Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Saturday, August 31, 2002  

On capital punishment and morality, John O’Sullivan’s earnest essay has provoked me to lay down a few thoughts on the matter.

Not long ago I settled into an uneasy concurrence with the Roman Catholic Church, which, as I understand it, holds to the doctrine that while in principle capital punishment might indeed be necessary for sufficiently wicked crimes, as a prudential matter the taking of human life by the state is only very rarely justified. The deterrence argument —- that executing criminals deters others from violence —- strikes me as less than persuasive: I do not deny the fact of the deterrent effect itself, but recoil, to a degree, from the utilitarian nature of it. How can a society justify taking the life of a man on the basis of the purely hypothetical lives that act might save? Capital punishment, I believe, must be defended on moral grounds principally; not on grounds of utility, which has a dangerous pedigree.

The death penalty should never be administered as an act of vengeance, but rather as an act of retribution; the two are distinguished to the extent that the latter is expunged of the sin of wrath. Crucial elements of applicable political theory are preserved in the Declaration of Independence: To secure our rights, including the right to life, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. In the case of a crime of great magnitude and iniquity committed against a man’s right to life, the state is so constituted as to be authorized to restore the just order of things by taking the life of the transgressor. This principle we are duty-bound, in my view, to uphold; what we are not justified in indulging is anger, or the sin of wrath. Capital punishment should be administered with regret, and pity for he that has so violated the sacred bonds of one man to another that he has forfeited his right to life.

All this seems elementary to me. The colossal difficulty comes in the realm of prudence. When is a crime so grave as to call forth the ultimate retributive justice? It is an exacting question; and I do not believe we can avail ourselves to abstract principles with much profit on this matter. Human life resists abstraction to our unending frustration as well as our unending delight. Bathed in the light of this truth, tradition has secured for us a prudential method for adjudication: casuistry, the theory of cases, embodied in the jury trial. Some principles do apply, but they apply broadly, with humility and deference to the individual case, which must finally be decided by a jury of citizens, none of whom is assumed to possess any expertise, save the expertise of living with other men and women in this fallen world.

What galls is the “relentless moral self-congratulation,” as Mr. O’Sullivan acerbically puts it, of the death penalty opponents; which is also reflected in the attitudes of some of the same people when they adopt pacifist postures. Is it not possible to even entertain the idea that choosing not to resort to lethal force when circumstances call for it could be a vicious act? Such absolutism, it seems to me, can only be sustained by a certain deliberate closing of the eyes, a refusal to follow logic to its conclusion. The opponents see the logic of capital punishment through to its grim and as yet hypothetical conclusion quite easily: the state will one day err, and execute an innocent man. But they refuse to see the contrary logic through to its grim and all too real conclusion: the state has erred, and will continue to err, and release men who will kill again.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:15 AM |

An epigram of parental advice:

You should always begin by refusing everything children want, on principle: The sooner they get used to having their desires thwarted and hopes dashed, the sooner they will develop the patience, ingenuity, and stoicism they will need to get around in this world.

--from John Derbyshire's column yesterday.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:19 AM |

Eugene Volokh has penned a trenchant critique of Tom Friedman's little sneer toward Christians and conservatives who opposed reading a bowdlerized version of the Koran at the University of North Carolina. Mr. Friedman rather indelicately compared the opponents of this summer reading assignment to Osama bin Laden in a slander as noteworthy for its fatuity as for its intemperate viciousness.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:03 AM |

Friday, August 30, 2002  

Allow me to recommend, for those readers who have the time, the riveting and hugely rewarding “Booknotes” discussion with Michael Oren, author of the important new book Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. The “Booknotes” program on CSPAN is television at its very best; this Michael Oren interview is a consummate example of it.

LAMB: ...when was the first indication that people either in Israel or in Egypt knew that this thing was underway?
OREN: Well, Israel devised a military plan which was ingenuous and daring and borderline insane.

If this doesn't excite your intellect, you're probably already dead.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:14 AM |

Discussing a recent piece by the British military historian John Keegan, Orrin Judd alights on an significant, if rarely noted, point about the injustice of the retrospective scapegoating of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who infamously acquiesced in Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and returned declaring “peace in our time.” Chamberlain was an appeaser, undoubtedly, but so were many of his people; the spiritual enervation and despair brought on among Europeans by the carnage of the Great War should not be underestimated. And we make a massive and heaving mistake when we fail to appreciate the black seductive allure of appeasement as a political option when war seems, as it likely will, grim, uncertain, and problematic beyond assimilation. Writes Mr. Judd,

Neville Chamberlain gave the people what they wanted. If he were alive today, and signed a peace pact with Saddam, he’d be a hero in Britain. Appeasement is today, as it was then, good politics.

Doubt is a writhing, insidious thing; and we must cling to those weapons of the mind and heart which we still have, those which haven’t been stolen from us by the spiritual enervation which threatens the modern world with dissolution; an enervation not unlike that which faced the English when they stood alone against the darkness. A year, not so long a time —- long enough to forget.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |

Thursday, August 29, 2002  

Yesterday was the feast of St. Augustine, as great a man as has ever lived. I recently read this essay, by Rebecca West, taken from a wonderful little book call Saints for Now which offers a brilliant introduction to this numinous figure in Western history, of whom I plainly do not know nearly enough. Ms. West introduces him thusly:

As the Roman Empire fell apart, North Africa experienced economic and administrative decay which produced poverty and anarchy, and it was harried on its seaboard by pirates and on its southern frontiers by tribesmen. It got no help from tottering Rome, and it was forced to succumb before the barbarian invasions. It appeared that all civilisation was being totally and finally destroyed. It was during this period, in 354 A.D., that there was born in North Africa a man named Augustine who was fatuous enough to ignore the catastrophe which was about to overcome him, engaged in an exhaustive enquiry into the nature of things which were about to lose their human audience, and set down his findings in manuscripts which seemed destined to be lost almost as soon as they were completed under the sands drifting from the spreading desert across burned and looted cities. It was an insane enterprise: and the most canny of writers composing in the illusion of perpetual peace cannot have hoped for such immortality as he attained. His works are the foundation of modern Western thought.

If that is not enough to excite interest and encourage the intellect, nothing is.

This was a stupendous act of faith. Every expert on international affairs would have told Augustine that he and his work were doomed. Had he not disregarded them, Christendom might have had as insubstantial an intellectual system as Islam, and there is not the slightest indication that anybody could have performed the task in his stead. With magnificent audacity he took as his subject matter a certain complex of ideas which intrude into every developed religion and are present in Christianity also: the idea that matter, and especially matter related to sex, is evil; that man, wearing a body made of matter, living in a material world, and delighting in the manifestations of sex, is tainted with evil and must cleanse himself before God; and that this atonement must take the form of suffering. He examined these ideas from a philosophical point of view and discussed how they looked in the new light cast on the world by the life of Christ, and he checked his conclusions by his own personal experience, which he used with a candour new in literature. The construction thus built stood up so well that the Western mind made it its home, and its finest achievements since then have consisted largely of modifying and extending the original structure. The teachings of Augustine are, of course, directly transmitted by the Roman Catholic Church to its members, and with various modifications by the Protestant churches to theirs; and they pervade Catholic and Protestant literature. Shakespeare was born about twelve hundred years later than Augustine, but if his work is examined for evidence of his general conceptions he proves to accept the same assumptions that Augustine makes when, in his Confessions, he deliberates on the religious and philosophical significance of the events of his life. But it is easier to prove his domination of the modern world negatively. Our recognition of Goethe as a unique figure can be accounted for by his freedom from Augustinian conceptions; and in our own day the influence of André Gide, not sufficiently explained by either his creative or critical works in themselves, is derived from his organisation of an anti-Augustinian revolt.

One of the thunderous frustrations for us moderns is the very possible, even likely, fact that many of the ancients knews us better than we know ourselves. We have forgotten much of what was learned when civilization was young, and we have deliberately unlearned even much of that which has been retained.

And just like the Romans, our peril is the old peril of barbarian invasion. If that world can fall to wild rabble on the periphery and exhaustion and decadence within, so can ours.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:09 AM |

Wednesday, August 28, 2002  

Thanks to Instapundit my little piece on the lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses has attracted a great deal of attention, including, predictably, a host of thoughtful (and some less-than-thoughtful) detractors. Here is my reply to one of the former, Brandon D. Valentine:

Mr. Valentine quotes me as declaring that the results of the study I discussed are “devastating,” then asks: “Devastating for whom?” Very simply: devastating for those who deny the presence of a stark imbalance in political perspective among the professoriat. He then faults the study itself, with some plausibility, for a problematic grouping of political parties into the rather crude categories of Left and Right.

If anything this survey should have three categories, Left, Right, and Center. We should count the Greens as Left, the Libertarians as Right and stick both the Democrats and Republicans in the Center.

Very well; any categorization will have its problematics, and we all, upon reflection, could likely conceive of methodological adjustments; whether they would be improvements, however, remains unclear.

The numbers Paul quotes are useless in their current form. The ideological line between Democrat and Republican is an extremely fine one. The terms liberal and conservative are also mostly useless in this context nowadays. Most of the folks on the hill, regardless of which side of the aisle they find themselves on, are politically moderate until there’s lobbyist or campaign contribution money involved.

Here one is inclined to remark, very quietly, that (1) assertion is not the same as argument; and (2) we are not discussing Capitol Hill, where the marvelous intransigence of the American electorate’s centrism is ineluctably at work, but rather enclaves of often detached, even insular, intellectual society. Mr. Valentine even admits later that, “the academic environment is one of the most politically delicate in existence.” Now why is that, because academia is full of a coterie of bland moderates whose views are barely distinguishable from the two major political parties, the ideological line between which “is an extremely fine one”? It seems a bit strange to assimilate data showing, however imprecisely, a large disparity in political affiliation by stating that the differences in said affiliation are essentially meaningless. If Republicans and Democrats constitute principally the same entity, then why do the latter outnumber the former in many academic departments by a factor of 6, 8, even 10 to 1? If the study is not gauging ideological preferences, what exactly is it gauging? Chance alone cannot explain the salient pattern in these results.

Mr. Valentine more or less answers these very questions, and thereby partially undermines his prior contentions, when he states,

Individual professors are free thinking, educated adults and will decide their political affiliations individually based on the party’s merit and their subjective opinions of them. I would argue that university professors, being far more exposed to the rigors of scientific research and peer review, would be on the whole far more likely to give their political affiliations a logical analysis than the general population would.

So the decisions made about political affiliation are the result of logic and rigorous analysis of merit, and yet they concern distinctions which are “useless in their current form.” Another strange argument. What he seems to be saying is that (1) the study is irretrievably flawed; but if it is not flawed then (2) it is not measuring anything substantial; but if it is measuring something real and substantial then (3) what it is measuring is to be cheered, not bemoaned. Three levels of sophistry to explain away uncomfortable numbers.

Academia, especially today, is only attractive to those who find value intrinsic in the environment itself. There is little monetary motivation for someone to join the academic world. Corporate America would scoff at the typical university salary.

“Monetary,” strictly defined, is a very narrow way to assay economic incentives; but I suspect Mr. Valentine means this more broadly, and here he overlooks hugely important factors. A most prominent feature of a professor’s compensation lies in job security; we cannot even begin to approach the economics of the occupation without considering this. In Florida right now we have this conspicuous case of a professor linked to Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization, whom the university cannot dismiss without elaborate legal machinations on account of his tenure. Now that is job security; and if it is not included in the economic calculations of the academic career, then we might as well dispense with economic calculations altogether.

[Paul Cella] even appears to be harboring the idea that diversity is a self-justifying goal and that lack of diversity is a sign of some innate injustice or unfairness in the system in question.

I do not harbor such an idea; nor did I intend to imply such things as Mr. Valentine infers. The primary idea I do harbor with regard to this is that terms like “diversity” and “tolerance” function as a dialectical component in the multiculturalist ideology which pervades the modern university: they are deployed ruthlessly to bludgeon and intimidate opponents, but tend to vanish without a trace when the issue drives against allies. The relativism about value judgements is purely tactical. The tolerance for dissent is fraudulent. In this way the multiculturalist ideology surely reflects the enduring presence in the halls of Intellect of the old dialectical materialism that warmed the hearts of so many Marxists; the dark and terrible elegance of which allowed the Soviet Union, for example, to calmly endorse UN resolutions by the dozen promoting violent resistance to colonial powers among oppressed peoples in Africa and Asia, without fearing the implications of those endorsements for their own colonial subjects under brutal military occupation in Eastern Europe. The language of diversity and tolerance now, just like the language of self-determination and independence then, is nothing more than an instrument for leverage and manipulation. Its ideals are not held sincerely; but out of either calculation or idleness, or some combination of the two.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:50 PM |

Jim Hoagland produced a shrewd column the other day, examining the faintly squalid light cast by personal rivalries on the Iraq debate which has been percolating through Washington recently. This debate reposed at a low shimmer until former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft edged it into a more steady boil with his Wall Street Journal essay opposing military action agianst Saddam Hussein two weeks ago. Mr. Hoagland's piece is full of pithy insight:

Let me decode a central fear of some critics: They do not think that George W. Bush and his divided administration are capable of implementing an orderly and successful military campaign in Iraq without inflicting major casualties and national damage on the United States.

They don't think this president and all his squabbling men are up to the job, despite America's experiences in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the successful use of air power in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the surprisingly swift breaking of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The first thing to be said about this line of argument is that it is legitimate, important and could even come to be correct in one circumstance that I will identify. For the American public to understand the stakes in a war that no one should want to wage, this misgiving and others should be plainly stated by our current crop of foreign-policy wise persons.

Instead, in typical Washington fashion, we get alot of innuendo and mystifying ambiguity.

