Saturday, August 29, 2015

G.K. Chesterton: Men and the Gentleman.

In my last post I left a remark to commentator Mark Citadel with regard to what I think is one of the problems of modern Christian masculinity.

I think among the "cultivated Right" Trumps crassness and boorishness is a huge turn off and they would rather a polite but politically correct candidate than a boorish man. It's an interesting reflection on the hierarchy of their values. It's just occurred to me that Chersterton has an interesting essay on the subject I'll try and hunt it up for my next post.

Well, its not exactly an essay but an extract from G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography (1936), recanting an unexpected meeting between Henry James and Hilaire Belloc.; we are halted at the moment when Mr. Henry James heard of our arrival in Rye and proceeded (after exactly the correct interval) to pay his call in state.

Needless to say, it was a very stately call of state; and James seemed to fill worthily the formal frock-coat of those far-off days...He brought his brother William with him, the famous American philosopher; and though William James was breezier than his brother when you knew him, there was something finally ceremonial about this idea of the whole family on the march. We talked about the best literature of the day; James a little tactfully, myself a little nervously. I found he was more strict than I had imagined about the rules of artistic arrangement; he deplored rather than depreciated Bernard Shaw, because plays like Getting Married were practically formless. He said something complimentary about something of mine; but represented himself as respectfully wondering how I wrote all I did. I suspected him of meaning why rather than how. We then proceeded to consider gravely the work of Hugh Walpole, with many delicate degrees of appreciation and doubt; when I heard from the front-garden a loud bellowing noise resembling that of an impatient foghorn. I knew, however, that it was not a fog-horn; because it was roaring out, "Gilbert! Gilbert!" and was like only one voice in the world...

I knew it was Belloc, probably shouting for bacon and beer; but even I had no notion of the form or guise under which he would present himself.

I had every reason to believe that he was a hundred miles away in France. And so, apparently, he had been; walking with a friend of his in the Foreign Office, a co-religionist of one of the old Catholic families; and by some miscalculation they had found themselves in the middle of their travels entirely without money. Belloc is legitimately proud of having on occasion lived, and being able to live, the life of the poor. One of the Ballades of the Eye-Witness, which was never published, described tramping abroad in this fashion:

To sleep and smell the incense of the tar,
To wake and watch Italian dawns aglow
And underneath the branch a single star,
Good Lord, how little wealthy people know.

In this spirit they started to get home practically without money. Their clothes collapsed and they managed to get into some workmen's slops. They had no razors and could not afford a shave. They must have saved their last penny to recross the sea; and then they started walking from Dover to Rye; where they knew their nearest friend for the moment resided. They arrived, roaring for food and drink and derisively accusing each other of having secretly washed, in violation of an implied contract between tramps. In this fashion they burst in upon the balanced tea-cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James.

Henry James had a name for being subtle; but I think that situation was too subtle for him. I doubt to this day whether he, of all men, did not miss the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part. He had left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the traditions of lineage and locality, the life that had been lived beneath old portraits in oak-panelled rooms. And there, on the other side of the tea-table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure. And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.[ED]
The operative term here is "the Puritan refinement of Boston". I think the reader should not mistake that Chesterton was critiquing Jame's Americanism, rather his aesthetic puritanism which which led him to prefer the "the oak paneled rooms" of England to the relatively uncouth life of the U.S.

In Chesterton's eyes James was a type of Aesthete, Belloc was a man, and I think it is important to remember the point. 

Belloc was famously belligerent in debate, praised the crusades and preached a from of Christianity that was muscular and unapologetic. He was also a bit of a poet;

The world is full of double beds
And most delightful maidenheads,
Which being so, there’s no excuse
For sodomy of self-abuse.
Henry James remained celibate all his life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Black Knight.

Roissy today put up an interesting post with regard to the matter of Donald Trump. What's been interesting to see, at least from this side of the bigger pond, is just how much opprobrium Trump is getting from other "rightists" and from the Cathedral.  The supposedly Mordoch *"right wing" Fox News Network has been pretty hostile to him and  its actions confirm my view that it is a false flag operation of the Left, designed to provide prolefeed to the cognitive misers of the Right.

I'm not a big fan of Mr Trump for a variety of reasons which are not necessary for the purposes of this post, however, I admire him for his charisma, personality and his "alphatude", something the other runners are completely absent of.

Pious Christian types seem critical of his moral behaviour but what these types fail to recognise is that moral goodness and the skill of governance are independent variables.  The clearest example of the fallacy of this conflation came with Jimmy Carter, who was by the standards of politicians a morally upright man though a hopeless president. The problem for Christian critics of Trump is that there is no alternative to him who is both morally good and politically competent. Sometimes you have to chose the best from a bad bunch.

The heat that Trump gets from his other GOP hopefuls is another matter all together. As far as I can see, their main line of attack is to label him as not a nice man with regard to minorities. The operative word here being "nice".  Niceness, apparently, being a principle virtue desired amongst presidents whereas competence seems to be a secondary issue. As I've said on this blog before, it's important not to conflate the good with the nice.

