fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The drift away from normative lifelong monogamous marriage seems to be as old as the human race. That seems to me to be what Our Lord meant when He said: "Moses told you so [allowing divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so." Jesus had asked "What did Moses teach you [about marriage]?" And he had been answered that Moses - the biblical character Moses - had allowed a man to repudiate his wife. But Jesus answered that Moses - the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible - had, before that, taught that God Himself had made men male and female, and had ordered that they shall leave their respective families and become "one flesh". This is what God ordered, "and what God has put together let no man tear asunder."

In other words, the drift from monogamy had taken place even in the history of the Chosen People. Indeed, this was one thing in which Jews, Greeks and Romans were very like each other. It was not that the ideal of lifelong monogamy was not known; in the area I know best, Rome, it was implicit in numerous features of religious and ritual ideas, for instance the prescription that the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis), highest ranking of all priests in Rome, should be married with a single wife who shared his duties, or the fact that the children who assisted in certain important sacrifices should be "patrimi matrimi", that is, having both parents living. This indicates that the condition of being married to the same wife, in an unbroken partnership, and having had children with her, was regarded as a religiously pure and desirable condition. But what was more likely was the life story of Caesar - who had actually briefly been Flamen Dialis at seventeen - who was married four times, and eventually had his much-desired male heir not from his wife but from Cleopatra, who was never married to him - but was the highest-ranking and most powerful monarch at the time. Caesar's enemy Cato the Younger "lent" his second wife Marcia to his friend and ally Hortensius, divorcing her so that Hortensius could marry her, and remarried her, with no problem at all, when Hortensius died! In the Greek world there are several accounts of brothers marrying their own sisters to keep the family patrimony intact, something, indeed, that seems to have become a system among the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the Greek dynasties that ruled Egypt and Syria after Alexander the Great. Cleopatra herself (Cleopatra VII), Caesar's lover, was the product of more than a dozen generations of married incest. How she felt about that charming family tradition is shown by the fact that her first act as a ruling queen was to have her brother murdered.

All this has one clear, visible and easily identifiable common feature: power. Violations of the natural rule of monogamy always come from displays of power or consideration of political and economic convenience. Poor and middling folks did not take more than one wife, and did not divorce, things that would have cost money.they did not have; at most, they may have wasted a little money on a girlfriend, or a favoured slave, or a prostitute. (And their culture, from King Lemuel to Plautus, always warned them that such women were financially ruinous.) It was the sovereign kings of Egypt or Iran or China who kept harems, as a display of their personal power. It was the importance of holding large inheritances, or even royal power, in a single line, that led that very practical nation, the Greeks, to allow married incest. When Cato "lent" his wife to his friend Hortensius, it was because Hortensius, an older man and the greatest orator in Rome, was an important part of the alliance he was establishing against Caesar. (He would not give him his daughter, as would have been more natural, because she was already married to Caesar's worst single enemy, Bibulus.) Wealth, kingship, political power, and the display that go with them, were the levers that had broken monogamous marriage across the civilized world from Rome to China.

Even in the Christian West, and in spite of Our Lord's clear and revered teaching, the way of political power to get around His prescription was visible, often to the point of hilarity. In Ireland, indeed, polygamy was accepted by the local Church until at least 1200 in theory, and until 1500 and more in practise; in other words, it could not be uprooted until the English had set out to destroy the whole class of Irish lords in earnest. In the Germanic countries and in Italy, they took advantage of the fiction that the kind has two selves - his public and his private one - to invent the "morganatic marriage", a marriage that involved only the king as a private person. So many kings (such as the founder of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II) had two wives, one official and married as a matter of policy, but also meant to give him the heir, and one private, whose children were usually ennobled. In France we reach the height of farce: girlfriend of the King becomes, by the seventeen hundreds, an official post, and great balls are held to find the lucky candidate. As a result, the languid and undersexed King Louis XV chose the beautiful and accomplished Madame Pompadour as he had been expected to, but did little more, all her short life, than have friendly and enjoyable talks with her. It had taken enough out of him to have a son - the future guillotine victim, Louis XVI - with his official wife.

