The monarchy, and our view of it, seem as good a place as any to start this year's commemoration of the life and works of Rudyard Kipling. Born on December 30th, 1865, in Bombay, he was, by his early thirties, the best known living writer of the English language. No less a figure than Henry James hailed him "as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known." Despite the wide renown and high regard, within a few years of his death in 1936, Kipling was, at least among the intelligentsia, a reviled figure; his name synonymous with racism and murderous imperialism. We have always believed, as our blog's title would suggest, that Kipling's 1919 poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, was his finest. The Gods of the Market Place, so scorned in the poem, describe perfectly many of his critics; those who promised:
...the Fuller Life (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife). Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
The socialists of all parties (in Hayek's perfect phrasing), the modern day Robespierres practicing social engineering with or without the aid of Madame Guillotine, in short all those who would make us lose our "reason and faith." The tone is what we most loved of the poem; it's the sense of the eternal in the fleeting; the mature in an age of perpetual adolescence; the wise in a time of arrogant and often deliberate foolishness; the image of an ancient idol saying simply: This is what lasts. The monarchy is one of those things that lasts. This does not, in itself, make the monarchy good. The reign of the Pharaohs over Egypt lasted longer than the whole history of Western Civilization, bequeathing to us large geometric piles of stone, bits of pottery and a colourful system of writing. The Greeks in three centuries left us advances in philosophy, history, mathematics, engineering, science and political thought unprecedented then and for the most part unmatched for millennia afterwards.
As I have often bemoaned in this space, the modern left often exhibits the uniquely modern logical fallacy of the argument from progressive chronology, that which is new is good, that which is old is bad. This is the reverse of the traditional version of this particular fallacy, which held that that which is old is good and that which is new is bad. Time and truth, of course, have nothing necessarily in common. Why then revere tradition, as we so often do, or seem to do, over at GCH? In concluding her address to the graduating class of West Point in 1974, Ayn Rand said that she saluted the glorious tradition of the school not because it was a tradition, but "because it is glorious."
Truth, however defined, must be more important than tradition, but tradition too is important, if properly understood. From truths we derived values. Virtues are the realization of values. The realization, to be a virtue, must be consistent, displayed in an individual over many years and in a society over several generations. The mushy self-help rhetoric of the Seventies and afterwards aside, the good cannot be willed into existence. Discovering your inner child, or whatever, might explain the origin of a behaviour but that knowledge does not automatically confer upon you the knowledge of how to act for the good, or the ability to do so consistently. Virtue requires habit, willing the self to do something again and again until it becomes second to nature. Tradition is a social version of this. In doing something again and again we create and maintain social habits. The process is essential for the existence of a society. For the last half century or so a strange notion has introduced itself in the popular culture, having first been incubated in the ivory towers for some decades, that we can do without tradition. The argument here is not that a particular tradition is bad, or in need of reform, but that tradition itself is bad: The objection is to the method as much as to any particular ends. If there is a motto for the modern age it is this: You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!
History and common sense suggest otherwise. Men have natures and when they seek to ignore their natures disaster ensues. The point, again, is not what you think man's nature is, but that, to flip Gertrude Stein's observation about Oakland, there is a there there. Years ago I read an article in a magazine, whose name and details I have long ago forgotten. The article recounted the story of a boy who, because of mutilation as an infant was, on the advice of social workers and child psychologists, raised as a girl. The predominant theory these "child care" workers were operating under was that gender was a product of social conditioning. While it is true that social expectations of gender roles play an important part in psychological development, here was a complete, albeit highly fashionable attempt to ignore genetics. Overtime the "girl" started to behave in an increasingly masculine manner until she finally "came out" as a he.
The term social engineering is often dismissed as a rightist sneer against various social welfare schemes, yet it describes the goals and attitudes of much our governing political and intellectual elite quite well. This is what we believe the Gods of the Copybook Headings was intended to fight. The smashers of every age who soft sell individuals, groups and whole societies on the lie that we can do as we please without consequence, that:
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all, By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul; But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace. They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease. But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe, And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
The poem was written in 1919 and in hindsight has a prophetic quality, yet it reflects its time just as well. Recall that in 1918 the Labour Party adopted Clause Four, the call for state or collectivist control of British industry, that in 1927 the Great Powers signed the Kellogg-Briand pact which "outlawed" war and that in 1942 the Beveridge Report laid down the blue print for the welfare state. All but the last were within Kipling's own life time. This too is part of the appeal of the poem, the plea that there are always "Gods of the Market Place" attempting to seduce us, and as such we must be vigilant.
