24 May 2017

Empire Day

A very happy Empire Day to one and all! (Or Commonwealth Day if, like me, you were born after 1958.)

I have – as it should be clear by now – a very complex relationship with the British Empire.

On the one hand, I love Great Britain dearly as a son or a brother separated by an ocean can. My ancestors dearly valued their loyalty to the British King, far more so than they valued their own property and livelihood and even their own lives. And I can understand why – when the head of state of the United Kingdom is Queen Elizabeth: a truly decent, warm, caring and virtuous human being who takes seriously the idea that she embodies a culture and a civic tradition, it is hard for one’s loyalty not to be swayed.

My intellectual and emotional attachments are also to Britain’s past – even though I can lay claim Low German, Swabian, Ashkenazi Jewish, Danish and Yugoslav heritage as well (at least according to Family Tree DNA), no author or artist or cultural figure from any of those nations has moved me as profoundly as have the works of Bede, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hooker, Laud, Astell, Johnson, Swift, Austen, Oastler, Porteus, Strachan, Southey, Wordsworth, Scott, Coleridge, Ruskin, Morris, Gore, Chesterton, Tawney, Grant, Tolkien, Sayers, Lewis, Pargeter, Dart, Milbank and Hitchens. (That said, of course, I do also have a love for Yugoslavia and for Serbia in particular that played a role in nudging me toward the Christian East.)

But these artistic and literary figures were – it should be noted – either partially or wholly, directly or indirectly critical of the Imperial direction that their nation was taking. They represented an elder, more humane national tradition: a tradition which railed against the factories as they were rising, against the gunboats as they hammered foreign shores, against the trade in the blood of slaves that sweetened British tea, against the dogma that ‘free trade’ is best for everyone. And my own attitude toward the British Empire follows roughly the same lines. It produced some of the finest minds, some of the most sublime poetry, some of the most subtle œconomic theory and some of the greatest philosophy of its time. But the British Empire’s greatness did not lie in its military or œconomic strength or in its geographical extent; still less in the wars it fought in Africa or India or China or Eastern Europe. It lay instead in its humble origins, its common traditions, its (as Ivan Aksakov would call it) obshchestvo.

Britain, indeed, is still a source of inspiration although its imperial strength is gone and isn’t coming back. The elder Tory strain which still occasionally expresses itself actually more through Labour and its organs than through the party which call themselves ‘Conservatives’, is still very much worthy of heeding.

22 May 2017

Hitchens and the standard

Like clockwork, Peter Hitchens keeps matters in perspective, as any good journalist should, and is at hand with the requisite bucket of cold water.
After attacking restrictions on free speech in Iran (which is a good deal less repressive than Saudi Arabia), Secretary Tillerson was then asked by a reporter if he had anything to say about human rights in Saudi Arabia. He left without answering, according to the New York Times.
In the end, selective interventionist outrage over Assad, over the Houthis (again, some of the poorest people in one of the poorest countries on the globe), over Iran or over Russia: in the name of consistency and even common decency, all of that should be treated with the derision it deserves. Particularly when juxtaposed with this brown-nosing of a régime which treats non-Muslims, non-Sunni Muslims, non-Arabic Sunni Muslims and women like dirt, which uses barbaric forms of corporal and capital punishment, which funnels vast quantities of money to terrorist groups, and which, again, wages a heinous offensive air war against the civilian populace of one of the poorest countries on earth, and is rewarded for doing all this with a head seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The elder Tory tradition of the great Lord Salisbury, realism, non-intervention and ‘splendid isolation’ – a tradition now represented only by the likes of John Baron and (perhaps with reluctance) Peter Hitchens himself – would have a ready answer for the sort of blatantly cynical, ersatz-idealistic grandstanding that the American government is now transparently engaging in.

