Paddy’s Lament: The Irish And Their Music In The American Civil War

Introduction

In this essay we will look at songs concerning the Irish in the American Civil War, in order to come to a deeper grasp of this community in that war. By doing so, we will explore the interaction of the Irish with other minority groups caught up in the conflict, and their common lot with the larger Anglo culture.

We will examine period pieces and modern compositions related to the Irish. These songs are “The Opinions of Paddy Magee,” “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam,” “Irish Volunteer,” “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Two Brothers Masterson,” “Boys That Wore the Green,” “Paddy’s Lamentation,” the equally doleful “Mick Ryan’s Lament,” and “Modern Army O.” Passing references will be made to “I Goes to Fight Mit Sigel” and “List of Generals.”

The Civil War produced a great many musical pieces. I chose the ones in this essay that especially invite distinct topical consideration. Briefly, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” looks at Irish soldiers from the North. It also allows us to delve into George McClellan’s persistent popularity with his units, both ethnic and otherwise, throughout the course of the conflict. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” examines Irish southerners. In “Two Brothers Masterson” we look at the tensions that immigrants had with Africans. The role Germans and natives played in the war and its music is also considered.

The song “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” permits us to see connections with political movements back in Ireland. “The Irish Volunteer” demonstrates an eagerness to adopt native concerns and politics by new arrivals. “The Boys Who Wore the Green” is a look into the unit and cultural diversity, and chaos, which the 19th-century citizen-soldier model of military organization allowed for. “Paddy’s Lamentation” gives us insight into the disillusion which mid-war Irish were feeling, along with the rest of America.

Finally, “Modern Army O” and “Mick Ryan’s Lament” take us to the postwar world of an America eager to get back to normal. There is, of course, overlap in some of the themes chosen here, and each verse carries much historical meaning. Therefore, these works of popular art allow us to take a survey of topics related to Irishmen in the definitive American experience, the Civil War.

Gratitude and Patriotism

At the top of our list is “The Opinions of Paddy Magee.” The song addresses the proximate reason many Irish came to America in the mid-19th-century: the Great Hunger of 1845-49.

Along with other Anglosphere lands (Britain, of course, but also Canada and Australia) – starving Celts arrived in these United States by the hundreds of thousands at that time. Immediately they were recipients of native hostility.

The 1860s conflict gave refugees like “Opinions’” fictional narrator Paddy a chance to route the libel of divided loyalties, and show his gratitude towards his adopted home. During the real-life outbreak of war, the Catholic archbishop of New York, John Hughes, could not hang flags fast enough from his parishes. With memories of the popular “Know Nothing” Party and the horrific anti-Catholic Philadelphia riots of 1844 not far from mind, our soldier-singer declares:

Whin Ireland was needing, and famine was feeding
And thousands were dying for something to ate,
‘Twas America’s daughters that sent over the waters
The ships that were loaded with corn and whate.
And Irishmen, sure, will forever remember
The vessels that carried the flag of the free.
And the land that befriended, they’ll die to defend it
And that’s the opinions of Paddy Magee.

According to the song, the Civil War allowed these new Americans to repay charity given them a generation before.

Pay

Next at bat we have a pair of songs, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” and “The Irish Brigade.” With these pieces we confront the basic question of why Irish immigrants participated so robustly on both sides of the conflict? The Crisis of 1860 and the war it precipitated were many miles removed from the concerns and culture of the Irish.

Whatever theoretical appeal Constitutional liberties like freedom of religion held for Hiberians, the welcome they actually received was not a warm one. Anti-Irish animosity became so desperate that famously during the Mexican War (1846-48) an entire brigade of the Federal army deserted over to the Mexican side!

Like German immigrants two generations later, Irish support for the Union was not a given. One pedestrian, though evergreen, reason immigrants fought in large numbers was for money. The famous $13 per month which Union privates received, even the Confederate’s $11 per month, a holdover from the prewar pay scale, was head and shoulders better than the unstable morsels which urban day laborers took in, to say nothing of the tempestuous lives of rural farmers.

In “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam,” a Union piece, it contains the line, “Not long ago I came here from the bogs of sweet Kilarney. I used to cry out, ‘Soap Fat!’ because that was my trade, sir; ‘til I ‘listed as corporal in Corcoran’s brigade, sir.” Many of the Irish immigrants of the 1860s had come from rural stock. They had few marketable skills in the crowded cities of the north. If the army didn’t allow for a better life, it at least provided a less indigent one.

Geopolitics:Cotton

It is unwise to consider the Civil War in a vacuum. As comfortable as it is to study as such, as our definitive event, we must recall what Walter McDougal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says. The War of the Rebellion was not an insular oddity, but, “part of the deepest rhythms of world history.” The trends of centralization, servile abolition, and a “shrinking” technological world were forces America participated in along with the rest of the world.

Both “We’ll Fight” and “Opinions” additionally invite the humble listener into the world of international politics. British support for the Confederacy is warned off with the line, “If John Bull should interfere, he’ll suffer for it truly, for the Irish boys in action will give him balley hooley.” We also hear, “John Bull, ye ould divil. Ye’d better keep civil!”

Through mid-war there was a chance of Britain supporting the Confederacy. This would have possible military advantages, and definite financial advantages. For a country heretofore not permitted to raise funds on the international markets and from major banks, legal recognition amongst the world community was a must.

The hungry textile mills of Europe lustfully weighed on the minds of British MPs as they considered the U.K.’s official reaction to the North American bloodletting. With the nearsightedness characteristic of speculation, the southern economy was a one-trick, cotton pony by the start of the war in 1861. “Guns for Cotton” was the dear hope of Confederate statesmen. Until the Crown could develop its cotton market in India, which eventually came on line by mid-war, this was an equation British statesmen were inclined to consider.

European powers, and others besides, needed cotton from the South for their mills. This commercial concern weighed heavily against ethical reservation concerning slavery. “Scott’s Anaconda,” the blockading of the entire Confederate coastline by the Lincoln administration, put a wrench in the French supply chain for the entirety of the war.

The “Famine du Coton” in Alsace, Normandy, and Brittany matched the supply hardships experienced by the English. The financial angle could have put European powers in the Confederate corner, and this was possibility enough for our Irish songsters to put John Bull – and by extension, Marianne – on alert.

Geopolitics: The Trent Affair

The possibility of English support for the Confederacy was made likelier still with international guffaws by Union leaders. For example, the Trent Affair in November 1861 was when Union sailors boarded British ships to arrest two Confederate agents under the laws of war.

The Lincoln administration was adamantine that the Confederacy was not a nation. Thus, according to their own logic, southern agents were not subject to the rule of international law. The only conclusion left, then, was that Union sailors trespassed on British property, and kidnapped British guests.

Earnestly for them in the moment, and amusingly for us 150 years later, Northern attorneys engaged in great rhetorical gymnastics trying to justify their Administration’s position, while also fending off charges of criminality. This incident, combined with William Seward’s subsequent bluster in the press, brought the relationship between the U.K. and U.S. the closest to war since 1812.

Geopolitics: Slavery

Slavery is a topic which does not enter into any of the immigrant-related songs chosen for this essay, north or south. In fact, even in general works from the war period, forced servitude is only mentioned obliquely. Examples of this include, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Marching Through Georgia,” both Union songs; and “Bonnie Blue Flag,” and Albert Pike’s reworking of “Dixie,” for Confederate examples.

As a slave power, nearly alone in the Western world besides Brazil and Cuba, the Confederate States of America (CSA) did not do themselves any favors when appealing to European nations for legal recognition, much less material assistance. France and Britain were the two biggest candidates for Confederate support. France had abolished slavery in 1794 (albeit briefly resurrected by Napoleon) and the United Kingdom in 1833. In the age of 19th-century mores, whatever the temptation of cotton, the CSA’s “peculiar institution” worked against their international interests.

Irish Confederate Units

The odds against the Confederate cause from the start tended to lend its partisans to associate their enterprise with grand moral and political motives, and historical precedents. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” attempts to weave the Confederate struggle and its Hibernian involvement into the larger saga of Irish liberation.

When nowhere near technical brigade size, the southern narrator sings, “[Northerners] have called us rebels and traitors, but themselves were called that name of late.” While the song immediately goes on to reference the Rebellion of 1798, we also intuit the songster’s general scorn for Yankees.

Like the British in the American Revolution, an event which was within reaching memory at the time of our topic, invading Yankees were occupying another country as far as southerners were concerned. This certainly is a parallel not lost on the narrator of “Kelly’s Irish Brigade.” He sings, “They dare not call us invaders. ‘Tis but states’ rights and liberty we ask. And Missouri we’ll ever defend her. No matter how hard the task.”

Larger Struggles

We next have “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” This song allows us to connect the Irish struggle in the Civil War with another fight in another land. It speaks with the voice of an imprisoned Union soldier trying to keep up his spirits despite his condition. As he says, “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching. Cheer up, comrades, they will come!” Just wait, just hope, we’ll be free in time.

Most people today would not associate “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” with the Civil War. The tune was co-opted and popularized a few years after Appomattox for the Irish nationalist cause. Rebranded as “God Save Ireland,” it commemorates the Manchester Martyrs. The Martyrs were three Fenians hanged by the Crown in 1867. The retooled “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” now “God Save Ireland,” became the de facto anthem of Irish Republicans through the War of Independence (1919-21).

Rather than a forlorn, pining captive, though, “God Save Ireland” has its prisoner-singer defiant ‘til the end. One stanza reads, “They met him [the hangman] face to face, with the courage of their race. And they went with souls undaunted to their doom.” When we recall Cathal Brugha’s famous use of “God Save Ireland,” we must remember its connection to an earlier generation and an earlier war.

The Fenians

We turn now to the influences of the Fenians on the Civil War. The Fenian Brotherhood was a group founded simultaneously in America and Ireland in 1858 (on St. Patrick’s Day, of course). The Civil War promised a ready means for these secret revolutionaries to build and drill a corps of fighters to ship back home.

One of the stranger aspects of Celtic participation in the War of the Rebellion, as the United States government still calls the 1860s bloodletting, is that a people dominated by an outside power, as Ireland was by the British, would enthusiastically enlist in significant numbers on the side of a power trying to squash the self-determination of another group of people, the American southerners. This is a curious dynamic we’ll see later with the post-war Irish participation in the western Indian Wars.

In his infamous summons of 75,000 men, a move which initially worsened the Crisis, President Lincoln plainly said his intention was, “To suppress said combinations.” However, practical considerations overruled die-hard revolutionary ideology. The majority of immigrants lived in Northern cities like Boston and New York, as opposed to southern ports like Charlestown and New Orleans.

Additionally, the Union’s chances of victory were more secure from the start. While it took at least two years to come to full strength, once the Federal government brought its organizational and industrial might to bear, their ability to train and arm mass bodies of men recommended Fenian support for the Union. The conflict would provide free quality training which Irish revolutionaries could deploy back in Ireland.

In On Deciding to Fight for the Union, Union Irish Brigade leader, Thomas Francis Meagher said, “We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States.”

This decision can be directly tied to individuals who helped raise Irish units. Meagher (pronounced “mar”) was involved in the Young Irelander uprising of 1848, that “Year of Revolutions.” Transported to Australia after his conviction of treason, Meagher escaped and made his way via Brazil to America.

Another revolutionary was Michael Corcoran. In addition to a revolutionary pedigree as rich as Meagher’s, Corcoran made a name for himself when he was court-martialed for not leading the largely-Irish 69th New York Militia on parade when the Prince of Wales visited America in 1860. The charges were dropped upon the eruption of hostilities. However, “The Boys Who Wore the Green” saucily remembers, “Colonel Corcoran led the 69th on that eventful day [i.e., Bull Run], I wish the Prince of Wales were there to see him in the fray.”

Meagher and Corcoran organized and drilled an expanded 69th New York following the Confederate firing on Ft. Sumpter in April 1861. The unit was altogether green. However, several soldiers had seen service in recent European wars. These included ten officers lately in the service of Pope Pius IX’s own “St. Patrick’s Brigade,” in the Papal States’ luckless fight against Garibaldi.

Narratives

When, how, and why minority groups align their interests and narratives with related groups is a topic well worth its own treatment. By “narrative” I mean a group’s own reading of its revolutionary history, especially in light of similar struggles elsewhere.

Such is also the forging of the Irish nationalist “apostolic succession” narrative. This narrative attempts to link Ireland’s own desperate rebel history. It also includes foreign efforts for the Liberal cause in its understanding. The Fenian narrative in this case includes friendly connections with America’s Revolutionary experiment.

The ancient clan system in Ireland was smashed with the Tudor conquest. The 1745 Battle of Culloden in neighboring Scotland brought this truth home. Suddenly the passing of the clan system went from a suspected abstraction to a bloody, grim reality. Celtic nationalists ultimately retrenched and settled upon the most cutting-edge political philosophy of the day to rally around: republicanism.

America’s two wars with Britain, as well as the explosion of the French Revolution on the Continent, gave added inspiration to independence-minded Hiberians for their own liberty. However ill-served rebels like Robert Emmet were by the republican National Assembly, the international republican experience provided garrisoned Ireland an example to imitate.

Indeed, during the heady days before his imprisonment for sedition in 1848, Thomas Meagher advocated physical force republicanism against the pacifistic position of Daniel O’Connell’s supporters. He specifically used the American example as justification. Ireland’s revolutionary past merged with the American saga as theoretical examples which expats like Corcoran and Meagher were keen to develop and fuse for the ends of their Irish story.

Other Ethnic Groups

Next, we consider the role of race, the Irish, and the Civil War. In introducing this theme, we recall that Irishmen were not the only subgroup to be caught up in the majority-Anglo Civil War. Indians, blacks, and Germans all richly participated as well.

Native Americans, however, come from a vastly different musical tradition than the various European ethnicities which participated in the war (including the majority Anglo one). Additionally, they made a different use of martial music. Thus, we have no corpus of native Civil War music.

Another possible field of study is German participation in the war. They were closer to the Irish military and musical experiences. The Germans were also a community numerically as robust as the Irish. However, the language barrier meant that few period songs were written, and less survive for our perusal.

There is one delightful exception to this Saxon dearth: “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel.” Reasonably concerned with his martial alcohol access, our patriot-narrator explains, “Dere’s only von ting vot I fear, Ven pattling for de Eagle. I vont get not no lager bier, Ven I goes to fight mit Sigel!”

Franz Sigel’s command of the largely-German XI of the Army of the Potomac is also noted, along with Irish commanders, in the 1864 song “List of General.”

African-American Interactions

When it comes to Irish interactions with African-Americans, “Two Brothers Masterson” does not blush. The 19th-century was not a politically correct era. Perhaps this allows us a truer picture of the times. “Masterson” is set to the tune of the “Croppy Boy,” and it follows an equally doleful trajectory.
At this point you ought to be noticing a cross-over of music in the later development folk. Both America and Ireland equally influenced the other’s music.

Twice in “Masterson” we note the unhappy interaction of American blacks and Irish. The singer states, “With savage blacks [the brothers] did not agree.” When put upon to help hang his sibling, Patrick refuses. Sensing a need, a nearby, “wild black sergeant proposed to do the deed.”

This artistic animosity can be traced to the actual competition both groups faced for northern jobs during this period. Indeed, we remember that during the New York draft riots in 1863 African-Americans were especially targeted by the rioters, and a great many of those rioters came from the Irish community centered around New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen district.

Chaos

In “The Boys That Wore the Green” we get a taste of the chaos of those early days of the Rebellion. The song memorializes the motley units which found themselves at the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. The peacocking and bluster which both sides liberally engaged in, from well before Lincoln’s election the previous autumn, quickly drained away as the grim reality of protracted battle loomed.

After a solid start on the morning of July 21st, the Rebels rallied and broke the Union ranks. It’s a debacle commemorated in the fourth stanza of “Boys.” The singer talks about the capture and recapture of the 69th’s battle flag, declaring, “The colors of the 69th, I say it without shame, Were taken in the struggle to swell the victor’s fame.” Politely omitted is the fact that Michael Corcoran was wounded and also captured in the battle. He was paroled and went on to organize Corcoran’s Legion, another majority-Irish unit.

The rearguard fight the Irish Brigade made at Bull Run with the 11th New York Zouaves is mentioned in the fifth stanza. It states, “In that hour of peril, the flying mass to screen, Stood the gallant New York firemen, with the boys that wore the green.”

