Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Friday, October 31, 2003  

Sunny Days in Heaven has returned from a fifteen month hiatus. It’s editor, Mark Butterworth is a profound and challenging thinker, as evidenced by his essay on Truth. Welcome back, Mark.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:51 AM |

Wednesday, October 29, 2003  

Reprinted here, in full, is Jeff Culbreath’s profound and moving “advice to sons.” These are the kind of words men use when they are serious about being men:

Here’s something you can tell your sons.

The girl you plan to marry is drop-dead gorgeous. She’s also a virtuous girl who is sweet, kind, and thoughtful of others. Her intelligence is apparent to all, and her many talents will be of great benefit to your household. While she is neither frivolous nor flighty, she enjoys life and has a wonderful sense of humor. Most importantly, she loves children, and she promises to be a loving and devoted mother. She obviously loves you very much, and I hope and pray that she fills your life with happiness.

But consider what marriage really is. You are promising to love and cherish one woman, not only for the present, but for the indefinite future until you are parted by death. You don’t know what the future holds. Your wife’s natural beauty may one day be robbed by accident or fire, leaving you to adore a horribly scarred face for forty more years. Her ability to be sexually intimate with you could be ruined by illness or disease: thus, your marriage vows might well include a lifelong vow of celibacy. She may go blind or deaf at an early age. She may have her breasts removed to save her from cancer. Her personality may be devastated by drugs or alcoholism, and she may end up hating you. She may experience depression or mental illness. She may be unfaithful. She may walk out on you, and she may never come back. She may — heaven forbid — abuse or neglect your children.

And your job? Your job is to love, pray, and suffer for her. Your job is to forgive her seventy-times-seven. Your job is to avoid any thought of being free and finding another. Your job is to keep your vows unflinchingly. Your job is to be there for her when she needs you, when she hates you, when she ignores you, when she doesn’t know you are there, when she loves you again — at any cost except that of your own soul and those souls in your charge (*an important caveat). Your job is to love her as Christ loved the Church. Your job is to be a man. There are no exceptions.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:49 AM |

Sunday, October 26, 2003  

The big fact that everyone despises, disparages, or just contemptuously ignores, is that some innovations will inevitably destroy the thing on which they propose to innovate. Institutions and traditions are not infinitely elastic, though some are quite remarkably so: and to demand from them certain radical reforms is indistinguishable in practice from striking them with lethal force. But most moderns insist, against all logic and experience, that they can have both the thing itself (the form) and its antithetical reform. I wrote this summer of the hoary (and perhaps resurgent) fallacy that so many have proposed; that Christianity should reconcile itself to any number of its many heresies. It does not seem to occur to the proposers of this morbid idea that the whole essence of a heresy is an alteration that destroys; whether the alteration is by a process of addition or subtraction or mere substitution is of no matter to its larger principle of destruction. To keep the fact of this enduring principle in mind requires a sort of clarity and courage that is almost heroic, and often saintly. The progressive and “open church” critics get all hung up on externalities. So, for example, they denigrate Augustine by way of the very superficially appealing caricature that he was a clericalist when in fact he fought against clericalism. His enemies the Donatists wanted a pristine unsullied clergy — mainly they wanted no bishops who had broken under the Imperial persecutions. And so Augustine, their thundering foe, is accused of defending a corrupt church hierarchy. “How can a man oppose sanctity and honor among clerics!” But St. Augustine perceived that the Donatist innovation in doctrine was inassimilable. It was to make the sacraments dependent on the personal probity and public virtue of those administering them. It was a subtle, seductive, and finally fatal alteration that would have called forth the ruin of the Faith. It would have made the clerics the Church; and annihilated the imperative distinction between the human and sinful officers of the church and the transcendent and holy Church. “One holy catholic and apostolic church” would have become “one holy catholic and apostolic clergy”: a dissonance with reality so stark and ineffaceable as to bring among the faithful comprehensive disillusionment, despair, and in the end dissolution.

