18 July 2017

Americanism and intégrisme: theopolitics resurgent

A recent Vatican-issued editorial co-authored by the Jesuit priest Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Presbyterian minister Marcelo Figueroa for La Civiltà Cattolica seems to have ruffled some feathers and inspired some serious reflection among my radical Catholic acquaintance. I find myself in broad agreement with the historical and moral stances written out in this article, given that it probes the sensitive point of the triumphal, right-wing Catholic intégrisme about which I have said several hard words recently. Spadaro and Figueroa make some sound historical points about the origins, nature and inclinations of right-wing political Protestantism (which they term ‘evangelical’ or ‘fundamentalist’) in the United States, link them to several parallel movements within American Catholicism, and attempt to show how they are at odds with a true Christian witness. Some parts of this they do better than others. They make, often very cursory, treatments of disparate elements of American Christendom, and the overall picture they paint seems a bit cluttered as a result.

There are several points where I believe that the authors could have made their point even more forcefully than they have. I will have to come back later and expand on this. I have already pointed out briefly how the sainted Emperor Constantine, despite the dubious place he occupies in Whiggish and Protestant historiography as a wedder of Church and State, was not an advocate of any political theology which might prefigure intégrisme. Constantine’s rule was messy, and he was deeply aware of that himself. He comported himself with humility in the presence of his bishops; and though he called for the council at Nicæa he did not dare to exert any political pressure on the outcome. He refused to be venerated as a god when that was expected of him under the pagan customs. In spite of the motto which has come to symbolise his reign, Constantine’s trajectory as Emperor was one of tragedy, humility and repentance. He was a model of symphonía, and yielded in his own opinions to the counsel of the Church. Not his the triumphal victory imagined by those now comparing him to the current elected occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Considered in the light of Orthodox political philosophy especially, such comparisons are far beyond asinine. They border on defamation and blasphemy against a holy saint.

Another point on which the Orthodox witness needs to stand firm, more emphatically than even Spadaro and Figueroa do, regards the rejection of Manichæan ‘dominionist’ and ‘national blessing’ forms of political theology. For this we must appeal to history of Orthodoxy in North America. Orthodox Christians should be, to a greater extent even than Catholics, aware of the dangers of the faith that drapes the Cross in the Stars and Stripes. The vicious, inhospitable and unbrotherly reception that Saint Alexis Toth received at the hands of Archbishop John Ireland (a corporate-friendly ‘Americanist’ if there ever was one – though not an intégriste!), or the less-dramatic but more-persistent social humiliations working-class Rusyn Orthodox immigrants to mining towns had to endure amidst their poverty for their faith and culture, should be grim reminders to all of us of the dangers of a political theology of ‘national blessing’, from when we were seen as the (cultural or class) enemy. These are forms of political theology which we must reject, with force. The more so since ethno-nationalism has been and remains an idol to which modern Orthodox Christians have proven sadly susceptible in our tragic history of resistance to Ottoman tyranny.

On the other hand, let’s be aware of what is happening with these back-and-forth salvos in the Catholic blogosphere. We are seeing the reawakening of older, longstanding questions of political theology. The intégrisme the authors of the piece attack within American Catholicism, is in fact a movement toward papocæsarism, a movement which Spadaro and Figueroa are right to oppose, being as it is a temptation of special intensity for political thinkers in the Latin tradition. But the authors of this piece somewhat lazily conflate this with an opposite movement in the American church, represented by the dominionist and national-blessing tendencies within the Protestant tradition. These have a tendency toward cæsaropapism: no Pope, no magisterium, but rather the earthly ideational leaders within American political life have the right and authority to dictate the priorities of the public spiritual life. It is true that there is a great deal of overlap – for the time being – in ‘values’ and priorities between these two approaches to political ethics. But these are static and temporary – as Quirk notes in his op-ed, the common cause between the two is ‘superficial’. Whereas, as Berdyaev would say, the political ethics of Christendom are dynamic and fluid. No, but that sounds too peaceful. Political ethics and theology are a veritable Strait of Messina; it is too easy to get sucked away in a rogue current.

At a certain level, there is a kind of naïveté to which Spadaro and Figueroa leave themselves prone. It may or may not be Pope Francis’s study to ‘break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church’, but it should be clear, from America’s own experience, that doing so is actually more difficult than it sounds, and has the added danger of further distorting and poisoning the right relationships between Church and state. There can be no doubt that America is a very religious nation, particularly when compared with Europe, and that despite having an official separation of Church and state, by design of our nation’s founders. Yet clearly Spadaro and Figueroa (and presumably Pope Francis by extension) believe that, in spite of our having broken ‘the organic link’, at least between political institutions and the Church, our religious life is still affected by a number of forms of, let’s politely say ‘weirdness’, that don’t appear in less-religious (but also less institutionally-sæcular) Europe. Now, I’ve been a vocal critic of American-style sæcularism since my Episcopal days. That’s because it’s been apparent to me for awhile that sæcularism or laïcité is easier to realise on paper than it is in practice. France’s violent mood swings between rabid anti-clericalism and loud outbursts of Catholic piety are comical enough in historical perspective, but we Americans shouldn’t laugh too loud lest we forget our own political-cultural-religious dysfunction (of which I freely admit myself to be a part).

This makes it all somewhat ironic, then, that Spadaro and Figueroa go to all the trouble to point out (in most cases rightly) how distant American expressions of religiosity are from an ideal formed within a more deeply institutional religious culture, but their end prescription – ‘breaking the link’ – is the same one which caused those expressions to go astray to begin with.

Orthodox political theology does, of course, have an answer – or rather, a direction – which can sound utopian (or indeed dystopian) to Western ears, including Catholic ones: that of symphonía. But in order to work well, the state needs to internalise the moral and spiritual authority of the Church; and the Church must forsake any claim on temporal political power. These are massive struggles, historically, within the Church and within societies where the Church finds herself. Orthodox religious historian Gyorgi Fedotov claims that the closest any Orthodox polity has come to realising symphonía (as opposed to a cæsaropapist distortion of the same) was in the early Kievan Rus’, whose kings really did bear a heartfelt humility before the teachings of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople. Later developments, though, would show that the ease with which moral authority could translate into earthly power also had its temptations.

Still, Orthodox Christians would do well not to ignore the rumbles brewing among our Latin brothers and sisters. Questions of political ethics and theology are back on the menu. And they are more urgent, now especially at a time when older questions of political œconomy in the sæcular sphere are also busy reasserting themselves.

15 July 2017

In praise of Edo

For one brief moment,
Mankind touched the world-soul there
And then parted ways.

Okay, two hundred fifty years of Japanese history under the military leadership of the Tokugawa family obviously deserves far better than one haiku in its defence. Particularly from yours truly, who has written so many hard words on the Kingdom of Yamato for so many reasons these past years. Please allow this worthless blogger the attempt to do better than that in my usual way, even if in doing so I clumsily forsake the brevity and elegance which must match the style of my subject.

The more I read about Edo-era Japan, the more I find in it to admire, and the more I find I must lament its loss, its destruction by its very leadership. I have held previously, and still do, that what is noble and sweet and admirable in traditional Japanese society has been reflected and amplified from the importation of certain forms from Tang-dynasty China.

In terms of governmental and political principles, the parallels with Tang China were close. Tokugawa Ieyasu undertook land reforms similar to those of Li Shimin, if only for pragmatic and political reasons. Once he broke the power of his political rivals he turned much of the arable land over to the peasantry and the old samurai families, and placed them on land reclamation projects. Though this was largely for the reason of disarming them, it had the added effect of contenting them and spreading the wealth to the poor. These reforms ended up making Edo Japan one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, according to Dr Saito Osamu – comparable to many of today’s European welfare states in terms of wealth and income distribution. Between rural peasantry and urban mercantile and military élites, the wealth disparity didn’t far exceed two to one. And the land was quite evenly distributed, with each family (the smallest unit with recognised legal rights) tilling well enough to meet their own needs after taxes were paid. It’s something of an anachronism and a cultural imposition to call it so, but Edo Japan was essentially a distributist society.

Confucian learning was intensely valued, particularly the neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi (to the point where the entirety of Edo Confucian learning was styled Shushi-gaku 朱子學). Tokugawa Ieyasu was especially interested in promoting Confucian principles to consolidate his legitimacy. He established the class structure promoted by Ban Gu in the Han Dynasty: with samurai (supposedly the equivalents of the Chinese literati) at the top, then the peasantry, then the urban workmen, then the merchants at the bottom. The result – at least in the Japanese interpretation – was timocratic. The lovers of honour, the men who (putatively) lived by the sword, were placed deliberately at the top of society; the lovers of money at the bottom. Though Confucian learning, erudition and refinement were all deeply respected in the complete man, the masculine ideal was still that of the warrior.

