The Sword of Imagination (Russell Kirk)

Kirk, Russell.  The Sword of Imagination: Memoirs of a Half-Century of Literary Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

This is an unusual memoir, as Russell Kirk narrates his intellectual life in the third person.  It is a fascinating account of the intellectual currents that would later merge into post-WWII conservatism (which is to be distinguished from the banal variety today).   True conservatism means the defense of Permanent Things.  Modern day conservatism is simply libertarianism that is too scared to go all the way.

Kirk does a great job describing his studies at St Andrews, Scotland.  No doubt it provided fodder for his ghost stories.  He also shows the big difference between real scholars and American university guns for hire.  

“The St Andrews scholars of that generation were truly learned men who reda, who thought, who were civilization incarnate…Kirk reflected that some of his American professorial colleagues had no books in their homes except free copies of textbooks” (88).

Following Kirk, we should understand our goal for society should be something like a “mannered aristocracy.” In one devastating but undeveloped remark, Kirk notes that “Many Americans labor under the illusion that they exist in a classless society–and are startled if informed that the classless society was the goal of Karl Marx” (110).  Kirk should have drawn the logical conclusion: if you don’t believe in some form of aristocracy and cultured nobility, you are at root an egalitarian.

Kirk gives us a neat overview of the beginning of modern American conservatism overlapping with the Eisenhower generation.  As he was always wont to point out, conservatism is the negation of ideology. It does not negate, however, conservative impulses (143).

“If Communism is the inversion of Christianity, [then] Ayn Rand, reacting against practical communism, negated the negation” (144).

Among his more interesting acquaintances was the Archduke Otto von Hapsburg of the old imperial dynasty. Archduke Otto’s family can best summarize the goal of conservatism and why it should never be identified with small-govt American conservatism.  “When Theodore Roosevelt inquired of Franz Joseph how he saw his imperial place in modern times, the Emperor answered, “To protect my people from the government” (208). That’s monarchy in a nutshell.  We are too much infected with the Whig notion of progress to really understand this. As a general rule, monarchs saw themselves as last-stand efforts to save the people from monied interests (or in our times, technological experts).  No monarch ever dreamed of the power over a people that Anthony Fauci has.

As with many of the older books by Eerdmans, this is bound with chains of iron.  The spine of the book will never crack.  Unfortunately, you might get carpal tunnel syndrome from reading it.  

The Warden (Trollope)

Trollope, Anthony, The Warden.

If someone today were to write a novel where reformists clashed with religious conservatives, you would certainly expect it to be a highly contentious, even biased work. Trollope demonstrates his skill as a novelist by showing both sides as composed of fairly admirable people. His resolution of the problem is even more impressive.

Mr Harding, a warden of a religious hospitable, is a kind and virtuous man. He is living off of an annuity that far exceeds his daily needs, though he and everyone else is unaware of this. In comes a do-gooder, Dr John Bold. Bold discovers the disparity and begins to rally the populace against the avaricious church. There is a problem: Bold is engaged to Mr Harding’s daughter.

Throughout the novel Trollope illustrates the genius of conservatism: sometimes its best not to make all changes at once because you can’t account for how many decent people you will destroy. Even worse, Bold engages the media to run a hatchet job, which completely crushes Harding’s spirit (my hatred of the press is complete at this point). Of course, Harding is a coward on this point. Do not worry about what the media says. One only needs to respond with the middle finger.

Trollope also has a dashing flair for the unique flavors of 19th century British life.

“No room, Bold thought, could have been more becoming for a dignitary of the church; each wall was loaded with theology; over each separate bookcase was printed in small gold letters the names of those great divines whose works ranged beneath….Chrysostom, St Augustine, Thomas a Becket, Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Laud, and Dr Phillpotts” (160).

In the last chapter Trollope notes that the rector served the Eucharist once every three months. There is this bizarre view in some Reformed and Evangelical circles that frequent eating with Jesus is too Catholicky or High Church. The opposite is the case.

The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism

Wilkin, Peter.  The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism. Faringdon, Oxfordshire: Libri Publishing, 2010.

