As I reflect on the two political conventions of this acrimonious summer, I find a common thread of discontent exuding from every nook and cranny of the public’s expression. People appear to be much more curmudgeonly than usual. As you listen to some of the more responsible voices it appears they are not enjoying the feeling. Recently, I came across a quote by one of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis. It comes from his short, but important book, The Abolition of Man.
“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
I was thinking that some of the discontent comes from a sense of frustration over what some of us feel about our failure to fit very well into the world in which we now find ourselves, a world of terror and wanton killing of the innocent. Looking at the quote above, I would also say that some of those who are firmly standing up to the terror of our day, like many of the men I have known in my life who have had chests and who pursued strength with honor, have been roundly chastened for it. The are called cowboys and dangerous, told they are suffering from too much testosterone, which just doesn’t fit in any more. I should also say that I have also known many men who fit Lewis’ description, who seem to fit in all too well.
What does it mean to have a chest? It’s hard to say, since, for some of us, the foundations under where we stand, how we define the things that make us who and what were are, appear to have radically shifted over the last 35 or so years. It is not that we are so different now than what we were in earlier years, but it seems that the world in which we live has markedly changed its hue and now we don’t fit the prevailing color scheme. I remember reading an interview (requires registration) with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French “Fascist” that had Europe all abuzz during the last election cycle in France. It was in The Spectator, which is a right of center, British political magazine, published since the early 1800’s. Warning. The drawing at the start of the article will be offensive to some. It shows a semi-naked French woman (representing France itself, possibly as a trollop) aghast to find herself in bed with Le Pen (similar to how many feel about George Bush). What I found interesting was a comment made by Mr. Le Pen toward the middle of the interview.
Its not me who has become extreme Right, he says. Its the whole of society which has become extreme Left. They put me in jackboots and a helmet and say I am Hitler. But they have been doing that for 50 years now. Thats the only way they can try to get me because I havent had my hands in the till.
Was Le Pen right? Has the world really shifted that far or is this a self-serving analysis? Are we, at least the “conservative, right of center” we, viewed differently than those who just a few short years ago held similar beliefs because the terms are now redefined and like a spreading ooze the new definitions expand and engulf those previously excluded in a perverted form of inclusiveness? It is also interesting to see what happens when someone is once labeled; any actual facts brought to bear seem to lose their weight in later argument. To illustrate that point, the writer of the article, John Laughland, points out
Le Pens views on immigration are the same as Norman Tebbits, while his views on urban blight, social collapse and the decline of traditional values can be found every week in the columns of the Daily Mail or The Spectator. The Sun, for that matter, has spent the week enumerating Le Pens various hateful policies, such as closing the refugee centre at Sangatte or opposing the right of homosexuals to adopt children, but the obligatory photograph of Hitler with which it adorned the rant did little to distinguish the list from everything the Sun itself generally supports.
I don’t know enough about Le Pen and his views from an objective source or about the politics and postions expressed in the British press to have a firm opinion about the truth or falsehood of any accusations made against him or arguments made in support of him. Then when he was not elected he faded from the scene. I only use him to clearly illustrate a point. I chose him, because since he is European I felt I would get a fairer hearing for my point than if I pointed out how President Bush is being treated in the current political climate. My point is that the shifting views of society often redefine what is, with labels from what was and certain terms begin to lose their objective historical meaning, while still carrying their historical emotional baggage, as they morph to the needs of a shifting social and political correctness. Mr. Le Pen claimed, in essence, that this was what happened to him. It may or may not be true, but it illustrates my point and I can see similar things happening to George Bush. That disturbs me.
Looking to America, anyone carefully noting the political scene can see that old definitions are changing and terms are losing their historical groundings, while other terms are applied in unfair ways which in effect changes the range of their meaning. Racist is clearly one of those terms, but fundamentalist, right-wing, cowboy, war monger, terrorist , and even liar are others that seem to be shifting beneath our feet. Forget the dictionary, it seldom applies these days. The pigeons of literary criticism in the service of moral and political expediency have come home to roost in the worst forms of political correctness and subjective demonization. The words mean what you (those with the politically correct clout) want them to mean. Definitions seem relative and now appear to be defined in the crucible of the event.
For the last three nights speakers at the Republican convention have argued for a man who they said, to use Lewis’ analogy, has a solid chest. Is that still a good thing or have we changed that much? You tell me. Can a man have a chest today without being tarred with the Facist brush as Bush has been? Do we still even want men with chests or are they just too scary, just too much for our politically correct age? One day this will all be history and its light will have cast its judgment. Will men with chests have been the right men for this time? How will history judge?