Jews and Gentiles…

Blood…

The Sins of the Fathers…

The Holocaust Industry…

*****

For what follows, I make no claim of universal validity. What I have written is just as the title suggests: an irreducibly personal reflection. Since they live in every region of the world, the children of Abraham have grown up in widely varying milieux, undergone different experiences, and arrived at different conclusions. Still, I am persuaded that the modern Jewish pre-dispositions I describe below are normative if not absolutely universal. To the degree that they derive from the archetypes embedded in the Jews’ scriptural hieros logos, this should hardly be surprising.

*****

 

I. To the Manor Born

In our politically correct culture, so completely hobbled as it is by tribalism and racial hypersensitivity, it is only the pure of blood who enjoy the privilege of lively moral accusation. Since the Fifties, Black–if I were racially sensitive I would say “African-American” –comedians have been cracking ruthless jokes about the multiple socio-pathologies that have all but destroyed contemporary urban Black society. Not even liberals can restrain their laughter at Eddie Murphy’s uproarious impersonations of the stock characters of the urban Black underclass: silk-suited pimps, baggy-panted, Nike-shod gangsta-rappers, spaced-out Rastafarians, and primping Cassanovas who are proud of siring a brood of children they have never met. But if you are not a member of the ancestral group, beware. Mention these peculiar anthropological types in any but admiring tones and you will be accused of racial stereotyping, or hauled up before one of Canada’s human rights tribunals for the crime of “hate speech”.

And so, I offer my own endogenous bona fides. I was born to Jewish parents and spent my childhood and adolescence in a conventional subdivision in the northern suburbs of what was then called Metropolitan Toronto. My mother and father were also born in Toronto, but to Polish immigrants who had fled Europe before the First War. Many of my grandparents’ numerous siblings had remained in the Old Country, with the consequence that a good number of my parents’ relations remained unknown to them, having perished in the camps.

The place in which I grew up was, and still is, known as “Bathurst Manor”. I prefer to think that in giving it such an incongruous upper-class English designation, the humour of the Manor’s developers was intentional. A few years after the last driveway had been poured and before the sod had taken root, streets with names such as “Acton”, “Hotspur”, “Hove”, “Brighton”, and “Waterloo” were inhabited almost exclusively by Jews who had emigrated from towns or villages with names like Lodz, Minsk, and Pinsk, or had been born to immigrant parents of the same humble eastern European origins. At about ninety-five percent Jewish, Bathurst Manor was the least “English” and least manorial place you could imagine. In truth, it was a modern treeless ghetto, not unlike the ghettos many of its denizens had fled, except that it was richer, freer, cleaner, safer, and a ghetto entirely of the inmates’ own making.

It was the ethnic homogeneity and suburban blandness – not to mention the architectural and natural turpitude of the place – that made me flee the Manor for a new country of my own. The Jews had told themselves that they had no choice but to live together in separate and ethnically monolithic enclaves. Indeed, they had been forced to do so by the anti-Semitic majority that conspired to exclude them. In Toronto, that meant WASPs, whose ancestors had come from such towns as Hove, Brighton, and Waterloo. Given the standing hostility of my relatives to WASP culture and values, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the Jewish onslaught upon and occupation of the Manor was a subliminal stroke of revenge against the Anglo-Saxon Establishment. Usurping the “lords of the manor” is, after all, very much a part of the Jewish historical narrative, beginning with the expulsion of the indigenous Canaanites and, one might say, continuing more recently with the re-occupation of Palestine.

The sense of being a people excluded was in any case an almost palpable component of Jewish psychology in my neighbourhood. Family lore, as retailed by my uncles, consisted mostly of stories about having been singled out for humiliation at school, of this or that successful Jewish businessman who had been denied admission to this or that club or organization. What’s more, the Gentiles weren’t content with merely banishing Jews to the socio-economic fringes; they habitually pursued them even to the gates of their exile. It was for these reasons, according to my elders, that “we” needed to huddle together in places like the Manor, to protect ourselves from the ever-present threat of racial discrimination and violence from the anti-Semitic hordes.

When I finally passed beyond the battlements of our ethnic fortress and emerged into the big bad Gentile world, I experienced a somewhat different reality from the one I had been schooled to expect. I encountered neither prejudice nor discrimination; indeed, knowing how naturally abrasive my personality could be, even I was a little surprised at the world’s benignity. The worst insult I was able to elicit from a member of the old Ontario guard was that I reminded him of Woody Allen. No doubt Allen himself would have deconstructed this as anti-Semitic “code”. But then Allen’s on-screen persona perfectly epitomizes the sort of racial defensiveness that discomposed so many in the suburban ghetto in which I grew up.

I have never doubted, of course, that anti-Semitism has been a virulent poison throughout history; as I said, there were significant lacunae in my family’s genealogy because of it. But as an anthropologically curious youth in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I could find no empirical evidence of anti-Semitism in anything like the toxic doses against which I had been regularly inoculated by the community elders. On the contrary, all the “Goyim” I met were bending over backwards to demonstrate that they were “not prejudiced”, in the politically correct parlance of the day. The entire world, it seemed, including a generation that hadn’t been born until after the War, was engaged in a solemn dromenon of self-flagellation over what had happened to the Jews in Europe.

 

Lest you think the fears of racial persecution I describe beset only the older generations of Jews, haunted as they were by memories of their own direct encounters with it, let me assure you that they persist to this day amongst my contemporaries. In 1970, when I finished high school, most of my friends from the Manor chose to go either to York University or University of Toronto’s New College, both of which had been founded shortly before. Amongst themselves, they referred to New College as “Jew College”; but then, as I said, no Gentile would have dared utter such a calumny or even remarked in passing upon the disproportionate number of Jews at this institution. The reason for such choices was earnestly explained to me by those who made them: a brand new school would as yet have no WASP patrician class to harass or discriminate against Jews.

There was no arguing with them, of course. Since the early Sixties, Jews had been wildly over-represented amongst the graduating classes in the humanities, in the departments of sociology and psychology, and of course, in the faculties of business, medicine, and law. But such statistical vagaries did not assuage my friends’ strangely consoling dread that they were about to be discriminated against. It is ironic that, today, Jews have once again become the targets of racial discrimination in the academy. In lowering objective admissions standards or abandoning them altogether so as to accommodate “people of colour”, “Native” peoples, the handicapped, homosexuals, and anyone else upon whom society has recently conferred fully-accredited victim status, university admissions officers have inevitably excluded better qualified Jewish applicants. The further irony is that Jews, overwhelmingly liberal in their political proclivities, have always been in the forefront of movements calling for such racial (i.e., racist) “remedies” –the very policies and programs that are currently working against them. But this is only one of many Jewish paradoxes I must return to later.

 

When I married and left the parental nest, I went south, to the big city. Meanwhile, all of my high school friends migrated in the opposite direction, to a place called Thornhill. There, in another suburban wasteland with a bucolic English name, they proceeded to re-establish the self-ghettoized existence they had known in the Manor. It was more than clear to me at this point that the old arguments about racial persecution and violence were ritual mantras that had nothing any longer to do with actual empirical realities. The Jewish instinct to remain “together and apart” was something that ran much deeper than any prudent historical adaptation to external events or circumstances; it was evidently an inner, psychic compulsion, which is to say, a mythological imperative.

 

Blood

It may seem far-fetched to some to say that this instinct is rooted in the historical mythos of the Old Testament, but then modern rationalists invariably underestimate the degree to which they can be possessed by these hoary archetypes. For ancient Israel, remaining a people apart was the supreme religious obligation. Yahweh makes it a binding condition of the covenant: “I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from other people…; you shall not defile your souls by…anything…which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.” Uncleanness beckoned to the Hebrews pre-eminently in the form of the temptation to “go whoring after foreign gods”, and Hezekiah’s was only the first in a series of religious reformations whose centerpiece was the tearing down of the high places and their conversion to a latrine. Circumcision was a proud stigma of membership in the tribe, and Hebrew dietary laws were likewise shibboleths meant to keep the Jews free of the pollutions of the unclean Gentiles.

The ancient practices of circumcising new-borns and keeping kosher are both still widely observed today, notably, even amongst Jews who are otherwise unobservant. And, of course, the most solemn Jewish commandment next to the worship of the One True God is the prohibition against intermarriage. For a “good Jewish boy” to contemplate marriage to a “Shiksa” is always the occasion of parental dread and anguish, both in Borscht-Belt comedy and real life. Marrying outside the clan is an unforgivable apostasy. The argument is that Jewish numbers are so precarious that widespread intermarriage threatens the utter extinction of a four-thousand-year-old tradition. But once again, tradition is here defined in terms of blood. There is no impediment against a Gentile wife’s converting. (Indeed, in the “mixed marriages” with which I am familiar, this is the case more often than not.) In fact, the conversion of every “Shiksa” would only add another Jewish soul to the census rolls. But that is to understand Judaism as a religion, not a tribe. A converted Gentile is not a “real” Jew, in the eyes of the elders—not of the blood. It is for this reason, amongst others, that the Jewish clergy place no great emphasis on proselytism.

The Old Testament prohibition against miscegenation originated in a totemic stage of social history, when the tribesman’s first obligation was to maintain the purity of the ethnic group. Otherwise, the ancestral spirits might abandon him in his hour of need. Similarly, Jewish separatism is anthropologically articulated with the fear and suspicion of anyone outside the tribe’s ethnic temenos. We throw around charges of xenophobia loosely enough these days. Yet the Jews are apparently exempt. Perhaps because they have been conspicuous victims of racism, they are presumptively incapable of it. (But the subject of Jewish racism is also one I’ll have to come back to.) Let me simply close this part of the discussion by pointing out the eerie similarities between Jewish anxieties about racial purity and the “Aryan” fantasies of the Nazis. The respected leadership of the Jewish community (the Canadian Jewish Congress, the B’nai Brith, et al.) will immediately dismiss this as an “odious comparison”. But odious comparisons are usually things that people prefer not to think about.

Here’s another in the same vein, since I’m on a roll. I’ve said before, to the shock and horror of my auditors, that the confrontation between Judaism and Nazism was probably historically pre-ordained. Oh, I know: providence and pre-ordination are superstitions, no less atavistic than the Jewish beliefs and practices I am currently decrying. But I don’t mean pre-ordination in a theological sense. There are unknown currents, as Jung has argued, that clash and mingle beneath the surface of historical events: unconscious psychological affinities and repulsions that arrange things in ways we are unaware of. We all accept that they operate in the personal realm, of course. We say that so-and-so’s failure is the result of his negative attitude, or that so-and-so’s sunny disposition creates his own good luck. I see no reason why there should not be unconscious psychic forces that operate at the collective level of culture and history in the same way.

In the thirties, the Nazi movement notoriously saw itself as the long-awaited historical epiphany of mankind’s master race. Such inflations are common enough. The ancient Greeks sneered at the barbaroi (i.e., everyone who wasn’t a Hellene) as too intellectually and morally backward to appreciate the Greek gifts of reason and liberty. The Romans thought that only they knew how to govern, and so they magnanimously Romanized the world. Arguably, the illusion of racial superiority has at one time or other ensnared every nation throughout history, with the difference that the Nazis projected it with monstrous literalism. But who does not think his own people are “uniquely” special? Try to send back an order in any restaurant in France and you’ll find out, as I did, that the French are the world’s absolute masters of the culinary arts, so vastly superior to all of the other nations in this metier that the mere suggestion that a meal isn’t up to snuff will reasonably and justly expose one to the threat of physical violence.

 

The “Nations”

That the Jews are remarkably gifted, and have been the objects of envy and distrust on account of their gifts, goes without saying. In any number of fields—science, business, the law, medicine, academic scholarship, the media, literature, the arts—the Jews have achieved a degree of success and prominence out of all proportion to their numbers. And everybody knows it, especially the Jews.

All Jews of my acquaintance are understandably proud of their collective accomplishments; to their credit, in fact, they don’t speak of them overmuch. But the awareness is ever present, the more so for remaining unstated. It manifests itself in subtle ways. Whenever someone does something splendid in the news and it turns out that he or she is Jewish, there is a mute gesture of acknowledgment. If it’s someone in an occupation in which Jews are normally undistinguished–Sandy Koufax in baseball, or Steve Yzerman in hockey, for example–, there is an audible kvell of pride.

“Is he/she Jewish?” is the perennial question. “He/she is Jewish, you know”, is the perennial affirmation. Some may find this innocent enough; to me it was a mark of morbid self-absorption. I felt as though I were living in a Judeo-centric universe, from which there was no escape.

Indeed, for the Jews in my neighbourhood, just as for the ancient Greeks, the world consisted of only two groups of inhabitants: Jews and Gentiles. It never occurred to those who thought in such binary terms that the Jews represented a tiny minority of the global population, and to conceive of God’s creatures as consisting of “us” and “them” (as though the two were poised in some sort of balance of power) was profoundly self-aggrandizing. It also didn’t seem to matter that the “them” – the Gentiles – comprised a thousand different peoples. The term served to assimilate non-Jews in a homogenous lump, which is just how my friends and relatives thought of them.

Of course, “Gentiles” is a WASP prettification. The Yiddish word, the word used in the Manor, was Goyim. Goyim is, plain and simple, a racial calumny–if it’s possible to say so about a word as ethnologically diffuse as Goyim. On the lips of every Jew I have ever met, it has an unmistakably derogatory connotation. Goyim are morally and intellectually defective in every way that “we” are not. Jews are smart; Goyim have, well, a “goyishe kopf”. Jews are responsible family folks; Goyim are rakish and dissolute. Jews are sober and self-disciplined; Goyim drink too much.

 

Just in case you thought that, having been the victims of Shylockean stereotyping, Jews would never be guilty of the same, consider the widespread Jewish myth that Gentiles (i.e., the world’s entire non-Jewish population) have a congenital problem with alcohol. On this theme, I must recur to another personal anecdote – one, however, that is all too representative of my manorial experience.