Obviously, nothing is clearer than that divorce, outlawed by the Catholic Church for more than ten centuries, re-entered the Western world thanks to the most brutal exercise of naked political power, that of Henry VIII. The results, for him, were absolutely disastrous; the first symptoms of that mental and physical illness that destroyed his life and ruined his kingdom were when he had Anne Boleyn, the very woman he had "married" after forcing his first wife away from him, murdered under form of law after less than a year of "marriage", out of a mere and monstrous suspicion that she had been having incestuous relationships with her own brother! Nobody ever saw any evidence of this beyond the King's suspicions, and I for one have no doubt whatever that this is nothing more than the paranoid fears of an aging and already very guilty man (he had already murdered his friend Thomas More and dozens of others, and unleashed the monster Thomas Cromwell upon the Church) when he saw his beautiful young "bride" chatting and enjoying herself with her brother - a young lord as handsome and charming as Henry himself had once been, and would never now be again. Mind you, Anne Boleyn was a home-wrecker and a slut, and while I don't say she deserved to be humiliated and murdered under form of law by the man she had seduced, she took her chances when she set her cap at an aging and already married tyrant. Kings are dangerous. But the principle of divorce, born in such elevated and admirable circumstances, remained on the English statute book, migrated to America with the first English settlers just as slavery did, was slowly broadened, and eventually spread across the West. And we are still lucky: if the Lutheran Philip of Hesse had successfully managed what he had plotted in secret together with Luther and seven of Luther's chief followers, Europe might have been saddled not only with divorce but with polygamy. But that proved a bridge too far, even for them.

Feminists ought to oppose divorce, polygamy and all other marriage "variations", because they are historically always born as displays of male power and that is what they are nine times out of ten in reality. However, I do not agree with what seems to be the implication here, that the degeneration of ordinary marriage has anything to do with the invention of "gay marriage". I think the issue there is quite different. Caesar may have married four wives, but did not consider marrying four husbands. Even in the most degenerate environments, men saw a fundamental difference between attachments between or within the sexes,and never thought of granting the status of marriage to the others. Juvenal makes a savage joke out of the very notion that a man might marry another.

No, the fact is that a new, and bad, doctrine has been introduced. It had, originally, nothing to do with sexuality at all. You may find it in a famous play, "Henry IV" by Pirandello, in which the protagonist manages to force the people around him to act as though he were the emperor Henry IV (a historical figure from the Middle Ages). Its basic doctrine is the omnipotence of the will, the notion that will forms the identity of a man independently of his/her birth, characteristics, connections. or anything else. This, it may surprise you, was the central doctrine of Fascism, I mean the real thing, the doctrine formulated by Benito Mussolini after he abandoned Socialism in the wake of World War One. Not surprisingly (although his admirers tend not to discuss the matter) Pirandello himself was a black-as-coal Fascist, a favourite of Mussolini's, and the head of Mussolini's Academy of Italy. The political relevance was that Italian Fascism promised Italy, a middling power in the shade of mightier neighbours, the ability to change itself into the Roman Empire, merely by concentrated will. Willpower was the god of the Fascists.

Having failed politically in the most extreme manner (and having shown for all the world to see that Willpower was exactly the quality which Mussolini most lacked), the doctrine of the omnipotence of the will and the malleability of the self migrated, of course, to the universities, especially in the USA. That is where you got people like the horrible Professor John Money applying them to real human beings in the context of sex. The rest you know. But the point is that, whatever evil we may have done or accepted in the context of normal marriage, "gay marriage" and the associated evils of gender ideology are something new. The drift away from the norm of one man, one woman, for life, is ancient, universal, and - taking the word to refer to fallen human nature - natural. The doctrine of the subservience of self and gender to will, on the other hand, is a wholly modern evil. It would be disastrous whether or not the situation of marriage were bad, just as it was disastrous - look at what it did to my country - when it had not yet been associated with gender and sex at all.


