31 July 2014

The Danzer corollary: ‘Speaking as a Jew…’

Well, I’m sure I’m not the first person who has said this or even articulated it in this way. I don’t want to take personal credit for this, but the principle needs to be clearly articulated. So, in memory and on behalf of my late Jewish grandmother Vera Danzer (may God make her memory to be eternal) I am hereby naming it the Danzer Corollary to the Arendt Imperative.

Hannah Arendt, the brilliant philosopher of direct democracy and anti-totalitarianism, once said this in a conversation with the journalist Günter Gaus:
If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man, or whatever. But: What can I specifically do as a Jew?
It was a call to a kind of collective responsibility, a collective defence against an historically oppressed and marginalised people who were routinely and often systematically pressured into conforming with the dominant surrounding culture and religion. It is probably fair to suppose that Arendt’s work speaking out against Nazi anti-Semitism during the Second World War informed much of her subsequent work theorising and opposing totalitarianism in general. But to this statement she made to Gaus I want to add the Danzer corollary as follows:
If one sees a Jew committing to’eva or an evil act, and defending it in the name of Jewishness, one must speak out against it as a Jew. Not as an American, not as a world-citizen, not as a defender of human rights, or whatever. But: specifically as a Jew one should uphold the good name of Jews.
It is as much a collective responsibility to speak out against the unlawful behaviours of one’s own group, particularly if that group is taken to have a special calling in the world, as it is to speak out in one’s own defence. Particularly now: Jews are no longer subject to the pressures of conformity in the lands that used to oppress us, and moreover, we have a homeland should we choose to go there. Hamas, for one thing, would doubtless consider me a Jew. Also, since my father never formally apostasised from Judaism (and neither did I), if I applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return I would probably have a fairly good case. I admit that the thread which ties me to the Jewish identity through my father’s mother hangs rather loosely. I also add the caveat that I do not live in Israel, nor do I live with the reality of needing to take refuge in a bomb shelter on a regular basis as Hamas fires rockets in my direction. But that reality is not a carte blanche; it can only excuse so much. It is often particularly in the last few weeks that I feel it incumbent upon myself to say, ‘not in my name! This must not be done!’ And particularly with regard to the slaughter of women and children in an offensive military action that has neither a valid pretext nor a cogent aim, ‘this must not be done!’ I hereby say this as a Jew.

Remembering the Baptism of Kievan Rus’

Holy and Right-Believing Prince Vladimir, Baptiser of the Rus’

My deepest apologies that this remembrance comes rather late, but it is important to commemorate the baptism of Grand Prince S. Vladimir and the Kievan Rus’, who managed to secure in the pagan frontiers of the north the survival of Orthodox faith, and whose descendants would later provide shelter to those Englishmen who fled the ravages of the invasion of William the Bastard. The debt of honour which we Orthodox owe to Grand Prince S. Vladimir is very nearly as great as that we owe to our holy fathers amongst the saints Ss. Cyril and Methodius.

The story is a familiar one to Russians, perhaps not so much to Americans or British folks. The story goes that S. Vladimir, who understood that the pagan gods of his forefathers could not bring unity among his people, thirsted after the truths proclaimed by the great Abrahamic religions, sent envoys to countries following each of them: Islamic Bulgaria, Judaist Khazaria, Romanist Germany and Orthodox Byzantium. Islam Vladimir rejected on account of its stringency and severity, feeling that there was no joy in their faith, and particularly rejecting Islamic taboos on drinking alcohol and eating pork. At Judaism Vladimir also looked askance on account of its dietary restrictions, and also because of the loss of the Temple at Jerusalem. Vladimir also heard reports from his envoys to Germany, who found its churches too austere and too lifeless. But at the account of the envoys who reached Constantinople, Vladimir heard from them that, upon entering the Hagia Sophia there, they ‘did not know where they were, on heaven or on earth’. It was on hearing this report that the holy Grand Prince decided upon baptising himself and his countrymen into the Orthodox faith, but certainly the influence of his grandmother S. Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles, was not inconsiderable.

S. Vladimir underwent a great transformation of spirit and character on his conversion. Whilst before he was cruel, capricious and led a libertine life surrounded by eight hundred concubines, he later sent away all of them and married a Greek Christian princess of Byzantium, Anna, to whom he remained faithful throughout the remainder of his earthly life. He had destroyed the graven images of the pagan gods he erected earlier in his life, including the statue of Perun he had erected in Kiev, and erected great monasteries and churches in their steads. In his initial impulsive zeal to reform himself (‘but so beautifully impulsive!’ exclaimed the Slavophil philosopher Ivan Kireevsky in one of his letters), he originally sought to forgive and release all the criminals he had arrested and imprisoned, but the Church itself would not let him do so, out of care of preserving the State and its responsibilities and clearly distinguishing them from one’s own spiritual responsibilities within the Church. Whenever S. Vladimir hosted a feast, he ordered that food be taken and distributed to the poor and ill wherever he held sway. But the transformation S. Vladimir may be seen to have effected within himself may also be seen in the Christian state which he founded in Kiev: a state which did away with capital punishment, which would not abide torture or disfigurement, and which established one of the first and most extensive welfare systems of the Middle Ages.

It is incredibly regrettable that the feast of S. Vladimir should have gone by this year with the lands he ruled so harshly divided from each other in a fratricidal civil strife, which divides the heirs of Orthodoxy in Kiev and the rest of the Ukraine from their brothers in Moscow, Novgorod and all the other lands ruled by this holy and right-believing Prince. This strife is not wholly of their own making, but, for the sake of Blessed Vladimir who would not have it any other way, it must be resolved peaceably and without recriminations.

Holy Prince Vladimir, who for his people followed in the footsteps of the Holy Apostle Paul, and set aside worldly treasures in pursuit of that one pearl of great price, of Christian truth, intercede for us sinners with Our Lord Jesus Christ. (And please forgive this sinner in particular for his lateness in remembering you!)

The ‘red’ courage of Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ites, and two statements from His Beatitude John X of Antioch

A very heartening story from Iraq: an Iraqi Shi’ite journalist named Daila al-Aqidi, on live television, put around her neck the symbol of the Cross and lambasted the extremists who support the ‘Islamic’ State, saying that those who would kill or drive out Christians were, in fact, the unbelievers and the apostates from the religion she loves. Truly a bold, stunning and heartening move! And, better yet, she is not alone, but has a good deal of company. A reporter for the Lebanese television station LBCI, Dima Sadeq, also publicly expressed her solidarity with Middle Eastern Christians, and LBCI edited its own logo to show support for the Christians of Mosul and other areas afflicted by sectarian extremism. Bravissima, Daila, Dima and all Shi’ite compatriots who are expressing their support for the Christians of the Middle East! I am certain that the late great Dr. Ali Shariati would be proud!


