On Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation”

Kenneth Clark may have been clueless about the fact that race matters. Yet, that our rot goes much deeper than what white nationalists realize is all too obvious once we leave, for a while, the ghetto of nationalism and take a look at the classics, just as Clark showed us through his 1969 TV series Civilisation.

Compared to the other famous series, Clark’s was unsurpassed in the sense that, as I have implied elsewhere, only genuine art—not science—has a chance to fulfill David Lane’s fourteen words.

By “art” I mean an evolved sense of beauty which is almost completely absent in today’s nationalists. Most of them are quite a product of Jewish modernity whether with their music, lifestyles or Hollywood tastes, to a much greater degree than what they think. For nationalism to succeed an evolved sense of female beauty has to be the starting point to see the divine nature of the white race. In Clark’s own words, “For all these reasons I think it is permissible to associate the cult of ideal love with the ravishing beauty and delicacy that one finds in the madonnas of the thirteenth century. Were there ever more delicate creatures than the ladies on Gothic ivories? How gross, compared to them, are the great beauties of other woman-worshiping epochs.”

Below, links to excerpts of most of the chapters of the 1969 series, where Clark followed the ups and downs of our civilisation historically:

“The Skin of our Teeth”

“The Great Thaw”

“Romance and Reality”

“Man—the Measure of all Things”

“The Hero as Artist”

“Protest and Communication”

“Grandeur and Obedience”

“The Light of Experience”

“Heroic Materialism”

On Erasmus

by César Tort


While writing my entry about Kenneth Clark’s chapter on “Protest and Communication” I promised to say something about Erasmus.

When I was a boy I heard of Erasmus and imagined that his book was about something altogether different, like praising so-called “mad” people in a world gone mad. Later, still before reading him, I imagined Erasmus was a great humanist who saw the madness of the religious wars of his time.

I was not prepared in the slightest to find out that Erasmus himself was pretty much part of civilizational madness. When in 1996 I hit Clark’s page 146 of Civilisation I was moved to purchase the excellent 1993 Penguin edition of Praise of Folly totally unsuspecting of what the contents really were. A few days after I wrote on the book’s cover that Erasmus disappointed me; that, contrary to what I had expected, he did not see the folly of his age but was a fool himself.

This said, A.H.T. Levi’s Penguin introduction to Praise of Folly is worth reading, and precisely on page xlii of Levi’s introduction I was shocked to learn that no one in the whole Middle Ages had questioned Christian “truths.”

Instead of challenging the accepted wisdom, I found in Erasmus’ other works scholastic discussions about whether or not the ancient Greeks and Romans would be saved… from eternal torment! Gruenwald’s Isenheim Altarpiece painting in the times when Erasmus published his book depicts the spirit of those still dark ages far better than any scholastic treatise.

Erasmus is truly an Alien for the people of our time. The problems he struggled with in his soul—he never considered his Praise of Folly his most important book—are infinitely distant from the problems that overwhelm us today. His worldview is dead except for those who, like me, were tormented by our parents with doctrines of eternal punishment.

Erasmus was the most famous humanist of the so-called “Northern Renaissance,” a man in touch with all leading princes and scholars of the time. Many consider him the central figure of the intellectual world of what, to my mind, was a pseudo-Renaissance (the real intellectual Renaissance would only begin with Montaigne). How could the “Northern Renaissance” be compared to the Italian Renaissance when its most emblematic intellectual, like Thomas à Kempis, was an Augustinian canon that took Pauline folly as a panegyric to Christian piety? Erasmus, who was deeply shocked before the pagan atmosphere of Julius II’s Rome, probably decided to publish Praise of Folly precisely to support the growing opposition to Julius in France. When the art of Michelangelo and Raphael were conquering the soul of Rome, Erasmus went as far as recommending a return to scripture and the so-called “Fathers”: Origen, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine, and his Greek New Testament was in fact more feared by the Church than his Praise of Folly.