But Confucianism didn’t stay at the top. The Tokugawas’ respect for Chinese learning did filter down to the grassroots; it saturated all of cultural life – poor as well as rich, women as well as men. As the (much-earlier) Tale of Genji puts it: ‘it is when there is a plenitude of Chinese classical learning, that the Japanese soul is respected in the world’. Or, to quote Gu Hongming’s The Spirit of the Chinese People:
If you want to see the grace and charm expressed by the word debonaire in the true Chinese feminine ideal, you will have to go to Japan where the women there at least, even to this day, have preserved the pure Chinese civilisation of the Tang Dynasty. It is this grace and charm expressed by the word debonaire combined with the divine meekness of the Chinese feminine ideal, which gives the air of distinction [meiki or minggui 名貴] to the Japanese woman—even to the poorest Japanese woman today.
There is indeed much to praise in the ideal of the Japanese woman, the Yamato nadeshiko 大和撫子 of the Edo period. Unlike her contemporary Chinese counterpart, who if she was wealthy enough, crippled her own feet and rendered herself in that way artificial and ornamental, the Japanese ideal woman was disciplined and dynamic, hardworking and subtly alluring – never flighty or superficial. Physically possessed of a supple willowy figure, with elegantly-coiffed black hair, snow-white skin and deep red lips; she was also spiritually endowed with a stoic, all-pervading modesty and a kind of kenotic selflessness. The Yamato nadeshiko of the Edo period is a deep inward concentration of the talented, free-spirited, full-figured Tang Chinese womanly ideal, and yet has a subtly different character.

Women do hold up half the sky, and it should be no surprise therefore that the society they embody has the same characteristics as they do. The society and culture of Edo was similarly concentrated and disciplined, yet it expressed itself in singularly sublime and beautiful ways. In one vital respect Edo did not emulate the Tang. It was not expansionist. It was a society which ‘lived and let be’; it minded its own business quietly and didn’t meddle on the continent at all. The two hundred fifty years of the Tokugawa bakufu 德川幕府 were years of peace – later Western and even later Japanese historians, believing in the liberal brass law of ‘free trade’ or in the militaristic iron law of expansion, would deride this policy as ‘isolationist’. But more than being mere imitators of the Chinese way and the Chinese learning (as were the Heian and Muromachi periods), the Edo period was a deep, spiritual, feminine concentration of the same cultural energies, so ebulliently released in Tang and Song China.

This concentration found expressions not only in high-flown gendered ideals of warrior and wife. The social stratification combined with relative œconomic equality produced a spectacular urban culture in Edo itself where entertainments of all sorts could blossom. Edo was a golden age of visual arts (particularly woodblock prints like the ones shown above, filled with grace and power), performing arts (especially kabuki 歌舞伎 and the tradition of the geisha 藝者), music and literature – including great novels like The Tale of Eight Dogs, which were influenced by Water Margin and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, yet carried their own character. This sublimely-beautiful explosion in cultural output corresponded with a modest, linear œconomic and population growth pattern. The average family size was above replacement with three children, but also not too large; and the œconomy grew to match – and this was not the result of higher levels of resource exploitation, but through gradual improvements in technology and natural boosts to efficiency and ingenious ways of reducing or eliminating waste (again, with Japan’s elegantly-practical women doing the great bulk of that ‘household work’). The result was a society which was sensitive and attuned to its immediate natural environment, œcologically-harmonious as well as peaceable!

Edo Japan was not a utopia. Christians were violently persecuted by the early Tokugawa bakufu. Easy divorce, prostitution and pornography were far from being inventions of the Meiji revolutionary state, but were already well-established in the same urban culture which produced art, music and drama of such beauty. And the Confucian class system had its ugly underside, too: the handlers of meat and leather – both necessary professions, but distasteful to Japanese sensibilities – were considered ‘untouchables’ by the rest of society. But there is a great, great deal about Edo Japan to admire and hold in reverence, the more so when we consider the devastating cultural effects that came after the appearance of Matthew Perry’s warships; when Emperor Meiji exchanged his nation’s traditionalist, Chinese-enlightened soul for the libido dominandi of modern revolution and the power promised by German-engineered steel.

14 July 2017

They’ve always been with us

Reading Gyorgi Fedotov on the religious history and psychology of Kievan Rus’ has been a fascinating and enlightening exercise. One of the things he shows, is that for those of us in the Slavic Rite of the Holy Orthodox Church, there are very few new things under the sun, and many of the issues we face have been debated at length before. The human condition being what it is, this shouldn’t be surprising. But here are some accounts from Fedotov’s account of the priest Kirik and his interactions with Saint Niphont the Bishop of Novgorod:
The best-known and the most embracing of the question-and-answer compositions [on the subject of canon law] belong to a group of Novgorodian priests in the middle of the twelfth century, among whom Kirik takes first place. The answers are given by the bishop Niphont and other prelates. The questions and answers are reflections and sometimes verbatim reports of real conversations between the bishop and the priests who come to him, canonic collections in hand, to solve their practical difficulties…

If a priest consults his bishop about the complicated detail of the ritual only recently adopted in a newly-converted country, it is in itself no indication of his ritualistic tendencies. It is simply a part of his professional training… But even in this liturgical interest Kirik goes beyond the limits of reason, revealing a spirit of narrow bigotry and ritualism in a pejorative sense; many times he deserves the rebuke of his somewhat more broad-minded bishop.
If you see already in Kirik, a native priest among the recently-converted Finns and Russians of Novgorod, some parallels among the American konvertsy, particularly those of a certain legalistic frame of mind, rest assured that you aren’t alone in that. It’s noteworthy that Saint Niphont, though he upholds most of the dietary and fasting restrictions (including very severely that against eating fowl or game that had been strangled), the saintly bishop is much more lenient when it comes to condescending to the needs of married couples.
Bishop Niphont cites an ancient canon of Patriarch Timothy, which was read to all newly-married couples and which prohibited copulation on Saturdays and Sundays. Very soon Friday was added to these days. The Precepts to the Confessing enjoins this prohibition with a curious warning: the child conceived during these three days risks becoming ‘thief, or robber, or fornicator’, and then his parents have to do a penance. The liberal Niphont is indignant about these exaggerations. When referred by Kirik to this, or similar, canonical authority he gives his opinion: ‘Those books are fit for burning’. Nevertheless, the prescription of ‘those books’ prevailed, and the superstitious view rejected by Kirik became a general belief of the Russian people.

The Precepts won over Niphont’s judgement also in another point: in the extension of sexual prohibition to all feast days and to Lent. This seems to be the practice of the Novgorod priests, which angered Niphont. ‘Do you teach abstinence from wives during Lent? You sin in this.’ Obviously, the Bishop considered this abstinence beyond the capacity of laymen. The Precepts insists upon abstinence, at least, during the first and the last weeks of Lent. The canons of the Muscovite period are more intransigent in this point as in many others…

A particular case of conscience was the perplexity of ‘being with one’s wife’ in the presence of icons or of the holy cross. From the context it can be inferred that in Kievan Russia, unlike during the Muscovite period, the icons were not kept in inhabited heated chambers but in separate cold rooms. But these rooms could also be used as bedrooms. This explains the question: ‘If one keeps icons or the precious Cross in a room (
клеть), is it lawful to be with one’s wife?’ Niphont is as liberal and peremptory as usual: ‘The wife is not given to one for sin… Do you take off your cross when you are with your wife?’ In this last point the bishop is seconded by the Precepts: ‘A layman must keep the Cross upon himself if lying with his wife.’ The Muscovites were of another opinion. But the fact that such questions were raised in the earliest times is evidence of the widespread view that all sexual life was unclean. The pre-Mongolian Church tried to oppose this conviction by stressing the sanctity of marriage. But the dual attitude toward sex was too deeply rooted in the Christian past. The ancient canons bear witness of it; and it was only natural that one of these currents, the negative one, should start a new development in Russia.
I find it highly interesting that a sainted hierarch, an accomplished ascetic cœnobite of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra with a firm doctrinal formation and a careful cultivation of personal holiness and virtue, had to rein in the legalistic tendencies of his spiritual sons, particularly the presumably-married Father Kirik (whose razor-keen mathematical mind, sketched here so diligently by Fedotov, was clearly drawn toward the harsher, more maximalist view of canonical rigourism). I also find it remarkable that the Russian Church, which had no interest in Hellenistic speculative theology but was instead more drawn toward the rabbinical ‘Judaïsing’ pole and toward theologies of history, swung so heavily at the grassroots to the guidance of the ‘Hellenists’ on matters of practical lay ethics. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, and I’m much mistaken if Fedotov will not see fit to mention it later in the book. Still, such a passage shows that convertitis and Hyperdox Hermans have always been with us; and have a history of trying the patience even of saints!

