Wish I’d said that – September 22, 2016

“And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need its assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth, that God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a Sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?

Benjamin Franklin, “Motion for Prayers in the Constitutional Convention” June 28, 1787, in The Patriot Post “Founders’ Quote Daily” April 27, 2007

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The pale, ghastly silver lining to a second President Clinton

In a commentary for Mercatornet I argue that if Hillary Clinton wins the election she may be so bad she’ll actually have a beneficial purgative effect on American politics by forcing voters to reexamine themselves.

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I don’t think they’re applauding you

Monument to Caupo at Krimulda Castle (Wikipedia)

Here’s another one. Nickname, I mean. On St. Matthew’s Day, 1217, which is of course September 21 of that year, Kaupo the Accursed was killed in battle in Estonia. “The Accursed”. Dang. That’s gotta sting.

It might also interfere with recruiting to your cause. You go “Hey, we’ve got a big army, a great leader, a holy cause, who’s game to join in?” Then they go “OK, who’s this great leader person you have? Eh? Did you say ‘the Accursed’? Because maybe it’s just me but when you say that it sounds like it might not go so well.”

Now to be fair to the late Kaupo the Ill-Monickered, he probably picked up the name in the enemy camp, maybe even after the fact. He was apparently a leader of some Livonian group in the early 13th century, and is described in one chronicle as “quasi rex” which again isn’t quite the nickname you might have been fishing for. (It means “almost king” or “like a king” and isn’t nearly as cool or scary as “Tyrannosaurus rex” with no ifs, ands or quasis.)

Kaupo or Caupo (it matters less whether you spell it with a “k” or a “c” than whether you stick “the Akkursed” after it) was the first prominent Livonian to be christened. I know, I know, tallest building in Witchita. (Cue angry letters from Livonia.) Having gone to Rome and met Pope Innocent III, the same guy who sided with King John over Magna Carta boo hiss, he went home clutching the gift of a Bible to face a rebellion which he put down, then crusaded against some pagan Estonians related to his own quasi subjects… and died.

Apparently some people regard him as a fink and a traitor, others as a visionary who helped bring his people into Christian Europe. Personally I lean the second way, given the tragedies that have befallen the Baltic States in those periods when they were separated from the West. But Wikipedia says “Latvian legends, however, are unequivocal: there he is named “’Kaupo the accursed, the scourge of the Livs,… Kaupo who has sold his soul to the foreign bishops.’”

Even Antipope would be a step up. It would also help if your nickname was “guy who won the Battle of St. Matthew’s Day” not “guy who went under in it and good riddance”.

Even better to be called “Saint”, as in “the guy St. Matthew’s Day is named for”.

Kaupo the Accursed, not so much.

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Don’t ask for a cold cut from this one

On the subject of nicknames and history, can I get a quick show of hands on appropriate jobs for the “Butcher of Cesena”? No, no, not “he should sell meat in Cesena, Italy”. He wasn’t that sort of guy. He was Robert of Geneva, son of Amadeus III, Count of Geneva, and he earned the nickname for ruthlessness in authorizing a massacre of between three and eight thousand citizens of the Italian town of Cesena in 1377 during the “War of the Eight Saints”. So, who figures he should be Pope?

Well, I see some hands there at the back. And not just from die-hard anti-Catholics in our own time. In fact they belong to, oh dear, a bunch of 14th-century French cardinals, who raised them on September 20, 1378 to make Robert of Never Mind Cesena into Pope Clement VII. Or rather Antipope Clement VII. I’m not sure whether Antipope is a better title than Butcher but I’m pretty sure you don’t want much to do with anyone who acquired both in the space of two years… or ever.

It seems the French cardinals did not like Pope Urban VI very much. I’m not sure why; after all he was forced on the papal conclave by an angry mob and wasn’t a cardinal. On the other hand he was apparently simple, frugal, arbitrary, violent and imprudent. An odd combination. And in this case batting .400 won’t do. Though the French choice wasn’t any better, and triggered the “Western Schism” in which the French crown tried to control the papacy again, having done so with a heavy hand during the “Avignon Papacy” from 1309-1377, a.k.a. the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy” which is another nickname you wouldn’t want especially in context of being Pope.

The ruckus over Urban v Clement quickly drew in all sorts of angry secular rulers. And it resulted in a deal, after they both died and their successors proved equally stubborn, whereby a third, compromise pope was also elected, adding to the chaos.

