Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Thursday, March 06, 2003  

It is difficult now to deny the persistent applicability of the old “balance of power” formulations of international affairs. America has been for twelve years a hegemonic power in the world, arousing among lesser powers resentment, anxiety and fear; yet until recently America’s attention had been diffuse, its eye wandering and distracted, its popular alertness to world events meager, its policies oscillating and discursive, not to say haphazard. Opposition importuned with bluster and fulmination an inattentive adversary, but failed to provoke a concerted response.

Once resolution hardened in the American people for determined action after the blow dealt on September 11, global opposition began to solidify as well. And now we have formidable coalitions gathering to counter American energy and decisiveness. It is striking, for example, to reflect on the tenuous nature of our position on the Korea Peninsula. The South Koreans, our allies, offer to act as mediators between us, their historian protectors, and the madman who targets their capital city with thousands of artillery tubes. The Chinese and Japanese seem positively insouciant about the prospects of North Korea settling into the role of nuclear pawn shop, to be patronized by any lunatic with hard currency; and their insouciance may indeed rest on a certain rationality: they are not likely to be first on the target list of terrorists. The more aggressive we are with North Korea, the more we alienate our allies, who know that our cities are the targets, not theirs; and further, know that their alliance with us is increasingly less attractive as America itself becomes the front line in this shadow war we fight against terrorists. (Stanley Kurtz lays out all this bleak business with admirable candor here and here.) The far Left is utterly inebriated by anti-Americanism and cannot think clearly for even a moment; as witness the same far Left which once palpitated in fear when contemplating nuclear arsenals isolated in a few countries, now scorning complacently the convergence of threats in nuclear proliferation and stateless terrorism. Ronald Reagan the cowboy stationing missiles in Germany terrified the Left; Osama the madman, procuring fissile material from North Korea, not so much. American resolution on disarming Iraq has also precipitated a bitter rift in our Atlantic alliance with Continental Europe, namely, France and Germany; and it has, predictably, inflamed the Muslim world against us.

All this is not to say that the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and (interminable) build-up to war has been wrongheaded or even misconceived (I outlined my own concerns on this topic here.) It is to say that the policy has not been without its costs, already. When a power as dominant as the United States undertakes to assert its will thousands of miles away, the balance power theory predicts that a compact of disparate lesser, but not inconsiderable powers will almost inevitably form up in opposition. This theory is hard to shake, its vaticinations being so far well vindicated.

How long can we afford to antagonize the world in such a way? There are limitations to American power; they can be seen rather vividly already in Asia, where our position is precarious and our options reduced to Bad, Worse, and Unthinkable: supine appeasement of the North Koreans; a bellicosity which drives our skittish Asian allies into the eager arms of China and thereby profoundly diminishes our power base in the Pacific (see Noah Millman’s penetrating post for more on this); or a massive, bloody, terrible war. Moreover, victory in Iraq will hardly attenuate the threat from North Korea, which will simply see the example of Saddam as a compelling argument for accelerating and expanding its nuclear program to secure a deterrent against the same fate.

Victory in Iraq, and occupation of the same, will also procure for us an unenviable responsibility (in addition to many others) of maintaining border relations with the unstable Iranian regime. The Iranian regime deserves to be unstable, for it is but a grim tyranny; it applies odious force to repress the Iranian people precisely because it is feeble; it is the consummation, the disillusion and discredit, of the Islamist fantasy. “Few are the partisans of a departed tyranny,” said Burke. And indeed, if providence should be so good, we will not mourn the passing of this tottering terror regime; but until that day we may regret the tensions of (in effect) sharing a border with the ayatollahs. This could be further exacerbated if American military success against Iraq, without the assent of the Europeans (again, France, Germany and the Low Countries), further drives the latter away from us, and into, perhaps, an uneasy concert of interests with Iran. More ominous still, I think, is where China will calculate its own interests after Iraq. Very likely, American military might again will astound, and inspire fear; is it inconceivably that Europe and China will begin to also calculate their interests as converging in opposition to the aggrandizing “hyperpower”?

These musings are undoubtedly speculative, some may say even alarmist. Very well. We live in alarming times. I have spoken here several times of my fear that we may be assisting in the consolidation of Europe under French or Franco-German dominance, and anti-American impetus; a development which would subdue the nascent and heartening independence of Eastern Europe and self-evidently set back our interests. It seems that everywhere one looks long-term trends forebode ill in this manner; and as Mr. Kurtz argues forcefully, the increase in nuclear proliferation tends to turn “foreboding” into “horrifying.”

posted by Paul Cella | 3:27 AM |

Wednesday, March 05, 2003  

David Brooks has a stimulating essay in the April Atlantic Monthly (not online yet) about “The Return of the Pig” —- that is, the male chauvinist pig. He surveys influential constituents of popular culture —- Maxim magazine, Comedy Central’s The Man Show, rap musicians —- and concludes that feminists have beat a rather hasty retreat in disarray from this new (if we can properly call it new) incarnation of the notorious male chauvinist:

The most interesting thing about the surge of retro-sexism is how unprepared feminists and other enlightened thinkers are to deal with it. The ironic tone of the material defeats them. Feminists seem to know they are being toyed with. They don’t want to appear to be earnest plodders in the face of hip, playful gestures, and they don’t want to grant that anyone is more postmodern than they are. [. . .]

