Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Monday, September 23, 2002 With his characteristic narrative èlan, Michael Novak recounts one of the precious few reports concerning Islam I have read recently which contains an authentic element of what might be called sanguineness. Mr. Novak, a Catholic theologian of stature both in and outside the U.S., and a truly original thinker, delivered a series of lectures to leaders of the Sudanese Resistance over a period of several days, and he returns immensely encouraged by the encounters.
The Resistance faces off with one of the most barbaric regimes on earth in Sudan —- a regime which aims at Taliban-style theocracy and maintains the most extensive trade in human chattel slavery in the world. Records Mr. Novak,
The leaders of the Resistance were intensely interested in what Mr. Novak had to say on the thorny problems of the interaction between church and state. The Muslims among them abhor Islamofascism, but love Islam; the Christians search for a path between a dangerous radicalism of their own and the dreary, deracinated secularism of the West. And they echo Mr. Novak in making a penetrating point that has been much overlooked in the many discussions of radical Islam and its clash with the West. The term “fundamentalist,” deployed censoriously to at once describe and condemn religious militancy, is intolerable: it obliterates important distinctions and thus damns the innocent with the guilty.
This, I think, is a crucial point. Whenever I hear references to the “fundamentalist” or “medievalist” nature of our enemies, presumably drawing on the disdainful popular half-memory of, say, the Spanish Inquisition, I cringe, and reflect on two historical facts: 1) Whatever the horrors perpetrated by the medieval Inquisitors, they pale in comparison to what modern man has produced. Over half as many people died on September 11 alone as did in the entire three-century history of the Spanish Inquisition, and these latter were at least favored with a trial of some deliberation, indicating an individual rather than collective idea of guilt. Those whose bones were ground to dust under molten steel in Lower Manhattan were not given so much consideration. 2) The Inquisition is not called the Catholic or Christian Inquisition for good reason: it required the mobilization of the Spanish state to operate; and recall that the state is an innovation of modernity.
Now this is not some romantic cri de coeur for a return to the Middle Ages. But it is a cry for humility to a people generally ignorant of history. I myself know very little about the Middle Ages; but I know enough not to tar them with broad, implacable comparisons to a violent politico-religious death cult which counts its salvation by the numbers of massacred innocents. Moreover, I firmly suspect that when historians have achieved a sufficient detachment, they will begin to look on the Modern Age, with its mountains of corpses sacrificed by wild-eyed utopians at the altar of the State, with a bit less triumphalism than we do. Indeed I am tempted to agree with the great Evelyn Waugh, whose lapidary delivery was without peer, when he wrote of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939: “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.”
Islamofascism is as much a creature of Lenin as it is of any Islamic figure. The modern West’s wretched revolutionary philosophies; its menacing arguments for social reconstitution from the ruins of an eradicated old order; its Benthamite notions of society as a scientific construct, remediable by abstract calculations; its tendentious twaddle assigning blame for the ills of the Third World exclusively to a caricature of European imperialism; all these elements have been fused to a puritanical interpretation of the Muslim faith to yield a great multifaceted monster. Just as we provide the technology to facilitate the instruments of terror, so our decadent intellects have sown the seeds of ideological Islam.
Mr. Novak’s enthusiastic essay (in contrast to this rather bleak essay of mine) suggests that one of the great callings of this war is for the sagacious, morally-confident among us to reach out to those Muslims who reject the fever of Fascism that has seized their faith; to arm and support them where they fight; to encourage and nourish them where they think and write; and to declare firmly that their struggle is our struggle. To do this thing will be so delicate and perilous a challenge that my mind swoons, and I cannot say I am confident about our chances for success. An insidious rot drives to the heart of the Western intellect, enfeebling our powers of discernment and enervating our spirit. This rot attacks the authority of Truth in the order of men and society, and it leaves the very flesh of intellect blackened with gangrene. The hull lurches on, but its limbs increasingly fail to respond to their summons, as they are little more than carrion clinging to a once vital body. The revolt of the intellectuals against authority, the trahison des clercs, cloaked though it always is in the parlance of sublime liberation, is a core element of the Modern Age. In the late nineteenth century Orestes Brownson, an ample New England Catholic, proclaimed defiantly, “We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority.” Few heeded his call; and I am struck by how deeply contrarian, even reactionary, his words still sound, even now, with eighty-five years behind us of blood flowing like rivers in the name of liberation. Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, one hundred and twenty-five years earlier, when it consumed even him and set the world afire, should have told us enough: were Man a creature susceptible to the tender prodding of reason and pity. But he is not.
