Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Monday, August 22, 2005
The President is, first and foremost, the nation’s Chief Executive. Before all others his constitutional duty is the faithful execution of the duly-enacted laws of the country. It is true, of course, that over time the President’s office has acquired some notable accretions — making it, on the one hand, more and more akin to the office of a prime minister, and, on the other, more and more akin to the figure of a titular or symbolic sovereign. It can be reasonably argued that the institution of the Presidency has become much greater in scope and responsibility than what was envisaged by the framers. It can be also argued, perhaps more dubiously, that the Presidency has over the decades merely evolved in a manner natural to its original conception. But it cannot be argued that the Presidency has jettisoned its original mandate of Executive.
All this may strike the reader as annoyingly pedantic, but I submit that the laying down of first principles is never useless; it shall not return void.
On the evidence, the administration of George W. Bush has failed to discharge this first duty in the area of immigration law and border security. The evidence, also, points to a willful negligence — in short, it points not to incompetence but to treachery. When the highest officer of a republic, in the service of ideology, interest, or avarice, employs the power vested in him to subvert the very laws of the republic he serves, he justly opens himself to the sort of charges that our rhetoric usually reserves for the most extravagant of outbursts. But the extravagance here lies with the perfidy of the Administration.
That Mr. Bush personally dislikes and disagrees with our immigration laws is no strike against him; that he would have us change said laws, and bring them in accordance with his economic and political dogma, is no strike against him; that he would lend his authority and influence to the legislative effort to change them is no strike either. But that he would deliberately fail to enforce the laws his administration inherited, deliberately let them rot while adopting the pretense that they are unenforceable, is a strike not merely against his honor and his integrity as a public official, but also against his credibility as an advocate for change. It is particularly damaging in light of the fact that many of his appeals for liberalization of immigration law are, rhetorically at least, attached to promises of more vigorous enforcement. The pattern is cynicism compounded upon duplicity, and it amounts to this:
We will quietly undermine and sabotage your benighted laws, fellow citizens, and then appear on the scene as the disinterested lawgiver to reform the failing laws; we will introduce a poison, and then act the part of the loyal doctor with counsels of difficult but effective antidotes; we will impoverish those among without a voice and enrich those whose wealth gives them leave to whisper in our ear; we will subject you to our factional will with careful emollients of republicanism and tradition; we will subvert to strengthen, complicate to simplify, emasculate to fortify, and baffle to bring clarity.
To this amazing tissue of calculated sophistry and usurpation, our reply should be refreshingly direct: “No. Your promises of enforcement? — we don’t believe you. You must prove your fidelity to our laws, whatever you may think of them, before you come to us with reform. You must demonstrate that you can administer faithfully that which you do not hold in high estimate, and enforce what you would not advocate, before you seek to remake it to your own ideal. Show us real border security and we will show you reasonable compromise on amnesty; show us stern and cold deportations, and a stoicism in the face of the howls that will surely greet such difficult business, and we will give you thoughtful intercourse on increased legal immigration. Desist with your supplications to the Left and the plutocrats, both here and in Mexico, and we will show sympathy for your political entanglements. In short, treat us like citizens and not subjects and we will have little difficulty with your leadership.”posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 PM |
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Thomas F. Madden writes vividly in defense of the Crusades, and I say without reservation that they are worthy of defense, if indeed any war undertaken to liberate what was conquered by violence, rapine, and plunder is deserving of defense. If there was justice in the effort to liberate Europe from the yoke of the German invader in 1944, then there was justice in the effort to liberate Anatolia and Palestine from the yoke of the Muslim invader in 1099. And in both instances, the invader’s appetite was far from satiated. Madden writes,
Now of course it will be objected that the Crusaders perpetrated massacres in the course of their journey — in the First Crusade, for example, massacring Jews in the Rhineland while on the march, and later in the thrill of victory massacring many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Conceded. The massacres occurred. But every army (indeed every large collection of men) contains within it murderers, brigands and madmen; every crowd contains the seeds of mass lunacy; and no war yet prosecuted proved bereft of massacres. Shall we repudiate the justice of the Second World War because we massacred the civilians of Hiroshima and firebombed German cities? These latter, in contrast to the Crusader crimes, were the deliberate action of Allied policy; and while many have agonized over whether they were justified, few have asseverated that they were but flashes of momentary passion envenomed by bloodlust and malice.
