Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Anti Buddhist

One of the unexpected consequences of revisiting the life of Charles de Gaulle was a deeper appreciation of man who I frequently ran into while delving into the history books but really didn't understand: Charles Peguy.  

De Gaulle had stated on several occasion that Peguy was--after his father--the greatest influence on his life and an author "who mattered to him immensely".  Which is interesting because most English biographies of de Gaulle scarcely mention him. Yet to know Peguy is understand a lot about de Gaulle and Gaullism. Julian Jackson, in his five best books on Charles de Gaulle states:

I think out of all the books I’ve chosen, Péguy is probably the least well known to an English audience. But the first reason I chose him was that on many occasions de Gaulle said it was the book that most influenced him as a young man and Charles Péguy the author that most influenced him.....

....De Gaulle has a phrase in his war memoirs on the first page where he talks about how for him “France is like a princess in a fairy story, Madonna in a fresco”. That could come straight out of Péguy. Péguy is offering this extraordinary, overarching synthesis of the unity of France, that French history is a continuum and a whole.

De Gaulle once remarked that "he thought and felt exactly as I did'. 

Which is odd because the circumstances of both were wildly different and on superficial appearances there was little to suggest a shared affinity. Contrary to De Gaulle's bourgeois upbringing,  Peguy grew up poor. His father died while Peguy was a child, from wounds sustained in the Franco-Prussian war. His mother, a chair-maker, worked long hours to support the poor family.  However Peguy was precocious, and his intellectual ability was recognised by the local schoolmaster, and the republican educational system, recognising his talents, propelled him from provincial Orleans to the to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  Dropping his childhood Catholicism for Socialism, he became a student activist and soon became embroiled in the Dreyfus affair, literally fighting in the streets of Paris against those who were convinced Dreyfus was guilty. He never graduated from university, instead became an "essayist", earning a meager income from his journal Cahiers de la Quinzane. Rediscovering his Catholicism in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair he railed against modernity and became "mystical", writing several poems which, while earning him acclaim, earned him little money. A reserve army officer, he was killed leading his troops on the eve of the Battle of the Marne.

So why is he important.

Well, apart from the political legacy he left through his influence of the politics of de Gaulle, he had an indirect influence on the trajectory of Catholicism in the 20th C. Peguy recognised that modernity was changing the world in a way that it had never experienced before and he also recognised that the Christian religion was in deep trouble. A founding, if not principle member, of the ressourcement movement--he coined the term--he excoriated the clergy whom he felt had corrupted the Christian religion and turned men away from God. A man of fierce integrity, his relationship was the Church was highly irregular as he was married to secular woman who refused to baptise their children (he would not so without her agreement) and was thus denied the sacraments.

Interestingly, the young assistant who worked with him in the store in which he published his journal was Jacques Maritain. Peguy set into motion a series of events which caused Maritain to return to the faith. Maritain, in turn, mentored many who become influential in the Nouvelle theology movement which reshaped Catholicism in the 20th C.

Peguy was a fulcrum upon which a lot moved.

Peguy approached religion as poet and not as a theologian, in that his faith was in his heart and not a product of his head. But it would be wrong to say that he "intuited" this rather he seemed to have "sensed"--I'm being specific about the terminology--it in a profound manner. And what he sensed was that the clerical led faith had become detached from the source of it, and he felt that this was the cause of Christianity's atrophy. But it wasn't just this disconnection between the source of the faith and the practice of religon, Peguy also felt that Christianity, particularly in its Jansenist and ascetic elements, had deformed Christianity. There has been perhaps no other Christian that so emphasised the goodness of the carnal world. His was not a Christian spirituality rather it was a word made flesh.  Peguy was big on the goodness of creation and the body.

So why isn't he well known?

As I see it, there were two major problems with Christianity at the dawn of the 20th C. Firstly, there was the source/theology detachment problem which was recognised by a few, but there was also the problem of the  "buddhisation" of Christianity which is hardly recognised even today. At the dawn of the Nouvelle Theology movement there could be said to be two branches, the "traditionalists" and "Peguy". And since Peguy was problematic and died early, the "traditionalist" i.e. Buddhist branch assumed dominance. Peguy's nouvelle theology was a road not traveled.

