Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Saturday, November 29, 2003  

SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “We ask thee, Lord, to be our helper and assister, save those of us who are in affliction, have compassion on the humble, raise the fallen, appear to those who are in need, heal the sinners, convert those of thy people who are wandering from the way, feed the hungry, ransom our prisoners, raise up the sick, encourage the feeble-hearted, let all the nations know that thou art God alone and Jesus Christ thy Son, and that we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture.” — St. Clement of Rome, 1st century.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:54 AM |

Wednesday, November 26, 2003  

I’ll be durned: A European politician with some sense.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Europeans are living in a “dream world” of welfare and long vacations and have yet to realize “they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana.” [. . .]

The Czech president remains convinced that “you cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state.”

Meanwhile, there are reports of the beginnings of a Christian renascence in France, of all places. Maybe Europe isn’t doomed.

It is worth recalling that things looked pretty grim in the fourteenth century, when the plague killed a third of the population from Ireland to India. And it was hardly a picnic in the fifth century, as Roman civilization imploded; or during the bloody centuries of the Muslim advance across the Balkans, Spain, large parts of France, North Africa, and the entire Christian East.

(Links via Jim Kalb and Orrin Judd.)

posted by Paul Cella | 11:47 AM |

Tuesday, November 25, 2003  

Pop quiz: What is the cardinal fact of John F. Kennedy’s assassination? The dubiousness of the Lone Gunman theory? The perfidy of the Warren Commission? The illumination brought to bear on the case by later documentaries? The astonishing success of Oliver Stone’s falsification of history, which may be without parallel in modern history?

In fact, the cardinal fact of the assassination is that Lee Harvey Oswald was a Communist. I repeat, a Communist; and also a defector and a traitor. Gary North explains,

From the day of the assassination, the media tried to blame the equivalent of “a vast right wing conspiracy” in Dallas. It was “the climate of right-wing opinion in Dallas” that pundits said had killed Kennedy. On the contrary, what killed Kennedy was a Marxist revolutionary, committed to violence philosophically, who had been allowed to return to the United States. But this truth has never been palatable to the media or the textbook writers.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:27 PM |

Saturday, November 22, 2003  

SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: ‘Against abortion? Don’t have one.’ Pithy. It always makes me think of another possible bumper sticker: ‘Against slavery? Don’t own one.’” — Joe Sobran.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:52 PM |

Friday, November 21, 2003  

Here is Steve Sailer’s excellent review of Charles Murray’s ambitious and controversial new book, Human Accomplishment.

Why is the West best? After five years of work, Murray still didn’t know. Then, he had an unexpected epiphany: the single biggest reason most of history’s highest achievers came from Christendom was . . . Christianity.

He writes,

It was a theology that empowered the individual acting as an individual as no other philosophy or religion had ever done before. The potentially revolutionary message was realized more completely in one part of Christendom, the Catholic West, than in the Orthodox East. The crucial difference was that Roman Catholicism developed a philosophical and artistic humanism typified, and to a great degree engendered, by Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274). Aquinas made the case, eventually adopted by the Church, that human intelligence is a gift from God, and that to apply human intelligence to understanding the world is not an affront to God but is pleasing to him.

I will add that Chesterton came to this conclusion about St. Thomas, with his usual cataract of flashing genius, seventy years ago. Allow me to quote him at length — a “good Chestertonian paragraph,” in which, as I wrote below, “a whole spectrum of new or overlooked ideas is unleashed”:

To understand his importance, we must pit him against the two or three alternative cosmic creeds: he is the whole Christian intellect speaking to Paganism or to Pessimism. He is arguing across the ages with Plato or with Buddha; and he has the best of the argument. His mind was so broad, and its balance so beautiful, that to suggest it would be to discuss a million things. But perhaps the best simplification is this. St. Thomas confronts other creeds of good and evil, without at all denying evil, with a theory of two levels of good. The supernatural order is the supreme good, as for any Eastern mystic; but the natural order is good; as solidly good as it is for any man in the street. That is what “settles the Manichees.” Faith is higher than reason; but reason is higher than anything else, and has supreme rights in its own domain. That is where it anticipates and answers the anti-rational cry of Luther and the rest; as a highly Pagan poet said to me: “The Reformation happened because people hadn’t the brains to understand Aquinas.” The Church is more immortally important than the State; but the State has its rights, for all that. This Christian duality had always been implicit, as in Christ’s distinction between God and Caesar, or the dogmatic distinction between the natures of Christ. But St. Thomas has the glory of having seized this double thread as the clue to a thousand things; and thereby created the only creed in which the saints can be sane. It presents itself chiefly, perhaps, to the modern world as the only creed in which the poets can be sane. For there is nobody now to settle the Manichees; and all culture is infected with a faint unclean sense that Nature and all things behind us and below us are bad; that there is only praise to the highbrow in the height. St. Thomas exalted God without lowering Man; he exalted Man without lowering Nature. Therefore, he made a cosmos of common sense; terra vientium; a land of the living. His philosophy, like his theology, is that of common sense. He does not torture the brain with desperate attempts to explain existence by explaining it away. The first steps of his mind are the first steps of any honest mind; just as the first virtues of his creed could be those of any honest peasant. For he, who combined so many things, combined also intellectual subtlety and spiritual simplicity; and the priest who attended the deathbed of this Titan of intellectual energy, whose brain had torn up the roots of the world and pierced every star and split every straw in the whole universe of thought and even of scepticism, said that in listening to the dying man’s confession, he fancied suddenly that he was listening to the first confession of a child of five.

