Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Sunday, January 30, 2005 The historian Arthur Herman has an article developing parallels between the 17th century regicide of King Charles I of England and today’s Iraqi election.
Now I certainly wish the Iraqis well on this their day, but Herman’s comparison strikes me as most unfortunate. As Dan Flynn notes, for instance, Herman neglects to mention the man who followed King Charles after the latter’s beheading: Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. Cromwell was a Puritan, and while the Puritans were in many ways admirable folk, extending Herman’s historical parallel to include Cromwell would force him into a very awkward position of anticipating a rigid Islamic version of Puritanism as the great midwife for democracy in Iraq. Hardly encouraging.
Herman also writes that, “in spite of the chaos and instability, the defeat of the English monarchy shattered once and for all the idea that had governed Western political institutions since the Middle Ages, that a king’s authority was divine and beyond question.” Divine right of kings, however, was not a mediaeval but rather an emphatically modern idea. Jacques Barzun documents this extensively in his magisterial From Dawn to Decadence, even giving a portentous name to the second of the four great revolutions that made the modern world: “The Monarchs’ Revolution.” The monarchs, whatever we late moderns may think of them, were crucial to the formation of the nation-state — an entity without which the development of modern democracy is inconceivable. The monarchs, in short, made the nation-state, by accelerating the break-up of the old mediaeval order and consolidating a decentralized tapestry of interlocking sources of power into a unitary state.
So when Herman argues that this act of regicide ushered in modern liberal democracy, he is forgetting that the monarchs themselves were an indispensable part of the great process that made liberal democracy possible.
Finally, Herman parallel implies that Charles I was tyrant of considerable stature. This charge is, at least, arguable. I will let my friend Mr. Jeff Culbreath stand in the King’s defense.
posted by Paul Cella | 5:21 PM |
Friday, January 28, 2005 A Cella’s Review rerun! This I stumbled upon not long ago, purely by accident, and I thought readers might appreciate it. It is from September 25, 2002.
It will always be a bit exasperating to hear from people that our grandfathers may know us better than we know ourselves; that the Greeks, say, understood democracy better than we; that, to wit, progress of the intellect is a myth. Mr. Patrick Ruffini senses the approach of this ever-unpopular asseveration and communicates a mild and understandable irritation with it. Instead, he offers a sort of dialectical dynamic, where competing ideas face off and ultimately the superior ones emerge victorious, albeit in an amalgamated form. The welter of forces impinging on the culture will, after some trial and error, and the operation of reason, perhaps some rational self-interest, produce something satisfactory or better.
I must admit that I am deeply suspicious of this kind of optimism, because I am less than sanguine about Man’s sensitivity to reason. No amount of evidence will drive most people to abandon long-held beliefs, much less a complete ideology; the socialist enterprise, despite catastrophic failure after catastrophic failure, yet endures in the minds of an astounding number of people, and would indeed be re-implemented, history, experience, evidence be damned, if these people, who are never very far from power, were to dramatically reclaim it. Mr. Ruffini speaks of the failed social policies of the 1960s, which plunged many American cities into ugliness and decrepitude and squalor, and remarks that had we known in 1955 what these policies would do, things would have been quite different. But as Mr. Judd points out, we did know. In fact, “we” knew long before the policies were even formulated: Tocqueville wrote a book of stunning penetration, which is not exactly obscure, about the beguiling tendency of democracy to reduce men to bondage.
That sparkling sentence was written some one hundred and sixty-five years ago, and I’ll be damned if a more consummate and prescient arraignment of the welfare state has been written since. Well, John Derbyshire came close when he wrote of the English underclass, similarly produced by idiotic social policy:
Now it bears a moment’s attention to note that Britain’s experience came predominantly after America’s own; that, in other words, even the stark exhibit of failure across the Atlantic did not disabuse the British socialists of their social policy dogmas. And of course the Brits are not alone in this despondent, incorrigible “refusal to face simple truths”: opposition here to welfare reform, perhaps the single most successful domestic policy in a generation, is still truculent and inspired, and its potential to roll back what was achieved continually threatens.
Reason alone is simply not a solid enough foundation upon which to build a civilization; it does not hold final sway over the minds of human beings; stronger elements must be employed: habit, prejudice, prescription. That was Burke’s teaching, and I do not think it has been refuted, neither by argument nor by experience. Burke does not disdain reform. But it must be done with care for the organic thing that is human society, for the traditions into which men of genius and of modesty alike have infused their hard earned wisdom and lessons for posterity. Tradition should be venerated; that the past is full viciousness and injustice only strengthens the necessity for taking it seriously.
I want to emphasize that I have no reason to believe that Mr. Ruffini has any dispute with all this. His piece was just a mild demurral from something previously remarked, which provoked the above inscribed thoughts.posted by Paul Cella | 9:03 PM |
Tuesday, January 25, 2005 I have posted several controversial pieces over at Redstate recently. Here are links and excerpts for the benefit of readers who do not make their way over there regularly.
The first, “Murder Most Foul,” deals with a brutal murder in Jersey City, and the speculation surrounding it.
The second article is heavy on quotations from the writer Mark Helprin, who has delivered a tonic of well-argued criticism on the war on terror every few months since September 11.
Both essays have generated some good discussion in the comments section.posted by Paul Cella | 1:07 PM |
Friday, January 21, 2005 You just can’t make this stuff up: “California professor flunks Kuwaiti’s pro-U.S. essay.” I say again: political correctness has disarmed parody. It has silenced irony. It has defeated satire. posted by Paul Cella | 6:52 PM |
Friday, January 14, 2005 I open this question to my readers. What is preferable — that Europe continues on its path of secular nihilism, with the crushing weight of multiculturalism descending in an ever-drearier enervation; or that Europe becomes Islamic?
Secular nihilism is, in James Burnham’s phrase, an ideology of suicide. Europe is dying; unable to face this brute fact, she throws up an intricate and protean ideology to mask it, most of all to herself. She writes a constitution which conspicuously fails to mention the faith that made Europe the teacher of mankind for centuries. She makes Tolerance her idol, and it becomes a jealous god indeed. Most of all, her love of comfort and leisure exceeds her love of life or her love of truth. An older word for this ideology is despair. What the Christian Salvianus said in the 5th century of Rome could be said again today of Europe: Europe is luxurious but it is filled with misery. It is dying but it laughs.
But let us have no illusions about what the conquest of Islam would mean for Europe. Islam’s capture and subjugation of other formerly Christian lands was so complete that most Westerners (even when they are Christians) no longer even think of them as ever being Christian — and this despite the names of such lands, which ought to ring like ancient tocsins for Christian men: Ephesus, Antioch, Hippo. Imagine that the day may dawn when men will have forgotten that Paris was once a great Christian city, or Monte Cassino a great Christian monastery.
So if these be the wretched alternatives set before us, what should we prefer?posted by Paul Cella | 1:50 PM |
Friday, January 07, 2005 “[H]e [Muhammad] declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind . . . The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God.”
— John Quincy Adams, 1830 (quoted in a rich and illuminating and because illuminating disturbing essay by Andrew Bostom of Brown University).posted by Paul Cella | 3:40 AM |
Thursday, January 06, 2005 I’ve seen attention paid to this Washington Post article on other blogs several times over the past two days, and I must admit it is a remarkable little specimen.
It goes on like that for quite a while.
Now the burden of most of the rest of the article is to demonstrate, in the pinched tones of modern journalism, the unique badness of “unwanted pregnancies,” but I think that little word “potential” gives us a hint of the real thrust of the article.
In the first place, a pregnancy, whether wanted or unwanted, is potential because a certain intimate event must precede it. Women may abandon their birth control methods, but they will certainly not have unwanted pregnancies until they (ahem) find a man to do his part. There can be no “unwanted” pregnancy unless there is first a wanted act of sexual congress (as they used to say). Yet no judgment attaches, it seems, in the eyes of most of the authorities quoted by the Post, to the circumstances of the sexual congress. There is judgment (implied at least) against “forgoing birth control,” and there is certainly judgment against the retrograde abstinence-only or abstinence-until-marriage educators, and there is judgment against the health insurance companies that are not generous to foot the bill for birth control, and there is judgment against the men who won’t foot that bill either; but resolutely there is no judgment concerning the sex act itself which produces the unwanted pregnancies.
And underlying all this is a chilling hostility — unstated, perhaps unrecognized — toward children. The one opposing opinion cited — “pregnancy is not a disease” — strikes the reader as almost pathetic: the faint, muffled cry of sanity into an insane world.posted by Paul Cella | 3:01 AM |
It is as concise as it is cogent. I mean Mr. Larry Auster’s brilliant little critique of the reckless rhetoric that accompanies so much of what is said today by public men.
I find it increasingly astounding to witness the transformation of conservatism, not simply into robust classical Liberalism, but into a thin, cut-rate Liberalism, a mere shadow of a once vibrant idea.posted by Paul Cella | 1:35 AM |