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We Americans laugh at the people of India and Pakistan who choose party leaders on the strength of their last names, and then a significant number of us run out to vote for George W. Bush or Hilary Clinton. Benazir Bhutto may be as crooked as Hilary Clinton, but she spoke far better English and was a fine-looking woman, which makes her superior to every female I know in American politics. And, while on this low topic, what man would not follow a pretty air hostess like Sonia Gandhi? Good looks, charm, and an impressive demeanor have always played a part in human affairs, but here in America even our screen idols are monkey-faced women and epicene males. To restore the republic, we should have to undertake a massive program of disenfranchisement, beginning with people who work for or receive benefits from government, moving on to unmarried women, and finishing off with anyone who has seen three films starring Heath Ledger or Brad Pitt. ~Thomas Fleming

Rod responds to John Savage’s critique of what Savage sees as Rod’s undue enthusiasm for Huckabee and excessive willingness to engage or reconcile with the Left.  Inasmuch as this second point repeats canards about crunchy conservatism generally and Rod personally, I don’t agree.  I agree with Mark of Protestant Pontifications that crunchy conservatism is the real version of Brooks’ “conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year,” and I also grant that Huckabee doesn’t have the right answers for these folks and usually isn’t even asking the right questions.  What he does seem to do, and this is where I think many of us find ourselves mildly sympathetic to Huckabee in spite of ourselves, is to gesture in the right direction.   

Savage wrote:

But the way that most crunchy cons look to him [Dreher] alone to define crunchy conservatism is unhealthy, especially when he’s the type who’s easily made to feel apologetic about taking conservative positions, and has an excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left. 

As someone who has written a good deal about crunchy conservatism, I grant that crunchy cons and their sympathisers have acknowledged Rod’s role in drawing attention to this kind of conservatism and we have defended him against the more ridiculous and unfair attacks that have been leveled at him, but I question whether the “crunchy cons” have generally looked only to him.  To the extent that they are what he says they are, they were already looking to Kirk, Berry and others before Rod came along to document what they were doing, or they were practicing the kind of conservatism of place, virtue and proportion that Rod was describing in his book without articulating what they were doing.  Were they relying entirely on Rod, or on any single figure, I think that would be unhealthy, but I don’t think that this is what has been happening.  I doubt that Rod has an ”excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left.”  If he had, he would not have made such a point of challenging Dallas-area Muslims over the dangers of Islamism, nor would he remain as staunchly pro-life as he has always been.  Those who wish to “get along and ingratiate” themseves with the Left do not typically rail against local Muslims and condemn the iniquity of abortion.     

Savage says:

Dreher is mostly a single-issue “conservative” whose single issue is traditional morality, narrowly construed as being pro-life, anti-promiscuous-sex, and anti-homosexual-unions. 

Rod can speak for himself on this point, and he has, but I would add that this is a strange argument to make against the author of Crunchy Cons, whose most controversial and contested claims involved matters of conservation, consumption and economics.  If he were simply the “single-issue” social conservative described here, Rod and crunchy conservatism would have created little resistance.

The least persuasive part of Savage’s post was this:

I resent that I can hardly defend crunchy conservatism in good conscience from people I meet on non-crunchy blogs, who assume on the basis of the name that crunchy conservatism is just another form of left-wing hippie-ism.

Most of us who have defended crunchy conservatism against its critics have lamented the name, which doesn’t really capture what it is.  Most of us prefer simply to apply the name traditionalist or even neo-traditionalist conservative to what Rod was talking about.  We should not allow such assumptions to be a cause of discouragement.  Who knows what people assume what the name paleoconservatism means?   It is up to paleos, if we insist on using the name, to explain what we are to those who do not yet know.  The same goes for those attracted to the best elements of crunchy conservatism. 

There’s a lot to be said for questioning the cultural conservative bona fides of someone endorsed by Chuck Norris, Ric Flair and Ted Nugent.  Reihan is correct, no doubt, that Huckabee’s embrace of these celebrities fits into a larger appeal to his natural base of supporters (it is probably true that the people who respond most strongly to Huckabee’s mix of populism and social conservatism are also going to be disproportionately fans of celebrities such as these), so that these “macho antics,” as he calls them, serve a kind of symbolic stabilising and reassuring function.  There is also something less forced and ridiculous about Huckabee’s embrace of Chuck Norris, who, lest we forget, is an evangelical Christian (you can visit the “Christian area” of his website here) and is now also a WorldNetDaily columnist, than there is about Giuliani’s newly-discovered faux love of NASCAR.   

P.S.  How is it that no one has made a Huckabee-related Dodgeball joke yet?  “Thank you, Chuck Norris.”  “No, thank you, Governor Huckabee.”  And so on.

Update: GetReligion noted Norris’ Christianity in an earlier postPeter Suderman sees the associations as part of “the VH1 effect”: 

This is, in large part, due to the way the pop culture obsessions of previous decades are quickly being recycled into icons of kitsch. Call it the VH1 effect. What was racy, nihilistic, or bloodthirsty in the mid 1980s is now fodder for our generation’s special brand of appreciative snark. Jerry Falwell might have gone nuts over a violent Chuck Norris film during the Reagan era, but the man barely causes shrugs from Tony Perkins in 2007.

Peter’s observation also points to something else more sinister: social conservatives’ apparent willingness to acquiesce in things they regarded as outrageous just twenty years earlier.  Some would call this keeping up with the times, but I should think that social conservatives ought to see it as a series of capitulations.  One result of these repeated capitulations to cultural degeneration is to desperately seek any rallying points that are available, which entails still more compromises.

For those who value their sanity and general peace of mind, NRO has long since ceased to be part of their regular reading, but recently there has been a small hubbub over the objections raised by Mark Shea to this effort at promoting softcore pro-Israel propaganda.  For what it’s worth, the ad ought to be as distasteful to Orthodox Christians, who find any trivialisation or denigration of the Theotokos to be something deplorable.

In response to the criticism, Shea has written:

Now the amazing thing to me is that, of all the things NRO could be doing, they chose to go to bat for *this*. And not just go to bat for it, but claim that criticism of it is an attempt to “turn us against a brave ally”. Because, of course, anything less than uncritical acceptance of anything the Israelis might choose to do–right down to a blasphemous jiggle ad–is endorsement of the idea of pushing Israel into the sea.

Shea is beginning to understand how many of the people at NRO see things. 

In his original post, Shea wrote:

This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder how long American Evangelicals (and even some Catholics) can be snookered by the notion that Israel is something other than a secular nation-state.

That is the real question.  If it is really just a secular nation-state with all that this entails, the religious enthusiasm about it at some point becomes absurd.  That was the point of Shea’s original observation.  The point was not to ”turn us against a brave ally fighting a just war.”  The complete inability to distinguish between critiques of sleazy or offensive “pro-Israel” P.R. and attacks on “a brave ally” is one of the reasons why many so-called “pro-Israel” pundits seem less and less credible all the time.   

Preemptive cultural surrender will be the defining issue of this upcoming election. ~Bill Bennett

First of all, if it were going to be the defining issue of the upcoming election it would need to have a much catchier name than “preemptive cultural surrender.”


Watch McCain pander:

I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, that’s a decision the American people would have to make, but personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.

Watch him completely abase himself:

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.

Whenever I hear the claim that “this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles,” much less that the Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” I have to wonder what people are thinking when they say these things.  In McCain’s case, it’s easy: he’s repeating what he thinks primary voters want to hear.  Never in his entire career, so far as I know, has McCain ever held forth on America as a Christian nation.  It would never have occurred to him.  The people who champion this or related ideas have been his adversaries within the GOP. 

It is true that America derives her religious culture from European Christianity, and it is true that Americans have been overwhelmingly Christian all along.  I think this religious heritage should be defended and extolled.  It is an integral part of American cultural identity.  What I really don’t understand is the need to make up these myths that the Republic is founded on “Christian principles” or that you can somehow find this claim in the Constitution.  First of all, these myths are unnecessary.  Second, it is an example of the mistaken drive to locate national and cultural identity in our political institutions and key political texts, when those identities really must be defined in other ways if we are not going to reduce them to ciphers or subordinates part of some political creedalism.   

Wisdom from the matrimonial banquet scene: “Tell them about your degrees and your family, that is very important, but don’t mention your father’s glaucoma.”

My earlier remarks on the matrimonial banquet phenomenon are here

Perhaps Steve Clemons should stick to foreign policy.  Affrerement, like adelphopoiesis in Byzantium (the terms mean the same thing), is not what the Boswells of the world would like us to think that it is, namely a medieval stamp of approval for homosexual relations.  Byzantinists understand that ceremonies for adelphopoiesis were not ceremonial approvals of homosexual erotic relationships, which neither secular nor ecclesiastical authorities would have approved, but were instead rites designed to formalise a strong social and emotional bond between men or as a mechanism for adoption.  It is strange that some moderns should have such difficulty imagining such fraternal bonds between friends. 

For the class I will be teaching this fall, I was recently reading one of the books I intend to assign that touches directly on the reflections on the Partition and on the Putnam research on diversity described here (TAC even gets a brief mention in the article).  The book, Twice A Stranger, is an account of the history surrounding the Treaty of Lausanne, the population exchanges of 1923-24 and the experiences of the people who were uprooted as a result (as partly related by still-living survivors of the exchange).  In this book, Bruce Clark challenges the standard liberal anti-Lausanne argument (after having similarly critiqued the nationalist account):

The liberal anti-nationalist myth often suggests that relations were perfectly warm and harmonious and would have remained so if the population exchange had not been imposed as an artificial exercise in segregation.  In fact, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  As anyone who is familiar with rural society in the Balkans or the Caucasus can testify, things are never that simple.  Warm and cordial business relationships, and personal friendships, can transcend the intercommunal division in surprising ways; but that does not abolish the division–or alter the fact that in the event of a general conflagration, almost everybody tends to seek security behind the walls of his or her own community [italics mine-DL], and life becomes  uncomfortable for those who try to occupy the middle ground. (p. 172)

The connection is that people with whom you identify, whom you consider your “own,” are the people you trust and will rely on in the worst situations.  Armed conflict adds an additional dimension of the pressure to actively side and identify with your community, as well as simultaneously seek shelter and protection from that community.  It occurs to me that this is how it is possible that rampant, violent sectarianism could spring from a pre-invasion Iraq that had relatively decent intercommunal relations, friendships and intermarriages.  Sectarian labels mattered little when conflict did not force people to choose sides, and the lines of the communities were not nearly so sharp when your position on one side or the other was not so significant.  When the chips are down, however, and having people you can trust becomes a matter of survival, sticking with your own is not only the natural, instinctive move but also the one that is actually the most rational under the circumstances.  Self-serving jingo “discoveries” of the damaged social fabric of pre-invasion Iraq have sought to discredit the idea that the source of sectarian violence in Iraq is the spark of the invasion itself, when it was the transformation of the country into a war zone that precipitated the bloodletting that has followed. 

This also highlights the flaws, or at least the limits, of Putnam’s proposed “solution.”  He wants to encourage “more encompassing identities” and a “new, more capacious sense of ‘we’,” which is just swell.  The problem with “more encompassing identities” is that they are usually weaker, more brittle and usually not founded in the natural affinities that would reinforce them.  Being an Iraqi is “more encompassing,” but it is consequently that much less meaningful.  It is “capacious” at the expense of being valued.  The more encompassing an identity becomes, the easier it is for that identity to collapse in on itself.

Harry Potter, in fact, functions something like a Rorschach Blot: In countries around the world, it captures various national anxieties about contemporary culture and international affairs. French intellectuals, for example, debate whether or not Harry Potter indoctrinates youngsters into the orthodoxy of unfettered market capitalism [!]. Some Swedish commentators decry what they perceive as Harry Potter’s Anglo-American vision of bourgeoisie conformity and its affirmation of class and gender inequality. In Turkey, we find a significant discussion of Harry Potter that pivots around issues of Turkish civilizational identity: whether Turkey is part of the West, the East, or a bridge between the two. A few Turkish writers have even asserted that controversies over Harry Potter in the United States demonstrate how Turks are more “Western” than Americans. And in Russia, a country whose concern over international status and prestige becomes more apparent each day, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta created a minor firestorm when it claimed that the film visage of Dobby the House-Elf was a deliberate insult to President Vladimir Putin [bold mine-DL]. ~Daniel Nexon

What is the strange obsession that people have with imputing grandiose cultural significance to the Harry Potter books and films or the popularity of Harry Potter?  Why must everyone constantly be looking for clues as to its political message, or seeking some lesson of political morality from a tale of battling wizards? 

If you look very closely, and really try to see the resemblance, I suppose you can see one, but then you would have to be extremely anxious to find negative portrayals of Putin in a story about adolescent wizards.  What does it say of your own view of the Russian President that you see a similarity between him and an imbecilic, droopy-eyed elf? 

Does it actually make any sense to be offended by this?  Granted, the character in question is a slave and not terribly bright, but he does come across as genuinely good and as someone interested in helping the hero with various (admittedly dimwitted) stunts.  To put it mildly, this is not how Putin’s critics view the man.  On the contrary, his critics concede that he is smart, shrewd and ruthless, but they also regard him as utterly villainous–more Draco than Dobby, to say the least.  For Putin to resemble a character who hates his Death-Eating master is actually a kind of compliment to Putin (the realisation of which will probably lead to a flurry of anti-Potter articles as subtle pro-Putin propaganda).  At the rate these ridiculously politicised readings of Potter are going, we will shortly hear from the Kremlin’s answer to Michael Gerson, Vladislav Surkov, who will assure us that the Order of the Phoenix is actually just a proxy for Boris Berezovsky’s seditious efforts against the Russian government and the depiction of the Ministry of Magic is designed to make Russians lose faith in their government as part of Britain’s grand conspiracy to subvert Russia from within by way of the Potter movie franchise.  Enough is enough.

You might call me a pessimist on the glory of democratic Kurdistan.  Therefore, I am not exactly won over by this sort of talk:

If we rescue Kurdistan, moreover, it does retrieve a sliver of the original hope.

They will be free of Saddam; they will be a Muslim democracy deeply grateful to the United States; they will be a Sunni society that is not hostile to the West; their economy could boom; their freedoms could flourish further. The Turks and the Kurds can become an arc of hope for some Persians who want to live in a free society and lack an obvious regional role model [bold mine-DL]. I fear, alas, that Arab culture is simply immune to modern democratic norms - at least for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discourage democrats or liberals [ed.–so we should discourage them?]; but that we should have no illusions about their viability in Arab society. Mercifully, the Middle East is not all Arab dysfunction. The Turks, the Jews, the Kurds and the Persians offer much hope.

Note that Kurdistan is apparently in need of “rescuing.”  From whom?  Oh, yes, the Turks.  But not just the Turks–it is apparently in need of rescue from its own regional overlords.  That makes all this talk about rescuing Kurdistan seem a bit bizarre–if we must rescue Kurdistan from both Turk and Kurd, the “rescue” mission would appear to be as futile and senseless as the “model of transformation” theory.  The statement quoted above is also riddled with the subjunctive, ever the mood of the optimist: these things might happen and it could lead to something better.  Well, okay, there are always many different possibilities, but are any of these proposed outcomes likely?  Optimists are great ones to talk about possibilities, but seem decidedly less curious about finding out which ones are more probable than others.  Supposing that Turks and Kurds can somehow “work it out” and the massing Turkish forces on the northern Iraqi border are just out for a summer hike, isn’t Turkey (at least according to its boosters) already supposedly something like a “regional role model”?  Wasn’t the point of democratising Iraq that it was a predominantly Arab country and would therefore be a beacon (or whatever they were calling it back then) to reformers in other Arab states?  Wasn’t Turkey considered less suitable as a model for reform because Arabs and other non-Turks remembered with some resentment the Ottoman yoke?  Since we’re pretending that Turkey is some sort of free society–unless you want to, you know, speak freely–I suppose we can also pretend that these previous objections never mattered, and that the rest of the region will take inspiration from Turks (whom the other nations dislike or resent) and the Kurds (whom most of the other nations look down on).  Let the rescue begin! 

Additionally, this is a fascinating distinction between Arabs and everybody else, and it is as close to full-on essentialism as I think I have ever seen Sullivan endorse.  (Ross is appropriately skeptical of the promise of the Kurdish Eden.)  I see that Sullivan is talking about “Arab culture,” but he speaks about “Arab culture” as if it were somehow so thoroughly different from the cultures of other Near Eastern peoples as to have no meaningful relationship with them.  Especially when it comes to other largely Muslim nations, this distinction becomes even more tenuous.  What is there about Kurds that makes their culture more amenable to liberal democracy than Arab culture?  The differences are not as great as one might suppose.  It is easy to see why. 

The Kurds’ ”stateless” existence has meant that they, perhaps more than others that have had a national state(s) of their own, have melded and adopted more cultural norms of their neighbours than others.  This is also not simply a question of shared culture among Muslims, but of shared culture among all peoples of the Near East and eastern Mediterranean.  The distinctions between the different nations should certainly not and really cannot be overlooked, but Western observers’ rediscovered confidence in understanding the importance of ethnicity in foreign affairs has become a bit overzealous.  The trouble with Arab culture, as Sullivan seems to be telling it, is that it is the product of Arabs, and there’s simply nothing to be done with Arabs.  The Kurds, on the other hand, well, these are people you can work with….It doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.  Are the structures of Kurdish social and family life so radically different from those of their neighbours that they are not likely to suffer from all of the same political pathologies?  

In the past, certain optimists believed that some of the biggest problems in the Near East were a lack of democracy and the absence of a robust civil society.  Fix those problems, and things would begin going the right way–the region would be transformed!  Now other optimists (haven’t we learned by now to stop being optimistic?) wish to tell us about the Kurdish (or Turkish or “Persian”) exception to the Near Eastern rule.  It turns out, they tell us, that the Near Eastern rule is actually just an Arab rule.  Even though the new proposed “arc of hope” does absolutely nothing to address the original “swamp” question that encouraged all of the original nonsense, and even though it means that the roots of the problem are even deeper and even less easily remedied, if they can be at all, this is supposed to be some consolation.

Sullivan ends his post with a rationale for his position:

It seems to me we should be investing in those places that have a chance, rather than further antagonizing those regions that have yet to develop any politics but violence, paranoia and graft.

Well, all right, but by that standard–at least according to some the latest evidence from Kurdistan–we should be clearing out of Kurdistan.  Indeed, using that standard, we should be investing our resources more heavily in Chile and Thailand than we put into in any country between the Tauros and the Hindu Kush. 

[H]is skepticism toward universalism gives him much in common with forms of multiculturalism today’s conservatives say they oppose. ~Alan Wolfe

I have said pretty much all I intend to say about Wolfe’s original article here, but this item begs for special attention.  Since Wolfe is terribly concerned with originality, it might be worth noting that this criticism of conservative particularism is not new.  There are plenty of fairly universalist people on the right who find particularism offensive for the very reason that it seems to lend support to multiculturalism.  They make points that I have found no more persuasive.  The criticism is not new, and it does not become any more accurate with the passing of time.  The universalist will often refer to religion to shame the particularist, who will often be religious to one degree or another: why, if a religion is in some sense truly universal, how can someone opposed to universalism be religious?  (This is also the essence of Wolfe’s weak point about Kirk and Catholicism.)  Well, he might begin by not deliberately conflating concepts that have nothing to do with each other.  Rational, man-made universalism is misguided both in its hubris and its ahistorical nature.  Revelation will be applicable to all times and places, since it comes from God, Who is eternal and immaterial.    

Those of us who are generally working in the same tradition as Kirk was believe that cultural diversity is a product of historical change.  To a certain extent, traditional conservatives are open to the post-modern critique of Enlightenment rationality, because we find the latter limited, one-sided and defined in such a way as to set man’s reason against his adherence to “irrational” customs and traditions.  (For another rightist who praised diversity and identified uniformity as a preferred trait of the left, Wolfe might read Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose enthusiasm for Catholicism will not leave him in doubt as to where K-L stood.)  Where particularists and multicultis tend to part ways is over the multicultis’ preference for encouraging and building up every other culture except their own (assuming that they believe that they have a culture of their own).  A conservative particularist is not terribly bothered if there are other cultures that have evolved differently, and he will usually be more aware of the significance of those differences than his universalist rivals.  

