Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Tuesday, January 07, 2003 Doug Bandow has a good piece purposing a long-term solution for the fiasco in Korea: amicable divorce. The American military presence in South Korea has lost its raison d’etre. It vexes and humiliates the South Koreans, antagonizes the North Koreans, irritates the Chinese, and unnecessarily strains the U.S.
This seems sensible to me. South Korea is quite capable of defending itself against an impoverished regime like North Korea, and will probably be more assertive and effective in doing so when released from both the embarrassment of foreign protection and the privileged subservience that it entails. America’s Asian allies no longer need the military brace once demanded by Cold War dynamics; and without that brace or crutch, they may prove more agile and valuable as independent, confident friends jealous of their interests.
On the other hand, there is that kind of whispered theory that you hear now and then; that there are certain parts of the world where large-scale war would be so catastrophic as to almost be unthinkable, and so provisions must be made to avoid it, whatever the secondary consequences. By the cold calculations of this theory, it makes fine sense that American soldiers are stationed in places like East Asia and Northern Europe; these are the regions where war in the nuclear age must be averted at almost all cost. This is a peculiar derivative of the imperial theories. It is certainly compelling, but I do have some difficult imagining that our foreign policy decisions, spread out over many administrations and across a welter of shifting political thrusts and movements, have been so shrewdly sophisticated, much less so very farseeing. Foreign policy, from my perspective at least, seems to ad hoc and reactive, a near-constant series of unexpected crises; and is in fact rarely characterized by sustained and discrete foresight.posted by Paul Cella | 11:58 PM |
All ideologies are destructive. This is another very considerable conservative principle —- one that the great Russell Kirk especially insisted on with unusual intelligence and vigor. Even when abstracted from some universal good, from some noble virtue, an ideology will tend eventually to strike at the heart of that good in unforeseen ways because its abstract nature will put it at odds with what is sane and human in life. Ideologies disdain mystery, veneration and ambiguity; they enervate the common sense of common men by substituting abstract, implacable ideas for practical but inarticulate wisdom. Few things are as galling to the ideologue as the venerated old customs to which the common man clings, informed by his traditions and intuitions —- all of which cannot be rationally or scientifically expressed. These obstacles must be smashed by the leveling action of ideology, by appealing to change and reform for its own sake; in particular, by appealing to moral reform. It is not prudent reform of institutions, conventions, and evanescent political settlements that conservatives stand athwart, for prudent reform of these things is almost what constitutes a conservative political party; but they do vehemently oppose attempts to fundamentally reform society and human nature. Such endeavors conservatives regard as if a surgeon were to say: “I do not think the human heart is as effective or efficient an organ where it is as it could be elsewhere; let us move it to beneath the liver.” Such innovation is hardly distinguishable from mutilation.
Of all the noble ideas which can be transformed —- one might say disfigured —- into an ideology, Liberty may appear to be the least harmful. I have often thought that if men must have their ideology, let it be libertarianism, or what used to be called more suitably, Liberalism. Liberalism as it is usually understood today has come to mean very close to the opposite of what it once did, and so the term libertarian has emerged to take its place. In its non-ideological form, this is merely the governing philosophy that elevates liberty to predominance in public endeavors; that is, liberty is the highest ideal to which a polity can aspire. I figure that I myself am at least fifty-percent libertarian in this sense, perhaps more.
So in my mind, and the minds of most I imagine, Liberty is a very noble idea indeed; but even it is frequently debased by that disease of the intellect ideology. One of the characteristics I have noticed about ideological libertarianism, particularly where it edges toward the libertine, is a predilection or affinity for a certain vague but real logical elision; by this I mean a sort of rush to push an argument off a slope, even off a precipice; and that intransigence toward nuance that is so often the stuff of ideology. We find ourselves, having started at simple Proposition A, dashing headlong down the hill to Conclusion D so rapidly that hardly anyone had a moment to weigh or contemplate Argument B and Qualification C.
