The greatness of Lawrence Auster
In case you haven’t heard, Larry is dying. Say a prayer for him, or something.
Greatness? I don’t know that anyone can really get away with the word in 2013. What can greatness mean in a fourth-rate world? In a fourth-rate world, the second-rate look great. Worse, they feel great. After all, they stand head and shoulders above their own age. So why grow further? Can we say that a Lawrence Auster saw farther, because he stood on the toes of dwarves?
Surely there’s a bit of that. I think Auster’s work is best summarized by his statement, not a boast but merely the truth, that where the ordinary machine conservative takes a second look at our political narrative we live in, View from the Right took the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth looks. Very well. I think our differences are best summarized by my feeling that six looks are entirely insufficient for our exquisitely sterquiline age, thirty or forty being perhaps more like it. Six looks are certainly not enough to understand why Henry VII is worth taking seriously. If indeed he is.
But we did not visit VFR for a history of the past—but rather, a history of the present. Are you by some strange chance reading this in the 22nd century? Stranger things have happened. Do you want to read the true story of the early 21st, wie est eigentlich gewesen? Find the VFR archive. It must be somewhere. Make sure you have a lot of time on your hands—or some kind of full-search FPGA in your medulla.
One of the characteristic mental disorders of our period is an easy contempt for the past. It’s not just that we are taught to hate the past, for one can respect and still detest an enemy. It’s that we despise it. We observe it with an easy, swaggering and thoroughly unquestioned contempt. We are presentists with all the arrogance of the cartoon plantation racist.
Which leads us into many faults of the intellect, some of them comic. But our worst fault is the belief that history, somehow, is easy. Of course it’s easy to know what happened in the Civil War! Every fifth-grader knows the story. Heck, my four-year-old daughter knows the story. She read about it in her Magic Treehouse books (which, by the way, are racist). “Oh, I know about the Civil War,” she said. Indeed she does—she knows about it the way everyone in 2013 does. If a little less.
Imagine the poor bastards who actually had to live in the past, being understood by a four-year-old. Of course, it is no more possible for my daughter to understand the Civil War than to fly to the moon. She’s a bright girl, but still. She can only understand the period because it has been converted into a flat piece of paper with large print and a few pictures. Imagine 2013, converted into a flat piece of paper with large print and a few pictures. Unfortunately, this (with slightly smaller print than Magic Treehouse) is how most of us read not only the past, but the present. Go to Upworthy! It’s fresh, it’s hip, it’s socially relevant. You will not have to think about anything for more than five seconds. And, just like Magic Treehouse, it has pictures.
I do not mean to suggest that complex realities are impossible to simplify accurately. If it were impossible to present a complex reality as a simple narrative, it would be impossible to write history. Possible? Of course it’s possible. But it’s not easy. Not at least if you want it to be true.
Perhaps some historian of a future century, reading UR for a laugh, will find this link and pop over to VFR. I was reading Carlyle one day when I saw, in a statistical footnote, a link to George Lunt. What sort of American would Carlyle cite on the Civil War? All I know about George Lunt is that he published his book in 1866 in Boston. Imagine the stones. All I know about George Lunt is that he published his book in 1866 in Boston, and he had to have his pants cut specially. Needless to say, his Civil War is not the Magic Treehouse Civil War. (Nor is it the VFR Civil War, but let that pass.)
But it has become my Civil War—taken not just from Lunt, of course, but many others like him. I trust George Lunt not because I know anything about him, aside from the pants, but because I can tell that he writes like a man whose only concern is telling the truth as he knows it. How can I tell? That’s like asking a wine snob how he tells good wine from bad. And it would be a mistake to praise Auster simply for being a prophet. “Without honor in his own country”—it’s a cliche. And true enough, like most cliches. And it is true that in our age false prophets (so far as I can tell, the original Hebrew means no more than “pundit”) abound, and honest ones are hen’s teeth. But this is really only the beginning of the tragedy. There is something else—something perhaps best illustrated by one of my favorite Edwardian sources:
Sometimes in our haste we may permit ourselves to speak disparagingly of debate, and if the result of debate were merely the prevalence of eloquence over silence, of good arguments over bad ones, it might justly be condemned as a means of selecting men to govern the country. But debate is something a great deal more respectable.
