Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Chesterton on War & Peace

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.

The Culture Alliance’s latest in its work fostering a culture of liberty and personal responsibility in America brings readers news, opinion, reviews and excerpts from the world of popular fiction.

On Friday of each week, subscribers to TCA’s Weekly Update will receive the latest in reviews, excerpts, news and opinion concerning the world of novels and short stories. American society is besieged by a plethora of fiction tending to promote the modern zeitgeist – a relativistic, secular, antinomian worldview. TCA’s Fiction Friday is inspired by the idea that a culture of liberty will flounder without a well-nourished moral imagination.

Citing Russell Kirk’s essay “The Age of Sentiments,” Vigen Guroian writes,

Kirk advanced further his thoughts on the crisis of the moral imagination. In this intriguing essay, he argues that the Age of Discussion, which grew from the Enlightenment and earmarked modernity, is all but over. We are entering a new era in civilization, Kirk advises, where sentiments rule—indeed, we are entering the Age of Sentiments. And this momentous shift in mind and sensibility requires new cultural strategies for the nurture of the moral imagination.

Nothing enriches the moral imagination like a good story. T. S. Eliot noted, in his essay “Religion and Literature,”

The author of a work of imagination is trying to affect us wholly, as human being, whether he knows it or not; and we are effected by it wholly, as human beings, whether we intend to be or not. I suppose that everything we eat has some effect upon us other than merely the pleasure of taste and mastication; it affects us during the process of assimilation and digestion; and I believe that exactly the same is true of anything we read.

He went on to note that even what some might consider trivial works of pop culture can be the most significant when it comes to influencing our imagination. “I incline to the shocking conclusion,” Eliot wrote,

that it is just the literature that we read for amusement, or purely for pleasure, that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is literature we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular playwrights of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely.

A few will seek out Shakespeare, Dante, Virgil, etc. for their pleasure reading, but when it comes to reading “for amusement” the majority will get the latest bestseller or mass-market paperback.
Therefore, rather than leaving it to the advertising divisions of some New York publishing house promoting work that meets with liberal sensibilities, we wanted to offer readers some alternatives they might have missed. TCA seeks to shed light on that which the publishing worlds’ powers-that-be neglect because it does not fit their presuppositions. We also want those who desire a culture of liberty and personal responsibility to have a reading list that goes beyond the latest polemics produced by Regnery Publishing, Encounter Books, etc. Perhaps, in time, we may inspire those few houses, like Regnery or Encounter to begin feeding their customer’s moral imagination with some well crafted fiction.

TCA’s Fiction Friday inaugural issue included S.T. Karnick’s review of The Red Right Hand, an excerpt from Richard Doster’s latest novel Crossing the Lines, and links to numerous stories from the world of novels and short stories including:

The following from R.V. Young’s, A Student’s Guide to Literature, included in Fiction Friday’s first issue, notes the central role fiction plays in “the transmission of culture throughout the history of Western Civilization”

A successful poem or story compels our attention and seizes us with a sense of its reality, even while we know that it is essentially (even when based upon historical fact) something made up – a fiction. The most memorable works of literature are charged with significance and cry out for understanding, reflection, interpretation; but this meaning carries most conviction insofar as it is not explicit – not paraded with banners flying and trumpets blaring. “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us,” says John Keats. The role of literature in society is similarly equivocal. It can be explained simply as entertainment or recreation; men and women have always told stories ans sung songs to amuse themselves, to pass the time, to lighten the burden of “real life.” At the same time, literature has assumed a central place in education and the transmission of culture throughout the history of Western civilization, contributing  a sense of communal identity and shaping both individual and social understanding of human experience. The intimate part played by literature in cultural tradition has been a source of alarm to moralists and reformers from Plato to the media critics and multiculturalists of our own day.

Sign up today and never miss an installment of TCA’s Fiction Friday.

Means Tested Welfare Spending 1960-2008

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

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.

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

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.