Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Saturday, December 14, 2002  

A blogger’s demurral: Below I called Senator Trent Lott a fool. I stand by that judgment, but I must part ranks with most of my fellow right-wing bloggers as they plow ahead with this endeavor, which has taken on a dismaying level of hysteria. I have no affection for Lott, to be sure, but this thing was hardly a story before right-wing pundits started ranting and raving. The question strikes me: do the more vociferous critics believe that Mr. Lott should step down simply because they think him a weak leader, as many seem to suggest, or rather because his statements were too offensive to countenance? If it is merely the former, ought there not be a traditional party leadership challenge without the expedient of all this racial self-righteousness, which does no one any good? Lott’s statements were unquestionably stupid, and they may have contained a certain subtext, as, for example, Peggy Noonan observes, that will be interpreted in an expected way by particular people; but why are National Review, Andrew Sullivan, et al., lending heft to racialist political correctness so as to remove a disliked politician? It seems a very perilous sort of cynicism to me.

On the other hand, a great many people sincerely believe that this kind of statement is, as it were, beyond the pale, principally because it reflects a racist heart. If Lott is indeed a racist, then he should go; that is true. But if he is not, if he is merely a fool —- injudicious with his words and in his associations —- than are we not amplifying some of the trends we so often, and rightly, decry? Namely, that certain thoughts are crimes; that public “insensitivity” is a grave crime; and that to commit such a crime is to anathematize oneself.

Let me say again: Trent Lott said an astonishingly dumb thing, an appalling thing; but unless we really do believe that his words reflect his heart, that is, reflect the fact that he is a racist, then I don’t see how we can justify his ouster on political grounds. I would welcome a challenge to Lott’s leadership from within the GOP ranks —- from Bill Frist or Mitch MCConnell —- but ought we not think twice about giving our imprimatur to what it is difficult to describe without the use of words like hysteria and witch hunt and inquisition?

If Sen. Lott must go, then it seems to me that it must be done by a leadership challenge from within the party, not by a media-inspired wave of mass hysteria.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:49 AM |

Thursday, December 12, 2002  

Writing for The American Prowler, George Neumayr is frank about his impatience with a certain tendency to whitewash comfortable facts. He addresses a column penned by Mr. Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council objecting to characterizations by non-Muslims of Islam as a “violent faith.”

But what if Muslims themselves define Islam as violent? Does he object to that? After all, powerful Muslim clerics schooled in the Koran have reached the same conclusion as the non-experts Al-Marayati criticizes: Islam authorizes violent jihad against the infidel. Are these Koranic experts wrong? Are they Muslim heretics? Or are the Muslim heretics those who would explain away the Koran's call for jihad?

Most Muslim clerics say that militant Islam is orthodox Islam. Are they wrong? To say Islam is nonmilitant is to say that most Muslims don’t understand their own faith. Herein lies a form of Western arrogance Muslims should consider the most offensive. The chatter about “reforming Islam” is nothing more than a liberal exhortation for Muslims to abandon their religion. By “reforming Islam,” liberal westerners mean taking Islam out of Islam and replacing it with liberalism.

Many of the same people who call Islam a religion of peace also call for a reform of Islam. Which raises the question: Why does it need to be reformed if it is peaceful? What they are really saying then is, “Islam should be a religion of peace and we will make it so.” Liberals seek to remake Islam in their own image, just as they have been trying to pressure Catholicism and traditional Judaism into exchanging their doctrines for political correctness.

It’s a good essay Mr. Neumayr has produced. Hard truths are in it; truths most are deeply reluctant to face down and assimilate, despite the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:53 AM |

There are solid reasons why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is among the most admirable men in public life. One of those is his deadpan wit, so often deployed in the service of a bracing candor. In an interview for CNN, Mr. Rumsfeld, stone-faced, contributed this epigrammatic reply to a question about anti-Americanism: “I’ve always understood that people have different views. But I’m very comfortable with the idea that it’s not a good thing for people to think they can go around murdering thousands of innocent men, women and children. And to the extent that’s being taught, to the extent that’s believed, to the extent that’s being implemented I’ll be opposed to it.” To the extent that people murder innocents, “I’ll be opposed it.” A classic Rumsfeldism.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:08 AM |

“It is a fact,” muses David Frum in his Diary, “that people with segregationist backgrounds found their way into the Republican party in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also a fact that people with communist and fellow-traveling backgrounds made their way into the Democratic party at the same time.” With those two facts in hand, we are offered one proposal: “We Republicans will continue to demand that our leaders publicly denounce segregation and racial discrimination, if Democrats will begin to demand that their leaders publicly repudiate fellow-traveling and appeasement.”

It’s a splendid deal, but I, for one, will not hold my breath for consummation.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:10 AM |

“Freedom is in the long run inconsistent with freedom.” So says Fred Reed with his usual provocativeness, hilarity, and independence. This his conclusion after sketching out the slow-motion decay of liberty into bondage —- bondage, albeit, of a distinctly modern variety, but bondage nonetheless.

And so the rural character-filled county becomes another squishy suburb of pallid yups who can’t put air in their own tires. The rugged rural individualists become cogs in somebody else’s wheel. Their children grow up as libidinous mall monkeys drugging themselves to escape boredom. The county itself is a hideous expanse of garish low-end development. People’s lives are run from afar.

What it comes to is that the self-reliant yeoman’s inalienable right to dispose of his property as he sees fit (which I do not dispute) will generally lead to a developer’s possession of it. The inalienable right to reproduce will result in crowding, which leads to dependency, intrusive government, and loss of local control.

I’d like to live again in [the yeoman’s] world. Unfortunately it is self-eliminating. Freedom is in the long run inconsistent with freedom, because it is inevitably exercised in ways that engender control. As a species, we just can’t keep our pants up. But it was nice for a while.

