Enjolras’ End of History

 

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The situation of the whole party in this fatal hour, and at this inexorable spot, had as result and pinnacle the supreme melancholy of Enjolras. Enjolras had within him the plenitude of the revolution; he was imperfect, however, so far as the absolute can be so,—he had too much of St. Just and not enough of Anacharsis Clootz; still his mind in the society of the Friends of the A. B. C. had eventually received a certain magnetism of Combeferre’s ideas.

For some time past he had been gradually emerging from the narrow form of dogmatism and yielding to the expansion of progress, and in the end he had accepted, as the definitive and magnificent evolution, the transformation of the great French republic into the immense human republic. As for the immediate means, a violent situation being given, he was willing to be violent; in that he did not vary, and he still belonged to that epic and formidable school which is resumed in the words “’93.”

Enjolras was standing on the paving-stone steps, with one of his elbows on the muzzle of his gun. He was thinking; he trembled, as men do when a blast passes, for spots where death lurks produce this tripod effect. A sort of stifled fire issued from beneath his eyelashes, which were full of the internal glance. All at once he raised his head, his light hair fell back like that of the angel on the dark quadriga composed of stars, and he cried:—

“Citizens, do you represent the future to yourselves? The streets of towns inundated with light, green branches on the thresholds, nations sisters, men just, old men blessing children, the past loving the present, men thinking at perfect liberty, believers enjoying perfect equality, for religion the heaven, God, the direct priest, the human conscience converted into an altar, no more hatred, the fraternity of the workshop and the school, notoriety the sole punishment and reward, work for all, right for all, peace for all, no more bloodshed, no more wars, and happy mothers!

To subdue the matter is the first step, to realize the ideal is the second. Reflect on what progress has already done; formerly the first human races saw with terror the hydra that breathed upon the waters, the dragon that vomited fire, the griffin which was the monster of the air, and which flew with the wings of an eagle and the claws of a tiger, pass before their eyes,—frightful beasts which were below man. Man, however, set his snares, the sacred snares of intellect, and ended by catching the monsters in them. We have subdued the hydra, and it is called the steamer; we have tamed the dragon, and it is called the locomotive; we are on the point of taming the griffin, we hold it already, and it is called the balloon. The day on which that Promethean task is terminated and man has definitively attached to his will the triple antique chimera, the dragon, the hydra, and the griffin, he will be master of water, fire, and air, and he will be to the rest of animated creation what the ancient gods were formerly to him.

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Courage, and forward! Citizens, whither are we going? To science made government, to the strength of things converted into the sole public strength, to the natural law having its sanction and penalty in itself and promulgating itself by evidence, and to a dawn of truth corresponding with the dawn of day.

We are proceeding to a union of the peoples; we are proceeding to a unity of man. No more fictions, no more parasites. The real governed by the true is our object. Civilization will hold its assize on the summit of Europe, and eventually in the centre of the continent, in a great Parliament of intellect. Something like this has been seen already; the Amphictyons held two sessions a year, one at Delphi, the place of the gods, the other at Thermopylæ, the place of heroes. Europe will have her Amphictyons, the globe will have its Amphictyons, France bears the sublime future within her, and this is the gestation of the 19th century. What Greece sketched out is worthy of being finished by France. Hearken to me, Feuilly, valiant workman, man of the people, man of the people. I venerate thee; yes, thou seest clearly future times; yes, thou art right. Thou hast neither father nor mother, Feuilly, and thou hast adopted humanity as thy mother and right as thy father. Thou art about to die here, that is to say, to triumph.

Citizens, whatever may happen to-day, we are about to make a revolution, by our defeat as well as by our victory. In the same way as fires light up a whole city, revolutions light up the whole human race. And what a revolution shall we make? I have just told you, the revolution of the True.

From the political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of me over me is called liberty, and where two or three of these liberties are associated the State begins. But in this association there is no abdication, and each sovereignty concedes a certain amount of itself to form the common right. This quality is the same for all, and this identity of concession which each makes to all is called Equality. The common right is nought but the protection of all radiating over the right of each. This protection of all over each is termed Fraternity. The point of intersection of all aggregated societies is called Society, and this intersection being a junction, the point is a knot.

Hence comes what is called the social tie; some say the social contract, which is the same thing, as the word contract is etymologically formed with the idea of a tie. Let us come to an understanding about equality; for if liberty be the summit, equality is the base. Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of tall blades of grass and small oaks, or a neighborhood of entangled jealousies; it is, civilly, every aptitude having the same opening, politically, all votes having the same weight, and religiously, all consciences having the same right. Equality has an organ in gratuitous and compulsory education, and it should begin with the right to the alphabet. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, such is the law, and from the identical school issues equal instruction. Yes, instruction! Light, light! Everything comes from light and everything returns to it.