That is all very abstract, and perhaps a bit contentious. What I mean specifically to reprehend in this strain of libertarian thought is the tendency to equate intellectual or moral criticism with an appeal to or longing for action by the State. Thus, the traditionalist or Christian or social conservative who castigates the mass-produced ugliness and nihilism of American entertainment appears to the clouded eye of our libertarian as nothing but a stale Statist. Now I suppose I number among the adherents of each of the above-mentioned philosophies, and indeed I do think that the enormous American entertainment industry accounts for a kind of ubiquitous and uniform intellectual rot unparalleled in history; but I most emphatically do not propose to replace said industry with the State. I think that Hollywood specifically unites into one tremendous if multifarious interest all that is most ruinous and unhealthy in both Capitalism and Socialism; that it best represents what people like Lenin imagined as the final decadence of demoralized capitalism, to be succeeded in revolution by glorious socialism; that it, at once with this cutthroat and amoral mercantile impulse, locates the ideal in political economy in sentimental collectivist fantasy; that it, in sum, contains within it industrialism at its most sickly and socialism at its most delusional. Consider the film American Beauty, which intoxicated Hollywood elites in droves several years ago with its deft and intoxicating traducements; being, as it were, nothing but an extended slander of that portion of the country with which Hollywood is most unfamiliar, namely, Middle America. It would be as if I was to undertake to find something about which I had neither knowledge nor curiosity, and hurl upon it huge wild barrages of slashing invective and vituperation without any hint of a serious, candid consideration of the subject. Critics would rightly label my effort simple crude bigotry; and that, I’m afraid, is typical Hollywood fare. There are abundant additional examples: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, a deliberate falsification of history; the great bulk of films addressing the Vietnam War, which generally advances the hypothesis that every American who fought in that war was either a madman, a murderer or a drug addict; etc, etc.
From this distinctly polemical sketch one might extrapolate my real views about the American entertainment industry more broadly. But here is the rub: here is where the ideological libertarian tends to hurry off to dubious and unjustified conclusions; because my opprobrium of this industry simply does not lead to a concomitant desire for a nationalizing of it, or an evisceration of it by aggressive trust-busters in the government, or anything of such character which involves a systematic aggrandizement of the State by the plundering of the fruits of private enterprise in individuals. To put it another way, destroy the admittedly-debased spirit of free enterprise that still clings to the emaciated body of an industry like Hollywood, and all we would have left is a powerful faction of hardened, influential, state-dependent old socialists. I would relish watching the slow dissolution of Hollywood into bankrupt irrelevance, or more happily, its transformation under the sway of a larger moral reawakening into something more responsible and constructive; but these developments I do not anticipate.
As a fact, the ideology of Liberty, generally labeled today Libertarianism, can be injurious to liberty because it encourages the deterioration of all those virtues which make liberty possible. It abets the perilous trend toward moral innovation, an experiment with the delicate fabric of a society of ordered freedom about as unsafe as men can undertake. Again we return to what I like to call the American Question, or the question of self-government. The attack on tradition and prescription, the attack of the rational against the imaginative and the venerable, the mechanistic against the sane and organic, the fashionable against the inarticulate: in this modern contest the ideology of Liberty turns against what sustains it. It deracinates crucial support columns for the temple of ordered liberty —- things that resist restoration, for their construction is organic and their vitality elusive. The ideology of Liberty is indifferent if not altogether hostile to constraints on the appetites of men, even if those constraints owe little or nothing to the State. It posits the rather novel idea that men who are unable to govern their own vices and lusts will be capable of collective self-government. To which we might respond as Burke did: “Somewhere there must be a control upon the will and appetite; and the less of it there is within, the more of it there must be without.” And the ideology of Liberty thus becomes its own harbinger of death.posted by Paul Cella | 11:44 PM |
Saturday, January 04, 2003 Journalists have egg on their collective face, says one Joe Soucheray of the (Minnesota) Pioneer Press in this excellent column.
Ah! what a breath of fresh air this clear-thinking candor is. And its very rarity on this story is damning.
