The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Monday, January 30, 2012

This and That No. 20 - Charles Stuart, King and Martyr edition

Today is the Feast Day of Charles Stuart, King and Martyr. Charles the First was the second born son of James I of England (and VI of Scotland), who became heir to the throne upon the death of his elder brother Henry. He became king on March 27, 1625. During his reign the Puritans, Calvinist extremists and schismatics unsatisfied with the Elizabethan settlement, stirred up strife, dissension, and rebellion contrary to the clear commands of the Scripture they falsely professed to be their highest and final authority. This eventually broke out into the English Civil War. The Puritan Roundheads (forerunners to the Whigs and Liberals) seized control of the country militarily, and forced Parliament, from which King Charles' supporters were illegally excluded, to establish a kangaroo court and try King Charles upon the trumped up charge of treason. He was found guilty and on January 30, 1649 was beheaded. Britain then fell under the evil dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. After Cromwell's death, Charles' son who had been forced into exile was restored to the throne, and the restored Church of England canonized the martyred king, as a saint.

And yearly now, before the Martyrs’ King,
For thee she offers her maternal tears,
Calls us, like thee, to His dear feet to cling,
And bury in His wounds our earthly fears.

And Angels hear, and there is mirth in Heaven,
Fit prelude of the joy, when spirits won
Like thee to patient Faith, shall rise forgiven,
And at thy Saviour’s knees thy bright example own.
- John Keble, "King Charles the Martyr", from The Christian Year

Upcoming Essays

I have one essay left in the series of "Arts and Culture" themed essays which I began last fall. That essay, on the topic of multiculturalism, should be finished and posted at some point later this week.

I am still mulling over what I want to write about this year. There are a few "conservative classics" that I would like to write reviews about, if for no other reason than as an excuse to read them again. I have one or two topical essays in mind that I will be tackling as soon as I have finished the multiculturalism essay, including one on egalitarianism and one on feminism. I have a series of three essays on the subject of criticism (literary and cultural) planned for later in the year.

Unlike last year, I will not be dividing my essays into three major topical areas and deliberately devoting a portion of the year to each. Nevertheless, I expect that religious and theological essays will largely fall in the Ash Wednesday to Trinity Sunday period anyway, for the simple reason that my reading will be primarily theological and devotional writings during that period.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Apostle of High Culture

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous senator, orator, and philosopher of the Roman Republic, in its last days before the rise of the dynasty of the Caesars, in his Tusculan Disputations, compared the education of the mind to the cultivation of the field. In response to the objection that bad lives on the part of philosophers discredit their philosophy, Cicero wrote:

[I]t is not every mind which has been properly cultivated that produces fruit; and, to go on with the comparison, as a field, although it may be naturally fruitful, cannot produce a crop without dressing, so neither can the mind without education; such is the weakness of either without the other. Whereas philosophy is the culture of the mind: this it is which plucks up vices by the roots; prepares the mind for the receiving of seeds; commits them to it, or, as I may say, sows them, in the hope that, when come to maturity, they may produce a plentiful harvest. (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, Book II: “On Bearing Pain”, translation by C. D. Yonge)

There is an interesting parallel between this passage and the parable Jesus told of the sower and the seed. In Jesus’ parable, a man sowed good seed in different types of soil with results which varied in accordance with the soil. The seed, Jesus explained, was the Word of God, and the soil was the hearts and minds of men. In Cicero’s illustration, philosophy is to the mind, what cultivation is to a field. Both illustrations make the point that the quality of the soil affects the quality of the harvest, i.e., that the quality of the heart or mind, determines how fruitful the seed of the Word in the one case, or the cultivation of philosophy in the other, will be. Without making this point, Cicero’s illustration could not have served the purpose for which he gave it. Cicero also, however, stresses the flip-side, that no matter how good the soil – the mind - , it will not produce a good crop without the cultivation of education and philosophy.

In addition to the points Cicero intentionally made, this passage also illustrates the origins of the concept of “culture”. “Culture” is, of course, etymologically derived from the same Latin root as the verb “cultivate”. The word “agriculture” is created by the addition of this word, meaning “to till” or “to plough” and by extension “to prepare” to the Latin word for field. We have come to apply the word culture to a wide variety of activities which make up our way of life. This use of the word culture would appear to have begun as a metaphorical application of the idea of “cultivating” the human mind, heart, soul, or spirit similar to Cicero’s.

There are variations to how we use the word “culture” in reference to human beings. Anthropologists and sociologists use it to refer to religious beliefs and practices, languages, folklore, customs and habits, and everything about a particular people’s manner of living which gives that people a distinct identity. We can see the root meaning of culture in this when we think about how these things, which are passed on from one generation to the next, cultivate or prepare people for life within a particular society.

There is another way in which we use the word culture in which the idea of cultivating our mind and character is even more apparent. We sometimes speak of a person with sophisticated and refined tastes as “having culture” or, when someone goes to a Shakespearean play, symphony, art gallery or opera, say that they are “getting culture”. When we use these expressions we are referring to what is called “high culture”. The idea of high culture, is that of a society’s greatest cultural achievements which mark that society as being truly civilized. It is supposed to have a civilizing effect upon the minds, character, and manners of those it influences, much like that which Cicero claimed for philosophy.

The concept of high culture came under heavy attack in the 20th Century. Relativist critics have challenged its claims to superiority over popular or mass culture, and weight has been given to their challenge by the growing popularity of democratic and egalitarian ideals. The fraudulent nature of much that was passed off as high art, music and literature in the avant garde era of the early 20th Century and even more so in the post-modern era of the late 20th Century, has not helped the case for high culture.

That case was brilliantly made, however, in the 19th Century, by poet and critic Matthew Arnold. In the 1860’s he wrote a series of essays which were published serially, then compiled into a volume entitled Culture and Anarchy, to which he added a lengthy preface. In this preface Arnold stated that the purpose of the essay was to “recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties” after which he gave a now famous definition of culture:

Culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically.

By “total perfection”, Arnold does not appear to have meant absolute flawlessness so much as well-roundedness, balance, and harmonious integration. To demonstrate the nature of the perfection he believed culture strives after, he borrowed the phrase “sweetness and light” from an allegory by Dean Swift. In that allegory, a spider was arguing with a honeybee about which of the two of them produced superior work. This took place within the context of a satire about the 18th Century argument between French intellectuals over whether the writings of classical authors or modern authors were superior. In Swift’s satire, “The Battle of the Books”, the books themselves come to life and go to war with each other, and it is a volume of Aesop’s fables which finds the spider and the bee and settles their argument in the bee’s favour by saying that the bee fills his hive with “honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”

If the contributions of the ancients appeared to be the “sweetness and light” of the honeybee in comparison with the web of venom and dirt spun by the spider of modern thought to Jonathan Swift in the 18th Century, the comparison must have seen that much more apt to Matthew Arnold in the 19th Century. Arnold lived and wrote in the Victorian era when the industrialism of Manchester was reshaping Britain after its own image before his very eyes. He saw the new industrialism as having begotten a “faith in machinery”, which exaggerated the importance of machinery and treated it “as if it had a value in and for itself” and he regarded this misplaced faith as “our besetting danger”. He recognized that the “movement towards wealth and industrialism” which spawned this faith was necessary “in order to lay broad foundations of material well-being for the society of the future” but warned that the material well-being of future generations was being purchased at the price of the spiritual well-being of the present generation. In these warnings, Arnold anticipated Jacques Ellul’s critique of “the technological society” by almost a century.

