When The Shoe is on the Other Foot
It is the one hundredth anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians that took place under the Ottoman Empire. While Pope Francis made headlines for offending the Turks by referring to these events as a genocide, Israel has made headlines for its refusal to recognize the genocide. The reasons for Israel’s stance are understandable – she does not want to offend what, until recently, was one of the few regional allies she had and which she hopes to have good relations with again. Nevertheless, it must surely strike those who possess a sense of irony as being truly ironic indeed that the government of a nation whose core ethnic group has lobbied to have the historical revision of their own genocide at the hands of the Germans seventy years ago criminalized as “Holocaust denial” across Europe and which has used several different laws, from an archaic law against spreading “false news” to the “hate speech” section of the Human Rights Act, to punish revisionists here in Canada, would turn around and deny someone else’s genocide.
An Awful Woman
Last evening I went to the final performance of the Manitoba Opera production of Puccini’s Turandot. It was an excellent production. Although I was already familiar with the opera for some reason it struck me for the first time last night what this opera was about – the conversion of a feminist. Well, a proto-feminist at least, as the story takes place centuries ago. Be warned that I am about to give the entire plot away. As the opera is almost a century old, based on an even older story, and sung in Italian, I doubt you will mind. The title character is a real ice princess. The daughter of the Emperor of China, whose hand is sought by suitors far and wide, puts them to a test. They must answer three riddles she sets before them and if they fail on any of the riddles, they will lose their lives. When the story’s hero, Calaf, the son of the deposed Tartur king Timur, takes the challenge she explains that she is indwelt by the spirit of one of her ancestors. This ancestor was a princess who had ruled in justice and peace, holding men in scorn, until an invading prince conquered and killed her. Now Turandot, has similarly rejected men and devised this scheme as a means of obtaining revenge on all men. Calaf answers all her riddles correctly but seeing her plead with the Emperor not to marry her off to him, he offers her a reprieve. If she can discover his name by dawn, he will forfeit his claim and his life. In the final act, the princess, desperately trying to find the stranger’s name, has an old man and slave girl that had been seen talking to him, captured and tortured. This is Timur, his father. Liu the slave girl announces that she knows his name, but will not give it up, even though she knows that by refusing to do so she gives him, whom she loves herself, to Turandot and then, grabbing a guard’s knife, stabs herself to death. Rebuking the princess for her cruelty, Calaf takes her in his arms and kisses her. Breaking down, Turandot begs him to leave and take his mystery with him, but he instead gives up the mystery, telling her that he is Calaf, son of Timur, in doing so handing his fate back to her. As dawn breaks, the conquered princess informs the Emperor and his assembled court that the stranger’s name is Love. Turandot has been criticized several times for its ending, as the title character’s change of heart is implausible even by operatic standards. The ending does not bother me, as seeing a feminist repent of the error of her ways is a rare pleasure, unlikely enough in itself as to make the incredibility of the circumstances of little comparable consequence. Where I would take issue with Puccini’s opera, as I would also with William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, is why Calaf (Petruchio in the case of Shakespeare) would want to go to so much trouble for the sake of so unpleasant a female, the exact type that as Stephen Leacock pointed out, used to be called an “Awful Woman”.
You Know What They Say About a Stopped Clock
After countless attempts to force stories into their prefabricated, “evil white cop kills sweet innocent black youth” mold, ruining people’s lives and stirring up mob violence in the process, in the case of the shooting of Walter Scott by Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, the factory of deceit, otherwise known as the media, may actually have found a bona fide case that matches the mold. Note that I said “may”. We’ll have to see what further evidence comes out as the case goes to trial. In the meantime, if the “black lives matter” crowd really believe their slogan, which has the distinction of having achieved banality the second it was coined if not before, instead of focusing on white law enforcement officers, would do better to complain about the real mass killers of blacks – abortion and black crime.
