28 December 2015

Telling a Peisistratos from a Kleon

Peisistratos and Phyē ride into Athens

In Aristotle’s brief work, the Athenian Constitution, he makes mention in particular of two very popular politicians of Athenian history. I invite my gentle readers to give a brief look to how he distinguishes the two:
Peisistratos had the reputation of being an extreme democrat, and he also had distinguished himself greatly in the war with Megara. Taking advantage of this, he wounded himself, and by representing that his injuries had been inflicted on him by his political rivals, he persuaded the people, through a motion proposed by Aristiōn, to grant him a bodyguard. After he had got these ‘club-bearers’, as they were called, he made an attack with them on the people and seized the Acropolis. […]

The tyranny of Peisistratos… was temperate… and more like constitutional government than a tyranny. Not only was he in every respect humane and mild and ready to forgive those who offended, but, in addition, he advanced money to the poorer people to help them in their labours, so that they might make their living by agriculture. In this he had two objects, first that they might not spend their time in the city but might be scattered over all the face of the country, and secondly that, being moderately well off and occupied with their own business, they might have neither the wish nor the time to attend to public affairs. At the same time his revenues were increased by the thorough cultivation of the country, since he imposed a tax of one tenth on all the produce. For the same reasons he instituted the local justices, and often made expeditions in person into the country to inspect it and to settle disputes between individuals, that they might not come into the city and neglect their farms. […]

[Peisistratos] burdened the people as little as possible with his government, but always cultivated peace and kept them in all quietness. Hence the tyranny of Peisistratos was often spoken of proverbially as ‘the age of gold’.
However, the second man he treats a bit more brusquely, and less at length.
Nikias, who subsequently fell in Sicily, appeared as leader of the aristocracy, and Kleon son of Kleainetos of the people. The latter seems, more than any one else, to have been the cause of the corruption of the democracy by his wild undertakings; and he was the first to use unseemly shouting and coarse abuse on the Bēma, and to harangue the people with his cloak girt up short about him, whereas all his predecessors had spoken decently and in order.
Both men of classical Athens, the tyrant Peisistratos and the general Kleon, are often glossed nowadays as ‘populists’, though Aristotle himself clearly finds a world of difference between the two, both in terms of their temperament and in terms of their substantive policies, such as they were. He clearly favours one and berates the other. The difference is there; but where, exactly, does it lie? I bring this question up because of a recent article by Damon Linker in The Week, which makes a half-hearted attempt at separating the two from each other, but which ultimately invokes Aristotle for the purpose of confusing these two ‘ideal types’ of populist statecraft in ways which Aristotle himself probably wouldn’t have approved.

Mr. Linker might, and I would actually expect him to, agree with me that Trump is more of a Kleon figure than a Peisistratos. He himself holds forth that Sanders is the ‘real economic populist in the race’ (which is probably true), and holds that Trump is ‘a textbook example of a demagogue’. Both statements are fair enough; but this and this alone isn’t what’s driving his core critique. He wants to know, and like Galston and Frum wants to make sense of, ‘what the hell happened to American politics in 2015’. There is a real fear in his entire approach, that ‘a list of sensible, wonky policy proposals isn't going to do the trick’ in disarming this unruly rabble of right-wingers looking to round up the Muslims and immigrants, which Trump has seemingly conjured to do his bidding. Mr. Linker wants to peer directly into the American ‘heart of darkness’ which is currently driving Trump’s support base, and which can neatly be shelved into ‘nationalism and identity politics’. And he wants it stopped.

Unlike Mr. Linker, perhaps, I tend to sympathise with a lot of what gets Trump supporters riled up, even if I don’t (and can’t in good conscience) follow them straight into Trump’s arms. The idealistic, national-greatness jingo of the sort Trump serves up is but a piss-poor substitute for a real, healthy, lived-in culture which is loved as given rather than merely because it is great or could be ‘great again’. At the same time, as I have noted before despite my critique, the nation-state has become a site of resistance to the encroachments of globalism, and a means of securing whatever gains the people have made from any further losses at the hands of a global elite. Note that this is not just happening in the United States!

And note that this is not a fear born solely of economic insecurity or stress, though that certainly is a factor. I note that Mr. Linker does not do this himself, but it’s a strange and deeply insulting thing to assume, that poor people are essentially amœboids which respond only to the most basic and material of external stimuli: pain, hunger, comfort or pleasure. One of the most infuriating things about elitism is the way in which it robs the poor of their judgement in non-economic matters first. Poor people as well as wealthy people are concerned about losing the non-tangible things: language, religion, æsthetics, convictions, the integrity of their families, the character of their communities. And this is where the backlash against immigrants, against political-correctness and against the journalistic profession as a whole comes in.

Panning out and looking at the broader picture for a moment: poor people, black as well as white, are from a sociological standpoint deeply conservative (or at least, more conservative than the wealthy). A technocratic ‘establishment’ which leans toward a malleable liberal view of human nature, of which the journalistic profession is the most visible and easily-accessible moving part, therefore has a bias toward viewing poor people as a behavioural problem that needs fixing, rather than as persons. As a result, the poor – whether black or white, urban or rural – have been neglected, ill-treated, deeply-disdained, badgered, blamed and shamed for decades now, as barriers to progress, and as the wellspring of whatever ‘goes wrong’ in America. And this, in spite of a series of massive economic, foreign-policy and cultural blunders that were largely the fault of a hubristic elite technocratic class, and not of the masses. Why, then, is the anger and frustration that lashes out against globalism (along with its most visible symbols), and against a journalism which does little else but propagandise on behalf of the elite class, so difficult to understand?

Or, let’s put this another way. The difference between Peisistratos and Kleon is not that the first focussed solely on meat-and-olives economics and the other focussed solely on distracting ‘cultural’ issues. Kleon did indeed self-servingly favour the Athenian mercantile class whilst ginning up what we might now consider to be nationalistic or jingoistic fervour among the Athenian lower classes. But this is how Aristotle describes Peisistratos’s original plan of gaining power (bold mine):
He first spread abroad a rumour that Athēna was bringing back Peisistratos, and then, having found a woman of great stature and beauty, named Phyē (according to Herodotos, of the dēme of Paiania, but as others say a Thrakian flower-seller of the dēme of Kollytos), he dressed her in a garb resembling that of the goddess and brought her into the city with Peisistratos. The latter drove in on a chariot with the woman beside him, and the inhabitants of the city, struck with awe, received him with adoration.
Peisistratos appealed directly to Athenian piety and to Athenian religious sentiment, and sought to leverage that religious sentiment to vault himself to power as the tyrant of Athens. And even when he had settled into his position as tyrant, long enough to enact his reforms, he did not neglect the religious life of the Athenian people. He used the power and wealth of the Athenian state to sponsor the City Dionysia (something which had not been done before, and which gained him instantaneous approval from the Athenian rural poor) and to honour the gods. He treated what was originally a rural agrarian cultus, hithertofore disrespected and distrusted by wealthy city folk, with a high degree of prominent public piety and respect – and by the same stroke increased the economic demand in the city for wine and olives. It’s highly difficult to untangle economic from ‘cultural’ (which is to say, particularly in this context, religious) motives in the reign of Peisistratos, and probably for good reason. But the ‘cultural’ measures Peisistratos undertook very likely gained him as much respect as his economic ones did.

Mr. Linker very clearly wants to stick Trump with Kleon’s stamp, and I can’t blame him at all for that. I cannot help but wonder, though, if he would welcome a Peisistratid politics in any greater degree. Would Mr. Linker welcome a perspective that not only bettered the poor with jobs and bread, but that also considered their religious and social convictions as valid (in spite of their higher degree of social conservatism)? Would he welcome a synthesis of left-populist economics and traditional cultural and social views? Even a more muscular, autocratic form of politics that wasn’t quite so procedurally-liberal and democratic in character (but still governed like a constitutional government, as Aristotle described it)?

24 December 2015

Today the Virgin cometh unto the cave, to give birth to the Word, who was born before all ages, begotten in a manner that defies description.

Rejoice therefore, O Universe, if thou shouldst hear, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds.

Glorify Him, who by His will shall become a newborn babe, and who is our God before all ages.

21 December 2015

Same God?

Arabic calligraphy of the Lord’s Prayer

The recent suspension of Dr. Larycia Hawkins of the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois has thrust a difficult theological question into the often-hotter-than-lighter limelight of the national conversation: do we Christians worship the same God that the Muslims worship? It is a question on which even Pope Francis has weighed in, speaking from the official standpoint of the Vatican, which comes down fairly heavily on one side of that argument.

