Saturday, November 5, 2011

A good queston...

What is an aristocracy? The scholar Philippe Mairet in his essay on Aristocracy and the Meaning of Class Rule published in England in 1931, points out that it is an elite which unlike a plutocracy, insists that its members should possess and exhibit excellence in the function of government itself. Aristocracy must stand for a higher type of man. Michael Walker

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's a Poor French Noble to Do Without a King to Call His Own?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Answer: Form a Union, Do Good Works And Purge the Ranks of Pretenders.Article Video Comments

CHÂTEAU DE PARENTIGNAT, France—For Count Dominique de Causans helping fellow aristocrats in distress is a noble cause.

"It is not easy to be a noble in modern France," he said as he addressed a crowd of fellow nobles at a recent gathering at this 18th-century château. "We have to carry the values of the nobility, set an example and prove [to be] irreproachable."

Nobles mingling in a castle, talking about unemployment? At an event by the Association for the Mutual Assistance of the French Nobility, aristocrats got help on how to make it through hard times. WSJ's Max Colchester reports from, France.

.Seeking to offer a helping hand is the Association for the Mutual Assistance of the French Nobility. The Paris group helps down-and-out nobles rediscover some of the glory. It takes legal action against commoners trying to claim noble names, pays the school fees of promising young nobles and offers an informal meeting service to single nobles.

"The problem with France is that there is no king," says Count de Raffin, the vice president of the association, known as the ANF. "We need to help these people climb back up the social ladder and join us." (In France, the eldest son of a noble lineage is not officially referred to by his first name. "People who know me will recognize me," explains Count de Raffin, whose first name is Pierre).

Across Europe, nobles have weathered the effects of the rise of the middle class, fluctuating farming revenue, financial crises and tax increases. But in France the situation is particularly complicated. Following a series of revolutions, no official nobles have been created since around 1870, says the ANF. In today's French Republic, a noble title confers no formal power.

Hindered by the fact that it was long considered un-noble to have a job—unless it was to serve the king—some French nobles fell on hard times. Today many have simply inherited the financial burden of caring for an old castle. In the past 50 years, without a king to promote new members, about 600 French noble family names disappeared, many of the nobles having married into obscurity.

Count de Causans and other French nobles met to mingle and share ideas.

.In 1932, a group of nobles waiting for a train in Paris noticed that the porter carrying the baggage was a fellow aristocrat. "They were shocked," recounts Count de Raffin. The ANF was subsequently born. Every year the association doles out around €200,000 (around $270,000) to noble families, mostly in scholarships, and offers moral support to those feeling the pinch. Clothing sales, a bridge club, walking tours and a noble youth club are all at the disposal of its 6,000 members.

One day recently, several dozen ANF members from the southern French region of Auvergne gathered in the castle of Parentignat to mingle and share ideas.

After mass in the château's church, Count de Causans, who heads up the local ANF chapter here, brought up the issue of the future during a luncheon speech. Around 55% of ANF members find it difficult to be a noble in modern society, he said, quoting a recent poll called ANF 2020. Still, 87% of respondents said they feel they serve a purpose in French society.

."We need to open the ANF to the outside world and to the media," said Count de Causans, who is a retired public-relations man. "We need to define what the ANF is tomorrow."

During a digestive tour of the vast castle of Parentignat, Count de Causans decried the pigeonholing of the nobility. "A noble can live in a house with no great historical or aesthetic value," he said, admiring a set of leather-bound books in the gilded library. "My great-grandfather built mine. It has 20 bedrooms and looks like a train station."

But helping nobles is a delicate process. After lunch, one white-haired marquis, who hails from a neighboring region, explained how he was recently tipped off about some less fortunate nobles who were seen selling vegetables at the local market. "It took me 30 minutes on the phone to convince them they needed help," he explained over coffee. "Pride, you see."

Even harder is drumming up new recruits. To join, members need to offer historical proof that a French king or emperor bestowed a noble title on their family and that they are directly linked to that noble via male heirs who had a Christian wedding. "A letter from the king suffices," Count de Raffin explains. Children from second marriages, those who are adopted or those related to nobles through their mother can't join the club. Just five or six new families join a year, he says. The result is that many wealthy castle owners are excluded from the ANF.

In the late 19th century, after the last defeat of the monarchy, some French families decided to give themselves noble-sounding names or just started using titles like "baron." Today, to discover that one is not a real noble "can be quite traumatic," said Pierre-Marie Dioudonnat, a historian who specializes in tracking down fake nobles and publishing their names.

The 18th-century castle of Parentignat

.To amuse the masses, the ANF considered setting up a group called "Friends of the ANF" that would allow non-nobles to hang out with real nobles during day trips and such. But more than half of ANF members pooh-poohed the proposal in a recent survey.

The ANF will instead continue to focus on boosting its ties with foreign noble associations and local French families, said Count de Causans. Every three years, ANF members hobnob with other noble associations from around Europe at a convention organized by the Commission of Information and Liaison of the Noble Associations of Europe. The last event took place near the Palace of Versailles.

Talks were entitled: "The role of the nobility in European civilization," "The nobility in a Europe on the move," "The role of the nobility in the evolution of Europe" and "The place of Europe in the world and the nobility in Europe." This month, nobles will travel to Malta for a second helping.

