In the Shadow Vaguely

IT IS SOMEHOW depressingly predictable to see that a French election here and now, and one of such importance to the future of France and Europe (to say nothing of the mere European Union), should hinge somehow on historical events in a different nation, which transpired seventy years ago. It has recently come to light that Jean-François Jalkh, interim head of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, made a remark in an interview, some seventeen years ago, expressing skepticism as to the practical possibilities of mass murder via Zyklon B, the agent used in Nazi concentration camps.
      I would ask a question of all of this, whether such a question on my part is licit or not. My question is a simple one: is there any other kind of comment in all the world which could rise from the grave twenty years after the fact, to instantaneously ruin a man’s present and future reputation in the minds of hundreds of thousands of individuals who hitherto have never even heard of him before? Is there not something patently absurd about this?
      But Mr. Jalkh’s fate is likely to be decided on the basis of this single remark—and not only his fate. For he has dared touch upon the untouchable: he has dared dispute the conventional history surrounding the Holocaust.
      An artice of Vox submits these most interesting comments:

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Note for the Integrationists

AFTER any given terrorist attack here in Europe comes the inevitable justification from some mouth or other—at least here in Italy—to the effect that the attack in question was surely due to a failure of integration. As though it were the fault of the host nation that its guests should assault it; as though the natural result of a country’s not being perfectly welcoming to strangers, is that these same strangers strap bombs to their chests, drive semi-trucks through Christmas fairs, or attempt to stab their way into government buildings.
      The term “integration” is one of those pleasant modern words, like “pluralism” or “multiculturalism,” that contains enormities within a few simple syllables, and thus seems to reduce impossible complexities to all the ease of an utterance. “What is the solution to the immigration crisis? Why, integration!” And so one washes one’s hands of the entire affair—and moreover one knows exactly who to blame when something goes wrong.
     But let us for a moment ponder this question from the other side: not what integration means to foreigners come to our nations, but what it would mean to us, if the roles were reversed. Consider this hypothetical: on account of some war or famine or other devastating calamity of our Western nations, we and our families were forced to seek political asylum or economic possibilities in, say, an Islamic Middle Eastern country. For the purposes of our hypothetical, let us assume that the generally strict immigration policies of these countries were for the moment loosened, to permit our entry and residency. Imagine this well, and answer me, in all frankness, the following questions:
      Would you, upon arriving amongst these very different customs, seek to adopt them as your own? or would you persist in those customs which you have grown old in? Would you cook, for instance, in the style of your host nation? or in that of your native country? Would you cease to eat all pig meat, or, supposing such could be got, would you prefer to continue eating pork, ham, bacon, prosciutto, though it were detestable to your new neighbors? Whose clothes would you prefer to wear? What way of physical greeting would you choose, and which prefer? Would you strive, with all the enormities of time and effort it requires, to learn the language of your new country fluently and to perfection? or would you rest content to speak it well enough for most practical purposes? And even if you wished to learn it fluently—would you be able to?
      So much for the superficial. A little deeper now. Where would you live? Would you prefer to insert yourself and your family, utterly alone, in the midst of some native community, despite the fact that you should be obvious outsiders, salient to all eyes, perhaps resented or distrusted, perhaps disliked or even hated? or would you rather form up some community of persons from your own country and your own customs, in which you could speak your own language and live fearlessly in the way you were used to living, without worrying about trespassing some perfectly invisible boundary of consuetude? Would you teach your children the tongue of your mother country, in which you are fluent? or the tongue of your adopted country, which you know but imperfectly and speak with countless unconscious errors and a foreigner’s accent? Would you purchase your food, your goods, your services, from the salespersons and vendors and shopkeepers of your adopted country, who perchance look on you with suspicion and distaste? or from persons of your own nationality and ethnicity, the shops they begin to establish in your community? Would you prefer to work for a person of your host country, who speaks to you rapidly and imperiously in a language you understand imperfectly, maybe even in a dialect of the same, and who holds you accountable to standards you do not even halfway understand? or would you rather prefer to work for someone of your own nationality, with whom a more implicit understanding is not only possible, but is a given?
      Would you become a Muslim, and pray in the mosques? or would you hold to your present faith? Would you adopt Sharia law, and submit your women to treatment by its precepts, and your daughters to marriage and impregnation when they are but children? or would you prefer to establish some enclave of Western values, even if this is not strictly according to the law, in which your wives need not veil their faces and heads, in which freedom of speech is protected, in which each person may worship the god they choose, in which a homosexual does not need to fear for his life? And what would you prefer for your children—that they come of age in the intolerance and closure of these Islamic ways? or that they learn your own? And would you prefer to send your children to school and to the mosque? or would you prefer to establish informal schools of your own, in which to raise them according to the values you know and love? Would you be pleased or troubled to see them adopting the practices and the beliefs of your host country, when these are counter your own? And if your host country, finding your community living in this way, should begin to complain of the immorality and perhaps even illegality of your customs, would you meekly bow to its judgement, and overhaul your habits, and change your lifestyle to please it? or would you not view its meddling with hostility, as an infringement of your self-determination? Would you not seek, in the face of such oppression, to render your community more independent of it?
      And should it happen that your host country and your native country go to war with each other, on which side of the conflict would you choose to fight? which would have your sympathies, your hopes, your convictions? And on which side would you want your children to fight? And supposing some moral authority from one of your own nations began to speak of the necessity of persuading your host country to adopt liberal ways—supposing he began to speak of you and your little community as the inauguration of such a process—supposing he began to exhort you to spread Occidental traditions like a beneficial influence in your host country—would you not heed him, and do what you could to aid in the enlightenment of your illiberal neighbors?
      In short: would you integrate easily into this world, so different from anything you have ever known? or would you prove a little refractory, a little tenaciously, self-righteously, and justly Western?
      Very well. This is no far-fetched hypothetical, foreign to every reality: these are the very questions which hundreds of thousands of new immigrants every year must confront seriously in their own lives, on a day to day basis, amongst us, in our European and American, in our Occidental, nations. These are the issues—nor even half of them!—that are hidden in the background, each time we utter that innocuous-sounding little four-syllable word and pass it off as the simple solution to our ills.
      I therefore beg you recall these questions the next time you propose integration as a nostrum for all the manifold troubles of immigration.

