El-Azariya is the Arabic name for Bethany. It means “The Place of Lazarus.” The school I attended in Jerusalem was not more than a few hundred meters from Bethany, but since El-Azariya is in the West Bank, one has to take a circuitous route to get there. I had never visited the place until a few years ago, when I took an Arab bus to the village. I was disappointed to discover that the church that marked the grave of Lazarus appeared to be closed to visitors. I tried knocking on the door of the church courtyard until finally a nun appeared and graciously escorted me inside. She did not speak English but she was very kind and showed me to a place where I could sit and cool down. Eventually, another nun came and informed me that I was in a convent and that the church was further down the road!
The convent that I visited during my first visit to Bethany (I think it is more properly referred to as an abbey) was founded by Queen Melisende (1105-1161 AD), a remarkable woman who ruled Jerusalem for 30 years. She was born in Edessa to Morphia, an Armenian woman, and Baldwin, a Frankish knight. Melisende’s son, Amalric, had a daughter named Sibylla, who was raised in the same abbey founded by her grandmother. She too was destined to become a queen of Jerusalem. Her life has become the subject of many works of fiction, the most recent of which is the movie, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” The Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had an unusual number of queens since women had a longer lifespan than men in the besieged kingdom. Their husbands, having fallen in battle, bequeathed their estates to their wives.
But of course, the most famous residents of Bethany are Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Of the three, Mary is accorded a special place of honor. When Martha expressed frustration that Mary remained seated listening to the teaching of Christ while she did all the serving, Jesus responded that “only one thing is necessary” and Mary “has chosen the better part.” When Jesus returned to Bethany in response to the news of Lazarus’ death, Mary did not rush to meet Jesus like her sister Martha, nor did she engage Jesus in a dialogue about the resurrection of the dead, she simply stated that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. These are the only recorded words of Mary in the Gospels. Jesus’ reaction to Mary is not that of a philosopher or a teacher but of a friend. “Jesus wept.”
Later in the gospel we find Mary pouring expensive myrrh on Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair. Judas hypocritically protested that the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He was a calculator, a philanthropist, a public relations manager, a thoroughly modern man, and Mary was none of these things. She was impractical. Her actions had no perceivable utility. Her life stands as a repudiation of all rational systems of ethics. “Do your duty!” says Kant. But Kant’s “categorical imperative” doesn’t work. We are still “anxious and troubled by many things.” But only one thing is necessary. We need redemption, the forgiveness of sin. And Mary, I think, understood that better than anyone else.
I’ve been intending to post some pictures from our dig in November… I know, that was a long time ago… seems like ages past. So here is brief update.
We uncovered several important structures from the Bronze Age at Et-Tell. Particularly noteworthy was a bronze age destruction level exposed during the last several days of digging. This was a nice reward for two weeks of digging through what was mostly sterile soil. We were well over 8′ down when we began to uncover pieces of burnt mud-brick and charcoal, and then the corner of a building constructed with large stones typical of the bronze age. In the last few days we encountered a definite destruction level comprised of compacted mud brick and charcoal. Unfortunately, we did not have time to dig into this level. It will have to wait for another season. It is never easy to find stratification on a site that has already been dug extensively, but we have it at Et-Tell.
Luke was able to come and join us for a week. He is officially the first student of the Jerusalem Field School. He was also the only student of JFS so we dubbed him “the student body.” If we can get more like him then it will be worth it. We packed a lot into the week, including a trip to the Dead Sea, a tour of Tel Balata (Shechem), Gerizim, Samaria, and major sites around Jerusalem.
I stayed in Israel several more weeks to lead a tour for some friends from Nantucket and East Virginia. We spent a day visiting sites in the Shephelah and spent the rest of the time in the Galilee. It was a privilege to tour with them. I fully expect them to reciprocate when I visit the birthplace of Melville’s Moby Dick.
I’ve done a fair amount of travelling since then, in Jordan, Greece and Egypt. One of the fellows I met on the dig joined me in Jordan. I was grateful for his company for that leg of the trip. I made it back back to Canada for a few months at Christmas.