It is a telling judgement on our politics that, outside a handful of truly maverick statesmen like Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard, Ted Lieu and Paul père et fils, neither of our major parties here in the United States has such an answer. Nor does that sorry excuse for a party that styles itself ‘Conservative’ in Great Britain. Again, Hitchens puts it best:
I am so sorry, but after this incoherent but unpleasant oration, and after the whole extraordinary visit by President Trump to Saudi Arabia, in which the ghastly ‘special relationship’ between Washington and Riyadh has been laid bare as exactly what it is, I find it quite impossible to take seriously any future outrage on the subject of repression or liberty expressed by the US government while these gentlemen remain in office. Whatever it is that bothers Washington about Syria or Russia, it is not the freedoms of the people there.

21 May 2017

Constantine, Helena and Christian statecraft

Equal-to-the-Apostles and Emperor Constantine with his Mother Helena

Today is the name-day of my daughter, whose patron saint is Holy and Right-Believing Helena the Empress, Equal-to-the-Apostles, mother of Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Saint Constantine the Great. Perhaps it is worth reflecting this Sunday on the virtues of both, and the ideals of Christian statehood which they represented?

Emperor Saint Constantine was a model emperor, not because of his military victories alone, not because of his founding the great City that bore his name, not because of his public philanthrōpía (a generosity for which his saintly mother Empress Saint Helena was equally famed, being a patroness of churches and hospitals in the Holy Land – most famously the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem) and state welfare policies, not even because of the Edict of Milan which lifted the great repressions from off the shoulders of the Christian Church. Constantine was a model emperor because he was able to exercise both authority and humility. Even though he did not outlaw pagan practices and (for the purposes of political expediency) kept most of his pagan titles, he nonetheless refused outright to allow himself – the State, in the person of Cæsar – to be worshipped as a god, as demanded by the tribunes of the older Roman cultus. At the same time, though, Emperor Constantine was relentlessly insistent upon the prerogatives of the state to enforce justice – and at that, a justice which was far more expansive than mere procedural formalism.

Constantine’s relationship with the Church shows a similar balance of humility with authority, a similar sense of sōphrosunē in the classical sense, as demonstrated by his conduct at Nicæa. Even though Constantine told the bishops they must come to an agreement on the question of the doctrines of Arius, and even though he was responsible for hosting and assembling the bishops there, he himself exerted no pressure one way or the other. He asked only that the bishops come to a unanimous agreement. As Church historian Theodoret put it: ‘These and similar exhortations he, like an affectionate son, addressed to the bishops as to fathers, labouring to bring about their unanimity in the doctrines.’ Emperor Saint Constantine was well aware of his civil power and prerogatives, and used those prerogatives as appropriate both before and after the Council, but while the ecclesiastical leaders deliberated he conducted himself before them meekly and with deference, as a son or as a younger brother would do. This virtue was inculcated in him early in his life by his mother, whom he treated with great filial respect both before and after he became Emperor.

The saintly Emperor was clearly no ‘intégriste’ – such a vertical conception of the unity of the ends of church and state itself being a product of the ‘reforms’ of the eleventh century and of the investiture controversies, rather than of the ecclesiology of the Early Church. Saint Constantine embodied, rather, the principle of symphoneia: harmony, or cooperation, between civil and ecclesiastical authority. The civil state with its own ends of earthly justice, conditioned by the realities of sin and death, does have concerns which overlap with the Church in its care for the eternal soul; however, these ends are very different. Certainly Constantine, a man who from personal experience was all too well-aware of the ‘messiness’ of statecraft and of political exigency, would have understood that his own position could not be effectively conflated with those of the bishops he invited to Nicæa; nor could their authority be exercised through punitive civil actions without the salvific witness being polluted. Yet neither could the two be indifferent – or, still worse, hostile – to each other.

Emperor Saint Constantine, in no small part thanks to his upbringing by the august Empress Helena, displayed in his public life an altogether-too-rare mixture of humility, cunning and genuine concern for the least of his subjects, which taken together made him something of an anti-machiavel. Or rather, Emperor Saint Constantine was someone with the requisite ‘virtù’ in the instrumental sense, but who directed that skill toward selfless and truly public-minded ends.
Having seen the figure of the Cross in the heavens,
and like Paul not having received his call from men, O Lord,
Your apostle among rulers, the Emperor Constantine,
has been set by Your hand as ruler over the Imperial City
that he preserved in peace for many years,
through the prayers of the Theotokos, O only lover of mankind.

