Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Friday, January 31, 2003  

Take a look at this:

(Hopkinsville-AP) —- One of the prison inmates who was turned loose as part of [Kentucky] Governor [Paul] Patton’s money-saving plan has been charged with rape in Hopkinsville. Forty-year-old Richard McGregor of Hopkinsville has been charged with raping a 25-year-old woman January 20th. He was arrested Monday.

McGregor was released from confinement three days before the rape with four months and nine days left in his three-year sentence for fleeing police.

Patton’s press secretary, Rusty Cheuvront, called the incident “horrible and terrible.” He added (in these words) “We regret that it happened. It turns my stomach.” He quoted Patton as saying the crime could be a horrible hint of what could come if the state is forced to live with current revenues.

Did you get that clearly enough? Pay us higher taxes, or we will release the thugs and predators on you. The governor of the State of Kentucky sees the rape of a woman as an opportunity to attempt to extort money from the people from whom he derives his position, his livelihood, and his authority. I do not think extort is too strong a word. Not long ago I quoted Gary North: “Taxes aren’t primarily about services. They’re primarily about power.” Critics of the democratic state once resorted in argument to the principle that anything done by the state which would in private affairs be plainly criminal is self-evidently an illegitimate abuse of power. Imagine if a man were to come to your door and say: “If you do not pay me X dollars, I might just have to allow the rapist behind me to have his way with your wife.” Criminal, no?

posted by Paul Cella | 3:23 AM |

The Spectator’s resident classicist, Peter Jones, relates how the ancient Athenians approached the question of immigration.

The purpose of all this was to ensure that metics [immigrants] did not get ideas above themselves. It was a privilege for them to live in Athens, and they were welcome enough, but on strictly subordinate terms. That, however, did not prevent them from coming. Athens was a powerful, flourishing, “international” city: there was money to be made from being part of it. Since metics could not own land, they started up businesses in Athens and especially its harbour area, Piraeus, a prolific trading centre. Success combined with decent, orderly, law-abiding behaviour reaped its rewards in social mobility. The renowned orator Lysias was a metic who made his money writing speeches for others; his father, Cephalus, a Syracusan by birth, made a huge fortune from arms-manufacture in Athens (Plato’s famous dialogue The Republic was set in his house); intellectuals like Protagoras flocked to Athens to make money there as teachers.

The purpose of the ancient state was to protect and advance the interests of its own citizens, not anyone else’s. It dealt with aliens purely on the basis of the advantages they could bring, which could be many. The concept of a sponsor, perhaps to go bail for good behavior, is particularly interesting. Might the mosques oblige?

Interesting indeed. The ancient Hebrew policy on immigration, I am told, included the stipulation that some substantial expanse of time (ten generations I think) had to pass before the descendents of immigrants could receive full political rights, so as to insure complete loyalty and cultural assimilation. While many of such statutes seem quite severe to our modern sensibilities (and of the ancient world does not strike us as severe?), the principles behind them are sound, even profound. Loyalty, the sacred bonds of citizenship, the idea of a nation, a veneration for those virtues which only time and proximity can instill: these are things we seem to have forgotten. One does not become an American by uttering platitudes about democracy and the free enterprise system, however valuable those things are. One becomes an American by swearing an oath of loyalty before God. It is not an affront to the dignity of potential immigrants, as some would have us believe, much less a manifestation of dull bigotry, to insist that those who would come to our country submit to our laws and customs; to the contrary, negligence on this point is to invite contempt not merely for our own citizens, but for the very idea of citizenship.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:11 AM |

Thursday, January 30, 2003  

What was all that talk about European-American antagonism? Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Denmark: the leaders of all of these countries have published a joint statement endorsing disarmament of Iraq in the London Times. That is a lot of Europe. Quite an impressive document this is; have we any doubts left about the power of George W. Bush’s leadership?

posted by Paul Cella | 3:24 AM |

Wednesday, January 29, 2003  

Lee Harris delivers a solid and discerning analysis of the stubborn conundrums, which have both theoretical and practical facets, of America’s unique primacy in the world, and the intellectual poverty or immaturity which clings about our attempts to understand ramifying events centered on this primacy. It is almost as if, he argues, events have surged quite beyond the capacity of human minds to synthesize or assimilate them; we react, we do not anticipate; and I am reminded in thinking over Mr. Harris’s arresting piece of the famously lapidary epigram uttered by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

Had the world community been able to debate [the question of American primacy] prior to the First Gulf War, someone might have made the following two points: “First of all, if a regime has behaved in a way that has made our sons have to kill their sons, then how can we allow it to remain and look ourselves in the face? Of course we must punish them, or what is the point of any concept of international justice? If a tyrant does not forfeit his power after he has been vanquished in a war that he brought about himself when attacking another country, then let us drop all pretense at aspiring to an universal standard of justice for all the world.

“And, secondly, if we are expecting one nation to do this job, we must allow it to do it as it thinks best. Either we do not ask it to act as our agent in the first place, or we must back it up to the full when the time comes for it to act. Those are our only moral alternatives.”

But no one faced these questions prior to the First Gulf War. And so there are the questions we are facing now.

Mr. Harris’s article points implicitly to the impotence of an institution like the United Nations in actually addressing the formidable chaos of the world and the malice of evil in that world. David Warren has described the UN as a “corrupt and dissimulating reflection of its largely illegitimate and despotic membership.” I myself described it once as a “public forum for an assemblage of the world’s thugs, dictators, bullies, autocrats, tyrants, satraps, and sycophants to play at democracy and government by deliberation.” It would be no great loss if this rotten old bureaucracy were discredited.

(N.B.: I met Mr. Harris for coffee and an illuminating discussion of philosophy and politics recently. A nice guy with an astonishing intellectual range.)

posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 PM |

England and Europe have immigration problems greater than our own, if such a melancholy condition is even possible. First, to state it crudely, European immigration, in its bulk, comes from very nasty places, namely hotzones of Islamic lunacy like Pakistan and Algeria. Whatever are problems that the United States imports from Mexico, they do not include organized terrorism of any significance. Europe’s troubles, presaging similar ones here in the not-to-distant future, are compounded and aggravated by the fact that Europeans are simply not reproducing fast enough to replenish their populations, much less finance the huge social-welfare programs of an aging population, absent large-scale immigration.