After several verses lauding the mutual assistance each unit gave the other during the Civil War’s seminal battle, the song finishes, “Farewell, my gallant countrymen, who fell that fatal day. Farewell, ye noble firemen, now mouldering in the clay. Whilst blooms the leafy shamrock, whilst runs the old machine, Your deeds will live bold Red Shirts, and Boys that Wore the Green!” And indeed, each unit had cause to be nostalgic. By mid-war both, due to attrition and maturation, regiments were drastically different from their early-war selves.

Militia Model

At Bull Run, the citizen-solider model favored in America well into the 20th Century was sorely tried. If the Confederate national army wasn’t itself in its birth pangs on “that eventful day,” however, things would have been worse for the north. The rebel inability to consolidate and counter-attack is the biggest “what if” of the entire conflict.

The organizational militia model in force, during those well-sung early days of the fight, allowed for a small perpetual corps of men, mostly alumni of the military academies, to be the nucleus around which a much larger mass of militia could form. Those militia units were called in the Federal parlance of the time, “Volunteers.” True to their forebears in the American Revolution, these Volunteers were led by officers chosen either for quality, charisma, or graft.

While the militia system provided against an ancient Cesarean takeover, or a modern Military Industrial Complex, it made for chronically messy military starts. The United States would know this well into the 20th-century. In any case, the behavior of the 69th at Bull Run was something the men could be proud of.

It was a legacy they would have an opportunity to build upon, a year and a half later at Antietam. As the late Connecticut author, Thomas Craughwell, wrote, “The Irish Brigade turned the tide at Antietam. By driving off the Confederates, it all but ensured a Union victory. The Irish had been building a reputation as tenacious fighters; at Antietam they cinched it.”

Unit Diversity

Not all of early-war messiness was bad or incompetent. It occasionally allowed for local flare. Ethnic regiments such as Irish, German, and Indian units are examples of this diversity. Likewise was the “Zouave” phenomena. Inspired by French soldiers, these light infantry units were recruited from the fire brigades of New York City by the early-martyred Elmer Ellsworth.

Clothed in their distinctive red and blue embroidered uniform, the 11th New York was one early group to buttress the defenses of Washington, following weeks of anxious waiting and rumors, during the Secession Crisis in the spring of 1861. Both their unusual accoutrements and their baptism of fire at Bull Run guaranteed the mutual affection of both regiments in “The Boys Who Wore the Green.”

Little Mac

Lastly, “The Boys Who Wore the Green,” along with “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam” and “List of Generals,” raises the specter of “Little Mac.” George McClellan was the Army of the Potomac’s sometimes-commander. Notoriously reluctant to engage with a southern opponent who was two or three times his size, Abraham Lincoln once humorously said, McClellan had a case of, “the slows.”

Nevertheless, “Little Mac,” as his troops affectionately called him, was an excellent organizer. Units always had the supplies they requested, and after defeats like the Second Bull Run, McClellan was able to rebuild the army and boost its confidence.

While their affection wasn’t able to take Little Mac to the White House in 1864, it was able to live on in songs with verses like, “Once again, the stars and stripes, Will to the breeze be swellin’. If Uncle Abe will give us back Our darlin’ boy McClellan;” and, “Of one more [general] I’ll be telling, and who should be restored straightway. To put an end to this rebellion: Little Mac, he knows the way!”

Burnout

The gay, baggy pants and striped shirts of the Zouaves went by the wayside in “Paddy’s Lamentation.” Thanks to Sinead O’Connor, this is the only piece in our Civil War selection with popular play. The song describes the wariness Irishmen were feeling by mid-war.

This song also reflects the greater mood of America. Similar to the narrator of “Masterson,” our pleading singer advises, “To America I’ll have ye’s not be going. There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar. And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin.” Like many ethnic songs, “Paddy’s Lamentation” has “Easter eggs” in it which betray its North American composition. “Dear old Dublin” was far removed for most 19th-century Irish immigrants. Hiberians who came to America, mostly came from the west of Ireland.

In any case, all the men who were inclined to go in for Meagher’s transatlantic revolutionary schemes had done so by the war’s second year. After that, the motives were less idealistic. Cap-stoning this sentiment was the death of Michael Corcoran in 1863 in a riding accident in Fairfax, Virginia.

As Craughwell writes, “[Corcoran’s] death came as a shock to the Irish Brigade, whose men had loved and revered Corcoran since 1860 when he refused to march the 69th Regiment in a parade honoring the Prince of Wales.” Either money or the force of law stocked the ranks of the Irish Brigade after the initial idealism died down.

Manifest Destiny Resumed

Finally, we close with two postwar pieces: “Mick Ryan’s Lament” and “Regular Army O.” The one doleful, the other comical, both songs take us from the eastern seaboard to the Wild West, with the downsized U.S. military. With the Rebellion over, the American government returned to its pre-war hobby: westward expansion. Our refugee-cum-trooper, Mick Ryan, sings, “I swear I did not see the irony,

“When I rode with the Seventh Cavalry. I thought that we fought for the land of the free, When we rode from Fort Lincoln that morning.” In other words, the expat from Erin was used in his turn to dispossess Indians from their homes. This ultimately led to his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commanded by former Civil War hero, George Armstrong Custer.

In “Modern Army O,” we’re introduced to a man who, making no idealistic motivational pretense, “had the choice of going to the army or to jail.” Compelled to endure longer and longer marches on less and less grub, our modern soldier throws off the whole army and skedaddles to Mexico.

In both songs we are confronted with one of the curses of war: addiction to fighting. As long-standing the battlegrounds of today attest, places like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Syria, after a while a country’s young men have no stock and trade but war.

That was the condition many veterans found themselves in, in 1865. Decidedly less ideological or reverential than earlier pieces, the song shows an increased assimilation of Irishmen by the later part of the 19th-century, due in part to their military service. As Craughwell writes, “The courage and sacrifice of the Irish Brigade during the Civil War helped diminish prevalent anti-Irish prejudice in America.”

Conclusion

Our selections have featured both early-war, red-blooded martial anthems, burned-out ballads from later in the conflict, and ironic and irreverent postwar choices.

The songs were written from historic moments of patriotism, and contemporary meditations on the hardships of history. They permit us to dive into aspects of the American Civil War which standard study does not allow for. We come closer to our subject. We laugh and cry and bleed and gripe along with the soldiers, who fought the war – and we sing with them, too.

John Coleman is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut (USA). Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.

The image shows, “July 27, 1861: New York’s 69th (Irish) Regiment return from 1st Battle of Bull Run” by Louis Lang, and painted in 1862-1863.

Cervantes And The Bible

The impeccable wisdom of the Bible, a spiritual treasure for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, illumines not only his masterpieces and other established documents, but also shines through in the Topography and General History of Algiers (1612), published four years before the death of Cervantes, by Friar Diego de Haedo, Abbot of Frómista, of the Order of Saint Benedict, and edited by the first biographer of Cervantes, Doctor Antonio de Sosa, a native of Córdoba, a Benedictine priest, made captive but who managed to flee Algiers on July 13, 1581, only to vanish without trace. This biblical wisdom also illuminates the excellent work, El Quijote y la Biblia (Don Quixote and the Bible), by Professor Juan Antonio Monroy, to which Professor Alfonso Ropero Berzosa provides the Prologue.

In Don Quixote, Cervantes, the de facto leader of the Algerian captives, not only confesses his religious faith (“I respect and revere, like a Catholic and faithful Christian that I am,” Don Quixote, I-XIX) – but, three times in the Prologue to the first part of Don Quixote, calls Holy Scripture, “divine writing.” Throughout his various works, he alludes to thirty biblical characters and refers three-hundred times to the word of God, which he undoubtedly studied, while, among other things, being “an attendant in Rome” (“Dedication,” La Galatea) to Italian Cardinal Julio Acquaviva y Aragón (1546-1574), legate of the pontiff, Saint Píus V (1504-1572).

Here are some worthy examples of such biblical references: “the salutation which the great Master of heaven and earth taught his disciples and chosen ones when they entered any house was to say, ‘Peace be on this house’” (Don Quixote, I-XXXVII). In the Gospel, we read, “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house’” (Luke 10: 5). Then, “gratitude that consists only of desire is a dead thing, as faith without works is dead” (Don Quixote, I-L). In the New Testament, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). And, “I always pray to God to open my eyes of understanding that I might know how to serve Him” (Don Quixote, II-LIV). In the New Testament, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).

As for the power of prayer, I believe that Cervantes, the spy of the King of the greater Spanish realm in Algiers, Mostagán, Oran and Andalusia, and a man of prayer, pleaded ceaselessly with Jehovah and the Virgin Mary: “I believe in the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, and yet all three are one true God. and that, although God is the Father, and God is the Son, and God is the Holy Spirit, they are not three distinct and separate gods, but only one true God. Finally, I believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church possesses and believes, governed by the Holy Spirit and ruled by the Supreme Pontiff, vicar and viceroy of God on earth, legitimate successor of St. Peter, her first pastor after Jesus Christ, first and universal pastor of His Bride the Church. He told me of the greatness of the Perpetual Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heaven and Lady of the angels and of ours, Treasure of the Father, Reliquary of the Son and Love of the Holy Spirit, the refuge and shelter of sinners” (The Persiles, I).

In January 1576, during his first escape from Algiers, that Hell of infidels and hotbed of spies, Cervantes traveled sixty leagues by land, according to Doctor Sosa (Topography, III:103). And according to the second slave, there were, “sixty leagues, from here to Oran” (The Treaty of Algiers, III). The fundamental root of his faith and his strength was to serve God and his country, and as he faced the severe tests of life, one of his constant prayers was, “I never walked with less eagerness, and, as I imagined, it was not very far to Oran! Thanks be to Thee, Divine King! O pure Virgin, I praise you! I implore you to work such strange charity that if you grant me freedom, I promise to be your slave” (The Treaty of Algiers, IV).

After his failure, Cervantes returned to Algiers to face his fierce master, Dalí Mamí, a renegade Greek and captain of the sea, and he prayed to the Virgin of Montserrat in this way: “Blessed and beautiful Virgin, remedy of mankind! Be the star to guide my wretched boat in this roiling sea and keep me safe from all dangers. Virgin of Monserrate, make Heaven of these harsh highlands. Rescue me, deliver me from this grief, for it is your attribute to extend the right hand to those fallen into misery. Most Blessed Mary, in this bitter moment, my body and soul I leave in your charge” (The Treaty of Algiers, IV). Likewise, I must emphasize that it was in Algiers that Cervantes was the prayers – the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Hail Holy Queen. For example, this dialogue from his play, Los baños de Argel II):

Juanico: Divine Love, by your leave, I will make amends. By my life, put aside this childish prattling, and let us go over those two prayers.
Francisquito: I have done the Hail Mary.
Juanico: And the Lord’s Prayer?
Francisquito: Likewise.
Juanico: And the Creed?
Francisquito: I have through it.
Juanico: And the Hail Queen?
Francisquito: Now the Hail Mary, you see what force it has.
Cadí: Well, my son, what do you understand?
Juanico: As you see, lord, by being buffeted, my brother understands.
Carahoja: He is but a child. Each according to his age.
Cadí: And what do you do?
Juanico: I pray.

Cadí: For who?
Juanico: For myself, as I am a sinner.
Cadí: That is all well and good. What kind of prayers do you say?
Juanico: Lord, the ones I know.
Francisquito: He replied well. He prayed the Hail Mary.
Francisquito: Are you troubled already? Now, if I might add, what will you do when you hear me say the Hail Queen of Heaven? To confound you, I know well that all the four prayers are shields against your scimitars.

Also, it should be noted that there are plenty of reasons to confirm that Cervantes, his friends and writers of Algiers, met to learn from Doctor Sosa about “Divine Scripture,” such as, the facts about King Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Babylon, the holy Patriarch Noah, as well as about Callimachus, Diagoras of Melos, Euhemerus of Agrigentum, Epicurus, Lucian, Ovid, Plutarch, and Protagoras” (Topography, II, 5). And they also visited the libraries and archives of Algiers, a literary treasure, where Cervantes studied the maps for his escape to La Montagne des Lions. Captain Jerónimo Ramírez, a native of Alcalá de Henares, and very good friend of the hero of Algiers, declares that “now, whenever I come here, I always find him busy with books.” And Sosa says, “In solitude such as this, and in an enclosure so separated from all talk and conversation in which my barbarian of a master indulges, what better occupation than reading the holy and good books?” (Topography, III: 1-2, 10-11, 15-16).

According to the document of October 21, 1580, Cervantes “was often engaged in composing verses in praise of Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, the Blessed Sacrament and other holy and devout things; and some mentioned this to Sosa and sent him these verses that he might to see for himself.” Moreover, Fernando, “the Prince of the Windmills” who said: “finish our festivities, cease our rejoicing, for the comedies of the captives always end in tragedy” (Los baños de Argel, III), also noted that the captives wrote and sang romances in secret. Here is an illustrative example:

Ambrose: Are there no people to hear us? Recite well, and so that all may come, let us begin sadly. We will recite that romance, Julio, which you composed, since we know it already, for we know it shortly, and it has that sad tone with which we are happy.

They sing this romance:

By the shores of the angry sea, that with its tongue and its waters, now mild, now angry, rolls into the walls of the dog Algiers. Four miserable captives, resting from work, look out to their homeland, with eyes full of longing. And to the sound of the coming and the going of the waves on the beach, with faint voices, they sing out this refrain: “How dear shall you be, O sweet Spain!

How Heaven has contrived our fate, with our bodies in chains, and our souls in dire peril. O, would the closed cataracts of Heaven open up, and instead of water, here rained down pitch, resin, sulfur and brimstone! O, would close-girt earth open up and let loose Dathan and Abiron with much wizardry and great magic!

How dear shall you be, O sweet Spain!

Nevertheless, Sosa did speak of the church of the Christians in Algiers, a fact that often lies forgotten by the biographers of Cervantes.

This church was located near “a large bath, 70-feet long and 40-feet wide, which is divided into upper and lower levels, with many little rooms, and in the middle a cistern of pure water. Below, to one side, is the church, or oratory, of the Christians, where the Blessed Lord is distributed in high and low and with many cliques and in the middle a cistern of beautiful water, and to one side below, is the church or oratory of the Christians, where the blessed Lord is, where masses are said throughout the year, and often at holy feast-days are solemnized with well-arranged Vespers that are sung, for there is never a shortage of captive priests, and they usually exceed forty in number, of every nation and quality, and even very many good lawyers, doctors and teachers, members of religious orders and clergy, and lay people, and where they also administer some sacraments, and where the word of the Lord is sometimes preached. And, by His grace, as there is never a lack of devout Christians, there is a great concourse of them, and those can, usually on Sundays and feast-days, hear Mass there. And on Easter they are usually so many that they cannot all fit, and it is necessary sometimes for the guards of the baths, Turks and Moors, not to let anyone in who does not first pay a gratuity, from which they make great profit. This large bath is the door of Babazón to that of Babaluete, and about 400 steps lead to the door of Babazón for the west” (Topography, I: 163).

Finally, based on the legal documentation and his literary testimonies, I am certain that Cervantes, defender of the Catholic faith, lived as a true and virtuous Christian because “honor and virtues are ornaments of the soul without which the body cannot be beautiful” (Don Quixote, I-XIV).

“Laus in Exclesis Deo”

Krzysztof Sliwa is a professor, writer for Galatea, a journal of the Sociedad Cervantina de Esquivias, Spain, and a specialist in the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and the Spanish Golden Age Literature, all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles and reviews in English, German, Spanish and Polish.

The image shows a portrait of Cervantes, attributed to Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar, and painted ca. 1600.

This article was translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

Of Intellectuals And Their Betrayals

We all like to imagine ourselves as heroes. We watch movies, and we instinctively put ourselves in the place of the hero, not in the place of the villain. We read the histories of twentieth-century tyrannies, and we assume we would be the resistance fighter, not the collaborator, informer, or toady to the new archons.

Maybe we would be heroes. But probably not, if history is any guide. Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 The Captive Mind explores, through the author’s personal experience, what motivates seemingly morally strong, thoughtful men to instead cooperate with, and often embrace, evil. Sadly, this question is as relevant today as seventy years ago, which makes this book very much worth reading for its insights into the future, as well as into the past.

Milosz, a world-famous poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, revolves most of his core analysis around the motivations of artists, usually artists of the word, presumably because that was his own milieu during World War II and afterwards. He was living in Warsaw, working in radio and writing well-received poems, participating in the active cultural life of the time, but not in politics to any significant degree (he seems throughout his life to have been neither Left nor Right, though tilting slightly left), when the Germans and the Russians invaded.

It was the Germans who occupied Warsaw, and Milosz survived the war there, living largely underground and participating in mild subversive activities such as writing for forbidden newspapers, although he did not join the Home Army or fight in the Warsaw Uprising. But he saw firsthand all the horrors of the German occupation, and of the Uprising, and he returns to them again and again in this book, even though its main focus is the so-called people’s democracies of the immediate postwar period.

During that time, Milosz worked as a cultural attaché for the new Polish government put into power by the Russians. He never joined the Party, but was able to maintain this position because the Communists loved to tout their association with artists, and the Polish government, like the other countries captured by Stalin, had a few years in which it could pretend to not be fully under Stalin’s thumb.

But by 1951, Milosz had had enough of Communism, and fled for Paris, then the United States, where he lived until 2000, when he moved home to Poland, dying in 2004.

This book is best read not as an attempt to precisely clarify and classify the natures of those who cooperated with and advanced Communism, but as a set of insights gained from people Milosz knew as they interacted with history. (It is also profitably read in combination with Mark Lilla’s very good The Reckless Mind, which nods to this book while expanding its analysis). The Captive Mind focuses on intellectuals, specifically poets and other writers, because they were whom Milosz knew most intimately.

His book says nothing about other collaborators, such as those strictly out for personal gain, and it also says nothing about the working class, which is ignored as irrelevant, as indeed it always was under Communism.

Instead, the book shows how mental gymnastics, rather than coercion, caused writers under Communism to adhere to Communism. Thereby, indirectly, it congratulates writers who believe their minds free from such, or other, contortions. It is perhaps no wonder, therefore, that this book was popular among Western writers of all political stripes.

Milosz begins with a fable, taken from a Polish science fiction novel, about how a new Sino-Mongol Empire conquers Poland and, instead of terrorizing the bitter and unhappy population, satisfies them with “the pill of Murti-Bing,” which ensures that each person is internally happy no matter his external circumstance.

The pill makes reality, no matter how bad, bearable, even joyous. In the novel, this leads to general social satisfaction, except for some, who develop schizophrenia, unable to reconcile their inner character, their creative spark, with the false art that their chemically altered brains produce. Milosz says that under Communist domination this vision “is being fulfilled in the minutest detail.” (Presumably the schizophrenics are those who, like Milosz, ultimately reject Communism entirely).

The West incorrectly sees “might and coercion” as the reasons those in Eastern Europe submit to Communism. But, rather, unwilling to face either physical or spiritual death, many choose instead to be “reborn” through taking these metaphorical pills, because “[t]here is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”

Intellectuals, and artists especially, do not want to be “internal exiles, irreconcilable, non-participating, eroded by hatred.” So they swallow the pills and adopt the “New Faith” (a term Milosz uses throughout the book) which offers the intellectual the certainty he is both correct and virtuous, and therefore gives him a sense of belonging, gives him a feeling of being “warm-hearted and good . . . a friend of mankind—not mankind as it is, but as it should be.”

The metaphor of Murti-Bing, forgotten for a few decades, is remembered today. Murti-Bing’s explanatory power for the behavior of modern intellectuals under modern ideological tyrannies seems universally applicable.

It has been recently cogently used, for example, to explain how very many in the intellectual class of Americans, and Europeans, have accepted and embraced the totalitarian agenda aptly and accurately known as globohomo, a toxic mutating stew of neoliberal globalist corporatism and moral degeneracy, the reward for consuming which is being forced to consume more. (I am curious if Murti-Bing also explains the behavior of twenty-first-century Chinese artists, about whom I know little or nothing, although I suppose today the Chinese tyranny is less ideological and more nationalist).

After an interesting chapter on how intellectuals in the new people’s democracies view America, Milosz returns to another concept for which he is remembered, that of Ketman. This is, we are told, a pleasurable psychological state obtained when one deceives those in power about one’s true motives and beliefs, while nonetheless strictly obeying the orders of those in power.

It is described as extremely prevalent in nineteenth-century Islam, where heretical believers practiced Ketman. As a historical matter, I don’t know how true this is (Milosz ascribes knowledge of it to Arthur Gobineau, inventor of “scientific racism,” which does not lend confidence); it may just be a description of the Shiite practice of taqiyya. But that doesn’t matter for the metaphor.

In essence, one practicing Ketman is, to an outside observer, compliant with his rulers, yet he generally hopes for different, but similar, ends. Milosz describes several types of Ketman and suggests there are others, many and varied. For example, those practicing “national Ketman” praise Russia even though they have contempt for it; they still love Communism, though, just think it better done through their own nation.

Those practicing “aesthetic Ketman” create lifeless socialist realist art on command, because otherwise they would be left with nothing, no property and no position in society, yet in private use their position to surround themselves with real art. Those practicing the “Ketman of revolutionary purity” believe that Stalin betrayed the Revolution, yet only through him can the Revolution now be realized, so they must do as he says.

In all cases, the basic point is the same—Ketman is a form of doublethink, in which people tow the Communist line, making no waves and rocking no boats, and trying to avoid reifying the contradictions. The man practicing Ketman suffers, yet he would suffer more if Communism disappeared, since he defines himself in this way. “Internal revolt is sometimes essential to spiritual health, and can create a particular form of happiness. . . . Ketman brings comfort, fostering dreams of what might be, and even the enclosing fence affords the solace of reverie.”

On the surface, Ketman seems similar to Ernst Jünger’s concepts of the forest rebel and the anarch, someone who keeps his mind free from the rulers while largely adhering to their commands. But, in fact, the concepts are very different, for Ketman is a form of self-delusion, something that Jünger absolutely forbids.

Ketman instead sinks deep into the soul of the practitioner, making, for example, the men Milosz profiles later in the book convinced that they freely chose to adhere to Communism. They become unable to say who is their true self. Ultimately, Ketman is a poison.

What ties Murti-Bing and Ketman together is that those under the power of either are not truly unhappy or oppressed, at least subjectively. Moreover, both seem to be confined largely to intellectuals, those who care both about ideas and their position in society.

Rod Dreher, for example, has pointed out how common both are among today’s so-called conservative writers; the entire staff of National Review, to the extent it is actually conservative, is probably practicing Ketman and washing down Murti-Bing pills with vodka, in between grifting money out of elderly donors, the whole staff pretty happy on balance.

It’s not just conservative intellectuals, though. Intellectuals on the Left, faced with the dominance of globohomo, may think the frenzy for conformity to insane ideas like identity politics, intersectionality, gender fluidity and the like has gone too far, and damages their core concerns, such as those about economic inequality.

They join the chorus, yet still hope that the stupidity will burn itself out and allow their goals to again surface, meanwhile getting a frisson of pleasure from the camaraderie of joining the latest Two-Minute Hate against some Christian pizza parlor.

On the other hand, a social conservative working at a big corporation, crushed by woke capitalism and forced to wear a “Pride” pin to show his “allyship” on pain of losing his job, is just oppressed and unhappy. Since he has no ideological goal himself, he cannot practice Ketman, and he does not want to be a friend of abstract mankind, merely provide for his family and to lead a decent life, so the pills of Murti-Bing also have no effect on him.

Milosz then profiles, under pseudonyms, four men well known to him who bowed to Communism, analyzing why in each case. (He ignores those who, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, did not bow). Alpha, the Moralist. Beta, the Disappointed Lover. Gamma, the Slave of History. Delta, the Troubadour. Who these men were is easy to determine.

Originally, I thought that of no importance, and anyway I can’t pronounce Polish names, so I figured I’d go with the pseudonyms entirely. But it turns out that to some degree who they were, and their later history, matter, and Alpha is the best example of this.

Alpha was Jerzy Andrzejewski, a prose writer. In Milosz’s telling, he had a “tragic sense of the world,” drawn to Joseph Conrad’s novels, with their moral conflicts and dense storytelling. Before the war, he received laudation for short stories that featured archetypical characters, black-and-white, with a Catholic focus.

He, however, realized that he did not really deserve the laudation, since his stories were simplistic morality tales, lacking nuance—yet he was eager to be regarded as the best writer in Poland. During the war, as their friends disappeared, often shot by the Germans, Alpha became regarded as a moral authority within the Warsaw community of writers, among other things speaking out against the slaughter of the Jews, and he and Milosz lived through the Uprising together, something Milosz spends some time describing. Alpha’s morality was not that of Christ, despite his putative Catholicism, but rather a belief in a largely abstracted loyalty, generically to the Polish people.

After the Uprising, he rejected his old belief in loyalty, seeing it led to nothing but death, instead coming to believe that History had an arc and that social goals should be the focus. His new morality fit well with the new Communist regime, eager to have artists under its wing to “bridge the gap” between the tiny number of Communists in Poland and the rest of the population—and Alpha was well known for his devotion to Poland.

The Communists gave him a new moral frame, and praised him to the skies, and he published an excellent novel, though one, again, with archetypical characters divorced from real human experience, and established himself, as he desired, as a writer of the first rank.Within a few years, however, as the Communist Party tightened its grip, Alpha, like all other artists, was required to make a choice—join the Party and create tightly defined social realist art, or be cast into the outer darkness.

Alpha, without hesitation, joined the New Faith. He became a Soviet propagandist, referred to by his old friends as “the respectable prostitute.” He still had a moral frame; it was merely different. Milosz is dispassionate about this apparent end. “It is not my place to judge. I myself traveled the same road of seeming inevitability.”

Alpha is clearly drawn. But he is incomplete, because Andrzejewski stepped off the path that he was on in 1951. In 1956 he quit the party, and in the 1970s and 1980s he was a strong supporter of anti-Communist movements, dying in 1983. So, in the end, he partially redeemed himself. What this says about Milosz’s thesis we will consider later.

Next is Beta, in real life a man named Tadeusz Borowski. He was another writer, a young man with nihilist tendencies. Arrested by the Germans, he survived two years in Auschwitz, then Dachau. After the war, he wrote a book in which he celebrated his cleverness at surviving by working the system and being an accessory to various evils in the camps.

In Milosz’s analysis, Beta is not amoral; instead, he has a disappointed love of the world and of humanity. He is unable to see any nobility in humanity, even when in front of his eyes, as it was at times in the camps. Rather, he became full of hatred, and the Communists, again collecting artists, convinced him to use that hatred in their service, by convincing him the eschaton was upon us, earthly salvation from the evils Beta saw everywhere.

The price was that he could only write socialist realism, with stock Communist heroes and their evil enemies, divorced of the raw human emotions and perception of universal human degradation that had featured in his writing before.

By choice, therefore, he reduced himself to writing undistinguished and indistinguishable political propaganda rants. Perhaps, like some of the takers of the original pill of Murti-Bing, he realized the contradiction, so, in 1951, a few days after his first child was born, he killed himself, by gas, at age twenty-eight.

Third is Gamma, who long before the war was a convinced Communist. He fled to Russia during the war, and returned in the train of the conquering Red Army, in which he was a political commissar.

He was given great power over other Polish writers, and he enjoyed it. In Milosz’s analysis, “he considered himself a servant of the devil that ruled History, but did not love his master.” Yet he never wavered from his choice. “But sometimes he is haunted by the thought that the devil to whom men sell their souls owes his might to men themselves, and that the determinism of History is a creation of human brains.”

And fourth is Delta, a writer who only wanted to amuse under the eyes of the adoring multitude, and under Communism, could only do so by toeing the Communist line—just as he had always toed whatever line was in power at the moment.

These sketches are compelling and provide a lot of food for thought. They do not provide simple answers. What strikes the reader most of all, other than the applicability of the same concepts to any ideological tyranny, not just Communism, is that the feeling that pervades this book, more so than any other emotion, is resignation.

Milosz, like many other anti-Communists of the 1950s, saw the conquests of Communism as effectively permanent. He was, perhaps, less pessimistic than others, such as Whittaker Chambers, who saw future global triumph of Communism as inevitable, and believed he had joined the losing side. But Milosz did not seem to see any non-Communist future for the conquered nations of Europe.

Thus, Milosz tells us that those who say “a change must come, this can’t go on” merely hold “an amusing belief in the natural order of things.” However, Milosz implies, there is no such natural order. “The man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are. . . . Because they were born and raised in a given social order and in a given system of values, they believe that any other order must be ‘unnatural,’ and that it cannot last because it is incompatible with human nature. But even they may one day know fire, hunger, and the sword.”

This connects to a related, half-contradictory theme that that runs throughout the book: how what seems like the permanent natural order can so swiftly change for the worse.

Milosz returns again and again to the horrors the Germans wrought; it is no more natural, “if both are within the realm of one’s experience,” for a man to go about his daily life in the bustling city of Warsaw than it is for him to live underground eating rats in the destroyed city of Warsaw.

Combining these themes together suggests a deep pessimism on Milosz’s part, a view that ideology was leading history to be a one-way ratchet ending in total ideological tyranny.

But, of course, Milosz was wrong. Communism lasted only thirty-five years more—thirty-five long years, to be sure, but in retrospect the cracks were growing within early in that time. Milosz, however, could not see them, nor could nearly anyone else. He could not see that, within a few short years, Alpha would reject Communism, and perhaps Beta or Delta would have too, had they not died young. Why is that? Why do modern ideologies that gain power seem to implant defeatism in the minds of the righteous?

This has been much on my mind recently, since for post-liberals, it’s important that we evaluate how we get to “post,” and what that looks like. Most of the wealthy portions of the West are, of course, currently in the grip of a totalitarian ideology—a new religion, a combination of neoliberal, corporatist extraction economics, the erasing of the West’s culture and cultures, and ever-nastier moral degeneracy, collectively enforced with an iron hand by our ruling classes, who control all the levers of power.

It seems inevitable that this headlong flight from reality, with its fractalized manifestations, from the mendacious falsification of history in the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” to the physical and mental mutilation of children to advance insane transgender ideology, to funding mindless blinding consumerism with Chinese debt and pumping up the money supply, is going to be ultimately caught and thrashed by reality.

Yet most post-liberals, and in general most people of good faith, like Alpha, Gamma, and Delta, find themselves viscerally unable to believe in a clean future with renewed human flourishing, and either despair or conform. At most, we who see clearly adopt a waiting stance, half-bored and barely flinching at the latest outrage imposed on the righteous.

I think this is an error, or a partial error. True, direct action against globohomo is generally useless, though participating in holding actions such as electing men who throw sand in the gears is both amusing and somewhat profitable. But history always provides an axis, a point around which it turns, a point of weakness of the now-existing and then-passing order, which cannot be predicted with specificity and is often only obvious in retrospect.

Rather than simply waiting, we should be preparing to, when the opportunity presents itself, pour our fire upon that axis, at its moment of appearance and exposure. For that, three things are necessary: friends (as Bronze Age Pervert often says), resources (intellectual, monetary, and military, all preferably shielded as much as possible from attack), and will.

Milosz erred by not seeing that the end of Communism was, even in 1951, within sight. But he nonetheless lived to see it, and though what Europe got afterwards has not turned out much better, maybe the second time will be a charm, both here and across the ocean.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows a poster for “The Captive Mind” by Stasys Eidrigevicius, created in 1990.

Exhortation And Praise

The Man-Made Machine

I.

Frail men, full formed but fallow,
unhallowed in hand-wrought harvest;
still, we dream.

But oh, what a mighty machine we are become!
What noble dreams dawned today,
and hereafter shall scrape sky and split atoms.

What boundless strength of sapien, what might of mind,
endless we stretch out our hand,
to grasp the sea and sky our birthright.

II.

High hollow human, great flesh golem,
made of the last men, manic in motivation,
misplaced prayers bind befouled flanks.

There you walk, wondrous idol-urn,
each arm wrought with people, their eyes glued
to cell phone screens, their bodies endlessly groomed.

See, each body finds abode in the sky-tall tyrant.
But watch the people sleep, sigh,
hold out on hallowed, unhelped hopes.

III.

I, in the still-small strains of rasped gospel songs,
in the white noise,
I see for me a small empty space
in the man-made machine;
I must fill it, or be forgotten.
And I am afraid.

For the Fleshpot Vessel, with its billion mouths,
and tongues like hairs upon its bare breast,
holds all power of bread, and homes, and names.

There is no fleeing from the man made machine,
who drains rivers and eats the dry land,
whose veins are lightning and mind of numbers,
and crushes those who will not fit their mold.

IV.

And still, I dream.

Yes, there was some oath of sand and stars,
of wine with bread, bought by some fey fairytale,
a person pincushioned to planks of pine.

Perhaps, such hopes are also man made,
and lead back again to the machine-beast,
but as my life expires before computer screens,
it is good, at least, to have some hope.

Antophon I

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

The land lies quiet, desiring
cool dew wetting lips for kisses
winter fires reach their arms,
all flesh and fur and wings thrum,
hesitate between no and yes,
waiting for the angels to come.

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

A virgin greets the morning temple:
soft sound of broom strokes on silence,
a bird thrills, cats look with startled eyes,
a dog barks, and the wind whispers,
“a messenger arrives, ave, ave,”

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

The people gather to discuss pregnant things,
make pregnant choices, and the girls weep;
but for angel dreams and faith,
there is no holy family, only
broken homes.

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

The women gather around their round bellies,
round faces, round smiles, and all is warm.
A baby dances, leaps, and a mother knows,
a bush on fire, unconsumed, carries,
light from beyond the world.

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

At last, the sun comes, the sky breaks open,
the rooster crows, the cows low,
a child is born onto earth,
all heaven fanfares, a secret held by shepherds,
and God says, sings, at last, “all shall be well,
and well, and very well.”

Father, we are your daughter,
sing to us and we shall sing.

The photo shows, “Poem of the Soul,” by Anne Francois Louis Janmot.

History’s Long Defeat

“Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255).

History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a thought perfectly in line with the fathers and the whole of Classical Christian teaching. And it’s anti-modernism reveals much about the dominant heresy of our time.

We believe in progress – it is written into the DNA of the modern world. If things are bad, they’ll get better. The “long defeat” would only be a description of the road traveled by racism, bigotry, and all that ignorance breeds.

And our philosophy of progress colors everything we consider. 19th century Darwinian theory wrote a scientific version of progress into his theory of evolution. Of course, using “survival” as the mechanism of change gave cover to a number of political projects who justified their brutality and callousness as an extension of the natural order. 

The metaphor of improvement remains a dominant theme within our culture. A few years ago a survey of young Americans revealed the utterly shocking conclusion that for the first time in recorded history, the young did not expect to be as well off as their parents. It was a paradigm shift in American progressive thought. It remains to be seen how that will play out.

But Tolkien’s sentiment bears deeper examination. For not only does it reject the notion of progress, it embraces a narrative of the “long defeat.” Of course this is not a reference to steady declining standards of living, or the movement from IPhone 11 back to IPhone 4 (perish the thought!). It is rather the narrative of Scripture, first taught by the Apostles themselves, clearly reflecting a Dominical teaching:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. …Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was. But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra– what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (II Timothy 3:1-13).

This is Tolkien’s warrant for the “long defeat.”

 And the thought is not that we wake up one day and people are suddenly boasters, proud, blasphemers, etc. Rather, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

It was a common belief among the Desert Fathers that successive generations of monks would become weaker and weaker, unable to bear the great trials of their predecessors. Indeed it was said that in the end, the simple act of believing would take greater grace than all of the ascetic feats of the earliest monks.

This is not a Christian pessimism. If history tells us anything, it is that this is a very honest, even prescient reading. The evils of the 20th century, particularly those unleashed during and after World War I, are clearly among the worst ever known on the planet, and continue to be the major culprits behind all of our current struggles. That first war was not “the war to end all wars,” but the foundation of all subsequent wars. May God forgive our arrogance (“boasters, proud”…). However, the Classical Christian read on human life contains the deepest hope – set precisely in the heart of the long defeat.

It is that hope that sets the Christian gospel apart from earlier pagan historical notions. For the “long defeat” was a common assumption among the ancient peoples. The Greeks and Romans did not consider themselves to have exceeded the heroes who went before. They could model themselves on Achilles or Aeneas, but they did not expect to match their like. The Jews had no hope other than a “restoration of the Kingdom,” which was generally considered apocalyptic in nature. All of classical culture presumed a long decline.

The narrative was rewritten in the modern era – particularly during the 19th century. The Kingdom of God was transferred from apocalyptic hope (the end of the long defeat) to a material goal to be achieved in this world. This was a heresy, a radical revision of Christian thought. It became secularized and moderated into mere progress. It is worth doing a word study on the history of the word “progressive.” 

But Tolkien notes that within the long defeat, there are “glimpses of final victory.” I would go further and say that the final victory already “tabernacles” among us. It hovers within and over our world, shaping it and forming it, even within its defeat. For the nature of our salvation is a Defeat. Therefore the defeat within the world itself is not a tragic deviation from the end, but an End that was always foreseen and present within the Cross itself. And the Cross itself was present “from before the foundation of the world.”

Tolkien’s long defeat, is, as he noted, of a piece with his Catholic, Christian faith. It is thoroughly Orthodox as well. For the victory that shall be ours, is not a work in progress – it is a work in wonder.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “Galadriel,” by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

The Apology Of Aristides Of Athens

[This is the 1891 translation, by D.M. Kay, B.Sc, B.D, of the Syriac recension].

Here follows the defence which Aristides the philosopher made before Hadrian the King on behalf of reverence for God.

. . . All-powerful Caesar Titus Hadrianus Antoninus, venerable and merciful, from Marcianus Aristides, an Athenian philosopher.

I. I, O King, by the grace of God came into this world; and when I had considered the heaven and the earth and the seas, and had surveyed the sun and the rest of creation, I marvelled at the beauty of the world. And I perceived that the world and all that is therein are moved by the power of another; and I understood that he who moves them is God, who is hidden in them, and veiled by them. And it is manifest that that which causes motion is more powerful than that which is moved. But that I should make search concerning this same mover of all, as to what is his nature (for it seems to me, he is indeed unsearchable in his nature), and that I should argue as to the constancy of his government, so as to grasp it fully,–this is a vain effort for me; for it is not possible that a man should fully comprehend it. I say, however, concerning this mover of the world, that he is God of all, who made all things for the sake of mankind. And it seems to me that this is reasonable, that one should fear God and should not oppress man.

I say, then, that God is not born, not made, an ever-abiding nature without beginning and without end, immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible. Now when I say that he is “perfect,” this means that there is not in him any defect, and he is not in need of anything but all things are in need of him. And when I say that he is “without beginning,” this means that everything which has beginning has also an end, and that which has an end may be brought to an end. He has no name, for everything which has a name is kindred to things created. Form he has none, nor yet any union of members; for whatsoever possesses these is kindred to things fashioned. He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him, but the heavens and all things, visible and invisible, receive their bounds from him. Adversary he has none, for there exists not any stronger than he. Wrath and indignation he possesses not, for there is nothing which is able to stand against him. Ignorance and forgetfulness are not in his nature, for he is altogether wisdom and understanding; and in Him stands fast all that exists. He requires not sacrifice and libation, nor even one of things visible; He requires not aught from any, but all living creatures stand in need of him.

II. Since, then, we have addressed you concerning God, so far as our discourse can bear upon him, let us now come to the race of men, that we may know which of them participate in the truth of which we have spoken, and which of them go astray from it.

This is clear to you, O King, that there are four classes of men in this world: Barbarians and Greeks, Jews and Christians. The Barbarians, indeed, trace the origin of their kind of religion from Kronos and from Rhea and their other gods; the Greeks, however, from Helenos, who is said to be sprung from Zeus. And by Helenos there were born Aiolos and Xuthos; and there were others descended from Inachos and Phoroneus, and lastly from the Egyptian Danaos and from Kadmos and from Dionysos.

The Jews, again, trace the origin of their race from Abraham, who begat Isaac, of whom was born Jacob. And he begat twelve sons who migrated from Syria to Egypt; and there they were called the nation of the Hebrews, by him who made their laws; and at length they were named Jews.

The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven. Thereupon these twelve disciples went forth throughout the known parts of the world, and kept showing his greatness with all modesty and uprightness. And hence also those of the present day who believe that preaching are called Christians, and they are become famous.

So then there are, as I said above, four classes of men: Barbarians and Greeks, Jews and Christians.

Moreover, the wind is obedient to God, and fire to the angels; the waters also to the demons and the earth to the sons of men. [Possibly inserted by mistake into one of the early MSS.]

III. Let us begin, then, with the Barbarians, and go on to the rest of the nations one after another, that we may see which of them hold the truth as to God and which of them hold error.

The Barbarians, then, as they did not apprehend God, went astray among the elements, and began to worship things created instead of their Creator; and for this end they made images and shut them up in shrines, and lo! they worship them, guarding them the while with much care, lest their gods be stolen by robbers. And the Barbarians did not observe that that which acts as guard is greater than that which is guarded, and that every one who creates is greater than that which is created. If it be, then, that their gods are too feeble to see to their own safety, how will they take thought for the safety of men? Great then is the error into which the Barbarians wandered in worshipping lifeless images which can do nothing to help them. And I am led to wonder, O King, at their philosophers, how that even they went astray, and gave the name of gods to images which were made in honour of the elements; and that their sages did not perceive that the elements also are dissoluble and perishable. For if a small part of an element is dissolved or destroyed, the whole of it may be dissolved and destroyed. If then the elements themselves are dissolved and destroyed and forced to be subject to another that is more stubborn than they, and if they are not in their nature gods, why, for sooth, do they call the images which are made in their honour, God? Great, then, is the error which the philosophers among them have brought upon their followers.

IV. Let us turn now, O King, to the elements in themselves, that we may make clear in regard to them, that they are not gods, but a created thing, liable to ruin and change, which is of the same nature as man; whereas God is imperishable and unvarying, and invisible, while yet He sees, and overrules, and transforms all things.

Those then who believe concerning the earth that it is a god have hitherto deceived themselves, since it is furrowed and set with plants and trenched; and it takes in the filthy refuse of men and beasts and cattle. And at times it becomes unfruitful, for if it be burnt to ashes it becomes devoid of life, for nothing germinates from an earthen jar. And besides if water be collected upon it, it is dissolved together with its products. And lo! it is trodden under foot of men and beast, and receives the blood of the slain; and it is dug open, and filled with the dead, and becomes a tomb for corpses. But it is impossible that a nature, which is holy and worthy and blessed and immortal, should allow of any one of these things. And hence it appears to us that the earth is not a god but a creation of God.

V. In the same way, again, those erred who believed the waters to be gods. For the waters were created for the use of man, and are put under his rule in many ways. For they suffer change and admit impurity, and are destroyed and lose their nature while they are boiled into many substances. And they take colours which do not belong. to them; they are also congealed by frost and are mingled and permeated with the filth of men and beasts, and with the blood of the slain. And being checked by skilled workmen through the restraint of aqueducts, they flow and are diverted against their inclination, and come into gardens and other places in order that they may be collected and issue forth as a means of fertility for man, and that they may cleanse away every impurity and fulfil the service man requires from them. Wherefore it is impossible that the waters should be a god, but they are a work of God and a part of the world.

In like manner also they who believed that fire is a god erred to no slight extent. For it, too, was created for the service of men, and is subject to them in many ways:–in the preparation of meats, and as a means of casting metals, and for other ends whereof your Majesty is aware. At the same time it is quenched and extinguished in many ways.

Again they also erred who believed the motion of the winds to be a god. For it is well known to us that those winds are under the dominion of another, at times their motion increases, and at times it fails and ceases at the command of him who controls them. For they were created by God for the sake of men, in order to supply the necessity of trees and fruits and seeds; and to bring over the sea ships which convey for men necessaries and goods from places where they are found to places where they are not found; and to govern the quarters of the world. And as for itself, at times it increases and again abates; and in one place brings help and in another causes disaster at the bidding of him who rules it. And mankind too are able by known means to confine and keep it in check in order that it may fulfil for them the service they require from it. And of itself it has not any authority at all. And hence it is impossible that the winds should be called gods, but rather a thing made by God.

VI. So also they erred who believed that the sun is a god. For we see that it is moved by the compulsion of another, and revolves and makes its journey, and proceeds from sign to sign, rising and setting every day, so as to give warmth for the growth of plants and trees, and to bring forth into the air wherewith it (sunlight) is mingled every growing thing which is upon the earth. And to it there belongs by comparison a part in common with the rest of the stars in its course; and though it is one in its nature it is associated with many parts for the supply of the needs of men; and that not according to its own will but rather according to the will of him who rules it. And hence it is impossible that the sun should be a god, but the work of God; and in like manner also the moon and the stars.

VII. And those who believed of the men of the past, that some of them were gods, they too were much mistaken. For as you yourself allow, O King, man is constituted of the four elements and of a soul and a spirit (and hence he is called a microcosm), and without any one of these parts he could not consist. He has a beginning and an end, and he is born and dies. But God, as I said, has none of these things in his nature, but is uncreated and imperishable. And hence it is not possible that we should set up man to be of the nature of God:–man, to whom at times when he looks for joy, there comes trouble, and when he looks for laughter there comes to him weeping,–who is wrathful and covetous and envious, with other defects as well. And he is destroyed in many ways by the elements and also by the animals.

And hence, O King, we are bound to recognize the error of the Barbarians, that thereby, since they did not find traces of the true God, they fell aside from the truth, and went after the desire of their imagination, serving the perishable elements and lifeless images, and through their error not apprehending what the true God is.

VIII. Let us turn further to the Greeks also, that we may know what opinion they hold as to the true God. The Greeks, then, because they are more subtle than the Barbarians, have gone further astray than the Barbarians; inasmuch as they have introduced many fictitious gods, and have set up some of them as males and some as females; and in that some of their gods were found who were adulterers, and did murder, and were deluded, and envious, and wrathful and passionate, and parricides, and thieves, and robbers. And some of them, they say, were crippled and limped, and some were sorcerers, and some actually went mad, and some played on lyres, and some were given to roaming on the hills, and some even died, and some were struck dead by lightning, and some were made servants even to men, and some escaped by flight, and some were kidnapped by men, and some, indeed, were lamented and deplored by men. And some, they say, went down to Sheol, and some were grievously wounded, and some transformed themselves into the likeness of animals to seduce the race of mortal women, and some polluted themselves by lying with males And some, they say, were wedded to their mothers and their sisters and their daughters. And they say of their gods that they committed adultery with the daughters of men; and of these there was born a certain race which also was mortal. And they say that some of the females disputed about beauty, and appeared before men for judgment. Thus, O King, have the Greeks put forward foulness, and absurdity, and folly about their gods and about themselves, in that they have called those that are of such a nature, gods, who are no gods. And hence mankind has received incitements to commit adultery and fornication, and to steal and to practise all that is offensive and hated and abhorred. For if they who are called their gods practised all these things which are written above, how much more should men practise them–men, who believe that their gods themselves practised them. And owing to the foulness of this error there have happened to mankind harassing wars, and great famines, and bitter captivity, and complete desolation. And lo! it was by reason of this alone that they suffered and that all these things came upon them; and while they endured those things they did not perceive in their mind that for their error those things came upon them.

IX. Let us proceed further to their account of their gods that we may carefully demonstrate all that is said above. First of all, the Greeks bring forward as a god Kronos, that is to say Chiun (Saturn). And his worshippers sacrifice their children to him, and they burn some of them alive in his honour. And they say that he took to him among his wives Rhea, and begat many children by her. By her too he begat Dios, who is called Zeus. And at length he (Kronos) went mad, and through fear of an oracle that had been made known to him, he began to devour his sons. And from him Zeus was stolen away without his knowledge; and at length Zeus bound him, and mutilated the signs of his manhood, and flung them into the sea. And hence, as they say in fable, there was engendered Aphrodite, who is called Astarte. And he (Zeus) cast out Kronos fettered into darkness. Great then is the error and ignominy which the Greeks have brought forward about the first of their gods, in that they have said all this about him, O King. It is impossible that a god should be bound or mutilated; and if it be otherwise, he is indeed miserable.