The particularist does not share the multicultis’ belief that his culture should have to be undermined or ridiculed to accommodate the cultures of others, and he tends to not think that the most stable and well-ordered polities are not those with the greatest number of different cultures.  In the end, multiculturalism does not offend these conservatives because of its interest in diversity, but because it has no real interest in diversity as such (and these people tend to be embarrassingly ignorant and naive about foreign cultures), only in the subversion of their own cultural norms.  Traditional conservatives accept cultural diversity as the result of natural historical development–it is something that can only be eliminated by coercion and ideology.  Multiculturalists seem interested in using other cultures as means to their own ideological goal of transforming their own society into something entirely different from what it has been.

In short, this point about multiculturalism is not a real criticism of Kirk.  It is not even that interesting of a point.  One might even call it an irritated gesture rather than an idea.

In Canada they have two national languages, but that’s one reason Canada often seems silly. They don’t even know what language they dream in. ~Peggy Noonan

With respect to Ms. Noonan, who has been pretty good, especially on immigration, in the last year or so, this is not right.  To justify our desire for English language, we should not have to run other nations in the process.  Their ways are not our ways, and that is fine.  The important point here should not be that every nation must have one and only one language, but that there should be one official and national language that provides a common means of communication and a source of common identity.  There are fictitious, meaningless nation-states whose linguistic divisions signal a deeper divide of culture, ethnicity and politics.  Take Belgium, for one.  There are others that have a common history and a reason for existing as a common, albeit federal, relatively decentralised, polity that are not the products of accidents of European great power politics or the Treaty of Versailles.  Canada is such a nation.  I understand and appreciate the Quebecois separatist view, but I have long since matured out of the weird American need to belittle the Canadian nation, which, strange as it may sound to American ears, does exist, as if we were so insecure in our own nationality that we needed Canada as our whipping boy to make us feel more American.  An American patriot does not need to disdain Canada to be more at home with who he is.  Canadians will sort out their internal debate on their own.  There is nothing necessarily “silly” about having multiple languages in a polity (it may impractical, but it is not silly–in terms of maintaining the peace, it can be the soul of wisdom in certain situations).  What is silly is pretending that a centralised, uniform nation and a mutiplicity of languages can coexist without any difficulty.

The fall of communism hasn’t created a global community of democracies. It turns out the Russians don’t want to be like us. The Arabs don’t want help from infidels. The Iraqis’ democratic moment has turned into sectarian chaos. The Palestinians have turned theirs into a civil war. ~David Brooks

I am reminded of Sir Steven Runciman’s claim in his history of the Crusades that the the conflict in the late twelfth century leading up through 1204 between the Byzantines and Latins was a good example of how cultural tolerance was most successful when cultures relatively rarely interacted with one another.  Proximity and conflict tend to coincide.  The idea that increased communication, contact and awareness of other peoples would lead to greater integration, unity and acceptance is fantastical.  Greater integration also involves increased pressures caused by close proximity; greater communication includes the possibility of fatal miscommunication.

I can understand why this idea is attractive and tempting, but that is no excuse for believing it to be true or finding it to be surprising.  For instance, is anyone surprised by this:

The globalization of trade has sparked nationalistic backlashes.

Of course it has.  Globalisation involves a certain loss of control, a loss of power and, yes, a loss of sovereignty.  That is why a great many people very reasonably object to it.  Those who are interested primarily in securing the interests of their nation are going to take a dim view of a process that inevitably deems the claims of the nation as secondary at best.  Despite everything he has just said, Brooks adds:

It could be we just need to work harder to overcome racism and tribalism.

As if a lack of effort was the problem.  It is in the compulsion to “overcome” boundaries and the hard-working efforts to “overcome” racism and tribalism that the origins of the reactions against these efforts are to be found.  This overcoming, whatever its intent, appears to many people to be an attempt to obliterate their identity, their distinctiveness, their independence after a fashion.  This “overcoming” appears to them to be a conquest by hostile forces.  Nothing has so retarded the gradual change in attitudes of any one people towards other peoples as the concerted efforts of their elites to make them accept other people.  It has in some formal ways hastened technical integration, but ensured that social integration, if it will ever happen, will be deferred for generations. 

Brooks offers a more plausible alternative:

But it could be the dream of integration itself is the problem. It could be that it was like the dream of early communism — a nice dream, but not fit for the way people really are.

And again:

People say they want to live in diverse integrated communities, but what they really want to do is live in homogenous ones, filled with people like themselves.

My impression is that most people say this because they have been trained from the time they were old enough to believe that this was a basic moral truth.  They do not actually see much value in diversity itself, but believe that to deny the value of diversity is to be a bad person.  If they say that diversity is what they want, it is because they have been told that this is what they are supposed to want.  The idea that there is something acceptable, indeed normal and understandable, about this disinterest in diversity is still fairly controversial.  It will take another generation before it is once again entirely unsurprising.

This clan power is one of the main reasons why western democracy does not transplant into Arab societies. They are different. We have seen what has happened in Iraq, where the division between Shia and Sunni Muslim is also hugely important. But even in peaceful, relatively civilised Jordan, attempts to encourage political parties have largely failed because they keep splitting into smaller and smaller units, generally clan based. A Muslim Arab almost always owes far greater loyalty to his cousins than he does to any party or government. ~Peter Hitchens

According to a new study by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s sociology department, Americans are generally positive — even optimistic — about the word ‘diversity,’ but when asked, even those working in the field of race relations have trouble describing diversity’s value and stumble when giving real life examples.

The desire to appear color-blind leads most Americans to prefer the standardized language of diversity-speak when addressing issues of race, rather than the other way around. The researchers conclude that American diversity-speak is a sort of ‘happy talk,’ an upbeat language in which everyone has a place, everyone is welcome and even celebrated. ~University of Minnesota press release

Via Steve Sailer

The best part of the release had to be this finding:

Also regardless of race, Americans’ definition of diversity places white people at the neutral center and all other groups of people as outside contributors.

That should give everyone pause.  Multicultis who believe that they are engaged in anything other than a rather embarrassing tokenism need to reflect on this conception of diversity that everyone seems to share.  Others who claim to prize imagined diversity but lament the disordering consequences of actual diversity should reconsider their embrace of the “happy-talk.”  Obviously, entire books could be written about the absurdity of any group of people constituting a “neutral center.”  No group of people is a “neutral center,” nor should any group of people, however vaguely defined, wish to be.  A “neutral center” is effectively an open space, a blank canvas, a shell without content, waiting to be improved upon and filled by something else.   

Perhaps more valuable for future discussion is this part:

The study also found that most Americans use platitudes when describing diversity. “The topic of race lies outside the realm of polite conversation,” said Bell. “Everyone in the study — regardless of race, political affiliation and even level of rhetorical ability — had real trouble talking about the inequities and injustices that typically accompany diversity in the United States.”


I said that Linker sometimes seems to oppose both political action based on religious conviction and non-political attempts to Catholicize (or Rortyize, or whatever) the culture through proselytization and persuasion. I also said, as I’ve said many times before, that I disagree on both counts: I think that Americans should be free to proselytize privately and that they should feel comfortable using “the levers of politics” (I love how Andrew makes the democratic process sound sinister) to promote policies that spring from religious convictions. And obviously Richard John Neuhaus is interested in doing both; only an idiot would claim otherwise, and I don’t know why Andrew is mistaking me for one. ~Ross Douthat

I am not really qualified to speak about Rorty or the “burning” question (should liberals prefer Rorty or Rawls?) that initially sparked this discussion, but since I have waded into a previous Douthat-Linker exchange I will now offer, unbidden, my probably unwanted comments on this Douthat-Sullivan argument.

I think Ross is probably being too generous here, since I think he might be able to guess why Sullivan is tendentiously attributing the wrong position to him on a question touching on Neuhaus and the intersection of religion and politics.  This has nothing to do with Ross’ earlier statement.  Whenever Neuhaus is mentioned, even in passing, Sullivan’s “theocon” alarm goes off and he begins warning about the heavy yoke of dogmatism.  When someone has spent as much time as Sullivan has in constructing an elaborate web around the myth that “theocons” have helped to turn the Republicans into a “religious party” and a haven for “fundamentalists” (you know, like Bill Kristol), and the central objection he has to “theocons” is that they seek to influence policy (gasp!) according to the lights of their understanding of natural law and revelation (shriek!), no occasion is too small to restate the description of sinister plan {voice quavering with anxiety}: Christians are attempting to…participate in the political process and…direct policies in the direction of their preferences!  Who will save us from this madness? 

A large part of the trouble comes from some of the more slippery definitions that secular critics of the “theocons” use.  We find an example of this in the quote from The Theocons that Ross cites:

The privatization of piety creates social space for every American to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference. In return for this freedom, believers are expected only to give up the ambition to political rule in the name of their faith - that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with their own inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions [bold mine-DL].

Two phrases, “political rule in the name of their faith” and “the whole of social life,” do all the work here, but it is never clear what constitutes “political rule” or where privatised piety ends and social life-conforming behaviour begins.  Does political rule here simply refer to established religion, or does it mean any exercise of political influence or power by religious believers?  My impression is that Linker means the latter.  He takes arrangements that most people, religious conservatives included, accept as given (no established religion, religious pluralism and freedom of religion) and then invests this surrender of “ambition to political rule” with a much more restrictive meaning.  Once you have ceded that we should not arrest people for heresy, you must also supposedly cede the right to every other attempt to influence political life.  Once you have yielded an inch on the potentially totalising claims of religion, you are supposed to give up all claims with a social or political dimension.  If you won’t stone the adulteress, don’t bother trying to ”impose” your beliefs on anyone with respect to abortion–you threaten the liberal order if you attempt the latter, because it must inevitably lead to full-on theocracy in the end.   

In Linker’s liberalism, how much “social space” do you get?  Is it a bit like zoning regulations, where you can build up to a certain point but cannot come to close to municipal property?  What is worship?  Is it simply liturgy on Sundays and bedtime prayers, or does man’s religious obligations to God and his fellow men require something in addition to that?  Does the bare minimum of religious life require more than that?  Obviously, any remotely traditional religion requires much more.  Linker’s definition of the proper sphere for religion in a liberal order seems to suggest that most of what traditional religion requires simply in terms of religious obligations is incompatible with that order.  If I understand him correctly, it isn’t simply that religion should stay out of the public square, but that the liberalism of the public square should enter into the religious groups of the society and liberalise them as well, if only to ensure that they stay out of the public square. 

God is sovereign over all, and it is the role of Christianity, for example, to be concerned with the whole man and the whole of society, and this for Linker seems to be the major problem.  Any political role is, of course, entirely out of the question, and this would eventually proscribe even proselytising, since proselytism is simply the imposition of the “inevitably partial” and “sectarian” convictions of one religion on adherents of another partial view.  If everyone has his privatised piety sealed off from all attempts to change society, it seems to me that even conversions would be a potential source of trouble, since religious conversions will generate social change.  (Ross says that Linker rejects going this far.)   

In Linker’s privatised piety, if taken to an extreme, Christians would presumably not even live according to the tenets of their faith, because this would be an attempt to bring the whole of their lives, which take place in political society, into conformity with their sectarian convictions.  This could have troubling second and third-order effects, such as “disturbing” patriarchal notions of marriage or veritably “medieval” attitudes towards homosexuality.  It is as if revealed religion were concerned with the whole of life!  It is as if Christianity required men to commit themselves and “all their lives” to Christ God.  Clearly, this is dangerous and subversive stuff–before you know it, they might want to start talking about it in the schools! 

A less extreme form of Linkerian privatised piety would have an allowance for consenting adults to practice their religion, provided that it never went outside the home and did not interfere with the proper, “rational” upbringing of children.  You wouldn’t want to inculcate all sorts of “anti-social” attitudes into your children by teaching them regressive ideas about traditional gender roles or sexual morality.  Christopher Hitchens’ dream of a bureaucrat rescuing children from the “child abuse” of religious education is not far away here.

As the sociologist Manuel Castells generalized, “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local.” People with university values favor intermingling. People with neighborhood values favor assimilation.

What’s made the clashes so poisonous is that many members of the educated class don’t even recognize that they are facing a rival philosophy. Many of them assume that anybody who disagrees with them on immigration and such must be driven by racism, insecurity or some primitive atavism. This smug attitude sends members of the communal, nationalistic side into fits of alienation and prickly defensiveness. It’s what makes many of them, in turn, so unpleasant. ~David Brooks

I like the sociologist’s generalisation, since it seems to suggest that elites aren’t actually people.  It also suggests that ”elites” have to be conditioned to accept rootlessness and ”cosmopolitan” attitudes, as these are the farthest things from normal.  This would help explain how they manage to hold such strange views about the world and their fellow citizens.  Of course, this idea of town v. gown as the explanation for our political conflicts is a reprise of Brooks’ opposition between so-called “progressive globalists” and “populist-nationalists.”  Generally, I think he describes the division correctly, though I don’t necessarily buy the prog-globs’ self-description of themselves as being “cosmopolitan.”  Many of them are not cosmopolitan in the sense that they are genuinely “open” to or curious about other cultures and peoples.  They espouse universal ideals and values, so what need is there to trouble themselves with foreign traditions that should be cast aside in favour of these values?  They are convinced that no one could actually prefer their own customs and religion to the exciting world of individualistic self-definition and anomie.  According to this view, all people naturally desire what we already have.  We are the mountain, and Muhammad will, must, come to us.  A more unpleasant and hateful idea is difficult to imagine. 

They are cosmopolitan in reaction against the definitions of their own native culture, but many of them usually find very little of value in foreign cultures that extends beyond exotic food and textiles.  They are the ones alienated from their homes, but they cannot truly be at home anywhere else, either.  Trying to belong to the whole world, they find no place for themselves anywhere.  This makes them rather obnoxious and domineering, as they seek to make everyone else just as rootless as they are–and so they advance policies of “openness” and “integration” that are aimed at nothing so much as breaking down cultural, ethnic and religious lines and dis-integrating nations.  This sort of cosmopolitanism is almost entirely negative.  In the West, it comes partly from a rebellion against any distinctive forms of Western and Christian identity and partly from an attempt to identify the creations of our civilisation with the universal aspirations of all people.  These are the people who never think that they are harming other people by attacking their cultures and traditions–it is always an emancipation.  “Look, we are making you more open and worldly!  You should thank us!”  The natural, normal reaction of most people to throw things and shout abuse at such “benefactors” is the “unpleasantness” that Brooks describes.  (Unmentioned in this discussion of a conflict of “values” is the deeply undemocratic nature of the bill that was almost foisted upon the country and the tyrannical refusal up till now to enforce the laws of the land–you don’t have to be a “neighbourhood” guy to see what is wrong with these things.) 

As for being unpleasant, there is nothing quite so unpleasant as the rich, Eastern transplant legacy frat boy telling the people of this country that they don’t want to do what’s right for America.  What would he or any other member of the elite know about America?  Except for political campaigning, changing planes or vacationing at their enormous ranches and ski lodges, these people hardly venture out into the interior of this country.  Whether they are in business or government, such “cosmopolitan” people have the cosmopolitanism of having been to two dozen airports where they encounter the same globalised junk pseudo-culture wherever they go.  These are the sort of people who don’t just fly over the interior because it is quicker–they truly don’t want to go to any of the places between the coasts.  This is generally fine by the rest of us, since we wouldn’t want them to visit anyway.

These people are legitimately cosmopolitan in that they would like to think that they are not citizens of any particular place.  To be a “citizen of the world” is the epitome of meaningless, oceanic detachment from your origins and your home.  It has never been clear to me why someone should become more like this the more educated he becomes, since the more education you have the more likely it is that you realise how wildly abnormal this sort of detachment is.  Perhaps I take this view because I am a product of many (maybe too many!) years of formal education and have somehow not bought into this nonsense about “openness.”  It is a little story that globalists tell to flatter themselves with the idea that they are more “open” and inquisitive and interested in the rest of the world, but mostly they just want to make the rest of the world as bland, self-referential and provincial as Manhattan and D.C.

It’s even making a difference at the ballot box. Liberals have spent much of the past six years straining to cut into the GOP’s advantage among religious voters. But when the Democrats finally shattered the Republican majority in the 2006 midterms, it was their consolidation of the secular vote that helped put them over the top. Despite all their efforts to close the God gap, the Democrats managed barely any gains among frequent churchgoers last November—but their share of the vote among Americans who never attend church at all leaped to 67 percent, from 55 percent in 2002. ~Ross Douthat

This would suggest that, for all of Obama’s “righteous wind” and John Edwards’ “faith-belief,” the Democratic Party is geared to become more aggressively secularist in the coming years than it has been.

This is the strangest thing I have seen in a long time (via Crooked Timber and Yglesias):

A case in point is the following. The GSS folk actually made the mistake of asking the following question as part of their science module:

Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Here we go. Now what follows is real social science data folks. No joking around:

Earth around sun 73.6%
Sun around earth 18.3%
Don’t Know 8.0%
Refused 0.1%


Among those who were up to date with seventeenth-century Galilean basic science, they actually dared to ask the follow-up question: 

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year?

One day 19.0%
One month 1.1%
One year 71.2%
Other time period 0.1%
Don’t Know 8.5%
Refused 0.1%

I suppose the ignorance here shouldn’t really surprise me.  The historical ignorance of the average American is proverbial, so why should anyone be shocked that a fifth of the population displays such ignorance here?  I would agree that this is the kind of basic knowledge that one learns in, oh, elementary school, but, if high school graduates don’t necessarily know when the Civil War happened or where America is on a map, why should 25% being clueless about heliocentrism strike us as being all that remarkable? 

But where does this come from?  Where do these people live?  Have they never seen a diorama of the solar system?  Have they never read about the formation of planets?  Did no one ever tell them about Kepler and elliptical orbits? 

Thinking about the differences between “compassionate conservatism” and “crunchy” conservatism this week, I proposed thinking about the differences between Sam Brownback and Caleb Stegall.  I think these examples do summarise quite well the differences between the two “positions” (though Caleb will always appropriately insist that he considers himself simply to be a traditional conservative).  Brownback seems to be a very earnest, serious and faithful man.  I have given him so much grief over the months because I disagree with many of his policy proposals and because many of his policy priorities seem to me to be perfect examples of what happens when sincere conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have become disconnected from constitutionalism and a sense of proportion and scale.  It seems to me that Brownback’s activist goals come from an abstract defense of Life and a generic commitment to “compassion.”  For Brownback, it is appropriate to use federal power to intervene on behalf of Life, whether this means intervening on behalf of Terri Schiavo or intervening in Darfur, because the support for abstract Life everywhere compels him to disregard any number of normal distinctions.  He does not ask whether the government should be doing something, or whether there is another, more local authority that might be capable of handling the question, but apparently simply asks what the compassionate thing to do would be in this or that case.  Inevitably, the “compassionate” thing is almost always to intervene and “do something.”  Instead of asking, “What is my relationship to these people?” Brownback always assumes a profound obligation to aid everyone everywhere.  This has the zaniness of Obama’s foreign policy (which might be dubbed, in keeping with his favourite phrases, ”quiet imperialism”), but with a social conservative spin.  Rather than minding your own business being the root of justice, Brownback theoretically wants us to mind everyone’s business for the sake of preserving Life and being “compassionate.”

Inasmuch as “crunchy” conservatives are simply a kind of Kirkian traditionalist, the difference between Brownback’s view and a traditionalist view is fairly simple: Kirk returned to his ancestral village and stayed in his native place, specifically rejecting calls for crusading overseas as surely as he rejected all “armed doctrines,” while Brownback has effectively said that our “goodness” as a nation depends on what we do in Sudan and Congo.      

Poulos weighs in with a smart statement:

See, the trouble is that certain types of ‘crunchy cons’ — and this is to the exclusion of compassionate conservatives and Nat. Great. Republicans, who by definition fit in a national membership category — already have meaning in their lives, identities, families, and communities, no Weberian scare quotes about it. They do not need ‘meaning’ imparted to them by some emonationalistic scheme or by some winsome political patriot [bold mine-DL]. They have typically dismissed earthy utopia in very specific terms, often on account of a recognition that utopia means nowhere for a reason. They are good, old fashioned people, and if they’re anything resembling middle class, they’re ‘bourgeois’ in social science terms but hardly ‘identify’ as bourgeois for reasons that should now be obvious. The certain types of crunchy cons to which I refer — and this includes certain types of postmodern conservatives — have no use for crusaderist projects because they don’t like to endure the abstraction of virtues into vague values simply to invent things to have in common with strangers. And, no surprise, they then get attacked for not caring about others, for being isolationists if disinterested in foreign policy or jerks if interested. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t for the anti-crusaders, I fear.

