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The Apple and the Arrow (Mary and Conrad Buff)

Do any American children learn about William Tell today? Do any Swiss children learn about him? Very few, if any, I suspect. My children do, but only because last year I was reminded of William Tell by Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage, and so I went and bought what few children’s books are still in print about the Swiss hero. Among those was The Apple and the Arrow, winner of the Newberry Medal in 1952, which I have just finished reading to my children, to their great delight.

Tell’s story is the core legend associated with the founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy, where around A.D. 1300 three communes (basically the cantons of today), Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, agreed to act together for purposes of defense and trade. This was not the Common Market, a primarily economic arrangement. Rather, the Swiss expected to have to fight to maintain their political freedom, and they did. And like most legends remembered through the ages, especially those suppressed by our ruling classes today (which most are), the Tell story is chock full of useful lessons for modern men and women, some of which are thrown into highlight by today’s events.

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The background history is a little complex, but in short at that time the ultimate overlord of all what is now Switzerland was the Holy Roman Emperor, though in practice day-to-day political control was usually in the hands of a greater or lesser ducal family. The Habsburgs, the villains of the Tell story, were originally just another such Swiss ducal family—“Habsburg” was not the family name, but the name of their castle in the Swiss canton of Aargau, which, like the three original cantons of the Confederacy, adjoined Lake Lucerne. Ducal rule was not the only arrangement—sometimes the relevant lord was a powerful local abbot (this was true for long periods in Schwyz) and sometimes a town or canton enjoyed “imperial immediacy,” direct rule (very light) by the Emperor, which in practice was, naturally, strongly resisted by the local dukes. For example, Emperor Frederick II granted Schwyz imperial immediacy in 1240, but the Habsburgs gradually accrued power there anyway—the Emperor was far away and had much else on his mind. By one method or another, by the end of the thirteenth century the Habsburgs exercised immediate control over all three cantons, but this was a control of short standing—not sanctioned by custom, the real source of most medieval law, and not liked by the Swiss, used to hands-off rule in their mountains and forests.

According to the Tell legend, Habsburg effrontery began the trouble. Rudolph of Habsburg died in 1290, and was succeeded by his son Albert, who decided to show the stiff-necked Swiss who was in charge. Albert sent a bailiff, or reeve, one Albrecht Gessler, to Altdorf, the main town of Uri, to administer the cantons claimed by the Habsburgs. Gessler set up a pole in the marketplace, atop which he placed his hat, and required all passers-by to bow to the hat. This was a double humiliation, and intended as such, for not only was obeisance to a hat not something free men were accustomed to, but Gessler himself was a commoner, and not even entitled to the modest deference the Swiss might have offered a noble.

The story from here is simple enough. William Tell was a huntsman of modest means living in Uri. He took his son to market, and Gessler’s soldiers demanded he bow to the hat. He refused, and was arrested and taken to Gessler. The reeve knew of Tell’s reputation for marksmanship, and so ordered that Tell shoot an apple off his son’s head, or they would both be killed. Tell, seeing no choice, took two crossbow bolts, put one in his belt and the other in his weapon, and successfully split the apple. Gessler, angry and no doubt suspecting the reason, demanded to know why Tell had put a second bolt in his belt. Tell refused to answer, other than saying it was a bowman’s custom, so Gessler assured Tell he would not be executed if he answered. Whereupon Tell told Gessler that if he had struck his son, he would have immediately taken the second bolt and killed Gessler.

No surprise, this enraged Gessler. But he did not break his promise—rather, he assured Tell he would die in prison. Gessler’s men took Tell in a boat, across Lake Lucerne, to the dungeon of Küssnacht. They never made it—a storm blew up, and Tell, experienced on the water, was untied and told to steer the craft. He brought it to land—and leaped off, fleeing into the forest, while the boat was carried by the waves back onto the lake. But Tell did not return home. Instead, he lay in wait for Gessler to either drown or to get to shore. He managed the latter, and with his men immediately proceeded to his castle—so Tell assassinated him from the shadows with his crossbow. This second half of the legend is often forgotten, when this tyrannicide is really the most important part of the legend—both the action itself, and that it began the forging of a new system, rather than being simply an attempt to turn back the clock, which is and can never be successful.