Anthony Browne of the London Times testifies grimly that illegal immigration is “bringing Britain, normally one of the most stable democracies in the world, to the verge of anarchy.” His sobering account is here; in his view Britain is only a few dark steps behind Holland, where the same problem, and the same implacable negligence on the part of public figures to address it, brought the country to grief and anguish.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:16 AM |

I believe it was Pascal who declared that the first moral duty is to think clearly. Here are a couple of recent and first-rate contributions to the cause of clarity in politics, from Orrin Judd and John Zmirak. Both operate by challenging assumptions, sometimes quite dramatically, or by reasserting old assumptions, which can generate its own drama. I think Mr. Zmirak’s essay, in particular, penetrates deeply through a miasma of obscurantism to expose a little clutch of vital political facts too rarely identified, facts which cannot in prudence be ignored by statesmen and thinkers indefinitely; while Mr. Judd merely punctures a tendentious conceit in order to restate history’s judgment as indeed attuned to the truth. Valuable articles.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:27 AM |

Thursday, January 23, 2003  

There is a hilarious and rousing story cited here, along with a bunch of rowdy epigrammatic stuff like this: “Taxes aren’t primarily about services. They’re primarily about power”; and this: “There is no government regulation, no matter how plausible it initially appears, that will not eventually be applied by some bureaucrat in a way that defies common sense.” Follow the link for a good laugh.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:48 AM |

My wife and I watched the unforgettable film Black Hawk Down again last weekend, and again it filled me with awe at the almost simultaneous manifestation of the greatness of Man, and his utter depravity. There, in a nutshell, was human history: cruel, bloody and base; serenely, even boastfully indifferent to agony, that is, to the convergence of pain, helplessness and fear; chaotic, inscrutable, forgotten and abandoned; and yet, unimaginably brave, astonishingly tender, inspiring and funny . . . words fail. In the beginning was the Word, but the image does have its moments. And Black Hawk Down was one of them. Rarely, if ever, has the silver screen paid such a valuable and honorable tribute to the fighting men of this country. Michelle Malkin pays them another one here; read it, and while you are at it, send a thank-you note to those whose blood and toil secures all that you love and all that you cherish and all that you take for granted. Please God, bring them home safe.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:13 AM |

Christopher Caldwell writes, of the Bush administration’s much-remarked and discussed Supreme Court brief on affirmative action: “The Bush plan achieves everything affirmative action does, only less honestly. In so doing, it manages to give affirmative action not just a new lease on life, but a good name.” More:

The Bush memos are the most important substantive defense of affirmative action ever issued by a sitting president. If the Court accepts the president’s reasoning, it will have rescued affirmative action from what appeared to be a terminal constitutional illogic. More than that —- it will have secured for this rickety program an indefinite constitutional legitimacy.

Steve Sailer was even more scathing: “The President of the United States strongly endorsed the goals of the racial spoils industry. And he instructed it on more devious means to impose racial quotas.” Newsweek also reported this week, tellingly, that Mr. Bush’s solicitor general, Theodore Olson, was so infuriated by the White House’s political meddling that he considered resigning.

It strikes me that whatever the administration actually intended in entering this very sensitive debate, a large number of conservatives seem unwilling to contemplate the possibility that the White House would treat them cynically: specifically, that it would deliberately throw a rhetorical bone to the Right while covertly yielding to racialist orthodoxy on school admissions. Whence has come this credulousness? Are only Democrats cynical in their political dealings? I fear that this is another example of what Josh Claybourn has identified as the wobbliness of conservatives in critiquing their own man. I recall a famous old line from the great Edmund Burke: “Experience is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.”

posted by Paul Cella | 12:46 AM |

Wednesday, January 22, 2003  

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial yesterday is one of high dudgeon lamenting the putative erosion of abortion rights —- which could be more truthfully said to be a mere incremental reassertion of some measure of restraint on the practically unlimited abortion license. Or it could be stated as the mere mild resistance by legislative authority to judicial usurpers. It could even be truthfully said to be little more than a public expression, inchoate and tentative, of uneasiness with a set of “rights” that includes the right to infanticide.

It seems, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that recent years have seen a ten percent or so reduction in abortion providers nationwide. Now as a matter of plain fact, it has always been the case that very few doctors are willing to perform abortions; that few medical students are willing to learn the procedure; that few medical schools teach it; and that, consequently, the great majority of abortions have been performed in specialized urban clinics. This is why there is truth in referring to an “abortion industry.” There is an economic interest, quite apart from the clamorous cultural and political one, behind the current imposed abortion settlement. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editors interpret this recent reduction in providers as an ominous sign, and other abortion advocates in unguarded moments even go as far as to suggest faintly that a reduction in the raw numbers of abortions, not just providers, is itself rather ominous. I interpret it as a profoundly ominous sign indeed that serious citizens find a reduction in the number of abortions an ominous thing.

The editors also worry that the concentration of abortion clinics in urban areas may put an intolerable strain on poor rural women who “already have trouble getting transportation, child care or time off from work to access abortion services.” This is a fascinating twist in our little drama; for can anyone think of another instance of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board, or any other similar editorial board of progressive outlook, propounding solidarity with the specifically rural poor (read: poor whites)? We are talking here about modern, elite, urban America’s favorite bugaboo: Middle America, small-town America, “Red” America in the now-famous electoral map. Fascinating, is it not, that sophisticated urban liberals and leftists only take up the torch for these Americans in the very fractional proportion of them who seek to terminate their pregnancies? When they act through their duly-elected representatives to restrict abortion in a meaningful way, these very same people become “one-issue zealots”; when they take seriously a few strange and antiquated but unforgettable words about a calling to be “fishers of men,” these same people are fundamentalists or perhaps zealots again; when they disdain the antinomian orthodoxy of postmodern or avant-garde art, they are philistines. But when they seek to abort their babies —- that tiny fraction who do —- suddenly they are sympathetic creatures.

Ironically, it was very nearly these same voters —- rural, modest, traditionalist —- who probably accounted for the political victory of the governor and legislators whose clout now threatens so direly the “the freedom to make childbearing decisions without state interference” confirmed by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. In truth, the editors’ contention that “today, the right to end an unwanted pregnancy in Georgia is an illusion for more than half of the state’s women” is untenable —- there is almost no threat to the current imposed settlement at the moment; and their arguments reflect the fundamentally antidemocratic, or more precisely anti-republican nature of the pro-abortion faction, a point made frequently by pro-life commentators. The people simply cannot be trusted by this faction; the republican principle cannot be trusted because when applied to abortion, the republican principle will produce many things, an astonishing and infuriating patchwork of policy and gradation, including real legal restrictions on the procedure and, in some states perhaps, prohibition. Moreover, the republican principle will generate debate, fierce and public, thoughtful and passionate, irrational, inflammatory, nasty; in short, debate in all the messiness that attends real democracy, which will necessitate a serious response from serious people. As it stands now the whole dreadful question about abortion is constrained and caged by the judicial usurpers and inveterate euphemizers of the pro-abortion faction. They fear debate, as anyone would whose whole advocacy is wrapped up and bound so inextricably in evasive and even deceitful language.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:21 AM |

Monday, January 20, 2003  

Which is preferable: an imperialist or a nationalist? Both terms, in our truncated public dialogue, have reduced to little more than a dull curse —- much worse than a Communist, a category of political monster that still has a certain frivolity for some, but not so bad, perhaps, as a Fascist or a Nazi (although many of the same fools for whom Communism was but a silly antic simply conflate imperialist or nationalist with these latter touchstones of evil: all the more effective in soundbite-rhetoric.) It is characteristic of modern politics that perfectly serviceable descriptive terms like these have been flattened into the empty catchwords of secularist anathema. In fact neither word, objectively, need carry with it ominous implications; as descriptors, they mean something admittedly vague but useful.

Alas, the associations, ominous or otherwise, resist facile dismissal. The distinguished historian John Lukacs has, in assailing the perceived deficiencies of anti-Communism, asserted that the principal force of the twentieth century —- the force behind all its bloodletting —- was nationalism. Others insist that the truculence and decay of imperialism, as that gaudy historical impulse waned across the cacophonous decades of the same century, was the real culprit, the real dehumanizer or bloodletter. To be imperial is to transcend nationalism in a way that we might call vulgar; a transcendence without excellence or nobility —- though nobility, the noblesse oblige, may have in part animated it. Yet at the same time, it is frequently nationalism which impels the imperial enterprise; as it is nationalism which abominates and resists the imperial yoke. So these ideas, dark and massive, are entangled probably beyond disentanglement. My favorite active historian, Paul Johnson, notes in his sensitive and muscular A History of Christianity that once the Roman Emperor Constantine had instituted the alliance between Roman State and Christian Church, the heresies upon which the Church thereafter acted to repress with greatest vigor were those heresies united most plainly to anti-imperial nationalisms. Thus the struggle with the Donatist heresy, though it surely had its real theological elements, had also the complicating factor of the Donatists’ stern Punic nationalism: Carthage had become a haven for anti-Roman revolt.

The chief problem with nationalism, I think, is that it exceeds patriotism. It is like patriotism-plus, or maybe negative patriotism; certainly patriotism with some debasing additions which evoke other vague words like chauvinism or jingoism. The American patriot can understand well and sympathetically the Mexican or Chinese or French patriot; precisely because he understands what it means to love a country he can smile on the latter’s love of his. The patriot loves his home; the nationalist more nearly hates that other homes exist. It is less frequently said, but still quite true, that patriotism recognizes something greater than country, which while not exactly or necessarily Christian still discerns in some way that we are created beings, creatures native to a certain place. A fish may look up from his cool depths upon the distorted picture of the green and fertile hills around his lake with an almost plaintive joy; he may gaze at the birds of the sky or the fearful drinking deer with real longing —- but he is unlikely to call on his fellow fish to conquer the birds so that he may possess the sky, or pray that the lake will devour the hills. His place is his own; he loves it; and in loving it loves the deer and birds for their love of their place.

We can see, perhaps, despite my inadequate and rather reckless sketches, how it is that nationalism and imperialism interact. Where nationalism burns, the appeal of the idea of empire may seize the feverish minds of men. Where men no longer know their place in the created world, and recognize the ineffable value of place, the very idea of place is effaced and trampled. A patriot knows the world to be a good, if horribly misused thing; and his place in it also good. He appreciates where the nationalist arrogates and burns with ambition or desire.

Now, I think it would be a mistake to think of nationalism and imperialism as the same thing. The most emphatic and settled of imperialists is likely to disdain nationalism as a small and barbarous thing —- the mischief of plebes. An effective and cunning imperialist will recognize the peril that nationalism means, and will remain alert to its emergence: careful not to provoke it, but ruthless in crushing it when already provoked. From his stratagems we see the effort to turn tribe against tribe in resentful squabble, or employ the local “strong man” to maintain order. These are not really the methods of a nationalist, but of the imperial statesman —- a role which the nationalist has a very hard time playing, for his passion burns hot and impetuous.

I find it hard to decide which personality, in the abstract, I prefer, as this discursive reflection probably reveals. Readers surely have their own views on the matter. Let’s hear ‘em.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:31 PM |

Friday, January 17, 2003  

Below is a selection of admirable writing on the topic of the thirty-year abrasion of our politics, moral fiber, and intellectual candor —- that bitter, festering old wound opened by the Roe v. Wade usurpation. The comparison of the regime of Abortion to the regime Slavery in the Old South is one that positively incenses the abortion advocates and enablers, largely because it is a comparison that cannot be so easily disposed of: Abortion and slavery rest on the same principle; that certain members of the human species may be legally regarded as property. These two monstrous things even employ a similar argot: the pro-slavery men often referred to themselves as “free-choice.” Moreover, they both poisoned our political discourse with their barbarities and nihilistic absurdities and cowardly evasions; and they attacked the very heart of our constitutional order by engendering complicated and despotic measures to sustain or enforce. I often wonder if, just as today any association with or sympathy for the Old South brings down upon a man thunderous anathemas, the day will dawn when men, awakened to their blindness and cruelty, will look on the late twentieth and early twenty-first century with similar horror and say, “How did they not know? How could they not see?”