But what do we Orthodox think? Well, as I’ve recently discovered, it’s actually kind of complicated. But truth so often lends itself to simple faith rather than to instant and easy comprehension.

On the most elementary and basic level, and pace certain evangelical Protestants, like the administrators of Wheaton College (and also Adam Ford and Matt Cochran), Pope Francis and Dr. Hawkins actually have the right of the matter. Though Cochran in particular claims to be talking about a person rather than an abstract idea, it is precisely this part of his argument that he gets completely backwards.

Hopefully, we Christians can agree that when we are talking about God, we affirm that we are talking about a person (or, in our case, three persons), not merely an impersonal collection of attributes, a depersonalised essence or a depersonalised nature. And persons can be identified by what they have done, particularly in relation to us, just as Chris Hemsworth can be identified by his filmography. The God that Christians worship, first off, is the God of Abraham. As our Nicene Creed has it, our God is One, the Father Almighty, the Maker of all things visible and invisible, in Heaven and on earth. Our God is the One who revealed His divine presence to Moses in the burning bush and gave His laws to the prophet upon Sinai. There is no conflict with Muslim belief here, as yet. How do we know this? Well, for one thing, Muslims consider Torah and the Hebrew prophets to be authoritative. (As do, naturally, Jews.) The short rap is that Pope Francis is right – about this point. Proclaiming a Father other than the one worshipped by Abraham, and other than the one who revealed Himself to Moses and led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, is actually a fairly old heresy, that preached by Marcion in the 140’s AD. It’s also one into which the evangelical Protestants find themselves in danger of falling (yet again), if they deny the personal identity of the Father Christians worship with the El Shaddai of Judaism and the Allah of Islam. The end consequences of that denial are, shall we modestly say, not good.

But we can’t stop there, as so many œcumenists may want us to do, and put the brakes hard on further exploration once a single shallow point of agreement has been reached. There remain very obvious – and, doctrinally, very urgent – reasons why we can’t stop there. As our late beloved Patriarch, His Holiness Alexius II of Moscow and All Russia, said in response to an open letter from 138 Muslim clerics, shortly before he met his repose:
Christians and Muslims have many similar aims, and we can unite our efforts to achieve them. However, this unity will not occur if we fail to clarify our understanding of each other’s religious values. In this connection, I welcome the desire of the Muslim community to begin a sincere and open dialogue with representatives of Christians Churches on a serious scholarly and intellectual level.

Christianity and Islam are engaged today in a very important task in the world. They seek to remind humanity of the existence of God and of the spiritual dimension present both in man and the world. We bear witness to the interdependence of peace and justice, morality and law, truth and love.

As you rightly put in your letter, Christians and Muslims are drawn together first of all by the commandment of the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour. At the same time, I do not think it is worthwhile for us to identify a certain minimum that seems to fix our convergences in faith and to be theologically sufficient for the individual’s religious life. Any doctrinal affirmation in Christianity or Islam cannot be viewed in isolation from its unique place in the integral theological system. Otherwise, one’s religious identity will be obliterated to give rise to a danger of moving along the path of blending the faiths. It seems to be more fruitful, therefore, to study the integral faith of each side and to compare them.

In Christianity, a discourse about love of God and love of one’s neighbour is impossible without a discourse about God. According to the New Testament revelation, God is revealed to human beings as Love. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John. 4, 8). “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John. 4, 16). One cannot help seeing in this an indication that the Divine nature itself also has love as its most essential, characteristic and important property.

A lonely isolated essence can love only itself: self-love is not love. Love always presupposes the existence of the other. Just as an individual cannot be aware of himself as personality but only through his communication with other personalities, there cannot be personal being in God but through love of another personal being. That is why the New Testament speaks of God as one Being in three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is the unity of three Persons who have the same divine nature, which belongs to each of them in its fullness so that they are not three but one God. God the Trinity is the fullness of love with each hypostatic Person bespeaking love towards the other two hypostatic Persons. The Persons of the Trinity are aware of themselves as “I and you”: “just as you are in me and I am in you” (John. 17, 21), Christ says to the Father. “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”, Christ says about the Holy Spirit (John. 16, 14). Therefore, every Hypostasis in the Trinity refers to the other Hypostasis, and, according to St. Maxim the Confessor, it is “eternal movement [of the Trinity] in love”.
It is worth reading this pronouncement in its entirety, naturally; I just quoted the first handful of paragraphs here. But it is important to note two things about this extraordinary and painstakingly-careful document: two positions which are held very firmly in tension with each other. The first is that nowhere does His Holiness deny that Christians and Muslims worship the same God; indeed, in several places, particularly in his opening paragraphs, he very intentionally identifies the Christian God with the Muslim God when speaking of our common aim and tasks in the world. But the second is that no right glory is given to God by reducing our knowledge of Him to its lowest and most basic common denominator in the search for a shallow œcumenical unity. As Patriarch Alexius subtly illustrates here, our disagreements with Muslims on the nature of God do have some fairly wide-ranging consequences, particularly and most importantly with regard to how we experience and understand the love of God. We hold that we can know God only by loving Him and by being loved by Him; and that love is one which inheres in His Triune nature: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, yet one in essence and undivided.

Again, Dr. Hawkins and Pope Francis are not wrong – at the very least, not on the level at which they are engaging. To start from treating God as an intellectual exercise rather than as a person, and dividing Him up by His attributes and nature, as Marcion did, is incredibly dangerous. It led him to deny that the Father preached by Christ is the same God as that worshipped by the Jews, based on the very same logic that is being used by evangelicals to deny the identity of the Christian Father with the Muslim God. But neither can we or should we shy away from proclaiming the love of that same Father to the world, as beautifully and truly expressed in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It may seem a fine line to hold, but no one ever said giving God right glory was easy.

20 December 2015

Remembering Holy God-bearing Father Ignatius of Antioch

The three earliest known Fathers of the Church, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp of Smyrna and St. Ignatius of Antioch, were all contemporaries in the early Church and friends in Christ. As the Prologue of Ohrid has it (from which I borrow quite heavily here), Father Ignatius was the very child whom Our Lord held in His arms when He said, ‘Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’ After Our Lord ascended into Heaven, Ignatius was left in the care of St. John the Theologian, and was his pupil along with St. Polycarp. Upon reaching adulthood, he succeeded to the bishopric of Antioch, following in that office Holy Apostle Evodius of the Seventy upon his martyrdom at the hands of Nero.

Ignatius was a conscientious and God-inspired caretaker of his flock, and it is said of him that he introduced antiphonal singing, with two alternating choirs, into the Antiochian Church, having been inspired by a revelation from the angels in Heaven. With diligence he protected and succoured the Christians under his care from the cruel persecutions of the emperor Domitianus, exhorting them to spiritual strength and solidarity, no matter how many of them went to their deaths or into exile, being blamed by the pagans for every instance of natural misfortune. However, the storm of persecution passed with Domitianus’ death – for his flock, Holy Father Ignatius was relieved, though it is clear from what befell him afterward that he had no fear of martyrdom himself.

It was emperor Trajan who ordered Holy Father Ignatius’s death. Trajan had instituted a policy which demanded a public sacrifice to the pagan gods throughout the Empire, in support of a new war of subjugation and annexation in Armenia, and none were exempt. The penalty for failing to offer the sacrifice was death. On his way to do battle with the Persians, Trajan sojourned in Antioch and bade all of the townspeople offer the sacrifice. Naturally, the saintly bishop of the city not only refused, but he busily circulated a notice to all the Christians of the city forbidding them from making impious offerings to the Roman idols. Trajan had Ignatius arrested and hauled before him; alternating between highfalutin promises of accession to the Senate and threats of torture and death, the emperor himself attempted to persuade Ignatius to perform the sacrifice. Ignatius stood immovable before the Emperor himself, unswayed either by delusions of earthly grandeur or by mortal fear, which were all that Trajan could offer him. Instead, he answered every attempt to cajole and coerce him with an eloquence and fortitude which could only have been born of the Holy Ghost. Infuriated, Trajan ordered that the bishop be fettered, transported to Rome under a guard of ten heavily-armed soldiers, and thrown to wild beasts for entertainment and to make an example for the masses.

Holy Father Ignatius went not only fearlessly, but even exultantly, to his martyrdom. He exhorted his fellow Christians in Rome not to aid him and so rob him of the martyr’s reward, and not to put themselves in peril for his sake. Instead, he used his final days to pen several epistles, one to his friend St. Polycarp and the rest to the Christian congregations throughout the Roman Empire, which have been of unfathomable spiritual value to the subsequent generations of Church Fathers. The epistles of Saint Ignatius have been particularly valuable in the development of the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist as a spiritual medicine, and in the upbuilding of a truly Orthodox ecclesiology, in harmony with its Christological function as Our Lord’s body.

