25 January 2014

Jacob Cooper’s Loyalism, or: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!


In our family, the Doane side genealogy (my mother’s side) is incredibly well-documented, but the Cooper side, really not so much. Much of the Cooper side story has been based on my own research, in large part by using the Fowler family’s documentation on Ancestry.com - from this, as far as I could ascertain, the Coopers were Quakers who came over to Pennsylvania in the wake of the Williamite Revolution and the Lockean Act of ‘Toleration’ (which notably and explicitly barred Quakers and Catholics from holding high office). However, I could not be certain of these results, in part because so much of the documentation was lost, of our family’s history before my grandfather Franklin’s enlistment in the medical corps of the navy during WWII. There was Oscar Reid, my great-grandfather, a family tradition of connexion to the Watson family through his mother, and then... well, nothing. So I recently took a Y-DNA test from Family Tree DNA, to determine which Cooper lineage I belonged to.

Well, the results have been quite interesting to say the least. My closest relative on FTDNA (genetic distance of 0 at a 37 Y-DNA marker resolution; essentially, solid proof of a common paternal-line ancestor within the past ) is a fellow from Texas who traces his ancestry back to Sarah Ann Phillips and John Calhoun Cooper of Union, South Carolina, the son and heir of Stacey Cooper, who in turn was a younger son of William Cooper and Elizabeth (or Lydia) Ann Clark of Bucks County, PA. The Jacob Cooper the Fowlers list as my direct paternal-line ancestor was also their son, and brother to Stacey Cooper. Interestingly enough, even though Stacey is listed as a veteran of the War of American Independence on the Whig side, Jacob made the ‘Enemies List’ of Whig militia Col. Thomas Brandon, making his estate legally forfeit by the South Carolina rebel government.

The family history in these records is fascinating; I am tempted to visit Union, Spartanburgh and Travelers Rest next time I’m back in the United States to see where and how the folks lived. The reconstruction of the genealogy of my father’s family has taken quite a bit of poking, especially since going back to Joseph Cooper (Jacob’s son) they were, as landless sharecroppers, little better-off than slaves themselves and essentially on the losing end of Dixie’s slave-based economic system (which, sadly and shamefully, my great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Delan Cooper fought to keep intact). One of the first things to be lost in the crushing grip of intergenerational poverty is the family history. There is little use for it when one’s family is but a season away from starvation.

They say one’s social views and views on morality are rooted somewhat in heredity; I’m still somewhat sceptical of that claim. However, it has been a pleasant surprise to discover that communitarian conservatism (that of the Loyalist streak) runs strong in my family, both on my father’s side in South Carolina and on my mother’s in Pennsylvania. Searching my feelings, I know it to be true. (It’s good to have the genetic proof all the same.)

However, my light-sabre forms still need some brushing up.

Neoliberalism and family values

What a load of crock.

So... let me get this straight. Nordic-style welfare states are bad because - in encouraging pro-family policies like paid parental leave, subsidised education, living wages and day-care, and generally making sure that families in general and mothers in particular don't lead miserable lives shuffling sixty hours plus a week between two below-subsistence jobs - they make single people feel comparatively bad about themselves?

The article itself is risible enough, using decade-old statistics to prove an utterly frivolous point in the style of a right-wing libertarian ‘gotcha’-style hack piece on the Nordic social-market model of the sort which are so popular on Reason and at the Cato Institute. But, for the record, it does illustrate clearly one highly intriguing thing: neoliberal capitalism is no friend to family values. That its defenders are actively seeking to use utilitarian logic to level life satisfaction between families and non-married childless people like this, is telling to say the least.

And I'm really not trying to be down on single people here; I've been one myself for most of my adult life. If one has not been called to holy monasticism or to the blessed life of celibacy, it really sucks. It might not suck as much in the US as I am sure it would in the Nordic countries, but I get the feeling that would have more to do with the climate. But REALLY, Alicia PQ Wittmeyer? Child support policies are bad because parents ought to be made as miserable as singles?