See these links: 1*2*3*4 [Note: I will add to these as I come across more.]

posted by Paul Cella | 5:02 AM |

Poor John Le Carre: moral equivalence is the only tune he knows, and Lileks has nailed him with customary remorselessness and wit.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:43 AM |

Thursday, January 16, 2003  

There is a truly superb essay by Edward Grossman in the current American Spectator, a marvelous magazine newly revived and restored after a period of convalescence, that shrewdly applies the Israeli experience —- a grim and bitter one —- when it invaded Lebanon in 1982 to our situation vis-à-vis Iraq today.

The occasion [for the invasion] was the June 1982 shooting of Israel’s ambassador in London by the Abu Nidal faction of the PLO. Abu Nidal, whose death was reported this year in Baghdad, was under the patronage of Saddam. But unlike 1978, this time Begin and especially Sharon didn’t intend stopping halfway. They meant to expel Arafat, destroy the PLO, and call into being a Lebanese government ready to sign a peace treaty. Lebanon was to be put back together, advantageously for Israel. While Begin spoke of “forty years of peace,” Sharon foresaw a “New Middle East” based on an alliance of minorities—the Jews, Maronite Christians, Iraqi Kurds.

From day one, things didn’t go as planned. Though most Lebanese greeted the invaders as liberators, Palestinians in the refugee camps on the way to Beirut fought back, delaying the [Israeli Defense Forces]. And when the IDF reached the capital, the Maronite Phalange elected to let the Jews do the work, as the operation turned into an unforeseen siege lasting two months and doing Israel much PR damage. [. . .]

From there it was mainly downhill and out of control. The Phalange took its revenge with a massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla, and the international media, blaming Israel, went from disapproval to absolute outrage. Ronald Reagan sent in the Marines to “keep the peace.”

We all know where that “peacekeeping” led: 241 American Marines immolated by a Hezbollah suicide bomber; twenty years of intermittent skirmish and massacre on the Israeli-Lebanese border; international impatience and hostility with those resisting the terrorists; and the gradual elevation to glory, through an amalgam of wicked propaganda, perpetually thuggish politics, economic stagnation, and theocratic fanaticism, of the suicide bomber in the minds of the Arab world’s appalling deep pool of malcontents.

The parallels between then and now are eerie. There is, first, the naïve optimism suffusing the rhetoric of the hawks: a “New Middle East” and all that —- coupled with what seems to be an unwillingness to face the cold hard reality of what may develop even following solid initial success. There is, again, a similar naïveté about the complexity of the soon-to-be conquered society. There may also be an overestimation of, or perhaps merely a certain indifference about the resolve of the distant and distracted nation which must bear the burden of occupation.

Mr. Grossman sketches out some “possible complications” of the Iraq invasion. They are haunting.

  • Soon after troops cross the border, much of the Iraqi army surrenders, as it did in the Gulf War. But some units fight, as the Palestinians fought and slowed the IDF in 1982. How will the U.S. military acquit itself in a war involving real combat? It hasn’t been in such a war since 1975 and hasn’t won one since 1945. And remember that the U.S. Army of 1941-45 wasn’t high-tech, wasn’t all-volunteer, wasn’t co-educational. [. . .]

  • A siege of Baghdad develops with units of the Republican Guard and ragtag, ad hoc Islamic factions armed by a desperate Saddam hunkering among civilians, as the PLO did in Beirut. Smart bombs hit residential complexes, with video of the results played instantly around the world on CNN and al-Jazeera.

  • Under the noses of U.S. soldiers, Iraqis in liberated areas massacre other Iraqis, settling accounts for a generation of horrors. More uncontrollable media coverage. The U.S. is blamed. Huge demonstrations seventy-two hours later in Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco reminiscent of a monster demonstration in Tel Aviv over the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. [. . .]

  • War, especially war in built-up areas, is confusion. In this confusion, quantities of anthrax, smallpox, nerve gas, and maybe uranium or plutonium, cached by Saddam here, there, and everywhere, go missing.

Other grave problems will undoubtedly proliferate after the war is won, including the very plausible scenario that Americans soldiers will find themselves as (a) an imperial constabulary, entangled in the muddle of tribal politics, inexperienced with such things, and dangerously bereft of the sort of cultural resources needed (translators in abundance, for example); and (b) a tempting target for the newly unleashed Muslim “martyrs,” as well as their secular mimics spawned by the resentment and confusion of Saddam’s fall.

Not a pretty picture. I thought as I read this: how did this antiwar piece get into a hawkish publication? But the really interesting thing is where Mr. Grossman goes from there. He writes,

So many and so grim are the possible complications during and after a war that you have to wonder, first, if the antiwar party in America isn’t right, and second, why there isn’t one in Israel.

Israeli’s politics are volatile, rancorous, and unpredictable. It has often been said, almost in whispered tones, that there is more criticism of Israel in Tel Aviv than in New York; and that a man is freer to speak his mind about Israeli policies on the floor of the Knesset than on the floor of the U.S. Congress. I don’t know about that: New Jersey hired a brazenly anti-Semitic mountebank as its state poet-laureate or some such thing, and few people batted an eye. But I do know that I have more grudging respect for an Israeli pacifist who seriously risks being dismembered at the mall tomorrow than I do an American singer wearing a “War is not the answer” tee-shirt at an awards show.

Mr. Grossman explains the lack of an Israeli antiwar movement as a matter of pure, resigned survival impulse. As David Warren puts it elsewhere, “We are not about to witness an exercise in legality, but an exercise in self-defense.”

Picture if you will the release of nerve gas at a Washington Wizards game or on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Or of smallpox in Berlin. Any such event —- not hard to imagine after 9/11 —- really would tear the fabric of global order, the web of civilization. With the dead would go many of our civil liberties. Al-Qaeda has the ingenuity, patience, and nonchalance to bring it off. It just doesn’t have the gas. Honest people disagree on when Saddam is likeliest to give out chemicals and biologicals. Would it be as the UN dithers, as the UN inspects, or as the United States and Britain attack and he feels himself going under? It could be at any time. Saddam is described by Western experts as a man of secular outlook, bin Laden as a God-fearing man, but on the Moslem “street” —- including Saladin Street in East Jerusalem, named for the great anti-Crusader —- the two are neck and neck in popularity. They exemplify different faces of the same collective illness.

