Wakey Wakey: It's Mourning in America!
"Niebuhr was right,” said Goethe, “when he saw a barbarous age coming. It is already here, we are in it, for in what does barbarism consist, if not in the failure to appreciate what is excellent?”
One of the “cult classics” of the modern conservative movement (which, ironically, is a century newer than modern progressivism, which begins way back with Marx) is Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, by Albert Jay Nock, first published in 1943. While there is a cheery and optimistic school of conservatism embodied in people such as Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh, there is also a more pessimistic, even resigned, school of thought expressed by writers such as Nock, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and T.S. Eliot.
In each of these men, there is a painful awareness of what we have already lost and can seemingly never regain. The former school is more forward looking and progressive, the latter more backward looking, romantic, and nostalgic. But it is a "spiritual" -- which is to say vertical -- gnostalgia, meaning that, on another level, it is a "memoir of the future," or a longing for the "changeless change" mentioned by Will in a comment yesterday. Eliot's earlier poems -- the ones leftists love -- are deeply pessimistic, while the later ones -- the ones that embarrass or befuddle secular critics -- attempt to convey this changeless change, which cannot be understood outside the context of a religious sensibility.
For example, Eliot's first major poem after his conversion to Christianity was Ash-Wednesday (1930). It goes a little like this:
Because I do not hope to turn again / Because I do not hope / Because I do not hope to turn / Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope / I no longer strive towards such things / (Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?) / Why should I mourn / The vanished power of the usual reign?
Good question. Why should we? Interestingly, a uni-verse is "one turn." Eliot expresses a hopeless hope that he will cease turning, which very much reminds me of the metaphysics of Denys the Areopagite. From a vertical perspective, the "one turn" of the universe consists of God's immamentizing "procession" into creation, followed by the return of everything back to its divine source. If one lives within that vertical stream, it is a kind if changeless-change, like sailing on a vast sea with no markers to tell you exactly where are. Or, the markers are like clouds that streak by your window in an airplane. When the relative becomes properly relative, the Absolute comes into view. This is how Denys conceptualized it:
"Thus, the soul is turning together with the movement of God and his universe (from Latin uni-versus, 'one turn'). In her return back to Him, she turns with His own turning, she dances with Him in His thearchic dance, meaning a dancing around of the three hypostases [persons]. The Latin-writing Fathers used the expression 'circumincession'" (Wm. Riordan).
Elsewhere Riordan notes that the "divine yearning shows especially its unbeginning and unending nature traveling in an endless circle through the Good, from the Good, in the Good and to the Good, unerringly turning, ever on the same center, ever in the same direction, always proceeding, always remaining, always being restored to itself."
It was this knowa's ark of salvation and eternal "circle of redemption" that I was attempting to convey with the circular structure of my book, which you might say is "enstatically ecstatic." If you don't know about the circle, it hardly matters that you live your life upside down. Just now I was playing with future leader, and he was showing me the directions to a toy. The directions where upside down. I turned them rightside up, at which point their meaning suddenly emerged. But for him, it's all the same. For him, when shown the truth, "nothing happens." Just like our childlike scientistic jester.
Anyway, back to the old post. Nock was a spokesman for what he called the “Remnant." He wrote not for the uneducated -- much less the hopelessly overeducated, i.e., the tenured -- but for the "educable few,” the enlightened minority who “simply want to get at the plain truth of things.” For while we all know that the illiterate cannot read, that doesn't mean the literate can. Far from it. How many intellectuals actually know how to read the Bible? We should never confuse knowing psychology, or history, or religion, with understanding it. Most any ignoramus can be trained to become a university professor. Which is not to say that all professors are idiots, but that all idiots are ignorant of their ignorance and therefore halfway to tenure.
“You do not know, and will never know, who the remnant are, nor where they are, nor how many there are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you know, and no more; first, that they exist; and second, that they will find you.” You know, through the nonlocal attractor, which has local branches and arteries everywhere and when. It's always possible to "plug into" the gnostic grid, even in the most unsalutary coonfinement.
Of course, Nock wrote in the days before the internet, when it was more of a challenge to find each other. While there are not many of us, it is interesting that, just as soon as I hung up my cyber-shingle, we found each other. Naturally, this can never be a mass movement, so we, the Remnant, are placed in the awkward position of having to hitch our wagons to such odious and disreputable institutions as the Republican Party, but only because it is preferable to outright satan worship -- sometimes by a slim margin.
You know you are a member of the Remnant if you realize that a genetic man is merely the raw material for a human being; which is naturally to acknowledge that he is precious in his own way. But we proceed “first with the more obscure and difficult work of clearing and illuminating our own mind, and second, with what occasional help we may offer to others whose faith, like our own, is set more on the regenerative power of thought than on the uncertain achievements of premature action....”