Thus began the Swiss war of rebellion against the Habsburgs, in which the key battles were Morgarten (1315) and Sempach (1386). In the latter, the Habsburg duke, Leopold III, was killed, allowing the Confederacy to expand. Today, with many twists and turns along the way, the Swiss still live under a political system with external characteristics not that different, most notably a subsidiarity extreme by modern standards, and the use of national referendums to decide important questions. The Swiss are, or were until recently, free—not a libertarian freedom that exalts individual choice, but an ordered freedom.

The Apple and the Arrow views the key events of the legend through the lens not only of Tell, but of his immediate family. The authors take some liberties with the traditional legend, most notably casting Tell as an active participant in a conspiracy against Austrian tyranny prior to running afoul of Gessler’s hat, whereas in the traditional version, he was an apolitical man radicalized by that event. No matter; the exact details of the revolt against the Habsburgs are long lost, and what matters is that the men of the three cantons agreed to fight, and did. They risked their lives, and won, for which their reward was to risk their lives again and again, since as the saying goes, freedom isn’t free.

That’s not to say the women didn’t matter—as always in the West, they mattered a great deal, they just didn’t pretend to be men, as women are told today they must. One key benefit of this book as a children’s book is that it depicts, and instructs children in, proper roles for men and women, those based on reality and resulting in a healthy society. The story offered is not the silly fantasy we would get if the book were written today, where Tell’s daughter would have the best crossbow skills in the canton, spend her days humiliating boys with her superior skills in every physical endeavor, and be solely responsible for killing Gessler, shrieking “Girl Power!”, while her father cowered in fear at home. In this book, rather, Tell’s wife, Hedwig, takes counsel with her husband, balances and smooths the edges off the defects that are inherent in masculinity (as he balances the defects that are inherent in femininity), and is an active participant, in a wholly realistic way, in the Swiss fight for independence, while never lifting a weapon or leaving her village. That’s the way a society should work, and mostly did work, until we were fed infinite amounts of lying propaganda about the past and sold a bill of goods about relationships between men and women, resulting in today’s pernicious chaos, pleasing and benefiting neither sex, that afflicts men and women today at all stages of their lives.

So I highly recommend this book. Even for adults, it’s a quick introduction to the Tell story, worth having in these days when it is mostly forgotten, or rather suppressed for the hero’s supposedly retrograde nature, for daring to accurately reflect reality and celebrate virtues that our masters deny are virtues. It’s a reminder of when awards such as the Newberry Medal, awarded by the American Library Association, went to worthy books. Today, the ALA is overtly racist and celebrates various perversions, and, inevitably, its awards don’t reflect merit, but its political priorities and its desire to indoctrinate children into its divisive ideology. You can be certain no book given a medal today focuses on, or even shows, a strong nuclear family, or shows men doing masculine things while women do feminine things. Now, the Newberry Medal’s primary benefit is to show a book to avoid. Schools, of course, eagerly use such guides, and similar collections that have gone full Left, such as Scholastic, to choose books to indoctrinate children. For example, my children’s school proudly displayed, before the Wuhan virus shut their doors, the covers of four books all grades under fifth must use to brainwash children. Two were racist and that was their main point. One celebrated homosexual penguins. To be fair, the fourth was mostly about kindness, although with racist overtones and encouraging an attitude of helplessness and handouts in tough economic straits. Needless to say, no book was written more than ten years ago, or was in any way a classic story, or will be remembered ten years from now.

It’s not just the Newberry Medal that has gone downhill. The Swiss have, too, though it took nearly seven hundred years. I’m not an expert on Swiss politics, but I think much of the recent turn to the Left winning national referendums is due to the dying out of the rural Swiss and their replacement with (also dying out, but more slowly) effete city dwellers who are mere carbon copies of the end-stage EU-loving drones of Germany. In recent years, for example, the Swiss have sharply limited the right to keep firearms (long correctly deemed necessary to maintain a free society) and imposed “hate speech” laws (always only ever used to suppress conservatives), among other stupidities. Today, Tell’s target wouldn’t be a foreign overlord, but the men of his own country who have stripped its people of their freedoms and bow to foreign ideological domination. True, in Switzerland as in other European countries, a party devoted to the country’s original ideals continues to gain power, violently attacked using the usual totalitarian tricks of the ruling class, and the outcome is ultimately in doubt (more so now with the Chinese virus spreading chaos in Europe, although the pansified global reaction to the pandemic gives more cause for pessimism than hope about the future).

I have talked elsewhere at length about rebellion and tyrannicide, so I will not specifically address the morality of Tell’s actions (short version: they’re awesome). Nor will I talk again about Ernst Jünger’s casting of Tell as the original “forest rebel,” which is a fascinating analysis very much worth reading. It interests me, too, but I will not talk today about, how the Tell legend illustrates the radicalization of men in the face of injustice—in essence, how and why men react to injustice by taking huge risks to inflict violence on their oppressors achieve a goal of which the risk-taker has no legitimate expectation of success and when he will almost certainly lose his own life. Not long ago, this was one of the most common storylines, across cultures—that men will often value justice far more than their own lives. But I will save that for another time.

Instead, let’s talk current events, that on which everyone is forced to focus. The Chinese virus has highlighted that in the West today the dominant ethos is that every person should value most of all his own life, at any cost that may be imposed on others or on broader society. This is fundamentally a form of cowardice, but less judgmentally (not that there’s anything at all wrong with judging others), it is a form of societal feminization, since protection is a core characteristic of women, in their nature. We see this in the global reaction to the Wuhan virus, which has sharply exposed many things, but in this context it has exposed how deep into the West the desperate desire for safety, at all costs but granted and directed by others stronger than ourselves, has choked us. Its manifestation in this moment is that rather than weighing risks and rewards, and choosing to bear burdens to accomplish goals, the vast majority of people accept, and even seek out, the most exaggerated worst-case scenarios as reality, and act on the basis of reducing risk as close to zero as possible. Everyone knows the internet has turned most of us into hypochondriacs, but maybe it’s not WebMD that has done that, but our own flaccidity and the simpering weakness of our “leaders.”

There is little doubt at this point that the death rate from the virus among the vast majority of people is very low. The obvious answer is to protect those actually at risk, or to let them protect themselves if they choose, and let everyone else get on with their lives, taking reasonable precautions. Yet there is no logical discussion, and any data that does not support the dominant narrative of overprotective panic is swiftly censored or memory-holed. Also pervading the hysteria is a strong element of wanting to avoid “stigma” by pretending that everyone is similarly situated; the desire to not stigmatize others or see them stigmatized is a feminine trait. And to the extent that activity, rather than passivity, is asked for by those in charge, it is second-order feminine actions, like initiatives for “kindness,” around which a municipality in my area has launched a massive campaign, complete with plenty of colored chalk drawings on local driveways. That’ll show the virus!

Everyone is told he must enter his government-provided mental cocoon and hold close his government-issued teddy bear, and wait for it all to be over. He complies, for he is no William Tell or forest rebel, even though there is no visible path for a return to normalcy other than by simply suffering for a short, sharp period, while doing our best to protect and aid those actually at significant risk. That truth is ignored and painted, for no specified reason, as evil. Instead, we accept and cower to the demands of legions of Karens, who lecture us that all that matters is following “the rules,” whatever those are today, whomever they are issued by, and whether or not they make any sense. And in truth, most of those ever-changing rules are the commands of the fearful women who run governments, either directly as political leaders, who may have been an adequate choice to coddle a weak but stable society, but were the wrong choice for a crisis, or who have foolishly been put in charge of our councils, rather than sent to nurse the sick.

Instead of acting with a forthright, decisive, manly, courageous attitude, the attitude with which our societies faced all previous pandemics and other civilizational challenges, we have knuckled under to hysteria, and collectively direct hatred at anyone who dares to question the approved narrative. This reaction is what’s going to be fatal, not the virus—though it more exposes the already fatal rot in the society than causes it, to be sure. The current sickness is just manifesting the core problem—a society that tilts its balance entirely to the feminine will always stagnate. Neither individual nor society can accomplish great things if the dominant ethos is protection of what one has and safety from danger in all events.

At least those forced to be at home can use the time to read this book, to themselves and their children. We could all use a hefty dose of William Tell, at every level and in every aspect of society. As this book narrates the thoughts of Tell’s son, finally understanding his father’s actions: “He knew what the wise had always known, that man lives by faith, and that faith can be stronger than fear.” Without faith in something broader, in our collective future and our resistance to tyranny, it doesn’t matter how many people die from the virus, for our society itself will die. But instead of calling for faith and decisive action, our leaders demand we cower in front of the television with no plan whatsoever, just a hope it will all go away and leave us alone. None of this will end well, and my bet is that the second half of the Tell legend will likely be generally applicable before long. Jünger predicted that “in the nature of things,” “when catastrophes announce themselves . . . the initiative will always pass into the hands of a select minority who prefer danger to servitude.” Let’s hope so.

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12 Comments

  1. Jared says

    I recommend you read the following op-ed from some New Zealand media. The authors are, from what I can tell, the pair of epidemiologists who more or less directly architected NZ’s anti-COVID strategy:

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/120819320/coronavirus-five-reasons-why-we-must-fight-and-how-it-will-make-new-zealand-better

    Some choice excerpts. It’s not difficult to spot the barely-concealed glee:

    > Beyond the acute response, we know that the world we had two weeks ago has gone forever. While there is much to be nostalgic about, that world was not sustainable and was on a trajectory that would result in escalating climate change and environmental destruction. While the pandemic has terrible global health consequences, it is still a finite shock. The longer-term environmental shocks we were creating are likely to be far more destructive to health and the economy, and some are becoming locked-in for generations.’
    >
    > ‘The ‘silver lining’ of this global crisis might therefore be the opportunity it provides for a major reset in how we organise our society and our relationship with our environment. Once we have Covid-19 firmly under control, then we can turn our attention to planning the new world that we will emerge into. The pandemic is likely to continue circulating for the next one to two years, even with an effective vaccine and new antivirals. We will therefore have time to plan what our new world will look like.’

    I would have thought that a pair of (obviously benevolent and cooly-objective) scientists would limit their concerns to epidemiology or perhaps ‘flattening the curve’. I didn’t know that rearchitecting society was on the agenda. But alas. I do wonder if and to what degree they might have used this angle to sell their plan to the thoroughly-feminized government. Thankfully I no longer live in New Zealand, but I watch from afar with a morbid curiosity.

    (It’s easy to spot the difference in tone between Scientists, like this motley pair, and scientists, like John Ioannides or Michael Levitt or Ian Frazer. The latter group don’t tend to devolve into utopian blabbery, and also appear to be far, far more measured in their commentary.)

    Re: SARS-CoV-2, I briefly returned to my lapsed statistician ways and spent about a week bingeing on all the data and papers I could find on the topic. I struggled to find compelling reasons that anyone who is not already very ill should be seriously concerned about it. I’ve since gone totally cold turkey on all things COVID, so my information may be out of date, but it appeared to me that between 30-80% of infected folks will be totally asymptomatic, over 99% will develop at most mild symptoms, and *of* those who develop severe symptoms, the majority of the deaths will occur only in people who are already seriously ill. A statistic from Italy, IIRC, was that over 50% of those who died had three simultaneous serious comorbidities, and the median age of the dead was over 80.

