Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Whittaker Chambers: The Cancer Eating the West.

(Some explanatory notes. Chambers considered Socialism, Leftism of any kind and Communism to be essentially the same ideologies, differing only in the practical means of implementing their vision)

This is the fact which absolutely sunders the mind of the Communist from the traditional mind of the West-which makes him in the mass a new breed in history. For our breeds, in this sense, are defined by the view we hold, unconsciously or not, of the world and its meaning, and the meaning of our lives in it. Obviously, a breed of men who hold that everything is in violent flux and change, moving by laws and in a pattern inherent in matter, and having nothing to do with God-obviously, that breed of men is different in kind from the rest of mankind. It is closest, in our time, to the viewpoint of the scientist for whom a simple, solid chair represents a form of energy whose particles, seemingly solid and commonplace, are in fact in violent motion. This, incidentally, rather than the "Progressive" elements in Communism which are usually brought forward in such cases, is the instant point of appeal which Communism so often has for the scientists of the West. They feel in Communism the force of a faith based on a material reality which more or less matches their own vision of reality. It is an abstruse view, and the scientists who hold it are lonely men, since the masses of the West cannot possibly understand or sympathize with what the scientists are talking about. The intelligent Communist knows exactly what they are talking about though he may know little or nothing about abstruse physics. Similarly, the scientist may know little or nothing about the niceties of dialectical materialism. Yet each senses that the other's basic view of reality is much the same. The affinity is strong.
This process in history, and this view of it, Communists call dialectical materialism (or, in that  Communist shorthand that we commonly call jargon, Diamat). It is dialectic because it deals with quantities of force in motion, sometimes violent, sometimes gradual. It is called materialism because the Communist mind, like the scientific mind, rejects any supernatural factor in his observation of experience. In short, God is rigorously excluded from the equations of changing force in which the Communist mind tirelessly seeks to grasp, to express, and to act on history at any and every moment.

To try to explain Communism and the Communist while ignoring dialectical materialism is like trying to explain a man's actions while leaving out the chief clue to his mind and his motives and general viewpoint. Dialectical materialism is the central fact of Communism. Every Communist is a dialectical materialist. Ultimately, be cannot be understood in any other terms. This does not mean that all Communists are consistent or successful  dialecticians. There are millions of Communists in the world and they show the same gradations of intelligence and character as millions of anybody else. There are millions of Christians, too, of whom only a comparative handful are theologians (Communists say: theoreticians). The mass of Christians is held together by a faith in what suffices to explain to them the meaning of their lives and history, although even highly intelligent communicants may be quite vague about the doctrines of their faith, or even specific articles of it. This is made possible because the center of efficacy of their faith is the Cross, using that symbol in its most inclusive sense. The Cross makes them one in faith even though at thinner fringes of Christendom the efficacy of the Cross is questioned or tends to fade. In much the same Way, dialectical materialism is the effective force of Communism, and even when understanding is weak or lacking, it operates as a faith which explains satisfactorily to millions of Communists the meaning of life and history-reality, as Communists say. By this they always mean reality in a state of flux, usually violent. Dialectical materialism is the crux of  Communism, and not to understand this means  never truly to understand the Communist.
Chambers here clearly puts forward his proposition that what separates the Left from the Right is the metaphysical vision of man. The Leftist vision of man is that of a machine which responds to physical forces which themselves are a product of circumstances. It follows therefore that a man's behaviour may be predicted, in the same way the same way we can make other scientific predictions,  by analysing the forces in play at any given moment. There is no free will, there is no choice, only the arrangement of matter responding to temporal forces.

Evil, according to the atheist, is a product of circumstances which are either exogenous such as poverty, violence and oppression or endogenous such as genetics. The social desire to get rid of evil hence resolves around social programs to eliminate social evils, the other stream of leftism (fascism and its crytpo vairant, HBD worship) seeks to eliminate it through better breeding and facilitation of evolution. It's really a testimony to just how much Kool-Aid Western Society has drunk when Fascist and Socialist are seen as the polarities of Right and Left when in reality they are factions of the same team, the materialist vision of man has utterly permeated the ideology of West.

It is this materialist ideology which is corroding the west. Lots of well meaning Righties feel that if abortion could be could be made illegal, porn blocked on the internet and the tax rate lowered that all would be right, but it wouldn't. In the next election the people would rebel, and those laws would be repealed,  since the current laws reflect the wishes of the people. That's not to say that legislative reform would not stem the tide for a bit, but inevitably the slide would continue. You can't force virtue onto people, people have got to take it on board themselves.

There is no technological fix which will remedy the corruption of the bankers and politicians, you simply need honest men who are prepared to pay the price. What does it matter if your country can push the world around whilst at home you wife is sleeping with next door neighbour,  your kid is a sleazy realtor  and your daughter a stripper? The structure is corrupting from the inside. Moral relativism, which flows from atheism, is the poison of the West. There is no political arrangement which will save the West because the salt has lost its saltiness.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Whittaker Chambers: The failure of Conservatism.

In the years when Communism was advancing successfully against the West there were those who believed that its disruptive power was its power to manipulate a Fifth Column composed of non-Soviet Communists, sympathizers, fellow travellers, dupes, opportunist politicians, hitchhiking with Communism as they would in any other vehicle that seemed to be going part of their way-in short, the kind of debris and dust that almost anything with sufficient gravitational pull attracts and keeps whirling around it. I held that such elements, while dangerous, were not Communism's chief power in the West. I held that power to be something else-the power of   Communism to manipulate responsive sections of the West to check counteract, paralyze, or confuse the rest. 'nose responsive sections of the West were not Communist, and never had been. Most of the minds that composed them thought of themselves as sincerely anti-Communist. Communism manipulated them, not in terms of Communism, but in terms of the shared historical crisis-peace and social justice being two of the most workable terms. They were free to denounce Communism and Communists (and also anti-Communists) after whatever  flourishes their intellectual innocence or arrogance might choose. Communism asked no more. It cared nothing, at this point, about motives. It cared about results.

Unlike Communism, the West held no unified solution for the crisis. In face of the crisis, part of the West reacted with inertia- inertia, in the simple terms of the physics primer, that is, the tendency of a body to remain at rest or in a straight line of motion. But the responsive section offered a solution for the crisis. This solution, whatever differences it assumed from place to place and time to time, whatever disguises Political expediency or preference draped or phrased it in, was always the same solution. It was the socialist solution.[Ed] Derived, as doctrine, from the same source-the historical insights of Karl Marx-the socialist solution differed from the Communist solution chiefly in political methods. One difference consisted in the slower rate of speed at which socialism proposed to apply its solution. Another difference concerned the kind and degree of coercion that socialism would apply to impose its solution. In practice, no socialist government had yet pushed its solution to the point where full coercion must come into play. Therefore, this difference bad not yet stood the test of reality. Otherwise, between the end solution that socialism and Communism both hold in view for mankind-the matured planned economy of the future-the difference was so slight that it would be difficult to slip a razor blade between them.
(Whittaker Chambers. Cold Friday)

Conservative thinkers do not spend much time dwelling on why leftism has made such inroads into society which I think has been a fundamental error in conservative thought. Instead they spend their time try to combat the spread head on, instead of trying to tackle the pathology at its source.

As mentioned previously by Chambers, Socialism (and its bastard brother Fascism) did not arise in a vacuum, rather they were a  cognitive response to the social crises of the times. They were an attempt to solve the problem and hence were proactive remedial proscriptions and offered hope. The fact that they were eventual quack remedies is irrelevant in terms of their effect to elicit societal transformation, since what they offered was hope to multitudes in a promise for a better world.