We have a dynamic urban culture that treats women like whores and that regards owning a Mercedes as the highest possible human aspiration, and the leading articulators of progressive opinion have almost nothing to say about it. They can’t seem to bring themselves to admit out loud that their most effective ideological enemies have turned out to be the same underprivileged people they wanted to rescue from exploitation.

That last remark about “ideological enemies” is too clever by half, but Brooks’ analysis carries a distinct element of truth, I think. His writing is, characteristically, clear, calm and agreeable; his reasoning solid; and his ideas often quite insightful. Also characteristically, however, Brooks resolutely abjures polemics and all but the most modest of judgments; personally, this trait simultaneously arouses my respect and leaves me cold and dissatisfied, so indulge me while I supply my own polemics.

Feminism has been a nearly unmitigated disaster for women; sexual liberation has liberated no one so much as the predatory male. A fairly considerable portion of the energy of Christian civilization has been dedicated to the very considerable effort to restrain the biological tendency of most men toward infidelity. This effort has met with uneven, but very real and admirable success; and the resulting social structure centered on the traditional family is one deserving of reverence and obedience, even in the absence of any thorough knowledge of its sources of vitality and development. We might say that there is a conditioned prejudice, in most people, in favor of the traditional nuclear family; and that prejudice ought to be cultivated, because it cleaves close to the truth, the truth as apprehended through the centuries of human social organization. This prejudice, and the natural reverence for inherited wisdom it represents, ought to be greater still because the structure it addresses is a delicate one, and resists immediate penetration and appreciation by rationalistic or empirical thought. That is to say, there is superficial plausibility to arguments about self-actualization through sexual freedom constrained only by utilitarian considerations —- plausibility which is augmented by the multifarious failures of men and women to live up to the Christian ideal of matrimony. When resourceful people attack an institution like the family, they are not at a loss to find soft targets; nor can the institution’s defenders grasp so readily at outstanding examples for their defense. This institution’s great successes are often inconspicuous; its failures, spectacular.

But what the “progressive” innovators, among them the feminists, undertook was not merely to castigate the failures of the traditional Christian ideal of matrimony, but, dubbing the whole of it, ideal and all, a failure, to dismantle it comprehensively. Now here was a revolutionary project worthy of the name; and, despite provoking a vigorous and formidable reaction which may ultimately overwhelm it, this project has become, to an astonishing degree, part of our social state. This is an old story. The method was initially to divorce (an apt word) sex from child-rearing, from the responsibilities, from the sacrifices, from the hardships, joys and virtues —- all of it, root and branch. The advent of easy-access birth control assisted here immeasurably, and once the rather meager conventions against birth control were defeated, the project could proceed apace: the divorce of sex from marriage itself. A concomitant here was the undermining of the entire idea of sin in a sexual context. What is natural, it was argued, cannot be sinful, and so adultery became not a violation of the moral order of things, not a transgression against vows taken before God and Man, but, if condemnable at all, a mere breach of contract. Chastity was no longer a virtue but an abnormality; and it was foolish to even think that young men and women might restrain their urges. This large step was accomplished in law, as Noah Millman has argued cogently, through the mechanism of the “no-fault divorce,” which stipulates that marriages may be voided by simple mutual consent of the two parties. Once manage to conceive of marriage purely as a contract between autonomous individuals, dissolvable without any complaint of violation or even explanation, and alienated altogether from the interest of the community, or of the created order; accomplish that and a blow has been struck at the substance of the ideal itself, not simply its forms.

The damage inflicted on individual men, women and children, and on the social fabric of the nation, by the effacement of the traditional ideal of marriage and family is extensive. It hardly needs delineating at this late date. And I think it is safe to say the damage has been borne primarily by women and children. The enterprise undertaken to sever sex from all its viney entanglements with the rest of human life was hardly a surgical thing, though the social science rationalizations built up around it seemed to imply that it was; it was rather a wild and maniacal hacking at part of the roots of our society; the action of madmen, deracinated creatures awash in self-loathing. “Ten thousand women,” Chesterton wrote, belittling the feminism of his day, “marched through the streets shouting, ‘We will not be dictated to,’ and went off and became stenographers.” More modern feminists, and their comrades in the sexual revolution, thundered and marched for freedom, for liberation from the restraints of Christian sexuality, and ended up in bondage to the caprices of licentious males, and to the scars of shattered lives and the guilt of more ghastly “innovations.” Much of the action of Christian civilization, as it bent itself over the problem of sexual sin, was an effort to tame the baser urges of men (and women, but to a lesser degree); for men are disposed to promiscuity, and mankind is disposed to sin.