(Thanks to The CounterRevolutionary for pointing this column out)

UPDATE: Two good replies to the Scowcroft essay are here and here.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:27 AM |

Monday, August 26, 2002  

A friend of mine has sent along a column by member of the Colorado State Board of Education which mounts a very animated and dogmatic defense of the rapper Marshall Mathers, a.k.a., Eminem. Dogmatic, because the catchwords and cant of certain mindset are so prominently arrayed and assumed to be invincible. For example, the writer seems strangely enamored with the rather fanciful idea of “relevance.” Also, he is bedazzled by the emancipatory frisson of the airing all things personal publicly, which really amounts to the annihilation of the barrier between public and private. He speaks of the honesty of Mr. Mathers’ lyrics, and his salubrious contribution to the “healthy trend” of “getting things out in the open.” Why is this a healthy trend? The writer never deigns to answer this obvious question, though one might quite sensibly conclude that the saturation of our public square with ugliness and malice coincident with the steady diminishment of real privacy constitutes precisely the opposite of a healthy trend.

Then there is the curious notion of Mr. Mathers as “one of the most relevant forces today promoting fidelity, safe sex and traditional family values.” All those others promoting these things, beginning, say, with Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he wrote with prescience in 1965 about the baleful effects of the welfare state on nuclear families, on through George Gilder when he wrote with prescience about the “unmanned” father —- they must concede to “irrelevance” and yield their place to moral leaders such as Eminem. The writer goes on,

We are lucky as a society to have someone of his talent and insight reaching such a mass audience with moral messages to fill a void that our so-called “real” leaders refuse to address in a meaningful way.

Here we have the modern mind in all its unintelligible splendor: the only way to deliver “meaningful” “moral messages” is to twist and mangle and garble them into something ugly and stale; and which point they become “relevant” to young people, whom we can expect to quite easily overlook the grotesque, shameless self-regard of the whole enterprise, and discern within it a moral message of traditional wisdom.

In fact this critic has managed to get very nearly everything wrong; more than that, he has managed to get some supremely important things hopelessly reversed. Eminem as a moral leader could scarcely be more irrelevant. He is championed in this essay as an emancipator, freeing men from their stifling taboos and traditions. But his aesthetic or artistic innovations are utterly exhausted, by decades if not by centuries. Épater le bourgeoisie forms and tropes were already growing stale when the Marquis De Sade took up sexual perversion an art-form at the turn of the nineteenth century; and at least De Sade possessed a certain deadpan narrative verve: “When calm had been restored, they buried the two bodies.” By the time Eminem appeared and hammered our senses in abject tonelessness, the thing was patently dead, lifeless and evacuated. Shocking the respectable classes by transgressing sacred things is only a functional method for artistic excitement so long as there are things held in near-unanimity as sacred. Eminem has very diligently dug up enemies to attack who are quite certainly not going to retaliate, as they are long dead. He assails with crude vituperation a kind of mythical 1950s traditionalism as if it were still active and vital and capable of an organized counterstrike; but indeed it is on the very issue of his insults toward homosexuality, which was of course viewed by this mythical traditionalism as the quintessence of sexual perversion, that Eminem felt the gravest threat to his fame. Thus it is only in his rare moments of unity with the traditionalism that he encounters sustained resistance: that is how dead the traditionalism is.

Mr. Mathers wallows in his own life-giving boldness in hurling vague invective at institutions and taboos which passed into intellectual oblivion before he was born; and here he joins with the whole of the counterculture, as it was once dubbed, in attacking everything that is weak and emasculated, in seeking out the more defenseless and unpopular ideas and gleefully flaying them in public. It takes a very special sort of moral cowardice to so viciously attack dead things and call the act of doing so courageous.

But it really does say something about the persistent applicability of traditional sexual and moral standards of behavior that even in decadence they are regarded as such a opalescent threat to our multifarious moral reformers. That every ego with pretensions of grandeur supposes that he must attack the fading afterimages of Victorian morality to derive his fame and fortune is the mark of something more than a passing fashion. Of course, the traditions are only decadent today because modern man is himself decadent; they are only dead by the lights of Modern Man, not by those of the unspeakably boarder and deeper Mankind. The traditions themselves will endure, because they are rooted in the nature of Man; only the traditionalism will vanish, and with it its perfectly irrelevant parasitic defamers.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 PM |

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “When we encounter the grim asceticism of some saint, say of the Middle Ages, who flagellates or starves himself, clanks about in chains, or racks his body, we consider his conduct morbid, if not insane. That is because we live in an age where a scratch sends us rushing off to the medicine closet for iodine and a band-aid. We would be less scandalized by his manifestation of asceticism if we were to recall that this saint lived in an age when the most excruciating torture was publicly administered to malefactors and criminals. We might then see that his particular mode of holiness was to take upon himself a measure of the pain society was currently inflicting on its sinners, and that he was saying, in effect, “If torture is to be the lot of the sinner then torture is my lot, for all are guilty in the eyes of God.” Moreover, his purgatory asceticism even may have suggested to his neighbors that purgatory was waiting for them too, and that they might do well to show a little less harshness in their punishment of others. Saints often bear, that others may be moved to forbear.” –- Clare Booth Luce, “Saints” (1952).

posted by Paul Cella | 11:36 AM |

The American Enterprise magazine has done us all an immense favor: It has assiduously collected political affiliation figures for college professors in a broad and numerous sample of American institutions of higher learning. Their method was to cross-reference faculty rosters in “major, uncontroversial, and socially significant” academic departments with each local jurisdiction’s voter registration records, and then assemble the numbers into two categories, party of the Left (Democratic, Green or Working Families Party registration) or of the Right (Republican or Libertarian Party registration). The results are, very simply, devastating; they quite thoroughly document an American academia full of “virtual one-party states, ideological monopolies, badly unbalanced ecosystems.” A few samples. Cornell University, in the eight departments tabulated, includes 166 professors registered with parties of the Left and six registered with parties of the Right; the history, sociology, and women’s studies departments all do not have a single professor among them registered with a party of the Right. At Harvard University, the numbers for economics, political science and sociology are 50 to two. Penn State University, 59 to ten. Stanford Univeristy, 151 to seventeen. San Diego State University, 80 to eleven. Syracuse University, 50 to two. UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara, a combined 312 to sixteen. The University of Colorado at Boulder, 116 to five. The University of Texas at Austin, 94 to fifteen. Pomona College, eighteen to two. The State University of New York at Binghamton, 35 to one. The University of Maryland, 59 to ten.

Conservatives and some independent-minded liberals (Senator Joseph Lieberman, for example) have protested the stultifying ideological monotony of academia for quite a while; well, now there are hard, immovable facts to back up the complaint —- facts that could hardly be more demonstrative of precisely what the complaint has centered on: an environment where words like “tolerance” and “diversity” have become the catchphrases of an argot which means very nearly their opposite.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:33 AM |

Friday, August 23, 2002  

Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog is a thoughtful and sensitive observer of the Middle East. Upon returning from a trip to Israel, he contributed this wise and true dilation on the state of a country under siege.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:51 AM |

Lee Harris, writing in Policy Review, has developed an analysis to explain the crisis of modernity, particularly the crisis of modernity vis-à-vis radical Islam, of very considerable penetration: the “fantasy ideology.” My dad sent this cogent and erudite essay along and I think it may well be the most discerning psychological study of the mindset griping the Islamofascists that I have read since that dark day last September.

