Monday, 29 January 2018

Oswald Mosley: enthusiasm and the technocratic state

                                      Mosley shortly before his Luxton Bus Depot speech

Stephen Dorril's 2006 biography of Oswald Mosley contrasts with Skidelsky's earlier book (and unsurprisingly with Mosley's autobiography) in giving a thoroughly unfavourable portrait of Britain's lost fascist leader. Although it's been a long while since I read the latter two works, Dorril's interpretation of Mosley's life undermines claims of his economic expertise and general intelligence, quite apart from presenting his character as one of a complete cad. (Personally, I find it convincing.)

That said, I think it does still suggest that one of the keys to understanding Mosley was his attempt to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty by means of decisive action to impose (broadly) Keynesian solutions. And at root of this attempt is a very current political problem: how to generate a sufficient popular enthusiasm for that driest of dry things: an imposed, technocratic solution to economic problems. Despite Dorril's rather detailed undermining of any claim that Mosley was just an anti-Semite by convenience, the established view that this was a large part of his anti-Semitism survives:

Writers on British fascism vary from the soft-hearted Lord Skidelsky to tough-minded researchers from the East End. On one point, they agree: Mosley's decision to play the race card was entirely cynical. He may have bent the knee to Hitler and Mussolini, but he wasn't more or less racist than any other member of the aristocracy. He embraced anti-semitism as it was the best way to appeal to the East End voters he thought would propel him back to the people around him, Mosley was never a convinced racist,' said Francis Beckett, the best of the tough-minded historians. 'Needless to add, that doesn't mean that he was better than them.'  [Nick Cohen here]

Putting aside the detailed examination of Mosley's actual motivations here, in principle, it is entirely plausible that someone trying to sell politically technocratic and elitist solutions to complex problems would try to link them to rather more exciting activities such as racism, marching up and down and street fighting. If Mosley's own motivations were perhaps not entirely so clear sighted, it would be perfectly reasonable to invent someone whose motivations were...

                                                   Laibach looking decidedly antifa

To the extent that I understand Zizek (and I'd admit that's to a very limited extent indeed) part of his fascination with the bands Rammstein and Laibach rests on their using Fascist appearances for 'progressive' purposes:

"They’re very hard - I think they’re extremely progressive. It’s totally wrong to read them as almost a proto-fascist band. My god, they explicitly supported Die Linke, the leftists there, and so on. I like their extremely subversive from within, undermining of all this - you know? Like, it gives me pleasure. Psychologically I’m a fascist - everyone knows it, no? Who published this - Daily everyone knows it, no? Who published this - Daily Telegraph? That jerk who pronounced me a leftist fascist, you know? Alan Johnson or who? So - I mean - I think we should take over these - all of these - authoritarian gestures, unity, leader, sacrifice, f*ck it! Why not? No? So, Rammstein are my guys." [Zizek here]

“The minimal elements of the Nazi ideology enacted by Rammstein are something like pure elements of libidinal investment,” Slavoj Zizek informs us in the documentary film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012) as frontman Till Lindemann goose-steps across a stage. “Enjoyment has to be, as it were, condensed in some minimal ticks, gestures which do not have precise ideological meaning. What Rammstein does is it liberates these elements from their Nazi articulation. It allows us to enjoy them in their pre-ideological state. The way to fight Nazism is to enjoy these elements, ridiculous as they were here, by suspending the Nazi’s horizon of meaning. This way you undermine Nazism from within." [Here]

The detachability of Fascist spectacle from Fascist policy is, in essence, Mosley's cynicism: the attachment of 'libidinally invested' fashy elements such as para-militarism to technocratic economics is an attempted solution to get popular buy-in to necessary, but unexciting policies.

Every now and then on social media you'll get a to-and-fro about whether Fascists are socialist or conservative. Great fun for all involved, no doubt, but usually no more than knockabout stuff. But certainly, some 'progressives' do adopt libidinally invested (ie fun) elements such as threatening to punch people, parading, and even anti-Semitism (sorry, anti-Zionism) which earlier times claimed as Fascist. (Undoubtedly, genuinely self-identified Nazis also do this. On the other hand, genuine, Burkean conservatives tend to stroll round individually in worn tweeds, assaulting passersby with superior smirks.)  Putting that aside, modern progressivism does seem to have found a way arbitrarily to attach libidinally invested elements to technocratic, dull policies. The Remain campaign, for example, seems to have convinced itself that the technocratic EU is the natural home for a full blown erotic attachment enjoyable in itself and able to generate even more joyful practices such as the anathematisation of opponents. A similar movement is seen in the way that modern 'Scottish civic' nationalism generates an erotic commitment to the establishment of technocratic, modern government instead of rule by obscurantist British aristos.

