The Sadness of the Days, the Treasures that Remain

April 16, 2013

The most we can hope for is that the murderers and enemies of humanity who attacked in Boston today are, at least some of them, apprehended. Executed they will not be (unless perhaps they turn out to be “white supremacists”), nor will any lessons be drawn that might help prevent similar atrocities in the future. Jihad is the most likely motive but there are plenty of other possibilities. I am afraid that to me it feels only like the sort of event to be expected in an America that has been destroying moral restraint from within and admitting hordes of invaders from without for many decades. I am not shocked at all and I have little desire to know the details. One thing I always remember when something like this happens is the suffering that will be endured by the survivors. Through a mutual acquaintance, I once heard in some detail about the sufferings of someone injured in the Atlanta Olympics bombing. It goes on for years, really a lifetime of pain and often repeated surgeries.

I still feel a vestigial sense of obligation to follow the news – as one of the responsibilities of an informed citizen – but the ongoing decay of our society has become so egregious that I feel the need to limit my intake of information that is upsetting without being edifying. I would much rather read about English kings or the American Civil War. These narratives abound in human drama and teach us something about who we are and what is possible. What would be the point, though, of studying the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, except as a study in pre-ordained failure? I feel for our men fighting abroad, and I grieve for the sacrifice of their talent and lives in activities not remotely connected to their own interests, but I do not want to follow the process step by step.

Newspaper reportage, for instance, was a major component of the civil war. See this article, for instance, concerning the Confederate side. J. Cutler Andrews’ The South Reports the Civil War (University of Pittsburgh, 1985) presents a narrative of the war from the perspective of the Southern press. I enjoy the elegant, if melodramatic, writing style of the period, and the book reminds one of how complex and multifarious the war experience really was. Today, this complexity is lost, and it is not even just a matter of a pro-Northern bias; the entire meaning, reason, and legitimacy of the war is discussed only in terms of the interests of the black slaves.

As part of an ongoing project to read (and preferably see, in the BBC or other productions) all of Shakespeare’s English history plays, I found myself working on John Gillingham’s Richard the Lionheart (London: Book Club Associates, 1978). I always find it astonishing to contemplate the fact that large parts of France were, in theory, under English rule for long periods of time – at least in theory; Richard I was really “French.” In Shakespeare’s King John Richard is only a background figure, the Crusader who tore a lion’s heart from its body, and the father of the more or less ahistorical Philip the Bastard, who aligns with King John in hopes of moving up in the world. In any case according to Gillingham, Richard was one of the most capable kings in English history, distinguished not only for his courage and fighting prowess, but also for his skills as an administrator:

Richard won his wars not simply by deeds of prowess on the battlefield, but also by being able to transfer the economic resources of the Angevin Empire into military supplies and ensure that these supplies were in the right place at the right time – in other words by sheer administrative competence. The image or Richard as a night in armor, good at fighting but at nothing else, is an image based upon a romantic and unrealistic view of war. (287)

The blogger Cambria Will Not Yield, one of the most original writers I have ever encountered on the Web, has a fine introduction to the topic of Shakespeare’s histories here, in the form of a review of John Julius Norwich’s Shakespeare’s Kings. While I cannot accept some of CWNY’s broader assertions, his understanding of the old Europe surpasses that of any pointy-headed academic, for it comes from the heart, and grasps the essential fact that the white peoples of the world were changed forever by their acceptance of, and love for, Christ.

Lawrence Auster

April 5, 2013

I am deeply saddened by the death of Lawrence Auster. I would like to use this format to say something about what he has meant to me.

Quite simply, he completely changed my way of thinking, showing me alternate ways of thinking about the problems that beset our civilization. Indeed, I probably would not have used a phrase like “problems that beset our civilization” before encountering his writing. When the 9/11 attacks took place I was more or less a libertarian, “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”; I had no notion of the danger of Islam, or the problem of immigration, or the reality of racial differences, or the problem of sexual and homosexual liberation, or of the inadequacy of describing American or Western society as “secular.” Mr. Auster showed me the need and possibility of a holistic, traditionalist conservative approach, clearly identifying the false and evil principles that are driving the West to civilizational suicide. I believe, with others, that his contribution to the fight to save the West will one day be widely recognized.