The point of this crude digression is to underscore this fact: that the fatal innovation of doctrine, the heresy, need not be related to a failure in character among the heretics. It is simply truer to say that there is always and everywhere among men — heretics and orthodox alike — failure of character. In attacking them Augustine lashed out with polemical fury at every example of character failure, but as a fact the Donatists were probably most of them pious and honorable men. Recall that they had not broken under Imperial persecutions, and were understandably, even rightly furious with those who had. Their aspiration, after all, was almost a point of honor: they wanted to achieve sanctity and purity among churchmen. But their innovation was nonetheless heretical, and as the great Bishop of Hippo, the “hammer of the Donatists” comprehended, it could not stand if the Church was to stand. To make the rites and practices of the Faith dependent on the rectitude of its immediate temporal agents is to level is awesome equality, its enormous unearthly universality, its applicability to all times and all people in all circumstances. It is to collapse the great luminous differentiation between the church visible and the church invisible.

Modern error is full of righteous rejection of this kind of logic. It almost hinges on the desire to have it both ways. Every cacophonic extension of the sexual revolution has its ridiculous concomitant, declared sincerely often enough, of an assurance that the innovation will not accomplish yet greater ruin of precious liberty protected and nourished by the family. Another way of saying this is that the sexual revolutionists usually profess that they are not making a revolution in the constitution of the family, but rather liberating us from its antiquated and oppressive structures. It is somberly averred that a libertine society can still cherish the family; and that marriage is so elastic an institution as to mean anything. (I’ll note in this context the interesting fact that Burke, in his polemics against the French Jacobins, that is, against the fathers of modern political radicalism, castigated them for their reduction of matrimony to the “vilest concubinage.”)

For example, just as the personal character of the Donatist leaders was of little consequence to the lethality of their heresy, so the folly of sanctioning homosexuality depends not on a judgment of greater sinfulness of homosexuals as against heterosexuals. It is not that homosexuals are inherently greater sinners than the rest of us; it is that the innovators seek to make a revolution in moral law. I admit that Christians (myself included) have often failed to make this important distinction, and let hang in the air, as it were, a vague superciliousness. The sanctioning of homosexuality — in particular, as in the Episcopalian case, the institutional sanction — is not mere sin; it is rebellion. It is a rejection of Law. It is an innovation of doctrine complete enough to destroy a virtue — the virtue of chastity — and thus unman one of the strategic barricades defending an approach to the hearts of men. And again, as with the other thrusts of the sexual revolution, we are told solemnly that this too will not further enfeeble the family but in fact strengthen it.

Something similar goes on among some of the cheerleaders for biotechnology. For many perceive the advance of biotechnology as just the newest incarnation of the sexual revolution: and the transformation of what was once a largely social revolution into something that is more nearly technocratic in nature comes with the vague assurance that to make first sex a commodity, and then procreation manufacture, will surely not make children property and women slaves. Not long ago I heard an assurance exactly along these lines appear in the very same television commentary where some bioethicist is quoted, apparently without irony, as talking insouciantly about “wombs for rent.” While some of us might be tempted to insist on the more accurate “wombs for plunder,” the point is this: when men start talking like that — glib in uttering barbarities — some real damage has been done the structure of custom and restraint that stands as a bulwark against barbarism; that is, some real damage has been done to civilization. And the modern error consists precisely in demanding a reform so radical as to destroy the original form, whilst desiring that the form remain solid and undisturbed. It is as if men were to grow bored with legs and begin amputating them (humanely, of course); quite at the same time as they avow their love of ambulatory recreation and sport. It is a great crowd of vegetarian legislators praising the value of a good steak. It is the celebration of a thing even as it is destroyed by innovation.

In the same essay I adduced above, the idea of Authority was examined. On that too, as I argued, there is an effort to exploit the advantages of having it both ways. As Chesterton wittily explains,

The modern world will accept no dogmas upon any authority; but it will accept any dogmas on no authority. Say that a thing is so, according to the Pope or the Bible, and it will be dismissed as a superstition without examination. But preface your remark merely with “they say” or “don’t you know that?” or try (and fail) to remember the name of some professor mentioned in some newspaper; and the keen rationalism of the modern mind will accept every word you say.