Parenting and cultural engagement

Rod Dreher has been going at it pretty hard these past few days. And by ‘it’ I mean lambasting post-Christian tech, pop and political culture and doing his book push. As the parent of a beautiful four-year-old daughter, a lot of the stuff he brings to light really does keep me up at night, and I really do agree that giving her her own smartphone before she’s old enough to drive really is a kind of moral insanity. And I can’t really fault him that much for promoting his own writing – Lord knows I’d do that too if I were lucky enough to be able to make a living from this blog – though I do rather take fault with the overly-defensive, brittle and uncharitable way that he does it, usually by accusing critics who clearly have read the book with having not read it.

Rod is right about one thing. The culture is changing, and clearly not for the better. Even so, culture is something manmade, and it philosophically stands therefore that it does not and cannot have full control over man – unless he lets it. As for my take on cultural engagement, and how and which media – books, music, movies, what have you – we should (allow our kids to) consume and produce: well, here it is, for what it’s worth.
  • Have you heard of Sturgeon’s Law? If you have, great. If not, here it is: ‘ninety percent of everything is crap’. Got it? Good. Engrave it on your heart. In letters of fire. Bold. Italicised. Triple underlined.

  • You aren’t weird for wanting to limit your child’s exposure. Hyperviolent, hypersexual, blasphemous film and print media are out there, and they’re ubiquitous. It’s perfectly understandable that you don’t want your child’s incredible, impressionable, absorbing young mind to be filled with it from an early age. Ratings are there for a reason.

  • Did I mention Sturgeon’s Law yet? It’s important.

  • Even G-rated media can be harmful. There’s a lot of television and movies which have a putative rating of ‘checked yay for youth’, which still encourage bad habits. Talking back to parents and teachers. Bullying or judging other children for their looks, tastes or socioœconomic status. Conforming to corporate-consumer standards of ‘individuality’. Thinking ‘tolerance’, ‘being nice’ and ‘getting along’, important as they are, are the same thing as genuinely caring about people. Forming poor or shortcut habits of thinking.

  • Not all ‘edgy’ is bad. Believe it or not, even violent, risqué, cuss-dropping films and television can still be spiritually or intellectually edifying. Some of my very favourite films are R-rated, and some of them, like Fight Club and Witness, ask tough but meaningful questions with which our society ought to find it useful to grapple. Keep means and ends in mind, and remember that reality is messy. Of course, YMMV as far as the maturity of the person you’re watching it with.

  • Sturgeon’s Law? Remember it.

  • ‘Christian’ literature often falls in that ninety. Depressingly often. Too many are the Christian authors who think moralising or sermonising in the form of a movie or book makes it worth reading. Or conversely, trying to make Jesus-talk ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ instead of presenting the truly weird, counterintuitive religion that Christ showed and Paul taught: a scandal to the Greeks and a stumbling-block to the Jews. If you’re going to write a book, write a good book with a good story. If you’re going to make music, make beautiful music. Don’t be all weird and twitchy about it.

  • It’s okay. Sometimes you can judge books by their covers. Sometimes.

  • Don’t be the morality police. Better to be ‘Merrie’ – in the sixteenth-century English sense of the word – and risk perdition that way, than to be a self-righteous legalistic Puritan (or Old Believer schismatic, or Jansenist) and ensure it.

  • That’s right. I said ninety percent of everything. Exercise good judgement. Use your experience and good sense. I guarantee you, that way you’ll weed out enough of the poison to stay sane.

13 July 2017

The prokeimenon in the Sixth Tone – let us attend

Apologies for the bad Orthodox pun there. The article published recently by Dylan Levi King in Sixth Tone, on the ‘baizuo 白左’ or ‘white left’ insult amongst Chinese netizens and who uses it, is a much-needed addendum and corrective to the foregoing commentary on the phenomenon. Long story short: in Mr King’s telling, it’s not Chinese Trump fans who are dishing out most of these critiques of the Western ‘white left’. It’s Chinese leftists themselves.

This is why it is so important to remember that, from what data we have, China’s political life runs for many intents and purposes perpendicular to ours. According to the study by Jennifer Pan and Xu Yiqing, China’s left, though it is every bit as hostile to neoliberalism, privatisation, ‘free trade’ and market fundamentalism as the Western left is, is nonetheless well out-of-sync with ‘left’ or ‘liberal’ priorities on a broad array of other issues. Broadly speaking, Chinese leftists tend to emphasise the value of folk medicine and folk beliefs, sexual continence and restraint, traditional gender roles, a strong military presence and cultural distinctiveness. King acknowledges this explicitly: ‘although Liu and his acolytes tend to evince a certain discomfort with hallmarks of Western progressive thought — such as gay marriage and the decriminalization of drug use — they are mostly sympathetic to the struggles of marginalized groups’.

King makes a point in this essay that I have been making for a long while now, which is that China at the grassroots level is a politically- and intellectually-intriguing place – far, far more so than the official media organs or at Western mainstream media would suggest. And the fact that the ‘white left’ is indeed drawing such criticism should not be taken as comfort by the nouvelle nouvelle-droite. There is indeed a certain admiration for Trump among the pro-government groups in China, but he is far from being broadly liked. Even the cautious optimism many of China’s leftists may have felt about Trump’s ‘pragmatism’ where rights-and-democracy talk was concerned, has long since worn off.

More to the point, consider that even left-conservative thinkers like Wang Hui take a historical view that has little in common with the ideological preferences of the nouvelle nouvelle-droite. To give one historical example, in Wang Hui’s view (and, indeed, in the view of many ordinary Chinese people, my wife included), the Korean War – still officially called the Great Movement to Resist America and Aid Korea 抗美援朝運動 – was a justifiable war of defence, undertaken by the Chinese people themselves against an aggressive imperialist power. For their part, the American and European alt-right – if pressed – takes the common view that their nations’ involvement in that war as a valid expression of the national interest, or more moralistically as part of the effort to stop the spread of communist ideology. The irony is that the alt-right often does a fairly good job of accounting for differences in cultural outlook and history in forming political awareness – but that awareness seems to fly straight out a window when they fancy they see a nationalist ally of convenience against globalism. At the very least, it’s irresponsible and an exercise in wishful thinking, to believe (as many alt-right China watchers now seem to) that history and ideology don’t shape the formation of popular opinion in deep ways. As King says, the current outcry against the ‘white left’ is best interpreted as ‘a throwback to earlier movements in Chinese political thought’. Such a view is at least consistent with past experience and with contemporary government preferences.

11 July 2017

Guangxi’s brand-new arcology

Remember that classic DOS game by Maxis, SimCity 2000? Unfortunately, its game mechanics may have made it out to be a glorified advertisement for the Laffer Curve and supply-side œconomics, but it did indeed feature some interesting social science-fictional concepts. One of these, a ‘future technology’ which became available as a reward after your city reached a certain threshold of population, was the arcology.

The concept of the arcology itself – a neologistic mishmash of ‘architecture’ and ‘œcology’ – belongs to High Modernism (Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian Broadacre City has been considered a spiritual forerunner of the arcology concept), but the concept was floated specifically to combat some of the major ills of Modern design – especially the waste and pollution associated with suburbs. In an arcology, the architectural design itself is deployed specifically to increase population density, reduce sprawl, make lived spaces more compact and accessible, and ameliorate or eliminate the harmful impacts of human habitation on the environment. Theorists associated with the arcology include Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and (most famously) Paolo Soleri.

Arcology as a concept worked its way into dystopian literature and film, also – including William Gibson’s Sprawl series and the Philip K. Dick-derived Blade Runner. SimCity 2000 itself, though, billed the arcology as something of a ‘city within a city’, a ‘futuristic self-contained [city] where a huge population is all contained in one building’. Up until now, though, most ‘arcology’ projects have been experimental high-density developments in existing traditional cities, as opposed to the gigantic, steely, glimmering Blade Runner-esque constructions of the science-fictional imagination, whether utopian or dystopian.

