Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
With the promulgation of A Reactionary’s Shorter Catechism — and despite its probable deficiencies, beginning even in its questionable character as, indeed, a catechism — we hoped to provoke a conversation. Conversations, after all, are what republics are all about. As distinguished from democracies where the exercise of will is not delayed by a deliberative institution, a republic filters its sovereignty through representative assembles whose primary purpose is to talk. These deliberative assemblies are instituted in order to represent the people, in whom rests the final sovereignty — in the idiom of the Federalist, it rests in “the people themselves” — and therefore the debate inside these institutions is expected to reflect a larger debate outside them, that is, out there in the republic.
One of the clear points of contention in the conversation that ensued upon the promulgation of the dubious Catechism, concerned the status of what was called the “Liberal pact.” This pact is probably best described as of Lockean providence; and it signifies that quintessential “functional atheism” of modern political philosophy. Man is conjectured, at least for political purposes, as driven primarily by his acquisitive passions. He is defined by his desires. He is through and through a material being. Thus politics becomes an enterprise of peace-making in the midst of what would otherwise be a ruthless pursuit of these things, a “war of all against all.” The peace-maker is accepted by all men, in their emergence from this brutish “state-of-nature,” and this contract is the foundation of the State. In the darker visions, where a solid sense of the Fall endures, the State becomes Leviathan. In the brighter versions, it becomes a mere adjudicator of competing rights-claims. But in all versions, the permanent questions of God and Man — or, if you like, of the nature and destiny of man — are, as my co-author put it, “bracketed” and removed to the private realm.
Much of our conversation concerned the status of this theory — another common phrase for it is “social contractarian” — in the American political tradition. Is America, or is she not, a nation founded upon a strict social contract model of politics?
Now let us not underestimate the importance of this question. A great deal hangs upon it; and until we dispel the confusion that surrounds it — one need only look at the long and convoluted comments discussing it to realize that there is considerable confusion indeed — the progress of our conversation (which, to repeat, is what republics are all about) will be hindered. For instance, if the pact is in force, if it enjoys constitutional status, then our Liberals are quite right to fear and loathe the encroachment of religion upon politics; for these encroachments, even when they have no official state sanction, augur a dangerous usurpation of the contract from whence comes the very legitimacy of the state. In constituting ourselves a people we deliberately set aside such questions; our first act as a nation was to “bracket” questions of the nature and destiny of man. Nor is that all: for not only is religion a usurpation, or at any rate an aspiring one — so, also, is justice, or at least justice defined as anything other than the fulfilling of contracts. As one of the Republic’s great writers put it, “This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation” — except that the statement was true, not merely when Justice Scalia wrote it, in a dissent to a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, but from the moment when the American Republic began. Morals legislation means laws designed to, as it were, interfere in even private contracts for no other reason than that the moral sense of the community is offended by them. Morals legislation, strictly speaking, does not speculate that the activity to be proscribed is physically harmful (though it may occasionally call upon physical harm as an ancillary argument), and thus, in the social contractarian view, it cannot be justified, because only physical harm, a threatened reprise of the “war of all against all,” can rouse Leviathan. Quite apart from its validity — a question which the Peace-maker State remains pristinely agnostic about — the Peace-maker State is not in the business of enforcing the morality of the community.
Nor is that all: the acceptance of the social contract model as fundamental to our political tradition means that the Libertarian view of Free Speech is unassailable. It is obvious that the peaceful adjudication of competing desires requires a free interchange of ideas and expression. It is clear, moreover, that only physical violence may rouse Leviathan. Therefore, a sort of Free Speech absolutism must reign. Exceptions from this orthodoxy (and even the strictest Libertarian must recognize some exceptions) will be afforded only the most grudging of acknowledgements, and even then only by various legal devices of dubious character. Again, the point to emphasize is that the Liberal pact will not allow the exercise of the moral sense of the community to operate through legislation.
I do not flatter myself that this debate can be ended here and now. My more humble purpose is to merely advance the conversation. With that in mind, I will offer a few brief sketches of the sort of solid evidence that this theory must contend with in order to be persuasive. In short, I aim to offer counterpoints to the argument that the Liberal pact is at back of the American political tradition.
(a) The Preamble to the United States Constitution. In a word, it is not the sort of prefatory note one would expect from strict social contractarians. It sets out six purposes toward which “We the People” aspire; and several of them do not fit the bill of the Liberal pact at all. One of our purposes is Union or unity. Another is the establishment of Justice. Yet another embraces not merely “ourselves” but also “our Posterity,” thus unmistakably expanding the supposed contract to men and women not yet even alive, and therefore quite unable to assert their desires.
(b) Self-government. One of the most crucial phrases in the Federalist is this one: “the deliberate sense of the community.” Both Hamilton and Madison use it, and moreover use it will sweeping implications. Madison (No. 63): “the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers . . .” Hamilton (No. 71) “The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs . . .” Now this sounds suspiciously like an endorsement of moral legislation. If the deliberate sense of the community on obscenity, on sedition, on deceptive advertising, or on a dozen other things, is to be thwarted by the social contract at back of our tradition — why, then, according to Publius both “free government” and “the republican principle” is frustrated by the very document by which we made ourselves a republic under a free government. In other words, the Liberal pact stands in opposition to self-government; indeed it prevents self-government on some matters touching on things, judging by the intensity of the debate on them, of deep importance to a great many people. We are, according to this theory, a republic that thwarts the republican principle; and a government that by design stands in contrast to “all free governments.”
(c) Lincoln and purpose. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In this most famous of all sentences in American oratory, Abraham Lincoln actually sets forth four propositions. (1) “Our fathers brought forth . . . a new nation.” (2) It was “conceived in Liberty.” (3) It was “dedicated” to a “proposition.” (4) This proposition was “that all men are created equal.” All but one (the first) of these propositions is in tension with the Liberal pact. Lincoln may be espousing a contractarian theory of sorts, but it is emphatically not one defined by the adjudication of material desires. Proposition 3 alone seems quite irreconcilable with the Liberal pact. The new nation is “dedicated” to a higher purpose, which is something much more than mere procedural neutrality. If equality — so high a purpose as to require the bloody butcher’s bill commemorated by Lincoln in his brief oration — is conceived as nothing more than the neutrality of the state in the peaceful pursuit of acquisition, well, then I’m a donut.
(d) The Declaration of Independence. In American literature there is also a most famous of all passages — the one to which Lincoln hearkened back. Usually its later clauses are emphasized, but it seems to me that the ringing phrase with which it opens deserves more careful attention: “we hold these truths.” Our fathers brought forth a new nation, and they set its foundation upon truths held in common: shared beliefs about, if I may be so bold in rounding out my argument, the nature and destiny of man. To fancy that these shared truths extend only to the neutral character of the state, and the desire for peace in the midst of competition is, I’m afraid, to render much of the power and nobility of the American tradition absurd. It is a strange and almost pathetic man who, “with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” pledges his Life, his Fortune and his sacred Honor to the cause of procedural neutrality in the service of acquisition.
Those who set the Liberal pact at back of the American tradition have some tangles indeed to unravel.posted by Paul Cella | 2:24 PM |
With this — “There is no place in our society for discrimination. That’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.” — Tony Blair has proclaimed the constitution of Liberal society. Of course, even in this, there is mendacity, for what the British Prime Minister is actually supporting is not any “right” but a piece of coercion. His Government will provide no exemption from its supreme principle of non-discrimination for the Catholic Church; the latter will be coerced into compliance, or she will cease to facilitate the adoption of children. “There can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination.”
Britain has enthroned Nondiscrimination as its King; and he is a jealous monarch indeed. But he is quite feeble. He can tyrannize his own but he cannot protect them. He commands no respect, but rather provokes contempt. It is said by many terrorism experts that London is the most dangerous city in the world. Well over a dozen countries have suffered terror attacks perpetrated by residents of that city: London, the very cradle of liberal democracy. One would be hard-pressed to discover a more resounding refutation of the idea of democracy as an antidote to the Jihad than this.
There is no place for discrimination in Great Britain, says Tony Blair; but there is a place for the soldiers and propagandists of the Jihad. Logically, there must be, because Britons, by law, cannot discriminate against them. Even the “moderate” mosques preach sedition, and are protected in this by the titles and honors awarded by this new King. This is liberal democracy, pursued to its logical ends. Discrimination implies inequality, while equality is the very mark of democracy.
The vital thing to understand is that the correction for this madness cannot come from within Liberalism itself. It cannot. The principle of nondiscrimination is unassailable on Liberal theory. “There can be no exemptions.” To check the madness one must look elsewhere.
