Wilder Days

It's still "Rose Wilder Lane Week" here at Classical Values. I hope you're as pleased reading these selections as I am presenting them. One thing I've noticed about "The Discovery of Freedom" is that no matter how many inaccuracies I find in it, none detract from the central argument. I hope the rest of you feel the same way.

One thing that puzzled Mrs. Lane was the enduring obstinacy with which people cling to hurtful ways. Much that is hard in this life could be made easy, if only people acted less like themselves and more like saints.

Her eventual conclusion was that people value certainty over results. They want to have explanations, not questions, and they will submit willingly to various types of Authority, and its discontents, to remain in that mental comfort-zone. Essentially, they put their faith in myths, some of which are more effective than others.

Looking around today, I don't see much change. People believe what they believe, and won't thank you over-much for challenging their beautiful theories with ugly little facts. The simple notion that people are free, or ought to be, is still bitterly contested.

Here's Mrs. Lane's once-over-lightly explanation of a popular superstition of her day...

Spengler returns to the intangible Authority. He says the Authority is Civilization. He explains that a Civilization springs (is born? Or hatched?) from a changeless, formless,
Human protoplasm which clings to the surface of the earth, and plows and sows and reaps; this mass is The Eternal Peasant.

Each Civilization grows up, from infancy to youth to maturity. As an adult , it is Greece, or Rome, or England. Then it grows old and has cancer. The cancer appears as a small, unnoticed city; it grows, it becomes a large city, then a Metropolis. At this stage it is too far advanced for surgery; swiftly it swells into a Megapolis, and kills the civilization.

The helpless human cells in the dying Civilization grow weak, and weaker, losing energy and courage and even desires. The Civilization dies, and they decay into the formless mass, The Eternal Peasant. From this mass another Civilization will spring, to grow up, to grow old, and to die of Megapolis…

Never having read Spengler, I cannot vouch for how closely Mrs. Lane's sketch portrays his work. He may or may not have redeeming subtleties that she doesn't touch upon. I have read Toynbee however, who was allegedly influenced by Spengler, and the idea of civilizations as quasi-organic entities permeates his historical analysis. I think she's got their number.

Certainly, I agree with almost all of the following...

Of course, any American who is not an intellectual knows that this world is not inhabited by gigantic, invisible creatures called Civilizations. He knows that ordinary men and women, using their energies, make a civilization and keep on making it, every day, every hour, and that nothing but their constant, individual efforts can make a civilization and keep it existing.

Here's a more personal, and poignant, illustration of how people can get it wrong. I'll take my leave here and let Mrs. Lane have the last word. The following anecdote takes place in 1928...

When I was living in Albania I had a friend who was one of the finest persons I ever knew. He was an Italian of English ancestry. His mother and his maternal ancestors for many generations had been English. He was fourteen and his brother was nine, when their parents were drowned at sea. The boys had no other near relatives and from that time they were inseparable. They stayed together in schools and universities; they got from the King himself a special permission to do their military service together. They went together to Argentine, and in 1915 returned to join their regiment.

They were both wounded at Caporetto, and abandoned on the field. My friend reached his brother but was too weak to do anything for him. The brother died during the third night. My friend's wounds still required him to return to hospitals at intervals.

For weeks I tried to explain to him the American attitude toward war. He could not understand it.

I was confused, myself, for like most Americans I had taken it for granted that no one wants war. My friend had the best European schooling, Italian, German, and English. He was widely and accurately informed; he was intelligent, open-minded, and eager to understand my puzzling country. The clue, he said, was in our attitude toward war. It baffled him.

He laughed at the superficial European belief that Americans are mere dollar-chasers. He knew several Americans intimately. He did not find them mercenary, nor cowardly, nor weak, nor—exactly—unpatriotic. American patriotism is peculiar, he said. Americans never say “my fatherland,” “my motherland.” What a peculiar attitude toward your country, to call it Uncle Sam. And notice, he said, the tone in which you say “Uncle Sam,” or, “The States.” It is affectionate; it has a sound of—what should he say? Equality? Tolerance?—as if a confident young man were speaking of a good old uncle. That is not the way in which a man speaks of his country, the fatherland, the motherland, the parent whose child he is.

And then, the curious American talk about war. He did not believe it was entirely hypocritical. But would I explain the facts?

....

One morning his servant brought a note, asking if he might see me at once, for only a moment. He came in, excited, apologizing for calling at that hour, “but I could not wait to tell you! It came to me in a flash, suddenly, just now. It is materialism! As you have said Signora: Americans hate war because it kills men and destroys property. Suddenly it comes to me. What are lives and property? Material things. All men die, time destroys all property. Lives and property have no value. The immortal value is the soul of a nation, and war regenerates the nation’s soul. Americans can not see spiritual values. That is it, Signora; yes, yes, that is the truth. Deep down, at base, au fond, your countrymen are pure materialists. You see only the material world; you cannot see what war is, because it is spiritual.”

He had seen his brother die at Caporetto, and he died in Ethiopia, a fine, brave, honorable man, who believed with his whole mind that an individual is a cell in the body of The State, that Authority controls all human beings, and that his own life had no value whatever but service to Immortal Italy.

posted by Justin on 07.06.05 at 12:57 PM







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Comments

Spengler! Extremely interesting. Myself, I have always felt that Spengler had a deeper insight into the distinctive styles of the great civilizations, the high cultures, than did Toynbee. Spengler saw that each civilization begins with a distinctive vision of time, of space, of the Divine, and declines as it exhausts or loses that vision.

Spengler was right that history is not a straight line of "Progress" but instead takes the form of cycles, the rise and fall of civilizations. (Hmmm.... The feminine (encircling) over the masculine (linear)?....)

I do have to agree that he erred in the direction of fatalism and pessimism, but I prefer that to the complacency bred by the false doctrine of "Progress". Both negate the free will of the individual, which in my view is supreme above all. The Individidual striving for the Divine. The Ego in the Infinite. The total passion for the total height....

I must mention that a young woman at our high school reunion last week, Lydia Badillo, spoke of cycles and the rise and fall of civilizations. It was so good to hear such wisdom from another, so unexpectedly.


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