People say that chivalry is dead. If true, we have killed it. The sexual revolution, the crest of second and third wave feminism and the natural tendency toward chronological snobbery have made the idea of chivalry quaint at best and tyrannical at worst. The idea of a knight errant fighting for his lady love is seen as a hopeless romantic with his head in the clouds or as an unapologetic standard and enforcer of the patriarchy. Chivalry, in an Orwellian thrust, has been dubbed “benevolent sexism” by Women’s Psychology Quarterly since it presumes—by their understanding—that women are inherently weaker than men and need men for their protection. The only thing to do was to destroy the idea of chivalry through shame and mockery.
All that destruction though has led to foreseeable if unintended consequences. The revelations of sexual harassment, in Hollywood especially, have suddenly revealed that all the promises made by the sexual revolution in the 60s have not come true. But, like true disciples, today’s feminists and apologists say that the problem is not feminism but men or “toxic masculinity” as the modern slang puts it. It is the sole fault of the man if he preys on women and it does not matter if the man in question is an actual criminal—like Harvey Weinstein—or simply a scumbag like Aziz Ansari. Each are equally guilty and equally monstrous.
Now, to be sure, from the stories and accounts that have come out of the Aziz Ansari case in particular, Aziz Ansari is a scumbag; he is not a gentleman and he is not man, except in the physical sense but he is not a criminal like Weinstein. But this distinction is lost on today’s minds who see no distinction between the two, no difference between the illegal and the immoral. To them, again, the problem is men themselves; men are inherently evil and crass. What they forget is that if a society laughs at honor, or virtue, or bravery, then very soon, they will be surrounded by people who are dishonorable, unvirtuous and cowardly. Men have been told that men and women are the same, that they do not have to be differential to women and that, in fact, it is disrespectful of them to do so. Combine that lesson with the contradictory but equally powerful one learned from online pornography—that men are supposed to dominate women and that women are supposed to enjoy their domination—and it is not surprising that that the slew of sexual harassments and transgressions have come out.
This is not to say that men are justified in acting like this but we might say that their culpability is lessoned through ignorance. Perhaps not men like Ansari, who claimed to be a feminist in order to signal his virtue to the rest of Hollywood, but the ordinary runoff the mill men whom we see every day. We might even be justified in asking ourselves how can men be expected to treat women well when they are not taught? And that is why chivalry must return not only for women but for men.
Chivalry was never about sexism or the patriarchy. Instead, chivalry was the recognition by men that women were noble and special—so much so that it was considered normal for a man to pledge himself to a lady. Both men and women benefitted from this code and ideal. Women, who as a matter of objective fact are physically weaker, on average, than men, gained protectors in a harsh and brutal age. Separated as we are from the fall of the Roman Empire, the spilling of the dark ages across the Europe and the rebirth of civilization in the Middle Ages, we do not have the appreciation that we should for how harsh life could be in that time. That women were seen as persons that did not just require but deserved protecting on the basic fact of their womanhood, was phenomenal and not something that was seen in the ancient world. Not only that, but in the medieval romances where the seeds of chivalry were planted, the ladies to whom the knights pledged themselves and for which they fought were not weak, misogynistic stereotypes; historian Richard Barber says that the knight’s lady “is unlike anything before or since, unrivalled in her command over men’s hearts, a remote, almost divine being.” Curiously, some post-modern feminists defend women becoming pornographic actresses, where they become objectified by men, for the same reason—because, they say, that acting in porn gives them a power over men. Which is readily true; what would be argued about is the type of power wielded.
Men, for their part, found their natures refined, tempered and channeled. It’s no secret that men are more rough and tumble as a rule than women are which is one of the very reasons why a man requires a woman in his life. Left alone and to themselves with no feminine touch upon their lives, a man’s naturally more aggressive and warlike nature would turn him into a brute. In a fit of irony, chivalry, the very thing which moderns decry as a result of toxic masculinity, was one of the remedies which prevented a man’s nature from toxic in the first place. Before chivalry and the romances that inspired its world-view, warriors had thirsted for great deeds to accomplish in order to be hailed for their military might, so that their names could be listed alongside those of Alexander, Caesar and Charlegmagne. But, after the romances appeared, it was not the thought of glory in military deeds that spurred him on but his lady who became the inspiration behind his deeds. The writers of southern France saw love as a subtle moral and spiritual education while in northern France and Germany, less sophisticated, saw love as an actual power that would give the knight strength, skill and accuracy. Perhaps that is the reason why some have argued that it was a good thing for chivalry to die. The idea of a love so strong, almost perverse, needed to go; the image of the knight pining away for his lady seems ridiculous and undignified. But there is a difference between an ideal and the corruption of an ideal just as there is a difference between courage, a virtue, and foolhardiness, a vice. All good things are liable to be corrupted and the better something is, the greater the likelihood that it will be corrupted and when that happens, the greater the chance that the corruption will be detrimental. But that in no way should make us suspicious of the good thing—in this case, chivalry—itself just as foolhardiness should not make us doubt the worth and necessity of courage.
I once read that a true man helps a woman become a true woman and a true woman helps a man become a true man. In this way, the cycle is complete. In the world today, the cycle is often broken as men and women do not have the knowledge on how to treat each other and even what a true man or woman encompasses. Chivalry—real and genuine—can help us rediscover it.
Traditions are a good thing, in and of themselves, if for no other reason that they give order and routine to our lives. Some people have made a glass of warm milk before bed a tradition and it may very well be that the milk does help to bring the initial drowsiness but the act of drinking cannot be entirely forgotten either. The pouring of the milk, the heating on the stove or in the microwave, and the drinking all wash together as a sign to yourself that, yes, the day is actually over; sleep can now come. I had a brother who did the very same thing when still a baby except that it was not a glass of warm milk but a particular CD of Celtic lullabies.
More importantly, of course, traditions connect us to the past in our religion, country, culture and, most intimately, to our own families. Using the silver tableware for the Thanksgiving feast is not just to give the table the final gloss, although that is part of it; it is also the understanding that we are doing what our great-grandmother started doing with the silverware, given to her as a wedding present, coupled with the idea and hope that future generations of our family will this particular silver for this particular feast day. Past, present and future all meet under the same roof.
Sometimes–or oftentimes–the tradition becomes so habitually that we forget not only its meaning but also just how bizarre it is. At any other time of the year, setting up a tree in our living rooms and decorating them with lights and glass balls would seem ridiculous but, at Christmas-tide, no one thinks twice making a conifer of some type the centerpiece and heart of our homes for at least a few weeks. Not having one is tantamount to branding yourself a Scrooge.
Time and custom are certainly on our side in this particular tradition: the Germanic tribesmen brought conifers from the winter forests and into their huts as a reminder of the promise of the coming Spring in the middle of Winter, since the conifers kept their green throughout the year and did not die in Winter; when Christian missionaries came into Germany, they baptized the tradition, making the evergreen a symbol of Christ, the one who rose from dead Winter to living Spring. According to legend, Martin Luther took this tradition and the Christian symbol of the evergreen and began the practice of placing candles in its branches after walking through the forest and seeing the midwinter stars shining down upon the earth; this custom then crossed the English channel with the marriage between Queen Victorian and Prince Albert and, from there, it sailed the Atlantic to the United States. In spite of this honorable pedigree, by any utilitarian calculation, the Christmas tree is just as ridiculous today as it was when the first Germanic tribesman brought a tree into his hut. Perhaps the cynic or the utilitarian would say that we are even more ridiculous; the German tribesman at least had a reason for filling his home with a tree that cramped his extended family into the far corners of the hut, since he saw it as a promise of the return of Spring and the summer sun. The tribesman might be forgiven since he did not have the advantage of modern astronomy, geology or meteorology by which we, sitting in the 21st century, are well assured that when the sun disappears at its earliest time on the Winter Solstice, it will rise the next day. With these advantages there is no reason, save nostalgia and the indefinable “holiday spirit” which compels us to set up a tree.
