Retiring the Cow
So it's good-bye to the Brinded Cow....
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow...
John Newton (the man who wrote “Amazing Grace”) had some wise advice for Christians who enter into disputes over theology. His comments are published in the latest edition of Pen&Pulpit.
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence [sic] of custom.
What to your kings may not the Persians say,
When they that volume opened shall behold
In which are written down all their dispraises?
There shall be seen, among the deeds of Albert,
That which ere long shall set the pen in motion,
For which the realm of Prague shall be deserted.
There shall be seen the woe that on the Seine
He brings by falsifying of the coin,
Who by the blow of a wild boar shall die.
There shall be seen the pride that causes thirst,
Which makes the Scot and Englishman so mad
That they within their boundaries cannot rest;
Be seen the luxury and effeminate life
Of him of Spain, and the Bohemian,
Who valour never knew and never wished;
Be seen the Cripple of Jerusalem,
His goodness represented by an I,
While the reverse an M shall represent;
Be seen the avarice and poltroonery
Of him who guards the Island of the Fire,
Wherein Anchises finished his long life….
The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.
There is, then, a hidden alliance between centralized government and individualism. They are mirror images of one another; each tends to give birth to its opposite. How are we to understand the relationship? According to Tocqueville, “When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows and to place himself in contrast with so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and weakness. The same equality that renders him independent of each of his fellow citizens, taken severally, exposes him alone and unprotected to the influence of the greater number.” The impotence of the individual before the whole of society makes possible a hitherto unknown form of tyranny, a “new physiognomy of servitude.” The great danger is not, as it was in previous eras, the despotism of a single man or even of a class. We witness
“an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind.... Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratification and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if... its object were to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual
childhood.... For their happiness such a government willingly labors.... what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?”
What sort of citizens does such a regime produce? Tocqueville does not give them a name, but it would be hard to distinguish them from Nietzsche’s last men. According to Tocqueville, these enervated souls suffer from the shrinking of each person’s world to a very small circle. Some social conservatives might be surprised to learn that what they call family values and see as an alternative to liberal individualism is nearly indistinguishable from what Tocqueville calls individualism: “a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.” [37-38]