And there is this similarly scathing rebuke by a Los Angeles Times columnist:
Allow me to hazard a rather wild guess: The reason that the media goes all wobbly when it comes to cloning, aside from its stupefying ignorance, is that cloning is vaguely associated with abortion in the weirdly-wired minds of most journalists. Abortion is, of course, the great polluter of our politics; additionally, many of the arguments against cloning dovetail smoothly with the arguments against abortion. Therefore, no one in the media can speak honestly about it. (Thanks to Peter Schramm of No Left Turns.)posted by Paul Cella | 7:48 AM |
Imperialism. The word is the air these days. Some seem to think, though they do not often indulge in speaking of it publicly, that only through a resolute advance to Empire can the United States successfully protect itself. I myself thought precisely that in the months right after September 11, particularly when contemplating the braying of the anti-Americans and their descent into the fever swamps of ideology. I have since retreated from that initial belligerence, though moments of fury at our multifarious displays of spineless occasionally overtake me.
There are others, across the political spectrum, for whom imperialism is a curse word; for them the advance to Empire is rather a severe step backward; and even the most, as it were, civilizationally-confident among us must recognize that the history of Empire is marked by shameful service not to God and country but to Mammon; and that the colonial enterprise, as a whole, was at best unsuccessful, at worst, exploitative, corrupt, and disastrous. I would contend that de-colonialism was equally shameful and disastrous, and even more —- and even more rapidly —- destructive of lives, liberty and property. I would further contend that the study of imperialism by Western academics and intellectuals has been, in the main, misguided, brassbound, partisan, and thoroughly debased by the corrupting influence of Communism, the unspeakably brutal imperial legacy of which has been assiduously ignored and downplayed. All these qualifiers acknowledged, it is still for solid reasons that the charge of imperialism is freighted with such moral baggage.
I do not believe that America is an imperial nation; still less that Americans are an imperial people. Even those cacophonous years around the turn of the twentieth century when it is generally acknowledged that the colonial impulse took hold of our national psyche most forcefully are, when subjected to a mild and discerning scrutiny, more complicated than usually imagined. Let me also say this; that it would be stark raving madness for men to oppose any moves toward Empire simply on account of an almost aesthetic distaste for it. To put that another way —- to put in the bleak terms I once used in correspondence shortly after September 11 —- if America must adopt an imperial posture to protect its citizens from incineration at the hands of lunatics, then imperial we will be.
The nub of the problem is that Western civilization, and that peculiar and indispensable variant of it here in North America, simply have not the mettle for imperialism. This seems abundantly clear to anyone willing to look at the world as it is, not as they would have it be. Anecdotal evidence proliferates: Two third-rate, addle-brained snipers paralyzed our capital city for three weeks. Any suggestion of a willingness on the part of elected officials and bureaucrats to enforce immigration law, even against lawbreakers from countries specifically designated as terrorism-sponsors, elicits great thunderous storms of fulmination and self-flagellation. All around the world where Islamic fanatics dominate Christians are persecuted savagely, and this ostensibly Christian nation can hardly issue a word of protest; indeed, grand and influential national newspapers imply rather unsubtly that it may be the Christians themselves who are at fault —- they have committed the unforgivable sin of trying to heed that lonely exhortation to be “fishers of men.” Ugly, violent anti-Semitism rumbles in that quarter where it frequently gains traction: the university —- and school officials demur. All around us civilization is besieged; its enemies emboldened, its friends shouted down; its agony grows in exact proportion with our apathy.
The British Imperialists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were made of stouter stuff than this. They were more convinced of the goodness of their faith and their civilization. They were more prepared to bear burdens of peril and loss for these things. They had yet to absorb the entitlement ethic; nor the therapeutic sedative of artificial realities constructed by our entertainment industry. Yet their enterprise ultimately failed, and led to a recoiling into a stupor of dissolution and despair that even Winston Churchill had difficulty overcoming. And left behind in failure, they did, a seething muddle in precisely that part of the world whence come our implacable fantasist enemies.
It’s all a very interesting and at once depressing and invigorating story —- one that we might well keep in mind when the vague and portentous word imperialism appears. It is a story too important to be left to mere professors secure in their archaic Marxist redoubts. It too important a story to be forgotten and swallowed up by a collection of cant and catchphrases; as when the charge, “imperialist!” is hurled to dampen an argument. Chesterton once advised his readers never to let a quarrel get in the way of a good argument. Imperialism has become a quarrel; but it is unquestionably a good argument. Let us have it.