We need not only scrutinize ideas of high progressive earnestness, like heresy and biotechnology and freethinking, to apprehend the value in argument of having a cake and eating it too; many of the more mundane controversies of our politics reveal it as well. Broadly reducing taxes, which in a system of progressive taxation will perforce mean greater reductions for the wealthy, is a policy of the basest iniquity for many among our media plutocracy; but subsidizing through public funds the prescription drug costs of the wealthiest generation of people ever to walk the earth — that, by contrast, is simple justice. Wealthy conservatives contribute to charitable organizations merely to avoid taxation; but when wealthy liberals promote the ideals of the welfare state, they are discharging their duty of charity to their fellow man. The government must “stay out of the bedroom”; but it should certainly invade every other room, open every file, insist on disclosure of every financial record, on pain of incarceration, during its annual tax inquisition. Publicly financed houses and museums must sponsor ugly blasphemy and pronounce it as Art; but no hint of religious piety, especially in art, should despoil our exquisitely secular public square. Precedent should always bind judges, except when the precedent is disputed by the plutocracy; but particularly when the precedent has no articulation in the text of the Constitution.

Lest you imagine me a mere partisan, let me acknowledge without demurral that those on my side of the public debate indulge the same fallacy. Largess for the poor is disreputable; largess for the well-connected rich is commonplace, and mandatory. Large, cumbersome, stultifying consolidation in government is dreadful; but the same in private corporations is admirable. It was once left to conservatives to declare that largess from the public treasury is disreputable wherever it goes, because to take by force the property of one man and give it to another is robbery. They once boldly asserted the superiority of the small and local and decentralized to the huge and consolidated. Conservatives used to believe in the principles of small, limited government; today they seem content with big government, so long as they get to run it. And so on.

Now I do not deny that there are, in most of the above cases which I have just described rather polemically, even tendentiously, prudential considerations to consider. Politics in a democracy will forever suffer from an impression of disrepute. I do not aspire to be an ideologue. Nor do I think inconsistency or even hypocrisy unendurable. But I will insist on a certain clarity, which might be evoked by calling it the clarity of disagreement.

“Atheists are not our preachers; madmen are not our lawgivers,” declared Burke, commending sober England in contrast to the frothing turbulence of Revolutionary France. Such sobriety is slipping from our grasp. Disagreement, even, eludes us. A man who proposes that Christianity simply jettison core dogmas is no friend of Christianity; in fact, in a strict but not necessarily malicious sense, he is its enemy. If “tax cuts for the rich” are fiscal profligacy, then entitlements for seniors are a fortiori the same, because most of a society’s wealth will always repose among its aged, who have naturally had more time to accumulate it. If the State should rigidly abjure all promotion of sectarian opinion, then it must also (somehow) abjure promoting the sect of irreligion. The family orbits around several huge and almost terrible principles — things like the vow and sacrifice and that almost reckless commitment of faithfulness in the unknowable future. When people assail and denigrate these principles, fancying that they might be replaced, it is fair to call those people abolitionists of the family. When wombs can be “rented” like rooms, and their unwanted contents discarded on a whim, then it is simply not hyperbole to worry aloud that human beings might again be property. I know that I am, as it were, walking all around the issue with extravagant language and gestures, but I beg the reader’s patience, for my point is perhaps vague but very real. It is that a disagreement in our age is often an achievement; for no one seems willing to call things by their real names. The modern world has forgotten how to argue. It prefers the catchphrase or the calumny.

Just recently I was idly talking about weddings with several colleagues. One mentioned that at a Catholic wedding he was in, the priest rather diligently stipulated on sobriety among the men of the wedding party — he would not have a ceremony full of drunks. Another colleague, herself Catholic, scoffed at this as silly prudery. How dare a Roman Catholic priest ask that attendants be sober at a sacrament! Now this is exactly as if one were to bring non-kosher meat to a dinner party at the home of an Orthodox Jew; and then contemn his resulting alarm. No one is forced these days to be married at a Catholic church, or any church; flights to Las Vegas are quite cheap. But instead of rejecting the church, we moderns want the church without its rules. We want the sacrament without its discipline. Our hostility will not even rise to the level of disagreement.

