Oct 13 2017

Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

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Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

The structure of these regional directorates has remained largely unchanged for decades, which, when combined with the FSB’s system of personnel rotation, means that the fossilized provincial state security offices shape the FSB from within.

–Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, “Russia’s New Nobility: the Rise of the Security Services in Putin’s Kremlin,” Foreign Affairs, 89 (September–October 2010): 80–96 at 93.

*****

Russia has the third-largest gold and currency reserves in the world, but has become an international anti-model—a byword for non-modernization (and even de-modernization), uncompletitiveness, and chronic corruption….

One of the principle themes to emerge here is the Kremlin’s reluctance to graduate from its preoccupation with traditional security and geopolitical priorities to tackling a new global agenda.

–Bobo Lo, Russia and the New World Order, (London: Brookings Institution Press, 2015) 58, 72–73.

*****

Russian strategic theory today remains relatively unimaginative and highly dependent on the body of Soviet work with which Russia’s leaders are familiar.

–Maria Snegovaya, “Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine: Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare,” (Institute for the Study of War: Washington, DC, September 2015)  7.

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For comparative purposes only:

The generation’s insularity began to change in the mid-330s. For some members of this generation (most notably Praetextatus) the early 330s saw their initial foray into public life, a step that certainly increased their awareness of the age’s political developments. Others, like Ausonius, would have seen their awareness increase when they began studying law or pleading cases. As members of the final pagan generation moved into their midtwenties, their focus shifted from the classrooms and parties of intellectual centers like Athens and Bordeaux to the social and political life of members of the imperial elite. These young men began assuming the duties and responsibilities of mature citizens. As the next chapter will show, they did so with a mixture of seriousness and conservatism that would become characteristic of their approach to public life.

–Edward J. Watts, The Final Pagan Generation, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2015) 58.

*****

“It was said [by Burke], that, as she [France] had speedily fallen, she might speedily rise again. He doubted this. That the fall from an height was with an accelerated velocity; but to lift a weight up to that height again was difficult, and opposed by the laws of physical and political gravitation.”

–“Substance of the Speech in the Debate on the Army Estimates in the House of Commons,” Tuesday, February 9, 1790. From The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund BurkeIn Twelve Volumes.” Vol. III. John C. Nimmo, London. 1887.

*****

What floods ideas are! How quickly they cover all that they are commissioned to destroy and bury, and how rapidly they create frightful abysses!”

–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), III, iii, § 3.

*****

Historical experience [in intelligence gathering], even if inadequate, is the most reliable guidance system in existence. It may have to be discarded on occasion, but it must never be disregarded. In this sense, then, conservatism is mandated by prudence.

–Walter Laqueur, A World of Secrets: the Uses and Limits of Intelligence. (New York, NY: Best Books, 1985) 283.


Nov 22 2016

A Dialogue of High Adventure & Misdemeanors

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A Dialogue of High Adventure & Misdemeanors

let us try / Adventurous work

––Satan, Paradise Lost[1]

Everything is legal.

––Thénardier, Les Misérables[2]

SCENE: Consider the Plagiarist who was successful and had money to spare and how he encountered the Crime Writer who was muddling through her career, sometimes writing fiction, sometimes non:

I.

CRIME WRITER: Has anyone ever called you a criminal?

PLAGIARIST: I prefer to be called a “master of disguising quotations.” It’s the thrill of masquerade when all the world’s a stage….

CRIME WRITER: Has anyone ever accused you of being an adventurer?

PLAGIARIST: No, but I think I know what you mean. There is something of a riddle in how adventure sometimes functions as a synonym for criminal enterprise. An Oxford don named Tolkien played around with this idea in the opening chapter of The Hobbit (1936). But I first learned of this riddle from that Gallic journalist André Gide (1869–1951) and his character of Lafcadio in The Caves of the Vatican (1914): a motiveless criminal:

“No doubt his apparent inconsequence hides what is in reality, a subtler and more recondite sequence—the important point is that what makes him act should not be a matter of interest, or, as the usual phrase is, that he should not be merely actuated by interested motives…. A crime without a motive,” went on Lafcadio, “what a puzzle for the police! As to that, however, going along beside this blessed bank, anybody in the next-door compartment might notice the door open and the old blighter’s shadow pitch out. The corridor curtains, at any rate, are drawn…. It’s not so much about events that I’m curious, as about myself. There’s many a man thinks he’s capable of anything, who draws back when it comes to the point…. What a gulf between the imagination and the deed! … And no more right to take back one’s move than at chess. Pooh! If one could foresee all the risks, there’d be no interest in the game! …. Between the imagination of a deed and … Hullo! the bank’s come to an end….”  He preferred adventure—a word as pliable as his beaver and as easily twisted to suit his liking…. There is no reason that a man who commits a crime without reason should be considered a criminal.[3]

CRIME WRITER: You certainly can quote when called upon. But don’t expect me today to pay you for yesterday’s words.

PLAGIARIST: There’re plenty who do pay. I don’t need you. And I can perplex at will. I will perplex you with a question: can one be a law-abider––a non-criminal, full of motives or empty of inclinations––and still, nonetheless, possess “the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do?” Or is that urge something that happens only amid the anarchy in the heart of the African jungle of Nod, rather than the governance of the Arabic garden of Eden?[4]

CRIME WRITER: With all my experience of writing about high adventures and misdemeanors, I well remember what Captain Conrad taught me:

Curiosity being one of the forms of self-revelation, a systematically incurious person remains always partly mysterious.[5]

which was why––

After two years of training he went to sea, and entering the regions so well known to [Jim’s] imagination, found them strangely barren of adventure. He made many voyages.[6]

So to seek adventure—to pursue crime—is rather boring, at least for crime writers like me. Yet the incurious teem with intrigue….