    From the data I saw, the unconditional infection fatality rate appeared likely to be either directly comparable to seasonal influenza (which, last I checked, COVID had quite a ways to go to catch up to re: death count), or to be a small integer multiple of it. I was guessing between 0.1-0.5% — we’ll see how it goes.

    The near-universal government reaction of shutting down human society (people say economy, but I prefer to point out that it’s society that has been shut down, with the economic consequences immediately derivable) for indeterminate periods of time have been difficult for me to understand. I am as based and redpilled as they come, but even I wouldn’t have suspected that almost all governments would take such patently insane and self-destructive measures on such flimsy evidence. An argument from Nassim Taleb, a fellow whose statistics I put some credence in, convinced me that an early and widespread tightening or closure of borders may have been appropriate due to the interaction of uncertainty and potential cost. But the reaction beyond that has been very surprising indeed.

    (Except in Belarus, apparently, where the president immediately called COVID a mass psychosis, and which has taken almost no measures to deal with it.)

    Perhaps the Western governments in particular feel that China handled this well and are simply trying to copy what they did, proving that they’re just as efficient and capable, possibly with some additional pressure and “encouragement” from the WHO. Or something. Some problems, though, are that: 1) it’s not even clear that China’s response was appropriate, 2) Western populations are not the Chinese population, and 3) Western governments are not China.

    On the population level I see standard mimetic contagion. As I posted somewhere on reddit, I think this pandemic is better understood through the eyes of René Girard* than the WHO. The general latent state of pansification means that it is high status to appear concerned about the vulnerable and elderly and to do one’s part to help the cause, the actual opinions of and effect on the vulnerable and elderly be damned. So, a route to status is to appear slightly more concerned and for-the-cause than one’s neighbours, which then increases status rivalry, leading eventually to absurdities like cheering for being placed under dubious house arrest. I got a particular kick out of the trend of clapping from locked-down balconies that developed in some places, as it mirrors the famous anecdote of Stalin too deliciously. Don’t be the first to stop clapping, comrade!

    (* I think it’s safe to say you’re never going to get those reviews, Charles. But I look forward to reading yours! :-))

    • Charles says

      Fascinating; more detailed than my thoughts, but confirms them generally. (A Lancet study said .66% death rate, in China, with lesser healthcare and universal smoking; my general feeling is probably 0.3% to 0.4% in the US, maybe less.) Not much to add, obviously (though we’ll see how Belarus does). The NZ “scientist” agitprop is insane, but revealing.

      Ah, I was hoping for the reviews someday! OK, I’ll put the books on my list. Still want to be listed as an author on the blog? Your choice!

      • Jared says

        I would love to write more, but my work has consistently proven to be overly demanding of my time. I find I can manage a trio of hobbies (lifting, chess, language study) in addition to work, family, and reading, but writing — not so much. And the less one does of it, the longer it takes. Perhaps in a few years when I can retire and take up the life of a proper « flâneur » more permanently.

        In the meantime, by all means feel free to remove my squib! You can always put me back if I ever return to producing semi-regular contributions.

    • You’re wrong on literally all counts (except that the Western response to lock down economy was stupid to the extreme and based on no evidence). COVID has a fatality rate of ~2%, judging from South Korean data (which is most reliable).

      • Charles says

        Please (a) enumerate “all counts” and (b) show I am wrong. As to the one specific you give, I assume you mean IFR, not some free-floating “fatality rate,” whatever that means. Current up-to-date estimates are more like 0.2% to 0.4% in the United States (as antibody counts come in), with the majority of those having had a life expectancy other than the Wuhan Plague of less than 12 months, which is not the same thing as an IFR that affects all groups equally.