Christmas time though is the season of the year filled the most with symbols. It is also the time of the year when we are to be the most childlike and children never say that a tradition is silly. They will want to know why the tradition is still practiced but they will hardly, after the explanation is given, say that the tradition and the reason are ridiculous. There is an innate innocence in the minds of children–or there should be–that trusts that there is a reason for the madness that surrounds them.
The Christmas tree is the perfect symbol of Christmas because it is a sign of contradiction. The paradox of the Christmas tree comes not so much from the lights and decorations but from the very fact that, under no other circumstance, would a tree be taken from the forest and temporarily planted in the house. That is the great paradox. The paradox is garnished with something that is so trivial that it probably does not deserve to be called a miracle but personal experience draws me to that particular description. My family has a habit of buying large Christmas trees every year. Something as stupendous as Christmas needed to be celebrated with a tree that was big enough itself to hold Christmas in its branches. Inevitably we always chose the biggest tree that we could find; twelve or thirteen foot Frasier firs were not uncommon, with branches that stretched out as wide as our arms. It should be noted, as well, that none of the houses in which we have lived have been what would be considered large; there was really no reason to look for, much less purchase, the biggest tree that we could find when a nine or ten foot tree would have been sufficient. By all rights, the tree should not have been able to fit in. Even after the necessary cutting of the truck was completed (to make a fresh cut for the water while the tree stood in the stand, a fact that might make some Scrooges cast doubt upon the validity of the yearly miracle) which allowed the tree to barely miss the ceiling, its girth should have been too much for the living room to bear. And yet, the tree always fit. It was snug, sometimes it made the room slightly difficult to maneuver in, but the basic point remained–the tree always fit inside the house.
The reason why the Christmas tree is the perfect vessel and symbol of Christmas is because Christmas acts just like its tree because that is the way that the Baby acts. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said once that Christ has no hands, no feet, no tongue, on earth except for ours. If this is correct, then to allow Him to make use of those appendages and organs requires that we let Him into our lives. The problem is that He is a very unaccommodating guest. The usual house guest will typically try to stay out of underfoot and will general leave after a few days so as to not overstay his welcome. But the Christ Child expects to be treated like a tree and once planted in a home and heart, we are expected to keep Him there. As He grows, the less space there seems for us. Rather than look at the perpetual green of His branches, the dazzle of the lights within them, we grumble at all the space that He is taking. Inviting the homeless Child into one’s home at Christmastide is the equivalent of planting a tree in one’s house; as it grows, it forces one to change not just the arrangement of the furniture but the size and scope of the house itself. The emphasis becomes not simply a subjective order in the house according to one’s tastes but the tree.
And yet, we know that the Tree can fit inside the house, despite its perceived cumbersomeness. Furthermore, we know that planting the Tree does not destroy the house but perfects it, just as every house with a Christmas tree is perfected which we instinctively know by understanding that the houses without trees are incomplete. We know this objectively because the people who have planted the Tree and allowed it to root Itself deep in their soil are called Saints, those for whom it is Christmas every day. Continue reading “A Philosophy of the Christmas Tree”→
Sometimes, the discovery of a new word opens the window and allows the world to be seen in a new way. Other times, it allows a new point of view to be discovered as if some genius had created a means of seeing through a “fifth dimension” the ordinary things about him in the world which now, because of the point of view which had always existed and yet remained unobtainable till now, suddenly seemed as precious as gold and as unique as snowflakes. Words can do this, much like experiences, because words are experiences; they are signposts through which the world can be seen and felt, even invisible things such as truth, honor and justice can be given breath and blood through words.
Sometimes, in order to share the experience however, it is necessary to bring up examples and stories of the past. Bringing up stories from the past–not great, historical events or persons but simple stories–is not considered rude, per se but it might be considered irrelevant and boring, which are considered rude by some, or, at least, treated with suspicion. For some, this is because they believe that we are all caught up in the great wave of progress and that the past must remained buried so that we can fully concentrate on the coming utopia which will make itself felt as a never ending present; others may express some interest in the past but feel that with the perpetual deluge of stories and outrages and accusations and trivia bombarded on us every waking hour, that there simply is no time or room for things past a certain date. At the risk of being rude, I feel it necessary to drag two stories and two reactions from their niches in the past to the present moment.
In September, some parts of the news was devoted to the phenomena of NFL players kneeling during the pledge of allegiance. Surprisingly, one of the voices that defended the players was National Review’s David French. In a piece French argued that patriotism could only be voluntary and could never be mandated and that the players were simply exercising the their First Amendment right to free expression in protest against Donald Trump who had called on the NFL to fire players who publicly disrespected the flag. To bring further weight to his argument, French brought to his court the 1942 Supreme Court case, West Virginia vs. Barnett, in which a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses brought the West Virginia Board of Education to Court after the Board required the children of West Virginia to salute the flag every day, a ritual that contradicted the practices and beliefs of the Jehovah Witnesses. The Court, on the grounds of religious freedom nd under the idea that patriotism did not have to be mandated into the heads of a free people, ruled in the Witnesses’ favor.
In September too, another writer at National Review, Katherine Trimpf wrote a reaction to a story that received much less popular attention than the NFL. In Everett, Washington, a group of baristas who serve coffee in bikinis sued the city council after that body unanimously voted that quick serve restaurant employees could not dress for work in a way that bared their shoulders, stomachs or butts, declaring that such a ban infringed their rights of privacy and free expression. Miss Trimpf took the baristas’ side completely, arguing that while companies could dictate dress codes, governments could not and that if someone really did not want to see a woman in beachware serve him coffee, he could quite simply go somewhere else.
Now, I have to wonder how these ladies can complain about their privacy being invaded when they attire themselves precisely to gain attention. Some may call me a prude or a Puritan for that bewilderment but I cannot see how the mere asking of the question regulates me to the boogies in the past. I have no real objection to women wearing beachware while on the beach; I find it quite enjoyable, to a point. But, again, I wonder what the purpose of wearing beach clothing when there is no beach especially when the clothing being worn by the baristas in question is not really even a swimsuit but a the lack of clothing. Ignoring these questions, however, Miss Trimpf and Mr. French are both wrong in their conclusions.
On the purely technical level, both Miss Trimpf and Mr. French are wrong regarding some of their basic ideas concerning government. I think of myself as a small-government man but an error that has occurred in some minds on the right is the equivocation of the word “government.” When the word is said, most thoughts immediately fly to Washington DC which is one of the greatest proofs that the centralization worked for by progressives and post-moderns in politics and culture has been successful since, according to our original system of government, the federal or national government is only the last and was supposedly the least powerful of the three. The individual state governments were designed to have much more influence and power than the federal government since they were closer to the people; in the same way, the local governments dotted across the different states were originally intended to have the post power since they were the ones closest to the people, most attune to the needs of the different communities and more accountable to the people. If the federal government unveiled a national dress code for the workers, I would agree that such a stupid idea could only have come from a madman or a Congressman but a decree of that sort comes from a local government, though we may question its prudence, we should not question its validity.