The Romans fed Ignatius to the wild beasts in the year 106, but even afterward he never left his flock in Antioch without guidance, whether from his pen or from the miracles he continued to perform even after his death.

The stirring celebration of your victorious fight
Is an announcement of the One who is to be born of the Virgin.
In your eagerness to possess Him forever,
You hastened to be devoured by the wild beasts.
Therefore, O glorious Ignatius, you were called the bearer of God!

15 December 2015

Japan, China and defamilialisation ideology at work

Japan and China are indeed moving in opposite directions. But, pace the feminist-capitalist alliance, represented here by Harry Krejsa and Maryam Janani, the careful reader will take note that it is China, not Japan, which is currently moving in the right one.

Japan’s society is overworked, impotent and porn-addled, and is failing to reproduce at a self-replacing rate. The reason? A policy stance which is explicitly anti-natal, anti-child and anti-elderly have been shoved down their throats for decades by the Let ‘Em Die Party. Add to that the fact that Japan discourages women from having families, and again has done so for decades, and a clear picture begins to emerge. Modern Japan is what the ideology of defamilialisation inevitably looks like in an advanced stage.

China, on the other hand, is slowly - too slowly - but surely rediscovering its age-old Confucian roots, after decades of their active repression at the hands of Communist ideology. They are quietly undoing Deng's monstrous One Child Policy, and they are quietly encouraging traditional gender roles. China has already kind of screwed itself in the middle-run through its bureaucratic meddling in family planning, but in the long term one hopes that they are headed in the right direction.

And the IMF, though of course they are encouraging Abe’s neoliberal corporate reforms aimed at turning women into replacement men, are flipping out over China’s perceived volte-face. Is it genuinely to be believed, as Krejsa and Janani insinuate, that more women marrying, staying at home and having children in China is directly to blame for her current economic woes? Or, on the other hand, is it more likely that state-driven overinvestment in housing, when not enough people are being produced to make use of that housing, has been inflating a bubble…?

Just something to think about.

China’s growing interest in traditionalism is certainly something to watch, though.

14 December 2015

Inclinata resurgo

In sixteen ninety nine Bill Cowper sailed:
For Penn’s wood he was bound, from Yorkshire hailed;
From throne-usurping Dutchmen did he flee
Professing Jacobite recusancy.

In Fox’s Inner Light his faith was stowed
And progeny aplenty overflowed
From union with his treasured Thomasine:
Their children, six. The eldest of their gene
Was Jonathan. His grandsons fell to war
When revolution bayed at every door
And rent each household bloody at the seam.
Cruel Carolina seizèd, with extreme
Élan for her republic’s high-flown aim,
All property to Jacob’s Tory name.

In dearth, the South still claimed my kinsmen’s blood
As war between the states unleashed the floods
Of grim unholy mechanistic din
In answer to our forebears’ racial sins;
The colours Joseph Delan boldly bore
Are those today of shame. But we ignore
The tales of yesteryear at our own cost.
If we forget, what more can we have lost?

Black, white alike, the crop-lien held in thrall,
Yet Franklin Dero heard the Navy’s call
To arms at sea against the Japanese;
Pacific’s name in irony took lease.
Once home again, the druggist’s art he gained
And settled on Potomac’s southern bend.
To his last days he kept in mind his land,
And thanks be to his son, now, here I stand.

For worse or better, bent on further star,
We fell and rose in this damn fool devoir,
Yet never fit; in shadow-struggles we
Threw wrenches in the great machinery
And thrust our fists up dauntless at the State,
But always acquiesced in our own fate.
Who sups the Devil’s meat and drinks his wine,
None’s hand is clean who e’er came hence to dine.
And Scandian, Rhinelander, Wend and Jew,
This blood of other streams – they knew it too.

This shot-torn gore-stained strand I’m holding here,
For all its sordid story, no less dear
To me, still troubled, prompts to circumstance:
God help us all – we are Americans.
- Matthew Franklin Cooper, 14 December 2015

12 December 2015

Orthodoxy and ‘bohunk’ culture

Ruthenian mine workers, Pennsylvania, 1905.
Photo courtesy
The Carpatian Connection.

The hills of Western Pennsylvania are the heartland of Orthodoxy in the United States. This fact is not to disparage any of the other inroads which Orthodox teaching has made onto this continent, whether by the feats of saints like Archbishop Saint Innocent of Alaska or by the conversion of men like Colonel Philip Ludwell. But speaking from a geographical perspective, it’s not difficult to see that the centre of American Orthodoxy, and in particular that broad swathe of parishes cutting from Chicago to Boston, lies firmly the Rust Belt. It lies firmly with the immigrants and the children of immigrants. And as such, Orthodoxy in this country has a particular affinity for coöperative organisation and organised labour.

The great boom in American Orthodoxy happened with the arrival of the waves of ‘new immigrants’ who came into this country between the 1880’s and the 1920’s. The ‘new immigrants’ were Albanians; Arabs; Bohemians; Bulgarians; Georgians; Greeks; Hungarians; Moravians; Poles; Romanians; Russians Great, Little and White; Ruthenians; Slovaks; and Yugoslavs of all stripes. They had been introduced to steel country, sadly enough, by the ‘robber baron’ steel and coal magnates as strike-breakers and scabs, when native Anglo and Scots-Irish workers began organising, making demands for higher wages and better working conditions, and going on strike. It was thought at first that these immigrants would be cheap and docile. After all, these new immigrants were not really white; they knew little English; and they came from supposedly half-Asiatic societies where drudgery, servility and submission was the rule. Thankfully, it so happened that the Machiavellian myth of the decadent, despotic East proved to be no truer on the Western side of the Atlantic than it did on the Eastern side.

The hope among the robber-barons who brought these new immigrants over from Austria-Hungary and Russia was that they would assimilate fully to the dehumanising demands of capital on the one hand, and culturally to the norms of mainstream American society on the other. As such, the Old World cultural expressions of the ‘new immigrants’ faced some very explicit hostility, and they were expected not to organise; instead they were expected to keep their heads down and do as they were told by the steel and coal bosses. But the Ruthenians in particular who had arrived in Western Pennsylvania wanted above all to keep their cultural practices and distinctive forms of religious worship, which they had inherited from the long and complicated history following the 1596 Union of Brest. They wanted to have, above all, priests who understood them. These are the circumstances under which the reconversion of Saint Alexis (Tovt), and with him his working-class Ruthenian flock, to the Holy Orthodox Church, occurred.

Fr. Alexis, who had been married when he had first been ordained to the priesthood, and who had sadly lost his wife Rosalie before coming to the United States from Transcarpathia, was tasked with ministering to the Uniate parishes amongst his fellow Ruthenians in the Upper Midwest, and was their ardent advocate in the labour struggles they often found themselves in. Although he had the permission of his own bishop to do so, he fell foul of Catholic archbishop John Ireland. Ireland, a pro-business Republican partizan, a close friend of William McKinley and a notably reliable ally of the railroad and construction tycoons whose interests he served, had long been an advocate of both the cultural and economic ‘Americanisation’ of Catholic immigrants.

Fr. Alexis – the unabashedly-ethnic widower workingman’s priest – was a living, breathing example of everything Ireland detested. Their meeting in December of 1889 did not go well. Both men lost their tempers. Ireland objected strongly both to the fact that Fr. Alexis had been married, and that he and his bishop were ‘Greek’ Catholic, which Ireland himself refused to recognise as Catholic. Ireland refused to recognise Fr. Alexis in his pastoral duties to the Ruthenians, asserting instead his right to place a Latin Rite Polish priest at their head. Deeply bewildered and offended by the exchange, Fr. Alexis defied Ireland and remained at the head of his Ruthenian church, one year later converting to the Orthodox Church and bringing his flock with him. In all, 20,000 Ruthenians in the American Midwest and Rust Belt states left the Roman Church and rejoined the Orthodox faith; Fr. Alexis is now remembered in the Orthodox Church as Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre.

But even on the economic front, the Ruthenians, even the ones who rejoined the Orthodox Church, did not back away from supporting the movement for working people. Nor did they shy away from making common cause with Polish, Hungarian, Slovak or Italian Catholic workingmen for better wages and working conditions, against their bosses, the police, and the Pinkerton detectives. Ruthenian families and communities opened coöperative shops and farms, often along the same lines as the Grange or the Farmers’ Alliance were coætaneously doing. Taking inspiration from the (albeit-sketchy on the subject of immigration) K. of L. and from the Populist Party, the bohunks of the Rust Belt joined the United Mine Workers in droves. More mainstream Catholic support for the union movement has been well-documented. However, it deserves mention that both Russian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches fully and often vocally supported the union movement of the early 1900’s, in particular the United Mine Workers and the International Workers of the World, both of which welcomed the new immigrants into their ranks. Indeed, the victims of the infamous Ludlow Massacre were Greek Orthodox whose families belonged to the United Mine Workers; the strikers were led by Louis Tikas, a first-generation immigrant.

