Wednesday, March 29, 2017

the addiction myth

One of the more all-pervasive myths of modern society is addiction. You can not only get addicted to cigarettes, booze and drugs but also to gambling, sex and the internet. 

The only problem with all this is that there’s no such thing as addiction. We’re not dealing with addictions, we’re dealing with moral choices. We live in a world in which the idea of moral choices is not very popular. Not only is it not PC, it also makes life seem like hard work. If bad things happen to us not because we’re addicted but because we make poor choices then that means we have to take responsibility for our own lives. It’s so much easier to  believe that addiction is a disease, or that some people are born with addictive personalities. 

If we’re sick or we were just born that way then it’s up to the government to do something about it. It’s a problem that requires funding. It requires an army of doctors and nurses and counsellors and social workers.

The truth is that an alcoholic is someone who chooses to drink more than he should. A problem gambler is someone who refuses to face up to reality and to adult responsibilities. A heroin addict is someone who chooses to use heroin. A sexual pervert is someone who chooses to indulge in perverted sex. These are all moral choices. 

Of course the society in which a person lives can make things easier or more difficult by either encouraging good moral choices or bad moral choices. When Christianity was still a force in the western world it encouraged good moral choices. When parents still knew how to raise kids properly they taught kids that moral choices were part and parcel of life.

If we have much bigger problems today with drugs, alcoholism, homosexuality and other self-destructive (and socially destructive) behaviours that’s a reflection of the decline of our society but moral choices still come down to individual choices. You can choose not to drink or take drugs or indulge in homosexual behaviour. To pretend that these things are illnesses or that some people are “born that way” is to delude ourselves. It also encourages foolish people to continue destroying themselves.

For a thorough demolition of the heroin addiction myth see Theodore Dalrymple's Junk Medicine which I reviewed here quite a while back.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

the lie of binary oppositions

Binary oppositions are an often overlooked factor in the problems afflicting the western world these days. They’re also one of the more subtle ways in which the elites keep us in control. As long as we keep thinking in terms of binary oppositions we don’t realise that we actually have more choices.

Left/right, Republican/Democrat, Labour/Conservative, climate change true believer/climate change sceptic - these are the more obvious examples but binary thinking tends to creep into just about all ideological debates.

All binary oppositions have the effect of closing off options, and closing off debate. If you suggest that democracy is an unworkable mess you’re shut down by the reply that in that case you must be in favour of totalitarian dictatorships. Apparently those are the only two forms of political organisation that human beings have ever been able to devise. Of course what’s really going on is that your opponent doesn’t want to acknowledge that there are many other types of political system.

You’ll get the same response on the subject of capitalism. You can believe in capitalism or you can believe in socialism. Although there are in fact many other alternatives considering those alternatives would require some thought. It’s much easier to see things in either/or terms.

Whenever the world seems to present a binary opposition, or whenever the media and the politicians try to present something in that light, it’s always worth looking into the matter more deeply. It’s amazing how many choices there actually are.

Monday, March 27, 2017

quotes for the day, March 27 2017

"Atheism in legislation, indifference in matters of religion, and the pernicious maxims which go under the name of Liberal Catholicism are the true causes of the destruction of states; they have been the ruin of France. Believe me, the evil I denounce is more terrible than the Revolution, more terrible even than The Commune. I have always condemned Liberal Catholicism, and I will condemn it again forty times over if it be necessary." - Pope Pius IX

"The civil liberty of every mode of worship, and full power given to all of openly and publicly manifesting their opinions and their ideas conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people... The Roman Pontiff cannot and ought not to reconcile himself or agree with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization." - Pope Pius IX

"If a future Pope teaches anything contrary to the Catholic Faith, do not follow him." - Pope Pius IX

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spengler on classical Greek culture

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
I’ve been reading Spengler. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, a book as capable of arousing controversy today as it was when first published in 1918.

Incidentally the title was not inspired by the First World War. Spengler had already started work on the book, and chosen the title, as early as 1912.

Whether or not one accepts Spengler’s theory in its entirety (and I haven’t read enough even to contemplate making such a judgment yet) there’s no question that he throws out some striking and provocative ideas along the way.

One of the most interesting such provocative ideas so far is his view of the Classical Greek world. Spengler sees the Classical Greek culture as being entirely alien, to the point that any kind of understanding of that culture is quite challenging. Spengler claims that the Greeks lived entirely in the “pure present” and had no real sense of either past or future. For the Greeks of the Classical era the past hardly existed and to the extent that it did exist it was hopelessly confused with myth. The idea of organising past events into an ordered linear sequence did not occur to them, although it had certainly occurred to both the Egyptians and the Babylonians. The idea of the future held no interest for them either. It’s a way of looking at life that is so different from the later western outlook that there is virtually no common ground.

