Marching to a Different Drum, Concluded


If you think any of this argument is overstated, just go to the library and look at the artistic masterpieces of Jacob Epstein and Andy Warhol, and, as you are reading the wit and wisdom of Frantz Fanon and Edward Said, explaining the evils of Western culture, listen to some light background music from Ornette Coleman playing “between the notes” on his plastic saxophone.  This was all decades ago, in the period that conservatives still celebrate as a high point of our culture, the time when “the Greatest Generation” was still ruling the planet, back before every imaginable ethnic, religious, and erotic minority had whined its way into the national consciousness.

Back in 1960, it is true, there were still old men to look up to, and even today there are a few people who can write a decent sentence or compose a song worth hearing, but to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, the march of progress has been a steady and, in recent years, precipitous advance into the slough from which few will escape.  A half-civilized American today is like the Greeks of Poseidonia (Paestum) described by Aristoxenus, when he tried to explain to his contemporaries what it was like to preserve classical standards in music.  Such people play and listen to the classics, he said, much as the barbarized Poseidonian Greeks, who after centuries in southern Italy had lost most of their Hellenic culture.  They gather once a year in a festival to mourn their loss.  Their plight is the subject of one of the moving poems of C.P. Cavafy/Konstantinos Kabaphes, reflecting on his own plight as a civilized Greek over two thousand years later.

And they had the habit, at the end of the festival

To tell the story of their ancient customs

And to repeat their Greek names

That only a few still understood

And the festival ended on a melancholy note

Because they remembered that they too were Greeks.

The Greeks of Magna Graecia (southern Italy) were overwhelmed by their less civilized Etruscan and Italian neighbors who vastly outnumbered them, though even in the time of Cicero and Vergil the Hellenic communities on the Bay of Naples were centers of Hellenic culture and philosophy.  The Greek held on not only against impossible odds but against people who genuinely admired them and were eagerly adopting and disseminating their cultural traditions.  What possible excuse can West-European-Americans make for allowing their country to be overwhelmed by wave after wave of increasingly alien immigrants who do not share their language, culture, or even, in the case of non-Christian immigrants, their religion?  Juvenal famously denounced Middle-Eastern immigrants to Italy, complaining that the Orontes had emptied into the Tiber, but the Hellenized Syrians and Latinized Spaniards and Celts who came to Rome looking for opportunities quickly blended into the landscape; others, like the Jews, maintained their own traditions without challenging the dominant Romanitas.  Trajan did not set up Hispanic Studies programs in Rome,  Septimius Severus did not impose affirmative action for the worshippers of Moloch and Astarte, and the great Balkan thug-emperors were content to rule over a Greco-Roman civilization without giving privileges to ancestral Illyrian or Pannonian customs.

There is absolutely no historical parallel for what we have done to ourselves.  Even the Ostrogoths, who conquered and ruled Italy for over a generation, did what they could to preserve the superior civilization of their subjects.  We, on the other hand, who still rule the world, cannot apparently say "no" to the less than impressive leaders of the NAACP, MALDEF, LULAC, and the AJC.  Minorities that have the will to grab what they want and degrade the majority they are subjugating, deserve to win, because their victims refuse to fight or, if they do put up some show of resistance, are content to imitate the tactics of their oppressors.  The solution of the Euro-American rights groups is not to defend—or even to study—their own cultural traditions, because they are no better educated than the uncouth aliens they hate and, in their personal lives, try to emulate.   All they can do is to become one more whining minority, which is exactly what we do not need.  Better to be beaten by Al Sharpton than to become Al Sharpton.

If we really begin to understand what we have done to ourselves, we can quit lying to each other and ourselves about moral rearmament, cultural revival, conservative minds, family values, and “what works in education.”  With all that “conservative” rubbish out of the way, we can then ask ourselves the really important important question that every serious human being has to ask in every generation:  How are we going to live in this world?

For Christians, this has always been the question, since no culture is so Christian as not to offer countless distractions and temptations, some of them relatively harmless but others possibly fatal to a Christian life.  Most of us finder it easier to go along in order to get ahead, pretending that it really takes little effort to lead a decent life here in downtown Sodom or in the suburbs of Gomorrah.  What was Lot thinking, I wonder, when he finally realized the kind of people he had picked for his neighbors?  Today what must a Christian academic think of his colleagues or an educated person working in the grubby propaganda factories of the conservative movement?

At the very least, believers today could learn to distinguishing between baseball and money-lending, the movies of John Ford and the movies of the Cohen brothers, but for the most part they do not.  Hardly a day goes by that some conservative does not ask me if I have read a current best-seller or watched a film that would have shocked Petronius or Oscar Wilde.

