Nahum The Carpenter, The Eighth Epistle

I should explain how the request to build wagons with seats on them came about. It all happened after the purchase of Yohanan and Miriamme’s farm, about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Here is the story!

What was once Nahum’s grandfather’s little leather shop is now a multi-functional operation.

It all started with a visit by Isaac to Miriamme and Yohanan’s. The elderly couple asked Isaac to invite Nahum and Ezra to come to their home for dinner on Friday.

Nahum and Ezra left early with Samuel and Ethan managing the shop. They rode their horses to see Yonanan and Miriamme.

Miriamme had prepared a sumptuous dinner and while the couple was certainly showing their age, they were both able to chat and converse very well.

After dinner, the couple surprised Nahum and Ezra when they presented them with a proposal that neither of them expected.

They told the men that they were now too old to run their farm and would like to sell it to Nahum and his son. They had two conditions, and they believed only Ezra could fulfill these conditions.

So, what are the conditions? Well, number one they wanted to be promised that the course piece of property at the east end of the farm, near the side road, would be the home of a future Christian Church.

Number two, they would like Ezra and Elizabeth to live in the main home and Yohanan and Miriamme would live in the small apartment. They would live separately, but wanted the security of knowing that someone was close by if/when needed. The amount they wanted for the farm was significantly less than the market value, partly because they had no heirs, but mainly because they wanted a Church built on their property.

Nahum and Ezra left with a promise they would return within three days with their answer.

When the two men reached town, they decided to meet with their wives immediately as this was a significant offer and affected all of them. They met at Nahums late into the evening.

The wives were more awe struck than the men! They could not believe they could be blessed with such a kind offer. They all agreed that Nahum should visit the Banker tomorrow morning to secure necessary credit and paper work.

The meeting with the Banker went well, Nahum had saved over the years and Ezra had received large gifts of money at their wedding. Also, Nahum was a respected businessman and member of the community so a small loan was no problem.

Nahum, Ruth, Ezra and Elizabeth returned to the couples home on Monday. Nahum said he would like to accept their offer and he had made arrangements with the Banker Man to transfer the funds into their account. Elizabeth startled the group when she stood and said she had another condition on the offer. Miriamme was quick to reply that the offer they had presented to Nahum was not open for dispute. But Elizabeth stood firm and said she insisted. Ok, Miriamme said what is it??

Elizabeth replied that the deal depended on Miriamme agreeing to teach Elizabeth how to cook and bake. The old woman jumped up and threw her arms around Elizabeth and said you will be my daughter. The deal was completed that night.

Now came the need to sell the old shop which was difficult for Nahum, because it had been handed down for four generations.

One day a well dressed man riding in an elaborate carriage stopped at the shop, looking for Nahum. His name was Jonathon; he was a very wealthy land developer who was looking for property to build an inn. He said he was talking to Banker Man who told him about Nahums shop being for sale.

He thought the site of the old shop was ideal as it was just off the main roadway and stood alone, not too close to any other buildings. Of course Nahum was anxious to sell, even though his heart was still aching about giving up his family property.

The discussions were very short, both parties agreed on a price and a closing date and both parties were happy!

Over the next six months a new shop was built with a modern, clean bright Medical Centre for Elizabeth.

One day just after the new shop opened a carriage stopped out front and Jonathon got out. Nahum welcomed him warmly and invited him for a tour.

Jonathon then said to Nahum and Ezra, within an hour a large wagon would be arriving with something for the new shop. A short time later a four horse team with a huge wagon arrived. The driver parked and two riders proceeded to climb up and open the load. They then dropped down two large crates.  Inside was some furniture. Nahum and Ezra went over and shook Jonathon’s hand and gave him a warm hug. Jonathon explained that when he was ordering furniture for his new inn, he thought you might like to have some new furniture for your office and lunch room. He added that he appreciated the honest way they had conducted the sale, and for the wonderful job Ezra had done on his lawns. He was very grateful.

While they were dismantling the crates Jonathon asked who the elderly couple was. When Ezra explained he walked over and introduced himself. Yohanan was so in awe of the carriage that he could hardly speak. He finally said, Mister that is the most beautiful carriage I have ever seen!. Thank you Jonathon replied, would you like to see inside, oh please may we? With that the driver was instructed to show them.

Jonathon then went over and whispered in Ezra’s ear. With a huge smile Ezra replied FOR SURE!!!!

When the couple got down Jonathon approached them and said, I am driving to my new inn to oversee the unloading of the wagon, and then I am returning home, would you like to join me? I will drop you off back here in about six hours. We can stop and have dinner on the way back.

The couple looked at each, neither one knowing what to say! They were both in such awe now. Finally Ezra said, ok let’s go, I will join you, I can sit with the driver and you two can stay inside. Oh my, Miriamme replied, let us go home for a few minutes to put on nicer clothes. Both men smiled and said take your time!

A few minutes later they returned nicely attired in their best clothes and Miriamme brought along some fresh biscuits she had baked and some cold tea. They were both so excited to ride in such a luxurious carriage. It was a monumental day for the couple.

**************

Elizabeth woke Ezra one early morning and said she was going into labour. Ezra called Miriamme from her sleep and the two of them helped Elizabeth deliver a healthy little boy. They said they would name him Paul, after the disciple Zeke had been working with. The grandparents were delighted.

A few weeks later a baptismal was held and the usual discussion by the grandparents took place with each pair claiming Paul looked like their side of the family. Elizabeth, Ezra and Miriamme all smiled to themselves. It was truly a happy gathering.

*************

During the next year Nahum and Ezra had the good fortune to purchase a blacksmith shop from old friend Seth who wanted to retire and actually move not far from the new shop.

Nahum was always proud at how the ladies in his family could speak freely and be part of any and all discussions. When the discussion of the blacksmith shop came up Elizabeth and Ruth with support from Hannah, said the blacksmith shop should be a separate building away from the main shop and the clinic. Nahum and Ezra were surprised and proud of the ladies for speaking up and making a good point. It was agreed the blacksmith shop would be away from the clinic and downwind too.

The deal went smooth with Seth supervising the transition and relocation. While this was taking place another friend mentioned to Ezra that his cousin was a blacksmith in Rome but wanted to return home. When Nahum and Ezra were interviewing the young man, Bartholomew or Bart, he asked if they had considered building wagons now that they had a blacksmith shop. They were surprised but said why are you asking? He said that a friend of his who worked at the same large plant in Rome, building wagons, was also looking to move back to the Jerusalem area.

It was not long after that Bartholomew, or Bart and his friend Ethan were members of the Nahum the Carpenter shop and they were now making sandals, repairing harness, fixing implements and building wagons! Much different to the shop of twenty years ago!.

When Joshua heard of this he was so anxious to see Nahum and ask him if he could order a new wagon. He ordered one for himself and two for neighbours. The wagon business had started.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “The Forge of Vulcan,” by Francesco Bassano the Younger, painted in the latter part of the 16th century.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Seventh Epistle

Joshua and Zilpah came to visit Nahum and Ruth one Sunday. During their visit Joshua asked Nahum if he had heard of a travel wagon? Nahum said Simon referred to it once in a conversation with a local farmer.

Joshua said he and two of his farmer neighbours were realizing how difficult it was to move workers from one place to another, they had to take small carts of a horse each. He said he had heard that a company in Rome was building them and farmers were finding them such a time saver, and they were even using them to transport family and friend, some held as many as fourteen people. Nahum said he would ask Simon for more information.

Simon showed Nahum a drawing of a farm wagon that could have seats added to transport people. He had made some in Rome. He said they were easy to build.

When Nahum told Joshua he ordered three.

Samuel and Ethan said they would make padded leather seats for even more comfort.

The boys completed the three wagons and Ezra delivered them using a team of his well trained horses to pull the first one and tow the other two behind.

The farmers were delighted in their new mode of transport and felt the cost would soon by paid for by the time saved in moving workers. They also appreciated the fact they could take their family all in one wagon now too.

As Elizabeth and Ezra were going to bed Elizabeth leaned over and gave her husband a kiss. She said, Ezra, if nothing happens in the next month we will have to invite our families for lunch again! He sat up and asked are you pregnant, yes she smiled back at him.

Ezekiel was improving every day and was now going out and meeting with Isaac whenever he could. Isaac was giving him an overview of his preaching area and the places where “Churches” had been established.

One evening Nahum surprised his son when he brought Hannah back with him from the shops. Again, she had prepared herself well for the surprise visit, hair all nice, a touch of rouge on her cheeks and another pretty dress.  Nahum had arranged for the two of them to dine at one of the areas nicer dining rooms. They made such a cute couple.

Ezekiel made Hannah’s day when he told her he had decided to stay in Jerusalem area and take over some of Isaacs missions. He also said he was looking to buy property but was not sure where. She was even more delighted when he asked her where she would like to live! Hannah said she had some ideas, but would need to think about them first. Any decision was put on hold for now.

They had a delightful evening and when they returned home Ruth and Nahum sat with them for some time enjoying some of Joshua’s wine, it was a very pleasant evening for all of them. Ruth showed Hannah to the spare room and the family went to bed very happy.

Nahum made his usual bi-weekly stop at Market Man and was surprised when he was asked if Market Man would be able to visit his shops and meet with Ezra. Nahum agreed to meet Market Man at the edge of town on Friday at 8:00 am.

The two men rode to the shops where Ezra was waiting with tea and biscuits for them. Market man asked for a tour and a chance to meet the staff. In particular he wanted to meet Samuel and Ethan. He surprised the two young men when he presented them each with a bag of shekels, a considerable amount too!

He praised them for their quality of workmanship and their creativity. They were pleased, excited and slightly embarrassed all at the same time.  Nahum and Ezra were proud of their “two boys”!

They returned to the meeting room where Market Man produced a drawing of a carriage he had seen recently. He explained to Ezra that he had opened a second store at the far end of town, in an area that served mostly farmers and wine growers; it was quite far from his original shop.  He said he was finding it difficult to transport his people, either between shops, to Church, to family gatherings or to other social events so he wanted a carriage! He showed them his rough drawing.

Nahum and Ezra looked at it and asked Market Man if it would be ok to bring Simon and Bart into the meeting, He agreed.

When the two men arrived, Market Man explained how he was so impressed with Jonathon’s carriage and how much use he got out of it. He explained he wanted a carriage similar, but different and told them his plans and ideas.  Ezra noticed the two men smiling and winking at each other when they heard what Market Man wanted, but said nothing.  The two men looked over the drawings and suggested they could come up with their own set of drawings and a cost estimate in a week. Market Man agreed to return next Friday.  He then thanked them for their time, for the tour and the tea and rode home.

When he had left, Ezra said, ok boys what was so funny. Bart said, wait a minute and he left. He returned a few minutes later with two large scrolls. He opened them and he and Simon explained that they had been designing a carriage in their spare time and they thought it would be perfect for Market Man. Ezra told them to take time off and work on the drawings, they said they would, but would also work on their own time too as they really enjoyed the opportunity.

Over the next few evenings and on Saturday and Sunday, the two men worked on their design. Simon was anxious to use some new glass for the windows. A friend in Rome had sent him two sheets carefully wrapped on a board, telling him they were now producing this product in Rome. He wanted to put glass in the doors so the occupants could look out and still be protected from the elements. It had been used for some time in making bottles and baubles, but now they were making it in a sheet form.

While working on the drawings at home, Simon’s niece became fascinated with her uncle’s work. She was fourteen and wanted to be an artist. She had produced some nice art work already. She said, Uncle, I can make a really nice picture of your carriage if you want. He said sure go ahead.

The next day, she asked her mother if she could stay home from school and work on the carriage drawing. Her mother said definitely not. Simon intervened and whispered to his sister that maybe, just maybe, if the art was very good she may get paid for it. Her mother relented and the girl took out her oils and started.

By the time Simon arrived home the next day the picture was on an easel in the outdoor sitting area. Simon was absolutely shocked when he saw it. It was a masterpiece; he could not believe his young niece could produce such a professional piece of art.

He took it to the shop the next day the men were all amazed, they thought the drawing itself would be enough to sell Market Man on the carriage.

The four men sat down and went over the costs of materials and suggested cost of labour. Simon and Bart had a figure in their head as to the selling price, but they wanted to see what Nahum and Ezra came up with.

To their surprise the prices were very close, Ezra being a bit more expensive. He had put in a 10% extra fee for “hidden and unexpected costs” the two men agreed.

They were prepared for Market Man when he arrived before 8:00 am on Friday. Samuel had framed the young girl’s art and it sat on an easel when you entered the meeting room.

When Market Man entered he took a look into the room and stopped in his tracks. He was almost shaking when he asked with a stutter is, is that my, my carriage? They said yes that is what it will look like. He went over to Nahum and hugged him and said you sure do run a professional operation here. He then asked who painted it. When Simon told him, he asked if he could meet the young lady some time, and Simon said when we call you for an inspection of the work progress in about a month I will make sure she is here.

When the boys completed their review of the plans, Market Man was smiling from ear to ear. When they told him the cost, plus or minus 10% he said that is a bit more than I expected, but I did not expect to see the additions of a removable roof over the driver, or the leather bound seats inside. He turned to Nahum and said when I return to my store after leaving here, I will stop at the bank and make a deposit of 20% in your account, please proceed.

