The Romantic Covenant

The spirit of Moses and David: the former a prophet who preaches, and the latter a poet who pledges. Moses led the march out of slavery, under a divine passage; David wrote the psalms as a prophecy, under a divine promise.

“How long? Not long!”

Martin Luther King—as half prophet and half poet—proclaims to Selma that the Romantic revelations of the 18th century American Transcendentalists will prevail:

William Cullen Bryant’s “truth crushed to earth will rise again”; Thomas Carlyle’s “no lie can live forever”; Paul the Apostle’s “you shall reap what you sow”; James Russell Lowell’s “standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own”; and Theodore Parker’s “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King preaches the eternality of objective truth, and the temporality of subjective lies. The first is the Truth of God’s justice, and the other the ‘truth’ of men’s injustice. King pledges that history, akin to Biblical Theology’s progressive revelations, shall fulfill Romantic revelations:

The Romantics abhor the norms of Industrial Revolution, Aristocratic Regulations, and Scientific Rationalization. Instead of conforming to the “Enlightenment Era,” they pursued knowledge above reasoning and experience. Imagination, intuition, and inspiration in individuals will unite man and Mother Nature, not man and mechanism.

Agape that leads to wisdom, peace, and justice, then, comes not from secular-political measures, but spiritual-emotional treasures. Passion in communion—not reason in legislation—is the driving force of a “we-centered” brotherhood instead of an “I-centered” neighborhood.

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph; I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one; my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

The faculty of conscience (inherent knowledge of right and wrong) is as significant as the faculty of intelligence (logical knowledge of the natural world), as we are limited in epistemic observation constrained by physical laws. It follows that we cannot draw the whole moral arc with our eyes and minds, but with our gospel hearts.

King preaches that the gospel heart in Selma pledges that the suppressed truth will become the fulfilled truth, through the Romantic spirit of Agape.


The Present as Future-Past

Throughout history, creativity and curiosity led us to discoveries and developments throughout generations; theoretical and practical knowledge led us to survive as the superior species, towards uncommon conditions and unwanted circumstances; through failures and frustrations, reflecting upon great values in heroes and great evil in villains, we find new ways for successes and satisfactions.

Central to Martin Luther King’s pragmatic theology in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is civilization’s foundation of the future, which is the past itself, in light of the present.

He refers to former times to criticize the modern time: “There was a time when the church was powerful… small in number, big in commitment… they rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed… [Yet,] things are different now… The contemporary church is weak… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity.”

It becomes the church for the world, not the church for the Lord.

The choices are mutually exclusive, based on King’s Augustinian division of spirituality: the colony of Heaven for God’s glory, or the colony of the Earth for the worldly. It is because the material world exists that the spiritual world extant. No Heaven-Earth; according to the law of noncontradiction, it is either black or white.

King realizes society’s illusion of the grey middle ground—when Alabama clergymen remarks “social issues which the gospel has no real concern” as the status quo, aligning Christian ethics with American ethics—that is grounded in the bandwagon fallacy: that popular opinion dictates truisms, that legal reasoning decides truths.

With the passage above, then, not only the reader is able to discern truth and untruth, but deduces that truth is exclusive (by one infinite Mind) instead of relative (by many finite minds). The first-century martyrs may be ignorant of the man-made paradigms, but persevered based on the God-made paragon. That is why the sufferings were significant, since the “sacrificial spirit” was sustained.

This is the interconnection that King exposes, or the core of the letter: every history reflects both the ideal and the ordeal—the former to be recreated, and the latter to be prevented. We should live in the present, based on the past that was grounded upon eternal and immutable Truth, to create a future that is swayed upon temporary and changing truths.


The Axioms of Americans

Questions of identity remain a philosophical enigma that can never be coined within logical terms. Yet, throughout history, we aim to discover the objective meaning, value, and purpose of humankind. This pursuit of truth—in a world of plurality and diversity—defines who we are.

All nations, from the Ancients to the Moderns, have a dream for the Ideal.

Martin Luther King, in his “The American Dream”, expounds the concept of imago dei, “The idea that all men have something within them… The capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity… There are no gradations in the image of God.” This is the substratum of his belief, and why we should believe what he believes. Indeed, the beliefs we hold shape ourselves, who shape cultures, which shape civilizations.