As said before, Peguy was a probelmatic Christian. For example,  he was fiercely nationalistic which he said was fueled by his Christian faith.  He loathed pacifism and preferred a just war to an unjust peace. He was not a militarist but saw in the profession of arms a shield against the wickedness of malign powers. For Peguy, Christian soldiers provided the space in which the faith could grow unmolested and there was a holy dimension to their profession provided they acted justly and honorably.

"Blessed are those who died for carnal earth

Provided it was in a just war.

Blessed are those who died for a plot of ground.

Blessed are those who died a solemn death."

He literally street-brawled for justice. He preferred to put the hurt on evil rather than suffer it.  His notion of carnality, meant that identity was not an idea but a something rooted in reality. For example, France was not an "idea" but it was carnal thing and to be French, as opposed to a French citizen, were two separate things. He thought that some of the poor, in their attitude to work had become too "bourgeois." He also felt that Jesus wasn't in competition with our identities. We did not all have to become "mini Jesuses" rather we should be the christian version of ourselves.

His was a loving assertive Christianity, there was no kumbayah in him. And his assertive Christianity put him against the "traditional" ascetic "Buddhist" Christianity which assumed prominence in both the traditional and liberal strains of Christianity. He was a Christian knight who did not find an audience among pacifist monks and therefore he is forgotten. When he is mentioned, he is remembered for his "acceptable" points; his piety, his concern for the poor, his religious poetry. They gloss over the disagreeable stuff.

But the question to ask here is who is the more orthodox Christian, the pacifist monk or Peguy? And here a thought experiment is in order: Joseph Ratzinger is probably the deepest, most orthodox of the Nouvelle Theologians. Now could you imagine, even in his young adulthood, the young Ratzinger making a whip out of cords and chasing the money lenders out of the temple, but anyone given a familiarity of Peguy's life could not only imagine it, but could also see Peguy giving a "few extra" for good measure.

Which one better imitates Christ?

Makes you think.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Friedrich Nietzche: A European Buddhism

“I could be the Buddha of Europe: though admittedly an antipode to the Indian Buddha”

(Friedrich Nietzsche)

I've got to admit that I've never read much of Nietzsche simply because he hasn't really interested me that much.  But perhaps I've been wrong. While rummaging through some journal articles I became aware of the fact that he had a reasonably solid understanding of Buddhism and apparently even spent two years learning Sanskrit. Interestingly, a lot of the "Will to power" and "Ubermesch" stuff was a consequence of his understanding of Buddhism and its application to European culture.

What I also found astounding is that there is a fair amount of literature out there looking at the relationship between Nietzsche's thought and Buddhism, the executive summary being that they are more alike than different. What I find interesting is how he also recognised that the decline of European culture will come with it becoming more Buddhist, particularly Christianity, something this blog has mentioned before.

This is form an excellent journal article which summaries his thoughts on the subject which I would highly recommend:

Nietzsche opened his Genealogy of Morals with a revaluation of Schopenhauer, considered as a cultural event in the history of Europe. Thus, at the moment when Schopenhauer's philosophy was a cause celebre, creating spectacular enthusiasm among intellectual and artistic circles, Nietzsche felt compelled to abandon his most influential mentor in order to dramatize the danger that he believed Schopenhauer's Weltanschauung represented when conceived as a European destiny.

It was precisely here that I saw the great danger to mankind, its sublimest enticement and seduction—but to what? to nothingness?—it was precisely here that I saw the beginning of the end ... the will turning against life . . . I understood the ever spreading morality of pity . . . as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had become sinister, perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to Nihilism?

In this manner, Nietzsche raised the specter of European culture passing into a nihilistic phase, one characterized by a will to nothingness—a will to the absolute relativity of all values and, hence, to the frank realization that life was without any given meaning or goal. Such a cultural destiny, Nietzsche called a new or "European" Buddhism. We should note immediately that Nietzsche took special care to emphasize that a Buddhistic phase in the cultural life of Europe would constitute a new form of Buddhism and, thus, would exhibit qualities both consistent with and profoundly different from classical Buddhism. Some of those differences we have already encountered in Nietzsche's judgment that classical Buddhism arose out of the death throes of an exhausted civilization and marked, therefore, a final cultural form of excessively spiritual men[ED].

Nietzsche saw that the loss of the transcendental values which came about with encroaching atheism would  produce a state of affairs which was similar to what went on in Asia before. Neitzsche's critique of Schopenhauer was about how he approached the "death of God". Nietzsche may have ranted about his pity but what really irked him was his passive acceptance of the fact which he saw as a type of Nihlism.   But its also important to note that excessive spirituality paved the way for the transformation of Christianity.

The Christian era is succeeded by its opposite, a new Buddhism. Such a movement occurs within Christianity as a result of its revaluation of itself. Nietzsche postulated that the "will to truth" was the agency by which Christianity overcomes itself and necessarily eventuates in an honest atheism and a radical cultural nihilism. After almost two thousand years of training in the "will to truth," which eventually got sublimated into cleanliness of intellectual conscience (science), European man is finally ripe for the truth of a new Buddhism and the total revaluation of his most precious venerations. The new Buddhism, therefore, will be the terminal phase of the Christian era.

But how could Christianity give birth to a European form of Buddhism? In Nietzsche's judgment, European Christianity's moral world-view and its in-junctions produced a man already trained in the ways of practical nihilism. In fact, Christians have always been practicing nihilists, and it was this hidden scandal that Nietzsche believed he had uncovered about Christianity. Such a practical nihilism was rooted in the Christian's disposition to invest all of the significance of life in a kingdom beyond this world—indeed, to devalue the earth—including human reason, instincts, and passions. Such a tendency brought about a radical depreciation of the richness of earthly life and the concomitant investment of nothing, and the beyond, with ultimate meaning. By these means, Christianity educated European man toward a yearning for nothingness and created a Buddhistic tendency in man. Viewed in this manner, European Buddhism, whatever specific form it might finally take, would have to be seen as the culmination of a moralistic development within Christian culture itself. Its appearance would symbolize the final collapse of the Christian movement and the onset of a post-Christian era.
There are several really important points here. That excessive spirituality conditions men to a Buddhist worldview. Secondly a detachment from "the world" negates the importance of worldly affairs. Thirdly, an excessively keanotic interpretation of Christianity produces an atmosphere akin to nihlism. What Nietzsche is saying is that traditional asceticism and modern theological developments i.e. Kumbayah Kenotic Christianity will transform Christianity into a Buddhist version of itself.
Strangely, Nietzsche greeted the prospect of a Western form of Buddhism with considerable ambivalence. In Beyond Good and Evil, he spoke of Europe being threatened by a new Buddhism, while in an unpublished note, he characterized the possibility as a "nihilistic catastrophe." Yet in another unpublished note, Nietzsche welcomed a European form of Buddhism as both "the most extreme form of nihilism" and "the most scientific of all possible hypotheses." Such an ambivalence on Nietzsche's part reflected his genuine uncertainty regarding what kind of pessimism (or nihilism) would eventually come to dominate European culture. Nietzsche never doubted that Europe had already entered a nihilistic phase of cultural existence. What he did have serious misgivings about was the specific interpretation that Western man would give to his emerging awareness of a culture-wide crisis of meaning—that the old values which had supported and shaped his life had collapsed and, therefore, could no longer insure a future for him. In other words, how European man would appropriate the new conditions of his life mattered greatly! The issue turned, for Nietzsche, on whether Europe would succumb to a pessimism of weakness, symbolized by Schopenhauer's metaphysics and an opiate Christianity, or whether it would will the courage of a "pessimism of strength" symbolized by Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the Dionysian man. Only under the latter banner would it be possible to create a future beyond the desert of nihilism. Moreover, it was in the latter sense alone that Christianity could become the proper basis for a new European civilization. Should this occur, then the emergence of a European Buddhism could be viewed as the signal for the beginning of a more spiritual age.

If found this last bit quite interesting as Nietszche still saw some possible hope for Christianity, but it had to reverse some of its tendencies. You've got to take Nietzsche with a grain of salt but what I find interesting is his notion that Christianity could successfully tackle society if it could "deascetisise" to a degree and recognise the legitimacy of the the created world, not just in theory but in practice.

*Bonus: Another good blog post on the subject.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

As the debacle of Afghanistan flashes across our TV screens it's important to reflect why a bunch of goat herders were able to successfully defeat the most technologically advanced and copiously equipped military on earth. This all segues well with my current posts on de Gaulle so it's worth a few comments.