(Chesterton, by the way, was a sturdy opponent of imperialism; he loved England, but hated that artificial thing Britain.)posted by Paul Cella | 4:50 AM |
Friday, January 03, 2003 The idiom employed by the North Korean Communists amuses me. There is a sort of crabbed and incestuous air about; it sounds precisely how one might think a hermitic, nepotistic and profoundly decayed Marxist police state would sound. “All Koreans in the North and South and abroad should approach the reckless and vicious war moves of the US imperialists with high vigilance.” Spokesmen and party organs speak of “U.S. bellicose elements” and “U.S. anachronistic hostile policy.” If you’ll forgive me a moment of peculiar nostalgia, this kind of talk reminds me of the days just after I graduated from college, while my wife was working and I was home with the new baby, absorbed in reading, during the quieter moments, that colossal catalogue of horror The Black Book of Communism. It’s hard to forget the coded linguistic barbarities of the old distinctive Marxian dialectic, even if they appear in a debased form.
The Black Book, by the way, is an arraignment of the Communist enterprise so large and comprehensive and pulverizing that it probably will leave no avenue or angle of retreat for the Left. The protean cruelty of the system; the callousness of its leaders from Lenin on down; the absurd incompetence of the world intellectuals in assimilating reality; the unrelenting lies and violations of language and reasoned discourse —- it’s all there, assembled with a calm meticulousness and often resting on the Communists’ own statistics. This book will stand; the sophists and appeasers and revisionists; the defenders of the indefensible and their mountains of lies will crumble.
But lest we become too supercilious with the North Korean ideology-infused language, it is worth remembering the extent to which Communism’s baleful influence damaged our own political discourse. It has been too infrequently remarked, for instance, that the Communists invented what we call “political correctness,” politicheskaya pravil’nost in Russian. Another good example is the twisting of the word Fascist into merely a term of abuse for right-wing opponents; this despite the plain facts that Mussolini was a Marxist, albeit a “Marxist heretic,” as Paul Johnson puts it; and that Nazi stands for “national socialist.” Along the same lines, there is the yawning memory-hole into which the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union has vanished, notwithstanding that said Pact started the Second World War.
I think it was a Brit named George something or other who taught us that language is the first thing the totalitarians come after.posted by Paul Cella | 7:25 AM |
I have two pieces by Steven F. Hayward to recommend: The first is a fine review of The Two Towers in which he observes intriguingly that the Shire is akin to “Tocqueville’s America of 1835: stolid and pure, but without great philosophy, magnificent architecture, or martial virtues of, say, Rivendell or Minas Tirith.” The second is a commanding essay about Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. A sample:
Very good stuff.posted by Paul Cella | 2:32 AM |
Wednesday, January 01, 2003 Predictions, predictions: Tacitus has some bold ones, but Parapundit’s offerings almost take your breath away with their breadth and audacity. posted by Paul Cella | 1:41 AM |
Some moving words for a truly admirable man, from Ben Domenech. posted by Paul Cella | 1:37 AM |
Tuesday, December 31, 2002 Noah Millman, no knee-jerk enemy of the Bush administration, looks at the menacing bravado of North Korea and the American meely-mouthed response, and arrives at a conclusion even harsher and starker than mine:
Saying so gives me no pleasure, but: ‘tis all too true. As Mr. Millman concludes acerbically, “Happy New Year.”posted by Paul Cella | 11:38 PM |
Commentary printed my letter to Victor Davis Hanson, and the legendary man replied! Please indulge me in a reprint:
posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 PM |
Friday, December 27, 2002 John Zmirak contributes some fine reflections on immigration in this essay, including the brilliant and almost shocking metaphor of counterfeit citizenship:
Now that is an effective polemic. And as Henry Kissinger would say, it has the additional virtue of being true. Mr. Zmirak’s whole essay is worth careful reading, as it is a thoughtful, humane and erudite discussion of a volatile and intimidating question. —- Volatile and intimidating precisely because it bulks so simultaneously huge and stealthily in the public square. It is the proverbial elephant in the living home of half a dozen difficult and blistering policy questions; and it is the question that so often cannot be asked because it appears suddenly out of the gloom not as a question at all but as a rowdy and truculent assertion. Immigration policy, that is.posted by Paul Cella | 10:56 PM |
Okay. From where I sit North Korea is a more dangerous than Iraq. It probably has all the ghastly weapons that Iraq does, plus many more, including, perhaps, ballistic missiles that can reach California. It is tyrannized by an authentic madman; an amalgam of Communist, nationalist and nepotistic psychosis and unadulterated cruelty. It deploys a huge military, which has been described in frightening detail by Eric S. Margolis:
Appalling, no? Fifty years ago, American servicemen were fighting, bleeding and dying on the Korean Peninsula. We came within a hair’s breadth of losing the whole peninsula in the summer of 1950 following a surprise offensive by the Communists and before reinforcements were hastily deployed. After General Douglas MacArthur’s disastrous rush north and the treacherous intervention of the Chinese, the war settled into almost two years of World War I-style butchery in the trenches.