There has been a lot of nonsense spoken, in the weeks both leading up to and following the state of Indiana’s decision, a month ago, to pass the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. The basic gist of the bill is that allows people and companies to plead the freedom to exercise their religion as a defence when sued in court. The question that this ought to raise is why on earth it was deemed necessary to pass such a law in a country in which freedom of religion is already guaranteed in the first amendment to their Constitution, the first entry in their Bill of Rights? The immediate situation to which this bill was a response was created by the recent cultural revolution in which governments have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. In the wake of this revolution, Jacobins have been suing Christian photographers, florists, and bakers who do not wish to participate in these phony weddings. The purpose of the bill was to protect these Christians who cannot, after all, accept this change in the meaning of marriage if they truly believe Him to be the Son of God Who said “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:4-6). Knowing full well that this is what the law was about, a host of celebrities, civil rights activists, businessmen, politicians from other states, journalists, and other assorted scum and riff-raff, began to ham it up, and put on this big act of moaning and crying and carrying on about how the wicked, backwoods, bigots of Indiana had passed this terrible law so that now hamburger shops, instead of asking if you want fries with your meal will be asking if you are gay and lesbian and if you answer yes will be booting you out on the turf. These concerns are mostly fictional – the lawsuits against Christians are very real. (1) The root of the problem is the idea that discrimination should be against the law and governments should be actively trying to extirpate their peoples’ prejudices. What utter rot! Any good such laws and government practices might possibly accomplish is far outweighed by the evils done, including the severe abridgement of long established and recognized liberties. The road to the present day, where judges place the gun of the law to Christians heads and force them to participate in gay weddings, while the progressive propaganda that passes for journalism today claims to see no threat to religious liberty, began with the road to Selma. It is time the idol of Martin Luther King Jr. were tore down before more destruction is wrought in his name.
(1) Here is a list compiled by WorldNetDaily: http://www.wnd.com/2015/04/courts-conclude-faith-loses-to-gay-demands/ A new one was added just today: http://www.wnd.com/2015/04/fines-levied-against-oregon-bakery-owners/?cat_orig=faith Note the huge, punitive amount of the fine, and the chilling recommendation of “re-education”. h/t Laura Wood http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2015/04/bakers-fined-135000/
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Thursday, April 23, 2015
A figure who had a brief starring role on the stage of Canadian history in the early 1990s has re-emerged from the obscurity into which she subsequently receded to make an interesting observation about how an idea she holds dear and believes other Canadians do as well is faring in certain segments of the immigrant community. That figure is the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who entered Parliament as a Progressive Conservative representing Vancouver Centre in 1988 and held a number of cabinet positions in the Mulroney government before taking over the leadership of the party and the Premiership of the country for the Parliamentary recess between Mulroney’s resignation and the general election in which the Conservatives were decimated and Jean Chretien’s Liberals came to power. The National Post, on Thursday April the 16th, reported on a panel discussion at the University of Alberta the previous day that was hosted by the Peter Lougheed Leadership College of which the former Prime Minister is the Founding Principal. She was also one of the panel speakers and the newspaper focused on her remarks.
According to the National Post she told her audience that immigration has brought individuals into our society who “come from cultures that don’t believe in gender equality” and that we have not been doing a good job at selling this “Canadian value” to them. She expressed specific concerns about cultures like that of Islam which require women to wear concealing garments. She objected both to the suggestion “that women bear responsibility for the sexual behaviour of men” and to the fact that wearing a face-concealing veil in a citizenship ceremony runs contrary to the ideal of an open society.
Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is a good sign, an indicator that some members of Canada’s political class are finally waking up to the many ways in which the open immigration policy imposed upon us by the Liberals in the 1960s has been harmful to our country and our society, note how the National Post informs us that:
She said one of Canada’s challenges is to guide the integration of cultures that don’t share this value. Better education of Canadian residents is the key, she said, adding if Canadians don’t understand their own history and values, people new to the country will find them difficult to learn.
In other words, to this past Premier, if some immigrants do not believe in or accept what she regards as an essential Canadian “value”, the problem is not with our open immigration system that lets anyone in whether they accept our “values” or not or even with our complete lack of a system for assimilating newcomers and integrating them into Canadian culture but rather with those of us who already live here and we need to be re-educated so as to exude those “values” in such a way that the new immigrants will absorb them into themselves through some kind of cultural osmosis process.