I'm not really interested here in arguing that modern progressives are Fascists or even 'fashy', although I do think they have at the least attached enjoyable 'authoritarian gestures' to socialist substance. My main point here is that progressivism quite recently seems to have imitated a genuine Fascist (Mosley) in attaching erotically charged elements to dull, technocratic ends. Even if those elements are not always the same as Mosley's, they do resemble his in their function: to make technocracy fun. 

And contrast with that the conservatism of Russell Kirk or Edmund Burke: a disavowal of the end of technocratic government in favour of government as prudence; moreover, a disavowal of the means of enthusiasm in favour of temperance and an Augustinian suspicion of the possibility of political Utopianism. Most importantly, there is a disavowal of the arbitrary attachment of libidinally charged elements to political ends, in favour of the reflective discernment of the nature of things, where there is an intimate, sacramental relationship between what is seen and loved as a means, and what is willed as an end.

[An afterthought: traditional blood and soil nationalism need not anathematise other nations. A love of one's own home and culture is entirely compatible with an cknowledgement that others have their own homes and their own erotic commitment to them. Civic nationalism on the other hand is predicated on our being good people and our opponents being bad people. Liberation from a controlling power in the first case in principle at least ends the hatred of the imperial nation; in the second case, the imperial power remains, no longer an oppressor perhaps, but still bad people full of bad habits. To be concrete: in the eyes of progressive nationalists, if Scotland were ever liberated from England, England would remain full of cruel toffs, intent on starving the poor and destroying foxes and the NHS.]

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Fourth Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Gospel reading
Mark 1: 21-28

And they cam intil Capernaum; and withoot delay, on the Sabbath day, he cam intil the kirk, and was teachin. And they war uncolie struck wi’ astonishment at his teachin; for he spak as gin he had authoritie, and no like the Scribes.

And noo, thar was i’ the kirk a man wi’ a foul spirit; and he cry’t oot, sayin, “What hae we wi’ thee, thou Jesus o’ Nazareth? Hast thou come to destroy us? I ken thee, wha thou art — God's Holie Ane!” And Jesus forbad him, say in, “ Haud yere peace! and come oot o’ him!” And the foul spirit, rivin, and cryin’ wi’ a great voice, cam oot o’ him. And they war a' astoundit; sae that they coonsell’t amang theirsels, “What is a’ this ? A new teachin! Like a Ruler he commauns e’en the foul spirits, and they do his wull!” And the fame o’ him spread abreid at ance ower a’ the hail kintraside o' Galilee roond aboot.
[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Third Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Gospel reading
Mark 1:14-20

And eftir John was deliver’t up, Jesus cam intil Galilee, giean oot the Blythe-Message o’ God; and sayin, “The waitin-time is by-past, and the Kingdom o’ God has come; turn ye, and lippen the Joyfu'-Message!”

And gaun on by the Loch o’ Galilee, he saw Simon, and Andro (Simon’s brither), castin aboot i’ the Loch; for they war fishermen. And Jesus says to them, “Come ye eftir me, and I’se mak ye fishers o’ men!” And at ance, lea’in their nets, they follow’t eftir him.

And gaun on a wee, he saw James, Zebedee's son, and John his brither, i’ the boat, pittin their nets i' guid fettle. And at ance he ca’d them; and lea’in their faither i’ the boat wi’ the fisher-men, they gaed eftir him.

[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Monday, 15 January 2018

Coercing Jews: the Mortara Case

                                               Seeing everywhere with complete clarity

A recent book review in First Things has prompted turbulence on Twitter. The review concerned the Mortara Case in which a Jewish child, secretly baptised against the wishes of his parents, was taken away from his Jewish family and brought up a Catholic. (The Wikipedia article gives an extended and, so far as I can see, fair account of the case.)