When my parents’ estate was being settled a few years ago, my brother made an appointment with an accountant who had been a boyhood friend in the Manor. His office was – naturally – in Thornhill. Both of them, as it happens, had just returned from holidays in the Maritimes and were singing the praises of the Caeli’s they had attended. The consensus was that Maritimers really knew how to throw a party. Apparently, none of the locals left before he was falling-down, pickled-to-the-gills, two-sheets-to-the-wind, insensibly, roaring drunk. “Well”, said my brother’s accountant friend, “they’re Goyim”. Remember, I had just been introduced to this self-righteous prig. All he knew about me was that I was the brother of his friend, and therefore (at least biologically, which is all that counts) Jewish. So commonplace is his opinion within the tribe, that he naturally assumed that I wouldn’t be offended in the least by his arrogant moronism.

I’m aware that for the CJC, B’nai Brith, and so on, merely asking the question is proof that the questioner is an anti-Semite. But I’ll ask it anyway. Are Jews racists? Not in the conventional sense, of course; although some of the comments I heard about “Shvartzes” when I was growing up were world-class racial slurs. (But then Jesse Jackson, Louis Farakkhan, and other self-appointed leaders of the Black community have since returned the favour.) Most racists, however, look down upon particular groups (Blacks; Pakistanis; the Irish; Catholics; Jews). The Jews are equal opportunity condescenders; they look down upon everyone.

Preserving, into the twenty-first century, the sort of parochial hubris that regards “the nations” of the world as barbaroi is, in the least, a spectacular feat of anachronism. The great idol before which we all currently genuflect is cultural relativism: the creed according to which all creeds are equal. But, amongst the Jews, I see no realization that the Old Testament mythologem of the “chosen people” is an atavistic enormity that needs to be forcefully and unambiguously renounced. On the contrary, Jewish history and psychology, from the beginning to the present, seem to me to represent the steady, unreflective reification of the Old Testament myth.

 

The Sins of the Fathers

The Old Testament mythos, as I will argue more fully below, has much to do with many of the poisonous and geo-politically suicidal attitudes of contemporary Jews. The most poisonous of all concerns the “German question”, which seems the appropriate designation for a corrosive obsession that has been gnawing at the heart of Jewry for over sixty years.

A couple of years ago my oldest friend from high school abruptly terminated the relationship. My sins had been to question the original justice of the founding of the state of Israel, and to cast doubt upon the moral sanity of continuing to abominate all things German. Edmund (as I’ll call him) liked fast cars, and had just taken delivery of his latest when I asked if he’d ever test-driven a BMW. The reply was delivered in a familiar tone of disdain: “I don’t buy things made by German bastards”.

I’d heard the same anti-German vitriol throughout my childhood and adolescence in the Manor, and I always found it repugnant. To indict an entire nation – a nation with a two-thousand-year history – for the crimes of the Nazis struck me as outrageous. The Jews above all should be loath to condemn others on the basis of the group to which they belong by accident of birth. Surely my friends and relatives knew that in the thirties not all the German people happily subscribed to the Nazi program. Surely they knew that if a substantial segment of the German population were complicit, it was in the way that the inmates of totalitarian prisons have always been complicit. It’s easy enough for those of us who have never had to worry about a nocturnal knock at the door from the KGB or the Gestapo to be very brave and wonder why the German people did so little to oppose Hitler.

As I said to Edmund, the current shareholders of BMW must inevitably include investors from all around the world, and of the Germans amongst them, few were old enough to have lived during the Holocaust. To condemn the sons for the sins of the fathers is the most primitive sort of racism – the Neolithic sort that assumes that guilt is passed down through the blood. Come to think of it, that is just what the Old Testament God Yahweh apparently thought, when He fulminated that, in punishment for the sins of the fathers, He would pursue the sons to the nth generation.

I am aware, of course, that the same atavistic mentality is behind the current ubiquitous political sacrament of affirmative action and “reparations”. But such morally preposterous “remedies” compensate those who have suffered no injuries by punishing those who have committed no sins. Guilt has merely trickled down through the centuries and generations until it settles upon some convenient scapegoat lurking in the thicket.

It is for the same reasons that the conventional moral raison d’etre for the creation of the modern state of Israel has always struck me as questionable. Suffering from their own bad consciences over the historical treatment of the Jews, the Allied victors assumed the burden of guilt for the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the War. But the ancient Arab inhabitants of Palestine were not responsible for the Holocaust. One can hardly atone for the dispossession of a people by dispossessing a mutually agreed upon third party. As Arthur Koestler, a self-described Zionist, described it, the Balfour Doctrine amounted to “one nation solemnly promising a second nation the country of a third.” This, it seems to me, is the irreducible cause of the bitterness that has persisted through the decades in the Middle East.

 

The corrosive anti-Germanism that has survived through a second and third post-war generation of Jews has by now taken on the quality of a blood-feud. One can be forgiven (pun intended) for noting that Judaism has never repudiated the lex talionis that is the core of the Old Law. There is in Jewish tradition no glorious myth of the supersession of the Erinyes by the Eumenides, and the Christian proclamation of an epochal transition from the aera sub lege to the aera sub gratia has, of course, been emphatically rejected.

The yearning for vengeance for such monstrous crimes as the Jews suffered during the War is understandable and human; but sixty years on, it has become psychologically destabilizing. For many of my friends and relatives, it seems, it is still 1946. More than six decades later, the Holocaust Industry (as it’s been aptly called) has never been in fuller swing. Every year or so there is a new Holocaust movie or television documentary; there are Holocaust museums, travelling Holocaust exhibitions, Holocaust symposia, Centres for the Study of the Holocaust on practically every campus, and tour companies that specialize in “holiday” packages to Auschwitz and Belsen. In response to its more or less constant coverage, an American journalist once quipped that the New York Times should have changed its name to Holocaust Update. (Predictably, he was accused of anti-Semitism.)

It is for the Jews to judge the toxic psychological and spiritual consequences of continuing to rehearse and re-live the pain and anger conjured up with these memories. But the injunction to “Never Forget” is not merely directed by Jews to their own descendants; it is a standing accusation aimed at the Gentile world. Whether intended or not, the effect of nurturing a permanent Holocaust consciousness is to place the Germans in a perennial state of supplication for forgiveness. But since, as I have said, the majority of living Germans have nothing for which to apologize, they can hardly be expected to respond with anything but indignation and resentment. If Germans are as congenitally anti-Semitic as many Jews claim, then it is only a matter of time before that resentment metastasizes into something far more ominous.

The Strike…

Education, Losing a Year, and Eternity…

 

   Providing you ignore the bleakness of the setting and the turpitude of the architecture, such is the frequency and predictability of strikes at York University, that it’s rather like having a little corner of France right here in the northwest reaches of Toronto. In the socialist republique of York, as in France, one can be sure that at least one major sector of the labour force will be on strike at any given time.

   Since York’s student body has overwhelmingly supported the strike—university students overwhelmingly support every strike–, one can be forgiven for taking a soupcon of pleasure from the fact that its principal victims were the students themselves. Of course, once they calculated that they might “lose their year”, as they put it, their proletarian ardour began precipitously to cool. So much for the selfless idealism and devotion to social justice with which the “younger generation” is so often credited.

Why, in any case, should the students at York have “lost their year”? Library workers weren’t on strike. Free of the burden of classes, essays, and exams, why didn’t York’s students redeem the time by venturing boldly in, moving past the banks of computers, and ascending into the stacks, where those pre-Internet repositories of wisdom known as books are located? There they might have achieved what few degree recipients are required to achieve these days: a broad liberal arts education, and a critical appreciation of a Civilization that formerly counted a passing familiarity with its great writers and thinkers an essential human virtue.

Having begun with the study of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East and progressed through that of Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, to the modern era; having become conversant in the works of the major poets, dramatists, essayists, philosophers, theologians, composers, and artists of the past four thousand years; then, if the strike were still in progress, York’s undergraduates might have had a reason to complain about their enforced idleness.

But whenever strikes drag on at York and students begin to panic, reading Homer, Plato, or St. Augustine is rarely uppermost in their minds. The delay they fear is that of the timely commencement of their careers; the loss, that is, of a year’s pay. Having listened for years to politicians and bureaucrats trumpeting our federal and provincial governments’ generous “investments” in education as the incubator of a “highly-skilled workforce” and the engine of a “modern economy”, it is hardly surprising that students should now think of universities as upper-class vocational schools.

As with so many other institutions, the modern state has managed to radically re-define education while pretending that its neoteric definition has always been normative. It hasn’t. From classical antiquity to the 1960s, the purpose of education has been to make young adults full heirs of the cultural and intellectual patrimony of the West, which was regarded as their universal birthright as members of the human race and citizens, pre-eminently, of an eternal Cosmopolis of the mind. (During that time, only Spartans and Communists attempted to suborn education for the narrow military and economic interests of the state.) As the American conservative columnist Joseph Sobran has written recently, “Few of us seem to notice the totalitarianism implicit in the assumptions that children’s minds belong to the state and, further, that they must never be taught eternal truths.”

One doesn’t have to know the Bible or the Greek myths, the pagan Platonist Apuleius or the Christian Platonist Origen, to get a high-paying job; merely to enter into the human conversation as it has been conducted over the span of three millennia. (Origen was the father of a fifteen-century tradition of biblical allegory, but I doubt that either Dalton McGinty or Stephen Harper has heard of him.)

Less than a hundred years ago, grade school children would have been introduced routinely to these subjects. Today, few university graduates know them. Even still, we smugly proclaim their generation the brightest and most sophisticated in history, on the basis, apparently, of their fluency with Windows.

What follows is a version of a lecture presented in 2004 in the University Lecture Series of University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

A MYTHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO CHRISTIAN HISTORY AND SOTERIOLOGY

I

The cultural urgency of understanding the Christian story and soteriology from a mythological point of view I take more or less for granted. Christianity remains the living myth of Western civilization, though this fact seems to be scarcely recognized or understood in our officially secular age. Even when we are reminded of it perforce, it seems nonetheless to ambush us from some dark atavistic hinterland of the psyche.

A couple of years ago, an otherwise typical embodiment of Hollywood normalcy by the name of Mel Gibson produced a movie called The Passion of the Christ. It shattered, as the keepers of such statistics attest, practically all records at the box office. Naturally, the critical beau monde panned it. They could find nothing in the film, as they would have us believe, that justified its success.

Though mass popularity is hardly an index of cultural or artistic value, it seems nonetheless obvious that the critics’ reflexive dismissal of The Passion was less a matter of sophisticated judgment than sophisticated prejudice. As we know, intellectuals don’t always comprehend the important things very deeply, especially the things of religion. And of course, it was amongst the lower, uneducated classes that the Christian myth was first incubated, before it conquered the entire ancient Roman world, including its most sophisticated and enlightened minds.

What was it that so many movie-goers, in an officially post-Christian age, responded to so powerfully in The Passion? That in witnessing on screen Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as it had taken place in first century Palestine, they were being reminded of the momentous historical event that, along with the entire posterity of Adam, redeemed them from Satan, sin, and death, unto eternal life?

One doubts it. Since very few people today, even amongst the non-intellectual classes, are any longer capable of such naive belief, it can hardly have been the literal historical story that moved them. But in the absence of literal belief, they were moved, all the same. By what?

Dying God and Mother-Spouse

At the risk of turning this into a movie review, let me draw your attention to one minor example of the way in which the Christian story can still apparently impinge upon the living psyche. Early in the movie there is a charming little domestic scene in which a young Jesus proudly shows his mother the table he has just finished building. Whether canonical or not, the scene has a certain historical verisimilitude.

Like his human father Joseph, Jesus is after all a carpenter. That as a young man Jesus should seek the approval of his mother is entirely in keeping with the natural family situation. That Mary should nonetheless gently point out to her precocious offspring that his masterpiece is somewhat implausibly tall for a dining table is also both natural and endearing. But if that were all that the scene contained, or rather, if the story of Jesus were merely an endearing but ordinary human story, then indeed it could hardly be of enduring interest.

Jesus’ table, of course, is no ordinary dining table. It is in fact the altar that he is preparing for his own Sacrifice. It is also a type of the table of the Last Supper upon which he will consecrate the eucharistic bread and wine, his own body and blood. Typologically, the wood of the table of the Last Supper, and of the Cross itself, is the same wood. According to Christian tradition, it had been harvested from the Tree of Knowledge in Eden, whose fruit deprived Adam of eternal life, just as the Second Adam is the fruit hanging upon the tree of the Cross, whose death restores it. And as Christ is the fruit, so Mary is the universal Tree that bears the fruit. And as tree and fruit, Mary and Christ are no longer mere biological mother and son, no longer any particular historical mother and son interacting in the ordinary family situation, but the immemorial dying and reviving God and mother-spouse of universal mythology.

I do not, of course, for a moment think that, though these symbolic and mythological meanings are entirely traditional and well-known to the student of Christian theology and iconography, the average movie-goer, or even Mr. Gibson himself, understood them consciously. Theirs were rather what Maud Bodkin in her Archetypal Patterns in Poetry called “felt significances”. Mr. Gibson’s cinematic art has recreated what was once experienced intuitively in the nascency of the Christian epoch and yet still inhabits the deepest strata of the Western imagination, susceptible of being called back into living significance and emotion by the sort of skillful portrayal that Mr. Gibson–for those with eyes to see and ears to hear–has given it.

The Search for the Historical Jesus

It should by now be clear, I hope, that when I say that Christianity is the living myth of our culture I do not mean Christianity as a fixed and codified system of dogmas and creeds within the context of an organized religion. In this latter manifestation, the corpus Christi is undeniably moribund–dead, or at least dying–from the effects of attack from without and exhaustion from within.

By now, rational science has long since succeeded in exposing the biblical Christian salvation history as a quaint anachronism, a fairy tale that persists from the childhood of the race. The almighty state (which will have no gods before it) has safely banished traditional Christian symbols from the public square, and generally treats religious statements and ideas as pernicious. Academics can find in the two thousand year history of the Church nothing but forced conversions, inquisitions, witch burnings, and all the other atrocities that logically fester in the miasmal swamp of racism, sexism, and intolerance that is the Western Tradition–and they evangelize this caricature of Christianity to the young with the certitude of the defenders of a new orthodoxy. Worst of all, the Church’s ostensible defenders have been all the more devastating to her for being benignly well-intentioned.