There is a clarity of disagreement that the modern world has a hard time arriving at. One almost longs for Voltaire, who hated the Church and made no bones about it. Instead we suffer a kind of vague and almost craven prejudice that is hardly even self-aware.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:32 PM |

Saturday, October 25, 2003  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “For the average person, all problems date to World War II; for the more informed, to World War I; for the genuine historian, to the French Revolution.” — Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited

posted by Paul Cella | 1:43 PM |

Wednesday, October 22, 2003  

If you enjoy the work of Kevin Michael Grace (“Canada’s only paleoconservative” —- Mark Steyn) as much as I do, please consider helping him out.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:48 PM |

I am adding Mr. Peter Sean Bradley’s blog Lex Communis to my links on the strength of two first-rate essays: on Andrew Sullivan’s Catholic travails and the Culture of Death. A sample from the latter:

[E]ven twenty years ago the idea of starving someone to death because they were mentally defective was essentially beyond the pale. Now it happens and no one cares, except those who have been in some way informed by the writings of the "disappointing, conservative" Pope, who after all had a lifetime of experience with pragmatic utilitarians before writing the Gospel of Life.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:02 PM |

Tuesday, October 21, 2003  

A new essay of mine ran on TCS yesterday. Its subject is a . . . persistent one.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:50 AM |

Quick hits:

  • John Derbyshire imagines how a third-party candidate could make some noise in 2004. I think he is quite right.

  • Ron Maxwell defends his film “Gods and Generals.”

  • Noah Millman, Steve Sailer (scroll down to the entry which begins “Easterbrook gets the bum's Rush from ESPN”) and Kevin Grave all defend Gregg Easterbrook with cogency. Free speech is wounded in this country, and Americans remain blissfully insouciant —- just so long as no one disrupts their pornography viewing.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:48 AM |

Saturday, October 18, 2003  

The more I read of Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, or simply Lord Acton, the more I am impressed with him as a historian. He has his deficiencies as a writer—-Richard Weaver was right in judging that he was not a great narrator—-and his Whiggish vision of history is in my view flawed in crucial ways; but as a historian, in his ability to make readers and students think historically, his work approaches the level of genius. Consider, for example, his lecture describing the influence of American ideas on the French Revolution. He begins thusly:

The several structures of thought that arose in France, and clashed in the process of revolution, were not directly responsible for that outbreak. The doctrines hung like a cloud upon the heights, and at critical moments in the reign of Louis XV men felt that a catastrophe was impending. It befell when there was less provocation, under his successor; and the spark that changed thought into action was supplied by the Declaration of American Independence. It was the system of an international extra-territorial universal Whig, far transcending the English model by its simplicity and rigor. It surpassed in force all the speculation of Paris and Geneva, for it had undergone the test of experiment, and its triumph was the most memorable thing that had been seen by men.

It is no mean learning, or meager talent, that allows a man pack into one paragraph so many portentous threads of analysis. Acton’s project was genuinely to educate men, not to advance an idea, unless that idea was the simultaneous grandeur and basic decency of Liberty; and he was scrupulous in presenting the various drifts and clashing opinions of thinking men. Acton’s admiration for Burke was unabashed, yet Burke was not really of his tradition; for the former was always a Liberal, while the latter, though a Whig in his lineage, became ultimately the founder of modern conservatism. Burke was nearer to Cardinal Newman, who was Acton’s antagonist.

But again: Acton was a great scholar and historian. Burke was a polemicist, though a polemicist of such power and sagacity as to expand the very word. His province was rhetoric, and in that realm he was king; whereas Acton moved in the world of dialectic, before the late moderns made dialectic the province of pettifoggers. In this sense we might almost say that Burke was the polemicist. I fear that I digress here, but it also strikes me as somehow inexpressibly significant that Acton, in addition to naming Burke a “teacher of mankind,” also wrote that “there is very little doubt that as Burke was our greatest statesman, so he would have been the first of our historians” if he had ever completed his projected History of England. That is really an astonishing compliment, paid by an eminently cautious and even painstaking writer.

I will quote at length some more passages from Acton Lectures on the French Revolution; observe his robust objectivity in writing history.