I have argued before that one of the most enervating consequences of America’s quasi-imperial stance over the last half century (most of that stance being sadly unavoidable) has been the decline of strong, assertive allies. Japan and South Korea are rich and stable nations, largely so because of American perseverance and generosity; they should be fully capable of defending themselves, but the presence of sizable U.S. military assets makes possible a near-total complacency about defense expenditures. It is objectively absurd that we must play “bad cop” to the appeasement-minded South Koreans and Japanese. Our natural role should be that of deal-broker. And the resentment fueled by our (sometimes subconsciously) humiliating position vis-à-vis our allies is not inconsiderable: Hardly a week goes by without an anti-American demonstration by ungracious South Koreans whose freedom is vouchsafed by American blood and treasure.
The situation is a perilous, unpredictable mess; a real nuclear tinderbox. The most recent 007 movie centers in part around the threat of a second Korean War. Dear God, may it not have been strangely, horribly prophetic…posted by Paul Cella | 7:28 AM |
Take a good look at this breathtaking map, and then read Radley Balko's pithy comments on it. posted by Paul Cella | 2:18 AM |
Thursday, December 26, 2002 With some sharp words about the “hypocrisy of charity’s friends on the right,” Matthew Yglesias encapsulates rather briskly the impression or notion of charity which reigns among progressives and liberals.
Now hypocrisy is of course a well-nigh universal trait among men, and rears its grubby head perhaps most often to emulate and dampen the virtue of charity. But that is no excuse to abet the peculiar steady effacement of the virtue itself, which is what the modern world has to a large degree undertaken. Mr. Ygelsias seems to hold out hope that the coercive force of the state will reinvigorate the mendicant virtues through a sort of fanciful collectivist alchemy. But it would be better that men abandon a virtue than that they destroy one; that they stand in robust absolute defiance of charity on principle than that they transform it into insouciance. For what Mr. Yglesias proposes is not charity but more nearly self-reverence or complacency. It is an attempt to make the natural active duty of one man to another into a hopelessly passive thing. It tenders the impossible illusion that we do something by not doing anything at all; specifically, that we “do unto others” by doing precisely nothing, by merely acquiescing in a certain set of prescriptions for the political economy.
Mr. Yglesias’s “charity” consists in having income never seen by its earner extracted mechanistically by hypothetical stranger A and delivered to hypothetical stranger B, during the bureaucratic process of which, most of said income vanishes. A strange definition of a beautiful word we have arrived at, a definition which says to men: “you are doing something great and important by doing nothing.”
In fact coercion is incompatible with charity, the latter being mortally dependent on the freely-chosen act of an individual. The bright and transcendent human virtues, the things that endure and stand out as exceptional, are obliterated when we attack the core of their being by making them extant only under compulsion by the state. A man need feel no shame at resenting the anonymous dispossession of his property, his income, to aid a still-speculative abstraction referred to reverentially as “the poor.” But he rightly feels agonizing shame when he begins to treat real poor people as abstractions easily compartmentalized, ignored or despised.