People just fail to understand how bad life was for the bottom rungs of society in the late 19th Century. The massive migrations to the New World by Europe's poor, hungry and homeless masses, in age where ship travel was risky business, and return was very difficult, illustrates just how much people wanted to escape the social situation of the times and just how intense the pressures were. The great migrations of the English to the New World was testament to just how crap life was like in ye Old England. The same could be said for all of Europe.

Chamber's astute observation was in recognising that traditional Europe's response to this problem was nothing: inertia. It resisted any form of change.

Socialism offered a quack solution for the problem, but it did offer a solution. Most men are not profound or elaborate thinkers, judging things by their appearance instead of their true nature's, and faced by a choice of a traditional miserable life or promise for a bright future, it was a no-brainer for most men. To passionate believers in Socialism, Conservatism became the enemy whilst to the less passionate, Conservatism became irrelevant.

Now Chambers appears to have had a different view of conservatism than many conservatives have of it;
I think I have gone beyond the conservative position. I have found that behind it lies something much more steadfast-the  conservative spirit, or, if you will, the conservative principle. Ages change, politics shift and slither-the conservative spirit does not change. It adjusts because it is a summation of human wisdom, and in a  sense organic, it looks from the fastness of life, and bends or yields to what is passing, but maintains, as the light shines in darkness, what is everlasting because it partakes of it itself.
Note that Chambers felt that conservatism was adaptable whilst keeping a core essence, he was no traditionalist. For Chambers, the traditional conservative position, which was both unyielding and inflexible, was part of the root cause of the crises, the festering sore which seeked a remedy, even a quack one.

Chambers' position however raises an interesting theoretical question. How much can conservatism change before it ceases being conservative?  Chambers seems to allude to some underlying "core principle"  which underpinned a degree of flexibility. I think Chambers is partially right here in identifying that conservatism is flexible to a degree as opposed to traditionalism which isn't. The mistake I think that traditionalists make is taking the form of conservatism at a particular point of time
and mistaking it as its substance, conservatism is far deeper.

Where I disagree with Chambers is where he places the locus of this Conservatism, seeing it a summantion of human wisdom. This may of been the case in Ancient Rome or Greece, but it is not the Conservatism of the West. The Conservatism of the West is a Christian Conservatism and hence its underlying principle is Christian. If I had to identify this inflexible core in Christian Conservatism it would be rooted in Caritas, the stuff of God operating in Man. Christian conservatism as such is an expression of Caritas. The word is frequently translated into English as Charity or Love, but I feel that it something more ecompassing than the limits that these words place it on it. At its essence, it is not only goodness itself, but in act which flows from it. Caritas is the inflexible principle of conservatism.  Local and temporal contingencies will affect the expression of Caritas but its underlying nature will remain the same.

The Christian religions teach that Caritas is a grace given to man by God and its also why there will be no Western revival without a bended knee. No Caritas, no West. It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Whittaker Chambers. Conservatism in the Age of Machines.

September 1954

Dear Willi:

History tells me that the rock-core of the Conservative Position, or any fragment of it, can be held realistically only if conservatism will accommodate itself to the needs and hopes of the masses-needs and hopes, which like the masses themselves are the product of machines. For, of course, our fight, as I think we said, is only incidentally with socialists or other heroes of that kidney. Wesentlich[Ed:fundamentally], it is with machines. A conservatism that cannot face the facts of the machine and mass production, and its consequences in government and politics, is foredoomed to futility and petulance. A conservatism that allows for them has an eleventh-hour chance of rallying what is sound in the West......

[Ed: Chambers here discusses some contemporary aspects of rural socialism]

The machine has done this. But every one of my indicted neighbors has sold off his horses and rides his tractor, and sends soil samples to the state college to learn how to up his yields. And not one of them has the slightest intention of smashing his machines or going back to horses and moderate yields-because machine farming is one reality that he can see and feel. Moreover, each knows how absurd it would be for him alone to buck the trend-he would be ploughed under by those who would not go along. The mass of farmers will keep their tractors, and milk more and more cows, until they drop of heart attacks. Only, they will not cut back. Therefore, the machine has made the economy socialistic.

A conservatism that will not accept this situation must say: "We are reactionary in the literal sense. To be logical, we must urge you farmers to smash your machines (not sell them off, but smash them, and buy no more). For, otherwise, you will always get what you wanted; while what you do not want (restrictions, the end of the private domain) will be the literal reaping of what you sowed." But a conservatism that would say that is not a political force, or even a twitch: it has become a literary whimsy.

.....[Ed:Chambers makes some more comments on rural Socialism in America].........

As you know, most factory workers are farmers manques. Moreover, they rocked to the factories in the first place because even the industrial horrors of the nineteenth century seemed preferable to more than ten hours of haying in a shriveling sun, or cows going bad with garget. I worked the hay load last night against the coming rain-by headlights, long after dark. I know the farmer's case for the machine and for the factory. And I know, like the cut of hay-bale cords in my hands, that a conservatism that cannot find room in its folds for these actualities is a conservatism doomed to petulance and dwindling-first unreality and then defeat. Let the conservative fill barley sacks behind the moving combine for even eight hours in a really good sun, and then load them, 100 , 150 lb. bags, until midnight and he will learn more about the realities of rural socialism (and about the realities of conservatism) than he could ever glean from the late, ever to be honored Robert Taft.
and in a letter to William Buckley(not in the book Cold Friday) he wrote.
The Republican Party [and by implication the conservative movement) will become like one of those dark little shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find, at the back, an old man, fingering for his own pleasure some oddments of cloth (weave and design of 1850). Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and to feel. As your eyes become accustomed to the dim kerosene light, you are only slightly surprised to see that the old man is Frank Meyer.
(Rather apropos with respect to this article at the Front Porch republic which deals with some of the problems of contemporary conservatism. (Intelligent comments thread there) Hat tip, Throne and Altar)

Just as modern life support machines and transplant technologies raise new issues with regard to medical ethics, so did the social changes bought about by technological invention bring forth new social pressures, which may have existed previously but became concentrated to new levels by the massive urbanisation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whittaker Chambers: The Dying West.

For some must at last have eyes to see the plain fact that the revolutionary proletariat in the West (including Russia) is not, and never has been, a factory proletariat. The forces of revolution in the West are an intellectual proletariat, disinherited, not in this world's goods with which they are often incongruously replete, but disinherited in the spirit. The revolt of the intellectuals of the West almost without exception begins (no matter how it ends) as the frantic threshing of those drowning in the materialism of the West, a convulsive struggle against the death of the spirit. This is the answer to the fatuous, reiterated question why men like Arthur Koestler or Whittaker Chambers became Communists. For the differences in background, which the shallow world magnifies, are trifling compared to that convulsion of the drowning spirit which carried us, and men like us (each in his own individual way with his own individual rationalization) into Communism, and which makes a second death for those who, recognizing at last that Communism is itself evil, must burst from that second drowning back into a West which has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Hateful home truths! For they invite the West to stop looking at Communism and look into itself. Hateful home truths! (I said them all in Witness.) "Communism is never stronger than the failure of all other faiths"; "Men are by nature conservative; they become revolutionists only by despair"; "Communism did not attract, it repelled me; I became a Communist to escape the dying West."
Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday

Over the last few days my curiosity has been directed toward the history of Fascism. Wikipaedia has a rather good summary on the subject and more importantly, the article has good summary of the on intellectual atmosphere of the times in which the ideology was in gestation. It's important to note that Fascism, like Communism was a response to the social crises of the time. Its aim was to improve the lot of the proleterait. The proletariat, being who they are, were not able to organise themselves, and as such, the response to the crises was organised by the intellectuals of society. Where the Communists and Fascists differed is on how to implement the improvement. Both parties carried on the tradition of the French Revolution, in that the solution to the problem was through a reorganisation of society. The important point here being that both movements were meant to fix the social problems of times.