His Beatitude John X of Antioch has made the following statements (here and here) recently with regard to the violence in the Middle East. I am posting them here in full, because I strongly believe they are worth reading carefully and prayerfully, and because I pray they will inspire the actions which His Beatitude deems necessary. Please read and reflect.
At a time when Syria’s wounds have been bleeding for more than three years, amidst the wounds of Iraq, which has experienced conflict since the 1980’s, amidst the unrest that is sweeping countries near and far, and amidst the world’s indifference to Palestine’s wounds, which have not healed in almost seventy years, these days in particular we are witnessing a multiplication of these wounds in the expulsion of Mosul’s Christians and the all-out assault on Gaza amidst a disgraceful international silence.

The cycle of violence sweeping Iraq and Syria, expelling peaceful citizens has not let up, as recent events in Iraq and specifically in Mosul have completed the series of murder, religious prejudice, and terror.

We strongly condemn attacks on any segment of society in this Middle East and we especially condemn the attack on the Christians of Mosul and their being compelled by force of arms to change their religion under the penalty of paying the Jizya or abandoning their homes and having their property confiscated. These fundamentalist movements that are trying to become mini-states through force and terror with outside moral and material support are the greatest threat to people in the Middle East and to coexistence there. We ask the international community and specifically the United Nations and all global powers and organizations to take into proper consideration what is happening in Iraq, Mosul and the entire Middle East.

We call on them to deal with the current situation courageously, with a genuine language of human rights and not a language of interests that uses the principles of human rights and exploits them in the service of narrow aims and interests. We ask the countries that provide outside support to these groups, whether directly or indirectly, to cease immediately from all forms of material, moral, logistical and military support for these extremist groups and so cut off at its root the terrorism that is first of all a threat to the peace and peoples of those countries. We likewise call for an end to resorting to any form of violence as a means by which citizens deal with each other.

Because we in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East constantly affirm that Christians and Muslims are two lungs of a single Middle Eastern body that stands on citizenship and common life, we reject anything that would first of all hurt Islam’s reputation for tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful life, which we have experienced, and secondly disrupts the right of citizens to have a civic presence free from sectarian or racial pressures.

As the world watches what is happening in Mosul, the chain of violence is repeated in the Gaza Strip under various justifications, amidst a frightening international silence. This is happening while the outside world is content to watch a bloodbath that has not spared women, children and the elderly. It is as though the Middle East has become a testing-ground for every sort of weapon and a fertile soil for every sort of plot. It is as though the people of the Middle East are a commodity created to be dough in the hands of the forces of evil, when they are created to be the image of the Lord's splendor and the focus of the Creator’s good pleasure, with good relationships with their fellow citizens and fellow humans.

We in the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East understand the common fate that binds us to our Christian and Muslim brothers in Palestine. We implore the international community for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the sinful siege on our brothers in Palestine, whose cause remains par excellence the cause of Humanity.

The attachment of the Palestinians to their land and their longing to return to it is a cause for hope for all those suffering in this Middle East and a mark of shame upon the faces of those for whom “human rights” end at the hills of Palestine while at the same time that they traffic in these "rights" in order to intervene in the affairs of other peoples.

We pray that God give peace to the world, that He give strength to all those in distress, that He cause peace to be lasting in the Middle East, so that humanity may enjoy well-being and tranquility.
In the midst of all destruction which is taking place in the Middle East and with the recent events like killings and displacements which affected Christians and others, and in the midst of the conflicts in Syria and the attack on Gaza, we hear some officials of Western governments giving declarations from time to time or publishing some “studies” to express their unreal empathy with Christians of certain areas and showing their solidarity with them, describing their circumstances in a way that supports the logic of minorities. But the most recent of these declarations is that of the French government regarding its readiness to accept the Iraqi Christians and granting them a political asylum, in addition to the study issued by the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs that describes the presence of the Christians in the Middle East as “a shadow of its former status”.

We, in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, would like to confirm that the difficult circumstances in the East do not justify anybody’s attempt to misuse them as “Trojan Horse” to empty the East from its Christians, declaring that what Christians are confronting in the East is similar to what is happening to religious or ethnic minorities in other places of the world. We believe that helping the inhabitants of the East, Christians or Muslims, starts with uprooting terrorism from its homeland and stop nourishing the movements of extremism and Takfirism (religious prejudice) , whose financial resources are very well known as well as the states and the governments that offer them the ideological, logistic and military support through undeclared international alliances. The best way to help Christians and Muslims in the East is by restoring peace through dialogue and political solution, and through practical rejection of all resources that nourish the reasons of this extremism, refusing the injustice towards Palestinians, adapting an honest Media that shows the active role of the Christians in the life of their homelands away from any statistical division of people.

We say it to all: the only embracing place for Christians and Muslims of this area is their homelands, in which they have been living together for many centuries, building a unique civilization recognized by a real partnership; a civilization that transferred to the West the human heritage and enriching it. We, the Christians of this land, will not accept to be treated through the logic of minorities which is imposed on us from abroad, and we reconfirm that we were and are still committed to the message of our Gospel, which has arrived to us from our ancestors 2000 years ago. Our forefathers carried and transferred this message to us enduring numerous afflictions. And we will keep this seed which we have received here in the East, growing it and being loyal to it.

25 July 2014

The Half Shekel Party

Looks like it’s official: Israel now has its own 50 Cent Party (a troop of Internet and social-media commentators paid by the government to spread pro-government propaganda, a cyberops technique deployed most infamously by the Chinese Communist Party). These ones, however, are being recruited specifically to defend the indefensible slaughter of women and children in Gaza. Leaving aside the horror of the eight hundred deaths caused by the Israeli government there over the past two months, it is particularly unsettling that the state which endlessly trumpets abroad that it is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ is deploying cybertactics used specifically by authoritarian regimes to dilute and suppress dissent at home and to deflect critique abroad.