He realizes that the Americans’ outlook demands a theological benchmark, to warrant significance to our existence, and why we ought to live accordingly to transcendental maxims instead of universal norms. The universe, filled with particles without sentience and conscience, cannot be the source to derive metaphysical axioms. It must emerge from beyond, through a “leap of faith”.

Secularization drives out meaning; spiritualization gives us meaning.

It means that all men are equal. It means that contrary to society’s ethics, but faithful to the Absolute Duty: segregation is immoral, and discrimination is irrational. Racial inequality is virtue in time, and vice in eternity. Therefore, these truths, that Luther presents, satisfy the vexed questions of why do we matter, how we should act, and what is our goal.

His explicit theology strikes the core of the subconscious: worldview, the determiner of thoughts, emotions, and actions. The Christ is in the center, circumscribing the Creation, as the Shepherd. The Anti-Christ states that the common mass has common mentality and mediocrity, referred to as “the Herd”. Rarely one attempts to systematically explicate the true identity (i.e. essence over substance) of men, which rationalizes our man-made hopes and visions. And King stresses on what our hopes and visions should be—not could be, nor what seems right or feels good.

Therefore, I believe that King triumphs in forging common ground for common men (who are divided within themselves, without common unity), through a grand reminder of the common thought of the Pre-Kantian 1776, that “all men are created equal.”

The Apollonian Dionysian

Both the sons of Zeus, Nietzsche distinguished the two as opposites: Apollo the god of reason and order, and Dionysus the god of irrationality and chaos.

I have realized that these divine brothers are in harmony, at the core foundation of Oedipus Rex. Sophocles’ play unifies tragedy and analytics, or systematic thinking and disastrous emotions.

Towards the ancient Greek men, the work showcases that utilizing our rational faculties to betray the gods would only lead to tragedy. Since the masses at the time were profoundly religious, I would regard this drama as a prophet’s masterwork: it preserves the historical obligation to surrender reverently.

Oedipus was crowned, and to him, reason is king. He was proud of himself and had confidence in his prestige. He decided to sin, which in context, means “not fulfilling who you are” instead of “breaking an objective moral law”.

Teiresias was the opposite, and to him, faith is god. He humbled himself without vanity and trusted in supreme powers. Despite the blindness, he had the gift of foreknowledge. Even the gods bow to fate; hence such talents are enormously treasured.

With the repetition of Oedipus’ stubborn dialogues of attempting to ignore Apollo’s prophecies, and his brazen tendency to be certain of what he prefers to believe (and stormed conspiracies against his beloved ones), the audience would come into a realization that pride urges one’s self to maintain their personal beliefs despite contrary rebukes.

He took advantage of his own reasoning, but was unaware of the fact of the matter. He followed the ways of Apollo (through rational means) but the process in itself is Dionysus-like (a calamitous mumbo jumbo).

This is a brilliant synthesis that expresses the conservative standpoint that hope permits the illusion of controlling one’s destiny, for the gods orchestrate all tragedies into necessity.

The Existential Crossroads

Sophocles’ element of circuit elevates an existential obscurity.

Oedipus travelled in a circle, inadvertently—oblivious to the resolution that crossing the road from Delphi, resisting Daulia, completed the revolution. He fled from home, only to return.

His discoveries of the obnoxious augury prompted him to the predestined three-path intersection. This may represent the Three Fates, who regulates destinies. The crossroad, then, marks the route towards prophetical and existential fulfillment; it is the watershed of effectuating his transcendental purpose. This is how fate works. His journey towards veracity concerned unearthing his past path, till his origins.

Moreover, he fathomed out a riddle respecting mankind to enter his newfound home (ironically), satisfying his self-absorbed objective to circumvent Apollo’s omniscience. Subsequently, he unraveled another riddle (as a detective), but regarding himself (as the murderer), delineating his formerly concealed map! To discover objective past truths, he ought to reject wishful past truths.

To comprehend one’s kind and self, then, via shrewd appreciation of historical matrix, enables one to perceive not merely particulars, but entirety.