It is worth remembering, then, that Orthodox Christianity in the United States has not been neutral or unengaged in matters either of culture or politics. True enough, the mission of the Orthodox Church is decidedly not to be a vehicle either for culture war or class struggle or political strife, but to be witness to the life of Christ. However, even if such neutrality or disengagement were something desirable for us, for the sake of that witness it has not historically been either possible or advisable to sit on the sidelines. Orthodoxy has been borne to these shores and here witnessed by thousands upon thousands of immigrants from all over Central and Eastern Europe – men who had been long disdained by the American mainstream for their foreign manners and working-class lives.

10 December 2015

Helen Ward on defamilialisation

Ms. Ward, a low-income single mother and member of Kids First Parent Association of Canada, has a well-researched article up on MercatorNet which is very well worth the read. I don’t particularly want to rehash all of her arguments here, but in fine, the points made are these: at the behest of corporations and technocratic elites, welfare-state institutions have been and are being retooled to erode support for families and transfer working-class women to a workfare-daycare schema. They do this by supporting an ideology which treats the family as a hidebound, patriarchal and oppressive institution, and seeks to supplant it with private-sector loyalties, buttressed by a modicum of public services and state incentives for employers.

Ms. Ward identifies the economic policy branches of the EU, the OECD, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum as defamilialist organisations, and the Economist magazine as one of the key cheerleaders of the trend. But her analysis of feminist acquiescence and collaboration in this ideology gives this particular paper an interesting dimension. The neoliberal erosion of the family was sped by an ‘ideological convergence’ of the feminist left, particularly that arising from the second wave, and the corporate right.
Together they demand increased labour supply from mothers and massive state-funding for institutional daycare. The bed-sharing is kept discreet, perhaps because the left distrusts neo-lib/-con groups like the World Bank; exposure could dissolve the partnership.

Kershaw’s academic writing explicitly calls for a “neoliberal” and “paternalistic” approach which “utilizes the state's coercive power for the purposes of altering citizenry decisions”, modeled on neo-liberal welfare reform.
Very interesting insights indeed. Ms. Ward’s research and conclusions call directly to mind this two-year-old article in Comment is Free, from veteran American critical theorist and feminist Nancy Fraser.
As women have poured into labour markets around the globe, state-organised capitalism’s ideal of the family wage is being replaced by the newer, more modern norm – apparently sanctioned by feminism – of the two-earner family.

Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households.


Feminism has also made a second contribution to the neoliberal ethos… Rejecting “economism” and politicising “the personal”, feminists broadened the political agenda to challenge status hierarchies premised on cultural constructions of gender difference. The result should have been to expand the struggle for justice to encompass both culture and economics. But the actual result was a one-sided focus on “gender identity” at the expense of bread and butter issues.

Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality. In effect, we absolutised the critique of cultural sexism at precisely the moment when circumstances required redoubled attention to the critique of political economy.

Finally, feminism contributed a third idea to neoliberalism: the critique of welfare-state paternalism. Undeniably progressive in the era of state-organised capitalism, that critique has since converged with neoliberalism’s war on “the nanny state” and its more recent cynical embrace of NGOs.
Definite food for thought, here. It bears stressing again and again, though, that neoliberal capitalism is not a value-neutral system. The erosion of family institutions within capitalist societies is neither accidental nor unintentional. As Ward points out quite astutely, there is an ideological basis for the defamilialist policy stance, and an active technocratic discouragement of family life which follows from it. That is not good news for those social conservatives who still want to cling to the idea that capitalism can be harmonised with traditional values. However, it does provide at least some hope that cultural pressure can be brought to bear on the neoliberal anti-family policy stance.

07 December 2015

Remembering Holy Father Bishop Ambrose of Milan

It would be highly remiss of me, having mentioned the writings of Holy Father Ambrose once already in my discussion of the dangers of money, to let his feast day pass us by unremarked. Ambrose, a Gallo-Roman Christian born to a wealthy and well-educated family in Augusta Treverorum (present-day Trier in Rheinland-Pfalz), was marked by intellect and humility even from a young age. As an infant, it is said that a swarm of bees each flew into his mouth, lit upon his tongue and left a drop of honey upon it, before flying out of reach. Ambrose’s father, Ambrose the Elder, took it as a sign that his son would be given the gift of eloquence. He received along with his brother Saint Satyrius an excellent education. The prætor noted Ambrose’s diligence, and recommended him to take charge of the prefecture of Mediolanum (now Milan), where he distinguished himself and gained a reputation for fairness even among his political and religious rivals. When he was still a young man – indeed, still a catechumen! – the previous bishop of Mediolanum, a man named Auxentius, reposed in the Lord; this left the bishopric contested between the Nicene Christians and the Arian heretics. As prefect, Ambrose was expected to resolve the issue of the bishopric. As he approached the assembly with a plea for order and a peaceful resolution, a cry went up from one of the children there, ‘Ambrose, bishop!’, and that cry soon spread to all the tongues of the populace.

Ambrose, still a catechumen and predisposed to humility, tried repeatedly – but in vain – to refuse the office, thinking himself unworthy. He even tried, without success, to flee the city, as the people grew ever more firm in their demands for him to succeed Auxentius. The people of Milan went to the Emperor of Rome, Valentinianus Augustus, to plead their case, and the Emperor commanded Ambrose to take the omophor. Ambrose did not dare to offend the Emperor. Thus he hurriedly finished his catechumenate, received the mystery of Baptism, was elevated within each of the clerical ranks of the Church within the space of a week, and acceded to the Bishopric of Milan on the seventh of December, 374. Upon his accession, he divided all of his possessions amongst the poor and the orphans, as well as for the upkeep of the Church, and devoted himself to the asceticism proper to a holy Hierarch of the Church.

Though perhaps not as fiery an orator as Archbishop Saint John Chrysostom in the East, in the West Ambrose was nonetheless an equally staunch defender of the poor, and stood constantly in solidarity with them. It must be remembered that at that time, Arianism was primarily a doctrine popular amongst the mercenaries of the late Western Roman army, and amongst the well-to-do artisans, whereas the Orthodoxy of Nicæa was primarily the faith of the poorer plebeians. The government, between the years of the Council of Nicæa in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381, vacillated back and forth between Arianism and Nicene Christianity; Constantius II and Valens were both at least friendly toward Arianism and bestowed imperial favour on it, if they were not Arians themselves. Ambrose himself stood in firm solidarity with the poor and with the commoners, both politically and religiously; it is from him that we derive the formulation ‘justice does not stand in the way of mercy, because mercy itself is justice’. He introduced reforms into the Church such that poor men and women could stand alongside the wealthy in worship. ‘The poor of Christ are my riches,’ he once declaimed. ‘This is a treasure that I know how to amass. I only wish that they [in government] may always charge me with expending gold on the poor.’

On one occasion in the year 385, the Arian Empress Justina ordered Ambrose to turn over his basilica over to the soldiery for their use in prayers. Ambrose, however, refused – and he barricaded the church with many of the common people inside. He had taught his parishioners the beautiful yet simple hymns of his own composition, and the people began to sing them within the basilica, even as the Arian Gothic mercenaries began to take up their positions outside. However, God gave the soldiers to hear the strains of music being sung inside the Church, and moved their hearts to pity – they could not bring themselves to attack a Church full of singing people; thus Ambrose was given the victory in that instance over the Arians.

Ambrose, in addition to being a defender of the poor, also took an interest in actively spreading Nicene Christianity as well as he could. He was instrumental in the conversion of Blessed Augustine of Hippo in the year 387, and also seemingly imparted to him a particular zeal on behalf of the less-fortunate. He established a bishopric on the Pannonian marches at the fortress of Sirmium. He kept up an epistolary correspondence with Queen Fritigil, of the Marcomanni who then lived in Pannonia, and was instrumental in bringing her Teutonic tribe into the fold of Nicene Christendom. And even from the far East, men of Persia, in respect of his great wisdom, would visit him and converse with him on topics of philosophical interest.

