A Review of Civilization in Little Songs:
You, friend, ascend from many victories. All who read these words shall know we won, that we through three millennia have won upon the bloody fields of contest; that through rolls of papyrus, through vellum folios, through books stitched in hard-covered paper we won the sharp battle of the pens: we, children of the West, are mind-wise, inheritors of the beautiful, the good, the true. You, friend, carry in thought and in action every hard-won victory of pen and knife and court. Victory lives in you.
What is the victory that lives in you: a trophy, an accumulated wisdom, the triumph of beauty, of goodness, and of those truths gained in question by the tests of a thousand generations who have preceded you … your parents of parents begot, from time out of memory. You will not know the names of those who have begotten you, yet, you carry in your blood, their blood; you carry in your mind, their thoughts; and, to the extent government does not steal inheritance, you carry that tradition of family which inculcates goodness in habit.
Of course, there is corruption progressively insinuating vice into your eyes, into your ears, into your thoughts, Sodom-like; and yes, you are seduced; even so, lawyer-like you continue to test, to weigh the challenging vices against the supreme court of virtue, id est, that is, your memory in reason, the inherited, familial voices of wisdom in tradition, of those victors whose thoughts and actions pass into you by The Great Conversation.
Perhaps you do not know that you know in your deepest parts the three thousand years of Great Conversation (the best that has been thought, done, said), the inherited wisdom that is in this moment the balance of your mind, those accumulated ideas, the tradition that causes the actions which chapter-by-chapter form the story of your life. No time here to show how your idea of honor is Achilles, how your idea of family is Odysseus and Penelope, how your idea of beauty is Helen; no, yet the structure of life-story, your life-story is Aristotelian, “a beginning, a middle, an end”, a structure not common to all cultures. No, yet: the organizing principle of your mind is canonic, biblical, from genesis into history, through song into anecdotal parable, coming into theology, passing into rapture: you, friend, are the things that you know without knowing.
Without knowing, you have been educated (“education”, from educatus, to bring up, bring out, lead forth) rather haphazardly, for the most part. For the most part, you have through thirteen years of government schooling been constructed by bureaucrats into a scientific model of the biological human, a thing fitted to general usefulness, or to a particular chore (lately, into mean-little socialists, hateful and envious, and loopy). For the most part, your divine soul has not in Christianity been prepared for the tests of life; you have not in the way of the Roman been formed into a moral citizen; nor have you been matured by that true model of humane education, Paideia, instruction in the beautiful and the good. And yet, friend, by the seeds of each inherited word, you carry within you the Hebraic Christian, the moral Roman, and the ideal Greek that by thought through language grows into virtuous action … look around at all that is beautiful and you will see growth from the classive seed.
Thomas Jefferson practiced in life the acquisition, in all things natural to him, of arete, of “excellence”, and this by education and improvement. Jefferson conceived us, naturally, as beings one in the purpose of the Creator, at Liberty to pursue a life of “Happiness”, a eudaimonia, that flourishing in each, of all things that are human, that are humane. We might say, that Jefferson, by the literature of our Founding, created the universal emancipation that all-the-world now pursues. And here, we should recognize the necessary attachment of virtue to happiness, the good spirit (eu “good’, daimōn “spirit”) that is to be educated and lightly governed. Here, from Thos. Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, the true practice of liberty:
“…wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
Yes, there is that, and there is this: the encouragement by paideia to the Love of Beauty, the appreciation of all which is of its type, the Best, and that to form the humane citizen, the humane civilization, a society, a polis conducive to the flourishing of each human soul … practically, beautifully, of the best, alike the kalos kagathos. The what? The Kalos Kagathos. That person who you might recognize in a true British gentleman, a British lady, an Eliza Doolittle—if you would. You know these kalos kagathos, they are the persons you esteem for kindness, for accomplishment, for a good manner in good form.
Here, a little, looping digression: Jefferson it was who introduced to our republic the meeting of equals, the handshake, a tradition which if lost will separate, divide, and isolate each of us from all of us. The high-five, a spirited congratulations of accomplishment in competition, is not a substitute, nor is the elbow-touch—elbows haven’t a meaning in greeting … there is much that scientists do not value, do not understand: in truth, scientists know just about nothing about just about everything, and this not knowing is particular to each scientist’s subject; of the subjects of other scientists, scientists are as likely in error as are you or I, more so, because scientists seldom consider the “all” beyond the particular of an object, or of whatever subject is just then under scrutiny.
In fact, there is in progressively commercial existence little of the beautiful, eudemonic life; there is the great feeding of appetites, of pride, of the animal body, the animal lust, the fear and the adolescent want, and there is talk, yet barely a word of reason, less than a word for beauty: there is a progressive aggression harmful to liberty of thought and action … you know this harm to be the mini tyrannies of “PC”, the political coercion, the political censorship, the shout-down, the shut-off, the forbidden debate, the enforcement of rule by physical and verbal violence. We are not one America united in liberty, there is a progression of tyranny by those who would enforce equality in depravity.