19 May 2017

The fruits of Libyan régime change

This is Africa. This is chattel slavery. This is happening today:
A day after reaching safety aboard a humanitarian ship, migrants on Friday told of arbitrary detention, slavery and beatings in Libya as Europe seeks to build up the Tripoli-based coastguard.

“Libya is crazy. They arrest us, the police ... They put us in some place ... two, three days no eat, no drink. They beat us,” said Alseer Issa Ibrahim, 28, from the Darfur region of Sudan.

Ibrahim is one of almost 600 people on the
Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, now heading toward an Italian port.

Six years after the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, Libya appears to be sliding deeper into lawlessness. Smugglers are packing record numbers of people onto unsafe boats, with sea arrivals to Italy up 35 percent so far this year. More than 1,300 have died.

John Osifo, a 29-year-old Nigerian, spent 11 months in Libya. He said he did not plan to go to Europe, but after a few months working at a car wash, a local man destroyed his passport and work permit, making him an irregular migrant, and he was forced into hard labour.

In Libya “they believe blacks are slaves. That is what they call us. When they want to beat us, they beat us with pipes,” he said, showing a scar on his left hand.

“They take us to jobs, force us to do hard labour without payment ... Sometimes they take you to a prison where you'll be kept and beaten up,” he said, as the
Aquarius’s crew served tea and bread to the migrants ...

“We are always suffering in Libya from hunger, and the Libyan people hate us. They don't look at us like people, they look at us like animals,” said Yagob Mobark Ibrahim, 21, from Sudan.
Remember clearly that no such conditions existed for black Libyans under Gadhafi’s régime. Remember that the accusations of atrocities against Colonel Gadhafi were fabricated whole cloth. Remember that ‘dark heart’ propaganda depicting black Africans as Gadhafi’s ‘mercenaries’ and ‘rapists’ was part-and-parcel of NATO’s information war in Libya that sparked off a race war, turning Arabs against their black neighbours in heinous acts of democide (like at Tawergha). Remember all of this historical background when you read these stories of dehumanisation of people on the basis of their skin colour, in a country which was considered a ‘model humanitarian intervention’ by some very important American and European politicians. As Our Lord Christ taught us, ‘ye shall know them by their fruits’; NATO’s strange fruits on display now in Libya are quite bitter. As that great anti-slavery Tory Dr Johnson would no doubt tartly observe, it is still the case that those yelping loudest for ‘liberty’ (and ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’) are drivers of Negroes.

With apologies to Herbert George Wells

I told you so. You damned fools.

The past is prologue; and Donald Trump was never going to be the Great White Alt-Right Hope of a war-weary Middle America that his more fanatic supporters imagined him to be. He was never going to be anything more than a grifter and, ultimately, a servant of those established interests which could do him the most favours. And among the people willing to buy in, the Saudis and the Israelis were always going to be the first in line. It should therefore come as no surprise at all that Trump would join the well-funded neoconservative do-something brigade and bomb the secular and Shi’ite protectors of Christians in the Middle East.

In fact, bombing the Syrian Arab Army is just the first and most egregious of several ridiculously bad ideas that Trump is floating on behalf of his Saudi creditors. The idea of creating an anti-Iranian Arab counterpart to Nato is perhaps not as ordnance-heavy, but is still overwhelmingly likely to exacerbate problems in the Middle East rather than fix them, as well as creating a precedent for any harebrained interventions our bloated, thuggish Salafi Gulf State ‘allies’ want us to bankroll, arm and execute.

