Thursday, 26 March 2009

London-Nantes back with a vengeance!!!!!

Hallelujah! Just when Chavvers folks were starting to panic about Ryanair withdrawing their daily London-Nantes service, now for some great news. KLM is bringing in a twice daily service from 27th April. So we'll be even better connected - and what's more London City Airport is much more convenient for London. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Marx, Human Rights, Conservatism, English Renaissance literature ...

Interesting mix, isn't it? Someone was telling me today that I ought to start a French language blog to discuss some of my preoccupations of the day. I will mull this over, but my first reaction is that this is a good idea, even if it means the French state's equivalent of MI6 will probably start tapping my phones (if they aren't already doing so ...)

I have just written something on Marx and Satanism to be published elsewhere (in English) in a month or two. So perhaps I'll start by translating that into French. But first, I'll need to think of a name for my 'frogblog'.

In the meantime - and just to prove that even if I think Marx was a Satanist, I am still a fully-fledged freedom-fighter - check out my French human rights moonlighting on (I have been recruited to the ranks of JSM, a French organisation that helps spread information about offences against conscience (usually the persecution of Christians) in various countries around the world.

Good night. God bless.
Ferdi McDermott.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A good source of Catholic news

For those who don't know about it, here is a very good source of important Catholic news, seen from Rome by the journalist Sandro Magister:

The Midas touch, in reverse ...

Imagine a king who could turn everything he touched into rubbish! That is exactly what the state does, when it takes total control of education, healthcare or social services. Don't believe me? Check out Professor Terence Kealey's introduction to this BIG IDEA in an article in Prospect:

Monday, 16 March 2009

Classical education and how governments want to kill it ...

Classical education and how modern politicians have killed it
In Ancient Greece, two strands of thinking in education were current in what we know as the Classical Age, from about 500BC: that of Sparta, where education was the business of the State and sought to breed a resilient warrior citizenry, and that of Athens where education depended on the free choices of parents and aimed at producing intellectual maturity. As we shall see, it was the spirit of Athens that then dominated our approach to education until relatively recent history.

A Christian classical education, such as later led to the creation of the late medieval and renaissance universities was first seen in Alexandria, at the heart of the meeting of East and West, in about 190AD. Here St Clement, very much of a disciple both of Jesus and of Socrates, established what could probably be called the first Christian academy, educating boys and men, mainly, but not exclusively, for the priesthood. They studied the Trivium of logic, grammar and rhetoric, followed by the Quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, leading to studies in philosophy and theology. We also know that Clement attached great importance to sport and dance. These had been central in the Greek education of boys: gymnastics for the body, music for the soul. The imagery of the hymn which may have been sung by the boys at the school is strongly suggestive of a circle dance:

Holy shepherd of the flock divine,
king of unspoilt youth,
Lead the way!
The footsteps of Christ
Are the track to Heaven.
Word who always was and is and ever shall be,
Life immeasurable,
Unfailing light,
Compassion's very source!
Craftsman forging virtue
For the holy lives
Of all who sing to God.
Christ Jesus,
Heavenly milk pressed from your Bride's sweet breasts
To nourish tender mouths of sucklings with grace and wisdom:
the guileless take their fill with reason's milk,
the dew of your Spirit.
All together dance and sing
Our simple praise and heartfelt song
For the Christ the King.
So may we pay our holy fees
For schooling in the way of life.
Dancing in the ring of peace
We are the simple escort of the young Pantocrator.
Race sprung from Christ,Wisdom's own people
All praise together the God of our peace.
Creator of all things.

(Trans. Canon John Mooney. For Original Greek text see Le Pedagogue, Livre III, pp. 192ff.. in Source Chretiennes, Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1970.)

This text, to me, breathes a warm gust of Christian Hellenism across the centuries: many of the enduring educational themes of the ancients are there but with a new freshness and clarity of purpose.