Well, one thing’s for sure: the next time a right-winger says that anti-capitalism is a politics of envy against the successful, all one really needs to do in response is direct them to this article. Because if Ms Wittmeyer is any indication, libertarians and neoliberals seem to do the politics of envy every bit as well as, if not better than, we anti-capitalists do.

21 January 2014

The profane and their handlers

The Holy Feast of the Theophany was just celebrated this past weekend. We remembered on this day the visitation of the Magi to the infant Christ, and the baptism of the adult Christ in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon him from the heavens. (The dove, naturally, being a symbol of God’s peace toward man.) In the Orthodox Church – and in the other churches observing the Julian Calendar – it is a day which should be observed as holy.

However, on the 19th of January in Kyyiv, when the President of Ukraine was praying at church, a group of rioters on the Maidan were busying themselves in a profane anti-baptism of fire, using brickbats and firecrackers, throwing smoke pellets, rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police, burning busses and generally behaving like thugs – embodying the exact opposite of the symbol of Christ’s baptism. Hopefully, most Ukrainians will see the sacrilege for what it is. The literal fascists in the Svoboda Party hate the Orthodox Church with a passion, whether because it happens to be affiliated with Russia or because it stands firmly against their hateful ideology and always has.

What we in the West have to remember is that equally to blame for the rioters’ desecrations are those who bankroll them and give them moral support. That includes the members of the EU government who were all too willing to cut Ukraine adrift financially after the association agreement was signed, but who now are all too willing to split the country down the middle to get their way. And that includes Americans who are willing to sacrifice Ukraine on the altar of structural adjustment just to see Russia on its knees the way it was under Yeltsin.

巧言令色,鮮矣仁!


In all of the Analects, the one group of people Confucius singled out for particular critique are those who appear to be gentlemen, who keep all of the fine points of etiquette, but who do not follow the Way in their conduct and in the proper spirit of the rites. At times, the tone of biting sarcasm comes even through the Legge translation (not used here). ‘Fine words and an insinuating appearance,’ the Master said, ‘rarely accompany kindness [1].’ Also: ‘The Yi and the Di [barbarian tribes of the east and north] have their worthy men, whereas the states of our Xia [China] are without them [2].’ Also: ‘The men of former times, in matters of rites and music, were rubes; the men of these latter times, in matters of rites and music, are gentlemen. If I had to use them, I’d follow those of former times [3].’

Confucius had a high respect for poor and low-born and seemingly-foolish men who knew the virtues and who knew the Way, but he decried and excoriated the obsequious and the presumptuous both, who were also often cruel. Confucius in this way prefigured the approach, as the other virtuous pagans and as John the Baptist did, of Our Lord, who dined with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, and reserved his condemnation for the legalists and false gentlemen of his day who kept the laws and even the unwritten customs exactly (but who looked down on and refused to help those who didn’t). The greatest enemies of the traditionalist are not the radicals; they are the hypocrite and the fop. The radicals always come afterwards, and they are almost always right about the hypocrites and the fops, which is how they tend to gain their sympathy when they attack traditionalists.

I have written on this blog already about the dangers of white émigrés. I now wish to address the dangers of false gentlemen, hypocrites and fops originating closer to home – the people who tend to bemoan the fall of the Confederate States as the fall of a gentlemanly culture in the United States. The most recent example I had the misfortune of stumbling upon was an article by one Stephen Klugewicz arguing that the surrender of General Lee to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse was a ‘watershed moment in history’ in which the Old World with its manners and nobility surrendered to the New (without either). Firstly, the entire article reeks of the sort of Stalinistic cult of personality which the Lost Causers tend to indulge in regarding their generals (and project onto the North’s attitudes toward Lincoln), with no word too fine and no appearance too insinuating to be wasted upon the god-king Lee.