But Hillary would have been worse!’ Or so I keep hearing from Trump supporters. Whether or not I actually agree with that, at this point, it’s not only a moot point and an outright evasion of responsibility, but one of the single most pathetic, pusillanimous things one could possibly say in support of Trump. Trump supporters spent ages and torrents of ink and bandwidth telling us how disastrous Lady Macbeth would be for our relations with Russia and for Christians in the Middle East. And for that period of time, there was good reason to believe it. But now? We have a puppet at the beck and call of the neoconservatives and the Salafis, whose actions seem expressly calculated (by minds much sharper than his own) to provide a pretext for armed conflict with Russia, and Christians are now more than ever being forced to leave the Middle East because of the gasoline Trump is pouring on the fire under their feet. Whether or not Clinton would have done worse, the idea that we should be satisfied or complacent with the utter stupidity and immorality Trump is bringing to bear on both aspects of our foreign policy is, to say the least, insulting.

So, those of you who voted for Trump: this is all on you. Your nationalist ideology and your ressentiment against what you broadly categorised as ‘the Left’, blinkered you to the fact that you were being conned the whole time. And you didn’t listen because you wrongly assumed that leftists (even idiosyncratic conservative-leftists like me) who were warning you, were your tribal enemies in a total war of cultures. But in the meantime, Christians, and Shi’ite and Ezidi allies of Christians, are being raped, starved and brutalised to death by the crazy right-wing Salafi headloppers your boy in the White House is bankrolling and supporting from the air. Trump supporters: you don’t have a clue what actual total culture war looks like; be thankful for that much. But what you do have is a responsibility now to oppose the gross iniquities Trump is committing in your name.

Do not shirk that responsibility.

16 May 2017

Infections of gut and brain

If we were a sane society, the ‘humanitarians’ and ‘egalitarians’ among us would be jumping up and down screaming bloody murder about the brutal war of aggression America is perpetrating on behalf of the Saudi royals (the richest, most venally corrupt, most debauched family of plutocratic oil barons on the face of the planet) against the Zaïdi Shia of Yemen (who are some of the very poorest and most neglected people on the planet). Tens of thousands have died and many hundreds of thousands more are on the brink of starvation, without sufficient food or water or sanitation. Most recently, our actions in that country have been the cause of a serious outbreak of cholera in the Shi’ite area of Yemen.

But here’s the rub. It’s not simply that the Zaïdi Shia of Yemen are dark-skinned people in a small country most Americans couldn’t locate on a map if their lives depended on it. It’s also that they happen to be taking help – as any desperate people would – from those who offer it. And who is offering them help? The Iranian government, of course, for geopolitical and religious reasons both. And of course the Iranians Never Mean Anything Good because some Iranians took some Americans hostage almost forty years ago and that’s one of the few things we can be counted on not to forget. But most Americans – including and especially those who consider themselves ‘humane’ and ‘egalitarian’ – would just as soon prefer not to think about it at all (a task in which they are aided, of course, by pliant and power-serving corporate news media outlets). The few exceptions – statesmen who take thought on this aspect of our foreign policy like Congressmen Ted Lieu, Rand Paul and (somewhat surprisingly) Chris Murphy – are, sadly, by and large ignored.

When we listen to the sort of Serious™ political figures of the John McCain and Lindsay Graham stripe, who are always calling for more ‘muscular’ responses to international crises, we need to keep this humanitarian crisis of our own making in the back of our mind. These sorts of people want to use their ‘muscle’ on the poor and wretched of the earth, and they will be judged by God accordingly. And whenever we listen to an American public figure praising the bloated, heinous Saudi régime in any way, shape or form, our reaction should automatically be one of derision.

15 May 2017

Pointless video post – ‘Fake Healer’ by Metal Church

A villain at your bedside –
Take this and you’ll be fine.
Severely educated,
Just pay your bill on time.
I think it’s time for another test;
I need more of your blood.
Sign this affidavit
So my insurance won’t go up!

You’re dying on a stretcher;
We’ll try to save your life.
If you can’t afford my service
I will let you die!
I’m ‘trusted and respected’,
Says my diploma on the wall;
Before I will do anything
I’ll give your bank a call!