Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Saturday, June 28, 2003  

If you want to read about a bit of an obscure subject with very large implications, follow this link to Jeremy Lott’s blog and cruise around a little, checking other links. The story is of the fall of Canada’s only significant conservative magazine. The larger story is of democracy and tradition and human tragedy; in short, all the good stuff. I contributed a sort of outsider's broadside in defense of traditionalism.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:21 AM |

Friday, June 27, 2003  

Peter Hitchens, brother of the ubiquitous Christopher Hitchens, and adversary in most matters political and philosophical, has a vivid and despondent essay in the current American Conservative (not online) relating his experiences in postwar Iraq. The picture he paints is grim.

The Hitchens brothers are a prominent instance of the decay of modern political allegiances — or, as some would aver, a mere recovery of the old allegiances which antedate the ideological bloodletting of the twentieth century. Peter is a conservative, and an opponent of the Bush administration’s hawkish attitude and (more sharply) its readiness to deploy military force; in short, he is a conservative in the pre-Second World War mold; and isolationist, if you insist. Christopher is a socialist and admirer of Leon Trotsky, an occasionally contrarian critic of the Left, and, most of all, a fierce and often crankish antagonist of religion is all its forms; in particular, its Christian form.

Ignorance of history is widespread, and so a great number of people are stricken with befuddlement at the idea that conservatives can oppose the very idea of military interventions absent direct and manifest provocation; forgetting, as we unhistorical people are prone to do, that for a very long time, right up until World War II, conservatives did just that. The case they made was strong, I think: interventions abroad mean an expansion of state power over private enterprise and personal liberty at home; a republic will not long endure imperial responsibilities.

Ultimately, conservatism’s antipathy for Revolution won out over its principled stance against foreign adventures; and, facing the marching might of the Soviet Revolutionary State, it reconciled itself at home to a consolidated federal State ready to act militarily against Communist aggression. I have a hard time questioning this judgment, despite my natural sympathy for what is often called the Old Right. Self-serving analyses since the fall of the Soviet State have adopted the attitude that, Communism being unworkable as a political economy, the USSR’s fall was inevitable. Perhaps it was, in some strict and indefinite sense; but despotism need not be “workable” to subjugate, and tyranny can certainly endure its own widespread internal folly. The Communists had to be opposed with vigor and ferocity. They had penetrated virtually every Western government with agents, were actively subverting Western institutions while operating under their rubrics of equity and openness to conceal their efforts, and were fully prepared to overthrow each of these governments, no matter what the cost in misery and blood.

In this context one must read the strange and illustrative demarcation symbolized by the Hitchens brothers. It should, I think, give any serious and historically-minded right-winger pause to discover that he agrees with Christopher against Peter on a large issue like war; as it should a left-winger who finds himself in agreement with Peter against Christopher. It is telling then, and further evidence of the truth of the old dictum about conservatives as “the stupid party,” that while leftist opponents of the war in Iraq haven’t given Mr. Peter Hitchens so much as the time of day, right-wing supporters of it have gone out of their way to laud his brother and cite him as an authority. I recall an editorial paragraph in National Review some months ago celebrating the alliance forged between C. Hitchens, despiser of things Christian, and “America’s Conservative Magazine.” I am not holding my breath for any similar tribute to P. Hitchens, despiser of things huge and despotic and cumbersome, Christian enthusiast of things humble and sane, in the pages of The Nation.

I am not undertaking an ideological purge here. I recognize that alliances in politics can be curious things from the more rigid perspectives of abstract principles. I recognize, further, that we are in the midst of a fragmentation of ideological, even philosophical, lineaments; that the bitterness in the politics of our day is probably proportionate to the steady decay of their concrete meaning, along with the decay of the rest of the Modern Age. In recognizing this, I tremble most; for it might be that the Right has chosen poorly, and lent its now considerable weight to something emphatically leftist in nature, that is, to something injurious to the transcendent moral order of liberty and sanity. The Right might thus be right on the narrow question of war with Iraq, but horribly wrong on the much larger and more consequential questions of intervention, the role of the nation-state, and democracy as a stable regime. By a tragic fate, borne in confusion and haste and faction, the modern Right might be debasing itself before the emerging globalist or postmodern Left; and therefore C. Hitchens might stand as a presentiment of this approaching ruin.