What relevance does a niche subculture from 20th century Britain have for Americans today?  Sociologists have pointed to the phenomenon of “the empty self,” the reduction of happiness to my own personal feelings.  A corollary is a mindless conformism to consumerist society.  The Tory anarchists, by contrast, show how one can resist such mindless conformism. 

Summary statement: The Tory Anarchist is the “Young Fogey.” As Wilkin notes, “To be a Tory anarchist is to share a conservative moral and cultural critique of the modern world, rather than a right-wing political ideology” (Wilkin 12).  This allows Wilkin to label a socialist like George Orwell as a “Tory.” If I may translate into American lingo, a right-wing conservative simply wants to “own the libs” or get the next interventionist Republican into office.  A Tory, by contrast, wants to preserve a nation’s cultural practices.

The more I think about it, a Tory anarchist is basically a hipster who has style and class and is usually quite favorable to religion. With hipsters they protest bourgeois culture, but they probably wouldn’t join the Democratic Socialists, nor would they approve of the soycialist attack on religion. As Evelyn Waugh notes, “The disillusioned Marxist becomes a fascist; the disillusioned anarchist, a Christian” (Brideshead Benighted: 206).

A Tory disbelieves in revolutions because what will come next will usually be worse.  A Tory anarchist strongly disapproves of all politicians. Tory anarchism is not a political ideology or program.  It is a set of social practices.  It will come as no surprise that a Tory is a traditionalist.  He takes it a step further:  he believes in classes in society. Their opposition to things like the welfare state is merely to oppose the encroaching power of the state.  Otherwise, they are quite comfortable with “safety nets” on the market.

A Tory anarchist take on the market is a bit more complex.  They see market forces as reducing man to a philistine culture.  Nonetheless, most Tories, Orwell excluded, make peace with capitalism as it is the least of all evils.

Tories have championed both high and low culture.  There is a unifying theme, though.  Both Waugh and Orwell agree that culture cannot be reduced to mere preference.  Beauty is objective, even if pretty is not.

The Tory, like the real conservative, prioritizes the local over universal theorising (29).  This means that neo-con nation-building was never conservative.  The anarchist label is a bit more troubling, as anarchism not only protests the existence of the state, but that of class distinctions as well.  Tory anarchism, if such there be, remains a rebellion within limits, rather than without, and often possesses a reactionary cultural perspective” (33).

The Tools of the Tory Satirist

Tory satire embodies silliness, empiricism, irony, and the surreal (49).  Silliness simply exaggerates the manners of a certain class.  The best example is Monty Python. Empiricism is a bit more challenging, as empiricists were basically skeptical of authority and religion.  For the Tories, however, empiricism was a style of writing that aimed to be clear and precise (59).  So far, that is good.  I do think there is a contradiction in the project at this point: Tory anarchists, at least on this reading, want to be both surreal and empirical/clear.  I maintain you can’t be both, since that is more or less the point of surrealism.  Dream-like writing and thinking is by necessity ephemeral.  It avoids clarity.

Wilkin’s examination of the Empire and Tory is particularly good.  The British Empire was neither all bad or all good.  Rather, it embodied contradictions that revealed the best of British culture, although usually at the expense of other cultures.  There is an even more pointed contradiction. Tory anarchists embodied the real Britain, the local Britain at home.  Empire, however, is always an amalgamation of various cultures.

Although most Tory anarchists would gladly see the demise of the Empire, they realized that its replacement, the Nanny State, is just as malignant to human liberty and flourishing.  Instead of a traditional class at the top, society would now be ruled by elite “experts.”  

The expert class came as a result of global capitalism.  It’s not that capitalism per se is the enemy for Wilkin; rather, “the state tried to take the risk out of capitalism by shifting the burden of research and investment costs onto the general population–in effect, the socialization of risk” (146).

Orwell was the most interesting.  On the surface he appeared a man of contradictions.  He was a socialist who warned against Soviet intrusion in the West.  Moreover, he seemed to support the British monarchy.  Most startingly, at the end of his life he gave a list of communist sympathizers to MI6.  I think, rather, that Orwell was more or less consistent in all of this.

