Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Sunday, September 29, 2002 One has to concede a certain grudging admiration to the Democrats who, through boldness and genuine though displaced anger, managed to mitigate the effects of a solidly disadvantageous political climate. First Al Gore in San Francisco, then Tom Daschle on the Senate floor, then Ted Kennedy at Johns Hopkins: together they stole from the administration the always important initiative in political swordplay.
Enough with the compliments.
It would be difficult to imagine a more irresponsible speech than what Mr. Gore delivered on Monday. It was bitter, disingenuous, misleading, and incoherent; it added nothing to the debate over Iraq policy expect rancor and diversion; and it emboldened other Democrats to further displays of irresponsibility, namely Tom Daschle, who fulminated two days later against the “politicization” of the war by, he said, the President. This was classic displacement, of a vaguely Freudian variety —- for though the President may have been sloppy with some campaign rhetoric, it was in fact Al Gore who degraded the war debate with shameless political calculation; which calculation, of course, was focused on 2004, not 2002, and mainly threatens potential Democratic primary contenders, including one Tom Daschle.
When was it, precisely, when the Democratic Party developed such disdain for democracy? We ought to thank Providence that this war debate comes during an election season, allowing we the people to have a real voice in this critical political decision. President Bush says to Congress and the nation (if I may be so bold as to paraphrase): “Are we serious? Are we serious about what it takes to defend this country? I take as my principal duty the protection of the people of this country; and I regard as the gravest threat we face the possession of weapons of mass slaughter in the hands of anti-American madmen, the first of which is Saddam Hussein. This man has violated every agreement he has ever signed, and has flaunted pledges he undertook to save himself from the wrath of the U.S. Army, which could have rolled right up to his front door ten years ago. I know there are other terrorists, other madmen, other organized threats arrayed against us, but this one is the most serious, and we must deal with it. Can we not walk and chew gum at the same time? Are we serious about this war?” And the Democrats replied, very simply: “Of course we’re not serious. And how dare you expect us to be serious in an election season?”
Fortunately, the Democratic Party does not consist of politicians exclusively. It consists also of thinkers and writers and serious people, who have taken up the debate with vigor and, well, seriousness (a few examples are here). “The battle is joined,” Peggy Noonan wrote Friday.
posted by Paul Cella | 2:24 AM |
Saturday, September 28, 2002 Ah, Mark Steyn: he warms the heart of every right-winger from here to Pat Buchanan (well, Pat probably rebukes his imperialistic inclinations). Anyway, recently Mr. Steyn took on an incensed correspondent with his usual rapier’s wit:
That last remark refers to several horrifying events at Concordia University in Montreal involving a riot among Palestinian protestors, some mob violence against Jews –- you know the storyline (See here and here).
Mr. Steyn goes on to reassert, with conclusive additional evidence, the fact called into question by his correspondent; which fact, namely, is the percentage of rapes committed in Denmark by criminals of “foreign origin” –- in plain language, by Muslims. His reassertion, as I say, is conclusive.
Then, a point so rudimentary it verily boggles the mind that the thing requires such elaborate rhetorical and logical calisthenics to establish:
Of course, plain unassailable logic will hardly convince anyone among Mr. Steyn’s voluble and fierce interlocutors. Yet more grounds for resigning ourselves to a fact I wrote about before: reason does not hold sway over the minds of most people.posted by Paul Cella | 6:05 AM |
Friday, September 27, 2002 The brave and invaluable Martin Kramer reports that Professor John Esposito of Georgetown, arguably the leading “mainstream” scholar of Islam in the country, has close ties with an apologist for Hamas, the murderous Palestinian terrorist organization responsible for innumerable massacres of Israeli civilians.
Mr. Tamimi also gave an interview to a Spanish newspaper last November in which he declared his admiration for the Taliban and pronounced that “everyone” in the Arab world celebrated the fall of the Trade Towers. His anti-Semitism, it goes without saying, also is palpable and lethal.1:59 AM |
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Last year, the Trinidad-born British writer V. S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Though virtually no one doubts the power, suppleness, and aesthetic facility of his works of fiction, he was nonetheless a highly controversial Prize-winner, chiefly because of his blunt renunciation of the insidious ideology of political correctness that pervades much of the literary establishment. This repudiation is most salient, perhaps, in his works of nonfiction; and therefore the controversy is most potent surrounding these as against his novels. In particular it surrounds his Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, an admirable piece of cultural journalism drawing on Mr. Naipaul’s travels through the non-Arab Islamic world, from Iran to Indonesia.
It is clear early-on to the reader of Among the Believers why it generates so much indignation: Mr. Naipaul combines subtle and eloquent prose with considerable powers of observation and discernment to produce a work of immense, analytical, candid insight about a failed civilization. Moreover, the author’s unmistakable sympathy, even tenderness, for the people he encounters makes his judgments all the more resounding in their bleakness. Islamic civilization, he says, is desolation.
This is not a conclusion likely to be absorbed serenely by those of a more politically correct disposition. The very notion that a civilization can fail; that, by implication, some are superior to others, is anathema to all that political correctness asseverates. So Mr. Naipaul’s tragic judgments, irrespective of their accuracy, are positively unpalatable to many of his peers among the literati.
Among the Believers was published in 1981; it’s follow-up, Beyond Belief, in 1998. We tend, these days, toward greater impatience with ideological-inspired spinelessness that limits hardheaded judgment, particularly when that judgment concerns those who plot our destruction, and who target us for death for our association with a single idea: America. Perhaps it was impatience with political correctness, too, that animated the Swedish Academy last fall. Or perhaps it was mere coincidence that scarcely two months after Islamic fanatics reduced the World Trade Center to a crematorium the world’s most prestigious literary award was presented to one of the world’s greatest interpreters of the crisis of Islam.
Whatever the reasons —- there are many available —- for the honor bestowed upon him, Mr. Naipaul’s perceptive inquiries and his incandescent musings should be allowed to speak for themselves. Here I offer them in short, pertinent excerpts:
A central theme of Among the Believers is that within Muslim societies Islam cannot be contained; there is no civil society, no secular buffer to the fiery passion of fundamentalist Islam. The situation is profoundly unhealthy: Faith spills forth into the other areas of life —- political, economic, aesthetic, individual —- effacing all that was there. It leaves the society barren of everything but Islam. Mr. Naipaul quotes Sir Mohammed Iqbal, a poet whose ideas about a separate Indian Muslim state were crucial to the establishment of Pakistan in 1947: “The religious ideal of Islam, therefore, is organically related to the social order which it has created. The rejection of the one will eventually involve the rejection of the other. Therefore, the construction of a polity on national lines, if it means a displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim.” Muslims must have an Islamic state; church and state must be united for Islam to thrive. Mr. Naipaul then speaks of the “simple, terrible flaw” of this ideal:
Into that void rushed the military, the only organized political entity; and then came, almost inevitably, military despotism. A populist dictator followed, with no relief from the secret police. He goes on,
Mr. Naipaul then asks the hard, incisive questions:
Mr. Naipaul’s sympathy for the Muslims of the subcontinent is evident, but it does not yield to his unflinching analysis —- and what an analysis it is!
Another overarching theme is the incapacity of Muslim societies to reconcile themselves to the matrix of creativity and freedom that powers the Western world —- the engine of technological and material prosperity. They look upon Western energy and see only decadence and spiritual sterility, things that are unquestionably there —- I have written of them frequently. But to mistake the waste products of freedom for freedom itself is a miscalculation of shattering proportions. It is precisely that miscalculation which lies at the heart of Muslim folly, and Muslim frustration, and rage.
After hearing a speech full of rage and fulmination and malevolence from Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Mr. Naipaul writes,
Again, he writes of the phenomenon of rejection: “That expectation —- of others continuing to create, of the alien, necessary civilization going on —- is implicit in the act of renunciation, and is its great flaw.”
And again, this time of Malaysian Islamic extremists: “Their rage —- the rage of a pastoral people with limited skills, limited money, and a limited grasp of the world —- is comprehensive. Now they have a weapon: Islam. It is their way of getting even with the world.” This hardened theology and the psychic refuge it provides “is passion without a constructive programme. The materialist world must be pulled down first; the Islamic state will come later —- as in Iran, as in Pakistan.”
Those are poignant, deeply uncomfortable words, written as they were twenty years ago. It seems it is Mr. Naipaul’s vocation to be uncomfortable, unsparing —- as is often the vocation of the great writer. Now they have a weapon: Islam. It is undeniable that in matters of material excellence and creative energies, the West surpasses the Muslim world by leaps and bounds. But in matters of the spirit, it seems also true that Islam exceeds the West, though the spirit has been tortured, as I wrote before, by infusions of Western radicalism. Who among us feels such fervency of faith that he comes to disdain life itself? There is in the West virtually no concept of martyrdom outside of the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church, and that a martyrdom of capitulation, not violence, like St. Francis who longed for a martyr’s fate but did not seek it actively. To us moderns the very idea: martyr seems uniquely disturbing, alien in what it says about the faith of our enemies.
Mr. Naipaul has seen, first hand, and with true acuity, the rumbling tumult in the collision of these twin discrepancies. We would do well to consider even the discordant, contrarian voices, like Mr. Naipaul’s, that are among us —- for in those voices there can be great insight, and now is not the time to recoil from insight because we do not like what it tells us.posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |
Wednesday, September 25, 2002 Jesse Jackson, censor: Rod Dreher has penned a first-rate piece celebrating the new movie Barbershop, which for various glorious improprieties has attracted the ire of Jesse Jackson —- reason enough, I say, to like the film.
I have not seen Barbershop, but it appears to be a magnificent breath of fresh air, a truly liberating piece of art amid the welter of mendacious malice and rarefied bigotry that passes for art in Hollywood.
Mr. Dreher concludes,
Three cheers for them.posted by Paul Cella | 11:26 PM |
Noah Millman expounds for us his sober, shrewd ideas about what various actors in the Middle East maintain as short- and long-term goals. An illuminating read. posted by Paul Cella | 7:51 AM |
There has been an interesting discussion between two bloggers (see here and here) which I do not think I will disfigure irretrievably by summarizing as “Conservatism and Progress.” This topic, of course, is too enormous to take on in a comprehensive way, but it is worth returning to from time to time, in an effort to assay the lineaments of the vast body of thought known as conservatism. Mr. Orrin Judd presents a forceful case for tradition as the principal fount of all genuine conservatism, a case which has never been more succinctly put, in my experience, than in those celebrated lines of G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:
It will always be a bit exasperating to hear from people that our grandfathers may know us better than we know ourselves; that the Greeks, say, understood democracy better than we; that, to wit, progress of the intellect is a myth. Mr. Patrick Ruffini senses the approach of this ever-unpopular asseveration and communicates a mild and understandable irritation with it. Instead, he offers a sort of dialectical dynamic, where competing ideas face off and ultimately the superior ones emerge victorious, albeit in an amalgamated form. The welter of forces impinging on the culture will, after some trial and error, and the operation of reason, perhaps some rational self-interest, produce something satisfactory or better.
I must admit that I am deeply suspicious of this kind of optimism, because I am less than sanguine about Man’s sensitivity to reason. No amount of evidence will drive most people to abandon long-held beliefs, much less a complete ideology; the socialist enterprise, despite catastrophic failure after catastrophic failure, yet endures in the minds of an astounding number of people, and would indeed be re-implemented, history, experience, evidence be damned, if these people, who are never very far from power, were to dramatically reclaim it. Mr. Ruffini speaks of the failed social policies of the 1960s, which plunged many American cities into ugliness and decrepitude and squalor, and remarks that had we known in 1955 what these policies would do, things would have been quite different. But as Mr. Judd points out, we did know. In fact, “we” knew long before the policies were even formulated: Tocqueville wrote a book of stunning penetration, which is not exactly obscure, about the beguiling tendency of democracy to reduce men to bondage.
That sparkling sentence was written some one hundred and sixty-five years ago, and I’ll be damned if a more consummate and prescient arraignment of the welfare state has been written since. Well, John Derbyshire came close when he wrote of the English underclass, similarly produced by idiotic social policy:
Now it bears a moment’s attention to note that Britain’s experience came predominantly after America’s own; that, in other words, even the stark exhibit of failure across the Atlantic did not disabuse the British socialists of their social policy dogmas. And of course the Brits are not alone in this despondent, incorrigible “refusal to face simple truths”: opposition here to welfare reform, perhaps the single most successful domestic policy in a generation, is still truculent and inspired, and its potential to roll back what was achieved continually threatens.
Reason alone is simply not a solid enough foundation upon which to build a civilization; it does not hold final sway over the minds of human beings; stronger elements must be employed: habit, prejudice, prescription. That was Burke’s teaching, and I do not think it has been refuted, neither by argument nor by experience. Burke does not disdain reform. But it must be done with care for the organic thing that is human society, for the traditions into which men of genius and of modesty alike have infused their hard earned wisdom and lessons for posterity. Tradition should be venerated; that the past is full viciousness and injustice only strengthens the necessity for taking it seriously.
I want to emphasize that I have no reason to believe that Mr. Ruffini has any dispute with all this. His piece was just a mild demurral from something previously remarked, which provoked the above inscribed thoughts.posted by Paul Cella | 2:25 AM |
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 |