Sunday, January 15, 2017

What I Believe In

I had the idea today to include a "featured post" permanently on my sidebar, in order to explain in reasonable detail what I believe in, and what I care about. I've noticed that this is always the thing I look for when I visit blogs myself, so it seems only courteous to include one here.

First and last, I am a Catholic. I was born and baptised a Catholic, and raised in a Catholic home, but it was only in my thirties that I came to accept the faith intellectually, and to practice it. Before that I was somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. I believe all that the Church authoritatively teaches, from the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the evil of contraception.

I have no problem calling myself a conservative Catholic. (Labels are useful.) I believe the Catholic Chuch should be more assertive, not less so. I'm dismayed by the prevalence of left-wing politics and political correctness even amongst orthodox Catholics, from laymen to bishops. However, I also believe that all my fellow Catholics are my brothers and sisters, and I listen with respect to the pastors God has ordained me. I agree with Lord Acton that "Communion with Rome is dearer than life". Reading the history of the Catholic Church fills me with pride, not shame. My faith is everything to me.

Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, has called for "a humble and listening Church." With all due respect to His Grace, I believe that the Church has been too "humble and listening" in recent decades, greatly to its detriment and to the detriment of society in general. I do not believe that what today's men and women need most from the Church is that it should "walk with them", listen to them, or validate them. They can get that from any talk show host, New Age guru, or therapist. I believe that today's men and women need the Church to speak the truth of Christ to them, in a loving but firm way. The idea that the Church is suffering from excessive rigourism seems frankly bizarre to me. I believe that mainstream society will respect the Church more if it proclaims its message more confidently and less apologetically.

Nor do I have any problem calling myself a conservative in general. The particular conservatism I embrace is traditionalist conservatism. (I'm also happy to call myself a romantic conservative.) I have not read a great deal of Edmund Burke, but I think I can call myself a Burkean conservative. I cherish the web of traditions that society has woven over generations and centuries, and it grieves my heart to see it injured or torn down. I do not consider "backward-looking" to be an insult. I believe a country that ceases to cherish its history and traditions has lost its soul and faces inevitable alienation.

Emund Burke. I hear he's very good.

I'm even happy to accept the label "right wing". I like "right wing" because it implies a healthy intolerance, a healthy combativeness. Don't get me wrong. Tolerance and open-mindedness are good things in themselves. But there are some ideas and attitudes which deserve only ridicule, and still others which deserve only the fiercest opposition. (We must always bear in mind the human element, of course. An insecure teenager should not receive the same reaction as a mature man or woman who should know better. Context matters.)

You will encounter the word "tradition" over and over again on this blog. I think the importance of tradition to the human spirit can hardly be exaggerated. By this I mean all traditions; national traditions, local traditions, family traditions, artistic traditions, sporting traditions, and every other kind. Tradition, paradoxically, gives us both a sense of home, and a horizon-- it opens up a horizon through time and it opens up a horizon in the realm of imagination.

I also cherish the idea of difference-- the difference between national cultures, the difference between men and women, the difference between children and adults, the difference between private and public, and so on. The imagination of our age is one that is fired by the obliteration of boundaries, the fusion of opposites, the deconstruction of stable identities. I find that very dull. I think insularism is much more exciting than multiculturalism, provincialism much more exciting than cosmopolitanism, masculinity and femininity much more exciting than gender-bending, and so on.

I am an Irish nationalist. My Irish nationalism is not really concerned with the 'national question' of whether Northern Ireland remains part of the UK or joins the Republic of Ireland. I grew up with the horrors of The Troubles, and have no desire to see them re-ignited. My Irish nationalism is, rather, cultural and social in nature. I cherish the ideals of the Gaelic Revival, perhaps best expressed in Douglas Hyde's 1892 lecture "The Necessity of De-Anglicizing Ireland." (Not that I am anti-English. I love England and Englishness. I am as eager to see England embrace its Englishness as I am to see Ireland embrace its Irishness.)

This means I am a revivalist, as well as a conservative. The Gaelic Revival achieved a great deal, especially in the field of reviving native sports and music. However, the Irish people abandoned it, as a concerted programme, a few decades after independence for no better reason (in my opinion) than fickleness, and an infatuation with international pop culture as seen on TV.

After decades of being annoyed by Irish language enthusiasts, I have come to agree with them that the revival of the Irish language is by far and away the most important element of Irish national revival. "Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam"-- a country without a language is a country without a soul. Although I attended an Irish language school (for which I have come to be immensely grateful to my parents), I never attained fluency. In the last year or so I have made a huge effort to read more Irish and to speak in Irish where possible. My beloved wife Michelle, an American, encouraged me in this.

I have little patience for the pedants who question the 'authenticity' of the Gaelic Revival's vision of Gaelicness. Creativity and invention play a part in revival. I have no problem with "creative anachronism". It's the Gaelic sublime which matters, not the reconstruction of some particular way of life. Gaelic Ireland is a land of the imagination.

I am strongly opposed to globalization, and I would like to see every country in the world protect its sovereignty, borders and national identity. I would like to see the European Union dissolve. In America, I sympathise with "states' righters"'. The day the UK voted to leave the EU was one of the happiest days of my life. None of this means that I am opposed to international cooperation and friendship, reasonable migration, and humanitarian assitance. I want a world of nations, not a global village.

Nigel Farage, hero

I am a democrat. Not because I think the majority are always right, but because I agree with Churchill that democracy is the worst system that has ever been devised, apart from all the others. The tyranny of the majority can be bad, but I can't think of any case where it's been as bad as the tyranny of a Stalin or Hitler or Elizabeth the First. Not only this, but I think that elections and politics are an important part of forging a national consciousness and public spirit.

However, my democracy goes somewhat deeper. I don't think people are "sheeple", even when I disagree with the majority. I don't think I'm any better than the next man. I don't think the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. I think the ordinary is beautiful.

Because I am a traditionalist, I am also a monarchist-- not an absolute monarchist, but a constitutional monarchist. I believe in a monarch as a figurehead, a personification of national unity and continuity.

When it comes to economics, I am pretty agnostic. I find the sort of people who attribute every social ill to "capitalism" to be tiresome, especially when they are Catholic. I am only slightly less irritated by the kind of bullish right-winger who sees "government" as the source of all social ills. If they spent one day writing down all the things they did that relied on the existence of a functioning government, usually to provide some good that would never be provided by market forces alone, they might stop saying such silly things.

Capitalism is just another word for economic reality.  What sort of capitalism should we have? That's the question. I think Catholic social doctrine admits of many possible answers to that question. I think economics is less important than culture.

Dirk Benedict. Another hero.

I am pretty much opposed to all forms of modern art, especially when it comes to poetry. I think poetry should (usually) rhyme, scan, make sense, and address itself to the common reader and universal themes. I think radical breaks with artistic tradition are always a bad thing. I think art that concerns itself with form over content is decadent. I think poetry is very important, and that the neglect of poetry by modern society is a very bad thing. I think John Betjeman and Philip Larkin were the last major English-language poets.

I think high culture should draw from folk culture, from folk life. I have no problem (in principle) with censorship of culture on the grounds of indecency, blasphemy or danger to public morals.

Although I'm not a libertarian, I have some libertarian leanings. I think free speech on matters of political and social debate should be untrammeled, and that free speech and freedom of association need to be ardently defended in our time of rampant political correctness. I'm inclined to believe in the right to bear arms (something I once strongly opposed). 

I believe that feminism is a philosophy of hatred, in practice if not in theory, in general if not in every instance. Feminists might reply that feminism is simply about equality for women. My first response to this is that I simply don't believe it's true. I've read plenty of feminist texts and I've heard plenty of feminist speakers in my near-forty years, and most of them were much more intent on demonising men than in cheering for equality. Besides, the word 'equality' means so many different things to different people that "equality for women" doesn't tell me anything. Does the male-only Catholic priesthood, for instance, violate this equality?

I love women to bits. I think men and women need each other. 

I'm a romantic. Everybody is a utilitarian to some extent, but I delight in anything that contradicts utilitarianism, if the consequences are not fatal or tragic or excessive. The Irish law against the sale of alcohol on Good Friday delights me, because it makes no rational sense whatsoever. I like irregularity, mystique, ceremony, ritual, taboo, discrepancy. Curtains make a house a home.

Macy's Thankgiving Parade

I love America. USA! USA! USA! I'm not talking about the "other" America of Allen Ginsberg and Noam Chomsky, either. I mean rootin', tootin', stars-and-stripes, Macy's parade, root beer-drinking, have-a-great-day-y'all America.

I love England-- white cliffs of Dover, Big Ben, Carry On, fish and chips, 221B Baker Street, John Constable England.

I deeply admire the Jewish people, especially their dedication to family and tradition. I mention this because, tragically, there are many conservatives with whom I am in strong agreement on many other subjects, but whose worldview is marred by anti-semitism. I don't get it. Why should we hate the Jews for being, on the whole, so dedicated to the very values we hold dear? If only every people were as loyal to their traditions as the Jewish people are loyal to theirs!

G.K. Chesterton is my great hero and biggest influence. I can't resist reproducing here my two favourite quotations from him, passages which I frequently quote on this blog, and which go to the heart of my own philosophy on so many matters:
1) In everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts [I would add traditions!] are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

2) Nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. 

I don't believe in the death penalty, because the thought of telling a human being that he is going to be killed at a particular time is sickening. I think society has a right to punish wrong-doers, but that the deprivation of liberty is punishment enough for anybody, and that jails should be as humane as we can make them.

I believe everyone is equal in human dignity. I think it's silly to expect equality of outcome in any human activity, and oppressive to legislate for it.

I believe in snow globes, cosy pubs, strong steaming cups of tea, happy endings, cheering for the underdog, sentimentality, morning mists, thick snow, Santa Claus, ghost stories, parlour games, and eccentricity.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today and forever.


  1. Deeply stirring and potent ... Despite one or two quite strong disagreements and a few more cautions, I am very moved and imagine that you are carving out your vocation, a vocation present since your youngest years, but now being carved, sculpted into something that shines and will become ever clearer and sharper and of lasting worth as your life-process continues.

    1. Thanks, Roger. I can imagine you disagree with me about capitalism, although different uses of the term might account for some of our disagreement there. Would be interested to hear your other disagreements and cautions-- you might be right! Many thanks for your kind words.