Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joseph Wood Krutch on Leo Strauss

The following is excerpted from page 173 of Joseph Wood Krutch's book Human Nature and the Human Condition  (1959):

            Professor Leo Strauss, a present-day defender of the now usually discredited concept of natural right, has recently pointed out that the collapse of the eighteenth-century argument based upon "general Consent" does not logically invalidate the concept itself:

     "'Consent of all mankind,'" he writes, " is by no means a necessary condition of the existence of natural right.  Some of the greatest natural right teachers have argued that, precisely if natural right is rational, its discovery presupposes the cultivation of reason, and therefore natural right will not be known universally:  one ought not even expect any real knowledge of natural right among savages. "

     This defense is applicable, not only to the concept of natural right, but equally to all the other phases of the more general concept of the natural as some sort of reality.  But it is not likely to be very effective with most contemporary relativists because it assumes that reason, as distinct from rationalization, is possible and because it rules out as irrelevant the opinions and practices of the savage, the uncultivated, and the stupid upon which the relativists lean so heavily in drawing their conclusions concerning what is "natural" and "normal"!

Leo Strauss came back into wide attention when the neoconservatives became the ideologues of the administration of President George W. Bush.  Then Strauss was widely attacked as a defender of elitism; i.e., the theory that all societies by default, if not by purpose, are ruled by an elite. Of course, Strauss did not simply describe what he believed to be a reality, but was its defender.  It is interesting that Krutch, usually considered to be a representative of liberalism of the ordinary garden variety drew upon the work of Leo Strauss, if only in this passing comment. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Jonah

[ Originally written and posted on December 25, 2011 ]

It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into darkness and rising again to the light.

There is another axis within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish. According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to Spain.

The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height. Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Ending of "Gorgias"

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on  June 22, 2008 ]

In Plato's dialogue "Gorgias," Socrates inquires of the Sophist Gorgias as to the meaning of rhetoric.  This, however, is but one of at least two topics in the dialogue.  Very quickly the focus of inquiry shifts, when Callicles comes on the scene.  Callicles defends the tyrant and usurper Archelaus.   For Callicles, right is might.  The long winding argument of Socrates leads in an opposite direction.  Socrates argues that men are good by nature, but do evil through a lack of knowledge of the good.   Those who really know the good will not do evil because the attractions of evil will not possess their souls.  (This is a somewhat cursory synopsis of his argument.  I am the first to admit that I may not be presenting it adequately.)

What I find most compelling in "Gorgias" is the end.   First, Socrates relates what he calls a myth regarding what happens to our souls after our death, the myth of the Blessed Isles, the abode of the good, and of Tartarus, the prison of the damned.  All men upon their deaths are judged and sent to one place or the other.  In the last paragraph of the "Gorgias," Socrates urges us not to return evil for evil.   Even if we suffer evil, our good will live within us.   His words suggest something of the Sermon on the Mount, although he lived more than three centuries before the time of Christ.   The following, taken from Benjamin Jowett's translation, is the last paragraph of "Gorgias":    

    " Follow me then, and I will lead you where you will be happy in life and after death, as the argument shows. And never mind if some one despises you as a fool, and insults you, if he has a mind; let him strike you, by Zeus, and do you be of good cheer, and do not mind the insulting blow, for you will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man. When we have practised virtue together, we will apply ourselves to politics, if that seems desirable, or we will advise about whatever else may seem good to us, for we shall be better able to judge then. In our present condition we ought not to give ourselves airs, for even on the most important subjects we are always changing our minds; so utterly stupid are we! Let us, then, take the argument as our guide, which has revealed to us that the best way of life is to practise justice and every virtue in life and death. This way let us go; and in this exhort all men to follow, not in the way to which you trust and in which you exhort me to follow you; for that way, Callicles, is nothing worth. "


Friday, November 23, 2012

A Question About Origins from H. G. Wells

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 16, 2008 ]

A battered, old, two-volume set of H. G. Wells's The Outline of History (1920, and subsequent editions up to 1949) is among one of the few books which I still own from more than 50 years ago.   Back then is when I read The Outline of History, and I am just beginning now to read portions of it for a second time.   Wells is today condemned by those on the right because he was a Fabian socialist (which was something quite other than being a Marxist) and condemned by those on the left because he favored eugenics and recognized inherent racial differences.   He remains, despite these foes, in my opinion, the Voltaire of the 20th century.   He was, though not infallible, a clear thinker as well as a freethinker.  Consider, for example, the following question which he raises at the beginning of The Outline of History:

    "  The idea that life appeared on the earth as a natural and necessary chemical and physical process, without the intervention of any miraculous factor, seems to be very repugnant to many religious minds.   But that repugnance is due, perhaps, rather to a confusion of thought in these minds than to any essential irreligiosity in the conception itself.   They think of 'life' as being in a way already 'soul,' they ascribe all sorts of moral qualities to it; they side with it against 'dead matter.'   But it is difficult to see why a slug or a toadstool, a louse or a cancerous parasite growth upon the bark of a tree, should be treated as though it and the processes of its existence were in some mysterious way 'higher' than, for example, the beautifully marshalled elements in a crystalline group, or in a gem, or in a slab of patterned marble, or the lovely patternings of rippled water in the sunlight, or the undulations of wind-blown sand.   Why should the maker of the universe take sides between the almost inanimate and the altogether inanimate?  "

Similarly, here in the Bible Belt, one often hears the objection that Darwin taught that we are descended from the apes.   The fact is that Darwin maintained only that apes and humans have a common ancestor.   Far from being ancestors of humans, the apes might be considered to be a regression from that common ancestor.   At best, apes might be in a kind of evolutionary cul de sac, but one might suspect that such is also the situation of humans.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Anticipations by H. G. Wells Back in Print

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on September 1, 2008 ]
Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, a book by H. G. Wells which was first published in 1901, has been reprinted by Dover Publications with an introduction by Martin Gardner.   Anticipations is an attempt to predict major developments, both sociological and technical, to come in the 20th century. 

In some areas, Wells seems to be overly cautious, writing that "long before the year A.D. 2000, and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound.   Directly that is accomplished the new invention will be most assuredly applied to war."  He foresaw little future for use of the submarine in warfare or otherwise.

Also, Wells did not foresee the computer.  He does, however, predict that there will be a device in most homes which will enable people to receive updated news every hour:  "One will subscribe to a news-agency which will wire all the stuff one cares to have . . . . into a phonographic recorder perhaps, in some convenient corner.  There the thing will be in every house, beside the barometer, to hear or ignore."

Wells also foresees what James Burnham, writing in 1940, calls "the managerial revolution," though he does not use that term.   He believes that the educated people -- scientists, engineers, doctors -- will rise to become the new ruling class.  Again, this has not come to pass, at least not in the USA, a nation still largely run by lawyers and financiers.  It will become apparent, one day, he writes, "that the whole apparatus of power in the country is in the hands of a new class of intelligent and scientifically-educated men."  If it has become so apparent, the implications of that fact have not become apparent to much of anyone.

H. G. Wells was a socialist, but he was a Fabian socialist, not a Marxist.  As such, he believed that the new discoveries of science should be incorporated into the understanding of humanity.  He stresses the significance of Malthus's population studies and Darwin's theory of evolution.   He explicitly rejects the Marxist dogma according to which all individuals and groups of people will become equal in their intellectual abilities once they are all subjected to a uniform environment.    Wells also supports eugenics, a stance for which Gardner upbraids him in his introduction. 

One must wonder what Wells would say about China today.  China is approaching being a state in which the apparatus of power is in the hands of scientifically educated men.   The evidence is just not there that China is about to become simply one more capitalist-dominated state.  China, moreover, now has a eugenics program established by its government.