I am envious of the explorers who explored Syria and Palestine on horseback. They got to experience the land in a way that we never will. Gone are the days when you could ride a horse through the Galilee, cross the mountains into Lebanon, survey the great city of Damascus, and then continue on to Baalbek! What a ride that must have been! Their travel diaries make for fascinating reading.
You can still find a decent horse in Egypt although it is hit and miss. I found a guide at Giza who had horses and also knew how to get us into the site after closing hours. Unfortunately a dust storm blew in that afternoon. I told the guide that there was no point in making the journey since I was there to get pictures of the pyramids. He insisted that the storm would pass and the air would clear! Yeah right! But it turned out to be the perfect photo-op.
I met Titus in Cairo. We caught a ride to St. Catherine the next day. It began to rain, which is a rare occurrence in the Sinai… but what we experienced was a 100 year flood. It rained for three days strait so that the roof of our lodge began to leak. It was cold, and the power cycled on and off, leaving us in the dark for much of the time. But the cook made pretty good shish-kabab and rice. He poured our drinks with all the flair of a Parisian waiter: heels together, slight bend at the waist, arm placed behind his back. That lodge had seen better days but tourism in the Sinai has fallen to barely a trickle.
Although the rain forced us to spend several more days in the Sinai than originally planned, we were able to get some unique pictures of Jebel Musa and the monastery covered in clouds. Father Justin kindly gave us a tour of the monastery library and showed us the high tech cameras they are using to scan manuscripts. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The monastery also served real coffee.
Our next stop was Serabit El Kahdim. We traveled through some beautiful and wild country. The only signs of civilization were the expansive poppy fields… not joking! Apparently opium is a major export. We stayed at a bedouin camp for the night. I had forgotten how the stars look in the desert on a cool, clear night. It is something we miss in our cities.
The trip back from the Sinai turned out to be more difficult and expensive than anticipated since the main highway was washed out in several places and many of the smaller roads were washed away completely. Thankfully, we had a Land Cruiser and an expert Bedouin driver.
Titus and I were just about to board a flight for Aswan when a mutual friend of ours called from Jordan. “You have to get out of there!” In the mean time the gate attendant was pressing us to board. Sadly, we had to walk away from that ticket but it turned out to be the right decision. Almost immediately Egypt Air announced that they would suspend all domestic flights. This created a stampede for the exits as people tried to buy tickets out of Egypt. Not many days later all international flights were suspended.
I spent a month in quarantine in a small flat in downtown Calgary. It looked pretty good on Air BnB but after a month in a small flat decorated with IKEA accessories I was ready to get out of there! Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied. My main project these days has been an online history curriculum. I had hoped to have a first version up and running by Christmas but obviously that hasn’t happened. It’s proven to be a greater technical challenge than anticipated.
So what’s next? We plan to continue the excavation at Et-Tell in the Fall. I’ve updated the sign-up page to reflect the new dates. Unfortunately, we will not be able to confirm these dates until one month before the dig begins. Of course, I will not collect payment before then. If you are interested, sign up, and I will keep you posted.
Descartes sent a copy of Meditations of First Philosophy to his friend and confidant, Father Mersenne, with the request that he circulate it among the influential members of his inner circle. As its title suggests, the manuscript contained a description of Descartes’ new philosophy. One of those who read it was Le Maistre de Sacy, who offered the following critique:
God created the world for two reasons… one, to provide an idea of his greatness, the other to depict invisible things in the visible. M. Descartes has destroyed the one as well as the other. ‘The sun is a lovely piece of work,’ one says to him. ‘Not at all’, he replies, ‘it is a mass of metal filings.’ Instead of recognizing invisible things in the visible, such as the God of nature in the sun, and seeing an image of this grace in all that he has produced in plants, he insists, on the contrary, on providing a reason for everything.” (Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 402)
As far as I can tell, Le Maistre de Sacy was not the reactionary type. He was the driving force behind the translation of the Bible into the French vernacular which means that he was willing to risk offending church authorities. Blaise Pascal and Antoine Arnauld were among his close associates. What disturbed Le Maistre de Sacy about Descartes’ philosophy was that it inclined towards a completely mechanistic view of the cosmos, and of life. This criticism was also shared by Blaise Pascal. “I cannot forgive Descartes,” said Pascal, “In his whole philosophy he would like to dispense with God, but he could not help allowing Him a flick of the fingers to set the world in motion, after which he had no more use for God.” Perhaps nothing illustrates Descartes mechanistic view of life better than an experiment he conducted to learn how the circulatory system functions in animals. He nailed a live dog to a plank and cut it open in order to observe its still beating heart. The howls of pain emitted from the creature meant nothing to Descartes because his philosophy taught that animals are machines. They have no soul. Well ok, but then what would prevent Descartes’ beast-machine doctrine from morphing into a completely materialistic account of man? It wouldn’t take long to find out. One of Descartes’ disciples, Benedict Spinoza, went the logical next step and argued that it was time to dispense with the notion of a soul completely. To see what this philosophy looks like in practice, we have only to look outside our window (I am in a 1970’s apartment tower seemingly inspired by brutalist architecture). It is the world we live in.