I am tempted to say that this is, in microcosm, the trajectory of modernity: the allure of security achieved by the subtle, gradual obliteration of liberty is too strong, and Man’s love of independence and freedom too weak. The strenuous life appeals largely in abstract; the pampered life dominates reality. (Thanks to Steve Sailer for pointing out this essay.)

posted by Paul Cella | 1:09 AM |

Wednesday, December 11, 2002  

Arguing for the merit of unification between the neighboring, and newly-independent, states, Publius in The Federalist affirms:

If these states should be either wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, who can seriously doubt that the subdivisions into which they might be thrown, would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests, as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.

There is in the tone of that huge and solemn document of practical political philosophy a prevalent air of moral realism; an unflagging appeal to the gritty “accumulated experience of ages” which strikes the modern reader as mildly discordant. Not so much because of the substance of the realism, or even because of the many cited examples now obscure to our ears, from the Peloponnesian War to the Venetian commercial republic; but more because of the ease and facility with which Publius turns to this device and rests his arguments on the foundation of a darkened and untrustworthy world. For him, nothing could be more obvious than that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” He goes on,

Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, the weaknesses, and the evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?

Not merely the “foolish” or “illusory” dream of a coming age of “perfect wisdom and perfect virtue,” but verily the “deceitful dream”! At times The Federalist reads almost like a hardheaded set of prescriptions for assimilating the Fall into human political institutions, which, to a certain broad and unfashionable way of thinking, the Constitution, and Publius’s once-dominant interpretation of it, in fact is. There was little doubt in the minds of the men who framed the political institutions of this country that Man is a fallen creature —- that he is a creature of pride and avarice and lusts and envies and moral vulnerabilities, which power only tends to exacerbate.

And therefore it should come to us as no large surprise that modern liberals quietly despise The Federalist, disdain to adduce it, though they dare not disparage so revered an essay publicly; and neither that university students hardly even read it anymore, not, at least, in its totality; for its pages were infused with a serene but lucid and resolute, perhaps even irrefutable, repudiation of the “progressive” worldview of ideological liberalism. I speak of that worldview which conceives, complacently or implacably, of human nature as readily malleable by directed political action; for this sort of “Utopian speculation” Publius has no patience. And his brilliance in coldly dismantling its incontinent assumptions; his sly importunate appeals to logic and history and humane intellect, drawing the reader along gradually to the inevitable conclusion —- his genius of argument is simply unpalatable to the modern liberal imagination.

But note well that only a man tone-deaf to political affections and the attachments of tradition and spirit would openly take on so venerated a thing as The Federalist. It cannot be sneered at or denigrated brazenly without the author of the sneer risking self-marginalization, even at this late date. Instead, it must be ignored, and subtly deprecated as mere “propaganda” which aimed at convincing the American people of the merit of ratifying the proposed Constitution. That is how most history books treat The Federalist; but rarely do they acknowledge, for example, that ratification was “in the bag,” so to speak, before the bulk of the essays which comprise the text were composed or published. And this is because, of course, the authors who wrote under the pen name Publius (note also how rarely anyone refers to the author as such, but rather as the three individual writers: Hamilton, Madison and Jay; this, we might dare to imagine, to assist the dismemberment of what is in point of fact a complete and coherent whole) were aiming not at persuading Americans to do a thing which they had already solemnly resolved to do, but rather at initiating, and guiding, the nascent process of interpretation of the soon-to-be ratified Constitution. Guide it he did. I think it was Willmoore Kendall who wrote that, so potent was the force of his interpretation, it is actually “Publius’s Constitution” that we address ourselves to (to the extent, of course, that we actually address it).

Publius’s contribution was unparalleled, and we should be thankful for it —- not least because of its steadfast grounding in moral realism.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:32 AM |

Tuesday, December 10, 2002  

Trent Lott is a fool. Noah Millman has perhaps the definitive summary of his foolishness. Tacitus muses cogently about the souls of the modern American political parties. Meanwhile, Ben Domenech takes a more detached and philosophical view of the matter, and concludes with this thoughful comment:

I think what Thurmond and Lott illustrate, to great degree, is that Walker Percy was right when he wrote to the effect that the chief problems in modern race relations were not in the South, but the North. The South, Percy argued, has recognized its problem, shed blood over it, and come through scarred, yet wiser. The North, on the other hand, never recognized it had a problem in the first place.

The problem with what Trent Lott said wasn’t just that it implied support for segregation. It's that his comment was a dumb, rude, Yankee-style mistake. The South isn’t willing to tolerate either.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:36 PM |

Saturday, December 07, 2002  

John J. Miller pens an astute little column on The Lord of the Rings.

Christians have been good at appropriating pagan traditions for their own ends--scheduling Christmas and Easter on pagan holidays, for instance. Tolkien moves in the reverse direction, taking Christian values and pouring them into a pagan world. His heroes aren’t Christians because the truth of Christianity hasn’t been revealed to them. But they do have inklings of it, as when Aragorn ponders mortality: “We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

posted by Paul Cella | 5:04 AM |

In a recent issue of National Review, the assiduous Ramesh Ponnuru contributes an admirable essay (not online) on the estate tax, which he rightly identifies as a source of “more withering scorn” than any other single element of the Bush administration’s policies.

Liberals underestimate the cost of the estate tax by looking only at the 2 percent of estates that pay it. The tax generates costs for non-payers too. It’s a major source of complexity in the tax code. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that 40 percent of its members have spent more than $100,000 each on estate-tax planning. The complexity of the tax also means that it is levied less on the basis of the size of a man’s estate than on the shrewdness of his planners. In the late 1990s, estates worth between $2.5 and $5 million dollars that paid the tax actually paid a higher average tax rate than estates worth more than $20 million that paid [. . .]

Is the estate tax nevertheless necessary to raise funds for the federal government? No. The estate tax brought in $26.5 billion —- around 1.4 percent of federal revenues —- last year. And that’s an overestimate. In the 1980s, Stanford economist B. Douglas Bernheim concluded that because of its wealth-destroying effects, the estate tax probably caused federal revenues to be lower than they would be without the tax. Needless to say, the pro-tax pundits do not grapple with the possibility that the estate tax is revenue loser.