Secondly, I am led to wonder in precisely which ‘company’ Lee felt it necessary to appear the gentleman. Klugewicz states that manners in their highest form – chivalry, in other words – entails the defence of the weak, to the protection of women and children, to the clothing of the poor. I agree with this in full. But Lee displayed none of the above manners to those weaker than him. As his own correspondence and newspapers of the time indicate, his slaves detested him and tried on many occasions to escape from him. He separated children from their parents – made orphans, that is, rather than ministered to them. Indeed, on one occasion he instructed his men to beat at least one of his slaves cruelly and to flay the skin from his back, and then to pour brine into his wounds. His own overseer refused to whip Mary Norris, a fifteen-year-old girl, but Lee paid the county constable to do the filthy deed, as he heaped abuse upon Mary all the while. I would very dearly hope that this is not precisely what Klugewicz has in mind when he quotes Burke about ‘[making] power gentle’ and ‘beautify[ing] and soften[ing] private society’. But – and I say this as one sympathetic in the deepest degree to both the true ideals of Christian humility and chivalry as lived out in both public and private life – if Klugewicz is holding up Lee as an example of either, can it be any wonder that radicals are so numerous who are led to mock both as rank hypocrisy?

Given the evidence of his comportment to those weaker than him, Lee was a much better example of ‘brute force’ and ‘cold reason’ at work, than any man living in the North at that time. Yes, indeed, we can carefully examine Lee’s public façade, the one which he showed to Grant – but it was ill-done to present Grant as a boor or a calculating man of no manners, when the supreme gallantry he and his government displayed to the defeated Confederates is a matter of public record. To be sure, it is character, which is what we truly ought to be concerned about when we speak of ‘manners’, is determined by how he treats those nearest to him. ‘See what a man does,’ says Confucius. ‘Look at his motives. Examine the things he finds peace in. How can a man hide his character? How can a man hide his character [4]?’

Our Lord put it more pithily: ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’

‘Perhaps in America the precipitous decline of manners began somewhat later, in a humble home in south-central Virginia, when the Last Cavalier of the Old World laid down his sword in defeat, giving way to the New World Order of centralized government, crony capitalism, and the narcissistic New Man,’ Klugewicz fawns – a man who waxes lyrical over the fine-tuned rites and music of the latter-day ‘gentleman’, and ignores the fact that men of true substance and loyalty had been driven out in a former age, to Canada and to less hospitable shores, or stayed and lost everything they had to the fervour of revolution. A revolution which the even modern-day defenders of the Lost Cause lay claim to. The fact of the matter is simply that the South up until the end of the Civil War was already a crony-capitalist entity. It was a colony made up of industrialised factory-farms, engaging in monocultures of cotton and sugar, and it was cotton which made it an integral part of the globalist capitalist empire which Britain had become in the meanwhile.

I am not someone who has any relish in what the United States became in the aftermath of the Civil War. I am no apologist for the Gilded Age or the robber barons or the railway magnates. But nor am I one who will bow before graven images or be made to flatter false gentlemen like Lee, for want of anyone better.

[1] 子曰:「巧言令色,鮮矣仁!」 (Analects 1:3)
[2] 子曰:「夷狄之有君,不如諸夏之亡也。」 (Analects 3:5)
[3] 子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」 (Analects 11:1)
[4] 子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」 (Analects 2:10)

20 January 2014

The radical personalism of Dr King


Dr King at the Transport Workers Union conference, 1961

Personalism is a highly misunderstood school of philosophy and ethics, and many of its leading thinkers and proponents have been likewise misunderstood. At base, I fear that when most Americans hear or read the word ‘personalism’, they are immediately tempted to think of a bourgeois liberalism, a German-accented idealism or a libertarian political philosophy which sees individuals as atomised constellations of abstract rights. But this reading of personalism would certainly be a novelty: alien to the Thomistic Jacques Maritain, hideous to the Péguy-influenced Mounier, and downright anathema to the radically anti-materialist and anti-bourgeois Orthodox lay-theologian Nikolai Berdyaev!

More insightful commentators might make the deeper and generally more correct connexion between personalism and existentialism, but it would be laughable to suggest that the person as she exists is of any great interest to Nietzsche (concerned as he was for going ‘beyond’ good and evil, and ‘over’ mere personhood, whatever each was supposed to mean) - and the monstrosity of Nietzsche’s brute-force individualism would certainly put most personalists off him, since personalists are concerned with the person as she exists, in all of her messy and inconvenient social embeddedness. There is much more for the followers of Michael Sandel to make of the personalists than there is for the followers of John Rawls, let alone for the Nietzscheans.

