Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, January 31, 2004 Jeff Culbreath of El Camino Real has a moving tribute to Charles I of England, the White King, who is traditionally venerated by Anglicans as a saint.
posted by Paul Cella | 11:25 AM |
The Library of Congress has a magnificent webpage dedicated to the ambitious work of an early innovator in the art of photography, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, the “Photographer of the Tzar.” These depictions of the architecture and life of Tzarist Russia before the First World War are almost painful to behold, for they force the viewer to reflect on what War and Revolution obliterated.
The Communists, for example, in their unspeakable barbarism, turned this seventeenth-century monastery into a concentration camp. And they initiated the great system of cruelty and exploitation known as the Gulag — the largest system of slavery in the modern world — at this fifteenth-century monastery. They destroyed this fourteenth-century church, and impoverished this town.
Amazing photographs of a civilization brought to ruin by modern man’s frenzied revolt against God and Law.
(Via Lew Rockwell.)posted by Paul Cella | 9:45 AM |
create your own visited states map
(Via Mark Butterworth.)posted by Paul Cella | 8:14 AM |
Friday, January 30, 2004 Well, well; isn’t this interesting:
(Via Brothers Judd.)posted by Paul Cella | 8:46 AM |
Thursday, January 29, 2004 SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs. And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly.
“It is clear, then, that rhetoric is not bound up with a single definite class of subjects, but is as universal as dialectic; it is clear, also, that it is useful. It is clear, further, that its function is not simply to succeed in persuading, but rather to discover the means of coming as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case allow. In this it resembles all other arts. For example, it is not the function of medicine simply to make a man quite healthy, but to put him as far as may be on the road to health; it is possible to give excellent treatment even to those who can never enjoy sound health. Furthermore, it is plain that it is the function of one and the same art to discern the real and the apparent means of persuasion, just as it is the function of dialectic to discern the real and the apparent syllogism. What makes a man a ‘sophist’ is not his faculty, but his moral purpose.”
— Aristotle, Rhetoric.posted by Paul Cella | 10:08 PM |
Wednesday, January 28, 2004 David Gelernter’s review in Commentary of the great English historian Paul Johnson’s newest book (book seems a pretty thin word to describe what Johnson produces), is a masterpiece. (Yes, there can be masterpieces even in the short review form of literature.)
Mr. Gelernter opens this way:
Just last night I happened to be flipping through Johnson’s A History of the American People (more is revealed by the conspicuous “a” in his titles than ever has by a single letter). Mr. Johnson is a thinker to whom one returns regularly for counsel. But, as Gelernter suggests, like any good counselor, one cannot accept all his advice; most of it, perhaps, but not all. What does Johnson think of St. Augustine? “The dark genius of imperial Christianity” (A History of Christianity). Hmmm. When does Johnson think the modern world began? “The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe . . . In particular, the motions of the planet Mercury deviated by forty-three seconds of an arc a century from its predictable behaviour under Newtonian laws of physics” (Modern Times. Alright.
There are times when the felicity and power of Johnson’s prose provokes me to literally laugh out loud in exhilaration. It is analogous, perhaps, to the thrill of watching a great athlete take command of a game: the sheer human energy behind his writing, the immense vigor of mind, is a cause for joy.
I think it worth quoting Gelernter’s conclusion in full; it is enough (were I not already bogged down with a half dozen books to read) to make me want to rush out and buy Johnson’s history of art right now:
NB: I’ll add a link to Mr. Gelernter’s review here, but I warn the reader that viewing it requires a pretty sophisticated version of the Adobe Reader program. I expect that most computers do not have it.posted by Paul Cella | 1:36 PM |
Tuesday, January 27, 2004 Professor Thomas G. West of the University of Dallas puts the recent brouhaha over the Supreme Court’s countenance of the odious McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in its proper context: in the context, that is, of, as the title to his essay reads, “The Liberal Assault on Freedom of Speech.” Well worth reading. posted by Paul Cella | 6:19 PM |
Monday, January 26, 2004 “Individuals are often apt to consider their own private conduct as of small importance to the public welfare. This opinion is wholly erroneous and highly mischievous. No man can adopt it, who believes, and remembers, the declarations of God. If ‘one sinner destroyeth much good,’ if ‘the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,’ if ten righteous persons, found in the polluted cities of the vale of Sodom, would have saved them from destruction, the personal conduct of no individual can be insignificant to the safety and happiness of a nation. On the contrary, the advantages to the public of private virtue, faithful prayer and edifying example, cannot be calculated. No one can conjecture how many will be made better, safer, and happier, by the virtue of one.
