Sunday, April 23, 2006

William B. Greene's "The Blazing Star"

Some men—not all men—see always before them an ideal, a mental picture if you will, of what they ought to be, and are not. Whoso seeks to follow this ideal revealed to the mental vision, whoso seeks to attain to conformity with it will find it enlarge itself, and remove from him. He that follows it will improve his own moral character; but the ideal will remain always above him and before him, prompting him to new exertions. What is the natural conscience if it be not a condemnation of ourselves as we are, mean, pitiful, weak, and a comparison of ourselves with what we ought to be, wise, powerful, holy?

It is this Ideal of what we ought to be, and are not, that, is symbolically pictured in the Blazing Star.

This is the opening of William Batchelder Greene's "The Blazing Star," the most recent addition to the Libertarian Labyrinth library. It appeared in 1872, in a small hardcover volume, The Blazing Star; With An Appendix Treating Of The Jewish Kabbala. Also A Tract On The Philosophy Of Mr. Herbert Spencer, And One On New-England Transcendentalism. [Boston: A. Williams and Co., 1872.] The essay is contemporaneous with Greene's writings in The Word (some of which have been recently posted here and here). The complete volume should probably be taken, along with Mutual Banking, Showing The Radical Deficiencies Of The Existing Circulating Medium, And The Advantages Of A Free Currency [Worcester, Mass.: New England Labor Reform League, 1870] and Socialistic, Communistic, Mutualistic and Financial Fragments [Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1875], as Greene's most mature statement.

"The Blazing Star" can be seen as a later restatement of the concerns he pursued through a series of theological writings in the period 1842-49. The work on transcendentalism that was published with it was Greene's final rewrite of material dating from two essays published in 1845 ("Mr. Emerson and Transcendentalism." and "The Bhagvat Gheeta and the Doctrine of Immortality.") This is material that had very little impact on Greene's individualist anarchist comrades (although Tucker did print one excerpt from "The Blazing Star" in Liberty.) All of the essays in the collection highlight historical and philosophical elements of Greene's researches which are largely forgotten, but which occupied his attention throughout his life.

There will be more to say about these philosophical and historical concerns as additional texts are posted. For now, perhaps it is enough to point to Greene's continuing use of the triad/trinity model, and his tendency to damn individually nearly all tendencies, while celebrating them in "balance" with others. for example, compare the treatment of "communism" in "
Communism vs. Mutualism" and on pages 17-19 of "The Blazing Star," where Greene talks about the Paris Commune. The essay ends:

The Shemitic principle and the Japhetic principle are to-day represented in human civilization—the first by the Israelitish Church, and the second by the Christian Church. Both of these Churches are true Churches, and therefore neither of them is capable of erring in things essential. The Blazing Star burns in both of them: the junction of the two triangles, one Divine and the other human—the regeneration of the individual soul—takes effect in both of them. Yet these two Churches excommunicate each other! Why? Because these Churches are two Churches only, and not three. Because one whole side of the mystical triangle is lacking in modern civilization. Because the Hamitic principle is to-day occulted. Because the Hamitic Church is nowhere visibly organized, and speaking with authority, among men. Because Man, the natural mediator between heaven and earth, is officially absent from the religious organizations of the period.

Now there are three holy cities—not two of them only: JERUSALEM, ROME, PARIS. But the holiness of Paris is virtual merely as yet. The religion of Humanity reaches higher than the Commune and the International Labor Union seem to think, Paris is Bar-Isis, Parisis, Paris. It is the sacred boat of Isis that bears to-day the destinies of the world.

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