Few people encounter the name Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) anymore. Sure, there are architecture aficionados who know of Cram from his Collegiate Gothic gems at Princeton University, Bryn Mawr College, St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan, and other exemplary buildings from his oeuvre that contributed to America’s proud, pre-Modernist cultural landscape.
Most don’t know that Cram was also a prolific cultural critic and the subject of an entire chapter of Crunden’s Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of American Culture, 1900-1945 (1977).
His curious title was lifted quite unceremoniously from the autobiography of one of his subjects, Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945), a Cram contemporary who refers to one of Cram’s most engaging essays throughout his own Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943). The piece Cram wrote was vital to Nock because it trotted out an unpleasant and unseemly sociological reality and displayed it in an unabashedly realistic format. And it brings both Cram and Nock back into focus as this reality is once again a centerpiece of the unravelling of civility in the United States: the fact that some people refuse to behave with what we have come to acknowledge as human decency. Not only is decency being scrubbed, so too is humanity.
Cram’s 1932 essay “Why We do not Behave like Human Beings” originally appeared in The American Mercury and was included in his collection, Convictions and Controversies (1935). I commend it as highly as I do Nock’s memoirs. Cram and Nock offer a gimlet-eye view of the Progressive assault on America as it was beginning to unfold and to read them today is to recognize that their warnings have been vindicated. Amply so. Along with their cohort of Mencken, Flynn, and Garrett, they were the most vocal element of the wholesome, vibrant center-right of American life that deductively repudiated progressive modernism on principle. Nock demonstrated how these principles flowed from a classical education, Cram from Anglo-Catholic dogma.
Cram’s opening salvo maintained that, “progressive evolution…was… the most calamitous happening of the last millennium.” The progressive approach taught that, “man was the crown of an immemorial development from lower to higher… though intermittent upward progress to this delectable moment, so, logically, this must continue indefinitely with an ever extending horizon of ever increasing glory and honour. The prospect was alluring and it is no wonder that it was accepted with avidity.” Cram thought this all fine and dandy until progress stutters, convulses, then falls, “as a rocket falls, and the first overt showing of this change of direction was the Great War.”
It is precisely at this point in history that Cram sees the resurgence of Neolithic man, unaccountable to progressive theory yet manifestly a product of this same concoction. “As history becomes clearer,” he says, “so does the evidence of a pretty invincible beastliness. It is a farrago of cruelty, slaughter, and injustice.” The Great War was Cram’s proof of the “invincible ignorance and superstition that follow man in what was once termed his ‘evolutionary’ progress.”
So why do we not behave like human beings? To Cram, it is “because most of us do not fall within that classification as we have determined it for ourselves.”
Nock put a finer point on it: “We have all along assumed that the zöological classification of man is also a competent psychical classification; that all creatures having the physical attributes which put them in the category of Homo sapiens also have the psychical attributes… and this, Mr. Cram says, is wholly unwarranted and an error of the first magnitude. Consequently we have all along been putting expectations on the masses of Homo sapiens which they are utterly incapable of meeting. We have accepted them as psychically-human, dealt with them on that assumption, and expected a corresponding psychical reaction, when actually nothing of the sort is possible.”
Then Nock, wearing Cram’s galoshes, wades into even deeper water: “They are merely sub-human raw material out which the occasional human being is produced by an evolutionary process as yet unexplained, but no doubt catastrophic in character, certainly not progressive.” But he finishes on a profoundly charitable note: “Hence, inasmuch as they are the raw material of humanity, they are inestimably precious.” It is, I might add, this ineffable touch of grace that makes Nock essential reading in the twenty-first century.
Cram’s idea that we are all biologically human but not all psychologically human offers a lens through which to view contemporary events as the flywheel of the American republic becomes increasingly out of alignment with the engine that spins it.
Only the most obtuse observers of American journalism in 2020 can deny the daily reenactment of the well-worn Communist techniques of dezinformatsiya, compromise, and denunciation as they are thrown into play against Trump and any entity in his orbit. It is almost laughably transparent as an English-language demonstration of Soviet “active measures.” Do we need to rehearse the Communist origins of Antifa, or parse out their laughably unimaginative translation of circa 1920 urban strategies in Berlin and Munich into the battle plan for street warfare in America a century later?
Unimaginative, yes. But effective. Distressingly effective.
The methods already developed and in use by Lenin and Trotsky prior to the end of World War 1 underwent continuous development in the decades thereafter, being refined internally on anti-Communists and on foreign regimes. The duplicity, mendacity, and bloodlust revealed first by Whittaker Chambers in the 1940s, confirmed in the Venona Transcripts, and meticulously revealed in The Black Book of Communism (1997) should make us all gasp at the recognition of what we are, indeed, faced with. Because there can be little doubt that we are already well engaged in a covert political action designed to destroy the pillars of our society and to extinguish the two thousand years of Western culture that nourishes it.