Holy Father Ambrose was a staunch and fearless advocate for the public expression of Christianity, and was adamant that a Christian monarch ought to do all he could to encourage Christianity in the public sphere. He strongly rebuked Valentinianus Augustus when a request was made by a group of pagan elder statesmen to restore an old pagan monument, the Ara Victoriæ, to the Roman Senate; this request was subsequently denied. On another occasion, Bishop Ambrose strictly forbade the Emperor Theodosius from entering the church, after the Emperor had massacred a crowd at Thessaloniki. ‘You may not come in,’ Ambrose had told him at the door of the church. ‘There is blood on your hands.’ Ambrose demanded that the Emperor do a public penance before he be allowed to receive the chalice again at the altar, and promise that he would never engage in such a ruthless slaughter of innocents again; both of which he did. Holy Father Ambrose also protested against public funds being used to repair a synagogue that had been destroyed by an angry mob; however, he did believe that the Emperor was justified in punishing the leaders of the mob for their violence against the Jews.

In addition to all of this, by virtue of his excellent education, upbringing and God-given gifts, Holy Father Ambrose was a prolific and profound writer, and left a significant corpus of texts: On Belief in the Resurrection, Exposition of the Christian Faith, On the Holy Spirit, On the Duties of the Clergy and On the Holy Mysteries being a few of his most important works. Holy Father Ambrose, celebrated in his own lifetime for his kindliness and his generosity, reposed in the Lord on the fourth of April, 397.

You shone forth with divine doctrine eclipsing the deception of Arius,
Shepherd and initiate of the mysteries, Ambrose.
You worked miracles through the power of the Spirit,
Healing various passions;
Righteous father, entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

06 December 2015

Remembering Archbishop Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker

Our father among the saints, Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra, is commemorated today on the Gregorian calendar. A Greek who lived the Asian city of Myra, Holy Nicholas was born to wealthy but devout parents, who received him as a gift from God on account of his mother’s prior infertility. By all accounts, they loved him dearly and raised him to be pious in all things, as from a very young age he began observing the fasting rules. They died, however, in an epidemic, leaving their great fortune to young Nicholas and entrusting him to the care of his uncle, Bishop Nicholas of Patara. Bishop Nicholas, beholding the deep piety and giving spirit of his young nephew and namesake, had him ordained as a reader in the Church, and then as a priest. In his pastoral office, Nicholas made generous charitable use of his inherited fortune, donating all of it to those who came to him in need, to the poor, the sick and the suffering.

Indeed: of the poor, of captives, and of those who travelled by sea, Saint Nicholas was a particularly avid champion. When he was still young, with his uncle’s blessing, he undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and visited all of the places where Our Lord had performed miracles, and where he had walked on the sea, and he was deeply moved by what he had seen. On the return voyage, a great storm blew up that threatened the ship on which he was sailing. One of the sailors fell from the mast and suffered a fatal blow. But in the midst of the storm Nicholas knelt down on the deck and began to pray; after this, the sea became calm. In doing so, he saved the lives of all the sailors on that ship with him, and even the one who had fallen from the mast was restored to health by Saint Nicholas’s prayers. Many other nautical miracles have been worked by Saint Nicholas, whose prayers were of effect particularly to those in danger of drowning at sea. At one time, after he had become Archbishop, his home city of Myra and the surrounding countryside of Lycia suffered a great famine. An Italian merchant, planning to sell his grain in Egypt, saw Saint Nicholas appear to him in a dream, telling him to divert his ship and bring the grain instead to starving Myra. When the merchant awoke, he found three gold coins in his hand as the sainted Bishop’s pledge; and he diverted his ship as he had been bidden. Once he got to Myra, he sold all of the grain, and the city and country were saved from starvation; however, he told of how the Bishop had visited him in a dream and given him the gold as his pledge. On account of these nautical miracles, Saint Nicholas is particularly revered amongst sailors; to this day, in the Russian navy and merchant fleet, sailors will wear small icons of Saint Nicholas for protection.

Saint Nicholas was also an advocate of those who had been held captive wrongly, and this also for good reason. Diocletian was Emperor when Nicholas acceded to the Archbishopric of Lycia, and when he refused at the bidding of the Roman government to worship the Emperor and his pagan idols, he was thrown in prison and subjected to severe tortures for several years. These he endured patiently, however, and the Lord led him out of the dungeon and back to his flock in Lycia unharmed, once Emperor Saint Constantine came to the throne. On account of this, he had a particular care for those in prison and those who had fallen afoul of the law. A wicked governor in the Empire sentenced three men wrongfully to death, having been bribed to do so; when Saint Nicholas came to know of this, he himself went to the execution ground and grabbed the executioner’s sword in his hands before it could fall, loudly denouncing the governor before the crowds. The governor at once repented upon seeing the holy man’s intercession on behalf of the prisoners, and let them go free. At still another time, he appeared to Emperor Saint Constantine in a dream and ordered him to release three generals, Nepotianos, Ursos, and Eupoleonis, from prison, who had been unjustly accused of treason.

For poor children and wayfarers also, Saint Nicholas had a particular fondness. A famous story tells of a poor father in Patara with three daughters and no money to afford dowries to marry them, but who was too proud to accept any kind of charity from others. To keep from starving, the three daughters would have had, upon reaching adulthood, to sell their bodies. Saint Nicholas heard of this, and secretly stole out during the night before his eldest daughter reached adulthood, throwing a bag of gold through the poor man’s window. Because the poor father did not know from whence it came, he would not be able to return it; giving thanks to God, the father gave the money to his eldest daughter as a dowry. Saint Nicholas did the same thing, throwing a bag of money through the window, before the second daughter reached adulthood. The father, now getting suspicious, sat outside his house on the night before his third daughter was to reach adulthood, so that he could find out who had been secretly giving him money. The father saw Saint Nicholas as he threw the money through the window the third time, and went to confront him the following day. Nicholas, being a modest man himself, replied that the man ought to give thanks not to him, but to God alone. Thus he saved the poor family from destitution and ruin, having arranged for the poor man’s three daughters to marry well.

On another event, possibly during the same famine that had struck Myra and Lycia, some children from poor families had gone out to glean whatever remnants of the failing crops had been left in the fields; they were at it so long that they forgot the time. On returning to the town they lost their way, and they passed a butcher’s shop and begged him for a place to stay and something to eat, because they were hungry and tired and lost. The butcher let them in, and he and his wife murdered them with knives, cut up their bodies, and placed them in a large salting tub. After seven years went by, Saint Nicholas happened to go by the butcher’s shop, and ordered him to open up the salting tub. Placing his hand on it, Saint Nicholas spoke: ‘Rise up, children.’ The three children at once rose up, alive and whole, from the tub, and were restored to their grateful families.

No account of Saint Nicholas would be complete, though, without telling of his conduct and his zeal for the Lord at the Council of Nicaea, which had been called by Emperor Saint Constantine in the year 325. At that time, the doctrines of Bishop Arius were spreading throughout Roman society, particularly among the upper middle classes who were sceptical of the government and of the perceived mysticism of orthodox teaching. At the Council, Arius himself stood up and began to proclaim his doctrine that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could not be equal to God the Father, but was instead a lesser, created being. Nicholas, moved to righteous fury at these pronouncements, stood up and crossed the room to Arius, and struck him heavily in the face. The whole Council was shocked at his behaviour, and at once stripped him of his omophor and had him placed under guard. However, some of the other Holy Fathers at the Council were given a vision of the Lord and the Most Holy Theotokos visiting Nicholas and restoring his omophor to him; they concluded that his boldness had been rightly aimed, and restored his freedom and symbols of office. The Council of Nicaea confirmed Saint Nicholas’s conviction, which he shared with the other Holy Fathers led by Saint Athanasius, and from this Council we have been handed down the Nicene Creed.

Nicholas was a great and worthy Hierarch of the Church, incredibly generous and kind, particularly to those whose lives and livelihoods were hard and thankless. He is remembered gratefully by all of the Christian churches, and is given particular reverence by the Russian people. The first Russian nobleman to accept baptism, Askold, took Nicholas as his patron; and Holy and Right-Believing Empress Olga, grandmother of Holy Prince Vladimir, Baptiser of the Rus’, had a temple dedicated in Holy Father Nicholas’s name over Askold’s grave. Holy Nicholas, worker of wonders, intercede with Our Lord Christ on this day of your remembrance.

You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.

04 December 2015

Remembering Holy Venerable and God-bearing Father John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus (for a more in-depth biography see the Mystagogy blog), one of the most celebrated authors and hymnists of the early mediaeval Orthodox Church, lived at a time when the Byzantine Levant had been overrun by Muslim invaders. His family were Christian, and were some of the few in Damascus who did not convert to the new belief; however, the new Muslim caliph seems not to have minded overmuch, as he confirmed John’s father Sarkis Mansur in his appointment as the head of the tax department for Syria. However, John’s parents were desirous that he should be baptised and continue in the faith that they had received. When a particularly-learned Sicilian monk named Cosmas was captured by Muslim seafarers and brought to Damascus, Sarkis arranged for him to be freed and to start giving his sons tutelage in their home, in mathematics, grammar, rhetoric and philosophy. John took to his studies eagerly. His biographer cites him as rivalling Euclid in his grasp of geometry and Diophantus in algebra, and as the Holy Father’s corpus of writings shows, Cosmas’s teaching bore a number of very good fruits.