When the Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer became known in Europe, Diderot said that it was madness to allow Frenchmen to read such things, as they could not do it without becoming intoxicated and changed into different men. But France was impressed by the event more than by the literature that accompanied it. America had made herself independent under less provocation than had ever been a motive of revolt, and the French Government had acknowledged that her cause was righteous and had gone to war for it. If the king was right in America, he was utterly wrong at home, and if the Americans acted rightly, the argument was stronger, the cause was a hundredfold better, in France itself. All that justified their independence condemned the Government of their French allies. By the principle that taxation without representation is robbery, there was no authority so illegitimate as that of Louis XVI. The force of that demonstration was irresistible, and it produced its effect where the example of England failed. The English doctrine was repelled at the very earliest stage of the Revolution, and the American was adopted. What the French took from the Americans was their theory of revolution, not their theory of government—-their cutting, not their sewing. Many French nobles served in the war, and came home republicans and even democrats by conviction. It was America that converted the aristocracy to the reforming policy, and gave leaders to the Revolution. “The American Revolution,” says Washington, “or the peculiar light of the age, seems to have opened the eyes of almost every nation in Europe, and a spirit of equal liberty appears fast to be gaining ground everywhere.” When the French officers were leaving, Cooper, of Boston, addressed them in language of warning: “Do not let your hopes be inflamed by our triumphs on this virgin soil. You will carry our sentiments with you, but if you try to plant them in a country that has been corrupt for centuries, you will encounter obstacles more formidable than ours. Our liberty has been won with blood; you will have to shed it in torrents before liberty can take root in the Old World.” Adams, after he had been President of the United States, bitterly regretted the Revolution which made them independent, because it had given the example to the French; although he also believed that they had not a single principle in common.

Nothing, on the contrary, is more certain than that American principles profoundly influenced France, and determined the course of the Revolution. It is from America that Lafayette derived the saying that created a commotion at the time, that resistance is the most sacred of duties. There also was the theory that political power comes from those over whom it is exercised, and depends upon their will; that every authority not so constituted is illegitimate and precarious; that the past is more a warning than an example; that the earth belongs to those who are upon it, not to those who are underneath it. There are characteristics common to both Revolutions.

In those paragraphs, Acton lets a whole panoply of views and philosophical tendencies speak for themselves. He is, in simple truth, writing history. But on balance he seems to judge in favor of the Revolution. No so fast.

But when we speak in the gross of the American Revolution we combine different and discordant things. From the first agitation in 1761 to the Declaration of Independence, and then to the end of the war in 1782, the Americans were aggressive, violent in their language, fond of abstractions, prolific of doctrines universally applicable and universally destructive. [. . .]

A change followed in 1787, when the Convention drew up the Constitution. It was a period of construction, and every effort was made, every scheme was invented, to curb the inevitable democracy. The members of that assembly were, on the whole, eminently cautious and sensible men. . . . Some of their most memorable contrivances proceeded from no design, but were merely half measures and mutual concessions. [. . .]

[A]lthough France was deeply touched by the American Revolution, it was not affected by the American Constitution. It underwent the disturbing influence, not the conservative.

That conclusion is the product of reflection and natural insight, of the deliberate sense of a historian of profound erudition. Acton’s was a mind alive to history; to engage it is to imbibe a deeper appreciation for all that came before us.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:04 PM |

Friday, October 17, 2003  

Characteristically provocative, Gary North avers that “You are not significantly better off economically than your parents were in 1973, and you are significantly worse off culturally.” The second proposition should be basically uncontroversial to most conservatives, but what about the first? Well, Mr. North is an espouser of some unorthodox economics, many of them laid out cogently here; but this fact alone should not lead us to dismiss him. Adam Smith was unorthodox in his day, as were F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises more recently. He concludes,

You are a little better off than your parents were in 1973. That’s because you read a Web site like this. The average Joe doesn’t read this sort of Web site. In his world, there has been little or no improvement. Some are even worse off. This is unique in American history. [. . .]

Economically, we are marching into big government. As a nation, we are steadily substituting government-guaranteed security for entrepreneurship and thrift. Our thrift, such as it is, is flowing into government-regulated enterprises that are eligible for corporate pension plans to invest in.

Across the sea, our competitors are marching out of big government – the biggest governments in human history. The former Communists are becoming entrepreneurs. Even the official Communists who are still in power in China are hooking up personally with entrepreneurs, just as Chinese warlords have done for millennia.

Economic liberty always has this effect. Capital doesn’t care who your parents were or what color you are or what language you speak, other than the two major international languages: mathematics and money. [. . .]