What is lost in the contemporary controversies, benighted as they are by ignorance and mendacity, is the high adventure of the Crusades, a romance that until recently was well understood by every Christian boy who cared to hear the legends of his forefathers. As Madden puts it,
But this joy was short-lived, swept aside by the gradual defeat of the Crusader kingdoms and the continued expansion of Islam. Moreover, the great rift between East and West in the Christian church discloses, aside from their final failure, the real tragedy of the Crusades.
We forget how threatened Christendom really was. The magnificent Byzantine Empire (which called itself Roman until the end: Byzantine” is our word) lay in ruins, the Balkans captured, much of Spain occupied, southern France menaced, Italy raided repeatedly, Vienna besieged. “The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom,” writes Madden. He concludes,
posted by Paul Cella |
1:03 PM |
SUB SPECIE AETERNATIS: It is something of a modern habit of thought (strange to say) to conceive of the soul — whether we believe in the soul or not — as a kind of magical essence or ethereal intelligence indwelling a body like a ghost in a machine. That is to say, we tend to imagine the relation between the soul and the body as an utter discontinuity somehow subsumed within a miraculous unity: a view capable of yielding such absurdities as the Cartesian postulate that the soul resides in the pituitary gland or the utterly superstitious speculation advanced by some religious ethicists that the soul may “enter” the fetus some time in the second trimester. But the “living soul” of whom scripture speaks, as John Paul makes clear in his treatment of the creation account in Genesis, is a single corporeal and spiritual whole, a person whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind; it is what Thomas Aquinas called the “form of the body”: a vital power that animates, pervades, and shapes each of us from the moment of conception, holding all our native energies in a living unity, gathering all the multiplicity of our experience into a single, continuous, developing identity. It encompasses every dimension of human existence, from animal instinct to abstract reason: sensation and intellect, passion and reflection, imagination and curiosity, sorrow and delight, natural aptitude and supernatural longing, flesh and spirit. John Paul is quite insistent that the body must be regarded not as the vessel or vehicle of the soul, but simply as its material manifestation, expression, and occasion. This means that even if one should trace the life of the body back to its most primordial principles, one would still never arrive at that point where the properly human vanishes and leaves a “mere” physical organism or aggregation of inchoate tissues or ferment of spontaneous chemical reactions behind. All of man’s bodily life is also the life of the soul, possessed of a supernatural dignity and a vocation to union with God.
— David B. Hart, in a cogent and illuminating essay in the current New Atlantis.posted by Paul Cella | 8:01 AM |
Monday, August 15, 2005
John Fonte’s “An Open Letter to Tamar Jacoby” is a crisp, polite demolishing of the Open Borders ideology that seems regnant among the elites of both parties, but is detested by the people themselves. Mr. Fonte shows that Jacoby merely masquerades as a conservative; that her enthusiasm for assimilation is dubious, her concern for the principle of citizenship imaginary, and her commitment to multiculturalism complete.
Mr. Fonte’s letter points to the problem most immigration skeptics have with our interlocutors in this rancorous debate: We just don’t believe them. We don’t believe that they really care much about border control. We don’t believe their odes to assimilation. We don’t believe that they really care about the territorial integrity of our country. A fine example of this tincture of duplicity can be seen in John Fund Wall Street Journal article today, which concludes, “If Mr. Bush wants to leave office having brought about real immigration reform along with an increase in Hispanic support for Republicans, he must also pull off the delicate balancing act of convincing Americans that the federal government hasn’t lost complete control of the border.” In other words, You don’t have to actually do anything about immigration, Mr. President; you just have to pretend you have. This is cynicism of a very base order.posted by Paul Cella | 2:03 PM |
Pierre Laval was a French collaborator during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War. He was executed for treason after the war. Several years later his Diary was released; and in 1948 Richard Weaver reviewed it for The Commonweal:
Reading this, I recalled, in one of those inexplicable flashes of memory, that the great cultural historian (and, it bears remembering, Frenchman) Jacques Barzun had attempted, however briefly, to vindicate Laval in his From Dawn to Decadence:
Weaver is much more cautious in his assessment, and rightly so, for Barzun, for all his erudition and wisdom, has, it seems to me, indulged a rather wild extravagance here. Weaver continues:
Weaver continues: “In actual cases, whether one who enters into engagements with the victorious enemy is to be regarded as a traitor to his country, or a patriot called upon to perform an onerous duty seems to have turned upon a purely pragmatic point”; namely, whether “the enemy is destined to be ousted soon,” or is there “for an indefinite stay.” Weaver’s complaint is that “while this standard applies, one’s political virtue depends on his skill as a military forecaster.” Laval’s very plea evinces this consideration: “Call in question if you will my good sense, my political sagacity or statesmanship, but not my patriotism.”