The men all shook hands and Market Man mounted his horse and left for the bank.

During the next two months the men made sure all customers were looked after but they really tried to concentrate on the carriage. Bart had completed the frame, the wheels he ordered had arrived, and Simon had built some of the wooden sections and was now working on the doors.  Samuel and Ethan were about half way through making the seats and arm rests. The men told Nahum to arrange for Market Man to come by for an inspection in two weeks.

Ok, Elizabeth said to Ezra, we have to have another family get together.  He said I will tell my dad and he can get word to your folks and Joshua and Zilpah. We should make sure Isaac, Miriamme and Hannah are invited too.

When her mom and dad found out they asked if they could host the party, they wanted to spend time with Paul, and they suggested everybody plan to come on Saturday, stay overnight, go to Church then have the get together next Sunday afternoon. They all agreed.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “The Arrival of Caesar,” by Ettore Forti, painted ca. 1890s.

 

Roman Dictatorship: Some Observations

The relevance of the relationship between the powers granted by states of emergency and the transition to authoritarianism and dictatorship is perhaps self-evident to any student of political science aware of history and contemporary events.

We will define authoritarianism broadly as a regime maintaining obedience through the use of the fear of coercion, and thus the foundation of the state is not legal authority but rather power exercised through an informal dictate. Dictatorship will be defined as the exercise of a like dictate, except under a public, systematic and formalised power rather than a hidden one.

Both types of regimes are characterised by elites of converging interests as well as the use of crisis in order to justify the power of the regime, and the loss of individual liberties. As such, these states have been characterised as crisis states which function in a nigh perpetual state of emergency despite professing outward belief in rights and the will of the people.

Thus, the struggle to preserve the sanctity of sovereign laws over arbitrary mandates of power depends precisely on the separation between normal legal and political procedures and those of the state of emergency.

It is precisely this struggle and conundrum over the distinction between the state of emergency and the normal rule of law which is made evident by the historical case of the Roman Republic and the transformation that occurred in its state of emergency procedures.

This will allow us to demonstrate such transformation as exemplified by the early institution of Dictatorship and the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, what they demonstrated of Roman politics and law in terms of the blurring between the previously strict lines of the state of emergency and normal legal procedure, and taking special note of the incident of the Catiline Conspiracy.

 

Roman Dictatorship

Arguably the original and thus most famous state of emergency in western political history, Roman Dictatorship presents the first ever attempt at addressing what in political philosophy ever since Aristotelian thought has been the problem of equity; equal applications of the law in all circumstances may be inherently unjust or inadequate, hence calling for a temporary suspension or alteration of laws and legal procedure

In principle, the dictatorship in Republican Rome was magistral office like no other exercising for a limited period of six months the power of imperium or in other words supreme administrative and coercive power in order to immediately deal with an external state of crisis, though it was restricted both legally and through political and religious precedent.

Nevertheless, the description alone cannot do the office justice unless it is situated in its proper historical, legal and functional contexts before one can even approach it ultimate political dimension.

The first paradox brought about by trying to put Roman Dictatorship in a proper historical context is how it could have even arisen in Rome in the first place. It is no great mystery that the city of Rome ever since the foundation of the Republic in 509 BC was weary of monarchy, which it had violently deposed, so much so that word king itself was an insult and a much despised word.

Yet, in the office of the dictator one seemingly finds the closest conjuring to monarchy that could be conceived in a republican government, as the dictator wielded the war powers of the monarchy, superseding those of the consuls and initially having command over all other magistrates.

If one takes Livy’s Histories at face value, the mere purpose of the office as a means of averting crisis and fulfilling a function which could not be carried out by the elected magistrates provides proper justification for the installment of the office in 500 BC, less than ten years since the institution of the Republic in the first place.

The dates themselves cause an issue, as it would have been a precarious action indeed for the people of Rome to have reinstated virtually in every way but name the monarchy they so desperately deposed less than ten years before.

In ​The Origin of Roman Dictatorship, D. Cohen seeks to explain and rationalize the origins of this extraordinary office both in terms of an interregnum, positing that it served as a transition from monarchy to republican government, but also a religious function in the early Republic which required the highest authority. Similar offices were to be found in the other city states of Latium, such as Alba and Caere, though with year-long terms of office.

In particular, the act of religious purification carried out by dictators and last performed in ​363 BC in the driving of a nail ceremony (a religious rite likely of early Indo-European origins) as a response to a pestilence carried out by Manlius Imperiosus demonstrated the nigh-sanctity of the office, above that of the Pontifex Maximus (head priest).

The sanctity of the office is further exemplified by the custom of silence which other magistrates were meant to obey before the dictator, and in conjunction with the dictator’s role as a saviour figure, one can understand how the Roman people accepted the existence of such an office in the early years of the Republic.

Beyond this period, and especially following the course of the Punic Wars in the Middle Republic, the office of the dictator lost further and further independence vis a vis the Senate and its authority to overreach the imperium of the Consuls, and eventually tribunes could veto the dictator’s measures just as those of the consuls.

Having approximated the origin of Roman Dictatorship, situating it in terms of Roman constitutional law is necessary. The procedure appointing the dictator appears at first sight as a simple consultation, whereby the Senate would agree that a state of emergency existed give leave of the consuls to appoint a dictator in order to deal with it.

The dictator’s powers were thus to deal with the specific state of emergency at hand; whether it was an insurrection or an invasion, yet the dictator was also charged with recruiting, assembling and leading the army to deal with the threat at hand. At this point, the legal aspect of the appointment is significant, because after the consuls had chosen a candidate for dictator, the ​Lex curiata de imperio granting the dictator his power of imperium had to be passed by the assembly of the people of Rome.

The dictator’s legal mandate was a popular one, and not senatorial. Indeed, the connection of the office of dictator to the people was also represented in its original title ‘magister populi,’ which translated to magistrate of the people, or more practically of the infantry in war, whereas the second in command of the dictator was the ‘magister equites’ or master of cavalry.

Leaving these military vestiges aside, it must be noted that after the carrying out the task demanded of him, the dictator was supposed to relinquish power and after the ​Lex Repetundarum of 300 BC they could be put on trial directly if they had overstepped their mandate in purpose or time.

What this kind of legal precision shows is the ability of Roman law to adapt to states of emergency in that it is able to preserve the rule of law even when limits to power are temporarily suspended. For if one is to believe in the rule of law, a principle by which the laws are universally applicable, public and their power vested in the state and not the individuals; one must precisely have such limitations and controls over states of emergency.

In addition to formal and legal checks on the powers of the Roman Dictatorship, Naomi Lazar points out in her essay ​Making Emergencies Safe for Democracy: The Roman Dictatorship and the Rule of Law in the Study of Crisis Governmentthat informal controls over the dictatorship were just as important; Rome’s strong republican political culture, the choice of appointees (men with a long and spotless record), and the Senate’s control over the treasury.

Nevertheless, Lazar also points out that 7 of more than 90 dictators passed legislation; the ​Lex Ameliana in 434 BC which enforced term limits on Censors, and the right to hold the consulship for plebeians in 367 BC by Camillus (5 times dictator and named second founder of Rome); showing that dictators favoured reformism while in office.

Roman Dictatorship, then, as a state of emergency shows a surprising level of continuity and formality on the part of Roman law and politics to adequately deal with states of emergency; which is why all appointed dictators relinquished power after the crisis was averted, whether they were motivated by religious and political precedent, legal restrictions or just the belief in the SPQR.

As such, the self-appointment as dictators at the head of private armies by both Sulla and Caesar in the late Republic demonstrate not the lapse of Roman dictatorship into a authoritarianism due to states of emergency; but rather the abuse of that old title to legitimize the illegal seizure of the state. One can thus conclusively say that it is not in the emergency powers of the Roman Dictatorship that the pitfall of autocracy can be identified.

 

The Senatus Consultum Ultimum & Catiline Conspiracy

However, the office of dictatorship was not the only response to states of emergency which the Roman Republic employed, as there was another in the form of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, which was not enshrined in Roman law, with a loose definition of its limits at best.

Before an explanation of the emergency procedure can be made, one must take a step back and look at the institutional history of the Senate. Founded in the monarchy, the Senate was originally an advisory body to kings until it gained greater powers and independence to make laws after the deposition of the monarchy in 509 BC.

Membership into the senate camy by consular appointment of ex magistrates, until 318 BC when the plebiscitum Ovinium took the power away from consuls and gave it to the office of the censor under the condition that once elected, a magistrate was immediately a member of the Senate.

Thus, the it became less exclusive and at the same time gained some elective legitimacy, yet its members enjoyed a mandate for life; an electoral mandate for life which in of itself is characteristic of oligarchical and elitist governments.

In addition to passing laws, the Senate enjoyed control over the treasury and state finances, as well as the ability to give consultations to the consuls which were not binding but by long precedent were obeyed.

It must be noted that the bureaucratic power of the Senate grew after the end of the Punic Wars with the beginning of the Late Republic period in order to keep up with the overseas territories that had been gained in Iberia, Sicily and the west Balkans.

Likewise, individual Senators became immensely wealthy landowners and property speculators due to the gains of the war.

It is precisely this more numerous and powerful Senate which after the Punic Wars first employed the Senatus Consultum Ultimum (SCU). Following the death of Tiberius Gracchus at the hands of an angry mob of patricians accusing him of trying to make himself king while he was passing reforms against huge agrarian estates, the Senate realised both that the Republic’s military resources were greater enough to defeat any external threat, and that the disaffected mob of Italian refugees left by the wars constituted the only legitimate threat of insurrection.

In other words, a state of emergency potentially prone to giving power to the people through an elected dictator was insufficient and potentially dangerous to state sovereignty. The fear materialised itself in the form of Gaius Gracchus, the younger brother of Tiberius who worked to finish the earlier reforms as tribune of the plebeians, and who had an armed bodyguard.

In 121 BC the Senate first used the Senatus Consultum Ultimum to declare a quasi state of emergency similar to martial law in modern terms, which gave power to the Consuls to deal with the threat after one of Gaius’ bodyguards commited a murder. The consul Opimius used the army to apprehend and execute Gaius Gracchus along with several others, leading to a total death count of over 3000 Roman Citizens.

This went against the Lex Valeria and ​Lex Porcia which forbid the execution of citizens without a trial, and trials without the right of appeal. When put on trial for his crimes, Opimius agreed that he had broken the law but justified his actions based on the SCU as it gave him greater powers of imperium under a state of emergency and with Senatorial decree. Opimius’ acquittal would serve to set a precedent for future use of the SCU despite it not being a written law nor having any previous precedents.

Framing the legality of the SCU was difficult for the Romans themselves, not least of which Cicero who helped expand and define its powers and even used it in the course of his consulship. Indeed, the way in which Cicero defined the SCU by the example of Opimius’ act was that magistrates could indeed overstep the written laws under senatorial decree in a state of emergency and in the defence of the country.

Yet, the authority of the decree and thus the act itself lay in the hands of the Senate, not the magistrates themselves as their power depended on the Senate’s prior approval. In other words, the Senatus Consultum Ultimum meant that a temporary state of war was declared against internal threats to the Republic, but without a temporal restriction, a clear definition of what constituted an emergency, nor a religious or political precedent as was the case with Dictatorship.

The most scathing critique that one could make, and justly so, is that the SCU served as little more than a means of carrying out extra-judicial killing, as was demonstrated by the killing of another tribune in 100 BC, whose executor Cicero defended in a trial 37 years later.

It would be an understatement to say that the SCU demonstrates a direct step in the extra-legal and political use of emergency measures, but before that can be done one must look at the most famous case of the use of the SCU which demonstrates to the fullest its legal limitations; the case involving Cicero himself that of the Catiline Conspiracy.

The events are described most poignantly by Livy as such: ​”​L. Catiline failed twice in the consular elections. He conspired with the praetor Lentulus, with Cethegus and many others, in order to assassinate the consul and the senators, to oppress the Republic and set fire to the city. An army was prepared in Etruria, but thanks to Cicero’s watchfulness the conspiracy was discovered.​” (Livy 102).

Although there is much to be questioned with this pithy description of events on the part of Livy, not the least of which that it was a description made by Catiline’s enemies after his defeat, there is some truth. It is indeed true that Cataline did fail to win elections and pass reforms, and that he plotted to overthrow the Republic during Cicero’s consulship with an army of 10.000 to 20.000 armed men.

Those prominent politicians with whom he plotted with were indeed caught with incriminating written evidence proving the necessity of the state of emergency which had already been declared.

Yet, it was Cicero’s response at this point in the course that is puzzling. Instead of having the prisoners immediately executed, Cicero proceeded to put their fate upt to a vote by the Senate, thus showing that he saw the act of executing them as being founded on weak legal grounds, and furthermore that their fate was the responsibility of the Senate.

​In response to this, Julius Caesar responded in a speech calling for the life imprisonment of the conspirators, rejecting not the evidence of their crimes but the authority of the Senate to sanction their killing without a trail, even in a time of crisis. Caesar’s response can’t be seen as a rejection of the emergency powers, but rather a rejection of Cicero’s interpretation of Roman law and especially the Senatus Ultimum Consultum giving the Senate authority to determine life and death in emergency situations.

