14 November 2010

Dante and Anarchism

"...over thyself I mitre thee and crown."

That is the (Dorothy Sayers) translation of the moment in Dante's Divine Comedy when Virgil tells the pilgrim that he has become a fully self-responsible, self-aware individual. They have travelled through Hell and Purgatory together. Virgil, as a pagan, can go no further -- can never enter the third Realm -- so he will soon depart.

"Over thyself I mitre thee and crown." In Italian, "per ch'io te sovra te corono e mitrio." You have now within yourself the powers of both state and church.

Obviously, Dante is not taking an anarchistic (or an antinomian) position here. He is simply saying that once one's will has been purged of all the twistings that might lead it astray, it will not be led astray. The institutions of mitre and crown are supposed to contain those twistings during this life, purgatory will cure them in the next.

Still, it does not take much free-associating from that line to associate it with the hope that even in this life, human history will reach a point at which earthly sovereigns and hierarchs will no longer be, or even be thought to be, necessary.

At some point, each of us may seize his own mitre and crown.


Henry said...

Are you an optimist! In light of the 20th century, with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and in light of the direction in which the United States is moving, it is difficult for me to see human history as progressing, let alone toward the point you imagine.

Christopher said...

Yes, ever the optimist. There may be some nasty shocks, though, in the course of the forward movement.

The digital revolution has helped people build routes around longstanding information bottlenecks, and the coming nano revolution will help us overcome a variety of obstacles to mutual reconciliation.

Politics won't make progress, of course. Politics will become irrelevant as humans progress.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.