For well over a century now, Christian scholars and “progressive” theologians have assumed that they were doing the Church a good service by stripping Christian narrative and dogma of all those accreted myths, miracles, and metaphysical mysteries that have proved a stumbling-block to rational modern belief. But their obsession with the Jesus of history has merely succeeded in further emptying the pews.

 

The well-meaning undertaking by Christian scholars to distill from the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry a core of indisputable, historiographically and scientifically verifiable fact–the so-called “search for the historical Jesus”–has arisen logically enough in response to the stubbornly agnostic spirit of the modern age. Modern civilization has once and for all left the cocoon of religious fideism. As the great Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung observed almost a century ago, modern man will apparently no longer accept traditional religious postulates that he cannot verify for, or in, himself. In place of subjective belief, he demands objective, scientific knowledge; in place of second-hand faith in distant deeds or remote metaphysical entities, he requires private and immediate experience. In short, modern man seems no longer capable of sustaining any conviction in the literal-historical truth of his ancestral narratives, which he now regards as less akin to history than to poetry, projected psychology, or myth.

In light of the widening and deepening cultural awareness that the Christian istoria is in essence a myth – not unlike those parallel myths of saviour-gods retailed throughout pagan antiquity – the “progressive” search for the historical Jesus seems paradoxically retrograde. Nonetheless, from relatively humble beginnings in the late nineteenth century, the historical study of Jesus the man quickly rose to prominence in the twentieth with the work of the Protestant demythologizer Rudolph Bultmann, and remains today a thriving cottage industry. It continues to fascinate all strata of Christian society, from the learned members of the Jesus Seminar to the southern Baptists who ask, in all earnestness, “What would Jesus drive?”

Unfortunately, however, demythologizing the Christian story is a little like de-alcoholizing Champagne; it can be done, I suppose, but in the place of a high and effervescent mystery, one is only left with a flat-tasting and disappointingly non-intoxicating beverage. To slightly alter the metaphor, the historical Jesus might satisfy the thirst of the flesh, but to satisfy the spirit, only the wine of miracle and myth will serve.

The Mythic Christ

As the Jewish rabbi who lived and taught in first century Palestine, and bequeathed to posterity an undeniably revolutionary and enlightened code of social and moral conduct, the Christian God has nonetheless no more claim on us than Pythagoras, Seneca, Marx, or Gandhi. Were he regarded by his followers as human and nothing else, and in this sense historically true, he could no more have kindled the light that for two millennia has burned in the darkness of the world than any other in the long succession of history’s eminent visionaries, wise men, political reformers, ethical scolds, or naive idealists. He opened men’s eyes to his revelation precisely because he was the eternal and transcendent God, and therefore unhistorical. It can hardly have been the meager human story of a Semitic sage that persuaded those first Christians of their transformation into heavenly beings and their everlasting salvation in communion with God.

Without the supramundane Christ and the whole metaphysical cosmos that He embodied, there would have been no story whatsoever. What has ultimately mattered down through the centuries to the religious, if not to the historical imagination, is that Jesus is the God-man, the incarnate Word, the eternal Son of the everlasting Father; that he was sent from heaven for the salvation of mankind; was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit within the inviolate womb of His virgin mother; that for the redemption of the fallen he died, descended into Hell, rose again from the grave, and returned to the right hand of God.

But every one of these Christian motives and credenda–God-man, miraculous conception, Virgin Birth, Descent into the Underworld, Resurrection, Ascension, and so on–is by definition wholly unsusceptible of empirical-historical demonstration, and therefore wholly beyond the scope and purview of the “search for the historical Jesus”. Every one, that is, constitutes an age-old and irreducibly mythological category of description. The historical imagination can apparently neither prove nor disprove them, as the religious imagination refuses at the same time to see them superannuated.

Naturally, it has never occurred to the searchers after the historical Jesus that their methods of inquiry are utterly incommensurable with the object of their search. Whoever Jesus actually was, and whatever deeds may be verified by historical evidence as having been enacted by him, he was in any case the target of a tidal wave of psychic projections and mythological expectations that all but swamped his historical personality from the very beginning. As Jung remarks, neither St. Paul nor the Evangelists hardly ever allow the real Jesus of Nazareth to get a word in.

Even at this incipient stage of the Christian revolution, his historical particularity has been all but dissolved in the solvents of archetypal and metaphysical conception: he is, already at the end of the first century, the pre-existent Logos, cosmogonic Nous, universal Redeemer, mediating God-man. The entire pre-Christian, Ancient Near Eastern, Hellenistic, and Gnostic theological and philosophical legacy attaches itself to Jesus and transforms him into a larger than life, collective figure who has no more need of historicity. Indeed, the historical Jesus is so peremptorily and completely absorbed into the circumambient religious and philosophical atmosphere of the ancient Graeco-Roman world that he effectively disappears without a trace.

 

The birth of the God-man in Bethlehem was an event with which the entire ancient world had been pregnant since the dawn of civilization. The obscure rabbi whose career lasted for perhaps a year before it came to a tragic end must have staggered beneath the burden of mankind’s conscious and unconscious expectations, no less than he staggered beneath the burden of the Cross. His was both a New Birth and an old one, as those same religious expectations had already been at least partially projected upon, or had moulded out of the raw clay, any number of mythological redeemer-figures throughout pagan antiquity, whose imprint on the developing Christology is unmistakable.

At every stage, the life of the biblical Christ is bent and stretched to the archetypal pattern of the ubiquitous hero myth, whose main elements are well-known: supernatural birth of a divine Father and a mortal mother; improbably humble origins; threat of infanticide; flight into exile; precocious development; miraculous deeds; anagnorisis of his hidden divine origins; tragic death by dismemberment; descent into the underworld, resurrection, and reclamation of his kingdom. All of these age-old and pre-formed motives were inevitably projected into the vita Christi just as they had been projected into the mythic narratives of Zeus, Perseus, Hercules, Theseus, Oedipus, Dionysus, Asclepius, Romulus, Sargon of Akkad, Osiris, Tammuz, Attis, Joseph, and Moses, to name a few.

When surveyed from the distances sufficient to the perspectives of theology, the entire Judaeo-Christian istoria reveals a system of natural and cosmological imagery and a mythological structure that were so long ago absorbed into the biblical tradition that the familiar formulas ventilated by critics and historians to explain their precise cultural-historical relation (“borrowings” or “assimilations”, “harmonizations”, “adaptations”, “Christianizations”, etc.) seem wholly inadequate.

 

The Christian salvation history tells the story of a Saviour who died the victim of an Enemy who appears to have represented an antagonistic Principle of darkness, wintry sterility, and death; thus he was cut down and dismembered on the Cross like a harvest Tammuz (whence in ongoing sacramental devotions, his people consumed his blood and broken body that they might commune with him in immortality). When he descended into Hell, during his absence from the upper world, the entire earth was darkened, even as Nature was said to lament the disappearance of the ancient year-god and abstain from her joyful duties. In the underworld Christ slew his Enemy in the form of a malevolent sea-monster, and rescued his subjects from captivity in its belly; then he arose from the grave and ascended into heaven, where, following a sacred marriage with a royal princess, the Son of God and his mother-spouse assumed their place as King and Queen upon a throne that had been usurped, for a time, by a pretender. By means of his triumphant springtime resurrection, Christ the Sun of Righteousness, the eternally rising Oriens, the Fruit of the Living Tree, the Bread of Life, and True Vine, redeemed an exhausted and dying moral and social order, and converted a barren wasteland into an eternally verdant Paradise, restoring the world to the state of its pre-historical beginnings.

No one can fail to decipher in this outline of biblical history a theme of universal dispersion. Whether defined as “the myth of the hero” or the “seasonal pattern”, the archetypal schema according to which the parallel narratives and rituals of the various redeemer-gods of antiquity were ubiquitously organized seems to have been wholly re-constellated, along with its ingredient images and symbols, in the historical life, liturgy, and sacraments of the Christian God.

*****

II

Historical Man, Universal God

Through these symbols, the earliest Christians encountered in Christ both a God of history and a God of myth: a Redeemer revealed in the unique events of historical time, and (as One who was born upon the winter solstice and reborn on the vernal equinox), a God of nature and the revolving seasons as well. Such primordial associations with the eternal year effectively abstracted Him from His own local, unique, and unrepeatable history, and exalted Him onto the universal plane of mythopoeia. As Jung has contended, this is the essential meaning of the archetype of the God-man, and of the mystery of the Cross, at the intersection of whose vertical and horizontal axes the universal and particular, eternal and temporal dimensions of the Godhead, and therefore of reality itself, collide.

As a personage of Israelite history, Jesus set himself in opposition to the old numens of myth and the cyclical consolations of nature. Yet the Church has unconsciously preserved the traditional narrative and ritual forms commemorative of these ancient mythic and natural themes.

Over the centuries, Christians have seen in Jesus’ Crucifixion an iconic echo of the sparagmos or dismemberment of the ancient year-god by his death-dealing Enemy, or a recollection of his harvest dramas, when the god’s corpse lay strewn on the threshing floor. Christian poets and homilists have described the Maries mourning Jesus during their Easter vigil in the same manner in which the female votaries of Tammuz, miming the bereavement of Ishtar, wailed their annual ritual lamentations as they searched for the departed god. Christian artists have treated Christ’s Harrowing of Hell as the eleemosynary gesture of another Tammuz, Osiris, Theseus, Hercules, or Orpheus; and between the Sun of Justice’ emergence reborn from the belly of an infernal maritime dragon and the night-sea journeys through the viscera of Apophis or Tiamat prosecuted by the sun-gods Re, Horus, and Markuk, their depictions have recorded little iconographical difference.

By means of such mythic resonances Christians have preserved the balance between the concept of Jesus as historical man (Galilean preacher of first-century Palestine), and Jesus as Universal God, an incarnation, localized in time and place, of a Deity who has reigned in all places and all times. While in deference to Jesus’ own historical example, the Church has formally given preference to doctrines and rituals that were inherited from Judaism rather than paganism, yet having detached herself from the old Mosaic Law and the national-historical aspirations of Jewish messianism, she has moved steadily towards the assumption of all the timeless, meta-historical symbols and sanctities of traditional Gentile religion.

When the Emperor Zeno rededicated the Temple of Rhea at Byzantium to the Virgin Mary, it was but a step towards her elevation from the merely human character of the Gospels to the age-old Universal Mother in whom, as the poet and classicist Robert Graves has said, all the ancient titles and attributes of the pagan Virgin Goddess were finally restored. Zeno’s concession eventually gave rise to the Mariolatry of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and culminated in the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption in the twentieth. Such a dogma, in effect, merely acknowledged, in the words Graves, that “educated Catholics do in practice avert their eyes from the historical Jesus and Mary and fix them devoutly on the [universal] Christ and the Blessed Virgin”. Accordingly, as eternal female and male principles, in their mythological guises of Earth and Heaven, Moon and Sun, Heavenly Queen and King, lamenting mother-spouse and dying son-lover, tree and fruit, Mary and Christ have never ceased to be venerated in Christian piety, mysticism, literature, and art down through the ages.

 

The Christian Polemic Against Myth

It need hardly be said that a re-valuation of the vita Christi as myth–or perhaps I should call it a reclamation of the original mythic Christ–would entail a radical transformation of Christianity as it is now understood and practised, and thus run up against enormous inertial forces. That much at least is clear to me from the nervous disavowals I hear in Church every Christmas morning as the priest intones the same sermon year after year: Today, begins his annual homiletic scolding, we are celebrating the birth of the Son of God in history. We are not commemorating a myth, like those idle fables rehearsed in pagan antiquity of divine births that never happened in the real world but only in the mind. We are commemorating an historically true and actual event. We are commemorating a Truth that is unprecedented, unique, and final.

He is right, of course, in one sense: an insistence upon historicity as the primordial authenticating datum of Christianity is tantamount to an insistence upon the exclusivity and finality of its revealed truths. The biblical-historical event occurs uniquely in time and place. It occurs once and for all, and any who do not assent to its truth are outside of the Christian communion. The mythic fiction, on the other hand, is indiscriminately disseminated and universally accessible, to anyone, everywhere, and always. It is eternally recurrent, to use Eliade’s formula, although “only in the mind”. But then this is a curious “only”, coming as it does from a Christian faith that purports to value the invisible things of God and the soul above the mutable and transient phenomena of the material world.

Besides this minor ontological solecism, the besetting problem, however, is that the modern educated intelligence can no more accept the exclusivity and finality of the Christian revelation than it can accept its historicity. I wish I possessed the searing eloquence of Simone Weil, the great French mystic and philosopher, in answering the finalistic certitudes of my annual Christmas homilist. In a “Letter to a Priest” published in the early 1940s, I believe, she enumerated those opinions which she said had debarred her from the sacrament of baptism and entry into the Church. Here are some excerpts from this remarkable meditation:

…we do not know for certain that there have not been incarnations previous to that of Jesus, and that Osiris in Egypt, Krishna in India, were not of that number.

***

If Osiris is not a man having lived on earth while remaining God, in the same way as Christ, then at any rate the story of Osiris is a prophecy infinitely clearer, more complete and closer to the truth than everything which goes by that name in the Old Testament. The same applies to other gods that have died and returned to life.

***

And the same applies in the case of Prometheus. The story of Prometheus is the very story of Christ projected into the eternal. All that is wanting is its localization in time and space.

***

I also think that Hestia, Athene, and possibly Hephaestus are names for the Holy Spirit. Hestia is the central Fire. Athene came forth from the head of Zeus after the latter had devoured his wife, Wisdom, who was pregnant; she ‘proceeds’, therefore, from God and his Wisdom. Her emblem is the olive, and oil, in the Christian sacraments, is symbolically connected with the Holy Spirit.

