Monday 30 March 2009

A Most Extraordinary Fact

“It is a most extraordinary fact that all modern talk about self-determination is applied to everything except the self.”

G.K. Chesterton, “Government and the Rights of Man”, Illustrated London News, 30th July 1921, reproduced online at The American Chesterton Society.

Friday 27 March 2009

Not Three Thousand Leagues

“To the south-east — three thousand leagues —
The Yüan and Hsiang form into a mighty lake.
Above the lake are deep mountain valleys,
And men dwelling whose hearts are without guile.
Gay like children, they swarm to the tops of the trees;
And run to the water to catch bream and trout.
Their pleasures are the same as those of beasts and birds;
They put no restraint either on body or mind.
Far I have wandered throughout the Nine Lands;
Wherever I went such manners had disappeared.
I find myself standing and wondering, perplexed,
Whether Saints and Sages have really done us good.” [1]

I assume that the lake in question is Lake Dongting in the north-east of Hunan Province into which the Yüan and Hsiang (Xiang) flow. I further assume that “league” in this translation does not signify a traditional English league, since three thousand leagues north-west of Hunan Province would be somewhere in the Arctic Sea. Regarding the more important matter of the sentiment let loose in this poem, I know it is one that has often been found lurking not three thousand leagues away from the minds of the civilised.

[1] Yüan Chieh, “Civilisation”, in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, tr. A. Waley (New York: Alfred. A. Knopf, 1919), p.149.

At the Disposition of Fortune

“It seems to me, upon the whole matter, that to save or redeem a nation . . . from perdition, nothing less is necessary than some great, some extraordinary conjuncture of ill fortune, or of good, which may purge, yet so as by fire. Distress from abroad, bankruptcy at home, and other circumstances of like nature and tendency, may beget universal confusion. Out of confusion order may rise: but it may be the order of a wicked tyranny, instead of the order of a just monarchy. Either may happen: and such an alternative, at the disposition of fortune, is sufficient to make a Stoick tremble! We may be saved, indeed, by means of a different kind; but these means will not offer themselves, this way of salvation will not be opened to us, without the concurrence, and the influence, of a Patriot King, the most uncommon of all phaenomena in the physical and moral world.” [1]

One may suspect that “the most uncommon of all phaenomena” has not taken the curious form of a one-eyed Calvinist with a grin as stiff and crooked as his soul.

[1] Lord Bolingbroke, The Idea of a Patriot King (1738), in The Works of the Late Right Honourable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, Vol. IV. (London: J. Johnson, 1809), pp.230-1.

Fewtril no.267

Iconoclasm is for the philistine a sacred idol never to be broken.

A Natural Instinct of Economy

“When we speak of a cube with trimmed corners—a figure which is not a cube—we do so from a natural instinct of economy, which prefers to add to an old familiar conception a correction instead of forming an entirely new one. This is the process of all judgment.” [1]

It is also, if care is not taken, why judgement is apt to go awry, since we are often so impressed with an old familiar conception that we fail fully to appreciate the significance of a new one for which it is meant to bring understanding.

[1] Ernst Mach, “On the Economical Nature of Physical Inquiry”, Popular Scientific Lectures, tr. T.J. McCormack (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1898), pp.201-2.


Any ethos — say, of Confucianism or Stoicism — that teaches the harmony of the mind with the order of nature cannot now but stand as a threat to the mindedness of modern man; for, if any such ethos were accepted in conjunction with what is now taught, namely, that the order of nature is neither divine nor spiritual but rather fundamentally and utterly devoid of anything analogous to mind — no forms or final ends, no qualities or values, and so forth — then any such ethos would be so conjoined as to teach mindlessness. Perhaps in this is the source of much of the modern sickness. Harmony with the order of nature in any of the outgrowths of the mind, whether social, political, aesthetic, philosophical, is not possible under the modern conception: either there is mind at odds with the world, alienated from the grounds of meaning and reason, a cosmic freak perpetually bound to vain and joyless strife, or there is mindlessness. One may fairly suspect that modern man is coming more and more to choose the latter.

Fewtril no.266

There is no war where no-one sees anything of value for which to fight. The peace-mongers would see the world stripped of values, and all men rendered worthless and blind, so as to achieve that end which they value at the expense of all others. It is against them, if nothing else, that war has a holy value once more.

Fewtril no.265

Not even the dregs of humanity are so contemptible as those who look down upon them with condescending indulgence wherewith to stir them up.

An Ounce of Wisdom

“The first and highest rule of all deed and speech, the more necessary to be followed the higher and more numerous our posts, is: an ounce of wisdom is worth more than tons of cleverness. It is the only sure way, though it may not gain so much applause.”

Balthasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, tr. J. Jacobs (London: MacMillan and Co., 1892), §.xcii, p.54.

A Grave Problem

Great Britain has a grave problem. Its highest political offices are not held by black men. How can any self-respecting Briton ever feel proud of his country, let alone rid himself of a pervading sense of disgust, whilst the country remains in white hands? Let us all, therefore, irrespective of race or creed, and for the sake of pride and progress, justice and fairness, give way to black-racial interests. Towards the realisation of our goal, we should mark every step with the slogan: “It’s hardly Barack Obama, but you’ve got to say it’s progress.” [1]

[1] Joseph Harker, “A sign of hope for Commons equality?Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 25th March 2009.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Old Gigontic Confusion

“On two occasions I have been asked, — ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”

Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864), p. 67.

Monday 2 March 2009

The Fallacy of Chronological Snobbery

So named by Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis, this fallacy is a modern favourite, especially amongst self-declared rationalists, who are not just commonly prone to irrationality, but who have, in their doctrinal entailments, an uncanny instinct for irrationalism. The fallacy is as follows:

(1) It is argued that p implies q.
(2) That p implies q was argued long ago when people also believed such absurdities as r, s, and t.
(3) We are modern and up-to-date and thoroughly rational and do not associate with such stupid, primitive, pre-rational, superstitious, iron-age thinking.
(4) We do not deign to suppose that p implies q.
(5) That which we do not deign to suppose to be true is untrue.
(6) p does not imply q.

One may note the group-thought that greatly informs this fallacy. Mere conventionality to the prevailing intellectual climate of the age usurps the place and name of rationality, which is then made sacrosanct, whereupon the fear of appearing irrational — that is to say, of appearing out of step with the age — becomes greater than the initial motivating fear of being irrational. Guided by this conventionality, enticed by a progressive-historicism which sees the future as a bright light, and the past as a dark and terrible place, the fallacy is informed throughout by haughtiness and ignorance. The progressive-historicism of the fallacy often betrays itself in such epithets as “medieval logic”, spoken as though an instance of logical inference could somehow be invalidated and therefore ignored merely through association with a pre-modern source.
.....For near-daily examples, read the weblogs Overcoming Bias and Secular Right, wherein one may also enjoy the spectacle of what Arthur Schopenhauer called the secularised religion of reason, which has, as one may expect, much to do with passion.