The evolution of liberty 1

Much as we respect The Declaration of Independence and honor its purpose, we do not agree with its great authors that the “Rights” of “all Men”, including Liberty, are “endowed by their Creator”.

And our disagreement is not simply because we do not believe in a Creator of the universe.

As to how Liberty arose in our civilization, we agree with this: :

Though Freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. … This development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and France. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not.

As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … , the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley, and drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment, deeply imbued with Cartesian rationalism: the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best-known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. … The British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the French school was simply and completely wrong.

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented … an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

– From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek, Part One Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

The terrifying politics of kindness 22

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’. – Ronald Reagan

We quote from an essay titled The Case Against Liberal Compassion by William Voegeli (via PowerLine):

All conservatives are painfully aware that liberal activists and publicists have successfully weaponized compassion. “I am a liberal,” public radio host Garrison Keillor wrote in 2004, “and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” Last year [2013] President Obama said, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. When I think about what I’m fighting for, what gets me up every single day, that captures it just about as much as anything. Kindness; empathy—that sense that I have a stake in your success; that I’m going to make sure, just because [my daughters] are doing well, that’s not enough — I want your kids to do well also.” Empathetic kindness is “what binds us together, and . . . how we’ve always moved forward, based on the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success”.

Well, if liberalism is the politics of kindness, it follows that its adversary, conservatism, is the politics of cruelty, greed, and callousness. Liberals have never been reluctant to connect those dots. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt said, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” In 1984 the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, called President Reagan an “evil” man “who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations . . . . He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood”.  A 2013 Paul Krugman column accused conservatives of taking “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable”. They were, he wrote, “infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness . . . . If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.” …

Voegeli goes on to discuss, not how wrong this hugely mistaken and antagonistic view of conservatism is, but why liberalism fails; why government “kindness” is never enough to achieve its ends; why it is self-defeating.

He finds the root cause of its failure in a contradiction: that while the politician of kindness claims to be altruistic, his real motivation is self-gratification.

He recalls the words of a man who was a chief inspirer of the French Revolution:

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in Emile, “When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself.” …

We can see the problem. The whole point of compassion is for empathizers to feel better when awareness of another’s suffering provokes unease. But this ultimate purpose does not guarantee that empathizees will fare better. Barbara Oakley, co-editor of the volume Pathological Altruism, defines its subject as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” Surprises and accidents happen, of course. The pathology of pathological altruism is not the failure to salve every wound. It is, rather, the indifference — blithe, heedless, smug, or solipsistic — to the fact and consequences of those failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire. As philosophy professor David Schmidtz has said, “If you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, it isn’t.”

Indeed, if you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, the failure of government programs to alleviate suffering is not only an acceptable outcome but in many ways the preferred one. Sometimes empathizers, such as those in the “helping professions” acquire a vested interest in the study, management, and perpetuation — as opposed to the solution and resulting disappearance — of sufferers’ problems. This is why so many government programs initiated to conquer a problem end up, instead, colonizing it by building sprawling settlements where the helpers and the helped are endlessly, increasingly co-dependent. Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people — people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives. “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering — is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering.

This assessment also provides an answer to the question of why liberals always want a bigger welfare state. It’s because the politics of kindness is about validating oneself rather than helping others, which means the proper response to suffering is always, “We need to do more,” and never, “We need to do what we’re already doing better and smarter.” That is, liberals react to an objective reality in a distinctively perverse way. The reality is … that public expenditures to alleviate poverty, insecurity, and suffering amount to $3 trillion, or some $10,000 per American, much of it spent on the many millions of Americans who are nowhere near being impoverished, insecure, or suffering. If the point of liberalism were to alleviate suffering, as opposed to preening about one’s abhorrence of suffering and proud support for government programs designed to reduce it, liberals would get up every morning determined to reduce the proportion of that $3 trillion outlay that ought to be helping the poor but is instead being squandered in some way, including by being showered on people who aren’t poor. But since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive — less gratifying — than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty.

