John Marshall: A Primer ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Perhaps more than any other figure in the early history of the American Republic, Marshall shaped the Supreme Court as well as attitudes toward and understandings of the U.S. Constitution. While many of the cases over which Marshall presided are important to a constitutional understanding of America, five in particular stand out. The first, Marbury v. Madison, 1803, established the power of the Supreme Court to Judicial Review, which served as a defense of the judiciary against the other two branches of government. In the twentieth century, the Supreme Court reinterpreted Marshall’s advocacy of Judicial Review to mean judicial supremacy, but such an interpretation was never Marshall’s intent. Marshall only desired for the third branch of the federal government to be equal to the first two.
— Read on


Over a decade ago I had shot this glistening sun bathed view of a Lighthouse. It sort of happened during one of those long motorcycle rides, and in an obscure part of the globe. Few years ago someone actually contacted me, and requested permission to create a post card from that exact photo. Of course, I obliged! Recently, just out of curiosity, I Googled for postcards based on that Lighthouse, and ran into this interesting WordPress link – Remembering Letters and Postcards. There are visible paper wrinkles and postal stamp watermarks on that photo, and also a copyright Mahesh printed at the bottom left corner!

Just another one of those motorcycle rides, and just another one of those photos. But it caught the attention of a Lighthouse Thematic Philatelist, and it turned into a postcard. Someone actually bought that postcard, and mailed it to a lady residing in a distant part of the world. Who then scanned and uploaded it to her website. And now I Googled to find my own photo! But, now my memories of clicking that photo are also perceived in a totally different context. Basically, that simple act now feels quite gilded and romantic. To quote a related earlier post – “with every single step we are progressively shaping our own trajectory, and at the same time influencing lives of others.” That mere instinctive act, of capturing a Lighthouse in its tropical sunset splendor, ended up traveling across the world!

The lady who got the postcard, or the person who sent it to her, will never know the backstory of that motorcyclist who captured it. They simply derived some value from the unknown motivations of a photographer. Just like how I derived value from the unknowns who engineered that Royal Enfield motorcycle and that Nokia camera. And also just like how I now derive value from the actions of these unknown actors sending postcards to each other. They all created an elaborate feedback loop to my rather innocuous photo. To generalize all this — our ability to derive and add value to the unknowns, significantly more than to the known, tends to create unique value chains. It’s probably the most romantic side to this Hayekian civilization.


O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Spirit of Cecilia

Brad Birzer wrote:
“love one another. Be good to one another. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. It’s not enough to say “I love you.” Show it, mean it, live it. Does your neighbor need a friendly ear? Does the homeless man (for whatever reason he’s homeless) need a crust of bread? Does that stray cat need to be loved? After all, even that skanky cat is a creature made by God for a purpose beyond mere existence. Every time one of my cats jumps in my lap and distracts me from writing, I am reminded that EVERY living creature has a purpose. “

Brad Birzer wrote “we’re all going to die. Yes, gentle reader, I mean YOU. You will die. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday. When Edmund Burke passed away, he gave a rousing speech.

Never succumb to the enemy; it is a struggle…

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O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Brad Birzer wrote:  
“love one another. Be good to one another. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. It’s not enough to say “I love you.” Show it, mean it, live it. Does your neighbor need a friendly ear? Does the homeless man (for whatever reason he’s homeless) need a crust of bread? Does that stray cat need to be loved? After all, even that skanky cat is a creature made by God for a purpose beyond mere existence. Every time one of my cats jumps in my lap and distracts me from writing, I am reminded that EVERY living creature has a purpose. “

Brad Birzer wrote “we’re all going to die. Yes, gentle reader, I mean YOU. You will die. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday. When Edmund Burke passed away, he gave a rousing speech.

Never succumb to the enemy; it is a struggle for your existence as a nation; and if you die, die with the sword in your hand; there is a salient, living principle of energy in the public mind of English which only requires proper direction to enable her to withstand this or any other ferocious foe; persevere till this tyranny be overpast.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

I know the feeling on thinking perhaps people are waiting for me in the great beyond. Some years ago while I was coming out of cancer surgery at Cedar Sinai hospital I had this strange dream that I was visiting World War One battlefields, Ypres in particular. In the dream I walked into the past and into the trenches -it was so very real -i could smell the cordite and hear the rata-tat-tat of the machine guns And I saw my grandfather in the trench wearing his kilt and glengarry. (Auld Pop) and I spoke with Auld Pop and his comrades in the Argylls. He looked at me and said only, “your time has not come yet.” Then ,in my dream, I was wounded on the wrist and in the armpit with shrapnel and taken away quickly by stretcher. When I started coming to the nurse said I was talking about strange place names and how I had to get back to the front. It was a very vivid dream. Had I come close to the shadowline of death?

