Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, August 31, 2002 On capital punishment and morality, John O’Sullivan’s earnest essay has provoked me to lay down a few thoughts on the matter.
Not long ago I settled into an uneasy concurrence with the Roman Catholic Church, which, as I understand it, holds to the doctrine that while in principle capital punishment might indeed be necessary for sufficiently wicked crimes, as a prudential matter the taking of human life by the state is only very rarely justified. The deterrence argument —- that executing criminals deters others from violence —- strikes me as less than persuasive: I do not deny the fact of the deterrent effect itself, but recoil, to a degree, from the utilitarian nature of it. How can a society justify taking the life of a man on the basis of the purely hypothetical lives that act might save? Capital punishment, I believe, must be defended on moral grounds principally; not on grounds of utility, which has a dangerous pedigree.
The death penalty should never be administered as an act of vengeance, but rather as an act of retribution; the two are distinguished to the extent that the latter is expunged of the sin of wrath. Crucial elements of applicable political theory are preserved in the Declaration of Independence: To secure our rights, including the right to life, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. In the case of a crime of great magnitude and iniquity committed against a man’s right to life, the state is so constituted as to be authorized to restore the just order of things by taking the life of the transgressor. This principle we are duty-bound, in my view, to uphold; what we are not justified in indulging is anger, or the sin of wrath. Capital punishment should be administered with regret, and pity for he that has so violated the sacred bonds of one man to another that he has forfeited his right to life.
All this seems elementary to me. The colossal difficulty comes in the realm of prudence. When is a crime so grave as to call forth the ultimate retributive justice? It is an exacting question; and I do not believe we can avail ourselves to abstract principles with much profit on this matter. Human life resists abstraction to our unending frustration as well as our unending delight. Bathed in the light of this truth, tradition has secured for us a prudential method for adjudication: casuistry, the theory of cases, embodied in the jury trial. Some principles do apply, but they apply broadly, with humility and deference to the individual case, which must finally be decided by a jury of citizens, none of whom is assumed to possess any expertise, save the expertise of living with other men and women in this fallen world.
What galls is the “relentless moral self-congratulation,” as Mr. O’Sullivan acerbically puts it, of the death penalty opponents; which is also reflected in the attitudes of some of the same people when they adopt pacifist postures. Is it not possible to even entertain the idea that choosing not to resort to lethal force when circumstances call for it could be a vicious act? Such absolutism, it seems to me, can only be sustained by a certain deliberate closing of the eyes, a refusal to follow logic to its conclusion. The opponents see the logic of capital punishment through to its grim and as yet hypothetical conclusion quite easily: the state will one day err, and execute an innocent man. But they refuse to see the contrary logic through to its grim and all too real conclusion: the state has erred, and will continue to err, and release men who will kill again.posted by Paul Cella | 6:15 AM |
An epigram of parental advice:
--from John Derbyshire's column yesterday.posted by Paul Cella | 1:19 AM |
Eugene Volokh has penned a trenchant critique of Tom Friedman's little sneer toward Christians and conservatives who opposed reading a bowdlerized version of the Koran at the University of North Carolina. Mr. Friedman rather indelicately compared the opponents of this summer reading assignment to Osama bin Laden in a slander as noteworthy for its fatuity as for its intemperate viciousness. posted by Paul Cella | 12:03 AM |
Friday, August 30, 2002 Allow me to recommend, for those readers who have the time, the riveting and hugely rewarding “Booknotes” discussion with Michael Oren, author of the important new book Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. The “Booknotes” program on CSPAN is television at its very best; this Michael Oren interview is a consummate example of it.
If this doesn't excite your intellect, you're probably already dead.posted by Paul Cella | 5:14 AM |
Discussing a recent piece by the British military historian John Keegan, Orrin Judd alights on an significant, if rarely noted, point about the injustice of the retrospective scapegoating of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who infamously acquiesced in Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and returned declaring “peace in our time.” Chamberlain was an appeaser, undoubtedly, but so were many of his people; the spiritual enervation and despair brought on among Europeans by the carnage of the Great War should not be underestimated. And we make a massive and heaving mistake when we fail to appreciate the black seductive allure of appeasement as a political option when war seems, as it likely will, grim, uncertain, and problematic beyond assimilation. Writes Mr. Judd,
Doubt is a writhing, insidious thing; and we must cling to those weapons of the mind and heart which we still have, those which haven’t been stolen from us by the spiritual enervation which threatens the modern world with dissolution; an enervation not unlike that which faced the English when they stood alone against the darkness. A year, not so long a time —- long enough to forget.posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |
Thursday, August 29, 2002 Yesterday was the feast of St. Augustine, as great a man as has ever lived. I recently read this essay, by Rebecca West, taken from a wonderful little book call Saints for Now which offers a brilliant introduction to this numinous figure in Western history, of whom I plainly do not know nearly enough. Ms. West introduces him thusly:
If that is not enough to excite interest and encourage the intellect, nothing is.
