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Remove from me then, Lord, the sadness that the love of self might give, but create in me a sadness in conformity with thine

Jung’s Therapeutic Gnosticism

David Bentley Hart:

For the better part of a century, Carl Jung and (later) his estate kept the manuscript of his unfinished Red Book—or Liber Novus, as he originally entitled it—hidden safely away from public scrutiny. Jung’s most ardent admirers, making their hopeful pilgrimages to Zurich, were denied so much as a glimpse into its pages, no matter how plangent their entreaties. For a time, the book was even locked away in a Swiss bank vault. The result, inevitably, was that it became something of a legend among Jungians: a secret visionary tome, written in the master’s own hand, containing the mystic key to all his thought. Jung himself, after all, had once spoken of the book as the “numinous origin” from which all the work of his later years had flowed. Clearly, many came to believe, the family was jealous of its treasure.

In reality, Jung’s son Franz probably kept The Red Book hidden only because he regarded it as an embarrassment, or at least as so eccentric a performance that its release could only harm his father’s already precarious reputation. His refusal to grant the curious access to the text was reportedly marked by a sternly protective peremptoriness. But after Franz’s death in 1996, the Jung estate slowly relented. In 2009, the book at last appeared, in a large, lavish, very expensive English critical edition that included a complete, full-scale, and high-definition photographic reproduction of the original manuscript.

It is, if nothing else, an impressive physical object. The Red Book is an immense illuminated manuscript, which Jung indited on cream vellum in the private scriptorium of his study over a period of about sixteen years, copiously illustrated with elaborate, vivid, and occasionally ghastly painted panels, and bound in red leather. He was a talented amateur calligrapher, as well as a minor painter with a fairly good sense of color and a modest flair for abstract design. His visual imagination was somewhat vulgar, but occasionally striking. There is something almost kaleidoscopic about the final product of his labors, what with its bright colors and constantly shifting images (narrative and pictorial). Chiefly, however, it is meant to have the appearance of a holy book, because that is precisely what it purports to be: a genuinely revealed text, recording visions imparted to Jung during a period of intense psychological and “parapsychological” struggle.

The official story of the book’s genesis is that Jung began receiving revelations in 1913, when he was thirty-eight years old, beginning with three premonitory trances in which he twice saw a great flood inundating Europe and once saw something like rivers of blood glowing on the far horizon. He would have dismissed the episodes as symptoms of mental fatigue had not the onset of war the next year convinced him that they had been genuine auguries of the future. So he undertook to lay open his thoughts to whatever other messages his unconscious mind might care to send him and soon began suffering terrifying and absorbing visions and auditions (and, apparently, the odd paranormal event), which he called his “active imaginings,” but which he sometimes feared might be signs of incipient psychosis.

Some of that may be true. Then again, The Red Book might be no more than a mediocre artist’s abortive attempt at a great work of art, draped in a veil of apocalyptic mystique to hide its deficiencies. Or the truth may lie somewhere in between. It does not matter, really. Whatever stories Jung may have told about the book, the story he tells in its pages is of a perilous odyssey through fantastic interior landscapes—a twilit borderland of the mind, somewhere between dreams and waking, supposedly the haunt of great artists, mystics, and lunatics—where, at the risk of his sanity, our redoubtable hero has gone on a quest to find his lost soul. Along the way, he encounters a succession of allegorical figures who, we are informed, are not merely fictions of his own devising, but real and autonomous powers dwelling in the depths of his psyche.

The most important of these is Jung’s special spirit-guide, Philemon, an ancient magician with a flowing white beard, a kingfisher’s wings, and the horns of a bull. Jung also meets a woman who turns out to be his own soul personified; the hero Siegfried, whom he rather discourteously murders; a bird-girl; a one-eyed tramp dying by the wayside; a jocund rider in red who reveals himself to be the devil (and who helps put Jung in touch with his vegetative side); a heretical Christian anchorite from the Libyan desert; a huge, horned, axe-wielding god named Izdubar (or Gilgamesh) who has been made lame by the “terrible magic” of science and whom Jung reduces to the size of an egg and places in his pocket; the Cabiri (ancient Greek chthonic deities), who are really only subterranean gnomes; the disembodied shade of Christ; and so on. Many of them seem intent on getting Jung to abandon his conventional belief in any real dichotomy between good and evil, and to recognize that God and the devil are just two sides of a single reality; none of them, however, has any great gift for getting to the point.

And, needless to say, Jung has many curious adventures in his inner world. He wanders through forests and mountainous wastes, walks beside radiant seas, skulks in caverns beneath the earth, ambles about inside a volcanic crater, and even visits hell a few times. He encounters two enormous snakes, one white and one black, entwined in battle until the latter leaves off and instead attempts to crush Jung as he is contemplating a cross. Later, clad in green and wearing a hunting horn, Jung stands guard before a tower until the devil arrives and teaches him that it is far better to cavort in the greenwood as a forest sprite than to squander one’s days in somber vigilance. In hell, he devours the liver of a little girl (I do not recall why, exactly). He is briefly confined in a madhouse. He plays Parsifal in Klingsor’s magic garden. On the orders of a gnome, he severs the “knot” of his own brain with a sword. He is dangled between heaven and earth like the Hanged Man of the Tarot. And so on and so on. (And so on.)

I have to admit that I have never been an admirer of Jung’s writings, even on those rare occasions when I have fleetingly spied what looked like a glimmer of insight among their caliginous fogs. The Red Book, however, makes his other works seem quite tolerable by comparison. It is an essentially silly exercise—sub-Nietzschean, sub-Blakean, sub-Swedenborgian—full of the kinds of garish symbolism and pompous antinomianism one expects from more adolescent minds. To anyone seeking fantastic journeys through strange oneiric realms, I would much more readily recommend Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, which are far better written, far better illustrated, and far more profound (Humpty Dumpty’s discourse on the meanings of words puts all of Philemon’s drearily portentous maunderings to shame). The Red Book is fascinating not in itself, but as an extraordinary symptom of a uniquely late-modern spiritual paradox, which I can only call the desire for transcendence without transcendence.

The book’s religious sensibility is thoroughly Gnostic, in a number of ways. It is, for one thing, simply saturated in imagery and concepts drawn from the Gnostic systems of late antiquity, and its narrative form—its incontinent mythopoeia, its rococo excesses, its figural syzygies and archons and aeons (or whatever one might call them)—has all the occult grotesquerie of authentic Gnostic myth. More to the point, its entire spiritual logic is one of “gnosis”: a saving wisdom vouchsafed through an entirely private revelation; a direct communication from a mysterious source that is also one’s own deepest ground, but from which one has become estranged; a truth attained not through the mediation of nature or culture, and certainly not through the moral “law,” but solely in the apocalyptic secrecy of the illuminated soul.

And yet, it is also almost wholly devoid of the special pathos that is the most enchanting, sympathetic, and human aspect of ancient Gnosticism: the desperate longing for escape, for final liberation, for a return to the God beyond. Jung’s scripture is, in the end, a gospel not of salvation, but of therapy—not of deliverance, but of conciliation—and in this sense it truly is a liber novus, a newer new testament, a “sacred” book of a kind that only our age could have produced.

To the Gnostics of old—to indulge in a bit of synoptic generalization—this world is an immense prison guarded by malevolent powers on high, a place of exile where the fallen and forgetful divine spark dwelling deep within the pneumatikos (the “spiritual man”) languishes in ignorance and bondage, passing from life to life in drugged sleep, wrapped in the ethereal garments of the “souls” it acquired in descending through the planetary spheres, and sealed fast within the coarse involucrum of an earthly body. The spiritual experience at the heart of the Gnostic story of salvation was, as Hans Jonas puts it, the “call of the stranger God”: a call heard inwardly that awakens the spirit from its obliviousness to its own nature, and that summons it home again from this hostile universe and back again to the divine pleroma—the “fullness”—from which it departed in a time before time.

Thus the spiritual temper of Gnosticism is, first, a state of profound suspicion—a persistent paranoia with regard to the whole of apparent reality, a growing conviction that one is the victim of unseen but vigilant adversaries who have trapped one in an illusory existence—and then one of cosmic despair, and finally a serenity achieved through final detachment from the world and unshakable certitude in the reality of a spiritual home beyond its darkness. The deepest impulse of the gnostic mind is a desire to discover that which has been intentionally hidden, to find out the secret that explains and overcomes all the disaffections and disappointments of the self, and thereby to obtain release. It is a disposition of the soul to which certain individuals are prone in any age, but one that only under special conditions can become much more than a private inclination.

What the specific conditions were in the late antique world that caused the gnostic tendency to crystallize on so large a scale, in so many distinct sects, with such irrepressibly luxuriant myths and doctrines, is hard to say: perhaps the despondency induced by an ever more cosmopolitan and ever less hospitable imperial civilization, the dissolution of local cultures and cults amid the fluid diversity of changing populations and beliefs, a growing remoteness from the indigenous deities in whose presence more settled peoples were accustomed to dwell, a pervasive sense of religious rootlessness . . . all of these things and more. Whatever the case, there are periods when the human longing for transcendence can find so little to nourish it in this world that it begins to seek for another reality altogether, of which this world is not even a shadow.

On a number of occasions, Jung wrote about the ancient Gnostics in a somewhat more analytic key than The Red Book permitted, and those works provide a wonderfully illuminating picture of the odd ways in which he at once adopted and subverted Gnostic themes in his thought. As far as he was concerned, the Gnostics of old should be understood as his own distant, if naive, precursors: They had, he believed, dimly intuited many of his own “discoveries” regarding the psyche, but had then ineptly translated them into mythic cosmologies and metaphysical fables and so “projected” them outward onto the universe around them. For him, Gnostic myth was really just a poignantly confused way of talking about the universal human tragedy of the ego’s alienation from the unconscious, which each of us enacts in growing out of childhood. The infant dwells in the super-personal unity of the unconscious, so the story goes, wholly unaware of any duality of self and other; but with age comes progressive individuation, which involves the ego’s traumatic emergence from that original state of blissful plenitude into the winnowing drama of personality.

