The Long View: The Enemy at Home

I’m not sure it was even fair in 2007 to describe Dinesh D’Souza like this:

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution

But by now, it is clear that D’Souza is a hack, but at least he maintains a reasonable sense of humor, as the tweet below demonstrates.

Still funny

Still funny


The Enemy at Home:
The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
By Dinesh D’Souza
Doubleday, 2007
333 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 978-0-385-51012-7

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution, has been regaling his readers for years with tales of the political and cultural depravities of the American left. In The Enemy at Home, he takes this polemic to a more cosmic level. The result is a thorough, thoughtful book that mixes many valid points with others that are, at best, problematical. The author’s critique of the left has a subtext that conservatives might want to think twice about before signing on for his planetary culture war.

“Why do they hate us?” spokesmen for the cultural left asked immediately after the attacks of September 11. Then they pointed their fingers at their allegedly bigoted and militaristic conservative countrymen. D’Souza’s thesis is that the fingers should have been pointed in the opposite direction. The essentially bohemian cultural and family mores of the cultural left have been foisted for two generations onto American society as progressive social policy; more recently, the left has used popular culture and the increasing coercive power of the UN and transnational agencies to impose these policies abroad. The effect has been to incite outrage among traditional peoples worldwide. In the case of Islam, the outrage created a violent radical faction that struck back. This is the state of things today:

“So, realize it or not, American conservatives are fighting a two-front war. The first is a war against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The second is a political struggle against the left and its pernicious political and moral influence in America and around the globe. My conclusion is that the two wars are intimately connected. In fact, we cannot win the first war without also winning the second war.”

The book is very precise in identifying the cultural left. In fact, towards the end, there is a helpful list of the politicians, academics, artists, and organizations who are its most well-known proponents. As a matter of definition, though, the cultural left consists of those people who look to their subjective intuitions for moral standards, rather than to a pre-existing standard outside themselves. The latter is the mark of traditional peoples the world over, including Christians. These traditional moral systems, we are assured, differ only in detail. Cultural leftists do have a morality, but a modern, highly aggressive morality based on personal autonomy. The author never ceases to remind us that cultural leftists love America and wish to spread its ideals universally. The problem is that the America they love is exclusively their own:

“Here in America, a longtime man of the left, Christopher Hitchens, argues that modern America represents the values of secularism, feminism, and homosexuality. An outspoken atheist, Hitchens is the author of a book vilifying Mother Teresa entitled The Missionary Position. It is ‘godless hedonistic America’ and the state of Massachusetts’s recent sanction of practices such as homosexual marriage, Hitchens gleefully points out, that provoke the ‘writhing faces and hoarse yells of the mullahs and the fanatics.’ It is in defense of this godless, hedonistic America that Hitchens supports the Bush administration’s war on radical Islam.”

The author supports that war too, including the war in Iraq, in part because America’s enemy in that war is what he calls “radical Islam.” The latter is a modern deformation of traditional Islam, though these two differ in tactics and political temperament rather than theology. Only through alliance with traditional Islam is there hope for traditional, Red State, Christian America. (Late in the book, traditional Judaism gets a friendly nod, too.) The author contends that though “liberalism” in the Hollywood sense is repulsive to traditional people, classical liberalism is not. Islam, in the author’s telling, is entirely consistent with democracy, market economics, the rule of law, and the decent treatment of women. If America again becomes known in the world as the chief proponent of those things, as well as for respect for religion, the popular base for the radicals will evaporate.

The author is a Catholic from India, a country whose Hindu heritage is quite as traditional as that of Islam. Muslims are tempted to fly airplanes into American skyscrapers but Hindus are not, if I understand the argument correctly, because the Islamic world is governed by “liberal tyrants.” These regimes curry favor with transnational institutions by importing the latest ideas about family law and homosexuality from the West, and particularly from America. By the end of the 1980s, the domestic opposition to the liberal tyrants had despaired of overthrowing them. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then the apparent unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to suffer military casualties, persuaded the radicals that America itself might easily be intimidated into a retreat from the Muslim world, thereby leaving the American client-regimes vulnerable.

Once the attacks began (and remember, they began in 1993 with the first bombing of the World Trade Center), the cultural left has either opposed any forceful American response to them, or has insisted that the response be restricted to futile law enforcement. There are several reasons for this opposition, none of which is connected with pacifism. For one thing, some members of the left immediately imagined that their own critique of American society was also held by its enemies, and so they pronounced the attacks justified. Another reason for opposition, at least according to the author, is that the Bush Administration has sought to spread democracy. The left has soured on democracy as a method of implementing its cultural agenda; it is much happier working through the courts and through transnational institutions. Finally, and most important, the attacks of the radical Islamists may be directed at America in general, but they are not directed at the cultural left in particular. Indeed, Osama bin Laden has increasingly adopted the rhetoric of the antiwar left. American conservatism, in contrast, represents an existential threat to the cultural left. If the Republicans won the war in Iraq, there might be no getting rid of them. Thus, the cultural left is in a de facto alliance with radical Islam against Red State America.

Yikes.

Regarding the author’s most sensational charge, we may note that there is some sentiment among the European left, particularly in France, to nominate Islam as the successor revolutionary ideology to Marxism. That is not quite what he accuses the cultural left in the United States of, which is just as well, since there seems to be little of that sentiment in America. As for the strategic alliance he discerns between radical Islamists and the cultural left, one could see how that might make sense from their point of view. Still, it’s not clear who, if anyone, has actually thought these things. The current antiwar left differs from its Vietnam era counterpart in that it has little to do with revolutionary ambition. Rather, it is founded on incredulity at the proposition that the United States might actually be in danger.