This astonishing conclusion could only be arrived at by a mind so indoctrinated in the idea of Canadian “values” that it cannot accept that one of these values, open immigration, might be incompatible with another of these values, sexual equality, (1) despite the glaring evidence that such is in fact the case.
Now both of these supposed Canadian “values” are stupid ideas in my opinion, and I could make a separate case against both open immigration and sexual egalitarianism, but having done so already several times in the past (2) and being likely to do so again, I think that it is the very idea of values that warrants further examination here.
A number of years ago, John Casey, writing in the Spectator, told of an exchange that had taken place during a Conservative Philosophy Group meeting in the early 1980s in which Enoch Powell made an important point about values to then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
Edward Norman (then Dean of Peterhouse) had attempted to mount a Christian argument for nuclear weapons. The discussion moved on to 'Western values'. Mrs Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. Powell: 'No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.' Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.' 'No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.' Mrs Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.
Powell’s point, apparently beyond Mrs. Thatcher’s grasp, was that values, whatever they may be, are not worth fighting, killing, and dying for, that you only do that for something solid and tangible, your country, consisting of real people, in a real territory, with real institutions and a real way of life.
This is one point about values that I think well worth re-iterating but there is another that I wish to focus on. Interestingly, the year before Kim Campbell was elected to Parliament a book that made this point, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (3) became a best-seller in the United States, while the following year, in one of Nabokov’s “dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love”, the man who had for years been making the same point up here in Canada, died, George Parkin Grant (4). The point in question is that it while everybody speaks of values today this is a recent innovation and not one for the better. (5) Whereas we used to speak of good and evil, which were what they were in themselves and were out there for us to discover, and of virtues which were habits of behaviour or character traits that we were to cultivate because of their goodness, now we speak instead of values, which are substitutes for goodness and virtue that we create and choose for ourselves. Since different people may create and choose different values for themselves, and who is to say, now that values have replaced good and evil, that one set of values is better or worse than any other, the language of values is the language of moral and cultural relativism. (6)
Apart from the relativism of the language of values, it is also worth noting that traditional religion uses a different, much less attractive word, for those things we create for ourselves and substitute for God and the higher things. That word, of course, is idols.
The expression “Canadian values” has a particularly odious set of connotations because it is generally used to refer to those values created for Canadians by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s as a substitute for Canadian tradition. These included such things as open immigration, multiculturalism, bilingualism (at least for English-speaking Canada), feminism, and the like. These, the Trudeau Liberals decided, were to be Canada’s new values and were to be shoved down Canadians throats whether they liked them or not, and if they didn’t like them they would be called “racists” and “sexists” and other ugly names. As it turned out, apart from the intellectual elite who are guaranteed to be the least intelligent segment of any society and who in Canada adored Trudeau, these values were not to Canadians liking and so, when they had had quite enough of Trudeau’s arrogance, they gave a landslide victory to the party whose historic role it had long been to safeguard the Canadian tradition, including such things as our British parliamentary monarchy and our Common Law heritage. That party was the old Conservative Party, then led by Brian Mulroney. Unfortunately the Mulroney Conservatives seemed little interested in performing their historic role and rescuing Canadian tradition from Trudeau’s values. Thus much of their support evaporated and the party, now under Kim Campbell’s leadership, collapsed.
Our concern ought to be that newcomers to Canada accept Canada’s tradition, not a set of absurd idolatrous values created for the country by a contemptible sleazebag who adored Mao Tse-Tung. Who will speak for that tradition? Historically that was the role of the old Conservative Party but they laid down on the job and their party died because of it. The present Conservative Party gives lip service to Canada’s tradition but it began life as the Reform Party, a Western populist party whose profession of small-c conservatism proved to be false because they could not grasp that there can be no conservatism without patriotic attachment to your own country, its traditions and institutions. (7) The other parties – Liberal, NDP, and Green – are all committed to Trudeau’s values rather than Canada’s tradition. So the question remains open – who will speak for that tradition?