This truly classical education within a Christian context was expounded in great depth in Clement's work The Pedagogue, a fascinating, if somewhat rambling synthesis and history of education from the viewpoint of Hellenic Christians, and the first real Christian handbook for teachers. It was not, however, a tremendous success; at least not in the intense and thorough form envisaged by Clement. The stress of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, the rise of Islam in large parts of the Empire in the East, the destruction of libraries, the mistrust of classical civilisation by some Christian clerics, general political instability in the vacuum created by the collapse of imperial Rome; all of these things contributed to the classical tradition's being somewhat sidelined for a time. In outposts of the Roman empire, such as in much of Britain, people suddenly abandoned the cities as they had done when Mycenaean civilization collapsed in Greece towards the end of the second millennium BC.

And yet, before imperial Rome sank another great man arose to ensure that the ideals of a classical and Christian humanism would not be forgotten. Augustine, a Roman of the fourth century, was a professor of classical rhetoric who became a Christian and then Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. In Augustine's day, scholars speculated about whether Virgil had read Isaiah, and this itself is an interesting indicator of how many in the Graeco-Roman world were already looking to the Jews and to their sacred literature with an air of expectancy. We know, however, that Augustine had read Isaiah and Virgil, and in his Confessions, and in the City of God, the two worlds meet completely and a fruitful synthesis is attempted. St Paul, with his obvious familiarity with Greek philosophy and worship (seen as pointing to Christ) and even his positive references to athletics had shown long before the supposed Platonist hijack of the second century that a continuity was achievable, and that is why he converted so many Greeks.
Now Augustine, with all the weight of his spell-binding rhetoric and learning, as Homer had done at an earlier stage, now set a seal on the direction of "the great conversation" for at least the next thousand years.

The cultural achievements of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the modern age are many, but none of them is as significant as that momentous and humble openness of the Early Church to the weight of human experience and learning that preceded what they saw as God's total self-revelation to man in Christ. It was an attitude quite remote from the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament. Perhaps it was precisely the belief in the Incarnation, and the optimistic view of human nature propounded by Paul that made it possible for Christians to hold fast to so much of 'the best that known and thought in the world' (Matthew Arnold’s phrase) and to add to that store. Perhaps more remarkable still was the openness of the whole area around the Mediterranean, subdued by the Roman Empire, to this new chapter of man's history. For despite the persecutions of Domitian, Nero and others, a new idea and culture - for the first time in human history - took control of man's destiny not with armies but with argument.

Later reforms within this Christian tradition can all be seen as efforts, more or less efficacious or reasonable in themselves, to restore the freshness and vigor of Christianity as it was at this time of triumph. The scholastics revived the classics and gave a new impetus to the study of Aristotle and Plato (under the aegis of a now long dead Muslim philosophical school), the excesses of Renaissance neo-paganism were corrected by the Reformers and their excesses, in turn, tempered by the Counter-Reformers.

At the beginning of the modern age, then, we see a western Christendom where Christian humanism is the norm of education on both sides of the Reformation divide, so that the Ignatian Paideia of continental Europe and the grammar schools and public schools of England, all train young men in roughly the same disciplines and essentially with the same view of man and his history. More importantly, both sides generally believed that education was for the betterment of the human spirit, not merely to prepare men for war, or trade. True enough, many received more training than they did education, but the distinction between the two was clear, and everywhere, for nearly two millennia, the State had been keeping out of education.

Sister Miriam Joseph CSC, a leading Catholic educationalist in 1940s America, explains: "The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant - of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business - and to earn a living. The liberal arts [that is, the Trivium and the Quadrivium], in contrast, teach us how to live; they train a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth" (in The Trivium.) That is a description of education that no serious western writer or thinker would have disputed from the time of Constantine until the eighteenth century. But they speak in a very different language to that of most educationalists ever since.

The impact of Rousseau, writing in the eighteenth century is still felt today in pedagogical circles. He promoted (in Emile ou de l’Education) the hugely successful (however erroneous) idea that we have nothing of objective value to teach our children. They will, he suggested, teach themselves, given a little encouragement. His Confessions paint a picture of a young man motivated by a profound egotism and self-righteousness often attributed to religious people, and yet he was in fact someone who had left religion behind; the first in a long line of modern `victims' of the seminary system who proceed to make a living out of burning what they once adored. He consigned his own illegitimate children to an orphanage and took no interest in their education whatsoever.His influence, and that of the other philosophical thinkers of the siècle des lumières, had an important part to play in the thinking behind the French Revolution, followed by Communism and Nazism in the twentieth century. They all tended to a view of man that rejected completely the Christian chapter in man's story.