Following the tour of the Parentignat castle, the day drew to a close and the nobles returned to their various houses. "There is a great phenomenon of helping each other," said Count de Causans as he waved off a group of nobles packed into a people carrier resembling a minivan. "We are a big family that shares a common feature: that of being noble."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Why then has reading these biographies of a deeply flawed woman—putting it gently—made me want to go back and reread her novels yet again? The answer is that Rand was a hedgehog who got a few huge truths right, and expressed those truths in her fiction so powerfully that they continue to inspire each new generation. They have only a loose relationship with Objectivism as a philosophy (which was formally developed only after the novels were written). Are selfishness and greed cardinal virtues in Objectivism? Who cares? Does Objectivist aesthetics denigrate Bach and Mozart? Who cares? Objectivism has nothing to do with what mesmerizes people about The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. What does mesmerize us? Fans of Ayn Rand will answer differently. Part of the popularity of the books derives from the many ways their themes can be refracted. Here is what I saw in Rand's fictional world that shaped my views as an adolescent and still shapes them 50 years later.

First, Rand expressed the glory of human achievement. She tapped into the delight that a human being ought to feel at watching another member of our species doing things superbly well. The scenes in The Fountainhead in which the hero, Howard Roark, realizes his visions of architectural truth are brilliant evocations of human creativity at work. But I also loved scenes like the one in Atlas Shrugged when protagonist Dagny Taggart is in the cab of the locomotive on the first run on the John Galt line, going at record speed, and glances at the engineer:

He sat slumped forward a little, relaxed, one hand resting lightly on the throttle as if by chance; but his eyes were fixed on the track ahead. He had the ease of an expert, so confident that it seemed casual, but it was the ease of a tremendous concentration, the concentration on one's task that has the ruthlessness of an absolute.

That's a heroic vision of a blue-collar worker doing his job. There are many others. Critics often accuse Rand of portraying a few geniuses as the only people worth valuing. That's not what I took away from her. I saw her celebrating people who did their work well and condemning people who settled for less, in great endeavors or small; celebrating those who took responsibility for their lives, and condemning those who did not. That sounded right to me in 1960 and still sounds right in 2010.

Second, Ayn Rand portrayed a world I wanted to live in, not because I would be rich or powerful in it, but because it consisted of people I wanted to be around. As conditions deteriorate in Atlas Shrugged, the first person to quit in disgust at Hank Rearden's steel mill is Tom Colby, head of the company union:

For ten years, he had heard himself denounced throughout the country, because his was a "company union" and because he had never engaged in a violent conflict with the management. This was true; no conflict had ever been necessary; Rearden paid a higher wage scale than any union scale in the country, for which he demanded—and got—the best labor force to be found anywhere.

That's not a world of selfishness or greed. It's a world of cooperation and mutual benefit through the pursuit of self-interest, enabling satisfying lives not only for the Hank Reardens of the world but for factory workers. I still want to live there.

That world came together in the chapters of Atlas Shrugged describing Galt's Gulch, the chapters I most often reread when I go back to the book. The great men and women who have gone on strike are gathered there, sometimes working at their old professions, but more often being grocers and cabbage growers and plumbers, because that's the niche in which they can make a living. In scene after scene, Rand shows what such a community would be like, and it does not consist of isolated individualists holding one another at arm's length. Individualists, yes, but ones who have fun in one another's company, care about one another, and care for one another—not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect and spontaneous affection.

* * *

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I'm about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

About the Authors

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who is and who isn't...

Heaven preserve us from all the sleek and dowdy virtues, such as punctuality, conscientiousness, fidelity and smugness!” So wrote Violet Keppel in her unruly call to arms to the great ruling passion of her life, Vita Sackville-West. “What great man was ever constant? What great queen was ever faithful? Novelty is the very essence of genius and always will be. If I were to die tomorrow, think how I should have lived!” And indeed, how this woman, this “unexploded bomb,” as Vita called her, “lived!” from:A BOOK OF SECRETS

Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers

By Michael Holroyd

Illustrated. 258 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is an Aristocrat?

There is nothing at all wrong with a tough physical regimen. Plato understood that a philosopher must be an individual perpetually in training. He must keep himself (or herself) nearly as tough and strong as warriors do. Plato's philosopher eats a simple diet; exercises regularly; owns no property; has no family; never touches gold or silver (he has these things in his makeup already, Plato says). But all of this training is not an end in itself. It is done to put the thinker in the position to think. It's necessary to remove as many external distractions as one possibly can. One cannot be overwhelmed by the merely circumstantial. But the philosopher does not strive forever. When he thinks, he touches on eternal truths (if he thinks well), and this gives him all the commerce with the eternal that he needs for an entirely joyful life. And he eats and drinks as he does in order to be in a position to do what he believes he's been set on earth to do, cultivate wisdom. He does not eat and drink in a given way primarily to be healthy, feel good, and prolong life. from:The Chronicle Review An article by Mark Edmundson"Health Now: A Provocation

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who is and who isn't

What kind of man makes it through Hell Week? That's hard to say. But I do know—generally—who won't make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength, the kids covered in tattoos announcing to the world how tough they are, the preening leaders who don't want to get dirty, and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars but have never have been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show. The vicious beauty of Hell Week is that you either survive or fail, you endure or you quit, you do—or you do not.

Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training—men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups—made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too.

Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the "fist" of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.

from the Wall Street Journal