(1) The former Prime Minister spoke of “gender equality”. Human beings have sexes, words have genders. The substitution of gender for sex in reference to human beings is akin to the substitution of “values” for goodness and virtue.
(2) See, for example, “The Progressives’ Penance” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2010/09/progressives-penance.html) on immigration and “The Folly of Feminism” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2012/02/folly-of-feminism.html) on sexual egalitarianism.
(3) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).
(4) While it comes up repeatedly in his writings see especially Grant’s Technology and Justice, (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1986), in particular the essay on Nietzsche, and the essays in section five of William Christian and Sheila Grant, eds, The George Grant Reader, (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1998), in particular the first essay in the section “The Good or Values: Value and Technology?”.
(5) Both Grant and Bloom were influenced in this by Leo Strauss who had been a correspondent of Grant’s and a professor of Bloom’s.
(6) Grant, Bloom, and Strauss trace the language of values and the relativism it represents back through Max Weber to Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that modern rationalism had made the religious beliefs of the past untenable, but, an atheist of the right, he condemned the rationalistic, liberal, egalitarian, democracy that he saw modern man to be constructing as condemning men to lives of mediocrity as “the last men”. He believed that man’s heroic spirit must be fed by myths (akin to Plato’s “noble lies”) and hoped that men would exercise their “will to power” to avoid the fate of the “last men”, rise to that of the “supermen”, and create appropriate new myths. He condemned Christian morality for exalting weakness, comparing this unfavourably to the old Greek and Jewish moralities which identified virtue with strength, but hoped that men would go “beyond good and evil” and embrace values, as expressions of their own will and creativity.
(7) Reform’s leaders far too often seemed to want to replace Canada’s tradition with that of the United States.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
As the ongoing trial of disgraced Senator Mike Duffy continues to loom large in the news the media has been treating Canadians to a daily diet of opinion columns and letters to the editor asking why we don’t just get rid of the Senate. For someone with a high regard for the intelligence of either the general populace, the letter writing segment of it, or the class of professional scribblers who earn their bread and butter by composing opinion columns, it must surely be disheartening and disillusioning to realize that so many of those they so admire have displayed, through asking this question, their acceptance of an easily refutable premise. As one who does not hold any of these groups in high regard I do not share this disillusionment – merely a sense of disgust.
Suppose someone were to come forward with evidence that high ranking police officers have been taking bribes, trafficking confiscated narcotics, and otherwise abusing the powers and privileges that come with being charged, in Her Majesty’s name, with the enforcement of the laws of the land? I imagine you are all shocked at the very suggestion of such an unheard of possibility. Once you revive from your faint, snap out of your catatonic state, or otherwise recover from the trauma that has just been inflicted upon your psyche ask yourself if, in the event, perish the thought, that such evidence were to be found, it would be reasonable to argue that because of such corruption, law enforcement agencies therefore ought to be abolished. Perhaps someone reading this who is an anarchist by way of political ideology would say that such an argument is reasonable but if he is a true anarchist he would say that all government agencies including the police are illegitimate regardless of whether we can point to specific examples of corruption or not. Otherwise, I expect, very few would conclude that the abolition of law enforcement is a reasonable response to police corruption.
That point that I wish to make is that you cannot deal with corruption and abuse of office by tearing down institutions and offices once such corruption and abuse is manifest within them. If we were to seriously attempt to do this then very soon we would have no institutions left but corruption would be as much present among us as ever it was before. This is because the source of corruption, as Christians and conservatives have always known although the fact continues to elude liberals, progressives, and socialists to this very day, is not institutions but the human heart. If you tear down an institution because you find corruption in it, you will also find corruption in whatever you erect to take its place because it too must contain the human element. Unless, of course, you are envisioning the replacement of man by machine ala James Cameron.
