Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Wednesday, February 23, 2005 The United States has set herself to the enormous project of transforming the politics and culture of the Middle East, but her leaders by and large profess her total incapacity to do what every nation must do as a basic act of national sovereignty: secure her border. Such is the insanity of our age.
It is refreshing, then, to see some sparks of republican verve left among her people.
Sure, such a republican (as in, of the people, by the people, for the people) effort is ripe for abuse — but every project in self-government is. Remember: we Americans are optimists; if there is no room for pessimism about republican projects in an alien culture halfway around the globe, how can there be room for pessimism for republican projects here, on our very own border? We have passed bills through our legislative assemblies; we have seen those bills signed into law; and we have seen them treated with exquisitely studied neglect by our government. Our government — including, friends, our president — has betrayed us on this issue. To the charge that the Minutemen are “taking the law into their own hands,” Dan Flynn has a sharp reply: “Rather than citizens ensuring the enforcement of the laws instituted through the democratic process, aren’t the ones guilty of taking the law into their own hands government officials who refuse to enforce immigration laws?”posted by Paul Cella | 5:58 PM |
Tuesday, February 15, 2005 It’s been a long time since faithful Anglicans had good news. This is good news: “Clergy who deny doctrine may face trial for heresy.”
Amen. What we need in the modern churches, by God, is more heresy trials. I can’t think of anything healthier for the demoralized Christians of the West.
posted by Paul Cella |
7:40 PM |
Monday, February 14, 2005 I thought this article was pretty funny, but a lot of readers sure didn’t. posted by Paul Cella | 7:46 PM |
I am very glad to see that my friend Lee Harris has (for the time being at least) returned to the public square with his elegant pen and deep learning. Today he clarifies the meaning of a current buzzword, and in the process demonstrates once again the indispensable place that language plays in our understanding of ourselves and our world.
I reviewed Lee’s book last year for The Claremont Review of Books online.
posted by Paul Cella | 3:16 PM |
Monday, February 07, 2005 Political correctness on the rampage again. posted by Paul Cella | 2:45 PM |
Sunday, February 06, 2005 SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “The duty to propagate the next generation at a rate to exceed replacement is an unlegislatable mandate that occurs only when a community is healthy and its members love it more than they love themselves. When the order of a community falls out of health in this way — when it chooses to deny its own fecundity at the expense of its offspring — it chooses death.” — Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J., The New Pantagruel, Winter 2005. posted by Paul Cella | 5:45 PM |
Here is an enjoyable essay on old William F. Buckley, Jr., by Jeremy Lott. posted by Paul Cella | 5:01 PM |
Friday, February 04, 2005 David Gelernter is a formidable writer. Recently in The Weekly Standard he pronounced the nineteenth century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli “the inventor of modern conservatism.” I have always regarded that title as properly belonging to Edmund Burke, but Mr. Gelernter makes a strong case for the flamboyant romantic Disraeli.
Consulting Russell Kirk’s great work The Conservative Mind, which gives Disraeli a prominent place alongside the Venerable John Henry Newman in a chapter entitled “Conservatism with Imagination,” I discovered that Gelernter touches many of the same points that Kirk does. Both, for example, dilate on the strange parallel between Disraeli and Marx. Gelernter:
Both Gelernter and Kirk also note that Disraeli’s discrete political victories and successes are quite “inferior” to totality of what he accomplished — namely, the translation of Conservatism into a philosophy (and a party) that could function and indeed flourish in the modern world of liberal democracy. But I think the most important point to take away (and it is made by both writers) is the robust nationalism at the heart of Disraeli’s politics. “Here is the kernel of Disraeli’s social theories,” Kirk writes: “the idea of the nation.”
There are many today who likewise do not understand, and many more who do indeed detest, the principle of nationality. Gelernter attempts, with some success, to establish some parallels between Disraeli’s Tories and today’s American Republicans; but to my eyes these attempts highlight not just similarities but also some sharp contrasts. Disraeli molded a right-wing party which achieved lasting popular support — and a similar achievement we can fairly ascribe to the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Indeed, it is precisely the popular support for Conservatism that baffles blue state elites in our day. This support can be explained rather simply, I think: Republicans, insofar as they speak to the entrenched moral concerns of the Americans, are a national party. They are far closer to the equipoise of simple American decency than are the Democrats, a party increasingly tethered to the whims of a decadent bicoastal aristocracy. Democrats have made themselves the party of judicial usurpation, placing the issues that most vex this republic beyond the reach of our republican institutions. They have frequently capitulated to a narrow anti-American faction that cloaks its loathing of its own country in the idealistic tones and the easy emollient of peace and pacifism. They have made themselves the bearers of an alien moral system, imposed from without by a legal class unto itself, which proclaims in shrill tones that the prevalent moral judgments of the republic are nothing but sheer bigotry. They have alienated themselves from the religious majority in their country by sneering at, as a prelude to repressing, most public examples of the faith that has moved the great preponderance of Americans since our Puritan fathers, echoing that obscure oration the Sermon on the Mount, declared this a “city on a hill.” They have, in short, followed a path that seems maniacally calculated to make them as unpopular as possible — and all this notwithstanding the bare fact that most economic conditions distinctly favor them politically.
Yet despite all this, the Republicans are a national party mostly by default. They still cling, however tenuously, to that distinctly American common sense and tradition that the Democrats have all but abandoned. But they only cling to it; they do not embrace it; and rarely do they forthrightly affirm it when the stakes are high. President Bush has treated the enormously popular* effort to make marriage mean what it means like a timebomb with no discernable chronometer. He has studiously avoided the issue of abortion, even when the current abortion regime in this country (that is, abortion on demand) is an order of magnitude to the left of where We the People are.
But more broadly he (and his party) has generally failed to appreciate the principle of nationality (or nationalism, if you prefer). In defense of an immigration policy that is the annihilation of nationality, Mr. Bush has declared repeatedly, “family values do not stop at the border.” No man who understood Conservatism as Disraeli did — “his underlying thought,” as Gelernter puts it, “was that the Conservative party was the national party” — could say such nonsense, for the essence of nationality is not what a man believes but, very simply, where he is from.
What strikes the modern mind as so offensive in the national idea is that it excludes. Some are of the nation, some are not. This outrages modern sensibilities, and the solution for many on the Right has been to heavily invest nationality with ideological content, such that loyalty to the American nation entails not so much loyalty to real places and real people, but loyalty to ideas. The ideas are noble ones, for the most part, but they do not by themselves constitute a nation. To say otherwise is to fall into the febrile error that exercised the Jacobins and set Europe aflame: that ideas are more real than men.
“Loyalty is not a phrase,” Disraeli explains. “Faith is not a delusion, and Popular Liberty is something more diffusive and substantial than the profane exercise of the sacred rights of sovereignty by political classes.” Most Americans understand this — understand it “in their hips,” as Willmoore Kendall used to say. Their instincts toward loyalty, faith and ordered liberty remain sound, even as these things have been scornfully renounced by so many who aspire to guide our society.
Mr. Gelernter has done well to remind us, among other things, that by fusing Conservatism with nationality or nationalism (rightly understood), Benjamin Disraeli forged a union of ideas and sentiments into a political force and ideal to be reckoned with; a force that moved the hearts of men in powerful and subtle ways, that confounded the utopian dreams of a thousand sophisters and energumens, and that has faced down most of the alternative visions that men have proposed to supplant it.
It would be a sad thing indeed if, at the moment of Conservatism’s apparent triumph, its custodians were to break the very union that made them.