Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Tree of Liberty, James Gillray

James Gillray, The Tree of Liberty, May 1798 (click on image to enlarge; source, Lancaster University's "Age of Reason, Age of Revolution" coursepage). Cited in Gillray's Ungloomy Morality by Theodore Dalyrymple in City Journal, 2002:
Of two trees, the one in the background, called Justice, has abundant green foliage; its two main branches, labeled Laws and Religion, bear healthy fruit called Happiness, Freedom, and Security. The tree in the foreground, called Opposition, is dead and without foliage, as if blasted by lightning; its two main branches are Rights of Man and Profligacy. From its lesser branches hang rotten, reddish-golden apples, each with a bite taken out of it, labeled with such temptations as Democracy, Conspiracy, and Revolution. Down the tree slithers a green snake ending in the jowly head, with its Nixonian stubble, of the radical Whig leader, Charles James Fox, holding out to the figure of John Bull an apple labeled Reform. “Nice apple, Johnny—nice apple!” says Fox. But the real meaning of the temptation is evident from the red revolutionary bonnet of liberty, from which the Fox-serpent’s tail emerges, and from the difference in the roots of the two trees: those of the Tree of Justice being the Commons, King, and Lords of the established British constitution, those of the Tree of Opposition being Envy, Ambition, and Disappointment, the discreditable emotions that are, by implication, the true motives behind French revolutionary radicalism, rather than supposed love of the beautiful abstractions with which the rotten fruit of the Tree of Opposition is marked.

John Bull is a fat and slow-witted country bumpkin, with a certain shrewdness nonetheless: he is wise enough to resist the siren song of beautiful abstractions. “Very nice N’apple indeeed!” he replies to Fox, in the kind of rural dialect that is still to be heard in Norfolk and Gloucestershire. “But my Pokes [pockets] are all full of Pippins from off t’other Tree: and besides, I hates Medlars, they’re so damn’d rotten that I’se afraid they’ll gee me Guts-ach for all their vine looks!” The flashy intellectual brilliance of Fox is no match for the wisdom of ages, the common sense of the freeborn Englishman. I was reminded of an encounter I had with a Salvadoran peasant during the guerrilla insurgency there in the 1980s. He acknowledged that, man for man, the insurgents were probably better people than their opponents on the government side: but still he did not want them to win, for he saw in their abstractions not promises, but threats. His house and farm might have been poor things, but they were his own.
Read the rest here. Reprinted in Our Culture, What's Left of It

The inclusion of The Rights of Man on the discreditable branches of the Tree of Liberty, along with Profligacy, are explained by the utility to which the two are enjoined to wantonly propagate the bastard children of "rights" in a common assault upon the enjoyment of natural rights and the decency of human beings. See From stiff upper lip to clenched jaws from Dalrymple in The Australian, May 6, 2006:
WHAT a human catastrophe is the doctrine of human rights! Not only does it give officialdom an excuse to insinuate itself into the fabric of our lives but it has a profoundly corrupting effect on youth, who have been indoctrinated into believing that until such rights were granted (or is it discovered?) there was no freedom.

Worse still, it persuades each young person that they are uniquely precious, which is to say more precious than anyone else; and that, moreover, the world is a giant conspiracy to deprive them of their rightful entitlements. Once someone is convinced of their rights, it becomes impossible to reason with them; and thus the reason of the Enlightenment is swiftly transformed into the unreason of the psychopath.
Read the rest here.


Pietr said...

But all people really are 'uniquely precious'.
This is the essence of the British Disease, namely the presumption that self-esteem is psychopathic;and they will stop at no atrocity to 'prove' it.

I'm afraid Dalrymple must be as conventional as they get over here.

MapMaster said...

Dalrymple is as wonderfully old-school British-style conservative as they get, so much so that one suspects at times that he caricaturizes himself. But I very much recommend his essays in the New Criterion and City Journal. (Dalrymple is his pen name; he also publishes in the New Criterion under his real name, Anthony Daniels.)

Alas, however, he has fled the British Isles for France, of all places. Something about it being less painful to watch the collapse of one's own country from a distance…

Pietr said...

What hope for a Rotten Apple like me?
I've tried spoiling the barrel, but all they do is shine and get eaten.