I would add something Mr. Ponnuru does not say explicitly: The estate tax is a rather ruthless assault on property rights. Every cent taxed under it has already been taxed at least once, and probably two and three times —- as personal income, as corporate income, as dividend, or as a capital gain. It forces the most enterprising, the most frugal, the most energetic among us into severe contortions merely to pass on the fruits of their hard work and industry to their heirs; and it invades their privacy to do so. It has always been a puzzle to witness all the clamor for a vaguely-articulated “right to privacy” vanish like so much mist when the discussion turns to personal property. The privacy advocates seem little distressed by the annual intrusion of the IRS into the private life of every income-earning American. The estate tax is state-sponsored confiscation; and it is difficult to see how anything other than plain dreary envy motivates it. Perhaps plain dreary inertia also contributes. Opposition to it, by and large, is based on principle, not avarice.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:46 AM |

Thursday, December 05, 2002  

Recently Jay Nordlinger, whose rip-roaring little blogcolumn “Impromptus” is one of the highlights of the internet, gently admonished the President, recommending that he emphasize the self-defense aspect of the war against Saddam’s “cockroach regime” (that is John Derbyshire’s pungent appellation) more routinely. Mr. Nordlinger is surely right; indeed, I would go farther and say that it is precisely the question self-defense that makes our efforts just or unjust: not the machinations of international bureaucracies engorged on ideology and pseudo-authority, or the violations committed against treaties emanating from those selfsame bureaucracies. These things have their place, to be sure, but not in the question of the justice of war.

And here I think we touch on a tremendous and irreducible principle routinely overlooked in the frenzy of immediate commentary and discussion: that of the practical reason why defensive war is just (I speak here without a mind to plunge into the vast and radiant philosophical and theological literature on just war theory; merely on the practical level). We hear with mind-numbing frequency and in wearisome volume these days about the objective evil of war, how it brings only destruction and death and misery. Now only a fool would deny that war contains evil, even thrives on evil; but the latter statement can only be regarded as true through a kind of lobotomizing of the intellect, through a process of staring feverishly, so to speak, at Night without thinking even for a moment of Day, of taking to the streets about the blackness of Black without acknowledging the equally remarkable and true whiteness of White.

For in a very real sense, war waged in self-defense is not destructive; it is resistance to destruction, maybe even in a way the opposite of destruction. When America took up arms against the Nazis, and later, in less comprehensive ways, against the Communists, she did so to deliver herself and the world specifically from destruction. Much was destroyed, yes —- so that all might be saved. It is therefore inaccurate in a deep and ineradicable way to conceive of warfare as exclusively, that is, always and everywhere, a negative phenomenon. None can say sensibly that the Second World War was a good thing, or that it did not produce horrible destruction; but once the Nazis (and the Communists) had begun their march across the land, their bloody trail of dismemberment and genocide, it was incumbent upon those of responsible moral imagination to act to stop them, and to not recoil from what was necessary to escape from final destruction of a Christian civilization, which is of course what the Nazis and Communists had in mind.

To look only at what war destroys and not at what it saves is to crudely flatten the moral life of man; it is to sacrifice past and future to the a sort of idolatry of the Present Moment; it is to hoard like the miser those things reckoned most vital and precious at the expense of all those others things from which the vital and the precious spring. We might best call it a monomania; an idolatry, yes, which in its natural state or rank in the order of things is well and good, but which elevated to the exclusion of everything else becomes perverse and debilitating and, finally, lethal.

A man accosts me on the street with a weapon and in a moment of bloodlust or fear, resolves to strike me dead; but, lucky for me, a second man intervenes and saves my life; and his intervention, swift and sure, leaves my attacker dead. Here my rescuer has destroyed human life; he is, in the narrow sense promulgated by the monomaniacs, a killer; but he is also, when we broaden our vision to include things left undone as well as those done, a savior. My life is no less real than the life of my attacker; what is saved is no less real, therefore, than what is lost.

I write this not as a deliberate case for favoring war against the Iraqi regime, for opponents in that endeavor would simply reply that such a war is not just because it is not defensive. But there is this spiritually-enervated but bombastic pacifism loose among us —- a kind of glib and veiled moralizing which, as I say, takes into consideration only one side of the ledger and stubbornly scorns the other: That is my target with this discursive, derived polemic. I let it stand with all its own inadequacies, for I do think that it drives at an important point.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:00 AM |

Planned Parenthood has once again incensed those brave enough to speak for the most disdained and voiceless of classes: the unborn. Their Christmas card this year reads, “Choice on Earth,” which, to put in the most mild of terms, is in miserably poor taste; in stronger terms it is a deliberate affront to the world’s largest religion on one of its most holy days —- the kind of affront that no proper-thinking liberal would countenance with regard to, say, Islam or Wicca. Ben Domenech makes a shrewd point on this:

Just to keep this in perspective: Planned Parenthood receives approximately $60 million in government grants and contracts from the federal government each year, as well as additional public funding from states and localities. At the same time, their PAC —- the Planned Parenthood Action Fund —- spends millions of dollars on TV ads each election year against pro-life candidates. They spent $1.2 million in Illinois alone this cycle.

That’s nothing short of a special interest money laundering scheme, taking funds from the government to subsidize the organization while redirecting private funds from the local clinics to the issue advocates at the PAC. It must be stopped. And with Republicans in charge of the House and Senate, there’s no reason it can’t be.

So what say you, boys?

posted by Paul Cella | 6:23 AM |

How about some mid-week edification? The Claremont Institute reprints a commanding essay by Thomas G. West which compares two of the true giants in political philosophy today: Harvey Manfield and Harry Jaffa. Their debate? The vast and tremendous subjects of Equality, Self-Government and the American Founding. (Thanks to Kevin Holtsberry for discovering this one.)

posted by Paul Cella | 2:51 AM |

Wednesday, December 04, 2002  

Stephen Schwartz has some sharp questions for the Saudi spin doctors. A sample:

8. If, as [Saudi foreign-policy advisor] Adel al-Jubeir claims, “we have not found a direct link between charity groups and terrorism,” why is it that the Muslim government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with much smaller resources, found such links and completely shut down the Saudi-based charities so involved? Al-Jubeir has the nerve to claim that Bosnian branches of Islamoterrorist charities had nothing to do with their Saudi home offices, as if the Bosnians started this activity on their own. The Bosnians are poor and have no charity to dispense. They never supported Wahhabism. The attempt to divorce Saudi-Wahhabi charities in Bosnia from their Saudi origin is absurd. So is the claim al-Jubeir has made that the Bosnian charities were busted thanks to the Saudis. It was the Bosnians who busted the Saudi terror charities, not vice versa.

