A Time to Build

“All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. 
A time to be born and a time to die. 
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. 
A time to kill, and a time to heal. 
A time to destroy, and a time to build.” 
—Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

Imagine you are a child. You have a set of blocks. Somebody else made the blocks, and your parents bought them for you. The blocks come with plans that enable you to build a variety of buildings, far more complicated than you could build on your own.

What do you do with these blocks? Perhaps you are lucky and you are gifted a full set of 3,851 blocks. Perhaps you only have a single tray of 105 blocks. You look at the pictures and determine that you will build only the most elaborate buildings, but when you realize you cannot read the plans, you give up and never play with the blocks at all. Alternately, you could start with the simplest plans, decide that you had learned everything there was to learn about building in a matter of weeks, and spend the rest of your life telling other people how to build. Or, again, you could declare the blocks stupid and bourgeois and invented only to oppress you with their insistence on geometry and design. You take the blocks and throw them at your little sister or brother—or cat.

Perhaps, instead, you accept the challenge of learning to build with the blocks. The first plans are easy; they take only minutes to build, but it still takes a certain amount of attention to distinguish the various sizes of blocks. You discipline yourself to work through each planbook building by building, resisting skipping over buildings that you think will be boring to build or dull to look at. You like some of the buildings better than you had expected based on the drawings. Some are easier to build than they looked, others much harder. You get used to the feel and size of the blocks. You learn how to pinch them together to make tighter seams, and you practice balancing them to make overhangs and other ornamental flourishes. You learn how to judge the relative size of the blocks in the plans, and you devise better ways to sort them by color and size so that you can find the blocks that you need. You are excited to see how your skills improve, even just following the instructions that come with the sets, and you start wondering if there are other plans you might try. And then you start thinking of how you might make your own plans, perhaps copying actual buildings.

The blocks become familiar to you, even objects of beauty. The buildings are satisfying in their solidity, something real, no longer just drawings in a book. You look forward to handling the blocks, feeling their weight and sensing their smell. You learn that the blocks are made of quartz sand, chalk, and linseed oil. You get curious about their history, who designed them, how many different sets were made.


You do some research and find drawings of buildings you now appreciate must have taken days, even weeks to build. You learn that the company who made the blocks put out hundreds of sets (over 600!), including exhibition sets of thousands of blocks each. The history of the blocks was a part of the history of turn of the 20th-century advertising as well as kindergarten education. Imagine playing with one of the 105-block sets and seeing the same blocks used to build a great castle or church! Wouldn’t you feel inspired to keep building? Wouldn’t you want to learn more? Or would you want to smash the buildings and tear up the plans because you could never build something that grand?

Large Castle, Exhibition Model, 1889
*
I have spent the past seven weeks playing with blocks. I began out of a need to do something other than prepare slides for my classes on Zoom, wondering when, if ever, my students and I would be able to meet in person again. I had not practiced building for nearly two decades, not since I first set up my academic homepage back in 2002. Every so often over the decades, as I updated my page with syllabi for my courses or links to my publications, I would think about building again, but there was never enough time to get out the blocks. I was too busy building my career with peer reviewed articles and books to play with toys, too busy making something of myself professionally to make something so solid as a building.

How ephemeral it all seems now, after twelve weeks of staying at home, watching our civilization crumble and our cities burn. 

Do the looters understand what they are destroying? Do they understand the decades, even centuries of disciplined work it took the people in their cities to build their businesses and homes? Do they understand what it means to get up to go to work everyday, learning the skills necessary to craft something real? Or do they take the buildings they are destroying for granted, as if they emerged from the landscape once upon a time, like the works of giants the Anglo-Saxon poet described in “The Ruin”?
Wondrous are these ancient wall-stones,
Shattered by time, foundations shaken by fate,
The old work of giants, crumbled, corrupted—
Rooftops in ruin, towers tumbled down....
The old work of smiths, skillfully wrought,
Shining and bright, now dull with dust.

This is not the first time in the history of what we used to call “Western civilization” that the walls have come crumbling down, but what is happening now in our cities has more akin to the ravages visited upon the monasteries and churches of England in the sixteenth century than it does with the work of the Vandals and Goths in the fifth. The Vandals and Goths were at least Christian, if Arian. Alaric the Goth famously told his warriors not to sack the churches when they came to Rome in A.D. 410 in search of the wages the emperor had promised them. Henry VIII and his henchmen had no such compunction when they came after Our Lady and her treasures in A.D. 1538.

Then, as now, it was all about usury and theft.

This is the great lie of capitalism on which, as E. Michael Jones has argued, our cities are founded. Not the lie of the anarchists—that “all property is theft”—but the lie of the “Reformers” who looted the monasteries and spent the next five hundred years justifying their theft with theories of economics. In Jones’s words: “Capitalism is state-sponsored usury.” Usury is theft because it steals the products of labor through unpayable debt, which (if you study the cycle of revolutions over the past two hundred years) collapses right on schedule every fifty or so years: 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968, 2020. We have been climbing a mountain of debt for the past fifty years, which is now crumbling beneath us, along with our cities.