Although I'm not sure that it's quite fair to say that the author of the review (a Dominican priest) endorsed the Church's actions, he is certainly sympathetic to them. This unsurprisingly provoked some angry responses including one by Rod Dreher.

The Catholic philosopher Joseph Shaw gives a good analysis of why he thinks Pius IX acted wrongly; however,  his main point (that the Church acted inconsistently (and anti-Semitically) in taking away Edgardo whilst ignoring the plight of Catholic children who were not being brought up in the Faith by nominally Catholic parents) is vulnerable to arguments that a) the jeopardy of a child's eternal felicity in a household not even nominally Catholic is factually greater than of a child in a nominally Catholic family; and b) that the Church should have intervened more elsewhere is not an argument that it was wrong to intervene here.

The philosophical problem here is that all (most?) societies acknowledge that, at some point, the welfare of children might require a child to be protected or removed from its parents. More generally, all societies acknowledge that force is sometimes required to prevent wrongs. If (as here) the welfare is a matter of eternal felicity, the reasons for exercising coercion seem pretty strong. Now clearly, secularists will regard this belief of Catholics that baptism and bringing up in the faith are matters of the highest importance to the welfare of children as absurd; but they too will countenance removal of children in the face of abuse (which, at least according to some, will include worshipping sky fairies and circumcision).

So I don't think that the general problem of coercion and removal is a specifically Catholic one, and, given this, it is inevitable that there will be hard cases and, as in all hard cases, the probability that sometimes the wrong decision will be made. (And even where the right decision is made, considerable suffering may result.) But there is undoubtedly something utterly terrible about this case, whatever may need to be said about other cases.

Let's try a slightly different tack. Wisdom literature is full of injunctions to silence and reticence in judgment. For example, 

Proverbs 17:28 Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

Proverbs 10:19 Transgression is at work where people talk too much, but anyone who holds his tongue is prudent.

Moreover, I'd suggest that more generally, the contrast between the folk image of a wise person and that of a merely rational person rests primarily in gravitas: the wise person is reluctant to speak and give judgment unnecessarily; the rationalist has a tendency to (in Russell Kirk's words) to be a chirping sectary (think Richard Dawkins). (As an aside, part of the comic value of Polonius may be that he tries to be both grave and chatty.) So wisdom involves a greater tendency to silence and reticence than the normal run of humanity will display. (And perhaps it is not irrelevant that the wisest of the wise, Solomon, displayed his wisdom most obviously in a child custody case by refusing to make his own judgment.)

Moreover, in the face of the past, we should often feel a particular perplexity in offering moral judgment. It is quite obvious that both the Roman practice of fighting in the arena and the Western practice of the Atlantic slave trade were foul: a society without these things is a better society ceteris paribus. But what really is one to say about those virtuous figures who lived in those societies and lived and prospered sometimes because of those practices? Are they wicked men? (And yet, if one refuses to condemn them because times were different, are we falling into a cultural relativism?) The wise person will, I'd suggest, simply admit the perplexity: there is no need to pretend to a certainty of speech we do not possess and of which we have no need.)

This thought is relevant to a lot of the 'decolonising' activities that seem to be sweeping much of the West. We should find, for example, it perplexing to know precisely what to say about figures such as General Lee with his support of the slave owning South or Washington with his slaves. We can examine and describe their actions and their failings, but to try to come to some sort of final moral decision about their characters or their place in history is both rash and unnecessary. Unlike a judge who does have to come to some sort of decison in the midst of moral complexity, unlike any agent who has to decide what to do in the face of a real moral dilemma, we have absolutely no reason to come to a decision on whether Pius IX acted rightly or wrongly: indeed, it would be wise not to.

(I leave this point resting on the simple observation that wisdom, as commonly understood, involves reticence and the avoidance of unnecessary judgment. As to why this is so, I might offer two strategies. The first is a strong strategy: this might be a justification based a) on the Wittgensteinian thought that language is rooted in a form of life beyond which it 'goes on holiday' and b) the Aristotelian thought that the aim of moral philosophy is ethical improvement, leading to the conclusion that, while reflecting on the ethics of the past is a good thing, it is rash to go from that reflection to a judgment that is, by nature of its being directed at the past, useless. If such a strategy works, there is, in principle, an impossibility of reassessing completely the actions of (especially) the long or very foreign past. The second is a weak strategy: this would be what I take to the commonsense observation that judgments about the past tend, in practice, to be quite difficult to recreate in complete detail, coupled with the thought that they tend to be rather pointless. Such a strategy would not entirely rule out making judgments on the past, but it would strongly discourage it in practice.)

One of the reasons that current discussion of the case involves high emotion is that it seems to have consequences for something that is a live issue: anti-Semitism in Catholicism. I think Joseph Shaw is right that there is indeed more than a whiff of anti-Semitism in the decisions of the Mortara case; I think it is clear that there is still a problem with anti-Semitism in the West, quite apart from specifically in some parts of the Church. Even assuming some form of Catholic Integralism max, where all the decision making powers of the State were thoroughly Catholic, it would still be to the point to reflect on whether those decisions were informed by anti-Semitism, or by wisdom and by virtuous application of Catholic principles. That is of course no guarantee that such a state wouldn't perform something like the Mortara case again. But equally, there is no guarantee that a liberal state wouldn't abduct Jewish children to prevent circumcision or to enforce one-or-other of the modern shibboleths of sexual liberation contrary to Orthodox Jewish belief. A key point here is that, following both Plato and Aristotle, the role of practical wisdom in politics tends to be emphasised in Catholic thought over that of principles: at the very least, practical wisdom is required to apply principles well. That practical wisdom (prudentia) cannot be replaced simply by articulated rules, and thus it is difficult to step back into a long past, very foreign situation and come to judgment: as Aristotle notes, it depends on the perception of the wise person, and, moreover, (as I will add) that perception is essentially embodied and present and not distanced from the situation of judgment by time, space and culture.

I don't particularly want to turn this into another screed on the virtues of conservatism, but it does strike me that a refusal to avoid perplexity, a refusal to express unnecessary judgment whether about the past or fantastic futures is indeed a very wise and thoroughly conservative thing. And it's a habit that social media with its constant demand for verbal responses and constant temptation to imitate the role of the public judge that most of us actually are not will of course regard as cowardice. There is no particular reason to think that we can say anything very sensible about whether a decision made in very different circumstances from ours was the right one, even if we can, carefully, reflectively, tease out some of the ethical background from which those decisions emerge. The real task for Catholics from this case is to learn lessons about the sneaking pervasiveness of anti-Semitism, the sacredness of the family and the impossibility of ever getting any institution that always works properly.

And that will of course sound to many like a cop out. But that's because they are children of modernity (or perhaps more exactly here Kant), who believe that there exists an entirely rational ethics of principle, smoothly applicable at least in theory by human beings across all times and cultures without the need for the virtue of prudentia, while I believe the only panopticon exists in the mind of God, whose vision we glimpse only sporadically and partially. And moreover I believe both that we should refrain from judgment where we can and also that, where we cannot, we should exercise it with fear and trembling and in the knowledge that we are scurrying creatures on sacred ground.
                             Judges properly attired for entering the sacred space of judgment

I am conscious in arguing this that it might sound, particularly to a Jewish audience, that this is a typical attempt to avoid the admission of guilt, a tendency typical of Western anti-Semitism in general and a general Catholic inclination to preserve an illusion of infallibility. Perhaps. But the constant demand to revisit the past and to exact precise judgment on it seems to be a very modern, very western habit, one fuelled in large part by recent changes in technology. Moreover the de-sacralization of judgment, the viewing of it as an everyday activity to which all of us are called all the time, is again of fairly recent and geographically limited occurrence. So while there is a constant temptation, particularly if one has a shared identity with a victim group in a particular case, to feel the urgency of just this event, of the exceptional call to judgment here, I would simply ask someone feeling this whether you are sure that the general practice, of which this is merely just one example, is so obviously a good or possible thing that you will set aside more general worries about it in the face of the urgency of just this one case?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Second Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Gospel reading
John: 1:35-42

Ane vthir day Johnne stude, and twa of his discipilis, And he beheld Jesu gangand, and said, 'Lo! the lambe of God.' And twa discipilis herd him spekand, and followit Jesu. And Jesus turnit, and saw thame followand him, and said to thame, 'Quhat seke ye?' And thai said to him, 'Rabbi (that is to say, Maistir), quhare duellis thou?' He sais to thame, 'Cum ye and se.' And thai com, and saw quhare he duellit; and duelt with him that day. And it was as the tent houre.

