SPOGBOLT   |   Location: Newfoundland, Canada

August 06, 2007

No posting for the time being

Posting on this blog is in abeyance because I am ill.

July 26, 2007

Plato: A.E. Taylor vs. P.E. More

To the newcomer to the study of Plato it is remarkable how much disagreement there is, among even the most respected authorities, as to what Platonism actually is. For example, A.E. Taylor cited Paul Elmore More (see July 13 post) as one of the indispensable authors on Platonism, yet Taylor's interpretation is in at least one crucial way almost the opposite of More's.

An essential feature of More's Platonism, as found in his book of that same name, was that it was dualistic, holding that God formed the world out of a non-divine matter ruled by "necessity" (and thereby resembling matter as now understood by physics). This dualism represented a definite advance, More believes, over the monistic pantheism of the pre-Socratic Parmenides and his defender Zeno. It is a kind of middle way between pure materialism and pure idealism. Such dualism provides a solution to the problem of evil: evil is the fault of the resistance of matter to being formed into a perfect cosmos. This seems like an attractive solution in that it avoids the need, fraught with spiritual danger, to postulate the existence of a malevolent second god, as in Manichaeanism or other kinds of Gnosticism (or for that matter the Christian idea of the Devil). No such malign higher power is necessary to account for evil; one must only grasp the tendency of matter to relapse into chaos if left to its own devices, or in the terms of modern science, entropy. In the words of More, the world is a good, ordered place insofar as is allowed by "natural necessity consenting and yielding to the persuasion of reason."

For More, Platonic dualism also covers ethics, which he regards as the central concern of Platonism and the key to understanding it as an integrated whole. (For example, the Republic is on one level a utopian blueprint, but more essentially, More holds, it is an examination of the otherwise hidden inner natures of various kinds of individual souls by drawing analogies with the more visible and familiar structures of various kinds of city-states.) Each of the three pairs of ethical concepts,

virtue morality
opinion knowledge

indicates two fundamentally different entities—though this does not mean that the two (for example, pleasure and happiness) can never be found together. The first member of each pair is the natural counterpart of the second, 'divine' member. And each of these three natural attributes is associated with the mortal, pleasure-driven component of a dualistic Platonic soul, while each divine attribute is linked to the higher, immortal part of that soul.

By contrast, A.E. Taylor (in Platonism and its Influence) in effect regards dualism, at least as far as the doctrine of Creation is concerned, as merely an Aristotelian deviation from Plato. "Plato . . . teaches 'creation' in the sense that he regards the existence of the whole universe and everything in it as an effect of one single cause, the divine goodness, exactly as Thomas [Aquinas] himself does." Aristotle on the other hand "makes the universe a resultant of two equally eternal causes, God, the source of the motion by which 'Form' or 'structure' is evoked or induced, and the structureless 'first matter,' . . . from which or upon which the First Mover evokes or superinduces 'Form.' (pp 123–124). Each author praises Plato for holding the view which that author favours, but the two views do not seem compatible.

(To further add to the confusion, More regards the neo-Platonists as having regressed from dualism to monism, while Taylor seems to overlook any basic distinction between Plato and the neo-Platonists on this point.)

July 16, 2007

Half of kids in Ontario Crown care are drugged

Here are some edited extracts from a Globe and Mail article (June 9, subscription only) on the officially sponsored doping of children in Canada, with particular reference to those who find themselves wards of the Crown in Ontario. (H/T: Epoch Times. Full article, by Margaret Philp, obtained from Psychdata.) One one hand, the problem seems rapidly to be getting worse; on the other, at least some people in authority acknowledge its existence . . . . CONTINUE

July 13, 2007

The central position of Plato

The now little-known Paul Elmer More (see for example this article by Brian Domitrovic) was one of the leading American conservative thinkers of the early part of the twentieth century. His major work was a series of volumes on "the Greek tradition from the death of Socrates to the Council of Chalcedon", an attempt to provide a philosophical history of Western culture, through both its Hellenic and Christian phases, that has some parallels to Voegelin's (much larger) project. More's work seems more accessible, however, than that of Voegelin, whose manner is often less that of a systematic teacher than of someone discussing ideas with which the reader is assumed already to be familiar. Reading More might be a good way of learning about Platonist philosophy.

Here is More issuing a kind of "Platonist manifesto": . . . . CONTINUE

July 11, 2007

New piece by Theodore Dalrymple

Here—from a comparatively obscure source, the Nova-Scotia-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies—is a new article by Theodore Dalrymple, based on a speech he recently gave to the Civitas conference in Halifax: The Paradoxes of Cultural Confidence: Is Western Culture in Decline? (pdf format).