A number of American Conservatives have cultivated an understandable affection for Tony Blair. They remember that he stood with us in our hour of need. They remember his friendship to America. Understandable this may be (I feel it myself); tenable it is no longer. Tony Blair’s Britain is but a shadow of the Empire. He has overseen the construction of the perfect Liberal State, feeble, licentious, despotic, haven for terrorists but inhospitable for Christians. He is truly the minister of the King.posted by Paul Cella | 2:22 PM |
In an age when so much of what is called conservatism seems to consist of a tenacious defense of the structures of thought which have ushered in our decline — when, in short, conservatives make their boldest efforts to conserve the Liberalism that paralyzes us — there is just cause in adopting the label “reactionary.” It is, after all, only sane to react against madness. “Reaction,” averred Paul Elmer More, “it is essentially to answer action with action, to oppose to the welter of circumstance the force of discrimination and selection, to direct the aimless tide of change by reference to the co-existing law of immutable fact, to carry the experience of the past into the diverse impulses of the present, and so to move forward in an orderly progression.” More was a man of uncommon insight and learning. That he is forgotten, even by his direct descendents on the American Right, is only a mark against them. Below is A Reactionary’s Shorter Catechism, hammered out by myself and long-time Redstate reader Maximos, with input from many others. It is offered in the spirit of More’s further remarks: “If any young man, feeling now within himself the power of accomplishment, hesitates to be called a reactionary . . . let him take courage. The world is not contradicted with impunity, and he who sets himself against the world’s belief will have need of all a man’s endurance and all a man’s strength.” Herewith, we contradict the world:
¶ Human nature is not elastic, but rather constant; and the corrupt aspects will always be with us.
¶ Man is indeed a reasoning being, but often he is moved by nonrational factors. These latter do not bear an intrinsic mark of censure.
¶ There is great peril in the reckless use reason to pry into the nonrational aspects of our history and traditions: like Noah’s son looking upon his nakedness, the brazenness of reason my issue in ruin.*
¶ If progress occurs at all, it is slow, unsteady and often obscure.
¶ The misuse of the label progress has concealed some of the most terrible political calamities in history; the very word has been rendered untrustworthy.
¶ The institution of the State emanates from the nature of man, who is a political animal, organizing collectively to shelter his tradition and community.
¶ Man always expresses the sociality of his nature; the only differences are those of degree. Pure “state-of-nature” individualism is an illusion or a willed act of renunciation.
¶ Prudence, the “the cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues,”† is fundamental in politics. It represents a man’s vital connection with things as they are, without which any action is futile. A man must sit in silence before what is before he can act rightly.
¶ The political realm is the expression of a people’s will-to-survive, and their desire to perpetuate themselves and their culture; it is not an expedient by which the accumulation of wealth is to be made as free of obstacles as rationally conceivable.
¶ No right is more vital to the liberty of a people than the right of private property. A business corporation is but a derivative of private property, and its standing in law should reflect this fact.
¶ Bereft of order, liberty cannot exist. A functional order is the sine qua non of a legitimate state. Moreover, a beneficent civil order is a precious and fragile thing, and requires public vigilance and private virtue to maintain.
¶ There is a presumption in favor of Free Speech, but it is hardly absolute. Few clauses of the Philadelphia Constitution have been more abused, and twisted from their original meaning, than the First Amendment.
¶ Disloyalty is a permanent political problem, and historically has been a particularly ruinous one. There is no facile solution to it. Excesses on either side of it have issued in catastrophe.
¶ A State may legitimately claim the loyalty of its citizens or subjects. This claim, however, is far from absolute.
¶ There no presumption of protection for political discourse ranging over questions of the violent replacement of the Constitution, as the latter not a suicide pact. Sedition is a crime and ought to remain one.
¶ A healthy polity will have a majority population and culture; contemporary orthodoxy on diversity tends towards anarchy and strife.
¶ The right of a community to maintain its identity, autonomy, and independence is among the first principles of a free polity.
¶ A government may become destructive of these ends, calling forth resistance from the community. Revolt, like war, should be analyzed through the two-tier method of traditional Just War doctrine: jus ad bellum and jus in bello. A just cause for revolt may be dishonored by its conduct; and even an unjust cause may be conducted honorably.
¶ The variety of human life is most vivid in the organic development of traditional life. Its deepest wellsprings are in patterns of thought and custom, in mores and liturgy, not superficial qualities. To delight in it is natural; to crush it unnatural and tyrannical; to shelter its natural limits one of the basic duties of the state.
¶ Tradition and custom need not constantly explain or justify themselves as practice or policy. The presumption is in their favor. To drag them before the bar of a rigid rationalism is profound impiety.
¶ Men, and societies of men, are ultimately more apt to maintain loyalties among those who are like them. This is natural and not to be either deplored or extirpated, but rather disciplined by civic virtue.
¶ Cultures and civilizations vary widely and profoundly, not only in customs, but in terms of mindsets, ways of seeing the world, and potential for humane achievements.
¶ Indiscriminate blending of cultures is thus undesirable, and more often than not an at least implicit act of aggression against the existing majority culture.
¶ The Liberal compact, by which questions of ultimate existential import are bracketed, and questions of temporal prosperity and the adjudication of rights-claims pursued, is an act of violence against human nature, a displacement that occasions the rise of messianic political doctrines.
¶ Economics is a tool, which answers to other masters. We cannot use economics to articulate our picture of the good life any more than we can use biology to tell us why human life is sacred, or chemistry why a glass of beer after a hard day’s work is such a great pleasure, or physics why men look to the heavens with such awe.
¶ Science, like economics, must learn its place — subordinate to the higher values of civilization, and not master of them.
¶ The traditional family — mother, father and children — must be privileged in law and in society; no other relationship is permitted to assert equality or parity with it.
¶ Freedom is impossible without virtue. Republican self-government is impossible without private self-control. The discipline of self-denial is a prerequisite of public liberty.
¶ Voting is not a right but a privilege. Its abuse is rampant, and to contain it is a valid object of public policy. More damaging to a republic than corrupt politicians are corrupt voters.
¶ In a republic, the Legislative Branch of government, being at once most representative and most deliberate, must be, if not supreme, at least primary over the other branches. This principle was built into the very fabric of our Constitution, and can be seen clearly in the veto-override, the impeachment power, the Necessary and Proper clause, and other devices.
¶ The American traditions of federalism, states’ rights, and localism deserve the deepest respect and cultivation: for in them is the truest protection of liberty.
† Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues.posted by Paul Cella | 2:19 PM |
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
It is by now almost a truism to say that a society’s celebration of “diversity” appears to be inversely related to its actual respect for it. America under the tyranny of political correctness has become a place of deadening uniformity, coerced at times, but more often than not chosen individually under the pressure of convention. People actually prefer to annihilate the variety that is in them. I work with a considerable number of bright young women, blessed with that wonderful accent of the American South, who outlay large amounts of time and money to obliterate it — through speech classes and the like. It is a deliberate dispossession in the service of stultifying sameness.
One thing that will immediately strike anyone who takes the time (and it will be time well-spent) to engage the older literature of American Conservatism, is the marvelous variety of these characters. Here you will find real diversity. Here, if you are a person of sensitive and critical intellect, you may be purged of the unthinking prejudice of our age, which tells you that diversity consists in the superficial — in matter and not in mind.
Old Russell Kirk wore a cloak, was a masterful teller of ghost stories, repudiated the automobile (a “mechanical Jacobin”) and the television, and quietly opened his home to young journalists, refugees and the homeless. Willmoore Kendall, son of a blind itinerant preacher, was so savage a debater that he stands still today (so they say) as the only Ivy League professor whose contract was bought out in order to rid the place of his devastating polemics of reaction. He could drink most people under the table, upon conversion secured from the Vatican two simultaneous annulments (which may be another first), and finished his career with brilliant treatises which discovered in the American founding a restatement of classical Natural Law. Frank Meyer, author of the doctrine of “fusionism” between Conservatives and Libertarians, was an incorrigible night owl and chain-smoker, commencing interminable arguments and discussions over the phone into the wee hours of the morning. A pugnacious atheist for his whole career, he converted to Rome on his deathbed. Anyone who has seen William F. Buckley on television will discern instantly what a character he must be. Whitaker Chambers was a haunted man, having gone “off the grid” for a decade as an agent of Communism — before discerning, in an flash of grace and insight, that God is real and thus Communism is madness and treason. He found Hope, but never what is called optimism. He became a farmer. The “auxiliaries of Conservatism,” Chesterton and Belloc, were men of extraordinary verve and personality. You can hardly read a line of verse or prose from them without realizing you are in the presence of a real character.