Sadly, there is a tendency in the Boston school of Borden Parker Bowne to over-read personalism through a German-idealist lens, but the most famous personalists to come out of the American sphere are Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. - the last of whom was a Boston personalist, the student of Edgar Brightman (himself a student of Bowne). And Dr King was not averse to expressing his personalism in radical, concrete and highly un-German ways. This was a man who could write, on the one hand:
I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power. To say God is personal is not to make him an object among other objects or attribute to him the finiteness and limitations of human personality; it is to take what is finest and noblest in our consciousness and affirm its perfect existence in him. It is certainly true that human personality is limited, but personality as such involves no necessary limitations. It simply means self-consciousness and self-direction. So in the truest sense of the word, God is a living God.
And on the other, fusing these personalist ideas with those in the African-American spiritual tradition very closely mirroring Ruskin’s Unto This Last:
Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.
Or, with equal compatibility, with such pro-labour ideas as this:
The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted.
Or, of course, with outrage against the Vietnam War, as here:
This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.
Or (perhaps most controversially nowadays) with a strong and almost Patristic emphasis on the traditional family, encapsulated pithily here:
The group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.
Part of the reason that Dr King’s legacy evokes so much confusion in modern American political life is that he didn’t really see eye-to-eye with either organised (white) political party of his time. He would likely do so even less now, when his legacy faces co-opting both by economistic right-liberals, by retrograde old Trot militarists and by the pro-abort lobby, an ‘unseemly squabble’ over his corpse, as David Lindsay would no doubt term it. Neither major party embraces a personalist political philosophy (though arguably only the Democrats would grudgingly make a place for it), nor does either major party respect a politics at human scale.

But one can see that Dr King’s read of the personalist tradition led him to embrace a form of politics which was anti-capitalist, anti-materialist and anti-imperialist, but which was at the same time pro-union and pro-family. Dr King respected the whole person and only the person as ikon of the Almighty. Very clearly he was not an individualist, for he understood and insisted on the value of the family in upbuilding the person and of the government in protecting her and of the community (including labour unions) in joining with her to fight for justice. But also, equally clearly, he saw the danger of reducing the individual to something whose worth is to be reckoned in terms of or even comparable with the things she consumes.

I have long held that the best way to remember Dr King is to let him speak in his own words and his own voice; I still hold to that. And I hope that I have done so in a fitting way here.

16 January 2014

Pointless video post – ‘Redemption’ by Queensrÿche (with Todd La Torre) and ‘Anyone Can Be a Hero’ by Crystal Ball


After one of the messier, more dramatic and litigious of band break-ups in 2012 (enough Blabbermouth fodder to make Tarja’s departure from Nightwish look like a downright friendly tiff by comparison), two different Queensrÿches showed up to produce two duelling album releases. It’s brutally clear who won that shootout, and it wasn’t the quicker draw. The Queensrÿche featuring three-fifths of the old crew plus Parker Lundgren and Todd La Torre cleaned house with a short and punchy release featuring some solidly retro power-metal offerings like ‘Redemption’ above. The catchy, wailing chorus line comes straight off their early work, too, as though Todd is channelling the Tate of 30 years ago. The lyrics are also quite noteworthy; Geoff Tate’s having left the band on the worst of possible terms hasn’t made the ‘Rÿche any less pissed-off at big media and big business, it seems. Definitely some shades of Operation: Mindcrime here, and not just in the twin-guitar riff attacks. Reminds me why I fell in love with the ‘Rÿche in the first place. Search and you’ll find the answer, indeed!


Speaking of catchy, Swiss eurockers Crystal Ball have serendipitously surfaced on my sonar, so to speak. This is some truly fine power-tinged hard rock, and hell if their new guy Steve Mageney doesn’t sound like the love child of Andi Deris and Thomas Laasch (just enough grit to keep things interesting) rocking out to an accompaniment who all clearly listened to ‘The Final Countdown’ one or fifty too many times. I say this with the greatest affection, by the way. ‘Anyone Can Be a Hero’ is brilliant in its elegant simplicity, an upbeat ‘80’s-style stand-up-and-be-counted arena-rock anthem that simply doesn’t get old. Dawnbreaker, from whence this song comes, is a bit more diverse in its sound, and crosses over into power metal and even straight-up ACCEPT-style ADH at several points, but they’re at their best when they stick to their hair-metal guns, cheese and all, as here. And no, I won’t be getting that haircut; thanks for asking.