According to Spengler the fact that the Greek lived and thought totally in the here-and-now explains a great deal of their art and their philosophy, and even their mathematics. The Greeks made great progress in in this field but their geometry was always limited to concrete concepts that could be visualised. Their art also reflected their here-and-now approach to life. Greek tragedy for example bears no resemblance whatsoever to Elizabethan tragedy. Even Greek sculpture bears a characteristic impress to their view of life. 

One very interesting point he makes is that we use many words (such as democracy and republic and freedom) and concepts borrowed from the Classical culture and this misleads us into believing that the thought processes of Greeks of the fifth century BC were pretty similar to our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. We also need to be aware that to the Greeks words such as democracy and republic and freedom had very different and to us very alien meanings.

Of course it’s obvious enough that different cultures have different ways of seeing and understanding the world but in the West we tend to assume that the worldview of the Classical Greeks was very similar to our own. In fact we assume that Classical culture was the bedrock on which our own culture was built. Spengler argues that this is entirely false. In his view the Renaissance was in no sense a revival or rediscovery of Classical Culture. Classical Culture has actually had no real influence on western culture. 

Of course there’s a great deal more to Spengler than this. His theory of world-history is vast and complex and at times fiendishly impenetrable. I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about Spengler when I’ve finished the book. It’s very heavy going indeed, but worth the effort. You plough through page after page of esoteric philosophical-mystical theorising and just as you’re about to give up he suddenly comes up with an extraordinary and terrifyingly bold insight that turns all your ideas upside down. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter

So there’s been another terror attack in Britain. And what will change as a result? Of course you know the answer - absolutely nothing. There will of course be candlelit vigils and people will sing Imagine and one or two news reporters might cry on screen. But absolutely nothing will change. 

The reason for this is of course the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” syndrome. People don’t care about bad stuff until it gets very close to them personally. They don’t care about crime until houses in their street get burgled. They don’t care about unemployment until it’s their kids who can’t find jobs. They don’t care about immigration until their suburb starts to get culturally enriched. They don’t care about terrorism until bombs start going off in their street.

Partly this is quite normal and healthy. We can only deal with so many worrying things and most of us have quite enough worries in our own personal lives. If we worried about everything, even things that don’t directly affect us, we’d all be in straitjackets in the local mental hospital.

Partly it reflects the fundamentally unnatural and unhealthy nature of modern life. We were not meant to live in huge cities and we were not meant to be constantly awash in a sea of mass media. We suffer from sensory overload, and more to the point we suffer from emotional overload. We cannot get upset by every single bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. So we have three choices - we can go mad, we can increase our dose of Prozac, or we can filter out stuff that isn’t relevant to us. Most normal people choose option three.

So it’s actually quite normal to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” approach. The problem is that it’s very important to distinguish between events that happen elsewhere that really are irrelevant to us and events that happen elsewhere that are actually likely to affect us in the not-too-distant future. It’s also important to distinguish between events that we might conceivably be able to do something about and things that we can do absolutely nothing about.

A rail disaster in Bolivia or an earthquake in Guatemala are both events that can quite reasonably be put into the category of things that are irrelevant to us and that we can’t do anything about.

On the other hand if crime has suddenly skyrocketed in a neighbouring town that should concern us since it could be an indication that we’re about to experience the same thing in our town. Unemployment should concern all of us because our jobs could be next on the chopping block. Immigration should worry us all because it could slowly but surely destroy our whole society. Terrorism should worry us. It could happen in my street. All of these things could happen in my street.

The real problem is that democracy is based on the idea that ordinary people can make these distinctions and can identify the things that they can and should be worried about. Even worse, democracy is based on the assumption that ordinary people can not only identify the important issues but also understand them, and understand what needs to be done, and send the right message to their elected representatives.

Unfortunately the things that really matter tend to be rather complicated. Do you have a clear and thorough understanding of which economic policies are best for the country? I have to confess that I don’t. Crime is complicated. It’s easy to assume that the best way to fight crime is to have more police but in fact the type of policing is more important than the quantity. Understanding terrorism might seem straightforward but there’s the difficulty that cynical and wrong-headed foreign policy decisions really have contributed to the problem, and foreign policy tends to be fiendishly complex.