“Wherever wealth, politeness, talents, and office, lend their aid to the inherent efficacy of virtue, its influence is proportionately greater. In this case the example is seen by greater numbers, is regarded with more respectful attention, and felt with greater force. The piety of Hezekiah reformed and saved a nation. Men far inferior in station to kings, and possessed of far humbler means of doing good, may still easily circulate through multitudes both virtue and happiness. The beggar on the dunghill may become a public blessing. Every parent, if a faithful one, is a public blessing of course. How delightful a path of patriotism is this?
“It is also to be remembered, that this is the way, in which the chief good, ever placed in the power of most persons, is to be done. If this opportunity of serving God, and befriending mankind, be lost, no other will by the great body of men ever be found. Few persons can be concerned in settling systems of faith, moulding forms of government, regulating nations, or establishing empires. But almost all can train up a family for God, instill piety, justice, kindness, and truth, distribute peace and comfort around a neighborhood, receive the poor and the outcast into their houses, tend the bed of sickness, pour balm into the wounds of pain, and awaken a smile in the aspect of sorrow. In the secret and lowly vale of life, virtue in its most lovely attire delights to dwell. There God, with peculiar complacency, most frequently find the inestimable ornament of a meek and quiet spirit; and there the morning and the evening incense ascends with peculiar fragrance to heaven. When angels became the visitors, and the guests, of Abraham, he was a simple husbandman.”
— Rev. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, secretary of the Hartford Convention, demonstrating the kind of things that occupied the minds of men of the early American Republic, in a sermon of July 4, 1798.posted by Paul Cella | 6:51 PM |
Friday, January 23, 2004 The sardonic Kevin Michael Grace, having endured his “year of rending,” reappears to demolish Reason magazine’s gruelingly pathetic list of “35 Heroes of Freedom.”
Reason includes on its list the despicable pornographer Larry Flynt; any man who imagines such figure is admirable has forfeited his claim to intellectual seriousness, and may have forfeited his claim to intelligence altogether. He has, at least, proven himself in all likelihood a colossal dupe, having taken the clever misrepresentation of said pornographer in a film for history. Mr. Grace comments succinctly: “What is the nature of Flynt’s expression? ‘Chester the molester,’ the depiction of a woman being put through a meat grinder, the reduction of the erotic to the clinical detachment of the livestock buyer and the mortician.”
A masterful, if disheartening, essay.posted by Paul Cella | 1:31 PM |
Thursday, January 22, 2004 Last night I read for the first time the Sedition Act of 1798 — that portentous precursor to wicked McCarthyism, that ghastly betrayal of the Bill of Rights (despite its being written and enacted by many of the very same men who wrote and enacted the Bill Of Rights), that stain on the career of John Adams, that cruel and unusual breakdown in justice heroically opposed by Jefferson and Madison (though in opposing it they propounded the notorious principle of Nullification). The reader will have gathered that I think this conventional history quite dubious; indeed, I came into reading the Act thinking it dubious — and came out thinking it laughable.
The most detested clause of the Act reads,
Sounds fairly severe, I admit. But consider the final clause, in Section 3: “That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.” Jury trial, truth as an absolute defense: that is rather more than your average transgressor of political correctness receives from his inquisitors, and quite a bit more if the transgressor is subject to the “justice system” of a major American university.
The principle worth emphasizing here is that the liberal Utopia of the Open Society is a fantasy, pure and simple — and, because of its astonishing influence on the minds of modern men, a particularly ruinous fantasy. In no society is it possible for all questions to be open questions. In other words, every society will have its orthodoxy, which it will defend by placing a price so high on heresy that most people will either (1) forsake their heresy or (2) keep silent about it. The real question thus becomes, What is a given society’s orthodoxy? Ours we might suggest with the laden and increasingly debased word tolerance, but is better examined with clearer language: managerial socialism, bureaucratic usurpation, cultural Marxism, etc.
I’ll wager the Sedition Act was preferable to the armed doctrine of political correctness.posted by Paul Cella | 11:09 AM |
Lee Harris has penned the best analysis of Howard Dean’s excruciating shriek I have yet seen.
And the good Doctor failed miserably. Even for a party on the verge of full-blown madness, this madness appears to be too much to swallow all at once (though I hasten to add that Dean, like the Monty Python character, is not dead yet).
Another fine article by Mr. Harris, whose much-anticipated (at least by me) book will appear next month.posted by Paul Cella | 8:17 AM |
Tuesday, January 20, 2004 Fred Reed usually tells it like it is, and with a verve that is quite charming in its languid despondency: “Television doesn’t tell people what to do. It shows them. People can resist admonition. But if they see something happening over and over, month after month, if they see the same values approvingly portrayed, they will adopt both behavior and values.” Mr. Reed’s column today entitled, “A Brief Textbook of American Democracy,” is a fine specimen. It is a model of unadorned penetration.
Elsewhere he writes, echoing in more colloquial language the arguments of such as, say, The Federalist:
To read some of the documents, pamphlets and speeches of the early Americans, as I have been doing recently (assisted by one of Liberty Fund’s marvelous collections), is to be astonished — at once by the philosophical sophistication and seriousness or our ancestors, and by the precipitousness of our decline in recent decades. Abraham Lincoln, at age 28, alone composed and delivered a speech (the justly famous Lyceum Address) that is well beyond the powers of any given team of the best speechwriters of our age, armed with the Internet and pollsters and many days of preparation. The meanest congregant at the smallest rural church in colonial Massachusetts understood in greater depth the principles of republican government than does the average dean?s list university graduate in political science today.
Here is Mr. Reed again:
I am haunted often by the prophetic words of Salvian as the Roman Empire decayed: “Rome is luxurious but it is filled with misery. It is dying but it laughs.”posted by Paul Cella | 4:40 PM |
Here is Heather MacDonald's devastating essay on illegal-immigrant crime. A sample:
Isn’t that great?posted by Paul Cella | 3:18 PM |
Monday, January 12, 2004 Vacationing in Denver, Colorado, where I was born and raised, I come upon a singular letter printed in The Rocky Mountain News: The author of this remarkable specimen is one Dr. A. J. Hill, of Nederland, Colorado, and he is, it seems, quite annoyed by a column published ten days ago critical of the animal-rights energumens at PETA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals: a nice soothing title which conceals frothing lunacy).
He writes first to summarize PETA’s views: “[PETA] asserts that, because animals are living, sentient beings, they possess the same rights to self-determination and freedom from cruelty and exploitation that humans do.” This, he assures us, is an “eminently defensible moral position.” Here even the experienced reader pulls up short. At the very least, we might interject that to assert is not to argue, far less is it to persuade. We might go further and argue that there are no rights absent correlative duties or obligations, that the rights of man can only be discerned within a conception of the nature of man, which nature includes the duties he owns to God, to country, to his fellow man, etc. And it is very hard to understand how a swine or an ape can be conceived as a duty-bound creature.
The object of Dr. Hill’s ire is Wesley Smith, an industrious and cogent enemy of the Brave New World of biotechnology and bioethics. Hill asseverates, “Behind Smith’s umbrage [at PETA] lies the conviction of creationists and their fellow travelers that humans are the specific handiwork of a supernatural entity and, as such, enjoy a unique and privileged place among living beings.” Imagine that: the “handiwork of a supernatural entity.” Where could such an outlandish idea have come from? But Dr. Hill’s sneer is a revealing one: In his mind, those who maintain the moral equality of men and beasts are mainstream, “eminently-defensible” in their views, while those who cleave to the truth of the biblical creation story as against the strange alternative narratives of modern scientism are “fanatics.”
