The Long View 2007-04-23: Catholicism & Open Borders; Tolkein & Higher Loyalties

John J. Reilly wasn’t much amused by the trend toward de facto open borders in American Catholic thinking. It did not turn out to be true that this trend was directly imported into the American church by business interests. I suspect that for many people who argue this way, their motives are exactly as stated.

However, it seemed true in 2007, and still seems true now, that enthusiasm for immigration, consequences be damned, does cover up the fact that American Catholicism is hemorrhaging members as fast as any mainline Protestant denomination.

Courtesy of Gallup, the proportion of Americans who identify as Catholics is holding steady.

Courtesy of Gallup, the proportion of Americans who identify as Catholics is holding steady.

But according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, the increase in former Catholics over the last twenty years or so just happens to match the number of Catholics who have moved to America.


Catholicism & Open Borders; Tolkein & Higher Loyalties

About Open-Borders Immigration the readers of this blog already know what I think. Rather than repeat my views yet again, let me point out that this issue seems to be causing one of the great strategic errors in the history of American Christianity:

Too many Catholics believe myths surrounding immigration and immigrants based on misinformation and misconceptions requiring the Catholic Church to respond with a comprehensive fight against ignorance, said a U.S. bishops’ official...Mark Franken, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services... ...“Our biggest challenge is not the attacks from the immigration restrictionists, the racists, or the xenophobes,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is ignorance!” ...More than 100 Catholic social-justice leaders, diocesan directors and others active in the USCCB Justice for Immigrants campaign gathered for the April 17 – 19 event, which included going to Capitol Hill and urging lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The theme of the convening, which drew participants from more than 65 U.S. dioceses and more than 35 states, was “Offering Hope, Promoting Justice"....

Launched in 2005, the Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope campaign was created to unite and mobilize Catholic institutions and individuals in support of a broad legalization program and comprehensive immigration reform. Its goal is to maximize the church’s influence on the issue toward passage of legislative and administrative governmental reforms and to organize Catholic networks to assist qualified immigrants to obtain the benefits received from those reforms. About 80 U.S. Catholic dioceses have formally launched the campaign locally, with most of the others actively engaged in its promotion.

A word to the wise: every penny for this effort better be coming from the people in the pews. If it turns out that this is sponsored, whether directly or through fronts, by agribusiness and the hospitality industry, then there could be the most awkward consequences.

* * *

When deceased writers continue to publish, it's usually a bit disconcerting, though we have come to expect such behavior of Heinlein (and I keep expect Lafferty to appear on CNN: he was always a bit cavalier about this mortality business). In any case, JRR Tolkien has a new book out, with a little help from his son Christopher as editor and redactor: The Children of Hurin. That Spengler at Asia Times has favored us with a review, the gist of which is that the rise and fall of Turin, the son of Hurin, is a cautionary tale about the ethical limits of nationalism. Spengler then relates this moral to a theory of history:

Tolkien's popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner's operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism...With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien's prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan's tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life's work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West....In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned to this theme of faith in a higher power rather than in one's own force of arms. It is not the valor of the small remnant of free peoples that overcomes Sauron (Morgoth's successor) but rather the improbable mission of the Ringbearer that will overcome the Darkness that threatens Middle-earth.

Is this simply a matter of faith in a higher power, or also of higher loyalties? Consider what Mark Steyn had to say about the Nicholas Hytner's new production of Henry V:

Hytner himself belongs to one of these alternative elites, the holder of a state-funded job at a state-funded theatre and one which ex officio commands a knighthood from his Sovereign. It also ex officio requires a kind of doctrinaire counter -tribalism that Shakespeare would have found incredibly tedious...Shakespeare wasn’t pro-war or anti-war, but pro-chivalry in war, and opposed to breaches of that code. That argument finds support in the play. In Shakespeare’s time as throughout human history, war was a fact of life. What matters is how you conduct it. The Bard would have been all for enforcing the Geneva Convention, but not marching through the street bellowing “No blood for oil.”

Chivalry is what a genuine global patriotism would look like, I think.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View: Lucifer's Court

This is John J. Reilly’s masterful summary of not only esoteric fascism, but of the curious historical phenomenon of the Albigensians. John wraps up everything he wrote over a number of years on the subject into a cohesive whole.


Lucifer’s Court:
A Heretic’s Journey in
Search of the Light Bringers

By Otto Rahn

Translated by Christopher Jones
German Original Published 1937
Translation 2008, Inner Traditions International
242 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN 978-159477197-2

Reviewed by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared
on the website of
The Southern Literary Messenger.

Introduction

This book and its companion volume,Crusade against the Grail (1), are about as close as we can get to an “authoritative” statement of the esoteric dimension of the Nazi regime in Germany. The publication of the Crusade book in 1933 persuaded SS leader Heinrich Himmler to invite its author, Otto Rahn (1904-1939), to work for the SS as a folklorist. As the book under review here also does in part, that work developed the thesis that the doctrines of the medieval Cathars of Provence were encoded into Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century version of the Grail legend. Rahn later became a member of the Ahnenerbe (“ancestral heritage”(2)) bureau of the SS, in whose employ he finished Lucifer’s Court. It is generally conceded that Rahn’s death by exposure during a winter hike in 1939 was a suicide forced upon him by the SS, because of rumors of homosexuality, or of Jewish ancestry, or both. Nonetheless, Himmler thought highly enough of this book to order a special edition of 5,000 leather-bound copies to be printed during the war; for distribution, presumably, to select SS personnel.

Esoteric Fascism

Both of Rahn’s books have been translated from German into English for the first time by Christopher Jones. These editions include acknowledgements of support and assistance from figures prominent in what has been called the “the esoteric Right” or “esoteric fascism”(3). We may note that the title of the original, Luzifers Hofgesind, might more literally be translated as “Lucifer’s Courtiers,” and in fact some references in English to the German version have used that expression, or “The Courtiers of Lucifer.” This edition has Lucifer’s Court, the translator explains, because translations into other languages use some such title. A minor point: the original subtitle, at least in the German edition I have been able to locate, is “eine Riese zu Europas guten Geistern,” which is “a journey to Europe’s Good Spirits.” The English subtitle of this edition suits the content better, but the author did not think of it.

One cannot discuss this book today without at least mentioning the 1989 Steven Spielberg film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The overall story in that film was a quest for the Holy Grail, but finding the Grail required first finding the “Grail Diary” of a cranky old archeologist, in which he had recorded his researches. Lucifer’s Court is a journal rather than a diary, but it does bear a superficial resemblance to the missing document in Spielberg’s film. This book is an account of the travels of a man looking for traditions about the Holy Grail; and sometimes, we may reasonably suspect, for an actual object, understood in Rahn’s case as the legendary treasure of the Cathars. (We will get to the Cathars below, after we have given the devil his due.)

The differences from the film are even more interesting, of course. The Grail for Rahn, to the extent that he considers it a physical object, is the German Grail, the Stone that fell from Heaven in Parzival, rather than the cup associated with Jesus in the Anglo-French Grail stories. The film was devoid of references to the Cathar sect, as indeed was everyone else’s understanding of the Grail legend until the middle of the nineteenth century. Also unlike the film, the book is virulently, relentlessly, jumping-up-and-down anti-Christian. It is particularly anti-Catholic, so much so as to reduce the antisemitic implications of its rejection of Yahweh to a mere subtext. In Crusade against the Grail, Rahn seemed content to accept the Cathars’ view of themselves as the true Christians (a view that Hitler seemed to share, if we may believe Otto Wagener’s Memoirs of a Confidant). In this work, Rahn has become more radical. If the Cathars considered themselves Christians at all, then they were mistaken. Lucifer, properly understood, is the hero of the story.

The sections of the book, all undated and very brief, are headed by place names; the author tells us what he saw or felt or did at each location. The sections are arranged in three groups. The first deals with the author’s visits to cities in France, chiefly sites associated the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade that destroyed them. The second group includes trips to northern Italy, Switzerland, and southern Germany. The third begins in the author’s native Hesse in Germany and then moves in stages on a trip that leads across the North Atlantic to Iceland. The organizing principle appears to be that the medieval drama of the Grail was played out in the South, but the meaning and perhaps the origin of the Grail is to be found in the furthest North. The North is key for Rahn, both as a symbol and as a source of historical influence from pre-historic times.

Early in the book, in a passage written in Paris, the author cites the verses from Isaiah 14 that are traditionally said to refer to the fall of Satan from Heaven:

How have you fallen from the heavens, O glowing morning star; been cut down to the ground O conqueror of Nations?

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north...

For Rahn, Isaiah speaks for the great enemy: for Yahweh, the spiritual tyrant of the past 2,000 years, whose prophet here gloats over the discomfiture of a would-be liberator. The liberator, the model for all insurgents, is the Morning Star, called in Latin “Lucifer,” which means “Light Bearer.” We are told explicitly that Lucifer is Apollyon, the Angel of the Pit in Revelation 9:7-11. His adherents are scattered throughout history and in many countries. Among them, Rahn held, was Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), the German mystical writer, whose Aurora is quoted by Rahn as an example of the positive to which Isaiah is the negative:

Look, I will tell you a secret: The time has come for the groom to crown his bride; guess where the crown lies? Toward midnight, because the light is clear in the darkness...

Midnight here, we are given to understand, means “Land of the Midnight Sun,” which Rahn intends to visit. There, and throughout his travels, he hopes to find historical and legendary evidence of the activities of Lucifer’s courtiers:

In this way, I am hoping my readers will appreciate the story of those who sought justice regardless of the Mosaic twelve commandments and from their own sense of justice and duty; those who, rather than ever arrogantly expecting assistance from Mount Sinai, went to a “mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north,” in order to bring solace to their kind; those who placed knowledge above faith and existence above the light; and, not least, those who recognized that Yahweh could never, ever be their divinity and Jesus of Nazareth could never, ever be their salvation. In Lucifer’s house there are many dwellings. Many paths and bridges lead to him.

There are mysteries in that passage, not the least of which is that the Decalogue seems to have sprouted two new commandments. Actually, there are mysteries intentional and otherwise throughout the whole book. Rahn often quotes slabs of text without citation, a deficit that his editors do not always supply. There are questionable specific points. As the translator notes, Rahn’s grasp of mythology was not above criticism. The Argonauts, for instance, whose adventures in Rahn’s imagination seem to have occurred largely in the North Atlantic, are said to have gotten their name from the town “Argos,” rather than from the name of their ship. More serious is the question of whether and to what degree Rahn’s thesis is supposed to relate to history at all.

Parzival

Rahn clearly does take very seriously the argument of the French occult writer Joséphin Péladan that the Cathars of Provence were the real matter of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, and that the Grail was a secret or object they were protecting. In Lucifer’s Court, Rahn develops this theory in the section “Carcassonne.” Rahn’s initial identification is of the perfectly real 13th-century French poet, Guiot of Provins, with “Kyot of Provence,” the otherwise unknown source to whom Wolfram attributes his information. Provins is a small region to the southeast of Paris, while Provence is a major region in the south of France. This is the kind of wordplay that Wolfram loved, but it is very far from proof that Wolfram was doing more than making good-natured fun of a contemporary’s name, much less that he was recording an esoteric history of events in Provence. As Richard Barber notes in his sober study, The Holy Grail (4), the parallels between the notables of medieval Provence and the characters in Parzival just are not that close. Neither do Rahn’s etymologies help. “Parzival,” the knight of the Grail Quest, is said to mean “cut well” in Occitan, the language of the troubadours of southern France. Rahn, or at least this translation, does not trouble to mention that “Percival” is the original. In any case, he equates this with the name of a Provencal nobleman, “Trencavel,” whose alleged origin (trenca vel) is supposed to mean the same thing. This is not a very telling equation; it grows less so when we consider that the usual etymology of “Percival” is “pierce the valley.”

There are similar problems with Rahn’s understanding of the Cathar heresy as a whole. Catharism is actually a blanket term for a range of sects and beliefs which had some currency throughout Europe. The Cathars of southern France were called “Albigensians,” after the city of Albi. Rahn does not make these distinctions, and since he is concerned with Cathars elsewhere, particularly in Germany, we will use that term.

The Cathars

Catharism is one of those doctrines we know only from the accounts of its enemies, so reconstructing its actual content has always been difficult. (For the incautious, Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (5), may not be too far off the mark.) The Cathars seem to have been Manicheans, in the sense their theology was like that of the third-century Zoroastrian would-be prophet, Mani, though they may not have knowingly looked to him for inspiration. Manicheanism is a kind of dualism, holding that there are independently existing good and evil principles. In the Cathar version, this world, the world of matter, is evil, and Yahweh of the Old Testament is its god. In some versions of this kind of speculation, the Creator was an inferior entity, sometimes called the Demiurge, and his Creation was defective. It is not clear how much of this the Cathars believed, but none of it would have been original with them: the Christian heretic Marcion had jettisoned the Old Testament as the work of the devil in the second century. For him, the New Testament, or part of it, is the revelation of a good, alien God. This God did not create the world. His messenger was Jesus, according to Marcion, though as we have seen, Rahn thought otherwise.

The Cathars seemed to have believed that Jesus was never really material, and that he was never crucified. They further rejected the Church hierarchy and its system of sacraments. They had a sacrament of their own called the consolamentum. Those who received it became perfecti, Latin for “Perfect Ones” (Cathar is Greek for “pure.”) Most Cathars received it on their deathbed; those who took it earlier became clergy. Perfecti pledged to vegetarianism, and not to take life, and to celibacy. Birth was an evil, since the entrapment of human souls in matter was one of the things Catharism was supposed to help remedy. The Cathars seem to have believed in a cycle of reincarnation which, like the Buddhists, they sought to escape. Ordinary believers, who had not yet become perfecti, could and did function normally in medieval society. Among them was the bulk of the aristocracy of Provence; hence Rome’s campaigns, first of evangelization, and then of crusade against the Cathar strongholds.

To this account of possible Cathar doctrines Rahn adds and subtracts with perfect freedom. Cathar anti-natalism and horror of matter disappear entirely: rather, in his account, it is the followers of Yahweh who are hostile to the natural world. There are ancient doctrines which make a hero of Lucifer, or at any rate, of Satan: Rahn mentions more than once the old notion that Lucifer is simply in exile from Heaven, and will return in due course. In the section entitled “On a Southern German Road,” Rahn sets out a vision, or a profound meditation, in which he is instructed in the role of Lucifer as an intermediary, or role model, by a Cathar named Bertrand of Foix. It is not at all clear that the Cathars ever thought any such thing, however. We may note that, after the meditation, he camps with a group of Hitler Youth; they are Courtiers of Lucifer, too.

Rahn’s investigations into Catharism tend to merge into other interests. Rahn was a member of the völkisch wing of the Nazi movement, along with Himmler and Himmler’s personal wizard, Karl-Maria Willigut (also known as “Weisthor”). Rahn followed up references to what in English-language folklore studies is sometimes called “the fairy faith.” He describes how medieval heroes gained immortality by finding the mountaintop rose-garden paradise of Laurin, King of the Dwarfs, a notion he conflates with the mountaintop paradises of Asgard and Olympus, and with that northern mountaintop to which Isaiah says Yahweh is so keen to restrict access. The Courtiers of Lucifer in the West may have been nominally Christian, but they actually hoped to go after death to the “bosom of Arthur,” like Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Shakespeare was in on the secret, too, it seems.

As for the Grail, Rahn’s accounts of it vary as much as the descriptions of legend. Parzival introduced the idea that the Grail Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance. In later developments of the story, the Grail is a jewel that fell from the crown of Lucifer. Rahn likes that expression and uses it repeatedly. As many commentators on Rahn have noted, stones do sometimes fall from the sky. There has been considerable speculation that Rahn may have been seeking, or actually helped recover, a meteoric Cathar relic on his spelunking expeditions to the south of France. However, in the section of this book under “Halberstadt,” he views what is apparently an actual meteoric stone. Called the Teufelstein, the devil allegedly threw it at the local cathedral when it was under construction, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the cathedral’s completion. All Rahn says is that “Christians will believe anything.” It is not over reading the text, perhaps, to infer that he is signaling the reader not to make the Grail-meteor connection.

