Below is the next installment in the lecture series on literary theory and criticism by Paul H. Fry. The previous lectures are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.
The clerk has recited an affidavit by Lord Cobham, in which he blames Raleigh for the Main Plot. William Watson, a priest, was the chief inciter of the Bye Plot. Lord Popham is the presiding justice at this trial.
Raleigh, to deliver himself from Tyburn, where traitors were executed, holds forth as far as he can.
Raleigh: Now, candid jurymen, conduct yourselves
By equitable accuracy, measuring
Each side. Coke’s imputational omnipotence
In wholeness of assertion is in this
Pretentious affirmation put. He calls
This version evidential verity.
This either quails me or discomfiture undoes;
Either absolves my sufferance or means
In absolute privation my demise;
Either exalted exculpation offers
Or vagrant indigence provides my wife
And children. This may manifest a traitor
Or a devout trustee defectless to
His king. But let me see this testament
That I may answer with defensive doubt.
Popham: Sir Walter Raleigh may examine it.
Raleigh: A wakeful answer, vital likelihood
Providing, should evoke intelligence
In you. How Cobham, the accuser, came
To say this I’ll profess. The Privy Council would
With perceant queries penetrate if Cobham
And myself combined for Aremberg’s conditions
Or of the deadly priestliness in Watson were
Apprised or whether plotted discipline,
Designed for Lady Arabella, we
Suspected. Guiltless verities I gave
The Privy Council, in pronouncement free
From priests and clear of plots. But soon, when I
Came home, I wrote to Henry Lord Cobham how
I wondered whether Aremberg advised him,
Who years ago in Flanders with that Count
Conferred. And twice that summer, having supped
With us at Durham House, Lord Cobham could
Be seen into LaRenzi’s place advance,
Who is a scribal henchman of that Count.
This news was in my letter sent. But I
Was told by Robert Cecil not to speak
Of this because King James would not offend
The Count. So when Sir Robert showed this letter
To Lord Cobham, a combustion of defense
Possessed him. With inflamed recrimination
He flared against me, caustic charges in
His shouts concerting. But he ceased, incensed
No longer, blame renouncing as mere blab,
Who then assured Sir Robert to absolve me.
A circumstantial stretch you made of this,
Master Attorney, that Lord Cobham lacked
Inductive likelihood, a dunce belike
Mistaking him. But never infantile
Inertia shows him nerveless, who asserts
In settled firmness his sententious will.
Impassioned suppositions he pursues,
Disposed to see his purposes dispatched.
And now, forbearing sanity, you say
In your absurd acuity I would plot
With him, a man of unbefriended chariness
And unattractive thrift, with him when I
Resigned perforce the Cornwall Wardenship
Of Stannaries and was enforced to do
Laborious dispossession of my rights?
My lords, eccentric ignorance I have
Not nurtured. This monarchal island I
Perceived was never so defensible,
With Scotland a united fortress having.
All Ireland has relinquished enmity,
Not breaching acquiescence north or south.
Denmark accords, negating her excess
By sea, provoking jealousy for cod
No longer. Now the plainest Netherlands,
Resemblant neighbors to our realm, at peace
Remain. And here, no dubious hesitations in
A Queen we suffer, she whom time surprised
And age suppressed, for now a forward king
Advances our attention to demands,
Who may by rightful coronation reign.
Popham: Come, sir, digressive hesitations cease
Raleigh: Lord Popham, on the pointed mark
I’d realize accuracy in the court,
With equitable pertinence conveyed.
Now I unwarranted discomfiture
Would never bear and undeserved absurdities
Would hear no more. A devil-headed raver,
England’s secured circumference assailing,
They say I am, the basest Robin Hood of hell,
Or a Wat Tyler warrior taking arms
Or like Jack Cade to jounce the uppermost
Security of kings. But now the penniless defaults
Of Spain I know, where impecunious nothingness
Abounds, in moneyless exorbitance
Unfit for war. Discouraged sentiments
Deny King Philip all belligerent
Regards for England. Have we not six times
Distracted him, in Ireland thrice triumphant
And in naval valor never failing thrice,
Even at Cadiz to devastate his coast.
As Captain for the Queen four thousand pounds
Of substance from myself I’ve spent in war,
Three prevalent events procuring while
You slept in peace. Now six or seven ships
In ports remain for Philip, a diminishment
Of fifty sails, who alien argosies
Must hire for the Columbus lands. No more
By thirty million crowns he weighs himself,
In overspent expansiveness expiring.