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Persecuting the Persecutors

REMINDER once again of the insidious progressivist moralism which is slipped in like a narcotic where we least expect it. A report from The Economist informs us that a new study, which quantifies (devil could say how) “religious persecution,” has found such persecution to be globally on the rise. Or, put contrariwise (these points are evidently taken to be one and the same), global religious freedom is on the wane. Nor, we are given to understand, does Europe exempt itself from these troubling developments. And considering the visions that the words “religious persecution” inevitably evoke in us, of persons imprisoned for their beliefs, of families divided by controversies of faith, of idolaters and infidels stoned or ostracized, of state violence against entire communities—one could go on and on—we are fully entitled to see the rise of this persecution as a horrible and most lamentable thing, particularly worrisome here in Europe.
      I admit to an inveterate skepticism regarding the studies of sociology. The value-free investigation into human values seems to me doomed from the start, and its presumed unbiased objectivity appears to mine eyes to be but the fig leaf covering the barrenness of its moral inadequacies. It takes very little prying to discover as much, and the present research is no exception.
      Upon reviewing The Economist report, we discover that the purported measure of religious freedom employs a so-called “social hostilities index” confronted with a “government restriction index.” Beside these impressively scientific titles, we find a slue of insinuating language employed by The Economist, as “obstacles to observance of religion,” “religious persecution,” “restrictions on freedom of worship,” and “intolerance,” to show just how bad these phenomena are. No one will deny that some of the problems specified—such as the use of violence against persons of different religions—are real and grave problems. But we are led to wonder precisely to what extent our liberal West suffers from such troubles. The examples of the “intolerance” of the West do not much aid us: some religious practices, unspecified, are not permitted publicly in Russia, and France bans face-coverings in public spaces. Are we to assume, then, that any law even somewhat delimiting any given religious practice in certain predefined areas of a country, no matter the nature of the practice nor the reasons for the law, are held to be de facto religious persecution? And does this not seem an irresponsible enlargement of the idea?
      Pursuing the data but another layer in, to the official website of the index in question, we discover that “incidents of government harassment…are not always physical, but may include derogatory statements by public officials or discrimination against certain religious groups.” That is a wide net indeed; one begins to wonder just what kind of fish it is really meant to capture. Fortunately, we do not have to wonder long. An example is provided immediately afterward, excerpted from the comments of Viktor Orbàn, bugbear of progressivist Europe: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.”
      But is something so remarkable really to be let pass? We have just seen a comment, merely observing that someone hailing from an orthodox Muslim country and someone born in a liberal Western nation derive from radically different cultures—which is to say, a comment totally unobjectionable to all common sense and to our immediate experiences—we have seen such a comment, I say, openly characterized as harassment, which means it is perforce associated with “religious persecution” and “intolerance.” And this is, I remind, the official example given by the researchers, which is surely meant to present a totally uncontroversial sample of the kind of phenomena they have indexed. But really, must we not ask just how many such “data” have gone to inform the tendency of the study? Must we not ask on what grounds a statement regarding religions, is taken to be persecution or not? Must we not wonder if any distinction of degrees was drawn between a statement like Mr. Orbàn’s above, and the practice in Pakistan, for instance, of capital punishment for blasphemers? And if a distinction is drawn, must we not wonder on what basis, and how any points-based division here could ever pretend in the least to be objective?
      I admit I have not investigated this matter at any further depth. In all honesty, although I do not doubt there would be information of interest to pry from this research, I am not interested in doing so. I have no doubt the Pew researchers would provide some response to some of my questions—and I have no doubt it would not be near enough to satisfy me. For I find such studies off-puttingly disingenuous; I find something tendentious in their very structure, hidden and never specified biases which lie under a nigh impenetrable gauze of official and high-sounding jargon. That the researchers in most cases have no will to deceive does not make their default of responsibility to my eyes any less; on the contrary. This study, for instance, works under the auspices of the scientific method, and carries behind it all the force and all the purported objectivity of science, from an organization, Pew, which is widely lauded for its sociological research. This study and its conclusions are passed off as authoritative, and will be taken as such by who can say how many people who read or hear about them second- or third- or fourth-hand. Their influence cannot be calculated, and certainly not by any nice clean “indexes” like those they propose to use to measure a phenomenon as complicated and relative as “religious persecution.”
      We really must grow a little more suspicious of this avalanche of “research,” “studies,” and “indices” which are heaped upon us by the press, by online journals, and by hearsay; we must really begin to ask just what it is, at bottom, that they want of us. “Disinterested,” they are not, nor can ever be. Science has little business intruding itself into politics and social matters; it always makes a hash of things, and usually for the benefit of the pieties of the day. A hundred times would I prefer that we looked on things a little in the old, inexact, naive, but essentially honest way, rather than seeing the world constantly through the doubly distorting lens of a method which pretends to clarify, and in fact only muddles.