***

Fire is constantly the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The Stoics, heirs of Heraclitus, named pneuma the fire whose energy sustains the order of the world. Pneuma, that is fiery breath.

Heraclitus recognized a Trinity….The Persons are: Zeus, the Logos, and the divine Fire.

St John, in making use of the words Logos and Pneuma, indicated the profound relationship existing between Greek Stoicism and Christianity.

***

Plato also clearly recognized…and pointed to the dogmas of the Trinity, Mediation, the Incarnation, the Passion, and to the notions of grace and salvation through love.

It is worth noticing that the moment Christ was crucified, the sun was in the constellation of the Ram.

Plato, in Timaeus, describes the astronomical constitution of the universe as a sort of crucifixion of the Soul of the World, the point of intersection being the equinoctial point, that is to say, the constellation of the Ram.

***

The words: “Except a corn of wheat die” express Christ’s affinity to the dead and resuscitated divinities which were represented by vegetation, such as Attis and Proserpina.

***

The motherhood of the Virgin has mysterious connections with some words in Plato’s Timaeus concerning a certain essence, mother of all things, and forever intact. All the mother Goddesses of antiquity, like Demeter, Isis, Artemis, were figures of the Virgin.

***

Baptism regarded as a death is the equivalent of the ancient initiations…The use of the word “mysteries” to designate the sacraments points to the same equivalence. The circular font strongly resembles the stone basin in which, according to Herodotus, the mystery of Osiris’ passion was celebrated. They both represent perhaps the open sea, that open sea on which Noah’s ark and that of Osiris, wooden structures which saved humanity before the one of the Cross.

***

The ceremonies of the Eleusinian mysteries and those of Osiris were regarded as sacraments in the sense in which we understand that term today. And it may be that they were real sacraments, possessing the same virtue as baptism or the eucharist, and deriving that virtue from the same relation with Christ’s Passion. That Passion was then to come. Today it is past. Past and future are symmetrical. Chronology cannot play a decisive role in a relationship between God and man, a relationship one of the terms of which is eternal.

Simone Weil here anatomizes the chronic infirmity of faith in a remote and external historical event. Does the modern man really believe that Christ’s once-and-for-all death on the Cross two thousand years ago has saved him? Does he feel saved, now, today?

Writing at about the same time as Weil, Jung animadverted on the pitiable impotence of a God who is thus bound and fettered to the unique and unrepeatable historical moment. “And it is to this powerless God that a Christian is supposed to pray for salvation from bodily and spiritual want? God cannot lift a finger, for he exists only historically, in tradition, and in a strictly limited sense. The French could just as easily, and with just as little success, importune Charlemagne to inflict a great defeat on the wretched Germans and liberate Alsace-Lorraine.”

 “One nature but many names”

It may be either alarming or reassuring to Christians to know that Simone Weil’s twentieth century speculation that there may have been other genuine incarnations of God before Christ and may well be further incarnations after him–that the variously named pagan deities are merely parallel intimations of and designations for the same God–is an ancient and universal intuition of the religious imagination.

Recognizing that the One God can only be revealed through the many, but that no single revelation could express the transcendent totality of His Being, the second-century Middle Platonist philosopher Maximus of Tyre was moved to make the case for an enlightened form of “idolatry” (all the more significant because the veneration of temple images was the arch-sin of both Judaism and primitive Christianity):

God Himself, the Father and Creator of all that is, is older than the Sun or the heavens, greater than time and eternity and all the whole flux of being, is unnamable by any lawgiver, unutterable by any voice, not to be seen by any eye. But we, being unable to apprehend His essence, seek the support of sounds and names and images and creatures, of shapes in gold and ivory and silver, yearning for the knowledge of Him, but in our weakness forced to name His divine Nature after the merely terrestrial beauties of the world…Why should I pass judgment against the use of images. Let men strive to know what is the essential nature of the Divine (to theion genos); let them know. If it is the art of Phidias that arouses recollections of God for the Greeks, while for the Egyptians it is the worship of animals, or for another man it is a river, another fire, I have no objection to such diversities. Let them only know God, let them love and remember Him. (Or. II, 10)

Maximus presents an eloquent brief for a multiplicity of iconographical and revelatory forms, as the plenary instrument of a universal religion. The divergences of local cult and imagery, according to Maximus, betray only the limitations of the human understanding, and the inadequacy of human speech. Properly comprehended they serve to fire their devout to the remembrance of the unitary, transcultural essence of God (to theion genos), who is “older” and “greater” than all of His many local signs and manifestations.

Cultic multiplicity and difference, in mythic theology, do not therefore imply competition and exclusivity of truth; quite the opposite. Thus we observe, most famously in Plutarch, that peculiarly late-antique character: the spiritually omnivorous worshipper. Like Plutarch, who might attend the mystic rites of Isis on Monday and Demeter on Tuesday (in the knowledge that they were merely regional versions of the same Mystery), the second-century Middle Platonist Apuleius was proud of his membership in a multiplicity of cults. “I have been initiated into many sacred mysteries in Greece…moved by religious fervour and a zeal to know the truth, I have learned mysteries upon mysteries, rites beyond number, and a great diversity of ceremonies.”

In short, the mythic theologians of late antiquity regarded the diverse names, cults, and sacred legends of the many gods as only relative symbols of a universal and transcendent Reality. In the useful formulation of Maximus of Tyre, the Divine has “one nature but many names”. For the initiates of the countless dying and reviving gods of the late-antique world, competitive claims to exclusive or absolute Truth were dissolved in the awareness that the local deities were only finite representations of the Infinite, and that, besides, there were overwhelming narrative, imagistic, and allegorical symmetries that assimilated their myths and liturgies. Thus, as opposed to identifying any one regional or ethnic divinity with the Divine itself, what we observe is the ubiquitous late-antique velleity to identify the different gods with each other “syncretistically”, and to relativize them all as merely local representations or epiphanies of the Absolute.

 

Nor was this an exclusively pagan intuition. The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr could not help but be struck by the comprehensive analogy between pagan mythology and the Christian istoria, which he explained by recourse to a widespread Stoic doctrine of innate and common religious conceptions implanted by the Logos spermatikos in the rational depths of all men.

Clement of Alexandria likewise granted to the pagan worthies the dignity of their own unmediated encounter with the Divine. The scriptural and mythological traditions are in his view separate but parallel channels issuing from a single reservoir of wisdom, vouchsafed simultaneously to the Hebrews and Greeks, and then translated by the Prophets and poets into images “appropriate” to each nation. The Jewish Prophets, Egyptian priests, Chaldaean astronomers, Perisan Magi, Indian Gymnosophists, and Greek poets) all suffered the afflatus of the Word, and it is the same Word that has recently become flesh. In each case, the Word was proclaimed in a different religious dialect, but the underlying theology remained the same. And if the Word is to be heard in the Greek world, it must doff its Semitic guise and put on a Hellenistic guise; it must speak the language of Plato and Homer.

With his theory of the adaptations of the Logos, Clement effectively assimilated and relativized the Godhead’s Jewish, Near Eastern, Greek, and Christian cultural forms, in the same way, that is, as the ancient mythic theologians had assimilated and relativized the diverse names, images, rituals, and sacred legends of the many gods as the regional manifestations and accommodationist symbols of the Universal God.

 

 Beyond the Categories

      As Joseph Campbell has argued, it is the function of myth to humiliate its own confident assertions, to point beyond its inevitably local, particular, temporal iconology to some unspecific and unmanifest Source or Ground of Being:

The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump–by analogy. Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond. And then, the conditions for meditation having been provided, the individual is left alone. Myth is but the penultimate; the ultimate is openness–that void, or being, beyond the categories–into which the mind must plunge alone and be dissolved. Therefore, God and the gods are only convenient means–themselves of the nature of the world of names and forms, though eloquent of, and ultimately, conducive to, the ineffable. They are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.

Though, according to Campbell, the “recognition of the merely secondary nature of the personality of whatever deity is worshipped” is characteristic of “most of the traditions” of the world, in the biblical religions, “the personality of the divinity is taught to be final”–thereby impeding rather than facilitating any passage beyond the local-cultural names and forms of the Godhead. That the particular local incarnation is complete and identical with the Absolute is, indeed, the salient meaning of the Christian historical belief in the Word that took flesh (the only True God and Saviour of mankind, who appeared to men but once, in Roman Palestine, under the governorship of Quirinius). Founded on a supposedly novel, unique, and spontaneous sequence of actual historical events, the Christian evangelium announced a new and utterly final truth to the world.

What then is left to the Christian who has lost his faith in the exclusive veracity and soteriological efficacy of the unique historical revelation? There is always–and the operative word is “always”–the unio mystica: that wholly open-ended revelation of God by means of the individual soul’s unmediated encounter with and transformative possession by the Holy Spirit.

Of course, like faith itself, the unio mystica unfortunately cannot be compelled. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth; and if it bloweth in our direction, it does so as a spontaneous gift of grace. I suppose there are methods of making the soul more receptive to the Spirit’s afflatus At least, the early Christian and medieval mystics thought so. But I know of few people today who can spend weeks on end perched atop a pole in the Egyptian desert.

We are left, in the end, it seems to me, with the symbols: left to study them, to try to comprehend them, to contemplate them, to stare at them, to venerate them if one is so inclined, as a means of approach to the Unknown God. A symbolic or mythological approach to Christianity would certainly be subversive of its sectarian certitudes. But then it’s already too late to worry about that.

In any case, it is not clear to me why the truth of Christianity should not be amplified rather than diminished through the acknowledgement of its archetypal character and transcultural affiliations, and that the meaning and soteriological efficacy of Christian dogmas and symbols might not be enhanced by means of a resonant reconnection with their common psychic ground and mythic background.

By recognizing the symbolic and mythological irradiations and meanings of Christian statements, such as can no longer be metabolized as literal truths anyway, we might at last get beyond the “sacrosanct unintelligibility” in which so many Church dogmas seem almost deliberately to be shrouded. Nor do I mean to suggest this as a merely intellectual or academic exercise. As the psychic deposits of millennia of human religious experience, mythic images are already freighted with meaning and charged with emotion.

As Campbell suggests, and as the ancients believed, the symbols are the steppingstones by which the mind can move out of itself into the sphere of the Divine. In the conscious and unconscious encounter with the eternally recurrent archetypes, whose timelessness and ubiquity transcend every locally and historically circumscribed revelation, the spirit confronts that a-temporal and universal dimension of the Divine which has been, for almost every age and people, the ultimate goal of the religious quest.

Political Messiahs…

American Camelots…

Sons against Fathers…

History and Providence…

The Mass Mind…

and…

Obamamania…

     In his True Doctrine, the second-century Middle Platonist philosopher Celsus paints a dreary portrait of an age swarming with prophets, soothsayers, sibyls, mantics, clairvoyants, wonder-workers, faith healers, saints, and redeemers. Our own age seems no less fecund with prophets and messiahs, save that they are of the more acceptable, post-religious, political type.

     My own skepticism in the matter of political messiahs is founded in a messianism of a rather different sort. Here I stand firmly with Jesus, who rebuffed the demands of Jewish zealots for a political leader of a new Davidic golden age of peace, prosperity, equality, and justice, with the wisdom recorded in Luke: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Christianity sanely rejects the illusion of a terrestrial, socio-political Paradise; the last century should have persuaded even the post-Christian mind that those who promise one usually deliver a socio-political Hell. Nonetheless, our appetite for political messiahs remains curiously undiminished.

     Over the course of my lifetime, I have tallied up the collective swoons of significant segments of the population for (in roughly chronological order): Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

     As the list suggests, political messiahs run the moral gamut (they are only human, after all). But a few common characteristics distinguish them from the generality of mankind. They typically promise radical, epoch-retiring, world-regenerating change, preliminary to the establishment of a new order of equality and social justice. They promise to effect that change by means of an ever-expanding State. And their gospel of change is exuberantly hailed by the multitudes. I can hear them, at this very moment, hailing the advent of Barack (change we can believe in) Obama.

     Obamamaniacs exhibit all of the symptoms of the primitive unconsciousness that has bred previous epidemics of political messianism. Obama’s rhetoric, puerile and vapid even by the standards of politicians, has been called “majestic” and “inspirational”. Though more Nestorian than Churchillian at its best, and at its worst, painfully embarrassing, his “oratory” has moved otherwise intelligent observers to gush that in it the soaring cadences of Demosthenes can be heard.

     Obama’s most inspirational mantras (“We are the ones we have been waiting for”) are so rankly Narcissistic as to suggest that he suffers from a full-blown messiah-complex. Today, even Christians cringe when reminded of Jesus’ immodest words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; and the citizens of North Korea have always secretly laughed at their Dear Leader’s pathological self-inflation. Able to swallow, and keep down, Obama’s vainglorious first-person-plural rodomontade, his supporters have evidently progressed to the most advanced stages of the personality cult.

     On the campaign trail, the crowds that have come out to strew palm-branches in his path are enormous. He has, it is said, re-mobilized American youth (as if political youth movements have been ever benign). He is lauded, above all, for appealing to voters across party and ideological lines. When I heard that Christopher Buckley, the famous son of the founder of modern American conservatism, had announced his defection to Obama, I was reminded of the warnings issued by Christ and other revolutionaries, that the New Doctrine will divide brother against brother, husband against wife, and father against son. Obama’s surrogates have moved well beyond such warnings to explicit threats; as Erica Jong has admonished, an Obama defeat would lead to “blood in the streets” and precipitate “a second American Civil War”.

     On election night, people all across the globe gathered in the hundreds of thousands to watch the returns and celebrate Obama’s inevitable victory. In downtown Toronto, whose denizens are nomally either indifferent to or contemptuous of American politics, the devout assembled sua sponte before a huge open-air monitor to count down the minutes to the new age. Thereupon they partied throughout the night, as though it were New Year’s Eve or VE Day. In Europe, above all, the reflexive anti-Americanism of both the masses and the intellectual elites was simply swallowed up in a tidal wave of Obamamania. The world, like Michelle, had finally found a reason to be proud of America.