Wells believed that a world state would emerge sometime after 2000.   It seems more likely, however, that for many more decades the world will be dominated by great powers. My surmise is that those great powers will include Germany, Russia, China, and Japan.   The survival of the USA, at least as one nation, is in doubt. 

Wells, of course, offers no such predictions.   He believes that the USA and Britain will draw more closely together, but does not predict a merger of the two countries. While it is true that the USA and Britain were allies in two world wars, both nations seem to have been drifting apart for at least sixty years.   Of all the foreign nations of the world, the USA now seems to be most closely linked to Israel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe on America’s Name

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on November 9, 2008 ]

Among the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the "Marginalia" are all but forgotten.   These straightforward non-fiction prose pieces present Poe's thoughts on various books that he has read.   The "Marginalia" are much more readable than the sketches in his "Literati," mostly commentary on contemporary authors long ago forgotten.   Not infrequently, the "Marginalia" address questions that are still unanswered today. 

One of the latter is what should be the name of the United States of America.   While the United States of Mexico refers to Mexico, and the United States of Brazil to Brazil, does it make sense to say that the United States of America refers to America?  Poe points out that "America" refers to the entirety of the Western Hemisphere.   It lacks specificity, although most of us sensed that we knew to what Sarah Palin referred when she expressed her delight in visiting the "pro-America" areas of the USA.  For Palin, "America" is something much less in its extent than the USA, a kind of counter-expression to "America" as an entire hemisphere.

What is fascinating today is Poe's election of Appalachia as a name for the USA.   Appalachia has accrued all sorts of negative connotations since Poe wrote more than 160 years ago.   Today it is the region of the USA which proved to be most opposed to the election of Barack Obama.  It is also the one region which is ridiculed in the mass media.   Does anyone still recall the name of the young woman who was blamed for the irregularities which occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in USA-occupied Iraq?   She was characterized as a trailer-dweller from Appalachia. 

The following is Poe's argument for Appalachia as the true name of the USA:

    It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about "Appalachia." In the first place, it is distinctive. "America"* is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right--but to us it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is "America," and will insist upon remaining so. In the second place, "Appalachia" is indigenous, springing from one of the most magnificent and distinctive features of the country itself. Thirdly, in employing this word we do honor to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonored. Fourthly, the name is the suggestion of, perhaps, the most deservedly eminent among all the pioneers of American literature. It is but just that Mr. Irving should name the land for which, in letters, he first established a name. The last, and by far the most truly important consideration of all, however, is the music of"Appalachia" itself; nothing could be more sonorous, more liquid, or of fuller volume, while its length is just sufficient for dignity. How the guttural "Alleghania" could ever have been preferred for a moment is difficult to conceive. I yet hope to find "Appalachia" assumed.

    * Mr. Field, in a meeting of "The New York Historical Society," proposed that we take the name of "America," and bestow "Columbia" upon the continent.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Stupid Question About Machiavelli

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on September 14, 2008 ]

The current issue (Sept. 15, 2008) of The New Yorker has an interesting review of a new translation of the major works of Machiavelli.   The reviewer presents salient biographical facts about the notorious political theorist and also points to the significant differences among translations, especially the often-quoted chapter 17 of Machiavelli's best-known work The Prince.

Reading this chapter again and comparing translations forces one to think again about what Machiavelli really advocated as an answer to the question of whether a prince should seek to be feared or to be loved.   The prince, Machiavelli advises, should seek to be feared if only because of the deficiencies of human nature.   People being what they are, they will not appreciate a ruler who has the reputation of being easygoing and permissive (to employ contemporary terms not appearing in any of the three translations at hand).

The reviewer closes The New Yorker article by indicating the wide range of reactions to Machiavelli.  Not everyone saw in him a villain.   The reviewer cites Leo Strauss as a defender of Machiavelli.  I must doubt this, after having read Strauss's Thoughts on Machiavelli.   In that work, Strauss argues effectively that it was Machiavelli  who overthrew the tradition of classical political philosophy, that he was the founder of evil modernism in political thought.

Of all the books that have been written on Machiavelli,  one well worth reading again is James Burnham's The Machiavellians:  Defenders of  Freedom, especially in its original edition of 1943.  There,  Burnham demonstrates that Machiavelli was the founder of a scientific approach to the study of political phenomena.  The idealist Dante, on the contrary, is derided by Burnham as a scheming hypocrite.

Burnham maintains that Machiavelli and the theorists of elitism who followed him, such as Pareto, Mosca, and Michels, are defenders of  freedom because they warn one and all against the evil lurking within even those princes who may claim to be benign idealists.

I find Burnham's reading of Machiavelli to be convincing because it provides the best answer to another of his stupid questions; i.e. for what readership was Machiavelli's The Prince intended?   Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Medici, a prince, of course, and expected that other princes would read it.  It was, however, published as a book in the language of the common folk, Italian, not Latin.  Certainly, it was intended by Machiavelli to have a readership far beyond the ranks of princes.  Assuming a print run of only a thousand copies, the book would obviously circulate far beyond the ranks of all the princes of Italy.   Had he intended a more cosmopolitan readership, Machiavelli would have written in Latin,  a language known to all the educated people of Europe.  Obviously, the book would come into the hands of a goodly number of common folk, a fact that Machiavelli must have realized.   Was Machiavelli, in fact, writing a warning against the tyranny of princes, as Burnham maintains?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some Thoughts on Lovecraft

 [ Originally written and posted on MySpace on November 7, 2008 ] 

As best I can recall,  I first heard of H. P. Lovecraft back in 1956 when a friend recommended to me a reading of his tale of horror "The Rats in the Walls."   He believed that Lovecraft was better than Poe, whom we had read a year before.  At the time, I sensed that he meant that Lovecraft was more horrifying than Poe, perhaps the reason that I delayed reading Lovecraft until 1962.   Even as early as 1956, I had the sense that some authors had more literary merit than others and somehow sensed that Lovecraft did not have greater merit than Poe.

In 1962 I was favorably impressed by the presentation of Lovecraft in the introductory pages to Colin Wilson's The Strength to Dream:  Literature and the Imagination, which had been published that year.   Wilson revealed an entirely different side of Lovecraft, portraying him as a combatant against facile and superficial rationalism.   Lovecraft, moreover, was, according to Wilson's account of him, among those who later would be deemed "politically incorrect."   Lovecraft belonged to the right end of the political spectrum,  a position he occupied for reasons quite other than veneration of the so-called free market economy.

I immediately began reading Lovecraft beginning with the tales in the collection which August Derleth edited entitled The Outsider and continuing with the little black books published by Derleth's Arkham House press in Sauk City, Wisconsin.   I eagerly awaited each new title and found of greatest interest the volumes of Lovecraft's selected letters which Derleth began to publish.   Lovecraft was slowly gaining attention outside the ranks of the enthusiasts for fantasy and science fiction.  Even then, however, his recognition seemed to be belated and lacking much significance.

Now, however, Lovecraft has arrived, perhaps assisted by the favorable reaction to his work by Jorge Luis Borges.   Today, S. T. Joshi has edited a series of five volumes of the essays of Lovecraft.  There are more volumes of his letters.   Barnes & Noble has recently published a weighty volume of his tales.  More significantly, Lovecraft's Tales now constitute a volume in the Library of America series.  Even specialized volumes of his letters have begun to appear.  In 2007, the University of Tampa Press published O Fortunate Floridian:   The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow

The late Samuel T. Francis, who was the most significant paleoconservative writer in the USA, is said to have left in manuscript some noteworthy essays on Lovecraft.   I can only hope that they will one day be published.   Francis appreciated Lovecraft both as a creative writer and as a combatant against what is today known as "political correctness."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Some Thoughts Occasioned by Zechariah 14:21

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 22, 2008 )

The final clause of Zechariah 14:21 has had various translations.   Thus, according to the King James Version, it is "And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts."  According to the New Revised Standard Version, it is "And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day."  Martin Luther's translation agrees with this in translating Canaanites as "traders" or "merchants":   "Und es wird keinen Haendler mehr geben im Hause des Herrn zu der Zeit."

