In my editorial duties for The Culture Alliance, I have posted a quote from the great and wise Gilbert Keith Chesterton in honor of Pearl Harbor day.
There are some things more important than peace, and one of them is the dignity of human nature. It is a humiliation of humanity that humanity should ever give up war solely through fear, especially through fear of the mere machines that humanity itself has made. We all see the absurdity of modern armaments. It is a grotesque end for the great European story that each of us should keep on stuffing pistols into his pockets until he falls down with the weight of them. But it is still worse that we should only be friends because we are too nervous to stand the noise of a pistol. Let the man stop the pistol by all means. But do not let the pistol stop the man. Civilised man has created a cruel machinery which he now, it may be, finds bad for his soul. Then let civilised man save his soul and abandon his machinery. But the Bloch theory does not really abandon the machinery at all. It hangs the machinery in terrorem over the head of all humanity to frighten them from going to war for any cause, just or unjust. Man is cowed into submission by his own clockwork. I would sooner be ruled by cats and dogs. They, at any rate, are our fellow-creatures, not merely our creatures. I would have any war, however long and horrible, sooner than such a horrible peace. I would run any risk rather than submit to such a spiritual indignity as that man dare not, for the most crying justice or the most urgent chivalry, turn one of his own handles. War is an absolute calamity; so be it. Then let man silence his guns; but, in the name of human honour, do not let his guns silence him.
– G.K. Chesterton on War and Peace, 43. originally published in Illustrated London News, April 25, 1908, PDF document of excerpts available here.
I sometimes wonder why Chesterton doesn’t get more attention among the professor types in higher education. Then I read something like this and I stop wondering. If the colleges and universities started teaching Chesterton, their entire world view would crumble. It might be equivalent to presenting Chrysostom, Aquinas, and Kuyper at an Atheist convention.
Posted in Culture, wisdom | Tagged Abraham Kuyper, G.K. Chesterton, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas | Leave a Comment »
It really boils down to a bit of magical thinking.
I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try another despearate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.
As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much; it made him shut his eyes; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest he said at last to his mother, “Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind.”
Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and excusable that is is, as a matter of fact, the belief of about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very like the principle modern thinkers; only much nicer. …
The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts – including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.
For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at their either of them being content with such simple physical explanations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink; the absence of strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation.
– G.K. Chesterton, “The Wind and the Tree,” Tremendous Trifles, 1909
Posted in Culture, Economics, Education, Intellectuals, Politics, wisdom | Tagged G.K. Chesterton, magical thinking, The Wind and the Trees, Tremendous Trifles | 1 Comment »
The conservatives generally did not attack the conceptions of art that modern artists and the culture industry maintained, but couched their anger in terms of what, to the artists and industry, appeared extrinsic matters—e.g., they protested against certain features of content from nudity and vulgarity to blasphemy, without accounting for why, first, so much of this offensive material enjoyed commercial success or, second, how that content related, or failed to relate, to a thoroughgoing vision of the nature of the fine arts. At their best, conservatives opposed Andres Serrano’s and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues. But they seldom read the books they championed and it seems not to have occurred to them they might just take better pictures on their own. Instead, conservatives let the walls hang bear—or covered them with banal abstract oil painting, the radical art of a past age that never so much shocked as bored.
Needless to say, not all critics of contemporary art and mass culture were so visceral and limited in their jeremiads. A small but insightful handful of thinkers have orbited about the conservative discontent with contemporary artistic practices and standards in variously tight and wide circles. In the past couple of years, Patrick Deneen and Jeremy Beer have observed that the supposed conservative revolution of the past thirty years foundered largely because it focused almost exclusively on party politics and institutional power. Whatever Reagan Republicans were doing in Washington, they largely left the culture industry to form and reform American consciousness. So absolute was this aporia between institutional success and cultural neglect that most of the children raised in the age of Republican ascendancy have arrived at adulthood with, perhaps, their explicit political principles informed by a vague belief in free markets and low taxes, but with their imaginations and sensibilities entirely formed on the mass cultural excretions of music, film, and television—and their cultural politics in turn molded by that sensibility. To offer just one consequence of this, most persons in their early twenties cannot conceive of why one would oppose the legal codification of homosexual unions, because in their moral imaginations a free and expressive sexuality is a continuous presence taken for granted.
– James Matthew Wilson, “The Treasonous Clerk: Art and Beauty against the Politicized Aesthetic, Part I“
Posted in Arts, Culture, Politics | Tagged Andres Serrano, Closing of the American Mind, James Matthew Wilson, Jeremy Beer, NEA, Patrick J. Deneen, Robert Mapplethorpe, The Book of Virtues | 2 Comments »
It has taken forty years of wandering in a cultural desert for conservatives to realize that their leadership, economic and military victories will not supply what is sorely missing from American society. Things continue to get worse. Cultural values and standards continue to decline. Public architecture, monuments and memorials are a national joke. Education has become a matter of class warfare, with children of the poor and middle class shunted into prison-like warehouses. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who controls the White House, the Congress, state and local governments, or even the Supreme Court. The lens through which most Americans view the world has been ground by the liberals. We see the world as defined by a cultural elite increasingly out of touch with reality. By “lens” I mean the culture: the arts, media, education, history, architecture, literature, music, popular culture, television, movies, fashion and, most importantly, the epistemology of language. Many conservatives revere Ronald Reagan. They should study his Farewell Address to the Nation, in which he warned that “the diminution of cultural values, the loss of civic ritual, will result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”
– James F. Cooper, In Defense of Beauty: Conservatives and the Arts
Posted in Arts, Culture, Education, Intellectuals, Politics | Tagged Conservatives, Culture, James F. Cooper, Ronald Reagan | Leave a Comment »