Ultima Thule

By and by, in fact, we learn that maybe we should not take the connection between historical Catharism and Luciferian liberation too literally, either. Rahn mentions a Persian tradition about a holy stone that parallels Parzival’s Grail story in essential ways. In fact, he suggests that “grail” may be derived from the Persian word for the stone, “ghral” (6). The same illumination came to two groups of Aryan peoples, one in Western Europe and the other in the Near East. The familiar Grail story is just one manifestation of it. The quest of the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece is, in some ways, the same story. This illumination is connected with the recollection of a time when the far north was warm and hospitable, and a healthy sort of mankind lived in harmony with nature. The name “Hyperborea” comes up. By Rahn’s own account, his wanderings were always destined to end in Ultimate Thule.

History as Myth

The point has never been the recovery of an empirically verifiable historical tradition. Rather, to use a term that Rahn (or this translation) does not use, Rahn realizes that he has been seeking to clarify an archetype. Or perhaps that term is too easy. In the section under “Runkel an Lahn,” Rahn presents a vision in which the divine is generated by the struggle between life and death. By rising above their individuality and embracing this struggle, heroes can hope to attain a genuine immortality by entering the mythical realm. Readers may be reminded of Julius Evola’s description in Revolt against the Modern World of the mutual permeability of chronological and mythological time (7). The difference is that Evola’s criticism of Nazi mysticism as stultifyingly chthonic seems to apply to Rahn’s ideas: the völkisch worldview is oriented toward the folk soul, rather than to eternity. The fate of the hero is less like apotheosis and more like psychic mulch.

Don Quixote

The Cathars may have been dualists, but Rahn’s ideas are not essentially dualistic. Dualism involves two universal principles in conflict. Rahn’s mythological version of history, in contrast, is a struggle between folk souls, actualized as a struggle between their gods. As it happens, there are just two such entities, Yahweh and Lucifer, that interest Rahn. They represent the Jewish and German (or Aryan) peoples and the struggle between them. However, one might point out that there is no particular reason why there should not be more than two, or more than one. This cosmic struggle is a historical accident; different only in scale, perhaps, from a fight occasioned by a chance encounter between dinosaurs. (8)

A long section of the book is an excerpt from Don Quixote, the story of the old knight whose mind was so addled by reading romances of medieval chivalry that he could no longer tell the difference between the stories and reality. Rahn identifies with Quixote, but not in the sense that either was really deluded. Rather, the stories that entranced Quixote, like the völkisch mythology that absorbed Rahn, are more real than the events of the everyday world. The events of the everyday world, both in the past and in the present, gain their meaning to the extent that they reflect the myths. Legends communicate a higher truth than does sober history.

All these points come together, indeed perhaps the whole tale of the Third Reich and the occult comes together, in the section “Reykholt,” a place in Iceland. Rahn takes care to emphasize his disappointment with Ultimate Thule, the place to which he believed the remnants of ancient Nordic culture fled to escape the Christian infection, and perhaps the last piece of a primordial world that existed before all known history. Iceland as Rahn encountered it, however, was treeless; at the summer solstice, it was not so much nightless as shadowless. Reykjavik the capital was a town of corrugated-iron roofs and concrete walls. The locals were friendly enough, but there seemed nothing to connect this shabby country with the world of the Eddas, Elder or Younger.

Rahn does manage to do some hiking, apparently with another German, who may also have been another SS man: the circumstances and purpose of Rahn’s visit are not described. The two climb a cliff and settle down to admire the view. The companion delivers a lecture.

Much of this discourse expands on the relationship we have just considered between myth and history. Where something divine or celestial strikes the Earth, we are told, a horde may turn into a people. Culture is the striving of the Earth to reach Heaven. Heaven and Earth meet at the point of sacrifice. In a healthy world, the sacrifice is perpetual, a relationship of balanced flow between high and low that unites man and nature. The story of the world since the triumph of Christianity, however, is the story of the consequences of the interruption of that flow. The myths of northern Europe reflect the coming of the current dark age; they also foreshadow its ending.

The twilight of the gods was at the same time the dissolution of tribal loyalty to the gods, heroes, and the almighty forces of nature...In place of mythical divine wisdom, a ritual mechanical intellect has assumed its place in the ‘me’-addicted world of things...The mythical world of prehistory also saw its destruction in the final battle of the gods...Odin was eaten by a wolf...We should remember that Rome’s mother was a she-wolf...Odin’s son, the silent Widmar, killed the wolf in yet another act of revenge. As it says in the Edda, Baldr returned and announced to mankind the divine mystery of the earth and the cosmos: ‘On Gimil’s heights, I saw a room brighter than the sun and decked in gold. Worthy lords must live there...’ What is that strength from above that conquers the power of death and hatred? Who can awaken a very lonely mankind after the twilight of the ‘me’-addiction, so that we can rebuild society in selfless service, taking care not to destroy freedom, but to heal it?

Revolution

Readers will note that, like the Evolan version of Tradition with which it shares many points, this is essentially a revolutionary project. (9) Despite Rahn’s devotion to European history and mythology, one cannot help but notice that the center of almost every place he visits is a church; a church he hates, either for its architecture, or its history, or the presumed greed of its incumbent clergy. When the myth is the reality, then the visible sticks and stones, and flesh and bones, become not just expendable but intolerable.

I have been studying the Third Reich and the occult for 30 years. This book pretty much sums the subject up.


Notes:

(1) Crusade against the Grail is reviewed here.

Return to text

(2) The nature of the Ahnenerbe is described in Heather Pringle's The Master Plan, reviewed here.

Return to text

(3) Postwar esoteric fascism is the subject of the essay, After the Third Age.

Return to text

(4) The Holy Grail is reviewed here.

Return to text

(5) Flicker is reviewed here.

Return to text

(6) Rahn's contemporary, Charles Williams, wrote a book about a Persian stone with Grail-like properties. A review is here.

Return to text

(7) The relevant section of Revolt against the Modern World is quoted here.

Return to text

(8) Readers may wish to compare Rahn's vision of competing folk souls with the views of the neo-Nazi ideologue, Francis Parker Yockey, in Yockey's Imperium (reviewed here) and the practice of Aeonic Magic by Traditional Satanists (described here).

Return to text

(9) For an overview of Tradition, see Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, reviewed here.

Return to text

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View: Crusade Against the Grail

Otto Rahn is one of those characters who would have had to be invented, if he didn’t actually exist. And if that were the case, you might accuse the author of fantastical speculations far beyond reason.

This book review by John J. Reilly serves not only as a short biography of Rahn, but also a capsule history of the Albigensian crusade.


Crusade against the Grail
The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome

========= By Otto Rahn =========

German Original Kreuzzug gegen den Gral: 1933
Translation by Christopher Jones
Inner Traditions International, 2006
229 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN-10: 1-59477-135-9

https://amzn.to/2YKUVOp

Anyone who undertakes the study of the intellectual underpinnings of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) will soon notice that at least some members of the regime were doing things that are not covered by the typical survey course in political theory. Researchers who attempt to investigate these anomalies will dig through a swamp of popular and crank literature about the Third Reich’s connection to the occult underground, some of it coincident with conspiracy theory and some of it (often the most coherent works) purely fictional. Nonetheless, a sober study of primary sources will reveal that not all the fantastic rumors were made up out of whole cloth. When researchers strike bedrock, one of the things they find is this book by Otto Rahn, the Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail, or at least for traditions about what it was and what happened to it.

Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was an amateur German folklorist with a keen interest in speleology. In company with the Swiss mountaineer Paul-Aléxis Ladame and the folklorist Antonin Gadal, he explored the regions of southern France associated the with Cathar heresy and its suppression in a series of military and evangelical campaigns in the 13th century. The Cathars had made extensive use of the spectacular caves of the mountainous southeast of France as fortresses and refuges, and Rahn duly found new evidence of their occupation of those sites, as well as greater knowledge of the size and interconnection of the caves themselves. He also collected stories and traditions from the local people about the Cathars, the crusade against them, and about the region in general. Most of this book deals with what Rahn calls “Occitania.” The one map the book provides depicts part of the modern region of Languedoc-Rousillon, though the story extends across Alpine and Pyrenean France into Catalonia. Occitania is really a linguistic term, referring to the Romance language of that region, which French has still not wholly displaced. Occitan, better known as Languedoc (which is also a better known term for the region), was the language of the French troubadours, and once was a serious rival to the language of northern France that became modern French.

SS leader Heinrich Himmler might be supposed to have had more practical matters on his mind in 1933, but he found time to read Rahn’s book. Then he invited him to an interview and immediately offered him a job as a professional folklorist for the SS, of which Rahn eventually became a member. Rahn continued to pursue his researches and to write, but he does not seem to have been a happy Nazi. He died of exposure during a hike in 1939; his death was ruled a suicide. The sympathetic Translator’s Introduction notes briefly that there had been rumors about homosexuality and Jewish ancestry. We are not told that alternative (and admittedly unsupported) versions of his biography have him dying in a concentration camp in 1944.

Crusade against the Grail supports the thesis articulated by Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) in a short work, The Secret of the Troubadours. Péladan, a novelist who favored occult themes, had argued that the legend of Montsalvat, the fortress of the Grail, and the Grail legend as a whole, were closely connected with Montségur, the last great Cathar stronghold, with the Cathar heresy, and (inevitably) with the Templar order of knights that was suppressed early in the 14th century. More particularly, Rahn tried to show that the people and places in the German version of the Grail story created by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220) are lightly allegorized renderings of real people and places in Occitania in the early 13th century, when Eschenbach composed his Grail epic, Parzival. The most important of these identifications was of the fortress of Montségur (which fell in 1244 to the forces of orthodoxy) with Montsalvat, also known as Muntsalvaesche, or Munsalvaesche, and other variants.

Trying to substantiate Eschenbach’s version of the story has some odd consequences. The original Grail story, composed by Chrétien de Troyes probably in the 1180s, was artfully unclear about the nature of the Grail, except that it was a sort of dish or table that carried the Eucharist and provided nourishment and healing. In the Anglo-French tradition, thanks to the romancer Robert de Boron who wrote a generation after Chrétien, the Grail became associated with the plate or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. In Eschenbach’s telling, however, the Grail became a Stone that conferred immortality. Moreover, according to Eschenbach, this Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance during Lucifer’s rebellion against God. In later German tradition, this Stone was said to have broken off from the crown of Lucifer when he fell from Heaven. If we are to believe Rahn, the folk tradition of Occitania also took this view of things. A shepherd is quoted thus:

When the walls of Montségur were still standing, the Cathars, the Pure Ones, kept the Holy Grail inside them. Montségur was in danger; the armies of Lucifer were before its walls. They wanted to take the Grail to insert it again into the diadem of their Prince, from where it had broken off and fallen to Earth during the fall of the angels. At this most critical point, a white dove came from the sky and split the Tabor [the local peak] in two. Esclarmonde, the keeper of the Grail, threw the precious relic into the mountain, where it was hidden. So they saved the Grail. When the devils entered the castle, it was too late. Furious, they burned all the Pure Ones, not far from the rocky castle on the camp des cremats.

One of the interesting differences between a Stone and, say, a chalice (as the Grail was usually pictured in later years) is that the provenance of a chalice would be awfully hard to prove, but stones really do fall from the sky. It is also not unknown for meteoric rocks to become cult objects, as the Kaaba at Mecca exemplifies. So, it is not quite impossible that the Cathar treasure which Rahn frequently mentions could have included a sacred stone. It’s even possible that Rahn was looking for it; that’s part of Rahn’s legend. However, no such specific quest is apparent in Crusade against the Grail. Moreover, though the Translator’s Introduction mentions the meteorite possibility, Rahn, perhaps surprisingly, does not.

Be this as it may, it is very unlikely that Rahn’s thesis about the historicity of Parzival is correct. The fit between Eschenbach’s story and medieval Occitania just is not very close (or so we must judge from this account, which does not describe either systematically). Moreover, the thesis is based on Eschenbach’s claim to have found a more reliable version of the Grail legend than that of Chrétien de Troyes. There is no evidence at all for that. Chrétien’s modest romance was original, and Eschenbach was just exercising his poetic license to take the story in a grander direction.

Even if Rahn was wrong as a historian, his book is by no means without interest as a record of influential esoteric thought. He was not the only person in the first third of the 20th century who admired the Cathars. Another admirer, according to Otto Wagener, an aide to Adolf Hitler in the 1920s, was Hitler himself. Wagener, his book Memoirs of a Confidant (1978), quotes an apparent reference by Hitler to Catharism and its suppression:

During the Middle Ages, a new movement of inner liberation and the establishment of the natural link of man to his God began, which fell back on the true teachings of Christ and the instinctive apprehension of the truth. The reaction was not long in coming. The Inquisition and witch-hunts rooted out all aspects of the heresy, as the hypocritical priesthood called it...

That was, pretty much, Rahn’s understanding of the history, too. In large part, Crusade against the Grail is an anti-Catholic polemic, recounting history “in the tradition of the French Romantic historians,” such as Jules Michelet. This school saddled later generations with the myth that millions of people were executed during the witch-burnings of the late medieval and early modern periods, and that the Inquisition (usually depicted as a single institution, rather than a class of court) would torture thousands of people anywhere in Europe at the asking of an awkward question in a seminary class. The actual crusade against the south of France in the 13th century (yes, it was an official crusade, sanctioned by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) in the same terms as an expedition to the Holy Land) did not lack for low motives and atrocity. As is usually noted, its chief supporters were the kings of France, whose control of the wealthy and culturally prestigious south traditionally had been nominal. It was also the campaign to which we owe the expression, “Kill them all; let God sort them out!” Nonetheless, Rahn’s account of the suppression of Catharism is simply uncritical popular history.

Who were these Cathars whom Rahn championed? The term “Cathar” is Greek for “pure.” Those who were fully initiated into the Cathar church were “Cathari,” that is to say, “Pure Ones.” (The German word for heretic, by the way, “Ketzer,” is derived from the term.) Catharism, sometimes called Albigensianism after a city in the region, was a form of Gnosticism, a cult of esoteric wisdom that purported to teach its adherents the way to salvation. It incorporated elements of Manicheanism, which held that the world is a duality of spirit and matter; the meaning of salvation was liberation of the spirit from an irredeemably corrupt physical world.

Rahn had a theory that Catharism was a refined resurgence of a form of Manicheanism called Priscillianism. This rather intellectual doctrine had become popular in northern Iberia and southern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was the first heresy to be violently suppressed by the secular government (in this case, the collapsing Roman government, which, like Himmler, might be thought to have had more practical things to worry about). Rahn somewhat fantasticates this hypothesis by arguing that Priscillianism worked on the pre-existing Druidism of the region, which already would have included ideas like metempsychosis. Thus, he tells us, the Manicheans converted the Druids to Christianity.

Be that as it may, the Cathar laity of the High Middle ages, called “the believers,” were of every class and way of life. They married and had children. They conducted business and politics in the ordinary way. (Indeed, the Catholic Church may have been so alarmed by Catharism because of its many followers among the aristocracy of Languedoc.) However, Catharism despised matter and even life; birth was a matter of regret. The fully initiated were those who had received the Cathar sacrament called the “consolamentum.” They were expected to be celibate and sterile for the rest of their lives. Similarly, the fully initiated would not kill, even for food, and so were vegetarians. Except for an elite who functioned as clergy, most Cathars took the consolamentum only on their death beds. This book does not mention the rumor that the Cathars encouraged sodomy because it was inherently nonreproductive. It does mention the less controversial point that the Cathari were permitted to take their own lives, preferably through starvation, provided they did not do so from boredom or to evade a duty.

