Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2005  

Tolerance the tyrant, again: “Fallaci charged in Italy with defaming Islam.”

ROME (Reuters) - A judge has ordered best-selling writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci to stand trial in her native Italy on charges she defamed Islam in a recent book.

The decision angered Italy's justice minister but delighted Muslim activists, who accused Fallaci of inciting religious hatred in her 2004 work “La Forza della Ragione” (The Force of Reason).

Fallaci lives in New York and has regularly provoked the wrath of Muslims with her outspoken criticism of Islam following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

In “La Forza della Ragione,” Fallaci wrote that terrorists had killed 6,000 people over the past 20 years in the name of the Koran and said the Islamic faith “sows hatred in the place of love and slavery in the place of freedom.”

Tolerance will issue in dhimmitude.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:41 PM |

Tuesday, May 24, 2005  

It seems that, while no one was watching (no Americans, that is), Canada cast off what remained of her parliamentary republic and became a one-party despotism. Much like America, the primary agent of the rising despotism has been the judiciary, utilizing an ingenious little tool with the very typical name of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; but last week the Canadian Parliament, under the dominant Liberal party, joined the rush toward a Tocquevillean soft tyranny, by openly contravening long-standing parliamentary rules. As Hilary of Fiat Mihi ably explains:

One of the peculiarities of the British Parliamentary system is that the government, while not being very accountable to the populace at large, must maintain what is called the “confidence of the House.” Should the ruling party lose the confidence of a majority of the Members of Parliament, should they, in practical terms, begin having their motions defeated (I think the number required is three) it is understood to have lost the public mandate to continue to be the ruling party. Part of the job of the Opposition is to bring forward, at such a juncture, a motion of non-confidence. Should the government lose the vote on the non-confidence motion, it is obliged under the constitution to dissolve Parliament and call a general election.

The country’s loyal opposition is the (fairly new and not terribly stable) Conservative party [. . .] and last week, Stephen Harper brought such a motion to the floor…

and the Liberals refused to accept it.

What does that mean? It means that the ruling Liberals, faced with final and utter disgrace, have decided that they will not relinquish the power they have worked for decades to capture, even if it means exposing themselves to the world as the pack of gangsters they are.

A great deal more of the story, for those interested, can be discovered in Mr. Kevin Michael Grace’s searing (and exceedingly well-documented) polemic here. But the gist of the ugly business comes from another Canadian writer, David Warren, who cuts right to the chase: “The Canadian constitution was overthrown.” Or again: “The Canada of which I was once so proud now sleeps with the worms.”

It is a cheerless and pitiful story (of which more can be read here), but only a fool could continue to indulge the traditional American attitude of totally ignoring our neighbors to the north; for their fate, now accomplished in infamy, stands before us like a presentment of our own doom, if we but fail to remain vigilant.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:05 PM |

Monday, May 23, 2005  

It is a repetitive feature of the polemics of proponents of homosexual unions to argue that there is no “evidence” that this enormous, unprecedented innovation will result in lasting spoliation of society. As reader Jesurgislac phrases it in the comments below, “Though many have tried, no one has come up with any actual facts. It’s an unscientific fantasy that same-sex civil marriage ‘damages society.’”

By thus limiting the range of acceptable evidence in such a manner as to nearly insure that their position will prevail — in the first place because sociological facts of the kind demanded will be years if not decades in coming (it took 25 years for the alarm sounded by Daniel P. Moynihan about the deterioration of the black family to really enter the public mind), and in the second place because they have preemptively ruled out of order any assessment of the moral climate of society — the Liberals have accomplished a rhetorical maneuver of great efficacy. They have chosen the field of battle, and we should not be surprised to discover that it is one very favorable to them.

Hence if we say that the very fact that, as a consequence of the logic of gay marriage, we are now obliged to reassemble the arguments against polygamy, bestiality, incest and perhaps even pedophilia, and present them to the public in only the very narrow language of legal rationalism; if we say that this alone indicates the damage sodomite “marriage” has inflicted on our society, they will reply that such evidence is unscientific, subjective, or some such term of sociological derision, and dismiss it from the debate.