For Orwell, the monarchy played a unifying role in national life (As I Please: 1943-1945, 102).  On socialism, for whatever else its faults, Orwell wanted a uniquely British socialism that resisted the threat of Sovietism.  He saw that both Thatcherism and Sovietism reduced man to a faceless blob.

Some sections are savagely funny. While many Tory anarchists revered the military and the crown, they could poke fun at their own stereotypes. See for example:

Commanding Officer: Sorry to drag you away from the fun, old boy. War’s not going very well, you know. War is a psychological thing, Perkins, rather like a game of football. You know how in a game of football ten men often play better than eleven?

Perkins: Yes, sir.

CO: Perkins, we are asking you to be that one man. I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate, Perkins, pop over to Bremen, take a shufti, don’t come back.

Goodbye, Perkins., I wish I was going too.

Perkins: Goodbye, sir – or is it – au revoir?,’

CO: No, Perkins.

List of Tory anarchists:

Evelyn Waugh

George Orwell

Peter Cook

Michael Wharton

Auberon Waugh

Richard Ingrams

Chris Morris

Spike Milligan

Alistair Sim

The Chap magazine.


The printing is somewhat odd.  The first chapter begins in verso, or on the left-hand side of the page.  Also, the book repeats itself.  Many times we are told that Tory anarchism is “a form of English nonconformism.”

Notwithstanding, the book is a fascinating exploration into 20th century British culture.  

In Defense of Tradition (Richard Weaver)

Weaver, Richard M. In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M Weaver, 1929-1963. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2000.

Richard Weaver’s legend was already secure when he wrote his brilliantly-titled Ideas Have Consequences. In this collection of essays we see Weaver the teacher, the professor. It’s hard to say how modern American Conservatism would have emerged had it not been for Weaver.  In a sense, Weaver may have passed the baton to Russell Kirk, from whom National Review took it (and likely ruined it).

Section 1 highlights with Weaver’s key essay “Up from Liberalism,” wherein he describes his movement from a young college socialist (but I repeat myself) to a mature agrarian conservative.

Why would someone like Weaver be interested in socialism?  Aside from youthful naivete, it seems he was looking for an organic connection among humanity that doesn’t reduce men to capital (ever heard of the phrase “Human Resources?”  It should chill you). Of course, socialism can’t deliver, mainly because academic socialists don’t know how humanity acts.  Weaver tells a funny story from college:

“I remember how shocked I was when a member of this group suggested that we provide at our public rallies one of the ‘hillbilly bands’ which are often used to draw crowds and provide entertainments….I have since realized that the member was far more practically astute than I: the hillbilly music would undoubtedly have fetched more [people] than the austere exposition of the country’s ills” (34-35).

Change “socialist” to “intellectual conservative today” and the point stands. As socialism bankrupted Weaver began to see that society could be ordered around “the Agrarian ideal of the individual in contact with the rhythms of nature, of the small-property holding, and of the society of pluralistic organization” (37).

From this Weaver would later take his stand (no pun intended) on the idea of “substance” or “the nature of things,” yet he would not do so in the way of scholasticism which endlessly multiplied speculations and abstractions.  He notes that it is “the intent of the radical to defy all substance, or to press it into forms conceived in his mind alone” (41).

The ideological Marxist (both then and now, but much more efficiently now), knew that the best way to silence conservatives is to accuse society of “prejudice.”  What the Christ-hater meant is that any differentiation in society meant an ideological violence.  The form of the fallacy used, argumentum ad ignorantium, “seeks to take advantage of an opponent by confusing what is abstractly possible with what is really possible” (92-93).

Reviewing T. S. Eliot, Weaver examines what is and isn’t culture.  We never get an analytical definition, but Weaver does offer some fascinating, if only tantalizing, clues.  A culture is an image through which our “being” comes through.  It’s often regional in focus (think of the oxymoron international culture).  As such, “Cornbread or blueberry pie is more indicative of culture than is a multi-million dollar art gallery which is the creation of some philanthropist” (150).

In line with his Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver assumes philosophical realism, yet his defense of essences is never center-stage, and so never belabored.  He reminds us that “names are indexes to essences” (235), and essences are what form “permanent things” (against which the modern world is in full attack).

From the middle of the book onward, Weaver engages in various book reviews dealing with literature, history, and the South.  Whether they are two pages or twenty, they are a model in concise thinking.