The Ants. These Men of Company A, -the Ants- the Scottish Pals who volunteered for King and Country in August 1914 to join the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the famous “Thin Red Line of Heroes.” And heroic they were. They fought on the Western Front, they fought at Ypres, they fought in Greece and Bulgaria and ended up the war occupying Constantinople. These are some of the who held the Ypres Salient for 36 continuous days of combat under constant German attack. One thinks: “Where did they get the mettle and the grit to hold on and fight so tenaciously?” To the far right is “American” Johnny Robertson, a naturalized American citizen who worked for Thomas Edison before the war, in the back to the left is Jimmy Quigley my grandfather’s nephew and next to Johnny Robertson is Auld Pop, Thomas Munro, Sr. MM April 1915. He was decorated by his company commander Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous who was himself killed May 10, 1915. Ne obliviscaris. Do not forget. My father and mother and uncle knew Johnny Robertson well as well as Jimmy Quigley. As a boy I knew my grandfather and I can hear his voice now.

My mother also visits me sometimes in my dreams. I think of our last moments together when we said the Hail Mary and the Our Father she taught me together and how weak her hand was. I remember her telling me that her death would be harder for me because I would have long years of waiting but she would be there just on the other side. That she would see her father Eric Anderson whom she never knew. He was killed on August 8, 1918. We named our daughter Erica after her great grandfather. Our son Ian is named after Captain Ian Munro, MC killed October 30, 1918. Ne obliviscaris. Do not forget.

Some say there is nothing after death but nothingness. But I think life, dreams and love prove otherwise. Men die but their families and communities live on. Men die but their immortal souls linger. We are a community and we remember others and we retain in deepest gratitude a profound respect for the dignity and worth, the deep love, the unbreakable loyalty in the actions and the sacrifices of others who struggle now and who came before us. It is difficult to retain tradition and a respect for tradition in an indifferent and sometimes hostile world. But I like to think something always remains. Some things are passed on. You cannot command these things. All you can do is carry the tattered banner in your lifetime and remember and love and tell people the story. But they have to choose to remember and listen. The young are so busy and so distracted by the Pied Pipers of technology that one feels we have spawned an alien race, a race that knows not character, nor loyalty, nor modesty nor respect.

However, Christians must have hope and optimism about the future.

We must believe the demons will be conquered and what we are experiencing is a mortal storm even if there are some casualties. Maybe, this time, ourselves. Auld Pop, Captain Ian Munro, Eric Anderson and Ruthie Munro all faced greater challenges with fewer resources and medical technologies we have today. Some survived 1918 and some did not.

Lochaber No More by John Watson Nicol
Emigration and exile are common themes in Irish and Scottish songs:

“Castles are sacked in war
and Chieftains are scattered far
But truth and honor are fix-ed stars.

And when it comes down to it prayer and daily praise of God is a very key response. Today some people would like to blot out the harshness of human evil and natural disaster and divorce God from it all. They would demand that God end all suffering, disease and injustice and until he does that they would not consider him worthy of praise.

The Auld Book teaches us instead about our continual need to struggle for life and what is right what proclaiming only God can accomplish it. Thomas Munro, Sr. was a watchman in the trenches for many a dark night and many a dark day 1914-1919. He saw friends and allies killed and blasted to smithereens all around him. Psalm 117 he said: “Except for the Lord the watchman waketh in vain.” He did not fear death because Lady Death was always near. He almost expected to die a hundred times.

Auld Pop was a loyal man. Loyal to his family, his country, his flag, his regiment. When the Communists came to his neighborhood to damn his service to damn his religion and damn his country he never wavered. To have wavered would have been to be disloyal to his wife, her church, his family, his fallen comrades, his country and the Allied Cause. He was loyal to his God and he knew God required of him a personal response of loyalty, affection obedience and communication. He had no job when the war was over and didn’t know where to turn. To join Willie Gallacher, his erstwhile friends and the Communists? His pal “American Johnny Robertson” convinced him to come with him to America and stay clear of the Reds. That friendship that decision changed all of our lives mostly for the good.

