Posts Tagged ‘civilization’

There not being bureaucrats overseeing wagon trains, however did the people manage?

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From Not Exactly Innocent:

When he was done giving Jarvis more authority and duties than originally planned, MacAvoy turned his attention back to Cookson. “All right. The Marines are deployed and you cannot use them as an excuse. And before it begins to worry you, we’re fully aware that the United States military isn’t supposed to do domestic law enforcement work. They aren’t doing law enforcement work. They’re training people on my team, not to mention an unwieldy number of folks who were shipped in for the seminar. As soon as they’ve got us civilians up to speed, they’re out of here. The Constitution wobbles from time to time, but I think it’s still standing, more or less, at least on my watch. Do you know why I moved to America?”

She was surprised at the sudden change of direction. She shook her head.

“Lots of reasons,” he said, “not the least being that Scotland didn’t have much lined up in the way of opportunity at the time. But one of the main reasons, silly as it sounds, is a letter I got when I was twelve years old, from my grandfather who moved to West Virginia when he was fifty and never came back.”

“What took him to West Virginia?”

“Doesn’t strike you as a hotbed of economic activity, does it? Or a cultural magnet, either? In his case it was following a widow he’d met in Glasgow after he became a widower. He loved West Virginia once he got there, by the way. Nice place. You ever been there?”

She shook her head.

“Nice folks,” MacAvoy said. “Overall, anyway. But, to what I was saying, this letter got under my skin. Or one part of it did. He said America was a place where people learned from history, but didn’t live by it. It’s true, you know, as far as it goes. The American ideal is to grab the best from every culture on the planet, while dumping the unwanted baggage your ancestors try to foist on you.”

“I don’t usually hear it said that way,” Cookson said, sporting a small grin despite herself.

“Most Americans haven’t a clue what’s great about this place,” he said. “They take it for granted, or refuse to admit that there’s an authentic American culture, that makes it different from the rest of the world. This is not to mention that power hungry slobs try mightily to make them forget the ‘no ancestral grudges’ part of the dream – even though the ‘everybody starting fresh’ part is the fun bit about American life. Also one of the best bits.” Having planted his seed, he let the silence build.

Cookson avoided his eye, and fiddled with a loose thread on the car seat. “It’s what he said about the fingers and the villages,” she said, all vestiges of a smile gone. “Rochester, I mean. And about the families, and the family dog.”

MacAvoy kept his mouth shut and waited.

“I mean, in the rest of the world, it’s not uncommon for people to punish families as a way of keeping people in line,” Cookson said. “Governments, I mean. Not people. Over here, crooks do that, but not the government.”

MacAvoy made encouraging noises.

Cookson went on, “It’s easy to pretend that the rest of the world is civilized, only in its own way.”

“Some of it is, Cecelia.”

“But not all of it. What I’m trying to say is that Rochester pushed home the idea that civilization doesn’t just happen. I guess that sounds stupid coming from a cop?”

MacAvoy shrugged. “Crime happens everywhere. Civilization’s a different concept altogether. Civilization is where people fight for what’s right, and wholesome, and healthy, and moral, and even for what’s beautiful. It doesn’t give anybody any immunities – just a little room to grow in, if they’re lucky. But speaking of governments, my adopted one is going to have my hide if I don’t get cracking.” He grinned, but his eyes were serious. “If you’re okay now?” he added.

She nodded but stared at her hand, which finally was resting on the door handle. “I’m not sure I did the right thing, giving you his name.”

“In this country, individuals rise or fall by their own choices. You’re not responsible for your relatives. Any of them. And, besides, maybe your uncle said something suspicious, but is innocent. We won’t know unless we check. Maybe you’ve been miserably wondering what to do about him for nothing. You’ve been a cop a while. You know that people sometimes are worried over misunderstandings instead of fact. More often than not, actually. Yes? Let’s hope that’s what this is.”

Cookson nodded and got out. MacAvoy bee-lined for his office. En route it occurred to him that no one had briefed him recently about what to do about any stray (not to mention probably treasonous) Russian who unexpectedly got talkative. He wondered if this was going to be something else that was going to be different in this administration, versus the one before it. He sighed. Every year the rulebooks got larger and more contradictory; the laws more like minefields than guidelines. Every federal election, he got new nudges from higher-ups. Enforce this more earnestly, they’d say. Let that slide for now, they’d say. It could drive a man half nuts, especially if he had to drop a case midstream.

