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I’m back from Washington, and I have an announcement for readers of the blog: Eunomia will be shifting over to The American Conservative’s site here. This will be the last post at this site (the redirect will be set up soon), and all future Eunomia blogging will be at TAC.
In a couple months, I will be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Taipei and then turn around the next day and come back home to get back to work on Tuesday. That old saw that the journey is what matters must be right, since I will probably be spending more time on the journey than I will in Taiwan. Anyway, here’s the point of this post: I have never taken a trans-Pacific flight before, much less taken two of them virtually back-to-back as if I were engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Japan. Does anyone out there have advice for preparing for the insane jetlag that this will cause? (I know what you will say: don’t fly back from Taiwan the day after you arrive.)
P.S. If conscious and coherent, I will attempt to take some pictures of Taipei for the blog.
Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama’s early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.
“In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a ‘pintele Yid’ — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one’s roots,” Ganchrow wrote. “With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a ‘pintele Muslim,’ with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?” ~The Jewish Week
This wouldn’t be quite so ludicrous if Obama had ever shown the slighest hint of disagreeing with most U.S. policies in the Near East and had ever gone beyond beyond standard left-liberal criticisms of the treatment of Palestinians. Of course, except for Iraq (which a rather large number of non-Muslims who actually knew something about the Near East also opposed), he hasn’t. I have argued before that this perception of an affinity for Muslims or attachment to the Islamic world would hurt him politically, and that it was crazy for him and his supporters to keep emphasising his foreign roots and attachments. Whatever else you want to say about this, it really isn’t a vote-getter.
I would like to use some of my personal history to explore just how ridiculous this line of criticism of Obama is. First, as any long-time readers know, I am not a fan of Obama and I think he would make a terrible President. The problem with his foreign policy views is not that they are too passive or “friendly” (or whatever counts as a grave sin in the eyes of such people) to Near Eastern and Islamic countries, but that he is essentially indistinguishable from the foreign policy consensus views of Washington, except when he overcompensates out of fear of looking “weak” by proposing sending American forces into Pakistan whether or not Islamabad agrees. In other words, when he isn’t being merely conventional, he may be more dangerous than the people we have in power now. This is not the result of his family background or upbringing, but a result of his inexperience and his misguided ideas about the U.S. role in the world that many of his colleagues share.
As has been brought up elsewhere, for a very short time (about six months) I professed Islam (albeit pretty idiosyncratically–I doubt if my “conversion” would have ever been recognised as a proper one), mostly out of an attraction at the time to a somewhat coherent monotheism that was neither Jewish nor Christian, since I had been raised with no real religious education and had been conditioned by my multiculti private schools to an aversion to Christianity about whose teachings I knew relatively little and which I understood even less. After a few years of syncretistic dabbling in various religious literatures, I came to Islam, mostly through the English translations of Rumi and the like, but rather like the dabbling before it this was not, on reflection, a serious conversion and it was one I could never enter into fully. (Incidentally, anyone who would like to make more out of this than that is wasting his time.) In a way slightly similar to Obama’s conversion to Christianity, I approached Orthodoxy at first intellectually that then became more firmly grounded in a practicing Orthodox parish. So while I have no sympathy with Obama’s politics, I have found the persistent effort to label him falsely as a Muslim or crypto-Muslim, when he very definitely decided, as I did, to become a Christian (however liberal a denomination he may have joined), and the credulity of stupid voters to believe this falsehood, to be obnoxious. There are dozens of reasons not to support Obama. But the problem is not that he was raised for a few years in Indonesia with an Indonesian step-father or that his grandfather was a Muslim, but that he actually claims that living for a few years in Indonesia in his youth and having a Kenyan grandmother still living in a village in Kenya give him relevant foreign policy experience. The problem is not where he grew up, but that he is substituting a kind of symbolic capital for expertise.
As for the effect of my brief time as a self-described Muslim on my policy views, my attitude towards the world overseas had been poisoned much more by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal than by reading the Qur’an. I had far more sympathy for Bosnian Muslims and Chechens as an ignorant American teenager than as a putative Muslim thanks to interventionist agitation on their behalf. By the time of this brief Islamic phase, I had stopped thinking of foreign policy as a morality play in which other countries could be simplistically portrayed as incarnate evil. Indeed, perhaps this kind of thinking only really works for thoroughly secular people who must find their great moral struggles in politics rather than in asceticism and worship. Who knows? In any case, Western media reported incessantly that the perpetually evil Slavs were the villains of the story, and that it was as simple as that, and, young, foolish kid that I was, I believed them. Mujahideen in the Balkans? Why worry? Truthfully, as a result of reading Chronicles more regularly, becoming better educated in European and Near Eastern history and becoming more familiar with Christianity, I began to move away from the pro-jihadist positions of the WSJ, Weekly Standard and the like, while the war against Yugoslavia and its aftermath finally brought me around to the non-interventionist views that I have held ever since. I base my current views on what is in the American interest and how justice obliges us to act towards other nations.
If there were anything to this idea that Obama’s experience of growing up around and among Muslims (for a relatively shot period of his life in his earliest youth) would have an effect on his policy views, he would have to have policy views that were not virtually identical with every other conventional Democratic hawk.
P.S. Ross, Yglesias and Ambinder talk about Obama and the Muslim charge.
People love Obama down here. The scene a moment ago was a bit like that anecdote from Gregory the Theologian about the people in the marketplace holding forth on the Trinity, albeit concerning a much less elevated and important matter. Out of nowhere people offer you their opinions on the presidential contest. Down the street came a black man asking for some help to get to a shelter (tonight it is miserable out in Chicago, must be in single digits), and so we got to talking. I explained that I lived in the neighbourhood and studied history, which prompted the man, out of the blue, to complain about Hillary Clinton’s use of MLK to attack Barack Obama. Granted, this is Obama’s turf and he will probably carry this part of Illinois about 98 to 2, but the genuine disgust the man felt for Hillary Clinton was something to behold. Obama may lose this contest, but I don’t think I appreciated how much the Clintons had alienated black voters until tonight. Come November, she may find a lot of very unmotivated Democrats here and around the country.
Happy New Year! As of last week, Eunomia entered its third year. There are many people who made this past year a success in blogging and writing, and there are more than I can name, but I would like to thank everyone at The American Conservative, Chronicles, Antiwar, Taki’s Top Drawer and ISI in particular for their great support and encouragement, especially my long-suffering editors. Thanks also to Reihan and the large assembly of talented writers at The American Scene, as well as my excellent colleagues at Cliopatria and What’s Wrong With the World for putting up with me.
Since Alex Massie has asked, I thought I would offer my thoughts on his latest Scotland-related post.
Mr. Massie writes:
Still, it’s more interesting that O’Hagan links the modern independence cause with the Confederacy. This isn’t quite as odd as it might seem at first blush (though I’d also suggest that if it is impossible to leave a Union then that Union is, ipso facto, to some degree coercive rather than voluntary).
Quite right. To digress for a moment, I said in recent weeks something to the effect that Lincoln could not have saved the Union, since the response to withdrawal from the Union marked the end of the Union as a voluntary confederation of states. The name union itself implies a joining together of disparate and discrete elements, and it is in the nature of such a union that there can also be a dissolution. In this sense, it is misleading to refer to the U.S. forces in the War of Secession as Unionists. They represented, in their effects if not always in their intentions, consolidation. It seems to me that one can praise or condemn the work of consolidation, but one cannot deny that it was something very different from the arrangement that had prevailed earlier, and that consolidation was in no way consistent with the federal principle of the Union.
That brings me back to Mr. O’Hagan. Likening the pursuit of Scottish independence to the cause of the Confederacy is an attempt to shame supporters of independence by playing on conventional hostility to the cause of the CSA. Above all, it is an attempt to confuse the issue. O’Hagan also frames it in a very strange way when he says, “It seems as lunatic to me as the argument of Southern Confederates in America, who feel they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln.” I suppose it depends on the moment in time to which O’Hagan is referring. If he is referring to the election of 1860, that might be one thing. If he is referring to the spring and summer of 1861, that is something else. Southern Confederates did not “feel” they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln, but were targeted for suppression by military force. Whatever else you will say about it, this is very different from what is going on in Europe today.
There is, I take it from Mr. Massie’s post, a drive to have people in the United Kingdom call themselves British. This reminds me of an anecdote. It was 1999, and I was flying to London. I was going to begin a six-week summer session at St. Anne’s College in Oxford once I arrived, and on the plane I was sitting next to a woman, a factory worker (as I recall) from the Kentish town of Deal. For whatever reason, U.K. politics became the topic of conversation, and the woman expressed to me her loathing for Tony Blair. Naturally, I felt the same. What was the thing she made a point of criticising? She hated that he referred to the country as Britain and to the people as ”British.” She was, she told me in no uncertain terms, English, not British. This was very important to her.
Now you might say that she was representative of the relatively recent surge in English nationalist feeling that accompanied devolution, but the point is that the idea of Britishness is not one that is necessarily widely shared by the people on either side of the border. ”British” is, as it has been for three hundred years, a designation of a political identity. Unlike the name American, which has tended to supersede identification with one’s home state in the 20th and 21st centuries, it is my impression that people in the U.K. will just as often describe themselves primarily in terms of being English, Scottish, Irish or, God bless them, Welsh. Perhaps it is because the name is relatively that much newer and to some extent seems more artificial than the names of the several places, and perhaps it is because these places have had their own political histories apart from that of England, with whose history they have become intertwined. In other words, there is a memory–even if it is sometimes a romanticised or exaggerated memory–of being something other than British. Aside from the few years of attempted independence, Southrons have been Americans, which sharply distinguishes the cases.
Mr. Massie notes:
It’s certainly the case, if I may generalise, that American conservatives tend to be more interested in Scotland than liberals. I should have ceased to be surprised by the number of Americans (and other foreigners) who say they are waiting for Scottish independence. Many, perhaps most, of these sympathisers are conservatives.
In part this may reflect the settlement patterns of Scots in the Carolinas and Appalachia which these days ensures that those most likely to appreciate their Scottish heritage are also, on balance, more likely to be conservatives than liberals. But it’s also the case that the idea of Scotland has a cultural resonance in the south - or amongst some conservatives - that it lacks in New England.