One of the thunderous frustrations for us moderns is the very possible, even likely, fact that many of the ancients knews us better than we know ourselves. We have forgotten much of what was learned when civilization was young, and we have deliberately unlearned even much of that which has been retained.
And just like the Romans, our peril is the old peril of barbarian invasion. If that world can fall to wild rabble on the periphery and exhaustion and decadence within, so can ours.posted by Paul Cella | 2:09 AM |
Wednesday, August 28, 2002 Thanks to Instapundit my little piece on the lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses has attracted a great deal of attention, including, predictably, a host of thoughtful (and some less-than-thoughtful) detractors. Here is my reply to one of the former, Brandon D. Valentine:
Mr. Valentine quotes me as declaring that the results of the study I discussed are “devastating,” then asks: “Devastating for whom?” Very simply: devastating for those who deny the presence of a stark imbalance in political perspective among the professoriat. He then faults the study itself, with some plausibility, for a problematic grouping of political parties into the rather crude categories of Left and Right.
Very well; any categorization will have its problematics, and we all, upon reflection, could likely conceive of methodological adjustments; whether they would be improvements, however, remains unclear.
Here one is inclined to remark, very quietly, that (1) assertion is not the same as argument; and (2) we are not discussing Capitol Hill, where the marvelous intransigence of the American electorate’s centrism is ineluctably at work, but rather enclaves of often detached, even insular, intellectual society. Mr. Valentine even admits later that, “the academic environment is one of the most politically delicate in existence.” Now why is that, because academia is full of a coterie of bland moderates whose views are barely distinguishable from the two major political parties, the ideological line between which “is an extremely fine one”? It seems a bit strange to assimilate data showing, however imprecisely, a large disparity in political affiliation by stating that the differences in said affiliation are essentially meaningless. If Republicans and Democrats constitute principally the same entity, then why do the latter outnumber the former in many academic departments by a factor of 6, 8, even 10 to 1? If the study is not gauging ideological preferences, what exactly is it gauging? Chance alone cannot explain the salient pattern in these results.
Mr. Valentine more or less answers these very questions, and thereby partially undermines his prior contentions, when he states,
So the decisions made about political affiliation are the result of logic and rigorous analysis of merit, and yet they concern distinctions which are “useless in their current form.” Another strange argument. What he seems to be saying is that (1) the study is irretrievably flawed; but if it is not flawed then (2) it is not measuring anything substantial; but if it is measuring something real and substantial then (3) what it is measuring is to be cheered, not bemoaned. Three levels of sophistry to explain away uncomfortable numbers.
“Monetary,” strictly defined, is a very narrow way to assay economic incentives; but I suspect Mr. Valentine means this more broadly, and here he overlooks hugely important factors. A most prominent feature of a professor’s compensation lies in job security; we cannot even begin to approach the economics of the occupation without considering this. In Florida right now we have this conspicuous case of a professor linked to Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization, whom the university cannot dismiss without elaborate legal machinations on account of his tenure. Now that is job security; and if it is not included in the economic calculations of the academic career, then we might as well dispense with economic calculations altogether.
I do not harbor such an idea; nor did I intend to imply such things as Mr. Valentine infers. The primary idea I do harbor with regard to this is that terms like “diversity” and “tolerance” function as a dialectical component in the multiculturalist ideology which pervades the modern university: they are deployed ruthlessly to bludgeon and intimidate opponents, but tend to vanish without a trace when the issue drives against allies. The relativism about value judgements is purely tactical. The tolerance for dissent is fraudulent. In this way the multiculturalist ideology surely reflects the enduring presence in the halls of Intellect of the old dialectical materialism that warmed the hearts of so many Marxists; the dark and terrible elegance of which allowed the Soviet Union, for example, to calmly endorse UN resolutions by the dozen promoting violent resistance to colonial powers among oppressed peoples in Africa and Asia, without fearing the implications of those endorsements for their own colonial subjects under brutal military occupation in Eastern Europe. The language of diversity and tolerance now, just like the language of self-determination and independence then, is nothing more than an instrument for leverage and manipulation. Its ideals are not held sincerely; but out of either calculation or idleness, or some combination of the two.posted by Paul Cella | 7:50 PM |
Jim Hoagland produced a shrewd column the other day, examining the faintly squalid light cast by personal rivalries on the Iraq debate which has been percolating through Washington recently. This debate reposed at a low shimmer until former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft edged it into a more steady boil with his Wall Street Journal essay opposing military action agianst Saddam Hussein two weeks ago. Mr. Hoagland's piece is full of pithy insight:
Instead, in typical Washington fashion, we get alot of innuendo and mystifying ambiguity.