China has done some highly questionable, even monstrous things with regard to human rights in its past; no sane person disputes this. But China does not rain missiles down on Tibet or Xinjiang, for example, despite the regular and jaw-droppingly brutal terrorist attacks that have been taking place in China of late, at the hands of Xinjiang extremists. If the Chinese government did start shelling hospitals and schools in Kashgar or do something as egregious as what Operation Protective Edge is doing now, there would be instant and constant howls of outrage, demands for retaliatory measures and sanctions, crocodile tears for the Uyghurs and calls for war from the neoconservative right, in all the news media across the entire face of the West (including Israel!). Yet somehow, Israel is given a free pass not only for all of these actions, but also for imitating China’s cyberwarfare techniques to defend them, no matter how bloody and gratuitous.

Israel demands for itself a higher consideration from the West than the authoritarian states that surround it by reason of its status as a democracy and as a Jewish state; and at the same time it also seeks to excuse itself from being held to the same standards (for example, of respect for basic human dignities, military conduct and democratic discourse) as other modern democracies. It is high time we either a.) stop considering them a democracy and treat them with the same reserve with which we ought to treat any other Middle Eastern autocracy, or b.) begin holding them to the same moral standards we should hold for every other democratic polity on Earth.

Conservatism and laisser-faire don’t mix, exhibit Q

So says the Guardian. Don’t take my word for it.

The institution of marriage is made less popular and less viable, it seems, by increased living expenses, increased debt and joblessness. Who would have thought that conditions which make it harder for a young adult to provide for a household might turn those same young adults off from marriage? And all of these economic conditions turn out to be the results of the European Union’s neoliberal policy-making and IMF-driven austerity measures. The capitalist incentive to drive down the cost of labour is again and again shown to be utterly at odds with the needs of an orderly and well-adjusted society, starting at that most basic building-block of society – the family.

And frighteningly, religion finds itself powerless to stem this tide through simple appeals to morality lived on an individual basis. This Guardian article makes it clear that highly religious societies, whose religion places a high emphasis on the sacrament of marriage and on a healthy family life, are not exempt from this trend away from marriage. Indeed, some of them seem to be leading that trend. Orthodox Greece and Catholic Poland are seeing some of the most dramatic leanings in this direction of cohabitation and delayed adulthood. The ‘significant shifts in social attitudes’ dovetail quite nicely, it seems, with the demands of capitalist economic organisation which wants its labour cheap and sees its labourers as totally-interchangeable, disposable individuals rather than as members of families and communities. The only exceptions to this trend against marriage, intriguingly (and counter-intuitively to many conservatives’ eyes), seem to be ‘Scandinavia, the Baltic republics and Germany’; which is to say, those countries which to varying extents still retain a strong tradition of the social safety net.

The Guardian is showing us only one example. But the punchline of such examples (and many more such examples will come) will be this – that conservatives must make a choice, and they must make it soon. No man can serve two masters. Home stability, family life, fatherhood, motherhood and education – insofar as these are the interests of labour, none of these will be valued on the multinational CEO’s quarterly balance sheet. A ‘free market’ which privileges capital over labour will always be at odds with the rightful demands of labour in the name of tradition. Recent economic history has shown and is continuing to show that the touted ‘compassionate conservatism’ of the American right is a chimaera dependent on an assumption of unlimited growth, and that ultimately, the position of upholding faith-flag-and-family on the one hand, and cheerleading the ‘free enterprise system’ as an unqualified good on the other, is intellectually and morally untenable.

On the other hand, there is a very clear opening and opportunity for pro-life and faith-flag-and-family Democrats in the United States to begin marshalling these shifts into a consistent ethic of the common good, and to critique from a genuinely populist perspective the trend in their own party toward ‘pro-choice’ ideological ossification. (After all, can’t we see from the above trends that ‘free’ the individual from any and all family obligations – as a pretext for ‘freeing’ the fruits of their labour from their wallets – is exactly what the global 1% wants?)

Those conservatives who want to continue promoting policies of privatisation, austerity and punishment of organised labour in the name of defending ‘free enterprise’ will ultimately be forced to admit by the political shifts that are occurring in America and elsewhere even as we speak, that they are not concerned first-order with the welfare of the median (that is to say, working-class) American family. And on the other hand, Christian religious leaders of the Grand Tradition, like Patriarch Kyrill, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Father Vsevolod Chaplin and, of course, Pope Francis are busily staking out grounds against individualism and materialism and in favour of the family, and building up a very strong left-wing and anti-capitalist narrative on the basis of what would ordinarily be thought of not as socialist, but as traditionalist and conservative concerns. These are the signs of the times.

And are they ever going to get interesting in the next twenty years or so!

21 July 2014

The last Christians have left Mosul

A town long considered a bastion of the historical, original form of Christianity in the Middle East now no longer has any Christians left. This comes after the ‘Islamic’ State reinstituted Ottoman-era persecutions aimed specifically at Christians, leaving them four options: conversion, heavy fines (jizya), exile or death. The ‘Islamic’ State has been marking Christian properties for expropriation using a spray-painted Arabic letter nun ن. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako declared the ISIS depredations and persecutions to be worse than those suffered under Genghis and Hulagu Khan.

Thankfully, though, the many sane Iraqi Muslims who do not back this ‘Islamic’ State have bravely stood with the nation’s Christians in solidarity and resistance. It should be noted that practically no Muslim organisation in the region apart from the ‘Islamic’ State itself supports the ‘Islamic’ State (hence the scare-quotes on my part), but that it has been receiving support instead from the usual private Saudi and Qatari sources who have been supporting extremist rebels in Syria since day zero, cheerled all the while by neocons like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Now their terrorist movement sustains itself off of oil revenues and off of money and weapons pilfered from Iraqi banks and soldiers.

This is a tragedy. And it should be considered doubly a tragedy by a nation which prides itself so much on its Christian heritage. These Christians have been in the region since the earliest of the Church Fathers, and they deserve far, far better than to be treated as disposable pawns in this geopolitical game which each generation of our politicians (going back arguably even to Operation Ajax) seems hell-bent on bungling.

17 July 2014

Remembering Tsar Saint Nicholas II of Russia

An interesting study polling modern Russians on their past leaders – specifically, whether their contributions and policies had helped Russia develop in a positive direction or not – showed that, after V. V. Putin, the most highly-rated Russian leaders of the past century were Dmitriy Medvedev, Leonid Brezhnev and the Right-Believing Emperor Saint Nicholas II Romanov, the last Tsar of the Russian Empire before the February Revolution. Interestingly, with the exception of Brezhnev, in this poll Nicholas II came out well ahead of every other Soviet-era leader, not to mention the post-Soviets (Gorbachev and Eltsin) who wreaked the devastation of disaster capitalism across the nation.

Nicholas II is a figure who has been very wrongly despised and belittled both by the historians of the West and by those of the Soviet period. Portrayed by both Western and Soviet historians as a muddle-headed and heavy-handed reactionary, the truth of the matter was that his sole failing was that he was (as my wife would say) too young and too naïve to have been given such heavy responsibilities as early in life as he was. A pious Orthodox believer, a lover of peace, a dutiful son, an ardently loving husband and an affectionate father, such a virtuous man as Nicholas Romanov should have been universally well-loved. Even in his capacity as Tsar, his difficulties arose not from personal defects, unless his willingness to think well of the people surrounding him is to be considered a defect.

After the diplomatic mishandling of the tragedy at Khodynskoe Pole following his coronation, in which over a thousand Muscovites were killed, Nicholas was unfortunately subject to the impression amongst the Russian populace that he was frivolous and aloof. However, he had spent that afternoon with his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna, visiting those hospitalised and injured at Khodynskoe Pole. At his behest also, a large fund, to which he personally contributed great sums, was set aside for the benefit of the families of those who had died there, and a number of the incompetents who had organised the celebration at the Pole were fired. There was more than a bit of the narodnik in Nicholas, in spite of his reputation for clinging to the autocracy – it is probably in part this narodnik tendency which led him and his wife to trust so implicitly a poor, illiterate Siberian peasant mystic by the name of Grigoriy Efimovich Rasputin.

In peacetime, Nicholas would have been a great Tsar rather than the mediocrity he is often considered. But he came to power during a very troubled time. He went to great lengths, much like Metternich before him, to secure a lasting continental peace and to reintroduce norms for a more civilised conduct of war through the Hague Convention of 1899. Unfortunately, he had to contend – as the United States also later would – with the rise of a belligerently imperialistic and militaristic Japan, bent on its dreams of Asian conquest. The Japanese attack on Port-Arthur (now Lüshunkou in Liaoning Province, China) in 1904 was completely unprovoked, a cowardly sneak attack under cover of night against two Russian battleships and a cruiser. Because Nicholas had invested so much of his time and effort in negotiate a European peace, his military was unprepared to fight a naval war on the eastern coast, against a fledgling empire whose technological and civil developments were, at the tutelage of the West, far outpacing the civility and wisdom of their leaders. In spite of the débâcle at Tsushima, the Russians fought bravely and effectively on land, holding the Yalu against the Japanese. In the long run, had Russia carried on the war and had it not been for the growing tide of revolt at home, the exhaustion of Japan’s industrial and human capacity would have guaranteed victory. As it was, the unequal peace with Japan was a humiliation for Russia and left all of Asia open to Japanese depredation and debauchery; once again, though, the Tsar is hardly to be blamed for it.

The saintly Tsar was a conservative autocrat, but neither his conservatism nor his autocracy are easily modelled on Western European notions. His appointment of P. A. Stolypin is a case in point. Stolypin wanted above all else to preserve intact the office and dignities of the Russian Emperor, and he was willing to cut deals with liberal elements in Russian society to do so – to a point. He had no patience for revolutionaries, and had many of them hanged. But Stolypin’s agrarian reforms, often cited as sweeping and ‘liberalising’, were in actuality more modest and more accommodating to the traditional model than they are often painted.

True, his aim was to give peasants more individual rights in land ownership, and the ability to leave their family farms as they wished. However, it seems he either knew he could not, or did not want to, do away entirely with the collective responsibilities and shared communal life of the traditional obshchina: his reforms therefore also included a strong initiative for agricultural, credit and consumer cooperatives and institutions of collective self-help very similar to the ideas of F. W. Raiffeisin in Germany or J. E. Krek in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; these surprisingly socialistic proposals of Stolypin would later be adopted and expanded upon by the early Soviets. The saintly Tsar supported these reforms – and would, even after Stolypin’s dismissal and assassination, continue embarking on reform programmes aimed at protecting workers and farmers: instituting state schooling; limiting the workday to a maximum of ten hours; holding factories to high uniform standards of safety; guaranteeing social insurance to workers. But these were not, of course, motivated by any revolutionary fervour, so much as by the demands of Orthodox piety and social conscience!

Revolutionary fervour, though, was a major problem throughout Nicholas’s reign. He was subject to several assassination attempts, after one of which (in early 1904) he moved his family out of Saint Petersburg for several weeks. During this time, a social reformist priest (Fr George Gapon) staged a protest which wound up in tragedy as panicked soldiers at the Winter Palace fired into the crowd, leaving ninety-two protesters dead. The incident sadly crushed public faith in the Tsar. Waves of protests and strikes following the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident forced Nicholas to adopt parliamentary reforms, which very quickly escalated into more and more unreasonable demands of the liberal intelligentsia. The appointment of Stolypin was an attempt to mitigate the growing unrest, but ultimately it failed.

Nicholas found himself also looking on in horror as the peace he’d worked so hard to build in Europe crumble as Europe reorganised into two large military alliances, and as tensions began to rise between them. He sympathised with the Serbian struggle for autonomy, but for more than a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he did all in his limited power to hold back the tide of war and bring about a diplomatic resolution, until the demands of the Russian military for total mobilisation against Germany and Austria could no longer be sanely ignored. The early war on the Eastern Front was mishandled and the Germans made heavy incursions into Russian territory by 1915; as a result, when Tsar Nicholas took personal command, he had inherited a largely defensive rather than an offensive war. His decision to take command also left him isolated from affairs of state, and left him open to the machinations of the State Duma to wrest power from him.

When at last he was forced to abdicate, he had hoped to hand the reins over to his brother, Grand Duke Michael. But Michael refused to take the throne and left power in the hands of the Constituent Assembly, which abolished the Empire and established a provisional republic in its place, which itself would fall in a mere matter of months to the Bolsheviks. The Russian provisional government placed the dethroned ‘Colonel Romanov’ and his family under arrest and later exiled them to Ekaterinburg, where they met their martyrdoms at the hands of the Bolsheviks – brutally shot point-blank in the basement of their house as White legionaries were approaching Ekaterinburg. Tsarina Alexandra and her daughter Olga Nikolaevna crossed themselves as they were martyred. The younger ones of the saintly Tsar’s children suffered the most of the Bolsheviks’ cruelty, having survived the first salvo and dying by their bayonets.