     I write in the very early days of the aera nova, but already the word “historic” has supplanted “like” and “ya know” as the most common filler in English usage. Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech, his first cabinet appointment, and his first post-election visit to the White House were all pronounced “historic”. The only development that wasn’t so called was the genuinely historic, four-day free-fall in the stock market that began at 9:30 on the morning after the final results were in. But then, no one wanted reality to intrude upon the political “good news”.

      For generations, scholars and clinicians in various fields have anatomized the peculiar state of mind into which the individual rational intellect lapses when it has become dissolved into the psyche of the group, whether in primitive tribal rituals or modern political mass movements. As Jung has described it:

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.

Since Jung wrote these words long before the Internet and CNN, he could hardly have imagined how widely and rapidly such psychic infections as Obamamania can spread.

       Even in the antediluvian days of newspapers and network T.V., the speed with which the mass mind was able to propagate was impressive. The Kennedy phenomenon was a seminal case in point. I was hardly ten at the time, but I remember parents, relatives, and pre-pubescent friends—none of whom had ever taken much interest in, or knew much about, U.S. politics—suddenly singing the praises of this new American knight-errant, and becoming giddy with cosmic optimism. It helped that Kennedy was rich, young, and handsome. It helped, above all, that he was perceived as a sophisticated liberal foil to the reactionary, red-baiting Nixon. But ultimately political ideas had little to do with it. (It was Kennedy, after all, who proved to be the anti-communist hawk, and Nixon the appeaser.) Kennedy was merely thrust forward by the collective spirit of the times, which no mere individual can resist. Sages everywhere were proclaiming him a wunderkind and political saviour. Who were my humble, suburban parents to disagree? Never has Dr. Johnson’s comment been more apposite, that popular opinion is “not founded in reason, but caught by contagion”.

     Fittingly, the only way to describe the Kennedy phenomenon was in the language of mythology, and the myth of Camelot proved to be paradoxically apposite, especially in ways its propagandists could hardly understand. The primitive messianic yearnings of the early Sixties found expression in the legend of Arthur’s resurrection, return from Avalon, and parousia in Cornwall, where he would once and for all liberate the native Christian Britons from the pagan Saxon yoke. In Kennedy’s time, Americans were already beginning to yearn for a messiah who would liberate them, on the contrary, from their own native moral, religious, and political traditions (for what else do the current orthodoxies of alienism and multiculturalism signify?), and perhaps with the advent of Obama, the soteriology of post-Sixties liberalism will finally be accomplished. Unfortunately, Kennedy re-actualized the more sordid details of the Arthurian archetype, in whose possession he and his worshipers found themselves. As Malory tells it, the decline of Camelot’s power and prestige, and Arthur’s eventual defeat and death at the hands of a traitorous assassin, were the inevitable results of the dark adulterous passions raging within the Arthurian court. So far gone in their adoration were Americans, that the Kennedy clan’s sexual libertinism only made them more attractive.

     Is Obama, like Kennedy, the harbinger of a new revolutionary age? His extreme leftist ideology and evident scorn for the political and cultural traditions of the American republic—Obama clearly shares his wife’s opinion that the day he entered the campaign was the first day in history on which America had anything to be proud of–suggest so. But, as another in the series of post-Sixties revolutionaries, Obama is really an ossified conservative. The “change we can believe in” is the change Americans have all believed in–through both Democrat and Republican administrations–since LBJ’s Great Society: ever-larger and more intrusive government, higher spending, higher taxes, more regulation, more social welfare, more hostility toward the rich, more racial huckstering, and less freedom of individual thought and action. This kind of “change”, propelled by its own inertial momentum, has taken place regardless of who has happened to be in power, and during the Obama epoch, the U.S. will undoubtedly continue to “change”–if at a slightly accelerated pace–toward an ever more suffocating statism. No doubt Obama’s administration will be “transformational” (to use Colin Powell’s measured descriptor), but only by comparison to the by-now-long-forgotten model of minimal government and maximal freedom fondly imagined by the Framers.

     For these and other reasons, the euphoric mentality of Obama’s supporters is far more fascinating than the mind of the man himself. What has propelled this junior senator from relative obscurity to rock-star celebrity and political redeemer status is such a few short years?

     History, apparently. Christopher Buckley has written that an Obama presidency is “what the historical moment seems to be calling for”. Buckley says this with the insouciance of one who thinks that history and eternal providence are the same thing. Time, as Plato writes, may be “the mobile image of eternity”, but if history were merely a temporal transcript of providence, there would be no need for politicians preaching change. We’d all be contented quietists, and we’d never again have to listen to those nauseating public service announcements reminding us of our civic duty to get out and vote.

     Buckley’s appeal to the benign wisdom of history is but a grandiloquent way of saying that an Obama presidency is what the mood of the moment happens to be calling for. His is an especially curious and precipitous surrender to a transient Zeitgeist, as it comes from one whose magazine’s original mission statement was “to stand athwart the tracks of history yelling stop”, and whose longstanding cause was the defeat of communism, a mass movement whose time had come, if ever there was one. But then, as Buckley forthrightly puts it, he has decided to “jump aboard the Obama bandwagon”. So much for a conservatism that was once constitutionally averse to the tyranny of fashion, the collective milieu, and the group-think it incubates.

     The entire Obama campaign has, in fact, amounted to a thinly veiled warning to Americans not to swim against the currents of historical destiny. Jong’s threat that a McCain victory would lead to America’s second Civil War may have come from a world-class nutter, but she certainly understands the effectiveness of the moral shakedown tactics that have made Obamamaniacs of us all: vote for Obama, and stand on the side of racial fairness, progress, and the future; vote against him, and declare yourself with America’s sordid racist past. It’s a very old merchandising technique: Chaucer’s shifty fourteenth-century Pardoner used it habitually at the end of his sermons, when he warned that no one who had committed mortal sin (murder, sacrilege, etc.) would be eligible to purchase his precious pardons. Naturally, when he unfurled his bag of factory-made relics and forged indulgences, sales were brisk. No one in the congregation dared to remain seated, since to do so would be to incriminate oneself of a heinous crime. Thus the Pardoner enriched himself with cash, as Obama does with votes, by appealing to people’s moral vanity.

     But the proximate cause of Obamamania, and the most obvious answer to the question, is the one that continually fails to resonate. The media’s homo-erotic infatuation with like-minded ideologues is now the only love that dare not speak its name. In annual surveys conducted since the late Sixties, the percentage of registered Democrats in the various branches of the media has never been lower than 95, and an overwhelming majority of these call the extreme left wing of the Democratic party home.

     When members of the media gaze upon the face of Obama, they see their own beloved countenance reflected back at them. As has been fruitlessly pointed out by his opponents, Obama boasts the most impeccable left-wing voting record in either the House or Senate. His yearning for a national health care system; his “redistributionist” demagoguery; his credulous acceptance of the junk-scientific orthodoxies of climate change; his vow to repeal free trade and “re-think” globalism (i.e., to restore an ancient and discredited protectionist regime); his zeal to “re”-regulate Wall Street; to raise income taxes on the rich, as well as corporate and capital gains taxes; to reintroduce closed-shop unioninsm and abolish the secret ballot for union certification and strike votes; his enthusiasm for fetal stem-cell research and rejection of even the most modest restrictions on a wholly unfettered abortion trade (he voted against the bill to ban partial-birth abortions); and of course, his opposition to the war in Iraq, have created, for the left-wing media, the perfect ideological storm.

     Obama’s extraordinary popularity serves to remind us yet again of the scandalous fact that, year after year, the media remains monolithically supportive of the same one of the two major political parties. Try to imagine the outcry if 95% of the current members of the Fourth Estate identified themselves as far-right, born-again-Christian, gun-toting, God-addicted Republicans. The world’s leading intellectuals would now be intoning threnodies on the hijacking of the U.S. political process, the death of its democracy, and the imminent theocratization of its government; and they’d be absolutely right. It is unsurprising that the Left, which never fails to decry the power of advertising to manipulate consumers with Svengalian efficacy and Pavlovian predictability, never fails to dismiss as a “myth” the ability of a uniformly left-wing media to influence voters and skew the results of elections. But I still can’t comprehend how ordinary Americans, having been justly contemptuous of the democratic pretensions of the former Soviet Union, could be so complacent about living in a country with a one-party press.

     It has been observed that, with the passing of monarchy, tyranny, and dictatorship, despotism has merely assumed the benign, democratic guise of Public Opinion. Given human psychological frailties, Public Opinion is quite capable of achieving near uniformity on its own. In a T.V.- and Hollywood-addled, twenty-four-hour-news-cycle, Oprahfied age, uniformity of thought is virtually assured. The coalescence and propagation of a single political and cultural orthodoxy is arguably the greatest threat to that personal liberty upon which the very possibility of moral action depends, and the most destructive form of terrorism that we currently face: one that terrorizes not merely the body but the mind and soul. The helpful enforcers of that orthodoxy are everywhere: sitting on government human rights tribunals, writing academic speech codes, offering sensitivity training in the workplace. An ideologically divided media would long ago have blown the whistle on this intellectual and moral enormity. One that subscribes to the same narrow orthodoxy merely sounds the trumpets and beats the drums.

     In the absence of a partisan media that has trumpeted his virtues and downplayed his vices, Obama’s political ascendancy is unthinkable. Every Sunday for twenty years, Obama attended services at the church of a race-baiting, White-hating, conspiracy-obsessed “Reverend”, whose twisted world-view makes that of Sharpton or Farrakhan seem almost reasonable by comparison. Obama so esteemed him that he asked the Reverend Wright to preside at his wedding. Indeed, throughout his political career, he praised Wright publicly as his philosophical mentor. Having continued to do so until two months ago, Obama’s latter-day repudiation of him was manifestly calculated and insincere. The media, nonetheless, colluded in the risible pretense that Obama is now and has always been scornful of Wright’s toxic ideology. Like Obama’s longstanding chumminess with Ayers, the press dismissed the story as “ancient history”. It duly evaporated after a few days, or rather transmuted into one about the McCain campaign’s desperate tactics amid the long history of Republican dirty tricks (cf. Nixon). How quickly, do you think, would the press have exonerated him, after it had been revealed that McCain, or any other Republican candidate, had faithfully attended services at the church of a Neo-Nazi White supremacist?

     Which brings me to the last, but no less troubling, reason for the Obama phenomenon. It has been said, ad nauseam, that Obama’s candidacy is “not about race”—that it transcends race–, even as we have been reminded, ad nauseam, of Obama’s African roots, and of the urgent but hitherto refractory moral imperative of placing an African-American in the White House, so as to bring to a happy conclusion the protracted tragedy of American racism, and finally qualify the guilt-laden American people for absolution from their country’s “original sin”. Obama is indeed the twenty-first century’s Pardoner. Voting for him will finally absolve a populace that has been mired in sin for centuries, and alleviate the unbearable burden of white liberal guilt.

     Not about race? Tell me another one. For once I agree with Hilary, who has discovered, to her feminist chagrin, that in American politics race is a far more potent asset than gender.

     The idea that Obama would have been no less successful and adored had he been as White as John Kerry is amusing enough; but his campaign’s assurance that he has transcended the politics of race is a howler. One does not need to be as fundamentalist an apostle of Black victimology as Jesse Jackson, Alvin Sharpton, or the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to be a racial huckster. I am glad that Obama has repudiated Wright, even if he did so for reasons of pure political expediency. But I am now waiting to hear our recent convert promise to repeal the poisonous and counter-productive policy of affirmative action. Or to counsel Blacks to stop blaming Whitey for the epidemics of crime, unemployment, promiscuity, illegitimacy, and other social pathologies that have ravaged their inner cities. Perhaps he will, someday. But I doubt it. A number of impressive American Black intellectuals and celebrities—Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams, Roy Innis, Alan Keyes, Clarence Thomas, and Bill Cosby, to name a few—have been preaching this rather more difficult gospel of change before deaf ears for decades. Keyes has even run for President. When one of them gets elected, I will be convinced that America has truly transcended race.

     I wish President-elect Obama well. I hope he lives up to his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq (although I suspect he won’t have done so any more quickly than a McCain administration; more probably, he’ll merely shift them eastward, into Afghanistan). I wish, above all, that Obama would end America’s adolescent infatuation with a foreign policy driven by “humanitarian” concerns (i.e., regime change, nation building, exporting democracy around the world, and the rest of it). With the fall of the Soviet Empire, this seems to have become America’s new raison d’etre, beginning, I might add, not with George Dubya and the neo-cons, but with Clinton’s intervention in Yugoslavia.

     But toward Obama’s success or failure, my attitude is ultimately one of Boethian indifference. If he succeeds, I will congratulate him. If his presidency is a disaster, it might at least make people a little less susceptible to mass-minded enthusiasms. I believe in providence, not history.

 

Priceton student Brett R. has sent an e-mail from down under with the subject line, “What the hell is going on in America?” Brett aspires to know, more specifically, what the hell is going on as it pertains to the meltdown in the financial markets and the government bailout that has been proposed to fix it. Since, for some years, Brett and I have taken swings at each other from across an ideological Grand Canyon, I am touched and flattered that he thinks I can explain the current mess. To repay his misplaced confidence, I humbly offer the following.

 

The Hazard of Government

“It seems beyond the conceptual abilities of most people that current problems might have been based on too much rather than too little regulation. Somehow people can ignore that the U.S. financial institutions that recently stumbled were subject to comprehensive oversight by the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and others. They have a blind spot to the role of government programs and policies in promoting the housing bubble, and of facilitating institutions, especially Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, that were widely perceived as being government backed (and ultimately were)…. As Richard Salsman points out…, far from being due to too much laissez-faire, the present turmoil was inevitable in a system that had been both massively subsidized by deposit insurance and over-regulated….

What is so stunning about public attitudes towards the capitalist system is that finance can be regulated eight ways from Sunday and still be written off as ‘unfettered’….

[A] less-regulated system…would be one in which people were a great deal more careful with their money, knowing that when they made mistakes they would have to pay for them. Under the existing heavily regulated alternative, when moral hazard inevitably rears its ugly head, the taxpayer gets lumbered. Such an arrangement is obviously attractive to incompetent managers and overweening bureaucrats, but it’s astonishing that it would be supported by the average person.”

