Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006  

Image The stunning figure of Orion is rising in the southeast around 9pm this time of year. My children are eager to see Betelgeuse, the impressive star on the northeastern edge of the constellation, not least because of its amusing name. Alas: the trees are too dense around our home, and so Betelgeuse is really not visible until after 10. “Next month,” I keep telling them.

Even in the center of a great city like Atlanta, bathed in artificial light, the reddish hue of this giant is perceptible. My Field Guide to the Night Sky reports that Betelgeuse really is a monster: a “red supergiant” with a diameter comparable to the orbit of the planet Venus (or maybe larger than that: according to Wikipedia, its outer edges would extent to Jupiter; and then there is this comparison of volume: if our Sun were a beach ball, Betelgeuse would be a large stadium). The star is dying. In a thousand years or so, a few moments in the life a star, it will likely explode in a colossal supernova which, according to some astronomers, will achieve an apparent magnitude equal to a full moon. For several months, the holocaust of this star’s demise will be easily visible even during the day.

“Beetlejuice, Daddy! Let’s go look at Beetlejuice,” my children cry; and I am glad. A child, I figure, who lives in anticipation of seeing the stars, is a child still alive to wonder.

To look upon the stars on a clear night, as your eyes make their gradual adjustment to the darkness and the little pinpricks of radiance emerge, is to be struck in a very graphic way by the astounding mystery of being. Out of darkness there is light. There is no necessity behind the existence of the stars, no matter what tangled sophistries our materialists will weave: they just are, and they might not have been. The bare truth is that not even the most subtle science can demonstrate causality: in strict logic in can only demonstrate sequence. Causality is in the mind of man. And I confess that often there is more that is sympathetic in the heady astrologist who sees vast and intricate earthly causality in the movement of the stars, than in the austere materialist who would, by his sterile rationalism, drive wonder from the child-stargazer by teaching a sham causality of Fate. It is all in the tremendous difference between saying “Betelgeuse is a red supergiant” and merely “Betelgeuse is.” The latter is outside the realm of science, and I would sooner trust the wild imagination of the child who tells me a great horned Beetle hid its crimson egg in the sky to protect it from the birds, than the portentous narrative of the materialist that amounts to nothing exploding into something.

I once awoke in early June from a vivid and disturbing, though instantly forgotten dream into that condition of dazed wakefulness which often lends itself to memorable mishaps. For some reason I wandered outside and looked up in the clear summer night. A wave of unforgettable emotion followed; awe, fright and alarm: for it was no longer June but nearer to November. Bright and prominent Vega had drifted up and across the sky; Arcturus was gone, along with Jupiter, which had for some weeks hung in the full radiance of opposition near the constellation Virgo; and the famed Big Dipper had plunged beneath the trees in the northwest. I was disconcerted and oppressed by these shocking changes; my mind reeled.

And then full wakefulness came, and it immediately dawned on me that dawn was near. Relief and not a little embarrassment followed; and, sheepishly, thankful that no one in the neighborhood was around to observe my fretting, I went back inside. Since then, however, I have often fancied that my original alarm might be the truer reaction: for alarming it is that a whole half-year would pass in a single night. In my state of half-sleep, I grasped the essential and shocking precariousness of existence. The Big Dipper, Ursa Major the Great Bear: he might plunge with his guardian Arcturus beneath the northern horizon — and never return. Jupiter might wander off into conjunction behind the sun, and then wander off into nonexistence. Orion the Hunter, and his shoulder Betelgeuse, might vanish forever.

We do not have access to causality in the physical world. That Betelgeuse rose last night around 9pm (invisible behind the clouds) does not, in strict logic, imply that it will rise again tonight. All the rationalism of our materialists cannot demolish, in the end, the surprise we feel, when we have our wonder intact, at the solid fact that things are. Causality is not discoverable in the world; it comes from the mind of man, which has been imprinted by the Mind of God. Seeing is not believing but rather the reverse. And the great enduring sanity of the Christian philosophy was aptly summarized in the wit of Chesterton, that most intuitive of Thomists who, having merely flipped through as mass of Aquinas authorities sat down and dictated what one of the greatest authorities called “without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas”: “If the morbid Renaissance intellectual is supposed to say, ‘To be or not to be — that is the question,’ then the massive medieval doctor does most certainly reply in a voice of thunder, ‘To be — that is the answer.’”