Don’t hold your breath for any real answers.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:11 PM |

John DiIulio’s letter to Esquire magazine makes for interesting reading. Mr. DiIulio was the Bush administration’s policy expert on faith-based initiatives, and in this memorandum he has warm praise and sharp criticism alike for the President and his men. His basic frustration is that the Bush White House favors public relations at the expense of policy; that it is driven too much by polls and posturing, and often gives only shallow and incomplete deliberation and discussion to the complicated intricacies of public policy questions.

The memo has provoked a tempest of commentary and debate in the blogosphere, some of it a bit unfair or dismissive, some of it remarkably supple and intriguing. I’m not going to delve into this deeply, in part because so much that I would say has already been said [Ed: Has that ever stopped you before? No, but . . . oh, hell.], in part because Mr. DiIulio seems to have backed away from much of the thing.

But I do want to say that I admire and respect John DiIulio as a writer and a thinker. I have read his work for years, in First Things, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. Never have I read an essay by him that was uninteresting or unserious; many have been memorable and personally influential. I hope this does not harm him permanently.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:16 AM |

Monday, December 02, 2002  

The ongoing scandal of Saudi support and succor for Islamofascists coupled with American support and succor for Saudi deceivers grates on the patience of honorable people. The newest revelations, and the attendant sycophancy of US officials, induce even stalwart friends of the Bush administration like Mark Steyn (glittering from the pages of a new website) to question its seriousness about protecting those whom it has been entrusted to protect.

The Saudi embassy say they’ve only received queries about this matter from the media, not from the FBI. Odd that. The federal government claims it needs vast new powers to track every single credit-card transaction and every single email of every single American, yet a prima facie link between the terrorists and [Saudi Ambassador] Prince Bandar’s wife isn’t worth going over to the embassy to have a little chat about. I doubt very much whether Princess Haifa is deliberately bankrolling al-Qa’eda, but I’m not so sure one could make the same confident claims of those embassy staffers running the begging letters past her. And, even if their hands are clean, the widespread support for Osama among Saudis at home and abroad means it’s only a degree or two of separation from hardcore terrorists via their supporters to the Saudi royal family. The fawning legions of ex-ambassadors to Riyadh have been all over the TV assuring us that, oh, no, al-Qa’eda hate the House of Saud and want to overthrow it. But, interestingly, though Osama’s boys are happy to topple New York landmarks, slaughter Balinese nightclubbers, blow up French oil tankers, kill Philippine missionaries, take out Tunisian synagogues and hijack Moscow musicals, you can’t help noticing they do absolutely zip against the regime they allegedly loathe. There are 6,000 Saudi princes, but none of ’em ever gets assassinated. And, if anything mildly explosive goes off in the Kingdom, it somehow manages to get blamed on Western bootleggers. Statistically speaking, if you’re looking for the spot on the planet where you’re least likely to be blown to shreds by an al-Qa’eda nutcake, it’s hard to beat Riyadh. If al-Qa’eda hated the rest of us the way they supposedly hate King Fahd and co., the world would be as harmonious as a Seventies Coke commercial.

Now, obviously the leek of this inconvenient little stunner —- the Saudi ambassador’s wife indirectly funding two of the 9/11 hijackers —- during preparations for military action in the Middle East was not intended to aid the administration’s preparatory diplomacy. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that it was designed precisely to injury said diplomacy; and therefore, by extension, said military preparations. The President’s Iraq policy is not popular among foreign policy elites, even those within his own government. Tactical leeks like this at delicate moments can be devastating.

But this obsequiousness before the Saudis is nothing new: Why, oh why, does the administration persist in protecting the Saudis from criticism? Why is it so horrified by the idea of a serious rift in relations between them and us? To put it in the most mild of terms, one might say that something like a rift has already occurred —- when fifteen Saudis incinerated 3,000 Americans.

Oil is at best an incomplete answer, I think. What we are talking about here is a strain of deep rot in our government, a corruption at the heart of the decision-making matrix vis-à-vis the Middle East: Saudi money (oil money) has so suffused American foreign policy and diplomatic circles that confronting Saudi perfidy confounds even the most energetic and honorable of efforts.

This privileged access to America begins with Prince Bandar. The humdrum rank of “ambassador” hardly begins to cover the special status the prince enjoys in Washington. For one thing, the title implies a posting, and Bandar isn’t going anywhere: he’s the longest-serving ambassador in town; he’s held the job for two decades and he’s still only in his early fifties; he has more homes in America than most Americans do; he’s seen Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton come and go, and he’s figuring on seeing the back of George W. too. By comparison, American ambassadors in Riyadh are passing fancies. At the specific request of the Saudi government, no Arabic speakers are appointed to the post, a unique self-handicap by the US. Their chaps in the Kingdom spend a couple of years out there getting everything explained to them by the royal inner circle, and then they come home and serve out their day’s shilling for the House of Saud on Middle Eastern think-tanks lavishly subsidized by Riyadh. That’s the way Bandar likes it. “If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office,” he once said, “you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.” Just so. The columnist Matt Welch observed a while back that, if you close your eyes, America’s ex-ambassadors sound like they’re Saudis. Effectively, there’s no US ambassador to Saudi Arabia but a whole platoon of Saudi ambassadors to the US —- Prince Bandar and full supporting chorus.