Whew! If a paragraph like that does not induce a man to think hard, he is probably already dead to the life of the mind.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:05 AM |

Wednesday, November 19, 2003  

I persist in believing that Evelyn Waugh penned the epitaph, of sorts, for the 20th century, when he wrote of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 (through the voice of a quasi-autobiographical character in a novel): “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.”

Mr. Kevin Michael Grace has a fine appreciation of Waugh up on The American Spectator website. Grace’s prose approaches the lapidary brilliance of the master at moments such as this:

Auberon Waugh once wrote that his father lived above all to tell jokes. He also noted that the world is divided into two camps: those who love jokes and those who fear them. Included in the latter camp are the progressives of all stripes. They dislike Evelyn Waugh because his jokes expose the folly of their hopes.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:29 PM |

The sagacious Jim Kalb has excavated an extraordinary quotation — extraordinary not least for its frightful, brazen candor — from the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida. Therein the latter lays out forthrightly what we might call, without hyperbole, his Philosophy of Treason.

All I have done . . . is dominated by the thought of a virus, what could be called a parasitology, a virology, the virus being many things . . . The virus is in part a parasite that destroys, that introduces disorder into communication. Even from the biological standpoint, this is what happens with a virus; it derails a mechanism of the communicational type, its coding and decoding. On the other hand, it is something that is neither living nor non-living; the virus is not a microbe. And if you follow these two threads, that of a parasite which disrupts destination from the communicative point of view — disrupting writing, inscription, and the coding and decoding of inscription — and which on the other hand is neither alive nor dead, you have the matrix of all that I have done since I began writing.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:23 PM |

Monday, November 17, 2003  

I have just completed G. K. Chesterton’s inimitable little life of Saint Francis of Assisi, and I am again reminded, vividly, of why I so adore G. K. C. It is not merely the masterly treatment of complex ideas, the prose poetry and playfulness, the awesome but lightly-worn learning, the bracing and singular vision of history, the paradoxes and polemical jujitsu (an example of the latter is on page 126: “I do not complain of their being skeptics; I am puzzled about why the skeptics are not more skeptical”) — these things, good and admirable and glorious though they are, do not explain his unique appeal. That explanation, rather, might be at least suggested by Newman’s axiom that “good is not only good, but reproductive of good”: by which I mean that Chesterton’s intellect, which is good, is also munificent. Its largeness is creative, in the sense that it seems to spread its fruitfulness. As evidence in support of this odd and crudely-expressed assertion I adduce my own mind, which on contact with Chesterton’s, through his writing, almost invariably is awakened and untethered. I read a good Chestertonian paragraph — dense, discursive, astonishing — and a whole spectrum of new or overlooked ideas is unleashed. Few things I have ever read have proven more fruitful in kindling thought.

I am not altogether sure why Chesterton specifically has this effect on me. Certainly he had his blindspots and limitations. His economics, alas, are foolish and fanciful — though usually erring, as it were, in the right direction. His Teutonophobia, though to some degree understandable during the First World War when his country was at war with Germany, can be positively disconcerting in its implacability: although even here, flashes of arresting insight careen toward the reader’s attention. His polemics against Protestants can be hugely unfair, though again, enlightening.

Granting all these things, the core creative potency of his mind is undiminished. (Perhaps his limitations even enhance it.) His is an intellect by which to illumine the great tapestry of human thought, like a great lapidary gem of many facets, which when focused upon with light reflects illumination all around in, in unpredictable places.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:23 PM |

Wednesday, November 12, 2003  

Nat Hentoff, writing in The Village Voice, delivers a calm and lucid explanation of the injustice nearly perpetrated in the case of Terri Schiavo.

I have covered highly visible, dramatic “right to die” cases —- including those of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan —- for more than 25 years. Each time, most of the media, mirroring one another, have been shoddy and inaccurate.

The reporting on the fierce battle for the life of 39-year-old Terri Schiavo has been the worst case of this kind of journalistic malpractice I’ve seen.

“Malpractice” seems a strange, almost jarring term to apply to journalists; but now and then it is worth recalling that there is a public trust extended here, which can and, sadly, frequently is, violated.

Mr. Hentoff is assiduous:

In [a] Los Angeles Times’ October 29 op-ed piece by Stephen Drake, he writes: “I was born brain-damaged as a result of a forceps delivery. The doctor told my parents I would be a ‘vegetable’ for the rest of my life —- the same word now being used for Schiavo —- and that the best thing would be for nature to take its course. They refused. Although I had a lot of health problems, surgeries and pain as a child, I went on to lead a happy life.” And clearly, his is a very articulate life. I have interviewed other such “vegetables.”

It must be interesting, interviewing those “vegetables.” Probably lends to the mind a certain indescribable perspective on the idea of “letting nature take its course,” or the related idea of life’s value only when it is “meaningful,” or even, dare we say, the more comprehensive and penetrating idea of the Culture of Death. Mr. Hentoff promises more columns elucidating the shame ramifying from this case: the shame of Terri’s husband, his lawyers, the courts, even the A.C.L.U. —- and especially the media. I, for one, await them eagerly.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:11 AM |

Tuesday, November 11, 2003  

It is difficult to imagine even in outline the full magnitude of the Communist enterprise as a historical phenomenon. Nothing compares to it in all of history, save its kindred horror Nazism, which endured less than one fifth as long, and perished utterly in a great military conflagration. The ruin and dissolution brought about by the latter system was considerable, and in its swiftness without parallel, and its evil was more concentrated; but Communism, having persisted longer, and sunk its foul roots deeper, poisoned societies more thoroughly, and never faced a kind of reckoning as would call forth comprehensive discredit.

How Communism as an idea still retains about it the air of “idealism”; how sympathy for it, either extant or unrepudiated, is no threat to an academic’s career; how its bravest and most moving opponents are hated and its proponents admired; how thoughtful people can still declare solemnly that the problem with Communism is that it never faithfully tried — these are questions which we simply have not the distance of perspective and depth of spirit to answer satisfactorily. However, a few attempts may be made to suggest where satisfactory answers might be found.

The absolutely demonic cunning of the Communists should not be underestimated. This cunning existed, of course, right alongside the most invincible incompetence; but it allowed the Communists to recognize their enemies, and act with a kind of ruthlessness against those enemies that is positively chilling. Consider, as an example or model, the slaughter of the Polish officer corps. The most well-known massacre (if well-known is the correct term for an event of which most people are ignorant) occurred at Katyn, where over four thousand Poles were shot and buried in a mass grave in the spring of 1940. Several similar atrocities occurred around the same time. I urge the reader to reflect on what it means for a proud, oft-subjugated nation when a very large portion of its most able men, its bravest, most admired, educated, and vigorous, are butchered in the span of several months. There is one Pole of that generation, a survivor of the Soviet repression (and the Nazi repression), whose own career may suggest the depth of the loss to that nation and the world. He is the Bishop of Rome, and history will remember him as John Paul the Great.

The point in thinking about this dreadful episode is that the Communists, wherever they conquered, ferociously emasculated their subject peoples. They deprived them of their best and brightest; in particular they deprived them of their bravest, their most resilient, leaving broken men and women behind. Worse: leaving behind compromised men, collaborators and informers, men who had saved themselves by betraying innocent friends, or had broken under the brutality and sold themselves to the system. In a word, the Communists systematically deprived nations of their human vitality. Other nations suffered truly awful losses in the twentieth century’s world wars; those subject to Communist imperialism had theirs souls taken from them.

A related fact is that guilt in Communist atrocity became very widespread. That is, the ruthlessness of this initial subjugation and purge insured that very large numbers of the survivors were implicated in unspeakable crimes. Most people have not the strength to endure the cruel fate that likely awaited a resister; and even those possessed of such strength could not count on it when family members were threatened. Who among us would remain silent about his neighbor when his child is put to the knife? The level of despair and demoralization such cruelty-induced betrayals might engender is immeasurable.