(Thanks to The CounterRevolutionary for pointing this column out)
Monday, August 26, 2002 A friend of mine has sent along a column by member of the Colorado State Board of Education which mounts a very animated and dogmatic defense of the rapper Marshall Mathers, a.k.a., Eminem. Dogmatic, because the catchwords and cant of certain mindset are so prominently arrayed and assumed to be invincible. For example, the writer seems strangely enamored with the rather fanciful idea of “relevance.” Also, he is bedazzled by the emancipatory frisson of the airing all things personal publicly, which really amounts to the annihilation of the barrier between public and private. He speaks of the honesty of Mr. Mathers’ lyrics, and his salubrious contribution to the “healthy trend” of “getting things out in the open.” Why is this a healthy trend? The writer never deigns to answer this obvious question, though one might quite sensibly conclude that the saturation of our public square with ugliness and malice coincident with the steady diminishment of real privacy constitutes precisely the opposite of a healthy trend.
Then there is the curious notion of Mr. Mathers as “one of the most relevant forces today promoting fidelity, safe sex and traditional family values.” All those others promoting these things, beginning, say, with Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he wrote with prescience in 1965 about the baleful effects of the welfare state on nuclear families, on through George Gilder when he wrote with prescience about the “unmanned” father —- they must concede to “irrelevance” and yield their place to moral leaders such as Eminem. The writer goes on,
Here we have the modern mind in all its unintelligible splendor: the only way to deliver “meaningful” “moral messages” is to twist and mangle and garble them into something ugly and stale; and which point they become “relevant” to young people, whom we can expect to quite easily overlook the grotesque, shameless self-regard of the whole enterprise, and discern within it a moral message of traditional wisdom.
In fact this critic has managed to get very nearly everything wrong; more than that, he has managed to get some supremely important things hopelessly reversed. Eminem as a moral leader could scarcely be more irrelevant. He is championed in this essay as an emancipator, freeing men from their stifling taboos and traditions. But his aesthetic or artistic innovations are utterly exhausted, by decades if not by centuries. Épater le bourgeoisie forms and tropes were already growing stale when the Marquis De Sade took up sexual perversion an art-form at the turn of the nineteenth century; and at least De Sade possessed a certain deadpan narrative verve: “When calm had been restored, they buried the two bodies.” By the time Eminem appeared and hammered our senses in abject tonelessness, the thing was patently dead, lifeless and evacuated. Shocking the respectable classes by transgressing sacred things is only a functional method for artistic excitement so long as there are things held in near-unanimity as sacred. Eminem has very diligently dug up enemies to attack who are quite certainly not going to retaliate, as they are long dead. He assails with crude vituperation a kind of mythical 1950s traditionalism as if it were still active and vital and capable of an organized counterstrike; but indeed it is on the very issue of his insults toward homosexuality, which was of course viewed by this mythical traditionalism as the quintessence of sexual perversion, that Eminem felt the gravest threat to his fame. Thus it is only in his rare moments of unity with the traditionalism that he encounters sustained resistance: that is how dead the traditionalism is.
Mr. Mathers wallows in his own life-giving boldness in hurling vague invective at institutions and taboos which passed into intellectual oblivion before he was born; and here he joins with the whole of the counterculture, as it was once dubbed, in attacking everything that is weak and emasculated, in seeking out the more defenseless and unpopular ideas and gleefully flaying them in public. It takes a very special sort of moral cowardice to so viciously attack dead things and call the act of doing so courageous.
But it really does say something about the persistent applicability of traditional sexual and moral standards of behavior that even in decadence they are regarded as such a opalescent threat to our multifarious moral reformers. That every ego with pretensions of grandeur supposes that he must attack the fading afterimages of Victorian morality to derive his fame and fortune is the mark of something more than a passing fashion. Of course, the traditions are only decadent today because modern man is himself decadent; they are only dead by the lights of Modern Man, not by those of the unspeakably boarder and deeper Mankind. The traditions themselves will endure, because they are rooted in the nature of Man; only the traditionalism will vanish, and with it its perfectly irrelevant parasitic defamers.posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 PM |
SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “When we encounter the grim asceticism of some saint, say of the Middle Ages, who flagellates or starves himself, clanks about in chains, or racks his body, we consider his conduct morbid, if not insane. That is because we live in an age where a scratch sends us rushing off to the medicine closet for iodine and a band-aid. We would be less scandalized by his manifestation of asceticism if we were to recall that this saint lived in an age when the most excruciating torture was publicly administered to malefactors and criminals. We might then see that his particular mode of holiness was to take upon himself a measure of the pain society was currently inflicting on its sinners, and that he was saying, in effect, “If torture is to be the lot of the sinner then torture is my lot, for all are guilty in the eyes of God.” Moreover, his purgatory asceticism even may have suggested to his neighbors that purgatory was waiting for them too, and that they might do well to show a little less harshness in their punishment of others. Saints often bear, that others may be moved to forbear.” –- Clare Booth Luce, “Saints” (1952). posted by Paul Cella | 11:36 AM |
The American Enterprise magazine has done us all an immense favor: It has assiduously collected political affiliation figures for college professors in a broad and numerous sample of American institutions of higher learning. Their method was to cross-reference faculty rosters in “major, uncontroversial, and socially significant” academic departments with each local jurisdiction’s voter registration records, and then assemble the numbers into two categories, party of the Left (Democratic, Green or Working Families Party registration) or of the Right (Republican or Libertarian Party registration). The results are, very simply, devastating; they quite thoroughly document an American academia full of “virtual one-party states, ideological monopolies, badly unbalanced ecosystems.” A few samples. Cornell University, in the eight departments tabulated, includes 166 professors registered with parties of the Left and six registered with parties of the Right; the history, sociology, and women’s studies departments all do not have a single professor among them registered with a party of the Right. At Harvard University, the numbers for economics, political science and sociology are 50 to two. Penn State University, 59 to ten. Stanford Univeristy, 151 to seventeen. San Diego State University, 80 to eleven. Syracuse University, 50 to two. UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara, a combined 312 to sixteen. The University of Colorado at Boulder, 116 to five. The University of Texas at Austin, 94 to fifteen. Pomona College, eighteen to two. The State University of New York at Binghamton, 35 to one. The University of Maryland, 59 to ten.