We classive Americans, you, me, your neighbor, all we who think, speak, and act in the tradition of English, share a culture commonly, classively. Of course, there are sympathetic classives who speak in similar languages, all those whose thoughts and actions mirror our own in ascent from the Greek, from the first classive language, from our shared classive literature … we have fought together, we have thought together, together we grow in victory. And yet, ‘tis true, we who think and act in English are foremost among those who inherit classive liberty, classive democracy in the three thousand years of ascent into world victory; most recently, of WWII from which all-the-world now steers toward a form of British liberty and American republicanism; and now, in the classive American grinding away of Platonic error in Communism, the slow dissolution of the Soviet, the Maoist, the modish, and the university progressive.
How best to say: Classively, America, our America, these united states, has in virtue inherited the Translatio Imperii, the transfer of classive culture, “the Beautiful, the Good, the True”, from the Greek, through the Latin into the divided empire which became Europe, to a consolidation of classive virtues in the English, to an almost-full realization of excellence in the generations of Americans who have preceded us. We are, just now, despite our baseness, the cultural elite who by financial, military, and creative prowess hold dominion, peacefully upon the earth. Nothing of good or evil, except the God, exists forever. We too shall fail. When? When we forget who we are by what we are made.
We are made by what we learn of what we are. For three-thousand-years, culture, arete, eudaimonia, paideia, the kalos kagathos has been borne into us by the Great Conversation, the transfer of the Beautiful, the Good, the True one generation into the next, into the next, into you: this, the Translatio Studii, the transfer of classive learning … now, in English, our America carries by knowledge all of the world into the future. This future? If progressive, a regression into tribal barbarism (more of this, some other time); if classive, truly, into goodness, beauty, happiness, as-much-as to man is possible.
It is not possible that most of us through the busy workday, through the vicissitudes of getting-and-spending, of love, family, obligation, et cetera have opportunity to consider the essential questions, knowledge, justice, governance … some few of us, we idlers, we artists and writers choose to exhaust our lives in creative speculations and wandering studies … myself, well, I made, before God, the avowal to the forefathers-and-mothers some forty-seven years ago, a promise to continue, to strengthen our tradition, that classive tradition we share, that I might here lend to you all that we are in beauty, and to do so, with delight.
For your delight, without the need of a grinding, tedious research, without diligent study, without the necessity of Seneca in many translation, of Plutarch, of Gibbon, of the full corpus of Shakespeare, of Platon in all that has come down to us (which might be all), of the Tragedians, the analytic Germans, the Cavaliers, the poets all, the picture-makers all, the statuers all, the architects, the poets, the saints, the politicians, the soldiers and idlers and lovers and villains and all the rest … I bring to you for your delight, “Colloquially: A Review of Civilization in Little Songs”.
We Americans have inherited all of the best that is in Beauty, Goodness, Truth: through “Colloquies”, you have the easy opportunity to meet those who have given to you, to us all, that which is best, and sometimes, that which is worst—in the worst, to more fully appreciate the best. And so it is. To date, Commentary (of Rome, Republic, Empire, Christian Hegemony); Dispute (of Europe, late Antiquity through Enlightenment); and just in August released, Confession (a personal understanding of Christian life, a hagiography and consideration). The next volume, Paideia, begins in the Axis and follows Greece through the gods, into the archaic, through the classic, into the Hellenic. Along the way, in each book, you will meet heroes, scoundrels, children, comedians, braggarts and prigs and all those right and wonderful people we call, “Family”.
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Lives of the Saints, the Sacraments, the Way of Christ; God the Father, His Creation, the Universe, Man, that Creature part Beast, part Angel, in Soul, Divine, in Action, a Sinner, Redeemed by Love. Here, for your Consideration, Our Confession: 73 sonnets, hagiography, biography, commentary, lovely illustrations.
Typical of Confession, “Salvation”:
I ask you, “Who would live to die a saint?”
To scorch the feet on desert sands;
To strike the thigh with leather bands;
To starve; to kneel in prayer until one faints:
Oh no, I would not want to be a saint.
Neither would I be a martyr,
Boiled in oil or fried in sulfur,
Or fed to toothy beasts without complaint.
What then? Vivisection? My toe in Rome,
My ear in Bath, my tongue in Paris,
My collarbone the source of bliss
To pilgrims on a pilgrimage? No. Home
Will be the place for me. The reliquary
Is for saints: Sinners may write poetry.
“Colloquies: A Review of Civilization in Little Songs” in seven, pithy volumes, delightfully tells by portrait, anecdote and vignette the history of Western Civilization, of Greece, Rome, Europe, America, et alibi.
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There will be a brief pause to Annals while I by necessity dismantle my well-ordered life, that I might in some other home construct life, anew.
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Cover Illustration: Mosaic of the Gladiator, Villa Borghese, IV Century A.D.