Saturday, 30 May 2009

On Parliaments

“In Parliaments, Men wrangle in behalf of Liberty, that do as little care for it, as they deserve it.”

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, “Of Parliaments”, A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (London: J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, 1750), p.104.

“[B]ut as Swine are to Gardens and orderly Plantations, so are Tumults to Parliaments, and Plebeian concourses to publique Councels, turning all into disorders and sordid confusions.”

King Charles the First, Eikon Basilike (London: R. Royston, 1648), reproduced as Eikon Basilike, or The King’s Book, ed. E. Almack (London: The De La More Press, 1903), p.12. (Soon after this book was published, doubt was cast on the king’s authorship, mostly notably by John Milton in his Eikonoklastes, and by Bishop John Gauden, who claimed himself as the author, despite eyewitnesses who affirmed it to be the king's work. In the learned view of the editor of the fore-mentioned reproduction, King Charles most probably was the author. David Hume also thought so. See his History of England, Vol.V, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), p.278, as did Christopher Wordsworth, who has written the most thorough account: see his Who Wrote Eikon Basilike? (London: John Murray, 1824).)

Friday, 29 May 2009

Cults

It is true that the word “cult” can be applied maliciously against any small group so as to provoke antipathy towards it; for “cult” now carries sinister connotations, whereby, for instance, one is led to imagine a small group of people, mostly and barely able to think for themselves, dupes of sinister interests, passively led by powerful individuals to believe and act in some ways rather than in others. To most of those who belong to the wider societies of the West, steadfast under the dominion of mass and media, under governmental and business-economical propaganda, all such stand-apart groups with the label of “cults” do seem to be sinister and frightful, enough indeed for every right-thinking man to have no thought but to wish to see them stamped out.

Races

“[T]he whole idea of discrete, concrete races is bunk.” [1] I do not know of anyone who believes that human races in the sense under consideration are discrete biological groups, i.e., species in the sense of exclusive groups of interbreeding organisms which are incapable of producing fertile offspring with organisms of other groups. Certainly, the political-fantasy paradigm of racists — the dreaded Nazis (accompanied as always by sinister and mental-background music, just so you know to hate them) — didn’t believe so. I cannot recall that anyone in the present era has taken human races to be discrete species. [2] I cannot therefore imagine of what use the debunking of the idea would serve, except to insinuate that there is no biological reality to races as intra-specific subgroups, the denial of which is a curious and recent phenomenon — some might say a politically-inspired and -useful delusion — strangely applicable to only one species.

[1] Sarah Ditum, in the commentary to her own “How Churnalists Become Friends to the BNP”, Liberal Conspiracy (weblog), 27th May 2009.
[2] Charles Darwin presents a treatment of the matter in Chapter VIII of The Descent of Man; and Selection in Relation to Sex, Vol. I. (London: John Murray, 1871).

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Empty Bragging

“Opening my newspaper the other day, I saw a short but emphatic leaderette entitled ‘A Relic of Medievalism’. It expressed a profound indignation upon the fact that somewhere or other, in some fairly remote corner of this country, there is a turnpike-gate, with a toll. It insisted that this antiquated tyranny is insupportable, because it is supremely important that our road traffic should go very fast; presumably a little faster than it does. So it described the momentary delay in this place as a relic of medievalism. I fear the future will look at that sentence, somewhat sadly and a little contemptuously, as a very typical relic of modernism. I mean it will be a melancholy relic of the only period in all human history when people were proud of being modern. For though to-day is always to-day and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fell back upon bragging about the mere fact that to-day is not yesterday. I fear that some in the future will explain it by saying that we had precious little else to brag about. For, whatever the medieval faults, they went with one merit. Medieval people never worried about being medieval; and modern people do worry horribly about being modern.”

G.K. Chesterton, “On Turnpikes and Medievalism”, in All I Survey (London: Methuen & Co., 1934), p.11.