Regardless, Cicero acquired a majority vote in Senate and had the conspirators executed, but when Caesar and several other senators tried to leave the senate house in order to protest the vote, Cicero had them threatened by his armed guards, which was illegal but permissible under the SCU. The last SCU employed was that against Caesar in 49 BC, which started a civil war that would bring the end of the Roman Republic.

Ultimately, the SCU demonstrates exactly what one would expect from emergency measures granting limitless power to a single branch of government and robbing the others of their sovereignty, as it took away the authority of elected magistrates and gave supreme authority to the Senate.

The problem is indeed obvious from a legal standpoint as the Senate has the power to declare a state of emergency, determine the scope of threat needed to justify the measures taken, and judge legality of events. In a historical sense, the SCU served as a means of permanently silencing political opposition and the very threat of it created such fierce factionalism that it regularly incited murder.

Yet all this was carried out on the legal basis of a mere senatorial consultation for which there was not even a written law. Such extreme laxity of political procedure demonstrates directly how the laws and functions of the state can be hijacked by political elites and lead to authoritarianism and autocracy.

 

Conclusion

While these examples may be brief and their impact minimal of the modern question of the role of states of emergency in the rise of authoritarianism, the capacity to learn from them is undeniable.

In sum, Roman Dictatorship provides neither the precedent for resembles in any way the conception of dictatorship established at the beginning, whereas the SCU proves a tentative step toward the path of autocracy in loose interpretation and limits.

The conclusion that can be made from this is that without a sacrosanct guarantee of rights protection and the independent mandates of political offices, the rule of law can be disintegrated from within the government and a democratically elected state can transform into authoritarianism.

 

The photo shows, “Cicero Denounces Catiline,” by Cesare Maccari, painted in 1889.

Antony And Cleopatra: Failed Politicians

In 31 BC, the outcome of a sea battle off the West coast of Greece forever changed Roman history. As a result, the young and ambitious Octavian would become Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Octavian’s victory firmly established his military power and dealt Marc Antony a serious defeat, which would prove fatal.

This battle took place between Octavian’s fleet on one side and the combined naval forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII in the other. The battle is considered a major turning point in the history of Egypt and marked the beginning of Octavian’s complete takeover of the rich North African kingdom. The Roman Senate gave Octavian the title of Augustus four years later.

The struggle between Antony and Octavian was actually about the question of who would rule the Roman World. Antony had allied himself with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, a descendent of the Ptolemaic Greek kings.

Furthermore, Antony and the foreign queen were lovers, even having gone through an Egyptian wedding ceremony. Most Romans disliked such a close relationship between an important governing Roman and a foreign queen. They suspected that he would either give her a large area of Roman territory for her own kingdom, or, worse yet, make her queen over the Romans and himself king in the process. Octavian played on the Roman’s intense dislike of the idea of being ruled by a king and denounced Antony’s supposed plans.

Soon, Antony divorced his legitimate wife Octavia, who was Octavian’s sister. It was not long before there was a full-scale civil war between the two powerful Romans. Antony had anchored his fleet in a small harbor on the Dalmatian side of the Adriatic Sea, and soon Octavian’s fleet had him trapped within his harbor.

Octavian also had his land armies placed in strategic positions to cut off all supplies to Antony’s army and fleet. Antony also had a large army encamped on the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (on the Dalmatian Coast across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). There had been skirmishes and indecisive battles all throughout the Summer of 31 B. C. Near the end of summer, Antony’s supplies were getting low and so was the morale of his troops.

Finally, on September 2, Antony came out to fight. His 220 heavy Roman warships were equipped with stone throwing catapults. They attacked Octavian’s 260 lighter vessels at close range.

Octavian’s lighter vessels were more maneuverable, though, and could use their rams more effectively than Antony’s ships could. Also, Octavian had the great advantage of having the brilliant general and military strategist Marcus Agrippa in command of his fleet. Cleopatra had 60 warships in the battle, including her treasure ship with its purple sails.

The fighting continued throughout the day, with Romans on both sides staining the sea red with Roman blood and killing their fellow citizens in about equal numbers. Then, a very strange thing happened. Cleopatra decided to take her ships and flee.

This act of cowardice dealt a serious blow to the morale of Antony’s men and cheered Octavian’s sailors on to ultimate victory. The battle was nowhere near lost, there was not even a clear indication of which fleet was ahead before Cleopatra cut her cables and ran.

Then, the final blow to Roman morale was struck by Antony himself. Upon seeing his beloved queen fleeing, he chose to abandon his stalwart Roman legions and follow her.

After a desperate chase, he finally caught up with her. Meanwhile, Octavian’s ships made short work of mopping up Antony’s fleet. Many of Antony’s brave seamen surrendered to Octavian and the battle was over.

The issue was not over for Antony and Cleopatra, however. Over the next few months, Octavian’s armies won victory after victory as they advanced through Greece and the East toward Cleopatra’s Egypt.

With their armies falling before Octavian’s advance on every occasion of battle, the two lovers soon saw that their cause was lost. Antony tried to commit suicide by falling on his sword. The wound was not immediately fatal and he found the strength to make his way to Cleopatra’s tomb, where she was awaiting news of the end. Antony died in the arms of his lover.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, had made plans of her own. Rather than be forced to walk in Octavian’s triumphal march through the streets of Rome as a captured foreign queen amid the jeers and insults of the Roman people, she would commit suicide. One of her serving girls brought her a basket of fruit containing a poisonous asp.

When Cleopatra heard Octavian’s victorious troops noisily milling about the streets of Alexandria, she put the snake to her breast and let it bite her. Her death was supposed to be completely painless.

The two serving girls she had also killed themselves by asp-bite, and when Octavian’s troops entered the tomb, one of the girl, still alive, had barely the strength to tell the soldiers that Cleopatra had escaped them in death.

And so ends the tragic tale of the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt and the sea battle upon which turned an empire. The Battle of Actium was not a massive battle between huge fleets; in fact, it was a rather small one.

But after the Battle of Actium was won and lost, there was not a single obstacle in the way of Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor, titled Augustus and master of the entire Western world.

Thus, the marriage between Antony and Cleopatra was a clever bit of political maneuver. This fact is clearly brought out in the Battle of Actium, where each of them sought personal gain, rather than the support of each other. Their suicides were the accepted, noble way out for the vanquished – for in the end, they were failed politicians.

 

The photo shows, “The Death of Cleaopatra,” by Achille Glisenti, painted ca. 1870s.

The Early History Of The Cross

As often happens in matters of scholarly opinion, what is accepted as “true” turns out not to be so upon deeper analysis or newer evidence.

Thus, for the longest while, it was customary to read in books dealing with early Christian history that the use of the cross only gained currency after endorsement by Constantine.

This view was fully expounded by Graydon Snyder in his now “classic” work, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Christian Life Before Constantine.

Many may not know or remember, but poor Professor Graydon was an early casualty in the now-normal “social justice wars.” He was an ordained minister, and had the misfortune of reading a Talmudic account of a man falling from a tree on a woman and “knowing” her by accident.

The Talmud said that this could not be rape. But a female student in the lecture thought otherwise and declared the reading of this passage as the justification of the sexual brutalization of women and forthwith lodged a complaint.

The university, ever eager to forestall offence no matter who gets destroyed in the process, slapped the then-63-year-old professor with a formal reprimand and distributed a memo campus-wide which stated that Graydon had “engaged in verbal conduct of a sexual nature” that had the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive” space in his classes.

This was not the end of – the university then assigned a monitor that sat in each of Graydon’s classes and lectures, taking notes of anything that might be considered offensive. Graydon soon retired.

Let the date of this incident come as a valuable lesson to all – the demise of the university system happened long ago. This annihilation of a good man’s character occurred back in 1994…twenty-four years ago.

The 1990s were the halcyon days of such random acts of social justice, when universities eagerly dragged the Trojan horse of postmodernism into the Academy, worshipped it with much fawning, drank the heady wine of relativism and feel into the deep sleep of nihilism – from which they never awoke, for the barbarians descended from the belly of the wooden beast and conquered the hapless “intellectuals.”

And, now only various forms of self-indulgent destruction are offered by universities, where once a proud tradition of civilization held sway. Such is the fate of all Troys, if given into the hands of fools.

But let us return to the matter at hand.

In his book, Graydon categorically decided that no evidence existed for the cross as a Christian emblem before Constantine. This led to the false assumption that Constantine “invented” the cross as a religious sign, because he chose to use it during the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

Given the popularity of Graydon’s book, this view became the “Gospel truth,” and is still widely repeated without question by historians of early Christianity.

Embedded in Graydon’s argument was a curious turn to psychology…since the cross was a method of execution of criminals, it was, thus, an emblem of shame, and could never have been elevated to a sign of the faith before Constantine’s imperial sponsorship of Christianity.

Popularizers then went to work, imagining Christians in the Roman world desperate to hide their faith, even descending down into catacombs to carry out their worship. And that they invented arcane signs to recognize each other, which only fellow-Christians would know (like the “Jesus-Fish” now often found on car-bumpers).

It all sounds plausible, but is simply not true.

Rather, the primary sign of the faith from its earliest beginnings was not the fish or the anchor or the wheel, or even the Sator-Square – but the cross itself. Graydon’s view is nothing other than an exercise in myth-making, which is finally destroyed by a new book that takes a fresh look at the entire “cross-debate” and offers facts rather than myths.

This book is The Cross Before Constantine. The Early Life of a Christian Symbol by Bruce W. Longenecker, which offers incontrovertible evidence that, from earliest times, the cross bore not only symbolic value but also theological significance.

The evidence Longenecker marshals to bolster this conclusion is impressive indeed, for it engages not only extensive material remains, but also solid literary testimony.

Such an approach also fully justifies the unique character given the cross in Scripture, such as, St. Paul’s famous exposition of the double conundrum of the cross – as a mark of utter shame and the very token of final triumph: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).

Such singularity of the cross links back to Jesus himself, with his well-known exhortation – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In, effect, then, Longenecker proceeds to uncover not simply the “life,” but the double-life, of the cross – as an instrument of painful execution, and as a symbol of life eternal.

He begins by examining the recent discoveries of various Jewish ossuaries that are engraved with crosses, either erect (+) or recumbent (x) – and these engravings are neither masons’ marks nor decorations.

Thus, the cross had significance in Jewish religious life during the Roman era. And this significance is grounded in Ezekiel 9: 4-6, where the cross is also the “mark” of God, which sets apart the faithful from the rest condemned to death, and is thus the emblem of life, a particular gift of divine grace.

Among the examples Longenecker shows are the Nicanor, Yehudah, Shalamsion, and the Jehosah ossuaries.

Thus, the “prehistory” of the cross is deeply rooted in the very “prehistory” of Christianity itself, namely, Judaic religiosity.

And because the early Jesus movement branched out of the faith of the Jews, Longenecker uncovers the earliest record of the cross’s double-life, both as a mark of God for mankind’s salvation, and as the process of execution that God, in Jesus, bears himself to bring eternal life to mankind.

Thus, the cross has importance far older than Constantine.

Next, Longenecker lays out an elaborate inventory of material and literary evidence.

He discusses the Alexamenos Inscription, the inscriptions in the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome, rings showing the cross, the famous Crucifixion Gem amulet in the British museum, the various inscriptions in Asia Minor, the graphic use of the cross in the gnostic Books of Jeu, the staurogram in Manuscript P66, and even the rather mysterious cross in a Pompeii bakery (Longenecker has devoted an entire book to the crosses in Pompeii, which is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine).

The literary testimony is even more extensive, and Longenecker deftly moves through it all to strengthen his case.

Thus, he makes use of the earliest witnesses from the first half the of the first century, namely, the Acts of Thomas; the Works of Hippolytus; Cyprian’s Testimonies and To Demetrianus; Tertullian’s De corona, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Marcion; and Letters; Lactantius’s Divine Institutes; Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies; Minucius Felix’s Octavius (the first Christian work in Latin, little known outside scholarly discussion).

Moving on to the second century, Longenecker musters the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Paul and Thecla; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho; the Odes of Solomon; the commentaries of Ignatius of Antioch’s on Ephesians, the Smyrneans, the Trallians; and the famous Fifth Ezra; the Epistle of Barnabas; the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul; and the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelation).

The conclusions that Longenecker draws from this extensive evidence is as follows:

  • The cross is found in various locations, always in Christian contexts – from Gaza and Jerusalem, out to Rome, Spain, North Africa, Egypt and East into Asia Minor and Syria.
  • Time-wise, the cross can be located as a Christian symbol from the first century down to the early parts of the third century AD. In other words, it is clearly used by Christians as an emblem of faith before Constantine.
  • Over the centuries, the shape of the cross evolved from the Jewish erect cross (like a +plus sign) to the more familiar body cross.
  • Longenecker also points out that the crosses found on rings may well have had an apotropaic function – to protect the wearer from demons and evil spirits (an attitude revived by Bram Stoker in Dracula’s aversion to the cross).

With his impressive and sedulous book, Longenecker has finally put out to pasture all the old myths about the cross, perpetrated by Graydon and his followers.

