A Dialogue on Star Wars

Baring (standing), Over-Bearing (right), Past-Bearing (left)

Over-BearingFew things shows how far the world has sunken since our time more clearly than an American college lecturer reflecting on his students difficulty in reading children’s books [he reads aloud from  John Senior’s The Restoration of Christian Culture]:

In my own direct experience teaching literature at universities, I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call “hard reading,” which means too difficult to enjoy with anything approaching their delight in Star Wars or electronic games.

Has it indeed come to this? That the descendants of the peoples of Christendom— of the peoples who built the great cathedrals, who conquered and instructed worlds— that the descendants of such peoples should have fallen so low that they cannot even enjoy Mr. Stevenson’s simple adventure stories.  No one could accuse me of being overly optimistic about the effects of the death of Christian civilization, but even I did not expect man to fall so far below the beasts that his keenest enjoyment would be found in Star Wars. Star Wars! That dismal mush of pantheism, gnosticism, and sentimentality, so illogical that in our day a child of five years would have laughed it to scorn.

Past-BearingYou are quite wrong to see in the popularity of Star Wars a sign of how far our race has fallen since the end of civilization. On the contrary— Star Wars is proof that how ever far the world has fallen, human nature cannot be entirely corrupted, and that despite the reigning dogma’s of anti-culture, the common man can still tell the difference between good and evil, and delights in stories about the triumph of the one over the other. The miracle of Star Wars is that it shows a world of machines and space-ships in which the most important thing is mystery of the good; the magic of an “ancient religion.” In the figure of Luke Skywalker the inhabitants of the dreary wasteland of a world dis-enchanted by godlessness and capitalism, can see themselves discovering that after all the world is a mighty battle field between super-natural powers. Star Wars is not art, but it is something much more important: it is story about the truth of our magical world. It is to these sad times, what penny dreadfuls were to ours.

Over-Bearing: Nonsense. Star Wars is not a story told by the simple for their own amusement. It is a powerful propaganda weapon made at great expense by Californian plutocrats, members of the world wide conspiracy of anti-Catholics and usurers. It was made to confuse the notions of good and evil, and muddle the minds of the world’s children.

Past-Bearing: My dear Over-Bearing, the truth is quite the opposite of what you say. It is precisely the proud intellectuals of the new anti-culture who decry Star Wars for being “puerile” and lacking “subtlety” in its depiction of good and evil— that is, for not mixing them up enough— for making the good good and the evil evil. Hence children spontaneously love Star Wars. It is the relativists and soft-Nietzscheans, and Picasso lovers who decry it as the end of culture.

Over-Bearing: That man may be an ass, who considers Picasso an artist, but he is quite right that Star Wars is mindless distraction that is passively consumed, destroying rather than nourishing the imagination. You yourself has magnificently shown that real fairy tales are quite reasonable, and make perfect sense. But Star Wars makes no sense at all; it is full of the most illogical stupidity. Not to mention the gnostic dualism.

Past-Bearing: It is true that some of the more tiresome characters talk solemn nonsense of a gnostic sort. But the portrayal of good and evil in action is entirely Christian, and even entirely Catholic. Evil is exaggeratedly great appearance, but weak in substance— a shadowy privation of being. Hence many of the apparent absurdities and impossibilities show themselves to be entirely logical. That the Storm Troopers are so feared, and yet are all such comically bad shots. That the evil empire is so powerful, and yet so easy to destroy. When Luke walks unarmed into the the stronghold of the enemy at the end of Return of the Jedi, he shows us again the greatest story ever told: the story of the weakness of the good proving itself stronger than the strength of evil.

Over-BearingPast-Bearing, you are indeed past all bearing. You cannot be comparing that spoiled, whining whelp, Luke Skywalker, to our Savior?

Past-Bearing: The tone of Skywalker’s voice might not be the most euphonious, but it is necessary in order that American teenagers might see him as being of their kind. As the theologians say: quod non est assumptum non est sanatum.

[Exit Over-Bearing in disgust]

[Baring, who has been listening in interest all the while, while pretending to write a triolet, lays down his pen].

Baring: Your defense of Star Wars is all very well, Past-Bearing, but surely it doesn’t apply to The Force Awakens. The original trilogy (despite its vulgarity and sentimentality) had a certain inventiveness, an innocent delight in the revealing of new-worlds. To see the old Star Wars was to walk through an enchanted door and to see again, as though half remembered, the light upon the enchanted world of childhood. But the new film is dull affair made by a committee of capitalists. A tent-pole film so anxious to please the admirers of the original that it repeats almost frame for frame the plot of A New Hope. So anxious not to be boring, that it rushes along at a frantic pace without time for enjoyment. A film so pedantically obsessed with the politically correct opinions that the heroine becomes a sort of feminist Mary Sue, for whom everything is so easy that nothing matters. Force Awakens is the very paragon of  unimaginative and decadent art.

