Cella's Review Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, December 27, 2003
SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “The history of modern society . . . is the assumption of social control over activities once left to individuals or their families. During the first stage of the industrial revolution, capitalists took production out of the household and collectivized it, under their own supervision, in the factory. Then they proceeded to appropriate the workers’ skills and technical knowledge, by means of ‘scientific management,’ and to bring these skills together under managerial direction. Finally they extended their control over the worker’s private life as well, as doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, child guidance experts, officers of the juvenile courts, and other specialists began to supervise child-rearing, formerly the business of the family. [ . . . ]
“It is precisely the separation of love and discipline [associated with communal forms of child-rearing] that encourages . . . the development of personality traits more compatible with totalitarian regimes than with democracy: a strong attachment to the peer group, a marked fear of being alone, more or less complete alienation from the past . . . a strong concern with personal ‘authenticity’ in relations with others, unmediated by conventional forms of politeness or even by respect for the other person's individuality and a lack of introspection and of a highly developed inner life.”
– Chrisopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
The Eastern Orthodox historian David Hart has produced a pair of profound essays this autumn in the journal First Things which deserve wider attention. His writing is vivid, arresting; his arguments cogent; and his learning immense. In the December issue, for example, he assays the work of Maurice Cowling, a historian of religion in England of caustic wit; and we are treated to this somber conclusion near the end of the review essay:
Nothing could be more important for an understanding of modernity (even if it is reached through a study only of the intelligentsia of England) than to recognize that we are not living in an age in which religious adherence has simply withered away before the parching wind of Enlightenment reason, but in one in which a new evangel has — over the course of a few centuries — displaced the old, and with it the cultural energy and rationale of Christian Europe: a new religion, whose most devout believers are as zealous, intolerant, and absolutist as any faith has ever produced, and whose vast silent constituency is as unreflective, passive, and pliant as any enfranchised clerisy could desire. It is good for Christians to grasp that, even in this hour, we struggle not simply with disillusion and demystification, but with strange gods.
Or again, a few paragraphs later:
Cowling understands quite well the magnitude of what has been lost to secularization, and the grim prospects for any attempt to rebuild the edifice of Christian culture on English soil. Nonetheless, he also understands that at the heart of secularity are a thousand arbitrary and fanatical cultural decisions masquerading as realism, ethics, or progress; and, by relentlessly exposing their arbitrariness, his history makes conceivable the ultimate collapse of the religion they sustain.
Previously, in the October issue, Mr. Hart’s set his intellect to the task of examining the consequences of Christ’s obliteration of the old pagan order. The result was a haunting essay, shrewdly titled “Christ and Nothing,” which a short excerpt here can only give a taste of:
The gospel of a God found in broken flesh, humility, and measureless charity has defeated all the old lies, rendered the ancient order visibly insufficient and even slightly absurd, and instilled in us a longing for transcendent love so deep that — if once yielded to — it will never grant us rest anywhere but in Christ. And there is a real sadness in this, because the consequences of so great a joy rejected are a sorrow, bewilderment, and anxiety for which there is no precedent. If the nonsensical religious fascinations of today are not, in any classical or Christian sense, genuine pieties, they are nevertheless genuine — if deluded — expressions of grief, encomia for a forsaken and half-forgotten home, the prisoner’s lament over a lost freedom. For Christians, then, to recover and understand the meaning of the command to have “no other god,” it is necessary first to recognize that the victory of the Church in history was not only incomplete, but indeed set free a force that the old sacral order had at least been able to contain; and it is against this more formless and invincible enemy that we take up the standard of the commandment today.
Moreover, we need to recognize, in the light of this history, that this commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again. In practical terms, I suspect that this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. It takes formidable faith and devotion to resist the evils of one’s age, and it is to the history of Christian asceticism — especially, perhaps, the apophthegms of the Desert Fathers — that all Christians, whether married or not, should turn for guidance. To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture — all of which are so tempting precisely because they enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.
There is meat enough in these two essays for years of study and reflection.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
I have addedBelmont Club to my list of “Worthy Blogs,” on a tip from Mark Butterworth; and this post is a good example of why. A sharp, historically-rich assessment of the world as it turns, delivered in eloquent prose, characterizes the blog’s apparently-pseudonymous author and editor. Here is a sample — the context is the question, What do we do with Saddam Hussein:
All that the tyrant’s victims can set against that massively strong hand is the demand for simple justice. Yet what claim can the dead have upon the living which would be greater than those who might be saved by dealing with this devil? How do you set the satisfaction of a victim’s mother against the grief of one whose son is yet to die? The unavoidable currency of war is death: a death spent here for deaths saved there. All a commander can do, with the power entrusted to him, is to decide which among his men are to die so that the rest might live.
The phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” is often misunderstood to mean that men in battle pray to be spared; that is only partially true. They pray to be forgiven.
Hang him high.
posted by Paul Cella |
6:39 PM |
I certainly had my doubts about the wisdom of the Iraq war (I sketched some of those doubts out here), and the postwar ugliness has hardly alleviated them; but it seems very hard to interpret Moannar Gadhafi’s astonishing capitulation as anything other than a concrete vindication of President Bush’s much-maligned foreign policy. Moreover, this recent report in Sunday Herald strongly suggests that Libya’s concession is severe blow to the nuclear ambitions of several other rogue states: Iran and North Korea.
New documents revealed yesterday show that the three [Libya, Iran and North Korea] were working on the nuclear weapons programme at a top-secret underground site near the Kufra Oasis of the Sahara in southeastern Libya. The team was made up of North Korean scientists, engineers and technicians, as well as some Iranian and Libyan nuclear scientists. [. . .]
Iran, which is now in the final stages of uranium enrichment for its program, is badly hit, having counted on fitting into place key parts of its WMD project made in Libya. North Korea may also be forced to scale back the production of nuclear devices as well as counting the loss of a lucrative source of income for its Scuds and nuclear technology.
It is also very difficult to ignore (although many will insist on doing just that) the timing of the negotiations that led up to Libya’s decision:
Tripoli’s announcement on Friday was the culmination of secret talks with Britain and the US launched around the time of the Iraq invasion. The initial approach to discuss how to bring Libya in from the cold was made by Libya’s chief of intelligence, Musa Qusa, who contacted the British government in March, amid preparations for war on Iraq.
“I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid,” Mr. Gadhafi told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, according to a Berlusconi spokesman who was quoted in yesterday’s Telegraph of London.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
My wife and I braved the crowds and watched The Return of the King on opening night. A masterpiece. A few blunders linger from the second film (the use of Gimli almost exclusively for comic relief does not abate, for example), but others are corrected or at least mitigated (Faramir’s character is restored by a combination of benign neglect and an effective depiction of his callous and despondent father), and there are a variety of minor departures from Tolkien’s text — some of which are sure to irritate. But in a broad and sympathetic sense I have no complaints about the film.
A the heart of this story is the venerable but neglected ideal of masculine friendship. If we manage to recover this idea, then these movies will have contributed to something of immense value. They will have helped make us men again.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Terrence O. Moore, writing in the routinely excellent Claremont Review of Books, applies some ancient wisdom — “by their fruits ye shall know them” — to the education of young men in our culture. The fruits of “progressive” education are rotten indeed. Young men in America by and large have been reduced to wimps and barbarians. Mr. Moore supplies a trenchant depiction of each, and calls for a recovery of what it means to be a man.
First, a clear challenge must be issued to young males urging them to become the men their grandfathers and great-grandfathers were. This challenge must be clear, uncompromising, engaging, somewhat humorous, and inspiring. It cannot seem like a tired, fusty, chicken-little lament on the part of the old and boring, but must be seen as the truly revolutionary and cutting-edge effort to recover authentic manliness. Second, a new generation of scholars must tell the tale of how men used to become men and act manfully, and how we as a nation have lost our sense of true manliness. The spirit of this inquiry cannot be that of an autopsy but rather that of the Renaissance humanists, who sought to recover and to borrow the wisdom of the past in order to ennoble their own lives. [. . .]
These two enterprises, the one rhetorical and the other philosophical, are and must be related. One comes from and appeals to the heart. The other comes from and appeals to the mind. Young men today have both hearts and minds that are in chronic need of cultivation. Specifically, they need to realize what true manhood is, what it is not, and why it has become so difficult in the modern world to achieve the status and stature of the true man.
Mr. Moore’s essay is a fine contribution to the public conversation about citizenship and self-government.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
“The law was bitterly criticized by members of the center-left opposition, as well as some female lawmakers and the country’s largest gay rights group.” Whatever it is, it is surely a worthy law.
