Sunday, February 12, 2017


Arcimboldo: Winter, 1573

~ “. . . Here we have bookish dreams, a heart unhinged by theories. Here we see resolution in the first stage, but resolution of a special kind; he resolved to do it like jumping over a precipice or from a bell tower and his legs shook as he went to the crime. He forgot to shut the door after him, and murdered two people for a theory. He committed the murder and couldn’t take the money, and what he did manage to snatch up he hid under a stone. It wasn’t enough for him to suffer agony behind the door while they battered at the door and rung the bell, no, he had to go to the empty lodging, half delirious, to recall the bell-ringing, he wanted to feel the cold shiver over again . . . Well, that we grant, was through illness, but consider this: he is a murderer, but looks upon himself as an honest man, despises others, poses as injured innocence. No, that’s not the work of a Nikolay, my dear Rodion Romanovich!”

Raskolnikov began trembling all over as if he had been pierced through.

“Then... who did... kill them?..” he asked, unable to restrain himself, in a suffocating voice. Porfiry Petrovich even recoiled against the back of his chair, as if he, too, were quite unexpectedly amazed at the question.

“What? Who killed them?..” he repeated, as if not believing his ears. “But you did, Rodion Romanovich! You killed them . . . ” he added, almost in a whisper, in a completely convinced voice.

Raskolnikov jumped up from the sofa, stood for a few seconds, and sat down again without saying a word. Brief spasms suddenly passed over his face.” ~

This is of course Dostoyevski, Crime and Punishment. It isn’t just the character of Raskolnikov that’s marvelously drawn. The cat and mouse game with the police detective, Porfiry, a shrewd psychologist, is nerve-wrecking in a masterful way.

Crime and Punishment is not a who-done-it. We know the perpetrator even before the crime is committed. Nor is it a psychological thriller in the sense of an “inside the mind of an axe-murderer.” Raskolnikov is a highly untypical axe-murderer. Crime and Punishment is a philosophical thriller, so to speak. Raskolnikov sees himself not only as basically decent, but as noble and heroic — superior to the average person. He craves greatness; he has a passion for ideas. He would never kill for money. In order to kill, he needs a special philosophy that grants him the privilege to do so. Surely murder is permissible in pursuit of a great cause . . .  Surely great men — Raskolnikov admires Napoleon — are not to be judged by the same moral standards as an ordinary person . . .

It’s a historical accident that Lenin (and others) would later openly argue that the end justifies the means — think of all the good that could be accomplished while at the same time ridding the world of “enemies of the people”! Dostoyevski was more concerned about the anarchists and other nihilist groups. But in retrospect, great writers can appear prophetic.

It’s been pointed out that tribes and countries used to go to war simply for plunder. No special justification was needed: hey, these people have land, they have gold — let’s invade! But in the 19th century or so — in any case, after the Enlightenment happened, and greater moral sensitivity was beginning to be born — countries began to invent noble-sounding reasons for waging war, e.g. we’re bringing civilization to them.

Even idealism becomes evil when taken to the extreme — putting ideas ahead of the actual humans, who are in the way and need to be destroyed so that a system of ideas can prevail. Whether left-wing or right-wing, the main feature is contempt for the existing order — which Hannah Arendt identified as the beginning of totalitarianism — and contempt for human rights (demoted to "political correctness”).

By the way, Tolstoy was much more aware of this hypocrisy at the national level than Dostoyevski was. Dostoyevski could see the problem with ideologies and self-deception with great acuteness at the individual level, but became blind to the nature of imperialism as soon as Holy Russia was invoked.

Humans are indeed very strange beings — they can kill for the sake of their beliefs. Voltaire remarked that he who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities; Steven Weinberg, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, said, “Without religion you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” 

This makes sense if the meaning of “religion” is expanded to include passion-arousing ideologies such as nationalism or particular political orientations. Even certain philosophies, e.g. what has been called “vulgar Nietzscheanism,” fall into the category of dangerous religions when they become the center of someone’s life. We tend to forget that these are sets of abstractions that can at best be only partly true — and that should never be used to justify harming others. 
Peter Lorre as Raskonikov; you may also remember Lorre from The Maltese Falcon

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. ~ Aesop (621 BC - 564 BC) ~ in case anyone thought that this is a recent development.