James makes the point concisely.  I will just add that this is why it is a major mistake to confuse this sort of conservatism, which usually derives from religious convictions, with an attempt to make politics into a religion.  They might wish members of a polity were more pious, in the broadest sense of that word, but they do not need politics or political causes to flourish and live meaningful lives.  It is quite literally a conservatism of place, of keeping things in proportion and within limits and of tending to your own fields.  A cultivator, not a crusader, might be the best example of it. 

 I was focusing my comments at Rod and his Crunchy Conservatism (or at least my reading of it), which does share with compassionate conservatism many fundamental assumptions about the nature of “mainstream” conservatism as well as of the proper role of government and politics. ~Jonah Goldberg

Since my earlier remarks were too “otherworldly,” let me address this a bit more concretely.  This claim of shared assumptions is simply wrong.  It is another example of Goldberg’s exceedingly poor reading of the book.  One part of the ”crunchy” con critique is that mainstream conservatism is too materialistic.  He does manage to get that much right.  Compassionate conservatives say nothing about this.  Whether or not you agree with the “crunchy” con view, the two have nothing to do with each other.  “Crunchy” cons, both in the book and at the blog, tended to be skeptical of or hostile to development plans that came at the expense of the environment, historic buildings and the local community’s interests.  Compassionate conservatives are almost entirely unconcerned about this, though they will occasionally talk about conservation.  “Crunchy” cons find the the way that some on the right make a fetish out of the market and economic goods to be deeply misguided, as it seems to neglect man’s spiritual life and his obligations to transcendent moral order.  Compassionate conservatives are sometimes religious and use religious language, but their answer is not one of changing habits, cultivating virtue and building communities–if anything, they assume that this is already being done–but to “rally the armies of compassion” using federal cash.  It is the weak political answer to an extensive cultural problem, which makes it an entirely different sort of idea.  I’m sure Goldberg doesn’t understand how someone can object to a culture of consumption and self-indulgence without being a statist.  This is the essence of the problem of mainstream conservatism: mainstream conservatives seem to think that anything that criticises the degrading and uprooting effects of capitalism must therefore be proposing some state-led intervention, as if that were the only answer in a free society.  Obviously, the book proposes little or nothing by way of calls for regulation.  At several points, I believe you will find that Rod rejects the association between a desire to remedy a problem and reliance on the government to be part of the remedy. 

At bottom “crunchy” conservatism is cultural conservatism that tries to fight the culture war by actually living out a way of life dedicated to the practice of virtue and restraint.  Goldberg, he of the “partial philosophy of life,” wants nothing to do with this.  ”Crunchy” conservatism assumes that our vision and imagination of a good, well-ordered society matters a great deal more than the tax structure or funneling subsidies to charities.  It does not share compassionate conservatism’s assumptions about the “role of government,” since it does not propose much in the way of a role for government to remedy the ills it describes.  It does not see government activism accomplishing very much when it comes to shoring up local communities and families, and it sees a great deal of harm in collaboration between public authorities and corporations.  Compassionate conservatism seems to have been an attempt to put a moderately social conservative spin on welfarism and use religious language to justify the continued centralisation of power in Washington.  ”Crunchy” conservatism and the people in the book described as “crunchy” conservatives have nothing to do with any of that.  The difference between the two is the difference between Sam Brownback and Caleb Stegall.  If Goldberg doesn’t see the difference there, that is his problem, not ours.          

Jeff makes an important observation before he gives the citation from the always insightful Prof. Bacevich. Jeff writes:

That strategy of openness has been structured around the imperatives of economic growth and expansion, on the assumption that the construction of an integrated global order will ensure not only the economic preeminence of the United States, but her geopolitical preeminence.

It is interesting that Jeff should bring up this discussion of a “strategy of openness,” since Fareed Zakaria has come out this week with an affirmation of key elements of that strategy as the appropriate post-Bush strategy for the United States.  In other words, the policy establishment will continue business as usual, minus the glaring incompetence of management.  This has the feel, as all paeans to “open society” have, of whistling past the graveyard. 

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But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you’ve got to cap with a number. ~Bill O’Reilly

Now, is O’Reilly really saying that we need to defend the precious white, Christian, male power structure against a foreign onslaught, as his critics are suggesting? Or is he just saying, rather clumsily, that the “far-left” sees open immigration as a way to socially engineer America as we know it - which they perceive as dominated by a pernicious, patriarchal, Anglo-Saxon power structure - out of existence, as part of their “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go” agenda? I think it’s ambiguous, and it seems at least as likely that he’s caricaturing lefty views as that he’s expressing his deep, dark Christofascist fantasties [sic]. ~Ross Douthat

First of all, I don’t think Bill O’Reilly would ever use the phrase “power structure” as part of his self-identification.  The O’Reillys of the world do not use phrases like “power structure” to express their own views.  “Power structure” is a phrase that academics–liberal academics whom the O’Reillys hate–would use to describe the organisation of a society.  It would be like Sean Hannity using the phrase “cultural appropriation” or Rush Limbaugh speaking about “othering” or “anomie.“  These are phrases and ideas that simply aren’t normally used by bombastic GOP talking heads, or if they are they are used ironically and with contempt.  It seems fairly clear that O’Reilly is talking here about what he thinks open borders supporters really want, and not about what he fears they want.  I say this because I don’t think O’Reilly cares much at all about said “power structure,” which is to say he’s not terribly concerned about white American Christians, their culture or their interests, but he knows that it is popular among these viewers to side with them on immigration.  

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s that strange of an interpretation of the open borders position.  Actual Republican advocates of open borders–for example, those on the right who hold the WSJ immigration and border security position–who want to declare, “There shall be open borders,” are clearly not just indifferent to whatever dominant culture exists in this country, but they are plainly hostile to any politics that espouses loyalty to cultural and religious traditions and identities that supersede or take priority over economic motives and economic efficiencies.  These loyalties can be a drag on productivity when they encourage feelings of patriotism and national identity, which can be a problem for those whose loyalties are to themselves as individuals, the moneyed interest or the profits of multinationals.  When forced to choose between the bottom line and the border, these are the people who will choose the bottom line.  As Henninger made clear earlier this week, it’s all about the money market. 

They are indifferent to what these traditions and identities are–they just know that they are annoying baggage to be dispensed with as soon as possible.  What the open borders crowd knows is that loyalties to tradition and cultural identity potentially hamper “growth,” cultivate the desire for belonging and exclusion and erect boundaries between nations that can make the free flow of goods and services more difficult.  Wherever there are cultural conservatives, they are the enemy of the open borders, globalisation crowd.  (This is why I have argued before that it is the natural conservative response to regard policies of globalisation as hostile and threatening.)  It happens that the cultural conservatives of this country are predominantly white and Christian, so this is what our latter-day Freisinnigen have decided ought to be undermined.  (Incidentally, anyone who thinks that introducing large numbers of Latin Americans into the United States threatens the existence of “patriarchy” doesn’t know what he’s talking about–those who are most keenly interested in women’s rights might reconsider importing cultural habits that tend to be inimical to women’s emancipation.) 

These open borders folks are the people who speak contemptuously of cultural conservatives for daring to want to conserve their own culture.  Retaining this or that culture, rather than just letting “creative destruction” work its magic of demographic and social upheaval, may introduce barriers to economic activity and it will certainly hinder the “free movement of labour” that economic efficiency may require.  There are other open borders advocates who are multiculturalists, who at the very least have no strong attachment to Anglo-American and/or Euro-American culture and many of whom are positively glad to introduce any number of cultures and languages into the country.  That this does and will continue to result in social and political fragmentation detrimental to everyone in the country is not their pressing concern.  These are the sorts of people O’Reilly was referring to, but what he failed to mention, probably because it is not a popular thing to say, is just how many people among American elites in business share multiculti goals in subverting the culture that white Christian conservatives are trying, however haphazardly, to protect and preserve.   

So Republicans will keep winning because Americans are becoming more entrepreneurial and “market-oriented” and because they’re increasingly “saying it’s not all about materaliasm, it’s not all about the pursuit of material things”? It’s hard to imagine a balder description of the essential contradiction at the heart of the GOP coalition, and yet Rove seems unaware that there’s anything contradictory here at all. ~Ross Douthat

This contradiction echoes part of what I was saying earlier today:

The pairings of social democracy/cultural hedonism and economic liberalism/cultural conservatism are extremely weird and abnormal.

There is a way in which the computer chip-empowered people of Rove’s active imagination and the culturally conservative, not-so-materialistic people could get along or prove to be more complementary than I might normally allow.  It is even possible that technology will facilitate a large-scale flourishing of homeschooling, home businesses and some measure of agrarian ”return to the land.” This might even be joined together with a religious ethos and a respect for consecrated order, but I wonder whether it is at all likely. 

It is annoying to say, but from what I understand of his thesis Brink Lindsey is right.  Abundance and technology tend to lead to what I would call cultural disintegration and atomistic individualism (he would call this “freedom”) and actively undermine the ethic that says “it’s not all about materialism.”  It may rely on those who are driven to pursue higher goods and it will create the space for people who want to say, “it’s not all about materialism.”  It is quite conceivable that the excesses of the “Age of Abundance” will send sane people running screaming (and making prostrations along the way) back to churches and perhaps even real monasteries (and not merely the MacIntyrean metaphorical monasteries of the home), but this still suggests a sharp tension and even a dialectic between the Mammon voters and the God voters. 

Incidentally, the whole controversy over “crunchy conservatism” and the more general traditional conservative critique of the materialism of capitalist society centers around the basic truth from the Gospels that you cannot serve two masters.  “Fusionism” has been premised to some considerable extent on the assumption that you can do this.  The “fusionists” have been mistaken.

He [Buruma] marveled over Ramadan’s mix of anti-globalist fervor and ultra-conservative cultural views. “In American terms,” Buruma remarked, “he is a Noam Chomsky on foreign policy and a Jerry Falwell on social affairs.” ~Paul Berman

So, in other words, he’s rather like…me?  Well, not quite.  For starters, my grandfather did not found the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a piece of information that any cursory introduction to Ramadan always mentions, but which Berman has failed to bring up in the first page and a half of his miniature biography).  Of course, this description of Ramadan doesn’t tell us much about him, since the religion and tradition he wants to conserve are radically different from the religion and tradition that I want to conserve.  Incidentally, Berman does not go into much detail about why Ramadan was denied an entry visa when he tried to come to this country.  It was denied because the government claimed he gave material support to Palestinian terrorists.  Now it may be that the government is wrong, but you would think that something like that would be worth mentioning early on. 

Anyway, there is nothing that strange or marvelous about a combination of social and cultural conservatism and ferocious anti-globalism and anti-imperialism.  Indeed, the two pretty much go hand in hand.  “Don’t Tread On Me” and “mind your own business” are saying more or less the same thing with slightly different emphases.  It is only because of the weird confluence in a few Western countries of the battered remnants of classical liberalism with social and cultural traditionalism (a combination of the interests of capital and cultural capital, you might say) that those who are (at least rhetorically and symbolically) culturally conservative at home endorse the whirlwind of “creative destruction” sweeping over the world and devastating, er, “enriching” everyone else’s cultures.  Perhaps this is because these people see this process as a creation of “our” culture and therefore a demonstration of our culture’s vitality or value, but then they have to ignore that this creation acts rather like a nihilistic parricide against the very culture that raised it up in the first place. 

The more fiercely conservative you are about your religion, your culture, its habits, morals and traditions, the more likely you are to regard all forms of globalism and globalisation–political, economic, cultural–as perverse, destructive and hostile to your “vision of order” and your way of life.  Opposition to hegemonism and globalisation on the one hand and opposition to cultural decay and fragmentation on the other are a natural pair.  Support for their opposites (with some qualifications in the realm of foreign policy) forms another natural pair.  The paleocon combination is the normal, relatively more common conservative response to these phenomena around the world.  The pairings of social democracy/cultural hedonism and economic liberalism/cultural conservatism are extremely weird and abnormal.  It doesn’t actually make sense for people who want to preserve tradition to support international capitalism with the enthusiasm that many conservatives do, and indeed some “conservatives” today not only see the contradiction but decide that they are quite happy to let tradition fall by the wayside for the most part.  That is the outcome of the fraud of “fusionism”: the decision to discard virtue and to start a torrid affair with “economic dynamism.”  The marriage of liberty and virtue that ”fusionism” was supposed to represent and defend did not take account of that ”other woman,” which we might also call “growth.”  For that matter, it doesn’t make much sense for people who believe social solidarity is extremely important to endorse rampant individualism in social and cultural matters.  Both are like patients suffering from ulcers who believe that drinking acid will help with the cure.  These combinations exist only in fully industrialised Western societies and map onto no other alignments anywhere on earth.  

There are many problems with this argument, not least of which is that about a fifth of Hispanics in America are Protestants, mostly evangelical Pentecostals and Baptists. Almost all of Bush’s political gains among Hispanics have come from this group, which gave him 44 percent of their vote in 2000 and 56 percent in 2004. Hispanic Protestants tend to be conservative on social policy.  And many conservatives, I’d be willing to bet, would feel more cultural affinity with Hispanic Baptists in their church pews than they would with Huntington’s colleagues in the Harvard faculty lounge. ~Michael Gerson

This is amusing to read.  Gerson knocks anti-immigration populists as “lowbrow,” but wants to stir the populist pot against pointy-headed academics by pushing a crude evangelical identity politics that will supposedly unite Anglos and Latinos in their shared derision for scholars.  Gerson joins naked anti-intellectualism to anti-patriotic policy proposals.  An inspiring combination!  His motto might be, “We’re ignorant and transnational.”

Note that Gerson doesn’t tell us about the four-fifths of Hispanics who aren’t Protestant.  He doesn’t tell us what their politics are like, nor does he tell us about the cultural values they possess, because he probably knows, or at least guesses, that this information would be distinctly unhelpful to the cause of selling out his country.  The final lines, deploring national chauvinism, might have some credibility if they did not come from a former speechwriter of an administration that has masterfully honed the rhetoric of national chauvinism for the purposes of promoting aggressive warfare.  About that rather un-Christian behaviour, Gerson naturally never has anything to say.

The new conservative media infrastructure is ideally suited to rapid-response punditry and rallying the base, but it’s not really an alternative to the major cultural institutions—the big dailies, networks, universities, and Hollywood studios. Talk-show hosts and bloggers criticize the mainstream media’s excesses, but rarely do any reporting of their own. Conservative think tanks provide a corrective to Ivy League liberalism, but aren’t in the business of actually educating undergraduates and churning out Ph.D.s [bold mine-DL]. The O’Reilly Factor can give a right-leaning movie a much-needed boost, but aside from a few outliers like The Passion of the Christ, it isn’t clear that Hollywood has become any more hospitable to conservative values and themes in the last decade or so. ~Ross Douthat

This is from a review of South Park Conservatives Ross wrote a few weeks ago last year.  His conversation with Henry Farrell pointed me to it, and this quote in particular struck me as being very right.  A few weeks ago I had made some similar remarks:

If anyone wants an explanation for why the academy is dominated by the left and why the youngest cohort of voters has gone even more overwhelmingly for the Democrats than usual, you need look no further than precisely this sort of professional cop-out, giving up on educating the next generation for the sake of the easy, cheap and ephemeral victories of politics.  Every conservative out there complains about the declining standards of education, the ruin of the academy, the politicisation of the classroom and on and on, but what happens when it comes time to step up and do some of the educating themselves?  They go to law school to get a “useful” degree, or go into politics or some other field where the “prospects” for the future are better, and then wonder how the media, academia, the arts and cinema have all been taken over by people who loathe everything they believe.   

The creation of these parallel institutions, such as they are, has had the somewhat predictable effect of reducing incentives for conservatives to persevere in the various hearts of cultural darkness and also has tended to make sure that conservatives are less relevant to much of the discourse today in any number of fields that were ceded and abandoned decades ago.  Were modern conservatives such great “theocrats” as some parts of the left accuse them of being, you would think that they would dominate the seminaries and divinity schools around the nation, but the opposite is usually the case.  Were conservatives in fact as medieval as their progressive adversaries believe them to be, you might think that they would dominate medieval history, but the opposite is usually the case.  History departments were once redoubts of reaction, and nowadays almost the opposite extreme is true.  This is perplexing, since you might think conservative-minded people would be very keen to learn about their history and traditions and so pass them down and reproduce them, but with baffling regularity they entrust the keeping of the faith and the preservation of memory to those who are less inclined to venerate traditional forms and those who may be more interested in subverting and debunking than understanding.  There has been a recent flurry of arguments in favour of reviving the study of military history, which is a very good idea, but even when that study revives there will not be many conservatives doing the scholarship, because the academy has already been deemed enemy territory.

I don’t think finding a connection between this and the Iraq war makes much sense. What you see here is a glimpse of the other side of the cultural abyss, in which the control of women - their bodies and their souls - by brutal patriarchal fundamentalists is the norm. It’s evil. ~Andrew Sullivan

I think what is most amazing to me is that this doesn’t take place in some tent in the middle of the desert or a stone hut [bold mine-DL]. These people are not dressed in tribal garb — they are wearing jeans and t-shirts and the whole thing takes place in a street in what appears to be a modern town. It isn’t the Moqtada al Sadr brigade or Al Qaeda extremists —it’s not part of the civil war although according to the article, many Iraqis are trying to rationalize it as such. This is nothing but barbaric patriarchal violence perpetrated by our alleged allies, the Kurds, toward a teen-age girl…~Digby

What is lacking in both of these responses is any sense of just how crazy it always was to think that Iraq was well-suited for anything like modern democratic government, when this takes place in Kurdistan, alleged bastion of enlightenment (at least according to the pro-Kurdish pundits in the West).  Leave aside for a moment the incompatibility with an Islamic society–what of the incompatibility with a tribal one, such as that of Kurdish Yezidis, who are not even Muslim?  Of course, there’s nothing surprising that the Yezidis are wearing modern clothing.  It is a quaint, silly idea that cultural habits and mentalities are somehow required to be linked to this or that economic or material condition.   

To offer a slightly different perspective, let me ask this question: what part of this episode do Westerners find more troubling?  Is it the stoning, the brutal killing of the girl, or is it the idea that there should be social control over interpersonal relationships and sharp social separation between religious groups?  Some might say that the two are bound up with each other and would argue that the stoning is simply a product of the latter.  That’s reasonable.  Yet if the punishment for this transgression was not execution, but was one of ostracism or some other means of shaming, what is the outsider’s real, principled objection to it?  That people should be allowed to love and marry whomever they like?  To the mind of anyone in a traditional society, this is insane and a recipe for the annihilation of small groups.  Indeed, all things considered, it is a fairly strange idea.  In any case, it is the Yezidis’ marginal, minority status in an Islamic sea that helps explain why they are so ferocious and brutal in their insistence on maintaining the boundaries of their group.  This is part of the more general collapse of security to the extent that this and things like this will happen more and more as different sects are forced to turn to self-help and customary law to govern their part of the country.  It is part of the war to the extent that the war was the cause for unleashing the revival of sectarian identity as a particularly important element in everyday life.         

The GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote dropped in 1988, 1992, and 1996, before rising under Bush. Second of all, you would expect the Republicans to do better and better among Hispanics as the last amnesty receded into the past, and its beneficiaries assimilated and started to move up in the world. ~Ross Douthat

Someone would expect this, I think, if he thought that assimilated, successful immigrants normally have a natural tendency to break with the Democratic voting habits of most new immigrants.  This seems reasonable, but if it were true the GOP would be awash in Greek, Armenian and Asian voters.  Generally speaking, it is not.  Voting for Democrats in many ethnic immigrant communities is just the obvious thing to do, especially for those who come from political traditions that stress some greater measure of social solidarity.  Interestingly, these immigrants often tend to concentrate in large urban areas that either lean or are solidly Democratic, so this traditional preference for Democrats is reinforced by the very process of assimilation.  Further, suburbs are no longer always a reliable Republican stronghold, so it may be that even assimilated, successful immigrants who come out to the suburbs may not so much adopt suburban Republicanism as they will help speed the transformation of many suburbs into Democratic turf.  Inherited cultural and political attitudes are often more determinative of voting patterns than class or income.  The GOP has to be hoping that historical materialism is at least partly true and it has to be hoping that ideas do not, in fact, have many consequences at all (or at least fewer consequences than a nice salary).   