There’s a further difficulty facing us today. Making the right judgment as to which party or candidate is likely to solve these problems is not easy when the correct decisions have been declared to be politically incorrect, wicked and forbidden even to think about. Solving problems such as immigration then becomes effectively impossible.

And of course if there’s one thing that ordinary people do understand very clearly indeed it is this - no matter which party you vote for they will betray you, they will break their promises, in many cases their actions will be the exact opposite of what they promised, and they will lie.

It is natural to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” view, but that view becomes even more attractive when the issues are complex and you know quite well that the politicians won’t listen to you anyway.

There is a solution and it’s an easy one - simply boycott the mainstream parties. There are and always have been alternatives if only people will take the final leap of logic - if you can’t trust the professional political class then vote for outsiders. They couldn’t do a worse job than the mainstream parties and at the very least it’s a way of putting the fear of God into the establishment politicians. But people won’t do it because none of these bad things have happened in their street yet.

Monday, March 20, 2017

quotes for the day


My quotes for the day, and I've even managed to find a couple that are more or less related.

"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists." - Hannah Arendt

and this one.

“Formerly no one was allowed to think freely; now it is permitted, but no one is capable of it any more. Now people want to think only what they are supposed to think, and this they consider freedom." - Oswald Spengler

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hilaire Belloc’s Characters of the Reformation

Hilaire Belloc’s Characters of the Reformation, published in 1936, makes no attempt to offer us a connected narrative of the events it described, no does it offer biographies in the usual sense of the term of the major participants. It is a collection of brief character sketches, each one illuminating one aspect of the personality of the person concerned and one aspect of the Reformation itself.

Belloc’s major concern is to provide a counterweight to what he describes as English official history of the period. That official history, even when written by historians who considered themselves to be fair-minded, was marked by a very high degree of anti-Catholic bias. Even English historians who were not by any means personally anti-Catholic  could hardly avoid taking an overall view of the Reformation as a positive thing. Belloc on the other hand regards it as the greatest calamity ever to befall western civilisation.

It is a common mistake to assume that any historical event that does take place must therefore have been inevitable and this is another sometimes unconscious source of bias - since the Reformation did happen and since it left Europe divided into Catholic and Protestant camps it is easy to assume that such results were inevitable.

Belloc’s view is not based merely on anti-Protestant prejudice. In this and other books he argues his case against the Reformation logically and convincingly. The Reformation ended the unity of Christendom, in fact it ended the very idea of Christendom. Protestantism also, by undermining authority, led eventually and inevitably to scepticism and atheism. It also gave rise to Puritanism, a heresy that Belloc abhors.

Interestingly, Belloc sees England as the key to the success of the Reformation. He believes that if England had not been lost to the Catholic Church then the whole of Europe would have been reconquered by Catholicism. There is therefore a major emphasis on those who played key roles in events in England although events on the Continent are by no means neglected.

In Belloc’s view much of the support for the break with Rome came from wealthy landowners who seized the opportunity to loot the wealth of the Church. It was a political rebellion, but it was a rebellion of the rich against the poor. The Reformation encouraged the rise of nationalism but it also encouraged the rise of plutocracy.

The fact that Belloc has little time for Henry VIII is hardly surprising. Even the most enthusiastic of Protestant partisans finds it difficult to portray King Henry sympathetically. Belloc believes that Henry, for all his blustering, was a rather ineffectual figure and that it was Anne Boleyn who was really the prime mover behind the beginning of the English Reformation. He also is at pains to point out that it was most emphatically not Henry’s intention to challenge Catholic doctrine in any way, except in the one small matter of Papal authority (which of course was not a small matter at all).

Belloc demolishes the myth of the greatness of Elizabeth I, seeing her as a sad ill woman manipulated by others. 

It’s intriguing to get perspectives on so many of the major figures of the time that are so spectacularly at variance with the generally accepted views. King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden for example is so often portrayed as a hero but to Belloc he is merely an unprincipled mercenary.

Whether you’re a Catholic or not it’s difficult to deny that Belloc has a point when he argues that the collapse of the ideal of Christendom had malign long-term consequences. It’s also hard to disagree that the fragmentation of Christianity into a multiplicity of sects played a major role in encouraging the growth of scepticism and paved the way for the horrors of liberalism, modernism and atheism.

Belloc is always stimulating and thought-provoking and one can’t help suspecting that often he is being willfully provocative but it is certainly refreshing to read history written by someone who utterly rejects the dogmas of liberalism and modernism. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 17, 2017

what the media shows us

Nice quote from Ron Unz, and somewhat relevant to some of my recent posts on the subject of history:

"We naively tend to assume that our media accurately reflects the events of our world and its history, but instead what we all too often see are only the tremendously distorted images of a circus fun-house mirror, with small items sometimes transformed into large ones, and large ones into small. The contours of historical reality may be warped into almost unrecognizable shapes, with some important elements completely disappearing from the record and others appearing out of nowhere. I’ve often suggested that the media creates our reality, but given such glaring omissions and distortions, the reality produced is often largely fictional."

the Dutch election and the Trump Factor

An interesting sidelight on the Dutch election is the Trump Factor. I’ve seen reports that support for Wilders’ PVV party started to plummet after he came out as a Trump supporter.

European intellectuals have for decades had an absolutely visceral hatred for Americans, and particularly for Americans like Trump who glory in their Americanness. That hatred has now permeated most of European society. Europeans like to imagine they are morally and intellectually superior to Americans. Which is pretty amusing when you consider the catastrophic course of European history in the past century.

It’s partly a matter of style. Trump’s style plays very well in the US. It antagonises European.

It’s also a matter of class. Trump obviously likes ordinary people, including working-class people. European intellectuals loathe and despise the working class, and intellectuals have real influence in Europe. 

The style and the class elements combined have caused a complete psychological meltdown among European intellectuals and the European media. The anti-Trump hysteria in the European media even surpasses that in the US media. The end result of this may be that moderates have been frightened off. Even people who agree with Wilders on immigration are afraid of being associated with someone who admires Trump. 

Europeans don’t seem to like outspoken charismatic leaders. They like bland managerial types, the more boring the better. They seem to think that strong charismatic leaders are automatically fascists. As a result they have had seventy years of weak treacherous leadership.

Never underestimate the European terror of being labeled fascist. Americans can pass such things off as jokes but Europeans (at least western Europeans) can’t. Western Europeans would rather die than be thought of as racists or fascists. The way things are going that’s probably the fate in store for them.

It might be advisable for Marine le Pen to do everything possible to distance herself from Trump.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

the Geert Wilders disaster

I confess to having mixed feelings about the Dutch election result. It was obviously a disaster for Geert Wilders. How should a conservative traditionalist feel about this?

Let’s be quite honest. Geert Wilders is no friend to western civilisation. He is anti-immigration and that’s great. Unfortunately on other issues he’s a liberal. And not just a liberal, but a fairly extreme liberal. He is perfectly comfortable with the depravity and decadence of modern Europe. Nothing matters more to Geert Wilders than homosexual marriage.

The problem with people like Wilders is that they are not presenting a genuine alternative. They do not have a vision of a better society. And if western civilisation is to be saved we need genuine alternative visions. 

Single-issue parties like Wilders’ offer a deceptively simple solution. Stop immigration and everything will be fine. Stopping immigration is a good idea but it’s not going to make everything fine. To solve the real problems liberalism must be rooted out entirely. Society needs to be reconstructed. 

Unless this is done there is no point in worrying about immigration, because as long as liberalism remains our official ideology any victory on immigration will be temporary at best. Eventually liberals will open the flood-gates again. The only way to stop mass immigration permanently is to reject liberalism utterly. As long as liberals remain in power they will continue to work towards the destruction of our civilisation. Liberals like Geert Wilders are not the answer.

Monday, March 13, 2017

police, criminals and victims

It’s been pretty obvious for a while now that the police no longer serve the public and that they are increasingly being used as a weapon of social control. In fact there are problems with the very idea of a police force.

In a recent post What are the police for? Tim Newman makes a point that I’ll admit had not occurred to me before. The police are not there to protect us from criminals. They are there primarily to protect criminals from their victims. They exist in order to prevent vigilante justice.

And we live in a society in which the courts are really only interested in punishing political crimes (and increasingly in punishing Thought Crime) rather than actual crimes. 

With neither the police nor the courts providing justice this means that for ordinary people the choice will increasingly be between vigilante justice and no justice at all. With the police determined to prevent vigilante justice it’s obvious that things are going to get quite unpleasant.

Tim Newman also makes the very important point that the rich have never had any need for a police force to protect them. They have always been able to pay for private protection. The only reason the rich want a police force is to keep the middle classes happy and the lower classes under control. Now it seems that the rich no longer care about keeping the middle classes happy and that they are mostly concerned with crushing dissent.

This is going to end very badly.

how not to lose your country and your freedom - stop apologising

What has happened in the West in the past few decades seems incomprehensible. How could people possibly throw away their freedoms and at the same time tamely accept demographic replacement?

