Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Long-Pegged

“The fact that Sir Simon Jenkins hates the great Russian novelist [Dostoevsky] is also a major reason for thinking that he [the great Russian novelist] has something worth saying.” [1]

It may be added that Sir Simon and his kind are unlikely to look benignly upon a writer who had them pegged long before they were born — a writer who wrote of indulgence born of fear and cowardice: fear of taking responsibility, fear of appearing out of step with the times, fear of appearing authoritarian in opposition to prevailing liberal slogans, fear at last of what is unleashed in a younger generation; and cowardice in the face of it all.

[1] Michael Burleigh, “What can we learn from Dostoevsky about terrorism?”, Standpoint Online, 18th August 2008.

Swinish Envy

The green-eyed epigone has long known to the boon of his encouragement an easy way to imitate the reputed example of his masters: he darkens their names and thus interprets them in a light by which he might appear equal to them.

We seldom admire anything that we have not wished to be able to imitate; we feel no inability to do so without feeling our weakness; we never feel this without its humbling us, and nothing humbles us that we should not strive to abandon it: hence the zeal for worthiness by great souls working up towards the admired man, and the envy by petty ones, who by diminishment draw him down to themselves. [1]

In our own time, envy has attained the image of a virtue. He who makes of a common vice the image of a virtue gains the gratitude of the mass. In that lies power.
.....Little shows the grip of envy and the mania for levelling better than the relief and even glee with which the man of today greets the news that some admired man was guilty of some common vice or foible. Thus, when it was revealed — or rather, re-proclaimed for the purpose of flogging a book — that Franz Kafka had some lusty etchings in his collection, one could hear sighs of relief, and even exclamations of glee:

Finally the literary stylite has fallen from his pedestal . . . we may greet him as our equal — a swine like you and I. [2]

The mass has no higher praise for a man than that he belongs to it. A smear of praise is anointed to a man on account of his faults; he is proclaimed more human because of them — “one of us”. When we see the man of today greet with glee a revealed foible of a superior forebear, we glimpse his perverse need to be reassured in his inferiority.

.....

[1] [“Wir bewundern selten etwas, das wir nicht wünschten nachmachen zu können, wir fühlen nicht, daß wir es nicht können, ohne unsre Schwäche zu fühlen; diese fühlen wir nie, ohne daß es uns demüthigte, und nichts demüthigt uns, was wir nicht abzuwerfen streben sollten: daher bei großen Seelen der Werteifer, bei kleinen der Neid, sich zu dem bewunderten Manne durch Anstrengung hinauf zu arbeiten, bei diesen, ihn durch Verkleinerung zu sich herabzuziehen.”] Friedrich. Schulz, “Zersteuete Gedanken”, nr.17., Deutsche Monatsschrift, 3.Bd., Dezember 1790, pp.383-4, digitalised by Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld.

[2] [“Endlich ist der literarische Säulenheilige vom Sockel gestürzt. . . . wir dürfen ihn als unseresgleichen begrüßen - ein Schwein wie du und ich.”] Ulrich Weinzierl, Pornosammlung von Franz Kafka gefunden”, Die Welt, 6th August 2008.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Fewtril no.256

It is no disadvantage for those who thrill at enmity also to profess a universal brotherhood. There are many men who do not profess any such idea, or who do not do so with the demanded zeal, and who therefore make a most fitting object for hatred.

Fewtril no.255

Neither the rabid ideologue in a description nor the capuchin monkey in a mirror believes it catches a glimpse of itself. Whilst the monkey has to make do with the primitive capacity to recognise a creature that resembles its own kind, the ideologue has the sophistication to imagine a strawman.

Fewtril no.254

One very important component of an ideology’s defence-mechanism is the claim that all thinking stems from an ideology of some sort, and thus the choice is not between ideology and something else, but rather between competing ideologies.

Fewtril no.253

Injustice is always keenly felt, especially when feigned.

Fewtril no.252

The easiest and most common way of setting oneself apart from commonality is to set oneself apart from commonsense.

Fewtril no.251

One can always find some points of agreement with one’s enemies. I, for instance, agree with liberals in believing that liberalism is really not worth defending.

Uses of the Word “Real”

Real people – the vulgar; Real world – where the vulgar live; Real women – fat ones.