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The Left, the Right, and the Fragmentation of the Political Spectrum

I READ in an article reference to intriguing research into the partisan and extremist nature of today’s politics. It has lately been fashionable to ascribe these problems to the rise of the so-called “social media,” which have compartmentalized persons according to their prejudices, and have then proceeded to bombard them with all manner of biased information to reinforce and confirm their particular convictions. So far as I am concerned, there can be no doubt these “social media” have at least exacerbated the problem. Yet the studies in question suggest that the “social media” cannot be blamed exclusively, because such partisanship and extremism exists as much among those who do not patronize the “social media,” as among those who do.
      The question then becomes—what is the real cause at the bottom of the growing divisiveness in the political and social life of the United States and elsewhere? I have offered my own hypothesis in the second part of my essay “The Democratic Era.” I would like here to explore but a single aspect of that hypothesis.
      I believe that what we are witnessing today can best be described in these terms. For several centuries now, and certainly since the universal triumph of classic liberalism throughout Europe, the West has conceived of all political positions as standing on a spectrum running without break from the far left through the political center to far right. But today, for the first time in several hundred years, a simple linear spectrum is no longer an adequate means of comprehending the political positions of individuals, or the disagreements that divide them. I will offer but several examples of the points at which it can be seen breaking down.

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Trump’s Right Hand

THAT WHICH IS BOTH ephemeral and ignoble is unworthy of serious concern—and the vast majority of what we commonly call “news” is precisely of such a character. For that reason, I hesitate before dedicating a third article to a single event which is surely both ephemeral and ignoble: namely, the Syrian strike of last Thursday. And yet, I cannot help but be intrigued by this event, and, more to the point, the reactions to it. I would like therefore to offer some final thoughts on what has happened. As the name of this article suggests, I address this principally to the politically right, and more specifically yet to those on the right who have, laudably but perhaps hastily, broken with Trump over the issue of this single decision.
      Those who have read my previous two articles will know that I am not yet prepared to make any claims about Trump’s real motives in this strike. I am not here to argue that Trump is a Machiavellian mastermind three steps ahead of the rest of us. I think there is doubt about the caliber of Trump, and has been, for me at least, since the first days of his candidacy—a doubt, I might add, which his supporters have, more often than not, given him the benefit of. This present situation cannot do other than bring forth the real mettle of our president, one way or another. It would be worthy to have a little intellectual curiosity going into the coming days, rather than this angry flash of doctrinaire moralism which I have perceived where I least expected to find it. Indeed, I think it is high time the new American right learned to regulate itself a little more philosophically, in both its hope and its despair; I think it time it started coming of age.
      Since the beginning of Trump’s candidacy, his staunchest supporters on the right—and particularly those in the budding alt-right—have attempted to paint the man as an artificer of events, rather than the capricious slave of whims and half-baked ideas which the press often tried to portray him as being. It is strange to me then that these same supporters are suddenly fallen into a reproachful mood, on account of a single, and itself most ambiguous, act. It suggests to me that there has always been doubt on the part of the right, that perhaps Trump really was the child he was accused of being. I say—it is time to discover what Trump is. Rather than taking up moral indignation over the Syrian strike, it would be wise to wait and see what comes of it; we can only judge these events on the basis of the motives that have guided them, and we can only know those motives on the basis of what Trump does next. We shall not have to wait long; I do suspect we will have some clear signal of how matters stand, even with Tillerson’s imminent visit to Russia.
      Many arguments have been made that Trump’s action in Syria cannot be defended from a strategic point of view—that it represents simply and unambiguously the abandonment of his promises and his caving to extant political powers. I would like to address these arguments. I am willing to agree that the better part of what I am about to propose would require a developed strategic mentality. But if Trump really never possessed such strategic capacity, then the right has been fooled by him since the beginning, and it must confront that error, and understand how and why it could have made such an error. If, on the other hand, the right was correct to view Trump as an intelligent manipulator of events—then it would be premature and even irresponsible to abandon Trump at a moment when, precisely through that presumed intelligence, he might have succeeded in a truly grand manipulation.

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Ars et Arma: Art in the Occident, Part V