We do not dispute Voegeli’s point that the motivation behind the “politics of kindness ” is self-gratification.

But is he saying that’s all that’s wrong with them? He wants liberals to be less satisfied with their incomplete efforts and “stick around” and “make sure” the program  has actually worked. Which means that he thinks that socialism – to give the “politics of kindness” its real name – could “actually alleviate suffering”. Nowhere in this essay does he explicitly point out that it could not and should not attempt to. In fact, he considers the possibility, and while he says he does not reject the evidence for these “possibilities”, he prefers to believe it is the superficiality of the liberals who try to legislate benevolently that makes it all go wrong.

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. … It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

I don’t reject any of those possibilities, or deny the evidence and logic adduced in support of each. But my assessment of how the liberal project has been justified in words, and rendered in deeds, leads me to a different explanation for why, under the auspices of liberal government, things have a way of turning out so badly. I conclude that the machinery created by the politics of kindness doesn’t work very well — in the sense of being economical, adaptable, and above all effective — because the liberals who build, operate, defend, and seek to expand this machine don’t really care whether it works very well and are, on balance, happier when it fails than when it succeeds.

Which leaves open the possibility that a different set of liberals might be more sincere, work harder, and succeed where none has succeeded before. They might do it more economically and effectively.

Finally, as if nagged by a doubt that his explanation for the failures of liberalism is not sufficient after all, he mentions “beliefs that have sustained America’s republic”, and “those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further”, without saying what they are:

Those of us accused of being greedy and cruel, for standing athwart the advance of liberalism and expansion of the welfare state, do have things to say, then, in response to the empathy crusaders. Compassion really is important. … But compassion is neither all-important nor supremely important in morals and, especially, politics. It is nice, all things being equal, to have government officials who feel our pain rather than ones who, like imperious monarchs, cannot comprehend or do not deign to notice it. Much more than our rulers’ compassion, however, we deserve their respect — for us; our rights; our capacity and responsibility to feel and heal our own pains without their ministrations; and for America’s carefully constructed and heroically sustained experiment in constitutional self-government, which errs on the side of caution and republicanism by denying even the most compassionate official a monarch’s plenary powers.

Kindness … doesn’t begin to cover all the beliefs that have sustained America’s republic, however. Nor does it amount to a safe substitute for those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further.

The principles he does not name are the ingredients of the constitution of liberty. And they are incompatible with – in fact, totally exclude – the “moral virtues” and principles of socialism.

No government should take from you what you have earned and give it to others as socialism requires. To do so is not only unkind but unjust. Who is being kind when a government takes from you what you have earned and gives it to someone else? It is not kindness but tyranny.

It has been proved amply over the last hundred years that the more government interferes in the lives of the people “for their own good”, ever expanding as it seizes ever more power, the more miserable and impoverished the people become. Or to put it succinctly, as a hard rule: The fatter the government, the thinner the people.

Obama’s record alone is enough to prove this rule.

Those who claim to know better than you do what is good for you, will impose that “good” on you whether you like it or not. What they want is the power to control you, not your happiness.

The truly good government protects you with the law from being harmed by others, but leaves you free to do yourself good or harm.

The saying of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that Voegeli quotes is honest-sounding, and on the surface of it, strong advocacy for the politics of “kindness”. But what happened in reality when the Fellow Man rejected the good that was being thrust upon him by the Rousseau-inspired re-organizers of society? He had to be forced to accept it. Dissent and disobedience had to be punished with death. Rousseau, through his ardent admirer Robespierre, was also the chief inspirer of the Terror which immediately followed the revolution. The guillotine became the most effective instrument of what our contemporary American organizers of society like to think of as the Politics of Kindness.

That dangerous thing – education 5

Crisis Magazine is a Catholic site.

But –

William Kilpatrick makes some points there that we agree with, among some that we do not. We quote:

Question:  What does Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist organization, have in common with Western educators?  Answer:  Both think that Western education is sinful.  Fortunately, Western educators will not burn down your church or school with you inside as Boko Haram does to those who persist in their Western ways.  Unfortunately, the type of education provided by Western educators will leave you totally unprepared for the likes of Boko Haram.