An English translation of Luigi Pirandello's three most famous plays, including "Henry IV"; http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42148/42148-h/42148-h.htm
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My older friends will remember my loathing of Tony Blair's educational reforms and general performance in the area of schooling. Well, now the Tories have proved that they can do worse still. This morning, the Daily Jail's website carried this triumphant header: "End of teachers' national pay deals: Union fury as heads win power to freeze salaries. Annual rises for teachers will be scrapped and heads given almost complete freedom to dictate salary increases in the shake-up outlined in the Autumn Statement."

Just for this, Osborne ought to be hanged, and I am not, repeat not, exaggerating. The man is either mad or bent on the ruination of what is left of the national school system. Does it take a great deal of intellect to realize that, in a situation in which teachers and heads have very little power and in which they are constantly at odds with parents and bad students, the last thing that needed doing was to set them at each other's throats? Is that the Thugcherite view of education? Why did nobody explain to him in words of one syllable that to make teachers and heads natural enemies would mean chaos in the school and the further encouragement of the culture of underachievement and gangland? Do these fucking morons from Eton WANT to destroy the country, in the intervals of trying to stuff "gay marriage" down its throat?
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Mr. Will Crooks, as I know him in his own house at Poplar and in that other House at Westminster, always seems to me to be something far greater than a Labour Member of Parliament. He stands out as the supreme type of the English working classes, who have chosen him as one of their representatives.

Representative government, a mystical institution, is said to have originated in some of the monastic orders. In any case, it is evident that the character of it is symbolic, and that it is subject to all the advantages and all the disadvantages of a symbol. Just exactly as a religious ritual may for a time represent a real emotion, and then for a time cease to represent anything, so representative government may for a time represent the people, and for a time cease to represent anything. But the peculiar difficulties attaching to the thing called representative government have not been fully appreciated. The great difficulty of representative governments is simply this: that the representative is supposed to discharge two quite definite and distinct functions. There is in his position the idea of being a picture or copy of the thing he represents. There is also the idea of being an instrument of the thing he represents, or a message from the thing he represents. The[Pg xiv] first is like the shadow a man throws on the wall; the second is like the stone that he throws over the wall. In the first sense, it is supposed that the representative is like the thing he represents. In the second case it is only supposed that the representative is useful to the thing he represents. In the first case, a parliamentary representative is used strictly as a parliamentary representative. In the second case a parliamentary representative is used as a weapon. He is used as a missile. He is used as something to be merely thrown against the enemy; and those who merely throw something against the enemy do not ask especially that the thing they throw shall be a particular copy of themselves. To send one's challenge is not to send one's photograph. When Ajax hurled a stone at his enemy, it was not a stone carved in the image of Ajax. When a modern general causes a cannon-ball to be fired, he is not understood to indicate that the contours of the cannon-ball represent in any exact way the curves of his own person. In short, we can in modern representative politics use a politician as a missile without using him, in the fullest sense of the word, as a symbol.

In this sense most of our representatives in modern representative government are merely used as missiles. Mr. Balfour is a missile. Mr. Balfour is hurled at the heads of his enemies like a boomerang or a javelin. He is flung by the great mass of mediocre Tory squires. He is flung, not because he is at all like them, for that he obviously is not. He is flung because he is a particularly bright and sharp missile; that is to say, because he is so very unlike the men who fling him. Here, then, is the primary paradox of representative [Pg xv]government. Men elect a representative half because he is like themselves and half because he is not like themselves. They elect a representative half because he represents them and half because he misrepresents them. They choose Mr. Balfour (let us say) half because he does what they would do and half because he does what they could never do at all.