There really is a lot to this. Though you would not know it from my Norse-sounding surname, I have a Scots-Irish background through my mother’s father’s family. Perhaps in the same way that diasporans and American ethnics often seem more invested in nationalist myths than the people who live in the home country, I was raised with a keen appreciation for the difference of the Irish and Scots from the English (even though a large part of my heritage on my father’s side was English) and for whatever reason I sympathised from an early age with Irish and Scottish independence, whether achieved in the past or hoped for in the future. Like many other Scots-Irish, my grandfather’s people had settled in Appalachia (in what was Virginia and would become West Virginia). The story I heard when I was younger was that our original ancestor from Ulster had come over with the British army as part of the effort to suppress the rebellion of the colonies and then, as you might expect in such a story, switched sides. The story is almost certainly made up, but it reflected the romantic notion that had been kept alive in my grandfather’s family that they, the Scots-Irish, were deeply opposed to the British just as the patriots here were. So part of the attachment to the cause of Scotland, so to speak, is the attachment of descendants of Scots-Irish settlers (many of whom, like one of my ancestors, fought on the side of the Confederacy) to one of the old countries, but it is also a sense of common cause between Americans and Scots in overthrowing or resisting British rule. To the extent that conservatives romanticise the War for Independence more than liberals, they are also inclined to sympathise with other causes that are seen to be anti-British (some conservatives’ rather undue affection for Winston Churchill and the Empire notwithstanding). This is one reason why, no doubt much to Mr. Massie’s annoyance, American conservatives in particular take such satisfaction in the anti-British films of Mel Gibson and will tend to invest Braveheart with far more importance than it should have.
Mr. Massie continues:
In other words, the Jacobite cause is reactionary in the best sense of the term (and proudly so: I have one American friend whose personal email address begins, jacobite1688). To some extent this remains the case. The atavistic nationalism O’Hagan discovers is far removed from the sober calculation of the national interest favoured by the SNP’s smart-suited Young Turks in Edinburgh. Yet the latter requires the former, even if the former cannot prevail absent the latter.
I agree, and I am one of those reactionaries who sympathises with the Jacobites. This may be part of the explanation why some American conservatives find Scotland so intriguing and meaningful. It is partly that it parallels our own independence struggle, which in turn sympathisers with the Confederacy see as the precedent for the Confederates’ war for independence, but it is also that Jacobitism represents the defense of legitimacy, king and country against, if you will, the demands of a political doctrine, which is very attractive to those of us who think of conservatism as the antithesis of ideology.
As an original native of Denver, where I was born, I have been especially impressed and stunned by the Rockies’ surge to the World Series. When the Rockies began as an expansion team, I took some interest in them as the nearest baseball franchise to Albuquerque and as a team representing my birthplace, but they were never going to displace my attachment to Houston. Their bumbling (mis)management over the last decade made it painful to think about the franchise, and O’Dowd seemed dedicated to ensuring perpetual mediocrity. No longer.
Even so, it was a great shock to see the Rockies capture the wild card in an end-of-season sprint, and sweep through the first two rounds in record time. They wiped out their playoff competition so quickly that they have had a week to recover while the Indians and Red Sox bludgeon each other in a complete seven-game series.
On the other side, I do hope that the Indians finally prevail in the AL, because the only thing as obnoxious as a satisfied Yankee fan is a proud Red Sox fan. Also, as Tom Piatak has explained, the Indians represent the forces of good fighting against those of evil.
The conference in Toronto was very enjoyable and, I think, generally successful. I heard many interesting papers, and the reaction to my talk on monotheletism was as good as I could have hoped to receive. By strange chance, one of the U of T students whom I met was married to a Hampden-Sydney alumnus who finished a couple years ahead of me. There was even a Eunomia reader among the assembled attendees. During the trip, I finished Mozawer’s Salonica, which I plan to use for my urban history class next term. We also heard two concerts organised in conjunction with the conference, and we heard a number of works by the Orthodox composer John Tavener. The second, which included an adaptation of a prayer of the ninth-century monastic poetess Kassia, was the better in my view, and Patricia Rozario’s performance was very impressive.
On something pertaining to church life for a change, I had the great pleasure of seeing the visiting Moscow delegation of bishops and the Sretensky Monastery Choir at our cathedral this past Sunday. This was a remarkable event, and not only because the crowd at the cathedral was huge by our standards. So far as I know, this marked the first concelebration of Moscow and ROCOR bishops at our cathedral. The delegation’s world tour will take them to many of the major centers of Russian Orthodoxy abroad in celebration of the reconciliation among all Russian Orthodox. Also present was the “Reigning” (Derzhavnaya) icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, whose appearance after the last Tsar’s abdication signified that Russia thereafter was under the sovereignty of the Theotokos. The Tribune has a series of photographs from the event, and the story is here.
The Choir performed exceptionally during the liturgy. Their rendition of Mnogaya Lyeta filled the church with such a rich, resonating sound that I felt a sense of awe. I then had the added enjoyment of hearing the Choir perform at the CSO Sunday night, where they offered both sacred and secular songs. If any of you live in D.C., they will be performing in the vicinity tomorrow. If you can still get tickets, I strongly recommend that you go.
Well, I had warned you that this day was coming. I had thought that my intensive Arabic class would interrupt blogging, but I managed to keep posting anyway. Now that I am beginning the semester at my teaching job, I don’t see how I can possibly keep up the same pace here and still get everything else (including the dissertation) done in a satisfactory manner. From time to time, I will put up new posts, but I cannot guarantee any regular posting for the next several months. For a regular dose of Larison, subscribe to The American Conservative (which you should have already done by now).
Tomorrow we finish the equivalent of one nine-week quarter of elementary Arabic. Subhan’allah. It has not been as overwhelming as I expected, but it will be getting more demanding as we go forward. My initial promises of no blogging were a bit premature, but they were not entirely false. There is a class I have to start preparing for the fall, dissertation chapters to write, plus the column. I will try to keep my different blog homes updated as and when I can, but I can make no guarantees about the regularity of posting.
Regardless, go take a look at my first column (not online) in the July 2 TAC.
So far as I can tell from parsing this solipsistic flapdoodle, John Updike thinks the New Deal should be judged a great success because FDR was politically skillful enough to persuade Updike’s Dad to become a Democrat. ~Ross Douthat
Ross has this right. In response to Shlaes’ revisionism (in which she basically argues something rather obvious that I learned from the time I was old enough to understand English–namely that FDR made the Depression longer and worse than it had to be through his New Deal policies), Updike tells a story about the human costs of the Depression, which would be all the more compelling for the “governmment-as-human transaction” model Updike is pushing if Hoover had not also helped to deepen and worsen the Depression through his own economic interventionist policies. Updike’s story is an interesting portrait of how government-exacerbated crises can work, perversely enough, to instill even greater support for the government: the Depression was so miserable that people became grateful for whatever assistance they could get, even though the very programs they were using were working, on a macro level, to perpetuate their misery. The popular response to national security crises is much the same: rationally, the public should despise the government that allows major terrorist attacks to succeed on native soil, but every time the public rallies around the very government that dramatically failed them out of a mixture of loyalty, patriotism, fear, dependency and, bizarrely, gratitude.
Shlaes’ counterargument would be, surely, that the very government intervention that Updike’s father found so appealing on a personal level was part of a raft of destructive policies that stifled any chance at economic recovery prior to the both inflationary and expansive pressures of wartime spending. Whatever else might be said about the flaws of corporations and the real dangers of concentrated economic power, the solution to economic stagnation is not actually to demonise the “malefactors of great wealth” and tax them at exorbitant rates. The solution to economic weakness is not actually to tighten the money supply by using the Fed as a blunt instrument to batter and crush what recovery had started coming into 1937. Updike’s argument is, in miniature, everything that is wrong with old-style left-wing economic thinking: it doesn’t matter whether the policy actually works to alleviate poverty or spur economic activity, provided that the government is supposedly trying to do the “right thing” because government is “ultimately a human transaction.” (As if commercial exchange is any less a “human” transaction than the coercive extraction and redistribution of resources by the state! Theft is a human transaction, too.)
It would be interesting if sentimental invocations of family history and changed political preferences could trump all other arguments. If that were the case, I could discredit interventionist foreign policy just by recounting the political conversion of my ancestors from conservative New Jersey Democrats to dedicated Republicans after WWI. My dad’s family rejected the Democratic Party because of Wilsonian foreign policy, and they deepened in their hostility to the Democracy during the New Deal years. They despised FDR, their descendants despised FDR and I grew up despising FDR. So, I come by my opposition to foreign wars and the welfare state honestly. My great-great grandfather’s brother even wrote a short pamphlet denouncing the New Deal as unconstitutional (which it was). I think my ancestors were right to reject these things, because I think they were all very bad for the country, but I also think that there are rational arguments to be made against them that go beyond, “My great-grandmother really disliked Roosevelt.” Of course, those of us who have to fight against conventional historical interpretation of the last century and the established institutions created by now-mythologised Presidents are compelled to make rational arguments, while their defenders can continue to wax poetic about Ol’ Pappy and the soup kitchen.
A reader has alerted me to the pending nuptials of this blog’s heroine, Rani Mukherjee, to director Adi Chopra. As much of a blow as this is, I congratulate them (shaadi mubarako) and offer this final tribute to Rani, mera dil ki rani, mere sapno ki rani.
On Monday, my intensive Arabic course begins. Between that, dissertation writing and the new column, there won’t be any time for Eunomia for the next two months. Depending on what happens in the next few months, I may also be away from this for all of August and September, too, and if certain things fall into place I could be completely swamped come the fall. I will try to check in very occasionally, but the odds are that the best way to see my writing is to pick up a copy of The American Conservative (which you should already be reading anyway) or an issue of Chronicles. It seems that all those hiatuses that I declared in the past, but never actually took, have caught up with me.
I would like to take this chance to thank all of the readers and fellow bloggers who have made Eunomia as successful as it has been. The first half of 2007 has been great. I’ll see you all in a few months.
