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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mos Maiorum

Arabs and Moslems are sane and decent people. Of course. No condescension, no irony or sarcasm. We do, some of us, including me, like to point to the gaping mouths and wild eyes and distended neck-veins of the islamist "protesters" -- it illustrates a point, about the nature of the enemy, the fervor, the passion. The danger. The operative word is "enemy." But membership in the racist subversive terrorist-supporting moslem group, CAIR -- membership is down by half, in the past few years. It may be fear of reprisal against belonging to a commie-like cell. It may be education and common sense finally prevailing, or at least gaining some ground. Point being, Moslem is not moslem. Some are sane, some are scum. Like us. The difference lies in our institutions.

The idea that we could impose a constitutional democracy upon tribal peoples is naive. It worked in Japan, but the Japanese are unique -- they have transformed themselves some several times in history. I expect it has to do with being a homogeneous island population that enjoys a high civilization and an often powerful central government -- and when not powerful, powerfully symbolic. Rather a unique situation.

Do any other candidates for successful revolution come to mind? Well, us, of course. The point is that such revolutions are fruitful only in the way that indigenous plants survive untended. Exotic transplants are temperamental. Blight, drought, frost -- so many perils. Best to go with weeds. Rock gardens in the desert. See? Native institutions must be honored.

Back when mankind was just swinging down from the trees for the last time, finding its unsteady way on two upright but bandied legs, scratching out the mystery of fire and daring the perils of cave-living, and I was in college, there was a little bother down to the southwest of Bactria. Some country where they used to have a shah. How many governments did Persia have, in the last century? Same as most of those third world countries. A lot. Something about instability. It's a clue.

We find solutions to the riddle of human governance by looking at human conduct -- what works, what doesn't. What seems to work is having a presiding moral foundation. Traditions last because they answer fundamental needs. Even native plants need strong roots. America has always had the Bible. No, not for you, maybe. But it is the rule book, and that makes for a lot of stability. A good thing. When you throw out the rule book, you get a French Revolution. A Terror followed by Dictatorship and World War. A Russian Revolution. Three generations of grinding misery.

Shinto is an odd religion, but it provided Japan with a connection to its past the way a strong tower rests on a firm foundation. Taoism in China, and Confucianism and Buddhism, call for moral and moderate behavior. Even kingdoms in the west -- they lasted from the fall of Rome until the Industrial Revolution because they were, for all their wars, stable.

It has to do with a sense of belonging. What we own, we protect. What we build, we cherish. This is mine, it matters -- my people have loved it and so will I. Tradition is the way of the ancestors. It is the body of an ethos. It is the habit of a civilization. Well, civilizations organize. Roads and canals and what not. Organize ideas too. Libraries, religions, philosophies. So we have the Buddhists with their Eightfold Path of right things: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Why, it's almost a bill of rights. It's a bill of obligations. But it emphasizes normative ethical conduct.

Same with the ancient Romans -- they had their own eightfold path. Mos Maiorum, the Ways of the Ancestors. Sounds really boring. But it's what made Rome great. Cato the Elder is said best to exemplify the precepts: fideas (loyalty), peitas (duty), religio (binding to worthy authority), severitas (moral strictness), disciplina (diligence), constantia (steadiness), parsimonia (frugality) and gravitas (dignity).

Travel a few centuries down history's Via Lacrimosa and we come to the medieval Seven Virtues -- humility, charity, chastity, kindness, temperance, forgiveness and diligence. Balanced of course by the Seven Deadly Sins -- pride (Superbia), greed (Avaritia), lust (Luxuria, 'extravagance'), envy (Invidia), gluttony (Gula), wrath (Ira) and sloth (Acedia). SALIGIA.

How we love to make lists. Distracts from what we should actually be doing. The Moslem list is the Five Pillars of Islam. The creed, the fast, alms, prayer and pilgrimage. Do these five things, and you are a Moslem. Nothing in there about beheading sojourners. When that sixth item gets added to the list, we have islamism. That sixth element, I think, unbalances the ancient harmony that Islam has achieved with itself. It is the worm in the tree -- the sapper of the stronghold. It is the suicide bomber of Islam.

What happens when a society throws out its rule book? New things don't last, unrooted. We may be facing some generations of struggle. But islamism will burn itself out. This is not hope for us, necessarily. But our grandchildren will view the jihad as we view communism and the Nazis. As a kitsch fashion statement.


J

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