But the government of China is apparently considering building an arcology after the futuristic, utopian model, following the utopian intentions and principles of Wright and Soleri, in the city of Liuzhou, Guangxi Province, designed by Stefano Boeri: plans for this project were unveiled last week. Forest City features buildings which are designed to support greenery, generate its own energy and ultimately reduce air pollution; and it really is meant to be a standalone city. The project will be surrounded by farmland. ‘The Forest City was created as a scalable development following a petal formation. Each petal, which caters to a population of 20,000, can be scaled to include five petals in a single region, forming a flower-like formation centered on communal green space. All buildings would be covered in trees and greenery to help suck tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, pump oxygen into the air, and provide soothing habitat to both humans and native fauna.’ Boeri himself describes his project thus:
What they [Chinese developers] have done until now is simply to continue to add new peripheral environments to their cities. They have created these nightmares – immense metropolitan environments. They have to imagine a new model of city that is not about extending and expanding but a system of small, green cities.
I have to say that I like and approve of the intentions of this project: I’m not a fan of suburban sprawl either, of the air pollution and environmental destruction that inevitably accompanies it, or of the denatured, atomising effect sprawl has on our communities. I approve, as indeed many other conservative urbanists approve, of Boeri’s idea of urban spaces being an intimately-connected network of small, green built spaces. Having lived for three years in China – in two cities where living spaces were contained in six-storey Soviet-looking concrete blocks painted various garish shades of pink, orange and yellow, and severed by multi-lane streets from places of work, making even walking commutes a chore – I must confess that some fresh architectural principles, tending toward compactness and a conviction that ‘small is beautiful’, could do wonders in a number of places. And, of course, this is another thing that will put the already breathtakingly-beautiful and sublime Guangxi Province on the map, and preserve further what makes the province special. At the same time, I think there will be and are particular problems associated with the idea of arcology as China is pursuing it.

The great big glaring question with many new developments in China, of course, is who precisely is going to live there, and how will they be drawn there? China is facing a demographic crisis and has already begun overbuilding in many places – this is a problem Boeri acknowledges, but one which seems to cut against his own project as much as the architectural ‘nightmare’ he seeks to supplant. The second question is: what precisely is wrong with the elder architectural traditions in China, and especially the architecture of the siheyuan? Extended families, even as many as four generations and including more than one ‘nuclear’ family, lived in compact, self-contained urban units centred on a common-use courtyard for centuries before Western architectural principles began to spread, particularly after the Xinhai Revolution of 1911. Could these older principles be adapted to building ‘new urbs’ in China, rather than adopting the possibly overplanned utopianism of the arcology?

China’s unique population, property-use and pollution problems do present opportunities for unique solutions, and it is not a surprise that both the government and private actors would be drawn to ideas like Soleri’s and Boeri’s to confront them. It will certainly be interesting to see what comes of the Forest City of Liuzhou. But perhaps a note of caution and a hint at other alternatives is what China could use at this point.

10 July 2017

(In)vested interests

Symbol of despotism or of harmony?

All too sadly for those Orthodox thinkers (Pahman, Jensen, Jenkins et al.) who still labour under the delusion that there is any real daylight between Orthodox social thought and their favoured ideology of libertarianism, their own ideological forebear seems to have disagreed with them quite strongly. Here is John Dalberg-Acton, Baron Acton, on how the Investiture Controversies – themselves traceable back to the ‘reform’ movement which led directly to the Great Schism – provided the basis for an ideology of sæcular liberty. Note carefully how he singles out Byzantium and Moscow, both of which promoted symphonía as the ideal toward which both church and state should strive, as examples of church-state collusion or ‘despotism’, which (in his view) quashed the development of ‘civil liberty’:
The only influence capable of resisting the feudal hierarchy was the ecclesiastical hierarchy; and they came into collision, when the process of feudalism threatened the independence of the Church by subjecting the prelates severally to that form of personal dependence on the kings which was peculiar to the Teutonic state.

To that conflict of four hundred years we owe the rise of civil liberty. If the Church had continued to buttress the thrones of the king whom it anointed, or if the struggle had terminated speedily in an undivided victory, all Europe would have sunk down under a Byzantine or Muscovite despotism. For the aim of both contending parties was absolute authority. But although liberty was not the end for which they strove, it was the means by which the temporal and the spiritual power called the nations to their aid.
Now, it’s necessary to make some distinctions, and to defend even the historical, Byzantine-Muscovite political œconomy from Acton’s charge of ‘despotism’. A number of Orthodox scholars (including Fr. Stanley Harakas himself, who popularised for an English-speaking Orthodox audience the political ideal of symphonía) do actually consider the concept and its associated practices compatible with a number of different political ‘forms’, up to and including voter engagement with the modern sæcular democracy which was in fact birthed by the Investiture Controversies. Even if sæcularism (defined as either a hostile or an amicable separation of church and state) is not the preferred model in Orthodox political theology, Orthodox social thinking does not forbid or discourage lay believers from political engagement. (We aren’t quite Anabaptists on that score; probably somewhere between the Anabaptists and the postliberal Protestants.)

For example: the Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church explicitly acknowledges and endorses the ideal of symphonía:
The Orthodox tradition has developed an explicit ideal of church-state relations. Since church-state relations are two-way traffic, the above-mentioned ideal could emerge in history only in a state that recognises the Orthodox Church as the greatest people’s shrine, in other words, only in an Orthodox state.

Attempts to work out this form were undertaken in Byzantium, where the principles of church-state relations were expressed in the canons and the laws of the empire and were reflected in patristic writings. In their totality these principles were described as symphony between church and state. It is essentially co-operation, mutual support and mutual responsibility without one’s side intruding into the exclusive domain of the other.

However, similarly to Fr. Stanley Harakas, the Russian Orthodox Church takes a broad view of how this ideal works in practice. The Russian Church, in the same breath as it acknowledges symphony as a desirable ideal, disobliges a perfectionist or overly-idealist interpretation in its emphasis on the symphonic relationship between church and state. Indeed, it makes a point of providing practical and constructive guidelines for how the Church and its members should comport themselves in the political life of a non-Orthodox, sæcular or even non-Christian state – as though symphonía were the image of a city-in-speech, the Platonic ideal of the marriage of philosophy (or theology) with politics, and the sundry régimes in their varying degrees of sæcularism, papocæsarism or cæsaropapism are merely distortions of that ideal. Within these régimes the participation of the Orthodox faithful is possible, but perhaps not perfectly so. (Much of sections III and V of the Basis take as their theme the acceptable forms and the limits of Orthodox participation in politics: for example, clergy may vote but may not stand for public office; laity may stand for public office but may not claim to represent the plenitude of the Faith within those offices.) The document is therefore quite realist in a philosophical sense. But the Basis also makes it clear that the hostile separation of Moses from Aaron is something to be lamented.

Even this subtler and more variegated view of the Orthodox Church, though, is one which Baron Acton himself has inverted almost perfectly. The traditional Orthodox view is of church-state cooperation in a state of grace and harmony from which the various other régimes fall short. But for Baron Acton, the various papocæsarist and cæsaropapist struggles between Church and princes become instead the vehicle for progressively greater stages of liberation, culminating in a minimal state and a private religion bereft of substantive public claims on its adherents. Rather than being partners in the protection and salvation of mankind within a fallen reality subject to death, Church and state are for Acton obstacles, shackles to be removed from the individual – and this, indeed, points us back to how the liberal anthropology, broadly considered, substantively differs from the anthropology of the Church. Acton’s vision of the human political condition is one which the Church in its depth has historically never shared and never countenanced. The very tradition itself, going back to the sainted Emperors Constantine and Justinian, stands agonal to and irreconcilable with the libertarian political project.

Allow me one caveat. I am not saying that individual Orthodox people who happen to hold libertarian views, even those who work for the Acton Institute, are by that fact alone dishonest or bad Christians. I am sure – positive, in fact – that there are libertarian Orthodox Christians who are far better at following Christ and far nearer the Kingdom of God than I am. What I am saying, however, is that the ideology of libertarianism, in this case as articulated by Baron Acton, is fundamentally at odds with Orthodox political theology. When we get further into the particulars of libertarian thinking, particularly as it concerns usury, wages and the wealth gap, labour unions and the idea of national or communal sin, the contrast between libertarian and Orthodox social thinking, on levels ranging from deep anthropology to nitty-gritty œconomics, is thrown into even sharper relief.

08 July 2017

The theological sources of Kievan Rus’

I’ve recently been reading The Russian Religious Mind, by the great religious historian Gyorgi Petrovich Fedotov. According to him, after the Christianisation of Kievan Rus’, the following books were the most important:
It is not certain whether ancient Russia possessed the whole Bible; there is no copy of the Russian Bible in one manuscript before 1500. All sacred books circulated separately for both liturgical and private use… In Russia, the notion of the Biblical canon, distinguishing strongly between the inspired Holy Scripture and the works of the Fathers, never existed. All religious writings were called sacred and divine if they were not heretical.