Update: As a final treat before I go, here are Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan performing “Yeh Ladki Hai” from Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham. Enjoy.
Thanks to the invitation of Dr. Ralph Luker, in the near future I will also be starting blogging at History News Network’s Cliopatria. It is a group blog of historians and history students, who cover all manner of topics from the strictly academic to the contemporary political scene, offering an historical perspective on current events. I am looking forward to it.
Daniel Larison, whose ever-present aura of gloom is powerful enough to drive a Care Bear to suicide… ~Dave Weigel
That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said about me in weeks.
Which is all fine and dandy—except that last year a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. Their study found that insecure and fearful children were more likely to grow up into conservatives, and that confident kids were more likely to become liberal. Clearly, as scientists are so fond of saying, more research is needed. ~The Economist
Via Isaac Chotiner
Besides, the new UNM study proposes that it found conservatives at UNM, which anyone from Albuquerque would find automatically suspicious.
On a more serious note, the opposing UNM results make more intuitive sense to me, since I grew up with both parents in a stable, pretty low-stress environment and some might say that I have become a bit conservative. It makes intuitive sense in another way, which is that children who grow up in stable families are likely to think that those family structures are normal and the behaviours associated with maintaining them normative. It seems to me they are more likely to acknowledge and respect parental authority than kids raised in more chaotic or difficult surroundings. Indeed, their entire attitude towards authority would probably be different, and this could incline them towards the traditions their parents were handing down to them.
On the other hand, growing up I knew a whole lot of kids from fairly well-off families, who grew up with both parents and had few worries in life. They followed their parents’ example and the general cues from their teachers in high school to become nice conventional left-liberals, as it seems to me quite a lot of people in my generation in Albuquerque did to one degree or another. In my case, it probably helped that there were shelves full of books by Russell Kirk, Mel Bradford and Kuenhelt-Leddihn and I heard my dad talking about Voegelin’s opposition to “immanentizing the eschaton” (true story) when I was in middle school. So my childhood was not, you might say, exactly typical of the average New Mexican.
Yesterday I received some pleasant news: my paper abstract was accepted for the 33rd Byzantine Studies Conference, which will be held this October at the University of Toronto. As one conference season ends, so another already has begun. This will be my first time in Toronto, and indeed my first time in Canada, which should be interesting in itself. Do any Canadian readers and/or associated Canadian bloggers have good recommendations for restaurants or things to do in the evening in Toronto? We will likely not be driving up, so recommendations close to the area of the university would probably be ideal.
Friends of Eunomia are welcome to attend the talk, though I suspect they will require registration for attendees. I will, of course, be speaking about matters related to imperial religious policy and monotheletism. Try to contain your enthusiasm.
The Defense Department today (Monday) announced 27-year-old 1st Lieutenant Andrew J. Bacevich of Walpole was killed yesterday (Sunday) when an improvised bomb exploded while he was on a patrol in the Salah Ad Din Province.
His father — Andrew J. Bacevich — is a Boston University professor and a vocal critic of the war. ~WPRI 12 News
My most sincere condolences go out to Prof. Bacevich and his family. May God grant the soul of his servant rest where the righteous repose. Vechnaya pomyat.
Tomorrow I will be at the major medievalist conference of the year at Western Michigan University. I will be talking about…monotheletism, of course, and monothelete ideas of deification. I think they had some, which may come as a surprise to some people who don’t think of the monotheletes as having many ideas at all.
I am not one particularly drawn to an Ariel Levy or Isla Fisher. It doesn’t help that I had literally never heard of either one until today. (Make of that what you will.) Apparently, Ms. Fisher is the fiancee of Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, which is very “naice” for him; she has also apparently ridiculed Scientologists, which is a testament to her good judgement (despite the business of being engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen). No, if we must talk about actresses/celebrities we will never meet, it simply has to be Rani Mukherjee whom we admire:
About such a woman, Sayat Nova might have said:
Ov che tesi, test e uzum, ov tesnoom e, miranoom e
(He who does not see wants to see you; he who sees, perishes.)
Or to use one of my favourites:
Patvakan angin javahir, lal badeshkhan is indz ama
(You are a worthy, priceless jewel, the very ruby of Badeshkhan for me.)
Update: Here is a higher-quality version of Rani performing Main Vari Vari from Mangal Pandey. Tumhari adao pe main vari vari indeed.
The ISI/Liberty Fund colloquium for graduate students on federalism and constitutionalism held at the Russell Kirk Center in Mecosta was a great time. We had two fine discussion leaders in Profs. Carey Roberts and Jim Bond and an interesting mix of law, history and political philosophy students to work through some choice readings from The Federalist, Anti-Federalist writings, the Hayne-Webster debate, Calhoun and more modern texts (sections of the European Constitution and several Court rulings of the past decade or so). I had the privilege and honour of meeting Mrs. Kirk at the Center, and she was good enough to have us into her home on a couple of occasions. She is a charming and engaging lady, and a great hostess. The Center certainly keeps her busy–she was in Indianapolis last week, where Rod Dreher, Max Goss and others spoke, and as I understood it she will be at another ISI event next week as well.
As a Byzantinist, I was something of the amateur among those who did their work on political theory and American history, but I enjoyed being part of the discussions both during and after the sessions. I also made a trip over to the used bookstore there in town, finding a few nice volumes, including the reminiscences of Anna Dostoevsky and a Defoe title I had never heard of before. The weekend was very pleasant, and I look forward to a chance to do something like that again, though I will be glad to be through with the conference season in a few weeks. All of the events I have gone to this year have been excellent, but I will be glad to be traveling a little less after next month.
I’ll be away from Eunomia for a bit. Between work that needs to get done and another few weeks of traveling hither and thither, there just isn’t time right now for any more posting. There should be some interesting things to report from an ISI/Liberty Fund conference up at Mecosta later this week. We will be talking about federalism and constitutionalism. Regular posting may resume sometime next month, or perhaps a little sooner, depending on how quickly I can get some things done. Right now I have to get ready for my Sayat Nova session.
Update: Ross and Reihan will have lots of interesting things to say while they and Megan McArdle substitute for Andrew Sullivan during his vacation, so go read them while I’m away.
Today I retrieved my car from impound, which is so far to the south that it is actually beyond the Southside and in that empty gap past the point where the two highways that previously made up the Dan Ryan split off from each other. The actual retrieval process was fairly easy, as such things go, though the possibilities for Kafkaesque delay were everywhere. Strangely, the cop who had issued me the ticket had told me that I needed to present proof of ownership to access my car at the impound, which was rather difficult…since my registration was in the car that had just been towed away. Fortunately, this guy was either just having me on (thinking that I was some New Mexican tourist because of my license plate) or enjoys misleading people or was himself confused about the procedure, since I needed no such proof, as I learned from the people at the lot when I called. Anyway, that little episode is over.
So I experienced what many an unfortunate Chicago resident has experienced: today, my car was towed away to the deepest Southside (the 10000 block!) before my eyes. I had stepped inside a building to pick someone up for a workshop, and all the while I had this weird uneasy feeling…maybe I should go check on my car, something told me. Sure enough, they were hitching my car to the tow truck even as I had this sense of foreboding. So the lesson is simple, folks: listen to your paranoid instincts! Because they are coming to get you (or at least your car). It is this sort of petty law enforcement (a.k.a., the city’s money-making racket) that makes me lose respect for the law, because this pretty clearly had nothing to do with clearing the road for rush hour (the alleged reason for making this area a tow zone) and had everything to do with milking me for a nice fat fine. If any progressives out there would like to understand why people like me really loathe government, know that it is because of these obnoxious little abuses of power along with the great.
In fairness to the horrible towing tyrants, I was in a tow zone designated as a tow zone between 4-6 for a grand total of three or four minutes after 4:00. They had not yet taken my car away when I came running out to try to stop them from taking it away. There was “nothing” the tow truck guy could do, he said. Yeah, well, there was nothing he could do if he wanted to get paid more.
The parking ticket/towing regime in Chicago is one of the most maddening things about this city, and if I had to make a short list of reasons why no one should ever live here it would rank high on that list. It would fall below “large numbers of whiny Cub fans” and come in just ahead of “terrible blizzards.”
In a genuinely unexpected outcome, the single most common characteristic of these particular political conversion stories was precisely: radicalization rightward in reaction to an overwhelmingly left-biased humanities faculty on one elite campus after another. ~Mary Eberstadt
The same process is probably at work today, but as every level of education has been more and more permeated by anti-Western and anti-Christian attitudes (particularly in history) I bet the reactions against overreaching indoctrination begin earlier. That was certainly what happened in my case. It certainly didn’t hurt that I grew up in a home where my parents espoused a very strong conservatism (had I been inclined to read them as a teenager, Bradford and Kirk’s complete works were sitting on our shelves), so there was a strong countervailing influence against the politicised junk they threw at me at school, but an overwhelming part of my early education at secular, private schools was so consistently biased to the left and so openly uninterested in most of the Western tradition generally and Christianity specifically that I was something of a cultural idiot by the time I entered high school. Growing up entirely secular ensured that, as far as religion was concerned, there would be no strong counterbalance to the anti-Christian elements in our education.
The virtually total neglect of studying any religion backfired, however, since my curiosity about the subject caused me to go out and start learning something, even if it was initially heavily focused on South Asian religions. The multiculti propaganda, even as much as I disliked it all along, had had some effect, and this was to discourage interest in Christianity (which I assume is at least half of the purpose of all multiculturalism). It also had the effect of inspiring in me both a zealous syncretism and a lot of undue respect for Islam (after all, “everyone” knew that Islam was a religion of tolerance and learning, not like those mean, old Christians). Fortunately, rapid disillusionment with Islam followed, and the departure away from my ignorance of Christianity and away from my childish, conventional neocon-like foreign and libertarian domestic politics came next. (I guess there doesn’t have to be any connection between sympathy for the “good” Islam, desire for confrontation with China and a belief that global free trade is good for the American worker, but in their sheer irrationality they do seem to coexist comfortably in the minds of more than a few people.) The multicultis are good at keeping people ignorant, but once the veil is lifted multiculturalism is so shallow and worthless that it cannot long keep anyone in its thrall. From the perspective of my classmates, I was already on ”the right,” perhaps even the far right in some respects, but as I look back on it I was escaping from a host of liberal delusions–belief in “rights,” confidence in democracy, etc.–the last of which I think I finally shed about five years ago (just in time!).
