Monday, December 31, 2018

The Closing Year

George Denison Prentice (1802-1870)

The Closing Year

'Tis midnight's holy hour, and silence now
Is brooding like a gentle spirit o'er

The still and pulseless world. Hark! on the winds
The bell's deep tones are swelling,—'tis the knell
Of the departed year.

No funeral train
Is sweeping past; yet on the stream and wood,
With melancholy light, the moonbeams rest
Like a pale, spotless shroud; the air is stirred,
As by a mourner's sigh; and on yon cloud
That floats so still and placidly through heaven,
The spirits of the seasons seem to stand—
Young Spring, bright Summer, Autumn's solemn form,
And Winter with his aged locks—and breathe,
In mournful cadences that come abroad
Like the far wind-harp's wild and touching wail,
A melancholy dirge o'er the dead year,
Gone from the earth forever.

'Tis a time
For memory and for tears. Within the deep,
Still chambers of the heart a specter dim,
Whose tones are like the wizard voice of Time,
Heard from the tomb of ages, points its cold
And solemn finger to the beautiful
And holy visions that have passed away,
And left no shadow of their loveliness
On the dead waste of life. That specter lifts
The coffin lid of Hope, and Joy, and Love,
And, bending mournfully above the pale,
Sweet forms that slumber there, scatters dead flowers
O'er what has passed to nothingness.

The year
Has gone, and with it many a glorious throng
Of happy dreams. Its mark is on each brow,
Its shadow in each heart. In its swift course
It waved its scepter o'er the beautiful,—
And they are not. It laid its pallid hand
Upon the strong man,—and the haughty form
Is fallen, and the flashing eye is dim.
It trod the hall of revelry, where thronged
The bright and joyous, and the tearful wail
Of stricken ones is heard, where erst the song
And reckless shout resounded. It passed o'er
The battle plain, where sword, and spear, and shield
Flashed in the light of midday—and the strength
Of serried hosts is shivered, and the grass,
Green from the soil of carnage, waves above
The crushed and mouldering skeleton. It came
And faded like a wreath of mist at eve;
Yet, ere it melted in the viewless air,
It heralded its millions to their home
In the dim land of dreams.

Remorseless Time!
Fierce spirit of the glass and scythe!—what power
Can stay him in his silent course, or melt
His iron heart to pity? On, still on
He presses, and forever. The proud bird,
The condor of the Andes, that can soar
Through heaven's unfathomable depths, or brave
The fury of the northern hurricane,
And bathe his plumage in the thunder's home,
Furls his broad wings at nightfall and sinks down
To rest upon his mountain crag—but Time
Knows not the weight of sleep or weariness,
And night's deep darkness has no chain to bind
His rushing pinions. Revolutions sweep
O'er earth, like troubled visions o'er the breast
Of dreaming sorrow,—cities rise and sink
Like bubbles on the water,—fiery isles
Spring blazing from the ocean, and go back
To their mysterious caverns,—mountains rear
To heaven their bald and blackened cliffs, and bow
Their tall heads to the plain,—new empires rise,
Gathering the strength of hoary centuries,
And rush down like the Alpine avalanche,
Startling the nations,—and the very stars,
Yon bright and burning blazonry of God,
Glitter a while in their eternal depths,
And, like the Pleiad, loveliest of their train,
Shoot from their glorious spheres, and pass away
To darkle in the trackless void,—yet Time,
Time, the tomb-builder, holds his fierce career,
Dark, stern, all-pitiless, and pauses not
Amid the mighty wrecks that strew his path
To sit and muse, like other conquerors,
Upon the fearful ruin he has wrought.

-by George Denison Prentice

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Turning and Twirling

Lord, your ways are not our ways.  Give us a chance to follow you with childlike innocence, learning to find providence in all things.  Amen.

Francis makes Friar Masseo turn round

One day, St Francis was travelling with Brother Masseo.  When they reached a three-way crossroads, by which they could go to Florence, Siena or Arezzo, Brother Masseo said, “Father, which road should we take?”  Francis answered, “The one that God wills.”  Brother Masseo asked, “But how will we know which one God wills?” 

St Francis commanded him, “Masseo – where you stand, twirl around and around as children do, and do not stop turning until I tell you to do so.”  Brother Masseo began twirling and twirling, falling many times due the dizziness he felt but each time he stood up and resumed his turning. 

Eventually, Francis called out, “Stop!  Which way are you facing?”  Masseo groggily replied, “Siena.”  St Francis picked up his staff, “Then that is the way God wills.”  Brother Masseo was amazed at what Francis made him do in front of the lay people passing by but said nothing out of reverence.

As St Francis and Brother Masseo neared Siena, the people of the city came out to meet him.  They carried them to the Bishop’s palace.  Along the way, Francis heard that there was much discord in the city and that two men had died in the violence.  Preaching of peace, he restored the senses of the townsfolk and returned them to wholeness. 

Staying with the Bishop, Francis received his hospitality gracefully but woke early in the morning and left with Brother Masseo without the Bishop’s knowledge.   On the road, Masseo thought, “Who is this man who makes me act like a child and then rudely leaves the Bishop without a word of thanks?”  Masseo thought Francis had acted without discernment. 

Friar Masseo

A voice came to Masseo, “You are proud – you judge the works of God and have indiscreet pride.  Brother Francis has acted as no angel could, suing for peace and listening to my call.  If he were to command you to throw stones, you should obey.  He has avoided much more bloodshed but you are too stupid and vain to see what comes from the will of God.”  

Detecting his silence, Francis said to Masseo, “Hold on to these thoughts, Brother, because they are good and inspired by God.  You have been vain but you now know the demons that can implant the mind.”  

Brother Masseo realised that Francis knew the secrets of his heart.

Lord, we can become impatient with your call to us, its indecipherable nature and its vagueness.  Let us rise to your challenge to a live a new tomorrow and come once again to the source of life.  Amen.

Illustrations by Eugene Burnand  (1850 – 1921)

For more of his beautiful art:

The Disciples Peter and John running to the sepulchre on the morning of the Resurrection 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas in the Woods (1919)

Christmas in the Woods

What season can it be but Christmas Eve,
When drowsy Nature’s icy fingers weave
Such pure delights in frost-bound earth and sky
As warm the heart and captivate the eye?

The sunset burns across blue-shadowed snow
And gilds the trees, all blackened, with its glow;
The azure heaven sparkles as it fades
To deeper hues that herald nightly shades.

In all the bracing air a gladness floats,
As sweet as music from the swelling throats
Of summer birds, and Nature’s children feel
A witchery of concord o’er them steal.

Deserting burrow, nest and hollow tree,
In fur and feathers, Little Folks in glee
Dance down the meadow path and forest lane,
And thoughts of cruel traps and guns disdain.

To many a festal tree their gambols lead,
Where stored against the barren winter’s need
The golden corn and rosy apples peep
From drifts of snow in luscious, tempting heap.

In jolly circles round and round they go
In step to merry shout of Jay and Crow,
And whistle of the Red-Bird, as they flash
Among the trees in many a headlong dash.

Perhaps they do not know t’is Christmas Eve,
Nor in its vague excitement sweet believe,
But on this day they feast without a fear,
Who live as foes thro’ all the changing year,
Till stars look down with laughing eyes that seem
To send a joyful message on each beam.

-Henry Clayton Hopkins
The Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1919,

Illustrated by Philip Vinton Clayton

Friday, December 21, 2018

On the God Within Us

At approximately the same time Saint Paul was writing the epistles that would appear in the New Testament, the Roman philosopher of stoicism, Seneca the Younger, was completing “Moral Epistles to Lucilius.”  Brief mention is made in the book of Acts about a meeting in Athens between Paul and Stoic philosophers  - see Acts 17:16-34.  (Up until the Renaissance, a collection of correspondence between Paul and Seneca was thought to be genuine, but it turned out to be a forgery.)

For the Stoics, the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.  Some tenets of the philosophy reverberate in Christian ethical teachings, but overall are more at consistent with today’s New Age movement.  The following passage is from Seneca’s epistle, “On the God Within Us:”  

We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven, or to beg the keeper of a temple to let us approach his idol's ear, as if in this way our prayers were more likely to be heard. God is near you, he is with you, he is within you.


2. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise? He it is that gives noble and upright counsel. In each good man, “A god doth dwell, but what god know we not.”

3. If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity. Or if a cave, made by the deep crumbling of the rocks, holds up a mountain on its arch, a place not built with hands but hollowed out into such spaciousness by natural causes, your soul will be deeply moved by a certain intimation of the existence of God. We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we adore springs of hot water as divine, and consecrate certain pools because of their dark waters or their immeasurable depth.