While under the guns he and his nephew Jimmy Quigley held on the rosary and prayed continuously to God. He told the amusing story how his pal Johnny Robertson, a man who was a freethinker and never darkened the door of a church if he could help it saw them together praying with the Padirin (the rosary) and came over to them and said for the first time in his life, “Gie me them beads!” And the three of them huddled together under the withering German fire. Seconds later the place where Johnny had been was blown away and everyone to the left of them had been killed. All Johnny could say, was” Munro, it looks to me you are one lucky bastard. I am staying here!” Auld Pop replied, “Ye hae to save yer luck for when it counts. Sooner or later everyone rolls snake-eyes. Aye. If it God’s will we survive this warrr then we will surrrvive. Och, Aye!”

They were prepared to die every day but were never alone.

They knew, one way or another, they had to carry on, they had to survive not for themselves alone but for their families, the Allied Cause and for freedom.

direct descendants of Eric Anderson (killed 1918) and Thomas Munro, Sr (Auld Pop) enjoying Thanksgiving in America. Auld Pop left school to go to sea at age 8; his son Thomas Munro Jr. became an officer in the USA Army, graduated from Brooklyn College and got an MBA at NYU on the GI Bill. His great-grandchildren are two teachers and on engineer. His grandchildren all graduated from college. His sister’s great-granddaughter graduated from West Point as a US Army officer.

They knew from personal experience that no one is untouched by tragedy. One day they ambushed a German platoon and wiped it out. Most of the fallen German soldiers were boys no more than 16 years old. It haunted my grandfather for the rest of his life. He killed many enemy soldiers but those deaths affected him the most. He would dream about their faces and be tormented thinking they might have been able to take some prisoners but they were outnumbered and terrified so they killed.

My grandfather was a very gentle and kind man. He suffered a lot in his life -war, unemployment, exile, the early death of his wife of 32 years but tragedy reminded him to be compassionate and not to inflict pain and suffering on others for no reason. One of the great lessons of suffering is how we respond to it.

I think back on Auld Pop and think he was asked to suffer and endure the unacceptable. One by one almost all his Scottish pals of August 1914 were killed, invalided out or horribly maimed. Until there were only three left. One Johnny Robertson survived without a scratch. He returned to Scotland in 1938 marry the widow of a former comrade he had been supporting while working in America. And his fate? Johnny was killed in his own bed, in his own house by the Nazi Blitz of the Clyde in May 1941. When my grandfather got the telegram in America he had a complete breakdown and went on drunken spree and nobody knew where he was for days. When my father and uncle found him at 222 Dean St in Brooklyn where he used to live with Johnny Robertson in the 1920’s and he insisted Johnny was there just upstairs and he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let him in.

My father told him, “Pop, Johnny is dead. Here is the telegram. Come home, Pop. Mother is waiting for you. She is worried sick.” Auld Pop broke down and wept uncontrollably. He recovered and went on to build ships for the Allies six and seven days a week for years.

Tragedy in our lives can force us to endure and discover resources that we never imagined we had. “Many a good horseman has fallen off and gotten back on again,” Auld Pop used to say.

Spiritual power is an inner strength that manifests itself in this world as the ability to transcend danger and fear of death. “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The Words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) . When I was a small boy I asked Auld Pop if he had been afraid of dying in battle. He said, “Och, I was too busy to think on it, to tell ye the trrrruth. My greatest fear, I think was failure. Letting doon the other lads. Letting doon the Regiment. My country. The Allied Cause. We held on to the tiniest part of Little Belgium and the Hun never took the Ypres Salient. Aye, we held. We did our duty to King and Country and the Allied Cause. ” He took some satisfaction in that and the service during the Second World War building ships for the Allies. He loved to speak of the Immortal memory of Robert Burns but in a way he spoke of his native land and his Regiment, that “Thin Red Line of Heroes” the same way. Auld Pop knew when he died he would not be forgotten; he knew he was loved. He knew there were no monuments to HIM but in a way the whole world was a monument to his comrades, to his Regiment and to his generation that fought and won two world wars.

He knew that Good would triumph over Evil in the end. He knew that faith and spiritual power could transcend the material world and its evils especially if we cultivated the deathless part ourselves. He taught me his regimental motto in 1959: “Ne obliviscaris….do not forget.”

Leal n’ true until the very end. When Auld Pop returned home to Scotland, briefly in 1919 -he spent most of his adult life in exile-the Regimental band played THE SOLDIER’S RETURN. It was my father’s first memory of his father and he recounted it many times. His mother Mary said: TOMMY, THIS IS YOUR DADDY and he saw a big giant of a man in a kilt, with a glengarry on his head and medals on his chest. He was glad he was not one of the fatherless wee babes:

When wild war’s deadly blast was blawn,
And gentle peace returning,
Wi’ mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning;
I left the lines and tented field,
Where lang I’d been a lodger,
My humble knapsack a’ my wealth,
A poor and honest sodger.
“The wars are o’er, and I’m come hame,
And find thee still true-hearted;
Tho’ poor in gear, we’re rich in love,
And mair we’se ne’er be parted.”
Quo’ she, “My grandsire left me gowd,
A mailen plenish’d fairly;
And come, my faithfu’ sodger lad,
Thou’rt welcome to it dearly!”

For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger’s prize,
The sodger’s wealth is honor:
The brave poor sodger ne’er despise,
Nor count him as a stranger;
Remember he’s his country’s stay,
In day and hour of danger.

The Argyll monument at YPRES has an inscription La a’bhlair, ‘s math na cairdean ON THE DAY OF BATTLE ‘TIS GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS.AYE, ‘S truth. It also says CRUACHAN -its a famous Munro (mountain) in Scotland that many an Argyll and his kin has climbed. It’s a symbol of the lands of the Mountains white high covered with snow -Alba. Sair ghaisgich a cogaidh mhoir (BRAVE WARRIORS of the GREAT WAR)

Na Laoich a chaidh romhainn

(THE HEROES WHO CAME BEFORE US) ne obliviscaris…do not forget.

monument to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at 2nd Ypres


Spirit of Cecilia

A wonderful message that my friend Richard Munro shared about his grandfather, Thomas Munro: RULES FOR SURVIVING THE GREAT WAR (1914-1919).

He wore a kilt (with a canvass cover) every day for almost five years. He used to kill bugs that crawled up his legs with his cigarettes; he said it took practice to burn the bugs off with out burning yourself. He also said tobacco smoke helped keep the bugs away. Auld Pop was a quiet man but touch not that cat but with a glove. He had killed his first man at age 10 with a Martini-Henry rifle (a Sumatran Pirate); He and his mates killed so many Germans they literally lost count. Once they killed about 50 Germans in less than 10 minutes wiped out a whole platoon before they got off a single shot. It was not for nothing the Germans called them the “Ladies from…

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What if This Is the End? ~ The Imaginative Conservative

What if Chesterton was right, perhaps in some kind of Blakean fit of ecstasy? Maybe all of our worrying about The End is for naught. Perhaps it did happen long ago, and we live somewhere in the final days. The Apostles certainly believed the End of the Age was near to them, and the New Testament confirms and affirms this repeatedly.

Of course, I am only being half serious. Still, look at the news. The Coronavirus might as well be the Black Death. As I type this, the governor of Michigan has declared (unconstitutionally, it should be noted) a “stay at home”/lockdown order. Walking the dog (named, by coincidence?, Chesterton) this afternoon, my hometown of Hillsdale, Michigan, might very well have served as the set of some Twilight Zone episode, so quiet and abandoned does it seem. (This might be the ideal time to become close friends with a Mormon.) And, of course, this is just one view. China and Italy have already gone through hell, or continue to exist in it. With this viral threat, half of the world seems to have lost its collective mind.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s say this is The End. It wasn’t nuclear war or an asteroid or a rogue planet or even some mystical force. But, merely—in a whimper—a damned bug. Would it really matter?
— Read on

A humble gael speaks on the many-headed hydra of IGNORANCE and prejudice.

Spirit of Cecilia

Moses Hades and Jacques Barzun circa 1940

Lionel and Diane Trilling

Gilbert Highet and Mrs Highet (Helen MacInnes). My uncle knew Highet at Columbia and my father corresponded with Professor Highet though they were not close friends by any means. Because of my uncle and father those Columbia University professors had a strong influence on me via their books even though I never attended Columbia like my two uncles. My father attended Brooklyn College and after the War NYU and I attended NYU for my undergraduate work. After the ROTC building at Columbia was bombed (my uncle Norman narrowly missed being killed) Columbia was off limits after the 1960’s. I visited briefly in the late 70’s to hear a talk by Diane Ravitch but otherwise avoided Columbia and Barnard as one would avoid a nest of vipers.

