SubscribeStar Saturday: Decline, Part I: Afghanistan

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Events of the past few years give one the distinct sense that the United States—and, indeed, Western Civilization—is in a steady decline.  As I wrote in an old post:

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

We’re in what might be called the “decadent” phase of our existence:  past generations forged a nation from their sweat and blood; their successors solidified and consolidated on those gains, creating a powerful economy and culture, and winning major wars; their successors are currently coasting along on the fruits of their ancestors’ efforts.  But a culture, a nation, a civilization can only coast for so long before it loses all momentum entirely.

The recent unpleasantness in Afghanistan is a stark illustration of our current decadence—and our blind arrogance.  We believed we could plant a functioning democratic republic in a land that has been war-torn and riddled with autocratic warlords since time immemorial with an investment of twenty years of blood and treasure.  Instead, we botched a pull-out, abandoning American citizens and military equipment in the process, allowing the Taliban to seize control of the entire country in a leisurely weekend.

Ironically, The Pretender Biden was probably the perfect patsy for American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was about nineteen years overdue.  Every administration has known we needed to get the heck out of a place known as “The Graveyard of Empires,” but no one wanted the bad optics of a withdrawal.  Biden is so senile and mentally foggy that he probably still doesn’t realize what he did, and certainly doesn’t feel any shame about abandoning Americans to the Taliban.

But even given our incompetent, mentally hobbled executive, the withdrawal from Afghanistan—quite necessary, I think—was botched so terribly, it condemns the entire US government and our military leadership.  Any ten-year old could have said, “Yeah, get all the weapons and people out first, then withdraw the last of the American troops.”  Instead, we did the exact opposite.  Ripping off the Band-Aid and getting out of Afghanistan was necessary, but did we have to rip the skin clean off the arm?

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Lazy Sunday CXXVIII: Civilization

Civilization seems to be taking it on the chin lately, with anti-civilizational forces in various forms scoring victories against the civilized world.  The Taliban’s rapid reconquista of Afghanistan following America’s hasty, disorganized withdrawal suggests that a group of motivated cavemen can topple a well-trained, well-equipped, but artificial regime in a brisk weekend.

Within the gates of the civilized world, we’re going in a decidedly Babylonian route, indulging in wildly hedonistic displays of decadence, while ignoring the fundamentals that keep civilization going.  Even the gates are largely symbolic, as we’re allowing in every paleontological throwback, handing them government bennies and free housing in the process.

All that said, I think civilization is worth preserving.  I’ll write about that in a future post.  For now, here are some of my past scribblings on the topic for this mildly gloomy edition of Lazy Sunday:

  • Civilization is Worth It” – Here is my initial case for civilization.  I think this line sums it up best:  “Ultimately, I’d much rather live in a world that produced J.S. Bach than a Stone Age pit full of atonal grunting.  It says something about the state of our civilization that the atonal grunts are back in vogue.”
  • What is Civilization” – This post was based on a discussion between Milo Yiannopoulos and “groypers” Steven Franssen and Vincent James.  The groypers argued that folks should abandon the cities and head to the country.  Milo argued that cities are the heart of civilization, and should be defended.  Both sides make compelling points, though I tend to side with Franssen and James on this one.
  • Rebuilding Civilization: The Hunter-Gatherer” – This post was inspired by an essay by Stuart Wavell entitled “The next civilisation.”  Wavell suggests that in the event of a cataclysmic, apocalyptic-level event, the isolated hunter-gatherers would be the ones to carry on the torch of humanity.

Well, there’s your dose of civilizational analysis for this weekend.  Let’s all do our part to maintain the things that make civilization worth the effort.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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Major Loot

In 2014, Hobby Lobby purchased a tablet containing an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest epic work of literature in Western Civilization.  The tablet is 3500-years old, and Hobby Lobby won the tablet in a Christie’s auction, paying $1.6 million for it.  Hobby Lobby displayed the tablet in its Museum of the Bible, which houses a number of rare and ancient artifacts.

Now, Hobby Lobby has forfeited the tablet to the US Department of Justice due to it shady provenance.  It seems that the original seller falsified a letter of provenance to show that the tablet had entered the United States before laws against importing rare artifacts were enacted.

To make matters worse, Christie’s apparently knew that the letter was questionable, but withheld that information.

Unfortunately, that means Hobby Lobby took one on the chin financially.  I’m not sure what the fate of the original smuggler is, but I imagine he’s long gone and living the sweet life.

The bigger question, though, is what should be done with such artifacts?  Current US policy seems to be to return them to their country of origin.  While that might seem to the be simplest policy, is it really best for the preservation of the artifacts—and our cultural heritage?

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Saint Patrick’s Day

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day throughout the Western world, a day to venerate and celebrate the life, death, and Christian service of Saint Patrick (the day coincides with the supposed date of St. Patrick’s death).  Of course, now the holiday has devolved into a drunken festivity in which everyone pretends to be Irish for a day, downing pints of green beer and wearing green.