4. If you see a man who is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm, who looks down upon men from a higher plane, and views the gods on a footing of equality, will not a feeling of reverence for him steal over you, will you not say: "This quality is too great and too lofty to be regarded as resembling this petty body in which it dwells? A divine power has descended upon that man."

5. When a soul rises superior to other souls, when it is under control, when it passes through every experience as if it were of small account, when it smiles at our fears and at our prayers, it is stirred by a force from heaven. A thing like this cannot stand upright unless it be propped by the divine. Therefore, a greater part of it abides in that place from whence it came down to earth. Just as the rays of the sun do indeed touch the earth, but still abide at the source from which they are sent; even so the great and hallowed soul, which has come down in order that we may have a nearer knowledge of divinity, does indeed associate with us, but still cleaves to its origin; on that source it depends, thither it turns its gaze and strives to go, and it concerns itself with our doings only as a being superior to ourselves.

6. What, then, is such a soul? One which is resplendent with no external good, but only with its own. For what is more foolish than to praise in a man the qualities which come from without? And what is more insane than to marvel at characteristics which may at the next instant be passed on to someone else? A golden bit does not make a better horse. The lion with gilded mane, in process of being trained and forced by weariness to endure the decoration, is sent into the arena in quite a different way from the wild lion whose spirit is unbroken; the latter, indeed, bold in his attack, as nature wished him to be, impressive because of his wild appearance, – and it is his glory that none can look upon him without fear, – is favoured in preference to the other lion, that languid and gilded brute.

7. No man ought to glory except in that which is his own. We praise a vine if it makes the shoots teem with increase, if by its weight it bends to the ground the very poles which hold its fruit; would any man prefer to this vine one from which golden grapes and golden leaves hang down? In a vine the virtue peculiarly its own is fertility; in man also we should praise that which is his own. Suppose that he has a retinue of comely slaves and a beautiful house, that his farm is large and large his income; none of these things is in the man himself; they are all on the outside.

8. Praise the quality in him which cannot be given or snatched away, that which is the peculiar property of the man. Do you ask what this is? It is soul, and reason brought to perfection in the soul. For man is a reasoning animal. Therefore, man's highest good is attained, if he has fulfilled the good for which nature designed him at birth. 9. And what is it which this reason demands of him? The easiest thing in the world, – to live in accordance with his own nature. But this is turned into a hard task by the general madness of mankind; we push one another into vice. And how can a man be recalled to salvation, when he has none to restrain him, and all mankind to urge him on? Farewell.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Very Different is the Monastic Way"

Look at the worldly and at the whole world that exalts itself above the people of God: are the image of God and his truth not distorted in it? They have science, and in science only that which is subject to the senses. But the spiritual world, the higher half of man’s being, is altogether rejected, banished with a sort of triumph, even with hatred. The world has proclaimed freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs: only slavery and suicide!


For the world says, ‘You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest of men. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even increase them’–this is the current teaching of the world. And in this they see freedom. But what comes of this right to increase one’s needs? For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been given any way of satisfying their needs. . .

Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves. They live only for mutual envy, for pleasure seeking and self-display.

Very different is the monastic way. Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at, yet they alone constitute the way to real and true freedom: I cut away my superfluous and unnecessary needs, through obedience I humble and chasten my vain and proud will, and thereby, with God’s help, attain freedom of spirit, and with that, spiritual rejoicing!

Which of the two is more capable of upholding and serving a great idea–the isolated rich man or one who is liberated from the tyranny of things and habits? The monk is reproached for his isolation: ‘You isolate yourself in order to save your soul behind monastery walls, but you forget the brotherly ministry to mankind.’

We shall see, however, who is more zealous in loving his brothers. For it is they who are isolated, not we, but they do not see it. Of old from our midst came leaders of the people, and can they not come now as well? Our own humble and meek ones, fasters and keepers of silence, will arise and go forth for a great deed....

-Father Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bears in the Smokies (1859)

From "Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee" by S. B. Buckley in the American Journal of Science (1859)

The tedium of the night, when encamping on the mountains, is almost always enlivened by the stories of the guides and their adventures in hunting. They all positively assert that the bears in early spring, when first emerging from their winter quarters, are as fat as when they first retire for the winter.

The "original" Grizzly Adams and Ben, ca. 1860

During the winter they shed the soles of their feet, which renders their walking difficult in the first of spring, when their food consists of the young plants, on which diet they soon become lean, and remain so until the ripening of berries in August and September. They are very fond of hogs and pigs, pork and honey being their favorite diet. Why they bite and scratch the bark and limbs of the balsam and black spruce we cannot tell. It cannot be for food, because they do not generally leave the marks of their teeth on a tree, except in one or two places. Sometime they rise on their hind legs and make long deep scratches in the bark with their fore paws. It may be done for sport or to let their companions know their whereabouts. We have seen those fresh bites and scratches on different trees at all seasons of the year.

The bears show great sagacity in feeding at the leeward of the paths on the mountain ridges, along which the hunter is almost obliged to travel, hence if the wind blows it is almost impossible to get a shot at them, their keen scent discovering the hunter long before he gets within shooting distance. They are stupid and unwary about traps, entering without fear the log pens; these are shallow, with a depth of not more than two feet, over which is raised a very heavy top, which falls and crushes the bear when he disturbs the bait. Hundreds are caught in this manner every year.

In the unfrequented parts of the mountains the large steel trap is concealed in the bear trail; but this is dangerous, and liable to catch dogs, of which we saw two caught in one morning to our great sorrow. The piteous yells of those unfortunate dogs rang in our ears long afterwards. The bears rarely disturb calves or young cattle, but in one locality of the Smoky mountains we were told that they did much damage in killing young cattle, and that there could be no mistake about it, because a large bear had been caught in the act of killing a young steer.

The panther, wild cat, and wolf are all troublesome to the mountain farmer of those regions. The panther destroys sheep and hogs; the wild cat, lambs and pigs. Both are cowardly and thievish, being rarely seen.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Living as Machines

It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.
-Wendell Berry, ca. 2000

Marshall McLuhan, 1967

How willingly people have surrendered their humanity to their devices! Watching people’s souls get sucked out of them by their smart phones has not been my idea of fun. But that’s life in the 21st century.

Way back in 1972, Francis Schaeffer anticipated where we were headed:

Consider Marshall McLuhan’s concept that democracy is finished. What will we have in the place of democracy or morals? He says there is coming a time in the global village (not far ahead, in the area of electronics) when we will be able to wire everybody up to a giant computer, and what the computer strikes as the average at a given moment will be what is right and wrong.

You may say that this is far-fetched and there may never be such a worldwide computer system. But the concept of morals only being the average of what people are thinking and doing at a given time is a present reality. You must understand that that is exactly what Kinsey set forth in Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948) as statistical sexual ethics.

This is not theoretical. We have come to this place in our Western culture because man sees himself as beginning from the impersonal, the energy particle and nothing else. We are left with only statistical ethics, and in that setting there is simply no such thing as morals. (He Is There and He Is Not Silent, pp. 294-295)

I’m not sure about the precise McLuhan passage that Schaeffer had in mind, but McLuhan said a great deal about the electronic future. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), McLuhan observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: the acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. He wrote:

The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment….

In a 1959 letter, McLuhan stated:

When the globe becomes a single electronic computer, with all its languages and cultures recorded on a single tribal drum, the fixed point of view of print culture becomes irrelevant and impossible, no matter how precious.

And there is this:

The ordinary person senses the greatness of the odds against him even without thought or analysis, and he adapts his attitudes unconsciously. A huge passivity has settled on industrial society. For people carried about in mechanical vehicles, earning their living by waiting on machines, listening much of the waking day to canned music, watching packaged movie entertainment and capsulated news, for such people it would require an exceptional degree of awareness and an especial heroism of effort to be anything but supine consumers of processed goods. (The Mechanical Bride, 1951)

Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a company as a monopoly. (Understanding Media, 1964)

Now that “singularity” is more than just a hypothesis, I know better than to be surprised at how quickly people will embrace their amoral cyborg replacements. AI? VR? GMO? Bring it on!

It is interesting to see how the same people who, in decades past, might have hit the streets to protest nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors, exhibit so little concern about technologies that will be far more disruptive to humanity and the planet. I guess they are too busy ridding the world of politically incorrect pronouns and Civil War statues.

I've heard it from the Madman, I've heard it from the Sage:

The years in which we're living are the dwindling of an Age. 

Machines will liberate us from the limits we have known, 
Polymer and alloy will replace our skin and bone. 

Our current form of life will gradually dissolve 
As the species, Homo sapiens, continues to evolve. 

We are entering an Era called "Transhumanist," 
Becoming dots on a screen small and luminous. 

Will we recognize it, the day the threshold's crossed? 
When what it was we used to be becomes completely lost? 