I say that partly in jest, but this new Italian fertility law, called to my attention by the assiduous Ben Domenech, is a truly remarkable achievement. Mr. Domenech calls it “most pro-life law of the past decade” and he may well be right. The law restricts “fertility treatments to heterosexual couples who live together and are of childbearing age” and prohibits “egg or sperm donation, as well as the use of surrogate mothers”; moreover, it “rules out treatment for gays, single people and elderly women,” “forbids freezing embryos for use at a later date,” declares that “no more than three embryos can be created at one time and all must be implanted in a woman’s womb,” and finally “outlaws experiments on embryos, such as cloning or tinkering with their genetic makeup.” All this, and enforced by very stiff penalties: “Fines of $363,000 to $726,000 for using donors, and 10- to 20-year jail terms and fines up to $1.21 million for doctors who try to clone humans.” Twenty years in prison! I say, this may mark the end of cloning and most aggressive generic research in Italy.
Keep in mind the piece of legislation whenever you hear that all the vast schemes of the biotech revolutionist are described so solemnly as inevitable. No horror is inevitable where the germ (or, if may put it this way, the embryo) of virtue and self-government still resides in men.
Friday, December 12, 2003
Two of my essays ran elsewhere today, both drawn, as usual, from material first developed and presented here. The first, appearing on The American Spectator website, addresses the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance legislation. The second, at TCS, is a version of my piece from this summer entitled “Refurbishing Bad Ideas.”
I have also added a few new links to the columns on the right.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
An interesting thing happened today. The United States Supreme Court modified key portions of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Those portions include “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” According to the Court, Congress may indeed abridge these freedoms, even in the context that the Framers specifically had in mind when the Amendment was passed: namely, politics.
Lest you think this is yet another polemic against the lawless Court, I will acknowledge forthrightly that both Congress and the President abetted the passage of this bill in question, which goes by the dreary name “campaign finance reform.” In short, officers of all three branches of our Federal Republic violated their oaths taken before God to uphold our Constitution. These officers will suffer no penalty for this action (or acquiescence in this action, as the case may be); those vulnerable to it will not be impeached; those subject to it will not be cast out of office in the next election (at least not for this reason). Nothing will happen.
We are truly a decadent people.
UPDATE: My father writes to gently admonish what he believes is my hyperbole in writing about violated oaths and so forth. “The distinction used” by the Court, he writes, “is that money is not speech,” and “therefore the First Amendment is susceptible to interpretation in this area. A weak argument maybe, but it does take it out of the realm of total and unequivocal Constitutional violation.” He goes on, saying that while “I would not say they are violating their oaths, they are acting irresponsibly and are supporting a dangerous test of the rights provided in the First Amendment.” His qualifications are well taken. I reply with some selections from Justice Thomas’s dissent:
The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Nevertheless, the Court today upholds what can only be described as the most significant abridgment of the freedoms of speech and association since the Civil War With breathtaking scope, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), directly targets and constricts core political speech, the primary object of First Amendment protection. Because the First Amendment “has its fullest and most urgent application to speech uttered during a campaign for political office,” our duty is to approach these restrictions "with the utmost skepticism” and subject them to the “strictest scrutiny.”
In response to this assault on the free exchange of ideas and with only the slightest consideration of the appropriate standard of review or of the Court’s traditional role of protecting First Amendment freedoms, the Court has placed its imprimatur on these unprecedented restrictions. The very “purpose of the First Amendment [is] to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.” Yet today the fundamental principle that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” is cast aside in the purported service of preventing “corruption,” or the mere “appearance of corruption.” Apparently, the marketplace of ideas is to be fully open only to defamers, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, (1964); nude dancers, Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., (1991); pornographers, Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, (2002); flag burners, United States v. Eichman, (1990); and cross burners, Virginia v. Black, (2003). [. . .]
It is not difficult to see where this leads. Every law has limits, and there will always be behavior not covered by the law but at its edges; behavior easily characterized as “circumventing” the law’s prohibition. Hence, speech regulation will again expand to cover new forms of “circumvention,” only to spur supposed circumvention of the new regulations, and so forth. Rather than permit this never-ending and self-justifying process, I would require that the Government explain why proposed speech restrictions are needed in light of actual Government interests, and, in particular, why the bribery laws are not sufficient. [. . .]
Indeed, this Court has explicitly recognized that “the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry,” and thus that “an author’s decision to remain anonymous . . . is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” The Court now backs away from this principle, allowing the established right to anonymous speech to be stripped away based on the flimsiest of justifications. [. . .]