Various theories have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. Maybe it was the loss of so many young men in the two world wars? Maybe the loss of the best and the brightest of an entire generation weakened Europeans genetically and produced subsequent generations of miserable weaklings. But in this case how to explain Sweden’s self-destructive frenzy, given that the last time Sweden fought a war it was against Napoleon?

Maybe additives in food are feminising the population. 

Maybe too much prosperity and too much easy living breeds apathy and self-hatred.

My theory is that western Europeans (and I include Americans and Australians) have accept these dismal changes because a very large proportion of them genuinely don’t know that things have changed. Those responsible for these changes have been very much aware of the principle that you if you boil the frog slowly enough the frog won’t realise what’s happening. 

The changes have happened gradually and we now have a couple of generations who have grown up taking these changes for granted. Millennials don’t know that there used to be a time when people could say whatever they wanted to. They can’t conceive of such a society. They have never known such a society. They can’t conceive of a society without the stresses and the outbreaks of violence that accompany diversity. They have never lived in such a society.

How could Londoners have allowed one of the world’s great cities to become a cesspit? The answer is that a very large number of Londoners have never known the city as anything other than a cesspit. Just as a large proportion of Parisians have never known Paris as a peaceful and beautiful city.

Millennials think soft totalitarianism is normal. They think it’s normal to have to self-censor yourself constantly.

You can’t miss what you’ve never had.

And it’s not just Millennials. Even the second cohort of Generation X, those born between 1975 and 1985, have only the haziest recollections of living in a free and decent society.

If this is true, what can be done about it? I think that about the only thing we can do is to try to awaken people to the past. We can try to encourage people to read about the past, to experience a taste of the past by sampling the books and movies and TV of the past. This has to be done carefully. Generation Snowflake gets scared very easily. 

And we have to defend the past. We have to stop apologising for the fact that people smoke in old movies, that characters in old books and movies sometimes speak their minds and express politically incorrect views. We have to stop apologising for the fact that our ancestors sometimes did things that would be considered to be unacceptable to today’s Thought Police. We have to stop apologising for the fact that the past wasn’t politically correct. 

We have to stop apologising altogether, but we need to be especially vigilant in avoiding making apologies for the history and the traditions and the traditional culture of the West.

Friday, March 10, 2017

the future of Europe: liberal or Islamic?

Assuming that Muslims go on increasing as a proportion of the population in western Europe it’s obvious that eventually there will have to be a showdown. Islam and liberalism are mutually incompatible belief systems. The question is, which system will win?

The European elites are sure that liberalism will win out, and that within a generation or two Muslims will become atheist liberals. The elites are composed of people who simply cannot comprehend religious belief. It is inconceivable to them that anyone, faced with the choice between actual religion and the prevailing secular religion of hedonism and consumerism, could possibly choose religion. The elites are sure that Islam will gradually fade away the way Christianity did. If the elites are wrong about this they are in big big trouble.

The other possibility is that Islam triumphs. In a recent comment at Oz Conservative Mark suggested that if Islam wins elite women will convert to Islam because they have zero commitment to Christianity. That is certainly possible. I can imagine quite a few liberals, especially the ones who dominate the media, bureaucracy and academia, converting because basically they’re people who are willing to adopt any set of beliefs that will help their careers and allow them to curry favour with the people who really run things. Because liberals in the media, bureaucracy and academia might think of themselves as being members of the elite they aren’t really - they’re just members of the Outer Party. And the Inner Party members are not going to give up their devotion to their chosen religion - the pursuit of power and money.

The problem with this scenario is that it’s not going to be very attractive to the Inner Party. The super-rich globalists of the Inner Party want a population that is docile and easily controlled and that will fulfill its allotted functions - which means a population dedicated to hedonism and consumerism. An Islamic population is unlikely to be docile and easily controlled and is unlikely to dedicate itself to hedonism and consumerism. And that would be a threat to the profits and to the power of the global capitalists. That would mean that the elites would have to take active steps to undermine and ultimately to destroy Islam. They would use the same methods that were so successful in destroying Christianity.

Liberalism is essential to global capitalism because it is the one belief system perfectly suited to producing a population of compliant mindless consumers.

Islam is not likely to submit as meekly as Christianity did. The stage would be set for another culture war but this time it’s not going to be a cold war - it’s going to be a very hot war.

Islam and liberalism cannot co-exist in the long term. One must destroy the other. I don’t believe that Islam and capitalism (at least capitalism of the sort that currently dominates the planet) are compatible either.

