Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Family Jeong

Today is the feast of the Holy Korean Martyrs. Among these, the family Jeong (sometimes, especially in older works, anglicized as Chong) has a notable pride of place.

Blessed Augustinus Jeong Yak-jong was from a very highly educated Korean family -- his younger brother was Dasan, (Jeong Yak-yong), one of the greatest Korean Confucian philosophers. All the brothers seem to have come into contact with Catholic thought, although it's very difficult to determine how far any of them went (there's no proof that Dasan was ever actually baptized, for instance), and several of Bl. Augustine's brothers distanced themselves from Catholicism as the regime became increasingly unfavorable to it. Bl. Augustine became very active in the faith, however, and was widely to known to be one of the leaders in the thriving Catholic community (which was heavily driven by laity rather than priests or religious). In 1800 King Sunjo took the throne, but since he was only eleven years old, the real power was in the hands of Queen Jeongsun, his step-grandmother. She had been actively opposed for much of her life to the reforming party in the court, and she regarded Catholics as a major mainstay of that party. In 1801 she officially began persecuting Catholics (usually known as the Shinyu Persecution). The highly visible Bl. Augustine was one of the first to be rounded up. He was condemned to death and beheaded at the age of 41. Bl. Augustine's death was a reason why Dasan spent several years in exile; while certainly not Catholic by that point, if he had ever been, Bl. Augustine's brothers were now suspect to the regime. Blessed Charles Jeong Cheol-san, Bl. Augustine's son by his first wife, was arrested on the day of his father's execution, in part because he refused to give any information about the location of a priest, and was executed; he was twenty years old.

That persecution eventually passed, but several flare-ups occurred. Then in 1839, a massive persecution began (often known as the Gihye Persecution). Bl. Augustine's second wife, Saint Cecilia Yu Sosa, was put in prison, where she died. Before that happened, her son was Saint Paul Jeong Hasang was killed. He, like his father, had become a major leader in the Catholic community. He was intending to become ordained when the persecution arose and was arrested. According to the stories, he gave the judge at his trial a written defense of the Catholic faith; the judge was impressed by the defense, but pointed out that the king himself forbade the religion. St. Paul was executed at the age of 45. St. Cecilia's daughter was Saint Elizabeth Jeong Jeong-hye; she died about a month after her mother.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Same F

Dale Tuggy has a post in which he puts forward the following argument on the Trinity (see also here for background):

1. The Father and the Son are the same God.
2. For any x and y, and for any kind F, if x and y are the same F, then x is an F, y is an F, and x = y. (x and y are numerically one)
3. The Father = the Son. (1, 2)

(2), however, is false, unless we are making a question-begging assumption, in which case there seems to be an equivocal middle term. To say that something is 'the same F', we usually only require some kind of equivalence relation (a relation that's symmetric, reflexive, and transitive). But identity (represented here as x = y) is only one kind of equivalence relation, namely, the kind with antisymmetry. (Strictly speaking, adding antisymmetry gets you equality -- hence the symbolism. It is in fact not entirely certain that equality and identity are the same relation, since there are accounts you can give of mathematical equality, which is paradigmatic equality, preserving its character as an equivalence relation with antisymmetry, that at least make it seem weaker than what one would want from identity; but this is a contentious issue, and there is no widely accepted view about what you could even conceivably add to equality to make it identity, and people do in general make the assumption that equality is identity, or close enough. It need not make a difference here, since the primary issue turns on identity being an equivalence relation with at least antisymmetry; I mention it only because Tuggy regularly talks as if identity were straightforward rather than something for which there are still many unresolved puzzles. When working with identity, it's wise to go slowly.)

Thus (2) is false in the senses in which we usually talk about things being the same F. If we assume specifically that we are including antisymmetry in 'the same F', then (2) becomes a tautology. But in general the only reason you would ever assume that 'the same F' implies antisymmetry is if you were deliberately doing it in order to get something like (3).

This doesn't even get into the problem of identity across modal domains. Usually when talking about identity we are talking about extensional identity. But we use forms of identity that are not obviously extensional. For instance, if I see someone wearing a hat and then later not wearing a hat:

1. That man with the hat and that man without a hat are the same person.
2. For any x and y, and for any kind F, if x and y are the same F (assuming antisymmetry), then x is an F, y is an F, and x = y.
3. That man with the hat = that man without a hat.

From which you can derive a contradiction (one person being hatted and not hatted), of course, unless one modulates the identity using modal information (that of difference in time). But obviously we do also see immediately that despite being the same person, that man with the hat and that man without the hat differ in properties. Obviously, time is not the only modality that adds this sort of complication. There is no generally accepted account of how to handle identity across modal domains. The three kinds of identity across modal domains most discussed these days are personal identity (i.e., one form of identity through time) and transworld identity (i.e., identity across different possible worlds), and material constitution (if one takes material constitution to be an identity relation; in which case it can involve several different kinds of modal domains). All of them raise remarkably complicated questions, and there is no consensus on the best way of handling any of them.

All three of these, however, require us to recognize that (3) is consistent with x and y also being very different, unless we assume that x and y are not in different modal domains. If they are in different modal domains (different times, different locations, different possibilities, different roles), x can equal y and yet differ from it in quite a few ways (hatted, unhatted; 13,148 days and nine hours old, 13 148 days and ten hours old; etc.). It's pretty clear in context that this is a problem for what Tuggy wants to say, since the point is to press a contradiction on
Bowman rather than just giving a slightly less specific statement of (1), but contradictions can be blocked by difference in modal domain. (This is why the principle of noncontradiction is usually stated as something like 'A cannot be both B and not-B in the same respect', i.e., in the same modal domain.) All of the traditional descriptions of the Trinity, however, and most of the modern 'models', lay out the doctrine in heavily modalized terms, so one would have to rule out, and not merely assume, the possibility that we have different modal domains.

ADDED LATER: James Chastek discusses a counterexample to (2) that is of particular relevance to the question.

Nomoi (Part II: Preludes to Law)

Book IV

The Athenian opens the discussion of the city in speech by asking about its background conditions, and first whether it is coastal or inland. Clinias replies that it is about eighty stades (about nine or ten miles from the sea), and it has excellent harbors. The land around it is productive of many things and hilly, and there is no other nearby city. The Athenian replies that the closeness to the sea is unfortunate, but at least it is not right on it, and the other facts seem to suggest that it is not necessarily unfit for virtue. He is relieved to discover that the land is not timber-rich, which will reduce the tendency of the colonists to imitate bad deeds of their enemies. To make his point he returns to the Minos story: Crete under Minos had a powerful navy, and Attica was relatively unfitted for the sea. Because of this, it took them a long time to build up any navy, and thus they were forced to amphibious tactics that were conducive to courage. Clinias replies by pointing out the importance of the sea-battle of Salamis in the Persian War. The Athenian insists, however, that the war was won by land battles, and that the land battles made the Greeks better while the sea battles made them worse, even when they were military successes like Salamis or Artemisium.

