As the Church of England’s disinclination to render under to Cæsar goes from strength to strength, we join Uncle Jack in remembering that, as an organisation like any other, its pronouncements are not wholly disinterested:
“The ecclesiastics are an artful, subtle, and powerful body in all countries; their eyes, however dim to other things, are remarkably quick to every thing which concerns their own interests: they are generally proud, revengeful, and implacable; and yet most of them have the art to throw a veil over their evil qualities, and establish an interest in the opinions of the people.” Read more
Interesting things are so often found in unlikely places: this week we stumbled across one in an intellectual history of management consultancy. In The Lords of Strategy,  business academic Walter Kiechel III suggests that the movement to make business processes the subject of intellectual inquiry has “a distinctively American quality, particularly in its approach to ideas”, and went on to quote this passage from Louis Menand’s history of the Metaphysical Club:
“If we strain out the differences, personal and philosophical, they had with one another, we can say that what these four thinkers [Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles S Pierce and John Dewey] had in common was not a group of ideas, but a single idea – an idea about ideas. They all believed that ideas are not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but are tools – like forks, knives, and microchips – that people devise to cope with the world in which they find themselves. Read more
Rex Murphy makes some interesting points about the Thatcher death parties, although should have given more emphasis to the screeching narcissism of self-styled progressives: what Oscar Wilde called the rage of Caliban not seeing himself in the mirror.
Anyway, although we quoted this recently, it is worth reminding ourselves of John Wilkes’ thoughts on why the legacy that other patriotic, middle-class interloper into the establishment, Pitt the Elder, was so despised:
“The world has at all times been cursed with some evil and malignant spirits, who, instead of being fired with noble emulation at the great actions even of their own countrymen, have repined at their glories, and wept in the midst of the grateful acclamations of a whole people…Their next step is an attempt to ruin the prosperity, which they envy; or effectually to destroy all the noble fruits which would have accrued from any divine successes in which they had no share. Read more
If Margaret Thatcher’s biographer Claire Berlinski is right that neither praise nor criticism of the Iron Lady is possible until we learn not to think in terms of some mythological epic, then sadly we must concede that that opportunity passed long ago. Within her first year in power, she had already become a kind of Vedic avatar – yet bluer and with more arms – of the quietly determined bourgeois culture which had been driven underground, first by wartime collectivism and then by the post-war inflation and taxation which, as Lenin himself said, are the best way to destroy an independent middle class.
Few people’s outward appearances become Aristotelian epiphenomena in their own lifetimes, but like Churchill’s cigar and Lincoln’s top-hat, her bouffant and handbag are instantly recognisable everywhere as cave-wall shadows of great and mighty events – a visible short-hand for something immediately felt but which millions of scholarly pages will never convincingly describe. Read more
Leaving aside Montesquieu’s weird climatological determinism, his point in De l’Esprit des Lois that a country’s culture informs its social and political institutions is one of those observations which, once articulated, almost speaks for itself. In this sense, common law countries are fortunate in our legal system: the doctrine of binding precedents which can be overturned by higher courts fosters a legal environment which changes organically with society but seldom frivolously, and also requires that the reasons for those changes are considered and set out by judges and recorded.
This provides a uniquely rich historical record of our political sociology – that enormous and frequently unappetising smorgasbord of political, social and economic ideas, changing over time as ingredients are added or discarded. Some older reports, however, seem to mock us across the centuries by testifying to a common sense now lost: if Montesquieu was right, our subsequent intellectual errors must attest to questionable cultural changes. Read more
As the new archbishop of Canterbury turns out to be exactly the same as the old one, today’s Quote of the Day goes not to Uncle Jack but to Rothbard’s History of Economic Thought. Specifically, to this passage on the scholastic theorist Sant’ Antonino, Bishop of Florence in the 1400s:
“In more strictly economic concerns, Antonino’s heightened moralism was also evident. In constrast to his master [San Bernardino], Antonino largely fulminated against foreign exchange transactions as implicit usury. As Raymond de Roover wonderingly remarks: ‘This advice, if followed, would have abolished banking altogether, a rather strange attitude on the part of the archbishop of the leading banking centre in Western Europe.’” Read more