Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Sunday, October 06, 2002 Sometime in the late 1970s, William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote a column about the United Nations which carried a title so perfect it is difficult to imagine improvement: “Meanwhile, At the Zoo.” He would know, having served at Zoo, several years before, as the American representative to the UN Human Rights Committee.
This Zoo is characterized by, among other things, providing a public forum for an assemblage of the world’s thugs, dictators, bullies, autocrats, tyrants, satraps, and sycophants to play at democracy and government by deliberation while brazenly disregarding the great and unspeakably elaborate moral firmament which buttresses and makes possible democracy and self-government. Moreover, the Zoo is a kind of consummation or triumph of form and process over substance; a divorce between reality and perception so complete that the introduction of a bit of reality here and there has all the trappings and thrill of real scandal.
Mr. Buckley wrote a book about his experience called United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey. The hypocrisy at this place can take on gargantuan forms. For instance, he reports that back then everyone learned rather quickly that, “the convention is very simply to ignore Soviet infractions against the stated ideals of the organization.” One of the first addresses he heard in the General Assembly was a stern reprimand by the Soviet foreign minister directed toward Israel for its occupation of the West Bank. That speech, delivered by the representative of the most ruthless imperial power on earth, contained the following lines: “The only wish of the Arab States who fell victim to imperialist aggression is to retrieve what was seized from them by force.” And what about the Poles and the Czechs and the East Germans behind the Iron Curtain? Was a similar retrieval of liberty not their “only wish”? Irony has fled when words like that can be spoken by characters like that with a straight face.
But such is the nature of the UN, and of the credulity of the world in its approach to this lumbering, tragicomic institution.
David Warren, in another illuminating column, describes a typical item in the UN catalogue of fatuity:
Mr. Buckley’s book, supple, surprisingly lacking in bitterness, even mirthful, is worth a look for a little dose of reality –- along with a smile and a resigned sigh.posted by Paul Cella | 5:10 AM |
Saturday, October 05, 2002 Remember all those howls about the great humanitarian calamity that would come as a result of the Allied campaign in Afghanistan? Tell it to the Afghan national athletes, who have returned to the Asian Games for the first time since 1994. The soccer stadium in Kabul, made infamous as the site of various cruel and crude executions, has now returned to its natural uses, and there are even three women on among the athletes.
Afghanistan’s future is obviously precarious, but its people are free of the yoke of fascism; they were liberated, though you’ll hardly hear a word of acknowledgement from the anti-American Left and the Arab tyrants.posted by Paul Cella | 7:49 AM |
“Americans are suckers for empty gestures,” opined Florence King, National Review’s grand old misanthrope, a few months ago (incidentally, Miss King is leaving the magazine, to the dismay of many). Well, it seems the Brits are also suckers for empty gestures, as evidenced by this glowing tribute to Bill Clinton, the master of empty gestures, a man who built an entire political career, and partially reshaped a nation’s politics, around empty gestures. He was up to his old tricks at a Labor Party conference in England last week, and the friendly press soaked it up like children starved for attention. Sigh. posted by Paul Cella | 4:07 AM |
The great Theodore Dalrymple has often noted that there seems to be a connection of some kind between welfare dependency and terrorism; that is, that the perversity of the modern welfare state, so incorrigible and tedious in its degradation of the human spirit, has the additional inconvenience of often indoctrinating its patrons into the most venomous of the anti-Western, multiculturalist ideology. This is then coupled smoothly with the natural resentment and rage of the dispossessed and dependent, and propounded alongside some excruciating twaddle of apologia for violence. Naturally, the result is rather unpleasant. Mr. Dalrymple and others have amply, if anecdotally, documented the appalling number of Islamic extremists living off the British dole. Indeed, there was a gathering of such specimens in London this September 11 —- to commemorate the anniversary with celebration.
Columnist Michelle Malkin calmly details the career of New Jersey’s own apologist for terror and hatred, who has been coddled and funded by the state for around forty years. The indictment is illuminated, if no longer surprising.posted by Paul Cella | 3:43 AM |
Thursday, October 03, 2002 Not long ago I assailed the Democrats, as is my wont, for their irresponsibility in engaging the War Party in a serious debate about Iraq. Another time I stated flatly that the debate had become almost exclusively the province of the GOP (I noted also that the leading liberal opinion publication in the country seemed to agree). Well, to propitiate that favored element of Washington priggishness, “bipartisanship,” let me now lodge a few substantive complaints against the Bush administration and its allies on the Right as regards the war discourse:
(1) Broadly, the principal failure of the administration since September 11 in my view has been clarity of purpose. Things could be much worse on this count, and it is a bit difficult to point to many specifics here, but there have been genuine and debilitating missteps in articulating a comprehensive yet easily-apprehended statement of who we are fighting and why. To do such a thing immediately after the terror attacks, to be sure, would have been an almost Herculean task, and it may simply be too much to ask from modern political leadership in such a moment of crisis. Nonetheless, the failure is there, and it is with language, I think, that it most obviously manifests itself: The administration, for instance, chose to declare a “war on terrorism,” which, as many have noted, cannot, even sympathetically, be said to be wholly coherent. One does not declare war on a method of warfare, however repugnant that method may be; does it make sense to proclaim a “war on submarine warfare” or a “war on high altitude bombing”? Weapons of mass destruction are a deadly serious matter, but the emphasis on them these days can also tend to reflect a strained and careless way with words. In point of fact, it must be a human actor who employs the repugnant method, and it is he with whom we are at war. Various outgunned but fiercely committed actors in conflicts of almost every scale have employed terrorism as an appallingly effective method.
A related point: The administration should have requested from Congress, in the days after the attacks, a formal declaration of war, because such action is still, last I checked, required by the Constitution, and because it would have been an immensely unifying and clarifying decision. A few cranks would have howled about our lack of knowledge of our enemies, or the unconventional nature of the war, or whatever else; but they could have been defeated by the simple remark that a declaration of war means only that a state of war exists between the United States and those who attacked it. Constitutionally, politically, and morally our collective sense of purpose and resolve would have been consolidated by this formal declaration. And legally, innovations in criminal law for unconventional warriors operating in the United States —- terrorists whose sinister movements are assisted and concealed by the machinery of freedom —- could thereby have been more efficaciously promulgated and argued. I wrote about this several months ago.
(2) The administration has at times exhibited a distressing unwillingness to vigorously argue its views; instead, it seems to prefer the fait accompli approach, or, as the Democrats so elegantly put it, the “my way or the highway” approach. This unaccountable tendency is rather strange considering that when the President and his able and cogent advisers have set themselves to arguing a case, they have usually prevailed. A good example, unrelated directly to the war, is the case of the International Criminal Court. Now the ICC is undoubtedly a very bad idea. Its undemocratic, illiberal nature; its menacing and unspecified powers and disdain for nuance; its roots in European and Third World intellects whose commitment to individual rights and detached judgment is dubious; the obvious threat it poses to a hegemon like America which naturally arouses envy and hostility; all these characteristics provide ample reason for the United States to resist. But the administration hardly made a public case; rather, it just threatened the ham-handed retaliatory measure of defunding all UN peacekeeping mandates, which was surely effective in the immediate short-term but, without concomitant public arguments against the ICC, it seemed arrogant and inexplicable, and therefore alienated even those who might have been sympathetic to the arguments.
For quite a while this same hauteur fluttered about the American approach to arguing its Iraq policy: the administration, for several months, scarcely even argued for it at all. Perhaps this was intentional, part of a contrivance structured around military and political timetables; and anyway, fortunately, it has changed rather dramatically in the last month or so, both here and abroad, with fairly dramatic results.
(3) But a similar ham-handedness has characterized much of the administration’s dealings with Europe in general. Europe is a huge place, and even talking about it as one entity is almost an affront to reality. Does anyone really think Britain has more in common with Germany or Italy than with America? Nor are European opinions accurately reflected by European elites. Most Europeans —- not just the British —- are quite sympathetic to American determination to smash Islamic terror; and most Europeans countries have been thoroughly helpful, with military assistance, intelligence, law enforcement, etc, etc. Moreover, I think the idea, popular with a lot of conservatives, of “to hell with the Europeans!”, however attractive in moments of exasperation, is misguided and reckless. There is simply no plausible coalition of allies at the moment that could even begin to compare favorably with our European allies.
To overcome European reluctance, which is real, requires some delicacy and equipoise, but it can be done. Chiefly, it consists of playing the European nations against one another in order to undermine the primary problem that looms in Europe: a consolidated European superstate which finds its only meaningful identity in rivalry with, or even hostility toward, the U.S. That is the ambition of many European Union bureaucrats and other elites; but it is not an ambition, by and large, shared by the bulk of the European populace. And it is an ambition which should be opposed —- quietly, perhaps, but resolutely. Because a Europe unified to some degree in opposition to the U.S., with its own security force replacing NATO, is no laughing matter. It is not hard to imagine this rival superpower some years on, its relations with America now strained, seeking an alliance with a rising China, or even with some assortment of resentful Arab states whose emigrants have moved north and west in such numbers to have established a solid constituency for pro-Arab policy in Europe (this is already happening, in fact). Then where would we be? In a far more precarious world, that’s where.
Yet administration policy is still one of basically unqualified support for European integration. Moreover, as John O’Sullivan, whose indispensable essays on this topic ground much of my argument, wrote recently:
A achievement indeed. Yet the ominous consolidation, centralization and homogenization plans roll on: Two years ago the European Union passed a law making it illegal for journalists to criticize its policies. In March The Wall Street Journal reported that EU anti-trust officers may conduct “dawn raids” of businesses, without a search warrant, to locate evidence of “price-fixing or abuse of market power”; any evidence seized may be used to assess huge fines (Volkswagon was assessed $78 million in 2000) without any judicial hearing and review. “The only approval needed,” the Journal reported, “is from the EU’s antitrust chief, Mario Monti, who usually bases his decision on whether the haul of evidence will likely be big enough to justify the time and expense.” Mr. Monti would like to expand his powers to include arbitrary searches of executives’ personal residences, and the authority to interrogate employees, again without judicial review. And there is a push to “harmonize” enforcement throughout the fifteen EU member states. Another proposal would make racism and “xenophobia,” very nebulously defined, crimes punishable by prison sentences; the primary consequence of this legislation would probably be a coerced silence on immigration policy —- an arena of public policy already so poisoned by rhetorical violence that it cost the life of one unorthodox Dutch politician. This is not the kind of integration we ought to be endorsing; vigilance of despotic trends in Europe, of all places, should not yield to complacency; there are quite enough American military cemeteries over there already.
That last remark may be exaggerative, but how short is our memory? Outside of Britain and France, no European nation right now has a military of global reach, but it wouldn’t take long, after the decommissioning of NATO, for that to change, especially with the bureaucratic consolidation continuing, as seems likely, unabated. There are already these inchoate, or not-so-inchoate, ideas floating around about a European “rapid reaction force.” As Steve Sailer observed acerbically, “Iraq is just a sideshow compared to maintaining peace in Northwest Europe.” Who will gainsay that statement?
We cannot wash our hands of Europe; the mere entertaining of such an idea does indeed border on the delusional. Nor should we want to. The anti-Americanism so often cursed is real, but it is not comprehensive. There are huge constituencies of European voters deeply suspicious of the EU consolidation, its disdain for tradition and community, and these, I’ll wager, are very frequently the same voters who are most sympathetic to U.S. robustness against Islamofascism. We do ourselves harm when we simultaneously paint them with the same reproachful brush as we do the leftist elite and turn a deaf ear on their concerns about the direction of Continental politics.
I want to stress here that my complaints about the administration, and the public figures of the American Right, are petty things in contrast to what might have developed under, say, a Gore administration. I shudder just thinking about the alternatives to the moral and strategic clarity that characterizes this president and his advisers, whatever their failure and miscalculations.
Update: Two of the real heavyweights, Mark Steyn and V. D. Hanson, have stepped into the ring on the question of American-European realtions. I appear to be at least thinking about a crucial question, though I quail at the notion that neither man places as much importance on our European alliance as I. Another important essay on this topic is Robert Kagan's from some months ago.posted by Paul Cella | 3:02 AM |
Wednesday, October 02, 2002 Josh Claybourn has put together an evocative little photo-essay here. Then there is this, which speaks for itself, and it speaks volumes (via Andrew Sullivan). posted by Paul Cella | 6:37 AM |
And then there is Jesse Ventura. Once upon a time I admired Jesse Ventura. I admired him as an eccentric and an individualist and a somewhat irresponsible but basically charming man of candor. Well, Mr. Ventura went down to Castro’s little cockroach isle (apologies to John Derbyshire) with an eye on building up business ties between Cuba and Minnesota, the state where the former wrestler governs. Mr. Ventura went down there and he took his bulky candor with him.
About the possibility of freedom for Cubans, this bit of candor: “Ultimately it’s up to Cuba, it’s not up to us. It’s their country, and if there are going to be changes in Cuba it will be the Cubans who make those changes.” Thanks, Jesse. When you spend your days hunted by secret police, your family threatened, your willpower draining in the face of debasement and the brutal jackboot of the totalitarian state, what’s a little leisurely contempt from an American celebrity?
Candidly also, Mr. Ventura rebuked the Cuban human rights activists for not coming to him! “They know where my hotel is.” They also know where Florida is, in a general sense, and quite a few have chosen rather… unorthodox means of arriving there. Many others, of course, have perished in the attempt, because one does not willingly choose unorthodox means to traverse 90 miles of saltwater.
Apparently these two men of candor discussed the Kennedy assassination. It so happens that the very same man whose film contrived (rather successfully) to traduce the history of that historical event in the minds of modern movie-goers, Oliver Stone, is now at work on a project about one Fidel Castro. Imagine that: having feverishly mined that vast quarry of conspiracy-theory material, America’s “military-industrial complex,” Mr. Stone will now favor us with a hagiography of the world’s elder tyrant. A certain symmetry there.
Like so many other moral cripples of our age, Mr. Ventura pronounced Castro a very bright and articulate man, or some such thing (Norman Mailer once compared him glowingly to an erect penis). This kind of thunderous foolishness, grounded in a kind of blatant intellectual negligence, overflows the borders of mere stupidity into the category of cruelty. As Myles Kantor concludes in a short, sharp piece,
posted by Paul Cella | 6:07 AM |
Lukewarm Iraq hawk and ever-incisive journalist Steve Sailer has some pointed and constructive skepticism about the apparent decommissioning of the theory of deterrence:
posted by Paul Cella | 6:06 AM |
The moral bankruptcy of the Left is absolutely bottomless. I read about it every day, but now and then some lurid detail manages to yet surprise me. Like this (thanks to Orrin Judd for finding it):
Not long after September 11, I wrote on an email discussion list that, “It is a truly remarkable thing to witness elements of the radical Left, many of whom insist on calling themselves ‘liberals,’ driven by their constitutive hatred of America into the arms of one of the more illiberal historical impulses in human history, namely, Islamic fanaticism.” I did not then adequately appreciate the depth and brazenness of this truth; nor the almost unaccountable and languid pervasiveness of it. This weekend two Democratic congressmen were in Baghdad, cavorting around with Saddam’s poltroons and prevaricators, broken men whose loyalty is insured through a mélange of fearsome intimidation, blackmail, agony, and moral debasement of the most appalling sort. And these two patriots stood there among this cavalcade of human depravity and wretchedness and one of them declared on American television that Americans can trust Mr. Saddam Hussein but they cannot trust their president, Mr. George W. Bush.
The mind reels.posted by Paul Cella | 12:56 AM |
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 |