And the same story, says Jung, unfolds itself in the development of human society; cultural phylogeny, so to speak, recapitulates psychological ontogeny. Primitive cultures remain just at the boundary of the infantine state, half dreaming in the tender dawn-light of the nascent ego, effortlessly projecting the contents of the unconscious onto the world in the forms of gods, spirits, ghosts, and demons. The somewhat more mature civilized peoples of the ancient world then transformed those projections into rigid religious systems, thus abandoning the flowing immediacy of dreams for the static day-lit objectivity of doctrines. Modern persons abandon myth and creed alike in favor of the subtler projections of ideological and social prejudice. In each case, though, a tragic internal division persists, and is even hardened over time. All of us have lost touch with that inner world in which our souls were born, and remember it only in the alienated forms of imaginary external forces and principles.

According to Jung, it was the special distinction of the ancient Gnostics in some sense to have understood this: to have recognized that the stories we usually tell about the world are in fact just projections—just fabrications—behind which lies the true tale we have forgotten, the perennial story of that primordial catastrophe that has shattered each of us within. Unfortunately, not having the benefit of Jung’s “scientific” psychology to explain their spiritual distress to them, the Gnostics inevitably fell back upon projections of their own. They imagined the unconscious as a divine pleroma from which the spirit had literally suffered a prehistoric fall. They interpreted the latent but restless presence of the unconscious behind the ego’s elaborate plaster façade as the imprisonment of a divine scintilla in the vast dungeon of the cosmos. They dramatically transcribed their inchoate awareness of inner inhibitions and confusions into a figural language of hostile cosmic archons. They transformed the ego’s denial of its dependency upon the unconscious into the story of the “god” of this world, who proudly denies that there is any God above himself whose creature he is. And they mistook the dreamlike deliverances rising from their own inner depths for the voice of a savior descending from beyond the sphere of the fixed stars.

All understandable errors, Jung thought, but with some singularly unfortunate consequences. In Gnostic thought, the primal human longing to overcome the ego’s alienation from the unconscious was distorted into a yearning for a final escape from spiritual exile and a return to a divine unity transcending world and ego alike. But that, thought Jung, stripped of its mythic garb, is nothing more than a pathetic longing for the ego’s disappearance into its impersonal ground. That would be to trade one tragedy for another. The only true rescue from the human predicament lies not in a retreat from the ego back into the abyss of the unconscious, but in one’s reconciliation with one’s own primordial depths, achieved by raising the unconscious up into consciousness without sacrificing one’s individuality or autonomy. In the end, he concluded, psychic alienation can be conquered only through Jungian psychotherapy. The only true pneumatikos, it turns out, is a psychiatric patient (one whose psychiatrist likes to talk a great deal about archetypes).

I am omitting many details, admittedly, but I doubt it matters. What is truly astonishing about this sort of psychologistic reductionism is its absolute inversion of the spiritual aspirations it is meant to explain. The Red Book manages to preserve the most ungainly aspects of ancient Gnosticism—its boringly rambling symbolic narratives, the pretensions of its spiritual patriciate, its self-absorption and ethical sterility—but none of its genuinely sympathetic religious qualities: the ennobling sorrow, the tragic sense of estrangement from the world, the delightful paranoia. Behind all of that lay not simply some need for personal accommodation, psychological integrity, or mental health, but a true hunger for a transcendent Other with the power to set the soul free from the bleak circumscriptions of the self: a longing not just for the ego’s reconciliation with its own hidden depths, but for a final revolt against everything—height and depth, principalities and powers, the frame of this “present evil order”—that separates the soul from the truth that can waken it from illusion and death.

To tell the truth, I find The Red Book a rather disconcerting document, not simply because it has the feel of an expression of arrested pubescence, lurching clumsily between the morbid and the hilarious in its attempts at profundity, but because I cannot shake the sense that it is somehow a real reflection of the spiritual situation of our times. It seems to me that ours is one of those epochs that is hospitable to a gnostic sensibility. Certainly, the newer religious movements that have flourished most abundantly in the developed world over the last century and a half (including a great deal of American Evangelicalism) have often assumed strikingly gnostic forms; and the smaller sects that keep springing up at the margins (Scientology, for instance) are even more acute manifestations of the same spiritual impulses. Gnostic themes, moreover, have been a persistent and recurrent element in Western literature since the Romantic age—from Blake to Baudelaire, from Hugo to Patrick White, and so on—and all the arts of the modern age, high and low, often express spiritual longing in gnostic terms. (The science fiction film that is really a gnostic allegory, for instance, is in danger of becoming a cliché.) And most of us now are susceptible to the psychologistic assumption that spiritual disaffection is something to be cured by discovering and decoding some forgotten, half-effaced text inscribed somewhere within the self.

I suppose it may all—the suspicion of the apparent world, the turn inward towards hidden foundations and secret depths, the fantasy of escape to an altogether different reality—have something to do with the constant erosion of Christendom over the past few centuries, and with the final collapse of the old social order of the West in the twentieth century’s political and ideological storms, and with all those seas of human blood that overwhelmed the ruins. With the loss of all the seemingly stable institutions and tacit accords that once provided the grammar of belief, it is only to be expected that religious yearning should express itself in ever more individualist, transcendentalist, and psychological forms.

It may also have a great deal to do with that seemingly irreversible alienation from the natural world that defines modernity: dark satanic mills, air conditioners, split atoms, industrial waste, biological weapons, the dissolution of any natural sense of space and time in the fluent instantaneity of modern communications, medicines that actually heal, opiates that genuinely obliterate pain, entertainments that relentlessly cretinize, constant technological change, the mutability of the “transparent society,” the shrill fragmentariness of the “society of the spectacle,” ubiquitous advertising, market fetishism, and so on. The realm of the senses has become ever more remote from us, and ever less meaningful for us.

Moreover, the metaphysical picture of reality that the West has embraced ever more unreflectively since the rise of a mechanistic philosophy of nature is one that forcibly expels the transcendent from the immanent. At one time, it seemed enough simply to open one’s eyes to see the light of the divine reflected in the mirror of creation: The cosmos was everywhere the work of formal and final causes and of a pervasive divine wisdom, an endlessly diverse but harmonious scala naturae rising up from the earth to heaven. The whole universe was a kind of theophany, and all of reality participated in those transcendental perfections that had their infinite consummation in God. Now, however, we have learned, generation after generation, to see nature as only a machine, composed of material forces that are inherently mindless, intrinsically devoid of purpose, and therefore only adventitiously and accidentally directed towards any end, either by chance or by the hand of some demiurgic “Intelligent Designer.” And, with the rise of Darwinism, even this latter hypothesis has come to seem largely otiose. In the context of the mechanistic narrative, the story of evolution appears to concern only a mindless process of violent attrition and fortuitous survival, random force and creative ruin, in which order is the accidental residue of chaos and life the accidental residue of death.

In such a cosmos, nothing of the “here below” shows us the way to the “there above,” and it is hardly surprising that many of us should come to imagine transcendence solely as an absolute absence of God from the world, a beyond ever further beyond, of which we become aware not through the beauty or order of the world, but precisely through our estrangement from the world—through our distrust of its seductive illusoriness, and through an insistently dissonant voice within each of us announcing that this is not our true home.

Yet even so, there remains an essential disparity between that voice as we hear it now and as it was heard by the ancient Gnostics. For them, the inner “call of the stranger God” remained an expression—however tragically muted and distorted—of a perennial and universal spiritual longing: the wonder at the mystery of existence that is the beginning of all philosophy and all worship, the restlessness of the heart that seeks its rest in God, that luminous elation clouded by sorrow that is the source of all admirable cultural achievements and all spiritual and moral heroism. Even at its most despairing, the Gnostic religious sensibility still retained some vital trace of a faith that, in more propitious circumstances, could be turned back towards love of the world and towards a vision of creation as a vessel of transcendent glory. Our spiritual situation may be very different indeed.

Above, I made passing reference to the figure of Izdubar in The Red Book, the god made lame by the dire “magic” of modern science, but I did not mention that, as the story advances, Jung heals Izdubar of his infirmity. He does this by convincing the god to recognize himself as a fantasy, a creature of the imaginary world. This does not mean, Jung assures him, that he is nothing at all, because the realm of the imagination is no less real than the physical world the sciences describe, and may in its own way be far more real. Once Izdubar accepts this, Jung is able to shrink him down to the size of an egg, and then later to give him a new birth as a god whom no modern magic can harm. “Thus my God found salvation,” writes Jung. “He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination.” This is, I think, a rather monstrous story. A kinder and less narcissistic man would have allowed Izdubar the dignity of a god’s death rather than reduce him to a toy to be kept in a cupboard in the unconscious.

The deep human longing for transcendence is ultimately inextinguishable, and can always be stirred and provoked and compelled anew by moments of beauty, love, creative exultation, spiritual ecstasy, and so forth. For the Platonist, it is a longing that can be satisfied only when one sees that the world of ordinary experience is a cave filled with flickering shadows and so learns to seek the true sun of the Good. For the Christian, this is a fallen and wounded world, but also one groaning in expectation of the glory that one day will be revealed in it. For the Gnostic, the world is a prison from which the spirit must flee altogether in order to find the true light of truth. In each case, though, what remains constant is the real hope for an encounter with a divine reality greater than either the self or the world.

Our spiritual disenchantment today may in many ways be far more radical than even that of the Gnostics: We have been taught not only to see the physical order as no more than mindless machinery, but also to believe (or to suspect) that this machinery is all there is. Our metaphysical imagination now makes it seem quite reasonable to conclude that the deep disquiet of the restless heart that longs for God is not in fact a rational appetite that can be sated by any real object, but only a mechanical malfunction in need of correction. Rather than subject ourselves to the torment and disappointment of spiritual aspirations, perhaps we need only seek an adjustment of our gears. Perhaps what we require to be free from illusion is not escape to some higher realm, but only reparation of the psyche, reintegration of the unconscious and the ego, reconciliation with ourselves—in a word, therapy.