And after Kronos they bring forward another god Zeus. And they say of him that he assumed the sovereignty, and was king over all the gods. And they say that he changed himself into a beast and other shapes in order to seduce mortal women, and to raise up by them children for himself. Once, they say, he changed himself into a bull through love of Europe and Pasiphae. And again he changed himself into the likeness of gold through love of Danae, and to a swan through love of Leda, and to a man through love of Antiope, and to lightning through love of Luna, and so by these he begat many children. For by Antiope, they say, that he begat Zethus and Amphion, and by Luna Dionysos, by Alcmena Hercules, and by Leto, Apollo and Artemis, and by Danae Perseus, and by Leda, Castor and Polydeuces, and Helene and Paludus, and by Mnemosyne he begat nine daughters whom they styled the Muses, and by Europe, Minos and Rhadamanthos and Sarpedon. And lastly, he changed himself into the likeness of an eagle through his passion for Ganydemos (Ganymede) the shepherd.

By reason of these tales, O King, much evil has arisen among men, who to this day are imitators of their gods, and practise adultery and defile themselves with their mothers and their sisters, and by lying with males, and some make bold to slay even their parents. For if he who is said to be the chief and king of their gods do these things how much more should his worshippers imitate him? And great is the folly which the Greeks have brought forward in their narrative concerning him. For it is impossible that a god should practise adultery or fornication or come near to lie with males, or kill his parents; and if it be otherwise, he is much worse than a destructive demon.

X. Again they bring forward as another god Hephaistos. And they say of him, that he is lame, and a cap is set on his head, and he holds in his hands firetongs and a hammer; and he follows the craft of iron working, that thereby he may procure the necessaries of his livelihood. Is then this god so very needy? But it cannot be that a god should be needy or lame, else he is very worthless.

And further they bring in another god and call him Hermes. And they say that he is a thief, a lover of avarice, and greedy for gain, and a magician, and mutilated and an athlete, and an interpreter of language. But it is impossible that a god should be a magician or avaricious, or maimed, or craving for what is not his, or an athlete. And, if it be otherwise, he is found to be useless.

And after him they bring forward as another god Asklepios. And they say that he is a physician and prepares drugs and plaster that he may supply the necessaries of his livelihood. Is then this god in want? And at length he was struck with lightning by Dios on account of Tyndareos of Lacedaemon, and so he died. If then Asklepios were a god, and, when he was struck with lightning, was unable to help himself, how should he be able to give help to others? But that a divine nature should be in want or be destroyed by lightning is impossible.

And, again, they bring forward another as a god, and they call him Ares. And they say that he is a warrior, and jealous, and covets sheep and things which are not his. And he makes gain by his arms. And they say that at length he committed adultery with Aphrodite, and was caught by the little boy Eros and by Hephaistos the husband of Aphrodite. But it is impossible that a god should be a warrior or bound or an adulterer.

And, again, they say of Dionysos that he forsooth! is a god, who arranges carousals by night, and teaches drunkenness, and carries off women who do not belong to him. And at length, they say, he went mad and dismissed his handmaidens and fled into the desert; and during his madness he ate serpents. And at last he was killed by Titanos. If then Dionysos were a god, and when he was being killed was unable to help himself, how is it possible that he should help others?

Herakles next they bring forward and say that he is a god, who hates detestable things, a tyrant, and warrior and a destroyer of plagues. And of him also they say that at length he became mad and killed his own children, and east himself into a fire and died. If then Herakles is a god, and in all these calamities was unable to rescue himself, how should others ask help from him? But it is impossible that a god should be mad, or drunken or a slayer of his children, or consumed by fire.

XI. And after him they bring forward another god and call him Apollon. And they say that he is jealous and inconstant, and at times he holds the bow and quiver, and again the lyre and plectron. And he utters oracles for men that he may receive rewards from them. Is then this god in need of rewards? But it is an insult that all these things should be found with a god.

And after him they bring forward as a goddess Artemis, the sister of Apollo; and they say that she was a huntress and that she herself used to carry a bow and bolts, and to roam about upon the mountains, leading the hounds to hunt stags or wild bears of the field. But it is disgraceful that a virgin maid should roam alone upon the hills or hunt in the chase for animals. Wherefore it is impossible that Artemis should be a goddess.

Again, they say of Aphrodite that she indeed is a goddess. And at times she dwells with their gods, but at other times she is a neighbour to men. And once she had Ares as a lover, and again Adonis who is Tammuz. Once also, Aphrodite was wailing and weeping for the death of Tammuz, and they my that she went down to Sheol that she might redeem Adonis from Persephone, who is the daughter of Sheol (Hades). If then Aphrodite is a goddess and was unable to help her lover at his death, how will she find it possible to help others? And this cannot be listened to, that a divine nature should come to weeping and wailing and adultery.

And. again. they say of Tammuz that he is a god. And he is, forsooth! a hunter and an adulterer. And they say that he was killed by a wound from a wild boar, without being able to help himself. And if he could not help himself, how can he take thought for the human race? But that a god should be an adulterer or a hunter or should die by violence is impossible.

Again, they say of Rhea that she is the mother of their gods. And they say that she had once a lover Atys, and that she used to delight in depraved men. And at last she raised a lamentation and mourned for Atys her lover. If then the mother of their gods was unable to help her lover and deliver him from death, how can she help others? So, it is disgraceful that a goddess should lament and weep and take delight in depraved men.

Again, they introduce Kore and say that she is a goddess, and she was stolen away by Pluto, and could not help herself. If then she is a goddess and was unable to help herself how will she find means to help others? For a god who is stolen away is very powerless.

All this, then, O King, have the Greeks brought forward concerning their gods, and they have invented and declared it concerning them. And hence all men received an impulse to work all profanity and all defilements; and hereby the whole earth was corrupted.

XII. The Egyptians, moreover, because they are more base and stupid than every people that is on the earth, have themselves erred more than all. For the deities (or religion) of the Barbarians and the Greeks did not suffice for them, but they introduced some also of the nature of the animals, and said thereof that they were gods, and likewise of creeping things which are found on the dry land and in the waters. And of plants and herbs they said that some of them were gods. And they were corrupted by every kind of delusion and defilement more than every people that is on the earth. For from ancient times they worshipped Isis, and they say that she is a goddess whose husband was Osiris her brother. And when Osiris was killed by Typhon his brother, Isis fled with Horos her son to Byblus in Syria, and was there for a certain time till her son was grown. And he contended with Typhon his uncle, and killed him. And then Isis returned and went about with Horos her son and sought for the dead body of Osiris her lord, bitterly lamenting his death. If then Isis be a goddess, and could not help Osiris her brother and lord, how can she help another? But it is impossible that a divine nature should be afraid, and flee for safety, or should weep and wail; or else it is very miserable.

And of Osiris also they say that he is a serviceable god. And he was killed by Typhon and was unable to help himself. But it is well known that this cannot be asserted of divinity. And further, they say of his brother Typhon that he is a god, who killed his brother and was killed by his brother’s son and by his bride, being unable to help himself. And how, pray, is he a god who does not save himself?

As the Egyptians, then, were more stupid than the rest of the nations, these and such like gods did not suffice for them. Nay, but they even apply the name of gods to animals in which there is no soul at all. For some of them worship the sheep and others the calf; and some the pig and others the shad fish; and some the crocodile and the hawk and the fish and the ibis and the vulture and the eagle and the raven. Some of them worship the cat, and others the turbot-fish, some the dog, some the adder, and some the asp, and others the lion; and others the garlic and onions and thorns, and others the tiger and other such things. And the poor creatures do not see that all these things are nothing, although they daily witness their gods being eaten and consumed by men and also by their fellows; while some of them are cremated, and some die and decay and become dust, without their observing that they perish in many ways. So the Egyptians have not observed that such things which are not equal to their own deliverance, are not gods. And if, forsooth, they are weak in the case of their own deliverance, whence have they power to help in the case of deliverance of their worshippers? Great then is the error into which the Egyptians wandered;–greater, indeed, than that of any people which is upon the face of the earth.

XIII. But it is a marvel, O King, with regard to the Greeks, who surpass all other peoples in their manner of life and reasoning, how they have gone astray after dead idols and lifeless images. And yet they see their gods in the hands of their artificers being sawn out, and planed and docked, and hacked short, and charred, and ornamented, and being altered by them in every kind of way. And when they grow old, and are worn away through lapse of time, and when they are molten and crushed to powder, how, I wonder, did they not perceive concerning them, that they are not gods? And as for those who did not find deliverance for themselves, how can they serve the distress of men?

But even the writers and philosophers among them have wrongly alleged that the gods are such as are made in honour of God Almighty. And they err in seeking to liken (them) to God whom man has not at any time seen nor can see unto what He is like. Herein, too (they err) in asserting of deity that any such thing as deficiency can be present to it; as when they say that He receives sacrifice and requires burnt-offering and libation and immolations of men, and temples. But God is not in need, and none of these things is necessary to Him; and it is clear that men err in these things they imagine.

Further their writers and their philosophers represent and declare that the nature of all their gods is one. And they have not apprehended God our Lord who while He is one, is in all. They err therefore. For if the body of a man while it is many in its parts is not in dread, one member of another, but, since it is a united body, wholly agrees with itself; even so also God is one in His nature. A single essence is proper to Him, since He is uniform in His nature and His essence; and He is not afraid of Himself. If then the nature of the gods is one, it is not proper that a god should either pursue or slay or harm a god. If then gods be pursued and wounded by gods, and some be kidnapped and some struck dead by lightning, it is obvious that the nature of their gods is not one. And hence it is known, O King, that it is a mistake when they reckon and bring the natures of their gods under a single nature. If then it becomes us to admire a god which is seen and does not see, how much more praiseworthy is it that one should believe in a nature which is invisible and all-seeing? And if further it is fitting that one should approve the handiworks of a craftsman, how much more is it fitting that one should glorify the Creator of the craftsman?

For behold! when the Greeks made laws, they did not perceive that by their laws they condemn their gods. For if their laws are righteous, their gods are unrighteous, since they transgressed the law in killing one another, and practising sorcery, and committing adultery, and in robbing and stealing, and in lying with males, and by their other practises as well. For if their gods were right in doing all these things as they are described, then the laws of the Greeks are unrighteous in not being made according to the will of their gods. And in that case the whole world is gone astray.

For the narratives about their gods are some of them myths, and some of them nature-poems (lit: natural–phusikai), and some of them hymns and elegies. The hymns indeed and elegies are empty words and noise. But these nature-poems, even if they be made as they say, still those are not gods who do such things and suffer and endure such things. And those myths are shallow tales with no depth whatever in them.

XIV. Let us come now, O King, to the history of the Jews also, and see what opinion they have as to God. The Jews then say that God is one, the Creator of all, and omnipotent; and that it is not right that any other should be worshipped except this God alone. And herein they appear to approach the truth more than all the nations, especially in that they worship God and not His works. And they imitate God by the philanthropy which prevails among them; for they have compassion on the poor, and they release the captives, and bury the dead, and do such things as these, which are acceptable before God and well-pleasing also to men,–which (customs) they have received from their forefathers.

Nevertheless, they too erred from true knowledge. And in their imagination they conceive that it is God they serve; whereas by their mode of observance it is to the angels and not to God that their service is rendered:–as when they celebrate sabbaths and the beginning of the months, and feasts of unleavened bread, and a great fast; and fasting and circumcision and the purification of meats, which things, however, they do not observe perfectly.

XV. But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.

XVI. Such, O King, is the commandment of the law of the Christians, and such is their manner of life. As men who know God, they ask from Him petitions which are fitting for Him to grant and for them to receive. And, thus, they employ their whole lifetime. And since they know the loving-kindnesses of God toward them, behold! for their sake the glorious things which are in the world flow forth to view. And verily, they are those who found the truth when they went about and made search for it; and from what we considered, we learned that they alone come near to a knowledge of the truth. And they do not proclaim in the ears of the multitude the kind deeds they do, but are careful that no one should notice them; and they conceal their giving just as he who finds a treasure and conceals it. And they strive to be righteous as those who expect to behold their Messiah, and to receive from Him with great glory the promises made concerning them. And as for their words and their precepts, O King, and their glorying in their worship, and the hope of earning according to the work of each one of them their recompense which they look for in another world, you may learn about these from their writings. It is enough for us to have shortly informed your Majesty concerning the conduct and the truth of the Christians. For great indeed, and wonderful is their doctrine to him who will search into it and reflect upon it. And verily, this is a new people, and there is something divine (lit: “a divine admixture”) in the midst of them.

Take, then, their writings, and read therein, and lo! you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come. And for this reason, I was constrained to declare the truth to such as care for it and seek the world to come. And to me there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians. But the rest of the nations err and cause error in wallowing before the elements of the world, since beyond these their mental vision will not pass. And they search about as if in darkness because they will not recognize the truth; and like drunken men they reel and jostle one another and fall.

XVII. Thus far, O King, I have spoken; for concerning that which remains, as is said above, there are found in their other writings things which are hard to utter and difficult for one to narrate, which are not only spoken in words but also wrought out in deeds.

Now the Greeks, O King, as they follow base practises in intercourse with males, and a mother and a sister and a daughter, impute their monstrous impurity in turn to the Christians. But the Christians are just and good, and the truth is set before their eyes, and their spirit is long-suffering; and, therefore, though they know the error of these (the Greeks), and are persecuted by them, they bear and endure it; and for the most part they have compassion on them, as men who are destitute of knowledge. And on their side, they offer prayer that these may repent of their error; and when it happens that one of them has repented, he is ashamed before the Christians of the works which were done by him; and he makes confession to God, saying, I did these things in ignorance. And he purifies his heart, and his sins are forgiven him, because he committed them in ignorance in the former time, when he used to blaspheme and speak evil of the true knowledge of the Christians. And assuredly the race of the Christians is more blessed than all the men who are upon the face of the earth.

Henceforth let the tongues of those who utter vanity and harass the Christians be silent; and hereafter let them speak the truth. For it is of serious consequence to them that they should worship the true God rather than worship a senseless sound. And verily whatever is spoken in the mouth of the Christians is of God; and their doctrine is the gateway of light. Wherefore let all who are without the knowledge of God draw near thereto; and they will receive incorruptible words, which are from all time and from eternity. So shall they appear before the awful judgment which through Jesus the Messiah is destined to come upon the whole human race.

The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher is finished.

Courtesy, Early Christian Writings.

The photo shows an icon of St. Aristides of Athens.

Back To The Bronze Age

I am fascinated by what is to come. For someone who came of age imbibing the narrow, facile, weak, always-second-place conservative pieties of the late 1980s and the 1990s, the chaotic fluidity of today’s Right is something entirely new. There are no straight lines of sight; all is a jumble of splintered mirrors.

In this chaos, of which Trump is only one manifestation, it is a sign of something, or rather of many things, that this self-published book by an pseudonymous author, calling for adoption of a supposed ethics of the Bronze Age, is receiving a lot of attention. And as much as I hate to admit it, or think I hate to admit it, the philosophy that runs through this book is likely to drive a lot of discourse, and action, in coming years.

True, this book is, by most measures, still obscure. It has not been reviewed in the New York Times, though I suspect that it will soon enough start making appearances there, none positive. For now, its traction is only on the Right, but there is a lot of traction there, because Bronze Age Mindset, strange to say, acts to coalesce the fragmented pieces of the Right, especially the youthful, disaffected Right, around a philosophy that rejects many of the more problematic elements of the non-mainstream Right.

Bronze Age Mindset is, I think, an attempt to maneuver around a core problem for new thought on the Right—that a great many of the vocal people on the Right are clowns with stupid ideas, easily used by their enemies and of negative value to a coherent future program. Bronze Age Mindset is best viewed as a cloaked attempt to find an attractive Right philosophy that leaves such clowns, especially the racists, behind, while still capturing those who believe in seeing reality as it is, even though it is forbidden by our rulers.

This attempt to create a new thing is the genius of Bronze Age Mindset, not the actual narrative, a good deal of which is insane—though I think the insanity is mostly a joke designed to distract as the rest of the book strikes home, making it a jujitsu tactic, persuasion disguised with juvenile humor.

Others on the mainstream Right have begun to recognize this. Michael Anton, whom I greatly admire, reviewed Bronze Age Mindset last month for the Claremont Review of Books, not unfavorably, of which more later. I can assure you, if you are not familiar with the Right ecosystem, that this is wholly unprecedented.

