Dystopia

I have to admit that I often write from a worried point of view – about our future in the post-everything western world. I was particularly marked by studying Orwell’s 1984 for English literature at school – like most kids of my generation. In the film, Richard Burton exquisitely played the role of the inquisitor in Room 101 with the chair and the cage of rats. Since the end of World War II, the defeat of Nazism and the fall of the Soviet Communist empire in 1989, science fiction has continued to portray the dystopia as an archetype of the man-made hell of earth. There always have been tyrannical regimes and there will be in the future. In the ancient world, the best-known of such regimes were the Aztecs in what is now South America and Mexico and the Pharaohs in Egypt. Typically, society was formed of the ruler and his court, the priesthood of the society’s religion and a sub-class of slaves and serfs. Then came the Roman Empire and the succession of emperors who oscillated between the most sadistic and brutal to something like Plato’s vision of the Philosopher King. So it was when the Church became the priestly caste under Constantine and proved useful for controlling the population, so it was throughout the middle ages with the Two Swords.

With the Renaissance came the notion of the intrinsic value of the human person, at least to a point, the ideology of humanism and a notion of progress in freedom. The Industrial Revolution brought a new notion of progress and growth, eventually leading to a contestation of the class or “caste” structure of society and dependence on technology. From then, things would oscillate between the interests of the State and oligarchy or plutocracy. Eventually all these opposing ideas and tendencies would be increasingly radicalised in various types of socialism and nationalism. The extremes of all these ideologies would emerge in the wake of World War I in the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco.

History seems to be marked by these oscillations between progressive liberalism and nationalist authoritarianism. For seventy-five years, the old photos of the concentration camps and the piles of emaciated corpses put us off the nationalist “reaction”. There are still a few old-style totalitarian states in the world, like North Korea and its “charming” leader Kim Jong Un who invents new and ever more sadistic ways to get rid of his opponents. What is terrifying now is that such ideologies are returning via democratic electoral processes – people voting according to how well they have been influenced by television and other forms of mass media.

I am now ready to believe that the majority of British people want Brexit, the triumph of men like Boris Johnson and the dismantling of Parliament and other regulating obstacles. “Get on with it!” they clamour without a thought to what, according to the evidence, is coming. Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!

I have tried to understand things for which I have never been trained. I know too little of political philosophy and sociology, so I can only read books and articles written by others and decide whether the message seems plausible. I am inclined to seek an evidence-based and rational approach to avoid the wildest of the conspiracy theories. It is not easy. We tend to think of history (modern) as a natural oscillation between action, reaction and synthesis, as Hegel expressed. We generally label authoritarian tendencies as “reactionary”, essentially conservative and wanting to turn back the clock on inevitable progress and growth. They mark the equally inevitable death of liberal democracy and its advocacy for causes like feminism, other races and cultures, homosexuality and “gender fluidity”. Those of us who find such liberalism to be exaggerated or morally wrong will find solace in the new authoritarianism.

For one “camp”, the game is over. It has gone to its limit, and now – back to the 1930’s we go! Conventional wisdom would see the “new right” as just a temporary inconvenience in the way of progress towards liberal utopia. It doesn’t seem to explain things well enough, and seems to be too comforting to be realistic. What I will say now is not an apologia for fascism or the “new right”, but what seems to be happening. Nationalism, authoritarianism and a modern form of “fascism” are becoming the new “normal”.

Like in the 1930’s, something more basic will model our world view – our material condition, wealth, affordable housing, availability of food and other fundamental resources. There isn’t enough to go round! The “wogs” are getting free “hand-outs” and we have to work our backsides off for a pittance of a wage! The thing is that immigrants don’t get “free hand-outs” but have to go through the same application process and stand in the same queue as everyone else fulfilling the required criteria. In the 1930’s in Germany, a wheelbarrow full of money wasn’t enough for a loaf of bread – it was “all the fault of the Jews”, as people heard from Hitler. Is it surprising? Yesterday’s “Jews” are today’s Muslim immigrants.

According to a longer view of history, this “not enough to go round” crisis is a slow creeping one. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer billionaires, whilst ordinary people work longer hours for less, get themselves into debt, live in cities. The Trente Glorieuses are over, and have been for a very long time, something like the mid 1970’s.

Something most of us are noticing is an increase of security and surveillance in public life, and as much comes in with “socialist” governments like those of François Hollande, Tony Blair and Obama in America. The police in most western countries is being given powers it usually only gets in an authoritarian regime. What we seem to be getting is not a regression from progress, but rather progress itself to a new period of history. The general movement is the curtailing of freedom and increased control. It also describes the concentration of wealth for the rich and increased debt and poverty for increasing numbers of disadvantaged people.

The real issue seems to be climate change due to human industry and cosmic cycles. There are fewer resources for increasing numbers of people. Such is the basis of an ideology of Nazism. What do you do to reduce the number of people in this world who compete against our way of life? You kill them. It is the solution that no one dares to express since the Nuremberg Trials. The totalitarianism of the future is a response to an emergency. In emergencies, people have to be managed and controlled. Whether the label is right-wing or left-wing the direction everything is going is the same. That is why the UK run by Labour and Corbyn would leave the average person no better off than under the Tories and their billionaires.

