02 Sep 2006

Debating Chestless Modernity

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David Warren reflects gloomily on the case of the two Fox News journalists who recently converted to Islam at gunpoint, contrasting the denoument in this case with the heroic example of the captured Italian security guard Fabrizio Quattrocchi, and making reference to a famous comment by C.S. Lewis.

The degree to which our starch is awash is exhibited in the behaviour of so many of our captives, but especially in these two. They were told to convert to Islam under implicit threat (blindfolded and hand-tied, they could not judge what threat), and agreed to make the propaganda broadcasts to guarantee their own safety. That much we can understand, as conventional cowardice. (Understand; not forgive.) But it is obvious from their later statements that they never thought twice; that they could see nothing wrong in serving the enemy, so long as it meant they’d be safe.

I assume they are not Christians (few journalists are), but had they ever been instructed in that faith, they might have grasped that conversion to Islam means denial of Christ, and that is something many millions of Christians (few of them intellectuals) have refused to do, even at the cost of excruciating deaths. Christianity still lives, because of such martyrs. Not suicide bombers: but truly defenceless martyrs.

You don’t necessarily have to be a Christian, to be Western. Two years ago, an heroic Italian captive, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, asked to make whimpering statements as part of the video of his execution in Iraq, ripped at his hood and instead declared, “This is how an Italian dies!” to his contemptible captors. He must have upset them: for they shot him instead of sawing off his head. In making his stand for human dignity, he also turned one of their propaganda videos, into one of ours.

But Quattrocchi had three friends, who all successfully begged for their lives. And the two Fox journalists, whom I will not stoop to name, begged for their lives even though, in retrospect, their lives probably weren’t in danger…

Men without chests, men without character, men who don’t think twice.

I think Warren is not as clear as he might be in the way he expresses his personal discomfort with that event, because it is easy to (I think, mistakenly) read him as blaming the journalists personally for failing to conform to expectations of conduct with which, it is obvious, they were unfamiliar.

The forcible conversion to the Islam, the utter capitulation to the will of the enemy, of, if not Christians, still representatives of our formerly Christian civilization was an excruciating moment, but it was obviously not the two journalists who were dishonored. They were by their own lights behaving with good sense and appropriate pragmatism. It is we, as citizens of the former Christendom, who are humiliated and dishonored by the failure of our contemporary civilization to supply the sense of human dignity necessary for men to feel an obligation to behave differently in such circumstances, by the inescapable recognition of just how far we have all fallen.

If one reads the C.S. Lewis quotation, from The Abolition of Man, chapter 1, which David Warren is alluding to, it should be perfectly clear that neither Warren, nor Lewis, is condemning the journalists themselves.

I have chosen as the starting-point for these lectures a little book on English intended for ‘boys and girls in the upper forms of schools’. I do not think the authors of this book (there were two of them) intended any harm, and I owe them, or their publisher, good language for sending me a complimentary copy. At the same time I shall have nothing good to say of them. Here is a pretty predicament. I do not want to pillory two modest practising schoolmasters who were doing the best they knew: but I cannot be silent about what I think the actual tendency of their work. I therefore propose to conceal their names. I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book. But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves…

We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Unfamiliarity with C.S. Lewis has undoubtedly led numerous commentators on the left astray.

Jules Crittenden, Glenn Greenwald, Newsblog Steve all take the discussion to the level of schoolyard taunts, jeeringly demanding that Warren go get martyred himself forthwith, or shut up. TBogg offers a mocking cartoon.

The left has the basic problem that it doesn’t understand that a point of view more complex than materialist utilitarianism is even possible.

Conservative Jon Swift comments cynically, but does supply an interesting collection of links, of which I thought the best were from Debbie Hamilton and Vanishing American.

No one, of course, can say with certainty what he would do in a situation of duress similar to that of the Fox newsmen, but some at least hope they would behave differently.

4 Feedbacks on "Debating Chestless Modernity"


Warren, in point of fact, personally was insulting the journalists themselves. By refusing to call them Christians even though they very likely are, he is claiming to be God. Warren, unless he repents, very likely will be tossed into the pit of fire come Judgement Day.



Doesn’t that imply that you will be, too? ;)


I appreciate the trackback, but I’m not sure you meant to send it to me, or to the Anchoress. You have her mentioned in your post, but clicking on her name leads to my post at Right Truth. Just thought you would want to know. ;-)

Right Truth

Accepting Islam or Rejecting Christ?…

Can converting to Islam, or any religion, at gunpoint be taken seriously? And if so, what about all the martyrs in the Bible who chose death rather than deny Christ? Is this the same thing? These questions were asked in…


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