Conservatives and some independent-minded liberals (Senator Joseph Lieberman, for example) have protested the stultifying ideological monotony of academia for quite a while; well, now there are hard, immovable facts to back up the complaint —- facts that could hardly be more demonstrative of precisely what the complaint has centered on: an environment where words like “tolerance” and “diversity” have become the catchphrases of an argot which means very nearly their opposite.posted by Paul Cella | 11:33 AM |
Friday, August 23, 2002 Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog is a thoughtful and sensitive observer of the Middle East. Upon returning from a trip to Israel, he contributed this wise and true dilation on the state of a country under siege. posted by Paul Cella | 5:51 AM |
Lee Harris, writing in Policy Review, has developed an analysis to explain the crisis of modernity, particularly the crisis of modernity vis-à-vis radical Islam, of very considerable penetration: the “fantasy ideology.” My dad sent this cogent and erudite essay along and I think it may well be the most discerning psychological study of the mindset griping the Islamofascists that I have read since that dark day last September.
Mr. Harris’ initial decisive point is that the fantasy ideology, and therefore the acts of monstrous terror its spawns, exists as a sort of psychological device to fill a void of resentment or despair or feebleness in the life of its host.
We are cautioned, though, not to dismiss the apparent authenticity of the fantasy, even for the leaders of a people stricken with it:
After laying out a careful, methodical, but elegant and succinct intellectual examination of the fantasy ideology in history, Mr. Harris applies it to radical Islam in a deft staccato of able thought and perspicacity.
Mr. Harris then turns to some practical recommendations, beginning with the ever-crucial though rashly, indefensibly neglected question of language. Oh, how we have bruised and dishonored our language!
My terse excerpts here do not do this essay justice; it is a thing of radiance. Years from now we will look back and see it as a milestone on the road to understanding of the new world into which we were hurled almost a year ago.posted by Paul Cella | 4:01 AM |
Thursday, August 22, 2002 From Jay Nordlinger's “Impromptus” column today:
This I have said before, though not here: The unwillingness of American liberals for nearly fifty years to speak the truth about Fidel Castro's miserably little tyranny comprises one of the great moral failures of our age.posted by Paul Cella | 11:41 PM |
Interested in some intriguing —- and plausible —- conspiracy theorizing? Read this, this, and then this. posted by Paul Cella | 3:20 AM |
Is it possible to overstate the brilliance of Mark Steyn? I must admit to having real doubts, so let me state it clearly and with concision: Mark Steyn is the single best commentator in the English language. His column yesterday is characteristic. “What we’ve seen since September 11th,” he writes; “is that multiculturalism trumps everything. Its grip on the imagination of the Western elites is unshakeable.”
A sentence was recently handed down in Australia concerning a ghastly string of gang-rapes. The leader of this gang, all of which were Lebanese Muslims, got 55 years in prison. Mr. Steyn quotes a letter in The Sydney Morning Herald:
Racism. Its presence, real or imagined, is enough to excuse any crime, against any person, no matter how vile, and no matter how individual in nature. Rape is above all else an assault on the self, a violation of personhood. And yet this writer, delirious with ideology, retreats immediately, and with the usual oily self-righteousness, to collective guilt, which is the essence of authentic racism. Mr. Steyn comments acerbically:
A professor at the University of Oslo, contemplating the fact that 65% of Norway’s rapes are perpetrated by “non-Western” immigrants —- a euphemism for Muslims —- admonishes that, “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes” and, “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.” Best not wear a short skirt around Muslims, or Western elites will stipulate that you bear responsibility for the act of sexual violence which, well, you probably had coming, failing as you did to consider the cultural traditions of certain immigrant communities.
What words are there to approach this moral bankruptcy? What response have we to men who by uttering such things so unmistakably reveal the deflation of spirit that has seized the West?