In other words, the cross was a well-established Judeo-Christian religious emblem long before Constantine took it up as his “coat-of-arms.”

For Christians, from the very beginnings of their faith, the cross had a double-meaning: it was the “mark” of God which set apart the believer from the non-believer, with all the significance of life and grace which this election signified. And, secondly, by extension, the cross became the “mark” that Jesus, the God incarnate, himself bore to embody an eternal life bought through horrific sacrifice.

The paradox becomes the solution – the “mark” of God becomes the instrument of torture, and then returns as a greater sign of life.

It is this paradox that St Paul explains: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Torture brings about glory, death leads to life eternal.

The cross is, in effect, the summation of the entire Christian proclamation – because of Jesus, death, though horrid, is not the end.

Longenecker persuasively demonstrates this historico-theological process in the great gyre of history.

 

 

The photo shows, “Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1870.

Yes, There Were Christians In Pompeii

One of the more famous volcanic eruptions took place in the late summer of the 79 AD not far from Naples.

In the aftermath, the Roman resort towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii lay buried in neatly ten feet of ash. When these towns were excavated, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they showed themselves to be time-capsules, capturing daily Roman life.

Many have been the explorations and questions about Pompeii – one of the more persistent ones being…Were there any Christians living there in that fateful year of 79 AD?

At that time, Christianity was spreading (and rather quickly) throughout the Roman world, and it would not be too great a stretch to imagine the presence of Jesus-devotion in Pompeii. We do know that St. Paul landed in the harbor town of Puteoli (modern-day Puzzuoli) in the year 61 AD (Acts 28: 130-14), which lies about thirty miles west of Pompeii.

Paul mentions that there were Christians in Puteoli, which means that followers of Jesus were already to be found in smaller towns around Naples.

About a hundred years ago, it was a common assumption that there were indeed Christians living in Pompeii. There is, for example, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Last Days of Pompeii, which imagines the lives of ordinary Christians living in Pompeii just before the volcano erupts. This novel became became the basis of many film adaptations.

This view, however, fell out of favor, and scholarly opinion swung the other way, maintaining that there was, in fact, no real evidence of Christian presence at all.

In a rather remarkable study, filled with great insight as well erudition, Bruce W. Longenecker has upended this scholarly assumption (for it is no more than that), and has shown once and for all that there were indeed Christians in the fated Vesuvian town.

His book, The Crosses of Pompeii. Jesus-Devotion in a Vesuvian Town (which follows his earlier work on the cross as a Christian symbol before Constantine, also reviewed in this magazine), offers evidence that cannot be ignored by scholars of Christian presence in Pompeii.

As in his previous work, Longenecker makes use of material remains to make his point.

It can be said without a doubt that books such as this are rare in historical studies – for it has succeeded in rewriting a misunderstood and ignored aspect of Roman Christian life.

The most fascinating part of this book is Longenecker’s own documentation of examples of crosses carved into the Pompeian street paving stones. Through his own endeavor, he has searched and found eighteen such crosses so far. He feels that there might well be more.

The important thing to note here is that these crosses are not just notches or mason marks. They are, in fact, Christian crosses.

How does Longenecker know this? As the book reveals, these crosses function first as pointers, which might lead a Christian to the most important Christian place in Pompeii, namely, the bakery in the Insula Arriana Pollians, where a cross was found, in a prominent place on the wall, made out of raised plaster.

As well, these crosses serve a protective function, in that they are incised onto busy streets to offer protection. The use of apotropaic objects and symbols was prevalent and common in the Roman world, and the cross certainly fulfilled that purpose in Pompeii.

Longenecker rather cogently points out that since these crosses are not modern surveying marks, nor mason marks, nor ancient traffic signs to keep everything moving on the street, they can only be what they look like, Christian crosses.

They have been laid out, with great effort, in a discernible pattern, or plan – to lead the wayfarer to a Christian place.

This, of course, immediately suggests that Christians did not hide their faith, but rather openly displayed it, for all to see. This also very much underscores the behavior of the various martyrs who never hid their faith, when they could easily have done so to escape death.

These street crosses, then, strengthen the other evidence that exists in Pompeii for Christianity, namely, the Christianos Graffito; the Vivit Cross in Insula 1.13; and the Meges stamp-ring.

The graffito, found in a large residence (7.11.11), reads, “audi Christianos…” (“listen to the Christians…), and hints at the practice of preaching which was so helped the quick spread of the faith in the Roman world.

The Vivit Cross, when interpreted means, “he lives,” which is a very powerful summary of the early kerygma – Jesus lives.

The Meges ring shows a cross surmounting a symbol for eternal life. Again, a very concise summation of the Christian message.

These three pieces of evidence have largely been ignored in the scholarly literature dealing with Pompeii. Bur such has been the fate of Pompeii, when it comes to scholarship, which is notorious for being shoddy and haphazard.

This explains the lack of attention given to the question of Christian presence in Pompeii.

Added to this is the fact that scholarly opinion tends to the blind leading the blind, where something is assumed to be settled and done with, and it is then endlessly repeated as proven fact, when it is no more than an opinion that has gained currency.

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill has captured this problem with Vesuvian scholarship clearly when he stated: “Each generation discovers with horror the extent to which information has been ignored, neglected, destroyed, and (the most wanton damage of all) left unreported and unpublished.”

Thus, for many decades scholars, who should have known better, kept repeating what they themselves had only heard – that there were no Christians in Pompeii.

Bruce Longenecker has finally set the record straight. Indeed, there were Christians in Pompeii, and they were an integrated part of daily Roman life, who openly displayed the prime symbol of their faith – the cross.

This remarkable book comes to a moving conclusion in this way… “When the end came on that fateful day in 79, one thing might have caused them (the Pompeian Christians) to look different from their contemporaries. Many of their peers, desperately fleeing the doomed town, fearfully clutched apotropaic devices and statuettes of their deities, from whom they sought deliverance from death. By contrast…Jesus-followers may have left their hands intentionally empty. And perhaps a few with empty hands died with one word on their scorched lips, vivit [He lives].”

The history of Vesuvian Christianity has finally taken a step forward.

 

 

The photo shows, “The Last Day of Pompeii,” by Karl Bryulov, painted between 1830-1833.

The Logos: A Brief History

There has been a surge in the use of the word, Logos, in recent years as enlightened circles of Western scholars are rediscovering their roots. Thankfully, thinkers like Jordan B. Peterson are popularizing the term once more.

Now more than ever, scholars must understand the meaning of this earth shattering word. Analyzing its history is the key to unlocking the indispensable philosophical tradition that accompanies it.

The Christian conception of the Logos is the climax resulting from the synthesis of Greco-Roman philosophy and Judaic belief. Hence, we must understand both to comprehend the Logos’ two-fold history.

The Greco-Roman Logos

To understand The Logos (logic, account, or language) of the Greek tradition we must start at the beginning with magic.

The ancient Greeks believed in magic. Among them, the Goēs (γόης) was a magician that would wander from town to town interpreting dreams, telling fortunes, practicing necromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and other acts of divination.  The suffix “-mancy” means “divination by specified means.”

To continue on this etymological dig, divination means, “the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” While magic was ultimately the practice of gathering information, not raising armies of the dead, summoning the titans, or any other Hollywood nonsense.

One of these practices of divination by the Goēs was speaking in tongues, that is, glossolalia. In this ritual, the Goēs would babble a series of syllables that poured out of the mouth as pure gibberish.

So, what? Why are we concerned about some ancient man babbling gibberish? Well, because the ritual reveals three revolutionary ancient concepts.

  1. The spirit world had a language, logic, or structure behind it as opposed to being pure chaos.
  2. Human beings have the ability to communicate and engage with the spirit world through language.
  3. Communicating with the world of the divine can be used to reveal truth.

To the ancient Greek Goēs, the world of the divine was not just shear chaos. The forces of the universe had a logic behind them that gave them shape. Their form could be accessed and interacted with using a special language. Hence, the reason for glossolalia.

Language needs a structure in order to exist. If the spirit-world had a language, it meant that it had a structure. The idea that the world of the divine had an order behind it was a revolutionary paradigm.

So, to understand and practice the magic of life, one had to speak the language of life, i.e. biology. The ancient Greeks did not know biology, rather they knew the language of life. This is what biology means: bios (Greek for “life”), and logos (-logy) , which is language or logic. To know biology was, and is, to know the words that relate to life and what those words mean, so that one can “converse” with life.

It’s like “talking car” with auto-mechanics today. When we say someone knows how to “talk car,” we don’t mean that they spend hours physically talking to their car about how the day went. What we mean is that they understand the words and concepts that facilitates their interactions with automobiles.

Every word in a language represents a concept or piece of knowledge. Thus, a science, as a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject,” is logos, is language.

Therefore, when the Goēs ascribes language to the spirit world, he starts to engage in building the science of the divine. The more magic words he creates, the more concepts he use to describe the divine.

Divination by the Goēs would start the association with language, with the divine, and with knowledge. These associations would eventually evolve into the Logos.

In addition, the Goēs would profess truths about the cosmos by speaking in tongues. This act assumes that one could draw useful knowledge from the unknowability of the divine.

Iambilichus (245 AD – 325 AD), a Neoplatonist philosopher, connected speaking in tongues with the act of prophecy. He believed that prophecy was the possession of a divine spirit which “emits words which are not understood by those that utter them; for they pronounce them, as it is said, with an insane mouth (mainomenό stomati) and are wholly subservient, and entirely yield themselves to the energy of the predominating God.”

But weren’t the Greeks a bunch of rationalists? Didn’t they move away from that mystical mumbo-jumbo? For a time, the pendulum of philosophy swung from the mystical Goēs to the rationalist Pre-Socratics.

Certainly, the Pre-Socratics (Sophists) were less concerned with the immaterial and more concerned with the material world around them. In their camp are the “physikoi,” a word that can be translated as the naturalists or physicists. To the Sophists, man was the measure of all things and that justice, truth, and love were simply meaningless social constructs. (This is why the postmodernists are simply “Neo-Pre-Socratics”).

But who was talking about the Logos? Heraclitus. Later known as, “the weeping philosopher,” he believed that the world was in a constant state of flux and that nothing truly lasted. In other words, everything was just dust in the wind. But he also believed that different forms of change had their own logos (logic, word, cause, or account) behind them.

It wasn’t long till the pendulum of philosophy swung away from the rationalists to a war veteran named, Socrates. He argued that the Greeks had to go back to looking within themselves for truth, not artificially constructing it.

He pointed to the inscription at the oracle of Delphi that read “Know thyself.” Socrates instructs his followers to see the world with their mind’s eye. A world perceived with the senses was a world of distorted and fickle shadows. This is the meaning of the allegory of the cave.

In the internal world of the forms was truth itself. In this way, we can understand the Socratics as going back to the ways of the Goēs.

Justice, virtue, and truth were immaterial forms existing in a separate reality from our perceptions. Humanity could access this realm using the mind’s eye and engaging in philosophic discourse. Divination from the inner realm of the incorporeal hearkens back to the magic of the Goēs.

Another key idea Socratic idea was that that there a was a form of forms called “The Good” which was the ultimate culmination of virtue. In texts like the Euthyphro he places “The Good” above kings and the gods themselves. He argues that Man worshipped the gods because they were Good, as opposed to worshiping Goodness because it came from the gods. To Socrates the Good transcended Zeus.

But what connects Athens to Jerusalem? In a word, Rome.

The Stoics took on the mantle of Greek thought and particularly Platonist ideas. The Stoics would also grapple with the Logos, sometimes translated as. “the Master-Reason.” They believed that the universe was ordered by this Master-Reason, so that human beings, as rational animals, had a mental connection to the Logos.

The Stoic praise of rationality and logic caused them to argue for the control of one’s emotions, employing reason over passion. With this self discipline, one could live in harmony with the Logos.

It is critical to note that they did not believe that the Logos was God! For example, Cicero claims that Chrysippus thought “the world itself” was “a god, and also the all-pervading world-soul.

This is closer to a rationalist pantheism than the mystic all-loving God of Christendom.

It is not until the synthesis of Judaic thought with Greco-Roman rationality that we arrive at the Western idea of a Christian God.

The God of Abraham and Moses

The God of the Jewish tradition, and the believers of that God, create the culture which allows for the emergence of Christian thought. Their scriptural stories would provide rich ideas that would be mobilized into the philosophy behind the Christ, the Logos made flesh.

The first idea that is central to understanding Judaism and Christianity is the association between language and structure.

In Genesis, the lord of all creation creates in a very specific way. He does not mold matter with his hands, rather he speaks. God said, “Let there be light” and then there was light (Genesis 1:3). From God’s spoken words, all creation comes about.

The connection between language and structure is reaffirmed in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

As many may know, humanity attempts to build a great structure, a tower that will rival even God. After disapproving the pointless venture, God halts mankind’s best-laid plans in very strange way. He does not crush the strcuture, or toss a lightning bolt at it to blow it to smithereens.

Rather, he causes all the people constructing it to speak a different language. In their scattered frustrations, they abandon the project in confusion.

