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With the African population explosion attempting to pour into Europe via leaky boats in the Mediterranean, it’s worth considering a classic passage from the annals of English literature on the difficulties of promoting family planning in Africa.

Evelyn Waugh’s 1932 comic novel Black Mischief fictionalizes his visit to Ethiopia in 1930 to see the coronation of the Emperor Haile Selassie. In Black Mischief, young Emperor Seth of Azania has appointed his Oxford classmate Basil Seal as Minister of Modernization. Having read that contraception was modern, the Emperor orders a Pageant of Birth Control. But …

The opposition to the pageant was firm and widespread. The conservative party rallied under the leadership of the Earl of Ngumo. This nobleman, himself one of a family of forty-eight (most of whom he had been been obliged to assassinate on his succession to the title) was the father of over sixty sons and uncounted daughters. This progeny was a favorite boast of his: in fact he maintained a concert party of seven minstrels for no other purpose than to sing at table about this topic when he entertained friends. Now in ripe age, with his triumphs behind him, he found himself like some scarred war veteran surrounded by pacifists, his prestige assailed and his proudest achievements held up to vile detraction. The new proposals struck at the very roots of sport and decency and he expressed the general feeling of the landed gentry when he threatened amid loud grunts of approval to dismember any man on his estates whom he found using the new-fangled and impious appliances.

The smart set, composed (under the leadership of Lord Boaz) of cosmopolitan blacks, courtiers, younger sons and a few of the decayed Arab intelligentsia, though not actively antagonistic, were tepid in their support: they discussed the question languidly in Fifi’s salon and, for the most part, adopted a sophisticated attitude maintaining that of course they had always known about these things, but why invite trouble by all this publicity; at best it would only make contraception middle class. In any case this circle was always suspect to the popular mind and their allegiance was unlikely to influence public opinion in the Emperor’s favour.

The Churches came out strong on the subject. No one could reasonably accuse the Nestorian [Christian] Patriarch of fanatical moral inflexibility — indeed there had been incidents in his Beatitude’s career when all but grave scandal had been caused to the faithful — but whatever his personal indulgence, his theology had always been unimpeachable. Whenever a firm lead was wanted on a question of opinion, the Patriarch had been willing to forsake his pleasures and pronounce freely and intransigently for the tradition he had inherited. There had been the ugly affair of the Metropolitan of Matodi who had proclaimed himself fourth member of the Trinity; … there was the painful case of the human sacrifices at the Bishop of Popo’s consecration — on all these and other uncertain topics the Patriarch had given proof of a sturdy orthodoxy.

Now, on the question of birth control, his Beatitude left the faithful in no doubt as to where their duty lay. … the Patriarch composed an encyclical in rich, oratorical style and despatched copies of it by runners to all parts of the island. Had the influence of the established Church on the popular mind been more weighty, the gala should have been doomed, but as has already been mentioned the Christianising of the country was still so far incomplete that the greater part of the Empire retained with a minimum of disguise their older and grosser beliefs and it was, in fact, from the least expected quarter, the tribesmen and villagers, that the real support of Seth’s policy suddenly appeared.

This development was due directly and solely to the power of advertisement. In the dark days when the prejudice of his people compassed him on every side and even Basil spoke unsympathetically of the wisdom of postponing the gala, the Emperor found among the books that were mailed to him monthly from Europe, a collection of highly inspiring Soviet posters. …

Finally, there resulted a large, highly colored poster well calculated to convey to the illiterate the benefits of birth control. … Copies were placarded all over Debra-Dowa; they were sent down the line to every station latrine, capital and coast; they were sent into the interior to vice-regal lodges and headmen’s huts, hung up at prisons, barracks, gallows and juju trees, and wherever the post was hung there assembled a cluster of inquisitive, entranced Azanians.

It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity — crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single, healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?

Interest in the pictures was unbounded; all over the island woolly heads were nodding, black hands pointing, tongues clicking against filed teeth in unsyntactical dialects. Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.

See: on right hand: there is rich man: smoke pipe like big chief: but his wife she no good: sit eating meat: and rich man no good: he only one son.

See: on left hand: poor man: not much to eat: but his wife she very good, work hard in field: man he good too: eleven children: one very mad, very holy. And in the middle: Emperor’s juju. Make you like that good man with eleven children.

And as a result, despite admonitions from squire and vicar, the peasantry began pouring into town for the gala, eagerly awaiting initiation to the fine new magic of virility and fecundity.

Buy Black Mischief here.

 
• Tags: Books, Waugh 
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My new column in Taki’s Magazine:

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with Gloria Swanson as a silent-screen legend plotting a comeback and William Holden as her toy boy, remains one of the most famous movies ever. Yet Sunset Boulevard’s origins in an Evelyn Waugh novel have been forgotten. This cultural amnesia is curious since the reactionary novelist and the refugee writer-director are still two of the more talked-about figures of the mid-century.

Read the whole thing there.