Most also assume that the Greeks were the first to define KAKISTOCRACY: “government by the worst.” The term comes from Greek, but it was first used in 1829 by Thomas Love Peacock, and has become trendy only now, since plutocracy and oligarchy don’t seem sufficiently derogatory or abnormal or applicable to the mix of the unprincipled, unqualified, vindictive, and/or unhinged people in the highest positions.

Aesop, cast in Pushkin Museum from original in art collection of Villa Albani, Rome


“I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” ~ Charles Darwin, Autobiography


~ “Originally, the feast day of St. Valentine remembered two 3rd century martyrs by the name of Valentine who were elevated to sainthood in the early middle ages. Both Valentines—one the Bishop of Terni and the other a priest in Rome—were allegedly decapitated by their persecutors on February 14. 

Incidentally, St. Valentine (as the two Valentines seem to have merged into one figure by the 9th century) is the patron saint of epileptics, not lovers.

Medieval miracle plays based on the Bishop of Terni Valentine show him brutally beaten, bloodied, and decapitated before angels transport him to heaven. According to author Leigh E. Schmidt, several locales in Europe claimed Terni’s relics, as they were widely dispersed. Several different shrines claimed possession of his skull.

St. Valentine's alleged skull in Santa Maria in Cosmedian, Rome
There was no link between St. Valentine’s Day and love until the 14th century. At that time, some scholars claim that Chaucer associated Valentine’s Day with lovers by describing it as the day on which birds select their mates.

More plausibly, writes Elizabeth White Nelson, the tradition of expressing love on Valentine’s Day comes from the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility rite held on February 15. Typically, the medieval church would try to combine saints’ feast days with pagan festivals, to boost Church loyalty and participation.

Whatever the reasons, by the 1500s the link between Valentine’s Day, courtship, and love was established. The religious meanings of the day faded; its amorous meanings grew.

When Valentine’s Day migrated to the United States, it was well established as a holiday for love, but was scarcely observed in the 1700s.

Then, in the 1840s and 1850s there was a “valentine’s epidemic.” Cards were flying through the penny post, and “Valentine” came to denote the card, not the person. Dismayed defenders of the faith felt that the penny post valentine cheapened affection, and joked that many a postal carrier was crushed under his bag of cheaply-produced letters strewn with cooing birds and hearts.

A rich, hilarious world of romantic charivari—an Anti-Valentine’s tradition—developed parallel to the ornately sentimental and sincere valentines.  The first card manufacturers offered “comic” valentines that engaged in “ritualized mockery” and insult.  These cards ridiculed professions—members of a certain craft, for example—but mostly lampooned old maids, social poseurs, male dandies who refused to marry, and feminists.

Surprisingly, the cultural undertow of satirical, mock valentines sold just as briskly as the tenderly affectionate ones.  Even in the putatively more sincere Victorian age of intricate, lacey, effusive cards, Valentine’s Day had an unromantic, sardonic alter ego.

going a little further back, to the Roman Lupercalia:

~ “From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

The Roman romantics "were drunk. They were naked," says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.

The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine's Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, "It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn't stop it from being a day of fertility and love."

Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin's Day. Galatin meant "lover of women." That was likely confused with St. Valentine's Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.

As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.

Eventually, the tradition made its way to the New World. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines. February has not been the same since.


The church was a lot more successful with making a Christian holiday out of Christmas than a martyr’s “feast” out of a pagan fertility holiday. Well, Eros has that power.


~ “Morrie Markoff is sitting on the sofa in his downtown Los Angeles apartment next to his wife [of 78 years], Betty. They are delighted that someone from the “Manchester Guardian” has come to talk to them, though these days they are used to a degree of attention. When Morrie was 100, a gallery in the city put on his first art show, exhibiting his scrap-metal sculptures, photographs and paintings. “Ease up on the 100 business,” he remarked at the time. “I’m trying to pass as 90.”

Morrie jokes about trading her in for two 50-year-old women. But whatever arguments they had are a thing of the past. “Now it’s peaceful,” Betty says, her hand touching the back of Morrie’s neck. She dismisses any idea of there being a secret to making a marriage work so long. “Just don’t let every complaint turn to anger. Tolerance and respect. And you’ve got to like them. Morrie would never use the word love; I do, but the actions are the same on either part.”