Swing and a hit


From Adam4d.com.

Way too close for comfort, particularly mine. But that is how humour is s’posta work, isn’t it?

14 January 2014

Sacral space: a Confucian option


Cross-posted from Solidarity Hall,
based on a discussion at the Hopkins-Nanjing Centre hosted by Dr Adam Webb

We Christians of the West live now in a time of cross-pressures and divided sympathies, but arguably we have always been doing so. Our current crisis is that we inhabit a space which both the states and the markets we live under and within have done their hardest to desacralise, but it would be a grave error to say or to think that this is the first or only time we, historically, have ever faced such hardship, or worse. It would be an even graver error to pretend that this hardship is not of our own collective making.

The urge to delimit, to categorise, to define, to grasp the reality of and thus master both man and nature – the temptation of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor – goes very deep within Western culture, and very arguably it comes out of the effort expended to grasp the reality of and thus master the nature of God. One of the big factors in my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy was its emphasis on apophatic (or ‘negative’) theology. In Orthodoxy, even though one may declare something positive about God (like the fact that God exists, or that God is good, or that God is knowing), one must be careful to hedge that positive statement about with qualifiers. God does not exist as we exist, because he is uncreated and contingent upon nothing – but at the same time we are never to say that he does not exist. God is not good in the same manner that we are good, since his very nature creates goodness – but at the same time, it is blasphemy to declare God to be in any way evil. God does not know in the same way we know, for our knowledge is bound to experience and the ordering through experience of time and space, whereas God is limited by neither – yet to say God is ignorant would be utterly wrong. It is we who exist in ignorance, yet fancy ourselves knowledgeable. The insights of Johnson, Swift, Chesterton and Lewis, which came to me from my immersion in the Anglican faith, were the most true when they most humbly pointed to the mystery at the centre, the wellspring from which they drew their authority when speaking at the peripheries of economy and politics, science and culture.

The cataphatic (or ‘positive’) style of God-talk in the Franco-Latin Church has eclipsed the apophatic, as it did not in the Slavo-Hellene. We can discern that historically, this tendency became most pronounced with the filioque controversy, the feudal papacy and the rise of Scholasticism. As George Parkin Grant identified it, the filioque – this first positive delimitation of the oikoumene of God at the hands of purely human reason, of the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit – had some very drastic unforeseen consequences. The period of reform in the Franco-Latin Church which coincided with and heavily influenced the filioque controversy, also restructured the Church to a hitherto-unprecedented degree along the lines of ‘secular’ feudal kingship. The attempt to ‘define down’ the workings of the Holy Spirit in the world depended on and reinforced in turn the idea that the leadership of the Franco-Latin Church must have greater spiritual and political mastery over man and nature. We can see this conviction at work also in the perennial political struggles between the Franco-Latin Church and the Emperor of the Germans over investiture, as well as the breakdown of symphoneia which that struggle demonstrated.

But the feudal structure would not last in the areas where the Franco-Latin Church had adopted it. Canon law subsequently began to evolve, as well as the structure of monastic life. John Milbank points out in his opus Theology and Social Theory, citing sociologist Randall Collins, that the Cistercian Order, founded in 1096 with the blessing of the reformist Papacy, took as part of its modus operandi in society an assumption that a new sort of property-régime in which the order owned the land outright without necessary reference to their feudal lords. Milbank cites the basis for Cistercian-style usus in a canon-legal innovation in the interpretation of the Roman legal category of dominium. The Cistercians, as Weber himself noted, were forerunners of capitalism in several important senses – one sees in their preference for hired labour over tenancy a progressive whiff of the money economy; in their consolidation of what had traditionally been shared-use land and commons an ominous foreshadowing of the enclosures; in their practice of discrete divisions of labour among the brothers the beginnings of corporate specialisation.