We hear often today that we cannot impose our morality on others. Censorship is seen as the sin which is unforgivable. If we are right, then our forefathers were blasphemers and it is our duty to damn them to hell at once and be done with it. For censorship was not unheard of in the old days of the early republic–blasphemy laws, limits on what could be printed, laws declaring that seekers of public office had to profess a belief in the Christian God, official state churches, public acknowledgement of the Sabbath, including the closing of shops, were all enforced by local governments. Many, perhaps Mr. French and Miss Trimpf would be included in this group, would say that regardless of the level of government, such laws and such activities are not appropriate since it is not the government’s job to make men virtuous, and, to an extent, they are correct. The little platoons which Edmund Burke spoke, the family, the independent schools, the communities, over all which, as an umbrella, stood the Church as a source of refreshment, wisdom and strength, were all seen as the real teachers of virtue and morality. But governments–particular those of a self-governing republic and most especially those levels of government closest to the people–also have an interest in the virtuosity of its people and a duty to help encourage it, especially is Benjamin Franklin was correct when he said that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. While the government–even the local government–may not have the responsibility to teach us virtues it does have the duty, as Robert Bork said, to deter us from vice, acting as a bulwark, a dike, so that the little platoon may do their duties in relative peace rather than in a war-torn environment. It is not the government’s job to teach me to love my neighbor, nor can a city council make me love my neighbor but the government can forbid me and prevent me through law from killing my neighbor which, in some way, is more primordial than loving him since I can only learn to love my neighbor if he is alive. Every law, in fact, is a deterrence from vice, or, at least, what is regarded as vice; even as mundane a law as the speed limit exists to protect us and others from the intoxication of speed.
What is interesting is that while we implicitly accept this role of the government in cases of murder, stealing, perjury and the like, we most strongly resist it in the case of sex, proving Confucius correct when he quipped that no man loves virtue more than sex. Although we like to think that we have become sufficiently enlightened to free sex from all thought of antiquated morality, that is not quite the case; even the most ardent defendant of the sexual revolt concedes that a basic morality in the form of consent. But morality in matters of sex must be stronger than mere “consent;” sex is such a powerful force–it is, after all, the only earthly force which can create not just life but a person–that it must be tightly reigned. The greater the power, the more evil its corruption will bring. Looking at it practically, if consent was all the morality that was required in matters of sex, we would be left in a world where the strong could coerce consent from the weak a la Harvey Weinstein; not only that but there would be no moral barriers with which to oppose or condemn a daughter marrying her father. Because of its natural allure and power, only virtue–chastity, modesty, prudence, and genuine love for the other, agape rather than just eros–can reign in the power of sex. The Founders thought so as well. John Adams took his marriage vows to Abigail so seriously that he declared in a letter written for his children in the twilight of his life that he had fathered no illegitimate children and he thundered in his diary against so-called men who gave the appearance of virtue only to seduce innocent women; Benjamin Franklin included chastity in his list of thirteen virtues; Washington took the Bible and the old, Roman, Seneca, as his guide in matters of morality. If the level of government closest to the people has as one of its goals, the virtue of the people through the determent of vice, then this must include matters of a sexual nature as well. Prudence will be required to determine where and when the local government must exercise its role at deterrent but the fact that the local government can act in this way flows naturally from this line of thinking and not only flows but is necessary. As Madison said, men need governments because they are not angels, not natural and wholly good. Restraints must be placed upon them and this is as true about sex as on any other matter, perhaps more so, given the innate power which sex possesses. Against cries of censorship and totalitarianism, Edmund Burke comes again with not only with an answer but the correct one. Burke said that man’s chains are forged by his passions and that a man must either chain his passions himself or must permit some outside force to chain them for him. After fifty years of sexual revolt, we no longer need speculate but can see what sex, unbridled from restraint and virtue, has done to persons and to society at large: broken souls, broken homes and communities and an ennui that has made the current generation, ironically, less interested and less capable in having sex than our grandparents generation. We also see it in the general darkening of the intellect and softening of the will among society, the effects of the “daughters of lust” as Aquinas termed them. If John Adams was correct when he said that only a virtuous and moral people are capable of freedom, the deterrent force of local government in matters of vice becomes even more necessary.
That, however, is only the technical side of the issue. There is a deeper aspect of the issue in which both Mr. French and Miss Trimpf are wrong and that deeper aspect is expressed in the word which I discovered–pietas. It is an old Latin word, a relic of the Roman Republic and Empire and from which we receive our word “piety.” That word, however, does not do the original word justice for when we think of piety, our minds are taken to matters of religion. If I say that Mr. Jones is a pious man, it is assumed that I mean that he goes to church on Sundays and tries, at least in some degree, to live a Christian life, or, at least, a moral life. But pietas is deeper than mere piety. T.S. Eliot, in his analysis of the Roman poet, Virgil, examined pietas within Virgil’s epic, the Aeineid, which told the story of Aeneas, the prince of Troy who escaped with the gods of the city and some survivors from the Greeks and who was given a command from the gods to found a new city, one that would be called Rome. Eliot explained that, rather than mere piety, for Virgil, pietas “implies an attitude towards the individual, towards the family, towards the region, and towards the imperial destiny of Rome.” Today, we are tempted to compartmentalize our duties, if we even recognize that we have duties to perform. In this manner, my duty to my parents if different and separate from my duty to my country or my duty to God. Pietas makes no such distinction; it recognizes that there are different levels of duty but instead of separating them, pietas sees them as connected; Eliot says, “It is an attitude towards all these things, and therefore implies a unity and an order among them: it is in fact an attitude of life.” Eliot explained that all the instances of pietas were connected because:
In his [Aeneas’s] devotion to his father he is not being just an admirable son. There is personal affection, without which filial piety would be imperfect; but personal affection is not piety. There is also devotion to his father as his father, as his progenitor: this is piety as the acceptance of a bond which one has not chosen. The quality of affection is altered, and its importance deepened, when it becomes love due to the object. But this filial piety is also the recognition of a further bond, that with the gods, to whom such an attitude is pleasing: to fail in it would be to be guilty of impiety also towards the gods. The gods must therefore be gods worthy of this respect; and without gods, or a god, regarded in this way, filial piety must perish.
A man with pietas in his soul would no more want to disrespect his country by kneeling at his flag during the recital of his national anthem than he would want to slap his own mother as he knows and understands that his country is his country and that it is deserving of his love for that fact alone; a man with pietas wants to see his neighbors and countrymen virtuous and happy and would not want to act as a stumbling block in that regard in any way; a man who practiced pietas would want what is best for his country. Not only that but the man with pietas in his soul would know that he is simply one link in a great chain. Some will think that this is a backdoor to totalitarianism again. Whereas the totalitarian believes that men exist to serve the state, we know and understand that the state, being a natural phenomena, as Aristotle explained, exists for people; at the same time, however, the patriot, the man with pietas, sees and understands that while the state exists for his benefit he, himself, while a pearl of great price in the eyes of God, a unique person only a little less than the angels, he is also, paradoxically, only a speck in Space and Time; millions have come before and millions will come after him. More to the point, he sees that past, present and the future as a continuous line, not cut off by arbitrary dates. Nor will he see the present as the epitome of history. He will see the past, present and future as one continuous line with him, a man from the present, with duties both towards the past and the future. As such, he will understand that he and his countrymen are united in a web made of blood and history and culture and that what he does will have consequences for his family and neighbors. Good and evil deeds, he knows, will spread like ripples on a pond; his deeds will affect others and the deeds of others will affect him. Furthermore, the man with pietas will see this all as being under the umbrella of his filial duty to God; as God made him, and allowed his country to come into existence as part of His story and made him specifically a child of his country, he knows that to honor and love his country–not idolize it–honors God as well. George Washington might well be our model, again, in this regard, the American Aeneas as well as the American Cincinnatus and Fabian.
Of course, pietas will not be planted in the souls of even a tenth of our countrymen, let alone the entire population, in a day, or a night. It will take time and effort and sweat. The task will not be made any easier if we condone actions that undermine the very planting of the old Roman virtue out of a misguided understanding of freedom.
G.K. Chesterton said once that men do not love their countries because their countries are great; rather, countries become great because men love them. That is why a miserable village in central Italy became the nucleus of the second great empire of the world; that was the force that turned a miserable island in the North Atlantic into the premier power of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And that is the force that will truly make America great again as well.
Sometimes the past is kind to the dead and sometimes death is the only means by which a man may be thought in a kindly way. Edgar Allan Poe, despite the universalism that now attends his name, was something of a failure in life. Although he was not a drunk (that lie being inserted by Rufus Griswald, another writer and supposed friend to whom Poe entrusted the writing of his obituary which was where Griswald lay the lie) Poe did not enjoy success; alienated from his foster-father, a failure at West Point, frustrated in his attempts to become a successful writer like Nathaniel Hawthorne, a young marriage ending in the premature death of his wife, and, finally, dying under still shrouded circumstances in Baltimore at the age of forty. And today, every high school student in America is at least partially acquainted with his name though a miniscule selection of his most famous stories. This seems to be a road travelled by many artists.
Sometimes though the past is made to disavow its inhabitants and thrust them into what our modern times deem to be the outer darkness. We have seen this most recently in the destruction of our past which has moved on from Confederate generals to the Father of our country. The Puritan fathers are also members of that merry group of untouchables with the most recent example of their now obsolete status in the modern, public square coming, ironically, from the university which they founded. Harvard University, this past summer, expunged the Puritans from the school’s alma mater song since mention of “the stock of the Puritans” was not inclusive enough for modern ears.
It is not surprising that the Puritans have become unwanted. The past saw them as pioneers, sturdy and brave, cutting through the Atlantic to land on Plymouth Rock not only for land but for God and for the church and that is the very reason why the modern world cannot abide them; as John Grondelski said three years ago, the very fact that the origins of the United States rests in a group of men and women who recognized that their preservation on the sea and in the New World was entirely from the Love and Will of God, is a source of embarrassment to contemporary elites who must ignore and obfuscate that fact as much as they can. That the elites hate the Puritans is natural and if they were the only ones, it would be a mark of honor in fact, since the man who has no enemies has never done anything in life. It would be proof that they had stood for and believed in something. What is perhaps harder to understand is that Catholics of a more traditional bent have also sounded the war drums against the Puritans. In some manner, this has been going on for some little time: the great apologist, G.K. Chesterton, said that if Americans celebrated the arrival of the Puritans to the New World with Thanksgiving, perhaps the English should establish a Thanksgiving for the Puritans leaving England; four years ago, in an article entitled, “Illiberal Catholicism” John Zmirak chronicled a number of cases of unapologetic anti-Americanism on traditionally minded Catholic campuses, which included an history professor christening Thanksgiving as “Anathema Thursday” and naming the Statue of Liberty “that Masonic bitch-goddess;” another historian, Marian T. Horvat has explained that it is all right for Catholics to celebrate Thanksgiving since it was not begun by Puritans but by the Catholic Spaniards; and, this past Thanksgiving, Christine Niles of Churchmilitant.com reiterated Dr. Horvat’s point, saying,
If you’re anything like me and don’t take kindly to celebrating a holiday commemorating a group of Calvinists who set up a Puritan theocracy in New England known for persecuting Catholics, then you can rest easy; the Protestants were not the first to celebrate Thanksgiving in this country — Catholics were.
Although I am a Catholic myself, and one who considers himself to be a traditionalist, this attitude is not only wrong but it is ungrateful. The wrongness begins with the vision of the Puritans–which did not originate with other traditionalist Catholics–that has come to replace the actual Puritans. If Catholic history, particularly that of the Middle Ages and 16th Century Spain, has been tarnished with the Black Legend, the Puritans have been covered in what might be called the White Legend. The purpose of the White Legend to the Puritans is the same as the Black Legend to the Spaniards except the end goals of the villains; the Black Legend’s main contention is that the Spaniards–conquistadors and missionaries–sought only gold and glory, whereas the White Legend states that the Puritans sought God, but that this rabid quest for the divine turned them into dour clouds, perpetually black in their outlook and in their clothing. It was this obsession which lead them hang nineteen men and women in Salem and which made them see themselves as nothing but loathsome spiders, hung out over a caldron of hellfire, in the hands of a wrathful God. This image has been in the shadows of our minds for some time; Nathaniel Hawthorne might be said to have helped first nurture it, if he did not mostly create it from out of his inkwell and from there it creeped to the rest of the American mind, even at its most banal. I remember being in an antique store some years back where I came across a magazine whose title I have now forgotten with this particular issue being from the late Nineties. What caught my eye was Jackie Kennedy’s face on the cover. As I was thumbing through the pages, I came across another article with the salacious title, “Questions About Sex You Don’t Dare Ask,” the reason being, according to the author, that Americans were still far too puritanical, a word which, itself, came into being only because of this particular vision of the Puritans.
That the Puritans were firm is beyond question but that they appear so grotesque in their terrible orthodoxy reflects more on us than it does on them. Modern man in inflected with a terrible ennui; having conquered so many fields, the horizens seem to much smaller than they did even seventy years ago. In the Fifties (so vilified today), we could still dream of sailing to the Moon and from there to Mars and out beyond into the vast regions of space, an entire new frontier to explore and settle and cultivate. It was these dreams which inspired Bradbury, Asimov and Clark in their art. Today, the Moon has been walked, space has been seen and we have become bored by it, too lethargic and bloated on debt to make the next voyage to Mars. The sexual revolt in the Sixties and Seventies promised energy, happiness and purpose without end at its initiation and many were swayed by the promises it made; the result, besides new strains of disease and a burgeoning percentage of population to host them, has been that the most aweful, most sacrificial, most artistic act capable of man has today become so cheapened that the latest generation makes love with much less energy and frequency than our grandparents did, in spite of our newly acquired liberation. Modern man has demonstrated the paradox that the more you try to fill yourself with you, the emptier you will become. The Puritans, whatever their faults, realized that God alone will ultimately satisfy, as St. Augustine discovered. God was the reason why they risked the sea and the tabula rasa of Plymouth, not just for themselves, but for the whole world. When John Winthrope referred to their colony as a city on a hill, he did not have the bland idea that history ended with them; rather, just as the individual soul could only shine to others with the light of Christ, so Plymouth and the Puritans could only be that shiny city if they remained true to the Word and to the mission that God had bequeathed to them. That mission was nothing less than the re-establishment of the Church of Christ in the world. In January of 1776, Reverend Samuel Sherwood of Norfolk, Connecticut, preached a sermon on the Book of Revelations in which he argued that the woman who fled into the desert from the Dragon was a symbol of the church, driven from England to the wilderness of New England where she would be safe and, from where, she could reclaim the world; in the same vein, William Bradford in his On Plymouth Plantation, through the use of typology, connected the different triumphs and failures of the colony to the crucifixcion and resurrection of Christ. Now, as a Catholic, I believe that the Puritans’ theology was deficient but that is something for which I cannot entirely blame them. And, at the very least, the Puritans were attempting to move towards God and, as such, had a very realistic idea and reaction to sin, grace and the Divine. To paraphrase the writer, Rod Dreher, though I may have argued with the Puritans over theological points, I would rather have them on my side than un-serious members of my own church.