Those are, in my darker moods, my fears. They may be bogus; they may be foolish; but it ought not be forgotten how disastrous the Right’s previous associations of an immediate political nature have been. One example should suffice. The damage done to constitutional government, to the majestic theory of federalism, to local autonomy, by the Right’s countenance of slavery in North America is incalculable. And I do know that the ease with which conservatives have embraced a man like C. Hitchens and generally ignored the admonitions of his brother, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:56 PM |

Well, the Supreme Court yesterday, though it tried mightily to avoid it, effectively declared all privately-engaged sexual activity to be a constitutional right; and thereby denied to the people of the states, acting through their duly-elected representatives, the capacity to restrict it in any way. That is the logic of the Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas. To it’s credit, the Court majority abjured, at least in its rhetoric, accomplishing so massive an innovation; instead relying on the narrower “right to privacy” and asserting that the state has no legitimate interest in punishing sodomy. That may be, but as Justice Scalia noted is his lucid dissent,

One of the benefits of leaving regulation of this matter to the people rather than to the courts is that the people, unlike judges, need not carry things to their logical conclusion. The people may feel that their disapprobation of homosexual conduct is strong enough to disallow homosexual marriage, but not strong enough to criminalize private homosexual acts —- and may legislate accordingly. The Court today pretends that it possesses a similar freedom of action, so that that we need not fear judicial imposition of homosexual marriage . . . Do not believe it.

It is telling that homosexual activists like Andrew Sullivan agree with precisely this point, in the midst of disparaging Scalia’s defense of “prejudice.” While some of us may be coaxed into unapologetically defending prejudice, enamored as we are by some unthinking fools and bigots who go by the names of Burke and Oakeshott, it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on a curious fact: The advocates of gay liberation, like Mr. Sullivan, who agitated for an overturning of the Texas law (and all others like it), commend the Court’s ruling but reject its cautionary reasoning. The Court majority is trying to hold a line against logic, against the pressures of its own petitioners whose argument it endorsed, and against what it calls “an emerging awareness” in society “that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex.” In short, the Court majority seeks to hold a line against its own logic, its own arguments, and the political consensus that the majority itself cited as apprehending in support of its ruling. Justice Scalia is right when he says that this ruling “effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation” and when he says,

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ [a precious Court ruling which upheld anti-sodomy laws] validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.

As a matter of political philosophy, Justice Thomas’ dissent is a marvel of concision. I quote it in its entirety, excising some legal citations and jargon:

I join Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion. I write separately to note that the law before the Court today “is ... uncommonly silly.” Griswold v. Connecticut, (1965) (Stewart, J., dissenting). If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.

Notwithstanding this, I recognize that as a member of this Court I am not empowered to help petitioners and others similarly situated. My duty, rather, is to “decide cases ‘agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.’” And, just like Justice Stewart, I ‘can find [neither in the Bill of Rights nor any other part of the Constitution a] general right of privacy,” or as the Court terms it today, the “liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.”

Finally, as a matter of cruder politics, I think we see here yet more evidence of Justice O’Connor growing into her own as Empress of the Imperial Judiciary. Justice Scalia quotes a wry remark from a previous ruling, now overturned by this decision, on sodomy: “The law is constantly based on notions of morality, and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, the courts will be very busy indeed.” Justice O’Connor, in fact, declares in her concurrence the Texas law to be in violation of the Due Process Clause; a very busy Court, it seems, would suit her fine. In this week alone she has asserted her authority to scrutinize, with dispositive authority, every admissions policy for schools and other learning institutions in the country; and to rule with similar dispositive authority, over every piece of legislation informed by moral traditions in all the fifty states. It is often remarked that Sandra O’Connor is the most powerful woman in the country; perhaps it would be better to say she is the most powerful person in the country. And she is not constrained by any law, but rather decrees the Law; even liberals assent to this last judgment, if their words after the famed Bush v. Gore ruling mean anything.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:32 AM |