The neediest royalty in Europe now
Denies the Jesuits monetary grace,
All miscreant mendicants to make of them.
The lowest of inverted lordliness
He is, by meekest reconcilement now
With England to abide, who in devout
Felicitations at the recent crowning
Rejoiced complaisance to our king avowed.
Therefore in Spanish hardship would this prince
Six hundred thousand to an Englishman
Deliver without pledged securities
Or gaged collateral in pawn? When Queen
Elizabeth to her allies in Holland lent
Profusely, liens on Brill and Flushing she
Obtained. Dieppe no less she had in pawn
When France had borrowed from her purse a sum
For battles. And assure you, many goldsmith
Moneyers in London would not lend to her
Without avouched collateral in land.
Then say, my lords, what costly likelihood
For six hundred thousand could myself
Or Cobham give in pledge to Spain, myself
By meanest deprivation out of place?
As paroxysmal as appassionate,
The hottest exemplarity in hate
Of Spain I’ve shown. Would I betray my own
Biography? Would I upturn the tenor
Uppermost in me? I am the Raleigh,
English royalty fending from the Pope.
I am the Raleigh, anglophilic rectitude
Presenting, protestant heroics fain
To prove. I am the anti-papal archetype
Of England. Untransmutable antipathy
To Spain defines me. Read Guiana. Read
My Treatise on the Force of Spain in Flanders,
Which to his Majesty I gave, if he’d
Consult a warrior.
This review originally appeared here in the Library of Law & Liberty.
Richard Bishirjian wears many hats. He’s a businessman, speaker, educator, regular contributor to Modern Age, founder and president of Yorktown University, and champion of online education. He has been a visible presence at conservative conferences and colloquia and an active member of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the National Association of Scholars. As a young man he studied under Gerhart Niemeyer, Ralph McInerny, Eric Voegelin, and Michael Oakeshott, whose philosophical influences are on display in The Conservative Rebellion, Bishirjian’s latest book, which seeks to reclaim that evocative and oft-abused signifier, “rebel.”
The author disavows the term “conservative movement” even as he uses it out of convenience. Movements as he describes them are “anti-traditional and ideologically motivated revolutionary currents” such as communism or National Socialism that have nothing to do with conservatism, which, he maintains, is constitutionally anti-ideological and anti-utopian. The conservative rebellion, then, is not a movement but a state of mind shared by enough individuals to comprise a community of purpose.
Bishirjian assures us that “this is a work of political theory by which its author affirms a reality that ‘is’ at the same time that he and his fellow Conservative Rebels are its representatives.” He thus locates himself and others like him—the conservative rebels—in a moment of American history that he calls the period of recovery.
This recovery follows four paradigmatic, transitional stages of the American body politic: 1) the revolutionary “spirit” that galvanized the Declaration of Independence; 2) the circumspect limited-government ethos that found expression in the U.S. Constitution; 3) the quasi-religious new nationalism of Abraham Lincoln, which was spiritual and democratic in substance; and 4) the civic religion of modern millennialism in which Progressive idealism, characterized by Woodrow Wilson’s crusading reforms, actualized Lincoln’s mystical vision by replacing limited government with nationalized and centralized power.
Just as each paradigm supplanted its predecessor, so the conservative rebellion of today—a fifth paradigmatic stage—is working to undermine the normative principles bequeathed to us by Lincoln and magnified by Wilson. Bishirjian believes we are struggling with the tensions between the fourth and fifth stages, even within conservative circles, insofar as neoconservatism recalls Lincoln’s and Wilson’s “consciousness of order.” He’s used a Voegelinian term there. It’s the Voegelin in Bishirjian that elicits his overall critique of neoconservatives, whose vision for global democracy and human rights, in his mind, resembles the Gnostic conception of a heaven on earth within history.
The Conservative Rebellion is part memoir, part prescription. It recalls Bishirjian’s formative university years and might be described, in part, as the story of his intellectual awakening. The prose is anything but pedantic, its muscular quality seen, for example, when he writes that “from 1961 to 1964 I read any and every book I could get my hands on to try to figure out what in the hell was going on.” Political incorrectness abounds, as when he describes where he studied:
Take a backwater graduate institution along the St. Joseph River like Notre Dame, have it focus on a backwater region like Latin America, and you seal Notre Dame’s fate as just another graduate program in government.
