Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Friday, April 30, 2004  

My recent essay on censorship appeared in a revised form on TCS yesterday.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:50 AM |

Daniel Pipes reports on an event encouraging in its aspirations, but more disappointing in its results. The fact that it has been two and a half years since September 11 and this is the first event, however small, of its kind, is perhaps the most disheartening fact of all. We blind ourselves willingly to its implications.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:49 AM |

Wednesday, April 28, 2004  

Sen. Zell Miller has a very good idea. (via Orrin Judd.)

posted by Paul Cella | 6:36 PM |

Thursday, April 22, 2004  

I spent some time yesterday morning listening to the peculiarly strenuous arguments of a triumvirate of radio disc jockeys; their indignation was directed against the recent gestures and indeed solid actions by our public officials to curtail the tiresome crassness that has burgeoned on public airwaves. The indignation of these DJs was palpable and quite sincere; they are, it seems, convinced that the dismissal of certain notorious personalities, and the chastisement through monetary fines of others, comprise in implication a profound threat to our liberty as Americans.

It is abundantly clear that these people do not quite grasp the significance of the event that precipitated what to them has become a horror show, namely, the half-time show of the Super Bowl. Full understanding eludes them; and it eludes them precisely because the half-time show, for them, barely rose to the level of significance. Things very much like it, in substance and certainly in vulgarity, were part of their daily beard of entertainment: It was a bit more flagrant, perhaps, but hardly different in kind from what appears hourly on MTV.

But — and this is important, so pay attention DJs — for a very sizable portion of the American citizenry, and in particular, for a very sizable portion of the voting citizenry, the half-time show was quite a shock indeed. More: it was as if Viacom (the corporation broadcasting both the game and the half-time debauchery) had pulled back the curtain for a moment, to reveal what goes back there in the gloom. The smoke cleared for a few minutes, and Americans did not like what they saw. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness knew it not.

In short, the class of people that still, even at this late date in the progress of egalitarian leveling, retains a considerable bulk of the political power in this country — that is, traditional families with children — got a good look at what awaits their children from the entertainment industry, and reacted as sober citizens of a republic do to brazen depravity. The revelation could not be undone by all the silver-tongued rhetoric about the First Amendment in the world. Clear-headed parents will not be argued into enslaving their children to vice. A predator is not beheld with equanimity by the prey.

Do our Libertines expect fathers to shred bitter tears when “shock jocks” are fired because of pressure from the FCC? Howard Stern fancied himself a victim of “McCarthyism,” but what he really was the victim of was common sense. The American citizen tends to be a rather indulgent sort of fellow, but one cannot treat his standards of decency with contempt forever without incurring a penalty.

And that is precisely the point. There is no sense in an entertainer, and the corporation promoting him, going out of his way to shock and insult, and then recoiling in astonishment when his insults are returned with solid blows. Spit in a man’s face and resent his irritation? That is behavior of an imbecile. Kick a man in the shin and begrudge him his anger? Could anything be more indicative of unmanly stupidity? Such a mentality is akin to that which imagines the slave as appreciative of his degradation; it conceives of slavishness in others to rival its own impiety and arrogance.

Someone will reply with shrill bombast by citing the First Amendment, as if the issue were beyond debate. Very well, but let him first acquaint himself with the debate as it unfolded in American history. Let him read of the history of loyal oaths and censorship in this country; of which side usually had the upper hand and why. He can begin with Leonard Levy’s The Legacy of Suppression. Let him reflect on the fact that most of the same lionized legislators who passed the Bill of Rights also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Let him consider the specifically American derivation of phrases like “tarred and feathered” and “run out town on a rail.” Let him calculate the settled opinion which allowed North Carolina to retain in her state constitution until 1876 the following clause: “That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”

In fine, let it be noted that the First Amendment, whatever its intended meaning, is still contained within the larger context of the Constitution, which sets out its purposes, broadly conceived, in its Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