We are told that the Labour movement will be an exception to all previous rules. The Labour movement has been no exception to this previous rule. The Labour Members, as a class, are not representatives, but missiles. Poor men elect them, not because they are like poor men, but because they are likely to damage rich men: an excellent reason. Labour Members are the exceptions among Labour men. As I have said, they are weapons, missiles, things thrown. Working-men are not at all like Mr. Keir Hardie. If it comes to likeness, working-men are rather more like the Duke of Devonshire. But they throw Mr. Keir Hardie at the Duke of Devonshire, knowing that he is so curiously shaped as to hurt anything at which he is thrown. Unless this is thoroughly understood, great injustice will necessarily be done to the Labour movement; for it is obvious on the face of it that Labour Members do not represent the average of labouring men. A man like Mr. J. R. Macdonald no more suggests a Battersea workman than he suggests a Bedouin or a Russian Grand Duke. These men are not the representatives of the democracy, but the weapons of the democracy. They are intended only to fulfil the second of those functions in the delegate which I have already defined. They are the instruments of the people. They are not the images of the[Pg xvi] people. They are fanatics for the things about which the people are good-humouredly convinced. They are philosophers about the things which are to the people an easy and commonplace religion. In a word, they are not representatives; they are not even ambassadors. They are declarations of war.

Such being the problem, we must reconcile ourselves to finding many of the Labour Members men of a definite and even pedantic class; men whose austere and lucid tone, whose elaborate economic explanations smack of something very different from the actual streets of London. This economic knowledge may be very necessary. It may remind us of our duties; but it does not remind us of the Walworth Road. It may enable a man to speak for the proletarians, but it does not enable a man to speak with them.

Now, if a man has a good rough-and-ready knowledge of the mechanics of Battersea and the labourers of Poplar; if the same man has a good rough-and-ready knowledge of the men in the House of Commons (a vastly inferior company); he will come out of both those experiences with one quite square and solid conviction, a conviction the grounds of which, though they may be difficult to define verbally, are as unshakable as the ground. He will come out with the conviction that there is really only one modern Labour Member who represents, who symbolises, or who even remotely suggests the real labouring men of London; and that is Mr. Will Crooks.

Mr. Crooks alone fulfils both the functions of the representative. He is a representative who, like Mr. Keir Hardie and the others, fights, cleaves[Pg xvii] a way, does something that only a man of talent could do, expresses the inexpressible, sacrifices himself. But also, unlike Mr. Keir Hardie, and the rest, he is a representative who represents. He is a picture as well as a projectile; he is the stone carved in the image of Ajax. He is really like the people for whom he stands. A man can realise this fact, merely as a fact, without implying any disrespect, for instance, to the Scotch ideality of Mr. Keir Hardie, or the Scotch strenuousness of Mr. John Burns. They are expressive of the English democracy, but not typical of it. The first characteristic of Mr. Crooks, which must strike anyone who has ever had to do with him, even for ten minutes, is this immense fact of the absolute and isolated genuineness of his connection with the working classes. To all the other Labour leaders we listen with respect on Labour matters, because they have been elected by labourers. To him alone we should listen if he had never been elected at all. Of him alone it can be said that if we did not accept him as a representative, we should still accept him as a type. I need not dwell, and indeed I feel no desire to dwell, on those qualities in Mr. Crooks which express just now the popular qualities of the populace. I feel more interest in the unpopular qualities of the populace.

The greatness of Mr. Crooks lies not in the fact that he expresses the claims of the populace, which twenty dons at Oxford would be ready to express; it is that he expresses the populace: its strong tragedy and its strong farce. He is not a demagogue. He is not even a democrat. He is a demos; he is the real King. And his chief characteristic, as I have suggested, is that he represents especially those popular good qualities[Pg xviii] which are unpopular in modern discussion. Will Crooks is to the ordinary London omnibus conductor or cabman exactly what Robert Burns was to the ordinary puritanical but passionate peasant of the Scotch Lowlands. He is the journeyman of genius. All that is good in them is better in him; but it is the same thing. Walt Whitman has perfectly expressed this attitude of the average towards the fine type. "They see themselves in him. They hardly know themselves, they are so grown."