I do not see how the delirium of the multiculturalist ideology can be overcome. Will the fever ever break? Or will it well and truly consume us?posted by Paul Cella | 1:20 AM |
Wednesday, August 21, 2002 With a spate of front-page editorializing, under the camouflage of piety to the journalist’s austere and exacting god Objectivity, The New York Times aims to become the preeminent American opposition publication to war on Iraq. Alas, The Times may be a bit behind the times, so to speak, for, say several persuasive and riveting accounts, the war may already be underway. David Warren, of the Ottawa Citizen:
Mark Erikson, of Asia Times:
Both of these eye-opening articles were found through the hugely informative blog Winds of Change. Keep an eye on it if you want to know what the rest of the media isn't reporting.posted by Paul Cella | 3:10 AM |
Monday, August 19, 2002 The Spectator in London has printed a conspicuous essay by a leading Labour Party man which includes some at once very amusing and very instructive statements. In the interest of charity, I should say that this man says some reasonable things —- quite a few of them in fact, but organized and deployed in an unfortunately sly way so as to in part undermine their value. It is as if a man were to stand on a very impressive and stable scaffold of reason —- to craft and shape and decorate a great structure of unreason.
The writer’s purpose, in summary, is to abet the case for public opposition to the prospective American military action against Saddam Hussein —- in particular, to abet the case among the British; and more particularly, to abet the same case for Tony Blair’s opposition, Mr. Blair being the British Prime Minister, for whom the writer admits admiration and affection. To do this relatively simple but somewhat precarious, considering the political dynamics of the Atlantic alliance, thing, he makes numerous reasonable concessions of logic and history —- Saddam is an international menace, his acquisition of nuclear weapons could be disastrous, war against him in 1991 was justified, etc, etc. This is the scaffold of reason.
I do not mean imply, despite how it may seem, that opposition to military operations against Iraq is in essence a posture of unreason. In fact, such a posture might be thoroughly reasonable, if in the end wrong. No, the “structure of unreason” I spoke of above is the prejudice, innuendo, and sheer assertion which constitutes the central argument in defense of his political conviction. And here is where, as I say, his remarks are both amusing and instructive.
The writer actually writes these words:
Now I confess that when I read this, even aware as I was of the writer’s purpose in composing this article, aware, that is, of his intellectual prejudice against the Bush administration, I still for a moment took these statements for a joke. I may have even laughed out loud. The insouciance of its delivery; the almost complete lack supporting evidence; the startling bluntness and disrespectfulness: how could a plainly thoughtful and serious man write such things with a straight face? There are facts here —- facts that are disregarded with such breathtaking facility that it lends one to think the statement was proffered with deliberate unseriousness, that is, made in jest. Facts like, in Afghanistan, the crushing defeat of an experienced occupying military force, half way around the world, with precious few land bases, from a condition of almost total unpreparedness, with minimal casualties, in a matter of a few weeks. Facts like the securing of quiet acquiescence from a crucial and historically short-tempered regional power (Russia) on military operations in its traditional sphere of influence; and also quiet assistance from that same power in emasculating the most important economic asset of the enemy (oil). There are other less resounding but still bracing facts as well —- Mr. Rumsfeld’s masterly taming of an often hostile press corps during the Afghan campaign; the cunning and adept good cop/bad cop stratagem employed between Mr. Powell and “the hawks” —- whose silence in this article is, if you’ll excuse the cliché, deafening. What the writer is saying, at base, is that while there are many good reasons for opposing a military move against Iraq, the best one is that the political leadership in America consists of a clique of fools, narrow-minded militarists, and addle-brained hotheads. This is not an argument; it is a prejudice unsupported by facts, at least by any assembled to accompany its assertion. My view is that it is a prejudice of great and abiding error, and I have arrayed some readily-available facts among a large mass of them to buttress my view; the writer in question has arrayed almost exactly none to buttress his own more brazen one.