Tsar Saint Nicholas, having been born on the feast-day of Prophet Job the Long-Suffering, was likewise a righteous man tragically doomed by the vicissitudes of a brutal, wicked and adulterous age. But the doom which he long suspected lay in store for himself he bore with all the equanimity of a saint, long before the Bolsheviks in their drunken panic at the White advance decided to murder him. ‘Perhaps an expiatory sacrifice is needed for Russia’s salvation,’ he at one point said. ‘I will be that sacrifice. May God’s will be done!’

Humble, pious and meek, but strong in faith and right belief, having been given by Our Lord the crown of glory to replace the crown of this life which was wrongly taken from you, glorious passion-bearing Tsar Saint Nicholas, with blessed and steadfast Tsarina Saint Alexandra and your five children, please intercede for us on this day.

16 July 2014

Remembering Blessed Neomartyr Alexander of Munich

Blessed Neomartyr Alexander (Schmorell) of Munich

One of the recent saints for whom I have the deepest admiration is Alexander ‘Schurik’ Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi German student movement Weiße Rose (the White Rose), who met his martyrdom at the hands of the secret police of the wicked, fanatical German dictatorship – but not before writing and publishing a great number of independently printed leaflets critiquing the Nazis and their war against the entirety of the civilised world. The blessed neomartyr, along with his fellow students Willi Graf, Hans and Sophie Scholl, bravely and most praiseworthily stood against the warping terrors of Nazi tyranny, and sought after and insisted upon the truth.

A young man of mixed German and Russian heritage, raised in Russia (but whose family fled to Munich following the October Revolution), Alexander Schmorell was very patriotic, but for obvious reasons he could never stomach an evil phyletist ideology which consigned an entire half of his family and heritage to the status of untermenschen, of subhumans. He spent some time in a German youth group, but when this merged into the Hitlerjügend, he dropped out. When he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler and asked to be released from the service. This release was denied, but neither did he face any ill consequences for his refusal to take the oath.

During his time in the military, he took part in the Austrian Anschluss and in the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and later as a field medic on the Eastern Front. He declared that he could never bring himself to shoot Russians – though if he were on the Russian side, neither could he bring himself to shoot Germans. During this time, also, however, the Nazis infiltrated and seized control over every part of the government structure of Germany: the press, the police, the army, the judiciary, the education system and all public transport and communication infrastructure. Children were indoctrinated to worship the Führer, and family members were even encouraged to inform on each other if they suspected disloyalty to the Nazi regime.

Following his service in the military the blessed neomartyr joined Hans Scholl, and together they got their hands on a printing machine and began writing and distributing leaflets under the title of die Weiße Rose. On account of the increasing stranglehold of the Nazis over all of German society, writing the leaflets was an incredibly dangerous task; and getting them sent out many times more so. Due to their different educational and religious backgrounds, Hans and Alexander wrote in very different styles. Hans, a High Church Lutheran with definite Catholic sympathies, wrote in a very formal style, making his appeals on a rational and intellectual level against the crimes of the Nazi government. In Alexander’s writing, by contrast, there looms large the Slavic spirit of revolt and alarm, which (as Nietzsche once remarked of Dostoevsky’s work) ‘cries truth from the blood’, as he put forward the only known public outcry against the Holocaust to spring from the pen of a German resister during Nazi rule:
We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings - no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question - and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.

Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake?

It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at least start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!
In all, six leaflets were printed by the White Rose movement and, copies were distributed from Munich all across Germany, through underground means – at first through the post to addresses in southern Germany and Austria, which were thought to be less receptive to Hitler’s militarism. They put out thousands of copies of the fifth leaflet, an Appeal to All Germans, causing the Gestapo to begin hunting down the authors. After the sixth leaflet was printed, Hans and his sister Sophie Scholl were caught distributing copies at the University of Munich and turned over to the Gestapo. After a show trial at the hands of the infamous Ronald Freisler, the Scholls were sentenced to death and (in a mockery of due process) beheaded the very next day. Sophie Scholl then spoke prophetically to the Pilate who tried her: ‘where we stand today, you will soon stand’.

Friends of the Weiße Rose movement tried to move the other members to safety, including Alexander Schmorell, but he was recognised in an air-raid shelter and handed over to the secret police and condemned to death at the third trial of the Weiße Rose members, and went to his martyrdom on 13 July 1943.

One of the most important things taught by the Holy Mother Church is that no worldly idea, no politician and no ideology – whether capitalism or fascism or communism – has the power to save us, however hard they try to convince us otherwise. Only one person, Our Lord the Incarnate Word of God, has the power to save us; and He does not care whether one is Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman. It is to this truth that the blessed neomartyr S. Alexander attested through his life and works. Holy Martyr Alexander, who stood steadfast in the truth before the face of terror, please intercede for us.

15 July 2014

Pray for the Holy Land

The sacrilege and rapine of the ‘Islamic’ State in Iraq and the Levant have reached new and unholy heights. They show no respect either to the living or to the dead; 3000-year-old Assyrian statues, a statue of Arab poet Abu Tammam, even the tomb of the Holy Prophet Jonah (who is honoured not only by Christians but also by Jews and by all sane Muslims) is not safe from these mad defilers! In Mosul alone, 11 churches have been set aflame. The Christians and Shi’ite Muslims of the region have been subject to every indignity and persecution imaginable under the ‘Islamic’ State’s tyranny: murder, rape, torture and extortion.

This must stop. Please do whatever you can: praying for the victims, giving money to reputable and trustworthy orgs helping refugees and victims of the violence, speaking out against the ‘Islamic’ State and encouraging others to do likewise.

Also, please pray for those killed and injured in the recent accident on the Moscow underground. May God quickly heal the wounded, and may He make the memories of those departed to be eternal.

13 July 2014

Pointless video post – ‘Unleash the Beast’ by Saxon

Saxon being Saxon, of course practically everything they do is golden. There is a good reason that they are, hands down, my favourite heavy metal band. 1997, though, was the year they released Unleash the Beast and somewhat reinvented themselves from being almost a glam rock band and put themselves at the heavy edge of power metal, incorporating some continental elements into their faithfully bluesy British musical style. This is an amazing video, though, more for the landscapes. Northern England certainly. Yorkshire? Could very easily be. Anyway, awe-inspiring choice of video material! Keep rocking, Saxon!

