All posts by bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author, a biographer, and a prog rocker. Interests: Rush, progressive rock, cultural criticisms, the Rocky Mountains, individual liberty, history, hiking, and science fiction.

What Remains of Conservatism? ~ The Imaginative Conservative

To my mind, these voices have never been more needed and more relevant. A humanist but certainly no conservative, George Orwell once famously remarked, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

In this fine Orwellian tradition, it is worth remembering three things, each of which reminds us what it means to conserve our most cherished traditions—that is, to be a traditional conservative—even in a time of chaos.

First and foremost, we must remember that every single person is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom, each a moral and ethical agent, endowed with free will, and born in a certain time and certain place, never to be repeated. Life matters, and it is a precious gift every single time it appears. That is, each person is a unique reflection of the Infinite, a bearer of the Imago Dei, and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much corruption a person puts on during this lifetime, he or she remains precious, at least at the heart of things. For even the most corrupt human being has within him the spark of divine grace, no matter how close to being smothered that spark is. “In Him, we move and live and have our being,” the Stoics and St. Paul assured us
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/what-remains-conservatism-bradley-birzer.html

Owen Barfield’s Commonwealth of the Spirit ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany for its atrocious invasion of Poland in 1939, one of the lesser-known Inklings, Owen Barfield (1898-1997; yes, Barfield lived to just short of his 100th birthday) offered a profound analysis on the way community works and on the way it should work. All of society, he noted with no small amount of poetic insight, arises from our associations and friendships and communities that bridge our individuality with our nationality. Being too much of an individual leads to the tyranny of the self, and being too much of a nationalist leads to a tyranny of others. Instead, the human person must find his or her context and serve within the bounds of overlapping and competing communities, friendships, and associations. Or, as Barfield so eloquently put it, we must “build up and maintain a common stock of thought rather than… startle with a series of sparkling individual contributions—like a commonwealth of the spirit, in which there is no copyright.”

Yet, to create a commonwealth of the soul, or, more directly, a republic of letters, we do need to know the limits and range of individualism as well as the limits and range of national character. As Barfield understood creation, there is nothing wrong with individuals bringing their unique and particular talents to the community. Indeed, to bring one’s excellences to the community is vital to the health of all involved. In so doing, not only do individual persons contribute to the common good, but they themselves discover through free will the virtues, especially that of charity, in dealing with others. Like all things, though, individuality can become perverted, a sort of self-absorption that demands that our fellow members of the community reflect us rather than reflect what they are meant to be (by God or nature). As such, we would become sons of pride rather than of humility.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-commonwealth-spirit-bradley-birzer.html

Owen Barfield’s “History, Guilt, and Habit” ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Despite having built up a North American following in the 1960s and 1970s, Owen Barfield (1898-1997) could find almost no publication, periodical, or serial to review his 1979 book, History, Guilt, and Habit. Only one academic journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, even deigned to acknowledge it, and, in one swift paragraph, the journal dismissed the book’s author as “cranky” and the book as meaningful only to right-wing Hegelians.

Based on a set of three lectures delivered in British Columbia in October 1978, History, Guilt, and Habit does the difficult work of attempting to understand the deepest meanings of history and its relation to the human person. Throughout the lectures, Barfield very capably—indeed, with uncanny precision and a seemingly never-ending bulwark of contexts—defines terms such as history, evolution, consciousness, perception, thinking, and, most importantly, imagination. History, Barfield contends, is something quite different from evolution as it is a “consciously directed process,” as opposed to the mere passive accumulation of change and events. Through his definitions, Barfield is especially interested in identifying those things that allow us to make free decisions and act rather than being merely acted upon. “Perception,” for example, “is essentially a passive experience, something that happens to us; thinking is an active one, something we do.” Yet, Barfield cautions, one should never fall into the Manichaean habit of dividing all things into opposites. Some of the most interesting aspects in humanity and in human society come from the overlapping—or interpenetration—of opposites
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-history-guilt-and-habit-bradley-birzer.html

John Winthrop as Imaginative Conservative ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Between 1629 and 1640, roughly 21,000 Puritans (and servants) immigrated from England (especially East Anglia) to New England. This was one of the four great free folk migrations of the colonial period, along with the Anglicans to Virginia and the Chesapeake, the Quakers to Pennsylvania and Delaware, and the Scotch-Irish to various parts of English colonies.

More than any other colonial group, the Puritans (formally known as Congregationalists) moved in familial groups, and the nuclear family stood as the most important social institution, outside of the Congregation itself.

The Puritans demanded great rigor from their church members, and most residents of New England belonged to some church, especially in the seventeenth century.[1] Five ideas held the Congregationalists together: the depravity of man, the covenant that held all together in this fallen world, that God chose His elect, that all good comes from Grace, and that men and women must love one another.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/john-winthrop-imaginative-conservative-bradley-birzer.html

Bill Buckley’s Mischievous Magazine ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Indeed, as I look at NR today, she remains a constant companion, even when I disagree with her (as friends sometimes do). Writers such as Jack, John Miller, Kyle Smith, Kathryn Lopez, and others keep alive Buckley’s wondrous and gregarious spirit. From its beginnings in 1955, NR has sought to build up conservatism rather than tear it apart. Building, as we all know, is difficult; destruction is easy.

As I continue to get my NR “breaking news” updates, read her editorials on this or that political or cultural atrocity, devour Jack’s Saturday emails, buy the newest books recommended by her, and listen to her many podcasts, I’m honored by her friendship and happily acknowledge her just and worthy mission.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/william-f-buckley-mischievous-national-review-magazine-bradley-birzer.html

Transatlantic: Absolute Genius

The three versions of the album. Photo from nealmorse.com

So, after much anticipation and perhaps some untoward eagerness on my part, Transatlantic’s Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition box set finally arrived yesterday.  Or, maybe one should write more appropriately, it landed!  And, yes, I was and am thrilled.

I had received a promo copy of two versions of the album—The Breath of Life (Abridged) and Forevermore (Extended)—and I’ve been playing them pretty much non-stop. 

But, with The Ultimate Edition, I now have yet a third version of the album, Mike Portnoy’s blu-ray version. If you have to pick just one of the three, I’d highly recommend the blu-ray version as the best.  Not only does it capture the spirit of The Breath of Life (which Morse mixed and curated) and Forevermore (which Stolt mixed and curated), but its sound is just nothing short of glorious.  Each instrument is crystal clear as is the space between each. 

Most astonishing of all sounds to emerge from the blu-ray version is Pete Trewavas’s bass. I’ve always thought of him as an excellent bassist, but I didn’t realize just how excellent until hearing the blu-ray version. Somewhat funny that he was the only band member NOT to mix and curate a version of this album. 

Continue reading Transatlantic: Absolute Genius

George Washington on Political Parties

From his Farewell Address:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.