An intellectual loner and self-described “misfit” and spiritual seeker, Mr. Auster fought a long, lonely battle to wake up a nation bent on national suicide. The unacceptability of the truths he told left him shunned by the mainstream conservative movement, which must have been harder to endure than the vicious personal attacks to which he was subjected. And yet, he somehow endured and prevailed.

I will be thinking for a long time about where, exactly, Mr. Auster’s genius lay. It might seem that the combination of Christian conservatism with “race realism” would lead many individuals to hold views similar to his, and there are a fair number of writers publishing at VDare, for example, who, without crediting him, express similar ideas. But no one came close to saying it as well as he did, and none applied the traditionalist approach to such a wide range of human experience. He cut the Gordian Knot of rationalization and evasion that permeates the discourse of liberal society, exposing the underlying truth and expressing traditional values in powerful statements that mesmerized the reader with their truth and righteousness.

His trick was to speak so frankly about the issues that even sympathetic conservatives would think that he was taking things too far. And yet the reader would return again and again to his blog until completely won over. The transformation sometimes resulted in a complete inversion of conventional values. When Mr. Auster wrote about the menace of “black savages,” for instance, he was making a moral statement about the need for whites to protect themselves, and was in no way motivated by hatred. But to someone still seeped in liberal assumptions, such statements represent the height of immorality. He had to train his own readers to appreciate his writing.

The format of his blog, though simple in concept, was highly unusual in practice: centered on his own postings, but selecting, editing, and posting reader comments to create what could be very extended dialogues. I see him as a Socratic figure, fleshing out a living philosophy through continuous dialogue with readers and fellow writers without ever sketching out a system. (The analogy to Socrates, who left no written works, is strained by the fact that nearly all of Mr. Auster’s “dialogues” took place in the printed, though fluid, format of the Internet. But a present-day Socrates would probably be a blogger.) This approach had its drawbacks, but clearly was perfect for him, and attracted and engaged many readers of high intellectual caliber.

An aspect of his thought that doubtless helped him to reach me was his patriotic American approach. I had not and still have not worked through some of the religious questions that might separate me from full-fledged Christian traditionalists, but I had inherited from my parents exactly the same love of America that was the starting point for Mr. Auster’s work. Though I had always appreciated American freedom, this patriotic feeling was submerged and forgotten for much of my adult life. Following the shock of 9/11, I was ready to wake up, and there was Mr. Auster’s site, View From the Right –, the American Nation. The level of national identity was the right level for me to begin my journey to a return to traditional values. It is ironic and in some sense, perhaps, fitting that Auster ended his career with the conviction that the historic nation of the United States of America was gone and not coming back. I concur with him on this, but it leaves us with the question of what to do with the issue of national identity. America is dead, but there are still a couple hundred million Americans.

Some commenters have used words like “quarrelsome” and “irascible” to describe Mr. Auster’s personality. As far as I know, this reputation comes from the online persona, not the private person, who seems to have been soft-spoken, a respectful listener, and gentlemanly – if also utterly blunt and honest. (Perhaps someone versed in astrology can explain this unusual combination.) VFR thrived on conflict with the larger liberal society and its supporters, and Mr. Auster’s harsh criticisms of mainstream conservatives and “jihad critics” were necessary, even if they won him few friends. On the other hand, he was not blame-free in some of the disputes with friendly correspondents that ended badly. Extremely concerned with defending himself and his positions, he sometimes missed the effect his words might have on the other party.

These musings on Lawrence Auster still do not get at the tremendous vitality and passion that permeated his writing. His love of the West and righteous anger at its destruction, his intense interest in ideas and in the world – everything was personal to him and engaged the reader personally. During his final illness, he amazed me with deeply personal pieces of writing documenting his ordeals and revealing aspects of his life about which he had previously been silent, and shared messages of support from his readers which, for me, were comforting in showing how many others had had their lives changed by his writing. I am glad that he found a kind of happiness as he faced death surrounded by loved ones, and glad that he has left his legacy of work in the capable and faithful hands of Laura Wood. I still can’t believe that no new postings are forthcoming at View From the Right. An era has passed. A great hero has fallen. For the rest of us, our work continues.