Altogether, the text reflects Kant’s notion of the reconciliation between freedom and necessity. They are natural affinities, as we are condemned to be free, that fate stems from our individual determinations. Oedipus’ murder at the crossroad is warranted by his intelligence (his strive against jeopardy to escape into Thebes), but also due to his ignorance (his reliance upon debatable presuppositions) and incaution (his tendency to kill without probabilistic considerations).

The road then represents a clash between revelation and rationalism: avoiding the gods swayed Oedipus closer to god’s will. Trying to find his true self from his own, subjective eyes would only find his true, objective self.

Therefore, the tragedy is an existential enigma, inviting us to contemplate on our metaphysical authenticity—a marionette of the phenomenal or noumenal reality.

The Gold Under The Cold

A new era had begun.

The old era reflected traditionalism, manifesting Daoism: a philosophy to breed mystical unification with nature. The new era represented rationalism, embracing Western Imperialism: that secularity is supreme and superior over spirituality.

The chronicle of the headsman Yang Jinbiao lay at the fall of the old, and at the dawn of the new, where bullets replaced blades as the primary components of battle.

Yang Jinbiao would butcher transgressors during Frost’s Descent, the season that typified cruelty, since greeneries were blighted by the iciness. Exceptionally, to Congwen, this might intimate exquisiteness, as the Republic chastised Yang Jinbiao for brandishing a sword instead of a projectile (on the scruples of modernization).

However, Zhuangzi, a tremendous influence to Congwen, disparaged the conception of regulating civilizations with standards of conduct. Within his naturalistic metaphysics, the Yin and Yang of righteousness and sinfulness is merely perceptual.

Let me correspond to Yang Jinbiao’s name, which connotes “Golden Banner”. A banner is an ensign at a rod, the emblem of combatants. The color gold, in Chinese aesthetics, is appraised as the most ravishing: it represents the earth element, lavishing emperors, abundant wealth, and is venerated in Buddhism.

To appoint an elderly decapitator to behead during the epoch of shotguns, to have the representation of earth to terminate lives during the season when earthly life itself becomes lifeless, furthermore in addition that the ex-headsman belonged to the West Gate (centering back to the history of customs, of the natural world) and subsequently the North Gate (centering forth to the infinitude of evolution, of the cosmic skies)…

Such palpable juxtapositions of Frost and Gold, Old and New, West and North, leaves an august Daoistic impression, which efficaciously deprecate the moral quandaries of the mechanized society without any remarks about political sciences.

The Napoleonic Façade

The military tactician, tremendously acclaimed for the rise of the First French Empire, was regarded as a conqueror worth imitating by Raskolnikov.

Why did Dostoyevsky present a glimpse of Raskolnikov’s personhood as Napoleon Bonaparte, and not Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar? I will argue that Napoleon’s innermost self is an exemplary candidate as Raskolnikov’s reflection.

Born as an assertive, ambitious child, Napoleon weathered as what historians call a “chameleon”, as his temperaments are equivocal. He was neither bloodthirsty nor generous, nor lenient or intemperate. His contemporaries inspected him as contradictory, paralleling Raskolnikov’s endeavors to sham as a mastermind.

Interestingly, Napoleon admitted that he had complications articulating his authentic determinations, akin to how Raskolnikov repeatedly shuffled his intentions.

Throughout his education, desolation and isolation exhausted him, yet appealed to illustrious men of history—which then generated a megalomaniacal warmonger that thirsted for glory.

“Power is my mistress.”

The outcomes of this devotion produced this reality: although he decimated millions, millions praised him. As with Raskolnikov, both declared that they never committed crime, not fearing the Lord’s verdict. Yet for Napoleon, prestige is virtue, to institute revolutionary ideas.

On religion, Alexander and Caesar were pagans. They believed not in God, but in gods. In contrast, Napoleon believed in Jesus, and explicitly acknowledged that these former historical legends fought under compulsions, like Ares. The image of Christ as a liberator and lawmaker drove his spirit to triumph “by love.”

However, the Russians opposed him. His “love” was not evident for the invaded. The Grande Armeé did not foresee, wittily saying, the “cold” response.

Perhaps these resemblances indicate that Raskolnikov was at war with individuals of his nationality that he underestimated, obstinate to the fact that coping with distinctive stratums will fatigue him, and was at war with himself, echoing Napoleon’s self-inconsistent character.