255: Peculiar.

Pascal’s observation that all a man’s troubles begin when he leaves his room is of quite a different character from La Rochefoucauld’s thought that “In the misfortunes of our best friends we always find something that does not displease us.” But both proceed from the assumption that things are always worse than they seem.

The cynical nature of many aphorisms is one reason the genre is so popular. Many people, especially many intellectuals — the most ardent customers for the aphorism — pride themselves above all on their disillusionment. They see themselves “seeing through” manners, pretensions, morals, whatever, and what they see is seldom edifying. (As a class, intellectuals are rarely — to use Wordsworth’s phrase — “surprised by joy.”) Aphorists are by profession debunkers. That is a large part of their power. It also points to a limitation. Untempered by elements of affirmation, debunking generates its own species of bunk. Take the aphorism by La Rochefoucauld quoted above. It is one of his most famous, and was well-known already in Lichtenberg’s day. Lichtenberg himself thought well of it, noting that “It sounds peculiar, but he who denies the truth of it either doesn’t understand it or does not know himself.” But mightn’t it also be that it sounds peculiar because it is peculiar.

(Roger Kimball, “G.C. Lichtenberg: A “Spy on Humanity’,” The New Criterion, Vol. XX, 2002).

255: Peculiar.

254: One Poor Battered Gargoyle.

I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful. I despised sophisters and calculators; I was groping for faith, honor, and prescriptive loyalties. I would have given any number of neo-classical pediments for one poor battered gargoyle.

(Russell Kirk, Confessions of a Bohemian Tory. New York: Fleet Publishing Corporation, 1963, p. 23).

254: One Poor Battered Gargoyle.

253: We Know.

Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.

(G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. London: The Bodley Head, 1908, pp. 63–64).

253: We Know.

250: Rectification of Names.

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

(Confucius, Analects. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893, pp. 263–264).

250: Rectification of Names.

249: Adore Me.

Liberalism is to-day the dominating idea; it reigns everywhere and especially in the sphere of public life. It is therefore a sure recommendation to public favor.

On starting out in life the young man looks around upon the various paths that lead to fortune, to fame, to glory, and sees that an almost indispensable condition of reaching the desired goal is, at least in our times, to become Liberal. Not to be Liberal is to place in his way, at the outset, what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. He must be heroic to resist the tempter, who shows him, as he did Jesus Christ in the desert, a splendid future, saying: Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraveris me: “All this will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.” Heroes are rare, and it is natural that most young men beginning their career should affiliate with Liberalism. It promises them the assistance of a powerful press, the recommendation of powerful protectors, the potent influence of secret societies, the patronage of distinguished men. The poor Ultramontane requires a thousand times more merit to make himself known and to acquire a name; and youth is ordinarily little scrupulous. Liberalism, moreover, is essentially favorable to that public life, which this age so ardently pursues. It holds out as tempting baits public offices, commissions, fat positions, etc., which constitute the organism of the official machine. It seems an absolute condition for political preferment. To meet an ambitious young man who despises and detests the perfidious corrupter is a marvel of God s grace.

[…] To get along in the world, to succeed in business is always a standing temptation of Liberalism. It meets the young man at every turn. Around him in a thousand ways does he feel the secret or open hostility of the enemies of his faith. In mercantile life or in the professions he is passed by, overlooked, ignored. Let him relax a little in his faith, join a forbidden secret society, and lo! the bolts and bars are drawn; he possesses the open sesame to success. Then the invidious discrimination against him melts in the fraternal embrace of the enemy, who rewards his perfidy by advancing him in a thousand ways. Such a temptation is difficult for the ambitious to withstand. Be Liberal, admit that there is no great difference between men’s creeds, that at bottom they are really the same after all. Proclaim your breadth of mind by admitting that other religious beliefs are just as good for other people as your faith is for you; they are, as far as they know, just as right as you are; it is largely a question of education and temperament what a man believes, and how quickly you are patted on the back as a “broad-gauged” man, who has escaped the narrow limitations of his creed. You will be extensively patronized, for Liberalism is very generous to a convert. Falling down adore me and I will give you all these things, says Satan still to Jesus Christ in the desert.

(Félix Sardá y Salvany, What is Liberalism? St. Louis: B. Herder, 1899, pp. 135–137).

249: Adore Me.