Some of the most provocative elements of the author’s thesis are true. The cultural progressivism that is promoted by transnational organizations really is an annoying hoax, often promoted with the aid of front organizations designed to give a Third World veneer to the latest clap-trap from the American law schools. It is also true than many of the creations of American culture, both high and low, raise doubts not just about their creators’ virtue, but about their sanity. The cultural left really does make America look ridiculous and repulsive abroad. At home, of course, the cultural left is a menace because of the ever-present danger that a majority of the people might accept its transgressive view of the world. A transgressive culture is not worth dying for, or even perhaps worth living for. (We get only a brief mention of the phenomenon of the demographic collapse of culturally liberal societies; maybe that is another book.)

Be that all as it may, the author does the Islamists, and particularly al-Qaeda, too much honor in accepting their own account of their grievances. Osama bin Laden’s statements in particular about the dealings of the United States government with Muslims societies over the past two decades are Big Lie propaganda. The behavior of the Islamist radicals does not suggest desperate defense, but confident ambition. Yes, they think America is vulnerable, but getting rid of America is only a step in a program that includes winning a civil war against the House of Saud. Perhaps the dazzling prospect of Islamic revival blinds them to reality, but they are not acting because they are frightened. A less contemptible America would not necessarily draw less fire.

Readers of The Enemy at Home will note points that are familiar from other writers. The idea that the United States should seek out allies among traditional Muslims is unexceptionable. The point was mentioned, for instance, in Walter Russell Mead’s Power, Terror, Peace, and War (2004). In many ways, though, D’Souza’s more thorough development of this strategy updates the proposal that Peter Kreeft made in Ecumenical Jihad(1996) for an alliance of all people who believe in natural law against the degenerate aspects of the West. As the title suggests, Kreeft had particularly high hopes for an alliance of Muslims and conservative Christians.

D’Souza goes even further with the principle that the traditions of the world’s “traditional peoples” are fundamentally the same, and therefore the people who retain these traditions should be in active alliance against an aggressive and implacable modernity. When “tradition” is spoken of in this way, one will sometimes find that the speaker does not use the term in the conventional sense of “cultural inheritance.” Rather, the speaker means “Tradition” in the sense of René Guénon. That French mystic held that each of the world’s great religions was linked primordially to the Transcendent, that each was equivalent in dignity, and that each was radically at odds with a demonic but transitory modern world. There is no reason to suppose that D’Souza is a thoroughgoing Guenonian. Still, we should note that, in this book, the chief authority on Islam and its relationship to the West is the noted Iranian cultural historian, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who also happens to be the most eminent contemporary Islamic proponent of Guenonian Tradition.

D’Souza frequently finds not just that recent outbursts of Muslim outrage are explicable, but that the Muslim point of view is the correct one. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed, for instance, really were an assault on Islam, and the outrage they occasioned was justified, even if the violence was not. Saudi women, we learn, are not in the least annoyed by the legal prohibition against their driving a car. The author does not quite condemn Benedict XVI for his remarks at Regensburg, but he deplores the remarks themselves. He also gloats a bit over the continuing discomfiture of Salman Rushdi, the provocateur who went into hiding when someone was actually provoked. The Afghans had a right to be aggrieved when the United States imposed its notion of tolerance to prevent the execution of a convert to Christianity. The degree of sensitivity that this book evinces is consistent with the Traditional principle that no primordial tradition may be criticized from outside. Actually, this degree of sensitivity would be consistent with a mild form of sharia.

D’Souza is correct to note that there are resources within Islam that are friendly to democratic governance. It is also true that the Islamist radicals are a modern innovation: if anything, he underestimates their disruptive effect on traditional Islamic society. Despite these points, however, it is not at all clear that Islam of any description can adequately make the distinction between leftist cultural liberalism and ordinary Western culture.

The book frequently cites Sayyid Qutb, the great theoretician of modern Islamic radicalism, whose descriptions of the pervasive depravity of American life form the basis of the Islamist critique of America to this day. The problem is that Qutb’s horrified account of his sojourn to America is a surreal reworking of his experiences in the 1940s. That was a long time before the point in the 1960s when, as D’Souza would have it, leftist America departed from the universal traditional consensus. It is one thing to object to a cultural milieu that finds Kill Bill to be normal entertainment; it’s another to call a society depraved where a typical film is It’s a Wonderful Life.

We are assured in this book that there is no “clash of civilizations.” That is because, in D’Souza’s telling, Western civilization really no longer exists, or shouldn’t: American conservatives are advised to abandon Europe to its debauched fate. Even America is no longer really one country, and conservatives should not hesitate to accuse individual members of the cultural left of giving aid and comfort to the radical Islamist enemy. The solution we are offered, in fact, is to abandon “tradition” in the conventional sense of the word and join a league of the world’s “traditions” in a somewhat more exotic sense.

Just how is this different from surrender?

End

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-02: Tradition, Optimism & Cartography

It is rather sad that John didn't live to see the rise of the tradinistas. He would have enjoyed pointing out they make the same arguments as Tradition.


Tradition, Optimism & Cartography

 

Over at First Things, Fr. Neuhaus has noted that there may be a contradiction between the goals of the magazine and the argument against capital punishment that Joseph Bottum made in his famous article published over the summer. I have already remarked on the piece here. What drew Neuhaus's attention, however, was a comment by Caleb Stegall in the remarkable quarterly, New Pantagruel. In "Natural Law, the Death Penalty, and Political Theology," Stegall observes:

Bottum’s point about liberal forms forsaking history in favor of the dead letters of the social contract is quite good and right. What is startling is his blithe acceptance of this as the necessary result of Christianity... When, in the wake of religious wars, old Christendom attempted to do away with political theology altogether by demythologizing history (and the state along with it) and by rationalizing all order as nothing more than a social contract, it made the conscious decision to rely on positive law...

The problem, of course, is that First Things is dedicated to the reintroduction of a natural law perspective into American political life. Bottum's analysis rubbed me the wrong way because it too closely resembles the critique of the liberal state put forward by Tradition. Note that Stegall ends his piece by suggesting that the project of the liberal state should be abandoned In favor of an explicitly Christian political culture. Bottum, in contrast, says that it was one of the great victories of Christianity to whittle the state down to liberal dimensions. Go figure.

* * *

Speaking of Tradition, I recently came across this site, created in admiring memory of the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley.

The site is managed by neo-fascists, so it tilts toward the Continental Conservative Revolution. There is a long quotation from Julius Evola, for instance, on the prerequisites for the creation of a European nation . (Mosley did have thoughts along these lines in the 1930s, but he focused on them only after the Second World War, when he was little more than a national amusement.) The startling thing is the encomiums on the introductory page from people like AJP Taylor and Michael Foote. The site's editors have expanded their possible audience by using the word "Jew" very sparingly. The material is useful for anyone studying the interwar years, but it could mislead uninformed Youth.

Mosley and his ideas, as they appear here, remind me of HG Wells more than of anyone else. Wells, in his later years, had much the same notions. I don't mean just the obvious stuff, like the disgust with parliamentary democracy. Mosley and Wells both advocated turning the judiciary into a cadre of sociological experts with the power to make law, without reference to the constitution, and over the objection of the government. Today, this has a familiar ring, in both the US and the EU. It is startling to see it in a British context, since the notion of judicial review is quite limited in British jurisprudence. An idea that has gone down the memory hole entirely in recent years, however, is Mosley's proposal that the franchise should rest on the basis of occupation rather than geography. In the US, that was quite a Lefty notion in the 1930s.

Roger Eatwell once remarked that Mosley had the best-worked-out programme of all the fascists in Europe. No doubt Mosley suffered from the "if we build it, they will come" syndrome. In reality, if you build it, people will be able to see it from a distance, and they may have the sense to run away.

* * *

Am I too optimistic about Iraq?. Maybe, but then I see items like this one by Victor Davis Hanson, which recently appeared in National Review, and my assessments are reconfirmed:

Almost everything that is now written about Iraq rings not quite right: It was a “blunder”; there should have been far more troops there; the country must be trisected; we must abide by a timetable and leave regardless of events on the ground; Iraq will soon devolve into either an Islamic republic or another dictatorship; the U.S. military is enervated and nearly ruined; and so on.

In fact, precisely because we have killed thousands of terrorists, trained an army, and ensured a political process, it is possible to do what was intended from the very beginning: lessen the footprint of American troops in the heart of the ancient caliphate.

When Hanson speaks here of lessening the footprint, he seems to be referring to drawing down the number of troops present in Iraq now. However, we should not forget that reducing the military face of American influence in that region was one of the reasons for the Iraq War in the first place. As Walter Russell Mead has noted, there was no peace in and around Iraq even before 2003. The United States and Great Britain were involved in a low-level air-war with Iraq that began the last time the Baathist government kicked the UN weapons inspectors out. The Iraqi government was being forcefully restrained from entering its own Kurdish region, lest it murder the inhabitants. It was prohibited by force from flying its aircraft in the south of the country under the ceasefire agreement that ended the war of 1990-1991. Sanctions were kept in place that impoverished the population, enriched government officials and their agents of influence in the West, and created a propaganda theme that could be used against United States.

People sometimes object to the statement that the Iraq War was a reaction to 911. The objection is inapposite, whatever role the Baathist government might have had in the destruction of the World Trade Center. (There are actually pretty good reasons for believing that Iraq was directly involved with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but that's another story.) After 911, the situation in Iraq had to be settled. Every day the regime survived was more evidence that even losing a war to the United States had a limited price that other regimes might be willing to pay.

* * *

If you are looking for the official manufacture of disinformation, Washington is probably not the place you should start. In yesterday's New York Times, there is a piece in the Business Section that records the continuation of an old Soviet tradition:

From the maps the Russians gave Mr. Monroe, he could never really know where he was, a mystery for him as an oil engineer at a joint venture between BP and Russian investors. The latitude and longitude had been blotted out from his maps and the grid diverged from true north....Even now, Mr. Murrow and his colleagues can use only Russian digital map files that encrypt and hide the coordinates of his location. Officially, only Russians with security clearances are permitted to see well field maps with a scale [finer than] 1:2500.

During the Cold War, it made a certain amount of sense for the Soviets to give false coordinates for the locations of their cities. Most of the information was available from pre-Revolutionary maps, of course. The locations of newer industrial facilities probably were not such great secrets, either. Still, the practice added another layer of complexity to nuclear targeting. In any case, the Times piece suggests that the continuation of this practice may be due to more than simple bureaucratic inertia. It's a jobs program, for one thing: the Russian Federal Security Bureau keeps a large cadre of cartographers harmlessly employed removing and falsifying the coordinates of important industrial facilities. Then there is the security-clearance angle. If only Russians are allowed to know where they are, then, all things being equal, it is better to hire Russian engineers.

And yes, they do have Google Earth in Russia. That is beside the point.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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The Long View: The Holy Grail

The chalice in question

The chalice in question

A nice overview of the grail stories, and how they fit into European history. This was part of my background reading for Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark and Last Call.


The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief
By Richard Barber
Harvard University Press, 2004
463 Pages, US$17.61
ISBN 0-674-01390-5

 

At the climax of the French prose romance, The Quest of the Holy Grail, Sir Galahad looks into the dish that was the object of the long and perilous search by himself and his companions, Sir Perceval and Sir Bors. This is his report:

“For now I see openly what tongue cannot describe nor heart conceive. Here I see the beginning of great daring and the prime cause of prowess; here I see the marvel of all other marvels.”