I say that this whole lively enterprise is instructive because it so obviously comes from a voice of moderation and candid reflection in America’s most reliable European ally. It does not come from those infallibly hidebound anti-American reactionaries whose pessimism and passivity and moral pusillanimity dominates elite European opinion, and whose animosity toward American power and influence is almost pathological in nature. That such a voice can speak of an American foreign policy leadership which has demonstrated at least a competence, if not a command, of the complexity of fighting this multifarious war in such a way bespeaks of the level of hostility we face among our allies across the Atlantic. I aver again, sincerely, that there is a solid, reasonable and hard-headed case to be made against military action in Iraq; but if we take the instance of our Spectator contributor, then what we face among our European allies is not an opposition borne of reason but of unreason; which is a much harder opposition to confront.posted by Paul Cella | 5:47 PM |
Cynthia Tucker, an editor at my hometown paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constiution has penned a refreshingly candid column about Zimbabwe's murderous ruler, Robert Mugabe. She writes,
Like I said, refreshing.posted by Paul Cella | 5:39 PM |
Readers may be aware of the brouhaha girdling the news of a mandatory freshman seminar at the University of North Carolina on the Koran, which seminar, importantly, employs as its primary textbook a commentary on the Koran which bowdlerizes those elements of the text reckoned too offensive, namely those elements which proclaim death to the infidel. Plenty of thoughtful things have been written about this (see here), but for my money Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal nailed it Friday when he said, (I’m paraphrasing) This is plain, simple indoctrination. And what is meant to be indoctrinated is the idea that Muslims aren’t dangerous. Now, I don’t know if this Muslims en mass are in fact dangerous; but I do know that nineteen Muslim men, or men who claimed Islam as their faith and guiding philosophy, were dangerous in a primal, spectacular way when they turned portions of Lower Manhattan into a mass grave last September. I know, further, that not insubstantial parts of the Muslim population of the world variously applauded, endorsed, cheered, hid behind weasel words to blunt authentic criticism of, dissembled about, and drew grotesque ecstasy from the massacre of American civilians. And I suspect that this indifference to human life, whether calculated or visceral, is rooted in plain stark religious hatred and soulless resentment, which will sadly but inevitably require horrible bloodletting to expiate. I do not welcome this bloodletting but recoil from it in horror. I know that while our sins are many and shameful, this one is not ours to bear; that I am not a bigot because I am suspicious of Arabs and think the United States government’s abjuring of all criminal profiling that involves race is stupid and brassbound beyond comprehension. I know that I was never suspicious of Arabs until nineteen of them incinerated 3000 of my countrymen and brought religious barbarism to my front door.
I know, finally, that if democracy in America were given the opportunity for consummation, it would rise up in wrath such that our enemies would tremble and our friends gape; and that this consummation is restrained only by the anti-democratic principle of the intellectual and media elite, whose loss of nerve is nearly complete. It is not healthy for a society to be so poorly represented in the halls of Intellect and Opinion; or for such an intransigent adversary culture, to borrow a phrase from Irving Kristol, to develop at a historical moment of grave peril. It hinders debate, constricts the mind, enervates clarity of thought, and cripples decision-making. More fundamentally, it makes real communication almost impossible, cultivates deep resentment and distrust, sabotages moderate, pragmatic action, and provokes society-wide paralysis; which is essentially what we are seeing right now.posted by Paul Cella | 5:32 PM |
Saturday, August 17, 2002 In the past year some college professors have said or done some pretty outrageous things. One published a book endorsing sex between adults and children. Another commented to the country’s most influential newspaper in a piece published on September 11, 2001: “I don’t regret setting bombs” at the Pentagon and other government buildings; “I feel we didn’t do enough.” Appalling numbers of them wrote articles and essays, and appeared on TV and radio, gave speeches and attended and organized rallies, denouncing with great vituperation America’s moves to protect itself from the lunatic cult of death which has captured the minds of many millions in the Islamic world. Others countenanced horrifying outbursts of anti-Semitic bile. Virtually all of them have acted without a threat to their employment, because tenured college professors enjoy one of the most secure jobs imaginable. But one man, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, finally went too far. He publicly criticized Fidel Castro, even wrote a scholarly book examining ways to effect Castro’s downfall, which is of course a huge no-no in academia. So he was denied tenure.
The decrepitude of higher education in this country is an old story; but it is an important story; the story of the barbarians not only at the gate, but let inside it, and paid with public money to teach the children. It is the story of loss of nerve, and of civilization slowing yielding to barbarism.posted by Paul Cella | 3:14 AM |
The Dave Matthews Band, for a certain tranche of young men and women, has functioned as a kind of soundtrack for the journey from adolescence to maturity. They appeared, for most of us, in the mid-Nineties like a cool balm in the parched and stale musical desert of grunge-rock Noise and gangster-rap Malevolence. Consequently, about each of their recordings hangs a distinct vapor of nostalgia unique to its release date: Under the Table and Dreaming (1994), the summer before my junior year of high school; Before these Crowded Streets (1998), the spring and summer of my sophomore year in college; etc, etc. Others could surely relate their own Dave Matthews-induced nostalgia. For myself, they are one of the few popular musical acts I pay any serious attention to anymore.
Dave Matthews’ new recording, Busted Stuff, is a curious thing; and it might even be a great thing; of this latter I am still ambivalent. It is unquestionably the product of a distressed mind, notwithstanding the highly public revisions of many of its components to attenuate its plaintive excesses (much of the material on this disc was previously released via the internet, without, incidentally, the band’s consent). Here as usual, the Dave Matthews Band relies on the equipoise of its talented bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford to hold together a wild and subtle wandering of various instruments; and in this they are not always successful, though almost always interesting. Mr. Matthews’ voice is a unique one, also almost always interesting; his lyrics, though occasionally trite, are frequently surprising and rarely inadequate. Several songs emerge immediately —- particularly the title track and “Grace is Gone” —- with their characteristic blend of charm and innovation; others I sense have that this-will-grow-you quality of intricacy and imagination.