I digress from the issue at hand: that of the Western roots of Islamic terror, which we have hardly even begun to face; because we have hardly even begun to face the restless, intransigent spirit of liberation which reduced the science of politics to homicide, and the guilt of individual men to the guilt of whole classes, peoples, and races. And we have exported this cancerous, inchoate doctrine; not even a doctrine —- a prejudice, a mental impulse. We have exported it: not with shame or foreboding, but with ceremony and self-satisfaction. Dear God, forgive us.posted by Paul Cella | 11:32 PM |
Wednesday, September 18, 2002 Now and then one is privileged enough to read a book review of such disdainful magnificence that it almost makes you want to read the book so mercilessly eviscerated for pity’s sake alone. Anthony Daniels has one such specimen in the September New Criterion concerning a confessional book of sorts entitled The Sexual Life of Catherine M., which Mr. Daniels summarizes thusly: “The point of this book is her repeated, detailed, and mechanical description of her sexual encounters and activities.” He comments:
Mr. Daniels observes that it is impossible not to question her veracity in many instances, which observation leads to a concise psychological broadside:
He then turns to the perplexing questions of 1) why the miserable thing has sold so briskly (400,000 copies in France) and 2) why its critical reception has been so preponderantly positive. To the former to remarks, “The book’s main appeal is to prurience, a prurience that has been given the nil obstat by literary intellectuals who affect to find virtues in a work that contains innumerable atrocious sentences” and prose abominations; in other words, it is highbrow pornography. To the latter question Mr. Daniels devotes more space, and here his scornful intelligence flashes like a swordsman’s blade.
I am reminded of Chesterton’s more mirthful, but similarly flashing wit: “Defending any of the cardinal virtues now has all the exhilaration of a vice.”posted by Paul Cella | 4:30 PM |
Orrin Judd writes of one Whittaker Chambers: he who issued in 1952 a vast haunting elegy for Western civilization, a requiem for a nobility and goodness lost, for a world riven, bereft and plundered by energumens; a lament for a great thing now decayed and driven to dissolution by the violence of its excrescences. Fortunately, his elegy proved premature. But the forces of decay and dissolution he perceived with such acuity —- for he had been among them —- remain strong, and almost implacable in their appetite for smashing what is and what was in favor of what might be. They are disorganized, leaderless, milling about their fortifications in rumbling discord; but they are not defeated. If they could even begin to reconstitute the organization and discipline once afforded them under world Communism, they would be more fearsome than ever.
For Whittaker Chambers, of course, was among the greatest of the ex-Communists; and his is an almost unspeakable story of redemption. Out of despair, he had become a militant for the cause of godlessness; out of love, he had come to the Cross, and become a Church Militant. Many felt the momentary exhilaration of tasting the inebriant of Revolution, then recoiled on account of some instinctual prudence; few fell so deeply under its spell as Chambers; and almost no one returned from that depth, repudiated its blackness, and then stood for light. He was a witness against the approaching Dark Age augured by the terrible marching discipline of those to proclaimed Man as the measure of all things. “And discipline,” he wrote, “is not only, to this great secular faith, what discipline is to an army. It is also what piety is to a church. To a Communist, a deliberate breach of discipline is an act of blasphemy.” He was also a witness against the ruinous complacency of liberalism; against its sloppiness and groupthink; against its anathematizing malevolence which continues to this day; finally, against its feral, crushing deathwish. “For while Communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization."
But he was also, as he affirms, a witness for something. That something was a created order in the universe; and creatures made in the image of the Creator. Image-bearers, possessed of their own limited but ineffaceable reflected creativity; which means a freedom that cannot be taken from them; a freedom emanating from that which infuses a darkened and misused world with hope: in the heart of darkness, the crucified God. Michael Novak has remarked pregnantly that the twentieth century was a century of prison literature; for freedom too much threatens those who would deny it, and all the might of the state, all the violence and torture of Man as God, still could not overturn what Christ won for us.