My point is that these men were examples of the real practical variety of human life that the ideologues of Diversity would annihilate. Kirk even made variety one of his Six Canons: Conservatives affirm an “affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” Sometimes this comes down to something so simple as being able to hold two complex thoughts in mind at the same time; for example, that a regime which countenances or even embraces a great evil like slavery or abortion, may yet produce good and admirable men. Or that even soldiers fighting for wicked men and wicked causes are capable of valor and gallantry.
This variety, which in my view is one of the glories of the Conservative tradition, is also partly explains the difficulty of holding such people together in a political movement. Why are Conservatives so bad at political machination? Why do they tend toward factionalism? Because their interests and passions and personalities are so marvelously varied. Very few of them really care for the exercise of political power; even fewer care for the grasping and clawing that attends the approach toward political power; almost all of them chafe unbearably under the shackles of bureaucracies. They do not live and breathe politics. Official Washington repels them. Unless they are natives, they rarely have a high opinion of New York City. They love their homes in distant cow-towns. They are Westerners, or Southerners, or lovers of the Great Plains. Kendall’s Conservatism, he often said, was an “Appalachia to the Rockies” sort of philosophy. The entry of these people into politics is usually reluctant, spurred on by a perception of a threat to their homes.
America — or America for most of her history at any rate — was careful to shelter these people. Long after the war was over General Lee was still admired, even in the North, for his principled stand with his country, which was, of course, the Commonwealth of Virginia. And even down in the Deep South, after defeat and subjugation, schoolchildren were asked to memorize a short speech by an Illinois frontier lawyer, delivered almost as an afterthought at the little college town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. America was a magnanimous place; a place of variety and an expansive spirit.
What is left of this after the long march of centralization and regimentation is difficult to say. American variety is not yet lost, but it is dying. We might mark the stages of its death by observing the ascendance of the ideology of Diversity. King Diversity will suffer no rivals to his lonely throne.
Capitalism is as much to blame for this as Socialism. It is Capitalism, after all, that inflicts upon us all a mass culture that is fundamentally pornographic and often simply vile. During last Sunday’s football games, there had to be at least a half dozen lucid commercials for these preposterous horror films — films, I’m told, that are among the most reliably profitable of any genre — that made me grateful my girls were playing in the other room. In short it is not government; it is not Leftism; it is Capitalism that has made even a football broadcast untrustworthy. It is Capitalism as well that insists upon the dispossession of our culture for cheap labor. It is, in other words, Capitalism that lubricates the skids toward a centralized uniformity. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried a fascinating article about the preparations being made among the captains of industry for conformity to climate change orthodoxy. Now I don’t have a strong opinion about climate change, but from the article it seems pretty clear that what is coming is yet another demonstration of the difference between Capitalism and Free Enterprise. The former is not inherently hostile to State intervention, much less to centralization; it is concerned foremost with insuring that the intervention can be made profitable.
Conservatism is a sense can be understood as a defense of normalcy against deviancy. But this formulation, whatever its merits, seems to shortchange the enormous variety contained in “normal.” The confusion and disorder in our age can be seen in our romance of the deviant and our derision of the normal. It can also be seen in the truth of Chesterton’s remark that asserting any of the cardinal virtues today “has all the exhilaration of vice”; or in his admonition: “Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal, and that you are a paralytic.”
We have forgotten the adventure of the normal life of virtue. We have forgotten that evil is banal and goodness vital and lively. That “Appalachia to the Rockies” Conservatism, its great and lively figures who would indeed be shocked at what we are accustomed to, can teach us again what we once knew well. Down with King Diversity; he is a tyrant and a usurper. Let us have back our freedom and our variety.posted by Paul Cella | 1:50 PM |
Monday, January 22, 2007
I have said that Jihad is a wicked doctrine. I have said this because I believe it. But I have not said that Islam is a wicked religion. Nor have I said that Arabs are a wicked people. The bewilderment attendant to this issue is so great as to make repetition of these distinctions necessary. But there is a curiosity here. For at least two years following September 11, 2001 (the date when my education in Islam really began), I was prevented from arriving at this judgment of the wickedness of Jihad by two things; the first was ignorance of Islam, and the second an ideological assumption that religious doctrines cannot be fundamentally evil.
The curiosity is that the correction of the former forced a reassessment of the latter; and reassessment exposed the astonishing feebleness of latter. Once acknowledge that religious doctrines can be wicked, and it does not take much intensive study to discover that Jihad must be named among the most wicked. The natural reason of every ethical man revolts against a doctrine which bestows upon things like unprovoked conquest, subjugation, plunder, expropriation, and massacre the radiance of piety. This point was carefully (but still controversially) made recently by none other than the Bishop of Rome. Not enough was made of his appeal, in good Thomist fashion, to the natural reason of all men. For it is natural reason, rightly ordered, which discloses that such a doctrine as this is incompatible with justice or charity, and thus incompatible with God. The almost touching faith of the Pope in reason is the sort of thing that ought to shake the hubris of the New Atheists, but it may be doubted whether these apostles of Reason have a real comprehension on their idol. In any case it was this faculty to which he appealed.
But there is more to it than mere rationalism. It includes sentiment: it might be called a union of reason and passion. This faculty — in American terms what we might call, with Publius, the “deliberate sense” of the people — is where I aim my condemnatory appeal against the doctrine of jihad as well. Another way to look at it is through the older tradition of Christian moral philosophy, in which prudence is called the “mother” of the other virtues. Josef Pieper put it vividly: “prudence is the cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues.” This statement seems almost bizarre to our ears because the word prudence has been debased by misuse. But in this context prudence is understood to mean our vital connection with objective reality, our “realization of the good.” Our capacity for other virtues depends upon our right perception of things as they are. It is the virtue of prudence which shows us, again in Pieper’s words, that “so-called ‘good intention’ and so-called ‘meaning well’ by no means suffice.” Our good intention must be linked to an accurate perception of the world if we are ever to do good. We must cultivate, with patient care and discipline, the virtue of prudence if we are ever to act rightly.
The urgency with which I make my arguments against the Jihad thus stems primarily from a belief in the misestimate of reality by our political leadership. Good intention will not suffice. Unless they — and also we, because We the People are sovereign of this republic — come around to a truer estimation of what Jihad is, they (and we) will labor in vain. We must “realize the good” of the Jihad, which in this case means a kind of final negative against it. It has no good in it.
It would also be fair to say that my arguments exhibit urgency because I believe the situation is urgent. We do not understand our enemy with anything approaching sufficiency. The urgency — which, to repeat, I believe is justified by reality of the situation — also explains the rhetorical strategy I have employed, which strikes many readers as unduly provocative. No doubt I have failed in this strategy as much as I have succeeded — for instance, I think now that an article some weeks ago on Assimilation began with two sentences that were indeed unduly provocative — but I think the overall strategy is sound. There is a lassitude of spirit which afflicts this republic, and a cold precision of reason will not alone break it. In technical language, dialectic only is inadequate. I do not hide my rhetorical purpose, for as Richard Weaver put it:
I am of the opinion, with Weaver, that there is more to man than his rational part. I am further of the opinion that, while certainly our misestimate of the Jihad has its rationalistic aspects, its primary cause is not rational. It lies in a spiritual lethargy which attacks our prudence and induces us to self-deception. To awaken us from this lethargy is a job for stronger elixirs than cold reason alone.
Some of the character of this lethargy can perhaps be grasped by consideration of an observable drift of comment to my recent article, “Make them give us battle.” I was quite amazed (and driven to some annoyance) by the number of commenters whose primary argument consisted of the assertion, or argument from apparent authority, that my purpose of “making them give us battle,” was impossible. Not just difficult, as I myself readily admitted, but impossible. The conjecture is that the “newness” of our guerilla enemy, his cunning and determination, forces us to admit no weakness in fighting men for glory and hotheadedness. The rabble of Falluja are too wily to be brought out in a fury. This assertion’s innocence of the historical character of the warrior class of men, even when organized into mere guerilla bands, is quite a thing to behold. In fact that class is most famous for its vulnerability to being provoked to irresponsible aggression. Consider the decisive handful of years in the latter half of the 16th century, when a shaky alliance of Christian powers succeeded in checking Turkish command of the Mediterranean. It was the provocation of the Knights of Malta that drove the Sultan to launch a bold and ultimately unsuccessful invasion of that island; and it was, in part, the provocation of the Knights successful defense of the island, that caused the Sultan to give battle to the great fleet of the Holy League at Lepanto, when a policy of evasion, patience and intrigue would likely have taxed the already tenuous alliance of Italians and Spaniards beyond the breaking point, making battle quite unnecessary.