The Cathars despised the physical world because, like most other Gnostics, they held that God had not made it. The world and its ways were the creation of the demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, who had entrapped the spirits of angels in the mechanisms of the world. This reviewer has seen accounts of Rahn’s later work which say that, for Rahn, the demiurge may be the devil, but Lucifer might not be. Rahn is sometimes characterized as a “Luciferian,” which is to say, one who regards Lucifer as the liberator of mankind, and the true object of Cathar devotion. However, that position is not even hinted at here.

In any case, the Cathars held that the demiurge kept the entrapped spirits in its prison universe. These spirits passed from incarnation to incarnation, deluded by the demiurge’s pretension to be the true God. Nonetheless, like Marcion, the 2nd-century heretic who had similarly rejected the Old Testament, the Cathars insisted they were Christians. They accepted parts of the New Testament, particularly John’s Gospel, and held Jesus for their savior. He was the emanation of the true God from beyond the world. However, they also held that Jesus had never had a physical body, but only pretended to be an incarnate being. (The term for that doctrine, incidentally, is “Docetism.”) Thus, Mary was not the Mother of God, and Jesus had never really been crucified. It may or may not be significant that this is also a Muslim doctrine. In any case, the Cathars distained the use of the cross.

They had other liturgical eccentricities, too. In the Lord’s Prayer, which they retained, they asked for “our supersubstantial bread” rather than “our daily bread,” thus perhaps referring to the bread used at the consolamentum and certainly expressing contempt for anything so material as the bread necessary for everyday life. In this they had the support of the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible, where Matthew’s Gospel has “panem...supersubstantialem.” Luke’s Gospel has “panem...cottidianam,” “daily bread,” but both phrases translate the same Greek term, “epiousios,” which means literally “above the substance.” The Greek Orthodox Churches in English-speaking countries today translate that “daily bread.” Go figure.

In any case, Rahn tells us that the Cathar church was also the Church of Amour, the Church of Love. The troubadours of southern France were the apostles of this doctrine, disguised as the cult of chivalric love. (The German troubadours were called “Minnesinger,” which is “love-singers”; “troubadour” means “inventor.”) The novelty is that this love of Languedoc was a cultural novelty: a practice intense personal devotion to some selected individual that systematically rejected sexual consummation. The doctrine of the troubadours was, in effect, a discipline by which human beings could cultivate among themselves the pure love of God, which generates nothing in this world.

Few of these ideas were altogether new even in Rahn’s day, and some may have merit. However, despite the fact the author was not attempting a full account of Grail scholarship, one wishes that he or his translator had addressed a few other issues. For instance, if you are looking for references to Cathars in the Grail stories, the most obvious place to start would be the great French synthesis of the Grail legend, the anonymous, The Lancelot-Grail. In the part of that romance that treated of the Grail Quest, it is precisely the failure to display the cross that excites the suspicion of the Grail knights about the orthodoxy of a monastery they later destroy. That looks more like Innocent III’s crusade than anything Wolfram von Eschenbach had to say.

One might be forgiven for suspecting that the point of Rahn’s hunt for the Grail had less to do with discovering an ancient secret than with divorcing Christianity from its Jewish roots: that would seem to be an implication of a theory that identifies Jehovah with the devil. However, the actual Cathars did not draw antisemitic implications from their doctrine, and neither did Rahn. Indeed, in his praise of Occitanian civilization, he cites the high positions of public service occupied by Jews, and compares it unfavorably with the condemnation of Jewish office-holding by the Church of Rome. Still, quite aside from what he has to say about the Cathars, Rahn tells us that Christianity was a deluded and resentful thing that, in the case of Catharism, happened to form the container in which something quite different appeared. There is demythologized Christianity for you.

Any defects in Rahn’s theological acumen are rarely made good by the translator, who restored Rahn’s citations and added some notes of his own. The text has some oddities. For instance, we are told that the penitential yellow crosses that former Cathars were forced to wear “measured five centimeters wide and ten high [two inches wide and ten high].” The brackets are presumably an editorial insertion, but even editors should be able to do better math. More seriously, there are what appear to be artifacts of translation. For instance, we learn that former Cathars were whipped at Sunday Mass between “the Epistle and the Evangelism.” The German word for “Gospel,” which is “Evangelium,” might also be rendered “Evangelism” in English, but to make that choice here suggests that the translator is not very clear about what happens at an ordinary Catholic liturgy. Aside from the whippings, I mean.

Finally, there is also this: in the long list of people whom the translator thanks for helping to see this book through to publication, we find Michael Moynihan and Alain de Benoist, both notable ornaments of today’s esoteric neo-fascism in its Traditional dimension. Despite Himmler’s patronage, people like Otto Rahn never got the opportunity to make their case freely during the Third Reich. Times change.


Click here for a review of
the companion volume
of this book:
Lucifer's Court


Click here for the truth about the Holy Grail:

Click here to learn about Esoteric Fascism:

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View 2007-03-28: AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Charles Darwin  By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

Charles Darwin

By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

John J. Reilly makes a statement here that I readily agree with, but is probably highly non-obvious to almost everyone:

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization.

To assert that What Would Darwin Do? leads to much the same policy prescriptions as What Would Jesus Do? requires some unpacking. Or maybe come contextualization.

To start, John clearly doesn’t mean what Charles Darwin himself might suggest if he were alive. Darwin, and most of his family, were in the English freethinker tradition, and as such not particularly interested in traditional Christianity or in any ideas that come out of it. John is rather using Darwin as a synecdoche for a tradition of thinking about humans in light of evolution that probably owes at least as much, if not more, of an intellectual debt to Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.

In an American context, the phrase WWJD? is mostly used in evangelical Christianity, which has not exactly been known for welcoming evolutionary concepts. However, since John was Catholic, he was more likely thinking in terms like those articulated in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connunbii, which said:

66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may come of it.[52]

68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

Pope Pius XI was making an argument not wholly dissimilar from Galton here. Galton of course did not share the Pope’s ideas about what was right and wrong in terms of marriage and sex, but they were both saying that it wasn’t crazy to think about whether potential children might inherit poor health. Even Galton wasn’t making the argument almost everyone today assumes he was, since he was wholly opposed to anything coercive.

So what did John probably mean? Since he provided a link, we should have a pretty strong clue. A modern attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism can be found on the blog DarwinCatholic, which took its name from an attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism. The two big things added are genetics, unknown to Galton, and the bitter fruits of widespread contraceptive technology.

In this argument, echoed by Pope Emeritus Benedict in the linked article, the future belongs to those to bother to have kids, since people who don’t want them don’t have them. When you combine this with the heritability of personality and behavior, you get the conclusion that in the long run, you tend to get more of whatever results in having more kids who survive to adulthood. Right now, one of those things is traditional religiosity.


AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Kindly artificial intelligences at Amazon.com often send me suggestions for books I might want to buy, based on my previous purchases. Usually, these suggestions are plausible, but yesterday I got this:

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization by Patrick J. Buchanan have also ordered And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress by Charles B. Rangel. For this reason, you might like to know that Charles B. Rangel's And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress will be released on April 3, 2007. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of $5.99 by following the link below.

On Charlie Rangel be peace, but it is unimaginable that anyone who bought The Death of the West is a candidate to buy that legislator's memoir. Could it be that a sufficient criterion for being alerted to the publication of this book is to have once bought a book about politics? Talk about spam.

* * *

The Vatican has stopped returning my phonecalls about when Benedict XVI will release the motu proprio authorizing the universal use of the Tridentine Mass. There is no reason to doubt that he will do so eventually, though the event has been delayed so long that it is passing from expectation to eschatology. In any case, we should note that some friends of the Latin Mass do not want the motu proprio to issue, arguing, as one such person told me last Sunday, that it would commence "the Novus-Ordo-ization of the Tridentine Mass."

The argument has some force. Under the current Indult system for authorizing the Tridentine Mass, the congregations most likely to receive permission are those with the liturgical and musicological resources to have a chance of doing it well; and even so, "the Tridentine Mass" in many places today means unsung Low Masses that seem not just puritanically austere, but deliberately anti-esthetic. The motu proprio, should it issue, would turn the realization of the Old Mass over to the same people who structured the New Mass in such a way as to persuade two generations of Catholics that their Sunday mornings would be better spent on home repairs.

Nonetheless, there is no alternative to casting chant before swine. The Tridentine Mass was always a work in progress, with a nip-and-tuck made every generation or so. Indeed, if I understand correctly, the greatest anomaly of recent decades is that the Tridentine Mass now means a liturgy frozen in amber in the Missal of 1962. We must now begin the work of transition that will not finally be completed until the Imperial Period. We have not yet seen the immemorial Mass, anymore than we have yet seen classical English prose. When these things arrive, they will be faithful to the past and continuous with it. They will, however, be revivals. As is the nature of revivals, they will in some ways be improvements over the originals.

* * *

Mark Steyn may be a Demography Bore by his own account, but his arguments in America Alone are not going to go away. Here's a version of the same themes on the blog DarwinCatholic: Where Religion, Philosophy and Demographics Meet:

Population and Ideology

This has been my pet topic, and the overall purpose for this blog. With the advent of universally available birth control, child bearing is essentially "optional" which (as a number of demographers are just beginning to point out) means that the main drivers of fertility in the coming decades will be not economics and food supply but faith and ideology.

I cannot say which blogs Pope Benedict reads, but he has recently been expressing thoughts along the same lines:

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children. "One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.

Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile"—though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization. As I may have also remarked, demography affords arguments that today's conservatives could win, but which they are not self-evidently prepared to make.

* * *

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has some sophisticated remarks in the April issue of First Things one the relationship between science and scientism, with an eye to explaining why empirical evolutionary science is entirely consistent with a providential interpretation of history:

In the traditional view, the Creator endows nature with a kind of quasi-intelligence: Like an agent, nature "acts" for an "end," with immanent principles of self-unfolding and self-operation. Newton, by contrast, is already seized by the early modern "mechanical philosophy," in which nature is seen as a kind of unnatural composite of passive, unintelligent, preexisting matter, on which the order has been extrinsically imposed by a Supreme Intelligence.

Actually, the Cardinal's quarrel seems to be not so much with Newton as with John Scotus: it was Nominalism that began the disenchantment of the world. Fifty years ago, one might have dismissed "the traditional view" as described here as vitalism, but today one can argue that there is quite a lot of teleology in evolutionary history. The Schoolmen's principle that matter contains "intelligible elements" may, perhaps, have been reincarnated in complexity theory.

Nonetheless, we could lose something if we abandon the mechanical world. That would probably have been the view of William Ernest Hocking. I quote from my own review of The Coming World Civilization:

Consider, for instance, the most extreme view of 19th-century science, that the world is nothing but dead matter. Hocking calls that "the Night Vision." He also argues that it is a great moral achievement. Western science is based on the virtues of humility and austerity: humility before the facts, and the rejection of extravagance in the making of hypotheses. Francis Bacon said: "We cannot command nature except by obeying her." Science is the willful suppression of self-will. Only thus could the will of God be known, as manifest in the created world.

There is something to that.

* * *

Speaking of First Things, the April issue also contains a essay in appreciation of the science-fiction writer, Gene Wolfe. Now, Wolfe was a worthy wizard, to whom we owe the expression The Claw of the Conciliator, but his work seems to have been discussed simply because he was Catholic. I must point out that First Things has been in business for 17 years, but they have yet to so much as mention R. A. Lafferty, the greatest Catholic science-fiction writer of the 20th century.

May I ask what the editors think they are about?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View 2007-03-12: Several Small Matters and a Large One

A common theme in theories [or future histories] that posit the formation of a universal state in the next hundred years or so is that they almost always also posit a re-unification of Christianity. Since the schisms between the apostolic churches are often at least related to jurisdictional differences in states, this makes some sense.

When Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven tried this idea, they also united the two national empires of the day, the United States and the Soviet Union. On Earth, that union led to eventual planet-destroying war, but the successor state did successfully blend American ideas with Russian ones.


Several Small Matters and a Large One

Second Amendment Rights advocates are pleased as punch about the decision of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Parker v. District of Columbia, which discovered a personal right to own firearms and consequently struck down the District of Columbia's highly restrictive gun laws. Frankly, gun control has never been high on my list of things to worry about, either for or against. I have looked only at summaries of the decision. Judging just from those, the court's reasoning seems possible but not required. One way to put it is that the court really did "discover" a right here; it not make just one up out of whole cloth in the manner of Griswold v. Connecticut (the template for Roe v. Wade).

However, though the DC Court of Appeals is by no means a tool of the Democratic Party, we should note that this decision advances the strategy set forth by political scientist Thomas Schaller in Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without The South. AS that author put it in another context:

Let's put the other nine Amendments of the Bill of Rights behind the ramparts of the Second Amendment and protect them all with equal vigor. That's smart politics.

We have discussed the Schaller strategy before. Essentially, it's a way of trading loose gun-laws to Libertarian-minded conservatives in the West in return for their acquiescence in the retention of Roe v. Wade. The strategy might or might not work, but it will be easy to implement if the Supreme Court follows the DC Circuit Court.

* * *

I am by no means a vegetarian, but I think twice about eating pate', because I am aware of the misery the goose from which the pate' came. Now this comment on National Public Radio has given me much the same thought about fresh fruit and vegetables:

All Things Considered, March 10, 2007 · American farmers depend on immigrant labor to cull their crops. Organic peach farmer David Mas Masumoto says it's time for Congress and the White House to enact real immigration reform. He says it will be better for the workers, and for his peach trees.

Essentially, the farmer wants an unlimited supply of cheap labor, because that will allow him to grow delicate and interesting fruit that can be harvested only by human hands, rather than fruit cultivated with an eye to mechanical harvesters. He tried to make the labor-intensive option sound humane and natural. In fact, he simply exposed the reality of his business: it relies on the perpetual existence of a population that can never be paid beyond subsistence level because the produce they gather is simply not worth very much.

There are elements of the agricultural industry that should be as disfavored as poppy-growers.

* * *

I am unimpressed by the alleged scandal about the use of National Security Letters by the FBI; these are administrative authorizations which allow the FBI to obtain information about individuals that would otherwise require a warrant. I am appalled by the theme, taken up my many members of Congress, that the FBI must be prevented from going on a fishing expedition. The term "fishing expedition" usually refers to a misuse of the pre-trial discovery process in which a prosecutor or civil plaintiff bombards the other party with questions and subpoenas in order to find a cause of action, rather than using discovery to gather information about a charge or complaint that already exists. "Fishing expeditions" are one of the abuses that the rules of discovery are designed to prevent. However, the concept has no application to national-security investigations. Of course the agencies assigned to prevent terrorist attacks are on a fishing expedition. Whether anyone is ever prosecuted, or whether a crime is ever actually committed: these things are beside the point.

Again: 911 happened in large part because the FBI treated terrorism as a criminal matter, and avoided going on "fishing expeditions." The members of Congress who are now taking about forcing the FBI to return to that policy also happen to work in the building that is likely to be the prime target for the next attack. You would think they would at least have a keener sense of self-preservation, but no.

* * *

Russia & the Salvation of Europe: This is not a new theme, and Asia Times Spengler takes it up again in his latest:

Europe existed before any of its constituent nations, and the unified Europe of Church and Empire created the nations along with their languages and cultures. As individual nations, Europe's constituent countries will die on the vine...To recapture Europe means re-creating the faith. It is hard to imagine that the Roman Catholic Church might re-emerge as Europe's defining institution. The European Church is enervated. But I do not think that is the end of the matter. As I argued last month, Russia has become the frontier between Europe and the Islamic world and, unlike Europe, is not prepared to dissolve quietly into the ummah...Pope Benedict's recent pilgrimage to Turkey, it must be remembered, only incidentally dealt with Catholic relations with Islam; first of all it was a gesture to Orthodoxy in the form of a visit to the former Byzantium, its spiritual home...If Europe has a future, it lies in an ecumenical alliance of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and at least some elements of Anglicanism.