If you had said ten years ago that a man of Anton’s prominence, in a publication of such note, would write favorably about a book that demands a military government and a return to pagan ways of thinking, praises men from history who are now viewed as entirely retrograde, and rejects any role for women in public life, among many other sins, all offered with an unapologetic, feral glint, you would have been viewed as crazy. Yet here we are.

But first, of the book. The author of Bronze Age Mindset writes under the pseudonym Bronze Age Pervert. Usually he is referred to as BAP, not so much for simplicity but because endless recitation of the word “pervert” makes most people, including me, wince because it’s tasteless.

No doubt that is the author’s intention in picking the moniker; barbed jokes of this sort characterize much of his writing. His actual name, and everything about him, is a mystery, though he affects Slavic tics in his writing, and a Russian voice narrates a podcast BAP has recently launched, called for no apparent reason “Caribbean Rhythms,” to the six episodes of which I have also listened.

Some people are very focused on who BAP is. I don’t care who BAP is, though I suspect there is some chance, say thirty percent, he is Anton himself. What most of all characterizes BAP, and suggests he is either a fierce auto-didact or someone with an academic background, is constant references to history.

The majority of his historical references are to Ancient Greece. Machiavelli also shows up several times. He refers to other interesting writings, such as Steven Runciman’s truly obscure The White Rajahs. It surprises me that he has not been doxxed; either he is very, very good at covering his tracks, or he has not gotten enough prominence. If and when he is revealed, the results may be very interesting—or completely uninteresting.

Either way, the book rewards close attention, since what BAP says is not always precisely what he means, and this is deliberate. The very first sentences of the book exemplify this. “This is not a book of philosophy. It is exhortation.” But that is a false dichotomy; such head fakes are common in this book.

Bronze Age Mindset is both, and it contains quite a bit of distilled philosophy. Or, rather, applied philosophy. It is meant to be an exposition of “the thought that motivates me and the problem faced by life in ascent and decline.” The philosopher most admired by BAP is Friedrich Nietzsche, although many other philosophers, mainly Greek, ranging from Heraclitus to Empedocles, make appearances, and Schopenhauer is also often featured.

I have no idea if any of what BAP says actually comports with Nietzsche, or Schopenhauer, for that matter, about whom I know nearly nothing, but that is not the point—broadly speaking, BAP’s philosophy is Nietzschean, if by that is meant a post-Christian view focused on hierarchy and power.

The basic points of the book can be boiled down. First, the few matter more than the many. The vast majority of humanity, today and since the dawn of civilization, has led lives of useless distress, under forms of slavery. But in all times and places, some men will not live under slavery. They are who matter. Second, all higher life inherently seeks space and dominance.

Not just territorial space, even more “space to develop inborn powers.” Offering examples from the animal kingdom, BAP says “All of this is higher organism organizing itself to master matter in surrounding space. Successful mastery of this matter leads to development of inborn powers and flourishing of organism. . . .”

What higher life wants is power and freedom, not mere survival and reproduction. This is the teleology of man. Human nature is real; very much is “in the blood,” inborn. Leftists foolishly pretend this is false. Fourth, the proper view on life is the “enchanted worldview.” This is not a reasonable, calm, hyper-rational worldview. It is more like “religious delirium,” and it is what characterizes all great men in their performance of great deeds, from warriors to artists to scientists.

The disenchanted worldview, in contrast, is “the tight-assed attitude of the science cultist and materialist.” It is worthless and no different than the outlook of slaves. And fifth, all these realities, and more, the “star of Nemesis,” have been concealed in our stupid modern world. But they will return, and soon, with fire and slaughter.

All this appears in the first of the four parts of the book. The rest of the book is an expansion and repetition. To give you a flavor, let’s take the second part, titled Parable of Iron Prison. The Iron Prison is the modern world, a place of “brokenness” and “denatured life.” Carl Schmitt is quoted, “They’ve put us out to pasture.” But, in a twist from most complaints about modernity, the modern world’s prison is “the return of a very ancient subjection and brokenness under new branding, promoted by new concepts and justifications.”

BAP does not spend time on listing the defects of modernity, though he frequently swipes at them when discussing other matters; instead, he direct us to Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra, and, interestingly, Michel Houellebecq, who has been getting a lot of play on the Right lately, though I have not read his writings myself. Then BAP offers a long series of discursive thoughts, such as pointing out that most cities, that is, most civilizations, throughout history accomplished nothing, but were rather “steaming ratpiles,” analogous to slums and shantytowns, and that small, orderly, well-run cities and city states are the exception.

Villages and other primitive life are no better; they tend to exalt the rule of women and weaklings. Then we get talk of Gnostic sects and the Demiurge. We go pretty far down the rabbit hole, with a near-endorsement of the Phantom Time Hypothesis and references to “far more advanced civilizations . . . buried beneath the ice” and to reincarnation. Wilhelm Reich and his “orgone” technology get a favorable mention, and we are told “Trump’s family knows the secrets of Tesla” (presumably not the car company).

The core point here, though, buried among apparent rambling, is that a good society must be one that “allows the ascent of life”—that is, human flourishing though mastering inborn powers. Very few societies do; that modern societies don’t is not news, but it is still a problem.

Well, sounds like a dreadful situation. What to do? In the last two parts of the book, BAP adds flesh to the way things should be. It would be hard to imagine a paradigm more unpalatable to the modern Left—but one which, crucially, avoids the bugbear-in-chief of the modern Left, racism. The chapter begins, “Life appears at its peak not in the grass hut village ruled by nutso mammies, but in the military state.

In Archaic Greece, in Renaissance Italy and in the vast expanse of the heroic Old Stone Age, at the middle of the Bronze Age of high chariotry, lived men of power and magnificence in great numbers. We are in every way their inferiors.”

Noting that the inscription Aeschylus put on his grave was that he had fought at Marathon, not that he was Athens’s most famous playwright, he notes “You know about their great art, science, and literature, or think you do. But these were men of conquest, exploration and adventure first. . . . You may not be able to emulate them in every way, because the age we live in is one of total repression, [but] you can still take some inspiration from their examples, and try to live the same in some way . . . try to live according to a Bronze Age Mindset.” In what does that consist? Vitality, and “the great aim, physical and military independence. Only the warrior is a free man.”

The ideal man is one free from the need to work who trains as a warrior. Leisure as rest is worthless. Politically, such men should rule. The men of power, that is, the free men, in ancient Greece were not racially bound, but bound to their city, culture, and language.

They “would never have submitted to abstractions like ‘human rights,’ or ‘equality,’ or ‘the people’ as some kind of amorphous entity encompassing the inhabitants of the territory or city in general. . . . [N]o real man would ever accept the legitimacy of such an entity, which for all practical purposes means you must, for entirely imaginary reasons, defer to the opinion of slaves, aliens, fat childless women, and others who have no share in the actual physical power.”

For a modern example, BAP cites Alfredo Stroessner, “dictator of Paraguay for forty years.” “The entire day he worked relentlessly for his country and to keep down the vicious and Satanic communist sect that would have massacred his people—but he also did this for his own glory!”

Then, in one of the funniest, but also most insightful, passages of the book, he imagines, or re-imagines, Mitt Romney as Alcibiades. It is unimaginable; that is BAP’s point. Instead, we have loss of vitality, spiritual exhaustion, and living in a state of fear. Therefore, any move toward the Bronze Age Mindset is magnetic. “[A] man like Trump, who seems not to care, and to find joy in this flouting and energy in this outrageous loosening—he seduces.”

The solution is not something new, a “futuristic flourishing that is not yet here.” (BAP is unlikely to be a fan of Archeofuturism and the Nouvelle Droit.) Instead, it is something old, the Bronze Age Mindset. “I want to give encouragement to some who are a certain way, in their blood, and to encourage them to become the purifying hand of nature.”

The bedrock mechanism of accomplishing this is male friendships. “[E]very great thing in the past was done through strong friendships between two men, or brotherhoods of men, and this includes all great political things, all acts of political freedom and power.” Modernity rejects this, consensus and inclusivity (not a word BAP uses, but apt) are demanded because the characteristics of male friendships, and what results, “make women and weaklings uncomfortable.”

These friendships are not homosexual; BAP rejects even that the “Sacred Band” of Thebes was homosexual and claims that the obsessive search for historical homosexuality is a “misunderstanding and exaggeration promoted by the homonerds of our time,” pointing out, for example, that there is zero suggestion in Homer that Achilles and Patroclus were homosexuals, yet they had the type of bond BAP admires. (BAP is at least partially wrong here as a historical matter; the Greeks did to some degree engage in homosexual practices as bonding, though they were not “gay” relationships in the modern sense in any way).

The goal is to become a superman, like Periander of Corinth, subject to nobody, and accomplishing great things for their own sake. Morals have nothing to do with it; such a man is above morals. BAP even admires men like Nero as described by Suetonius, and Agathocles as described by Machiavelli.

Then BAP switches gears, to more modern times, with a long profile of “the most glamorous Christian prince for me,” Conradin, grandson of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, the “Stupor Mundi.” Conradin is quite obscure; he was executed in 1268 at age sixteen after fighting, leading, and losing in the complex Italian wars of the time, but who briefly held the titles King of Sicily and King of Jerusalem.

For BAP, Conradin, shooting star, was “the renewed avatar of Apollo in Europe, recalling very old memories.” Next we get a strong endorsement of men I also endorse strongly, crusaders and conquistadors, Cortes to Drake to Magellan and more, all men with a Bronze Age Mindset. Pedro de Alvarado, lieutenant of Cortes, who slaughtered the Aztec nobles while Cortes was away from Tenochtitlan, gets the most praise.

He was who he was, and made no excuses. “Alvarado was a nemesis to civilization, and this is right and good. God sends such men to chastise mankind. I want you to be like this: to listen to these instincts in you. . . . Alvarado is the avatar of our new age, and I predict this: within fifty years a hundred Alvarados will bloom from deep in the tropical bestiary of the spirit. They will sweep away the weakness of this world.” “So far we have only had Gracchi . . . but Caesars and Napoleons are sure to follow. A man of great charisma who can seduce the people with a wild spirit and break through the rule of the pervasive bureaucracy-media complex is our best hope for the immediate problem . . . and maybe our only hope.”

The Bronze Age Mindset is explicitly not racist. “There are far more races than people want to admit.” Men of any type can adopt the Bronze Age Mindset. BAP’s focus is culture.

The Greeks looked down on the slave cultures of the Orient, but admired, to some degree, the barbarians, whether European or Scythian—BAP adroitly points out this attitude among the Greeks lasted very long, up to Anna Comnena and the Alexiad. “In spirit I would say even now the European has much more in common with the African than with the ‘Asian’ [who has a slave mentality] . . . I know many dorks who fetishize IQ above all will disagree with this.”

Anybody can have the right culture, but very, very few do have. Not just the Greeks or Europeans, though; the Comanche and the Polynesians also get a nod. Plenty of groups, races among them, come in for various abuse, offensive to modern tender sensibilities, but it’s not racism, just some combination of realism and jerkiness.

It’s all very pagan, of course, in that way common to post-liberal post-Christians. The book’s epigraph is “VICTORY TO THE GODS!” No surprise, BAP has an uncertain and tenuous relationship with Christianity. Mostly he ignores it, but he admits that many of his ideal men were very Christian. Of them, he says “The Church was embarrassed by them . . . by their cruelty and their pagan love of vitality and action, so tried to disavow them while making use of their strengths.”

That’s not really true, as a historical matter. In those days, the Church did not try to disavow them, although the most dreadful crimes against the Indians were debated, due to men such as the monk Bartolomé de las Casas. In the modern world, though, Christians aren’t BAP’s target; quite the contrary. “Offending Christians in political movements is stupid, when they’re one of the last bastions against a common enemy. If their beliefs are corrupted, they can be reformed.”

He means real Christians, of course, not leftists with a Christian veneer. The torrent of contempt he would direct at, say, the odious lesbians and feminine men who run the Presbyterian Church USA would, I am sure, be impressive to behold.

BAP doesn’t spend that much time attacking the Left; they are self-defeating bugmen, after all, even if they for now hold the levers of power. Under the right pressure, they will crumble, just as the settled peoples of the Middle East crumbled under the Sea Peoples.

He spends more time attacking today’s conservatives. “The old, exhausted conservatism; place you see like National Review, third-rate publications like that, which isn’t real conservatism. We are real conservative; we pay attention to how life is actually lived.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. In one of his podcasts, for example, BAP notes that when the Supreme Court imposed “catamite marriage,” so-called conservatives “took it like a catamite.” True enough.

Certainly, though, if you are a woman, and even more if you are a woman raised on modern so-called feminist pieties, this book will make your head explode. Even I, who think that a return to many aspects of traditional sex roles (which were not at all the fictional oppression we are told they were) is both desirable and necessary, and will be a pillar of Foundationalism, think BAP takes this too far.

But then, he takes everything too far. It is not that BAP says women are inferior, though the Bronze Age Mindset as he outlines it is surely not available to women, being male in its nature. In fact, the feminine mindset is corrosive of the Bronze Age Mindset.

The key for a good society is recognizing that women are not men; they “live in and for the genius of the species.” Or they should. Instead, “Modern women have given up this great advantage, so they can become neurotic copies of gay desk-workers. They’ve abandoned the great power endowed in their blood.” BAP attacks the idea that women should be “free” in the modern sense. “Liberation of women means freedom and power for financiers, lawyers, purveyors of comforts in and outside government, employers who whore out your wives and daughters.”

Not that women should be confined to the home, or lose the vote—in fact, women are most likely to vote for the man to come who exemplifies the Bronze Age Mindset.

If women hadn’t lost respect for men, the idea of “liberation” would have seemed pointless and laughable; feminism is therefore merely an epiphenomenon of societal decay. “This is why it’s so ridiculous to hear these ‘conservatives’ yap on about honor, or glory, or sacrifice, or any of this garbage. The respect in all institutions and all leadership classes and all traditional authority has already been lost long ago, and for good reason. Feminism then is the revolt of women against the outrage of democracy. They have been in revolt against the inability of the bugman to command authority or respect.”

In other words, women are viscerally attracted to power. Which is true, of course. But BAP sees this as a one-way street. He rejects the “game” or pickup culture attractive to many young men on the chaotic Right (though he correctly sees that is a gate to realizing that the “lords of lies,” our rulers, are lying about much more than the truth about men and women, something I had not appreciated until now).

But he does not see society as a partnership between men and women; whatever precisely he says, he views women as inferior and subordinate in the Bronze Age Mindset. He offers no chivalry (a system with mutual obligations) but does offer lots of negative talk about “viragos” “getting their hooks in you,” and so forth. I suppose he is technically complaining about women in the decayed modern system, but it’s not clear what role BAP does want women to play in a well-run society, and there are zero positive depictions of women, except in the abstract as young and hot.

Certainly, women as warriors or battle leaders is laughable, but women upon occasion in the councils of power, and constantly of great influence behind the scenes, is the historical reality, and recognizing that in the structures of a renewed society is critical.

This failure to appreciate the role of women beyond a narrow one strikes me as a huge hole, to the extent any of BAP’s writing is meant as a serious political program. True, straight men are the most oppressed group in America today, so preaching a gospel of liberation only to them makes a certain amount of sense. (Actually, it is not quite right they are the most oppressed group.

They are the group on which our ruling classes focus the majority of their hatred and attacks. But there is a strong countervailing element of the Lilliputians tying down Gulliver, so the attempted oppression is not wholly successful. It is most definitely perceived and felt by its targets, however, which is what matters for these purposes.) Nonetheless, offering a joint program to men and women is crucial.

The lords of lies tell falsehoods to both, after all. Of course, any program can and should recognize that men and women are different, but to, in essence, treat women as close to non-entities, or, worse, instrumentally, as rewards for male exercise of power and risk, is going to be fatal to any program, not because women will always be seduced by the lies of so-called feminism, but because they are not stupid or lacking self-interest.

Offering something that recognizes that men and women are partners, who are looking for joint gain and who accomplish that best in coordination, is the only path to a successful program.

That assumes what BAP offers is meant as an actual program. This is not a safe assumption. Certainly, much else of this is terrible as a political program. Most of all, a state run by Pedro de Alvarados would be awful, and collapse swiftly.