Citizens, the 19th century is great, but the 20th century will be happy. Then there will be nothing left resembling ancient history, there will be no cause to fear, as at the present day, a conquest, an invasion, usurpation, an armed rivalry of nations, an interruption of civilization depending on a marriage of kings, a birth in hereditary tyrannies, a division of peoples by Congress, a dismemberment by the collapse of dynasties, a combat of two religions, clashing, like two goats of the darkness, on the bridge of infinity; there will be no cause longer to fear famine, exhaustion, prostitution through destiny, misery through stoppage of work, and the scaffold, and the sword, and battles, and all the brigandage of accident in the forest of events; we might almost say there will be no more events, we shall be happy; the human race will accomplish its law as the terrestrial globe does its law; harmony will be restored between the soul and the planet, and the soul will gravitate round the truth as the planet does round light.

Friends, the hour we are now standing in is a gloomy hour, but there are such terrible purchases of the future. Oh, the human race will be delivered, relieved, and consoled! We affirm it on this barricade, and where should the cry of love be raised if not on the summit of the sacrifice? Oh, my brothers, this is the point of junction between those who think and those who suffer.

This barricade is not made of paving-stones, beams, and iron bars; it is made of two masses,—a mass of ideas and a mass of sorrows. Misery meets then the ideal; day embraces the night there, and says to it, ‘I am about to die with thee, and thou wilt be born again with me.’ Faith springs from the embrace of all the desolations; sufferings bring hither their agony, and ideas their immortality. This agony and this immortality are about to be mingled and compose one death. Brothers, the man who dies here dies in the radiance of the future, and we shall enter a tomb all filled with dawn.”

Enjolras interrupted himself rather than was silent; his lips moved silently as if he were talking to himself, which attracted attention, and in order still to try to hear him they held their tongues. There was no applause, but they whispered together for a long time. Language being breath, the rustling of intellects resembles the rustling of leaves.

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This is one of the clearest and most complete statements of the 19th century version of what would become modern progressivist liberalism, and there is so much that is good in it, as well as so much from which one draws back in horror; you can see, in this, liberalism’s root in Plato; you can see the rage for order; you can see the desire to destroy what is in favor of what should be, and to destroy anything “strange” or different or perverse or peculiar; the Tyranny of the Good. You can see the mechanization of human nature and the vision of perfection that would grind all imperfection under its heel and then spit on it in contempt.  You can see the cartoonish vision of what “good” means and what reality is about.

But you can see too the desire for good, the vision of real and non-nihilistic justice, the desire of friendship among men and the simple good vision of children having enough to eat… Almost everything he describes is in fact good, or touches on it, although many of those things are more complicated, and to think that one can get to all these goods through a purely naturalistic process and within, oh, 50-75 years by smashing things and repudiating history is fearsome. Not to mention that he leaves out the central good in the world; his ideal society is missing its heart, and is far too modest; he’s 60% wrong about the nature of politics; etc.

But you can’t be horrified at the mathematical society which is laid out, the inhumanity of “we might almost say there will be no more events,” without taking on the burden of trying to do tikkun ‘olam. In rejecting Enjolras’ vision, don’t at the same time reject the good that he is seeing, which is a distorted version of the Kingdom; and don’t become an apologist for actually exiting injustice or poverty. Be willing to be humane in pursuit of the good, and don’t stop pursuing it; see that the line between good and evil runs through each human heart. And yeah, maybe there can be such a thing as progress. But maybe it looks different than you think it looks, and is less… tidy.

As a matter of fact, threading this needle is something that someone else has done far better than I am trying to do:

Gudge is now a corrupt and apoplectic old Tory in the Carlton Club; if you mention poverty to him he roars at you in a thick, hoarse voice something that is conjectured to be “Do ’em good!” Nor is Hudge more happy; for he is a lean vegetarian with a gray, pointed beard and an unnaturally easy smile, who goes about telling everybody that at last we shall all sleep in one universal bedroom; and he lives in a Garden City, like one forgotten of God.

 

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Stagirite Noir

Hellenic Noir

Scooped

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Last night, in the kitchen/dining area in Maryhouse (at a book launch for this book), I got into an absolutely fantastic conversation with a woman called Mary Lathrop about her story: raised in Manhattan in the 40s; converted at (of all things) a Billy Graham crusade; in perplexity about what to do about this awkward fact, went to her aunt who was the one person she knew who was a practicing Christian.