Thursday, June 26, 2003  

Certainly, the appearance of modern Israel has to be one of the most astonishing developments of modern times. Implausible just does not quite convey it. I wonder what the Crusaders would think about this; that, many centuries after the bitter disappointments and failures of the Christian men of the Middle Ages in attempting to recapture the Holy Land and deal the Mohammedan heresy a death blow, a host of Jewish socialists, armed by satraps of militant marching atheists from the Communist bloc, would succeed in conquering it; and that, moreover, come the end of the twentieth century, as Western Christendom commenced its final decay, the most militant Christians within it would oftentimes lend their militant support to the Jews of Israel, in anticipation of the Eschaton. It is too fantastic to be anything other than history.

(As an aside, I think it interesting to note how quickly commentators —- most of whom have only the most minimal acquaintance with the Middle Ages —- solemnly deplore the efforts of the Crusades; and implicitly agree with bin Laden that that period in history was among the more dishonorable for the West. Bill Clinton made some remark to that effect, I recall, just after September 11, saying that we owe some vague apology for the Crusades —- all of us, presumably, having descended from the Franks and all of us being, presumably, orthodox Christians. I confess that I rather feel a strange stirring in my breast when I think of men willing to uproot themselves from home and family and undertake a long journey punctuated by disease and hunger and great discomfort only to engage in ferocious warfare against alien people for the sake of a small strip of land called Holy, where their Savior lived and perished. Most people today call that insanity —- with, perhaps, a certain superficial justice; I hope I will be forgiven for calling it heroism. But there is certainly dishonor on the side too, on the side of the moderns. For the Modern Age excels at this sort of thing; it excels at the practice of attacking dead things, which are naturally incapable of retaliating. And I always wonder: how will our descendents treat our own modern, secular “progressive” history, with its little quirky record of massacre and concentration camp and purge and all the rest.)

Anyway, the first thing to be said about Israel is that it is a Western nation. This is fundamental, though a very large number of people seem to imagine that it is not. For that dim and dreamy interim between 1989 and 2001, Westerners managed to forget that a nation’s identity with a real civilization matters; and, as a plain fact, those were the years when the Oslo delusion took hold most forcefully. I do not say that Oslo was an uncomplicated failure; nothing in the Land is uncomplicated; and from the perspective of 1993, after all that blood, the thing had to be tried, even if it meant trying it with a treacherous thug like Arafat.

I will leave the parallel monomanias that Israel is dedicated to the extinction of the Palestinians, and that Israel should concede absolutely nothing to the Palestinians, to the monomaniacs on either side of this; and simply say that no decent observer can deny that Israel tried. When people cannot see that Ariel Sharon, whatever his faults, was elected by a people that just two years before had elected the very dovish Ehud Barak, the latter with a clear mandate of peace at almost any cost; when other people cannot see the injustice of subjecting Palestinians to what amounts to a policy of tedious apartheid —- when people cannot see these plain facts, it is hardly worth conversing with them. Peace was attempted by a bone-weary Israeli population; and peace was murdered by base cynics and delusional, despairing heretics.

Now: why is America partial to Israel? First, it should be recorded, as a matter of historical fact, that America did not begin that way; rather the Zionists had to turn to France and Czechoslovakia to acquire arms; and American sympathizers had to violate an American-enforced arms blockade. As I have tried to illustrate, the history of the modern Middle East is an exercise is improbability and oddity, so this sort of thing should not surprise us. But neither should it mislead us into thinking that America has been impartial. And America has been partial for a straightforward reason: Israel’s descent from Western civilization. We are distant cousins; we are of one tissue; and loyalty to one’s historic civilization is simply patriotism on a broader scale.

Patriotism is an understandable human sentiment. In its place, it is noble; though not as noble as Christian charity. But the problem with modern notions tracing their lineage from Christian charity is that they have abandoned its humanness in favor of abstract Humanity. Humanitarianism in the modern world lost its humanity. St. Francis was a real humanitarian: but he cared not one whit for Humanity, though he loved as a brother every human being he met; and his example set hearts aflame.