We could test the waters cautiously, as human frailties we expunge. 
More likely we won't know our fate 'til the end of a headlong plunge. 

The final word (for now) goes to Francis Schaeffer:

Now having travelled from the pride of man in the High Renaissance and the Enlightenment down to the present despair, we can understand where modern people are. They have no place for a personal God. But equally they have no place for man as man, or for love, or for freedom, or for significance.

This brings a crucial problem. Beginning only from man himself, people affirm that man is only a machine. But those who hold this position cannot live like machines! If they could, there would be no tensions in their intellectual position or in their lives. But even people who believe they are machines cannot live like machines, and thus they must “leap upstairs” against their reason and try to find something which gives meaning to life, even though to do so they have to deny their reason.

This was a solution Leonardo da Vinci and the men of the Renaissance never would have accepted, even if, like Leonardo they ended their thinking in despondency. They would not have done so, for they would have considered it intellectual suicide to separate meaning and values from reason this way. And they would have been right. Such a solution is intellectual suicide, and one may question the intellectual integrity of those who accept such a position when their starting point was pride in the sufficiency of human reason.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Roads Not Taken

Last year, I read a book that had a profound impact on me.  The Way of a Pilgrim was written by an anonymous Christian who travelled through mid-nineteenth-century Russia and Siberia, visiting the monasteries and shrines of the saints while learning to “pray without ceasing.”

The author is introduced to the spiritual discipline known as the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” – and he recites that prayer thousands of times daily during his travels.
I had a vague recollection of a reference to The Way of a Pilgrim in a book I’d read 40 plus years ago - J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.  Franny was a disillusioned college student, bored with almost everyone and everything in her life:

“You take a look around your college campus, and the world, and politics, and one season of summer stock, and you listen to the conversation of a bunch of nitwit college students, and you decide that everything’s ego, ego, ego, and the only intelligent thing for a girl to do is to lie around and shave her head and say the Jesus Prayer and beg God for a little mystical experience that’ll make her nice and happy. […] You keep talking about ego. My God, it would take Christ himself to decide what’s ego and what isn’t. This is God’s universe, buddy, not yours, and he has the final say about what’s ego and what isn’t….”

Anyhow, the Jesus Prayer was a significant part of the story, and when I read Salinger’s work so long ago, it piqued my curiosity.  But in that time, actually obtaining a copy of The Way of a Pilgrim would have been no simple matter.

I do wonder how differently my life might have unfolded had I read the book back then.  But I realize, too, that it might not have affected me in 1974 the way it did in 2017.

Later in the 1970s I had a fleeting encounter with another book that has found its way back into my life.  Mention Francis Schaeffer today, and I suspect few people would know who you are talking about.  Forty years ago, he was best known for his book and film series, How Should We Then Live?  With his unruly longish hair, chin beard, and lederhosen, Schaeffer was a visible contrast to other well-known Evangelicals of his day. 

Schaeffer (1912 – 1984) was an American Evangelical Christian theologian who established the L’Abri Community in Switzerland in 1955.  Francis and his wife Edith sought to "demonstrate the existence of God" without a detailed plan of action.  They opened their alpine home as a ministry to curious travellers and as a forum to discuss philosophical and religious beliefs.     

A friend loaned me a copy of Schaeffer’s book, and I recall how it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.  The truths of the book were presented with great clarity, but posed too much of a threat to the liberal, “sophisticated” affectations to which I clung in those days.  I was knee deep in the “Counterculture” and was subscribing to the prevalent theory that Christianity was a tool of the corrupt and repressive “Establishment.” 

Ah yes, the heady days of the late 60s and early 70s. 

My little clique of backwater “intellectuals” loved to share our enthusiasms, crazy schemes, and bad poems.  We’d go to Fellini movies in Charlotte and eat moussaka at a Greek restaurant on Elizabeth Avenue.  Once, we conspired to kidnap our beloved Kurt Vonnegut, so that we could spend a weekend with him – to find out what made him tick.  And it was our dream to do like Jack Kerouac – or was it Gary Snyder? – and spend a whole summer stationed in a forest fire lookout tower. 

Poetry, of a sort, had a place in pop culture back then, even it was the schmaltzy, sappy stuff by raspy-voiced Rod McKuen. Those garish little blue and orange books – Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, and Listen to the Warm – were as ubiquitous as scented candles and decoupage wall art.

McKuen must have been the best-selling poet in America during the second half of the twentieth century, much to the chagrin of the self-annointed “serious” poets.

Richard Bach’s literary sensation, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, was a big deal in 1970.  And Annie Dillard gave us a new sort of book in 1974 with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Popular culture of that era brought a multitude of "new" ideas in a variety of new packages 

By the early 1970s, I had broken from my mainstream Protestant upbringing and explored all manner of “new thought.”  The Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, Alan Watts,  Aldous Huxley, Thomas Merton, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Meher Baba.  I signed up for a mail order study course from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship.

Psychology was big back then.  Self-help books were hitting their stride - remember I’m OK, You’re OK?  The magazine, Psychology Today, was wildly popular.  I filled pages of my journal with passages from Fritz Perls, the Gestalt psychologist probably best known for this cringeworthy “Gestalt Prayer”:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)

I can only hope that the “Perls” of wisdom I transcribed into my journal were better than this so-called “prayer.”  But I doubt it. 

Looking back from this point in my life, I regret the decades spent travelling down the trendy New Age trails that I started upon in the 1970s.  And now, upon revisiting Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? I regret not taking the road that he pointed out.

I must confess that I was slightly underwhelmed when I returned to the book a few months ago, after the long lapse of time.  The book is so packed with cultural references that his primary themes are not immediately obvious.

Fortunately, the 10-part documentary series of How Should We Then Live? (released in 1977) is easy to find on Youtube.  It might be the best starting point for most people.  I understand that it was conceived in part as a response to Kenneth Clark’s documentary series, Civilisation. 

How Should We Then Live? is subtitled “The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.”  One advantage of the video version is being able to view the paintings, sculpture and architecture that Schaeffer discusses.  Another advantage is to observe the quiet passion with which Schaeffer builds his case.   (One other point adds to the appeal for me.  At the time he narrated the video series, Francis Schaeffer was precisely the same age that I am today.)

I have read or browsed quite a few books on the collapse of Western Civilization, but none compare to Schaeffer's.  Early in the documentary series, I was struck by how well it holds up for something released in 1977.   He did not claim to be an academic or a theological, but he was someone who had a capacity for learning from history and learning from countless hours of conversations with the many "seekers" who visited L'abri.

Schaeffer argued that we cannot understand how we should live today unless we understand the intellectual and cultural forces that brought us to this day.  He frames his survey of Western thought as an ongoing struggle between two worldviews:  the Christian worldview and the humanist worldview.  In Schaeffer’s words:

It is important to realize what a difference a people’s world view makes in their strength as they are exposed to the pressure of life. That it was the Christians who were able to resist religious mixtures, syncretism, and the effects of the weakness of Roman culture speaks of the strength of the Christian world view. This strength rested on God’s being an infinite-personal God and his speaking in the Old Testament, in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and in the gradually growing New Testament. He had spoken in ways people could understand. Thus the Christians not only had knowledge about the universe and mankind that people cannot find out by themselves, but they had absolute, universal values by which to live and by which to judge the society and the political state in which they live.

Humanism has taken various forms over the past centuries.  Scholars during the Renaissance idealized the classical era:

These paid men of letters translated Latin, wrote speeches, and acted as secretaries...Their humanism meant, first of all, a veneration for everything ancient and especially the writings of the Greek and Roman age. Although this past age did include the early Christian church, it became increasingly clear that the sort of human autonomy that many of the Renaissance humanists had in mind referred exclusively to the non-Christian Greco-Roman world. Thus Renaissance humanism steadily evolved toward modern humanism—a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent.

Schaeffer examined how this idea resurfaced in the sciences during the 19th century, when it was assumed that the human mind or soul is to be explained on the basis of materialism:

When psychology and social science were made a part of a closed cause-and-effect system, along with physics, astronomy and chemistry, it was not only God who died.  Man died. And within this framework love died.  There is no place for love in a totally closed cause-and-effect system.  There is no place for morals in a totally closed cause-and-effect system.  There is no place for the freedom of people in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. Man becomes a zero.   People and all they do become only a part of the machinery.

The final episode of the video series, How Should We Then Live?, is stunning.  In his summation, Schaeffer anticipated where humanist thinking would lead.  What he foretold in 1977 might have seemed unduly pessimistic or even alarmist.  But now in 2018, immersed in the culture that Schaeffer saw coming, I recognize how very wise he was.  Today, political correctness is a capricious and arbitrary form of  tyranny.  Virtual is better than real.  Transhumanism is cool.  Google knows more about you than any human companion ever will. 