On the all-important psychological level, however, it would be best if it didn’t come out of the blue, as a second 9/11. It would be best if it happened as Saddam was losing a war and going under. Yet another martyr.

His conclusion resonates with the hard truths of a fallen world made terrifying by the technical mastery of man.

Who’s more naïve —- those who believe the UN can disarm Saddam, or those who expect a U.S. occupation of Iraq to usher in a “New Middle East”? From here, Jerusalem, it looks like a close call. A “New Middle East” is a bridge too far. Not even a superpower is going to cure what ails the Arab and Moslem worlds. The U.S. should go in, kill the Butcher of Baghdad, scour the land for weapons, stand godfather to a new government of one kind or another, and then with all deliberate speed, leave. Thus proving that it’s not only much, much bigger than its most faithful ally, but wiser.

A fine, valuable, stark essay.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:25 AM |

Hilton Kramer puts H. L. Mencken in his place with this blunt review of a new biography of the acerbic critic and journalist.

What really separates us now from Mencken’s eager acolytes in the 1920s —- and, for that matter, from Mencken himself —- are precisely the horrors as well as the achievements of the twentieth century that he missed or dismissed or otherwise chose to regard as beneath serious notice. Among them, alas, were the two World Wars, the Leninist revolution and the spread of Communist totalitarianism, Hitler’s rise to power and the Nazi conquest of Western Europe, the Holocaust, and virtually all of the principal currents of modern thought in literature, philosophy, and the arts. While he busied himself demolishing the pre-tensions of yahoo preachers, rotarians, prohibitionists, and sundry writers and public figures with little claim on the attention of posterity, Mencken remained cheerfully oblivious to the political and cultural earthquakes that were irreversibly altering the very civilization he claimed to represent. That, I believe, is the fundamental reason why Mencken is so little read today.

One almost cringes reading such deadpan evisceration of a venerated literary figure. Mr. Kramer also adds a sparkling little piece of explanatory insight:

My own view is that Mencken’s ascendancy in the 1920s cannot be understood in isolation from the single stupidest legislative act ever perpetrated upon the American people: the passing into law in 1919 of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation, sale, and possession of alcoholic beverages. This had the immediate effect of criminalizing the tastes and habits of a massive, law-abiding segment of American society. It had the additional effect of making the Government and its elected representatives objects of widespread derision and disrespect.

Minus the consequences of Prohibition, Mencken would no doubt have continued to enjoy a highly successful career as an anti-establishment journalist with a flair for comic ridicule, just as he had in the years preceding the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment. It took Prohibition to make him an idol. When the law itself was seen to be both ridiculous and easily flouted, Mencken was given a much larger public stage on which to perform his railing, irreverent vaudeville. The Government had itself created an enormous scofflaw public, as it may be called, ready to respond with enthusiasm to the free-wheeling assaults on the probity and authority of American institutions that Mencken produced as serial entertainment.

One is tempted to adapt the great philosopher-saint Thomas Aquinas’ thunderous declaration at the palace of St. Louis, the French king; adapt it and say here, addressing much more vulgar matters than was St. Thomas: “And that will settle Mencken!”

Hilton Kramer has, as I say, put Mencken in his place, but the man’s fiery, scornful prose can still be great fun to read. Mr. Kramer himself quotes a good example of it in his review.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:35 AM |

Wednesday, January 15, 2003  

Fred Reed really does have a way with words: “The creeping lunacy creeps on, creepishly.” Rarely indeed will one find a column so marvelously begun. I can hardly keep a straight face and refrain from impolitic laughter here in my quiet cubicle even as I rewrite the sentence. The column continues, equal to its brilliant introduction, packed with wit, wisdom and sheer insight into the human animal, whose frailties and sins are all the greater for his elevation above the other, more sensible, less insensate, animals. Go on, read it all.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:52 AM |

The extent of the breakdown of our immigration policy is difficult to adequately express in words. We best not even try when it comes to immigration considered broadly, but even with respect to the specific, pressing issue of immigrants from countries with serious terrorism links, the problems are staggering. Randall Parker points out a meticulous and appalling article in The San Diego Union-Tribune which explains that in the San Diego area over the last year or so, INS agents have managed to find only 18 of the 350 illegal immigrants from “nations with an al-Qaeda presence.” 18 out of 350! And that is only the illegals that the INS knows about. Conservatively then, we can estimate that considerably less than ten percent of the illegal aliens from “nations with an al-Qaeda presence” have been apprehended since September 11. Need it be repeated; the unmovable fact that illegal immigrants played a central role in that dark day, as well as virtually every other major terrorist attack on American soil over the last decade? The article quotes an unnamed San Diego INS officer: “Everyone assumes after 9/11 that we’re looking after the security of this country. The truth is nothing has changed.”

That truth, stubborn, uncomfortable, largely irrefutable, has been pounded home this last year; and I second Mr. Parker’s bleak, resigned conclusion:

It is clear now that the events of September 11, 2001 were not sufficiently transformative in the way that the events of December 7, 1941 were. People have only partially awakened to the threat. The nation is unlikely to take steps on the scale that the threat warrants until the first WMD terrorist attack on US soil has taken place. Those of us who see the threat can only go on record stating its scope and the needed response and then wait for enough of the rest of the country to come around and see it as well.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:58 AM |

Tuesday, January 14, 2003  

“He has determined to exchange his humanity for power.” Kevin Michael Grace writes a bracing reflection on the monstrous effects of power on men’s souls. There is something unmistakably, horrifyingly modern about the story he relates of a normal man driven to profound moral and human corruption by his addiction to wielding power —- but at the same time it is very old. It is a grim story. St. Augustine knew its kind well: “Man is himself a great deep. Thou dost number his very hairs, O Lord, and they do not fall to the ground without thee, and yet the hairs of his head are more readily numbered than are his affections and the movements of his heart.” More readily numbered than his innovations in debasing his soul.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:49 PM |

Michael Ledeen is an interesting character in this grand drama of our time; the drama of war and peace. To his detractors, he is nothing but a reckless, vapid imperialist, and a charlatan to boot. To others, he is a guiding light of vigor and expertise on the attitudes and exigencies of the Islamic world. Recently he wrote, with characteristic urgency:

If we were serious about waging this war, we would, at an absolute minimum, support the Iranian people’s brave campaign against their tyrants, declare Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and recognize an Iraqi government in exile in the ‘no fly’ zones we control, shut down the network of fanatical schools and mosques run by the Saudis all over the world, and plan seriously for action against North Korea.