There had been previous attempts to short-circuit back to Antiquity, by-passing Christianity, but these modern attempts have been especially thorough. Such movements do not so much seek to put man back in touch with an older, purer truth, so much as to deracinate him completely, so as better to control and manipulate him. One educational thinker, Matthew Arnold, wrote that a man out of touch with what has been called “the great conversation” would be a “stranger to the human condition”, and it is this state of disorientation that any cunning dictator will want to foist on his followers. Hitler, Stalin and Mao are striking examples, but our modern politicians are still playing the same game.

In this climate of wholesale rejection of the continuum of the classical tradition as it had been mediated by the Church, it is no surprise that all the revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries promoted the role of the state as educator. And with the benefit of hindsight, we can observe that they all have their similarities with ancient Sparta, described by Hitler as “the first National Socialist state.”

Ferdi McDermott, founder of StAR, is founder and Principal of Chavagnes International College, a British Catholic boarding school in western France. Together with Robert Asch, co-editor of StAR and Professor Anthony O’Hear of the University of Buckingham, he will be leading a course on The Great Books, this summer in France. For details:

Friday, 13 March 2009

Persecution of Public school types

A recent interesting article in the Daily Mail raised the question of how the current breed of Labourites is able to get away with so many sideswipes against one of the UK's once distinguished and respected minorities, the Anglo-Saxon public schoolboy.

Certain ministers and civil servants are able to treat this important minority group with contempt and daily conspire to bring about its extinction as a social grouping.

And yet, until very recently 7 or 8 % of children in then UK were privately educated. That makes a very important minority. Bear in mind that according to the 2003 census the percentage of non-white UK citizens was 7.9%, and it becomes clear that in fact all the talk about misrepresentation of minorities is a lot of nonsense.

The main reason for showing concern about representation of different groupings is not to do with skin colour, but to do with the distinctive perspectives and contributions that different cultural traditions can bring to public life. Politics and the public service are certainly the poorer if they do not include those who can share something of Indian, African and Chinese culture and values with the rest of us. But they are also the poorer if they do not have a healthy contingent of those whose minds have been formed without the direct involvement or interference of the government, in a strong, native cultural tradition which has so much valued the pursuit of excellence, the defence of custom, the genius of place, the sense of duty, the value of truth. To push such people out of public life by stigmatising the 'public school white male' is to advance one step closer to a totalitarian state.

I would wager that statsticians could easily show that all of Labour's new quangoes and bogus ministries seriously under-represent the nation's historic administrative and ruling class. And those who make it in are expected, just like the acolytes of Mao and Lenin, to make a public show of disdain for their own cultural background and upbringing.

This, despite the fact that the private sector has, since its inception in the middle ages, often sought ways to be socially inclusive. The grammar schools shared in this tradition and further perpetuated it. (A recent LSE study showed that the abolition of grammar schools was the single greatest blow to social mobility in the 20th century).

So it's not about snobbery, but about handing on a culture that deserves to be treated with respect and may yet have much to give to Britain.

Great Books Programme for adults

Just a reminder that from 26th July to 4th August, Chavagnes is organising a superb 10-day course for adults on 'the Great Books'. Great Books, great company, great value: a cultural holiday of a lifetime in rural France. Join in the Great Conversation: 10 days in the Vendee with Professor Anthony O’Hear, StAR (St Austin Review) coeditor Robert Asch, writer Denis Boyles and StAR’s founder, Ferdi McDermott … … plus Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Socrates, Virgil, Ovid, St Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Pascal, Racine + Goethe! visit for more details ...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A GAP Year for God ...

If there are any committed young Catholic men out there, perhaps in the closing stages of a degree course at university, this is for you:

Each year at Chavagnes International College we are keen to recruit volunteers who will give one or two years of their lives to the cause of Catholic education. It is a rewarding experience, even if not financially. If you would consider making a commitment to being a member of strong Catholic community at the service of youth, for a limited period of time, and would like to gain teaching practice (or help in some other way), then check out: