Looking back, and further back

nostalgiaThe June and July issues of Chronicles, the rightwardmost of my regular reads, include a couple of pieces that seem to acknowledge that the basis of conservatism is nostalgia.  That isn’t so bad, I suppose; everyone feels nostalgia, and people who are nostalgic for the same things can share a bond, and can sometimes nurture a gentleness together. 

June: Roger McGrath reminisces about his childhood in a thinly populated, mostly rural California.  He makes it sound like paradise, or like a place a rambunctious boy might have preferred to paradise.   

Thomas Fleming builds a scholarly argument to the effect that early Christians were not pacifists.  I often suspect that Fleming has a grudge against Quakerism.  I’m not sure where he would have picked up such a grudge- he grew up in a family of atheists, so it isn’t rebellion against his parents.  But this article seems like a detailed response to some or other Quaker tract.  And he frequently denounces many practices that are associated with Friends, such as silent worship.     

In a piece lamenting the rapid decline of global birthrates over the last 20 years, Philip Jenkins makes an interesting suggestion.  Most demographers claim that when religious beliefs lose their social power, people choose to have smaller families.  Jenkins suggests that the arrow of causality should point in the opposite direction.  Perhaps it is the fact that people have fewer children that disinclines them from taking religion seriously.  “Without a sense of the importance of continuity, whether of the family or of the individual, people lose the need for a religious perspective.”  He quotes the philosopher Rüdiger Safranski.  Safranski claims that a drop in birthrate

results in a dramatic lack of maturity in the way people choose to live their lives… For childless singles, thinking in terms of the generations to come loses relevance.  Therefore, they behave more and more as if they were the last, and see themselves as standing at the end of the chain. 

George McCartney praises Richard Yates’ 1961 novel Revolutionary Road as a biting satire of self-styled “nonconformists” who congratulate themselves on their superiority to others while they are in fact utterly conventional.  McCartney condemns the recent film of the same title as an example of the sort of thing Yates was ridiculing.  He praises Eran Riklis’ film The Lemon Tree, the story of a Palestinian woman who insists on taking care of the lemon grove she inherited from her father even after an Israeli cabinet minister appropriates the land in which it grows for his own private use.  Her refusal to give up her ancestral claim is the sort of thing that warms the reactionary hearts of the Chronicles crowd, and I suppose it reflects the kind of nostalgia that a person really could build a humane politics around. 

July: An obituary for Stanley Jaki, priest and physicist.  As an historian of science, Jaki was one of the leading champions of the claim that it was only within the intellectual world of late medieval Europe that modern science could have begun.  

An article about Russia begins with a a famous quote by eighteenth century writer Pyotr Chaadaev: “We are exceptional people; we are among those nations that exist only to give the world some terrible lesson.” 

Nor is that the only notable epigraph in the issue; a review of books about Americans’ attitudes to manarchy starts with this: “‘I am told that thee has been dancing with the Queen.  I do hope, my son, thee will not marry out of meeting.’  American Quaker mother in a letter to her son following the Coronation Ball in 1838.”  Now I happen to recognize that story.  Several weeks ago, the Friends Meeting where Mrs Acilius and I spend our Sunday mornings included an excerpt from the book Laughter in Quaker Grey.  The son was an American diplomat, newly arrived in London, whose dance with the Crown Princess Victoria prompted his mother’s little joke.  If there are people in the Chronicles crowd who read that book, they might be able to shed some light on the anti-Quaker animus the editor-in-chief often shows.   

Taki relates a very funny story of his youth.  He went to a bar in Manhattan, where he found his idol, Ernest Hemingway, drinking a whiskey sour.  He talked incessantly to Hemingway for two hours while the great man went on drinking.  A few days later, he read a story in the paper about his drinking partner, who was not Hemingway after all.  But he certainly did look like him. 

Clyde Wilson’s review of Marc Egnal’s Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War places that book in the context of the current trend of study in “Northern history,” that is, the history of the ways in which the northern USA changed from the society that was willing to live side-by-side with a slaveholding, agrarian system in the South to a society that would rather go to war than tolerate the continuation of that system.  Wilson writes that Egnal’s “most original contribution” to this growing body of scholarship

is his description of a truly critical new development of the late antebellum period, which he calls ‘The Lake Economy.’  The Midwest was first settled by southerners farming the north side of the Ohio Valley.  In the late antebellum period, the Upper Midwest was settled by New Englanders and Europeans who developed a new economic regime along with a militant agenda of their own self-interest and vision of the national future. 

Joseph Fallon’s piece “Lincoln, the Antiwar Congressman” contrasts, on the one hand, the fearless opposition with which US Representative Abraham Lincoln (Whig, Illinois) met the war against Mexico in 1847 and 1848 with, on the other hand, the policies US President Abraham Lincoln pursued during the Civil War.  Fallon quotes Lincoln’s denunciations of President James K. Polk, then quotes very similar language that US Representative Clement Vallandigham (Democrat, Ohio) would use against President Lincoln 15 years later.  Lincoln’s “Spot Resolutions” not only challenged the veracity of President Polk’s claim that “American blood has been shed on American soil,” but also asserted the Congress’ authority over the president in warmaking.  By the time Representative Vallandigham was driven into exile for making the same assertion against President Lincoln, things had changed. 

Paul Likoudis pays tribute to Father Charles Coughlin, the “Radio Priest” of the 1930s who spoke out against war and Wall Street.  Coughlin’s weekly magazine, Social Justice, probed the New Deal, showing how much of the money that the Roosevelt administration claimed was going to help the poorest of the poor was actually being dispatched from the treasury directly to the major banking houses.  It also analyzed the political machinations of arms makers and other concerns that stood to profit from America’s involvement in new war, demonstrating the extent to which those interests financed the movement to engage American forces in what would become the Second World War.  After providing several quotes from the magazine, Likoudis claims that “An enterprising publisher or journalist today could take Father Coughlin’s Social Justice and reprint it almost verbatim; only a few names and dates would have to be changed.”

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2 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  June 26, 2009

    I’d bet money Fleming dislikes Quakers because they are tolerant, especially regarding homosexuals, such as himself.

  2. acilius

     /  June 26, 2009

    Maybe so…

    I should also have mentioned that the July issue includes a page urging the Republican Party to adopt as its new economic platform the Border-Adjusted Value Added Tax, as proposed by banker David A. Hartman. At present, a bill is before Congress that would authorize the Obama administration to try to get the 148 countries that collect such taxes to get rid of them, and if they refuse to do so, would allow the Treasury to start collecting a surcharge on imports from those 148 countries. People like Hartman think that a wiser course of action would be for the USA to scrap its current tax system and replace it with a Border-Adjusted Value Added Tax of our own.

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