Good Friday Morning! Especially to the NFL, which is back. Having a pleasant respite from the sad news of Queen Elizabeth II passing away was lovely. Judging by the first game, we’re in for a season of listening to how great the Buffalo Bills are every week. We’ve only had one game, and I’m already sick of that narrative.
I’ve got more thoughts on Queen Elizabeth II’s passing below. But it’s hard to make a statement any more significant than a double rainbow appearing in London over Buckingham Palace. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and events like that are worth even more. It’s a stunning moment and image I’ll never forget: more below and links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[9/2/2022] In praise of college football – Conservative Institute
[9/5/2022] Chinese Communism continues to fail in COVID-19 response – Conservative Institute
[9/9/2022] Queen Elizabeth II – The Last Stateswoman – Conservative Institute
Queen Elizabeth II and the end of an era.
Some deaths are different. Queen Elizabeth is one of those deaths because her life was different. It’s one thing to live an extraordinary life, it’s another to have longevity, and it’s still another to combine both, which is what Queen Elizabeth did. What strikes me the most in considering the breadth of her life is that this feels like the end of an era.
If you were to describe this Elizabethan era, Queen Elizabeth defined the post-WWII global order. Her reign began in 1952, with Winston Churchill as her first Prime Minister. Churchill had gotten voted out of office as WWII wrapped up and toured the United States, giving his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. Queen Elizabeth began her time with the outset of the Cold War, the United Kingdom transitioning to a secondary power behind the United States, and a world frozen in conflict.
She is very much of that “Greatest Generation” era. In the United States, we stopped electing that group in the 1990s. Bob Dole was the last politician of that era to run for office. Our country decided to shift to Bill Clinton over George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole. Queen Elizabeth continued leading for another 30 years of her 70 years on the throne.
That’s over. While watching coverage out of the UK, one person commented that the Queen was walking history. The Times’ lead line was “Britain’s longest-serving monarch whose reign was defined by an unwavering sense of commitment to her people and her country.”
The Queen was a living reminder of who we were and could be, a testament to the past walking among us. Knowing that is vitally important, both personally and at a larger level.
In thinking about these ideas, I’m reminded of G.K. Chesteron’s fence principle:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
The short version is this: if you’re going to knock down a fence, you’d better know why it was there. What happens, though, is that the people who built a fence eventually pass away and become memories.
In the Bible, this concept gets expressed by the Israelites. You’d have a generation that would turn to God and follow Him. And after them, a generation arose that forgot God and everything He did. A generation passed away that knew why the fence got built and why everyone should respect it.
I read an excellent essay this week by Alec Dent at The Dispatch. He covered a book I was unaware of, a scrapped sequel to Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Here’s how Dent summarizes Tolkien’s view of this exact topic:
Deep indeed run the roots of Evil, and the black sap is strong in them. That tree will never be slain. Let men hew it as often as they may, it will thrust up shoots again as soon as they turn aside.”
It is with this depressing thought that Borlas begins his dialogue about the nature of evil with his interlocutor Saelon in The New Shadow, J.R.R. Tolkien’s scrapped sequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The text is brief, just the beginning of a novel that was meant to show “the inevitable boredom of Men with the good.” Amazon has brought attention to what occurred before the trilogy in its new series The Rings of Power, but it is worth examining the few pages Tolkien wrote in which he explored what came next. His understanding of human nature makes what little of The New Shadow that he wrote deeply insightful, and an unsettling warning about our own political climate.
As a devout Catholic, Tolkien believed we live in a sinful, fallen world that will never be perfected by human hands. It’s a concept reflected in his works; the whole of the Middle Earth writings is a saga about the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall of evil. Over and over again, Middle Earth is faced with a dark force, which Middle Eartheans band together to defeat, only to see another malevolent threat rise after. The lesson ought to be clear: At best, evil can be guarded against and squashed out when it first starts to rear its head. But the inhabitants of Middle Earth, like those of our world, tend not to go for that strategy, falling, instead, into complacency. As Tolkien noted in one of his letters, mankind has a “quick satiety with good.”