At the least, I interpret this carefully worded preface or introduction, which is unaccountably ignored, as an admonition against absolutizing any isolated provision of the document to which it is affixed. By its guidance, the Republic is to be conceived in its motion as an ongoing public argument. If I may paraphrase: We the people, by constituting ourselves one people, declare that we are locked in argument as citizens under God, about the refinement, enhancement and perfecting of our political order. Our government shall be as a dialogue in classical political philosophy: a sober and very serious, though certainly not dull attempt to approximate the good (that is virtuous) life of political man. And the sky is the limit as regards legislation, subject to a variety of sagacious qualifiers and codicils, so long as it emerges from the deliberate sense of the community (Publius’s words) acting through assemblies of representative citizens to whom We the People have vouchsafed our authority.

The First Amendment ought not be made to trump the Preamble simply because its stirring language appeals to the sentiment of a certain faction. For it was precisely factionalism that provoked in the Framers the greatest fear. The faction that captures through some beguiling sophistry the legislation of the country, and removes a large and crucial issue from consideration by placing it above the public debate, has subverted the Constitution; and made of itself the nation’s illegitimate Legislator. It is not that free speech should be obliterated, but rather that its lineaments should be subject, like every other issue between men of good faith, to the deliberation and scrutiny of the Republic — as, indeed, it has usually been — with the attendant imperfections and errancy of any activity of men here below.

The greatest of Legislation is that which adds virtue onto vice, thus mitigating the injury of the latter by habituation to the former. Edmund Burke explains this principle as it applies to inherited property: “The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice.” But today’s First Amendment jurisprudence grafts depravity upon liberty; and puts liberty at the mercy of those most likely to abuse it and despise its authentic fruits. For who, if he really treasures Liberty, would countenance the relentless invasion of the precious liberty of the family which the Super Bowl half-time show exposed? There is no greater liberty than that which is embodied in the mother and father who raise their children as good citizens of a Republic, in the love of the truth as that love is reflected in an ongoing public conversation or dialogue which begins with the ringing phrase: “we hold these truths.”

Let the DJs say what they will, no adamantine abstraction, rent free of the larger context of this Republic’s Constitution, should be made to prejudice that liberty, and have its base prejudice protected by law.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:47 PM |

Tuesday, April 20, 2004  

Everyone who cares about hockey reads Colby Cosh’s NHL playoffs page, right? If you don’t, start. Even if you don’t know much about hockey, start reading it. Mr. Cosh is a writer of rare skill and fecundity; and like all such writers, the declared topic under consideration frequently operates as a bridge to broader insight. Yesterday Cosh praised the announcing faculties of a certain Canadian Broadcasting Corporation hockey announcer, a comment which occasioned this digression:

What’s most shocking is how rarely ex-jocks [who become television announcers] provide this kind of understanding, and how superficial their apparent feel for the game they played can be. The theoretical benefit of having them in the booth is usually more than neutralized, if it’s present at all, by their grudges and biases, their need to reassert their hard-won insider status, and their tiresome espousal of clichés originally developed to ward off reporters. Since most booth athletes were winners on the field of play, they share a general interest in favouring disingenuous character-based explanations for losing and winning rather than technical ones.

Now that is solid stuff; and it applies to most sports. It is rather astonishing how rarely an intelligent former athlete develops into an able announcer. And it is all the more astonishing because the problem seems not so much to be a failure to acquire broadcasting skills, but an inability to provide astute analysis of the game.

Mr. Cosh is also a columnist for Canada's National Post. His most recent column is here.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:50 PM |

Friday, April 16, 2004  

Mere rumors are enough to cause all this. Could there be a clearer and more resounding rebuttal of the glib and self-serving argument that there is no way to stop illegal immigration? All that is needed in the will to enforce the law.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:42 AM |

There are few men writing today with as unflinching an eye for the depraved as Theodore Dalrymple. The narrative he relates here is representative: the detached view, almost clinical, the brilliant prose, calm authority; most importantly, the refusal to lapse into deadening cynicism, that is, the refusal to abandon the moral imagination. Dalrymple’s world is a wasteland, but his imagination is alive and his eye is mercifully free of all the cant and obscurantism of modern social science. He chronicles the slow, excruciating decay of Civilization into Barbarism. If this world is what we hope to bring to Iraq, the great glorious ideal of modern liberal democracy, then we bring a plague.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:38 AM |