Both movements had their intellectual origins in the prevailing fads of the times. The influence of Darwin and Nietzsche molded the Fascists whilst the influence of Marx and Engels and Comte influenced the Communists and Socialists. Both movements had rejected God and consequentially the limits that this places on human action. But to think that the problem of fascism and Communism is solely a problem of atheism is the misdiagnose the pathology.  The birth of both these malignant ideologies were contingent on the festering sore of widespread poverty in traditional society.

Many people wonder how someone like Hitler could sway the German populace. Various idiotic theories are put forward to explain the phenomenon  however it needs to be remembered that Hitler's was a product of the social disintegration of the times (as predicted by Keynes) Hitler's appeal to the Germans lay in the fact that he delivered. He revitalised industry and hence employment, repudiated Versailles, restored national pride, got rid of people that the populace did not like, improved the rights of workers, organised regular holidays for them and generally improved the lot for the average German. For the poor family man, the tradeoff in civil liberties was worth it if his family were not going to starve. After Hitler, the streets were safer, there was work, the nation had a renewed pride and a sense of optimism prevailed. The traditionalist response to Hitler was to turn the clock back, to the way things were.  Faced with a failing old world and the promise of a working new, people abandoned  the old, enthusiastically. Of course, any pact with the devil will end badly, but most people live a day to day existence and only a very few could see the inevitable end of Nazism.

What I'm trying to get at is that is the old world had festering sores and Conservative attempts to turn the clock back to the way things were will re-open those same sores. All was not right in "ye days of old" despite what traditionalists preached. Conservatives then, need to re-appraise traditional society and work out where they went wrong with regard to the management of it. What Conservatism needs, if it is to survive, is to ditch traditionalism and embrace dynamic Conservatism, a Conservatism that does not deny the truth.

A classic example of this was G.K. Chesterton. No man who has ever read Orthodoxy can accuse Chesterton of being anti-Christian or Anti-West. Still, this passage at the end of What's Wrong with the World is hardly traditionalist:

I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.[Ed:]

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.

That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

The old world was sick and needed fixing, despite what the traditionalists said. The few conservatives who were doing some thinking, like Chesterton, were ignored by both  the traditionalists and the radicals. The rest they say is history.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Enemy Ourselves

August 5, 1954

Dear Bill:

I no longer believe that political solutions are possible for us. I am baffled by the way people still speak of the West as if it were at least a cultural unity against Communism though it is divided not only by a political, but by an invisible cleavage. On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization-the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes and mandates.[Ed]

In short, this is the order of which Communism is one logical expression, originating not in Russia, but in the culture capitals of the West, reaching Russia by clandestine delivery via the old underground centers in Cracow, Vienna, Berne, Zurich, and Geneva. It is a Western body of belief that now threatens the West from Russia. As a body of Western beliefs, secular and rationalistic, the intelligentsia of the West share it, and are therefore always committed to a secret emotional complicity with Communism of which they dislike, not the Communism, but only what, by the chances of history, Russia has specifically added to it-slave-labor camps, purges, MVD et al. And that, not because the Western intellectuals find them unjustifiable, but because they are afraid of being caught in them. If they could have Communism without the brutalities of ruling that the Russian experience bred, they have only marginal objections. Why should they object? What else is socialism but Communism with the claws retracted? And there is positivism. What is more, every garage mechanic in the West, insofar as he believes in nuts and bolts, but asks: "The Holy Ghost, what's that?" shares the substance of those same beliefs. Of course, the mechanic does not know, when he asks: "The Holy Ghost, what's that?" that he is simply echoing Stalin at Teheran: "The Pope how many divisions has the Pope?"

That is the real confrontation of forces. The enemy-he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.


(Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday)

Some personal comments:

I feel that this is one of the most important passages in the book. Here Chambers clearly states that Western Civilisation is a Christian civilisation. It needs to be remembered that the philosophical changes embraced by the 19th Century intellectuals did not real gain traction amongst the greater body of "thinking' men till the 20's and 30's and finally percolated down to the mass of western humanity in the 60's with its resultant social upheaval.

Atheism is the enemy and the battle field is the mind of man. Solzhenitsyn, living a different experience to Chambers, came to the same conclusion. Just as the machine and modern economy transformed society, so does atheism transform morals. Thought precedes act.

Any renewal of Western Civilisation will not come from any political arrangement, or through some legislative process, but rather a religious renewal of the West. There is no other way. This is a hard fact to accept, since it would be far easier to sell a political solution than a Christian renewal. With the exception of the U.S. , in most countries, religious devotion is synonymous with mental instability and is political suicide.  Trying to legislate Christian morals onto an effectively irreligious world will lead to a backlash against Christianity. This isn't my opinion it's logic.

Men have to be converted first, before they will accept the political program. This is what I think is the thrust of Chamber's message.

Monday, August 15, 2011


March 2, 1954

Dear Dunc:

Let's talk about the article on the Conservative Position. I do not see how you could be anything but distressed by my slowness in writing it. At the same time, I am putting everything I have into it. Everything I have is far short of the burst of stamina that used to carry me over the hump in past times. But I still have a good deal. Besides, there is on my shoulder an editorial touch much less patient than yours. It is a bony touch and its peremptory command is to finish while there is yet time . . . One has the sense of inditing an epitaph, an obit for the morgue, against the deadline of the patient's foreseeable demise. Or, it may be a kind of ms.[Ed:Message] found in a bottle to be washed up, chance serving, on some unimaginable shore after bobbing in what unimaginable sea of time. So much for climate.

The problems of writing are themselves very great. This is not a problem of waving some sparklers or touching off some rockets in memory of the Middle Ages or the Venetian Renaissance. They provided  their own arsenal of fireworks. The problem here is to make people want to read what most people  ordinarily never want to read about and what in general others have found so resistant and unrewarding that few have wanted to write about it; and have come off for the most part, even the best of them, rather poorly in their infrequent attempts. To make readers want to read it-that is operational problem  No. 1. But that scarcely take us across the doorsill.

The heart of the greater problem is, what makes the Conservative position so unappealing?[Ed] What makes this great central position of mankind so much a skeleton of dried bones? Why, to put it simply, has the Right scarcely a voice that speaks for it with authority or conviction-or without the curse of  faint apology? These are facts that must be thought through to the truth that makes them formidable. But these are merely the negative outworks that must be forced by the man who would explore and explain the central position. For there it towers, everlasting, I would say. But it is very difficult to  excite people about what is everlasting.

No one is of much help in the matter. Those who have sought to deal with the riddle in the past have, for the most part, it seems to me, largely encrusted it with all manner of distracting error. We must give Russell Kirk an A for effort in The Conservative Mind. But looked at coldly-what confusion is brewed by slamming into one pot John Adams, John Randolph, John Calhoun, James Russell Lowell, Henry Adams, and George Santayana. Informed the book is; worthy it is-a worthy master's thesis. And, faute de mieux[Ed:lack of a better], we do well to push it. But if you were a marine in a landing boat, would you wade up the seabeach at Tarawa for that conservative position? And neither would I.

That is why I am trying to write a conservative position that will make sense to, that will not enrage, a marine as he steps waist-deep into the gunfire at Tarawa. No other is any good or any use. If it can't be done, there is no defensible conservative position, for the conservative postion is not merely an acquisitive position. In my gropings and stugglings through the outworks, I think I have gone beyond the conservative position. I have found that behind it lies something much more steadfast-the  conservative spirit, or, if you will, the conservative principle. Ages change, politics shift and slither-the conservative spirit does not change. It adjusts because it is a summation of human wisdom, and in a  sense organic, it looks from the fastness of life, and bends or yields to what is passing, but maintains, as the light shines in darkness, what is everlasting because it partakes of it itself.