The real issue is our dependence on technology and industry, myself just as much as anyone else. With the exploitation of coal and oil came massive deforestation and desertification. Up went the exponential increase in carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. One lot of scientific data seems to contradict another! Follow the money and the ulterior motives… There is a lot of hype, but we seem still be be in big environmental trouble with the potential of leading to Byron’s Darkness.

The coming repression goes hand in hand with our environmental crisis. Alternatives to fossil fuels lack efficiency and all that is in the interest of the richest billionaires. The alternative to solving the environment crisis, unfortunately, is genocide! Many methods are possible to avoid humans being blamed: war, famine, drought, flooding, disease, anything. For the time being, total control is enough. In China, there is the “social credit” system. If you conform, you get the perks of being allowed to travel and having somewhere nice to live. Otherwise, you get banned from just about everything. This system manages the availability of resources. I could see it easily coming to the UK, America and Europe.

Macron here in France was responding to the same crisis through trying to introduce a fuel tax to discourage us from driving, even if there is no alternative way to commute to work. Fuel shortages and prices determined by offer and demand are only the tip of the tentacle. Had the Gilet Jaune protest continued, it would have ended up with people being shot dead by the police. The same mechanism of control becomes necessary for any political government. I imagine that Trump’s wall isn’t for the small groups of South Americans trying to get into the USA illegally – but the millions in the future when the nasty stuff really hits the fan. What happens in a “post-apocalyptic” scenario when we live somewhere with a garden where we can grow a little food. When the starving people from the nearby city see what I’ve got and they haven’t, what do they do? They’ll shoot me and steal my food, or I can defend myself. I know this is the very argument of the gun lobby in America, but there is some truth in it – even though I have have never owned a gun (though I have learned to handle a Lee Enfield .303 rifle and a Browning 9mm).

Please remember that I am not promoting fascism or analogical ideologies. I am rather seeking to analyse reality and try to understand something. We need to read authors like Thomas Mann and all those who lived through fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s and 40’s. There is the issue of nobility or otherwise of the soul, morals, ethics, principles, values – but also the realisation that something has to be done about the environmental crisis. As things are, totalitarianism is viewed as the inevitable future, progress towards “making America (or name another country) great”. Bring in enough jingoism and visions of the Allied victory in 1945, and people will follow anything.

As things appear presently, nationalist authoritarianism seems to be the inevitable future, the way to utopia and what cynics in England call the “Uplands of Blue Unicorns”, a fairy-tale scenario where everyone will live happily for evermore. Fascism is the inevitable future of civilisation built on capitalist exploitation of people and the earth, the “end of history” and the final point of “progress” for industrial society.

The solution is what most of us cannot contemplate. We will give up technology and return to the early to mid eighteenth century. We will die of small infections (and big ones like TB) and will not have the medicine we now take for granted. We will get used to high proportions of child mortality. We will go off grid. Some people have managed it and are very happy. The only way you would read anything written by me would be by buying a book printed on an old-fashioned letterset press. There would be better authors to me by far to merit the attention of a publisher and printer. We can dig our toilets into the earth and dig our own wells. We can hunt and gather, or run a small farm to feed ourselves and our families. No more holidays away from home! No more boat unless I am living near a fishing port and am going fishing! Could we make such sacrifices?

Even if we did that, we would be victims of official regulation and being ravaged by the “have-nots” still depending on social security and the vanishing welfare state. Perhaps such a scenario might come about like in the post-apocalyptic and science fiction films like Mad Max, Matrix and others featuring glass dome cities with the outcasts living in a desolate blackened world. There are other futures possible, because our forefathers lived without oil and coal, without industrial destruction of the forests and the environment. Mankind once lived without international finance and debt. Such a future would only be possible for the most resilient and adaptable, those who can learn new skills and going back to the old ways. Perhaps this would be the true Benedict Option!

Maybe it’s possible… Otherwise, it’s Goodnight as the world moves once again into darkness and evil.

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Muscular Christianity

This is one of my favourite Don Camillo films. In this except, Peppone goes to confession, for the first time since 1918. He has little to confess, and Don Camillo gives him Absolution. Afterwards, he says to himself “I’m going to pulverise him!” Jesus answers, “No question of it. Your hands are made to bless”. Don Camillo replies, “My hands are made to bless. But my feet?” Jesus remains silent and Don Camillo gives Peppone a good kick up the backside. Peppone reacts as if to start a fight, but calms down and says “Now we’re even”.

I doubt this kind of clerical manliness was considered in the article The case for muscular Christianity written in The Portal, which is the periodical of the British Ordinariate. The succinct definition is given: “Muscular Christianity can be characterised as seeking to promote beliefs in patriotic duty, self-sacrifice, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism.” In other words – little short of fascism. These qualities, when exaggerated, become the “virtues” of our new political establishment in the UK. No names mentioned… I do believe in my country, for as long as its cause is noble and just. I have already in my life taken risks to rescue persons from danger of death. However, I am not interested in cultivating the image of the Alpha male in myself, nor am I interested in team sports.