A bit late to the D’Souza-bashing party, Cathy Young reviews The Enemy at Home and concludes (as everyone already had four months ago) that…Andrew Sullivan is wrong about people on the right in general and the reaction to D’Souza’s book in particular.  In the course of a review that ends with the (terribly surprising) conclusion that a contributor to Reason supports freedom, she gets really carried away and says something strikingly similar to what Kevin Drum had said about a remark by Glenn Beck, which had echoed part of D’Souza’s thesis:

In effect, D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company agree with the familiar sentiment that the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms.”

It is a strange article indeed that can use the phrase, “D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company” without a powerful sense of irony.  It would be like a conservative saying, “Lindsey, Sager, Rockwell and company,” as if these people were really all part of the same group of “libertarians” who were arguing for a common position.  As I argued at some length back in February, saying that Muslims “hate us for our freedoms” is almost completely the opposite of saying that they object to Western cultural decadence.  Everything hinges on the implications of the two different statements: one implies that we are virtuous and innocent and have been inexplicably wronged because we carry the torch of liberty, while the other says that we are a sinful, wretched lot who have been chastised by the secular equivalent of God sending the Assyrians against us.  The former assumes that there is nothing wrong with us at all, their response is wholly without cause and irrational (or is essential to who they are and therefore unchangeable and also not worth trying to understand in any depth) and “they” react violently against “us” because “we” are the embodiment of more or less pure secular good and “they” are the embodiment of pure secular evil.  The latter view assumes not only that “we” are capable of error and corruption, but that this moral corruption has additional consequences beyond social disorder, family disruption and degeneracy at home.  With these two responses you can begin to discern the difference between nationalists and conservatives.  According to the latter view, one of the other consequences to cultural decadence is the outraged reaction of traditional societies subjected to the fruits of that decadence by way of globalisation.  There is some validity to this line of argument, but it hardly explains everything (and D’Souza is the only one who is trying to use it to explain everything vis-a-vis the Islamic world). 

As I said before, where D’Souza goes badly wrong–because he is desperately covering up for interventionist foreign policy–is to pin the blame entirely on the export of cultural liberalism, rather than seeing this as an aggravating factor that simply intensifies the hostility generated by other things, such as U.S. foreign policy, and he then gets even more ridiculous when he proposes the solution that we team up with “traditional Muslims” for ecumenical jihad against the godless pagans and the supposedly distinct “radical Muslims.”  This issue becomes timely, since we are once again debating the absurd charge of “blaming America” that has been aimed at Ron Paul, because he insists on recognising that bad, provocative policies have bad (albeit unintended) consequences.  Giuliani’s response to Ron Paul is very similar to the general response to D’Souza in the common thread of Republicans’ objecting to “blaming America,” but notably D’Souza has continued to enjoy the support and benefit of the doubt of many conservatives, even those who think he is deeply mistaken.  D’Souza enjoys this relatively better treatment because he does not pin 9/11 in any way on U.S. foreign policy, which means that the Republicans who have contributed to the errors of this foreign policy are off the hook.  D’Souza “blames America first,” but the America he blames is that of the coastal megalopoleis, “Blue” America, which is a relatively more acceptable target for the conservatives who are trashing his book.  Of course, GOP orthodoxy is that you should never “blame America” in any way, by which they mean you should never engage in criticial thinking or criticism with respect to anything to do with the U.S. government or American culture in relation to the rest of the world, so that it is still in poor taste to trace 9/11’s causes back to cultural liberals (even though all of the D’Souza critics would otherwise be happy to trash these people all day long as traitors and the like).  At other times, it may be acceptable to bash cultural liberals in the most vehement ways, but that is something that “we” keep in the family.  The idea seems to me: don’t argue in front of the Muslims, but maintain a front of unity and solidarity to the outside world.

If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life; they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice. ~Pope Benedict XVI

In 1988, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a collection of essays under the title of Church, Ecumenism and Politics. In it, he argued that capitalism is little better than national socialism or communism, in that all three propose false idols (prosperity, the Volk, and the state, respectively). Ratzinger said that to build a humane civilization, the West must rediscover two elements of its past: its classical Greek heritage and its common Christian identity.

From the classical era, Ratzinger wrote, Europe should rediscover objective and eternal values that stand above politics, putting limits to power. Ratzinger used the Greek term eunomia to describe this concept of the good. In that sense, one could say that Ratzinger proposed a eunomic, rather than capitalist, model of Western culture.

Over the years, Ratzinger has been close to the Communio school within Catholic theology, which stresses the need for cultures to take their point of departure from the Christian gospel rather than secular ideologies. Its primary exponents have repeatedly criticized capitalism for promoting an ethos of individualism and “survival of the fittest” that is at odds with the communitarian thrust of Catholic social teaching. ~John Allen


Rosa Brooks (she of the Obama-is-the-Messiah school) and Will Wilkinson talk about reproduction, yielding this priceless line from Wilkinson (which I am obviously taking out of context):

“You can replace immigrants with robots.”

The more serious point is that Wilkinson is not terribly concerned by the demise of this or that culture.  Okay, so we have established again that many libertarians are not concerned about cultural identity, but we knew that already.  The reason why potential demographic collapse in the West seems worrisome to non-libertarians (a.k.a., 98% of the population) is that the demise of our culture does worry us if for no other reason than that it is ours and that we want to impart it to the more than 2.1 children we are having in our desire to avoid “deplorable solipsism.”

Of course, it’s true that cultures come to an end.  It’s true that cultures change.  However, cultures seek to reproduce themselves, and the way that they do this is through the convictions of those who bear this culture that it is worth preserving and passing on to the next generation (which rather assumes that there will be a next generation to which one can pass the cultural inheritance to).  It seems to me that the habits of perpetuating cultural traditions and teaching them to the next generation on the assumption that your culture actually has some value and is worth keeping for its own sake, quite apart from any happiness it gives you, are so deeply engrained, indeed so normal and widespread throughout every traditional society, that it is difficult to regard with equanimity a rather blase and indifferent reaction to the death of our own culture.

The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises [sic] are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo. ~Michael Barone

On the political implications of this increasingly severe social stratification, I had this to say last year:

Why anyone wants to replicate the splendid “successes” of the Mexican social, economic and political model, I will never fully understand, but the reality that Mexican immigrants will reproduce the society and culture of their old country was entirely foreseeable and was foreseen.  For some folks, the transformation will not be so bad and will make some into a hereditary oligarchic ruling class tucked away in their little enclaves.  That is, at least until homegrown Chavismo comes knocking on their door.

There are two forces at work gradually creating a new oligarch-serf society in certain parts of the country. First, there is the arrival of large numbers of immigrants coming from cultures in which this sort of stratification and the attendant systems of patronage and graft that go with it are all considered normal.  The inherited political culture of these immigrant populations reproduces itself, and the native oligarchs encourage this development because the highly stratified arrangement suits their interests and may even match their own preoccupations with class-driven politics.  Perversely, those most inclined to bang the economic populist drum about income inequality have the most to gain politically from the processes that are encouraging the widening of income inequality in these megalopolitan centers, since the two-tier structure would benefit an oligarchic party doling out largesse to clients in exchange for support.  Second, there is the steady, ongoing departure of the middle-class families that cannot afford to live as the oligarchs do and do not want to live among the serfs, especially if the serfs are from a significantly different culture and/or race.  Call the process ”flight of the native.”   

You have the prospect of the coastal megalopoleis becoming extensions of Latin America in terms of social structure quite apart from any cultural or other changes that may be happening, while Middle America becomes ever-more staunchly the bastion of middle-class interests against a coalition of interests of oligarchs and serfs.  This will make the coastal regions even more inaccessible to Republicans, while continuing to strengthen Republicans over time in the middle of the country.  If the megalopoleis, Upper Midwest and coasts are net demographic losers over time, we should continue to see a decrease in the political clout of relatively left-leaning strongholds.  However, as the social transformation on the coasts continues, these areas promise to produce ever more radically leftist politics that will separate these places even more from Middle America.  It seems that it follows that those who do not want there to be two truly starkly opposed Americas should give serious thought to curbing mass immigration. 

Nevertheless, he [Tom Cole] is sanguine regarding 2008: “The positioning is good for us” because “we don’t have to conquer new territory, we have to reclaim old territory.” ~George Will

Give the man credit for staying on message.  By this sort of thinking, the Macedonians, Greeks and Mongolians are on the verge of some of the greatest geopolitical comebacks in world history.  They don’t have to conquer new territory–they just need to reclaim their old provinces!  It is all terribly misleading.  It is possible for a declining stock to be an excellent buying opportunity.  It is also possible for that stock to be Enron, especially when the people in charge of the company deceive their shareholders and mismanage the company for their own temporary benefit.  From the way Rep. Cole is telling it, the Byzantines must have been in good shape after Yarmuk, because all they had to do was “just” recover lost territory.  Oh, well, if that’s all, why worry? 

Well, the worry is that, like any force after a big defeat, the Republicans are having trouble coming up with the recruits needed to fight another day.  Confidence in the commanders, so to speak, has been shattered, and precious resources have been depleted during the last, ill-starred contest.  The Three ‘Mo’s (momentum, morale and money) are all on the other side.  As Clausewitz might have said if he were a political blogger, “Voter identification is to fundraising as three to one.”  And the Republicans are also losing the fundraising race, which used to be their strong suit.

Plus, they are apparently not very good at analysing current electoral politics:

Cole thinks that Democrats, who he says have more litmus tests for their presidential candidates than Republicans do [bold mine-DL], are so convinced that they are going to win the White House, they are not resisting what they enjoy surrendering to — the tug from the party’s left.

He’s kidding, right?  More litmus tests?  Obama just gave one of the most interventionist speeches of any presidential candidate ever and the progressives have made a tiny bit of noise about it.  He has supported cap-and-trade, when the left wants something much more bold.  There have been no obvious consequences from the left for Obama taking the centrist hawk ball and running with it, and indeed I would surprised if we see any major attack against Obama from the left.  I think he believes he can win them over with his biography and charisma and his heavy-handed comparisons of himself with RFK, and he just may.  By contrast, just consider how much grief Edwards took (and not from Mike Gravel) for saying “all options are on the table” with respect to Iran, and then consider how easy Obama has had it after giving a speech praised by both Robert Kagan and Marty Peretz, a bipartisan dynamic duo of hideous foreign policy ‘thinking’.    With Obama’s speech, Edwards has become the de facto less obnoxiouly interventionist progressive on foreign policy that Obama was pretending to be earlier.  (Except for Kucinich and Gravel, there are no non-interventionists in the race on the Democratic side.) 

I suppose the argument would be that Iraq is the litmus test for Democratic candidates, and all have been forced to toe a line for phased withdrawal, timetables, etc.  Of course, what is remarkable in all of this is that the “litmus test” position that Clinton has supposedly been “compelled” to take is basically the centrist hawk position on Iraq that Obama has felt compelled to embrace to avoid appearing too antiwar.  No sense jeopardising his lifelong ambition to be President over something so trivial as real opposition to a war. 

Bruce Bartlett’s paeans to her courage notwithstanding, Clinton has not apologised for her Iraq war vote because she a) doesn’t think she needs to apologise and b) knows that she will not pay a particularly heavy price for not doing so.  This is because the litmus test on Iraq is very easy to pass: you have to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that as President you will end the war.  The thinking seems to be that what the candidate says or does before then is merely the means to that end.  It would appear that antiwar progressives may be willing to empower someone who has a foreign policy not substantially different from Bush’s simply to get a Democrat in office to make some attempt at concluding the war in Iraq.  Anyway, it is profoundly mistaken to think that the Democrats are in worse shape because of their confidence.  As a party they are much more united around their eventual nominee, whoever it may be, and their combination of confidence in victory and hunger for winning the White House are eerily similar to Republican indifference to Bush’s deviations from traditional conservatism after eight years of Clinton.  The left’s leverage in ‘08 will be less than it was in the midterms, especially if an Obama or Edwards gets the nod.  Republicans keep planning their campaigns with the assumption that the Democrats will collapse in a fit of disunity and/or lunacy, but this didn’t happen last year and it isn’t going to happen next year.  The Republicans need to develop an actual strategy for winning in their own right.  From what I saw in Tom Cole’s remarks, they don’t have the first clue. 

Instead of being horrified that IL-06 in DuPage County, where Henry Hyde used to routinely pull 60% of the vote or more until 2004, almost fell to a no-name Iraq war veteran Democratic challenger, Mr. Cole believes the closeness of the race in 2006 works to Republican advantage!  The truth is that DuPage County isn’t the Republican stronghold it once was–the Dems got 44% in 2004 and 48% in 2006.  Obviously, if they keep making steady gains like that in what was once a suburban bastion of Republicanism, you can forget about retaking the House in the next decade.  

On the separate note, consider the beginning of Will’s column:

Tom Cole earned a PhD in British history from the University of Oklahoma, intending to become a college professor, but he came to his senses and to a zest for politics [bold mine-DL], and now, in just his third term in the House of Representatives, he is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

While it does hold out hope for all Ph.D. students everywhere that they, too, might one day enter politics and become campaign coordinators in doomed, lost causes, consider the attitude Will’s shot at academia represents.  If anyone wants an explanation for why the academy is dominated by the left and why the youngest cohort of voters has gone even more overwhelmingly for the Democrats than usual, you need look no further than precisely this sort of professional cop-out, giving up on educating the next generation for the sake of the easy, cheap and ephemeral victories of politics.  Every conservative out there complains about the declining standards of education, the ruin of the academy, the politicisation of the classroom and on and on, but what happens when it comes time to step up and do some of the educating themselves?  They go to law school to get a “useful” degree, or go into politics or some other field where the “prospects” for the future are better, and then wonder how the media, academia, the arts and cinema have all been taken over by people who loathe everything they believe.  

When I am occasionally tempted by the political road (however ludicrously impractical such a road would be), I am often reminded of that quote from Max: “What would you rather do: change how people see or how they pay their taxes?”  The poverty of so much of conservatism today is a result of way too many otherwise decent and sane people opting for the latter goal rather than the former.  Nowadays, it seems that they can’t even do that part very well.  Perhaps it would be better if more conservatives turned to teaching, cultivating and creating things rather than running uninspired electoral campaigns.

Helal enjoys working with Rice. He appreciates her interest in hearing all points of view on a given subject and her understanding of the details. When I ask him what he makes of the words he often translates for her, like “freedom” and “democracy,” he is polite, but wary. “I cannot imagine that you can go anywhere in the world and ask people, ‘Do you want to be free?’ and they will say, ‘No, we really love to be prisoners,’” he says. The problem is not with freedom but with democracy, a concept that evolved in differing and idiosyncratic ways in the Western historical experience. “In the Middle East, they look at things and ask, Is it halal or haram,” he explains. “Is it approved by the religion or not? If you go to a Bedouin society and you tell them that the state will determine how you’re going to settle a conflict between you and your cousin, you must be out of your mind, because the most important and powerful tool to them will be tribal law, which is unwritten.” ~David Samuels

Indeed, there is a sense in which you do have to be out of your mind to accept as normal the idea that the state settles such disputes.  Anyone who surveys history has to know just how abnormal such an arrangement is, how much it contradicts so many of our instincts and customs and how ultimately fragile and contingent upon a certain ethos it is.  It is strange to read Mr. Helal’s statement, which expresses with perfect clarity a view of the world that appears to be not so very different from my own, and try to reconcile that with his work alongside a Secretary of State who believes in the “inevitability of democratic change” in the very same region.  One of them is right, and I do not think it is Secretary Rice.

I’m just skeptical that the aggregate tendency of young white Bobos, in America as in Europe, to have one or zero children doesn’t contain at least an element of solipsism. ~Ross Douthat 

Surely there are things, even inside this fantastic moral taxonomy, that men and women could do with their lives to compensate for their choice not to have children. Surely not all childless lives are deplorably solipsistic. ~Will Wilkinson

Indeed.  I wouldn’t say deplorably solipsistic–I wouldn’t use the word solipsistic, since this ascribes an epistemological error to what is really just an exercise in glorifying autonomy and practicing self-indulgence.  On the other hand, these childless folks could become monastics and then Ross would be in more of a pickle.

Recently, there have been a few statements about pre-war Iraqi society that would appear to flatly contradict each other.  One comes from Ali Allawi’s new book The Occupation of Iraq (via Fouad Ajami’s review in The New Republic and a helpful reader of this blog):

Essentially, it was based on the recognition by the Shi’a elite that they might have some share of central power, within limits that would satisfy the more ambitious of their leaders. But they should not aspire to control or run the state, even though their numbers might warrant this. At the same time, the state, dominated by the Sunni Arabs, would recognize and acknowledge the props of Shi’a identity, and would not move to alter or shrink them in any significant way. Essentially, the Sunni Arabs controlled the state, while the Shi’a were allowed to keep their civil, mercantile and religious traditions. It was a precarious balance, but it held the potential for improvement and progress towards a common sense of citizenship, duties and entitlements. Successive governments in the 1960s and 1970s, however, foolishly destroyed this. The state removed the elements that kept a vigorous Shi’a identity alive in parallel to a Sunni- dominated state. Nationalizations, emigration and expulsions destroyed the Shi’a mercantilist class; the state monopoly on education, publishing and the media removed the cultural underpinnings of Shi’a life; and the attack on Najaf and the religious hierarchy came close to completely eliminating the hawzas of Iraq. When the state embarked on the mass killings after the 1991 uprisings, Iraq became hopelessly compromised in the minds of most Shi’a.

Christopher Hitchens, in full jingo-exculpation mode, has latched on to Allawi’s book as proof that Iraq would have collapsed (presumably complete with mosque-bombings and massacres) whether or not there had been an invasion.  This might well be true, just as it was probably true of Yugoslavia that artificial, post-WWI entities that no longer commanded the loyalty of most of the inhabitants over and above their more immediate identities could survive in a world of resurgent ethnic, religious and national politics.  This in no way makes it any more justifiable that Western powers helped to speed up the process of dissolution in both cases.  Besides being flatly the opposite of everything the jingoes said before the invasion (in their telling, Sunni would lie down with Shia and usher in an age of harmony), the strange thing about this argument is that it seems to say that just because a man is already dying from cancer it is acceptable to slip polonium into his tea (he was going to die anyway!) or that it is appropriate to inflame the grievances between estranged friends until one of them kills the other because they were already on pretty bad terms.  Perhaps Hitchens would justify murder in this way by saying, “Well, we’ve all got to go sometime,” as if the act of murder didn’t have some direct impact on the timing and nature of the departure! 

About this “inevitable collapse” argument, I have two things to say: 1) deep cultural and religious loyalties never preclude the exercise of agency, though they will constrain and shape it; 2) the active politicisation of sectarianism and ethnicity in the vaunted democratic elections (the “purple finger” that Hanson et al. want to see so much more of in news coverage) was a direct cause of the violent contestation for supremacy between the sects in Iraq.  Once sect and ethnicity were confirmed as legitimate political dividing lines and those identities were invested with significance as markers of political status, rather than being deemphasised as much as possible, violence was unavoidable.  The nightmare that Iraq has become undoubtedly owes much to its fragmented society and brutal history, but it owes a great deal to the inflammation and mobilisation of rival religious and ethnic identities in the “democratic” present as well.  The nationalist expulsions and massacres of the late 19th and early 20th century across central and eastern Europe and Anatolia did not just “happen” as if by some chemical reaction–they were actively fomented by those ‘progressive’ nationalist elements who sought to build their identity and their nation on the blood of others.  If a given country is a powerful mix of explosive and conflicting identities that could erupt into a hellish mess, it would seem that the people who come into that country by way of setting off a lot of explosions and introducing a lot of instability, both physical and figurative, bear a whole lot of responsibility for starting the chain reaction.  Hitchens would very much like to deny this now, since he was and remains a proponent of lighting the fuse.

Against the “inevitable collapse” argument, we have the final post of Riverbend, who has opted to leave the country:

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. [bold mine-DL] They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

Not only does Riverbend tend to carry more authority in my eyes than the dreadful Christopher Hitchens and the self-justifying Iraqi exile (we didn’t ruin Iraq–it was already too far gone!), but her statement about pre-war Iraqi society makes a lot of sense. 