William Smith in his classic A Dictionary of the Bible notes that "The Canaanites were probably given to commerce; and thus the name became probably in later times an occasional synonym for a merchant."

Carroll Quigley in his The Evolution of Civilizations:  An Introduction to Historical Analysis (1961), a book highly praised by Bill Clinton, has some thought-provoking observations  regarding the Canaanite civilization.  He asserts that "The Canaanite instrument of expansion seems to have been commercial capitalism.  Thus it is similar to the instrument of expansion that gave our Western civilization its second age of expansion in 1440-1690."  (This is on page 240 of the 1979, Liberty Press edition.  The pages following expand on this observation.)

Quigley, then, avers that capitalism began with the Canaanites.  Karl Marx believed that capitalist societies, bourgeois civilization, began only much later, in the period of 1440 to 1690, but Quigley argues that Canaanite civilization was formed by commercial capitalism, indeed, stagnated as such.   Thus, Quigley is another dissenter from Max Weber's theory that capitalism began with the Protestant ethic.  His view is closer to that of Werner Sombart, who finds capitalism's origin in Jewry.   Did Jewry absorb the capitalist method from the Canaanites?      



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weird Account of Early Christianity; Professor X in the Basement of the Ivory Tower

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  June 14, 2008 )

Weird Account of Early Christianity

Most of the books in my home library I have obtained by not paying the full price for them.  They were given to me as review copies, copies bought at a used bookstore, or remaindered books.   Often, a hardback book is remaindered when the paperback edition is published.   Other books are remaindered because they are slightly damaged.   I was leafing through one of my remaindered books yesterday, Robert Wolfe's  Remember to Dream: A History of Jewish Radicalism, and came across this strange account of the origin of Christianity:

    "Like all the other Middle Eastern peoples, the Judeans were eventually subjected to Roman rule.   The Romans treated all their subjects harshly, but they were particularly cruel and vindictive in their relations with the Judeans because they associated Hebrew law with slave revolts.   The Romans relied heavily on slave labor and imported literally millions of slaves into Italy to work in the fields and mines.   They were aware that Hebrew law was basically hostile to the institution of slavery, and therefore sought to suppress all manifestations of Hebrew culture in Judah.   When the Judeans rebelled against these policies, the Romans put down the uprising in a genocidal manner, killing over 1 million Judeans in the First Jewish War alone, which ended in 73 CE.   This unprecedented act of mass murder gave rise to a widespread movement of sympathy with the martyred Judeans.   Within the Roman empire itself, this movement assumed the form of a strange, cannibalistic cult of a martyred Jew, whose flesh and blood was eaten in effigy by the contrite but still bloodthirsty Romans.   This same movement of sympathy expressed itself in a more positive way outside the Roman world in the form of a number of new kingdoms which sought to pattern themselves after the laws and culture of Judah.  Kingdoms of this type were established in Ethiopia, Yemen and the coast of North Africa during the period from the 3rd to the 7th centuries CE.   These kingdoms called themselves Jewish and many of their subjects called themselves Jews.   In Ethiopia they spoke Ge'ez, in Yemen Arabic and in North Africa Berber" (pp. 326-7).

Wolfe's book was published in 1994 at New York City by the Jewish Radical Education Project.   During the 1960s, the Students for a Democratic Society set up a number of urban-based "radical education projects."   Wolfe's book comes out of this tradition.   It makes interesting reading because it reveals that Communism and Marxism both in Russia and in the United States have been virtually created and sustained by the Jews.   This is an assertion sustained by the research of almost innumerable other Jewish authors.  However, Wolfe's interpretation of Christianity as an early Jewish movement of protest against the Roman genocide of the Jews is rather remarkable.   Supposedly, if one accepts this theory, this means that Christianity, when it developed into a European-based faith, had somehow "forgotten" this aspect of its origins.   This theory is even more fantastic than Sigmund Freud's account in  Moses and Monotheism   which represents Moses as having been a renegade Egyptian.     

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on May 22, 2008 )

"In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," by Professor X

The June 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly has a revealing article about a two-sided collapse of standards in large areas of higher education.   The author is identified only as Professor X, self-described as teaching as an adjunct at a private college and a community college somewhere in the northeastern USA.  Adjuncts, part-time instructional appointees who usually work on a semester-by-semester basis and who also usually lack all benefits and earn very low pay, have become the industrial reserve army for postsecondary education.   The number of students taught by adjuncts steadily grows.

Professor X teaches English composition.  He dwells on the difficulty in working with students of this subject.  Objective tests are not involved.  Moreover, there is the problem of showing students with abysmal writing (and thinking) skills what their shortcomings are.  As if that were not daunting enough, Professor X has come to the firm conviction that American higher education with its mania for ever-growing enrollments of students, capable or not, is debasing itself and deceiving the hapless students who hope to acquire skills that will be forever denied to them because of their own lack of inherent ability.

I see this sad situation as an outcome of two seemingly contrary forces:  (1) the unrealistic egalitarianism of academic people in the humanities and the social sciences and  (2) the  capitulation of college administrators to the Chamber of Commerce's expectation that more is always tantamount to better.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A READ Poster From Hell

  ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 3, 2008 )


The following is excerpted from a review, which appears in the December 1, 2008, issue of The New Yorker,  of Timothy Ryback's new book Hitler's Private Library:

    " Hitler was a voracious reader, finishing a book every night, either at his desk or in his armchair, always with a cup of tea in his hand.  His library at one time contained more than sixteen thousand books, of which some twelve hundred survive in various archives. . . . "

Suddenly an image of an American Library Association READ poster from Hell flashed across my mind.  The A.L.A. posters always feature some politically correct celebrity.  Hitler would be a celebrity, of course, but the antipodes to everything that is politically correct. 

On second thought, however, he would not be totally 180 degrees away from political correctness.  In some history of the Third Reich, I recall reading of the expression "politically right-thinking," which was applied to those who supported the Nazi regime.  Also, not so incidentally, the Nazi regime was formally the National Socialist government.  National Socialists never called themselves Nazis.  Though they were anti-Marxists, they always insisted that they were socialists.   Hitler was as much a man of the left as of the right.

But all this is beside the real point, which is how the image of Hitler as a reader clashes with the easy assumptions of the kind of facile liberalism which prevails among librarians.   They "know" that politically right-wing people never read.  What will they make of this revelation that Hitler, who in their minds epitomizes the right wing, was a voracious reader?

I have the greatest problem with envisioning Hitler the German sitting there reading a book with a cup of tea in his hand.   A typical German would be swilling down a mug of  Bier.   One finds it difficult to visualize a German man drinking a cup of tea.   Originally from Ohio, one of the most German American of the states, I do not in fact remember seeing a single German American neighbor drinking a cup of tea, the quintessentially English drink.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not a Mormon, But . . . .

  • Not a Mormon, But . . . .
    I am not now nor have I ever been a Mormon, but I do think it is unfortunate that so many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians attack Mitt Romney by saying that he is not a Christian because he is a Mormon. Although I do not defend the Book of Mormon, it is not inconceivable that there could be other gospels of Christ. Indeed, many gospels were written which go back almost to the time of Christ, but they have not been accepted as canonical. The gospel according to Thomas is probably the best known of these and was recently reprinted in a popular edition.