They turn to consider who will settle the colony, and Clinias says that it will be Cretans, and probably some Greeks from the Peloponnesus, as well. The Athenian notes that everyone having the same background and language increases the friendship of the city, but also increases the reluctance to have new laws, whereas people will be more willing to have new laws if they are of mixed backgrounds, but will also be less unified. For this reason, among others, it seems that no man makes laws; laws are formed by all sorts of chance events or practical needs. Everything apparently seems governed by God (theos), chance (tyche), and opportunity (kairos); there must, however, be some room somewhere for art/skill (techne). It seems that if someone has genuine skill, then they are able accurately to identify and pray for whatever particular gift of chance that they need. So the Athenian considers what it is for which the person of legislative skill would pray. And he suggests that it is a monarchy with a competent monarch: this is the fastest way for a city to get the laws it should have: the fewer rulers, the easier it is to get things done. However, the monarch to do this properly still has to lead by example, exemplifying the character that the laws are trying to encourage in the citizens.

The three men invoke the help of the God, and then consider the appropriate constitution for the city. They decide to do this by identifying the constitutions for their own city. Megillus and Clinias are flummoxed by the question, though, since Sparta and Knossos seem to have very mixed constitutions. The Athenian agrees with this, but says that they are perhaps not using the right kind of classification; the usual labels just indicate different ways of men ruling other men, whereas the real constitution one would want to classify according to the god "who really does rule over men who are rational enough to let him" (713a). He tells the myth of Chronos to clarify what he means. In the age of Chronos, people were happy because Chronos knew that human beings given full power over human beings would become corrupt. For this reason, he gave them daemons for kings who, like shepherds for sheep, took care that human beings had "peace, respect for others, good laws, justice in full measure, and a state of happiness and harmony among the races of the world" (713e). For this reason, the Athenian says, we should strive to live according to that principle, organizing our lives according to that which is divine in us, namely, reason. Whenever people rule on any lesser principle, disaster awaits.

The Athenian opposes the position that justice is what furthers the interests of those in power with the rule of law, in which "law is the master of the government and the government is its slave" (715d), and insists on the importance of the latter. He then imagines giving an address to the colonists:

Men, according to the ancient story, there is a god who holds in his hands the beginning and the end and the middle of all things, and straight he marches in the cycle of nature. Justice, who takes vengeance on those who abandon the divine law, never leaves his side. Teh man who lives in happiness latches on to her and follows her with meekness and humility. But he who bursts with pride, elated by wealth or honors or by physical beauty when young and foolish, whose soul is afire with the arrogant belief that so far from needing someone to control and lead him, he can play the leader to others--there's a man whom God has deserted. (715e-716b)

He continues by noting that "the moderate man is God's friend, being like him, whereas the immoderate and unjust man is not like him and is his enemy; and the same reasoning applies to the other vices too" (716d). The prayers of the good are effective, and those of the wicked are futile; so piety to gods, ancestors, and parents is a key element of civic life.

At this point, there is introduced one of the more interesting ideas of the dialogue, the preludial system of legislation. In this approach to lawmaking, it is generally inappropriate for laws to be put forward as mere commands backed by force; they need to persuade as well as compel, in the same way that the most effective doctor is one who not only prescribes but also encourages and explains. Thus major laws should have a prelude or preamble that gives the context for the law itself. These will tend to be the broad moral aims that justify imposing the law in the first place and give reasons for people to go along with the law. For instance, the Athenian proposes a law that all men must marry between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, and the prelude for it is that human beings have a nature tending to immortality, and procreation is one of the ways in which this natural desire is fulfilled, so that it is inappropriate for us to neglect marriage.

They all agree that the preludial system is a good approach, even Megillus, who notes that in general Spartans prefer laconic brevity, and, because the address previously given seems to serve as a general prelude for laws concerning piety and impiety, they agree that the Athenian Stranger should give a general prelude for the laws governing human concerns.

  Additional Remarks

* The colony city is almost twice as far from the sea as Athens is, so the Athenian's comments on this point are an implicit criticism of Athens itself. The suggestion that naval power has a tendency to corrupt by encouraging luxury-driven behavior and dreams of empire is one found elsewhere in Plato (e.g., Critias).

* The discussion began around dawn, but it is now around noon (722d).

* All throughout the discussion of the preludial system of legislation, the Athenian plays on the fact that the Greek word nomoi can mean either laws or songs of a certain kind; the 'prelude' of the law is like the prelude section of a musical composition, preparing the one who receives it for the main work.

Book V

The Athenian's approach in building the general preludes for human affairs is to focus on the concept of honor. Beneath the gods, the holiest thing in human life is a person's own soul; it is therefore that which should be most honored after the gods. Honoring one's soul is a matter of having proper priorities:

To put it in a nutshell, 'honor' is to cleave to what is superior, and, where practicable, to make as perfect as possible what is deficient. Nothing that nature gives a man is better adapted than his soul to enable him to avoid evil, keep on the track of the highest good, an dwhen he has captured his quarry to live in intimacy with it for the rest of his life. (728c-d)

After the soul, the body has third rank in honor. What matters with the body is all-around completeness in good balance. External goods like money work on the same principle: everything in moderation, avoiding excess and defect. The young must be taught modesty, but the best way to do this is not by rebuke but by patient example: the elder should respect the younger, so that by showing respect to the young they will show the young what it is to respect their elders. Relatives, friends, and companions should also be respected. Contracts with someone foreign (xenos) should be upheld, because the gods have compassion to the stranger who is without friends and family in a foreign place, and Zeus Xenios, god of Strangers, looks out for them.

The next matter of concern is how individuals themselves should act. "Truth heads the list of all things good, for gods and men alike" (730c), so citizens should be encouraged to be truthful. Likewise, one should always encourage prudence, temperance, and other virtues. One needs people to be spirited but capable of great gentleness, because justice often requires that one fight for justice, but one should pity those who do wrong (cp. the very similar argument in Gorgias). Self-love should be recognized as the most pernicious kind of vice, since it is the one we always excuse in ourselves. Joy and grief, pleasure and pain, should be maintained in balance, but the virtuous life is both more pleasant and more balanced than the vicious one.

This ends the prelude. Now there are two things to do: establish offices and create a code to govern them. But there are some preliminaries required in order to do this properly and well. One needs to weed out real troublemakers, those who are dangerous to the society, so that they will not begin destroying things from the very beginning. In an established society this would be difficult, but since they are proposing a colony, the major issue is simply to control what kind of person will become a colonist. The Athenian proposes that they should have 5040 colonists, since 5040 will divide equally in a lot of different ways, which will make distribution of land easier. The best kind of property would be one built on the principle that friends have all things in common, but since this is practically impossible, we should look for the kind of city that approximates it most effectively. So people should receive their own land, but regard it as a common good, and distributions should be as stable as possible, so that there are always about 5040 households, to the extent that one can manage this. Buying and selling of land allotment is to be illegal. The city should make its own money for use in giving wages, but gold and silver, and any common Greek coinage, is to be turned over to the city to be used for all. There are to be no dowries and no lending at interest.