But all this, of course, is only the backdrop to what must be stated. I hope this will give you some idea of the degree to which I am involved in this task. It is difficult to set logic to music. But logic which does not sing is only more of the same old mouse cheese. I am trying to make it sing so that others will sing it. For if you could excite a boy of draft age with the conservative position as now generally  presented, it would be proper to suspect that the young man was a prig or a dud. And not the least of  my problems is your businessman, a nonreader.

As ever,


(Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fault Lines. Part II

In the previous post commentator JMSmith made the following comment.
He was, as I recall from Witness, and as these passages seem to confirm, recoiling from the enervation of the West. It's like a party that starts to wind down: guests leave because other guests leave. There's no future in it.
I'n all fairness to JMSmith, he has not read Cold Friday where Chambers becomes more specific in what he felt were the Crises of the West;
..... Communism manipulated them, not in terms of Communism, but in terms of the shared historical crisis-peace and social justice being two of the most workable terms.[Ed] They were free to denounce Communism and Communists (and also anti-Communists) after whatever flourishes their intellectual innocence or arrogance might choose. Communism asked no more. It cared nothing, at this point, about motives. It cared about results.

Unlike Communism, the West held no unified solution for the crisis. In face of the crisis, part of the West reacted with inertia[Ed]-inertia, in the simple term-is of the physics primer, that is, the tendency of a body to remain at rest or in a straight line of motion. But the responsive section offered a solution for the crisis. This solution, whatever differences it assumed from place to place and time to time, whatever disguises political expediency or preference draped or phrased it in, was always the same solution. It was the socialist solution. Derived, as doctrine, from the same source-the historical insights of Karl Marx-the socialist solution differed from the Communist solution chiefly in political methods. One difference consisted in the slower rate of speed at which socialism proposed to apply its solution. Another difference concerned the kind and degree of coercion that socialism would apply to impose its solution. In practice, no socialist government had yet pushed its solution to the point where full coercion must come into play. Therefore, this difference had not yet stood the test of reality. Otherwise, between the end solution that socialism and Communism both hold in view for mankind-the matured planned economy of the future-the difference was so slight that it would be difficult to slip a razor blade between them.

It was no innate charm of socialism that made millions in the West espouse it, just as it was no innate charm of Communism that recruited its millions. It was the force of the historical crisis that made masses of men entertain the socialist solution, which, in fact, sundered the West.
(To aid the reader, Chambers thought Communism was the aggressive variant of Socialism and Fascism its bastard brother.)

Here Chambers clearly identifies the problem of War and Social Justice as two of the main societal problems of the time. The jingoism of 1914 was replaced by an abject horror and despair by 1918 at the events that had unfolded during World War 1. The world was in turmoil and a sense of failure pervaded. The traditionalists had no solution. The punitive damages imposed on Germany by the Allies lead to some of the financial idiocy of the Wiemar republic with its resultant hyperinflation and societal failure. Bill Bonner described it thus:
Otto Freidrich described the period of German hyperinflation and its effects: “… People carried wages home in huge crates; by the time they could spend even their trillion-mark notes they were practically worthless… There was not a single girl in the entire middle class who could get married without her father paying a dowry… They saved and saved so that they could get married, and so it destroyed the whole idea of remaining chaste until marriage…the girls learned that virginity didn’t matter anymore.”“Against my will,” wrote author Stefan Zweig “I have witnessed the most terrible defeat of reason and wildest triumph of brutality in the chronicles of history.” Zweig lived through the hyperinflation in Germany during the ’20s and sold stories to survive. Later, he moved to Brazil and blew his brains out.
Brutality triumphed because civilized life was smothered by inflation. The Treaty of Versailles condemned the Huns to pay more than 47,000 tonnes of gold in reparations. Taking that amount of real money out of the economy left the Germans with no choice. They had no money left. They had to create it. Result: hyperinflation. The size of the banknotes rose with the crisis. In 1922, the highest denomination was 50,000 Mark. By 1923, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 Mark. By December 1923 the exchange rate was 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to 1 US dollar.”The German middle class was wiped out. More importantly, the handrails and guideposts wobbled, so there was nothing to hold onto and no way to know where you were going. Businesses, banks, military, police, even the government itself – everything tottered and fell down. In the tumult, war-hardened rabble rolled towards Herr Hitler like loose nuts.
They weren't just rolling to Herr Hitler, they were rolling to the Socialists as well. Chambers, who was visiting Germany at the time, saw it first hand [Ed, shortened for brevity]:
For the inflation was on. This was something the like of which Americans were to know nothing until some seven years Iater in the Great Depression. As an American I had traveller's cheques so that the inflation struck me at first only in the preposterous exchange of a check for a massive roll of hundreds of thousands of marks, and in the necessity of eating meals early because in the matter of an hour the value of the mark had fallen again, and a meal eaten at one o'clock might cost a thousand marks more than a meal eaten at noon.  I was in a great city, one of the most orderly and organized in the world. Here, modern civilization had taken form in big solid buildings, street lights streetcars, a flawless subway, automobiles-all the externals of modern life. Behind those impressive appearances life had gone mad. I was reminded of my Grandmother Whittaker's description of an earthquake-when the underpinnings of a world give way, the walls fall out and pipes writhe up from the surface of streets like snakes That had happened in Berlin and all over Germany But the solid form of things stood firm. The earthquake was invisible or visible only in its effects on the victims.
Well-dressed people walked back and forth on the Kurfarstendamm, like any Fifth Avenue crowd. Suddenly, the tears would stream down a woman's face simply as she walked along-the face of desperation, which asked and expected neither pity nor help, for there was no pity or help because there was no hope. The commonest of sights was to see someone snatch a purse and disappear in the crowd which rushed together for a moment, attracted by the victim's cries, and then walked on again with a shrug.
Sometimes I saw another aspect of the crisis that was even more baffling. There would be little knots of furtive figures selling newspapers at some of the street corners. At the appearance of a green-clad policeman, they would break and run. I was told that they were Communists. The Communist Party was outlawed. They were selling Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag). I did not know, of course, that the party was even then stockpiling rifles and machine guns for a revolution that was scheduled to break out in the autumn.
Germany was an extreme case where societal problems had become pressure cooked.  But even before the First World War, the massive migration of the tired, poor, huddled masses from the Old World to the New, when sea travel was far more precarious than plane travel is now, showed just how miserable life was for those who left the Old World. The problems of intractable wage poverty, (i.e people who worked long days yet were not able to escape poverty even with thrift), and the effects of the war in terms of the disabled and dead were felt everywhere. These were societal "fault lines" which gave modern ideologies their allure. But there were other fault lines as well. Racial issues, the role of women in society, issues with regard to contraception and so on. Traditionalism failed because the solution to the problem was to go back to the state of affairs which caused the problem in the first place, the traditional world was unable to adapt and was bypassed.

Conservatism failed because it became hidebound to traditionalism.

George Grosz and Otto Dix captured the mood of the times.

 (Could be a motto for the doctrinaire Austrian economists)

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Dry Well.

Whittaker Chambers was both religious and conservative in his youth. In Cold Friday he describes his experience of Columbia University in transforming his outlook on life.[Ed:I've edited some of it for brevity]
It was in the fall of 1920 that I made my way along 116th Street to my first class. Belatedly and reluctantly, I was doing what was expected of every bright youth of my age and class: at last I was going to college. It would have been much more realistic to say that I was stepping across what my geology instructor would soon teach me to call a line of fault-the line along which the seeming-solid surface of the earth was secretly cracked and under pressures and stresses beyond our sight or  knowledge would one day, in a twinkling, tear apart, upheave or sink, engulfing cities whole in that readjustment of physical reality that we call an earthquake. Only this line of fault did not run invisibly under our feet. It flawed the whole structure of civilization. Two years before, the first four-year shock [Ed:World War 1]had ended after leveling Europe to a ruin that could not be measured merely by its physical wreckage. For the ruin took place in men's souls before it was made visible in the rubble of cities.

