Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Friday, June 24, 2005
David Brooks has been reading the polls, and discerns that Americans are pretty fed up with the situation in Iraq.
Brooks’ column is intended as an encouragement, a brief reminder of what is at stake and why, an admonition against despair, a warning that the project cannot be abandoned, that the “consequences of defeat” are too severe to contemplate withdrawal.
I think the column misfires — and misfires for the same reason much of the exhortatory literature of this type misfires: It fails to perceive what is really the source of America’s discontent with respect to Iraq.
The source of the discontent is very simple, and in its simplicity pulverizing. Americans cannot comprehend a clear objective. They thus have no solid picture of victory, no concrete goal in the pursuit of which they will discipline their misgivings and quell their doubts. A friend recently avowed his belief that “Americans remain a warlike people.” I agree with him. There is Jacksonian blood still in these veins. But we must have a clear image — and a relatively simple image — of an ultimate victory in war, toward which we might resolutely set our gaze.
Brooks quotes Franklin Roosevelt from 1942 encouraging the Americans of his era to persevere through doubts and ill-tidings; but the parallel is sadly inapt on precisely the point upon which this whole thorny business hangs. Even the simplest American of 1942 knew exactly what victory in the Second World War entailed; knew almost without thinking about it what victory would look like, namely, the surrender or destruction of Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The simple ironworker or farmer need follow no line of argumentation in democratic political theory, need grasp no necessary connection between liberty and peace, or self-government and amity, to conceive in his mind when the war would be over.
Simplicity is a powerful thing. We Conservatives, when he think hard on it, probably feel a certain pride in the fact that most Americans neither are political theorists nor aspire to be. We appreciate the simplicity we have achieved here; the simplicity of the man who can enjoy a life where politics impinges upon him only rarely — a life, that is, of real liberty. I don’t know if I speak for Conservatives on this next point, but I know that I take a certain pride in the fact that most Americans seem rather immune to the interminable sermonizing about democracy we bear witness to these days. It indicates a kind of savvy simplicity; a knowing smirk in reply to the fulminations of the theorists. What has democracy in the Middle East to do with us?
I’ll grant that it may be true that democracy in the Middle East does have something important and beneficial to do with us. But the thing is not obvious; it must be argued; and thus far in my reckoning it has been argued poorly, with taunts and traducements, if argued at all. Could democracy in the Middle East not issue in Shari’a law and jihadism? If democracy means rule by the will (not to say the whim) of the people, could they not will our decline, even our destruction? The structure of argument and speculation consummating in the precept that democracy in Iraq (or anywhere else in the Middle East) will advance our national interest is many things, but simple is not one of them. There is in it a whiff of that rotten sophistication, that mad abstract theorizing, which exercised Conservatives ever since we awoke on the stage of modern politics; ever since Burke set his brilliant pen against the “sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators” of Revolutionary France.
For it is sophistication that issues in contempt for the love a humble man has for his home; the patriot is usually a simple man. Sacrifice in the service of home he understands; war to repel a threat to home he understands; and the defeat of a power which threatens his home is the only real victory he knows. (Note, of course, that by “simple” I do not mean “stupid”; more nearly I mean “sane.”)
So if Mr. David Brooks (and those who think like him, all the way up to the White House) is really interested in countering the disillusionment that seems to have set in, he ought to put his agile mind to work on the very substantial task of discovering and depicting what victory against Islamic terror will look like. For that vision of real victory, I am convinced, America will shoulder many grave burdens. But for a muddled vision, full of enthusiasms and speculations, of political transformation in lieu of victory over the enemy, America will surely tire.posted by Paul Cella | 2:23 PM |
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Slavery in Denver, by Saudis: “A Saudi Arabian couple is charged in federal court with keeping an Indonesian woman in her early 20s as a virtual slave in their Aurora home for four years while the husband regularly raped her.”10:37 PM |
Saturday, June 18, 2005
SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “Neoconservatism, or conservative liberalism, also occupies a middle ground. Unlike libertarians who seek aggressively to expand the principle of consent through all spheres of human interest, neoconservatives are the prudent or responsible liberals who understand that the tendency of liberal regimes to totalize their central principle constitutes a danger — for the liberal regime itself. They tacitly admit that the liberal regime depends upon a social capital that it does not itself generate. They therefore seek to restrain the liberal principle in select circumstances in the hope of ‘saving liberalism.’ But it is just here that the conservative liberal and the liberal conservative part company. For it would appear that the neoconservatives, when all is said and done, are convinced that the liberal account of political right is in fact final, and their political activity is undertaken on liberalism’s behalf. For the traditionalist, the question of political right remains open, and their political activity is undertaken to defend — for their own sake — human goods that are considered exogenous in liberalism. In other words, traditional conservatives endeavor to correct liberalism, not to save it. That is not to say that traditionalists yearn in any way for the ‘new gods’ of post-modern paganism. Quite the contrary, the traditionalist’s touchstones for the human good all lie in the past, not in some glorious visionary future. When confronted with the ideological monstrosities of our time, neoconservatives and traditional conservatives are certain allies. But until an account of political right appears which does justice to that which liberalism neglects, the traditionalist’s allegiance to the liberal regime remains decidedly grudging.”
— Mark C. Henrie, “Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism.”posted by Paul Cella | 1:41 PM |
Friday, June 17, 2005
The Book Tag parlor game has reached me, and how can I fail to oblige a good man like Michael Brendan Dougherty?
(1) Number of books I own. Probably several hundred. I use the library regularly as well.
(2) Last book I bought. A little pamphlet called Spiritual Gifts by Charles E. Hummel, for my bible study group. Before that, I believe the last book I bought was Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: Volume 1. That was in January, but I have received several books as gifts or review copies since then, and checked out of the library at least a half dozen.