In short, Dr. Hill’s is a world apart. He presents to us as almost given a philosophy utterly alien to our tradition as Americans, Westerners and descendents of the civilization of Athens, Jerusalem and Rome. He presents this philosophy as the conclusions of sweet reasonableness; and the opposition of this Great Tradition as mere fanaticism. His contempt for the Great Tradition is palpable. He is, in the most profound sense, in revolt.posted by Paul Cella | 1:33 PM |
Friday, January 09, 2004 The following is a letter I have dispatched to various elected officials:
I write to convey to you my profound alarm and disgust at the proposal by President Bush for a large-scale amnesty and “guest worker” program for illegal immigrants; and to urge you, as my representative in the august institution of which you are a member, to do everything in your power to scuttle, obstruct and finally defeat it.
I write as a supporter of the President, and it brings me no pleasure to break with him so drastically: him whose words and actions after September 11 have inspired in me a real sense of loyalty and admiration; whose determination in an awkward and taxing war has been commendable; whose moral clarity, beleaguered on nearly all sides by the relativism, despair and unbelief of the decaying modern world, has been worthy of esteem. I have other disagreements with Mr. Bush, some large, others more trivial; but nothing approaches the level of disappointment and frustration provoked by this brassbound amnesty proposal. If he persists in this obduracy, this near-madness, I do not know whether I can in good conscience lend him my support in November, loath as I am to see someone like Gov. Dean elected.
I will not mince words: This proposal is as radical an innovation on the constitution of this nation as has ever been recommended. It is revolutionary in nature; if pushed to its logical conclusion, it would mean the gradual overthrow of what we all know as the United States of America, and its replacement by something else altogether — in sum, something less secure, more disorderly, and less free, and less worthy of the admiration of its citizens and loyalty of its patriots.
The proposal counsels that a nation may strengthen its laws by their subversion; secure its borders by their obliteration; enrich its citizenry by their impoverishment. Its idle and pompous implication is that the law of supply and demand does not apply to the labor market; and in its intransigent ignorance it slanders the American people with the facile charge that they “disdain” to do certain jobs; that only illegal immigrants “will do the jobs that Americans are unwilling to do.” When exactly the Editors of, say, The Wall Street Journal took leave of their usual economic sense is anybody’s guess, but it is clear to anyone retaining it that Americans will do said jobs, if only they are paid well enough for them. It is clear, moreover, that Americans cannot do said jobs when illegal immigrants, because they exist outside the minimum wage laws, payroll tax laws, etc., can outbid them in every case.
The proposal offers “temporary” employment to — well, to anyone on earth; and though we are assured it is indeed “temporary,” no end date is set for the program, meaning that it is in fact not temporary. President Bush is, as many have pointed out, essentially recommending the merging of the American and Third World job markets. Nor is not all: as others have pointed out, the proposal also includes some vague promises that, in the event that a temporary worker returns to his native country after working a number of years, the United States will cover the cost of his retirement benefits. President Bush is thus recommending the merging of the American and Third World welfare bureaucracies. Nor is that all: the President and his spokesmen have repeatedly talked solemnly about the government “matching” employers with employees — first, we are assured, with American employees, but then, failing that, with immigrant employees. In short, the President recommends state planning of our private employment structure. Rare indeed has there been so brazen an assault on our traditional American system of free enterprise. Nor is that all: the proposal in effect recommends that we bring in and legalize a whole new working class in competition with the working class we already have. In other words, it recommends that we besiege those among us most vulnerable to economic pressure and insecurity with a massive new influx of economic insecurity in the form of dramatically amplified competition. Marketed as compassionate, it is in fact cruel and iniquitous. It is positively Marxian in its capacity to unleash anarchy and discontent among the proletariat.
The President insists that he opposes “amnesty” — this in the teeth of the plain fact that his bill does exactly that, by offering a path from illegal alien status to permanent resident and ultimately, citizenship. In addition, he proposes to increase the number of green cards issued, which would also facilitate the movement of illegal immigrants to legal status. In short, he misrepresents his proposal.