Christians and social conservatives will therefore face a choice. We can watch from the sidelines, or we can enlist as allies on one side or the other. We’re in the same situation that small nations are in when Great Powers start assembling alliances in preparation for war, having to choose which alliance to join and desperately hoping to choose the winning side. Islam and liberalism are the ideological superpowers. We’re one of the minor powers but our very survival depends on making the right choice. If we stay on the sidelines we’re not going to be very popular with either side.

My own view is that liberalism is by nature totalitarian. Liberals will not stop until every Christian and every social conservative has been hunted down and sent to a re-education camp (and a re-education camp is the best we can hope for). In the long term liberalism intends to stamp out every single ember of dissent. Under triumphal liberalism we have no future at all.

As for Islam, it’s a crap shoot. We might get lucky and find ourselves living under a reasonably tolerant Islamic regime. Or we might get something like Saudi Arabia.

Sometimes in life you have a number of choices but the trouble is they’re all bad.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Dreyfus Affair

Hundreds of books have been written about the Dreyfus Affair. Piers Paul Read’s 2012 The Dreyfus Affair is perhaps a little unusual in that it tries to be as even-handed as possible. Read is a Catholic but this is not really a Catholic account of the affair. On the other hand it is at least not an anti-Catholic account, unlike most books on the subject.

In 1894 French counter-intelligence obtained a letter (stolen from the German Embassy in Paris) which indicated that a French officer was selling military secrets to the Germans. The stolen letter had been written by the spy and it also included details of the secrets involved, which substantially narrowed down the list of suspects. It soon became apparent that the most likely suspect was an Alsatian Jew, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus had access to the documents concerned and the hand-writing on the letter seemed to resemble Dreyfus’s hand-writing rather closely. Dreyfus was arrested after an investigation which was not as thorough as it should have been. The officers involved in the investigation sincerely believed that Dreyfus was guilty but the actual evidence was a little thin. Dreyfus was found guilty by a court-martial and sent to Devil’s Island.

The entire proceedings were characterised by excessive haste, excessive zeal and considerable carelessness. The result would be a controversy that would rock the country for years to come.

France was split into two warring camps, the Dreyfusards (who believed Dreyfus was the victim of a miscarriage of justice) and the Anti-Dreyfusards (who were convinced of his guilt). The Anti-Dreyfusards tended to be fanatical supporters of the Army while the Dreyfusards were more likely to be equally fanatical supporters of the secular Republic.

Of course the issue that has dominated the affair for most historians has been the allegation that Dreyfus was a victim of anti-semitism. This might appear to be quite plausible except that it does not take into account the situation in late 19th century France. French Jews at that time were wealthy and powerful and privileged. It is not very likely that Dreyfus was victimised because he was a Jew - in fact it’s perhaps more likely he was accused in spite of the fact that he was Jewish, it being known that Jews had powerful protectors.

While the accusations against Dreyfus do not appear to have had any anti-semitic component the aggressive tactics of the Dreyfusards, especially after Émile Zola took a break from writing his loathsome degenerate novels to throw himself into the fray, did unleash a real wave of anti-semitism. This was however rather minor stuff compared to the vitriolic anti-Catholic campaign that was to follow.

There was a very great deal of discrimination on the grounds of religious in late 19th century France but it was directly almost entirely at Catholics. Catholics had been persecuted intermittently but brutally since the Revolution. It’s possible that as many as 170,000 Catholics were slaughtered in the Vendée in the 1790s). The Third Republic established in 1870 was fiercely anti-Catholic.

The fact that Anti-Dreyfusards were likely to be Catholics while Dreyfusards were much more likely to be Jews, Protestants or atheists made the Dreyfus Affair a significant event in the religious Cold War of the time.

There was in fact a culture war being waged in France, with the anti-Catholic forces determined to utterly destroy the Catholic religion in France. Unfortunately the fallout from the Dreyfus Affair strengthened their hand and the result was another round of persecution. The pettiness, the vindictiveness and the viciousness of the French Third republic almost defies belief. All combined with staggering levels of corruption and incompetence. It’s not difficult to understand the modern French enthusiasm for national self-destruction when you consider that the French have been trying to destroy themselves for more than two centuries.

As for the case of Dreyfus himself it seems that he was the victim of the extraordinary incompetence and duplicity of the French intelligence service. The trouble with spies is that they grow so used to deception that they end up lying to everyone, including their own government. The cynicism of self-serving peacetime senior officers concerned purely with protecting their own interests also contributed.