Gradually, the wisdom of Chronicles, which I started reading more often in my college years when I was back home, broke through the near-impenetrable haze of youthful stupidity. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s books drilled in just how pernicious and undesirable democracy was. Chronicles’ hammering away on the Western injustices done in Yugoslavia finally sank in, and I became aware of the folly of meddling in Kosovo by early 1998 (just about when the first threats related to Kosovo were being made by the administration). Had Chronicles not existed, there would have been hardly any resources to provide any sort of perspective on the Balkans that was not dripping with the standard historically illiterate, Christophobic, anti-Slavic view of most Western media outlets. Providing the decent, learned and Christian perspective is the service Chronicles has provided on numerous matters of policy and culture.
As I have related before, the bombing of Kosovo was a turning point in that the injustice of that war and the insipid nature of the internationalist consensus behind the bombing campaign pushed me irrevocably into the anti-interventionist camp. It cannot be a coincidence that I was much more likely to be persuaded by the neocon/WSJ party line on meddling in Yugoslavia, backing Israel to the hilt and vilifying Russia when I was in my teens, since this was the time when I was still stunningly ignorant of the history of a lot of Christian civilisation. It usually requires such appalling ignorance to buy into a lot of the rhetoric used in justifying U.S. policies or in defining “the West” in ways that include Mexico, Israel and Turkey but exclude half of Europe. As soon as I started learning anything about our civilisation’s history, and particularly once I started to become familiar with Orthodox Christianity (though I would not convert for several more years after this), the folly and villainy of a lot of conventional interventionist policies started to become apparent to me, partly because I started to perceive in them the works of people who were hostile to the cultural and religious inheritance of our civilisation and partly because the policies themselves seemed designed to target and harm Christians around the world (or at least to support the enemies of Christians around the world, which amounts to something very similar). Iraq and Lebanon have hardly disabused me of this notion.
Before January 31, I hadn’t flown in over two years, and since then I have already been on five flights and will be on at least
six eight more before the end of spring quarter. Friday I fly to Charlottesville for ISI’s conference on liberty, community and place, where I will be meeting several of my blogging and TAC colleagues in person for the first time. This will be the fourth conference I have attended since October, and there are at least two more before the school year is over. Perhaps for true conference-going veterans, this is a light load, but for me this is an unusually busy schedule.
After some aggravation thanks to Friday’s snowstorm, I made it back last night only about five hours later than I should have been here. The delay from my cancelled flight wasn’t that terrible (especially compared to the epic incompetence of JetBlue a few weeks ago), so I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but let me just say that I’m not a big fan of La Guardia. The airport, that is. Judging from the absurd-looking statue of old Fiorello that they have put up in the Marine Air terminal, I would say that the people who run the airport don’t much like the former mayor. Neither am I pleased with the horrid Northeastern habit that people have of automatically putting milk in your coffee. I didn’t even ask for a ‘regular’ coffee, which I understand is Northeasternese for, “Please ruin this perfectly good coffee with some milk.” No, apparently it’s simply taken as a given that coffee should never be good and there is no need to consult the person ordering the coffee. Even leaving aside the question of Lent, such coffee will go from an unpleasant ordeal to being simply undrinkable in a matter of minutes. This is one of those amusing regional customs, rather like the default of putting sugar in tea in the South, that I find a little tiresome after a while. (Southerners, being generally more hospitable, do understand that they should ask whether you would also like to have your tea ruined.) I don’t begrudge people their regional customs, but I do reserve the right to point out that they are ruining their coffee and tea. I should say that Brookline was very nice, and I’d be glad to go back there anytime. Boston, however, left a different, sour taste in my mouth.
The conference itself was a great time. As I had briefly mentioned in one of the comments, it was on the campus of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Theological School. It is an unusual experience for me, as I imagine it is for most people, to be able to go to a campus chapel and find an Orthodox church. The daily Orthros (albeit in a very shortened form) and Vespers were very good ways to start and end a couple of the days. The weather was not entirely cooperative with us, leading to the later problems of traveling home, but the atmosphere of the conference, which was one made up entirely by graduate students, was very cordial and pleasant. There was one contentious session on Hesychasm, which didn’t surprisingly create an argument between Orthodox and non-Orthodox participants (since Palamite theology is usually seen in all Orthodox-Catholic exchanges as a fundamental disagreement). Ironically, it was a paper arguing that St. Gregory of Thessalonika had turned what could have been a “dialogue” into a “polemic,” which was unfortunately the effect of the paper on that topic. Instead of sparking confessional dispute, it set off a strong intra-Orthodox quarrel between one Orthodox speaker (who, curiously enough, had also gone to my alma mater) and the other Orthodox students. The poor Protestant seminarians and other non-Orthodox in the room seemed to be mostly at a loss as to why this paper had generated such intense feelings. Gatherings of Orthodox academics should come with a warning label: “Danger: Converts and Greeks may create a combustible and unstable situation.” However, this particular debate wasn’t one of converts vs. cradle Orthodox or Americans vs. Greeks, but really was a debate between the one speaker, who was taking a very hard line against Palamas over a single response that he had made to Barlaam the Calabrian, and everyone else fairly sputtering and gasping in disbelief. Several of the people in the audience did make what I considered quite solid replies to the paper’s argument, but the session had definitely gone from being a venue for exchange and inquiry and had become a more fundamental and visceral argument over the place of monks in the Church.
My own session generally went very well, and I think the session in which I was giving a response was fairly productive. All of the papers I heard were interesting, though the one mentioned above would undoubtedly have done better with some less provocative language about St. Gregory, and it made for a good opportunity to meet some of the rising early Christian studies, patristics and Byzantine scholars. What was remarkable was how many had either previously gone, were currently going or were considering going to Chicago. Officially, we had four speakers participating in the conference, which put us behind the folks at Notre Dame, but our “unofficial” representation including former students and other attendees put us closer to nine out of a group of roughly forty-five. Somehow or other Chicago attracts or produces quite a few people interested to one degree or another in church history. I have no idea whether this is actually above average or not, but it certainly seems unusual for a place normally associated with its economists, lawyers and businessmen.
The strangest thing I saw on the entire trip was on the Boston T on the Blue Line. As I was riding in from the airport, I looked across the way to see a big, prominently displayed advertisement for “Guaranteed Swahili.” Is there a great need for Swahili speakers in the greater Boston area? It wouldn’t exactly surprise me, given that there is plenty of immigration from Africa in several of the major Eastern cities (as I understand it, Washington is the largest concentration of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia), but I am a bit more used to seeing ads for learning Spanish where I’m from. I suppose some gradual cultural takeovers seem a bit less bizarre than others.
An interesting discovery was a new academic press, Gorgias Press, that had put some of its books out at the conference. I was looking at their book collection last night after returning, and they have an impressive number of publications or reprints of many things related to Syrian and Persian Christianity and early Christianity generally. The reprints are often quite expensive, but in the case of the book I found at the conference, The Maronites in History, it would have been worth the full, non-conference price. The book on the Maronites is a recent reprint of a 1986 work that apparently went out of print (how could that have happened when the book talks extensively about monotheletism?). In it, the author, Matti Mousa, lays out quite clearly and, I think, mostly accurately the history of the Maronites as a distinct religious community. I assume that many Maronites do not like this book, because it is a pretty relentless debunking of the extremely shaky myths Maronite apologists have woven around their origins as a religious group. Mousa’s control of the Byzantine material is a little shaky, and therefore his dating sometimes just follows that of the Syriac sources, but it would appear that he knows the Arabic and Syriac sources very well. From all of this he reconstructs the duration of monotheletism in the Maronite church, which was actually much, much longer than I had ever thought. Most accounts seem to assume that monotheletism ended soon after the Maronites submitted to Rome in the 1180s, but Mousa claims, based on ongoing Italian missionary work to Lebanon, that Maronite service books and doctrines remained formally and materially monotheletic into the late sixteenth century, if not longer. This is an even longer duration than Fr. Louth allowed for in his fine book on the Damascene, but unfortunately the footnote for this particular point is actually missing from the bottom of the page (even OUP makes mistakes, I suppose). If that is accurate, it is even more important for the historian of monotheletism (who, at this point, seems to me, given that there are so very few competitors for the title) to get into the study of the Maronites, who represented the continuation of monotheletism for more than ten times as long a time as monotheletism existed in Byzantium. It is fascinating to think that monotheletism endured well into the early modern period in at least one small corner of the world. Perhaps if there were more attention paid to this continuation a greater interest in understanding monotheletism would develop.
Unknown to most of you and to the rest of the world, New Mexico is recovering from what may well be its worst snowstorm of the last 100 years. I was fortunate to be able to get out of the state on schedule, but not without some difficulty. The highway between Albuquerque and Clines Corners remained extremely icy and had created a massive traffic jam backing up across town almost to the Rio Grande by the time I left on Monday morning, which forced me to take the alternate route via I-25 and down a state highway to reconnect with I-40 east of the mess.
Northeasterners and Midwesterners will probably chuckle that a mere foot or two feet of snow can cripple most of an entire state for a full weekend, but for us this was the Great Blizzard of ‘06. In the high desert, much of it well over a mile above sea level in elevation, the snowfall made road travel extremely treacherous. Thus it was that both interstates were closed for at least two days, and I-40 east of Albuquerque was shut down from Friday until Monday with only a brief reopening Saturday. Not that you would have heard peep about it from NPR or The Weather Channel or any news network. The old “one of our fifty is missing” joke wears a little thin when mild rainstorms in Philadelphia merit more attention on national weather news than the paralysis of an entire state. Colorado was not ignored in this way, perhaps because it had already suffered such a powerful and overwhelming storm the week before. But the same problems that plague our neighbours in Colorado are also plaguing New Mexico: like their ranchers, ours are cut off and their herds are getting stuck in snowdrifts; as in Colorado, the National Guard has been mobilised to help bring supplies to those who are stranded; as it is in eastern Colorado, travel around much of northern and central New Mexico has been virtually impossible for days. With a few exceptions, the county governments back home did an effective job recovering from the storm, and the city government of Albuquerque should be commended on getting the city up and running almost immediately. The state did fairly well in responding to the storm. What will remain with me from the last few days is the complete and utter indifference of people outside the state about what happens in New Mexico. I realise there aren’t that many New Mexicans, but it might be worth mentioning when one of the major commercial corridors in America gets shut down by a freakishly large snowstorm in a desert state that typically sees less than 10″ of precipitation in an entire year.