The Holy Scriptures, together with the apocrypha were equalled or perhaps surpassed by the lives of the saints in popular favour. The latter afforded religious elevation, moral lessons, even the thrill of romance. Very few Greek legends of saints were not translated or known in Russia. Among the passions of the martyrs the most popular were, naturally, those of the ‘megalomartyrs’, enjoying the solemn veneration of the Church, such as Saint George, Saint Theodore (or rather, the two Saint Theodores), and Saint Demetrius of Salonika. These legends gave birth, later on, to popular songs in honour of these saints…

Among the third category of the Greek saints, that of canonised bishops, no one had such fame or enjoyed such veneration as Saint Nicholas. He became at once Russia’s national saint. His legends were supplemented in Russia by new miracles. Two things in the figure of the saint most impressed them: the superhuman power of miracles, an almost Godlike domination of the elements, and the charitable trend of his heroic activity. Saint Nicholas lives in the imagination of Christendom not as a hero of asceticism, but as a pattern of compassionate love.

After the lives of the saints the next most important subject matter in Russian manuscripts is the vast and vague literature of sermons, admonitions and moral treatises. But this leads us into the field of the Patristics and raises the question of how much of the immense theological library of the Greek Fathers was accessible to the Russians… Very few of the classical works of Greek theology were known in Russia. Most of the translations pursued merely practical and edifying aims…

A selection of sermons from Gregory of Nazianzus represented for the Russians the summit of Greek theological thought. The sermons were saturated with high dogmatic ideas construed upon Platonic metaphysical background. Unfortunately, they were translated in Bulgaria in such an involved style, word for word, that they were hardly understandable without the Greek original. Even in Greece they demanded the work of commentators to explain their elevated and highly rhetorical language to the mediæval reader. In Russia they were studied and admired by the most learned men, and difficulties occurring in them provoked disputes among the readers. One of the Byzantine exegetes [of Gregory], Nicetas, was translated as well.

For general summaries of Christian doctrine the Russians could use two expositions, one of the earliest and one of the latest summaries of Greek theology:
The Catechetical Sermons of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century and the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by Saint John of Damascus in the eighth century. The latter work was translated only in an abridged form, with the exclusion of many philosophical and dogmatic developments. These two works were, by themselves, sufficient for an introduction into Orthodox dogma. Unhappily, they did not belong to the popular writings in Russia. Practically none of the Latin Fathers were known in Russia or in Greece either…

There were, however, among the ancient Fathers, two men whose spirit deeply influenced Russian Christianity. It can be said that these two men represented for the Russian people the whole Patristic tradition. They were John Chrysostom and Ephrem the Syrian. More than two hundred sermons of Chrysostom were spread in pre-Mongolian Russia, in manifold editions, partly united in collections under different titles:
Chrysostom, Golden Stream, and Margarite. The selected sermons of Saint Ephrem bore the Greek name of Parænesis which was interpreted in the Slavonic text as ‘parable, comfort, prayer, instruction’. What is common to both authors is their practical, moral purpose combined with high impressive eloquence. Ephrem the Syrian was a poet in the true sense of the word. Even the double translation into Greek and Slavonic could not efface his artistic spirit.

In content and inspiration the two authors were very different. Chrysostom, through his brilliant Hellenistic rhetoric led directly to the Gospel and dwelt not upon its symbolic-mystical but upon its ethico-religious meaning. He was the teacher of
agape, of caritative love, especially of the social aspect of it, defender of the poor, and an inveigher against the rich. A courageous prophetic spirit emanated from his writing as well as his whole personality. In spite of his moral severity he represented the bright side of Christianity, the joy and hope of redemption.

The Syrian poet, whose language was imbued with Biblical lyricism, struck another chord: he was a prophet of repentance. His predominant attitude was the contemplation of the sin and death reigning in the world. With prophetic power and artistic vision he pointed to the final coming of the Lord and His Terrible Judgement. His tone was dark compared to the brighter Chrysostom. But this darkness was saturated with emotionalism and warmed by tears. The Russian people have never abandoned these first two teachers of their Christianity, their spiritual leaders through a thousand years. Russian legends tell about two celestial birds singing in Paradise; Sirin and Alconost, the bird of Joy and that of Sorrow. They could well be an emblem of the two poet-preachers: Saint John and Saint Ephrem…

With these great names the Russian Patristic library was by no means exhausted. Its main content was not that of books, in the modern sense of separate literary works. There was a large mass of anonymous writings often circulating under false authorship, of fragments and even simple sentences whose attributions are a puzzle for literary criticism. Among this heterogeneous material one finds exegetic commentaries (particularly to Psalms), and sermons on feast and fast days of the Calendar. Under the names of ancient Fathers, Saint John, Gregory or Cyril, some later Byzantine homilists found, in this disguise, their way into the Russian Church. The remainder was a formless mass of so-called articles or chapters of various contents, which fills the Slavonic

As a result of this brief survey, we can draw some conclusions. At first the main bulk of the translated literature belonged to the Christian antiquity of the fourth and fifth centuries. The purely Byzantine theological and mystical tradition was rather weak, but the overwhelming mass of this literature pursued practical, moral and ascetical aims. Beyond the practical sphere, religious needs were satisfied more by apocrypha than by works of dogmatic theology.
This is an interesting overview of the resources available to Kievan Rus’, and it’s worth noting that this corpus of Orthodox spiritual writings is fairly limited. One real religious philosopher (Gregory of Nazianzus), two catechists (Cyril of Jerusalem and John of Damascus), two preachers (John Chrysostom and Ephrem the Syrian) and a ‘formless’, variegated literature of hagiographies, chronology, sayings and aphorisms, apocalyptic literature.

As you can read, gentle reader, Fedotov states all this fairly matter-of-fact. But it’s still impressive that such a limited exposure to the depths of Greek theology, coming from a handful (admittedly, of the greatest) intellectual and spiritual luminaries of the Eastern Roman Empire, could preside over a veritable explosion of religious feeling that sustained the religious culture of the Kievan Rus’ and its offspring principalities for the better part of four centuries. Profusions of liturgical creativity, a great wealth of inspired holy people and martyrs, the creation of a radically-humane legal structure.

It’s more than a bit awe-inspiring. And these great saints of the Church have it very much to their credit!

From left to right: Ss. Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, and Ephrem the Syrian

05 July 2017

Agrarianism is not nativism

The programme [of the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants]… stated that ‘rough nationalism is foreign’ to the Czechs and Slovaks and called for strong links with Rusyns, all the minorities in the republic, Czech and Slovak minorities abroad, ‘colonies’ in the New World, the Sorbs and all other Slavs.

- Daniel Miller, Forging Political Compromise, describing the views of Antonín Švehla and the programme of the agrarian party in Czechoslovakia

I am neither a Bulgarian nor a Serb; I am a Yugoslav!

- Aleksandŭr Stamboliyski, leader of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union

Insofar as the agrarian, distributist, populist movements of early 20th century Eastern Europe were devoted to opposing both liberalism and communism, and insofar as they were devoted to recovering a rooted, peasant-oriented traditionalism, to that very degree the agrarian parties were able to resist the intellectual and electoral temptations of nativism and ethnic chauvinism. True, they embraced authoritarianism at times as it became necessary, and agrarian governments did get involved in border disputes. But the agrarians, God keep them always near His heart, were neither romantics nor intégristes. Indeed, the fascists found, almost uniformly, that they could not woo the peasantry which the Green Rising had radicalised, merely with appeals to race, blood and soil. The solution they reached for, just as the Bolsheviks had ten years before, was the truncheon and the gun.

Madgearu, the primary theorist of the Romanian Peasants’ Party, was murdered by the Iron Guard for his anti-fascist activities. Stamboliyski, quoted above, was tortured and murdered by the Nazi-aligned IMRO. And of course the Czechoslovak Republic was invaded by the Nazis; the agrarian party was outlawed along with all of the socialist ones. Only in places where agrarianism had not strongly taken root – places like the Ukraine, where land reform was shoved aside in favour of bourgeois language politics; or like Croatia, where agrarianism was forced underground by constant repression – did the poisonous weeds of fascism take root among the populace.

This is because the agrarian, distributist, populist movements of Central and Eastern Europe were fighting a battle of their own. Whether through Stamboliyski’s theory of the ‘estates’, or through Švehla’s ‘law of the land’, or through the coöperative theories of Marković or Madgearu, the agrarians were busy attempting to recover a ‘Tory-radical’ politics of the family and of the commons, that understood such a politics in geographical terms. The link of the people to the soil, to the village, was emphasised. The links of blood (considered as an abstract category, that is, rather than direct ties which preserve a family line) and language, both of which are forms of ephæmeral mass politics encouraged by the French Revolution, were downplayed. If the attitudes of the communists were that class matters and those of the volkisch right were that race matters, then the attitude of the agrarians of Eastern Europe was that geography matters.

