Western Philistinism

The celebrated Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has been fired from his position at the Munich Philharmonic because he declined to repudiate Vladimir Putin. He is likewise banned by The Scala in Milan and the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has blacklisted all Russian performers. The Royal Opera House in London will no longer host the Bolshoi Ballet.

I have never in my life seen such naked bigotry so piously held. I doubt this stings our Russian friends any less for the absurd hypocrisy and pettiness of it. Can you imagine an American or a British artist being told to—what?—appear in a televised hostage video denouncing his country?—or else be fired?

Obviously I am not so naive or idealistic as to believe that the arts are some rarified sphere, capable of bridging cultures when even diplomacy fails. At this point even classical art in the west is buried under propaganda. But more than ever our cultural institutions seem small. They are not only run by ideologues, they are run by philistines.

See also: The New World Order in Crisis.

Update: The Telegraph reports: “Daniil Medvedev told he will be banned from Wimbledon unless he denounces Vladimir Putin.” Medvedev is the No. 1 tennis player in the world.

Update: Not even the Russian masters are safe! The Cardiff Philharmonic has cut Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” from its forthcoming program. Bicocca University of Milan cancelled its course on Dostoevsky, only reversing the decision after facing public ridicule.

The New World Order in Crisis

My initial thoughts on Russia and the Ukraine: It is a scandal that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization outlasted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why was it not disbanded in 1991 with the defeat of Communism? Why were the American troops occupying Germany since partition in 1945 not sent home? Commercial and cultural ties should have been allowed to form a basis of alliance between Western Europe and Russia to everyone’s benefit. Instead the United States has used NATO to harass and contain the Russian Federation as though it were the Soviet Union, which it is not.

These questions are rhetorical, but honest. Over the past thirty years America has expanded its own empire in Europe, rapaciously absorbing the territory surrendered by Moscow. NATO has blown past the limits guaranteed to Gorbachev in the early 1990s and is attempting to cross a well-marked red line.

The United States has now provoked a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Over the past half decade the US has been positioning NATO weapons and biological weapons labs in that country on the very border of Russia. In recent weeks the US rejected Russia’s entirely reasonable demand for assurances that the Ukraine would not be assimilated into NATO. Thus war became inevitable. Ukraine and Belarus are the only remaining buffers between Russia and a transcontinental military order whose sole mission is to antagonize post-Soviet Moscow (for some reason). If this buffer is lost the border would be encircled, which is obviously intolerable from a security perspective.

How would Washington react if a hostile foreign power recruited Canada and Mexico into a military alliance?

Why has the US pursued this line of provocation and escalation? And why now? Mike Whitney at The Unz Review makes a compelling case that the US is forcing a crisis in order to sabotage the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline. He writes:

The Ukrainian crisis has nothing to do with Ukraine. It’s about Germany and, in particular, a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia called Nord Stream 2. Washington sees the pipeline as a threat to its primacy in Europe and has tried to sabotage the project at every turn. Even so, Nord Stream has pushed ahead and is now fully-operational and ready-to-go. Once German regulators provide the final certification, the gas deliveries will begin. German homeowners and businesses will have a reliable source of clean and inexpensive energy while Russia will see a significant boost to their gas revenues. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

The US Foreign Policy establishment is not happy about these developments. They don’t want Germany to become more dependent on Russian gas because commerce builds trust and trust leads to the expansion of trade. As relations grow warmer, more trade barriers are lifted, regulations are eased, travel and tourism increase, and a new security architecture evolves. In a world where Germany and Russia are friends and trading partners, there is no need for US military bases, no need for expensive US-made weapons and missile systems, and no need for NATO. There’s also no need to transact energy deals in US Dollars or to stockpile US Treasuries to balance accounts. Transactions between business partners can be conducted in their own currencies which is bound to precipitate a sharp decline in the value of the dollar and a dramatic shift in economic power. This is why the Biden administration opposes Nord Stream. It’s not just a pipeline, it’s a window into the future; a future in which Europe and Asia are drawn closer together into a massive free trade zone that increases their mutual power and prosperity while leaving the US on the outside looking in. Warmer relations between Germany and Russia signal an end to the “unipolar” world order the US has overseen for the last 75 years. A German-Russo alliance threatens to hasten the decline of the Superpower that is presently inching closer to the abyss. This is why Washington is determined to do everything it can to sabotage Nord Stream and keep Germany within its orbit.

Indeed on the eve of operation, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has halted the process of certification for the pipeline. It is entirely plausible that economic pressure will cause him to reconsider. How much is the European Union willing to pay for petrol?

If the Ukraine crisis is an American gambit to maintain dominance over Europe, it seems destined to fail in the long term. The end of the “unipolar” order, and the commencement of a “multipolar” order, can be dated to the joint statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on February 4th of this year.

Anarcho-Tyranny

In the early 1990s, columnist Samuel Francis coined the term, “Anarcho-Tyranny,” which he defined as:

…essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites: the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding and, simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability or the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection or public safety. And, it is characteristic of anarcho-tyranny that it not only fails to punish criminals and enforce legitimate order but also criminalizes the innocent.