As Eunomia’s success grows, the list of people to whom I owe this success necessarily grows ever longer. As always, I am particularly indebted and grateful to Jon Luker, who did me the service of providing the “space” for Eunomia gratis for well over a year and a half. He was responsible for transferring the site–and my old Polemics posts–to the new Wordpress format. Were it not for him, Eunomia as you know it would not exist.
Next I owe special thanks to Michael Brendan Dougherty, the new Assistant Editor at The American Conservative, the recent token conservative at Comedy Central who made a little news of his own when he broke the Rumsfeld firing story, and an all-around man-about-town who combines stern truth-telling and penetrating wit with uproariously entertaining tales of mild vagabondage and well-timed paeans to the virtues of his charming and beautiful ladyfriend.
The last three months have been, by my standards, a monumental success. September saw an improvement on August’s outstanding numbers with 7,550 unique visitors. October has been the best to date with just over 9,000. November has not continued the upwards trend, but it did see the second largest readership for Eunomia since I began here in December 2004 with only 37 readers short of 8,000. In the last three months, Eunomia has had over 94,000 visits and 637,000 hits, dwarfing everything that has come before. I would like to see the final month of ‘06 be the best month of the year and of Eunomia’s short run, but the requirements of other writing and my actual academic responsibilities may make that impossible.
My sincere thanks go out to Steve Sailer, Rod Dreher, Clark Stooksbury, Chris Roach, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Mark Shea, and Right Reason for a steady dose of links that have brought many new readers to this site, all of whom, I am hopeful, will continue to return to read more. Andrew Cusack and ParaPundit’s readers have been coming to this site in great numbers, and I am grateful for the permanent links and the readers’ continued interest.
Caleb Stegall and Scott Richert, two very supportive editors who have brought my work to publication at The New Pantagruel and Chronicles respectively, have continued to be extremely helpful in their steady encouragement of my writing. Unfortunately, tNP has shut down, but Chronicles is an excellent publications, and if you are not subscribing to Chronicles you are missing out on some of the best writing on moral, cultural, religious and political topics in the country. I am also grateful to Dan McCarthy and Kara Hopkins for bringing my writing to The American Conservative, a great magazine I have also enjoyed and supported since its appearance in the fall of 2002. Thanks to Rod Dreher for bringing my writing to The Dallas Morning News. Thanks also to Josh Trevino for bringing me on board at Enchiridion Militis, and Paul Cella for his encouragement and past links to Eunomia.
The list of others who have contributed to building up Eunomia in one way or another is fairly lengthy, so I will put down some of the names without any further comment. If I happen to leave someone out, it is an unintended omission and not a commentary on the value of your contribution or a measure of my appreciation. Thanks to Dan McCarthy, Jim Antle, A.C. Kleinheider, Andrew Cunningham, Joshua Snyder (The Western Confucian), Leon Hadar, James Poulos, Pithlord, Prof. Arben Fox, Kevin Michael Grace, Kevin Jones, Glaivester, John Theresa, Dennis Dale, Carey Cuprisin, Mild Colonial Boy, the Russian Dilettante, Jeremy Abel, M.Z. Forrest, Timothy Carney, Gene Healy, J.L. Barnard, Peter Klein, Michael Courtman, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Ordo et Traditio, The Inn At The End of the World, Leading The Next Inquisition, and Will Hinton. Many thanks are due to Peter Suderman for the many links he has provided and for our many engaging disputations over matters of film and conservatism. I also owe Ramesh Ponnuru thanks for directing a large number of readers here in October.
Finally, thank you to all my many readers from around the globe who have made Eunomia something of a small success. I hope that I am able to continue to provide the kind of worthwhile and intelligent commentary that you expect.
Well, okay, I’m not exactly live blogging it. But I am making some decent progress so far this week. I had started working on a draft of a fifth chapter (I am doing them somewhat out of order, so it isn’t actually chapter 5), but had gotten bogged down with outside writing projects and, well, the real world. Next on my posting to-do list: live blogging Strauss’ Salome!
Anyway, I am about two-thirds finished, which was better than the half-finished state that it was in when the day started. What’s it all about? In a word: monotheletes. Consider that while I return to my dissertation writing.
Back last night from Mecosta, and too much to get caught up on at the office today to do much blogging. Alas. But I exchanged e-mails with Maggie Gallagher, a critic of “Crunchy Cons,” this morning on an issue that came up (unbeknownst to her) over the weekend at the Kirk Center conference. The theologian Vigen Guroian, criticizing the crunchy-cons concept in Mecosta, said that there’s something phony about the idea of trying to adopt a tradition that doesn’t come down to you organically. Vigen said it’s a very modern thing to try on different traditions (e.g., converting from one religion to another), and he’s skeptical about the whole “back to tradition” aspect of the neotraditionalism advocated in “Crunchy Cons.” If I got his argument correctly, he’s simply saying that what I propose is not feasible. ~Rod Dreher
Rod gives what I consider to be a good answer to these charges, but I’d like to offer my own as well. It is similar, but I think it goes a bit further. Organic traditions are best. Ascribed identities are best. This is true. This is also of absolutely no use to people who have never been part of organic traditions worth mentioning and have always been bumbling along on the deserted highway of choice. This conservatism and traditionalism says to us, “Organicity or bust!” In which case, those of us who have not had the privilege of having received rooted, traditional identities can do nothing, because the very act of grafting ourselves onto a vine is deemed excessively individualistic and self-determined. Furthermore, it maintains the fiction that people who have received ascribed identities and inherited traditions from their ancestors are somehow free from modernity, as if there is not today with each affirmation of the old ways on everyone’s part a self-conscious decision to adhere to that tradition rather than let it go. It is true, as MacIntyre has argued, that even those who abandon or actively reject the traditions they have received are shaped by those traditions. In this sense, there is no escaping where you come from. The exile is forever shaped and haunted by his home country. But according to the rooted, exiles are not really allowed to settle anywhere else. Once in exile, always in exile.
For these refugees wandering through the virtually tradition-less lands such as myself, the arguments of Prof. Guroian and Ms. Gallagher are not only not helpful, they are something of a slap in the face. It is as if they are saying, “We’ve got ours. You’re simply out of luck. You can’t acquire a tradition not your own. You will never have what I have, so you might as well give up.” Perhaps that is not what they mean to say, but every single time they make their objections, whether to Crunchy Cons, “neotraditionalism,” simple “traditionalism” or conversion to a different church that is what it sounds like. They say things like, “Don’t talk about tradition, live it!” To which I say, “Well, obviously. Now that I am doing that, do you think you might acknowledge it?” To which they say, “But you’re still just choosing what you want.” Perhaps they would not be satisfied until the refugees adhered themselves to a tradition they positively loathed as a way of showing everyone that it was not just the fickleness of taste that motivated them but a dreadfully serious desire to belong to a tradition in spite of itself. Of course, this would correctly merit the charge of being perverse.
If I participated in the “tradition” in which I was raised, if we can even call it that, I could not be a Christian, because my parents never raised me as one and no one in my family going back three generations was a regular churchgoer when I was around. In the real world, that is where the regime of pluralism, choice and intermarriage gets you. Were it not for our family’s keen interest in genealogy, I would have had no notion that a generation or two before our family had several ministers. The extended family I grew up with had gone to church in the past, years and decades before, but not anymore. We were as happily (or unhappily) secularised as you please.
So I either go “back to tradition” by picking and choosing among the various churches of my ancestors (the wonders of pluralism strike again!), which would still not be satisfactory for the rooted, since I am picking and choosing, or I can go “back to tradition” by looking to the Orthodox Church, as I have done, as possessing the fullness of Truth and the unbroken Tradition of the Apostles, which will also not satisfy the rooted (apparently not even the “cradle” Orthodox) because I have now chosen a tradition from which I cannot even claim distant descent (unless you take things back a long, long way to ancient Orthodox England). So I may as well become a secular Republican, since that is the closest thing that I know to an ascribed identity; let my scriptures be The Wall Street Journal, let Sunday morning football be my liturgy. That is what I grew up with. That sounds like a fine improvement over Scripture and the Liturgy, doesn’t it?
When it comes to religion, when your parents do not actively hold fast to the tradition of their fathers, there is not actually anything more “natural” and less “arbitrary” about turning to the tradition that your ancestors once had (in my case, say, joining the Methodists, Presbyterians or Quakers) than there is in turning to a Christian tradition that actually prizes living, organic Church Tradition, such as Orthodoxy. Prof. Guroian, who is Orthodox as I am (though I am a convert), would seem to be suggesting that it would be preferable for me to go off to join the folks at PCUSA or the United Methodist Church because some of my ancestors were once ministers in those traditions, regardless of whether those churches even remain true to the traditions they have inherited. In this sense, we are being told that cultural tradition ought to trump what appear to be more genuine expressions of Christian tradition.
As a matter of descent, I could technically automatically be a Quaker, so perhaps I should go to their non-liturgical meetings and wait for the Spirit to inspire me to protest the war. Even though my mother doesn’t typically go to Friends meetings, because she does not remotely recognise the Quakerism of her youth, I should start going. That would be, according to this fetishisation of organicity, better and more genuine than looking for a different tradition. But even if I did that, it would still be me who was doing the choosing and the tradition-selecting. This fixation on ascribed identity becomes almost an equal and opposite absurdity in its rejection of individual choice: not only is it better not to choose, but if you ever choose something it is therefore by definition less genuine than if you received it. This is a mirror image of the individualist’s declaration that “I decide who I am.”