Read’s book is interesting enough as an account of the Dreyfus case itself but it’s much more fascinating as an examination of a fateful and squalid period of French history that has considerable relevance to the culture wars of today. Recommended.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Adam Tooze’s The Deluge

British historian Adam Tooze’s 2014 book The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 takes an original and distinctive approach to the First World War. Tooze is not interested in how the war started nor in how it was fought. Only one thing really mattered - the entry of the United States into the war. US intervention had virtually no effect on the course of the actual war itself but it had a profound effect on the peace negotiations and on the postwar world. It changed everything. From that moment on the US was the world’s dominant power. The only question was how the US would exercise that power.

President Woodrow Wilson had very definite ideas on the subject. The failure of Wilson’s version of global internationalism has obscured the fact that the US, even under the supposedly isolationist Republican administrations of the 1920s, was not only the world’s dominant economic power but also the dominant political power.

For the other European powers, bankrupted by the war and reduced to financial dependence on the US, the question was what could they do about the situation? In Tooze’s view Soviet communism and the various strands of fascism represented an attempt to confront this problem.

For Britain the situation was exceptionally complex. Britain appeared to have emerged from the war stronger than ever but this was an illusion. Britain’s Empire was a large part of the problem. Maintaining and defending the Empire was far beyond Britain’s resources. The Empire had been a potential source of wealth but no British government had ever figured out how to make this potential actual. The rising tide of nationalism made it unlikely that Britain could hold on to its imperial possessions in the long term but no government was prepared to admit this. By the 1920s the Empire was largely an illusion, but despite this Britain very unwisely embarked on fresh imperial adventures in the Middle East.

Tooze (who is essentially an economic historian) focuses on some of the lesser known economic problems confronting the world during this period, such as the catastrophic American recession of 1920. He also points out that hyper-inflation was by no means confined to the Weimar Republic. Overshadowing everything else was the problem of how to pay for the First World War. The US had in fact bankrolled the war efforts of the French, the British and the Italians but now the debts were going to have to be repaid and the US was determined that every red cent would be repaid. This was a problem for the French, with much of their country in ruins and their economy in a shambles. Of course it seemed like a very attractive idea for the French to make the Germans pay for their war damage, but with the German economy in an even bigger shambles that was only going to lead to more problems and in any case Germany was simply not in a position to pay what was demanded.

The war had serious unbalanced the world economy in other ways as well, inflation was a problem everywhere, and the prospects for Europe were undecidedly unpleasant. 

The war also unleashed political problems. Wilson’s ideas on self-determination were not quite as crazy and unrealistic as they’re often portrayed but breaking up the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires was in retrospect a reckless step. The war also led to demands for greater democracy throughout the world, democracy being seen as some sort of magical answer to political problems (in practice it naturally produced ever more corrupt and ever more incompetent governments).

Tooze also mentions a number of fascinating events that seem to have disappeared down the memory hole, such as the French invasion of Germany in 1923. The 1920s was actually quite a tumultuous period in terms of the foreign policies of the various powers. There was a sense that a new world order was emerging but it was not clear what shape it would take.

Tooze is no great literary stylist but his writing is generally clear and workmanlike.

Most books on the interwar period focus on the 1930s so it’s interesting to find a really in-depth study of the 20s. Tooze offers plenty of food for thought. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

was the Reformation a bad idea from the start?

I’ve been reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies, published in 1938. The whole book is thought-provoking but I was particularly interested in the chapter on the Reformation. Books in English on this subject tend to have a subtle (or in many cases totally unsubtle) anti-Catholic bias so it was stimulating to read an account written from an avowedly and completely uncompromising Catholic viewpoint.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was a colourful French-English man of letters who gained immense popularity with his light verse for children although he also made a huge impact as an historian, a Catholic apologist, a literary critic, an essayist and a travel writer. As the years passed his unyielding belief that Catholicism was the mainstay of European civilisation put him more and more out of favour in an increasingly secular world.

The Great Heresies, written in 1938, Belloc deals with the five greatest threats that the Catholic Church has faced in the course of its history. These threats were the Arian heresy, the rise of Islam, the Albigensian heresy, the Reformation and the assault of modernism.

Belloc makes his position on the Reformation crystal clear from the start. While he admits that reform of some sort was desperately required he sees the actual results of the Reformation as an unmitigated disaster for western civilisation. His reasons for taking this view are provocative but rather persuasive.

Belloc believes that the unity of Christendom was essential to western civilisation. The Reformation permanently shattered that unity, with results that could not possibly have been foreseen. 

One interesting point he makes is that the original reformers had no intention of splitting the Church or of establishing a separate religion. Their intention was to reform the entire Church, which would remain a single united universal Church. Until well into the seventeenth century both the Protestant and Catholic camps still intended to maintain the unity of the Church which would be either a universal Catholic Church or a universal Protestant Church. It was not until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that both sides accepted that the split was going to be permanent.