Now of course the agents of Jihad today are not world-conquerors like the Turks, but treacherous saboteurs and terrorists. That they still consider themselves soldiers, however, cannot be doubted. That they are warlike in mentality and outlook, and as such susceptible to the weaknesses inherent in that mentality, cannot be doubted. Their tradition of war-making is very different than ours (for them the question of justice hinges on the whether the enemy is an infidel, for example: if he is, everything is permitted), but it is still a warrior tradition. And it is not invulnerable to exploitation.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as the discipline of discerning the available means of persuasion. Reason alone may be insufficient, and usually is — precisely because man is, as Weaver put it, a “pathetic being.” In my judgment, there is nothing more pressing for the patriots of this republic than persuading our countrymen of nature of the Jihad: its essential depravity, its permanent menace, its organic emanation from the Islamic tradition, its principles, limitations, expositions, applications, and especially its vulnerabilities. The deliberate sense of the American people must be made to compass this doctrine and policy of our enemy — compass it with that freedom of examination and expression that is our birthrate. We cannot shrink from this. It is highly probable that in the course of this compass, we will hear more voices, ranging from the cool and plausible to the shrill and intimidating, calling for silence. Indeed we have heard these already. The latest example of this obscurantism consists of the argument that by talking critically about Islam we will encourage the recruitment of the enemy. Even conceding arguendo that this speculation is accurate — that a sustained discussion of the Islamic doctrine of Jihad will alienate some Muslims, driving them into open sympathy for it — it hardly follows that this should cause us to quiet our critical faculties. What sort of people attempts to make war without giving offense? What sort of people fears to even talk about making war, lest they give offense? Only a servile people, I fear.
Americans have not often been called servile, and I am confident that this newest counsel of servility will be rebuffed. What must continue, instead, and even in the teeth of this sort of folly, is the pain-staking work of self-education. We must cultivate our prudence. We must achieve a realization of what Jihad is. We must cultivate a proper war-rhetoric with which to approach it. And we must do this in defiance of the whole panoply of tired orthodoxies which would bully us into silence.posted by Paul Cella | 12:52 PM |
Thursday, January 18, 2007
The appalling fact is that a very considerable portion of the American Left hates the prospect of a vigorous, determined and self-assured America, steeled to wage real war against her enemies, far more than it hates our enemies themselves. The real question is whether a considerable portion of the American Right does too. I think it does. But the self-loathing Left has one advantage at least over its counterpart on the Right, and that is this: it has a clearer picture of what a vigorous, confident, and self-assured nation looks like. Such nations — and we have the reliable instinct of the Left as solid evidence of this — look like something hateful to Liberalism.
They disdain abstract equality. They discriminate. Very often they oppress, as that word is bandied about by Liberals. They make good on their claims of the loyalty of their subjects or citizens. They punish what seems sacred to Liberals: the opinions of men. They announce intolerance of some opinions, and take resolute steps to enforce it. More than that: they take these steps in the knowledge that not all will work out as planned, that some mistakes will be made, some injustices perpetrated. But this does not deter them. If they are made of magnanimous people, these nations answer injustice with contrition and attempts to make good; but they do not concomitantly dismantle the policies which reflect their determination to crush the enemy.
In short, they repudiate a certain thin-skinned strain of Liberalism which might subcategorize as Civil Libertarianism.
Now, I am not a Liberal, much less a Civil Libertarian. In my judgment none of the above-mentioned measures are objectively unjust. A state may rightly move to insure loyalty among its subjects and punish disloyalty. We owe no special protection, in law, to wicked opinions, and it is permissible to punish opinions judged sufficiently wicked or seditious. I do believe that great care should be taken in this sort of endeavor; that it ought to be approached with trepidation and assiduity. Great dangers await the reckless. But I do also think our crisis today demands that we risk these dangers.
So I am not a Liberal. Neither, in my judgment, is the American political tradition Liberal. There is a rich history, attendant upon the political life of this country from the very beginning, of reacting to domestic disloyalty with a firm hand. Seditious movements in American history have been treated roughly, and few before about 1960 cared a fig about it. But note this: they have been treated roughly, but not (for the most part) cruelly. Seditionists have been arrested, tried by a jury of peers, and imprisoned; in times of declared war, yes, the methods have been harsher. But mostly this history consists of famous trials. Consider Mr. Geoffrey Stone’s book Perilous Times, a fine catalogue of the travails of Americans judged by their peers to be seditionists, provocateurs, anarchists, Jacobins, Communists, revolutionists, etc. Stone takes a position quite at odds with mine, of course, but his book had the effect in me of only strengthening my pride in my country’s political tradition.
We have had our share of revolutionary movements, alright, hurling their bitterness and monomanias against what is, in fact, one of the finest of all political settlements in human history, but we have had mercifully little of the sort of sanguinary episodes that usually follow the emergence of such movements in history. We have done nothing, really, that even approaches the brutality of Rome or the British Empire against insurrections (the latter much less brutal than the former), both of which powers we are regularly compared to. Our dhimmia against a subject minority was terrible indeed, but it lasted eighty years, not eight centuries. There is nothing in our history comparable with the savagery of the Spanish against the Moors, or the Spanish against the Calvinists, or the Turks against the Orthodox, or the Communists against Christians and, well, almost everyone else, in Eastern Europe.
The problem of disloyalty is an eternal feature of human politics; and there is no easy solution. It will ever be a part of the political troubles of man, until the crack of doom. It is, indeed, a problem from both sides: that is, a problem from the perspective of the individual, who must in the end depend upon his prudence to determine how much his country merits his loyalty; and a problem from that of the state, which must always weigh the application of coercive force to enforce order against the dangers of its use. And I say that on this political problem, there is ample reason for gratification in what we Americans have at once accomplished and avoided.
But all this, to get back to my original point, is an analysis outside the lineaments of Liberalism. Even talking about it, I imagine, will make many men, some of whom may assent to Liberalism more than they know, uneasy and alarmed. A vigorous, determined and self-assured America is an America that will enforce loyalty and punish disloyalty, and moreover recognize these things as vital aspects of a war launched against us in a colossal act of treachery. This sort of America — which, to repeat myself, is an America operating well within her admirable political tradition of suppressing disloyalty — is perhaps the most awful of all things to segments of the Left. Against it they will fight, and their success will cripple us. More: this sort of America is indeed an awful thing to some (much smaller, but hardly insignificant) portions of the Right. Against it, they too will fight; and the baleful irony is that some of them, in other moments, will pine for the very thing they resist when it appears. They want an America which has recovered her will; but they hate the application of that will. They have fallen into C. S. Lewis’s “ghastly simplicity” of demanding the function while removing the organ. They too may cripple us.posted by Paul Cella | 1:40 PM |
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
At the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, in late June of 1862, John B. Hood’s Texas Brigade delivered a blow against a strong Federal line that provoked from Stonewall Jackson this elegiac tribute, when he came to behold the carnage it required of the victors: “The men who carried this position were soldiers indeed.”
They were soldiers indeed because these men marched across a swamp under savage fire with their weapons unreadied. Their casualties were staggering, yet they never staggered; and the force of their boldness, when finally combined with a great volley of musketry at short range, broke the Union line. It was Lee’s first victory. They were to distinguish themselves again in battle, many times, not the least of which was the charge they made on the second day at Gettysburg against the Federal far left, down in the Round Tops and the aptly-named Devil’s Den — a charge that, in the end, could not hold its ground gained, but earned its way into memory by way of the courage it demanded of these men.
What is it in men that gives them the power to accomplish such deeds? It is one of the things that, despite all the terrors of war, forbids us to condemn it utterly. It is the virtue of fortitude. It is courage.
Among recent films — and I daresay film is the best medium for depicting fortitude — the final episode of The Lord of the Rings delivers an unforgettable depiction. Arriving near the gates of the White City, and in rear of the great host of Mordor’s Orc army, the Riders of Rohan, the Rohirrim, make their Ride. Horns sound to announce their arrival, the enemy turns in some disarray to receive their charge, and streaks of sunshine gleam over their shoulders. The king’s words are minimal: he does not really need to inspire these cavalry-men, for they know well what awaits them.
“Arise! Arise! Riders of Théoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword-day! A red day, ere the sun rises!”
As the charge begins, the men shout Death! They do not fear it, and many of them will meet in here today. This gallantry is felt — profoundly felt, I thought, for the scene is masterfully rendered — and the viewer is taught again that valuable lesson, which if he was lucky he learned long ago, that not everything in war need be evil.