The glory of the British Parliament is that men subdue it by their characters to a far greater extent than by their arguments. It is required of a leader that he must be prepared at any moment to stand up to his enemies, to give blows and to take them. This test can never be escaped. Occasional brilliant appearances will never put any man in power, or keep him in power if he has happened to arrive there by some accident. Private influence or intrigue, literary gifts of the highest order, are all in vain. The system is sound, although of necessity it excludes many aspirants of shining talents. The rule is absolute that before a man may be permitted to govern the nation, he must have proved himself capable of prevailing over his rivals in single combat and face to face.
This passage seems like a memorandum from an alternate reality that never existed. Was it really the case that Britain, for a couple of centuries in which it was the strongest nation on earth, was governed by… the Briton most capable of argument, whoever that might be? Yes, in fact, it was. (I forget the source, but it was a Victorian cliche that “not everyone in Parliament deserves to be in Parliament, but everyone who deserves to be in Parliament is in Parliament.” Carlyle certainly could have been, had he cared to.)
Indeed, what’s so striking in this passage is the author’s casual assumption that whoever in Britain is most capable of humiliating his enemies in an argument, both is in Parliament and leads it, and in fact governs the country. Just as casually, we assume that the best quarterback in America today is (a) in the NFL, (b) plays quarterback in the NFL, and (c) is the first-string quarterback on his team. Indeed this is true. But consider the remarkable complexity of the machinery that makes it true. Can we imagine a world without this machinery? Or with what pretends to be this machinery, but is not, and does not actually work? It is almost more plausible than the world that actually exists.
The world of 2013 contains no genuine parliamentary institutions. It contains the dried, bureaucratic husks of many—just as it contains the dried, bureaucratic husks of many old monarchies. Before nations were ruled by a man “capable of prevailing over his rivals in single combat and face to face” with the sword of his tongue, they were ruled by the actual sword. The king was a military leader. Now we have no leaders of any kind. At least, not in our political system. Can you imagine a Barack Obama, stripped of his army of handlers, “in single combat and face to face,” in the old House of Commons or something like it, against… a Lawrence Auster? Or even a Rush Limbaugh? You might as well imagine Rush Limbaugh in a swordfight with Henry VII.
This is what I see when I look at Auster’s oeuvre—not just a prophet, but a leader. A king, if you will. A king out of water, in a dry and kingless age. He was still born a king, or made himself one, and if you type in the right URL you can see it plain as day.
Does this have anything to do with Larry’s faith? Of course it does. It is impossible to imagine a king who does not serve the King of Kings. Or rather, if we imagine one, we find ourselves looking for other words, pejorative ones—like “dictator.” What were Hitler and Stalin, but godless kings?
Since I’ve already violated my daughter’s privacy, I’ll tell another story. The other day we were driving down 14th Street and she was looking out the window. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I hear: “It says, ‘Christ is the answer.’ What is Christ?” She made it rhyme with “fist.”
No Christian UR reader will ever forgive me for my answer. After correcting her pronunciation, I said: “Christ is the same thing as God. It’s… it’s… it’s like Santa Claus for grownups.”
Actually, there are few things that would please me more than seeing my daughter become a Christian. If only because it would mean she was not a worshiper of Beyonce, or something worse. I know all too well, however, that it is not in my power to raise her as one.