That is as good a description of the Grail as we have. This survey of the subject defends the sensible thesis that the original Grail stories, which were written between 1180 and 1250, were closely connected with the development of Eucharistic adoration and of the concept of the Beatific Vision. The audience for these stories was a class of increasingly sophisticated knights, who wanted a transcendent ground for their careers of adventuring and their ethic of duty and loyalty. Now that's simple enough, isn't it?

The great merit of this excellent study is that its author, Richard Barber, realizes there is no single key to understanding the Grail. He has written many academically serious accounts of medieval subjects for a general audience. In this work, he does the service of lucidly summarizing the major versions of the Grail story. We get accounts, sometimes necessarily speculative, of the Grail authors, and of the history of the texts that have come down to us. Just as important, Barber describes the revival of interest in the Grail in the 19th and 20th centuries, with particular emphasis on its new role in conspiracy theories of history.

None of this is a debunking exercise: Barber is willing to give Jungians and comparative mythographers a respectful hearing, and he at least entertains the possibility that the “secrets of the Grail,” so often alluded to in the Grail poems and romances, may have included some spiritual exercises that bordered on “white magic.” He does, however, let us know where evidence ends and speculation begins.

The chief source for all streams of Grail lore begins about 1180, with The Story of the Holy Grail by Chretien de Troyes. Little about him is known. His Story is an unfinished poem, not obviously of cosmic significance. Young Sir Perceval, who had been knighted at King Arthur's court, comes a across a mysterious castle. There resides a wounded lord. He invites Perceval to a feast, during which a procession occurs. It includes a lance, which drips blood, and a beautiful dish. (“Grail,” “graal,” “greal”: they are all variations on the word used for “dish” here: it is not a new coinage.) These objects are borne through the hall and into another chamber. Perceval had been taught not to ask questions, so he does not ask, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Had he done so, the lord would have been healed, and order would have been restored to that land. As it was, he awoke to a deserted castle. Then he began a career of aggression and cruelty, in the course of which he forgets about God. At the end of the poem, he meets a hermit, who turns out to be his uncle. The hermit explains that the wounded lord (the Fisher King) is yet another uncle. The Grail, which the hermit describes as “such a holy thing,” carries a consecrated host to the Fisher King's father, on which the old man subsists. Perceval repents. He promises to find the Grail castle again and ask the question. Meanwhile, the hermit teaches him a regimen of penitence, including some secret names of Christ that are not disclosed to the reader.

Bits of this tale might be traced, but not the ensemble: the basic Grail story is as original as Tolkien's Ring story. It is barely conceivable that the motif of the clueless young knight comes from Wales. It is also possible that the Grail is a refined version of the Welsh “cauldron of plenty.” However, there is no obvious way that those elements could have come to Chretien's notice, and it is not clear how our understanding of the story would be enhanced if they had.

As it stands, Chretien's account is little different from the sorts of adventures that fictional knights routinely experienced. What we do know is that Chretien's hints and omissions provided hooks for new story elements that snapped into place with lightening speed. New versions of the story said the Grail was not just present at the feast in the Grail castle, but magically provided the food. The Grail's ability to cure the Fisher king expands to the ability to cure all maladies, and eventually to confer immortality on those who remained in its presence. By the time we reach the Quest of the Grail, the chief Grail-quester is Galahad, whose spotless character and ultimate success in his endeavor is contrasted with the failure of his father, the adulterous Lancelot. The disorder of the Grail kingdom occasioned by the wounding of the king becomes the uncanny Wasteland, the suspension of the natural order while the quest is unfulfilled. In some versions, King Arthur himself becomes a Grail hero.

The Grail knights achieve their quest by finding the castle and asking the right question, thereby curing the Fisher King. Then, depending on the version in question, they may take part in a Mass using the Grail, at which Christ himself is seen to be present.

The Grail itself undergoes many modifications and improvements. The most important is that the Grail becomes associated with Joseph of Arimathea, a minor character in the New Testament. In Grail stories, he is said to have come to Britain, bringing various relics with him. Thus, the Grail becomes the dish used at the Last Supper, or the cup that Jesus used then, which is sometimes also the cup in which the blood of Jesus was collected at the Crucifixion.

That lance, by the way, becomes the Spear of Longinus, which pierced the side of Christ at the Crucifixion. It, too, is sometimes the object of a quest within the larger Grail framework.

If you want to explore the Grail stories, there are two versions to start with. One is The Quest of the Holy Grail , an anonymous prose work in French from about 1220-1230 (actually part of an extended romance called The Lancelot-Grail). The other is Wolfram von Eschenbach's epic poem, Parzival, from about a decade earlier.

The Quest is the basis, more or less, of later Grail stories in French, and also of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. (Written about 1470, it was one of the first books printed in English.) King Arthur's Round Table in the French and English stories might seem like an Order of the Grail, but if so, the Order is ephemeral: the beginning of the quest is often the beginning of chaos. Their Grail is generally a plate or cup; it might appear in several such guises in the same story.

Parzival established a somewhat different Grail tradition, which we see in Richard Wagner final opera, Parsifal, the work that so infuriated Friedrich Nietzsche. In the German version, the Grail is a mysterious stone, the center of a sort of Grail utopia from which the world is secretly regulated. In Wolfram's version there is even a Grail dynasty. The connection of the Grail with a sacred bloodline has been revived sometimes, rarely to good effect. Some bad etymology helps here: “Holy Grail,” or “Sangraal,” was quickly mistaken for “sangre real,” or “royal blood.”

Some of these ideas are not self-evidently orthodox, and conceivably they came from a theological underground. I for one would suggest that Barber pays too little attention to the Grail tradition that the first bishop was Joseph of Arimathea. That would give England priority over Rome; it would certainly give Joseph's traditional seat at Glastonbury priority over Canterbury. Still, the medieval religious authorities took no official notice of the Grail stories. Several relics were identified as “the Grail,” in the sense of the cup or dish used at the Last Supper, but no one tried very hard to connect them with the Grail romances.

Interest in the Grail waned with the Middle Ages. Because of the strong Eucharistic associations of the stories, the new Protestant establishments condemned the whole Grail tradition, to the extent that they knew of it. Even in Catholic countries, though, literary taste moved on to other things. It was only in the 18th century that systematic interest in the subject revived, largely for antiquarian reasons. With the beginning of the Romantic movement, the Grail reentered popular culture. It also began to acquire an esoteric dimension that, probably, it had not had before.

Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was being reprinted by the early 19th century, and soon became a favorite source for artists. There was a revival, or a reinvention, of the rhetoric of chivalry and quest, quite often in the service of movements for social reform. The immensely influential Pre-Raphaelite Movement embraced the Grail. There was great demand for murals depicting Grail themes, for instance. In France, and especially in Germany, there were parallel developments.

There was a problem, though. The key scenes of Grail imagery were also often Catholic imagery. This was awkward in Protestant England when such works were commissioned for public places. It required tact on the part of the Anglo-Catholic artists to whom the subject most appealed. But it was also a problem in Catholic countries. People who might be attracted to the Grail material esthetically might also be alienated from the Catholic Church, whether theologically or politically. A trend began to separate the Grail from its obvious Christian context; or better, to show that the Grail was actually subversive of that context. Thus, perhaps inevitably, the Grail became part of the furniture of the occult revival.

Already in the 18th century, the suggestion had been made that the Grail knights were really Templars. The Masons had rather favored unsubstantiated theories that linked themselves to the Templars, too. One result was that, when a vast Masonic conspiracy was blamed for the French Revolution, the Grail tradition became an object of suspicion. In Metternich's Vienna, the theory was not unknown that perhaps the plot to overthrow Christianity had been operating as early as the 13th century. The people who identified the Grail with the Templars, and later the Cathars, generally regarded the identification as an indictment. However, even paranoids have enemies. By the end of the 19th century, there were people who were attracted to the Grail precisely because they thought that subverting Christianity was a really keen idea.

Of these perhaps the most flagrant was Otto Rahn, the Nazi researcher who is sometimes credited, on dubious evidence, with actually finding the Grail. What we know he did do was publish several books with titles like The Crusade against the Grail and The Courtiers of Lucifer. His argument was that the Grail legends masked Cathar doctrine. The Cathars worshipped Lucifer, understood as the liberator from the Jewish God, and the true Grail was the lost Cathar treasure.

One can see where these ideas might come from. In later German tradition, the Grail is made from a jewel that fell from Lucifer's crown, and of course Wolfram himself introduced the disturbing idea that the guardians of the Grail had been the Neutral Angels, who neither rebelled against God nor remained obedient to him. On the other hand, there is no way to connect these notions with the Cathars, much less with the Grail. There is also no reason to believe that these issues, or Rahn's researches, were especially interesting to the Nazi government. Still, they are not as idiosyncratic as one might suppose.

Much more intellectually serious was the attempt by Rene Guenon, one of the most influential of obscure 20th-century intellectuals, to incorporate the Grail into his theory of the Primordial Tradition. Tradition in this sense is the supposed orientation toward the transcendent that is shared by all the great religions. In their exoteric forms, these religions may be more or less corrupt, but Guenon suggested, along with other occultists, that the Grail stories might have been created by an esoteric Christian elite. Barber does not note this, but Guenon was always looking for means in the great religions of “initiation.” Guenon claimed to be frustrated in his search for a living initiatic tradition in Western Christianity. The vision of the Holy Grail, however defined, would have done quite nicely. Eventually, though, Guenon gave up on Christianity, and became a Muslim Sufi.

One of Guenon's disciples, Julius Evola, undertook to create, or recreate, an anti-Christian elite. Evola argued, along with Dante, that the Holy Roman Empire was a divine institution, and essentially the European expression of the primordial archetype of universal dominion. Unlike Dante, he dismissed Christianity, in both its contemporary and historical forms. Rather, Evola said the Grail represented the spirituality of the empire, and especially of a secret movement of knights and crusaders who were the true Grail knights. As a notable ideologist of fascism both during and after the Mussolini regime, he hoped to create a new Order of initiates around which the empire could form again, but this time without the Christian trappings. His success was mixed at best.

(But speaking of imperial Grail conspiracies, what about Lord Alfred Milner's Round Table Groups, so clearly derived from the Pre-Raphaelite Grail craze? But no: that way madness lies.)

The keynote poem of the 20th century was The Wasteland, a term from Grail mythology. In general, the 20th century tended to treat the Grail as an ominous symbol: Barber's survey of the literature is fascinating. The great exception he finds is the work of Charles Williams, who was a former occultist, a long-time editor at the Oxford University Press, and a friend of C.S. Lewis. He wrote several novels with Grail themes, and a major poem, Taliesin Through Logres. Barber credits Williams with doing what the medieval writers never quite managed: recasting the Arthurian material in a coherent structure around the quest, and giving the search for the Grail a universal significance. Moreover, Williams did this while returning to the idea of the Grail as the Beatific Vision, but with the added notion of the Grail as a mode under which the divine intervenes in history.

My quibbles with this book are very minor. Barber does not attempt a systematic history of the liturgy of the Eucharist, but his offhand remark that the Mass started as community morale-boosting sessions is almost certainly wrong. It might have been well to emphasize that there is more than one theology of the Real Presence, even though Aquinas's theory of Transubstantiation did become the orthodox one in the Catholic West. For that matter, it is a little misleading to define that latter doctrine as saying that the bread and wine at the time of consecration “are transformed into physically different substances.” Actually, they are transformed into different substances, but their physical “accidents” remain the same. (What's the difference? Go ask Aristotle.)

Despite the great length of this review, there is much more in this book than I have been able to cover. Anyone interested in the subject must read it.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-07-26: Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

Ordinarily, I would trust John's judgment on a matter of legal interpretation, but I do wonder whether his opinion on the Valerie Plame affair was unbiased. We don't have a legal decision to look back on, since the courts declined to take up the charge, although in this case it doesn't truly seem that Plame was much harmed, in retrospect.

John expresses an idea here that I brought up in a comment at Steve Sailer's blog: the present political environment in the United States is ripe for personal politics, in part because American lack of corruption makes politics relatively cheap, and also because the political parties are losing power as institutions.

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

The amount of money Hillary spent is arguably not a small multiple of $100 million, but Trump's spending falls in that range.


Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

 

Anyone can write about the Wilson-Plame Affair, so I can do it, too. The question is whether a felony was committed when someone in the Bush Administration leaked the news to a columnist that Plame, Wilson's wife, was a CIA agent. For what it's worth, I would say "no."

The key provision is 50 USC 421 [Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources]. There are separate subsections creating liability for leakers and leakees in that section, but they both do so only for an offender "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States." The term "affirmative measure" suggests some step in addition to the original designation of someone as working undercover. More specifically, 50 USC 426(4)(A)(ii) defines "covert agent" as someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States."

There are factual issues here, of course, but also more questions of statutory interpretation. Suppose an agent simply traveled abroad on intelligence business: would that reset the five-year secrecy period? The CIA might not be well advised to pursue the widest possible interpretation of the statute in this case. If a court decides the ambiguity against the Agency, then the broad interpretation can no longer be used as a threat.

These are not new points. However, while looking up the statutes in the United States Code, I did make some startling discoveries. For instance, there was once a Chapter 7 of Title 50 of that Code that Jorge Luis Borges would have loved: Interference with Homing Pigeons Owned by United States. The provisions have long since been repealed. Casual readers of the US Code who are too lazy to hunt for the original legislation in the US Statutes, which is the uncompiled and unclassified output of Congress, must make do with these enigmatic repealer notes:

Section 111, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 1, 40 Stat. 533, related to prohibited acts affecting homing pigeons owned by United States. See section 45 of Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure.

Section 112, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 2, 40 Stat. 533, related to possession of pigeons as evidence of violation of law. See section 45 of Title 18.

Section 113, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 3, 40 Stat. 533, related to punishment. See section 45 of Title 18

I used to write repealer notes, when I worked for West Publishing many years ago, so I know what extraordinary details may lurk behind the studied blandness of these memorial summaries. In particular, we must wonder what terrible punishment Congress deemed fitting for those who would molest the Pigeons of the Great Republic.

* * *

Even before I read Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, I had reached the stage where I saw Traditionalists lurking in every footnote of every critique of modernity. I got this way because, in many cases, they do lurk in such places, but don't get me started. In any case, a more fruitful way to study Tradition is to read what people who identify themselves as Traditionalists have to say. I have become particularly interested in the overlap between Tradition in the Guenonian sense (which is what Sedgwick chiefly studied) and Catholic Traditionalism. The best-thought-out synthesis is the work of Rama Coomaraswamy, a retired thoracic surgeon and a priest in a group with its own bishops that continues to use the old Latin liturgies.

In his essay on Philosophia Perennis and the Sensus Catholicus, the Reverend Doctor Coomaraswamy does an interpretation of salvation history that is new to me, but which makes perfect sense in a Guenonian context:

It is also necessary to consider history, not as a progressive advance from primitive times to the present "enlightened" era but more realistically as a continuous degeneration from a former golden age. Adam’s fall from paradise is a paradigm for understanding the present situation. God did not abandon His creation and Adam found regeneration, and is indeed considered by the Church to be a saint. In ancient days, saving revelation, in accordance with man’s more direct apprehension of truth, was appropriately more simple. With each succeeding "fall," God provided more stringent requirements for man to follow if he sought to reverse the process of degeneration, until the time of Moses when the rules required encompassed every aspect of life. This is well reflected in the Sacrifice of Abel, followed by that of Abraham, and finally by that established through the medium of Moses. Yet throughout all this we have the Sacrifice of Melchisedech, renewed once again in Christ.

The author is a "sedevacantist." Such people believe that, quite literally, they are more Catholic than the pope. Because the pope supports the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, the author holds that the See of Peter is vacant. (Other sedevacantists say there is a pope, but someone other than John Paul II: an opinion that need not detain us.) It is interesting to note how sedevacantism recapitulates the original Guenonian critique of Catholicism. Rene Guenon said 70 years ago that the "initiatory" element in Catholicism had been lost for centuries, so that the chain of primordial Tradition was no longer intact in the Catholic Church. Sedevacantists say that everything was fine until the Second Vatican Council cut the cord.

It's not just that the decrees of the Council are heretical, they say, but that the new rites of ordination for priests and bishops that were among the new liturgies promulgated after the Council are not valid, for much the same reason that Anglican ordinations are not valid. Thus any Mass, even a Mass in Latin, said by a priest who was ordained by a bishop consecrated using the new rite is not a valid Mass. Thus, bishops consecrated after 1982 are not real bishops, and the Catholic hierarchy is gradually being replaced with imposters.