The Canadian Senate, let it be said, does not do a very good job of representing the principle it is supposed to embody and has not done so in a very long time. If the principle is a true one, however, and important to the balance of Parliament, then an imperfect and badly flawed representation is better than no representation at all. The House of Commons embodies the principle of representative democracy – that we, through the representatives we sent to Parliament, have a say in the laws we live under. The Crown embodies the principle of dignified, prescriptive authority that transcends popular politics. This is the more important of these two principles because governments can only derive power and not authority from winning elections – the power of numbers that comes from having a majority or at least a plurality behind you. A government that has power but not authority is a tyrannical government even if its power is democratic power. In our constitution, the government possesses authority as Ministers of the Crown in whose name they act and power as elected representatives of the people. What then does the Senate represent?
The Senate represents the principle that laws should not be enacted in haste, that reason should govern passion, and that legislation written by the representatives of the people should be reviewed by those representing experience, public spirit, and the wisdom that comes from age before it is allowed to become law. As I said, the Senate does not represent this principle well. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that it does an abysmally poor job of representing the principle. Nevertheless, the principle is a sound one and it is better that it be represented poorly than that it not be represented at all. Note how the impulse to tear down the institution because of the corruption within it is the very opposite of the principle of not acting in haste and allowing reason to overrule passion. To give in to such an impulse would not bode well for our country.
If abolishing the Senate is a bad idea, and it is, the Upper Chamber is badly in need of reforms. I would suggest the following reforms as being particularly appropriate and necessary: 1) that the advisory role to the Crown on appointment to the Senate be taken from the Prime Minister’s Office and placed in the hands of a committee that itself is independent of the Prime Minister’s Office - perhaps consisting of representatives of the provinces, 2) that we increase the minimum age of Senators from thirty to perhaps forty-five or fifty, 3) that we either scrap salaries for Senators altogether or reduce them to something that is a mere honorarium while 4) updating the Constitutional property requirements for Senators to reflect a century and a half of inflation. (1)
These proposed reforms, which unlike the Triple-E alternative advocated by the old Reform Party, seek to be respectful and true to the tradition upon which our Parliament is founded, would go far towards ensuring that the Senate is filled by public spirited individuals with the wisdom of experience rather than cronies of the Prime Minister looking for a cushy position with a large salary and expense account. This would lessen greatly the biggest problem with the Senate as it currently stands while helping it to much better represent its principle in Parliament.
Of course, these proposals would be anathema to someone like Warren Kinsella who in his Toronto Sun column last weekend argued that the Senators were hastening the demise of the Senate by their own words and actions and gave as his chief example of this, Nancy Ruth’s remarks about the quality of airline food given in answer to the auditor general’s question about why she had charged a different breakfast to her expense account. Kinsella spoke of her “arrogance” and her “appalling condescension and contempt”, an interesting choice of pejoratives coming from someone who often tells Canadians what they think or feel as if those who thought or felt differently from him were not “Canadian”, examples of which can be found in the very same article. Kinsella led into this by providing details about the Senator’s background in the Jackman family, using her wealth against her to paint a portrait of patrician pride. Thus I infer that he would not approve of my proposal that only those of independent means be allowed to sit in the Senate.
Reading Warren Kinsella’s column solidified more than ever my conviction that the Senate must be retained and that the reforms which I have proposed would be for the best. After all, which is the more reasonable response to a rich Senator complaining about how airline breakfasts “are pretty awful”? To tell the Senator that she can pay for her breakfast out of her own independent means or to insist that the Upper House of Parliament be abolished altogether?
(1) For a more detailed exposition of these proposals see: http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.ca/2012/08/senate-reform.html
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
War is a basic reality of human existence. Individual human beings cannot live together without generating friction that sometimes bursts out in disagreements, disputes, and fights and the same is also true of human societies. When societies clash in war destruction is generated on a much larger scale then when individuals clash and it has long been a dream of many that one day man would lay down his arms forever and war would be no more. The Christian Scriptures speak of such a day but they place it in the world-to-come, beyond the end of history and the Return of Christ. Only those with a naïve and foolish faith in the ability of human ingenuity to overcome each and every limitation placed upon us by the realities of our nature – we call such people “progressives” – envision the abolition of war as a human accomplishment to be achieved inside of history. The schemes they propose to achieve this end generally strike those of us who are not progressives as being unduly optimistic at best, pathways to evils greater than war at worst, and for better or for worse, inevitably doomed to fail.