July 10, 2007

Pagan transcendentalism

(Revised post)

. . . . [E]ven if Plato is not describing true creation ex nihilo, it seems clear that the 'raw material' on which Plato's Creator worked is so formless that it must make little difference to his transcendent status. If the Creator is 'in' the world, it is only the world in an utterly chaotic and dead form, not the world with which we are familiar. In the Timaeus, even the immortality of the gods, let alone the immortality of the souls of mortals, remains dependent on the goodness of the Creator; it is not an inherent property of souls . . . . Plato [also] distinguishes the divine part of man, created directly by the Creator, from man's mortal components, the creation of which is delegated to the lesser gods. Should this belief not strongly encourage respect for the essential core of the individual, irrespective of "physical or social facts"? Does this not call into question Voegelin's claims about the key advance in consciousness represented by Christianity? CONTINUE

July 07, 2007

D.H. Lawrence on Christianity

Lawrence's Apocalypse, written when he was dying, contains his insights into the Book of Revelation. Basically he sees this as the highly influential foundation of a kind of shadow-side to the religion of love, Christianity—though he also finds in it some positive aspects, including interesting residues from lost pagan materials which he believes were used in the construction of the later Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings. In condemning the Book of Revelation, Lawrence issues a radical denunciation of Christianity as a whole, comparable to Nietzsche's. It is difficult for me to tell whether his claim is a powerful but dangerous truth or a powerful and dangerous lie, but in either case it seems an important one.

It is possible to regard Lawrence as refuting Eric Voegelin's argument about the advance in human consciousness represented by Christianity . . . . CONTINUE

July 01, 2007

Eric Voegelin (15)

Glenn Hughes on "Eric Voegelin and Christianity"

Voegelin has important things to say about Christianity but they may tend to remain buried among his copious writings. A valuable 2004 Intercollegiate Review article by Glenn Hughes, available here as a pdf file, summarizes Voegelin's assessment of the place of Christianity in the development of human consciousness . . . . CONTINUE


June 27, 2007

Fjordman on the impact of Christianity

Here (from June 19) is an interesting discussion at Gates of Vienna of the "slave morality" element in Christianity and post-Christian Western culture. Essayist Fjordman identifies both the love of feeling persecuted and feelings of cultural guilt, which are now threatening to cripple Western societies, as being rooted in Christian or Judeo-Christian ethics; he notes that our guilt feelings may now be worse than when Christianity was thriving, however, because we no longer have Christ to wash away the sins for which we feel guilty.

The critical comment by "Mike" (Michael W. Perry) following the essay is particularly significant . . . . CONTINUE

June 25, 2007

Paganism: "Spengler" out to lunch

Spengler-of-the-Asia-Times has been arguing, following Franz Rosenzweig, that "pagan society everywhere always is 'totalitarian' in character, and that Islam is a form of paganism masquerading as revealed religion." While Spengler as always provides much food for thought, his characterization of paganism, in particular of Greek paganism, is a travesty. I will focus here on what he says about individuality under paganism, ignoring his other dubious claim that paganism is a "culture of death" (which would probably have surprised the life-affirming pagan Greeks, for example—or, farther afield, the Taoist Chinese) . . . . CONTINUE

June 23, 2007

Israel as a crypto-Christian society

I have been ill lately, which is why posting has been even more irregular than usual . . . . with any luck, normal irregularity will now resume.

Paul Eidelberg asks (June 18) why Israelis have tolerated the recent succession of increasingly bad governments. He proposes that in part it is because they are mostly "Jewish humanists", by which I think that he means heirs to the modern Western Christian-based tradition who happen to be Jewish. The combination of "humanism" with Jewish moral seriousness (Eidelberg may also be implying) has unfortunate results.

Jewish humanists are really Christians without the Christian [God]. They practice with a vengeance what Christians preach: "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," "do not resist evil." One may even say that contemporary Israel is the only Christian nation on earth! When it comes to loving one's enemies, turning the other cheek, and not resisting evil, present-day Israel has no equal in the annals of human history.


June 12, 2007

Ayatollah Khomeini on patriotism

"We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah; for patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

—Ayatollah Khomeini, Qom, 1980 (according to blogger Aryamehr and many other sources; h/t American Thinker).


June 07, 2007

Robert Ingersoll on non-retaliation

A few days ago I came across the interesting-looking site infidels.org, which has online the complete works of the 19th-century American agnostic, Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll undertakes a morally serious (though perhaps not sufficiently profound) effort to discredit Christianity as unique revelation, or indeed, as far as large parts of both Old and New Testaments are concerned, as any revelation at all. As part of this project, in part I of "The Ingersoll–Black debate", Ingersoll presents an illuminating collection of positions taken on the question of nonretaliation for evil by different religions and philosophers. Here is a summary: . . . . CONTINUE


June 02, 2007

Caroline Glick on the call for a UK boycott of Israel

(Update 06/04: Melanie Phillips points out that the University and College Union is far from the only British association pushing for a boycott of Israel. In recent weeks, journalists, doctors and architects have also launched such attempts, and the public sector union Unison is poised to begin its own boycott of Israeli goods and services.)

