What I am about to say does not concern the ordinary man of our day. On the contrary, I have in mind the man who finds himself involved in today’s world, even at its most problematic and paroxysimal points; yet he does not belong inwardly to such a world, nor will he give in to it. He feels himself, in essence, as belonging to a different race from that of the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries. ~ Julius Evola.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Kenneth Clark, Civilisation: A Personal View, 1969.

At certain epochs, man has felt conscious of something about himself - body and spirit - which was outside the day-to-day struggle for existence and the night-to-night struggle with fear; and he has felt the need to develop these qualities of thought and feeling so that they might approach as nearly as possible to an ideal of perfection - reason, justice, physical beauty, all of them in equilibrium. He has managed to satisfy this need in various ways - through myths, through dance and song, through systems of philosophy and through the order that he has imposed upon the visible world.

It took Gibbon six volumes to describe the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, so I shan't embark on that. But thinking about this almost incredible episode does tell one something about the nature of civilisation. It shows that however complex and solid it seems, it is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed. 
What are its enemies? Well, first of all fear — fear of war, fear of invasion, fear of plague and famine, that make it simply not worthwhile constructing things, or planting trees or even planning next year’s crops. And fear of the supernatural, which means that you daren’t question anything or change anything. The late antique world was full of meaningless rituals, mystery religions, which destroyed self-confidence. And then exhaustion, the feeling of hopelessness which can overtake people even with a high degree of material prosperity.  There is a poem by the modern Greek poet, Cavafy, in which he imagines the people of an antique town like Alexandria waiting every day for the barbarians to come and sack the city. Finally the barbarians move off somewhere else and the city is saved; but the people are disappointed — it would have been better than nothing. 
Of course, civilisation requires a modicum of material prosperity — What civilization needs:

confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers. The way in which the stones of the Pont du Gard are laid is not only a triumph of technical skill, but shows a vigorous belief in law and discipline. Vigour, energy, vitality: all the civilisations—or civilising epochs—have had a weight of energy behind them. 
People sometimes think that civilisation consists in fine sensibilities and good conversations and all that. These can be among the agreeable results of civilisation, but they are not what make a civilisation, and a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid. 
~ Kenneth Clark, Civilisation: A Personal View, 1969. Televised documentary by the BBC, which in our humble opinion, is the greatest such programme ever made.
The School of Athens is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511, part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace & St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. 
 A key of those depicted:
1: Zeno of Citium 2: Epicurus Possibly, the image of two philosophers, who were typically shown in pairs during the Renaissance: Heraclitus, the "weeping" philosopher, and Democritus, the "laughing" philosopher. 3: unknown (believed to be Raphael), 4: Boethius or Anaximander or Empedocles? 5: Averroes 6: Pythagoras 7: Alcibiades or Alexander the Great? 8: Antisthenes or Xenophon or Timon? 9: Fornarina as a personification of Love or Francesco Maria della Rovere? 10: Aeschines or Xenophon? 11: Parmenides? 12: Socrates 13: Heraclitus 14: Plato 15: Aristotle 16: Diogenes of Sinope 17: Plotinus 18: Euclid or Archimedes with students (Bramante?) 19: Strabo or Zoroaster? 20: Ptolemy? R: Apelles 21: Protogenes.

The Fear of the Past

The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.
Now in history there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration. Among the many things that leave me doubtful about the modern habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this: that all the men in history who have really done anything with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past. I need not mention the Renaissance, the very word proves my case. The originality of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare began with the digging up of old vases and manuscripts. The mildness of poets absolutely arose out of the mildness of antiquaries. So the great mediaeval revival was a memory of the Roman Empire. So the Reformation looked back to the Bible and Bible times. So the modern Catholic movement has looked back to patristic times. But that modern movement which many would count the most anarchic of all is in this sense the most conservative of all. Never was the past more venerated by men than it was by the French Revolutionists. They invoked the little republics of antiquity with the complete confidence of one who invokes the gods. The Sans-culottes believed (as their name might imply) in a return to simplicity. They believed most piously in a remote past; some might call it a mythical past. For some strange reason man must always thus plant his fruit trees in a graveyard. Man can only find life among the dead. Man is a misshapen monster, with his feet set forward and his face turned back. He can make the future luxuriant and gigantic, so long as he is thinking about the past.

G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, 1910. 

Christian Mysticism

In the heavens, the Sun and Moon are, by interpreters of dreams, put for the persons of Kings and Queens; but in sacred Prophecy, which regards not single persons, the Sun is put for the whole species and race of Kings, in the kingdom or kingdoms of the world politic, shining with regal power and glory; the Moon for the body of the common people, considered as the King's wife; the Stars for subordinate Princes and great men, or for Bishops and Rulers of the people of God, when the Sun is Christ; light for the glory, truth, and knowledge, wherewith great and good men shine and illuminate others; darkness for obscurity of condition, and for error, blindness and ignorance; darkening, smiting, or setting of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, for the ceasing of a kingdom, or for the desolation thereof, proportional to the darkness; darkening the Sun, turning the Moon into blood, and falling of the Stars, for the same; new Moons, for the return of a dispersed people into a body politic or ecclesiastic.
Sir Isaac Newton, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, 1733.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

 Marx may win battles, but Malthus will win the war.

Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Annotations on an Implicit Text, 1977.

The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population observed that sooner or later population will be checked by famine and disease, leading to what is known as a Malthusian catastrophe.

Le Radeau de la Méduse (The Raft of the Medusa) by Théodore Géricault 1818-19.