Why not the word “love”? Morrie replies that “to me, love is possessive; it’s controlling and demanding. The word that I would rather use instead is ‘caring’. You care about people. ‘Care’, to me, has a much deeper meaning. Love is an esoteric word, but one that people also use to mean all sorts of off-hand things. ‘I love playing tennis,’ and such. I hug Betty constantly, I kiss her constantly, I care very much about her.” Morrie assures me that the day they got together was the most fortunate of his life.

They met in New York City in 1938, at the wedding of Betty’s cousin, who happened to be the brother of one of Morrie’s friends. Betty was sitting at the table on Morrie’s left. “On my right,” he picks up the story, “was Rose Lebovsky, a very pretty girl, sophisticated, with wealthy parents. Betty has asked: why did you pick me? And I say: it’s because you ate less.” ~


There is a dark side to romantic love. For the deep attachment love, we might try other terms: affection, tenderness, and indeed — caring.


~ “Should we permit promiscuous sexual intercourse, as many liberals wish to do? Impossible! It would be the ruin of family life. To meet the difficulty, the law of development has evolved a “golden bridge” in the form of the prostitute. Just think of London without its 70,000 prostitutes! What would become of decency and morality, how would family life survive without them? How many women and girls would remain chaste? No. I believe the prostitute is necessary for the maintenance of the family.” ~ Lev Tolstoy, in an anthology of articles denouncing women’s rights.


“Just think of London without its 70,000 prostitutes! What would become of decency and morality, how would family life survive without them?” How surreal these words sound today, too much even for Saturday Night Live . . .


Ah, nostalgia for when America was great and girls got smacked if they were warned, but nevertheless persisted. 1911, South Carolina. This is Josie (6 years old), Bertha (6 years old), Sophie (10 years old), shuckers at the Maggioni Canning Co.
Oriana: I wonder if Sophie grew up to be a nasty woman. If she grew up, that is — scarlet fever was still taking out many kids. And there was TB, malnutrition . . . 

But let’s imagine she did grow up. She just didn’t get a chance to have a childhood — in our definition of childhood, so recent. The right to childhood wasn’t extend to the poor until very recently indeed; some would argue that it still hasn’t been fully granted.

The most important factor is not whether or not children do some work for money (though the amount of time devoted to it should certainly not interfere with education), but whether or not they receive sufficient nurturing. Studies have found that it’s the amount of early nurturing that has lifelong consequences, not just in terms of future earnings but in terms of health, both physical and mental. Obviously (and this has been confirmed by animal and human research), nurturing affects brain development.


The reader changes the meaning of the text not only because the mentality of each reader is different, but because a modern reader has a mentality vastly removed from that of someone writing long ago. We certainly read the Odyssey, say, very differently than Homer could have conceived it. But even something written in the 19th century is a very different text to us than it was to 19th century readers.

from the preface to the 1964 edition of Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges:

~ “Pierre Menard undertakes to compose Don Quixote -- not another Quixote, but the Quixote. His method? To know Spanish well, to rediscover the Catholic faith, to war against the Moors, to forget the history of Europe — in short, to be Miguel de Cervantes. The coincidence then becomes so real that the twentieth-century author rewrites Cervantes’ novel literally, word for word, and without referring to the original.” ~ Then follows this astonishing sentence: “The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer.” ~ 

Borges triumphantly points out that the Quixote that we read is not that of Cervantes any more than our Madame Bovary is that of Flaubert. Each modern reader involuntarily rewrites in his own way the masterpieces of past centuries.
mineralized coyote skull


~ “Bannon, who’s now ensconced in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s closest adviser, has been portrayed as Trump’s main ideas guy. But in interviews, speeches and writing — and especially in his embrace of Strauss and Howe — he has made clear that he is, first and foremost, an apocalypticist.

In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged. The apocalypse is now.

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post last month, “is the birth of a new political order.”

Strauss and Howe’s theory is based on a series of generational archetypes — the Artists, the Prophets, the Nomads and the Heroes — that sound like they were pulled from a dystopian young adult fiction series. Each complete four-part cycle, or saeculum, takes about 80 to 100 years, in Strauss and Howe’s reckoning. The Fourth Turning, which the authors published in 1997, focuses on the final, apocalyptic part of the cycle.

