Friday, September 28, 2012

Perennialism Today


The Ebullio of Meister Eckhart

Thinking outside the box?

When most people say we should think outside the box they don't really mean it. I believe they are saying, “Think about how we can make a bigger, better box.” Conventional opinion makers do not want the box to go away. It is the box that contains them and their comfortable world. Thinking a little bit at the edges of the box might help reinforce the box but they really don't want a different box. Employing people to examine the box will help find potential weaknesses in the box so it can be strengthened.

The box is the materialistic worldview. Few in authority really want to go to a place that contemplates anything except this cozy and predictable box. Even though there may be ominous signs of danger, growing evidence that the box is crumbling, abandoning the box is unthinkable.

Ancient Rivers

On the other hand when considering the perennial wisdom we speak of rivers not boxes. Great rivers of history, philosophy, and politics flowing into the valley of human consciousness. Twenty five years ago a handful of us working in the Institute for Perennial Studies asked the question; what went wrong some two centuries or so past, with the western world to bring us to the brink of nuclear destruction, social deterioration, and the corruption of our natural world? We went to the rivers for answers.

The ancient rivers of thought are always in motion. Not rushing mountain steams but turbid outflows, braided across a vast delta slowly cutting one channel into another, co-opting the flow of one then in turn being replaced by its neighbor. There seems to be no beginning or end to the flow but it is alive with probabilities.

Lately the study of the philosophia perennis is akin to panning for gold in those rivers. Looking for a glinting timeless nugget in the immense muck of human history. Sloshing back and forth through the murky goo of ideas your pan filled with mud, eyes riveted on the froth hoping for some color to show. Mining the past looking for answers, the tiny nugget of thought that will bring all the jumble of information together. Colliding one school of thought into another in an binge of eclecticism, searching for a “unified field theory” or the Philosopher's Stone we become particle physicists of history.

Although an interesting process we should not mistake the method for the answer. There really is little new under the sun. Our search for a perennial wisdom may find us using novel tools that are resident to our times but if our assumptions are correct about the nature of a perennial wisdom then finding it's message should not be so difficult.

Yet the elucidation of the obvious is sometimes challenging. If it is the amalgam of a materialist worldview and the allied cultural appendage of modernism that is our problem, then the antidote should become evident.

Beyond Schrodinger's Cat

I have fallen victim to some of these distractions and perceived paradoxes. Examining first this position then another trying to balance myself in the course of the last 25 years. Through all of that two things stand out. One is my new appreciation of quantum theory that may be the climax of materialist science. The second proposition is a line from “The Herald ofPerennialism” we wrote in 1987; that there is an eternal and “...deep relationship between God, people, and values”. This is the message of the perennialist but the basis of this message was not stated at the time. I want to fill in that gap.

Perennialism is a theistic system that believes in eternal renewal. The statement “God was here at the beginning, He is here now, and He will always be here” supplies a workable transcendent foundation. The perennial wisdom then is the struggle of people to apply this timeless truth onto the playing field of common reality.

A hazy outline of God has been seen forever. Throughout all of human culture there has been an attempt to understand the substance of a vision that the shamans would see. We tried to make sense of fuzzy pictures and uncertain outlines detected by sincere mystics. When we gave those abstractions names like Osiris, Avalokitasvara, or Quetzalcoatl we were seeing Lord Christ who in a thus far unique event briefly appeared to us in human form. The fact that we have called God by various names is neither disrespect nor evil it is only an incomplete interpretation of the nature the visions our shamans, scholars, and others were having of this complex trinitarian non-locality.

The role of perennialism is twofold. To understand the dynamic process of revelation God gives us and secondly support cultural activities that will influence the potential form of perennial restoration.
Illustration: "Trinity", 4"x6", gouche, D S Reif, 2010 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Modern Machiavelli

Writer and military historian Donald Gilmore has teamed up with Perennis editor David Reif to co-author an essay that appears on the American Thinker website. You can read that article, "The Modern Machiavelli" by clicking HERE.
The original essay was a bit longer and was edited to conform to space requirements. You can read the entire unedited version of the Machiavelli essay below. 