When men cannot see that forcing a society to make a dramatic reappraisal “on the merits” of such patent moral and social deformities as polygamy and incest, is evidence of a drab regression and decay, then they have abandoned the virtue of discernment. They have lobotomized themselves. Scientific rationalism cannot judge of moral progress or retrogression, and therefore it must rule moral facts out of order. It would be as if we demanded that, in order to enter the public debate at all, the Liberal must first disabuse himself of all notions, concepts and language of “rights.” He would be struck dumb.

So as is frequently the case, on examination we perceive that the Conservatives are not opposed to objective progress after all — they are simply opposed to degeneration masquerading as progress. Our civilization made great progress — real, objective moral progress, progress that many societies, past and present, never made — by driving polygamy and incest out of our society (to the extent that we could); and now the “progressives” want to revisit it, because the logic of their favored innovation requires it — and all this in the name of progress.

Therefore I say that one of the most urgent tasks for Conservatives today, in the gloaming of modernity, is to dislodge this idol of Progress from the public mind, for it is a strange and jealous idol indeed. Now again: it is not real progress or advancement, much less concrete achievement, that we object to, but rather (a) enervation and rot impersonating progress, and, even more importantly, (b) the idea of Progress as a mindless but intentional historical process; purpose without mind; Providence without God; a notion of directional objective conjured, somehow, by directionless forces. The first is self-deception of a very base order, of the kind that makes otherwise thoughtful men imagine we are actually advancing when we take up anew, with pomp and solemnity, the question of whether a society which indulges incest and pedophilia is better, ceritas paribus, than one which proscribes them; and the second is nothing but absurd superstition. But I am afraid it is simply true that these two dreary things together comprise a not insignificant portion of the modern Liberal’s intellectual furniture; and because Liberalism is the dominant ideology, these two dreary things thus comprise a significant portion of the collective bafflement and alienation of our age.

It is simply assumed, for example, that we have made progress in the area of education; that organized ignorance has been, if not defeated, at least held at bay. This assumption becomes increasingly untenable as a man becomes more familiar with the literature of the past, until he is confronted with the distinct possibility that it is but a self-serving illusion. The most decisive evidence belying the conventional story of educational progress is the sense which builds on the reader that the older a book is, the more it can naturally demand of its readers. He discovers, with perhaps a bit of a shock, that a book from the late 19th century could print passages of untranslated Latin, Greek, French and perhaps even German and trust in the resources of the reader to discern its meaning. The latter two, of course, could be explained away as bespeaking of a primarily European audience, but I do not see how the former two can mean anything but a deeper learning in the reading public. We may have more broadly dispersed some learning, but we have in the process leveled it markedly; it is at least an open question whether these two developments together constitute progress.

Anyway, Progress is a superstition because, as Chesterton once put it in another context, it is a hoary relic, a narrow fragment chipped from a larger and saner whole. Our progressive believes that there is purposeful order to the universe, and especially purposeful order in history, but he recoils from the logic behind this belief. He asseverates with great gusto the last philosophical application of a specific theology, but hacks away the whole scaffolding of the theology itself. For the principle of Divine Providence is simply a deduction from the logic of Christian Revelation; from, specifically, the miraculous logic of the Incarnation, when the omnipotent and merciful Lord of Creation entered bodily into history. Once admit that God really became a Galilean carpenter (the really astonishing idea) and it is hardly absurd to posit that God is also the meticulous and mysterious craftsman of history. But what are we to make of those who deny with indignation and understandable bewilderment that God became man, and yet cling to the distant deduction that a mysterious Purpose guides history? We see them write and speak of history as a story of progress and enlightenment, yet fail completely to grasp the unreason in talking of a story with no Author.

So at once we have progress that is an imposture (and frankly, not particularly well-concealed one: for what great insight is there in affirming that polygamy is an evil?); and progress that is little more than superstition. Two fine things for good men to oppose without apology.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:47 PM |

Friday, May 20, 2005  

Lee Harris analyzes the history and nuance of the filibuster in this engrossing essay. First-rate work.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:15 PM |

Tuesday, May 17, 2005  

Bravo to The New York Sun for its fine editorial on the Newsweek brouhaha. It very sensibly reminds readers of the obvious: Whatever mistakes Newsweek made, there is no excuse for the mayhem that followed in the Muslim world.