All this is to say that patriotism of that broader variety which includes the Jews of Palestine, whose society descends from our civilization, but excludes the Arabs of Palestine, whose society is part of our civilization’s greatest historical rival and antagonist, is perfectly understandable, unavoidable, and ineffaceable. To require of Americans that they hold out fastidious impartiality in this bloody conflict, a conflict so distant from them, is to simply misunderstand the nature of man. It is the victory of rationalism over sanity; abstraction over human sympathies. It is a very modern error.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:58 AM |

Wednesday, June 25, 2003  

On a delicate topic of immense consequence, Mr. David Mills of Touchstone magazine contributes a thoughtful essay. The topic is motherhood among modern women, and his writing sparkles with supple insight and sagacity.

While at the website of this first-rate publication, also take a look at Patrick Henry Reardon’s recent article “Chesterton and the Aristotelian Tradition.” There is no need to remind regular readers of my fondness for Chesterton: Mr. Reardon offers an admirable introduction to the great man’s thought and genius.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:08 AM |

Saturday, June 21, 2003  

Charles Kesler, editor of The Claremont Review of Books, has a fine essay of admonition for the enthusiasts of imperial democracy in the current number of that worthy publication.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s rhetoric, and perhaps its thinking, is a little loose on this subject. The president seems sometimes to regard liberty and democracy as synonyms, which they are not. Across the Islamic world, democracy seems to be confused with a species of majoritarian tyranny. The refrain is: Throw out the local despots and let the people rule, even if, perhaps especially if, they lust after an “Islamic republic” so severe that it would make republican Rome look softhearted.

Paul Jaminet contributes a thoughtful post on the same topic to the similarly worthy Brothers Judd blog. The debate over democracy, republicanism, majoritarianism, and other vivid ideas rages on in the comments to Mr. Jaminet’s post.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:17 AM |

Friday, June 20, 2003  

Here is a chilling post from the very able Jim Kalb. He puts the matter rather concisely in his conclusion:

American society, and Western society generally, is abolishing marriage. If marriage is a nonbinding arrangement between any two persons for the purpose of receiving certain social benefits, and adultery is a protected right, then marriage doesn’t exist. What should one do in such a society? How conceive one’s relation to it?

I am an alien in such a society.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:52 PM |

The Australian historian Keith Windschuttle has been deflating politically correct pomposity, tendentious revisionism, and general priggish quackery for quite awhile; most recently in debunking claims of a “genocide” of Aborigines by whites in Australia. This effrontery has made him many enemies, but none so shrill and intemperate as the one who recently accused him, with a great flourish of indignation, of aiming “to take the discipline of history back to some golden age when it was all about facts.” What insolence from this Windschuttle! (Thanks to Armavirumque for the uproarious link.)

posted by Paul Cella | 4:31 AM |

Noah Millman has written some searching and immensely wise articles about homosexuality and the institution of marriage. His latest is an outstanding example. A sample:

I believe that the institution of marriage is absolutely vital to social well-being, as well as to individual well-being. I believe that companionate marriage is one of the great achievements of civilization, an enormous advance over the patriarchal polygamy that preceded it, and considerably superior to the arrangements that are slowly replacing it (which I would describe simply as the abolition of fatherhood). I believe that marriage is important to individual well-being in so many ways that it is hard for me to articulate them briefly, so I’ll mention just one way: marriage orders a life. It gives a life a center, a purpose, a trajectory; it anchors a person the way nothing else —- no business or vocation —- can. A marriage is about love, and friendship, and economic security. But before it is any of these things, it is about the completion of a self through the transcendence of the self. For that reason, every marriage that fails —- even bad marriages that must fail —- is a tragedy, in a way that a faded love or a waning friendship or a bankrupted business is not. A failed marriage is like a kind of death.