That may be, if nothing else, the best palliative for psychological distress that we can produce these days. But if so, there is a cultural cost to be borne. The gnostic expression of spiritual longing is the most extreme and hazardous religious venture of all; it is the final wager that the soul makes, placing the entire universe in the balance in its search for redemption. If it should be subdued by the archons of the age, the only spiritual possibilities left are tragic resignation or banal contentment. Beyond that point, for a culture or an individual, lies only one drearily predictable terminus: the delectable nihilism of Nietzsche’s Last Man, the delirious diversions of consumption and expenditure, the narcotic consolation of not having to think about death until it comes.

This, at least, is the troubling prospect that The Red Book poses to my imagination. It may truly be possible for an essentially gnostic contempt for the world to be inverted into a vacuous contentment with the world’s ultimate triviality. Jung quaintly imagined he was working towards some sort of spiritual renewal for “modern man”; in fact, he was engaged in the manufacture of spiritual soporifics: therapeutic sedatives for a therapeutic age. For us, as could never have been the case in late antiquity, even distinctly gnostic spiritual tendencies are likely to prove to be not so much stirrings of rebellion against materialist orthodoxies as convulsions of dying resistance. The distinctly modern metaphysical picture of reality is one that makes it possible to regard this world as a cave filled only with flickering shadows and yet also to cherish those shadows for their very insubstantiality, and even to be grateful for the shelter that the cave provides against the great emptiness outside, where no Sun of the Good ever shines. With enough therapy and sufficient material comforts, even gnostic despair can become a form of disenchantment without regret, sweetened by a new enchantment with the self in its particularity. Gnosticism reduced to bare narcissism—which, come to think of it, might be an apt definition of late modernity as a whole.

At least, that is how I tend to see the spirits of the age. This is no cause for despair, however. Every historical period has its own presiding powers and principalities on high. Ours, for what it is worth, seem to want to make us happy, even if only in an inert sort of way. Every age passes away in time, moreover, and late modernity is only an epoch. This being so, one should never doubt the uncanny force of what Freud called die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten—“the return of the repressed.” Dominant ideologies wither away, metaphysical myths exhaust their power to hold sway over cultural imaginations, material and spiritual conditions change inexorably and irreversibly. The human longing for God, however, persists from age to age. A particular cultural dispensation may succeed for a time in lulling the soul into a forgetful sleep, but the soul will still continue to hear that timeless call that comes at once from within and from beyond all things, even if for now it seems like only a voice heard in a dream. And, sooner or later, the sleeper will awaken.


But Before I Go

Gagdad Bob:

This guy Benedict — the former Cardinal Ratzinger — was once quite the daring metaphysician and theologian. Clearly he’s had to dial it back since becoming Pope, being that he is now responsible for making things crystal clear to the 99% who don’t have the time, inclination, or capacity to think these things all the way through to the ground and back up again.

But back in the day, he was publishing opinions that just a generation before might have landed him in the soup (despite their intrinsic orthoparadoxy).

Personally I would find this quite frustrating. I just couldn’t do it. Not that anyone has asked me to be Pope. I mean, I put in my application and they said they’d get back to me, but you know how that goes. Turns out they also discriminate against non-Catholics, but let’s just move on.

Besides, blogging is the ideal medium for me, because it allows me to utterly be myself, with no compromises. I can say what I want, when I want, in the way I want, with only Petey as my infallible guide and no readership to get in the way.

I just finished a book of Ratzinger’s called Credo for Today. Its subtitle is What Christians Believe, but I’m pretty sure that this is not what most Christians believe. If they did, then the information here would be superfluous.

I’ll just speak for myself, and say that the cosmology Ratzinger lays out is much closer to the Raccoon metaphysic than it is to the worldview of most Christians of my acquaintance.

He begins with the observation that in the Bible, “the cosmos and man are not two clearly separable quantities, with the cosmos forming the fortuitous scene of human existence, which in itself could be parted from the cosmos and allowed to accomplish itself without a world.”

This may look like a banal consideration, but it goes directly to the philosophical problem of dualism that infects most all science (that is, when it attempts to be more than a method that is rightly predicated on this instrumental dualism).

Ratzinger’s view is obviously in accord with modern physics, which reveals the deep “oneness” and inseparability of all reality. Whitehead was perhaps the first philosopher to understand the metaphysical implications of modern physics. I am reminded of a comment from Science and the Modern World, to the effect that,

“each volume of space, or each lapse of time, includes in its essence aspects of all volumes of space, or all lapses of time,” so “in a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus, every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.”

I am also reminded of a circular comment rolled out by the physicist John Wheeler, that “It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man.”

And this is true in more ways than one, for example, the manner in which the deep mathematical structure of the cosmos is mirrored in the psyche.

Finally, I am reminded of another misleading dualism that affects our ability to “think about thinking.” I’m not going to have time to rehearse the whole argument here, but if you search the blog for the name “Matte Blanco,” you will see that this is a topic we have discussed on numerous occasions in the past.

In particular, I was thinking of the implicit, folk-psychological notion that the mind is something like a “bag full of stuff,” or in other words, a kind of empty space that harbors thoughts and such.

But in reality, the space — the container, or (♀) — cannot be separated from the thoughts — i.e., the contained (♂). Yes, thoughts are from Mars and the thinker is from Venus, and their relationship in many ways determines the quality, depth, and fruitfulness of mental activity.

Being that “all is one,” what we call “history” can only be separated from cosmology in the abstract. The fact is, thanks to modern (post-Einsteinian) physics, we now understand that everythinghas a history, and that everything is situated in the larger cosmodrama, i.e., the whole existentialada.

Here is how Ratzinger describes it:

The cosmos is “not just an outward framework of human history, not a static mold — a kind of container holding all kinds of living creatures that could as well be poured into a different container.”

Rather, “the cosmos is movement… it is not just a case of historyexisting in it,” because “the cosmos is itself history.”

Another critical point: thanks to the tenured boobs of multiculturalism, we now have multiple histories — feminist history, black history, queer history, Chicano history, etc.

But in truth, “there is only one single all-encompassing world history, which for all the ups and downs, all the advances and setbacks that it exhibits, nevertheless has a general direction and goes ‘forward.'”

But this direction can only be seen from a higher perspective, just as a person struggling in the rapids can’t see the mountainous source and oceanic destination of the river.

And if we do manage to float our boat above the currents of time, we see that “spirit is not just some chance by-product of development, of no importance to the whole; on the contrary…, in this movement or process, matter and its evolution form the prehistory of spirit or mind” (Ratzinger).

For any transrational person, this metacosmic march forth — for which reason March 4th is the Oliest and most slackful day of the Raccoon calendar — is undeniable. Nor is it intelligible in the absence of a “point” — an Omega point, if you will.

What — or who — is this point of existence?

First of all, we can all agree that existence either has or doesn’t have a Point. However, this does’t necessarily imply that we could know — or not know — it.

In other words, existence might have a Point we can never know. Conversely, we could mistakenly believe that it has no Point when it actually has one.

But if you have the intuition that it does have a Point, that intuition may ultimately be traced back to God — or let’s just say O to keep everybody honest.

In fact, human reason is powerless to determine whether or not there is a Point, first, because reason can only work with the premises it has been provided from elsewhere, and second, because it cannot adopt a stance from outside the total cosmic system, and render judgment on the totality of which it is only a part.

More generally, people will deploy reason to prove the truth of this or that intuition, the latter of which can emanate from spheres above and below the realm of reason per se.

The latter is called “rationalization,” and is only a caricature of proper reason. The former is called various things, including intellection, infused contemplation, and riding the currents of the slackstream.

This just highlights the fact that we have various sources of information, interior and exterior, subjective and objective, empirical and suprasensible, that we draw upon to toss into the cognitive hopper and come up with the Answer.

Revelation is one such source we may draw upon. In fact, it is the only source that is presupposed to emanate from outside the total cosmic system, and therefore the only information that can truly bear upon our opening question about the Point of existence.

Now, if this point is truly the Point, it won’t just appear at the “end” of the cosmic process. By way of analogy, the point of a novel doesn’t just abruptly appear on the last page, disconnected from everything that has preceded it.

Rather, in hindsight it will be seen that the end was there all along, shaping the narrative and infusing it with drive, coherence, and purpose. Again, there are hints along the way, but only at the end do we acquire the area rug that pulls the whole room together.

Think, for example, of the first generation of Christians who were shocked to discover the abundance of meaning in the “Old Testament” which had eluded them before. In this way, the novel events of those three days in particular had the effect of utterly transforming the past, so to speak.

But this is only an extreme case of what history always does. Since the present is always changing, this changes the meaning of the events leading up to it. One can only understand the meaning of something by allowing its effects to play out.

In the margin of Credo for Today “I” wrote a note to “myself” — or was it the other way around? — that Anthropology + Cosmology = Christology. Colloquially speaking, this is the equation of our cosmic birth (see p. 15 of the Encirclopedia).

This inburst of data is an example of what was stated above about the different sources of information. For what is the ultimate source of this “fact,” if that’s what it is?

Yes, it’s from “me” — with a big assist to the Cardinal — but that just begs the question, because it isn’t anything I thought out ahead of time.

Rather, the reverse: the moment it entered my head — or broke into my sphere of conscious awareness — it was accompanied by the thought that this was something I needed to think about.

These types of thoughts occur all the time, but I only began noticing them when I began paying attention to them. Now they occur so frequently that I must write them down, as in the case of the above. I compare it to seeds falling from the sky. First you have to catch them. But then you need to plant them. Yes, occasionally one will randomly fall into fertile soil and flower on its own, but why waste the bounty?