Francis was undoubtedly prescient. Anarcho-Tyranny is now a basic operating principle of Western governments.

The Electro-Machine Age

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the English novelist Dennis Wheatley feared the triumph of Communism was likely, not only on the Continent, but in Britain, where the Labour government was pursuing a socialist agenda marked by harsh austerity.

Wheatley was famous for his espionage and black-magic themed thrillers. His 1934 novel The Devil Rides Out is the subject of a long article on this blog. Wheatley had served in military intelligence during the war, as a member of the London Controlling Section, which planned the Normandy Invasion. His most famous novels blended the threats of dark political forces with the occult.

Wheatley’s horror at the prospect of a Communist coup in Britain led to his writing a remarkable document, which he titled, “A Letter to Posterity.” He composed it on November 20, 1947, the day Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece. Wheatley looked back at the extraordinary technological changes that had taken place since his birth in 1897, and how these changes had ushered in mass politics and Orwellian repression.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, communication technology serves as a lever of both political and occult power in Wheatley’s description. He was writing before television, the internet, or social media, but the trajectory of his critique aims directly at them.

Wheatley buried the letter on the grounds of his estate, Grove Place, Hampshire, where it was discovered after he moved out in 1968. He writes:

When I was born electricity had been discovered but not yet adapted to practical every-day usage. London had no electric light or telephone system. Wireless, radio recording, broadcasting and gramophones were still unknown, and the petrol engine was still in its infancy. There were no motorcars; on the streets all vehicles were still horse-drawn, and for travelling further afield, the steam train as yet without corridor coaches, was the only means of transport. Liners and warships were generally steam propelled but a great part of the world’s sea-borne commerce was still carried in sailing ships; and the idea of travelling by air was as remote and unreal with us as it was with the Romans.

The electric age, having its infancy while I was a schoolboy, reaching maturity during the First World War, and becoming a dominant factor in all our lives from then on, has revolutionised thought wherever it has penetrated.

In the early years of the century the vast majority of the people of Europe and the United States—and even more so those of the less progressive areas of the world—formed their opinions from personal contact with their fellows. The more advanced among them were neither lacking in intelligence or political consciousness, but their attitude towards their rulers was governed in the main by (1) any new laws which affected their personal well-being and (2) the discussion of events at the centres of government—declarations of war, treaties of alliance, court scandals, royal marriages etc. these were often belatedly reported but formed the staple talk wherever men were gathered together; in the towns, in clubs and taverns, in the country, in public halls and inns. Thus, in those days, the ‘voice of the people’ was in fact the consensus of opinion arrived at after a vast number of free debates had taken place at every level of society and in all parts of the country, concerned.

This ‘voice’ was rarely raised; but when it was, rulers had good cause to tremble, and almost invariably, the result was a cessation of repression or a change of government; as the ‘voice’ was usually pregnant with both justice and commonsense.

But the ‘voice’ was stilled by the coming of the electro-machine age, as the new inventions enabled the professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote. First came the electric press, enabling a million or more copies of a newspaper to be run off in a single night—and enormously improved arrangements for distribution. Then came the wireless telegraph—which swiftly developed into radio, with a five times a day news service which, by means of a cheap receiving set, could be picked up in every home. And these were followed by the cinematograph which soon became one of the most insidious weapons for political propaganda.

The result was that instead of forming their opinions by quiet thought and reasoned discussion, the bulk of the people took them ready made (from so called ‘informed’ sources) and, in consequence, in the short space of the first two decades of the 20th century an almost unbelievable change took place in the mental attitude of the masses all over the world. The immense speeding up of means of communication brought the national and international picture so swiftly before them that it filled their thoughts to the exclusion of local conditions and the well-being of their own communities; political ideologies and abstract theories of government usurped in their minds the place which had previously been occupied by the selective prosperity of local industries and the prospects of crops. Worst of all, the masses came under the immediate influence of the political demagogues who labelled themselves as the ‘representatives of the people’, who held that ‘all men being equal’ all power should be vested in the majority rather than in the intelligent minority, as had been the case in the past.

Wheatley died in 1977 so he did not live to see the end of the Cold War. He would have been gratified by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But mass media is no less powerful a weapon today—and humans no less susceptible to it.

Scans of the original manuscript can be read on the website of the Dennis Wheatley Collection. See also: The Devil Rides Out.

Propaganda

Speaking to FrontPage magazine in 2005, Theodore Dalrymple said:

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.

Dalrymple (pseudonym of Anthony A.M. Daniels) was obviously drawing parallels between those societies and our own, rightly so. The intervening fifteen years have proven him entirely correct.

American Classicism

The White House has drafted an executive order that would make neoclassicism the default style for new federal buildings. If the administration follows through it will be cause for celebration. Neoclassicism was the architectural language of American public buildings for two hundred years.

In the post-war period this style has been abandoned in favor of egregious modern designs. Marion Smith of the National Civic Art Society, which proposed the order, tells The New York Times, “For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings.”

The National Civic Art Society is fast becoming one of my favorite organizations. NCAS is also leading the campaign to rebuild Charles McKim’s original Penn Station.

As an aside, I wonder who in the administration is a champion of classicism. Probably not the president himself since we know what his taste in architecture looks like.

Rest in Peace, Sir Roger

Sir Roger Scruton has died. We lose the greatest contemporary English philosopher and an irreplaceable voice for Burkean conservatism. A statement from his family reads:

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Roger Scruton, FBA, FRSL. Beloved husband of Sophie, adored father to Sam and Lucy and treasured brother of Elizabeth and Andrea, he died peacefully on Sunday 12th January. He was born on 27th February 1944 and had been fighting cancer for the last 6 months. His family are hugely proud of him and of all his achievements. (12.01.2020)

At the time of his death Sir Roger was working on the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. He had been appointed, removed, and finally reinstated as a commissioner in 2019. I wrote about his appointment at the time.

The commission has now published its report, Living with Beauty. The entire report is compelling, accessible, and worth reading. Its recommendations fall under three broad aims: Ask for Beauty, Refuse Ugliness, and Promote Stewardship. Specific recommendations include a “fast track” for beauty and a “re-greening” of towns and cities.

The report has been received warmly by the government, and if acted upon will be a worthy legacy for Sir Roger who has been a crusader for traditional architecture and urban planning.

Ruskin at 200

RuskinHunt24
John Ruskin (left) with William Holman Hunt circa 1894

The Victorian art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) believed that “wise work” has three characteristics: it is honest, it is useful, and it is cheerful.

Ruskin looked with admiration upon gothic architecture of the High Middle Ages. He determined, writes P.D. Anthony, in John Ruskin’s Labour, “that it required forms of social organization and forms of manual labour that are superior to those of contemporary society” and “which are essential to human development and happiness.” Modest masons and craftsmen working in their own limited spheres had the opportunity “to express themselves in magnificent creations which transcended the humble contributions of ordinary men.”

By 1854 Ruskin was contemplating “a great work” he meant “to write on politics—founded on the thirteenth century.” However Nicholas Shrimpton writes, in The Cambridge Companion to John Ruskin, that by the end of the decade he “had turned away from overt medievalism to a deeper, more implicit use of medieval assumptions. Pre-modern concepts, such as intrinsic value and the ‘just price,’ were applied to modern problems in a series of controversial books and lectures.”

In the 1870s Ruskin founded the Guild of St George. Its mission was to encourage arts education, independent craftsmanship, and sustainable agriculture among the working classes. He attempted to spread the message of the guild through a series of pamphlets collectively titled, Fors Clavigera. Shrimpton writes, “these texts would seek to suggest an alternative to the industrialism, capitalism, and urbanization of modern society.”

Ruskin’s program was the inspiration for the Arts and Crafts movement developed by William Morris in the 1880s. Morris’s philosophy was a somewhat uneasy amalgamation of Ruskinian and Marxist ideas. But Ruskin’s own critique of laissez-faire came from the Right, not the Left. “I am, and my father was before me,” he once wrote, “a violent Tory of the old school,” whose politics were marked by “a most sincere love of kings, and dislike of everybody who attempted to disobey them.” He was a strict Protestant, and although he had a religious crisis in middle age, Anthony writes, his “Christian faith developed and broadened as he grew older.”

From the perspective of the present day, when the interests of labor are considered the purview of the political Left, it is interesting to consider someone who devoted the whole of his considerable talents to the welfare of the working classes, for reasons of traditionalism and noblesse oblige. Shrimpton traces Ruskin’s thought, writing that he was not,

an ancestor of the British Labour Party…Neither the Marxian nor the Fabian branch of English socialism was significantly Ruskinian…his politics and economics belong to a different and more marginal tradition which stretches from the Ultra-Tories and Götzists…of the 1820s and ‘30s, through the Tory Young Englanders of the 1840s, to the Arts and Crafts and ‘back to the land’ movements of the 1880s, and the Guild Socialism and Distributism of the early twentieth century, with partial echoes in some of the Green or Ecological parties of the present day.

This entire “marginal tradition” has been pushed well outside the margins of political debate in the twenty-first century and our civic life seems poorer for it.

Sources:

Anthony, P.D. (1983) John Ruskin’s Labour: A Study of Ruskin’s Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruskin, John. (1866) The Crown of Wild Olive: Three Lectures on Work, Traffic, and War. New York: John Wiley & Son.

Shrimpton, Nicholas. “Politics and economics,” in O’Gorman, Francis (ed). (2015) The Cambridge Companion to John Ruskin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Dysgenics of War

Jack London writing in Cosmopolitan (November, 1900):

The stronger, the braver, the more indomitable, are selected to go to the wars, and to die early, without offspring. The weaker are sent to the plow and permitted to perpetuate their kind. As Doctor Jordan has remarked, the best are sent forth, the second‑best remain. But it does not stop at this. The best of the second‑best are next sent, and the third‑best is left. The French peasant of today demonstrates what manner of man is left to the soil after one hundred years or so of military selection. Where are the soldiers of Greece, Sparta, and Rome? They lie on countless fields of battle, and with them their descendants which were not.