Arnold introduced his essay by referring to remarks by “that fine speaker and famous Liberal” John Bright, who had dismissed culture as “a smattering of the two dead languages of Greek and Latin”. At the end of his introduction, he said that “like Mr. Bright” and others, he was a liberal but one “tempered by experience, reflection and renouncement” and “above all , a believer in culture”. Culture and Anarchism is a criticism of liberalism – 19th Century classical Victorian liberalism – from within, which it is important to keep in mind if we want to understand how the various threads of the critique tie together. It is the agenda of 19th Century liberalism – ecclesiastical disestablishmentarianism, individualism or “doing as one likes”, and industrialism, which are criticized as the source of “our present difficulties”, but from someone who accepts liberalism’s basic principles.

Thus, when the move to disestablish the Irish church “not by the power of reason and justice, but by the power of the antipathy of the Protestant Nonconformists, English and Scotch, to establishments” is discussed, Arnold’s criticism is in many ways the mirror image of that of his godfather, John Keble almost forty years previously. Keble, an Anglican vicar, had responded to a move by Parliament to eliminate several dioceses in Ireland, with a fiery sermon against “the National Apostasy”. This sermon was credited as the beginning of the Oxford Movement by John Henry Newman, who led that movement until he left the Church of England to join the Church of Rome. The Oxford Movement was a spiritual revival within the High Church branch of the Church of England, which in response to the growth of philosophical, religious and political liberalism, sought to refocus the Church on her spiritual establishment, as a branch of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, Church” by Christ and His Apostles. One of the fiercest opponents of the Oxford movement had been Arnold’s father, the latitudinarian and liberal headmaster of Rugby School. Arnold shared his father’s Broad Church position and his rejection of the miraculous and supernatural, and so when he criticized the Puritans, Nonconformists, and the disestablishment movement within the Church of England it was for different reasons than Keble and Newman. These groups, he argued, tend to promote provincialism, whereas ecclesiastical establishments tend to produce the kind of total view of things which he called culture.

This provincial attitude, like Puritan and Nonconformist faith and industrial capitalism, tended to be associated with the middle classes, and Arnold dubbed these “Philistines”. This term, taken from the name of the enemies of the Israelites in the Old Testament, was already being used in Europe to refer to people who had no appreciation for culture. The Philistine, Arnold wrote, is “the enemy of the children of light” and this label which “gives the notion of something particularly stiff-necked and perverse in the resistance to light and its children” is particularly appropriate to the middle class because they “not only do not pursue sweetness and light” but “prefer to them that sort of machinery of business, chapels, tea meetings, and addresses…which makes up the dismal and illiberal life on which I have so often touched”.

If we think about the kind of person who judges the status of others solely or primarily upon their level of income, who only understands the value of education in the utilitarian sense of it being a means towards getting a good, well-paying job, and who dismisses books, art, and all other cultural products which do not provide cheap amusement or contribute towards career advancement as useless, you will have a pretty good picture of what Arnold meant. It is not a flattering picture of the middle class, but Arnold was no easier on any other class. The aristocracy he dubbed “Barbarians”, after the people who overthrew Roman civilization and argued that their culture was merely external and did not touch the heart. The industrial labour class he called “the Populace”, and while this is the least blatantly insulting of these labels, the anarchy referred to in the title of the volume consists largely of this class “marching where it likes, meeting where it likes, bawling what it likes, breaking what it likes”.

By treating these classes in this way, Arnold made the point that culture is not the property of any one class while simultaneously arguing that active hostility to culture is characteristic of one particular class – the Philistine middle class.

In his preface, which, remember, was written after the body of the text had already been written and published serially, Arnold remarks that the “strongest and most vital part of the English Philistinism was the Puritan and Hebraising middle-class” and says that “its Hebraising keeps it from culture and totality”. Hebraism, in the fourth of the essays in Culture and Anarchy is contrasted with Hellenism as one of two great forces shaping human history, both with the “final aim” of “man’s perfection or salvation”. They differ in that “The uppermost idea with Hellenism is to see things as they really are; the uppermost idea with Hebraism is conduct and obedience”. This essay is one which no orthodox Christian could possibly agree with because he associates the idea of “seeing things as they really are” with the rejection of the supernatural and because Christianity itself is obviously a Hebraising force. Arnold acknowledged that Christianity is a form of Hebraism but distinguished it from Puritan Hebraism. Early Christianity, he said, was a Hebraism which replaced the Hellenism of Greco-Roman culture, but it did so at a time when Hellenism was naturally waning and Hebraism naturally waxing in the mainstream of Western history. Conversely, Puritanism was a Hebraism which checked the “central current of the world’s progress” when the Hellenism of the “Renescence” (1) was that mainstream.

While this reads like a case of special pleading that allows Arnold to condemn Hebraism in Puritanism while praising it in early Christianity the distinction is actually important to his argument, because it is precisely this matter of being “not in contact with the main current of national life” which he identifies as the source of provincialism among the Nonconformists.

Arnold’s association of “the main current of national life”, i.e., what we would call “the mainstream” today with the balanced, harmonious, and “total” or “whole” worldview which he argues that culture imparts, is both a strength and a weakness of his book. Sectarianism and separatism have long gone hand in glove with a tendency to exaggerate the importance of minor and peripheral matters to the point where major and central matters are eclipsed or even lost. Thus Arnold’s linking of Nonconformity, Dissent and disestablishmentarianism to provincialism and Philistinism has much merit. What if, however, the mainstream is itself diverted into the wrong channel? Arnold’s basic acceptance of the liberal concept of progress appears to have been a hindrance to his giving this question the serious thought which it deserves.

That this was a weakness in his argument is all to clear today when we realize just how appalled Arnold would be if he could return to the 21st Century and see where the mainstream has led us since his day. The Greek and Latin classics, which he and Dean Swift associated with “sweetness and light”, have lost the central place they once held in the curriculum to be replaced with subjects considered to be more appropriate for a world where industry and machinery dominate. Philistines are now mass-producing “culture” which resembles the “dirt and poison” of the spider more than it does the “sweetness and light” of the honeybee and have made it difficult for people to escape their web, even in the privacy of their own homes.

Throughout his book, Arnold struggled with the undesirable consequences of the liberalism he had inherited from his father. Liberalism in all of its manifestations, was an attempt to cling on to everything good which had been passed down from the classical and Christian eras while embracing the philosophy of the “Enlightenment” which was killing those good things off at the root. Religious liberalism sought to cling on to Christian ethics while rejecting the basic message of Christianity that the all-powerful, miracle-performing, Creator God, came down and dwelt among us as a man, and redeemed us to Himself through the shedding of His own blood, then rose from the grave to offer us new and everlasting life. Political liberalism sought to find a rational defense for the traditional rights and liberties of Englishmen which arose out of a constitution and common law that had evolved over centuries in a kingdom influenced by Roman law and Christianity which would maintain those rights and liberties once everything that had given birth to them had been lost. The very idea of “progress” is an attempt to keep the Christian hope of the Kingdom of God alive, for people who no longer believe in God, and who reject the authority of God the king.