    The very last verse of the gospel according to John is as follows:

    " And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. "

    John 21:25, to give chapter and verse to this quotation, also reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges's famous surmise that " I have always imagined that Heaven will be a kind of library. "

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

More on Resurrection versus Soul Survival

( Originally written and posted on on June 2, 2008 )

The following two paragraphs quoted from Samuel H. Hooke's book  The Siege Perilous:  Essays in Biblical Anthropology and Kindred Subjects (1956) neatly sum up the difference between Semitic and Ancient Greek concepts of human survival:
    "The form in which the Church received and has continued to hold the belief in resurrection was, and has remained, Jewish.   The late Professor H. Wheeler Robinson has well remarked in this connexion: 'It is a life on earth, however new its conditions, and it is a resurrection-life, involving the restoration of the dead body.   This form of belief is seen to have been inevitable, once we have grasped the Hebrew idea of personality; a resurrection of the body was the only form of triumph over death which Hebrew psychology could conceive for those actually dead.   Even St. Paul shrinks from the thought of  'bodiless existence.' (Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, p. 101-2.)
    "The Greek doctrine of immortality, which finds its first Jewish expression in the Wisdom of Solomon, and which conceives of an immortality of the soul apart from the body, does not occur in the New Testament, nor in the Creeds.   Even the Alexandrian Fathers appear to assume the identity of the 'spiritual body' spoken of by St. Paul with the earthly body, without, however, explaining the nature of the identity.   The permanent value of this element of the Jewish heritage is, to say the least, open to question, and the Fourth Gospel seems to represent an attempt to reinterpret early Christian eschatology, and especially the Parousia expectation, in such a way as to remove some of its less desirable aspects" (pp.201-2).

The difference is striking.  In the case of the monotheistic or Abrahamic faiths, originating among the Semitic peoples, the human individual survives only when he is resurrected by the one god, Jehovah or Allah.  The Greeks, however, as well as all the other ancient Indo-Europeans (Celts, Teutons, Romans, etc.),  believed that the soul survives death because it is detached from the body at death.  This is what Socrates teaches according to Plato's account in the dialogue "Phaedo."  

There is a vast difference between the individual surviving only at the behest of a god and the individual surviving death because his soul, immortal and imperishable, survives the death of his body.  This also explains why the Semites favored burial of the body while the Indo-Europeans favored cremation.  Carroll Quigley notes this difference in his book The Evolution of Civilizations (1961).   We suspect that this difference has a political significance.  The belief of the Semites reflects Asiatic despotism, but the belief of the Indo-Europeans, the belief in soul survival without the intervention of a higher power, is the belief of a fundamentally free people.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Bishop of Durham Affirms Physical Resurrection

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 24, 2008 )

Among Web sites that feature the full text of various books,  one of the more interesting is offers a wide collection of theological tracts, mostly from the 19th century,  most of them on the afterlife.   The preface to one of these, John Kent's "Eternal Burning," which is a refutation of the concept of the eternity of suffering in Hell, contains this interesting summation of a fundamental difference in views of the afterlife:   " [A]lthough the intrinsical immortality of man was, even in Bible times, believed and thought by all other nations, the Jews, the people of God, did not believe in the immortality of man, except through the resurrection; and, also, that Christ and His Apostles taught and proved that upon the resurrection only, depended the future existence of those who had passed away."

In other words, the Indo-European peoples, the ancient Aryan Indians, the Greeks, the Celts, all believed that the soul survives death and develops on its own.   Typically, the belief is that the eternal soul will be embodied again in a future earthly life.   This view of the afterlife is totally opposed by that of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which teach that any future life is dependent upon resurrection by the deity. 

A freethinker may well see in this chasm between the Indo-European and the Semitic concepts an evidence of the difference in values of the two great groupings of peoples. The Semites, inured to despotism, beseech a higher being to give them an extension of life.   The Indo-Europeans believe that the soul survives in its own right, needing no deity or god to preserve it.  Most contemporary Christians have forgotten this great difference.   Indeed, it is likely that the primordial Indo-European concept now has primacy among Europeans and European Americans.  The belief in a physical resurrection as essential to human survival has been forgotten except when the creeds are uttered.

The British publication New Statesman, in its April 14, 2008, issue, reports an interview with the Reverend Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, the fourth-ranking among the bishops of the Church of England.   Reverend Wright has given a new emphasis to the resurrection.  Following are a couple of paragraphs from the New Statesman article:

    " The day will come, he says, when Christ will come to join the heavens and the earth in a new creation and the dead will rise. All those who think of heaven as the endpoint are wrong, especially if they're thinking about 'sitting on clouds playing harps'. According to him, heaven is less a location, more a state: a kind of first-class transit lounge whereby our physical bodies sleep while the 'real person' continues in the presence of Christ. What we will be waiting for is what he calls 'life after life after death': the Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, when we will be not only physically re-embodied but transformed, on a new version of this earth with plenty of room for everyone.
    " Wright argues that, over the centuries, the influence of Greek culture and philosophy, in particular the theory of Platonic dualism - that the body is imperfect and destined to decay, whereas the soul is superior and continues after death - led to the language of heaven being 'hijacked'. He mentions a cathedral near Rome where there are frescoes 'quite explicitly about resurrection, skeletons coming up from the earth, being clothed with flesh and becoming human again. Contrast that with the Sistine Chapel, where you have this great heaven and hell scene. It is sort of assumed that heaven is a disembodied state where immortal souls go to live, and then it becomes very difficult for the word resurrection to be anything other than a rather flowery metaphor for that state. But the whole point is that is what the Bible in the first three or four Christian centuries took for granted. We need to recapture that.' "

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Some Thoughts on Daniel, Isaiah

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 10, 2008 )

Darius, Daniel, Darwin

Probably more has been written about the Old Testament book of Daniel than about any other book of the Bible save the book of Revelation.   Both books employ imaginative symbolism to offer predictions of future events, not the least of which is the rise and fall of world-ruling empires.   The technicolor imagery of world-wide carnage is especially striking in the book of Revelation.

Everyone knows the story of how Daniel, the faithful Jew, was cast into the lions' den when he was falsely denounced to Darius the king by those who were envious of him.   Miraculously, Daniel is saved by an angel of the Lord.  Darius sees that the god of Daniel has indeed saved him and immediately orders Daniel to be released and to be made his right-hand man.   Darius also passes sentence on Daniel's false accusers:

"And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den." (Daniel 6:24)

At first, one sees in this yet one more evidence of what Karl Wittfogel called "Oriental despotism,"  the regime under which the entire extended family of the guilty is executed along with the guilty.   For some reason,  Bible commentaries never linger over this event,  never raise the question of why Daniel did not intercede to beg clemency on behalf of at least the children of his false accusers.  It was understood, in that day and place, that the men's children would seek vengeance against Daniel if they were allowed to live to adulthood. 

This practice of killing the wives and children of the defeated appears throughout the Old Testament.   Israel spares none of the children of Amalek.   All this might be explained as the practice of an age of barbarism, but that explanation is not complete.   From a Darwinian standpoint, it makes sense that the survivors seek to obliterate from humanity's gene pool all traces of the biological heritage of the defeated.   One thinks of the continuing failure to find any evidence of extensive cross-breeding between the Neanderthals and modern humans.   The Neanderthals just disappeared, for some reason.