It is difficult to imagine any thinking man agreeing with everything Mr. Millman has written; that is part of its genius —- it is the product of genuine creative human enterprise. His sublime arguments point to the truth that a real disagreement is a real human achievement.

The idea of creativity is my point of demurral at the moment from Mr. Millman; a mild and friendly demurral on the whole massive question of procreation. Millman argues in favor of a parallel institution, similar to marriage, for gays —- “domestic partnerships” is the usual formulation. This institution will formally recognize gays, and recognize them as sexual beings like the rest of us, without further eroding the mystical indispensability of marriage. Moreover, the recognition of a homosexual rendering of matrimony will allow such a institution, hopefully, to develop as a healthy and human thing; it would mean “both living honestly and living with self-control, two things that are hard to achieve without some social recognition for serious relationships.”

Mr. Millman, more broadly, defends this solution with the analogy of homosexuality as a religion, with it’s own “conversion narrative” which includes such things as “the discovery of one’s true self, liberation from a false consciousness, alienation from former friends and entrance into a new and welcoming community,” and so forth. He goes on,

If we treated homosexuality like a religion, we would respect its practitioners and prohibit discrimination against them in various ways, but we would also expect reciprocal recognition that their beliefs, practices, and worldview fundamentally differ from that of the majority and that, in fact, the majority rejects what they hold most true.

His is a bold and we might say Burkean solution; and I admire it a great deal. It answers the call, “reform if you would preserve,” but it insists on incorporating central virtues of the original tradition —- in this case, discipline, ceremonial public vows, fidelity —- into the reform. But I think its weakness is a very modern blunder; it is the blunder of so many of our modern innovations on the institution of marriage. For all its incorporation of matrimonial virtues, it abandons the indispensable one: it abandons the worship of fruitfulness.

Marriage and procreation are inseparable. To the extent that we have forced an artificial and almost mechanical rending of them, we have obliterated them. Matrimony celebrates, indeed it worships, a unity of love which brings forth new life. I think it was Evelyn Waugh who wrote that in the end Lust is intolerably boring. But Love is observably not. It is the most human excitement in the world; the excitement and adventure and miracle of creation. It is an act of devotion, and a worship of life.

Chesterton once declared provocatively, “It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility.” This is the heart of our dysfunctional sexuality; we have attacked its human principle, or at least a necessary aspect of its principle. We do not grant that there are duties we owe to our descendents, just as there are duties we owe to our ancestors. We are vulgar Keynesians, in the sense that John Maynard Keynes avowed when we said, “in the long run we’re all dead.” And it should be emphatically acknowledged that this dysfunction is far broader than the single controversy of homosexuality. It can be seen in the barren perversity of our sin; in the demographic collapse of Western nations; in the hostility directed at those who cling to the old, saner ethic; in the legal innovation Mr. Millman frequently denounces —- the rending of sacred vows on a whim. It can be seen in a thousand things, all relating to the spiritual crisis of a civilization that seems to know not whence it came.

A homosexual marriage cannot be fruitful. It can be faithful, it can be loving, it can be strong; but it cannot bear the fruit of human life. This is what I see as the main deficiency of Mr. Millman’s proposal to allow gays a parallel institution “bearing equivalent rights and privileges to marriage.”

posted by Paul Cella | 2:46 AM |

Thursday, June 19, 2003  

I always kinda figured that Charles Moose was a mountebank. Now we see he is probably a crook too.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:28 AM |

Wednesday, June 18, 2003  

Jim Kalb collects a series of ho-hum headlines signaling the decay of civilization apparent all around us:

- English 10-Year-Olds Taught about Condoms, “Gay” Sex.
- U.N. Child Rights Committee Calls for Child Access to Contraceptives Without Parental Involvement.
- Psychiatric Association Debates Lifting Taboo on Pedophilia.
- Ontario Establishes Same-Sex Marriage as Human Right.
- All Belgian Hospitals “Must Permit Euthanasia”.
- Stay-at-Home Moms are a “Real Problem” to UK Officials.