The legislator is not to aim at making the people as wealthy as possible, for great wealth does not tend to virtue, and virtue should always be the aim of law: "The whole point of our legislation was to allow the citizens to live supremely happy lives in the greatest possible mutual friendship" (743c). The laws should encourage citizens to make their soul their highest day-to-day priority, and then their body, and only third their money.

The Athenian recommends that the land allotments be done by pairs of land, an outer estate and another allotment in the city itself, with the land and the city being divided into twelve. He recognizes that reality rarely fits idealized plans, but insist that the plans must be laid out first before one considers how it may be adjusted into feasibility. The plans themselves are to be orderly and mathematical to the extent possible, but things like water and weather also need to be taken into account.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Music on My Mind

Morgan James, "I Put a Spell on You".

A Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, originally, although James is covering Nina Simone's famous cover of it. (The Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, while a cult classic, never charted; Simone's cover was the highest charting version of it.) The Screamin' Jay version was originally intended to be a sweet love ballad; however he and the musicians got completely drunk before they recorded the album, which Screamin' Jay Hawkins always swore he never remembered actually making, and the lunatic version they came up with has never been forgotten.

They All Were Moderns in Their Day

Ballade of Moderns
by G. K. Chesterton

On deserts red and deserts grey
The temples into sand have slid;
Go search that splendour of decay
To find the final secret hid
In mummies' painted coffin-lid
In hieroglyphs of hunt and play.
Read the last word, my cultured kid,
They all were moderns in their day.

Yes, it was just as bold and gay
To do what Astoreth forbad.
Yes, it was smart to carve in clay
And chic to build a pyramid.
Yes, Babylonian boys were chid
For reading hieroglyphs risqué.
We do but as our fathers did --
They all were moderns in their day.

There are progressives who passed away
And prigs of whom the world is rid,
And there are men in hell today
As silly as old Ben Kidd;
And Webb (whose uncle calls him Sid),
God made him with the flowers of May,
And the blind stones he walked amid.
They all were moderns in their day.


Prince, still the soul stands virgin; "quid
Times"; we tear some rags away
But shall we grasp her; God forbid.
They all were moderns in their day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Polemicist Who Wouldn't Hurt a Fly (Re-Post)

Since today was the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, I re-post this comment from 2012.


Today is the feast of St. Roberto Bellarmino, polemical theologian and Doctor of the Church. Even if you didn't know he was a Jesuit you could figure it out by the fact that so many legends, apocryphal stories, and outright falsehoods have collected around him.

David Hume has an interesting comment about Bellarmine in The Natural History of Religion:

Bellarmine patiently and humbly allowed the fleas and other odious vermin to prey upon him. "We shall have heaven," said he, "to reward us for our sufferings; but these poor creatures have nothing but the enjoyment of the present life."

Like a number of Hume's weirder claims this comes from Pierre Bayle, who as a Calvinist is not wholly the most reliable source for information about Catholic saints. The advantage of Bayle, though, is that he tells us where he's getting these things. Bayle is drawing the story from Jacopo Fuligatti's life of Bellarmine. Fuligatti gives three stories about insects and Bellarmine's patience: first, it's said he counted gnats and other minor vexations to be from God, so he wouldn't drive them away, but simply endured them patiently; second, that he was once bitten by insects at Mass and turned to the statue of Christ to pray; and third, that Cardinal Crescentius told the story that in Rome, where flies are a problem, he wouldn't drive them away, and when asked why said, "It is unjust to disturb those little creatures whose only paradise is the freedom of flying and landing where they wish." Bayle sums it up by saying that he was said to be so patient that he allowed flies and other small insects to be troublesome to him; and being a sarcastic Calvinist, he insists on explicitly saying that shooing away bugs is consistent with the teachings of Christ. It should not need to be said, but unfortunately probably does, that there is nothing whatsoever in Bellarmine to suggest that he would not agree to this; that the stories are second-hand (third-hand by the time we get to Bayle) and, except for the third, which alone is sourced, they are vague and generic moral tales about patience and suffering which have parallels elsewhere in hagiographical convention (the first story explicitly links the bugs to minor vexations of life; the second links them to hell); that if Bellarmine actually did make the comment in the third story, it might well have been at least half-joking, because Bellarmine was notoriously fond of jokes and puns; and that, if true, the whole thing may for all we know have grown out of one single incident in the Cardinal's nearly eighty years of life. Bayle is telling the story from a popular source, and he is telling it as scholarly gossip and with a little malice.

It's noteworthy how Hume, who now gives the story at fourth-hand, embellishes on Bayle's story. We move from gnats and flies to "fleas and other odious vermin." Conceivably the vague reference to biting insects in the second story could be taken as meaning fleas; but it's a different story than the one that involves the comment. Hume takes the figurative reference to paradise and turns the whole saying into a comment about the afterlife, which is actually crucial to how it is used in context. Either he is telling the story from memory -- which is possible -- or he is reworking it to make it fit its context, which is the difference between the nobility of Greek heroes (representing polytheism) and the abasement of Catholic saints (representing monotheism).

Many more people in the English-speaking world read Hume now than read Bayle, so it's Hume's story that has spread since; and you can regularly find people stating as fact that Bellarmine let fleas drink his blood because they can't go to heaven. The thing of it is, this is hardly unusual with Bellarmine; half the stories you come across about him are just like this one. Actually, this one is better than a lot of the stories that are told about him, since Bayle's version, at least, is not provably false and has (unlike most such stories) some sort of provenance.

Nomoi (Part I: Pilgrimage to the Cave of Zeus)

The Laws is Plato's longest dialogue; in antiquity it was often counted as twelve dialogues, although the break-up into twelve books may be later than the dialogue itself. The Laws is usually considered one of the definitely authentic dialogues. According to Diogenes Laertius, it was Plato's last dialogue, still on wax tablets (i.e., still in the draft stage) when Plato died; according to Diogenes Laertius as well, it was transcribed by Philip of Opus, a student at the Academy, who also wrote Epinomis. Because of this, the Laws has often been used to date other dialogues; although I'm not wholly sure why, since it is not as if Diogenes Laertius is a hugely reliable source on most things. The basic argument for the authenticity of the Laws is quite strong: Aristotle explicitly attributes it to Plato in Politics Book II, which is the strongest external evidence of authenticity. However, there seems to be an increasing trend in thinking that the Laws, or at least much of it, is not completely Plato's. The view that it is (at least largely) authentic still seems to be, as far as I can tell, the clear majority view -- but it is increasingly easy to find Plato scholars at least willing to consider the possibility that parts, at least, might be heavily redacted by later hands. Stylometric considerations have linked it in terms of vocabulary with Critias, Timaeus, Philebus, Sophist, and Statesman, but, of course, since Aristotle it has been most closely compared to the Republic.