Each of these attempts proved to be a colossal failure in the 20th Century. Religious liberals found that Christian ethics could no longer be maintained without Christian doctrine and so found themselves preaching a watered down, subtance free morality, to dwindling congregations. Political liberals threw away the prescriptive rights and liberties of Englishmen in favour of the soft tyranny of the nanny state. The doctrine of progress has led to the kingdom of hell rather than the kingdom of heaven on earth.

None of this, of course, was evident in the 19th Century. Matthew Arnold deserves much credit for seeing as many problems as he did. His concept of a wholistic, integrated culture in which beauty and truth, sweetness and light, are given their proper due, remains an admirable ideal, albeit one the high culture of the 20th Century has fallen rather short of. This is not Matthew Arnold's fault, however, and the fact that the difference remains noticeable to anyone should be attributed to his abiding influence on cultural critics up to this day.

(1) i.e., the Renaissance. This term was new at the time, Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy having just been published 9 years earlier, the English translation not yet having appeared. Arnold correctly predicted that the term was “destined to become of more common use amongst us as the movement which it denotes comes, as it will come, increasingly to interest us”. His Anglicized spelling of the word did not, however, catch on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Revival of Civilization

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, London, Phaidon Press, 1960, 462 pp.

The Renaissance is a period of European history which is of interest to people for many different reasons. For art aficionados the Renaissance was the era of the great masters - Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, and so many others. For people who love political plots and schemes and intrigues the Renaissance was the age of the Medici, Sforzas, and of course the Borgias, and for those who take a more theoretical approach to politics modern political science was born in the Renaissance in the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli. The rediscovery and emulation of the Greco-Roman culture of classical antiquity makes the Renaissance an essential period of time for classicists, and for those of a scientific bent, the Renaissance was a time of ground-breaking discoveries about the natural world. It is the historical backdrop to the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

The Renaissance is also an important historical period because it is the transition period between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age. An early stage of the spirit of the Modern Age is discernible in the intellectual and cultural movement called humanism which developed in the Renaissance. Today, the term humanism refers to secular humanism, a movement which believes that religion should be completely a matter of private belief and should not be part of the organization of society. This rabid hostility towards religion was not present in Renaissance humanism, which was born centuries before the Enlightenment Project began, but the earlier humanism involved a transfer of focus from God to man which was arguably one of the first steps in the development of what would eventually become the later, secular humanism. The blessings and curses of the Modern Age both have their roots in the Renaissance.

Despite all of this it is only quite recently that we began to think and speak of this period as “the Renaissance”. The term “Renaissance” signifies a re-birth and the concept behind the term was that of a renewing of the high cultural achievements of the civilization of the ancient world. While some art critics such as Vasari, who dismissed medieval art as barbaric (1) had considered the new classical style to be a re-birth it was in the 19th Century that historians began to regard the 14th-16th centuries as the distinct period of cultural achievement that we think of as “the Renaissance” today.

Although he was not the first to write about the Renaissance, credit for making it a firmly established part of our understanding history must be given to Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt. Jacob Burckhardt, who was born into a prominent family in Basel, where he lived and taught for most of his life, was the son of a Protestant clergyman who ministered at the Basel cathedral. Like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, another parson’s son who would become his student and for a brief time his colleague (2), Burckhardt initially began his academic career as a student of theology. History, however, would come to take the place of the queen of the sciences in his heart, and especially the history of art. Indeed, he was one of the pioneers of art history as a serious academic discipline

It is remarkable therefore, that his most widely known book, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, is not about art and does not include a section on art. The author himself, on the very first page draws our attention to this fact by stating that he had intended “to fill up the gaps in this book by a special work on the ‘Art of the Renaissance’” but had only done so in part. That he did not complete this intended work is unfortunate for the history of art.

In the same context Burckhardt had lamented what he called “the most serious difficulty of the history of civilization”, namely, “that a great intellectual process must be broken up into single, and often into what seem arbitrary categories, in order to be in any way intelligible”. This is a description of the structure of his own book. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is divided into six sections the largest of which are the first “The State as a Work of Art” and the last “Morality and Religion”. The other sections are “The Development of the Individual”, “The Revival of Antiquity”, “The Discovery of the World and of Man”, and “Society and Festivals”.

His misgivings about breaking down the Renaissance into categories appear to have been groundless because a unifying concept of the Renaissance does emerge towards which each of the sections contributes. The Italian Renaissance, as Burckhardt conceived it, was the first modern civilization, in which the individualism, humanism, scientific pursuits, and other characteristics of the modern age are first born in a country where the political foundations of modernity had not yet been laid.

Therefore, in “The State as a Work of Art”, we find a multi-layered account of the political situation in Renaissance Italy. There is a faithful narrative of the misdeeds and achievements of the Borgias, Visconti, and all the other colourful characters of this time and place, the sort of thing most historians would be interested in both in Burckhardt’s own day and our own. There is a comparison of the two basic kinds of city-states which existed in Italy at that time. Then there is an account of a nation-state, struggling to emerge in a country where feudalism had not developed in the direction of national unity as it had elsewhere in Europe.

It is this last concept, of how the dream of national unity underlay the aspirations and ambitions of Signoria and republican theorists alike, that contributes the most to the overall picture of the Renaissance Burckhardt was painting and he introduced the theme early by writing:

The struggle between the Popes and the Hohenstaufen left Italy in a political condition which differed essentially from that of other countries of the West. While in France, Spain and England the feudal system was so organized that, at the close of its existence, it was naturally transformed into a unified monarchy, and while in Germany it helped to maintain, at least outwardly, the unity of the empire, Italy had shaken it off almost entirely.

In the absence of that unity, Italy consisted of a number of city-states, some of which were republics governed by a senate, others of which were dominated by families which had attained wealth and then power through the hired soldiers called Condottieri, the leaders of which Burckhardt calls “despots” to distinguish them from the governing houses which had emerged from feudalism elsewhere in Europe. These sought legitimacy and security for their dynasties and dreamed of uniting Italy. Poets like Dante and Petrarch sought to capture the spirit of a national Italy in verse. These dreams of a politically unified Italy went unfulfilled, however. Italy would not be united until a year after Burckhardt’s book was first published in the 19th Century.

If a modern nation-state did not quite materialize in Renaissance Italy, modern individualism did. This, according to Burckhardt, made the Italian “the firstborn among the sons of modern Europe”. The consciousness of the individual personality, developed in both types of city-states alike, as man who had previously “been conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation—only through some general category” began to separate his outward view of the world from his inward view of himself.

This sense of the individual, according to Burckhardt, took its highest form in the universalism of the Renaissance humanism, both in the cosmopolitan belief that the learned man is at home everywhere expressed by Dante and Ghiberti and in the ideal of “’l’ uomo universale’”, the man who possesses knowledge in many different areas. Dante, Leon Battista Alberti, and Leonardo da Vinci are given as examples of this ideal and today we still speak of someone whose expertise covers many areas in which most people concentrate and specialize on one as a “Renaissance Man”.

This new individualism manifested itself in a number of different ways. Glory and honour, previously attached to groups and classes, now took the individual form that we know today as “fame”. The pursuit of fame led to great achievements, but also created many problems. “The corrective”, Burckhardt wrote “not only of this modern desire for fame, but of all highly developed individuality, is found in ridicule, especially when expressed in the victorious form of wit”. The latter “could not be an independent element in life till its appropriate victim, the developed individual with personal pretensions, had appeared”.