We do not, as a rule, teach military history in this country. We teach that wars happened, that they were terrible, what they accomplished, or failed to accomplish, or inflicted; but we really do not teach how they were fought, or who fought them and why. This fact probably goes a long way to explaining why our young men are so historically ignorant. The one sort of history that will reliably move boys to that excitement with learning which is alone capable of inspiring them, has been removed from our curricula.
Meanwhile, in the public media, our soldiers in the field have become mere types in the Liberal caricature of Victimization. The stories we tell of them all, or at any rate most of the stories, ring with despondency and helplessness; or with mere stale partisanship. In film the trend is almost worse: American soldiers are regularly portrayed as madmen, dupes, degenerates, or heartless criminals. And alongside this spiritual degradation, we strive ever more eagerly to turn our military institutions into playgrounds for social experiments. The educational neglect makes the fighting man incomprehensible; the rendering of him through the ideological lens of victim makes him contemptible; and the social innovation imposed on his tradition undermines his virtue.
There are, in every society, men who actually like to fight, and who will excel at nothing else. War must be recognized as their vocation. This is a fact. Judge it how you like, it must acknowledged. It is one of those most ancient of political problems that such men cannot be destroyed, transformed, or ignored for long; but they may be disciplined into useful and honorable service; and it is a measure of the character of that society how well this is done. For the pitfalls are countless, usually reducing to an alternative of either (a) effective military power and systematic cruelty, or (b) feebleness and foreign subjugation. Fortitude is exalted, and the other virtues are abolished; or fortitude is abolished, and the others rendered impossible. But fortitude can be harnessed. We might almost say it can be baptized. There have been soldier-saints.
It is a joy to learn how successfully Americans have avoided the many pitfalls of this martial instinct in men. We have not come close to perfection, but we have for the most part avoided calamity; and we are excelled by almost no other society. What a glory of our tradition that our fighting men have been so honorable in victory and defeat! The tragedy of the Civil War, for example, was in the wickedness that made it unavoidable, not in the wickedness with which it was conducted; for by and large it was conducted justly and even magnanimously. Of how many other civil wars can the same be said?
This noble American achievement is being steadily undermined. The sappers have been at their grim work for some time now. That our military has endured as long as it has, is a testament to the tradition upon which it stands, and to the men it has trained up to continue that tradition. But it is the meanest of follies to assume that what is precious is also indestructible.
It is tempting argue, at this point in a sketch like this, that the problem is the Feminization of the military. But this is too facile. The failure here lies primarily with men: men who allow their sons to be treated like girls; men who fail to honor women, and thereby teach no honor in their descendents; men who will send their wives and sisters to war to satisfy their itch for abstract equality. I would like to ask those who here who have made their peace with women in combat (which is our de facto policy today, considering the absence of any true “front line”) if they really think the history of human warfare is conspicuous for its respect for women. Think hard on that. That it is conspicuous for rather the reverse should give some indication of how profound our achievement is: the fruit of the long, pain-staking, patient, to be sure imperfect, but noble work of our ancestors stretching back over centuries upon centuries. The honor code that made the American fighting man one of the few exceptions from the rule of pillage and rapine as a concomitant of war, is the same code that stands in implacable opposition to abstract gender equality. Erode it with incessant innovations and you may unshackle a monster.
In the event of such a catastrophe as the final loss of the Western code of jus in bello, will there be an accounting for the innovators whose ministrations robbed our fighting men of their virtue? Doubtful, for there is none for the innovators who, for instance, robbed our inner cities of the tenuous order once achieved and enforced, now lost, perhaps forever; or for those who emancipated pornography and now wail and gnash their teeth at its rotten fruit at, i. e., Abu Ghraib.
Our armed forces still produce Stonewall’s “soldiers indeed.” Our own Jeff Emanuel has documented some, and there are many, many more. But it is to be doubted how long this will remain true if we cannot muster a fortitude of our own sufficient to stop and reverse the depredations inflicted on our martial tradition.posted by Paul Cella | 2:16 PM |
Thursday, January 11, 2007
What prevents me from supporting President Bush amounts to this: I do not trust his judgment. Put another way, a man whose judgment has been demonstrated to be so suspect cannot claim my trust.
The most resounding evidence against his judgment is his administration’s intolerable negligence of domestic security. How a politician whose government reacts to a kind of citizens’ arrest in the sky of a troop of Jihadist provocateurs, by ordering a new round of sensitivity training for security officers, can possibly hope to retain the trust of the patriots of this republic, is a matter for our soothsayers to explicate. For me, is a matter, piled on top of a dozen others and more, for disgust and disappointment. Is it possible that the President and his close advisers do not realize the demoralization they cause when, to take another example, they take no notice of brigandage on our southern border? This banditry is probably perpetrated by the sort of increasingly globalized criminal gangs which would have no qualms about alliance with the Jihad. The Jihad, its roots in oil-rich nations, has money after all. Is all this obscure to them? Or is it obscure to them that their studied ignorance of the whole menace of the Jihad domestically undermines the trust they draw on for political support?
It is hard not conclude, alas, that the President simply doesn’t care about domestic security outside the narrow focus of law enforcement. It is hard not to conclude, what is more worrisome: that the President has no real grasp of the lineaments of this war. If he cannot see the danger that is caused when, in the face of agitation from sympathizers of the enemy, his administration folds like paper doll — why, then we just cannot trust him.
This Presidency’s political lifeblood is draining out of it: it is losing the support of the Right. You can hardly escape it if you are attentive to those sectors where Conservative voices are prominent. On talk radio, hardly a segment goes by without a caller, once supportive of Bush, now hostile. Old Left rags like The Nation are able to somewhat plausibly write about the “growing anti-war movement in the military.” On the blogs, disillusionment is everywhere. When the Democrats say they have a majority of the people behind them in opposition to the war, they are probably not perpetrating an illusion. That party has finally fumbled upon a slogan that may actually resonate beyond Washington and New York: the slogan that Iraq is the responsibility of Iraqis, we cannot do it for them. There is undoubtedly some cynicism in this rhetoric — everywhere else we look, Democrats are urging that we “do” something for somebody — but is has a core of truth. In stark terms, it means this: if the Iraqi people do not want democracy and liberty, we cannot give it to them.
These were the hurdles President Bush faced when he went on the airwaves last night. They may have been from the outset insurmountable. As a politician who rested on the trust of the people, the loss of that alone may put his presidency beyond recovery. Moreover, his second fundamental source of political capital — the treachery and madness of the Left — while unquestionably profiting him, also, like gold for the Spanish and oil for the Saudis, corrupted him. George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 against an insufferable and unlikable opponent only by the narrowest of margins; and he has retained sympathy throughout his time in office largely by virtue of his personal appeal (though this has always mystified his adversaries) and the unceasing tissue of abuse and invective launched against him. But none of these assets will avail him in the teeth of a loss of trust among his core supporters on the Right. Conservatives represent the largest constituency ordered around philosophical principle in the country; no right-wing candidate can survive their disillusionment.
Thus the only hope, I believe, for retrieval of domestic political support, which is of course a prerequisite for any renewed vigor in Iraq, is the patient work of earning again the trust of the people who once supported him. The easiest way to do this would be to talk and act like there is indeed a war on — a war which began for us, not with a shock somewhere in foreign lands, but with perfidy and massacre by agents of the Jihad who had penetrated our security apparatus and struck us at home. To lose sight of this stolid and stark fact, is to lose sight of what this all about.posted by Paul Cella | 2:36 PM |
During the Cold War there was a phenomenon known infelicitously as anti-anti-Communism; it consisted primarily of Liberals who, though cool on Communism, reserved their greatest alarm and antipathy for Communism’s determined opponents. They felt they had more to fear from their own countrymen, in whose judgment the Communist enterprise was, indeed, an evil empire, than they did from the Imperialists of the Marxist State. We can see the remnants of this persuasion in some tendentious histories, like the one someone gave me years back which nonchalantly presented Sen. Joe McCarthy as the leader of a nascent American Fascism.
The problem with anti-anti-Communism is quite simple: it was wrong. Stupendously wrong. The point can, I think, be illustrated easily enough: imagine what we would think today of a political movement of the 1930s animated by antipathy for opponents of National Socialism. Indeed, the point is even stronger when we consider that by the time anti-anti-Communism had reached its full flower in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Communism itself was a form of National Socialism, Stalin having made full use of the proud nationalism of the people of Russia. A just historical estimate, therefore, must render a severe censure against the judgment and reasoning of the anti-anti-Communists.
