Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Monday, May 31, 2004 Whatever you do this Memorial Day, do not fail to read my friend Bill Luse’s powerful essay here.
Yes. What is it exactly that distinguishes Abu Ghraib from your run-of-the-mill hardcore pornography, now normalized and legitimized by a hundred different television shows, music videos, popular songs, etc? I will tell you what distinguishes them. Consent. A reed so thin it makes the colloquialism simply pathetic. We hang our entire civilization (what’s left of it) on this strange incantation. If the prisoners had consented to their degradation (and been paid a fair wage), there would be no scandal. There would just a few more nameless depravities peddled as adult entertainment on the Internet. I defy one of my liberal or libertarian readers to show me by their own logic where I am wrong in asserting this.
If America loses this war against her Islamic and Leftist enemies, it will be because the real patriots who remain have forgotten to show us why this is worth fighting for. When the same men who call us eloquently to war cannot muster the merest passion to defend America’s virtue and resist her vice, demoralization is inevitable. President Bush tells us that he is “trying to lead the world in a war that I view as really between the forces of good and the forces of evil” — how words such as those stirred me two and a half years ago — but he cannot see, I fear, that evil is ascendant among us. We put to death the infirm, the weak, the silent and the unborn. We prosper by a ceaseless spectacle of depravity. We sing the praises of democracy but care nothing for its health. Mark Helprin once said that only a sick nation sends its sisters and mother to war. We are a sick nation. There are sins of which St. Paul admonishes “let it not even be named among you.” Such sins have become institutions among us.
So I hear you, Bill Luse. When I took up a recent project, I worried that American patriotism had become little more than shrill trimuphalism, a repetition of catchphrase, a patriotism of superiority. We love America because she is strong. Would men love her still if she were feeble and subjugated? I now know that she is indeed feeble. Her soul is feeble; her spirit is subjugated. The Republic is “luxurious but it is filled with misery; it dying but it laughs.”posted by Paul Cella | 4:01 PM |
Saturday, May 29, 2004 Orson Scott Card’s little essay may just be the best thing I have read about the Abu Ghraib scandal. posted by Paul Cella | 1:25 PM |
What a truly awful crime this was. A real flesh and blood sacrifice at the altar of the twin gods Liberation and Rationalism. John Money will answer for his transgression. posted by Paul Cella | 10:52 AM |
Wednesday, May 26, 2004 One of my loyal readers, Mark Butterworth of Sunny Days in Heaven, argues poignantly in a comment below that Homer’s great epics transcend their pagan roots and become something greater. “Homer was striking chords that are Christian today,” he writes. With that in mind, I want to adduce Chesterton’s digression on the Iliad in the third chapter of his masterpiece The Everlasting Man:
“Somewhere along the Ionian coast opposite Crete and the islands was a town of some sort, probably of the sort that we should call a village or hamlet with a wall. It was called Ilion but it came to be called Troy, and the name will never perish from the earth. A poet who may have been a beggar and a ballad-monger, who may have been unable to read and write, and was described by tradition as blind, composed a poem about the Greeks going to war with this town to recover the most beautiful woman in the world. That the most beautiful woman in the world lived in that one little town sounds like a legend; that the most beautiful poem in the world was written by somebody who knew of nothing larger than such little towns is a historical fact. It is said that the poem came at the end of the period; that the primitive culture brought it forth in its decay; in which case one would like to have seen that culture in its prime. But anyhow it is true that this, which is our first poem, might very well be our last poem too. It might well be the last word as well as the first word spoken by man about his mortal lot, as seen by merely mortal vision. If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die.
