An Outline of The History of History

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 wrote The 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.

  1. 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

On Followers and Humility

Further thoughts on this post, wherein the observation of Henry VIII (as imagined by Robert Bolt in A Man for All Seasons) that “…there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves” is discussed.

We modern Americans think any decision made by anyone else on our behalf is at least potentially oppressive, and, more important, has no real hold over us. In its terminal form, even the ‘decisions’ of nature are felt to be subject to review. Our own will, on the other hand, is sacred. It is meaningless to consider the possibility that we might will something wrong – wrong how? According to whom?

Image result for herds
Each of these sheep, despite having its consciousness determined by their class within an oppressive hegemony, has nonetheless made the sacred choice to get its ear tagged, and where appropriate, a bell placed around its neck and a splash of green die applied to its back, and has freely chosen to go wherever it is that everybody else is going. Prove me wrong.

Yet we think feel this is true while surrounded by a mass that follows this week’s herd consensus much more rigorously and with more anxiety than any slave ever worked under the lash. The slave, at least, might dream of freedom, or at least getting a break. Not so the modern American, not so! The very idea that they might differ from the herd and thus be cast into the outer darkness with The Bad People causes such distress we see weeping; anxiety leads them to not even notice how the views they are required to parrot get changed over time, without so much as an acknowledgement that they were ever different. Examples abound. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

What’s been slowly dawning on me is this: that the key getting through the Crazy Years is not to spend time arguing, trying to show the error of their ways to that great mass of people who will follow anything that moves (1), but instead coming to grips with herd behavior being the human default position – and not, in and of itself, a bad thing!

That this is true from an evolutionary perspective is obvious: we survive and breed only as members of a tribe. Taking the evidence for the argument (standard practice in evolutionary biology) we conclude that this state of affairs – tribal membership is how we live to breed, even today, for the most part, and always in history up to the last couple centuries – proves tribal behaviors have been selected for and, therefore, are hard-wired into the human brain. Be that as it may, looking at it from a more philosophically profound perspective, Aristotle’s statement that man is a political animal, and that human happiness is therefore found in what might be called our civic relationships, leads to the same conclusion: we, the products of endless generations of successful breeders, really, really want to be part of the team. We often refer to how those on the Left act like infants – they do, but the spin here is that that’s not entirely a bad thing in and of itself. Infants typically only run into problems when the adults around them have failed.

Revisiting a couple points from the previous post: Heads of households have historically had great sway over the lives of the people in the households. We moderns have no way to imagine how that might work in practice other than imagining the (usually) patriarch as Oppressy McOpressorface. Dad got to pick your spouse and pretty much otherwise decide your future for you – that has to be oppression, right? He negotiated with other families to find you a spouse! Where’s the love?

Answer: everywhere. Dad wanted his children to survive, as a condition to them being happy, since happiness in this life is pretty much over once you’re dead. Thus, he eliminated from consideration potential spouses who could not care for you or who would require too much care on your part: for his daughters, he crossed off the impoverished sons of poor or no family; for his sons, daughters who couldn’t come up with an appropriate dowery, since they (and their kids!) would immediately become his responsibility and a drain on his resources. He did all this, of course, to honor his ancestors and to ensure his line would continue. But none of those considerations contradict his main motive: he loved his children. Having a place in a family and a society of families is, he knew, the chief way we have any joy and freedom in this life. It’s why the heads of monasteries and convents were called abbot – daddy – and mother. The only way for monks and nuns to be happy was in a family, even if it were only a vague shadow of the family in which we are children of God.

Today, getting fed, clothed and housed is such a low bar that we can hardly imagine it being much of a concern; lack of food, clothing and a bed to call your own – and a cell phone, HD TV, and high speed internet – is a sure sign something is Very Wrong (and the eternal infants want the great daddy proxy The State to fix it NOW). But back in Jean Valjean’s day – and Dante’s, and Jane Austen’s and Aristotle’s and Gregory the Great’s – making as sure as you could that your baby of marrying age was going to be taken care of was Job 1. No husbands who wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of your daughters; no wives who might bleed your sons dry. Those crusty old patriarchs wanted spouses for their kids who would be there when needed, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in good times and bad. This mundane, feet on the ground care is the basis of love, attested to by no less an authority than Christ, who threatens to throw those who do not provide this level of care to their spiritual brothers and sisters (let alone their own children!) into the outer darkness. Feelz don’t necessarily enter into it.

The underlying assumption here, if we need to call it that, is that Daddy, having successfully married and reproduced and raised up his children to marrying age, is more wise and experienced in how all that works than his 16 year old daughter or 20 year old son. He correctly believes that he will do a better job finding and choosing a mate for his children than they are likely to do on their own. At any rate, it is his duty to do so. He would of course take his wife’s views into consideration, and even his daughter’s or son’s. Again, he does this because he loves them, and wants them to be happy.