But few are inclined to point this out, and the more irritable among us might suspect that the spirit of dhimmitude is spreading in our society like wildfire. “Disrespect for the holy Koran is something the United States will never tolerate,” declares Secretary Rice. Oh yes? Since when is the Koran exempt from the criticism, disrespect, and mockery of religion that is such a notable feature of American life?

”Ms. Rice is a brilliant individual,” the editorial reads; “but she — and a number of other individuals in the administration — are reacting to the Newsweek imbroglio in a way that comes close to pandering to the sensibilities of our Islamist enemies.” Indeed.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:25 PM |

Monday, May 16, 2005  

Opponents of homosexual marriage are regularly assured that their private views, especially if they are religious views, will still be protected once the full range of homosexual emancipation (including, of course, gay marriage) has been achieved. No one will force a church to marry two men. No one will infringe upon your right to hold and speak your beliefs about the nature of homosexuality.

But the trends in jurisprudence, especially in those nations just a few short steps ahead of the United States, belie this reassurance. Writing in Touchstone, Rory Leishman provides a detailed catalogue of the harrying scrutiny, harassment, and finally, legal penalties to which Canadians are subject if they publicly deviate from Liberal orthodoxy on homosexuality. A mayor fined $10,000 for refusing to proclaim a gay Pride Weekend in her town, and ordered to issue the proclamation, her freedom of religious expression being emphatically subordinate to the equality of homosexuality; a print shop owner fined $5,000 for refusing, in his private business, to print materials for a gay organization, and duly ordered to print the materials; a school teacher ordered to stop writing letters to the editor denouncing homosexuality or lose his job; a citizen and a newspaper editor each ordered to pay $4,500 in damages for publishing a newspaper ad which included biblical versus condemning homosexuality; a Catholic high school ordered to allow a 17-year-old to attend a dance with his partner; civil marriage commissioners (as well as “virtually everyone else engaged in the provision of secular services for marriage ceremonies”) ordered to marry gays or lose their jobs, their personal beliefs notwithstanding; and so on. Meanwhile in Europe, a nominee for justice commissioner was rejected because, being Roman Catholic, he cleaved to Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

This is a long and portentous list, and hardly exhaustive. Of course neither Canada nor Europe is not the United States, but it is fair to say that here we get a glimpse of the minatory posture of the homosexualist legal strategy. The drab picture painted by Mr. Leishman — an increasingly familiar one — is, in the final analysis, the inevitable consequence of the legal regime of Tolerance. For tolerance, when enshrined as a guiding dogma, must become an oppression. Tolerance knows no principles outside itself; there is nothing within it to check its own action. A Christian aspires to extend charity to his opponents, because his Savior commanded that he love even his enemy; a Muslim seeks to extend tolerance to his fellow man because he feels deeply the awesome equality of man before God; but Tolerance knows not love or charity or the brotherhood of man. If a thing — a sentiment, a belief, an argument, a man — is judged to be intolerant it deserves no quarter. It is antithetical to the guiding dogma: an insufferable heresy, in the strict definition. To countenance it is to renounce Tolerance as a dogma.

Thus envisaged, we must recognize that the regime of Tolerance is profoundly intolerant, and it contains within it the ineradicable potential for justified cruelty and brutality — for again, on its own principles there are no grounds for clemency for the heretics, that is, for the unapologetically intolerant. More deeply, we must recognize that true tolerance cannot be achieved by recourse to the doctrine of “rights” with which we are all so comfortable, but instead only by recourse to the older, saner language of duties and obligations; those things that bind us, not those that loose us. In other words, true tolerance depends on the public recognition of duties, and duties only make sense philosophically by reference to that which transcends us, a higher law to which we are all subject and to which we all owe obedience.

The project of secular Tolerance is emasculated at its very foundation; as it runs its course through our societies we will only see more of oppression in the name of tolerance.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:36 PM |

Wednesday, May 11, 2005  

Good old James Bowman demolishes the new film Kingdom of Heaven here. What a shame. The Crusades, treated justly and sensitively, could make for a tremendous film.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:33 PM |

Monday, May 09, 2005  

David Warren, writing in Commentary, reviews the controversial scholar Bat Ye’or’s explosive book Eurabia. The essay (which is not online, unfortunately) is hardly uncritical, but Mr. Warren ultimately does endorse most of her conclusions.

