Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Warriors, Pagans, Jacksonians, and Pharisees

Two topics, not precisely related, but as two planets orbiting the same sun.


Grim posted Walter Russell Mead and I thought I would comment.  (This started as an email to a smaller group, and suffers from some discontinuity.  So adjust, already.)

I think he gets the overall picture that Jacksonians have been an enormous obstacle to American improvement, but are probably also the major engine of American culture, with the Jeffersonian ideals modifying that larger whole, not running the show. My natural sympathies are against the Jacksonians. Jonathan Haidt's Elephant and Rider again.

But the hatred for them, the unreasoning spiteful tribalism of their enemies who are convinced of their own righteousness, is likely the second greatest obstacle to American improvement.  And as Senator Webb's Born Fighting chronicles, without the Jacksonians the Jeffersonians wouldn't have a country to run.  That, on the strictly practical level, should inspire some grudging gratitude, though it doesn't.

Taking it from a non-practical - from a purely spiritual POV, it would seem at first glance that the more temperate Jeffersonians would have the Christian edge over the primitive, vengeful Jacksonians. It is certainly easy to find NT verses that would point us in a fairly opposite direction to that touchy tribe.  But this is where the influence of Lewis and Tolkien and Chesterton on this ex-pacifist has been shocking. Through them I learn that the temptation of the over-spiritual, of the Pharisee or the Dualist, is far more dangerous. The victorious warrior can also glorify mercy, compassion, and eventually forgiveness.  That doesn't seem to flow in the opposite direction.  CS Lewis touches on the contrast in a different context, but I think it applies. 

When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, 'Would that she were.' For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads.
If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcee differs from a virgin. ("Is Theism Necessary?" God In the Dock.)
So the Jacksonians get the edge practically, and they get the edge spiritually.  How, then, do the Jeffersonians even get to exist, let alone capture the moral high ground?  I think it is because they own the in-between world.  They can be Orange, complaining to the Yellows that they just aren't red enough, then turn to the Reds and say you aren't Yellow enough.  You can look on that as hypocrisy and cheating, I suppose, or you can look at that as operating in the real world that is both Spirit and Flesh.

I posted this comment over at the CS Lewis site and thought it fit.

Christians will warn against the dangers of the Spirit of the Age, and we certainly see a divide in our own time. There is a political-right Spirit of the Age, and one on the left as well, and we Christians spend a lot of energy deploring or praising one or the other. I am certainly quite opinionated on the subject myself. I spent half of last night muttering about a vacuous essay on one of this year's fashionable crises by a pastor in my denomination. Not time well-spent, I think.
But I think there are many Spirits of the Age, intellectual fashions in one group or another. Lewis covered some of the larger ones in Screwtape, in That Hideous Strength, in The Great Divorce, and most especially in Pilgrim's Regress. Yet he was also sensitive to the fashions in his own field and own circle, and regarded those as more dangerous to himself personally. That is likely, as subtler, narrower temptations are often designed with us in mind.
I think his essay The Inner Ring addresses this more powerfully than the other references above. It certainly knocked me over when I was young. And a few times since as well. 

Postscript:  Reading "The Inner Ring" again, for the second time today, I am even more convinced of its importance. Ignore everything else and ponder that. I think it may be more of a male than a female temptation, but perhaps I do not perceive the feminine rings so clearly and do not notice.


james said...

If a man does not love his family, whom he has seen, how can he love mankind, whom he has not? (If I may be pardoned a little rewriting...) If we have first things first we can build farther loves on nearer ones, but if not our farther loves are probably rather fragile and more imaginary than otherwise.

If I get the picture correctly (I haven't finished Born Fighting yet), the Jacksonian tribe is strongly family-based, while the Jeffersonian is more ideological.

I keep coming back to 1Cor12, though.

jaed said...

Since we're doing Lewis, there's some bit in Screwtape to the effect that one of the Devil's tools is to warn against tendencies that are all but gone in the current culture, thus pushing it further toward the harmful opposite extreme. (I think he talked about doing this with fashions in female beauty.)

To apply this to the Jacksonian tendency: in the present day, patriotism is universally suspected. (By patriotism I mean fellow-feeling particularly for one's own countrymen, and the desire to uphold and improve one's country.) Patriotism requires a sense of one's country as distinct from other countries, and the "correct" attitude today is that there is really no such distinction. (I think of John McCain responding to opposition to illegal entry into this country by saying "We're all God's children." - well, yes, John, but that doesn't mean we're all Americans.) It also requires a respect for one's own country, and that too is out of fashion - the idea that America is the worst country in the world, the most dangerous, the most racist, and that generally the world revolves around us whenever something goes wrong, is the accepted conventional wisdom.

Jacksonianism is nothing if not patriotic, and so inveighing against the Jacksonian tendency is thus pushing us in precisely the direction where we're already off-balance. That we might become too patriotic is... a potential problem, but is not one of our current problems. We're already so suspicious of patriotism that it is not quite respectable to refer to a policy in terms of its benefits to our country.

There's a lot of "those others" in all this, of course - "well, me and my tribe recognize America's flaws, so it's only those people over there who are too patriotic and need their love of country taken down a few pegs" - but it isn't as though you can operate on one part of the culture and not affect everyone else. And we've dealt with the problems with thinking like this in terms of "those other people" before, of course.

We can probably go down the list of Jacksonian tendencies - they're pugilistic, but the culture at large is damn near supine; they're ornery and independent-minded, and the culture takes for granted a really remarkable amount of surveillance and micromanagement of people's lives - and find similar things. I am not surprised that the regnant political culture has an allergic reaction to the Jacksonian strain, because it's almost precisely opposed to it.

Which of course is why we need that strain.

Grim said...

I had never read "The Inner Ring" before. Thank you.

This is an interesting reflection all the way around. I shall have to think about it, and respond when I have done.