Thursday, 18 January 2018

The English Radical Tradition - discrimination by Christian motivation

I am currently reading a very interesting book by Geoffrey Ashe - The Offbeat Radicals: the British tradition of alternative dissent. As always with this author, this is full of insights; yet it lacks the necessary Christian framework.

I accept that - quite often - the radical critique was at least partially-valid, often it was mostly-valid; yet if we consider the motivation of radicals, then it becomes clear that most of them were materialists.

Ashe includes William Blake, and he has many excellent things to say about Blake; but he makes the error (at time) of 'bracketing' Blake with Shelley, as if they were both the same kind of thinker and writer. But; although both Blake and Shelley were extremely critical of Established Christianity - their fundamental motivations were opposite.

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When considering radical ('romantic') critique of The Establishment in general, and the Christian Church/ Priests in particular, it is vital to distinguish by motivation.

In particular whether - like Blake  - the author is critical of The Establishment because its Christianity is too feeble, restricted, impersonal, insufficient - or whether - like Shelley or Byron - the Establishment criticism is because Christianity is too oppressive, too restrictive of liberty and license.

Blake wanted Christianity to be a total perspective and medium of the whole of life - he wanted Christ and spirituality to dominate the inner life of everyman; however, Shelley and Byron wanted to be rid of Christian restrictions, to clear space for them to do what they personally very much wanted to do - which was often sexual: sex with people forbidden by Christianity.

It would be foolish to neglect the revolutionary sexual impulse behind radicalism - sex may even be the primary albeit covert motivation for radicalism, for which politics was only an excuse.

Certainly that would seem plausible from here-and-now; when mainstream-Left political 'radicalism' (and anti-Christian propaganda and coercion) is almost-wholly focused on the sexual revolution. And almost all of the anti-Christian radicals listed by Geoffrey Ashe lived-by and advocated one (or many) aspects of the sexual revolution.

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My attitude to the post 1780-ish romantic-radicalism is that something indeed needed to be done; but the proper question is what?

Radicals were objectively-wrong to suggest that poverty was the main problem and economics ought to be the focus of reform.

This was an error; based on the fact that after the industrial revolution the poor would survive in poverty rather than simply dying.

From about 1800, the poor raised large (poor) families such that several children reached adulthood; instead of (pre-1800) typically failing to raise any children at all - they would have died in infancy or childhood. In other words, from 1800-ish there was a lot more poverty - but only because there was less mortality; evidence for which is that the British population grew very rapidly, and mostly among the poor.

(An analogous situation can be seen in recent Africa - In the past the child mortality rates were colossal such that the African population was stable and low. But Western medicine nowadays enables most African children to survive, in extreme poverty. Mass African poverty is therefore a product of Westernisation/ the industrial revolution; much as mass 19th century British poverty was a product of economic and technological progress, and a rise in standards of living.)

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So radicalism can be divided into the worldly-hedonic on the one side (e.g. Shelley and Byron) - the typical Leftist radicalism which seeks as the primary (and only) goal to enhance short-medium term happiness in mortal life, and/or alleviate suffering in mortal life. Mortal life is an end-in-itself; and indeed the only end.

The contrast is with the radical religious motivation (e.g. Blake and Coleridge) - which is to enhance motivation, energy, purpose, spiritual depth, morality, beauty and truth - by orientating mortal life to its ultimate and eternal goals. To a significant extent, this entails regarding mortal life as a means to eternal ends - certainly not as an end in-and-of itself.

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For example; the Leftist-atheist radical is typically against priests, and wants there to be no priests at all (or else feeble and ineffectual and optional priests: priesthood as a 'job') - because for them priests represent oppression and limitation. Whereas a Christian radical may be against priests on the grounds that every Man should be his own priest. So the contrast is between no priests, and everyone a priest.

With respect to authority; a Leftist radical want no authority and multiple truths, each having his own, and authority must not constrain this. Whereas a Christian radical sees it as a matter of each Man being his own best authority (because no external authority can be trusted with my soul - unless I personally choose so to trust), with every sincere Christian over time freely and spontaneously-converging on the single truth.

The Leftist radical sees the main problem as physical-material oppression with physical-material solutions; whereas (in stark contrast) the Christian radical sees the main problem as oppression by material-ism: that mental oppression that regards Man as essentially an animal... In other words exactly what Blake most railed-against.

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Thus the Leftist and Christian romantic-radicals have opposite motivations, and Blake and Shelley ought not to be bracketed together!


1 comment:

NLR said...

Great Post.

Incisive articulation of the difference between the two choices at the final step listed in "Unfolding of 2016: Year of Reckoning": Traditional Christianity versus Romantic Christianity.