I am with Mr. Judd in naming Chambers’ magnum opus Witness as one of the greatest literary testaments of the 20th century. “Hero” is one of those words that through carelessness and abuse we have for all intents and purposes destroyed as a meaningful appellation; nevertheless, Chambers was a hero. Like Solzhenitsyn and Armando Valladares and the countless others.
I have here an essay Chambers wrote about St. Benedict around the time of publication of Witness. It speaks of the “three great alienations of the spirit” which abetted mightily the fall of Rome, and which, he suggests, are abetting the fall of our civilization. “They are: the alienation of the spirit of man from traditional authority; his alienation from the idea of traditional order; and a crippling alienation that he feels at the point where civilization has deprived him of the joy of simple productive labor.” Here we have an intimation of the grandeur of Chambers’ haunted historical vision.
This is the mind of a prophet: let us thank God that is vision was premature, and let us pray that it was not premature by merely a few decades.posted by Paul Cella | 4:23 PM |
Monday, September 16, 2002 In The Wall Street Journal today, Mark Helprin has penned the most concentrated and comprehensive non-partisan rebuke of President Bush’s post-September 11 foreign policy to date; and his tocsin of dismay, even bordering on despair, is as forceful as it is thorough:
Mr. Helprin’s melancholic vision, which attempts to pierce the discursive welter of day-to-day media chatter, arraigns the president, his administration and his strategists for the fundamental sin of irresolution in the face of the enemy. And perhaps the principal aspect of this irresolution is manifest in the unwillingness of Mr. Bush to effect a substantive increase in military capacity (this charge is largely a recapitulation of Mr. Helprin’s similarly arresting piece back in April).
Much as I admire Mark Helprin, I would like to believe that he is overstating his reproach here; but I find that I cannot bring myself to dismiss it as irretrievable exaggeration. These are serious criticisms, well documented and energetically delivered. They cannot be glibly dismissed.posted by Paul Cella | 4:02 PM |
Saturday, September 14, 2002 In an editorial of half fulmination and half bitter lament, the country's great journal of liberal opinion, The New Republic, thunders, grimaces and weeps before the intellectual tremulousness of the Democratic Party on what it calls the “first great debate of a new foreign policy era.” What the editorial describes has been all but self-evident: The political discussion on the question of military action against Iraq has largely been the providence of the Republicans.
Those are tough, agonized words coming from committed liberal Democrats. One wonders if they will have any tonic effect.posted by Paul Cella | 6:26 AM |
What the Republican Party needs, says Steve Sailer, is “a positive, pro-humanity, pro-family conservationist program to contrast with the Democrats’ misanthropic environmentalist program.” The GOP gets manhandled with virtually every single public airing of environmental concerns, and in the process loses crucial voters from its natural base constituency: white, affluent suburbanites. The reason for this incongruity lies in the preponderance within the party of two interests: business and irretrievably urbanized intellectuals. The former is self-explanatory; the latter requires a bit of elucidation. Mr. Sailer provides it:
Alright. But liberal environmentalism —- utopian, militant, disdainful of tradition or habit or compromise —- has produced and cultivated its own pathologies, which call out for thoughtful, substantive opposition.
Mr. Sailer has ideas —- a whole panoply of fascinating ones, several of which I highlight here:
Say what you will about those ideas, they would undoubtedly infuse the environmental debate in this country with new life and seriousness; as well as finally afford the Republican Party some affirmative and concrete material to work with.posted by Paul Cella | 3:53 AM |
Friday, September 13, 2002 The late great strategist James Burnham could be relied upon to cut through the Cold War cant and misdirection with refreshing swiftness, in part because he had seen it from all angles. He was aligned with Leon Trotsky during the latter’s exile years in New York City, engaging those prolonged, internecine doctrinal debates that often raged among revolutionists. A colleague once related the story of Burnham giving a succinct three-hour speech before an assembled clique of these variant Communists, expounding his views on the Marxian dialectic and other such esoterica. He was later suspected by his peers of a lack of “seriousness” —- the speech had been too short. A silly suspicion, because Burnham was an eminently serious man. He drifted toward a traditional liberal anti-Stalinist position after the war, writing a seminal study called The Machiavellians. He eventually landed at National Review, writing a column called “The Protracted Conflict,” a hardheaded analysis unparalleled in its acumen. He will be remembered as a conservative Cold Warrior —- one of the greats; but his attitudes and arguments resisted such labels to the end. “Only by renouncing all ideology can we begin to see the world and man,” he wrote. Burnham was singular, and we could use his wisdom now, because the level of obscurantist fog descending over this new “protracted conflict” at times seems boundless.