You can read the Laws online in English at Perseus Project and in Cousin's French at Wikisource.

The Characters

The Laws is a non-Socratic dialogue (although Aristotle repeatedly refers to the Athenian Stranger by the name 'Socrates'). The characters are the Athenian Stranger (Xenos in Greek), the Cretan Clinias, and the Spartan Megillus. It is unclear whether the last two are historical figures or not -- Debra Nails notes that 'Clinias' would be an unusual name for a Cretan, but also notes that there are possible mentions of Megillus in other sources.

Book I

The Athenian Stranger opens the dialogue by asking the other two whether the source of their codes of law is human or divine. Clinias replies that in Crete, where he is from, the code of laws is attributed to Zeus, and in Sparta, where Megillus is from, it is attributed to Apollo. The Athenian asks if the Cretans follow Homer in taking Minos to have had regular consultations with Zeus, and Clinias replies that this fits the Cretan version, which also describes Minos' brother Rhadamanthus as an exceptionally just judge. The Athenian then proposes that they discuss codes of law on their journey. They are walking from Knossos to the shrine at the Cave of Zeus, and it is a long way, although there are shady areas and cool meadows where they can stop and rest. And so they start off.

The Athenian Stranger asks why it is that the Cretans and Spartans enforce communal meals and special systems of physical training by law. Clinias replies that the legislator no doubt did it with an eye to making sure that they could be supreme in war. The Athenian Stranger, however, is unconvinced, and goes on to argue that this can't be right: the goal of a legislator is not increasing the ability for war but increasing the unity, reconciling enemies and furthering peace. Preparing for war is just a necessary evil subordinate to this end: "he'll become a genuine lawgiver only if he designs his legislation about war as a tool for peace, rather than his legislation for peace as an instrument of war" (628d-e). Clinias concedes that this sounds reasonable, but notes that he would be very surprised if the institutions of Crete and Sparta were not, in fact, geared for war. The Athenian responds by imagining a dialogue with the poet Tyrtaeus, an Athenian who became a Spartan, to argue that a legislator must concern himself with highest virtue. Clinias remarks that this is as much to say that the Cretan legislator was a failure, but the Athenian points out that one could as easily say that they had made the mistake, in thinking that the legislator was concerned with only one part of virtue rather than the whole. In reality, we should look at a larger picture;

'Now, Sir,' you ought to have said, 'it is no accident that the laws of the Cretans have such a high reputation in the entire Greek world. They are sound laws, and achieve the happiness of those who observe them, by producing for them a great number of benefits. These benefits fall into two classes, "human" and "divine." The former depend on the latter, and if a city receives the one sort, it wins the other too--the greater include the lesser; if not, it goes without both. Health (hygieia) heads the list of the lesser benefits, followed by beauty (kallos); third comes strength (ischys), for racing and other physical exercises. Wealth (ploutos) is fourth--not "blind" wealth, but the clear-sighted kind whose companion is good judgment--and good judgment (phronesis) itself is the leading "divine" benefit; second comes the habitual self-control of a soul that uses reason (meta nou sophron psyches hexis). If you combine these two with courage, you get (thirdly) justice (dikaiosyne); courage (andreia) itself lies in fourth place. All these take a natural precedence over the others, and the lawgiver must of course rank them in the same order. Then he must inform the citizens that the other instructions they receive have these benefits in view: the "human" benefits have the "divine" in view, and all these in turn look towards reason, which is supreme....' (631b-d)

They decide to start from the beginning again, looking at how the legislator handles fortitude and then using their discussion of that as a model for the rest. The Athenian argues that courage concerns not just conquering in matters of pain, but also in matters of pleasure; they look at institutions that expose people to pains and pleasures in order to teach them how to overcome them. Clinias and Megillus, however, have difficulty coming up with institutions on the pleasure side, and the Athenian notes that this seems fairly unique to these regimes: they expose men extensively to pains and dangers in order to teach them to overcome them, but try to keep people away from pleasures entirely.

They next turn to self-control, and Megillus proposes again that common meals and gymnastic exercises contribute to this, but the Athenian notes that they can contribute to revolution as well. In addition, they seem to corrupt the pursuits of pleasures, especially sexual pleasures, directing people not to the natural pleasures of sex between men and women in order to have a child but to the unnatural pleasures of men and men or women and women, which arise not in order to have a child but simply because the people in question cannot control their desires for pleasure. There seems to be a need to draw from both fountains, pleasure and pain, and one needs to know the proper occasions for doing so.

Megillus, however, argues that the Spartan custom of avoiding pleasure seems to work quite well, to which the Athenian replies that it no doubt does for people who already have a certain character. He proposes that they focus in particular on drunkenness. There are many different approaches to it on the table, ranging from the total abstention of the Spartans and Cretans to the intensive drinking of the Scythians and Thracians. He then goes on to defend drinking parties (symposia) as real contributions to the education of the citizenry by arguing that someone who wishes to be truly good at a trade must practice it from childhood, and what a city really needs is for people to practice virtue even from childhood. People are trained by fear, confidence, and reasoning, however, and reasoning when it is a public decision is a law; wine removes fear and intensifies confidence, and thus provides an occasion for the practice of self-control.

Book II

The Athenian continues his defense of drinking parties by looking at the nature of education. He ties education again to the managing of pleasures and pains:

I maintain that the earliest sensations that a child feels in infancy are of pleasure and pain, and this is the route by which virtue and vice first enter the soul....I call 'education' the initial acquisition of virtue by the child, when the feelings of pleasure and affection (philia), pain and hatred, that well up in his soul are channeled in the right courses before he can understand the reason why. Then when he does understand, his reason and his emotions agree in telling him that he has been properly trained by inculcation of appropriate habits. Virtue is this general concord of reason and emotion. (653a-b)

Education, in other words, is focused on training children to love what ought to be loved and rejecting what ought to be rejected, so that our loves and hates accord with reason. This can wear off, over time, so that we need means of recuperation. This has been provided by the gods, who provide religious festivities so that we might be refreshed and restore our characters to proper balance. A significant part of this is music and dance. Even young non-human animals like to jump around and cry out; the difference in our case is that we, being rational, are capable of appreciating order and disorder in these things. Thus we have music and dance, which enable us simultaneously to relax and to practice being rational. Goodness in song and dance has to be understood in terms of education: a person may in some sense sing well by being able to represent good things accurately, but the true and proper sense of singing well is having the right alignment of loves and hates, pleasures and pains: this is to be trained in music and dance. If this is so, however, it is also not true to say that the standard of music and dance is whether they give pleasure: they need to be rationally ordered and appropriate to a good human being and his or her state. We would not teach children just any kind of dancing and singing, after all, but appropriate ones, and this is true generally; at the very least, you need the dancing and singing to be appropriate to whatever function it is supposed to fulfill in the health of the city. Thus we get the standard of taste: "The productions of the Muse are at their finest when they delight men of high calibre and adequate education--but particularly if they succeed in pleasing the single individual whose education and moral standards reach heights attained by no one else" (658e-659a). One of the major implications of this is that a musician is a teacher, and must act accordingly, not pandering to what just anyone, but providing a way for people to educate their loves and hates, pleasures and pains, properly.