In the crisis of the twentieth century neither Harvard nor Columbia could be other than what it was-a citadel of the mind swaying in the vertigo of a civilization changing (without admitting it) the basis of its faith from a two thousand-year-old Christian culture to the new secular and scientific culture. That is to say, changing the nature of its organism. This change Nietzsche heralded and in part prescribed. To it he gave a useful term: the transvaluation of all values, which is the pedagogue's way of saying that the change was a change in the moral, religious, and intellectual organism of Western civilization. In that revolution (of which Communism, socialism, and related forms are only logical political developments), Western civilization slowly and only half-consciously, and by a process reaching much farther back in time than it is common to suppose, rejected its two thousand year-old Christian faith, which placed God at the center of man's hope, in favor of a new faith, secular, exclusively rational and scientific, which set Man at the center of man's hope. I cannot remember ever hearing the word Communism or the name of Marx mentioned in a classroom. Lenin as a writer of political theory was then locked up in Russian or unread in German. No member of the Columbia faculty was remotely suspect as a Communist. The words Communism and Communist were almost never heard.

There was nothing to tell me the day I walked across the Columbia University campus as a freshman that the path was to lead me into Communism. No member of the Columbia faculty ever consciously guided me toward Communism. Columbia did not teach me Communism. It taught me despair. I loved Columbia and still love it in the physical way with which most men ever after love the campus on which they passed formative years of their youth. In the last decades I have sometimes gone up, to move alone-a foiled circuitous wanderer among the hordes of later alien undergraduates- among its remembered walls and walks (now greatly changed). But as a citadel of the mind, in the second decade of the twentieth century, I found its experience a trap. I thought that I had found the perfect description of it when one day in Hartley Hall I read T. S. Eliot's Wasteland, just published in the old Dial magazine:
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and
exhausted wells.
Chambers describes an intellectual climate of moral relativism and skepticism which instead of producing a dynamic materialism, effect a culture of despair and nihilism.
It was not the world of twentieth-century politics but the much more basic, pervasive world of the mind and spirit that I discerned was in extremity. The profound sense of the incurable sickness of the world made all men sick. In this mood, the undergraduate (I) wrote:
And we on whom its shadow fills-
sober and containing air
Feel it as tired and late despair
Between enfolding iron wall
A generation of writers, the clinicians of every age, fixed the mood and the dimensions of the crisis-in four brackish lines of Edgar Lee Masters' epitaph for the Unknown Soldiers:

STRANGER: Tell the people of Spoon River two things:
First that we lie here, obeying their words;
And next that had we known what was back of their words,
We should not be lying here!
The mood was not a discovery of our generation. The first rumblings of catastrophe had been uttered by a generation of giants by contrast with whom we would clearly trace the decline of the human condition and the deepening of the crisis. Ibsen, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Strindberg, Hauptmann, Shaw, Hardy, Matthew Arnold, Tennyson had foretold us.

It was a mood whose temper Oswald Spengler caught exactly, not so much in his philosophy, which comparatively few men read, still fewer understood, and many recoiled from, but in the tremendous poetry in which he asserted his vision of the crisis of twentieth-century man. It is in almost every line he wrote . . . The mood was implicit in the title of his chief work, The Decline of the West (written just before World War I), and even more expressive in the German version, Der Untergang des Abendlandes-The Down-Going of the Evening Land.
I carried away from Columbia a mood in which skepticism was only one ingredient-a mood that was by no means peculiar to Columbia. It was shared in one degree or another by practically every intelligence and focus of intelligence in the world, and had been for more than half a century. It was a feeling of despair, not always explicit and seldom definite, but running like a wistful theme through any view of life that was not merely practically ambitious. It was the sense of historical sundown the sense that man had reached one of the great jumping-off places-or what was worse, a place where it was impossible to jump because it was the end.

I felt, and most of the men I knew and most respected felt, that the world was too old, that it was late in its night, that that night was very dark, man was very far from home, he lacked inner strength to make the effort, and besides the right way was lost. No one quite knew how or why. Something was radically wrong. No one quite knew what. It was useless to seek an answer from any traditional voice (that was part of the despair), for all the oracles were dumb or lied because in the general darkness they could see no better than anybody else what threatened them, but feared it even more. Most people knew that something catastrophic was happening.[Ed: My italics]
The interesting observation here is that the traditional voices did not help and were of no comfort, even for those seeking it. Indeed, the picture he paints is of the acute perception of the failure of the old order in response to the social crises of the times. Its interesting to note that traditional societies' inability to mount a credible assault on this despair was part of the despair itself. It would appear that people didn't want traditional society to fail.
By the end of my sophomore year at Columbia, I had ceased to be a conservative. I was nothing. God, when He was not an intellectual embarrassment, was an admission or a convention that one conceded for the sake of tradition, civility, or an argument. Truth was wholly relative. Nothing was absolutely true and hence, by inference if not by direct evaluation, nothing was absolutely false. In other words, nothing was absolutely good or bad, though those other words were held to be a little naive or uncouth, just as the word "truth" was avoided in favor of the word "fact." My mind, which from the hodgepodge of my boyhood reading and other influences had begun in adolescence to sort out a crude conservative order, was once more a hodgepodge. Now it was the higher hodgepodge, a spiral nebula which caught up the whirling dust and fragments of literary and philosophical ideas from Homer to Gertrude Stein and the pre-Socratic philosophers to T. E. Hulme. * Insofar as my mind was not a hodgepodge, it was a vacuum. Its law was scepticism.
Here Chambers describes the intellectual environment that pervaded the universities of the West at the time. We also note, at this time that art too broke from its traditionalist conceptions veering into hitherto uncharted waters. The Cubism, Symbolism, Dada and so on  were not just an impost on the Western Cultural climate, but a reaction to the intellectual nihilism that had taken hold. In the rejection of the Western Christian metaphysic there was nothing to take its place. This nihlism chafed at Chambers and presumably others like him,
In this disaster, in which the whole fabric of civilization was heaving, I reacted violently at last from that climate around me which enjoined doubt rather than faith, and robbed all action of its energy in the name of uncertainty. I did not believe that life is hopeless. With my deepest instinct, I did not want to be told that there are no ways out of catastrophe and that that does not matter in any case, for it is alike indifferent to the sceptical mind how we live and die since good or ill alike are relative. I wanted to know what the nature of the crisis was. I wanted to know the way out. Everything that was alive and strong in me wanted to know those things and I believed in a solution exactly in the degree to which I was alive and strong. To the same degree I became restless. I wanted to know: "Doesn't anybody know why we are in this mess? Is there nobody alive with the intelligence to figure a way out? For God's sake, somebody give me a straight answer."

At that point, the revolutionary mood takes rise with the feeling: Well if there is no answer, if nobody can say what is wrong, or what to do, let us do something anyway. Let us at least smash something, for our condition is a great stagnant pond where life rots in stinking water, and if we do no more than break the banks and let the water out, we will perform a service to life. That is the mood where the anarchist stops. It is the mood in which Bakanin celebrated destruction as a creative act. But only a child's mind or an arrested mind can stop there. A mind, rounding into maturity, whatever its jolts, lags, and lapses, and however much it may recognize destruction as the first phase of any building operation, must seek a constructive purpose. The answer to death is not more violent death. The answer to death must be more complete life.