The chilling endpoint of the Court’s reasoning is not difficult to foresee: outright regulation of the press. None of the rationales offered by the defendants, and none of the reasoning employed by the Court, exempts the press. “This is so because of the difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of distinguishing, either as a matter of fact or constitutional law, media corporations from [nonmedia] corporations.” Media companies can run procandidate editorials as easily as nonmedia corporations can pay for advertisements. Candidates can be just as grateful to media companies as they can be to corporations and unions. In terms of “the corrosive and distorting effects” of wealth accumulated by corporations that has “little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas,” there is no distinction between a media corporation and a nonmedia corporation. Media corporations are influential. There is little doubt that the editorials and commentary they run can affect elections. Nor is there any doubt that media companies often wish to influence elections. One would think that the New York Times fervently hopes that its endorsement of Presidential candidates will actually influence people. What is to stop a future Congress from determining that the press is “too influential,” and that the “appearance of corruption” is significant when media organizations endorse candidates or run “slanted” or “biased” news stories in favor of candidates or parties? Or, even easier, what is to stop a future Congress from concluding that the availability of unregulated media corporations creates a loophole that allows for easy “circumvention” of the limitations of the current campaign finance laws?
Fatherly wisdom duly noted, I maintain that an opinion so brazenly in violation of the clear intent of the Constitution is grounds for the impeachment of a judge or executive, and the censure and democratic removal of a legislator. Were this a healthy republic of men jealous of their liberty, these would be our tools to rebuke tyranny.
The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air. — G. K. Chesterton (who else?)
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
It appears that your humble scribe has been nominated in one category for the 2003 Weblog Awards. Aakash Raut of University Blog is the offending nominator. Now you will have to excuse me, but I’ve always dreamed of employing this old cliché: Vote early, vote often!
posted by Paul Cella |
4:58 PM |
Saturday, December 06, 2003
The real constitutional question at issue in the vexing controversy over same-sex marriage was succinctly captured by the editors of First Things in their October issue:
The question before us is how the Constitution will be amended: by judicial fiat or by “We the People of the United States” employing the means established by the Constitution. Entailed in that question is whether change will serve to advance a social revolution unsought and unwanted by the American people or will serve to secure an institution essential to the well-being of our society. The Constitution will be amended, either by constitutional means or by activist judges practicing what is aptly described as the judicial usurpation of politics.
The editors are perhaps being coy with that last phrase. It was, of course, this selfsame journal which applied the apt description, in a 1996 symposium which provoked a reaction very much unlike what is normal for staid and high-minded intellectual organs. In my judgment, the jeremiads articulated in that symposium have been borne out, and its detractors confuted by events. In was not First Things that fomented revolution, as some charged; it was First Things that candidly confronted a very real revolution made by the courts. To this revolution, the editors applied the fine expressive phrase “judicial usurpation.”
The episode was not without a whiff of the comic — particularly, I think, among the critics of the symposium. In describing some of them we might even employ Chesterton’s amusing definition of the Euphemist: “I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them.” Many of them conceded in substance to the argument that the judicial branch of the United States has indeed made a revolution in the republican order of the nation; and then went on to scold the symposium contributors for making the argument and considering its implications.
Well, things have rather advanced since 1996: the revolution has consolidated itself, despite the momentary tension of a certain feverish election controversy, and gone on to devour even greater aspects of American politics into its mild, enervating despotism. No serious and systematic program of resistance to this despotism has been articulated; opponents to it remain, strictly speaking, reactionary. It is astonishing to realize that there has been no public call, much less a concerted effort, to impeach a single judicial despot — this despite the plain fact that the impeachment tool was designed for such a purpose. A few people have begun looking at Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to remove specific items from judicial review, and of course there is the Marriage Amendment, which seeks remedy by constitutional amendment.
All these remedies require legislative will, which in turns requires public will: two qualities hardly in abundance these days. Moreover, it is a fact — a distressing one, but a fact nonetheless — that many prominent conservatives are fleeing the logic of judicial usurpation in droves. Demoralized and compromised by its attachment to respectability, no resistance will stand. National Review documents this retreat and demoralization in a polite but quietly resounding editorial recently. “If the conservative coalition does not take effective action to fight judicial liberalism,” the editors write, “the conservative coalition will not survive.” Nor will the Republic. Our comfort and luxury will doom us. “The Roman Empire is luxurious, but it is filled with misery,” wrote Salvianus. “It is dying but it laughs.”