WHAT IS the will to victory? In a warrior or in an artist, what is this will?
      We may safely begin with what it is not. It is not will to destruction, will to cruelty. Though atimes it may include such, it need not, simple proof of which is in the fact that both the mightiest warriors and the best artists take none but great and exemplary enemies, rather than selecting the weak and the vulnerable as their foes. No warrior of quality goes about, wantonly smashing and slaying. Indeed, anyone who did such would certainly be regarded with a suspicious eye, and it is likely he would fail to attain that historical regard which is among the high rewards for his striving.
      And yet, the artist does destroy, the warrior does slay—destroys past models and images, slays those who threaten what is his, his goods, his kingdom, his family, his people, his preeminence. In both cases, the aim is not abasement, but glorification; not bringing down the other, but exalting the self. This is why such men seek out not any enemy, but the enemy, the highest enemy they may, in firm belief that it is more glorious to fall before dragons than to rise before swine, and that there is a kind of victory, if imperfect, in perishing at worthy hands.
      The will to victory is not avarice—the lust for treasures, for gold. The warrior ethos is a generous ethos, which historically has given more than ever it has taken, and knows how to perfect itself through munificence and the lost art of gift-giving. The artist as well: his soul is full and overfull; he bestows as he plies his art. There has even been an historical tendency toward poverty on the part of warriors and artists alike, which belies all greedy seeking of pilf and plunder. Even when such men desire riches, it is common that they seek only those treasures which are well-merited and rare.
      In the same way, the will to victory is not a longing after mere honors and the recognition of potentates. Honors can be bestowed on dishonorable men as soon as honorable ones. The dishonorable man takes honors as a sign of honor; he is content with appearance and public perception. The warrior and the artist do not rest content with so little, but want, not the sign of honor, but the content of it, even if this should bring with it public shame and the scorn of the powerful.
      The will to victory is neither the will to defeat one’s opponent at any cost and by any means, even if this include treachery and sneakery. Beowulf determined to defeat Grendel without the use even of arms; Sophocles’ Ajax was suspicious of Odysseus’ wile, judging it unbefitting to the warrior; Odysseus himself, in full expression of his native complexity, denounced liars in the Odyssey. Hemingway scorned Faulkner’s prose as employing “tricks”—charge which Faulkner, of course, would have considered an unjust misinterpretation of his style. One’s natural power, one’s naked ability, one’s sincerity—these are the things that really count.
      It is worth noting that even the great weapons of the ancient warrior tradition support, rather than complicate, this fundamental point: these were days long before the perverse modern obsession with technology as an equalizing force. It is a relatively modern phenomenon that, for example, an army of excellent warriors might be overtaken by an army of fewer and lesser enemies endowed with merely technological superiority, and this might be regarded as a true victory. Though certainly such things happened in the warrior tradition, as well, it was not thought to be anything to be vaunted. Rather, the classic conception of force and weaponry is embodied in the old tradition of chivalry. Common conceit in the old tales has it that a battle between two armies is effectively settled in the meeting of two great men amidst the fray—or, even more clearly, is determined even before the joining of arms, in a single duel between two preeminent warriors. The same kind of spirit regulated the very idea of weaponry. Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother with a sword only a great man might wield. The bow of Odysseus, greatest arm of its kind, cannot even be strung by the best of the suitors. Excaliber cannot be drawn from its stony scabbard save by the true king. To the warrior tradition, all the best arms were such: they were wrought for the use of a great man, they were an extension and a sign of his greatness.
      And might it be objected that these are but tales, but inventions of the poets—then so much the better for our point! For truly, the line between the historic warrior tradition and the artistic tradition do overlap most playfully, so much so that it is difficult if not impossible to disentangle them. There, in that zone wherein they cross and weave, where the warrior cannot exist without the poet, nor the poet without the warrior, there stands what we call the heroic tradition; it is the truest zenith of them both, and marks an intimacy between them which is much to our substance.
