12 April 2021

A Lack of Fine Feeling and Good Judgment

Anthony Ludovici, “The English Aristocrat as a Failure in the Art of Protecting and Guiding the Ruled,” A Defence of Aristocracy (Boston: LeRoy Phillips, 1915), p. 49:

The rule of the machine, or of a system of commerce and industry such as the one termed capitalistic, does not come from Heaven. It is not a visitation of Providence. If it comes at all, if it prevails at all, its ultimate triumph must be due to a deliberate act of taste and judgment on the part of some portion of the nation. The contention that it would have been in the interest of all concerned, and particularly of the landed aristocracy, to resist the ultimate complete triumph of the vulgar tradesman's taste, I for one heartily uphold; and when I look around me to-day and see the ugliness and appalling squalor of our large cities, when I realise that the growing mass of useless dregs in the population, the growing unsavouriness and repulsiveness of mankind, are almost entirely the outcome of a change which is barely 150 years old, I cannot help thinking that those of the governing classes who allowed this change to come about showed a lack of fine feeling and of good judgment, for which they deserve to perish in the general Nemesis which threatens to overtake all societies that allow themselves to become the victims of the engineer's, the shopkeeper's and the stupid person's democratic mind.


Francisco Goya, You Will Not Escape (c. 1798)

7 April 2021

Houellebecq on Euthanasia

Michel Houellebecq, “Une civilisation qui légalise l’euthanasie perd tout droit au respect," [A Civilization That Legalizes Euthanasia Loses All Right to Respect] Le Figaro (5 April, 2021), my translation:

The Catholics will resist [the legalization of euthanasia in France] as best as they can but, it is sad to say, we have grown more or less accustomed to seeing the Catholics lose every time. The Muslims and the Jews think exactly the same thing as the Catholics on this matter, as they do on many other “societal” (a terrible word) issues; the media are generally very good at hiding this. I have few illusions. In the end these religions will roll over and submit to the yoke of  “republican law”; their priests, rabbis, or imams will accompany those who are to be euthanized, telling them that it's not so bad, that tomorrow things will be better, and that even if they have been abandoned by men, God will look after them. Let's admit it.

From the Buddhist lamas' point of view, the situation is doubtless much worse. For any serious reader of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the moment before death is a very important one in a man's life, since it offers him a last chance, even in the presence of bad karma, to free himself from the wheel of suffering and end the cycle of reincarnation. Cutting off these final hours is therefore an utterly criminal act; unfortunately, Buddhists seldom intervene in public discourse.

Would Schopenhauer agree with his student? Schopenhauer did describe suicide as a “clumsy experiment” — if there is a subsequent state of being, a pessimist is bound to wonder if bringing the present one to an abrupt end might result in circumstances that are even worse.

Houellebecq's concluding paragraph:

When a country — a society, a civilization — reaches the point of legalizing euthanasia, in my eyes it has lost all right to be respected. From that moment it becomes not only legitimate, but desirable, that it should be destroyed so that something else — another society, another civilization — might have an opportunity to emerge.

Schopenhauer's gilded statue of the Buddha

Image taken from Robert Wicks, “Arthur Schopenhauer’s Bronze Buddha: Neither Tibetan nor Thai, but Shan,” Schopenhauer Jahrbuch (2011) 307-316.

6 April 2021

Avoid Crowds

Gabriel Tarde, L'Opinion et la foule (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1910), pp. 55-56 (my translation):

Crowds are not only credulous, but crazed. We note that they have several traits in common with asylum inmates: an inflated sense of pride, intolerance, and immoderation in all things. Like the insane, they are constantly moving between the two extreme poles of excitement and depression — sometimes they rage heroically, and other times they are overcome with panic. They have real collective hallucinations: grouped together, men believe that they are seeing and hearing things that, when isolated, they no longer see nor hear. And, when they believe they are being pursued by an invisible enemy, their faith is founded upon a deranged line of reasoning. We find a good example of this in Taine [specifically in Les Origines de la France contemporaine]. Towards the end of July 1789, under the influence of the national commotion which had sprung up everywhere, feverish crowds formed in the streets and public squares. A clamour spread from one person to the next, and soon invaded all of the Angoumois region, from Perigord to Auvergne: It was said that 10,000 or 20,000 bandits were on their way. People had seen them, the cloud of dust they generated was visible on the horizon, and they were coming to kill everyone. “Entire parishes down in that area ran to hide in the woods, abandoning their homes and carrying their furniture away with them.” Then the truth came to light [i.e., that there were no bandits], and the people returned to their towns. But then they yielded themselves up to exactly the same kind of thinking as those who suffer from persecutory delusions — since they observed a morbid anxiety within themselves, they imagined enemies to justify it.  “We rose up because there was danger,” these groups of people told themselves. “And if we were not menaced by bandits, then it was because we were menaced by something else.” That “something else” being supposed conspirators. And from there they went on to persecutions that were all too real.


Rioters sack the town hall in Strasbourg during the “Great Fear” of 1789
Image from Gallica, via retronews.fr 

2 April 2021

A Peculiar Sentiment Towards the Sun

Walter Thornbury, The Life of J. M. W. Turner  (London: Chatto & Windus, 1897), p. 360:

I am told that up to the period of his very last illness he would often rise at daybreak and with blanket or dressing-gown carelessly thrown over him go out upon the railed-in roof to see the sun rise and to observe the colour flow, flushing back into the pale morning sky. In this tenacity of the dying man to his old love there is to me something very touching, almost sublime. Him Nature could never weary. With the true humility of genius he felt how much he had to learn, and how inimitable was the beauty of the world he had tried to depict.

He died with the winter-morning sun shining upon his face as he lay in bed. The attendant drew up the window-blind, and the luminary shed its beams upon the dying artist — the sun he had been wont to regard with such love and veneration.


John Ruskin, "Letter XLV," Fors Clavigera (New York: Kelmscott Society, 1900), p. 122:

“The Sun is God,” said Turner, a few weeks before he died with the setting rays of it on his face. He meant it, as Zoroaster meant it; and was a Sun-worshipper of the old breed.”


Robert Chignell, J. M. W. Turner (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1902), p. 57:

Whether it be called reverence, worship, or merely an intense delight in, and feeling for, manifestations of light and colour, it is certain that Turner had a peculiar sentiment towards the sun, shared by no other of his time. If not a god to be worshipped in a religious sense, the sun was to him the one great force and influence in the universe.
J. M. W. Turner, The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842)