November 1916, meditation one

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There is no way to do an adequate review of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s November 1916.  I’ve decided to break it in numerous smaller segments so I can reflect on his teachings.  Every page is Truth.

If August 1914was specifically about the encirclement and defeat of Russia, November 1916 explores more of the causes leading to Lenin. There was no fixing Russia.  Solzhenitsyn is clear.  He outlines several probable courses of action, but there was little chance of their being enacted.

Solzhenitsyn continues his “nodal theory of history,” and in these nodes we see tinier knots within the knot.  One of these sub-knots is the problem of the Old Believers, illustrated in a dialogue between Sanya and a chaplain. The Old Believers were Russian Christians who maintained that their traditions were unchanged from time immemorial.  Consequently, they opposed the reforms of Patriarch Nikon.

The Old Believers specific arguments and praxis were often wanting, but the evidence was on their side.  In any case, the Tsars, otherwise orthodox good men, attacked them and relegated them to the edge of society.  As a result, Russia lost its most pious and monarchical section of society. It also lost a fighting segment whose frenzy in battle could have stopped the Communists.

Unfortunately, the Russian establishment (and church) didn’t simply attack the Old Believers’ bodies.  They targeted their souls as well.  Sanya mused: “If they refuse communion–burn them: that was Sofia’s decree. If they take communion under protest–burn them afterward. Lower jaws were wrenched open and the ‘true host’ stuffed down their throats.  For fear of weakening, of accepting the sacrilegious element, they had sometimes set fire to themselves” (Solzhenitsyn 43).

It isn’t surprising that the Old Believers saw the establishment as the Antichrist. Sanya continued his musing by thinking “Maybe we trampled the finest of our race.  Maybe there was no schism.”

From there the narrative moves to an attack on Tolstoy, which is right and proper to do. After the proper bashing of Tolstoy, the priest explains, quite correctly, that war is not the greatest evil.  Tolstoy said abolishing the state, while entailing smaller evils, would get rid of the greatest of evils.  This is not so. The state was created to protect us from violence (53). 

War isn’t the vilest of evils.  “An unjust trial, for instance, that scalds the outraged heart, is viler…Or the ordeal at the hands of a torturer. When you can neither cry out nor fight back….All these things are spiritually dirtier and more terrible than war” (53).

We choose not between war and evil, but peace and evil. War is just a specialized form of evil, limited in time and space.

Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War

This is the best book on geopolitics ever written.  It’s very difficult, too.  His style isn’t that difficult and the subject matter is straightforward.  The difficulty, as the school of Leo Strauss would later point out, is a dialectic between a surface reading and a deeper reading.  

Part of the book’s popularity is the parallel to the American Empire, prompting such devices as a “Thucydides Trap.” Will American overextend itself and force China to attack it?  I think that line of questioning is wrong, but the parallels remain.  America, like Athens, is a sea-based power (in the classical Halford Mackinder sense).  America, like Athens, believes in spreading Democracy by force whether others want it or not.  America, like Athens, doesn’t really practice democracy.

We also see in Athens the “rhetoric of empire.” We must rule you because if we don’t someone will rule us. 

The fatal moment for Athens is the invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Syracuse.

The first set of causes is the Corcyraen and Potidean affairs.  This put Athens in a bind.  On one hand, they were bound to a peace treaty and couldn’t get involved by helping Corinth.  They decided to risk open confrontation because they couldn’t risk Sparta’s allies gaining that much power (I.44ff).  Corinth, Sparta’s ally, saw this as Athen’s breaking a peace treaty (56).

Thucydides gives a penetrating analysis of Athenian democracy. He points out that democracy and empire are connected. In the aftermath both sides then recruit their vassals and allies to prepare for war against the other.

Key idea: “War is not so much a matter of armament as of the finance which gives effect to that armament, especially when a land power meets a sea power” (83).  Sparta fears that Athens is getting too powerful and has to act before it is too late (118).  Athens, on the other hand, knows (or at least believes) that it can “outspend Sparta to death.”