On the other hand, overreaching and conflicting regulations were a day-to-day mess, something he fought when he could and ignored when he had to. What else could a man do, when there was no longer any way to abide by some rules without breaking others?

He’d been reading Scottish news on the internet. It didn’t sound much better back there. MacAvoy shook his head. He loved both countries, homeland and adopted. He’d risk his neck fighting for either. But there was no doubt that the cultures in general, and the governments in particular, were suffering some corrosions, and he wished America and Scotland would make better efforts at cleaning up their acts. Being a Scots-American was like living with teenagers, he thought – or at least what he imagined it would be like living with two over-energized, hormone-addled teenagers. The love was there, but it was sorely tested from time to time, no question. (His brother Robert, back in Scotland, liked to say that both countries were perilously close to replacing Lex Rex with Choose Your Gang – that is, law could no longer be king in a country where crime versus non-crime was based on who had power. He had his suspicions that Robert was at least somewhat right.)

He hoped their little chat had made Cecelia Cookson feel better. For his part, he was feeling sorely outclassed by a gutsy fellow from Russia.

What he thought of Russia itself at the moment – clamping down ruthlessly on those people who’d happily mind their own business if left alone, but letting loose somebody like Vadim Koriokin – was unprintable.

On the other hand, Russia being unspeakable was hardly new, and so far there was nothing about this mess to warrant fresh distaste or distrust.

Yet he felt grumpy and discontented.

He decided that the main reason he was grumpy was because he was scared that the world was up against a madman with impressive weaponry skills and resources, backed up by a death wish. You had to assume Koriokin had a death wish. Men who grew up working for Moscow didn’t taunt the Russian government while entertaining hopes of living very long. It didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen.

It also scared him that Cookson had been scared. That she’d chosen right then to finally report her uncle made MacAvoy think that she’d been really scared, as the Russian’s story had sunk in. What was the fancy name for it? Transference? Something like that, in any case. Cookson was very nearly unflappable. Usually. But she was also smarter than the average person. She could connect the dots.

Despite what he’d said about being sure of winning the war (which he was), MacAvoy was no fool about the losses that could be sustained from even just one big, ugly weapon, if it got unleashed on people not safely hidden in super-duper underground bunkers. With some of the weapons available, of course, even the bunkers didn’t provide any guarantees. His stomach lurched.

Rebecca came unbidden into his mind. He tried to shove thoughts of her away – there was work to be done! – but she kept coming back, beautiful and precious, operating courtesy of a heart that could be stopped. Life was so fragile.

He wondered how men with families survived the worries that went along with being the head of a family. He’d had no idea that love could reach so deep.

In his office, he used a special phone he hadn’t used in a long time. It was answered midway through the first ring. “I need an expert on Russia, who can tell me whether I’ve got a big problem or a little one,” he heard himself saying. (Which wasn’t quite what he thought he’d planned to say.) From there on out, he chose his words more carefully. He didn’t want a dead informant, much less a flattened Russian village, on his conscience.

After the call, he forced himself to review other cases. Just because one case suddenly got bigger didn’t mean the others didn’t matter anymore. For instance, a couple of kids had just been kidnapped from Spokane, Washington, a brother and sister. Kidnappings got top billing. It was the least you could do. Even if you were afraid the world was about to blow up, you had to look out for the kids who would be around to inherit the place if – by some happy miracle – you were wrong.

Not Exactly Innocent is the second book in the MI5 1/2 series. It’s available in trade paperback, large print, and for Kindle and Nook. It’s also found in The MI5 1/2 Omnibus, which is available for Kindle and Nook. The first book in the series is Not Exactly Dead. The third book is Not Exactly Allies.

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A challenge to Christians, to be champions of civility.

An excerpt:

Misunderstandings surround the idea of civility; it’s frequently mistaken for squeamishness about cultural differences, false tolerance or dinner-party etiquette. Classically, civility is a republican virtue, with a small “r,” and a democratic necessity, with a small “d.” It’s the only way you can have a diverse society, freely but civilly, peacefully.