The extent to which such language strikes us as so jarring today reveals the depth of this revolution in our social state. That the wedding ceremony centers on vows of faithfulness taken before God, family and the wider community is lost on us, though that fact constitutes the wisdom of civilized man imparted to posterity. We have turned from that wisdom at grave peril.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:38 AM |

Friday, February 28, 2003  

Lee Harris stirringly defends the virtues of the word “evil”; and more broadly, the virtues of clarity of thought and speech, things which the academy seems to have undertaken to discredit and obliterate. If the first moral duty is indeed to think clearly, then Mr. Harris is surely right when he argues,

To tell the average man that there is something wrong with using the language of evil when this language is the only appropriate way of expressing his sense of benumbed outrage is itself a species of evil. It is the use of one’s intellectual superiority in order to subvert the trust that the average person feels in the intuitive reliability of his own moral conviction.

Elsewhere he writes:

To banish the word “evil” from the moral lexicon of humanity, simply in order to take a cheap shot at a politician, is an unforgivable act of moral and intellectual dishonesty. It is making use of one’s academic standing and scholarly reputation in order to debase the level of our public discourse, and those who engage in this kind of cant should be treated as charlatans and quacks.

The word evil has been used over and over again throughout human history as the means to energize human beings to deal with the wrongs and the outrages of the world, and various Bush-baiters of the academic world are perfectly cognizant of this fact. They know that it was the word that was used in the battle against slavery, against Nazism, against Communism, against segregation. They know that it is the only word that rings true when one wants to speak of such horrors as the Middle Passage and Auschwitz.

Strong words. True words.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:14 PM |

If I could but remove for a moment from our idiom the whole edifice build up around the language of abstract “rights”; remove it as if in the manner of a debate moderator I were setting the parameters of a contest. It would be interesting to discover whether, in the event of such a linguistic amputation, so to speak, all the vitiated and instinctual adversaries, the facile chicaners of ordered liberty as it has descended through the crooked timber of human institutions —- whether all these motley malcontents jostling about in Modernity’s lengthening shadows would have any material left with which to mold speech and engage in disputation. The language of abstract rights (by “abstract” I mean extracted from the whole nexis of human relations and contrivances, and shorn of the dangling tendrils of reality so to remain pristine, unreal and unsullied by the messiness of what is organic) beguiles our politics; it impoverishes and enervates; and finally renders discourse open to crabbed foolishness. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” goes a celebrated maxim; and the argot of rights has made our politics safe for fools. James Madison, surely an angel of political science, delineated the folly of a capitulation to the anodyne parlance of abstract rights with a memorably disdainful phrase when he wrote of the uselessness of “parchment barriers” against despotism.

People seem today to regard an assertion of “right” as the resounding end of an argument; a man like Madison, or a man like Burke, regarded it as merely the beginning —- perhaps just the preface. To assert a right to simply to say that a thing is worth preserving; the real question is how it is to be preserved. Proclaim whatever rights you chose; proclaim life, liberty and property, or liberty, equality and fraternity; but proclaim them without considering how they are to be secured within a body of law and tradition and convention and you have done little. Burke said some wise things in reflecting on the early propounders and consequences of the then-newfangled doctrine of “the rights of man”:

These metaphysic rights entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are by the laws of nature refracted from their straight line. Indeed, in the gross and complicated mass of human passions and concerns the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original direction. The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and, therefore, no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature or to the quality of his affairs.

Or again:

The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state and the due distribution of its powers a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to its strength, and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician rather than the professor of metaphysics.

Burke even went as far as to declare that restraints on the men’s appetites “are to be reckoned among their rights,” a opinion which surely rings discordantly to modern ears; but who can claim to enjoy the liberties of self-government that cannot learn to govern his own passions? Public self-government seems decidedly unlikely among a people who conceive of their political science and even their political philosophy as countenancing no restraint upon their sovereign desires. It was Burke’s nightmare vision of the rapine inaugurated by the “armed doctrine” of abstract rights that inspired his great effusion of sagacity and lucidity in Reflections on the Revolution in France, a truly oracular work which to my mind stands taller as history advances.