Man no longer sees himself as qualitatively different from non-man. The Christian consensus gave a basis for people being unique, as made in the image of God, but this has largely been thrown away….For a long time…people have been taught that truth as objective truth does not exists.  All morals and laws are seen as relative…. 

If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute.

Schaeffer closed the video series, and the book, with these words:

In about A.D. 60, a Jew who was a Christian and who also knew the Greek and Roman thinking of his day wrote a letter to those who lived in Rome. Previously, he had said the same things to Greek thinkers while speaking on Mars Hill in Athens. He had spoken with the Acropolis above him and the ancient marketplace below him, in the place where the thinkers of Athens met for discussion. A plaque marks that spot today and gives his talk in the common Greek spoken in his day. He was interrupted in his talk in Athens, but his Letter to the Romans gives us without interruption what he had to say to the thinking people of that period.

He said that the integration points of the Greek and Roman world view were not enough to answer the questions posed either by the existence of the universe and its form, or by the uniqueness of man. 

He said that they deserved judgment because they knew that they did not have an adequate answer to the questions raised by the universe or by the existence of man, and yet they refused, they suppressed, that which is the answer. To quote his letter:

“The retribution of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known of God is evident within them [that is, the uniqueness of man in contrast to non-man], for God made it evident to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived by the things that are made [that is, the existence of the universe and its form], even his eternal power and divinity; so that they are without excuse.” [Roman 1:18ff.]

Here he is saying that the universe and its form and the mannishness of man speak the same truth that the Bible gives in greater detail. That this God exists and that he has not been silent but has spoken to people in the Bible and through Christ was the basis for the return to a more fully biblical Christianity in the days of the Reformers. It was a message of the possibility that people could return to God on the basis of the death of Christ alone. But with it came many other realities, including form and freedom in the culture and society built on that more biblical Christianity. The freedom brought forth was titanic, and yet, with the forms given in the Scripture, the freedoms did not lead to chaos. 

And it is this which can give us hope for the future. It is either this or an imposed order.

As I have said in the first chapter, people function on the basis of their world view more consistently than even they themselves may realize. The problem is not outward things. The problem is having, and then acting upon, the right world view — the world view which gives men and women the truth of what is.

Really, I’m not able to give Schaeffer’s work the review that it deserves.  What he communicates in the five hours of his documentary is breathtaking.  I had my forty years “wandering in the wilderness” after my first fleeting exposure to (and dismissal of ) How Should We Then Live? My hope is that no one else waits that long to give Schaeffer a fair hearing.  

-  -  -  -  -
A link to a site with notes on How Should We Then Live? and the Youtube videos of the series:

Friday, December 7, 2018

From Dawn to Decadence

 Selections from Jacques Barzun (1907-2012) From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000):

“Except among those whose education has been in the minimalist style, it is understood that hasty moral judgments about people in the past are a form of injustice.”

“Inquisition as such, that is, apart from methods and severity of results, has remained a live institution. The many dictatorships of the 20C have relied on it and in free countries it thrives ad hoc - Hunting down German sympathizers during the First World War, interning Japanese-Americans during the second, and pursuing Communist fellow-travelers during the Cold War. In the United States at the present time the workings of 'political correctness' in universities and the speech police that punishes persons and corporations for words on certain topics quaintly called 'sensitive'  are manifestations of the permanent spirit of inquisition.”

“The feeble clavichord did not carry far; the harpsichord was only a little stronger; but Cristofori in Italy was working at these defects; he built a machine he called clavicembalo piano e forte — a keyboard instrument to play 'soft and loud.' Contrary to all experience, we now call it simply 'a soft.'"

“The motives behind scientism are culturally significant. They have been mixed, as usual: genuine curiosity in search of truth; the rage for certainty and for unity; and the snobbish desire to earn the label scientist when that became a high social and intellectual rank. But these efforts, even though vain, have not been without harm, to the inventors and to the world at large. The 'findings' have inspired policies affecting daily life that were enforced with the same absolute assurance as earlier ones based on religion. At the same time, the workers in the realm of intuition, the gifted finessers - artists, moralists, philosophers, historians, political theorists, and theologians - were either diverted from their proper task, while others were looking on them with disdain as dabblers in the suburbs of Truth.”

“The Modern Era was to be one of plans and proposals, which is to say futurist to the point of bigotry.”

“Now, analysis, the breaking of the wholes into parts, is fundamental to science, but for judging works of art, the procedure is more uncertain: what are the natural parts of a story, a sonnet, a painting? The maker's aim is to project his vision by creating not a machine made up of parts but the impression of seamless unity that belongs to a living thing. Looking at an early example of systematic criticism by analysis -- say, Dante's comments on his sonnet sequence La Vita Nuova -- one sees that the best he can do is to tell again in prose what the first two lines mean, then the next three, and so on in little chunks through the entire work. We may understand somewhat better his intention here and there, but at the same time we vaguely feel that the exercise was superfluous and inappropriate. Reflection tells us why: those notations taken together do not add up to the meaning of the several poems. In three words: analysis is reductive. Since its patent success in natural sciences, analysis has become a universal mode of dealing not merely with what is unknown or difficult, but also with all interesting things as if they were difficult. Accordingly, analysis is a theme. Depending on the particulars of its effect, it can also be designated reductivism.”

“'If one consults reason alone, one cannot assent to the articles of our faith' it was full of mysteries; 'we are fools to try to explain them.' This makes preaching Christianity not only a hard task but also dangerous. 'Had I know, I should never have been a preacher.'”

“The notion that talent and personality in women were suppressed at all times during our half millennium except the last fifty years is an illusion. Nor were all women previously denied an education or opportunities for self-development. Wealth and position were prerequisite, to be sure, and they still tend to be. The truth is that matters of freedom can never be settled in all-or-nothing fashion and any judgment must be comparative. Individual cases moreover show that what happens in a culture always differs in some degree from what is supposed to happen; possibilities are always greater than custom would dictate.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Works of Providence

Thoughts on the Works of Providence

ARISE, my soul, on wings enraptur'd, rise
To praise the monarch of the earth and skies,
Whose goodness and benificence appear
As round its centre moves the rolling year,
Or when the morning glows with rosy charms,
Or the sun slumbers in the ocean's arms:
Of light divine be a rich portion lent
To guide my soul, and favour my intend.
Celestial muse, my arduous flight sustain
And raise my mind to a seraphic strain!

Ador'd for ever be the God unseen,
Which round the sun revolves this vast machine,
Though to his eye its mass a point appears:
Ador'd the God that whirls surrounding spheres,
Which first ordain'd that mighty Sol should reign
The peerless monarch of th' ethereal train:
Of miles twice forty millions is his height,
And yet his radiance dazzles mortal sight
So far beneath--from him th' extended earth
Vigour derives, and ev'ry flow'ry birth:
Vast through her orb she moves with easy grace
Around her Phoebus in unbounded space;
True to her course th' impetuous storm derides,
Triumphant o'er the winds, and surging tides.

Almighty, in these wond'rous works of thine,
What Pow'r, what Wisdom, and what Goodness shine!
And are thy wonders, Lord, by men explor'd,
And yet creating glory unador'd!

Creation smiles in various beauty gay,
While day to night, and night succeeds to day:
That Wisdom, which attends Jehovah's ways,
Shines most conspicuous in the solar rays:
Without them, destitute of heat and light,
This world would be the reign of endless night:
In their excess how would our race complain,
Abhorring life! how hate its length'ned chain!
From air adust what num'rous ills would rise?
What dire contagion taint the burning skies?
What pestilential vapours, fraught with death,
Would rise, and overspread the lands beneath?

Hail, smiling morn, that from the orient main
Ascending dost adorn the heav'nly plain!
So rich, so various are thy beauteous dies,
That spread through all the circuit of the skies,
That, full of thee, my soul in rapture soars,
And thy great God, the cause of all adores.

O'er beings infinite his love extends,
His Wisdom rules them, and his Pow'r defends.
When tasks diurnal tire the human frame,
The spirits faint, and dim the vital flame,
Then too that ever active bounty shines,
Which not infinity of space confines.
The sable veil, that Night in silence draws,
Conceals effects, but shows th' Almighty Cause,
Night seals in sleep the wide creation fair,
And all is peaceful but the brow of care.
Again, gay Phoebus, as the day before,
Wakes ev'ry eye, but what shall wake no more;
Again the face of nature is renew'd,
Which still appears harmonious, fair, and good.
May grateful strains salute the smiling morn,
Before its beams the eastern hills adorn!

Shall day to day, and night to night conspire
To show the goodness of the Almighty Sire?
This mental voice shall man regardless hear,
And never, never raise the filial pray'r?
To-day, O hearken, nor your folly mourn
For time mispent, that never will return.