The entire question of “whether God exists” seems to me entirely superfluous and sterile. Anyone in the age of science who believes he has a mechanism for physically confirming the “existence” of the spirit world is not religious, but rather superstitious. It’s certainly true that historical Christianity contains many superstitious and/or miraculous conceits, but it does not depend on them either for its practical efficacy as a social institution, or even for its logical coherence. Every scientific period is a small bubble of the known in an infinite unknown space. It is always possible to plausibly postulate an undisprovable entity. When mankind was young and knew little, we could postulate a God who was a giant snake that lived in the river and made it rain. Now, we can postulate a God who is an alien system administrator who runs the servers that make quantum mechanics work. We can easily disprove the giant snake, but not the four-headed IT jock. Ergo, we are left with the choice of two fundamentally aesthetic arguments—Occam’s razor versus Paley’s watchmaker.
In the end, who cares? Let’s go with Occam’s razor, which I’ll always prefer because that’s how I was raised. Thus, as far as material reality goes, God, Christ and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are all the same thing. Fine. I’m quite comfortable with this interpretation.
If you share it, let me ask you a question. Does Hamlet exist?
Obviously, Hamlet does not exist and nor did he ever. Thus, when we consider only material reality, he fits perfectly in the same set with God, Christ, the FSM, and “Santa Claus for grownups.”
But if we change the question to: “Is Hamlet a useful concept?” we find that again everyone agrees. Hamlet is a literary character, and perfectly real in that sense. It is completely sensible to say, for instance, that someone is acting like Hamlet, or should be more like Hamlet, or should be less like Hamlet. These statements are well-defined and cogent.
It is also a well-defined and cogent statement to say that Lawrence Auster is a servant of God. One can serve without orders. Larry doesn’t need God’s cell-phone number to serve God, and nor for that matter does the Pope. When we say “God,” we know what we mean—it is a shorthand for the superhuman and perfect, for infinite wisdom and intelligence, just as the character of Hamlet is a shorthand for a mercurial and hesitating character. What, pray tell me, is the Flying Spaghetti Monster a shorthand for?
At the level of evolutionary psychology, man is both a social animal and a hierarchical one. Not only is he extremely good at defining and relating to characters, he is born with “modules” both for ruling and for serving. Anyone living is the descendant of many kings and many, many servants. Those kings, too, were born knowing how to serve. Whom did they serve? We know the answer.
Whether a man is a king, a peasant or anything in between, to ask him to be an atheist and an egalitarian is to ask him not to use the machines in his brain that he was born with. It is to diminish him as a human being. The capacity to personalize the superhuman, and to use this fictional anthropomorphism as a mechanism by which we may approach the superhuman, is characteristically human. I suppose I will never be anything but a “secular humanist,” but I have learned in this way to respect, admire, and sometimes even envy my Christian friends.
For instance, characteristic of the enormous, and certainly regal, dignity of the man, is the strength and honor with which Auster approaches death. Socrates was not a Christian, nor was Cato, nor were the 47 Ronin. So atheists need not despair of these qualities. On the other hand, neither Socrates nor Cato had to live in the same world as Beyonce. It strikes me as quite implausible that when our dark age ends and the kings return, if ever, it will be under any banner but the Cross. Or as Maistre put it:
Frenchmen, it was to the noise of hellish songs, the blasphemy of atheism, the cries of death, and the prolonged moans of slaughtered innocence, it was by the light of flames, on the debris of throne and altar, watered by the blood of the best of kings and an innumerable host of other victims, it was by the contempt of morality and the established faith, it was in the midst of every crime that your seducers and your tyrants founded what they call your liberty.
But when man works to restore order he associates himself with the author of order; he is favored by nature, that is to say, by ensemble of secondary forces that are the agents of the Divinity. His action partakes of the divine; it becomes both gentle and imperious, forcing nothing yet not resisted by anything. His arrangements restore health. As he acts, he calms disquiet and the painful agitation that is the effect and symptom of disorder. In the same way, the hands of a skilful surgeon bring the cessation of pain that proves the dislocated joint has been put right.
When I look at VFR, especially when I look at the thanks and well wishes of Larry’s readers, this is what I see—a small area of order, in the hands of a skilful surgeon. Who will not be with us much longer. But humanity abides, and other surgeons will come. They will need not a scalpel, but a sword. Let us pray they are no less skilful.