Old Abilities

In speaking of the part played by anatomically modern humans in the demise of the Neanderthals, Adam Rutherford is careful not to place modern thinking in a causal role: “to invoke genocide suggests some sort of intentionality and strategic planning for which we simply have no evidence.” He is not so careful in this sentence: “It’s well established that [Neanderthals] ritually buried their dead, made tools and explored from the westernmost tip of Europe, well into Asia.” [1] The geographical spread of Neanderthals is no evidence for exploration, which is for the purpose of discovery. Nevertheless I should think they were capable of curiosity, and of many other attitudes besides, perhaps even of pedantry.


[1] Adam Rutherford, “Long-lost Cousins”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 12th August 2008.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Manx Holiday

I shall be on the Isle of Man for the rest of the week, helping my dear and ancient grandmother in her garden. She doesn't have new-fangled things, so no blogging until next week.

Strange Mirage

There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.” [1]

He who talks of this strange phenomenon needn’t have given much thought to its existence; he requires only short-sightedness and pig-ignorance in the service of progressive whiggery to believe in it, helped by the democratic habit of reaffirming an opinion heard a thousand times. He cannot be accused of having surveyed the prevailing opinions of men in all generations throughout history; even if he could, he would not be bothered to extend his thoughts so far, and besides, he would be bothered thereby to find his claim falsified. Rather he observes in recent generations the opinion expressed that standards are declining, and he perhaps knows of a few examples of such an opinion uttered in the ancient world, wherefrom he comes to the conclusion that it has been the prevailing opinion in every generation of man, and that he should therefore pay it no heed.
.....It simply does not occur to him that standards of many kinds
are declining; and that these standards have been declining for a long time, and that the process has been noticed. If he is himself an enthusiastic part of the decline, he will not see his own presence and that of his fellows as a decline, but rather as a progress; after all, it is his generation and its low standards with which he identifies that are triumphing. Effectively he banishes from thought any consideration of the possibility of decline, and vows not to sit in judgement upon the next generation, which he will allow to decline further.
.....Yet, in dreaming up his strange phenomenon, he was
almost right: in periods of change there have been men of historical consciousness who have had the capacity to express regret for what has already passed, which is in part a recognition of the transitoriness of the world, and who have feared also the loss of whatever they themselves have inherited, urgently seeking to secure its preservation in the next generation. Modernism is the predominance of another kind of man, who is more like a machine-part in a process: a man who says good riddance to all past things, and who tolerates every kind of degradation for the future too. He is the most shallow and complacent creature ever to walk on two legs, and I include pigeons.
.....All those German pessimists were right: the dullness of progressive optimism would one day be such that so few people would be able to recognize their own degraded state, but rather would even congratulate themselves for it.

[1] “Labourpartysuicide”, commenting on Mark Lawson, “That golden age? It never happened, except in the minds of pessimists”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 1st August 2008.



Friday, 1 August 2008

Deep-Rooted Weeds

“As much as legislators and founders of states ought to be honoured and respected among men, as much ought the founders of sects and factions to be detested and hated; because the influence of faction is directly contrary to that of laws. Factions subvert government, render laws impotent, and beget the fiercest animosities among men of the same nation, who ought to give mutual assistance and protection to each other. And what should render the founders of parties more odious is, the difficulty of extirpating these weeds, when once they have taken root in any state. They naturally propagate themselves for many centuries, and seldom end but by the total dissolution of that government, in which they are sown. They are, besides, plants which grow most plentifully in the richest soil; and though absolute governments be not wholly free from them, it must be confessed, that they rise more easily, and propagate themselves faster in free governments, where they always infect the legislature itself, which alone could be able, by the steady application of rewards and punishments, to eradicate them.”

David Hume, “Of Parties in General”, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed., E.F. Miller, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987), I.VIII.2, online at The Library of Economics and Liberty.

A Rotter

The progressive has acquired the propensity to see as extreme the mildest deviations from his extremism. His ideological inheritance has come through generations each of which has taken a step further from the tap-root of sense and temperance, each confidently amplifying initial errors, with no humility before reality as a corrective, such that now, with a thoughtless-instinctive rage, our progressive is inclined to rail against words and things that would have barely raised the eyebrows even of his ideological forebears. The fewer the traces he finds of that which he has characterised as the most hateful and evil thing, the easy opposition to which is the gross flattery he pays to his own goodness, the more he is determined to see it hidden in everything. His self-flattery becomes ever finer, ever more insane, and ever more at odds with what he is: a rotter.

Fewtril no.250

It might not have occurred to the aristocrats of former days to think that their liberalism would lead to a day such as ours when people not only have the right to sneer at aristocrats but are largely of the opinion that it is their liberal duty to do so.