I begin with this rehearsal of some recent history because a parallel is emerging today. It lineaments can be guessed at well enough. For some, the opponents of the Jihad are greater cause for alarm than the Jihad itself. Here is an Israeli academic, one Fania Oz-Salzberger, who says that, at a European Coalition for Israel conference last fall, “The tone was belligerent, the linkage crude: ‘The enemies of Israel are also a threat to Europe,’ delegates were told. And also: ‘In only two generations, most parts of Europe will be under Islamic law.’ Other self-declared friends grimly speak of Londonistan and augur the coming of the European Caliphate.” What an abominable horror that men might react to the massacre of civilians on commuter rails and bus with belligerent tones! She magnanimously allows that these statements “may reflect genuine concern” — again because, one supposes, “concern” is an acceptable emotion provoked to feel when confronted with treacherous acts of war — but goes on to aver that the statements “are disconcerting when made on European soil.” But only a couple sentences earlier, there was not even this allowance for “concern”: “These new pro-Israel voices base a love of Jews upon the hatred of Muslims.” Later, the clever sneer: “Beware of Islamophobes bearing gifts.”
The only evidence registered against these European Friends of Israel is the “tone” of their “belligerence” and the “crudity” of their rhetorical “linkages.” For the rest the author relies on what can only be described as racial guilt. Since Europeans made these statements, they are suspect — not because of what the actual Europeans in question have done, but because of what their ancestors once did: “Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be threatening the existence of Israel today, but no Muslim power has ever dealt the Jews such calamities as brought upon them by Europe.” (A particular irony, in this context, is the fact that a British Jew, Melanie Phillips, may be credited with giving the term “Londonistan” its currency.)
Ms. Oz-Salzberger’s column may be fairly described as tame compared to the deranged vitriol of Col. Ralph Peters some months ago. But the effect of it is the same: It lays down a dogma of quietism. There can be no use of rhetoric, and emphatically none that might be labeled “war rhetoric,” which impinges directly, or even by implication, upon the Islamic religion. The civilization and creed which incubates our enemies — the sort of men whose piety embraces the butchery of innocents — may not be criticized with anything but the most detached academic discourse. Islam shall be protected from severe criticism. It shall, moreover, be protected by the formidable of shield of political correctness, and all the thuggery implied by it. Its methods, as usual, consist of insinuation and intimidation. Opponents of the Jihad hate Muslims: bigots and xenophobes, all. Like the anti-anti-Communists before them — who assured us that Communism was no real threat, and whose public discourse urged coexistence with a wicked doctrine — these latter-day scolds urge acceptance for wickedness. Their monomania weakens our resolve. Somewhere a clever writer and global content provider is penning another elegant and amusing exhortation to the West to recover its “will”; and looking over his shoulder with mistrust for his own countrymen is the ever-watchful censor, his mind alert for some breach of his monomaniacal code of propriety. If a man, reflecting upon the day when the Jihad came to Lower Manhatten, or the day it came to London, or the day it nearly came to Germany, begins to speak with a bit of fire in his belly, the dutiful censors will move to silence him. If another man, pondering the contemporary surfeit of references to Winston Churchill’s war rhetoric, avows his agreement with the great man’s comparison of the Koran to Mein Kampf — a manual of “faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message” — he will be rebuked for the impropriety. What are we, really, to make of this: that while war is being made against us by men animated by an Islamic doctrine, we are harassed and abused for the “belligerence” of our rhetoric? To repeat: for some, the opponents of the Jihad are greater cause for alarm than the Jihad itself; while the latter has incinerated thousands of Americans, and hundreds of Israelis and Europeans, the former have committed a graver crime still: they have uttered hard words about Islam.
In this predicament, we must — for of course I count myself among those prepared to violate the sham propriety that shields Islam from criticism — do three things. First, if the anti-anti-Islamists ever get around to making their accusations to our face, of actually asking us, “are you are hater?” — we should answer, “Yes, sir, I do hate some things. Like the devil and all his works; and the doctrine of Jihad is of the devil. I do indeed hate it.” Second, we should calmly remind our antagonists, every once in a while, that a doctrine is not a man; that we believe we owe no charity to doctrines; and that no amount of rhetorical bullying will dislodge this elementary principle from our minds. Third, and above all, we should avoid being dragged into a paralyzing debate over these matters. Reason will probably have little effect on this monomania, and our time can be better spent talking past these tormented souls. They are entangled in their own web of euphemism and platitude; and it cannot be our duty to disentangle them.
— Because we have much larger duties to attend to: duties that will require, I am afraid, a belligerent tone and even some crudity of linkage. The duty, namely, of preparing this republic for the hard work of deliverance from the very real and very pressing threat of the Jihad. Our troops have shown their valor time and again. But that will be of little consequence if our people cannot discover in themselves the qualities of fortitude and defiance. Fortitude to endure the inevitable setbacks of war, and defiance to escape the monomania of our chattering-classes, including this new faction of anti-anti-Islamists.posted by Paul Cella | 2:32 PM |
Friday, January 05, 2007
Gettysburg National Battlefield
Everyone has seen them. They are all over the Web. I mean those video clips of a brief encounter between a unit of Jihadists, often in the midst of conspiring to maim and massacre by treachery, and some fighting men of the United States. Often the video is of poor quality, or filtered through some night vision contraption. Invariably it is at once exhilarating and horrifying. It puts one in the mind of a grim lament like that of Robert E. Lee, “it is well that war is so terrible; we should grow too fond of it.” But the example serves to demonstrate a somewhat curious fact of this war: our enemy will not fight. He avoids battle like few adversaries we have come to grips with before.
So aside from my recommendations about how to approach Islam and Jihad as political matters, and acknowledging from the beginning my deficit of expertise on military matters, I say that one of our strategies in this war should be to maneuver our enemies into a real battle, or series of them. This, I suspect, was a considerable part of the justification for the invasion of Iraq, though it was not often very well articulated; and should it have worked — should, that is, the invasion have compelled the disparate elements of the Jihad to give us battle on any scale where defeat for either side would have been damaging — its value to us would have been manifest.
Accomplishing this compulsion to battle will be an exceedingly difficult maneuver, to be sure. I cannot possibly hope to speculate on how it would be done as military matter, on the level of tactics, but I think the republic could be served by a discussion of how on the political level. Now, it cannot be doubted that a discussion such as this will have the distinctive character of a wartime discussion; and thus, that many of our countrymen, who believe there is no war on, will be alarmed and dismayed by it. This cannot be helped. If the citizens of a republic judge that war is being made against them, even if they cannot command a majority in assent to this opinion, they must be free to talk about it — even if this means a certain defiance of those who do not share it. Indeed, in my view what we have here is actually something approaching a solid majority: but one that, like so much in our politics, is oppressed by a kind of passive conspiracy by the elite. In any case, the questions, by means of which we could “get at” this conundrum, might look something like the following.
(1) How can we provoke the enemy to recklessness? How can we make him lose his reason? How can we drive him en masse into the field of battle, and keep him there? Once this is done, I think our military forces will be eminently capable of delivering him savage repulses, and pursuing these to resounding victories against him.
(2) How can we insure that this battle will be fought on his soil and not ours? Or, more precisely perhaps, how can we insure that any such battle, while fought elsewhere, will not have terrorist repercussions on our shores? It cannot fail to be part of our calculation that the enemy is here, amongst us; that not merely his fanatics and planners, his mercenaries and saboteurs, but also his propagandists and subversives, are prepared to leverage our domestic vulnerabilities, which are considerable, for the advance of the Jihad. But the purpose of securing a favorable ground for combat operations is an excellent one. And here, again, I think we come in contact with a piece of reasoning — again poorly articulated — behind the Iraq war. I’m not here entering into a discussion of that conflict, except to say (a) it hasn’t worked out as planned and (b) at any rate it hasn’t been accompanied by real vigilance domestically. Similarly, a lot people are now talking — as they should be — about what to do about Iran. Do they ever think about what Iran might be capable of in America? We cannot neglect an estimate of what sort of resources of mayhem, sedition and intimidation the Persian Jihadists might have here in the United States. We know, for instance, that Hezbollah is active; we have good reason to suspect it even wields political influence in some regions. This is a problem no patriot can ignore.
