Wednesday, 3 June 2015

‘Democresque’

It is not our habit to feature contemporary writers here but we will make an exception, probably just this once.

The masterful Spanish journalist Juan Manuel de Prada Blanco’s latest book, Dinero, demogresca y otros podemonios, is now out. In Rorate’s words, he “is by far the most famous Catholic writer and columnist in contemporary Spain.” English translations of his writings can be read over at Rorate here (re: a ‘certain’ interview), here (re: traditions in Spain), here (re: Extraordinary Synod of the Family), and here (re: New World Order).

Here we present a translation of the last three topics in the first chapter of the aforesaid book. The chapter carries the title Demogresca, a word that figures prominently in De Prada’s writings, but has no entry yet in the Spanish dictionaries we have so unfortunately found. We have tentatively rendered it into English as democresque, as the title of this entry shows, in between single quotation marks, hoping that someone would come forward with a better translation.

CHAPTER I
DEMOCRESQUE

[…]

Ecce homo
Minkácsy Mihály
(source)

There is something that shakes us in the condemnation of the just, because we all have a very rooted natural notion of justice—we could almost say that it is inscribed in our genes (even though many try to hide it); and if trampling upon justice is always abhorrent, when this serves to condemn the innocent, it turns out to be aberrant. The analysis of the process against Jesus ought to be proposed to those who study law, wherein justice acquires a mad denseness, pullulating with legal irregularities and aberrations: the Sanhedrin gathered during the time of the Passover, which was forbidden to them; the testimonies against Jesus were false and contradictory; there were no defence witnesses, nor was it permitted that the accused should avail himself of a counsel; the sentence of the Sanhedrin was not preceded by the required vote; two sessions were held on the same day, without the established legal recess between the arraignment and the verdict; the condemned was afterwards sent to the Roman authorities, which the Sanhedrin did not recognise as legitimate and which, moreover (as Pilate himself observes), had no jurisdiction over religious crimes; the crime of conspiracy against Caesar, which the members of the Sanhedrin afterwards promoted, was not punishable by crucifixion, unless if it were by means of an armed uprising, which manifestly Jesus did not do; and, finally, leaving all other irregularities behind, the Roman procurator sentenced the accused to death without pronouncing the official verdict, which a judge cannot do, because it is tantamount to abdicating his office.
These are only some of the irregularities that fill this process; and any one of them would suffice to render the whole process null. But the thing that troubles us most about this opprobrious process may not have been the frantic and fanatic attitude of the members of the Sanhedrin, but the cowardly and frivolous attitude of the procurator Pontius Pilate, who after publicly recognising the innocence of the accused (“I find no fault in Him”) nevertheless sentences Him to death, handing Him over to be crucified, owing to his fear of the people. Analysing this Gospel passage, Hans Kelsen, the famous theoretician of the Law and guru of legal positivism, concludes that Pilate behaves as a perfect democrat, at least in two occasions. The first, when in the first scrutiny which he made to Jesus, He answered him: “Every one who is of the truth, heareth My voice”; to which Pilate responds with another question: “What is truth?” For Kelsen, a democrat must allow himself to be guided by some necessary scepticism; philosophical and moral enquiries about truth must then turn out to be completely foreign to him. The second occasion in which Pilate, in Kelsen’s judgment, behaves as a perfect democrat is when, confronted by the supposed impossibility of determining what the truth is, he addresses the multitude gathered before the praetorium and asks them: “What should I do with Jesus?” To which the multitude responds, thirsting for blood: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate resolves the process in the form of a plebiscite; and since that majority determines that what ought to be done with Jesus is to crucify Him, Pilate defers to that opinion.
Kelsen’s exposition can come across to us as brutal, but nobody can deny that, in effect, Pilate is a model of a democratic politician; sceptic to the core, in vain he considers trying to determine what the truth is; and, consequently, he submits Jesus’ fate to a popular vote. And this is the crossroads in which our democracies collapse: declining to issue an objectively ethical judgment (declining, definitively, to establish the truth of things), the opinion of the majority is upheld as the standard; and, in this manner, the standard will no longer obey justice, but the capricious and selfish preferences of said majority. It is a relativistic solution that is eating democracies away; and which, being unable to set itself aright, will succeed in destroying them from within, which otherwise is how all human organisations, which have not kept a core of clear moral notions, have always succumbed; in which notions, the just inevitably end up being persecuted and condemned, as any criminal, for the joy of the true criminals.
But Kelsen is right: Pilate is a perfect democrat; for whom democracies ought to erect monuments in public parks and establish holidays—with hand washing included—that celebrate his memory.
* * *
The exaltation and absolutist defence of the freedom of expression, which has been made, including those coming from means that are of Christian inspiration or that are declaredly confessional, to justify the caricatures of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which (the caricatures) it (Charlie Hebdo) blasphemed against God in aberrant ways, proves to be delirious. But let us not be confused: those who have made such defences do not profess the Catholic religion, nor do they find inspiration in Christian philosophy, even though they pretend to, taking advantage of the consternation caused by the vile assassinations of the cartoonists; but that they are janissaries of the “Democratic Religion,” a perversion of thought that consists of substituting the healthy defence of democracy as a form of government—which, by means of political representation, facilitates popular participation in the exercise of power—with the defence of democracy as a foundation of government, as a demented religion that subverts whichever moral principle, sheltering itself in supposed majorities, in reality, masses cretinised and influenced by the repetition of sophisms.
