Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Monday, September 27, 2004  

Writing in First Things, Daniel J. Mahoney delivers a ringing defense of the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The essay is carried in the tones suggestive of a gauntlet thrown down.

Unfortunately, [many] American conservatives have succumbed to the facile consensus that has developed about Solzhenitsyn — a consensus that has, as we shall see, little connection with reality. The same tiresome distortions are recycled ad nauseam and contribute to a willful refusal to consider Solzhenitsyn’s thinking about the political and spiritual condition of modern man.

Mr. Mahoney is particularly harsh in his criticisms of the historian Richard Pipes: “Thus Pipes fabricates a moral equivalence between the author of The Gulag Archipelago and the inhuman regime he did so much to bring to its knees. This shameful comparison dishonors Pipes, who here lends his considerable authority to the vituperative campaign against Solzhenitsyn.”

In Mahoney’s telling, for his detractors among mainstream American Conservatives Solzhenitsyn’s problem is that he is not a mainstream American Conservative. “How,” Mahoney asks, “does one begin to break out of this interminable recycling of distortions and misrepresentations?” The answer is a cogent rebuke: “To begin with, it is necessary to recognize that the defense of human liberty and dignity is not exhausted by the categories or assumptions of late modernity.”

The lure of conformity is a powerful thing among those near the sources of political power. Some day a great (but probably unappreciated) historian will tell the dramatic, even tragic, story of American Conservatism: its rise from inchoateness out of the ruins of Liberalism’s grand illusions; its struggles for coherence; its triumphs and failures; and finally its corruption by power. This last chapter will not be complete without prominent mention of the coldness which developed toward Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:14 PM |

Sunday, September 26, 2004  

Mr. Mark Butterworth has penned an interesting essay on the importance of the Bible to our sense of beauty; and the corresponding decline that attends to our loss of the biblical imagination.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:33 PM |

Friday, September 24, 2004  

George Will current column is Newsweek is stern stuff indeed.

[Senator Kerry] needs to resuscitate his campaign by making himself an interesting alternative to Bush. However, he seems incapable of mounting what the nation needs — a root-and-branch critique of the stunningly anticonservative idea animating the administration’s policy. The idea, a tenet of neoconservatism, is that all nations are more or less ready for democracy. So nation-building should be a piece of cake — never mind the winding, arduous, uphill hike the West took from Runnymede and Magna Charta in 1215 to Philadelphia in 1787.

He goes on to explain “why neoconservatives alarm almost everyone who isn’t one — and especially dismay real conservatives.” There is talk of “neoconservative monomania” which manifests itself in “the idea behind foreign-policy overreaching — the anticonservative delusion that political will can control the world.”

Mr. Will is at pains to establish that John Kerry has so far proven utterly incapable of exploiting the weaknesses of President Bush which derive from the latter’s assent to, and encouragement of this monomania. He is quite right. The sad fact is that there is no effective patriotic opposition in this country; and this is corrupted the party in power profoundly.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:31 PM |

Tuesday, September 21, 2004  

The fine magazine Touchstone has put some of its more recent archives online, a very generous thing to do. Take a look, for example, at their special J. R. R. Tolkien issue. David Mills writes perspicaciously on Tolkien and Divine Providence. Excellent stuff.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:37 PM |

Monday, September 20, 2004  

SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “The problem of foolishness as one human potentiality is, I believe, an insufficiently-discussed problem because with Plato and Aristotle the non-fool, the philosopher, carried the day. Therefore we speak of philosophy and include in it all the positive doctrinal propositions which are not meant to be philosophy; they are the opposition to the fool. We don't recognize that the problem of the fool is what you might call the positive problem in the whole; because there are fools we negate their negations and get positive doctrines which otherwise would not be necessary — if we were not living in a society in which a lot of people can be fools. The term ‘fool’ is not used, in the critical sense, as name-calling but as naming a human potentiality: men can be fools.” — Eric Voegelin, Conversations IV.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:46 PM |

Tuesday, September 14, 2004  

It is unfortunate that political conditions* have emasculated much of the right-wing critique of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war; because the plain fact is that there is ample room for the constructive criticism from patriots.

I use that last word advisedly, for is a sad fact to face for all of us who love this country (as she is, not as she might be) that some sizeable portion of our fellow citizens possess no feeling of patriotism, properly understood, at all. Nothing is so solidly entrenched in their minds as that their country’s motives ought to be distrusted. Suspicion, not love, is what they feel toward the nation in which they live. It is an open question for them whether America as she is, is a thing worth preserving. And this antipathy, deep and sincere, has worked itself into the very heart of one of our great political parties.

It is profoundly unhealthy for the politics of a nation to be so warped. Indeed, it is crippling. It becomes difficult to trust an opposition which views patriotism with suspicion; and it becomes difficult to mount any patriotic opposition for fear of lending aid and comfort to an opposition possessed by a resolute dislike of the country.

What might a serious patriotic opposition present to the people of this country? It might point out that it is impossible to build a democracy before one builds a viable state, which means a government with a monopoly on force. It might point out, as Mark Helprin does in the current Claremont Review of Books, that it is precisely backward to attempt to defeat our enemies by transforming them; enemies must be defeated before they can be transformed. It might point out that every sovereign nation reserves the right to control its border; and deport forthwith any illegal alien sympathetic to our bloodthirsty enemies. It might point out that no nation is obligated to extend “rights,” civil or otherwise, to those who openly call for its violent overthrow.

A patriotic opposition might even go as far as to seek a public debate on the terrible but pressing question, Is Islam compatible with America? When the initial horror at the opening of this question — a horror which will be ubiquitous and palpable among our elites — has passed, this patriotic opposition might point out the unutterable, craven stupidity of closing this explosive question before it has even been considered. It might point out that while the United States Government is not obligated to extend ecumenical courtesy and perfect sensitivity to all, it is obligated to protect American citizens.

Adopting a more poetic or literary cast of mind, this patriotic opposition might illuminate a rather astonishing numerical coincidence by quoting the historian Helaire Belloc:

The last effort [the Turks] made to destroy Christendom was contemporary with the end of the reign of Charles II in England and of his brother James and of the usurper William III. It failed during the last years of the seventeenth century, only just over two hundred years ago. Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history — September 11, 1683. But the peril remained, Islam was still immensely powerful within a few marches of Austria and it was not until the great victory of Prince Eugene at Zenta in 1697 and the capture of Belgrade that the tide really turned — and by that time we were at the end of the seventeenth century.

That other September 11 is just the kind of thing we might see popping up regularly in public debate, were there an effective patriotic opposition.

* * *
Someone will almost certainly complain that I have conflated, tendentiously, the terms “right-wing” and “patriotic.” Well, that cannot be helped. The simple fact is that the Left, by and large, has turned against patriotism as a guiding ideal. It is not indifferent; it is hostile. Patriotism is inseparable from ideas which the Left finds intolerable: exclusion, loyalty, prejudice, judgment.

* “Political conditions” is a fairly innocuous phrase, I admit, for the near-lunacy we bear witness to every day.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:52 PM |

Wednesday, September 08, 2004  

Regular readers know I have been hard on Mr. David Brooks, columnist at The New York Times, in the past, but I will say without hesitation that his September 7th column was a powerful piece of writing. Rare indeed is the day when the solemn and settled readers of The New York Times are confronted with such strong, and true, words.

We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, “You love life, but we love death.” This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.

This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood. [. . .]

We should be used to this pathological mass movement by now. We should be able to talk about such things. Yet when you look at the Western reaction to the Beslan massacres, you see people quick to divert their attention away from the core horror of this act, as if to say: We don't want to stare into this abyss. We don't want to acknowledge those parts of human nature that were on display in Beslan. Something here, if thought about too deeply, undermines the categories we use to live our lives, undermines our faith in the essential goodness of human beings. [. . .]

Dissertations will be written about the euphemisms the media used to describe these murderers. They were called “separatists” and “hostage-takers.” Three years after Sept. 11, many are still apparently unable to talk about this evil. They still try to rationalize terror.

They will not learn, Mr. Brooks.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:05 PM |

Wednesday, September 01, 2004  

Writing in The Claremont Review of Books, Glen Thurow discusses a new book on Lincoln’s religious faith, a suspect of much speculation and even mystery. Thurow’s review is engaging, cogent, and commanding. He begins with some brief remarks about the Pledge of Allegiance, made recently controversial by an intolerant atheist and an activist court:

The words “under God” were placed in the pledge during the Cold War when Congress wished to make even more clear how our beliefs differed from those of the Communists. It is sometimes suggested that the words are therefore illegitimate — that they are tied to an obsolete historical situation or reflect an anti-Communist extremism. But the Communist threat was merely the occasion that reminded Congress of something fundamental. [. . .] To acknowledge God’s rule is to recognize that human beings are not the masters of their fate or of the universe, and hence that human government is properly limited in scope. As [Joseph] Fornieri [whose book is under review] correctly notes and explains at length, such a belief is not a violation of the separation of church and state, but the very foundation of it.

It has often been intimated that Lincoln’s biblical language was tinged with the consummate cynicism of the politician: his genius at invoking Christian sentiment and cadence* was insincere, designed for public consumption. Thurow assures us that Fornieri dispenses with this conjecture.

Fornieri begins this portrayal by outlining Lincoln’s private or personal faith. He calls this faith “biblical” because Lincoln seemed to form it out of his own reading of the Bible, because it does not seem to be an exclusively New Testament faith, and because Lincoln did not formally join any Christian denomination. To establish his reading he uses Lincoln’s private correspondence, testimony from those who knew him, and inferences from the beliefs of those who appeared to have influenced him. In then comparing this faith to his public references to God or the Bible, Fornieri shows that Lincoln’s private and public statements were consistent with each other, and argues that Lincoln’s public words and deeds were an expression of his personal faith applied to the political realm.

Thurow concludes:

Among his many other gifts to us, [Fornieri’s book] shows us that the political principles underlying our nation depend upon faith in a God who rules all with both justice and charity. And although it is not the last word on the subject, Fornieri’s book can help us to understand more fully that we as a nation cannot abandon our acknowledgment of God’s rule without also abandoning those principles that make our nation so worth preserving and perpetuating.

* Let there be no doubt that, whatever its motivation, it was the work of genius: Lincoln properly stands with Shakespeare, Burke and a few others as the greatest of the masters of our language.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:55 PM |

I have an essay running today on TCS. It consists of an analysis of Kerry’s Vietnam Problem. Unfortunately, my footnote got cut off. The sixth paragraph’s final sentence includes an asterisk which should have linked to this text: “We might reflect, in this context, on the fortuity of the fact that the Vietnam division included no real regional element.”

posted by Paul Cella | 11:17 AM |
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