If victory is defined as the ability to impose your will on the battlefield, then the fall of Afghanistan--and its rapidity--is a catastrophic defeat for the U.S.  Sure, the US is still capable of affecting much destruction but a desert is not a client state and what's been fascinating to see is that when faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It's not like the U.S. didn't try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women's rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance--most of the time with hardly any fighting at all--showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

No while I reckon he's still a bit of a Buddhist Christian, Rod Dreher appears to be getting red pilled quite rapidly and his post on the subject was quite insightful.  As he points out, America's political a military eggheads discounted the role of religion:

This is on the elites. This is on elites like Carter Malkasian, senior adviser to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015-2019. In this piece from last month in Politico, he admits that it never really occurred to these American geniuses that the Taliban were really motivated by their religion. Excerpt:

The Taliban had an advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. Their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonated with Afghan identity. For Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as “resistance” or “struggle” than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defense against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. Even though Islam preaches unity, justice and peace, the Taliban were able to tie themselves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. It prodded men and women to defend their honor, their religion and their home. It dared young men to fight. It sapped the will of Afghan soldiers and police. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

This explanation has been underappreciated by American leaders and experts, myself included. We believed things were possible in Afghanistan — defeat of the Taliban or enabling the Afghan government to stand on its own — that probably were not.

Gosh, you think? What the hell did these eggheads think that the Taliban were?! It’s like a senior American expert in 1945 writing that it was surprising to discover that the Nazis really cared a lot about race. This is what happens when you have an elite that is wholly secular, and incapable of thinking outside that narrow box. Why did they tap Ghani as president? Because he was the most secularized, technocratic Afghan politician — somebody American experts could understand, but also someone incapable of inspiring loyalty among Afghanis.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what's also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity.  America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America.  There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

Christianity, once, also reinforced identity. De Gaulle's opposition to the U.S. and E.U. hedgemony was rooted in his Christian sense of the identity of France. It wasn't xenophobia as much as his Christianity that pushed him hard in rejecting anything the compromised his sense of French identity. De Gaulle and the Taliban may come from different religious faiths, but both understand the teaching, "what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?

The secular man has no such understanding.

*The mosque in the background of the image is a nice touch.

Friday, August 06, 2021

The Strange Case of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

One of the things that struck me in reading about de Gaulle's life is how Catholic support for the Free French could be predicted by theological position, with "traditionalists" supporting the Vichy regime.

The common perception people have of the Vichy regime is that it was a puppet regime imposed by the Nazis. The thing is that this is not exactly true. It would be more correct to say that it was regime enabled by the French defeat and though it shared a disadvantageous position with respect to Germany, there was much synchronicity between the ideals of it and Nazi Germany. People forget just how respectable Fascism was prior to the Second World. Contemporary history tends to paint the French as "victims" of Nazi conquest yet the reality was that there were many Frenchmen who were supportive of the German conquest of Europe.

People forget that prior to the Second World War, France was deeply divided society, much like the modern U.S., with both Left and Right factions who saw no agreement virtually on anything.  The biggest movement on the Right  was the Action Francaise movement, which advocated a return to French Monarchy, a repudiation of the French revolution, a restoration of the preeminent position of the Catholic Church in French society and a return to "traditional values".  It was anti-Semitic, anti-Protestant, Xenophobic  and collaborated, in some instances, quite enthusiastically with some of the more odious Nazi policies.

What was strange about the movement is that it was led by an avowed atheist who was contemptuous of religion, Charles Maurras. He supported the Catholic Faith because it formed part of the "identity" of France but as said before, he thought the faith a bunch of tosh. He did, however, like Vichy.

Now men of quite of quite rudimentary and simple faith would probably feel that there is something intuitively wrong with a position which supports a religion while at the same time regarding it with contempt.  But I suppose this incompatibility can be overcome with a rigorous philosophical training and deep spirituality. Enter  Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. (RGL)

RGL, who is currently being rehabilitated by certain trad sections in the U.S., was not your ordinary member of clergy.  A brilliant Dominican theologian, author of many theological books, who held high ecclesiastical office, ghost writer--and "influencer"-- of several papal documents, he was doctrinal supervisor to John Paul II. As said, he was an exceptional guy, but in many ways he encapsulates the problem of Right Catholicism in the 20th Century. As Etienne Gilson explains:

Posterity will have more leisure than we have, and the future will see things from a distance that is lacking to us. Those who are curious about doctrinal teratology will enjoy unraveling the intricacies of such an alliance. On the political level no explanation is needed. The French people are born fanatics; rightists or leftists, they are always willing to persecute one another in the name of some sacred principle. ....The really interesting question was to know why a Master in Theology belonging to the Order of Saint Dominic, as well as a highly qualified interpreter of Thomism who enjoyed in the Church an unchallenged doctrinal authority, should then have felt duty bound to teach that Charles Maurras and Saint Thomas Aquinas agreed on the notion of "the best political regime."