And with each week, it becomes harder and harder to deny that this is precisely what is underway. Just this week, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted out that, “Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution. I’ll happily provide the video commentary.”
Not surprisingly, this tweet has vanished.
What this means is that we are seeing Cram’s Neolithic version of Homo sapiens rear his ugly head.
We are witnessing in twenty-first century America the public expression by a tech millionaire of the willingness to undergo mass slaughter of human beings because the violation of his vague feelings of justice based on equality.
No case is made. Nuance is excluded by the very medium.
Costolo is one of perhaps ten million Americans who assume we are living in a millenarian, end-of-days scenario; that we as a species are singularly responsible for every synaptic event that induces pain anywhere in the animal kingdom; that we have poisoned the environment such that immediate efforts must be made to transport our species to another planet.
This is an emotional dislocation so profound, so saturated with self-loathing and contempt, that in any sane age such individuals would be lovingly escorted to sanitaria to chill out and find their bearings once again. If ever. But not in 2020 America.
It would be manageable were this merely a psychological phenomenon limited to a few emotionally incontinent people, but those who suffer most from this distemper have enormous wherewithal to indulge their delusions and strike out and destroy what they perceive as the source of their discontent.
What this really expresses is the scaling-up of a psychological dysfunction into a full-on sociological vortex—shared not only by a self-deluded intelligentsia, a mildly retarded academic cohort, professional associations, oligarchs, not to mention attorneys and judges. These people are entrenched and sustained in their institutional redoubts.
And they are also ignorant, unwitting examples of what Hayek dubbed “the fatal conceit,” the mistaken belief that they know more than they can which leads, inevitably, to bloodshed. The very idea that a tech millionaire can imagine a victorious socialist bloodbath where he won’t be the first course is one very small piece of the evidence of this conceit. The notion that he will be giving the color commentary is truly staggering. That individuals can ascend into great wealth and not grasp how capital functions, how culture and religion have functioned to keep human ego in check while expanding the quality and duration of life since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, is as shocking as the opinions themselves.
The point of the matter is that the surface of our civilization is being shredded by individuals who have no idea that they owe their existence to this surface. To them, it is a “social construct,” whereas to a psychologically developed human being, it is as vital to our existence as a free people as the air and water of an uncontaminated environment. These individuals are now announcing themselves in all walks of life—I see them in my corporate life as people who, when introduced, identify themselves as Social Justice Marketers or some such nonsense. As if the market can endure the existence of forces that deny private property!
These people, to the extent that they wish to inflict human carnage in a reenactment of the holocaust and democide of the twentieth-century, need to be taken at face value. There is no going back, after the slaughter, to say we actually should have listened.
Listen up. The Neolithic savages are among us.
They wear Armani and talk on iPhones and drive Mercedes-Benz convertibles and feel good about “helping people.” They don’t look like Neolithic savages, nor do they talk like them. And Neolithic savages couldn’t solve the quadratic equation or cook sous vide.
But they did have emotions that they could not control. And they had thoughts they could not counter.
While this weakness can barely be seen, it can be easily camouflaged. Even worse, they can believe their own self-deception and spread it with the contagion of anger and fear. But don’t ever ask them to explain or justify it!
They are beyond reason—or more precisely, they are before reason. And worse, they are utterly and helplessly ignorant. They may be blurring into inhumane territory, willing to do the unconscionable—merely because it pleases them.
They want to strip you of all your worldly possessions and assets. They want to crush the family. They want to make it impossible for you to pass anything to your children and grandchildren. These are explicit objectives in their game plan.
Chances are pretty good that they were all saturated in this ethos for decades in school, and the chances are even higher that they’ve never given any of it any critical thought.
Even worse, they are too conceited to think any of it applies to them, but they do know that actual human beings will not consent to live like livestock on their planned tax farms.
So, as per Mr. Costolo, they plan to kill you to help you. This is Cram’s “invincible ignorance and superstition,” once again in action. Neolithic man has come out to play. These people may look like us, but they are not us.
They are tone deaf to a resonant humanity, and blind to our affectionate connection to the superior cultural and economic processes and products of Western civilization. We see difference and variety, and imagine how this is put to use by the division of labor; they see difference and need it eradicated in the name of equality. They are in a hapless, catastrophic revolt against Nature herself.
We conservatives don’t need to prove anything. Our principles permit deductive clarity, the same clarity that was once at the fingertips of every reader of the Saturday Evening Post or Life. Cram and Nock remind us that our principles remain simple, clear, and axiomatic. They belong in the center of our public life, not the failed and inhumane ideals of a disastrous and bloody socialist “experiment.”
I say, Cram it, Neolith.