Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2004  

Mr. Orrin Judd fancies that President Bush’s Christianity has made his Conservatism progressive. Or something like that. Normally I am enthusiastic about the mysterious paradox that illuminates; but this merely obfuscates. The sober military historian John Keegan, writing in the Daily Telegraph, show us a more unclouded mind:

The new conservatives who had rejected Left-wing solutions to the world’s problems were nevertheless left with the conviction that any solution would be political. Confronted by the residue of tyranny, as in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, they expected democracy to take its place. Inside any people’s democracy, they might have said, there is a real democracy struggling to get out. In the case of Eastern Europe, they were genuinely right. Fifty years’ experience of Marxist orthodoxy had conditioned every intelligent East European to yearn for democracy and to embrace it warmly wherever it showed itself.

The neo-conservatives’ mistake was to suppose that, wherever tyranny ruled, democracy was its natural alternative. So, when planning for the government of post-war Iraq, the lead agency, the Pentagon, dominated by neo-conservatives, jumps to the conclusion that, as soon as Saddam’s tyranny was destroyed, Iraqi democrats would emerge to assume governmental responsibility from the liberating coalition and a pro-Western regime would evolve seamlessly from the flawed past.

To think in such a way was to reveal a dangerously post-Marxist cast of mind. Marxists can think only in political terms. They accept, even if they despise, liberal and conservative opposition. What they cannot accept is that their opponents may be motivated by beliefs which are not political in any way at all. That explains their hatred of religion.

Of course, President Bush himself has brought a measure of genuine religion (genuine at least in a personal sense) to the table, which is very good. But I have my doubts as to whether Mr. Bush really understands religion at all.

For religion is not so much the beliefs a man holds as the world in which he lives, or the vision he possesses of the world in which he lives. Bush and his men seem not to have considered the possibility, supported by 1400 years of history, that the world of Islam and the world of Christendom are irreconcilable. They have been in a state of war, with only brief moments of quiescence, for that entire time.

The idea of religious war is not something modern man ever contemplates; he only shudders at it. But this is a religious war, whether or no we in the secular world of the West will take it seriously. Only one fact obscures this huge truth from our view; the fact that it has been a very long war, waged over souls and for the souls of whole nations; therefore it has been slow and erratically conducted. Rare is the war that occupies the leaders of more than one generation of men; rarer still is the war that occupies leaders of more than one age of men. This one has occupied mediaeval men, modern men, and it will surely implicate postmodern men. It began in what we call the Dark Age and has not yet ended; and we would do well not to sneer at a war that has gazed with patient jaded eyes on the fall of Constantinpole and the Siege of Vienna; the victory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and her defeat; the break up of Catholic Europe and the decay of Protestantism; and the rise and fall of Feudalism, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, each in turn.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:30 PM |

Tuesday, June 29, 2004  

The fine journalist Allan Wall, in this article, concisely describes the goals and strategy of the Mexican government vis-à-vis America’s immigration policy.

The Mexican government is engaged in a deliberate strategy to influence American immigration policy, increase the population of Mexicans in the United States, slow their assimilation and retain their loyalty to Mexico. This is no secret conspiracy -- Mexican leaders speak openly of it. It is already bearing fruit. If allowed to continue, the inevitable outcome will be effective control of U.S. immigration policy by a foreign power. [. . .]

The Mexican government works to hinder assimilation of Mexicans in the United States and to retain their loyalty. The goal is to gain control over U.S. immigration policy. And the strategy is working. Notice how U.S. immigration is no longer considered an internal U.S. matter but rather a bilateral issue to be negotiated between the United States and Mexico. Mexican immigration policy, stricter than our own, is off limits from such negotiation, of course.