Once we accept that war is a basic reality of our existence that we cannot, however much we may wish it to be otherwise, do away with forever we are forced to consider how we will deal with this reality. Two questions stand out as being of utmost importance. The first is what limits or boundaries, if any, we may place on war so as to lessen and minimize its destructive potential. The second is how we can best prepare our countries so as to be ready for war when it comes. This second question has two quite different facets depending upon what we have in mind when we think of preparation for war. We might think of such preparation in terms of fortifications, arsenals and military training of a strategic and technical nature. Or we might think of it in terms of the cultivation of the virtues, the habits of character, of the warrior. Since the virtues that serve a man on the battlefield serve him elsewhere as well the second would seem to be clearly the more important of these two perspectives and it is a powerful indictment of the modern mind and the education that forms and feeds it that it thinks of military preparation almost exclusively in terms of the first.
These two questions, of how we may limit war so as to lessen its destructiveness and how we may cultivate the virtues of the warrior so as to prepare our country for war are the subjects of two long-standing traditional discussions in the civilizations of the Western world and it is a further indictment of modern education that it has, to a large extent, cut the modern mind off from these discussions and the traditions which contain them. The first question is what philosophers and theologians traditionally sought to answer in their discussion of justice in war – for what causes may we justly go to war and how, once we have gone to war, we may conduct it in a just manner. The second question is the subject of an older and longer discussion that goes back at least as far as Homer in the eighth century BC, a discussion carried out in the language of poetry.
It was poetry that took the Greek word for a man of war – hero – and exalted it into a term of adoration and praise. Although poetic language is not exactly noted for its realism, poetic licence being a byword for exaggeration, hyperbole, and the dressing up of the facts, the inescapable realities of human existence – life, death, joy, suffering, love and yes, war – are its subject matter. Of the themes that recur throughout the poetry of the Great Tradition when war is the subject, it is that of the hero and his mighty deeds which stands out. It is a theme which the modern mind, formed by utilitarian education and fed by comic books, video games, fantasy novels, television, and cinematic film easily misunderstands and in such a mind the concept of the hero is inevitably reduced to that of the “good guy”.
The good guy is the person you are supposed to cheer for because he is on the side of Light opposed to Darkness. The hero is not so one-dimensional a character. He is good in a sense, for otherwise he would not be the object of praise, but his goodness does not consist of his being on the side of Light or even of his being a particularly moral person. It consists of his possessing, as evidenced through his actions, the qualities that befit a warrior. While these include such natural traits as physical strength (Achilles, Heracles) and crafty intelligence (Odysseus) it is traits of character, foremost of which is that of courage or valour, that are awarded the highest praise. Indeed, gallantry is held to be of such importance that it is worthy of glory regardless of whether it ends in victory or defeat, or even if, as is the case in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, it is wasted due to some grotesque mistake.
This immortalisation in verse and song was justly due the warrior for risking or even laying down his life in duty and service to his country and it fell to the poet to pay this due on his country’s behalf. It also served a pedagogical purpose. To hold up examples of courage and other martial virtues for adulation is to also hold them up for emulation, particularly when the learning of these verses by heart played so important a role in the training of young minds.
In one of the earliest known discussions of educational theory, that which takes place between Socrates and his friends in Plato’s Republic, the pedagogical aspect of poetry is a major concern and it is famously proposed that lines from Homer that might teach the wrong lessons be bowdlerized. It is a repugnant proposal, of course, but the concern behind it is one the poet may very well have shared, as there are varying degrees to which heroes are worthy of adulation and emulation and even the best of them possessed less desirable or even undesirable traits and qualities in addition to the heroic virtues. With this in mind, consider how Homer presented his heroes.