It is enough to open the Summa Theologiae at the right place to know that this is not true. Yet this theologian was very far from being alone in his error. Laymen of great intelligence and talent did not hesitate to side quite openly with the "party of order". The heart of the problem would be to know how, by what secret channels, Thomism could seem to them to offer a theological justification of the political theory of Charles Maurras. What the royalists hoped to gain from such an alliance is obvious. Saint Thomas is the Common Doctor of the Church. To establish that his political doctrine was the same as that of Charles Maurras amounted to proving that the Political doctrine of Charles Maurras was that of the Church. With this proved, all French Catholics without exception would have been held in conscience to accept the monarchist politics of the Action Francaise. What a haul! Let us resist the temptation to as what peculiar brand of "Thomism" this must have been to feel akin to the positivism of Maurras which, like that of Comte, was deeply interested in Rome but not in Jerusalem.

The Philosopher and Theology

Now RGL wasn't just a supporter of Vichy, he was an enthusiastic one. He was so enthusiastic that he used his doctrinal authority to assert that anyone who supported the Free French was committing a mortal sin. And there is credible evidence that he saw no problem with Vichy's anti-Semitic policies. Now it's one thing when the local village priest comes to a conclusion which is stupid, but when your "best and brightest" is out cheer-leading for an evil government you've got a serious problem.  What's even worse is that RGL enjoyed considerable support and esteem in the Vatican well after the evils of the Nazis' and their collaborators were born to light. Remember this is all before Vatican II and its "corruption" by "liberalism".

Apologists for RGL have stated that his religion clouded his theology.

I doubt that.

RGL primarily saw himself as a religious man and his "faith" was sincere. There is no chance in hell that he didn't measure his political actions by the yardstick of his faith. And this is where the problem really lays: How is it that a man, who is gifted in intelligence, a profound ascetic, devoted to religion and who's had the best education that  Western Civilisation could have thrown at him come to the conclusion that there was no moral problem with his faith and the persecution of an innocent people and the support of a morally vile regime.

After the war, de Gaulle "leaned on" the Vatican and a quarter of the French clerical hierarchy were forced to retire. RGL kept his position.

There is something profoundly wrong here, and I think it is here where we must look to understand one of the reasons why religion collapsed in the 20th C. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Charles De Gaulle and Catholicism

“As the French and as Christians we oppose Hitler and fight the fight”

Andre Malraux, de Gaulle's polymath Minister of Cultural affairs once said of him. "He talks a lot about France, very little about God" and it is in this vein that many of his biographers have approached his life. De Gaulle is primarily thought of as a political person, yet that is to misunderstand the man for de Gaulle was profoundly religious. Catholicism is often thought of a showy, flashy religion yet that was not the case of the de Gaulle who was quite reserved about it, keeping it a very private affair.  The other reason why this dimension of is neglected is because the type of faith he had was out of sync with contemporary notions of religion.

When we think of a religious lay man, we tend to think of someone like Robert Schuman: aescetic, in prayer, "churchy", gentle and seeking "peace". De Gaulle, on the other hand, was combative, rude and fiercely nationalist. Someone we wouldn't necessarily associate with being serious about his faith. A yet this would be to misunderstand the man because he was sincerely religious but  he wasn't a church groupie. And here I think we touch the crux of the matter. Our conceptions of religiousness have been so conditioned by the "monkish aesthetic" that we fail to recognise his religious dimension. Yet perhaps this failure in recognising the "holiness" of De Gaulle, seeing him mainly as a political person, lays more in our mistaken conceptions of holiness rather than the actions of de Gaulle.

Samuel Gregg has written an excellent article on his faith which I would urge you to read. Sam writes:

Until recently, de Gaulle’s Catholicism was an understudied topic. In his influential threevolume biography of de Gaulle published in the 1980s, Jean Lacouture portrayed it as something to which de Gaulle held primarily as a matter of French identity rather than deep faith.

Over the past thirty years, that interpretation has collapsed. Books including Gérard Bardy’s Charles le Catholique: De Gaulle et l’Église (2011), Laurent de Gaulle’s Une Vie Sous le Regard de Dieu: La Foi du Général de Gaulle (2015), and the conference proceedings collected in Charles de Gaulle, chrétien, homme d’État (2011) have illustrated that de Gaulle was a believing Catholic who accepted the Church’s teachings without much fuss. The real question is how this commitment shaped de Gaulle’s thought and action.......