Honorable noncombatants in the war between Heaven and Hell have a harder time than Christians as they try to make  their way through the cultural minefields.  They cannot tell a raven from a writing desk, much less a portable radio playing Haydn from an IED.  Unlike Christians, they have neither an incontrovertible body of Scripture and Tradition to tell them, "no," boys do not marry boys anywhere on this human planet, nor a community that embodies and enforces the tradition.  They must be as heroic as Achilles—and as alienated from community and fellowship.  Theirs is a hard road.  I know, because I once walked it, and it leads all took often to the melancholy of the Poseidonians.

It is best to face the facts.  An old-fashioned American—Christian or not—in these United States is far worse off than Greeks in Italy.   Poseidonians had to watch their children grow up Italian, which is hardly the worst thing in the world, while we, if we do not take positive and dramatic steps to protect them, see our own sons and daughters turning, before our eyes, into savages or space aliens who, if they are sent to university, will side with the street savages against the forces of order paid to protect them.

It is still possible to opt out of this space alien world, without dressing up in bonnets and frock coats or adoring an oil stain on the side of a building as an apparition of the Blessed Virgin.   What some are calling the "Benedict option" turns out often to be the "ostrich option," except ostriches, at least in folklore  stick their heads all the way into the sand, while the neo-benedictines are forever sneaking a peak at the latest Spielberg masterpiece.  We cannot refuse to grapple with changing circumstances.  Of course the beat goes on and on and on and on, but all of us are in principle—and a few of us in fact—capable of blocking out the drumbeat, and keeping a pace and rhythm not dictated by Phil Spector, or Simon Cowell or Andrew Lloyd Weber or David Geffen or Rupert Murdoch.

I sometimes wonder, only half in jest, if we should not petition the United Nations to set up Tribal Homelands for that endangered subspecies of civilized European American Christians.

We have reservations for Indians, where they are allowed to live by their own laws, and  E.O. Wilson has called for the creation of vast nature preserves to safeguard ecological diversity.  Why not pay some attention to preserving the cultural diversity of human groups that handed down to us skills and traditions that are valued even by the Rev. Al Sharpton: the logic and mathematics that made it possible to discover electricity and invent computers; the rule of law that enables parasites to be treated equally with their hosts; and habits of personal responsibility and self-restraint that have kept us from going on rampages to purge the world of the Sharptons and the millions of other “community organizers” who make their living off the hatred and envy they stir up?

If the cruel and unfeeling international community refuses to grant tribal homelands for civilized Christians, we shall just have to learn to mind our own business, think our own thoughts, read our own books, and, like Aristoxenus, listen to our own music.  Once a year, we might even organize an annual pilgrimage to Paestum, where, among the ruins of its ancient temples, we can celebrate what we have lost.


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

6 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The migration of people is a form of human entropy. The slide into disorder.

  2. Kurt Kronfuss says:

    Perhaps we will found Tribal Homelands after the NWO collapses Western governments. In the meantime, I will be certain to hold truths dear while sharing them, stockpile ammunition, and of course do a better job of going to confession after indulging in pop culture.

  3. Raymond Olson says:

    What’s the matter with Jacob Epstein? He was a sculptor of, for the most part, very recognizable portrait heads and busts. His work looks like a natural development from Rodin, Degas, and Daumier (though much less caricatural than the last). OK., his more “abstract” stuff looks like demi-cubist painting given an extra dimension. Now, if you’d said Giacometti, Donald Judd, Henry Moore, or Barbara Hepworth, . . .

    As a staunch admirer, I’d say listen to quite a lot of Ornette Coleman and of other musicians playing his music. There are many hard bop musicians, his contemporaries, who are far harder to listen to for any length of time. I find his fellow greatly influential ’50s jazzman, John Coltrane, very much his inferior, I think because he cared more about “spirituality” than music.

    I nominate Henry Mancini as the worst jazz/pop composer of the ’50s, a decade in which his like were legion. And he just got worse. Remember the ’60s cant term of derogation, “plastic”? That’s Hank.

    Of course, you’ve nailed Warhol, and “the wit and wisdom of Frantz Fanon and Edward Said” is a very good one-liner.

  4. Robert Reavis says:

    I saw recently that Rod Dreher was recognized for his book on the Benedictine Option. Have never met Mr Dreher, am not anxious to do so, have never read his book or eager to read it, but am genuinely pleased and surprised his book was recognized. Anything impractical like a good poem, essay, short story, painting, composition or hobby, even an architect who attempts to create something beautiful in his backyard, I respect. Anything contemporary, practical,political, utopian or profitable I am suspicious of when not right down contemptuous. Two cheers for Mr. Dreher.

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    You’re a more generous man than I am, Ray, if you can listen to Ornette. Goodness knows, I tried throughout my college years Epstein, in my perception, is a humbug, but then I can live quite happily without Rodin, though I have twice spent half a day in his museum in Paris. But, as little as I can tolerate Ornette, Epstein, and Warhol, I’ll give them this: they are not two-bit editorial recyclers.