Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, November 02, 2002  

Noah Millman dilates intelligently on the future of Turkey vis-à-vis the European Union:

Rather than taking a view on [EU] enlargement, America should be fostering stronger bi-lateral ties —- by trade-treaty and by military alliance —- with our key allies on the European periphery. My top three candidates, in order, for such a policy are Turkey, Britain and Poland. These countries are all still very good friends of America, are skeptical of surrendering their sovereignty to Brussels, and have strong martial cultures. If the EU objects to bi-lateral relationships between America and any of these three, that tells us something about the EU’s intentions. I have no doubt that, were the United States to offer to extend NAFTA to these three countries, the offer would be greeted with horror in Brussels but with interest in Ankara, London and Warsaw.

Our message to Turkey in particular needs to be: we are allies with all of Europe, but you are among our most important European allies. If our other allies don’t treat you well, remember that we do, and that we will do our best to compensate you for their disfavor, and to favor you over them in disputes when possible.

Turkey is the anchor of American security in the Middle East. The country is not consumed with hatred of America, has a constitution that is generally popular, and has geopolitical interests that dovetail with America’s. Losing Turkey would be absolute folly. We should not rely on Brussels to do our work for us in this regard.

Wise counsel, that. Of late there has been a flurry of serious thought on European-American relations (see the linked articles below), and I think this kind of seriousness reflects well on our country. Reassessment of this relationship has been a long time in coming, the abrupt end to the Cold War having fractured the whole geopolitical firmament. Mr. Millman remarks that the European Union continues to drift into a position almost structurally antagonistic to the United States. A grave danger to us is that this drift will persist until Europe, stronger and more independent of the U.S. both economically and militarily, will seek to bring more adamantly anti-American powers (China comes to mind, but Lord knows there are plenty of them) into its orbit. Steve Sailer has suggested, shrewdly, that a possible answer to this might involve expanding NATO to include Australia, Japan, and a few other friends, as a counterweight to the witless bureaucratic muddle over at the UN and, I would add, the EU. Mr. Millman’s alternative is intriguing as well.

It seems undeniable to me that it should remain a central if tacit element of American policy to encourage British independence from Europe. London is an order of magnitude more sympathetic to us than Brussels; it would be a severe blow if the former were to eventually subordinate itself to the latter, as the EU elites envision. Also, the lawlessness of North Korea has exposed the reality that a weakened and listless Japan weakens us. It makes little sense for us to assume the burden of defense for two prosperous and stable nations like Japan and South Korea; North Korean thuggery is their problem more than it is ours, and there is a certain incongruity bordering on absurdity when the United States finds itself in the position of being more hawkish toward a nuclear armed Pyongyang than either Tokyo or Seoul (Mr. Millman himself made a similar point here).

These, I fear, are the wages of Empire: by taking up the burden of responsibility for stability and order in regions of the world far, far from its home, America not only attracts resentment and paranoid fury from adversaries and enemies; it also emasculates the natural defensive inclinations of its friends. Now I hasten to add that it is hard to imagine how this Empire could have been avoided: America troops are stationed in places like Japan and South Korea precisely (as also, in Germany and the Middle East) because that is where the fighting stopped in wars few regard as illegitimate (with the possible exception of the Gulf War). Japan sealed its fate as an eventual American dependency the moment the bombs began falling on that bright Hawaiian morning in 1941; but the question is, For how long? Because sixty years on, quite inconveniently, we have an emasculated ally when we would like a vigorous one, jealous of its interests.

And there is another, more sinister reality highlighted by North Korea’s recent disclosure: the rush to acquire a nuclear deterrent against the United States. It was the Gulf War which really powered this trend, as assorted gangster regimes and tyrants stared in wide-eyed horror at the irresistible might of the American military. Security could only be had through achievement a doomsday arsenal. This is known as the “nuclear bee-sting” theory, although now we ought to call it reality.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:55 AM |

Friday, November 01, 2002  

There is this little story about the Somali immigrants in Lewiston, Maine, which is worth getting acquainted with for it concerns the future of the country. In an effort to escape the depredations of urban life in Atlanta, a community of Somali immigrants, after sending out emissaries to scout out various options across this great land, settled on Lewiston, population 36,000. This fall, Lewiston’s mayor wrote a letter to leaders of the Somali immigrants asking them to dissuade others from moving to his town. This was not taken well by the Somalis; nor by the national media, and predictably, there are a number of outside groups moving in to assist in a lawsuit. A Providence, Rhode Island, columnist has some thoughtful things to say about the whole row:

There are no real bad guys in the Lewiston story. The city’s long-time residents, nearly all white and Catholic, are not especially racist —- though one might expect them to notice a rapid influx of poor dark-skinned Muslims from Africa who don’t speak English. The Somalis moving to Lewiston tend to be hard-working. A good number go on welfare, but usually only for a short time before they land jobs. Their children tend to do well in American schools.

Thing is, Lewiston has no money to provide extensive social services to a population in need. It still has a college —- Bates College —- but the textile mills and shoe factories that once provided lots of jobs have pretty much left. The city lost 4,000 people in the last decade, leaving only 36,000. To avoid yet another round of property-tax hikes, Lewiston recently laid off 14 public workers.

[. . .] The city was trying. Lewiston’s welfare budget had quickly doubled to about $500,000, largely to serve the Somali newcomers. It will spend $236,000 this year hiring teachers to boost its English as a Second Language (ESL) program. City Hall has long posted signs offering translator services, and the city’s Web site has a Somali information page. Social workers help Somalis find apartments and obtain health care. Local volunteers teach them English.

Still, sadly, the strong social fabric that attracted Somali families to Lewiston in the first place risks being frayed. It would be naive to insist that Lewiston’s long-time residents are completely free of racial prejudice. And the mayor could certainly have chosen better words in some instances. In any case, Maine is full of close-knit communities where grievances are best aired gently.

Some of the Somalis said that they could understand the apprehension of old-timers being confronted by a very different culture. The tensions will surely ease, because, as was noted earlier, there are no real bad guys in the Lewiston story.

What’s bad is U.S. immigration policy. Rich suburbs don’t have to deal with the consequences of mass immigration —- poor immigrants can’t afford to move there. Lush communities may make use of the inexpensive labor of immigrants, but they don’t bear the burdens of educating their children, finding them jobs or supplying them with subsidized housing. All of that is left to dying mill towns, and that is unfair.

One might rewrite that last astute point to read: “What’s bad is that the U.S. has no immigration policy.” What we have instead is a sordid and outrageous Halloween bag full of corporate interest Snickers, ethnic lobby Smarties, and bureaucratic complacency Kit Kats. And the whole thing will bring nothing but rotten teeth and obesity.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:56 AM |

Thursday, October 31, 2002  

Harry Stein relates a gruesome tale of shrewd, practiced slander that will make your blood run cold. This is the bitter harvest of the climate of character assassination which has, for several decades now, suffused our politics, and which centers most prominently on judicial appointments.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:33 AM |

Everyone is linking to this little masterpiece, which, if there were justice in this world, would put to rest a whole bitter and ugly line of bullying-as-argument. Of course it won’t, but it’s fun to read.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:54 AM |

The airwaves are full of officious politicians droning on about education, and their pious concern for The Children. Here in Georgia, the incumbent governor assures us that while children may constitute only a small proportion of the population, “they are one hundred percent of our future.” Indeed. Other aspirants to positions as the people’s representatives vie publicly for the prize of who supports more vigorous state subsidy for university students; in other words, for inflated tuition. Meanwhile, in Colorado, where I was born and raised, a cheap and simple education reform with proven results is opposed by virtually every major elected official and savaged unremittingly by local media. Its opponents outspend supporters in advertising by a factor of around 20-to-1, and rely on bald-faced distortion. And still the beleaguered little reform clings to life in the polls.

The reform is a repeal of bilingual education; repeal on the eminently reasonable grounds that bilingual education generally produces nothing more than illiteracy in two languages, and robs children of the richness and beauty of English, without which they will (a) confront an almost insurmountable obstacle to success and (b) never develop an appreciation for language —- any language.

How many Spanish-speaking children will our governing class cast complacently away in facile propitiation of the gods of multiculturalism? It is difficult to imagine a more destructive policy than bilingual education. Public schools have had great difficulty discharging even the basic responsibility of teaching competency in a single language. What perversion of reason and intellect it takes to respond such difficulty by assigning responsibility for an additional language, I cannot fathom.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:46 AM |

Saturday, October 26, 2002  

James Bowman looks at the media’s coverage of the D.C. sniper and concludes with this rousing observation:

Terrorism is called so not because it kills people but because all the people it doesn’t kill are expected to panic at the thought that they may be next. This suggests that the only way to defeat terrorism is by the manly refusal to change any habits, or to admit to fear because some pathetic nonentity like John Allen Muhammad, or Mohamed Atta, wants us to as part of a media-aided demonstration to himself that he is not a pathetic nonentity. Of course it would be too much to expect the press to leave off its endless emotion-mongering and join in this noble resistance.

There were twenty-four “traditional homicides” in the Washington area during the three weeks of the sniper’s terror; few seem particularly agitated by those crimes. I think the social psychologists would call this a rather stark example of the “availability bias” . . . or something like that. Relatedly, Christopher Caldwell and guitarist, soingwriter, and editor Dave Shiflett both remark the shameful level of panic this episode produced.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:12 AM |

Thursday, October 24, 2002  

I am going to reprint, with unqualified endorsement, these eloquent words written by Chris Badeaux:

To any Australian readers of this blog (from what my stats tell me, I get a few from time to time): I am deeply sorry for what has happened to you. I appreciate the scope of what has happened, and I know that a large part of why it happened is because you stood by my nation in our time of need. I thank you for that, and for your other numerous sacrifices. I apologize for my moral and intellectual laziness, in your hour of need. I apologize, too, for not explicitly saying what should have been said, by myself and the talking heads infesting my nation’s airwaves: We grieve for you; we are with you; now let’s go rip those buggers apart.

I am but one man, yet I promise you this: I am now an American who makes our good relations with Australia a vital component of my voting philosophy. I am also a man who makes retaliation (yes, I just used the dreaded “r” word) against the barbarians who slaughtered your citizens, explicitly for what happened at Bali, a vital component of my voting philosophy. I am, too, a man who swears this: If I ever attain Federal elective office, I will always remember Australia’s sacrifice, and friendship.

So thank you again, and again, I grieve for you and yours.

Now let’s roll.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:39 PM |

The Seattle Times is reporting that the two suspects in the D.C. sniper case “may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments.” It goes on:

Both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States, the sources said. But neither man was believed to be associated with the al-Qaida terrorist network, sources said.

Update: How long exactly is the television media going to persist in talking about this as traditional serial murder? Why so firmly resist speculating on perhaps the most compelling connection —- Islamic terrorism —- which links this to the broader story of the last year? Well, we know the answer to that: the mind-numbing ideology of multiculturalism. Mark Steyn made a similar point three days ago:

We do know one thing, though: Whether or not it’s Islamic terrorism, it’s terrorism. As The New York Times reported, “He seems to be killing to create public fear rather than to settle a grudge or inflict pain on his victims. ‘I’ve just never seen a serial killer whose motivation seems to be to create terror in the community rather than to see his individual victims suffer,’ said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston who has written books on serial killers.” He’s never seen a serial killer do that because that’s not what serial killers do: It’s what terrorists do. If TV’s round-the-clock psychological profiling by the experts on troubled loners seems weirdly mismatched, it’s because it’s like bringing in the tennis commentators to do the Stanley Cup.

Once again we are done a disservice by the supposedly hard-headed journalists of our media becoming pliant and tremulous before this insidious intellectual strait-jacket. Pathetic.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:18 AM |

Few disputes have risen to the level of convoluted rancor as the question of Pope Pius XII, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holocaust. I dare not plunge into it here, as I am hampered by incomplete knowledge, though I am persuaded that the more vitriolic attacks on Pius, are, well, unpersuasive, to say the least; but I want to cite J. Bottum’s keen and provocative prediction about an upcoming book by the most vitriolic of the vitriolic, Daniel Goldhagen —- a man who, at base, seems to regard the Catholic Church as indistinguishable from organized anti-Semitism. Mr. Bottum writes,

As I say, no one is going to have trouble finding Goldhagen’s mistakes. And that’s exactly the problem. By writing such an error-filled, anti-Catholic diatribe as A Moral Reckoning, Goldhagen makes what used to be the extreme of public discourse look like middle ground —- the middle ground that, on any historical question, most of diffident, well-mannered America wants to inhabit [. . .]

For Garry Wills, James Carroll, and John Cornwell —- all under considerable attack for their anti-Catholic Catholicism —- no gift could be more timely. A prediction for the coming weeks: All these authors will review Goldhagen’s book, and all of them will trash it —- while using it along precisely the lines I suggest. Poor Danny Goldhagen. He’s going to be beat up one side and down the other; his natural opponents attacking him and his natural allies joining in.

A worthwhile prediction, I’ll wager.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:08 AM |

Wednesday, October 23, 2002  

Here is a sober and valuable admonishment, courtesy of Mark Steyn. Go read it. (Thanks to Joyful Christian for pointing it out.)

posted by Paul Cella | 10:43 PM |

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written and promulgated scarcely a month before the Declaration of Independence, pronounces some principles that are well-recognizable to anyone familiar with the latter document (at least, the famous second paragraph of the latter document). It also articulates, in Section 15, a principle we seem largely to have forgotten, de-emphasized, or elided over briskly; a principle which strikes at the heart of today’s popular conceptions about political philosophy (such as they are). “No free government,” the document asserts, “or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” There you have it: free government is impossible for a people not governed privately by virtue; and what’s more, we can amply assume from our historical knowledge of colonial America, by Christian virtue. As if to underscore this, Section 16 of the same document, the final section, concludes, “It is the duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.”

The duty of all. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, after announcing a series of rights not at all unlike what is later asserted by the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, nevertheless concludes with an unequivocal statement of duty; indeed, “the duty we owe our Creator.”

This is difficult to square with the convention wisdom about American political philosophy; indeed it calls for reinterpretation. While I cannot hope to justly summarize his lucid and spellbinding logic, the political philosopher Willmoore Kendall offered such a reinterpretation. He taught that there is a genuine and authoritative American political tradition, not wholly dependent on the English tradition as the great Irishman Edmund Burke believed, but singular and comprehensive by its own lights —- a tradition which has, remarkably, hardly been given its due respect. This tradition posits a system of fundamental legislative supremacy, to which the language of “rights,” inhering to individuals against the power of the legislature, is basically alien. Rights are of course important within the American tradition, but they are not conceived as abstract things, declared with flourish and adamantine absoluteness, as the Declaration of Independence (again, at least its second paragraph) is usually interpreted to do; rather, they are conceived as the ends of good government, the ends of “our better Ordering,” as the Mayflower Compact puts it. Yes, men have rights, the American political tradition maintains, but our concern —- an eminently practical one —- is how those rights are to be secured. Publius spoke with a certain disdain in The Federalist about “mere parchment” barriers as a guard against “a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.” What good is it to assert the rights of man against the state if you do not concurrently take up the task of how to concretely protect those rights? To this latter task, the American political tradition sets itself.

The answer developed by this tradition, our tradition, is a system of government predicated decisively on legislative supremacy —- a system of self-government articulated through the work of the people’s representatives, sitting in deliberative assemblies, duly elected and accountable, but not irretrievably tethered to public opinion. “A man’s legal rights are,” Kendall writes, “in general, the rights vouchsafed to him by the representative assembly —- which, like the Lord of the Scriptures, giveth and taketh away.” There is a recourse to reality here unheard of in the philosophy of abstract “rights,” according to which reality rights cannot exist outside of someone —- a government —- securing them. There is no weapon or instrument with which a man in isolation can defend himself against the encroachment of tyranny —- except the instrument of good and just government, which the American Framers, and their tradition, endeavor to work out as best as can be expected by honest men in a fallen world. We seek to work out, say the geniuses of the American tradition, a structure for good government, for “better ordering,” because there is no other practical way of securing the rights we deem to be “self-evident.” It would be nice if we could just assert those rights and they would henceforth be protected, but we know the world does not operate that way.

And I think, with Willmoore Kendall and his collaborator George W. Carey, that it is worth emphasizing the salient element of humility which is demonstrated even in the language of the Declaration of Independence, despite its being so often remarked for its boldness. The Declaration identifies one of the “Rights of the People” —- note the collective, as against the individualized, formulation —- as that of instituting a “new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” [emphasis added]. Several distinct qualifiers, each of which weakens the force of its meaning, mark this statement. There is no guarantee proffered or expectation held out that the government to be instituted will unambiguously result in Safety and Happiness; there is only something thoroughly less ambitious and more realistic than that. The statement reflects that same circumspection so famously expressed by Ben Franklin when he was asked what the Philadelphia Convention had granted the people of America: “a republic, if you can keep it.”

But here is the kicker: The power of the legislature is not in final point of principle, absolute. No indeed: The function, Kendall teaches, of our indispensable political documents, in their “most solemn moments,” constituting as they do a coherent political tradition,

is to establish the standards which tell us (a) the representative assembly is supreme . . . in the sense that no other political authority can challenge or gainsay it; but (b) its supremacy, its right or power, is simultaneous with its obligation to subordinate itself to standards not of its own making —- standards embodying . . . the truth of the soul and of society as that truth has been made known to us by the great philosophers from whom [the documents draw their] vocabulary.

A long, complication thought, but an absolutely crucial one, which is where I seize again on my original point extracted from the Virginia Declaration: Good government, and through its operation, a free people, is not possible absent the consensual subjugation of said people to the dictates of virtue. Put another way, no people can rightly expect to live under public self-government, under democracy, without submitting itself to private self-government in the form of discipline and self-denial, which must be understood in the philosophic and religious traditions of virtue enunciated across the centuries of Western thought. Willmoore Kendall condensed this idea into one resonant phrase: “We, the virtuous people.”

Here, out of all the many lapses and deviations from our political inheritance, is, I think, the greatest and the gravest. For here we have commenced to overturn the philosophy of the American political tradition and replaced it with very nearly its opposite. We understand freedom as grounded not in self-denial, but self-indulgence; we repudiate the very idea of virtue, and in its place assert “values” and something called “self-esteem”; we have dissolved the bonds that bind public probity and private virtue; we admit no duty owed our Creator and recognize the Christian duties of man to his fellow man in only a profoundly emasculated form. These trends have advanced so far as to leave Kendall’s teaching with an almost quaint air about it; who will champion old fashion virtue in this the MTV age? Who, further, will assert it as the foundation of our political genius? It recalls that Chesterton line I have quoted before: “Defending any of the cardinal virtues now has all the exhilaration of a vice.” Or again: “The Christian philosophy has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Some more “surface-effect” political trends have also driven against spirit of the American tradition. Congress, the highest legislative body, could hardly be pliant and resistless in the face of encroachment from the other branches; and where it does retain strength, it squanders it on ephemeral calculations of short-term selfish gain. Moreover, it connives at many points to reduce the sacred role of the people in selecting their representatives, as we see with the gerrymandering of House districts, which leaves all but about 30 races utterly uncompetitive; so that less than 10% of the population ultimately determines the make-up of the Lower House of Congress. The courts regularly overturn duly enacted law, based on the thinnest of constitutional reeds, and Congress demurs in retaliating, even though the instruments for retaliation and renovation are written into the Constitution itself (Article III, Section 2): “In all other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make” [emphasis added]. In addition to this rather plain statement, there is the impeachment tool, given to Congress with little qualification, and expected, by the authors of The Federalist, for example, to be used regularly enough to cow the judiciary. It would do our politics great benefit, I think, to have judges and officials more routinely impeached, not on account of scandal or corruption (though of course that is reason enough for impeachment) but merely on account of abuse of interpretive or administrative powers.

One wonders, plaintively, whether our loss stands beyond retrieval; and our tradition a fading dream of brilliant men whose penetrating appraisal of the decadence of mankind has been well and truly vindicated. Perhaps the legendary rift between Adams, the realist, the “ordered liberty” man, and Jefferson, the utopian and enthusiast of the French Revolution, captures or personifies the tragic elements of this. For so long it was Jefferson (or Jefferson manqué) who cast his spell —- the seductive spell of abstract rights but little consideration of how they are to be protected —- over the minds of American political scientists, and John Adams who languished in obscurity. But what then are we to make of Adams’ recent and spectacular revival? Hope springs eternal.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:24 AM |

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.

An enormous amount is at stake here. [No kidding] “Athens” stands for the view that truth is discovered through intellect. “Jerusalem” stands for the view that truth is delivered through the insights of recognized genius. “Athens” stands for cognition, philosophy, and science. “Jerusalem” stands for the spiritual aspiration to holiness, or purity of soul.

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.

Athens and Jerusalem are at the core of Western Being —- not Confucius, not Buddha, certainly not Mohammed, nor the Aztecs and Incas. And it is the tension between Athens and Jerusalem that generates the peculiar and powerful energy of the West. There is tension between the goal of knowing through intellect, and the goal of spiritual aspiration to holiness. They are not incompatible, but they are not altogether compatible either. Off at the edge, do we place our final be on intellect or on inspired insight that has been confirmed by experience? Both have claims. There are immensely powerful intensities behind who we actually are. And they are unique in human history.

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.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the “spokesman” [for the Times] expects us to take on trust that the newspaper “took appropriate steps” to make sure that its disclosure of classified information was responsible —- otherwise, why did he not spell out what those steps were, who took them, the evidence he gathered, and the reasoning by which he reached his conclusions? —- while the whole point of the disclosure was that the paper itself takes nothing on trust from a democratically elected government? If the people’s representatives say that it is dangerous that a piece of information should be made public, there is no question of accepting their claim without independent confirmation, whereas if the unelected and unrepresentative New York Times says that it is not dangerous we are expected to accept that claim implicitly.

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:

There have been countless tyrants, political demagogues, military conquerors and racial bigots, and there will be many more. What made Hitler different in kind from traditional despots was his embrace of scientific modernity, as he understood it. Like his fellow revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and Stalin and Mao, Hitler was no mere gangster, but a deluded visionary who believed he was furthering human progress by drawing on the latest in scientific thought. Of course, Hitlerian racial science was as bogus as Marxist-Leninist economics and sociology. But its essential modernity was captured by Winston Churchill in his speech of June 18, 1940, when he warned of “a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

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.

Mill had written that compulsion is justifiable in society only until the “time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.” [And Mill’s theory was that the age of discussion had arrived, that power could now be distributed collectively] Was there ever a time, asks Stephen, at which no man could be improved by discussion? Are not even savages improved by discussion, and do they not employ it? But every previous society has found it necessary to reinforce discussion by the buttress of force, and our age cannot afford to dispense with this prop to order. “No such period has as yet been reached anywhere, and there is no prospect of its being reached anywhere within any assignable time.” Let us be candid: force (or the potentiality of it) is, if anything, more influential in our own time than in previous ages. Lincoln employed a force which would have crushed Charlemagne and his peers like so many eggshells. “To say that the law of force is abandoned because force is regular, unopposed, and beneficially exercised, is to say that night and day are now such well-established institutions that the sun and moon are mere superfluities.” Through their armies, their police, and their means of rapid communication, modern states are supported by a potential force more promptly and effectively, in case of need, than ever before. The comparative orderliness of our society is the product not of logic-chopping and diffident persuasion, but of this reservoir of force.

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.

To ignore the role of force, as Mill does, is to expose society to the contagion of a ravaging sickness. For the mass of men require restraint; they cannot adequately curb their own passions or their own sloth, and so must be compelled to acknowledge the suzerainty of law, which is sanctioned by force. “Estimate the proportion of men and women who are selfish, sensual, frivolous, idle, absolutely commonplace and wrapped up in the smallest of petty routines, and consider how far the freest of free discussion is likely to improve them. They only way by which it is practically possible to act upon them at all is by compulsion or restraint . . . It would be as wise to say to the water of a stagnant marsh, ‘Why in the world do you not run to the sea? You are perfectly free.’” This is not all. Nature, abhorring a vacuum, always supplies force to fill any conspicuous cavity in society, and if the state abandons its sacred function of directing social force into the service of law, then new groups and agencies will seize the opportunity to use force for their own ends, subverting law and state —- indeed, perhaps creating a new state governed by themselves upon the ashes of the preceding state which forgot its own function.

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:

“Poll Says Bush Needs to Pay Heed to Weak Economy,” written up by Times correspondents Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, and awarded pride of place —- the front-page lede —- in yesterday morning’s edition, isn’t just slanted (or misleading or imbalanced or overstated or any other word commonly applied to such things). The story is an outright fraud, a falsehood, a work of fiction.

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:

The face of the occupying force will matter not just in Iraq’s cities but also on its borders. Whoever controls Iraq will need to station forces along its most vulnerable frontier —- the long flank with Iran, where at least half a million soldiers died during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. The Iranians will notice any U.S. presence on the border. “As an occupying power, we will be responsible for the territorial integrity of the Iraqi state,” says Charles William Maynes, of the Eurasia Foundation. “That means we will have to move our troops to the border with Iran. At that point Iran becomes our permanent enemy.”

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:

It has also emerged that Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, has been active behind the scenes, helping the Iraqis frame and phrase both of the diplomatic stunts that have subverted the U.S. and British diplomatic effort. He helped the Iraqis write the letter on Sept. 16, deceitfully offering “inspections without conditions,” and has since kept them informed of diplomatic developments, helping them time their second intervention, in which they anticipated and rejected the proposed U.S. resolution draft. The U.S. State Department has the documentation on this . . .

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 |
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