Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Friday, October 29, 2004  

My review of Daniel Flynn’s book Intellectual Morons ran last week on The American Spectator’s website.

John Adams once caustically described ideology as “the science of idiocy.” Dan Flynn has given us a kind of diagnostic manual by case study of this strange science. While there have been others of this genre — Paul Johnson's Intellectuals comes immediately to mind — the world of intellect, alas, seems always ripe for another catalogue of its ongoing parade of fraudulence, perversity, pretense, quackery, and rarefied deceit. [more]

Flynn's book is most intriguing (and controversial) because he includes Leo Strauss in his catalogue of intellectual morons. I address this in the second half of my review.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:12 PM |

Thursday, October 28, 2004  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “Beat about as we will, there are only two conclusions in which the philosophic mind can abide. Either, as the Hindu in his more courageous moods taught, the whole thing, this globe and this life, are utterly without design, a phantasmagoria in which we can detect no meaning and to which we have no right to apply any interpretation, not even that of chance, a huge illusion of ignorance which simply vanishes into nothing at the touch of knowledge; or else, if we see design in the world, then there is no holding back from the inference of the theist. The agnostic will say that this is to fall into anthropomorphism. It is. But design itself is already an anthropomorphic term; and to admit the existence of design while refusing to see that it implies purpose, and to admit the existence of purpose while refusing to acknowledge a purposing mind, is the folly of halfheartedness. On the other hand the agnostic who, denying plan and purpose, thinks he can stop short of the philosophy of pure illusion, resembles a man who boasts that he can walk on water.” — Paul Elmer More, “The Doctrine of the Logos,” from Christ the Word (1927).

posted by Paul Cella | 5:40 PM |

Tuesday, October 26, 2004  

Last week we took the kids to Disney World. Katie (age 4) had a great time. Mary (age 3 mos.) slept through almost everything — including the night, which was most fortuitous. The world has a soundtrack at Disney, and not a particularly pleasing one to someone over the age of, say, seven. The world, also, is full of overpriced food and shrewdly arranged consumer items. More that usual, the word nearest to a parent’s lips must be No. My wife and I were aided in this reckless Disney endeavor by the presence of my mother- and father-in-law, who choose to join us in exhausting ourselves for reasons that elude me.

On this trip, I also had the privilege of meeting Professor Bill Luse, who lives and teaches in Orlando. We played golf on a warm Florida afternoon on a course full of water hazards made more expansive by recent hurricanes. Having seen me in action, Bill will surely understand why I take my motto in golf from a G. K. Chesterton line: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Later Bill and his lovely wife joined us for dinner at a restaurant in the Orlando tourist district (right next door, an object of fascination: one of those enormous glowing bungee-cord human catapults which in their massive gaudiness simply disarm the vocabulary for terms of proper description). The dinner was very pleasant, but I expect we will try to avoid the tourist district on a Friday night next time.

All in all it was one of those vacations which you enjoy taking, but end feeling confident that you will never take again — at least until the next kid is old enough. “Until next time” is not a farewell remark so much as a sigh.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:42 PM |

Tuesday, October 19, 2004  

I am a sucker for the finely-crafted epigram. To express the truly profound with concision is the mark of true genius. Here is a rich and marvelous collection of the aphorisms of the late Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila, about whom I know pretty much nothing — except that he could sure compose a penetrating maxim.

To think like our contemporaries is a recipe for prosperity and stupidity.

All literature is contemporary to the reader who knows how to read.

Violence is not necessary to destroy a civilization. Each civilization dies from indifference toward the unique values which created it.

Modern man does not love, but seeks refuge in love; does not hope, but seeks refuge in hope; does not believe, but seeks refuge in a dogma.

Civilization is a poorly fortified encampment in the midst of rebellious tribes.

Modern man is a prisoner who thinks he is free because he refrains from touching the walls of his dungeon.

The punishment of the idealist consists in the triumph of his cause.

If we believe in God, we should not say “I believe in God,” but “God believes in me.”

Ideas of the left give birth to revolutions. Revolutions give birth to ideas of the right.

The function of revolutions is to destroy the illusions that created them.

The most notorious aspect of all modern undertakings is the discrepancy between the immensity and complexity of the technical apparatus, and the insignificance of the final product.