One question we need to address is whether any musings about the totality of the cosmos are just forms of anthropology dressed up as cosmology. For any discipline short of traditional religion, thismust be the case, because for the secular atheist it is quite impossible for man to know anything outside his own neurology and cognitive categories — including that!

Ratzinger notes that for Christianity, the convergence of person and cosmos, of anthropology and cosmology, is the end of “the world.” The revelation of the unity of the two reveals that this unity has been the goal all along, precisely:

“Cosmos and man, which already belong to each other even though they so often stand opposed to one another, become one through their ‘complexification’ in the larger entity of the love that… goes beyond and encompasses bios.”

That was already more than a mythful, but allow Ratzinger to continue before we add our own commentary:

“Thus it becomes evident here once again how very much end-eschatology and the breakthrough represented by Jesus’ Resurrection are in reality one and the same thing; it becomes clear once again that the New Testament rightly depicts the Resurrection as the eschatological happening.”

In other words: the Resurrection is the unsurpassable end and meaning of existence. It certainly meets the criteria mentioned above, in that it is not something we could ever accomplish on our own, and it is indeed an ingression from outside the total cosmic system, and one that has the effect of transforming the cosmos, in the same way that the passage of time always reveals the purpose of what went before.

Blog Under Revision

From one perspective dis-ease and surgery is never pleasant.

From another, they are the process of something being led out of us so that we can learn something new.

Colossians 1:16:

He created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Whether they are kings or lords, rulers or powers — everything has been created through him and for him.

I’m always learning and from time to time the the caterpillar must turn into a chrysalis in order to turn into a butterfly.

To that end I am going to be revising the contents of this blog which will undergo a change in the future.

Stay tuned.

Schadenfreude is Hard to Resist Sometimes

Moe Lane, Red State:

I would like to offer these words of comfort. When you progressive/liberal/Democratic activists look back on your quest to begin the Wisconsin recall movement, I want you to appreciate the amazing amount of work that you spent on it. You called. You networked. You wrote letters and blog posts. You contributed to opposition groups. You reached out, and found people just like you, and you banded together to fight. You marched, and you stormed the state capital, and you were arrested. And you kept going, and calling, and struggling, and you put your time, your money, and every atom of your being on the line. For some of you, this was your finest moment. You fought for this. You fought so hard for this.

Oddly enough, I didn’t do any of that, but I won anyway. That’s because you suck, and I don’t.

Well, I didn’t say that they were words of comfort for you.


Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Episode 3, The Harmony of the Worlds – the one about Kepler.

More on “Modernity”

Some more food for thought:

Generations since the emergence of the first Homo species: 125,000.

Generations of humans since the emergence of Homo Sapiens: 7500.

Generations of humans since the beginning of civilization: 500.

So only 0.4% of all history of the genus “homo” has been involved in civilization.

That’s about 5 1/2 minutes out of a 24 hour day.

Or, two minutes and 55 seconds after an 8 hour sleep.

Or, to make this more spiritually accurate, after 8 hours of non-stop, repetitive, regular, hypnotic, pre-programmed, trance-state dreaming, two minutes and 55 seconds of sudden, abrupt, startling, lucid, waking-state dreaming.

If you want to know what this feels like, throw a raw egg at a brick wall.

Or watch a baby being born.

Manuel Gottsching – E2-E4

Backwards and Forwards

In the modern era, all ideas aside from making money or achieving utopia are sandblasted and erased from the human brain. This has certain consequences. One such consequence is that everything becomes debased to this sewage-level of thought process. There’s nothing wrong with a sewer system – indeed what would we do without them? Along with the man who invented the root canal I suppose we can thank the man who invented the sewer. Both are “improvements”. But in any case you wouldn’t want to hang out there.

Another consequence, no less real, but I think not so much discussed, is that everything becomes confused. I don’t mean by that, that everything becomes stupid. There are some quite stupid people out there. I have come to have a greater faith in people than I once did. Plus, it’s very hard, once the monkey says that “man is a rational animal” to un-evolve that monkey. The genie is out of the bottle so to speak.

The confusion I’m referring to is the same thing that happens to someone when a flood of new data rushes in – there may be literally no way for the organism to categorize or process that data. Thus words, which have meant certain things, begin to mean new things.

Take, for example, the words “kitsch” and “sentimental”. These days, since the only thing our prefrontal lobes are programmed to do is worship at the altars of Mammon or Marx, those two words tend to become identified, or at least the difference between them becomes unimportant.

But they are vastly different.


Is kitsch. Why? Well let’s leave that aside for the moment. Whereas this:

Is sentiment.

Now sentiment, as far as I’m aware, is a comprehensive thing. It is a mirror, in other words, that reflects not just one person or society or perspective, but all of mankind. There is something, in other words, in that painting that anyone, everywhere will understand. Cannot in fact fail to understand, whether that person is an American or Iraqi, Israeli or Palestinian. The theme, in other words, is universal.

Now just because a theme is universal doesn’t mean its expression is necessarily simple. Consider this one:

The “theme” or “sentiment” of this image is, well, we might say “tyranny”, or “paganism”, etc. But to think we have therefore exhausted the image by explaining it is precisely the mistake made by the modernists. And to say that it is childish and thus no longer politically correct is also to miss the point. The image is too exciting for our modern minds because it is childish and it is childish because it contains in it something from the very depths.

Human beings are simple – but “simplicity” is another one of those words we no longer appreciate. Because the things that are simple are also at the same time the deepest things of all. These things are not opposites. Our modern confusions tend to polarize our thoughts into binaries – black or white, pain or pleasure, etc. As a matter of fact the opposite of pain is not pleasure at all, it is – boredom.

Which is not to say that we must give in to the other modern confusion – which is to confuse the words “depth” and “pain”. There is nothing – nothing – easier and happier than nihilism. Nihilism is the ultimate evil because it is the ultimate apathy and banality. It requires absolutely nothing – nothing that is, other than a visceral reaction, a response from the basal ganglia. If it shocks the monkey, it must be good, or rather – and let us not forget this other sinister word – useful.

Human nature is indeed dark, but not dark alone. It is the admixture of that which affirms, the light, with that which intrigues, the dark.

So art likewise exists between the kitsch and the visceral. It is sentiment.

Now would it be confusing to say that this “sentiment” which I am referring to is precisely the same thing as the “reason” which Aristotle mentioned? “Reason” and “sentiment” of course have gone through a messy divorce since Descartes and after that all the specializations went off to their own rooms and had a big sulk.

Something happened, you see, to us. Something happened that shattered our minds – we now deal with the daily businesses of picking up the pieces. This thing that happened – what was it? What happened to us that made it impossible for us to accept that reason was the friend of sentiment, that they in fact were the same child? Aristotle speaks in his ethics of kalon, excellence, and this is not so far from Christ’s “life in abundance”. If this kalon can be pegged to “reason” then pagan “virtu” becomes much, much closer to Christian “sentiment” on all fronts. And it is this single thing, this single pagan-Christian “virtu” that the modern age has utterly eviscerated. Or has tried.

What was the thing that happened? Well that is a deeper story than you think. We can say the great haunting words: “Great War” or “Hiroshima” or “Auschwitz” or “Gulag” or “Great Leap Forward”. Yes, all those moments are the moment. For the conservative, someone who believes that something has been lost since that moment, something that must be recovered, those moments are the great tragedy, or the culmination of it. What that moment means is that the ball has been dropped, a dead end was reached, we must turn back.

But I have come to believe this is the wrong perspective. Which bring us back to kitsch. Observing again the painting by Jon McNaughton we can say that it also has a “theme”. Indeed, it leaves us in no doubt of what it is. We can even summarize it: “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” Whereas sentiment affirms the human spirit even in the depths of its agony, kitsch tries to dogmatize the confused mind out of its fear. And the mind is only ever confused when it’s afraid. The reason this painting is kitsch is the same reason people died for Hitler – people want desperately to believe they are safe and secure. The painting “One Nation Under God” is a scrambled serving of “Left Behind” mixed in with “Buddy Christ” . It is in some sense the apotheosis of the entire modernist artistic movement. It has completely divorced art from the humanity that creates it. It is no longer even art as icon, it is art as a new form of religious propaganda.

But we are still circling around the wagons here – why was it painted? It was painted because someone, somewhere, thought that they had the first clue what “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth” means and why it was said in the context in which it was said. And they thought they needed to have that clue because? They were afraid. The entire image oozes with it. It reeks of fear. I have never seen a more inhuman, anti-human image than Jon McNaughton’s “One Nation Under God”. There is a reason why great art has never had any serious flirtation with apocalypse. And that is because apocalypse is the domain of angels – who have the answers we don’t. Any attempt by us to scan into that darkness with our flashlights will result only in the kind of hilarious abortions like this one. To unify the Constitution of the United States of America to the figure of Jesus Christ is an attempt not to paint but to paint over an area of human knowledge and experience that is so scant and so limited and so perilous so as to amount almost to – um, artistic – blasphemy. This is a domain, shall we say, where even the most painterly of angels may fear to tread. It is the equivalent of painting a figure of God over Michelangelo’s entire Sistene Chapel with a balloon coming out of His mouth, saying “My name is God, and I approve this message”. The image could not have been conceived of before the age of advertising.

I am no iconoclast. But Mr. McNaughton’s image is anti-iconoclasm on steroids, on drugs, standing up on the backseat of a convertible with its top down, shouting at the top of its lungs doing 80 down the highway, batshit crazy loco. It is the Tea Party equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson hallucinating his brains out at the start of Fear and Loathing, wondering when the bats are going to get him. It is a piece of propaganda beyond the most demented imaginings of Bill Hicks or George Carlin. Come to think of it, seen in this light, his painting is brilliant. If taken as satire, it is perhaps the greatest painting in the history of art.