Once acknowledge the mystery and miracle that things are, and a man can live like a man and not a morbid intellectual; he can play with his children under stars called beetles, and drink beer with reverence; he can contend for what is true, and laugh at what is not; he can be still and know that He is God — he Whose very Name is given to us, by the wonderful feebleness of the English language, in the phrase which in its ineffable abundance shatters the all sophistries of the materialists: I AM.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:14 PM |

Wednesday, November 22, 2006  


Writing in Commentary, Daniel Johnson provides a neat summary of the precipitous decline of Britain toward full-blown dhimmitude. As one might expect, considering the sad history of that remarkable people, the Jews are among the first to feel the pressure. A left-wing legislator who declares, “The pro-Israel lobby has got its grips on the Western world — its financial grips”; A right-wing politician who pronounced the Israeli war against Hizballah, “a war crime gravely reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter of Warsaw”; Britain’s widest-circulating newspaper publishing “a cartoon depicting two scenes of devastation, one labeled ‘Warsaw 1943’ and the other ‘Tyre 2006.’”; a dramatic acceleration in anti-Semitic attacks, Muslims being “overrepresented” in the class of assailants — this is the new Great Britain.

In the streets of London the signs read: “we are all Hizballah now.” In the august corridors of the House of Lords, two peers come to blows when one dared to utter a word about Israel’s right to self-defense. In central London a mosque is being built that will be the largest in Europe, auguring what sort of capital that great city will soon be. A local Muslim activist, after disrupting a press conference, is promptly invited on the BBC to give his assessment of things: Home Secretary John Reid is a “murderer,” Blair an “an enemy to Muslims and an enemy to Allah,” and finally, Britain “doesn’t belong to you, or to the Queen, or to the government, but to Allah. He has put us on earth to implement shari’a law.” On the fifth anniversary of September 11, one of the most prominent Muslims in Britain delivers this threat in the Sunday Telegraph: “If that demonization [of Muslims] continues, then Britain will have to deal with 2 million Muslim terrorists — 700,000 of them in London.” The Conservative Party leader delivers a speech, not to stand against this sedition, but to mollify Muslim opinion, expounding on the true nature of the Islamic religion in all the right tones of confident timidity. This is what mass immigration of Muslims into Britain has wrought. This is what the conventional line of appeasement — a “religion of peace” —, repeated by virtually every Western head of state since September 11, has wrought. Britain, the cradle of liberal democracy, the parent of our own constitutional system, as ancient and as venerable an incubator of the habits of liberty and order as there is, has, in the course of less than a decade, walked right up the edge of dhimmitude.

It is staggering to consider the rapidity of this enslavement. Can anyone doubt that British support, however tenuous, for Israel will not long endure after Blair? How long, indeed, before Britain goes the way of Spain — the way, that is, of open capitulation?

It is by now acknowledged, for the most part, that the menace to England is real. The fact that a staid organ of mainstream conservative opinion like Commentary prints so alarming an article as this, is testimony enough. But rarely are any conclusions drawn for our country. The steady stream of Muslim immigrants to America has not slowed since September 11; rather it has increased. Few here have yet dared to consider the sorts of tools so often used in past by this country when she was confronted by systematic subversion: sedition laws, loyalty oaths, and suchlike. The quick and easy resort to platitude, to the old glib words of silence and intimidation, is hardly less quick or easy. It is thought that somehow, by some magic, what has happened there cannot happen here. This would be a strained and unwise assumption even in previous ages when the assimilationist ethic was robust (the same ages, of course, when sedition laws and loyalty oaths were also robust), for Islam is an older, deeper and certainly truer thing than Communism, Jacobinism or Fascism; but today, having watched this ethic, which was once our glory, dismantled by a cacophony of petty ideologies, such an assumption merits a more severe description. Dangerous.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:57 PM |

Thursday, November 16, 2006  

Redstate recently conducted a broad debate, a sort of symposium, on Iraq. Here is my contribution. Image

My trouble with the Iraq war boils down to a pair of vexations: (1) democracy is a profoundly inadequate and possibly perverse answer to what threatens us; (2) and the imposition of democratic theory upon our Iraq policy has introduced a crippling conceptual corruption of our idea of victory. Victory is now said by our leaders to consist of a long series of holding actions against the enemy: first by American troops, and eventually (it is hoped) by Iraqi themselves. Destruction or subjugation of the enemy is not even contemplated. Such a goal can only be conceived as “victory” by a brazen debasement of the word.

On the question of democracy, it is not that Islamic peoples will prove “incapable” of democracy; it is rather that they will prove quite remarkably capable of it, and the result will be the addition of force and legitimacy to radicalism. Under the rubric of democracy we run the terrible risk of abetting the establishment of Jihadist regimes, and lending to them all the authority and prestige of our favored doctrine. If an Islamic democracy chooses Jihad as its driving principle, on our own theoretical grounds how can we gainsay it?