( Originally written and posted on on July 26, 2008 )

Intriguing Images in Isaiah

Of all the books of the King James Version of the Bible, I have found some of the most striking images in the book of Isaiah.  These are places in the text where one is brought to a halt before the question of what is being written about.  For example, consider the images in Isaiah 1:8:  "And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."

Two homely similes are presented in parallel to a besieged city.  William Smith, in his Dictionary of the Bible, sheds some light on this, explaining that the lodge is "a rude temporary shelter erected in the open grounds where vines, cucumbers, gourds, etc. are grown, in which some lonely man or boy is set to watch, either to guard the plants from robbers or to scare away the foxes and jackals from the vines."

Another intriguing image appears in the second chapter as a series of references to caves and grottoes:

    2:10   Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, . . . .

    2:19    And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

    2:20    In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

    2:21    To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Verses 19 and 21 seem to refer to earthquakes.  Isaiah 29:6 explicitly refers to "earthquake" as a manifestation of the wrath of the Lord.   (Incidentally, Charles Wesley's famous sermon on earthquakes also saw in them the wrath of the Lord.  Voltaire's reaction to the great Lisbon earthquake was somewhat dissimilar.)

The habitation hewn out of rock reappears in Isaiah 22:16 as a series of questions:  "What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou has hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?"

If an earthquake is feared, why would one go into the clefts of the rocks, into the holes of the rocks, into the caves of the earth?   Would not that be the most dangerous place to which to retreat?


What Neoconservatives Are Reading

Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews. Princeton University Press, 2010. 272 pages. $24.95.

Although the author, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America, does not openly identify with neoconservatism, his book has received favorable reviews in the major journals of that persuasion. Since neoconservatism, the belief that capitalism can be saved even if all other cultural markers are erased, has become the prevalent ideology in national Republican circles, Capitalism and the Jews is a book that even paleoconservatives should read, at least in part. (This reviewer recommends, however, borrowing a library copy, not buying it.)

Capitalism and the Jews
, less comprehensive than the title suggests, is a collection of four essays, all but one of which of which are especially noteworthy. (The last essay, "The Economics of Nationalism and the Fate of the Jews in Twentieth-Century Europe," takes Ernest Gellner's concept of nationalism and uses it to supplement the work of Hannah Arendt.)

"The Long Shadow of Usury" explores the belief that while industry and farming are productive, commerce and finance are unproductive, even parasitic. This is tracked back to the medieval period, but found to be alive in all following epochs. In Muller's words, "The economic value of gathering and analyzing information went unrecognized, and not only by those who lived off the land or worked with their hands" (p. 116). This attitude was so ingrained as to find its way even into the early writings of Marx. (Muller mentions more than once that Marx was born into a family of Jews who converted to Christianity, but all of his biographers agree that he was fundamentally an atheist.)

"The Jewish Response to Capitalism" addresses the apparent paradox, noted by Milton Friedman, that Jews have been the foremost critics of capitalism despite their having been liberated and empowered by it. Muller disagrees, adducing evidence that the Jews, all the way back to David Ricardo, have been among the primary defenders of capitalism. Friedman himself was the most prominent of American academic defenders of capitalism, while Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises were its foremost publicists.

"Radical Anticapitalism" is the chapter which will be most interesting to paleoconservative readers. Muller goes into a detailed examination of the disproportionate representation of Jews in the Communist leadership in Eastern European countries. He notes "the inverted pyramid pattern" (p. 147) by which Jews were more represented in the higher and highest ranks of the various Communist parties.

Muller considers only Eastern Europe, not the United States, where half of active Marxist-Leninists have always been Jews. He also favors the theory that the Jews rushed into the ranks of Communism as a reaction to anti-Semitism. The fact should be taken into consideration that Jews were disproportionately represented in the radical left long before 1879, the year when Wilhelm Marr coined the term "anti-Semitism." This fact, however, does not justify the assumption that the overrepresentation was the result of a conspiracy.

The most reasonable explanation for the overrepresentation of Jews in the Marxist ranks is that these Jews had become convinced that capitalism was a system that would soon come to an end. Instead, capitalism finally triumphed even in Russia, where 6 of the 7 "oligarchs" who owned most of Russia's natural resources were themselves Jews.

Once again, fairly or not, Jews are identified in the mass mind with usury capitalism, an economic system that has been plunged into crisis. Muller offers no speculation on that topic, but he does note that Jews are most threatened by "integral nationalism," the type of country where national identity is sharply defined in ethnic and cultural terms. The U.S.A., which Jewish publicists have propagandized as "a nation of immigrants" (i.e., not a nation at all), has drifted far away from integral nationalism. That makes the U.S.A. a place that is good for the Jews, but will their luck hold if usury remains in crisis? The masses of working class gentiles may grow increasingly impatient with the endless chatter about capitalism versus socialism. Are they not losers under either system?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ray Bradbury on the Public Library

" I never went to college. I went to the library. " -- RAY BRADBURY, American science fiction author, interviewed by AARP Magazine.
The introduction to a recent edition of Bradbury's short stories published in the Everyman's Library series tells of his remarkable career. From grade school days he was writing stories. His aunt read to him from L. Frank Baum's series of Oz books when he was 7. She began to read to him the stories of Edgar Allan Poe when he was 8.

Bradbury's college was the Los Angeles Central Public Library. He began his process of self-education upon graduating from high school and completed his self-directed curriculum at the age of 28.
Obviously, few people can be successful as autodidacts the way that Bradbury was, but there is something of value in his example. Instructors are essential in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum, but in the areas of the humanities and the social sciences, one may be all the better off by being one's own instructor.
I don't mean to knock college. I went to college and never left. I am, however, skeptical about the proposition that more college graduates means more human capital. Return on that investment long ago began to go into decline. One must suspect that the general college degree has been pushed into a "bubble" status as overblown as that in which housing came to be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

H. G. Wells on Neaderthals, the Lure of Islands

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 28, 2008)

The Neanderthals We Once Knew

Liberalism's egalitarian dogma, the insistence that all of the various breeds of mankind must be equal in their potential, would seem to be sorely tried by the spectacle of the Neanderthal man.   First, there is the great problem of the Neanderthals' disappearance without evidence of their assimilation into the ranks of modern humanity.  Secondly, the reconstructions of Neanderthal seemed to suggest a species of human distinctly and definitely lacking in intellect as compared to modern humanity.  They left virtually no cultural artifacts while their contemporaries, the Cro-Magnon people, at least left behind them imaginative cave paintings.   Despite all of this, though, modern publicists of the prehistoric adamantly insist that Neanderthals were in all ways our equals.  (One must wonder who or what denied them an equal opportunity to survive?)

