Some First Things stuff

29 07 2010

First, a political post I can finally get fully behind:

I too have a fervor—a fever, in fact—for political inactivity. I want to be part of a movement that makes electoral politics so boring that rather than having term limits, we’ll need laws requiring politicians to serve their full term. I want to join a party that make politics and government work so dull that political journalists and elected officials dream of leaving their fields for the exciting worlds of actuarial science and telemarketing.

I want to thrown in my lot with others who want to throw a wet blanket over politics and whose desire is to dampen the enthusiasm for all forms of political activity. I want to consort with citizens who are willing to arrest the ardor, dash the devotion, sap the spirit, and zap the zeal from anything that remotely resembles political enthusiasm. I want to create a new party, dedicated to the mastery of the art of anti-propaganda and committed to the conscientious devotion of alert inactivity.

I consider myself to be profoundly a-political, yet with sensibility of a European-style social democrat. As an ex-Trotskyist, I am well aware of the tendency of my fellow ex-Trotskyists (Burnham, Irving Kristol, etc.), to become right-wing hacks after leaving the movement. I have sought to avoid being an apologist for the capitalist leviathan without being under any illusions that the international working class shall be the human race. I still sing the Internationale to myself sometimes. I think it’s pretty catchy, especially if you can sing it in three languages.

I suppose now I am a Platonic republican.

Also, I found this post that I put in my “gangsters need God too” file regarding the Calabrian mafia:

According to a report in Britain’s Telegraph, Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of the Calabrian Diocese of Locri-Gerace has written an open letter to the bosses of the ’Ndrangheta—the Calabrian Mafia—“imploring them to stop using holy shrines for their initiation ceremonies.” The bishop, says the Telegraph, decided to speak out “after more than 300 alleged mobsters—including the 80-year-old ‘Godfather’ Domenico Oppedisano—were arrested in a police blitz earlier this month.” The Telegraph article is accompanied by a screen capture from an Italian police surveillance film showing Oppedisano “being ‘sworn in’ under a statue of the Virgin Mary at Polsi near Reggio Calabria.”

I think one difference between Italy and Latin America is that Italy was more “clericalized” in its Catholicism than Latin America. On the one hand, the clergy had more supervision over what the people did, so the symbols that people employ even in expressing their “folk Catholicism” are the same as those of “clerical Catholicism”. On the other hand, people will employ those symbols in the exact same way that the Latin American, “un-clerical” Catholic does. In this case, while mobsters in Mexico will pray to Jesus Malverde or Santa Muerte for success in their criminal endeavors, the Italian mobster will use an image of the Virgin Mary for the same purpose. Also, even such figures as St. Jude or St. Dismas will also be used for these less than Christian purposes. So the whole idea of a “folk saint” may itself be a construction, for even “approved” saints will be used for unapproved intentions.

Notes on historic Neoplatonism

29 07 2010

Just jotting some stuff down…

It seems to me that the birth of modern religiosity in the West was born out of two condemnations: one of Meister Eckhart’s mystical premises, and the other of Pico della Mirandola’s magical theses. In the former, we have various ideas that reflect the monistic mysticism of Plotinus, such as “one sees God with the same eye by which God sees him”, or something like that. In the condemnation of Pico della Mirandola, you have the condemnation of the last vestiges of theurgy in the West; the idea that supernatural intervention could penetrate the human reality outside of the direct supervision of the Church. This premise was particularly problematic for those pious ears:

There is no science that assures us more of the divinity of Christ than magic and Cabala.

Since then, we have had a particularly dualistic view of these phenomena. While it is true that such a purifying tendency has always existed in the Christian religious consciousness, it is in these two condemnations that one side of the argument got the upper hand. From there we are led to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the birth of modern science, and the rest. The paranoia is that if Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, look like anything else in the history of the world, they would be false and pagan. “Natural revelation”, “natural contemplation”, and “natural magic” were thus topics that had to be taken off the table.