Friday, May 25, 2007

Western Civilization through Aphorisms

James W, one of my regular readers, always send me the most amazing aphorisms and observations by e-mail. I must say that it's great to have readers, as James, who understand so well what I'm trying to say.

This is what he wrote to me on April 25th:

I've only just read your posts this week. We are, of course, always impressed with someone when his opinion is the same as our own. And since your opinion is insightful and, to my knowledge, unique as well as urgent, I do overly flatter myself presently, and will restrain myself with a Franklin quote- Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.
Still and all, I am perhaps halfway through cobbling a project together describing Western Civilization through Aphorism. It is meant to use pithy sentences in forcing truths upon our memories. Both to establish, and defend, Western Civilization for the everyman, and as a guide as well as a reference. I've selected roughly a thousand such timeless observations, and the devil is in presenting these jewels in a setting where they cannot be misunderstood and are easily accessed. One example- 'When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.'
I am not a writer, although I have become good enough to recognize one. Although great writing and great thinking are mutually reinforcing, there is not so much of that as I would have thought...
I feel a debt to those men who left us observations of incalculable importance, in language turned so beautifully it cannot be improved upon. How little we now understand, or are likely to. This is the purpose of my project. Understandings that are to the point, searing, often endearing, and occasionally quite hilarious...
After my post Christian ethicsto be or not to be?, he wrote:
Thanks, swede, and I am premature in my own project, but you may as well get used to the response you are getting. We cannot right ourselves without incisive and pointed understandings first. My blogger account is literally unusable at the moment, so I would respond to your latest post here by saying first that the observations made about the left and secular Christianity are exactly what people (certainly myself) are looking for. I understood the odd expressions of the Left to often have an ersatz Christian origin, but just had my thinking firmed, straightened, economized, and clarified by that post. This is exactly what I seek. Your question is, where do we go with the culture from here to survive. I expect there are many more answers to that than you chose to examine for the purpose of your post. Having many answers is not presented here as a better thing than a few, but perhaps something here will have resonance.
  • ERIPIDES There is in the worst of fortune the best chance of good change.
  • MENCIUS We survive on adversity and perish in comfort.
  • ANTOINE DE REVAROL The most civilized people are as near to barbarism as the most polished steel is to rust.
  • LORD ACTON Everything secret degenerates. Nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.
  • JEFFERSON It is in our life and not our word that our religion must be read.
  • G.K. CHESTERSON It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
  • BARLOW He who thinks to save anything by his religion, beside his soul, will be a loser in the end.
It may be too ambitions, but I tend to think we must replace Europe's lack of faith with an understanding of the better angels of Western Civilization. There is much to mine there. The Romans understood their own virtues and lack of them, and so understood better the alternatives. We have far more to be appreciative of then they did, so let us mine it. For those of you who may eventually find God in a foxhole, all well and good in the addition.
I look forward to your posts.

This is exactly the kind of dialog I'm looking for here in my blog. Thank you James. The very loooong historical perspective. Without that we will get lost in the details of the shadow theater. I would never have thought myself of describing European civilizations through aphorisms, but when I see what James is sending me I think it is great. I haven't written much yet of how to reconstruct our civilization if Christian ethics has to be thrown out. But I will get to it. I'm still at the point of building my case regarding Christianity, democracy, Wilsonianism etc.

In order to say something short about the issue. People who have seen clearly the evil side of Islam, multiculturalism, etc., often conclude that everything will fall apart, that all will be lost. But it's merely modern liberalism and its institutions that will fall apart, along with Christian ethics. The shell, the theater will be replaced. A transition of mythology. A new civilizational narrative. But most of who we are and what we do will remain the same. People have forgotten how strong our Roman, Greek and Pagan roots are. Their importance are downplayed in the narrative of the Judeo-Christian civilization. But just because they do not play a starring role in the shadow theater currently running in the Platonic cave, it does not mean they are not important. Just look at the Industrial Revolution. What do we see in that, if not the combination of Greek science and Roman organizational skills? (and I do not see any Judaoid priesthood behind it)

So build the reconstruction from Roman, Greek and Pagan roots. I would add some "Chinese wisdom" in seeing the spiritual sphere as teachings instead of religions, which allow for combining many teachings/religions. The Western/Christian concept of religion is exclutionist and repel any other spiritual influence. The Chinese way of combining Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism is superior. And not so different from our own original polytheism. And given such a setup and I would also throw in Jesus into the reconstruction. Jesus is largely misunderstood. We almost exclusively look upon him through Christian eyes, and the Christians never understood well what he intended to say.

1 comment:

Mr. Spog said...

BARLOW — He who thinks to save anything by his religion, beside his soul, will be a loser in the end.

I apologize if I am taking this out of context, but it seems to illustrate a kind of Christian spiritual philistinism or egomania, typified, it is said, by St. Augustine. (Or is Barlow saying that one's religion should not provide the sole basis for one's life?)

"For [Augustine], inquiry of any sort that we would call science is a target for ridicule. The Greeks, silly men, lavished their time and effort on the identifying of the elements in nature, etc., etc.; but 'to the infinite number of points regarding such matters as they have discovered, or think they have discovered, a Christian will pay no mind.' No need to know how nature works, for such pretended knowledge is irrelevant to blessedness." (MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, p. 88.)

MACHIAVELLI — I love my native city more than my own soul.

JESUS — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. [Not "You shall love your soul..."]