Why We Must Revive Gentlemen Of Character To Restore Order – Claes Ryn
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “This article in The American Conservative, it’s about the moral and cultural preconditions of peace or of cordial relations among individuals, peoples, and civilizations. To boil down the argument to essentials, it is this: if you want good relations, if you want peace, then you have to have peaceful individuals on both sides. You can’t have grasping, ruthless people fighting along each other.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: I often get asked: Mike, what’s a Jacobin? I say: Well, it’s kind of difficult to explain. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get Professor Ryn back on this show and he can explain to you what a Jacobin is. I try to say: Basically these are the nutjobs that thought that not only would they take Locke literally and seriously but they would take him violently. Not only would they oppose the divine right of kings or the divinity of Louis XIV. They would go ahead and cut his head off to prove that he wasn’t divine and anyone else that got in their way. In other words, they gave themselves their own set of morals to abide. Where this really begins to snowball is the French Revolution, correct?
Claes Ryn: Well, that’s where you see it in full flower. In theory, Jacobinism is all about benevolence toward the downtrodden. It’s all about equality and brotherhood, freedom. In practice it’s the guillotine. That is, it’s a masked will to power.
This sentimental humanitarianism, this idealism is, as you pointed out, still with us. It’s really interesting, I think that after we had seen what this idealism would result in, in the great totalitarian movements, for example, we still act is if there’s nothing wrong with this idealism. We say things like: Well, if Stalin murdered a lot of people or Mao did it, it’s not because of their ideals but it’s because of practical means somehow getting away from the ideals. No, the ideals, freedom, equality and brotherhood, they are as beautiful as ever when in effect — as a matter of fact, I have another article forthcoming on that subject — when in reality, there is something nasty about the ideal in itself because it flies in the face of reality.
To return to something I said before, there is, about this sentimental humanitarianism, something directly political rather than moral. It’s not directed to you saying you need to reform yourself, you need to deal with your weaknesses and your shoddiness. No, you must help those others to improve themselves —
Mike: That’s exactly what it is.
Ryn: — which requires power to match the objective.
Mike: So true. I have to confess, Claes, I was as guilty as anyone else of being caught up in this. It was only through the saving grace of God Almighty and me taking a serious inventory of my own personal life and my own personal actions and how really devoted was I to the idea of the Christian faith and as a Catholic to Catholicism, and getting back to studying it and then being humbled by the study of the lives of — I’m only on volume two of Butler, so I only have 15 to go — the study of the lives of the saints and martyrs. One of the stories I like to share with people who are not sure what Christian charity is, let me give you a great one. I’d love to see you write about this someday, or someone of your stature write about it: St. Catherine of Siena.
This woman is caring for this woman. She’s in a hospital, before she’s a saint, obviously, and she’s caring for this woman that has some form of skin cancer, melanoma or what have you. As she’s caring for her, she becomes repulsed by the idea that her hands should get anywhere near the pus or whatever it is leaking out of the skin cancers. Catherine is struck by the fact that: Oh, my God, I’ve just offended thee! I just questioned whether or not I should be doing this. Her remedy was she took the bowl that she had been washing the cloth out that she was cleaning the woman and she drank the water. This is a true story.
This is just an example of what Professor Ryn is talking about. Christian charity is real. It is not always pretty. Your neighbor is not always nice. They are in the way sometimes. Sometimes it requires your subjugation of humility. You have to bow down and say: I am not going to argue with this guy. I’m just going to care for him. I don’t care how much he curses me. One of the things you’re trying to get across with this piece here is that practicing these things requires just that, doesn’t it, practice. It’s not easy. Utopia is the fantasy. Actual real-world application of Christian charity requires practice, right?
Ryn: That’s where it starts. If you go back to Aristotle, who, of course, became a very great influence in the Western world, acquiring the right habits is necessary. You have to learn how to resist the impulses that are destructive from the point of view of your ultimate wellbeing. You have to get practiced in doing the easy thing rather than the good thing that will give you, eventually, a sense of, as he puts it, happiness. Happiness, not in the sense of euphoria or intense pleasure, but a sense of living as befits a human being.
Now, this is the slow, protracted effort to make something a little better of yourself than you might have been. This is not very attractive to modern human beings. They would like to have their moral kicks right away. They would prefer to think that they’re noble because they can emote. As I keep saying, from the point of view of the classical and Christian heritage, it is completely irrelevant what you are emoting. You may think of yourself as very noble. Your friends are still going to say you’re a pretty shoddy person because you can’t even handle your own family, you can’t handle people at the office.
