Friday, March 21, 2008

Where are we today?

“The mother with the child at her breast is the grand emblem of cosmic life.”
— Decline of the West, II : 362

In 1194, Henry VI, Emperor of the Germans, received word of a strange prophecy from a Cistercian monk. Blessed Joachim of Fiore, mystic, historian, and abbot, and not a friend to the Hohenstaufen dynasty, informed the Emperor that he was to expect the birth of a son. This was a wild prediction, for Henry’s wife, Constance of Hauteville was nearly forty and had yet to produce any children after ten years of marriage. Astoundingly, however, they mystic’s prophecy proved to be true!

[Full disclosure: Constance of Hauteville is my third cousin, twenty-six times removed.)

Constance was the last surviving child of Roger II, King of Sicily, Prince of Taranto, and duke of Apulia. When she had been betrothed to Henry, she was thirty and he only twenty-one, it looked as though she would bring nothing more to the marriage than an immense dowry (perhaps the greatest seen since Roman times) and a truce between the Normans and Hohenstaufen in the south of Italy. In the intervening years, however, first her brothers and then all the legitimate male heirs of the House of Hauteville had died off, and she was now the legitimate claimant to the Kingdom of Sicily (which was at that time perhaps only second to the Angevin domain in prosperity and culture). This inheritance had to be won, however, as her bastard nephew Tancred had usurped the kingdom upon the death of Roger’s grandson in 1189.

It was only when Henry had assembled a large contingent of German lords and begun marching down the length of Italy in the late summer of 1194 that his wife found out about her condition. Believing this to be her only chance for motherhood, Constance was to proceeded south carefully, sending Henry and his great host on ahead. She had already reached the town of Jesi in the Marches, near Ancona, when she received news of Henry’s successful capture of Palermo in November. Here she rested and waited for her time to come upon her.

Being of what today is rather late for a first birth and was in her day an inconceivably advanced age, Constance took precautions to insure that there would be no questioning the maternity of her child. She caused a pavilion tent to be set up in the town square of Jesi and invited all the matrons of the town, and any bishop who wished, to see her delivered of her child. (Reports vary, but at least three and perhaps as many as seventeen bishops witnessed the birth.) The day after Christmas, 26 December 1192, she brought forth a son who was later baptized Frederick. Two days later, she ordered a Te Deum mass to be said at the cathedral of Ancona. She sat in the very front pew and nursed her child there for all to see. Her breasts were described as “fairly bursting with milk.”

I think of this historical incident, from the very springtime of our Western Culture, whenever I hear of one of our modern bourgeois women who claims she somehow “cannot” breast-feed. (Of course, if there actually were women who organically could not breast-feed, their race would have died out.) Constance was heroic in her motherhood. She knew that it was her duty to her child dispel any question of his legitimacy and she took every measure, forsook privacy, sacrificed her dignity to ensure this. She did this out of blood feeling, precisely that idea of motherhood as a vocation that modern woman lacks.

When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard “having children” as a question of pro’s and con’s, the great turning-point has come... When reasons have to be put forward at all in a question of life, life itself becomes questionable. At that point begins prudent limitation of births. In the Classical world the practice was deplored by Polybius as the run of Greece, and yet even at his date it had long been established in the great cities; in subsequent Roman times it became appallingly general. At first explained by the economic misery of the times, very soon it ceased to explain itself at all. And at that point too, a man’s choice of the woman who is to be not mother to his children as amongst peasants and primitives, but his own “companion for life,” becomes a problem of mentalities. The Ibsen marriage appears, the “higher spiritual affinity” in which bath parties are “free” — free, that is, as intelligences, free from the plantlike urge of the blood to continue itself ...The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature from Northern drama to Parisian novel. Instead of children she has soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of “mutual understanding.” ...

At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile. At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements.
— Decline of the West, II : 10/

Which brings me to an absolutely emblematic incident. I was with my family at North Bridge just before Christmas to get a photo of the kids with Santa Claus. Waiting in line ahead of us was a very well dressed woman with large, sumptuous bosoms. She was thick-set, with shapeless legs and no buttocks to speak of. She had drab, lifeless, bleach-blond hair, frog-eyes, and a pronounced double-chin. In short, her only selling point were those fabulous titties. Perhaps she has a sparkling personality, or a rapier-like wit, or an acute intelligence — but I doubt it. I would wager any sum that the only reason her quite evidently prosperous husband married her was for those extravagant, ostentatious boobs. She had a newborn child in a stroller and she was discussing how they would pose the babe for a photograph of his first visit to Santa. It was at this juncture that the infant awoke, crying. With much fuss and agitation the new mother picked up the child, took him in her arms, and popped a bottle of formula into his mouth. Those spectacular mammaries, made by God to give sustenance to her whelp, were useless, reduced to being a consumer item, furnishing not milk, but mere licentious inspiration to her husband.

The fatal turning point has come and gone.

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