But even that does not settle the thing, not in my mind. There is something more profound at work. Confronting the Saudis means confronting more forthrightly and sturdily the species of fanaticism that courses through the veins of Islam as it collides with the modern world in all latter’s splendor and dissipation and iniquity. It means, in other words, confronting Islam itself, and risking —- because our discernment is limited, always limited, and our motives not always pure —- the very “clash of civilizations” which provokes such hand-wringing all around us. And for such a task —- a task of reflection, courage, and great peril —- we moderns, despite all our wealth and technical mastery, seem congenitally unsuited.

To confront bodily the House of Saud is to emphatically take sides in the internal struggle of a great religion; it is to say emphatically that the Wahhabi sect is unacceptable as a human enterprise; it is, therefore, to our modern sensibilities, to be intolerably intolerant. Wahhabism, it seems clear, would be nothing but a fringe lunacy, a rump fanaticism, were it not for the Saudi oil wealth. The scholar Stephen Schwartz enucleates laconically: “Arabian oil became a key factor in global economics, and —- for Wahhabism —- an asset comparable to Hitler’s military industries. Imagine Microsoft headed by a president of the United States —- who also happens to be a follower of David Koresh —- and you’ll have an idea of Wahhabism’s material base.”

As I’ve said, a task such as this is not only sharply unpalatable to the spirit of our age, but also tortuous in its lineaments and dangerous in its opportunities for failure or even disaster. What is asked of us, it appears, is to shallow our crippling, pulverizing self-doubt, a monumental undertaking —- one might say that self-doubt has been the defining feature of Modern Man since the Great War —- and then face squarely the hijacking of a religion by fanatics. And defeat them.

Too much, I say, with a certain crawling despondency; this we cannot do; we have not the strength of spirit. But we need not give in to despair, because these conditions are not permanent. The oil wealth is not infinite; nor is it monopolized by the Saudis. What was frothing fanaticism in one generation may rather inexplicably degenerate into incoherence or apathy in the next. Moreover, few seem to have perceived the trend which may in thirty years dwarf the rise of extreme Islam: the explosive growth of Christianity: a misshapen old pope still draws to whichever city he travels the greatest crowds in that city’s history. Recall the words of that magnificent hymn:

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside thee
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

Returning to the cluttered world of human affairs, I repeat my piercing disappointment at the pusillanimity and corruption of our leaders in the face of source of the ideology that threatens us. If the Democrats had any principled shrewdness, they would make the Bush administration’s tolerance of Saudi mendacity a central component of their criticism. They would point out that while Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, as stalwart an ally as we have, has never been invited to the President’s redoubt in Crawford, Texas, Saudi schemers have reclined there numerous times. They would voice sincere outrage at the brazenness which inspires Saudi princes, proprietors of perhaps the most venomous state propaganda organs around, to lecture us about the irresponsibility of our (free) press in reporting inconvenient things. As readers know, I am the first to criticize what passes for American journalism these days, but to hear such things from these Wahhabi enablers is an affront to the intelligence of reasonable men. This is the point of weakness the opposition should be looking for in order to throw some doubt on the President’s commitment to national security. I support President Bush, but here is a consummate example of the value of a strong, principled opposition.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:57 PM |

My daughter now has full command of the Lord’s Prayer, with two innovations which I deem worthy of communicating. Here is her version: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, I will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation [that word tends to get a bit mangled], but deliver us from needles. For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” Pretty good for a three-year-old, in my wholly impartial view; and frankly I’m twenty-four and still scared of needles.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:39 PM |

Thursday, November 28, 2002  

The noble, brave and talented Michelle Malkin has penned a moving prayer of Thanksgiving.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:16 AM |

Wednesday, November 27, 2002  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, commenting on Cass R. Sunstein’s support for stem-cell research:

The truth is so blindingly obvious that many are blind to it: nothing that is not a human being has the potential of becoming a human being, and nothing that has the potential of becoming a human being is not a human being. Or, to revert to the favored image of the cloners and eugenicists, all of them, including Cass Sunstein, were once no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Many years ago, a person looking at such a tiny dot through a microscope might have said, “That is going to be, and therefore that is, Cass Sunstein.” One wonders if Mr. Sunstein really believes that that observation would have been “silly.” Such an observation would have required supra-human prescience, to be sure, but can it be silly if, in indisputable fact, it is true?

posted by Paul Cella | 7:34 AM |

It appears that the White House is prepared to go ahead with urging what is unquestionably the dumbest and most destructive of its policy ideas: amnesty for a large number of illegal Mexican immigrants. In the teeth of the revelations of hidebound ineptitude at INS appearing in the media seriatim, the administration perversely goes in for liberalizing immigration policy, thereby further emasculating what is left of border security. If you are a Border Patrol agent, why even go to work? The poltroonery at work in the underhanded method for this is certainly distasteful; the The Wall Street Journal has at least had the nerve and candor to endorse a straightforward “open borders” policy.

For the enthusiasts of this dubious amnesty idea, it is thought that, inter alia, the official authorization of systematic law-breaking will procure substantial votes for the GOP in future elections —- a rather novel cogitation for what is often regarded as the party of law and order. For those less than enthusiastic about it, to raise pointed questions is in many cases to provoke veiled charges of “nativism” and other ill-defined curses. These curses are quite efficacious in muting debate, or at least pushing it to the margins of public discourse —- so that the premises grounding the asseverations of the mass immigration sympathizers are rarely scrutinized.

Behind the arguments of the amnesty advocates is a deeply pernicious but to many compelling idea, or at least the impression of a compelling idea —- an idea which finds its most applicable parallel in the pre-Giuliani conventional wisdom about urban crime. In the late 1980s and early 1990s serious people had begun to regard American cities as in a fundamental sense ungovernable; residents would simply have to reconcile themselves to a high and likely increasing violent crime rate. The great contribution of Giuliani and his men to our politics was to disabuse us of this crippling capitulation, and to cleanse us of its depredations on the intellect. They demonstrated in New York that policy still matters; more precisely, that bad policy had gotten us into a severe predicament, and good policy, implemented firmly and assiduously, could get us out. We’ve all heard about the “broken windows” theory: the proposition that indifference to, and tolerance of petty crime will yield a harvest of ramifying criminality. The aesthetics of a city matter, and by vigorously enforcing what seem to be trivial crimes, police departments can short-circuit the spiral of neighborhood degradation. That was Giulani’s innovation; and we are all better for it.