Well, one thing is for sure: Danilevsky lives. It may also be significant that Spengler's remedy closely parallels that of Vladimir Solovyev, whose works were recently in the news as the basis for some of the presentations at the pope's Lenten retreat. To me, at least, it seems that Orthodoxy is not in a flourishing state, so much so that it is difficult to see how Orthodoxy itself could be the basis of a revival. On the other hand, we do note that Benedict XVI's understanding of the Mass tends toward the Orthodox understanding: the eucharist is eschatological, so the Mass reveals eternity in somewhat the way that the end of the world will. This view is not new in Catholicism, though it was more strongly emphasized in the old Latin liturgy than in the new vernacular ones. Is is entirely a coincidence that we hourly await Benedict's motu proprio that will restore the Latin liturgy to universal legitimacy, if not universal use?

We should also note that Spengler makes no mention of the role of American evangelicalism in this holy alliance. This is a mistake, caused no doubt by Spengler's misapprehension of the United States as a civilization separate from Europe (a mistake that the Real Spengler did not make, by the way).

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

Good Omens and Good Theology

With the popular success of the Amazon Originals series Good Omens, based upon the popular success of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, we also have popular Catholics pointing out that Neil Gaiman doesn’t exactly have a STD [Doctorate of Sacred Theology].

First, the Catholic Herald, Good Omens is a travesty of eschatology.

This one was prominent enough that Neil Gaiman himself retweeted it:

For the most part, I can’t actually disagree with the narrow claim that Good Omens isn’t an accurate representation of the Catholic faith, or any specific item you might find in the Catechism. But, on the other hand, I also have zero expectation of that, so I’m inclined to give Gaiman some slack here. He hasn’t ever represented himself as a Christian author, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

If you want catechesis, popular culture is absolutely the wrong place to look for it. I get the idea that you want to educate the vast majority of Christians who don’t know much of the intellectual content of their faith, but I do take exception to blaming Gaiman for getting it wrong, when he cannot reasonably be expected to get it right.

Especially when I find Good Omens in particular to not be that bad. Gaiman has written far worse stories, for example the short story “The Problem of Susan”, or the comic “Murder Mysteries”, with P. Craig Russell. These are objectionable enough to scandalize me, in the narrowly technical, canon law sense. I gave up reading Gaiman for years because of “The Problem of Susan”. Which genuinely makes me sad, because he is a talented author.

Let’s look at a particular claim in Kendra Tierney’s article, that angels are incorporeal. Yes, this is absolutely what the Catechism says on the subject. Especially because it was the stance of my patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor. However, it was a minority position among Scholastics that angels could be corporeal.

Tim Powers – writer of stories involving corporeal angels

Tim Powers – writer of stories involving corporeal angels

More to the point, let us look at examples of authors with a better claim to be Catholics who have written stories that involved angels with bodies, or at least wearing bodies, which is what I think Good Omens actually presents. One of my all-time favorite authors, Tim Powers, wrote Declare, his first overtly Catholic novel, despite being very publicly Catholic for a very long time, which features fallen Angels living on Mount Ararat, and tied in with the life of Kim Philby and the fate Soviet Union. Those angels are very corporeal, because they can be killed. By men. With guns [admittedly special guns]. Powers is the most authentically Catholic author I know, and he always writes his books in a way that reflects a deep conviction of the Catholic faith.

Tim and Jerry were friends, BTW

Tim and Jerry were friends, BTW

Next, Jerry Pournelle. Jerry was pretty public about his struggles with Catholicism, but he also wrote stories that assumed Catholicism was true. Especially his retelling of the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno. Jerry himself described the inspiration for this story as C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce meets Dante.

This story only makes sense if people in Hell/Purgatory have bodies. Which coincidentally, is one of the complaints philosophically minded Orthodox have with Catholics. This contradicts the Catechism, but it also makes for a really good story, which is genuinely supportive of the faith. I take this to illustrate that good stories might not constitute good theology.

Finally, the author that probably represents Catholicity to the greatest number of the faithful at present, J. R. R. Tolkien. Gandalf and Saruman and Sauron himself are represented as spiritual beings wearing bodies of flesh. Bodies which can be destroyed, leaving those spirits unable to act in the world, echoing Gaiman’s line in Good Omens about being inconveniently discorporated.

I don’t think any of the authors I listed would have wanted to try to disprove any element of Catholic theology with their fiction, and they all wrote stories featuring a major plot element of Good Omens. I think we can cut Neil Gaiman some slack here.

The Long View 2007-01-27: The Real Enemy; Guardian Robots; The Constant of Tolerable Terror

The High Altar survived the fire just fine

The High Altar survived the fire just fine

Two of the links John J. Reilly put in this post are really good:

  1. A Culture Worth Dying For

    The fact is that if democracy meant nothing else than that blasphemy could be freely circulated, or that pornography was always available at the touch of a button, or that Michael Moore got to make as many tendentious films as he wanted, then democracy would not be worth having; certainly it would not be worth dying for. The fact is that we put up with these annoyances because they are necessary frictions. We have freedom of the press and contested elections because, on the whole and over the long run, they produce good government and the improvement of the human estate. They produce virtue. The lethal danger that postmodernism and libertarianism pose for the West is their embrace of the transgressive. Their mixture makes Western society repulsive abroad and, in the long run, causes the freedoms on which they depend to become a matter of indifference at home.

  2. Culture War and Foreign Policy

    How this links into foreign policy was both sides in the Cold War sought to recruit allies from the Third World to bolster their international reputation and fight in proxy wars. Insofar as the Soviets could tar the West with the Original Sins of slavery and colonialism, the Soviets had a clear advantage. Thus, John claims that desegregation and civil rights in America set the stage for the Helsinki Accords, which the Soviets considered to be a victory at the time, but later were seen as a key factor that weakened the Soviet Union and its satellites from within.

    The twist is that the political movements that allowed the United States to claim the mantle of justice in the mid-twentieth century now seem increasingly bizarre to an international audience, let alone to their domestic political opponents. Thus we have an odd collusion of interests both at home and abroad that increasingly see the continuing dominance of America as something at odds with both political order and domestic harmony. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, this shades off into outright identification of the United States with the Whore of Babylon. So far, this remains a minority opinion.

We currently have a culture a lot of people tried really hard to make, but when it comes down to it, how many of its architects or proponents would make warre to the knife to defend it?


The Real Enemy; Guardian Robots; The Constant of Tolerable Terror

Regarding Dinesh D'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, visitors to my website may be interested to know that I have done a review, but I have submitted it for print publication. If no one picks it up, I will post it to my website (as indeed I will even if someone does publish it, but then I will post it several weeks later). Here, let me just say that there are elements of D'Souza's thesis with which I agree. Let me refer readers to a posting I made to this space about this time last year, A Culture Worth Dying For, and to an item I wrote in 2000 and posted two years later, Culture War and Foreign Policy. Where I differ from the book is my lack of confidence in the proposal for an alliance of American and Muslim conservatives.

I find that I am not the only person to have had thoughts along these lines, particularly among writers who have been critical of Islam itself. Srdja Trifkovic has entitled his response to the book "Dinesh the Dhimmi," in which he says:

Two of the titles D’Souza finds so offensive that condemning them tops his list of “critical steps” are by my friend Robert Spencer, and “The Sword” is mine. D’Souza wants us, and presumably other similarly minded authors (Bat Ye’or, Ibn Warraq, Andrew Bostom, Walid Shoebat, et al.), to shut up.

Lawrence Auster is of similar mind:

Now think how amazing this is. Has it ever happened in this country—I’m not talking about some totalitarian country but America—has it ever happened that a prominent “intellectual” called on leading writers on a subject of major importance to stop writing what they’re writing, because it would “offend” someone?

My own take on all this is that D'Souza's call for an alliance of traditionalists has less to do with tradition than with Tradition.

* * *

Speaking of tradition, the Telegraph (UK) has cast cold water on the expectation that Benedict XVI is about to issue a motu proprio (a document "on his own initiative") encouraging the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass. The report is an interview with "Fr Reginald Foster, 68, a Carmelite friar who was appointed the Papal Latinist 38 years ago by Pope Paul VI," who said:

"He is not going to do it," Fr Foster said. "He had trouble with Regensberg, and then trouble in Warsaw, and if he does this, all hell will break loose." In any case, he added: "It is a useless mass and the whole mentality is stupid. The idea of it is that things were better in the old days. It makes the Vatican look medieval."

This does not look like a Vatican leak; it looks like the opinion of a clerk. As for me, I have set up a Google News Alert for the term "motu proprio." Thus, when the document is issued, I will be able to go immediately into the public square and join one of the mobs that will form to call the liturgists to account. These venacularist-roaders will then be paraded through the streets and forced in struggle-sessions to recant their errors.

Medieval indeed.

* * *

Other computers watch over me, too, including the ones at Amazon, which were recently kind enough to suggest I might want to buy this list of things:

Crusade Against the Grail: The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome

The SS Brotherhood of the Bell: Nasa's Nazis, JFK, And Majic-12

Nietzsche, Prophet of Nazism: The Cult of the Superman--Unveiling the Nazi Secret Doctrine

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust

The Vril Society

Reich Of The Black Sun: Nazi Secret Weapons & The Cold War Allied Legend

The Secret of the Spear: The Mystery of the Spear of Longinus (Mysteries of the Universe)

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

The first I might actually get: it's a translation of a book published in 1933 by Otto Rahn, that Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail. However, the really scary item in this list is the last one.

* * *

Not only I noticed that yesterday's anti-war rally in Washington was a dud. Readers are encouraged to amuse themselves by looking for pictures of the event: they all take advantage of oblique angles and the Mall's scant foliage to avoid showing how much space the crowd did not occupy. NPR this morning was still reporting that "tens of thousands" of people were there. So, I am told, did the frontpage of the Washington Post, but the online headline was Thousands Protest Bush Policy:

The crowd, while exuberant, seemed significantly smaller than the half-million people organizers said were present and may not have matched similar protests in September 2005 and January 2003. The throng filled much of the Mall between Third and Fourth streets NW but thinned toward Seventh Street.

This does not mean that the media is making up the unpopularity of the war. The unusual thing about this war, and what makes it different from the Vietnam War, is that the population that is bearing the burden of the conflict is distinct geographically and socially from the people who are strongly against it.

* * *

Meanwhile, American conservatism was committing suicide a few blocks away, at the National Review Conservative Summit. Jeb Bush was well received: enough said, I think.

Consider these remarks by Mark Steyn in an interview by Hugh Hewitt I have already linked to:

I’m a believer in small government. I think it’s very difficult for big government to maintain the kind of self reliant citizenry that you need to win long existential struggles like the one we’re in.

I have raised this point before, but let me put the response to this thesis more tersely:

PuR * PrR = Kt

PuR = Public Risk
PrR = Private Risk
Kt = Constant of Tolerable Terror

In other words: Societies whose members experience greater than normal risks because of some collective threat must assume collectively some of the risk that their members would otherwise manage individually. Failure to make this adjustment will have the effect of a confiscatory tax, causing concealment, withdrawal, and a diminishment of activity. Conversely, perfectly safe societies can normally allow their members to assume a great deal of risk without degrading social morale.

In other words, in an existential crisis, small government is a form of expropriation.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View: We All Fall Down

The best paragraph in this fascinating book review by John J. Reilly is this:

As an aside, we may note that this solidifying of the self into an entity that acts without regard to desire is also the goal of certain esotericists. The adamantine self becomes a "body of light" divorced from time, and so immortal. The preservation of the self through the rejection of the rest of reality might, in another view, be thought to be nothing more than the construction of a personal Hell. The author of We All Fall Down may well have intended to make just this point.

As a modern, it is actually kind of hard for me to find fault with the lead character’s stubbornness. The power to be able to say “No” is rather appealing. But as the ashes of Notre Dame cool in Paris, it is worth reflecting that the woman who is honored above all other people in our culture, except for her Son, said “Yes”.

Pierre Téqui‏  @Pierretequi   Photo de l’intérieur de  #NotreDame  La voûte du transept s’est effondrée

Pierre Téqui‏ @Pierretequi

Photo de l’intérieur de #NotreDame La voûte du transept s’est effondrée


We All Fall Down
By Brian Caldwell
2000, Infinity Publishing.com
(2006, Reissue by Alphar Publishing)
253 Pages, US$15.95
ISBN 0-7414-0499-0


Yes, the Antichrist is evil and his agents are vivisecting nightmares from splatterpunk fiction. Anyone who understood that would never accept his mark; certainly not now, when the visible fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation proves that the Second Coming of Christ is less than seven years distant. But wouldn’t making a decision for Christ be, well, inauthentic? That’s the existential decision that the remarkably foul-mouthed Jimmy Lordan has to make during the Tribulation period in this equally remarkable riff on the now-familiar themes of the apocalyptic novel.

The theme song for this book should probably be The Day the Ravens Left the Tower by the Alarm, a Welsh evangelical rock-band that used to open for U2 25 years ago. The song is about the legend that England would end when the ravens leave the Tower of London; the song ends with the rhyme, "Ring around the Rosie," which is also recited in the course of the book. The connection of the song to the book is speculative, but the Generation-X edginess is obvious enough. The protagonist is a member of that generation, a teacher of English at a high school in Michigan but a native of Boston, a city to which he returns twice in the course of the story. (The book is in three acts, rather like a screenplay, and they are presented nonsequentially.) We see Jimmy sliding into early middle age in the early 21st century after his devout wife disappears in the Rapture and the world begins to come apart at the seams.

The pre-tribulation millenarianism that the story assumes is explained only in briefest outline. This is quite unlike the custom in apocalyptic novels, whose primary point is usually to inform the reader of the details of that eschatology. We get just a glimpse of the Antichrist (one Sir Richard Grant Morrison) and that only on television, when he welcomes the sadly depopulated United States into the One World Community. The story is not about world history, but the choices that cosmic catastrophe bring to Jimmy. Readers accustomed to the air-brushed atrocities of the Left Behind series may well be shocked by what they read in this book. As Jimmy explains to the penitent homosexual who tries to help him perform at least one good deed before the Second Coming:

"George, do you have any idea how many times in the last few years I’ve woken up without the slightest fucking clue where I was and what was happening? My wife disappeared from my bed, I watched my father get shot in the face, I thought I was going to die in a nuclear attack, I spent a month getting tortured, a building I was in collapsed, killing everyone but me. I’ve wandered insane through the Israeli desert, spent two years surrounded by Christ-freaks in a camp protected by God, a month on a prison ship watching kids get raped. I’ve been beaten by an ex-student who worked in a death camp and got attacked by a swarm of locusts."

Actually, Jimmy’s adventures are even worse than that, because here Jimmy is telling only what happened to him, not what he himself did. There is quite a lot of graphic sex in this book. It’s not gratuitous, since it serves to establish character, but it is often vindictive.

The Rapture in this book serves to set us a philosophical puzzle by removing metaphysical doubt. Suppose we knew for a fact that theism is true, as we well might surmise in the face of the clockwork fulfillment of the pre-tribulation Endtime scenario. Obviously, the worship of God would then be advisable on utilitarian grounds. However, does the power of God make it morally imperative that we love Him?