There’s not much historical evidence that children on the whole objected much to this arrangement. Why should they? The results – not just the spouse, but the family and communal nature of the marriage, seen as uniting the destiny of two families, who thus have a huge interest in the marriage’s success – compare very favorably to today’s outcomes.

But that’s not the main point here. I here want to point out how much everyone in this picture is a follower. Not only do the children and wife and anybody else in the household follow the lead of the patriarch, the patriarch himself follows the lead of his father and the men in his life when he leads: even the leaders are essentially followers. Hope and Change are the last thing anyone involved wants: everybody want things to work out according to plan – and it’s an ancient plan.

It gets worse. History and Scripture record many incidents of entire families, tribes and nations converting as the result of their leaders converting. Sometimes, as in the case of the early Spanish missionaries in the New World, villages elders would meet them, and then send them off if they didn’t want their religion, only to later (after the Guadalupana) decide that, yes, the village would convert. There’s no reason to think the other villagers objected – that’s just the way it was done, they are the elders for a reason, they make the call. We read in Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1 of entire households being baptized upon the conversion of the leader. Or entire nations, conquered in war, converting en mass because their new leaders said so. Once heard a story about a Viking priest who went to preach in a remote village, and was challenged by the local chieftain. They fought to the death, the priest won, and the village converted.

We humans are followers. That’s why Christ reserved the worst opprobrium for leaders who lead others astray. This would hardly warrant a whole millstone-tied-around-the-neck, cast-into-the-sea level of hellfire and brimstone unless almost all the people, almost all the time, are followers.

In this sense, what is called Original Sin might be called the Curse of the Followers. Once a bad path has been chosen, we followers really can’t do all that much about it on our own. What we need is a new Leader, a Savior, even, to follow down a better path. But once we find Him, we go all in on the following, we become as little children, as sheep who know their Shepherd.

The point here is that not following is not an option. We will follow, the only question is whom or what? Following the right leader is a great good, just as following the wrong leaders is all too literally the road to perdition.

In his beautiful Prayer after Communion, St. Thomas prays: “May it perfect me in charity and patience; in humility and obedience; and in all other virtues.” I am struck by the inclusion of ‘obedience’ in with charity, humility, and patience. Those last three virtues are big among Christians of all denominations; I don’t think anyone but a Catholic would understand obedience as used here, either in the sense Thomas means it or why he would name it as a major grace of the Eucharist. He means it in the sense another St. Thomas – St. Thomas More – lived it. (1)

St. Thomas More died, in his own words, “the King’s good servant, and God’s first.” He, following Aquinas, saw obedience to legitimate authority as a positive virtue, a full realization of humility, patience, and love. Obedience isn’t a grim duty, to be performed under duress or threat, but rather an opportunity to be eagerly embraced to live out charity and humility.

Of course, the virtue of obedience requires prudence and the knowledge of exactly how far the proper authority of a superior goes. More struggled mightily to find a way to obey his king, and only when this proved impossible did he try to retire from public life and keep his mouth shut. He could not consent, yet to the end he tried to honor Henry and do nothing to contradict him. He expressed his love and affection for his king right up to the moment that king had his head chopped off.

Both Aquinas and More thought obedience a virtue to be actively practiced. It was a positive good to promptly obey proper authority, a step on the way to greater holiness. Put another way, these saints strongly supported active, vigorous following.

Put the other way around, thinking you have what it takes to blaze your own trail is hubris bordering on lunacy. You? Me? We don’t know nothin’! The modern phenomenon is the most slavish followers professing how independent they are, different just like everybody else. Everything from getting tats to creating your own brand new gender is imagined by the victim as declarations of unique trail blazing and laudable bravery, when a look around would show everybody doing exactly the same thing. Many seem to believe unironically that only by slavish conformity can one be unique.

The paradox: we who would restore Christendom or even just Western Civilization need to become great leaders by becoming the most humble followers on earth.

  1. Credit must go to my younger daughter, soon off to South Sudan for a year, for much of this. She wrote a very good graduation thesis exploring what the St. Thomas’s – Aquinas and More – meant by obedience.

Following Anything That Moves

Henry VIII, from A Man for All Seasons:

“There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth & I’m their tiger, there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves.”

People who are not insane tend to look around at the Crazy Years we’re in, and believe objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that we’re screwed. (1) I Here’s another take: Followers gonna follow. Leaders can and do get replaced.

A lifetime of reality hasn’t quite beaten the Pollyanna out of me. Yet. I remain pretty staunchly a small-d democrat, believing people should govern themselves. But people can only truly be said to govern themselves within the context of a strong Commonwealth/Republic. Such a Republic manifests a series of what from one perspective might be called safeguards, chief of which are strong families and traditions and a commitment to the law, such that it is generally obeyed even when it is not enforced. Family, tradition and the rule of law are both causes and results of a strong Republic. Other safeguards are adopted within this context of cultural stability as needed: tripartite government and the electoral college are the kinds of steps a good Republic takes to slow things down. (2) Sane people (perhaps largely theoretical entities, but humor me) recognize that, just as hasty decisions and rash actions are a bane to personal and family life, they need to be guarded against in public life.