As Christians, we have deeper motivations still [for championing civility]. Followers of Jesus are called to be peacemakers, with truth and grace; Paul asks us to speak the truth with love. We’re called to love our enemies and do good to those who wrong us. This is our Christian motivation for championing the classical virtue of civility.

Freedom of conscience [upholds] the right to believe anything, but the right to believe anything does not mean that anything anyone believes is right. That is nonsense. We have a right and a responsibility to disagree, to debate, to persuade someone that they’re out to lunch. They may be muddle-headed. They may be socially disastrous. They might even be morally evil, but we have a responsibility to disagree civilly.

Read the whole article.

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From G.K. Chesterton, in The Appetite of Tyranny (1915) (Bold added):

My countrymen and I mean a certain and intelligible thing when we call the Prussians barbarians. It is quite different from the thing attributed to Russians; and it could not possibly be attributed to Russians. It is very important that the neutral world should understand what this thing is.

If the German calls the Russian barbarous he presumably means imperfectly civilised. There is a certain path along which Western nations have proceeded in recent times; and it is tenable that Russia has not proceeded so far as the others: that she has less of the special modern system in science, commerce, machinery, travel or political constitution. The Russ ploughs with an old plough; he wears a wild beard; he adores relics; his life is as rude and hard as that of a subject of Alfred the Great. Therefore he is, in the German sense, a barbarian. Poor fellows like Gorky and Dostoieffsky have to form their own reflections on the scenery, without the assistance of large quotations from Schiller on garden seats; or inscriptions directing them to pause and thank the All-Father for the finest view in Hesse-Pumpernickel. The Russians, having nothing but their faith, their fields, their great courage, and their self-governing communes, are quite cut off from what is called (in the fashionable street in Frankfort) The True, The Beautiful and The Good. There is- a real sense in which one can call such backwardness barbaric; by comparison with the Kaiserstrasse; and in that sense it is true of Russia.

Now we, the French and English, do not mean this when we call the Prussians barbarians. If their cities soared higher than their flying ships, if their trains travelled faster than their bullets, we should still call them barbarians. We should know exactly what we meant by it; and we should know that it is true. For we do not mean anything that is an imperfect civilisation by accident. We mean something that is the enemy of civilisation by design. We mean something that is wilfully at war with the principles by which human society has been made possible hitherto. Of course it must be partly civilised even to destroy civilisation. Such ruin could not be wrought by the savages that are merely undeveloped or inert. You could not have even Huns without horses; or horses without horsemanship. You could not have even Danish pirates without ships, or ships without seamanship. This person, whom I may call the Positive Barbarian, must be rather more superficially up-to-date than what I may call the Negative Barbarian. Alaric was an officer in the Roman legions: but for all that he destroyed Rome. Nobody supposes that Eskimos could have done it at all neatly-. But (in our meaning) barbarism is not a matter of methods but of aims. We say that these veneered vandals have the perfectly serious aim of destroying certain ideas which, as they think, the world has outgrown; without which, as we think, the world will die.

It is essential that this perilous peculiarity in the Pruss, or Positive Barbarian, should be seized. He has what he fancies is a new idea; and he is going to apply it to everybody. As a fact it is simply a false generalisation; but he is really trying to make it general. This does not apply to the Negative Barbarian: it does not apply to the Russian or the Servian, even if they are barbarians. If a Russian peasant does beat his wife, he does it because his fathers did it before him: he is likely to beat less rather than more as the past fades away. He does not think, as the Prussian would, that he has made a new discovery in physiology in finding that a woman is weaker than a man. If a Servian does knife his rival without a word, he does it because other Servians have done it. He may regard it even as piety, but certainly not as progress. He does not think, as the Prussian does, that he founds a new school of horology by starting before the word “Go.” He does not think he is in advance of the world in militarism, merely because he is behind it in morals. No; the danger of the Pruss is that he is prepared to fight for old errors as if they were new truths. He has somehow heard of certain shallow simplifications; and imagines that we have never heard of them. And, as I have said, his limited but very sincere lunacy concentrates chiefly in a desire to destroy two ideas, the twin root ideas of rational society. The first is the idea of record and promise: the second is the idea of reciprocity.


