Is there consolation to be found between degenerates and barbarians?
Boethius, ‘last of the Romans’, highborn in Rome, first employed by Theodoric the Ostrogoth in the course of that occupation of the former imperial capital, had a long way to fall. Accused of conspiring with the Byzantine east by his barbarian boss, he was jailed, and wrote ‘Consolations of Philosophy’ from his confinement.
Imagine talking with a Queen of Sciences or Philosophy, about what really mattered. Boethius tries to preserve and popularize the riches of Greek philosophy and Roman imperial civilization, in the face of barbarian ascendancy, and remnant degeneracy of the classic culture he honoured. His book survived him, through the ‘Dark Ages’, like the work of Bede in England (often cited as ‘the venerable Bede’).
Boethius was not original, or orthodox – recent scholarship denies him martyr status, and suggests he was not even Christian. His summaries of borrowed Platonic and Stoic ideas suggest a sort of pantheism. He reminds me of pop bestseller philosophers today, like John Ralston Saul, skating close to ‘dumbing down’ the great thoughts of others.
What do you do if you find yourself in an illiterate culture, which shares no collective memory its former glories? What if that popular culture values action and strength, and has the vanity to assume that because it has economic, military, and political ascendancy over the remnants of older cultures, that therefore it has nothing to learn from those others? Can you imagine? Of course you can – you are living that story today!
Perhaps, like Boethius and Bede, you try to bridge the gap with popularized versions of what you treasure, written for your own beloved ‘barbarian’ peers. Perhaps you try to restate the out-moded museology of your degenerate elites, pending revelation of a new expression of what will make sense of our world, with meaning and morality. Maybe that’s worth your time, and mine, in this season.
We live in an anti-intellectual age, and in an anti-institutional culture, with a smug consensus dismissing our theological heritage and religious traditions. Our glib liberal assumptions about ‘progress’ are barbaric, in relegating all old things to the trash, while valorizing ‘novelty’ as our greatest virtue. Degenerate elites, who purport to be the legitimate heirs and successors of our culture, but serve only themselves, are worse.
Our generation is like Boethius’ – empires shattered a century ago, and implications now becoming clearer. Those born in the late 400’s, mature in the early 500’s, remind me of my own generation born in the 20th century, living in the 21st. Living between barbarians and degenerates, what is our consolation, if we fall from privilege?
Is there any consolation to be found, between barbarians and degenerates?
Imagine talking with the Queen of wisdom – What would she tell you to teach?