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Archive for the ‘wisdom’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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The essence of theological modernism is the denial of the supernatural (miracles, Christ’s divinity and resurrection, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming, and the divine inspiration of scripture). These fundamentals of the faith are labeled “fundamentalistic”—modernity’s other F-word. Modernism reduces religion to morality, morality to social morality, and social morality to socialism.

In fact, its instinctive gravitation to socialism is natural. For socialism and religion are the only two answers to a problem Lewis poses in The Abolition of Man: the problem of the Controllers versus the controlled, the Conditioners versus the conditioned. To see this, we must first review his argument in that book.

Lewis’ argument in chapter 3 is absolutely stunning, both in the sense of intellectually brilliant and in the sense of emotionally terrifying. It is that “man’s conquest of nature” without the Tao must necessarily become nature’s conquest of man. For “man’s conquest of nature” must always mean, in the concrete, some men’s power over other men, using nature as the instrument. Lewis’ examples of the wireless, the airplane, and the contraceptive show this: some men wield the newly-won power over others as its patients. Perhaps they are its willing patients, but they are its patients. Now as long as both the agents and the patients of these powers over nature admit and work within a common Tao, or moral law, they have the same interests, rights, and values. Monarchy is not oppressive if the king and the people are working for a common goal under a common law and share a common dignity. But if the power elite, whether king, voting majority, or media elite, cease to believe in an objective Tao, as is clearly the case in our society, then they become Controllers, Conditioners, Social Engineers, and the patients become the controlled. Propaganda replaces propagation. Propagation is “old birds teaching young birds to fly.” Propaganda is programming parrots. Propagation is the transmission of tradition. Propaganda is the invention of innovation. Which of the two is piped into our brains daily by our media?

— Peter Kreeft, From “Darkness At Noon: The Eclipse of the Permanent Things,” Chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis For The Third Millennium

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While the American polis does not (yet) face the same totalitarian controls on speech that Solzhenitsyn suffered under in Russia (known in his time as the Soviet Union), one cannot help but find some commonality in what he wrote for Under the Rubble and today’s journalistic and educational institutions. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prophet for his time. We would be wise to ponder his words in light of what we face today in the form of politically correctness and speech codes .

The transition from free speech to enforced silence it no doubt painful. What torment for a living society, used to thinking for itself, to lose from some decreed date the right to express itself in print and in public, to bite back its words year in and year out, in friendly conversation and even under the family roof.

But the way back, which our country will soon face – the return of breathing and consciousness, the transition from silence to free speech – will also prove difficult and slow, and just as painful, because of the gulf of utter incomprehension which will suddenly yawn between fellow-countryman, even those of the same generation and same place of origin, even members of the same close circle.

For decades, while we were silent, our thoughts straggled in all possible and impossible directions, lost touch with each other, never learned to know each other, ceased to check and correct each other. While the stereotypes of required thought, or rather of dictated opinion, dinned into us daily from the electrified gullets of radio, endlessly reproduced in thousands of newspapers as like as peas, condensed into weekly surveys for political study groups, have made mental cripples of us and left very few minds undamaged.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “As Breathing and Consciousness Return,” From Under the Rubble

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If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004

Originally published in England: A Nation, 1904

If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004, originally published in England: A Nation, 1904

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I often wonder, when I hear demands for credentials – where did you go to school, what do you do for a living, etc. – what kind of reception Eric Hoffer, a common laborer and longshoreman, would get from today’s elites on both the left and the right.

Since Mr. Hoffer has gone on to his reward and we only have his written work by which to judge him, credentials matter little. In fact, he is often praised as the “Longshoreman Philosopher.” Good luck getting an organization like the Hoover Institute or Brookings Institute to give anyone else with those kinds of credentials anything resembling a second look today.

Enough of my ranting. The rest of this post belongs to Prof. Thomas Sowell citing the ultimate non-academic thinker Eric Hoffer.

Eric Hoffer never bought the claims of intellectuals to be for the common man. “A ruling intelligentsia,” he said, “whether in Europe, Asia or Africa, treats the masses as raw material to be experimented on, processed and wasted at will.”

One of the many conceits of contemporary intellectuals that Hoffer deflated was their nature cult. “Almost all the books I read spoke worshipfully of nature,” he said, recalling his own personal experience as a migrant farm worker that was full of painful encounters with nature, which urban intellectuals worshipped from afar.

Hoffer saw in this exaltation of nature another aspect of intellectuals’ elitist “distaste for man.” Implicit in much that they say and do is “the assumption that education readies a person for the task of reforming and reshaping humanity — that is equips him to act as an engineer of souls and manufacturer of desirable human attributes.”

Eric Hoffer called it “soul raping” — an apt term for what goes on in too many schools today, where half-educated teachers treat the classroom as a place for them to shape children’s attitudes and beliefs in a politically correct direction.

— Thomas Sowell, “The Legacy of Eric Hoffer

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