the living culture. It’s not like murder and theft become bad because governments enact laws against them. Neither do families become different because judges decide that laws will be misconstrued and votes overturned to redefine what a family is. All that does is assure that the police powers of the state will now be used against anyone who does not go along with the insanity.

This idea that there is, effectively, nothing outside the competence of the state is totalitarianism, regardless of how much freedom the state decides, at any moment, to grant as a boon to citizens.

The fever dreams of Rousseau, where people as individuals voluntarily opt in to a state and grant it specific powers, flies in the face of all experience and reality. In such a fantasy, each person’s fundamental expression of their individuality and rights is this fictional moment where they consciously choose to be citizens. A vote, in other words. Insofar as reality falls short of such a moment, we fall short of our perfect expression as rights-bearing individuals – we *ought* to have had such a moment, only history or chance has deprived us of it.

The Founders accepted this idea to a large degree. ‘Legitimate power from the consent of the governed’ and all that. Some of the seeds of our current state of affairs were planted at our founding, a new political Sola – the lone individual (2) is the basis of all legitimate government.  All rights springs from and flow towards him. Not, as history shows again and again, from the legitimate concerns of families.


  1. I’m leaving out slaves for now, as the ultimate inclusion of slavery in the Constitution was a bitter and tragic compromise, while granting the franchise to women hardly came up at all. That the horror of slavery was enshrined in national law all but compels some people to see women, as non-voters, as in the same boat as slaves. This is clearly unfair to the slaves, who had nothing like the freedom of a white woman.
  2. In late classical/early medieval times, the Lone Man was always suspect – a man traveling about alone would needs be heavily armed, times being what there were, and would be likely to keep his distance from groups that might overpower him. He was a spooky unknown. Why was he not travelling with his family, broadly understood? Then, he would be known and his business might be assumed to be legitimate. This attitude is echoed in how we view Zorro and Aragorn – dangerous folk! While the Cisco Kid, accompanied by Pancho, and the Lone Ranger, who, despite the name, hangs out with Tonto, are generally seen as more benign persons.

Reason #2,836 That I Should Never Look at Facebook

It’s not just the near impossibility of civil discourse. Here’s the ‘thought’ the Brahmins of Facebook suggest sharing today:

E. C. Stanton

OK, before we get to the meat of this, how does the phrase “the history of the past” get let loose onto a page? What other kind of history are we meant to distinguish the history of the past from? So, can we start by observing that we have reason to be concerned about the coherence of the thinker?

Next, “is but one long struggle upwards to equality” could only be believed by a lite Hegelian, after the usage established with ‘lite beer’. Looking at actual history, you know, the accounts of what has happened in the world, one does not come away  with the impression that struggles for equality make up the general thrust of events. The Mongol hordes were not seeking equality when they enslaved thousands of Slavs and sold them to the Egyptians; the various Chinese dynasties were not concerned with making rice farmers their equals; the Aztecs were only rarely equal-opportunity human sacrificers. There’s no indication that the slaves revolting under Spartacus objected to slavery per se – they just didn’t themselves want to be slaves. Islam, in its 1400 years of conquest, has not improved the lot of the less equal in the places they overran.

And so on. No, one must, in the Hegelian fashion, start with one’s conclusion and retrofit like hell to get any sort of general thrust toward equality to appear in the ‘history of the past’. (1)  More fundamentally, in what sense does Stanton mean ‘equality’? We in America used to think that meant ‘before the law’, allowing that there wasn’t any sort of equality evident anywhere else. We’re a stubbornly and often spectacularly unequal lot, we humans. Mostly, we seem to like it that way: Hooray for Thai food, power forwards and jockeys, men and women… These differences were considered – are still so considered by many of us – to be what made life interesting and fun. We wanted them ignored only if and when we get dragged before the Law. Otherwise, viva la difference!

But then, we lost our minds. Ms Stanton is right there in the thick of it. The weird blend of Calvinism, Enlightenment philosophy, hard-headed practicality and evangelical zeal that characterized our Founding Fathers and the American population at large resulted in this new thing under the sun: an actual government built on the idea that Law provides the fundamental framework within which individual rights can be exercised – in fact, government exists in its essence for this purpose.

