"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Indignity–Progressive Righteousness And The Story Of A Defiant, Moral Woman

Bella Cartwright was brought up properly.  Her parents, descendants of both New England Puritans and Virginia cavaliers, had been members of New Brighton society for generations, and were proud to uphold a tradition of moral rectitude, noblesse oblige, and social conservatism.  There could be no question of right and wrong when the Bible, historical conventions, and good common sense were quite clear.  One had an obligation to one’s family, community, society, and nation to be righteous and right-living.

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It was with dismay and disappointment that the Cartwrights lived in the latter half of the 20th century, and with shock and grievance that they entered the 21st.  The precepts of Cato the Elder, the moral injunctions of the New Testament, and the social history of Europe from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment had seemingly been buried under the  avalanche of self-discovery, individualism, and self-valuation.  Where had the commonweal gone? Where had the uniting and unifying principles of a common moral code, submission to the principles of the commonweal, and the communalism stressed by Jefferson in his ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ gone?

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Bella had more than the usual parental authority to overcome as she matured into adulthood.  Hers were not overbearing, berating parents – the good old days and all that – but set such an example of principle and moral righteousness that is was difficult to rebel.  She could not dismiss her parents values as old fashioned or démodé even though her colleagues and friends were happily tearing down the old bastions of privilege.  There was something to universal morality and common social justice that had been proven over and over. 

No civilization had survived without a foundation of moral and ethical principle.  Those which had tried to impose temporal and idealistic measures to create better societies – i.e. the Soviet Union – had failed miserably.  The most autocratic and elitist societies– the monarchies of the Renaissance – at least within their own privileged dominions fostered and promoted essential Christian values.

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So what to do with a society that overvalued the individual – that distorted Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s vision of the rights of individuals and lionized them at the expense of the communities within which they lived?

Bella Cartwright was awash in progressive idealism before she even distinguished between Left and Right or compared and contrasted legitimate conservative moral preservationism with secular relativism.  Yet, thanks to her upbringing, could never bring herself to subscribe to the popular sub-zeitgeist.  It was one thing to challenge the status quo per se as a matter of social and philosophical inquiry; another to reject established principles as part of a revisionist assault which rejected all history.

Sex was Bella’s anodyne, balm, and escape from the ethical conundrums which demanded attention.  She was quite happy to retreat to a cabin in the Catoctin Mountains, defy convention, good taste, and right choices; and for a brief, managed interlude she said goodbye to the world, her parents, and the ill-founded progressive revolution.

Bella, however, was never a social anarchist.  She cared little for any movement, cause, or social action.   She was against all of them, and felt that progressivism was insulting and demeaning to individual personality and character.  Compared to the limitations of social, moral conservatism – proper behavior, dress, attitude, and comportment – progressivism was far more repressive.  Bella was indignant that self-appointed reformers had arrogated to themselves the authority to manipulate others.  The human being and soul were not to be tampered with.

Bella’s moral and social conservatism came naturally.  How could one ignore, she concluded from a very early age, those fundamental precepts common to every civilization.  Honor, courage, compassion, respect, strength, and discipline had been hallmarks of Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia, China, and Japan.  Not only were they universal principles, but they were the defining values of ruling elites from French kings to Japanese shoguns.  However far European and Asian regimes may have strayed from these core values, they had remained in place, intact, and regimental throughout the millennia.  One disregarded them at one’s peril.

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Her principled stance was not without social consequences.  It was not easy to be an intellectual conservative in an America which equated conservatism with antediluvian mentality, innate retrograde immoral elitism, and a perimeter-minded rejection of multi-culturalism.

As much as Bella might try to warn of the dangers of cultural anarchy and how pluralism was never an intrinsic good but a social trend to be considered and managed within the context of Jeffersonian communitarianism, she was criticized, dismissed, marginalized, and rejected by her peers. 

At a time when the statues of Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton were being removed because of partisan,and provincial concerns, she found it difficult to champion the irrevocable past and the inviolable sanctity of the individual.

Tolstoy in his second afterward to War and Peace said it best.  Napoleon may have been an influential historical figure; but his prominence had more to do with the random events that preceded and created him than any unique, innate, special character or personality.  Great men can and do step on the international stage; but they are incidental to the sweep of random human history.  Don’t take anyone too seriously.

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At best Bella was considered a misanthrope, an ill-informed pessimist, and a wet blanket on the enthusiastic idealism of her generation.  At worst she was a pernicious negativist. Her calls for historical perspective and intellectual temperance were no more than covers for her radical Right Wing agenda, or so said her critics.

By the time she was a young adult, Bella gave up – not on the validity or importance of her principles, but on the airing of them.  If she was to be met by continuous slander and opprobrium, there was no point in persisting.  She rested on her classical laurels, and what laurels they were! – the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cato the Elder; the moral psalms of Hebrew prophets and the moral teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and Epistles of St. Paul, and the moral literature of Dostoevsky, Conrad, Tolstoy, Miller, and Williams.

Although always diffident, with no interest in political engagement or debate, Bella was indignant.  Personal convictions aside, how could anyone so cavalierly ignore and reject history and criticize those who value it as socially insensitive?

Bella was always criticized by her progressive friends as irresponsible and amoral. How could anyone sit on the sidelines when such a dramatic reconfiguration of American society was in progress?

She offered no defense because none was required.  Anyone who ignored the predictable ebbs and flows of history, the ineluctability of human nature, and the permanent genetic sequencing of homo sapiens, should be able view with complete equanimity and distance the course of human events.
So, content, but not smug, Bella retired weekend after weekend to her refuge in the Catoctin Mountains with lover after complaisant lover, overjoyed at being alive and unhitched to man, nature, or ideas.

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