But in the end, my choice was based, not on the teachings of Marx and Lenin, their historical or economic analyses, or even the faith of Communism and the vision of man's salvation on earth. In the end, I made my choice, because I became convinced that the intelligence and power of the West were no longer able to solve the continuing crisis.[Ed: My italics]
A portion of the men, not all, who became Communists did it for altruistic reasons. Their universities, and the example of their society, with its entrenched inequalities and injustices gave them nothing but despair, and yet they wanted their society to be changed in order to live. In the Anglo-West this escape from the dying West was an acceptance of socialism.  In the same way, the horrible nihilism engendered by Weimar Germany pushed men towards the Nazi's. (Rhopke recollected how the Nazi's rallies were full of vigour and spectacle, lingering in men's minds for days afterwards, whilst their oppositions attempts at countering them feeble and weak and quickly forgotten). The West was failing and men were grasping at ideologies in order to live.
We are witnessing this same effect today. The absolute corruption of politics, art and general culture are festering a current nihilism. Anyone who isn't an idiot can see that something is wrong in the West. The Tea Party movement, the fissuring of political parties in the face of unprincipled political leaders, the resurgence of nasty forms thuggish right wing politics, even the actions of Brievik  should be seen in the light of this cultural banality and nihilism. The culture is trying to survive and its embrace of malignant ideologies are its death throes. History is repeating
Most men, lacking the intellectual faculties of an Aristotle or Aquinas, did not recognise that in escaping the dying West the solutions that they were embracing were malignant.  Even then, being alive in the company of the Devil was better than being dead. .
This is an oversimplification. But in some similar ways this is the form in which the turn
toward Communism takes in the mind of every man or woman who becomes a Communist. It is the crisis that keeps them Communists, sometimes long after disillusionment or discontent with the reality of Communism have set in. Nor does the ex-Communist returning to the world that he abandoned as hopeless,hav any illusions, if he is intelligent and sincere, about the crisis. He does not return to the world because he believes that it is morally healthy or capable of solving the crisis which in fact is deeper than when he left it. He returns because he believes that Communism is evil. The crisis remains and  world remains unable to solve it.
The West will only survive if solutions to its problems can be found within the tradition of the Western identity: And that identity is Christian. I'm not pushing this line because I'm a fundy, its because men who've been on the other side have worked it out themselves. The logical consequence of materialism is nihilism which in turn unleashes the forces of societal destruction.

No faith and we're dead. It's as simple as that. Man does not live on bread alone.

Monday, August 08, 2011

How the West was Lost.

Whittaker Chambers suffered from Heart disease and this following passage was written whilst in hospital recovering from a heart attack. As a convalescent patient, he used to be regularly visited by a Catholic Monk who was visiting the sick. (Whittaker Chambers was never a Catholic). It also needs to be understood that Chambers though Socialism a "de-fanged" version of Communism. It's a long post but I think it's worth sticking with it.
Something quite different first stirred my interest in Father Alan. He was a Passionist monk. I observed with some curiosity his black habit with its broad leather belt dangling the chain of heavy wooden beads and the Crucifix. I observed, too, the black metal insignia of his order, in the shape of a human heart on which were traced in white a Cross and the letters IHS which Father Alan wore over his own heart.

There was nothing distinctive about Father Alan's conversation either. He, too, was under the rule that nothing must be said that might disturb the patient. So he dung formidably to the weather with only prudent ventures about my fellow inmates-the milder, more hopeful, or more amusing cases; for like me, Father Alan must struggle all his days against his sense of the absurd or comic.

But in any wavering along the margin of life there is a need that amounts to a greed, for truth, since in the flux of existence, the crumbling or melting at the touch of all familiar reality, truth alone is felt to offer one austere, stripped handhold across a chasm. One night I decided to cut through the careful irrelevancies of our talk and try to discover what manner of man this monk might really be. I asked: "Father, what am I to answer those people who keep writing me that I was wrong to write in Witness that I had left the winning side for the losing side? They say that by calling the West the losing side, I have implied that evil can ultimately overcome good."

Father Alan studied his hands, which were lying in his lap. Then he glanced at me directly and asked: "Who says that the West deserves to be saved?"

If, in that softly lighted room, Father Alan had burst a Verey flare, he could scarcely have lit up more effectively the ravaged landscape of that No Man's Land across which the 'West confronts its crisis, supposing that it is only an alien enemy it confronts, not knowing that the enemy it confronts is first of all itself.

For Father Alan's question cut past the tern-is in which men commonly view the crisis of our time. It cut past all ratios of opposed power, past the armaments race and the production race, past the atomic weapons, Bombs and the bombers, the guided missiles and the craftily guided policies, the marshalled divisions and the marshalled statistics. It did not ask: Has the West the physical power to survive? It asked: Is the West justified in surviving? Does that West retain within itself what alone in life and history ever justifies the survival of anything, and which is ultimately a play of creative force whose test and whose mandate is that it impels men to die for it, not because they wish to die, but because they feel its shaping power so completely that they would rather die than live without it? So long as men identify themselves with that force to the point where they will to die for it, it is living and provides that inner certitude, greater and more instant than any idea or reasoning, which holds nations upright as they pick up momentum in the terrifying slopes and turns of history. The moment men in masses begin to question that force, at that moment it has began to die. However long the tremor of its decay may take, time will henceforth be no more than a delay. Every civilization embodies a certain truth to which it gives reality. When that truth, which is, in turn, embodied in a faith held religiously whether or not it is wholly religious-when that faith loses its power to inspire men, its downfall is at hand. When that faith and that truth no longer match and meet the reality of men's daily lives, there sets in a radical readjustment of reality whereby men seek to bring the faith by which they live into conformity with the reality they live in.

Thus every social revolution begins with a spiritual and intellectual revolution. Men revolt first in thought, in order to be free to revolt in act. But revolt does not always imply violence. It may simply take the form of a question. When the gap grows too clear between the faith and forms of a civilization and the realities of daily life, masses of men are paralyzed by the discrepancy so that before the old faith they first grow numb, then apathetic, then questioning if not disdainful. They simply by-pass in one degree or other, what no longer corresponds to their reality. It has lost its power to inspire their lives. This happens even if they continue outwardly to conform to the old ways. This is the real crisis of the West and the point at which, across a No Man's Land of apathy, it confronts itself. Communism is only a secondary manifestation of this crisis, although Communism has reached a strength where it complicates and threatens to solve in its own terms the crisis of the divided West. For Communism is not an Asiatic or Russian growth, as some maintain. In its Soviet form, it has been shaped and colored by Russian peculiarities. But Communism is a way of thought and action, a way of reading history and its forces, which was developed in the culture capitals of the West. The growth of its power is inexplicable except as Communism appeals to the divided mind of the West, making each of its advances exactly along the line of the West's internal division, paralyzing each effort of the West to cope with it by touching some sympathetic nerve. The success of Communism, as I have written elsewhere, is never greater than the failure of all other faiths. Just as the threat of Communism is not the true crisis of the West,  Communism is not the true revolution of our time. Communism is only one form and one sector of that revolution. The revolution of our time embraces the whole West, and, since, for the first time in history, our civilization, due to technology and science, embraces the whole world, the revolution affects the whole world. This revolution operates on many levels. It is a spiritual and intellectual revolution so that Henry Adams, sitting in his Manhattan club, watching the crowds marching up and down Fifth Avenue, had good ground for believing that they were marching chiefly to the end of a world-his world and ours. But the revolution is also a social revolution, a movement of masses of men, for a greater share of the goods which a technological civilization produces in hitherto unheard of abundance-and which is perhaps the sole justification for the existence of that system. Any attempt to see the revolution in either of those terms without seeing it in terms of the other -any attempt to see it only as a spiritual crisis or only as a social crisis-leads to a confusion of reality.

I opened recently a Fair Dealing magazine to find a two-page spread of American goods with a caption to the effect that this is our answer to Communism, this is what the free world has to offer the restive regions of mankind. It is well to offer this to whatever man needs it. Tactically, and he who receives knows even better than he who gives the degree to which tactics underlies the benefaction-these goods may forestall or defer a loss to Communism. Moreover, that deferment may be of incalculable importance.