II.

CRIME WRITER: Gide, Conrad, and Gramsci. Besides being a bunch of men, how are these relevant to our dialogue?

PLAGIARIST: the political prisoner Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), whether or not technically a “criminal,” certainly possessed motives and rendered them upon the pages of his notebooks. He was motived to philosophize in order to rise above religion and common sense:

Philosophy is intellectual order, which neither religion nor common sense can be. It is to be observed that religion and common sense do not coincide either, but that religion is an element of fragmented common sense. Moreover common sense is a collective noun, like religion: there is not just one common sense, for that too is a product of history and a part of the historical process. Philosophy is criticism and superseding of religion and “common” sense. [7]

On the other hand, for sea captain Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) if a society’s objects of royalty and religion make not good targets for terrorists (who are criminals, members of anti-society), then– at least in his novel The Secret Agent (1907)––science emerges as the preferred target for terrorists, the new motive of criminality:

“You are too lazy to think,” was Mr Vladimir’s comment upon that gesture. “Pay attention to what I say. The fetish of to-day is neither royalty nor religion. Therefore the palace and the church should be left alone. You understand what I mean, Mr Verloc?” …. But there is learning—science. Any imbecile that has got an income believes in that. He does not know why, but he believes it matters somehow. It is the sacrosanct fetish….[8]

Finally, through his character of James Duffy, exiled penman James Joyce (1882–1941) shows that to be a good citizen of a murderous empire, a non-criminal needs merely no royalty (if Irish at least), a few friends, and a little religion. These things make the life of the good citizen “adventureless”:

He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived his spiritual life without any communion with others, visiting his relatives at Christmas and escorting them to the cemetery when they died. He performed these two social duties for old dignity’s sake but conceded nothing further to the conventions which regulate the civic life. He allowed himself to think that in certain circumstances he would rob his hank but, as these circumstances never arose, his life rolled out evenly—an adventureless tale.[9]

CRIME WRITER: Crime and adventure….

PLAGIARIST: Advice and censure….

NOTES

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[1] Milton, John. Paradise Lost. 1667. X, 254–55. Compare 439–41.

[2] Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables. 1860. IV, vi, i.

[3] Gide, André. Les caves du Vatican. (Lafcadio’s Adventures.) 1914. Translated by Dorothy Bussy. NY: Knopf. 1953. IV, vii; V, i and ii.

[4] Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1899. § I.

[5] Conrad, The Secret Agent: a Simple Tale. 1907. XI.

[6] Conrad, Lord Jim. 1900. II.

[7] Gramsci, Antonio. Quaderni del carcere. 1929–1935. (Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.) Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. NY: International Publishers. 1971. “The Study of Philosophy” 325–26.

[8] Conrad, The Secret Agent: a Simple Tale II.

[9] Joyce, James. Dubliners. 1914. “A Painful Case.”


Sep 3 2015

Law, Love, and George Christoph Lichtenberg

bookbread pencil shavings

Law, Love, and George Christoph Lichtenberg

Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher challenges readers:

Traditionalist, orthodox Christians are a minority in this country, and are going to become ever more despised. The day is coming when the only protection many of us can rely on is the law, and the willingness of government officers to obey the law, even though they hate us. And so, my final question … Is the principle that the [Thomas] More of Bolt’s play powerfully elucidates really something we can afford to take lightly?

The majority of Americans, that is, those who don’t happen to be traditionalist, orthodox Christians, hate hypocrisy. And those who hate hypocrisy are the most hardhearted of hypocrites. For as the German sage taught us at the dawn of the Enlightenment:

I am convinced we do not only love ourselves in others but hate ourselves in others too.

–George Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

So America hates hypocrisy–and if Herr Lichtenberg’s dictum carries any merit it comes from our country’s evident embrace of those most notorious species of hypocrite: cheaters and liars. Tom Brady has been exonerated for flat footballs, over 300,000 U. S. died in the last 14 years (the Bush-Obama Era) because they were denied (via bureaucratic procrastination) the  healthcare promised them, and Ashley Madison appears to be the most successful ponzi scheme since Madoff.

Speaking for the minority of traditionalist, orthodox Christians over at First Things, Carl. R. Truman gets it exactly right today:

I have no reason to doubt [Kim Davis’] sincerity or the significance of her conversion. But the fact that she has only been a professing Christian for a few years scarcely defuses the power of the question. The politics of sex is the politics of aesthetic and rhetorical plausibility and a multiple divorcee understandably lacks such plausibility on the matter of the sanctity of marriage. The only way in which her defense could be deemed plausible would be if the church in general had maintained in practice, not just theory, a high view of marriage. Then the move from outside the church to inside the church would perhaps have more rhetorical power. In fact, at least as far as Protestantism goes, the opposite is the case. The supine acceptance by many churches of no fault divorce makes the ‘I have become a Christian so it is all different now’ defense appear implausible, even if it is actually true in specific cases.

But as Victor Hugo and Ronald Dworkin have pointed out, the law will not save us:

“Everything is legal.”

–Thénardiers, Les Misérables. 1860. IV, vi, 01

In fact, people often profit, perfectly legally, from their legal wrongs. The most notorious case is adverse possession—if I trespass on your land long enough, some day I will gain a right to cross your land whenever I please.

–“Is Law a System of Rules?” The Philosophy of Law (1977)

And if the law will not save us, we must then turn to love.