“I’ve been… converted?” she said.

“Well that’s WONDERFUL,” said the aunt; “you should come to my church.”

Her church was the Church of the Heavenly Rest on 90th and 5th (at this point in the story I broke in–“NO! I went to Trevor Day School!” What this meant is that she and I were both in pageants in the same sanctuary, although hers were Christmas pageants and mine were “Holiday” pageants designed to reassure parents that Trevor was not raising their children Christian despite having been historically connected to Heavenly Rest.)

The story went on. “God will use all kinds of things to get you,” she says. Her father, a doctrinaire Marxist, had her sent to a mental institution because she clearly, having become Christian, must be mentally ill; she eventually realized that highbrow mushy Episcopalianism was not going to cut it and asked (at a luncheonette on 42nd Street: apparently the 50’s version of Google) where she could receive instruction to become Catholic and was told “go to the Paulist fathers on 59th Street,” so she did and was received; ended up hanging around with Dorothy throughout the 50s; has been in & around the Catholic Worker movement ever since…

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Many other ins and outs to this, many of which are public record. And I am not seeking here at all to raise issues about Catholic conversion.  Those are real questions and this is not meant to answer them. If I were talking about theology with her we could talk about the things I disagree with in Catholic theology; those things are real, and they matter, very much.  And I am not inviting criticism from Catholics who want to criticize the Catholic Worker movement either.  It is not meant to say that Joe Hill– as in Mary’s mural, above– was a Christian martyr. I have elsewhere written that part of my own conversion was learning that the leader who was unjustly killed; framed on a false charge; who started a movement during his life; who died but did not die; was not in fact Joe Hill. And that is despite the fact that this was, quite literally, one of my childhood lullabies. His story resonates for a reason, I think– for the pattern of the story, and not just because of the human courage on behalf of a good cause that he displayed; but that too is is not the point, not what I want to talk about here.

The point is that this was a story of a girl Christ tracked down through the streets of Manhattan; her whole story kept having specific cross-street references. And I kept thinking “I want to write her story; I want to write this.”

And then it turned out that Dorothy Day already had. In Loaves and Fishes.

SCOOPED. Rats.

 

Noel Coward’s Benedict Option: on Marriage, the Common Good, Thick and Committed Community, and the Need to Stick With the People Who See Through You

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From Act 1:

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Liz: It’s very resolute of Fred to go on calling me Miss, isn’t it?

Monica: I think he has a sort of idea that when you gave up being Garry’s wife you automatically reverted to maidenhood.

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Liz: It’s a very pretty thought

Daphne comes out of the spare room in an evening dress and cloak. She is no longer crying but looks depressed. She jumps slightly on seeing Liz.

Daphne: Oh!

Monica: I’m so awfully sorry about the bath, Miss Stillington

Daphne: It didn’t matter a bit

Monica: This is Mrs. Essendine— Miss Stillington,

Daphne: Oh!

Liz (amiably): How do you do.

Daphne (shattered): Mrs. Essendine. Do you mean … I mean . . . Are you Garry’s wife?

Liz: Yes.

Daphne: Oh — I thought he was divorced.

Liz: We never quite got round to it.

Daphne: Oh, I see.

Liz: But please don’t look agitated — I upped and left him years ago.

#####

Garry: Now then, tell me all about everything.

Liz: I saw the play.

Garry: Good?

Liz: Yes, very. We shall have to change it a bit, but Vallion’s quite willing to let us do what we like. But I don’t want to go on about it now until I’ve mulled it over a little more. I’m seeing Morris after lunch.

Garry: I’ve told him I can’t open until November. I must have a holiday after Africa. So there’s lots of time.

Liz: Now I want to talk to you about something else.

Garry: I don’t like that tone at all. What’s on your mind?

Liz: You. Your general behaviour.

Garry: Really, Liz! What have I done now?

Liz: Don’t you think it’s time you started to relax?

Garry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Liz: Who was that poor little creature I saw here this morning in evening dress?

Garry: She’d lost her latch-key.

Liz: They often do.

Garry: Now listen to me, Liz

Liz: You’re over forty, you know.

Garry: Only just.

Liz: And in my humble opinion all this casual scampering about is rather undignified.

Garry: Scampering indeed. You have a genius for putting things unpleasantly.

Liz: Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking a moral view, I gave that up as hopeless years ago. I’m merely basing my little homily on reason, dignity, position and, let’s face it, age.