But that will not solve the crisis either of the West or of the world. For the complacency which supposes that a crisis of the depth of ours can be solved by a dole fails to grasp that such a solution has thereby raised the other aspect of the crisis-the spiritual crisis-to the point of desperation. At that point, all stand under the judgment which humankind has always known at the moment when the ineradicable spirit bursts the shell that we try to raise between our lives and our inward knowledge that all life is tragic.

A civilization is justified in seeking to buy survival by sharing its material prosperity with a restive world-like any other form of endangered life trying to save itself. But a civilization which supposes that what it chiefly has to offer mankind is more abundant bread-that civilization is already half-dead. Sooner or later it will know it as it chokes on a satiety of that bread by which alone men cannot live. It will, in all probability, know it long before. For it seems to be a law of life and of history that societies in which the pursuit of abundance and comfort has displaced all other pursuits in importance soon cease to be societies. They become prey. They fall to whatever power can rally the starving spirit of man even though the rallying faith is demonstrably worse than the soft complacency that would suffocate the spirit in abundance. The fall is more certain because a failure of spirit leads invariably by some inward influence to a failure of intelligence.

Throughout the years between my break with Communism and the beginning of the Hiss Case, Father Alan's question had haunted me. It rose in its most terrible form when that case began. It was never absent from a day or night of that experience. Against nothing did I have to struggle so fiercely as against it. And nothing set me so apart from those who bore the burdens of that action in more important ways or sealed me off more completely in a circle of loneliness. For, unlike them, I truly supposed that that action was more than incidental, justified in the name of right and of necessity but powerless to affect the deeper crisis of our time which it subsumed in miniature. I never supposed that by my actions in that case, I could do more than give the children of men an infinitesimally better chance against the forces of dissension and darkness that were setting against them. Therefore, I sought to go a little in advance-to give them that infinitesimally better chance.

Every development of that case confirmed my view, and every development afterward added to it.

That is why, later on, when our nightly conversations had become something to which, it seemed to me, Father Alan looked forward almost as much as I, I spoke to his understanding with a freedom such as I would speak to few men. Thus, one night, when our conversation had reached a certain turn, I said: "Two little imps sit at the foot of my bed, one on each post. They sit with their backs to me. But, now and again, one will turn around and grin and say: 'It was all for nothing?' Then the other turns and grins and asks: 'Why go on?"'

But it was not the absence of an answer to Father Alan's question ("Who says the West is worth saving?") that was most appalling. What appalled was the fact that, in its own mind, the West disdained the question, or, if it deigned to admit it to its consciousness at all, its complacent answer would be: yes. Father Alan's question spoke directly to my condition because it implied what we both knew-that at that point the West stood under the oldest and ultimate judgment, which could be lifted only in terms of more suffering than the mind can bear or measure.

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.*
* Revelations 3:14-17.

[Editor. My highlighting.]

What Chambers is saying here is that West's lack of an ideal, for which it will literally die for, is why it is dying. The materialist vision of man, which by implication seeks to maximise life and hedonistic pleasure, is powerless against ideologies which place a transcendental value above life itself. The reason why there is still fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine is the same reason why the Americans weren't able to conquer the Vietnamese. It's because, in these countries, the combatants prefer to die rather than live like Westerners. Reflecting on the rise of Communism, this exchange between Robert McNamara and Fidel Castro, recalling the Cuban Missile Crisis, is worth recalling.

Robert Mcnamara to Fidel Castro:
"Mr. President, I have three questions to you. Number one: did you know the nuclear warheads were there[Ed: On Cuba]? Number two: if you did, would you have recommended to Khrushchev in the face of an U.S. attack that he use them? Number three: if he had used them, what would have happened to Cuba?"
Castro's response in light of Chambers;
He said, "Number one, I knew they were there. Number two, I would not have recommended to Khrushchev, I did recommend to Khrushchev that they be used. Number three, 'What would have happened to Cuba?' It would have been totally destroyed." 
Yes, and he went on to say: "Mr. McNamara, if you and President Kennedy had been in a similar situation, that's what you would have done." 
And McNamara's Response?
I said, "Mr. President, I hope to God we would not have done it. Pull the temple down on our heads? My God!"

In a sense, we'd won. We got the missiles out without war. My deputy and I brought the five Chiefs over and we sat down with Kennedy. And he said, "Gentlemen, we won. I don't want you ever to say it, but you know we won, I know we won."

And LeMay said, "Won? Hell, we lost. We should go in and wipe 'em out today."
[Robert McNamara. The Fog of War]

As Juvenal said all those years ago, "For life's sake do not lose your reason to live".

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Message in a Bottle.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take some time off and catch up with some reading. One of the books that I had meant to read, based on snippet of it which I had found on the internet, was Cold Friday by Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers is chiefly remembered for the Hiss spy trial and his book Witness. After his death he was quickly forgotten, except by the curmudgeonly right whom I felt never real got to grips with the full extent of his intelligence.  He became, much like Stalin's victims, a footnote of history, an unfortunate product of his time.  Whilst recent scholarship has been more sympathetic to his memory,  the common conception of him is that of a morally flawed and unattractive man.

This public image of him was first forged during the Hiss case where his unsavory past and pudgy countenance was in start contrast to graceful and impeccable Hiss. Even with Hiss's conviction, which vindicated Chambers,  I still get the impression that Chambers was the overall loser of the trial. High friends in Government wanted to vindicate Hiss, as did the majority of the media and the majority of the right type of people. Chambers may have won the battle but he seemed to have lost the war,  and a certain odium pertained to Him afterwards amongst "polite society". Though Chambers was a gifted writer, post Hiss case, he fell on financially difficult times and relative obscurity, as did his message. He died in 1961. Cold Friday was a collection of his letters and incomplete works which, after being published, received lukewarm reviews. Pearls before swine.

His writings are easily dismissed as particular to the circumstances of the now distant Cold War and yet they are not. The Cold War was but one manifestation of the great metaphysical battle which has engulfed the West over the last one hundred years. We are still in the midst of this battle and are living in a dark age of man, darkening ever further as the left accedes.  Reading Cold Friday, the message that keeps coming through is that the West is dying, as it has been cut off from the source of its vitality.

The population of the West with people from Islamic lands, Multiculturalism, Moral Relativism, Socialism and all the other pernicious ideologies of our times are symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself. Just as a human infected with the AIDS virus succumbs to infections that it would normally repel with ease, so is the West unable to combat its current multiple pathologies due to a fundamental weakness of its being.

And the source of the weakness according to Chambers was in a rejection of God which lead to an indifference to truth. It's the same conclusion which Solzhenitsyn came to sitting in the Gulag and it's the conclusion I've come to as well. I have taken this position, not because of any religious fundamentalism, or brainwashing, it's because when you follow the dots backwards, trying to understanding how we got into the current mess, it's the only logical conclusion. Even Orwell, who was no friend of religion, over time began to doubt in the purely materialistic understanding of the universe.  Reason, not faith is what forms this diagnosis.

Chambers' value is in the fact that he was able to lucidly see the nature of this battle as he was a combatant for both sides, but more importantly he was a able to penetrate past appearance to the underlying reality of the thing. His savage attack on Ayn Rand, Big Sister Is Watching You, was a classic example. His gift, so to speak, is that he could see the reality of things clearly.

His lurch to the left was driven in part by the injustices and dysfunction of the old world,  entrenched cultural concepts which were corroding the very fabric of the society that they were meant to uphold.  The leftist solution was initially seen as a tonic and only belatedly did a few realise it was a fatal poison. He was a man who saw the solution for what it was and came back from "hell without empty hands." His writings then, were an attempt to warn his fellow man of the dangers he was drifting towards and of the misery that would follow. He was a lone prophet in the intellectual wilderness of the modern West.

Over the next few posts I plan to put up some excerpts from his book (I believe that it qualifies as fair use) and perhaps discuss some of the points he mentions. Once again, I would urge my readers to go buy the book.