And Andro, the bruther of Symon Petir, was aan of the twa that herde of Johnne and had followit him. This fand first his bruther Symon, and he said to him, 'We haue fundin Messias, that is to say, Crist;' and he ledde him to Jesu. And Jesus beheld him, and saide, 'Thou art Symon, the sonn of Johanna; thou salbe callit Cephas, that is to say, Petir.'

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1903) vol 2 here

Monday, 8 January 2018

Conservative Catholics and Traditionalist Catholics

The excellent Father Hugh has recently blogged about the differences between conservatives and traditionalists in the Church with, roughly, the conclusion that conservative Catholics are rather on the way out and traditionalists on the way in.

Part of the post is, I suspect, a little teasing: by describing the progressives of The Tablet as 'conservative', we can all enjoy imagining scenes of seventy year old secularised priests in Hampstead reaching for their smelling salts. But there is also a serious point that those who wish to conserve a corrupt and failing order are both part of that corruption and doomed to fail, whilst those radical traditionalists who return to the strong roots of our Church have a viable alternative to present failings.

I've touched on this issue before but Father Hugh's post prompts me to have another go at it. Part of the problem here is a necessary ground clearing of definitions. Immediately, we can dismiss the idea that being a Conservative (party supporter) necessarily makes you a conservative: certainly in Scotland, Conservatives are loudly proclaiming they are progressives. Moreover, it is not the case that conservatism in politics is a neat match for conservatism in Catholicism, any more than traditionalism in the Church is, I would hope, a neat match for Traditionalism in the wider world. But since I attend an Ordinary Form Mass, am sceptical about the claims of self-identified traditionalists such as Father Hugh, and would be extremely surprised to learn that I am a progressive, I guess that makes me a conservative. So how do I defend myself?

Let's start with Russell Kirk on conservatism:

Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word "conservative" as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy "change is the means of our preservation.") A people's historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.

Now, I suppose from this that I'd be tempted to describe traditionalists as those who do have an ideology, those (to quote Father Hugh) 'radical Catholics who look to the unchanging essence of the Faith'. But that won't quite do because, in the Church, a conservative, like all Catholics, is committed to 'the essence of the Faith': to the Catechism, the teaching of the Doctors of the Church, the Creeds, the Magisterium etc. The dispute there isn't between conservatives and traditionalists but between Catholics and heretics (or, more charitably, between the fullness of the Catholic Faith and whatever poor sinners can manage to make of it in their short, earthly lives). But the ideology, or vision of the traditionalist Catholic seems centred on restoring pre-Vatican II standards of liturgy (presumably, with pre-Vatican II intellectual and spiritual formation as well:

Of course, it is true that it is more than the liturgical reforms that led to the mass exodus from the pews, the seminaries and the convents. The liturgical reforms are arguably only the most immediately visible element of the wider reform agenda that was implemented. Yet without the liturgy that had been the rock of stability and Catholic identity throughout nearly two millennia of incredible social, political, economic and technological change, there was no safe place left for so many people to stand their ground and dispassionately assess the changes in society. With the liturgy having become less distinct from the world, and indeed often incorporating the worst of secular banalities in music, symbols and gestures, what was the point of the liturgy any more? If it is just another socially-contingent construct, then it could be embraced or forsaken according to taste.
Yet the new conservatives, as any reader of The Tablet will know, cling doggedly and defiantly to their post-conciliar vision of the Church, ever more shrill in shouting down those who dare to say that their emperor has no clothes. (Father Hugh here)

I think this is a profound difference between a conservative and a traditionalist Catholic. Speaking personally, whilst I am very happy to criticise the 'worst of secular banalities in music, symbols and gestures' that I quite regularly experience, I am much less willing to focus entirely on the Spirit of Vatican II let alone Vatican II itself as the cause of problems in the Church. It is perfectly possible, for example, to imagine an English language liturgy, even with the priest facing ad populum, with common-or-garden (often Protestant) hymns such as those by Wesley or Watts, done with dignity. (Indeed, that's not so very far away from many Ordinary Form Masses I've attended.) Since both vernacular liturgies, ad populum and 'folk' traditions in Church music (and can get more of a folk tradition in British music than Wesley?) are examples of the Spirit of Vatican II, I suppose that means I'm possessed by that Spirit. Frankly, I don't think that the banalities which are a feature of modern Church life are the main problem here: whether we had an Extraordinary Form Mass as the norm or simply screened out some of the nuttier abuses of good taste in the Ordinary Form, I doubt whether numbers of practising Catholics would be significantly changed. (It would take too long to argue this fully here -indeed, I doubt whether I could even I had the time- but essentially the process of secularisation in Western Europe is a process that is far bigger than Vatican II and has affected most religious communities regardless of whether or not they have a traditional liturgy. Crudely, when I was an Anglican, there was a similar tension between those who valued the traditional language of the Prayer Book and those who didn't. Neither group was particularly thriving despite their claims to be the future. It's always seem odd to me how much Catholic discussion of secularisation focuses on Vatican II and ignores the academic discussion of the wider process. From that perspective, it seems hard to understand how a greater emphasis on a traditional liturgy or formation would have much effect on the process.)

A characteristically conservative response here is epistemic humility. We don't fully understand the processes of secularisation; we have even less of an idea of what to do about them. I'm perfectly delighted that bodies such as the Latin Mass Society have a mission and a drive: I genuinely wish them all the best -and it is indeed possible that they might be right. (My suspicions -and indeed general thoughts on the importance of letting different approaches make an attempt- are similar to these.) But, being a conservative, I'm suspicious of ideology and certainty. I'm particularly suspicious of words like 'radical' or 'ressourcement' because the root to which we return is always that of our current, warped imaginings: indeed, the Spirit of Vatican II itself is very largely a result of a 1950s/1960s attempt to get back to the essence of Catholicism, a stripping away of medieval accretions to find the essence of tradition ('swing those pants, patres!').

Another conservative response is what I'll style 'Augustinian grumbling': given a conservative emphasis on the imperfectability of the human situation, part of the normal human task is to put up with it. It's salutary to ask yourself when, where would be a better time to be a Catholic? For one in Scotland, it's hard to think of a time, certainly in the last 500 years or so, when life was better for us. That doesn't mean that secularisation isn't a problem to be faced and even fought, but it does mean that our forebears faced worse challenges without (some of them at least) giving up.

Finally, there's the St John Paul the Great problem. For many of us, he was the Pope who brought us into the Church or who sketched out a vision of how the Church should resist secularism. But he was also a Pope closely identified with Vatican II and not so much traditionalism as conservatism. (I'd argue that his phenomenological approach is very much part of Vatican II's central turn to subjectivity in the engagement with modernity -but that for another lifetime perhaps.) For me, his conservative 'style' seems more likely to be a successful strategy than a more obviously traditionalist one: an approach which does not reject the past, nor sees an essence simply to be preserved in it, but rather a Burkean sense of organic growth:

In his speeches and writings, he [Burke] articulated the concept of an organic society: a social order that is sacred, natural, historical and traditional. He believed that social change was best achieved when eschewing abstract thought divorced from experience; instead, he favored renewal of the polity in harmony with a regard for individual liberty, respect for the accumulated wisdom within existing institutions and a concern for the greater good of the community. His political theory can best be summarized by his most famous phrase: "Society is a contract between the past, the present and those yet unborn."  [Here]

Again, this requires a warning against simply reading political conservatism into Catholic conservatism: the Catholic Church preserves a Deposit of Faith which cannot change. But how that deposit is realised in modernity is something that does require change, not just the imagining of a past concrete form and an attempt to restore it. (Although, it is perfectly possible that, sometimes, simple restoration is the right answer: it is perhaps instructive here to think on the restoration of Gothic forms by Pugin and his followers.)

