Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

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 |

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:

A mystery peculiar to the twentieth century is that intellectuals were eager to endorse the terror and mass-murder which characterized Soviet rule, at one and the same time abdicating humane feelings and all sense of responsibility towards others, and of course perverting the pursuit of truth. The man who sets dogs on concentration camp victims or fires his revolver into the back of their necks is evidently a brute; the intellectual who devises justifications for the brutality is harder to deal with, and far more sinister in the long run. Apologizing for the Soviet Union, such intellectuals licensed and ratified unprecedented crime and tyranny, to degrade and confuse all standards of humanity and morality. Hobsbawm is an outstanding example of the type. The overriding question is: how was someone with his capacity able to deceive himself so completely about reality and take his stand alongside the commissar signing death warrants?

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 central problem with John Judis’s theory of an Emerging Democratic Majority is that the groups that are supposed to make up its coalition do not share common interests. They are bound together only by their dependence on government to either dole out money to them or to preserve legal regimes they favor (abortion, affirmative action, etc.). Now that Latinos are poised to surpass blacks as America’s most numerous minority (excluding women —- a minority only in the politically correct sense) the tension between the two groups is likely to get quite ugly.

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 |
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