“But in this one great human revelation of antiquity there is another element of great historical importance; which has hardly I think been given its proper place in history. The poet has so conceived the poem that his sympathies apparently, and those of his reader certainly, are on the side of the vanquished rather than of the victor. And this is a sentiment which increases in the poetical tradition even as the poetical origin itself recedes. Achilles had some status as a sort of demigod in pagan times; but he disappears altogether in late times. But Hector grows greater as the ages pass, and it is his name that is the name of a Knight of the Round Table and his sword that legend puts into the hand of Roland, laying about him with the weapon of the defeated Hector in the last ruin and splendour of his own defeat. The name anticipates all the defeats through which our race and religion were to pass; that survival of a hundred defeats that is its triumph.
“The tale of the end of Troy shall have no ending, for it is lifted up forever into living echoes, immortal as our hopelessness and our hope. Troy standing was a small thing that may have stood nameless for ages. But Troy falling has been caught up in a flame and suspended in an immortal instant of annihilation; and because it was destroyed with fire the fire shall never be destroyed. And as with the city so with the hero; traced in archaic lines in that primeval twilight is found the first figure of the Knight. There is a prophetic coincidence in his title; we have spoken of the word chivalry and how it seems to mingle the horseman with the horse. It is almost anticipated ages before in the thunder of the Homeric hexameter, and that long leaping word with which the Iliad ends. It is that very unity for which we can find no name but the holy centaur of chivalry. But there are other reasons for giving in this glimpse of antiquity the name upon the sacred town. The sanctity of such towns ran like a fire round the coasts and islands of the northern Mediterranean, the high-fenced hamlet for which heroes died. From the smallness of the city came the greatness of the citizen. Hellas with her hundred statues produced nothing statelier than that walking statue; the ideal of the self-commanding man. Hellas of the hundred statues was one legend and literature; and all that labyrinth of little walled nations resounding with the lament of Troy.”
Chesterton argued that Paganism was the one real rival of Christianity, the one real alternative religion that could cultivate the creative heart of mankind and build vibrant civilization. It is in this light that we should view his statement that the Iliad “might well be the last word as well as the first word spoken by man about his mortal lot, as seen by merely mortal vision.”posted by Paul Cella | 2:31 PM |
Tuesday, May 25, 2004 The contributors at View from the Right have developed a very valuable tool for probing the lineaments of Ideology: the Unprincipled Exception. It works something like this. A man living in a society guided by Liberalism becomes a “conservative” when he reveals a willingness to criticize the excesses of Liberalism’s logic. But he will only criticize the excesses, not the logic itself. He will not see the ideology as a logical thing, working itself out in a logical way; he will not condemn Liberalism in it principles, but only in the rapidity of its advance. He concedes its principles implicitly, but makes an unprincipled exception and criticizes its excess. Thus there is a position, referred to aptly as right-liberalism, which plays a crucial role in lending legitimacy to the liberal advance. The Right-Liberal, appalled by the thundering proposals of the consistent Leftist or Liberal, develops some sort of middle ground of compromise to which he lends his support while decrying his more consistent comrades for “going too far.” The Right-Liberal’s proposal is unprincipled because, on the logic of Liberalism, it is quite irrational: there is no reason not to follow Liberalism’s principles. It is mere prejudice.
Larry Auster explains:
Quoting David Frum (who by this taxonomy is a right-liberal), VFR applies this tool to Islam. “‘Moderate’ Moslems (as well as naïve Westerners like President Bush) may claim that Islam is a ‘tolerant’ and ‘peaceful’ religion; but the inherent logic of Islam, to which the ‘moderate’ Moslems are unable to offer any principled resistance, leads inevitably toward global jihad.” And contributor Matt, who I believe is the originator of this fascinating interpretive tool, summarizes cogently:
This, as I say, is a valuable tool. It has the rare virtue of illuminating in a constructive way the unwitting role played by many soi-disant conservatives in advancing what Willmoore Kendall called the Liberal Revolution.posted by Paul Cella | 4:55 PM |
Friday, May 21, 2004 “The new movie, Troy, is one of the worst ever made.” So writes Mark Butterworth, not mincing words. Others whom I respect disagree, but when Mr. Butterworth testifies that “There is not one salutary line about courage, bravery, devotion to duty,” and that “Honor is always spoken with a sneer,” one is inclined toward a robust disdain for such a perverse rendering of the epic.
