After What We’ve Been Through, It’s Time for “The Ten Weeks”

Today is the beginning of many things.  It’s the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year for Anglicans, Catholics and others who follow such things.  It’s also the eve of St. Andrew’s Day, which is appropriate because my experience at the prep school named after it was in part the inspiration of what’s going to dominate this blog for the next three months–my novel The Ten Weeks.  It’s timely for reasons I’ll set forth, in addition to being (hopefully) entertaining.

How It Was Written

The early part of this millennium was for me a time of rediscovery: of my Anglican/Episcopal roots, of my family history, even of my golf game.  One result of those rediscoveries was the Island Chronicles, which had its genesis in the mid-1970’s.  Those really haven’t been widely published, because I’m not the kind who likes to fill up my garage with books, and many fiction authors end up doing just that.

As the first decade of the millennium lumbered on, I had the feeling that there was one more place to discover, and that place was the Island in the early 1970’s (the beginning of the Unix Era for computer people.)  In January 2006 I was appointed Ministries Coordinator for the Lay Ministries Department of the Church of God; in August this site became a WordPress blog.  Somewhere between those two milestones I began organising and writing The Ten Weeks, which was completed early the following year.  With one minor revision in 2008 it has stood ever since; it is the only novel which has passed into distribution, but again with no desire of spending a great deal of money getting it published–and fiction in general being the crapshoot it is–it hasn’t gotten a great deal of exposure either.  This blogging series is an attempt to fix that problem.

Why Now?

Christian political involvement in this country is based on two narratives, one of which is vocalised, the other hidden, neither true.

The first is that, until some recent time, this country has been a seamless Christian country with seamless Christian virtues.  Although I’d be the first to admit that the arc of our morality hasn’t been upward in my adult lifetime, the truth is more complicated than that, complicated by such things as Masonry, Judaism and, to some extent, Roman Catholicism.

The second is that the wealthy (and later the educated) are, by virtue of having risen to their status, more virtuous and better, and thus deserving of deference.  This has always been a thread in Christian life in this country, but there has been pushback, especially in the South.  With a major shift in that culture, it made it easier to sell “Reaganomics” to the Christian community during the 1980’s and beyond, and thus merge the two into one political movement.  But the truth of the matter is that, the closer you get to the wealthy, the more you realise that this is false, and moreover they are the source of many of the social ills that have degraded our society, as they can afford the blowback of their failure and the rest of us cannot.

Recent events should be a wake-up call that our failure to recognise the falsity of these narratives has gotten us into serious trouble.  Many are shocked that things have turned out the way they have.  But for those of us who were in the storm of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and were not raised on another planet, where we’re at was predictable; the surprise is that it took as long as it did.  The Ten Weeks is, in one sense, a thought experiment as to what life would have looked like if the timetable had matched our expectations.

Blogging the Novel

Although it’s been done successfully, blogging a novel isn’t as straightforward as it looks.  The Ten Weeks is no exception.  The title implies a timetable, and the book is built around a very tight chronology.  The original narrative is set from December 1970 to February 1971.  In blogging the novel, I was aided by two providential circumstances which greatly helped things along.  The first is that we are at the fiftieth anniversary of the setting of the novel.  The second is that the days of the week for that anniversary are identical to the setting of the novel.  This means that the narrative can be presented realistically in the novel’s time sequence.  The trout in the milk is that fiction, like life, is more eventful on some days than others, so I have had to split up some of the days and move them back some to keep the blog posts from becoming too long.  With that my success is mixed; I have done my best, I trust that you will find it acceptable.

If you don’t, of course, you can order the novel in paper or virtual form; places to do that are all around you on this site.  In any case it’s time to start the adventure that is The Ten Weeks.

The Party of “Healing” Needs to Start With Itself

We’re being told that the “healing” of our country will begin with the triumph of the Democrat party, but that hasn’t happened where they have a monopoly, as evidenced by this, from 2017:

One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.”  No where is that disproven more consistently than in California.  We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.

The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle.  For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences.  Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means.  It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.

This is what happens when the party of “the people” becomes the party of the elites.  Perhaps this is why the Republicans made the inroads they did in California during the last election.

The Tough Lesson of Augustine’s “Dear Marcellinus”

At the beginning of Augustine’s City of God we have this opening:

My dear Marcellinus: This work which I have begun makes good my promise to you.  In it I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder.

Flavius Marcellinus was a high official of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius.  In 410–the year Alaric sacked Rome–he was given orders to suppress the Donatist churches in North Africa, which he proceeded to do.  But the Donatists resorted to the old Late Roman trick of laying a charge of treason against Marcellinus and his brother, accusing them of supporting a separate rebellion.  The Roman general Marinus, who had just put down the rebellion, put them on trial, secured a conviction, and had them executed just two short years after Augustine began the City of God.  Honorius exonerated Marcellinus the following year, but by that time it was too late.