It goes way, way beyond even this: 

It would be as if, in Ingres’ image, Jesus Christ made a cameo to shake Napoleon’s hand.

Here, then, is the real story. The way it is used today, “modern” refers only to the most recent hundred years or so of the history of a species named “homo”, which is, approximately, 2.3 million years of age. We could, without disturbing our equanimity, instead use the word “modern” to refer to the period beginning in roughly 8,000 B.C., when this species, “homo”, which is, again, approximately 2.3 million years old, began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. Civilization, in other words, is the tiny, almost infinitesimally small moment which we may call “modern”.

Now … described thusly, we can perhaps reframe our “what happened” question a little. “What happened” is not some recent babble of political events which may or may not concern us, or even some tectonic shifting of the poles which happen every once in a while. “What happened” is that the Greek mantra “man is the reasoning animal” repeated through the centuries, suddenly, abruptly, hit the brick wall of consciousness. Or, in other words, to put it more plainly, one day, an animal realized that it woke up. And the “modern” age is merely the latest fluttering of its eyelids in that precise moment.

This mere fact that an animal is now “awake”, if properly understood, would produce shockwaves throughout the species of such magnitude that it would destroy itself. It simply would not know how to deal with this plain and simple fact. And this is why: habit. Species have survived for countless millions of years based on their habits. They are programmed to eat, sleep, reproduce, nurture their young, defend their tribes from predators – all from habit. Millions upon millions of years of habits, programmed again and again and again into the tiny brains of the genus homo. And then, suddenly, between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago – the brain of Homo Sapiens simply explodes in size. And 10,000 years ago this species begins to grow crops and farm animals.

In other words, what has happened is this: a life-form has suddenly accelerated very quickly towards what might be described as an omega point. The essence, nature and energy of this omega point is the very issue of religion and “spirituality”, another word that the vampires have phlebotomized. It is not that the ball has been dropped. There is never any question about the ball being dropped. Evolution never drops the ball. The question is: can we possibly realize what it is to be, to be awake, to relate, and to live as conscious life-forms instead of habitual life-forms?

Some time in the last hundred years the great Eye fluttered awake. And when it sees things, the Eye becomes powerful. That is the whole point of consciousness, the whole point of a child growing up into an adult. In the blinding atomic flash the crowd froze for an instant. Neighbors glanced at each other, unable to believe their eyes. When these shifts happen – look out. Because although the gold falls from the heavens for all men, the greediest and quickest can rush into the gap.

And that is exactly what happened in our “modern” age. The Victorians were the greatest empire in the world. And suddenly, into the midst of this empire, came a new consciousness, a new power. And within decades that empire was dead, the indescribably massive bathtub of blood that was the twentieth century had sloshed over the species. Mammon and Marx ran in to lick up the leftovers. Why? Because the habits of the animal had once again been perturbed.

Which brings us back to art. What I’ve been calling “kitsch” is the botched attempt to enact rules and regulations upon the deep animal ocean that exists inside. And “visceral” art is the attempt to worship something that neither knows nor cares about its acolytes. It writhes and coils, endlessly dark, endlessly dim. I have swum in her depths. Its habits are eternal. Its currents are as deep as the abyss. Its origins are long ago, within the infinity of Big Bangs and the matter of multiverses.

But “sentiment” is something new in the species. It is the same thing as “reason” and “consciousness” and “life in abundance”. It dips its cup into this ocean and looks at it in the light of day. The water is still dark. But now we can see it. It is the home we know we belong to, and is therefore our own awake, animal, human nature. Gagdad Bob, summarizing Sri Aurobindo: it is chronologically later than, but ontologically prior to, matter.

Therefore it’s familiar to us. And that is why all real art has that same familiarity. When we look at it, we are really experiencing deja vu.

You Have Been Lied To by the Gnostic Elite

Fred Ross, Chairman of the Art Renewal Center, June 7, 2001, addressing a crowd of over 700 portrait artists, gallery owners and members of the press at America’s premier institution of art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, at the American Society of Portrait Artists (ASOPA) Conference. Mr Ross was interrupted at least 10 times to thunderous applause or peals of laughter, as he blasted Modernism and its chief icons, Picasso, Mattisse and DeKooning, with some of the most biting, yet truthful satire that has ever been heard in those sanctified halls.

As I talk, the slides you will see are examples of some of the greatest paintings in the entire history of art. Nearly all are from the 19th century, and are by formerly vilified academy masters who were world famous in their own day, then degraded and mocked during most of the 20th century, and are once again being recognized as amongst history’s all time greats: William Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Waterhouse, Frederick Lord Leighton, Ernst Louis Meissonnier, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Frank Dicksee, Jules Joseph Tissot, John William Godward, and others whose names you may or may not know. World-class masterpieces by some of history’s greatest painters … scores of them, by geniuses of the first rank, who were willfully written out of history by ideologues … Modernist historians, themselves undeserving of their titles and credentials.

The art of painting, one of the greatest traditions in all of human history has been under a merciless and relentless assault for the last one hundred years. I’m referring to the accumulated knowledge of over 2500 hundred years, spanning from Ancient Greece to the early Renaissance and through to the extraordinary pinnacles of artistic achievement seen in the High Renaissance, 17th century Dutch, and the great 19th century Academies of Europe and America. These traditions, just when they were at their absolute zenith, at a peak of achievement, seemingly unbeatable and unstoppable, hit the twentieth century at full stride, and then … fell off a cliff, and smashed to pieces on the rocks below. Since World War I the contemporary visual arts as represented in Museum exhibitions, University Art Departments, and journalistic art criticism became little more than juvenile, repetitive exercises at proving to the former adult world that they could do whatever they damn well wanted … sadly devolving ever downwards into a distorted, contrived and contorted notion of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression? Ironically, this so-called “freedom” as embodied in Modernism, rather than a form of “expression” in truth became a form of “suppression” and “oppression.” Modernism as we know it, ultimately became the most oppressive and restrictive system of thought in all of art history.

Every reasonable shred of order and any standards with which it was possible to identify, understand and to create great paintings and sculpture, was degraded … detested … desecrated and eviscerated. The backbone of the painters’ craft, namely drawing, was thrown into the trash along with modeling, perspective, illusion, recognizable objects or elements from the real world, and with it the ability to capture, exhibit, and poetically express subjects and themes about mankind and the human condition and about man’s trials on this speck of stardust called Earth … Earth, hurtling through infinity with all of us along on board, along with everything we know and everything we hold dear.

Reason … philosophy … religion … literature … fantasy … dreams, and all of the feelings, emotions and pathos of our every day lives … all of it was no longer worthy of the painter’s craft. Any hint by the artist at trying to portray such things was branded as banal, maudlin, photographic, illustration, or petty sentimentality.

Our children, going supposedly to the finest universities in the world, being taught by professors with Bachelors or Arts, Masters of Arts, Masters of Fine Arts, Masters of Art Education … even Doctoral degrees, our children instead have been subjected to methodical brain-washing and taught to deny the evidence of their own senses. Taught that Mattisse, Cézanne, and Picasso, along with their followers, were the most brilliant artists in all of history. Why? Because they weren’t telling us lies like the traditional painters, of course. They weren’t trying to make us believe that we were looking at scenes in reality, or at scenes from the imagination, from fantasy or from dreams. They were telling us the truth. They were telling it like it is. They spent their lives and careers on something that was not banal, and not silly, insipid or inane. They in fact provided the world with the most ingenious of all breakthroughs in the history of artistic thought. Even the great scientific achievements of the industrial revolution paled before their brilliant discovery. And what was that discovery for which they have been raised above Bouguereau, exalted over Gérôme, and celebrated beyond Ingres, David, Constable, Fragonard, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough or Poussin? Why in fact were they heralded to the absolute zenith … the tiptop of human achievement … being worthy even of placement shoulder to shoulder on pedestals right beside Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Raphael? What did they do? Why were they glorified practically above all others that ever went before them? Ladies and gentleman, they proved … amazing, incredible, and fantastic as it may seem, they proved that the canvas was flat … flat and very thin … skinny … indeed, not even shallow, lacking any depth or meaning whatsoever.

And the flatter that they proved it to be the greater they were exalted. Cezanne collapsed the landscape, Matisse flattened our homes and our families, and Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning placed it all in a blender and splattered it against the wall. They made even pancakes look fat and chunky by comparison. But this was only part of the breathtaking breakthroughs of modernism … and their offshoots flourished. Abstract expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, minimalism, ColorField, Conceptual, op-art, pop-art and post modernism … and to understand it all … to understand, took very special people indeed, since the mass of humanity was too ignorant and stupid to understand. Like that famous advertisement in the NY Times said so many years ago … Bad art … or Good art? You be the judge, indeed.

Of course, to justify this whole theoretical paradigm, all the artists that painted recognizable scenes with depth and illusion had to be discredited … and discredited they were, with a virulence and vituperation so scathing and merciless that one would think they must have been messengers of the devil himself to deserve such abuse. And to put the final nail in their coffins, all of their art was banished and their names and accomplishments written right out of history. I graduated with a Master’s in art education from Columbia University, and I’d never heard of Bouguereau, much less that he was President of the Academy and head of the Salon … the most celebrated artist of his time who single handedly, using all of his influence as the most respected leader of art world, opened up L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts and the Salons to women artists for the first time in history.

During most of the 20th century, the type of propaganda that has been hurled at academic artists is so insidious that people have been literally trained to discredit, out-of-hand, any work containing well-crafted figures or elements, or any other evidence of technical mastery. All the beauty and subtlety of emotions, — interplay of composition, design and theme, — the interlacing of color, tone and mood, — are never seen. The viewer has been taught that academic painting on a prima facie basis is bad by definition — bad by virtue of its resorting to the use of human figures, themes or stories and objects from the real world.

Prestige suggestion causes them to automatically assume that a work must be great if it’s by any of the “big names” of modern art, so they at once start looking for reasons why it must be proclaimed great. Any failing to find greatness is not considered a failing in the art but in the intelligence and sensibilities of the viewer. Students operating under that kind of intimidating pressure, you can be sure, will find greatness – no matter what they are looking at.

The reverse of this has been trained into them when they view academic paintings. They have been taught that works exhibiting realistic rendering are “bad art” and therefore any good that is seen is not due to qualities inherent in their artistic accomplishments, but are rather due to a lack of intelligence and taste in the viewer. The same intimidating pressure works in reverse to ensure that a work by Bouguereau, Lord Leighton, Burne-Jones, Gérôme, Frederick Hart, or any of the rest of you here, will not be seen as anything other than bad by definition.

No student in a school with this kind of dictatorial brain-washing will ever risk exploring or even listening to opposing views, for fear of being stigmatized from that point on, with some undesirable label and being universally despised … sadly, a very effective deterrent to independent thought. Thus the visual experience of well-drawn representational elements is perceived as a negative, ad hominem, that proves with knee-jerk automaticity the presumed “badness” of the art and its creator.

It is especially ironic that these are the same people who trumpet the virtues and inalienable right to freedom of speech, while they surreptitiously and steadfastly conspire to remove that freedom from those with whom they disagree.

Equally ironic is the charge that academic painting is “uninspired,” a proclamation issued by critics who are unable to see beyond the technical virtuosity for which they condemn it, to see what is being said. This rich visual language is wasted on eyes that will not see. It would be no different than dismissing out-of-hand a piece of music as soon as it was determined that notes, chords and keys were used, or dismissing any work of literature upon noticing words arranged in grammatically correct sentences.

That is not to say that all academic art is great, or above criticism – certainly, it is not. It would be no less fallacious to issue blanket praise to an entire category than to condemn it. Academic painting ranges from brilliantly conceived and deeply inspired, to trite and silly, depending on the subject and the artist.

That being said, I find even the worst of it more meaningful than art based on the ridiculous notion that it is somehow important to prove the canvas is flat, and/or that one needs no skill or technique to be an artist – views generally embraced by those who condemn the entire category of academic art. Their point seems to be to elevate to legitimacy that which has removed all standards and prior defining characteristics of art. In other words, by defining non-art as art, the logical conclusion is that art is non-art.

Modern artists are told that they must create something totally original. Nothing about what they do can ever have been done before in any way shape or form, otherwise they risk being called “derivative”. How utterly absurd.

These critics like to say Bouguereau’s work is really only derivative, harking back to earlier artists. Only in the 20th century has such a thing ever been scorned. To this I have one thing to say:

“What, dear friends, is wrong with being derivitive?”

That’s one of the core beliefs of modernism that must be soundly vanquished by common sense and logical analysis. Nobody can accomplish anything of merit if they are in fact not derivative. Only by mastering the accomplishments of the past and then adding to it can we go still further. Every other field of endeavor recognizes this truth. Without the knowledge of the past we are doomed to everlasting primitivism.

And, as far as holding our works up to the old masters, that’s what we want to have happen. If we are to accomplish things of true merit and excellence, we must germinate and nurture great masters in the next millennium, too. Bouguereau was quite aware that his work would be compared on the altar of past accomplishments, as did his contemporaries. It was precisely because they mastered the techniques of the past, built upon them and then opened them up to an avalanche of new subject matter and Enlightenment ideals, that they accomplished the greatest half-century of painting in art history.

And when we talk about the basic criteria and parameters of the academic tradition that built from the 14th through 19th centuries, Bouguereau, Lord Leighton and Alma-Tadema were second to none.

Could Bach and Beethoven and Mozart have achieved their masterpieces if someone before had not discovered scales and the circle of fifths? Does that mean these musical giants were nothing but derivative too? In fact all great literature exists due to the existence of advanced language. This upside down thought process would make Dosteovsky, Balzac, Chekhov, Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters derivative as well. If you think about it a bit you will see that these are exact analogies. There is nothing any more derivative about these 19th century Traditional-Humanist-Academic masters.

Being derivative is entirely different from copying. Copying itself can have value, but only for the purposes of instruction. Obviously, a copied work is not original art. But modernist ideologues have disingenuously dismissed all realist art as “derivative” as if that were the same as copying.

Additionally, students today are taught that every parameter upon which any standard for quality and excellence can be deduced is improper, because it’s “limiting to freedom of expression.”

There can be no story, for then you have to stay within the “tight boundaries” of the tale.

There can be no illusion, for then you are “chained” by the need to recreate a sense of three dimensions.

There can be no drawing, as that can be “limiting” to objects or people or things taken from the real world.

They want to remove the “shackles” of modeling, perspective, or subject matter of any sort.

There certainly can be no attempt at harmonizing of the above parameters with composition, color and tonality, for that would “restrict” one to making everything work together.

On the contrary, they have been propagandized by modernism into believing that only those works that break boundaries, ignore standards, and show no interest in skill or technique can be truly “original” or “inspired.” In fact originality of methods take precedence over all else. If something has been done before, or is derivative in any way of anything that was done before, it thereby loses value proportionate to those similarities. In such a “Through the looking glass” world, every would-be “artist” is placed in the untenable position of trying to create an entirely new art form in order to be considered relevant. The sheer glaring reality is that nothing could be more imprisoning, binding, restricting, chaining and shackling than the impossible limitations of modernism and post-modernism, that remove from the would-be artist every tool (including training) that could give him or her the ability to create great works of art. The simple truth is that each and every one of us (and I mean nearly every human being), is capable of thinking of something that has never been done before. Does that make it worth doing and the work of genius?

For example:

I could carefully (with enough money) dig up an old bombed out tenement building in the Bronx, and have it transported to a special slab built for it in Central Park. Rope off the structure and aim lights at it at night and give it a title, and with enough pomp and circumstance think of twenty reasons why this is sheer brilliance and genius.

I could boil the entrails of several different animals and then preserve them by imbedding them in clear plastic. I could then hang them from a mobile with similarly preserved body parts of cadavers, and have critics claim that this is the greatest artistic statement about the horrors of war since Guernica.

I could imbed into the walls, ceiling and floors of a small room, pieces of neon lights, parts from broken machines and engines, and broken pieces of structural building materials like bricks, beams and cinder blocks. Then I could glue between everything millions of nails, nuts and bolts, and have clever writers and critics point out how this room (which could be installed at MOMA or the Guggenheim) is the quintessential statement of the effects of the industrial age on human psychology.

Well, those three ideas took all of 3 minutes to think of. MY GOD! This must mean I’m three geniuses rolled into one. Why, at this rate I could come up with more brilliant ideas for Modernism than all of the modernist geniuses put together, if I just would put aside a week or two.

The thing here that really is interesting is not their art at all, but the statement it makes about the nature of our species — that so many seemingly intelligent people have been so easily snookered by the tongue-twisting, convoluted illogic of modernist rhetoric. Clearly for many people it is more important to feel that they are some part of an elitist in-group that is endowed with the special ability to see brilliance where the bulk of humanity sees nothing and is afraid to say so. Since most people aren’t devoted to or educated in fine art, they have successfully intimidated the bulk of humanity into cowering away in silence, feeling foolish for their inability to understand. The average person shrinks away from believing the reality of his or her own senses in the face of seemingly overwhelming numbers of people in this 20th century “establishment” who authoritatively dictate what is great art and what everyone should be seeing.

Modern and Post-modern Art is nihilistic and anti-human. It denigrates humanity along with our hopes, dreams, desires and the real world in which we live. All reference to any of these things is forbidden in the canonistic halls of modernist ideology. We can see that their hallowed halls are a hollow shell, a vacuous, vacant vault that locks their devotees away from life and humanity. It ultimately bores the overwhelming bulk of its would-be audience, who can find nothing with which to relate.

It has been called exciting and cutting-edge, but the sad truth is that it is incredibly humdrum and monotonous. Whether you glue together pieces of plastic or shards of glass, assemble metal scraps or piles of feathers. Whether you dribble little dollops of colors or drag fat uneven slashes of black. Whether you compile a mountain of paper or wrap the Statue of Liberty. The effect is always the same. MEANINGLESS PRIMITIVISM.

Modernism is art about art. It endlessly asks the question, ad nauseum: What is art? What is art? Only those things that expand the boundaries of art are good; all else is bad. It is art about art. Whereas all the great art in history, my friends, is ART ABOUT LIFE.

Of course, this isn’t exactly the first time in history that ideas which were complete shams managed to engulf the belief systems of entire cultures and civilizations. In many of those in the past, the lunacy was enforced by the severest of punishments for anyone who would dare to speak out. At least we live in a time and place where it’s possible to speak against this consummate con that has been perpetrated against the greatest period of artistic development and achievement in the history of Western Civilization and culture over the last 500 years. Three-quarters of the 20th century will go down in art history as a great wasteland of insanity — a nightmarish blip in the long road of the development of human logic and reason and art, from which we are only just starting to awake.

The artists of the 19th century exhibited a deep, abiding respect for humanity and human feelings. A respect for our minds, our spirits and our reason, and a love of beauty, grace and true excellence and accomplishment. Bouguereau, Lord Leighton, Waterhouse, Burne-Jones and the other giants of the 19th C. tried to capture those things that are good and decent in our species. Their accomplishments are the quintessential high point of hundreds of years of human study and development in the art of painting. They are arguably the greatest painters that history has ever produced. Bouguereau especially fits this description. How fitting and sadly obvious that he should be characterized as the chief villain by those who would destroy rather than build — who celebrate chaos rather than order and beauty.

Recently, a contributor to an on-line art forum I subscribe to made the following comments about Picasso:

I love the way Picasso did that woman all shards and angles. I don’t recall the name of the work. But, he painted the woman in her turmoil how she tore herself apart within, and how he saw what her turmoil did to her. He painted the way he saw her, as fragmented as he saw her. She was a beauty on the outside. Yet, he painted the ugly face of her turmoil, and in so doing painted his turmoil as well.