The message is clear. With language comes structure. The two are cosmically connected. From God’s words comes forth creation. Interestingly, this connection between language and structure parallels the knowledge of the Goēs.

The most revolutionary idea contributed by the Jews is that of monotheism. Monotheism is more than the belief that there is one God (Exodus 20), for it caries with it the implications of that belief.

The polytheist sees a world of separate and chaotic forces. Each of these forces is represented by a god or goddess. For example, wisdom is manifest by Athena, and erotic love is represented by Aphrodite. These goddesses don’t always get along and their rivalry can lead to chaos. In fact, it is the quarrel between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite that leads to the Trojan War.

But to the Monotheist, there is only one cosmic force or God that reigns supreme above all things. All other forces are idols, false gods, that are ultimately powerless and yielding to the supreme authority of the one true God (Exodus 32).

In this way, all forces are really one thing. Any true dichotomy would destroy the monist nature of the one true God.

For example, one might believe that the world was divided into the combating spirits of pure good and pure evil. If so, one would believe in the duality of two ultimately irreconcilable “logics” behind the universe. This would prevent one from concluding that there is a single logic behind the universe, or Logos.

This monotheistic God is so ultimate that he transcends even the kings of the nations that believe in him. When King Obadiah calls the Prophet Elijah an enemy of Israel for critiquing the corruption of the nation, Elijah retorts that he serves a power that is higher than mortal kings (I Kings 18).

The transcendence of the Hebrew God bears a resemblance with The Good, for the authority of both go beyond the power of kings and other gods. Thus both God and the Good are the highest of all things – and therefore God is good (Psalm 100:5).

Another critical aspect here is the dialogue between God and his people. God is an active force who can converse with his people, such as, Abraham who is specifically called by God (Genesis 12). And God also sends messages though his angels (Genesis 18, and Daniel 9:21).

This dialogue between God and mankind reveals three things:

  1. People derive moral truths and righteous action by God alone.
  2. God and humanity are locked in an covenant, a sort of cosmic contract.
  3. If the contract is not followed, humanity risks downfall and possible annihilation.

God and his messengers reveal to his people the righteous course of action (Exodus 14), and moral truth (Exodus 21:12-14).

This process of divination once again parallels the Goēs who can communicate with the divine and reveal truths.

God becomes the logic behind the universe from which humanity can derive its morality. For example, Moses receives God’s Commandments from God himself. Only then does he share these laws to the people (Exodus 20).

What this shows is that God, the ultimate force behind the universe, demands something from us. If humans comply to the will of God, they will fulfil his covenant.

If humanity breaks his covenant, they risk annihilation, so that ). God reigns down fire and brimstone on the cites of the faithless (Genesis 19). Therefore, those who are in accordance with the logic of the universe shall continue their lineage or existence, while those who are not face death and destruction (Genesis 15).

Christ: The Incarnation of the Logos

Israel is where the hammer meets the anvil. The Christian idea of Logos is forged by the synthesis of Greco-Roman and Judaic thought.

The ancient thinkers like Philo had already started to merge these two great traditions. To Philo, the thoughts of the Creator were equated with Plato’s forms. The culmination of these two were the Logos in Philo’s philosophy.

Before jumping to conclusions, one must realize that this does not mean that Christ studied under Philo or anything like that. But, it does show that ideas from both traditions were circulating among Jewish scholars. More importantly, it shows that there were efforts to link these traditions.

The ultimate synthesis would come with Jesus who is the messiah, the Christ, and the logos (sometimes translated as the Word) incarnate (John 1:14).

Christ and his followers equated the Logos with love (I John 4:8). It is the claim that Love is the ultimate truth behind existence.

To the Christian, the chaos of this world is an illusion. Chaos is just undeciphered order. Because beyond the incalculable madness is the one singular force, ultimately one logic which is God (John 1).

The logos is the ultimate account behind a world of Heraclitan change. It is the single force, logic, explanation, cause, and goal behind veil of our perception. It is God

Nothing is exempt from the Logos, thus it knows all things. Nothing stands apart from the logic of the universe. It is the Master-Reason. Nothing is free from cause, from account, from being. On the contrary, all things are connected, trapped in a single dialectic, one cosmic dialogue (Ephesians 4:6).

The Logos is the ultimate language of languages, the structure of structures. Love is the harmony of being, the universal tongue from which all systems flow as mere dialects of it.

When we stray from love, we are mistranslated (I Corinthians 13). Though never cut off completely (Romans 14:7), we suffer from our inability to be understood. We are thwarted in our frustration from reaching our potential. Thus, we abandon the Tower of Babel.

The Logos is the logic behind Creation. That is to say Love is the Logic behind Creation: “In the beginning God Created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In parallel, the apostle John begins his gospel with “In the beginning there was the Logos” (John 1).

Thus, the Logos is the force and logic of creation and of being. The apostle Paul writes “If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13).

Thus, language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of love in this formula of existence.

From this passage we once again see how language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of Love in this formula of existence.

The Logos is characterized by the attributes that Socrates gave to Truth (AKA the Good). The logos is eternal, it is constant, everlasting, all-powerful, and knows all things. It is Truth.

This is mirrored by Paul when he states that “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always preserves” (I Corinthians 13).

Paul’s description of love mirrors Socrates understanding of The Good. Early Christians were very aware of this affinity. Thus, St. Justin Martyr calls the ancient Greek philosopher, “Saint Socrates.” and he also considered both him and Heraclitus as Christians!

Yet the Logos is much more active than The Good. Like the Master-Reason of the Stoics it possesses a demanding quality which engages the rational minds it reveals itself to.

To the Stoics, there wasn’t just a Master-Reason that minded its own business and could more or less go unaccounted for. Rather, the logic behind the universe seemed to demand something from the mankind. Through rationality, mankind could come to know its will.

The Hebrew God mirrors this. God demands something from his people. He is an active force in their lives. The Lord tests them, bears witness, and reveals himself through their history.

But what does the Mater-Reason and the Hebrew-Christian God want from us!? The same thing as the Logos – virtue, the highest of which is love (Colossians 3:14).

To believe in the Logos is to believe in love, to believe in truth, that the light conquers the darkness. Love is a power that transcends kings, nations and even other gods.

The Logos is not some bearded fellow throwing lighting bolts or physically reaching out for David. It is warmth of our hearts, the faith held in our fellow human beings, and the light of the mind. Though it is always testing us, we are ever vigilant. That is what it is to believe in God, the Logos.

 

The photo shows, “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Carl Bloch, painted in 1877.

The Death Of The Liberal Mind

Let us talk of many things, as the Walrus said, but primarily, of Neoreaction. What follows is the start of what I hope to make an extended exploration of this line of thought, for which I have much sympathy. I embark on this project for four reasons.

First, to amuse myself. Second, in order to make my own thinking coherent, for confusion already stalks the land, and why add to it? Third, in the hope that what I say may bring value to others, since a man should not bury his single talent. And fourth, so that in some small way, in a manner yet to be revealed, this combination of analysis of others and thoughts of mine will help to either forge the future, or smash and remake the present.

The projected form of this exploration is an initial series of book reviews, drawn with an eye to weaving them together into a coherent whole that supersedes the reviews themselves. It is important to note that this is an investigation, with an uncertain end. But I expect to come to a definite conclusion, with both a coherent summary and recommendations for a cogent, directed set of political actions. The focus will therefore be practical politics, not pure abstractions, although of necessity there will be much political philosophy, which I will keep as grounded as I can.

To kick off the concretization of things, I will drop the prefix “neo,” for it adds nothing. The term “reactionary” denotes a range of current political philosophies (its only other meaning today is as a generic and content-free term of abuse), and I will save a lot of ink by simply eliminating the prefix.

Of course, even at this early point, numerous overarching problems present themselves that would not present themselves in evaluating more mundane political issues, such as tax policy.

The first is the need to weed out insanity. Fringe political movements, which reaction is for now, tend to attract a dubious cast of characters, and the Internet exacerbates their reach and perceived numbers.

Moreover, insanity divides into two branches – a mere denial of, or departure from, reality, relatively easy to recognize; and a failure to realize that any idea is only useful insofar as it may find fertile ground on which to fall.

Politics is the art of the possible, and hope is not a plan.

A second problem is the undeniable racism (in its actual, not imaginary or accusatory, sense) of a non-trivial percentage of reactionaries. It is not enough for reactionaries to glibly dismiss this problem, just as it is not enough for progressives to coolly dismiss (though they usually rather celebrate) their close association, and long-lasting symbiotic relationship, with the mirror image of racists – their own violent and nasty extremists, such as Communists, or the so-called Antifa.

This problem should not be permitted to dominate or cloud the discussion, or result in any sort of pre-emptive apology or obeisance, as progressives would love to require, but it deserves discussion.

A third challenge, related to but distinct from the second, is that much reaction is profoundly opposed to Christianity, openly or covertly, and therefore its success would pose a risk of fracture to the bedrock of Western civilization.

In the inspired words of Ross Douthat, if you don’t like the Christian right, you really won’t like the post-Christian right.

Thus, in some ways my exploration lies at a tangent to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, not in that it hopes to expand or clarify his vision, which is complete enough in itself, but to outline political actions that can serve as armed outrider, an implementation of my own Mendoza Option (from the character in the film, “The Mission”), without wholly degenerating into an amoral reboot of society.

A fourth problem, related to the third, is that it is easy to forget that political theory is only helpful so long as, and inasmuch as, it conforms to the underlying reality of things, rather than being a pleasing abstraction, a program that attempts to change the unchangeable.

A theory fashioned in isolation but designed for imposition in and upon the real world is, in a very real sense, the Devil’s craft. I hope to remain sensitive to and directly address each of these problems, as well as others that are sure to arise.
So off we go!

This is supposed to start as a review of Mark Lilla’s The Shipwrecked Mind, a loose collection of essays about reaction, published as a group in early 2016, before the rise of Trump. Certainly, Trump himself is not a reactionary. However, just as certainly, he has been advised by men who are very definitely some brand of reactionary, most notably Steve Bannon and Michael Anton, the latter still serving in the White House.

Until Trump, what little attention was directed at reaction revolved mostly around obscure dead people with ties to twentieth century radical right movements, such as Julius Evola, or around the largely incoherent ramblings of a subset of techno-libertarians, whom I suspect are mostly the kind of people away from whom you edge at cocktail parties.

Lilla was among the first to perceive that there was more to the movement, but post-Trump, reactionary thought began receiving substantial attention. Most of this was a wave of stupidity emerging from both Left and the fat cat Right, but there was also some thoughtful analysis, the best of which was Andrew Sullivan’s April 2017 piece on reaction in New York magazine.

Sullivan’s worthwhile contribution groups reactionaries into three clusters, each with an avatar.

The first avatar is Leo Strauss, who fled Nazi Germany and ended up in California as an obscure and Sphinx-like, but highly influential, political philosopher.

Sullivan does not attempt to directly parse Strauss (unlike Lilla, as we’ll see), but focuses on Charles Kesler, editor of The Claremont Review of Books, as a type of gnomon sub-avatar, revealing the truth cast by the light of Strauss.

In short, according to Sullivan, Straussians think that the modern American political system has wholly lost its way, but that as with the string of Theseus in the Labyrinth, there exists a clear path back to an ideal political system that has, unlike most supposedly ideal systems, actually been tried and found effective.

That is the America of its original Constitution, either as it existed in 1787, or as amended by the post-Civil War amendments. Nobody informed can disagree that today’s American government bears essentially no relation, except in its external forms, to the American government of 1870, no more than the Roman government of A.D. 50 bore to the Roman government of 300 B.C.

Straussians, although they have various internal divisions, believe that the desired end of political history arrived already—and was left behind.  Therefore, today’s Cthulhu State, a multi-tentacled horror of unlimited and unaccountable power, exemplified by the monstrous administrative state that finds no warrant in the Constitution, should be destroyed and the Republic restored by the simple expedient of turning back the political clock.

The second group is represented by the avatar of Michael Anton, and was mostly embodied by the belligerent, now defunct pre-election blog, The Journal of American Greatness, which has a quasi-descendant in the still extant American Affairs, an actual journal published by Julius Krein, who had a prominent role in American Greatness.

Anton is in some ways a Straussian, in that he admires the Founding, but he is much more what I would, to coin a term, call an “Augustan” – a man who sees some benefit in democratic forms, but little other benefit in democracy, and who therefore focuses on power and its uses.

In an Augustan system, the forms of republican government remain, and even some of its application, but the real power has shifted. Sullivan terms this “Caesarism,” by which he means to refer to Julius Caesar, not Augustus Caesar (Octavian). But this is the wrong historical parallel.

Julius Caesar technically overthrew the Republic, true, but it was already completely fractured by decades of civil war, and Julius Caesar himself manipulated the actual levers of political power for only a brief time.

We remember him for his death, not his rule. It is Augustus we remember for maintaining the forms of republic while making himself “first among equals,” the first emperor. The Roman Empire is dated from 27 B.C., from recognition of the final victory of Augustus over his enemies, not from any action of Julius Caesar.

Anton wrote the famous “Flight 93 Election” essay prior to the election, insisting that Trump should be the choice, regardless of any faults he might have, for the alternative was certain death, metaphysical and perhaps actual. Anton focuses less on the forms of the government and more on who has the power.