This despair includes many in the West as well. I think it is a plain fact that the Left cannot face up to the truth of Communism in part because, so to say, its hands are too bloody. Will The New York Times renounce the Pulitzer Prize awarded to its reporter Walter Duranty, who in his cupidity helped Stalin starve the Ukraine with hardly a whisper of condemnation from the West? Will the grand old legacy of Franklin Roosevelt survive a thorough scrutiny of his appalling credulousness toward “Uncle Joe”? Will all the defamers of Whittaker Chambers, the anti-anti-Communist parrots, the implacable defenders of Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White and all the others, the romantizers of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro — will all these characters concede their horrible errors, repudiate their words, and face down the facts of this monstrous history? I think not. The massive falsehood of it all is too much for men to bear: a great edifice of lies will not fall of indifference or neglect. It will only fall when truth assails it, and minds are turned to perceive its whole black untruth. Only when men see that a strange amalgam of Prussian ideas and Russian brutality, French zeal and American complacency, hardened into a force which, marching out of the ruins of a collapsed autocracy in the East, nearly overran civilization and brought about a new Dark Age — only then will the scales fall our eyes and the truth of Communism be made known.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:09 PM |

Thursday, November 06, 2003  

The following might be called a “guest column.” It originates from my correspondence with Lee Harris, author of the upcoming book Civilization and It’s Enemies. The title suggests the sort of ambitiousness Mr. Harris’s creative mind is capable of. I sent him this Michael Novak essay on St. Thomas Aquinas and heresy, and he replied with an extended reflection. I have edited it only very modestly. If you have not the time to read Mr. Novak’s essay, the important idea to consider is whether Aquinas can be regarded properly as “the first Whig,” as Novak contends. —- the Editor.

To begin with, I wholly reject even the notion that Thomas Aquinas was a Whig, or that anyone living in the thirteenth century could be a Whig. Consequently, for me, the problem is not how Thomas, as a putative Whig, could possibly justify his position on heretics, but rather why a man as intelligent as Novak cannot see the pointlessness of his question. Or, to put the matter more generally, how is it that modern Whigs, like Novak, can be so blind to the need of communities to protect themselves from those who would subvert them.

The anti-heresy principle, under whatever terms it may be expressed, functions to establish a loyalty test that permits a community to distinguish between those who are willing to uphold its fundamental values and those who seek to overthrow these values and replace them with others of their own choosing. Without such a loyalty test a community would be unable to defend its own existence against internal subversion by members who were disloyal to the community’s values.

Karl Popper, oddly enough, offers a good example of what I am talking about. Having observed how the Weimar Republic literally liquidated itself by permitting parties to come to power that were openly disloyal to the Republic, he propounded what he called the paradox of democracy —- namely, that there was nothing to keep a purely formal democracy from voting itself out of existence, and that such an outcome was a risk that any democracy would inevitably run so long as it refused to exclude from participation those members of the democracy who wishes to liquidate it.

The only solution to this problem, according to Popper, was to refuse to tolerate any party that is disloyal to the core values of democracy.

But, if I recall correctly, Popper did not take the next logical step, which was to ask the question, “How can we decide whether a party is really loyal to these core values or not?” After all, a party may always pretend to be loyal, or to insist that it is loyal to these core values in its own way.

For example, Howard Zinn claims to be an American patriot, despite the fact that he has worked tirelessly to undermine what everyone else would call the core values of American patriotism, and would, if given the power to do it, liquidate the USA’s ability to defend itself. An even more extreme case was Goebbel’s argument that the Nazis had created the world’s only true democracy precisely by destroying the Weimar Republic.

Hence, if we decide to leave it up to the members of our community to decide for themselves whether or not they are really loyal to our core values, then we are endangering the very existence of that community. And this means that the only way to avoid this problem is to establish a loyalty test that all the members of the community must pass, if they are to be a member “in good standing” of the community in question. In Country Clubs, this may be a matter of paying your dues and not violating the Club rules. In the Mafia it may involve the willing to kill on command.

The question of who decides what this test should be is irrelevant; what matters is that there is such a test and that it suffices to separate those who are genuinely willing to uphold the core values of the community and those who are willing to work against them.

According to Hegel, the anti-Whig, strong and stable states can afford to be a great deal more slack about such loyalty tests than weak and unstable ones. For example, he mentions the Quakers’ refusal of military service in England —- something that he argues the English can afford to permit because of the overall strength of their state; whereas another nation fighting for its life would be perfectly in its rights to take all kinds of drastic action against those who refused such service in a time of crisis, in spite of their conscience.