There is a great host of other solid reasons to oppose this stupidity — economic ones like the fact that an artificially depressed labor market will retard technological advances and mechanization, political ones like the fact that more means of documentation present more opportunities for forgery, a particularly worrying prospect in light of our threat from terrorism — but at base it must be opposed because it constitutes a radical and ultimately, perhaps, fatal attack on one of our most cherished possession as Americans: our citizenship. It undertakes to annihilate the honorable distinction made in very first words of the United States Constitution: “We the People of the United States.”
We the People will be no more — abolished by the cupidity of business, the cynicism of politicians, and the astonishing folly of intellectuals. And so I beseech you to apply your common sense, the common sense of your constituents which you hold in trust, and lend your strength to the effort against this proposal; that it might die the unmourned and lonely death it deserves.
Paul J. Cella IIIposted by Paul Cella | 11:30 AM |
Wednesday, January 07, 2004 Roger Kimball takes the great prophet of modern liberalism John Stewart Mill out to the woodshed for his utterly untenable philosophy of the Open Society in his most famous work On Liberty. Mill proposed as the ideal society one which refuses to protect public truths; one which allows its public truths (if it even holds any) to be traduced with impunity, and will not place any prohibitions or even inconveniences on any form of expression. On its face this borders on insanity: for what Mill really proposed as the ideal society is one which has committed itself quite intransigently to one public truth: that of free expression. Its highest value — indeed its only value — is freedom of expression. This is the orthodoxy that it will enforce, and enforce ruthlessly. I say ruthlessly because the society in question must, according to Mill, have no other values which it will “go to bat for”; not mercy, or decency, or “equal protection under the law,” or indeed the rule of law. Once it has determined that someone has traduced its orthodoxy — by, say, questioning the wisdom of the Open Society, or judging another’s opinions as foolish or vicious — it can act against him with without compunction.
As Willmoore Kendall noted once in dismantling Mill’s preposterous philosophy, the only instance we have of a nation adopting Mill’s prescriptions is the Weimar Republic, which quickly decayed into Nazi Germany.posted by Paul Cella | 4:49 PM |
I am nearly convinced that the Claremont Review of Books is the most important Conservative publication we have. Why, you ask? Because of the seriousness approaching reverence with which it treats (1) the American political tradition and (2) political philosophy. Two examples stand out in the current issue: Allen C. Guelzo’s essay on the Federalists and David Forte’s reinterpretation of the momentous Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court case.
What is mercifully absent from this publication is the preoccupation, often lapsing into obsession, with our modern-day Versailles: Washington, D.C., and especially Washington, D.C., as it is embodied in the Executive Branch of the federal government. It is not that politics is ignored by CRB, but rather that it is viewed from a distance, and with a proper perspective; and it is assigned its proper place in the grander scope of the Western tradition. That is, politics is emphatically set beneath its master, political philosophy.
Long may this journal prosper.posted by Paul Cella | 3:57 PM |
Editor’s note: Several correspondents have requested that I post my original draft of an essay published on The American Spectator website last month. There is a link to the published version to the right, under the headline “Democracy’s ‘Friendly Critics’”; below is the draft I submitted.
Some of the leading lights among democracy’s “friendly critics” — as the title of the conference dubbed them — gathered [in November] at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. The topic was apposite: for of late few words have been nearer to the lips of politicians and public figures, protestors and pundits, than the word democracy. And rare indeed has been its mention as an object of criticism, friendly or otherwise.
The conference drew academics and students alike (the latter enticed in part by the reward of classroom credit, a fact which may explain some of the nodding of heads I witnessed). Featured speakers included such luminaries as Eric Cohen of The New Atlantis, Patrick Deneen of Princeton, Werner Dannhauser of Michigan State, and Daniel J. Mahoney of Assumption College. All had engaging and valuable things to say about democracy and its entangling alliances or confrontations with other constituents of the American mind: religion, philosophy, popular culture, bioethics, to name a few.
What is striking about democracy, upon reflection, is its lack of concrete definition, and thus its slippery usefulness as a catchphrase. Does it signify simple majoritarianism? Is it contrasted with the ideal of the republic, or included therein? Is it a bulwark against tyranny, or a prelude to or facilitator of the most awful forms of it? Most of these questions were addressed, either directly or indirectly, and many other similar ones were raised.