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Platea was hostile to Thebes, so the Thebans launched a pre-emptive strike to seize the key ground (II.2). Athens saw this action as breaking the peace treaty, so she began preparing for war.

The highlight of the first year of war is Pericles’ speech to the Athenians (II.35). It’s beautiful, but whitewashed, since his noble talk of democracy doesn’t include slaves or women.

Sections 48ff show the effect of plague upon the war.  It hampered Athens’ war effort, but more importantly it illustrated the social decay.  In times of plague and crisis, men reduce to their natural levels (II.53).

The book ends with Athens in chaos.  Sparta could have really exploited the situation and conquered most of Greece.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.  The democracy in Athens begins eating itself, which I suspect is the nature of democracy.

Pericles is the main figure of this narrative.  He is honest about empire.  Athens is an empire.  We shouldn’t be fooled by silly talk about democracy.  The danger with empire is that when you lose it, your enemies smell blood.  Pericles notes: “The empire you possess is now like a tyranny–dangerous to let go” (63).

Later on Athens is even more crass (but honest) in its desire for empire. She tells the Melians: “If the independents survive, it is because we are (perceived) as too frightened to attack them….It is particularly important that we, as a naval power, should not let islanders get away from us, especially you in your weak position” (V:97).

If that leaves it in any doubt, Athens goes on to say, “We dominate people at home so that others should not control us” (VI:87).

Conclusion

It’s hard to overstate this book’s importance.  It isn’t simply military history.  It explores what happens to a society during war time.  Social morals often reflect external situations.

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.

Ship of Fools (Tucker Carlson)

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This is not a Fox news rant.  Tucker indicts both Left and Right in the current crisis.  While he doesn’t use the language of “Deep State,” both Left and Right are in the Deep State.  The key to his thesis is in answering the following question: Why did America elect Donald Trump?  The Left will say because they are racists and all.  Well, maybe, but why Trump?

Even if they are racists, why couldn’t they choose someone more traditionally Republican?  The people knew that Trump, despite all of his faults, didn’t create the problems in America.  The current leadership–collectively defined as the Left/Right status quo, the media, the universities, etc.–did.  As Tucker says, “Ignore voters long enough and you get Donald Trump.”  Our elites haven’t listened.

Tucker opposes illegal immigration, of course, but he points out that liberals have traditionally opposed it.  That’s because liberals used to favor the working man, and when you have a glut of workers on the market who will work for less, wages go down.  It’s the law of supply and demand.  That is why big corporations favor unrestricted immigration.

War

While Tucker drops truth bombs on every page, this is his finest chapter.  It’s also in this chapter where he takes Republicans to task (I dare not call them conservatives).  The Right doesn’t have a monopoly on war.  Leftists today are as pro-war as Bill Kristol.   That wasn’t always the case.

Liberals in the past opposed war because they knew the human cost.  “Yes, they were hysterical, inconsistent, and simplistic, and often motivated by a dislike of their own country.  But on a basic level they were right: war is not the [long-term] answer; it’s a means to an end, and a very costly one.”  War is also complicated. “Violence tends to create chain reactions that move in unpredictable directions.”

This also explains why the Deep State turned on Donald Trump.  You can even isolate the precise moment.  It was February 13, 2016.  Trump said, “We should have never been in Iraq.  We have destabilized the entire Middle East.”    (This leads Tucker into a fascinating digression on Bill Kristol and the Neo-Conservative movement.  For all of Kristol’s faults and utter incompetence in foreign policy, he at least studied under intellectuals like Strauss and originally represented a sane centrist policy.  The Middle East wars forever discredited him.  If he is bad, Bob Kagan was worse.)

The rest of the book describes the environmental crisis (both real and imagined), transgender politics (which ultimately hurts women), the attack on men’s financial well-being (which also hurts women), and the like.