Mr. Harris’ initial decisive point is that the fantasy ideology, and therefore the acts of monstrous terror its spawns, exists as a sort of psychological device to fill a void of resentment or despair or feebleness in the life of its host.

A fantasy ideology is one that seizes the opportunity offered by [the] lack of realism in a political group and makes the most of it. This it is able to do through symbols and rituals, all of which are designed to permit the members of the political group to indulge in a kind of fantasy role-playing. Classic examples of this are easy to find: the Jacobin fantasy of reviving the Roman Republic, Mussolini’s fantasy of reviving the Roman Empire, Hitler’s fantasy of reviving German paganism in the thousand-year Reich.

We are cautioned, though, not to dismiss the apparent authenticity of the fantasy, even for the leaders of a people stricken with it:

In reviewing these fantasy ideologies, especially those associated with Nazism and Italian fascism, there is always the temptation for an outside observer to regard their promulgation as the cynical manipulation by a power-hungry leader of his gullible followers. This is a serious error, for the leader himself must be as much steeped in the fantasy as his followers: He can only make others believe because he believes so intensely himself.

After laying out a careful, methodical, but elegant and succinct intellectual examination of the fantasy ideology in history, Mr. Harris applies it to radical Islam in a deft staccato of able thought and perspicacity.

The terror attack of 9-11 was not designed to make us alter our policy, but was crafted for its effect on the terrorists themselves: It was a spectacular piece of theater. The targets were chosen by al Qaeda not through military calculation —- in contrast, for example, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor —- but entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally recognized by the Arab street. They were gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life: A mere handful of Muslims, men whose will was absolutely pure, as proven by their martyrdom, brought down the haughty towers erected by the Great Satan. What better proof could there possibly be that God was on the side of radical Islam and that the end of the reign of the Great Satan was at hand?

As the purpose of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia was to prove to the Italians themselves that they were conquerors, so the purpose of 9-11 was not to create terror in the minds of the American people but to prove to the Arabs that Islamic purity, as interpreted by radical Islam, could triumph. The terror, which to us seems the central fact, is in the eyes of al Qaeda a by-product. Likewise, what al Qaeda and its followers see as central to the holy pageant of 9-11 —- namely, the heroic martyrdom of the 19 hijackers —- is interpreted by us quite differently . . .

But in the fantasy ideology of radical Islam, suicide is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Seen through the distorting prism of radical Islam, the act of suicide is transformed into that of martyrdom —- martyrdom in all its transcendent glory and accompanied by the panoply of magical powers that religious tradition has always assigned to martyrdom.

Mr. Harris then turns to some practical recommendations, beginning with the ever-crucial though rashly, indefensibly neglected question of language. Oh, how we have bruised and dishonored our language!

But, Bush’s critics argued, the term “evildoers” dehumanizes our enemy. And again, the critics are both right and wrong. Yes, the term does dehumanize our enemy. But this is only because our enemy has already dehumanized himself. A characteristic of fantasy ideology is that those in the throes of it begin by dehumanizing their enemies by seeing in them only objects to act upon. It is impossible to treat others in this way without dehumanizing oneself in the process. The demands of the fantasy ideology are such that it transforms all parties into mere symbols. The victims of the fantasy ideology inevitably end by including both those who are enacting the fantasy and those upon whom the fantasy is enacted —- both those who perished in the World Trade Center and those who caused them to perish; and, afterwards, both those who wept for the dead and those who rejoiced over the martyrs.

There is one decisive advantage to the “evildoer” metaphor, and it is this: Combat with evildoers is not Clausewitzian war. You do not make treaties with evildoers or try to adjust your conduct to make them like you. You do not try to see the world from the evildoers’ point of view. You do not try to appease them, or persuade them, or reason with them. You try, on the contrary, to outwit them, to vanquish them, to kill them. You behave with them in the same manner that you would deal with a fatal epidemic —- you try to wipe it out.

My terse excerpts here do not do this essay justice; it is a thing of radiance. Years from now we will look back and see it as a milestone on the road to understanding of the new world into which we were hurled almost a year ago.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:01 AM |

Thursday, August 22, 2002  

From Jay Nordlinger's “Impromptus” column today:

A Cuban-American friend of mine told me something I’ll remember forever: that, merely to be “a decent human being” in Cuba, you have to have a “martyr-level courage”: not to steal, not to lie, not to spy, not to debase oneself, or exploit the self-debasement of others.

This I have said before, though not here: The unwillingness of American liberals for nearly fifty years to speak the truth about Fidel Castro's miserably little tyranny comprises one of the great moral failures of our age.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:41 PM |

Interested in some intriguing —- and plausible —- conspiracy theorizing? Read this, this, and then this.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:20 AM |

Is it possible to overstate the brilliance of Mark Steyn? I must admit to having real doubts, so let me state it clearly and with concision: Mark Steyn is the single best commentator in the English language. His column yesterday is characteristic. “What we’ve seen since September 11th,” he writes; “is that multiculturalism trumps everything. Its grip on the imagination of the Western elites is unshakeable.”

A sentence was recently handed down in Australia concerning a ghastly string of gang-rapes. The leader of this gang, all of which were Lebanese Muslims, got 55 years in prison. Mr. Steyn quotes a letter in The Sydney Morning Herald:

As terrible as the crime was, we must not confuse justice with revenge. We need answers. Where has this hatred come from? How have we contributed to it? Perhaps it's time to take a good hard look at the racism by exclusion practiced with such a vengeance by our community and cultural institutions.

Racism. Its presence, real or imagined, is enough to excuse any crime, against any person, no matter how vile, and no matter how individual in nature. Rape is above all else an assault on the self, a violation of personhood. And yet this writer, delirious with ideology, retreats immediately, and with the usual oily self-righteousness, to collective guilt, which is the essence of authentic racism. Mr. Steyn comments acerbically:

Lebanese male immigrants, fleeing a war-torn wasteland and finding refuge in a land of peace, freedom and opportunity, are inevitably transformed into gang rapists by Australian racism.

A professor at the University of Oslo, contemplating the fact that 65% of Norway’s rapes are perpetrated by “non-Western” immigrants —- a euphemism for Muslims —- admonishes that, “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes” and, “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.” Best not wear a short skirt around Muslims, or Western elites will stipulate that you bear responsibility for the act of sexual violence which, well, you probably had coming, failing as you did to consider the cultural traditions of certain immigrant communities.

What words are there to approach this moral bankruptcy? What response have we to men who by uttering such things so unmistakably reveal the deflation of spirit that has seized the West?