Following the short but pivotal section on the individual, Burckhardt turned to the aspect of the Renaissance which gave it its name, the rediscovery and revival of ancient civilization. He began by criticizing the term as being “one-sided”, which today seems more than a little ironic in light of the extent to which this very book popularized the term. Burckhardt insisted that it is “one of the chief propositions of this book, that it was not the revival of antiquity alone, but its union with the genius of the Italian people, which achieved the conquest of the western world.”

This is how Burckhardt regarded history. A particular people in a specific time period would have a certain spirit which manifested itself in everything they did so as to lend its character to the era itself. In this case it was the spirit of the individualistic, non-politically unified, Italian people which manifested itself in the Renaissance. The renewal of the classical was a manifestation of that spirit, not that spirit itself. It was a spiritual movement, Burckhardt argues, in which the Italian people, no longer effectively ruled by either the Holy Roman Empire or the papacy, “awakened to self-consciousness, sought for some new and stable ideal on which to rest” finding it in the world empire of ancient Rome.

This vision of the ideal of ancient Rome inspired the study of ancient Rome, of the architecture of classical Rome still visible in a dilapidated form in the ruins of ancient buildings and roads, and more importantly in classical literature. Study of the classical languages, first Latin, a dialect of which had evolved into Italian, and then Greek became an important pursuit. People who had the wealth to do so (and some, like the monk who would become Pope Nicholas V, who did not) began to collect large libraries of classical manuscripts, and the science of textual criticism was born.

An awakened people, however, captured by the vision of an ancient civilization from which they could claim descent, was not satisfied and could not be satisfied, by treating that civilization as something dead to be viewed in a museum. The next step was to translate the Roman ideal into contemporary – for the 14th to 16th centuries – Italian. Enter the humanists. Dante (3), Petrarch, Boccaccio and their successors, imitated and built upon classical literary models, to give new life to Italian literature.

Humanism was not contained within the realm of literature, however, but spread throughout the universities, transforming existing disciplines and creating new ones, and laying the foundation for the modern approach to the humanities. The desire to discover the world gave birth to the exploration of men like Christopher Columbus and to a deep interest in the natural sciences. (4) This in turn led to new discoveries which provided inspiration for poetry and literature.

The renewal of civilization did not take place in an academic world cut off from the society around it. “Every period of civilization, which forms a complete and consistent whole manifests itself not only in political life, in religion, art, and science, but also sets its characteristic stamp on social life”. Social life in the Renaissance, as Burckhardt depicted it, was deeply affected by the fact that the nobles now lived in the cities, and so shared the interests of the burghers (enfranchised townsmen whose wealth was derived from commerce). One result of this was that birth had come to be of less importance in terms of social influence than wealth and education. This too is a distinctively modern phenomenon.

Overall, Burckhardt’s book is informative about many different aspects about the Renaissance, although it will undoubtedly be disappointing to those whose primary interest in that period is in its art. His depiction of the Renaissance, as the first modern civilization is a convincing one, even if some of the modern phenomena he describes, such as individualism and equality, meant something very different in their Renaissance context, then they do to us in the 21st Century – or for that matter than they meant for Burckhardt in the 19th Century. This has been one of the most influential books on the history of the Renaissance ever written and it is likely that its influence will continue.

(1) In the literal sense. Such art was dubbed “gothic”, i.e., of the Goths, the Germanic invaders who had sacked Rome.

(2) It was Burckhardt, as a matter of fact, who, upon receiving a postcard from Nietzsche after his mental breakdown, first realized that the philosopher had gone stark raving mad and notified the people who would arrange for him to receive the care he needed.

(3) Burckhardt regarded Dante, who “treats the ancient and the Christian worlds, not indeed as of equal authority, but as parallel to one another” as the first humanist. Subsequent historians have not followed Burckhardt in this.

(4) Here too Burckhardt pointed to Dante as displaying an early scientific interest in the natural world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Testimony of a Tory – A Brief Memoir

Charley Reese, who was an op-ed writer for the Orlando Sentinel whose thrice-weekly column was syndicated by King Features until his retirement a few years ago, was a conservative writer full of old fashioned “horse sense”. He believed that writers owed it to their readers to make a statement of where they stood once a year, and regularly did so in a column at the beginning of every year. Very few writers seem to have picked up on the concept – Chuck Baldwin, a Baptist pastor who has run for US President on the Constitution Party ticket is one who has – but I think it is a good idea. Last year, I began the year with an essay entitled “Here I Stand” in which I stated my basic political, religious and cultural beliefs. I thought that this year I would do it a bit differently, with an autobiographical essay explaining how I arrived at my beliefs.

I do not remember a time in my life when I was not a conservative or reactionary of one sort or another. Sir Winston Churchill would probably say that that means I have no heart. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about that. A conservative is someone who opposes unnecessary change – poet and classical scholar A. E. Housman once said that he was a conservative in the truest sense because he believed all change was for the worst. A reactionary is the opposite of a progressive. A progressive believes that the wave of changes – educational, social, cultural, scientific, technological – that we associate with the concept of the “Modern” are advancements, are for the better, and are gradually leading mankind onward and upward, to bigger and better things, in a future paradise to be attained by human achievement. A reactionary believes the exact opposite of that – that this wave of changes has often been for the worse, that even things which are unquestionably improvements have come to us at a heavy cost which we do not fully realize and that what we have gained may not have been worth the price. I must be both of these things by instinct because I have been both for as long as I can remember, long before I was able to formulate it in that way.

I grew up on a farm in southwestern Manitoba, near the village of Oak River and the town of Rivers. This undoubtedly contributed to my conservatism although not in the way a progressive would think. I very early developed a prejudice in favour of rural life and against urban life, that has stuck with me to this very day, although I have lived in Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, for eleven and a half years now. To prefer the agricultural over the industrial, the rural over the urban, the farm and village over the big city, is a basic conservative prejudice. I use the word prejudice quite deliberately. Progressives object to prejudice, regarding it as being intrinsically bad and ignoring the many prejudices that underlie their own way of thinking. A conservative, while acknowledging that there are bad prejudices as well as good prejudices, embraces prejudice as an essential component of human nature that serves a necessary purpose – to provide man with access to the information necessary to make a quick judgement when there is no time to collect facts and calculate the most rational decision. Prejudice can err, but so can reason, and prejudice informed by the traditions which convey the accumulated wisdom and experience of the ages from generation to generation will err less often then reason when reason is directed by the arrogant notion that logic can find the solution to all problems, when allowed to operate free of the influence of the wisdom of man contained in common sense, customs and habits, traditions and mores, legends and myths and folklore.

Prejudice and right reason need not be in conflict, however, and there are plenty of rational reasons for preferring the country over the city. There is a far greater amount of social capital in rural neighborhoods, where people can safely leave their houses and cars unlocked, and where everybody knows everybody else and all their relatives too. Not everybody who grows up in such a setting comes to love the country over the city, and many have developed the reverse prejudice for some reason or another. The city is not all bad, and I have come to develop an affection of sorts for Winnipeg, although I will probably regard my living here as a sort of Babylonian captivity for the rest of my life.