Lord Acton once noted ominously that democracy seems to be linked in a strange and singular way with slavery; and this inference, perhaps — though he did not state it explicitly — suggests the trepidation that reposed at the base of Eric Cohen’s discussion of biotechnology and democracy. What our scientific and material mastery over life allows us to do, or soon will allow us to do, is enslave our descendants, as it were, and harvest them as raw material for our benefit. Mr. Cohen spoke of the worry that we may become “a nation whose need for health has made us morally mad” — which called to mind an appalling slogan I heard recently uttered by an ethicist in the course of dilating on in vitro fertilization: “wombs for rent.” When men begin speaking glibly in phrases like that (“wombs for plunder” seems more accurate), it is simply not hyperbole to wonder aloud whether human beings will again be property. The FDA, in groping for a way to regulate biotech research, already treats embryos as products intended for some manner of consumption. This is what, to my mind, is most conspicuous about biotechnology: its tendency to concentrate an almost unearthly power in the hands of those who already wield a great deal of it.
Meanwhile there was Werner Dannhauser, in a learned talk delivered with a very able sense of comic timing, declaring forthrightly that the subject of his paper, Friedrich Nietzsche, was no friendly critic of democracy at all, but rather a “bitter enemy.” He summarized Nietzsche’s judgment on democracy as “a response to the death of God of unusual stupidity.” This because democracy by its nature is linked inseparably to five things which Nietzsche disdained with a witty unrelenting scorn which was popularized in America by his admirer Henry Louis Mencken: 1) progress, 2) compassion, 3) equality, 4) Christianity, and 5) peace. Nietzsche’s attitude toward this last, Prof. Dannhauser averred, was aptly rendered by George C. Scott’s portrayal of Gen. George Patten in the famous film of the same name, in which Patten exclaims of war: “God help me, I love it!”
Nietzsche’s great virtue was his candor; to rely on an anachronism, we might say he was endearing politically incorrect. This age of cant and preening priggishness could prosper by a strong dose of candor, and Dannhauser’s recommendation of Nietzsche was persuasive in this respect.
Modern democracy, several participants agreed, often functions as a program or method of attempting to assimilate irreconcilables; and all the effluvia of cant and catchphrase represents an effort to paper over the failure to accomplish the impossible. For example, many modern democrats of a certain frame of mind imagine that we can simultaneously have prefect personal autonomy — Prof. Patrick Deneen spoke hilariously in this context of an earlier conference at Princeton dedicated to the defense of “voluntary amputation” of “oppressive limbs” — and thriving community. Such a social condition is in a strict sense impossible; if men are perfectly autonomous, they must be empowered to obliterate community by means of their unconstrained choices; while if real community is to exist, it must hold real power, whether legal, moral, or merely conventional, to command the assent of its members. The society of perfect individual autonomy is the ideal of the Open Society, in which all questions are open questions. But of course this is a dreary contradiction: for what it really means is that all questions are open questions, except the question of whether all questions are open. No society can suffer its very legitimacy to be questioned brazenly and indefinitely: and in this basic sense all societies are closed. Here we might adduce Thomas Babington Macaulay’s acerbic barb about Socrates: “The more I read him, the less I wonder that they poisoned him.”
While some of the more skittish of democrats may have concluded from this conference (and may conclude from my reflections on it) that democracy’s “friendly critics” are really mere enemies in disguise, let us recall that the Whigs of the 18th century — then the party of radical democracy — managed to nevertheless produce and nurture modernity’s greatest conservative: Edmund Burke, whose “friendly criticism” provided democracy with profound and subtle ballast against its own excesses. This ballast was perhaps most concisely and perspicaciously captured by G. K. Chesterton, despite the latter’s dislike of Burke: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who just happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of their birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of their death.” By adding the strength of the nonrational — intuition, prescription, veneration: in a word, tradition — to rationalistic democracy, Burke gave it roots with which to anchor itself in the hearts and souls of men, and thus endure the vicissitudes of history.