Political toddlers and the power hungry always want to speed things up: they want their pony, and they want it now! Perhaps Conservatism could be best thought of as the attempt of the grownups in the room to slow things down so that they can be properly examined, and just say ‘no’ to the toddlers?

Back to the quotation above. History, cultural wisdom and just a look around confirm one truth: as much as we may like to think of ourselves as nobody-is-the-boss-of-me free agents choosing our own special paths unencumbered by pesky reality (gender theory, anyone?), we’re really a bunch of sheep. Some, like Norfolk, follow because of all that stuff just mentioned: family, tradition, the rule of law. Others – and, damn, is their name Legion – are jackals, creatures who live to rend and consume and lord it over others, yet are too weak in themselves, and so follow, and attempt to flatter and weedle, the tiger. Others follow anything that moves. Think of your typical college freshman, 18 years old, away from home for the first time, both flush with the success of getting to college – what smart, ambitious boys and girls! Not like those college-skipping losers! – yet hopelessly insecure. They will and do follow anything that moves. (3)

This is how you get the ubiquitous herds of independent thinkers thundering across our urban plains.

BUT: look at, e.g., Jordan Peterson. I’ve only seen/read a few minutes of the dude’s schtick, but it can’t be denied that his ‘leadership’ has attracted a huge number of followers (fine, independent-minded people, no doubt each making an independent decision). Lead, and people will follow. The power of this idea is testified to by the endless efforts of the Left to silence anything that moves to the right. A guy like Peterson doesn’t exactly come off as a Teddy Roosevelt or George Patton. It would seem that it doesn’t require charismatic superpowers (although those help) if you just present as someone with a clue to where you are going.

See what I mean?

We moderns cannot understand historical stories about how, once the head of the household was convinced of Christianity, his entire household converted, or how a religion was ‘forced’ upon conquered people. We are appalled: but each individual person needs to make up his own mind! You can’t force people to believe!

Yet the reality is that those people, for the most part, have chosen, as much as they are capable of choosing. They chose to follow. That is why, historically & biblically, it’s the bad leaders who get the most heat. Kings who lead Israel astray; Scribes and Pharisees; false teachers; heretics. There is a reason the secular state burned heretics, and it wasn’t that they were puppets of the Church. Heresy upsets all that family, tradition and especially reverence for the rule of law upon which any state worthy of the name rests. Better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea than to lead any of these little ones astray.

We’re about 99% little ones. We all like to think we’re Thomas More, the one honest man in our particular England. Don’t kid yourself. Instead, focus on being that leader who, in however small a way, points to the truth. Which is another way of saying: know Who you follow.

  1. Yes, I just jackhammered Heinlein and Orwell into the same sentence. It’s my blog. I can do that. We here have, within the first inch and a half of text, Bolt putting words into the mouth of Henry VIII addressing Thomas More, Heinlein making an easy prophet’s call, and a Commie paraphrasing Scripture to illustrate propaganda techniques. Do I win? Achievement unlocked? Or what?
  2. Probably the first solid political insight I ever had, back when mastodons ruled the earth, is that the last thing a citizen wants is efficient government. Democracies more developed than mob rule are horribly inefficient; totalitarian dictatorships can be very efficient. Nope, sane people want their ‘leaders’ to find it difficult to get anything done, and should be scared of politicians who preach efficiency. Alas, “Elect me, and I’ll do my best to make sure the wheels don’t fall off” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Hope and Change.”
  3. Of course, add to their native insecurity, cultivated immaturity and hormone-soaked craziness 12 years of being actively taught to follow the teacher’s lead no matter how stupid and arbitrary, and here you are.

Hagiography as a Door to History

Whether you are Catholic or not, reading the lives of the saints, especially the ones over the last 500 years or so, opens a door into history and particularly modern history. It’s that context thing I keep going on about.

Today, researching the Feasts & Faith meeting I will be leading tonight at our parish, came across the challengingly-named Blessed Scipion-Jérôme Brigeat Lambert (I’d have pronounced Lambert right first try!) who lived from 1733-1794 and was beatified in 1995 by Pope St. John Paul the Great.