The so-called muscular Christian movement might seem to have been influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s If… and British imperialism.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

It particularly developed in the USA. I personally experienced the mentality at my alma mater, St Peter’s School in York, which has become an educational miracle in recent years with enlightened ideas and headmasters. Dr Arnold’s reforming work at Rugby in the nineteenth century was a milestone in humanism and Christian education.

This muscular Christianity was a “belief, which first appeared in British private schools, that competition in games helps instil desirable traits of character and thus qualifies as a legitimate educational activity”.

In its extreme form, the ideology encourages competition, social Darwinism and eugenics. I imagine nothing more opposed to the teachings of the Christian Gospel than this.

This is not the first time I have reflected on this theme. Should all parish priests be as tough and pugnacious as Don Camillo? Perhaps in some parishes. Everyone is called at the most unexpected time to defend himself against an enemy or stand up for what he believes to be right. Anyone can be violent if provoked enough. South America is notorious for priests being killed by Communist partisans or drug cartels. In some parts of the world, nowadays, Don Camillo wouldn’t last two minutes! We now celebrate the third anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel at the hands of Jihadist thugs in France.

I have known some very courageous priests who stood up to their bishops over the liturgical changes and the abolition of the old missal in the 1970’s. I knew one, Fr Jacques Pecha, parish priest of Bouloire in the Diocese of Le Mans. Determined as he was, he was not the stereotype of the English public school rugby player calling for his fag to warm his toilet seat! He was human, humane and sensitive to things like beauty and love. Perhaps those qualities make more of a man than competition, aggressiveness and domination.

My circumstances in life have precluded my being involved in pastoral ministry. My life is identical to that of any layman, except for what I do in my chapel and at this computer keyboard – and when I am with my Bishop and brother priests in England. I do so hate masculine stereotypes like my wife hates feminine ones in some other women. We are men and women according to the way our bodies are made – with tits and a vagina, or a cock and a pair of balls! I have no sympathy for transsexualism and people who get operations and hormone treatment to look like the opposite sex. However, I have nothing against a man who desires to experience something of a woman’s life, the gentle and intuitive approach instead of materialist rationalism. Some men are not made to be dominant, have less body hair, have smooth skin, do not become bald – yet recognise themselves as men with responsibilities to themselves and their loved ones. Is such a man less worthy in the sight of God? As St Paul taught, there are many vocations and many talents in the Lord’s Vineyard. Perhaps if we were less concerned with these gender stereotypes, there would be less of a problem of some people being unable to come to terms with themselves the way they are.

By all means, let us love our countries, be courageous, be prepared to be hurt for what is right, give the best of ourselves. But we are also called to empathy and compassion for the weak and the poor. If that part of the Christian Gospel is airbrushed out, then I see no point in Christianity except as a political aid to control of the population. Bonhöffer gave his life against the assimilation of Christianity by Nazism and “cheap grace” – nothing more manly than to face the gallows!

I am convinced that we are gradually moving towards a new type of fascism with nothing of the trappings of Mussolini or Hitler. The accidents change but the substance remains the same. I have written enough about this sickening subject, but one we face in the coming years. I am just as sickened by the left-wing equivalent and opposite extreme formed by “mass-thinking” and bandwagons.

This kind of labelling and worship of the stereotype male does nothing to foster the nobility of spirit that comes from the teachings of Christ and the most profound philosophers, scientists and artists.

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A l’identique…

I have just found this excellent news for those of us who feared that the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was to be rebuilt in a modern style. It’s official: the new Notre Dame will look like the old Notre Dame.

Many problems remain like the effect of the present hot weather on the vaults and who they will get to do the job to what budget. It won’t be simple. But the principle is announced – à l’identique.

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The Science Delusion

I have always been fascinated by the sciences, coming as I do from a scientific and rational family background. My scientific education at school was entirely based on Newton’s laws and the mechanistic notion of the universe and life as we know it. Atheism and materialism have been around since about the seventeenth century (Descartes and Newton, for example), and we are all brainwashed in its “dogmatic” belief system as it developed under the influence of ideologies. The current controversy over climate change (the hypothesis of its having been caused by humans filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and methane, as opposed to cosmic and solar cycles) is based on what we learn from the media, said to be scientific, but which shows itself as an irrational ideology with many of the characteristics of a cult. Though I believe that we should be ecological and respect nature, I find that the notion bandied around by groups like Extinction Rebellion that the planet will become uninhabitable by 2050 resembles the apocalyptic rantings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults.

It is very difficult for us to break out of this system of thought except by accepting the teaching of a religious belief system or the rantings of a cult. When that belief system loses credibility through its internal incoherence, we fall back onto materialism and the mechanistic view of everything. Dr Richard Dawkins is one of the chief “evangelists” of atheism, and he refers to God as a delusion and consciousness in terms of bio-chemistry and unconscious matter in the brain.