The familiar and stale argument that says we should disable our critical imagination when viewing such a film — an argument often expressed in such phrases as “you’re overthinking this” or “come on, it’s just a movie” — seems particularly thin and forced here. Is it acceptable for film-makers to turn a work of art into its opposite? Is there not a point of contempt for truth and accuracy and fairness at which we will simply shudder and walk away? Hollywood’s parochialism is profound indeed — most of its output appears to be afflicted by an incapacity for any real sympathy for a perspective different from its own. Thus Hollywood is bewildered by the success of a film like The Lord of the Rings, which, limited though it was, at least suggested to the audience the depth of J. R. R. Tolkien’s admiration for Mediaeval Man. And Tolkien’s admiration was no fantasy, though its issue as art was: for Mediaeval Man is admirable, as are men all of ages, when subjected to a human searching study.
Tolkien tried (successfully) to let us understand the Mediaevals as they understood themselves; the Iliad still allows us to understand a part of ancient Greece as it understood itself; Hollywood, for the most part, cares only for its own obsessions.posted by Paul Cella | 2:09 PM |
Tuesday, May 18, 2004 The difference between courageous leadership and poltroonery can be dramatically represented by comparing the pastoral letter of Michael J. Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs to the conduct of the governor of Massachusetts as that State muddled its way into the full public approbation of perversion. The Bishop writes to his flock:
Meanwhile, here is a striking exposition of the tyranny which has descended via the court over the last fifty years.posted by Paul Cella | 6:01 PM |
Saturday, May 15, 2004 Professor Angelo Codevilla of Boston University has an fascinating essay in the current American Spectator on the huge and unwisely neglected subject of heresy. Prof. Codevilla has a penchant for stern candor, which is supported by a very large mass of learning. He wrote a regular column called “Victory Watch” for The Claremont Review of Books that was bracing stuff. This essay is in the same vein, but with a broader historical perspective. (Via Bird Dog at Tacitus.) posted by Paul Cella | 10:32 AM |
Friday, May 14, 2004 “GABRIEL SYME was not merely a detective who pretended to be a poet; he was really a poet who had become a detective. Nor was his hatred of anarchy hypocritical. He was one of those who are driven early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering folly of most revolutionists. He had not attained it by any tame tradition. His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a rebellion against rebellion. He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinth and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike. The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism. Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left — sanity. [. . .]
‘You are not sufficiently democratic,’ answered the policeman, “but you were right when you said just now that our ordinary treatment of the poor criminal was a pretty brutal business. I tell you I am sometimes sick of my trade when I see how perpetually it means merely a war upon the ignorant and the desperate. But this new movement of ours is a very different affair. We deny the snobbish English assumption that the uneducated are the dangerous criminals. We remember the Roman Emperors. We remember the great poisoning princes of the Renaissance. We say that the dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fulness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people’s.’
Syme struck his hands together.
‘How true that is,’ he cried. ‘I have felt it from my boyhood, but never could state the verbal antithesis. The common criminal is a bad man, but at least he is, as it were, a conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be removed — say a wealthy uncle — he is then prepared to accept the universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to annihilate them. Yes, the modern world has retained all those parts of police work which are really oppressive and ignominious, the harrying of the poor, the spying upon the unfortunate. It has given up its more dignified work, the punishment of powerful traitors the in the State and powerful heresiarchs in the Church. The moderns say we must not punish heretics. My only doubt is whether we have a right to punish anybody else.’”