Strauss and Howe postulate that during this Fourth Turning crisis, an unexpected leader will emerge from an older generation to lead the nation, and what they call the “Hero” generation (in this case, millennials), to a new order. This person is known as the Grey Champion. An election or another event — perhaps a war — will bring this person to power, and their regime will rule throughout the crisis.

Cyclical models of history are something academics kick around every now and then, said Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University. But the idea has not caught on among historians or political actors.

“It’s just a conceit. It’s a fiction, it’s all made up,” Wilentz said about cyclical historical models. “There’s nothing to them. They’re just inventions.”

Michael Lind, a historian and co-founder of the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank, has called Strauss and Howe’s work “pseudoscience” and said their “predictions about the American future turn out to be as vague as those of fortune cookies.”

But Bannon bought it.

“This is the fourth great crisis in American history,” Bannon told an audience at the Liberty Restoration Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, in 2011. “We had the Revolution. We had the Civil War. We had the Great Depression and World War II. This is the great Fourth Turning in American history, and we’re going to be one thing on the other side.”

The “Judeo-Christian West is collapsing,” he went on. “It’s imploding. And it’s imploding on our watch. And the blowback of that is going to be tremendous.”

War is coming, Bannon has warned. In fact, it’s already here.

“You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China,” he said during a 2016 radio appearance. “They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”

“Against radical Islam, we’re in a 100-year war,” he told Political Vindication Radio in 2011.

“We’re going to war in the South China Seas in the next five to 10 years, aren’t we?” Bannon asked during a 2016 interview with Reagan biographer Lee Edwards.

To confront this threat, Bannon argued, the Judeo-Christian West must fight back, lest it lose as it did when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. He called Islam a “religion of submission” in 2016 — a refutation of President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 description of Islam as a religion of peace. In 2007, Bannon wrote a draft movie treatment for a documentary depicting a “fifth column” of Muslim community groups, the media, Jewish organizations and government agencies working to overthrow the government and impose 

Islamic law.
An evangelical family feels blissful that the destruction of the world has begun at last. 
The “aristocratic Washington class” and the media, Bannon has claimed, are in league with the entire religion of Islam and an expansionist China to undermine Judeo-Christian America.

This sort of existential conflict is central to Strauss and Howe’s predictions. There are four ways a Fourth Turning can end, they argued, and three of them involve some kind of massive collapse. America might “be reborn,” and we’d wait another 80 to 100 years for a new cycle to culminate in a crisis again. The modern world — the era of Western history that Strauss and Howe believe began in the 15th century — might come to an end. We might “spare modernity but mark the end of our nation.” Or we might face “the end of man,” in a global war leading to “omnicidal Armageddon.” 

“We’re gonna have to have some dark days before we get to the blue sky of morning again in America,” Bannon warned in 2010. “We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”

“This movement,” he said in November, “is in the top of the first inning.” ~


This is so demented. The “Grey Champion” is going to lead the Millennials? Bernie has come closest, but surely Bernie is the opposite of a right-wing apocalypticist. Millennials in general are not into the Evangelical zeal for the Armageddon. If Millennials do rise to the occasion, it would be in opposition to deranged apocalyptic leaders.   

Still, the fact that this alcoholic nihilist is manipulating the fake president is quite unnerving.

Nihilists like Bannon despise humanity as a whole. Only the select few, those with views like their own, deserve to survive. And even they might not make it (if the next "inevitable" war turns into an omnicide), but that's OK, since this nihilistic bunch prefers annihilation to modernity with its offensive ideals like Social Security. Pure insanity, yes, and yes, we've seen it before.

It’s also very striking that Bannon called himself a Leninist — because Lenin’s goal was to destroy the existing order. He believed that the end justifies the means and that words are more dangerous than bullets (so no free press).

We don’t really have just ordinary thugs here, or men who’d say, “I'm miserable and want to die — but that’s not enough to satisfy me. Why should others live and be happy? Why should women love them when they refused to love me? No, let others die too. I want to take as many others with me as I can.” No, there has to be ideological window-dressing, a messianic complex — I am defending traditional values against the perversions of modernity. I am defending the Judeo-Christian ethics (in its PURE, medieval edition). I am defending true Islam. The Hindu way of life. Insert into the blank — the details don’t matter. It seems you can’t just embrace murder — you must have an ideology to go with it, a whole complicated philosophy. Preferably, archaic religions are invoked. 