Agreed.

Roughly translated, “Boko Haram” means “Western education is sinful”.  So there’s little doubt about where it stands.  But in what way can it be said that Western educators believe the same thing?  I don’t know if any educators have actually declared that Western education is sinful, but it’s not unfair to say that contemporary educational theory in the West is built upon a rejection of traditional Western education.  Beginning with Rousseau’s Emile (1762), Western intellectuals began to challenge the Judeo-Christian view of the child and along with it traditional ideas about how children should be educated.

 He describes what he thinks of as Christian education approvingly: 

According to the earlier conception, one which still endures in some corners of our society, the child is born in original sin and, therefore, a good part of his education should be devoted to helping him overcome his natural tendencies to laziness, selfishness and pleasure-seeking.  The goal of such education was the transmission of hard-learned cultural lessons through the study of history, literature, scripture and science.

All good subjects (though about scripture, see our last paragraph).

Two comments. One: “original sin” was disobedience followed by lust – not laziness, selfishness and (oh, dear!) pleasure-seeking. Two:  For a thousand years, most children in Christendom were taught Christianity but not literacy. Once Christianity descended darkly over Europe, replacing the Roman Empire with the Catholic Church, most children received no education at all except the Christian myth along with the fear of Hell.

But what the writer says next is right on:

According to the Romantic tradition which began with Rousseau and which by the late 1960s had become the dominant philosophy in American education, the child is born in a state of original innocence with trustworthy impulses that should be followed, not denied.  Romantic thinkers believed in nature with an almost religious fervor; in their view, man had fallen not from a state of grace but from the state of nature.  Sin was a product of civilization, and if there were such a thing as evil, it lay in placing unnatural constraints on the child’s natural spontaneity and wisdom.

The Romantic emphasis on the child’s inner wisdom led to a corresponding de-emphasis on the acquisition of factual knowledge.  Learning was thought to be a natural process and the child could therefore be trusted to learn what he needed to know by following his natural instincts.  Consequently, book-learning came to be looked upon by Romantic poets and philosophers as an unnatural imposition on the child’s natural development. Take Wordsworth’s poem, The Tables Turned:

Up!  up!  my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up!  up!  my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The third stanza extends the anti-book argument a bit further:

Books!  ‘tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music!  on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

In short, why bother with books [boko haram? – ed]) when you can find all you need to know in the book of nature?  That is the [we would say “one of the] basic principle[s] of Romanticism.  For a very long time, most educators ignored this highly unrealistic approach to education.  Wordsworth, Emerson, Whitman and other Romantics were taught in schools, but they were celebrated for the beauty of their poetry and prose, not for their anti-bookish prescriptions.  Eventually, however, these ideas about natural learning came to exert a powerful influence on the imagination of educators — particularly those of the American variety.  By the 1930’s, under the name “progressive education”,  the Romantic theory had spread to teacher’s colleges throughout the U.S.  By the late 1960’s, it was the dominant philosophy in American classrooms.

The triumph of natural schooling theories did result in significant change — for the worse.  SAT scores began a long decline and the U.S. students soon ranked near the bottom of developed countries on international assessment tests.  The progressive movement did, however, produce a number of catchy slogans such as “holistic learning”, “child-centered schooling”, “at their own pace”, “self-esteem”, and “critical thinking skills”.  Those were the terms of approbation.  On the other hand, teachers were warned to avoid “memorization”, “rote-learning”, “mere facts”, “textbook-learning”, and “culturally biased curriculums”.

The progressives failed to realize, however, that you can’t think critically unless you have something to think about.  But, having been deprived of “mere facts”, students have very little material with which to “construct knowledge” (another popular piece of educational jargon).  How, for example, can students think critically about World War II if they’ve never heard of Roosevelt, Churchill or Stalin or if they have no idea where Germany, Japan, Poland and France are located?