As I read this, this means that the person born into the tradition not only belongs to it more than you, the convert (which may be true), but in your very act of conversion you are simply replicating modern, non-traditional ways of doing things and cannot really be taken seriously. Even if you are not a “church-shopper,” but actually stop and adhere yourself to this or that church for the rest of your life you are no different from the “church-shopper” and the person who never goes to church because he chooses not to. Even in making a sound choice, opting for the rooted person’s own tradition, you are being arbitrary–no matter how many good reasons you have!
Even if you, the convert, can end up teaching the “cradle” folks about their own tradition, which you have had to learn about, admittedly somewhat superficially and intellectually on one level, and which they have taken for granted (and, I’m sorry, but they have taken it for granted, because it has been granted to them without their even asking for it), you are never really part of that tradition. In the eyes of the rooted, you will seem to be something of a parasite, living off the healthy body of an organic tradition to which you are ultimately always going to be alien. Of course, according to a truer definition of organicity you could be metaphoricallly grafted onto one of the branches of the tree, and according to a more realistic understanding of belonging you could be adopted into the clan even though you do not share their blood. But according to this static understanding of organic tradition, there are no ways in and it is never possible to truly attach yourself to it.
Besides the rather glaring problem that this poses for the idea of Orthodoxy and the vocation of the Church, to jump to whether or not this or that church represents the most genuine embodiment of the fullness of the truth is precisely the move that these rooted folks expect us to make. Even when I say, “I have come to believe that Orthodoxy represents the fullness of the True Faith,” they will say, “Aha! You have chosen to belong to Orthodoxy, you have determined it to be the best choice, which only proves our point.” In other words, there is no way for the refugee to win the argument and convince the rooted that he can become rooted, or at least to make a start of it. So rather than get into weighty discussions of why, as a matter of history and theology, it is frankly obvious to me that Orthodoxy is best and the surest road to salvation–and in saying this I am affirming what I have received from the Church and the Fathers–I will instead turn back to the fetishisation of organicity and tradition behind these critiques.
Later in Rod’s post, Maggie Gallagher says:
Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods.
So we have Prof. Guroian assuring us that some people really do belong to traditions and really do inherit them, but that attempts to attach yourself to them are artificial. Then we have Ms. Gallagher telling us that nobody today has any such tradition and that we are all simply consumers. The latter claim is plainly false, as any visit to an ethnic Orthodox parish will confirm in two seconds. So in the first case we have a sort of idolatry of organicity and on the other an idolatry of tradition. In the first, organicity seems to think that there are only ever full-grown plants and never seeds. It seems to claim that you cannot graft anything to an existing vine. Not only is this contrary to what we understand about things that grow in the earth, but such organicity isn’t even fully alive if its partisans insist that those who graft themselves on are somehow less connected to the living tradition. It assumes that there is no relationship between the plant and its natural surroundings, that it can continue to exist as if encased in amber while somehow also remaining alive. In order to find fault with those who seek to return to a tradition, living tradition must be made into a caricature of itself.
For Ms. Gallagher, nothing is traditional anymore. Not even adherence to a tradition. This is a sort of parody of the conservative view of modernity, as if there was an Age of Tradition in which everyone adhered to what has handed down to him as if they were automatons (because in this fantasy, no one prior to, perhaps, 1500, had the ability to decide anything himself) and then came the Age of Choice in which no one received what was handed down to him but simply starting choosing all things, including the traditions to which he belonged. Which, of course, are apparently not traditional. Perhaps a later date would be even more appropriate, since we are really talking about the predicament of 19th and 20th century Westerners and not all moderns.
But the central difference between pre-modern and modern man, or even between modern and late modern man, is not exactly simply the relatively greater role of individual choice in the life of the latter, but comes instead in in the relationship between choice and authority. Submitting to authority is as traditional as it gets. At some point, everyone has had to submit to a teaching authority for the first time–that does not make obedience to that authority artificial in any sense. Those who want to privilege choice and make the self and the satisfaction of the self the standard by which they judge what is good and what is not are necessarily hostile to the dictates of authority. Such an authority proposes to give them a standard outside of themselves that they must either accept or reject. A traditionally-minded person embraces the claims of that authority, yields to it, denies his own will and tries instead to will what the authority calls him to will. This is as basic as the redirection of our desires away from ourselves and towards God; it is the abandonment of autonomy and the entrance into koinonia, in which ourselves are no longer ours but Christ’s. Indeed, we are called to put away ourselves, to die to ourselves, and thus become truly human and truly personal for the first time. This is the perfect example that is dimly reflected in every submission to authority: the death of the self, the embrace of authority, the vivification of the person. Those who claim that such submission is impossible, or is always artificial when it is attempted, are sentencing the refugees–or perhaps sentencing all of us–to the living death of selfhood. Not only is it irritating to those of us who are trying to make the best of the measly scraps we have been given, but I believe it is fundamentally untrue.
Arguably no one in the modern age has been traditional in the way that medieval people were traditional, because the options for the latter were perhaps fewer (though, in fact, as the proliferation of medieval heresies shows, there were always just as many haireseis available to pre-modern people as there are to us–the difference is that they did not make choosing such a privileged act), but at every step in the chain of transmission of tradition people actively reproduced and passed on what they had received. The rulers of some European nations, some of which became Christian as recently as the tenth or eleventh century, had to decide for Christianity and against the paganism of their past, just as, at one point, Romans and Greeks had to do the same. At some point, the most ancient and venerable tradition began when a multitude of people actively, consciously chose it. Not only were they traditional in submitting themselves to the authorities of that tradition–which is the true measure of acceptance of a tradition (not whether you find it self-satisfying or even “authentic,” which are beside the point)–but they were instrumental in making the tradition that later generations would be able to take for granted because men such as Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Gregory Nazianzenos, and Grand Prince Vladimir chose to make Orthodoxy their own. Was their participation in the tradition artificial or forced, or are they not in fact examples of how a living tradition adapts and embraces those that adhere to it and so becomes even more vibrant and healthy?
It is difficult to imagine St. Paul writing, “Hold fast to the traditions that I have given to you, whether in word or by epistle, unless you happen to be a convert, in which case you may as well go back to making blood sacrifices to Apollo because you lack a sufficiently organic connection to the Church of Christ.” It is difficult to imagine Moses telling the people of Israel, “Sorry, folks, we have to go back to Egypt, because I have it on good authority that if we departed from Egypt now in search of some so-called Promised Land we would just be engaged in a lot of self-conscious identity construction that doesn’t really count for very much. It is better to abide in the fine traditions of the Egyptians, who, after all, have really old traditions. The God of our fathers? Overrated, if you ask me. We don’t want to be a bunch of self-absorbed consumers seeking authenticity in a fabled land of milk and honey. No, I think we should go back and be slaves. After all, it’s what we know!” Of course neither of them would have said anything remotely like this. And both of them freely chose to embrace the calling with which they were called by the living God. But, if we are to believe the rooted folks, St. Paul and Moses were precocious moderns experimenting with some new-fangled ideas. Personally, I take my chances with trying to follow, however poorly and ineptly, their example and leave behind the fetishists of traditions to which no one (or at least no one else but them) can belong.
For those who have wondered and those who have asked, “When does Larison find time to do anything else?” I will offer some examples of what I have been up to in my non-Eunomia life (it does exist!). This is, after all, a blog, and I have normally been rather remiss in including these sorts of personal notes because, well, I actually thought they would be rather uninteresting to readers.
Admittedly, the last two months have been more heavily dedicated to blogging than normal and the pace I have maintained in those months is unsustainable and will not be sustained. Now that the fall quarter has begun, real work has begun pressing in again. Back in August I had made good progress with my dissertation writing, wrapping up the rough drafts of a couple of chapters, both of which I am presenting at workshops this quarter (one next week), and I have made a brief start on the next chapter that follows. Last month I wrote up an abstract to submit for the Kalamazoo medieval conference and was accepted to the session on deification; I worked up a rough draft of the conference paper, though the conference isn’t until May and there will be plenty of time to revise it. Last week classes started again, and even though I am done with coursework I am continuing with modern Eastern Armenian, which I have unfortunately let slide during the summer and have to work at a bit more to get my conversational Armenian back to where it was a few months ago. Somewhat related to that, this week I submitted an abstract to a UCLA colloquium on Armenian studies on a medieval Armenian church topic and my study of part of a 7th century Armenian chronicle. During the last couple of weeks, I have also written up a short piece that should be appearing in the November edition of Chronicles and a longer piece that will appear in one of the upcoming issues of The American Conservative.
So, there have been some things accomplished recently, but not as many as there probably should have been. On reflection, the last two months haven’t been all that bad considering that almost all of the above work was done before the start of the school year, but it would be very easy to fall into that sort of thinking and let things go even longer. Now it will be time to get serious, which means that starting in the next week Eunomia really will be slowing down considerably. I know I have said something like this in the past and somehow the blog never does slown down. But this time it really will be. Don’t stop checking in–there will be new content on a regular basis. Just not nearly as much of it.
This is a shame in one sense, because I see from the numbers from just this week that October is on track to be the best month for Eunomia yet (last month brought in 7,550 unique visitors, and it appears as if October is on pace to exceed that, and Eunomia has made it into the top 250,000 sites on Alexa), but I think it will probably be for the best. I do intend to try to get in a post or two each day when possible, but the ludicrous ten post-per-day average that I have been maintaining for the last several weeks is simply impossible to keep up for an extended period of time without really letting other things slide. Besides, there is sometimes just not that much to say that is worth reading, and to keep pushing that level of output indefinitely would inevitably lead to a decrease in the quality that I have tried to maintain here. This will probably be the last post today, but you never know…
Tagged by James Poulos
1. One book that changed your life?
Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment
2. One book that you have read more than once?
Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment
3. One book you would want on a desert island?
4. One book that made you cry?
Lauro Martines, Fire in the City
5. One book that made you laugh?
Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ
6. One book you wish had been written?
How The Byzantines Created Western Civilisation by Sir Steven Runciman
7. One book you wish had never been written?
Karen Armstrong, A History of God
8. One book you are reading currently?
Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle (obviously)
9. One book you have been meaning to read?
10. Pass it on
…Damon Linker now has a blog (hat tip: Rod Dreher). This should be fun to watch as he takes on the FT crew while also possibly making wild and unfounded statements about religious conservatives in America. Best of all, what does Linker call his new blog? What else? “The Apostate.” So, irony aside for a moment, the choice Linker poses seems to be between the supposed fanaticism of the Neuhaus crowd and apostasy. Not exactly a tough choice for most believers.