The real story of Saint Patrick is far more interesting than the debauched modern celebration.  Patrick was the son of a wealthy family in what is now Britain in the declining years of the Roman Empire.  Irish raiders captured Patrick and sold him into slavery in the Emerald Isle.  Working alone as a shepherd, isolated and afraid, Patrick turned to Christ for solace and strength.

After escaping captivity, God called him back to Ireland, not as a slave, but to deliver Ireland from its spiritual bondage.  After his ordination, Patrick returned and preached the Gospel to the pagan Irish, sparking a major religious revival among the people there.  Ultimately, Ireland became second perhaps only to France in its dedication to the Catholic Church, and unlike its Gallic co-religionists, maintained that devotion well into the twentieth century.

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The Joy of Romantic Music

This semester started with two weeks of online learning (of which today is the last day before students and teachers return to campus after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), so it’s been an unusually slow start to the already sleepy January term.  However, that hasn’t stopped my music classes from listening to great music; indeed, we’re now covering what is perhaps my favorite period in the history of Western music:  the Romantic Era.

While I adore Baroque and classical composers and their works, Romantic music builds upon the forms established in those eras, stretching and expanding upon them to reach new heights of emotional intensity and musical expressiveness.  The music of the Romantic composers delights with its musical exploration of the supernatural, the mysterious, the Gothic, and the nationalistic.

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Wayback Wednesday: Memorable Monday: Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies

While preparing a separate post on hymns (which I will likely post Friday), it occurred to me that today is Veterans’ Day in the United States, the observance formerly known as Armistice Day.  I’ve never thrown back to past posts on a Wednesday before, but it seemed fitting to recognize our fallen heroes on the day.

Last year I looked back at a Veterans’ Day post from 2018.  The post itself was originally delivered as remarks to the Florence County (SC) Republican Party, and was the most affecting of my old “Historical Moments” I’ve ever delivered.

It’s hard to believe that the centennial observance of the Great War has already passed, yet we’re still dealing with the fallout from that terrible war just over a century later.  The more I’m learning about the great Baroque, classical, and Romantic composers of Europe, the more the senseless loss and nihilistic destruction of that conflict weighs on me—and that the shimmering, confident civilization that fostered those composers also destroyed itself.

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Hand it to Handel

One nugget of wisdom I’ve heard before is “if you want to learn something, teach it.”  As a private school educator who taught pretty much every course in the standard high school social studies curriculum and a plethora of music courses, I can attest to the Truth of this statement.  I essentially taught myself, for example, the highlights of Western philosophy from teaching a Philosophy course for many years (a course I very much wish the school would revive).

I’m shifting increasingly towards teaching music exclusively (though I’m still teaching a couple of American History survey courses), and teaching a Pre-AP Music Appreciation class has been one of the great joys of that transition.  Years ago I created and taught a course called “History of American Popular Music,” which covered the early Tin Pan Alley tunes all the way through blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and beyond.  This Pre-AP course is focused on the great works of Western music, going back to the medieval period.

Currently, we’re wrapping up a big unit on Baroque music.  The Baroque style—as epitomized by greats like Bach, Monteverde, Corelli, Handel, and others—delights in contrasts.  Just as Baroque paintings highlight stark contrasts between light and dark, Baroque music revels in sudden contrasts in dynamics.  It also loves to play around with complexity, as any Bach fugue will quickly demonstrate.

The last composer in our unit is George Frideric Handel.  Handel, a German-born composer, made a major splash upon his arrival in England in the 1710s, where he sought to introduce Italian opera to sophisticated London crowds.  What was meant to be a temporary visit turned into over four decades, and Handel is interred at Westminster Abbey—a huge honor.  It’s one of those delightful twists of history that Handel the German became one of the most English composers in history—and one of the greatest composers of all time.

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What is Civilization?

This morning while getting ready for work I listened to a fascinating discussion between Milo Yiannopoulos and “groypers” Steven Franssen and Vincent James.  I don’t know much about Franssen and James, other than that they are fairly prominent figures on the Dissident Right, but the discussion (which is available at Censored.TV to subscribers—I highly recommend forking over the $10 a month for a subscription) covered a broad range of topics, from 9/11 to the future of America and traditionalism.

Out of that far-ranging discussion came a brief debate between Milo and his guests near the end of the exchange.  The gist of it boiled down to the question “what is civilization?”  Milo’s contention—an interesting one—is that by abandoning our cities, we are, essentially, abandoning our greatest cultural products:  our art, our architecture, our institutions.  These cultural artifacts took the blood, sweat, toil, and ingenuity of the American people to build, so we’re capitulating to the Leftist mobs when we flee our cities instead of fighting for them.

In true Milo fashion, it’s a compellingly contrarian argument:  why surrender what we fought so hard to build?  I am a big advocate of normal, decent folks abandoning the cities in search of a better life in the country (to the point I think we should consider subsidizing families in rural areas), but makes a strong case.  If we want to preserve our heritage, we shouldn’t hand it over to looters.

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Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.