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Boko Haram?  Just this.  Boko Haram is one of the more violent manifestations of the global resurgence of Islam in our times.  Although it is marginally more brutal than other jihadist groups, it is not untypical.  There are dozens of such groups all over the world that seek by force to restore Islam to its former dominance.  The problem is, today’s anti-knowledge curriculums do not prepare students to think critically about what is happening in the Islamic world and what it means for the rest of us.

The disparagement of “mere facts” ensures that today’s graduates will know very little about the history of Islam.  And the Romantic elevation of non-Western traditions means that they will know even less about the bloody nature of that history.  Although American students will hear a great deal about Western imperialism, they are not likely to realize that Islam was one of the great imperial powers of all time.  At one time, the Islamic Empire stretched from Spain, across North Africa, and all the way to India.  The Empire was created by conquest, but high school and college texts tend to avoid that word in favor of euphemisms such as “the spread of Islam” or the “expansion of Islam.”  And how was this expansion accomplished?  According to one widely used high school history text, “The persecuted people often welcomed the [Muslim] invaders and chose to accept Islam.  They were attracted by the appeal of the message of Islam which offered equality and hope in this world.” …

– A  lie constantly repeated by Muslim propagandists.

Indeed, many accounts of Islamic history in American textbooks look like they could have been written by the Saudi Ministry for Propaganda and Whitewash.  Many world history textbooks, for instance, take great pains to inform readers that jihad has little to do with holy war but rather is best understood as “overcoming immorality,” “a personal inner struggle to achieve spiritual peace”, or a “striving … to achieve personal betterment”.  Moreover, in line with the Western habit of romanticizing non-Western cultures, textbooks present a highly romanticized (some would say, largely fictitious) portrait of Islam’s “Golden Age” in Spain and Baghdad.  According to one widely-used college text, “The Muslims created [in Baghdad and Cordoba] a brilliant urban culture” where libraries abounded and where “judges, merchants, and government officials, rather than warriors, were regarded as the ideal citizens”.  Meanwhile, over in the Christian Carolingian Empire, “Both gluttony and drunkenness were vices shared by many people…. Everyone in Carolingian society, including abbots and monks, drank heavily and often to excess.” …

It is necessary to remember that Christians burnt piles of volumes from the great library of Alexandria centuries before the Muslims came and destroyed it utterly. (It was ravaged by Christians in 391 CE, and completely destroyed by Muslims in 642 CE.)

There is nothing romantic about Boko Haram, and the facts concerning it don’t fit into the rose-colored narrative that is fed to our students about gentle Islamic expansion, interior spiritual struggles, and a library on every corner. …  Absent knowledge of Islam’s 1400-year history of jihad, the Boko Haram campaign to exterminate Nigerian Christians must seem like an aberration — something completely unrepresentative of the true Islam.  And so will the attacks on Christians in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, the Central African Republic, Kenya, and elsewhere.  They will be perceived as discrete, disconnected events that have “nothing to do with Islam” because American citizens are largely unfamiliar with the historical pattern that would help to make sense of these supposedly senseless actions.

What does that pattern look like?  Islam scholar Raymond Ibrahim provides this brief description of the European experience with Islam:

Among other nations and territories that were attacked and/or came under Muslim domination are (to give them their modern names in no particular order):  Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Crete, Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Belarus, Malta, Sardinia, Moldova, Slovakia, and Montenegro.

It seems well past time to wake up from the romantic dream and reacquaint ourselves with that once-familiar, now forgotten pattern.

We agree of course with his abhorrence of Islam, and with his objections to Romanticism.

We see Romanticism as the (admittedly godless but nevertheless mystical) religion that replaced Christianity when the Enlightenment broke the power of the Churches and brought Christianity into open question.

We see it as the enemy of Reason, scorning proper education, and science, technological innovation, the nation state, free trade, the free market, capitalism, individual freedom, the productive middle-class, prosperity, rule of law, civilization. Also skepticism. And humor.

