Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, December 21, 2002 Some have not yet lost their nerve:
(Thanks to Musings for this.)posted by Paul Cella | 4:33 AM |
Friday, December 20, 2002 A characteristic masterpiece from James Lileks about the anti-Christmas half-wits. posted by Paul Cella | 2:13 AM |
Thursday, December 19, 2002 Here is the sage and shrewd Karl Rove’s heel of Achilles: immigration policy, with regard to which, it seems, Mr. Rove has convinced himself of the quite fanciful notion that total lawlessness, incompetent, half-hearted pandering, serene, destructive complacency, and intellectual impoverishment will (a) be good for the country and (b) yield Republican votes. I am not persuaded, as I've said before. And neither are the American people: a recent poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations revealed that, among other things,
Nevertheless, the administration seems committed to going ahead with some sort of amnesty or guest-worker program. ProjectUSA has some recommendations for making such a piece of legislation more sensible and workable.
These sound reasonable to me, but one wonders whether the Open Borders inquisitors will move aggressively to stamp out even this drift toward irrevocable heresy from their utopian creed. (Thanks to Parapundit for these fascinating links.)posted by Paul Cella | 7:30 AM |
I saw The Two Towers last night. Highly recommended. Even Director Peter Jackson’s innovations on the original Tolkien plot were generally palatable; and his deft management of several disparate storylines was superb, more successful than anything since Return of the Jedi. As with The Fellowship of the Ring Mr. Jackson refrains from overburdening the film with too much special-effects gadgetry, while nevertheless providing a feast for the eyes. Gollum was splendidly done; the Helms Deep battle will probably go down as among the greatest battle-scenes in recent movie history; and the Ents were quite serviceable, rising to glory near the end. The standout element for me was Eowyn, niece of King Theoden (played with subtlety and surprising power by Miranda Otto); given more time on screen, she would have stolen the show. Perhaps she will in the third installment. Eowyn also uttered the central, distinctive words of the film, appropriately taken directly from the book: “It takes but one to make war, not two, and those who do not have swords may still die upon them.” posted by Paul Cella | 4:34 AM |
Historian Arthur Herman has penned a commanding piece about some other less-remembered facts about the suddenly prominent 1948 presidential election. Specifically, he offers a sharp corrective judgment of that portentous election and “the other Democratic renegade who ran for president, a liberal renegade whose candidacy should be more of a political millstone around the necks of modern liberals than the old Dixiecrats can ever be for modern conservatives.” [my emphasis]
Attentive readers will recall that 1948 may be accurately demarked as the formal beginning of the Cold War. Attentive readers will also recall that the Soviet Union under Stalin was among the cruelest regimes ever to darken the realm of men. Attentively unconventional readers will, finally, recall that Soviet agents, throughout the early- to middle-decades of the twentieth century, had penetrated virtually every level of American society and government, with the implacable goal of violently overturning said society and government and replacing it with a revolutionary regime which would have soaked the land in blood, just as it had Russia. The political campaign of Mr. Herman’s “other renegade” Democrat, Henry Wallace, he writes, “was the closest the Soviet Union ever came to actually choosing a president of the United States.”
Mr. Herman goes on, and minces no words:
Henry Wallace has received many plaudits and encomia over the years, from many prominent men and women —- including a later Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, twenty-four years later.
The legacy of toleration and propitiation for the monstrous, organized inhumanity of international Communism is as black a mark on history as was segregation in the American South.posted by Paul Cella | 12:32 AM |
Wednesday, December 18, 2002 It looks like, with Al Gore out, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2004 may be Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a conventional Northeastern liberal. One hilarious anecdote for you non-political junkies out there: At the height on the anti-war movement in the 1970s, Kerry, recently returned from Vietnam as a decorated veteran, ostentatiously went to the steps of the Capitol and threw away his medals, as a show of protest. But then it turned out they weren’t his medals. Tells you about all you need to know about Senator John Kerry. posted by Paul Cella | 2:24 AM |
Two more reminders (as if any more were needed), one large and severe, the other minor but telling, that there is no justice in this world: (1) Israel occupies, sometimes quite brutally, the Palestinian West Bank, and it is a cause célèbre for every malcontent with too much time on his hands the world over. Next-door Syria occupies, with sustained, uniform, implacable brutality, Lebanon, particularly Christian Lebanon, and nary a word of protest from anyone. (2) Both Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev have won Nobel Peace Prizes, but not Ronald Reagan. posted by Paul Cella | 2:11 AM |
A sad day in the blogosphere: Christopher Badeaux is closing up shop. We here at Cella’s Review, at the very least, will not forget his Letter to Australia. posted by Paul Cella | 1:40 AM |
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.”
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.
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:
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,
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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,
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:
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 |