As he ends, he reminds us what it is to be a conservative (and what most popular conservatives have lost today). We defend the essences of permanent things.  There is a hierarchical structure in the universe (albeit closer to aristocracy than today’s crude religious patriarchy).

Teaching How to Think

Since Weaver was a professor of English composition, this section (228ff) could yield some valuable insights.  Given that Weaver was a gifted prose artist, and given that he taught students how to write and think (rhetoric, in other words), what advice does he offer us today?  The section is too good and too long for any adequate review.  The reader is encouraged to digest Weaver’s The Ethics of Rhetoric.


Weaver wasn’t a shrill alarmist bemoaning how Communists are taking over the universities.  They certainly are, but the issues are deeper.  Conservatives are just as guilty (if only by incompetence rather than malice). Weaver notes of curricula that students learn “a fair introduction to the history–but not the substance–of literature and philosophy” (Weaver 34).  Let’s remain on this point.  I knew a lot of history in college and in seminary I thought I knew a fair amount of theology, but I never once had a teacher engage in a socratic dialogue concerning the meaning of essence, etc.  

* Original sin puts the breaks on “democratic reasoning.” “Democracy finds it difficult ever to say that man is wrong if he does things in large majorities” (44).

* Liberal education is designed to make free men.  It cultivates virtue and such virtue is “assimilated and grows into character through exercise, which means freedom of action in a world in which not all things are good” (198-199).

Key Insights

The technocracy (ruled today by the cult of Experts) makes it hard to be a person.   “Man is an organism, not a mechanism; and the mechanical pacing of his life does harm to his human responses, which naturally follow a kind of free rhythm” (75).

* “To divinize an institution is to make it eventually an idol, and an idol always demands tribute” (153).

* “Wisdom is never taught directly; indoctrination often backfires; propaganda ends by drawing contempt upon itself” (227).

* “Future teaches got trained not in what they were going to teach, but in how they should teach it, and that, I repeat, is a very limited curriculum” (223).

Visions of Order (Richard Weaver)

Weaver, Richard M. Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time.  Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, repring 1995.

Weaver’s thesis is the inner order of the soul reflects the outer order of society.  Values are teleological and hierarchically ordered. All cultures have a center, and this center produces an ordered hierarchy (Weaver 12). This is inevitable, for were it not for this center, which by definition discriminates, cultures would disintegrate.  Indeed, “The inner organizations of a structured society act as struts and braces and enable it to withstand a blow which would shatter the other” (18).

Weaver draws upon Aristotle’s notion of entelechy, a binding and intentionality that things have.  A culture can make room for the democratic element, but a pure democratic element can never save a culture.  Specifically, democracy cannot integrate subcultures as quantitative units (14). When “democracy fills the entire horizon,” it produces a hatred for difference.

Definition of culture: an exclusive self-defining creation that defines society’s imaginative life. It does not express itself in equality but in a common participation from “different levels and through different vocations” (18). Cultures have styles, and both must have stability.  “True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance…rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings.” — “Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy” (19).

His chapter “Status and Function” demonstrates the difference between a culture of the forms and order versus one of “the now.” “The status of a thing is its attained nature and quality” (24). In society this manifests itself in aristocracy, either official or unofficial.  Aristocracies must perform a function, otherwise they degenerate.

Aristocracies are good but they can crystallize into something terrible.  We see this in the caste system of India and the slave system of the Old South. This happens when a culture divinizes its own creations.

Weaver’s most important chapter is his one of Total War.  Total War is when democracy is applied to war. Old Man, chivalrous man, knew there were distinctions in society, which meant some people were off limits.  Democracy by definition flattens all distinctions–no one should be off limits.

Total War isn’t just the negation of the just war principle; it defeats the whole point of going to war. If you go to war, then you must have a rationale for war.  There is a decision involved, which means an arbitration. Total war reverses this. Victory was already had from the beginning. You just have to apply it to the other side.

Weaver completely refutes the line that total war ends up saving more lives.  Maybe it does in some cases, but that negates the whole point. You don’t go to war to save lives, otherwise there wouldn’t be any war!

