Monday, May 28, 2012

Voltaire on the Book of Enoch

Marvellous to relate, we have found that Voltaire, in the article "Angels" in his Philosophical Dictionary, has written about the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch.  The following quotations are all taken from The Works of Voltaire (1901 ed., 42 vols., English trans.), a reasonably accurate transcription of which we found on the Internet:
The Hebrews knew nothing of the fall of the angels until the commencement of the Christian era. This secret doctrine of the ancient Brahmins must have reached them at that time, for it was then that the book attributed to Enoch, relative to the sinful angels driven from heaven, was fabricated.
Enoch must have been a very ancient writer, since, according to the Jews, he lived in the seventh generation before the deluge. But as Seth, still more ancient than he, had left books to the Hebrews, they might boast of having some from Enoch also. According to them Enoch wrote as follows:
"It happened, after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them they became enamored of them, saying to each other: 'Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.' Then their leader, Samyaza, said to them: 'I fear that you may perhaps be indisposed to the performance of this enterprise, and that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.' But they answered him and said: 'We all swear, and bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our intention, but execute our projected undertaking.'
"Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon Ardis, which is the top of Mount Armon. That mountain, therefore, was called Armon, because they had sworn upon it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations. These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader; Urakabarameel, Akabeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Sarakuyal, Asael, Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael, Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the remainder were all with them.
"Then they took wives, each choosing for himself, whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited, teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees. And the women, conceiving, brought forth giants, whose stature was each three hundred cubits," etc.
The author of this fragment writes in the style which seems to belong to the primitive ages. He has the same simplicity. He does not fail to name the persons, nor does he forget the dates; here are no reflections, no maxims. It is the ancient Oriental manner.
It is evident that this story is founded on the sixth chapter of Genesis: "There were giants in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." Genesis and the Book of Enoch perfectly agree respecting the coupling of the angels with the daughters of men, and the race of giants which sprung from this union; but neither this Enoch, nor any book of the Old Testament, speaks of the war of the angels against God, or of their defeat, or of their fall into hell, or of their hatred to mankind.

Yoga: Another View

By now almost everyone has seen an advertisement for the preposterous work entitled Autobiography of a Yogi, written long ago by the pseudonymous Paramahansa Yogananda, and advertised in innumerable issues of  tabloids.     Early in the 1920s, Yogananda immigrated from India to the USA, settling in (of course!) California, where he established his Self-Realization Fellowship.  The Autobiography is replete with one cliche after another:  Flowers appear out of the empty air, a mountain moves,  a fakir climbs a rope and disappears from sight.   The book appeared before the sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, which probably explains why they failed to fly past the gaze of the swami Yogananda.

    This work, still in print, epitomizes the popular view of Yoga as an irrational cult.  Its preface assures the reader that Yogananda's corpse did not decay after his death.  Presumably, it did not prove to be as enduring as that of Lenin, however, because no illustration of it is offered for the reader's wonderment.  That is another assertion to be taken on faith. 

Libraries are more likely to have copies of the works of Swami Vivekananda.  Probably, Paramahansa has always been rather too much for most librarians, but the more academic approach of Vivekananda has won for his works more shelf space in academic libraries.   Still, Vivekananda delivers the anti-rational gospel of Yoga with which we are familiar, albeit without the miracles of Yogananda:   Yoga is all about dissolving the individual ego into the eternal.
Miguel Serrano, who served as Chile's ambassador to India, offers a radically different view of Yoga in his book The Serpent of Paradise (1963).   Serrano reports that Swami Janardana had something totally different to tell him about Yoga:
" Those who talk about dissolving the individual ego in Brahma do not know what they are talking about. . . . In this world our only weapon is the intellect.  Indeed, I will go further and say that spiritual truths can be understood only by an intellect that has become pure.  You may say that this idea is modernistic, but in fact it originated in the teachings of Sanatana Dharma twelve thousand years ago.  The Yoga that is known popularly in the West, and which aims at a dissolution of the individual ego in a superior ego, is merely the Yoga of Patanjali, which was popularized by Swami Vivekananda.  The true Yoga, however, is Suddha-Yoga, which antedates Patanjali.  This Yoga is quite different from the later type, for true Hindu philosophy does not aim at the dissolution of the individual nor the abolition of reason.  On the contrary, it tries to find divinity within the heart and to make life divine.  It is therefore concerned with the transference of the personality center from one point to another, and with the location of those centers.  This is very difficult to do, since these centers are at the same time located in a particular place and generally influential over the whole being.  Moreover, since the very idea that personality emanates from these centers is hypothetical, I cannot accept the analogy which is occasionally used to illustrate the evolution or change of personality in an individual, and which uses the symbol of the worm and the butterfly and the idea of passing from the one into the other.  For, in fact, the metamorphosis may be in quite another direction.  In short, I believe in the Individualized Spirit."

[Originally written on Oct 8, 2006]