But see the sons of vegetation rise,
And spread their leafy banners to the skies.
All-wise Almighty Providence we trace
In trees, and plants, and all the flow'ry race;
As clear as in the nobler frame of man,
All lovely copies of the Maker's plan.
The pow'r the same that forms a ray of light,
That call d creation from eternal night.
"Let there be light," he said: from his profound
Old Chaos heard, and trembled at the sound:
Swift as the word, inspir'd by pow'r divine,
Behold the light around its Maker shine,
The first fair product of th' omnific God,
And now through all his works diffus'd abroad.

As reason's pow'rs by day our God disclose,
So we may trace him in the night's repose:
Say what is sleep? and dreams how passing strange!
When action ceases, and ideas range
Licentious and unbounded o'er the plains,
Where Fancy's queen in giddy triumph reigns.
Hear in soft strains the dreaming lover sigh
To a kind fair, or rave in jealousy;
On pleasure now, and now on vengeance bent,
The lab'ring passions struggle for a vent.
What pow'r, O man! thy reason then restores,
So long suspended in nocturnal hours?
What secret hand returns the mental train,
And gives improv'd thine active pow'rs again?
From thee, O man, what gratitude should rise!
And, when from balmy sleep thou op'st thine eyes,
Let thy first thoughts be praises to the skies.
How merciful our God who thus imparts
O'erflowing tides of joy to human hearts,
When wants and woes might be our righteous lot,
Our God forgetting, by our God forgot!

Among the mental pow'rs a question rose,
"What most the image of th' Eternal shows?"
When thus to Reason (so let Fancy rove)
Her great companion spoke immortal Love.

"Say, mighty pow'r, how long shall strife prevail,
"And with its murmurs load the whisp'ring gale?
"Refer the cause to Recollection's shrine,
"Who loud proclaims my origin divine,
"The cause whence heav'n and earth began to be,
"And is not man immortaliz'd by me?
"Reason let this most causeless strife subside."
Thus Love pronounc'd, and Reason thus reply'd.

"Thy birth, coelestial queen! 'tis mine to own,
"In thee resplendent is the Godhead shown;
"Thy words persuade, my soul enraptur'd feels
"Resistless beauty which thy smile reveals."
Ardent she spoke, and, kindling at her charms,
She clasp'd the blooming goddess in her arms.

Infinite Love where'er we turn our eyes
Appears: this ev'ry creature's wants supplies;
This most is heard in Nature's constant voice,
This makes the morn, and this the eve rejoice;
This bids the fost'ring rains and dews descend
To nourish all, to serve one gen'ral end,
The good of man: yet man ungrateful pays
But little homage, and but little praise.
To him, whose works arry'd with mercy shine,
What songs should rise, how constant, how divine! 

-Phillis Wheatley (1753 - December 5, 1784)

Phillis Wheatley was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven or eight and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral  in 1773 brought her fame both in England and the American colonies. George Washington was among those who praised her work.

On Being Brought From Africa To America

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The United States of Soviet America

Recently, I stumbled upon a 1932 book by William Z. Foster: Toward Soviet America.    Foster (1881-1961) was a highly influential leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) as well as a prolific author.   He ran for President on the CPUSA ticket in 1924, 1928 and 1932.

In Toward Soviet America, Foster’s starry-eyed faith in the rise of the USSR is ludicrous.  Crime? All but gone!  Alcoholism?  Eradicated!  

Even when the book was published, 15 years after the Russian Revolution, famine was plaguing the “masses.”  In the decades that followed, millions and millions of people were murdered by the Soviet regime.

His analysis of how communism would replace capitalism in USA is timely, given that an alarming number of Americans find the blather of a Bernie Sanders appealing. 

We live in perilous times when people crave a dystopian future like the one outlined by Foster.  But here we are.

William Z Foster was born a century too soon, perhaps.  If he hit the scene today, he could get rich on the campus lecture circuit.  And his wish to become President of the United States just might come true.  He would feel right at home here now, when the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, the Elks Club, private property and religion are viewed as "evil" by so many.

Examine the “program” of the CPUSA in 2018  and you will find a statement that repeats, ad naueum, many of the same points hammered by Foster in Toward Soviet America.

1932 was not the finest moment for capitalism in the United States.  So, I will concede that Foster was able to turn a Herbert Hoover quote to his benefit in the first pages of Toward Soviet America. 

“We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.”—President Hoover, Aug. 11, 1928.

LET us turn away from the decaying, declining capitalist system, with its mounting mass misery, exploitation, war and Fascist terrorism, and look at the new rising system of Socialism in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. No longer is Socialism, which is the first stage of Communism, only a theory; no longer is it simply the aspiration of an oppressed working class. Now it is a living, growing reality. Operating simultaneously in the world with capitalism, it is showing in the everyday demonstration of life its immense superiority in every field over the obsolete capitalist system. The very existence of the Soviet Union has a profoundly revolutionizing effect upon the working class. It is the growing hope and strong leader of a working world preparing to strike off the shackles of the murderous capitalist system….

As Louis Fischer says: “The Soviet frontier is like a charmed circle which the world economic crisis cannot cross. While banks crash, while production falls and trade languishes abroad, the Soviet Union continues in an orgy of construction and national development. The scale and speed of its progress are unprecedented.”…

The revolution in Russian agriculture is of profound economic, political and social significance. The farmers are being proletarianized and revolutionized. The collectivized farms lay a solid Socialist basis in the country. The remnants of competitive, individualist farming are being liquidated, and the rich kulaks with them. The farms are being mechanized and industrialized, the unity of city and country established. ...

The Russian workers and peasants, it is true, are still poor. This poverty is their heritage from Czarism and capitalism….

Capitalist science is planless and anarchic, the hit-or-miss task of whoever may be. But Socialism organizes science. In the Soviet Union scientific work is being done on a planned basis, with full government support. There is a special Scientific Research Sector of the Supreme Economic Council. Bukharin says: “The plan of Socialist construction is not only a plan of economy; the process of the rationalization of life, beginning with the suppression of irrationality in the economic sphere, wins away from it one position after another; the principle of planning invades the realm of mental production, the sphere of science, the sphere of theory.”

Cultural Revolution in the USSR

In the U.S.S.R., as part of the general cultural revolution, religion is being liquidated. Religion, which Marx called, “the opium of the people,” has been a basic part of every system of exploitation that has afflicted humanity—chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism. It has sanctified every war and every tyrant, no matter how murderous and reactionary. Its glib phrases about morality, brotherly love and immortality are the covers behind which the most terrible deeds in history have been done. Religion is the sworn enemy of liberty, education, science.

Such a monstrous system of dupery and exploitation is totally foreign to a Socialist society; firstly, because there is no exploited class to be demoralized by religion; secondly, because its childish tissue of superstition is impossible in a society founded upon Marxian materialism; and thirdly, because its slavish moral system is out of place, the new Communist moral code developing naturally upon the basis of the new modes of production and exchange.

Religion is now in deep crisis throughout the capitalist world. The quarrels between “modernists” and “fundamentalists” in American churches are one form of this crisis. Religion, born in a primitive world, finds it extremely difficult to survive in a world of industry and great cities. When capitalism was young and strong its great scientists, the Darwins, Spencers and Huxleys, were Atheists; but capitalism, grown decrepit and in crisis, tries to preserve religion in order to check the rebellion of the workers. This is why Einstein (“cosmic religion”), Millikan, Eddington, and other bourgeois scientists now are trying so diligently to “harmonize science and religion.” In the U.S.S.R., as it must be in any Socialist country, religion dies out in the midst of the growing culture. As the factories and schools open the churches close. But stories of religious persecution in the U.S.S.R. are utterly false, being part of the anti- Soviet campaign. Freedom of worship exists unrestricted for all those who desire to practice. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution, which declares:
“In order to guarantee to all workers real freedom of conscience, the church is separated from the State and the school from the church, and freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda is bestowed on all citizens.”

The Arts

In the realms of art, literature, music, etc., the cultural revolution also proceeds at a rapid pace. New standards, freed from the stultifying profit- motive, conventionalism and general reactionary spirit of capitalism, are being developed in all these spheres. In this great field, as in all others, the Russian revolution is carrying humanity on to new and higher stages. The capitalist world as yet has not even an inkling of the profound changes involved in the cultural revolution in the U.S.S.R….

Overthrowing Capitalism

THE FINAL aim of the Communist International is to overthrow world capitalism and replace it by world Communism, “the basis for which has been laid by the whole course of historical development.” On this the Program of the Communist International says:
“Communist society will abolish the class division of society, i.e., simultaneously with the anarchy in production, it will abolish all forces of exploitation and oppression of man by man. Society will no longer consist of antagonistic classes in conflict with each other, but will represent a united commonwealth of labor. For the first time in its history mankind will take its fate into its own hands. Instead of destroying innumerable human lives and incalculable wealth in struggles between classes and nations, mankind will devote all its energies to the struggle against the forces of nature, to the development and strengthening of its own collective might.”