Here is Caroline Glick:

Wednesday's decision by Britain's University and College Union to call for a boycott of Israeli universities and colleges was not only hypocritical. It was suicidal.

. . . . By calling for a boycott of Israeli universities, Britain's academic establishment is turning its back not only on Israel, but on Britain. When Britain's professoriate rejects Israel's right to exist as a Jewish, democratic nation-state and glorifies Palestinian society which supports global jihad and the destruction of Western civilization, it is rejecting the British state.

They are embracing a culture founded on a rejection of the culture and traditions that have formed Britain since the Magna Carta was issued in 1215. For the past 800 years, Britain has stood for individual liberty and freedom of inquiry - at least for the British themselves. In universities like Oxford and Cambridge, it was this humanist spirit and the justified national and cultural pride it nurtured which facilitated Britain's rise to international power. By boycotting Israel, which itself embodies these British ideals, the British are abrogating their own traditions of openness. Consequently, they are destroying themselves.

—From Real Clear Politics.

The Hellenic moment in ancient Christianity (2)

Together, the primitive and monastic phases of Christianity can be defined to cover virtually the whole lifespan of the Western Roman Empire; the first monastic community of St. Pachomius in 320, for example, was founded within a few years of the legalization of Christianity. Wedged between these two periods, however, and to some extent overlapping with them, was a "Hellenic" (or Hellenic conversion) phase, dated by Peter Brown at 300–363 A.D. During this period, Christianity seemed to become reconciled with the pre-existing Greco-Roman civilization, and absorbed aspects of that civilization. The resulting changes that Christianity went through continued to have an effect on the religion later on as well. To a great extent, though, Christianity (especially in the West) soon renounced those Hellenic influences, so that "Hellenic Christianity" has quite a different flavour from the familiar traditional kind—for example, in its willingness to appeal to unaided human reason . . . . CONTINUE

May 30, 2007

The Hellenic moment in ancient Christianity (1)

In a recent comment I cited a book which describes how Western Christianity absorbed a great deal of Germanic pagan culture following the collapse of the Roman Empire, and how what we now think of as traditional Christianity took on a Germanic martial tinge as a result. In that post I referred to the Christianity of the Empire as "primitive" Christianity, as distinguished from the later Germanized kind. Actually, this is much too simplistic, as is shown in Peter Brown's well-known and valuable (also, readable and not very long) work, The World of Late Antiquity (1971).

While Brown does not set out an explicit scheme, he seems to divide the history of Christianity in the Roman Empire into three phases, only the first of which can rightfully be called "primitive". This was Christianity in its first two centuries, until about 300 A.D. . . . . CONTINUE

May 26, 2007

Boys forced to wear dresses in Sweden

Well-known Norwegian blogger Fjordman reports that according to Swedish journalist Kurt Lundgren, some Swedish preschools are requiring boys to wear dresses during certain weeks, as part of a Swedish Teachers' Union initiative to promote equal regard for homosexuality, transsexuality, etc., among three- to six-year-olds. Lundgren considers this to be child abuse. You think it won't happen in North America? Just wait a few years. In the meantime, one might spare a few thoughts for the continuing state-sanctioned doping of several million North American children—mainly boys—with "kiddie cocaine" (Ritalin).

May 17, 2007

A popular check on the Commons (3)

(b) The direct-democratic check

A principle driving the encroachment on representative institutions by political parties seems to be that representative democracy breaks down when the voters want to make decisions directly, as they nowadays do in the case of the choice of one or other party to form the government . . . .

As suggested in the previous post, it is plausible that severing the electoral accountability of representatives, by limiting them to single terms of office, would produce a degree of independence from both parties and constituents on the part of the representatives . . . .

