Between the Darkness and the Light:
I. The Ghetto
I grew up in the Jesus movement, and finished growing up in the Homeschool movement. (I could have said Reconstructionist movement, but Rushdoony's shadow is certainly larger than those who have named themselves by his label.) I was, accordingly, exposed, on the one hand, to a sort of heady countercultural dissidence which burst the drywall of American society to cast about for roots and find, at length, Constantinople and Geneva, but also, on the other, to an anticommunist, survivalist siege mentality which rejected so large a part of American history as to emerge, notwithstanding its superficial patriotism, profoundly anti-American. My experience of Christianity was, from the first, supposed to be both radically biblical and intellectually curious.
My radically biblical pedagogy precluded me from much exposure to classical literature as a youth, but I was able to steal some long draughts of Shakespeare and Milton, which I drank much too quickly. Tolkien and Lewis were my early Vergils—guides in a realm of what I now consider poetry. They introduced me to another world, of mystery, of unreconstructed nature. They taught me that the most beautiful thing in the world is allusion to a larger story, expressed concisely in alliteration of simple, common words.
My teachers were conservative in an essentially utilitarian way. They loved Mill, Rothbard, and even old Augustine as clubs and hammers with which to beat that hideous strength, the young Olympian, the messianic State. But their classical liberal or even Whig sociologies were unequally yoked to a vision of the world out of tune with all later modernity, a vision whose finest hour was a Puritan theocracy never so fully realized as in spectacles of reprint publishers. These teachers made me to call into question everything which had happened in America and Europe since at least 1800, yet they forbade me to read the old poets and the old philosophers, as so many pagan homosexuals drunk on dreams of human autonomy. I would complete my training. I would not rush to face Vader.
To medieval history I then turned my eager eyes, eyes then eager to know the causes of things. Gazing into the dark ages, I looked into the fat book of its morning star, and devoured Augustine. In his pages, I read about a world which was lost—the Roman empire—and about another world which had come and gone, a world pregnant to him and expiated to me—the Old Christian West. For all their strict Calvinism, Augustine was the real progenitor of my teachers, the original Christian social critic; I felt as though I had meet Rushdoony’s distant ancestor—and so I put down Gary North.
I remember wanting to get inside the African’s mind, to understand what it meant to be a Roman and a Christian in love and in hate with that city founded upon a fratricide. For this reason, I began Latin. When Vergil came to me, he was a revelation, and I felt as though, “somehow . . . I’ve always known.” I quickly learnt Greek and found myself smack in Homer and Plato. Hellenism was not something alien to me, but was really stock and stone of that realm I knew and loved. I felt almost like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire, when he discovers that Vader is his father. Only, for me, it seemed more like some comic eucastastrophe.