This satiety is bad enough when it leads to blindness to the rise of a new evil, but in The New Shadow, Tolkien sought to explore a more frightening outcome of it: What happens when people don’t just ignore the threat of evil, but forget why it is a threat to begin with. Set in one of the kingdoms of men, Gondor, 105 years after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron and his Orcs have been relegated to the stuff of legend while all the humans who fought them have died off. Only a few survive who have even the slightest memory of the War of the Ring from their childhood, and having known nothing but peace and prosperity for their entire lives, a restless sect of young Gondorians become fascinated by the evil figures of old. Boys run around committing acts of vandalism pretending to be Orcs, and there are whispers that a cult devoted to the old evil has begun. Our introduction to these goings-on is through the conversation between the elderly Borlas, who was a boy during the War of the Ring, and Saelon, a young man who subtly reveals he may be a part of the new cult. The two go back and forth, each using the conversation to probe the extent of the other’s knowledge of the cult while debating morality.
My point here is that we are the generation that comes after the fence builders. After the Revolutionary War period, you get the antebellum era, where the Republic’s decay led to things like the Nullification Crisis and the Civil War. The country rebuilt the fences after those calamities but eventually, you get decayed again into WWI, the Depression, and WWII.
We then get the post-WWII order. That generation built strong fences and the world we have today. America defeated Nazi fascism and Communist totalitarianism, all early on in the Queen’s tenure. She then stood as a reminder of those victories for the West.
She’s gone now. One of the last living reminders of that fence is now gone — and people were already challenging those borders. It’s not that we’re doomed to repeat history; human nature forces us to relearn lessons the hard way. One of the best examples is the idiotic call to Defund the Police. At its core, these activists are trying to redo the entirety of humanity’s policing function.
The current culture is replete with examples on both sides where fences get challenged. Sometimes it’s warranted, but frequently, the illiteracy of the challengers should make us question their capacity to make reasonable changes.
In the West, we were gifted with a great example to remember in the form of Queen Elizabeth II. In contrast, Russia had a much more complicated history to confront. Mikhail Gorbachev, who recently passed away too, was equally a compelling figure on the world stage and helped shape the latter part of the 20th Century.
But whereas we praise what happened with Gorbachev in the West, his Russian counterparts saw another story. Vladimir Putin, in particular, saw Gorbachev as a failure. The USSR’s implosion was a nightmare for Putin that he’s trying to reverse. Gorbachev was a reminder to Putin of a great failure.
Gorbachev was born under Stalinist rule. Queen Elizabeth was born in an era when the United Kingdom was still the preeminent empire, and America had not yet surpassed them. These living reminders of why our society has certain fences or institutions are now gone. They walk into the mists of history where only those willing to explore written pages will know them. For the rest, memories will start to fade.
What comes next will be determined by which fences get knocked down and who gets tasked with rebuilding them.
Links of the week
‘Monarchical No. 1’ – Churchhill and Queen Elizabeth II – International Churchill Society
Operation London Bridge – Wikipedia
Queen Elizabeth was the first woman featured on the cover of Field and Stream: “The Gun Dogs of Queen Elizabeth II – In remembrance of Queen Elizabeth II, we’re republishing a cover story we ran about her—and her gun dogs—from 1976” – Field and Stream
Three Hotels Approaching Foreclosure in the Heart of Portland Offer a Warning to City Leaders: “The banks are trying to keep these properties off the foreclosure list, because why would you want to take something back that you know is a bloody mess? But eventually they have to.” – WWeek
Justice Gorsuch Said Findings of Probe Into Leaked Roe Draft Opinion Will Be Made in Report: The justice, speaking at a judicial conference, also criticized the cost and time it takes to enter the legal profession – WSJ
Top Rice Exporter India Curbs Shipments in Threat to Inflation: Government bans broken rice exports and taxes other varieties Move will send shock waves through global agricultural markets – Bloomberg
Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy: Governments bet billions on burning timber for green power. The Times went deep into one of the continent’s oldest woodlands to track the hidden cost. – NYT
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!