The Gods of the Copybook Headings
For years I have been seeing this poem by Kipling described as having some sort of profound relevance. I read it, and it seemed interesting, but I didn't quite understand who these gods were supposed to be. It was only fairly recently that I learned the answer. A "copybook" in English schools of the time was for handwriting practice. At the head of each page was some sort of proverb or maxim, and the student was to copy it repeatedly down the page. The gods of the copybook headings, then, are those eternal truths of human life which we forget or ignore at our peril. It was written just after the end of World War I, in which Kipling lost his son. It begins like this:
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
And ends rather chillingly. Please read the whole thing at the Kipling Society's site. (I'm not going to include it here because I'm pretty sure some of the lines are too long and wouldn't display properly.)
It does seem that our culture is determined to ignore every scrap of wisdom inherited from our ancestors. I thought of the poem a couple of days ago when I read this piece by Damon Linker in which he criticizes progressives for attempting to demonize and destroy perfectly natural and not necessarily unhealthy "particularist" impulses. Progressivism
displays outright contempt for particularistic instincts that are not and should not be considered morally and politically beyond the pale. On the contrary, a very good case can be made that these instincts are natural to human beings and even coeval with political life as such — and that it is the universalistic cosmopolitanism of humanitarian liberalism (or progressivism) that, as much as anything, has provoked the right-wing backlash in the first place.
Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but "racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia" — is the desire to delegitimize any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic.
As you might imagine, liberals reacted angrily, and called it, of course, racist. The inclusion of "ethnic" in that list pretty much guaranteed that reaction. But ethnic solidarity is not necessarily a bad thing. It is perfectly healthy and sane to prefer one's own place and people to others, and the fact that it can become pathological doesn't change that. It is generally not considered a bad thing by liberals when it involves, say, Jewish or Italian or Irish immigrants in early 20th century New York, or today when it takes forms that they can approve and enjoy: a Haitian enclave in a big city, for instance. Multiculturalism generally approves any presence here of a non-American culture. But how could that culture exist except as something particular, something which, by virtue of being what it is, is necessarily not something else?--and especially not a mere instance of interchangeable universal humanity.
I do think the Trump phenomenon, which I mostly deplore, has been fed by the sort of backlash that Linker mentions. But appears that progressives will not learn from it.
Yes, I think Trump has a fair amount of support because he is seen, rightly or wrongly, as an opponent of this totalizing liberal multi-culti. As Dreher (certainly no Trump fan) recently put it, today's right-wing populism is an equal and opposite reaction to mindless cosmopolitan universalism. And it should not be surprising that he should attract certain "deplorables" on the Right. After all, HRC has her own Prog basket of same: radical abortion supporters, rabid identity-politics promoters (racial and/or sexual), militant SJW's, etc.
I'm currently reading this book:
which I highly recommend. It parallels Kalb's The Tyranny of Liberalism but is additionally interesting because it's written by a veteran anti-Communist from Poland, who has experience in both the post-Communist Polish government and the E.U.
Reading the view of things by an "outsider" provides a perspective which makes both "why's," that of the prominence of progressive intolerance and of the "populist" backlash seem painfully obvious.
The nice thing about Legutko's book is that it is short and direct. What Kalb and Del Noce achieve by documentation and argumentation Legutko backs up by observation and logical dot-connecting.
Posted by: Rob G | 09/26/2016 at 06:51 AM
I think I've seen positive references to that book elsewhere. I'll check it out. I tell myself to quit expending so much thought on this stuff but I can't help it.
Over the weekend I had some conversations with people of pretty conservative views who don't like Trump but who seem to feel that he is definitely in part a backlash against the overreach of the Obama administration.
Actually I think that if Trump wins the left will take a lesson from it, but the wrong one: not that they went too far, but that their enemies are even more evil than they thought, and that they must therefore redouble their efforts.
No matter what happens in November there are going to be a lot angry people.
Posted by: Mac | 09/26/2016 at 07:46 AM
It's interesting how once your personal life begins to overtake anything else how trivial politics seem. I'm voting for HRC but am caring less and less what really happens. I believe that whoever wins there will be a real race four years from now. The electorate will not be happy with either candidate as president.
Posted by: Stu | 09/26/2016 at 08:18 AM
"I tell myself to quit expending so much thought on this stuff but I can't help it."
Ditto. Although I'm not particularly interested in the political side of the thing, but rather in the effect that all this has on the culture at large.
I think that in this upcoming election we are being asked to pick our poison, and that no matter what happens, poison we will get. Being asked if I want to die by arsenic or cyanide is not a debate I'm all that enthused about!
Posted by: Rob G | 09/26/2016 at 09:33 AM
That link to the Kipling Society doesn't work. The website doesn't seem to be there.
Posted by: Janet | 09/26/2016 at 10:04 AM
Really? It's working fine for me.
Posted by: Mac | 09/26/2016 at 11:30 AM
That is so odd. I can't get it on my laptop or my KF either. I'll have to try tomorrow at work and see what happens.
Posted by: Janet | 09/26/2016 at 11:43 AM
I'm already having "difficulties" with some of my closest friends because I've come up publicly stating I won't vote for Trump. It is distressing. I would think the position I'm taking is reasonably, even for a faithful, reasonable, pro-life Catholic who chooses to vote for him. It is like I'm a traitor.
Posted by: Robert Gotcher | 09/26/2016 at 11:47 AM
Robert. Talk to me!
Posted by: Janet | 09/26/2016 at 11:54 AM
I think a reasonable Catholic case can be made for almost any option in this election.
Posted by: Mac | 09/26/2016 at 12:02 PM
And, sort of replying to Stu and Rob: who's going to be president really should not be this important. It's gotten that way partly because the office has so much power. Also because it's so symbolic.
Posted by: Mac | 09/26/2016 at 12:42 PM
"Robert. Talk to me!" About what?
Posted by: Robert Gotcher | 09/26/2016 at 01:01 PM
I'll email you.
Posted by: Janet | 09/26/2016 at 01:34 PM
Maclin, does the office have more power now than it used to? I see that many Catholics are very worried about the membership of the Supreme Court.
"I think a reasonable Catholic case can be made for almost any option in this election."
I hate to say it, but yeah.
Posted by: Louise | 09/26/2016 at 01:38 PM
The office hasn't changed in principle, but the federal government has gotten much more powerful, with the Supreme Court deciding all kinds of things on which the nation is very divided.
Posted by: Mac | 09/26/2016 at 02:28 PM