It’s Greek To Me

Oedipus & Sphinx

Oedipus & Sphinx

Nothing grows clearer to me year by year than that the nature of the Greeks and of antiquity, however simple and universally familiar it may seem to lie before us, is very hard to understand, indeed is hardly accessible at all, and that the facility with which the ancients are usually spoken of is either a piece of frivolity or an inherited arrogance born of thoughtlessness. We are deceived by a similarity of words and concepts: but behind them there always lies concealed a sensation which has to be foreign, incomprehensible or painful to modern sensibility.—Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, Book III

De Incommodis Senectutis

Old Man

Old Man

But even then, if anyone does reach old age, his heart weakens, his head shakes, his vigor wanes, his breath reeks, his face is wrinkled and his back bent, his eyes grow dim and his joints weak, his nose runs, his hair falls out, his hand trembles and he makes silly gestures, his teeth decay, and his ears get stopped with wax. He will believe anything and question nothing. He is stingy and greedy, gloomy, querulous, quick to speak, slow to listen, though by no means slow to anger. He praises the good old days and hates the present, curses modern times, lauds the past, sighs and frets, falls into a stupor, and gets sick. Hear what the poet says: Many discomforts surround an old man. But then the old cannot glory over the young any more than the young can scorn the old. For we are what they once were; and some day we will be what they are now.—Pope Innocent III, On the Misery of the Human Condition

The Bolivians Attack

Hilarion Daza

Hilarion Daza

Were the consequences not so tragic, [Bolivian President Hilarion] Daza’s trek through Tarapacá’s hinterland might provoke coarse laughter. From the onset of his campaign, the general demonstrated an almost monumental incompetence: he refused to hire guides to lead his forces through the unforgiving and unknown wasteland. Rather than travel at night, and thus spare his men from the searing desert sun, Daza instead advanced during the day. (Apparently he feared, with good reason, that his troops might desert under the cover of darkness.) The Bolivian general rejected a Peruvian offer of ambulances, and he ordered his artillery to remain in Arica [to the rear]. Perhaps one of Daza’s most criminally negligent acts was that [of] his refusal to bring sufficient water with him. Worse, he permitted his men to fill their canteens with wine or raw spirits, a disastrous mistake given the fact that the nearest supply of water was a substantial distance away from Arica. Col. Narciso Tablares, alerted by a commissary official that Daza’s expedition would carry only eleven water skins, warned the general that his men might run out of water. When Daza haughtily dismissed these fears with the words “You do what you are told,” Tablares had little choice but to obey.—William F. Sater, Andean Tragedy: Fighting the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

“Her Impact Was … Very Slight”

Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya

I would like to say a few words on this subject [of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder]. First of all, I would like to say that no matter who committed this crime and no matter what the motives behind it, it was a horribly cruel crime and it cannot go unpunished. There could have been a number of different motives. This journalist was indeed a fierce critic of the current authorities in Russia. But, as the experts know, and as journalists should realise, I think, her impact on Russian political life was only very slight. She was well known in the media community, in human rights circles and in the West, but her influence on political life within Russia was very minimal. The murder of someone like her, the brutal murder of a woman and mother, was in itself an act directed against our country and against the Russian authorities. This murder deals a far greater blow to the authorities in Russia, and in Chechnya, to which she devoted much of her recent professional work, than did any of her publications. This is very clear to everyone in Russia. But, as I said, no matter what the motives behind the perpetrators’ actions, they are criminals and they must be identified, caught and punished. We will do everything necessary to ensure that this is done.—Vladimir Putin, News Conference in Germany, 2006

“The Best Solitary Company in the World”

I Mean the Book

I Mean the Book

Here is the best solitary company in the world, and in this particular chiefly excelling any other, that in my study I am sure to converse with none but wise men; but abroad it is impossible for me to avoid the society of fools. What an advantage have I, by this good fellowship, that, besides the help which I receive from hence, in reference to my life after this life, I can enjoy the life of so many ages before I lived! — that I can be acquainted with the passages of three or four thousand years ago, as if they were the weekly occurrences! Here, without travelling so far as Endor, I can call up the ablest spirits of those times, the learnedest philosophers, the wisest counsellors, the greatest generals, and make them serviceable to me. I can make bold with the best jewels they have in their treasury, with the same freedom that the Israelites borrowed of the Egyptians, and, without suspicion of felony, make use of them as mine own. I can here, without trespassing, go into their vineyards and not only eat my fill of their grapes for my pleasure, but put up as much as I will in my vessel, and store it up for my profit and advantage.—William Waller, Divine Meditations: Meditation Upon the Contentment I Have in My Books and Study

Against Oligarchy

Can’t Be Bribed?

Can’t Be Bribed?

You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor. A Christian may consistently say, “I respect that man’s rank, although he takes bribes.” But a Christian cannot say, as all modern men are saying at lunch and breakfast, “a man of that rank would not take bribes.” For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes.—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

G. K. Chesterton vs Conservatism

G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies. But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies; under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty years before. Thus England went mad with joy over the patriotic monarchy of Elizabeth; and then (almost immediately afterwards) went mad with rage in the trap of the tyranny of Charles the First. So, again, in France the monarchy became intolerable, not just after it had been tolerated, but just after it had been adored. The son of Louis the well-beloved was Louis the guillotined. So in the same way in England in the nineteenth century the Radical manufacturer was entirely trusted as a mere tribune of the people, until suddenly we heard the cry of the Socialist that he was a tyrant eating the people like bread. So again, we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty. It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold up the modern world. There is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution; it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back; he will take no advantage of his kingly power; it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness, of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the king is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy