Without even saying “Aaar,” I shall jump into all things pirate-y and return to my thoughts on Britain and France formed from my trip last month. . . hang in there with me and I promise to mention Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and the movie.
Just visiting Walter Scott’s magnificent home at Abbotsford can change your life.
Scott loved the past, built a house that celebrated it, but was also a man of the future. His ability to make a living writing novels was one sign of a changing world. Scott understood that the job of a true conservative was to save that which could be saved from the old world he loved, while embracing the best of that which was coming. He must honor the past, live in the present, and have no fear of the future.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. His personal website can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.com and his blog can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.info.
Scott did not fear the future, because he knew that he could keep many of the comforts of the past. He also understood the Providence of God, as a good Presbyterian, and that all change was in His hands.
A reactionary harms the very things he loves and is no true friend of the Old Ways. By trying to give them life past their time, he makes them undead and ugly. If the family will not bury the dead, then it will fall to those without love of the old ways to do so. They will do so in revolutions and make ugliness, destroying even things not yet ready to die. In this way, much will be lost that should have been saved and that which should have been lost will not be given an honorable burial.
Tsardom refused to change in the way Scott (and others) convinced English aristocrats to change and so unhallowed hands were laid on it and Russia herself was lost, perhaps beyond hope of recovery.
This progressive conservative spirit is found in “The Pirate.” In this book, which when finished with this article you should tab to Amazon and order, Scott shows the appeal of the pirate. Women swoon, at first, and strong men admire, though only from afar. Soon the moral wickedness of the pirate destroys all those around him. His appeal is great, but like dark magic or social revolutions it gives good only superficially and soon destroys those who love it.
As a progressive conservative, Scott understood the appeal of change, since some change must come to all living things to avoid stagnation destroying the old good.
In the words of another progressive conservative:
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Compare this to the fun film, but moral mess, that is the recent Pirate’s movie. In another era, Disney would have created a sympathetic pirate (Long John Silver) or a funny pirate (Smee), but never a pirate whose goal was to make the audience want to be a pirate (Johnny Depp).
Pirates were and are very bad men. They are not about liberty, but about abusing others liberty in order to get what they want. Walt Disney would never have allowed his hero (Orlando Bloom) to become a pirate, because by definition pirates cannot be heroes. The original Pirates ride at Disneyland mocked pirates, mocked the movie stereotypes about them even harder (Captain Blood anyone?) and left the pirates dead for their trouble.
The new Disney revisions to the ride, by the way, leaves a fey Johnny Depp sitting on a pile of loot rewarded for his looting, raping, and pillaging. Disney would have understood the problem.
Revolutionaries are pirates, reactionaries don’t get them. Prudes can never recognize the appeal of the pirate against the straight jacket of an overly regimented culture. Progressive conservatives see the appeal, but also see the bad end.
Conservatives want heroes and not pirates. Old movies used to help reinforce the difference. A hero (James T. Kirk) will defy the man’s rules in order to obey a Higher Good. A pirate? He defies the laws for his own good.
Of course, kids have played at being pirates forever. Children cannot easily see the problems of piracy. . . thinking that pirates are simply kids who have gained the bodies and powers of grownups without having to grow up. That is true enough, but children miss the deep truth that adults that will not grow up are very dangerous people indeed. Old Hollywood would have felt some obligation to point that out.
New Hollywood is so morally confused it cannot pull apart the freedom of a pirate, which is attractive, from their evils. They create a pirate in Jack Sparrow who is not often seen pirating, but is merely a child with a man ’s pleasures.
Hollywood is Walter Scott-less, full of writers who want adventure, action, and liberty, but cannot see how anyone can get it without living for self. Only when they steal from the Inklings (Tolkien and Lewis) do they get it right, though even then they must make the traditional hero (Aragorn and High King Peter) much more conflicted than they appear in the books. Hollywood loves flaws more than the heroes who have them.
The Scott estate expresses a different spirit and is mightier, in its way, than Hollywood.
I sat in the chapel of the Scott house where Cardinal Newman gave mass. In a later age, the family decided that Rome was best able to preserve the old things while allowing change. In Newman, they found a mentally flexible voice for orthodoxy. It is hard to fault their choice, though it could never be my own, when one sees how well the family has succeeded. The Scott home preserves the Great Man’s legacy, but in a living home. . . not in a museum. Down to the very landscape, there are the marks of love and not of government gardeners.
When I walked past the cassock that Newman wore to perform the mass in that chapel, a shiver went down my spine. I was in one of the rare quiet place, a last homely home.
That chapel is something a pirate can never understand, only loot, but a hero would risk his life to defend as in fact brave men like Colin Anderson and Nathan Tourtellotte are doing today in Iraq.
The fact that Scott’s home is still in the hands of the family and still holding to his values is a good sign. The future need not destroy the best things from the past, but can hallow them and open them to even more folk. That is the gift of liberty to the past.
God bless you, Lady Scott and may many visitors come to your house, to see the spirit of the progressive conservative. CRO