Someone, somewhere, once remarked that God does not somber saints and the Puritans seem to have understood that. Salvation is serious business but it is only the unserious man who takes it so seriously as to suck all the innocent joys from life and to retreat, hermit-like, within himself to become another Scrooge. The serious man knows that there are legitimate joys in life, legitimate because they are little blessings from God sprinkled along our path to refresh our hearts and excite our imaginations and that they are there to be enjoyed. A harvest party in the company of one’s family and neighbors, Christmas morning, an innocent baseball game, a sunset and a snowfall, are just some examples. The Puritans understood this quite well. Far from being the drab specters in black, they were intense lovers of beauty as Dr. Harry Stout of Yale explained at one time, saying that the Puritans wore bright clothing, painted their houses in bright colors, were not opposed to parties, and produced great poets such as Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor. Even in the realm of sex, where it has been said that the Puritans were at their most puritanical, the real Puritans, if they could be witnessed in their natural habitat, would have been mis-identified. As Dr. Stout continued to say, sex was very important to the Puritans, witnessed by the fact of their large families. Nor was it seen as some cold, precision ritual, a forerunner to Orwell’s vision of state-approved sex. In a letter to his fiancé, Margaret Tyndal, John Winthrop said:
Being filled with the joy of thy love, and wanting opportunity of more familiar communion with thee, which my heart fervently desires, I am constrained to ease the burden of my mind by this poor help of my scribbling pen. . . . Love was their banqueting house, love was their wine, love was their ensign; love was his invitings, love was her faintings; love was his apples, love was her comforts, love was his embracings, love was her refreshing.
What the Puritans lacked, in large scale, in their colonies, was promiscuity but for this, they can hardly be called puritanical; one might as well call a living, healthy apple tree a frigid and unwielding statue. They understood the meaning of sex far better than we today and simply acted accordingly.
It is true to say, as Christine Niles does in her article, that the Puritans persecuted Catholics. The Puritans persecuted most people who broke away from the Puritan covenant, such as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison. Declared bad taste today, to the Puritans it was simply commonsensical that if they were the remnant of the Christian church, charged with bringing the whole world back to Christ through their example, they could not tolerate dissenters. Although wrong, an understanding can be gained by looking at the Puritans not through the lenses of our times but through the lenses by which they saw the world. In the case of Catholics, this is especially true, as no self-respecting believer would have tolerated a sect that was created by the devil for the express purpose of luring souls into hell–which is how the Puritans viewed Catholics and the Catholic Church and how most Protestants had viewed the Catholic Church since the beginning of the Reformation, a hundred years before the planting of the Plymouth colony. The Puritans, in many ways, were victims of their times and it would take the Revolution for views towards Catholics to begin to mellow.
The position of Dr. Horvat and Miss Niles is ungrateful, in addition to being wrong, because their insistence on celebrating the Spaniards of the New World, as opposed to the British settlers, is an attempt to cut us off from our past. Regardless of how one sees the Puritans, and even less regardless of how one feels about them, they were, with Jamestown, the original American settlers. We are an Anglo nation with an Anglo culture and many of the things that we take for granted, such as trial by jury, the protection of the law and equality under the law, was brought from England with the settlers and planted in the New World. Attempting to wipe them out from the narrative of Thanksgiving is the same as wiping out your great-great-great-grandfather from the family tree as nothing that is set to replace the blank spot will suffice. Not only that but even if the Spaniards were the first to have a celebration of thanks on American soil, it was the Puritans in New England who made such a thing traditional; it may have been haphazard (as Thanksgiving was not made into a recognized, national holiday which fell on a particular day [the last Thursday of the month] till Abraham Lincoln’s administration) but without the Puritans’ feasts of thanks to God for all that He had done and given, however haphazard, the tradition which we should treasure today would never have been bequeathed to us. As different and wrong as the Puritans were in their faith, they are still a part of the Christian family, of the tapestry which C.S. Lewis termed “mere Christianity;” not “Mere” in the sense of minimal but “mere” in the sense of pertaining to the beliefs which have been universally held by all Christians for all or most of the time. Mere Christianity is, as Lewis out it, the great hall from which many doors go and though the hall is not a place made for people to live out their whole lives, it is the necessary starting point and the necessary reminder that all who take seriously the call of Christian, do pray to the same God and desire the same thing, even if, at this point, they do not see eye to eye. From the Catholic-American view, the Puritans are not only our fellow countrymen and national ancestors, they are also, spiritually, distant cousins. In a world grown cold for want of God, that is yet another thing to give thanks on that Thursday in November.
It used to be considered fashionable to be late; it demonstrated that one was so important that other attentions had to be given before one could even think of making an appearance at a party or some other social function (it doesn’t seem to have worked in the work setting, unless one was somewhat elevated in the hierarchy). While I would not venture to say that I am important enough use this as an excuse for tardiness, it might still be considered fashionable to be late only because it allows one’s thoughts to mature and, hopefully because of that, to hold a little more than they could.
When Teen Vogue ran its guide to anal sex this past summer, the reactions were already written: people were shocked and rightly outraged that a magazine for teenagers would print such a how to guide while the magazine’s digital editor, Phillip Picardi claimed that the only possible explanation for the backlash was the predictable and boring accusation of “homophobia.” Of course, there was nothing “homophobic” about the reactions of the parents and the commentators who expressed their shock; they were simply flabbergasted that a magazine devoted to teen-age girls would tell its readers how to do something that has been proven to have serious medical consequences.
It is an interesting and ironic twist that the people who often cry the loudest about science really do not care about what science says. They are much like the “cafeteria Catholics” of the Eighties, Nineties and Thousands, picking and choosing which science to cite and believe and which science to ignore. Teen Vogue chose to close their eyes to the myriad risks which anal sex opens. Author Gigi Engle did mention in her guide that contact with feces was inevitable but that this was nothing to worry about, a statement that might have been true if a cornucopia of diseases, such as hepatitis A, B, and C, parasites like Giardia and intestinal amoebas, and bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli, were not contactable through anal sex. On top of that, the risk of HIV and other STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes, increase dramatically from the practice. Added to these threats, there is another layer of danger waiting for someone’s teenage daughter who decides to give “bottoming” a try–fecal incontinence. The chances of contracting anal cancer is also increased. These bacteria, diseases and sicknesses are really not a surprising result from practicing anal sex since, to put it bluntly, things are being put where things should not be put, in this case, the male sex organ being inserted into the manhole of the body’s sewage removal system. One can compare that to the harmony naturally inherent in what Gigi Engle termed ” ‘penis in the vagina’ sex” what used to be known in common circles as simply, sex, the natural harmony found in how the two different sex organs work together so perfectly in their complimentary that Occam’s Razor practically screams that the two were made to go together. The horrible consequences of anal sex are simply the natural results of ignoring ontology and teleology, large, philosophical terms which mean nothing more than “what things are” (ontology) and “what those things are for” (teleology).