This is not a new question. The Book of Job is the text to which all other treatments of the matter are commentaries. In this connection, Immanuel Kant laid down the principle that a command, even the sort of command that God seems to spend so much of His time issuing in the Bible, cannot be the basis of a moral duty. Perhaps the most entertaining relatively recent treatment of the issue in fiction is Robert Heinlein’s Answer to Job. That book, too, is set during the Endtime, indeed during the Endtime in several parallel universes. Theodicy fails to justify the arbitrary salvation and damnation of the characters; in the end, God Himself is ultimately convicted of tyranny. The problem with that conclusion, though, is that it rather incoherently appeals to a justice that transcends God. We All Fall Down takes the issue in a more radical direction. We see it stated here by Jimmy’s highly amputated cellmate, Stan, as he explains why he once refused to inform on a prison gang that had abused him:

"You wanna keep saying no, then ya better find your Inch, boy. Find it and protect it. Ya can cry and scream and beg and curse. Ya can do any damn thing ya gotta do to get through it, but as long as you don’t say yes, you win. Long as ya keep yer Inch for yerself, long as ya don’t pussy out and give it to Morrison or God, you win. You win and they lose."

The power not to say “yes” seems even more intolerable to Antichrist’s government than mere Christianity. As is usual in apocalyptic fiction, people who refuse to receive the mark of the Beast are arrested. Receiving the mark is called “tagging” here; as has also become a literary commonplace, it means you need an implanted microchip in your hand to buy or sell. The authorities quickly execute the Christians, once it is clear they are sincere. In contrast, the authorities take infinite pains with the small number of people who have not converted to Christianity but who refuse to be tagged as a matter of personal integrity. They beat the recusants in ingenious ways over a period of weeks; by and by they snip off ever more noticeable bits of them, all the while engaging in the sort of thoughtful dialogue familiar to us from O’Brien’s exchanges with Winston in 1984. Jimmy’s rudeness during these sessions is stunning, but then, as we slowly come to realize, Jimmy is a genuinely bad man.

Jimmy’s refusal to give an Inch, in fact, raises the question whether the evil in this book comes in two distinct varieties. There is the garden-variety evil of those who willingly follow Antichrist. They worship an object unworthy of worship, and therefore suffer a fitting decline in their sanity and physical condition. Then there are the elite of the damned, people like Jimmy and his father and Stan. Their whole motivation shrinks to the defense of their personal integrity, which is defined in an amoral, even ahedonic way. In normal times, perhaps, one might take this supernal stubbornness for ordinary existentialism: the existentialist defines as real what he would be willing to die for. As an aside, we may note that this solidifying of the self into an entity that acts without regard to desire is also the goal of certain esotericists. The adamantine self becomes a "body of light" divorced from time, and so immortal. The preservation of the self through the rejection of the rest of reality might, in another view, be thought to be nothing more than the construction of a personal Hell. The author of We All Fall Down may well have intended to make just this point.

There is another perspective that the book does not consider, however. Though Jimmy’s recusal from the demands of both God and the Devil is not presented as admirable, it is presented as unanswerable. The final defense of the self is made to seem as self-evident a choice as the acceptance of salvation, even if the final outcome of that defense is completely horrible. This equation is not just ill-advised, however; it may also be merely mistaken.

We should note that the discernment of the absolute self has not always been thought to lead to an inescapable spiritual black hole. The method of contemplative prayer described in The Cloud of Unknowing is based on the premise that, when the contemplative strips away all desires, fears, and distractions, all that remains is the naked desire for God. Furthermore, only someone who has already become virtuous in conventional ways can hope to clarify his basic nature for this purpose.

If that example seems too esoteric for Stan’s Inch, then consider that it is precisely in those extreme situations of danger, when recourse to moral theory is impractical, that many people first encounter the moral life. This is the truth of which existentialism is a caricature. There are circumstances in which moral imperatives are experienced as both commands and discoveries. Kant had a point when he said that a command from one human being to another cannot create a moral duty, but he was wrong when he assumed that experience cannot be commanding. In this sense, the moral life can be said to be a direct experience of the substance of God.

At the risk of taxing the concept behind the book with more analysis than it should be required to bear, let me also suggest that the choice for salvation and the defense of the Inch may not be so incompatible as We All Fall Down takes for granted. Readers may be familiar with the C.S. Lewis novel, That Hideous Strength. It involves an occult conspiracy that could well have been the beginning of the Endtime, if it had been permitted to get off the ground. The story includes another interview between an interrogator and a victim whom the interrogator is trying to convince to make a decision very like the one the forces of Antichrist were trying to foist on Jimmy Lordan. The victim in the Lewis novel refuses, too. He does not refuse because of theological scruples, but because he sees that what he is being asked to do would be the end of him in some more fundamental way than merely dying. However, far from being the event horizon of a spiritual black hole, the victim’s refusal is his first discovery of the moral life, and then of the transcendent. In deciding to resist, he had decided, all unknowing, to fight on the side of the angels in whom he did not believe. In other words, by defending his Inch, he had also accepted the grace of salvation.

This book uses eschatology to simplify certain questions, which is fair enough. Still, I could not help wondering as I read what would happen to the logic of the story if complications had been introduced. Suppose anonymous Christians had been raptured. Well, that’s another story.


Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

Dragon and Liberator Book Review

Dragon and Liberator: Dragonback book 6
by Timothy Zahn
368 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 4 and 5
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

The time has come for Jack and Draycos to fulfill their destiny, or die trying. The K’da/Shontine refugee fleet has nearly completed its two years of faster-than-light travel, fleeing across the void between adjacent spiral arms of the galaxy. Despite all of their efforts, their enemies have assembled an attack force at the rendezvous point for the refugee fleet.

The time has also come for answers. Who are the K’da, and where did they come from? Why are their enemies willing to pursue them beyond the edge of the world? Who is Alison Kayna, and whom does she work for? What exactly is the connection between Jack and Draycos, and and why do they ‘nick’?

By now, we also have many answers. We learned in the last volume that Jack’s parents were Judge-Paladins, the circuit judges of the Orion Arm, empowered to hear cases and dispense justice anywhere they might find themselves. While we don’t learn precisely what the limits of their power or jurisdiction are, we do know that are granted ships of unusual power, speed, and armament, such as the one Virgil Morgan stole from Jack’s parents.

I found Zahn’s description of the badges of authority of a Judge-Paladin fascinating: their distinctive hats were a combination of a biretta and a tricorn hat. As a Catholic convert, and a reader of First Things magazine, that seems like a not entirely accidental combination. If someone were to boldly create a symbol of the late twentieth century project to marry orthodox Catholicism to the American Dream, this would be it.

Biretta  By MK777 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4733523

Biretta

By MK777 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4733523

Tricorne hat  By Unknown - LACMA Image Library. Photograph LACMA.Derivative work: PKM (talk), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14854853

Tricorne hat

By Unknown - LACMA Image Library. Photograph LACMA.Derivative work: PKM (talk), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14854853

While I’ve had some doubts about Zahn, I have absolutely nothing to make me think that Zahn is a secret disciple of Fr. Neuhaus. Nonetheless, this is a striking example of cultural convergence. I might dismiss it as a coincidence if it weren’t for the uncanny resemblance of Draycos’ ethics of war to the police model of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

An interesting wrinkle in this theory is that book 6 is where the gloves come off. Up til now, Draycos has avoided intentional killing, except for book 1, where he executed a man who had killed a random passerby in an attempt to coerce Jack into helping with Arthur Neverlin’s grand conspiracy. Now that time is short, and the fate of his people hangs upon a precipice, Draycos is quicker to kill, and he even resorts to the use of the Death, the dreaded weapon of the Valahgua, smuggled into the Orion Arm to finish the fleeing refugees.

I saw a comment in another review that seems pertinent here. I hadn’t particularly noticed, but book 1 was a bit of a departure from Zahn’s usual style, and even a bit over the top in how the story and even the terminology was simplified. Now that we are down to book 6, I feel like Zahn has gotten more comfortable with the juvenile novel thing, and relaxed back into something that feels more normal for him.

Which is a good thing, insofar as Zahn skillfully wraps up all of his plot threads and hints from the previous five volumes into a hell of a conclusion. This is an excellent series, with some interesting ideas and especially well done character development. I encourage you to pick these books up.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Blackcollar series:
The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave
Dragon and Herdsman
Dragon and Judge

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

Dragon and Herdsman Book Review

Dragon and Herdsman: Dragonback book 4
by Timothy Zahn
304 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 5 and 6
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

Fourteen year old boys still don’t make good plans. After escaping from the Brummgan slavers, the Chookook family, with a healthy dose of good fortune, Jack infiltrates another mercenary organization in order to steal their files. This time, Jack and Draycos know where to look because of an act of mercy that Draycos insisted upon back in Volume 1: Draycos took a few seconds to prop up a man he had disabled so that the mercenary wouldn’t burn to death upon the ground heated by the crash of his ship.

In doing so, Draycos instantiates something very much like the jus ad bello criteria of the Catholic Church that govern just conduct in war.

What Catholic military doctrine does resemble is the criteria that well-run civilian police forces articulate regarding the use of deadly force. As the nightly television news will tell you, rules of this sort often work imperfectly. However, they do make sense for any law-governed society in which the authorities, too, can be held responsible for their actions.

So far as I know, Zahn isn’t Catholic. I guess that he simply used medieval chivalric ideal as an example for Draycos, and in some typically thorough research, brought this along for the ride. What I can’t even begin to guess is whether he developed it into a more modern rendition on his own, or if he used another source.

Reading something like The Song of Roland with the eyes of an early twenty-first century American, it is hard to avoid the impression that Roland is a bit of a chump. Roland’s last stand is certainly dramatic, but he could have blown that horn earlier and saved everyone a lot of trouble. But his knightly honor wouldn’t let him call for help carelessly. To do so would be to admit weakness, which would shame him in the eyes of his peers. Roland is mostly concerned with defending his honor, defined as mutual respect among a society of equals [warriors]. If your peers don’t see or recognize this kind of honor, it very much doesn’t truly exist.

Draycos’ ideas of honor on the other hand, are a little more practical than Roland’s. Draycos is perfectly willing to retreat without shame in the face of a superior force, or seek to avoid combat when defeat is more likely than victory. He is, on the other hand, is acutely interested in defending abstract ideals, even when no one is looking, even when it actively works against his obvious interests. This is guilt culture, rather than shame culture, in the context of war. In the Christian West, chivalry was one of the stages by which shame cultures with a warlike bent turned into guilt cultures with an interest in defending the weak and defenseless, even when they mean you harm.

In the twelve or so centuries since Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, made a last stand that was told for a thousand years, Catholic thinking on war has tended toward a police model, where minimum force is used to achieve the objective at hand. This is very much the model Draycos uses, except that in his culture, he personally combines the prerogatives of judge and jury and executioner in one, which is a bit unsettling to Jack, and probably would be to most of Zahn’s readers, modern Westerners, who are accustomed to a separation of powers model.

Battle of Palatea  Edmund Ollier  Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

Battle of Palatea

Edmund Ollier

Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

However, Western thinking on war by those who actively practice it doesn’t necessary track well with the development of Catholic Just War doctrine. Victor Davis Hanson made the argument that going back to the Classical Greeks, the Western way of war was to seek decisive battle which destroyed the enemy [or at least his ability to fight]. What this looks like shouldn’t be at all unfamiliar to any educated Westerner, because it is how we [the Allies] waged World War II.

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED  BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,  HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED

BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,

HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

We crushed our enemies, until they had no recourse. We burned their cities, without remorse. I’m not talking about nuclear weapons either, which don’t actually rise to the level of the enormity I am talking about. This was what Jerry Pournelle called WARRE. Warre to the knife, fire bombs, nuclear weapons, death and destruction. I am not sure that Hanson made his argument in quite the way he meant to, but I think it is true that the West has a tendency to do this.

Draycos, despite being on the losing end of an interstellar war, is too high minded to embrace the scorched earth tactics of his enemies. Even though that war involved the death of something like 90-95% of his people. We were not so generous to our enemies.

That highmindedness is put to the test here, in Dragon and Herdsman, when Jack and Draycos, fleeing from angry mercs who caught them in the act, stumble upon a colony of Draycos’ people on a remote world. Except, they aren’t really his people, in the cultural sense. These phooka are physically the same as Draycos, but in isolation, they have regressed to a state of mute inactivity, unable to speak, and ignorant of the proud glories of K’da history.

Draycos is stunned and appalled to find his brethren reduced to such a state. Draycos’ sense of honor, like cast iron, can be strong, but also brittle. It is especially endangered when a core assumption, like the inherent nobility of his people, is undermined. Fortunately, Jack’s more pragmatic [self-serving even] sense of ethics provides cushion and flexibility in the same way that a blade can be made more durable by combining hard steel for the edge with mild steel for the spine, taking the best properties of both.

For Jack and Draycos, the process by which this works is not simply conversation and time. They are each becoming more like one another, so much so that Jack is starting to have some of Draycos’ warrior’s spirit [and tactical knowledge], while Draycos now has the resiliency born of living life in the shadows. The phooka are likewise slow of body and of mind because the hosts they found on remote Rho Scorvi are dimwitted and indolent.

There is something special about Jack and Draycos, and in some way their meeting was providential. And now we have another piece of the puzzle as to why this might be.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Blackcollar series:
The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

The End of the World as We Knew It

The Annunciation  By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

The Annunciation

By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

This is a bit of The Long View entry from February 14th, 2005. March 25th is in many ways the most important day in the Christian calendar. It also happens to be Waffle Day, thanks to a pun in Swedish. Vårfrudagen —> Våffeldagen


Readers of Tolkien will recall that Sauron fell on March 25. In choosing that date, Tolkien acted as a good medievalist. The Feast of the Annunciation itself commemorates the revelation by an angel to the Virgin Mary that she had conceived Jesus: nine months from Christmas, you see. By rumor and tradition, however, almost everything important that ever happened was ascribed to March 25, if it could not be positively dated otherwise. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

All Christian antiquity (against all astronomical possibility) recognized the 25th of March as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring...Consequently the ancient martyrologies assign to the 25th of March the creation of Adam and the crucifixion of Our Lord; also, the fall of Lucifer, the passing of Israel through the Red Sea and the immolation of Isaac.

And if March 25 is the anniversary of the Creation, then it follows, sort of, that it is likely to be the date of the Second Coming. Dr. Richard Landes notes this document from about the year AD 1000:

Abbo, scholasticus, then abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury sur Loire (ca.945-1004) [wrote a letter to the king] of France dated ca. 994-996 [in which] Abbo recalls several incidents of apocalyptic rumors circulating in earlier years:

[M]y abbot of blessed memory and keen mind rejected another error which grew about the End of the World; and after he received correspondence from Lotharingians he ordered me to answer. For a rumor had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.

54525440_2148112612166187_1472767452851994624_n.jpg

The Long View: God's Plan for America

It is never prudent to completely dismiss the suggestion that the purpose of your life to serve as a warning to others. It may not be a leading hypothesis, but it is a possible one.

That being said, this essay contains John J. Reilly’s reflections on how Christians ought to relate to politics. This essay is brief, but only because John included most of his thought by reference, rather than repeating things he had already said.

Like all of us, John had particular political commitments and preferences, but I think he pointed toward something bigger than his party affiliation here.


God's Plan for America


That's the title of a column by Vox Day (hat tip to Brainbiter) where we read in part:

I do find it peculiar that there are so many people who make national politics a central part, if not the central point, of their theology. And I'm saying this as a member of the Christian right by blood; when Ralph Reed was in town with the Christian Coalition, he stayed at my parent's house.

Consider the state of the seven deadly sins in America...

There is, I suspect, an unconscious stream of omniderigence underlying the concept of divine American exceptionalism. Either God has inordinately blessed America because of the unique qualities of her inhabitants or because He has a special plan for America. The problem with the first possibility should be obvious in light of the character and behavior of said inhabitants; the problem with the latter is that it requires believing that the Christian God is responsible for the death of millions of unborn children, the establishment of transnational globalism and Paris Hilton.

