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What of the West?
An honest reflection on what was a gift and what was an aberration.
I slept for 14 hours or so again. Before I went to bed, I was visiting with my mother upstairs before I had to take my husband to work, and I was ranting to her about Western history, since it has been at the front my mind for weeks now. The point I was dancing around so much is that the vast majority of points people consider hallmarks of Western history were either aberrations or romanticisms of no value to us today. She seemed to understand this too, since it was her, not I, who invoked the Enlightenment, saying, “that was kind of it, wasn’t it?”
The more I rack my brain, the more I think it is so. Much of it is a tumbling echo of one particular aberration named Augustus. The first order of business the early Church had once it found its legs was murdering everyone who wasn’t on board with the convenient idea they had that Peter had been promised a “special position” in their church. Early Christians treated pagans like children by comparison – what they did to Gnostics was about as total as any ethnic cleansing you can point to in history. It’s as obvious as the sun that this was merely a corruption of Rome, and through Constantine they helped the Empire resettle into the Strait. Later on many more echoes of Rome would reverberate through history, including the notion of the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire in the slightest senses of the words. Not too much later on we would see it once again in the form of Napoléon, but it could even be argued his tale was tertiary through Charlemagne, who saw himself as the same kind of ‘big dog’ that Augustus was to his people, and likewise every other petty ruler from Syria to Iberia. The natural form of governance in the hands of a great ‘father’ always wanted to mythologise itself as having the heritage of Caesar. I wish I knew why.
History has been increasingly unkind to such people, and you could argue just as well it was never kind to such forces in the first place given the precarious circumstances of Augustus’ death. The biggest heavenly condemnation of the Church against what they did to Gnostics came in the form of Martin Luther, but you still can never go back on how they weighted the very idea of Christianity with excessive authority. This angle is one of great contrast with Eastern philosophy, where no such spiritual authoritarianism exists. How much of the West is defined by that authoritarianism? I think an honest answer to that question must be couched in what good it may do any of us today. We all know how much history revolved around it already. How much more will, and for what good, if any?
I’ve always enjoyed a certain old movie by the name of King Arthur. It’s the one that came out in 2004, starring Clive Owen. It has some major problems as a movie, but it’s nothing a good critical perspective can’t help you sort out so that you can appreciate what’s good about it. I had first watched it on DVD when I was about 13 or so, and it’s one of those things burned into my nascent worldview, along with things like George Carlin and Pokémon Platinum. I continue to enjoy the movie for how much effort it made to be historically plausible, unlike so many other Arthurian legends, because our world is one where the magic of myth is increasingly scarce. One of the scenes that stuck out to me the most was one where Guinevere was talking with Arthur after he fixed her hand: she disabused the legendary romanticism of him and pierced through his own blind spot about it in turn, explaining to him that Rome is dead. His belief in Pelagius was misplaced, and he had to struggle to find within himself a meaning unattached from his romanticism of Rome. They knew this in the fifth century, and has it ever been more true?
It pains me to see how much waste and destruction has been borne of the simple delusion about Roman dictatorship since the original attempt was made in 40 BCE. You can look at tragedies like Ukraine and Afghanistan, but you should know they’re merely milestones in a thousand-year tradition that goes back at least to the Crusades. Sure, you could argue war profiteering has been a thing since time immemorial for obvious reasons, but this is the earliest example of a people we share a political heritage with deciding to kindle the furnaces of mind control to start a global war over nothing to distract from intractable issues at home. In a sense, almost every major conflict we have had since has had this element of farce to it; shockingly, Winston Churchill even said that World War II was fought for nothing. I think the big lie is a key component of any righteous disgust with such things – before the lie of Christendom, there was less reason to invent pious fictions about why you wanted to go over and invade some place. The Anglo-Saxons saw themselves as superior, and went out and proved it without question. They didn’t need some lofty bullshit story about God or some stupid temples that were razed centuries prior to justify their hunger for glory. Every step we take down these roads of history has vindicated that kind of earnestness, even though so many people still remain in the fold of the West’s ultimate cult, and refuse to believe their own eyes. Is there any more complete mockery of the lie than some rinky-dink Evangelical church in a South Carolinian swamp? It’s been 2,000 years and some people still aren’t being honest with themselves, even though it’s never been easier to take the blinders off.
I want to do what King Arthur had done in that romantic film of my adolescence: leave this old false romanticism of the past behind, and embrace the tide of history to help me move forward and ride its winds. I’m one of the few Anglos in America who have a heritage to speak of, and this is part of it. I reject the aversion of one’s eyes to the reality of history, which today has taken on an increasingly ludicrous pitch, where in coastal cities stateside and all over much of the European continent, people find themselves robbed of their lips to even criticise what amounts to their own enslavement or erasure. Once again, history is having its way, and it bestows its will with sadder ironies for people in denial of its prowess. If you’re so married to the false romance of the World Wars, and of Empire itself, I guess you won’t have time to notice the endless boatloads of fighting age men being barged into Europe like cattle. Even the oligarchs enabling this don’t have a good reason for it, they just believe the bricks won’t come flying through their windows, even though they already did in 2020, and during the Blitz, and in the great Soviet, and on Leo Frank’s factory floor, and during the Troubles, and so on and so forth – I could keep going. Everyone is wed to their own selfish lies, and it’s no way to live. It’s a sure way to die.
One other Disney-fied Arthurian legend I want to hearken to is the Sword in the Stone. The lesson they had about the prophecy of the sword wasn’t just about the necessary piety of selflessness in any good ruler. No, it was more nuanced: Arthur didn’t just pull the sword because it was for someone else, he pulled it because he was not even trying to be King at all. Only in that unbecoming spirit was he truly the one most fit to rule.
I think it’s obvious why I don’t want to be a Caesar. If you can grok the morals I take from those two films about the legendary King of my people, you can begin to understand why I would so much rather embody him than a hairy guy from Italy.