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


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.


“[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 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.

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.

Friday, 24 April 2009

A Terrible Power

“There are fits of forgetfulness or deceit which terrify: you open your ears, you rub your eyes, not knowing whether you are awake or asleep. When the imperturbable individual to whom you owe such assertions descends from the rostrum and takes his seat impassively, you follow him with your gaze, suspended as you are between a kind of astonishment and a sort of admiration; you are unsure whether the man has not received some authority from nature giving him the power to recreate or annihilate the truth.”

François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-tombe, tr. A.S. Kline, Bk.XLII:8:1, published online by A.S. Kline.

A Fitting Symbol

“A better St George’s day message would have been to emphasise that George was either Turkish or Palestinian and that, like Christianity itself, his legend was an immigrant to these shores.” [1]

The expression of the need to emphasise non-Englishness on England’s national day is hardly a notable occurrence, having now become quite a tradition, but here Mr Giles Fraser adds to the festivities a strained and clumsy equivocation on the word “immigrant” which does at least deserve note. It seems that, since we have admitted some legends, ideas, and beliefs as “immigrants” from foreign lands, and we do not object too much to their presence, we ought not to refuse other immigrants of a more bodily kind. In this, Saint George is a fitting symbol: a foreigner who replaced a native — Saint Edmund.

[1] Giles Fraser, “St George the immigrant”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 23rd April 2009.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Uxorial Matter

“The materialist who is convinced that all phenomena arise from electrons and quanta and the like controlled by mathematical formulae, must presumably hold that his wife is a rather elaborate differential equation; but he is probably tactful enough not to obtrude this opinion in domestic life.”

Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), p.341.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sympathy for Little Sadists

“The news that two children aged 10 and 11 have been charged with the attempted murder of two other boys is deeply depressing, . . . but I dread the possibility that children of that age will be forced to undergo a full-blooded public trial as if they were adults”, says Marcel Berlins of The Guardian. [1] “At that age, their brains are not yet fully developed, and one of the elements missing is mature judgment.” Yet it is to be dreaded that, if they remain as they are, if their brains stay as tender as mush, they may well end up becoming judges or journalists.

[1] Marcel Berlins, “I am dreading the possibility that two young children will be forced to undergo a public trial”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 8th April 2009.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Street-Comedy in the UK

“Police intercepted a blue armoured car containing 10 anarchists — known as the Space Hijackers — who had come to the protests to make their feelings felt through the medium of street theatre.”

Sam Jones and Paul Lewis, “G20 protesters gather in City of London for series of demos”,, 1st April 2009.

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.