Men thought they knew despotism in the form of the ancien regime; but the introduction of radical democracy by the Revolution in France soon made the world realize that it did not yet know the full range of tyranny; and from that Revolution virtually every revolutionist of the twentieth century derived his utopia. This bloodiest of ages was not foreseen by the men who laid its foundations; and we cannot foresee what will be built upon the foundations we have lain.

In our country democracy and liberty have achieved a curious conflation. The terms have become almost interchangeable, though in strict definition they clearly mean different things. It must be recognized how unusual this is. Lord Acton, for example, wrote of the “elementary antagonism between liberty and democracy.” Tocqueville also perceived an inherent tension between the two: much of the second half of his great work consists of a haunted reflection on the perils of democracy. Rousseau, “first among the theorists of radical democracy” according to Irving Babbitt, is not often thought a great champion of liberty. Yet we — from the President on down — often talk as if the two were one. I do not deplore this instinct, this ingrained conceptual elision — for part of the true genius of America has been this improbable fusion. Here we touch on a signal feature of the American political tradition. And herein lies the difficulty:

President Bush and his men have been careful to repeat at every opportunity their unwillingness to impose “our traditions” upon the people of Iraq. In his Second Inaugural, Bush gave a firm reassurance against imperial democracy: “[W]hen the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling.” Or again, in his 2006 State of the Union address: “Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens.” (Emphasis added to all quotations.)

Thus at the crucial moment, President Bush takes steps to repudiate the specifically American content of the principle he has been celebrating. At the very moment when his doctrine of Democracy turns its attention to the Islamic world, it jettisons, at least in part, the qualities which, flowing from the singular American amalgam of democracy and liberty, make it uniquely fit to disarm the dogma of our enemies, and diminish the conditions which empower that dogma. “Our traditions” are what transform democracy, from being merely an engine of popular passion, or mere factional passion, into a rich tapestry of civilized life, by which liberty may be sheltered. There is in this a devastating theoretical error, which will — indeed it already has — issue in dire practical consequences.

These problems also had consequences in the recent election — the most important being, in my view, the demoralization of a large number of Conservatives, many of whom ended up casting their votes for Democrats in swing districts, especially in the Midwest. Here the conceptual debasement of victory was of greatest importance. The election did not evidence a failure of will on the part of the American people; it demonstrated, once again, their congenital impatience with foreign wars whose connection to national interest is obscured by sophisticated political sermonizing. The debasement of the concept of victory finally, on November 7th, exacted its price.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:59 AM |

Let’s add to our list of woes, shall we: the Republican Party has, in the past six years, deserted the cause of racial equality, and signed on to the antithetical cause of “diversity.” This according to Harry Stein, writing in City Journal. One of the few bright spots amidst the gloom of last week’s election was the victory of the anti-affirmative action measure in Michigan. This victory came altogether without institutional support from the GOP, and in the teeth of a rich, egregious and bitter opposition. It is the former obstacle, however, that is most galling.

It has not often be recognized, for example, that although the Bush Administration filed briefs against affirmative action in the 2003 Supreme Court cases Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, it conceded the most important ground of all — the ground of “diversity” as “an important and entirely legitimate government objective.” This, of course, was the argument used by Justice O’Connor to, rather deviously as it turns out, consolidate a regime of racial inequality.

As Stein writes,

What the party’s revised stance on race has done — aside from bolstering a civil rights establishment whose prestige had sharply declined and that remains unremittingly hostile to all that the Republican Party stands for — is leave longtime allies more vulnerable than ever to the toxic charge of “racism.” [. . .] Bereft of institutional support, the [Michigan Civil Rights Initiative] runs on a shoestring, operating out of executive director [Jennifer] Gratz’s apartment outside Lansing, where the campaign’s three young full-time workers sleep on the floor. Campaign manager Doug Tietz is only semi-facetious when he points to a state map and remarks, “This section here represents 6 million people — Clark’s in charge of that — and John handles this area, 4 million people.”

These are brave people: for months they were subject to rhetoric violence and political thuggery of the kind that has come to characterize the reactionary socialists of the Left. And the Grand Old Party left them dangling in wind.

Despite all this, they won. Republicans across the country got their hats handed to them, but lonely and beleaguered, a little band of idealists stood for one great ideal of the Party of Lincoln and secured a victory. Three cheers for Ward Connerly, Jennifer Gratz, and the few who stood against many. Shame on the false allies who abandoned them.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:57 AM |
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