Charles Beresford was born to an aristocratic English family, son of a Marquess. He rose to prominence in the Royal Navy, eventually gaining a series of three fleet commands in the days before World War I. Beresford gained great popularity among the men under his command and in the British public, a result of a combination of flamboyant self-promotion and a genuine care for those under his command and for the nation which he was protecting.
Beresford wrote an autobiography, and in it, he described an incident that shows why his sailors loved him. A fierce and imposing Irish Marine Artilleryman, well in his cups, was having it out with five or six military policemen who were having a great deal of difficulty restraining him, even though he was handcuffed. Beresford asked the police what the problem was, and they informed him that the man was drunk and was going to be locked up. Beresford told them to let him go. Beresford described in his words what followed:
The man was in a frenzy. Standing directly in front of him, I spoke to him quietly.
“Now, my lad, listen to me…You’re an Irishman and you’ve had a little too much to drink, like many of us at times. But you are all right. Think a moment. Irishmen don’t behave like this in the presence of the enemy. Nor will you. Why, we may be in a tight piece tomorrow and who’s going to back me then? You are. You’re the man I want!”
As I talked to him, the expression on his face changed from desperation to a look of bewilderment, and from bewilderment to understanding; and then he suddenly broke down. He turned his head aside and cried. I told the sergeant to take him away and give him some tea.
As a reader, I am willing to grant this man his self-promotion. Subtract its negatives from the positive here and there’s still a great deal left over.
As a high officer dealing with an out-of-line subordinate, the code of military discipline allowed Beresford to prescribe harsh punishment. Instead, he went in the other direction completely. It’s clear how satisfied he was, and it is hard for the reader not to enjoy the redemptive ending.
There is only so far force can take you, even in the military. Perhaps especially there, where the strongest force of all is that which brings you to have the back of your mate. The testimony is everywhere, telling first-hand us that this commitment is raw and real and more powerful than most anything a person experiences in life.
The willingness of the soldier, sailor, or pilot to give everything — everything — for the partner, the squad, the country, or the cause brought the philosopher William James to write that what the world needs is the moral equivalent of war. Where else do we see so vividly love set in action, to the point of total self-sacrifice? Jimmy Carter was wise to bring this point to a country sinking into malaise. His problem, as Peggy Noonan pointed out, was that he was much better at expressing big thoughts than at making them actually work in the life of the country.
Our track record, too, over the past few decades hasn’t been so good at this. Two years of holing up in our COVID bunkers hasn’t helped it either, as our contact with our fellow citizens was reduced to an electronic flow metered out to us by the government’s corporate censors. The best’s passionate convictions were buried in the cyber-dungeons of Twitter and YouTube; the worst, though, were full of passionate intensity, working themselves into a full berserker rage over the thoughtful, careful cautions of such lights as J.K. Rowling and Jay Bhattacharya, among so many others.
During my long stretches on the road this past week, I spent hours listening to Megan Phelps Roper’s podcast series titled “The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling.” Hearing the recordings of people giving full vent to an anger, calling for sexual violence against Rowling or for her murder, struck right at the gut. I had been listening only just a while ago to Jordan Peterson’s long interview with Bhattacharya and hearing him relate what the Washington bureaucracy and their collusionists in Big Media did to destroy his reputation and that of other top scientists and so to silence them. The cumulative effect is stunning, and though not yet at the level of what was achieved by the full-blown despotisms of Nazi Germany and the Communism of Stalin and Mao, the effect on the soul is of the same species.
It is horror. It is horror at who we have allowed ourselves to become. And at this stage, I think the word to consider is “loveless.”
That puts the finger on the hollow at the core. There is an absence of love. A desperate embrace of intellectual violence, the great idea that is used to smack down every one who differs, tries to fill the void of love’s absence — at task for which it is utterly incompetent. And that incompetence leads to greater desperation, greater emptiness, and a cold, despairing logic that sees nothing left but to follow the violence past the theoretical into emotional violence, and finally, into violent actions.
“We make men without chests,” wrote C. S. Lewis as the elites of Britain toyed with the Nazi and Communist substitutes for God, “and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
When we kill God in our lives, Nietzsche would teach us, don’t be surprised to be hearing the abyss talking in the void. It doesn’t just stare back any more.
At the core of the Bible, where law and teaching come together, the imperative to love one’s neighbor finds its place. A modern Chassidic scholar, Rabbi Yoel Kahn, wrote that scrupulous observance of all the other laws is illogical and probably vain unless it is matched and exceeded by observance of the imperative of wholehearted love. That is, love as an imperative, not just consumptive love, which asks of us only money and gives us back even less.
There is no system of our devise that can overcome the loss of love. Mere force, the reduction of life to mechanics and algorithms, devastates the human soul. Even truth is subverted to be the tool of the informer and the betrayer of freedom; people hide what liberties temporarily remain by shielding them with lies.
And for all its mechanism, lovelessness is utterly inefficient. The value we give each other and our world through loving is beyond reckoning, though we get a small glimpse in such figures as a Forbes article from a decade ago, saying that the effect of unpaid housework in the family home is to raise personal income 30 percent. That is only one of the contributions of love.
Love makes itself felt in much larger ways as well. Rulers like Cyrus of Persia and Alexander the Great found that they could govern better when the lands they gained were given a large dose of autonomy. British law found it established order best when the liberties were respected. America and the democracies that it inspired found a resilience and strength in their countries that has proven enough so far in history to overcome societies built on fear and tyrranic control.
As Beresford saw, love was nothing trivial. It could inspire his fighting sailors beyond any threat of punishment. We Americans ought not to lose heart in its power. It can overcome those at home who have fallen into desperate, desolate thought and the politics of despair and violence that thought engenders.
Conservatives must be the guardians and the stewards of all that is good in our past. We must welcome all who sincerely join in this task. Resist the temptation to join in the lovelessness, and open ourselves to becoming equally shrill and violent in our mind and heart as those we should know have lost their way.
We have the will and knowledge to make this work, and to pioneer a politics that is irresistible. Let us help whoever realizes what our central task must be and see us through to a victory for the whole of this nation that we love and for humanity around the world.