Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Mephitic Vapour. — “I have received, from the author, M. Emile de Lavelaye, his pamphlet, — ‘Protestantism and Catholicism in their bearing upon the Liberty and Prosperity of Nations, with an introductory Letter by Mr. Gladstone.’ I do not know why M. de Lavelaye sent me this pamphlet. I thank him for the courtesy; but he has evidently read none of my books, or must have been aware that he could not have written anything more contrary to the positions which I am politically maintaining. . . .
    But of the pamphlet in question, and its preface, he will, I trust, pardon my speaking in the same frank terms which I should have used had it accidentally come under my notice, instead of by the author’s gift. The pamphlet is especially displeasing to me, because it speaks of ‘Liberty’ under the common assumption of its desirableness; whereas my own teaching has been, and is, that Liberty, whether in the body, soul, or political estate of men, is only another word for Death, and the final issue of Death, putrefaction: the body, spirit, and political estate being alike healthy only by their bonds and laws; and by Liberty being instantly disengaged into mephitic vapour.”
John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Vol.V (Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent: George Allen., 1875), Letter LVII, pp.247-8

Sunday, 24 July 2011

For the Understanding of Order in the World. — “The conviction is gradually forced in upon us by our experience of natural phenomena, that every agency in nature must have some fixed, intrinsic principle of activity, in virtue of which it acts uniformly, and concurs with other physical agencies, not capriciously or indifferently, but along certain prearranged and predetermined lines; so that ‘exceptions’ to this uniformity must be due in reality to the influence of some unknown natural causes, or, possibly, to the intervention of the First Cause. Here, at all events, is the great fact we gather from sense experience: that very complex combinations of numerous natural agents repeatedly concur to produce uniform series of effects. Of this great fact there can apparently be one, and only one, rational interpretation: that which conceives the proximate causes of such uniform series of phenomena as endowed each with a fixed natural inclination or tendency to act steadily and consistently along definite lines, as having each an internal law which dominates it, and in conformity with which it will act always and everywhere. This innate, stable tendency is what the mind grasps when it apprehends the law of the Uniformity of Nature. The great fact of experience revealed in the regular, constant, harmonious concurrence of numerous and varied forces and agencies to produce uniform series of results, finds its sufficient reason and explanation only in a fixed natural inclination or tendency of the agents which produce such results. The expression ‘natural inclination’ embodies a fundamental doctrine of Aristotelean philosophy; it implies that the agencies whose effects or manifestations we observe in the world around us are not, as the advocates of mechanical determinism would have them, mere efficient agents capable of producing any or every result indifferently, but that each of them is endowed with an internal tendency in virtue of which it manifests a manner of being and acting proper to itself; which manner is called a property of the substance, and reveals the specific nature of this latter.”