At present, the global elites, the “Davoisie,” have the power, and they use it to benefit themselves at the expense of the mass of people of the Republic (perhaps the entire mass, perhaps the virtuous mass—Anton seems deliberately obscure here).

Anton explicitly calls for Caesar, or rather, says that Caesar has already arrived, if not on horseback, so he might as well be the right Caesar. Rollback is not the goal; the goal is seizing the levers of power as they exist now, and overthrowing the great as the opportunity presents itself, casting them into the pit to wail and grind their teeth.  Thus, for Anton, the focus is power guided by virtue, but always power.

The third group, and the one least known to the general public, has as its avatar the computer programmer Curtis Yarvin, often referred to by his pseudonym, Mencius Moldbug.

Whereas Kesler offers an easily comprehensible, if not easily attainable, program; and Anton offers a program that is coherent, if mostly responsive and inchoate (the reader suspects it is not really inchoate in Anton’s mind, though); Yarvin offers the desperation pass with a flaming football, probably one sewn from human skin, and he worships strange gods.

All you really need to know about Yarvin is that he is a self-identified Jacobite – that is, his preferred form of modern government is a restoration in the United States of the Stuart monarchy, via the vehicle first of an all-powerful figure known as the Receiver (a term taken from bankruptcy law), who will smash the Cathedral, the modern all-powerful and unholy alliance of the American elites, whose ax and fasces of power are the combined and interlocking might of the universities and the media.

The Enlightenment will be forgotten as a mistake, and we will have a night watchman state that offers a free press and free economy, true, but which is armed not with a nightstick, but with shoulder-mounted rockets.

While Sullivan draws incisive portraits of each of the three avatars, the rest of his essay is pretty weak. By way of preface, he draws a simplistic contrast between reaction and “real conservatives,” a topic he miserably fails to address with any adequacy (but one which I will on another day address completely).

Next he engages in navel-gazing about his supposed youthful sympathy with reaction, but all he describes is a love for Russell Kirk’s permanent things, and as both he and Lilla point out, reactionaries are not conservatives, so this is mere confusion.

Sullivan then adds his own shallow analysis of reactionary thought, attempting to synthesize his three avatars, or at least to show they share core beliefs. Finally, not digging very deep, Sullivan, as with most critics of reaction, ascribes to it a universal desire across its advocates to return modern society to a supposed past Golden Age – this trope is common to all progressive analysis of reaction.

His analysis strikes me as erroneous from start to finish. As applied to Straussians, there is some thin justice to the claim of desired return, although Straussians would not claim that the Founding inaugurated a Golden Age, merely the best possible political solution for an imperfect world.

But while Sullivan’s other reactionaries see value in the past, and often unfavorably compare the modern world to it, they do not want to return to it, for they are not stupid. They want to get the benefits of the past while keeping the benefits of the modern world; theirs is in many ways a very modern project, open to a changing world and the concept of progress.

It is not for nothing that those who attack reactionaries, such as the increasingly shrill William Kristol, have claimed they resemble the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt in their thought.

I have no idea of the truth of that claim, knowing nothing about Schmitt, and I do not suggest key parallels otherwise, but the nature of all modern radical “right-wing” reformers, of all stripes, is that they call for a march forward, informed by the past, but not into the past.

They have a different definition of where the march should go than does Sullivan, but in an important sense, they are all progressives. Any references to a Golden Age are purely for propaganda purposes, along with using it to provide object lessons to inform action in today’s very different world today. Sullivan mistakes that gleam for the substance; he is not the first progressive led astray by fool’s gold.

In the same vein, Sullivan complains of reactionaries, specifically of Anton, that “their pessimism is a solipsistic pathology.” In Anton, who says the only things in modernity worthwhile are “nice restaurants, good wine, a high standard of living,” he sees a man “deliberately blind to all the constant renewals of life and culture around us.”

But Sullivan does not specify what those renewals are, and for the life of me, I cannot fathom to what he refers. Certainly, a plausible argument can be made that Anton-style pessimism is the wrong response to modernity, or that nice restaurants and wine are, after all, part of the substance of the good life, and not to be denigrated. It does not follow from that that anything is being renewed; the opposite of pessimism can be just as much a comfortable stagnation as illusory “renewals of life and culture.”

While Sullivan seems to think that to pronounce negativity about the modern world is self-refuting, Sullivan’s next paragraphs offer a clue as to what he believes is better about today than yesterday, and it has nothing to with “renewals of life and culture.”

Here, Sullivan resorts to a hackneyed rhetorical trick beloved of today’s progressives. The trick involves making a sanitized list of modernity’s social accomplishments, while ignoring not only modernity’s horrors, but the strongly equivocal nature of many of the supposed accomplishments.

So, we are told, usually in vague, bilious phrases, that (i) certain aspects of life today are better than life yesterday, and that (ii) the beneficiaries of those improvements are individuals who are sympathetic. We are then informed that it necessarily follows that (iii) any criticism of life today is unsympathetic to those individuals, because yesterday they lived in suffering, so therefore (iv) any criticism of life today is beyond the pale.

The reader can guess, from seeing this spurious chain many times before, that Sullivan adduces as better aspects of life today as “unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals,” “increased security for the elderly and unemployed,” and a variety of other stock canards about progress.

There is a grain of truth here, but really Sullivan is talking past the reactionaries, not engaging them. He glides past the reality that few of his “improvements” are in fact unmixed blessings, if blessings at all, for often positive changes are balanced by negatives. Then he skates around any negative aspect of modern life, and finally demands we agree that because some things are better for some people in some ways, we must live in the best of all possible worlds, and any criticism of the modern world is an unforgivable attack on the formerly persecuted.

So, for example, there probably is more “freedom for women” today than in 1950 (in the West, that is – implicit in all progressive discussions of reaction is that we are only talking about the West, and it is best to avert our eyes from other areas of the world).

But a real comparison of 2017 to 1950 would require much unpacking, including distinguishing claims of freedoms such as flexibility of employment and reductions in harassment from false “freedoms,” such as, abortion rights, along with an examination of whether women as a whole are better off in the modern world on other measures – and an honest evaluation of whether what “everybody knows” about the world of 1950, implicit in Sullivan’s brief statement, is actually true.

Sullivan’s purpose is not to engage in such a dialogue, though; it is to end any possibility of dialogue by imagining, like the Manichees, a World of Light and a Kingdom of Darkness, and assigning anyone who does not join the progressive crusade to the latter.

I suppose his line of thought could be even more dishonest – Sullivan does not accuse Anton of objecting to antibiotics and electric light. But none of this sheds any light on whether reactionaries have a point, for it assumes that they do not.

So much for Sullivan. His article is relatively brief, and as with most opinion pieces, does not pretend to be a work for the ages.

Lilla, likewise, is not writing for the ages, though his book is longer and much more polished than Sullivan’s article.

At the beginning, Lilla denies that The Shipwrecked Mind is a “systematic treatise on the concept of reaction.” Instead, it is an examination of several individuals, most of whom have no obvious link to each other, and Lilla does not attempt to draw clear links among them. His purpose is instead to draw a general analogy between reactionaries and revolutionaries, referring to his own earlier book, The Reckless Mind, about men in love with revolutionary tyranny.

Lilla begins by pointing out that “Reactionaries are not conservatives. . . . Millennial expectations of a redemptive new social order and rejuvenated human beings inspire the revolutionary; apocalyptic fears of entering a new dark age haunt the reactionary.”

While this is true as far as it goes, it fails on two points. First, as with Sullivan, Lilla never tells us what conservatives are, other than not reactionaries. If we define something by what it is not, we must know what is the thing it is not.

Second, Lilla’s core parallelism fails, for being haunted by fears about the future is not in any way similar to revolutionary thought. The latter is always a self-contained system for achieving Utopia through following the right steps and killing the right people. Fear about the future, in contrast, is only fear and does not imply a program. While reaction can be an ideology, Lilla’s own definition makes reaction simply a recognition that some things were better in the past, not that the past offers a complete solution for the present, or a path to implement that solution.

Lilla does seem to recognize the failure of his parallel, trying to explain “the enduring vitality of the reactionary spirit even in the absence of a revolutionary political program” by the problem that “to live a modern life anywhere in the world today . . . is to experience the psychological equivalent of permanent revolution.”

At that high level of generality this is true enough, and it sounds like Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity.” But it says nothing about whether reactionaries themselves have an ideology or system of thought that is revolutionary in nature. It merely explains why neoreaction has an attraction for some people.  And Lilla himself concludes that reaction “is unsure how to act in the present.”

A system of thought unsure how to act is essentially the antithesis of an ideology, and thus in no way establishes the parallel for which Lilla is reaching.

But enough definitional games. Let’s examine the core of this book, which is the thought of men Lilla identifies as relevant to reactionary thought.

He begins with one truly obscure, Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), a theologian of German Jewish extraction, who, raised indifferently religious, nearly converted to Christianity and then returned to devout Judaism. He seems like an odd choice, for Rosenzweig is mostly known for a difficult mystical tome, The Star of Redemption.

Lilla argues, elliptically, that in Rosenzweig’s linkage of Christianity and Judaism as bound together eternally, “the Jews are a people that see the light but [are] unable to live in it temporally, while Christians live in an illuminated world but cannot see the light itself.”

Quite fascinating, but what it has to do with reaction is not clear. Rosenzweig apparently did not see a past Golden Age, other than that Judaism is true, always has been, and always will be, nor did he maintain a political program.

Lilla next turns to Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), another German. He was the author of the phrase “immanentize the eschaton,” used as a criticism of modern Utopian political schemes, and one of the first to enunciate the truism that twentieth-century radical politics was religious in inspiration and form.

Voegelin was an intellectual polymath, so it is hard to say that he had a single focus, but according to Lilla, one of his focuses was the relation between religion and politics. He said, accurately, “When God has become invisible behind the world, the things of the world become the new gods.” His views led him to attack the Nazis as precisely such idol worshippers, and unsurprisingly, he was forced to flee to the United States, where he stayed.

Lilla’s main purpose in including him here is to note that while for most of his life Voegelin hewed to a narrative of modern decline resulting from the rise of political religions, in his final years he “rejected” this. But in Lilla’s description, it sounds more like Voegelin went off the rails into incoherent mysticism combined with even more splintered focus than before.

On little evidence, at least that he offers, Lilla concludes that “It takes a good deal of self-awareness and independence of mind to renounce the bittersweet comforts of cultural pessimism and question the just-so narratives of civilizational decline that still retain their allure for Western intellectuals.”

Maybe, but as with Sullivan, this seems a weak response to an illusory narrative by offering conclusions without reasoning. Lilla keeps banging on about “cultural pessimism,” but rather than showing why and how this matters, instead concludes that anyone who is unhappy about any aspect of the modern world necessarily beclowns himself in a way not needing demonstration.

Moreover, Voegelin seems put in this book not so much as an example of a reactionary as to lecture Americans that smart people turn away from narratives of decline.

The author then profiles Strauss (1899–1973), yet another German émigré to the United States. Strauss is notoriously oblique in his thought. He is often accused of deliberately introducing layers of gnosis into his philosophy, including a hidden call for instrumental use of religion by philosophers and rulers, and endorsing undemocratic governance by an educated elite.

According to Lilla, “Strauss and Heidegger shared one large assumption: that the problems in Western civilization could be traced to the abandonment of a healthier, ur-mode of thought from the past. . . . [He] spent much of his career trying to establish the decisive point when the great deviation took place.” Strauss found it in Athens, specifically Plato, with a nod to Jerusalem.

All interesting, but what does this say about American politics, a topic on which Strauss never focused at all? One of Strauss’s seminal works was the 1953 Natural Right and History, in which Strauss identified where modernity broke the world.

“Strauss claimed that, properly viewed, there had been a single coherent tradition of ‘classical natural right’ running from Socrates to Thomas Aquinas.  This tradition made a strict distinction between nature and convention, and argued that justice is that which accords with the former, not the latter.  Whether the rules of nature are discovered through philosophy or revelation, whether one account of nature is more persuasive than another, all this is less important, according to Strauss, than the conviction that natural justice is indeed the standard by which political arrangements must be judged.”

And it was Machiavelli who destroyed this tradition, which should be restored by returning to classical thought as the lodestone of political action. Strauss’s philosophy was, after his death, picked up by a variety of his students and molded into a claim, as far as I can tell, that the Founders based their construction of America on classical philosophy and natural right, and that, largely as a result, what they created, either initially or as modified after the Civil War, is the ideal political system.

But again, this is not a Golden Age program – it is a prescription for political structure.

Lilla’s next essay is an attack on Catholicism, in general and especially inasmuch as it provides an incubator for reactionaries. It’s pretty clear throughout the book, in fact, that Lilla is hostile to Christianity as a whole, for reasons not really clear, though this is the only section in which his prejudice is made explicit.

He claims, without example, that the usual Catholic practice is to adapt doctrine to radical change by, after a period of resistance, “declaring that such innovations had been continuous with Catholic doctrine after all.”