The key is to recognize the distinction between such men, “pirates” as BAP calls them admiringly, and his other avatars, mentioned only in passing, Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon. Such men certainly had a compartment within themselves that held the Bronze Age Mindset, but it was one among many. BAP does not note that Caesar, captured by pirates in his youth, when ransomed hunted down the pirates who kidnapped him and executed them, just as he had told them he would when he was under their power.

Order and justice are as crucial to a society as is the development that comes from struggling to develop inborn powers. Perhaps this is the way to reconcile the Bronze Age Mindset and Christianity—through the vehicle of a specific man, say some combination of Augustus and Robert Gould Shaw, reborn.

So if not a program, what is this? It is a call to action, a call to shake off lethargy, packaged in a way to attract modern youth. As a charge laid against the foundations of modern society, it is well designed. As a political program, not so much. But that doesn’t matter to its author’s goals, I suspect.

Whatever the outlines of the future, BAP says, it needs to be, and will be, a lot different from the present. Hastening toward it is a good idea, though, and to get the right type of culture when the moment arrives, those who grasp the truth must prepare. BAP explicitly wants his disciples, or his exhortees, to prepare for the advent of the Man of Destiny.

He advocates allying, in essence under cover, with normal people on the Right. Don’t do “dork” things, he says, like be a white supremacist. Changes are likely to move fast, when they move, due to modern technology, and they will move to military government, most likely. True, the modern American military is filled with weaklings, homosexuals and women, which may delay change.

Therefore, BAP encourages his devotees to join the military, to learn, and to participate when the time comes. They should form brotherhoods, of a non-political nature, welcoming men of any race or creed (women must be excluded, and have their own groups). And one day, soon, their time will come.

Self-improvement is absolutely critical for BAP. He is in some ways like Jordan Peterson, if Peterson wolfed methamphetamine and mescaline. Maximizing personal beauty is very important. “Only physical beauty is the foundation for a true higher culture of the mind and spirit.” He wants everyone to get “sun and steel,” that is, to get actual sunlight and lift weights. (Although BAP does not mention it, his catchphrase “Sun and Steel” is taken from the title of a writing by Japanese ultra-nationalist Yukio Mishima, who recommended a similar program and whom BAP does mention in passing) .

This focus, combined with BAP’s frequent posting of pictures of male bodybuilders on Twitter, has led to many suggestions that BAP is homoerotic and over-focused on homosexuality. I think that’s exaggerated, but it is a little jarring.

There is, in fact, a group that, from what I know of them, attempts to live out the Bronze Age Mindset, though they arose before this book: the Proud Boys. Started a few years back by professional provocateur Gavin McInnes, they seem to embody much of what BAP recommends: close male friendships; open to all races (in theory, at least); in favor of strength and discipline; lots of inside jokes and pranks.

Of course, they were instantly crushed by the combined might of the Lords of Tech and what BAP calls the “bugmen” who rule us today. The opposite of the Proud Boys is either weak, feminine men (the masculine pseudo-ideal now exalted by the media and woke capital), or shiftless men, stupefied by video games and drugs, and often addicted to pornography (BAP’s theory is that modern hyper-sexualization, presumably including pornography, is a sign of weakness, a sign of life in “owned space”).

The lesson of the Proud Boys, whom BAP does not discuss, is that any organized group that embraces any Right principle that shows any signs of becoming a threat (as opposed to existing conservatives, who pose no threat at all) will be viciously attacked. One possible response is the turtle strategy, which BAP seems to partially endorse—not to stick your head out too far, while worming your way into the structures of power.

That seems unlikely to add recruits, though. Probably the only way such a group can be formed and grow rapidly is in times that are already actively chaotic, when confusion reigns and a focused attack response cannot be generated by the powers that rule.

Now let’s turn to the reaction of the Right to BAP. As I say, it is truly radical that Anton wrote a review of Bronze Age Mindset. Adrian Vermeule, who is not a National Review conservative and pushes the radical program of integralism, was equally incensed, so broad swathes of the Right see BAP as a threat, not just the National Review betas.

But I predicted five months ago that Anton had, without admitting it, moved on from being a Straussian, advocating a return to the principles of the Founding Fathers, to being an Augustan, a man who wants to break the system and reform it, someone focused on the uses and ends of power. His review, though not formal endorsement, of BAP suggests I was right. Also suggestive is that Anton begins his article by noting that Curtis Yarvin, at “a small dinner at my home,” introduced Anton to Bronze Age Mindset, gifting him a copy.

Within the article, he says he stuck with reading, despite initial disinterest, because Darren Beattie told him to. Yarvin is radioactive to the polite, catamite Right; Beattie, though less well-known, is too (whether justifiably or not, I can’t say). One likely possibility, it seems to me, is that Anton seems himself as the potential leader of a new thing, and is floating trial balloons to see what might work.

So, for example, don’t be surprised if another fraternal organization crops up, at a more opportune, fragile time, with Anton in a prominent role. Or perhaps the Proud Boys will resurge, and Anton will join. Stranger things have happened. In any case, what Anton is obviously doing is pushing the envelope, creating a more capacious space for growth of new things on the Right.

Despite the attention on the Right, however, this is all a very niche movement, so far. For example, the first episode on YouTube of BAP’s podcast, published two months ago, has accumulated less than 10,000 views. Joe Rogan, by contrast, regularly accrues millions of views for each of much more frequent podcasts. Anton concludes his review by claiming that “In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.”

Well, maybe, but if so, it’s a very small group we’re talking about. That could change, but Donald Trump has sixty million followers on Twitter; BAP, twenty-five thousand. As it is said, though, from little acorns giant oaks come. They just need the right soil and nourishment, and if BAP is right, those are coming, and soon.

Finally, what is most attractive of all about BAP and his Bronze Age Mindset, aside from his frequent laugh-out-loud humor, is that he’s very, and surprisingly, optimistic. He’s always dropping phrases like “But I think there must be someone as colorful as Alcibiades among you.”

The Bronze Age Mindset is not a dour one, focused on tax rates and grasping at modest government viewpoint neutrality. This flows from BAP’s recognition that the strongest weapon the Right has against the Left is the simple fact that reality cannot be denied forever, and that we are therefore destined to win—or, at least, they are destined to lose.

I’m not sure that’s reason for optimism, but only from positive energy can great new things be built, and positive energy is, no doubt, something that BAP offers by the bushel.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows a Scythian gold comb with the image of a battle scene, from the Solokha kurgan, 430-390 BC.

The Gulag In Five Books

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

Any conversation about the Gulag would be unthinkable without Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, for he was the first in the USSR to introduce the topic to the public.

The risky publication of his short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in the literary magazine New World in 1962 became a bombshell. Previously, the topic of Stalin’s camps had not been raised in public although it had – of course – touched almost every family in the country.

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the protagonist, a peasant, recalls how he went to fight the Germans, was captured, escaped, and was immediately sent to the camps. That was how the Stalinist regime treated anyone who had fallen into German captivity: they were viewed as spies or deserters. The book also offers vivid descriptions of the hardships of everyday life in the labor camps.

Those who want to study the topic more deeply and get a broader picture of the scale of Stalin’s camps should read Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus The Gulag Archipelago, which he himself called an experiment in artistic research. 

Kolyma Tales

Varlam Shalamov foresaw the appearance of a large number of memoirs and non-fiction works about this terrible period of Soviet history. He believed that authenticity would become the main strength of the literature of the future. In a dry and succinct manner, as if through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker, Shalamov writes about prisoners’ backbreaking work, awful and scant food, beatings and the terrible cold of Kolyma. Behind these daily observations, there are the writer’s ruminations about human beings and the value of life. His bleak writing style penetrates deeply into readers’ consciousness and this document about the Gulag may turn out to be more affecting than any work of art.

“Backbreaking work inflicted irreparable wounds on us, and our life in old age will be a life of pain, endless and varied physical and mental pain.”

Here are some excerpts from Shalamov’s short stories…

From, “The Carpenters”

“But the cold kept up, and Potashnikov knew he couldn’t hold out any longer. Breakfast sustained his strength for no more than an hour of work, and then exhaustion ensued. Frost penetrated the body to the ‘marrow of the bone’ — the phrase was no metaphor. A man could wave his pick or shovel, jump up and down so as not to freeze — till dinner. Dinner was hot — a thin broth and two spoons of kasha that restored one’s strength only a little but nevertheless provided some warmth. And then there was strength to work for an hour, and after that Potashnikov again felt himself in the grip of the cold. The day would finally come to a close, and after supper all the workers would take their bread back to the barracks, where they would eat it, washing it down with a mug of hot water. Not a single man would eat his bread in the mess hall with his soup. After that Potashnikov would go to sleep.

He slept, of course, on one of the upper berths, because the lower ones were like an ice cellar. Everyone who had a lower berth would stand half the night at the stove, taking turns with his neighbors in embracing it; the stove retained a slight remnant of warmth. There was never enough firewood, because to go for it meant a four-kilometer walk after work and everyone avoided the task. The upper berths were warmer, but even so everyone slept in his working clothes — hats, padded coats, pea jackets, felt pants. Even with the extra warmth, by the morning a man’s hair would be frozen to the pillow.

Potashnikov felt his strength leaving him every day. A thirty-year-old man, he had difficulty in climbing on to an upper berth and even in getting down from it. His neighbor had died yesterday. The man simply didn’t wake up, and no one asked for the cause of death, as if there were only one cause that everyone knew.”

From, “In the Night”

“Are you a doctor?” asked Bagretsov, sucking the wound.

Glebov remained silent. The time when he had been a doctor seemed very far away. Had it ever existed? Too often the world beyond the mountains and seas seemed unreal, like something out of a dream. Real were the minute, the hour, the day — from reveille to the end of work. He never guessed further, nor did he have the strength to guess. Nor did anyone else.

He didn’t know the past of the people who surrounded him and didn’t want to know. But then, if tomorrow Bagretsov were to declare himself a doctor of philosophy or a marshal of aviation, Glebov would believe him without a second thought. Had he himself really been a doctor? Not only the habit of judgment was lost, but even the habit of observation. Glebov watched Bagretsov suck the blood from his finger but said nothing. The circumstance slid across his consciousness, but he couldn’t find or even seek within himself the will to answer.

From, “Quiet”

We tried to work, but our lives were too distant from anything that could be expressed in figures, wheelbarrows, or percent of plan. The figures were a mockery. But for an hour, for one moment after that night’s dinner, we got our strength back.

And suddenly I realized that that night’s dinner had given the sectarian the strength he needed for his suicide. He needed that extra portion of kasha to make up his mind to die. There are times when a man has to hurry so as not to lose his will to die.

As usual, we encircled the stove. But today there was no one to sing any hymns. And I guess I was even happy that it was finally quiet.

From, “Dry Rations”

We were all tired of barracks food. Each time they brought in the soup in large zinc tubs suspended on poles, it made us all want to cry. We were ready to cry for fear that the soup would be thin. And when a miracle occurred and the soup was thick, we couldn’t believe it and ate it as slowly as possible. But even with thick soup in a warm stomach there remained a sucking pain; we’d been hungry for too long. All human emotions — love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellow man, compassion, longing for fame, honesty — had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies during their long fasts…

“Just imagine,” said Savelev. “We’ll survive, leave for the mainland, and quickly become sick old men. We’ll have heart pains and rheumatism, and all the sleepless nights, the hunger, and long hard work of our youth will leave their mark on us even if we remain alive. We’ll be sick without knowing why, groan and drag ourselves from one dispensary to another. This unbearable work will leave us with wounds that can’t be healed, and all our later years will lead to lives of physical and psychological pain. And that pain will be endless and assume many different forms. But even among those terrible future days there will be good ones when we’ll be almost healthy and we won’t think about our sufferings. And the number of those days will be exactly equal to the number of days each of us has been able to loaf in camp.”

From, “A Child’s Drawings”

We finished the work, stacked the wood, and waited for the guards. Our guard was keeping warm in the building for which we’d been chopping wood, but we were supposed to march back in formation, breaking up in town into smaller groups.

We didn’t go to warm up, though, since we had long since noticed, next to a fence, a large heap of garbage — something we could not afford to ignore. Both my companions were soon removing one frozen layer after another with the adroitness that comes from practice. Their booty consisted of lumps of frozen bread, an icy piece of hamburger, and a torn pair of men’s socks. The socks were the most valuable item, of course, and I regretted that I hadn’t found them first. “Civvies” — socks, scarves, gloves, shirts, pants — were prized by people who for decades had nothing to wear but convict garb. The socks could be darned and exchanged for tobacco or bread.

From, “The Red Cross”

The evil acts committed by criminals in camp are innumerable. The unfortunates are those from whom the thief steals their last rags, confiscates their last coin. The working man is afraid to complain, for he sees that the criminals are stronger than the camp authorities. The thief beats the working man and forces him to work. Tens of thousands of people have been beaten to death by thieves. Hundreds of thousands of people who have been in the camps are permanently seduced by the ideology of these criminals and have ceased to be people. Something criminal has entered into their souls for ever. Thieves and their morality have left an indelible mark on the soul of each.

The camp administrator is rude and cruel; the persons responsible for propaganda lie; the doctor has no conscience. But all this is trivial in comparison with the corrupting power of the criminal world. In spite of everything, the authorities are still human beings, and the human element in them does survive. The criminals are not human.

The influence of their morality on camp life is boundless and many-sided. The camps are in every way schools of the negative. No one will ever receive anything useful or necessary from them — neither the convict himself, nor his superiors, nor the guard, nor the inadvertent witnesses (engineers, geologists, doctors), nor the camp administrators, nor their subordinates.

Every minute of camp life is a poisoned minute.

What’s a Human Being Worth?

Female authors who went through the camps are less well known. One of the more notable is Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya: she accompanied her memoirs with drawings – simple, child-like images, but for that reason even more terrifying.

Kersnovskaya possessed incredible strength, both physical and mental, and asked to be given men’s work – she even worked in a mine. Her story is amazing: she managed to escape and survived in the taiga when her only food was a frozen piece of horse-meat.

She describes, without embellishment, the most terrible things that were going on in the Gulag, the lowly position occupied by women prisoners and what many of them were prepared to do in order to survive.

The title of her book reflects her attempts to understand under what conditions a person can lose their essential humanity.

Now exhibitions of Kersnovskaya’s drawings from the camps are held all over the world. 

The Monastery

Present-day writers too turn to the topic of the Gulag. For example, one of Russia’s leading authors, Zakhar Prilepin, sent his hero to a camp on the Solovetsky Islands – the very same Gulag archipelago.

This major novel is based on thorough archival research. The author made numerous trips to the Solovetsky Islands, working in the archives there. He offers an extremely accurate depiction of the head of the camp, as well as the entire camp structure – from prison cells made out of former monastic cells and wooden bunks in churches to punishment cells set up in remote monastic retreats.

Prilepin also portrays different groups of inmates – political prisoners and ordinary criminals rubbed shoulders in these camps.

Zuleikha

This is another contemporary novel on our list, the debut novel by writer Guzel Yakhina, which became a bestseller in Russia and has already been translated into 10 languages. It tells not so much the story of the Gulag itself as of the Stalin-era repressions, namely the dispossession of Tatar peasants and their deportation to Siberia.

The book’s heroine, together with a group of prisoners, finds herself in the middle of the taiga under the escort of one officer. They have to dig their own dugout, forage for food and fend off the cold. But, strangely, in these circumstances, she feels a freer person than when she was when oppressed by her husband and mother-in-law.

Although this is a work of fiction, but Yakhina studied archive materials about deportations to Siberia in Stalin’s times. In addition, her grandmother was among those dispossessed in the 1930s, and when depicting the everyday life of her characters, the author relied on her grandmother’s recollections. 

Alexandra Guzeva writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows, “Magadan Hills,” by Nikolai Getman.

Tolkien’s Vision

It shall come as a surprise to no one that I am a great fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. Having discovered The Lord of the Rings in Junior High (thanks in no small part to having been introduced to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia in 6th grade), I have written and spoken about the books for nigh on to thirty years. I have read them quite a few times — and yet they are always good to return to; familiar as they are, I always find something new. That is the mark of truly good literature — as you grow, so does it.