Total war also negates civilization.  In order for civilization to arise, there must be restraints in society. These allow society to flourish.  Total war removes all these restraints, and so removes the basis for civilization.

Weaver’s prose, as always, is near-perfect.  That makes the book a difficult read at times, as he overwhelms you with perfect prose and close logic.  Still, this was a delightful and stirring read.

Politically Incorrect Guide to English Literature

Kantor, Elizabeth. The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2006.

While Kantor provides good analyses of Shakespeare and others, the book’s key strengths, like all the books in the P.I.G. series, lie in its structure: books you should read, concepts “they” (e.g., Deep State Marxists) don’t want you to know, etc.

On Shakespeare

“Shakespeare celebrates the limits that define us” (77). Shakespeare, unlike postmoderns, believes in “nature.”

Sonnets.  If we can wax ironic and use postmodern categories, the Sonnets are the dark “Other” to the comedies. Sex is very dangerous when handled outside of its proper boundaries. Some notes on the structure: In Italian sonnets there is a “turn” between the octave and sestet.

The Seventeenth Century

John Donne.  

John Milton. “Temptation is the theme of Milton’s poetry” (93).  “Milton’s heroic ideal” is patient obedience

2oth Century, including American Literature

Good section on Oscar Wilde and his decadent friends.  “Aestheticism” meant art for art’s sake; there is no outside meaning.  If we apply this to ourselves, and see our life as art, then we don’t have meaning, either.  

Kantor captured the essence of the South perfectly.  You can’t escape original sin by programs and agendas and trying to be Woke.  Similarly, a flawed culture like the South is superior to no culture at all. With that said, I normally dislike stories by O’Connor and Faulkner.  I just can’t take Steam-of-Consciousness seriously. 

Do it Yourself

Reed’s Rule.  When reading a poem, sometimes ask yourself, “Why is this word, and no other, in this place, and no other place” (218)? 

It is more important to know terms like “Iambic pentameter,” “epic simile,” and Spenserian stanza, not “binaries,” “reception history,” and “imaginary” (as a noun) (222).

Books They Don’t Want You To Read

Lewis, C. S. Allegory of Love.
Stark, Rodney. Victory of Reason.
Pearce, Joseph. The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde.
Kimball, Roger. Tenured Radicals.
Horowitz, David. The Professors.

At War with the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education , by R. V. Young, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1999.
Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities , by John M. Ellis, Yale University Press, 1999.
The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, Harper SanFrancisco, 2001.
A Student’s Guide to Literature , by R. V. Young, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language by Miriam Joseph Rauh, Paul Dry, 2002.

Books You Shouldn’t Miss

Medieval Literature

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales.

Langland, Piers Plowman

Gawain and the Green Knight

Malory, Morte d’Arthur

Renaissance Literature

Spenser, Edmund. Faerie Queene.

Sidney, Philip. Defense of Poesy.

Shakespeare, everything.

Seventeenth Century

John Donne, Songs and Sonnets, Holy Sonnets

Herbert, George. The Temple

Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost.

Restoration and Eighteenth Century

Dryden, John.  Absalom and Achitophel

Pope, Alexander. Rape of the Lock

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s travels.

Johnson, Samuel. Preface to Shakespeare

A Mini Course in American Literature

While American literature can never compete with English literature, she does offer a good course in it.  Read the following:

O’Connor: “Everything that Rises Must Converge”

Faulkner: “Barn Burning”
Poe: “Cask of Amontillado”
Hemingway: “Big Two-Hearted River”
Hawthorne: “Young Goodman Brown”
Dickinson: “The Soul Selects Her Own Society”
Whitman: “A Noiseless Patient Spider”
Frost: “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
Pound: “In Station of the Metro”

A Student’s Guide to Literature

Young, R. V. A Student’s Guide to Literature. Wilmington, DE: InterCollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.

The first part of the book(let) is mediocre.  The second part of the book(let) borders on outstanding.  It only borders, though. The author will tell us that X believed Y, but never demonstrates it from X’s work.The first part is a collection of one paragraph bios on major literary figures.  It attempts (but does not succeed) in connecting them with key literary devices.  