In effect, just as the royal families of Europe had promoted a kind of traditionalist-conservative cosmopolitanism in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars in an attempt to stave off nationalism and other forms of revolutionary mass politics, so too did the peasants promote a similar sort of regionalism: but this time, one based on the common œconomic interests of the farmers, wherever they were to be found. The Green International, spearheaded particularly by Švehla was a collective, coöperative platform for these agrarian-populist peasant parties to pool resources, gather information, coördinate political initiatives. Unfortunately with the darkening political climate and the nationalist temper of the age, the Green International did not live to see its full flower but was mown down well before its prime. In addition, political figures like Stamboliyski, Švehla and Croatia’s Stjepan Radić were committed, far more so than the more ‘liberal’ parties and to a degree matched only by the socialists, to the regionalist, coöperativist state-building projects of Yugoslavism and Czechoslovakism: both of which are pre-Communist in the same way that the regionalist state-building project of Great Britain is pre-Whig.

Which is what makes the particular pretensions of modern forms of bourgeois nationalist politics to represent any sort of ‘localism’ or ‘subsidiarity’ so truly repulsive and abhorrent. The original agrarian movements which wanted to give land and welfare and political power back to the villages through œconomic reforms and education – these movements did not appeal to language politics or to base ethnic hatreds. On the other hand, unfortunately, many of the modern right-wing ethno-nationalist or intégriste movements in Eastern Europe are seeking to clothe themselves in the rhetoric of religious self-righteousness. Localists nowadays have to be careful not to be deceived by the politics of identity. We can take heart that the original agrarians weren’t.

04 July 2017

Remembering Saint Andrei the Prince

Holy and Right-Believing Prince Andrei the God-Loving of Vladimir

So for this Fourth of July, you won’t have to put up with yours truly on this blog grousing cantankerously about the evils of American republicanism, lamenting the fate of the Tories in America, extolling the virtues of monarchy or championing the cause of King George III the way I have done in past years. In fact, I’ll do even better than that: I will be commemorating a great and saintly monarch – one who has a special connexion with the Qazaq people (then known as the Qypchaqs), and one, at that, who paved the way to come for the autocrats of Moscow and Russia.

Andrei the God-Loving, Holy and Right-Believing Prince of Vladimir, was the grandson of Vladimir Monomakh and the son of Yuri Long-Arm by a Qypchaq noblewoman, Mariya Asenqyzy. From his youth he displayed a pious affection for the Church and a keen attention to prayer, and diligently read the Scriptures; he also participated from a young age in Yuri Long-Arm’s military campaigns and demonstrated great bravery. He led many campaigns, both under his father’s rule and in his own, primarily against the Bulghars. But he had that mixture of authority and peaceableness, firmness and fairness, an ability to strike hard when the occasion demanded but also to extend the olive branch, which would also later characterise his saintly royal nephew Aleksandr’s reign. The Chronicles make note of his diplomatic overtures to the other Rus’ princes, and it’s to be expected that his half-Qypchaq ancestry and understanding of that language aided him in making favourable peace agreements with that people as well.

His father Yuri Long-Arm established him in appanage at Vyshgorod near Kiev, but he would not stay there. Vyshgorod was, at the time, host to a wonderworking Constantinopolitan ikon of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, written by the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, but it was taken from the church there in 1155. Saint Andrei followed the ikon as far as he could northward toward his home of Rostov, when the horse leading the procession stopped seven miles south of Vladimir and would not budge any further. According to the chronicler Father Nikolai, the Theotokos appeared to Andrei the God-Loving that night with a scroll in her hand, and told him: ‘I do not want you to take my icon to Rostov, but rather leave it in Vladimir. Build a stone church here in the name of My Nativity.’ Andrei did meekly as he was bidden, and built the church as he was instructed to do.

The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

Andrei the God-Loving was a prolific builder of towns, and a great patron of sacred architecture, of a type which bridged Romanesque and Greek styles – indeed, Andrei invited architects from Western Europe to Vladimir to help him design these new churches. Andrei himself commissioned thirty churches, and his contributions to the Russian built landscape were breathtaking enough to send even the relatively-cynical historian of Muscovy, Dr Robert O Crummey, into rapturous panegyrics. I can only defer to his original descriptions of the Vladimir style of architecture, to which Saint Andrei devoted so much of his attention:
The architecture of Vladimir has qualities all its own. Its builders had a fine sense of proportion and their choice of building material, soft white stone, allowed them to decorate their work with graceful carving. Their most imposing creation is the Cathedral of the Dormition built, beginning in 1158, on a bluff above the Kliazma River. Andrei Bogoliubskii intended the church to be the religious centre of the Vladimir-Suzdal area and the symbol of his political and ecclesiastical independence of Kiev. Originally a large, light building of simple design with three apses and a single cupola, the cathedral took on its present appearance between 1185 and 1189 when it was rebuilt after a fire. At the time, the restorers added two additional aisles, porches and four more cupolas on the corners of the expanded building. The cathedral creates a heavier, more solid impression than it must once have done, but the effect is lightened by the restrained carving – blind arcades and false columns on the façade, the apses, and the supporting drums of the cupolas…

The Church of the Veil on the Nerl river... may well be the most beautiful of all mediæval Russian buildings. Prince Andrei built it in 1165 on an artificial mound above the river flats as a memorial to one of his sons. Even today the little church stands in splendid isolation, visible far across the flat landscape. Its design is extremely simple and the decorative carving restrained. At the same time, there is nothing ordinary about it: the proportions are exceptionally fine and the comparatively high façade with its delicate ornamental columns and the tall cupola combine to give an impression of lightness and grace. The onlooker feels as though lifted up to Heaven. In future generations, Russian builders rarely, if ever, achieved this æthereal effect again.

The Church of the Veil, Bogolyubovo

One story related to his patronage of sacred architecture reveals Andrei’s care for the well-being of the common people. In 1164 he commissioned a Golden Gate, to be built on the road between Kiev and Vladimir, modelled on the gates of Constantinople. A legend relating to this gate has it that as its construction was nearly complete, the gate came crashing down for no reason, burying twelve of the Gate’s workmen alive. The chances of their being rescued was reckoned small. But the princely saint rushed out himself, took the wonderworking ikon of the Holy Theotokos from its place in the church, and brought it to the wreckage site. He knelt before the Theotokos, prayed for the workmen’s deliverance, and personally joined in the search. When the twelve workers were found at last, thanks to the kindly heart of Saint Andrei and the mercies of the Mother of God, all of them were still alive – whole, hale and without serious injury. This incident caused Andrei to dedicate another church to the Holy Theotokos in thanksgiving: the temple of the Deposition of the Virgin’s Robe, which was placed atop the finished Gate. Thus, Saint Andrei inspired great devotion to his rule amongst Vladimir’s common folk. Gyorgi Fedotov, the historian of Kievan Rus’, makes note also that Saint Andrei continued the radical Christian tradition of his forebears, of making generous provision of food, drink and warm clothing for the poor and the homeless on every feast day.

But when his blood was up, he could be remarkably unforgiving. After an ecclesiastical dispute between Vladimir and Kiev which was resolved by the intervention of Constantinople in Kiev’s favour, Saint Andrew sent his bishop Fedor to submit humbly to Metropolitan Konstantin II of Kiev and offer restitution. Neither was accepted. Men loyal to the Metropolitan of Kiev took Fedor without trial, tortured him mercilessly, cut out his tongue, gouged out his eyes, severed his right hand and drowned him. The comeuppance against Kiev for this outrage was harsh. In 1169 Andrei led an army of Rus’ and Qypchaqs to take Kiev ‘on the shield’: it was to be plundered and burnt, sparing no one. The Qypchaqs in the army did not spare even the churches. The Chronicle records it thus: ‘These misfortunes were for their sins, especially for the outrage perpetuated by the Metropolitan.’ The hubris of Metropolitan Konstantin II irreparably broke both the political and the ecclesiastical power of Kiev. Another campaign led by Saint Andrei, this time to the northwest, was stopped by an intervention of the Theotokos, to whom the people of Novgorod had prayed for deliverance from Andrei’s wrath. Typically of Saint Andrei, however, his anger was quickly soothed. He extended a peace to Novgorod, gladly accepted, on favourable terms.