Machiavellianism Creates Shadow Puppets
The Modern Machiavelli

by Donald L. Gilmore and David Reif
Few are likely to have a solid understanding of political affairs today without a thorough understanding of our debt to a prominent, fifteenth-century Italian political thinker, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). The revelations unveiled by this brilliant Florentine diplomat in his disquisitions on realpolitik in his book The Prince (1513) (Il Principe) caused a furor in his day because of its honest, accurate, and comprehensive treatment of the subject of politics and his analysis of political intrigue during the many centuries preceding him.

The term realpolitik, “the pursuit of national interests by leaders without regard for ethical or philosophical considerations” probably originated in Machiavelli’s analysis of the use of political power, but the term is a German one of later origin.

After the advent of Christianity and the creation of the Catholic Church, Christian morality had a strong influence on political thinking, and this continued for the next fifteen hundred years. This caused politics to be considered ostensibly as a moral as well as a worldly practice. However, with the rise of institutions society underwent changes. Political authority became increasingly secularized both within and outside religious practice. Old catechisms would give way as Church and State drifted towards their ultimate rendezvous with our modern world.

Machiavelli’s contribution in this arena, however, was to demonstrate, through an analysis of history, that behind a veneer of pretended morality, honesty, integrity, and Christian practices and virtues there dwelt another sphere of action, a dark world, dominated by greed, ruthlessness, hypocrisy, lies, intrigue, deception, and even murder. This vicious, manipulative world proposed by Machiavelli still exists, hidden behind a curtain of disguise and pretense. This ugly world, a product of the past but ongoing and virtually universal, is screened from view by the naïve delusions and beliefs shared by most people about life and politics and continues to affect worldly outcomes.

Machiavelli wrote The Prince at a time when the competition for power in Italy by a number of kingdoms was so intense that this adviser of “princes” wrote his book to clarify what it would take to bring peace and national unity to the area of what is today modern Italy. In order to achieve this goal, Machiavelli found it imperative to describe how powerful “princes” in Italy and elsewhere, those contemporary to him and in the past, had gained power and created stability in their kingdoms.

In addition, he incorporated into his work the lessons he had learned during a lifetime of observing historic events close at hand, through advising leaders on courses of action, and witnessing the successes and failures in the use of power in Europe.

His book did not provide a pretty picture--he is blunt--but it was largely an accurate one. Machiavelli, ultimately, was unseated from his diplomatic position through a reversal in fortune, and he wrote The Prince to ingratiate himself with those currently in power in order to obtain a new office. He failed in this endeavor, but his book, nonetheless, has cast a spell on powerful men ever since.

The following are some of Machiavelli’s important tenets to be practiced by “the Prince” or national leader to further his interests. They are as much in force today as ever, and the average citizen needs to know them so that he can peek behind the mask of state to see the truth behind the power. Otherwise, as Machiavelli suggested, we shall be like one of those “simpleminded men . . . so controlled by their present necessities that one who deceives [them] will always find another who will allow himself to be deceived.” The following are a few of Machiavelli’s discoveries:

Tenet One: The leader should always wear a mask. No leader should show his true self to his people. He must assume a persona, or mask, that hides his true self and his real intentions, the motives behind his actions, and his true goals. Showing his true colors will often work against his popular support and foil his efforts to achieve his objectives, which are often not those of the people.

Tenet Two: The prince must be prepared to act against charity, humanity, and religion. In order to maintain the state, Machiavelli said: [the leader] “is often obliged to act against his promises, against charity, against humanity, and against religion. And therefore, it is necessary that he [the leader] have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changeability of affairs require him. As long as possible, he should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands . . . it is essential to understand this: that a prince [leader] cannot observe all those things by which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state, he is often obliged to act against his promises, against charity, against humanity, and against religion.”

Tenet Three: The prince should always mask his acts and intentions concerning his basic morality. Machiavelli said: “A prince must be very careful never to let anything slip from his lips that is not full of the five qualities mentioned above: he should appear, upon seeing and hearing him, to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all kindness, all religion. And there is nothing more necessary than to seem to possess this last quality . . . for everyone sees what you seem to be, few perceive what you are, and those few do not dare to contradict the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the state to defend them.”

Tenet Four: The prince should avoid being despised or hated. “What makes him [A prince] despised is being considered changeable, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, irresolute, from these qualities a prince must guard himself as if from a reef, and he must strive to make everyone recognize in his actions greatness, spirit, dignity, and strength.”

Tenet Five: The prince should acquire esteem through the accomplishment of great undertakings and examples of his great talents, " . . . he should strive in all his deeds to give the impression of a great man of superior intelligence."

