Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, February 15, 2003 Mugging the multiculturists: Lee Harris raises some sharp questions about the coherence of the multiculturalist ideology:
James Burnham once presciently described liberalism as “the ideology of Western suicide”; its object is to reconcile us to our own agonizing and appalling decline. Perhaps Burnham was just an early and prophetic diagnostician of multiculturalism, which could be regarded simply as liberalism without a soul.posted by Paul Cella | 1:09 AM |
Friday, February 14, 2003 A list of twenty things “necessary but impossible,” from John Derbyshire and Noah Millman:
1. Leave the U.N.
Go a read each one; the whole of them represents a glorious repository of common sense and pithy wisdom. Number 6 strikes me as the most controversial; even Mr. Millman demurs on that bombshell recommendation. But think about it: in a democracy — excuse me, a republic — the principal public official is the voting citizen; far more dangerous than the spectacle of corrupt politicians is the fact of corrupt voters. People dependent for their livelihood on the State should not exercise legislative power over public finances, not even indirectly through representation, because in allowing such a dynamic we make the commonwealth profoundly vulnerable to that splendid old temptation which lies at the heart of the problematics of Democracy; namely, the temptation of legally plundering the wealth of one’s fellow citizens through one’s clout at the voting booth. As Mr. Derbyshire asks, “Can you vote yourself a pay raise?” A republic is severely debased when its most productive citizens’ property is held in bondage to confiscatory taxation. Progressive taxation is a Marxist concept for precisely this reason; to saddle the capitalists and weaken property rights, and finally aggrandize the State and its dependents. And of course there will always be politicians agreeable to securing their own luxurious lifestyle by facilitating this legislative plunder.posted by Paul Cella | 2:42 AM |
The astute and meticulous Randall Parker believes that German and French obstinacy in providing NATO support for Turkey may be explained by the desire of those two countries to weaken NATO, in order to replace an American-dominated institution with a European (read: French and German) one, namely, the EU. The decline or dissolution of the North Atlantic military alliance would remove the single largest obstacle to the construction of a unified European military structure, a major step toward a more consolidated Europe.
It should be obvious that European integration around a Franco-German core, with almost expressly anti-American inspiration, is a very bad thing. The very words: consolidated Europe, send a shiver down my spine. Besides the immense size of such an entity, facing us with thinly-veiled antagonism, or at least as a resentful rival, and full of quasi-socialist impulses, the power of our friends elsewhere in Europe would be substantially reduced. Eastern Europe, Italy, Spain, and of course Britain deserve a better fate than to have their interests and voices drowned out in the EU bureaucracy; if the diplomatic policy of the United States remains one of encouragement of European integration, it is difficult to see how these countries can resist the centripetal force of the 140 million-strong economic clout of the Franco-German bloc.
As much as it vexes to have thousands of American servicemen tied down in Germany, and to have elements of our defense policy entangled by fickle and clever European realpolitickers, the dissolution of NATO on French and German terms would be an ominous development indeed. There is a strong argument to be made that NATO has outlasted its usefulness as a Cold War institution; but I don’t think we can indulge that argument if it means that NATO will be dismantled as a direct result of European muscle, intransigence, duplicity and cunning deployed against American interests.
This is a fairly brazen move by the French and Germans if indeed their object is to enervate NATO; but it is not out of line with general trend of European opposition to the U.S. “hyperpower.” Nor is it hard to reconcile with the deep-seated psychological distress of proud European nations being dependent for so many years on the upstart Americans —- a dynamic which stretches back across virtually the entire 20th century. Many Europeans in their traditional realpolitick way have long seen the EU as a bulwark against American influence, economically of course, but eventually militarily as well. NATO stands solidly in the way of the latter. Consolidation of a European superstate, as the favored term phraseology goes, will ever be incomplete with a robust NATO obstructing European initiatives.
We must not forget the pointed reminder several weeks ago that a very large portion of Europe in fact supports the U.S. Middle East policy, and thus implicitly rebukes the French and German opposition. American influence in countries like Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, even Italy naturally weakens the French and German position, within NATO of course, but also, importantly, within the EU, which has always been conceived —- not only by Frenchmen and Germans —- as a largely French and German enterprise. It was Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer who originally imagined it as so (Time once called the latter the “apostle of United Europe”); imagined it, that is, as an “Old Europe” barricade against Soviet imperialism and American hegemony.
I think that under the right circumstances European independence from America could be a good thing, even a desirable thing. With military independence, and the fiscal necessity of funding a real military, might come greater responsibility. With distance might come less resentment; and a deepening of respect based on mutual acknowledgement of obligations and interests. Of integration, into a vast bureaucratic behemoth, I am far less sanguine; the urge toward tyranny on the European continent is an ancient one; the siren’s song of socialism has never abated, despite the calamities of socialism applied; all this fused with the steamroll of multiculturalism makes for a despotic force indeed.