The answer: quite a lot. De Gaulle was a deeply sincere Catholic, but why this is so difficult to recognise is that his Catholicism was peculiar and once you begin to realise the peculiarity of it, a lot of de Gaulle's political actions become quite easy to understand. Roosevelt once mocked de Gaulle saying "he thinks he's Joan of Arc" but here Roosevelt was on the money. Because de Gaulle's Catholicism was of the same nature as that of St Joan, it was, in a sense, medieval and not modern.  His efforts to liberate France need to be understood as personal crusade, with all the medieval religious elements that it entertains.

Lacouture, a biographer,  held that de Gaulle was Catholic because he was French, but that's not how de Gaulle would have seen it. His Catholicism is what amplified his Frenchness and not the other way around. Unlike modern Catholicism which demphasises identity, de Gaulle's emphasised it. His version of Catholicism was pushing against the stream of contemporary christian culture. His Christianity was nationalistic, identitarian and militant.

De Gaulle's peculiar version of  Catholicism meant that his relationship with French Catholicism was sometimes quite difficult.  With the Fall of France, many of the Catholic senior clergy enthusiastically accepted the new Vichy regime and were quite accommodating to their Nazi overlords.

When Pétain restored what Baudrillart would have regarded as the natural order, with Church and state wedded together, he welcomed the Marshall’s rule and offered open support, even though he lived in the occupied zone. In 1941, he went a step further. He publicly supported the French volunteers who joined the Wehrmacht and SS in the campaign against the Soviet Union. In the first two years of the war, the Cardinal could even write that there was no contradiction between Nazism and Christianity.
What I also hadn't appreciated till now was that support for de Gaulle in religious circles could be broadly predicted by theological position. The Nouvelle Theologians lined up behind de Gaulle and the Resistance, the traditionalists behind Vichy. Let me be quite clear about this: Traditionalist Catholicism in France lined up behind the Nazi's.
Yet some in France were resisting the new order from the outset. In the vanguard of the Resistance stood the Jesuits, often in close collaboration with Protestant pastors. These men were theologically far removed from their fellow clergy in Paris, or, indeed, in much of France. As liberals, their thinking was to influence the outcome of the Second Vatican Council profoundly, particularly in the new attitude towards the Jews and their rejection of the close association between Church and state. It was exactly this line of thinking that proved abhorrent to Archbishop Lefebvre* and caused the schism with the SSPX some decades later.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that there is something seriously wrong with a Catholicism that sees itself as compatible with German National Socialism.  Traditional Catholicism in France, as in the rest of Europe, was seriously diseased.

And remember, this was before Vatican Two.

De Gaulle had a healthy contempt of some of the senior French Catholic hierarchy and with the victory of the Allies, made sure some of the worst offending clergy were removed. But in being opposed to the traditionalists it did not mean that de Gaulle was some kind of kumbayah liberal. He realised, like most other sensible people at the time,  that the Church needed to change in order to deal with modernity. During the war, despite all the other issues that beset him, he cultivated religious intellectuals such as Maritain and Bernanos. He followed Church events closely and was influential in some of the French appointments to Vatican II. He hoped for positive changes since he understood that the identity of Europe and Christianity were intertwined, and the decline of religion was sapping Europe's vitality. Yet, as a social conservative,  he deplored many of the changes that resulted from Vatican Two.

De Gaulle, it seems, had a unique take on Catholicism that doesn't fit neatly within the liberal/conservative schema. But it wasn't an idiosyncratic expression of Catholicism rather one which had its roots in a dissident strain of Catholicism that seems to have been pushed aside in battle between the "modernisers" and traditionalists.  Perhaps the greatest exponent of this strain of Catholicism was Charles Peguy, and the more I read about de Gaulle, the more I see the influence of Peguy on him.

And this is where I find de Gaulle really interesting. De Gaulle's political actions with respect to France have as their basis a specifically Christian vision of the nation, people and state. De Gaulle's strident French nationalism, for instance, was based on a Christian nationalism, something that is foreign to modern Christianity. His Christian realism led him to reject pacifism something modern Christianity has nearly completely succumbed to. De Gaulle's battles with the British, Americans and EU take on a different dimension when one starts thinking of him as a Christian/Catholic statesman instead of being simply a good french politician.