A crucial thing about these sorts of identities is that they do not often become points of contention unless power, status and wealth are directly associated with belonging to this group rather than that.  Even when belonging to a certain group entails relative marginalisation, this does not necessarily create inevitable enmity between the ruling and the marginalised groups. 

Some will object that I am being too reductionist here.  I don’t mean to say that these identities do not have any meaning independent of these other factors, when they clearly have very powerful meaning in and of themselves and only exist because they give people meaning, but the causes for actual conflict between different groups are closely tied to contestation for power.  Some may object that this absolutely obvious, but it is surprising how few people appreciate this.  In the rather limited thinking of some, religious fratricide is possible only if the two sides have had a blood-feud dating back to medieval times and ethnic cleansing and genocide can only be explained by “centuries” of hatred, when the causes are almost always much more immediate and proximate.  There are those who insist on an essentialist understanding of identity, according to which being X must have always entailed being against those who are Y (abstract nationalists tend to be the worst essentialists, because they are always defining themselves by their perpetual opposition to some other people), while others believe that a constructivist account renders identity, especially a religious or ethnic identity, to be ultimately nothing more than the product of other socioeconomic factors.  The former have a hard time believing that coexistence has ever been possible in the past (in nationalist histories, these periods are always periods of national decadence and foreign pollution), while the latter have a hard time believing that anyone can actually care about something so supposedly meaningless.  Both are wrong and obviously so. 

In societies in which less immediate or more universal identities take precedence, more immediate loyalties and identities tend to get deemphasised or they are actively suppressed by the enforcers of the broader identity.  It is when those broader identities break down or lose their significance that some form of the more immediate loyalties rushes to fill the cultural space they abandoned.  Thus party loyalty and “Yugoslav” solidarity gave way to more immediate ethnic and religious attachments; once the fragile shell of Iraqi nationalism and the lid of Baathism were removed and public authority broke down, a return to tribal and sectarian loyalties was bound to happen, if only as a means of self-preservation amid chaos.  However, the outsiders who actively helped subvert and destroy every basis for unity and common identity in the name of “liberation” have a bloody cheek to talk about how the fratricidal horror unfolding before us was “inevitable.”

I like the optimism explanation. It’s easy to see why folks would refrain from reproduction if they thought their kids had only a broiling, denuded planet full of wretched consumer-zombies living pointless lives in cookie-cutter McMansions and soulless big box strip malls to look forward to. ~Will Wilkinson

Via Ross Douthat

On the other hand, more than a few conservatives who already have children and are having still more certainly fear that their children will have to face exactly this kind of future (and present), which would be one of the reasons why they are so vehemently opposed to most or all of the things Mr. Wilkinson describes.  So that leaves me with something of a puzzle: are Americans optimistic in Mr. Wilkinson’s view because they believe that the future will not be like the dreary consumatopian wasteland that he has painted above, or are they optimistic because they look at the same dreary consumatopian wasteland and see its better qualities?  Or is the key to American optimism (and thus relatively higher birthrate) the active embrace and celebration of said wasteland?   

That neoconservative organizations can afford to help politicians such as Santorum revise their hierarchy of values just reinforces the argument that Solovyov made a century ago: “Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values.” That reduction is long complete, and we have entered the next stage: the shedding of those “values” that individual “believers” no longer think—or, rather, “feel”—are necessary for salvation. ~Scott Richert

See Part I of Scott’s series here.

Much as I enjoyed the fellowship of the past weekend in Charlottesville, there was a persistent and palpable animosity toward politics and government generally held by many of the participants. For all the talk of community, it was a community bereft of the idea that communities require more than just good feeling, but laws and institutions as well as the willingness on the part of citizens to work publically toward the formation and enactment of the public good and the recognition that such work will result in conflict. There was something of a gauzy sentimentality and even anarchic libertarianism that pervaded the sessions. As much as I admire Wendell Berry, his work does not sufficiently attend to the needs for, and demands of, politics. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between two camps that otherwise might be thought to be polar opposites - agrarian communitarians and libertarians. Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to “do their own thing” without the “interference” of politics and government. ~Prof. Patrick Deneen

I heard Prof. Deneen’s talk in Charlottesville, and I was pretty sure there was nothing really troubling in it, but I went back through it again today and made sure.  Since I, anarchopaleo-retroneotradcon populist agrarian Bolingbrokean reactionary that I am, still haven’t found anything all that objectionable in it, and I didn’t notice the “gauzy sentimentality” in the attendees that Prof. Deneen noticed, I assume I am either missing something tremendously important or there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding somewhere.  Yes, there was much talk about Wendell Berry, such that it became the running joke of the conference, but it was not just aimless gushing about the grand old Kentuckian; the references and citations were all, for the most part, part of the defense of rooted, limited and human-scale living. 

The talk itself should have made any neo-Schumpeterian and neo-Schuhmacherian’s heart fill with joy and gladness, and the conference attendees should have reassured everyone that a room could erupt in applause at the mention of Ron Paul’s impending presidential victory and believe in and try to live rooted traditional community life at the same time and that they cheered for Ron Paul because they believed and lived in this way.  (Am I just imposing my own perspective on all the attendees?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.)  The people who were there despise what the political class calls “politics” because I think they understand that this “politics” has nothing good or positive to do with the immediate political communities to which they belong.  They loathe “government” generally not because they think any and all government is undesirable, but because they believe this kind of government that we have today is significantly and dangerously corrupted.  Prof. Deneen may find in the enthusiasm for Ron Paul an example of precisely the sort of disengagement and lack of realism about politics that he thinks is the problem, but I would suggest that any expression of enthusiasm for a presidential candidate, even an extreme long-shot such as Rep. Paul, demonstrates a strong sense of engagement and perhaps almost undue preoccupation with politics as conventionally defined. 

There is a sense in which D.C. is less of a monstrosity as a city than Las Vegas or Phoenix, engaged in perpetual war with nature as those cities are, but there is also a very real sense in which those places could not thrive without the policies and priorities set in Washington.  Washington is not at war with nature, but it is at war with our America, and so it is not terribly surprising that people who consider themselves patriots regard it with special loathing.  For my part, in my visits to the Georgetown campus and the rest of the metro area, I have found some things to enjoy in the District and its environs, but on the whole I take Kekaumenos’ advice about going to the capital: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, and leave as quickly as possible.  

Were there libertarians at the conference who had an unfortunately optimistic view of human nature?  Probably.  Did they make up the bulk of the speakers and attendees?  I am doubtful about that.  Are there some romantics who pine for settled communities simply because they like to have things to pine for?  Probably.  But that is not what anyone I met was talking about.  Maybe I didn’t meet enough of the people at the conference.  I would like to suggest, however, that the hostility to politics and government (which I suppose can hardly satisfy a professor of government) that Prof. Deneen encountered there was very far from a desire to live in a world beyond politics.  The ISI folks, as I understand them, view attempts to escape the inevitable realities of politics as fairly insane.  As Chantal Delsol’s book would have it, it is the attempt to eliminate the structures of power (among other things) all together that constitutes one of the grave mistakes of modern Western man.  The existence of power and the existence of disparities of power will be constants in human experience, and so there is the ultimate choice of attempting to constrain and limit the corruption that comes from concentrated power (according to the finest Anglo-American traditions of Bolingbroke, the Country party, the Anti-Federalists, who are the very same people who embody what Prof. Deneen calls the alternative tradition) or acquiescing to various degrees in the monstrosity of the Robinarchy on the grounds that there has to be a government somewhere.  To be against the Robinarchy does not mean that you reject authority or government, much less that you have an optimistic assessment of human nature, but that you would like to see government rightly ordered according to principles of legitimacy, lawfulness and justice. 

Over the past year it has been interesting to see reactions to the conservatism of virtue and place (this seems to be the most succinct name for what we are trying to describe) that has been on display at different points.  When traditional conservatism was advanced during the debates over “crunchy conservatism,” all of the talk of virtue and the criticism of megacorporations immediately aroused the suspicions of the enforcers of acceptable fusionism that some sort of lefty statist coup was in the works.  Citing John Lukacs saying negative things about paving over green fields was taken as proof that we wanted to collectivise the farms, or something like that.  Libertarian terror at the prospect of actually living your life in accordance with nature was palpable.  It was the foes of the traditionalists, paleos and “crunchy cons” who wanted to talk about a “partial philosophy of life” and who advanced the idea that politics somehow stops at the voting booth and the government office.  The anarcho-traditionalists, if we want to call them that, were the ones saying that political life is first and foremost concerned with the affairs of the institutions of your local political community and the needs of your family, and these are what ought to take priority.  They were proposing practicing politics as if the Permanent Things (i.e., virtues, among other things) really existed and actually mattered, and you could see the unmitigated horror this induced in every “mainstream conservative.”  

There was an equally harsh reaction in the other direction when the exact same people begin speaking favourably about “front-porch anarchism” and Wendell Berry and Dorothy Day in a slightly different context.  All of a sudden the same people who were a few months earlier supposedly attempting to regulate every aspect of your daily life with supposedly fascist dreams of transcendence were dangerously oblivious to the need for order and stability!  This would be the “gauzy sentimentality” objection Prof. Deneen voiced earlier.  However, I think I can explain how people keep having this mistaken impression.  

The “front-porch anarchist” folks were talking about ”anarchism” with the understanding that this means a rejection of consolidation, concentration and centralisation, a repudiation of war, the extraction of wealth by the state and the exploitation of the land and the people by corporate masters together with a rejection of the trashy culture, the degradation of the human person and the general ugliness of the age.  It is difficult to discern this at first, because the label anarchist is immediately off-putting to most conservatives (as it should be in its normal meaning of bomb-throwing assassins), but what needs to be understood is that these “front-porch anarchists” are irrevocably opposed to the kind of anarchist who believes that destruction is creative, since they are adamantly opposed to the kind of “creative destruction” that requires the destruction of all they love to create the bland, homogenous, dead world that they hate.  From everything I heard in Prof. Deneen’s talk, it seems to me that he and they are in more or less perfect agreement.  What have I missed that I think this? 


Never mind that the Islamic tradition helped to pioneer the figurative reading of biblical texts. ~Andrew Sullivan

Yes, what would Origen have done without Muhammad?  It’s interesting that Muslims could have pioneered something that predated their religion by many centuries, especially when they explicitly reject figurative interpretations of their own scripture, since it is taken to be the uncreated Word.  Unlike our understanding of Christian Scripture, which is one of divinely revealed truth with multiple layers of meaning, there are no other “senses” of Islamic scripture, at least not in traditional Sunnism (in other words, the bulk of Islam throughout its history). 

I only just read Sullivan’s review in its entirety today, so I had not seen this amazing statement until today.  The folks at The New Republic should be embarrassed to run something with such a manifestly false, easily checked statement as this–and Sullivan has the gall to make this statement as a way to take a shot at D’Souza.  As Dr. Trifkovic has shown, D’Souza’s ignorance about the religion of his proposed allies is impressive and extensive, but this is not part of it. 

This is perhaps the single-most ignorant statement Sullivan has ever made.  There are so many competitors for this honour, but I think this one wins by a good distance.  I welcome nominations for runners-up.

Ross points us to this interesting Benjamin Nugent article, which asks the question, Why Don’t Republicans Write Fiction?  Of course, as phrased, the question already misses something important, and this is that party men qua party men almost never create anything worth remembering (not even parties).  If I were to write the Great Paleo Novel, for example, it would not be credited to the lists of Republican fiction-writing, since the Great Paleo Novel might very well throw down the idols of Red Republicanism from the high places and, like Phineas, drive a javelin through the bodies of adulterous ideologues.  The real question ought to be why conservatives generally don’t write fiction. 

The answer is actually much more straightforward: the sorts of grand conservative thinkers who were scholars of literature (Weaver, Bradford) and writers of ghost stories (Kirk) are sadly no longer with us, they have not found worthy replacements and the importance of imagination is much, much less in the thinking of most self-styled conservatives than it was in theirs. 

Part of the problem is indeed an excess of optimism, and optimism on the American right is one part Yankee, one part capitalist and one part Reagan.  Whatever else you want to say about these three, they are not generally regarded as the fathers of great writing.  Optimistic people typically are not the best artists, and I don’t just say this because I prefer the pessimists among us.  Their frame of mind does not allow for real tragedy or real failure.  For the optimist failure is not only unlikely, it does not ultimately, truly exist.  The best days are always yet to come!  But without a sense of nostalgia for a lost age or a lament for your people or even a full appreciation for the petty indignities of life combined with reverence for sacred mysteries (and sometimes, if a writer is really wise, he knows how to find the mystery in the petty indignity–see Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn), I think it is very difficult to write really captivating, good fiction.  Just consider how little of the best poetry is an expression of contentment and joy in love compared to dissatisfaction, betrayal, loss and yearning.  Optimistic people can’t even tell the story of that most depressing sci-fi novel, Solarisproperly.  For optimistic people there is always a silver lining, when sometimes there are no silver linings, life is filled with suffering and all that man can do is endure.  This sounds grim, and Americans generally do not like to sound grim and they do not like grim-sounding things.  This is why Americans usually ignore the more serious thinkers who tell them hard truths and embrace the charlatans who fill them with vain hopes. 

Understanding the role of suffering in life and taking it seriously, perhaps almost too seriously, are vital to great literature.  Good literature can probably get by with fine phrases and a nicely-structured story, but the great works capture something more elemental.  This is why the Russians have produced the finest literature on earth, because they have not simply endured suffering (every people in the world has, at some level, endured it), but the best of them have actively embraced it as essential to their cultural worldview.  I do not write off the great accomplishments of other literary cultures, but, in my admittedly limited experience, I am convinced that the Russian achievement is far superior.  Americans either recoil at the sight of this Russian view, or they simply find it depressing, which may again explain why even the figures Nugent cites among Old Right writers come from England and not from here.  The English, Scots and Irish are also all capable of perceiving something about life and the old ways of life that have vanished, as can most any people with a collective memory that extends more than a few centuries, but this was something that we, as Americans, have either not fully inherited or have pretty thoroughly purged from our system–and we tend to be proud of this.  The nation that produces phrases such as “We can do it!” and “We shall overcome” is not a nation that will understand the overwhelming bulk of human history and all of the examples through the ages in which there was failure, defeat and no overcoming anywhere to be seen.  Even American railings against various injustices assume that injustice can be to some large extent ”fixed” and is not built in to the structures of our existence and unavoidable here below.  “We will never forget” and “history is bunk” are mutually exclusive views, and most Americans functionally embrace the latter most of the time (while watching the travesty that is the History Channel and considering themselves amateur historians).  This is also why, I suspect, the greatest efflourescence of worthwhile American literature comes from the South, the only region that has fully known and incorporated the sense of the tragic into its sensibility (a sensibility that the New South has attempted to throw to one side, not entirely successfully, with its internal improvements and progressivism), and why most of the last, greatest right-leaning writers in the English-speaking world come from the pre-WWII period.  The therapeutic has driven out most of whatever remained of the tragic.  The spirit of Atlee has spread like a poisonous cloud over the green fields of Logres, and the purpose-driven life has driven us into Babylon rather than leaving us to remember Jerusalem at the edge of her waters.

But the effort to marginalize, even demonize, Christian conservatives is unworthy of anyone who considers himself a member of the political movement that is trying to preserve the American tradition. ~Steven Warshawsky

Mr. Warshawsky makes many smart points, some of which I’ve touched upon in my numerous posts against skeptical and secular conservatives, and he represents part of what may be the beginning of a backlash against the hyperventilating of members of what Warshawsky calls the “atheist wing” of the movement.  The hyperventilating continues here.  Of course, in terms of total numbers, it is more like an “atheist feather” than a whole wing, but it is a useful designation as any (though it will be greeted with outrage by Sullivan, Vicar of Doubt and Defender of the Quite Possibly Untrue Faith).  Consider these sentences from near the beginning of Christopher Orlet’s piece in the New English Review:

But I, for one, am not so ready to concede that atheism is “against our reason.” Historically I have had the theologians on my side.

But this is absurd.  He hasn’t had “the theologians” on his side, historically or otherwise, since the entire enterprise of theology is the use of reason to make the ways of God known to man.  If believers assumed that reason was somehow naturally inclined to atheism, theology would never have come into existence in any religion.  It is precisely because Christian believers consider our Faith to be the most rational thing and in perfect agreement with the workings of reason that Christians took over and adapted Greek ontology, metaphysics and logic for the purposes of discoursing about the nature and works of God.  Mr. Orlet cherry-picks from Luther at his most anti-intellectual and somehow thinks he has proven his blatantly false claim, while ignoring the other two thousand years of Christian theology and philosophy.  Can the “skeptical” conservatives begin to see why their religious friends do not take their complaints very seriously?

What is one going to do with an article that begins so poorly?  I suppose we must soldier on, if only to get to the more ridiculous bits that come later.  Posing the question to Edmund Burke, whose quote about the innate quality of man’s religiosity opens the article, Mr. Orlet asks:

What then would Burke have made of his spiritual and intellectual heirs who have recently and publicly emerged from the closet of skepticism, and thereby suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons?

It is hard to say what Burke would have said, since the situation would probably have seemed very strange to him, but he might have said that it is not surprising that people so egregiously ungrateful to their ancestors and disdainful of the religious inheritance these ancestors received, added to and then passed on have been met with less than warm enthusiasm among those who believe that we have obligations to the dead and those not yet born.  This is where the Burkean conservative looks at the atheist and sees an impious fool–impious not really because he rejects God, but rather because he rejects the established customs and centuries-long traditions of his ancestors and thus cuts himself off from the contract binding past, present and future.  He separates himself from the great continuity and wisdom of the tradition, even though, as Kirk said, conservatives believe that the individual is foolish and the species wise. 

From Burke’s mildly religious perspective, he would probably marvel at these people, who are neither oppressed nor actually marginalised by anyone, complaining as if they have all suffered the fate of Giordano Bruno or Mennochio, the hero of Carlo Ginsburg’s cheese book.  Let’s be specific.  Who has “suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons”?  Mr. Orlet tells us:

We’re talking about a Who’s Who of conservative writers and pundits: Stephen Chapman, Theodore Dalrymple, John Derbyshire, Heather MacDonald, Andrew Stuttaford and James Taranto.

With the exception of James Taranto, who is obnoxious for any number of other reasons, I generally like the writing and work of all of these people.  Several of them have had articles appear in a magazine, The American Conservative, to which I have also contributed, and I am proud that TAC welcomes smart commentary from so many widely varying perspectives.  Thus Ms. Mac Donald and I have both ridiculed Mr. Bush’s vacuous “freedom is God’s gift to humanity” propaganda, but from entirely different perspectives and with somewhat different arguments.  The irony is that she does not seem to care that Mr. Bush may be simply using and exploiting Christians’ beliefs when he drags God into his awful foreign policy decisions.  Nor does she seem concerned that his conception of God is so far removed from that of traditional Christianity as to make the indictment against Mr. Bush irrelevant to her criticism of religious conservatives generally. 

When these writers make smart, well-formed arguments and present copious amounts of evidence to back up their claims, as they often will, they are among the better pundits in mainstream conservatism.  Mac Donald’s work on immigration, Chapman’s columns on civil liberties and Derbyshire’s blasts against Intelligent Design are breaths of fresh air after choking on the miasma of “nation of immigrants” pablum, panegyrics for the unitary executive and muddle-headed enthusiasm for pseudo-science that fill so much conservative commentary today.  Obviously, almost all of them are at prominent conservative or at least vaguely right-leaning journals and newspapers, where they have bigger and more prominent platforms than many a religious conservative, most of whom must be satisfied to eke out a living in the “provinces” of the movement.  It is like people living at the courts in Rome and Constantinople complaining that they lack the tremendous access to power and prestige afforded the monks at St. Sava’s in Palestine.  It is ludicrous, and I am frankly tired of hearing some of them whine about how the mean theocons have made their lives unpleasant.  I should emphasise that it has only been some of these people, as far as I know, who have complained at any great length about the perverse influence of religion on modern conservatism.  What have been the consequences?  Has anyone been fired from his or her position?  Has anyone even attempted to force them into the political or professional wilderness?  The answer to both of these questions is plainly “no.”   