In fine, part of this is mere semantics. It is a conservative thing (just not the only conservative thing) to be fond of the Latin Mass and to find strength in the past. No conservative can live in modernity without some articulation of theory and principles which will smack, just a little, of an ideology. The characteristic passivity of conservatism does need to be supplemented by a little thumos from time to time. And in all these things, the conservative may find himself shading into a traditionalist or even a progressivist. But if there is a difference between conservatism and traditionalism, it is best summarised thus. Conservative will be fond of the familiar, both in terms of what they have experienced, but also in terms of the family and the immediate. He will also be suspicious of plans and programmes, and with all the certainties of this or that day's analysis. He will value highly civic and ecclesiastical peace. Finally, he will regard himself as living in a mystery greater than he: something that can be glimpsed only partially and where he is primarily dependent on God rather than his own actions.

Not enough to stop the decline into secularism, says the traditionalist and the progressive and the personality with a book to sell. Fair enough. Go ahead and try your way. But where is the evidence that it will work any better? (And to pre-empt one point, growth in some congregations is not evidence of a technique that will work to reverse secularisation in general. (We can all attract fanboys.) And it's that more general question that I'm really interested in.)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Mass readings in Scots: The Epiphany of the Lord

First reading
Isaiah 60: 1-6

Waukin an' light, for yer light's weel on;
an' the gloir o' the Lord, it sal crown yo:
aye, mirk it sal theek the yirth,
an' gloam on the folk it sal lye syne;

bot the Lord sal gang heigh, wi' a bleeze, owre yersel,
an' his gloir sal be seen abune yo:
an' the folk, they sal come till the lowe o' yer light,
an' kings till the skance o' yer risin.

Rax yer een roun', an' see;
they gather ilk ane, they come a' till thee; frae far eneugh owre,
yer sons they sal fuhre,
an yer dochtirs aside them sal carried be.

It's syne ye sal trimmle an' gang like a flude:
an' yer heart it sal thole, an' rax the snood:
whan sic a braw spate sal rowe yer ain gate,
an' the feck o' the folk till yersel sal swee.

Droves o' camels sal theek yo thrang;
dromedars frae Midian an' Ephah:
the lave o' siclike frae Sheba sal gang;
gowd an' spyse, they sal carry't alang;
an' sal lilt out the land o' Jehovah.

[From Isaiah frae Hebrew intil Scottis, by P. Hately Waddell 1879 (Amazon US here; Amazon UK here)]

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13

Wair yer rightins, O God, on the King;
an' yer right on the King's ain son:
he sal right-recht yer folk wi' right;
an' yer puir anes wi' right-rechtin, syne.

The rightous, fu' green in his days sal growe;
an' peace be enew, till the mune i' the lift sal pine.
Frae sea till sea sal he ring;
an' eke frae the flude that rowes, till the yonder-maist neuks o' the lan'.

Kings frae Tarshish, an' the isles,
till him sal a hansel bring;
kings out o' Sheba an' Seba, sal e'en
hae a gift till han'.
No a king, but sal lout till him; a' the hethen sal thirl till him-lane:

For the feckless that skreighs, he sal saif;
an' the puir, and wha ne'er had a stoop o' his ain:
on the weak an' forfairn he sal lay fu' light;
an' the lives o' the frienless sal hain.

[From psalm 72, The Psalms: frae Hebrew intil Scottis P. Hately Waddell (1891) here]

Second reading
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6

Gin at least ye hae heard o’ the stewardship o’ the grace o’ God whilk was gien to me for you, that by way o’ revelation was made plain to me the hidden secret, e’en as I wrate afore in a wee wheen words, whilk knowledge in the generations by-gane wasna made kent to the sons o’ men, as it is noo made plain to his holie Apostles and Prophets i’ the Spirit -that they o’ the nations soud be aiqual heirs, and aiqual body, and aiqual pairtners i’ the promise in Christ Jesus, by the Gude-word.

[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Matthew 2:1-12

Now whan Jesus was born in Bethlehem o’ Judea, in the days o’ Herod the king, behald, ther cam’ wyse men frae the east til Jerusalem, sayin’, "Whare is he that is born King o’ the Jews? for we hae seen his stern in the east, an’ ar come til wurship him." Whan Herod the king had heard thae things he was trublet, an’ a’ Jerusalem wi’ him. An’ whan he had getheret a’ the chief priests an’ scribes o’ the peeple thegither, he exaket o’ them til tell whаre Christ shud be born. An’ they said untill him, "In Bethlehem o’ Judea; for thus it is writ bie the prophet:

An’ thou Bethlehem, in the lan’ o’ Juda,
artna the weest amang the princes o’ Juda:
for out o’ thee sall come ane Governer
that sall rule my peeple Israel."