He was a priest and scholar who died of starvation and general physical abuse aboard the good ship Washington (of all things!) in Rochefort, France. So, how does a priest and scholar end up imprisoned and left to die on one of the Hulks of Rochefort? By refusing to sign the French Revolution’s oath of loyalty to the new constitution. What’s that, you ask? The Oracle Wikipedia puts it thus:

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy (French: “Constitution civile du clergé”) was a law passed on 12 July 1790 during the French Revolution, that caused the immediate subordination of the Catholic Church in France to the French government. Earlier legislation had already arranged the confiscation of the Catholic Church’s French land holdings and banned monastic vows. This new law completed the destruction of the monastic orders, outlawing “all regular and secular chapters for either sex, abbacies and priorships, both regular and in commendam, for either sex”, etc. It also sought to settle the chaos caused by the earlier confiscation of Church lands and the abolition of the tithe. Additionally, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy regulated the current dioceses so that they could become more uniform and aligned with the administrative districts that had recently been created. It emphasised that officials of the church could not provide commitment to anything outside France, specifically the Papacy (due to the great power and influence it wielded), which was based outside France. Lastly, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy made Bishops and Priests elected. By having members of the Clergy elected the church lost much of the authority it had to govern itself and was now subject to the people, since they would vote on the Priest and Bishops as opposed to these individuals being appointed by the church and the hierarchy within.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Constitution_of_the_Clergy

Wikipedia, reflecting the modern ‘enlightened’ view of the world, states with little comment and no sense of irony the notion that ‘the people’ would elect their bishop and even their parish priest. Which people would that be? The good, enlightened, and morally superior people, no doubt, as evidenced by their unquestioned embrace and support of the French Revolution. Which would make them atheists, at least. As stated, it’s as if this is merely a case of rejecting foreign meddling in internal French politics, not all out war on the Church by atheist proponents of the Goddess Reason.

This is the same Revolutionary government that slaughtered around a couple hundred thousand French peasants in the Vendee for the crime of NOT embracing the Revolution with sufficient enthusiasm. Those benighted peasants – women and children as well as men – needed to die, as they rejected the Revolution as it was manifested in their bucolic backwater. The Revolution drafted their young men to fight for the Revolution (and, necessarily, for atheism and against the Church) and seized church and other property and otherwise made a show of force.(1)

Image result for goddess reason

Being enlightened and all, the Revolutionary French military simply labeled all the people of the Vendee ‘brigands’ for the crime of fighting back; they took to killing people, including children, by bayonetting them through the gut, so they could dies slowly and in agony. Many – again, women and children along with the men – were marched to the rivers, stripped naked, tied together with rope and shoved into the water to drown. The more attractive women and girls were of course raped, sometimes to death, before execution. Hurray, Reason?

Similarly, most days on the liturgical calendar have some Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. For example, here’s the set for September 4:

Picking one at random, let’s see who Blessed Jose Bleda Grau was:

Blessed José Bleda Grau

Franciscan Capuchin friar, professed on 2 February 1901. Worked as a beggar and tailor for his religious community in Orihuela, Alicante, Spain; he developed a relationship with the people of his city based on his humility, piety and charity. When the antiCatholicpersecutions of the Spanish Civil War began, he fled to his home village and hid with family. The militia found him on the night of 30 August 1936, spent five days abusing him, and finally killed him. Martyr.

Blessed José Bleda Grau

The enlightened, loving and gentle Commies put a bullet in the back of this man’s head. Scientific socialism at its finest.

What I’ve gained from reading about these guys is, frankly, a lot more sympathy for Franco, who has always been portrayed as little better than Hitler. For years, you had Marxists roaming the country, dragging priests, religious and lay people out of their monasteries and churches, and then torturing and killing them in what they no doubt considered amusing ways. Hundreds and hundreds of people died this way.

So when Franco starts in rounding up and summarily executing Communists, we may not like it, civilized trials are certainly to be preferred, but it sure looks like a man killing plague rats. Marxists do their best to hide behind the law when they don’t have power, only to dispense with the law as soon as they do. As usual, Marxist want to hold us to civilized behavior while rejecting it themselves.

And so on. The numbers of martyrs killed by self-identified Progressive ideologies over the last 250 years starts to get numbing. Viet Nam. Mexico. Spain. China. France. A little farther back, and you have the English martyrs. In their hundreds and thousands, these saints not only show great bravery and holiness, but also illustrate the secular world’s hatred for the Church and her Lord that is never far from the surface.

Today, in this country, people routinely get away with and are often applauded for identifying Christians and particularly Catholics as enemies of Progress, and the meanest people! New laws are written against us; old laws creatively interpreted to put us in the wrong. History shows that it is not paranoia to worry we’re only inches from yet another reckoning, another round of murders. And the killers will applaud themselves for their forward thinking and willingness to finally take action to correct egregious wrong. There will be a hundred Margaret Clitherows dying for every Guy Fawkes, a hundred little old ladies, moms and monks for every person who at least looks like a dangerous criminal. This is not paranoia. This is history.

  1. Read somewhere (here I go again!) that what we think of as France is a creation, over centuries, of the dominant culture of Paris being ruthlessly enforced on the surrounding, often conquered, territories. Burgundy, for example, had a culture and language fairly distinct from what you’d have heard in Paris a few centuries ago, But the Burgundians lost and the Parisians won, so there you go.

A History Guy?

Me? No. All the history I know comes from having read a fairly slap-dash set of books, and, in recent years, watching a few interesting videos on Youtube. Vast areas of history are a complete or near complete mystery. Yet, because I’ll chime in with some tidbit of history once in a while, I’ve been called a history guy. This mostly shows how low the bar on historical knowledge has become.

Image result for woodrow wilson high school san francisco
Woodrow Wilson High School, San Francisco. One of many thus named spread around the country. I point out what a racist pig Wilson was every chance I get, and how he was a great supporter of progressiver public education, which means educating the vast bulk of people to shut up and do their little peon jobs and leave the thinking to the specialists. Here we have some classic William Torrey Harris approved architecture – he wanted schools to be, basically, sensory deprivation tanks, none of that distracting beauty! But I digress…

At St. John’s Santa Fe back in the 1970s, Charles G. Bell was a tutor, the universal title there for people who everywhere else are called professors. He was a character, to say the least: born in 1916 on the Yazoo Delta in Mississippi and picking up degrees in Virginia, and Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, then teaching all over the place and doing research in physics at Princeton, Chuck, as we referred to him (not to his face) had the most confusing accent you’d ever hope to hear. He told colorful stories about his time in Oxford, where he would switch from a thick Yazoo Delta drawl to something like an Oxford don’s English, but, usually, he spoke in an ineffable accent all his own. From anyone else, it would have come off as an insufferable affectation; from him, it was just Chuck.

He was also just about the most widely read person anyone would ever hope to meet. The Mississippi Encyclopedia entry linked above says: “In a time when academic specialization is the rule, Charles G. Bell’s career as a physicist, poet, novelist, philosopher, historian, art and music historian, and professor was a dramatic exception.”I visited his home on occasion – wall to ceiling bookcases in virtually every room of a two-story house, and he’d read them all, and then some.

“Bell’s masterwork, Symbolic History through Sight and Sound, is a sixty-hour video cultural history of the world that brings alive history, art, music, politics, philosophy, and literature using thousands of images of art and architecture.” Back in the late 70s, it was a slideshow with a recorded voiceover. Chuck would run segments of them at school. I sat through a few. Somebody threw about 45 minutes of it up on Youtube. (Chuck either toned down the accent for these videos, or, more likely, he was toning it up for us kids.)

The slideshows themselves, with Bell’s weird, intellectually dense, if not out and out pretentious, voiceovers, were all but unendurable for me. But his introduction and Q & A were good, or at least, left a much stronger impression. For Chuck’s whole point, which came up repeatedly in those talks, was that all this stuff – history, philosophy, art, music, science – was not separable, at least not if you wanted to really understand any of it.

In this way, Symbolic History is nearly the antithesis of the Great Books Program taught at St. John’s. The Great Books throws a bunch of ignorant 18 year olds (but I repeat myself) into the intellectual deep end with nary a life-preserver in sight. Of course, you have to start somewhere, and it’s much more respectful to just have the students dive in than to treat them like children who need their food predigested.

And it wasn’t entirely fragmented. Herodotus and Thucydides do give one a little flavor for Greek history, and the Greek playwrights and poets help with cultural background, so Socrates and Aristotle aren’t totally untethered from their culture and time. But once you leave Roman times, you’re screwed. We students had no real context for the Middle Ages, Renaissance or the Enlightenment. I don’t think the Counter-Reformation came up much if at all, for example, nor did we discuss the absurdity of the Enlightenment writers dismissing Medieval art, architecture and philosophy as ‘Gothic’. Our sole sort of framing works for the Middle Ages were maybe Dante and Chaucer. Not bad, for sure, but not sufficient for such a cataclysmically important age. From then on, you get the occasional Don Quixote or War and Peace, and insufferable French poets and such, which do provide some flavor of the age, but hardly enough to qualify as context.

Bell’s talks left me dissatisfied. I knew nothing of history, little of art and music. I was getting a very good smattering of philosophy and literature but, again, without the context for the most part. It was up to us to notice Hegel’s (and Kant’s, and, indeed, everybody from Descartes on) near-total silence on the Schoolmen. Clearly, they were of the opinion that St. Thomas & Co. simply didn’t matter to the discussion. But having just read a bunch of Thomas, it was pretty obvious that, if somebody was irrelevant, is was much more likely to be the largely untethered and arbitrary Enlightenment philosophers than the broad and careful schoolmen.

But a lot of history had happened between 1200 and 1630 – not that we students had much of a clue at the time. And it continued to happen, and those Enlightenment thinkers found themselves riding shotgun while Thomas and Aristotle weren’t even on the stagecoach. Rather than have our country founded explicitly on the notion that rights were the flip side of duties, which the Founders might have made a lot more clear had they been precise Thomists instead of muddle-headed children of Rousseau and Locke, they set the stage for today’s collapse, where rights are discovered and invented daily based on who is whining most loudly at the moment, with no thought that duties (other than ‘bake the cake’ duties imposed on others) must accompany them, or rights become arbitrary and tyrannical.