Le Maistre de Sacy and Pascal perceived something in Descartes philosophy that troubled them. Jesus taught us to see nature in terms of parables: the lilies of the field, the wind that moves imperceptibly, the seed that multiplies, the little children, the water that springs up to eternal life, the fire that cannot be quenched, the unfailing love of a Father. These parables follow a pattern rooted in the Old Testament where nature is treated, not as the subject of mythology, but as an allegory that points to a transcendent reality: the glory of the heavens, the sun shining overhead, the pounding of surf against the rocks, the tree planted by quiet waters, the snow falling on Zalman, the pinions of a dove, the stork in the heavens, the gleam of gold in the inner sanctuary, the gentle breeze, the quiet whisper, the love of a woman, the crouching lion, the slithering serpent, and yes, even sickness and death.
I remember sitting in a botany course while the prof explained how a parasite feeds on a healthy tree. It is truly gruesome what a parasite can do to its host. What struck me is that a tree can live with a parasite for a long time and still look quite healthy. But it will eventually succumb to the disease until it is reduced to a scabby, gnarled, stump. The thing about a virus or a parasite is that it is an alien thing. It has no life of its own. The only way it lives (or replicates) is by attacking and destroying the life of something else. A virus takes over the machinery of a cell that is designed to give life, and uses it for destructive ends.
Although we’ve always known that a pandemic may strike at any moment, we’ve only recently had to come to grips with this reality. The result has been widespread panic and a total lock-down of our economy. It seems to me, that, if Jesus were walking among us today, he would use this opportunity to remind us that we should not fear what kills the body, but what destroys the soul. Sickness is, after all, one of the many metaphors employed in the Bible to describe the effect of sin on our soul. “Is there no balm in Gilead… no physician there… to restore the health of the daughter of my people,” lamented Jeremiah. “The healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick,” Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. If we thought of sin in terms of the coronavirus it might change our outlook.
Descartes was fixated on matter in motion. But life cannot be reduced to mathematics, nor the sun to a mass of metal filings. This Easter morning, as the sun shines brightly through my apartment window, I am reminded that there is medicine for the sick, that the sun’s rays kill the virus, and that where there is death, there is also life. The Son has risen!
I encountered this kid goat in the mountains above Thermopylae. The mother goat ran away but the kid had not yet found his legs. All it could do was bleat helplessly. The shepherd soon appeared, ambling up the road, carrying a wooden staff in his hand, and scooped the little goat up in his arms. It was a very nice picture of the good shepherd.
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. ~ Isaiah 40: 11
Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. ~ Matthew 11: 28-29
These two passages appear towards the beginning of Handel’s Messiah. They are followed by passages that speak of the coming Judgement. I was struck, in particular, by this passage from Malachi.
But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. ~ Malachi 3:2
The good shepherd and the refiner’s fire… comfort and fear… may we keep both in mind this Christmas season.
“I will let the Conservatives explain why cuts and austerity — if they really think so — are going to help Canadians…” (Justin Trudeau)
(The second book of Goethe’s Faust begins in the Emperor’s Court. The Steward, Treasurer and Chancellor enter the king’s chamber, each bearing bad news.)