The janissaries of this religion want the cretinised masses to accept their sophisms as axioms (propositions that seem self-evident), among which (sophisms) one discovers the so-called “freedom of expression” in its absolutist version. To create such axioms, they resort to the method anticipated by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, which consists of the repetition, for a thousand or a million times, of the same affirmation. In Huxley’s novel, such repetition was attained by means of a repetitive mechanism that spoke without interruption to the subconscious, during hours of sleep; in our time, it is attained through mental saturation with the hogwash that the mass media serves us, infested with janissaries of the Democratic Religion who defend an absolutist freedom of expression: a freedom without responsibility; a freedom to damage, injure, calumniate, offend and blaspheme; a freedom to sow hatred and spread lies amongst the cretinised masses; a freedom to condition the spirits and incite them unto evil. Those who defend this “freedom of expression” as an unlimited right are the very ones who defend a “freedom of conscience” understood not as a freedom to morally choose and righteously act, but as a freedom to choose the most perverted ideas, the most vulgar passions and most egotistical ambitions, and put them in practice, pretending, moreover, that the State guarantees their realisation. Let us not be fooled: those who defend the freedom to publish blasphemous caricatures are defending a destructive freedom that only leads to decadence and nihilism.
Christian thought teaches us that freedom is not an end in itself, but a means to attain truth. If an “in order to what” is not added to the word “freedom,” it becomes a meaningless word, a sickeningly ambiguous word that can protect the greatest aberrations. As Castellani said, “freedom is not a movement, but a power to move; and what matters in the power to move is the ‘towards where,’ the ‘in order to what.’ There can be no freedom to offend, to incite hatred, to encourage depraved passions; there can be no freedom to insult a fellow’s faith and blaspheme against God. Christians are distinguished because they say a prayer in which it is asked: “Hallowed by Thy Name.” Janissaries of the freedom of expression want that Name eliminated, degraded and ridiculed, for the greater honour of the Democratic Religion. We do not mind them: whether they wear suit and tie, or cassock and zucchetto, they are deluding themselves, they want to turn us into a cretinised mass.
* * *
In the prologue of Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote a phrase worthy of being chiselled into marble: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” When I read it for the first time, I thought that such phrase would be a magnificent motto to live by; and, from the time that I started writing, I considered—following Orwell—that the writer’s mission is not to flatter his public, but much better to urge them, to inconvenience them, even to the point of annoying them by writing about thorny questions or about topics contrary to the spirit of the time. Now I know that this is a useless and chimerical enterprise; and that, as all useless and chimerical enterprises go, it only engenders melancholy in the end.
We could, in order to demonstrate the impossibility of Orwell’s desideratum, begin invoking his figure, condemned in life to heterodoxy by rebelling against the blind adhesion that Stalinism imposed upon intellectuals. By telling Stalinists what they did not want to hear, Orwell was expelled to the shadows, where he was at least picked up by anti-Stalinists; but if they picked him up, it was precisely because they could use him in their dialectic war against Stalinism (that is, because Orwell said exactly what they wanted to hear). But that time of bellicose and ideological conflagrations has remained behind; now, we find ourselves in a democratic phase of History, which, if it is characterised by anything, it is by the desire of all corridors of power to flatter and bribe the so-called “citizenry” (which is how finely a populace reduced to an amorphous and cretinised mass is designated). We could also say that the objective of power in our time is no other than to flatter the “citizenry,” applauding their whims, gratifying their appetites and desires, nourishing their depraved passions, etc. To this effort, rulers—to whom adopting rough measures that oppose their voters’ expectations already proves to be almost impossible (and because of that, they constantly commission opinion polls)—dedicate themselves with particular confidence. To this effort, likewise, means of communication—which is governed by the tyranny of the audience, and commission “market studies,” in order to establish what the preferences of their public are—dedicate themselves. And, finally, there exists no corridor of power in the so-called democratic society, which does not operate in accordance with the maxim of telling their clientele what their clientele desires to hear. That these corridors of power devote themselves afterwards to underhandedly crushing their clientele, having once flattered their principal desires, is another thing; but it is the least what ought to be done with someone who has previously consented to be bribed. So what we have written concerning corridors of power applies to the writer. The writer, who makes use of that chimerical Orwellian right to tell the people what the people do not want to hear, will be immediately consigned to ostracism; because the public will immediately make use of their corresponding right not to hear what they do not want to hear.
We will not deny that some privileged spirits, able to hear (and even listen to!) those which do not please them, exist; but they are exceptions that confirm the rule, souls rare and endangered by extinction who pitch camp outside the walls of the fold. Generally, people do not tolerate being told things they do not want to hear, especially when the atmosphere of the period has previously created a fortune of acoustic illusion wherein people always hear things that entice them to hear; and wherein annoying things are unanimously labelled as horridly sounding. Of course, the conformist writer who says what the public want to hear will nevertheless lay himself down as a rebel, because his readers prefer him this way (in order to imagine themselves as rebels too); but those presumably annoying things that he says will always be weightless, referred to accidental questions (for example, to criticise such or whichever perishable government, or to banter about some recently-minted societal norm, or to attack certain caricaturesque excesses of ideologies in vogue), but, on the other hand, he will never attack the philosophical foundations upon which such ideologies rest (whose errors he fundamentally shares), nor will he discuss the immoral means that has protected such societal norms (in which he gleefully participates), nor will he ridicule the legitimacy of power that those perishable rulers invoke, because he knows that if he does it, he will be expelled on the spot into the open.
And it is very cold out in the open. In this democratic phase of History (as in previous totalitarian phases, even though by distinct reasons), there exists no “right to tell the people what they do not want to hear,” dear Orwell. Or, if it exists, it is a “right to suicide.”
De Prada’s writing truly deserves no further endorsement because he does not climb the intricate and enticing scaffolding of ambiguity characteristic of the world and the profession he lives in. The best Catholic authors and their masterpieces do not need to be trumpeted about. We hope that in this translation we have brought De Prada’s biting rhetoric closer to our fellow Catholics.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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