–Peter Foster, Financial Post, Sept. 24, 2008

 

 

The fact that I’m not an economist, and certainly no expert on the markets, ought probably to dissuade me from weighing in on the current “financial crisis”, as it is being called. But then, in re the economy, there are no experts, least of all those who call themselves such. We are about as close to a scientific understanding of that dismal branch of human activity (I should probably include all the “social sciences” here) as medieval leeches were to a science of medicine.

If it were possible for any individual, or group of individuals, to understand and predict the trajectory of the economy, the Soviet Union would now be the world’s only economic superpower, and aging Russian apparachiks would currently hold the patents on the personal computer, the Internet, and high-definition T.V. As it happens, the Russians are still building cars with carburetors.

We’ve done rather better in the West, because no particular group of financial “experts” has managed to persuade our government “planners” to meddle in any more than a few sectors of the economy at a given time, and, at that, not for very long. It is not, that is, because of, but rather for the lack of, economic expertise that we, in the free-market economies of the West, have thrived. If you don’t share my skepticism, look at the performance of those actively managed mutual funds for which investors continue to pay a hefty premium, in exchange for the assurance that smart people with advanced degrees and a sophisticated knowledge of the markets will be picking the right stocks for them, and buying and selling them at the right time. For a while in the Eighties and Nineties, I recall that some fund managers were so sycophantically feted, by the economic washed and unwashed alike, that their names became as familiar as those of celebrity chefs. Yet, if one had bothered to check, one would have discovered that seventy-five percent of such funds have traditionally failed to do as well as the Index. You’d have a better chance of making money in the market by donning a blindfold, sitting yourself down in front of a list of the S&P 500, and feelingly checking off a dozen names, than if you happened to be the godchild of Sir John Templeton.

When I say that Economics is only presumptively scientific, I don’t, of course, mean that it is irrational. In fact, we have been aware of the simple laws according to which the markets have worked since the days when men traded spices and trinkets out of carpet bags on camels. Every transaction between a buyer and a seller, when acting as free agents, is to the advantage of both. The “value” of a commodity is neither intrinsic nor arbitrary, but whatever price at which a free agent agrees to sell it, to a free agent who agrees to pay it. When supply outpaces demand, prices fall; when demand exceeds supply, they rise. Arbitrarily fix the price of a commodity lower than the market would otherwise pay for it, and no one will produce it, leading to a scarcity, and higher prices. Collude to fix it higher, and everyone and his brother will get into production, whereupon the price will fall. When the costs of certain commodities rise, consumers use them more frugally; decrease the cost by fiat, and the population will descend into profligacy. Subsidize or insure against certain risks, and people will confidently take them. Give people something for nothing, and they’ll treat it as if it were worthless.

These are the immutable laws of the market, because they are the immutable laws of human nature. Economic law is thus highly rational, which is one reason why the central planners of command economies (including our own “free” democratic welfare states) always fail so miserably to understand it. Central planners don’t particularly like human nature. They think it ought to be reformed, and they think that only they know how to reform it.

 

One needn’t go back very far in history to illustrate the obduracy of these laws, and the havoc that has been wrought by the various “compassionate” and “progressive” politicians, bureaucrats, and social engineers who have tried to circumvent or repeal them. Most recently, it was our state planners and green activists who alone failed to predict that subsidies for ethanol—already recognized as yesterday’s technology–would lead to skyrocketing prices for corn, wheat, and other grains, significantly increasing the cost of food to householders in the industrialized world, and resulting in starvation for many in the developing world.

To be sure, this sort of benevolent meddling has gone on since the birth of the modern welfare state at the beginning of the last century. But it only achieved unstoppable momentum a little over thirty years ago, when politicians began to fantasize about eliminating poverty and economic inequity by declaring “war” on them (and you thought George Bush’s project of militarily imposing democracy in the Middle East was a fool’s errand?), and creating that paradise on earth that the likes of Lyndon Johnson called “the Great Society”. The criminal follies committed by such reformers in the name of progress and social justice are too numerous to recount. Let me confine myself to a couple of examples of which even today’s Economics majors will have had some immediate experience.

In the early seventies, rents were rising in many North American cities faster and to higher levels than most renters would have liked. Being economically obtuse but very adept at counting votes, mayors and city councilors astutely calculated that there were more renters than landlords in their constituencies, and so imposed what they called rent controls (i.e., they fixed the price of housing at an artificially lower rate than the market, operating freely, would otherwise have assigned). Of course, since it was no longer profitable to build new apartments, private developers erected condominiums instead, leading to a critical scarcity of rental units. The same urban planners who then argued for rent controls are now decrying the forest of condo towers that currently block out the sky in places like Toronto and Vancouver, and lamenting the fact that the poor and working classes have been driven clean out of the city.

Around the same time as we had the “crisis in affordable housing” that led to rent controls, we also had an “energy crisis”—just one more in a series, as it turns out, of such apocalypses, of which the current “financial crisis” is the latest. The world was one fill-up away from running out the oil (it still is) to which Americans had become so wickedly addicted (they still are, as that supposed shill for Big Oil, George Dubya, has been admonishing). Something had to be done. It was then that governments at all levels in both Canada and the United States began to impose a raft of regulations upon (and offer a raft of tax breaks and subsidies to) the auto manufacturers. Cars became smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient: not in response to the spontaneous demand of consumers, mind you, but to the central dictates of bureaucrats and environmental lobbyists with the power to incarcerate those who didn’t share their vision. Never mind. Detroit finally gave us cars that got thirty plus miles to the gallon, and who can argue with that?

Politicians and environmental lobbyists are still congratulating themselves on these “timely” and “responsible” interventions in the market–even as they continue, paradoxically, to chastise naughty Americans for their dependence upon cars and oil. Apparently, we are still depleting the earth’s oil reserves at the same alarming and unsustainable rate, in spite of our government-mandated fuel-efficient cars. But then everybody knew that this would happen, except the experts. When you make cars more fuel-efficient, you effectively reduce the price of gasoline. Drivers adjust their habits accordingly, as reason dictates, increasing the frequency, and the distances, of their trips, and burning, in the process, more or less the same quantity of fuel as they had burned in their pre-crisis gas-guzzlers. (They also die in greater numbers on the highways—not only because they are travelling more, but because the smaller, lighter cars into which they have been shoe-horned by the experts are environmentally responsible death-traps. But then saving the planet is worth the sacrifice of a few human lives.)

 

I challenge my readers to identify a single such “timely” and “responsible” government intervention that hasn’t failed as utterly to end the “crisis” for which it was prescribed, or had similarly “unintended” consequences. Such consequences are about the only thing, in fact, that is predictable about the market. To the extent that those who buy, produce, and sell within it enjoy whatever residual freedom has been left them by the leviathanic state, they will exercise it, and often in ways that are quite at odds with the utopian reveries of central planners.

Even in the nascency of the welfare state, when governments began weaving the safety nets intended to break the falls of citizens thrown from cruel Fortune’s ever-turning wheel, this principle was already well known. The insurance industry denominated it “moral hazard”, clearly recognizing in so doing that the markets function in accordance with the ethical laws of human nature. The principle was first observed at work when governments legally required the owners of real estate to purchase fire insurance. Immediately thereafter the incidence of both accidental and deliberately set fires doubled. Knowing their properties were insured against loss, owners—again, with a certain plausible rationality—gradually overcame their primordial fear of this explosive element, and became less vigilant against its catastrophic potentialities. It should have been no surprise, then, that after governments required the owners of automobiles to purchase accident insurance, drivers were involved in a much higher incidence thereof, and people were being maimed and killed on the highways in unprecedented numbers.

The moral hazards created by government safety nets are, naturally, no less hazardous than those created by private insurers. It is hardly surprising that welfare and unemployment “insurance”—paying people not to work—has led to an increase in unemployment, multi-generational dependency, and devastated lives; that, under the illusion that health care is “free”, Canadians visit their doctors for the most trivial of ailments, thereby swamping the system, and making it all but impossible to get a timely appointment for even the gravest of conditions. In every sphere of life, the welfare state is now the insurer of last resort. Why shouldn’t folks build houses on the flood-plains of the Mississippi or the sub-marine swamps of New Orleans? Even if private companies, sensibly enough, won’t insure them, they know that FEMA (i.e., the taxpayer) will quickly row to their rescue. (As the government is doing at this very moment in bailing out the sinking ships of bankers and mortgage holders who were similarly encouraged to buy and sell below financial sea-level.)

 

It’s hard to argue against these measures when the cameras of CNN are trained on the floating corpses of beloved family pets in New Orleans, or on the dusty caravans of the dispossessed leaving their humble cottages in the Arkansas hills, having been foreclosed upon by the evil Wall Street bankers. No less than CNN, politicians know the power of these Steinbeckian images, and how to mobilize support for their compassionate interventions by casually slipping into the conversation the dreaded D word.

In the case of the current financial bailout, there is the added incentive for the government of being able to abominate the capitalist classes even while making them its beneficiaries. Inevitably, the genesis of the crisis has been ascribed to the avarice and corruption of the Wall Street firms who once again enriched themselves “on the backs of the poor”. It’s the Reagan “era of greed” coming back to haunt us. We’re merely reaping the whirlwind for all those years of irrationally exuberant, unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism, of de-regulation and getting government off our backs. If we’d only had a little more government, more regulation, the robber barons of Wall Street wouldn’t have gotten us into this mess in the first place. (And I’m paraphrasing Bush, McCain, and Palin, by the way.)

 

The Republicans have reflexively been accused of being the party of the rich, but this sort of class-warfare demagoguery has always leapt as naturally to their lips as it does to those of the Democrats. McCain’s descriptions of the Wall Street financial community might as well have been taken from one of Antonio’s harangues against Shylock.

The ironic truth is that it’s not pre-eminently “da liddle guy” (to quote our own former Chief Advocate of the Deserving Poor, Jean Chretien) who has an abiding interest in diabolizing “corporate America”, but the omni-wealthy state. Wherever the state, by bringing its unlimited prosecutorial resources to bear against an Enron, a World Com, or a Conrad Black, can foster the populist image of the private sector as a “corporate kleptocracy”, it is able to deflect attention from government’s vastly more depredatory regime, even while depicting itself as the champion of the people. Conrad convicted of skimming six million from his shareholders? Government leaders and functionaries waste, misappropriate, or steal more than that measly sum every minute of their working day. But how often do you hear the phrase “socialist greed”, or “government kleptocracy”, or the “robber barons of Parliament Hill”? The idea of governments–who confiscate half of our incomes every year at gun-point–protecting us against corporate greed really is rich. Almost as rich as bombarding the populace (especially the poor) with advertisements for federal and state lotteries while excoriating Wall Street financiers as “high-rollers”.

I confess that I am at a loss to understand how it is that in the popular imagination the “corporate culture” (Big Oil, Big Drugs, Big Box Retail, Big Everything, with the notable exception of Michael Moore’s or Oliver Stone’s Big Hollywood) is universally vilified, while Big Government enjoys a prima facie presumption of innocence. What could be more selfless than the government’s desire to provide school lunches for children or drugs for seniors? It is simply assumed that government interventions in the market—government activities in general–are prompted by the most altruistic and communitarian of motives. Whether they act to eliminate socio-economic inequity, relieve human misery, promote some virtuous technology, or save the planet, governments by definition seek the “common good”. Even though they are comprised of ordinary, individual human beings, once they are sworn into office or hired into the bureaucracy, the selfish gene apparently lapses into dormancy. The lust for power, wealth, and glory that disfigures ordinary human nature and the capitalist classes especially has evidently been “put off” (in the words of St. Paul) by New Governmental Man. Governments have transcended original sin.

What compounds the mystery is that wherever you go, you hear people complaining that politicians are liars and thieves, magnets for bribery and graft, monsters of self-enrichment and corruption. But, let them announce some new program to help the lame, the halt, or the fat, the victims of volcano or tidal wave, children with ADD, mothers with PMS, fathers with TMJ, and the electorate starts to believe in Santa Claus again. All their world-weary cynicism evaporates into infantile credulity.

 

The same childlike trust of the nanny state and cynical distrust of the markets has, inevitably, befogged the discussion of the current “financial crisis”. Who’s to blame? Here’s an answer to the question that practically nobody will dare to give: the principal culprits are those who defaulted on their mortgages. The good folks who, with that original advocate of the impecunious classes, Wimpy, promised, “I’ll gladly pay you next Tuesday for a hamburger today”. Those who blithely borrowed money from banks and broke the contracts they signed to pay it back; who fraudulently represented themselves as being able to pay it back, but weren’t, and didn’t.

I know it’s unfashionable to inculpate individuals so directly and specifically–especially the poor–, rather than to blame some impersonal abstraction like the “system”, or look for “root causes” (we’ll get to those in due course). But let’s try a little thought experiment to see how you might react in the situation. Imagine that an impoverished college friend comes to you asking for a loan of a thousand bucks to buy, let’s say, a used car. “I’ll pay you back in monthly installments, with modest interest, over the course of a year”. But six months go by and he’s yet to make a payment. (Meanwhile, he’s totaled the car.) You confront him, and he replies: “Look, it’s your fault. You wanted the interest, and aggressively marketed the loan. It was wrong of you to sell me a loan knowing that I didn’t have the means to repay it.”

Do you feel guilty now? This, I believe, is what most normal folks (including those within and without the Jewish banking cabal) would call chutzpah. And it is with similar audacity that, once again, the current financial crisis is being blamed on Wall Street.