Tolkien himself was an interesting man. Forget the recent biopic. Born in South Africa and raised at the Birmingham Oratory, his Catholic faith was tested in the trenches of World War I (which killed all but one of his closest friends). Not even the jibing of fellow Oxford dons could weaken it. For that matter, the brilliance of Oxford in his time is breathtaking.

One would have loved to have been present to hear him, Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and the other Inklings at the Eagle and Child or the Lamb and Flag. Pipe smoke, liquor and tale-telling — it all seems in this parlous time of ours, rather warm and cosy.

“Seems,” however, is the appropriate word, for it was anything but. These were men who — if they had not been in the trenches, and most of them had — had surely lost loved ones there. I am old enough to have known many people who were alive and functioning before 1914; all report the supreme trauma of finding out what humanity could descend to — by contrast, World War II was just more and worse.

Do not forget that when the Inklings were at their height, that Second War was in full bloom, and Britain receiving the Blitz and rationing — with the threat of invasion looming. Behind the threat of Hitler loomed that of Stalin. So the Inklings were creating with a possible death sentence over their heads — and were fully aware of what that meant. They did not live in a sort of never-never land where bad things did not happen.

Because of the times in which we live, we forget that — in either Church, State, or both — our predecessors went through such things in various ways. Tolkien, scholar of history that he was, knew that these things are part of the human condition, and that almost every generation has to face them.

In an often quoted letter, Tolkien declared “Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

Indeed, his history of Middle Earth has many motifs that might have been lifted from various chapters of real European history, and recast.

Certainly the Numenoreans start out much like the Chosen People of the Old Testament; when their sinfulness causes Numenor to sink like Lost Atlantis, the faithful remnant establish Kingdoms in Middle Earth: Arnor in the north, and Gondor in the south.

As with the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, Arnor is obliterated — save as an idea — but Gondor survives, albeit diminished — as with the later Byzantine Empire; its capital of Minas Tirith could well be Constantinople. But the idea of the Kingdom survives in the north, as had the idea of the Empire in Western Europe.

The remnant of the Arnorians — the Rangers — are like the Cavaliers, Jacobites, Carlists, or French Emigres. Their chief, Aragorn, is a bit like Bonnie Prince Charlie. Minas Tirith undergoes a siege like that of Constantinople; but then the history flips, and the siege becomes that of Vienna, with the Rohirrim blowing their horns as they ride to save the city — very like Jan Sobieski and the Poles, rescuing the city of the Kaisers.

At last, the shadow defeated, Aragorn becomes a figure such as Charlemagne might have been had he married the Byzantine Empress Irene — restorer of the united Empire. However, we are warned that the shadow shall return in some other form.

That last note has always been true in the history of Christendom; after Aetius threw Attila back at Chalons or Don Juan of Austria broke the Turks at Lepanto, always the shadow rose again.

In 1989, when the wall fell, such a time seemed imminent; but the shadow rose again, rainbow-coloured rather than red. When, in the darkness that is our history, it seems that a place for a while reflects a touch of Heavenly order on Earth, always does it fall, only to be swallowed up by the darkness from whence it came — so it was with Arthur’s Camelot, with Charlemagne’s Aix-la-Chapelle, with Habsburg Vienna.

It is left to yet another generation to rebuild what it can from the wreck bequeathed to it. Moreover, the evil wreaked by high placed traitors is well illustrated by Saruman — chief of Wizards, who is seduced by Sauron. He is a figure who pops up through history — some of us may even recognise him to-day.

But in this generally bleak picture, what sort of hope does Tolkien offer us? Lots, really. Looking about the situation we live in, one might agree with Frodo’s observation. “‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

“‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’” So he warns us well.

To sustain and protect us on our journey, Tolkien suggests both receiving the Blessed Sacrament (Lembas) and invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary (Elbereth) — which associations he makes clear in his letters. “I know exactly what you mean … by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”

Of the Eucharist, in another letter he writes “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

In Lord of the Rings, friendship is a paramount virtue, as it is in the darkened world through which we travel. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin — to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours — closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” But this sort of friendship which Tolkien celebrates is that of which we are given the ultimate example of by Our Lord, in that “Greater love hath no man, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

Tolkien also counsels us to remember that we are basically ignorant of what is really happening. When Frodo says of Gollum that he deserves to die, Gandalf responds, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” When Frodo has the chance to kill Gollum, he spares him, out of pity. In the end, when Frodo fails in the quest, Gollum — for his own evil and selfish reasons, “accidentally” saves the day.

Even evil persons, places, things, and events can be used by Providence — without benefitting or being redeemed by being so used — that depends upon their own wills. And that, of course, is the biggest single theme of Lord of the Rings — the interaction between the Divine Will and countless fallen free ones.

Above all, in this world of sin and shadows through which we wander, Tolkien constantly advises us never to give up, to persevere — because ultimately, we serve a cause far above and beyond this muck we face. “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Tolkien’s mind was filled — as any honest Medievalist’s must be — with the beauties of England, and indeed Europe in Catholic days. Oxford is a particularly easy place in which to conjure them up in one’s mind.

There were schoolmen like Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste in the Middle Ages; Charles I made it his capital during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and Recusants and Jacobites abounded in Oxford and the surrounding county.

This was where the Oxford Movement started; Anglo-Catholicism may be said to have made its greatest achievement in the Ordinariates. During the Catholic Revival in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jesuits made their home there, while the Benedictines, Dominicans, and Franciscans all returned. All of this produced the background against which the Inklings (and their friends, such as Dorothy Sayers) shone.

To-day, of course, Oxford is quite different; the same enfeeblement of will and intellect that infects academia in these United States is universal throughout the West. But just as a beautiful church with horrible liturgy insistently reminds the worshipper of what has been — and so could be again — so it is with Oxford.

And there an effort has been launched for Tolkien’s canonisation. Last year, the first Mass for that intention was offered at the Oxford Oratory — the former Jesuit church, where Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins was once assigned, and Fr. Leonard Feeney studied and preached. Whether or not Tolkien was a Saint, the Church must decide one day.

But what is certain is that — using the medium of fantasy — he gave us a remarkable tool for negotiating some of the spiritual pitfalls of real life. 

Mr. Coulombe serves as Western U.S. Delegate of the Grand Council of the U.K.-based International Monarchist League, and is a member of both the Catholic Writer’s Guild of Great Britain (the Keys) and the Royal Stuart Society. Mr. Coulombe is also a founding board member of the Los Angeles-based Queen of Angels Foundation, a Catholic devotional society.

The photo shows, “Tol Sirion,” a drawing by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions

The book of Tobit is one of those books Catholics would call the Deuterocanonicals and non-Catholics would label the Apocrypha.

Basically, it’s about a pious old man from the tribe of Nephthali named Tobit exiled along with the other Israelites in Nineveh who goes blind after bird droppings fell on his eyes (!). One day Tobit decides to collect money he had once deposited to an acquaintance named Gabael in the land of Media and sends his son Tobias (aka Tobiah) to do so.

Along the way, Tobias is accompanied by a guy who passes himself off as a kinsman of his named Azariah, and a dog who doesn’t do anything in the story except to be mentioned briefly at the very beginning and the very end of the journey. Arriving in Media, Tobias gets the money from Gabael, and marries the latter’s daughter Sarah, who was tormented by a demon named Asmodeus, who had killed every man she married.

Tobias succeeds in driving Asmodeus out by burning, under Azariah’s advice, the liver and heart of a rabid fish he had encountered during the journey. Tobias, Sarah, and Azariah return to Nineveh, where Tobit was cured of his blindness by the gall of the same fish. ‘Azariah’ eventually reveals himself to be the angel Raphael, sent by God to cure Tobit and Sarah of the afflictions they had, and goes back to heaven.

Years pass, and Tobit finally dies, but not before warning his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After burying his father, Tobias and his family then go away and settle at Media, where the tale ends.

That’s the main gist of the story. But here’s the thing. Those of you who like to read from different translations of the Bible might have already noticed this, but if you compare the book of Tobit as it is in three different translations – the Douai-Rheims, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Bible – you’d notice that the text of each is radically different from one another.

I encountered some people from time to time who tried to follow the daily readings, only to find that the version they found in their Bible is totally unlike what’s read out in church.

This is much more evident if you read from the Douai-Rheims. The book begins like this in the NAB version: “This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, son of Raphael, son of Raguel, of the family of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali. During the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, he was taken captive from Thisbe, which is south of Kedesh Naphtali in upper Galilee, above and to the west of Asher, north of Phogor.”

The RSV version is pretty close, if shorter (for instance, it omits “son of Raphael, son of Raguel” and simply mentions Thisbe as being “to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.”)

But if you pick up the DR, this is what you’ll find: “Tobias of the tribe and city of Nephtali, (which is in the upper parts of Galilee above Naasson, beyond the way that leadeth to the west, having on the right hand the city of Sephet,) when he was made captive in the days of Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, even in his captivity, forsook not the way of truth, but every day gave all he could get to his brethren his fellow captives, that were of his kindred. And when he was younger than any of the tribe of Nephtali, yet did he no childish thing in his work.”

Totally different, isn’t it? What’s going on here? The answer’s simple: all three translations use three different source texts.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no single, standard version of the book of Tobit. Instead what you really have is different versions of the same work circulating in different languages like Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Aramaic or even Ethiopian.

There are at least two or three versions of Tobit in Greek. The shorter one, found in virtually most surviving Greek manuscripts, is called Greek I (G1). The longer (containing 1,700 more words than G1) version found only almost fully in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, and partially in a couple other manuscripts, is Greek II (G2). Sinaiticus uniquely preserves most of G2 – albeit riddled with scribal errors – except for two lacunae (4:7-19b and 13:7-10b).

Fortunately, an 11th century manuscript (Mount Athos, MS 319, aka Vatopedi 913) gives the G2 text from 3:6 to 6:16 (while giving the G1 text for the rest of the book), thereby filling one of the two lacunae.

The third version, Greek III (G3) is fundamentally related to G2, but is not dependent on the version contained in Sinaiticus. G3 exists only partially (covering only 6:9-13:8) in three cursive manuscripts, which all reproduce G1 for the rest of the book.

As for Latin, there are two main versions of the book. To be more precise, one of the two is more like a family of different versions.

The various versions of Tobit made before St. Jerome translated biblical books into Latin are mainly related to G2, to the point that it can be used to understand and correct its text via comparison, although from time to time they do exhibit some differences from the text in Sinaiticus (more on these later). These so-called Vetus Latina (VL) versions are not all of one type, though.

As of now, there is still no critical edition of the VL version (or rather, versions).

The next best thing is an 18th century text assembled by French Benedictine monk Pierre Sabatier in the Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae, seu Vetus Italica (pp. 706-743), mainly based on two 9th century Latin manuscripts: Q (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 93, aka MS Regius 3564) and P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11505, aka MS Sangermanensis 4) along with readings from G (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11503, aka Sangermanensis 15 or Sangermanensis 1), which contains the text up to 13:2, and W (Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Regin. lat. 7, aka Codex Reginensis), which contains the text only as far as 6:12, the rest being a copy of the Vulgate version (see below).

Since then, two other manuscripts have been found and studied, which illustrate the lack of ‘one type’ of the text: the 10th century R (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 6, aka the Ripoll Bible), and the 9th-century X (Madrid, Biblioteca Univers. Cent. 31, aka Codex Complutensis I).

Both of these have been published by the Italian scholar Francesco Vattioni in the 1970s, who also published the readings of the Tobit text found in a work attributed to St. Augustine known as the Speculum de sacra scriptura (Mirror of Holy Scripture).

The text of Complutensis I is very paraphrastic, representing a much expanded form of the text found in Sabatier. Besides these, other important sources for the VL Tobit are quotations from early Church Fathers.

The text translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate, meanwhile, is interesting in itself, because it is a free translation of a translation.

This is how he explains the translation process in his preface to the book: “I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.”

Apparently, Jerome did not know ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic) – although he does note that the language is similar to Hebrew (answer being that both are Semitic languages), which he is thought to have known – that he needed someone to translate the Aramaic version of Tobit he had acquired. The translation work was apparently very quick – according to Jerome’s words it only took him, his scribe, and his Aramaic-speaking translator “the work of one day.”

The Vulgate version (which is apparently of the same general family as Greek I, though not similar to it) was once the dominant version of the book in the West before more use was made of Greek manuscripts in biblical translations starting from the Renaissance onwards.

We don’t know for sure whether the Aramaic text used by Jerome is descended from a Semitic forebear or was based on the Greek. The Vulgate text’s relation to the Greek versions and even to the VL recensions is really problematic, since it exhibits some considerable differences from them (although some scholars suspect that Jerome was apparently at the same time dependent on the VL versions).

These differences might stem in part from the version Jerome and his bilingual acquaintance were translating from, but perhaps also in part due to Jerome’s possibly rather free translation method (he admitted that his translation of Judith, which was like Tobit also from an Aramaic version, was magis sensum e sensus quam ex verbo verbum “more sense for sense than word for word;” it could very well be the same case here).

The general impression one could get from Vulgate Tobit is that it is more moralistic and didactic compared to the more straightforward other versions – I’d even say quite preachy. Compare Raphael-as-Azariah’s advice to Tobias on their way to Media in the Vulgate to, say, the G2 version (NAB):

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.”
(Douai-Rheims, Tobit 6:16-22)

Raphael said to him: “Do you not remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon. Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife! When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense, and an odor will be given off. As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not worry.” (NAB-RE, Tobit 6:16-18)

For a long time, only G1 and the Vulgate text were the only ones readily available to translators: Sinaiticus was only found in the early 19th century and Oxyrhynchus (where a 6th century fragment containing the G2 version of Tobit 2:2-5, 8 was found – one of the three manuscripts containing G2) wasn’t excavated until 1896.

And even after Sinaiticus was discovered to have a different text of the book, scholars at the time still considered the its text to be secondary to G1’s. Reason being the adage (well-known in textual criticism) of lectio brevior lectio potior, “shorter reading is the better reading.”

That, and the fact that G1 enjoys more attestation than G2, which was – back then – only represented in a single manuscript. They assumed that G1 was the original version, while G2 was an expansion of it.

Aside from G1, Sinaiticus, and the Vulgate, people before the mid-20th century were aware of a number of other versions of the book in Hebrew (and one in Aramaic), although all of these were late, medieval texts that are deritative of the Greek or the Vulgate versions.

  1. The Münster text (HM), first published in 1516 in Constantinople, then reprinted in Basel by Sebastian Münster in 1542. Said to be a 5th century version, this text is generally based on G2. This version was reproduced in the London Polyglot.
  2. The Fagius text (HF), said to date from the 12th century and first published in 1519 (reprinted by Paul Fagius in 1542). This version is also found in the 1657 London Polyglot. This text is usually judged to be a paraphrastic translation or a free recasting of a Greek text like G1 made by a medieval Jew from Western Europe. This version is noted for its introduction of OT phraseology into the text. The Haydock Commentary often alludes to this version along with the other ones named here.
  3. Gaster’s text (HG), another translation derived from from a 15th century Midrash on the Pentateuch that condenses and greatly abbreviates the narrative found in the medieval Aramaic text, with which it otherwise largely agrees. The narrative in 1:1-3:6 is again in the third person; much of the dialogue and the prayers are eliminated. The text lays a huge emphasis on tithing, a reason why it was introduced into the pentateuchal midrash.
  4. Cairo Genizah T-S A 45.25, 45.26 and 45.29 (Cambridge University Library): Fragmentary texts dating from the 13th-14th century. The earliest of these, 45.26 is of the same recension as the 1516 Constantinople text, while the latter two agree with Fagius’ version.

In the 19th century, Adolf Neubauer also discovered a 15th-century Aramaic text of Tobit in the Bodleian library at Oxford (Hebrew MS 2339).

The text, written in late Aramaic, seems to have been derived from G1. Some peculiar quirks of this version include: (1) agreement with the Vulgate in telling the story of Tobit in the third person in chapters 1-3; (2) omission of the dog, which is mentioned in most other versions; (3) abbreviation of chapter 12, omission of chapter 13 and most of 14 (the remaining part of which is highly condensed); and (4) a short epilogue in Hebrew.

At that time, Neubauer expressed his opinion that this text “Chaldee text in a more complete form was the original from which the translation of the Vulgate was made,” an opinion which was eventually critiqued as being unsubstantiated.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, however, would change long-held assumptions. But that’s for next time.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father [Tobit],” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1860.