Here is an excellent essay by Shelby Steele refuting the comparison of gay marriage to civil rights for blacks. (Via Ben Domenech.)

posted by Paul Cella | 11:36 AM |

Thursday, April 15, 2004  

Noah Millman is back from a Passover hiatus with a pair of brilliant blogs (here and here): hard-headed, incisive, fair, well-written pieces. Both are rather lengthy for the format, but I urge everyone to read them carefully.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:25 PM |

It appears that Osama bin Laden (assuming this latest tape was indeed him) has taken the logical step of trying to pry Europe loose from the anti-terror coalition. Moreover, he is shrewd enough to recognize that he is best served by appealing directly to the enervated and languid European populace. Europe’s leaders have of course rejected his offer, but it must be tempting even to them. Orrin Judd thinks they should take it. “Europe has no dog in a fight between Judeo-Christianity and Islamicism,” he writes. But his language belies the emollients which he applies to the stark face of reality. It may be that there is no “Islamicism” but just Islam; that our age has simply witnessed the resumption of a confrontation nearly as ancient as the two great faiths which have struggled for the soul of human civilization for 1400 years.

It is comforting to think of Judeo-Christianity as a disembodied essence, detached from solid forms of reality: a church, a community, a nation or civilization; it is easy to make of it a Platonic ideal, which we approach but never attain, and which at the moment is best approached in America. It is comforting and easy — and it is naturally American — but it is wrong, I fear. St. Paul’s words in the Epistle to the Romans comprise a stirring rebuke to this tendency: “We are members one of another.” Or again in 1 Corinthians: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” The concrete, physical imagery here is unmistakable: Christianity is not only a set of ideas, but community of souls, stretching across time and space. To be a Christian is, yes, to assent to the doctrines of the faith, but also it is to be part of that community, a member of that community.

Christianity cannot be torn free from its historical body Christendom without the most violent of surgeries. The blow we would sustain if we were to simply give up on Europe — the Europe of which Hilaire Belloc once wrote, “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe” — is severe. To allow Islam — or Islamicism, if you insist — to retake what was once the Western Roman Empire, as it did the Eastern Roman Empire, is to bow supinely before catastrophe. The catastrophe may indeed come, but let us not be silent or cynically mild about it. Let us not pretend that if Chartres were replaced by a mosque it would be none of our business. Let us not forget the prophetic office.

There is no denying that Europe is decadent; some will say she is dying, though Europe has seen dark days before — some of which lasted so long they achieved the appellation of Dark Age. But can we deny that her decadence is merely a more advanced form of our own; that her death merely presages our own? And neither is there any denying that to sever ourselves from this our parent would be as traumatic as cutting off a limb, for we are members one of another.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:10 PM |

Tuesday, April 13, 2004  

I have a column up on The American Spectator website which will be familiar to regular readers. I cannot take credit for the wonderfully clever headline, though.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:41 PM |

Saturday, April 10, 2004  

Most people familiar with contemporary films know that Groundhog Day is among the very best — a “sleeper” movie, which achieved its lasting and deserved fame in large part by word of mouth. It is a classic example of Chesterton’s quip that funny is not the opposite of serious; it is merely the opposite of unfunny. Michael P. Foley, writing in Touchstone magazine, examines the film’s seriousness with supple intelligence and insight, though I fear that he neglects its funniness, which is unfortunate but understandable. So let it be said: Groundhog Day is good for quite a number of healthy laughs; not chuckles, but solid laughs.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:20 AM |

Friday, April 09, 2004  

Another excellent article on the stupidity of the 9/11 Commission: George Neumayr at The American Spectator has the deceitfulness of liberal outrage dead-to-rights:

Had the Bush administration adopted ramped-up, hardheaded security policies prior to 9/11, the Richard Ben-Venistes would have been the first to cry foul. Let’s say George Bush during the 233 days before 9/11 had armed pilots, instructed airline officials to profile Muslim males, and called for more domestic intelligence on radical Muslims wandering through the U.S. Would the Democrats have applauded his security vigilance? No, they would have denounced him as a fascist and bigot.