It is noteworthy to me that none of these things require large-scale war to be waged; even in the Korean crisis, our troops are already there —- his counsel is merely to heed the old maxim that those who desire peace should prepare for war. His recommendations hardly even require putting American soldiers in any greater peril than they are already. I find it exceedingly difficult to interpret these exhortations as those of an irresponsible old imperialist. But —- and here is the rub —- heeding Mr. Ledeen’s advice requires something much more formidable than a mere imperial flailing; because there is less overt action to it and more exertion: a great exertion against all the trends and pressures bound up in our seemingly resistless culture. It requires offending important people, antagonizing favored Muslims regimes and their armies of domestic lobbyists and enablers, affronting the media’s exquisite sensibilities about sensitive things, and most of all, repudiating the massive emasculating influence of political correctness. All this will demand supreme exertion —- exertion to persuade and cajole; to calibrate, adjust, reconsider; to counter arguments cogent, silly or merely noisy; to remind, refresh, rephrase, and turn back; and greatest of all to endure. In a sense, this is a huge cultural struggle: an attempt to stand athwart history and convince hardened hearts and distracted people that so much that they complacently assume as real and true is in fact profoundly untrue, indeed the very reverse of true. This, to my mind, is where the administration and our political leadership have failed miserably: though one wonders plaintively who exactly we could expect to succeed.

It is very hard for me to get strongly behind a war in Iraq when all these crucial and almost cultural measures are hardly even addressed; when, for example, both the Transportation Secretary and Central Intelligence Director who presided over the September 11 massacre still have jobs; or when the very idea of profiling by security services is still anathema; or when ten years of lethal abuses of immigration laxity by terrorists hardly make a dent in the unified, implacable complacency, and hardly even bring conservatives to a state of real agitation. This is simply and finally not the comportment of a confident nation or civilization. It is more like the comportment of a crumbling civilization, a civilization that has very nearly lost all sight of its purpose for being. I look at the machinations of our politicians, our plutocrats and media elites, our philosophers and professors, even our public churchmen —- and I cannot call what I see strength. Who among us can? It is stark folly to say that what is weak is in fact strong; and we are not strong. Perhaps it would be more palatable to say that those clusters of strength that do remain are alienated from real power. Anyway, I have trouble avoiding the conclusion that in our decadence we are a merely civilization manqué, a world living on borrowed time. Was it not the barbarians that brought Rome to its knees, even as many, in that civilization’s own decadence, welcomed the barbarians as liberators?

Leaving aside what many will, perhaps properly, call my melancholic extravagance, nothing is more symbolic of all these trends I am decrying then the almost total enfeeblement of our politics of national security. President Bush’s supremacy here is pretty much unchallenged; while in point of objective fact, his record over the last 15 months, to state it in the mildest possible terms, is not unchallengeable. Had we a healthy political discourse, Mr. Bush would be straining to protect himself politically on a wide tableau of security issues; while his opponents would be working innovatively to probe and question his credentials; and a whole facet of the nation’s creative enterprise, competition’s invisible hand if you will, would be bent on securing Americans from murder at the hands of foreign agents. Can you imagine Senator Daschle calling morning briefings not to display tired old Keynesian economic charts, but rather new proposals for airline security, or citizen disaster response, or an auxiliary legal system to deal with foreign terrorist suspects? Dream with me for a moment of headlines proclaiming, “Democrats Lay Out New Formula for ‘Robust but Agile’ Border Security’” or “Senator Kerry Criticizes Bush Defense Budget, Advises Greater Expenditure.”

Relatedly, I wonder about this Bob Graham character —- the Senator from Florida who seems to be thinking of a presidential run. And, interestingly, he seems to be toying with the idea of moving to Bush’s right on national security. Now that would be something to see. One tends to doubt his sincerity, and doubt even more his chances of persuading rank-and-file Democrats, but it did provoke me to ponder: If a Democrat ran in 2004 on a really vigorous national security platform —- aggressive profiling (not exclusively the dreaded racial profiling, but a broader composite of terrorists) of immigrants and air travelers, the ruthless shutdown of Islamic radicalism here in the States, snubbing the perfidious Saudis, border security, etc., etc. —- would he earn my vote? I decided that, if this dreamy scenario were to emerge, I couldn’t rule it out. And with this “Graham for President?” idea floating around for a while now, I am struck by the similar sentiments expressed by other conservatives. This is the problem with having only one party that is even remotely serious about security. President Bush ought to have to defend himself on these things. Our politics are so perilously impoverished by this deep, paralyzing strain of self-doubt, which almost consumes one party and encumbers the decision-making of the other.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:34 PM |

Friday, January 10, 2003  

There is a good essay in the current Commentary (not online) defending Leon Kass, Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, which carries the japing title, “Who’s Afraid of Leon Kass?” For that title alone it is worth reading.

The writer, Gary Rosen, offers some sharp observations about why Mr. Kass went from being in the minds of other bioethics scholars a respected academic, admired by opponents and friends alike, to a right-wing firebrand virtually overnight. The answer is power. Having acquired it through his presidential appointment, Mr. Kass’s opinions suddenly seemed to mean something; specifically, they threatened the biotech industry, which is strangely exempt from the kind of wild vilification the Left usually reserves for corporations, as also the enthusiasts of the Brave New World. Moreover, as I noted in previous comments about cloning and the media, his newly-authoritative opinions also seemed vaguely threatening to the proverbial elephant-in-the-living-room of the bioethics conversation: abortion —- despite his own public demurrals on that embittered debate.