Weaver then sketches his own solution to the difficulty:
Reading this essay, one is struck again by how undeservedly neglected a writer Mr. Weaver is. Here in a short review he at once throws into relief several vexing and permanent political questions and then casts some bright, if brief, illumination upon them. That is no mean feat.posted by Paul Cella | 12:23 PM |
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
It has come to light that Judge John Roberts provided some sort of lawyerly assistance to the effort to overturn Colorado’s Amendment 2, a law which forbade special legal protections for homosexuals. The law was indeed overturned, by the Supreme Court in the 1996 Romer v. Evans decision. We are assured by the White House and some right-wing organizations that Roberts’ participation was minimal (though the lawyers he worked with called it “crucial”); that all he did was play devil’s advocate in order to help prepare the plaintiff’s attorneys for the sort of questions that likely would be put to them by the conservative justices on the Court.
Before I say my piece on this bit of controversy, it is vitally important that we — that is, we American Conservatives — understand what the Romer decision really was. So come, let us reason together.
Here is the text of Colorado’s Amendment 2, which passed in 1992:
The amendment announces that, in the view of the people of the State of Colorado, homosexuals qua homosexuals are entitled to no special protection from discrimination. As Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent: “The Colorado amendment does not, to speak entirely precisely, prohibit giving favored status to people who are homosexuals; they can be favored for many reasons — for example, because they are senior citizens or members of racial minorities. But it prohibits giving them favored status because of their homosexual conduct — that is, it prohibits favored status for homosexuality.”
In overturning this law, the Court gave favored legal status to homosexuality. Moreover, though the majority opinion in Romer delicately avoided mentioning the 1986 Bowers decision, which ruled that state laws criminalizing sodomy were constitutional and which was overturned in the 2003 Lawrence decision, all the force of its reasoning plainly undermined Bowers; as also it undermines any republican remedy to the accomplishment of same-sex marriage short of a constitutional amendment. Again from Scalia’s lucid dissent: “[Amendment 2] put directly, to all the citizens of the State [of Colorado], the question: Should homosexuality be given special protection? They answered no. The Court today asserts that this most democratic of procedures is unconstitutional. Lacking any cases to establish that facially absurd proposition, it simply asserts that it must be unconstitutional, because it has never happened before.”
In short, Romer is very near the heart of the great poison in our politics: the judicial usurpation of politics. It is one of those (increasingly and depressingly numerous) cases where the Court has usurped the proper role of the legislative branch of government and of the people, and illegitimately claimed the power to legislate for itself, based on its own prerogatives. In strict definition, Romer was an act of tyranny (one in a ever-lengthening series) by the Judicial Branch of government against the republic.
In that context I say: It is no small thing for a powerful attorney, of whatever political persuasion, to lend his talent and experience to a usurpation such as this. It is no small thing because (1) the lawyerly trade is, of course, the engine of this usurpation, this nascent tyranny; because (2) any lawyer who acquiesces in it, again whatever his political persuasion, is part of the problem; and because (3) any lawyer who fancies himself a Conservative, if the word has any meaning at all, must understand his vocation to include the conservation of our republican form of government — a form of government which is currently threatened by nothing so much as the mounting tyranny of a lawless judiciary.
There is no surer way to simultaneously enervate a republic and exacerbate the divisions within it — to make it at once weak and rancorous — than to remove the most pressing political questions from the properly political arena. This is what the Court has done; on issue after issue, it has eviscerated our capacity for self-government, made us feeble and grasping subjects of nine-man oligarchy.
The reports on Roberts’ work for the plaintiffs in Romer suggest (suggest, mind you) that he will more likely join the oligarchs than resist them.posted by Paul Cella | 7:35 PM |
Friday, August 05, 2005
Having just returned from a delightful vacation, I have two announcements, of a sort, that should help to appease the just impatience of my readers awaiting more content.
(2) A longer essay of mine on technology and private property appears, at long last, in the current issue of The New Atlantis.
That should give you something to chew on.posted by Paul Cella | 1:45 PM |