This isn’t hugely topical, but it seems like a fairly interesting historical link that has been lost.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Books, Movies, Waugh 
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Perhaps my favorite novel is Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 journalism satire Scoop, and my favorite stretch of prose might be Scoop’s serene and cheerful description of the Republic of Ishmaelia (mostly Ethiopia, with a dash of Liberia):

Ishmaelia, that hitherto happy commonwealth, cannot conveniently be approached from any part of the world. … Desert, forest, and swamp, frequented by furious nomads, protect its approaches from those more favored regions which the statesmen of Berlin and Geneva have put to school under European masters. An inhospitable race of squireens cultivate the highlands and pass their days in the perfect leisure which those peoples alone enjoy who are untroubled by the speculative or artistic itch.

Various courageous Europeans, in the seventies of the last century, came to Ishmaelia, or near it, furnished with suitable equipment of cuckoo clocks, phonographs, opera hats, draft-treaties and flags of the nations which they had been obliged to leave. … None returned. They were eaten, every one of them; some raw, others stewed and seasoned — according to local usage and the calendar (for the better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh, uncooked, in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop). Punitive expeditions suffered more harm than they inflicted, and in the nineties humane counsels prevailed. The European powers independently decided that they did not want the profitless piece of territory; that the one thing less desirable than seeing a neighbour established there was the trouble of taking it themselves. … A committee of jurists, drawn from the Universities, composed a constitution, providing a bicameral legislature, proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, an executive removable by the President on the recommendation of both houses, an independent judicature, religious liberty, secular education, habeas corpus, free trade, joint stock banking, chartered corporations, and numerous other agreeable features. … Mr. Samuel Smiles Jackson from Alabama was put in as the first President; a choice whose wisdom seemed to be confirmed by history, for, forty years later, a Mr. Rathbone Jackson held his grandfather’s office in succession to his father Pankhurst, while the chief posts of the state were held by Messrs Garnett Jackson, Mander Jackson, Huxley Jackson, his uncle and brothers, and by Mrs Athol (nee Jackson) his aunt. So strong was the love which the Republic bore the family that General Elections were known as ‘Jackson Ngomas’ wherever and whenever they were held. These, by the constitution, should have been quinquennial, but since it was found in practice that difficulty of communication rendered it impossible for the constituencies to vote simultaneously, the custom had grown up for the receiving officer and the Jackson candidate to visit in turn such parts of the Republic as were open to travel, and entertain the neighbouring chiefs to a six days’ banquet at their camp, after which the stupefied aborigines recorded their votes in the secret and solemn manner prescribed by the constitution.

It had been found expedient to merge the functions of national defence and inland revenue in an office then held in the capable hands of General Gollancz Jackson: his forces were in two main companies, the Ishmaelite Mule Taxgathering Force and the Rifle Excisemen with a small Artillery Death Duties Corps for use against the heirs of powerful noblemen. … Towards the end of each financial year the General’s flying columns would lumber out into the surrounding country on the heels of the fugitive population and returned in time for budget day laden with the spoils of the less nimble …

Under this liberal and progressive regime, the Republic may be said, in some way, to have prospered. It is true that the capital city of Jacksonburg became unduly large, its alleys and cabins thronged with landless men of native and alien blood, while the country immediately surrounding it became depopulated, so that General Gollancz Jackson was obliged to start earlier and march further in search of the taxes; … there was, moreover, a railway to the Red Sea coast, bringing a steady stream of manufactured imports which relieved the Ishmaelites of the need to practice their few clumsy crafts, while the adverse trade balance was rectified by an elastic system of bankruptcy law. In the remote provinces, beyond the reach of General Gollancz, the Ishmaelites followed their traditional callings of bandit, slave, or gentleman of leisure, happily ignorant of their connexion with the town which a few of them, perhaps, had vaguely and incredulously heard.

A few notes:

- “Inland revenue” is the British equivalent of “internal revenue,” the IRS.

- “Death duties” are taxes on inheritance.

- The first names of the Jacksons are drawn from progressive British celebrities, such as Victor Gollancz, fellow-traveling head of the Left Book Club; Samuel Smiles, Victorian reformist and author of the bestseller Self-Help; the suffragette Mrs. Pankhurst; and the numerous Darwinian Huxleys. The Manders were a family of industrialists and reformers, a sort of Wolverhampton version of the Wedgwoods. The Rathbones were a family of Liverpudlian ship owners, reformers, feminists, and movie stars. Bunny Garnett was a bisexual conscientious objector prominent in the Bloomsbury literary circle. I’m not sure who Athol was.

The opening chapter of John Updike’s 1978 novel The Coup describes the fictional African People’s Republic of Kush in comparably dazzling prose. The Coup’s one-paragraph acknowledgment note lists Waugh as a source, so I imagine Updike was directly inspired by this passage from Scoop.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Books, Waugh 
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Our permanent ruling class of Democratic and Republican grandees, such as President Bush, Senator Kennedy, and Senator McCain, have worked out a “comprehensive immigration reform” scheme to get the issue off the table long before the next election so the voters won’t have to worry their pretty heads about it.

For some reason, I’m reminded by this display of bipartisan solidarity of Guy Crouchback’s response to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in the opening pages of Evelyn Waugh’s WWII trilogy Sword of Honor:

“But now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Immigration, Waugh 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, VDARE.com columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.


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