Once upon a time we knew what to do. A British district officer, coming upon a scene of suttee, was told by the locals that in Hindu culture it was the custom to cremate a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. He replied that in British culture it was the custom to hang chaps who did that sort of thing. There are many great things about India -- curry, pyjamas, sitars, software engineers -- but suttee was not one of them. What a pity we’re no longer capable of being “judgmental” and “discriminating.” We’re told the old-school imperialists were racists, that they thought of the wogs as inferior. But, if so, they at least considered them capable of improvement. The multiculturalists are just as racist. The only difference is that they think the wogs can never reform: Good heavens, you can’t expect a Muslim in Norway not to go about raping the womenfolk! Much better just to get used to it.

As one is always obliged to explain when tiptoeing around this territory, I’m not a racist, only a culturist. I believe Western culture —- rule of law, universal suffrage, etc. —- is preferable to Arab culture: that’s why there are millions of Muslims in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in Syria. Follow the traffic. I support immigration, but with assimilation. Without it, like a Hindu widow, we’re slowly climbing on the funeral pyre of our lost empires. You see it in European foreign policy already: they’re scared of their mysterious, swelling, unstoppable Muslim populations.

I do not see how the delirium of the multiculturalist ideology can be overcome. Will the fever ever break? Or will it well and truly consume us?

posted by Paul Cella | 1:20 AM |

Wednesday, August 21, 2002  

With a spate of front-page editorializing, under the camouflage of piety to the journalist’s austere and exacting god Objectivity, The New York Times aims to become the preeminent American opposition publication to war on Iraq. Alas, The Times may be a bit behind the times, so to speak, for, say several persuasive and riveting accounts, the war may already be underway. David Warren, of the Ottawa Citizen:

Those who argue that President Bush either should or shouldn't invade Iraq are anyway missing part of the plot. It is not only going to happen, it has already started.

There are many indications that U.S. special forces have been crawling around Iraq, from bases mostly in the northern Kurdish, but also in the southern Shia region, both of which are already under U.S. and British air protection within the old U.N. “no fly” zones. And I believe that the necessary conventional air, sea and ground forces for a sudden and effective “regime-changer” are now fully deployed in Iraq’s vicinity, at bases dispersed through the region, and in three aircraft carrier groups. Mr. Bush is, after months of unpublicized preparations, in a position to spring. He could give an order now, and there would be U.S. commandos dropping into Baghdad before breakfast tomorrow.

Mark Erikson, of Asia Times:

The lines of battle and the timelines to overt battle and full-scale combat have become fluid. Consider this: At the beginning of this year, when US President George W Bush started talking ever more in earnest about taking out Saddam Hussein and signed an intelligence order directing the CIA to undertake a comprehensive, covert program to topple the Iraqi president, including authority to use lethal force to capture him, the US and putative ally Britain had approximately 50,000 troops deployed in the region around Iraq.

By now, this number has grown to over 100,000, not counting soldiers of and on naval units in the vicinity. It's been a build-up without much fanfare, accelerating since March and accelerating further since June. And these troops are not just sitting on their hands or twiddling their thumbs while waiting for orders to act out some type of D-Day drama. Several thousand are already in Iraq. They are gradually closing in and rattling Saddam's cage. In effect, the war has begun.

Both of these eye-opening articles were found through the hugely informative blog Winds of Change. Keep an eye on it if you want to know what the rest of the media isn't reporting.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:10 AM |

Monday, August 19, 2002  

The Spectator in London has printed a conspicuous essay by a leading Labour Party man which includes some at once very amusing and very instructive statements. In the interest of charity, I should say that this man says some reasonable things —- quite a few of them in fact, but organized and deployed in an unfortunately sly way so as to in part undermine their value. It is as if a man were to stand on a very impressive and stable scaffold of reason —- to craft and shape and decorate a great structure of unreason.

The writer’s purpose, in summary, is to abet the case for public opposition to the prospective American military action against Saddam Hussein —- in particular, to abet the case among the British; and more particularly, to abet the same case for Tony Blair’s opposition, Mr. Blair being the British Prime Minister, for whom the writer admits admiration and affection. To do this relatively simple but somewhat precarious, considering the political dynamics of the Atlantic alliance, thing, he makes numerous reasonable concessions of logic and history —- Saddam is an international menace, his acquisition of nuclear weapons could be disastrous, war against him in 1991 was justified, etc, etc. This is the scaffold of reason.

I do not mean imply, despite how it may seem, that opposition to military operations against Iraq is in essence a posture of unreason. In fact, such a posture might be thoroughly reasonable, if in the end wrong. No, the “structure of unreason” I spoke of above is the prejudice, innuendo, and sheer assertion which constitutes the central argument in defense of his political conviction. And here is where, as I say, his remarks are both amusing and instructive.

The writer actually writes these words:

Bush, himself the most intellectually backward American president of my political lifetime, is surrounded by advisers whose bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy. Pity the man who relies on Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice for counsel. The only man in the US administration who knows the score is Colin Powell. . .

Now I confess that when I read this, even aware as I was of the writer’s purpose in composing this article, aware, that is, of his intellectual prejudice against the Bush administration, I still for a moment took these statements for a joke. I may have even laughed out loud. The insouciance of its delivery; the almost complete lack supporting evidence; the startling bluntness and disrespectfulness: how could a plainly thoughtful and serious man write such things with a straight face? There are facts here —- facts that are disregarded with such breathtaking facility that it lends one to think the statement was proffered with deliberate unseriousness, that is, made in jest. Facts like, in Afghanistan, the crushing defeat of an experienced occupying military force, half way around the world, with precious few land bases, from a condition of almost total unpreparedness, with minimal casualties, in a matter of a few weeks. Facts like the securing of quiet acquiescence from a crucial and historically short-tempered regional power (Russia) on military operations in its traditional sphere of influence; and also quiet assistance from that same power in emasculating the most important economic asset of the enemy (oil). There are other less resounding but still bracing facts as well —- Mr. Rumsfeld’s masterly taming of an often hostile press corps during the Afghan campaign; the cunning and adept good cop/bad cop stratagem employed between Mr. Powell and “the hawks” —- whose silence in this article is, if you’ll excuse the cliché, deafening. What the writer is saying, at base, is that while there are many good reasons for opposing a military move against Iraq, the best one is that the political leadership in America consists of a clique of fools, narrow-minded militarists, and addle-brained hotheads. This is not an argument; it is a prejudice unsupported by facts, at least by any assembled to accompany its assertion. My view is that it is a prejudice of great and abiding error, and I have arrayed some readily-available facts among a large mass of them to buttress my view; the writer in question has arrayed almost exactly none to buttress his own more brazen one.

I say that this whole lively enterprise is instructive because it so obviously comes from a voice of moderation and candid reflection in America’s most reliable European ally. It does not come from those infallibly hidebound anti-American reactionaries whose pessimism and passivity and moral pusillanimity dominates elite European opinion, and whose animosity toward American power and influence is almost pathological in nature. That such a voice can speak of an American foreign policy leadership which has demonstrated at least a competence, if not a command, of the complexity of fighting this multifarious war in such a way bespeaks of the level of hostility we face among our allies across the Atlantic. I aver again, sincerely, that there is a solid, reasonable and hard-headed case to be made against military action in Iraq; but if we take the instance of our Spectator contributor, then what we face among our European allies is not an opposition borne of reason but of unreason; which is a much harder opposition to confront.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:47 PM |

Cynthia Tucker, an editor at my hometown paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constiution has penned a refreshingly candid column about Zimbabwe's murderous ruler, Robert Mugabe. She writes,

If a racist white dictator were creating conditions that starved millions of black Africans, the Congressional Black Caucus would have demanded severe sanctions, and a long line of African-American celebrities would be lining up to picket the nation's embassy, taking turns getting arrested and handcuffed for the TV cameras. But Mugabe's thuggery has barely roused America's black elite.

