Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

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

Sunday, October 29, 2006  


ISI has very kindly sent me a copy of a new book that will surely endure: The Solzhenitsyn Reader, edited by Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney. It is a sizeable volume, with selections from the great man’s essays, speeches, histories, novels, and poetry — some of which have never before appeared in English. It is handsomely bound, includes a thoughtful introduction, and shorter introductions to each selection. It has something of the appearance of a school textbook, though it is doubtful, and being doubtful also a sad comment of the state of higher learning in the West, that many of our academic institutions will use it as such. The Solzhenitsyn Reader is, in any case, a very welcome achievement.

Here, for instance, we find Solzhenitsyn’s farewell address to a townhall meeting in Cavendish, Vermont, where he had taken up quiet residence, by the sufferance and generosity of these New Englanders, for eighteen years of a life that was anything but quiet. The people of Cavendish respected his privacy: the only note of his residence in the town appeared on a sign at the general store: “No directions to the Solzhenitsyn home.” When he came in 1976, they gave him a standing ovation; when he left to return to a Russia broken by Communism, in 1994, they did the same.

Here are some excerpts for that final speech:

Citizens of Cavendish, our dear neighbors,
At thus town meeting seventeen years ago I told you about my exile and explained the steps which I took to ensure a peaceful working environment, without the burden of constant visitors.

You were very understanding; you forgave me my unusual way of life, and even took it upon yourselves to protect my privacy. For this, I have been truly grateful throughout all these years; and now, as my stay here comes to an end, I thank you. Your kindness and cooperation helped to create the best possible conditions for my work.

I have worked here for almost eighteen years. It has been the most productive period of my life. I have done all that I wanted to do. Today, I offer those of my books that have been translated well into English to the town library.

Our children grew up and went to school here, alongside your children. For them, Vermont is home. Indeed, our whole family has felt at home among you. Exile is always difficult, and yet I could not imagine a better place to live, and wait, and wait for my return home, than Cavendish, Vermont. [. . .]

Here in Cavendish, and in the surrounding towns, I have observed the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy, in which the local population solves most of its own problems on its own, not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities. Unfortunately, we do not have this is Russia, and that is still our greatest shortcoming.

My sons will complete their education in America, and the house will remain their home.

Lately, walking on the nearby roads, taking in the surroundings with a farewell glance, I have found every meeting with any neighbor to be warm and friendly.

And so today, both to those of you whom I have met over the years, and to those whom I haven’t met, I say: Thank you and farewell. I wish all the best to Cavendish. God bless you all.

For those interested, there is a reception for the launch of this book, with remarks by the editors and Solzhenitsyn's sons, at the Union League in Philadelphia on November 3rd. More information here.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:14 PM |

Tuesday, October 24, 2006  


According to Heather Mac Donald, who delivered another atheistic polemic, this time in USA Today, “The Founders crafted America's constitutional framework based on their knowledge of human nature and their commitment to Enlightenment ideals. They left God out of the Constitution. This omission horrified many of the drafters’ contemporaries, who predicted that divine vengeance would follow.”

Now, it may be that some did predict divine vengeance. But divine vengeance, as it happens, is in fact a calamity somewhat mysterious in nature. I think even if I were a rugged atheist, with piety for empiricism and none for mystery, I might tread lightly on the subject of divine vengeance. Our dear freethinkers and rationalists, their imaginations narrowed into that shriveled state that only free-thought can accomplish, can only conceive of divine vengeance as something obvious and inexpressibly cartoonish — a frowning bearded man descending from the sky with fire and steel or something. It just does not occur to them that an Intelligence beyond the ways of man might manifest his terrible justice in ways dissimilar from the cartoons we make for children.

When we look at Scripture, however, what we see of divine vengeance is often very far indeed from the picture assumed by narrow rationalists. The first curse of man, delivered upon the woman at the Fall, is the pains of childbearing, followed by desire for her husband and submission to him. Upon the man the curse comes in terms of “toil,” “thorns and thistles,” “sweat,” and finally death: “you are dust; and to dust you shall return.”

In the book of Exodus, vengeance appears in the awful mystery contained in that repeated phrase: “and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Something similar is taught by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “So God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts.”

As a mere speculation, because — as Mac Donald teaches us — we must guard against ever letting reason and revelation commingle, I wonder what this sort of divine vengeance might look like in terms of a polity like the United States, which provokes it by affecting to set up, in impiety and defiance, an infidel republic. It is an idle question, because of course the American framers did no such thing. Indeed, despite Mac Donald’s assertion that “they left God out of the Constitution,” they did not. The United States Constitution in fact contains two oblique references to God, humble and unobtrusive — as befits a republic set up by men influenced by a robust estimate of the limitations of man and his works. A few years later an infidel republic indeed was set up in France, and its guarantor was the guillotine.

But in the American Constitution there was something impious and wicked — a special compromise with evil. And those of us beggared by that incorrigible itch to mix reason and revelation, might be inclined to wonder what terrible doom would come to America if the Lord hardened her heart on the question of slavery. Might it be remembered with names like Shiloh, Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville? And we might be inclined to ask, “what more can we say of the theoretical course of the planter society of the American South from Madison and Washington to Calhoun and the ‘firebreathers’ of the Confederacy, than that their hearts were hardened?”