Confucianism, Legalism and ‘meritocracy’

Confucius, Han Fei and Voltaire

One of the words that gets thrown around a lot in English-language philosophical debate with regard to Confucianism and Confucian political-philosophical ideals is ‘meritocracy’. The reason one sees the term in Western discourse so often with regard to Confucianism is largely hermeneutic. It comes to us from the translations of Confucian texts, their importation into a non-Chinese context, and their interpretation by French Enlightenment philosophes (like Voltaire) who wanted to wield a humanistic interpretation of Confucianism as a blunt instrument against the aristocratic norms of the ancien régime. The problem with such an interpretation, of course, is that it selects certain aspects of the Confucian tradition, plucks them out of their proper contexts and tries to reinterpret them in a way which clouds or destroys outright their original meanings.

In Confucianism proper, the phrase which most strongly suggests meritocracy, and the passage from which the Confucian ideal of ‘meritocratic’ appointment springs, comes from the Book of Documents: 「任官惟賢材,左右惟其人。」 (‘Let the officers whom you employ be men of virtue and ability, and let the ministers about you be the right men.’ This is the source of the modern Chinese idiom renren weixian 任人唯賢, often translated into English as ‘meritocracy’.) Now, what must be considered is that this passage comes out of the chapter 《咸有一德》, which was written by Yi Yin specifically to admonish a new king to cultivate his own virtue: to show compassion toward the people but not to seek their favour, to honour Heaven and his ancestors, to question himself and to renew himself daily. Yi Yin explains quite clearly what he means by ‘virtue and ability’: the ability in a minister to encourage the sovereign to conduct himself well, and the care to seek the good of the people below him: 「臣為上為德,為下為民。」 What we see from this is that classical Confucianism – that is to say, Confucianism as guided by the leading values and ethical priorities of the Five Classics – selects ‘the right men’ based on their virtuous conduct as persons. This is a very important point to remember.

Voltaire argued specifically, using an orientalist idealised ‘read’ of Confucianism as his prop and his poniard, against two ideas: that government is divinely mandated rather than rational; and that that government is best which is administered by hereditary right. The problem with citing the Book of Documents and the other Chinese Classics, like the Spring and Autumn Annals, as a support for the first idea, is that the will of August Heaven looms so large in them – and not, as Voltaire might have liked to imagine, as a detached Deistic watchmaker, but as a will and a force which shapes the fates of sovereigns and kingdoms in accordance with their virtue. The Mandate of Heaven is broadly attested throughout the entire Confucian canon.

And Confucianism as a support for the second idea is arguable but still somewhat problematic given the history. Looking at the Book of Documents in particular, three different chapters pose three different interpretations of how rule is legitimated. A broad range of interpretation is allowed for in the Classic: the Yaodian would seem to reject hereditary rule in favour of selecting a successor based on the will of Heaven alone, based on sage-king Yao’s handing of his kingdom to Shun; the Hongfan cautiously favours hereditary rule but warns the successor to uphold justice in his rule lest he be overthrown; and the announcements of the Duke of Zhou exhort young princes to take up their inheritances with filiality. In general, though, whenever it has gained ascendancy as the palace school, Confucianism has promoted a formal hereditary monarchy tempered by the ethical constraints laid by August Heaven on the person of the monarch.

Thus, it is incredibly unhelpful, inappropriate and even imperialistic to appropriate Confucianism as a philosophical buttress for what we Westerners tend to comprehend – or rather, what we don’t comprehend – in our ideal of meritocracy. Our vision of meritocracy is, in fact, rather more narrow. As Voltaire would certainly have approved, we have banished from our public realm any specific notion of the good, and have a tendency (as noted before) to treat moral excellence as something of a non-sequitur in government.

The modernist vision of meritocracy is a Weberian vision. What the government wants is someone with the right degrees, who has the skills, smarts and technical abilities to perform a specific task or range of tasks, as fits the job description. Teamwork is valued. Multi-tasking is valued. Calm under stress is valued. Fair play is valued – to a point. But compassion, justice, temperance, courage and prudence? The civil attitude appears to be: if you have ‘em, good for you; keep ‘em to yourself and don’t let ‘em get in the way. Excellence is measured on a utilitarian scale, not on a virtue-ethical one. The overriding question is: can you get results? Under such a vision, technical knowledge is ultimately prized and introspection and critical thinking fall to the wayside.

To understate: this is certainly not 任人唯賢 as Confucians down the ages would have understood it. But there is a classical Chinese model of meritocracy which is amenable to modernism, and that is from the Han Feizi, the founding text of the Legalist school. Han Fei, believing that all people are prone to lying, cheating and murder, and further that they will seek their own interests at public expense (an early articulation of rational choice theory?), advised rulers to ignore birthright and family ties, and to hand out rewards for ministers who could get results (功), and to be unsparing in punishing those who promised more than they could deliver:
故明君無偷賞,無赦罰。賞偷則功臣墮其業,赦罰則姦臣易為非。是故誠有功,則雖賤必賞;誠有過, 則雖近愛必誅。〔疏賤必賞〕,近愛必誅,則賤者不怠,而近愛者不驕也。

Thus the intelligent ruler neglects no reward and remits no punishment. For, if reward is neglected, ministers of merit will relax their duties; if punishment is remitted, villainous ministers will become liable to misconduct. Therefore, men of real merit, however distant and humble, must be rewarded; those of real demerit, however near and dear, must be censured. If both the reward of the distant and humble and the censure of the near and dear are infallible, the distant and humble will not go idle while the near and dear will not turn arrogant.
Modern meritocratic norms thus share far more in common with Han Fei’s vision than they do with Confucius’s. Meritocrats have tended to adopt wholesale the Legalist idea that ‘private’ virtues are at best unrelated, and at worst inimical, to good government. Likewise, the modern meritocrat has in mind the ideal of the ‘practical man’: by which they mean a man schooled in business, economics, mathematics or the hard sciences. Just as Han Fei distrusted and scoffed at those who read old books, and just as Qin Shihuang sentenced lettered scholars to be buried alive, so too in our days the humanities are devalued.

Even more troublingly, modern Western meritocrats have at the centre of their worldview a massive lacuna, which prohibits them from sympathising with those who get left behind in the scrum for degrees and qualifications. The Confucian ideal is very clear about how it is incumbent on government to ensure that even the very poorest people should be adequately fed and clothed as suits their needs, and that a society could not be considered just whose people were unable to care for their aged parents and their young children. But modern meritocracy in its callous denuding of all moral right from the ‘unmeriting’ poor, draws alarmingly close to the Legalist attitude, that the misery of the people is deserved, and only troubling if it leads to an increased likelihood of revolt against the ruler.