Past-Bearing: Oh, but repetition is the very essence of the age-old story of good and evil. And typology is the genius of The Force AwakensSurely decadent art is obsessed with novelty? Nostalgia is the mark of truly human stories: Virgil is nostalgic, Dante is nostalgic [cf. the conclusion of this post].  And as to Rey: I find no fault with her role in the story. Does she not show us that great, triumphant, and eternally exciting truth: that one good girl is more powerful than a great many bad men in masks? That the goodness of a little girl is fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners?

[enter Duff Cooper, a little drunk]

Duff Cooper: I say, let’s go see The Force Awakens.

Past-Bearing [gets up with alacrity]: Yes, do let’s

Baring: Oh, all right.

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Michel Houellebecq on France’s Distributist Future

I recently listened to an audiobook of the German translation of Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Soumission— which, as most readers will know, is about Muslim party taking power in France. I am working on a review, and have been checking my favorite passages in the French original. I hope to complete the full review soon, but in the mean time here is a  rough translation of some passages in which Houellebecq discusses distributism. The main objective of the new government is to strengthen the family, and for this purpose they turn to distributism:

Apart from this superficial agitation, France was in the midst of rapid development and profound change. It soon became clear that Mohammed Ben Abbes [the new Muslim president of France] had other ideas apart from Islam; in a press conference he declared to general astonishment that he was influenced by distributism. Actually he had already mentioned this multiple times during his campaign, but since journalists are very naturally inclined to ignore information that they cannot understand, these statements were not passed on to the public. This time he was the sitting president of the republic so that it was necessary for them to bring their research up to date. And so the public learned over the next few weeks that distributism was an economic philosophy that had been developed in England at the start of the 20th century by thinkers such as Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. It wanted to take a ‘third way’ between capitalism and communism (which it understood as state capitalism). Its basic idea was the overcoming of the division between capital and labor. The normal form of economic life was to be the family business. If certain branches of production required large scale organization, then everything was to be done to ensure that the workers were co-owners of their company, and co-responsible for its management.  […] An essential element of political philosophy introduced by Chesterton and Belloc was the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, no association (whether social, economic or political) should have charge of a function that could be assigned to a smaller association. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, provided a definition of this principle: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”

(Au-delà de cette agitation superficielle, la France était en train d’évoluer rapidement, et d’évoluer en profondeur. Il apparut bientôt que Mohammed Ben Abbes, même indépendamment de l’islam, avait des idées ; lors d’une séance de questions à la presse, il se déclara influencé par le distributivisme, ce qui plongea ses auditeurs dans un ébahissement général. Il l’avait à vrai dire déjà déclaré, à plusieurs reprises, au cours de la campagne présidentielle ; mais les journalistes ayant une tendance bien naturelle à ignorer les informations qu’ils ne comprennent pas, la déclaration n’avait été ni relevée, ni reprise. Cette fois, il s’agissait d’un président de la république en exercice, il devenait donc indispensable qu’ils mettent à jour leur documentation. Le grand public apprit ainsi au cours des semaines suivantes que le distributivisme était une philosophie économique apparue en Angleterre au début du xxe siècle sous l’impulsion des penseurs Gilbert Keith Chesterton et Hilaire Belloc. Elle se voulait une « troisième voie », s’écartant aussi bien du capitalisme que du communisme – assimilé à un capitalisme d’État. Son idée de base était la suppression de la séparation entre le capital et le travail. La forme normale de l’économie y était l’entreprise familiale ; lorsqu’il devenait nécessaire, pour certaines productions, de se réunir dans des entités plus vastes, tout devait être fait pour que les travailleurs soient actionnaires de leur entreprise, et coresponsables de sa gestion. […] Un des éléments essentiels de la philosophie politique introduite par Chesterton et Belloc était le principe de subsidiarité. D’après ce principe, aucune entité (sociale, économique ou politique) ne devait prendre en charge une fonction pouvant être confiée à une entité plus petite. Le pape Pie XI, dans son ency- clique Quadragesimo Anno, fournissait une définition de ce principe: «Tout comme il est mauvais de reti- rer à l’individu et de confier à la communauté ce que l’entreprise privée et l’industrie peuvent accomplir, c’est également une grande injustice, un mal sérieux et une perturbation de l’ordre convenable pour une organisation supérieure plus large de s’arroger les fonctions qui peuvent être effectuées efficacement par des entités inférieures plus petites.»  [Soumission, pp. 201-202, 210])

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child. Continue reading