Finally people noticed that the whole thing was rather embarrassing and tended to discredit the faith. So a papal council got two of them to step down and excommunicated the third and elected Martin V who apparently didn’t have a nickname although maybe privately he was called “thank goodness that nonsense is over” or some such.

Obviously an event of this sort has complex roots. But it can’t help to choose a Pope nicknamed “the Butcher” of anything unless it’s “of farm animals for food” which in this case it definitely wasn’t.

BTW, if you’re thinking a war characterized by that sort of brutality would be lucky to muster eight saints among thousands of wretches, it turns out we’re not quite sure who the “Eight Saints” were but there’s no evidence that they were in any way saint-like. They seem to have been either tax collectors or a war council who had unusually good luck with nicknames, unusually good PR or possibly were the victims of pointed sarcasm.

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Keeping it Canadian

In my latest National Post column I ask how standing up for Canadian values ever became controversial.

p.s. if you want to help me stand up for those values, please consider becoming a patron for a couple of dollars a month (please note Patreon pledges are in US dollars).

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Say goodbye, George

On this date back in 1796 George Washington published his “Farewell Address”. It was not actually a speech but a written document, and addressed not to the political class narrowly conceived but to American generally; its full and somewhat characteristically florid 18th-century title was “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States.”

Washington could easily have secured a third term as president; there were no term limits until the mid-20th century. But he feared the precedent of a dominant figure assuming something resembling power for life, as well as being heartily sick of partisan abuse. So instead he stepped aside, creating a precedent nobody felt worthy to discard until Franklin Delano Roosevelt (with the plausible excuse of a looming world war, but still…).

The Farewell Address is remarkable in becoming an instant and enduring classic, full of statesmanlike wisdom. He cautioned his countrymen against sectional divisions, a prescient warning (and yes, Washington was a slaveowner but unlike Jefferson and many others, he freed his slaves in his will). He warned against entangling alliances, praised free trade, urged good faith and justice to all nations and particularly highlighted the danger of having divisions on foreign policy intrude on domestic politics.

He also gave a famous warning against political parties, one that I feel was misguided. It’s not just that it proved ineffective in practice; so did his caution about sectional divisions. It’s that parties are a very effective way to filter options and present reasonably coherent choices to an electorate. They are also loud, abusive and stupid. But you can’t have everything.

He also stressed a point that was not popular with my professors and I suspect would be even less so today: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

You said it, George. And in the elevated tone and improving effect of his Address, he showed us what true statesmanship can be and, in the process, underlined the sorry state of public affairs today in which one cannot imagine a departing politician having anything of remotely similar calibre to say or having the grace to say it the way Washington did.

By the way, Washington had actually wanted to step down after one term, and initially drafted the Farewell Address with James Madison’s help in 1792. But he was so worried about growing animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, his Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State respectively, that he went for a second term to try to keep things under control. And it was a very successful term though, as these things tend to be, also one marked by greater political rancor than the first.

His departure saw an eruption of partisan bitterness, the formation of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties, a series of foreign crises that became dangerously entwined with domestic politics, and a bitterly contested election in 1800.

One wonders what calming influence Washington might have exerted from retirement had doctors not bled him to death over a throat infection in 1799. But his Farewell Address did help keep passions within limits among men who had known and deeply respected him, perhaps more so as he took on the august status that death paradoxically confers by protecting a public figure from further polemical blunders or simply remarks resented for their entanglement with current controversies.

If it does not look that way reviewing, say, the insults exchanged in 1800, imagine how little it might have taken to turn crisis into catastrophe in those troubled years. And consider especially Alexander Hamilton’s personally painful choice in 1800.

The election was thrown into the House of Representatives because of an Electoral College tie between the Democratic-Republicans top choice, Thomas Jefferson, and his appalling running mate Aaron Burr (in those days there were not separate Presidential and Vice-Presidential votes, and while one elector was meant to vote for Jefferson but not Burr it got messed up). Hamilton vigorously urged his party to vote for his bitter personal rival Jefferson rather than the egregious Burr because he would rather have a president with wrong principles than a president with none. Without a strong sense of what George would have wanted, and the Farewell Address denunciation of how partisanship embitters men and clouds their minds ringing in his ears, might Hamilton have been content to sit back and watch his rivals tear themselves apart to his country’s loss?

If we cannot produce such a document today, we can at least still read this one.

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