This should sound familiar, right? Isn’t this what we all believe? What’s missing is a society, a culture: no man exercises rights in a vacuum, nor does any government spring Athena-like fully formed from the mind of Zeus. We inherited traditions – and laws – that recognized and protected families and culture, and built our ideas of individual rights on top of them. Then, along comes Stanton and her besties, and they read the Declaration of Independence, and use it to attack those familial and cultural foundations upon which the very concept of individual rights are built. Ouroboros. (2)

And it all sounds so good! Just like the idea that drunkenness is not a problem best addressed by family and culture but one that should be OUTLAWED by CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT! Yea, that ought to work. Thus, the intellectual and often physical descendants of the Calvinists who fled England to escape religious liberty and set up their own theocracy exercise their righteous zeal to fix the rest of us.

Stanton was a great feminist leader, and seemed at least suspicious of any differences. She is another ideological offspring of the Calvinists (she was raised a Calvinist Presbyterian) she seemed to believe she could fix the world if only she had enough power. Thus, she became an Abolitionist and Temperance leader and, ultimately, a Fabian Socialist. The common thread: the Law and the Government exists to fix EVERYTHING! Slavery, drunkenness and all economic inequality must be solved through law. The power of the Law – ultimately, the power of those who wield the Law – is infinite (3). Divine, even.

So, no, Facebook, I will not be sharing the fine thoughts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton this day. In fact, you’ve given me yet another reason to never open your app again.

  1. Surfing Wikipedia, came across this gem in reference to Stanton’s  The Woman’s Bible: “Lucy Stone determined for herself that the male-dominant interpretations of the Bible must be faulty—she worked to learn Greek and Hebrew and thereby gain insight into the earlier Bible translations which she believed would contain wording more favorable to women’s equality.” So, if the Bible doesn’t say what you want it to, it’s only a matter of getting down to the root to find that, no, it *does* say what you want it to! Start with the conclusion you want, and retrofit. Hegel and Marx would be so proud.
  2. The idea that voting for external political ends isn’t the most important thing in life is totally lost these days. Depriving someone of a family or destroying their culture in a thousand little ways: perfectly OK and enshrined in the law (divorce, farcical government interests trumping free association); Denying anyone the vote: horror of horrors greater than which little can be conceived!
  3. Stanton’s dad was a famous lawyer, judge and politician. As Oliver W. Holmes, Jr., an atheist who never married and another scion of those Puritan Calvinists, said in so many words: the law is whatever the judges say it is.

Life Amidst the Ashes of the Winnowing Fan

Stray thoughts while I avoid the massive pile of drafts that, you know, are my good writings … (1)

Orphans used to more or less promptly die. Widows, too. Up to perhaps 200 years ago everywhere, and in some places even now, being a parentless child or a woman who’d lost her husband meant that their was no one to help you get enough food to survive, let alone protect you from violence. The scriptural admonitions to care for widows and orphans is in part a recognition of these cold facts.

This grim fate is part and parcel of the historian’s grim euphemism ‘harvest sensitive’: When there’s plenty of food around, even the widow and orphan may get fed; when the harvest is bad, the weakest – that would be widows and orphans – get to starve first. Sure, we’d like to imagine, in our plenty, that the extended families of the widows and orphans  would take them in, and that probably did happen sometimes. We underestimate the difficulty and sacrifice that generosity might entail: the food supply doesn’t magically expand to accommodate more mouths. As a peasant (about 90% of people across all but the most recent history) I couldn’t just put another acre under cultivation and simply catch more fish. Those scriptural admonitions are a call to real sacrifice, more often than not.

Once read about Charlemagne that he, as is appropriate for an emperor, tended to take a dim view of any attitude or behavior that might threaten his reign. Unlike his ancestors and contemporaries, he is remembered for his mercy – he didn’t just automatically kill people, but would use less bloody ways to remove them. For example, he would banish anyone who offended against the Frankish empire to distant monasteries, where they were to reevaluate their decision making paradigms.  Such reevaluation might take the rest of their lives – oh well. (2)

The thing about Charlemagne is that this practice of his is no different in concept from the practices of any vigorous king or, for that matter, any vigorous culture. What defines a culture as vigorous is its ability to promote that which strengthens it and suppress that which destroys it. Mostly, this action of suppression and promotion has not been controversial: murder and theft must be suppressed, and family and commerce must be promoted.