Wise words (particularly "omniderigence"). One might point out that the United States could have been providentially preordained as an Awful Example, but I rather doubt that to be the case.

I see two issues.

The first is the status of politics and government in a Christian framework. I don't really find this problematical: all government is a divine institution, in the sense that legitimate authority comes from above. That by no means implies that all governments are or should be theocracies. However, there is a sacred, not merely prudential, obligation to participate in public life and not make a nuisance of yourself. Patriotism is a virtue. Get over it.

On the other hand, patriotism is not analytically the expression of the highest political loyalty. (In many eras in may be the highest available, of course). The common humanity of the human race implies natural standards of just treatment, which, as the human race interacts on a broader and broader scale, implies the establishment of ever more universal structures to ensure these standards. Dante famously argued that only a universal government could be altogether legitimate. The Catholic Church, after having skewered Dante (posthumously) for his inordinate affection for the Holy Roman Empire, has come around to an oddly similar point of view, in the sense that doctrine today asserts that certain sovereign prerogatives must, in the modern world, be reserved to supranational authorities.

This presents us with the second issue: the relationship between theodicy and macrohistory. If you accept that there is a tendency toward global unity, does that make the process a divine imperative? Contrariwise, is there an imperative to oppose it? (As C.S. Lewis once remarked, just because you have terminal cancer is no reason to be on the tumor's side.) For my part, I would suggest that this question tends to generate much the sort of category mistake that we see in sacralized environmentalism: anything as big as history or the atmosphere is presumed to be a theater of miracle and moral absolute.

Nonetheless, there is an level of loyalty that is ordinate to the ideal universal empire that Dante envisioned. For St. Augustine in the final generation of the Roman Empire, this loyalty was the highest form of patriotism he knew. Similarly, it would be possible to make the argument that some form of globalization merits devotion of this order, since the universal empire is also a divine institution, though most of the time it exists only virtually.

If you accept the neo-Spenglerian hypothesis that the United States is going to play the same role in the modern world that Rome did in Classical antiquity and Qin did in ancient China, then you might be able to formulate "God's Plan for America" in terms of the providential formation of a universal state at the end of the modern era; however, this development would be "providential" only at the level of natural providence, not as a matter of divine election.

In other words, somebody had to do it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View 2006-12-18: Class of the Year; Past the Apogee; The Latin Mass

This post by John J. Reilly was written about six months before the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was published, giving universal permission to celebrate the Mass in the Latin Rite according to the pre-Vatican II rubrics. I have a pending review of the book A Bitter Trial, containing letters between Evelyn Waugh and other famous Catholics about the liturgical changes that came from Vatican II. It will be interesting to reflect on how things have changed in the last twelve years.


Class of the Year; Past the Apogee; The Latin Mass

I have won the Time Man of the Year award for the second time in my life, according to this report:

NEW YORK (AP) - Congratulations! You are the Time magazine "Person of the Year."...The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals - citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web. ...It was not the first time the magazine went away from naming an actual person for its "Person of the Year." In 1966, the 25-and-under generation was cited; in 1975, American women were named; and in 1982, the computer was chosen.

The awarding of honors to classes of people was one of Ayn Rand's nightmares. On the other hand, I am also reminded of the time Norway awarded itself the Nobel Peace Prize in a show hosted by John Cleese. The show was entitled Norway, Land of Giants.
It was a joke. I think.

* * *

But speaking of nightmares, consider Past the Apogee: America Under Pressure, which Charles Krauthammer delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute's annual dinner last month:

When I wrote the article “The Unipolar Moment” (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990/91), it achieved some renown because, remarkably, I was the only one saying at the time, that in fact, with the end of the Cold War, the United States would end up as the unipolar power, the dominant, hegemonic power in the world. There would be none even close to us in ranking. The old bipolar world would yield not to a multipolar world but to one with only one great influence, and that would be us. ...

Sept. 11 ushered in the second era of this unipolar era, which I would call the era of assertion, where the power that had been latent in America shows itself. I would date this era from 9/11 to the March 14, 2005, a date probably unfamiliar to you and not particularly renowned in our history today, but a date that I think will be remembered by historians as the apogee of American power, the peak of the arc of the unipolar era. ...

The Bush Doctrine held that besides attacking the immediate enemy who had perpetrated 9/11, it would have to engage in a larger enterprise of changing the underlying conditions which had given birth to this idea of Islamic radicalism, and to change the conditions that had allowed it to recruit and breed, particularly in the Arab world.

Let me interject that the Iraq War should be viewed as continuous with the Serbian War of a few years earlier: both were expressions of the original concept behind the United Nations, an organization grown too crooked to act even as a mask for serious efforts to carry out its original purpose.

After that, of course, was the swift initial victory in Iraq, in which the capital fell within three weeks. After that was a ripple effect in the region. Libya, seeing what we had done in Iraq, gave up its nuclear capacity; then the remarkable revolution in Lebanon in which Syria was essentially expelled. And that demarks the date that I spoke of. March 14 is the name of the movement in Lebanon of those who rose up against the Syrians and essentially created a new democracy—fragile, as we will see. You have all of these events happening at once: you have the glimmerings of democracy in the elections in Egypt, some changes even in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and of course what we had in January 2005 was the famous first election in Iraq, which had an electric effect on the region. That winter-spring of 2005, I think, is the apogee of this assertion of unipolarity and American power.

For a variety of reasons, however, the initial impulse dissipated:

Since this [is] an evening honoring Benjamin Franklin, I want to recall to you one of his most famous statements. When leaving the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what they had accomplished. His response was “A republic, if you can keep it.” What we have done in Iraq is given them a republic, but they appear unable to keep it.

This judgement could yet prove premature. Be that as it may, though, I am extremely skeptical of this assessment:

What is becoming clear is that the overall international strategic situation in which we had unchallenged hegemony for the first decade and half the unipolar moment is now over. We are seeing on the horizon the rise of something that is always expected in any unipolar era, which is an alliance of others who oppose us. ...What I think we are beginning to see now is Iran positioning itself at the center of a regional alliance against us, again with the—Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Sadr—looking to overawe the entire region with the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which would make it the regional superpower. And Iran is receiving tacit backing for its regional and anti-American ambitions from two great powers: Russia and China. That, I think, is the structure of the adversary that we will be looking at for the decades to come.

Russia is supporting Iran, of course, but for commercial rather than strategic reasons. As for China, the remarkable thing is how little influence it attempts to exercise in the Middle East. The United States has, arguably, lost the Kantian Mandate of Heaven that perfect communion with the UN once afforded. We must wonder, though, whether the United States or the mandate has been discredited.

We have all been reading too much into the results of the recent congressional elections. They cannot signify the snapping of imperial over-stretch among an exhausted electorate, for the excellent reason that the electorate has been asked to sacrifice nothing. We also know for a fact that the country does not regard the loss of American lives in Iraq as intolerable: the military has been having no trouble meeting recruiting or reenlistment goals. George Bush was reelected in 2004 because he promised not to be Lyndon Johnson, a promise he broke. As for the behavior of the Republican Congress, the less said the better.

* * *

If we must over-interpret an election, this may be a good place to start:

Ultra-conservatives close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have failed to sweep twin Iranian elections with embattled moderate forces recording a respectable performance, initial results have showed. ...Centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appeared to have sprung a surprise by reaping by far the most votes and beating a hardline rival in the election for the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the supreme leader.

The chief reason to discount models in which Iran becomes the linchpin of an anti-American coalition is that the Iranians don't really have the inclination or, one suspects, the capacity for the political cohesion that would be necessary for such a role.

* * *

As for events in Iraq itself, I am not overly comforted by this report:

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and -- mother of all surprises -- it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

This development is as morbid as what is happening in Venezuela: in both cases, a transitory pure-consumption economy is masking the disintegration of productive activity. The real news here is that oil production in Iraq is recovering, which is some evidence that the government there really can do things that engage its enthusiasm.

* * *

At First Things, meanwhile, Fr. Neuhaus has commented on the Affair of the Blue Mosque, the incident during Benedict XVI's recent visit to Istanbul in which the pontiff prayed, or perhaps simply engaged in a moment of reflection, at a noted place of Muslim worship. Fr. Neuhaus comments chiefly by quoting John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter on the matter. Allen, of course, noted it would be absurd to read syncretism or relativism into anything done by Joseph Ratzinger. Fr. Neuhaus then goes on to say:

But a gloss is really not necessary.

To that I can only reply, "Yes it is." What the pope did was understandable; it may even have been unavoidable. However, it would be a grave mistake to think that it was costless.

* * *

In happier Benedictine news, we see from the latest rumors that the general permission to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass may be just days away. Reporters in the New York area who would like to see what an established Tridentine revival can look like might visit Holy Rosary parish here in downtown Jersey City. After the Sunday Mass in Latin, which usually ends around 11:15 AM, there is coffee and munchies in the basement. I am not really the guy to talk to, but you can contact me or the parish to set up interviews with some people who are.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-12-01: Benedict in Istanbul; Transcendent Liturgy; Great Days

1411680530936_wps_12_epa04416448_Syrian_refuge.jpg

I will admit I haven’t thought deeply about whether Turkey’s admission to the European Union would have in fact been good or bad. I do find Pope Emeritus Benedict’s acts less alarming in retrospect than John did at the time.

Some random thoughts:

  • Turkey wouldn’t have been part of the Schengen zone, so travel wouldn’t have been much different, nor would the 2016 migrant crisis have been much different. There were too many people to cross in normal ways, so the tragedies would probably have still happened.

  • If Turkey had adopted the Euro, it would have made Greece’s financial crisis look like nothing. I can’t imagine that Germany would have actually agreed to put Turkey in the Eurozone, but hey, weirder things have happened.

  • John J. Reilly’s point about religious liberty might have been interesting. Maybe the Orthodox Christians and other religious minorities would have benefited Or maybe they would just pack up and leave with easier access to more welcoming lands. I find this one harder to guess.

  • If you think of the EU as a new Christendom, which its founders assuredly did, then admitting Turkey is strange. If, like most people now, you would never even think of this connection, then being opposed for symbolic reasons is instead strange.

The EU flag represents Mary’s crown of stars.  It’s not even subtle .

The EU flag represents Mary’s crown of stars. It’s not even subtle.

  • I’m not sure that the current situation with Syria would really be much different either if the EU border was involved. Turkey is already in NATO.


Benedict in Istanbul; Transcendent Liturgy; Great Days

The Pope took the turban, or so I thought in bleary dismay when the clock radio woke me up with a report like this:

Pope Benedict wound up a fence-mending visit to Turkey on Friday amid praise from the local press for visiting Istanbul's Blue Mosque and praying toward Mecca "like Muslims". ...Catholic officials also presented the mosque visit, where Benedict stood in silent prayer while Istanbul Grand Mufti Mustafa Cagrici prayed aloud, as a key moment of reconciliation... "I would compare the Pope's visit to the mosque to Pope John Paul's gestures at the Western Wall," said veteran Vatican mediator Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, referring to Pope John Paul II's prayers at Jerusalem's Western Wall in 2000.

"Yesterday, Benedict did with the Muslims what John Paul did with the Jews."

This irenic gesture can be theologically defended, and Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News duly defended it a few hours later, but you know there's a problem when your friends are using the title: The Pope in a Mosque — Dialogue or Idolatry?

Promoting the positive elements in other religious traditions is not the same as sanctioning their creeds or whitewashing differences. It is to encourage all people of good will to seek and follow the truth in as much as God reveals it to them, in his own timing and mysterious ways.

The goodness Pope Benedict will be promoting today here in Istanbul is not the Quran or the prophet Mohammad; it is the honest piety of many Muslim believers. He believes that when they pray, if they do so sincerely, the same God who listens to him in papal robes and to the homeless man with no robes at all, also listens to them.

To put it more briefly, our relationship to God as "thou" must be distinguished from our knowledge of God as "it," which is lucky, because the latter always needs work. And in fact, it is not likely that the principal author of Dominus Iesus is going squishy on religious relativism. The problem is that, in Istanbul, the pope's job as a statesman collided with his job as a pastor, to the great detriment of the latter. This was true even of his diplomatically defensible hedging about the the admission of Turkey to the EU:

Pope Benedict and the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians said on Thursday minority rights must be protected as the EU expands and appeared to jointly support Turkish membership if it protected religious liberties. ....Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians, strongly supports Turkey's membership in the EU and two days ago the Pope did an about-face from his previous opposition to Ankara's bid.

We have to sympathize with the patriarch's position. He wants Turkey to join the EU because then he will be able to appeal to Brussels over the head of Ankara about the oppression of Christian minorities. However, Benedict knows as well as anyone that the admission of Turkey would be a catastrophe from which Europe might never recover. Indeed, he knows this better than almost any other Western statesman, and a lot of the public respect he had garnered was based on the fact he seemed to be the only political figure note who was willing to be publicly realistic on this subject.

The pope has now lost that respect. He has dismayed his own flock. He has alienated other Christians who admired his fortitude. And the irony is that the journey to Istanbul will advance Christian-Muslim relations not one centimeter. You cannot placate the implacable.

I have every confidence that Benedict will repair the damage. If he does achieve final reconciliation with the Orthodox, the current dismay might even have been worth it. I have my doubts, though: reconciliation is not really in Patriarch Bartholomew's gift.

* * *

History should be irrelevant to religious practice, much less current political questions. The remarks by Father Chrysogonus Waddell in Adoremus are really a sober appreciation about the relevance for today of the 12th-century movement for the reform of liturgical music, but I cannot resist sharing this ghost story:

There are numerous stories from medieval monastic literature which take for granted a connection between our sacred music and the music of heaven. ...Which brings me to a very similar account from the twentieth century. When the great French musicologist Nadia Boulanger lay in a coma just a few days before her death, Leonard Bernstein came to visit her, despite that fact that any kind of communication was absolutely impossible.

Suddenly she spoke: “Dear Lenny …” He searched his mind anxiously for the right thing to say, and then heard himself asking: “Do you hear music in your head?” Instant reply: “All the time.” Bernstein continued: “And what are you hearing at the moment?” He thought of her preferred loves. Mozart? Monteverdi? Bach? Stravinsky? Ravel? Long pause. And then: “One music … with no beginning, no end.” She was already there, wrote Bernstein, on the other side.

And this is the great challenge for the contemporary composer of sacred music: to write music that already anticipates and shares in that music from above; a music that has no beginning and no end; a music that draws us even now to the other side.

We don't usually think of the liturgy as an empirical science, but perhaps we should. The view would be fruitful even if you regard the whole thing as a product of neurochemistry.

* * *

Speaking of dismay, the ever more despondent Victor Davis Hanson entitled a speech he delivered at the Claremont Institute's annual dinner in honor of Sir Winston Churchill Losing the Enlightenment (or at least he called the print adaptation that), and suggested that a "civilization that has lost confidence in itself cannot confront the Islamists." He does, however, end on this note:

So let me quote Winston Churchill of old about the gift of our present ordeal:

"These are not dark days: these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived."

I do not think that yet speaks to our condition. I am reminded much more of this passage from Oswald Spengler's The Hour of Decision, about an earlier phase of the same crisis:

We live in one of the mightiest ages in all history, and no one sees, no one realizes it. We are experiencing a volcanic eruption that is without parallel. Night has set in, the earth trembles, and streams of lava are rolling down over entire nations - and we send for the fire-brigade!

I strongly suspect that, if Spengler had lived longer, he would have wound up on Churchill's side, but that's another story.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Path of the Martyrs Book Review

Bataille de Poitiers en octobre 732  By Charles de Steuben - Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=363367

Bataille de Poitiers en octobre 732

By Charles de Steuben - Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=363367

The Path of the Martyrs: Charles Martel, The Battle of Tours and the Birth of Europe
by Ed West
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published June 26, 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07F2M73XV

How could I not review a history book that starts off with the Battle of Tours? I only picked Charles de Steuben’s painting of the battle for my site banner.