But it should come as no surprise that at least some of these people have earned the enmity of “so-called fundies and theocons”!  For starters, they call their religious allies things like “fundie” and “theocon,” both of which are obviously disparaging terms intended to reduce intelligent positions with which they disagree into easily dismissed caricatures.  (Mr. Orlet has already shown that he prefers to keep his argument superficial and light as well by stating right away that he thinks theism and reason have historically always been at odds.)  Next, some will attack religious conservatives, often with great vehemence, as people who have somehow done terrible violence to the content of conservatism (as if it was religion, and not galloping ideological commitments to militaristic foreign policy and expansion of government, that had distorted or changed conservatism in recent years).  This is always a charged statement to make about any other conservatives, and it had better have something behind more than the fact that the critic is an atheist and doesn’t believe all this God-talk nonsense anyway.  It is unseemly that these skeptics and atheists have suddenly discovered their voice at the very moment when everyone and his brother seems to have a book out blaming Republican political woes and conservative disarray on the role of religious conservatives in the most dishonest campaign of scapegoating I have seen in many years.  It certainly doesn’t help when there seems to be an assumption among at least a few of the “skeptical” conservatives that their position is the natural and obvious one that conservatives ought to take, and that the connection with religion, or more specifically Christianity, is bad for conservatism.  This is not the plea of the persecuted dissident for toleration, but the demand of the ideological cadre for a takeover of the entire operation at the expense (obviously) of the religious-cons whose views they loathe so. 

The only trouble is that the religious-cons are not the wicked establishment that the heroic skeptical rebels are trying to overthrow.  Far from being a great and all-powerful force ruling over the movement, religious-cons are actually much more like the Kansan fellow behind a certain curtain who could put on an impressive show.  Much like religious conservative leaders, who enjoy boasting about their access and their influence far out of proportion to what they actually achieve in policy terms, he was able to convince people who were willing to believe in the display of power that he was much more powerful and mighty than he really was.  The heroic rebels are not so much engaged in a struggle to liberate the conservative mind as they are simply engaged in conservative fratricide as a way of pushing views they dislike even farther out to the margins than they already actually are.  It annoys the skeptical conservatives that many pundits and intellectuals pay lip service to Christianity or religious “values” as things important to the conservative movement, but what they never seem to grasp is that so much of this is nothing more than lip service.  It is weird how anyone could come away from the last six years and think that conservatism had been too much pervaded by the teachings of the Lord!

Mr. Orlet then goes on to say something that is categorically untrue:

This, and MacDonald’s earlier piece for The American Conservative, led to many loud catcalls for her excommunication from the communion of conservative Republicans.

One need only go back through the NRO archives to prove this false.  Many loud catcalls?  From whom?  How many?  How loud?  Mr. Orlet doesn’t say, and no wonder.  The response to her article was so low-volume that you could hear a door hinge squeak.  NR, ever that engine of ideological purges, bent over backwards to appease, flatter and butter-up Ms. Mac Donald.  Every criticism was prefaced by a paragraph of how much the critic liked and admired Ms. Mac Donald, and how she was just the best.  Her, I’m sorry to say, rather commonplace and predictable objections to revealed religion were treated as if they were the utterances of one of the Muses herself.  You see, there are deviationists on important things, such as the Iraq war, and they must be roundly denounced in the strongest possible way (”unpatriotic,” etc.), but those who deny the existence of God are typically sporting folks from the metropole with whom one can laugh about the mad evangelicals over cocktails.  There’s no need to turn your backs on people who reject the Creator, but those who reject the empire are clearly a bunch of lunatics. 

It’s true, most of her interlocutors there and elsewhere disagreed with her claims and her atheism (no surprises there), but far from calling for her “excommunication” many of the participants in the conversation almost seemed anxious to accelerate her on the path to conservative sainthood, so great was their praise of her.  Rather than simply ignoring her, as might be done to those whom conservatives wanted to shun and drive out, all of us from the various conservative factions engaged with her arguments; I found the arguments severely wanting, but there was never really any question in my mind of declaring her persona non grata (as if I were in any position to declare anything of the kind!).  I did question how it was possible to be a conservative while being an atheist, and I think it is a legitimate question, but when even Santayana makes it into The Conservative Mind I am inclined not to harp on the question as much as I could. 

Never has a dissident received a less stinging rebuke and correction than Ms. Mac Donald did at the hands of the First Things and National Review crowd.  This kid glove treatment is striking for what it said about the participants themselves and their perceptions of what was at stake in responding to Mac Donald: while some of her respondents are religious people, they seem to have endorsed the idea that numerous conservative pundits and intellectuals are not and they concluded that they risked alienating large numbers of these folks if they savaged Mac Donald in the way that they would denounce and belittle traditional conservatives talking about agrarianism or antiwar conservatives.  For them, Mac Donald represented a large number of their current allies, while other dissidents from consensus positions within the movement about, say, corporations or interventionism were of no consequence and could be run off without a second thought.  Going against God, or tolerating those who did, was easy; going against corporations or the foreign policy establishment would have required real conviction. 

While I opened up, figuratively speaking, with both barrels against Ms. Mac Donald’s spurious claims about the nature of modern conservatism (in which there is, she says, a “crippling” reliance on religion) and also against her atheism, I do not recall urging her anathematisation.  Indeed, if pressed I suspect Mr. Orlet will have a hard time coming up with even a handful of catcalls, loud or otherwise, calling for Ms. Mac Donald to be expelled from “respectable” (or even marginal) conservative company.  She is in no danger of any expulsion, because, as she herself has said, probably half of the pundits covertly share her views, thus proving that the core of her complaint about conservatism (i.e., it is too religious) is unfortunately based on the most superficial analysis of a few rhetorical and symbolic nods to religious voters.  The martyrology of Heather Mac Donald will have to wait for another day.

Mr. Orlet says in his closing remarks: “Conservatives have, in a sense, made a deal with the diety [sic]…”  But we know this to also be untrue, since Mike Huckabee has been languishing in the polls for weeks.

Shorter Belle Waring: What if we lived in a world where everything was completely different from the real world, human beings were nothing like actual human beings and there was never any danger of crime?  What if we lived in Aldous Huxley’s head?

Via Ross Douthat

My once and future blogging colleague Paul Cella writes in defense of Pope Paul XII.  Taki offers an account of the achievements of Nixon and talks about Andy Warhol.  Chronicles‘ managing editor, Scott Richert, has one item on Keith Ellison and Muslims in America and another on the possible use of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the Near East.  Robert Spencer wrote on the Christians of Iraq, Justin Raimondo takes on the “homintern” over homosexuality and civil rights legislation and Richard Cummings offers the following poetic interpretation of neoconservatism:

“How do you do, Mr Podhoretz?”
“Quite well, Mr. Frum and you?”
“And where might you be going, sir?”
“I’m looking for a war, how ‘bout you?”
“Well, let me help you find it,
for I’m looking for one too.”

I’ve never seen a war I didn’t like,
the bombs, the guns, the tanks and all the planes,
and soldiers shooting everywhere and landscapes now all bare,
they tell you that the losses are not losses but are gains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
with cities going up in brilliant flames,
and all the carnage and the killing and the maiming,
the battle field all strewn with human brains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
the torture and the raping and the dead.
But don’t ask us to be in it, ‘cause we’ll be gone in just a minute,
and no one will know exactly where we’ve fled.

But with all the blood and gore,
the corpses all alike,
we’ve never seen a war,
no we’ve never seen a war,
no, we’ve never seen a war
we didn’t like.

One Eric Kenning also has an amusing take on Cheney:

Cheney’s strict adherence to militant Islam has also caused problems with his fellow neoconservatives, most of whom are equally devout, but adhere to a rival sect, militant Bedlam.

Late in January, Dr. Trifkovic weighed in on D’Souza’s book, touching on themes that I have been talking about recently:

It is noteworthy that D’Souza is condemning our writings as “Islamophobic” without further elaboration. Like the term “Islamophobia” itself—a classic product of the Hate Crime Industry—his technique is characteristic of the totalitarian Left. I remember reading, as a teenager in Tito’s Yugoslavia, similarly worded condemnations of dissident writers and their “tracts” in the communist-controlled press. Once they were defined as “anti-socialist,” “reactionary,” or “nationalist,” no further elaboration was needed and no debate allowed.

That D’Souza’s invocation of Islamophobia is of a piece with other invocations of anti-Semitism, homophobia or racism to silence political opponents and force through the conclusions of the person wielding these terms should be quite clear, but Dr. Trifkovic goes on to explain just how all-inclusive D’Souza’s use of this term is intended to be.

Early last month Dr. Trifkovic had this to say about Abe Foxman and the ADL:

What it does in practice has very little to do with its stated objective. It has a radical political program and social engineering agenda that goes way beyond “fighting discrimination.” It insists on America’s total demographic and cultural transformation into something that it is not, even when that transformation is manifestly detrimental to the interests of the Jewish community itself.

ADL’s immigration policy illustrates the point. For decades ADL has been advocating more or less unrestricted Third World immigration into the United States, on the grounds that a restrictive policy was inherently discriminatory and that a more diverse population would make the Jews more secure. In November 1965 it hailed the abolition of national origins quota system and stressed the “educational role” it played in helping to bring this change about. For the ensuing four decades it became strident in equating any advocacy of immigration control with “discrimination.”

But as many American Jews now realize, ADL’s agenda was driven by its leftist ideological blinkers, not by its concern for the community.

Dr. Clyde Wilson had a fine series of posts on “The Lincoln Fable.”  He concluded the first with these words:

So one aspect of the proliferating Lincoln fable was the cynical use far into the future of the fable of a martyred leader of supreme virtue for emotional ammunition to keep the Republican party in power. Another aspect of the fable is far more troublesome—the creation of Lincoln the Christ figure. It can be and has been thoroughly documented that this icon was created in post-assassination sermons. As a historian two generations back put it: “That the Lord had sent Lincoln to earth as his mysterious representative, to die for his people, was a belief that rose from many Easter sermons and grew with time to blend into the faith that the humble backwoodsman had been by some miracle the savior of the Union.” The literature that created the Lincoln/Christ is vast and stomach-turningly blasphemous. And, of course, it is never asked just what made saving the Union such a divine cause.

The Lincoln thus imagined and propagated was a fictitious narrative which has long been proclaimed to contain the true account of American history and the essential meaning of America. The fable gained its purchase in the midst of war, revolution, assassination, violent and vengeful self-righteousness, and most important and worst of all—religious disintegration. Lincoln the Christ figure was thrust into the vacuum created by the erosion of belief that had been steadily undermining Northern Protestantism in the previous decades. Out of public anxiety and near hysteria was created the religion of Americanism: America The Father, Lincoln The Son, and Democracy The Holy Spirit.


To this day and to the immense peril of our souls and bodies, many of our fellow citizens are incapable of distinguishing between God and “America” or comprehending that one who occupies the throne of Lincoln and uses the hallowed terms that Lincoln used can be capable of wrong.

In the second, he wrote of the fable’s distortions of Lincoln’s pseudo-religiosity:

The fable presents us with a pious, praying, saintly Ole Abe, a rail-splitter of humble birth, rather resembling a well-known Carpenter of similar background, and who also was martyred on Good Friday and wafted to Heaven by flights of angels. So far as we know the real Lincoln was an agnostic who was a prolific retailer of dirty stories and who cynically made his political speeches sound like the King James Bible. One of the few evidences of belief he showed was in the Second Inaugural when he blamed the war on God, for whom Humble Abe Lincoln was but an innocent instrument.

In the third he wrote a telling assessment of the evils Lincoln unleashed on America:

One hardly knows where to begin in dealing with this rampant balderdash. Who appointed those generals? General Sherman himself observed that many of Lincoln’s appointments looked like they had been made to purposely lose the war. In fact, Lincoln’s conduct is understandable only if you perceive the real pattern of consistency—that his primary objective was to keep himself and his party in power and that the war was the instrument for that objective. This was the tender-hearted leader who auhroized ruthless terrorism against women and children, refused generous offers of prisoner exchange while declaring medicine a contraband of war, accepted Grant’s costly policy of losing three men for every one Confederate killed, was not above keeping his own son out of harm’s way, and invited his own fate by clandestinely organizing the attempted assassination of Jefferson Davis.

I do not know whether Lincoln was personally corrupt in that he made money from his office. I do know that he was politically corrupt—that he took to previously unimagined levels the use of government jobs and contracts to buy political support and by design made the government a machine for doing favors for the wealthy and well-placed that has remained the hallmark of the U.,S. Government to the present day. Historians again give Abe a free pass. He was somehow the innocent victim of the corruption of the day. Mysteriously, the Great Barbecue blossomed without his awareness or complicity. But in fact, corruption was implicit and endemic in his political platform and his political conduct. This is not noticed because we are so used to what he created, but it would have shocked earlier generations and did shock honest people at the time. Just one example: until Stanton made him stop, Lincoln freely signed and gave out to his financial supporters what were called “cotton certificates.” This gave them leave to conduct an illegal and immoral trade with the enemy. A brisk business developed on the coast of Confederate Texas where Republican industrialists traded gold, medicine and other goods for Southern cotton.

There is a simple and obvious thing which we must always remember but is almost always left out of discussion of the War to Prevent Southern Independence. What happened in American in the years 1861–1865 was, rhetoric aside, a brutal war of conquest. The South was invaded, laid waste, a fourth of its men killed off, and its people deprived by force of their American right to self-government and subjected to military rule. At the same time peaceful critics of Lincoln’s government were suppressed in fashion previously unthinkable to Americans. The Union of the Founding Fathers was not saved. It was destroyed and replaced. The Gettysburg Address covered up the revolution by a rhetorical feat of having it both ways. By religious-sounding language and evasion and misrepresentation of fact, Lincoln made his destruction of the Union seem to be simultaneously a preservation of the old and sacred and “a new birth of freedom.”

Mel Bradford was wise and correct, I think, that Lincoln is best discerned through his rhetoric. Lincoln provided the rhetoric by which the rational republican discourse of earlier generations of Americans was replaced by sermonistic verbiage of the pseudo-religion of Americanism, like “saving the world for democracy.” Perhaps the ultimate limit of this poisonous style has been reached by George W. Bush, who uses words like “freedom” as magic incantations devoid of content.

Dr. Trifkovic has two recent pieces on Kosovo and another on a State Department ventures in the “integration” of European Muslims modeled on the non-existent integration of many American Muslims.

Dr. Wilson wrote a few weeks ago:

The Australian writer John Pilger nails it: Iran has no nuclear weapons—unlike the United States and Israel. Iran has generally complied with international inspection rules—unlike the United States and Israel. Iran has not engaged in aggressive attacks on other countries in recent years. Unlike the United States and Israel.

He wrote again late last month:

Solzhenitsyn has reminded us often that despotic regimes rest upon two pillars—violence and lies. George Bush has shown a proclivity for both.

Dr. Fleming has this typically clear-eyed assessment of the recent “reporting” about HPV vaccines and related matters:

If everyone had to pay for his own treatment—or die—some of us might think twice before engaging in risky behavior. But in a country where the President describes a Lesbian as a wonderful mother, personal responsibility is unfashionable. Frankly, I don’t care much what people do. Let them kill themselves, trying to perform every act described in the Philosophie dans le boudoir. All I ask is two things: Don’t tell me about it and don’t ask me to prolong your suicide by subsidizing it.

But Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric, and Brian Williams (and their writers and handlers) are probably not intelligent enough to be active promoters of the Playboy Philosophy. Even if they wanted to promote virtue and truth, they would not know how to go about it. They are too stupid to ask any of the right questions, and their stupidity is a fatal disease that has long infected the American mind and is now, from is bad reporting on medical science, infecting our bodies.


I must be doing something right.  One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has declared one of my recent posts, to which Sullivan linked, to be “conservative humbug.”  Unfortunately, in his haste to declare my view humbug he seems to have read in that post a claim that I did not make and don’t actually believe.  The Sullivan reader writes:

I find it difficult to stomach this kind of conservative humbug, that Modernity is anti-spiritual. Western society is the mechanism that allows groups like the Pentacostalists (and cosmos-loving atheists, and Wiccans, Buddhists, et al.) to exist. It is the ground in which they survive. What seems to irritate some conservatives is the fact that they cannot impose their will upon all of society and poison the soil which succors them. If anything, and the USA is the exemplar of this, modern Western society is besotted with spirituality. 

You cannot drive down a street in the greater Los Angeles area, a zone of the country supposedly noted for its secular ways, without encountering churches, synagogues, mosques, reading rooms, meditation centers, Scientology storefronts and other physical manifestations of the “higher” realms. Spiritual desert, bah! It’s an earthly garden of a thousand blooms.

I have had many things to say against modernity and even more against those who think there is virtue in modernism in most areas of life, but one thing I have not said and do not really hold is that “Modernity is anti-spiritual.”  Modernity is anti-traditional and possibly is inherently anti-Orthodox, but it is certainly not anti-spiritual.  I also don’t think I ever used the phrase “spiritual desert,” nor did I imply the existence of such a desert.  There is a spiritual desert in this country, but it is assuredly broken up by numerous oases.  As spiritual deserts go, it is much better than many.  Still, I defy someone to find anything remotely related to such claims in the post in question.  

What did I say?  I referred on numerous occasions to immorality and cultural decadence or, in one place, to “rampant immorality” and in another to “trashy popular culture.”  Perhaps the reader will be able to persuade me that Los Angeles (or any other major metro area) does not have more than its fair share of all these things, but I doubt it.  Perhaps the reader will disagree with what traditional Christianity would deem to be immoral, but that is an entirely different question.  What did I want to see as the remedies?  “Moral renewal” and “cultural regeneration” were my exact words.  Of course, those phrases call forth a number of questions (whose culture? what morality?), but since I took it as a given that my readers would understand that I meant the regeneration of a traditional Christian culture and a renewal of traditional Christian morality I did not go into greater detail about what I meant. 

Modernisation does not automatically equal secularisation and “de-spiritualisation” as such.  Islamic revivalist movements of the last three hundred years, Christian fundamentalist movements of at least the last one hundred years or so, Tenri-kyo and Soka Gakkai originating in 19th century Japan, the enthusiasts for Hindutva in India, Mormonism, and the ”progressive” Christianities of liberation theology and feminist theology, to take a few well-known examples, are all products of the modern age and are themselves modern.  “Modernity” is not all of one thing or all of another, but refers broadly to a mentality of self-determination and an orientation towards the self, and it also refers to a culture in which religious and political authorities have been stripped of their traditional claims to deference and obedience.  This is certainly not an exhaustive definition of an extremely complex subject.  Many modern religious movements, even those that stress quite seriously their fidelity to religious tradition, are based on the fairly anti-traditional assumption that it is acceptable to redefine, reorganise or refound a religious traditon.  In modern cultures, change and innovation often possess a predominantly positive meaning, such that even traditionalists and fundamentalists find themselves using the language of newness, dynamism, and choice, much to the annoyance of people like me.   

Obviously, critics of pluralism and ecumenism have no doubt that the modern world is beset by a rather staggering number of religious and other beliefs.  Some of these critics regard this great number of beliefs as the evidence of the inherent undesirability of pluralism, while others are content to stake their own claims in a pluralistic society.  Since I actually tend to lean towards the latter, one will be hard-pressed to find in me much of an enemy of the wide variety of religious expression in this country.  As an Orthodox Christian, I do not regard the claims of these other religions as true claims, and I think it is a crucial part of religious discourse in this country to state these oppositions and contradictions as flatly and plainly as possible.  Ecumenism offends me, for example, to the extent that it declares doctrine to be irrelevant to the proceedings and sees inherited truths as barriers to union to be removed rather than serious obligations that must be paid the proper respect.  Today being the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is rather fitting that there is an opportunity to note the freedom afforded to the Orthodox in this country to gather for services today for the  reading of the Synodikon to remember and re-enact the condemnations of many old heresies (Demetrios of Lampe, this means you!), and to acknowledge that it is far better that the Orthodox are free to do this in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Orthodox.       