Like I said, refreshing.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:39 PM |

Readers may be aware of the brouhaha girdling the news of a mandatory freshman seminar at the University of North Carolina on the Koran, which seminar, importantly, employs as its primary textbook a commentary on the Koran which bowdlerizes those elements of the text reckoned too offensive, namely those elements which proclaim death to the infidel. Plenty of thoughtful things have been written about this (see here), but for my money Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal nailed it Friday when he said, (I’m paraphrasing) This is plain, simple indoctrination. And what is meant to be indoctrinated is the idea that Muslims aren’t dangerous. Now, I don’t know if this Muslims en mass are in fact dangerous; but I do know that nineteen Muslim men, or men who claimed Islam as their faith and guiding philosophy, were dangerous in a primal, spectacular way when they turned portions of Lower Manhattan into a mass grave last September. I know, further, that not insubstantial parts of the Muslim population of the world variously applauded, endorsed, cheered, hid behind weasel words to blunt authentic criticism of, dissembled about, and drew grotesque ecstasy from the massacre of American civilians. And I suspect that this indifference to human life, whether calculated or visceral, is rooted in plain stark religious hatred and soulless resentment, which will sadly but inevitably require horrible bloodletting to expiate. I do not welcome this bloodletting but recoil from it in horror. I know that while our sins are many and shameful, this one is not ours to bear; that I am not a bigot because I am suspicious of Arabs and think the United States government’s abjuring of all criminal profiling that involves race is stupid and brassbound beyond comprehension. I know that I was never suspicious of Arabs until nineteen of them incinerated 3000 of my countrymen and brought religious barbarism to my front door.

I know, finally, that if democracy in America were given the opportunity for consummation, it would rise up in wrath such that our enemies would tremble and our friends gape; and that this consummation is restrained only by the anti-democratic principle of the intellectual and media elite, whose loss of nerve is nearly complete. It is not healthy for a society to be so poorly represented in the halls of Intellect and Opinion; or for such an intransigent adversary culture, to borrow a phrase from Irving Kristol, to develop at a historical moment of grave peril. It hinders debate, constricts the mind, enervates clarity of thought, and cripples decision-making. More fundamentally, it makes real communication almost impossible, cultivates deep resentment and distrust, sabotages moderate, pragmatic action, and provokes society-wide paralysis; which is essentially what we are seeing right now.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:32 PM |

Saturday, August 17, 2002  

In the past year some college professors have said or done some pretty outrageous things. One published a book endorsing sex between adults and children. Another commented to the country’s most influential newspaper in a piece published on September 11, 2001: “I don’t regret setting bombs” at the Pentagon and other government buildings; “I feel we didn’t do enough.” Appalling numbers of them wrote articles and essays, and appeared on TV and radio, gave speeches and attended and organized rallies, denouncing with great vituperation America’s moves to protect itself from the lunatic cult of death which has captured the minds of many millions in the Islamic world. Others countenanced horrifying outbursts of anti-Semitic bile. Virtually all of them have acted without a threat to their employment, because tenured college professors enjoy one of the most secure jobs imaginable. But one man, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, finally went too far. He publicly criticized Fidel Castro, even wrote a scholarly book examining ways to effect Castro’s downfall, which is of course a huge no-no in academia. So he was denied tenure.

The decrepitude of higher education in this country is an old story; but it is an important story; the story of the barbarians not only at the gate, but let inside it, and paid with public money to teach the children. It is the story of loss of nerve, and of civilization slowing yielding to barbarism.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:14 AM |

The Dave Matthews Band, for a certain tranche of young men and women, has functioned as a kind of soundtrack for the journey from adolescence to maturity. They appeared, for most of us, in the mid-Nineties like a cool balm in the parched and stale musical desert of grunge-rock Noise and gangster-rap Malevolence. Consequently, about each of their recordings hangs a distinct vapor of nostalgia unique to its release date: Under the Table and Dreaming (1994), the summer before my junior year of high school; Before these Crowded Streets (1998), the spring and summer of my sophomore year in college; etc, etc. Others could surely relate their own Dave Matthews-induced nostalgia. For myself, they are one of the few popular musical acts I pay any serious attention to anymore.

Dave Matthews’ new recording, Busted Stuff, is a curious thing; and it might even be a great thing; of this latter I am still ambivalent. It is unquestionably the product of a distressed mind, notwithstanding the highly public revisions of many of its components to attenuate its plaintive excesses (much of the material on this disc was previously released via the internet, without, incidentally, the band’s consent). Here as usual, the Dave Matthews Band relies on the equipoise of its talented bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford to hold together a wild and subtle wandering of various instruments; and in this they are not always successful, though almost always interesting. Mr. Matthews’ voice is a unique one, also almost always interesting; his lyrics, though occasionally trite, are frequently surprising and rarely inadequate. Several songs emerge immediately —- particularly the title track and “Grace is Gone” —- with their characteristic blend of charm and innovation; others I sense have that this-will-grow-you quality of intricacy and imagination.

Somewhat surprisingly, Busted Stuff maintains a sort of thwarted, aching coherence as an album; it cannot be accurately said to be merely a collection of songs. It is coherent in that it reflects the profound, unanswerable discouragement of the human soul with the caprices of the world; and the homelessness of the soul in a world that always, finally, disappoints. Like so much in art, it reflects a failed attempt to assimilate the Fall, to make palatable the unpalatable. The soul is rent and assailed by the pain and injustice of the world; and it alternately quails and rages before a God who countenances evil. In the moment of realization, despair beckons. While I do not say that this album can be reduced to a mere three words, I do say that it can almost be; and those three words are: drink, God and loss.

These are the accouterments of depression, though not quite of despair. On this point, Mr. Matthews’ reworking of some songs from the bleaker preliminaries comes as a relief because it belies that even he was repelled by the approach of despair, and it is always relieving to perceive the human soul’s retreat from the abyss. The Doors’ classic meandering song “The End,” while surely a great song, is also a horrifying thing of raving madness; the chronicle of a soul’s capitulation to stark bottomless despair, from the perspective of which the vista narrows to suicide or murder; and of course Jim Morrison chose slow-motion suicide.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Busted Stuff never goes so far; it walks tentatively up to the edge, looks over, then cringes and retreats, wide-eyed and breathless, like a man waking from a nightmare. But the nightmare produced good material of undeniable aesthetic value, and so Mr. Matthews has endeavored here to make the nightmare’s harvest appear more like a dream. This, I think, explains what I can only describe as the disconnect between music and lyrics. The effect is quite difficult to isolate; like fog, it can only be seen from a distance, and gradually dissipates as the observer approaches it.