His argument is that the essence of literature is mimesis or representation. From this he begins with Homer, showing the key techne of each major writer.  That’s what he tries to do. I don’t think he is successful.  He does explain each writer and some key literary concepts, but we never really see how that writer used those concepts.

For example, he has a good paragraph explaining Cervantes and then moves directly to the Iliad (although he had already dealt with Homer).  The reader is left confused.

The Good

* I do give him credit for noting Neoplatonic elements in Milton’s Comus (and his corpus). 

* There is a decent annotated bibliography at the end.

* It ends with a section on literary criticism, noting its beginning in English with Sir Philip Sidney. Assuming he is correct, the following literary criticism breaks down accordingly:

Sidney: rethinks Aristotelian tradition through Italian humanism.

T.S. Eliot: influenced the American New Criticism/Southern Agrarian criticism.


Edmund Burke: Lectures French Revolution

Image result for edmund burke french revolution

Burke addresses a rather thorny problem: on what grounds can he contend for the English Revolution of 1688 while condemning the French Revolution of 1789? No matter what answer he gives, he will have to own up to the fact that the British did remove a king. Granting that, however, there are some notable differences.

Burke isn’t against all changes, for he notes that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation” (Burke 21). Burke holds this possibility of change in conjunction with the principle of a hereditary crown. It is a hereditary crown that grounds the ancient liberties as hereditary right (25). In other words, the common good moves through the crown and not through a majority vote. It was the line of the Stuarts that threatened this ancient liberty. Therefore, to restore the ancient liberties, it had to restore the Crown back to its role.

The English maintained, and the French lost, that idea of “cultivating virtue” within proper spheres of hierarchy. France abandoned the idea of moral equality and sought “that monstrous fiction” which only embitters real inequality (37). “France has not sacrificed her virtue to interest; but she has abandoned her interest, that she might prostitute her virtue” (37).

Concerning inequality, we must insist on a natural hierarchy. “But whilst I revere men in the functions which belong to them, and would do, as much as one man can do, to prevent their exclusion from any, I cannot, to flatter them, give the lie to nature” (44). Further, hierarchy helps us grow in virtue. Burke continues: “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind (47).

On Human Rights

Burke defines a right as “whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself….He has equal rights but not a share to equal things” (59). This is an important safeguard, for as he warns on the next page: “By having a right to everything, they want everything” (60).

Burke points out that the revolution destroyed not only the ancient institutions, but the principles under girding them.

Burke’s groundwork (Grundrisse? With apologies to Marx) is that man is a religious animal and a stable society must safeguard the religious institutions (or as we would say today, networks). He notes: “We are resolved to keep an established church, an established monarchy, an established aristocracy, and an established democracy, each in the degree that it exists, and in no greater” (91). I’ve seen some Libertarian friends claim Burke as their own. This cannot be so. Burke, though he inconsistently despises metaphysics, believes in an ordered realm of goods. Religious stability is a more preferable good than buying cheap plastic junk from China.

Critique and Analysis

Our hearts thrill at Burke’s prose. There can be no doubt of that. Unfortunately, Burke was not the most powerful thinker of the age and while England was spared the horrors of “democracy,” Burke never really gave a coherent alternative.

Men as disparate from Plato to Lincoln argued from genus, which is an argument made from the nature of the thing. Burke, unfortunately, argued from “the facts surrounding the case.” These facts determined the strongest premise of his argument.

His defense of the English Revolution of 1688 illustrates the problem. By precedent England had a generational defense and practice of property and rights that are upheld by the monarchy. All well and good. In fact, paradoxically, England took up arms to prove they didn’t have the right to overthrow the government. Here is Burke’s problem: “What line do the precedents mark out for us? How may we know that this particular act is in conformity with the body of precedents unless we can abstract the essence of the precedent? And if one extracts the essence of the precedent, does not one have a speculative idea” (Weaver)?

Burke pointed out that participation in political power “does not belong to the rights of man, because men have a right to good government, and there is no necessary connection between good government and government by the many.” If anything, the rights of men point to a natural aristocracy (Strauss 298).