Manitoba is located in Canada and I also developed a strong Canadian patriotism very early. This does not mean that I necessary like everything about Canada, or agree with everything her government does. Far from it. The things I have come to dislike about my country however – the welfarism, the socialism of marketing board monopolies, the draconian human rights laws, the asinine gun control laws which target farmers and hunters and do nothing to prevent criminal violence – I regard as blemishes on the best country in the world, and despise them for that very reason. These things are not the essence of Canada, they do not define Canada, and nothing infuriates me more than to hear a so-called “conservative” in Canada, express his animosity towards these things in terms of hatred towards Canada herself.

The Canada I grew to love in my early years, was a basically conservative country. I came to love the Canada of the United Empire Loyalists, who remained loyal to a good king when some of his other North American subjects, misled by deism and freemasonry, revolted. Loyalty is a conservative virtue, and revolutions, conservatives since Aristotle have understood, nearly always make things worse. I came to love the Canada who, no longer automatically at war whenever Great Britain was since the 1931 Statute of Westminster, nevertheless declared war on Nazi Germany on September 10, 1939, out of loyalty to her king and mother country. Some might say that the Canada I love no longer exists and indeed, that it passed out of existence before I was even born. I disagree. One could still see that Canada in the rural areas in which I grew up and I am not convinced that it is completely gone even today.

I went to school in Oak River up until grade nine, and from grade ten to twelve went to the high school in Rivers. I remember my earliest years in school, when we began the day with O Canada and the Lord’s Prayer, and ended the day with God Save the Queen. At the time O Canada had only recently been officially declared the national anthem and the Maple Leaf Forever would have been a better choice, but these are quibbles. We had Bible stories read to us in the morning in the early grades – something which would presumably be considered a “hate crime” today and probably was in urban areas even then. My point is that in all of this we see that the old Canada was still alive in the rural Canada of the early ‘80’s.

It was not until after college that I read Aristotle’s Politics and Polybius’ Histories and discovered Aristotle’s hypothesis, enthusiastically endorsed by Polybius, that the best possible constitution for a state would be a mixed constitution which combined a king, an aristocracy, and a democracy. Such a constitution was theoretical in Aristotle’s day, but it is the exact form of government which had evolved in the United Kingdom and which the Fathers of Confederation adapted from Britain for Canada. Since my childhood I have regarded the British and Canadian constitution of parliamentary monarchy as the best form of government the world has ever known. This began as a prejudice because it was the government of my own country, the country I loved. When I read Aristotle and Polybius, however, I realized that this was one more instance in which prejudice and reason need not be in conflict.

I have of course, been a monarchist, both in the sense of preferring a constitution with a royal head of state, and in the sense of loyalty to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, all my life. I would be ashamed to call myself a conservative were it otherwise. While on Christmas vacation this last week, I visited a great aunt, the sister of my maternal grandmother, in Brandon. Prince Philip had been hospitalized over Christmas and this got us talking about the royal family, about the Queen, Prince Charles and Di, Kate and William. My aunt asked me if I thought the British would ever get rid of the monarchy. My answer was “I hope not, and hope the fools in this country who want to separate Canada from the Crown and make us a republic never get their way as well”. She lighted up and said “good for you, I feel the same way”. This is an aunt who regularly votes NDP. This conversation reminded me of something the great British Tory statesman Enoch Powell once said: “there are many good Tories in the Labour Party”.

Do not make the mistake of concluding from all of this that I am a “Red Tory”. As I have said in the past, the colour of Toryism is not Revolutionary Red, but Royal Blue. I despise socialism and welfarism, and if I have been critical of industrial capitalism in my essays it has not been out of sympathy for some kind of socialist alternative. I admire the writings of George Grant, Canada’s greatest conservative philosopher, and agree with much of his philosophy, but I do not agree with his idea that socialism is more conservative than capitalism. Grant was correct in regarding capitalism as a progressive force – he was wrong in rejecting the Marxist’s claim that socialism is more progressive than capitalism.

I will now discuss how my economic views developed. Hopefully I will be able to do so without boring everyone to death.

I was born in 1976 and grew up in a farming community in the 1980’s. At the time, a subsidy war between the European Common Market and the United States was depressing the world price of grain. This may very well be the first factor to contribute to my lifelong dislike for government subsidies and intervention in the market. One of my earliest economic realizations was that labour strikes affect more than just workers and management within a company. They have consequences for third parties as well. If railroad workers strike at the wrong time it can have devastating consequences for farmers. If nurses strike your loved ones can die. Out of this realization my hatred for labour unions was born.

When Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were negotiating the Canada-US Free Trade agreement I was in favour of it at the time, although I was vaguely aware that this was a reversal of traditional conservative policy. When the talks to turn this agreement into NAFTA began I was suspicious of them, but I did not come to reject free trade on principle until much later. I will explain the reasons for that rejection shortly.

When I graduated high school, I knew that I was in favour of “capitalism”, opposed to “socialism”, and that I despised “communism”. This is basically true to this day, although I would now say that I am in favour of “private enterprise” and “private property” rather than “capitalism” which includes those things but has other connotations as well. I have done much more serious reading on economics since then and as I have done so my reasons for favouring private enterprise and opposing socialism have developed, and hopefully become deeper.

The capitalism I was in favour of in college in the 1990’s was basically the supply-side capitalism of the Reagan and Thatcher years. High taxes and heavy regulations discourage enterprise and productivity, whereas low taxes and low regulations encourage enterprise, productivity, and bring about a broader prosperity. By the end of my college years I had also come to see that for money to be sound, it cannot be fiat money, but must be backed by something like gold, and had come to believe in a flat tax, one rate for everybody. My views on money haven't changed since then but I would now prefer that income tax be replaced altogether by some form of indirect taxation.

After college I did more serious reading in economics. In Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom I found the argument that political freedom requires economic freedom. In Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson I read about how government, which does not produce anything but must pay for its operations by taxes in doing so takes money out of the hands of private people who would put it to other use, therefore, government spending does not contribute anything to the economy (this is an expansion of Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy” argument). In the writings of Ludwig von Mises I learned that governments and other planning bodies cannot devise an economy superior to that produced by private persons, freely contracting with each other in an open market, because they have no way of obtaining all the information necessary to calculate a superior economy or a means to make such a calculation, and that market exchanges are non-zero sum affairs, because each side is trading something they want less for something they want more, therefore both come out ahead. Through my reading I gradually evolved from a supply-side, to a Chicago neo-classical, to an Austrian view of economics.

My economic views remain Austrian with two major exceptions.

The first is the doctrine of free trade which the Austrian school is firmly committed to. What ultimately convinced me that something was wrong with free trade doctrine was a consideration of the history of the practice. The United Kingdom adopted free trade in the middle of the 19th Century when it was the leading manufacturing country in the world. At the same time the United States of America adopted an economic nationalist policy of protective tariffs. In the decades in which these countries held these respective practices the United States overtook the UK as the leading manufacturing power. While this was happening, the UK had convinced several continental European countries to adopt free trade, but Otto von Bismarck chose to follow the American example in the newly unified Germany. Soon the other continental countries were abandoning free trade to follow Germany’s example. In the 20th Century, the United States began to adopt free trade in the presidencies of FDR and JFK. As the USA has moved further in the direction of free trade its manufacturing base has shrunk. Meanwhile Japan came to dominate new high tech industries from behind a protective tariff wall.

Of course free traders will come back and say that it would be committing the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy to conclude that free trade doesn’t work because of all this and that other factors explain these things. This would be more convincing if the pattern were not so consistent.