He goes on to point out that only one member of the Commission even asked the hard (i.e., the important) questions. As for the others? A lot of sound and fury . . . you know the rest.

Meanwhile, Steve Sailer prints a caustic and perceptive letter from a combat-veteran reader:

It doesn’t matter what weapons the insurgents have. Did you watch their tactics? Spray and pray. Run around shooting in the general direction of the enemy. They are as dangerous to their own people as they are to ours.

The Marines will systematically kill them.

Those people I see on TV are not soldiers, they are not warriors; they are clowns with guns. The Viet Namese and their Chinese allies were smart and dangerous. These people are mostly dangerous, but they are as dangerous to themselves as anyone else.

The danger in this stupid war is not that we will lose it, or even that we will lose many troops. It is in what that kind of war does to our army.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:01 AM |

Wednesday, April 07, 2004  

My friend Mr. Larry Auster has a fine piece of righteous invective concerning what he argues — persuasively — is the grand fraud of the 9/11 Commission. Rest assured that Mr. Auster’s is hardly a narrowly partisan essay; it is an equal-opportunity scorner.

Thus, in the midst of the partisan battle over Clarke’s charges, the profounder errors of omission that allowed the attack to occur have fallen by the wayside. There has been no discussion about the FBI’s failure to piece together the reports relating to the presence of Al Qaeda members in the United States; nor about the urgent warnings from local FBI offices that were repeatedly rejected by FBI higher-ups; nor about the nightmarish laxity of our immigration and visa procedures; nor about the fantasy promoted by our leaders and our educational system that militant Moslems are the peace-loving heirs of a uniquely tolerant and inclusive civilization; nor about the mental haze induced among police forces by the “anti-racial-profiling” craze; nor about the way our society has ignored previous domestic terrorist attempts, for example, the planned fire-bombing attack on the New York City subways in 1996 that was only narrowly averted because one of the terrorists turned informer, a near mass horror that was forgotten almost as soon as it occurred; nor about the fact that both elite and mainstream Americans — like that ridiculous woman in the Agriculture Department who was threatened by Muhammad Atta and did nothing about it — have become so sensitive to the “Cultural Other” that they are literally unable to see a mortal enemy when he is right before their eyes, threatening them.

The scorn is deserved.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:16 PM |

Saturday, April 03, 2004  

Come to California illegally, and you will be awarded, at tax-payer expense, an in-state tuition at California state universities; come to California legally, or from another state in the Union, and you will have to pay full fare. When a nation deliberately discriminates against its citizens, it is fair to call it decadent.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:57 PM |

Thursday, April 01, 2004  

Two new books committed to a serious attempt to reconcile Reason and Revelation — books written by thinkers of a school which tends toward the view that such a reconciliation is impossible — have received some fascinating reviews. Joseph Bottum and Albert Keith Whitaker are representative. The question is whether Socratic “pure” philosophy can penetrate and thus illuminate Revelation without demystifying and thus undermining it. St. Thomas Aquinas stands, of course, as the great figure affirming the possibility, indeed the necessity, of reconciliation, but he followed Aristotle to critique the Platonic Socrates. I’m already in over my head; go read the reviews. The stakes could hardly be higher.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:39 AM |

Mark Krikorian’s illuminating NRO essay on the coalitions shaped by the immigration debate concludes rather pointedly:

The question, then, is not whether conservatives will make common cause with liberals over immigration, but which liberals to make common cause with. I am proud to stand with the patriotic Left on the specific issue of immigration where our interests overlap. [Open borders Representative] Chris Cannon and company have made the opposite choice, embracing some enemies of America.

Mr. Kirkorian marshals substantial evidence to support that last contention. It is an ugly record of dubious associations that the Open Borders ideologues have amassed.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:35 AM |
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