That’s good. Unfortunately, Burke held to the British sensualist view of art, which specifically denied a connection between intellectual beauty (e.g., mathematical proportions) and sensible beauty (312). This explains why he doesn’t like French gardens. They are too geometrical and not “natural.” There is something to be said for the country aesthetics of some British gardens. I think that is true. Unfortunately for Burke, applied to his whole system, the result is an emancipation of sentiment from reason.

Eric Voegelin: In Search of Order

Image result for voegelin in search of order

Voegelin, Eric. In Search of Order, Volume V of Order and History. 5 vols. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

This is Eric Voegelin’s unfinished conclusion to his Order and History series.  He gives us just enough clues as to what he probably meant without a complete explanation.  While little more than 100 pages, this is a dense read.

A note on language: “Beyond” for Voegelin and Plato is similar to what Christians mean when they say God is hyper-ousia.

Man participates in being not in the sense that there is an object “man” and an object “being,” but rather “a part of being capable of experiencing itself as such” (OH 1:1-2).  Man’s participation in being is a reflexive tension in his existence (is this what Maximus means by the expansion/diastolic and contraction/systolic of being?).

Voegelin’s thesis hinges on the dynamic interplay between It-reality and Thing-reality.  Thing-reality is fairly obvious: it is the world as object. It-reality requires some Platonic metaphysics: it is the methexis, the participation.  It is the reality that comprehends partners-in-being (Voegelin 16).

Let’s unpack that. The enemies in metaphysics are those who take legitimate symbols (e.g., Plato’s nous) and absolutize and hypostatize them.  In other words, they treat reality as an object of consciousness rather than the event of participation. This will make more sense when we discuss Hegel and Marx.

“The order of history is the history of order.”  

Gnostics, our enemies, either try to abolish reality altogether and escape into “the Beyond,” or they try to bring the Beyond into our reality now.  The first is ancient Gnosticism. The latter is post-Hegelian, Marxist, and Cultural Marxist gnosticism (37).

Philosophical symbols either shed light on our quest for order, or they are manipulative and turn metaphysics into a deformative task.  Some of these symbols are nouse, amamnesis, etc.

The German Revolution

The Germans wanted to access being in a purely subject-object mode. They created a new symbol, speculation, in order to do it. Speculation allowed the observer to stand outside the field of historical consciousness.  Whereas each man had to participate (or not) in the “Beyond” as himself, now man would be forced to participate in the new observer’s own speculation. In other words, you have to participate in the structure of my own thought.  As Hegel noted, “once the realm of perception [Vorstellung] is revolutionized, reality cannot hold out” (quoted in Voegelin 51).

The second half of the book explores various Hellenistic accounts of Being. Voegelin died before he finished this part, so the arguments aren’t always focused or in context, erudite they may be otherwise.

Mnemosyne: the dimension of consciousness of the Beyond (72).

Eric Voegelin (Plato and Aristotle)

Voegelin’s account of Plato differs from the usual textbook accounts in that he goes beyond the facile claim that “Plato believed in the realm of Forms” to the reality that the soul manifests the idea through mythological symbols. Yes, Plato did believe in the realm of Forms, but that doesn’t say a whole lot. The more interesting problem is tying Plato’s use of forms to his use of myth.

And that’s what Voegelin does. He gives a remarkably lucid and sophisticated organization of Plato’s key works, especially The Republic, Timeaus, and Laws. Regarding the Republic he notes the primarily line of meaning in Plato’s work is between ascent and descent: Plato descends to speak with his friends and only with difficulty can he ascend to the order of the soul.

Which brings us to a key point: The Idea. The soul is the idea of the form of the cosmos instantiated in lesser souls. The idea is Plato’s reality and is embodied in the historically existing polis (272). The “Spirit” must manifest itself in the “visible, finite form of an organized society” (281; despite his hostility to Hegel Voegelin is starting to sound a lot like Hegel).

The Republic

“The Way Up and the way Down”

The drama begins with a movement down into the city, which movement symbolizes the “depth and descent” into the soul (107).

“The Resistance to Corrupt Society”

Plato wants to show us not so much the philosophy of right order, but the light that truth shines upon the struggle.