Dr Rupert Sheldrake advances the idea that science cannot be based on a belief system, but on hypotheses which prove themselves or not through experiments and other methods for obtaining certain knowledge. He has written The Science Delusion. Dr Sheldrake has given a talk to introduce his book:

I have bought the book, and it is also on my reading list. I have already mentioned Idealist and Romantic notions of truth and Foundationalism. Minds like Novalis were struggling with the triumphalistic materialism of the Enlightenment for the sake of human consciousness beyond pure intellectualism. We need to study a whole notion of knowledge and truth to discover the primacy of consciousness and energy over matter. If this is acquired, we find a whole new idea of God as the universal consciousness which subsists in each human being, other species of animals and everything around us like the sea and the land of this planet.

If anything, we need a whole new Enlightenment and a new approach to science. Since the seventeenth century, we have had to deal with a dualism between disembodied consciousness and unconscious matter. This world view has found its way into Christian theology with the distinction between naturalism and supernaturalism. We need a new basis on which consciousness in everything becomes a possibility to be discovered.

What people will do with such knowledge is up to them. Some will seek out some formal or ritualistic form of religion. Others will seek an approach of “religionless Christianity” like that proposed by Bonhöffer to make a vital distinction between the Christian way and the corrupt institutional churches that became tools of political ideologies like under the Hitler regime – and which could happen again, and which has happened in differing degrees. Others will learn to experience consciousness and enter into communion with the All. Those of us who belong to churches need a new openness of mind to take on a new approach to science and philosophy. It will give us a whole new approach to symbolism, liturgy, prayer and meditation.

I see a lot of hope in this progress of science and philosophy in our own time, a more rational approach to what we are discovering, a new sense of wonder.

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Umberto Eco and “Ur-Fascism”

Following on from my little article on René Guénon, one first observation is to see the almost constant connection between “traditionalist” thinkers and the “far-right”. Already in Guénon (via Jean Hani), I noticed the theme of the Papacy and the Two Swords, the hypertrophy of authority.

I found this quote from Umbert Eco, the Italian author of The Name of the Rose:

One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.

We are on dangerous ground. I traced the quote and found it in Five Moral Pieces. I have bought the Kindle edition, and will be reading it during the holidays. I need some context for this extraordinarily sweeping amalgamation of all currents of esoteric thinking. Above all, the Nazis persecuted the esoteric groups of which they disapproved. I have a considerable amount of esteem for the late Italian philosopher and author – for his common sense and criticism of mindless conspiracy theorising. It only takes a reading of Foucault’s Pendulum or the Prague Cemetery to understand his sceptical thought. A theme of Romanticism is of such appeal to me – that the Enlightenment, science and tolerance were good things, but needed the human element as the French Revolution became intolerant, violent and murderous.

In the Ur-Fascism chapter of the Five Moral Pieces, Eco is emphatic about Nazism having been anti-Christian and neo-pagan. He comments on Fascism’s lack of an ideology, of philosophy, its being a barrage of rhetoric – nothing more. Mussolini was an atheist and merely negotiated with the Church for convenience and pragmatic considerations. Nazism and Fascism built themselves on ideas that would make them appealing to their supporters. There have been many books written on the occult roots of Hitler’s ideology and his obsession with things like the Holy Grail (as he understood it). The Indiana Jones series of films shows this aspect in a theatrical way. Fascism in all its forms (outside Italy) was extremely versatile in its trappings.

Eco draws up a list of characteristics of what he called “ur-fascism”, of which the first is what I quoted above. Not all twelve characteristics are required for a political system to be “fascist”. Two names I brought up yesterday. Guénon kept out of politics for his entire life, effectively disappearing during the occupation of France from 1940 until 1944. Julius Evola was not an official member of Mussolini’s party, but his ideology was definitely fascist. When he found the Church too impotent, he would seek the State’s authority rather than rely on himself and others who valued their freedom.

Traditionalism comes in many different guises. Nowadays, we think of forms of Catholicism that have reacted from the modernisation of the liturgy and alignment with left-wing politics, Archbishop Lefebvre’s movement and those parts of that same movement that Pope John Paul II allowed back into the mainstream Church. In the early nineteenth century, traditionalism in its extreme form represented a reaction against Enlightenment rationalism. Thinkers of that tendency, which merged with the Romantic movement especially in France, saw the notion of a “primitive revelation” received by humanity at the dawn of history, long before the development of Judaism and the other world religions. The development of religions was in a way a break-up of this primordial tradition, and traditionalists felt called to restore this unity of revelation through syncretism – taking a bit of one religion and combining it with a piece of another. Bring out a synoptic of all these bits and pieces and you find the original truth. This process is mainly through the initiatic work of mystery schools. There is an appealing element of truth there, but we have to be careful. Dom Odo Casel, with his Kultmysterium, followed many of these traits, only to be bitterly opposed by the Jesuits.

The problem is found when we are told that this initial revelation, like God himself, is immutable. There is no progress or evolution or development. There is no advancement of learning. Eco put these words in the mouth of the sinister abbey librarian of the Name of the Rose! The trend of the late nineteenth century became New Age, and everything is mixed willy-nilly in the melting pot.

Reading Eco, I am unsure of the connection between traditionalism and fascism, except that the latter found the former useful to attract its adepts into the “cult”.