Dennis Prager has been a great influence on my faith life and in…

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Spirit of Cecilia


No one captures the tragic paradox of culture more poignantly than the twentieth century’s greatest poet, William Butler Yeats, who came away from the carnage of World War I fearing that we humans “are but weasels fighting in a hole”:

Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and goodbye, Rome!

As our own civilization ravens and uproots, only to come into the desolation of false and lying illusion, so far more farce than tragedy, that’s my worry, too. Watching the hard-eyed troops surge by in Communist China’s 70th anniversary parade in October, the rank upon rank of fit young men and…

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Pendragon’s Love Over Fear – The One That Almost Got Away

The Stunning Artwork for Love Over Fear, by Liz Saddington

It never fails – I post a “Best of 20_ _” list, and then up pops a masterpiece that I missed. That is the case with 2019 and Pendragon’s wonderful album, Love Over Fear. Ah well, better late than never, right?

Pendragon is a British prog band whose illustrious history stretches all the way back to 1978, when punk was all the rage, and prog was definitely not in vogue. Yet, despite wild swings in musical fashion, Pendragon has remained true to their vision, and they are all the more respected for it.

Nick Barrett (guitars, vocal, keyboards) is the one constant through the decades, and he writes all the songs on Love Over Fear. He is assisted by long-time bandmates Clive Nolan (keyboards) and Peter Gee (bass), as well as Jan Vincent Velazco (drums and percussion). A review copy of the album was in my DropBox, and I decided to give it a listen.

After five straight repeat listens, I ordered a hard copy. You won’t find them on Spotify, so if you want to hear this exceptionally fine album, support the band and order a copy for yourself at

What sets Love Over Fear apart from the embarrassment of riches that 2019 blessed prog fans with? First, the music. The first track, Everything, bursts forth from your speakers with all the exuberance of a Riding The Scree.  Starfish and the Moon is a pensive piano-based ballad featuring a timeless melody and an airy guitar solo. Truth And Lies is a slow building, majestic song whose overdubbed acoustic guitars lulls the listener into a sense of languor until a wicked electric guitar solo takes over. 360 Degrees is the poppiest of the lot, with a hook (played on violin by Zoe Devenish) that lodges itself in your brain and won’t leave. If it had been released in 1982 (the year of C’mon Eileen), it would be a massive international hit single. Eternal Light is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. It sends the listener up to the heights of heaven.  Who Really Are We? is a viciously rocking track with a Kashmir-worthy guitar riff that crushes everything in its path. Heck, I could go on in a similar vein for every song on Love Over Fear. Every single track is exceptionally fine – I had a hard time getting through the album, because I kept hitting repeat.

Second, the words. After I had the actual CD in my hands, and I was able to peruse Barrett’s lyrics, I was blown away with his courage and vision. Love Over Fear is a cri de coeur against the current “cancel culture” that is having a reign of terror on social media, and a plea to learn from the wisdom previous generations accumulated through hard experience and suffering. Take these lines from Everything:

The spectrum is a lie
Love is the new hate
Hate is the new love
We’ve all been roundly deceived
And swallowed all the bait

Or how about these from Truth and Lies:

Farewell my trusted friends
These books they burn transcend
The hunger we have for the knowledge
For wisdom and the wise
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
The lie told often enough as sooth becomes the truth

And these from the centerpiece, Eternal Light:

Turn off that TV set and read a book instead
Read about the world and the universe
Don’t fill your snowflake head
With how beautiful I am

And, finally, from Who Really Are We?, a warning of the soft totalitarianism taking over the West:

The books of Solzhenitsyn
The wisdom of kings
Censored plays and words
And all that can bring
It seeks to divide us
While pretending to unite us
And neither they repented of their murders

And I see their gulag faces
Frozen to the floor
Love’s become the new hate’s become the new love
And therein lies the biggest deception of all
You can’t fight it
It’s the law

Nick Barrett is a 21st century prophet – proclaiming uncomfortable truths about our current culture. He is begging us to return to those thinkers who built civilization, and turn away from those who seek to tear it down. It doesn’t hurt that his jeremiad is wrapped in such  appealing musical accompaniment. Love Over Fear isn’t one of the best albums of 2019; it is one of the best of the last decade. May love triumph over fear.