They are not conclusions likely to be greeted warmly. Indeed, it is rather difficult to even imagine them receiving a fair consideration. The prejudices of political correctness are too potent.

Bat Ye’or has made it her business to document the similarity in the modes employed from one cultural location to another, especially the peculiar “ratcheting method” by which, over time, a subject group is pressured to convert to Islam-in order to escape oppressive taxation, dispossession, enslavement, or periodic massacre. What makes her writings the bolder is her insistence — she is hardly shy about quoting or citing references to the Qur’an and hadiths — that the oppression of minorities under Islam is not a product of historical accident and circumstances. Indeed, she argues, sometimes with stridency, it is intrinsic to the religion, which everywhere insists not only upon the subjugation of all non-Islamic peoples but upon their humiliation.

Warren summarizes the book at hand:

The argument of Eurabia is that a formal structure to accommodate the transfer of Europe to Islamic rule began to be assembled long ago. The impetus came during the first OPEC oil embargo in 1973-4, but the process really began to take off with the second embargo of 1979. Soon thereafter it assumed the form of a specific bureaucratic initiative: the “Euro-Arab Dialogue,” an official program of the European Union. This long-running project has left an immense paper trail, which Bat Ye’or expounds throughout the length of her new book.

Meanwhile, a writer named Olivier Guitta reports on the fruits of the dialogue:

On March 8, tens of thousands of high school students marched through central Paris to protest education reforms announced by the government. Repeatedly, peaceful demonstrators were attacked by bands of black and Arab youths — about 1,000 in all, according to police estimates. The eyewitness accounts of victims, teachers, and most interestingly the attackers themselves gathered by the left-wing daily Le Monde confirm the motivation: racism.

Some of the attackers openly expressed their hatred of “little French people.” One 18-year-old named Heikel, a dual citizen of France and Tunisia, was proud of his actions. He explained that he had joined in just to “beat people up,” especially “little Frenchmen who look like victims.” He added with a satisfied smile that he had “a pleasant memory” of repeatedly kicking a student, already defenseless on the ground.

Another attacker explained the violence by saying that “little whites” don’t know how to fight and “are afraid because they are cowards.” Rachid, an Arab attacker, added that even an Arab can be considered a “little white” if he “has a French mindset.” The general sentiment was a desire to “take revenge on whites.”

In the article we learn of a leaked French government report on education, which describes Muslim students as young as first graders reporting their nationality as Muslim, and “[insisting] that they can’t be French since they are Muslim.” The situation in Sweden may be even worse.

And so we face an old problem, made new again by our own narrowness. Mr. Warren enunciates the matter in stark terms: “There can be no real ‘dialogue’ between these civilizations, only a contest of will.” It is a contest of will that has occupied much of the history of the last 1,400 years; has concentrated the minds of men as seemingly distant from us as those of Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire; has brought down whole civilizations, and sparked the revival of others; has outlived a thousand fashionable things thought in their times eternal. I fail to see convincing reasons for why the things we think eternal — freedom, democracy, markets, technology — will prove much different. It is only our invincible self-infatuation (admittedly, not a trait uncommon among men) that leads us to scoff at this contest of the profoundest antiquity and gravity, this contest over the souls of men and the fate of nations. Its endurance is astonishing. Is there anything else in history like it?

Hopelessly entangled with this is all the confusion unleashed by the big blunder of secularism. To a secularist religion must always remain an enigma. All the contempt of the irreligion’s catchphrases cannot efface its final bafflement. And Europe, and indeed much of America, is quite baffled not only by Islam but also by Christianity.

But this is no reason for Christians to lose sight of the tremendous history of their rivalry with the men of Crescent, much of which rivalry played out over the territory of historical Christendom, that is, Europe. That American Christians would come to contemn the threat to the lands from which their faith springs is more than alarming; it is a grave failure of imagination and piety. To my Christian brethren it may be comforting to think of Christianity as a disembodied essence, detached from solid forms of reality such as a church, a community, a nation or civilization; it is easy to make of it a Platonic ideal, perfectly abstract, which at the moment is best approached in America. It is comforting and easy — and it is naturally American — but it is wrong. St. Paul’s words in the Epistle to the Romans comprise a stirring rebuke to this tendency: “We are members one of another.” Or again in 1 Corinthians: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” The concrete, physical imagery here is unmistakable: Christianity is not only a set of ideas, but also a real community of souls, stretching across time and space, integrated by all the deep sentiments suggested by the word home. To be a Christian is, yes, to assent to the doctrines of the faith, but also it is to be part of that community, a member of that community.

Christianity cannot be torn free from its historical body Christendom without the most violent of surgeries. The blow we would sustain if we were to simply give up on Europe would be a cruel and severe one indeed. To allow Islam — or Islamism, if you insist — to retake what was once the Western Roman Empire, as it did much of the Eastern Roman Empire, is to bow supinely before catastrophe. The catastrophe may indeed come, but let us not be silent or cynically mild about it. Let us not pretend that if Chartres were replaced by a mosque it would be none of our business. Let us not forget the prophetic office.

There is no denying that Europe is decadent; some will say she is dying, though Europe has seen dark days before — some of which lasted so long they achieved the appellation of Dark Age. But can we deny that her decadence is merely a more advanced form of our own; that her death merely presages our own? And neither is there any denying that to sever ourselves from this our parent would be as traumatic as cutting off a limb, for we are members one of another.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:03 PM |

Another one for the “you can’t make this stuff up” file:

Girls who wrestled for several Puget Sound-area middle schools this year easily won their matches against boys from two private schools.

The girls stepped onto the mat. Their opponents from Tacoma Baptist and Cascade Christian stayed in their seats. The referee then raised the girls’ hands to signal they'd won by forfeit.

But the easy victories didn’t sit well with the girls, including Meaghan Connors, a seventh-grader at McMurray Middle School on Vashon Island. Her father, Jerry, is prepared to go to court over what he considers a clear case of sex discrimination. [more]

posted by Paul Cella | 6:30 PM |

Tuesday, May 03, 2005  

Noah Millman has sketched out his own vision of an ideal “core curriculum” for undergraduate students, and it is stimulating stuff indeed. He suggests some profound difficulties that the endeavor faces then proceeds to propound his principles:

My notion of the purpose of a core includes: introducing students to a variety of academic disciplines; forcing them to grapple with enduring questions and problems; expanding their souls and their capacity to appreciate life in an intellectual capacity; bringing them greater understanding of the intellectual tradition that they inherit; deepening their engagement as citizens with their responsibilities as such; and, by means of the foregoing, to become better versions of who they are.

Much of what Mr. Millman includes is altogether predictable, as it should be; but several of his constituents are unexpected and intriguing. For example: Principles of Aesthetics, the goal of which course “is to cultivate a serious, informed appreciation of the arts not only in a museum or concert setting but at home and in all of life, and to convince students that the aesthetic should be one key priority in their lives, that they should not tolerate ugliness or settle for the bland and drab but should put in the effort to surrounding themselves with beauty.” A worthy inclusion, in my opinion, for our civilization is growing increasingly ugly. I for one feel the lack of an aesthetic awareness in my own education.

I am in full agreement with Millman on the inclusion of a study of logic and rhetoric. The poverty of our public debate is evidence of this deficiency: most people seem repulsed, frightened, aggravated or simply baffled by the prospect of a respectful but serious argument, and are driven consequently to the cheap expedients of bluster and cynicism.

One important addition that I would make is Theology (though perhaps Millman includes this is his Origins of the Western Tradition course.) A core curriculum must include some survey course on theology, leaning heavily on Judeo-Christian sources of course, but also with some introduction to other religions. In short, I am quite persuaded by Cardinal Newman’s brilliant argument in his The Idea of a University: no serious education can neglect theology. We should not here be deterred by the thorny questions of pluralism or sectarianism; indeed, it is the very narrowest of sectarianism, when confronted with these questions, to simply throw up one’s arms in defeat.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:02 PM |

Monday, May 02, 2005  

Who made the Anglosphere? The Beatles, according to Colby Cosh. That’s right: The Beatles. And again we get a little demonstration of how innovative and unique a writer Mr. Cosh is.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:59 PM |
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