Surviving fragments of the past put to shame the modern landscape in which they stand.

If philosophy does not resolve any scientific problem, science, in its turn, does not resolve any philosophical problem.

Truths are not relative. What are relative are opinions about truth.

There are many more. (Thanks to Jim Kalb and translator Nikos A. Salingaros.)

posted by Paul Cella | 7:55 PM |

Monday, October 18, 2004  

Bill Luse digs up an old essay he wrote examining the question of whether America was justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Japanese cities during the Second World War. His examination is assiduous and eloquent. It may be irrefutable.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:18 PM |

Saturday, October 16, 2004  

My review of Civilization and Its Enemies by Lee Harris, is up at Claremont Institute website. “War And Progress.”

The book is (1) an attempt to sketch out an outline of a bold new theory about the rise and development of civilization; (2) an attempt to recover, at least for earnest consideration, a number of profound thinkers whose stock, so to speak, is quite low among many of America’s leading commentators; (3) a bracing polemic against "forgetfulness"; and (4) an attempt to situate the ghastly phenomenon of Islamic terrorism in a larger picture of “civilization and its enemies.” The book may be at its weakest on this last point, an admittedly contrarian judgment which I shall have occasion to defend in a moment. But let it first be said that in all four of its “guises” the book is a valuable contribution to the public conversation. Harris’s learning is immense, but he wears it lightly; his aim is to illuminate not impress or bludgeon. To that end, he introduces a whole mass of what might be called layman’s vocabulary to elucidate more complicated philosophical principles. Some could be refined into conceptual instruments of great power and subtlety. [more]

Mr. Harris once contributed a guest column to this very weblog. And here are links to his famed essays, “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology,” and “Our World-Historical Gamble.”

posted by Paul Cella | 7:56 AM |

Wednesday, October 13, 2004  

Historian Thomas Madden of St. Louis University moves to set the record straight on the Crusades in this fascinating interview (part 1 and part 2).

The fundamental purpose of jihad is to expand the Dar al-Islam — the Abode of Islam — into the Dar al-Harb — the Abode of War. In other words, jihad is expansionistic, seeking to conquer non-Muslims and place them under Muslim rule.

Those who are then conquered are given a simple choice. For those who are not People of the Book — in other words, those who are not Christians or Jews — the choice is convert to Islam or die. For those who are People of the Book, the choice is submit to Muslim rule and Islamic law or die. The expansion of Islam, therefore, was directly linked to the military successes of jihad.

The Crusades were something very different. From its beginnings Christianity has always forbidden coerced conversion of any kind. Conversion by the sword, therefore, was not possible for Christianity. Unlike jihad, the purpose of the Crusades was neither to expand the Christian world nor to expand Christianity through forced conversions.

Instead, the Crusades were a direct and belated response to centuries of Muslim conquests of Christian lands. The immediate event that sparked the First Crusade was the Turkish conquest of all of Asia Minor in the 1070s through 1090s.

The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095 in response to an urgent plea for help from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. Urban called the knights of Christendom to come to the aid of their Eastern brethren.

Asia Minor was Christian. Part of the Byzantine Empire, it had been first evangelized by St. Paul. St. Peter had been the first bishop of Antioch. Paul had written his famous letter to the Christians of Ephesus. The creed of the Church was penned at Nicaea. All of these were in Asia Minor.

The Byzantine emperor begged the Christians of the West for aid in recapturing these lands and expelling the Turks. The Crusades were that aid. Their purpose, though, was not only to reconquer Asia Minor but also to recapture other formerly Christian lands that had been lost due to Islamic jihads. This included the Holy Land.

In a nutshell, therefore, the major difference between Crusade and jihad is that the former was a defense against the latter. The entire history of the Eastern Crusades is one of response to Muslim aggression.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:50 PM |

Monday, October 11, 2004  

By now, both Time and Newsweek have run searching reports or analyses on the mess our leaders have made of our immigration policy. When will the candidates for President of the United States do so?

America is at war; but she is really only susceptible to attack by infiltration. Our enemies do not possess the means to strike us from afar. Yet both of our national political parties; our great corporate magnates, and our commercial class more broadly; our intellectual elites, Left and Right; our journalists, historians, professors, entertainers, activists, lobbyists, and churchmen — all of these have set themselves implacably against the securing of our sovereign territory. We know the threat, but refuse, with stubbornness verging on madness, to address it.

Whatever this is, it is not the character of a nation with the will to achieve victory. That the question of borders and sovereignty has hardly even merited mention by the two men presenting themselves, in a time of war, for election as commander in chief, is the kind of fact that makes one despair for one’s country.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:12 PM |

Sunday, October 10, 2004  

This essay by Allan Carlson, which I discovered through Jim Kalb’s encyclopedic website, ought to be read in full; but I pull out here several passages from the work of the sociologist Robert Nisbet, whom Carlson quotes extensively:

To compare the position of the political power of the State in the thirteenth century with that power today is to realize that fundamental among all the “emancipations” of modern history has been the emancipation of the State from the restrictive network of religious, economic, and moral authorities that bound it at an earlier time.

It is not the extermination of individuals that is ultimately desired by totalitarian rulers, for individuals in the largest number are needed by the new order. What is desired is the extermination of those social relationships which, by their autonomous existence, must always constitute a barrier to the achievement of the absolute political community.

The conception of society as an aggregate of morally autonomous, psychologically free individuals, rather than as a collection of groups, is, in sum, closely related to a conception of society in which all legitimate authority has been abstracted from the primary communities and vested in the single sphere of the State.

When [the family] is strong, closely linked with private property, treated as the essential context of education in society, and its sanctity recognized by law and custom, the probability is extremely high that we shall find the rest of the social order characterized by that subtle but puissant fusion of stability and individual mobility which is the hallmark of great ages.

Rest assured, the reader will not often witness Cella’s Review quoting a sociologist approvingly; but Nisbet is an worthy exception.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:26 PM |

Friday, October 08, 2004  

Please note: I have adjusted my comments so that they are now arranged from the oldest to the most recent (the reverse of what they were before).

posted by Paul Cella | 5:55 PM |

Sunday, October 03, 2004  

[Editor’s Note: The following is a very lightly edited version of an essay I posted on RedState several months ago, which proved, as I anticipated, quite controversial. I present it now to my readers here.]

The idea of religious war, I confess, does not fill me with horror. It certainly does not fill me with any more horror than the idea of patriotic war; and considerably less than the idea of humanitarian war, or the idea of imperial war. Yet the phrase religious war has a certain ring of shock to it: like the sudden slamming of a door in a quiet house. The words are tinctured with the peculiar effect of Euphemism. G. K. Chesterton once produced, from that immensely fertile mind with its enormous sense of humor,a consummate definition of Euphemists: “I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them.”

And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generations does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same.

The phrase religious war has something of that air about it. It startles. Upon hearing it, men sit up quite suddenly. To the Euphemists who have bedeviled our speech and, a fortiori, our thinking, it is shocking. We have spent nearly three years trying to develop a suitable euphemism for religious war — and it has not gone very well. We have declared war on a method of warfare. We have declared war on a tendency within a religion, or (better for the Euphemist) a tendency within all religions. I suppose next we shall declare war on a tendency within a method of warfare, or on a method within a tendency. Some have even argued that we ought to declare war on a moment in time, namely the “premodern.”

On the other side of the problem, it is a curious fact that modern men do not well understand what is meant by religion. Partly this is due to the increasingly stale and well-worn angles and approaches of the intellectual struggle between belief and unbelief. Polemical strategy demands that the atheists and freethinkers remain implacable in their resistance to their worldview being labeled a religion. Wrestling matches are all about leverage; and we believers would hardly be respectable polemicists if we did not understand why this rhetorical wrestling match includes such peculiarities as these. But I want to assure my opponents in that debate that I do not toy here with the word religion for base polemical purposes. It is my firm belief that a blow for clarity, and ultimately a blow for sympathy, would be struck if we were to begin to think about religion not so much as the dogmas and doctrines to which men commit themselves, but rather as the world they inhabit; not so much their formal creed as their vision of life and death and the trajectory of man; their assumptions about what it means to be men; their convictions about what they are accountable for as men. A man is no more or less religious because he believes in the Incarnation of the Word or because he proclaims that noble tautology, there is no God but God; he is rather a certain type of religious. And indeed another type is the man who considers himself irreligious or agnostic.

Many things would be clarified by acknowledging this, not the least of which is our understanding of why men fight. The thing is so simple that it does surely startle: men will fight, and die — and kill — for their religion. I might even say that the only thing that moral men will fight and kill for is their religion — especially if we recognize that the idea of religion is inextricably bound to the idea of home. When a man feels that his world is threatened by another power, he will fight. When a man conceives that something alien is bent on the destruction of his home, he will fight.

A great many Moslems feel that decadent America threatens their world. No candid and sensitive observer of the world can gainsay this. And I for one cannot say I much blame them: decadent America threatens Islam; and she threatens Christendom (and virtually every other traditional religion) too. America in her appalling decadence has imbibed of a new and very strange religion; and when she marches under that banner, the men of other creeds and other faiths are perfectly justified in their alarm. Modern Liberalism is what I name this religion, though perhaps there is a more suitable label. The men who move within Liberalism live in a different world than, say, the men of the Cross of Christ, or the men of the Crescent of Mohammed, or the men of the Star of David. Mankind for them is not what he is for Christians or Jews or Moslems. It is true that all men, being the bearers of reason, are capable of agreeing on many things — especially as regards questions of basic human decency and practical morality. But while share many things with Liberals, we do not share religion.

Now things have come a long way, and the roots of modern Liberalism were always present on these shores, but I still think it accurate to say that America is not yet fallen fully and irretrievably under the spell of Liberalism. Please God, let that dark day never come. Liberalism is a decay, a decline, a corruption. James Burnham once wrote hauntingly of Liberalism as a kind of narcotic, which is conjured by men in their despondency to ease the pain of loss and defeat. If he was right then we might say that Liberalism is a religion of despair (this idea is fleshed out indirectly in David Hart’s magisterial essay “Christ and Nothing.”) In any case, it is no longer an open question for me, whether Liberalism ought to be preserved; whether this religion clings anymore to any fragment of the truth. It does not. I have declared myself before to be a dedicated enemy of Liberalism. It will do no one any good for me to pretend otherwise. I conceive of the triumph of modern Liberalism (always to be distinguished from classical liberalism) in my country as a capitulation to madness, as the arrival of doom. And I will do what I can to destroy Liberalism, root and branch. For me, indeed, it is a religious war.

But here this formulation clarifies yet another thing of great importance: a religion is not to be confused with those who cleave to it. A man’s religion may change. He may convert from his former ways. Many millions came to the Cross in the ancient world, and more millions continue to do so today. Europe’s barbarian tribes were converted by wandering monks and great saints like Columbanus; St. Francis Xavier took the Faith in numbers known only by God to the people of India, China and the Philippines, by his humility and Christlike love. There have been many celebrated conversions from Liberalism — a whole movement of men and women in the 1960s and 1970s. I am sure my Liberal friends could cite conversions the other way. The point is that by saying that I am Liberalism’s enemy, I certainly do not set myself up as an enemy of all individual Liberals. Members of my own family are Liberals — and I love them dearly. It is the strange fate of fallen men to have whole worlds smashed together in the same space and time; so than men who walk in different worlds might walk past one another on the street, or might share the same home.

But my point here is not to analyze Liberalism; it is to say that wholly different religions cannot be reconciled — they cannot become one harmonious pantheon of equal deities. A Protestant and a Catholic might be reconciled without either giving up his distinctive faith (though some would question even that); but a Moslem and a Christian cannot be. Which is not to say that they cannot live together; but they can only really live together when they understand and take seriously their differences. Disagreement must be achieved.

So I say again that religious war does not horrify me. I recall the exotic words with which St. Paul counseled the church at Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but against powers, principalities, and “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Religious war is like any other war — full of great evil and some precious good — except that it is saner. It is saner in the sense that it is waged for that which means the most to us and our enemies. It is saner because it is more inescapable; in that sense it is saner because it is more tragic. It is merely a part of the Liberal’s religion to deny that a difference can become so real that only recourse to arms will vindicate it.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:09 AM |
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