Than Herod, whan he had hiddlinslie ca’t the Wyse men, inquairet o’ them eidentlie what time the stern had kythet. An’ he sendet them til Bethlehem, an’ said, "Gang an’ seek eidentlie for the young childe; an’ whan ye hae fund him, bring me back word, that I may come an’ wurship him alsua." And whan they had heard the king they set out; an’, lo, the stern whilk they saw in the east gaed afore them, till it cam’ an’ stude ower whare the young childe was. An’ whan they saw the stern they rejoicet wi’ verra grit joy. An' whan they had come intill the hous, they saw the young childe wi’ Mary his mither, an’ fell doun an’ wurshippet him: an’ whan they had openet their thesaures, they propinet untill him giftes, gowd, frankincense, an’ myrrh. An’ bein’ wаrnet in a dream that they shudna return till Herod, they gaed awa intill their ain countrie bie anither way.

[From The Gospel of St. Matthew in Lowland Scotch, from the English Authorised Version. By H. S. Riddell (1856) here]

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

On hierarchy: putting up with incompetent authority

Despite my fondness for Russell Kirk, I confess to a certain, personal uncomfortableness with his easy acceptance of hierachy and order in authority:

 Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom. [Here]

There are many psychological reasons for this discomfort, among which, fairly highly, I would rank being dragged round stately homes by my father, with an accompanying commentary which swerved from aesthetic and historical appreciation to cheery advice that, come the revolution, these toffs should be the first to be lined up against the wall and shot. Perhaps even more effective in producing a certain enduring chippiness in my character was the constant and realistic reminder that, were we to be transported back in time, we would be found in the scullery rather than the drawing room.

That said, a deep Augustinian sense that politics will never solve all of society's problems has over the years led me to 'put up with' Britain's class system. Frankly, I don't like much of it and some changes would probably be a good idea. But I suspect that, were some of the more radical changes of frothing progressives put into effect, we would simply have swapped one hierarchy with the charm of a patina of age for another with its nose as firmly shoved in the trough as Lord Snooty and his pals. In essence, hierarchy is inevitable for a social ape like us: the only real question is whether that hierarchy is acknowledged and made explicit, or whether it is concealed under a blur of chumminess.

Many of the existing topics which absorb online attention are concerned with hierarchies which are perceived to be malfunctioning. Whether this is a matter of Pope Francis, the Tory Government or President Trump, there is considerable comment (to put it delicately) to the effect that authority is being wielded by an idiot. Putting aside whether or not these particular persons or others are actually idiots, a conservative should always be aware that hierarchical authority will inevitably at least sometimes -and possibly very many times- be wielded by idiots. So the question then becomes: how should that idiocy be dealt with without damaging the underlying structure of hierarchy? It's far too easy to allow the vehemence of a (perhaps deserved) attack on how authority is wielded to spill over into an attack on the structure of authority itself. Moreover, a modern expectation of complete rational, effectiveness undermines the acceptance of necessary authority: nothing will always work well and perhaps nothing will often work well. Expecting otherwise will lead to a simple and constant churning of hierarchies, the recorded incompetence of one being replaced by another whose incompetence has yet to become visible.

So what's the solution? In the spirit of Burkean conservatism, it would be wrong to expect a clearcut set of instructions. Grumbling may well itself be part of a lived solution. But particularly in an online environment where every grumble takes on something of the former weight of informed judgment, it's very difficult to judge the point at which exasperated criticism becomes destructive of the long term, necessary structures themselves rather than of the immediate and unnecessary failures in the exercise of those structures. In general, conservatives should at least keep an awareness of the dangers of damage to long term structures and, in many cases, a leaning towards reticence rather than sharp utterance. In any case, thinking about how we criticize is at least as important as what we criticize...

That,  by the way, is intended at least in part as an apologia for my relative silence over the past few months. Having spent that time lying in a corner,  bent into the foetal position and muttering incomprehensibly to myself (aka blogging in Scots), my New Year's resolution is to take steps to re-enter the fray. But reticently. And whilst keeping up the incomprehensible muttering. (So Scots Mass Readings will continue unabated.)

Happy 2018!