West has written the kind of book I would give to a teen-aged boy that I think would end up being quite interested in history for its own sake, but needs an introduction to the subject that is neither stuffy nor boring. Perhaps the young man in question has heard bits and pieces of the chansons de geste through popular culture, perhaps knows of Beowulf or the Song of Roland, and is curious to know what really happened.

Quite a bit happened in the seventh and eighth centuries in France, and most of what did happen is not only epochal, but rather exciting, scandalous even. This is the spirit that West captures in his book. In order to capture the breath and scale of what was going on in the world, West does make some detours in both time and space. While this makes the narrative skip around a bit, I think the context it provides is crucial in understanding, for example, exactly why it was so surprising that the unlettered Franks stopped the advance of the Umayyad Caliphate in 732.

Saint Boniface felling Donar's Oak  By Bernhard Rode - Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5780989

Saint Boniface felling Donar's Oak

By Bernhard Rode - Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5780989

West also has the time point out less romantic facts like it was the Catholic Basques who killed Roland, Lord of the Breton marches in Roncesvalles, rather than the Muslims, and to highlight the rather unecumenical stance of St. Boniface when he chopped down Donar’s Oak. We get to see history, not legend nor hagiography here.

I read this on Kindle, and I found the footnotes were well-implemented, but I did find a number of typos. This sort of thing seems to be common in short little ebooks of this type, and the meaning is always clear from context, so it doesn’t bother me much. Ed West’s short little history book is pithy, irreverent, and above all, fun. I think you could spend 99 cents in many worse ways.

My other book reviews

Retribution: Galaxy's Edge Book 9 Review

Retribution: Galaxy's Edge #9
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published October 29th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07GNGLDWM

I threatened to write an elaborate thinkpiece on this book, and since no-one talked me off the cliff, here it is. I think I’m going to go full spoiler here, because I doubt I need to talk anyone into reading the 9th book in a series I’ve been recommending for a year. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read on unless you want me to ruin the ending for you.


The end has come.

In Message for the Dead, I thought the end was upon the galaxy, but Goth Sullus used his connection to the Crux to stem the tide, vanquishing the murderous and hateful Cybar and binding them to his will. Alas, it turns out that his victory was to be short-lived, and he would not succeed at building an Empire to last a thousand years. At the very moment of his triumph, his dreams turned to ashes in his mouth, and his power deserted him.

Unfortunately, despite his advanced age, Goth Sullus forgot to heed the advice of the venerable 100 Tips for Evil Overlords #22, “do not consume an energy field bigger than your head, no matter how much power is at stake”. [on a side note, I see that the author of the evil overlord list’s last name is Anspach. Coincidence?]

Of course, I am kidding. Goth Sullus pretty clearly knows most of these things. Sullus did not make any cartoonish mistakes. He was just undone by his moral failings, as nemesis follows hubris. It would be easy to condemn Sullus as a monster, which he is, but he is also genuinely a great man. Thus his end, when it comes, is all the more tragic.

I wish to focus here on Sullus, in part because I am fascinated by his character, but also because in retrospect, the entirety of the first nine books of the Galaxy’s Edge series turns upon Goth Sullus and his actions. Even the Battle of Kublar was but the preamble [with the collusion of X] to his campaign to bring justice to the galaxy.

If we now turn to the events of Retribution, one of the key threads is the final temptation of Goth Sullus. In Message for the Dead, the dread secret of the Cybar was heavily hinted, but here in Retribution, the truth is laid bare: the Cybar are but manifestations of demons and devils seeking to invade and despoil the galaxy.

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

Blinded as he is by pride and ambition, Sullus cannot see this. Even though preventing this was why Sullus went seeking power! As surprising as this may seem, given his history, the temptation of Goth Sullus proceeds in a plausible fashion. Like the target of the apprentice devil Screwtape, the ultimate masters of the Cybar proceed from flattery, to practical advice, to offers of service, to demands of fealty. Reading this, I thought it felt about right. The whisperings of temptation do sound like this. From my own small experience, this felt real.

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

I had hoped for redemption for Sullus. In the end, he had spent far too long indulging his fantasies of power and revenge to act in time. Goth Sullus was vain-glorious and prideful, easy pickings for the masters of deceit. Casper might have resisted, but that persona was long diminished by the time he had completed his transformation into Sullus. Once he [Sullus] realized his danger, he [Casper] was too far gone to resist effectively. Virtue is simply what we habitually do, and for Sullus, his habits betrayed him in the end. When Wraith walked up and put a bullet in his head, it was the best thing that could have happened to him at that point. We can perhaps nonetheless hope that his final resistance will count in his favor at the final judgment.

Last Judgment  By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

Last Judgment

By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

The end of Goth Sullus brings a fitting end to the first season of Galaxy’s Edge. Most everyone who deserved a bullet has gotten one. Order, of a sort, has been restored to the galaxy. Things will never be as they were, but life will go on.

There are just enough loose threads left for the authors to spin up another round of books, but I felt satisfied at the end of this. Each book in the series had its own feel, its own good moments, and then in the end it all came together cleanly. This was a hell of a good read, and I hope everyone else enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review


Pop Kult Warlord Book Review

Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Pop Kult Warlord: Soda Pop Soldier Book 2
by Nick Cole
Kindle edition, 318 pages
Published November 4th, 2018 by Castalia House
ASIN B07K6SRSLW

A man with decisions to make. Choices that weigh heavily on him. Heavy is the brow that wears the crown, someone once said.

I may be weird, but I found the opening chapter of Pop Kult Warlord riveting. I think I might actually watch the SuperBowl of videogames, if it existed as described. John Saxon, by now known only by his online alias PerfectQuestion, is competing in the world championship of online videogames in Havana. The game in question, WarWorld, is the ideal combination of FPS and MMO. You can LARP as a Colonial Marine in game, only communicating in scraps of dialogue from Aliens, or you can go pro like PQ did, and focus entirely on being better at putting digital bullets into digital heads than the other guy or girl in exchange for corporate sponsorship, fame, and fortune.

PerfectQuestion is a top-tier competitor, and he is in demand as a digital mercenary. In a world where e-sports pulls in billions in ad revenue, the world’s most popular and recognizable player can write his own ticket. Unfortunately for him, he is starting to feel like he is too old to be playing videogames all night, and longing for a simpler, more fulfilling life.

I’ve played a lot of videogames in my day, so I know what he means. I like videogames a lot, and I write about that frequently on my blog, but I would never trade videogames for my career and my family. The hours I’ve invested in gaming have tapered quite a bit over the years, in a natural progression of family involvement. John Saxon, alias PerfectQuestion, is on the outside looking in, and starting to wonder if the grass isn’t really greener in suburbia.

Unfortunately for him, fate has other plans. When his agent shows up with a truly sweet offer, PQ lacks any of the mundane grounding of a wife, kids, or a mortgage to effectively question whether a deal that is too-good-to-be-true really is. So he finds himself on a plane to Calistan, the Islamic Protectorate of Orange County. Once there, PQ quickly finds himself in over his head, and hilarity ensues.

Like some of my other favorite authors living [Tim Powers] and dead [Jerry Pournelle], Cole uses his favorite places in Southern California to add verisimilitude to Pop Kult Warlord. Even after the Meltdown, the rogue-AI apocalypse from the prequel CTRL ALT Revolt!, the denizens of Orange County remain much as they are now, a mishmash of different cultures jammed into some of the nicest real estate in America.

When he isn’t doing the bidding of Rashid, the Sultan’s son, PQ gets to see both the beauty and the squalor of Calistan. He can enjoy the gulls and the waves off of Rashid’s private island, drive fancy sports cars, tour slums and barrios, witness summary executions, you know, the usual. He even gets to fall for a doe-eyed Mexican beauty, who may or may not be involved with the Aztec Liberation Front [or is that Liberation Front of Azteca?]

tumblr_inline_o85q4mgqPu1r09uvv_250.gif

The Sultan has long suppressed Catholicism in his domain, but I was rather pleased to see that when PQ does finally meet up with an underground priest, he is in fact a faithful Catholic. Even in extremis, he counsels the Mexican terrorists to repent and follow the Gospel [which doesn’t rule out armed resurrection per se].

All of the intrigue and duplicity PerfectQuestion has found himself embroiled in comes to a head, and then to a fairly satisfying conclusion. I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers, since this book really is hot off the presses, but for the most part, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. In a grand sense, justice is done, but the price is often severe. Some bear that price more than others.

Finally, I should comment on the book’s structure. This is the third book I have read in as many weeks that employs a parallel structure to tell a more complicated story than a simple narrative would allow. I don’t know whether that is a mere coincidence, or just the hot stuff for authors right now, but in this case I felt like it worked out fairly well. I wasn’t surprised when I saw how it all fit together in the end, and I liked how it tied into the last volume in the series, while pointing ahead to possible future works.

PerfectQuestion isn’t getting a white picket fence anytime soon, but I look forward to his next adventure.

My other book reviews

Other books by Nick Cole

Soda Pop Soldier book review

Other books by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

The Long View 2006-11-13: TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

It has genuinely been long enough that a terrorist attack that I have no personal stake in, like the Madrid bomadmbings of 2004, with 193 people killed and 2,000 injured, seems like it happened in another lifetime. At the time, I remember reading hot takes [which wasn’t a thing then, if I remember aright. Merriam-Webster backs me up.] like Steyn’s that credited that bombing with redirecting Spain’s involvement in the Middle East.

I don’t have any idea whether that is actually true, and I don’t care to find out at this point. It is more interesting to me to reflect upon what John J. Reilly said here:

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said.

At lot of what happened in the United States post 9/11 has clearly been useless or worse, but also we haven’t had anything on that same scale since. In retrospect, our enemies really are stupid and feckless, and incompetent as well. 9/11 was shocking, but it also seems to have been sui generis. Unfortunately, there was a whole cottage industry of people turning out purple prose about the imminence of another terrorist attack on the United States for quite some time afterwards. Most of them haven’t really owned up to that foolishness, with a few notable exceptions. Despite writing things like this, John J. Reilly himself perpetuated some of this foolishness.

This quote is still useful twelve years later:

In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Both of the despicable frames mentioned here are still going strong in 2018.


TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

Yet another educational jurisdiction is accepting text-messaging conventions on exams, and Simon Jenkins could not be more pleased:

Thank you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations. The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing north of the border and need our support...I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins. Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or -ible from -able does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity....The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange.

From the point of view of orthographic reform, we should applaud this development only conditionally. The text conventions that Scotland is now tolerating are often suboptimal. It also really isn't true that Sam Johnson's Dictionary became the basis for the current conventional spelling in order to grind the faces of the poor: the striving classes required a teachable standard, and Johnson's Dictionary was the only resource on the shelf. Still, as Jenkins notes, texting is the first mass-experience of an alternative orthography for English. It is news to many people that such a thing is even possible.

* * *

Mark Steyn is disenthused about the results of last week's election; he argues that the U.S. must prove it's a staying power:

On the radio a couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt suggested to me the terrorists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elections. You'll recall (though evidently many Americans don't) that in 2004 hundreds of commuters were slaughtered in multiple train bombings in Madrid. ... they employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked. ...On Tuesday, the national security vote evaporated, and, without it, what's left for the GOP? Congressional Republicans wound up running on the worst of all worlds -- big bloated porked-up entitlements-a-go-go government at home and a fainthearted tentative policing operation abroad. As it happens, my new book argues for the opposite: small lean efficient government at home and muscular assertiveness abroad. It does a superb job, if I do say so myself, of connecting war and foreign policy with the domestic issues. Of course, it doesn't have to be that superb if the GOP's incoherent inversion is the only alternative on offer...

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said. However, it does seem to me that now they have an added incentive to accelerate whatever plans they have: they believe they have the US on the run, but from their perspective, a collapse would be far better than a staged withdrawal. One of the effects of the election, ironically, is that any attacks that do occur in the US will now be blamed on Democratic capitulationism, rather than on the Administration (which of course is actually responsible for preventing terrorism).

It really is not true that the national-security vote evaporated on the first Tuesday in November. The Bush Administration made a deliberate decision after the president's reelection to make the war politically sustainable by lowering its profile, which meant making it just another of the many important items in the president's second-term agenda. The Republicans lost the benefit of the national-security vote because they had long ago stopped cultivating it.

Steyn is right about the catastrophic effects of the congressional Republicans' bovine certainty that raiding the treasury was the same as good constituent-service. However, that has nothing to do with the "big government/small government" dichotomy, a rhetorical device that increasingly impedes thought. In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Readers will know that I am a great fan of Steyn's America Alone, but as I have also observed, his attempt to link the defense against the Jihad with domestic policy is the book's great weakness. You cannot fight Churchill's war abroad and maintain Coolidge's Normalcy at home. That is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Steyn further tells us:

Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

For the near term, we must remember that the outcome in Iraq has not yet come out. There is no equivalent there of North Vietnamese heavy infantry waiting to pour across the borders when US forces leave. Neither, for that matter, is there really much sentiment in the US for total withdrawal, especially from secure areas like Kurdistan. For the longer term, I would point out that the era of half-measures, bad deals, and actual defeats began with the Korean War in the Truman Administration and extended through the Clinton Administration, which did one damned stupid thing after another, with no discernible diminution of US influence. It's not that the US is so splendiferous as that the world seems to have lost capacity to generate an alternative.

* * *

Spengler takes these things in stride, noting from his perch at Asia Times that Halloween came late in Washington

The sina qua non of a ghost is that it is condemned for eternity to reenact the delinquencies of its past life. That is just what we should expect from Robert Gates [the nominee for Secretary of Defense]. As chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet desk during the early 1980s, Gates shared the consensus academic view that the Soviet economy was strong and stable. A prosperous Russia, he reckoned, would respond rationally to management by carrot and stick. Fortunately for the United States, then-CIA director William Casey recruited outsiders such as journalist Herbert E Meyer, and listened to them rather than to Gates...

If the Soviet economy was crumbling, some leftist commentators object, what justified the Reagan administration's military buildup of the 1980s? The answer is that a failing empire is far more likely to undertake dangerous adventures than a successful one. That was true of the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion of Afghanistan threatened US power at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It is equally true today of Iran, which faces demographic implosion and economic ruin during the next generation...we cannot easily imagine a world in which we will not exist because the world has no use for us. Self-styled power brokers of the James Baker ilk have no place in the world when power asserts itself in its naked form and there is nothing more to broker. The realists fancy themselves the general managers in a world of hierarchy, status and security. Replace these with insecurity and chaos, and there no longer is any need for such people...For the past five years I have counseled the United States to learn to live with the chaos that it can do nothing to prevent. No matter: Americans will learn, late and at cost, the way they always do.

Actually, i was having thoughts along these lines a few weeks back when I saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on the PBS New Hour explaining that there is no such thing as Islamofascism. When he was President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, he never quite said there was no such thing as Communism, but there was a certain resemblance between his policy of disengaging from the Cold War and his attitude toward the Middle East today.

* * *

The Tridentine Restoration approaches, or so we may judge from this report:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the most popular and powerful Vatican officials to visit St. Louis since Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit, told more than 250 people at the Chase Park Plaza Saturday morning that Latin should be used more frequently in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The Latin language now, he said "is in the ecclesiastical refrigerator ... Mass today should be in Latin from time to time." ...In an hourlong, often humorous, address that received several standing ovations, Arinze suggested that, in order to give Catholics options, large parishes offer the Mass in Latin at least once a week, and in smaller, rural parishes, at least once a month. (Homilies, he said, should always be in the faithful's native language.) Latin "suits a church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don't have," he said.