Then, he denigrates formal Catholic thought as merely “a stream of papal encyclicals that reflect the shifting moods of this or that pontiff,” with any relevant thought being provided by lay intellectuals (here, as elsewhere, Lilla seems to be only dimly familiar with any pre-Enlightenment history or thought).

No doubt the Catholic Church is a bastion of reaction; it is in its nature. It offers a coherent world view developed over two thousand years, one that necessarily opposes many aspects of modernity. But as with a great deal of what Lilla says, his conclusions don’t follow from the listed facts.

Lila’s purpose here is to attack the supposed philosophy of “The Road Not Taken,” in which a variety of Catholics over the past five hundred years have complained that the (Western) world took a wrong turn, with a radical break from the medieval tradition in which Catholic, and therefore Western, thought was developed to a peak.

In other words, although Lilla does not say this, Strauss points to Athens, and these thinkers point to the High Middle Ages, as the time when political thought reached its point of maximum refinement.

Among such thinkers are Étienne Gilson, who wrote Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Henri de Lubac.

Lilla makes a positive nod to the thought of these men, but mostly in order to create a contrast to his attack on two more recent thinkers, Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and Brad Gregory, currently a professor of history at Notre Dame.

The goal here is to identify these authors as agents of the Vatican eager to impose retrogression on modern man. Lilla’s is merely a more glossy version of Sullivan’s bogus chain of reasoning, identifying prospective victims of a proposed reaction whose terror at moving backwards gives them moral superiority and a hall pass from reasoning.

Lilla does write better than Sullivan, though (my favorite line is when Lilla, referring to Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, says “But the deeper you delve into this book, the more you begin to feel that you are watching a shadow-puppet play on the wall of some Vatican cave”).

Lilla complains Gregory’s book is not, as it should be, a “straightforward history,” but rather “a sly crypto-Catholic travel brochure for the Road Not Taken.” Those tricksy Catholics!  (I bet Lilla would react with displeasure, though, if somebody referred to “a sly crypto-Jew.”)

Lilla’s basic point about Gregory is another mess of confused reasoning – he identifies claims Gregory makes about the past that are summary in nature, such as that before Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, “traditional Christian metaphysics” dominated Western thought, and then Lilla waves his hands about “centuries of disagreement,” claiming “it is hard to know . . . . how such a metaphysics manifested itself at a popular level,” and finally concluding that we can’t know anything, and therefore Gregory is a chump to claim any coherency about the past, that he lives in “a narcotic haze.”

None of this is convincing, in part because although Lilla is addicted to using Christian metaphors, he appears to know next to nothing about actual Christianity, except what he learned in Steven Pinker books.

If he did, the various terms that befuddle him would have obvious meaning and content, but that would require engaging with a religion for which he has a clear distaste.

Gregory may not be right, but even in Lilla’s summary, he is very much logical and plausible. For Lilla, though, any summaries of the past that are offered to inform the present are just “an imaginative assemblage of past events and ideas and present hopes and fears.” As with so much Lilla says, there is some truth in this (not that Lilla offers anything other than his bare statement), but he uses it to serve his own philosophy (very much in evidence in his most recent book, on identity politics, The Once and Future Liberal), that any system of thought that offers any type of ultimate answers, or suggests that civilizations have peaks and valleys, is the sandbox of fools.

True, Gregory and MacIntyre are thinkers who actually do talk a lot about a Golden Age, unlike the other philosophers Lilla discusses. But Lilla is wrong that their project is “escaping full responsibility for the future;” he only says that to support his own philosophy – that the past is largely irrelevant, because “we are destined to pave our road as we go.”

Lilla ends with two essays, one on current events, the other on a fictional character.

The current event was the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, which Lilla uses as a springboard to discuss two French reactionaries, Éric Zemmour and Michel Houellebecq.

Here Lilla has interesting things to say about what an ideology is, including the keen insight that “they are first developed in narrow sects whose adherents share obsessions and principles, and see themselves as voices in the wilderness. . . .But for an ideology to really reshape politics it must cease being a set of principles and instead become a vague general outlook that new information and events only strengthen.”

Zemmour, in Lilla’s description, offers just such a shotgun approach to politics, combining controversial, but factual, claims with various wild allegations and fringe, yet flexible, positions.

Houellebecq is profiled mostly for his novel Submission, about a near-future France that turns to Islam as Western culture peters out (although, oddly, Lilla says the title is “shockingly blunt,” apparently unaware that the literal translation of “Islam” is “submission,” i.e., to Allah).

Lilla offers the insight that “Houellebecq’s critics have seen the novel as anti-Muslim because they assume that individual freedom is the highest human value – and have convinced themselves that the Islamic tradition agrees with them.

It does not, and neither does Houellebecq.” (This panicked exaltation of extreme individual freedom, and the claimed need for immigrants to conform to it, is largely the topic of Rita Chin’s recent The Crisis of Multiculturalism, and is the key to understanding the modern European mindset).

This essay sheds little light on America (Lilla seems to much prefer talking about Europe and Europeans, although if he wanted to talk about a focus on a past Golden Age, he would have done well to throw Confucianism into the mix), but it does penetrate closer to what reaction actually is.

Finally, we are treated to a discussion of Don Quixote. The Ingenious Nobleman’s undoubted desire to return to a Golden Age is supposed to show, again without reasoning, that any person who today sees value in the past (which is basically how Lilla defines reactionaries) is a fool who tilts at windmills.

Most of the discussion here is not about Western reaction, though, but Muslim reaction and Golden Age thinking. In essence, but without naming him, Lilla summarizes the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb, accurately. But this has nothing to say about the West, except as it threatens the West.

So often in this book, Lilla talks about how Western reactionary thinkers want to return us to a Golden Age, but every time he reaches for a concrete example, he can only offer fringe Muslims, relevant purely because of their willingness to use violence.

Lilla seems to think that Don Quixote is, like Strauss, an avatar of reaction who represents what real people believe in the real world. Someone is living in a fantasy world, but it’s not Don Quixote, because he’s not real.

While sonorous, this essay is gloriously free of both reasoning and substance, and adds nothing to Lilla’s core argument, which is (probably because all these essays were first published separately), ultimately laughably incoherent and weak, and even the biographies and history in The Shipwrecked Mind are neither original nor illuminating.

The photo shows, “The Menin Road,” by Paul Nash, painted in 1919.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

Whatever Happened To The West?

The most ancient roots of the West lie in one place.

The society in which we live, a liberal democracy, is the result not of events that happened all over the world – rather, it is the result of events that happened in just one country. ancient Greece.

We are who we are not because of what happened in ancient China, Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt or India (essential as the histories of these places are to our knowledge of the world). Despite the passage of millennia, we still live in the world invented by the ancient Greeks.

And because of the influence and spread of western technology, the entire globe has now been impacted by these Greeks of long ago.

There is a reason why we want all people to be free; why we think more democracy is a good thing; why we worry about the environment; why we have immense faith in our ability to come up with solutions no matter how great the problem; why we believe education to be crucial to building a good life; why we seek self-respect.

And this reason is simply stated: we have inherited – not created – a particular habit of mind, a way of looking at the world.

We live within a set of values that constantly encourage us to depend on reason, to seek out moderation and distrust excess, to live a disciplined life, to demand responsibility in politics, to strive for clarity of thought and ideas, to respect everyone and everything, including nature and the environment, and most of all to cherish and promote freedom.

This is our inheritance from the ancient Greeks. We need to study them in order to learn and relearn about our intellectual, esthetic and moral inheritance – so that we might meaningfully add to it so that it may continue in the vast project of building the goodness of our society.

This is why we need to study the Greeks, because through them we come to study ourselves.

And what about the Romans? They were the people that allowed Greek learning to be made available to the world.

The ancient Romans adopted the Greek habit of mind and through their empire, which stretched from the borders of Scotland to the borders of Iran, they passed on this inheritance to all the people that lived within these borders.

Thus, in studying the Romans, we come to understand how very difficult it has been for ideas, which we may take for granted, to come down to us. Whereas the ancient Greeks created the world we live in, the ancient Romans facilitated it by giving universality to the Greek habit of mind.

Thus, to study both these civilizations is to fully understand our own.

Prehistoric human settlement in the Greek peninsula stretches back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. By the time of the Bronze Age, different types of pottery demarcates the various phases of material culture.

For the sake of convenience, historians have used these various types of pottery to work out a chronology of Greek prehistory. And because Greece is not only the peninsular mainland, but also the islands in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the pottery is sorted out by different regions.

Thus, the Bronze Age in the mainland of Greece is classified as Helladic (from 1550 B.C. to 1000 B.C.).

On the island of Crete, the Bronze Age is labeled Minoan (from 3000 B.C. to about 1450 B.C.). And on the various islands of the Aegean, the Bronze Age is referred to as Cycladic, where it begins around 3000 B.C. and lasts until about 2000 B.C., at which time the culture of the Cyclades is absorbed into the greater Minoan civilization.

The earliest expression of Bronze Age civilization in Europe is found on the island of Crete, where a brilliant culture flourished from about 2700 B.C. to around 1450 B.C.

It was brought to light in 1900 by the English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated a large complex at Knossos, which he called a “palace.”

But the “palace” he found was different from what we might imagine. It was a warren of maze-like adjoining rooms, where people lived and worked, and where oil, wine and grain were stored in massive clay jars, some as high as six feet. It was likely an administrative center, plus a warehouse.

The labyrinthine layout of the palace suggested the name, Minoan,” to Evans, after the Greek myth of King Minos of Crete, who had built a maze to hide the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull offspring of his wife, Pasiphae, who had fallen in love, and then coupled, with a white bull.

The many wall-paintings from the palace give indication that the cult of the bull was prevalent among the ancient Cretans – the best example being the ritual or sport of “bull-leaping,” in which young men and women grasped the horns of a charging bull and leaped over its back to land behind the animal.

It is difficult to say whether this was done as sport, or perhaps even as a religious dance. We cannot know since we have no contemporary written explanation for this display.

Evans also found thousands of clay tablets with writing on them. The writing was in two versions of the same script. The first version he labeled Linear A, and the second he called Linear B.

The only problem was that he could read neither. It would not be until 1952 that Michael Ventris finally deciphered Linear B and found the many texts in this script to be the earliest form of the Greek language.

When the same rules of decipherment were applied to Linear A, however, it was found to be a curious language that was not Greek at all, nor was it a language that could be placed in any known family group.

Perhaps as further work is done on Linear A, it might disclose more of its secrets. But for now, the Minoan world is mysterious to us, because all we have are its material remains.

However, the more intriguing question that arises from the evidence we have is – how did the earliest form of the Greek language get mixed with a non-Greek language in the palace at Knossos?

This question points us northwards to the mainland of Greece, and to a city known as Mycenae.

The speakers of the earliest form of Greek were the Mycenaeans, who were given their name from the city they inhabited, namely, Mycenae, where the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, in 1876, found a well-developed civilization, with a ruling warrior aristocracy who lived in fortified towns built on hilltops.

Aside from Mycenae, the towns of Athens (a relatively unimportant place at this early time), Pylos, Tiryns, Iolkos and Orchomenus were also part of Mycenaean culture, which established itself around 1900 B.C. and endured until 1200 B.C.

Schliemann’s excavations revealed a circle of shaft-graves, in which the dead were buried standing up, and in which were found large quantities of weapons as well as gold objects, from funerary masks to goblets and jewelry.

He also found evidence for the domesticated horse and the chariot – and, most important of all, there were found clay tablets with Linear B written on them, which would be deciphered as the earliest form of the Greek language.

All these discoveries led to an important question – where did the Greeks come from because their language ultimately is not native to the land now known as Greece.

If we examine the archaeological record of the time just before the Mycenaean age, we find massive destruction that lasted about a hundred years from 2200 B.C. to about 2100 B.C.

And the material remains of the people that established themselves after the destruction were markedly different from those that lived in these same areas before.

It is to this deep destruction that we can link the “coming of the Greeks,” a phrase much used by historians.

So, where did the Greeks come from?

The clues before us are two-fold: material and intellectual culture. The excavations at Mycenae yield several essential clues: chariot parts, horse tack, skeletal remains of horses, weapons and pottery; plus, there is also the fact that these people were speakers of early Greek, as demonstrated by the Linear B texts.

The recent discovery of the Griffin Warrior from the Mycenaean Age also points to the richness of the material remains from the era, and further offers hints as to the origin of Greek culture.

These clues points to one conclusion. The earliest Greeks, that is, the Mycenaeans, came as invaders, likely from the north, and they destroyed what they found and took control and began to build their own fortified towns.

And we know that they are invaders because of their language, which is Indo-European – and this tells us that these early Greeks came from elsewhere, since the origin of the Indo-European languages is in a place quite a bit distant from Greece.

In the latter years of the third millennium, there were massive Indo-European invasions throughout Eurasia. This is evidenced by the spread of Indo-European languages, and by DNA analysis.

The origin of the Indo-Europeans is likely in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, what historians call the “Kurgan culture.” “Kurgan” refers to the grave mounds under which these early Indo-Europeans buried their dead.

From this point of origin, the Indo-Europeans overran large parts of Europe and some parts of Asia. They were able to be do this because they had domesticated the horse, had invented the chariot, and perfected the composite bow.

The languages they spoke were closely related and to this day comprise the largest family group in the world.