I thought of all this as I watched some ESPN journalists discuss the issue of the day: a women’s college basketball player at Manhattanville College who has, all season long, turned her back on the flag in protest during the singing of the national anthem. Excluding prepositions and stutters in speech, the word “right” must have been repeated more than any other. Her “right to protest”; the sacrifice of many to “protect her right”; the “rights symbolized” by the flag. The discussion was nearly intolerable, because no one could get around the huge and intimidating encumbrance represented by that dreaded word. In fact, the question of right is well nigh irrelevant. If she were a nameless spectator in the stands, her protest would remain anonymous and basically unnoticed, and her right, uncontroversial. But here, as the argument unfolds, we are conflating her right with her power; power granted not freely but in exchange for something, namely athletic talent. Few people are tendered such an opportunity, and it is not a right but a privilege. The acknowledgement of her right to protest the flag (which virtually everyone does acknowledge in the abstract) obscures more than it illuminates; and indeed it enfeebles our discernment because it drives out all the other principles which, whether perceived or not, do impinge upon this question. The principle of honor, for example; the principle of propriety, of convention; the principle of restraint or temperance; the principle of humility: To ignore these things is to abet the deterioration of our vocabulary.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:53 AM |

Wednesday, February 26, 2003  

In an fine review of an apparently fascinating book I had never heard of, Orrin Judd articulates an idea that has crossed my mind now and then:

The payroll deduction should be done away with. If the income tax is to remain, taxpayers should have to write a check to pay it. This would both show them exactly how much government is taking from them and create the possibility that a mass revolt might occur, and people refuse to write them, in a case where government had over-stepped what the polity is willing to allow.

The automatic payroll deduction must be one of the greatest, shrewdest fait accompli ever conceived and executed by the State and its unscrupulous pillagers. Citizens never see what is taken from them; the income is never theirs; the confiscation, the coercion, behind progressive taxation has achieved its ample completion, and is treated with general complacence. What a clever scheme!

posted by Paul Cella | 3:51 AM |

The new film “Gods and Generals,” which, it appears, has the temerity to depict Southern soldiers and generals as human beings, is receiving, as it were, all the right bad reviews. Nothing inflames the sensibilities of today’s prigs and proper-thinking liberals quite like a candid and sympathetic treatment of men who nobly fought for this disfavored, even monstrous cause. I myself have not seen this movie, but I like what I see in the fury unleashed on it by our monotone reviewers, who often seem to have undertaken to review history rather than a film that attempts to render history.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:54 AM |

Thursday, February 20, 2003  

Apologies to my loyal readers for the scarcity of posts. I am on vacation in Colorado, and the skiing is good, so please bear with me and do not abandon a writer grateful for your company . . .

In the meantime, perhaps these few good articles and reviews will sustain you in my absence. Orrin Judd on secularism. Patrick Henry Reardon on Roe v. Wade. Steve Sailer on posterity. Maximos Davies on celibacy. Andrew J. Bacevich on Empire. Anthony Daniels on Ivan Illich.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:43 PM |

Saturday, February 15, 2003  

Mugging the multiculturists: Lee Harris raises some sharp questions about the coherence of the multiculturalist ideology:

The irony of [the multiculturalist] position can be underscored by asking a single question, “Why is it that the Inquisition no longer exists today?”

The answer is simple: It no longer exists because it was not tolerated. Those who spoke for the Enlightenment fought it tooth and nail, and they have the glory of eliminating this kind of mentality from the attitude of even the most benighted of modern Christian sects. But can anyone seriously doubt that the Inquisition would still exist today, if no one had ever had the guts to say that it was absolutely and unconditionally wrong?

Yet our contemporary exponents of the Enlightenment, the multi-culturalists, do not see it this way. They are intent on arguing that the modern form of the Inquisition [theocratic Islam] should be looked upon as just another cultural value, which, quite obviously, it is — a fact that in itself should make us wary of the whole notion of cultural relativism.

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.
2. Shut down the NEA.
3. Shut down the U.S. Postal Service.
4. Enforce immigration laws.
5. Outlaw public-sector unions.
6. Disenfranchise nonmilitary government employees.
7. Scrap laws against discrimination.
8. Cut government budgets.
9. Grant independence to Puerto Rico.
10. Start testing our nukes again.
11. End bi-lingual education.
12. Prohibit the export of nuclear power plants.
13. End subsidies for higher education.
14. Eliminate the District of Columbia.
15. Ban Indian “gaming.”
16. End state lotteries, too.
17. Legalize pot.
18. Reduce the size of the cabinet.
19. Treat Saudi Arabia like an enemy.
20. Militarize space.

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.

While the issues in the race were many, the one underlying theme that drove the election was [Nativo] Lopez’s dogged belief in the need to teach the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants in Spanish rather than English. Lopez was done in by his advocacy of a brand of politics that emphasizes ethnic identity over assimilation, separatism rather than inclusion.

Mr. Lopez is gone. Music to the ears. Then there is this:

The recall effort was started by parents at one Santa Ana school who were frustrated that they could not enroll their children in English-immersion classes. Children who were speaking English at home and didn’t even know Spanish were being forced into classes taught mainly in Spanish.

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 |
Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com
Site Feed
Published Work
Links & Sources
Worthy Blogs
Longer Essays