Author: Richard Carroll

Doctrina Christiana

I don’t read as much theology as I perhaps should, but every Catholic should have some familiarity with the Church’s teachings, and work constantly to deepen our understanding of the Faith. I was fortunate to be better catechised than most in high school, but revisiting the basics once in a while doesn’t hurt, so I decided to pick up Doctrina Christiana, a catechism written by St. Robert Bellarmine, whose work is becoming a staple of my reading habits after the excellent De Laicis and the extraordinarily in-depth De Romano Pontifice.

Of course, Doctrina Christiana isn’t nearly as detailed as those two other works. Though this is intended for adults, as opposed to a shorter catechism he wrote for children, it’s still intended for those new to the Faith and so covers the basic doctrines, giving a brief explanation of what they are why they’re believed. So, among other things, he covers what doctrine is, the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the meaning of the Our Father and Hail Mary, virtues, the capital sins, and the Ten Commandments. It’s set in the form of a dialogue between a student and teacher, though perhaps calling it a “dialogue” is a little misleading since that makes one expect something like Plato’s dialogues, when in practice it differs little from the question-and-answer format of, say, the Baltimore Catechism. That may be unavoidable, since it must remain as straightforward as possible, but it is a little less dry than Baltimore.…

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Xinzhong Yao’s Gentle Introduction to Confucianism

Though I’ve been interested in Confucianism for much of my life, I’ve only relatively recently begun seriously working through the Confucian canon, namely the Four Books and Five Classics. Now, working through the canon seems like a logical start to understanding the philosophy, much like working through Scripture to understand Christianity, but there is a drawback. That is, the canon by itself does not tell us how Confucianism was understood and put into practice within China. For me it’s still more-or-less an abstraction, and I fear reading my own ideas into the texts too much and ending up like a Confucian equivalent of SWPL “Buddhists,” who refashion that faith in their own image with no concept of what the religion actually involves.

So on an acquaintance’s recommendation, I picked up Xinzhong Yao’s An Introduction to Confucianism, which Yao wrote primarily as a textbook for a course he teaches on Confucianism. His approach to understanding religion is close to my own, as he says in the preface, “[T]he inquiry into religious phenomena should involve empathy to some degree, and […] an inquirer should be able to enter into the doctrine and practice of a religion almost as an ‘insider’, as well as to step outside as a critical observer.” He also directly addresses my concern with being overly focused on the canon, quoting W. E. Soothill:

A study of a religion which limits itself to the teachings of the early founders, and which ignores the present condition of its development, will give a very imperfect presentation of the religion as a whole. On the other hand, a study which is limited to its expression in practice, without doing justice to the ideals of the founders, equally fails to do justice to the religion as a whole, for the religious ideals of a people, while they may be written on the tablets of their hearts and conscience, often find very imperfect expression in their lives.

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An Ascent with Xenophon

I first heard of Xenophon and Anabasis while at college, in Bl. John Henry Newman’s great book The Idea of a University. In this particular essay, Newman gives an illustration of a poor applicant for university studies by giving a dialogue between a student and a tutor. This student does indeed stumble through the interview, able to give a basic summary of events in Anabasis but unable to answer questions about the etymology of the title and its significance, basic Greek grammar, and other such things. What struck me, though, was that Newman assumed that even a poor student will have read Anabasis, among other works from the Classical world, and have some basic knowledge of Greek and Latin. Indeed, in the printed essay, Newman does not even transliterate Greek words; he merely assumes that anyone reading would know the Greek alphabet.

Yet, here I was, a year or two into university studies, and I was clearly far less competent than even this student Newman describes as “below par.” I knew no Greek at all, and the name of “Xenophon” was merely a foreign sound to me, though I was at least aware of the other authors Newman mentions in the passage.

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The Most Reactionary Book Ever Written

Mencius Moldbug once wrote that the Right is fundamentally oriented towards order. That’s not a rigorous definition, obviously, but it does have more than a grain of truth to it. The modern, Liberal mind may instinctively leap from “order” to an image of a totalitarian, regimented society, but order essentially means, simply, each aspect of a society working as it ought.  In book XII, chapter 11 of the Analects Confucius is asked about government, and he says, “Let the prince be a prince, the minister a minister, the father a father, and the son a son.”  Interestingly, though not the goal, increased order also leads to increased liberty, but you can find more about Reaction and liberty from Moldbug or a more recent article by Doug Smythe.

Now, I, and I assume most readers, aren’t really in a position right now to bring order to the whole country, but we do have control over a few square feet around us, and that’s a good enough place to start. “You can’t give what you don’t have,” as the cliché goes, so even an emperor can’t bring order to a nation when he himself is disordered. Think of how Confucius or Mencius constantly urge princes to virtue, or the disasters that befall Israel and Judah because of their impious kings. Reaction isn’t about self-improvement; the common advice “Read old books, lift weights, go to church, marry and have children” isn’t the goal, but it is the starting-point.…

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Plato: Socrates’ Defense

When we last left Socrates, he had just finished an unproductive discussion with Euthyphro, and was on his way to court to face charges of corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates’ Defense, also commonly called the Apology, is not a dialogue, aside from a few lines, but a speech given by Socrates in answer to his accusers’ charges against him. This is the first time so far that Socrates speaks mostly of himself, and my understanding is that it’s the only time he does so at much length.