Somewhat surprisingly, Busted Stuff maintains a sort of thwarted, aching coherence as an album; it cannot be accurately said to be merely a collection of songs. It is coherent in that it reflects the profound, unanswerable discouragement of the human soul with the caprices of the world; and the homelessness of the soul in a world that always, finally, disappoints. Like so much in art, it reflects a failed attempt to assimilate the Fall, to make palatable the unpalatable. The soul is rent and assailed by the pain and injustice of the world; and it alternately quails and rages before a God who countenances evil. In the moment of realization, despair beckons. While I do not say that this album can be reduced to a mere three words, I do say that it can almost be; and those three words are: drink, God and loss.
These are the accouterments of depression, though not quite of despair. On this point, Mr. Matthews’ reworking of some songs from the bleaker preliminaries comes as a relief because it belies that even he was repelled by the approach of despair, and it is always relieving to perceive the human soul’s retreat from the abyss. The Doors’ classic meandering song “The End,” while surely a great song, is also a horrifying thing of raving madness; the chronicle of a soul’s capitulation to stark bottomless despair, from the perspective of which the vista narrows to suicide or murder; and of course Jim Morrison chose slow-motion suicide.
Busted Stuff never goes so far; it walks tentatively up to the edge, looks over, then cringes and retreats, wide-eyed and breathless, like a man waking from a nightmare. But the nightmare produced good material of undeniable aesthetic value, and so Mr. Matthews has endeavored here to make the nightmare’s harvest appear more like a dream. This, I think, explains what I can only describe as the disconnect between music and lyrics. The effect is quite difficult to isolate; like fog, it can only be seen from a distance, and gradually dissipates as the observer approaches it.
Mr. Matthews has lamented publicly the effect the unauthorized release of many of these songs had on the album as whole, likening it, in a lucid comparison, to a painter whose work is displayed in his museum before he has in fact completed it. His point is valid, and I wonder if I would have had the same response to this album without the unauthorized antecedents. There are many who asseverate the plain superiority of these antecedents, which, having only cursory familiarity with them, I cannot adequately evaluate. But I do know that if someone were to steal a preliminary draft of this review, publish it, and then assert its superiority to the final draft, I would feel entitled to a certain irritation.
On balance, Busted Stuff is a worthy album: worthy of the standards set by the band’s previous work, worthy for its internal unity, and worthy for its sincere depiction of the human mind and soul in struggle with a world which cannot, on its own, sustain them. It may well be a component of this great modern tragedy of a tremendous surge in spiritual longing coupled with the general secularization of the churches. Hearts and minds and souls reach out for an authentic, revealed religion at precisely the moment when the churches have retracted their arms.
Within the admittedly straitened limitations of popular music, this Dave Matthews album is something to admire.posted by Paul Cella | 1:01 AM |
Thursday, August 15, 2002 We have just returned from a trip across the country to visit family (which explains the recent sparseness of posts). One cannot drive over the plains and prairies of Missouri and Kansas and eastern Colorado without being struck by the pulverizing vastness of the American Midwest, which verily crawls with a kind of desolate beauty, and yields to no one in stolid imperishability.
The great Midwestern cities seem to rise up from nowhere, which in point of fact they do, with only a quickening of automobile traffic and thickening of the jumble of road signs to signal their approach. U2 wrote a fine song, aptly entitled “Heartland,” about the sublime insouciance of these plains, and the architectonic majesty of the cities punctuating them; a single, emphatic line of which tentatively, even reluctantly, captures the inassimilable paradox at the heart of Modernity’s greatest civilization:
It is a paradox to the modern mind that still integral to the American story, the story of the enterprise and industry and vision which erected great cities out of these unbroken prairies, is the story of God become Man, and the God who died that men might live. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus employs an exhilarating little phrase to describe the paradox: “incorrigibly Christian America.” And one sees it in the “Jesus Saves” billboard over decrepit St. Louis industrial parks; in the sign in the middle of nowhere Kansas advertising a Catholic Church —- 250 miles ahead; in the small towns with modest, saturnine church steeples their tallest structures. One only misses it by a deliberately closing of the eyes, which generally is an accurate characterization of modernity's attitude toward religion. Christianity is an unseemly, angular thing for modern sophisticated man, because he is deracinated from a fertile historical sense of his world’s intellectual and spiritual roots. When he turned against tradition because he no longer had patience for learning its ineffable value, modern man discovered with thwarted alarm the supreme, even perhaps the only, wellspring of tradition in the faith of Jesus Christ. But he cannot so easily dismiss Jesus Christ in a petulant haste as he does even the great works of Shakespeare or Homer. God said to Job: “Where were you when the foundations of the world were laid?” and the thunderous question remains unanswered. And so modern man must ignore Him; and grow uncomfortable when the believers exercise the resplendent liberty of their birthright in proclaiming their faith.posted by Paul Cella | 3:43 AM |
Friday, August 09, 2002 One of the most explosive, painful and difficult questions of our age is the question of race. The wide-ranging and perspicacious journalist Steve Sailer addresses the question, gathering on a vast array of scholarship and a career of intelligent reflection. His essay is a must-read, though it will surely not be read enough. posted by Paul Cella | 12:40 AM |
Tuesday, August 06, 2002 The novelist Mark Helprin delivered a stirring commencement address last May, which deserves to be read in full, for it is an example, as usual with Mr. Helprin, of the English language in full. Earlier this year he wrote a startlingly blunt essay which castigated Congress and the administration for deeply under-funding the American military in a time of war. A sample:
In his speech, Mr. Helprin issues a reverberating challenge:
The dreadful thing to discover is how many people do not know that civilization is under attack; more dreadful still, that many of its assumed defenders have opted for betrayal over resistance. The magnitude of treason in the modern age is at once unparalleled and rarely remarked. For some treason is a way of life, though they are hardly aware of it; it is a cachet of prestige, a secret handshake with which to open doors and cultivate respect. Terms and catchphrases develop around it: remember the contempt implied in the phrase “flag-waving” before September 11?