Let us also recall that America’s founders were among history’s greatest friendly critics of democracy. The American Revolution, in Lord Acton’s words, “established a pure democracy; but it was democracy in its highest perfection, armed and vigilant, less against aristocracy and monarchy than against its own weakness and excess.” It is fair to say, then, that the conference at Berry College was all about rearmament and restored vigilance.posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 AM |
Tuesday, January 06, 2004 SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “The Left largely lost the intellectual struggle with the Right some time ago, so it’s only natural that most of the action these days would be within the Right. In the very long run, it’s possible that the main political divisions of the future will be outgrowths of the current intra-Right disputes. One main breakdown could be between those who want to hammer the rest of the world into being just like America and those who fear that trying to do that will only end up making America just like the rest of the world.” – Steve Sailer. posted by Paul Cella | 5:04 PM |
Thursday, January 01, 2004 Writing for TCS, Lee Harris works dexterously to define the things which we call “honor and shame,” and place them rightly in the order of things. He cogently refutes the charge that these “tools” — as he likes to refer to refer to them — being ethically neutral (Harris prefers the phrase “ethically relative”) constructs, are thus dubious. “To praise the value of something,” he carefully explains, “as a means to an end is not the same as praising it as an end in itself. Honor and shame . . . are both means to an end; and to argue that they are necessary conditions of achieving the good life must not be confused with arguing that they are sufficient conditions for achieving it.” Now the illustration: “For a man to build a beautiful home, he must have a hammer and a saw at his disposition; but, clearly, merely having a hammer and a saw is not enough, by itself, to build an adequate doghouse, let alone a beautiful home. And the same thing is true of both honor and shame — they are the necessary conditions of a good society, but, by themselves, they are not enough.”
Moreover, it is irrefragably true that a hammer can be used to “bash in the skull of its owner, just [as] the saw may be used to cut him up into easily disposable bits.” But this truth does not dispose us to dismantle our saws and melt our hammers in a great conflagration of indignation.
Mr. Harris goes on to talk some good sense, with illuminating detours on Austria and William James, about what he calls the “visceral code” that a society inculcates in its members: it is the “primary motivational force” that operates “as conditioned reflexes.” The big issue for us — the issue to which an ethical politics must address itself — is an examination, and ultimately a judgment, of the content of that visceral code. But let us not imagine, like the energumen, the man possessed, that we can take this visceral code in hand, whatever its content, and mold it according to our wishes. Let us not, as Burke put it (though Mr. Harris may not appreciate me imputing to him a Burkean principle), fancy that we can cast the social state of our country “into the kettle of magicians,” by whose “poisonous weeds and wild incantations” we might “renovate” it.
Then comes a stern but valuable lecture directed at the intellectuals, who so often don the garb of Burke’s magicians. I hope the reader will excuse me for quoting it at length.
Mr. Harris’s concluding argument is yet more explicit: “[D]ebates over what is shameful and honorable in any society are really debates about the destiny of that society.” Or again: “To change a society’s code of honor and shame is to change the automatic and mindless habits of a whole community — and it is these collective habits which, in the last analysis, determine the quality of life that any civilization can sustain.” And again: what we are talking about are “habits of [the] heart, whose beat is not regulated by the reflective part of the society, but by those great masses of men and women who simply go about spontaneously and mindlessly upholding traditions that have been handed down to them from their parents and their grandparents.”
I would add — and let me be clear that I am now departing from Harris’s cogent analysis — that we should avoid making too much of the “spontaneous and mindless” element of society, dominant though it surely is. There is room for a “reflective” element, addressing itself to the destiny of society: but it is emphatically not isolated to the intellectuals. Instead it is suggested by a pregnant phrase appearing several times the greatest book on practical political theory ever produced by Americans: The Federalist. Hamilton writes in No. 71: “The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs” [my italics]. In other words, self government, which is the American Proposition, affirms that the members of the community, acting through solemn mechanisms and rituals of discussion and consensus, do indeed have some say in the destiny of their society — not merely on the “surface-level” legislation of quotidian politics, but also on the deeper, more permanent level of Legislation, which includes a society’s concept of itself as embodied in things like a code of honor, or what Mr. Harris calls “the visceral code.”posted by Paul Cella | 10:27 AM |