This is actually a compassionate book.  Tucker knows that the downtrodden in rural America are hurting (those are the groups that Woke Evangelicals avoid in their summer mission trips).  And he wants to make it better.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War

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Prelude:

A good general will control the following five aspects of war.

Moral Law

Heaven–binaries, night and day, etc.

Earth–represents distance

Commander = virtue of wisdom

Method and discipline = subdivision of armies

In good Puritan, Ramist fashion (I realize Sun wasn’t a Puritan.  It’s a joke. Chill), Sun Tzu gives list after list of how to achieve victory in battle.  Within each list are more divisions. Yet he never loses control of the argument and occasionally speaks in wise, concrete terms.  It’s quite refreshing at times.

Warfare is successful by using speed and deception.  Hold out baits. Feign disorder, and then crush the enemy.

He gives practical advice for setting up camps, using terrain to your advantage, and avoiding costly campaigns against fortified cities.

Controlling the Energy of War

He writes, “The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.”  Energy is like the bending of a crossbow. Decision is the trigger.

It’s fascinating to reflect that the greatest generals mirrored some of Sun’s advice without being aware of it.  Nathan Bedford Forrest, for example, could barely read and write, yet he positioned his artillery and troops in such a way at Brice’s Crossing that it was called “the perfect battle.”  Stonewall Jackson would often hide his movements and plans from his own men, just as Sun suggested.

 

Review: Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting:  carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books.  I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes: 1) Control: 2) Authority  3) Covenant presence. 

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics.  He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic:  man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God. 

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications.  I am not going to give a summary of each commandment.  Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences.  Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW.  Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471). 

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories.  Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.” 

What about temple worship?  Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods. 

In his discussion of the Decalogue he hints at a rebuttal of Kline’s “Intrusion Ethics.” Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice.  Well, yes and no.  True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. Frame notes that we “do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace” (535). Is this a time or sphere of common grace?  But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel. 

Is Kline talking about government?  Perhaps, and a holy government is one that bears “the divine name” and “the promise of being crowned with consummation glory” (Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 96). But does Scripture ever describe a government as such? Israel is a “chosen people,” to be sure, but is the nation itself promised with consummation glory?

In any case, as Frame notes, nothing in Genesis 4-9 suggests a distinction between holy and nonholy governments (536).  And even if it did, that wouldn’t help explain how the modern magistrate, who might happen to be a Christian, is to rule.  What does it mean to rule according to common grace?  How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one?  General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

An Army of Psalm Chanters

Taken from an old post on Jim Jordan, with some new material.

But let us consider what a Christian view of the Church would be. It would be a place of transformation, not merely of information. Marshaling the people into an army of psalm chanters would be at the top of the list. Indeed, in seminary several psalms would be chanted every day in chapel. The music in the church would be loud, fast, vigorous, instrumental, martial. There would be real feasts. People would be taught that when God splashes water on you, He’s really doing something: He’s putting you into His rainbow.

Elsewhere Jordan says

I should like to offer what I regard as a considerable caveat. I do not believe that men who sing pop choruses or plodding Trinity Hymnal songs on Sunday can get very far into Luther or Calvin, or for that matter Turretin. Men whose personal opinion is that society can be left to the devil cannot really get into the outlook of the Reformers.

I submit that it is important to have some feel for what people were singing and how they were singing it at various times in history. Is it a coincidence that “Reformed scholasticism” began to develop at the same time that the fiery dance-like chorales and psalms of the Reformation began to die down into slow, plodding, even-note mush? It is a coincidence that the “Puritans” had problems with assurance of salvation, given their destruction of enthusiastic singing? I don’t think so. People who sing the psalms as real war chants, as war dances that precedebattle, don’t have problems with assurance and don’t have time for scholasticism. Neither do people with strong, fully-sung liturgies.

EO guys used to attack me on assurance.  “Well, how can you know?”  Well, there you have it.