The other possible approach is not to elect representatives at all, but to embrace (in this branch of government) some form of direct democracy, resembling that of the ancient city-states. The popular will is ascertained either by a referendum in which the whole electorate can participate, or by establishing a randomly selected political jury as a representative body . . . . CONTINUE


May 15, 2007

A popular check on the Commons (2)

The nature of the popular assembly

How might one establish an assembly whose members represented public opinion, as distinguished from the interests of political parties? The basic problem here is that the usual kind of election will almost certainly elicit candidates who run on a party label. If the assembly has the power to remove the government, those who support the government at the time of the assembly election will vote for candidates pledged to keep the government in power, while opponents of the government will vote for candidates pledged to remove the government whenever possible. If the winning candidates keep these pledges (which is guaranteed by party organizations), the assembly will be made up of members committed to support or oppose the government regardless of what it does. It will essentially be a redundant copy of the Commons . . . . CONTINUE


May 10, 2007

Steven Hayward on global warming

Here from the Heritage Foundation (April 18) is a useful resource if your friends all think that Al Gore is "Seal of the Prophets" of Global Warming: the soundtrack of an engaging film by Steven Hayward, "An Inconvenient Truth . . . or Convenient Fiction", followed by questions from a live audience and responses by Dr. Hayward. (Direct link to MP3 (27 MB) here. Video version also available.) Hayward rapidly summarizes many of the scientific uncertainties while remaining fairly comprehensible. He seems more moderate on the issue than many in his conservative-thinktank audience, seeing some room for compromise with environmentalists in the form of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would not, he thinks, much hurt the economy even if it proved to be unnecessary from an environmental point of view, and which would also be a good way of reducing American dependence on foreign oil. A point he made that struck me was that Gore has apparently deliberately omitted mention of the nuclear approach to cutting greenhouse gases, yet at the same time trumpets global warming as a catastrophe. If Gore really meant this, Hayward delicately hints, he would not be so picky about the ways to head off that catastrophe. So it seems reasonable to conclude that Gore is trying to scare people with hyperbole he does not himself believe.

May 06, 2007

A popular check on the Commons (1)

(A tentative argument)

IN a recent post I claimed, referring to the Westminster constitutional model as a starting-point, that in order to restore popular representation it would be necessary to establish a popular assembly with the power, not only to block unpopular legislation, but to dismiss unpopular governments at relatively short notice; and that such an assembly would have to be constituted so as to remain more or less free of party control. This is not to argue against the existence of the familiar, party-dominated House of Commons, which seems as well suited to the role of government as might reasonably be expected (though I think it would be better suited if it had the power to choose the party leaders, as was traditionally the case). The point is, rather, that the Commons, made up of party loyalists rather than representatives of the popular interest, is now unfit to play its ancient role of a check on government . . . . CONTINUE


May 03, 2007

Christianity, paganism, liberalism

Here is a comment I just posted at Conservative Swede, who has been doing a great deal of thinking about the connection between Christian ethics and the contemporary pathological form of liberalism.

I don't agree that the problem with Christianity/liberalism is that it is an ethical system shorn of its religious component. Primitive Christianity—the Christianity of the Roman Empire—certainly had a religious centre, but it was also other-worldly, concerned with individual salvation rather than the welfare of the political community, and anti-militarist. This point is made in a book published in 1994, The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity by James C. Russell, which is very pertinent to the subject you are discussing (and also contains pointers to a lot of relevant scholarship on the subject). Modern liberalism may in essence represent a return to primitive Christianity on the ethical level . . . . CONTINUE

April 29, 2007

A healthy response to government regulation

Elling Lien, in the St. John's community newspaper The Scope, responds to City Council's new, state-of-the-art by-law requiring that all our household garbage be covered by nets or put in metal or plastic containers:

Just to avoid the trouble of covering it, I've taken to shredding all of my garbage in a wood chipper and flushing it down the toilet. That way the gulls can truly enjoy it.

(St. John's sewage is discharged picturesquely in the middle of the harbour, where the seagulls do indeed enjoy a perpetual banquet.) I can't wait to hear what he plans on doing about the incandescent lightbulb ban . . .

April 26, 2007

Peter Hitchens in Iran

Peter Hitchens recently took a ten-day trip to Iran, and has written down his observations in three articles which are worth reading:

      Persian Diary Part 1 (April 23)
      Persian Diary Part 2 (April 25)
      Mail on Sunday article on Iran (April 21)

Hitchens is sympathetic to most of the Iranians, as distinguished from their régime, seeing them as "our natural ally in the Middle East" (possibly forgetting about the existence of Israel here). He believes the régime may fall provided that Iran is not attacked from outside. He may, however, be so anxious to avoid war with Iran that he evades the question of what to do in the event that Iran does succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons.

April 18, 2007

Burke on the democratic element

BurkeEdmund Burke strongly upheld the mixed constitution of 18th century Britain, with its monarchical, aristocratic and democratic (or at least popular) elements. To those who insist on unfettered or "Volkskammer" democracy as their ideal, Burke, who by the standards of his time was fairly liberal, is now likely to seem a reactionary. Modern democrats might be surprised, however, if they looked at what Burke says about the popular element of the mixed constitution in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents. His basic position is that while the popular element should not overwhelm the other two, the popular representative assembly itself should nevertheless be genuinely popular—not vitiated by aristocratic or monarchical tendencies . . . . CONTINUE