The future Communist society will be Stateless. With private property in industry and land abolished (but, of course, not in articles of personal use), with exploitation of the toilers ended, and with the capitalist class finally defeated and all classes liquidated, there will then be no further need for the State, which in its essence, is an organ of class repression. The revolutionary State of the period of transition from capitalism to Communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, will, in the words of Engels, “wither away” and be replaced by a scientific technical “administration of things.” The present planning boards in the Soviet Union are forerunners of such a Stateless society. …

The choicest “flowers” of American capitalism are such multi-billionaires as the House of Morgan, which controls corporations worth $74,000,000,000, including innumerable railroads, banks, insurance companies, auto plants, steel mills, etc.; the Rockefellers with their billions in oil, chemicals, railroads, banks, etc.; the Mellon family, whose wealth control is estimated by W. P. Beazell, in the current World’s Work, at eight billion dollars; the great Ford fortune, etc. “In 1929, 504 millionaires had incomes of $1,185,100,000, or more than the selling price of all American wheat and cotton in 1930.”

It is among the great masses of the 87% who own only 10% of the national wealth that the revolution will find a sufficiency of forces to overthrow capitalism  ….

THE COMMUNIST PARTY is the only Party that represents the interests of these toiling masses of workers, farmers, Negroes, lower city petty bourgeoisie. It alone fights for their welfare now and provides the means for their ultimate prosperity and freedom. The other parties and groups—Republican, Democratic, Progressive and Socialist—are the enemies of these classes and the tools of the big capitalists.

The Republican party is the party of finance capital, of the great bankers and industrialists of Wall Street, of which the Morgan interests stand at the head. The Hoover government is the instrument of these owners and rulers of America. It uses all its power to oppress the producing masses for the benefit of the capitalist exploiters. The present situation, with its economic collapse and hunger and misery for the broad masses, is the logical result of this capitalist policy. From the Republican party no relief, but only a worsening of existing conditions may be expected.

The Democratic party is no less the party of the big capitalists. Raskob, the dictator of the Democratic party, is notoriously the representative of the Morgan-General Motors-Dupont interests. The corrupt and reactionary Tammany Hall of New York City is indistinguishable politically from the rotten Republican Vare machine in Philadelphia. The Democratic party is directly responsible for the unspeakable regime of lynching, Jim-Crowism and discrimination against the Negro masses in the South, although in this it has the full support of the Republican Federal Administration. Wherever the Democratic party is found in power its practical policies are identical with those of the Republicans and they sum up into a defense of the interests of the capitalists at the expense of the producing masses….

Progressivism is a grave danger to the working class. This is because of the widespread existence of petty bourgeois illusions among the workers. The LaFollettes, Borahs, La Guardias, Norrises, Pinchots, Murphys, etc., are disorganizers and demoralizers of the workers and poor farmers. The Progressive bloc is just another lightning rod to shield the capitalist profit edifice.

The Socialist party is the third party of capitalism. This is amply demonstrated by its history in the United States and all other countries. The Socialist party has nothing constructive to offer the workers in their daily struggles now or for their ultimate emancipation. The fact that this party hides its capitalist face behind a pretense of radicalism makes it more, not less dangerous….

Communist action is based upon the slogan of “Class Against Class”; that is, the working class against the capitalist class. This slogan expresses the elementary fighting policy of the revolutionary movement. In applying it, the Communist party actively promotes the mass organization of the workers, regardless of political opinion, into trade unions, unemployed councils, organizations to defend the rights of Negroes, ex-servicemen’s leagues, labor defense and strike relief bodies, leagues of poor farmers, proletarian sports organizations, labor fraternal insurance societies, organizations to defend the foreign born, societies of working class culture, etc., etc….


From capitalism to Communism, through the intermediary stage of Socialism; that is the way American society, like society in general, is headed. It represents the main line of march of the human race to the next higher social stage in its historical advance. It is the trend to which all the economic, political and social forces of today are contributing. The American revolution, when the workers have finally seized power, will develop even more swiftly in all its phases than has the Russian revolution. This is because in the United States objective conditions are more ripe for revolution than they were in old Russia. In his work, Imperialism, Lenin states:
“Capitalism, in its imperialist phase, arrives at the threshold of the complete socialization of production. To some extent it causes the capitalists, whether they like it or no, to enter a new social order, which marks the transition from free competition to the socialization of production. Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private. The social means of production remain the private property of a few.”…

The American Soviet Government

WHEN the American working class actively enters the revolutionary path of abolishing capitalism it will orientate upon the building of Soviets, not upon the adaptation of the existing capitalist government. Capitalist governments have nothing in common with proletarian governments. They are especially constructed throughout to maintain the rulership of the bourgeoisie. In the revolutionary struggle they are smashed and Soviet governments established, built according to the requirements of the toiling masses.

The building of Soviets is begun not after the revolution but before. When the eventual revolutionary crisis becomes acute the workers begin the establishment of Soviets. The Soviets are not only the foundation of the future Workers’ State, but also the main instruments to mobilize the masses for revolutionary struggle. The decisions of the Soviets are enforced by the armed Red Guard of the workers and peasants and by the direct seizure of the industry through factory committees. A revolutionary American working class will follow this general course, which is the way of proletarian revolution.

The American Soviet government will be organized along the broad lines of the Russian Soviets. Local Soviets, the base of the whole Soviet State, will be established in all cities, towns and villages. Local Soviets combine in themselves the legislative, executive and judicial functions. Representation, based on occupation instead of residence and property, comes directly from the shops, mines, farms, schools, workers’ organizations, army, navy, etc. The principle of recall of representatives applies throughout. Citizenship is restricted to those who do useful work, capitalists, landlords, clericals and other non-producers being disfranchised….

In order to defeat the class enemies of the revolution, the counter-revolutionary intrigues within the United States and the attacks of foreign capitalist countries from without, the proletarian dictatorship must be supported by the organized armed might of the workers, soldiers, local militia, etc. In the early stages of the revolution, even before the seizure of power, the workers will organize the Red Guard. Later on this loosely constructed body becomes developed into a firmly-knit, well-disciplined Red Army.

The leader of the revolution in all its stages is the Communist party. With its main base among the industrial workers, the Party makes a bloc with the revolutionary farmers and impoverished city petty bourgeoisie, drawing under its general leadership such revolutionary groups and organizations as these classes may have. Under the dictatorship all the capitalist parties—Republican, Democratic, Progressive, Socialist, etc.—will be liquidated, the Communist party functioning alone as the Party of the toiling masses. Likewise, will be dissolved all other organizations that are political props of the bourgeois rule, including chambers of commerce, employers’ associations, rotary clubs, American Legion, Y.M.C.A., and such fraternal orders as the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, Knights of Columbus, etc….

In industry, transport and communication this will mean the immediate taking over by the State of all large factories, mines and power plants, together with all municipal and State industries; the whole transport services of railroads, waterways, airways, electric car lines, bus lines, etc.; the entire communication organization, including telegraphs, telephones, post office, radio, etc.

In agriculture it will involve the early confiscation of the large landed estates in town and country, including church property, together with their buildings, factories, live stock, etc., and also the whole body of forests, mineral deposits, lakes, rivers, etc. In finance it will mean the nationalization of the banking system and its concentration around a central State bank; the taking over of the department stores, chain stores, and other large wholesale and retail trading organizations; the setting up of a State monopoly of foreign trade; the cancellation of all government debts, reparations, war loans, etc., to the big foreign and home capitalists….

The socialization of the key sections of industry, commerce, agriculture and finance will lay a solid economic foundation for the building of Socialism. Doubtless, private property will survive in small farms, in petty industry and in trade. But this will be only temporary. With the consolidation and growth of Socialism and the general spread of well-being all the land will eventually and without serious difficulty be nationalized, and all industry will be concentrated into the Socialist Soviet economy….

The Soviet government will initiate at once a vast housing program. All houses and other buildings will be socialized. The great hotels, apartments, city palaces, country homes, country clubs, etc., of the rich will be taken over and utilized by the workers for dwellings, rest homes, children’s clubs, sanatoria, etc. The best of the skyscrapers, emptied of their thousand and one brands of parasites, will be used to house the new government institutions, the trade unions, cooperatives, Communist party, etc….

The above measures of improvement for the workers and farmers will represent only a bare beginning. Already the material conditions are at hand in the United States for an enormous increase in the well-being of the masses. The barriers to this advancement are the incredible robberies, wastes and the general idiocies of the capitalist system. The revolution will clear away this mass of exploitation, inefficiency and reaction, and will open the road for such an industrial development and general rise in material and cultural standards of the masses as now seems only the stuff of dreams….

