Friday 3 June 2011

James Kalb and Bruce Charlton compared, by James Kalb




Alex said...

I find a great deal of what you have to say both illuminating and compatible with my own outlook. Though my views are in flux compared to yours.

However, your desire to transform our civilization to something like a society with the distinctive cultural protocols of the Byzantine Empire (which James Kalb draws attention to in his preview of your book), is something I can hardly believe you're serious about.

My knowledge of the history of Byzantium does not extend much beyond what I've learned from The Oxford History of Byzantium (edited by Cyril Mango) - which is a gentle amble through aspects of Byzantine politics, commerce, religion, art, etc., rather than a deep work of scholarship. I've also read Runciman on the Ottoman conquest, and J B Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene. (Bury refused to tolerate the word 'Byzantine' which he regarded as 'dangerous'.)

As a tourist, I have visited Constantinople (or Byzantium if you prefer) and wandered about its legendary walls and seen many of the incomparable monuments, mosaics, icons, etc. The pleasure of ruins never dwindles into satiety.

These desultory 'studies' certainly don't qualify me to lecture anyone else about Byzantine history, but they haven't led me to conclude, for example, that a purer form of Christianity was preserved in Byzantium than elsewhere in Christendom. Not do I believe that Byzantine political institutions were superior to their democratic counterparts which have evolved in the West.

Bruce Charlton said...

I should clarify that I regard the Bzyantine Empire as having been the most devoutly true-Christian society to be sustained over many generations - other candidate would be later Anglo Saxon England, and Holy Russia.

I regard Byzantium as the 'ideal' in terms of the most important thing - but of course not in every respect.

And quite likely I would myself, as I am now, find it very hard indeed to fit into Byzantium - I might well be extremely miserable! So it is not a matter of a congenial lifestyle.

The contrast of relevance here is that Roman Catholics (such as Alasdair MacIntyre, and perhaps James Kalb) reference to high medieval Europe - the era of Thomas Aquina in particular - as their religious ideal.

What has come in recent centuries has not been a stable or a viable polity - just a series of transitional states.

Some of these were certainly very pleasant, or exciting (Concord, Massachusetts around 1840, for example), but none can be regarded as a *model*.

The early days of corruption are often very pleasant, otherwise they would not happen in the first place. This would apply to democracy - think of Walt Whitman's rhapsodies!