(3) Last book I read. Thomas Woods’ handy but flawed book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, a review of which will appear at another venue shortly.
(4) Five books that mean a lot to me.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Should we react with perfect equanimity to this Time magazine photo-essay of an Islamic school in Bridgeview, Illinois?
Of course perfect equanimity to the appearance of the Other is what multiculturalism demands of us. No matter how alien, no matter how ominous, we are obligated to feel shame at what is for most the natural reaction: unease and wariness. But then there are reports like this one, which seem to indicate that the natural reaction here is the proper one, and by no means shameful: the mosque next door to the school is knee-deep in radicalism, with direct links to the Muslim Brotherhood and indirect links to a variety of unsavory factions, including an indictment for giving financial support to Hamas. The final line of the article is representative of the whole report: “Each time, he vowed to be a voice for the moderates. Each time, he lost.”
The accompanying Time article does tell us that, “The Universal School makes clear its independence from the controversial institution right next door, the copper-domed Bridgeview mosque”; but the reader will search in vain for any evidence to support this assertion and plenty to gainsay it.
One thing that is crystal clear is that many Muslim parents send their children to this school for the same reasons that Christian parents send their children to Christian schools: to escape the decadence of American society. I have nothing but sympathy for them. The assault on the innocence of children is omnipresent and relentless; any decent parent will do whatever he can to resist it.
But here again we confront the very uncomfortable, very unwelcome, but very real dilemma that Islam presents to a Christian country that has always cherished religious pluralism. My own view is that even absent the irritant of Islam, religious pluralism would be a problem; indeed, it is one of the great problems of human politics, and anyone who says otherwise is a dangerous fool. But Islam exaggerates it. Whether we like it or not (and most of us do not), its emergence in America will cast us inevitably back into a quarrel between civilizations that is older than virtually anything else on earth. That our lovable secularists will never comprehend it makes it no less real; that our hidebound multiculturalists detest it makes it no less valid; that our ahistorical Christians have forgotten it makes it no less urgent; that our Liberals (including many who fancy themselves Conservatives) think it quite unreal makes it no less vexatious. A freshman at the school exhibits more wisdom than most Western commentators: “Muslims try to be American, but we don't know how. The cultures are so different.”
The question we must face is whether we want to let this quarrel become an ever-larger part of our own character and destiny as a nation. If we continue to insouciantly let the world come to America, America will soon become the world; and for 1,400 years a conspicuous feature of the world has been the confrontation between Islam and Christendom.posted by Paul Cella | 9:08 PM |
Saturday, June 11, 2005 Via Michael Brendan Dougherty, an article with the intriguing subtitle: “Dorothy Day and the American Right.” On the same subject, here is a vigorous and thoughtful series of essays on Distributism by a writer named Bill Powell. posted by Paul Cella | 11:46 AM |
Friday, June 10, 2005 SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: “It is a severe fact that one cannot take clear stands on many critical issues without expressing contempt for ‘the deeply held convictions of others with whom [one] disagree[s].’ The proper attitude toward a person or position one regards as contemptuous of, say, human life, is contempt--which need not preclude pity, fear, and even compassion. Anything less indicates one does not really take the matter seriously. It is always the fitting implication and sign of honesty in even the most ‘civil’ disputes that the disputants are clearly antagonists whose differences cannot be reconciled or infinitely deferred without there being a winner and a loser.”
— The Japery.posted by Paul Cella | 8:33 PM |
Monday, June 06, 2005 Here is the intrepid Heather MacDonald discussing the almost comical (were it not so repellent) descent of Harvard into the basest of politically correct superstition. It is all in response to President Lawrence Summers’s very mild remarks early this year about the differences in cognitive abilities between men and women. To even utter such a heresy elicits a kind of choke of horror among the academic elite; indeed one witness declared solemnly that Summers’s words (which suggested that one possible reason for the under-representation of women in the hard sciences might be that more men than women possess the highest levels of quantitative reasoning skills) nearly induced her to nausea. Summers was browbeaten into the kind of ritual self-abasement that is so common with these dreary spectacles, and the obligatory “Harvard Report of the Task Force on Women Faculty” resulted.
MacDonald writes derisively of the Report, “Of course, [the Report] contain[ed] not a single novel thought or policy, but it would take a degree of courage possessed by neither corporate nor university chieftains to point that out.” Or again, of the (again perfectly predictable) rush to build new bureaucracies:
Political correctness has moved well beyond parody by now; just reciting the facts is enough.
The Report does concede that “there was a sense that candidates hired with support of the [existing] funds are somehow less qualified,” thus for just a moment allowing the mask to slip and reveal a fleeting picture of the truth. MacDonald comments: “But the task force’s encounter with reality is brief.”
Lawrence Summers, I fear, has made himself a man worthy only of contempt. Harvard as an institution seems destined to follow the same path. Many observers (including MacDonald) have aptly noted how much this diversity dance has the look of a Show Trial to it, a totalitarian thing of predictable machinations. But at times it seems more to resemble a kind of pagan ritual dance, a formalized, choreographed superstition. Whatever image is more apposite, what we can be sure of is that so long as this sort of mentality proves regnant, the America mind will retreat from the famed institutions where it has traditionally reposed; the American Academy (the Ivy League and its imitators and rivals) will die, and another will replace it.posted by Paul Cella | 8:26 PM |
Saturday, June 04, 2005 Lee Harris has a big new essay in Policy Review entitled “The Future of Tradition.” I have not finished reading it yet, but it is sure to be fascinating. posted by Paul Cella | 1:36 PM |
Wednesday, June 01, 2005 Three cheers for Portugal. posted by Paul Cella | 5:53 PM |