The Collectivization of Agriculture

The central policy of the American Soviet government in agriculture will be to reorganize the farming system primarily upon the basis of State farms. The position of American agricultural technique and the experience in the U.S.S.R. will justify such a policy. The great ranches of the Far West, the big corporation farms of the Middle West, the huge private estates of the millionaires in the East—all confiscated by the new government—will provide immediate bases for many such great State farms. These will be vast model farms, equipped with the most modern machinery and technique. They will raise the level of agriculture production generally to a new and higher stage. But, doubtless, the artel type of collective farm will also be widely organized. It will be the policy of the government to stimulate the collectivization movement, furnishing the poor farmers with the necessary implements, etc. The artel form of farm will provide a convenient bridge, leading away from individualist, competitive farming and towards the State farm….

The Emancipation of Woman

WHEN woman emerged historically from feudalism she was burdened with a whole series of customs, prejudices and restrictions enslaving her in her work, her personal life and her political status. Characteristically capitalism, which respects nothing in its greed for profits, quickly seized upon all these handicaps of woman and used them to doubly exploit her. This is true of the United States as well as other capitalist countries. The so-called freedom of the American woman is a myth. Either she is a gilded butterfly bourgeois parasite or she is an oppressed slave.

The life of the working class woman and poor farmer’s wife is one of drudgery and exploitation. Capitalism sees in her mainly a breeder of wage slaves and soldiers. The boasted American home, enslaving the woman through her economic inferiority and her children, makes her dependent upon her husband. On all sides she confronts medieval sex taboos, assiduously cultivated by the church, State and bourgeois moralists. When she goes into industry she has to toil for from a third to a half less than the male worker; she works at a killing pace under unhealthful conditions and she is barred from many occupations under the hypocritical and reactionary slogan, “The woman’s place is in the home”; the A.F. of L. betrays her every attempt to organize and to defend her interests. Politically, she is practically a zero, having little or no opportunity to educate herself or to function in an organized manner. Finally, to cap the climax of woman’s enslavement, capitalism maintains in full blast the “oldest profession,” prostitution.

The proletarian revolution will profoundly change all this. The American Soviet government will immediately set about liquidating the elaborate network of slavery in which woman is enmeshed. She will be freed economically, politically and socially. The U.S.S.R. shows the general lines along which the emancipation of woman will also proceed in a Soviet America.

The Russian woman is free economically, and this is the foundation of all her freedom. Every field of activity is open to her. She is to be found even in such occupations as locomotive engineer, electrical crane operator, machinist, factory director, etc. There are women generals in the Red Army, women ambassadors, etc. Two-thirds of the medical students are women. In industry the women are thoroughly organized in the trade unions. They get the same pay as men, and are protected by an elaborate system of maternity and other social insurance. In politics the women of the Soviet Union are a major and militant factor.

The Russian woman is also free in her sex life. When married life becomes unwelcome for a couple they are not barbarously compelled to live together. Divorce is to be had for the asking by one or both parties. The woman’s children are recognized as legitimate by the State and society, whether born in official wedlock or not. The free American woman, like her Russian sister, will eventually scorn the whole fabric of bourgeois sex hypocrisy and prudery.

In freeing the woman, Socialism liquidates the drudgery of housework. So important do Communists consider this question that the Communist International deals with it in its world program. In the Soviet Union the attack upon housework slavery is delivered from every possible angle. Great factory kitchens are being set up to prepare hot, well-balanced meals for home consumption by the millions; communal kitchens in apartment houses are organized widespread. Every device to simplify and reduce housework is spread among the masses with all possible dispatch.

To free the woman from the enslavement of the perpetual care of her children is also a major object of Socialism. To this end in the Soviet Union there is being developed the most elaborate system of kindergartens and playgrounds in the world—in the cities and villages, in the neighborhoods and around the factories. Of this development, Anna Razamova says:
“All these institutions for child welfare mean a great deal in the life of the working woman. They free her from the necessity of spending all her time at home, cleaning, cooking and mending. While she is at work she can be sure that her child is being well taken care of, and that it is supervized by trained nurses and teachers, and gets wholesome food at regular hours.”

The free Russian woman is the trail blazer for the toiling women of the world. She is beating out a path which, ere long, her American sister will begin to follow.

The Cultural Revolution in the United States

PRESENT-DAY culture in this country is an instrument by which the capitalist class consolidates its dominant position. The prevailing systems of education, morality, ethics, science, art, patriotism, religion, etc., are as definitely parts of capitalist exploitation as the stock exchange. The schools, churches, newspapers, motion pictures, radio, theatres and various other avenues of publicity and mass instruction are the organized propaganda machinery of the ruling class.

The chief aims of bourgeois culture, so far as it is directed towards the working class, are to develop the workers into, (1) slave-like robots who will accept uncomplainingly whatever standards of life and work the owners of industry see fit to grant them; (2) unthinking soldiers who will enthusiastically get themselves killed off in defense of their masters’ rulership; (3) superstitious dolts who will satisfy themselves with a promise of paradise after death as a substitute for a decent life here on earth. 

To these ends the workers are regimented in the schools, poisoned by the militaristic Boy Scouts and C.M.T.C., enmeshed in fascist-like sport organizations, herded into the strike-breaking Y.M.C.A., stuffed with endless rot in the newspapers and movies, jammed into religious training before they are able to think for themselves, etc. As for real education, about all the workers get of it in school is the minimum of the three R’s required to enable them to perform the tasks allotted them in industry.

So far as this culture is directed to the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, it results in a mass production of capitalist intellectual robots. The schools and colleges, firmly in the grip of finance capital, as Upton Sinclair so completely showed in his book, The Goose Step, are great manufactories of Babbitts. In no country is culture so debased by capitalism as in the United States. Essentially a gigantic effort to perpetuate the robbery of the workers, it is sterile, hypocritical, colorless, lifeless. America’s capitalistic writers are engaged in trying to convince the working class what a glorious thing it is to be a wage slave; her artists and poets are busy glorifying Heinz’s pickles and the advertising pages of The Saturday Evening Post; her dramatists and musicians are cooking up patriotic slush and idiotic sex stories to divert the masses from their troubles and the hopeless boredom of capitalist life; her scientists are trying to prove the unity of science and religion, etc., etc.

The proletarian revolution in the United States will at once make a devastating slash into this maze of hypocrisy and intellectual rubbish. Not less than in the Soviet Union, it will usher in a profound cultural revolution. For the first time in history the toiling masses will have the opportunity to know and enjoy the good things of life. With prosperity assured for all, with no slave class to stultify intellectually and with no system of exploitation to defend, Communist culture will have a mass base and will flourish luxuriantly and free. It will call forth the artistic and intellectual powers of the masses, always hitherto repressed by chattel slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Superstition, and ignorance will vanish in a realm of science; “Culture will become the acquirement of all and the class ideologies of the past will give place to scientific materialist philosophy.”

Among the elementary measures the American Soviet government will adopt to further the cultural revolution are the following; the schools, colleges and universities will be coordinated and grouped under the National Department of Education and its state and local branches. The studies will be revolutionized, being cleansed of religious, patriotic and other features of the bourgeois ideology. The students will be taught on the basis of Marxian dialectical materialism, internationalism and the general ethics of the new Socialist society. Present obsolete methods of teaching will be superseded by a scientific pedagogy.

The churches will remain free to continue their services, but their special tax and other privileges will be liquidated. Their buildings will revert to the State. Religious schools will be abolished and organized religious training for minors prohibited. Freedom will be established for anti-religious propaganda.

The whole basis and organization of capitalist science will be revolutionized. Science will become materialistic, hence truly scientific; God will be banished from the laboratories as well as from the schools. Science will be thoroughly organized and will work according to plan; instead of the present individualistic hit-or-miss scientific dabbling, there will be a great organization of science, backed by the full power of the government. This organization will make concerted attacks upon the central problems, concrete and abstract, that confront science.

The press, the motion picture, the radio, the theatre, will be taken over by the government. They will be cleansed of their present trash of sex, crime, sensationalism and general babbitry, and developed into institutions of real education and art; into purveyors of the interesting, dramatic, and amusing in life. The press will, through workers’ correspondents on the Russian lines, become the actual voice of the people, not simply the forum of professional writers.

The American Soviet government will, of course, give the greatest possible stimulus to art in every form, seeking to cultivate the latent powers of the masses. Painting, sculpture, literature, music—every form of artistic expression—will flourish as never before. The great art treasures of the rich will be confiscated and assembled in museums for the enjoyment and instruction of the toiling masses. Cultural societies of all kinds will be developed energetically.