There are alternatives to this bleak development, ones that require foresight and perseverance to bring off. Steve Sailer and others have proffered the recommendation that NATO be reconfigured more globally, jettisoning European intransigents in favor of more friendly nations like Australia, Israel, Taiwan, perhaps India. John O’Sullivan, always among the sharpest of commentators on European affairs, suggests a Transatlantic Free Trade Area, including Britain and Turkey and anyone else who wants to join, with the object to build a “Euro-American free trade community to match the defense community of NATO.” There are probably a host of other good ideas floating around. One thing is clear; as Mr. O’Sullivan puts it, “our present approach of helping our rivals to build an anti-American fortress and then complaining that they keep firing arrows at us” is no longer acceptable.posted by Paul Cella | 12:31 AM |
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 [Note: the following is not intended as a polished and textured polemic; it has its polemical elements, to be sure; for the author cannot so easily shed his polemical inclinations, even if indeed he wanted to. It is a frankly discursive, not to say disjointed, reflection, the product of troubled ambivalence; of a mind which rests only very uneasily, and takes flight at momentary disturbance. On these matters, however, the author feels that he has done his loyal readers a disservice in leaving unarticulated even those things he has difficulty articulating. Where once there was assurance on these matters of gravity, and perhaps a tincture of bellicosity in asserting that assurance, now there is uncertainty. Alas, being at a loss to resolve these conundrums, the author resolves to leave them without resolution. –- Ed.]
What about the war in Iraq, you ask? Well, of that I am deeply ambivalent: that’s the truth, and its also the reason why my posting on the topic has been so sparse. I cannot quite fathom why the administration has not made a more emphatic effort to highlight the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. That’s the crux of the whole thing. The “weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a madman” argument —- horrifying though it is —- is not enough, in my view, to justify a dismantling of the Westphalian international structure, which structure centers on the sovereignty of nation-states. (The best piece on this aspect is here.) A potential threat, no matter how monstrous, does not justify preemptive action; the threat must be imminent. Surprise attacks have ever been with us; the cruel complication of Technology’s nightmares does not alter basic principles. If Iraq is allied with al-Qaeda, gives it aid and comfort, abets its sinister intrigues, arms it with hideous technology, systematically shelters its minions, even if it were not specifically part of the 9/11 plot, then that is enough; the regime must fall. I support a war of self-defense, but I am very skeptical about the idea of preemptive war.
Moreover, I am frankly fed up with the fanciful, even utopian schemes of some conservatives about a huge and comprehensive democratic revolution in the Arab world. Conservatives oppose the very idea of Revolution, remember? And they criticize not only the excesses of democracy, but the thing itself. Where is the Burkean imagination? Is there anyone left on the Right who remembers the vast bulk of literature examining the indispensable role of organic, prescriptive institutions and mores in giving life to ordered freedom? Have we forgotten how precious it is? how difficult to export?
(I admit that this You-Say-You-Want-A-Revolution fancy once inebriated me; but I can only comment by saying that I believe brashness and anger has yielded to wisdom, or at least to humility.)
Part of the problem here is the profound intellectual poverty of the Left. The whole debate about this massive and complex threat to Western civilization, this clash of civilizations, is, for all intents and purposes, being hashed out on the Right. The best arguments against war come from the Right; the best arguments for it come from the Right. The Left chicanes and heckles, enfeebles and distracts; it says almost nothing of value, except when it adopts polemical postures hammered out in earnest by antiwar conservatives. The Left is reduced to that mute and stupid slogan: "No Blood for Oil"; or to looking toward the French (!) for guidance.
Meanwhile, there is a wing of the conservative movement, wielding great and I think disproportionate influence in the administration, which imagines the role of America today as imperial, with a reformulated noblesse oblige, to democratize rather than civilize, animating it. I think this wild idea dangerous, impractical and largely divorced from reality; but even if it were advisable, do we really think that this country could undertake to implement it, with ruthlessness and perseverance? We have not that strength; it is imprudence to think so; the British imperialists, who failed bitterly and disastrously as much as they succeeded, were made of sterner stuff than us. We cannot even get control of our own immigration policy where it concerns immigrants from countries full of our enemies! We can hardly educate our own children (see below)! For us, it is controversial to demand that school children be taught English; or to question the wisdom of that tedious old refrain about a certain religion of peace, which nevertheless inspires and countenances bloody mayhem on the occasion of a beauty contest. These are the symptoms of a profound spiritual loss of nerve; the most general and brazen symptom being that hubris which gives rise to the notion that a nation ashamed of its own institutions and traditions, its own founts of inspiration, its own ideals as they developed organically out of a matrix of reason and faith, its own school of experience and inherited wisdom —- that a nation ashamed of all these things, can successfully export them to those resentful masses who long for our demise.
I am open to the idea that we must be imperial because we are in fact an Empire; and that, as such, we must punish and humiliate the barbarians when they rise. We are an Empire, we best start to act like one, this argument goes. Fine, I say; let us have that debate, but let us not be deluded about what it entails. Imperial Rome near the end was essentially a totalitarian state; certainly a grim tyranny. Must we go down that road? I think we must if the alternative is chaos in a nuclear age. But taking it may well mean very simply the end of the Age of Democracy, perhaps the end the Age of Freedom.
My own frustration should be evident. In the end, I’ll probably trust the President, because he has earned it. Secretary Powell’s presentation last week was strong, and it hinted at a lot more. Like I say, I wonder why the al-Qaeda connections have been so downplayed. If those links exist —- and the fact that I think they do is what keeps me in the hawk camp -- then Baghdad delenda est.
I’ve moved from being a forceful hawk to a very reluctant one. How do I explain this? A lot of reading, particularly of older works; observation, particularly of our spinelessness in confronting the unrelenting assault on civilization that issues from our culture, our politics, even our churches; distance from September 11; the obvious success of our intelligence services over the last fifteen months; a deepening of faith, with its attendant retreat, in a sense, from the fleeting crises of the world; all these things are factors. What I have produced here in trying to articulate my views is to me deeply unsatisfying; but I feel that I cannot just ignore the great pressing issue of the day. Make of this what you will, gentle reader.posted by Paul Cella | 4:20 AM |
A blow has been struck for sanity. In the most Spanish-speaking city in America, voters recalled from public office a Hispanic politician by a 40% margin. The reason: his truculent espousal of bilingual education.
Mr. Lopez is gone. Music to the ears. Then there is this:
Reflect on that last sentence for a moment. Is there any limit to the folly of the State? Is it even possible to conceive of a more destructive policy than one that forces English-speakers into a Spanish-immersion class merely to appease platitudes and abstractions and feverish identity politics?
It must quite thoroughly startle those who peddle in these narcotics, and who imbibe the abstractions like moonshine, that most Hispanics dislike bilingual education, and recognize the value of English for their children. Now imagine the discomfort these intellectual decadents will encounter when they learn that Hispanic dislike mass immigration too. (Thanks to Virginia Postrel for the link.)posted by Paul Cella | 1:03 AM |
While we’re on the subject of education, Fred Reed records some vivid musings on the state of American education. It ain’t pretty, he concludes. posted by Paul Cella | 1:01 AM |
Saturday, February 08, 2003 This may be a reflection of my mere American ignorance, but I think the greatest contribution Canada has made is the game of hockey. This may also be a very unoriginal rumination indeed; but it is neither insincere nor designed to belittle our neighbors to the north. I recall with nostalgia when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996 (they won again, of course, in 2001), and in my hometown of Denver a guy named Mike Ricci was the most popular man in the city, and, even more peculiarly, a favorite of the ladies. Now only hockey could have produced in public persona a ladies’ man out of a guy like Ricci.
Ricci, now with the San Jose Sharks I believe, is what they call a “mucker” or a “grinder” (maybe real aficionados will know the precise distinctions between these terms). His vocation, variously, is to get beat up in front of the opponents’ goal in an effort to disrupt the defense and goaltender; to antagonize and infuriate the opponents, unnerve them, distract them, induce them to commit bad penalties, and generally make a nuisance of oneself. This is very simply not a position of grandeur and elegance, and of infrequent glory. Goals tend to be for grinders workmanlike, controversial, even ugly; a game-long battering, above and beyond what is typical for all hockey players, is expected; contributions often go unsung (though not among one’s teammates).