Mr. Kalb comments:

The story, of course, is reduction of all aspects of human existence to a single rationalized system wholly ordered by economic and administrative factors. In that system everything — sex, family life, death, whatever — is interchangeable with everything else. All taboos must go, except the taboo on “discrimination,” the crime of making distinctions unnecessary to the operation of the system.

What shall we call this infernal thing? Hilaire Belloc’s term the Servile State might work, but it doesn’t quite capture the awfulness of it.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:50 AM |

Tuesday, June 17, 2003  

The valuable and unique journal The New Criterion has a blog! With a suitably cryptic and erudite title: Armavirumque. I have added it to my links of course.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:52 PM |

Saturday, June 07, 2003  

Here is James Pinkerton examining some of Leon Kass’s published oeuvre with increasing rancor in an essay for TCS. “That’s Kass’s style,” he writes, referring to a cited passage; “wrap everything in a swaddle of syllables, all of them thoughtful and euphonious, all of them serving to set up his ultimate point: that progress is ironic, even illusory.” Ah, Progress: a giant among midgets in the halls of catchphrase. Might we at least be allowed this mild reply without being declared Luddites; that the objection to Progress is usually just an objection to decline masquerading as progress? History is really not replete with aspiring tyrants or fatal visionaries who safely advertised their calamitous ideas as awful, oppressive, sanguinary Decline, thus allowing good men to thwart them. Mr. Pinkerton makes the common mistake of confounding words with ideas. The word “progress” can, as a plain fact, mean decline, if sufficient confusion dominates; progress can indeed be illusory —- often because precisely the people who fall into this confusion of semantics and reality go on repeating the words with ever-increasing vehemence in the absence of the reality. Progress is never so near to the lips of fools as when a society is declining.

Now Mr. Pinkerton is no fool. But he shows a certain tolerance for folly; and, graver still, an intolerance for wisdom. He charges Leon Kass with advocating a path “all the way back to the Old Testament,” of hoping to “slay the golden claves of scientific modernity.” He asks, incredulously, “Is Kass really about citing the God of the Patriarchs as a guide for contemporary medical regulation?”

One endeavors to tread lightly around a question like that. The God of the Patriarchs is not to be trifled with. But it is very important to recognize that, whatever one thinks of the God of the Patriarchs, someone must be cited as a guide for contemporary medical regulation. Perhaps that someone will be Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarians; perhaps it will be Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas; perhaps it will be Rousseau and Perfectibility; perhaps it will simply be the “bioethics” industry and Mammon; the point is that it will emphatically be someone.

It would be too facile to retort that the Judeo-Christian tradition centering around the God of the Patriarchs has demonstrated some flair for achievement in things human; or that modernity, insofar as it has repudiated the God of the Patriarchs, has demonstrated a flair for exploiting those achievements —- sometimes mildly, sometimes ferociously. But if the enthusiasts of scientific modernity insist on using the word Luddite in all their arguments, I will insist on reminding them of the Nazi eugenics program, which must be counted among the achievements of scientific modernity.

Mr. Pinkerton seems amused by Dr. Kass’s use, in the course of assessing the decay of marriage and the traditional family, of the word bastardy. “‘Bastardy’ is in the dictionary, even if the word is so antiquated that my Microsoft Word program regards it as a spelling error. ‘Bastardy’ is a great word for condemnation, but is it a word for persuasion?” Whatever degree of persuasion it is that inheres in this strange and antiquated word, it is notably greater than that which inheres in adducing the authority of a mere computer program. Bastardy is a perfectly serviceable word; as is its cousin fornication, though the appearance of either is enough to trigger a kind of mild intellectual irresponsibility. Some may say, moreover, that an old Englishman called Orwell had the last word on modernity’s attitude toward language.