The second point is given:

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both the Fascists and the Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject technology as the negation of traditional spiritual values. Nevertheless, although Nazism was proud of its industrial successes, its praise of modernity was only the superficial aspect of an ideology based on “blood and soil” (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a condemnation of the capitalistic way of life, but mainly concerned a rejection of the spirit of 1789 (or of 1776, obviously). The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason were seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

I don’t like all of this, because Eco seems to go along with the nec plus ultra of market capitalism based on competition, the American ideology. Perhaps I am being too hard, because I have a lot to learn about this fellow from his writings. What is modernism? Many readers of this blog would point at Loisy, Tyrrell and the condemnation by Pius X. I would not see it so narrowly. Modernism seems rather to represent the idea of an inevitable straight historical line of progress with which religion must conform to keep its credibility. Guénon, like the orientals, saw history as cyclic. There is both evolution and devolution! Tyrrell was not really a modernist, but rather a Romantic who saw the need to re-humanise and / or re-spiritualise science and technology. Rome saw no need to make any distinctions! I find Romanticism appealing because it seeks to reconcile modern reason with traditional faith and spiritual experience.

Capitalism has also become a tool of tyranny in the hands of the billionaire elite now buying the world – and also of some attractive ideas in the early twentieth century about medieval corporations and “distributism”. I was intensely disappointed to see these beautiful and noble ideas monopolised by “far right-wing” people like International Third Position. The “dead rats” keep coming back again and again. Every way  l look for beauty and nobility, the “dead rats” got there first. They took something of appeal and made of it a caricature, a kitsch, something with its meaning hollowed out. That is what happened to New Age!

It seems best to live one’s life in obscurity, giving as few words or other symbols to what we hold dear for the good of the human soul. This is why mystery schools, including early Christianity under the disciplina arcani, kept everything secret and defensive in the face of persecution, hatred and stupidity. Jesus himself exhorted his disciples:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

What can I conclude? Not very much, except the age-old pearl of wisdom In medio stat virtus – strength is found in moderation. We are not going to be materialists simply because evil men used noble themes and philosophies to appeal to the masses. Those evil men were only interested in power, money and everything else they lusted after. They had (and have) no ideology or ideal. They will mix and match to sell their product. Alongside the political dangers, syncretism is dangerous. However, aspects of other religions can help and inspire us as Christians according to our own traditions and spiritual aspirations. Dom Bede Griffiths was perhaps an example of the living of the Christian message through Hindu culture. I read Umberto Eco as a challenge to certitude about which we should be less certain.

We have to keep our minds open and ready to change if we find ourselves mistaken. Let us open our souls to love, beauty and truth. We have to be transparent and beautiful – but wise to the evil that would turn our very beauty into death.

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René Guénon and Politics

We will shortly be going to our little caravan near the sea on the north-east of the Cotentin, near the great lighthouse of Gatteville. Holidays are a time for relaxing and going out in the boat a little more often, exploring new bays and beaches, little fishing ports and everything from a different perspective. I will spend much less time with Facebook and news sites with all the stuff on Boris Johnson and his friends governing the UK – and more time for prayer and reading real books. My ambition now is to emphasise the Christian Mystery as lived through the symbolism of the liturgy and sacred places. I seek a light that is not usually seen in this earthly life. This has become my way to renew my Christian faith and sense of love and unity.

Many years ago, there was an extraordinary man in France who has not been forgotten since his death – René Guénon (1886 – 1951). He is not an easy character for Christians, since he converted to the mystical Sufi form of Islam shortly before the end of his life. Throughout his life, Guénon studied and wrote about the traditional and mystical elements of many of the world religions like mystical Islam and Hinduism. For him, as for me, symbolism is of the utmost importance. Christianity was never meant to be simply a religion of the written word – “What does the Bible say?” but appeals to the whole being through all the senses and the imagination. As he got older, Guénon became increasingly radical in his criticisms of phenomena like theosophy and existing mystery schools. He condemned the Martinists of Gérard Encausse (Papus) for not being “legitimate”. What was legitimacy in his eyes? His two most well-known books are The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times and La Crise du Monde Moderne. Jacques Maritain was highly critical of Guénon’s work, largely due to their openness to Gnoticism, which he regarded – like most Catholics – as heretical. Guénon’s output was phenomenal, and only a small amount has been translated from French.

Guénon is a favourite with many authors who are interested in mysticism, “integral” traditionalism and esoteric Christianity. I have found that he is good “in small doses”. I remember a man who lived in Paris called Jean Phaure. He wrote books and continued much of the thought of Guénon, though he remained a Christian. There are still a few French thinkers who follow that world view, notably the university professor Jean Hani who has written a number of books on sacred symbolism. In Hani’s book, Mythes, rites et symboles. Les Chemins de l’invisible, He has a large section dedicated to the memory of Guénon. In particular, I was impressed on reading pages 127 to 135 – René Guénon et la Politique. Certainly these thoughts will help me to move from the present mess in England to a higher view of man’s social life.