      What do we perceive in this unification of these two traditions, which do not, at first glance, appear to have anything in common? We perceive nothing but that which governs these traditions, that common motive which guides them both. Even where the warrior shuns the poet, as being a womanish and unwarlike sort; even where the poet shuns the warrior and seeks his hero in a less likely and certainly less martial figure—even here, we perceive both these traditions best in light of the other. The will to victory, be it in the warrior or in the artist, above all is a will to glory.
      Glory is a deeply misunderstood concept in our very unchivalric day; it is obscured by the root concepts which guide our view of human societies. We consistently conflate glory with fame, ignoble confusion which reveals the true limitations of our worldview and the contours of its truncated body.
      Now, fame is what is sought today by artists, and more often yet its diminutive child, notoriety: for notoriety is even easier to get than fame, and so is a nice goal for a day which tacitly believes every human being to be an artist. It is certainly not the high and sunripened fruit for which our dwarfish artists exert themselves—foremost evidence of which laziness is the modern tendency almost even to conflate innovation in art with “shock value.” Scandal is the cheapest and vulgarest byproduct of true art; only in a day so degenerate as our own could it begin to appear as the principle quality thereof.
      Fame, in any epoch you please, is a “democratic” principle; the degree of one’s fame or notoriety is in direct proportion as the number of individuals who know of one’s deeds, and its prime material result is the affluence that dog-like follows it. Its payment is thus in vanity and in wealth; the two principle driving factors of the larger part of democratic life.
      Glory is not founded on these precepts; it transcends them, and not only them. Suppose, as test of this, that for a certain great deed, a particular human being became known to all the members of his society, save the basest and most criminal. If knowledge of his deed were extended also to that segment of society, his fame would increase without doubt—but would his glory? It would not; his glory could not be affected by the acquaintance of individuals who are unprepared to differentiate between the low and the high. Fame is the mere knowledge of an event or a human being in as great a number of minds as possible, the quality of these minds be it what it will; but glory, for its implications of virtue and excellence, is but the memory in virtuous minds. Fame is a state of mere celebrity; glory is worthy celebrity.
      The most striking and simultaneously the most important difference between fame and glory is in their relation to death. No human being is willing to die to secure fame; this would be as objectively absurd as dying to secure wealth. It may be that some psychologically unbalanced sort every so often breaks this rule—but we are entitled in such a case to speak of mental illness, and a curious inability to judge of cause and effect. Yet the act of glory in its archetypal form is the act of dying gloriously. This again can be seen in the entire warrior tradition up to the present day; even today, the one context in which one is still entitled to speak of glory, apart from certain religious formulae, is in warfare. This is fitting, but it is also an artificial limitation on the notion of glory. Nonetheless its analysis can aid us in the better comprehension of a very unmodern concept.
      What has a man got who dies for fame? Nothing, if not less than he had before. Then what has a man got who dies for glory? In the first place, some approximate immortality. He has secured his memory in the minds of worthy men, a memory which outlasts not only the event of his death, but in principle might outlast even the death of any and all particular human beings, for so long as there be society. If his glory is great enough, he has secured a life which is at least as long as that of his tribe, his people, his civilization, and quite possibly longer yet.
      One of the fundamental objections to this—one of the objections a man of fame would make—is that there is no worth in this life in memoriam. For if one can no longer sense, feel, perceive, choose, will, decide—is one then any longer really alive?
      The answer to be made on behalf of the notion of glory is complicated and delightfully ambiguous. In the first place, glory is like a flame which eats away at all that is infirm, rotten, and ephemeral in this life and in this soul, transmuting all flesh and leaving only the imperishable core. What remains after the fire of glory has passed is therefore worth infinitely more than that which is sacrificed to attain it. Nietzsche in Section 2 of his Uses and Abuses of History for Life employs the same language to describe the great man:

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