Mr. Rosen quotes a variety of highly critical, often vituperative, liberal and libertarian commentators as evidence of the effort to discredit Mr. Kass. It is difficult to say how effective this effort has been, but I think it is safe to say that, Mr. Kass’s formidable intellect notwithstanding, the Brave New World movement has rumbled along with a sort of stupefying relentlessness, almost as if down a . . . well, down a slippery slope. In 2001 we were arguing about the morality of stem cell research (remember that?); then soon after about deliberately producing human embryos for the purpose of dismembering and harvesting them; now the question appears to be not whether we should clone, or why, or for what purpose, but simply, plainly, When? And all that was in a span of less than two years.

Mr. Rosen writes,

Kass’s Aristotelianism, as he would be the first to say, is hardly the reigning school among today’s professional philosophers; but neither is it, as some commentators have suggested, a quasi-religion. Kass is able to speak of the “soul,” of a living creature’s “telos,” and of what is “natural” without irony or embarrassed qualification because these are crucial terms in one of the first great systems of Western science. Whatever Aristotle’s deficiencies, he is no less reliable a guide to the moral life of human beings than, say, Immanuel Kant or John Stuart Mill, the thinkers whose key principles —- rational autonomy and utility, respectively —- are too often assumed to define the limits of modern ethical discourse. If a lionized academic liberal like Martha Nussbaum can embrace Aristotle without being denounced as a minion of Pat Robertson and the Christian Right, why not Leon Kass?

Why indeed? The usual denigration of Mr. Kass is that he bases his opposition to cloning, human organ sales, etc., on what is referred to as the “yuck” factor. His opposition, that is to say, is purely emotional, scientifically unserious, and unhinged from reason. Mr. Rosen comments,

That boosters of biotechnology would take offense at Kass’s appeal to emotion is itself curious, since they constantly do the very same thing. No speech, editorial, or feature story endorsing the most controversial new areas of medical research is complete without some vivid reminder of the real people suffering from juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or any number of other dire ailments who might possibly benefit from such work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this tactic; the plight of such individuals is central to the bioethical debate, and their claims should move us. But these feelings, too, are not arguments, and should not be allowed to sweep objections from the table. They represent what one might call the “wisdom of compassion” —- a counterpoint in every respect to Kass’s much-derided “wisdom of repugnance,” but one whose legitimacy is seldom questioned.[. . .]

Whatever Kass’s critics may claim, their opposition to his leadership of the President’s Council on Bioethics has never really been based on fears about his supposed irrationalism or unthinking prejudice. To the contrary, they have worked so hard to discredit Kass because, as they have reason to know, his powers of analysis and rational persuasion are all too formidable —- and because he now has the ear of the President and the public.

Quite so. A very good article of supple analysis.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:39 AM |

Thursday, January 09, 2003  

“America is still not entirely committed to fighting the Islamic terrorists.” So writes Randall Parker in an impassioned critique of American complacency. Although one might quibble that no nation as vast and varied as this one could ever be “entirely committed” to anything, Mr. Parker’s point is a very good one. There are, to my mind, two areas in which particular emphasis must be placed.

(1) Immigration. Quite simply, the political, journalistic and intellectual classes of the America are fundamentally unserious about this question. The Left is totally compromised, enervated to its very core by an ideology of self-doubt, even self-loathing. The Left would welcome the slow dissolution of the West by a simple process of importing the problems and pathologies of the Third World in numbers so high as to be inassimilable. It cares little for the fragility of a social order based on secure private property and free enterprise; it rather palpably despises the institutions and traditions which cradle and support this social order. It makes no distinction between citizen and non-citizen.

The Right’s problems here are more complex, and more infuriating. They might be hinted at by showing that even as smart and honorable a guy as Orrin Judd cannot bring himself to mention a prominent critic of our current muddle of an immigration policy without throwing in some cheap term of disparagement: “nativist” and the like. The technique is designed not to win a debate, or even to open a debate on favorable terms, but to crush it. It is simply a fact that virtually every act of terrorism committed on American soil over the past ten years had roots in a failure to enforce immigration law. And it is very hard to understand how the party of law and order can turn such a decidedly complacent eye on widespread, deliberate criminality, particularly when said criminality has such well-documented and ghastly consequences.

(2) Military expenditures. Almost as astonishing as our disastrous irresponsibility toward immigration is our disinclination to sufficiently fund the military. Negligence on this scale gives credibility to the charge that the Terror War is nothing but a Phony War. With operations all over the world, occupation duties in (soon enough, if reports are to be believed) two anarchic former tyrannies of hopelessly complex ethnic and cultural constitution, the idea that since September 11 defense budgets have grown by less than a single percent of GDP is almost laughable; it verily boggles the mind. Are Americans unwilling to sacrifice even one percent of their wealth to fighting this war that “changed everything”? Or is the administration, and more broadly the political class, unwilling to ask this of them? Either conclusion is an enormously appalling arraignment of the health and resolve of a country supposedly at war.

Josh Claybourn has been bravely calling on conservatives to censure the Bush administration where it deserves censure for abandoning first principles —- which is sadly quite frequently. I second Mr. Claybourn’s sentiments; and its worth adding that the Democrats have a huge opportunity here: To be precise, if they want to have a real shot at Bush in 2004, they ought move to his right on security —- for there is a lot of real estate out there to be staked out. Indeed, there are suggestions that Sen. Bob Graham of Florida might be eyeing this option.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:28 AM |

Steve Sailer floats a sharp question for educators:

Why do we study trigonometry in high school instead of statistics? I took a semester of trigonometry but I can’t recall ever using it for anything. (I think you can use it to calculate how tall a tree is by the length of its shadow, but I never went into lumberjackery.) In contrast, I didn’t take any statistics classes until I was a senior in college, and I’ve used statistics every week since.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:16 AM |

Wednesday, January 08, 2003  

Now this is a great prank:

(Miami-AP) —- Two radio show hosts who use jumbled recordings of Fidel Castro to trick callers into believing they’re talking with the Cuban president say they have duped another victim —- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan Information Minister Nora Uribe confirmed today that the call took place, but said the president caught on and hung up.