      • Jared says

        No, I’m quite confident that the unconditional infection fatality rate will prove to be in the range 0.1-0.5%. Increasingly I feel comfortable narrowing that to 0.1-0.35%, which is the range that virtually all serological studies indicate, and which is itself probably too conservative at the high end (as it seems some infections may be sufficiently mild not to produce a measurable antibody response at all).

  2. Prism says

    There is a certain irony in Sweden, usually the image of ‘sissified’ Europe, being the only ones to buck the lock down trend.

  3. Joel E says

    Absolutely engaging. Thank you! If only this book review of yours could somehow be flashed at night in the sky like Gotham’s searchlight, summoning an actual fucking tool-belted leader to smash this pussified tea party of “virus-safety-oh-my wash your hands and go straight home and have some cereal before bed” and return some goddamn dignity and self respect to the world! The lies they want us to believe!!!!!!! I am thrilled to the gristly marrow that I am apparently not alone at seriously wondering if it is an appropriate life choice and fitting personal epitaph to reinact the second half of the William Tell story on the puffy, prediabetic Mayor of the tropical island paradise I live on for his keen yet incomprehensible ( bow to my hat!!!) desire to use the police to ticket the public for sunning themselves on the beach instead of hustling straight home after they stock up on provisions at Safeway. I am a disciple of Marcus Aurelius and counsel myself daily to look to my own faults and shortcomings before dwelling on the lunacies of the poloi, yet I am saddened, deeply, that no such hero, no figure of stoic wisdom, no bold and decisive Gandalf has appeared in the entire world.
    We are in fucked up times gentlemen.
    Thank you for so eloquently speaking for those of us still possessed of red blood and a pair of balls but too damn selfish & comfortable to use that second bolt.

  4. Calling it the “Wuhan virus” while going on an insane rant about “dominant narrative of overprotective panic” is truly insane. What do you want China to have done anyway? They first rejected “overprotective panic”, then embraced it.

    I actually think the terrible Western response is more demonstrative of anti-East Asian racism than anything else. They decided on the least effective and most economically costly response (lockdown) while neglecting responses that actually worked and prevented mass economic disruption.

    • Charles says

      What do those two things have to do with each other? Of course it’s the “Wuhan virus”; that’s where it came from. Whether the Chinese response was rational, I don’t know, in part because we don’t really know all about it (and the stories about people dying on the street and being welded into apartment buildings were of course BS). It may have made more sense since they did not know what we now know.

      What response would have “actually worked and prevented mass economic disruption”?

  5. Carlos Danger says

    Today the public health officer for my county, an appointed position, extended our lockdown until the end of May. He has not made an official announcement yet, but his past orders loftily cited an imminent threat to the public from the Wuhan virus.

    In his eyes, that justifies the quarantine of the healthy, something that in my eyes is unprecedented in history and foolish. Why foolish? Because the economic damage of his order is, of course, savage. We are all under house arrest, jobs and society be damned.

    What has happened to this country? Peter Thiel likes to refer to the book The American Challenge that shouts a wakeup call to Europe that America is taking over the world. The book was written in 1968 by a French journalist, just before an American became the first man on the moon and our future did seem ready to soar unbounded.

    Now our future seems bounded indeed, rising feebly on an asymptotic curve, not exploding exponentially. We have become a risk averse people who shiver and shelter in our homes from a largely avirulent virus and expect the government to save us from the consequent economic devastation.

    This just reflects the malaise and (per Ross Douthat) decadence that has descended on us. We don’t innovate like we used to. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to get people to click on ads.” “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

    We don’t dream big dreams. We are incrementalists, globalists who copy others instead of creating new things. We cower as cowards, with no boldness, no sense of adventure, no thrill in discovery. We fear everything, and fear most fear itself. We don’t rise to a challenge, we turn from it.

    We are no longer a proud country. “Give me liberty or give me death”? Not any more. “Take my liberty, just save me from the virus.”

    Shameful.

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