The really interesting point here is that "traditional" Catholics are usually keen on the exclusive truth of Catholicism and the almost inevitable damnation of everyone who is not a member of the visible Church (or, sometimes, of one's own schismatic sect). How does this square with the Guenonian principle of the "perennial wisdom," which all the great Traditions of the world supposedly share? In Dr. Coomaraswamy's version, the two meanings of Tradition can be reconciled by emphasizing scriptural rather than hermetic proofs for this wisdom, and also by leaning very heavily on the notions of "the baptism of desire" and the "invincible ignorance" of some unbelievers, including intelligent ones. Those points, at least, are not off the reservation of respectable Catholic opinion, but they are not the sort of thing usually embraced by conservatives.

The moral, I think, is that we have yet another instance in which we see that Tradition should never be confused with conservatism. Perhaps it would be too much to state this categorically, but we can clearly see this trajectory in every form of Tradition: for a Traditionalist, no public institution in his own society is legitimate.

* * *

Global Policy Exchange has been holding discussions on whether what Islam really needs is a Reformation. In the August/September issue of First Things, one contributor to the discussion, Paul Marshall of Freedom House, has an essay whose title, "Islamic Counter-Reformation," sums up a contrary position:

My view is that many of the problems of contemporary Islam are more like Protestant problems than like Catholic problems, and therefore more akin to a dilution of Protestantism is required.

You can make your own list of Islamic "Protestant problems": a principle of "sola scriptura" based on the Koran that makes flexibility impossible; a neglect of natural law; the lack of hierarchical oversight of charismatic leaders. Randall suggests that what Islam needs is a renewal of the ancient science of interpretation, along with the creation of a more centralized system of authority to issue such interpretations.

I might point out that Spengler, in The Decline of the West, identified Islam as a Reformation of Eastern Christianity within what he called "Magian Culture," or at least as the Puritan phase of a Reformation. The problem is that Islam may not only have had its Reformation, but also its Counter Reformation: that is arguably what Shia Islam was all about. Particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is a strong hierarchy and a sophisticated magisterium. There are also the makings of nukes, in the hands of people who should not be trusted with sharp objects.

* * *

As part of the New York Times coverage of this week's Democratic National Convention, the newspaper's Sunday Magazine section of July 25 had a long article by Matt Bai, entitled Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. The story is about the efforts of leftist-progressive-democratic rich people to fund a network of new foundations and activist groups to counter the depredations of the American Enterprise Institute and the National Rifle Association and suchlike rabble.

There is something terribly delusional about all this. The organizers of the lefty network claim that they were blindsided by the fearsome new foundations and news outlets that the Right has assembled. Does the Hoover Institution really hold a candle to the Kennedy School of Government? Is FOX of much account compared to all three broadcast networks? About Hollywood we need not speak.

Be that as it may, the article is interesting because it emphasizes that the system of political financing is disengaging from the two major political parties:

The second potential outcome to which Dean alludes -- that the Democratic Party, per se, might not always exist in America -- might sound, coming from Dean, characteristically overwrought. But it does raise a significant question about the political venture capitalists: what if, in the future, they decided not to support Democrats at all? ... When I suggested this to Stern, the service employees' union president, he thought about it for a moment before answering. ''There is an incredible opportunity to have the infrastructure for a third party,''

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-12-26: Blind Eyes

John has a funny aside here about that portion of the Catholic Right in America that is perpetually embittered. Mark Shea nicknamed them the Lidless Eye, perhaps on the analogy of the way they are always anxiously searching for heresy in the way Sauron was anxiously looking for the One Ring.

It was a good name, and it stuck, but the thing the Lidless Eye crowd never really had was power of any sort. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies demonstrated the awesome power of the Eye of Sauron, the utter terror of finding its gaze fixed upon you. Nobody really cared what the Lidless Eye crowd said unless it was to make light of them. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was a frequent target, and he didn't even know it until someone else told him.

Steve Sailer has started using the term to describe the way that the social media and old school media collaborate on events that have been selected to drive the Narrative. In a country of 300 million people, bad things happen every day. Some of those bad things get selected to be the target disproportionate media attention in order to advance the cause of the day, and the Eye of Sauron is brought to bear. Recent examples were the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, MO, and that pizza place in Indiana.

The full attention of both wings of the media is a fearsome thing to behold, and it probably is just as terrifying as the baleful attention of Sauron. And probably as mindlessly destructive too. For example, the property values in Ferguson have dropped by half in the last year. That hurts everyone who lives there, black, white, or otherwise.

The other thing the Eye of Sauron cannot do is look in more than one place at once. At lot of attention was focused recently on the disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites in Ferguson, but Ferguson isn't unusual in this respect.

It is simply that Eye is now fixed on Ferguson, and cannot pay attention to places that are far worse in racial disparities in arrest rates. Also, since some of the places with the worst racial disparities in arrest rates are wealthy liberal places like Malibu, CA and Madison, WI, paying attention would just complicate the Narrative.

The Eye of Sauron is a far better metaphor for the media-driven politics we see now than it ever was for dis-satisfied Traditionalists. The destructiveness, the terror, the single-minded focus to the point of ignoring larger threats, the fit is perfect.

