Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
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:
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:
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:
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:
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,
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,
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.
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 |