In the Eastern Roman Empire to the north, Leo the Isaurian had begun his campaign of overhauling the laws of Constantinople, and ordering that the holy images in public places be cut down and burnt. Many in the Church were incensed by this outrage the Emperor was committing against them, and John himself no less than those who lived under Leo. From the court of the caliph, John of Damascus wrote his three Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images; he wrote in a bold and God-inspired, but at the same time accessible style to appeal to the common subjects of Byzantium. His writing circulated amongst the Orthodox of Constantinople, who were roused to an equally bold defence of the holy ikons against the impious Emperor. Though he was beyond Leo’s legal grasp, Leo provoked the Caliph against his pious councillor by forging a letter in John’s name agreeing to betray the Caliph to Leo. Enraged, the Caliph ordered that Saint John’s titles be stripped from him, that his hand be cut off, and that the hand be hung in the public market.

John begged the Caliph to return his hand, and he brought it before an ikon of the Holy Theotokos, and begged her that his hand be healed, so that he might continue using it to write in defence of the Faith. Miraculously, as he slept, the Most Holy Theotokos visited him and rejoined his hand to his arm, enjoining him to continue writing for the sake of the Faith. Only a thin red band was left around his wrist showing where the hand had been severed. The Caliph repented of having maimed him and offered him his old position again, but John refused, instead giving everything he owned to the poor and accompanying his younger brother (also named Cosmas) to Jerusalem to become a monk.

When he entered the Holy Lavra of Saint Savas, because of his learning and high station, none of the monks save an old, stern and cantankerous elder dared to guide him as a spiritual father. To foster humility in John, this elder strictly forbade him from following his own will in anything, nor to make merry, nor to indulge any of his intellectual desires for learning, nor to impart any of his secular knowledge to anyone. John gladly accepted the elder’s rule. However, at one time his elder and master instructed him to take the baskets they had woven together into Damascus and sell them, and he specified a price well above their actual value, telling his disciple not to sell them for anything less. John went into his former hometown and sat in the street, unsuccessfully trying to sell these baskets; until at last he was recognised by a former steward of his household. Taking pity upon his former master, who had been reduced to a state of poverty, the steward bought all of his baskets at the marked-up price.

On another occasion, John was begged by a fellow monk to compose a funeral service for another who had departed this life. At first he refused, but being moved to pity by the distraught monk, he began to compose and sing to himself. His elder, hearing him singing, became angry at his disciple for having betrayed his vows, and flung him out of their cell. John knelt outside the cell for a long while, and the other monks of the monastery begged the elder to have mercy upon his disciple and admit him again, but the elder was unmoved. Only at length did the elder agree to forgive John after a penance: that he wash out all of the monastery’s chamber-pots and clean out all of its privies with his bare hands. This John agreed to do at once, and he never complained once as he set about his lowly task. But the Most Holy Theotokos prevailed over the elder to take his disciple back, and revealed to him that John would with the hand that she had once healed write beautiful psalms in praise of Christ and set forth the wondrous truths of His Church. At this, the elder received John back gratefully and asked his forgiveness, and besought him to lift up his voice mightily and relate what the Holy Spirit had inscribed in his heart.

Holy Father John stayed in the Holy Lavra of Saint Savas for the rest of his years, reposing on the 4th of December, 749; for his humility and for his hymns as well as for his profound writings, he is recognised as a saint in the Roman and English Churches as well as in the Orthodox Church. It was in his later years that he wrote his Oktoekhos and Canons, as well as the Fount of Knowledge, which contains a discourse on logic, a refutation of various heresies (including Islam) and the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, an erudite Scholastic work of the highest calibre which has been of great spiritual and intellectual help to many generations of Orthodox believers (including the author of this blog).

Let us sing praises to John, worthy of great honor,
the composer of hymns, the star and teacher of the Church, the defender of her doctrines:
through the might of the Lord’s Cross he overcame heretical error
and as a fervent intercessor before God
he entreats that forgiveness of sins may be granted to all.

03 December 2015

Pointless video post – ‘Stranger’ by Aillion

Aillion is a Belarusian traditional heavy metal band that I’ve had my eye on for some time now; they had released two EPs in 2009 and 2010 (this power ballad is from the second one), and have this year released a full-length album, which is available for free download on their website. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I am a big fan of free music; if their past output is any indication, it will be a pleasure to do so! The vocalist, Konstantin Dudarev, certainly has an excellent strong baritone which comes in handy on those power ballads, even if the band’s English-language numbers like this one can sound a little goofy. And they do have a bit of the power-thrash crunch that I appreciate, and with the band’s having done Vicious Crusade covers I am not surprised at all by this. It’s good stuff. Do give it a listen, gentle readers!

02 December 2015

The Confucian moral worldview in Fatal Fury

There are two excellent reasons to watch the animated miniseries Garō Densetsu 餓狼傳說, or Fatal Fury as we call it in English… and no, I’m not talking about those two reasons, gentle readers. Though one might want to dismiss it as a simple-minded fighting-and-fanservice OVA, there are two very clear aspects which mark it off as having a distinctly Confucian flavour. The first is the importance of the five fundamental relationships in Terry Bogard’s life, which manages to blend over into a meditation on the relation between the martial virtues and filial piety; the second is an implicit discourse on vengeance and fate, which lends the adventure a possibly-unintended political dimension.

The first one is perhaps easier to discuss. Terry and Andy Bogard are the students of Tang Hulu shifu (yes, a clear reference to tanghulu), the last living master of the near-lost Baji Shengquan 八極聖拳 school of Chinese martial arts. Their foster-father Jeff, also a student of Master Tang, belonged to the senior generation of Baji Shengquan; however, as Terry and Andy looked on helplessly, Jeff was murdered by his fellow-student and rival, Geese Howard. In order for the school to continue on, and in order to avenge Jeff Bogard’s death, Master Tang agrees to teach the final technique of the Baji Shengquan school to one of his two students after ten additional years of training, after which they will meet each other by Jeff’s grave.

Ten years pass, and Terry returns to his hometown to fulfil his obligations to his shifu and to his brother, to learn the final technique of his school and avenge his father’s death. He stumbles into a nightclub where he meets a young lady, Lilly McGuire – and is challenged by Joe Higashi, whom he later befriends. He meets up with Andy and his master when he goes to visit his father’s grave, and the two brothers decide to enter the King of Fighters tournament, organised by Geese Howard himself, to decide who will win the right to learn the last Baji Shengquan technique and face Geese personally. In the meanwhile, Terry meets Lilly in the street, giving food and money to some homeless children, and promises her that he will free her from her predicament – as he can tell that she is under an obligation to Geese.

However, Geese has arranged a trap for Terry, Andy and Tang at the King of Fighters tournament, and plans to have them all killed when they fight. However, he is foiled by Joe and Lilly; though Joe, Terry and Andy manage to escape, Geese kills Lilly and has Billy Kane inflict a mortal wound on Master Tang. As she is dying, Lilly tells Terry that she had helped Geese kill his father, but Terry, having seen the incident and remembered the little girl who had accompanied Geese, had known all along and still loved her. After bringing Tang shifu to the hospital, Andy immediately goes back for revenge, accompanied by Joe; however, Terry stays behind. Tang then awakens and teaches Terry the Baji Shengquan’s ultimate technique – not because he is stronger, but because his character has been better-developed than Andy’s has. Joe had remarked when watching the two brothers fight that Andy fought like a hungry wolf, but Terry stood firm like a sapling with deep roots, able to bend and withstand the wind. The final technique in the Baji Shengquan, in fact, draws power from the earth – but the interesting thing about it is that the ‘earth’ is visually represented both by the physical earth and by Terry’s relationships with Jeff, Tang shifu, and Lilly.

It is intimated that Terry’s martial ability depends very strongly on his filial piety, and on his correct keeping of the five relationships: his reverence for Master Tang, his admiration for his father Jeff and his desire to avenge his death in the proper way, his care for his younger brother Andy, his intense but ill-fated love for Lilly and his mutually-strengthening friendship with Joe. As it turns out, Andy and Joe are not capable of defeating Geese by themselves; only Terry can do so – and as it turns out, he can only defeat Geese by properly remembering the five people to whom he is accountable, and by knowing his proper place with regard to heaven and earth.