For example. We could have at least argued about it, would have been enlightening.

So I’ve read some history, studied a little art and music, not a lot by any means, not as a real scholar, but enough to get at least an outline of the vast sweep of things. Thus, in conversation, I’m often the guy pointing out what else was going on at the time that lead to or colors what we’re talking about.

It’s a little scary, as I’m no doubt leaving off 10 other things that might be pertinent. But it’s still better if people are told that Galileo died of old age in his own bed; that Islam conquered about 2/3 of the Christian world between 634 and 732; that the Gothic building boom began in the time of Sts Francis and Dominic and was going strong when St. Thomas and Dante were writing – and there’s a connection; that in Les Miserables Jean Valjean was stealing bread at a time of famines, exacerbated by revolutions and social unrest, which meant that him feeding his meant somebody else’s were going hungry and perhaps starving to death; that Lincoln did not win the popular vote and was a very controversial figure right up until his secular canonization; that Nazism gained power not so much because thugs signed up as because the professional classes, who always love the idea of somebody controlling everything, got on board; and that the KKK was coextensive and staffed identically with the democratic Party over most of its range.

And a million other things. The main difference between me now and 18 year old me is that, slowly, I’ve gotten enough bits of history to start to see longer term stuff and repeating patterns, and am able to draw some conclusions. For example, knowing that Wells’ Outline of History (1920) occasioned responses by both Belloc and Chesterton – Europe and the Faith (1920) (1) and Everlasting Man (1920), respectively, helps frame the intellectual disputes current as of the end of the Great War. Which in turn makes the years leading up to WWII more interesting, and puts WWII itself in a different light. While there no doubt are many causes of such a great war, you can see the issues that gripped the two great Christian writers playing out in blood.

Hilaire Belloc portrait by E. O. Hoppé, 1915
Belloc looks like John Cleese’s older brother. There, I said it.

I wish I knew more history, which is in some sense is an indication that I’ve learned a little history. Only someone who knew no history could find it boring.

  1. Among other works – as a real historian, Belloc was clearly appalled and angered by the amatuer Wells’ Progressive, anti-Christian take, and wrote a number of works to counter it.

Future Families

Been thinking about the confluence of technology and people considered both as individuals and as members of a family. The loss of family estates and the rise of existential dread by Adam Lane Smith inspired me to blog about it.

Mr. Smith’s short essay is about how human being have always tended to organize themselves along the lines of an extended family. He maintains – and I agree – that it is within such a family that human happiness is best obtained. This need for family is not limited to natural tribes. St. Benedict, when he created the Western monastery – literally, a collection of solitary hermits, as the ‘mono’ here refers to alone – he was reining in the dangers of individualism untethered from social relationships. Monks – again, the name comes from being alone – now lived in community. They had plenty of time to pray and study alone, but had reciprocal duties with the community: monks take care of the community, and the community takes care of the monks.(1)

The bug in my brain: we may or may not like the idea of a society organized around a family estate headed by a patriarch, but I think technology is going to push us in that direction, or push us over a cliff.

Consider two factors: for centuries now, since, perhaps, the first troglodyte knapped a good flint blade, technology has been eliminating jobs almost as fast as it has created them. Take any remotely modern job, even, say, a farm working picking crops, and you can back up into a million bits of technology that make that job possible: trucks, refrigeration, irrigation, pumps, herbicides, supply chain management, communications, and on and on. It’s a truism that each of these technologies puts the case-specific buggy whip maker out of work, but the greater fact is that technological advances generally create 10 times as many jobs as they destroy, each of them generally safer, more productive and more highly remunerated than the jobs lost. We would not have 7 billion people on earth if this were not the case, and fewer impoverished people both as a percentage and absolutely, than at any time over the last century or two.

Image result for robby the robot
I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords, especially if they’re as slow and clumsy as this thing. Cool styling, however.

The fear is that, eventually and possibly very soon, robotics will put almost all manual laborers out of a job. Maybe. Sure has and will put a lot of people – warehouse workers, burger flippers – out of job. The reason for this fear seems to be the belief that robots, broadly understood to include AI, will soon be able to do not only virtually all blue collar jobs, but many or most white collar jobs as well. A robot can not only flip your burger and fulfill your order in a warehouse, it will soon be able to design the warehouse and all the robots in it from scratch, and design and build the robots that fix the robots, and the spec out and design the AI that will replace it. And do the taxes and fill out the forms. And then run the software that produces the increasingly life-like CGI replicas of dead people and put together the propaganda movies that will help keep us sedated…

And so on.

I have my doubts. But let’s grant this – dystopia? Here’s what it would mean in practice: those jobs that the robot AIs can’t do economically will fall into two classes: comparatively trivial jobs such as hairdressing or lawn care, which could be done by robots, but why bother? And jobs that are really tricky, involving human judgement and creativity on a level AIs can’t match.