One of the things the Athenian, very Platonically, does not want to say is that there is an inherent split between the pleasurable life and the virtuous life; he insists (as Plato does elsewhere) that what the virtuous find pleasurable is different from what the vicious find pleasurable, and because virtue is required for rational judgment in such matters, only the judgment of the virtuous is right. Even if this weren't true, it would obviously be valuable for people to believe it correct. This too must be expressed in song and dance.

As men get older, song and dance still remain important, but the kind of song and dance that is appropriate for them changes. Young people can with dignity enter competitions and the like, but older people are more sober and cannot so easily rely on the natural charms of youth. This brings us back to dinner parties. People under eighteen should be forbidden wine, because wine intensifies the dangerous tendencies of youth. People under thirty may drink in moderation but should be kept sharply within bounds. But those who are over thirty should let themselves loosen up at common meals and "summon Dionysus to what is at once the play-time and the prayer-time of the old" (666b). Wine helps them grow young again; it cures any curmudgeonliness they might be developing; by softening their cast of mind a bit it makes it easier for them to bring themselves back into proper balance.

Pleasant things can be pleasant in a way that emphasizes the charm, or the correctness, or the usefulness of the things in question. Thus things should only be judged wholly by the standard of pleasing others if they are not also true or useful. This applies to imaginative (eikastike) and imitative (mimetike) arts like music; the fact that music pleases others is in a way the least important thing about it -- certainly not as important as correctly imitating the beautiful/splendid (kalos). If the arts of the Muses are to be judged by how well they imitate the beautiful, however, then the only ones who can seriously be in a position to judge them are those who already know the beautiful. A judicious assessment of the matter has to take in the original, the correctness of the copy, and the quality of the copying. Modern judgments of music consistently fail on these points.

Thus the older men need to have an excellent training in song and dance, both so that they may dance and sing in ways appropriate to their age, but also so that they may serve as leaders and guides for the singing and dancing of the young. Dinner parties or symposia, then, are an appropriate and fitting object of legislation; there should be experienced men, over sixty years of age, to serve as generals of Dionysus, doing for wine what the generals of Ares do for war, but wine plays an important role in the health of the city. Drinking is excellent if done in an orderly way, and it serves as training for temperance. If we do it frivolously, however, drinking is so dangerous that we might as well go so far as punish people for doing it.

  Additional Remarks

* In the notes to Bury's translation there is a good summary of the criticisms the Athenian Stranger makes of modern music:

...the main features censured are—incongruity, when the words, tunes and gestures of an acted piece of music are out of harmony; senselessness, when tunes and gestures are divorced from words; barbarousness, when the thing represented is paltry or uncouth (such as a duck's quack); virtuosity, when the performer makes a display of the control he has over his limbs and instruments, like a mountebank or “contortionist.” All these are marks of bad music from the point of view of the educationist and statesman, since they are neither “correct” nor morally elevating.

* It may seem a bit odd that the dialogue opens with a very extended defense of the importance of drinking parties, but it is an indirect way of arguing that temperance is as important to a city as fortitude -- in an analogy that is occasionally made explicit, symposia do for temperance in a city what the martial exercises of the Cretans and Spartans do for fortitude. The subject also keeps the argument of the dialogue connected to the original idea, which is that the real source of the laws is divine: the drinking that the Athenian Stranger is advocating is explicitly drinking associated with religious festivals, whose purpose in turn is to refresh and restore our moral characters through song and dance.

Book III

Having defended symposia, the Athenian asks what they should say about the origins of cities. They all agree that the history of cities is cyclical, as cities are destroyed or founded, as they increase in size or decrease in size, as they become good or turn bad. They imagine a few survivors surviving the great Flood, hiding in the mountains, and from there proceed to work out a speculative history of the slow, gradual re-establishment of city life. Such men would tend to be of noble character, through necessity, but they were both naive and ignorant of how to form societies in the best way. Instead of having statutory law, which requires writing, they lived according to custom (ethos) and the conventions of their fathers, as scattered clans are essentially extended families ruled by parents or the eldest members. Slowly they become more sophisticated, turning to farming and making homesteads and fencing off land, and at the same time become more aware of the differences among the customs of various settlement. They then start advising each other on laws, and they adopt those that seem good to them.

After a while, though, people start moving down from the highlands to the plains, being far enough removed from the disaster of the past to throw off fear of its happening again. The city of Troy is an example of this. Other peoples did the same, cities proliferated, and soon enough we have the Trojan War. Returning home, they sometimes found themselves unwelcome; rallied by Dorieus, they banded together as the Dorians and established places like Sparta. The Dorians forged alliances among the cities of Sparta, Argos, and Messene, one designed for the protection of all the Greeks. Since they were just starting out, they had many advantages over later legislators -- they were not trying to reform practices to which the people were already attached -- but it all went wrong, anyway. Argos and Messene collapsed, leaving only Sparta. And the reason is that the impressive character of the alliance to protect all Greeks lies entirely in something purely instrumental -- the ability to put forward an army like no other. And human beings, the Athenian notes, have a bad habit of assuming that a splendid instrument will cure all their problems. People get dazzled by wealth, for instance, and think that if only they put such a fine tool to fine use, they would inevitably have good results.

In reality, though, everyone tends to grasp after the desires of their own hearts, despite the fact that sometimes we are quite ignorant about what is really good for us, and thus are trying for bad things. We see this in prayer: prayer is dangerous for those without wisdom. The alliance collapsed through a lack of wisdom, which is why legislators must, above all, implant wisdom in the city. This occurs, again, by education forming our love and hate in an appropriate way. This is tied to the fact that in cities there must be ruler and ruled -- first parent and child, or noble and ignoble, or elder and younger, or master and slave, or stronger and weaker, or wise and foolish (the most important), or those chosen by lot and those not chosen by lot. The creation of faction makes possible the collapse of government; and at the level of kings, this was due to the pursuit of luxury. The Spartans were saved from this, however, by the fact that they ended up with a split kingship -- the kingship was originally shared by brothers -- as well as a council of elders and an ephor system to keep the power of the rulers in check. The divinely favored character of this constitution is seen by the survival of the Spartans and by the fact that they were the only one of the three cities actually to fulfill the function of protecting all of Greece when the Persians invaded. It shows that the most important thing for a legislator to aim at is a society that is wise, free, and bonded by friendship.