Voltaire, though he claimed to be enamoured of Confucius and Confucian ideals, nevertheless in his one-sided, orientalist ‘read’ of Confucius (a read from which most modern Western scholars of Confucius seem to have yet to escape) set our modern society on a course parallel in many ways to that of Confucius’s most ruthless intellectual and political enemies. Confucian ‘meritocracy’ in actuality is more in line with what the classical Greek philosophers (such as Plato) meant by ‘aristocracy’, which in the original Greek form ἀριστοκρατία means ‘rule by (those possessing) excellence’, and ‘excellence’ in Confucian terms was taken to mean those who could demonstrate the five virtues, the most important of which is care (ren 仁) for one’s kin and for the society’s most vulnerable (children and the elderly). How far we are from such a goal!

10 July 2014

Legalist collective punishment, then and now

The nine familial exterminations

If three teenagers had been kidnapped and murdered, by two men suspected of being political terrorists, in a nation claiming to uphold human dignity – what would be the response? Arrests, certainly, and trials of the suspects likely resulting in a lengthy prison sentence. But, one hopes, there it would end. The punishment of families and relatives and friends of the accused has been practiced in societies past, including in China (the legalist principle of zuzhu, or familial extermination, being carried to its extreme by the ruthless Chinese tyrant Qin Shihuang, with certain crimes like deception, libel or studying old texts being punishable by exterminating the offender’s entire family within four generations along the paternal line). But even in China, after the Qin was overthrown by the Han, such collective punishment was moderated nearly to the point of non-practice under the humanistic pressure of Confucian ethics.

So it is disheartening to say the least, to see Israel adopting this sort of collective punishment piecemeal: at first under the guise of an investigation into the crime, under the nickname ‘Operation My Brother’s Keeper’; and then with outright military assaults on Palestinian areas, nicknamed ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ and ‘Operation Protective Edge’. Israeli military forces have bombed over 400 locations, resulting in 48 Palestinian deaths. All the while, of course, the Israelis continue to conflate what is in essence a punitive measure for a specific crime with the general military and security situation of the country in order to paint themselves as victims and claim the moral high ground for these acts of collective punishment.

It is also disheartening, though not particularly unexpected, to see the same sort of behaviour from the new Ukrainian ‘government’, which continues to shell civilian areas in Donetsk and Lugansk in retaliation for the ‘separatist’ movement in both places. According to the UN, there have been 257 confirmed civilian deaths in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine, along with 86 Ukrainian military deaths. Only 13 casualties would therefore have been separatists – the rest, all civilians, are clearly being scapegoated by the Ukrainian junta for the acts of a handful of hardcore fighters, volunteers and their Russian and Chechen supports.

The Western governments and media got their knickers in a twist over this sort of warfare when Assad was reported to have done it, shelling rebel-held areas in a way they deemed ‘indiscriminate’. But when governments friendly to or dependent on the United States do the exact same things, for reasons which may or may not be as well-grounded as Assad has for his tactics in Syria, is there any of the same outrage directed at them? The brutal Qin Shihuangs Netanyahu and Yatsenyuk, who are carrying out zuzhu on entire populations (whether Palestinians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians) for the crimes of a few of their members, need to be held to the same standards, and as long as they aren’t, the US will have not a single moral leg to stand on in the international arena when it comes to issues of jus in bello or upholding the rule of law.

03 July 2014

Defending monarchy against revolutions (a fourth of July meditation)

Ikon of the Holy Prophet Samuel

The political question, the question of what form of government is the most suitable to human needs, would appear in the modern age to be settled. The majority of Americans would say that of course, liberal democracy or representative government must be the correct way to govern, and to best represent human needs, no? Only a few stubborn holdouts around the world refuse to be guided by the wisdom of democratic rule, and are governed either by retrograde dictators or unenlightened tribal governments – and even these are forced by the necessity of world opinion to appear to have democratic mandates to rule (by holding sham elections and plebiscites). Many in the United States, though they don’t know it themselves, still cling to the ‘end of history’ thesis first propagated (but then forsaken) by Francis Fukuyama: after the Cold War, democracy won the struggle for world history, and it is all but a matter of time before every nation casts off its shackles in a fit of revolutionary fervour and bows its head to the liberal order.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. It is, in point of fact, a very American way of looking at the political question. But: it is not a way which is consonant with the faith most Americans profess.

Democracy was not unknown in the classical world. The ancient Greeks, indeed, practiced it fervently – particularly those of Athens and of the Ionian coast. Certainly the authors of Holy Scripture were aware of the idea. But what concerned them – and what ultimately should concern us – is whether a system of government is just, whether it is stable and whether it is properly aligned to the ends of human flourishing. And the conclusion they came to, as did the Ancient Greek philosophers beginning with Socrates (and continuing with Plato and Aristotle), is that democracy, the self-rule of the citizenry, just doesn’t make the cut. Israel went through its period under the Judges, when ‘there was no king in Israel’ and when ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’. Reading the Book of Judges, it wasn’t a particularly rosy time – indeed, it was downright grim. The people Moses had led out of Egypt turned to idolatry, theft and deceit at every turn (the phrase ‘and the children of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ appears with depressing frequency), culminating finally in the rape and murder of a Levite’s concubine by the Benjaminites of Gibeah, for which the tribe of Benjamin was nearly destroyed outright in vengeance. It was just after this time that the Israelites under Holy Prophet Samuel began to plead for a king to lead them.

It unfortunately took the Israelites quite a long time of very hard learning (to say the least!) to figure out that ‘every man [doing] that which [is] right in his own eyes’ isn’t particularly conducive to real human flourishing when human wants and judgement are so disordered and driven by what modern Jewish scholars call the yetzer hara, the ‘evil impulse’. Human beings unfortunately need restraint in law, to counteract the yetzer hara, and they need a form of public guidance in virtue to help develop their yetzer tov, the ‘good impulse’ that forms as part of a child’s upbringing and maturity.

As they have developed, modern liberal democracies have failed to place any substantive constraints upon the human impulse to do evil; though the laws of modern liberal democracies tend to accept the harm principle as axiomatic, they vanishingly see the protection of children from negative external influences (female objectification or violence in media in public spaces, for example) as a necessity. Likewise, democratic leaders – presidents, prime ministers – though they must put forward a display of personal virtue for the sake of getting elected, clearly feel themselves above the need for such displays once they have taken power. Likewise, political partisanship creates a need for parties to defend their own even when they do egregious wrongs: Bill Clinton’s public adultery and perjury on the Democratic side, and the rank duplicity and treason of Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra deal on the Republican side (to give but two small examples) have both been defended by their parties as irrelevant to their governance.

This is intrinsic to the logic of democracy. Our elected officials are not expected to lead us by an exalted example. If anyone makes such a suggestion they are shouted down as ‘elitist’. Instead, as they lead they are expected to embody us, including our yetzer hara. Yet at the same time, even we Americans have a contradictory impulse, a desire for an embodied and incarnate example by the dedication to and contemplation of which our yetzer tov, our better natures, may be nourished. To this end we have constructed an elaborate (though fragile) mythology surrounding the Founding Fathers – in particular George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Even our national sculptures have this tendency to portray Washington and Jefferson in a stately, regal and charismatic fashion. Though on the surface our national mythology demands an utter renunciation and abhorrence of monarchical ideas, at the same time, in a very perverse way, it seeks to quench the monarchical desire for just such an exemplar by offering the images of dead revolutionaries in its stead. C. S. Lewis put it best:
Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
The problem is that we are a revolutionary state – indeed, along with France we are one of the two revolutionary states from which all other revolutions take their example. It makes being Christian more difficult, for we profess loyalty at once to our people (народ), to our state, and to our God. And the way our revolutionary state is structured creates competing and contradictory demands, one of which I have just illustrated. Revolutions themselves wind up mired in self-contradiction, for they naturally seek an authority for themselves yet derive all of their energy by negating the search for authority.

Of this contradiction no clearer example can be given than Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer who more than any other man helped to gin up revolutionary sentiment in the colonies. In Common Sense he appealed to the ‘will of the Almighty’ against government by kings, and subsequently declared against that will in The Age of Reason with the assertion that ‘my own mind is my own church’. After over two hundred years since his death, given the monstrosities in the name of such ‘common sense’ that have occurred since, one is led to the conclusion that better it would have been for the world, had he kept his worship of his own mind well and safely inside it, and left the rest of us in peace!

Just as Christ Our Lord and King, the true monarch of creation, is the only balm for our wounded and wayward souls in eternity, so in the darkened mirror of this world only monarchy actually sates to some degree the demands of the human spirit for a visible and incarnate exemplar, whereas revolutionary republics and democracies only pretend to do as much. God grant us wisdom to guide us out of the quagmire we have placed ourselves in.

Born for the happiness or misery of a great nation

On Crisis Magazine there is a wonderful tribute to that, on this day, much-abused and unjustly-reviled king of England, George III. Please do give it a read!

Did I ever mention I love Newcastle Brown?

Happy Independence Eve!

I’ll be back with a more substantive post later on.

02 July 2014

Our ally

Iranian volunteers shipping off to fight ISIS

It’s about time.

Iran is now our ally in Iraq, against the horrifically-extremist ‘Islamic’ State, which in our magician’s-apprentice-like naïveté we summoned up to battle against Assad. Even prior to then, the ‘Islamic’ State represents a judgement upon America’s foreign-political sins. The arming of Saddam against the Iranians and both of the Gulf Wars have shown, to what ought to be a mortifying degree, our inability to learn from our political follies in meddling in the region’s affairs.

Iran, a country which never has been and never will be as anti-American as either American or Iranian hawks would like it to be, has since the dawn of its ancient civilisation been a beacon for creativity and organic spiritual unity, and one which valued the freedom of the spoken word. In its cultural infancy, in contrast to every single civilisation around it (except China, far to the East) it promulgated an ideal of just kingship – khvarenah – which blessed the right of the monarch to rule only when that monarch behaved in a virtuous and morally exemplary fashion, particularly toward his poorest and most vulnerable subjects.

When Iran forged an empire, it banned slavery and guaranteed the religious and cultural integrity of each linguistic and ethnic community it governed. When its empires fell, as under the Tatar and Mongol yokes, Iran put up an indomitable resistance. Even the form of Islam which it adopted, when Islamic Arabs overran its borders, was a radical form of Islam – best expressed in Dr. Ali Shariati’s ‘red Shi’ism’ – which placed its priorities not on attaining and keeping political power, but with speaking up for the downtrodden even at the cost of personal and national martyrdom. Iran has long integrated and infused its artistic life with its moral and spiritual life, and as its artistic traditions show, it has never had much use for or interest in modern utilitarianism. But Iran is the home of the tombs of Daniel, Esther and Mordechai (which are still in existence and under the protection of the government), was the home of the three Magi who first visited Jesus and remains one of the region’s few safe havens for ethnic Armenians and Jews.

Is it so surprising after all that, in spite of our long and troubled history with them, they would now side with us against this new-fangled ‘Islamic’ State, which no doubt represents to them every form of inhuman barbarism and vicious tyranny against which Iran has militated throughout its long and melancholy history?

Iran has long – and indeed, always! – been characterised by its unswerving, even martyric passion for independence. Not independence in the narrow, materialistic, bourgeois sense of the word as we take it in the United States (though economic independence from Britain and the elimination of BP’s corporate stranglehold over Iran was of great importance to Mosaddegh and to the Iranian democrats of the time). But more important in the Iranian lifeworld is spiritual independence from all false idols and ideologies. Even in the throes of its revolution, Iran never succumbed to the shadowplay of the two great falsities of communism and capitalism. And now, as we see, even in its ‘black Shi’ite’ theocratic state, it shows itself a ready ally against the extremes of political Islam!

In light of this, as with all our allies, we must be properly mindful that they have their own interests which may not coincide in every particular with our own. We must also learn that we should not make our friendship with Iran conditional upon ideological conformity; otherwise, they will spurn us and rightly so. Though Iran holds near and dear to its heart the principles of creativity, of spiritual unity and independence, these principles are not and cannot be held on terms amenable to bourgeois, individualistic Western-style liberalism – any more than the similar Russian principles can be.

Let this time be when we decide that we are not going to fall prey to the destructive delusions of liberal interventionism, or to the hatreds fostered by the neoconservatives who brought the last Iraq War down on our heads. Let this also be the time when we at least try to thaw and stabilise our relationship with Iran, with whom we now share a clear and urgent mutual interest in stopping the ‘Islamic’ State dead in its tracks.