To an extent, I will resume some of the material in these pages, whilst adding a reflection or two or my own. Why would Guénon the philosopher bother with politics? Simply, we can say at this stage is that we are looking at another meaning of the word politics. For Guénon, it is not the struggle of parties of the left and right, but an upwards elevation of human life in a way of wisdom. We do well to begin with the teachings of Plato, Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas, but Guénon felt the need to go further and deeper. Many of Guénon’s works are a pitiless criticism of the “modern world”, what Bernanos said was designed to impede contemplation and the true purpose of existence. Guénon became radically disillusioned with the nationalist ideas of men like Charles Maurras (Action Française) and integralist Catholicism. He was always critical of movements against legitimacy and authority, which I find as something to be carefully watched.

The traditional idea of society is the two swords of the middle ages, a metaphysical foundation that explains nature. We have the doctrine of cosmological cycles and the social idea of castes. The metaphysical principle is at the origin of any traditional society. The spiritual has primacy over the temporal. The human and the individual is secondary to the divine and the universal. The spiritual and the divine confer the authority needed to govern the temporal. This was the foundation of the authority of the Pope over temporal monarchs. There we have the two powers, exploited to the full by men like Boniface VIII who would use his spiritual power to emulate the temporal sphere, leading to tyranny. The theory was attractive, but the application was often cruel, with the Church using the secular arm to constrain and oppress.

The notion of caste, what we would today call race and class is significant. This is something Guénon found in India. The Indian caste system was, and still is to an extent, highly complex. It gave an almost perfect analogy of the ideas of St Thomas Aquinas about social order.

An originality in oriental thought is the cycle. In our western thought, including the Judeo-Christian tradition, history is linear and involves evolution and growth. In the cyclic notion, man is not progressing but rather degenerating. However, this decadence is not linear but goes up and down until we arrive at the last age, Kali-Yuga, the dark age. Hindu teachings and traditions are extremely complex about these questions. As man devolves, we lose spirituality and intellect and pass through humanist philosophy to materialism. We find echoes of this kind of thought in Nikolai Berdyaev. The castes in India are symbols of those ages and cycles. Guénon traced many parallels in western history through the various revolutions and reformations. As western history hit rock bottom, we would find nationalism which essentially continues the tenets of the French Revolution. Beyond the revolution of the bourgeoisie against the kings, we find Bolshevism or Communism at the bottom of the historical cycle. Guénon died too long ago to have seen British and American disaster capitalism as even more snake-belly low!

Next, we find Guénon’s criticism of democracy. We take democracy for granted, but it does not represent man’s highest life. Democracy is founded on equality, and this is something we agonise about today as our sense of Christian compassion reaches out to the poor and weak. It is one thing to care for the weak, another to admit them into government and the social order. Where I really sympathise with Guénon is the notion of the fallacy of the higher being able to emanate from the lower. I have often spoken of my judgement of “groupthink” and the stupidity of collective humanity as opposed to the genius of the person’s nobility of spirit. Universal suffrage is founded on the notion that the opinion of the majority is law and always right. Majority public opinion is formed by effective manipulation by those who are amoral and without principle. Mob law is something very dangerous. Guénon blames the mass without any higher principle for modern warfare and the hecatomb.

The only way to remedy the social order would be by the restoration  of metaphysics, an intellectual elite inspired by such principles and a ruling hierarchy. Ideally, this restoration could only depend on the Catholic Church with its spiritual authority and source of temporal authority. The idea is wonderful, and I think of that illuminating piece of writing of Friedrich von Hardenburg, Die Christenheit oder Europa. Guénon seems here to be supporting the ideology of the integralists and the totalitarianism of the Inquisition! We find this same authoritarianism in the thought of Julius Evola who was very close to Mussolini’s Fascism. The Catholic Church itself has relinquished such an idea, which seems wise in the light of many of the monstrosities documented in history. Evola would have closed down the Church as no longer being fit for purpose – and the traditionalists for lacking legitimate authority. Novalis expressed not an aspiration of a restoration, but an analogy by which man can rise through the imagination and his innate desire (Sehnsucht). Similarly divine authority through the instrumentality of man can only be analogical. Literalism is fatal.

We must go beyond this thirst for mere authority, and ourselves, we need to seek nobility and what the elite of the Philosopher Kings is all about. Guénon finally realised that we cannot wait for that restoration of what will almost certainly never happen. I believe we can begin to restore that elite through education, through the use of technology and media, but also by writing books, establishing schools and sessions of formation and training. We can be part of the elite by rising to it through our work and elevation of mind. There are may things that can help towards restoring the divine Order, like beauty of sacred art, the meaning of liturgical symbolism and tradition, the study of philosophy. What can we do to prevent corruption in the clergy? Many problems remain in the way of the institutional Church’s credibility.

I am far from having all the answers, and I abhor the authoritarianism of the present Right as much as the “deconstructionism” of the Left. Perhaps when our Kali-Yuga is through, there may be something new to bring that vision we so ardently desire. Authority alone is not enough. We have also to have love and desire for beauty, goodness and truth. Finally, I should warn the reader to be discerning when exploring esoteric Christianity because the far-right agenda has exploited Evola, but also Guénon to an extent. We have to keep free and open minded, and above all critical.

I look forward to some comments on this far-from-concluded subject.

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Fr Hart, an American “Thomas Mann”?

