An Emanation From That Evil Panic

The reason why modern armaments do not inflame the imagination like the arms and emblazonments of the Crusades is a reason quite apart from optical ugliness or beauty. Some battleships are as beautiful as the sea; and many Norman nosepieces were as ugly as Norman noses. The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it.

That’s G. K. Chesterton in What’s Wrong With the World.

I’ve come to realize that the real heart of evil that lies in the ribcage of modern man is a fear of the ancient. A panic, as Chesterton says. Modern people claim to abhor the benighted practices of olden times. But they have only the foggiest idea what those olden times were like, and their descriptions of the “benighted” practices are often wild fantasies.

No, what moderns truly abhor is the prospect of gazing with a steady eye into the past. Because we are mean, small, grey, selfish, flabby and inept. To behold the past — yes even to behold the crimes of the past — is to be shown how small we are indeed.

So instead we must always blindly charge into the “future,” which of course, does not actually exist. There is no future, and there never has been nor will be.

Chesterton again:

And the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity. Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate; so many great efforts of monumental building or of military glory which seem to us at once sublime and pathetic. The future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers. The older generation, not the younger, is knocking at our door.

[…]

The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.

[…]

We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.

This part reminds me of another Chesterton nugget, which has been sitting atop the dearly missed and now inactive Joy of Curmudgeonry blog since April.

Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. . . . It may mean that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal; and that you are a paralytic.

Turning away from the past can be done either of these two ways: in a panic, or in a state of numbness. The one leads to the other, and the other necessitates the one. Panic at the thought of looking squarely at the Truth encourages us to numb ourselves (through hate, media, porn, drink, drug, politics). Our numbness makes us incapable of looking at the Truth.

You know, a crisp and sunny autumn morning is a glorious and invigorating thing. But if you spent the whole night before grousing — about how unfair the sun is, always rising in the east and never deigning to rise in the west, lousy sun! — drinking into a stupor and smoking three packs of cigarettes to numb your anger… well, that crisp and sunny autumn morning (“Yet again from the east! I rest my case!”) is nothing but a nuisance and a headache. And that’s just proof that you were right all along. That sun is trying to hurt and shame us. Down with the sun!

So it is with beautiful traditions, with Truth passed down through the ages, with Truth passed to us even this very day (forget the ages!); so it is with authority for modern man. Authority, tradition, and Truth cause us a headache… and instead of blaming our own dissipation and resentment, we blame the sun of Truth itself.

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9 comments on “An Emanation From That Evil Panic

  1. Manwe says:

    Yet again another great post from the ‘awoken’ man!
    I’m new to this blog, but from what I have seen so far, I think I’ll keep on reading it! 🙂

    God Bless you Sir! (or Ma’am if I am mistaken)

    • outofsleep says:

      Thanks so much. That’s very kind of you.

      I’m a “sir,” indeed. And it’s nice to know you’re reading. I’m not doing this to garner lots of readers, but knowing that there are a few of like mind that are interested to read helps me summon the persistence it takes to write regularly.

      • Manwe says:

        Your very welcome! 😀 And I’m glad it will help you keep writing regularly, what I have read so far has been both good and very interesting! I even followed the link to bgc’s blog and found his stuff interesting too (and from reading the comments on his site, I deduce you are “Daniel”, now if I had known that earlier, then I would have no need to ask whether or not you were “Sir” or “Ma’am” ……unless of course you were from San Fran and had some kind of surgery *ahem* 😉 I kid!)

        And I like how you throw in a Tolkien post or reference every now and then, I do so love Tolkien!

        A little off topic but I have seen you post on John C. Wright’s blog, do you frequent it often?

        AND one final thing, if it’s not to personal that is. I see that you, like the good Prof bgc are converts to Christianty (welcome!), but my question is are you still in the, (how shall I put it?), “mere Christianity” section of the faith? (From my reading a few of bgc’s blog posts I’m guessing he is, though I’m not totally sure) Or have you joined a ‘church’?

  2. bgc says:

    “No, what moderns truly abhor is the prospect of gazing with a steady eye into the past. Because we are mean, small, grey, selfish, flabby and inept. To behold the past — yes even to behold the crimes of the past — is to be shown how small we are indeed.”

    An example: I have been reading Chaucer, William Langland and the ‘Gawain poet’ who all great Middle English writers who lived in the period of about 1340-1400 – precisely the period when bubonic plague/ the Black Death entered England and began to wipe out something between a third and a half of the population.

    Yet they never/ barely mention it.

    Chaucer is writing about essentially everything – but virtually omits and mention of the fact that all around him people are dying like flies; Langland and Gawain Poet have their eyes fixed on Heaven, and on manners, decency, love, loss.

    How small this makes me feel: that here were sensitive men of great humanity writing great literature in a Godly society and they did not deign to mention the greatest plague ever to hit Britain (which measurably affected the economy for some three hundred years afterwards). Their minds were on higher things – the fundamental matters of human existence.

    (*Mostly* fundamental things – although ‘courtly love’ – in Chaucer and Gawain – was hardly that.)

    A different perspective, indeed.

    • outofsleep says:

      That’s astonishing to my modern mind, when I stop and think about it.

      Lawrence Auster (among others) recently pointed out the cult of victimhood that’s grown up around September 11, 2001, in the United States. The recent ten-year anniversary of the murder of 3000 people was an occasion for a nation of 300,000,000 people to indulge in the most maudlin, phony, and frankly self-congratulatory public “mourning.”

      One imagines a medieval sage watching this all in silence.

      • Wyandotte says:

        “Mourning” promoted and increased by the media as part of Bread & Circuses. So we won’t look around and see what’s really going on.

  3. outofsleep says:

    @Manwe

    I check John C. Wright’s blog every couple of days, having discovered it only a few weeks ago. He’s very prolific and it’s hard to keep up with everything he posts, but it’s all excellent so that’s a good problem to have.

    As for Christianity, I grew up in the Episcopal Church before drifting away and ending up a pretty hard-core atheist leftist. As for what I believe now, I wouldn’t even go so far as you do and say I am a convert to Christianity (Mere or Otherwise). This blog is a form of thinking out loud. Some of what I post is “discoveries” I have made, some of it is questions I am asking…. usually, naturally, those two things are intermixed.

    For now, I’d prefer not to get any more specific, both for personal and blogular reasons. Thanks again for the encouragement!

    • Manwe says:

      “For now, I’d prefer not to get any more specific, both for personal and blogular reasons. Thanks again for the encouragement!”

      No problem, you answers were enough anyway! And for the record, from the posts I have read of yours seemed to indicate at least a strong leaning towards Christianty, so that is why I assumed you were. Sorry if I offended you (though I’m not sure you were implying that I did).

      Either way, keep up the good work!

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