As his son left the farm to register for the draft he wrote:
It seemed to me as I watched him leave that the most important thing I could do for him was to report for him how his father had viewed certain aspects of our reality, what I believed the forces of reality to be, and how I saw their origins and development, which pulverized individual men, and caught peoples, like shovelfuls of corn in a hammermill. My book should be something like what past ages used to call an enchiridion -a little dagger to arm him against the swarming night, a little dagger that might help him to cut his way among the enemies and perplexities of his life. I meant no formidable treatise, for which I felt no competence. What I had in mind was a little book to which he could turn in doubt or trouble, when he could no longer come to me, and catch again his father's voice saying: "This is how it happened to me, these are the conclusions I drew from past experience. This is how experience seemed to teach me that a man should act, this is what a man is and should be against the scale of reality." My reward, never known by men, could be that he might one day say, "In the main, you spoke to me wisely."

I have put off the task too long. Few tasks have been so difficult as to begin this book. How many times I have sat down at my desk to begin it, and have then got up again with that slight feeling of nausea that I have sometimes known in testifying publicly or in much of Witness which is, I suppose, the penalty that the body pays when the will overdrives the nerves. At the root of that feeling is the sense of hopelessness which besets most of those who have sought to carry on the struggle in our time. It can be put in a simple question: Since acts have done so little good, what possible good can more words do? Linked with this feeling is another that goes even deeper. It is the sense of a limit beyond which a man may not wish to drive himself. The effort of recollection forces me to turn back to horrors which no man can come through and live from day to day without putting out of his mind-not by a conscious effort but by that mercy of the mind which sinks what is too heavy to be borne into the grace of forgetfulness. To probe the scar risks each time reopening the wound. One of the best Latin tags says that perhaps at some future time it will be pleasant to remember these things. They can be remembered only in a turmoil of spirit that pushes the mind towards a longing for annihilation.

But the greatest difficulty in writing this book is something else. It lies at the point where the book itself is a parting much more final than my son's walking up a path. I write consciously in the belief that this is probably the last effort of the kind that I shall make, a kind of summary testament, a backward reading of what I have learned from experience to this point. I am haunted by the need for truth, the fear of error, at the point of life when truth has become the one consuming need, since nothing else has real worth. My son must read this as the effort at truth, knowing that I could wish for him only what is good and true.

I have a sense of leaving my son, that chapter by chapter puts us farther apart as if he were a figure compelled to watch from a shore another receding in a little boat.

Time is running out on me. I am rushing on to sixty. This is old age. Of importance, here,
chiefly because, if I do not get my meaning down on paper, I shall die with Witness as my
whole meaning. It is not my whole meaning. . . .

Cold Friday, Whittaker Chambers [Ed: My highlighting]

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Two Links.

Breivik's Brain.

Sailer gets it, but it really should have been titled Breivik's Soul.
The most notable traits of Breivik’s character are a Nietzschean lack of Christian compassion and guilt, grandiose ambition, self-confidence, competitiveness, cynicism, and a lack of normal human emotions. The standard assumption is that he is an unstable individual driven to rage by reading anti-jihad websites such as Gates of Vienna. But I don’t sense a huge amount of anger in the hundreds of pages I endured. Instead, 2083 reads more like a marketing and strategic document—a business plan, as it were—for how to build an ideology and a movement that will win a struggle for control of Europe.

The banality of evil, and  

Breivik despises Marxists—they are, to him, the enemy team against which he competes—but he accepts much of their intellectual framework.
The problem is that too many of the right are like Breivik, crypto leftists.

The Highest Combat.

Now we're getting to business. 

As Belloc said, The faith is Europe and Europe is the faith.  No faith and the West ceases to exist. It simply becomes a geographical location, not an idea.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Child Care Billy Club.

Traditionalist conceptions of motherhood when questioned, are frequently justified on the basis that the natural mother child care giving relationship is the best one possible for the child, all other forms of care being inferior and possibly harmful.  It's a staple cultural meme of the modern Anglosphere.

As a consequence, women who aren't naturally suited to staying at home caring for the children are torn between suffering themselves at home or making the child suffer by "neglecting"  the child's care. Traditionalists of all types are fond of citing childcare studies which prove that child care is "harmful" to children.

The traditionalist brigade don't realise just how powerful this meme is, and just how accurately it strikes at the heart of working woman's anxieties. The meme is used as sort of cultural billy club to women who work, regardless if they want to or are forced by economic circumstances.  It also has the benefit of shoring up the traditionalist position, the stay at home mother deriving her moral superiority from being a "better mother" than her working peer. Then, of course, there is always the moral superiority of martyrdom, women who "sacrifice" themselves for their families (just try getting some of them to work for money after their children have left the home) earning near universal admiration for their choice.

This assumption, that with regard to child care, mother at home is the best, seems intuitively obvious and is rarely challenged. It's a defacto assumption.

It's this assumption that is the cause of endless anxiety with regard to long term effects of child care. Scientific studies( of which there are numerous and which are frequently very poorly done) looking into the matter seem to provide conflicting evidence with regard to the long term effects of child care. One way of interpreting this is that more evidence is needed, the other way of interpreting this is that there isn't any effect at all. This paper, by the University of Budapest, is a good review of the research.

Now one are of research that the Traditionalists never seem to mention is with regard to child development is with regard to maternal stress.  Here the research is pretty much settled, in that a stressed and unhappy mother is likely to have children with bonding and developmental issues. (I'm not providing any references, just enter the appropriate search terms in Google scholar.) It would appear that a mother's mood is more important than outsourced childcare with a regard to a child's development.

This, of course, poses a problem to the "suck it up" Traditionalist brigade. Unhappy martyr mothers make for unhappy children. It would appear that their stay at home imperative "for the sake of the children" is fundamentally flawed from the point of view of the children. If you want happy and well adjusted children, you've got to have happy mothers. Suffering for the cause, as in really suffering, not just being inconvenienced, is counterproductive.

Maternal happiness seems to be the key of good child development. Buried in the linked review is a rather brilliant study by Barling, Fullagear and Marchl-Dingle.
In a 1988 paper, Barling, Fullagear and Marchl-Dingle go further and describe significant association between mothers’ interrole conflict and children’s behavioural problems. They suggest that both employed mothers uncommitted to their work, and homemaker mothers with blocked employment role commitment are in a stressful situation. Without controlling for intervening factors they suggest that this can affect their parenting behaviour negatively,which in turn leads to behavioural problems of their children.
On a sample of 185 5th and 6th grade children from an elementary school they show that children, whose mothers’ employment and employment commitment were not congruent (i.e. either a homemaker mother with high commitment to work, or a working mother with low work-commitment), were rated significantly less attentive and more immature than those children whose mothers employment status and commitment were congruent.
In other words,  when women, who were temperamentally suited to be carers were made to work they became stressed,  as did women who were temperamentally suited to work when forced to stay at home. Not only did they suffer, but their children suffered as well.

If we as a society want to raise happy and healthy kids what we need to do is let women find their own mix of work life balance. For most women it will be in a homemaker role, but for some it will be in some form of employment. Both Traditionalists and Feminists need to get off their backs.

The whole point of my blathering about motherhood roles in society,  is that it very accurately illustrates the problem between the traditionalist and modern conceptions of it. Rapid industrialisation and urbanisation put a lot of women back into the home, where they became miserable and resentful. The traditionalist response to this new phenomenon was to tell the malcontents to suck it up and do nothing. The inability to innovate within the conservative tradition meant that built up social pressures could not be relieved constructively, rather, in the absence of good thought  bad thought took it's place. Conservative stupidity was the midwife of Feminism.

Which, in a nutshell, was the problem of the 20th Century. Because Conservatives couldn't solve problems the Leftists did.  And they did it badly.