Intellectually sloppy models, in which we ignore truth and privilege some supposed underlying unity of all religious beliefs (as Romney would very much like to do), do seem to appear in the modern age with far greater frequency than in previous periods in human history.  This is not because these fundamentally ecumenist models are any more compelling than they have been in the past, but because it was not until the Enlightenment’s attempted emptying of religious doctrines of their claims to being the embodiment of absolute truths that it was even conceivable that vying religious truth-claims could be reduced to the category of opinion.  To the extent that religious doctrine and traditional religion in the modern age truly have been devalued and marginalised in social, political and cultural life, the mentality and culture of modernity are hostile to traditional religion and are very supportive of every wind of doctrine and vague “spirituality” that might work to undermine the role and the claims of our civilisation’s religion.  Modernity anti-spiritual?  Far from it.  It is all together too spiritual, like the ages of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists, and not grounded enough in an incarnate Faith.    

Over at Tapped, Janna Goodrich points out the following quote from Glenn Beck:

More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.

The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We’re a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is off the charts.

Now, obviously, as Janna points out, this argument is appealing to conservatives because it’s a way of condemning social liberalism. It’s an unusually loathsome way of condemning social liberalism, but hey. Strange bedfellows and all that.

However, there’s another reason that this argument has generated a certain amount of conservative appeal lately: it perpetuates the trope that “they hate us for our freedoms.” And if they hate us for our freedoms, guess what? It means they don’t hate us for our actions. And that means there’s no need for us to change anything we’re actually doing in the Middle East.

And that’s a pretty comforting thought for conservatives, isn’t it? ~Kevin Drum

Drum has caught on to a small part of the answer, but it is naturally the one that serves the interests of his “side.”  U.S. foreign policy, the actual projection of power and the use of force in and against other countries, is the fundamental cause of anti-American terrorism.  That is, or ought to be, blindingly obvious.  This isn’t to say that jihadis haven’t been killing people for a very long to spread the domain of Islam or that they won’t keep killing people to that end and for the sake of purist interpretations of Islamic law.  They will.  But the reason why any jihadis have made a point of starting to kill Americans is very simply that we have made  it our business to base our armies in their countries and dictate the political futures of their countries.  Other Westerners have come under attack, for the most part, to the extent that their governments have aided us in wars against them or occupations of Muslim countries.  Any analysis of the problem that fails to acknowledge this overwhelming factor–as D’Souza’s famously fails to do because of his own weakness for hegemonism–will miss out on a lot. 

The “they hate us for our freedoms” line is pure garbage.  I don’t know how else to put it.  Sayyid Qutb didn’t like how Coloradoans danced in 1949, but he didn’t make it his life’s goal to attack Americans or to urge others to attack Americans and drive us out of the Near East…because we weren’t in the Near East and Muslims around the world had no reason to feel any particular animus towards America.  Things that our government started doing in the last thirty-odd years have brought us to this sorry predicament, so it is only fitting that people in our government who keep getting us deeper into that predicament will tell us that they and their predecessors had nothing to do with the problem.  However, people who note the difference between the counterculture of the ’60s vs. pop culture of the ’40s to argue against D’Souza’s use of Qutb also miss something important: it was not the cultural modernisation already taking place in the ’40s or the greater cultural radicalism of the ’60s that provoked the discontent and outrage of traditional societies around the world, but rather it was the export of American pop culture to the world in the decades that followed that lit the fuse.  In many respects, the export of that culture has triumphed over local resistance (I have strong doubts that this is a desirable thing), but it has generated hostility to the general experience of globalisation and rapid cultural change and those processes are unavoidably associated with the United States because so many of the largest multinationals are associated in the minds of people around the world with this country. 

It seems to me that any analysis of anti-Western and anti-American sentiment and actions that does not take into account the corrosive and dislocating effects of commercial (and cultural) globalisation will fail to understand why there is resentment and resistance.  Reaction against the displacement and economic and cultural insecurity created by globalisation acts as the oil that keeps the gears of more specifically political and violent protest moving.  If people in other nations have experienced rapid cultural change or even dissolution of their old traditions and habits because of modernisation and a demagogue or cleric or intellectual can take advantage of that and point to a combination of Western economies driving globalisation, Western moral decadence and overweening Western governments using their political and economic supremacy to meddle in and/or destroy other states, these voices can make plausible arguments that their nation’s woes can be laid at the door of America and the West while at the same time reinforcing their own convictions in their moral and, often, religious superiority and putting themselves on the side of the weaker nations that are being trampled under by hegemonic policies in a kind of solidarity.  Most powerfully of all, hegemonism actually gives these voices tremendous credibility, because hegemonic policies actually are unjust and destructive, and the West has become in many respects morally decadent by any meaningful standard, all of which comes together to make resistance seem not only desirable but absolutely essential to their cultural and national survival. 

But Drum stumbles here pretty badly when he tries to link what Beck said (basically, “they hate us for our immorality”) to the “they hate us for our freedoms” trope.  The latter is the product of people who think that there is basically nothing fundamentally or even incidentally wrong with America or its policies in the world, and that the only conceivable reason why anyone would want to do us harm is that we are free.  This would be funny if it were not so dangerously detached from the real world. 

Whether or not you define that freedom in a way that allows for license and hedonism, casting terroristic violence as an attempt to repress our freedoms makes that violence seem both purely irrational, and therefore impossible to contain or quell except by superior firepower, and absolutely limitless (i.e., it cannot be deterred, undermined or cut off at the source).  It is the perfect justification for perpetual war and a perfect justification for a perpetual war fought in the most ham-fisted, counterproductive way possible (thus guaranteeing that the “Long War” will be very, very, very long indeed).  It also helps to distract critics who have legitimate complaints about state encroachment on actual freedoms by constantly warning civil libertarians that they are helping to facilitate the establishment of shari’a in this country by weakening the government’s ability to spy on the general population and bomb Arabs with impunity.

However, this trope that “they hate us for our freedoms” is almost exactly the opposite of what Beck said.  To say that millions and millions Muslims around the world hate “us” for our immorality and decadence is to make hatred of us have some plausible, explicable cause.  Worse yet, it suggests that the cause of this hatred is remediable, which is exactly what the “they hate us for our freedoms” crowd cannot stand–the idea that “we” should or can do anything to stop anti-American hatred and violence is, as far as they are concerned, not only ludicrous but is itself immoral “appeasement.”  Liberals like Drum don’t like that the ox of social liberalism is being gored in all this talk of immorality, obviously, but nothing could be further from saying “they hate us for our freedoms” than to accept, however, indirectly or vaguely, some responsibility for anti-American sentiment.  Indeed, the two positions would have to stand in sharp contradiction, since the solution that Beck might propose would involve the curtailment of things that today fall under the overly broad rubric of freedom.  Far from agreeing that “they hate us for our freedom,” this Beck position as it is stated above would say, along with D’Souza, “they hate us for how we misuse our freedom” or perhaps even “they should hate us for some of these so-called freedoms that are actually just forms of rampant immorality.”  Those who say “they hate us for our freedom” believe that everything is basically fine with America just the way it is in every respect (yes, there might need to be a little tinkering here or there, but fundamentally there are no real problems), while anti-hegemonists and cultural conservatives alike are able to recognise that there are things that are deeply awry with government and society.  Naturally, maintaining both of these positions tends to make one unusually unpopular, since it flatters the prejudices of neither major bloc. 

What is potentially quite interesting is what might happen if we could somehow miraculously get together the large constituency on the left that focuses specifically on U.S. policy and the fairly large and, I think, growing constituency on the right that focuses on cultural decadence to create a popular cause demanding the dismantling of the hegemony and moral renewal.  The only problem is that the two groups generally regard each other’s America as the heart of the problem that “their” America has with the rest of the world.  I promise a nice steak dinner to anyone who can come up with the plan that unites these two basically mutually antagonistic groups together in a force for anti-imperialist cultural regeneration. 

Now, because D’Souza’s book stated a very similar argument to Beck’s in a way that was bound to irritate everyone there is a tendency for everyone of all political leanings to reject it in its entirety.  I tend to give his diagnosis (i.e., traditional societies are appalled and outraged by low Western morals, and Islamic societies are outraged to the point of contempt and violence) a little more credit while rejecting his solution (i.e., ecumenical jihad), but I disagree with his diagnosis to the extent that he thinks that the entirety of the Islamic world will somehow become pacific and cease all hostility towards the West that it has demonstrated in the past if we start giving serious thought to Tertullianesque plans to veil our women.     

People on the right object to D’Souza because he “blames America first” (not that these folks would be satisfied if someone blamed America fifty-ninth–America is never to blame for anything ever in some folks’ minds, and especially not for anything that the U.S. government does) and people on the left, well, they don’t much care for the whole “your godless liberalism brings down the wrath of jihad upon us” idea.  Almost everyone is getting something pretty important wrong in this “debate,” but the main stumblingblock to acknowledging that each side has something worthwhile to say seems to stem from what I might call the Larison Amendment to the Dougherty Doctrine (Mr. Drum may be familiar with the doctrine, since it first appeared in the pages of the Monthly): jihadis want to kill us because we tolerate your cultural and political preferences, but they would stop wanting to kill us if we all followed mine.  Now it just so happens that some people are much more right about this than others, and the trick will be to find some way to convince most of the main groups contesting this claim that most of them are partially correct.   

Drum calls the kind of argument embodied in the Larison Amendment ”unusually loathsome,” but it is, in fact, an argument that everyone uses at some point in every foreign policy argument.  Neocons use it when they say that the only way to defeat jihad is to engage in massive foreign wars and spread democracy (with relatively less emphasis on the latter), which is basically to say the only way to defeat jihad is to endorse the insanity of neoconservatism, and every other group can be found saying something similar: only we can defeat jihad…by doing the things we’ve always been proposing that we do anyway. 

Put another way, it comes down to whose America you “blame first” for foreign hostility.  Many on the left blame “Red America” first because of military and foreign policy (even if these are policies that their elected representatives also endorse), and cultural conservatives such as D’Souza will blame “Blue America” first, while the people inured to both trashy popular culture and the warfare state refuse to accept any responsibility for backlashes against Western cultural degeneracy broadcast throughout the world or for destructive hegemonic foreign policy conducted in their name.  People horrified by both (people like me) tend to blame the America of the megalopoleis of New York, Washington and L.A. (i.e., not the bulk of the real America, but the other, rather dreadful America that most of the world encounters in one way or another), while people who live in the megalopoleis regard our problems with the world as a product of excessive Christian fundamentalism, Southern militancy and heartland chauvinism.  So, basically, we all continue to believe that the usual suspects (whoever our usual suspects are) are responsible for the problems in this country.  One group of us is much more right about this than the others–guess which one I think has the right answer. 

If Drum’s reaction is any indication, however, the people in the megalopoleis are not going to be inclined to accept the diagnosis of the anti-imperialist reactionary from flyover country. 

In the 1950s, parents got concerned when girls “went steady” instead of playing the field, but Stepp is convinced this “new” habit of playing the field will warp girls’ hearts and make it impossible for them to settle down when the time comes. “It’s as if young women are practicing sprints while planning to run a marathon,” she worries. ~Meghan O’Rourke

Ross makes some smart comments on how O’Rourke’s article tries to do two contradictory things (expressing concern for the girls while also laughing at the author who expresses really serious concern for them) and fails, and I think he has it pretty well covered, but let me add a couple points about this bit about “playing the field.”  It should hardly be necessary to have to explain why “playing the field” in the 1950s and playing the field today are rather different.  First, the field has changed, and so have the rules of the “game.”  To be more blunt, parents in the ’50s didn’t want their daughters sleeping around, much as I suspect most sane parents today don’t want their daughters sleeping around, yet this is what field-playing more or less is today (unless formal courtship and cotillions have made a comeback and nobody told me).  If the parents are consistent about it, they shouldn’t want their sons sleeping around, either, I suppose, but that’s another discussion.  If you mean “keep your options open” or “don’t commit too quickly” by “playing the field,” I suppose most parents today might advise the same thing, but if you mean “hook-up with every guy in sight,” I submit the obvious observation that no parents anywhere on earth want this for their daughter.  It also seems fairly obvious that this is not a particularly sane or edifying way to live.

O’Rourke won’t be stopped, though, since she hits Unhooked for contributing to a culture of girl-repressing guilt:

From at least the 1920s (when everyone thought flappers were destroying manners) on through the 1980s (when teen pregnancy rates had everyone alarmed), girls have been hearing that their sex lives are the symbol of generational decadence.

I know this is supposed to be insightful, but I am having the hardest time understanding how.  Yes, societies focus on the sexual habits of their women because most societies recognise certain obvious connections between the state of marriage, families, relations between men and women and the ways in which society allows women to behave.  When social norms are fairly indulgent, there is going to be the legitimate and well-founded concern that this will have a significant impact on all of these things for the worse–and this concern is usually vindicated when these things do enter into crisis.  Concern about these things is rooted in, among other things, certain biological realities, since the merely practical costs to women and to society of “casual sex” (doesn’t this odd phrase imply that somewhere someone is having formal and semi-formal sex?) are far greater (e.g., children born out of wedlock, relatively impoverished single-parent households, and all the developmental and social problems that follow from these things, etc.).  This doesn’t begin to delve into the necessary and good functions of shame, honour and admittedly very old-fashioned ideas of what it meant for a woman to keep her virtue intact.  Naturally, the ”emancipators” have sought to provide all manner of workarounds (contraception, abortion, etc.) to avoid these costs without requiring anything so tiresome as restraint, but O’Rourke makes it seem as if the focus on girls is somehow bizarre or lopsided, when it is many of the girls and society as a whole that pay the price for the “fun” O’Rourke mentions at the beginning.   

What strikes me as particularly unimpressive about this remark by O’Rourke is that no one disputes the realities under discussion.  No one claims that the flappers were, in fact, misunderstood Victorian ladies with a slightly different sense of fashion–they did represent a dramatic, visible change in social habits and in sexual mores.  The trick here is that O’Rourke doesn’t care about that dramatic change, except insofar as it is a step forward the “fun” of later times.  Likewise, I don’t think she really doubts any of Stepp’s evidence.  She and Stepp simply evaluate the evidence according to entirely different standards, and since she doesn’t accept Stepp’s standards she thinks she has come up with a great zinger to paint Stepp as joining in what she portrays as unfair girl-bashing.  This is the progressive’s superior moral pose posing as an argument, when it is simply a lot of hand waving. 

By any standard of traditional morality, the things O’Rourke cited are examples of generational decadence; by certain ‘emancipated’ standards, they are supposedly examples of women’s growing independence.  Any critique of the “hookup culture” that assumes that stable, successful marriages are what young women (and, by implication, young men) should seek to have is going to assume that patterns of behaviour that put off or seem to devalue marriage are detrimental to the well-being of those young women.  Yes, really, it will!  Furthermore, it’s going to assume that these young women don’t know enough to know any better that the patterns of the “hookup culture” are actually damaging to the kinds of later relationships they will probably want to have.  O’Rourke doesn’t simply disagree with Stepp’s prescriptions, descriptions or methods, though she nitpicks all of them, but rather she rejects the entire premise of the inquiry, which is to question and then deny the value of that culture itself and to raise an alarm about something that O’Rourke doesn’t find terribly alarming. This is especially true since that culture will inevitably appear to O’Rourke to be another expression of individual emancipation and progress towards unicorn-like gender equality.

Seriously: “The 1/2 Hour News Hour” is so unfunny as to be affirmatively insulting. Do the programmers at Fox really think that we their viewers are this dumb? ~David Frum

This is what’s so amusing about Surnow’s little project.  Indeed, it is probably the only amusing thing about this project.  Yes, they think their conservative viewers are this dumb and easily amused because, well, FoxNews’ entire portrayal of what passes for conservatism operates at a pretty low, visceral level–and their viewers apparently can’t get enough of it.  They just aimed a little too low in this case, but in the world of Idiocracy (which is effectively the ideal world as imagined by FoxNews pundits 500 years from now with a Costco as large as a lake and a President who fires off a machine gun during his State of the Union) it would be the perfect fit.  That’s it–Surnow was just ahead of his time!  This is a depressing phenomenon to observe, but what it isn’t is surprising.  This is the same audience that regularly tunes in to hear Bill Kristol’s thoughts on foreign policy, which they apparently must regard as informed and interesting, so how sharp could they really be?   

There is comedy in all of this–it just doesn’t come from the show’s own skits.  This show has been conceived by avowed torture-con Joel Surnow and Roger Ailes for the explicit purpose of providing the “conservative” fake news comedy we’ve all supposedly been dying to have, and it appears on FoxNews, where all good Republicans go to receive their reprogramming lessons.  Its pedigree as a product of the nightmare that is Murdoch’s empire is unsurpassed.  Its self-conscious pretensions to conservatism are at least as great and as false as those of David Frum himself.  And it is horrible!  Absolutely horrible!  So horrible that even Frum must turn away in disgust–now he understands how the rest of us feel. 

Frum’s review of the show reminds me of the suggestion that was made not that long ago that Michael Savage had to be some kind of double agent working for the left to make people on the right appear to be lunatics (in the same way, I suppose, that Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore are actually secretly doing the bidding of Karl Rove, right?).  That his ranting performance has a fairly large and loyal following did not seem to shake the doubter’s view that Savage couldn’t really be what he claimed he was.  Apparently, the would-be high-brow set in the movement don’t get down into the muck of the madness that is lgf nor do they wade into the Freeper fever swamp very often.  This allows them plausible deniability: “No one on our side advocates torture!  That would be wrong!”   

Tom Piatak has an excellent article at VDare reviewing the new collection of Sam Francis’ essays and columns, Shots Fired, in which he talks about a number of Dr. Francis’ observations.  He concludes:

But even if it does not appear at the moment that the Middle American Radicals are about to charge over the hill to the rescue, like the 7th cavalry, there is no reason to give up the fight. The issues Sam identified as important—opposing the dispossession of the middle class and “dismantling the warfare-welfare state, controlling immigration, reversing the erosion of national sovereignty, withdrawing from the pursuit of a globalist-imperialist foreign policy, and restoring a Eurocentric cultural order“— are real and important. Because of their importance, these issues will endure.

And one day, if we are lucky, attract a political champion on a par with their intellectual champion, Sam Francis.

There are a couple especially odd moments in that old footage of Romney’s 1994 Senate debate that struck me when I watched it recently.  First, he affirms that he believes that abortion should be “safe and legal,” going on to say that he has held that view ever since his mother took that position during her 1970 run for Senate.     

The even more odd moment comes a little later, when he explains why he and his mother took that view.  As he is fleshing out his commitment to a “woman’s right to choose” and defending himself against Kennedy’s “multiple choice” accusation, he comes up with a personal tearjerker story worthy of Al Gore: a “dear family relative” of his had died from an illegal abortion, which was what had convinced him and his mother to defend “abortion rights.”  “It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter.”  His mother’s 1970 Senate campaign was apparently a pivotal moment in the evolution of Mitt Romney, since he reiterated his story about it just five years ago, as recounted by Jennifer Rubin in The Weekly Standard this week:

In much the same manner as he had done in the 1994 Senate debates, Romney repeated his pro-choice views later that year in the October 2002 gubernatorial debates, even invoking his mother, Lenore Romney, who favored abortion rights when she ran for the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 1970. 

Now, after at least 32-34 years of consistently following through on that conviction informed by the loss of his relative, he had a change of heart because…someone talked to him about stem-cell extraction?  It just doesn’t track.  (It also doesn’t help that the account of his ”road to Damascus” meeting with Dr. Melton doesn’t match up with Melton’s view.)  Virtually no one becomes pro-life by way of concerns about ESCR–usually, one opposes ESCR as the logical conclusion of an already serious pro-life view.  From The Boston Globe’s feature on Romney’s “evolution”:

“In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw where the harsh logic of abortion can lead — to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited,” Romney wrote in an op-ed in the Globe that July.  

His statement is correct, but think about how he phrases this.  The “harsh logic of abortion can lead” to embryo farming, and Romney is right to abhor this (if, in fact, he does abhor it), yet for millions of people it is much easier to see the evil of killing a fetus or an even more fully developed child in the womb while the importance of protecting human life to its earliest stages appears increasingly abstract and difficult to follow.    You don’t need to follow the “harsh logic of abortion” to its ultimate conclusions to see how profoundly unethical and wrong abortion is, but can see in the basic assumptions of personal choice, autonomy and “rights” that allow such a horror the unethical nature of the act.  In the killing of partly and mostly fully developed children in utero, one has all the evidence one needs for the evil of the act.  Does Romney really mean to tell us that until 2004 he hadn’t noticed any possible ethical problems with killing unborn children in the second or third trimesters?  It required an insight into the processes of ESCR to convince him that something unethical was going on? 