At present Romanticism is hammering the Western world with two dogmas that are in an improbable alliance, that of Leftism and that of Islam.

Some Catholics, it seems, can share this understanding with us to an extent, though they would no doubt want the Church to rule again, and the irrationalities of Christianity to replace those of Socialism and Mohammedanism.

We agree with William Kilpatrick that our Western culture should be handed down. That means teaching facts, as he says – and critical examination of all opinion.

We want education to be  secular.

The Jewish and Christian scriptures should be taught as literature, and religion in history classes, because they have had a huge effect on our culture. But (as our frequent commenter Frank has urged inspirationally) they should be taught only by atheists.

Atheism and freedom 25

The right theory of individual freedom came from an understanding of the spontaneous evolution of civil institutions and traditions. A free society no more needed an intelligent designer than did the human species.  

The similarity of process in the development of social and biological life is brilliantly explained by one of the great defenders of freedom:

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. …

[The] development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and Fance. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not. As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit mainly by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley … drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment … : the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. …

[T]he British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the [French] school was simply and completely wrong. …

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented in some ways an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

-From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek , Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

The darkness of this world (4) 2

Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the fourth essay under the title The Darkness of This World. (For the first three put Our Gnostic Age in the search slot.)

*

The Darkness of This World

essays on

Our Gnostic Age

4

In its defiance of religious and cultural norms, most New Age doctrine and practice (briefly described in the last essay) is comparatively mild. Far more savage messages have come from thousands of pop songs and rap “flows” since the 1960s. Cruelty and religious images are a large if not predominant part of their stock-in-trade. Themes of rape, murder, massacre, torture, Satan, devils, demons, sado-masochism, ultimate doom, universal destruction by nuclear bombs or climate apocalypse, terrorism, suicide, death, are common, hugely popular – and therefore enormously lucrative. Here are words from a rock song called Demons. It was sung by a group named Rigor Mortis – typically connoting something dreaded, in this case death: “We come bursting through your bodies, rape your helpless soul …we force you to kill your brother, eat his blood and brain, shredding flesh and sucking bone till everyone’s insane, we are pestilent and contaminate, the world Demonic legions prevail.”

Such songs could be, and sometimes are, interpreted as instructions to do evil. But then, almost any song could be – and was. Charles Manson, mass murderer and cult-leader of a mass-murdering group, declared himself profoundly stirred by a Beatles song called Helter-Skelter, into whose quite innocuous words about sliding down a fairground slide, he read a coded message about the coming of a final conflict between the black and white races. [1]

But songs, however gruesome, and even if sometimes inspiring real cruelty and murder, are not the source of the moral rot in twenty-first century Western culture.  Nor are the video games that require the killing off of humanoids in such profusion that they’re often blown away as copiously as brown leaves in a gale. Such popular indulgence in Halloween-like fantasy are analogous not to the old Gnostic cults themselves, but to imitations of their rites as pictured and misunderstood by less educated outsiders. The deliberate “sinning” of the Gnostics, with orgies and drugs, was performed for several reasons or excuses: to “use up sin” – ie. commit as much sin as possible in order to hasten the end of the world, on the assumption that there was a fixed amount of sin pre-ordained by the evil Creator, and when all of it had been committed his creation would be done for; or on the grounds that it wasn’t sin at all, only named so by the evil creator, and by defying him they were acting for the good; or on the grounds that true Gnostics – the “Spirituals”, or “Masters”,  or “Perfects” – were incapable of sinning and so were free to do anything they liked. Those who were fascinated by the cults but excluded from them – being despised by the Gnostics as “hylics”, “animal men”, creatures irredeemably belonging to the earth – caught rumor of the rites and misunderstood them to be ways of worshiping the Devil. [2]  The performance of “Satanic” rituals such as the Black Mass may very well have begun in imitation of Gnostic rites as imagined by “hylics” who hoped they would summon up the Devil to grant them occult powers. The Devil was supposed to be able and willing to sell such powers to any buyer willing to pay the price of his or her “immortal soul”. Sometimes the drug-intoxicated, orgiastic rites included human sacrifice. To the Christian churches such beliefs and rituals were not only heresy, they were blasphemy; and through the Middle Ages, when such blaspheming heretics were sniffed out by the moralists of almost any Christian denomination, they were punished with torture and fire; burnt at the stake as witches and “black” magicians. It’s certain, however, that they did far less harm, hurt and killed far fewer victims, than did the churches themselves.