The Chancellor to the Emperor: …Look down from this high place, look far and wide Over the empire: it must seem A nightmare of deformity, a dream Of monsters, law to lawless power unfurled, And rooting error spread about the world. One man steal flocks, and the next a wife, A third the altar’s treasure: And yet can boast himself scot-free From pains of law to limb or life. While plaintiffs throng the hall, and from His sumptuous seat the judge looks down, rebellion like a gathering storm mutters and laps. Must justice drown In these fierce waves? A miscreant Protected by accomplices can vaunt his crimes, while he whom only guiltlessness Defends is pronounced guilty none the less. And thus society falls to pieces, Order and decency decay: How shall men not be led astray As the true guiding instinct stunts and ceases? So in the end good men and true Succumb to bribes and flatter, And judges can impose no penalty, For crime, but become criminals too. I have painted a black picture, but I would Draw blacker veils across it if I could…
(The steward laments that everything is now purchased on credit.)
The Steward: We buy tomorrow what we eat today, We slaughter pigs while they’re still thin, We pawn the very beds we’re sleeping in; In fact we are living, Sire, on mortgaged bread.
The Devil (Mephistopheles) presents himself to the Emperor in the guise of a Fool. The people can see that there is something preternatural about the Fool.
Murmurs from the Crowd: This sly rogue knows-what he’s about He’ll be well in – till he’s found out – He’s up to something – I guess what – What do you guess? – Some scheme he’s got –
Mephistopheles: Do we not all lack something, of one sort Or another? Here it’s money that’s run short. It does not grow on trees, that’s true, I fear; But from the depths wisdom can bring it here. There is gold in the earth, coined and uncoined, Hoards hidden under the walls, rocks precious-veined: This treasure’s for the wise man to collect, By Nature’s power and human intellect.
The Chancellor: Nature and Intellect, Who dares profess Such dangerous heresy to Christian ears? Atheists have been burnt for less Nature is sin, the intellect’s ideas Are Satan’s, and between them Doubt is bred, The mongrel offspring of their monstrous bed. Away with them! – The Emperor’s lands are old, And here two native kindreds are alone The worthy guardians of his throne: The men of God, and all our bold And valiant knights. Against the storms of fate They are proof, and their reward is Church and State. There are confused plebeian minds in whom The spirit of revolt finds room: Such men are heretics and sorcerers, The empire’s ruined and the fault is theirs. And you, fool, with your insolent arts, Would smuggle them in here! They are close kin To fools, and quite depraved by sin. We cannot trust such black corrupted hearts.
Only a recognition of the severity of the disequilibrium into which so many of the biggest economies of the world have fallen, and of the nature of the alchemy of our system of money and banking, will provide the courage to undertake bold reforms – the audacity of pessimism. (Mervyn King, Former Governor of the Bank of England)
Mephistopheles [to the Chancellor]: I recognize a learned man’s speech! What your hands cannot touch, lies far beyond your reach What your minds cannot grasp or calculate, Does not exist for you; nothing has weight If you have not first weighed it; and unless A coin was struck by you, you think it valueless.
The Emperor [to the Chancellor]: None of this solves our problems; I can see No point, sir, in your Lenten homily. I’m sick of all this endless hem and hum. We need more money: all right, get us some!
The Chancellor: Satan lays golden snares to catch you all! The whole thing’s impious and unnatural.
The Steward: If I could give the court a decent dinner, I’d not mind all that much being a sinner.
The Army Commander: He’s a sound fool; he knows what’s good for us. As for his methods, soldiers mustn’t fuss.
Mephistopheles: Perhaps you do not trust me? I refer You to this expert: as the Astrologer! The heaven’s houses he can scan, he can peruse Its hours; come, tell us the celestial news!
(The Astrologer and the Fool convince the emperor that they can find the money he needs to pay his bills.)
Murmurs from the Crowd: A pair of rogues – So near the throne – Dreamer and fool – They speak as one – The Wise Man – (here’s a tale we’ve heard!) Talks, and the Fool – prompts every word –
(The court celebrates carnival. Spirits attend the festivities. Plutus (Wealth) and The Boy Charioteer (Plenitude) arrive. They have assumed the place of Father and Son in the Trinity.)