I don’t think this can be a matter of indifference for Americans. One of the obvious but assiduously ignored differences between the immigration wave we are experiencing right now, and all those other older waves to which our immigration enthusiasts refer with plaster smiles and murmured assurances, is the stark fact that these immigrants come from a nation which borders our own. The Rio Grande is not the Atlantic Ocean.
(Via Michelle Malkin.)

posted by Paul Cella | 6:23 PM |

Friday, June 25, 2004  

The Insurgency, observes a reporter with the The New York Times, seems to be getting bold in its tactics.

On Thursday morning, a man dressed in a crisply ironed police uniform walked up to a checkpoint in the Rashid neighborhood of Baghdad carrying a black Samsonite briefcase and blew himself up. Four people were killed, including a farmer driving to market in a pickup truck full of eggplants.

This is not boldness; it is the blackest nihilism. Here are some proposals which one might fairly characterize as bold.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:52 PM |

Query: Is there anything more boring than Bill Clinton?

posted by Paul Cella | 9:54 AM |

Ever since my college days, when I spent many an hour defending this country of ours against the various sticks and stones of my fledgling Leftist friends, the charge of Plutocracy was always among the most difficult to dismiss.

An aristocracy of wealth is emphatically not the same as a commercial republic. The supreme point of difference, I think, lies in the role of the State. In the latter the State, being small, remains (or tries to remain) neutral and unobtrusive. It allows businesses to flourish and to fail on their own merits; for that is the essence of freedom in the economic sense. Perhaps this ideal is but a dream; but let it at least be admitted that it was a dream shared by many of our fathers. In the former the State takes in its hands the business interests of those it favors and guides them, easing their struggle, protecting them against failure, doing what is can to insure profitability; it coddles and coaxes; and in return these favored businesses promise stability. They will not rock the boat; they will compromise where necessary, and remain mute where compromise is impossible; in short, they will not stand in the way of political fashion and enthusiasm.

We may look at it from the other direction, as it were. Favored businesses use the State as their instrument. They take command of a tax code the complexity of which makes the Book of Leviticus positively plain by comparison; they employ veritable armies of accountants and actuaries and litigators; they shrewdly hire elected officials immediately after their retirement from public office, muddling almost irrevocably the distinction between lobbyist and legislator; in short they make the State, within a circumscribed range, their creature. Large corporations, which are usually depicted by our perfectly antique progressives as blundering machines of Reaction, on closer examination appear quite supine in the face of political innovation. CEOs do not often pour out into the streets to protest homosexual marriage; rare indeed is the plutocrat who finds time in his day to thunder against the mean inhumanity of pornography with the words of St. Paul: “let it not even be named among you.” In my home state of Colorado a prominent man runs a prominent business which is reported to be “one of the most gay-friendly companies in the nation”; and a businessman runs for a seat in the United States Senate as a conservative Republican. They are the same man.

At the root of plutocracy is the awful idea of Efficiency. But human beings are inefficient. Families are models of human inefficiency; that is why they are, and always will be, even unto the end, the final guarantor of liberty. All the world may be an anarchy of efficient inhumanity; a mechanized madness of perfect efficiency; and yet, if human beings yet flourish, even in such dark days, they will flourish because Efficiency is checked at the solid door of the family home. For liberty itself is inefficient. What is efficient about free men trading stories over mugs of beer? What is efficient about a woman cultivating her own garden, a small but soaring slice of creation, wherein she becomes and embodies the imago Dei?

Efficiency will always have a partner in what is called equality but usually is better named egalitarianism. The family, being inefficient (and free), desires that mothers be mothers and fathers fathers; in the family equality consists in variety and not rigid sameness. “One flesh” is the biblical phrase for the mystery of matrimony; and in that astonishing image none can gainsay the sacred equality of arms and legs, or eyes and ears, or hearts and minds; though we may question how very alike they are.

The plutocrats did not much lament that rending of the family which came with the coerced egalitarianism of the sexes. They did not bulk at an economy which, to the shrill cries of “equal pay for equal work,” rendered single-income families increasingly prohibitive; “equal pay for equal servility” might have captured it better. It may be efficient to turn every household from one into two workers; it may appease abstract equality to atomize the family into a little factory for labor; but to take mothers away from their children and make them workers is certainly no triumph for liberty, and only a society very far gone in antinomian sophistry would think otherwise.