H. G. Wells's The Outline of History again exhibits his good Anglo-Saxon common sense when he comes to consider the question of the disappearance of Neanderthal man.  Recognizing that their successors' refusal to take the women of the defeated side and interbreed with them must be accounted for somehow, Wells surmises that:

    " We know nothing of the appearance of the Neanderthal man, but this absence of intermixture seems to suggest an extreme hairiness, an ugliness, or a repulsive strangeness in his appearance over and above his low forehead, his beetle brows, his ape neck, and his inferior stature.  Or he -- and she -- may have been too fierce to tame.  Says Sir Harry Johnston, in a survey of the rise of modern man in his Views and Reviews:  ' The dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, strong teeth, and possibly cannibalistic tendencies, may be the germ of the ogre in folklore. . . . '  "      

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 6, 2008 )

H. G. Wells on the Lure of Islands

The lure of islands appears again and again in literature.  One thinks of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, of Jackson's Island in Twain's Tom Sawyer, of Robinson Crusoe's island, of the island of which Sancho Panza becomes governor in Don Quixote, of the island of Utopia in Sir Thomas More's work of that name, of the wanderings of Ulysses from island to island.   Having first read H. G. Wells's The Outline of History almost 55 years ago,  I am now slowly reading it again.  Recently, I came across this passage which may explain the lure of islands:

    "  Very soon the seafaring men must have realized the peculiar freedom and opportunities the ship gave them.  They could get away to islands; no chief nor king could pursue a boat or ship with any certainty; every captain was a king.  The seamen would find it easy to make nests upon islands and in strong positions on the mainland.  There they could harbour, there they could carry on a certain agriculture and fishery; but their specialty and their main business was, of course, the expedition across the sea.  That was not usually a trading expedition; it was much more frequently a piratical raid.  From what we know of mankind, we are bound to conclude that the first sailors plundered when they could, and traded when they had to.  "

This quotation is taken from the chapter "Sea Peoples and Trading Peoples" and concerns the period around 2000 B.C.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Some Thoughts on Jonah

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 25, 2008 )

Some Thoughts on Jonah

It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into darkness and rising again to the light.

There is another axis within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish. According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to Spain.

The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height. Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

H. G. Wells Had Darwinian View of the Trojan War

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 7, 2008 )

H. G. Wells studied biology at the University of London and, later, consulted with Julian Huxley in writing his The Science of Life.   His appreciation of evolution theory is evident throughout his Outline of History, but especially in the following account which he gives of the origin of the Trojan War:

    "  The Illiad makes it clear that destruction came upon Troy because the Trojans stole Greek women.  Modern writers, with modern ideas in their heads, have tried to make out that the Greeks assailed Troy in order to secure a trade-route to Colchis or some such fine-spun commercial advantage.  If so, the authors of the Illiad hid the motives of their characters very skilfully.  It would be about as reasonable to say that the Homeric Greeks went to war with the Trojans in order to be well ahead with a station on the Berlin to Bagdad railway.  The Homeric Greeks were a healthy barbaric Aryan people, with very poor ideas about trade and 'trade-routes'; they went to war with the Trojans because they were thoroughly annoyed about this stealing of women.  It is fairly clear from the Minos legend and from the evidence of the Cnossos remains, that the Cretans kidnapped or stole youths and maidens to be slaves, bull-fighters, athletes, and perhaps sacrifices.  They traded fairly with the Egyptians, but it may be they did not realize the gathering strength of the Greek barbarians; they 'traded' violently with them, and so brought sword and flame upon themselves. "

If Wells had believed the economic explanation of the origin of the Trojan War to be a credible one, Wells would have adhered to it because he was a Fabian socialist.  Unlike the Marxist socialists, however, the Fabians were always ready to give full weight to humanity's biological nature.  Wells and other Fabians recognized the impact of heredity as well as of culture, and also supported eugenics and recognized differences among the major human subspecies or races.  In this, they were totally at odds with the anti-Western Marxists who have always believed that culture determines all and that the culture is simply a superstructure built over the economic substructure.  

This theory of the origin of the Trojan War is central to Jonathan Gottschall's The Rape of Troy:  Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer (Cambridge University Press, 2007), a pioneering work in the new field of Darwinian literary criticism.  Literary studies may well be revolutionized by the new Darwinian literary criticism, although one would expect the leftists in academic departments of English to be adamantly opposed to it.

Other researchers in Darwinian literary criticism, studying folk tales as well as the myths and legends of peoples all over the world, have concluded that the sense of human beauty, as a concept in literature and elsewhere, has a real basis in evolutionary biology.  Myths and legends of the world's peoples also indicate that romantic love is not just a product of the culture of Medieval Europe; that, it too, has an evolutionary-biological basis, is widespread throughout humanity at all times and places.  Their researches give added weight to the assertion that human values, leftists to the contrary, are not just a product of "the culture."  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

H. G. Wells Anticipated Asteroid Impact Theory of Dinosaur Extinction

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on October 8, 2008 )

In 1980, Walter Alvarez, a geologist at the University of California, Berkeley, advanced the theory that the dinosaurs went into extinction 65 million years ago when the earth was struck by an asteroid, which caused a catastrophic change in the earth's climate.

In his book The Outline of History, first published in 1920,  H. G. Wells anticipated the same theory.  Dismissing the theory that the dinosaurs went into extinction because they lost in competition with the mammals, Wells concluded that the extinction of the dinosaurs had to be the result of a catastrophic event which radically changed the earth's climate.  In his words:

    " The Reptiles perished for the most part, . . . . But no one has ever been able to suggest a force that could suddenly twist our spinning world in that fashion.  We do not know what jars and jolts the solar system may have suffered in the past.  We are left guessing.  Some huge dark projectile from outer space may have come hurtling through the planets and deflected or even struck our world and turned the whole course of evolution into a new direction.   Little projectiles of that sort are always striking us.  They come flying into our atmosphere and catch fire with the heat of their rush through the air and burn -- the shooting stars.  Most of these meteors are burnt to nothing before they reach the ground, but many have reached and continue to reach the earth.  Some in our museums are several yards in diameter.   Perhaps once one was big enough to produce a change such as we have supposed.   But this is a lapse into pure speculation. "

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ouspensky on Nietzsche

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 13, 2008 )

Of all the occult and New Age materials which I have read (by authors such as H. P. Blavatsky, Fabre d'Olivet, Ignatius Donnelly, Edgar Cayce, Rudolf Steiner, Sylvia Browne, Courtney Brown), the most impressive work for me, by far, has been P. D. Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe.   Dover Publications has recently republished an English translation of this work, originally published in 1931 by Alfred A. Knopf.

A New Model of the Universe is divided into twelve chapters, but each of them can be read as a separate essay.  Among them I recommend "Esotericism and Modern Thought," "Superman," "Christianity and the New Testament," and "What is Yoga?"   Much plain common sense is contained in these essays.

"Superman" acknowledges Nietzsche's use of that concept, which he probably took from Goethe's Faust in which the word Uebermensch appears in the opening scene, but dispels several popular misconceptions.   Nietzsche would agree with Ouspensky that the Superman is not to be understood as a biological type, but Ouspensky offers other corrections which are possibly not so Nietzschean.

Ouspensky opens his essay by noting that "Side by side with the idea of hidden knowledge there runs through the whole history of human thought the idea of superman. . . . The idea of superman is as old as the world.  Through all the centuries, through hundreds of centuries of its history, humanity has lived with the idea of superman.   Sayings and legends of all ancient peoples are full of images of a superman.   Heroes of myths, Titans, demi-gods, Prometheus, who brought fire from heaven; prophets, messiahs and saints of all religions; . . . . " (p. 113).

Ouspensky stresses the role of esoteric knowledge in understanding the superman:  "The idea of superman is directly connected with the idea of hidden knowledge.   The expectation of superman is the expectation of some new revelation of new knowledge" (p. 125).   In a footnote (p. 127), he argues that Nietzsche knew contemporary occult literature.   Ouspensky, obviously, rejects the monistic epistemology of Nietzsche:   " . . . . the idea of superman has never existed apart from the idea of higher consciousness" (p. 140).   "Superman in the past, or in the future, does not stand in contradiction to the possibility of higher consciousness in the man living now.  On the contrary, the one reveals the other" (p. 145).

The UFO, the UNO and the Local Librarian

(  Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 23, 2008 )

We are accustomed to having an expanse of time before us,  but, facing the imminent coming of my 65th birthday, I have experienced a sudden reversal of the expanse of time.  Now, it has become the past, not the future.  The word "bouleversement" comes to mind, a word first encountered when I read Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon back in 1953 in an English translation held by the local public library.  That word seems to me to suggest the sensation of being overthrown, head over heels, backward, with only a vista of the past.  In Verne’s book, the bouleversement changes the vista of the travellers from the earth to the moon.  The great reversal occurs when they cross the point where the gravitational fields of the earth and the moon are of equal strength.  