What I haven't really appreciated until now is that a political approach to de Gaulle is the wrong one, and one has to really look at him as a Christian engaging modernity in the field of politics. The reason why we don't take this approach I imagine is because our contemporary notions of Christianity are so foreign to what de Gaulle stood for, is that we are blind to the Christianity in de Gaulle's action.

And perhaps de Gaulle's Christianity was the right one and ours is wrong.

*Bonus:Lefebvre thought de Gaulle "a snake".

Friday, July 09, 2021

Robert Schuman: A European Buddhism

Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal 

(GK Chesterton)


Yet another interesting figure that pops up in relation to the life of De Gaulle is Robert Schuman.  Jackson's biography only mentions Schuman very briefly which is a shame because when you begin to understand what de Gaulle is all about he deserves far more prominence. He is also a great example of how an "orthodox" Christianity can be self-defeating.

It would quite easy to forget, especially with the modern EU's furthering of the globohomo agenda, that it was founded by men men with a deep Christian faith. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the political landscape of most of Western Europe was dominated by conservative--i.e. center right--Christian political parties. Adenauer, de Gaspari and even de Gaulle, for example, were all profound believers and the political climate of the time was strongly influenced Christian social theory.

Monnet was not Christian, but his supra-nationalist ideas "synched" closely with the opinion "mainstream" Christian politicians and senior public servants. One such politician was Robert Schuman and it was his political patronage which put the Monnet plan in action. Essentially he was the midwife of the EU.

By all accounts Schuman was a very pious man. As one politician said of him, "What can you do with such a man who prays all the time." Religious from an early age, devotional and a man committed  to seeking peace among the European peoples, he embodied what one considers the ideals of a holy "layman": Prayer, asceticism, regular mass, daily rosary, etc. were all parts of his life and at one point he considered being a priest. While being pursued by the Gestapo during the war, his most prized possession was his missal. He was seriously religious.

Schuman was also a Thomistic scholar and lawyer. His political position was strongly influenced by Papal documents and a political reading of St Thomas, among other authors. It was his Christianity which impelled him to bring about a lasting peace in Europe.  This, of course is a laudable aim. What he was trying to do is bring into being  a Christian political vision. But here is where it's starts to get interesting: de Gaulle was also profoundly religious, but not a "churchy" type of way. De Gaulle's faith was deep but he wasn't a wannabe monk, and his politics reflected his own Christianity. De Gaulle was a Christian nationalist, Schuman a Christian internationalist.

Schuman felt that many of Europe's problems were as a direct consequence of nationalism. Now, his studies of Thomism meant that Schuman could not get rid of national identity entirely, but he wanted to subordinate it to the notion of "Europeaness."  He felt that the best way to do this was by breaking down borders as much as possible; through economic integration, the free movement of goods and people and the management of the continent by supra-nationalist bodies governed by technocrats (no local favoritism) . These supranationalist bodies, run on majority rule (of the member states), would have binding powers on those who disagree. The aim was to break down the borders, both materially and cognitively.  But the essential idea is that national identity in any meaningful sense was an evil.  The solution to the evil of nationhood was the incorporation of the sense of self into a greater being.  This is Christian Buddhism 101, and the political application of Christian theology of kenosis.

De Gaulle's view was totally different.

He realised the need for a united Europe but the idea that France could be France when governed by a supranationalist Dutch, or German was insane to him. In order to preserve French identity France, like German, Italy, etc had to act independently and in a way which furthered their own interests.  From him, Europe was a collection of states, each with its own identity, but which shared a common culture.  If Europe was to unite, it should do so through co-operation and not incorporation, as this preserved the individual identities of the states. De Gaulle's conception of identity was rooted in a Christianity similar to that of Chesterton's and Charles Peguy (one of de Gaulle's formative influences) it emphasised identity and was anti-keanotic. Once again to quote Chesterton:

This is what makes Christendom at once so much more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire; just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
De Gaulle tried to maintain this tradition. What you begin to see when you contemplate the Christianity of de Gaulle and Schuman is that they were two different Christianities: One emphasised identity and one de-emphasised it, and the question is which was the truly Christian? My own understanding of Christianity--which delights in the particular-- would lead me to the conclusion that Schuman was the heretic.......but he said a lot of prayers and went to church a lot and that counts you see.

