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Sunday, May 19, 2024
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The right kind of diversity – the Gothic kind

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DIVERSITY, we are told, is the cement of our society that no Western institution can do without. Or more accurately is permitted to do without. The diversity yardsticks are wielded with a vengeance, and woe betide anyone who does not measure up. Inclusion, we are told, is good which must mean that those who say otherwise are bad. And through such simple sophistry the champions of diversity have conquered the Western world, from the media to the military, museums to churches, academe to sports clubs, retail giants to coffee shops: everywhere human life dwells.

But of course all is not as it seems. For on display here is not an earthly harmony where mutually inclusive talents labour for the benefit of society, but hubris and aggression towards that which does not fit in, notably that which underpins the Judeo-Christian infrastructure upon which the West was built. This is precisely what the Bolshevik poet Vladimir Kirillov had in mind when he declared in his 1917 poem We that ‘We’ll burn up Raphael for our Tomorrow’s sake, trample art’s flowers and destroy museums’. He and other Year Zeroists believed that everything material which hindered the development of the communist brave new world needed to be eliminated from the cultural scene. It is not by accident that every facet of Western civilisation is experiencing an existential crisis evidenced, for example, by its corrupt and inept financial and political institutions, its politicised law enforcement and educational systems, and its decaying and crime-ridden cities. Just a few oases of morality, authentic education, high cultural standards, and strong social structures survive from the previous institutional architecture, submerged in a sea of relativism and immorality.

The cultural wars which grip us were designed to make every aspect of Western civilisation ‘stink’, in the words of Willi Münzenberg, a leading light of the Marxist Frankfurt School which was set up in the 1930s to do precisely that. This would be achieved by gradually capturing ‘capitalist’ institutions and advancing institutional entryism until these institutions bore no resemblance to their former selves. To use Herbert Marcuse’s terminology, the burden of the task would be lessened by institutionalising ‘discrimination tolerance’ against those who disagreed with it because, as he claimed, ‘it cannot be accomplished within the established framework of abstract tolerance and spurious objectivity because these are precisely the factors that precondition the mind against it.’ No pale stale heterosexual, intellectually astute, conservative-minded, Christian people allowed here, then. Or for that matter workers who as a vanguard were found so wanting as revolutionary agents during the First World War as they embraced their respective nationalisms in combat rather than international workers’ solidarity that was supposed to destroy the bourgeois political system.

Enter diversity – Marxist style. To achieve its ends, an alternative vanguard, a ‘coalition of minorities’, would be assembled to appear browbeaten not by economic disadvantage but by prejudice of capitalist cultural norms. These ‘oppressed groups’ would in turn provide the building blocks of a contrived reality devoid of any interest that hitherto contributed to the building of civilisation.  A mishmash of intellectual ideas, such as Critical Theory, feminism, psychoanalysis, identitarianism and intersexuality, would create a revolutionary movement with an inexhaustible pool of victims. The culprits: the family unit, marriage, Christianity, sexual self-control, marital fidelity, national heritage, patriotism, gender constancy and suchlike, all guilty of oppressing one group or another. The sexual component of Critical Theory gained special agency in offering children explicit sexual content to desensitise them to what Herbert Marcuse termed ‘polymorphous perversity’, a Marxian-Freudian psychoanalytical hybrid that sought to erase all religiously conservative restrictions on sexual gratification. True to Lenin’s adage, ‘give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world’. Combined, it is a tactic designed to manufacture controversies and sow communal discord in order to produce a sense of total hopelessness and abrogate any unifying transcendent purpose. Masquerading as inclusive diversity, its aim is to erase competing value systems from the social landscape altogether.