At base my dispute with Mr. Pinkerton and folks like him might run along these lines. “Attack Dr. Kass’s arguments if you must —- call them irrational, over reliant on emotion, antiquated, even that dread word reactionary; but please, for the love of God, do not attack Dr. Kass’s arguments purely because they are old. Let me gently remind you that assertion is not the same as argument; and it is a very dubious assertion indeed that things are dubious on account of their age alone. The antipathy toward the very concept of antiquity, in things and ideas, is among the ugliest characteristics of the modern world. And let me go further and say to Dr. Kass’s libertarian critics (for many of you call yourself libertarians) that Liberty itself is an ancient thing. A great lover of Liberty, the British statesman Edmund Burke affirmed this truth: ‘We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made in morality, nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grace has heaped its mold upon our presumption and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.’

“Burke was writing a polemical book in the heat of a fierce controversy —- the controversy of the French Revolution, which was one of the fiercest of the Modern Age. But that book endures because it is a work of genius: In essence, Burke’s project was to fuse two things which had largely hitherto faced off in opposition: Liberty and Tradition. He is often misrepresented as favoring the status quo against all reformation; but this is plain error, for Burke was on the side of reformation in many things. He contributed several tremendous speeches in Parliament advocating reconciliation with the American colonies; he favored emancipation for Catholics and Ireland; he prosecuted a notorious imperial abuser of the East India Company. Indeed, his fervor in denouncing the Jacobins in France dumbfounded many of his friends and admirers, who had come to regard him as a something of a progressive.

“I fear that I am being unduly pedantic, but my point is this; that any man who demands large innovations in the constitution of a state, a society, much less human nature itself, must contend with the towering presence of Burke, and other giants like him. They cannot be dismissed merely because they are ‘no longer walking about,’ as another great lover of Liberty famously wrote. Their wisdom should be contravened only after the most careful and respectful study. So when people treat with derision the efforts of men like Dr. Kass to amass and apply the wisdom of Christian civilization to current controversies, I cannot help but stand in a pose of wonder at such ‘pert loquacity.’ I do not say that Dr. Kass’s arguments ought to carry the day merely because they are old; but I do note that his critics apply precisely that logic, in reverse, against him.”

posted by Paul Cella | 3:46 AM |

Friday, June 06, 2003  

Josh Claybourn has a strikingly honest assessment of the problems presented for supporters of the war by the failure (so far) to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Many are saying that WMD don’t matter; that the massive cruelty of the Saddamite regime alone justifies the war; or that some combination of that cruelty and the nexus of terrorism in Iraq does. But we didn’t go to war on account of Ba’athist cruelty, massive and appalling though it unquestionably was. We went to war, we understood, for American security —- which, we understood, was threatened by a madman with weapons of mass destruction. (Alternatively, we went to war because the Iraqi regime was allied with our declared enemies the jihadists; but that remains undemonstrated as well.) Without the WMD, the justification falters.

It is not easy for one who admires the President and his men to say such things. The antipathy of the Left for George W. Bush is palpable and almost pathological; my instinct is to defend him against it, and that same instinct is overpowering among most on the Right. But it cannot overpower first principles.

The principle here is that politicians have to account for their words. Mr. Claybourn quotes Vice President Cheney:

Simply stated there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.

There is doubt; and therefore there was doubt. I fervently hope that weapons are found, putting all this ugliness to rest.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:27 AM |

Don’t get to the left of Shimon Peres; don’t get to the right of Ariel Sharon —- that is Noah Millman’s wise advice (scroll down to June 5) for positioning oneself on the question of Israel and the Palestinians. Millman writes,

I can’t work up a big froth of worry about the Road Map. I do not believe that President Bush intends to sell Israel down the river, but who knows? His job is to defend the United States of America, and if he’s convinced that Israel needs to take some risks to protect America from greater risks, by gum I’d expect him to lean on Israel. But Sharon’s job, and his life’s work, is to defend Israel. He is not going to pursue a mirage of peace. And he is not going to be railroaded by an American administration that he no longer trusts. He clearly still trusts Bush. He clearly thinks that, on balance, trying to deal with Abbas is the best strategic alternative for Israel.