Blind Eyes
 
Now that the North Koreans have provoked a nuclear crisis, one of the wonders of the season is the sudden realization among the media commentariat that the United States might have to fight two wars simultaneously, on the east and west side of Asia. The mention of the possibility by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a recent press conference seems to have been the first that many of them had heard of the idea, even though it has been the central strategic issue since the end of the Cold War. The Progressive position was that a military prepared for major wars in two theaters was an expensive anachronism after the Soviet Union ended. Some strategists said that more than one war at once was "unlikely," as if wars were purely statistical phenomena, not political acts.
Today's perfectly predictable state of affairs has caused mass cluelessness among Asia experts, even Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who has otherwise been sensible on subjects like missile defense. In a recent interview with National Public Radio , he has said that the United States cannot "close its eyes" to events on the Korean Peninsula by refusing to talk to North Korea. Rather, the US must continue to ship oil and food to North Korea. In other words, the US should continue to honor its half of the agreement on which the North Koreans reneged regarding the development of nuclear weapons. The US must further engage in "continuous dialogue" with North Korea, with an eye to reaching a "really tough" diplomatic agreement, under which they would promise again not to make nuclear weapons, or at least not to make any more.
"Closing your eyes" to a situation means that you take no account of what happens in the real world. That is precisely what too many Asia experts are insisting on; they say the US should proceed as if North Korea had not broken its treaty obligations on a life-or-death issue. It is also hard to see what a "tough" diplomatic solution might entail. Might we threaten to cut off the oil if North Korea starts up its breeder reactor again, like we are doing already?
They did not restart the reactor because the lack of oil left them no alternative. The energy issue is a red herring. The national grid is not even set up to use any power the plant might produce. The reactor is an extortion engine. That's all it's for.
As for the humanitarian issue, there would be some point in maintaining food shipments to North Korea if that would actually alleviate the famine. However, the fact is we know, from experience, that the North Korean government is less interested in ending famine than in managing it. Any measure that keeps the current government in power simply prolongs the misery.
The US should allow the North Koreans to follow unimpeded the road to perdition they have chosen for themselves. North Korea has beggared itself to gain the measure of deterrence that comes from possessing a few nuclear weapons. May they have joy of it. Short of a serious hostile act by North Korea against the US or a US ally (which must include an attempt to export a nuke), the US can refrain from all military action against North Korea. If the North Koreans want oil or food, they have to pay for it, with concessions or money in advance. If they want to talk, then by all means let us talk to them. Just don't give them anything in exchange for mere dialogue.
If the new, accommodationist government in South Korea thinks otherwise, then let them offer what aid they will. The inveterate mendacity of the North will soon appall them to a better opinion.
The goal of our policy must be to shorten the time before the North Korean regime implodes. It is entirely possible that some of the fragments from that event will be nuclear. Frankly, it is better for the implosion to occur sooner, when the fragments are few, rather than later, when they will be many.
 
* * *
Something that O'Hanlon does realize is the necessity to settle the Iraq matter before the US can focus on Korea. What he, and others, do not grasp is that "progress on arms inspections" would not be enough. If the situation is defused, and the regime in Iraq survives, the US will not be able to make a credible military threat anywhere in the world. It most particularly will not be able to make a credible threat in Korea, perhaps even for the minimal purpose of deterring exploratory conventional attacks from the North. So, does this mean that an invasion of Iraq is inevitable, no matter what happens?
An occupation of Iraq is inevitable, but I am starting to wonder whether a proper invasion will be necessary. Stories continue to come from that unhappy country about the despair of the government at all levels, and about the visible deterioration of Saddam Hussein personally. As pressure builds on the regime in January because of the concentration of invasion forces, it might just crack. The move into Iraq may be less like an invasion than an elaborate raid. It could be more like Bush Senior's invasion of Panama in 1989 than like Desert Storm in 1991.
Even in this rosiest of scenarios, however, there would still be considerable problems in establishing law and order. There will also be terrorist attacks in the West by Baathist sympathizers.
 
* * *
There has been some progress on the terminology front. I am still partial to the term "Tranzie" (transnational progressive) for the sort of person who thinks that the world should be run by the World Court and the UN, provided the latter is controlled by an assembly of NGOs. However, in an article in the current issue of The National Interest, Normative Shift , Coral Bell suggests that a better term might be "cosmopolitan civil society." The use of the term "cosmopolitan" instead of "international" or "transnational" is an important distinction.
Traditional internationalists, like those who established the great international institutions after World War II, have no intention of eliminating nations as such, or even of diminishing national sovereignty in any essential respect. Every internationalist identifies with some nation. He supports international institutions for the same reason private entrepreneurs support reasonable government economic regulation; rules are necessary to make the system work. Cosmopolitans, in contrast, have only loose sentimental ties to a particular nation. Quite often, they make their living through cosmopolitan businesses, or, perhaps more often, through cosmopolitan social work.
The term "cosmopolitan" was coined in Hellenistic times for a world not unlike our own. It would make sense if it made a comeback.
 
* * *
Special thanks to the industrious Mark Shea of the blog, Catholic & Enjoying It!, for applying Tolkien's term, "The Lidless Eye," to that portion of the Catholic Right that is never satisfied under any circumstances. I like a good horror story about liturgical abuse or seminary scandal as much as the next guy. Still, when I look at The Wanderer and The Remnant, and even The New Oxford Review these days, I can't help thinking that these people should like more stuff.
The Lidless Eye picks fights with Catholic writers on points of doctrine that the Lidless Eye critics imagine to be part of the deposit of the faith, but which are often of their own devising, based on a selective reading of obscure sources. The Catechism is rarely good enough for them. Even when they have the theology right, they have a wonderful capacity to misread the texts they are criticizing. These are the sort of people who condemn The Lord of the Rings as New Age pantheism.
I usually go to a Latin Mass on Sunday, so I suppose that makes me conservative enough for most purposes. If the Lidless Eye annoys me, there must really be a problem.
 
* * *
Readers will be alarmed to know that there have been more Fortean phenomena since last week. Now it's giant webs falling on Texas. Can the spiders be far behind?

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

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An archive of John's site