Mr. Matthews has lamented publicly the effect the unauthorized release of many of these songs had on the album as whole, likening it, in a lucid comparison, to a painter whose work is displayed in his museum before he has in fact completed it. His point is valid, and I wonder if I would have had the same response to this album without the unauthorized antecedents. There are many who asseverate the plain superiority of these antecedents, which, having only cursory familiarity with them, I cannot adequately evaluate. But I do know that if someone were to steal a preliminary draft of this review, publish it, and then assert its superiority to the final draft, I would feel entitled to a certain irritation.

On balance, Busted Stuff is a worthy album: worthy of the standards set by the band’s previous work, worthy for its internal unity, and worthy for its sincere depiction of the human mind and soul in struggle with a world which cannot, on its own, sustain them. It may well be a component of this great modern tragedy of a tremendous surge in spiritual longing coupled with the general secularization of the churches. Hearts and minds and souls reach out for an authentic, revealed religion at precisely the moment when the churches have retracted their arms.

Within the admittedly straitened limitations of popular music, this Dave Matthews album is something to admire.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:01 AM |

Thursday, August 15, 2002  

We have just returned from a trip across the country to visit family (which explains the recent sparseness of posts). One cannot drive over the plains and prairies of Missouri and Kansas and eastern Colorado without being struck by the pulverizing vastness of the American Midwest, which verily crawls with a kind of desolate beauty, and yields to no one in stolid imperishability.

The great Midwestern cities seem to rise up from nowhere, which in point of fact they do, with only a quickening of automobile traffic and thickening of the jumble of road signs to signal their approach. U2 wrote a fine song, aptly entitled “Heartland,” about the sublime insouciance of these plains, and the architectonic majesty of the cities punctuating them; a single, emphatic line of which tentatively, even reluctantly, captures the inassimilable paradox at the heart of Modernity’s greatest civilization:

In the towers of steel belief goes on and on

It is a paradox to the modern mind that still integral to the American story, the story of the enterprise and industry and vision which erected great cities out of these unbroken prairies, is the story of God become Man, and the God who died that men might live. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus employs an exhilarating little phrase to describe the paradox: “incorrigibly Christian America.” And one sees it in the “Jesus Saves” billboard over decrepit St. Louis industrial parks; in the sign in the middle of nowhere Kansas advertising a Catholic Church —- 250 miles ahead; in the small towns with modest, saturnine church steeples their tallest structures. One only misses it by a deliberately closing of the eyes, which generally is an accurate characterization of modernity's attitude toward religion. Christianity is an unseemly, angular thing for modern sophisticated man, because he is deracinated from a fertile historical sense of his world’s intellectual and spiritual roots. When he turned against tradition because he no longer had patience for learning its ineffable value, modern man discovered with thwarted alarm the supreme, even perhaps the only, wellspring of tradition in the faith of Jesus Christ. But he cannot so easily dismiss Jesus Christ in a petulant haste as he does even the great works of Shakespeare or Homer. God said to Job: “Where were you when the foundations of the world were laid?” and the thunderous question remains unanswered. And so modern man must ignore Him; and grow uncomfortable when the believers exercise the resplendent liberty of their birthright in proclaiming their faith.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:43 AM |

Friday, August 09, 2002  

One of the most explosive, painful and difficult questions of our age is the question of race. The wide-ranging and perspicacious journalist Steve Sailer addresses the question, gathering on a vast array of scholarship and a career of intelligent reflection. His essay is a must-read, though it will surely not be read enough.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:40 AM |

Tuesday, August 06, 2002  

The novelist Mark Helprin delivered a stirring commencement address last May, which deserves to be read in full, for it is an example, as usual with Mr. Helprin, of the English language in full. Earlier this year he wrote a startlingly blunt essay which castigated Congress and the administration for deeply under-funding the American military in a time of war. A sample:

The administration has recklessly abandoned the longstanding two-major-theater-war construct. Inexplicably defining a major war as one in which a combatant occupies the enemy capital and changes the regime —- strike World War I —- the secretary of defense remains sanguine about facing two major outbreaks even if ready for only one. “Since neither aggressor would know which conflict would be selected for regime change, the deterrent is undiminished.” That is, unless forces had already been moved, or one aggressor is willing to take a chance, or doesn't care, or ranks the two theaters according to U.S. strategic interests, or has a telltale intercept, etc. Will one enemy really refrain from making war against us because we are in combat with another? As Valley Girls say, "Hello?" Put charitably, to imagine that we will never be required to fight in multiple theaters is insane.

In his speech, Mr. Helprin issues a reverberating challenge:

My charge to you is that in this, you never be either ashamed or afraid. Civilization is vulnerable not only to munitions; it is vulnerable to cowardice and betrayal. It is a great and massive thing of many dimensions that can be attacked from many angles. When professors of ethics at leading universities advocate infanticide, you know that civilization is under attack. When governments and churches advocate racial discrimination, you know that civilization is under attack. When a popular “art” exhibit consists of human cadavers in various states of mutilation, including a bisected pregnant woman and her unborn child, you know that civilization is under attack. The list is endless. The daily assault could fill an encyclopedia of decadence and degradation.

The dreadful thing to discover is how many people do not know that civilization is under attack; more dreadful still, that many of its assumed defenders have opted for betrayal over resistance. The magnitude of treason in the modern age is at once unparalleled and rarely remarked. For some treason is a way of life, though they are hardly aware of it; it is a cachet of prestige, a secret handshake with which to open doors and cultivate respect. Terms and catchphrases develop around it: remember the contempt implied in the phrase “flag-waving” before September 11?

In 1947, Whittaker Chambers, as sound and as excruciatingly personal an observer of treason as there ever was, wrote some unforgettable words:

When, in 1936, General Emilio Mola announced that he would capture Madrid because he had four columns outside the city and a fifth column of sympathizers within, the world pounced on the phrase with the eagerness of a man who has been groping for an important word. The world might better have been stunned as by a tocsin of calamity. For what Mola had done was to indicate the dimension of treason in our time.

Other ages have had their individual traitors —- men who from faint-heartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th century, for the first time, man banded together by millions, in movements like Fascism and Communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.

The horror of treason is its sin against the spirit. And for him who violates this truth there rises inevitably Bukarin’s “absolutely black vacuity,” which is in reality a circle of absolute loneliness into which neither father, wife, child nor friend, however compassionate, can bring the grace of absolution. For this loneliness is a penalty inflicted by a justice that transcends the merely summary justice of men. It is the retributive meaning of treason because it is also one of the meanings of Hell.

(Incidentally, those words were published in Time magazine. Can you imagine Time printing such as they today? No, you cannot imagine it; and neither can I.)