Of course the Reformation did not merely split the Church. The Protestant side kept on splitting. In Belloc’s view once you have countless churches all with their own doctrines then you have opened the door to scepticism. People will think to themselves that if there are dozens of churches all of which disagree on crucial questions then they cannot all be correct, which leads naturally to the idea that maybe all of them are wrong. Thus does scepticism gain a foothold. And that of course is exactly what happened. By the mid-18th century scepticism was firmly established as the outlook of a very large proportion of the ruling classes, and almost the entirety of the intellectual class. Once scepticism takes hold the inevitable long-term outcome will be atheism. 

Belloc also blames the Reformation for encouraging the growth of capitalism. Belloc was no mere conservative - he was a thorough-going reactionary who despised socialism, liberalism and capitalism. The Protestant churches took a more relaxed view of usury than did the Catholic Church and this stimulated the growth of banking and the accumulation of capital and all the other preconditions necessary for large-scale capitalism. Most mainstream historians writing in English are inclined to see this as a good thing. Even Marxist historians are likely to see this as a positive thing, capitalism being the necessary first step towards socialism. Belloc however sees the rise of capitalism as being entirely a bad thing. He is more inclined to regard feudalism in a positive light, as being less dehumanising than capitalism or socialism. Belloc does not share the modern horror of hierarchical societies.

Belloc also has some very perceptive observations to offer on the nature of reforming zeal and why reforms so rarely end well. He also points out, quite correctly, that the elites of the time were happy to support the Protestant cause since it gave them the opportunity to transfer the wealth of the Church into their own pockets (elites haven’t changed much). The Reformation has been described as a rising of the rich against the poor.

In Belloc’s view the Reformation indirectly led to the fatal weakening of all traditional values and beliefs. 

Belloc of course does see all this very much from a Catholic viewpoint but his approach makes a refreshing change from the mainstream of Whig and Marxist historians. Belloc was not merely writing as a Catholic but also as a political and social reactionary, a man who understood that the destruction of traditional beliefs and values and structures will result in a society with no foundation and no moral compass.

Even if like me you’re not a Catholic Belloc is still a remarkably stimulating and provocative writer. He’s very much out of fashion, which is all the more reason to seek out his writings. The Great Heresies is most definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

the secularist bias in history

The victory of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem at Montgisard, 1177
All historians are biased, just as all journalists are biased. Everyone has a bias of some sort or another and becoming an historian or a journalist does not free a person from this basic ingredient that makes us human.

As long as there are lots of different voices each expressing a particular bias there’s no real problem. Of course the situation we have today is that unless you have one specific political bias you aren’t going to get a job as an historian or a journalist, and that is a problem.

A bias is most dangerous when it’s unacknowledged, or even in some cases unconscious. If the reader is aware of the bias of the historian or the journalist he can make allowances for it. When it comes to history one of the biggest unacknowledged biases is the secularist bias. Christianity is a minority faith to start with but over the course of the past hundred years the world of academia has become a rather unfriendly place for Christians. It is an even more unfriendly place for Christians who write history from an explicitly Christian point of view. As a result it has slowly but surely become the norm for history to be written from a secularist perspective. 

The trouble with this is that a great deal of our history is in fact religious history. In some cases - the Crusades, the Reformation, the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion - this is self-evident. In other cases it is a less obvious but equally important factor.

The weakness of the secularist bias is that it assumes that religious disputes are really quite unimportant. Religious motivations are given insufficient weight, and are regarded as being futile and trivial. It’s not just Marxist historians who marginalise the role of religion in history - it’s an almost universal tendency.

Of course in our secular world the idea that kingdoms might be torn apart or wars fought over matters of religious doctrine is both embarrassing and incomprehensible. This is rather odd. We take it for granted that men are prepared to fight and to die for political ideologies, for the destruction of economic rivals, for reasons of patriotism, or even out of paranoid fears that the other side is plotting to attack. Surely religion is an infinitely weightier matter than any of these things. If you’re not prepared to die for your faith do you even have a faith worthy speaking of? Perhaps the men who fought for their faith in the French Wars of Religion were more worthy of respect than the men who fought the Crimean War to satisfy the bloodlust of public opinion manipulated by the press?

I’m not suggesting that one should fight wars over matters of religion but I am pointing out that it’s a perfectly understandable thing for people to do, although an historian blinkered by the secularist bias is scarcely likely to comprehend that.