Saint Andrei had won the hearts of the common folk with his kindness toward them, and his reign was long considered a popular one. But his high-born boyars did not, to say the least, share this high appraisal of his rule. They viewed with alarm the curtailing of their traditional tribal ‘rights’, as Saint Andrei wanted to reform the traditional Rus’-Viking drótt into something more like the vertical organisation of the Qypchaq khaghanate. Twenty of them therefore began to plot his murder, which they carried out treacherously by night. The plotters, having arranged for the sword of Saint Boris which Saint Andrei kept over his bed to be removed, stormed into his bedchamber, dispatched the guards, and stabbed the unarmed Saint Andrei repeatedly. Saint Andrei did make a fight of it; he knocked down one of his assailants and caused him to be killed by his fellow-conspirators’ own blades. And it took the high-born conspirators several attempts to kill him. But a prayer was on his lips as he met his death.

Being lettered and learned, and influenced not only by Byzantium but by his Turkic mother, Saint Andrei’s reign saw a great explosion of liturgical as well as architectural creativity; in this aspect, his reign was very much in line with that of the rest of Kievan Rus’. A holiday commemorating the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos was introduced into the church calendar, and Saint Andrei himself aided in the writing of the prayers of the Liturgy for the new feast.

In many ways, Holy and Right-Believing Prince Andrei the God-Loving became a template for later Princes of Muscovy and Tsars of Russia. His personality blended elements of authoritarian harshness, notable particularly in his dealings with the boyar class, with an almost narodnik care for the peasantry and the common folk and a rare, genuine, active love of peace. His outlook bridged both ‘Asian’ and ‘European’ worlds in a singular way. The churches he built were in an innovative style which looked far to the West for inspiration, yet they stand as some of the most exquisitely beautiful examples of Russian architecture of any time or place: his great love for the Theotokos and Her Son, Our Lord Christ, is apparent in the design itself. His martyrdom was a violent one, but he met it with the name of Christ upon his tongue. Holy Prince Andrei, pray to God for us!
В мире сем благочестно и праведно пожив, молитвою,
милостынею и благостраданием Богу угодил еси,
сего ради и Бог по убиении твоем прослави тя нетлением и чудесы,
Егоже, святе Андрее, моли сохранити отечество твое и всех людей,
благочестно тебе почитающих.

02 July 2017

The Placing of the Robe

O Pure One, full of the grace of God,
you have given your sacred robe as a garment of incorruption to all the faithful,
with it you covered your holy body, O divine protection of all mankind.
We celebrate its enshrinement in Blachernæ with love and we cry aloud with awe:
‘Rejoice, O Virgin, boast of Christians.’

29 June 2017

The dew is particularly luxuriant this morning

I’m currently reading the Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals 《春秋繁露》 partially authored by the great Confucian philosopher Dong Zhongshu (but in fact a compiled tradition beginning with him), in translation by Drs Sarah Queen and John Major. I’ve only worked through about three chapters so far, and am having some difficulty keeping straight the multiple layers of commentary that make up the work (the Spring and Autumn Annals 《春秋》 itself, supposedly written by Confucius; the Gongyang Commentary 《公羊傳》 on the Annals; and then the Luxuriant Dew 《繁露》 commentary on the Gongyang tradition, named after the first chapter of the book). Dong offers a reading of the Spring and Autumn Annals which attributes political-philosophical and moral meanings to what it includes in the record of the State of Lu, what it excludes, and how it refers to the actors involved. But I am finding it so far to be a rich, profound and insightful work of political philosophy.

The Spring and Autumn Annals itself is a work of history so laconic that it would easily meet the approval of the most parsimonious Spartan king. But the oral traditions which accompanied it, one of which was, according to Ban Gu’s Book of Han, transmitted from Confucius’ disciple Zixia to the Gongyang family, whose descendant Gongyang Shou committed this oral tradition to writing during the Han Dynasty, attributes great depth of meaning to the way in which Confucius described (or glossed, or concealed) events and people. The idea was that the history was a template for rectifying names: recording events as faithfully as circumstances and proper feeling would allow, but also approving or disapproving the way in which historical figures conducted themselves by attaching or refusing to attach titles to them. The Gongyang Commentary takes the form of a question-and-answer catechesis to each passage, pointing out and clarifying vague, unclear or perplexing points.

The Luxuriant Dew, then (at least in these first few chapters), takes the form of several similarly catechetical dialogues between Dong Zhongshu – or another authoritative master of the Gongyang Commentary – and his students, with them raising questions or objections about certain inconsistencies or moral quandaries raised by the Gongyang tradition. And he tackles some fairly concrete questions of statecraft, including those of war and peace.

Dong Zhongshu is by no means a consistent pacifist in the way Micius is, but he is certainly (particularly given his violent Western Han political context and particularly when compared against even other classicists and philosophers of the time) a ‘dove’ who treats war with a singular detestation, as he believes Confucius also does in the Spring and Autumn Annals.
Someone raising a question said, [The Spring and Autumn] records battles and attacks in great detail. Why, then, are there no expressions indicating that it despised such battles and attacks?

The answer is:
[When the Spring and Autumn records] meetings and assemblies,
    large states [are described as having] hosted small states;
  [when the Spring and Autumn records] battles and attacks,
    [states] mentioned later [are described as having] hosted the ones [mentioned] first.

If the Spring and Autumn did not despise warfare, why would it place the state that initiated the aggression in an inferior position? This was an expression indicating its hatred of warfare.
How great is the harm suffered by the people during warfare! Examine its intentions and observe its precepts, and you will discover that the Spring and Autumn despises those who rely on force rather than virtue and those who coerce and devastate the people, but it cherishes those who rely on humaneness and righteousness to win the submission of the people. An Ode declares:
“Spreading the virtue of his governance throughout the lands.”
This is what the
Spring and Autumn considers to be praiseworthy.
At the same time, in a way very similar to Orthodox social thought on the subject, even though he does not and will not grant that war can be righteous or just, he believes that there can be greater or lesser degrees of justice even within war, and that observing these degrees is very important:
In the case of prearranged battles, the Spring and Autumn praises the fact that [the two sides] arranged the battle in advance; it does not praise the battle. There is evidence that this is so. The Spring and Autumn loves the people, and warfare kills them. What pleasure does a noble man derive from killing what he loves? …

Compared with a deceitful assault, a prearranged battle is considered righteous. Compared with [the alternative of] not fighting, a prearranged battle is not righteous. Therefore no alliance is better than an alliance, and yet there are references to praiseworthy alliances. No battles are better than engaging in battle, and yet there are references to praiseworthy battles. Within an unrighteous act, righteousness may dwell. Within a righteous act, unrighteousness may dwell.
Indeed, the emphasis on degree, on proportion, on reasoning by analogy, recurs throughout the opening chapters of the Luxuriant Dew. In no other way, Dong believes, can the profundity of the Way truly be grasped:
Someone said: The Way of the Spring and Autumn is to observe what brings confusion to people and offer explanations to greatly enlighten them. Now Zhao Dun was a worthy, but he did not follow the principle [of punishing the assassin of his lord]. Everyone saw his goodness, but no one saw his crime. Thus because of his worthiness, the Spring and Autumn expressly associates him with this great evil and implicates him with strong criticism to cause people to think deeply and look into themselves, reflecting on the Way, so that they say, “Oh! The great duty of the ruler and minister and the Way of father and son indeed extend this far!”
But the reliance on analogical reasoning only gets one so far when looking at the Spring and Autumn. Whereas Socrates’ student Plato veiled the truth in its higher forms beneath shades of irony and by giving both sides of an argument brief flashing glimpses of that truth, Gongyang Shou’s student Dong Zhongshu takes a somewhat different approach, but with similar intent. There’s an apophatic subtlety to Dong Zhongshu’s commentary, that not only places as much emphasis on what is left out of the narrative as on what is stated explicitly, but even warns against taking what is left in the narrative too literally, or applying a legalistic mindset to its distinctions. The moral truths of the Spring and Autumn Annals are not something that can be approached merely by the consistent application of a hermeneutic, no matter how rational. Perhaps this is why Dong’s approach has been considered ‘mystical’.
An Ode declares:
“The flowers of the cherry tree, how they wave about!
    It is not that I do not think of you, but your home is far away.”
Confucius commented: “He did not really think of her. If he did, there would be no such thing as being far away.” From this, we see that you must observe [the
Spring and Autumn’s] guiding principles and not take its words too literally. When you do not take its words too literally, you will head toward the proper path.
There are two things, then, which stand firmly and implacably in the way of the Gongyang tradition of Confucian classicism being considered a form of ‘fundamentalism’ – a charge which has sadly lighted upon certain latter-day Gongyang scholars, with more or less encouragement from their critics. Firstly, the Gongyang Zhuan is an oral tradition. The reason the Gongyang Zhuan is considered a ‘New Text’ is precisely because it was transmitted orally by catechesis from Zixia down to Gongyang Shou. There is no written ‘text’, no ‘original’, to be given divine sanction and infallibility: indeed, this was precisely the critique of Gongyang studies by the ‘Old Text’ followers of the Zuo Zhuan. Secondly, there is this apophatic tendency, this moral imagination, at work within the tradition itself, warning followers precisely against the attribution of infallibility to either the Spring and Autumn or to the Gongyang commentary. I’ve noted before that Jiang Qing, implacable though he may seem wherever his nemesis of Rawlsian liberalism rears its head, also adheres to this kind of apophasis about his own project.