In Asia, the Communist and Fabian tortoises are turning into capitalist hares. Capital flows toward liberty. That is the Asian threat. It is a threat to those who have trusted the siren song of Fabianism, namely, that bureaucrats, using tax money and newly created fiat money, can and will take care of us when things go wrong. Fabianism can be summarized in one sentence: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” It always means this: “I’m here to help myself to whatever you own that is not hidden, and in exchange, I promise to do the same thing to your next-door neighbors.”

The welfare state turns hares into tortoises. The free market turns tortoises into hares. This is the lesson taught, but not yet learned, since 1973.

Much of Mr. North’s analysis rests on the importance of oil, and therefore October 1973, the beginning of OPEC’s use of oil as a weapon, is hugely significant. Indeed, over at the Paper of Record, the great Fouad Ajami draws out the implications of that momentous date in a powerful and poetic essay.

It was not so much the guns of Oct. 6, 1973, and the assault of the Egyptian and Syrian armies against Israel, that changed contemporary history and remade our world. It was the use 11 days later of the “oil weapon,” and the price increases that followed, which tipped the scales of history.

By the time OPEC unsheathed the oil weapon, 30 years ago today, the tide of battle had turned. Israel had regained the initiative: its soldiers had crossed to the western side of the Suez Canal, and were within striking distance of Damascus as well. It was then, on the edge of yet another Arab calamity, that the Saudi monarch, King Faisal, broke with his American protectors and began what turned into a frontal assault on the very bases of the post-World War II international order.

Mr. Ajami quotes Henry Kissinger: “Never before in history has a group of such relatively weak nations been able to impose with so little protest such a dramatic change in the way of life of the overwhelming majority of the rest of mankind.”

When the balance of power tilted back to the Arabian Peninsula, it was said to be piety’s vindication. Lands hitherto left to pestilence and anarchy — in the desert domains, locusts were a common source of protein before the age of oil made possible more lavish meals — were given a sign of divine favor and its material rewards. In the days of scarcity, Kuwaitis had led a harsh, simple existence: they were pearl divers and fishermen who sailed their dhows to ports in India and the Arabian Sea. They had known hunger and need.

Now the world came calling on Kuwait. The cities of the Levant and the Fertile Crescent, which had brokered the meeting of the civilization of the West with their own, were reduced to begging for a share of the new wealth. There was a diminishment of Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and a new ascendancy of the oil states. Hucksters and peddlers of every kind and contraption descended on the oil states. [. . .]

From the distance of three decades, we can see oil’s curse — and its ambiguous gift. It wasn’t just Iran that was undone by sudden wealth. On the shores of the Mediterranean, Algeria succumbed to barbarous slaughter; a war erupted between that country’s rulers and insurgents who draped their wrath, and the fury of their dispossession, in Islam’s banners: Hezbollah (the Party of God) on one side, Hizb Fransa (the Party of France) on the other. For nearly 15 years, the slaughter went on in the cities of the country, while the work of oil continued uninterrupted in the Sahara. The killer squads of the regime and the merciless insurgents both fought for oil’s bounty. [. . .]

We are still in the grip of that historical moment. That wayward son of Arabia, Osama bin Laden, is a child of the oil revolution. He came of age amid the new wealth; it was petromoney that he took to the impoverished mountainous land of Afghanistan. [. . .]

The mind plays tricks here: as the wealth of 1973 was evidence of divine favor, so the retrenchment is a sign of divine disfavor, and a call on the faithful to rectify the course of history. Belligerent piety now fills the void, gives order and meaning to the capricious cycle of history, its boom and bust.

Men and women are not given the gift of foresight. If they were, would the crowds that thrilled to what October 1973 represented have been so triumphant, knowing the heartbreak and ruin that lay in store for them, and for us all?

posted by Paul Cella | 11:12 AM |

Thursday, October 16, 2003  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “The It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects —- military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden —- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.” —- C. S. Lewis

posted by Paul Cella | 5:08 PM |

Wednesday, October 15, 2003  

A dispatch in the race to acquire Victim Status. The New York Times reports that some Germans “led by a conservative member of Parliament” are proposing

that a center be built in Berlin to study and remember the mass expulsions of 12 million to 13 million ethnic Germans from several countries of Eastern Europe after World War II.

But the proposal has vehement opponents, particularly among the Poles. One Warsaw magazine protested with a front page cartoon depicting “the most prominent advocate of the proposed center, Erika Steinbach, as an officer in the Nazi SS, sitting astride a submissive Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor.”