Garry: Perhaps you’d like me to live in a bath-chair!

Lk: It would certainly have its compensations.

Garry: It’s all very fine for you to come roaring back from Paris where you’ve been up to God knows what and start to bully me

Liz: I’m not bullying you.

Garry: Yes, you are. You’re sitting smug as be damned on an awful little cloud and blowing down on me.

Liz: Don’t bluster.

Garry: Who went away and left me a prey to everybody? Answer me that!

Liz: I did thank God.

Garry: Well then.

Liz: Would you have liked me to have stayed?

Garry: Certainly not, you drove me mad.

Liz: Well, stop shilly shallying about then and pay attention.

Garry: This, to date, is the most irritating morning of my life.

Liz; I can remember better ones.

Garry: Where were we?

Liz: Be good, there’s a darling— I mean it.

Garry: Mean what?

Liz: Exactly this. You have reached a moment in life when a little restraint would be becoming. You are no longer a debonair, irresponsible juvenile. You are an eminent man advancing, with every sign of reluctance, into middle age.

Garry: May God forgive you.

Liz: Never mind about that, listen. We all know about your irresistible fascination. We’ve watched it going on monotonously for twenty years.

Garry: I met you for the first time exactly eleven years ago next August, and you were wearing a very silly hat.

Liz: Will you be serious. Your behaviour naturally affects all of us. Morris, Henry, Monica and me. You’re responsible for us and we’re responsible for you. You never lose an opportunity of lecturing us and wagging your finger in our faces when we happen to do something you don’t approve of.

Garry: And am I right or am I not? Answer me that!

Liz: Oh, you’re fine when dealing with other people’s problems, but when it comes to your own you’re not so hot.

Garry: Of all the base ingratitude!

Liz: I think the time has come for you to look very carefully at yourself and sec how much you really need all this buccaneering. I personally don’t believe it’s nearly as necessary to you as you think it is. Think what fun it would be to be unattractive for a minute or two. Why you might take to it like a duck to water, and anyhow, it would be a wonderful change.

Garry: Dear Liz. You really are very sweet.

Liz: Oh dear, I might just as well have been talking Chinese.

Garry: Don’t be cross, Liz dear. I do see what you mean, honestly I do.

Liz: That’s rather sudden, isn’t it? After your belligerence of a few moments ago?

Garry (coaxingly): Surely I may be allowed a little change of mood?

Liz: You’re acting again.

Garry: You’ve said some very cruel things to me. I’m upset.

Liz: I wish you were.

Garry: Seriously though, don’t you think you’ve been a bit too hard on me? I admit I’m a trifle feckless every now and then, but I really don’t do much harm to anybody.

Liz: You do harm to yourself and to the few, the very few, who really mind about you.

Garry: I suppose you’ve discussed all this with Monica and Morris and Henry?

Liz: I haven’t yet, but I will unless I see some signs of improvement.

Garry: Blackmail, hey?

Liz: You know how you hate it when we all make a concerted pounce.

From Act III

Henry: Of all the brazen, arrogant sophistry I’ve ever listened to that takes the prize for all time!

Morris: You have the nerve to work yourself up into a state of moral indignation about us when we all know–

Garry: I have not worked myself into anything at all. I’m merely defending my right to speak the truth for once.

Henry; Truth! You wouldn’t recognise the truth if you saw it. You spend your whole life attitudinising and posturing and showing off

Garry: And I should like to know where we should all be if I didn’t! I’m an artist, aren’t 1? Surely I may be allowed a little license!

Morris: As far as I’m concerned, it’s expired.

Liz: For heaven’s sake stop shouting all of you, you’ll have the roof off.

###

Henry (to Garry): And kindly don’t start that old threadbare argument about none of us being able to live and breathe if it wasn’t for your glorious talent.

Garry; How dare you allude to my talent in that nasty sarcastic tone, you ungrateful little serpent!

Morris; Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for out restraining influence you’d be in the provinces by now.

Garry: And what’s the matter with the provinces, may I ask? They’ve often proved to be a great deal more intelligent than London.

Henry: Be careful! Someone might hear.

Garry: I suppose you’ll be saying next that it’s your restraining influence that has allowed me to hold my position as the idol of the public for twenty years

Morris: You’re not the idol of the public. They’ll come and see you in the right play and the right part and you’ve got to be good at that. Look what happened to you in Pity the Blind!

Garry: I was magnificent in Pity the Blind.

Morris: Yes, for ten days.

