Anarchy and Tyranny

Stephen J comments:

… I don’t disagree with the primary point of the original post.

You may be correct in claiming that my warning is redundant, but it is my experience that it is precisely when we dismiss warnings as redundant that they have the greatest tendency to be most urgently apt. I’ve talked before about reimagining “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” as a tragedy about an honest but paranoiacally overreactive shepherd, rather than a cautionary tale about a dishonest, foolishly mischievous one; or, for a more Classical example, consider Cassandra. And if the modern age is far more reflexively inclined to consider rebellion against authority more virtuous than submission to it, can we really say the history of the 20th century has not provided copious good reason for such a perspective?

That said, the tradition of modern thought varyingly called here Antifatherism, Antinomianism, Radical Progressivism, Leftism, Libertinism etc. is not in practice against all power or authority — only certain very specific forms of it (mostly Judeo-Christian religious, cultural or familial traditions), and only in certain very specific areas (mostly sex-related). So you are undoubtedly correct in noting that if my cautions are legitimate, they should nonetheless be much more productively directed elsewhere.

My comment:

Let us contemplate an observation from C.S. Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape:

“The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding.” Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.”

In this case, what is it that Uncle Screwtape wants the modern age to be hysterical about avoiding?

Obviously I will not disagree with any man who calls for a balanced judgment and coolheaded consideration of the dangers of leaving the happy medium which (or so Aristotle assures us) is the source of a contented and virtuous life. The twin dangers of anarchy and totalitarianism confront the Twentieth Century with an impending immediacy not seen since the turmoil leading to the downfall of the Republic and the rise of the Imperium in Rome.

I urge you to notice what both anarchy and totalitarianism have in common: neither one accepts the notion that authority is not power.

Anarchy holds that all authority is illegitimate exercise of raw power, or, in other words, that authority as such does not exist; and totalitarianism holds that raw power is the only reality, and that all acts whatsoever are authorized for the good of the state, or the people, or the glorious revolution, or whatever this season’s excuse is, or, in other words, that authority as such does not exist. Both are attempting to dismiss the notion that authority has limits beyond which it is illegitimate, and within which it is legitimate.

All modern philosophy, and I do mean all, renounces the concept that there are legitimate versus illegitimate uses of the will, either on the grounds that the free will does not exist, or on the grounds that limits to the will do not exist. It is, in other words, anarchy and totalitarianism again, this time in the sphere of the volition. Only in Catholicism is there a foundational belief in the authority of God and the authority of the human will. God Himself is not authorized to over-ride or over-rule our free will, not even to save us from the fires of hell. Even He cannot compel you involuntarily to enter into paradise, the realm where all obedience is voluntary because loving.

What makes the topic confusing to Americans, is that we are rebels and the sons of rebels, and we tend to forget that our mutiny against the British Crown was based on the idea that the Crown had legal and natural limitations on His Majesty’s Authority, limitations imposed by the God who granted men innate and inalienable rights, and His Majesty’s abuse of authority permitted, nay, required rebellion in the name of obedience to God. The French and Russian revolutions did not have this religious character, did not have the correct view of authority, and the result was the Terror and the Gulag and the mass-murder of the Kulaks. The Italian and German reaction kept the appearance of law at first, raising fascist and national-socialist dictators to positions of totalitarian power, but totalitarianism is innately lawless, since it governs by the power of the man who claims to represent the people, or history, or destiny. Totalitarianism is theocracy without God: the enthusiasm of religion, but faithless, idolizing the state or the Fuhrer. That was the mere opposite of the career of George Washington, who is the Cincinnatus of the New World.

Thus Americans, who tend toward the anarchic, have a wise fondness for rebellions like their own, legitimate rebellions against overreaching authority, but also a foolish fondness for rebellion antithetical to their own, French and Russian rebellions against the entire concept of private property or established churches, and Utopian blithering which rebels against the very concept of public peace and public order.

Any age which does not understand the concept of Authority cannot understand the difference between anarchy and liberty, cannot tell the difference between a democratic yet limited government and mere ruthless empire.

My suggestion is that in an era which enjoys a greater contempt for authority than any of which history speaks, particularly masculine authority, especially clerical authority, and most especially the clerical authority of the Roman Catholic Church on whom all Western civilization, like it or not, is based.

Authority by its very word refers to that which an author authorizes, which means, a definition or delimitation.

My assertion is that modern outbreaks of totalitarianism are not symptoms of love of authority but of hatred of authority and its constitutional limits due to love of unbridled power.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and Americans, more than any people in history, should be quick to see and decry abuses of power or encroachments of the state beyond the strict limits of the Constitution, and should be quick, even reckless, to resort to mutiny and bloodshed against our public servants lest they forget who is master here.

It were better to fight a useless war in the name of liberty than to slumber like Gulliver and awake to find ourselves tied down by the countless threads of the patient Lilliputians, and find ourselves unable despite any strength to stir. Those who say we must avoid such war at all cost, even at the cost of our liberty, in effect say it is better to live as a slave than die as a free man.

Liberty is the bride of Authority, not his enemy and not his concubine. The eternal rebellion of Lucifer against all forms of authority is one and the same as the eternal tyranny of Lucifer, for Anarchy is the bride of Tyranny.

Let us return to my question. What is it that Uncle Screwtape wants the modern age to be hysterical about avoiding?

Uncle Screwtape is not trying to get the anarchists of the Left to rebel against the Totalitarians of the Right, in the name of social justice and sexual liberation and Occupy Wallstreet; nor is he trying to get the anarchists of the Right to rebel against the Left in the name of the First and Second Amendments and rule of law and the Tea Party; nor again is he trying to get the totalitarians of the Left to squash the Right in the name of Socialized Medicine; nor again is he trying to get the totalitarians of the both parties to use war hysteria to torture prisoners of war, spy on America citizens, and kill innocent civilians with drones; nor again is Uncle Screwtape favoring the top-hatted plutocrat over the wild-eyed bomb-throwing anarchist or the pot-smoking pinko university professor; nor again is he aiding the tinpot dictator with a chest of medals over the pompous Colonel Blimp or the lunatic Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper.

Uncle Screwtape is trying to get all of these things done because he wants none of them. It is not Right against Left or even Elitists against Popularists. That is not the real conflict.

(A digression: My friend Mark Shea says over and over again that the Right is no longer against the Left in this nation. The real struggle is the Rich and Powerful of both parties, against the Rest of Us, the dispossessed. Much as I admire him, I think his analysis is wrong. The Stupid Party and the Evil Party are indeed in cahoots in major ways, but they are at odds in just as many, and the Elite have more in common with their constituencies than they have with each other, even while the Elite of opposite factions make alliances against their constituencies to keep all the sheep in line. The example of the marriages of convenience in Europe during the Ancient Regime spring to mind, where all the royalty of the continent were cousins and second cousins, brothers and sons — and yet they all went frequently to war with each other to their mutual destruction, and also at times took up arms against their subjects and serfs.)

The darkness where no distinctions are made between right and wrong, power and authority, is in rebellion against the light in whose light all distinctions are clear. That is the real conflict.

The marriage of Anarchy and Tyranny is against the marriage of Liberty and Authority. That is the real conflict.

Uncle Screwtape wants divorce. He wants Tyranny to oppress Liberty in the name of Authority, and for Anarchy to rebel against Authority in the name of Liberty.Uncle Screwtape wants every man to be a morally retarded sophomore who cannot tell the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of force.

The Tyrant of Hell is in rebellion against the Father in Heaven. That is what is behind everything that is really going on here. That is what has always been behind the surface appearances of the world.