This second class of jobs, which will include work such as directing the robots, marketing (no, really – there’s some serious voodoo involved on occasion) and perhaps the creative end of ‘creative’ jobs (anybody really think a bot couldn’t write most pop music? But you’d still need, for example, John C. Wright and Brian Niemeier to write their novels) will become increasingly better paid.

Jobs that the robots can’t do will be needed in order for the robots to do the jobs they can do. Someone will need to direct them towards an end, even if the bots can figure out the optimal way to get there. Robots creating movies will still need the parts of the stories that make it real and tend to defy algorithmic solutions – plot twists and character arcs, for example. (2) Those people whose jobs defy automation yet are critical to the workings of the automation would do really well, in other words. So well that they could easily support many other people.

So: I’m seeing a future with many ‘family estates,’ where the patriarch has a job that pays so well that he can support many people on his income alone. He will follow two paths: build capital over his lifetime so that the estate can continue without him, and groom successors. He will provide opportunities to his ‘family’ to work in various ways, as managers of the estate or creative contributors toward its functioning and beauty. Maybe they want to grow and cook their own food, or make their own furniture, or paint the family portraits, or write family biographies. Who know?

Over time, more and more people will belong to such estates, either as patriarchs or his family, or as ‘clients’ in the old Roman sense. If – big if, largely contradicted by history – his successors can maintain the family fortune, generations of people may live this way.

Lot of speculation here. The point I think I’m making: one option that may appear if robotics do in fact obviate most jobs is the reemergence of the ‘family estate’ broadly understood. The good side, as in Smith’s description, is that natural familial affection would be given room to grow; the down side is that those inside who have no other economic options may come to feel trapped. And the potential for human evil never goes away, but that can hardly be uniquely laid at the feet of the family estate.

Just dumping something that’s been running through my mind. Of course, the evidence suggests that many such tech and creative overlords, perched upon their piles of cash, will behave very badly. They certainly do now. Such are unlikely to leave offspring capable of continuing a family estate in the unlikely event they ever form a coherent family in the first place.

There could be conflict between those wanting to build for the future and those who believe they are the future. It could get ugly. I doubt I’ll live long enough to see how this comes out, as predictions of this ‘singularity’ (yeech! What a dumb expression!) being right around the corner seem to always be a few decades off.

  1. An illustrative fact: since to the Catholic, especially medieval Catholic, mind, rights are an emmination from duties, monks could own no property. Unlike a farmer or a knight or even a parish priest, a monk had no duty to support others. His duty was to obey his abbot; it was his abbot’s duty to direct the activities of the monastery to make sure the monks were taken care of. So there was no justification for a monk owning anything. His vow of poverty simply fixes this idea to the front of his mind.
  2. No doubt bots could produce 90% of what passes for art/movies/music/literature/whatever. If they in fact don’t already. That other 10% may prove difficult.

The Scary True Believers

Earlier, I wrote about C. S. Lewis’ graduation address concerning Inner Circles, and how the recruitment and advancement in such circles was illustrated in That Hideous Strength. The ever-increasing entanglement of the victims of such circles is lubricated by appeals to ego: now that you’ve reached our level, you are just so much smarter and cunning than those jokers in the circle you just advanced from. (Pay no attention to how you were played right up until you were welcomed in. That might trigger some actual thought, and we can’t have that.)

Anyone who leaves such a circle must be denounced (or denounced and assassinated, as the situation requires, as Prof. Hingest in Lewis’ book), not merely for the damage they might do by disclosing what they know, but by the psychological damage of such a direct assault on the self-image of the larger circles nearest the inner ring. How could anyone leave something so desirable, so powerful, so knowledgeable, so cool, as the inner ring? It must be demonstrated, for the sake of the little people, that the ex-inner-ringer was a problem, a fool, a traitor, someone to be disposed of.

It helps to appeal to people’s vanity. Hegel, Marx and Freud all use the old ‘of course, only enlightened people like you, the smart people who agree with me, truly understand; those who don’t hold and profess all we hold and teach are hopelessly benighted’ schtick to create their own cool kids club. Such a club is immune to all criticism, since such criticism only proves the critic to be hopelessly unenlightened and evil. Hegel, Marx and Freud are fundamentally Mean Girls; their followers’ deepest belief is that they are smarter than you. Every other belief is secondary: how do we know, say, all statements of being are false yet true insofar as they are suspended in dialectical synthesis, that everything is a social construct, that sexual repression is the origin of all psychological pathologies? Because we’re smarter than you, that’s how!

Since most of the tenets of these systems are, when stated in plain language, kind of stupid, it is required that you use the established vocabulary and phrases to make sure you never express them in words that reveal how stupid they are.