And I would like to say gently, respectfully, that maybe there is more charity in allowing a man to keep his hard-earned income, that he might support his family and educate his children while simultaneously caring for, say, an elderly and sickly mother whose medical bills are ruinously expensive. This is real charity. It is not sufficient charity, because men owe duties greater than family. But it is real, it is freely-given, and it seeks not to transform itself into another thing. In other words, it honors yet another human virtue: humility.posted by Paul Cella | 3:17 AM |
Wednesday, December 25, 2002 One might say that the principal conservative insight —- the most perdurable and the most universal —- is this: all concentrations of power except the divine will engender abuse. Of Burke, the ample and brilliant British historian Paul Johnson put it thusly: “His public life was devoted to essentially a single theme —- the exposure and castigation of the abuse of power.” Opponents of the conservative party, wherever and in whatever guise it assembles itself, are generally those who conceive of some portion of the social or political order as exempt from this rule. For many it is simply the State, however constituted; for others, the demotic spirit of that ubiquitous abstraction, “the people”; for still others, a romanticized vision of yet another abstraction, the Nation; and a great many others simply look to themselves, the vanguard elite of the proletariat or some such thing, as arbiters of perfect virtue. Whatever it is that specifically inebriates them, modern radicals —- or, more provocatively, modern heretics —- share in their fundamental organizing principle a stonefaced declaration: our Vision is incorruptible, our Man pristine.
Not infrequently, ostensibly “conservative” movements and parties themselves become inebriated by some fleeting or enduring heresy. The Spanish Inquisitors, for instance, regarded the earthly church-state hierarchy as incorruptible, and the resulting abuse is the stuff of waking nightmare for a hundred thousand secularists and materialists to this day. When conservatives absolve themselves of their own accountability to the first principle affirmed above, they can be quite as dangerous as the radicals they confront. Indeed, it is implied by a full understanding of that very principle that a man should mistrust first and foremost himself —- mistrust not so much his reason as his motives. “Power attracts the corruptible,” wrote Frank Herbert, author of the vast, fascinating and majestic science fiction series Dune. “Suspect all who seek it. We should grant power over our affairs only to those who are reluctant to wield it, and only then under conditions that increase the reluctance.”
It is precisely this principle of distrust for concentration of power, I contend, that forms the backdrop to the American Constitution and the political science that frames it. Some debris must be cleared first to get a clearer picture of this. A distrust of power does not naturally lead to a kind of libertarian anarchy (or anarchic libertarianism) —- that “our enemy, the state” attitude which decries all exercise of governmental authority. The American founders were rather intensely curious about government —- specially, self-government —- and they developed republican institutions to harness and mold the raw concentration of power in the state; to instruct its operators and reanimate those virtues that will countervail its abuse; but they did not hate it or seek to destroy it. The source of evil is not in the state; it is in men. And so, they counsel, we must look to institutions to manage and contain the power that will corrupt men and amplify their intrinsic vices, defeating the delicate balance of the commonweal, and impinging on the rights of individuals. The state should be strong, but limited —- the latter descriptor being the essence of the founders’ wisdom. The Constitution enumerates powers of the government: you may do this, but no more; here, and no further. “Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” —- That is the Tenth Amendment, which embodies concisely the “enumerated powers” principle; and I think it is fair to say that to the extent that this indispensable clause has been obliterated we can delineate the decay of what is the unique genius of American political science.*
The genius, namely, of calling forth, from an admixture of the teachings of the ancients and the fertile ground of the English liberal tradition, the materials of an ordered liberty with which to assemble a humble Republic of virtuous people. I think the political science of the founders a profoundly conservative thing; certainly in contrast to the bloodbath and cacophonic tyranny of the French Revolution, the American predecessor was moderate, deliberative and sensible indeed. It therefore should not surprise us, I don’t think, to discover that the founders’ political science has been subtly disdained, besieged, assailed, disparaged, and despised by so many haughty innovators. I say subtly because rarely have the innovators taken it on directly —- too daunting and treacherous a task, that. Rather, they have employed indirect methods. One is to curse the founders for the sins of their age: “slave-owners have nothing to tell us about liberty and virtue.” As damaging as this charge appears, to accept its conclusion one must consent to disregard the whole of the Christian era and philosophy, which centers redemption in the life of the world of men, declares unapologeticallly that sinners will be servants of God, and begins with the great persecutor of Christians (St. Paul) who became their evangelical champion. And one cannot help but wonder, if it is true that the sins of an era liquidate everything of value to emerge from it, how our age of gas chamber and gulag and legalized infanticide and famine-as-instrument-public-policy will fare. Will sophisticated people three hundred years hence remark: “Yes, they landed on the moon and built the Internet, but everywhere they treated human beings as so much raw material to be sacrificed to whatever suited their fancy; and therefore they have nothing to teach us”?