The governance style needed to police this new property-régime heralded by the Cistercians demanded institutional structures highly different both from the Church and from government by traditional feudal privilege. This opened the doorway to theological innovations of an even greater and more drastic sort than the filioque, including a growing Scholastic transition between the intellectualism of Aquinas to the relative voluntarism of Duns Scotus – driven by this need to explain and open a space for a governance structure separate from the authority-claims of Holy Church and feudal tradition.

The rest, as they say, is history. The ‘opening up’ of, and the systematic disenchanting of, this supposedly-neutral space occupied by a governance structure which could regulate and direct private dominium, ushered in a wide variety of rebellions by ideology and interest against the ‘sacred circle’ – including the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the ideologies of ‘exploration’ and conquest, the Thirty Years’ War and the birth of the nation-state, the Enlightenment and the Twin Revolutions of Modernity – which have ushered in the supremacy of the modern liberal-capitalist secular order. The question now facing Christianity both Western and Eastern now is, how do we navigate this order? To the extent to which it is possible (not to mention necessary), how do we go about re-enchanting the public sphere? Do we have any allies in other faith traditions to call upon and make common cause with? What sort of depth is there in such alliances?

One such possible ally, in China, is the Confucian gentleman and scholar of renown, Jiang Qing of the Yangming Academy in Guizhou. In his book, A Confucian Constitutional Order (translated and foreworded by Canadian political philosopher Daniel A. Bell) he makes a careful and thoughtful critique of the Western path of governance and its supporting theology, very similar to that of Milbank. He notes also the Scholastic roots of secular accounts of the public sphere, and calls for a more textured and three-dimensional understanding of political legitimacy than that which underwrites most Western-influenced (and indeed the Chinese!) constitutions, one which encompasses the voice of the sacred and that of the abiding, historical and local as well as the democratic. A Confucian Constitutional Order is a very intriguing and promising piece of political and legal philosophy – there is a great deal for us to admire in its attempts to operationalise certain core concerns which we distributist and agrarian social critics want to see expressed in ways that current electoral politics simply doesn’t do. But there are several specific problems, and one very broad one, in the way it is presented.

Firstly, Jiang introduces his project, a constitutional application of the “Confucian Way of Humane Authority”, as one with a basically outward-looking and cosmopolitan orientation. In the introduction to A Confucian Constitutional Order, he writes:
‘Even though we have not yet been able to create a satisfactory system of implementation —it requires a long period of hard thinking and also the right historical conditions— we can categorically affirm that political development of China today must tend toward the Way of the Humane Authority. This will not only solve China’s political problems but also give humanity a new ideal and open a new way ahead. This is a test of the creative wisdom and creative ability of the Chinese people and also a contribution that Chinese civilization has to offer to human civilization.’ (italics mine)
At the same time, in his responses to critiques of his project (and to some degree within the Confucian Constitutional Order itself), Jiang tends to retreat to a position of Chinese particularism, that there is something in the structure of his project which orients itself toward, not China-as-civilisation, but rather China-as-extant-nation-state and only China thus considered. In my reading not only does it jar harshly with the rest of his thought and shape his political concept in ways which bring it dangerously close to a post-Confucian nationalism, but also it particularly jars with the mission he has set out. It also somewhat precludes the possibility of meaningful dialogue and shared social action with the other great faith traditions, given that Jiang accepts a hypothesis that different cultures (which he sees as coterminous and synonymous with religious values and religious faith) are in a state of perpetual and inevitable competition and conflict. While he may be right in a sense in that not all expressed values are compatible, he is wrong to conflate culture with faith. A Christian is a Christian whether or not she is Armenian or Yakut or Amharic. Yet it would be the height of sophistry, not to mention insulting, to advance the claim that all of us are ‘Western’.