In days gone by I had some quite serious differences with Fr Robert Hart, mainly because I defended my former Archbishop (John Hepworth) and what he was trying to do, namely bring the TAC into communion with Rome as a kind of “uniate church” using Anglican liturgical forms. Fr Hart was extremely critical of Archbishop Hepworth and of all who continued to be loyal to him. I believe in loyalty – as long as the person and the cause are just. Finally, what happened happened. The Ordinariates as established by Pope Benedict XVI were based on Forward in Faith bishops who had been in dialogue with Rome since the 1990’s. Some TAC clergy applying to Rome or their local Ordinaries were selected according to normal canonical principles and joined the Ordinariates. It has become a world apart.

Archbishop Hepworth dropped off the edge of the earth, figuratively-speaking. He has been seen recently at the church of St Mary of the Angels in Hollywood and St Agatha’s, Portsmouth. Someone I know said that some think of him as the great pioneer of the Ordinariates and that he was prepared to be some kind of “martyr” by throwing away his priestly vocation. At the same time, he still styles himself as an Anglican archbishop. So, I will let the reader judge for himself.

I joined (or re-joined) the ACC in 2013, and Fr Hart and I are fellow priests in full communion. The cause of the previous difference has ceased, and I have had to recognise that my loyalty went beyond a reasonable point. I believe in a priest’s loyalty to his Bishop, but this relationship is ordered to its finis operis – the good of the Church and the raison d’être of both priest and bishop. Fr Hart is more Prayer Book and 39 Articles than I am. My own sympathies are known, but they are not counter-Reformation Roman Catholic either. Fr Hart suffered from the polemics, as I did. Both he and I have moved on. I admire his assiduity as a parish priest and his plain-speaking sermons. He continues to post these sermons to The Continuum, and also writes his own reflections.

I would like to draw your attention to Kittels and Quislings. As an amateur of C.S. Lewis, Fr Hart loves playing with the English language and showing the need to say what we mean and mean what we say. Fr Hart is an American, and lives in that country where too many Christians would like to take the route of having the State act as a civil arm to enforce the Church’s moral principles.

At this very moment of history we are witnessing something that distinguishes people of conscience from the common herd.

I have the impression of reading Thomas Mann facing the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s or Rob Riemen right now in his books that I have already mentioned in this blog: Nobility of Spirit and To Fight Against this Age. The one unique thing about Christ, as expressed in the Canonical and the Gnostic Gospels, is that compassion for the weak is the true mark of our valour, not the capacity to dominate the weak and make the most money from them. Yes, indeed, I see a photo of a baby born without a brain and somehow is alive, but totally disabled and dependent. A part of me would euthanise the child and a part of me would heed the implicit teachings of Christ and see the child as a human being and whose life is sacred. What about the child’s mother? I am left sad, confused and even angry that such things happen to some people. To write what he has written, Fr Hart is a Christian humanist, and it is a great reassurance to read his reflections.

Now, we English and Americans share the predicament of our new Prime Minister, and their President, both men with messy blond hair – and with similar populist views. I am not going to return to political polemics in this blog, but I will not hide my concern.

If you are overly loyal to a political party or to a candidate eventually you will find yourself arguing to defend injustice and atrocity.

Never was a truer word said. I am as afraid of what populism can become, its potential for developing into a monster. Read Thomas Mann and his heart-rending words in the face of the beast! Riemen describes the way a journalist of Russian origin, Leone Ginzburg, is interrogated and tortured to death by the Gestapo during World War II. The words put in the mouth of the torturer are reminiscent to those of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. The Beast has indeed been with us for a very long time. Just a few quotes:

You are so high-minded where your beloved truth is concerned and, yet you do not countenance authority. Why this absolute need for freedom and democracy? Why? I do not understand that.

What if Columbus or Copernicus had put the discovery of America or the turning of the earth to the vote?’ Well, any comment? And Plato, our divine Plato, was he not prophetic when he predicted that all democracy would end in tyranny? People cannot handle freedom; it makes their lives too difficult. When it comes to this, Dostoyevsky, in his books, merely copied Plato. Didn’t it all come true? Did you see how millions cheered for our great leaders, precisely as the immortal Grand Inquisitor described it? Give the people freedom and it will lead to rampant misconduct. This will be followed by more clamoring for ‘values and norms,’ and the very next leader who is nominally gifted in the art of rhetoric will be idolized again. You yourself have seen it happen. What makes you think things will ever change?

“Why do you despise Fascism? Is your democracy really that much better? Will its leaders be any better than those of our Fascist Utopia? I’m not stupid: we’re going to lose this war. Another year, maybe two, but then this adventure is over. I have no problem with that. Our ideas will remain, people will learn from what we know. Mark my words: ‘democracy will be restored across the globe’ with a great sense of drama. And then what? We are the ones who invented the power of propaganda, of images, and the intoxication that comes from being part of the masses. We are the ones who have understood that people are more interested in appearance than in substance. Do you really think that even one political party could survive if it were able to ignore this truth? Do you really think that a politician who wants no part of this can still be successful? Pretty pictures and rhetoric—that, my friend, is our legacy, and no one will escape it.