There is a new biography of Burnham out, and it is prompting a renewed and well-deserved interest in the man. Roger Kimball of The New Criterion, in a recent review, laments that no one under the age of sixty has even heard of him. Well I am under sixty, and I have heard of him; indeed, I think his Suicide of the West constitutes perhaps the single most perceptive, comprehensive, and assiduous critique of liberalism ever expounded. The thing is clinical in its precision, bereft of bitterness or even partisanship; Burnham is like the physician delivering bad news:
Liberalism is “the ideology of Western suicide”; it developed as a sort of narcotic to dull the pain of our decline and fall as a civilization. As such, it cannot really be reasoned with, any more than one can talk a man out of a fever. It perdures, enervating the will, cowering before those more convicted in their purpose, erecting great towering edifices of distraction and equivocation. If Burnham’s detached doom and gloom seems on occasion overwrought, his penetrating examination of ideology is amply demonstrated in the relentlessness of the anti-American Left, under the auspices of which, I think it is fair to say, any grievance against the West, no matter how tenuous its logic and no matter how violent and regressive its proposed remedy, is perceived as in some way legitimate if it issues from the repressed and downtrodden.
Despite some obvious defects in his vision, there is great profit to be mined from the elegant and probing body of Burnham’s work. He deserves better than to be disdained and forgotten, though that is often the lot of a prophet.posted by Paul Cella | 7:29 AM |
Some brilliant commentary from the King of Bloggers, Andrew Sullivan: He says President Bush has outmaneuvered the Democrats, checked the antiwar left, called the timorous diplomats of the UN to account, and generally executed a thoroughly shrewd political fait accompli —- which, fortunately, favors the security of Americans as against the always formidable appeasement impulse. Meanwhile, Dick Morris gives voice to his astonishment at the miscalculation of the Democrats in listening to the shrill, intoxicated partisanship of The New York Times, rather than heeding the cold hard facts of the politics of a still-wounded nation. posted by Paul Cella | 2:59 AM |
Among the most sensitive of observers is the historian Richard Brookhiser, who also possesses a true narrative gift, as evidenced by the acclaim occasioned by his series of short studies on American Founders. Mr. Brookhiser recently contributed a fine dilation on the dismaying absence of unqualified denunciation by prominent Muslim leaders of murderous violence. He writes,
This is a discerning and balanced statement. It calls the multiculturalist’s bluff: If we must be tolerant of Islam’s apparent lack of moderates who are free to speak their mind, then we must also be tolerant of free people who elect to speak their mind on Islam. But very few of those stricken by the fever of ideology are willing to extend tolerance to the latter; and therein lies the irrevocable intellectual bankruptcy of multiculturalism.
It is heartening, then, to read an article like this one, which appeared recently in Time: “An Apology From an Arab.” Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright, concludes his agonized essay with this exactly analysis:
He is out there, this mystical unicorn known as the Arab Moderate; but his spirit across the Arab nations is almost uniformly crushed under the jackboot of tyranny —- which tyranny has often been abetted by our own Realpolitick calculations over the decades. One hesitates to repose into the facile and ponderous arraignment of realist foreign policy that usually follows the admission of such abetment. Irving Kristol, that great assayer of ideas, proffers a lucid grounding for my hesitance:
Nevertheless, we cannot abjure all responsibility for the squalor of the Middle East; for our footprints are there, usually outlined in petroleum. And this constitutes perhaps the strongest moral case for robustness in the region: We have an opportunity here, which happens to conflate with our cold, Realpolitick interest, to initiate the break up of the blackened crust of tyranny and oppression in the Arab world; and to release the unicorn from the yoke of bondage and fanaticism.posted by Paul Cella | 1:19 AM |
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 America will not forget the spirit and generosity of the English people. posted by Paul Cella | 11:13 PM |
Wise words and stark images, via Pejman Yousefzadeh. posted by Paul Cella | 10:37 PM |
These were the first words I wrote after the Towers fell and the world heaved:
posted by Paul Cella | 6:26 AM |
As it was last year, the radiant cacophony of eloquence and vigor and tenderness which characterizes those who attempt, never quite successfully, to put their feelings about war and remembrance and patriotism and loss into words astonishes me and warms my heart. I have not the time or the impudence to summarize, so I must content to simply list. Providence —- to take up a word widely out of fashion, but which the architects of our great nation knew well and loved —- has blessed Man with a certain expressive genius distinguishing him from the other creatures of the earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We have words; they have not fled from us yet.
Christopher Hitchens: “The arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism.”
Michael Gove: “Molten hatred.”
George Will: “To understand our enemies is to know they must be smashed.”
Andrew Sullivan: “They demand that our vigilance never end.”
Peggy Noonan: “A little coldness starting at sunrise tomorrow.”
Stephen Green: “Liberate trampled lands.”
David Warren: “The enemy within.”
James Lileks: “They were done in eight months.” posted by Paul Cella | 6:21 AM |
“Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal.” President Bill Clinton spoke those words, back in February of 1998. These words as well:
Hmmmm. Here's some more:
Back then, some members of Congress advocated passage of a resolution which exhorted “the president to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” The co-sponsors of that bill included one Tom Daschle, as well as John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd: all Democrats, all among those who these days are busy “asking questions” of the administration, which is a euphemism for opposing potential military action against Iraq, without actually opposing it —- the temporizing is necessary because 1) opposing it forthrightly may provoke grave political consequences, this being an election year, and 2) the arguments in favor of action were already compelling, even resounding, before September 11, as Mr. Clinton lucidly expounds.
Meanwhile, Tony Blair has shown his mettle. And for that he will always have the gratitude and admiration of this American, natural opponent though I am of his politics. His case against Saddam is even more resounding than Mr. Clinton's; and his sincerity, his moral clarity, is a weapon beyond measure in the struggle for the hearts and minds of our reluctant and oft-scorned friends in Europe. How the British Left must despise him for championing that godawful America and its warmonging president! What a pillorying he must be receiving at their hands! John O'Sullivan says Mr. Blair has crossed his own Rubicon with this tremendous decision, and who am I to dispute him? Let us all raise a glass to our friends across the Atlantic; and let us thank God they are led by a man who loves America.posted by Paul Cella | 1:42 AM |
Monday, September 09, 2002 SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “To them, the will, the wish, the want, the liberty, the toil, the blood of individuals is nothing. Individuality is left out of their scheme of government. The state is all in all. Everything is referred to the production of force; afterwards, everything is trusted to the use of it. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit, and in all its movements. The state has dominion and conquest for its sole objects; dominion over minds by proselytism, over bodies by arms.” —- Edmund Burke, anticipating the enormity of socialism, 1796. posted by Paul Cella | 5:29 PM |
Philip Jenkins of Penn State, writing in Atlantic Monthly —- a magazine which under editor Michael Kelly has positioned itself as a quite indispensable forum for bracing and innovative ideas, masterly delivered —- assays something of very considerable importance; a great vaticination of the world to come, which exposes with a certain callousness the principal insularity of Western man, and the crippling, gaping blindspot in his gaze upon those of his fellow man toiling outside the evanescent comfort of the West. For a very long time, the West has contrived to understand history and civilization and the trajectory of Man without reference to Christianity, or, more broadly, to religion. The effort has traced a nearly unbroken line of disappointment, failure and disaster; and now, as Mr. Jenkins illustrates, Western man stands isolated and aloof from the great convulsing currents of history; which are hinted at in the title of Mr. Jenkins essay, “The Next Christianity.”
Mr. Jenkins lays out a series of facts and calculations which, even for one like myself who was vaguely aware of these things, are frankly staggering:
Coupled with these sheer numbers is the large and thrilling fact of the organic scriptural orthodoxy of the Christians of the South Hemisphere, who are designated by one scholar the Third Church. They have shown very little patience with, even at times outright contempt for the modernist innovations of the liberal Christians of Europe and America. Perhaps the most famous manifestation of this dynamic was the 1998 Lambeth World Conference of the Anglican Communion, where the traditionalist bishops of Africa and Asia confounded their Western liberal coevals by forcing through with their numerical superiority a resolution declaring bluntly, as Mr. Jenkins puts it, “the impossibility of reconciling homosexual conduct with Christian ministry.” This development was the occasion for great agitation among the progressive churchmen of the West, as it quite plainly turned political correctness on its head. Secure in their faith, illuminated by adherence to an authentic biblical orthodoxy, utterly immune to the whims and fashions of Western intellectuals: the lineaments of the Third Church are emphatically conservative, traditional, orthodox, even reactionary by Western standards. The modernists and liberals of Europe and America, though they dream of pushing progressive innovation farther along the path to —- though they do not see it —- dissolution, have rent the very heart of their churches, and precipitated a vast capitulation to the decadence of modernity; and in so doing they have dispossessed themselves of the magnetic sublimity of their faith, and divested themselves of that ineradicable command that they be “fishers of men.” By contrast the Southern Christians, with their allergy rooted in history to Western egotism, newly received into the faith and charged with a fervor similar to that which impelled the early Evangelists: in them we perceive the essence of the true messenger, who will not presume to tamper with the Message.
I think it was Hillaire Belloc, an English Catholic convert, who said, “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.” It appears that he was quite wrong; that rather the Faith lives up to its name, which is catholic, or universal. I have recorded here before the disconsolate and oppressive irony that at the exact moment when Western man turns with longing, even desperation, to religion, the Christian churches have, by and large, secularized themselves. What I had not yet well examined is that the pulsating light of Christian belief has shifted south. And it seems logical, almost predictable, that as it was the tremendous power of Christ incorporating men which stimulated the West’s creative surge from the darkness of Rome’s fall to the extraordinary material prosperity and success of modernity, so it is that the decline of Western man is coincident with his loss of faith in the One who said, “I am the Light of the world.” Mr. Jenkins concludes,
What were those pulverizing words? “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”posted by Paul Cella | 5:02 PM |
Saturday, September 07, 2002 The widest-circulating and most influential newspaper in the world recently endorsed at least the plausibility of an Iraqi connection to both the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The report, by Micah Morrison, is circumspect and assiduous in its presentation of the evidence; and it ultimately claims nothing more than that the subject begs for more extensive attention. The lineaments of this shadowy business are hardly even sketched out, much less elucidated with care and deliberation; but the speculative model is rather plain: Saddam Hussein, having been vanquished in the field of battle, turned, seething, to the blacker world of terrorism to wage his war against America.
Update: Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz pens what may prove to be the definitive case against Iraq, including a systematic register of Saddam's unceasing violations of international law, diplomatic agreements, personal arrangements, and UN Resolutions.posted by Paul Cella | 12:06 AM |
Friday, September 06, 2002 “Neo-sovereignty” is the term Mr. Lee Harris applies to what he perceives as the geopolitical solution, muddled and untidy though it may well be at times, to the seemingly unconquerable problematics of a world characterized by rapidly-proliferating nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons make hash of this, by providing smaller powers, even non-state actors, the ability to inflict damage to the balance of power beyond that which it can sustain. There is no monopoly of violence where such entities as al Qaeda can acquire the weapons capable of destroying a smaller state, and crippling most others.
But there is a major obstacle to its achievement, and it is not likely to be surmounted absent rather cunning Machiavellian means. Put simply: the world will not consent to the dominance of a world power; look merely to the hostility engendered by American power as it is. And only a particularly delusional individual could even conceive of the United States of today marshalling the material force, let alone the political will, to forcibly realize this goal.
Readers may recall that I cited Mr. Harris not long ago for his enterprising work to develop a thesis to describe spectacle of militant, suicidal Islam: the “fantasy ideology.” This new essay also reflects a certain sublimity of mind; a kind of hard-nosed but broad-minded innovation of thought and analysis which recalls the great Cold War strategist James Burnham. Well worth the read: persuasive, arresting; rigorous in approach, unsentimental in argument; prescient, perhaps, in its ominous conclusions.posted by Paul Cella | 4:59 AM |
Thursday, September 05, 2002 President Bush plans to address the United Nations on September 12, and there is a lot of speculation, plausible and full of portents, that he will reveal new information gleaned from American and allied intelligence services of the threat from Iraq. Tony Blair seems quite thoroughly involved in the percussion of rhetorical buildup, and evidence against Saddam enough to compel the acquiescence of the timorous diplomats of the UN would probably silence most criticism outside the fever swamps of ideology. Say the administration demonstrates a near-irrefutable link between Al Qaeda and Saddam —- what precisely will the anti-war faction do then?
David Warren does fine work as a journalist, and is full of intriguing ideas and informed conjecture. He has reported, for example, that the military build-up everyone expects to presage the invasion is already largely complete; and that American special forces are already maneuvering in Iraq. Now he gives us this about the awful complications that weapons of mass destruction already present to U.S. action:
Stanley Kurtz wrote a penetrating piece last week, making a crucial point along these same lines:
This is a bleak and bitter truth to swallow, its significance resistant to overstatement; and the significance consists most emphatically in the horror of a world where justice is thwarted and paralyzed by the utter callousness of the ambition of tyrants. Such a world augurs a retreat into unspeakable barbarism.posted by Paul Cella | 7:12 AM |
Wednesday, September 04, 2002 There seems to be no end to the catalogue of human depravity elevated to state policy under the auspices of international Communism. Here Robert Elegant relates the harrowing tale of the Soviet Union's nuclear research in Kazakhstan.
I've often thought it interesting that one of the more facile replies to the charge that Marxism applied produced hell on earth was that Marxism was never faithfully applied. In fact, it was applied with rather astonishing rigor with respect to the ten points elucidated in The Communist Manifesto, and, sure enough, it produced hell on earth.posted by Paul Cella | 5:55 AM |
To its undying shame, PBS abets the spread of contemptible propaganda. Thinking to memorialize the anniversary of September 11, our public broadcasting corporation glibly defames the history and honor of one of this country's most reliable allies. Wretched and pathetic, this episode. posted by Paul Cella | 5:04 AM |
In the first paragraph of The Federalist, Publius unfurls the tremendous central inquiry of that great work of political philosophy:
Reflection and choice. This could be designated The American Question, for it is the quintessence of American political philosophy: the question of self-government. Enshrined it is also, in the thunderous first words of our own Constitution, to the defense of which Publius lent his energetic pen: We, the People. The remarkable but too infrequently remarked political philosopher Willmoore Kendall would have emended it, with all the pregnancy of the term, to read, “We, the virtuous people.” But that is a digression. The American Question can be stated thusly: Is a large and diverse republic of self-governing people an enduring proposition? I would contend that 225 years on, the answer is still not obvious.
Large numbers of American citizens, for a myriad of reasons including sheer demographics, various economic pressures, and the enervation of ideology have been effectively driven from any meaningful political power. Even greater numbers have simply opted out of the political power secured for them by blood and steel; the general alienation experienced by many from their political system is acute. Meanwhile practically no one any longer doubts the peril which darkens the horizon of an imperial judiciary, arrogating to it and drawing within its orbit the authority properly accorded to we, the people. The Left finally caught on to this peril rather recently (though one suspects that many within its provinces have apprehended it at least implicitly for quite a while) with a messy election commencing in confusion and concluding in bitter defeat; the Right first descried it (also owning in part to that underestimated thinker Mr. Kendall) in the Supreme Court decisions outlawing school prayer in the 1960s, and then seized on it with great lucidity, vigor, and abandon in a First Things symposium some years ago denouncing the “judicial usurpation of politics” on the question of abortion. While the Left still recoils in consternation from the logic and implications of that awful topic, no longer does it flay the symposiasts for their anxiety over the naked power of the courts. By now, in 2002, it would be a rather difficult endeavor to identify an influential political observer who does not at least acknowledge the potential of the courts to blunder, polarize, emasculate and finally even tyrannize. And even those friends of First Things on the Right who recorded their alarm and fierce disagreement with the character of the symposium also concede openly that on many occasions the Supreme Court has become a “lawless institution.” We have near unanimity on the conceivable danger of judicial usurpation, if still ferocious discord on how to approach the problem; one need only look to the rancor and volatility of the struggles over judicial appointments for confirmation of this. Those who speak in hushed voices of oligarchy and false democracy are not afflicted by so ineffaceable a delusion as we might think; though when they take to the streets to preen their insensate vulgarity, they seem to know not that they lend force and truculence to precisely the trend they decry: namely, the trend of ineluctable transference of political, social and economic clout from people to elite. First Things called it, with limpid assurance, even impetuosity, “The End of Democracy.”
The miscellaneous prigs and progressives of the Left seem genuinely unaware of the profoundly elitist nature of so many of their ideas; and the ascendance of these ideas in those realms most sensitive to and dominated by the elite —- I think immediately of the pedagogic, the statist or governmental, and the legal realms —- has been of a piece with the anfractuous welter of leftist ideology. I adduce but two examples out of many. Unregulated mass immigration is an idea, and a concomitant policy, imbibed almost without question by the Left; and, with a bit more diffidence and deliberation, by the business-friendly Right. It is also a hugely unpopular idea; most especially among those (in the Southwestern United States, mainly) most directly affected by its consequences. Secondly, there is probably no single component of public life which generates more exactly and reliably the drama of elite versus people than the drama of the multiculturalist ideology. Wherever and whenever the policies of this pernicious illiberal thing are submitted to a moment of democratic accountability, they are resoundingly defeated; only through coercion and manipulation and dissimulation —- in short, only against the principle of self-government —- are its ideas sustained. Even the Hispanic voters of left-wing California, for example, voted down bilingual education in public schools, sensibly discerning that such a policy would very simply result in illiteracy in two languages.
A hard-headed examination, therefore, will tell us that today’s Left is at base an antidemocratic one, blanching at the tastes and prerogatives of a free people. But things are not so obviously cleave along these lines, for there is a similar dynamic behind the trepidation of the Right in exploiting the vulnerabilities of its political opponents, on, say, immigration and multiculturalism, to restate my examples. That trepidation consists in the fact that on so many points the Right is itself linked to an elitist institution: the business corporation. Corporations, and the business class more generally, desire above all else stability in the political realm, even if the position of repose is ultimately inimical to the order which engenders the very stability they depend on. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, perhaps the greatest dissident against totalitarian tyranny of a century of dissidents, often fulminated with pulverizing eloquence against the “alliance between our Communist leaders and your capitalists”; against the soulless avarice which drives a businessman, in Lenin’s grim phrase, to sell the hangman the rope for his own hanging. William F. Buckley, Jr. once characterized it this way:
Also, I think it too rarely remarked by conservatives how much the business corporation has come to mirror the state in form and in function; that it comprises a limited but potent concentration of power; and that with it the descent, in albeit diminished magnitude, of all the bureaucratic syndromes that so consume the state is steady and sure. The corporation, notwithstanding its very considerable virtues, is fundamentally a centralizing force; and its influence an ultimately mixed one. Burdened by an organic political alliance with this institution, the Right is often left off defending a kind of corporate proto-statism when what it really aims at defending is the admirable basic decency of the free enterprise system, which is just another way of saying the economic system actualizing the principle of self-government. And even those conservatives resistant to this criticism of business would have to acknowledge the often tight and cozy relationship between corporations and the state.
Everywhere self-government is in retreat, assailed by collectivist forces and harried by creeping nihilism which deprives its traditions and institutions of vitality. The Citizen, the basic unit of self-government, once buttressed by these traditions, is being transformed once more into the Subject, deracinated from his moral and spiritual bearings, bereft of all the thick and unspoken, often unperceived, ballast which steadies him in this tumultuous world. Where once tradition and richness formed the panoply of tough and supple defenses for the individual against the world, now we see those defenses failing, with only the state to replace them, or the corporation, which either apes the state or falls before it. The Subject replaces the Citizen, even as his eyes are clouded and his weapons of resistance and counterstrike dulled by the bounty of economic plentitude and the intoxicating narcotics of modern mass entertainment. I do not say that the rout or even the slow dissolution ending in defeat of self-government is imminent, for there are hopeful signs lurking about in unpredictable places, and always the ways of the Lord are mysterious; but as I am in a sour mood, I must confess to sympathy with the words of Salvianus as the Fall of Rome neared: “The Roman Empire is luxurious but it is filled with misery. It is dying but it laughs.” The American Question remains an open one.posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |
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 |