If the physical health issues were the only harms done by Engle’s guide, that would be bad enough, but Teen Vogue’s piece does even greater harm than simply the physical. In the first place, the piece can be added to the list of pieces and speeches and actions which erode history and an honest understanding of history. Engle attempted to use history as a defense of anal sex by claiming, “Anal sex, though often stigmatized, is a perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity. People have been having anal sex since the dawn of humanity. Seriously, it’s been documented back to the ancient Greeks and then some. So if you’re a little worried about trying it or are having trouble understanding the appeal, just know that it isn’t weird or gross.” It should be noted, again, that simply possessing a long pedigree in history does not instantly make X activity moral, or else murder, lying, rape and stealing would also be seen as being “perfectly natural.” The activity has to be taken for what it is, not for how long it has been practiced or how many people have practiced it. It may also be recalled with some amusement that during the oral arguments of the Obergefell case in 2015, the fact that marriage had been seen and understood as a conjugal union of a man and a woman was not deemed sufficient reason to keep reality as it was; rather, it was merely one more barrier which the soldiers of justice had to storm in order that history could be righted. A principle which can be used and discarded at will is not the strongest pillar on which to rest a case. But, even beyond the historical fallacy, Engle’s assertion attempts to change history. It is a fact that anal sex was practiced in the world of the ancient Greeks; there even survives a debate of sorts from that time, in which it was discussed which was more pleasurable, sex with women or sex with boys. But to leave the assertion at that is to play dishonestly. Anal sex, for one, was acceptable to the Greeks only within certain parameters: In Sparta, for example, it was seen as a way for boys to bond and, thus, a way for a brotherhood of sorts to exist between the next generation of soldiers. Once the boys came of marriageable age, however, such activity was not only frowned upon but was punishable by death. Intellectual giants by the names of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle condemned the practice. Casting a wider historical net, behavior of this sort was condemned in ancient Israel; in ancient Rome, though this sort of thing may have been accepted at times with a wink and a nod, it was technically against the law and accusations of some person having or performing anal sex was often used as an attack on one’s enemies, which happened to Emperor Elagabalus. The history is not as clear-cut as Engle would like to have it.
But there is another, and deeper, danger posed to history, not particularly by this particular article, but by the attitude which exudes from its attempt to marshal history in its defense. One of the reasons why History is necessary not just for people but for societies is because History is supposed to act as our teacher. It is true that an answer to a particular, contemporary problem–such as the exact percentage of the federal income tax– will, more than likely, not be found in the Alexiad or in the chronicles of Tacitus or Hume’s History of England, but answers to general questions can be found in its annals. When History is simply used as a battering ram for a particular point or ideology, it ceases to be History but, rather, a monster that we attempt to control in order to sanction our own points and peccadillos and sins. When History is slashed and sewn up into one’s own Frankenstein Monster, we taken to very strange Wonderlands. In the field of American history, to give just one example, a divide has formed between those who see the Founders as Deists to a man and those who see them all as Evangelical Christians neither side making any real attempt to come to a realistic and true account of the matter. But that situation is not surprising; monsters are not strong at dialogue and reasoned arguments but are very good at attempting to crush other monsters and their creators, while the common villagers suffer the most from the battle.
In the second place, Teen Vogue’s guide destroys people and children. There are, again, all of the medical disorders that come from anal sex and which will infect boys and girls–real boys and real girls–which will cling to them and eat at their bodies. More than likely, it will not just end at anal sex; once a particular door is opened, people have a habit of rushing further into the labyrinth, opening more doors and falling further and further into the dark. I remember reading, some years ago, a piece online, the title and author of which I have forgotten but I have not forgotten his story. It concerned a young women in the Seventies who, at the time, was living in a lesbian relationship. As she and her partner were walking through a festival, the woman in question came across two other girls making out; her nonchalance became horror when she discovered that the two girls were actually twin sisters. When she turned to her partner, the partner simply said that they couldn’t say anything; if they wanted society to approve of their behavior, they could not condemn the sexual behavior of others, even if it was composed of incest. Though it happened forty years ago, that story has not expired; as Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez recorded three years ago, the homosexual community was quick to praise a pair of Brazilian brothers and a pair of Czech brothers who declared their sexual love for each other, love that was quickly captured by the camera and which left nothing to the imagination. These doors are opening more quickly than some people may give credit; an eighteen year old girl has declared that after two years of dating, she is going to marry her father after twelve years of estrangement and have children with him and a mother and son were arrested last year for incest. These new arrangements will only lead to more physical and mental problems and, as the doors are opened by real children, they will be the ones to pay the price.
As with History, there is another way in which Engle’s guide destroys real people. Never once does Engle use the words male or female. As Jennifer Hartline commented,
Anatomical parts are mentioned, and the owners of certain parts are given directions pertaining to their parts, such as someone who has a prostate vs. someone who does not. But there’s no mention of men and women. Just nondescript persons with parts.
The world of Engle’s telling is a world without men and women, regardless of the current claim that men and women are simply two of the fifty-seven “genders” from which one can choose, as if choosing what one is were as easy as choosing which brand of milk to buy. In a way, Engle’s world is even more terrifying and cold than the world as it is now since in her mind, it seems that there never anything such as men and women. If there are only organs that can be stimulated so as to give momentary pleasure but no underlying essences to which these organs can cling then, in the words of Andrew Klaven, men and women are merely “meat puppets,” automatons surrounded by other automatons who agree to come together for the sole purpose of exchanging pleasure. Perhaps more terrifyingly, contrary to Miss Hartline, there cannot even be people in this world view since, in this physical world especially, a person can only be composed of matter and form, to use the tried and true Aristotelian language, and matter, especially in the case of people, can only be male or female. If these do not exist, then matter is a lie and if one half of the mystical formula for the creation of a person is a lie, is there really a person? Can there be a person at all?
In the third place, Engle and her guide and Teen Vogue are destroying love and romance. It is apparently a truism that must be repeated or risk being forgotten, that people who are in love want what is best for the beloved, even if that would cause inconvenience and even some discomfort to the lover. But anal sex, as is known causes physical harm; it also causes emotional harm as a 2009 Guttmacher Institute study discovered. It also causes moral harm. Such language is not taken seriously today and yet it is often the case that the most serious things are not taken seriously enough and these are the pillars which people believe they can topple to form a bridge to a new utopia. If not simply the sex organs but men and women themselves are meant for each other in a special way for a special reason, then using that natural instinct and that power for something contrary for its purpose will inevitably cause disaster, even if the participants escape any physical consequences such as, in this case, HIV or cancer; as Emerson once put it, “Commit a crime and the earth is made of glass.” An example can be found in people who live together as though they were married before they actually are married. On the surface, the proposition seems the most logical in world; marriage is such a drastic change in lives that it seems commonsensical to have a “test run” before committing to it. And yet, couples who do so seem more likely to divorce. On an aside, even if this claim is definitely proven to be false (as one study has claimed) it is interesting to note that couples who are married handle stress better than couples who are simply living together. People addicted to pornography have confessed that they became deadened, unable to invest time in their other relationships, even their spousal and familial ones, because of the pornography and yet, at the same time, it was not satisfying them either–the very thing that they craved was unable to fill them. Speech is meant for the communication of the truth and when lies are woven for gain or personal protection against some just action against us, how many times has the lie taken over our lives so that the very thing created to protect us becomes the very thing choking the life from us? Will the consequences of anal sex be different?