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Book of Enoch

Dover Publications has just this year reprinted the 1917  S.P.C.K. edition of R. H. Charles's translation of  The Book of Enoch, with an introduction by W. O. E. Oesterley.  Although somewhat costly (at $7.95) for a paperback book of only 160 pages, I could not resist the temptation to buy a copy so that I might once again read this most fascinating of apocryphal and apocalyptic works.   (An earlier translation, by C. H. Schodde, is available online at also has texts of numerous other apocryphal works and many interesting theological tracts from the 19th century and earlier.)
Enoch, also known as 1 Enoch  or Ethiopic Enoch to distinguish it from a later work also ascribed to Enoch, is unique among the apocryphal works because it is quoted in a canonical work,  a work firmly established as part of the New Testament, specifically verses 14 and 15 of Jude.   Verse 13 of Jude ("Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever") also has a source in Enoch, chapter 18, verses 12-16:  "12.  And beyond that abyss I saw a place which had no firmament of the heaven above, and no firmly rounded earth beneath it:  there was no water upon it, and no birds, but it was a waste and horrible place.  13.  I saw there seven stars like great burning mountains, and to me, when I inquired regarding them,  14.  The angel said:  'This place is the end of heaven and earth:  this has become a prison for the stars and the host of heaven.  15.  And the stars which roll over the fire are they which have transgressed the commandment of the Lord in the beginning of their rising, because they did not come forth at their appointed times.  16.  And He was wroth with them, and bound them till the time when their guilt should be consummated even for ten thousand years.' "  (This interpretation is taken from The Interpreter's Bible.)
According to Rev. Oesterley's introduction, Enoch was most probably written by Sadducees, not Pharisees, sometime around 200 to 100 B.C.  He notes that the solar calendar of the Sadducees is advocated in Enoch, which is very heavily laden with astronomical lore, rather than the lunar calendar of the Pharisees.  Also, the fact that Enoch suggests that some gentiles will be saved is a strong indicator of authorship by a party other than the Pharisees, who foresaw only damnation and extinction for all peoples other than the Jews.  (With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., of course, the Pharisees became the de facto ruling party in Judaism.)
Julius Evola, in his Revolt Against the Modern World, stresses the fact that the Semites were worshippers of the moon goddess while the Indo-Europeans were worshippers of the sky god.   This would explain the image of the star and crescent moon in Islam.  Evola's generalization is supported in part by Carroll Quigley in his Evolution of Civilizations.  Some of the beliefs of the Sadducees, especially their denials of a bodily resurrection and of the existence of angels and demons, suggest that they were open to Indo-European influences in their thinking, unlike the Pharisees.   The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states that the Sadducees came under Hellenistic influences.
Enoch presents a fascinating tour of the heavens and the earth by its protagonist.  It is exceedingly difficult to conceptualize this, but attempts have been made to draw maps, or schematic charts, of the world as revealed by Enoch's journey.  Enoch's mention of the mysterious Watchers has enhanced its popularity among followers of the New Age.   Whitley Strieber, famous author of accounts of people being abducted by "aliens" from outer space, identifies the latter with the Watchers.   The "Greys," the most popular representation of "aliens" from outer space, would seem to have little to do with angels, fallen or otherwise.  They seem to be closer to demons.   If I recall correctly, one survey of public opinion revealed that eleven percent of the general population of the USA believe that some people have been abducted by "aliens" from outer space.  That explains a lot of things!
Postscript:   Could the seven stars of the 18th chapter of Enoch be the Pleiades?  The Pleiades are recognized by that name in the King James Version in Job 9:9; 38:31.   The Geneva Bible also recognizes the Pleiades in Amos 5:8.     Neither Charles nor Schodde, in their respective notes on Enoch, refers to the Pleiades, not further defining the seven stars.   Also, the seven stars in Enoch seem to be outcasts, abodes of evil.  That does not accord with the popular image of the Pleiades among the so-called UFO contactees.  Billy Meier, especially, sees all good coming from the Pleiades.  The Pleiades of Enoch would seem to be an appropriate headquarters for the sinister "Greys."

An Addendum to Jorge Luis Borges on Heaven

Some of the book reviews by Jorge Luis Borges are as fascinating as his stories.  Consider, for example, his observation at the end of his review of Leslie Weatherhead's book on the survival of death.  Borges notes that " Catholics (read: Argentine Catholics) believe in an ultraterrestrial world, but I have noticed that they are not interested in it.  With me the opposite occurs:  I am interested but I do not believe. "
Samuel Clemens was another unbeliever who, like Borges, speculated at some length as to what the heaven of the believers must be like.  Why, then, do the believers not show more interest in the diurnal details of their heaven?
A clue regarding an answer to this question emerges from an aside in Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia (Urn-Burial)," which I have only recently read, having long ago read his better-known "Religio Medici."  Browne reasons that "Were the happiness of the next world as closely apprehended as the felicities of this, it were a martyrdom to live; and unto such as consider none hereafter, it must be more than death to die, which makes us amazed at those audacities that durst be nothing and return into their chaos again. "
Other places in Browne make one stop and think.  Consider the question of those who do good deeds all their lives and die unknown while the names of the evil may live on in their infamy.   Browne believes that " To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history.  The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name, than Herodias with one.  And who had not rather been the good thief than Pilate? "
Elsewhere, Browne refers to the legends of Enoch and Elias, who were directly transported to heaven without first dying:  " Enoch and Elias, without either tomb or burial, in an anomalous state of being, are the great examples of perpetuity, in their long and living memory, in strict account being still on this side death, and having a late part yet to act upon this stage of earth. "
Browne appears to be referring to the prophet now known as Elijah, who was to be the forerunner of the messiah and with whom many people identified John the Baptist (Luke 1:17, John 1:21).  Enoch, of course, was reputedly the subject of the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical book which is referred to as scripture in the canonical Book of Jude.


Nietzsche's Monsters

The following is aphorism 143 from Walter Kaufmann's translation (as The Gay Science ) of Nietzsche's  Die froehliche Wissenschaft :

" The greatest advantage of polytheism.— For an individual to posit his own ideal and to derive from it his own law, joys, and rights—that may well have been considered hitherto as the most outrageous human aberration and as idolatry itself; the few who dared as much always felt the need to apologize to themselves, usually by saying: "Not I! Not I! But a god through me!" The wonderful art and gift of creating gods—polytheism—was the medium through which this impulse could discharge, purifiy, perfect, and ennoble itself: for originally it was a very undistinguished impulse, related to stubbornness, disobedience and envy. Hostility against this impulse to have an ideal of one's own was formerly the central law of all morality. There was only one norm: "man"—and every people thought that it possessed this one ultimate norm. But above and outside, in some distant overworld, one was permitted to behold a plurality of norms: one god was not considered a denial of another god, nor blasphemy against him! Here the luxury of individuals was first permitted, here one first honored the rights of individuals. The invention of gods, heroes, and overmen of all kinds, as well as near-men and undermen, of dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons and devils was the inestimable preliminary exercise for the justification of the egoism and sovereignty of the individual: the freedom that one conceded to a god in his relation to other gods one eventually also granted to oneself in relation to laws, customs, and neighbors. Monotheism, on the other hand, this rigid consequence of the doctrine of one normal human type— the faith in one normal god beside whom there are only pseudo-gods [falsche Lügengötter]—was perhaps the greatest danger that has yet confronted humanity: it threatened us with the premature stagnation that, as far as we can see, most other species have long reached; for all of them believe in one normal type [Ein Normalthier] and ideal for their species, and they have translated the morality of mores definitively into their own flesh and blood.  In polytheism the free-spiriting and many-spiriting of man obtained its first preliminary form: the strength to create for ourselves our own new eyes and ever again new eyes that are even more are own: hence man alone among all the animals has no eternal horizons and perspectives. "

Nietzsche argues that polytheism liberated man to envision other types of humans even as he envisioned a manifold of gods. If man is created in the image of  God, that is the end for any development of man.  Perhaps even Christians felt this constraint in monotheism, the reason for their development of a kind of tritheism, supplemented by angels and demons.  Even the Muslims supplement their monotheism with angels and the jinn.