On some level, I do sympathise with Jiang, and find his stance both understandable and needed. There is something in Jiang’s reluctance to accede to such possibilities which is reminiscent of the recent Orthodox reluctance to engage in ecumenical dialogue except in a missionary capacity. On the one hand, there is at work here a very grounded concern of compromising or watering down transcendental truths. But on the other hand, there is a pressing need to cooperate with Western traditions in works of justice and mercy, and also to confront the Western tradition on where it has gone wrong – why is it that can we no longer adequately look after the poor and the hungry and the homeless? Why is it that so many of us shrug our shoulders at grave and poisonous disparities in wealth and power? How is it that the self-serving logic of those who have both in superabundance and want to justify having it at the expense of others is so readily accepted without question? These are questions on which Jiang and those of like mind can be both authoritative and helpful, if they choose to engage.

Part of the problem that is evident, particularly with Jiang’s engagement of Christianity, is that he seeks to sacralise space in a different way than Christians do, and thus sees the Christian mission as being at odds with the Confucian one. The Christian worldview is a revelatory one, and takes as central the intrusion of God in the person of Christ into the cosmos, into history and into the embedded life of each person. This was accomplished first through the mystery of the Incarnation, the Christmas we have just celebrated, and through the mystery of the Resurrection whereby the power of death was vanquished. But we reconsecrate the world to these mysteries by receiving the Eucharist – a holy thing outside secular space, delivered in a holy place by priests who bear the Great Commission through apostolic succession – and then carrying it out into the world in our words and deeds.

The Confucian worldview, by contrast, is not revelatory but is based in the naturalistic and moralistic teachings of the Liji, the Shijing and the Yijing. It would be wrong to insist, following the misinterpretations of Voltaire which still shape the mainstream Western view of Confucian teachings, that Confucianism is wholly unconcerned with the transcendental. Quite the contrary! One quickly discovers on reading the Liji, for instance, that all space is potentially already sacred space, and all vocations are capable of being sanctified by properly respecting heaven, earth and other people. The rites are already in the family, in the ancestral line, in the lord-vassal relationship and in the student-pupil one. In short, the full range of cultural activity is always already coterminous and identical with the full scope of the Confucian rites.

Seen thus, we can already tell tell that Jiang has a Sisyphean task ahead of him. Christians have it relatively easy by comparison – we attempt to re-sacralise the public sphere by bringing the Eucharist into it as an ‘enactment of the politics of Jesus’ from discrete ‘spaces of peace, charity and just economic exchange’ (Cavanaugh); Confucianism attempts to order to transcendental awareness what is already there in the space claimed as saeculum through the use of rites. This brings it into a much more direct conflict with the dominant liberal ideology which seeks to police the sacred. We can see this conflict in the opprobrium which Jiang’s New York Times op-ed with Daniel A. Bell aroused, from both scholarly and less-scholarly China-watchers; we can also see it in the improbability that a critical mass of Chinese people and businesses and civil-society groups will begin again adopting the Liji as their ruling guidelines for public comportment. Perhaps more worryingly, apart from a few isolated figures like Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu, there is not really a valid ‘cenobitic option’ in Confucianism. (Confucians who become hermits have historically ended up adopting Daoism.)

I think we Christians of a (radical-)orthodox bent can with ease and sincerity wish Jiang well in his Confucian-constitutional project and seek to open to him the resources of our social and political thought in so doing. But we should also in a fraternal and caring spirit correct his characterisation of our own project as well as ask for his clarification on the identification of religion with culture.

07 January 2014

Христос рождается, славите Его!


I just got back home from Beijing, after having the privilege to attend the Liturgy at Christmas at the church there. The birth of Our Lord and the end of the Nativity Fast give us a lot to be grateful for! The very intrusion into history of God as a small child, the very fact that the power of Herod and the wealthy of Jerusalem were made to fear the child of homeless wanderers and refugees, the very truth that in this child was contained the salvation of the world, that in this child God himself would make of himself a sacrifice to deliver us all from the power of death - if all of this indeed is not worth remembering in gratitude, then nothing possibly can be! Christ is born; let’s glorify him!

A very merry Christmas to all!