Lenin’s monument in St. Petersburg (one of the more than fifty in the city)

 ~ “According to Strauss and Howe, roughly every eighty years—a saeculum, or the average life-span of a person—America goes through a cataclysmic crisis. Marked by savagery and genocide, and lasting a decade or more, this crisis ends with a reset of the social order and its survivors all vowing never to let such a catastrophe happen again. Each of these crises, Strauss and Howe posit, have been formative moments in our nation’s history. The Revolution of 1776–83, followed roughly 80 years later by the Civil War, followed 80 years after that by the Great Depression and World War II.

Inside each 80-year saeculum, Howe and Strauss argue, there are four turnings, each a generation long, and each as inevitable as the coming of the seasons. In the first turning, for the generation that survives the prior catastrophe, the newly restored society reaches a collective apex of social order and economic power. Think of America in the post-war boom of 1945 to 1965. Then comes the awakening, as the first new generation of post-catastrophe children enter adulthood and, unlike their traumatized parents, let loose with their emotions and take risks that their forebears would never have imagined. Hello to the long 1960s. Then comes the unraveling, as the once robust order starts to fall apart, people question the eternal verities and institutions weaken. The fourth turning is kicked off and punctuated by ongoing crises, out of which a whole new order is born.

Strauss and Howe are essentially pop historians—there’s just enough in their framework to make it seem compelling, but nothing that you can prove or disprove with any assurance.

Bannon doesn’t just believe that we are in an existential conflict with Islam or with China. It seems he wants to exacerbate those conflicts into a new world war. As a believer in Strauss and Howe’s theory of history, Bannon fantasizes that he can use that cataclysm to forge a completely new order. He is now in a position to make that a reality.” ~

Milosz described the problem with historical determinism: just because something happened, people assume that it had to happen. Thus the claim that there was no way to stop WWI from breaking out. No way to stop Lenin, or Hitler. Never mind that of course we can imagine plenty of alternative scenarios. The fact that something happened is taken as proof that it HAD to happen.

And yet before a disaster happens, there are many who argue at length why it will NOT happen. Any views to the contrary are dismissed as “alarmist.” Thus, the German Jews urged calm because the German Constitution would protect their rights. 

By the way, it turns out that Strauss and Howe took their theory from the ancient Greeks:

~ “William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that the history of a people moves in 80-to-100 year cycles called "saecula." The idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that at a given saeculum's end, there would come "ekpyrosis," a cataclysmic event that destroys the old order and brings in a new one in a trial of fire.

Ultimately, the danger of writing about the past at the same time one writes about the future is that it can be hard for an author to separate the two. The steps and missteps of the past seem so easily repeatable that the future seems to march in lockstep. But this is not what history has shown us. The catastrophes of every era have always materialized in their own unique ways.” ~

The statue of Lenin in Seattle, relocated there from the Czech Republic by a private American buyer.


~ “Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to the metaphysics of sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism, a worldview popular in far-right and alternative religious circles that believes progress and equality are poisonous illusions.

Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and Italy’s post-Fascist terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s looked to him as a spiritual and intellectual godfather.

They called themselves Children of the Sun after Evola’s vision of a bourgeoisie-smashing new order that he called the Solar Civilization. Today, the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn includes his works on its suggested reading list, and the leader of Jobbik, the Hungarian nationalist party, admires Evola and wrote an introduction to his works.

In the days after the election, [white nationalist leader Richard] Spencer led a Washington alt-right conference in chants of “Hail Trump!” But he also invoked Evola’s idea of a prehistoric and pre-Christian spirituality — referring to the awakening of whites, whom he called the Children of the Sun.

Mr. Spencer said “it means a tremendous amount” that Mr. Bannon was aware of Evola and 

other Traditionalist thinkers.
Two Jains get a ride during a Hindu religious festival.
“Even if he hasn’t fully imbibed them and been changed by them, he is at least open to them,” he said. “He at least recognizes that they are there. That is a stark difference to the American conservative movement that either was ignorant of them or attempted to suppress them.”

Some on the alt-right consider Mr. Bannon a door through which Evola’s ideas of a hierarchical society run by a spiritually superior caste can enter in a period of crisis.