The issue is not whether one set of ideas is better than another, but about the perennial fallacy that we can do away with opportunity costs, that, to adjust Victor Hugo's observation from Notre Dame, this will not destroy that. To accept that there are Gods of the Copybook Headings is to admit that there are principles and methods to be adhered too. Which principles and which methods is legitimate ground for debate. The modern Right, secular and religious, gets this. The modern Left, as rule, and there are still many good exceptions, does not. They want their welfare state and to eat us too. They want the benefits of capitalism, without the capitalists; they want, to twist another phrase, this time by the late Gerald Ford, a government big enough to give you everything but that won't take it all away. Consequence without cost. In short, perpetual adolescence well into old age. Not a pretty sight.
When I suggested the name for this blog to Brutus his immediate reaction was: "Great, but you do know we're going to get a bunch of religious loonies reading it." I was bewildered by the remark. But, I said, its Gods, the plural. It has a nice pagan ring to it. Besides, Kipling was a rather unconventional, fairly ecumenical Christian; any Christians that might show up, because of the title, will be fairly sensible chaps. Well we were both half right. I'm still a little surprised at the number of practicing Christians who read this blog, who haven't been frightened off, so to speak, by our infidelity. As Brutus wrote in our statement of intent, we are not exactly fans of religion. To be exact we are enemies of faith. To us an act of faith is simply an act of willful blindness. Whatever the problems with reason as tool of understanding ourselves and the universe, it's all we've got in the end. Everything else is, bluntly, self delusion. Why then are we so friendly toward so many Christians? Because we don't think they're all that Christian. The preponderance of reason, as opposed to faith, for most modern Christians is quite high.
What many Christians call acts of faith are actually, examine closely, quite rational conclusion arrived at implicitly. This contrasts sharply with much of the modern "secular left" which despite its insistence on "scientific" socialism in the last generation, and irrefutable proof of climate change today, is a faith that presupposes a whole range of views of man and nature based on nothing but the desire to believe those delusions to be true. Mel Gibson was widely criticized by many on the Left for the bloody spectacle of the Passion of the Christ. It was a perfect and brilliantly executed demonstration of individual self-immolation. Here was altruism in its purest form; after all he died for your sins. Yet the Christians who flocked to see this paean to the destruction of the self were in their day to day lives probably quite rational and selfish. They have careers, families and friends, values to them which they fought to obtain and maintain. Many, I suspect, are the sort who hold a very low opinion of welfare bums and criminals. They would not sacrifice themselves to save these bums and criminals from their own irresponsibility; they would feel repulsed at the notion of being their brother's keeper to such low life creeps.
Christ may have declared to do unto the least of his brothers as you would do unto Him, but for most modern North America Christians this is more often followed in the breech than in the observance. While the Vatican may oppose capital punishment, as reiterated today in its attacking the execution of Saddam Hussein, the average American Catholic supports it. Amidst the Protestant Bible Belts of America the attitude is also very much that a good hanging does wonders for the behaviour of the criminal classes. Not very Christian, at least if you follow the New rather than the Old Testament line. Which bring us back to my earlier point. The Old Testament is the more this worldly of the two, it's a saga of a people and the wise and foolish things done over its history. It's oddly empirical, in a Cecil B. DeMille kind of way.
Returning to the modern Left and its current vehicle for keeping its power and prestige, environmentalism. Despite the pseudo-scientific trappings, and the occasional fig-leaf about conservation, it is Christianity with its best elements removed. It is the human race, not a single God-Man, who must immolate itself on the altar not of God but of Gaia. It is sacrifice not for the sake of your immortal soul but for the sake of the animals, the trees, the air and the rocks. As wacky doom-mongering cults go the fringe evangelicals ain't got nothin' on these guys. At least the fringe evangelicals know human beings are more important than inanimate objects. Soon enough the environmentalists, like the other Gods of the Marketplace, that peering through reverent fingers we've watch flourish and fall, will be one with Sidon, Tyre and a nationalized coal industry. And to that we here at the Gods of the Copybook Headings wish a truly secular Amen.
Originally Posted at The Gods of the Copybook Headings