One of the basic concerns of the workers’ government will be, naturally, the conservation of the health of the masses. To this end a national Department of Health will be set up, with the necessary local and State sub-divisions. A free medical service, based upon the most scientific principles, will be established. The people will be taught how to live correctly. They will be given mass instruction in diet, physical culture, etc. A last end will be put to capitalist medical quackery and the adulteration of food.

A main task of the American Soviet government will be to make the cities liveable. This will involve not only the wholesale destruction of the shacks that millions of workers now call homes, but the building over of the congested capitalist cities into roomy Socialist towns. These will develop towards the decentralization of industry and population, the breaking down of the differences between city and country. There will be no great landed, financial, and transportation interests to maintain the monstrous congestion typical of capitalist cities. The present “city beautiful” plans of capitalism will seem puny and trivial to the future city builders of Socialism.

Only a few years ago many of the foregoing proposals would have seemed fantastic, merely Utopian dreams. But now we can see them growing into actuality in the Soviet Union. In making the cultural revolution in the United States, the workers and farmers, facing the same general problems as the Russians, will solve them along similar lines.

Curing Crime and Criminals

CAPITALISM, by its very nature, is a prolific breeder of crime. It is a system of legalized robbery of the working class. The whole process of capitalist business is a swindle and an armed hold-up. In capitalist society what constitutes crime and what does not is a purely arbitrary distinction. The capitalists do not recognize any line of demarcation for themselves. They do whatever they can “get away with.”…

The American Soviet government will liquidate the mounting crime wave which, according to the Wickersham committee, costs the government a billion dollars yearly. Socialism, by putting an end to capitalist exploitation, deals a mortal blow at crime of every description. The economic base of crime is destroyed. The worker is enabled to live and work under the best possible conditions. There is no place for human sharks to prey upon their fellow men. Not only does the abolition of capitalism destroy the basis of the so-called crimes against property, but the revolutionized economic and social conditions, involving an intelligent moral code and effective educational system, also greatly diminish the “crimes of passion.”

These facts are already demonstrated in the Soviet Union, which is fast becoming a crimeless country. While the exigencies of the revolutionary struggle against the counter-revolution made it necessary, from time to time, to confine a considerable number of political prisoners, this need is now fast passing with the consolidation of the Socialist regime and the liquidation of the last remnants of the exploiting classes in the Soviet Union. Life and property are safer now in the U.S.S.R. than in any other country in the world. Crime is rapidly sinking into abeyance and this will be more and more the case as the new society becomes strengthened.

Capitalism blames crime upon the individual, instead of upon the bad social conditions which produce it. Hence its treatment of crime is essentially one of punishment. But the failure of its prisons, with their terrible sex-starvation, graft, over-crowding, idleness, stupid discipline, ferociously long sentences and general brutality, is overwhelmingly demonstrated by the rapidly mounting numbers of prisoners and the long list of terrible prison riots. Capitalist prisons are actually schools of crime. Even the standpat Wickersham committee had to condemn the atrocious American prison system as brutal, medieval and fruitless.

Socialist criminology, on the other hand, attacks the bad social conditions.

Prohibition, based upon a criminal alliance between capitalists, crooked politicians and gangsters, has bred a growth of criminals such as the world has never seen before. And the “best minds” of the country stand powerless before the problem. The American Soviet government will deal with this question by eliminating prohibition, by establishing government control of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquors; these measures to be supported by an energetic campaign among the masses against excessive drinking.

This way of handling the prohibition question is working successfully in the Soviet Union. Shortly after the October revolution the Soviet government prohibited the sale or manufacture of alcoholic drinks. But soon bootlegging began, with familiar demoralizing consequences: poisonous liquor was made, much badly-needed grain was wasted, open violation of the law existed on all sides. Then, with characteristic vigor and clarity of purpose, the government legalized the making and selling of intoxicating beverages. At the same time, a big campaign was initiated by the government, the Party, the trade unions, etc., to educate the workers against alcoholism. This program is succeeding; the evils of alcoholism are definitely on the decline. Doubtless, the Russians have found the real solution of the liquor question. Just as Socialism is abolishing so many other evils, it is also rapidly wiping out alcoholism and the mass of misery and degradation that accompanies it.

Building a New World

THE PROLETARIAN revolution is the most profound of all revolutions in history. It initiates changes more rapid and far-reaching than any in the whole experience of mankind. The hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, striking off their age-old chains of slavery, will construct a society of liberty and prosperity and intelligence. Communism will inaugurate a new era for the human race, the building of a new world.

The overthrow of capitalism and the development of Communism will bring about the immediate or eventual solution of many great social problems. Some of these originate in capitalism, and others have plagued the human race for scores of centuries. Among them are war, religious superstition, prostitution, famine, pestilence, crime, poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, illiteracy, race and national chauvinism, the suppression of woman, and every form of slavery and exploitation of one class by another. Already in the Soviet Union, with the revolution still in its initial stages, the forces are distinctly to be seen at work that will eventually liquidate these handicaps to the happiness and progress of the human race. But, of course, only a system of developed world Communism can fully uproot and destroy all these evils....

Communist society, in its battle onward and upward, will attack and carry through many profound measures besides those mentioned. Among these will be the organization of the economics of the world upon a rational and planned basis, the systematic conservation and increase of the world’s natural resources, the development of a vast concentration upon all the great problems now confronting science, the beautification of the world by a new and richer artistry, the liquidation of congested cities and the combination of the joys and conveniences of country and urban life, and the solution of many other great problems and tasks now hardly even imagined.

Communist society, however, will not confine itself simply to thus developing the objective conditions for a better life. Especially will it turn its attention to the subjective factor, to the fundamental improvement of man himself. Capitalism, with its wars, wage slavery, slums, crooked doctors, etc., undermines the health of the race and destroys its physique. Communism, with its healthful dwellings and working conditions, its pure food, physical culture, etc., will make good health, like thorough education, the property of all. Already this is becoming so in the Soviet Union. But this will be only a beginning. Communist society will go farther. It will scientifically regulate the growth of population. It will especially speed up the very evolution of man himself, his brain and body. Capitalism has checked the evolution of the human species, if it has not actually brought about a process of race degeneration. But Communism will systematically breed up mankind. Already the scientific knowledge is at hand to do this, but it is at present inapplicable because of the idiocy of the capitalist system, its planlessness, its antiquated moral codes, its warp and woof of exploitation.

For many generations the long list of Utopians, the Platos, Mores, Fouriers, Owens, and Bellamys, have dreamed and planned ideal states of society. Their strong point was that they sensed mankind’s capacity for a higher social life than the existing wild scramble. But their weak point, and this was decisive, was that they did not know what was the matter with society nor how to cure it. They had not the slightest conception of either the objective or subjective conditions necessary for social revolution. Their Utopias, mere speculations disconnected from actual life, fell upon deaf ears.

It has remained for the modern proletariat, under the brilliant leadership of Marx and Lenin, to find the revolutionary way to the higher social order, on the basis of the industrial and social conditions set up by capitalism. Marxians have been able to analyze capitalism scientifically, to work out a correct program and strategy of struggle, to establish effective organization among the workers and peasants, to master generally the laws of social development. Consequently, with the objective situation becoming ever more ripe, the revolution no longer appears as an abstraction, a mere theory. Today, Socialism is a great living world reality. As Polakov says, “The Russian ‘experiment’ is an experiment no more.” In the Soviet Union the first great breach has been made in the walls of capitalism. The rest will follow apace. And we may be sure that the revolution, in its upward course, will carry humanity to heights of happiness and achievement far beyond the dreams of even the most hopeful utopians.

American imperialism is now strong. Its champions ridicule the idea of a revolution. But their assurance is not now quite so sure as it was a couple of years ago, before the great industrial collapse. They are beginning to feel a deadly fear. The Russian revolution is to them such a terrible reality. But they console themselves with the thought that “it can never happen in this country,” and they scorn the at-present weak Communist party. But they overlook the detail that the same attitude was taken towards the pre-revolution Bolsheviki. Especially did the Socialist Moguls of the Second International look upon them as narrow sectarians and upon Lenin as a fanatical dreamer. But one thing is certain, American capitalism is part and parcel of the world capitalist system and is subject to all its basic weaknesses and contradictions; it travels the same way to its destruction as capitalism in general.

The world capitalist system is in decay. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot save it. Its general crisis deepens; the masses develop revolutionary consciousness; the international revolutionary storm forces gather. Capitalism, it is true, makes a strong and stubborn resistance. The advance of the revolution is difficult, its pace is slow, and it varies from country to country, but its direction is sure and its movement irresistible. Under the leadership of the Communist International the toilers of the world are organizing to put a final end to the long, long ages of ignorance and slavery, of which capitalist imperialism is the last stage, and to begin building a prosperous and intelligent society commensurate with the levels to which social knowledge and production possibilities have reached.