Vis-à-vis immigration we have, similarly, a capitulation of the intellect along these lines: “we cannot secure our borders; illegal immigration is inevasible, uncontrollable, inevitable; and we must finally reconcile ourselves to indefinite mass immigration.” This is nonsense. Just like urban decay, mass immigration has its roots in public policy, in specific decisions made by elected officials and appointed administrators (principally the 1965 Immigration Act). This matrix of decisions can perhaps be summarized thusly: a studied complacency about the causes and consequences of unrestricted mass immigration. Now, to soften the hard edges of the Immigration Capitulation, there are usually a series of concomitant arguments advanced alongside it, arguments freighted with hearty rhetoric about the virtues of assimilation, as if to say: mass immigration is fine, we can sustain it indefinitely, so long as we are committed to assimilation. Now I am not at all sure that such a statement is true even by its own lights; but I am quite sure that we are not, in fact, committed to assimilation, whatever its virtues. By my reckoning and to my abiding dismay, this nation, guided as it is —- as all nations are —- by a governing elite, simply is not possessed of the spiritual self-confidence to demand assimilation from its immigrants. Those immigrants who do assimilate do so because they want to, not so much because cultural pressures require it of them; and it is very easy in today’s America for immigrants to plug in comprehensively to a kind of enclave of their own national culture, disdaining the wider American culture without compunction; indeed, such an anti-assimilationist commitment is actively, ardently propounded by the bulk of “official” immigrant spokesmen and organizations.

Assimilationist measures are naturally popular to the electorate; it is just that the electorate rarely gets any say in the matter. Laws restricting or prohibiting bilingual education, for instance, have passed handily by referendum in solidly liberal states like Massachusetts and California, where “nativist” sentiment is rather muted. But one could count on a single hand the number of prominent politicians who have favored such laws. It was a great disappointment, for example, to see a hugely popular principled conservative like Colorado Gov. Bill Owens oppose an anti-bilingual measure in his state. Running for reelection in what everyone acknowledged would be a cakewalk, Mr. Owens still could not bring himself support assimilation as an official policy. Such are the prospects for a broader commitment to rigorous assimilation; politically, there is little more than platitudes and formulaic bombast.

A culture that spurns its own language cannot be properly called a vibrant and thriving culture; nor is such a culture likely to inspire admiration and love among its new arrivals. It is certainly not a culture that can go on complacently regarding its border and its laws as immaterial, and abandoning its citizens to the depredations of wanton illegality on said border. Inebriated by abstractions about “a nation of immigrants” (what nation is not?), serenely abjuring to discharge its constitutional duty to secure borders, enervated by a deliberately impoverished public debate: objectively our political culture is not adequately addressing the grave and pressing question of immigration, not in a serious way.

It is interesting to note in passing the other aspects of our public policy which have been to some extent derailed by our reluctance to turn a cold, dispassionate, practical eye on immigration policy. One is environmental policy, where we have labored under the very paradoxical condition of worrying interminably about the parlous effects of rapid population growth without really addressing the primary cause of that growth. Another is affirmative action, which, whatever you think of the wisdom and justice of it, was surely more sensible when it applied strictly to American blacks, recognizing the uniqueness of their history in North America. Mass immigration muddled irretrievably an already delicate issue. A third is the omnipresent agonizing over income gaps, and the related question of labor’s power when confronting capital. I myself generally estimate the significance of this to be discernibly less than the attention it provokes; nevertheless, only a fool, a knave, or a quack would brush it off as positively meaningless. Illegal immigration drives down wages, undermines duly-enacted labor-friendly legislation (whatever we may think of it), and erects incentive structures in the labor market which not all are happy with (for example, it straitens dramatically the summer day-labor market that has been traditionally filled by students.)

Amnesty for some large number of illegal immigrants is a very bad idea; worse still because the public dialogue on immigration is so hollowed-out by the intellectual thuggishness which drives from respectability the opponents and skeptics of the status quo. On almost any other question, most commentators on the Right would (rightly) ridicule such enfeeblement of debate as insipid and insensate political correctness. It is unfortunate that on this important question so many have joined the hyenas.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:21 AM |

Saturday, November 23, 2002  

A smoking gun pointing to direct Saudi involvement in Sepember 11? Maybe. The New York Times plays the story as an arraignment of U.S. security services, and for once I agree with the Gray Lady. I will have more to say about this next week (I hope).

posted by Paul Cella | 7:39 AM |

Perhaps the hottest topic around right now in foreign policy circles is the topic of European-American relations. For my money, U.P.I.’s John O’Sullivan writes consistently the most fair-minded, intelligent and farsighted commentary on this contentious and hugely important question. Here is his most recent contribution. I will have more to say on this too.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:31 AM |

Friday, November 22, 2002  

Apropos of nothing so much as my own short essay on the globe, National Geographic has released the results of a worldwide study of geographical knowledge among 18 – 24 year olds. The numbers tell a grim story: one sample should suffice to denote it. 69 percent of American young adults cannot accurately locate Great Britain on a map. When Jay Leno finds fools on the street who identify “the freedom of speech” as one of the Ten Commandments, perhaps it is not really the video-editing artifice we had all hoped; perhaps it is just a reflection of reality —- a reality populated by ignoramuses.

This study leads me circuitously to ponder a certain element of “Beltway piety,” so to speak, that may call out for reexamination: that piety which attaches to portentous hand-wringing about voter participation and turnout. Every election cycle, it seems, we are all treated to a brand new wave of high-minded fretfulness concerning the putative “danger to democracy” or some such thing of an electorate which turns out to vote at level at or even below 50 percent. Bright and multihued graphs appear, resplendent with severe thick lines describing the steady decline in voter turnout over the past, say, 60 years; especially remarked are the secondary lines describing the even more pronounced decline for young people, many of whom may reach middle age without ever entering a polling place. States all over the country have adopted a series of dubious measures designed to boost turnout: motor-voter laws, same-day registration, something called “provisional ballots.” That these laws have done little more than facilitate fraud seems not to have deterred our fulminating custodians of electoral hygiene. I myself, when I was under the spell of this sort of political hypochondria, contemplated seriously the virtues of coercive voting. “Fine those lazy bastards; that they’ll teach to appreciate self-government!”