The Athenian argues that there are two pure kinds of government, monarchy (like the Persians) and democracy (like the Athenians). In order to have freedom and friendship joined together by wisdom, however, it is essential to blend the two. Under Cyrus the Persians became powerful and prosperous precisely because he allowed the people a considerable measure of freedom. But Cyrus was unable to teach his sons to do this as well, and let them become corrupted by the luxuries of the court. They met disaster, and only recovered because they became dominated by Darius, who was in some ways like Cyrus. But Darius made the same mistake, and disasters followed again. This was not due to luck but to bad education. And the only reason a person should come to rule is if they have the whole of virtue -- prudence, temperance, justice, and courage, all. These are the people who should be honored. The failure of the Persians to legislate with this in mind led to despotism and war. The tale on the Athenian side is much the same, allowing for the differences in constitutional structure. Originally they distributed power and were governed according to reverence, which united them internally and with other Greek cities, so that they protected the Greeks against the Persians. But just as the Persians practically destroyed themselves by making their people the slaves of luxury-hungry kings, so the Athenians began to ruin themselves by giving people too much license, thus destroying the orderliness of their education and breaking down the friendship of the city until children wouldn't even treat their parents with proper respect.

The Athenian ends by asking what test they might use to check that their conclusions are right. Clinias responds that Crete is founding a colony, in the planning for which he is heavily involved, so he suggests that they use their conclusions to design the legal framework for the colony, building a city in speech, thus letting them investigate these matters further, and perhaps, should the results be favorable, putting them into effect. They all agree on this, and the rest of the dialogue is concerned with this project.

  Additional Remarks

* Notice that the Athenian suggests that legislation starts with the interaction between cities rather than anything internal to them.

* The history of the Dorians is quite surprising; everywhere else they are mentioned, they are said to be an invading people who drove out the Achaeans from the Peloponnesus (hence Sparta's famous two-tier structure with occupying Spartans on top of occupied helots), not Achaeans who were exiled.

* The tale of Hippolytus is that Phaedra, the wife of Theseus (and daughter of Minos), accused Theseus' son Hippolytus of trying to take advantage of her. Theseus prayed to his father, Poseidon, to punish the boy, and Poseidon did by causing him to die in a chariot accident. Theseus only then learned that the boy was innocent.

* Ephors were representatives elected by the people for one and only one term; they shared power with the kings, significant policies requiring majority vote of the ephors and kings. The system probably arose because one of the functions (the primary function, in fact) of the kings was to lead armies into battle, and the ephors provided a way for governance to continue even when kings were gone for an extended period of time. The ephors, when in agreement, were in practice an absolute authority.

* Aristotle, in Books II and III of the Politics, protests rather firmly against some of the Athenian Stranger's claims in this book. One of his protests against the plausibility of the suggestion that all good governments are blends of monarchy and democracy. But it seems clear enough that Plato's intent here is simply to take these as stand-ins for more abstract qualities: unity and liberty, which he repeatedly says the legislator should unite by prudence.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Clew of Memory

The whole system of the languages of man is but the external and visible copy and true mirror of his inmost consciousness. The different epochs of their ancient production are but so many terms in the progression observed by the human mind in its development. Consequently, language in general, as the clew of memory, and tradition, which binds together all nations in their chronological series and succession, is, as it were, the common memory and organ of recollection for the whole human race.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr., pp. 395-396.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Links of Note

* Don't forget that Sarah Emsley's An Invitation to Mansfield Park is still going on.

* The current Dalai Lama has on occasion indicated that he may be the last in the line, which in Tibetan Buddhism is understood to continue by reincarnation, if Tibet is not free. To which the Chinese government has responded, No, he will be reincarnated. That's China for you.

* It had long been known that Hampton Court Palace at one point had a chocolate kitchen, but nobody knew where it had been located. By luck and research (those two bosom companions) someone discovered that it was a room that had been used as a storage closet for ages. When they pulled everything out, they found that the chocolate kitchen was mostly intact.

* Congratulations to Rebecca Stark for seven years of Theological Terms.

* And at "Out of the Ordinary", Rebecca discusses the Session of Christ.

* The new Presidential tradition: You can watch each of the last four U.S. Presidents announcing that they are going to launch air strikes in Iraq. Perhaps at some point politicians will get it through their skulls that 'launch air strikes' is not a plan.

Bruce Ackerman's op-ed arguing that the President is currently in violation of the Constitution seems to be getting favorable mentions across the political spectrum -- I've seen it approvingly linked at conservative and liberal sites alike.

* Two straight men in New Zealand recently married in order to win a competition to get tickets to the Rugby World Cup. The reporter got some gay marriage groups to take the bait and criticize it (I'm sure that if there were any that didn't, they kept calling around until they found some to take the hook); but, of course, the seriousness of marriage has never been a matter of the reasons people jump into it. People have always married for frivolous reasons, and very, very certainly have not always married for sexual reasons, so if you're going to work for same-sex marriage, it's a bit silly to complain about getting exactly the package you signed on for.

But I think gimmicky marriages like this one do show clearly enough that there's just no shared idea of what marriage is, anymore.

* Mulligan, Douma, Lind, and Quinn, Founding-Era Translations of the Constitution (PDF).

* If you haven't read MrsD's draft of her novel, Stillwater, you should; it's both an excellent story and an interesting literary experiment. And if you like it, let her know.

* Carlin Romano has a review of Peter Park's Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon, 1780-1830.

* Tim O'Neill reviews Nicola Griffith's Hild.

* An interesting post on why the Soviet Union issued a series of stamps celebrating James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales.


The reasons for thinking Minos inauthentic are largely the same as those for thinking Hipparchus inauthentic, since Minos shares most of its oddities with Hipparchus; the most obvious of these is that Socrates' interlocutor is entirely anonymous. Whether written by Plato or not, however, it seems likely that the dialogue was written in part to be a preparatory introduction for the Laws -- it anticipates themes and images from that dialogue. While scholars have usually regarded Minos as a relatively unimpressive dialogue, the current trend seems to be in the direction of regarding it as a surprisingly substantive and ingenious dialogue, given its size and peculiarities.

You can read Minos online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Characters

The only direct participants in the dialogue are Socrates and an anonymous interlocutor. But since a significant portion of the dialogue discusses Minos, it seems a good idea to say something about him.

Most mentions of Minos are rather scattered. Homer has Idomeneus claim, "Zeus at the first begat Minos to be a watcher over Crete" (Iliad 13.450) and Odysseus mentions that Ariadne was his daughter (Odyssey 11.321) and says that he saw him as judge of the underworld:

There then I saw Minos, the glorious son of Zeus, golden sceptre in hand, giving judgment to the dead from his seat, while they sat and stood about the king through the wide-gated house of Hades, and asked of him judgment. (Odyssey 11.568)

Thucydides tells us (History 1.4):

Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a navy. He made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them. Lastly, it was he who, from a natural desire to protect his growing revenues, sought, as far as he was able, to clear the sea of pirates.