The second exception is that Austrian school economists are classical liberals. Their liberal worldview is the framework within which they developed their economic views. Classical liberalism is not wrong about everything, but it is wrong on very important matters.

Classical liberalism regards the individual as the basic unit of society, and holds to a contractual view of society in which individuals are prior to all social groups and institutions, and voluntarily agree to form social groups and institutions for their mutual advantage in pursuing their individual good. This is all wrong. The family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society. The family is prior to the individual and the individual is born into the pre-existing family. The most important associations and relationships between people are not voluntary, contractual associations, but permanent relationships based upon blood.

It is the fact that Austrian and other laissez faire economics are derived from liberalism which explains why free trade doctrine works on paper but fails in practice. Liberalism subordinates the family, community, society, and country to the individual and therefore regards the “right” of individuals to enter into voluntary exchanges on their own terms, even across national boundaries, as more important than a country’s need to have a base of domestic producers of essential goods.

If liberalism’s erroneous doctrine of the primacy of the individual is the reason free trade doesn’t work in practice, then why do I argue that Austrian economics is otherwise sound?

The answer is to be found in the nature of liberalism. Liberalism was not, as its proponents purport it to be, the source of the rights and freedoms enjoyed in the English speaking world. Rather it was an attempt to explain those rights and freedoms to a modern world, which under the influence of the so-called “Enlightenment”, had come to reject the religious and cultural framework within which those rights and freedoms had developed. The rights and freedoms of the English speaking world, which protect the individual person from the abuse of state power, arose out of a tradition which began to develop a thousand years prior to the so-called “Enlightenment” and which indeed, draws upon Greco-Roman and Christian influences which are even older. It can be seen in an early stage in the constitution of Alfred the Great of Wessex in the 9th Century, in the pledges by the early Norman kings to govern in accordance with that constitution, in the Magna Carta which reminded their descendants of those pledges and which spelled out some of the basic rights of Englishmen.

The problem with classical liberalism does not lie in its support for these legal protections and freedoms which are among the things I most admire about the English tradition. Its errors are to be found in the secularist theory by which it explains the genesis of these rights and freedoms and of society itself. The truth in economic liberalism (free market capitalism), like these rights and freedoms, comes from the older tradition of freedom . The error in economic liberalism arises out the false theory of liberalism itself.

The economist with whose ideas I am in most sympathy today is Wilhelm Roepke, the German born, Swiss economist, who accepted the free market arguments of his friend and mentor Mises, but argued that they only work within a traditional, moral and social context.

This brings me to the subject of religion. My family, as I grew up, was affiliated with the United Church in Oak River, but except for my mother we seldom attended services. We celebrated the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, I was read Bible stories as a child at home and in school, and from this early basic religious education I became familiar with the basic people and events of the Old and New Testament narratives. I was not taught the significance of these events however, and I gradually came to learn this as I entered my teenage years.

I was given a Gideon’s New Testament in school and read many of the books in the religion section of the local public library. These were not all orthodox books, or even all Christian books, but from my reading I came to understand the significance Christianity attached to the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I came to understand that Christianity taught that in Jesus Christ, God Himself had become a man, in order to rescue mankind. We needed rescuing because we had rebelled against God and so entered a condition of being lost in sin from which we could not save ourselves. God was able to save us in Christ, however, because Christ, Who was without sin, took our sin upon Himself when He died on the cross, bearing our guilt and our punishment for us, thereby turning man’s lowest act, the murder of the Creator, into the highest act of divine love and mercy whereby we were pardoned of our sins and restored to God’s favour. In Christ’s resurrection, a new life, of freedom and righteousness, was made available for us to share.

When you understand something, you do not necessarily believe it, however. By the time I came to understand the Gospel message, I had developed a sort of skepticism, based upon the idea that science had demonstrated that the Bible could not be taken as being a trustworthy record of events, and I was unable to adopt the mindset which says “well, the Bible might not be factually true, but it is figuratively true” because I realized that such an attitude robbed religion of all authority and simply meant that a person could make up for himself whatever belief he wanted. I could see that happening all around me. My friends and relatives who were regular church attendees seemed to believe whatever they liked and to throw away whatever historical and traditional Christian teachings they didn’t like. This was in the late 80’s and early 90’s and at the time there was a huge debate going on in the United Church of Canada over the ordination of homosexuals. I saw this debate as simply the outward manifestation of a far more important debate, over whether or not the church would submit to the authority of the Christian faith it purported to teach and the God it purported to believe in as the author of that faith. While I was still skeptical myself, about whether the Bible could still be believed, I found this attitude of “I will pick for myself what I like out of the faith, and reject what I don’t like” repugnant. I knew that if I ever did become a believer I would accept the teachings of the faith, as found in Scripture, and historically taught by the church, and champion those teachings against those who believed in a faith which changes with the times.

This all came to a head in 1991.

The year began with Operation Desert Storm, in which an American led coalition drove the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The potential for this conflict to escalate into something much worse – present to a certain degree in all Middle East conflicts – kept our eyes glued to the news, and brought back to my mind the Biblical passages which speak of the final battle of Armageddon. I re-read books I had read on that subject, but international events soon came to be eclipsed by tragedy in the family, as my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, underwent chemotherapy, then was finally brought home where she died in April, a couple of weeks after my 15th birthday.

That summer I read the entire Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, for the first time.

In my heart and mind, skepticism still waged war with the inner voice that told me that Jesus was real, the Gospel true, and that I should turn to Christ in faith. Finally, towards the middle of August, I was listening to the radio when a religious program came on. The speaker turned the intellectual weapons which materialists use to cast doubt upon religion against their own claims. I realized for the first time, that the materialistic humanists who ridiculed the Christian faith as primitive superstition, frequently expected people to accept their views upon the authority of scientists whose claims far exceed what they can support by actual substantial evidence. Then the speaker said “in the end, the person who takes God at His word, will not be found a fool for having done so”.

That was enough. The battle was over. Skepticism lost. I knelt by my bed, got out my Gideon’s New Testament, read the verses explaining how all had sinned, how Christ had come and died to save us from sin, and how everlasting life was promised to all who believed, and then prayed to God, telling Him that I would take Him at His word by faith, and accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord.

In evangelical and fundamentalist circles this is called “getting saved”. I no longer like to use those words to refer to my conversion because as my Christian faith has developed, I have come to regard this practice as detracting from the events of the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When a believer is asked “when were you saved” the best response is to say “almost two thousand years ago when Jesus died for my sins on the cross and rose again from the dead”. The benefits of Christ’s atoning death come to us through faith, but faith is not an act which we do once then look back upon for the rest of our lives. It is personal trust in God our Father as revealed to us in the Person and Work of the Saviour He has given us, our Lord Jesus Christ. Such a personal trust is an ongoing attitude through which God pours out His grace upon us, establishes a relationship with us, and produces the new life in us. It looks outward to God and the promises He has made to us in the Gospel, and not inward at itself.

Which is not to undersell the importance of conversion. My conversion pointed me in a direction that I would never have gone without it and has thus shaped all the subsequent events of my life.

My determination that I would not be a “pick and choose” Christian grew stronger after my conversion and this led me out of the United Church of Canada. Initially that left me unconnected with a church for a few months, but a Christian neighbor, who had herself left the UCC in the homosexual ordination controversy, graciously offered to drive me to her church, which was evangelical and Bible-believing. This was the Baptist church in Virden, where I was baptized by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in January of 1993. My pastor there was a graduate of Providence College (originally Winnipeg Bible College) in Otterburne. One day he had to go out to Providence to meet with some people, and invited me to come along to see the school. I remember entering the college library, finding myself among more volumes of theology than I had ever seen before in my life, and sitting down to read from the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. It was like coming home after a long journey and early in my grade 12 year I sent in my application to study theology at Providence.

I entered Providence College in the fall of 1994 and was a student there until April 1999 (in the fifth year I studied in the Seminary). I majored in theology and my favorite classes were the Systematic Theology and New Testament Greek classes. Many of my strongest interests today go back to Providence. My Koine classes led to an interest in the classical languages, and after Providence I studied basic Latin and Attic and Homeric Greek independently. I make no claim to have mastered any of these tongues but in studying them I developed an interest in classical literature and, began reading the Greco-Roman classics in English translation. In my first semester at Providence I went to the Christmas production of Handel’s Messiah at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg. In my fourth year I attended the spring 1998 Manitoba Opera production of La Boheme. It was at Providence that I first saw a Gilbert and Sullivan production – the Mikado which one of the school’s theatrical groups put on that year. This was the beginning of my love for classical music.

My thinking about Christian orthodoxy and unity began to change after my years at Providence. I disliked the kind of liberal ecumenism which strives for unity among all churches at the expense of doctrine and truth and I continue to dislike this kind of ecumenism today. It has proven itself willing to jettison doctrines without which there can be no Christianity in its pursuit of a lowest common denominator. In response to this, two large movements developed among North American conservative Protestants. Fundamentalism, opposed both liberal theology and liberal ecumenism and neo-evangelicalism which began in the 1950’s, rejected liberal theology but was more sympathetic to liberal ecumenism.

Often overlooked was a third kind of conservative Protestant. There were also conservative Protestants, who continued to adhere to their historical confessions of faith (the 39 Articles, the Westminster Confession of Faith, etc.) and to the authority of the Bible, and rejected both liberal theology and ecumenism, but also rejected the fundamentalist approach of focusing on a few “fundamentals” as being too minimalist. The essential doctrines of Christianity need to be understood in the context of the Christian faith regarded as a whole. This was not an organized movement, like fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism, just traditionalist Protestant Christians continuing to believe what they had always believed.

I gradually moved from the “fundamentalist” to the “traditionalist” viewpoint. I came to see that the interpretation of church history popular in many evangelical and fundamentalist churches, in which Constantine the Great is said to have created the false “Catholic Church”, while the true faith continued to exist as a kind of underground movement until the Reformation, was essentially the same view of church history held by the anti-Trinitarian cults which have been popping up over the last century and a half and reviving ancient heresies. When I realized this I rejected this interpretation. This affected my theological understanding in a number of significant ways.

I developed a greater respect for the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, drawn up and accepted by the church in its undivided state, before the schisms that divided it into Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant, as authoritative statements of the “doctrine of Christ”, drawn up by the leaders of the orthodox, Apostolic church in response to centuries of conflict with the “antichrists” the Apostle John warned about in his epistles.

My view of the sacraments changed. In the medieval church some people had come to treat the sacraments as steps which a repentant sinner must climb to come to Christ and salvation. In response to this abuse, some Protestants had come to regard the sacraments as a wall or barrier erected by the church to prevent the repentant sinner from directly trusting in Christ, and therefore rejected the idea of sacraments as “means of grace” altogether. The sacraments could also be regarded as vessels, however, as physical containers which, carry the word, which produces and strengthens faith, to the believer. As such, they perform the same role as preaching, but in a more visual and therefore more concrete fashion. This is what I understand St. Augustine and Dr. Martin Luther to have said, and I have come to accept this view myself.

I came to see that those parts of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, which had adopted the attitude of the English Puritans, that everything in church tradition which could not be explicitly justified from Scripture should be rejected as “Catholic” had done themselves a disservice. I came to accept the attitude of Luther and the English reformers – that everything in the Catholic tradition which is not condemned in Scripture, should be retained or at least allowed.

My theology developed in this direction over the decade after I had left Providence to work and live in Winnipeg. I had been actively involved in a small church that I had started attending in my last year in Providence. Differences in theology between the pastor and elders had led to a church split in the early 2000’s. After this, for many years I attended large evangelical churches, where I could come, worship, and leave with a minimal degree of involvement and commitment. It was during these years that my theology developed in the way I have described above. When the time finally came that I knew I should become a more active church member again, I joined an Anglican parish, which I knew respected the authority of the Word of God, taught orthodox doctrine, and preached the Gospel. It uses the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, which I used to read in the guest room of my paternal grandmother’s house whenever I spent the night there. This liturgy, is derived from that used by the Latin-speaking Christian church for centuries, beautifully translated into English by Thomas Cranmer, and with an emphasis upon our need for a humble attitude of penitence, which trusts to God’s mercy rather than our own righteousness.

It would be nice to bring this essay to a conclusion on the happy note with which I ended the last paragraph. My most read essay by far, however, is “The Suicide Cult”, and it would be a disservice to my readers not to include an account of how I came to the views expressed in that essay.

A friend asked me, a few months ago, “do not the two antis in anti-anti-racist cancel each other out to make racist?” When I described myself as an “anti-anti-racist” I was consciously reflecting upon the way another reactionary, the historical writer John Lukacs, describes himself as an anti-anti-communist. Lukacs, a Hungarian born Catholic, saw his homeland overrun by the Nazis and then by the Communists. He fled these oppressive regimes to the United States. When he called himself an “anti-anti-communist” he did not mean that he sympathized with the Communism he had escaped from, but that within the United States he saw anti-communist populism as being the greater threat to civilization and decency. Note that while I have learned much from Lukacs’ writings, and share his distaste for populism, I do not agree with him about anti-communism as my main criticism of the John Birch Society is that it was too soft on the reds. Nevertheless, his “anti-anti-communism”, demonstrates how a person can be opposed to one thing, which is itself defined by opposition to a third thing, without being in favour of that third thing.

I believe that anti-racism is a far greater problem in Canada and other Western countries than racism. If by racism we mean a version of the idea that we are entitled to be unjust towards other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity than us, then of course racism is an evil way of thinking. In the 30’s and 40’s of the last century, the Nazi Party in Germany took racism to its ultimate extreme and demonstrated in their actions just how evil it could be. One of the chief motivations of anti-racism is the wish to make sure that what happened in Nazi-occupied Europe in WWII never happens again. This is a laudable desire but the problem is that the anti-racist movement appears to believe that that end justifies any means taken in its pursuit. Therefore, in order to prevent a hypothetical – and unlikely – future threat of a revived Nazism recreating the horrors of the Third Reich, anti-racism has committed actual injustices and become more of a menace than the racism it purports to be fighting.

I realize that by referring to an “anti-racist movement” I may give the impression of attributing to anti-racism a higher degree of organized structure than it actually possesses. There are organizations which are entirely devoted to anti-racism but the ideology of anti-racism is also promoted by governments, schools, churches, and the information and news media, both electronic and print.

