Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, October 19, 2002 One hopes that one day this discursive little biographical essay will be broadened and refined into a book, because it is a fascinating tale of intellectual development, both internal to a man and external with respect to a nation. Worth reading, every word. posted by Paul Cella | 4:05 PM |
Good ol’ Orrin Judd pointed me to this pithy masterpiece, this synoptic treasure, with its serene resistance to the dictates of p. c. straitening and its confident, erudite vision, by the great Jeffrey Hart. I hesitate in attempting to summarize or extract representative quotations —- just go and read the whole thing —- but what are blogs for if not that?
“What is the West?” asks Mr. Hart, a thunderous question if ever there was one; and then he goes on to answer it: the West is Athens and Jerusalem.
From these two wellsprings surges a great cataract of creative energy, unpredictable, explosive and violent at times, almost appalling in its rush to redact, attach, refine, even overturn its own corpus of ideas and material.
Well. Thanks to Mr. Hart for clearing all this up.posted by Paul Cella | 3:02 PM |
Thursday, October 17, 2002 How about some more New York Times bashing, shall we? James Bowman writes some of the best media criticism in the business, which criticism generally appears in the obscure but routinely superb little monthly, The New Criterion. This month’s number upbraids with grand comprehensiveness the serial mendacity and brazen partisanship of the Times in its coverage of the Iraq debate over the summer and early autumn. All the sordid details are roundly and satisfactorily flayed, but Mr. Bowman is particularly strong when he points out the media elite’s almost risible supercilious with regard to its own function as a check on political power. He adduces some remarks by a Times spokesman defending the paper’s decision to publish, in July, information gleaned from disgruntled but nameless official sources about the military planning for a possible invasion of Iraq.
This rather flagrant discrepancy dovetails nicely with the general tone of self-righteousness adopted by the Times in its approach to contested political questions: Our credibility is impeccable, assert the editorialists (who regular contaminate the supposedly “objective” news pages); you can trust our judgment, even if we do not so much as sketch out the logic and assumptions behind it, but only a fool would take the word of a politician at face value. Of this latter prescription I am inclined favorably, with the addendum that some politicians can in fact be trusted, when that trust has been earned; but I would go on to broaden the prescription to include ideologues masquerading as journalists, a category which sadly has comes to include the editorial voice of The New York Times.posted by Paul Cella | 4:02 PM |
Wednesday, October 16, 2002 So long as he isn’t talking about religion, Michael Lind can be a pretty smart guy. About the latter he tends toward hysteria and silliness; but on other topics there is reason for hope. A case in point was his recent well-reasoned entreaty from the “Outlook” page of Sunday’s Washington Post that we simply retire the Hitler analogies once and for all. Citing a series of recent Hitler comparisons —- which, it goes almost without saying, were almost to a one highly tendentious articles of public stupidity —- Mr. Lind goes on to patiently explain why Nazi barbarism was a thing apart for virtually all other forms of modern tyranny:
That last point is an important one: Nazism was to its core a creature of modernity. It was not a “reactionary” movement, but a horribly, wickedly progressive one; it was an acceleration without scruples of many of the principal trends of the Modern Age; and the whole enterprise was cast in the lurid modern light of supremely liberated Man, freed from all those features of civilization which restrain his base impulses, namely, the Christian virtues.posted by Paul Cella | 3:53 PM |
Thursday, October 10, 2002 [Editor's note: Apologies for the discursiveness of the following. Usually topics of this weight and sophistication are given greater consideration, refinement and revision, but as our harried writer will be away for several days, we thought that readers ought to be favored with something worthy to think about, even at the expense of polish and cohesion.]
* * *
In a particularly brilliant passage in his great work of synthesis and artistry, The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk imagines a sort of dialogue or intellectual badinage between John Stuart Mill, the colossal expounder of modern liberalism, and Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, the prototype, if you will, for scrupulous liberals turning to conservatism as they watched in stark horror as liberalism transformed into collectivism. This feature has been with us ever since, with each generation of conservative thought profiting immensely from defectors to its cause, provoked to defection by the multifarious excesses of the Left. These two were contemporaries, both geniuses of men, whose disagreements prefigured one of the central dynamics of modern politics: what Jacques Barzun has dubbed the “Great Switch” —- when the philosophy of liberty, that is, liberalism, consumed by fevered visions of egalitarianism and the perfect society, threw aside its heritage in liberty and plunged down the dark road that led to Great Purge and concentration camp and Gulag. The item in question is the nature of force, and its role in law and government.
Kirk’s touchstone was Edmund Burke, that great Irish statesman; and Burke’s teaching upheld the delicacy of society, which is in essence an organic thing. Grounded in sturdy Christian theology, Burke never strayed from an appreciation for the incorrigible rebellion of man from God. His disdain for utopian schemes was total, unyielding; one cannot emancipate man from his sinfulness, Burke instructed. But one can surely and tragically, though perhaps unintentionally, emancipate him from all the supple and intricate edifice of habit and prescription, in a word, from tradition, which stands lonely guard over the baseness and rebellion of men in the world. Tradition is compulsion made regular and easily-anticipated; it is the replacement of force by habit and custom and prescription. One can hack wildly, with that crazed ambition of the madman, at the structures of tradition felt to be intolerably repressive, but which perform the tremendous task of restraining the mutiny of the soul that subsists in everyone. And those structures will fall, but the mutiny will remain, and now there will be nothing to contain, dispel, oppose, hinder, and finally punish it. Into tradition, said Burke, has been lodged the shared wisdom of man in his struggle with iniquity, sin and vice. The French revolutionaries unleashed upon the world an emancipatory spirit which has never taken its fill of blood and tears; Edmund Burke was perhaps the very first to pounce on the destructiveness of this spirit with vigor and sober sanity.
These arguments resound like blasphemy in our day, blasphemy against the Church of Emancipation which maintains its dominion over us; yet there is great truth here, and its subtlety is lost on a people who regard pornographers as champions and the Christian church as an enemy of freedom. Men “must be compelled to acknowledge the suzerainty of law”: today men hardly acknowledge anything beyond the suzerainty of the own appetites, often embodied in our ever-ramifying language of rights. Last week The New York Times and the New Jersey Supreme Court divined a “right” of the voters to a “competitive” political race, thereby, if logic holds with any regularity, invalidating about 300 U.S. House races, where districts are gerrymandered through the connivance of both parties to insure one or the other party’s near-invincible dominance. Public debate is so saturated with complacent reference to inviolable rights that participants not persuaded by such parlance might as well speak a foreign language.
Now, in point of fact, J. S. Mill achieved a thunderous victory against Stephen, as evidenced by the fact that no one even remembers the latter, while the former still ekes out a place in our increasingly stunted historical imagination. Indeed, so profound was his victory that Mill is occasionally called upon today by conservatives, as I myself did several months ago when I explained that Mill viewed any financial largess distributed by the state to a citizen as sufficient reason for excluding said citizen from voting rights. Because one grievous threat to a democracy is the threat of corrupt voters. Imagine a socialist (or at least a proto-socialist) writing such things! Legislation along those lines today would very simply put the Democratic Party out of business in sort order. But even though Mill was victorious in the debate, he was yet wrong in the essence of his philosophical innovations to the body of liberalism; for the socialist experiment, after exacting a truly unspeakable cost, has been conceded by all but the most impervious to reality as a failure. Burke (and his descendants like J. F. Stephens) had the last word: “Experience is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.”posted by Paul Cella | 5:03 AM |
Wednesday, October 09, 2002 Don’t miss Orrin Judd’s takedowns of a) Maureen Dowd, playing the role today of spokeswoman for the culture of death, and b) some poor bastard from the Democratic Leadership Council. posted by Paul Cella | 1:17 AM |
As if we need more evidence of The New York Times having degenerated into an irritable, deceitful advocacy publication, David Tell of The Weekly Standard cooly eviscerates perhaps the most pathetic and mendacious effort yet:
This thing has received quite some attention in print and online, but I cannot pass it up: I know intelligent and serious people for whom the Times functions almost as a secular scripture; and it appalls me that a venerable institution like this would so brazenly betray their trust. Let me also state that as a matter of principle I see no problem with the Times adopting a distinct philosophical or political viewpoint; indeed, I would welcome the candor; I regard it as a hindrance to a journalist’s intelligence when he must always concern himself with guarding against possible lapses in this incessant prostration before the Objectivity god. What appalls me is the guile and shameless deception, the basic dishonesty in attempting to advance their viewpoint while retaining that coveted mantle of impartiality.posted by Paul Cella | 12:27 AM |
He describes it as “a profoundly parochial and internecine conflict within the ranks of a very small number of people,” but actually Jonah Goldberg’s column yesterday was a neat little elucidation of some important conservative principles, worth a look by anyone interested in the tenor and lineaments of American political discourse. posted by Paul Cella | 12:08 AM |
Tuesday, October 08, 2002 I warmly recommend to my readers (all three of you) the meager purchase, when it appears on newsstands, of the November issue of Atlantic Monthly. Editor Michael Kelly has assiduously refined that illustrious old magazine excellently, and this issue is exemplary. There is a solidly informative, polished and fair-minded cover story on the Iraq debate by James Fallows, who may or may not oppose the war, one simply cannot tell, entitled, “The Fifty-First State?” It is a remarkably objective essay, well-grounded in fact for a speculative piece, and it compels we who clamor for war to take candid stock of the staggering costs and burdens this enterprise will likely entail —- beginning with that most precious of resources which for all our technical mastery we yet lack in abundance: manpower. A sample:
This I had not seriously considered, but it seems in the main beyond dispute that an American occupation of Iraq will exacerbate tensions with Iran; moreover, it seems equally beyond dispute that even under the provisions of a most exiguous of nation-building mandates we must discharge this responsibility in a post-Saddam Iraq. An unprotected border would present to Iran, a nation which aspires to regional dominance, an almost irresistible inducement to aggrandizement, particularly if actualization of said aspiration could be manipulated in order to abate or disperse the rumbling discontent among the Iranian people. Mr. Fallows cites one expert as imagining an American occupation force of no less than 75,000, and even if that number could be reduced by the assistance of the British and other allies, the additional strain on an already over-deployed military would be substantial. Stanley Kurtz, tireless in expounding the necessity of invasion and occupation of Iraq, has also energetically advocated a renewal of the draft, which he argues is equally necessary.
In addition to this sober and illuminating cover story, there is a short piece by Robert Kaplan, prince of the realists and espouser of the “pagan ethos” required for survival in a chaotic world, on the same topic; several excellent columns by such luminaries as Mr. Kelly and P.J. O’Rourke; and a thoughtful if flawed review of a provocative new book the very premise of which fascinates: animals rights from the perspective of a Roman Catholic vegetarian conservative. Oh yeah, and its reviewer is that bundle of creative tensions Christopher Hitchens.
Then there is the crown jewel: a resplendent, rip-roaring piece of reportage by Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden. Mr. Bowden, whose riveting account of Saddam’s terror regime appeared in the May issue of the same magazine, hung out for a while with the crew of the Air Force’s 391st Fighter Squadron, which flew 230 sorties over Afghanistan last year. His report is a snapshot or glimpse of 21st century warfare, of precision and endurance, of hilarity and thrill, of astonishment and grace. It is very simply journalism at its best. This magazine is a treasure.posted by Paul Cella | 2:07 PM |
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 |