Henry: If it hadn’t been for us you’d have done Peer Gynt.

Garry: If I so much as hear Peer Gynt mentioned in this house again I swear before heaven that I shall produce it at Drury Lane.

Henry: Not on my money you won’t!

Garry: Your money indeed! Do you think I’m dependent on your miserable money to put on plays? Why there are thousands of shrewd old gentlemen in the city who would be only too delighted to back me in anything I choose to do,

Henry; I think it rather depends whether they are married or not.

Garry: Oh, so we’re back to that again, are we…

[And somehow, somehow, after all is resolved…]

Garry: You’re not really coming to Africa with me, are you?

Liz: Certainly I am. And not only to Africa. I’m coming back to you for good.

Garry: I don’t want you to come back to me. I’m perfectly happy as I am.

Liz: That can’t be helped. You behave abominably anyhow, but you won’t be able to be quite so bad with me there.

Garry: Liz, I implore you not to come back to me. Have you no sympathy? No heart?

Liz: I’m thinking of the good of the firm. That reminds me. I must leave a note for Monica in the office. I want her to ring up the bank for me first thing in the morning.

Garry The office! My God!

Liz: What’s the matter?

Garry (in a hoarse whisper): You’ve got a sofa, haven’t you, in your flat?

Liz: Of course. What are you talking about?

Garry: You’re not coming back to me, dear, I’m coming back to you!

[CURTAIN FALLS]

I’m having a whiggish morning.

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Number of books (not titles, but physical books) in Europe in 1439, when Johannes Gutenberg was attempting to extract himself from financial difficulties after a failed scheme to sell polished metal mirrors to pilgrims in Aachen, and thinking hard about what he might turn his hand to next: c. 30,000

Date that the first finished copies of Gutenberg’s Bible were available: 1454 or 1455

Date that William Caxton printed the first book in English (Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye by Raoul Lefevre; this was Caxton’s own translation of Lefevre’s  account of the Trojan War): 1473

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Date that the first printed news pamphlets appeared (in Germany): c. 1480

Percentage of the copy of these news pamphlets that was apparently clickbait about the atrocities committed by a sadistic warlord called Vlad Tepes: Unknown, but greater than zero.

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Date that the first printed copy of Aristotle’s Works rolled off Aldus Manutius’ press in Venice: 1495

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Percentage of books written in Latin in 1495: 75

Percentage of books written in vernacular languages in 1595: c. 75

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Literacy rate in the Netherlands, 1475: 17%

In Great Britain, 1475: 5%

In Great Britain, 1650: 53%

In the Netherlands, 1750: 85%

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Date that the Imperial Reichspost (linking together cities throughout the Holy Roman Empire) was founded by Jannetto de Tassis: 1495

Date of the first issue of the earliest surviving regularly-appearing English language newspaper: 1620

Place of its printing: Amsterdam

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Number of books available in Europe in 1499: c. 10-12 million

*******

So so so–

So this is what it feels like to match wits

With someone at your level- What the hell is the catch? It’s

The feeling of freedom, of seeing the light

It’s Gutenberg, the press and the type! You see it, right?

 

 

Now, Lord! That all this world shall win…

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From the Ludus Coventriae

(And it took seeing this in Latin to be reminded that a Play is a Game, and to be reminded that these are not frivolous things.)

Joseph.   Nowe welcome, floure fairest of hewe, I shall the menske with mayne and myght.
Hayle! my maker, hayle Crist Jesu!  Hayle, riall king, roote of all right!
Hayle, saueour. 
Hayle, my lorde, lemer of light, 
Hayle, blessid floure!
Mary.    Nowe lord! that all this worlde schall wynne, 
To the my sone is that I saye,
Here is no bedde to laye the inne, 
Therfore my dere sone, I the praye sen it is soo, 
Here in this cribbe I myght the lay betwene ther bestis two.
And I sall happe the, myn owne dere childe, 
With such clothes as we haue here.
Joseph.  O Marie! beholde thes beestis mylde,
They make louyng in ther manere as thei wer men.
For-sothe it semes wele be ther chere thare lord thei ken.
Mary.    Ther lorde thai kenne, that wate I wele,
They worshippe hym with myght and mayne;
The wedir is colde, as ye may feele,
To halde hym warme thei are full fayne, with thare warme breth…

Linocut by Chris Wormell, from Through the Animals’ Eyes

The Erasmus Lecture

“Christians, keep your proper stations;
Don’t mess around with kings and nations.”
–That melancholy long withdrawing roar
you heard last night was Russell Moore.