Bishirjian here refers to the chairman of the Department of Government deciding, in the late 1960s, to reorient the curriculum toward Latin American studies rather than capitalizing on the talent and specialties already existing among a faculty that included Voegelin, Niemeyer, and Stanley Parry. This reconfiguration followed the alleged purging of Notre Dame’s conservative faculty under Father Theodore Hesburgh, its president from 1952 to 1987. The criticisms of the university’s administration during his graduate studies reveal the intensity with which Bishirjian approaches ideas. So does his recalling the fact that he wept the first time he read Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics (1952).
He primarily considers the conservative rebellion he participated in from the time of the Kennedy presidency through that of Jimmy Carter. With the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bishirjian and his cohorts saw the fruits of their labor and rejoiced, but only for a time. Eventually infighting and enforced ideological standards slowed their momentum and sent well-meaning friends along differing paths. Bishirjian relates that traditional conservatives in the Reagan administration were gradually displaced by neoconservatives after the resignation of Richard V. Allen as National Security Adviser. From that moment on, he suggests, Republican presidential administrations were increasingly peopled by neoconservatives, a word that goes undefined.
The object of Bishirjian’s animus is Progressivism, or Woodrow Wilson’s “political religion.” That he also calls communism a “political religion” suggests how destructively ideological he believes Wilson’s programs and legacy to have been. He submits that political religion is “ersatz religion” in that it’s a “false construction that intervenes between us and the experience of reality,” a bold and curious claim that makes sense only in light of Voegelin’s teachings.
At times, though, the author denominates Progressivism as liberalism. Not to be mistaken for the classical variety, his targeted liberalism is “intolerant, illiberal, devoid of magnanimity and devoted to the expansion of state power.” So defined, liberalism stands in contradistinction to conservatism, which, he says, is a “political theory linked to an attitude of spirit and mind, not a political philosophy by which the greater universe becomes visible.”
The Wilsonian worldview is most obviously manifest in foreign policy. Bishirjian articulates his longstanding discontent with the Vietnam War and believes “it is not a moral obligation of the American people to die so that others may realize their nationhood.” At the same time, he condemns the coordinated ostracizing of faculty who spoke out in favor of that war. He lambasts both Bush presidencies for their grandiose foreign policy and cautions that
Nothing grows more quickly during war than the powers of the state with the result that by the end of the twentieth century the American administrative state had become the enemy of all Americans, but only social, political and economic conservatives seemed concerned.
Although bitter, Bishirjian is something of an optimist. He sees the potential for cultural restoration, hoping our decline will be followed by prophetic renewal. He notes that Plato and Augustine, respectively, arose from the collapse of the Greek city-state and the Roman Empire. Anxiously alive to the intellectual bankruptcy of mainstream conservatism of the prepackaged, mass-market television variety, he laments “the decline in conservative scholarship and influence in academe,” where institutions of knowledge and learning ought to breed contemplative figureheads.
St. Augustine’s Press has put out a handsome hardback edition of this book. (One would have liked to see more careful copy-editing, though. The typographical errors are distracting.) Its normative assessments and presiding themes should provoke readers on the Left and the Right. Its main thrust is that, to recover the lost tradition of conservatism, what is required is the leadership of men and women attentive to the redemptive and visionary powers of the daimon.
The Conservative Rebellion reaches print just three months after the publication of Harold Bloom’s The Daemon Knows, in which the notion of the daimon (Greek), or the daemon (Latin), figures prominently as a sublime, aboriginal force of human imagination. The daimon prophesies a cosmology, not a short-term political platform or “get-out-the-vote” campaign. He consults Boethius, not Karl Rove. He counsels a consciousness of time and order, not a debate strategy or partisan wager. The luminosity of consciousness isn’t a purely pragmatic strategy capable of yielding quick results, but it does fulfill the mundane task of disclosing a way forward. It’s a prudent plan, in other words, not just a numinous agency, and it has the potential to instantiate once again the fusionism of Frank Meyer.
If Bishirjian is correct, then those attuned to the dynamism of the daimon might be found among “philosophers, knowledgeable political leaders, non-ideological publications, wealthy benefactors and supportive institutions.” It’s telling that he doesn’t name living examples. One wonders if there are any.