It seems only decent to pause for a moment before the lynching commences to consider what the bankers of Wall Street are being accused of. The more specific charges, so far as I can understand them, are these. First, that they made imprudent loans to those without the financial wherewithal to repay them. Second, that they sold off these liabilities in elaborate Ponzi schemes, distributing tiny parcels of their otherwise unsecured risk around the globe. And, third, that they connived to get rich doing so

Certainly, offering mortgages without requiring a downpayment from under- or unemployed borrowers was stupid. (Of course, if government had resisted the temptation to cure the malady, the banks would have been justly punished by the markets for their stupidity.) But re-packaging and dispersing the risk was about the only prudent thing Wall Street could have done. Financiers have been doing that sort of thing since Lloyd’s of London first insured tobacco and rum against catastrophic loss at sea.

That the bankers hoped to make money from these schemes is the perennial and fundamental indictment of capitalist America. It’s not just that entrepreneurs and their financial backers expect to earn a profit; the besetting sin of capitalism is evidently in wanting to make as Big a profit as possible. Capitalists want to make “windfall” profits. Imagine that. Windfall profits. No ordinary, socially responsible, liddle guy would ever wish for such a thing for himself. That’s why whenever liddle guys win the lottery they refuse to cash in their tickets; why union leaders don’t try to negotiate as Big an increase in pay for their socially responsible members as possible; and, why, whenever their bosses offer to double their salaries, employees always just say no.

 

With the financial meltdown, we now enter the latest chapter in the Manichaean mythology of the cosmic clash between corporate America’s armies of greed and the public sector’s soldiers of mercy.

Since the seventies, practically every politician who has run for office at practically every level of government in the United States has intoned some version of these words: “I want to make the dream of home ownership a reality for every American.” And they have.

Does anyone remember the campaigns of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et. al., vilifying the major banks as bastions of white old boy racism for refusing to “serve the needs” of the residents of the Black inner cities? Thanks to their racial huckstering, and the egalitarian arm-twisting of governments, banks have now been shamed into opening unprofitable branches in depressed underclass neighbourhoods throughout America.

Home ownership, like medical care, legal care, jobs, food, and clothing is just the latest of those desiderata to be advertised by the compassionate classes as a universal human right. (The working definition of a “universal human right” is anything that you want but can’t afford, and that your altruistic government will force others to purchase on your behalf.)

In pursuit of our politicians’ populist dreams, banks have been strongly encouraged not only to open in dubious locations, but (as part of aggressive government “outreach” programs in which their products were marketed amongst the poor and financially under-served), to offer sub-prime and variable rate mortgages to borrowers who had neither the equity nor the income to pay them off—self-interested borrowers, that is, who were hoping to profit from cheap loans. Not only was the risky behaviour of the banks morally enjoined by governments who urged them to be “good corporate citizens” and all that, but it was tacitly underwritten by them. Having been exhorted to take a chance on the deserving poor, the banks assumed, with plausible rationality once again, that those public sector lenders of last resort, Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, or some other governmental agency, would rescue them if their creditors defaulted. And who can say that they miscalculated?

A few days ago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died at the age of eighty-nine of heart failure. Such was Solzhensityn’s greatness–as a writer but more importantly as a single human being who, by sheer force of character, changed the course of history–that newspapers and jounals around the world are still running tributes to his life. This will not be one of them.

What follows is the text of a lecture I have given in an undergraduate literature course by way of introduction to the reading of Solzhenitsyn’s novel, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Since it is the primary duty of a teacher to make his students aware of things of which they are not aware but urgently should be, my lecture touches only briefly on Solzhenitsyn’s life and work. It focuses, instead, on the monstrous historical aberration of which Solzhensityn was both victim and redeemer. It is a remarkable fact that young people of university age know almost nothing of the Communist Holocaust that blighted seven decades of the last century. It is a more remarkable fact that even as the mountains of corpses and rivers of blood were still rising above the Communist Killing Fields, Western liberals denied their existence. Here in the West, Solzhensitysn’s cries from the wilderness mostly fell on deaf or scornful ears. To this extent, his life’s work was (and still is) a failure. But to those who heard him, both inside and outside the walls of the Soviet prison, his words were electrifying. It may or may not be that Solzhenitsyn and the dissident movements he inspirited played a material role in the collapse of the Soviet Empire. But there can be no doubt that he invested with dignity and meaning the broken lives of all who laboured in the Gulag or groaned under the Communist heel, and kept alive the flickering flame of anti-communism whilst its keepers were being ridiculed and vilified by the liberal establishment.

*****

   I’ve said that one of the salient themes of Western literature and thought is the patient acceptance of suffering and adversity. I remember that some time early in the term a few of you, rather cynically, I thought, dismissed this perennial Western philosophical attitude as the advice of a privileged male elite. I pointed out at the time, as I recall, that the counsel to endure hardship and injustice with equanimity hardly emanated from the power structure: I reminded you that Boethius was a political prisoner, that Socrates and Jesus had been sentenced to death by the state, that Dante wrote his greatest works while in exile.

Since then, we have read Milton, who like Homer, penned his epiphanic verses in spite of his physical blindness, and Moliere, whose Misanthrope (which, while comedy, demonstrates the tragic folly of railing against earthly injustice and vice) was written by a man who was twice sent to debtors’ prison because he could not meet the payroll of his theatre troupe. But Moliere did not complain that there was not enough government funding of the arts, any more than Milton complained that there were no social programs to lessen the burden of his handicap.

The patient acceptance of adversity and injustice as a condition of life in this world is, I need hardly say, the central theme of the novel you have just read. Ivan Denisovitch not only doesn’t complain, not only stoically endures, but under the most barbaric and inhumanly cruel of circumstances, he manages to achieve what few of us who live in a world of freedom and ease have ever achieved: to take pride in the work of his hands, to assert unfailingly the dignity of the human person, and even to be happy.

Ivan Denisovitch is one of the millions of those who, either because of some minor breach of Marxist ideological orthodoxy, or for no reason at all, were sent to work, and usually to die, in what Solzhenitsyn called the Gulag Archipelago, that vast network of labour camps that stretched across the Soviet Union during the seventy odd years in which international Communism ravaged the globe.

I do not have time to retail the sordid history of Communism here; let me say only–and I say this without qualification, and I say it knowing that lingering illusions about it, especially in the academy, have utterly blinded the most sophisticated intellectuals to the stark truth of the matter and continue to inspire excuses and prettifications to this day–nonetheless, let me say that Communism has been, and is, transcendently, the most corrupt, despotic, and depraved ideology ever minted in the long history of human evil.

By conservative estimates, between 100 and 150 million people were either executed, deliberately starved, worked to death in labour camps, or killed in psychiatric hospitals, for the crime, as I say, of failing to believe fervently enough in the truth of Marxist doctrine. And I must point out, these 150 millions were not the European colonial “hegemonists” or Yankee running dogs of capitalism who in their selfish desire to preserve their own power and privilege opposed the great spontaneous, global Marxist uprisings of the downtrodden proletariat. These 150 million corpses were the citizens of the Communist regimes that promised to liberate their subjects from capitalist injustice and oppression.

As it happens, every form of political oppression and injustice throughout history (the suffering of the Jews under the Pharaohs or the Nazis, of Christian heretics during the Inquisition, of Native peoples at the hands of the Conquistadores, of African slaves under their European and American taskmasters)–all of these episodes of inhumanity and genocidal evil merely pale by comparison to what the very citizens of Communist countries endured for seven decades under the yoke of their presumptive saviours

A rough breakdown of the numbers suggests the unprecedent global scale (no part of this vast earth escaped it) of the Communist Holocaust. Under Lenin, Stalin, and Brezhnev, about 50 million Russians were exterminated for suspected counter-revolutionary opinions or activities; to Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, about 75 million Chinese were sacrificed; following Moscow’s post-war colonization of east Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, another five million citizens of these Eastern European nations were liquidated, including the thousand odd souls who were shot in the back by Communist guards as they tried to flee to freedom over the Berlin Wall.

Following the surrender of Vietnam to the Communists in the North, about a million Vietnamese died, most by drowning in the South China Sea as they tried to flee their national liberators in leaky boats. (Theirs is some of the blood that the anti-Vietnam War movement has on its hands). In Cambodia, another million and a half were either executed by the Khmer Rouge for the crime of being propertied, educated, or old, or perished in the re-education camps. In North Korea, the number of political dissidents who have “disappeared” is another million, and counting. In Afghanistan, upwards of a million Muslims were felled by Soviet bullets. Marxist liberation movements in Africa–in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, particularly–have claimed another half million souls. In Cuba, under the charismatic Fidel, tens of thousands have vanished into the Caribbean Gulag, in which many still languish for such crimes as homosexuality, and a million, one-sixth of that tiny nation’s population, have fled their beloved leader’s brand of benevolent socialism for the oppressive, decadent, and imperialistic United States.

Of course, there has been in all of history no more blatantly imperialistic ideology, no farther-reaching colonial power, than Communism, which still maintains outposts on every inhabited continent. And though in the West we have generally bought the Soviet line that these far-flung Communist regimes have arisen as the result of spontaneous, indigenous national liberation movements, every one of them has been financed by Moscow or established by the might of the invading Russian army. And every one has, usually sooner rather than later, gotten round to the main Communist business of oppressing its own population.

As Solzhenitsyn has lamented, the response of the world to all this has been a deafening silence. During the long history of Communist depradation, the Western intellectual elite and political establishment have demonstrated either a naive innocence about, or a wilful complicity in its monstrous crimes.

In every generation in the West, right-thinking, progressive-minded writers, artists, Hollywood starlets, presidents and prime ministers have stepped forward to deny that any such atrocities could have been committed by Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Fidel or Robert Mugabe, or whichever of the totalitarian butchers was currently being held up as the next great hope for the future of humankind. After each successive Marxist leader was inexorably and undeniably revealed to be the despot that he was, these great Western beacons of enlightenment simply fastened onto a new one, who they assured us would finally reveal socialism’s human face. And every time the face of socialism was exposed to be just as murderous and repressive as it always had been, Western true-believers fell back on the same arguments: the socialist ideal of Marx and Lenin was corrupted by Stalin; or true Communism has never yet been tried.

But, as Solzhenitsyn has demonstrated throughout his works, Stalin’s Communism was no different from Marx’s or Lenin’s. It wasn’t Stalin who invented the secret police or the happy stroke of imprisoning political dissidents; the vast network of the Gulag was already in full operation under Lenin. And the use of terror as a means of enforcing the ideological purity and safeguarding the progress of the Revolution had been justified in Lenin’s writings and implemented from the moment the Bolsheviks seized power. Lenin himself had found its justification in the socialist tracts of Marx and Engels.

What has evidently never occurred to many Western fellow travellers is that the reason the Communist “ideal”, as they call it, is always and inevitably corrupted, is because Communism is essentially and inalienably corrupt; it is the ideology itself that is evil, so evil, in fact, that it cannot evidently exist in the absence of totalitarian repression.

Other Western leftists have been less sentimental: believing in the righteousness of the class war, and in the inherent malevolence of those who own property or wealth, like the organizers of the Terror after the French Revolution, they have justified the wholesale slaughter of the high-born and bourgeois classes, or the merely ideologically defective, on the grounds that social progress warrants it.

Then, too, there have been the eternally optimistic Western advocates of peace, diplomacy, and détente. Just stop opposing the Soviets and making them feel threatened—so they have said, even as the Soviet army was marching into country after country–and all will be well. Just unilaterally disarm, notwithstanding that the Soviet Union was spending more than a third of its GNP on armaments, even as they were unable to feed their own people. Just sign another peace treaty, they advised, often immediately after the Soviets had broken the last one. Just send them more humanitarian aid and technological know-how, even though the aid invariably went to enhance the upper class life-style of the Communist party bosses and never reached the people, and the technology was used to develop the missiles that were pointed at Western cities. Just sponsor a few more cultural exchanges, a few more visits from the Moscow Circus or the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Soviet lion will lie down with the Western lamb.

We did all of these things, of course, and the Soviets continued to build up their military, to ingest nation after nation, and to imprison and torture the presumptive beneficiaries of their various national “liberation” movements.

It was only after the West reversed course following decades of appeasement, only after some in the West, that is, mustered the will to defy the peace activists and believers in moral equivalence, and call Communism what it was, an Evil Empire, and only after renewed spending on American armaments finally beggared the innately flawed socialist economy of the Soviet Union, that it collapsed under its own weight.

And yet, even with the fall of the Soviet Union and the unambiguous revelation of its crimes against humanity, there has been no general moral accounting for this barbarous episode in human history. Not one of the butchers who murdered in excess of 100 million people has been indicted before an international human rights tribunal, such as we had in Nuremberg after the Nazi Holocaust, and have even today in the Hague where the relatively modest crimes of the Serbs are being avidly prosecuted.

There are no Holocaust Museums to commemorate the victims of Communism, no Schindler’s Lists or other Hollywood blockbusters. It is curious at the least to note that not one of those who made careers, as journalists, politicians, writers, or academics of denying that Lenin or Mao or Fidel incarcerated and exterminated millions of political enemies has today lost his job, or borne the moral stigma of being a “Holocaust denier”, or even been asked to apologize for his vicious stupidity. On the contrary, most are still ensconced in positions of authority and influence: still writing for the New York Times or the Toronto Star, or appearing on CNN or CBC, or making movies in Hollywood. Can anyone imagine that a former Nazi propagandist would benefit from that sort of moral amnesia?

All of this Solzhenitsyn has written about extensively: in his many novels, historical works, essays, speeches, and poems. And he has written from direct experience. In 1945, as a 27 year-old Russian artillery officer, while on the German front lines, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the Soviet secret police for having made disrespectful remarks about Stalin in a letter to a friend. For this offence, he spent eight years in Siberian labor camps and three years in exile.

During that time, like his protagonist Ivan Denisovitch, he survived hunger, cold, beatings, stints in isolation, and stomach cancer. But what Solzhensitsyn could not have imagined while in prison was that the greatest insult he would suffer would be at the hands of the Western political, cultural, and academic elite who would refuse to believe the truth of what he had witnessed with his eyes and suffered in his flesh.

To go on telling that truth in the face of universal ridicule and opprobrium is, it seems to me, the highest test of human integrity and courage, and it is for this reason that I consider Solzhenitsyn one of the genuine heroes of Western Civilization.