The name of Linker’s blog reminds me, on a completely different, personal note, of the name of a short story I wrote back in high school. It was not a good short story (it was a very abstract story that was supposed to be critiquing the conformity of individualists, or something like that–no, really, it was), but I thought the title was one of those clever, late modern conservative “I’m really more subversive than you subversives are” uses of language, which was The Apostate of the Heretics.
My creative writing teacher didn’t get the joke in the title, partly because she didn’t know what apostate meant, which I found a little hard to believe. I’m not sure if she got the joke when I explained what it meant. Then again, when I wrote another story based loosely on the 21st chapter of the Gospel of St. John and used St. Peter’s Aramaic name, Cephas, in the dialogue, she didn’t know who Cephas was, so I guess being an English teacher at a high-level private school requires you to know some things more than others.
One of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Hyde Park is the opportunity to browse amazing bookstores that serve the University community–between the Co-Op and Powell’s, you are likely to be able to find any new or used book you might want to find (barring highly obscure, long out-of-print or very specialised technical texts), which also means that you are likely to be tempted into getting quite a lot of books when you visit either store. Today brought such a fortunate and catastrophic visit to Powell’s, which has a modest Byzantine collection (but even a modest Byzantine collection is awesome compared to the piddling selection at most chain stores), a passable theology collection and an astonishingly broad history section all together. Looking for the complete works of Bolingbroke? You can find them there. Need a primer for Old English? There it is. I was less impressed with their theology section, which runs heavily to the modern, lacks any real representation of Orthodoxy and which, oddly enough, contains a copy of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality?, which is hardly a theology book. But even given these limitations it still surpasses the religion sections at Borders, which run heavily to the DaVinci Code debunkers and the 987 books of Thomas Merton (it only seems as if there are that many, when there are, I believe, really only 852)–for a Trappist, the man is unusually verbose.
So the haul at Powell’s was quite interesting, and constitutes my leisure reading list for this year (whether or not I will get to most or all of these is another question). Since other bloggers sometimes regale their readers with their latest reading choices, I thought my selections might be of interest to readers of Eunomia, so here they are by category.
Theology & Church History
J.E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine
Ernst Renan, Averroes et l’averroisme
Nova & Vetera: Patristic Studies in Honor of Thomas Patrick Halton
Frederick J. McGinness, Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome
Hugh Douglas, Jacobite Spy Wars
Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole
Paul Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople: Ecclesiastical Policy and Image Worship in the Byzantine Empire
Georgina Buckler, Anna Comnena: A Study
Strangers to Themselves: The Byzantine Outsider
Near Eastern History
Meir Zamir, Lebanon’s Quest: The Road to Statehood, 1926-1939
After a three year run, The New Pantagruel is closing shop. Our incursion was never intended to be a long one. We are not careerists and had no intention or ambition to become part of the media establishment, Christian or otherwise. We did wish to demonstrate that such populist anti-liberal incursions were possible, and occasionally desirable. Against a chorus of establishment naysayers, The New Pantagruel succeeded on a shoestring budget and without any insider access in garnering national attention and influence, particularly within the elite Christian press and some political outlets. Our voice was primarily a voice of dissent, and it has been heartening to know that such voices can still capture the spirit of a large number of diffuse people and perspectives in today’s managed climate of “centrist” opinion.
Ours can largely be summed up as a localist, decentralist, anarcho-Christian and authentically conservative approach to politics and culture. As we have written previously, we believe that to suffer one’s place and one’s people in the particularity of its and their needs is the only true basis for finding love, friendship, and an authentic, meaningful life. This is nothing less than the key to the pursuit of Christian holiness, which is the whole of the Christian adventure: to live in love with the frailty and limits of one’s existence, suffering the places, customs, rites, joys, and sorrows of the people who are in close relation to you by family, friendship, and community–all in service of the truth, goodness, and beauty that is best experienced directly. The discipline of place teaches that it is more than enough to care skillfully and lovingly for one’s own little circle, and this is the model for the good life, not the limitless jurisdiction of the ego, granted by a doctrine of choice, that is ever seeking its own fulfillment, pleasure, and satiation.
Taking that charge seriously, The New Pantagruel has, essentially, argued itself out of existence. This is a good thing. In the end, we are pessimistic romantics. We believe life is eucatastrophic: a joyous catastrophe. Instead of spending endless hours before the faceless void of the “new media,” we will be engaging the tragedies and necessities of raising families, rebuilding neighborhoods and small towns, and fighting to preserve and save that which we love. As we dive back into the particularities of our places and people and their needs, we hope you will do the same. And remember, Fr. Jape is watching you. ~Caleb Stegall and Dan Knauss, The New Pantagruel
Caleb and Dan’s gain is our loss. The New Pantagruel contained some of the most interesting commentary online (and I don’t just say that because I once wrote an essay for it), and the world of webzines and blogs will be greatly impoverished as a result of tNP’s disappearance. No more will Jape’s carrier pigeons fly to bring us the latest in curmudgeonly wisdom, and no more will neo-Calvinists and Lutherans have to fear the biting wit of the old Jesuit. The enemies of the Permanent Things can rest a little easier now. The sophisters, economists and calculators can rejoice (if economists are capable of real joy). But one suspects, in good Pantagruelist fashion, that the last laugh will be on them.
Having put up over 1,900 posts between Polemics and Eunomia, I have to say that this has been a busy couple of years.
September has been another very successful month for Eunomia thanks to the many links from other blogs that have been bringing in new readers. The month is only two-thirds over, and there have already been over 5,700 unique visitors to the site, which is already 400 more than the total for last month. My thanks to everyone who has linked to the site and to all of the readers and commenters who have made this site the small success that it is.
“Anarchist” has the advantage of being disreputable enough that no respectable person would call himself one. No Trotsky fan mugged by reality is going to label himself an anarchist, and no bomb-dropping patriot would even think of it. In some respects the term isn’t quite an accurate description of what I think, since I do acknolwedge the need for institutions of public order. But the modern state is, if anything, an institution of public disorder and a thing whose essence is coercion and the abrogation of property rights, and which is almost totally lawless to boot. The present administration gives about as much evidence of that last point as anyone might ask for. “Anarchist” has its own negative connotations and dubious history, of course, but it’s far and away better than to be a Beltway “conservative” and not nearly as presumptious as calling myself a libertarian. So I think I’ll stick with it. ~Dan McCarthy
Perhaps I should reorganise my blogroll with an Anarchist section. In any case, I share Dan’s frustration with the problems of choosing political labels these days. For my liberal friends, it is usually satisfactory for me to say that I am a conservative; they don’t know from paleo or neo, and trying to explain the difference would just make their heads hurt (I know it can give me a headache some days). Usually, I will stick with conservative as my generic label if politics should come up in conversation, as loaded as the term has become with all of the baggage of misrule and warmongering, though reactionary is undoubtedly preferable for the same reasons that Dan gave for anarchist. No one who would want to work at a think tank would ever call himself a reactionary, which is one good reason to call yourself by that name.
In writing I will almost always identify myself as a paleoconservative or simply a “paleo,” which has two happy consequences: it makes it absolutely clear that I can in no way be confused with the catastrophe of a government we currently have and it is also sure to drive dedicated neocons slightly crazy. It does also happen to reflect most closely what I believe, and seems to represent those things that are best in the Anglo-American, European and Christian traditions that are worth protecting and which are in need of saving.
Still, reactionary has a strong appeal, and I am glad to use it from time to time. Certainly, others consider it a fitting name. But it is terrifically clarifying–virtually nobody wants to be a reactionary (just as, once upon a time in this country, nobody wanted to be called a conservative–perhaps someone should write Reaction Revisited or The Reactionary Mind to get things started?). A neo-imperialist will not call himself reactionary, because he believes he represents a liberal, progressive imperialism–you know, the “good” kind–and for neoconservatives there is simply no term more reprehensible that they can use to demean someone (except perhaps for fascist). They like to refer to “liberal reactionaries,” by which they mean liberals who want to protect their institutional advantages; this is not reaction, but just institutionalised liberalism, the same as it has always been since 1789.
It is better still to not simply call yourself a reactionary, but in fact to embrace reaction with gusto–approvingly quoting Maistre or Donoso de Cortes is a fun start, and Metternich is a good role model to recommend to others. If that isn’t black enough for you, there is always Bonald for a dose of counter-revolution and Walter Scott for the Scotch version of the same. For a lighter, more poetic touch, you can’t beat Novalis’ romantic Catholic reactionary medievalism. Of course, as these things go, most fairly moderate conservatives of the ’50s would be counted as reactionaries today, so the term can tend to be a bit fluid, but if this tells us anything it is that while reactionaries may be inflexible self-styled conservatives have a bad habit of tending to eventually drift along with every bad innovation that comes along. Rather than standing athwart History yelling, “Stop!” conservatives often wind up catching a ride on the tail-end of History whispering, “Would you mind if I made a few suggestions, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?”
The reactionary may reject most or all innovations, sometimes including good ones, but in the process he refuses to entertain a number of positively terrible ideas that the conservative may be willing to play along with or try to “shape” in a “conservative direction.” There are times when the only right answer to the Red is the Black, and increasingly I am of the view that we are now in such a time that calls for raising Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s “black banners.” That is a colour that, as it happens, was also the colour of the flags of anarchists.
As Eunomia’s success grows, the list of people to whom I owe this success necessarily grows ever longer. As always, I am particularly indebted and grateful to Jon Luker, who continues to do me the service of providing the “space” for Eunomia gratis and was responsible for transferring the site–and my old Polemics posts–to the new Wordpress format. Were it not for him, Eunomia as you know it would not exist, and I would not be pestering the world with my every opinion–but don’t blame him for that last part.