Sagacious words. Read the whole thing.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:09 AM |

Thursday, June 05, 2003  

Robert Locke has penned a perspicacious essay addressing an ideological phenomenon he calls “Globalism.” Call it what you will, the thing is unquestionably a menace. In a strict sense it is inhuman, and sets itself against natural human things such as tradition, nationality, simple faith of simple men. In examining it, Mr. Locke displays uncommon common sense:

It took two World Wars and a Cold War to undo America’s allegiance to George Washington’s warning against “entangling alliances” and to drag us into a worldwide military presence, but given that the founders had no experience of ideological aggression like Marxism, this was rational under the circumstances. Those circumstances are, however, over. Al-Qaeda is not the USSR. Furthermore, because of its religious character, a return to America’s Christian particularism —- rather than the construction of the kind of counter-universalism we arrayed against the universalist pretensions of Marxism —- is the needed strategy against it.

It is sophistry to invent messianic objectives for American foreign policy in order to rationalize an obsolete habit of projecting power. Sometimes military presence abroad is called for, but our default presumption in favor of projecting power into any available vacuum has led us into pointless involvements in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti. It is one thing to project power in order to shape the international order in favor of real American security interests but quite another to do so out of some ideological mission to replicate our system all over the world.

Globalism is largely about power, as is usually the case with ideological systems. Thus it cannot suffer those institutions and traditions which have been built up around human relations over time. It seeks to level and consolidate. It is profoundly hostile to property rights, perhaps the most formidable barricade against despotism available to us; and therefore it enthusiastically promotes regulatory regimes and bureaucracy of the greatest immensity. Global environmental policies that would lead to the ruin of entire nations comprise real aspirations for this ideology. Local tradition is despised; religion is scoffed at; eccentricity, variety, veneration for the past —- all spurned, very frequently in subtle ways. I say subtle because Globalism, as Mr. Locke identifies it, has many of what Lenin referred to as “useful idiots”: allies too stupefied by the darkening splendor of the beast to recognize the peril it brings.

Globalism also emerged because both Right and Left responded to the Cold War by interpreting their missions as a supranational battle of ideas rather than the well-being of the concrete American nation. As a result, at the end of the Cold War, both the dumber elements of the world Right and the smarter elements of the world Left came to the same conclusion: the nation-state was obsolete as a vehicle for furthering their ideas. The Right wanted more capitalism, the Left wanted more equality, and the nation-state, a natural bulwark against extremism of either kind, stood in the way of both. So they set about undermining it.

Globalism can co-opt capitalism by making capitalism, as it were, cheap. As a real fact, capitalism is about all the most pricelessly human of human qualities; and so, also about all the human qualities that most nearly approach the divine. It is on solid insight that Mr. George Gilder bases his salute to the capitalist as the giver or the creator, whose act of invention is really an act of charity, for the inventor can never know if his creation, the product of his inspiration and labor, will be profitable. His is the realm of imagination and intuition. As Gilder himself puts it, “belief precedes knowledge.” The capitalist must in a strict sense be a man of faith.

Globalism regards the capitalist as merely the man of avarice; and the consumer merely the man of base desire. “Globalism,” Mr. Locke writes, “is contemptuous of any culture that cannot be bought and sold.” It looks for people willing to sell their liberty for luxury and leisure, and that grubby search is rarely unfruitful. He continues: “It wants a homogeneous commercial pop culture designed to narcotize docile consumers and make the rootless cosmopolitanism that it produces seem sophisticated. Philosophically, globalism views culture as an arbitrary particularity or as mere entertainment.” Precisely.

The proponents of Globalism would have us all believe that the market is a purely mechanical force; and, accordingly, that certain dubious developments are quite inevitable. But the free enterprise is a human thing. This is a truism so large and almost formless than men manage to overlook it. The market derives from human virtues; occasionally human vices as well. The free market rewards the creator, the man whose gaze is cast boldly beyond the present moment. It rewards the visionary. It rewards perseverance and thrift; it rewards those who, as Chesterton said [Can you go a day without quoting Chesterton? --Eds. I’m afraid not.], “worship the fruitfulness of the land.”

Robert Locke is onto something here. For some time I have read the word “globalism” on occasion, and never really known what it signifies. He has enlightened me. A very good essay.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:09 AM |
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