This virtue of "niceness" is something that seems particular to Anglo-Saxon cultures. As someone who has straddled several European cultures it's been my observation that niceness is a higher virtue than goodness in countries with a predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture. Likewise, disagreeableness or offensiveness is seen as one of the greater vices in this sphere as well.  It's no surprise then that political correctness holds such power in this domain, for  the effectiveness of political correctness lays in its ability to co-opt preexisting social norms to further political ends.

For political correctness to work there must be two elements;

1) Firstly, a political body which claims personal injury through offence every time some point is put forward which they disagree with.
2) Secondly, a culture which values non-offensiveness above all else.

I want to dwell on this second point. In the Anglosphere particularly, modes and norms of behaviour were copied from the English, who until the mid 20th Century were the pre-eminent economic, military and cultural power on this Earth. The ideals of the English Aristocracy were aped by all who strived to achieve a higher social standing. So the morals and manners of England became the standard by which all others were judged and it was ideal which was highly emulated in other non-Anglo cultures as well.

Cardinal Newman*, a High Church Anglican intellectual of Oxford,  who eventually converted to Catholicism, gave perhaps the best description of what it meant to be a gentleman.
It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. [ED] This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast; — all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny. [ED]If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder.
This gentlemanly ideal has a lot to recommend to it but in essence it boils down to one of cultivated passivity and service to others. Fair enough, but how compatible is this idea with Christianity, especially a Christianity that has to preach the Gospel amongst umbelievers, some of whom would be mightily offended? Is he a Gentleman first or a Christian second? What is a gentleman's duty to the Truth when it offends? Because by definition the Gentleman never offends, he withdraws.

Because as I see it, many Christians, especially those of the right wing variety are gentlemen first and Christians second. To them, offending a minority or a woman is more  of a sin than keeping silent about the truth lest ones behaviour be called uncouth.

The Mangina defence of MegYn Kelly is a case in point. Trump's put down of the the fair maiden was more vile than the fair maiden's abuse of her position as a journalist amongst many, particularly of the religious right.  Kelly, disabused her position as a journalist by trying to trap Trump in a "gotcha" moment, yet this is percieved amongst our religious wowsers as exusuable whereas a wude word is not? Christ's disciples, eh?

The primary duty of a Christian is to live the Gospel and proclaim the truth, no matter how offensive it is.  Sure, tact should be used when prudence calls for it but keeping silent simply by the principle that one should never offend effectively stops it expression. Hence, we arrive at the current situation where there are huge cultural problems which we cannot deal with out of fear of causing offense.  Furthermore, the Right self polices through unthinking adherence to the gentlemanly ideal being co-opted, allowing the Left to solely determine what is offensive or not.

As Christians, I think in many ways we need to revise the ideal of the knight. Of the man who could put on the hurt when he needs to but otherwise strive to be a man of peace. I'm no big fan of Trump, but from this perspective, he is more of a knight than a gentleman.

I don't know if Trump will become president or not but his greatest legacy may well be to reinvigorate the Right and ushering in a new age of assertiveness, finally ridding us of the "gentlemen" who would never offend anybody.

* Yes, I know it's Murdoch but Mordoch seems more appropriate.
* Newman may have his faults but he was also a superb intellect when it came to matters with regard to conscience.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rod Dreher, Christian Masculinity and the Benedict Option.

So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks. The Quakers became a club instead of becoming a sect. Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans are not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it. The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is -- Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.

G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy.

One of the regrettable things about the current state of the Cuckservative meme is that it seems to have undergone semantic shift. Both the Left and Racial supremacists have focused it into a racial only dimension, ignoring its initial wider meaning of a lack of masculinity.  I personally think we have the whole race thing wrong and that the error comes from approaching the subject from a social Darwinistic perspective instead of one from human nature but that is for a different post. As I've said previously, this narrowing of definition plays straight into the Left's playbook, framing the definition along racial lines where it  both controls the terms of debate and is strong, instead of "Manliness" where the Left is weak.

Manliness is an important concept which this blog has alluded to before. Particularly, it has explored the relationship between the Christian tradition of downplaying Eros and separating the spirit from the flesh.  These were cultural preconditions which presage and inadvertently advanced the cause of sexual ambiguity and malleability. As this blog asserts, both masculinity and femininity become diluted when Eros is seen as irrelevant to our human natures and a Masculinity stripped of its muscles, aggression, determination and decision becomes limp wristed and and effete.

Which brings me to Rod Dreher.

His recent recent piece on L'Affair Megyn Kelly got me thinking about Christianity in general,
especially with regard to its monumental failure in the 20th Century, particularly in the West.

The 20th C was not a "good one" for the Western Church and from a demographic point of view it has essentially failed in its defence against secularism. I don't really need to explain just how far religion has fallen from the public square to the readers of this blog.  Traditionalists, like to put the blame, especially with regard to Catholicism on Vatican 2, but smarter observers had noted that the rot had set in deeply well before that.