Next I owe special thanks to Michael Brendan Dougherty, a blogger of style and rare charm, who has opened many doors for this surly reactionary and who has also spread the word about Eunomia to a great many people. Someone clever once said (I paraphrase) that a fanatic and a humourist are really two sides of one man, and that the fanatic and satirist are both necessary to rescue the world from its doldrums, and it is in precisely this sense that Michael provides the good humour, irreverence and joie de vivre that no doubt seems lacking here and provides the absolutely necessary complement to this blog. Man was not meant only for fasting, akribeia and rigour, but also for joy and feasting, as fast and feast are part of the same sacred order and belong together. In appreciation of Michael’s blog, let me say, as As Adam Wayne said to Auberon Quinn, “You have a halberd and I a sword, let us start our wanderings over the world.”
Michael is currently having a fundraising drive at his own blog, so go look at his attractively redesigned site, if you haven’t already, and perhaps you will see why it is the essential complement to Eunomia and thus why his work is worthy of your generous support.
August was, by my standards, a monumental success, both in terms of productivity and readership. With 406 posts last month, I dedicated my time to making this into what I believe has become a front-line blog for paleoconservative and traditional conservative ideas. With over 5000 unique visitors and a significant boost to Eunomia’s Alexa ranking, August was far and away my most successful month, but it would not have been possible without the generous links and praise from many others whose own efforts deserve no less admiration and appreciation. My sincere thanks go out to Steve Sailer, Rod Dreher, Clark Stooksbury, Chris Roach, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Mark Shea and Right Reason for a steady dose of links that have brought many new readers to this site, all of whom, I am hopeful, will continue to return to read more.
I must also thank Steve Sailer for an embarrassingly generous post praising this site, which has already brought an amazing number of new readers here, and express my appreciation to the equally generous words of Jeff Martin, who is a regular contributor at the group blog Enchiridion Militis to which I sometimes also contribute. Thanks also to Josh Trevino for bringing me on board at EM, and Paul Cella for his encouragement and past links to Eunomia.
Caleb Stegall and Scott Richert, two very supportive editors who have brought my work to publication at The New Pantagruel and Chronicles respectively, have continued to be extremely helpful in their steady encouragement of my writing. Both magazines are excellent publications, and if you are not reading tNP or subscribing to Chronicles you are missing out on some of the best writing on moral, cultural, religious and political topics in the country.
The list of others who have contributed to building up Eunomia in one way or another is fairly lengthy, so I will put down some of the names without any further comment. If I happen to leave someone out, it is an unintended omission and not a commentary on the value of your contribution or a measure of my appreciation. Thanks to Dan McCarthy, Jim Antle, A.C. Kleinheider, Andrew Cunningham, Joshua Snyder (The Western Confucian), Leon Hadar, James Poulos, Pithlord, Prof. Arben Fox, Kevin Michael Grace, Kevin Jones, Glaivester, John Theresa, Dennis Dale, Carey Cuprisin, Mild Colonial Boy, the Russian Dilettante, Jeremy Abel, Andrew Cusack, M.Z. Forrest, Timothy Carney, Gene Healy, J.L. Barnard, and Peter Klein.
Thanks are also due to Peter Suderman for the many links he has provided and for our many engaging and, I hope, generally friendly disputations.
Finally, thank you to all my many readers from around the globe who have made Eunomia something of a small success. I hope that I am able to continue to provide the kind of worthwhile and intelligent commentary that you expect.
There are few activities in life that can be said to be more futile than blogging. What, after all, does it do, except provide a forum for people with nothing better to do than to give a lecture on the virtues of pessimism to other people with nothing better to do than respond in kind? We can futilely mock each other in very serious ways, and then pat ourselves on the back that we have made our respective points, having probably changed no one’s mind and exhausted part of an afternoon or evening that would have been better spent in almost any other way. I could be reading more of my book on pessimism rather than writing this post. It’s all very discouraging.
There are no more fleeting accomplishments than writing “posts,” which sometimes lack in themselves even the completion accorded to more complete articles or essays. As an entirely electronic medium, a blog is as ephemeral as can be and entire years of work could be eliminated in some sort of horrendous server crash. Most blogging is of a topical and derivative nature (thus you have a response to someone else’s reaction to another person’s article on a press conference about a policy initiative), as sickeningly post-modern as you could want and as time-bound an activity as man can imagine. Worse, only the inside jokes of sci-fi geeks can compare with the ultimate irrelevance that most blog posts enjoy (it is no surprise that many a sci-fi geek also happens to blog and more and more of the blogging at The Corner, for example, seems preoccupied with the latest trivia from the world of sci-fi). Perhaps both benefit from their common unreality–one is a product of fictional stories, the other is an entire medium at a remove from the real world and one step closer to the fantasies of science fiction.
Not only is online writing fleeting and impermanent, as well as remarkable for how little impact it has on anyone, but most blogging is of such a trivial nature that it would likely make schoolgirls with their diaries feel contemptuous of the light-weight, meaningless banter that goes on on many sites (that a great many blogs are actually just electronic versions of the schoolgirls’ diaries only confirms this–what is depressing in a way is how little difference there often is between those diaries and the prattling nonsense that passes for most political blogging, from which, of course, the author must obviously be excepted). I’m sure someone has made similar observations somewhere (and if I spent enough time using Google Blogsearch, I could find the reference!), but blogging is the ideal cultural expression of an age of no authorities and no meaning. The new authority might be this: I blog, therefore I have authority.
It is perhaps doubly ironic that a proponent of eunomia should then be blogging at all, since I assume that there are things of permanent value and permanent meaning, though I am typically opposed to all modern progress-laden accounts of purpose and meaning in life. But on the other hand, I believe that I am giving voice to some of the much neglected ideas of reactionaries of ages past and working, in however limited a fashion, to dismantling the pretensions of every kind of progressive, not unlike Dienstag’s own reappraisal of pessimism in Pessimism. Whether it will have any lasting value is uncertain, and it would be entirely out of character–and quite inappropriate for this post–for me to be optimistic about that.
When I think of the alternative to Wal-Mart, the supposed ideal society of small shopkeeper and the family farmer, I’m reminded of the abyssmal [sic]service, high prices, lack of selection, and utter dreariness of Hyde Park, Chicago, where I went to school. ~Chris Roach
Now perhaps I have been living in Hyde Park for too long and have been taken in by the place, but the words abysmal and dreary do not pop into my mind when I think of it. I won’t pretend that it is a marvelous neighbourhood, or that it is an instantiation of the small community ideal, but it is actually still something of an urban neighbourhood community (to the extent that this has not always been something of a contradiction in terms), which cannot be said for its counterparts in Glen Ellyn, Aurora and Naperville with their antiseptically beautiful rows of identical houses full of people who do not know each other. Evanston is similar to Hyde Park in many of the same ways with respect to being free of the box and chain stores, and while it has plenty of problems no one I know could reasonably describe it as abysmal or dreary.
The neighbourhood co-op does not seem to be charging such terribly expensive prices (since it is the main grocery store for the neighbourhood, I don’t have many handy comparative examples to know whether their prices are competitive–presumably, as a small co-op chain, they will not be perfectly competitive with a much larger chain such as Dominick’s), the selection seems perfectly adequate and the service in dreary old Hyde Park is no better or worse than that found in chain groceries in the suburbs of Chicago. The neighbourhood is, of course, oriented around the University and so tends to be heavy on services (mostly restaurants) and light on other kinds of stores. And no one would deny that the South Side surrounding Hyde Park is of an almost entirely different character from the neighbourhood. But if we want to speak about dreary places in Chicago, the “revitalised” Cabrini Green would be a better target than Hyde Park, which remains one of the few bright spots on the South Side in part because of the presence of the University. It is also undeniable that for things like appliances or furniture or any of the durable goods that the box stores sell in huge numbers that Hyde Park does not have stores that offer these things, but it is not hard to imagine why small stores providing these services would not exactly flourish in the age of Target and Wal-Mart.
In any case, Hyde Park is hardly a complete hold-out against chain stores of all kinds nor is it some hard-core center of mom ‘n’ pop businesses, though you will never encounter one of the sprawling megastores here or anywhere east of the Dan Ryan and south of Roosevelt. The city has made sure of that. I don’t know whether native Hyde Park and South Side residents would prefer to have Wal-Mart open in their neighbourhoods, but I strongly doubt it. Undoubtedly, opening these chain stories would save the people some money, perhaps quite a lot of money. But perhaps there is something else about their place, for all its flaws and higher prices, that they would rather save. Perhaps the people who live in the dreary abyss do not see it as such, but instead love it for what it is and would rather bear the costs of keeping it more as it is than succumbing to the rush to homogenise every corner of America.
Chicagoans will certainly have their chance to turn out the city councilmen who have kept the Lords of Bentonville from entering the city, but I think we all know that this isn’t going to happen (this is Chicago, after all, not some sort of kooky democracy). Probably in the end, in the name of growth and efficiency, the Wal-Marts and the chain restaurants will come, which will not mean a vibrant and happy Hyde Park to replace the abysmal dreariness that some remember, but simply a neighbourhood with shuttered windows on every block.
When you read and write as many words as someone with my acute case of logorrhea does, certain words begin to bother you because of the frequency with which people use them, often seemingly unaware of how bizarre or cacophonous they sound. Two of these are nowadays commonplace, the third is beginning to make the rounds (unfortunately) and the fourth is a technical scholarly term that is fairly obscure but deserving of scorn all the same. These are Islamofascist, Judeo-Christian, theoconservative and miaphysite. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can inflict my weakness for Bollywood music on those readers inclined to listen. On a lighter note, here is the beautiful Rani Mukherjee from Mangal Panday, an otherwise unremarkable Indian nationalist retelling of the outbreak of the 1857 Mutiny.
On Monday I will be returning to graduate school, so I will be contributing and replying significantly less often over the next few months. I wanted to thank you all, and especially Jon, for the warm reception you have all given me and for the stimulating discussions we have had over the past several months. On occasion, I may check in or submit a short post, but I expect this coming year will be keeping me very busy. I wish you all the best, and I hope to find the Polemics contributors to be even more active and contentious upon my return. Deo Vindice!