Thus, the indo-European languages consist of the ancient languages (and their modern-day descendants) of northern India (Vedic and Sanskrit) and Persia (Avestan and modern Persian), the Slavic languages, the Baltic languages (Lithuanian and Latvian), Celtic and the Italic (Latin and its descendants, such as, French and Italian), the Germanic languages (such as, German and English), and of course Greek (interestingly, Greek did not create any descendant languages).

This affinity between languages extends further into intellectual culture, since language is the bearer of culture, thus there is a pronounced similarity, for example, among the myths of the various Indo-European peoples – these myths explain and stratify reality.

The Indo-Europeans who veered into Greece called themselves Achaeans, who spoke a very early form of Greek, a form that has some of the closest affinities to Vedic and Sanskrit.

The Achaeans subdued the various non-Indo-European peoples that were living in Greece (the Minoans) and set up suzerainty over them.

The outcome of this process was what we call the Mycenaean civilization, which Schliemann excavated, as noted earlier. The Mycenaeans were known for their warrior culture, in which the chariot and the horse were much valued.

By 1600 B.C. they were established and thrived not only in Greece but also in parts of what is now Turkey.

Around 1450 B.C. these Mycenaeans conquered Crete and destroyed the Minoan civilization.

But they were not above learning civilized ways from the people they had conquered – for they adapted the art of writing invented by the Minoans to their own language, since the Minoan alphabet was not suited for an Indo-European language which had many consonantal clusters, whereas the alphabet of the Minoans (Linear A) was syllablic (each letter represented a consonant and a vowel together).

It is for this reason that Sir Arthur Evans found texts written in both Linear A and Linear B at Knossos, since the Mycenaeans assumed control of this palace structure after their take-over of Crete; and in time they came to use the Linear A alphabet as their own.

The rule of the Mycenaeans in Greece and in Crete was fated. It was destroyed during a catastrophic period in Eurasian history known as “the Bronze Age Collapse,” in which a total of forty-seven important cities were attacked, their inhabitants either killed or enslaved, and the places burned to the ground.

The swath of burned down cities is large and covers Syria, the Levant, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete and Greece. From 1200 B.C. to about 1150 B.C., there were destructive raids by newer groups of Indo-European peoples, who had developed an innovative method of warfare, which gave them a greater advantage over the armies that these doomed cities could muster.

We have to keep in mind that the first Indo-European invasions, which saw the establishment of the Mycenaeans in Greece and Crete, were the result of the chariot and the composite bow.

The invasions which put an end to the Bronze Age were also successful because of a new type of warfare – the use of infantry armed with a long lance and a broad sword.

The metal for these weapons was iron. Bronze weapons were no match for these iron lances and swords, and the chariots became useless, too, since the foot-soldiers could easily disable a charioteer with their long lances by spearing the warriors that rode inside. The Bronze Age was violently brought to an end by iron weapons.

Thus, the Iron Age begins with an enormous catastrophe – a total collapse of civilization.

Once the large cities and palaces were destroyed, they were replaced by small communities of a few individuals; and these were often located not in the plains, but high in the uplands.

The Iron Age is also known as the Ancient Dark Age, because civilization, or city life, disappeared.

The new group of Indo-Europeans, who invaded Greece in the twelfth century B.C. and put an end to the Mycenaeans, are known as the Dorians; their name likely derives from the early Greek word, doru, which was the long wooden lance that they carried.

It is from the various dialects of these new invaders, plus Linear B that the Greek language developed.

The invading people destroyed civilization and did not value living in palaces or large cities. Instead, they chose to live in smaller communities that had fewer luxuries and fineries which we usually associate with civilization.

There is also evidence of depopulation since the settlements that replace the burned cities and palaces tend to be small and few. Pottery is no longer finely and elaborately decorated but has simple geometric patterns.

The Dark Age lasted from 1200 B.C. to 800 B.C. and can be summarized as a period of petty tribalism.

However, we know a lot about this period because of two significant literary works that describe the people involved in these invasions.

They are the two poems by the legendary poet Homer, namely, The Iliad and The Odyssey. In fact, the story of the siege of Troy may be a memory of the Bronze Age Collapse.

It is with Homer that we enter into recorded Greek history, known as the Archaic period.

From 800 B.C. to 480 B.C., Greece underwent revolutionary changes and began to emerge from its tribal era. This period saw the growth of cities once more, which was fueled by an increase in population and the expansion of commercial trade.

The idea of people being ruled by kings vanished and was replaced by a new form of government, the city-state, in which people sought not to be warrior-heroes, but good citizens.

As a result, there was a focus on refining city life, which led to great achievements in architecture, sculpture, art, commercial relations and trade, politics, and intellectual and cultural life.

Because of larger population colonies were established outside of Greece: in Sicily, southern Italy, eastern parts of Spain, along the southern coastline of France, at Cyrenaica in North Africa, in the Hellespont, and along the Black Sea.

All this was possible because of the growth of technological knowledge, especially in the areas of shipbuilding and seafaring, as well as developments of a new form of government, the polis, or the city-state, which came about as a result of synoecism, or the gathering of various villages into single political entities or units.

It was because of advances in the archaic period that Greek city-states prepared themselves for the maturity and perfection that they would achieve in the fifth century B.C.

And the most important of these cities was Athens, whose citizens radically and permanently changed the world around them – so much so that the ideas implemented by these men and the structures established by them are the very ones in which we still live.

Civilization would never really look back, because of what was achieved in Athens in the fifth century B.C.

This is the origin of the West.

The photo shows, “The Erechtheion on the Acropolis,” by Lancelot-Theodore Turpin de Crisse, painted in 1805.

Whatever Happened To The West? Part II

[Editor’s note: This is a two-part series that examines the character of the West, which once made it exceptional].

 

What is western civilization? The quickest way to access the essence of the West is to consider its lifeblood. If the West is cut off from its life-giving source, it shall die.

Certainly something will pass for a “western society,” but that society will only be a geographical designation; it will have nothing to do with the West as a civilization.

The prime example of such a barren place is Canada, which has successfully cut itself off from this lifeblood, and now rather happily stands for nothing at all, other than production and consumption – a giant mall, where everyone gets along because they have one common purpose – profit.

Such is the true crisis that the West… will it end up like Canada – unable to fashion anything of importance because it is culturally (morally) dead, because it is cut off from that which gave it life?

Why is this even true? Very simply because the West actually now believes that its lifeblood was always poisonous and must be drained away completely by all means necessary.

But what is this lifeblood? Very simply, it is Christianity, which perfectly fused Greco-Roman Hellenism with the philosophy and teachings of Jesus.

Here it is important to bear in mind that the best definition of “civilization” is a set of ideas – in that ideas define character thereby fashioning particular societies and their modes of behavior.

The West is the creation of Christianity – and nothing else.

It is the very essence of the West – the essence that made it both remarkable and exceptional. No other culture was able to enact a successful merger of Hellenism and Christianity. Only the West. Therefore, no other culture could rival the West in its unique character.

But today, as the West eagerly seeks to cut itself off from its source – what will it become? Will it be anything remarkable, let alone exceptional?

This process of emptying is what we are now witnessing throughout the western world, where anything connected with Hellenism and Christianity is to be rejected as “primitive,” “backwards,” “superstitious,” and poisonous.

Of course, such an emptying can only take place when the educational institutions works tirelessly to empty the heads of their students.

Thus, science and mathematics are now deemed “racist agendas,” and the English language and all English literature are declared to be tools of colonialism.

Of course, such wholesale destruction of young minds is abetted by technology, which conditions people to be amnesiacs, whose memory extends no further than the daily news-cycle.

The grand social experiment of building an entirely new culture may sound heady and exciting, but what is really replacing Hellenism and Christianity?

What is the real model of this new post-western civilization?

Very simply it is nihilism, brought on by a new merger – of Marxism and postmodernism.

All the so-called “thinking classes” (nurtured at every university), which extend into the media, have been primed and conditioned to become eager incendiaries, with the right commands (“trigger words”).

Their raison d’être is to to drain away the West’s lifeblood.

The apparatchiks of this new merger are feminism, presentism and intersectionality, whose duty it is to draw up codes by which society is to govern itself according to the rules of the new Marxist-postmodernist order.

The hope is that these codes (always shrouded in version of “social justice”) will fashion some sort of a new civilization – not western, not exceptional, but simply an extended version of Canada – a barren void, where nothing exists but production and consumption, with everyone lost in their own technologically befogged, private world.

The West is now filled with screams for “purity” through the destruction of all that might obstruct the Marxist-postmodernist New Man.

This new spawn is a thoroughgoing nihilist.

And what is nihilism?

Very simply it is the melancholy of atheism, in that atheism is an imagined, eteranal emptiness in which humanity has no purpose, because there is no Author. It is imagined, because atheism cannot establish itself as the truth by way of proof.

Thus, the desire of a new culture firmly grounded in atheism is a contradiction, or worse a nightmarish delusion, for how can anything be grounded in emptiness?

In the end, atheists are simply dishonest, because they claim to be freed at last from the superstition named, “God,” but still desperately cling to all that God provides – goodness, charity, love, peace, hope, forgiveness, altruism, compassion.

This is not only dishonesty on the part of atheists – it is also a grave weakness. Rosalind Murray saw through this deception a long time ago.

To cling to moral values (virtues) is to pretend that these values are good for everybody. This pretence, of course, becomes meaningless if there is no God. Why should morality be universal and timeless? More importantly, why should it be good? Virtue and morals only belong to God alone, since He created them.

If atheists are to be true to their religion (all “-isms” are religions – there is no escaping this logic), then they must finally let go of morality and live by no virtue.

And more importantly, they must demand real, fundamental change in the way society is organized.

First, they must demand that society be made truly atheistic, which means that it must be stripped of all its historical attachment (which has now become no more than an emotional attachment) to Christianity. This means no more charities, no more laws, no more education, no more nurturing of any kind.

Second, the very concept of “crime” itself needs to be made atheistic, since ultimately a “crime” is a transgression of some sort if morality. How can there be crimes when there is no God? Things like murder, pedophilia, cannibalism, cruelty, rape, even embezzlement and fraud are crimes only because they transgress Christian virtue.

In a truly atheistic society, such virtue is simply weakness, as Nietzsche very brilliantly understood. In atheism, the real crimes are weakness, pity, humility, sympathy, faith, compassion, altruism, the conscience, and justice. Atheists must continually demand that these crimes be severely punished, because they undermine power.

Third, once all morality is expunged from society and all culture dependent upon it completely destroyed, then all laws need to be eliminated as well, since the entire legal system is Christian and not atheistic.

Fourth, interpersonal behavior must be made atheistic as well. The idea of decency, kindness, charity, welfare, familial bonds, love, and so forth – have to go, because they are Christian not only in origin but in purpose. They are implementations of the teachings of Jesus.

Fourth, the only quality that properly belongs to atheism is strength of the individual.

Fifth, atheistic society therefore can only be a collection of individuals, forever engaged in perfecting and then expressing their strength in the world.

Lastly, atheism must continually extol man the beast, since man is an animal like any other. Thus, power alone marks human existence. This means that qualities, such as, pride, self-glorification, and unhindered freedom alone make an sense, since atheism can prohibit nothing.

In effect, atheism becomes the freedom to do everything in the pursuit of power, since there are no laws, and nothing can he prohibited, nothing can be denied the man who has the power to take what he wants.

Thus, people claiming to be atheists, who yet cannot bring themselves to actually follow their faith are only apostate Christians who live in a state of rebellion against God – they are free to deny Him, but they cannot live without Him (because they cannot imagine living without morality).

So, where does all this leave the West?

The West is truly at a crossroads.

Christian apostasy (what passes for atheism) is the norm, the dominant culture. It can promise nothing – because it cannot promise civilization.

Thus, the greatest lie that atheism perpetuates is its incessant demand for justice. Nietzsche described such moralistic atheists as, “the vengeful disguised as judges, who constantly bear the word ‘justice’ in their mouths like poisonous spit.”

Because most atheists have not the courage to live up to their declared convictions (which can proceed no further than the bestial human being exulting in his power), their faith is proceeds no further than to belong to the herd.

It is a very curious fact that atheism for most depends upon shallow science – that childish assumption that there is no “proof” of God in the material world.

But honest scientists themselves cannot make such assertions.

Thus, atheism for the majority is simply a matter of style, a convenience, or worse – abject conformity to what is deemed the “norm.”

Thus, if the West imagines that it can actually exist as a “post-Christian” civilization, then it in for a very rude awakening (which is already happening).

Without Christianity, the West is simply once again embracing barbarity, so that the only demand its people now have is “bread and circuses.”

Without Christianity, the West will disappear into the morass of rabid Marxism, postmodernist perspectivism, while forever harried by an ever-belligerent Islamofascism (until the West finally succumbs and converts, which is always easier when no one believes in anything – and people will always need to believe in something rather than nothing).

The writing is on the wall.

We do not see it, because we choose to be blind, since we’re all too busy enjoying our bread and circuses.

In brief, without Christianity, the West is dead.

 

The photo shows, “The Triumph of Faith,” by Eugene Thirion, painted sometime in the late 1800s.