The Herald [introducing Plutus]: Such dignity no words can praise. A moon-shaped visage bright with health, Beneath his jeweled turban’s wealth; A rich commodious robe. What shall I say of his demeanor? All The world must know him as a king!
The Boy Charioteer [introducing Plutus]: Plutus, the god of riches (for That is his name) in triumph here I bring; He is badly needed by the Emperor….
Plutus [to the Boy Charioteer]: You are, as I will gladly testify, Spirit of my spirit, acting ever as I Would wish; your wealth exceeds my own. Acknowledging your service, let me bear Witness that this green laurel bough I wear Is precious to me like no other crown. This word I speak to all, and it is sure: Beloved son, I am well pleased in you.
The carnival is over and the king is in his garden with Mephistopheles. The steward arrives, bearing good news.
The Steward: Your Majesty! I never would have thought I’d one day bring the news I now have brought Of such good fortune to you! For how Can it be true? The bills are paid, The usurers’ rage has been allayed And from their hellish claws I’m free! Can heaven offer such felicity?
(Each office holder appears before the Emperor in turn and reports that the economy is booming. The Chancellor, who had previously been the sole voice of opposition, admits that fiat money has solved all the problems of the empire.)
The Chancellor: I am glad not to have lived so long in vain! Hear then and see this fateful paper, which Has changed our poverty and made us rich
(The Chancellor then proceeds to read the terms upon which the new fiat currency was issued – namely, the intention to discover the location of all the buried treasure in the land (an obvious fraud…).)
“To whom it may concern: hereby be advised and told, The present note is worth a thousand crowns in gold. This sum secured and covered in full measure By Imperial land’s abundant buried treasure; The same to serve as its equivalent Upon recovery as is our intent.
Justin Trudeau was the first candidate to run for office who made deficit spending a major plank of his campaign. An article from Bloomberg states that, “In the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau pledged to run deficits but for only three years and no more than a cumulative $25 billion….” [That was his intention] In actual fact, “Trudeau’s first three budgets were in the negative by a cumulative C$52 billion. His last budget in March projected a deficit for the current fiscal year of about $20 billion.” Source
Furthermore, during the 2019 campaign Trudeau promised to continue running deficits – 93 billion worth over the next four years! That adds up to a total of 165 billion in actual and projected deficit spending across Trudeau’s two terms in office. So much for Trudeau’s expressed intention back in 2014 to spend no more than 25 billion and only for a period of 3 years! Source
(The Emperor thinks that the new fiat currency is a great fraud and can’t believe that someone authorized it without his consent. The Treasurer swears that the Emperor did indeed sign the bill into law. As it turns out, the Emperor signed the bill during Carnival while drunk and dressed up as the Great Pan, the god of lust and every excess. However, the Treasurer assures the Emperor that the paper is working! The kingdom has been made great again!)
Emperor: My lords, this is some fraud, some vast deceit! Who dared to sign my name in counterfeit? Has no one yet been punished for this crime?
The Treasurer: You wrote it, Sire, yourself; at Carnival time, Last night! You were Great Pan, you will recall; The Chancellor approached, as did we all, Beseeching you: ‘A few strokes of your pen Will crown the feast and mend the realm again!’ You signed: and thanks to prestidigiation The night sufficed for ample duplication And in this general boon, to ensure fair play, We printed the whole series straight away: Tens, thirties, fifties, hundred – all are ready. See how the people all rejoice already! This town, half mouldy-dead of late, now thriving Swarming with life, its appetites reviving! Your name has blessed the world for many a ayear, But never was so gladly read as here. The remaining alphabet grows valueless, For in this sign all now find happiness.
Emperor: My people think it’s gold? Well now, that’s funny. The court, the army, treat this as sound money? Astonishing. But now what can I do?
Steward: No one could catch them, and away they flew; It spread like lightning. Now on every side The money-changers’ doors are open wide; They’re honouring every note, both small and large With gold and silver, though of course they charge Commission. Butchers, bakers, landlords-good Money for them! Half the world just wants food And drink, the rest want fine new clothes to strut About in; tailors stitch, cloth-merchants cut; Meanwhile plates clatter, meats are stewed and roasted In taverns, and “The Emperor!” is toasted.