06 January 2014

Pointless video post for Christmas Eve - ‘Христос Анести’ by Пастырь


Interesting new band from Russia, this folk-metal foursome Пастырь! It’s a little bare-bones, but I do highly enjoy Konstantin Timofeev’s baritone, the folksy stylings and the incorporation of Russian Orthodox imagery and tonality; makes it a good song for the Eve of the Nativity. Hopefully the band will make a full release soon; they are in that really slim subset of Eastern Orthodox heavy metal bands which includes Есхатон and Епизод. A happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

05 January 2014

A hundred years on – how do we face our legacy of war?


The right-believing and passion-bearing Tsar Saint Nicholas II of Russia

The recent back-and-forth between Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt over the legacy of the Great War should prompt careful reflection and – in light of the horrific carnage of that symbol, standing in the very midst of our history, of the inhuman excesses of mechanised modern warfare – prayer, in a spirit of penitence.

One cannot look at a conflict which destroyed nearly twenty million lives without falling to one’s knees with tears in one’s eyes and a prayer in one’s throat for the dead and for the families of the dead – and in this, I believe Tristram Hunt is right that we (whether Americans or British or French or Russians) should not now or ever succumb to a spirit of glib self-congratulation. Yet despite all the self-serving whig-historical nincompoopery he puts on display in his Daily Mail op-ed, Gove makes two valid points: nobility, bravery and loyalty have their own worth, and the cause of WWI itself was not altogether unworthy.

Consider the bullying one-sidedness with which the Austro-Hungarian Empire, assured in its alliance with the German one, first threatened its weaker neighbour, the Orthodox kingdom of Serbia, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Consider that, in response, the Austro-Hungarians essentially demanded policing and judicial rights on Serbian soil, and that the Serbians assented to each and every one of the Austro-Hungarians’ unreasonable – even tyrannical! – demands save this last one. Consider that a great contingent of the Austro-Hungarian élite had been planning a war long before Gavrilo Princip gave the trigger-happy shysters an excuse to start one. Consider that many of them were hoping for a ‘shock-and-awe’ campaign to cow Serbia into submission, with German military might in the north scaring off any possible Russian retaliation as it did so.

Suddenly GK Chesterton’s theme throughout the Great War from its inception that the German civilisation, however advanced are its art and music, is in truth barbarian and requires a response, begins to make sense. And remember that it was Chesterton himself in his Autobiography with particular reference to the Great War who said that ‘the only defensible war is a war of defence; and a war of defence, by its very definition and nature, is one from which a man comes back battered and bleeding and only boasting that he is not dead.’

Thus we can praise as worthy and just the impulse – that chivalrous impulse which seeks to defend and preserve those who cannot defend themselves from robbers and murderers and perverts (or barbarians, in Chesterton’s usage) – which led first Russia, then France and Britain, then America, to leap to the defence of the Serbian kingdom and people. But we mustn’t forget that without the encouragement of these national-revolutionary sentiments of which Princip was representative, such a war might never have been made necessary. And we mustn’t forget the total, technological horrors that were visited upon all of Europe as a result – and all those horrors, spiritual and material, that followed.

What followed the war was a supply-side driven mini-Gilded Age in the United States accompanied by a concomitant social revolution (the ‘Roaring Twenties’), and its equivalent on the continent: everywhere capital and techno-fetishism were triumphant, everywhere the wealthy and the idle ‘bright young things’ indulged in licentiousness and decadence, everywhere ideology was gaining adherents, and everywhere tradition (including the tradition of organised labour) was on the retreat. The internationalists with their grand schemes to outlaw war were everywhere in the ascendant, with the ears of justly war-weary populaces everywhere eager to listen. And in the shadow of internationalism and of the victory of Western capital, the grimy worms of nihilism and fascism gnawed and festered, particularly in the wake of the inevitable economic collapse…

The Orthodox Church teaches that all war is defacement of God’s image, and of God’s intentions for humanity – even if it becomes necessary in cases of defence against aggression or oppression, it is never to be glorified. As this coming new year begins, we should remember with gratitude and ask for the intercession of our saints – and yes, this includes the Royal Passion-Bearer Tsar Nicholas II – but we must all the more intensely study our own faults, both individually and collectively, and pray God’s forgiveness if we succumb to the same worldly passions which led to the Great War.