It's important to remember just how powerful and culturally influential the Church was at the beginning of 20th C. It had the stronger hand against the Secularists and yet by the 20th C's end it was in widespread retreat.

Powerful armies can experience unexpected losses as part an parcel of the fortunes of War, but when an army suffers a string of unmitigated defeats,  questions need to be asked about the generalship of the troops. As usual, the generals will always try to deflect blame onto the troops, blaming them for their deficiencies. Likewise, amongst the traditionalists, the failure of religion in the 20thC is blamed on the faithful and not on the shepherds. The faithful have abandoned God they say, but it never occurs to them that they may be the ones at fault.

For example, the Child Abuse controversy that has plagued the Catholic Church is of a deeper problem than first appears. In large organisation such as the Church, given human nature, it is to be expected that there will be men who will abuse their position. It's also true that the Secular media will unfairly portray the abuse and distort its perspective however the inescapable fact is that the abuse was deep seated and the suppression of its discovery almost systematic. For an organisation who main mission is to bring light and truth to the world this demonstrates something profoundly wrong with it.

And let's not make a mistake here. The hierarchical mismanagement of the abuse was a clerical issue and not one of the laity. It appears, that in many instances, when the laity raised the issue of abuse to the clergy, they were ignored and sometimes threatened. The reality is that the men who ignored the teachings of Humane Vitae were men who were led by those who ignored the Ten Commandments.

Trying to understand how the abuse became institutionalised is important, if only to avoid repeating the same mistakes again. The malign elements of society see paedophilla as being a secret preoccupation with priests, for a variety of reasons this in my view is wrong. Selecting a governing caste on the basis of celibacy means that you're going to get some men who  have no attraction to women and others who have an attraction to God that overrides it.  There was a bias in the selection process which almost guaranteed that paedophiles would be selected.

But it also needs to be remembered that Church wants to forgive men of their sins. And I imagine that many of the Priests and Bishops who heard about the abuse were prepared to forgive their brothers in the hope that they would stop sinning. Combined with a fear of Scandal, many probably hoped that the problem would go away.

At yet it didn't.

Indeed,  this effectively passive response to evil is a characteristic of the Church in the 20th C and one of the reasons why the Left has run rings around it. Christ as a passive Victim, seems to it preferred operating model amongst the hierarchy as opposed to Christ actively choosing to take a bullet for the team.  And yet the Church was not always like this, in the ages of faith it was quite happy to put the hurt on evil.

Part of the reason why I think the Church has adopted this model is because it has been infected with two very subtle heresies; one is chivalric notions of sexuality and the other is Aristotlean notions of human rationality. I hope to deal with the problems of rationality in a different post.

Rod Dreher typifies this form of passive "chivalric" man. I know he is Orthodox now, but Rod Dreher is typical of the serious Christian types that now occupy positions of authority in "conservative" Christian Churches.  Pious, gentlemanly and chivalric he prefers to "reasonably" deal with opponents, and suffer for the Faith rather than take the battle to the enemy.  Niceness is akin to goodness and rude virtue is to be deplored as much as polite vice is to be pardoned. Low class women have a greater moral worth than boorish yet effective billionaires. His approach to the onslaught of the enemy is one of passivity and hoping that the problem will go away. His "strength" lays in his capacity to suffer and bear "his cross". 

This passive approach to things has led Dreher to advocate the "Benedict" option when it comes to dealing with the Leftist onslaught. In essence this option involves pious Christian types forming little communities which are culturally separated from the rest of the surrounding climate. As the idea goes, these small communities will form small nuclei which will re-evangalise the surrounding communities once the leftist menace has been spent. Effectively it is a strategy of running away and hoping that things will pass over.
Unfortunately this displays an extraordinary naivete with regard to 20th Century. A cursory study of this period makes one aware of the fact that when the Left is out for blood there is no place to hide. They will not leave you alone to form your communities. In many ways the Benedict option is what the leaders of the Church did when it came to handling the pedophilia scandal. They hoped it would blow over and failed to do the things they needed to do. It has now come to bite them on the arse.

Many pious Christian types seem to forget that the monasteries thrived in a peace secured by armed Christians, those who were prepared to defend the Christians from armed attack. I wonder how many monasteries would have survived in Charles Martel had not stopped the Muslim tide? And though Martel was a pious man, he had to resort to the force of arms to get things done. The Siege of Vienna and the Battle of Lepanto weren't spiritual ones.

The more I mediate on this matter the more I am convinced that respectable "Christian masculinity" has produced a type of man who cannot virtuously strike back at evil. Rather he must "passively" take it. Modern Christian theology has virtually made it impossible to wage a just war. The death penalty is effectively losing all theological justification and compassion for criminals assumes a greater significance than justice for the victims. The Church is effectively run by beta males.

Any Christian resurgence is not going to come about from a "Benedict option" rather it will come about from a new and assertive Christianity, made up of assertive Christians men who wont be apologising for their faith and running away from their duties of evangelisation.