Until now.

Those who refused to support the efforts of the people of a culture to sustain and propagate that culture found themselves, at the very least, outside the bounds of polite society. Thieves and murderers were most often executed. But other acts of defiance to the cultural norms were also punished. Homewreckers – think Don Juan for an extreme literary example – were dragged to Hell by the Stone Guest, often not too figuratively. The shotgun wedding is a delicate refinement of merely being shotgunned.

And so on – if you violated the expectations of the people you lived among enough, you weren’t going to get a job or a spouse or a place to live. At best. (3) Then, without family and position, your fate would stand to be determined by that same harvest sensitivity mentioned above.

These two thing – the need to support or at least not tear down the culture, and the often fatal results of not being tied in to a family – tended strongly to winnow out certain behaviors that were destructive to a culture. This didn’t really start to change anywhere until the middle of the 19th century, (4) when food production and storage finally started to ease the threat of starvation from the most civilized countries. Not coincidentally, that’s also when Marx published Wage Labour and Capital (1847) and Communist Manifesto (1848). Marx attacks the culture that produced him just at the moment when it was just becoming possible for a common man to live the sort of dissolute and irresponsible personal life Marx lived and still stand a decent chance of survival. That train has kept rolling on, so that, today, a person with no family ties to speak of and who lives in constant defiance of all traditional social norms not only does not die, but lives to reproduce and, sometimes, vote.

The winnowing fan is in ashes. This is not entirely a bad thing – we really don’t want widows and orphans to starve. But what has happened is that our current desiccated and anemic culture has absorbed all sorts of bad ideas, ideas that do not support this or any other culture. (5)

And so we run a grand experiment upon the ashes. What if no man must raise and care for his children? No woman need be married to be a mother? No child need even know who his father is? No recognition that society, and especially political society, is a result of families, not a cause ot definition of families? Heck, what if we punish any who claim otherwise?

Already the non-controversial actions of the culture – suppressing theft and murder, for a pertinent example – have been made controversial. We ask who is doing the stealing and killing and from or of whom before we are allowed to disapprove, and judgement is to be based on the group, not the individual actors. Whipping up hatred of one group for another is not loathsome and despicable, but just good politics. And those who would only keep their culture alive are persecuted from the high places of government.

So we will see. This should be interesting. (6)

  1. Chesterton says something like this about a book he hadn’t gotten around to writing: like everything I haven’t written, it was the best thing I ever wrote. Beautiful potentiality is always the theoretical winner when compared to any brute actuality. Sigh.
  2. One hopes flatterers would get this treatment.
  3. It is odd to contemplate that a medieval village was in most ways more tolerant of oddball behaviours than we are. See Don Quixote, for examples.
  4. In the early 19th century, the rules still seemed to hold. I’m thinking of Mary Shelly and her crowd and how much death and misery resulted from their free thinking. That part tends to get glossed over, or, worse and more dishonest, blamed on the society and not on the idiotic adolescent fantasies of the perps.
  5. Marx wastes no ink describing how the new paradise is to arise in any practical sense – it just does, once you’ve killed enough Capitalists. That it hasn’t yet is not seen as proof that it’s a dumb idea, but merely as evidence you’ve not yet killed enough capitalists. The solution is to increase your efforts and broaden the definition of Capitalist until it includes, say, kulak farmers or, today, anyone who makes more money than you and fails to get in line.
  6. There are some potentially funny developments – funny, unless you’re a woman who has spent a lifetime training for the Olympics only to lose to some mediocre guy who says he’s a woman and takes steps for 12 months to suppress his testosterone levels. My prediction: in 4 years, there will be few world record in women’s Olympic sports held by women. There are enough unstable guys who are decent athletes who will ‘become women’ just long enough to snag a gold medal or two.