Half of America’s wealth is wrapped up in this betrayal of liberty for affluence. We impoverish ourselves as citizens and men to enrich ourselves as consumers. This was the bargain: American consumers would grow prosperous and luxury would become their convenience, but liberty would slip from their grasp. Democracy was seduced into selling soul.

A good example: here in Atlanta, Georgia, there are a mass of city laws which restrict what a man can do with the flora on his property. It takes a legal scholar to discover what to do if a homeowner wants to remove a tree that menacingly overhangs his porch. Usually the laws entail a requirement to the effect that one can only remove a tree if one replants another. Now I happen to like trees, and while I know it may appall the classical liberals among my readership, I confess to a certain sympathy for these laws; I know, that is, that, given the opportunity, we Atlantans will devour our trees.

Ah, but you see: the laws do not apply, it seems, to the big developers: they evade them, or buy their way out of them. Atlanta city government is notorious for corruption. But this is not corruption; it is madness. Socialism is alive and well — but it afflicts only small property. The small owner is trussed; but the large landlord is freed.

To be sure, there are worse forms of government that a man may live under than a plutocracy. The ingenuity of man has never been quarantined from the science of government, or the science of tyranny. But let us at least walk in candor, calling things by their right names; and let acknowledge that if we have, or yet may, cease to be a republic and become a plutocracy, it is a degradation and a tragedy.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:53 AM |

Tuesday, June 22, 2004  

I just discovered a publication called The New Pantagruel (thanks to Jim Kalb for pointing me to it) which shows real promise. In the essay introducing it, Editor Caleb Stegall writes,

The recognition must soon dawn on the church that no matter what one’s political persuasion, there is no modern basis for achieving the true wealth that is life; no modern basis for the humane traditions of the Church; no modern basis for a real counterweight to the forces of the age. There is, then, both a historic need and moment for prophetic voices that treat the modernity-induced crisis of church and culture effectively.

The New Pantagruel,” he continues, “aspires to do just that, on whatever scale, large or small, is given us. It is namesake to the satirical, irreverent, jocular, and committed anti-materialist work of the 16th Century French Christian Humanist François Rabelais.”

Browsing around I found this incisive discussion of Alan Wolfe’s book The Transformation of American Religion. The essay quotes another editor, Eugene McCarraher, who captures Mr. Wolfe’s thesis in a single forlorn question: “Is liberal capitalist democracy now the horizon of the Christian political imagination?”

The author of this essay, Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J., argues very convincingly that Mr. Wolfe, who conceives of most elements of American Christianity as being drawn slowly but inexorably away from their traditions and into the warm embrace of modernity, is generally right in his analysis. American Christianity is capitulating to modernity, and particularly through the latter’s manifestation in enthusiasm for liberal democracy and affluence. Fr. Jape remarks,

I am under no illusions concerning Wolfe’s place in this debate. He is clearly of the mind that the civic table is a good and necessary thing; a “civilizing” influence on the fervent passions that are prone to grip sectarians such as Hauerwas. Thus, like [First Things’ Richard J.] Neuhaus and [Books & Culture’s John] Wilson, Wolfe dislikes Hauerwas’s adversarial rancor. Wolfe much prefers what he calls the phenomena of Evangelical “Salvation Inflation.” In an interview with Michael Cromartie for the March/April 2004 issue of Books & Culture, Wolfe says that in the Rick Warren mode of post-traditional Protestantism, “more Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem.” “People confess fewer and fewer sins, and are rewarded with more and more.” This, to Wolfe, represents a positive development within Christianity, making its adherents better civil citizens of a pluralistic democracy. Wolfe’s manner is strikingly reminiscent of a colonial governor writing home with condescending delight to describe the natives’ halting embrace of the modern world.

That is brilliant; and, I fear, quite accurate.

Anyway, I want to extend a warm if belated welcome to The New Pantagruel.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:07 PM |

Monday, June 21, 2004  

An essay of mine ran today on TCS assaying the relation of Education to Propaganda.

Resistance to propaganda consists in that sophistication of the intellect which allows one to develop in one's mind a mental picture which inoculates by providing an alternative. That is to say, I see an old Communist Party recruitment video, replete with joyous worker laboring in satisfaction at collective farms or factories -- and in my mind's eye I conceive of the soul-crushing Gulag, the Famine, and great men who, amidst starving fellow slaves, write their memoirs on toilet paper. By this image, the propaganda is checked, disarmed and defeated.

This one is, as usual, adapted from Cellas Review material.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:23 PM |

Friday, June 18, 2004  

Ben Domenech has grimly identified some solid, living villains in the gloomier regions of Eastern Europe. He writes

Here we see [former Communist dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu's ideological children. They are tamer monsters now, more civilized, with better manners, nicer parties, and smaller cell phones. They wear high collars and wide-brimmed hats, living off government salaries and the WHO, in houses with thick rugs and modernist art.

But still they are evil. It is often the case that men will become highly civilized before they become complacent monsters. Carthage was a thriving commercial civilization, yet it burned its infants alive as a sacrifice to that jealous demon deity Moloch. And Rome answered, Carthago delendum est. Islam was a high and mighty world before it decayed not so much into pure barbarism as stale, rotten civilized savagery. We, too, are very civilized indeed: yet to our own jealous gods, Mammon and Pleasure, many millions of unborn children have been sacrificed.

But here, as Mr. Domenech argues, we behold Communism’s peculiar triumph. It failed to conquer all of Europe by force of arms; but it may yet conquer her with its ideas.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:49 PM |

Thursday, June 17, 2004  

There is a delightful article on the front page of The New York Times about the trend among professional golfers of dragging their families along with them on tour — in mobile homes. Traveling neighborhoods, babies bathing on the road, barbeques in the parking lot, even homeschooling are featured on this tour.

On Monday evening, David Andres, the representative from “Mr. John” waste removal, called door to door in the coach community while residents walked their dogs, played catch with their children or strolled the bluff with glasses of wine watching the sunset. A suburban scene, except this “suburb” will roll down Route 27 on Sunday night.

This is, I can’t help but think, a strange and charming amalgam of golf, American ingenuity, and distributism.

Speaking of professional golfers, congratulations to the young Miss Luse. I had an opportunity to see her play, and did not take it. Alas, the loss is mine.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:01 AM |

Wednesday, June 16, 2004  

Jeremy Lott’s review of a William F. Buckley book on the Berlin Wall contains some brilliant little flashes of prosaic steel.

We know now that the East German forces [building the wall] were under strict orders from the Kremlin: (a) by all means, lay down the wire; but (b) if the Western forces advance, cease construction and fall back -- under no circumstances were they to fire the first shot. But the three other Western nations in charge of Berlin after the Second World War (the U.S., England, and France) didn't know of these orders, were caught entirely off guard by the closure, and, in the confusion, didn't wish to risk a hot war with the cold-blooded, shoe-pounding Nikita Khrushchev.

Mr. Lott summary: “As a consequence, the wall was bluffed into existence by madmen holding a pair of two's.” Well said.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:26 PM |

Tuesday, June 15, 2004  

Here is James Hitchcock’s outstanding essay on Liberalism and Modernism from last month’s Touchstone magazine.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:37 PM |

It is very good to see that Michelle Malkin, Our Lady of Sanity when it comes to immigration, is now blogging. I confess that I have not read her (by all accounts excellent) book, because I knew that the fury it would provoke would not be good for my health. The same will likely be true of her blog, alas; but it is certainly not her fault if the world has gone half-mad; and it is left to her and others like her to expose and describe the madness.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:36 PM |

Saturday, June 12, 2004  

Now here is something you don’t see every day: “Missouri lake goes missing.”

posted by Paul Cella | 1:44 PM |

The Bishop answers his critics, and promises more exposition on the questions of capital punishment and war — exposition which Cellas Review readers will likely welcome. As for his reply on the question of Communion, Bishop Sheridan could hardly be clearer:

The Church has taught from the beginning that when Catholics sin seriously they must refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they have repented and been absolved in the Sacrament of Penance (confession). In fact this teaching has been repeated in the most recent writings of the Holy Father on the relationship between the Eucharist and Penance. If a Catholic votes in bad conscience, especially in matters that have to do with the sanctity of life (e.g. abortion), how can this be anything other than a participation in that sinful act? It is at this point that the Church calls upon sinners to withhold themselves from receiving Holy Communion until they have been forgiven of their sins. This is a far cry from denying someone Communion. How, in fact, could I deny anyone Holy Communion since I would not know the condition of the communicant’s soul?

He goes on to explain neatly what the Church teachers on conscience, and concludes with this: “To those, then, who said that the Church teaches that we must follow our consciences, I say TRUE. But only a well-formed and informed conscience may be followed. Put bluntly, anyone who says he has a well-formed conscience that stands opposed to the most fundamental moral teachings of our Church simply does NOT have a well-formed conscience.”

posted by Paul Cella | 10:50 AM |

If you have need for a good printer, please consider contacting Mr. Jeff Culbreath, from what I can tell (as we have only communicated via correspondence) a fine Christian trying to hold together a small family business out in Sacramento. In short, a brave man.

Let me also note Mr. Culbreath’s comments on the funeral for President Reagan. He begins by saying warmly — “There is a sense in which the spontaneous outpouring of emotion at the passing of President Reagan is a great sign of hope for our country” — but goes on to face the bleaker side of things:

I suspect that we are not only witnessing the funeral for a great man, but a funeral for America itself. Ronald Wilson Reagan embodied the best of the Old Republic. We suspect that there are no more Reagans among us, and even if there were, we realize that he would never have a chance in the backsliding nation we have since become. Reagan's world was gone before he was, and we are mourning the loss of his America as well as his person.

A funeral for America.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:04 AM |

Tuesday, June 08, 2004  

I feel like I should say something about the passing of Ronald Reagan. He certainly was a giant. Many have justly noted his decency, his resolve, his humor, his buoyant toughness. Kevin Grace says he was the best American president since Calvin Coolidge; Peter Brimelow, the best of the twentieth century. “Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies,” Peggy Noonan tells us. Jeff Culbreath writes movingly, “Ronald Reagan was a great man, an honorable man, a devoted son of California, and an American hero. Teach your children and grandchildren about him.” Colby Cosh emphasizes that Reagan wrote well, thought well, and took command of ideas that interested him. And Larry Auster reminds us that “the co-existence of this world and the next was a continuous and conscious theme in Reagan’s utterances.”

Reagan is the first president that I can remember, and it was not until years later that I realized how worth remembering he is. It strikes me now how distant Reagan is from the great multitude of men who would claim his mantle. He was of a different age. It is by now obvious that Reagan knew better than his liberal detractors; it is less obvious but I think no less true that Reagan knew better than most of his conservative admirers. He knew that ideas were real things, powerful things; but he did not fancy that they were more real than men, or that men should diminish so that certain ideas might triumph. Reagan was a natural democrat, a man of the people; but he never followed the Jacobin spirit of the age, once captured by Burke with lapidary precision: “that all government, not being a democracy, is a usurpation.” As has been said many times, on the big issues of his day, Ronald Reagan sided with what was good and true, often bravely and against fierce opposition. Leadership is the word for it. I cannot improve upon Mr. Culbreath’s salutation: “Thank you, Mr. President, for being a father to your country and an inspiration to millions. May your sins be forgiven in eternity and your good works rewarded an hundredfold.”

posted by Paul Cella | 6:37 PM |
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