Mike: You were also speaking earlier and I heard you say something about: This is going to sound corny but gentlemanly behavior — well, gentlemanly behavior comes from, as we understand it today, is largely from the tradition and the example of the chivalrous knights. The chivalrous knights had codes of conduct. You did not disobey that code. If you strayed from that code, you aren’t a knight anymore. They’d put you at the back. You’d be a bachelor. You carry the flag. Just talk a little bit about the gentlemanly portion of this reestablishing this character in men. My final question would be: Is it too late? If you’re aged like me, 52, is it too late in life to begin to hope that our fellow man can reestablish or reacquaint themselves with character?
Ryn: This article in The American Conservative, it’s about the moral and cultural preconditions of peace or of cordial relations among individuals, peoples, and civilizations. To boil down the argument to essentials, it is this: if you want good relations, if you want peace, then you have to have peaceful individuals on both sides. You can’t have grasping, ruthless people fighting along each other. Then, sooner or later, you are going to have conflict or war, as you’re seeing in the Middle East now, for example. The only way that you can, in the long-run, keep the lid on is if you have gentlemen, chivalrous people on both sides, meaning they know each other as human beings. They have not assumed that all right is on their side, that they may be partially wrong. We need to work this out. People should not be thrown into an atrocious conflict and we should not inflict a lot of suffering on people. You go to war only when you have absolutely no alternative. That’s the gentlemanly attitude. It stems from peacefulness.
You ask if it’s too late. I think it’s awfully late in Western civilization. It seems that all the really admirable traits of Western human beings are more or less petering out and being replaced by, I’m tempted to say despicable alternatives, like this idealism, which is really what most politicians are living off of. Everything now in politics is a matter of fairness and justice. They use all these terms, which are not terms for character but for this morality that I call daring to share that you care. Everybody is displaying a powerful moral conscience and they demand that things be done, always by a stronger government rather than be done by individuals towards neighbor. Is it late? Yes, I think it’s late. Is it too late? Who knows?
Mike: We may not know. Finally, some people are going to say, whenever they hear a conversation like this — as a matter of fact, someone has already said to me via electronic message: I like what your guest is saying, but he obviously doesn’t know that there are Islamic madmen out there that want to kill all of the human race. We can’t be gentlemen towards these people. We just have to nuke them and get it over with. You say what to that?
Ryn: I would say cool it. How about stepping back a little bit? How about not being completely swept up in these passions of the moment? That’s a problem that all generations have, but I think that the current epoch is really marked by it. We are so full of ourselves. We are so persuaded that we are the culmination of human history. We understand better than anybody else. We are better than everybody else. There’s nothing to be learned from the past. If you try to learn from the past, you find out that we are not the first that face these kinds of problems. There are people of wisdom and gentlemen who have offered pretty sage advice on how to live in the world. Lindsey Graham and whatever their names are, when they’re always calling for intervention, may look, by historical standards, as rather idiosyncratic and not entirely admirable.
Mike: I think they just look like idiots. You didn’t have to say that. I’ll say it for you. Professor Claes Ryn, the piece comes out in the November / December edition of American Conservative Magazine. You can read “Where is Conservatism Headed?” yesterday at The Imaginative Conservative. His book A Desperate Man — before you go, the hero of A Desperate Man, does he have character?
Ryn: He does have character, but he is a flawed character. It’s not easy to pin down whether he is admirable or not. I think he is essentially an admirable person, but he certainly has his weaknesses. He is wound pretty tight, I think. It gets him into a lot of trouble.
Mike: You can find A Desperate Man in a link here in this transcript. You can also find Claes’s other book that I refer to so often The New Jacobinism: America as Revolutionary State, which is, again, if you get yourself a copy, you’ll mark it up as did I. I think you can learn a lot from this. You can not only learn a lot but you can also compare the way that we deal with certain circumstances today to the way they have been dealt with in the past.
There’s a word that you use in The New Jacobinism that is also — just to show the degradation of language, we have lost site of the use of the word, which used to be a pretty cool word, “cosmopolitan.” Cosmopolitan today means provocative, nearly-naked women on the covers of magazines hawking the latest sex toy or method that’s going to deliver some sort of heretofore undiscovered sexual pleasure. That’s what cosmopolitan means. Cosmopolitan was almost synonymous with aristocratic, right?
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Ryn: Right. And this is something that is not understood very widely today. The real patriot, the one who loves his own because of what is admirable about it, is inherently a cosmopolitan. If you’re deeply rooted in your own culture, if you love it, you will recognize corresponding cultural and moral phenomena in other countries as akin. That is, precisely because you know your own culture so well, you recognize that there are fellow human beings elsewhere that are up to the same thing. They are in their ways cultivating what the Greeks called the good and the true and the beautiful. They recognize each other across borders. This is the best source of good relations among civilizations and among peoples, that is that you recognize the other person as being about the same business you are, that is, when we’re living up to our highest potential and not being our usual shoddy selves.
End Mike Church Show Transcript