Most intriguing is his roll call of man's inventions:   gods, heroes, overmen, near-men, undermen, dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons, devils.   One thinks of the roll call of the monsters in imaginative fiction.    The near-men ( Nebenmenschen ) I would call parahumans, perhaps a harbinger of a great and unoriginal sin of genetic engineering that looms in our future.  Are Nebenmenschen, Uebermenschen, Untermenschen  a kind of unholy trinity of Nietzscheanism?


Lovecraft's Monsters

Putting aside the possible symbolism, psychoanalytic or otherwise, of Lovecraft's monsters, they are there as material creatures.  In the later works of Lovecraft, works of science fiction such as "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow Out of Time," the monsters do cross illimitable expanses of space and weave in and out of unending aeons of time, but even there they appear as material beings.   Edmund Wilson, in his mordant review of Lovecraft in The New Yorker, ridicules one of the more famous of these monsters as "an invisible whistling octopus."  

While I do not agree with Wilson's sweeping dismissal of Lovecraft, I do find the latter-day monsters of Lovecraft to be anything but horrifying or even interesting.   They are somehow much too far out to be all that alarming.   Even H. G. Wells in one of the final chapters of his The First Men in the Moon (1901) does better in his suggestion of the monstrous.   After the hero Cavor is abducted by the insect-like Selenites and taken deep into the cavernous interior of the moon, he has an opportunity to relay via wireless some account of the moon's natural history.  One passage in passing catches the eye:  " . . . . not infrequently Selenites are lost forever in their labyrinths.  In their remoter recesses, I am told, strange creatures lurk, some of them terrible and dangerous creatures that all the science of the moon has been unable to exterminate.  There is particularly the Rapha, an inextricable mass of clutching tentacles that one hacks to pieces only to multiply; and the Tzee, a darting creature that is never seen, so subtly and suddenly does it slay. "

Here Wells is practicing the same type of cryptozoology as is Lovecraft, but the monsters are more framed, just slightly off-stage, and all the more striking for that reason.   Part of the difference is that Lovecraft's latter-day monsters are somewhere off in the illimitable reaches of outer space while Wells has his monsters in an almost sublunary locale.   One notch down from the Selenites one would find the denizens of the UFOs whom M. K. Jessup believed to be lurking around the moon and in the gravitational neutral areas, the Lagrangian points, of the earth-moon-sun system.
To me, the most chilling of Lovecraft's monsters are those which appear in the following of his tales:  "Pickman's Model,"  "The Lurking Fear,"  "The Outsider,"  "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."   In these tales the monsters are all the more chilling because they are, far from being totally alien to humans, in a way all-too-human.   They are weird intergrades or hybrids, usually the products of some suggested miscegenation between humans and non-humans.  Sharing some of our chromosomes, they are all too believable.  The religious would see in them living blasphemies, travesties of man as a creature made in the image of God.


One Hurrah for Sloterdijk!

Back in 1988 I reviewed for Library Journal  a book by Peter Sloterdijk called Critique of Cynical Reason.   The book had been translated from the author's native German and was one that I found quite challenging.  Quite frankly, I could barely find top or bottom in it, but, fortunately, reviews in Library Journal are brief.  At the time, I assumed that Sloterdijk, like most other professors of philosophy, was on the political left.

In the following two decades, Sloterdijk published much more,  little of which has been translated into English.   Only in 2009 has there appeared in English a new Sloterdijk title,  God's Zeal:  The Battle of the Three Monotheisms.  Sloterdijk primarily examines Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but he does give passing attention to what he calls a "zealotic counter-religion," Communism.   One of his observations on Communism is especially worthy of note:

" The hatefulness of what was done in the name of Communism was demonstrated to the extreme for judgement by all normal humans -- and if one still occasionally encounters the opinion that the atrocities committed on the other side surpassed those of Communism, it is primarily because those in the corresponding circles refuse to accept the facts:  with over 100 million lost lives, the degree of human extermination achieved in Communist systems is several times higher than that of Hitler's regime, which has -- understandably -- been given the title of absolute evil.  The question arises whether a co-absolute evil should not have been added to the collective consciousness long ago. "

This is a remarkable recognition, coming from a professor of philosophy.  Indeed, in the USA, professors of the humanities and the social sciences seem almost without exception to do all that they can to avoid mention of the holocaust perpetrated by the Communists.  Sloterdijk is, of course, a professor of philosophy in Germany, but he gives no evidence of seeking to diminish the horrors of the Third Reich.

Elsewhere in God's Zeal Sloterdijk deplores the fact that " If there were an American trinity it would consist of Jesus, Machiavelli and the spirit of money.  The postmodern credo was formulated in exemplary fashion by the Afro-American actor Forest Whitaker when he gave his speech of thanks upon receiving the Oscar for the best leading role in 2007, closing with the words:  'And I thank God for always believing in me.' "

Sloterdijk has a readiness to tell it like it is that is exceptional and praiseworthy among academicians.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Schopenhauer on Reading

The quotation from Schopenhauer on reading reminded me of his essay, "Books and Reading," a portion of which, taken from the translation by Bax and Saunders, follows:

" When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. In learning to write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the greater part of the work of thought is already done for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book after being occupied with our own thoughts. And in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground of another's thoughts. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid. . . . "
When Schopenhauer considers how one should read, his advice is similar to that of Emerson.  Like Emerson, he warns against spending time reading only that which is currently popular.  We should read only those books which have proven themselves to have merit.   Schopenhauer cites the massive bibliographic output, which in German-speaking lands was already running close to an annual total of 10,000 new titles per year in the decade before 1850.  Emerson, similarly, notes that, when he writes in 1870, there are already more than 800,000 titles in the French national library.  (Today, there are more than ten times as many in the U.S. Library of Congress.)  As does Emerson, Schopenhauer emphasizes the need to bring our own critical intelligence to our reading. We must use our own heads in our reading.
Hitler's remarks on reading in his Mein Kampf seem almost to be derivative from Schopenhauer.  He does quote Schopenhauer approvingly in one place, citing Schopenhauer as having referred to the Jews as the great masters of the lie.  The essays of Schopenhauer were very popular in Germany in the latter part of the 19th century.  In the following paragraph, taken from the Manheim translation, Hitler warns against reading too much, tells us how we should read, and ends with a sneer against parliamentary representatives:
" I know people who read interminably, book after book, from page to page, and yet I should not call them well-read people. Of course they know an immense amount; but their brain seems incapable of assorting and classifying the material which they have gathered from books. They have not the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in a book; so that they may retain the former in their minds and if possible skip over the latter while reading it, if that be not possible, then when once read throw it overboard as useless ballast. Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Its chief purpose is to help towards filling in the framework which is made up of the talents and capabilities that each individual possesses. Thus each one procures for himself the implements and materials necessary for the fulfilment of his calling in life, no matter whether this be the elementary task of earning ones daily bread or a calling that responds to higher human aspirations. Such is the first purpose of reading. And the second purpose is to give a general knowledge of the world in which we live. In both cases, however, the material which one has acquired through reading must not be stored up in the memory on a plan that corresponds to the successive chapters of the book; but each little piece of knowledge thus gained must be treated as if it were a little stone to be inserted into a mosaic, so that it finds its proper place among all the other pieces and particles that help to form a general world-picture in the brain of the reader. Otherwise only a confused jumble of chaotic notions will result from all this reading. That jumble is not merely useless, but it also tends to make the unfortunate possessor of it conceited. For he seriously considers himself a well-educated person and thinks that he understands something of life. He believes that he has acquired knowledge, whereas the truth is that every increase in such knowledge draws him more and more away from real life, until he finally ends up in some sanatorium or takes to politics and becomes a parliamentary deputy. "
Was Hitler a Schopenhauerian?  Since Schopenhauer's beau ideals were the artist, the saint, and the philosopher, one might conclude that Hitler was not deeply influenced by Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer was certainly not an affirmer of the will, as was Nietzsche, not a celebrant of the warrior, as was Hitler.  Yet, again, it can be argued that Hitler saw in himself a great artist, as did Nero.  Certainly, Hitler was making an aesthetic judgment when he placed at the head of humanity the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan. 
For Hitler, reading must be useful for our purposes.  We are to extract from our reading that which sustains our efforts, that which supports our point of view, and leave the rest.  Charles Darwin, on the contrary, stated that he always made sure that he made a note of any fact which he encountered in his reading that would seem to be contradictory to his theory.  He found that he was most prone to forget precisely those facts which did not sustain his point of view.
Darwin was, of course, a master of the scientific method, while Hitler was perhaps always more of an artist, ever on the prowl to find materials for his own great Gesamtkunstwerk (to borrow a term from Wagner).  Ironically, however, the one chapter in Mein Kampf which is worthy of being read again, "Nation and Race," demonstrates in its opening paragraphs that Hitler was indeed a Darwinist, a believer that all life is shaped by the struggle for existence and that those who would survive must affirm that struggle. It is from this world that Schopenhauer counsels us to maintain detachment.   


What We Bring to Reading

A reader sent to me the following quotation from Arthur Schopenhauer:  "Lesen heisst mit einem fremden Kopfe, statt des eigenen, denken."   She asked if I could translate it.  My attempt was the following, which I was told is acceptable:  "To read is to think with another mind instead of one's own."  At first, this might seem to be a real denigration of reading.  However, if I must read geometry, I much prefer to do so by placing the head of Euclid upon my shoulders, und so weiter.  The German sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf in a critical study of his people notes that Germans praise those who read a few good books thoroughly rather than reading many books superficially.  He sees in this an excuse for failing to be well-read.
Schopenhauer was certainly not attacking the state of being well-read.  His own masterwork is a product of great erudition.  He was warning us to bring our mind to our reading, not to allow the writer to affix his head in the place of ours.   A few days ago, I was re-reading Emerson's essay "Success" and came upon the following thoughts regarding reading:  " 'T is the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss, in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear."  In today's cant, good reading is an interactive process.
Schopenhauer quoted the epigrammatist Lichtenberg to the effect that a book is like a mirror; if an ape looks in, we cannot expect an angel to look out.  That was Schopenhauer's warning to the reader to take his book seriously, to recognize that reading his work would take a real effort.


Searching for Crusoe

Sometime ago,  I came upon an interesting title on the stack of remaindered books at the local Barnes & Noble:  Thurston Clarke's Searching for Crusoe:  A Journey among the Last Real Islands.  The subtitle reveals the content, a travel account.  Islands visited by Clarke include Crusoe's island, of course; Bali; the Maldives; Patmos, the island from whence came the book of Revelation; Nihau; Svalbard; and others.   Probably this title will not prove to be worth reading again.  I have laid it aside for reading later, but it calls to mind the role of islands in literature:   Prospero's island in Shakespeare's The Tempest; Sancho Panza's island in Don Quixote; Crusoe's island; Treasure Island; Jackson's Island in Tom Sawyer; the island of Atlantis in Plato's Critias, in Otto Muck's The Secret of Atlantis, and in innumerable "channeled" books and narratives; even the islands of Constance Fenimore Woolson's Castle Nowhere.

What is the fascination of islands?   I do not recall reading anything about islands in Carl Jung's works interpreting symbolism, but perhaps the island is a mandala in the Jungian sense.   Looking in Cirlot's A Dictionary of Symbols, it is noted that Jung does consider islands, seeing in them, in Cirlot's words,  "the refuge from the menacing assault of the 'sea' of the unconscious . . . . the synthesis of the consciousness and the will."  Plato's Atlantis, with its interior artificial circular waterways and four channels directed to the four points of the compass, has something of the mandala about it.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Emerson on Books

The later essays of  Ralph Waldo Emerson are more approachable than the early ones, recondite, gnomic, demanding in their need for interpretation.  Among his later works, I like best The Conduct of Life (1860), but Society and Solitude (1870) is a close second.  In the latter is the magnificent reading guide called simply "Books."
In addition to listing titles most worthy of being read, Emerson offers practical rules for reading:  " 1. Never read any book that is not a year old.  2. Never read any but famed books.  3. Never read any but what you like."  I cannot bring myself to agree with his second rule, but his advice elsewhere about translations is most welcome:  "I do not hesitate to read all the books I have named, and all good books, in translations.  What is really best in any book is translatable, -- any real insight or broad human sentiment ."
Among the ancients, Emerson recommends Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Plato, and Plutarch.  From the latest period of the ancients, he recommends Plotinus, who is given a volume to himself in the series entitled Great Books of the Western World.  (Emerson appears as a figure of satire in one of Herman Melville's works and is there given the name of "Plotinus Plinlimmon.")
In one observation, Emerson seems to foresee the reference librarian:  " Meantime the colleges, whilst they provide us with libraries, furnish no professor of books; and I think no chair is so much wanted. "  Emerson notes that in his day there were 800,000 books in the French National Library alone.  (Of course, now the total is ten times that, at least.)   He stresses the need for guides to reading.  " It seems then as if some charitable soul, . . . . would do a right act in naming those [books] which have been bridges or ships to carry him [the reader] safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.  This would be best done by those great masters of books who from time to time appear, -- . . . . But private readers, reading purely for love of the book, would serve us by leaving each the shortest note of what he found. "