No. The power to effect evil on a vast scale lies not with the many but with the few; not with the uneducated but with the educated; not with adolescent entertainers but with intellectual elites. Evil as, or for, a “higher good” becomes a force that deforms civilization only when it issues from the top of the tower. They affect the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments govern. They are professors, philosophers, priests, psychologists, writers, critics, film-makers, rogue scientists, politicians. They are the revolutionaries with a long reach. They could be called the legislative branch of the new orthodoxy. They write the laws of “political correctness”.

The executive branch whose members are responsible for disseminating the toxic ideas, are the powers that appoint the teachers at the universities; publish books and newspapers; choose the plays and the works of art that are to be presented to the public. They are the givers of grants and awards, the producers of films, the social-engineering bureaucrats.

A counter-culture with a mood of sustained rebellion has become dominant in the early twenty-first century in the West not as an imp daring to do mischievous things to provoke an old-fogey establishment, but as a loud, bullying, relentless thug. It rules in the academies and the press; it permits and cheers on the jolly viciousness of popular culture. And it has come to political power throughout the Western world. It is no longer an amusing adversarial movement confined to a demi-monde of the young, the envious and the frustrated; it is now the culture itself. It camps on the public square, wallowing in its own detritus. It stinks. It threatens. It crows triumphantly on its own dung-heap. It gloats over its crimes. It riots in the streets of the cities, smashing the windows of stores, setting fire to banks regardless of whether there are people in them. It burns cars. It shrilly demands much in exchange for nothing. And it legislates, and it taxes, and it makes war on small nations for no better reason than sentiment.[3]

It prevails. And it seems to have come upon the prosperous, brilliant, powerful West quite recently. It has called itself the Red Army of this or that; or Anarchists against Capitalism; or a movement for Hope and Change; or the Occupy Wall Street Movement… It entered the Parliaments of Europe late in the last century, and now it is in the White House of America. But actually it grew slowly through the last three centuries.

It began in Europe, it spread from Europe, and in Europe it became malignant. It began as a reaction to the Enlightenment, that marvelous long morning when the sun of Reason rose to its zenith in the eighteenth century, and the Age of Science gathered pace. Technology, the daughter of Science, gave birth – first in England – to contraptions, contrivances, devices and engines that spun wheels and let off steam and smoke, appalling those blessed or cursed with sensitive souls. Religion blanched. The power of the Churches drained away. Christianity itself declined, but with its fading came a nostalgia for its mystery, for its visions of dim glories, and even for its guilt and its terror.

 

Jillian Becker    October 31, 2013

NOTES

1. In August 1969, Charles Manson sent Susan Atkins with two other women and  Charles “Tex” Watson to a house in Beverly Hills to kill the actress Sharon Tate and anyone else they found there. Atkins states in her  autobiography Child of Satan, Child of God, that as they approached the house, “I was deeply aware of Evil. I was Evil.” She and her companions brutally murdered Sharon Tate and four other people with knives and a gun. “Tex” Watson said to one of the victims (according to Atkins), “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” Atkins wrote: “I was to learn later that this was the home of the beautiful Miss Tate and [her husband Roman] Polanski, who was out of the country at the time. … Polanksi had produced the controversial Rosemary’s Baby, a film about a woman who bore a child by Satan.”  Shortly before meeting Manson, she records, she had refused to participate in a ritual of Satan-worship conducted by Anton LaVey – occultist and musician, founder of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible, father of a son named Satan LaVey – because she believed in God. When she joined the Manson “family”, she thought that Manson “might be God himself; if not, he was close to him.” Her life with the Manson “family” was full off drugs and orgies which made her feel that she was “one with everyone”. “What Charlie taught us,” she said, “was love”. She bore a child which she insisted was not Manson’s, and named him  Ze Zo Ze Cee Zadfrack “for no other reason than that at the torn and twisted time it seemed like a good name”. (So it must be a coincidence, though an intriguing one, that the magic formula for gaining direct access to the highest heaven of the Gnostics, according toThe Book of Ieû is: aaa ooo zezophazazzzaieozaza eee iii zaieozoakoe ooo uuu thoezaozaez eee zzeeezaozakozakeude tuxuaalethukh. – Gnosticism: An Anthology by Robert M. Grant, Collins, London, 1961.)