(3) How can we get a better handle on the enemy’s inherent mental vulnerabilities? How can we discover his points of psychological pressure, the advantages he presents to us by virtue of his own character? The means of answering this is obvious enough: let us recur to history. That sounds like a platitude, but it is an eminently practical measure. So far in this war, it has been for the most part philosophers and strategists (broadly-conceived) that have counseled us. It was a philosophical argument that led us to the Democracy Project, for instance. But history is what we really need. We need speeches delivered from the Oval Office and the floors of the houses of Congress; lectures in classrooms of the military academies; and a general climate of historical curiosity in the public square — all concerning the character and antiquity of the Jihad. We must educate ourselves, and come to better know our enemy. To do this effectively, we will also need another aspect of that measure of defiance mentioned above. The people of this republic must find in themselves a real fortitude in the teeth of the dreary orthodoxies of Tolerance and Secularism. We face a cruel, cunning and patient enemy; resisting him we require more mental toughness than we have thus far shown.
I think one thing that will be shown by this sketchy exercise of contemplation is what an oppression these orthodoxies are. Their effect has been, very simply, to prevent us from talking like the citizens of a free country at war. The one excellence that is universally said to be ours, is not allowed to operate upon the subject of our enemy. We talk so much about freedom; let us win some for ourselves and be rid of these paralyzing, pitiful pieces of yesterday’s pedantry. They are so manifestly innocent of reason and fact! Men are called racists based on their criticisms of a religion, or merely certain doctrines of a religion. Critical thinking, once thought the sine qua non of Liberalism, is abandoned as a matter of principle. Idiot historical comparisons become convention. If our philosophers cannot see that on this vital issue their orthodoxy of Tolerance stands in stark antagonism to freedom . . . well, we cannot help them. We must go on without them.
We have an enemy; his agents and soldiers are among us; his resources, though scarce in some categories, are hardly inconsiderable. In many ways his weaknesses are our strengths, and ours his. Thus, as one of our overwhelming strengths is military might, we must set our minds — that is, the minds of the sovereign people of the republic — upon the question of how we can force him to give us battle.posted by Paul Cella | 10:02 AM |
Monday, January 01, 2007
Not long ago, I happened to see a graphic representation, thrown up briefly on a cable news network, of American casualty figures (deaths, to be precise) in several wars. One does not see this very often. I suspect this is because the plain striking fact of, say, 58,000 (Vietnam), set in comparison to 3,000 (the current war in Iraq), is enough, almost on its own, to dispel the phantom invocations of Vietnam, at least in those not afflicted by a kind of obsession with that earlier war. The effect could be amplified, of course, by including mention of the 3,600 in one day at Antietam, or the nearly 8,000 in three at Gettysburg.*
Mere numbers, to be sure, do not do a war justice. Certainly any American who has lost a brother or son (or, God forbid, a sister or daughter) will be forgiven a certain instinctive outrage at any discussion of mere numbers. And there are, in my view, factors that could be added to balance sheet of Iraq — for example the spectacular and paralyzing failure, which is ongoing, to reckon with the religious conflict at back of it — that would render it a greater horror. But these factors cannot possibly be held to actually inflate the historical importance of Iraq beyond that of Vietnam. It is possible, I suppose, that Iraq will one day gain that infamy; but this is highly doubtful and at any rate unknowable. My own conjecture is that the historical importance of Iraq will eventually be swamped by the historical importance of the larger conflict of which, for good or ill, it is a part.
In any case I do not think a comparison of Iraq to the Vietnam War can really be sustained in the face of the irrefragable fact of casualty figures. I say this, indeed, as a skeptic of Iraq, and an outright opponent of current American policy vis-à-vis Islam (the fact that we have no stated policy on that is suggestive enough; and an interesting further question is what the reader may suppose the character of that policy would be, if the “deliberate sense” of the people were allowed to bear upon it?); and neither part of this two-fold judgment, in my case, can be reasonably applied to Vietnam.
To compare Iraq to Vietnam is simply an irresponsible historical analogy. Equally irresponsible is the analogy (this one usually made to be aid and comfort for people on the other side of the debate altogether) of our predicament today, to that of some Allied nation at some point in the Second World War. The most useful historical comparisons to Iraq, in truth, must reach much further back in history — because to have any validity on the political and, as it were, world-historical level, they must make contact with a war where religion played at primary part. This fact — and here is a really vital point — we cannot change. We may in time come to profess no religion at all; we may heed the counsel of our least trustworthy citizens, and repudiate religion as a force for good and inspiration for gallantry; that our enemies do very vigorously profess a religion makes our war religious in character.
That this fact — which, I say again, is not reformable by any art we here possess — is still, nearly four years into the Iraq war, and well over five into our bloody and unwilling entry into the larger conflict of which it is a part, by and large neglected by our politicians and statesmen, our thinkers and soothsayers, speaks of an error of judgment and imagination far greater than anything justly attributable to the statesmen who prosecuted Vietnam (who at least understood the importance of defending an ally in a great global struggle). On that intellectual level, Iraq is a greater catastrophe than Vietnam. But an error of judgment can always be corrected, and the effort in the Middle East in time retrieved; and this all in ample time to yet avoid the magnitude of bloodletting, and the loss of so many of our soldiers, as that of Vietnam.
Okay, I’ll say it. It irks me that the Peach Bowl is now the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It vexes me to hear the mandated phrase “Invesco Field at Mile High.” I grieve the loss of the old and honored place-names of sports: Candlestick Park, Three Rivers Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium. A living tradition — which, as Chesterton famously wrote, is a democracy of the dead — by this process is obliterated, and a sterile materialism replaces it. The whole point of a free enterprise system is that there is no guarantee of endurance for any specific enterprise.* That corporate names, attached to stadiums by means of vast expenditures, can make no claims to the people’s veneration, as opposed to their fleeting fancy, is no mere controversial assertion on my part — it is an admitted feature of the principle of the system.
Now Chick-fil-A, as far as I can tell, is a fine enterprise; in many ways, indeed, an admirable one. The service is generally superior to the competitors; the product is good; the marketing strategy is often genuinely amusing; and the moral character of the corporate countenance is commendable. (I once bore witness to a rather astonishing debate which featured three or four obnoxious atheists delivering sanctimonious censure against Chick-fil-a for the intolerable inconvenience imposed by the closure of its stores at airports on Sunday.) But even granted these laudable qualities, I do not hesitate to admit my embarrassment last night upon hearing the game announcers refer to the Peach State’s signature bowl game by the name of a fast-food chain famous for its clever cows.
This whole business illustrates the difficulties of attempting to make, in the celebrated phrase, so creatively-destructive a system to form a basis, or at any rate an element of the basis, of the political tradition of a nation. I tradition is a thing that endures; its quality lies inescapably in its longevity, and in the reverence it acquires in the course of surviving the vicissitudes of men and history. To set a tradition upon a foundation of tumult and instability, no matter how creative, is to some extent to contradict the essence of the things itself.
The example of Chick-fil-A is itself instructive: for what makes this company admirable is its resistance, in certain respects, to the disorder of the free market. Its kids’ meals distribute storybooks the lessons of which are anchored in the older tradition of philosophical and moral order. Its closure on Sundays harkens back to an even older tradition rooted in a profounder understanding of what the creative nature of man is. For even this, as I have noted, Chick-fil-A is singled out for opprobrium. That this older moral order is the only substrate upon which a healthy system of free enterprise (indeed, freedom of any kind) can grow, is an oft-forgotten truth. It was not often forgotten my our fathers, as a cursory review of their statements on the matter will show.**
The importance of sports to our civilization is not to be overlooked. Therefore I will not overlook the ominous portents contained in the trend of effacing older traditions, to be replaced by a kind of anti-tradition of corporate musical chairs.
In my view the wisest strategy of resistance to the Jihad is not engagement but isolation — not isolation of ourselves, but of them. We should make it our policy to have as little contact with the Islamic religion as possible. A sizeable and dynamic faction of this religion, with roots stretching back to the antiquity of Islam, is committed to an uncompromising principle of revolution. Its adherents aim to transform our country utterly, by any means available. Sedition is their piety. Our ability to distinguish this faction from the broader society of Muslims is piteously inadequate. Our capacity for even the rudiments of clear thinking on this subject, for even the first steps of firmness and vigor in our public counsels, is very meager. Our readiness to be cowed by simple tactics of intimidation, to be brought to heel by a few tired slogans, seems almost boundless.