Alas, it is all bunkum and hooey. Never underestimate the power of boredom, someone once said. Moreover —- and let me state this plainly, if you’ll excuse my indelicacy —- no one unable to locate Great Britain on a map should be allowed to vote. The results of this National Geographic survey lead me to think we ought to consider restricting the franchise, although the history behind poll tests and that sort of thing is notorious enough to make me stop short of actually endorsing such procedures.

We live in a country of steadily increasing pervasive ignorance, which if left unchecked will one day produce a nation bereft of the materials for a common imagination, in other words, not a nation at all. Furthermore, for you gentle readers of more progressive outlook, so long as this trend continues we will drift toward oligarchy (the more progressive among you probably think such a condition has already arrived) with a ruling class of hyper-educated elites and a vast lower-class of servile plebeians dependent for their livelihood on the beneficence of the state constructed by the elite.

Now I want to mention that I believe that what I would call the Higher Education Myth is an important contributing factor here —- which Myth entails the idea that everyone needs and deserves a college education. Quite simply, not everyone does; and it should be no automatic scarlet letter of dishonor if a man or woman opts out in favor of some alternative career path. Untold time and money is squandered by the potency of this Myth over the minds of Americans: I’m sure we all have apposite examples. What everyone does need and deserve (although I have lost all confidence in the state to provide it) is a good and solid primary and secondary education —- an education that, to my mind, would be superior to many college educations. The Higher Education Myth acts like the wrong lens prescription in a set of glasses, blurring where it does not distort (the latter problem most notably in the enormous federal tax dollars subsidizing through grants and loans what are already very wealthy institutions.)

I fear we are nearing the point where we must finally caulk up public education as yet another casualty of the depredations on the human spirit facilitated by the largess of the state.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:20 AM |

David Frum judges Bob Woodward’s new book to be little more than “an edited transcript of [Colin] Powell leaks, all of them calculated to injure this administration and undermine its policies on the very eve of military action against Iraq.” He goes on to call for Secretary Powell’s resignation or, if that is not forthcoming, his dismissal. There is a intriguing dynamic here: Mr. Frum, a former presidential speechwriter for Bush, is in fact credited with crafting that dread and much-pilloried phrase, “axis of evil.” Those internal power struggles within the administration, it seems, are serious business. My first sympathy, instinctively I suppose, is with Mr. Frum, if for no other reason than because Mr. Powell’s popularity and natural magnetism is so often exploited by a hostile media to disparage the President. Of course, this exploitation, in a twist of irony, is frequently exploited in turn by the always-underestimated George W. Bush to his advantage —- the old “good cop, bad cop” ruse is not so difficult to pull off when the subject of the deception clings desperately to the “good cop.”

posted by Paul Cella | 2:13 AM |

Want to know why the GOP is not likely to pick up substantial support from Hispanics? Because its leadership is ashamed of its own religious and social conservative base. In a recent American Spectator, California journalist George Neumayr (not online) appraises the fatuous complacency of Republicans vis-à-vis one of their few Hispanic candidates, Maria Guadalupe Garcia, who ran (and lost) in a Southern California district:

Yes, yes, Republicans desperately want the Hispanic vote. But not if it means exerting themselves —- or changing conventional Republican strategizing. Short-term, quick-fix thinking seems to define their effort.

Were the party a little more imaginative, wouldn’t it see some potential in Garcia? As a telegenic, articulate mother of six who ran in the primary while pregnant, Garcia is a magnet for the very soccer moms and Hispanic females the party claims to want to reach. What’s more, she is running in a largely Hispanic district that runs along the border, from the beaches south of San Diego to Arizona —- prize political real estate that could be a gateway for new Republican registrations.

Ironically, the white, out-of-touch, nonbilingual candidate in the race is the Democrat. [Bob] Filner, a former radical history professor from San Diego State, boasts one of the more outlandish liberal records in the House of Representatives. He has received 100-percent voting ratings from Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Human Rights Campaign. He cast votes in favor of partial-birth abortion and homosexual adoption. Earlier this year, the House approved, 406-2, a congressional initiative to curb child pornography. Filner was one of the two votes against.

Filner is so liberal that his Democratic opponent in the primary has endorsed Garcia in the general election. “Filner knows nothing about the values of the community,” says Danny Ramirez. “He has no business running in this district. He has nothing in common with us.” Ramirez is now sponsoring a group called Democrats for Garcia. “Maria Guadalupe Garcia is one of us. I don’t care about political labels,” he said. He observes that Filner can’t hold a conversation with many of his constituents. “We call Filner El Perico —- the parrot.”

Garcia received exiguous support —- financial or otherwise —- from the GOP. So a pro-life, conservative Hispanic Catholic woman was promoted more vigorously by local Democrats than by the national party of the Right, which claims it is eager to reach out to Hispanics. Pathetic. In the primaries, the three pro-lifers running —- Garcia, Ramirez and another Republican —- received more votes than Filner, this stale old campus leftist. Danny Ramirez says that whenever he tells people of Filner’s record, “the are disgusted.”

Of Hispanics and the GOP, Mr. Neumayr muses:

Country club Republicans may not really want to understand them. Hispanics, as economically liberal and socially conservative, represent the opposite of the country club agenda for the party. For pro-choice plutocrats, someone like Garcia —- a pro-life Reagan Republican —- is more likely a cause of concern than celebration. She is not the right sort of Hispanic.