Friday, December 05, 2003
Writing on TCS, Professor Edward Feser of Loyola Marymount University in L.A. critiques the facile notion that what Islam needs is its own version of Martin Luther — its own Reformation by which to escape a stultifying mediaevalism. His innovative analysis relies heavily on the celebrated classical liberal scholar F. A. Hayek, whom he credits with the most “penetrating account of our civilization”: If I may paraphrase, his argument is that the Roman Catholic Church is the first and last great liberal institution, the fountainhead of what Hayek called “the rule of law,” and guardian of reason. Bold claims, no doubt, and TCS is not the first place I would look for a scholarly polemic against Protestantism, Islam and modernity: but Prof. Feser makes a solid and cogent case. For me personally, it is a striking distillation of my own inchoate thoughts on these huge and ancient ideas.
posted by Paul Cella |
9:39 AM |
Chesterton famously wrote that the hardest time for an atheist is when he feels very grateful, with no one to thank. Mark Butterworth writes similarly about materialist novelists and their “basic disgust of beauty.” “I keep forgetting what it’s like to be faithless,” he writes, “and having to keep trying to extract meaning from a meaningless life.”
posted by Paul Cella |
9:38 AM |
Thursday, December 04, 2003
I reprint here my letter to the journal First Things, along with Editor-in-Chief Richard John Neuhaus’ response, which appeared in their December number, but is not yet online.
Evasive on Sodomy?
In the course of discussing Senator Rick Santorum’s controversial statement about sodomy (While We’re At It, August/September), Richard John Neuhaus avers that he is “not a fan of laws that are not intended to be enforced.” This strikes me as disappointingly evasive, as it is not often that one sees Father Neuhaus evade a controversy.
Perhaps he could clarify for First Things readers: Would he support the anti-sodomy law (now ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) if it were intended to be enforced? Sen. Santorum, as Fr. Neuhaus acknowledges, merely asseverated Roman Catholic orthodoxy on the question of homosexuality. And the good people of Texas, acting through their duly elected representatives in passing a law against sodomy, have also affirmed in the simplest republican means open to them, that same Roman Catholic and, more broadly, Christian orthodoxy. Would Fr. Neuhaus support its enforcement? Or does he believe that some principle of jurisprudence, political philosophy, morality, or mere politics precludes the people of the United States from the democratic affirmation of the faith of their fathers?
Most conservatives have been fully willing to castigate the Lawrence decision for its dubious arguments, its implications for same-sex marriage, and its creeping obliteration of the principle of federalism in what Justice Antonin Scalia called in his dissent “morals legislation.” Far fewer conservatives have been willing to positively defend anti-sodomy laws themselves. I recall Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review, a talented writer and shrewd analyst, noting with some surprise on National Review Online’s web-log, sometime after the Santorum affair, that very close to a majority of Americans (according to poll numbers) actually favor anti-sodomy laws, which is a decidedly different thing than merely favoring the right of legislative bodies to criminalize sodomy without interference from the courts, as Mr. Ponnuru and many right-wing intellectuals do. In my judgment, this revelation suggests that National Review may be to the left of the country on the whole question of sexual morality. I am interested as to where Fr. Neuhaus and his fine publication stand.
Paul J. Cella III
RJN Responds: There is nothing evasive in agreeing with Aquinas and many other worthies that not everything immoral can or should be made illegal. Whether Texas should have and enforce an anti-sodomy law is for the people of Texas to determine. In New York, the enforcement of such a law would, in my judgment, be politically impossible under existing and foreseeable circumstances, and attempts to pass or enforce such a law would cause severe damage to the common good. In different places and different times, one might be led to a different prudential judgment.
posted by Paul Cella |
5:04 PM |
An article of mine appears today on the renovated American Spectator website. It is a brief report on a conference I attended at a small college outside of Atlanta: “Democracy and Its Friendly Critics” the conference was called. All new material, folks. I’m afraid the editing on the piece was pretty heavy (I claim no responsibility for the egregious Matrix reference), but I am still happy with it. I may eventually post the essay here in its pristine condition.
posted by Paul Cella |
10:32 AM |
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Among the most underrated writers around is Andrew Ferguson. His recent review the hot anti-Bush literature (subtitled, “Reading the Bush-bashers”) is a marvelous example of smooth, hilarious, incisive prose. Simply a joy to read. Take your time with this one. Mr. Ferguson is also a columnist for Bloomberg News, whose column I always seem to forget about —- grave injustice to a fine writer.
posted by Paul Cella |
1:57 PM |