— G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908.posted by Paul Cella | 8:32 AM |
Mad marching Tolerance has once again shown us its liberality and wild respect for all opinions:
Jeff Culbreath comments,
posted by Paul Cella | 8:30 AM |
Thursday, May 13, 2004 Mr. Noah Millman, who is among the most brilliant amateur* commentators on the Middle East and America's role in world affairs, thinks Rumsfeld should resign. This surprises me a bit; but Millman, as always, advances his position with intelligence and magnanimity. With the promoters of the war outside government, he is less charitable; he writes about “separat[ing] the wheat from the chaff — those capable of thinking critically from those who are Administration flaks or, worse, have simply gone off their heads”; and he goes on to describe the “democratize faster” argument as something close to “desperate fantasy.”
Now Mr. Millman is no hothead; some grumblers may be heard in the back of the room charging him with long-windedness. His views are to be taken seriously, and his general gloominess sits heavy with me, for one.
Saturday, May 08, 2004 Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday, after a bombastic harangue by Sen. Robert Byrd, (D) West Virginia:
“Senator, uh, the facts are somewhat different than that.”posted by Paul Cella | 2:14 PM |
Friday, May 07, 2004 As is so typical of the posture of the national press, this New York Times article depicts the orthodox members of the United Methodist Church as the antagonists, even as the innovators in the threatening schism.
Those cleaving, against all the capricious tides of modernity, to the doctrines and traditions of 2000 years of Christian history, are the aggressors, you see. They seek to drive a wedge into the community of the faithful. They are rocking the boat; and disturbing the peace of “denominations long associated with theological diversity and liberal causes.”
However fair it is, from the most narrow historical perspective, to emphasize the “theological diversity and liberal causes” of the mainline Protestant churches, the story remains woefully incomplete without an acknowledgement of the plain, irrefragable fact that these things comprise as massive and spectacular an innovation upon the body of Christian doctrine as has ever been proposed.
Let us imagine that a well-dressed and highly-esteemed gentleman stumbles and falls into a muddy and murky ditch while walking to his place of business; and then, having fallen, somehow in his disorientation comes to prefer mud and murk to clean air and a brisk walk, and the prompt attendance to business. Let us imagine that his brother, similarly well-dressed, though perhaps less esteemed, comes upon him in the ditch and urges him to rise from the murk; but, faced with his brother’s disoriented truculence, fails to persuade, until the moment arrives when he realizes that he cannot compel sense into his kin, and must be on his way. What are we to think of a third character in this drama, a solemn stranger and observer of what is fit to observe, who exclaims, “Sir! Why would you disturb the peace of this glorious day, and the tranquility of your brother’s simple human revelry, by imploring him so importunately to get up and leave; why, further, would you not go ahead and join him there, in the murk, and save your business duties for another day?” — what are we to think of him? A strange fellow indeed.
My sketch is by no means perfect, but I think it adequately suggests the position of The New York Times, peeking in and chiding the sane for asseverating common sense, and encouraging the mad in demanding a capitulation to madness.posted by Paul Cella | 1:39 PM |
Facts are stubborn things, aren’t they?
AIDS victims in 1987: Philippines 135 / Thailand 112
In 1991 the WHO predicted the Philippines would have 80,000 to 90,000 cases and Thailand 60,000 to 80,000 AIDS victims.
Thailand promoted the use of condoms in massive campaigns where Catholic Philippines promoted “Abstinence” and “Be faithful.”
The prognosis of the WHO was wrong for both countries:
1999: Philippines 1,005 / Thailand 755,000 AIDS victims
Source: British Medical Journal, volume 328, April 10th 2004.8:25 AM |
Wednesday, May 05, 2004 Prof. Claes Ryn, author of an intriguing book, delivered a bold speech at the Philadelphia Society that is worth a careful read. It is increasingly clear that American Conservatism must find the will to extract itself from the truculently ideological conception of this nation’s mission, which some among its number have recklessly promulgated; and find repose in old the verities to which Conservatism has always clung — or be discredited. posted by Paul Cella | 6:26 PM |
Franklin Roosevelt comes in for a good thumping in a recent book, according to Colby Cosh.