Members of the Remnant “are everywhere; everywhere they are not so much resisting as quietly eluding and disregarding all social pressure which tends to mechanize their processes of observation and thought.” You might say that the Remnant is an order of Cosmic Raccoons “unassociated in any formal way, living singly or nearly so, and more or less as aliens, in all classes of our society...” Yes, you are a member of the vertical aristocracy, but you don’t make a big deal out of it.
Conservatism can be difficult to define, but William F. Buckley once characterized it as a paragon of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is a continuing approximation. In other words, conservatism is a form of philosophical realism that appreciates that there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, human beings -- an antecedent reality that can be perceived only by the awakened intellect, not the senses. (Which is why Queeg, for example, could never really be called a conservative.)
But for the postmodern barbarians of horizontal progressivism, the apparent exhausts the Real, which is why it is so fruitless to argue with its adherents. It is literally like arguing over the merits of Beethoven’s late string quartets with a dog, except that the worst dog nevertheless retains a noble instinct for adoration of its spiritual better, even if it cannot articulate the reasons for doing so.
I would add that this anterior noumenal reality is paradoxically the source, center, and destination of the phenomenal world. It is the cosmogonic vertical order, or principial reality, which it is the task of religious metaphysics to symbolically reveil and disclose, and spiritual practice to align ourselves with.
Thus, conservatism is progressive to the core, except that progress is measured in terms of fidelity to this divine-human template. In fact, this is the only meaningful definition of progress, because you cannot judge how well a thing is working in the absence of the goal it is trying to achieve.
What currently goes by the name of “progressivism” is a diabolical doctrine that defines vertical progress out of existence. It abolishes the real world of transcendent essences and measures progress in wholly horizontal terms, in relationship to that most fleeting, transient, and ungovernable of human modalities, desire. Thus, to the extent that there is a gap between the world and my wishes -- the way it is and the way I want it to be -- there is a frustrating lack of "progress." This is to live as an entitled child. In fact, to enter the kingdom of progressivism, one must "become as spoiled children, asking their Father for more stuff."
At the first turning of the second stair / I turned and saw below / The same shape twisted on the banister / Under the vapour in the fetid air / Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears / The deceitful face of hope and of despair --Eliot
As such, the need for horizontal progress is infinite, in conformity with the combustible mixture of envy and imagination in the passive and somnolent Exterior Man. This in turn leads to the state of permanent rebellion, because the horizontal world can never satisfy the hungry ghosts of envy and entitlement, for in the absence of gratitude, none of the goods in our life can be assimilated. For as Richard Weaver put it, “when we attach more significance to feeling than thinking, we shall soon attach more to wanting than deserving.” America's progressive and truly revolutionary founders enunciated and liberated a system of timeless truths. But modern progressivism liberates only feelings, which amounts “to a riot which fizzles out with the gain or loss of its immediate object...” (Nock).
And this reversion to pure feeling is, of course, what is so frightening about secular leftism. To the Superior Man, even his own feelings are none of his business so long as they remain purely horizontal and untransformed by a vertical framework. Feelings are hardly denied, but they are spiritualized and placed in a human context. But to the Prince of this World, feelings are all-important, because feelings are the mental equivalent of touch, the most crude of our physical senses.
All beings who are awakened to the vertical are aware of the fact that -- in conformity with the axiom “as above, so below” -- there are vertical analogues to our five exterior senses. In fact, this is how the vertical is accessed, not through “seeing” but through vision, not listening but hearing, not touching but entering. Likewise, the truth of divine communication is self-evident by virtue of its spiritual perfume, as indicated by messages as diversely fragrant as the Psalms, the Gospel of John, the Tao Te Ching, or the Upanishads. Have you never known intellectual ecstasy?
Horizontal progress cannot be infinite for the simple reason that progress cannot be infinite. Rather, progress can only be measured in terms of an absolute standard that lies outside space and time. The “false infinite” of flatland progressivism is not conditioned from top to bottom, so there can be no higher or lower. Rather, there is only low and lower, until man sinks beneath himself over the horizon of linear history.
But for vertical man, to paraphrase Thoreau, his life is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without. Our lives are defined not as what we have but who we are, but not in its horizontal sense. Rather, we must paradoxically become who we are, or transform the world by transforming ourselves. For it is written -- on my business card, as a matter of fact -- that you can only change the world one a-hole at a time. Timelessness takes time -- which is what time is for.
Evolution is always a saw-toothed function, so today we find ourselves a little closer to the mud, to the infra-human, to a postmodern neolithic age. Things will apparently have to get worse -- perhaps even much worse -- before they get better. While I try not to be pessimistic, sometimes it's hard not to bow before Petey’s meta-law, which is that bad everything drives out good everything. Or, as Mark Twain put it, “All I care to know is that a man is a human being; that is enough for me -- he can’t be any worse.”
To conclude on an uptimistic gnote, vertical man does not whine or complain, but polishes his character on the rocks of adversity. The Republican Party as an institution is almost without character at the moment. Thus, the perfect uppertunity to use what it deserves in these Dems of iniquity as a school of hardened nocks to evolve toward what it might have been.