“Evolists view his ship as coming in,” said Prof. Richard Drake at the University of Montana, who wrote about Evola in his book “The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy.”

For some of them, it has been a long time coming.

“It’s the first time that an adviser to the American president knows Evola, or maybe has a Traditionalist formation,” said Gianfranco De Turris, an Evola biographer and apologist based in Rome who runs the Evola Foundation out of his apartment.

Born in 1898, Evola liked to call himself a baron and in later life sported a monocle in his left eye.

A brilliant student and talented artist, he came home after fighting in World War I and became a leading exponent in Italy of the Dada movement, which, like Evola, rejected the church and bourgeois institutions.

Evola’s early artistic endeavors gave way to his love of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and he developed a worldview with an overriding animosity toward the decadence of modernity. Influenced by mystical works and the occult, Evola began developing an idea of the individual’s ability to transcend his reality and “be unconditionally whatever one wants.”

Under the influence of René Guénon, a French metaphysicist and convert to Islam, Evola in 1934 published his most influential work, “The Revolt Against the Modern World,” which cast materialism as an eroding influence on ancient values.

It viewed humanism, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution all as historical disasters that took man further away from a transcendental perennial truth.

Changing the system, Evola argued, was “not a question of contesting and polemicizing, but of blowing everything up.”

Evola’s ideal order, Professor Drake wrote, was based on “hierarchy, caste, monarchy, race, myth, religion and ritual.”

That made a fan out of Benito Mussolini.

The dictator already admired Evola’s early writings on race, which influenced the 1938 Racial Laws restricting the rights of Jews in Italy.

Mussolini so liked Evola’s 1941 book, “Synthesis on the Doctrine of Race,” which advocated a form of spiritual, and not merely biological, racism, that he invited Evola to meet him in September of that year.

Evola eventually broke with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists because he considered them overly tame and corrupted by compromise. Instead he preferred the Nazi SS officers, seeing in them something closer to a mythic ideal. They also shared his anti-Semitism.

In his Vatican talk, Mr. Bannon suggested that although Mr. Putin represented a “kleptocracy,” the Russian president understood the existential danger posed by “a potential new caliphate” and the importance of using nationalism to stand up for traditional institutions.

“We, the Judeo-Christian West,” Mr. Bannon added, “really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”

As Mr. Bannon suggested in his speech, Mr. Putin’s most influential thinker is Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist Russian Traditionalist and anti-liberal writer sometimes called “Putin’s Rasputin.”

Mr. Dugin sees European Traditionalists as needing Russia, and Mr. Putin, to defend them from the onslaught of Western liberal democracy, individual liberty, and materialism — all Evolian bêtes noires.

This appeal of traditional values on populist voters and against out-of-touch elites, the “Pan-European Union” and “centralized government in the United States,” as Mr. Bannon put it, was not lost on Mr. Trump’s ideological guru.

“A lot of people that are Traditionalists,” he said in his Vatican remarks, “are attracted to that.”

Oriana: Pronunciation aside, just looking at the words: an odd coincidence, "Evola" and "ebola" — both virulent. And think of Enola Gay. Yes, this taking for granted that millions would die, and that's just fine — who cares about all this human trash? There is such incredible CONTEMPT here. Hannah Arendt was right: totalitarianism begins with contempt.

Julius Evola

And I would add: To have totalitarianism, you have to make another value (e.g. loyalty, or purity) more important than kindness. Perhaps that’s the main root of evil: putting the loyalty to anything (often abstract, like religion or ideology) ahead of the actual human beings.


Oriana: I'm pondering Kent Clark’s statement: today, if we asked people what quality is most important, most of us would say “kindness.” Yet Dante or St. Francis would not say that. St. Francis would have probably replied, “Chastity, obedience, and poverty.” Chastity more important than kindness? Apparently so.

Others in earlier centuries might have named courage, virtue, piety. Or endurance and self-control (Stoicism). John Milton would probably put obedience first. Depending on social class, other possible supreme values might be hard work and thrift. It was not until the 19th century that revulsion against cruelty (including slavery) began emerging. The novels of Dickens had an immense social influence — perhaps the most proud chapter in the history of literature, a showcase of how a novel can expand empathy.

Recently I was astonished by an article insisting that Christianity is not about kindness. All those years I thought that Christianity WAS about kindness. In fact the teachings on kindness were Christianity’s saving grace, outweighing the barbarous human sacrifice, the “bloody ransom” that stood as the foundation. But it was possible to put that out of one’s mind and just follow the teachings on kindness. Forgiveness, compassion, non-revenge, helping the less fortunate — that, I thought, was the beauty of Christianity.

How misguided and un-Christian, the article argues. This sentence says it all: “To make kindness into an ultimate virtue is to insist that our most important moral obligations are those we owe are to our fellow human beings” (and to animals, I would add, who are also our brothers and sisters).

Our most important moral obligations AREN’T to our fellow human beings??
Well, no. To use my own lingo now, according to religious conservatives, your highest moral obligation is not to real beings, but to an imaginary being. 

And it’s tricky to define our moral obligations to that imaginary being. Are we to wage crusades? If, according to the Catholic church, not going to mass on Sunday is a mortal sin, is going to mass a greater obligation than taking the time to play with your children? Or — let me push this — walking your dog? A dog too needs love. (And who gives us real love? Dog or god?)

Obviously everything depends on interpretation, meaning which century you happen live in, and which church you belong to.

I also remembered that for a long time numerous thinkers have argued that the divinity of Jesus was open to question, and he should rather be honored as a teacher of ethics. After all, that was the premise of Unitarianism.

Perhaps not surprisingly, though somehow I was surprised, what followed was a sermon on sin and fearing god and obeying the commandments. As for kindness, the author reminds us that “Jesus did not heal everyone who asked to be healed.” Sometimes, apparently suffering from kindness fatigue, Jesus would go off by himself to rest and pray. (True. Christianity doesn’t insist on excessive, pathological altruism that would destroy our health. Only “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Not more so.)

But somehow the commandment of love is never mentioned — though I admit that the command to love god caused me much grief since I could not feel the slightest affection for the monster who threw children into hell by the million (all the non-Catholic children, back then). But I loved St. Paul’s “though as speak with the tongues of men and angels . . .” If only it had occurred to me back then (as it did much later) that a nun threatening children with hell is like the clashing of cymbals.

But at the time, it didn’t yet occur to anyone that threats of hell were a form of child abuse. A mild form, I admit, compared to severe beatings, and worse, that used to be normal child rearing practices in past centuries. The levels of stress had to go down for cruelty to lessen too. Dickens and Victor Hugo had to write his novels about the sufferings of children and the poor, so that “kindness” could take root in the collective psyche.

The early deities were cruel. Times were harsh, and this was reflected in the various religions. The preaching of loving kindness by the Buddha and Jesus was indeed revolutionary. But for kindness to become more of a reality, life had to become less harsh — and that is fairly recent. The levels of violence had to go down, as has indeed happened in a significant portion of the world. When we feel secure and when our physical needs are taken care of due to greater prosperity, we then have the luxury (in contrast with the past centuries) of practicing kindness. We can even speak out against spanking and other cruelty against children. We grow intolerant (and justly so) of even petty violence and malice. We start imagining a world at peace, a world where everyone is kind.

Pessimists might reply that that is an unachievable ideal. Cynics might laugh — but not as loud as they would have during the Middle Ages. Against many odds, progress has been made. One indicator of it is indeed the high value we place on kindness. The gap between the ideal and the practice is undeniably there, but I argue that the very visibility of the ideal is already a fact to be celebrated.

As for the concept of hell, I'm told that in liberal Protestantism hell is not even mentioned anymore. Mark my words: eventually hell will go. Theists still believe in angels, but the percentage believing in the devils is decreasing. It is a trend, one that reflects the great value that put on kindness. 

Can Christianity survive the abolition of hell? Some don’t believe so. They point out that the most successful churches — those that have managed to increase membership — are not shy when it comes to mentioning hell. As one former fundamentalist minister put it, they “keep the level of threat high.”

Ah, nostalgia. This used to be one of my favorite hiking trails.

ending on beauty:

Below Freezing

One can’t say it out loud, but there is a lot of repressed violence here. That’s why the furniture seems so heavy. And why it is so difficult to see the other thing present: a spot of sunlight that moves over the house walls and slips over the unaware forest of flickering faces, a biblical saying never set down: “Come unto me, for I am as full of contradictions as you.”

~ Tomas Tranströmer


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