Do you remember the image that Clark chose to depict St Francis in a previous entry: Jacquemart de Hesdin’s The Fool? In Erasmus’ most famous book, women, “admittedly stupid and foolish creatures,” are Folly’s pride. Erasmus takes a surprisingly modern, “liberal” position about the role of women in society. Since Folly praises ignorance and lunacy, Erasmus reasons, women must be instrumental for the Christian cause. In his book Folly is only interested in following the example of Jesus, the exemplar of charitable simplicity against the budding intellectualism of the sixteenth century. The fact that Erasmus took St Paul’s “praise of folly” against the best minds St Paul encountered in Athens speaks for itself and needs no further comment.

It doesn’t take a great intellectual effort to recognize that the so-called Northern Renaissance was set against the real Renaissance of Italy, which had fallen in love with our genuine, Greco-Roman roots. Erasmus et al’s “optimist” discussions around the subject of the predestination of both the elect and the damned represent a clear regression to the world of Dante of two hundred years before. How could Erasmus’ work that discusses whether or not a personal God “predestined” some of us to an eternity of torture be called “Renaissance” by any stretch of imagination? It is true that, in Erasmus’ century, the current theology was Pelagian rather than Augustinian, in the sense that we were supposed to be allowed to earn salvation by our own efforts. But this is altogether medieval, not modern, thinking.

To understand Erasmus one must remember the bestsellers of his time. The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues, composed in 680 C.E. and translated to all known vernaculars, reinforced in the faithful what priests used to call “a salutary fear of hell.” The book clearly implied that hell was eternal and that the soul, though spiritual, suffered physically from burning. Dante himself drew heavily from the Dialogues “and its influence on popular piety was greater that that of any other single work of piety in the history of western Christendom.”

See the above detail of Gruenwald’s painting, a blond girl praying. Visualize yourself one moment living under the sky of Erasmus’ age. Visualize yourself trapped in the Church dogma and struggling with the terrible discussion about whether the ancient Greeks could possibly be “justified”—a nasty Lutheran word inspired in Augustine—and thus saved.

For the so-called humanists of Erasmus’ time this dilemma was all too serious theological business, and they rationalized their wishes to save the “pagans” after the recent discoveries of Indian “souls” in America, who had no opportunity to receive the gospel through no fault of their own. That such doctrines represented a slight advance from Augustine’s “pessimism” (cf. Erasmus’ treatise against Luther, On Free Will and Luther’s reply, On Unfree Will) will never refute the fact that Erasmus and his ilk were chained in the trappings of medieval thought.

I was moved to write this entry because all westerners, including white nationalists, have forgotten what was living under Christendom like. With the exception of the final section of my Hojas Susurrantes, no contemporary writer that I know—no one—has said something real about the horrors of the infinitely nut doctrine of eternal damnation, and how the fear of perdition was so central for the medieval mind. On the contrary, modern westerners seem to retroproject their own healthy mental states and never wonder about the subjective horrors that millions upon millions of whites endured during the Dark Ages as a result of such doctrine. (See how the fourth section of my book prepares the reader’s mind for the horrible subject of damnation discussed in my 5th.)

In his antichristian interview of Alex Linder, Guessedworker stated that Christianity was not chosen but imposed on the white race, and that this is fairly relevant to understand the whys of our current mad world.

I believe that Guessedworker is spot on, and that sooner or later conservative nationalists will have to give up Christianity in our endeavors to save our race not from hell, which doesn’t exist, but from extinction.

Civilisation’s “The Hero as Artist”

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “The Hero as Artist,” the fifth chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

In the Middle Ages men had been crushed by this [ancient Roman] gigantic scale. They said that these buildings must be the work of demons, or at best they treated them simply as natural phenomena—like mountains—and built their huts in them.

But by 1500 the Romans had begun to realise that they had been built by men. The lively and intelligent individuals who created the Renaissance, bursting with vitality and confidence, were not in a mood to be crushed by antiquity. They meant to absorb it, to equal it, to master it. They were going to produce their own race of giants and heroes.

In what is commonly described as the decadence of the papacy, the Popes were men of unusual ability who used their international contacts, their great civil service and their increasing wealth in the interests of civilisation. Nicholas V, the friend of Alberti and the humanists, was the first man who saw that papal Rome could revive the grandeurs of pagan Rome.

Pius II, a poet, a lover of nature and of beauty in all its forms, yet gave up his life in an attempt to save Christendom from the Turks. Even Sixtus IV, who was as brutal and cunning as he looks in the wall-painting by Melozzo da Forlo, founded the Vatican library and made the great humanist, Platina, its first prefect. Pope Julius II was able by magnanimity and strength of will to inspire and bully three men of genius—Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael. Without him Michelangelo would not have painted the Sistine Ceiling, nor Raphael decorated the papal apartments, and so we should have been without two of the greatest visible expressions of spiritual power and humanist philosophy.

The above paragraphs remind me what Nietzsche said almost at the end of his Antichrist: that without the Reformation and Counter-Reformation these rather pagan popes would have brought Christianity down. Clark continues:

The old St Peter’s was one of the largest and most ancient churches in the western world, and certainly the most venerable. Julius decided to pull it down and put something far more splendid in its place. The first step in this visible alliance between Christianity and antiquity was taken when Julius decided to pull down the old basilica.

The men of fifteenth-century Florence had looked back eagerly to the civilisation of Greece and Rome. They sought for ancient authors and read them with passion, and wrote to each other in Latin. Their greatest source of pride was to write prose like Cicero. But the man who really assimilated antique art and recreated it, with all its expressive power made more vital and more intense, was Michelangelo.

Seen by itself the David’s body might be some unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity; it is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew. I suppose that this quality, which I may call heroic, is not part of most people’s idea of civilisation. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of happiness.

And this of course can only remind me of Harold Covington’s extreme contempt for those so-called “nationalists” who watch TV while eating so tasty Nachos that only grow their bellies; always reluctant to come home and fight for the creation of a new nation. Clark continues:

And yet we recognise that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man’s supreme achievement; and since, in the end, civilisation depends of man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of western man.

[His drawing of Battle of Cascina] was the first authoritative statement that the human body—that body which, in Gothic times, had been the subject of shame and concealment, that body which Alberti has praised so extravagantly—could be made the means of expressing noble sentiments, life-giving energy and God-like perfection. It was an idea that was to have an incalculable influence on the human mind for four hundred years.

And this brings us back to Rome, and to the terrible Pope. Julius II was not only ambitious for the Catholic Church: he was ambitious for Julius II, and in his new temple he planned to erect the greatest tomb of any ruler since the time of Hadrian. It was a staggering example of superbia; and Michelangelo at that time was not without the same characteristic. I need not go into the question of why the tomb was never built. There was a quarrel—heroes do not easily tolerate the company of other heroes. Nor does it matter to us what the tomb was going to look like. All that matters is that some of the figures made for it survive, and they add something new to the European spirit—something that neither antiquity nor the great civilisations of India and China had ever dreamed of. As a matter of fact the two most finished of them were derived from antiques, but Michelangelo has turned them from athletes to captives, one of them struggling to be free—freedom from mortality?—and the other sensuously resigned.

People sometimes wonder why the Renaissance Italians, with their intelligent curiosity, didn’t make more of a contribution to the history of thought. The reason is that the most profound thought of the time was not expressed in words, but in visual imagery.

For centuries writers on Michelangelo have criticised Julius for taking him off the tomb, on which he had set his heart, and putting him to work on the painting of the Sistine Ceiling, although he always said he hated the act of painting.

Michelangelo’s power of prophetic insight gives one the feeling that he belongs to every epoch, and most of all, perhaps, to the epoch of the great Romantics, of which we are still the most bankrupt heirs. It is the attribute that distinguishes him most sharply from his brilliant rival, Raphael. Michelangelo took no interest in the opposite sex; Leonardo thought of women solely as reproductive mechanisms. But Raphael loved girls as much as any Venetian.

The convention by which great events in biblical or secular history could be enacted only by magnificent physical specimens, handsome and well-groomed, went on for a long time—till the middle of the nineteenth century. Only a very few artists—perhaps only Rembrandt and Caravaggio in the first rank—were independent enough to stand against it. And I think that this convention, which was an element in the so-called grand manner, became a deadening influence on the European mind. It deadened our sense of truth, even our sense of moral responsibility; and led, as we now see, to a hideous reaction.

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