I do not recall exactly when I first became aware that an inordinate amount of time and effort was being spent by our government, schools, and media in telling us that “race is only skin deep” and that we should not be racists, just that it was sometime before I graduated high school. The message was ubiquitous, in government sponsored ads on radio and television, in the opinions page of the newspaper, and in the classroom. In the classroom it was not limited to history, current events, and other “social studies” classes where one might expect it. The books assigned to be read for English class often seemed to be selected to teach the anti-racist message as well.

What initially bothered me about this was that it appeared to be an attempt to artificially engineer a new moral code. Traditional morality, drawn from the teachings of the Christian Scriptures, warned against such sins as idolatry, disrespect and disobedience to parents and ancestors, murder, theft, infidelity to one’s spouse, and dishonesty. The new morality seemed to sweep all that away as being trivial and replace it with one new sin, bigger and worse than all others, the sin of racism.

This did not sit well with me because I am fundamentally disposed to suspicion towards all attempts to replace the tried and true, the old and proven, with the “new and improved”.

I gradually came to realize that the problem with anti-racism was even deeper than that. In high school, in a current history class, we discussed the trials of James Keegstra and Ernst Zündel which had been widely publicized in the 1980’s. These men were prosecuted under criminal law, not for murdering, robbing, raping, defrauding or assaulting anyone. They were prosecuted for things they said and wrote.

This bothered me for two reasons. Earlier in this essay I pointed out that the basic theory of classical liberalism – that individuals are prior to and more important than all social groups, that individuals are the basic unit of society, and that legitimate societies are built on a voluntary contractual basis – is false, but that the English rights and freedoms which it championed were older than liberalism and that liberalism was started as a way of justifying these rights and freedoms in a modern age which had begun to reject the traditional worldview within which those rights and liberties had evolved in England. These rights and freedoms are not the creation of liberalism but are one of the most admirable aspects of the tradition of the English world which we inherited in Canada and I was not pleased to see that we were casting some of them aside in cause of anti-racism.
The second reason these prosecutions bothered me was that I realized, that the kind of laws being used against Keegstra and Zündel, could one day be turned against orthodox Christians who refused to change the teachings of the faith to accommodate the spirit of the age, and that they would be so turned once the supply of Keegstras and Zündels ran out.

There are reasonable limitations on freedom of speech of course. Laws against shouting “fire” in a theatre forbid an act of mischief which can directly result in people being trampled to death. Laws against incitement are reasonable because egging other people on to commit crimes is a form of complicity in the crime itself.

The same cannot be said about laws which forbid “hate speech”. Keegstra and Zündel were charged because they said the account of the holocaust was exaggerated by wartime propaganda and that the death count of six million with which we are familiar was way too high. It is easy to see why many people would take offence at these kind of statements but that is hardly a reason to criminally prosecute the people who make them.

Keegstra had been charged under the hate speech provisions which had been added to the Criminal Code in the Trudeau premiership. Zündel was tried under a different law, an obscure law against “spreading false news” that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. Towards the end of my studies in Providence I learned that there was another “hate speech” law which had been introduced in the Trudeau era, the notorious Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This was the law under which government prosecuted Zündel for the content of his website in a case that began in my last years at Providence and ended early in the new millennium.

Section 13 forbids the electronic communication of material that is “that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” on the basis of identifiable membership in a group protected by the CHRA against discrimination. It is considered civil law rather than criminal law, remediative rather than punitive, for which reason defendants do not have the protections and defences available to those charged under criminal law. The taxpayer pays for investigation of complaints filed but the defendants must pay for their own lawyer, if they can afford one and are not entitled to compensation from the complainant if they win. The likelihood of a defendant winning is next to nothing because even if he could demonstrate that he spoke nothing but the truth, the courts ruled that truth is not an absolute defence. Until the decision in the Marc Lemire case in 2009, no defendant ever won.

Until the last years of the Lemire trial, section 13 cases were not as widely publicized as the earlier trials of Keegstra and Zündel. I found, when I tried to discuss the matter with people, that most people did not know about what was going on, and worse, did not want to know. All that effort by the government, schools, and media to indoctrinate us in anti-racism had paid off. As soon as people understood that it was “racists”, “bigots”, or “nazis” that were being prosecuted they no longer seemed to care that people were being prosecuted not for violent, harmful, acts, but for words and ideas.

This discovery brought the famous words of Martin Niemöller to my mind: “First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist…”

I realized that if the spirit of the Third Reich still lived today, it was in the anti-racist movement itself and not in the people they targeted for persecution. Anti-racism had led to books being banned at the border and burned by customs, to people being given life-time gag orders and stiff fines for speaking their mind, to a professor at the University of Western Ontario being investigated by the police because of the content of a speech he gave to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which he proposed an evolutionary explanation for the origins of race differences, and to many similar outrages.

I realized that if anti-racism had convinced people not to care if this sort of thing went on as long as the victims were “racists” then anti-racism had a deleterious effect upon people’s ability to make basic moral judgements. Evidence that this is in fact the case is abundant. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for conspiracy to blow up the public utilities buildings in South Africa is said to have been a prisoner of conscience, whereas Ernst Zündel, who was incarcerated here in Canada and sentenced to prison in Germany, for nothing more than his ideas and words, is not. The North, which waged total war including a scorched earth policy against the South in the American “Civil” War, is regarded as being more just than the South which fought to protect its homes and families against this destruction. These are the kind of judgements that a moral imbecile would make and this speaks very poorly of the ideology which has caused them to become so widespread.

I finally realized that the reason anti-racism eroded people’s ability to reason morally was because at its core, anti-racism was an attack on a fundamental moral virtue, and only in its outwards guise was it an attack on a vice.

The virtue of piety is the reverence and obedience one owes to deity and to ancestors. In some pagan religions the spirits of ancestors are themselves considered to be divine and are worshipped as such. In Plato’s Euthyphro, a discussion of piety breaks out between Socrates and the title character when Euthyphro maintains that he must, out of reverence to the gods, bring a criminal accusation against his father. In the Old Testament, the ten commandments list duties to God alone first, then duties to one’s fellow man, with the commandment to honour father and mother placed in between, suggesting a close relationship between the piety one owes one’s parents and ancestors, and that which one owes God.

Piety towards our ancestors includes the duty to ensure, to the best of our ability, the happiness of their descendents in generations yet to come. Thus the virtue of piety binds past and future generations together with the present and with God.

Anti-racism is an attack on the virtue of piety. It teaches us to dishonour our ancestors by calling them “racists” and being ashamed of their “racism” and to shirk our duty of seeing to the happiness of their descendants in future generations.
Anti-racism does not teach impiety to everybody, only to members of people groups which are “white”, especially Germans, American southerners, and Afrikaners. Anti-racists have no problem with members of other ethnic groups asserting pride in their ancestry and a consciousness of group identity. Indeed, they encourage it. Yet they condemn the same thing as “racism” among white people.

Anti-racism displays a similar inconsistency when it comes to actual racism. It pays little to no attention to the violent hatred towards white people that is often expressed in the lyrics of rap music or to the demonization of white people that is common in the conversation of many North American aboriginals but will jump over the smallest statement by a white person which can be construed as “racist”. The high levels of interracial crime committed against white people on a regular basis are seldom discussed as such in the news which instead chooses to blame the “racism” of the police for the fact that certain groups are disproportionately represented in the prison population.

The reality is that anti-racism is itself a form of racism – racism against white people. The realization of this was the final stage in the development of my anti-anti-racism.

Happy New Year,
God Save the Queen