In numberless points Mr. Crooks thus completes and glorifies the common character of the poor man. Take, for instance, the deep matter of humour: humour in which the English poor are certainly pre-eminent among all classes of the nation and all nations of the world. By all politicians, including Labour politicians, humour is only introduced exceptionally and elaborately; by all politicians the comic anecdote is led up to with dextrous prefaces and deep intonations, as if it were something altogether unique and separate. All politicians take their own humour very seriously. Mr. Crooks recalls the real life of the streets in nothing so much as in the fact that humour is a constant condition. He and the poor exist in a normal atmosphere of amiable irony. If anything, they have to make an effort to become verbally serious: something of the same kind of earnest that it costs an ordinary member of Parliament to become witty. Anyone who has heard Mr. Crooks talk knows that his permanent mood is humorous. He is never without a story, but his face and his mind are humorous before he has even thought of the story. He lives, so to speak, in a state of expectant reminiscence. The man who[Pg xix] said that "brevity was the soul of wit" told a lie; nobody minds how long wit goes on so long as it is wit. Mr. Crooks belongs to that strong old school of English humour in which Dickens was supreme; that school which some moderns have called dull because it could go on for a long time being interesting.

I have merely taken this case of popular humour as one out of a hundred. A similar case of Mr. Crooks's popular sympathy might be found in his pathos, which is equally uncompromising and direct. Even his political faults, if they are faults, against which so much criticism has for a time been raised, have still this pervading quality, that they are essentially the popular faults. This instinct for a prompt and practical and hand-to-mouth benevolence, this instinct for giving a very good time to those who have had a very bad time, this is the very soul of that immense and astonishing altruism at which all social reformers have stood thunderstruck: the kindness of the poor to the poor. This attitude may or may not be the great vice of the governors; there is no doubt that it is the great virtue of the people. The charity of poor men to poor men has always been spontaneous, irregular, individual, liable therefore in its nature to some faults of confusion or of favouritism.

It is the misfortune of Mr. Crooks that alone among modern philanthropists and social reformers he has really been the typical poor man giving to poor men. This quality which has been seen and condemned in him is simply the quality which is the common and working morality of the London streets. You may like it; you may dislike it. But if you dislike it you are simply disliking the[Pg xx] English people. You have seen English people perhaps for a moment in omnibuses, in streets on Saturday nights, in third-class carriages, or even in Bank Holiday waggonettes. You have not yet seen the English people in politics. It has not yet entered politics. Liberals do not represent it; Tories do not represent it; Labour Members, on the whole, represent it rather less than Tories or Liberals. When it enters politics it will bring with it a trail of all the things that politicians detest; prejudices (as against hospitals), superstitions (as about funerals), a thirst for respectability passing that of the middle classes, a faith in the family which will knock to pieces half the Socialism of Europe. If ever that people enters politics it will sweep away most of our revolutionists as mere pedants. It will be able to point only to one figure, powerful, pathetic, humorous, and very humble, who bore in any way upon his face the sign and star of its authority.
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One doesn't, in general, think of popular music as a vehicle for patriotism. But apart from the USA, where nobody is ashamed of waving the flag, there have been beautiful patriotic songs from Australia -

- and, more surprisingly, from Italy:

I reckon that part of the reason why this is so surprising is the central position of Britain in modern and especially pop culture. British singers have influenced everyone and are visible from everywhere - even the wretched Amy Winehouse's slow suicide has been front-page news across the world, whereas it would at best have got a paragraph on page 13 had she been Dutch or Taiwanese. Now, the position of any British singer you care to mention towards Britain or England is inevitably acidic and oppositional; the closest one gets to patriotism is the very ambiguous claim made for London - and London alone - in the Clash's London Calling. But people like Springsteen in the States and De Gregori among us are not only leading singers, but leading lights of the left. I think there is something specific and local that makes it impossible for an English artist to claim the identity and values of his country as a number of Americans and Italians do.

