Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Monday, February 03, 2003 Orrin Judd writes,
The good Mr. Judd is among those who’s normally sharp intellect is dulled by oft-repeated pious myths and utopian promises when it comes to the question of immigration. While he does not discuss that question directly here, it is my impression that a great many on the Right are frankly a bit giddy about the prospect of a supposedly conservative Hispanic block eclipsing the power of blacks, and thereby providing an angle of approach for Republicans to attract the loyalty of minority voters in greater numbers. Of this fanciful scheme I am very dubious.
More worrying still than a complacency with regard to the difficulties of competing with Democrats in the area of pandering, is the sense that the Right would rather abet systematic lawlessness in the form of illegal immigration than concern itself with the plight of American citizens; citizens, to be sure, who may not often vote Republican, but citizens nonetheless. It is a fact that illegal immigration is advantageous to business, in particular to unscrupulous business, not because, as in that old slander, immigrants “will do the jobs that Americans will not,” but because they can be paid less, illicitly, for the same jobs. Employers can subvert duly-enacted minimum wage laws, or scorn payroll taxes, or ignore labor regulations, with impunity, by spurning American citizens and instead turning to illegal immigrants. Such legislation is not the kind usually admired by conservatives, as it impedes the operation of the free market, but it is law nonetheless; and it is disheartening to witness the party of law and order wink at such insolent defiance of the law. So blacks and lower-class whites who are displaced from their jobs because immigrants can undercut their wages through illegal means should just suck it up: this appears to be the implicit view of the immigration enthusiasts; and it is a cold and callous and perfidious one indeed.
Neither am I robustly confident that Mexicans will so easily resist the dependency perpetuated by the kind of pandering by politicians to which they are subject right now. Incessantly we are assurred that today’s new immigrants will simply follow the path of previous immigrants to eventual prosperity and, presumably, GOP-voting patterns. But these comparisons neglect several crucial factors:
(1) For those earlier generations there was not yet a huge welfare bureaucracy to enervate the industrious virtues which make assimilation, and consequently prosperity, possible. Today the state, and its sly and sycophantic partisans, seems to positively aim at destroying those virtues —- through hidebound ideas like bilingual education in public schools. It is difficult to imagine a policy more destructive of assimilation and independence than that which deprives aspiring Americans of the English language.
(2) Obviously, the previous waves of immigration did a important thing: they ended; that is, there was a period of large-scale immigration, followed by a severe reduction, a pattern which tended to facilitate assimilation. Right now the will for any precipitous reduction is nonexistent, except among the most demonized and despised of commentators. Do the enthusiasts of today imagine that one day, some years on, the impetus to reduce immigration will just arise spontaneously, and the political class duly respond with prompt action? Does the immigration faction conceive that the whole motion of modern politics, which drives implacably against any attempt to reassert the national principle, will suddenly shift like a summer breeze, and turn against what it now endorses so insouciantly? This is the stuff of fairy-tale.
(3) Finally, the will to resist the debilitating force of political correctness, which erodes all efforts to encourage assimilation and attacks the very idea of assimilation, is, to put it mildly, less than overwhelming. Need I document this? It should be palpable to any clearheaded observer. When a thing so fiercely unpopular as unregulated immigration goes on in defiance of all protests; when its opponents, arguing reasonably on specific points, are shouted down with cant, watchwords and calumny; when a tacit unity exists between political parties to ignore the protests, to pretend they do not exist, and the popular will is thus thwarted; when this studied benightedness on the part of public and political figures produces a highly visible catastrophe, and yet remains unaddressed even after said catastrophe; when all these facts are before us in abundance, I think it is fair to say that a dangerous usurpation has occurred. It is not as though the country is sharply divided about immigration; no indeed: whenever they are asked about it, the American people, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, young and old, reply with a resounding: “reduce immigration!” It is rather that few will listen who wield power and influence.
I am not one who believes that the people are never wrong; I have castigated the recklessness of unchecked democracy on numerous occasions in this space. The people have been wrong many times, disastrously and brazenly, and they will be again. But we become mere languid enablers of despotism if we do not set the presumption in favor of the people as against the functionaries and observers of the State. Republican government is nothing, it is but a charade, if representatives need not heed the wishes of their constituents; if popular discontent on a precise and identifiable issue yields nothing in political action. Right now, on the question of immigration, republican government is indeed a charade; and the leadership and intellectual lights of the Republican party are abetting it.posted by Paul Cella | 2:44 PM |
Saturday, February 01, 2003 I note with gladness that our President, Mr. Bush, does not disdain to cite for vigor and reassurance the ineffable words recorded in the Christian (and in this case, importantly, Jewish) Scripture. For those words, as every great orator and writer knew well, can give eloquence and ballast to even the meanest of speakers, and might to the most fragile of protests; it is a coat of great and shining platemail to the poor and desperate, and a shield to the defenseless. It has, I think we might fairly say, along with the challenges of tragedy and heartbreak —- challenges to which simple men so often rise —- transformed a very mediocre and limited public orator by the name of George W. Bush into a figure of real and solid inspiration.
I write, of course, as a supporter of President Bush, but one who has serious disagreements with him on issues large and small; moreover, I write as a Christian; these two facts being what they are, some may be inclined to simply dismiss my comments as the effusions of ineffaceable bias. But I note, against these detractors, that others immeasurably more eminent than myself have come to the same general conclusion about the authority and import of the Bible. An editor of Burke: “In the sections of his works in which this grave simplicity is most prominent, Burke frequently employed the impressive phrases of the Holy Scripture, affording a signal illustration of the truth, that he neglects the most valuable repository of rhetoric in the English language who has not well studied the English Bible.” The term rhetoric here does not carry the tincture of sophistry or insincerity that we tend to associate with it today. Might we not say that “this grave simplicity” is the heart of what eloquence Mr. Bush possesses?posted by Paul Cella | 5:30 PM |
Friday, January 31, 2003 Take a look at this:
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.
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.”
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:
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?” 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.
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.
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,
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.”
His conclusion resonates with the hard truths of a fallen world made terrifying by the technical mastery of man.
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.
One almost cringes reading such deadpan evisceration of a venerated literary figure. Mr. Kramer also adds a sparkling little piece of explanatory insight:
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:
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:
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,
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,
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:
posted by Paul Cella | 4:16 AM |
Wednesday, January 08, 2003 Now this is a great prank:
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:
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.
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 |