Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bishopric watch

At one point in Anthony Trollope's Framley Parsonage,  the Liberals are out and the Conservatives are in, and considering reviving a failed Liberal bill to add two bishops to the C of E roster, much to the delight of Dr. Grantly, the High-Tory archdeacon of Barchester, though he thought it was devil's work when the Whigs were sponsoring it; as a Conservative bill, though, it might lead to a bishopric for himself! [jump]
Perpendicular fan vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral. From An Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches.
So when the government drops the bill after all, he is sadly disappointed—not for his own sake, of course, but on principle—and Trollope meditates a little on the Conservative condition in terms that are very relevant today. (In the following text, the "giants" are the Conservatives of real power and the "Titans" their perpetually indignant rank and file, including the archdeacon; and the gods of Olympus are the Liberals.)
It always strikes me that the supporters of the Titans are in this
respect much to be pitied. The giants themselves, those who are
actually handling Pelion and breaking their shins over the lower
rocks of Ossa, are always advancing in some sort towards the councils
of Olympus. Their highest policy is to snatch some ray from heaven.
Why else put Pelion on Ossa, unless it be that a furtive hand, making
its way through Jove's windows, may pluck forth a thunderbolt or two,
or some article less destructive, but of manufacture equally divine?
And in this consists the wisdom of the higher giants--that, in spite
of their mundane antecedents, theories, and predilections, they can
see that articles of divine manufacture are necessary. But then they
never carry their supporters with them. Their whole army is an army
of martyrs. "For twenty years I have stuck to them, and see how
they have treated me!" Is not that always the plaint of an old
giant-slave? "I have been true to my party all my life, and where am
I now?" he says. Where, indeed, my friend?
In today's Republican party the giants have been expelled and the army of martyrs is in charge, at least for the moment, though they may be right to suspect that Willard Mitt Romney's conversion to Titanism is less than sincere.

But the real conservatives—the country club ones, the horsewomen and yachtsmen, the chairmen of the board—really do recognize the inevitability of progress; they merely want to slow it down so as to prevent it interfering with their quiet and tasteful enjoyment of the perquisites of power. Whereas the true believers, the retroactionaries, have been snookered into thinking they're going to get some power (or "get it back" as they say, fondly remembering an imaginary time when they actually had some power). Every conservative movement contains this contradiction, because it needs both, the giants to fund the show and the Titans to do the voting.

Let's just hope that, when all of this has ironed itself out, we don't wake up to find that the giants have taken over the Democrats!
Choir vault, Gloucester Cathedral. From Tufts Roundtable Commons.

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