One interesting tidbit is that this is the first work so far to mention Plato by name. This makes the speech feel authentic, since the author explicitly puts himself at the scene, though of course, that doesn’t mean this is an accurate depiction of the trial.

In any case, Socrates begins by apologising for not being a great orator like his opponents. We should take this with a grain of salt since this claim is actually good rhetoric, disarming the audience from looking for slick oratory. He says that resentful men, like his accusers, have unjustly given him a bad name because of his past arguments with them, and their slander has prejudiced those who haven’t yet met him. As evidence of his good intentions, a bit later, Socrates cites his own poverty, and points out that he has always taught openly and free of charge. Clearly, then, he was not trying to stir up trouble or personally benefit from his vocation.…

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New at Thermidor: Hesiod

I have a new article over at Thermidor Magazine, in which I discuss not only Hesiod’s works, but his days, as well. More specifically, I give an overview of his epic poem The Works and Days, with a few words on Theogeny as well. If you can’t get enough of the Classics, I also wrote about Poetics, by Aristotle, over there a couple months ago, and I will likely have a follow-up of sorts in the near future.

In addition, I have a post drafted and ready continuing my series on Plato’s dialogues, this time covering Socrates’ Defense, more commonly called The Apology. If you’re new to this blog, I began with an introduction to the series with a short discussion of three dialogues, then covered Meno, and most recently, Euthyphro.…

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Link: The Stupid Objections to Reaction

As a general policy, I firmly believe that it’s best to focus on an opponent’s strongest arguments and their best representatives, not their weakest and dumbest. However, there are a handful of arguments, or rather, non-arguments, leveled against the Right on a regular basis that are particularly stupid and pernicious. So, even though they’re low-hanging fruit, I decided to write up a brief rebuttal of them, which I’ve posted to the main site, On the Origin of Fire… It’s called, straightforwardly, “The Stupid Objections to Reaction.”

One reason for posting it as a static page is that it’ll stay in one place, and I can fairly easily go back and update it over time. I’d like for it to be as useful as possible, so constructive criticism and suggestions are welcome; you can leave them either in the comments section below, or contact me via Twitter.…

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That Other, Better Hobbit Movie

A while back I wrote about Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I seem to be one of the brave few who actually did enjoy the movie, but mostly because of the few things it got right. Overall, the best I can say about it is that it’s not as bad as people say, but when that’s the best defense of a film one can offer, well, it’s probably not a good movie.

In any case, about the same time I saw that, I also heard of the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, and figured I’d check it out eventually, but after one underwhelming Tolkien adaptation I wasn’t eager to see more. A few weeks ago, though, I came across Dr. Bruce Charlton’s positive review of the film, and when I shared that on Twitter I was quickly informed that I needed to watch it. So, to the front of the queue it went, and I have to say I should’ve watched this sooner, because it’s an excellent children’s film and a worthy adaptation of the novel.

Now, part of any adaptation’s success is knowing what parts of the source material to keep and what to exclude. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings failed in part because it tried to stuff two books into a two hour movie, whereas Peter Jackson’s version mostly succeeded because each of the three books had its own film. However, Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has often been criticised, justly, for bloating one fairly straightforward novel into a massively overdone trilogy of movies. Rankin/Bass couldn’t fit everything into ninety minutes, but as Dr. Charlton wrote in his review, they do hit the most important points and allow each scene to develop fully.

Nice place IMHO
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New at Thermidor: A Review of Lone Crusader

I have a new post over at Thermidor Magazine, this time a review of Samuel Stevens’ novel Lone Crusader. You should, of course, focus on reading old books, but this is a new book that actually is worth reading, so check it out.

Excluding graphic novels, I’ve now reviewed twenty-one books written by living authors. Most of those, though, are in non-fiction. In literature, I’ve previously written about five. One of these is The Sea, by John Banville, which was good, though I don’t remember it very well, so apparently it’s not particularly memorable. More famous is Kafka on the Shore, by Murakami Haruki, which had some good moments but overall is badly overrated.

The best of this group is, rather surprisingly, Welcome to the N.H.K., by Takimoto Tatsuhiko. Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest to find, but if you can find a copy at a decent price I’d recommend it to almost anyone.

The other two are light novel series that I’d recommend, but only to those who already know what a “light novel” is. One is the Haruhi series (vols. 1-7Dissociation) by Tanigawa Nagaru, good but at this point looks like it’ll remain forever unfinished; the other is Spice & Wolf, by Hasekura Isuna, also enjoyable but I wish it had been authored by a better writer.

This is my second consecutive post at Thermidor, but I have two drafts just about ready for Everything. One is a continuation of my series on Plato’s Dialogues, the other is a review of the animated adaptation of The Hobbit. Yes, it will be better than the animated version of The Lord of the Rings, I’m happy to say.…

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New at Thermidor: The Poetics

I have a new post over at Thermidor Magazine, a review of the Poetics, by Aristotle. It’s not really necessary to explain his explanation on what the different literary genres are and how they work, so I also discuss why it’s worthwhile to spend time thinking seriously about literature. In a way it’s a follow-up to last year’s “Why Do You Not Study the Odes?

If that sounds interesting, you may also want to take look at my recommended reading page, or “Is There a Hierarchy Among the Arts?” which also features Aristotle prominently.

This is the second article I’ve written at Thermidor, the first being “Chesterton and The Man Who Was Thursday.”…

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