And in fact a certain great American, not often thought a friend of Christianity, when he turned his subtle and perspicacious mind to this very question, did render statement that might fairly be called a prediction that “that divine vengeance would follow.” For it was Jefferson the rationalist who said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect hat God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

So God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:15 AM |

Wednesday, October 04, 2006  

Mr. Dean Esmay, a “conservative liberal” by is own description, has delivered a passionate essay calling out Conservatives to “start making a distinction between Muslims who hate us and want to kill us, and Muslims who believe in freedom, democracy, and religious tolerance.” His sincerity cannot be doubted; but this is an exceedingly difficult business. And the truth is most of the difficulty would not be alleviated by a clear answer to Mr. Esmay’s question; it will remain as uncomfortable as ever. In other words, I don’t think Mr. Esmay’s fears will be relieved if I answer, “yes, I agree, let’s start making that distinction.” Or at least, “let’s start doing a better job of making the distinction” — I leave aside the question of whether, as Mr. Esmay implies, American Conservatives have indeed “done a piss-poor job of making such vital distinctions”; it will surprise no one who knows my writing to learn that I suspect the error lies more in the other direction: toward an crippling fastidiousness and anxiety of painting too broadly.

In any case, first, it must be said that there some sizeable obstacles in the way of making this distinction.

There is, for example, the Islamic teaching of taqqiya or calculated dissimulation, which is abetted by the craven reluctance of the Western press to ask tough questions. Thus jihad sympathizers will assure Western reporters that Islam condemns the killing of innocents; but since in the classical tradition of jihad no infidel — that is no unbeliever who has legitimately heard the call to submission — is innocent, this statement is mere prevarication. Americans, Englishmen, Europeans, most Christians: all have heard the call; that they have failed to submit betrays their rebellion and thus authorizes jihad against them. Another obstacle is the incapacity of so many in the West to form a true estimate of what motivates the enemy. Whether the enemy represents the true voice of Islam, or merely a perversion of it, is immaterial to the plain pulverizing fact that he is exercised by religious convictions. His war his not primarily ideological; it is not political; it is religious. That his religion acknowledges no distinction between the religious and the political, is only a source of confusion for us, not for him. The enemy really does believe that there is piety — real piety, which will render unto him a sensual reward in paradise — in massacre and subjugation. He really does believe that the founder of his religion authorizes, nay, obliges treacherous war against what we in the West call “innocents.” He really does believe that a terror war is a just war; indeed that any war, of any character, that intimidates, frightens, or cows the kafir; that weakens his resolve; that enervates or destroys his political institutions — is a just war. In other words, making Mr. Esmay’s distinction does not relieve us of the duty to recognize that the war we are fighting is primarily religious in character. We have to get this through our heads.

So I say: by all means let us take up Mr. Esmay’s noble challenge to recognize friend and foe. Let us indeed be careful to know the enemy and not confuse him with those merely associated with him by accident of religious confession. This will be an exceedingly difficult thing to do, but I agree that it must be done.

But now I will issue a challenge to Mr. Esmay, and to the likeminded: Having distinguished between friend and enemy, don’t we need to start thinking much more seriously about the enemy? Because the enemy is not limited to just the active terrorist, to the foot soldier prepared to strap on a suicide belt and massacre our countrymen. The enemy is also the jihad recruiters, who are active in English, French, German, Spainish and American mosques. The enemy is the propagandist, the prevaricator, the professional expounder of taqqiya, who sits in plush offices in organizations like CAIR. The enemy is the radical imam who pushes out the moderate, as in a recent San Francisco case [scroll down] where a moderate was driven from his own mosque, by manipulating the law to his advantage. The enemy is street demonstrator, who calls for death against Danish cartoonists. The enemy wears many guised, and only rarely does he openly wear the garb of the terrorist.

We need think hard about how we can attack him in these other guises. We need to think about how we can turn the instrument of law against him. In my view we should legislate in such a way that we make clear that jihad (or the “lesser” jihad for you pedants) is proscribed, in thought, word, and deed. We need to remove the doctrine of jihad from the protection of Free Speech and Free Exercise, and expose it to sedition prosecution. We need to demand that Muslim immigrants renounce jihad as a condition of entry into this country. We need to say — in the manner republics “say” things — that jihad is not welcome here, and will be subject to various legal disabilities, of increasing severity based on how plain its espousal is. We need to say, in short, that this totalitarian strain of Islam will not find shelter in our laws, but will be removed from that shelter by dramatic and decisive steps.

So just as Mr. Esmay would challenge Conservatives to be more careful in their distinctions, I would challenge Mr. Esmay to be more firm in his opposition to the enemy, and more clear in his conception of him. The enemy is anyone who accepts the Islamic doctrine that there is piety and justice in treacherous war and mayhem against the infidel; not merely those who are prepared to act on this doctrine, but anyone who has invested his conviction in so wicked doctrine.

POSTSCRIPT: Mr. Esmay writes, “This very statement — that Islam is incompatible with democracy — is why I fight so hard with many of my friends on the Right: accepting that statement means we have to declare war on the entire Muslim world if we’re to hope for human freedom to survive.” Now this is foolish. More than that, it is irresponsible. The assumption underlying it is that any people which rejects (whether congenitally or philosophically) the ideal of democracy, becomes by that action a legitimate object of war. We shall make war against all antidemocrats. I hope readers can see the lunacy in that proposition; and I hope Mr. Esmay will rethink his reckless statement here. Human freedom’s survival, thank God, does not depend on the universalism of democracy.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:48 AM |
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