Peter Coffey, The Science of Logic, Vol.II (New York: Peter Smith, 1938), pp.67-8.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Effortless Romantic Genius. — “One may note, as I have said, even in the early figures in the movement a tendency to play to the gallery, a something that suggests the approach of the era of the lime-light and the big headline. Rousseau himself has been called the father of yellow journalists. There is an unbroken development from the early exponents of original genius down to cubists, futurists and post-impressionists and the corresponding schools in literature. The partisans of expression as opposed to form in the eighteenth century led to the fanatics of expression in the nineteenth and these have led to the maniacs of expression of the twentieth. The extremists in painting have got so far beyond Cézanne, who was regarded not long ago as one of the wildest of innovators, that Cézanne is, we are told, ‘in a fair way to achieve the unhappy fate of becoming a classic’. Poe was fond of quoting a saying of Bacon’s that ‘there is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion’. This saying became known in France through Baudelaire’s rendering of Poe and was often ascribed to Poe himself. It was taken to mean that the stranger one became the nearer one was getting to perfect beauty. And if we grant this view of beauty we must admit that some of the decadents succeeded in becoming very beautiful indeed. But the more the element of proportion in beauty is sacrificed to strangeness the more the result will seem to the normal man to be, not beauty at all, but rather an esoteric cult of ugliness. The romantic genius therefore denounces the normal man as a philistine and at the same time, since he cannot please him, seeks at least to shock him and so capture his attention by the very violence of eccentricity.
     The saying I have quoted from Bacon is perhaps an early example of the inner alliance between things that superficially often seem remote — the scientific spirit and the spirit of romance. Scientific discovery has given a tremendous stimulus to wonder and curiosity, has encouraged a purely exploratory attitude towards life and raised an overwhelming prepossession in favor of the new as compared with the old. Baconian and Rousseauist evidently come together by their primary emphasis on novelty. The movement towards a more and more eccentric conception of art and literature has been closely allied in practice with the doctrine of progress — and that from the very dawn of the so-called Quarrel of Ancients and Moderns. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the havoc that has been wrought by the transfer of the belief that the latest thing is the best — a belief that is approximately true of automobiles — from the material order to an entirely different realm. The very heart of the classical message, one cannot repeat too often, is that one should aim first of all not to be original, but to be human, and that to be human one needs to look up to a sound model and imitate it. The imposition of form and proportion upon one’s expansive impulses which results from this process of imitation is, in the true sense of that much abused word, culture. Genuine culture is difficult and disciplinary. The mediation that it involves between the conflicting claims of form and expression requires the utmost contention of spirit. We have here a clue to the boundless success of the Rousseauistic doctrine of spontaneity, of the assertion that genius resides in the region of the primitive and unconscious and is hindered rather than helped by culture. It is easier to be a genius on Rousseauistic lines than to be a man on the terms imposed by the classicist.”

Irving Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1919), pp.63-5.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Scola Gangraenae. — “The office of the Liberal school is to proclaim the existences it annuls, and to annul the existences it proclaims. There is none of its principles which is not accompanied by a counter principle which destroys it. Thus, for example, it proclaims monarchy, and immediately ministerial responsibility, and consequently the omnipotence of the responsible ministry, which is contradictory of monarchy. It proclaims ministerial responsibility, and immediately the sovereign intervention in matters of government, of the deliberative assemblies, which is contradictory of the omnipotence of the ministers. It proclaims the sovereign intervention in the affairs of state, of the political assemblies, and immediately, the right of the electoral districts to decide on the last appeal, which is contradictory of the sovereign intervention of the assemblies. It proclaims the right of supreme arbitration, which resides in the electors, and immediately it accepts, more or less explicitly, the supreme right of insurrection, which is contradictory of that pacific and supreme arbitration. It proclaims the right of insurrection of the multitude, which is to proclaim its sovereign omnipotence, and immediately, it establishes the laws of electoral eligibility, which is to ostracise the sovereign multitude. And with all these principles and counter principles it aims at one thing—to discover, through artifice and industry, an equilibrium which it never discovers, because it contradicts the nature of society and the nature of man. There is only one power for which the Liberal school has not sought its corresponding equilibrium—the power of corruption. Corruption is the god of the school, and as a god, it is at one and the same time, in all places. In such a way has the Liberal school combined things, that when it prevails, all have necessarily to be corrupters or corrupted; for where there is no man who cannot be Caesar, or vote for Caesar, or proclaim Caesar, all must be Caesars or praetorians. For this reason all the societies which fall under the domination of this school die the same death—all die gangrened. The kings corrupt the ministers, by promising them eternity; the ministers the kings, by promising them an expansion of their prerogative. The ministers corrupt the representatives of the people, by placing all the dignities of the state at their feet; the assemblies corrupt the ministers. The members traffic with their power, the electors with their influence; all corrupt the masses with their promises, and the masses corrupt all with their clamour and threats.”