At issue, at least according to the Times, is the grand question of who will hold the coveted modern feudal title of Victim.

Especially if located in Berlin, he and others argue, the center would make Germans seem equal in their victimization to the peoples, including the Poles, whom they harmed.

“Consciousness is created by certain symbols,” said Wlodzimierz Suleja, the director of the Wroclaw branch of the Polish Institute for National Memory, and a historian of modern Poland. “And this center would be their symbol, the Germany symbol, that they were victims, too, and that would be a symbol detached from the truth about the past.”

What modern feudalism aims at, facts notwithstanding, is elevating certain classes or groups to exulted status by virtue of their historical grievances.

Meanwhile the Times article, aside from its mild genuflecting to this ideology, is actually quite good. It traces briefly but thoughtfully the many drifts and pressures of history, with the twin monsters of the godless Modern Age, National Socialism and International Communism, looming always nearby.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:15 PM |

The injustice being perpetrated in the case of Terri Schiavo, by her husband in his apparent malice and unutterable cupidity, his lawyers in their servility, and the legal system in its callousness, is positively unspeakable. What these people have together undertaken is judicial murder. And the denial of pastoral care is a cruelty that defies the imagination. Hang your head, American. Hang your head, son or daughter of Adam.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:27 AM |

Tuesday, October 14, 2003  

There is no question in my mind that Pope John Paul II has been the greatest man of my lifetime. David Brooks is right: Karol Wojtyla is too big a man for the Nobel Prize.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:18 PM |

An interesting interview with Fr. James Schall on Hilaire Belloc is here. A sample:

Probably the great fruit of Belloc’s sense of history is the fact that the events that appear on the record of history are filled with human choices and indeed human sins. The effect of this approach is to make us attentive to the spiritual forces that cause men to act or not to act the way they do.

Via Mere Comments.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:40 PM |

Mr. Jeff Culbreath is indeed on the front lines. Bravely.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:21 AM |

Monday, October 13, 2003  

For some unaccountable reason, of all my many subscriptions The New Criterion is the one which is most likely to find itself dismissed to the bottom of the reading pile. I cannot explain so mysterious a pattern; and almost without exception, when I finally get around to reading it (sometimes months after an issue has arrived in the mail), I shake my head in wonder: “Why did you not devour this fine magazine the moment it came?”

Anyway, September’s issue includes a characteristically brilliant essay by Roger Kimball on the writer John Buchan. Mr. Kimball’s method is to select a literary figure of interest and discourse at length on his or her achievements. Recent subjects have included Kierkegaard, John Burnham, Malcolm Muggeridge, Charles Peguy. This newest one reveals a man (Buchan) of positively astounding energy and manliness. Kimball quotes the English wit Sydney Smith: “The meaning of an extraordinary man is that he is eight men in one man.” Read the essay and you will see why the epigram justly applies to Buchan.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:42 PM |

Friday, October 10, 2003  

In my judgment the New York Times has already made appreciable progress in the four months since the egregious Howell Raines resigned. A good example is today’s front page News Analysis by Ian Fisher on Iraq, which stands out for its level-headed intelligence. And then there was this article. How often does Edmund Burke make an appearance in the pages of the Old Gray Lady? Not often, I’ll wager.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:19 PM |

Wednesday, October 08, 2003  

It is not good for one’s blood pressure to read too many of Michelle Malkin’s columns. An example of why is here. Read and seethe.

This is a story of two [American] soldiers, one Christian, one Muslim. It’s a cautionary tale that suggests how religious double standards and politically-driven hypersensitivity threaten not only our troops, but us all.

Five months ago, Jack Moody tried to send his son, Daniel, a CARE package containing a Bible study and other Christian religious materials. Daniel is a 21-year-old Army National Guardsman serving in the Middle East. He had written home requesting spiritual support while he risked his life abroad. The literature his dad packed included Christian comic books.

But when Daniel’s dad approached the post office in the family’s hometown of Lenoir, North Carolina, he was told he would not be allowed to send the items.

According to U.S.P.S. postal bulletin PB22097, section E2, Moody was forbidden from sending “any matter containing religious materials contrary to the Islamic faith or depicting seminude persons, pornographic or sexual items, or non-authorized political materials.”