We are talking about a new and inhuman morality, which denies altogether the day of obligation. The Prussians have been told by their literary men that everything depends upon Mood: and by their politicians that all arrangements dissolve before “necessity.” That is the importance of the German Chancellor’s phrase. He did not allege some special excuse in the case of Belgium, which might make it seem an exception that proved the rule. He distinctly argued1, as on a principle applicable to other cases, that victory was a necessity and honour was a scrap of paper. And it is evident that the half-educated Prussian imagination really cannot get any further than this. It cannot see that if everybody’s action were entirely incalculable from hour to hour, it would not only be the end of all promises, but the end of all projects. In not being able to see that, the Berlin philosopher is really on a lower mental level than the Arab who respects the salt, or the Brahmin who preserves the caste. And in this quarrel we have a right to come with scimitars as well as sabres, with bows as well as rifles, with assegai and tomahawk and boomerang, because there is in all these at least a seed of civilisation that these intellectual anarchists would kill. And if they should find us in our last stand girt with such strange swords and following unfamiliar ensigns, and ask us for what we fight in so singular a company, we shall know what to reply: “We fight for the trust and for the tryst; for fixed memories and the possible meeting of men; for all that makes life anything but an uncontrollable nightmare. We fight for the long arm of honour and remembrance ; for all that can lift a man above the quicksands of his moods, and give him the mastery of time.”



In the last summary I suggested that Barbarism, as we mean it, is not mere ignorance or even mere cruelty. It has a more precise sense, and means militant hostility to certain necessary human ideas. I took the case of the vow or the contract, which Prussian intellectualism would destroy. I urged that the Prussian is a spiritual Barbarian, because he is not bound by his own past, any more than a man in a dream. He avows that when he promised to respect a frontier on Monday, he did not foresee what he calls “the necessity” of not respecting it on Tuesday. In short, he is like a child, who at the end of all reasonable explanations and reminders of admitted arrangements, has no answer except “But I want to.”

There is another idea in human arrangements so fundamental as to be forgotten; but now for the first time denied. It may be called the idea of reciprocity; or, in better English, of give and take. The Prussian appears to be quite intellectually incapable of this thought. He cannot, I think, conceive the idea that is the foundation of all comedy; that, in the eyes of the other man, he is only the other man. And if we carry this clue through the institutions of Prussianised Germany, we shall find how curiously his mind has been limited in the matter. The German differs from other patriots in the inability to understand patriotism. Other European peoples pity the Poles or the Welsh for their violated borders; but Germans pity only themselves. They might take forcible possession of the Severn or the Danube, of the Thames or the Tiber, of the Garry or the Garonne—and they would still be singing sadly about how fast and true stands the watch on Rhine; and what a shame it would be if any one took their own little river away from them. That is what I mean by not being reciprocal: and you will find it in all that they do: as in all that is done by savages.

Here, again, it is very necessary to avoid confusing this soul of the savage with mere savagery in the sense of brutality or butchery; in which the Greeks, the French and all the most civilised nations have indulged in hours of abnormal panic or revenge. Accusations of cruelty are generally mutual. But it is the point about the Prussian that with him nothing is mutual. The definition of the true savage does not concern itself even with how much more he hurts strangers or captives than do the other tribes of men. The definition of the true savage is that he laughs when he hurts you; and howls when you hurt him. This extraordinary inequality in the mind is in every act and word that comes from Berlin. For instance, no man of the world believes all he sees in the newspapers; and no journalist believes a quarter of it. We should, therefore, be quite ready in the ordinary way to take a great deal off the tales of German atrocities; to doubt this story or deny that. But there is one thing that we cannot doubt or deny: the seal and authority of the Emperor. In the Imperial proclamation the fact that certain “frightful” things have been done is admitted; and justified on the ground of their frightfulness. It was a military necessity to terrify the peaceful populations with something that was not civilised, something that was hardly human. Very well. That is an intelligible policy: and in that sense an intelligible argument. An army endangered by foreigners may do the most frightful things, But then we turn the next page of the Kaiser’s public diary, and we find him writing to the President of the United States, to complain that the English are using Dum-dum bullets and violating various regulations of the Hague Conference. I pass for the present the question of whether there is a word of truth in these charges. I am content to gaze rapturously at the blinking eyes of the True, or Positive, Barbarian. I suppose he would be quite puzzled if we said that violating the Hague Conference was “a military necessity” to us; or that the rules of the Conference were only a scrap of paper. He would be quite pained if we said that Dum-dum bullets, “by their very frightfulness,” would be very useful to keep conquered Germans in order. Do what he will, he cannot get outside the idea that he, because he is he and not you, is free to break the law; and also to appeal to the law

The book can be read free online in various places, since it has passed into public domain. It is also available as an eBook, and in print.