Picasso worked in a turbulent time. I think it’s why some of his works appeared to be reflections in a broken mirror. Shards, impressions all cut up and each with a voice about his subjects and of Spain. His work shows a deeply sensitive artist and was a pivotal point for the Russian avant garde school that said it was okay to feel in paint, to get all the chaos out in paint … I didn’t love him until I studied him …

– Laurie

I thought it fitting to read here my response to her.

Laurie and Goodart subscribers,

I really need to address these ebullient expressions of praise for Picasso a bit more precisely.

Laurie, this is not to fault you at all, but to analyze the description you have made which reflects the gospel that is taught about him in most art history courses. His name and “achievements” have become so “untouchable” within the sacrosanct walls of modernist cathedrals, that to do any other than you have stated here would be like criticizing the cross or the bible in the College of Cardinals.

Let’s look at this one idea at a time.

You said that, “He painted the woman in her turmoil how she tore herself apart within, and how he saw what her turmoil did to her”.

In fact, all that he painted was a messy characterization of a woman in which the forms and shapes don’t align or create any cohesive form. The drawing is virtually non-existent, and the disintegration of all artistic elements are self-consciously laid out for the express purpose of rejecting prior artistic standards.

There is no beauty in her face, or for that matter, ugliness. There isn’t even a face … but elements thrown together with just enough evidence to let the viewer know that it was meant to suggest a face.

Everything about the finished product is utterly awful and would be beneath the capabilities of a talented 12 year old.

Now, what if you are a theorist who needs to justify this hodge-podge of sloppy color and form? What can you creatively think of to place value and meaning, where none exists … especially, if you are being paid to do just that?

It’s simple: you need but approach the work as you would a Rorschach inkblot test, where anyone can use creative ability to make up a story, suggested by little, if any, information. If you want this man’s work to be valued highly, you must create a tale of great importance, with meaning, which, when discussed or analyzed in intellectual circles, will be considered profound and meaningful.

The idea of a lady being ugly on the inside is a concept from literature, psychology, and in fact all of human history. Ugliness, mean-spiritedness, and turmoil are major concepts that tint all of human experience. So you simply say that the messiness represents that, and look how brilliant he is to have captured it.

But in truth he has done nothing of the kind. The writers who said that was what it means were the one who did it, and not the artist. Inner turmoil and ugliness on the inside is far more difficult to capture, and takes intense, subtle handling of story telling, composition, drawing, and realistic rendering to successfully convey so that it can be recognized without any words. Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott and Bouguereau’s Divideuse both capture beautiful women loaded with inner turmoil, and Cabanel’s Cleopatra testing poisons on slaves portrays intense inner ugliness within a beautiful face and figure infinitely better than these broken blotchy messes on canvas by Picasso.

But when the modernist professors say that’s what it means, then implicit in their words is that if you don’t see it too you’re stupid and tasteless. Also to not see it becomes associated with not seeing how wonderful that subject matter would be. And it is after all truly wonderful subject matter. Only one problem; Picasso didn’t paint it.

You say, “his work shows a deeply sensitive artist,” but I don’t conclude any sensitivity whatsoever. What is there is the sensitivity of a bull in a china shop, who stomps around breaking all the beautiful porcelain, and then with an army of critics lined up with their nostrils flaring dares anyone to criticize the dump he just left in the your living room. “Either you love my turds or you are against freedom of expression.” If you don’t want it in your museum, you’re the enemy of freedom of speech. Faced with such intimidation surely many would rather line up in support. But there is truly nothing there. It’s a trick of words and intimidation. An Illusion of social pressure and fearful conformity.

His school, “… said it was okay to feel in paint, to get all the chaos out in paint … I didn’t love him until I studied him.”

Of course you didn’t love him until you studied him. What you learned to love was all the explanations about worthwhile concepts and subjects. And with a training right out of Pavlov, you were taught to salivate when you were shown things that caused associations to those worthwhile ideas.

But Laurie, WHERE’S the BEEF? You’re salivating at a symbol much the way people react to their country’s flag. The flag comes to be seen as beautiful because it represents family, home and hearth, friends, loyalty, and the things we love. You’ve been taught to react to symbols instead of responding with the freedom of independent thought to works of art that are not supposed to be flag-like-symbols of great artistic ideas, but the great works of art themselves, which communicate, through a readily discernable visual language, some aspect of the human condition.

You had to be taught to love Picasso, because nobody would love him otherwise. But people don’t need to be taught to love Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Bouguereau, or for that matter Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, or Tom Sawyer, The Grapes of Wrath, Alice in Wonderland, or The Christmas Carol.

Teaching and information can add to the depth of understanding of great works of art, but they are great initially by their ability to capture the soul and imagination of the viewer, without thousands of words to instruct us on how to deny the evidence of our own senses and to deny our innate sense of truth and reason.

Of course, what tends to happen to people who have allowed themselves to be convinced that the emperor is wearing beautiful clothes, is that they have become “ego invested” due to years of having parroted the same falsehoods … and the associated humiliation that goes with acknowledging that one has been had. The more years, and the more said in support of Modernism, the greater the difficulty in breaking through the gestalts, and taking off the iconic blinders, shedding all the preconceptions and looking again with “innocent eyes” and describing what is really there (at least to yourself), and then comparing it to the maligned academics like Waterhouse, Bouguereau, Lord Leighton, Burne-Jones, Gérôme, and Alma-Tadema, and deciding with freedom of thought and an honest wish to find the truth, which of them indeed are works of art, and which are snake oil salesmen.”

And so I ended that letter.

The change in people’s perceptions about this is happening now very quickly. Even this austere institution, probably the greatest museum in the Western Hemisphere, just a couple of summers ago had a major retrospective of one of these maligned 19th century masters, Edward Coley Burne-Jones. And in their literature on the show declared him one of the three greatest English artists of the last century, along with Constable and Turner. In fact, the Metropolitan Museum deserves great credit for being one of the first great institutions to once again hang their Bouguereaus and Gérômes, Meissonnier and Burne-Jones, on permanent exhibit in the face of scathing criticism from the press back in 1980.

Soon after, Laurie followed this with a good-natured post saying that although she felt that I may have insulted her intelligence, she loved me all the same. To which I responded:

Laurie, It was not my wish to insult your intelligence. The very brightest of people are just as vulnerable. It is in human nature to go along to get along. I certainly did it too when I was in college and grad school in fine art. Even when I was finally willing to speak my mind about Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and Warhol …. Picasso was somehow sacrosanct, and I would pay lip service to his brilliance while the works of the other modernists I allowed myself to see as they were.

It wasn’t until I hit about 40 years old that I started to more fully recognize the power of prestige suggestion and social intimidation in forming opinions.

To truly judge your own feelings and opinion about a work of art, you need to look at it as if it were painted by a complete unknown, perhaps some student in another town, and then ask yourself what your opinion of that work would be then. Would you think is was one of the greatest works in the history of civilization, would it even be great … or good … or mediocre …. or just plain bad?

I know now absolutely that nearly all the works by most of the famous Modernists are truly awful on all fronts. I also know that the best works by Bouguereau and Waterhouse would thrill me to my bones even if they had been painted by complete unknowns. When I saw a Bouguereau for the first time, I had never heard of him, but my response was immediate unambiguous and self-validating. I needed no books or texts or convoluted explanations. The strength of the work was powerful, unique, immediate and overwhelming. It was exactly as I had felt in the presence of Michelangelo’s David. Ah, but when I saw the David I was already predisposed to see what history considered one of humanity’s greatest masterpieces. However, it was that seminal experience at 18 that excited my interest in art. The Bouguereau that I saw, Nymphs and Satyr, was when I was 32 years old, and it’s effect was equally profound, changing the course of my life, ultimately leading me to this podium here today.

Don’t let pride get involved here. Don’t even answer me. Just ask yourselves and answer honestly.

One common claim that you hear repeatedly is that the proof that some abstract expressionists were great artists, can be found in their high quality academic student drawings. My answer to this is that it’s really irrelevant whether or not they could do a decent student drawing. If anything it only makes it sadder that promising young talent was wasted. The quality and value of their “mature” work is not helped a bit by showing that they could draw decently when young.

The best way to prove that is to consider the inverse.

Would Raphael or Bouguereau’s mature work be somehow made the worse if their student drawings from decades earlier had been of poor quality? Their great paintings would still be just as great, and de Kooning’s hideous smears for which he is so famous are still just as awful.

I am quite certain that every artist in this audience paints better than all of the famous modernists and post modernists, and is more deserving of societal attention and praise. Yet still, so-called “major works” of theirs can sell for between 2 and 25,000,000 dollars at auction. The dirty little secret, however, that the modernist establishment and the press has been hiding, is that those same works sold for two to three times those prices back in 1988 and 1989. While the prices of all the icons of modernism peaked at that time, and any money invested then has declined a whopping 50 to 80%, the market for Gérôme, Waterhouse, Bouguereau, Alma-Tadema, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Millais and Lord Leighton, has increased between 2000 and 10,000 percent since 1975. Every year, records are being broken again and again. In 1977, the world record price for a Bouguereau was $17,000. Now, in the past 3 years, the world records for his work first topped a million dollars in 1997, then a million and a half in 1998, two and a half million in 1999, and last May, Charity sold for over $3,500,000. Additionally, last June the world record for any Victorian painting was completely trampled when Saint Cecilia, by John William Waterhouse, sold for just over $10,000,000 in London to Andrew Lloyd Weber.

There are only 826 Bouguereaus and about 465 Tademas in the world. Do you know how many Picassos there are? Can anybody here guess? There are 80,000 of them, and the balance between supply and demand has faltered, and like the dot com stocks of last year they will soon come crashing down along with hundreds of billions of paper profits lost in the dust of history. Like the tulip bulbs in the 17th century, or Tokyo Real estate in the 1980’s, investors will be decimated. If I owned a work by any of those “Abstract artists” I would be racing to cash it in before the fall, and that has been my recommendation to dozens who have asked me.