Juan Donoso Cortés, Marqués de Valdegamas, Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism, tr. W. McDonald (Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1879), pp.181-3. (Cf., “Although the liberal bourgeoisie wanted a god, its god could not become active; it wanted a monarch, but he had to be powerless . . .”. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, tr. G. Schwab (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p.59.)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

In the Light of Socrates and Adeimantus. — Come, then, how does tyranny come into being? It is fairly clear that it evolves from democracy.
     It is.
     And doesn’t it evolve from democracy in much the same way that democracy does from oligarchy?
     What way is that?
     The good that oligarchy puts before itself and because of which it is established is wealth, isn’t it?
     And its insatiable desire for wealth and its neglect of other things for the sake of money-making is what destroyed it, isn’t it?
     That’s true.
     And isn’t democracy’s insatiable desire for what it defines as the good also what destroys it?
     What do you think it defines as the good?
     Freedom: Surely you’d hear a democratic city say that this is the finest thing it has, so that as a result it is the only city worth living in for someone who is by nature free.
     Yes, you often hear that.
     Then, as I was about to say, doesn’t the insatiable desire for freedom and the neglect of other things change this constitution and put it in need of a dictatorship?
      In what way?
     I suppose that, when a democratic city, athirst for freedom, happens to get bad cupbearers for its leaders, so that it gets drunk by drinking more than it should of the unmixed wine of freedom, then, unless the rulers are very pliable and provide plenty of that freedom, they are punished by the city and accused of being accursed oligarchs.
     Yes, that is what it does.
     It insults those who obey the rulers as willing slaves and good-for-nothings and praises and honors, both in public and in private, rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers. And isn’t it inevitable that freedom should go to all lengths in such a city?
     Of course.
     It makes its way into private households and in the end breeds anarchy even among the animals.
     What do you mean?
     I mean that a father accustoms himself to behave like a child and fear his sons, while the son behaves like a father, feeling neither shame nor fear in front of his parents, in order to be free. A resident alien or a foreign visitor is made equal to a citizen, and he is their equal.
     Yes, that is what happens.
     It does. And so do other little things of the same sort. A teacher in such a community is afraid of his students and flatters them, while the students despise their teachers or tutors. And, in general, the young imitate their elders and compete with them in word and deed, while the old stoop to the level of the young and are full of play and pleasantry, imitating the young for fear of appearing disagreeable and authoritarian.
     [. . .]
     To sum up: Do you notice how all these things together make the citizens’ souls so sensitive that, if anyone even puts upon himself the least degree of slavery, they become angry and cannot endure it. And in the end, as you know, they take no notice of the laws, whether written or unwritten, in order to avoid having any master at all.
     I certainly do.
     This, then, is the fine and impetuous origin from which tyranny seems to me to evolve.
     It is certainly impetuous. But what comes next?
     The same disease that developed in oligarchy and destroyed it also develops here, but it is more widespread and virulent because of the general permissiveness, and it eventually enslaves democracy. In fact, excessive action in one direction usually sets up a reaction in the opposite direction. This happens in seasons, in plants, in bodies, and, last but not least, in constitutions.
     That’s to be expected.
     Extreme freedom can’t be expected to lead to anything but a change to extreme slavery, whether for the private individual or for a city.
     No, it can’t.
    Then I don’t suppose that tyranny evolves from any constitution other than democracy—the most severe and cruel slavery from the utmost freedom.
     Yes, that’s reasonable.
     But I don’t think that was your question. You asked what was the disease that developed in oligarchy and also in democracy, enslaving it.
     That’s true.
     And what I had in mind as an answer was that class of idle and extravagent men, whose bravest members are leaders and the more cowardly ones followers. We compared them to stinged and stingless drones, respectively.
     That’s right.
     Now, these two groups cause problems in any constitution, just as phlegm and bile do in the body. And it’s against them that the good doctor and lawgiver of a city must take advance precautions, first, to prevent their presence and, second, to cut them out of the hive as quickly as possible, cells and all, if they should happen to be present.
     Yes, by god, he must cut them out altogether.

Plato, Republic, Bk.VIII:562-564c, tr. G.M.A. Grube & C.D.C. Reeve, in Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997), p.1172-4; original emphasis.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

A Humble Abode. — “It has often been said that the older picture of the world in space was peculiarly fitted to give man a high sense of his own importance and dignity; and some modern writers have made much of this supposed implication of the pre-Copernican astronomy. Man occupied, we are told, the central place in the universe, and round the planet of his habitation all the vast, unpeopled spheres obsequiously revolved. But the actual tendency of the geocentric system was, for the medieval mind, precisely the opposite. For the centre of the world was not a position of honor; it was rather the place farthest removed from the Empyrean, the bottom of the creation, to which its dregs and baser elements sank. The actual centre, indeed, was Hell; in the spatial sense the medieval world was literally diabolocentric.” 

Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964), pp.101-2.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Successful Method to Blindness. — “But the point to which I wish to draw attention is the mass of evidence lying outside the physiological method which is simply ignored in the prevalent scientific doctrine. The conduct of human affairs is entirely dominated by our recognition of foresight determining purpose, and purpose issuing in conduct. Almost every sentence we utter and every judgment we form, presuppose our unfailing experience of this element in life. The evidence is so overwhelming, the belief so unquestioning, the evidence of language so decisive, that it is difficult to know where to begin in demonstrating it. For example, we speak of the policy of a statesman or of a business corporation. Cut out the notion of final causation, and the word ‘policy’ has lost its meaning. As I write this lecture, I intend to deliver it in Princeton University. Cut out the notion of final causation, and this ‘intention’ is without meaning. Again consider the voyage of the battleship Utah round the South American continent. Consider first the ship itself. We are asked to believe that the concourse of atoms, of iron, and of nitrogen, and of other sorts of chemical elements, into the form of the ship, of its armour, of its guns, of its engines, of its ammunition, of its stores of food,—that this concourse was purely the outcome of the same physical laws by which the ocean waves aimlessly beat on the coasts of Maine. There could be no more aim in one episode than in the other. The activity of the shipbuilders was merely analogous to the rolling of the shingle on the beach.
     Pass on now to consider—still presupposing the orthodox physiological doctrine—the voyage of the ship. The President-elect of the United States had nothing to do with it. His intentions with respect to South American policy and goodwill in the world were beside the question, being futile irrelevancies. The motions of his body, those of the bodies of the sailors, like the motions of the ship-builders, were purely governed by the physical laws which lead a stone to roll down a slope and water to boil. The very idea is ridiculous.
     We shall of course be told that the doctrine is not meant to apply to the conduct of men. Yet the bodily motions are physiological operations. If these latter be blind, so are the motions. Also men are animals. Surely, the whole fight over evolution was about this very latter point.
     Again we are told that we should look at the matter historically. Mankind has gradually developed from the lowliest forms of life, and must therefore be explained in terms applicable to all such forms. But why construe the later forms by analogy to the earlier forms. Why not reverse the process? It would seem to be more sensible, more truly empirical, to allow each living species to make its own contribution to the demonstration of factors inherent in living things.
     I need not continue the discussion. The case is too clear for elaboration. Yet the trained body of physiologists under the influence of the ideas germane to their successful methodology entirely ignore the whole mass of adverse evidence. We have here a colossal example of anti-empirical dogmatism arising from a successful methodology. Evidence which lies outside the method simply does not count.
     We are, of course, reminded that the neglect of this evidence arises from the fact that it lies outside the scope of the methodology of the science. That method consists in tracing the persistence of the physical and chemical principles throughout physiological operations.
     The brilliant success of this method is admitted. But you cannot limit a problem by reason of a method of attack. The problem is to understand the operations of an animal body. There is clear evidence that certain operations of certain animal bodies depend upon the foresight of an end and the purpose to attain it. It is no solution of the problem to ignore this evidence because other operations have been explained in terms of physical and chemical laws. The existence of a problem is not even acknowledged. It is vehemently denied. Many a scientist has patiently designed experiments for the purpose of substantiating his belief that animal operations are motivated by no purposes. He has perhaps spent his spare time in writing articles to prove that human beings are as other animals so that ‘purpose’ is a category irrelevant for the explanation of their bodily activities, his own activities included. Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929), pp.9-12; original emphases.

To which may be appended a fitting word from Lord Acton:

“There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, “The Puritan Revolution”, Lectures on Modern History (London: MacMillan & Co., 1906), p.204.