  1. Pairs of Concepts:
    1. Justice and Vice
    2. Justice and Much-Doing
    3. Alethia and pseudos
      1. A polis is in order when it is ruled by men with well-ordered souls.
  2. The Sophistic doxa of Justice
    1. The primary problem is not an error about justice, but a “shift of what we called ‘the accent of reality’ under social pressure” (133).

The Creation of Order

  1. The Zetema: conceptual illumination of the way up from the depth of existence (137).
    1. These symbols have “variegated structures” that correspond to the stage of clarification.

      Man = polis
      Daemon = ruler
      Paradigm of life = politea
  2. The Foundation Play
  3. The Cognitive Inquiry
    1. A polis always has a typical form
    2. “There is no knowledge of order in the soul except through the zetema in which the soul discovers it by growing into it” (149).
      1. Politea: the animating psyche in the polis
  4. The Poleogony: a mythological parable about the development of the polis
    1. “The polis has a genesis” (151).
    2. Attempt to make relations of forces in the psyche intelligible through a story of their genesis.
  5. Models of Soul and Society (163).

Myth for Plato draws from and upon the powers of unconsciousness. The symbols of the myth are not meant to be taken as wooden epistemological objects (241). They are the reality “broken in the medium of consciousness” (246).

Aristotle appears to get short shrift in this volume, but in many ways Voegelin handles Aristotle more lucidly than he does Plato–and Aristotle isn’t quite the deep thinker that Plato is. This book is very good but I got the impression that Voegelin deliberately “floated around” getting to the heart of the forms. Further, in some areas he sounds a lot like Hegel. That’s not a criticism; just an observation that should come into play when one reads Voegelin’s famous essay on Hegel the Sorcerer.

So is Plato a totalitarian? Not exactly, since his “totalitarian” views in the Republic probably never could come to fruition given his other view that only few men could “contain the Idea.”

Longer Outline


In the Timeaus Plato needs a new myth.  Myth for Plato draws from and upon the powers of unconsciousness.

  1. The  Egyptian Myth; the myth of nature has cosmic rhythms (228).  
    1. Socrates’ act of transmission symbolizes “the dimension of the unconscious in depth by tracing the myth through the levels of the collective soul of the people” (232).  
  2. The Plan of the Dialogues
  3. The Philosophy of the Myth
    1. In Timeaus man’s “psyche” has reached “critical consciousness of the methods by which it symbolizes its own experiences” (237).
    2. The Timeaus projects the soul on the larger canvas of the cosmos.
    3. The symbols of the myth are not meant to be taken as wooden epistemological objects (241).
    4. They are the reality “broken in the medium of consciousness” (246).  
  4. The Myth of the myth in Timeaus
    1. The descent to Egypt symbolizes the descent of the Soul.
    2. Cosmos belongs to realm of becoming yet it participates in Being.
    3. Eternal being is “embedded” in the cosmos.
      1. Psyche is the intermediate realm between disembodied form and shapeless matter.
  5. The Myth of the Incarnation in the Timeaus
    1. Being does not precede becoming in time.  It is eternally present (254).
    2. Substratum: has no qualities of its own.  Plato calls it “space” (chora). It is a female principle.
      1. Creation, therefore, is the imposition of form on space.
      2. The Demiurge corresponds to the Royal Ruler.
  6. The Critias
    1. Chaos has now become co-eternal with the Idea.
    2. “Atlantis is the component of becoming in historical order, so that the fall of Atlantis is the fall of Athens from true Being” (262).
      1. The dream of Utopia is black magic.


The chains of thought in Plato’s system are dependent on key symbols (270).

Nomos: deeply embedded in the myth of nature; includes, festivals, rites, and cosmic order. It is the “pull of the golden cord” (289).

Idea: the idea is Plato’s reality and is embodied in the historically existing polis (272).  The “Spirit” must manifest itself in the “visible, finite form of an organized society” (281; Voegelin is starting to sound a lot like Hegel).

Key Symbols

Sun motif: symbol of the turning points in cosmic rhythm.

Symbolism “contracts” throughout Plato’s dialogue.  The contraction is the Idea’s embodiment in the polis.

Nous: derives from nomoi.  The movement of the cycles has come to an end.

Plato contrasts noble and vile, not rulers and ruled (303).