 

It’s been three days now, and the Beijing Olympics seem to be coming off magnificently, proving once again that if you need to organize hundreds of thousands of zeks in the construction of the eighth wonder of the world, then totalitarianism is your system. When you think about building a modern Olympic facility, think the Pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the great Persian palaces at Persepolis and Susa, the hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Theater at Epidaurus, the Hippodrome, the Colisseum; and you’ve still got to build venues for kayaking, synchronized swimming, and beach volleyball.

All of the stadia, gymnasia, swimming pools, tracks, courts, rings, bicycle trails, artificial lakes and rivers, water courses with man-made rapids, and land-locked beaches that have been fabricated for the Beijing Olympics, though of no lasting utility, are worthy monuments to those two most noble classes of humanity to which they have been raised: politicians and professional athletes. Perhaps I should not mention them together, lest the politicians take offence. But both the national leaders who mount the games and the athletes who compete in them have one thing above all in common: they are motivated by the purest patriotism. It is for the glory of their respective countries that they have lobbied and taxed and trained so hard.

You can see it on the athletes’ faces, especially, when they parade into the Olympic Stadium behind their country’s flag. You can see it in the dignity with which they lolligag, chew their gum, and snap photos of each other and the adoring crowd.

But for the most ardent patriotism, the gold medal goes to the CBC. Watching its coverage, I’ve learned that though CANADA has entered no team, a CANADIAN company was responsible for trucking in the sand (to a depth of eighteen inches!) that covers the floor of the beach volleyball court! I’ve been able to watch a CANADIAN wrestler come in 69th in his heat, and a CANADIAN kayaker place 73rd. I’ve thrilled to moving background interviews with dozens of CANADIAN athletes, as well as their coaches, trainers, equipment managers, mothers, boyhood and girlhood friends, chiropractors, and kindergarten teachers. And just in case I am in the wine cellar, say, during the CBC’s coverage of the splendid performance of the CANADIAN entrant in the underwater skateboarding competition, I can relax, knowing that every hour or so the CBC will run a segment called THE CANADIAN TRAIL that gives me up-to-the-minute news of the glorious feats of Team CANADA in these Chinese-CANADIAN Games

Many thanks to the CBC for sparing me the agony of watching the Olympics on American network T.V. American sports commentators (like Americans in general) are such flag-waving jingoists that they brazenly televise only the events in which American athletes participate, and ignore the rest of the world. CANADA especially.

 

   I know that one is not supposed to be flippant about a tragedy; nor does it make sense to talk about “motivation” in the case of a gruesome murder and mutilation of an innocent bysitter by an obviously deranged psychopath. But what the hell; somebody has to come to a deranged psychopath’s defence. Fact: The victim was murdered while asleep in his seat. Fact: The victim was young, in his early twenties, and eulogized at his funeral as a “way fun guy”, a guy who “knew how to have a good time” and “loved to party”. Speculation: What does it say about a man’s life and character when this is the best his friends can come up with at his funeral? Fact: Most young people, especially those who “love to party”, like their music loud. Fact: The victim had fallen asleep still wearing his headphones. Fact: The perpetrator not only stabbed the victim to death but made a special point of decapitating him. Inference: His music was loud. The perpetrator had asked the victim to turn it down but got no response. So he cut the wires. Policy recommendation: Forget hand guns. Ban Ipods.

 

Progressives applaud themselves for many things, but none more enthusiastically than the fact that we no longer burn heretics at the stake—or even entertain such false dichotomies as orthodoxy and heresy. We are beyond them (as we are beyond right and wrong); and what we are beyond we are entitled to despise. That is why as a society we are so instinctively repelled by fundamentalist religion, whether in its Christian or Muslim guise. Leave aside for the moment that Christians of any denomination no longer persecute or even notice heretics, while militant Islam seems obsessed with them. These are quibbles. It is the idea of heresy and orthodoxy that we repudiate.

But here as so often the complacent modern deludes himself, unaware that the atavism he thinks he has put away has merely recrudesced in a novel form. This is veritably a psychological law. Today, the most zealous anti-racists are also enthusiastic proponents of affirmative action, which, being state-sponsored and coerced, is the most “systemic” form of racism imaginable. In the late nineteenth century, Marxist theorists announced that mankind had transcended religion, and in the twentieth, the socialist utopias founded on such brave new principles revived the heresy tribunals of the Inquisition. In show trials all across the communist world, millions of citizens suspected of harboring the slightest doubts about Marxist orthodoxy were forced to issue public confessions and recantations, before being sent off to the Gulag for their moral and ideological rehabilitation. Concomitantly, the leaders of these officially atheist workers’ paradises demanded such unquestioning and reverential obedience from their subjects as had not seen since the days of the Pharaohs. (Come to think of it, the Pharaohs merely claimed to be the sons of Amon-Re, whereas the dictators of North Korea continue to insist on being venerated as the Supreme Father.) It is a fantasy to think that the human race is “beyond” anything. As Jung has observed, everything that is primitive and embarrassing to us merely gets consigned to the shadow side, where it ceases to offend our sight, but thereby wreaks unlimited moral and psychological havoc for being unconscious.

This is true above all of what Jung has called the “religious function of the psyche”, an innate and indelible endowment of the human person that is wholly autonomous of officially codified creeds or rituals. As a political movement, nation, or civilization, we may well “transcend” religion, but the religious function of the psyche is hardly repealed thereby. It merely finds other channels through which to assert itself.

Today, with the exhaustion of faith in traditional religious postulates, all the urgency and fervour that had formerly attached to them has duly spilled over, like so much surplus energy, into the “non-religious” realm. And while organized religion is officially debarred from the public square, religious passions and certitudes strictly regulate every nuance of public discourse.

The indispensable term “political correctness” describes the situation nicely; but what it describes is an attitude that is not political in the least, but primordially religious: the reflexive disposition toward virtually every opinion on every question of the day as either orthodox or heterodox, motivated by pious devotion to the “correct” cause, or stiff-necked infidelity.

Secular modernity is awash in orthodoxies and heresies, and it is a wonder that they don’t stink in our post-religious nostrils. Point out that there is a correlation between the spread of AIDS and the peculiar modality of homosexual “sex”; observe that abortion in the majority of cases is a form of birth control for those who wish to enjoy the convenience of extra-marital congress without the inconvenient byproducts; suggest that the “wage-gap” is the effect, not of discrimination, but of biological and psychological differences between the genders; argue that immigrants ought to accommodate their cultures to that of the native population rather than the other way around; question the wisdom of rewarding people with cash for choosing not to work; ask whether global warming is in fact man-made, and you might as well have poked fun at the Law before the Sanhedrin.

Such opinions are affronts to today’s regnant dogmas (environmentalism, multiculturalism, “gender equity”, and so on). And as dogmas, of course, there is no more need to demonstrate their veracity or reasonableness than there is for believers to demonstrate the rationality of the Resurrection or Virgin Birth.

For the sake of illustration, I’ll have to confine myself to a single current example. (It would take a book to document the phenomenon adequately. Indeed, dozens of such books have been published, but apparently without effect.)

In the past year, on campuses across the country, a number of pro-life organizations have been denied club status and funding by their student governments. The justification offered by one Gilary Massa, vice-president of the York University Federation of Students, is instructive. Student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student space, so long as they do so “within a pro-choice realm”. Ultimately, “you have to recognize that a woman has a choice over her own body”. This is not, as Ms. Massa stipulates, “an issue of freedom of speech”. “No, this is an issue of women’s rights.”

There it is. Freedom to discuss the issue so long as it’s within the bounds of pro-choice orthodoxy (“within a pro-choice realm”). But why discuss it? What is there to discuss, within the “realm” that Ms. Massa defines as permissible?

It obviously doesn’t trouble Ms. Massa that many Canadians do want to have a discussion, inasmuch as 70% of us have consistently called for at least some restrictions on abortion. But I prefer not to get into the argument here (on this Ms. Massa and I agree). I’m more interested in the peculiar psychology of pro-choice orthodoxy that can apparently confer upon its evangelists the repose of certainty in the midst of a raging controversy.

For them, a “woman’s right to choose” is a revealed truth, beyond the “realm” of rational human investigation. There is no point in inquiring into it, anymore than there is in inquiring into the nature of the Divine, which, as Plato remarks in the Timaeus, is “beyond knowing or expressing”. The absolute right to abortion is an inscrutable mystery. For feminists, it is the magnum mysterium (with apologies to Christianity); and those who raise questions about its truth or moral rectitude are trespassing on sacred ground.

Ms. Massa’s views are reflective of a generalized exaltation of human “rights” to metaphysical status. Calling something a “right” (the “right” to an education, to medical care, to a “living” wage, to same-sex “marriage”, and, of course, the ubiquitous right not to be offended) confers upon it a kind of magical potency, which is one reason why utterly novel “rights” like a woman’s over her own body have been breeding like flies lately.

But let us grant, for the sake of argument—not that Ms. Massa would be open to argument–that there is a “right to choose”, even if no Canadian Parliament has enacted it, and not even Canada’s activist Supreme Court has recognized it.

In non-totalitarian states, citizens possess many “rights”, but none of them comes with the included right to immunity from criticism. Rights don’t have rights and never have had—not even the traditional ones that have been on the books since Magna Carta. We have long had the right to private property, but that does not prohibit socialists from inveighing against it, and advocating its abolition. Even in the nineteenth century, when Americans enjoyed the right to own slaves, emancipationists were at perfect liberty to call the legal practice pernicious. Presumably, even Ms. Massa would have been happy about the evanescence of that right. No right is insulated from rational judgment. Only eternal laws handed down from on high lay claim to the privilege of sacrosanctity.

It’s not merely, therefore, that Ms. Massa and her co-religionists have decreed that, at York and other universities, opposition must be crushed and non-conforming points of view silenced. On campus, this is nothing new. By now we all know that universities, once sanctuaries of free thought and untrammeled debate, have of late become Zimbabwe’s without the violence. Universities proudly merchandise themselves as perfect little jewels of diversity–by which their administrators mean diversity of race, country of origin, religion, and “sexual orientation”, but absolute uniformity of thought.

In the academy, this is more or less an open secret. Students know that if they submit essays propounding views that go beyond the “realm” of acceptable opinion, they can expect a poor grade. For the sake of self-preservation, they learn, like all political and religious dissidents, to suppress their own doubts, and observe the proprieties. Professors know that if they fail to do the same in the classroom, their students might denounce them as racists, sexists, fascists, homophobes, Islamophobes, Euro-centrists, or anti-choice bigots, in their end-of-year course evaluations, which can spell the end of their careers. So professors, too, sensibly reduce the risks by staying within the “realm” of acceptable opinion. It’s a tacit, mutual undertaking to dissemble, such as one often finds in totalitarian societies. And it works. Which is not to say that in the academy there aren’t the usual disciplinary committees and tribunals charged with enforcing adherence to “speech codes” and the like, and censuring those who violate them. But there is little need for them, when the system of self-repression functions so efficiently.

Of course, the university is not the only theocratic institution in our officially secular world; only the most suffocating one. The same “smelly little orthodoxies” (to recall Orwell’s pungent phrase) delineate the bounds of speech, thought, and action in most departments of modern life: in the workplace, the news media, the legislature, the literary and arts community. Go beyond the “realm” of orthodox opinion in any of these contexts, and you might well end up before one of Canada’s busy human rights tribunals.

One is grateful, certainly, that such tribunals do not have the authority to burn heretics at the stake; merely to get them dismissed from their jobs, fine them, imprison them, or deport them, while sullying their reputations, forcing them to issue spurious but nonetheless humiliating apologies, to surrender their presses to their ideological opponents, or open their private reception halls for the sport of those who offend their most deeply held moral convictions.

But then I thought we were “beyond” all that.

 

 

While driving up the DVP the other day, the words “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR” loomed ahead, spray-painted in capital letters on the side of an overpass. Normally, it’s hard to read these revelations from on high while approaching at highway speeds; but that’s rarely a problem on the Parkway.

Let it be known that I too consider it better to make love than war. Had I been president of the U.S. at the time, I would have put aside my old-fashioned prejudice in favour of the opposite sex and proposed the idea to Brezhnev, had I thought it would end the Cold War. But Brezhnev, I fear, would have rebuffed my advances.

It’s nice, in any case, to see that the Iraq War has re-energized the Peace Movement. The collapse of communism left the Movement wholly dispirited, it seems. The fact that the proximate cause of the peaceful implosion of the Soviet Empire was Reagan’s relentless military build-up rather than the West’s unilateral disarmament must have been particularly irksome to the world’s amorous pacifists. Shortly thereafter, not even NATO’s unprovoked invasion of Yugoslavia succeeded in mobilizing them.

Why are the Movement faithful finally dusting off their placards and agitating their spray cans once again? A hypothesis: The overthrow of little Serbia by NATO’s armed might was intended to save a Bosnian Muslim plurality from genocide at the hands of a Christian minority. The invasion of Iraq was intended to save a Muslim majority from genocide by a Muslim minority. If one Islamic sect sets about to ethnically cleanse another, it’s one thing, but if Christians try it, that’s too much for the multicultural community to bear. Clinton’s war against Serbia was a “humanitarian intervention”, as it was called; Bush’s war against the Sunni tyranny is “an occupation”.

I regard the war in Iraq as a calamitous mistake, by the way. (No less calamitous than America’s uncritical advocacy of Israel, for what it’s worth.) But the rhetoric of the Peace Movement is so puerile that no thinking adult would have anything to do with it. Unlike the fellow travelers of the Movement, thinking people don’t wish to be judged stupid by association.

As I see it, any organization that invites its members to congregate en masse to shout slogans or sing folk songs probably can’t manage the intellectual depths of a problem as intractable as man’s inhumanity to man. Hard critical thinking is not encouraged in mobs. The very purpose of convening one is to induce individuals to surrender their independence of mind to its collective tyranny. Nor does it make much difference whether the mob is chanting “Kill the Negro” or “Make the Rich Pay”, “Zieg Heil ” or “Give Peace a Chance”: its median intelligence quotient still languishes in the bottom quartile.