Jean-Paul Laurens’ portrait of the Roman Emperor Honorius

When it came to “what happens when careerism goes south,” Rome was never a walk in the park, but after Marcus Aurelius things really got bad.  Careers of the great and incompetent alike ended in execution; Honorius, the weakest emperor at the most critical time, had his capable general Stilicho executed a few years earlier because he saw him as a rival.  The informant system–with information true and false–was destructive or deadly for many Romans, carried out by such masters of the art as Paul the Chain.  The river of blood continued after Rome fell apart, with Boethius writing his classic The Consolation of Philosophy while waiting execution, which came, after his fall.  Gregory of Tours’ account of Gaul beginning its transition to France was likewise a river of blood of those who ended up on the wrong side of ruthless power-holders such as Fredegund.

Christians tend to consider the fall of Rome as a result of a decline in their sexual morality, but there’s no evidence that Rome’s sexual morals were worse in the late period than the earlier one.  What was worse was what the French historian Ferdinand Lot referred to as the “corruption of the public spirit,” the decline of civic life and the communal idea that goes with it.  The Roman system was patronage driven from top to bottom, but when it was working properly it meant that those who aspired created a clientele which benefited from them while they moved up.  When the system broke down it was replace by an autocratic system where money and resources were forcibly pushed to the top to be dispensed to a bureaucracy which kept the power holders in place.  This led to the onerous taxation system of which Lactantius was the most famous chronicler.  Lactantius also noted that those who lived off of the tax system were more numerous than those who paid the taxes, and although that may have been an exaggeration there was definitely a retreat of the productive portion of the society, which in the end led to the system’s bankruptcy.

Christianity was unprepared for its legalization under Constantine, but its response to the deteriorating situation–and the corrupt morals of the political system–was to call at least some of its flock to a higher, if withdrawn, calling.  How this played out depended upon the end of the Empire in question.  In the East it led both to the growth of monasticism (withdrawal from the evils of the world) and to the Caesero-papism that complicated the doctrinal disputes that raged in the fourth and fifth centuries.  In the West monasticism took longer to get started but when it did the result was the same: the withdrawal from a system in breakdown which Christianity couldn’t quite get the upper hand with.  (It’s worth noting that Pope Siricius wouldn’t let people who had been in the civil service become priests.)

Protestants generally put down monasticism, but it represented an attempt to live in a more Christlike fashion in a world which made that very difficult.  Is ours any better?  To some extent it never has been, but in a world where laid, high or drunk is the battle cry of those at the top, and which is prepared to ignore blatant influence peddling and employ cancel culture (and also vindictive prosecution, as Marcellinus experienced) to enforce their idea, it’s time for American Christians to re-examine their naive belief in the lack of moral and personal hazard in moving up.  That may seem like blowing retreat, but in blowing retreat Late Roman Christians laid the groundwork for the advance which transformed European civilization, and ultimately ours.

Today our left is making “little lists” of people to destroy.  Our current game is to intimidate law firms from representing clients we don’t like; that’s a quick way to skew our justice system, and not in good ways.  Most of those lists are those who might achieve high position; they don’t want the competition.  Is it worth it to find yourself on one of those?  There are times when we have to endure persecution for bearing the name of Christ, but if it’s for our careerist ambition, that puts things in a new light.  It’s time for American Christians to stop being so reflexive about moving up, and to look at their eternal objectives more than their temporal ones.  This empire, like Rome, will pass, and we need to take some lessons from those who responded to its decay.

Maybe They’ve Figured Out the American Left’s Core Problem

Alex Pareene at the New Republic wonders, in view of Florida voters going for Trump and approving a $15/hr minimum wage:

The Democratic Party, unlike most of its left-of-center brethren in the developed world, has never been a true labor party, but it seems plausible that many voters view it as a party representing a state that never helps them, even as they, personally, practically beg for a large and powerful state that would step in to improve their lives.

The question Democrats now face is whether saying they will empower the state to improve people’s lives will actually work on anyone.

By background, I should be a leftie.  I’m not.  One major reason is that the American Left has always struck me as a group of people who are really good at starting movements, taking moralistic positions, and passing rules when they get into power.  But they’re not builders.  And, of course, they’re good at getting themselves good bureaucratic positions (from whence the rules come) but poor at really solving problems and moving things forward.

Need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere?  Can’t bring themselves to embrace nuclear power even as a transitional phase because they’re afraid they’ll grow the suburbs, those bastions of phoniness.  We’ve wasted at least twenty years of progress on this because their tush is in a wad on the subject.  Need to address income inequality?  So why has every President since Richard Nixon, Democrat and Republican, presided over growing income inequality and wealth distribution?  And why do Democrats gleefully take the money of the plutocrats and then expect greater “social justice?”  (They expected to win a few Senate races, and that didn’t happen either…)

But the biggest drain to the left’s claim to fame on “social justice” is their obsession with identity politics.  How can they claim to be “Marxists” when they, in classic suburbanite fashion, hide in shame class differences and obsess over every identity difference they can amplify?

So are people finally figuring out the disconnect between rhetoric and action?  Perhaps in a visceral way, but that visceral way may explain why the left cannot quite finish the job in the way they’ve always hoped to do.