Such guides as Engel’s also contribute in the destruction of love and romance by placing exorbitant emphasis on sexual pleasure–by turning it into the summum bonnum of love–that sexual pleasure becomes another monster which destroys love and romance. The reason being is that when sexual pleasure becomes the end all and be all of love and romance then the attainment of that pleasure becomes the only reason for the relationship and the romance to last and a barometer as to the health of the relationship. The spouse, again, becomes merely a means for sexual pleasure, easily replaced if “boredom” sets in. And boredom will and does set in since rather than finding delight in one’s spouse–a person–happiness is made dependent on a temporal and passing state. Not only that, but that temporal and passing state must be gradually increased so that boredom does not set in. This can be seen by a simple experiment: After you stroke your arm with a feather for a few minutes, what used to tickle you now causes no sensation. A variation must be began or more pressure be added to the same space in order for the sensation to start again. It is the same with sex and sexual pleasure; it has been made the “god” of love, the god quickly loses its luster, much as a spoiled child loses interest in his new toys. That is why, two summers ago, Men’s Health, ran a small piece declaring that BDSM a la Fifty Shades of Gray was perfectly normal and desirable. That was not the cry of healthy individuals; that was the sign of the surrender to boredom. The “god” was failing and only an increase in its bacchanalian rites could return it.
And in the fourth place, Engle and Teen Vogue are destroying the very idea of sex itself. It used to be that the word “sex” referred to the sexes, man and woman and not to what they did together, which was considered cosmically awful (in the old meaning of the word, which meant “inspiring awe”), awful because of the power which formed between the man and the woman, the power to make the beloved one’s own in the deepest sense by giving the most intimate part of yourself to the other–half of what was needed for the creation of a new life, a new person, a new story upon the stage of the world, full of his own joys and sorrows, triumphs, disasters, virtues, vices, sins and graces. Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet brilliantly captured this power and its awfulness when, at the beginning of Act Three, Juliet says:
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus’ lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway’s eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk’d of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play’d for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann’d blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
By telling teenage girls that sex can include equally what it is meant to be and its contradiction, Engle and Teen Vogue cheapen it to the point of buffoonery. Rather than a leap into the beloved’s arms for the amorous rites that shine with their own light, sex, to the modern sensibilities, can be that or it can equally include acts which will cause pain and emotional distress.
Young girls deserve better than this. Women deserve better than this. People deserve better than this. Rather than a cheap imitation that can corrode the body and the soul, they deserve real, genuine love and real genuine romance. Not the species that often comes to mind when we say the words, covered as they are with harlequin veneers, but the real kind that burns both the lover and the beloved into a union of awful dimensions.
There are some areas where people are not allowed to have a personal opinion, areas which, more often than not, overlap the spheres of the True, the Good and the Beautiful (the Three Transcendentals, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has called them). Murder and rape, for example, regardless of one’s personal opinion are wrong and their innate wrongness cannot be changed one iota. Outside of the Transcendentals and issues of morality and what it means to be truly human, this inability to have a legitimate personal opinion can still possess some force. It is one thing, for example, to say that the 2006 movie Eragon is more personally enjoyed than The Lord of the Rings trilogy; it is another thing entirely to say that Eragon is objectively, of its own nature, better than The Lord of the Rings. Though some legitimate criticism can be laid upon Peter Jackson’s trilogy, there is really no question that he did try to faithfully bring the world which J.R.R. Tolkien discovered into cinema and, as such, many of the themes and symbols which Tolkien incorporated into his mythology present themselves in the films. To give one example: though Tolkien was not fond of allegory, which was one reason why he did not care for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, symbolism–a sign of a metaphysical reality–was another issue entirely. As such, the personage of Jesus Christ is symbolized three times in The Lord of the Rings: Christ as King is found in Aragorn; Christ as Prophet is found in Gandalf; Christ as Sacrifice is found in Frodo. It is no coincidence, as such, that each character undergoes death and resurrection, most strikingly in the case of Gandalf the Gray who, after he is killed by the Balrog demon, is returned to Middle Earth as Gandalf the White. Jackson’s trilogy caught this and many more symbols and themes found in the books. The books and the movies, therefore, are rightly considered masterpieces. Eragon, in comparison, is a very shallow affair. While it might offer some entertainment on a rainy or lazy day, it does not feed the imagination or the soul as Tolkien’s work does. This does not mean that people should not or cannot enjoy Eragon; there is nothing, so far as I know, nothing morally dubious in the movie or in the first book. A little cotton candy is fun and innocent to have, especially during the county fair; it is when the only thing one eats is cotton candy that a problem can and will develop.
There are other areas, outside these parameters, however, where private opinion can reign supreme. Is Casablanca a better movie than Gone with the Wind? Which possesses a sweeter sound–the flute or the violin? Are the German tunes of Oktoberfest better than the reels played and sung at Irish festivals? Good men may and do and will disagree with each other and drink and laugh while they disagree. The same holds true to the debate over whether Star Trek or Star Wars is the better series and story. Star Trek can appeal more broadly to those who enjoy stricter science fiction a la Asimov and Clark while Star Wars follows the tradition of the space operas, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Another and recent addition to this debate came from conservative commentator, Bill Whittle, on his podcast, The Stratosphere Lounge. In answer to a question posed to him, Whittle espoused that, for him, Star Trek was superior to Star Wars because there was the sense of exploration, discovery and adventure that appealed to him as a boy and which has stayed with him throughout his life; Star Wars, on the other hand, never possessed that since none of the characters were exploring anything new. There was the sense that everything that you saw in the galaxy far, far away had been seen a million times before. Whittle, however, continued and added that another defect of Star Wars was that it was hierarchial and aristocratic. His reasoning for this judgement came from the fact that while the Federation and Star Fleet of Star Trek seemed to be a pure meritocracy, in Star Wars, only a privileged few, those who were born with the ability to feel and control the Force, could become the enviable Jedi Knights.
Now, again, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Whittle having his own opinion as to which series or franchise is better. I, myself, would disagree and say that Star Wars is much more enjoyable than Star Trek but, in this case, it is only my opinion and not a matter of Truth, Goodness or Beauty. What is curious, though, is Mr. Whittle’s reasoning for the superiority of Star Trek via his attack on hierarchies and aristocracies. These have become dirty words and dirty concepts in our society today, obsessed as we are with equality. In fact, however, we and our society are not obsessed with equality; we are rabid for egalitarianism. There is a considerable difference between the two. Egalitarianism takes as its starting point that all men are equal, which is, in and of itself true. But the egalitarian does not stop to think how men are equal or what this equality signifies or resides or what follows from these distinctions; rather; the egalitarian follows a straight line of logic by which he comes to the conclusion that since all men are equal, everything about them must be equal as well. As such, the idea is beginning to circulate that even doctors should not tell patients that they are fat and need to become more healthy since that is actually “fat shaming;” this is the reason why schools often give out “participation trophies” to all the children because having a winner and a runner up will damage the well being of the other children. It is the reason for the envy that many people have over the fact that others are wealthier than they.
Contrary to egalitarianism, equality acknowledges that men are equal but only equal in a certain sense. Russell Kirk, when explaining the English idea of equality in his Roots of American Order, wrote that the English system saw all men equal in only two ways: the first was through the recognition of the Imago Dei, the fact that all men, whether king or peasant, are created in the image of God; the second was before the law where every Englishman, whether he was the poorest man of the realm or the king himself was still bound under the sword and scale of the law. This is the idea that was transplanted from the English isle to the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most “radical” advocates of equality during the Revolution and Early Republic, wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal;” he did not write that all men are equal and certainly, he did not write that all men are equal in every aspect of their being.
Most of the Founders of the American Republic, in fact, believed strongly in what was then called the “natural aristocracy” of man. One of the best articulations of the natural aristocracy comes from a letter written by John Adams to John Taylor, dated April 15, 1814. Adams began by telling Taylor that, “Few men will deny that there is a natural aristocracy of virtues and talents in every nation and in every party, in every city and village. Inequalities are a part of the natural history of man.” He continued, recalling how, when he had been in Paris as ambassador during the Revolution, he had toured the Hospital of the Foundlings (orphans) and had seen the fifty children in the room under every condition possible. His conclusion was that, “These were all born to equal rights, but to very different fortunes; to very different success and influence in life.” Adams then used strength and beauty to illustrate his point further. Would people say that Hercules or William Wallace were of equal strength as their fellow men? Would anyone deny that some women were more beautiful than others and would not men admit that beauty was more powerful than politics? He asked Taylor:
Is not beauty a privilege granted by nature, according to Plato and to truth, often more influential in society, and even upon laws and government, than stars, garters, crosses, eagles, golden fleeces, or any hereditary titles or other distinctions?
The idea that all men were completely equal in their faculties and their virtues was ludicrous.
We today, though we give lip service to egalitarianism which we have undeservedly honored with the title equality, still recognize the natural aristocracy when we cheer athletes, compare actors and actresses, analyze musicians and singers, or test our own skills with others. Even if we or those we know, such as our children, received “participation awards,” regardless of how we had performed, it is almost certain that we will know, on a some level, that we did not deserve the participation award and that someone else should have been awarded the real prize.
Hierarchies and aristocracies, in this sense, are not pejorative or set against equality or democratic sentiments as they are not dependent on blood or birth. Contrary, in fact, to the false dichotomy Mr. Whittle set up in his analysis of Star Trek and Star Wars, natural aristocracies demand meritocracies for it is only through the sweat of developing our innate talents and gifts that they will actually bloom and be of any real good to us and to our neighbors. This truth remains true, regardless of whether one takes as a hero James Kirk or Luke Skywalker.
Oscar Wilde quipped that fashion was a thing so hideous that it had to be changed every six months. Though Wilde still has not shaken off his reputation of being a dandied bon mot, his words often possess more weight than one might think and his judgement of fashion is a case in point. The reason why fashion has to be changed very six months is because it is hideous and it is hideous because there is nothing anchoring it to something solid. The only thing that fashion might be said to anchored to is Beauty but, if this were the case, fashions would remain beautiful and would not have to be changed at all. Boxers are born with floppy ears and yet their ears are shorn off to make them straight to appease Fashion; jeans are manufactured with ready made holes and rips and wears to appease the same god; and now, monuments and history are destroyed with all the fury of a religious cause because that is now the fashion de jour.
Beacuse of this restlessness, fashion takes the form of the wind, blowing its adherents wherever it decides on the moment. The wind is a very powerful force but it usually can only whip the dead leaves along with it; oaks, with deep roots in the earth and the mountains which reach down into the core of the world, can withstand the wind and remain intact. In this way, the cult of fashion reflects just as much on us and our society as it does upon itself. The reason why we have jeans with holes and Boxers with cut ears and people with tongues split like snakes, is because fashion, being rootless, is found in the emotions entirely. To be sure, there is nothing with the emotions per se; everything has its purpose and its use. The problem comes when something is taken out of its place or used for something other than what it is for and the same is true of the emotions. It is very pleasant to hear the laughter of a child but our happiness at hearing that laughter might dry up if we discovered that the child was laughing after crushing frogs under a rock or throwing stones at a puppy. Similarly, when a man feels happy only by making others miserable, we are not unreasonable to say that the man in question needs to realign his emotions properly, especially with his intellect and his will.
When the emotions are allowed to run pell mell throughout the world, that is when all manner of trouble begins to start. Even worse, in a sense, is the unpredictableness of the emotions. Because they have been unhinged from reason and from experience and history and culture and tradition, the emotions can turn on a dime; what gave pleasure yesterday is now boring today and new diversions, new entertainments are needed to keep the emotions afloat. The only predictable thing to say about the people who allow their emotions to run wild is that they will act more and more inhumanly as time goes on and as their emotions continue to whip them in the winds of frenzy.
This would be bad enough but there is another possibility, one that is much worse. G.K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, observed that a madman is not the man who has lost his reason but a man who has lost everything except his reason. People who follow their emotions only and so fashion may only be lazy and so not engage their minds; the madmen who make fashion their god have abandoned, as Chesterton said, everything–tradition, history, morals, common sense, poetry and even a basic understanding of human nature–and only kept their reason. From a set of a priori principles (which may or may not be true to begin with) they reason inexorably toward the conclusion, regardless of what is leveled along the way.
The latest fashion is the erasure of history via the removal and destruction of monuments which has know become a fully blossomed fad. When even the statues of obscure heroes from the Revolutionary War are decapitated one can be fairly certain that a new, rabid fad has reached a maturity. But even more illuminating than the rash of destruction and vandalism is the utter inability to offer even a lukewarm defense of these monuments and the history to which they are anchored. Baltimore provided the best example of this: starting at midnight on August 15, crews removed memorials to Chief Justice Roger Taney, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, as well as memorials to the general memories of Confederate soldiers and sailors and a monument to the Confederate women, finishing at 5:30AM. A few days prior, Baltimore city councilman, Brandon Scott, called for the immediate destruction of the monuments. The common theme from Baltimore and from other locations was that these memorials have no place in our society today and that the safety of the public demands that they be taken down.
This wanton destruction and/or rush to remove that which is offensive has been called a “conversation,” a clever bit of prestidigitation that shields what is actually happening. David Elstrom, a member of the Mark Steyn Club commented to Steyn:
I notice that the left media and even Fox News talk about the “discussion” on statues, or opine on the “conversation” concerning public monuments.
This Newspeak is apparently supposed to con the plebes into thinking something civil or democratic is happening. All I’ve seen is politicians or other apparatchiks rushing to remove statues (fearing the wrath of the mob) or actual mobs tearing things down.
If this is discussion, or conversation, then rape must be a “social event,” and sticking up the local convenience store a “financial transaction.
Mr. Elstrom is correct. The underlying cause of this latest fashion is that we, as a society and a culture, have lost the reason for our own being. Multiculturalism, in large part, is the reason for this. As Mark Steyn has commented before, multiculturalism is one of the hardest “isms” to pin down and debate because the core of multiculturalism is that there is no core; people, cultures, societies, religions, beliefs are all fundamentally the same, which, if true, means that there is nothing to fight about. If there is nothing to fight about, that must mean, logically, that there are no differences and no distinctions; if that is true, than the histories and stories of different people must not be important; if that is the case, then the erasure of history is not a terrible thing or even an important thing since one story is just as good as another. What’s more, if a story is not important, if the story does not have value in and of itself, there can be nothing wrong with changing the story in certain spots, getting rid of a few characters throughout it, especially if their personalities and ideas do not gel with the current times, and trying to weave an entirely new story out of whole cloth.
This can explain why there has been really no attempt on the part of the lawful authorities to keep the memorials and monuments and statues up. Why risk the wrath of the mobs when the history attached to these memorials does not really matter?
The West has become more surely inundated with multiculturalism since the end of World War II. With the tragedies of the war fresh in mind and with the crimes of the twentieth century newly committed (the Holocaust, the growing awareness of the crimes of Communism [which were soon to be reinforced by Mao in China]) the world’s leaders wanted there to be peace and the idea was fed that if differences were not really that different, peace might have a chance to win the day. The body which was formed as the incarnation of this hope was the United Nations.
Stories and histories, though, are dangerous things to play with. If a story, or stories, are the center that gives meaning to a society and a country–a soul, as it were–the removal of these centers means that the soul of a country is sucked away. And an entity, a being with no soul is rightly called a monster.