It is in the nature of restorations often to be substantial improvements on what they purport to restore. This variety of usage that the Cardinal describes is precisely what should have happened in the 1960s. Doing it now will not eliminate the vernacular liturgy; it will shame it into perfection.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-11-10: The Morning of the Day Before

I hadn’t known [or had forgotten] that John J. Reilly was among the Catholics who find the logic of Humane Vitae less than airtight. He was also among the much smaller group who thinks the doctrine is correct, it just needs to be explained a bit better.


The Morning of the Day Before

Peggy Noonan has the sanest response to Tuesday's midterm elections:

We are in a 30-year war. It is no good for it to be led by, identified with, one party. It is no good for half the nation to feel estranged from its government's decisions. It's no good for us to be broken up more than a nation normally would be. And straight down the middle is a bad break, the kind that snaps.... One day in the future either New York or Washington or both will be hit again, hard. It will be more deadly than 9/11. And on that day, those who experience it, who see the flash or hear the alarms, will try to help each other....Make believe it's already happened.

Possibly no other election in history has elicited so many acknowledgements by the losers that it was not a bad thing for their side to lose.

* * *

The only connection with UK nonprofits I have ever had is the Simplified Spelling Society, of which I have the honor to be a member. Something that always mystified me about the Society, however, was that it did not function as a not-for-profit: it has to pay taxes on its modest endowment and even on its fees. I was told that the problem was that the Society had done a bit of lobbying in the 1950s, which had branded it as a political group for all time. I thought that strange, since in America charitable tax-exemptions are not hard to obtain. Now I see that the situation in the UK is about to get worse:

Next week, the new Charities' Bill will finish its passage through Parliament. It should become law before the end of the year. In spite of being billed as "the biggest review of charity legislation in the past 400 years", it has generated very little comment. This is surprising, because the Bill will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause.

That threat is alarming and real. It used to be taken for granted that organisations devoted to education, to religion, or to the relief of poverty, were automatically providing a "public benefit". The new legislation dissolves that assumption. Even more worryingly, it also leaves it up to the Charities Commission to decide what constitutes a "public benefit". There is no guidance in the legislation on how that slippery notion should be defined. Ministers and members of the Commission have referred to "case law", but there is almost none, precisely because, for the last 400 years, there has been so firm a consensus that education, religion and the relief of poverty constitute public benefits.

...The motive behind redefining that notion seems to have been the desire to ensure that charities benefit all the public, not just some small section of it. That is why, for instance, schools and hospitals that charge fees are being threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status: they are said only to benefit people who can afford to pay, and not the whole of the British public. In fact, every charity benefits a portion of the population rather than all of it

One could argue that the American nonprofit sector is too big and too irresponsible, but perhaps we should prefer it to the alternative.

* * *

Here is one of the ways the Iraq War differs from the Vietnam War, as revealed by the election on Tuesday:

Forget the war in Iraq. The political war in America this year proved to be a bloodbath for the "fighting Dems," who might more aptly be called the "fallen Dems" after Tuesday's election.

After Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat, nearly scored a special-election upset in Ohio's strongly Republican 2nd District last summer, bloggers and other Democrats began touting war veterans as candidates for 2006. They touted dozens of such candidates as the antidote for the Democratic Party's long-running electoral ailments on the defense and security fronts.

But if Democrats have the same low tolerance for political casualties as they have shown for battlefield casualties in Iraq, their push to recruit and elect to Congress military veterans who run as Democrats will be short-lived.

Actually, it would be a poor notion to "forget the war in Iraq," which is still ongoing. As I have remarked before, no outcome of that conflict will be acknowledged to be a victory. The opponents of the Bush Administration might accept a pretty good result, however, provided the Administration does not get credit for it. Current thinking seems to run along the lines of the plan put forward by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware in The National Interest (a publication which continues to get a little more disconcerting every time I see it). The plan is of the variety that leans heavily on the division of Iraq into federal cantons, based on negotiations with the Sunnis of the northwest. It is not clear to me that this is terribly different from what the Bush Administration has been trying to do. It is also not clear to me that peace is in the gift of the interlocutors that Senator Biden's plan contemplates.

In any case, domestic morale in the US is not as great a constraint on policy as the recent election may have led us to believe:

The US Army exceeded most of its recruiting and retention goals for October, the service said, even as it launched a new television and radio ad campaign dubbed "Army Strong." ...Re-enlistments in October far surpassed the goals for the active army (30 percent), the reserve (14 percent) and the national guard (43 percent).

Note that these figures coincide with an unemployment rate well under 5%. This is not 1974; Any party that works on the assumption that today is like then will get its head handed to it.

* * *

Meanwhile, here's a bit of preemptive disinformation about events in the Catholic Church:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH laid down a tough, absolute law in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: no condoms, no abortion, no contraceptives. Never. Now the condom part of that rule is being reviewed, and if it is changed, expect new challenges to the entire contraception doctrine, to the doctrine of papal infallibility and even to the church's abortion rules....Pope Benedict XVI has ordered a Vatican staff report on whether condoms can be approved for situations in which there is potential for HIV infection. That report is imminent, according to Vatican rumors, and it is likely that Benedict will act quickly on it given that it was undertaken on his initiative...And yet Humanae Vitae is not, in its reasoning, as absolute as one might think. Paul wrote: "A right conscience is the true interpreter … of the objective moral order which was established by God." Thus he left a sort of conscientious-objector status for those Catholics who could not believe in the evil of contraception.

The actual text of Humanae Vitae does leave quite a bit of interpretive room for maneuver, though not in the way this editorial suggests. Humanae Vitae does, for instance, distinguish contraceptive intent from mere contraceptive effect (and it is not all clear the logic of the encyclical has any application outside marriage at all). The use of condoms for epidemiological purposes would not constitute an abandonment of the basic doctrine.

Like many people, I have never found the logic of Humanae Vitae altogether compelling. Like many exercises in natural-law reasoning, it is rhetorically persuasive without ever really locking into place with a rigorous proof. The irony is that, as sociology, the encyclical is the key to understanding the demographic and cultural evolution of the developed world over the past quarter century. The logic could use an upgrade, but to change the doctrine at this point would be wildly anachronistic.

I have my own notions of a class of argument to supplement natural law for civil purposes, but I don't particularly commend it to the Vatican.

* * *

Markus Wolf has died, the head of East German espionage for many years, and perhaps the most successful (though hardly the best known) spy in history. He died on November 9, an already overstuffed date in German history. I have a long review of Leslie Colitt's biography of Wolf, Spymaster.

* * *

Will it never end? Massachusetts continues to pursue the Darwin Award:

BOSTON, Nov. 9 — Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, dealt what appeared to be a fatal blow Thursday to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

In a flurry of strategic maneuvering, supporters of same-sex marriage managed to persuade enough legislators to vote to recess a constitutional convention until the afternoon of Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session.

On that day, lawmakers and advocates on both sides said, it appeared likely that the legislature would adjourn without voting on the measure, killing it.

“For all intents and purposes, the debate has ended,” said Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and the assistant majority leader. “What members are expecting is that the majority of constituents are going to say, ‘Thank you, we’re glad it’s over, we think it has been discussed enough.’ ”

You could write a blog, you could run a news service, dedicated to nothing but stories about how this sort of issue has been settled once and for all, followed by accounts of the mass movements that spring up to insist that the matter has by no means been settled. You cannot settle the matter of abortion or gay marriage or euthanasia by judicial ukase; not even if, as happened here, you are in a position to sabotage the legislative process that might reverse it. More than a generation of experience shows that the strategy just does not work. Anyone who thinks otherwise in 2006 is ineducable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Third Law Conservatism

John Reilly proposes here an interesting psychology of schism:

The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way.

For groups like the Old Catholics [split from the Catholic Church after Vatican I proposed papal infallibility] and the Old Believers [split from Russian Orthodoxy after a 17th century liturgical reform], this seems just so. One might argue the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation fall into this pattern as well, but that might stretch the point too far, and not entirely be fair to the latter events.


Third Law Conservatism

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is rapidly approaching a state of badly edited omniscience, Clarke’s Third Law runs thus: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Clarke here, of course, is Arthur C. Clarke, the venerable science-fiction writer who is credited with conceiving the communication satellite. His Third Law (the other two need not detain us) is among the most widely quoted aphorisms in the culture of cyberspace, and indeed among the enthusiasts for all new technology with an information component. It expresses the hope that matter can be wholly subjected to the imagination.

The Third Law is not without empirical support; certainly it reflects something of the experience of anyone who has lived a reasonably long life in an advanced country during the past two centuries. It also seems to be the case that the latter technological innovations are more uncanny than the former ones. Perhaps technological progress is inevitable and perpetual. More likely, it approaches an ultimate state where reality is a work of art. In any case, the point I want to make here is that the freedom afforded by technological power does not simply dissolve the world and human nature in mere caprice: quite the opposite, in fact.

Consider, for instance, Jonathan V. Last’s piece in First ThingsGod on the Internet. In that survey of religious expression in cyberspace, the author makes all the points that conservatives usually make about the cultural effects of the Internet. Religion online, Last notes, tends to become politicized, consumerist, and worst of all, denominationalist. Little groups of the saved create their webrings of the like-minded where neither authority nor informed criticism can enter. In this regard, cyberspace has lent its unique facility of disintermediation to the extension of what was already a deplorable tendency in modern religious life.

But there is this: these little cyberchapels are rarely liberal, much less daringly original. We find almost none of the new mutations of the spirit that many people (including me, frankly) were expecting only a few years ago to emerge from the ether of electronic environments.

Denominations form online for much the same reasons that they form in the outer world. Occasionally, someone pronounces a doctrinal innovation and convinces a fraction of an older religious body to break off and form a new group. The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way. And in fact, conservatism in this sense has been typical of cyberspace in general. There are many reasons why conservative politics prospered in the United States through the latter 20th century, but part of the answer has to be just this pattern of refusal by newly empowered individuals to follow what they believe to be departures from historical norms of governance.

The Third Law has merit if by magic we mean the magic of fairytales. That kind of magic is normally conservative, or at least nostalgic. We see it deployed in the fantastically successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter film series. Purely surrealist fantasies have also been cinematicized, sometimes with commercial success, but none has had the impact of the works that present traditional themes and traditional images. To some extent, the reception of these was prepared by their familiarity as literature, but we must also consider that their force rests on the inherent power of their traditional elements: indeed, that those elements became traditional because they are powerful. The new power of illusion serves to visualize a world that never was, but that, somehow, always is.

Christian parents who worry that these series are propaganda for an occult view of the world should not be lightly dismissed. There is popular entertainment, particularly branches of popular music, which seeks to do just that. Magic in that sense, however, is magic in the sense that some anthropologists use it: magic as the illicit and private appropriation of a society’s religion. This is almost never a feature of digitalized sword-and-sorcery.

Whether on the screen or in print, this type of fantasy can be used to allegorize an orthodox religious message, as C.S. Lewis and Tolkein have demonstrated. (The Lord of the Rings is really about the relationship between grace and works, but that is another essay.) By no means do all such stories have a spiritual message, however, or even most of them. Was there ever a more secular institution than Harry Potter's Hogwarts? It is essentially a trade school. The Harry Potter stories might not work all that differently if the school had been founded to educate young prodigies with an aptitude for computer programming; instead of invoking supernatural powers, the students might as well use their dog Latin to operate voice-activated computer interfaces.

What all these stories have in common is an animate world, an ensouled world, that responds directly to the human mind. The world of animism is the most intuitive for human beings. Science itself assumes such a mind-friendly world even when it is dispelling crudely animist superstition. Given the premise of historical progress, whatever is intuitive is easy to see as inevitable. Clarke's Third Law implicitly posits a model of history in which the world evolves from material to animate.

This seems to be the real implication of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology. The notion is pure Hegel, which is hardly a criticism. Kurzweil hangs his forecast from computer science, and suggests that a very radical disjuncture from history and biology will occur by the middle of the 21st century. We should note, however, that much the same model can rest on different premises (and indeed many lesser lights have made many of the points that Kurzweil has). Most notably, the historian Henry Adams proposed an analogous idea 100 years ago, in the essays “The Tendency of History,” “A Letter to American Teachers of History,” and “The Rule of Phase Applied to History.” The idea achieved bestseller exposure in the Adams autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams: specifically in Chapter 34, A Law of Acceleration.

Adams derived his progression from growing energy use as measured by the consumption of coal. Like Kurzweil, his acme point was projected for just a few decades in the future, which in Adams’s case meant the first half of the 20th century. The physical model he favored as an analogy to the evolution of mind in the modern era was a cometary hyperbola. The comet moves very slowly, except for its brief stay in the inner solar system. Then it accelerates with stunning swiftness until it makes its closest approach to the sun. After that, it is flung out into space, where it again moves slowly among the stars. Adams's model allowed for the possibility that Earth might literally explode when historical acceleration reached its peak, but he suggests that the human race will "change phase," like a solid turning to a liquid, or a liquid to a gas. Modernity is simply the era of transition. After modernity will follow a future that, like the premodern past, is essentially changeless.

We know a bit more about the cultural effects of technology than Adams did. As we have seen above, one of the things we know is that technology sometimes favors the archaic. It has become a cliché to note that technological progress promotes personal interaction and networks. Human beings are not herd animals, and are never entirely comfortable being part of a mass. The drift of technology is toward a future in which everyone can act like a pack animal again: the rifleman of the First World War is wholly obsolete, but the knight is back, in electronic body armor.

Important as this trend is, I would suggest that the most important conservative effects of technology are more subtle. It might be too much to say that every human being secretly wishes to live in Minas Tirith, or even in the Shire. However, it may well be the case that the heart’s desire does not volatilize in all directions when freed from the constraints of physics and economics. In the space of the imagination, there are islands of stability. Information technology allows us to explore them in fine detail, but that technology did not create them, or even discover them.

In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye notes that the progression of history in the Bible is marked by a change in man’s relationship to the world. In the beginning, the human body is contained in the garden that is the world. At the end, the body contains the world. The body is the New Jerusalem, the symbol of the humanized universe. By no means do I wish to equate the world of fairy tales with the eschaton, even the world of very good fairy tales like Tolkien’s, or to suggest that technological progress is the engine of salvation. Nonetheless, the humanization of the world that Frye proposes is at least in part a tale of technology, and the result must be something very like the magic of Clarke’s Third Law.

The irony is obvious. Technological optimists these last few centuries have trumpeted the power of technology to supersede all historical institutions and to replace them with radically new forms of life and thought. However, when freed from constraint, the creative impulse does not necessarily pursue the radically new. Frye suggested the opposite, at least with regard to literature: the only way in which writers can really be original is by reaching back to the origins, to the small set of plots and character types that inform all fiction. Original works in this sense simply break through ephemeral artistic conventions to a fresh representation of primordial forms. Similarly, the magic of the Third Law has in recent years served more to revive and conserve old ideas than to generate genuinely new ones.

Conservatism in this sense is not necessarily a bad thing, but then neither is it necessarily a good one. No one in his right mind would want to be the subject of a fairy-tale kingdom, even one without dragons. There can be tension between Burkean conservatism and Third Law conservatism, between the conservatism of deference to sentiment and the conservatism that seeks to incarnate archetypes which history may illustrate but does not define. Perhaps the most radical of all 20th-century ideologies, Tradition, has yet to be fully heard from. Tradition in this sense comes in various forms, but at its worst, it looks directly to the archetypes and distains all actual history. As an element of fascism, it had limited scope to develop. In a world where reality is becoming a work of art, its projects may be more practical.

For myself, I do not believe that Third Law Conservatism tends to a dark tyranny. Quite the opposite: we are dealing here with another version of Hegelian optimism, which itself was only a timid restatement of Joachim of Fiore's millennialism. One takes all such notions with a grain of salt, but we are wrong to dismiss their optimism. Indeed, faith in the providential structure of history is not just comforting, it is the predicate of sanity. It must, therefore, figure somewhere into any usable conservatism.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site