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G.K. Chesterton held that governments were as capable of anarchy as people. From Eugenics and Other Evils (1922):

A silent anarchy is eating out our society. I must pause upon the expression; because the true nature of anarchy is mostly misapprehended. It is not in the least necessary that anarchy should be violent; nor is it necessary that it should come from below. A government may grow anarchic as much as a people. The more sentimental sort of Tory uses the word anarchy as a mere term of abuse for rebellion; but he misses a most important intellectual distinction. Rebellion may be wrong and disastrous; but even when rebellion is wrong, it is never anarchy. When it is not self-defence, it is usurpation. It aims at setting up a new rule in place of the old rule. And while it cannot be anarchic in essence (because it has an aim), it certainly cannot be anarchic in method; for men must be organized when they fight; and the discipline in a rebel army has to be as good as the discipline in the royal army. This deep principle of distinction must be clearly kept in mind. Take for the sake of symbolism those two great spiritual stories which, whether we count them myths or mysteries, have so long been the two hinges of all European morals. The Christian who is inclined to sympathize generally with constituted authority will think of rebellion under the image of Satan, the rebel against God. But Satan, though a traitor, was not an anarchist. He claimed the crown of the cosmos; and had he prevailed, would have expected his rebel angels to give up rebelling. On the other hand, the Christian whose sympathies are more generally with just self-defence among the oppressed will think rather of Christ Himself defying the High Priests and scourging the rich traders. But whether or no Christ was (as some say) a Socialist, He most certainly was not an Anarchist. Christ, like Satan, claimed the throne. He set up a new authority against an old authority; but He set it up with positive commandments and a comprehensible scheme. In this light all mediaeval people — indeed, all people until a little while ago — would have judged questions involving revolt. John Ball would have offered to pull down the government because it was a bad government, not because it was a government. Richard II would have blamed Bolingbroke not as a disturber of the peace, but as a usurper. Anarchy, then, in the useful sense of the word, is a thing utterly distinct from any rebellion, right or wrong. It is not necessarily angry; it is not, in its first stages, at least, even necessarily painful. And, as I said before, it is often entirely silent.

Anarchy is that condition of mind or methods in which you cannot stop yourself. It is the loss of that self-control which can return to the normal. It is not anarchy because men are permitted to begin uproar, extravagance, experiment, peril. It is anarchy when people cannot end these things. It is not anarchy in the home if the whole family sits up all night on New Year’s Eve. It is anarchy in the home if members of the family sit up later and later for months afterwards. It was not anarchy in the Roman villa when, during the Saturnalia, the slaves turned masters or the masters slaves. It was (from the slave-owners’ point of view) anarchy if, after the Saturnalia, the slaves continued to behave in a Saturnalian manner; but it is historically evident that they did not. It is not anarchy to have a picnic; but it is anarchy to lose all memory of mealtimes. It would, I think, be anarchy if (as is the disgusting suggestion of some) we all took what we liked off the sideboard. That is the way swine would eat if swine had sideboards; they have no immovable feasts; they are uncommonly progressive, are swine. It is this inability to return within rational limits after a legitimate extravagance that is the really dangerous disorder. The modern world is like Niagara. It is magnificent, but it is not strong. It is as weak as water — like Niagara. The objection to a cataract is not that it is deafening or dangerous or even destructive, it is that it cannot stop. Now it is plain that this sort of chaos can possess the powers that rule a society as easily as the society so ruled. And in modern England it is the powers that rule who are chiefly possessed by it — who are truly possessed by devils. The phrase, in its sound old psychological sense, is not too strong. The State has suddenly and quietly gone mad. It is talking nonsense and it can’t stop.

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I agree with this:

…I think that to be ignorant or indifferent to history isn’t just to be uneducated or stupid. It’s to be rude, ungrateful. And ingratitude is an ugly failing in human beings.

Find out who said it, and read the rest of the quote, here.

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