But in the past there was a diversity that worked. To the medieval man, long maligned by the moderns as barbarous, such contrived tyranny would have been inconceivable. For all the hardships that he faced, he harboured an underlying desire for freedom and societal harmony that was in tune with the Christian value-system which  guided his life. The Christian Church, having established over several hundred years its cultural and spiritual foundations on free will, endeavoured as best it could to mitigate the challenges of the times. It had proved too strong to be overpowered by the destructive forces of Barbarian invasions of the eighth and ninth centuries or the political and economic sterility of the misnamed ‘Dark Ages’ to ensure that it alone would continue to infuse Western society with creativity, dynamism, moral authority and intellectual vigour, whether through the monasteries of Northumbria or the Church of the Carolingian Empire. While its organisational competence and intellectual authority inevitably drew it towards secular office, rendering political neutrality impractical, it offered both spiritual and physical refuge to the individual in a savage world as well as mediation between the men of violence through the ‘Truce’ and ‘Peace’ of God.  Whether it was championing the weak against the strong, extending hospitality to the traveller or offering intercessory prayers to the deceased to ease their pains in purgatory, the churches endeavoured to build a Christian commonwealth in which mutual duty among diverse talents operated for the good of the land. How ironic that it took the Protestant commonwealthmen such as Robert Crowley, writing during the time of commotion of the 1540s, to be one of the first to lament the post-Reformation society when ‘men use their possessions not as stewards as Scripture commands but as they want, while allowing the poor to perish.’

No physical manifestation embodies this harmony better than the Gothic cathedral. Incorporating Platonic metaphysics and Augustinians’ philosophy of art, it is anchored to a perfect ratio which is as attractive to the eye as music based on a comparable ratio is to the ear, and invites mutual inclusivity of all its parts to ensure the integrity of the structure. Notwithstanding their exterior and internal aesthetic splendour, Gothic churches were symbols of something more than their physical attributes. The mathematicians and varied craftsmen at Chartres, for instance, who were imitated a thousand times throughout Western Christendom, employed geometrical representation to show theological mysteries hidden in the harmonious cosmos born out of apparent chaos. From this emerged a religiously symbolic construct, to cite historian Christopher Dawson, ‘an exquisitely balanced machine, every member of which is engaged in constant activity of stress and counter-stress’. A genuine unity in diversity indeed.

First appearing in the Ile de France in the 12th century, the Gothic cathedral represented a time when those who toiled in the service of a spiritual purpose did so fully aware that, given the length of their project, they would not see the rewards of their effort. This was an example of humility when man recognised his limitations and saw himself as only a small portion of divine creation. Compare this with the egotistical notion of stardom or victimhood that characterises modern culture.

Those who assailed Gothic architecture may have had some aesthetic preferences in mind. But governing these were decisive differences in world viewpoints which turned their disdain for Gothic into an outlet for anti-Catholic sentiment, albeit for nominally different reasons. For the Protestant, the Gothic world was occupied by the ‘corrupt’ cardinal, the ‘lecherous’ monk, the evil inquisitor and the superstitious priest, with disdain for impractical ornamentation being mere smokescreens for confessional hatreds. For the Enlightenment deist, conversely, the Gothic era represented the submission of man to self-incurred immaturity, to cite Kant, which  restricted his intellectual and creative spirit.

Yet Gothic did not disappear altogether. It continued to figure prominently in construction during the 18th century, albeit solely for aesthetic reasons, from Christ Church College Oxford to London’s St Mary Aldermary. While painful for many to acknowledge a full return of the architecture of a rejected religion, Gothic was to make a triumphant comeback in the 19th century. And for both aesthetic and spiritual reasons, remembering a society, to cite Pugin, which  was not only able to discern beauty but one that was morally good.

Historical designations are never really that helpful, and are often the invention of hostile interests. There was much that was dark about the ‘Dark Ages’. Yet it was the mutually inclusive spiritual and cultural aspects of the Christian Church which sought to bring harmony out of social discord and leave the world a set of values that we would be wise to revisit in our man-centric era which offers chaos out of ‘diversity’ rather than the earthly paradise that it promised.

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Dr Gregory Slysz
Dr Gregory Slysz
Dr Gregory Slysz writes and lectures on history and current affairs. He is currently working on his second book, ‘The bigger picture and the case for Christendom’.

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