Ouch.posted by Paul Cella | 6:17 PM |
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying: ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
— St. Anthony
This account leaves little doubt that madness has triumphed among many men, and shows us what madness triumphant looks like; just as it shows us that even in madness hope remains.posted by Paul Cella | 11:51 AM |
Tuesday, May 04, 2004 My recent TCS essay on censorship has provoked a considerable amount of reaction, much of it quite hostile. Excerpted here is an exchange with one of my more thoughtful detractors:
With all due respect, it is very hard to take this argument seriously. It begins with a very reckless and erroneous assertion, which remains undefended, and blunders along from there. The First Amendment is not and cannot be “absolute.” Shall we throw out all our libel and slander laws? Shall we strike down our laws against passing military secrets to those who mean us harm? Shall we eviscerate all intellectual property protections? All these things are speech — and yet they are, quite rightly, restricted.
Once concede that free speech is not absolute, as any serious man must, and the whole issue immediately falls under the jurisdiction, so to speak, of republican discourse. It is a matter for We the People to work out in our legislative bodies. The First Amendment describes some limitations on what Congress is free to enact in its legislation, but even there it cannot be interpreted to be absolute, because Congress has other responsibilities which it cannot simply abandon in favor of some ahistorical absolutist First Amendment jurisprudence. Congressmen do not swear to uphold merely the First Amendment.
You charge me with hypocrisy, but fail to address the main thrust of my argument, which is that the First Amendment is a part of the Constitution. It is contained within the larger document and cannot be wrenched free of that context. Every right implies a concomitant duty, and many rights stand in direct conflict with one another; reconciling these conflicts and complications are the daily bread of what a republic does.
As for children, no republic can regard the upbringing of its future citizens with indifference. It matters not at all that some citizens do not have children. Again, there are honest disagreements about how to balance the competing goods of liberty and virtue. Such disagreements are the grist of our public dialogue. But you would put them outside that dialogue by shouting, “First Amendment!”
In short, your libertarian philosophy simply has no grounding in the American political tradition. Prior to the Second World War, it was utterly alien to this country. You are free to hold it, and argue it in the public square, but it is, in a strict but not pejorative sense, un-American.
Written, published, pixelated, or broadcast speech does not lose its quality of being speech simply because it has been made a criminal act. The speech is not at all incidental; it is of the nature of the thing. It seems to me that here you are being the rigid traditionalist: traditionally, we outlaw speech uttered with the intent to cause harm to another person; traditionally, we outlaw publishing as one’s own something previously published by another person — therefore, -POOF- — that speech is simply no longer speech by definition. This is dubious argumentation indeed.
Any standard for judging “harm” inflicted by a form of expression is going to be vague, somewhat subjective, and hardly measurable in any empirical sense. Libel “harms” a man’s reputation, his good name, which, I agree wholeheartedly, comprises a real injury to him. But how does one quantify it? And how does one say that this injury is greater than that which I perceive is inflicted by ubiquitous pornography?
Again, my point is that such questions cannot be answered a priori, so as to preclude debate about them; and that to debate them in a republic is ultimately to legislate upon them.
The reason I noted that libertarianism is alien to American political philosophy is to demonstrate that claiming the First Amendment to make libertarianism our guiding Legislation is to misuse said Amendment, and traduce said political philosophy. I am happy to argue the merits of libertarianism — a philosophy which has much to recommend to it — but will not stand for the usurpation of the American political tradition — my tradition — by another, lesser tradition.
The important thing to understand is that free speech cannot be absolute. My correspondent evades this reality by a semantic redefinition of certain kinds of speech. To speak libel is not to speak, according to him. But once we recognize that our laws admit of quite a variety of restrictions on what can be said and published, we are faced with the plain pulverizing fact that the specifics of these restrictions form the material for legitimate legislation.posted by Paul Cella | 6:38 PM |
George Will’s latest column is a tonic of common sense. Go read it. Also read Noah Millman’s exasperated critique of David Frum. posted by Paul Cella | 3:40 PM |