The main hero of the Iliad is Achilles, king of the Myrmidons. The epic begins with the poet evoking the Muse and asking her to sing of the wrath of Achilles and is structured around that wrath as first, in anger against Agamemnon, Achilles withdraws himself and his men from the siege of Troy causing the tide of the war to swing against the Achaeans then later, in sorrowful anger over the death of Patroclus he returns to battle to slay Hector, crown prince of Troy. Yet the poem ends by honouring the latter in a funeral that is made possible by divine intervention. This intervention is necessary because Achilles in his wrath is determined to defile the body of Hector by dragging it behind his chariot and leaving it to be devoured by dogs, thus incurring the anger of the gods.
It is Hector, not Achilles, nor any of the other Greeks for that matter, who comes across as the noblest, the most worthy of emulation of Homer’s heroes. It is significant that while it takes Achilles, Greece’s bravest and strongest warrior, to slay Hector, Achilles’ own death, which takes place outside of the time-frame of the Iliad but is prophetically alluded to, is at the hands of Paris, Hector’s weak and cowardly brother.
Achilles is portrayed as the embodiment of the follies of youth. He is arrogant and impetuous, easily swayed by passions, and overly concerned with his own glory. Indeed, the latter seems to be his only real purpose for going to war for, while he hints, when he reminds Agamemnon in their dispute that he has no personal quarrel with the Trojans (1), at the mercenary motivation that had shocked and offended Plato, he and his mother make frequent reference to his having been presented with a choice by fate – he could stay at home and live a long but unsung life or he could go to Troy where he would die before its gates but win a name that would live in song forever. He chooses the latter and accordingly is remembered as the greatest of the Greek heroes, with the possible exception of Heracles, but in the discontent of the words of his shade in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, expressing a preference for the lowest station on earth over the highest in the underworld, the message comes across that there can be no satisfaction in glory sought for its own sake.
It is Hector, by contrast, who fights for worthy reasons. Hector, “tamer of horses”, fights not for his personal glory but out of a sense of duty to his father and mother, his wife and son, and to their city. He fights for family and home and is all the more noble in doing so because he is aware that it will ultimately be to no avail, that he will die, the house of Priam will fall, Ilium will be destroyed, and his wife taken away into captivity. To fight and die for these things is what the poets have honoured heroes for down through the centuries from Homer to Horace to Thomas Babbington Macauley.
This view of war and the warrior, of what is worth fighting and dying for, and of the standard by which the warrior is judged worthy of praise or shame, is worlds removed from an image that has pervaded the popular consciousness in recent decades. This image began as a way of looking at and explaining the Second World War but it has grown into a paradigm by which all new conflicts are to be parsed and which has even been superimposed upon previous wars including the First World War and the war the American states fought between themselves in the 1860s. The image is the “Good War” narrative which has supplanted both the poetic idea of the heroic warrior, winning praise and renown for his gallantry as he lays down his life for family, friends, home, and country and the traditional discussion about what constitutes justice in war.
It is in keeping with the older traditions to say that the Allies were justified in going to war with Nazi Germany. By the fall of 1939 Hitler had proven himself to be thirsting for war, a threat to his neighbours, and a pathological liar who could not be trusted to keep his word given in negotiations. He had given Britain and France more than enough of a casus belli to justify their declarations of war. For countries like my own, Canada, and Australia, it was loyalty which moved us to enter the war and stand by our king and mother country in their hour of need. What could be more in keeping with the older traditions than this?
The Good War narrative goes far beyond any of this. It declares the war itself to have been good because the character of the two sides was such that it was a microcosm of the great struggle between Good and Evil. The Allies were the Forces of Light, embodying all that is pure and good, and the Axis were the very Forces of Darkness. What need is there to find a just cause for such a war? It is its own just cause. Who dare speak of limitations on how war can be justly conducted when the enemy is the avatar of Evil?
This narrative embraces a cosmology that is considered heretical by the standards of traditional, orthodox, Christianity. Dualism, the idea that the cosmos is eternally engaged in a battle between the matched forces of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, is part of the mainstream of several Eastern philosophies and religions but within the Christian West was a doctrine of Gnosticism, historically the heretical rival of orthodox, Apostolic, Christianity. The growth of the Good War narrative is, therefore, yet another evidence, as if more was needed, that the period after the Second World War is a post-Christian as well as a post-modern age.