Mr. Chambers wrote of treason as a vocation; what unspeakable awfulness exists in that idea. And here we are, washed ashore from the tumult of a century of blood and gas chamber and gulag, and we are called to defend the civilization which produced treason as a vocation.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:49 PM |

Saturday, August 03, 2002  

Read enough accounts of the invincible incompetence and bad faith of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and you will come to find great balm in a curse like that of H.L. Mencken, who described the state as the “common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.”

posted by Paul Cella | 5:56 AM |

John Derbyshire pens a column of pessimistic magnificence; blogger Noah Millman replies with equal magnificence. A highly edifying exchange we have here.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:46 AM |

Last fall, the incomparable P.J. O’Rourke wrote what may be the single best short essay I have ever read on the Israel-Palestinian war. His delicate humor and arresting insights are buttressed by a remarkable impartiality. It seems at times as though no conflict on earth fires greater passion and zealotry than this one; there are no impartial observers. Mr. O’Rourke comes close.

Consider this gentle but resounding defense of Zionism:

This is the second wonderful thing about Zionism: it was right. Every other “ism” of the modern world has been wrong about the nature of civilized man—Marxism, mesmerism, surrealism, pacifism, existentialism, nudism. But civilized man did want to kill Jews, and was going to do more of it. And Zionism was specific. While other systems of thought blundered around in the universal, looking for general solutions to comprehensive problems, Zionism stuck to its guns, or —- in the beginning, anyway —- to its hoes, mattocks, and irrigation pipes.

Those haunting words: “But civilized man did want to kill Jews, and was going to do more of it.” We can’t really get past this glaring fact, can we? It has about it that ring of truth which in its angularity and plainness will never fully be assimilated; it rings like the plainness of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”; those irrefutable things which make us squirm.

Mr. O’Rourke moves into a discussion of the squabbling between various Christian factions over control of the Christian holy sites. At the Church of the Nativity, he reports,

according to my guidebook, “in 1984 there were violent clashes as Greek and Armenian clergy fought running battles with staves and chains that had been hidden beneath their robes.” What would Jesus have thought? He might have thought, Hand me a stave, per Mark 11:15: “Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.”

And from this register of human squalor juxtaposed with divine wrath, Mr. O’Rourke tenders a consummate little amalgam of humor and elucidation:

It's left to the Muslims to keep the peace at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, just as it's left to the Jews to keep a similar peace at the likewise divided Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Who will be a Muslim and a Jew to the Muslims and the Jews?

Then later, more epigrammatic insight:

What could cause more hatred and bloodshed than religion? This is the Israel question. Except it isn't rhetorical; it has an answer. We went to Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust Memorial, and saw what the godless get up to.

His conclusion, if you can call it that, is that there is no solution, because there is no solution to the Fall. I shall let Chesterton have his say on this:

The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind; on the fact that the first and not the last men of any school or revolution are generally the best and purest; as William Penn was better than a Quaker millionaire or Washington better than an American oil magnate; on that proverb that says: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and skeptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.

It is memory which assails the Holy Land; memory of “the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man”; and Mr. O’Rourke thinks we could use a little amnesia.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:55 AM |

Friday, August 02, 2002  

Not a week goes by in this country these days without some effusion of hysteria which masquerades as solemn concern emasculating the public discourse on civil liberties. Virtually every domestic security measure promulgated by the administration, no matter how modest or sensible, is met by some wildly intemperate, and indeed repugnant, reference to the looming specter of the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, or the onset of a brutal police state here in America. Congress, pathetically unserious despite its self-satisfied affectations of seriousness, reflects this intellectual numbness; and while American civilians and students are dismembered on the front lines of this war in Jerusalem, the President shows his determination to persevere in the Middle East “peace process,” an abstraction so utterly superceded by reality it truly beggars the imagination that anyone can speak of it with a straight face.

David Tell, in an editorial for The Weekly Standard, examines this distressing phenomenon with acid wit:

So Arlen Specter, our four-term, senior senator from Pennsylvania, thinks foreigners visiting the United States shouldn't be kept under surveillance unless there's a “really good reason” for it, and thus is “troubled” to learn that the FBI is now tailing people on the flimsiest of pretexts —- like that they're “supporters of al Qaeda” who have “sworn jihad” and the Bureau thinks they're “terrorists.”

We are troubled, too. We are troubled by Sen. Specter's assertion that he is troubled. And not just because the specific worry he raises here is altogether bizarre —- though it is certainly that. More “troublesome” still is the fact that Sen. Specter's expression of concern for the civil liberties of visiting Islamic jihadist terror suspects is actually quite typical of the current debate about America's near-term homeland defense requirements.

Now a somber and thoughtful discussion of the limits of domestic security as it necessarily infringes upon civil liberties is precisely what we need; but it is also precisely what we don’t get from our public representatives.

Exactly how, to what extent, and with what authority the Bureau should conduct its domestic terrorism investigations seems to [be] a legitimate and wide open question that could not help but profit from rigorous national debate. But the Bush administration is so far conducting that debate pretty much all by itself —- while the rest of the world plays imaginary French resistance to an equally imaginary Justice Department Gestapo.

Yes indeed: shadowboxing with fantasy enemies while the real enemies proceed with their diabolical infiltration and preparation.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:34 AM |

Thursday, August 01, 2002  

Mark Butterworth, having stolen my blog template, proceeds to demolish the new Bruce Springsteen album. He concludes with this razor-sharp polemic:

On ABC's Nightline tonight in an interview with Bruce we get: The point of music like his, he said, is to liberate, to make people feel like coming out of themselves and thinking differently. “For me the greatest pop music was music of liberation: Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Public Enemy, the Clash, the Sex Pistols. Those were pop groups that liberated an enormous amount of people to be who they are.”

Those groups and people he sites never did a thing to spiritually ennoble or uplift a single human being, but primarily desired to incite rebellion, distrust, disunity, hatred, anger, violence, and fear. Gee, Bruce, what a great group of role models and exemplars of peace, harmony, love, compassion, understanding, wholenss, and gentility you espouse to value. What a great bunch of Mother Theresas, St. Francises, Gandhis, MLK's or Bachs, Handles, Hadyns, John Newtons (Amazing Grace) you profess to admire.

No, you like the so-called transgressors who tear things down and replace with what? Self-indulgence, selfishness, crassness, vulgarity, and viciousness. What a guy, Bruce. Yeah, you have a lot in common with your blue collar fans and all the police, firemen, nurses, and folks who actually serve humanity and build things up; who practice tolerance and forgiveness to all the insufferable “reformers” and altruistic rebels grasping at power in their hatred and disgust of the bourgeoisie.

Man, you make me sorry I ever admired you.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 AM |

A splendid day yesterday at National Review Online. Michael Ledeen says that Europe is being brassbound and counterproductive when it comes to Iran. Rod Dreher reports on a hot shot new mayor in the Big Easy, who seems to think that corruption ought not be the norm. Karl Rove, the President's top political advisor, receives a letter of advice from no less than the greatest political philosopher of the modern age. A momentous bill, of deep and ramifying consequences for the great debasing controversy of American politics, passes Congress, and no one even noticed. And Donald Rumsfeld sings an ode to one of the true titans of post-war economics, a man who walks with gaiety amid the halls of the dismal science.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:04 AM |
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