Ralph Waldo Emerson: Radical

Ralph Waldo Emerson is always worth reading again, especially his later work The Conduct of Life (1860) and Society and Solitude (1870).   The excerpt below comes from his first work, the little book he published entitled simply Nature (which is not to be confused with the essay of the same name which he published later).  The excerpt from it quoted below is presented as evidence of a fact about Emerson that is unknown to most people:  he was a genuine radical in the sense of one who seeks to go to the roots of things.  In our day of multiculturalism, which too often means no real culture of any kind,  Emerson is relegated to the ranks of dead white men of European origin, irrelevant and meaningless to the living.  In the text below, though, Emerson counsels the living to find out what is sacred to them by looking to what is before them, not to the past.  
"Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship."

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction, Nature (1836).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

McCandlish Phillips

When McCandlish Phillips's The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews was first published in 1970, I did not have enough time to read it all.  His thesis seemed to me then to be rather outrageous.  Moreover, I was amazed that a major publishing house, World Publishing Co., had accepted it.  Recently, I found that the title is still in print, only now published by Horizon Books of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.  Today, its thesis seems to me to be less outrageous.  Furthermore, the almost subliminal truth which it conveys makes even more believable the fact that its reprint has not been undertaken by a major publisher.  This is not a argument that it is not an important book.   Indeed, quite the contrary, as a cultural indicator, -- if there can be economic indicators, then can there not be cultural indicators? -- it has greater value than ever before.
McCandlish Phillips, born in Massachusetts in 1927, after a few years in the U.S. Army, joined the staff of The New York Times in 1952 as a "copy boy."  His brilliance as an author soon became apparent to his superiors.  He became probably the greatest reporter ever to write for the Times.  His great strength as a writer was revealed not only in his style, but also in the humane and insightful approach which he took to the subjects upon which he wrote.  Even now it is a great pleasure to look into the historical file of the Times and read what Phillips wrote forty years ago.
When Phillips joined the staff of the Times he was almost alone among more than 200 reporters in that he was a devout, fundamentalist Christian, a Baptist in his denominational background, and a believer in "the priesthood of all believers."  At his desk at work, he kept a copy of the Bible, which he read during breaks.  Yet, he never attempted to impose his religious beliefs on his fellow workers.  His beliefs never crept into his work.  Reading Phillips's Times stories one would never guess that he was even nominally a Christian.   He made himself what his employers wanted him to be:  a great reporter, a great writer, a great source of income to them.
Ken Auletta in an essay for The New Yorker, entitled "The Reporter Who Disappeared," gives the fascinating story of the development of McCandlish Phillips.  In 1974, not long after he had published The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews, Phillips quit the Times and embarked on a career of free-lance writing.  Much of his time was devoted to a small sect, the New Testament Missionary Fellowship Church, which some called a cult.  When Auletta wrote about Phillips, only a few years ago, he was still active in that church.  He concludes his essay on Phillips with a description of one of the church's prayer meetings in a Manhattan apartment, a meeting attended by bankers, a professor of medicine, numerous corporate managers, among other sociologically unlikely attendees.
The thesis of The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews is that demons are as real as angels are, an unsurprising proposition to be maintained by a Bible-believing Christian.  Demons explain the societal chaos that was emerging in the 1960s, the societal chaos that is even more evident today.  One opening into the minds of earthly mortals which is especially open to demons is belief in the supernatural.  During the 1960s what is now known as the New Age phenomenon was just beginning.  This is what Phillips is alluding to, but he also points to the rise in the number of purported believers in Satan.
A further development of this thesis arises from Phillips's belief that the Jews are still a special people in the eyes of God.  Phillips at length outlines the disproportionate influence of Jews in American culture when he was writing in the late 1960s.  (Certainly, this Jewish influence has not diminished.  In 1960, for example, Jews had only two of their congeners in the U.S. Senate.  Now  [2006] there are eleven in that body.)  Phillips especially focuses on the influence of Jews in the mass media, stressing the anti-Christian impact of the mass media.  Phillips believes that the results are especially catastrophic when a Jew becomes demon-possessed.  He cites Karl Marx as one such example.
Of course, Phillips insists, the Jews also have an unusual impact when they turn to God, when they deny Satan.  Therefore, one cannot argue that Phillips wrote an anti-Semitic book.  Yet, under it all, one might suspect a certain ambivalence.  Perhaps if anyone reads this comment, they will be moved to find or buy a copy of The Bible, the Supernatural, and the Jews, so that they might make their own decision.  Indeed, this book was a fascinating book upon a second reading, and not nearly so preposterous as it seemed to me to be when I first read it, only hastily and partially.   It was worthy of being read again, thoroughly and thoughtfully.


O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft's Letters to R. H. Barlow

The University of Tampa Press published in 2007 a selection of the letters of H. P. Lovecraft edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.  O Fortunate Floridian:  H. P. Lovecraft's Letters to R. H. Barlow is a  volume of 465 pages, with a press run of only 500 copies, handsomely bound in green cloth, stamped in gold lettering, with illustrations and appendices having the usual bibliographical apparatus as well as some of Barlow's autobiographical writings.  These present his memories of Lovecraft.  Robert H. Barlow, who was born in 1918, began corresponding with Lovecraft in 1931.  He later became a leading figure in Mexican archaeology, but ended his life in Mexico by suicide in 1951. 

A check of OCLC reveals that most copies of O Fortunate Floridian are held by academic libraries.  In a way, this is good because it may mean that Lovecraft is being accepted into the literary canon.  There is also the banal fact that books in academic libraries seem to suffer less abrasion, wear and tear, and just plain chewing by the family dog, than do books in public libraries.  This is not to denigrate public libraries, which this reviewer loves.  Of course, I love all libraries.  Go to the library, say I, if you would escape from wherever you are, which is usually "the pits" anyway.   (Since O Fortunate Floridian costs $40, I have read a library's copy.  For those with a large discretionary income, though, a copy of the book is a most worthy purchase.)