In 1947, Whittaker Chambers, as sound and as excruciatingly personal an observer of treason as there ever was, wrote some unforgettable words:
(Incidentally, those words were published in Time magazine. Can you imagine Time printing such as they today? No, you cannot imagine it; and neither can I.)
Mr. Chambers wrote of treason as a vocation; what unspeakable awfulness exists in that idea. And here we are, washed ashore from the tumult of a century of blood and gas chamber and gulag, and we are called to defend the civilization which produced treason as a vocation.posted by Paul Cella | 8:49 PM |
Saturday, August 03, 2002 Read enough accounts of the invincible incompetence and bad faith of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and you will come to find great balm in a curse like that of H.L. Mencken, who described the state as the “common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.” posted by Paul Cella | 5:56 AM |
John Derbyshire pens a column of pessimistic magnificence; blogger Noah Millman replies with equal magnificence. A highly edifying exchange we have here. posted by Paul Cella | 1:46 AM |
Last fall, the incomparable P.J. O’Rourke wrote what may be the single best short essay I have ever read on the Israel-Palestinian war. His delicate humor and arresting insights are buttressed by a remarkable impartiality. It seems at times as though no conflict on earth fires greater passion and zealotry than this one; there are no impartial observers. Mr. O’Rourke comes close.
Consider this gentle but resounding defense of Zionism:
Those haunting words: “But civilized man did want to kill Jews, and was going to do more of it.” We can’t really get past this glaring fact, can we? It has about it that ring of truth which in its angularity and plainness will never fully be assimilated; it rings like the plainness of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”; those irrefutable things which make us squirm.
Mr. O’Rourke moves into a discussion of the squabbling between various Christian factions over control of the Christian holy sites. At the Church of the Nativity, he reports,
And from this register of human squalor juxtaposed with divine wrath, Mr. O’Rourke tenders a consummate little amalgam of humor and elucidation:
Then later, more epigrammatic insight:
His conclusion, if you can call it that, is that there is no solution, because there is no solution to the Fall. I shall let Chesterton have his say on this:
It is memory which assails the Holy Land; memory of “the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man”; and Mr. O’Rourke thinks we could use a little amnesia.posted by Paul Cella | 12:55 AM |
Friday, August 02, 2002 Not a week goes by in this country these days without some effusion of hysteria which masquerades as solemn concern emasculating the public discourse on civil liberties. Virtually every domestic security measure promulgated by the administration, no matter how modest or sensible, is met by some wildly intemperate, and indeed repugnant, reference to the looming specter of the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, or the onset of a brutal police state here in America. Congress, pathetically unserious despite its self-satisfied affectations of seriousness, reflects this intellectual numbness; and while American civilians and students are dismembered on the front lines of this war in Jerusalem, the President shows his determination to persevere in the Middle East “peace process,” an abstraction so utterly superceded by reality it truly beggars the imagination that anyone can speak of it with a straight face.
David Tell, in an editorial for The Weekly Standard, examines this distressing phenomenon with acid wit:
Now a somber and thoughtful discussion of the limits of domestic security as it necessarily infringes upon civil liberties is precisely what we need; but it is also precisely what we don’t get from our public representatives.
Yes indeed: shadowboxing with fantasy enemies while the real enemies proceed with their diabolical infiltration and preparation.posted by Paul Cella | 7:34 AM |
Thursday, August 01, 2002 Mark Butterworth, having stolen my blog template, proceeds to demolish the new Bruce Springsteen album. He concludes with this razor-sharp polemic:
posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |
A splendid day yesterday at National Review Online. Michael Ledeen says that Europe is being brassbound and counterproductive when it comes to Iran. Rod Dreher reports on a hot shot new mayor in the Big Easy, who seems to think that corruption ought not be the norm. Karl Rove, the President's top political advisor, receives a letter of advice from no less than the greatest political philosopher of the modern age. A momentous bill, of deep and ramifying consequences for the great debasing controversy of American politics, passes Congress, and no one even noticed. And Donald Rumsfeld sings an ode to one of the true titans of post-war economics, a man who walks with gaiety amid the halls of the dismal science. posted by Paul Cella | 2:04 AM |