Faust: The abundance of treasure buried deep Under your lands lies frozen and asleep Until we wake it. Thought’s utmost scope Sets a mean limit to such wealth; the hope Of fancy in its highest flight must fail, Try as it may, to tell so rich a tale. Yet worthier spirits whom deep insights bless Place trust unbounded in this boundlessness.
Mephistopheles:Such paper currency, replacing gold and pearls, is most convenient: you can hold A known amount, no sale or bartering Is needed to enjoy love, wine, or anything You please. And there are banks to sell you coin; If not, then temporarily you join The diggers, sell a golden chain or cup, And thus the paper debt’s at once paid up And all the mocking sceptics put to shame. Everyone’s used to this, they want the same System continued; thus the Empire far and wide With jewels, gold, and paper now is well supplied.
“Ottawa’s gold holdings peaked in the 1960s at more than 1,000 tonnes. But the government has been steadily selling off its gold holdings ever since. By 2003, Ottawa was down to 3.4 tonnes, which it has now almost entirely sold.” (Source)
“Ottawa sells off almost all its gold reserves, leaving just 77 ounces — or less…” (Source)
(The Emperor gives his kingdom to Mephistopheles – (ie. the central banks). The treasurer agrees that the money supply should now be managed by Magicians.)
The Emperor: The Empire owes great benefits to you, And a commensurate reward is due. We entrust you with the ground in all our lands; To guard that wealth, yours are the worthiest hands. You know where we must dig, and at your word we shall recover this great hidden hoard. As partners now, join masters of our treasure, Fulfill your honorable task with pleasure! For here two world to union are invited, Upper with lower happily united.
The Treasurer: sire, there shall be no strife and no divisions; I like to have colleagues who are magicians.
(end of citation)
Source: Goethe, J. W. v. and D. Luke (1998). Faust. Part two. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.
Central banks have drawn down the curse of Erysichthon upon our heads. This king of Thessaly, having chopped down the trees in Diana’s sacred grove to build his feasting hall, was cursed with an insatiable appetite.
“Yet when his wicked frenzy had consumed all sustenance and for the dire disease provision failed, the ill-starred wretch began to gnaw himself, and dwindled bite by bite as his own flesh supplied his appetite.” (Ovid, Metamorphosis)
It is supremely ironic that central banks are now vowing to save the environment. (see here) These are the same institutions that financed the strip-mining of our resources and the manufacture of untold amounts of trash. They are the ones that have filled our museums with fake art. They are the ones that enable a debt based economic system that must consume or die. The banks must be reigned in and honest weights and measures restored!
I nominate George Bailey for the next Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. I would pay good money to listen to Senator Paul Sarbanes introduce George Bailey to Congress. (George Bailey graduated from high school. He never made it to college. He took over his father’s bank and has operated it ever since…)
I stopped by Rome on my way to Jerusalem and got some pics of the Ara Pacis.
Saw something I hadn’t seen before. The sculptor was having a bit of fun.
I am sorry sir, that will be 50 euros…
Can you give me 10 minutes? It will fit.
It is these small victories in life…
We are a week into the excavation at Et-Tell. Here are a few pics from the first day.
The storks were migrating south for the winter during our first day of digging. You can just make them out in the exact center of the frame. They flock in v-shaped patterns like geese, but very high up, and they make a distinct cackling sound that makes them seem as though they are much closer than they really are. They fly as far south as South Africa, but unlike the tern, they do not like to fly over water.
The Hebrew word for stork is chasida. It shares the same root with the word for ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’. A swan is elegant, a duck is comical, an eagle is regal, a peacock is proud, and the stork is a good and righteous bird. The stork in the heavens “knows her times”, says Jeremiah, but “my people know not the rules of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7) We, unfortunately, do not have an instinct for goodness.
I was curious to see what these people were digging in the field so I stopped to watch them for a while. They were digging a small root of some kind. It seemed like a lot of work for a small amount of food. Either they were hungry or the root was used for some other purpose than nourishment. I hope it was the latter.
The Israeli author, Amos Oz, gave an an address to a group of settlers in Ofra (the first settlement founded in the West Bank). He recounts the episode in one of his books (the name of which I cannot seem to remember). Oz writes,
We can all agree, without difficulty, that what Zionism means is that it is good for the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel and it is bad for people to be scattered among the nations. But from that point on – we disagree….
This is the place to make my first shocking confession – others will follow. I think that the nation-state is a tool, an instrument, that is necessary for a return to Zion, but I am not enamored of this instrument. The idea of the nation-state is, in my eyes, “goim naches” – gentiles delight. I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each developing in accordance with its own internal rhythm, all cross-pollinating one another, without any one emergence as a nation-state: no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem. No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war.
I think Amos Oz would agree that if you cherish your family, clan, people, culture, civilization… then you are bound to defend it, and from that moment on you have a wall, an army, and a state. The only way it could be otherwise is if there were no enemy or nothing worth defending. But Oz would like the nation-state to go away. His words are reminiscent of those of another poet,
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
But what happens when all countries and religions disappear? I know Marx seems to have thought that the state apparatus would whither away in the end but does anyone else really believe that? Did Marx even believe it?
Lennon admitted that his song was virtually a Communist Manifesto; that it was “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted… Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.” It worked worked for Lennon. The song went on to become his number one hit solo and perhaps one of the most covered songs every composed. Richard Dawkins hailed it as the ‘atheist anthem’. (Wikipedia)
The song asks us to imagine, to dream… of peace and unity. The mortal enemy of this beautiful dream is fascism. News anchors, politicians, academics, movie actors…. all agree on this point. Fascism is our enemy! But Lennon’s beautiful vision of world peace for our times, when translated into a political manifesto, shares more in common with fascism than not. Consider Mussolini’s definition of fascism,
The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State – a synthesis and a unity inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (The Doctrine of Fascism, Mussolini).
Both fascism and socialism seek salvation in an all-embracing political unity, a ‘synthesis inclusive of all values’. Fascism glories in power, socialism embraces equality, but both of them seek to build the city of God on earth… until Leviathan comes.
Of the two, socialism may be the more dangerous for its true nature is buried under a heap of noble sentiments. And its vision encompasses not just ‘a people’ but ‘all the people’. It seeks to gain power by democratic means rather than with the blunt instrument of force (at least this has been true in the West for the most part since WW2). The more democratic the society, the more susceptible it is to socialism’s message of equality. Perhaps this explains why politicians on the left are pushing for more universal suffrage that includes prisoners, kids as young sixteen, and people who are not citizens. The electoral college will also need to go at some point. Everyone must have an equal say. Everything should be done properly and democratically. But…
Power rules the world, not opinion. It is power that makes opinion. Anyone who wants to dance the tightrope will be alone. (Pascal, Pensees 303)
It is worth bearing in mind that Caesar Augustus subverted the Republic by pretending to embrace it; by maintaining the fiction of a functioning Republic long after the senatorial offices were consolidated into his hands. The Forum Augustum, Ara Pacis, and Pantheon retained all the trappings of Republican symbolism but they deified the State and its Emperor in a manner unthinkable to an earlier generation of Romans.
If our democracy meets with a similar fate, I suspect it will not be at the hands of an individual, but by a media and entertainment complex that will convince people to trade their freedom and responsibilities for security and entitlements. Perhaps nowhere is their power of persuasion more readily perceived than in the realm of art and architecture as Tom Wolfe documented in his books: ‘The Painted Word’ and ‘From Bauhaus to our House’. So-called “artists” ally with art critics, publishers and museums to sell fraudulent art to wealthy clients whose taste in art has lost all connection with Truth. Imagine if a similar process were to play out in the political and economic spheres. It isn’t hard to do…
Sometimes as I consider with myself how this illusion daily more and more enthralls and impoverishes our mental life by cutting off from it all the rich experience of the past, it is as though we were at sea in a vessel, while a fog thickened, closing in upon our vision with ever narrower circle, blotting out the far-flashing lights of the horizon and the depths of the sky, throwing a pall upon the very waves about us, until we move forward through a sullen obscurity, unaware of any other traveller upon that sea, save when through the fog the sound of a threatening alarm beats upon the ear. (Paul E. More, cited in R. Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 433)