Readers familiar with the letters of Lovecraft will find few surprises here.  The letters do reflect the views of Lovecraft during the final years of his life.  Although still a traditionalist in a cultural sense, he had come to reject laissez faire capitalism.  Those who might be distressed by Lovecraft's "racism" or his anti-Semitism will find little to distress them in O Fortunate Floridian.

Although Lovecraft changed some of his views, he remained a steadfast adherent of amateur journalism to his last day.  It was his chief publishing venue outside of such "pulp" magazines as Weird Tales.   Amateur journalism is traceable back to the 19th century.  Thomas Edison practiced amateur journalism, as a youth had his own printing press and produced a paper which he sold on railway trains where he worked.  One wonders what has happened to amateur journalism today.  Perhaps the "blogs" on the Internet are the successors to amateur journalism.  Are today's amateur journalists the millions of "bloggers" on the Internet?  If so, they may soon totally displace professional journalists, given the increasing decline of newspaper circulations.

Lovecraft and the South

Reading Houellebecq on Lovecraft inspires more thoughts and questions about this belatedly emerging literary figure.   Lovecraft was atypical in many ways other than those most widely known.   In Something About Cats and Other Pieces, a collection of items by and about Lovecraft  which Arkham House published in 1949, Rheinhart Kleiner offers a sketch of Lovecraft as he was in 1916.   Visiting Lovecraft as a fellow amateur journalist, Kleiner notes that "On the wall near his desk were small pictures of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and one or two others."   This would seem to be a remarkable display on the wall of the home of a New England Yankee in 1916!

These pictures on the wall in 1916 may have reflected only an enthusiasm for the motion picture "The Birth of a Nation," which drew millions of viewers to the theatres in 1915.  As early as 1905, however, in his notorious poem "De Triumpho Naturae," Lovecraft was defending the traditionalist Southern viewpoint regarding race.    

In 1930, Lovecraft journeyed to South Carolina.  His assessment is also noteworthy:  " But what a place!  A real civilisation, with pure American people, a sense of leisure & repose, & a vast amount of opulent (tho' not antiquarian) beauty.  Why in Heaven's name does anybody   live in the North -- except from compulsion or from sentimental attachment? "  

The following is from L. Sprague de Camp's Lovecraft:  A Biography (1975):   " At the beginning of May, 1931, Lovecraft set out again for the South.  There he contrasted the 'mongrel bedlam' of New york with the Southern  " . . . civilisation of such depth & tenacity that one feels himself in a real nation -- as he can never feel in the industrialised, foreignised, & quickly-changing North. "

One is reminded of the difference today between the Obama nation and the " Real America " of which Sarah Palin spoke during the 2008 presidential campaign. 

Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

Poe:  A Collection of Critical Essays (1967), edited by Robert Regan, is a title in Prentice-Hall's "Twentieth Century Views."  It brings together in one slim book the major literary-critical articles on Edgar Allan Poe which appeared from 1926 to 1960.  Most of these articles are worth reading again and some are worth some commentary.

The excerpt from Joseph Wood Krutch belongs to the psychoanalytic school of literary criticism, as does Jean-Paul Weber's "Edgar Poe or the Theme of the Clock."   The Freudianism of Krutch is amusing in this day and age,  but Weber's offering seems to be a monument to the misguided ingenuity that pervaded literary Freudianism.    Weber convinces one that the theme of the clock is pervasive in Poe,  but he really runs off the rails when he suggests that this was somehow inspired by an infant Poe's confrontation with what the Freudians called "the primal scene."

Aldous Huxley in his "Vulgarity in Literature" seems to agree with Emerson's dismissal of Poe the poet as "the jingle man."   Nowhere does he consider the fact that Poe, writing before radio and motion pictures, wrote poetry at a time when people anticipated that a good poem should be read aloud, that it should approach the musical in its delightful sounds. 

Allen Tate's "Our Cousin, Mr. Poe" and Richard Wilbur's "The House of Poe" impress one with the perfect structure of their offerings, their evidence that a good work of literary criticism can itself be a worthy work of literature.

Sidney Kaplan's "An Introduction to Pym " first appeared as an introduction to a republication of Poe's one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.   While Kaplan is well aware of the influence on Poe of John Cleves Symmes's hollow earth theory  as well as of the probable influence of Adam Seaborn's Symzonia,  he insists that the enigmatic ending of Pym is only an allegorical defense of slavery!

Poe did denounce the Abolitionist movement and did support white supremacy, but reading the ending of Pym as Kaplan reads it leads one to conclude that it is a defense of white separatism, not white slavery.  Indeed, there is a great separation of black and white at the end of Pym , but it is the Symmes theory which can explain this, not the contemporary rancor over slavery.   The blacks encountered at the end of the novel, who live on islands totally separated from whites, not enslaved by them, all speak a pidgin of Hebrew.  Moreover, the vast passageways encountered along the way have carvings of Hebrew inscriptions.   Following the Symmes theory, it is evident that the great white statue encountered at the end, which warns the blacks away from any further advance, represents the denizens of the Symmesian inner earth.  If these whites are seen to be descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, then all is explained, the inscriptions as well as the blacks' Hebrew pidgin.   That was the meagre language which they learned from those who were their former masters before these whites migrated over the verge into the paradisal inner earth itself.  In this reading, the monitory great white statue functions much like the angel with the flaming sword who bars Adam and Eve from ever returning to Eden.

A little-known Pentecostal evangelist, Theodore Fitch, who became an exponent of British Israel (later known as Christian Identity), expounded such a theory in his little book Our Paradise Inside the Earth , a work of which I have seen only excerpts.  I do not know whether or not Fitch had read Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but he probably was influenced, either directly or indirectly, by William F. Warren's Paradise Found (1885).


Thursday, May 17, 2012

E. M. Bounds on the Identity of Satan

Below is an excerpt from a book by E. M. Bounds, Satan:  His Personality, Power and Overthrow, which was written a century ago, but is still in print.   What is intriguing about it is Bounds's refusal to spiritualize Satan into demi-existence and his frank comments regarding the antithesis between Jesus and Pharisaic Jewry.  It is unimaginable that any Southern Baptist preacher would today be so frank in his interpretation of John 8:44. Even Billy Graham offered the opinion that Jewry is still in a separate covenant with God, so need not be converted to Christianity to be saved.  He knew the politically correct thing to say.  Not so was the assertion of Edward McKendree Bounds, who came before the great reconstruction in our thinking.
The excerpt from E. M. Bounds follows:
The Bible is a revelation, not a philosophy nor a poem, not a science. It reveals things and persons as they are, living and acting outside the range of earthly vision or natural discovery.
Bible revelations are not against reason but above reason, for the uses of faith, man's highest faculty. The powers of reason are not able to discover these Bible facts, and yet they are for reason's use, its light, strength and higher elevation, but more essentially to form, to nourish and to perfect faith.
The Bible reveals the devil as a person, not a mere figure, not an influence simply, not a personification only, but a real person. In the eighth chapter of John, Christ is arraigning the cruelty and murderous malignity, the falsehood, deceit and hypocrisy of the Jews. Jesus says, " Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.'' He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. . . .
It is wholly at variance with any Christian idea of the perfection of truthfulness in Christ, who was truth itself, to suppose Him to have used such plain and solemn words repeatedly before His disciples and the Jews in encouragement and furtherance of a lying superstition.


Remarkable Admission from Hobsbawm

Innumerable college students have been told by left-leaning professors that Eric Hobsbawm, a British historian, is the greatest living historian.  More needs to be known about him, however.  He is only British in terms of his place of residence, being in fact a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.  David Pryce-Jones, writing in National Review in 2001, is one who dares to dispute his greatness, finding Hobsbawm to be "a liar."  Pryce-Jones details Hobsbawm's career as an apologist for Stalin.  Hobsbawm himself has always been forthright about being a Communist.

It is a pity that refugees from one brand of totalitarianism have too often proved to be apologists for another brand of totalitarianism.  Hobsbawm's defense of the Soviet Union, therefore, makes all the more remarkable his admission last year that

Nobody seriously thinks of returning to the socialist systems of the Soviet type - not only because of their political faults, but also because of the increasing sluggishness and inefficiency of their economies - though this should not lead us to underestimate their impressive social and educational achievements. On the other hand, until the global free market imploded last year, even the social-democratic or other moderate left parties in the rich countries of northern capitalism and Australasia had committed themselves more and more to the success of free-market capitalism....

Hobsbawm then proceeds to claim that free-market capitalism has failed as tremendously as has the Soviet Union and raises the question of how we are to proceed.  I fear that he may be correct in his assessment of capitalism as we know it today,  at least finance capitalism.  Finance capitalism has not solved that great contradiction of capitalism:   It produces the goods, but the masses of the people lack the purchasing power to buy those goods.  This great contradiction is before our eyes now when we look around us every day and see no lack of automobiles and houses for sale,  but a catastrophic lack of purchasers for those products. 

Some sort of third position,  a solution incorporating the best of capitalist productivity with necessary regulation, seems to be what is urgently needed.  The baleful question now is this:  Will we have time to develop and implement such a third position economic strategy?

The Evils of "Logocentrism"

It is doubtful that I will summon up the energy and find the time to plough through Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology ,  so I am resorting to the next best thing by reading Arthur Bradley's Derrida's Of Grammatology  (2008).   At least,  Bradley's vademecum to Derrida may be of some help in finding out what Derrida means by "logocentrism."   Derrida called it the most "original and powerful ethnocentrism" because it (in Bradley's words) " violently privileges and imposes the values of western culture over all others. "   Briefly, logocentrism is the primal error of privileging speech over writing, of seeing writing as derivative of and inferior to speech.  In Bradley's explication, "writing describes the originary condition of language itself."

It would be interesting to know what Derrida makes of the fact that neither Socrates nor Jesus wrote.   True, Jesus did write one word in the sand, but that was it.  He was literate, since he read the Torah.  Certainly, Socrates was literate and learned.  Both, though, would seem to be the primal champions of logocentrism.   It is also a fact that history's most successful anti-Semite was best known as a maker of speeches, albeit that he did produce one long book. 

There is the Semitic tradition which exalts the study of the Torah, which (at least among the southernmost Semites) asserts that the Koran as a book existed in heaven from the very creation.   Then, there is the little book with the seals in " Revelation,"  the apocalyptic finale to the New Testament which many scholars believe was originally a Jewish work which was revised to make Christians its heroes.

What does Derrida do with Socrates and Jesus?   Does he damn them as logocentrists?  It would seem that he probably does so, since all of western philosophy from Plato down to Heidegger is in error, according to Derrida.

Leftists on campus love to play with these terms.  It helps one understand where they get their persistent theme that western culture must be deconstructed to do away with all ethnocentrism, Derrida being the great deconstructionist.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Retroactive, Collective Condemnation, according to the Rev. Pat Robertson

The Rev. Pat Robertson's recently expressed opinion that the death of almost 100,000 Haitians in a devastating earthquake was God's judgment upon them for the sins of a few of the ancestors of some of them should occasion no surprise.   After all, Robertson offered a similar opinion regarding the terrorist attack upon the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.   That was God's judgment for America's sins, he said.   At the time, Samuel T. Francis observed that " If 9/11 was God's punishment for America's sins, then I think we got off lightly! "
One of the better-known of the sermons of Charles Wesley is on earthquakes, which he believed to be God's means of punishment when humanity's sins reach a certain level of effrontery.   The New Testament contains numerous references to earthquakes.  They abound in Revelation, the final and greatest of the books of the Bible.
In Mark 6:11,  Jesus is recorded as saying of those towns which refused a hospitable reception to his apostles:  " And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.  Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. "
Legend has it that the denizens of these two cities of sin were incinerated into extinction by a firestorm of burning sulphur.   One must wonder whether each and every one of those luckless people were equally guilty of sin.
In Titus 1:12-13, the apostle Paul gives credence to a statement about the Cretans that can only be considered as a collective negative judgment upon an entire ethnic group.  Of course, such wild ethnocentrism abounds in the Old Testament.
When people today read these judgments in the Bible, they are apt to spiritualize them, to explain them away as just a doomed state of the soul.   When a frank talker like Robertson comes along, it seems that simply another breach of decorum has occurred.  He chooses not to spiritualize the scriptures into something that is only tepidly inspiring, something good for the local community.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Have a Nice Doomsday

Nicholas Guyatt, the author of Have a Nice Doomsday:  Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World (2007), is a lapsed Catholic from Britain who is a professor of history at a university in Canada.   Nonetheless, he is effective in interviewing and reporting on popular eschatology in the United States. 

Although Guyatt failed to interview the Rev. John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel, he did interview Tim LaHaye, co-author of the famous Left Behind novels.  LaHaye told Guyatt flatly that he rejects the dual covenant  theology of John Hagee, the view, expressed in the  annotations to the Scofield Bible and elsewhere, that God's covenant with Israel is still in effect, that it has not been abrogated by his covenant with Christians.

Guyatt offers some interesting information about LaHaye when he was simply a pastor of a church in southern California.   At that time, LaHaye was active in the John Birch Society and was welcomed by the Society as a speaker.  After some time, though, officials of the Birch Society discovered that members addressed and instructed by LaHaye eventually made their way into his church and soon thereafter lost all interest in political activity.   Political activity made little sense to people who had become convinced that the world must become ever more given over to Satan as the End Time approaches.

Guyatt notes that the Birch Society's officials denounced LaHaye as a "neutralizer"; in fact, began to denounce all attention given to Bible prophecy.   Robert Welch, Founder of the John Birch Society, in his famous pamphlet The Neutralizers, singled out as examples of religious neutralizers only the exponents of the British Israel theory, now known as Christian Identity.   Those people were little-known, marginal figures at most, making puzzling Welch's lengthy denunciation of them.   In retrospect, we can see that it was LaHaye, and others like him, exponents of Bible prophecy, who presented a real problem.

Other interviewees include Hal Lindsey, whose The Late Great Planet Earth, published more than thirty years ago, started the current surge of interest in Bible prophecy.

The problem which Tim LaHaye posed for the John Birch Society has not gone away.  Quite recently, the Rev. Chuck Baldwin, who was the 2008 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party and who is pastor of the Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, has denounced as "lazy" those Christians who use their interest in Bible prophecy as an excuse to avoid political activity.   

It is believed that Robert Welch's views on religion were somewhat more liberal than those of the Unitarians.  He never encouraged members of his organization to immerse themselves in Bible study.    Chuck Baldwin, however, encourages everyone to take the Bible seriously.   Anyone who does, at least to the extent of carefully reading the New Testament, will see that that work is not a call to political action. 

The Year That Changed the World

Michael Meyer's The Year That Changed the World:  The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall (2009) goes beyond Berlin to look at regime changes throughout eastern Europe during the year 1989.   As a Newsweek bureau head, Meyer has written a book for popular consumption, giving us many eyewitness accounts of events on the street and elsewhere.
He reports on the famous demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany, where the throngs in the street changed from the acceptable chant "Wir sind das Volk!" to "Wir sind ein Volk!"  Meyer translates these slogans as "We are the people!" and "We are one people!"  Though Meyer does not stress the fact, the German demonstrators by proclaiming themselves ein Volk were making an ethnic affirmation.  By the shift of a grammatical article, they overthrew the Marxist worldview.
Furthermore, it is interesting to consider that in German, in addition to das Volk, there is der Poebel, which Cassell's German-English dictionary translates as "mob, populace, rabble."  In English, we have been sold on using the term "the people," almost to the exclusion of "the folk."   Indeed, folk survives, seemingly, only in folk culture or folk music, two areas which the political left has appropriated for its own purposes.
In John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces (1980), the Jewish leftist liberationist Myrna Minkoff goes to the Library of Congress, transcribes the lyrics to folk songs which are deposited there in the archives, and then proceeds to tour the country, singing those songs to working people.  Far from being of working class origins herself, she gets it precisely backwards.  Toole's Myrna Minkoff, of course, is a not too distorted caricature of the kind of New Leftists who swarmed over the university campuses during the 1960s and 1970s.
Meyer suggests that the regime change in Rumania was really only a coup d'etat.  The personality cult which was built up around the Rumanian dictator Ceausescu was, of course, nothing new to Marxist regimes.   What one must wonder about is why it occurs at all in regimes which deny the influence of the individual as a force in history.  A similar paradox exists in the ostensibly Marxist country of North Korea where the ruler inherited his position from his father and has designated his son as his successor.
Meyer's views of the regime change in Poland are unremarkable, but most compelling is his thesis that the liberation of eastern Europe began with reformers in the leadership of Hungary.  Regarding the first Hungarian revolt, I particularly recommend David Irving's Uprising!  One Nation's Nightmare: Hungary 1956 (1981).


Monday, May 14, 2012

Houellebecq on Lovecraft

Michel Houellebecq's little book on Lovecraft was first published in French in 1991 and belatedly published in English translation in 2005 as H. P. Lovecraft:  Against the World, Against Life.   Although it is bereft of the usual apparatus of scholarship other than a brief bibliography, Houellebecq's book is the most insightful writing on Lovecraft which I have seen.  (A close second to Houellebecq's study of Lovecraft is the first chapter of Colin Wilson's The Strength to Dream (1962), which was my introduction to the significance of Lovecraft.)

The English translation includes a thoughtful introduction by Stephen King.  This one sentence from King stands out:  " All literature, but especially literature of the weird and the fantastic, is a cave where both readers and writers hide from life. "

Houellebecq is forthright in his feelings regarding Lovecraft:  " Paradoxically, Lovecraft's character is fascinating in part because his values were so entirely opposite to ours.  He was fundamentally racist, openly reactionary, he glorified puritanical inhibitions, and evidently found all ' direct erotic manifestations ' repulsive.  Resolutely anticommercial, he despised money, considered democracy to be an idiocy and progress to be an illusion. "

Houellebecq offers the following in assessment of Lovecraft as a literary figure:  " The twentieth century may come to be recognized as the golden age of epic and fantasy literature, once the morbid mists of feeble avant-gardes dissipate.  It has already witnessed the emergence of Howard, Lovecraft, and Tolkien -- three radically different universes.  Three pillars of dream literature, as despised by critics as they are loved by the public. "

Noting that nowhere in his writings does Lovecraft take notice of either sex or money, Houellebecq sees in what might be considered a flaw a kind of strength, a rebellion against the world.  He believes that Lovecraft would disdain today's world even more than his own:  " The reach of liberal capitalism has extended over minds; in step and hand in hand with it are mercantilism, publicity, the absurd and sneering cult of economic efficiency, the exclusive and immoderate appetite for material riches.  Worse still, liberalism has spread from the domain of economics to the domain of sexuality.  Every sentimental fiction has been eradicated.  Purity, chastity, fidelity, and decency are ridiculous stigmas.  The value of a human being today is measured in terms of his economic efficiency and his erotic potential -- that is to say, in terms of the two things that Lovecraft most despised. "   


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?