Thinking of the past, thoughts arise of the many books that I have given away, thrown away, or even sold (for a pittance) to some used book dealer.   Among these was M. K. Jessup’s The Expanding Case of the UFO (1957), a book which I once owned but gave up when I went through my collection in preparation for a geographical move from point R to point S or wherever.  I do wish that I still owned that curious book.  (While deploring wrong decisions made in the past,  mention will be made of my discard of the box of comic books which I owned back in the period from 1950 to 1953!)

Jessup’s The Expanding Case for the UFO came to mind when I discovered that someone has put on the Internet the text of Jessup’s The Case for the UFO (1956), a book by Jessup which I have never read until now and never owned.   Had I read The Case for the UFO, I would have better understood its sequel The Expanding Case for the UFO.   The latter seemed to me to be a strange agglomeration of accounts of activity on the moon, strange lights, etc., references to UFO in the Bible, followed with a discussion of the similarities of meteor craters in Mexico to lunar craters, the massive ruins of the Mayans, mysterious falls of ice and other objects from the sky, and an account of the pygmies of equatorial Africa and Malaysia.  It all seemed so heterogeneous,  unwieldy, unorganized, but it had an underlying theme, which becomes apparent upon reading The Case for the UFO.

Although my local public library had a copy of Desmond Leslie and George Adamski’s better-known Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), it never acquired a copy of Jessup’s The Case for the UFO.   I asked the librarian if a copy could be ordered.  Her reply was:  "You must mean The Case for the UNO."   During the later 1940s and the early 1950s, the United Nations was often referred to as the United Nations Organization or UNO.   The librarian made it evident that she would welcome a request for a book on the UNO more than for a book on the UFO, which I explained meant Unidentified Flying Objects.  (Leslie and Adamski’s work was a best seller, which probably accounts for its presence in the library.)

That was my first intimation, though not one that surprised me, that public librarians were enthusiasts for the United Nations even as the public schoolteachers were.  Not long before this, around 1954 or 1955, our teacher had praised the UN and wanted us all to know how foul the USA was because it had "stolen" the Panama Canal Zone.  In an earlier entry, I have noted how teachers and librarians alike, mostly dependent on public tax monies, are, by that very circumstance,  nudged over to the left.   The early effort of the teachers to innoculate us against the virus of patriotism was obviously, in retrospect, due to their fear that, otherwise, we might be susceptible to the patriotic pretensions of the anti-tax party, the hated Republicans.

Getting back to  Jessup’s The Case for the UFO, part of which I have now read for the first time,  it seems that the disparate investigations of The Expanding Case for the UFO are all linked by the hypothesis that Jessup presents in The Case.   Jessup’s hypothesis is that intelligent beings, possibly extraterrestrial in origin, though not necessarily so, had discovered the means to lift heavy masses, thus accounting for the massive megalithic ruins, and that they were little people, thus accounting for a  genetic trace which they may have left on earth’s surface, the pygmies.  All of this occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Now these beings had at least one site for their habitation:  the sun-earth-moon gravitational neutral area.  This is about 160,000 to 170,000 miles from earth, thus closer to the moon.  The signs of activity on the moon were traces of these beings.   Their mother ships, from one mile to ten miles in length, were more or less parked in the gravitational neutral zone (or Lagrangian point).  From these mother ships, they sent forth the scout ships, the "flying saucers" seen by earthlings.

Jessup’s hypothesis seems to owe something to Charles Fort, particularly his speculations in his works The Book of the Damned and New Lands.  It is one of the more ingenious speculations about UFO.  While not as entertaining as accounts of George Adamski’s meeting with a Venusian or Billy Meier’s encounters with alien beings from the Pleiades, it is much more down (or at least closer) to earth.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Enchanted Castles (according to E. Cobham Brewer)

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 30, 2008  )
Frequently, during the last few minutes before I go to bed, I turn to the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer’s The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words that have a Tale to Tell.   First published in 1870, it had grown to more than 1300 pages in length by 1894 when it appeared in its "Classic Edition."  (This version was reprinted by Avenel Books in 1978, the edition from which I quote.)  Brewer is far from being soporific, rather more relaxing.  At times, though, entries appear which are really unexpected.  Consider, for example, the following:

"Enchanted Castles.   De Saint Foix says that women and girls were subject to violence whenever they passed by an abbey quite as much as when they approached a feudal castle.  When these victims were sought for and demanded back, the monks would sustain a siege rather than relinquish them; and, if close pressed, would bring to the walls some sacred relic, which so awed the assailants that they would desist rather than incur the risk of violating such holy articles.   This, he says, is the origin of enchanters, enchantments, and enchanted castles.   (Historical Essays.)"

This reminds me of the "liberal" monks who inhabit today’s academic abbey.  They hold aloft to all challengers the sign "Equality!"   That is supposed to be enough to stop in their tracks all inquirers who might dare to think for themselves.   While we recognize equality of rights for individuals and groups, as well as equality of opportunity as a desirable goal, the denizens of today’s academic abbey expect one and all to bow before this holy relic proclaiming that all individuals and groups are equal in their inherent abilities. 

I could say as much against those "conservatives" who uphold the holy relic of "Free Enterprise," a state of the economy which never existed and never will exist.   What a blessing it would be if we had more true liberals, people who believe in being free thinkers about all topics, and authentic conservatives, people who know that what should be conserved is something more basic and primordial than the economic system of capitalism.

Getting back to Brewer, there are occasional entries which are really puzzling.  Consider the following brief entry, which seems to involve a reversal of reality:   "Poe (Edgar Allan).   The alias of Arthur Gordon Pym, the American poet.  (1811-1849.)"   Did Brewer put this in his dictionary to catch any miscreant who might plunder his work for materials to produce a dictionary under a different name? 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Nietzsche as Lamarckian; Tom Hayden and SDS

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  February 12, 2008 )

 Was Nietzsche a Lamarckian?

[ I ] cannot resist the temptation to ask stupid questions about Nietzsche.   The last one at this "blog" site raised the question of why Nietzsche has his Zarathustra, a cave-dweller, fulminate against newspapers.   Admittedly, Nietzsche's Zarathustra is not the Zoroaster of old, but the reference to newspapers seems rather too anachronistic.

Dover Publications has recently reprinted in facsimile the 1911 translation by J.M. Kennedy of Nietzsche's The Dawn of Day.   The price, at $9.95, is slightly more than it should be, but I could not resist buying a copy, if only to have an opportunity to read once again an interesting work from Nietzsche's middle period.   My attention was caught by aphorism 241, which follows:

    " FEAR AND INTELLIGENCE    --     If that which is now expressly maintained is true, viz. that the cause of the black pigment of the skin must not be sought in light, might this phenomenon perhaps be the ultimate effect of frequent fits of passion accumulated for century after century (and an afflux of blood under the skin)?   while in other and more intelligent races the equally frequent spasms of fear and blanching may have resulted in the white color of the skin?      For the degree of timidity is the standard by which the intelligence may be measured; and the fact that men give themselves up to blind anger is an indication that their animal nature is still near the surface, and is longing for an opportunity to make its presence felt once more.     Thus a brownish-grey would probably be the primitive colour of man -- something of the ape and the bear, as is only proper. "

Here Nietzsche implicitly accepts Lamarckianism,  the belief that acquired characteristics can become hereditary.   Of course, Nietzsche did not know about Gregor Mendel's researches into inheritance.  Lamarckianism, with its belief in willful uplift, might explain why Nietzsche in his Ecce Homo dismisses as a misconception the notion that the Uebermensch can be the outcome of deliberate breeding.  The Dawn of Day came after Thus Spake Zarathustra in which the Uebermensch is first proclaimed. 

