CONNECTING THE CONTINUUM
Linking past and present, future,
and attempting to correct
schisms with a timely suture
is the way we can connect
not with ancestors alone,
but with our children whom time tears
apart from us, because we own
in them not even future shares
that they’ll distribute. But if we
explain how we attempt to link
what time connects, posterity
may value ways we choose we think.
All life is a continuum,
conceiving future in the loins
where it conceivably can come
together with the past it joins.
Inspired by an article by Gertrude Himmelfarb in the February 9, 2009 edition of The New Criterion, ‘Reflections on Burke’s “Reflections”’:
In my earlier essay I had casually dismissed, as inconsistent with the pragmatic, political Burke, his much quoted statement declaring the state to be “a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.” In context, that statement may seem less paradoxical. The passage opens with the assertion “society is indeed a contract”—a contract, Burke went on to explain, that contains many subordinate contracts, some of which, like a partnership for the trade of pepper or coffee, are occasional and can be dissolved at will. But the state cannot be so dissolved, because it is a partnership “not only between those who are living but between those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” And beyond that, it is a partnership with nature itself, so to speak—that “great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world”:
Every sort of moral, every sort of civil, every sort of politic[al] institution, aiding the rational and natural ties that connect the human understanding and affections to the divine, are … necessary, in order to build up that wonderful structure, Man.
Burke’s state, one might say, like Aristotle’s polis, is rooted in the very nature of man, man being a political, as well as a social, animal.
The key words in this account of the “primeval contract” are “linking” and “connecting.” The lower and the higher natures, the visible and the invisible worlds, the rational and the natural, the human and the divine, the moral, the civil, and the political, the past, the present, and the future—are all linked together, all come together to create man. The dominant image I find here, and throughout the Reflections, is that of a continuum, a relationship among seemingly contrary or disparate elements that somehow converge, making sense of what otherwise would be paradoxical or incongruous.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/9/09