Another common method of deprecating the founders’ genius is that mild and agreeable intoxicant which falls under the pronouncement of the Constitution as “a living document.” The Constitution was appropriate for the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, this dulcified polemic goes, but it is now outmoded, ill-adapted for the exigencies of the modern world. Today the Constitution, brilliant though it once was, stands in the way of progress. Blah, blah, blah. How utterly tedious this argument is! how stale and lifeless and brittle! It should be enough to say merely that the Constitution verily bristles with formulas and instruments for amendment and adaptation —- above and beyond the obvious constitutional amendment process; or to say that as discerning an observer of democracy as Tocqueville was astounded by the “instability of legislation” in America, that is, its impermanence and rapid adjustment to the “not only preponderant but irresistible” will of the majority. One mechanism for adaptation or source of legislative instability that strikes me as pertinent today is Article III, Section 2:
Therein lies the solution to the judicial usurpation of politics, one might think; or at least the point of departure for an eventual solution.
In fact the Constitution is already an astonishingly adaptive document: it has remained in force longer than any written constitution in the world. France is on its fifth Republic since its Revolution in 1792, and may soon be subsumed altogether into the behemoth European Union superstate. The British constitution is very old, but it is unwritten, almost metaphorical only, and Parliament pretty much does what its majority wants. No, when progressives speak of our Constitution as a “living document” they more nearly mean a dead one; that is, a parchment discarded in fact, preserved only in oratory and symbol —- discarded because it thwarts their ambitions, which usually cannot be swiftly carried out constitutionally. The progressives and innovators desire the power to impose their designs of a good society on us, and the Constitution restrains them. Therefore, the Constitution stands in the way of progress. Q.E.D.
There is yet another method of attacking and eroding the American political genius, and that is simply to pretend it includes things that patently it does not. For example, a “right to privacy,” which might more accurately be called a right to abortion as a method of contraception, and a free speech jurisprudence which protects graphic bestiality, but does not protect a prayer before a graduation ceremony. Perhaps the most infamous example of this means of usurpation is the oft-quoted “mystery passage” of the Supreme Court’s concurring opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Man is the measure of all things. Here we have, in this garbled moral gibberish, the Supreme Court grafting onto the American political tradition a concept so alien to that tradition it is probably fair to say that the tradition itself is effaced by it. In point of fact the heart of liberty is truth, to which all men are accountable, and unmoored from which men are consigned to bondage.
By whatever method, the object ultimately is the same: the transformation of a constitutional state of limited powers into an administrative state of ramifying powers, addressing itself to “new” social problems as they arise or are perceived by the administrators. Thus the powers of government cannot be limited because we cannot anticipate what problems will arise. And as this vision plays out with darkening gloom, the administrative state becomes the socialist state. It becomes again the tyrant. The administrative state, consolidated and supreme, concentrates power in its hands, justifying each excess on the grounds that its will and its purpose are purely benevolent; and its operators —- the innovators, malcontents, revolutionaries, heretics and progressives who constructed it, who plundered the riches of the American genius, who strip-mined the resplendent veins of virtue and tradition to erect their leviathan, who dispossessed the political science of their forefathers and sowed ruin where once there was humble imagination —- they will forever think themselves incorruptible. We’ve seen it all before. I do not think we have heard the last of tyranny among the enlightened.
And so conservatives must set ourselves —- our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to the same task that Edmund Burke did when the guillotine resounded a bloody chorus across the English Channel: to expose and castigate the abuse of power.
* I will discuss the profound and difficult topic of enumerated powers in a later post. Its brilliance deserves separate treatment.posted by Paul Cella | 4:42 AM |
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 |