Read somewhere (oops, scholar fail!) that the management levels of idealistic organizations such as charities and religions are full of people with surprisingly little attachment to the professed ideology that supposedly drives the organization. On the more innocent end of the spectrum, they just like the people and the feeling of belonging; at the other end are, I imagine, power-hungry sociopaths. Current events in the Catholic Church and in our fine major political parties would do not appear to contradict this.

I would suppose the rank and file would be where you’d find the true believers, and in those who rise up through the ranks because of fervor and hard work. There must be, no doubt, some interesting dynamics, as the winners under Pournelle’s Iron Law might once in a while need some people who do the organization’s actual work, to keep up appearances. True believers would be handy for this. So I’d expect the higher reaches of an organization to have both those there for the power and true believers, with some interesting jostling when something needs to be done.

These thoughts brought to mind this exchange from Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness, where Dodd, who has finally become an open Communist after decades of working undercover in the New York teachers’ union, placing Reds and sympathizers in positions of power and influence. She gets a job with the US politburo – she is invited into what seemed the inner ring – and needs to go through the files:

As I began to prepare for the work I was assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this bourgeois structure.”

I began to realize why the Party had no long-range program for welfare, hospitals, schools, or child care. They plagiarized programs from the various civil-service unions. Such reforms, if they fitted in, could be adapted to the taste of the moment . But reforms were anathema to communist long-range strategy, which stood instead for revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat .

What I find amazing here is that Dodd, obviously an intelligent woman, could work for the Commies for years and years, and not get a point that, even to this day, they are constantly making: the goal, the point of all their activities, is to bring about the revolution.(1) Marxists don’t want racial equality, good working conditions and pay, good social services, or any kind of justice. In fact, insofar as any of those things may occur, a Marxist would want to destroy them. Peace, harmony, justice and prosperity are the enemy. According to neo-Marxist dogma, anything that placates people, makes them happier with their lot, helps them live fulfilling, peaceful lives, can only be a tool of hegemonic oppression. Happy people must be made miserable; whatever makes them happy must be destroyed. Any steps taken that might improve things must be just that: steps. Those steps must lead to the revolution

Dodd became a communist in the first place because, in her eyes, they were the only ones doing anything to help during the Great Depression. It was precisely their activism in helping the downtrodden that attracted her. She them spent the next couple decades immersed in Marxist literature:

… I was at last beginning to see how ignorant I had become, how long since I had read anything except Party literature. I thought of our bookshelves stripped of books questioned by the Party, how when a writer was expelled from the Party his books went, too. I thought of the systematic rewriting of Soviet history, the revaluation, and in some cases the blotting out of any mention of such persons as Trotsky. I thought of the successive purges…

…In my time with the Party I had accumulated a large store of information about people and events, and often these had not fitted into the picture presented by the Party to its members . It was as if I held a thousand pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and could not fit them together. It irritated me, but when I thought of the testimony of witnesses before the Congressional Committee, some of whom I had known as Communists, much of the true picture suddenly came into focus . My store of odd pieces was beginning to develop into a recognizable picture. There had been many things I had not really understood. I had regarded the Communist Party as a poor man’s party, and thought the presence of certain men of wealth within it accidental . I now saw this was no accident. I regarded the Party as a monolithic organization with the leadership in the National Committee and the National Board. Now I saw this was only a facade placed there by the movement to create the illusion of the poor man’s party ; it was in reality a device to control the “common man” they so raucously championed.

Yet, somehow, she was surprised to discover that the Party’s interest in actions that might actually improve people’s lives was simply expedient, that it had no interest in improving people’s lives, but only in steps that lead to the Revolution. This goal of destroying the system is hardly a secret, yet Dodd could somehow miss it, even in all the works she’d read in the Party library. She was little more, if, indeed, anything more, than a Useful Idiot.

How many people who think Marx got a bum rap (e.g., every college kid), who think they support the general goals of the Marxists as they understand them, you know, fairness and justice and an end to bigotry and hatred and stuff, don’t realize that the goal is real, live violent warfare and the deaths of millions (e.g., me and mine)? If Bella Dodd can pull living with that level of cognitive dissonance off, how many others are doing so now?

But the scary part: there really are informed true believers, those who know what the goals are and enthusiastically support them. True, most of these folks – Antifa is the poster child – do not get the part where they, the enthusiastic purist revolutionaries, are the first to go once the Revolution succeeds in putting some vanguard or other in power. But that’s another kind of cultivated cluelessness.

And, of course, the top levels are occupied by the kind of sociopaths who generally get those kind of jobs, people for whom all this dogma and maneuvering is just a game. These folks are scarier still.

  1. Read somewhere (man, I got to start taking notes!) that when Mussolini took over and began to suppress the Communists, it was a largely popular move even among workers. For years, whenever they organized and struck, the workers were after improvement, while the leaders were after the revolution. This lead to some conflict and animosity, and worker frustration, to say the least, with the Communists.