Both of the traditions which the Good War narrative has supplanted have been accused of being instruments in the hands of hawks and warmongers. Not infrequently those who make these accusations on the one hand embrace the Good War interpretation of World War II on the other. Yet today, whenever a politician wants to bomb or invade some country it is to the rhetoric of Winston Churchill of which he can provide a poor imitation at best rather than the arguments of Cicero, St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas that he turns to make his case. The leaders of the country he wishes to attack are inevitably new Hitlers and those who oppose his plans for war are inevitably compared to Neville Chamberlain. Not to be outdone, the radicals who pour contempt on the poetic ideal of the hero and heroism and traditional just war theory and who automatically condemn any and every military action taken by their own country – or any Western country, especially the United States – regardless of the particulars, make use of the Good War narrative as well, except that in their rhetoric it is the Western leaders who are Hitler.
However did this image of the Good War arise? It could hardly be said to have been born out of the facts of the Second World War. The most repugnant and repulsive characteristics of the Third Reich – its tyrannical dictatorship, secret police, network of prison camps, and repressive totalitarian state which held the lives of its people extremely cheap - were shared by the Soviet Union. The war began with an alliance between these two powers that included a secret deal to divide the spoils between themselves. After this alliance was broken by Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union the Stalinist regime joined the Allies and one of the most obvious results of the war was a significant expansion of that regime’s territory. At least as strong of a case can be made that Stalin and his Bolshevik regime were the greater of the two evils as can be made that Hitler and his Nazi regime were. More people died in this war than in any other and well over half of these were civilian deaths. Those who were the Forces of Light, according to the Good War theory, invented weapons whose destructive potential was exponentially greater than any the world had known before and brought the war to an end by dropping two of these weapons on heavily populated cities. Then, when the war was over, the Forces of Light put the leaders of the Forces of Darkness on trial before a court that operated in accordance with a concept of “justice” far closer to that of Stalin than that which is traditional to the English-speaking world. No, the facts of the Second World War do not support the Good War narrative at all.
It is surely no coincidence that this narrative arose in a period in which the old tradition of celebrating heroes and their deeds in verse and inspiring through such verse the cultivation of virtues such as courage, loyalty, and dutifulness to home, family, and country was all but dead. It had been alive and well in the Victorian era but seemed to sing its swan song in the first World War, which saw a plethora of soldier-poets, some of whom, writing in the old tradition, produced the poems that remain part of our annual ceremonies of remembrance to this day, while others concentrated on the horrors of the war and expressed cynicism towards the old tradition and the heroic virtues. War has always been horrible, of course, but poets from Homer to Housman had managed to lament the cruel reality of war with its waste of so many lives struck down prematurely while at the same time praising the patriotic valour of the warrior. This became more difficult as modern technology changed the nature of warfare. It is easy to see the gallantry of light cavalrymen charging with sword in hand against a battery of artillery at the end of a valley with enemy guns on all sides. Where can it be possibly found in the dropping of bombs that kill civilians by the thousands from aircraft miles above?
It is not just that poets have found it difficult to maintain the old tradition in the face of new, modern, technological, warfare. It is also that poetry itself has come to be supplanted, first by other forms of literature such as the novel, then later by media such as film and television that have supplanted the written word altogether. It is films and television, novels and comic books, which form and feed the modern mind. These are the genres that have reduced the complex hero to the simple good guy and it is in the minds fed by such junk food that the image of the Good War was born.
(1) Achilles was the only one of the Greek kings who could say this. Paris, prince of Troy, after enjoying the hospitality of Menelaus, king of Sparta, had absconded with his wife, Helen. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and Menelaus’ brother had organized the retaliatory expedition against Troy. In doing so, according to the myth, he had reminded all of the other kings that when, in their youth, they had been rivals for Helen’s hand, the contest had been resolved when they swore an oath to support and uphold whomever Helen had chosen, which was Menelaus. Achilles, being much younger than the others, had no part in either the contest or the oath.