Somehow Ricci commanded not merely the respect but the adoration of Colorado fans. An unlikely development, this; and compounded by the fact that Mr. Ricci, I’m afraid, is not an attractive man. Nose broken innumerable times; a stringy mop of disheveled hair; missing teeth in conspicuous places; scars, bruises, gashes, stitches, etc. For him to become a sex symbol in superficial and sex-obsessed modern America communicates something profound about this sport. A different facet, I expect, of that same something is communicated by the prominent role honor plays in hockey —- a role which, while not altogether absent in other games, is certainly less visible. Each team employs an “enforcer”: a big, bruising thuggish type whose game on skates is usually quite modest, but skill with his fists is considerable. The job of the enforcer is to intimidate, and retaliate against perceived infractions against teams’ superstars and smaller guys. Rolling Stone ran a rowdy and delightful report on hockey enforcers some years ago full of fascinating little tidbits. Many enforcers, for example, are good friends; and on the ice, they often amicably discuss preparations for the inevitable fight beforehand: “Skate around over there in the corner; I’ll come find you.” Enforcers are rather more serious when there is a question of a team’s honor on the line, as when a star player is injured on a cheapshot, or near the end of an embarrassing blowout. With five minutes left in the Third Period of a 5 – 0 game, the shrewd betting man will anticipate a fight breaking out, provoked by the losing team’s desire to “send a message.” Then there is the legendary pain threshold of hockey players. Guys have played on broken legs, dislocated shoulders, ruptured spleens, and broken noses uncounted. Injury reports, accordingly, are famously deceptive and inaccurate; if a player is going to stake with a separated shoulder, there is no good in announcing it to the opposition.
But the true glory of professional hockey is the playoffs. In my view, the only thing in all of sports that exceeds in greatness the NHL playoffs is the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament. Outside of that, the hockey playoffs are the best Sport has to offer the serious or amateur spectator. The playoff series are seven-game slugfests. By game two or three, certainly by game four, both teams know the other well, and have made the necessary adjustments. There will be few surprises; the outcome will be determined by grit, talent, endurance, a bit of luck, and sheer will. It replicates, in a real if limited way, the thrill of battle, which is really what Sport aims at: the contest of will, the pure physical struggle of men attempting to impose their will on other men.
The honor remains: at the end of this grueling struggle, unusual if it did not draw blood, the opponents meet at center ice, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries and congratulations. I always find myself moved by this tradition.posted by Paul Cella | 9:27 PM |
Thursday, February 06, 2003 David Pryce-Jones writes a characteristically masterly paragraph in assessing the life and work of the historian and pathetically intransigent Communist Eric Hobsbawm:
Eric Hobsbawn is an odious, corrupt figure indeed, as Mr. Pryce Jones ably demonstrates; and the accolades he has received without scruple from literary, cultural and educational institutions aplenty are as severe an indictment of the modern intellectual world as one might come across. But more broadly, one wonders why it is that intellectuals have so unremittingly surrendered their independence and integrity to abject servility at the feet of the State, no matter how brutal the State becomes. Mr. Pryce-Jones describes this as “a mystery peculiar to the twentieth century”; this I would gently question, for who but the towering figure of Edmund Burke stood against the blood-soaked French Revolution, that touchstone of the modern idea of Revolution? Some did of course; but for most, there was not but indifference or celebration. Even today there is certain miasma of eccentricity about someone who stridently decries the French Revolution; which produces the sort of frisson of rebellion that greets a statement like that of Jeffrey Hart: “When I first heard about the French Revolution, I decided I was against it.” The perfidy of the intellectuals is an older story than that of the twentieth century.posted by Paul Cella | 12:34 AM |
Wednesday, February 05, 2003 The intrepid and ever-fascinating Steve Sailer argues that democracy and capitalism may not be as compatible as today’s whimsical theorists would have it. Personally, I’ll take the latter over the former any day. Rare indeed in the tyranny that develops in a nation that secures property rights and free exchange; democracies, especially those resting on weak constitutions, and unstable cultural and social foundations, degenerate into tyranny with appalling felicity. One might go as far as to say that democracy positively facilitates the descent into despotism where it simply and uncontrollably exposes the wealth of a country to the plunder of the discontented, the unprincipled, the ignorant; the clever mountebank will not long neglect the opportunity that the beguiling of blocs of voters will provide him in his designs of avarice.
One of the gravest deficiencies in our public discourse, including, most importantly perhaps, among those on the Right, is that of a sustained, vigorous criticism of Democracy; not merely Democracy’s excesses, but Democracy as an idea, Democracy itself as the governing ideal of a nation. The lack of this dynamic has left a great preponderance of the public discussion a mere muddle of platitudes.posted by Paul Cella | 4:31 AM |
It was only a matter of time: a journalist faces possible prosecution and incarceration for his public attitudes and words alone. And where will the strident anti-censorship crowd of full of “all questions are open questions” self-righteousness be? Conspicuously absent, I anticipate. Freedom was good while it lasted.
(Note well that the article linked above goes to great lengths to paint as dark and ugly a picture of the accused as possible; this, of course, to elide over the plain fact that his prosecution, if it comes, will be for written words only.)posted by Paul Cella | 1:07 AM |
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 |