Tenet Six: The prince should avoid inconsistency. Machiavelli said: “For anyone who has appeared to be good for a time and intends, for his own purposes, to become bad must do so in appropriate stages and in such a way as to be governed by circumstances, so that before your altered nature deprives you of old supporters, it will have provided you with so many new ones that your authority will not be diminished; otherwise, finding yourself unmasked and without friends, you will be ruined.”

In today's terms this is about shaping the image of the politician or leader. It has become a big business in our society to create an image or “mask” for a person. George Bush the Second was shaped to look like a Texan by his handlers. Photographed on the ranch cutting brush with a chainsaw he looked the part. Never mind the Bush family were carpetbaggers from New England and George the II was an Ivy League blue-blood.

There are many individual examples of powerful American Presidents constructing a mask in order to conceal an identity. President Harry Truman was portrayed as a honest hard working small businessman who was a successful haberdasher. While the truth was that he had been involved in a string of unsuccessful ventures until he landed himself into the corrupt Kansas City political machine of Tom Pendergast where he prospered. Yet the image of a simple man-of-the-people persists until the present.

These days much of the work of the medieval Prince is done by the political parties and those who control them. In the modern republic the Prince is often a composite. A group of forces using the platform of a political party as an instrument of power becomes the embodiment of the Prince but without the responsibilities an actual monarch faces.

Thus hidden the principles of Machiavelli can be exercised with a minimum of scrutiny. A cut-out can be constructed by the strong men behind the scenes and manipulated. What ensues is a shadow puppet theater. A figure moves across the screen; bobbing and weaving about while the audience fills in the shadowy picture with their imagination.

The libretto for the performance is the observed public relations artifact provided from the shapers and marionette makers. These special technicians are employed by the powerful to provide the public with an entertaining substitute for democracy. Well meaning but naïve the public doesn't know what the powerful are doing, and why they are doing it, so we are very vulnerable to the propaganda: and most of us are.

Unfortunately, the Machiavellian method is not limited to politics. It has become a cultural icon infecting powerful institutions from business to religion; an engine of modernism. Driven by the dream of earthly power and personal utopia leaders become poseurs; willing marionettes skewered on the mandrel of fame.

When all goes well the American government is a functioning democratic federal republic. However in the hands of the composite Prince who is a construction created by interest groups, foundations, global corporations, One World Marxists, mass religion charlatans, and just plain old fashioned plutocrats the American system becomes a sham.

In the modern world one is left to wonder if our cherished notions regarding public institutions have succumbed to the fiction writer and the invisible puppeteer. A parade of political shadows replacing principles. If the Machiavellian ethos (such as it is) has become the norm then we are back to the land of reptiles, eating one another in an endless struggle for control.

A companion piece about Machiavelli, "The Science of Power", by Theo Berigsen can be read here.       


(Top) Classic Shadow Puppets of Bali

(Botton) Detail from a Bourbon Restoration era card, c 1820, lithograph by an unknown artist.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dau Al Set

Remembering: Dau Al Set (The Seven-Sided Dice)
"Dreams of Eude", M Cuixart, 1959
Dau Al Set was an association of Spanish artists founded in Barcelona in 1948 and active until 1953; it published a periodical with the same name. They were abstractionists but not necessarily modernists. This is a very important distinction. The most significant members were the the symbolist philosopher and art critic J. Eduardo Cirlot, poet Arnoldo Puig, and four painters— Modesto Cuixart, Joan Ponç, Antoni Tàpies, and Joan José Tharrats.
Although the relationship between Dau Al Set and the Franco administration was at times fractious somehow these creative philosophers and artists found a way to co-exist when many others left for exile in France. At times General Franco even praised the work of this group proclaiming Modesto Cuixart, “...our new Goya” while other times his government criticized them. Perhaps by keeping a calculated distance from these avant-garde artists Franco allowed them to grow and come into their own. A perverse but effective relationship.
The philosopher Juan Eduardo Cirlot would write an important book on symbols during this period. “A Dictionary of Symbols” is still in print and remains a popular resource.

Read more about Symbolism: Click Here


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coffin Clown

"Coffin Clown"

"Coffin Clown",  8"x3.5", oil pastel on found wood, DSReif, 2009  

"Swamp Clown" Click Here
More symbolist artwork   Click Here