Scattered other sources give us the most famous story concerned with Minos: Poseidon sent him a sacred bull out of the sea, which he was supposed to sacrifice to Poseidon, but it was such a magnificent animal that he substituted another one instead. Poseidon in return cursed Minos's wife Pasiphae with an unnatural passion for the bull, which she got the help of Daedelus in consummating. As a result she conceived the Minotaur, half man and half bull. Minos got Daedelus to design the Labyrinth in which to hide the Minotaur, and then imprisoned Daedelus and his son Icarus so that no one would ever discover the way to escape it. At some point he declared war on Athens, and would only accept a peace treaty under the condition that the Athenians would send him seven youths and seven maidens every year to feed the Minotaur. This continued until Theseus took the place of one of the youths; Minos's daughter Ariadne fell in love with him and helped him escape the Labyrinth.

The Athenians celebrated the event each year by sending a ship to Delos; during the time it was gone no executions were allowed. It was this celebration that gave Socrates his month-long reprieve after he was condemned to death.

The Plot and The Thought

Socrates opens the dialogue by asking what law (nomos) is. The interlocutor asks what kind of law, and Socrates points out that all laws are the same in being laws, so the question is what this sameness is. The interlocutor then suggests that law (nomos) is the things that are accepted (nomizomena). Socrates points out, however, that this would make law rather peculiar. Sight, for instance, is not what is seen. It may well be that law is that by which what is accepted, is accepted, but this still leaves completely open the question, "What is law?"

The interlocutor then replies that law is the decisions (dogmata) and majority-passed resolutions (psephisma) of the city. Socrates notes that this makes law a sort of civic opinion (doxan politike), and the interlocutor agrees. But Socrates points out that the just are just by virtue of justice, and the lawful (nomimoi) are lawful in virtue of law, and that there seems to be a connection between being lawful and being just, and between being lawless and being unjust. Further, both law and justice are beautiful (kalliston) and lawlessness and injustice are both shameful (aischiston); law and justice both preserve the city, while lawlessness and injustice both harm the city. But if all of this is true, law can't just be the decisions of the city; some decisions and resolutions are admirable and some are wicked: "It would not be in order, then, to take it that a wicked resolution is law" (314e).

But, on the other hand, it does seem that 'civic opinion' is a good description of law, even if not yet a perfect definition. But what is an admirable opinion or judgment? It seems that opinions or judgments are admirable if they are true. True opinion is finding what actually is. Therefore, law is that which tends to discover what actually is. (The actual word for 'tends' here means 'wishes' or 'wants'). Therefore laws may be true or false.

The interlocutor objects that people regularly have different laws, pointing out that, for instance, the Carthaginians sacrifice babies to Cronus, and the Greeks do not. Many other examples could be given. Socrates responds by asking whether the interlocutor thinks that just things are just and unjust things are unjust, and the inerlocutor says he does. But if this is so, it seems that this is true regardless of the people in question. Thus the just is accepted (nomizetai) as just everywhere. Differences arise from people mistaking what is so from what is not so. The interlocutor replies that this makes sense, but says he still has difficulty believing it when he considers how often they change laws.

Socrates moves in a different direction, noting that people who know something about a subject accept (nomizousin) the same things as others who know. Thus doctors writing treatises on health are laying down, to the extent they know what they are talking about, the laws of medicine; treatises on farming, if knowledgeable, give the laws of farming; and so on with gardening, cooking, and anything else. Thus if we look for the kind of knowledgeable people who lay out the laws for civic life, they are "kings and good men" (317b). If they genuinely are knowledgeable, they won't give different accounts at different times on the same matters; whether a law is genuinely a law depends on whether it is true or correct, and if it is not true or correct or merely taken to be so, it is not really a law, but is something unlawful.

Socrates asks his friend if he can name someone who proved himself a good legislator, and when the friend cannot, he names Minos and Rhadamnthus of Crete, who gave the Cretans the most ancient and stable laws known to the ancient Greeks. The interlocutor agrees that people call Rhadamanthus a good man, but protests that Minos is always regarded as extremely harsh and unjust. Socrates, however, dismisses this as merely retaliatory resentment on the part of tragedians; in Homer and Hesiod, we see nothing of this, but only the opposite. Minos conversed with Zeus, that is to say, he was taught by Zeus himself, and this education is symbolized by the golden scepter mentioned by Homer (see above). Thus Minos laid down laws that are divine, tending to virtue. Rhadamanthus learned part of this, but only enough to make decisions in the courts. The reason why everyone thinks Minos was uneducated and severe is that Minos made the mistake of waging war against Athens, which excels in producing poets, especially tragic poets, and thus the tragic poets take vengeance against Minos for defeating the Athenians by constantly attacking his character. But in reality he was a good legislator; his laws have remained stable for ages, thus showing that the really did discover the truth of things.

If this is so, the natural next question is what Minos did that was so right. So Socrates notes that what someone who was a good distributor and lawgiver for the body would do is make sure that it has food and exercise in good proportion. What, then, would a good distributor and lawgiver for the soul do? The interlocutor doesn't know. And thus Socrates ends the dialogue by saying that it is disgraceful that the soul doesn't know what is good for it while it can so easily say what is good for the body.

  Additional Remarks

* It's important to grasp that nomos can also mean 'custom' or 'norm'; the unnamed interlocutor's suggestion that nomos is nomizomenon (what is accepted as a norm) would have been very plausible in Greek. There are a number of points in the dialogue, in fact, where the interlocutor's claims, which Socrates refutes, are even more plausible-sounding in Greek than in English.

* While the dialogue does not give a full natural law theory, it quite obviously is an ancestral text in the tradition, since it consists effectively in arguing that legal positivism is untenable. Law cannot be just a matter of what governments say it is. And it is easy to see why a Platonist would reject the very idea: from a Platonic perspective, legal positivism is a way of saying that might makes right, a position that Plato attacks in practically every one of his political works (and especially so in Gorgias and the Republic). This dialogue does not look at the problems in detail, but it raises some of the obvious questions: Surely being law-abiding is a moral virtue? Surely the whole point of law connects it with the moral virtue of justice, so that if a law is unjust it is failing even as a law? Surely law is a kind of judgment about what preserves or sustains the society, in which case there is some kind of truth or falsehood with regard to law? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, though, then it seems open to us to argue that an unjust law is not a law: governments cannot make things law simply by going through a process to christen them laws.

* The Carthaginians were Phoenicians, of course, and the infant sacrifices of the Phoenicians are also proverbial among us, although we use the Hebrew rather than the Greek descriptions for the Phoenician god in question; instead of talking about sacrificing to Cronus, we describe it as sacrificing to Moloch.