As the EU thunders against Orban for pushing back against it's LGBT agenda, one wonders what Schuman must be thinking now. As for the Catholic Church, it regards de Gaulle as a politician and has beatified Schuman.

And they wonder why the faith is dying.

As I say, we're in the midst of a heresy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Jean Monnet

One of the intellectual digressions that occupied me after reading Jackson's book on De Gaulle was the character of Jean Monnet.  I haven't fully delved into his life but he is a character that deserves much study by the dissident right, if only to understand what forces are currently working against it.  Monnet needs to be thought of a sort of anti de-Gaulle and what's extraordinary about his life is how much influence he was able to wield in world events despite never being elected to office. 

His own biography is quite amazing, rapidly moving from a cognac salesman to a mover and shaker in the upper echelons of the French government. Prior to World War two, he was sent to buy airplanes for the French, only to join the British with the Fall of France, working as their representative the Roosevelt administration. Their working with the upper echelon's of the New Deal bureaucracy he was able to exert an outsized influence on American military production--Keynes thought he had shortened the war by a year--and post war economic planning for Europe.

Interesting fact: the term "Arsenal of democracy" was coined by Monet and appropriated by Roosevelt.

Monnet also hated de Gaulle, seeing him as a the antithesis of all he stood for.  I have no doubt that he used his position of influence in the US Government to undermine de Gaulle.

Monnet's big idea was that nationalism was the fundamental cause of Europe's troubles and his task was to eliminate it.  The broad outline of his strategy was as follows:

There are three characteristics, which are worth special attention: Sectoral integration, elitism, and supra-nationality in institutions. The idea of sectoral integration originated from the focus of the French modernization plan on the coal and steel sectors as well as from Monnet’s dirigist believes that these were the core economic areas. Elitism and the idea of engaging core groups resulted from Monnet’s desire to reach the maximum independence from national governments and to create direct pressure for integration within each member state.[ED] The desire for supra-nationality is probably the most distinctive feature of the Monnet plan and merits a deeper analysis. Monnet’s understanding of supra-nationality, resulting out of his previous leadership experience, was based on a strong institutionalism backed up by a technocratic elite. Moreover, it was important for Monnet, since these two features were the basis for creating a supra-national power house with the capacity to challenge national governments in creating an irreversible integration process.

The plan was put into practice with the Schumann declaration on the 9th of May 1950, which more or less outlined the mayor ideas of Monnet. Although some scholars argue that Monnet overstated his importance and influence on the event, it nevertheless marked the point at which the implementation of his ideas started. The ambitions of the main actors Monnet and Schumann were clear in stating that the purpose of the outlined ideas was to “lay the first concrete foundation for a European federation which is so indispensable to the preservation of peace”. Along the lines of Monnet’s ideas, the initial stage of integration was to be achieved through the integration of the steel and coal sectors: “the supply of coal and steel on equal terms […]; and the equalization as well as the improvements in the living standards”.

Monnet realised was that commercial integration was the way to destroy national boundaries.  Note also, that he did not work through the usual "democratic" channels to achieve his aims, rather, his method of attack was to organise senior business people and senior public servants to formulate public policy which they would present to idiot politicians who would then try to implement them.  He was a deep state organiser.  Founder of the Action Committee For the United States of Europe, it worked tirelessly for the goal of a "unified" Europe governed by supranational organisations, which controlled by his cronies, would undermine national sovereignty.  The United States strongly supported him in this endeavor.

Welcome to the world of modern global capitalism.

The other thing about Monet was that he was a man with a long term vision. If he lost one battle he would regroup and attack from a different direction. He played the long game. He also didn't seek the limelight, preferring to work with influential people in the background, letting others take the praise. it was a way of avoiding scrutiny and public debate.

De Gaulle called Monnet an "apatride" meaning a stateless person.  De Gaulle saw the game he was playing at and attempted to neutralise him and his organisation. But de Gaulle was ultimately undermined by a democracy and culture that would sell it's identity for peace and prosperity. The great lesson of de Gaulle's life is that unless the culture supports the politics, the politics will wither over the long run.  Politicians may be able to mobilise their countries towards greatness, but if the people want to be mediocre that's where they'll eventually end up.

In the early days Monnet got a lot of pushback by governments for what he was trying to do. But his first big break with the realisation of his European plan came with the assistance of a pious Christian politician. Ascetic, devout, and a student of Thomas Aquinas:

Robert Schumann.