“What I truly don’t understand is how you can possibly think that democracy and your culture can coexist. The masses are not interested, because their heads want no questions and their bellies want to be fed. Politicians are not interested, for their power depends on the stupidity of the masses. And the truly powerful, those who have the money, are not interested, because culture costs money. Have you ever been in America? I have—nice people, nice people, but no culture. Believe me, fifty years after the restoration of democracy across the globe, culture will be banned. Commerce and money will reign supreme, and unless something is market oriented, democratic, and efficient, it won’t exist. Your publishing house, your books, and your journal will be the first victims. And there, where books can still be found, they won’t be read. Everything will have to be new, sexy, and appealing. That’s what sells, that’s what people want. Would you please just admit that democracy and culture cannot coexist? It was predictable, it was tried anyway, and it failed. So be it.

The tormenting thing is that the Gestapo torturer with blood on his hands offers a tempting message with which we can sympathise, at least on the surface. That is our attachment to high culture that can only come from an elite. But the price is high, astronomic – human life and the dignity of the person. We have to read the small print at the bottom of the page.

Perhaps Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are not fascists. I could venture to surmise that the Fascists and Nazis had an ideology, but these two men have none – other than money and their personal interests. Powers of the darkness of this world? Then our weapons can only be spiritual, and this is why I have ceased to commit this blog to any political cause. We have to rely on the power of prayer, but we still have minds to analyse and understand the dangers and sophistry of the same old arguments that try to return and seduce us.

Sobrii estote et vigilate: quia adversarius vester diabolus, tamquam leo rugiens, circuit quærens quem devoret: cui resistite fortes in fide.

* * *

Just to add an idea or two since I wrote this little article, we tend to get worked up seeing one side of a dialectic or binary situation. This is how politics works. One thing I have noticed since the 2016 referendum is the absence of discussion of previous burning issues like Islamic terrorism. Has it gone away? What happened to Al Qaida and ISIS? Lone killers driving their vehicles into groups of people? Mass immigration of refugees from war-torn Islamic countries and economic migrants from Africa? The “replacement theory” according to which our European culture would be replaced by an Islamic theocracy?

I see nothing good in national populism and the simplistic ideas blaming single issues for the evils of the world. The opposite tendency is something else we bewail, the various kinds of political correctness we sometimes attribute to cultural Marxism or the Frankfurt School “critical theory”. The truth is that we all find something appealing in both “sides” representing a single authoritarian and collectivist ideology. We seem to be living amidst oscillations of history between the consequences of World War I, the grinding poverty of the Depression, the rise of fascism (in its broadest meaning) in Germany, Italy, Spain and to a lesser extent in France and England, the defeat of totalitarianism and the Trente Glorieuses, the disillusionment of the 1970’s and the Thatcher era, and so forth. It represents the thesis and antithesis theory of Hegel. It represents the movement of history to which we in this present life are subject. We can only fight it within ourselves.

I have the impression, that, if anything, the present absurd situation in England will shake up many certitudes and people who feel entitled. Nothing can be understood literally, since Johnson lies like he breathes. Isn’t that what politicians do, like chickens laying eggs? There is something underneath. For me, the essential message is to be independent from the obnoxious politics of both right and left – and to learn to be free.

I finish by quoting the Epilogue of Rob Riemen’s Nobilty of Spirit:

Epilogue

And what about us? Are we still searching for the nobility of spirit?

Don’t look for it in the world of the media, the world of politics, the world of noise. The spirit was never there. Don’t go to academia. They have expelled the spirit. And the churches? There is a reason they sound hollow. The world of fame? There we would go astray.

In an old European city, the poet, ninety years old and shackled to his bed but with a mind that is still clear, hears that his dearest woman friend has died. Czeslaw Milosz writes:

What did I learn from Jeanne Hersch?

1. That reason is a great gift from God and one should trust in its capacity to know the world.

2. That they were mistaken who undermined confidence in reason by enumerating its determinants: the class struggle, libido, the will to power.

3. That we should be aware of being imprisoned in our perceptions but should not therefore reduce reality to dreams, illusions, produced by mind.

4. That truthfulness is a proof of freedom and falsehood is typical slavery.

5. That the appropriate attitude in the face of existence is reverence, and this is why one should avoid the company of those who debase it through sarcasm and who praise nothingness.

6. That—even if this shall lead to an accusation of arrogance—intellectual life governs itself by the rule of a strict hierarchy.

7. That the addiction of the twentieth-century intellectuals is le baratin—chatter devoid of responsibility.

8. That in the hierarchy of human activities art shall be placed higher than philosophy but that a bad philosophy can corrupt art.

9. That there is objective truth; out of two conflicting statements one is true, the other false, except in the cases when contradiction is legitimate.

10. That independently of the fate of natural religions one should conserve a “philosophical faith,” e.g., the belief in transcendence as an important ingredient of our humanity.

11. That time condemns to oblivion only these works of our hands and minds that do not help—century after century—to build up the great house of civilization.

12. That in our own lives we should not despair because of errors and sins; the past is not closed, it receives meaning from our present actions. (Translated by Adam Zagajcwski)

For us this is a didactic poem, a paean to the nobility of spirit. An eccentric woman. She would never be queen. She was a true philosopher.

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