Some readers may be troubled by what they see as "racialism" in this aphorism by Nietzsche, but even more troubling (from the perspective of this reader) is its implicit acceptance of a belief that one can become what one thinks.   How is this all that different from New Thought and "thinkers" such as Kahlil Gibran or Napoleon Hill?  
( Originally written and posted on MySpace on February 3, 2008 )

Tom Hayden Speaks at A.L.A. Mid-Winter Convention

Few people will be surprised that the star speaker at the A.L.A.'s Mid-Winter convention was Tom Hayden.   Hayden was a prominent spokesman for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the leading New Left organization during the 1960's.

Sometime during 1967 I heard Tom Hayden speak on my campus, a large state university in Ohio where I was enrolled as a graduate student.   It was not immediately obvious why he had risen to become a prominent SDS leader,  but the same principle may have applied that was involved in the elevation of Earl Browder to the leadership of the Communist Party, USA, during the 1930's.   It was said, jokingly, that Browder was selected to head the CPUSA because he was the only leader who did not speak with a Bronx accent. 

Something similar was going on with the SDS.  I attended a couple of the SDS open meetings which were held on campus at the end of 1966.   Overhearing the comments of the attendees was revealing in itself.   Rather than condemning "the capitalists" or even "the rich," they focused their hatred on "the middle class" and especially "WASPs" and "rednecks."    None of the SDS adherents I encountered came from the working class.   Their fathers were owners of stores or lawyers or even doctors,  quite unlike the small town  Ohio "WASPs" of modest income with whom I could identify.   Many of them had spent their summers touring Europe.   Some had trust funds.

These liberators of the working class really hated "the rednecks" most of all.  Perhaps they really feared the "rednecks" because the main fault of the rednecks seemed to be their racism and their anti-Semitism.   The rednecks were perhaps America's equivalents to the Cossacks.  These same SDS adherents were ready to explain that they had enrolled in a state university in Ohio only because "the quotas" had kept them from enrolling in an Ivy League institution back east from whence most of them came.   The people behind these "quotas" were the evil WASPs.

No, the students of SDS back then were certainly not promoting a class war.  Quite the contrary, they were promoting a culture war and had plenty of support among faculty members and people in the mass media.   They seem to have won their culture war.

One of the leaders of SDS on my campus eventually became an account executive at his family's stock brokerage firm.  (As Dave Berry says, I am not making this up.)   One of the leaders of the Young Workers' Liberation League on campus had a father who was a doctor.   She explained to me that a doctor could really be a member of the working class. 

Decades after the New Leftists "did their thing," the traditional culture of the USA, what little there ever was of it anyway, has been devastated.   Capitalism, however, their supposed enemy, has gone from one strength to another,  threatens to rage on out of control forever.  Was all this supposed "liberation" just one big cruel hoax orchestrated by someone somewhere?   There is not enough evidence to jump to that conclusion.

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 26, 2007 )

Nietzsche on Socrates: A Paradox

In his book Nietzsche and Paradox (2006), Almeida quotes the following assessment of Socrates which Nietzsche offers in the second part of his Human All-Too Human:

    " SOCRATES. If all goes well, the time will come
    when, in order to advance themselves on the path
    of moral reason, men will rather take up the
    Memorabilia of Socrates than the Bible, and when
    Montaigne and Horace will be used as pioneers and
    guides for the understanding of Socrates, the simplest
    and most enduring of interpretative sages. In him
    converge the roads of the most different philo-
    sophic modes of life, which are in truth the modes of
    the different temperaments, crystallised by reason
    and habit and all ultimately directed towards the
    delight in life and in self. The apparent conclu-
    sion is that the most peculiar thing about Socrates
    was his share in all the temperaments. Socrates
    excels the founder of Christianity by virtue of his
    merry style of seriousness and by that wisdom of
    sheer roguish pranks which constitutes the best state
    of soul in a man. Moreover, he had a superior in-
    telligence. "

What seems paradoxical about this positive assessment of Socrates is the fact that elsewhere -- in his The Birth of Tragedy and in Twilight of the Idols -- , Nietzsche condemns Socrates as a decadent and a promulgator of decadence, as the destroyer of the Dionysian sense among the ancient Greeks,  the subverter of the great tragic sense of the Greeks. 

Does Nietzsche contradict himself?   Human All-Too Human is dedicated to Voltaire.   Does that offer a clue?   Does Nietzsche in this book see Socrates as a kind of Voltaire in his ancient Greek society?   Both men persisted in conducting a piercing and relentless inquiry after the truth.   Both raised questions that leading elements of their respective societies had no wish to ponder. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nietzsche as Stylist and Celebrity

 (  Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 24, 2007 )
Probably Byron was the first modern creative writer who successfully marketed himself as a celebrity.   Long before the age of photography and illustrated newspapers, his name was recognized by millions.   Schopenhauer first saw Byron when he was in Italy with his Italian mistress.   She alerted him to the presence of Byron, the handsome Englishman.   Schopenhauer was fearful that the glamorous Byron would steal her away from him!   The most recent avatar of this writer-as-celebrity tradition was probably the late Norman Mailer.  From Byron to Mailer, the writer-as-celebrity has known how to build the circulation of his works.

Only somewhat after the time of Byron did the creative writer discover how to be taken seriously by the critics of academe in addition to the critics of the press.  Fame generated by the press could be fleeting, but fame generated in the departments of academe is also longed for by creative writers.   Was it James Joyce who pioneered in the technique of playing to the audience of academic critics by writing obscurely?   The results are evident.   Articles on Joyce's novels still fill up the pages of the refereed journals, but there are few articles on Robert Louis Stevenson,  who was too close to being a simple storyteller.

Even philosophers early discovered that obscurity extended their "shelf life."   Again, the journals of philosophy are full of articles essaying an explication of the murky writings of Hegel,  while the straightforward Schopenhauer wins not even a slight fraction of as much attention.   (Being basically conservative in his societal impact is probably another reason for the neglect of Schopenhauer.)  The late Jacques Derrida was the latest practitioner of the higher obscurity.   His acolytes fill up the pages not only of philosophy journals, but also the journals of literary-critical theory.

One hesitates to place Nietzsche among the practitioners of the higher obscurity, much less to regard him as one who consciously sought celebrity.   It was only after his collapse into insanity that Nietzsche was catapulted to the heights of celebrity.   Next to Socrates, he is probably best-known philosopher of today.  Even Jean-Paul Sartre, who was a vigorous self-promoter, has gone into a kind of eclipse, but Nietzsche is still a figure of urban legend.    Everyone has seen somewhere this famous graffito:   "God is Dead!" --  Nietzsche.   "Nietzsche is dead!"  --  God.

Nietzsche may have been less a conscious practitioner of the higher obscurity than a virtuoso of stylists.   He occupied a pivotal point between being a poet and being a philosopher, never being simply reducible to one or the other.   Rogerio Miranda de Almeida makes the following observation in his book Nietzsche and Paradox :   

     " The old adage that one cannot dissociate an author from his or her style gains considerable force if one considers the variety of styles, genres, and tropes that serve Nietzsche as a means of expressing a thought that is itself multiform and paradoxical.   He has effectively cultivated poetry, aphorism, autobiography, dialogues, philosophical treatises, maxims, parables, and proverbs. "