I don’t know yet what to do with this knowledge. I am only some 500 pages in to Dr. Jones’s exposé (yes, “only”), around about Colbert’s promotion of mercantilism. The Bank of England and Adam Smith are not yet on stage, while the great modern revolutions are still a hundred years in the future. But talk about watching the foundations of what you thought was your civilization crumble! Never mind that Isaac Newton was an alchemist—old news! But his alchemy was in service of his banking, the conjuring of gold out of base metal, the making of money without labor or craft. Modern finance is a form of alchemy, as Dr. Jones reads it; compound interest is the philosopher’s stone. Modern “science” was a way of concealing this sleight-of-hand.

In Jones’s words, citing Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida, Act I, scene iii, 109-123):
Newton’s Principia gave mathematical and therefore scientific legitimacy to the world Shakespeare descried in the wake of the Protestant take-over of England and the looting of Church property that constituted the first stage of capital formation in the history of English Capitalism when he wrote:
Take but degree [or telos] away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy [i.e. strife]. The bounded waters 
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe.
Strength should be the lord of imbecility.
And the rude son should strike his father dead.
Force should be right, or rather right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite,
And appetite, a universal wolf,
So doubly second with will and power
Must make perforce a universal prey,
And last eat itself up.
This in a nutshell is the brave new world imposed on England by the Glorious Revolution as well as a summary of the operating system of that regime, which would soon come to be known as Capitalism. Capitalism is government-sponsored usury, and usury, like the universal wolf, invariably eats itself up, when the debt burden becomes insurmountable and the economy freezes up under it, as happened in 2008 and in 1929 and too many times previous to recount here.
As I like to tell my Dragon Common Room (a.k.a. Telegram chat): “Medieval or GTFO.” At least in the Middle Ages, Church doctrine stood firm against usury. No wonder King Henry wanted to get rid of those pesky priests. If only the Medici had kept with their textile making, rather than inviting magicians like Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola to their city to conjure the philosopher’s stone. If only Jakob Fugger had concentrated on building houses for the poor, rather than lending money at interest to the Hapsburgs, our cities might still be works of art and not monuments to usury and ruin.


I have a plan for saving civilization. It is everywhere in the tradition on which our civilization was built, but almost impossible now to hear amidst the Jabberwocky of voices contending in the public sphere for empty abstractions like “liberty” and “justice” with no reference to the physical space in which we live. If we want buildings, we must learn to write poetry. If we want beautiful buildings, we must learn to write poetry in meter and rhyme. If we want buildings in which to flourish and bring forth new life, we must learn to write poetry with reference to that primary Word by which all things were made. If we want the City, we must learn once again to praise the Lady through whom the Word made Himself visible to the world.

*
The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains:
The Lord liveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.
I will be mindful of Rahab and of Babylon knowing me.
Behold the foreigners, and Tyre, and the people of the Ethiopians, these were there.
Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her.
The Lord shall tell in his writings of peoples and of princes, of them that have been in her.
The dwelling in thee is as it were of all rejoicing. 
—Psalm 86, Douay-Rheims translation

References

On Ankerstein blocks
George F. Hardy, Richter’s Anker (Anchor) Stone Building Sets (Palmyra, Virginia, 1993, 1994, 2013)
Archive of Ankerstein plans
Shop for Ankerstein: Anchor EuroSource

Poems
The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims VersionTranslated from the Latin Vulgate. The Old Testament: First published by the English College at Douay, A.D. 1609. The New Testament: First published by the English College at Rheims, A.D. 1582 (Charlotte, N.C.: Saint Benedict Press, 2009) 
The Complete Old English Poems, trans. Craig Williamson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)

E. Michael Jones, Barren Metal: A History of Capitalism as the Conflict Between Labor and Usury (South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press, 2014)

Images
Buildings built with Ankerstein set GF-NF 16
Nuremberg from Hartman Schedel, The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), illustrated by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff

For further musings on the importance of the Lady of the City, see The Lady and the Logos. For reading in the arts of Christian imagination, see Dragon’s Keep. To join the dragons in their poetry, visit the Dragon Common Room on Telegram.

Comments

  1. Those Ankerstein blocks are lovely - make Legos look like junk!

    Interesting timing on mentioning the E. Michael Jones book. I'd only known a bit about him before this, and have begun listening to some interviews on YouTube. As it turns out, within the last week he has been completely de-platformed from selling his books on Amazon. Fortunately I was able to just buy Barren Metal and Logos Rising direct from his own website (How long until he's de-platformed from Twitter, YouTube, and his owns site's provider as well as a result of the SPLC and ADL hate campaigns against him?). Dangerous times for those who believe in free speech and the robust exchange and debate of thoughts and ideas.

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  2. My first Ankerstein blocks arrived today! I ordered the #4 set and they are gorgeous! I love the colors and the weight of them too. I don't think I can post here, so I'll try Parler.

    Thank you so much for sharing these amazing blocks. It helps calm my inner worrier while building with them.


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