And I would add that many of those same plutocrats would go on merrily demoralizing citizens like Garcia on another issue: immigration, where the GOP seems intent on pandering to law-breakers because business is happy to take on cheaper labor (no pay-roll taxes, income tax withholding, or health insurance for illegals) while ignoring the law-abiding Hispanics who willingly put themselves through the indignities and aggravation of the most incompetent bureaucracy in the country, the Immigration and Nationalization Service.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:10 AM |

Thursday, November 21, 2002  

Free falling? Tom Petty, interviewed in the November 14 Rolling Stone (Courtesy of Blithering Idiot):

Only a sick culture would sexualize young girls. It’s disgusting. It’s not just pop music, it’s fashion, it’s TV, it’s advertising, it’s every element of our culture. Young women are not being respected, children aren’t being respected.

Why are we creating a nation of child molesters? Could it be that we’re dressing up 9-year-old women to look sexy? I really don’t put it past these advertising people to say, “Well, look, we made a lot of money when we brought the 9-year-old out and made her look like a hooker. Let’s do it again.”

I think television’s become a downright dangerous thing. It has no moral barometer whatsoever. If you want to talk about something that is all about money, just watch the television. TV does not care about you or what happens to you. It’s downright bad for your health now, and that’s not a far-out concept.

I think watching the TV news is bad for you. It is bad for your physical health and your mental health. The music business looks like, you know, innocent schoolboys compared to the TV business. They care about nothing but profit. They will make a movie about murdering their kids, you know? And they’ll put the guy who killed them on TV. And before long, he might even have his own show.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:37 AM |

Orrin Judd deserves a generous reward for unearthing this unforgettable piece of supple intelligence, scrupulousness, and irresistible humor. Good movie reviewers are a rare breed; judging from his obituarists in print after his death early this year, Mr. Richard Grenier was one of the very best. I don’t doubt it.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:23 AM |

Wednesday, November 20, 2002  

Check out my recent piece, published elsewhere. Loyal readers may recognize it.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:41 AM |

For an edifying discussion of the weighty questions of nationality and mass immigration, see these two worthy essays (here and here). It is high time we addressed these things.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:35 AM |

“Everybody senses,” wrote Richard Weaver in 1961, “that in the modern world there exists a massive trend toward uniformity and regimentation. Individualism had never before been under such pressure, not even from the most repressive forms of government.” Now that’s an eye-opener. The complacency of its delivery is an affront to complacent sensibilities: how could individualism be threatened in this age of the tongue-ring? But perhaps our age’s incessant rodomontade about individualism masks, precisely by way of its swaggering clamor, a deeper, profounder shriveling of real individuality; perhaps it is precisely the cacophony of our boastfulness that obstructs a clear vision of our cultural poverty. Richard Weaver regarded that poverty as almost self-evident: that the advent of modern technology —- he singles out radio and television —- has razed entire cultures.

The products of modern technology have created an order which makes expression or even retention of individuality increasingly difficult . . . The result, unless some way is found to check or elude this pressure, threatens to be fatal to cultural pluralism. By cultural pluralism I mean simply the appearance, growth, and co-existence of a number of different cultures often within one political division. A plurality of cultures affords the same kind of richness in space that the cultures of the past . . . provide in time.

Here Weaver’s observations deepen and come into sharper focus, for here we edge closer to an appreciation that the steady desiccation of our own ideas about individuality is very nearly self-evident. For the modern mind, the idea of individuality is tied inextricably with the idea of liberation; the Individual, in the modern story, is he or she who rebels against inherited structures of thought and social organization —- structures reckoned to be repressive and irrelevant. Thus in popular imagination the Individual inheres in “countercultual” climes: the province of hip-hop, with its romanticized gangster mystique; the province of rock, with its romanticized decadence, and its heroes suicidal narcissi. These are the liberators; their vocation is to destroy; to cite Dr. Johnson, they feel “not so much the love of liberty as a repugnance to authority.” And therefore, by the lights of our impoverished ideas, they are christened the Individuals. But where cultural agents execute an about-face from these listless things, that is, where they turn back in some groping but real way to a celebration of the traditions and patrimony of the past, they are aggressively or subtly anathematized; their claims to the title of Individual are annulled. To maintain the musical analogy, it should come as no surprise, then, that country music and Christian rock —- undeniably profitable enterprises in their own right —- are treated with exquisite, though occasionally veiled disdain by the guardians of popular culture.

The depression of individualism of course reduces the prospect of truly great figures emerging from the multitude. Jacques Barzun, after surveying the geniuses of the West with supreme erudition and élan, remarks rather plaintively that no such genius has risen from the demotic late twentieth century. The distinctive irrepressible individuality that gave the West its vitality and its consequent deluge of creative force has proven evanescent; gone are those singular figures like Erasmus, Montaigne, Christina of Sweden, Pascal, Beaumarchais, Burke (who in addition to his justly famous organon of political theory published an intricate catalogue of aesthetic qualities), Bagehot, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc, etc: men and women whose intellect spanned a range of ideas so broad as to astound and chasten our pinched and limited ranges today. Perhaps it is, as I say, precisely for want of individuality, and the genius which feeds it, that the idea of the Individual is so dominant, even exclusive now.

Our democracy, to quote Dr. Johnson again, has become freighted with “an envious hatred of greatness . . . and pride disdainful of superiority.” Is it any wonder that greatness eludes our age? I recall recently remarking to several colleagues, upon hearing of one’s vacation trip to St. Augustine, Florida, that St. Augustine may well have been the greatest man who ever lived. A debatable proposition, unquestionably (one would have to exclude Jesus of Nazareth as possessing the unfair advantage of divinity, and then the immediate competitors, it seems to me, would be St. Paul and the Prophet Mohammed), but I was struck by the looks of utter bewilderment that greeted my comment. The idea of there being greatness on that level seemed never to have occurred to them; and it produced a certain vexation to suggest such a thing. (My only other discussion of St. Augustine at work, incidently, involved a brief but friendly discussion over his role as the “theorist of the Inquisition.”)

To my mind, a culture which disdains greatness and superiority in men cannot rightly be said to value individuality; and therefore Weaver’s pronouncement was accurate, indeed, it was prescient: the trends he described in 1961 have surely not been arrested since. Quite the contrary.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:01 AM |
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