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From: James Jordan <jbjordan4@home.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Re: The Best Introduction To The Mountains
Date: Fri, 04 Jan 2002 12:03:33 -0600

         Thanks for your reply. Just a few clarifications, bearing in mind 
that all we want to do in this discussion is to understand what Wolfe thinks:

I wrote:

> > 3. People usually but not always grow into their callings as a
> > result of their upbringing.
> > 3a. Corollary: Some kind of political aristocracy, with sons (and
> > daughters nowadays) reared for rule, in inescapable: Kennedys, Bushes, etc.
> > The "skull & bones" elite." The Eastern Establishment. Etc.

You replied:

>This I'm not so sure about.  None of Wolfe's "good rulers" are reared for
>rule that I can recall, although Silk is "bred" for rule.  And surely you
>didn't mean to imply that Wolfe sees "Kennedys, Bushes, etc. The "skull &
>bones" elite. The Eastern Establishment. Etc." as the sort of people who
>should be running things.  With the possible exception of the Bushes, these
>are precisely the sort of people he despises.

         To be sure. I was speaking generally, that some kind of ruling 
elite is inescapable in every society. Becoming part of the class usually 
involves some kind of adoption or marriage into it. Americans like to 
pretend that there is no such class in America, but of course there is and 
always has been. It's not a "conspiracy," of course. An interesting book on 
this, a few years old, is by Konolige, *The Power of Their Glory: America's 
Ruling Elite, the Episcopalians.* They called America an "episcocracy." Of 
course, there were non-episcopalians (Rockefeller) in this goodoldboy 
network, and in recent years, Jews have been able to "join." But you're 
right, I did not mean that Wolfe would like the Kennedys, or that he would 
like the fact that you cannot become President unless you are a Freemason.
         And of course, the existence of such a class need not be the whole 
story. In the Severian Quintet, the Autarch is not part of that class, and 
deliberately so, as a check and balance in the society.

> > This is not a matter of "lessers" serving
> > "betters," but of mutual service of various sorts.


>Here I disagree.  Wolfe does believe in "betters," which implies the
>existence of "lessers," even if he doesn't use the latter word.  Quoting
>again from his essay, the Sylvan Elves "choose to be ruled by people better
>than themselves...": not better at governing, but better period.  Examples
>can be found in his fiction, too: Silkhorn is better than the people around
>him, and the protagonist of "Tracking Song," as a true human, is better than
>the animal-people he moves among.

         Hmmm. I guess it's the sense of "betters" that is at issue. 
Silkhorn is morally better, and the protagonist of TS is higher on the 
"evolutionary" scale. I took Wolfe's sentence about the elves to mean 
"better at ruling," since that was the context ("ruled by people better 
than themselves"). I'm used to how this works in my field (theology): the 
Son subjects himself to the Father, though they are ontologically equal. 
Parents are "betters" and children "lessers," but only in such a 
governmental sense, not in other possible senses. Given Wolfe's familiarity 
with Thomas Aquinas, I impute such a meaning to him. But I can admit that 
his brief statement was not fully clear, and that there may be something to 
what you say.

> > Thus, I did not read Wolfe's article as saying that Tolkein had
> > "discovered" a society where the lessers delight to serve their betters --
> > though Adam may be right that those who rejected his essay thought he was
> > saying this -- but as saying Tolkein was reflecting on the nature of
> > societal hierarchy as delineated above.
>I'm not sure if you're objecting specifically to my use of the word
>"discovered," but while the specific word may not be in Wolfe's article, I
>think it accurately reflects it:
>"Philology led him [Tolkien] to the study of the largely illiterate
>societies of Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of
>the true Middle Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality --
>let us call it Folk Law -- that has almost disappeared from his world and
>It seems to me that Wolfe does indeed think that Tolkien "discovered" a
>society which followed the principles you listed, however one wishes to
>describe it.  I certainly don't get the impression Wolfe regards Tolkien as
>a political philosopher.

         No. I was not objecting to your word. I thought a bit of nuancing 
of "lessers serving betters" would be helpful; thus, my post. I was not 
writing to criticize at all, just to expand the discussion a little. Since 
I myself am sympatico with Wolfe's religious and political views, in the 
main, I thought explaining a bit of how such views work "from the inside" 
might be of help to some on this list.

> > Finally, "dark ages" is just sarcasm. What most of us were taught
> > in high school about this period is mostly rubbish, and Wolfe knows it (or
> > believes it, anyway).
>I'm aware that the popular stereotype of the "Dark Ages" is thoroughly
>misleading; that's why I put it in quotes.  Wolfe used the term himself, and
>I don't think he's being sarcastic.  And it is true that there wasn't much
>security of property in Europe between 400 and 1000 A.D.

         Hmm. Well, given Wolfe's description of the times, I took it that 
he does not think they were all that "dark," and thus was being a bit 
sarcastic. But it's neither here nor there. (Again, "dark" in what 
sense?)  And I certainly agree about the insecurity of those times!

Jim Nutria Jordan

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