Modern Ugliness

“Not long ago the periphery of the city was untouched meadowland, stretches of bucolic peacefulness unlike anything else in Germany. This has been ruined by the depositing of hills of gravel, by the cutting down of the forests, by railroad spurs, and by monstrous industrial plants which the General Staff, with characteristic barbarian inability to understand that some things are irreplaceable, had finally brought here too.” [1]

So wrote Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen about Munich in the nineteen-thirties. Whenever I travel in Europe, I take my cherished pre-nineteen-fourteen Baedeker guide-books. They are works of an old publishing art, bound in red leather, with gold-lettering on the covers, wherein can be found delightful maps, fine descriptions of old streets and buildings, prices for hiring one-horse carriages, and so on. Upon entering a town or city, I am enabled, by book and street-name, by old stone and eccentric regret, to bring a little of the old world back to life, yet not quite enough to dispel the sight of the modern ugliness that has grown up in such a place, and which surrounds the old centre like a besieging army. And when I reflect on what has happened, and what has gone, I feel myself becoming very counter-revolutionary.

[1] Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, 9th September 1937, Diary of a Man in Despair, tr. P. Rubens (London: Duck Editions, 2000) p. 64.

A Fine Little Fellow

Coldly or ruthlessly regarded, it would seem quite odd that a man could grow so fond of a mere rabbit that he would feel deeply saddened by its death, yet I find myself warmly affected in that way; for lately I witnessed the last moments of my wife’s rabbit [1]: how he could barely struggle to his feet, his head hung low in utter despondency; how, as my wife stroked him, he made two or three last, pathetic noises, albeit quite loud, stretching his whole body with each one; and then that he died. I admit that I have been feeling rather upset about it. Now, apart from telling me to pull myself together and act like a man, you may say, in light of all the misery and suffering to which my fellow humans are subject, of the deaths of fathers, mothers, siblings, and children, not to say of the vast and incalculable suffering of all animals, that I am indulging in “sentimentality”, or even guilty of indecency, by holding in mind just a particular rabbit. Well, I might try to tell myself that it is just a rabbit; but it would be to no avail. Compassion is not some finite resource to be parcelled out mechanically, or at least I cannot harden my heart to believe so. Besides, to the world at large, it may have been just another rabbit, but to me, he was rather a fine little fellow. Late of an evening, I would talk to him, and tickle him under the chin, whilst he sat next to the settee upon which I lay. [2] Naturally he never understood a word I said, but I am used to that; yet we had a warm bond, an ineffable understanding. It is not just that his death struck me as senseless — that life, any life, should ebb away in the most pathetic fashion always seems so — but also that, in his capacity as a rabbit, he could have no consoling thoughts for himself. It is that latter which affects me most strongly, especially in consideration of all dumb animals. All of this you may think silly, but I am not at all ashamed to think otherwise. I cannot see how the fact of the vast suffering of the world abnegates all care for one particularly known and seemingly insignificant instance of it. Certainly, to the creature that suffers, it is no little instance, irrespective of whether it is one amongst countless others. Anyway, I find that I shall now have to talk with my wife more, who, I fear, might suffer because of it, but if I can persuade her to sit on the floor next to the settee whilst I tickle her under the chin, then perhaps it won’t be so bad, though it won’t be the same. Vale, o care cunicule!

[1] Part of the reason I prefer not to write about personal matters is that, when I read them back to myself, they appear ridiculous even to me.
[2] Talking to a rabbit is cheaper than talking to a psycho-analyst, and probably more beneficial too.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A Blind Eye

Illegal immigrants gathered openly in Trafalgar Square yesterday to protest against the “injustice” of not being British citizens, and yet for some reason they were not rounded up and put into camps ready for deportation. Still, I suppose the sight of the authorities taking seriously the integrity of the country and its laws might scare the voters away, millions of whom haven’t even arrived yet.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A Common Mistake

“The indignant Monarch for a moment gave way to his natural hastiness of temper—‘Prisoner, Sir! I am not an ordinary Prisoner!’ But if Charles by an instantaneous emotion lost his temper, the Lord President lost his presence of mind or command of language, for when the King said, ‘Show me that jurisdiction where Reason is not to be heard?’ The Serjeant unwittingly replied, ‘Sir! we show it you here, the Commons of England’.”

Isaac Disraeli, Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First, Vol.V (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831), pp.437-8; original emphasis.