Many of my friends in and out of ARC have told me that I shouldn’t talk so much about the modernists. One of them recently wrote to me saying, “I really don’t think we help our cause by helping talentless modernists get press coverage.” Another fearfully said, “Don’t criticize the modernists, just focus on what’s good.”

I replied as follows:

When have the modernists ever held back from criticizing traditional and academic art? The problem with this attitude, while I also find it very appealing, is that our not talking about the modernists doesn’t really mean much.

The fact is that they are being talked about with high praise, in nearly every university art department and art history course in the western world … parroting the same things that they were taught. They are also being constantly celebrated and exhibited by the biggest and most prestigious museums and getting rave reviews in the newspapers as often as not.

If somebody doesn’t explain to everybody why they’re not really any good, and why they’re not really even artists, and how the whole thing is a hoax, then they will continue their propaganda and continue brainwashing our children and intimidating them into feeling stupid if they don’t go along to get along … and they’ll do it unopposed.

If we don’t speak up and tell the world that the Emperor’s naked, nobody else will. We may not want to talk about them, but we have to if we are going to have any chance of turning things around. We have to provide a theoretical and philosophical context for the feelings of the tens of millions of people out there who are disgusted and feel an aversion for Modernism … but feel afraid to say so. They need to know that they are not alone and they need to have their feelings validated. And at the same time, we need to provide alternatives … rich alternatives with great traditional art and with countless images of the greatest paintings in history.

And now ladies and gentlemen … artists … portrait artists … I come at this point … to you. Who are you? Who do you think yourselves to be? Well let me tell you how I see you. You are beyond doubt, the true artistic heroes and heroines of the 20th century. Many of you know that I am the chairman of the Art Renewal Center. The Art Renewal Center is building the largest on-line museum on the internet, and is completely devoted to the return of standards, training and human themes and subjects in the visual arts. Modern Art is about expanding the definition of art. They believe that “everything is art”, or, “Whatever the artist says is art, is art.” Well, if everything is art, then nothing is art. Any definition that includes everything is not a definition at all. As I said, Modern art is “art about art”, while all the great art and literature and theatre throughout history is “Art about life.”

I wrote about all of you, and your teachers, in the published Philosophy of the Art Renewal Center. Here’s what I said:

Against all odds, and in the face of the worst kind of ridicule and personal and editorial assault, only a small handful of well-trained artists managed to stay true to their beliefs. Then, like the heroes and heroines who protected a few rare manuscripts during inquisitional book-burnings of the past, these 20th Century art world heroes managed to protect and preserve the core technical knowledge of western art. Somehow, they succeeded in training a few dozen determined disciples. Today, many of those former students, have established their own schools or ateliers, and are currently training many hundreds more. This movement is now expanding exponentially. They are regaining the traditions of the past, so that art may once again move forward on a solid footing. We are committed in every way possible to record, preserve and perpetuate this priceless knowledge.

That’s who you are. So if some of you are having trouble selling your work, or haven’t been able to command the prices you deserve … if you feel infuriated at piles of bricks and elephant dung filling museum galleries, while you can only pay to have space allotted to you for an evening in a great museum like this … don’t despair. Your time is coming. You have done humanity a service of such magnitude, that sadly you will never be properly repaid. Keep painting your great portraits, and when you can find the time, paint what your heart tells you to paint, too. The modern world is a boiling cauldron of all sorts of great and absurd ideas, feelings, pathos, pathologies, psycho pathologies, humiliation, and dehumanizing ideas … and yet … yet even beauty, too, is still here amongst us, here in this hall and throughout the world, and her manifestations in modern times have been insufficiently expressed. So, find her in your homes, find her in the streets, find her in your communities and in nature, and especially, find her in each other … and save her … save her … protect and cherish her … and exalt her back to her rightful place … a place of supreme prominence, and bring her back into these our greatest institutions and our highest citadels of society and culture.

Thank you.

We Did Not Forget

Bradley J. Birzer:

There are days and, then, there are days.

In 1948, T.S. Eliot assumed that western civilization moved inexorably toward a new dark age. “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline,” he lamented. “The standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity.”

One can only shake his head in wonder and bewilderment at what Eliot might write in 2012.

In the elite world of affairs, the powerful steal more and more through the machinery of politics, depriving us not only of liberty but, of course, of justice. There is, in no real sense, neither liberty nor order, internally or externally.

At home:

We have one of the most arrogant men ever at the head of our executive branch, and our executive branch is at the height of its power. His most likely challenger this fall seems like merely a less interesting version of himself.

Our Congress seemingly gave up the right to declare war or make just laws sometime in the 1940s. Never have they reclaimed what rightfully and constitutionally belongs to it, and there is no sign that the body as a whole will overcome impotence.

We are now strapped with overwhelming debt, and, yet, we have made sure the wealthy stay wealthy or get wealthier through the charade of stimuli packages.

On Saturday, Congress overwhelmingly rejected Representative Justin Amash’s amendment to prevent indefinite detention of terror suspects. Only the most historically ignorant can fail to realize that the NDAA–which Amash sought to amend–overturns nearly 1,500 years of finely honed common law rights. Through the NDAA, the government claims the right to own us.

Frankly, the loss of civil liberties during the past two presidential administrations (Obama and Bush) is so overwhelming as to be almost certainly on the permanent road to completion (that is, we will have overturned almost every civil liberty worth anything, never to regain them). Not only have we, as Americans, lost our rights to possess our own bodies, but the proliferation of spying at home and abroad–what the Washington Post has convincingly called “Secret America”–is out of control.


We feel pity for Greece as that country succumbs to implosion. Do we fidget as we pray that our leaders–the ones who spy on us with drones at home and murder many abroad–might just somehow be smart enough to prevent us from the same fate?

The so-called “Arab Spring” has led to the destruction of Christians, Christian churches, and Arab Christian culture while intolerant Islamic forces gain control.

And, the list of disaster after disaster, murder after murder, goes on and on and on. . . .

As we look back over western history, we know that every government falls. Just imagine what the world looked like in 410, hordes infiltrating the remnants of civilization.

Or, imagine the time of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Not a single political body of that day has remained. Only two things have in western civilization in the last two thousand years–1) the Jewish people; and 2) the Catholic/Orthodox Church.

Do we imagine the U.S. will last forever? If so, we are fools. It’s quite possible the U.S. has been done since the second administration of Jefferson. As Gordon Wood effectively argued in his Radicalism of the American Revolution, not a single founder thought the Republic still existed in any real form–or perhaps more accurately, with any real soul–at the time of his respective death.

What if the founding of America was the highpoint of western civilization? What if it served as the end of an era, the culmination of all that came before it, rather than the beginning of a new era? In our understandable American patriotism, we call it a “founding.” What if it’s really an “ending.”

For the sake of argument, let’s take Eliot’s claim seriously. If we are in a period of decline, our role as members of western civilization, as advocates of order, dignity, and liberty, changes dramatically from what it is if if we’re in a time of cultural ascension.

If we are falling, we who reject ideology need to prepare the world for it–to create a foundation not just for the survival of our children but for a revival, a renaissance of some kind, twenty generations hence.

If we believe in western civilization, the contract of eternal society, the communion of saints, we might have a profound duty to preserve, not just a right to exist.

What if Eliot was right?

I see little beyond a bleak twilight. I see no justice in our federal government. I see only poison, corruption, and darkness. I see that our economy is tenuous and shaky at best. I see a national debt that is insoluble. I see an education system that is almost totally utilitarian and without redeeming value, a grand babysitting scheme to keep potential hoodlums off the streets and competition out of the labor pool.

Our position abroad is without direction, and I would guess with only slight trepidation that more people outside of our borders hate us than did on September 10, 2001.

Where is the light? Where do we see hope? There are cracks here and there, but the barriers and obstructions continue to mount, crowding in upon us, forcing us ever closer to the whirligig of the abyss.

Still, as St. Paul reminded us, there is always hope. We have autonomous communities, especially in education, forming–but they are decentralized. We have blistering fast technology and technological improvements. But, where else? Where? I ask with all sincerity. Where else?

Things sound rough.

However, lest we invert our gaze to ourselves, let us remember those not so fortunate to even have eyes left to gaze: we also shall not forget these fallen, to whom belongs the full word: memorial.

Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

If that statistic is true, it is the most incredible fact I’ve read in recent months and it presents a national emergency of gigantic proportions.

Let’s have some optimism now.

House of Eratosthenes:

Besides shutting down productivity entirely, in some cases, regulation makes everything cost more than it would otherwise, from our labor to real estate, and from automobiles to the price of milk, bread, and gasoline. For several decades, debt was a relief valve for the rising cost of regulation, which eats away at the value of what we earn with productive work. Now the regime of debt has largely shut down.

But Americans aren’t rioting in the streets over this. We are tightening our belts, in order to get ourselves right with the future. Don’t overlook the significance of this. For every kid in the Occupy movement, there are hundreds his age finding whatever jobs are available and working hard, learning to be reliable employees and team players – and paying bills, saving money, and looking to what they can do about their own futures. These young people, alongside their elders, are holding society together, with discipline and quiet, unheralded daily courage.

Don’t give up on Americans. And don’t give up on liberty.

The good news is that America is the world’s example of what can be achieved by people who are not beholden to a god-like government. America is not paralyzed today by the character of our people, the scarceness of our resources, or the terrors of our future. America is paralyzed because our once-small government has grown on principles that are unworthy of us: invidious principles of despair, anger, resentment, and fear.

Do not fear that Americans can’t do well with less government. Something military officers learn early, if they are wise, is that you don’t control men: you believe in them. And when you do, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. The heroes who lie in our cemeteries, with the small flags waving bravely over them on Memorial Day, knew that.