In other words, for Hegel, the Whig position is a special historical case, and one that can only emerge in those societies that have secured an enormous fund of stability and prosperity and solid defense against its external enemies —- such as nineteenth century England had achieved.

This is a position denounced by Straussians and other neoconservatives as “historicism” —- a position that is represented as a denial that there are any eternal and immutable moral principles. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding, since for Hegel what counts are embodied values and not merely abstract and disembodied ones. That is to say, while Hegel would himself always preferred to have lived in a modern liberal society, he regarded such a society as historically conditioned in that it required a preexisting set of values to have been embodied. Hence, for him, the folly of arguing that St. Thomas was a Whig. St. Thomas simply lived in an epoch where no one could afford to be a Whig —- as Novak’s own presentation makes clear, despite his failure to draw the proper conclusions from it.

From this point of view Novak is simply applying irrelevant historical categories —- such as church versus state, or church versus faith. The state’s function, in condemning heretics, is to protect the community’s core values —- it is simply the enforcement agency, whereas the church’s function is to determine what constitutes the loyalty test for that community. There are not two distinct communities, one determined by the state and one determined by the church, as there is for us, but only one community in which both the state and the church play an essential role in preserving the shared core values that must be embodied in the conduct of the community.

In my book I deal with conscience as another historically emergent phenomenon —- that is, I treat it not as a faculty of the individual, but rather as a kind of social system that is moored in the training and discipline imposed by Protestant communities upon their members. But, again, for the system of conscience to emerge, there must be other historically precedent factors that have provided the social context in which it is possible for men to exercise executive conscience without condemning their community to chaos and anarchy; that is, all those who claim to have a conscience must have already learned how to control their impulses and to be on their guard against self-will and caprice. They must all have reached the point where they have constructed within themselves the “distinterested spectator” of Adam Smith, the little guy inside of us who watches over every aspect of our conduct for signs that we are not behaving like a gentleman.

In short, internal control reduces the need for external control. When men have been educated to administer their own loyalty tests, there is no need for an external agent to do this. But the only way that men can be educated to this point is by being brought up and living in a community that has been willing to defend certain core values against those who would overturn them —- and whether you call them heretics or renegades or traitors makes no difference. It cannot come about by letting everyone decide for themselves what is true.

Finally, the idea that eventually, if a heretic persists, you must kill him is simply a recognition of the unpleasant fact that anyone who is sincerely committed to defending the core values of his community must be willing —- at some point —- to kill those who persist in undermining and subverting these values. For if you are not willing to do this —- and this fact becomes known —- then your community becomes the hostage of those disloyal elements who are the most ruthless in seeking to overturn it. Though, here again, the severity of the community’s defense is a function of its strength and of the dangers facing it —- that is, a strong and robust community can afford to indulge eccentricity, even to the point of formal heresy, but in any case it must preserve the right to escalate its response to include any action deemed necessary to defend the core values of the community.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:34 AM |

Tuesday, November 04, 2003  

The fine website Tech Central Station inexplicably continues to publish my work. Here is a new essay, again drawn from antecedent Cellasreview material. Already a commenter has declared that it reads as if it were “written in the Middle Ages.” Rarely have I received so fulsome a compliment.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:08 AM |

Saturday, November 01, 2003  

Fr. Andrew Greeley acerbically dismantles the notion of “national service” requirements — a notion that seems to inspire earnest politicians everywhere.

The problem with this line of reasoning, which astonishingly appeals to many of those who call themselves “liberals,” is that while people of every age may well have some moral obligation to serve their country, there is no obligation to serve the government of the country. The slippery equation of the country with the government is a dangerous intrusion into the freedom of citizens. If the young are the special targets of such service, then it is a form of regressive taxation against them in favor of older people. It is also a form of imprisonment without due process. Because you’re young, we have the right to call on you to serve the country in ways that interfere with your education, your life plans, your freedom of choice.

If young men and women wish to volunteer for either public service like the Peace Corps or private services like those affiliated with most religious denominations, then more power to them. If they don’t want to do that, no one has the right to coerce them to do so. Moreover, the notion of volunteer service as a requirement for graduation is an oxymoron. If you have to do it, then it’s not voluntary. It is laughable that high schools that usually do not teach young people to think for themselves or to write a decent paragraph of the English language assume that they have the right to engage in “character formation” outside the school environment.

Now that is how one deflates high-minded earnestness.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:39 AM |
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