2. A misinterpretation of Gnostic ritual as devil-worship probably accounts for some of the testimony given at the trial in France, in 1310, of the Knights Templar, a military branch of the Cistercian order specially founded “to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land”. King Philip IV, known as Philip the Beautiful, feared their power and coveted their wealth. They were the international bankers of the age, as well as a considerable military force and an efficiently organized intelligence network. They owned vast estates in France. Their reputation as heroes of the Crusades, as warriors and carers of the sick and wounded, made them glorious in the eyes of the common people. Philip was determined to bring them down, to confiscate their lands and treasure, to extirpate them from his own realms and destroy the order wherever his power or influence could reach. The means he chose was to accuse them of heresy. On the night of October 12, 1307, every Templar in France, along with his servants and dependants, was arrested and imprisoned by order of the King. Two and half years later the trial began. Witnesses told of secret meetings behind locked doors, through whose keyholes they had seen and heard abominable rites. Almost all said that the Knights had denied Christ,  spat upon the Cross, and declared that it was right only to believe in “the Highest God”. Some reported that they had seen them pay reverence to idols and the devil. Some Knights, being broken by torture and unable to face the terrible punishment that awaited heretics, themselves “confessed” to performing such rituals. Though their legal defense was cleverly devised and persuasively presented, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The last officers of the order  were burnt at the stake on March 19, 1314. Some historians maintain that all the accusations were false and the order was free of any taint of heresy, and no direct evidence has ever been found to prove the case one way or the other. But the more credible testimony of the witnesses strongly suggests that what they glimpsed and heard through keyholes was a Gnostic rite as had been practiced by the Cathars in the Languedoc region of southern France, of whom the  last few were then being hunted down and burnt to death by the Inquisition. But beside the possibly true witness accounts, tales were told of devil-worship, including the ritual kissing of the Devil’s behind, which were probably the stock-in-trade of common gossip in those heresy-obsessed ages of Catholic tyranny.

3. One example of sentiment at work in international affairs to brutal result arose out of the United Nation resolution known as “R2P” –  The Responsibility to Protect. It requires the strong and wealthy nations of the West to be guardians of vulnerable populations in any foreign state. It was invoked as a reason for French, British and American intervention in Libya in 2011, to overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, to the time of this writing, there has been no effective government in Libya. Rival Muslim terrorist groups control their fiefdoms, ruling arbitrarily and ferociously by a mixture of sharia law and vicious whim. The population is a lot worse off than it was under Gaddafi. An earlier example was the interference in the 1990s by the West – chiefly America – in the Balkans. The socialist governments of Western Europe and the Democratic government of the United States believed it was right according to leftist principles to make war only where the interests of their own countries were in no way served by it. The American and NATO soldiers who died saving Kosovar and Bosnian Muslims from alleged Catholic or Orthodox Christian oppression (so positively assisting Muslim terrorist groups in Kosovo), gave their lives not for their country, or freedom, but for the need of their leaders to feel good about themselves. The idea that it is the height of morality to sacrifice oneself (or one’s country’s soldiers) for others, particularly if the others are perceived as underdogs, derives directly and exclusively from Christianity.

 

Posted under Art, Articles, Gnosticism, History, Literature, Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tagged with , , ,

This post has 2 comments.

Permalink