On a recording of the call, Chavez, who is struggling to end a month-old national strike by opponents, happily [answered] what he thought would be a friendly call yesterday morning from Castro, one of his closest allies.

But on the other end of the line were WXDJ FM disc jockeys Joe Ferrero and Enrique Santos. They had tried about 10 times since Friday to bluff their way past Chavez aides at the Venezuelan presidential palace.

During the call, they played disjointed snippets of a private conversation between Castro and Mexican President Vicente Fox, which the Cuban leader released last year. They ended the conversation by calling Chavez “terrorist” and “animal,” along with a few expletives.

Ferrero said the station was inundated with congratulatory phone calls, but Santos said WXDJ owner Raul Alarcon Junior was NOT very happy.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:20 AM |

David Warren is among the very finest of commentators: honest, generous, shrewd, nimble with words and ideas. In a recent column, he lays out the Christian condemnation of homosexuality with a clarity and concision not often seen:

The problem, as . . . many millions of faithful instinctively grasp, is that the ordination of self-declared, practising homosexuals must necessarily overthrow the Christian doctrine of chastity. For this doctrine, presented plainly in the Bible and affirmed by every orthodox Christian church through the intervening 20 centuries, permits sex only between consenting adults, of opposite sex, who are permanently married to one another. We may forgive those who lapse into sin; and Christ is in the business of forgiving sinners. We cannot, however, change the definition of sin.

Now, make no mistake. Over the same 20 centuries, huge numbers of homosexuals have served the Church as priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and in every other station. It is inconceivable that the capacious monasteries of the Middle Ages didn’t take in people who were homosexual. But like those with heterosexual tendencies, each had to make and keep a vow of chastity, consecrating and sacrificing their sexuality to God. (The Anglicans already had lower standards, for a Roman priest may not even marry a woman.)

It is most certainly a sacrifice. And sacrifices must most certainly be made. The question before all Anglicans today, and those in many other mainstream Protestant confessions, is what will be sacrificed. Our errant sexuality to God, or our Church to the zeitgeist?

To my mind this is an important chapter in one of the great tragedies of the Modern Age: Many in the world, despairing and listless, ache for a refuge from the caprices and disappointment of the world, from the poison of sin which pollutes the world —- and so often it is our fate to watch as sublime, munificent appendages of the final Refuge of men, against which the Gates of Hell shall not prevail, conform themselves to the treacherous gales of fashion.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:18 AM |

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.

The relationship between the two countries will never be equal so long as South Korea is dependent on Washington for its defense. If a country wants America’s protection, it can’t complain when Washington calls the shots. How could it be any other way: Surely the U.S. cannot be expected to risk war on another nation’s terms. And so long as America protects the ROK, it will rightly demand special treatment for its soldiers. Even assuming that South Korean courts are fair and today’s rampant anti-Americanism won’t spill over into the judicial system, it would not be fair to U.S. soldiers to station them in another land to protect others while leaving them vulnerable to the vagaries of foreign injustice. Put bluntly, a country pays a price when it is a de facto protectorate.

That this arrangement is growing ever more difficult to sustain is evident when it comes to policymaking towards North Korea. Washington has established a troop tripwire in the ROK to ensure that it is involved in any war. As a result, the U.S. naturally wants to control the geopolitical environment.

This situation offers cold comfort for the South, however. A misstep towards Pyongyang would be bothersome for the U.S.; it would be catastrophic for the South. Yet, former President Bill Clinton relates, he prepared military options for use against the North a decade ago, with nary a nod to the South Koreans (and Japanese). President George W. Bush apparently rejected military coercion only because Korean President Kim Dae Jung personally related the horrors of the Korean War.

That is a thin reed for Seoul to rely upon in avoiding a new Korean War. As Roh recently complained, “We almost went to the brink of war in 1993 with North Korea, and at the time we didn’t even know it.”

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.

We —- along with everybody else who used to be considered a legitimate newspaper —- reported the other day about a sect of fruitcakes who claim to have cloned a baby. It was reported as a straight news story. Oh, there was a sentence here and there in most versions of the story wondering about proof but, basically, the story had all the trappings of a real story, including a photograph of the lead fruitcake spokeswoman, Brigitte Boisselier.

Now, according to the story this Boisselier is a doctor, or a chemist, or whatever. She called a press conference to announce that her group, Clonaid, successfully cloned a baby girl, Eve.

Clonaid, I went on to read, is operated by the Raelians, whose leader, Rael, claims that he met with space creatures in the 1970s and they convinced him that humans were created by genetic engineering 25,000 years ago.

Ah! what a breath of fresh air this clear-thinking candor is. And its very rarity on this story is damning.

We deserve every ounce of criticism we’re going to get for this one. This story should not have been printed. When Boisselier called a press conference nobody should have gone. She has no credibility. The Raelians have no credibility. Rael met with little green men? They have offered no scientific or medical writings. They have produced no proof of their claims. They have not produced the mother of the child. They have not produced the child.

And there is this similarly scathing rebuke by a Los Angeles Times columnist:

The point is that this is journalistic sloth masquerading as fairness. The mere recitation of [Raelian leader] Vorilhon’s preposterous story tells readers nothing useful about the Raelians or their dubious prophet. A quick look at the published record would have —- though it also would have diminished the story’s attractiveness.

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:

Above all, no credit could be given to Reagan, because acknowledging him would be an implicit reproach of the establishment intelligentsia. It is simply unthinkable that the Hollywood bumpkin Reagan could deal effectively with the Soviet Union if he rejected the irenic ministrations of the Council on Foreign Relations. Admitting that Reagan bested the foreign-policy smart set would have the most searching consequences for those who, as Reagan once put it, “make a fetish of complexity.” Reagan proved that the simplicity of Occam’s razor is what is most needed in foreign affairs. Historical argument over the Cold War, like argument over the French Revolution or the American Founding, is a proxy for the fight over fundamental political principles, and has relevance for the present moment. September 11 raised the stakes: It’s a straight line from the “evil empire” to the “axis of evil.”

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 |
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