It is something of a mystery to me that many of those who are most energetic about a policy of engagement with Islam, are also those who are least confident about our ability to impose our will at home. We can impose our will upon distant lands and alien peoples, but it is a horror to attempt such a thing upon the aliens in our midst. Now assimilation, as we often talk about it in American history, is just that: the imposition of will upon the alien. I realize it makes men uncomfortable to talk like that, but this is a fact. The neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, perhaps the most energetic of all democratizers — that is, those who support a policy of democratization of the Islamic world — relates in one of his books how his grammar-school teacher in 1930s Brooklyn took it upon herself, with no consultation with his parents, to eradicate his Yiddish accent: in short to destroy this vestige of his immigrant culture and replace it with something American. At times in American history, the force of this imposition of will became almost an element of the atmosphere itself: vague, indefinite, but very real. Someone back in my ancestral past (my ancestors include the first Italian family to arrive in Denver) felt this pressure to such an extent that he changed the pronunciation of his last name: from Ch-ella to S-ella. Italian became American. At other times, the imposition of will was tangible indeed, as when, confronted with a rebellion in New York City against the Conscription Act, fomented in part by immigrant gangs, Lincoln did not hesitate to send in steely veterans of Gettysburg, backed by grapeshot, to effect obedience to the law.
My point is that assimilation — the principle upon which, when pressed, defenders of generous immigration policies (including, for our purposes here, policies generous to aspiring Muslim immigrants) almost invariably retreat — is very often indistinguishable from coercion. In many cases it is a painful dispossession of a cultural inheritance. In some cases it amounts to a kind of despotism. Until this fact is realized — until, in practical terms, we see at least in embryo a movement to require this sort of cultural dispossession from the immigrant communities that, willfully or otherwise, incubate our enemies — we are authorized to doubt the seriousness of those who seek to assuage us with invocations of assimilation. We want to dispossess Muslim communities of the doctrine of jihad; and the plain fact is that any attempt to do so will be perceived by a great many people as attacks on Islam itself. We can make all the distinctions between doctrine and religion that we like (and indeed the distinction is a real and meaningful one): it will not disarm the grievance-mongers and sophisters, whose manipulation of our obsessions will undoubtedly sow perplexity and alarm. A man who cries loudly when pressed: “noble Assimilation, make our country whole,” but who sees any manifestation of it as little more than bigotry, is not, in fact, a man who venerates the principle of assimilation.
Engagement, which is the policy we have pursued since September 11th, has resulted in assimilation, alright: the assimilation of us to them. Government bureaucracies and corporations beyond count have forced their employees through Islamic sensitivity training, but I have yet to read of a Muslim organization putting its employees through American sensitivity training. We read now that the military is similarly assimilating to Islamic mores and traditions. Marines at Quantico, for example, are “allowed to have some time off to prepare for their fasting break and not to go to physical training” during Ramadan.
Were the assimilation moving in the other direction, we might read of the military’s demand that Muslims recruits change their name to accommodate easier pronunciation; or the insertion of a line repudiating the doctrine of jihad in the Oath of Enlistment; or the institution of special background checks for Muslims recruits (if the reader considers this question of no practical importance, it may be useful to recall the cause of the first American casualties in the Iraq war); or the implementation of careful and intrusive additional oversight of military imams; or a dozen other of the sort of policies that would verily scream “discrimination” into the sensitive ears of our Liberals but would actually mean “assimilation” — or at least the attempt at it.
I would genuinely like to hear from the devotees of Assimilation: how would you react to policies and pressures which, when brought to bear in a serious way, would mean uncomfortable and even painful demands on Muslims immigrants? Would you be prepared to defend a school teacher (were such an intrepid soul to emerge) who imposed assimilation on Muslim students is a way similar, mutatis mutandis, to young Podhoretz’s English teacher? Would you stand and be counted with the adversaries of CAIR, quickly heaped with abuse and slander by a pliant press, when it launches its media campaign against a proposed loyal oath for Muslim enlistees in the Army? Would you support a federal bureaucrat who, perhaps a bit sanctimoniously, made himself a cause célèbre by refusing to submit to Islamic sensitivity training until the outfit that demanded it asks its employees to enter classes in American history and government? Would you willingly set yourself under the black paintbrush of calumny, and stand with a Congressman who proposed a resolution (not even binding legislation) declaring America’s firm intolerance of the doctrine of Jihad and demand that American Muslims renounce it at once? Would you, in short, stake your reputation on the enforcement of the principle you promote?
If you answer No to all of these hypotheticals (or other similar ones that might be imagined), then I would say to you, with respect, that your commitment to assimilation is a shallow one indeed; that wherever this stated and abstract commitment comes in contact with the hard work of actually making it so, your resolve falters and your ideal is betrayed; and that your endorsement of a policy of Engagement, given the feebleness of your support for Assimilation, is tinctured with darker things like Surrender and Appeasement. And since I suspect that the effort of will required to replace this feebleness with resolution is beyond the means that we here possess, prudence counsels an alternative policy. If we cannot muster the strength and self-possession to impose our will, as our fathers before us did, let us try to avoid exacerbating the cultural confrontation, underway all over the world, which can only result in the imposition of someone’s will upon someone else. Let us take steps to isolate of the Islamic world.posted by Paul Cella | 10:32 AM |
Mr. Lee Harris (not to be confused with the insufferable Sam Harris), expansively reviews Andy Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad and in the process advances the discussion on Islam and the West a step forward. Now it will surprise no one to learn that I am a great admirer of Dr. Bostom’s somewhat overwhelming volume. In my judgment it will someday hold a similar pride of place as Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: an early exposure of something anyone could know, had he only the will to learn. What anyone could know in Conquest’s case was that the Soviet Union, well before the Second World War, was a place of unimaginable horrors; and that its guiding principle, Communism, was a doctrine of extreme wickedness. What anyone could know today is that Jihad is a doctrine of extreme wickedness which has visited horrors upon men across continent and century, really unlike anything else in history.
But Lee Harris advances the debate further, by pointing out, (a) that “what accounts for” the “uniqueness” of Jihad, is “not the fanaticism and brutality with which” it has been “systematically carried out,” but its success in “transforming whatever cultural traditions fell before it,” in short its effectiveness as an imperial instrument; and (b) that the Jihad need not conquer to succeed; it need only wreak enough destruction to paralyze; in other words, that the model is not a clash of civilizations, in the ubiquitous catchphrase, but a crash of civilization. In Harris’s crystalline prose:
My sense is that this insight has not yet been assimilated by . . . well, but almost anyone. Such assimilation would yield some obvious transformations in our thinking on this crisis. Allow me to sketch a few that occur to me:
(1) A correction of the spectacular imbalance in our public counsels between the ideas of Liberty and Order. The latter holds a fixed position in the American political tradition, not perhaps as prominent as the former, but certainly more prominent than convention today allows. Consider the Preamble to the Constitution, and the six purposes of that document contained therein: Union, Justice, domestic Tranquility, common defence, general Welfare, and the Blessings of Liberty. Three of these are plainly on the side of Order, while only one is plainly on the side of Liberty. A deeper appreciation of Order — a recognition that it is this, and not so much freedom or liberty, that is threatened by the Jihad — might, for instance, send us back to investigations of how the American tradition has in previous ages come to grips with the problem of seditious factions and subversive movements. The current impulse is to recoil from this aspect of our tradition. I submit that a thorough study of it will reveal that it is, comparatively speaking, among our shining triumphs.*
(2) A recognition that the domestic (as in domestic Tranquility) aspect of the resistance we must mount against the Jihad is as important, if not more important, than the foreign policy aspect. Mary Eberstadt, also writing in Policy Review, endeavors here to show what lengths Western thinkers and politicians have gone to in order to avoid this uncomfortable fact; but even she will not take the obvious next step and propose restrictions on Muslim immigrants. I submit that anyone who dismisses out of hand the proposition that we should aim at a gradual and peaceful reduction in the number of Muslims in America, cannot be taken seriously in his other political judgments.
(3) A recognition that Islam as such is a problem. I have said, here and elsewhere, that Jihad should constitute the point of our legal attack against the enemy — not least because while we protect men under law, we do not protect doctrines — but leaving aside for the moment specific legal manifestations of policy, we have got to start thinking hard about possibility that the union between Islam and Jihad cannot be broken by any means we here possess. We have got to open this question, and fear not where its consideration will lead.
Lee Harris generally eschews policy prescription — a constraint I hope he will throw off when the times comes (perhaps with his forthcoming book). It is clear enough (I hope) to most of us that the class of professional policy prescripters, if you will, is bankrupt in this country. That is no just cause for despair; we do not yet live in an oligarchy or aristocracy, but rather a republic where, according Publius, the “cool and deliberate sense of the community” shall govern. Few things are more vital to the healthy operation of this republic than that we start talking openly with one another on this problem, recognizing the final location of sovereignty in a republic, and preparing to stand in defiance of the oligarchs and aristocrats of official Washington and the plutocrats of commercial New York. They are untrustworthy. If the deliberate sense of Americans is also untrustworthy, then we are well and truly doomed, but happily our country’s history is punctuated by episodes where the defiance by the latter of the former, saved both.