The postal clerk informed Moody that the Christian contents of the package might be considered offensive to some Muslims overseas. The policy was initiated during the first Gulf War.

“My son is in the military, and he’s overseas fighting to free this country from tyranny, and to protect our rights and our freedoms, and here our government has a rule on the books that’s limited his freedom. I just couldn’t believe it,” Moody told the Voice of America news service.

The contrast, of course, is with Capt. James Lee, now charged with sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order. “The Muslim convert, who studied in terror-sponsoring Syria and attended an Islamic cultural center run by the terror-friendly Saudi government, was given free rein by the U.S. Army to administer to the souls of al Qaeda and Taliban enemies at Guantanamo Bay.”

Mrs. Malkin concludes,

Islamist Fifth Columnists are benefiting from the very guarantees of religious freedom being denied to devout Christian soldiers such as Daniel Moody who are risking their lives for the War on Terror overseas.

This dangerous deference to radical Islam—rooted in a cowardly fear of offending—is not only a threat to our soldiers’ constitutionally protected rights, but to our national security.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:37 AM |

Tuesday, October 07, 2003  

Orrin Judd has a fine review of a recent book of essays on the political philosopher Willmoore Kendall, about whom I have written several times. An original thinker of contagious brilliance, Kendall’s touchstone was the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and the six goals it elucidates as guiding American politics:

We the people of the United States, [1] in order to form a more perfect union, [2] establish justice, [3] insure domestic tranquility, [4] provide for the common defense, [5] promote the general welfare, and [6] secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Mr. Judd comments, shrewdly:

It’s one of the great oddities of modern political thought that the Preamble is largely ignored when it so obviously sets the parameters within which our system should be understood . . . These are the aspirations that can serve to bind us together as a community. Remove them and the Constitution becomes nothing but a kind of rule book for a game that has no ultimate purpose, where any direction for the country is allowed, so long as the rules are followed, even a direction antithetical to the stated purposes of Founding, as set forth in the Preamble.

Also noted in the review is Kendall’s correspondence with, and instruction by, rather late in life, the suddenly-infamous Leo Strauss. What stands out is Kendall’s remarkable broad-mindedness in adjusting his views to comport with facts and arguments; in other words, his willingness to pursue the truth at the cost of long-held views. Leaving aside the contemporary controversy surrounding Strauss’s students, what is important to remember about him is that his project was to elevate the ancients (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas) against the moderns (Machiavelli, Hobbes) in political philosophy. Kendall had been emphatically a modern, and his encounter with Strauss in part led him to reconsider the ancients. As one contributor to the book explains, “Kendall is, to my knowledge, the outstanding, and perhaps the only, example of a mature thinker established in his profession who undertook a thoroughgoing revision of his point of view as a result of his exposure to the efforts of Strauss and Voegelin to reform the discipline.”

Today everyone seems to know the name Leo Strauss, and know it as a catchword: the enigmatic and sinister father of the neoconservatives. Far fewer know the name Eric Voegelin, who strikes me as the greater thinker. Anyway, that Kendall commenced to assimilate the work of both these profound and difficult theorists, after his own thought had matured, is indeed an impressive comment on the suppleness of his mind.

In my experience, Kendall’s writing, his public mode of thought, is invigorating and quite unlike anything else I have ever seen. Professor Jeffrey Hart rightly calls him “touched by genius.”

posted by Paul Cella | 10:57 AM |

Friday, October 03, 2003  

Texas Representative Ron Paul’s speech in opposition to a Federal vouchers problem in D.C. is enough to make one rethink one’s support for the program. His conclusion is that vouchers will lend themselves to a degradation of primary education similar to what has happened with higher education.

Mr. Speaker, proponents of vouchers promise these programs advance true market principles and thus improve education. However, there is a real danger that Federal voucher programs will expand the welfare state and impose government “standards” on private schools, turning them into “privatized” versions of public schools.

The modern State has enfeebled so many private enterprise over the years —- by its essential rapacity, by its vulnerability to plunderers and energumens, by its allure to the power-hungry and the avaricious —- that we ought to think very hard about any legislation that opens yet another channel to its machinations. Rep. Paul is right to issue a grave warning.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:44 AM |
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