Still looking forward to sinking my teeth further into this great foundational text, begun by one of Confucianism’s greatest advocates and a firm ‘social justice’ philosopher. The spring and autumn dew is sure to reveal many more of its luxuriances.

28 June 2017

Ah, the refreshing taste of melting Alpine snowflakes

Honestly, I thought the ‘social justice warriors’ would be the first to respond in umbrage to my last piece, but no, it looks like the libertarians are even thinner-skinned. I got a mini-essay in response to it, posted on Facebook (just the venue for the sort of thing, you know) from a certain Herr-Professor-Doktor affiliated with the Acton Institute, with a great deal of harrumphing and dusting of the scholarly weeds, as is the normal case when a man with such high academic position who is very firmly attached to a pet theory is thrown into a snit. I shall fisk the thing with all due prejudice.
the author suffers from a lack of understanding on a number of levels, particularly about both Mises and Hayek, and would have benefited no end just reading some things from them,
Oh dear. It turns out I actually have directly read Mises’ Praxeology (from which I post some relevant quotes here), which happens to be precisely the concept and the conceit which I was linking to the social constructivism of Berger through the work of Schütz on Weberian sociology. As for Hayek…
particularly Hayek’s The Counter Revolution of Science whose first part is a dense trouncing of social-science, and the second an excellent historical essay on the roots of the social sciences in the materialist determinism of such as Diderot and Baron d’Holbach, up through Condorcet. Hayek (as well as Mises) were both violently opposed to social constructionism
Ah yes, the second most-favoured ivory-tower tactic of name-dropping voluminously to intimidate the critic with a miasma of pseudo-citations and blather. Unfortunately I am not fazed.

Getting to the heart of the matter: believe it or not, I am indeed familiar with the thesis of The Counter Revolution of Science. And on a surface level, it would appear that Hayek is attacking ‘constructivism’. But the idea which Hayek labels ‘constructionist rationalism’ is, in fact, more commonly referred to as the much-earlier Enlightenment tradition of positivism: the idea that social truths and orders can be deliberately built up through the correct application of scientific thinking. To a certain extent, as a fellow critic of the Enlightenment, I do actually agree with Hayek’s assessment of positivism – to a point. But here, the allusion is a blatant red herring. Note that when modern-day regressive-leftists attack biological gender as a ‘social construct’, they are very much not granting it a basis in scientific rationalism. Clearly the latter form of ‘social constructivism’ is not what Hayek is criticising. And when the modern-day ‘social justice warriors’ attack not only the ‘social sciences’ but also the ‘hard sciences’, they are using logic which looks and smells distinctly Hayekian: these ‘social constructs’ of brute biological fact are oppressive. They are totalitarian. They allow government to control us. They turn us into serfs.

Coincidence? Perhaps. I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I do not trust coincidences.
seeing it as one of Marx’s chief fallacies, and this comes out in CRoS, as it centers on Henri Saint-Simon and his secretary, August Comte and their quest for a new society and a new “man,” via “social science.”
That’s exactly right, Doktor Jenkins, but it does not prove your point. Believe it or not, I did take an undergraduate philosophy-of-science class. Comte Henri de Saint-Simon was indeed one of the great pioneers of the aforementioned scientific positivism. Though indeed a figure of the Enlightenment (and thus to be treated with some suspicion), Saint-Simon was not a constructivist in the sense that the term has been used in sociology for the past fifty years, or in the sense that modern regressive leftists are using it now. No, this particular postmodernist madness has a far more proximate source, Doktor, and you’re ignoring it.
Hayek does make the tenuous assertion that Marx drew more heavily from Saint-Simon than from Hegel or Feuerbach. We generally think of Hayek in connection to his theory of prices or his Constitution of Liberty, but this is far and away I think his most important book.
Fair enough. It’s not doing the legwork you want it to here, though.
I would also recommend Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium. Gottfried was Marcuse’s student at Columbia and at a number of places besides the above monograph traces the origins of “cultural Marxism.” (Gottfried realizes the difficulty of the phrase, coined, ironically, by German Marxists in the 1930s as disdain for the members of the Institut für Sozialforschung at Goethe Universitat in Frankfurt. The orthodox Marxists took those at Frankfurt as nothing by ashamed Bourgeois who hated bourgeois institutions, but cared little for economics, though this isn’t wholly true). Since the agenda of Horkheimer et al., was writ large before Mises ever emerged on the scene, the author might want to rethink matters.
Au contraire, Herr-Professor-Doktor. Such an assertion merely adds to my suspicion of the ultimate irrelevance of the Frankfurters to our present plight, and of their impotence to address it. Horkheimer himself was too much a neo-Kantian with an exaggerated belief in the power of objective discursive reasoning to confront and dissuade irrational social behaviours such as those associated with totalitarian government and religion. If anything, the teleology of his thought would be located among those of the nouveau atheist clique who still believe that our problems are the result of not thinking clearly enough with the scientific method. Bourgeois indeed, but not reg-left.
Another book is Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.
Ah, Scruton. Yes, I am familiar with his work. And no, for similar reasons, I do not find its poor aim altogether convincing, nor do I find this particular book the best representation of Scruton’s thinking (as he has seemingly gotten crankier and lazier in his old age). I am not the only idiosyncratic conservative to think so, either.
Both Scruton and Gottfried have baggage, but the coincidence of Marx and Hegel's notions of antithesis and alienation, and the direct path to the place of alterity in modern cultural commentary that they trace (and which I think true, as does Tristram Engelhardt)
  1. More pointless namedropping.
  2. Huh? Hegelian-Marxist dialectic and analysis of social alienation are precisely what the regressive left are not doing, as I thought was clear by now. ‘Gender is a social construct’, therefore gender does not exist as an objective biological reality, is not dialectical in the slightest. It’s a bad-faith monological assertion of the individual against reality and against any possible social synthesis outside of total conquest (or total denial).
  3. Just because you think something, doesn’t make it so, Herr-Professor-Doktor. You and Tristram Engelhardt can think that what kids these days are doing is unreconstructed Marxism (or that you identify as unicorns) all you like; it still doesn’t make it true.
leaves this essay as nothing but a kind of guilt by association smash-up: Berger used a suspect term (and how he was using it isn't made clear) and he had an indirectly indirect connection with Mises, ergo, cultural marxism (whatever it is) is a child of Austrian economics. That wouldn't pass any class I taught.

OH NOES! A failing grade in a class I never took and never intended to take? The horror, the horror! I guess I’d better rethink my entire life and turn in all my degrees, diplomas and tassels now, bowing before the superior wisdom of the great Herr-Professor-Doktor!

Well, consider that raspberry blown. Suffice it to say I’m not impressed with such an academic ad baculum, particularly coming from someone who gives a response this convoluted, this utterly insubstantial and this utterly disconnected from the actual history of ideas that feeds into postmodern expressions of social hysteria. As I think it’s been pointed out before, there is far more of Derrida, Husserl and Heidegger at work in modern sociology classrooms than there is Marx, who is uniformly seen as stodgy and out-of-date. Again, I can attest to this first-hand.

And the very fact that the postmodern deconstruction concept was present in the work of Schütz when he presented his paper on the Aufbau of Weberian sociology, and that he was motivated to seek clarification on unifying history with sociology there of all places by the direct influence of von Mises, should raise our suspicions about the role of the Austrian School in the rise of postmodernism in the humanities – not just œconomics. That isn’t simply a guilt-by-association argument: the parallels are simply too strong. The Austrian methodological conceit that human œconomic behaviour is completely subjective and that its laws can be determined in a state of individual isolation, dovetails far too neatly with the parallel gender-ideological assertion that human sexual behaviour is also completely subjective and that sexual preference and presentation can be determined in a state of individual isolation. Austrian œconomics doesn’t only dissolve institutional analysis; it also dissolves any sort of empirical basis for understanding œconomy, just as gender ideology dissolves any sort of empirical basis for understanding sex.

Even if, as this good Herr-Professor-Doktor would have us believe, this amounts entirely to a string of coincidences and innocent associations devoid of any insidious meaning, the entire Austrian approach to œconomy deserves to be subject to the same scrutiny and scepticism, for the same reasons, as all other forms of Derrida- and Heidegger-derived deconstruction.