One can expect, in the tradition of martial-arts films, books and comics, that most of them would uphold some form of Confucian-inspired honour code, given the indebtedness so many Japanese artists and storytellers in this particular oeuvre have to Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin, along with later works like those of Jin Yong. Indeed, the Confucian roots of the shōnen comic culture have not been overlooked by their English-language fans. I just hadn’t been expecting the Confucian overtones of a work like Fatal Fury to be quite so in-your-face. I had been half-expecting one of the brothers to quote directly from the Book of Rites: 「 父之讎,弗與共戴天。」 ‘With the enemy who has slain his father, one should not live under the same heaven.’ Certainly the principle is endorsed by Andy and Terry.

If anything, in the sequel, Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle those overtones are even stronger. In this story, Terry faces Wolfgang Krauser, Geese Howard’s half-brother and an immensely-powerful martial artist who makes his living as a bodyguard for Europe’s nobility. At once, the audience is confronted with both the similarity and the distinction between the two fighters. Terry fought to avenge his family and his master; Krauser fights, it is intimated, only to seek amusement – even though his own brother has been crippled by Terry. Terry cares deeply for Andy, who in turn respects and honours his older brother; by contrast, Krauser treats Geese with contempt, and Geese is frightened of Krauser but has no affection for him. Clearly when we meet Krauser for the first time, we are meant to regard him as something of an equal, a counterpart to Terry. He is strong enough in their first encounter to beat Terry senseless.

At the same time, Andy’s jūdō master Yamada Jūbei remarks that Krauser is a monster – because he murdered his own father. There are very few crimes in the Confucian canon for which the Master directly prescribes the death penalty, but two of them – the most serious – are regicide and parricide. Indeed, as the Book of Rites has it, in the words of Duke Ding of Zhu-Lou:

When a minister kills his ruler, all who are in office with him should kill him without mercy. When a son kills his father, all who are in the house with him should kill him without mercy. The man should be killed; his house should be destroyed; the whole place should be laid under water and reduced to a swamp.
The revelation that Wolfgang Krauser is a parricide is the single aspect of his character that serves to distinguish him as a foil for Terry; in nearly all other respects they are shown to be equivalent, in ability and even (in a strange way) motivation. They both actively seek out fights. When they fight, they match each other blow-for-blow. They understand each other’s techniques. It is heavily implied that the only reason Terry is able to win against Krauser, is because he is still being guided by the people in his life who are most important to him. It takes an upbraiding by Joe to snap him out of his funk after losing to Krauser the first time; it takes a visitation by the spirits of Lilly and Master Tang to convince him that he is capable of defeating Krauser; and it takes fighting with Andy for Terry to realise the technique of the ‘Power Geyser’. Krauser, on the other hand, only thinks about his father once every year, and at that only to gloat over how powerful he has become.

All of this is underscored by the fact that witnessing everything Terry does is a young boy, Tony, who hero-worships Terry and wants to be just like him. However, Tony’s father died in a fight, and his mother doesn’t want to see her son go the same way. Terry continually tells Tony to go home and look after his mother… yet Tony continues to follow him, even accompanying him to Krauser’s mansion. Tony sees first-hand the equal abilities of Terry and Krauser, and in the end is witness to Krauser’s suicide after his shameful defeat. It is only after Terry makes his point clear to his young worshipper that his way of life isn’t for him, that Tony goes back and agrees to look after his mother. There is a moralistic, even heavy-handed aspect to this part of the story that serves to make the foregoing Confucian virtue-ethical points with the cinematic equivalent of a sledgehammer.

It is worth noting again that the entire genre of martial-arts anime is heavily dependent on the fictional devices used in wuxia 武侠 fiction, including Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin, and its youxia 游侠 poetic antecedents. The itinerant lives of the fighters in Fatal Fury and the extralegal honour and vengeance codes they uphold can be traced in their pedigree back to the literary jianghu 江湖, the subculture of martial artists, itinerant monks, dissenting scholars, beggars, outlaws, hucksters and unsavoury characters of all sorts which made up the background for much of this variety of fiction.

Which brings us to the second point of interest about the Fatal Fury series, which is that it treads on a certain idea of familial obligation and the duty of vengeance which are common to the Confucian tradition, and particularly to Gongyang scholarship, which has been historically used to argue for legal leniency and conciliatory justice in certain cases of banditry and members of poor and ill-connected clans taking the law into their own hands. That idea is on full display here; Geese Howard is seen to have the police firmly bought and paid for, and even tries to use them to kill Terry and Andy. The law is not a recourse, not for characters like Lilly or Tony. It may not be too fruitful or useful to read much into this: from a literary perspective, this simply serves to heighten the tension and highlight the danger Terry, Andy and Joe have placed themselves in at the King of Fighters tournament. Certainly the message, insofar as there is one, is primarily moralistic rather than political. But I do have to wonder if there isn’t something else behind it.

Long story short, just appreciating some of the wuxia tendencies in a work that probably doesn’t get a lot of attention. With the honourable exception of Shiranui Mai, naturally.

30 November 2015

A few words on usury

Cross-posted from Christian Democracy Magazine:

It’s difficult to think of an economic activity more ubiquitous under capitalism than the charging of interest on loans meant for consumption. Modern commercial banking, including those banks in which most of us (myself included) have savings accounts, depends fully on the lending of money at interest, and has done so ever since the first silver-smithies of the Renaissance city-states of northern Italy and Flanders began printing their own bank-notes. We live in an age and a society where credit card debt and payday lenders are systematic and ubiquitous. And yet the sin of usury finds a round condemnation in a broad unanimity of Church Fathers both East and West.

So says Holy Father Basil the Great:
Tell me, do you seek money and means from a poor man? If he had been able to make you richer, why would he have sought at your doors? Coming for assistance, he found hostility. When searching around for antidotes, he came upon poisons. It was your duty to relieve the destitution of the man, but you, seeing to drain the desert dry, increased his need… And just as farmers pray for rains for the increase of their crops, so you also ask for poverty and want among men in order that your money may be productive to you. Do you not know that you are making an addition to your sin greater than the increase to your wealth, which you are planning from the interest?
And so says his brother, Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa:
Do not live with feigned charity nor be a murderous physician with the pretense to heal for a profit; if you do this, a person trusting in your skill can suffer great harm. Money lending has no value and is rapacious. It is unfamiliar with such trades as agriculture and commerce… Money lending wants everything to be wild and begets whatever has been untilled… Usury’s home is a threshing-floor upon which the fortunes of the oppressed are winnowed and where it considers everything as its own. It prays for afflictions and misfortunes in order to destroy such persons. Money lending despises people contented with their possessions and treats them as enemies because they do not provide money. It watches courts of law to find distress in persons who demand payment and follows tax collectors who are a nest of vultures in battle array prepared for war. Money lending carries a purse and dangles bait as a wild beast to those in distress in order to ensnare them in their need. Daily it counts gain and cannot be satisfied. It is vexed by gold hidden in a person’s home because it remains idle and unprofitable. Usury imitates farmers who immediately plant crops; it takes and gives money without gain while transferring it from one hand to another.
Holy Father Gregory the Theologian, in full agreement with his friends the brothers Basil and Gregory, holds that the usurer
is gathering where he has not sowed and reaping where he has not strawed; farming, not the land, but the necessity of the needy.
Archbishop Saint John Chrysostom preaches against usury with his wonted vigour:
Nothing, nothing is baser than the usury of this world, nothing more cruel. Why, other persons’ calamities are such a man’s traffic; he makes himself gain of the distress of another, and demands wages for kindness, as though he were afraid to seem merciful, and under the cloak of kindness he digs the pitfall deeper, by the act of help galling a man’s poverty, and in the act of stretching out the hand thrusting him down, and when receiving him as in harbour, involving him in shipwreck, as on a rock, or shoal, or reef.
And again:
Of what favour canst thou be worthy? of what justification? who in thy sowing of the earth, gladly pourest forth all, and in lending to men at usury sparest nothing; but in feeding thy Lord through His poor art cruel and inhuman?
Note that again and again in the homilies and writings of the Eastern Fathers we can see at work an agrarian analogy with money, and one at that all the more striking, because the analogy serves to contrast the two. Ss. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazanzius and John Chrysostom all understand perfectly well the wickedness of treating money like seed corn, and they all use the analogy of farming (which they naturally consider an honourable occupation) to highlight the contradistinction. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’, or so the old saw goes—but often the hawkers of such platitudes wield them as weapons against the poor and indebted, as a way of upbraiding their laziness, profligacy or other presumed moral flaws.

When used today, the platitude of course ignores that the monetary system that we live with treats money as though it grows on trees. Commercial banks literally increase the money supply by lending at interest; money created in this way exists as a bookkeeping entry, listing the loan as an asset of the bank which lent it. Moneylending, as S. Gregory of Nyssa very aptly observed, ‘has a reed for a plough, papyrus for a field and black ink for seed’. Now, calling to mind my brief earlier treatments of wealth and money in the Church Fathers, who insisted that wealth should be intrinsically tied to work, a distinction has to be made between two different kinds of loans. It is not necessarily usurious, for example, to contribute a loan to an industrial firm, to a small business, to a farm or to some other productive project which can be reasonably expected to pay back over time, and do so by making, raising or providing things which are useful to human flourishing.

What the Eastern Fathers are condemning here in their treatment of usury, are loans which maldistribute wealth by making the acquisition of money the aim of its own lending. Using loans to prey upon the basic living and consumption needs of the debtor—food, clothing, shelter, education—these things justly fall under S. Gregory of Nazanzius’s damning description of ‘farming the necessity of the needy’. The money so produced, as the Church Fathers clearly realised, does not grow on trees—it grows on the desperation and insecurity of the poor. Payday lending easily falls into this category, as does most credit card debt, particularly in the wake of deregulation. But usury is not restricted only to these kinds of small-scale individual lenders, and any examination of usury has to take into account the pressures of necessity on poor people to appear as though they consume at a standard they can’t actually afford, just to secure the necessities of living. S. Basil in his exegetical homily on Psalm 14, counsels the poor to constrain their own spending and remain free, without becoming entangled in debt, even to ‘persevere in terrible situations’, but he also makes clear that he only so advises them ‘because of [rich men’s] inhumanity’. As the popular essayist Barbara Ehrenreich writes,
If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.
But payday lenders and credit card companies are only the most obvious end of the problem in its modern manifestation. It is the logic of commercial consumer lending itself, of collateral and credit scores, that precipitates a desperate environment into which the poor are unceremoniously cast, such that more cut-throat forms of usury can prey upon them. In fact, S. Basil bears forth this logic explicitly as one of the reasons for condemning usury in his homily:
the avaricious person, seeing a man bent down before his knees as a suppliant, practising all humility, and uttering every manner of petition, does not pity one who is suffering misfortune… rigid and harsh he stands, yielding to no entreaties, touched by no tears, persevering in his refusal. But, when he who is seeking the loan makes mention of interest and names his securities, then, pulling down his eyebrows, he smiles… fawning upon and enticing the wretched man with such words, he binds him with contracts.
Because it ought to be regarded as a medium of exchange, and not as a commodity with its own ‘intrinsic value’, money cannot rightly have such a self-reflexive teleological orientation. If money is used in a usurious way, it becomes, in S. Basil’s words (echoing Aristotle), an ‘unnatural animal’. It involves using the debtor’s labour and the debtor’s need to consume for mere survival—in other words, the debtor’s very flesh—for the sole satisfaction of the creditor’s lust for wealth, in a way which precludes the debtor from participating fully in his own pro- and co-creative work, what Fr. Sergei Bulgakov would perhaps controversially call his own sophic genius. A monetary system informed by Patristic ethics would do its best, on behalf of all those who make their livings through wage labour, to structurally discourage usury.

29 November 2015

Classical Confucianism and the self-institution dialectic

One of the favourite passages of the neo-Confucians who place their penultimate concern in issues of personal pietistic self-cultivation, comes from Yan Yuan, the twelfth chapter of the Analects 《論語》 of Confucius:

The duke Jing, of Qi, asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, ‘There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.’ ‘Good!’ said the duke; ‘if, indeed, the prince be not prince, the minister not minister, the father not father, and the son not son, although I have my revenue, can I enjoy it?’
And yet, is it indeed that simple? Can we dispense with the questions of government, of society, of institutions entirely, if we just focus on the single fundamental relationships between father and son, or mother and daughter? After all, parents are parents and children are children, merely by virtue of the brute reproductive biological fact. In a certain sense, this is not something Confucians can ignore, because one can’t really have society without natural families or natural family relationships, and given the attention Confucius places on these relationships throughout the classical canon, it would be ridiculous to assert otherwise. But thankfully, classical Confucianism is much too subtle to fall prey to such pietistic oversimplification. How, one is led to ask, does one become a good father or a good son, let alone a good prince or a good minister? So says the pre-Qin Book of Rites 《禮記》, in the very first chapter:

They are the rules of propriety, that furnish the means of determining (the observances towards) relatives, as near and remote; of settling points which may cause suspicion or doubt; of distinguishing where there should be agreement, and where difference; and of making clear what is right and what is wrong.
And again, two verses later – just in case it wasn’t clear:

The course (of duty), virtue, benevolence, and righteousness cannot be fully carried out without the rules of propriety; nor are training and oral lessons for the rectification of manners complete; nor can the clearing up of quarrels and discriminating in disputes be accomplished; nor can (the duties between) ruler and minister, high and low, father and son, elder brother and younger, be determined; nor can students for office and (other) learners, in serving their masters, have an attachment for them; nor can majesty and dignity be shown in assigning the different places at court, in the government of the armies, and in discharging the duties of office so as to secure the operation of the laws; nor can there be the (proper) sincerity and gravity in presenting the offerings to spiritual beings on occasions of supplication, thanksgiving, and the various sacrifices. Therefore the superior man is respectful and reverent, assiduous in his duties and not going beyond them, retiring and yielding - thus illustrating (the principle of) propriety.
What are we to make of this, then? Parents are parents, and children are children. Can they not be trusted simply to know this and act accordingly? Why should they need the external regulation of the rites? Why should Confucius say that character cannot be established without the rites? Turning to a closely-related topic, a later chapter of the Book of Rites which deals with music, the Yueji 《樂記》, brings to light part of Confucius’s dialectic between the self and her (natural, political and social) environment – as it pertains to musical theory. As demonstrated here:

All the modulations of the voice arise from the mind, and the various affections of the mind are produced by things (external to it). The affections thus produced are manifested in the sounds that are uttered. Changes are produced by the way in which those sounds respond to one another; and those changes constitute what we call the modulations of the voice. The combinations of those modulated sounds, so as to give pleasure, and the (direction in harmony with them of the) shields and axes, and of the plumes and ox-tails, constitutes what we call music.
Music, that is to say (in Confucian terms) an interplay of meaningful sounds in harmony, depends on a right relationship between the self and the things of the external world. It is no accident at all that rites and music are so closely related to one another in Confucian thinking; they mirror and complement each other, and both are taken as the bases for the development of a just order and a good society. And they both help to attune the roots of virtue which lie in the self with affections (dong 動) for the external things and people which gave rise to that self, and without which the self would have no reference for itself. For what universal appeal it has, Confucianism as a coherent philosophy rests heavily upon this dialectic, which is why so much attention is paid to rites and music, and especially those particular, culturally-specific and (to use the Hegelism) sittlich forms of music and ritual which were ascribed to the Xia (夏, 2070 – 1600 BC), Yin (殷, 1600 – 1046 BC) and Western Zhou (周, 1046 – 771 BC) societies which preceded Confucius. As far as Confucius and his disciples were concerned, a society could not be just which did not pay honour to its forefathers – and therefore the answers to questions of justice and moral conduct were to be sought in the wisdom of the Stone Age sages and the Bronze Age kings.

All this is not to say, of course, that Confucius would hold that these particularistic forms should be ossified for their own sake and never be adjudged. The needs of the time (and not its wants or bad habits) are paramount in Confucian thinking; the principles that would need to be upheld in any potential ritual system are also made clear in the Book of Rites:

The appointment of the measures of weight, length and capacity; the fixing the elegancies (of ceremony); the changing the commencement of the year and month; alterations in the colour of dress; differences of flags and their blazonry; changes in vessels and weapons, and distinctions in dress: these were things, changes in which could be enjoined on the people. But no changes could be enjoined upon them in what concerned affection for kin, the honour paid to the honourable, the respect due to the aged, and the different positions and functions of male and female.
Confucianism risks being severely flattened, reduced in dimension and bereft of its classical (and indeed pre-classical) moorings, if it is turned merely into an ideology of pietism, quietism and individualistic self-cultivation. This is one of the reasons why the increased attention paid to institutions, first during the Qing with the Jesuit-influenced Changzhou scholars and now again with the political Confucian school on the Chinese mainland, is so interesting and indeed vital to Confucianism’s continued relevance. It is necessary for the individual Confucian to keep herself attuned to her social and natural surroundings through rites and music. That implies a positive politics of virtue, rather than simply a negative libertarian vision of the social and legal world.