* This dialogue is similar in a great many ways to Hipparchus: both have Socrates interacting with a single anonymous interlocutor, both begin with an explicit definitional question, both are named after legendary figures, and both involve Socrates telling a story about a famous tyrant that is quite the opposite of the actual story that everybody knows. In both cases he cheats in doing so (in Hipparchus his claims about Hipparchus are ridiculously over-the-top, and in Minos he 'proves' in a circle that Minos must be have been just because he had converse with Zeus, which is not, as most people assume, having drinking parties with Zeus, because Cretan law forbids excessive drinking, and if Minos had imposed a different law on others than he followed himself, he would have been unjust); the cheating is so obvious that it is practically a neon sign that Socrates is jokingly making things up. In both cases it is seems that the point is to criticize some important feature of the self-image of the Athenian democracy.

In effect, what Socrates is doing here is attacking the Athenian view of law (that it is by majority vote) and so he opposes it to an obviously idealized version of its complete opposite -- the Cretan law which was at the root of Spartan law. (You'll remember that he does exactly the same thing in Protagoras -- there he attacks Protagoras' speech implicitly eulogizing Athenian democracy by implausibly arguing that the Cretans and the Spartans have more philosophical governments -- they just do all their philosophy in secret so nobody will find out!)


Quotations are from Malcolm Schofield's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 1307-1317.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fortnightly Book, September 14

Sigrid Undset is best known for her major series on Norwegian life in the Middle Ages -- the three-volume Kristin Lavransdatter and the four-volume The Master of Hestviken. These works earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. The medieval novels were actually a relatively late phase in her career; while she had tried her hand at it early on, she couldn't find a publishing house to take that kind of story, so she spent most of her early writing career publishing novels about contemporary life, the breakdown of moral normas, and usually also adulterous affairs in the big city. She returned to the idea of medieval Norway in the aftermath of World War I, having begun to feel that an accurate assessment of the day required doing something that would put more objective distance between us and the world around us, so that we could better see its strengths and weaknesses.

At the same time, she was undergoing a change in her view of the world. Undset's parents had been atheists, although like many European atheists they were churchgoing atheists who regularly attended Lutheran services. She herself was agnostic for much of her early life. But World War I, the difficulty of raising mentally disabled children, and the slow implosion of her marriage led her to doubt that agnosticism was a genuinely viable resting-point for human life. At the age of 42, not long after Kristin Lavransdatter became an international success, she became Catholic. It was a considerable scandal; Catholics were not highly regarded in Lutheran Norway, and being Catholic was regarded as a very anti-Norwegian thing to be. She was attacked for it, and, not being one to lie still, she attacked back, and became derisively known as the "Catholic Lady". She continued her writing, though, and continued to do well. No one ever doubted her ability to write.

World War II would be a disaster for her. She had been vehemently anti-Nazi from the first rise of the regime (she is one of those authors who has as a badge of honor the fact that all her works were banned in Nazi Germany), and had donated her Nobel Prize to raise money for the Finnish army when Stalin invaded Finland. When the Nazis invaded Norway, she fled to the United States. All the work that she had been writing at the outset of the war came to an end; in the US she wrote a number of smaller pieces having to do with the war, but little else, and when she returned to Norway after liberation, writing was not her primary concern, although she did some. She died in 1949 at the age of 67.

The fortnightly book, Undset's Catherine of Siena (and translated by Kate Austin-Lund), is a highly regarded work published posthumously in 1951. Like Catherine, Undset was a Third-Order Dominican, and St. Catherine was one of her favorite saints. Catherine lived in the fourteenth century, not a high point for the Church, and she actively set about the work of reform. Catherine, of course, was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970; one imagines that Undset would have been pleased.

As it happens, this is the third fortnightly book to feature a Catholic saint -- the other two aints being St. Jeanne D'Arc and St. Bernadette Soubirous -- but the first one of the three by a Catholic author (Twain was about as anti-Catholic as a person can get, and Werzel was Jewish).

Taylor Caldwell, Never Victorious, Never Defeated


Opening Passage:

It was generally agreed with indignation by a few, that it had been a great scandal. Cornelia deWitt Marshall had not only insulted herself, but all her friends, and the company which her grandfather had founded.

Summary: Never Victorious, Never Defeated is the story of the deWitt family, owners of the Interstate Railroad Company, over the course of one hundred years. We begin with Aaron deWitt watching enigmatically as his two sons, Rufus and Stephen, struggle over the railroad he built. Stephen receives the railroad, to the shock of everyone, since Rufus, extraverted, charming, and ruthless, is almost universally admired. Stephen eventually dies and Rufus takes over. The next generation is Laura, Stephen's daughter, and Cornelia, daughter of Rufus and his first wife Lydia, then, later, Norman and Jon, sons of Rufus and his second wife Estelle. Laura marries the up-and-coming son of a senator, Patrick Peale, while Cornelia marries the poor but savvy and inventive Allan Marshall. Norman and Jon, whose relationship with their mother is more than slightly twisted, never marry. Cornelia and Allan have Tony, Dolores, and DeWitt; Laura and Patrick have Miles, Fielding, and Mary. Tony becomes a priest, Dolores marries an English lord and has Alex, DeWitt marries Mary Peale and has Rufus. This being a Taylor Caldwell novel, there are more than a few mismatched marriages, sons who despise their fathers, brutal philanthropists, and political schemers. It helps a great deal in reading the novel if one is clear about the family tree.

The plot is as sprawling as the family tree, but, as the title suggests, a major theme of the work is that neither victory nor defeat are ever actually permanent, and that this fact sometimes is the source of despair and sometimes is the source of hope. There is a constant interplay throughout between those who are ruthlessly without conscience -- whether they are vulgar materialists or high-talking idealists, and whether they are malicious or simply and genially selfish -- and those who are more temperamentally humane, and I think it is this that is the primary struggle that Caldwell has in mind. It takes radically different forms in every generation because it is not an ideological war or necessarily driven by personal animus: it is a struggle for dominance between two opposed ways of looking at the world and two inconsistent ways of living a life. The people who really turn out poorly are those who try to straddle the line; those who fall on one side or the other can have success after their fashion -- but, except by luck, only after their fashion. And, like wheat and tares, they are all mixed together till judgment day.

Favorite Passage: From Chapter 38:

They were sitting in Patrick's library in their house on Mountain Heights, some few miles from the deWitt home. The house had been furnished by Patrick; Laura's suggestions had been ignored. I should have known, then, that he had no respect for anyone but himself, thought Laura, now. He is, to himself, the rare human being incapable of making mistakes. A tyrant. Dogmatic. He should never have been in the Senate; I am glad he was defeated the last time. Yet, so blameless, so righteous. The house resembles him: thing, cold, austere, with windows that seem to repel even the hottest summer sun or spring warmth; I have never been comfortable here, in spite of the furnaces and the fires. I have always hated this house, the dusky, lean furniture, the tapestries, the dim draperies, the faded old rugs which were never brilliant even when new, the somber paintings. All the corridors are narrow and ghostly, and filled with echoes. A Pharisee's house; the mirrors seem to hold only his own image.

Recommendation: It isn't as strong as Captains and the Kings, I think, but as long as you can keep the family tree straight, it makes for a quite gripping tale. Recommended.