Having said that, I want to know whether any other countries have seen the same kind of thing: LEADING local singers, mind you, not little-known hacks, writing SUCCESSFUL songs in praise of their country and/or their people? I doubt Germany is up to it yet, but France? Spain? other European countries? India? China? anywhere?


Aug. 31st, 2010 10:24 am
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Nobody seems to have noticed the parallel; because, I suppose, not many historians today write from a Catholic viewpoint. But in 1798, two Catholic priests led two great popular insurrections on the two sides of the war then raging between a French Revolution not yet quite hijacked by a Corsican adventurer, and a reactionary Europe dedicated to the most contemptible and cynical forms of politics (the anti-French alliance was, at one and the same time, working together to slice and destroy Poland, and incidentally to destroy Kosciuzko's constitutional and liberal reforms). Their different fates had something to do with the different countries in which they took place, but they also had something to say about the future of the Catholic Church.Read more... )
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In the last decade or two, the United Kingdom has produced two tremendous cultural phenomena that have gone around the world: the Harry Potter series and the Wallace and Gromit animated movies. SUBJECT FOR DISCUSSION: Do they have anything in common, and do they have anything in common with other British successes such as the Dr.Who franchise or Alan Moore's comics?
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My friends who have followed this blog for a while may have noticed the connection between my analysis of consciously foolish PC-speak in my last entry and the fierce attacks I repeatedly made on Marvel Comics' X-Men features - especially last March (http://fpb.livejournal.com/380876.html).Read more... )
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(cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] academics_anon)

If anyone thinks that the nearly homicidal hatred of my friend [livejournal.com profile] wemyss for the repulsive rabble that pretends to govern this wretched country is exaggerated,Read more... )
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The one good thing about the British parliamentary system is the stake that every MP is supposed to have in his or her constituency. They are supposed to be ambassadors for the needs and interests of their constituents. However, in order to have a career at all they have also to be subservient followers of the party line, and, where the government is in power, of the government line. The two positions are contrasting and often incompatible. Good constituency MPs will give ministers trouble and will not be promoted to the exalted position of Parliamentary Private Secretary (individual crawler to a Minister who has already in his/her turn been a PPS and a crawler). Selection will work in reverse: the best will remain to warm the back benches and the worst will be rise through the ranks till their mediocrity and "team spirit" has got them to an interchangeable ministerial role. Because of course any politician good enough to be Minister for Education is equally able to be Minister for Defence or Minister for Agriculture. And if you think I am fantasizing, study the careers of genuinely good constituency MPs such as the late Gwyneth Dunwoody.
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I do not have a dog in this fight. As a Catholic with a strong experience of English history, I can at best regard Anglicanism as one of those families which, having risen from dismal and even criminal beginnings, nonetheless have managed to produce a crop of likely and even outstanding heirs, and to embed itself graciously and gracefully in the landscape.Read more... )
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I find myself bewildered and irritated by the enormous attention paid to the story of an apparently sick whale which seems to have drifted up the Thames. It's all right to find it curious, but all the news programmes - including the super-snooty Channel Four, which fancies itself as the most serious news supplier in the country - have dedicated it enormous slots at the opening of their programs, five-ten minutes each, and all bar one of the national newspapers have placed it on their front page. I find this insane. You may say that the British are crazy about animals, but I do not think they are crazy to the extent of imagining that a sick whale is the world's most important single story. This is not so much a display of native sentimentality, as an insulting reminder of how much the cynical yet ignorant manipulators of the British media despise their readers. No wonder newspaper sales and tv news viewer numbers are falling across the board.
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The BBC is running a poll on the country's favourite philosophers. Marx is ahead by a mile, followed by Hume.


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