If he has, in fact, had an “awakening” on this and related matters, that’s well and good, but why should anyone particularly trust a Johnny Come Lately to the issue with the presidential nomination?  (Speaking of which, while Brownback was freezing on the Mall marching in the March for Life, Romney was in Israel helping to stir the pot for a new war with Iran–now tell me who has the greater credibility as a defender of human life?)  Why should anyone assume that he would expend real political capital in trying to effect meaningful changes in the law or in appointing suitable judges to the bench, when he has only just yesterday discovered his commitment to the sanctity of life?  More to the point, virtually no one goes through most of his life believing that it is fundamentally wrong and inappropriate to “impose” moral beliefs on others and then discover, after having the highly technical question of stem-cell extraction presented to you, that he should start imposing those beliefs.  It is such a rare, fundamental and complete transformation of the entire view of the appropriate relationship between “personal beliefs” (as Romney had always called them before) and public policy that it would have to make any observer very skeptical. 

That his change to being pro-life would come by way of one of the most convoluted areas of the debate and one of the thornier questions in bioethics has to strike a neutral observer as odd at best.  Those who already have reason to distrust Romney can hardly take it seriously.  That his change of mind has just happened to coincide with Mitt Romney’s appearance on the national scene and his preparation for bigger and better things beyond Massachusetts is too perfect.  The entire ”evolution” of Romney is like a how-to guide for politicians to do complete 180s while pretending to appear deeply thoughtful and committed to whichever new position he takes.  The problem is that he was already setting himself up for the national stage by the time when, in mid-2005, he finally (for the first time) declared himself to be pro-life, so his “deeply thoughtful” stage comes off appearing as little more than early pandering.   

Romney might or might not have actually believed his tearjerker story at the time that he recounted it in 1994, but how is this really any different from Al Gore’s pained remembrance, c. 1996, of his sister’s death from lung cancer (and thus his deep, personal motivation to fight Big Tobacco) that had replaced his former enthusiasm for the stuff?  Back in ‘88 he said, as some will remember, “Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I’ve hoed it. I’ve chopped it. I’ve shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it.”  His sister had, of course, died in 1984, so it evidently took a while for the evils of tobacco to become apparent to him.  In a similar way, through 2002 Romney seems to have clearly held fast to an Obama-like shtick about not wanting to endanger women’s lives by outlawing abortion and even had a personal story that he could use to convince people of the sincerity of his commitment not to “impose” his beliefs about abortion on other people.  What is to stop him from reverting to form and returning to the position he held quite comfortably for three decades?  You can almost see the national address in which a President Romney (let’s just imagine this impossibility for argument’s sake) describes his thoughtful and difficult discovery that, actually, it is wrong to impose his personal beliefs on others and his brief flirtation with pro-life views was simply another part of his ongoing “evolution.”  “You live and learn,” he will say.

There is great wisdom in the Psalmist when he says, “Trust ye not in princes.”  If the defense of human life remains bound up in the arcana of intra-GOP political squabbles, it will continue to be exploited as a way to mobilise voters and dupe those voters into supporting candidates who may not really share their commitments.  It will continue to be diverted to the margins and pro-lifers will probably achieve far less this way than if they diverted most of their energies to changing cultural attitudes through other kinds of work and advocacy.  The conscious and unconscious modeling of the pro-life movement as a political struggle movement borrowing its templates from abolitionism and civil rights activism is unfortunate in many ways, but it is most unfortunate in its fixation on finding redress through the political process.  Tere is a basic incongruity between the goals of the pro-life  movement and the fixation on using the mechanisms of government to advance that movement’s goals; the movements whose rhetoric pro-lifers copy were progressive movements that were well-suited to the encouragement of government activism and the violation of precedents, while pro-lifers have long been diametrically opposed to these things. 

Because so many pro-life activists have been geared towards politics for so long, this has encouraged in them the tendency to accept spokesmen for their cause who usually give their issues the most basic lip service, a little access and not much else.  For their pains, they have received two Court nominees who affirmed in sworn testimony that they considered Roe the settled law of the land–and this has been their greatest “victory” in twenty years!  They console themselves with the idea that “at least they [Roberts and Alito] probably won’t make it any worse,” yet it was a Court with a majority of Republican appointees who decided Casey, cementing Roe into the legal structure as sure as anything could have.  When push comes to shove, I think we all know that the Roberts Court will reconfirm those rulings if the opportunity arises.  Those appointees got there in part because pro-lifers backed the Presidents who nominated them, because pro-lifers were satisfied with occasional nods to their concerns and nothing more.  By putting such an emphasis on capturing the Presidency as the means to their success, and consequently settling for nominees who simply had to mouth the right pious phrases during the campaign, pro-lifers have set themselves up time and again to be ignored and marginalised once the elections have come and gone.  In the rush of some pro-life Christians and conservatives to the Romney banner, we see the same farce unfolding before us yet again.  This time, it is even more inexcusable, when there are at least two reasonably credible pro-life Republicans running against Romney, at least one of whom has an outside chance at being competitive.  

Invariably, politicians will be unreliable and untrustworthy.  That is a given, and anyone disappointed by politicians would be well-advised to stop expecting much at all from them.  Even Mr. Bush, who at least had a longer record of at least publicly posing as someone who was pro-life than Romney has had, has been fairly abysmal when it comes to what should have been the relatively easy decision about whether to allow federal funding for stem-cell research (his mighty veto of last year was simply a veto of a bill that would have increased the funding levels he had previously approved).  Imagine what kinds of compromises and sell-outs Romney might accept.  The sincerity of his ”conversion” is almost beside the point, since it is potential lack of commitment for such a recent “convert” that strikes his critics as a key problem. 

Update: Referring to the Planned Parenthood questionnaire Romney filled out in 2002, Matt Yglesias makes a good, concluding point:

As you can see in the Medicaid answer, he wasn’t even a moderate on the issue — Romney was taking a strong, strong pro-choice stance. Maybe pro-lifers just enjoy being lied to, but I think it’s got to be obvious at this point that you can’t trust anything Romney says on the subject of what he thinks about political issues. It doesn’t seem like a quality you’d want in a presidential nominee.

I think many pro-lifers really want to believe that someone could go from Obamaesque levels of support for abortion to Brownbackian fervour opposing it.  These folks really want to believe that the obvious rightness of their position should win over their most staunch adversaries.  According to the questionnaire he filled out five years ago, Romney used to be one of the most staunch adversaries of the culture of life and has now supposedly become one of the most staunch advocates of the same.  Indeed, Romney seems to be counting on the idea that the extreme and brazen nature of his flip-flopping proves that it isn’t just flip-flopping, but a real change of heart.  I can’t rule out that it is genuine (unlike Mr. Bush, I do not possess heart and soul-vision), but usually when a candidate repudiates a view he has apparently held for decades at the moment when he is preparing to run for higher office (where said older view would be a distinct liability with his future core constituents) we do not assume this is proof of the man’s deep spiritual journey or a miraculous awakening.  No, we assume that he is a fraud and a liar.  Why should we assume anything else in Romney’s case?  Because we like the sound of the lies he is telling us?      

According to Dean Barnett, D’Souza states his thesis for The Enemy at Home thus:

I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.

At first this sounds remotely plausible to a conservative ear.  After all, these same people are responsible for the “volcano of anger” of Middle Americans that is directed at these institutions.  It might stand to reason that Muslims, with their even stricter and more restrictive codes of behaviour, would react even more angrily against these same things.  There is also probably enough truth to it for most people to be willing to hear D’Souza out as he attempts to prove his thesis. 

But why does D’Souza write this book, and why does he write it now?  D’Souza is a well-known flack for the war in Iraq.   In The Enemy at Home, according to Tom’s review, D’Souza attempts to stick an apologia for Bush’s Near East policy into his culture war/alliance with Muslims book.  As Tom notes, the combination doesn’t really work as a single book.  However, the apologia was essential, because I believe that it is to save the reputation of interventionism that D’Souza cooked up this overblown claim about the cultural left’s responsibility for 9/11.  Whatever responsibility for anti-American sentiment the cultural left does bear, it is indeed a huge leap to claim that this lead to 9/11.  9/11 was the hideous work of people who hated America because of the presence of our soldiers in Saudi Arabia and, according to their public claims, our sanctions on Iraq and our support for Israel.  U.S. foreign policy was a major cause of, and in some large degree did provoke, the attacks of 9/11.  Those who support interventionist foreign policy generally and especially those who support its most aggressive, neoconservative form in the invasion of Iraq have a great deal at stake in ensuring that conservatives do not become disillusioned with this failed kind of foreign policy.  It is necessary to distract them with their elemental resentments against cultural liberalism and civilisational decline and, if at all possible, tie in support for the current brand of reckless foreign policy with the defense of our culture and morals.  From what I understand of it, D’Souza’s clunky tripartite book actually seems to be Joseph Bottum’s “new fusionism” in action: a foreign policy guided by “moral” purpose hitched to a cultural conservatism at home.  But this is an expanded “new fusionism” in which intervention in the Islamic world is somehow integrally tied to forming an anti-leftist alliance with Muslims–we are no longer invading other countries simply to topple “evil regimes” but to somehow also counteract the spread of cultural liberalism that allegedly is the real cause of anti-American violence.  It seems likely that the main reason why D’Souza concocts this unwieldy argument in the first place is that the Iraq war is failing and public support even on the right is fading, so, for the sake of the survival of interventionism, it is vital to shift the blame for 9/11 from the interventionism he and others like him support to the broadly acceptable target of the cultural left.  If Barnett’s comments are any guide, the mainstreamers aren’t buying what he’s selling. 

When a conservative’s book is lambasted in The New York Times book review section, as Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home was today, I can usually take it for granted that the review, if hostile, will probably be ridiculous and virtually self-refuting.  Alan Wolfe has not disappointed me.  In a review entitled, none too subtly, “None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason,” he excoriates D’Souza’s book as a “national disgrace” and calls the author ”childish.”  Tom Piatak had a very different reading of the “disgrace”:

Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 is really three separate books jammed together in one package: a persuasive though hardly original account of the Culture War in America; an engaging rendition of the Left’s hostility toward traditional cultures around the world and its attempt to break down the morality undergirding those cultures; and an unconvincing attempt to link the first two books to the third, a defense of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East. Because of this odd juxtaposition, there is much of interest in D’Souza’s book, though its parts are definitely greater than the whole.  

However, my bad reaction to the NYT review does not mean that I am a great D’Souza fan, and I have already written a little about Tom Piatak’s TAC review of the same book.  My impression of the book has not much improved with the reading of a second review, even though Wolfe’s tone and argument make me want to be sympathetic with D’Souza in spite of myself. 

Let me start by acknowledging that I have not read D’Souza’s book, nor will I be rushing out to buy it.  I am working from what these two reviews tell me.  Based on those reviews, D’Souza seems to say some things that are true (it is true, for example, that Bin Laden has not launched any attacks on Israel and also true that few Americans are terribly distressed at the tens of thousands of dead Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan), but also unfortunately elaborates his “grand strategy” for a sort of international culture war in alliance with “traditional Muslims” that inevitably summons to mind the phrase “ecumenical jihad.”  This is a very, very bad idea, but the proposal itself deserves some consideration so that we can understand fully just how bad of an idea it is. 

Some of D’Souza’s irony is clearly lost on Mr. Wolfe.  For instance, he does not seem to grasp what I take to be the point behind D’Souza’s remark about polygamy and Western sexual freedom.  From Wolfe’s review:

Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.”

Perhaps D’Souza is simply being nihilistic here and saying: “They mistreat their women one way, and in certain respects we mistreat them even more in another, so why get on your high horse about their treatment of women?”  On the other hand, he might very well be saying (though why he is saying this, I have no idea, so ripped from context is this excerpt), “A sane society would oppose polygamy on the grounds that it is a disgrace and travesty of the marital bond, which should be a monogamous and faithful union, but we are a deeply sick society that does so much to undermine and wreck the institution of marriage and we mistreat our women in some ways that are more degrading in the name of “sexual freedom,” but still have the gall to attack traditional societies for the practice of polygamy.”  In other words, I think D’Souza probably accepts that polygamy is wrong–I am going to guess that he is not really engaged in cultural relativism here–but recognises that polygamy is relatively better, as a matter of social stability and public morality, than rampant mass fornication dressed up as “freedom.”  Does Mr. Wolfe understand the difference between these two positions?  Does he care about figuring out what D’Souza means?  I assume he does not.  He has the polemical bit between his teeth and he is racing down the track.

Ecumenical jihad is initially, but only very briefly, an appealing concept.  Its core assumption, taken to its logical conclusion, is that a conservative would and should prefer “traditional Muslims” to, say, Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris.  In a global struggle against the cultural leftists, Islam thus supposedly becomes the ally.  This is a sort of Brzezinskian-Reaganite approach to a global cultural conservatism: support the mujahideen against the godless.  The core problem with this idea, besides its complete impracticability, the damage it would do to our civilisation and the scorn with which it would be met on the Muslim side, is that it presupposes a common ground and a consensus on basic moral truths that don’t actually exist. 

Strict conservatives in the West quite rightly have a very dim view of the sexual revolution.  The trouble is that most “traditional Muslims” think, for example, that women appearing in public without accompaniment from a male relative is a form of absolutely unacceptable sexual revolution and indecency and that it can be punishable by violence.  I assume that most conservatives, including many social conservatives, would view this as extreme and excessive.  D’Souza’s alliance rests on the assumption that this is what most of us would like to establish in this country if only we could somehow manage it.  I can believe that many social conservatives want a restored public morality and decency that would impose many, many strictures on people that have since fallen by the wayside without confusing what they want with the codes of Islamic fundamentalists.   

D’Souza’s alliance only makes sense in the very limited, binary analysis of for/against.  “Oh, Muslims are also against homosexuality–let’s join together with them to fight this abomination!”  Except that their idea of the fight is to stone or otherwise execute sexual deviants.  That does almost put them in the Old Testament tradition, or at least the punishment bears close resemblance to Leviticus, but then even the blackest of black reactionaries in the West are unlikely to bring back Levitical punishments that have been in abeyance for centuries and are unlikely to sympathise very much with those still inflicting such punishments.   

As a matter of foreign policy, I am convinced that what Muslims do in their own countries is generally their business, which is why I find D’Souza’s weird combination of Islam and Imperialism so bizarre.  In his view, we should go out of our way to make concessions to traditional Muslim sensibilities all over the place, but then also dictate the political and economic future of their countries through interventionist foreign policy that is sure to anger, humiliate and outrage the very same constituency D’Souza seems intent on satisfying. 

But if D’Souza is incoherent, Wolfe is laughably silly.  Here is Wolfe in high dudgeon:

Unlike President Bush, who once said he could not understand how anyone could hate America, D’Souza knows why Islamic radicals attack us. “Painful though it may be to admit,” he admits, “some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West … may be true.” Susan Sontag never said we brought Sept. 11 on ourselves. Dinesh D’Souza does say it.

Leave aside the strange contrast between Mr. Bush’s understanding–which is so widely respected as deep and penetrating!–and D’Souza’s.  This is one of those cases where D’Souza says, “Some of what our critics say may be true” and Wolfe cries, “Anti-American!” faster than a neocon columnist on a deadline.  From the excerpt given here, D’Souza does not say that we brought 9/11 on ourselves.  It says that some of the criticisms of America and the West are not entirely without merit.  That is a perfectly defensible statement, and it happens to be true.  More might be said in this vein, but from what Wolfe tells us D’Souza did not say it.

Another excerpt that proves the book to be a disgrace?  Wolfe recounts:

And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.” 

Here D’Souza has invited trouble for himself by even bringing up Ahmadinejad and failing to engage in a ritual denunciation.  But, according to this excerpt, what did he say was “undoubtedly accurate”?  Ahmadinejad’s claim that there was a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust.  That is “undoubtedly accurate.”  There is a taboo against this.  Wolfe presumably finds D’Souza’s comment about this offensive precisely because there is such a strong taboo that even mentioning that there is a taboo is frowned upon–it’s simply understood and left at that.  Most people in the West happen to think this is a well-founded taboo, since the Holocaust (i.e., the mass killing of Jews in lands under Nazi German authority) did happen. 

One might query (Wolfe does not) why D’Souza mentions this, since Ahmadinejad obviously does not make this observation out of a deep sensitivity about the problems of imposing what are effectively political limitations on historical inquiry.  He uses it as a way to show that there are things “we” in the West consider unquestionable and inviolable and, so he would probably claim, thus our commitment to freedom of speech is a fraud.  However, while I might say that locking people up for making statements about the Holocaust contrary to the generally accepted historical record is stupid and tyrannical, just as I consider the French law outlawing Armenian genocide denial to be foolish and counterproductive (not least since it allows members of the Turkish establishment to pose as some sort of defenders of academic or political freedom, when that is exactly what they are not), Ahmadinejad uses this inconsistency on the part of Westerners to advance the claims of Islam over and against us and to insist that we cannot violate their taboos in what we do because we are supposedly hypocrites when it comes to protecting freedom of speech.  Many European countries are hypocrites about this, but that remains irrelevant.  If Europeans lifted all hate-speech and Holocaust-denial laws tomorrow, Ahmadinejad and other Muslims with him would not change a bit.  D’Souza exposes himself rather stupidly here to the obvious attacks that he had to know would come and doesn’t really make much of point, as far as I can see from this excerpt, except to say, ”Ahmadinejad occasionally says things that are factually true.”  This is not very interesting.  It is a sad commentary on the pathetic, super-politicised state of Iran commentary that to say something as mild and inoffensive as this merits special derision from an agent of the Grey Lady. 

D’Souza’s book evidently proposes a fool’s errand of allying with Islam as a path towards the defense of our own culture.  Wolfe does make a couple of the same points I have already made before (e.g., the distinction between traditional and radical Muslims is largely illusory), but largely fails to focus on the central conceptual flaw of D’Souza’s proposal: you cannot drag the Islamic world kicking and screaming towards secular modernity while at the same time hoping that the “traditional” forces within Islam will strengthen or somehow aid in the conservative fight against the cultural left.  This is an idea even more crazy and potentially disastrous than the tired cliche of the fine “family values” of Latin American immigrants who are coming fortify conservatism in America and become loyal GOP voters.  That is why people should throw down D’Souza’s book and move away, and not because he has accused subversives of being just what they are.

To Beck, that trip to hell does not stop with our politicians. It is societal.

“Too many people are concerned about their party, too many people are concerned about their labor union, and too many people are concerned about their own business,” he says. “You see it with your own children in school, where you see a child that has been misbehaving and they’re called on the carpet, and the parent immediately says, ‘Not my child!’ It is because it’s no longer about the collective; it’s about ‘me.’ ~Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Well, actually, the abdication of parental responsibility and the cult of indulging spoiled children are entirely separate from being principally concerned with your party, your labour union or your business.  The attitude behind abandoning responsibility and forsaking discipline for children is ultimately one of accepting dependency on someone or something else that will provide the constraints and discipline so sorely lacking in your own world.  That attitude is self-serving, which is not quite the same as minding your own business.  The former would very much like others to do things for him without his having to do anything for them.  Such self-indulgence and individualism are rather products of a breakdown of strong attachments to the numerous institutions of local life, be it the company, the union, the church, etc.  There is no sense of broader social responsibility because there is actually very little attachment to the institutions that form the web of relationships that maintain social solidarity.  The problem is not that too many people are too concerned with “their party” or “their labour union,” but that more and more people do not attach themselves to anything beyond their own self-interest.  They do this because they perceive that they have no need for these institutions, and so are indifferent to their conservation and have little interest in their renewal.  What these institutions may have once provided or still do provide, such individualists are only too glad to receive from the state or a megacorp, which in turn reinforces the degrading dependency of these people on the state or the megacorp or both.  The surest road to a real and destructive collectivism is this preoccupation with self-interest combined with Beck’s hostility to the attachments and loyalties people have at a more immediate, personal level.  

Concern with one’s own business is normally associated with the necessary responsibility to attend to that business successfully.   Normal people are concerned mainly with the things most closely related to them, and those are the things that should have priority in their lives.  If everyone were preoccupied with someone else’s business, someone else’s labour union and someone else’s party, we would indeed have a “collective,” but it would be of a stifling, oppressive sort.  To some extent, we are already plagued by the need to meddle and to fix the other fellow’s problems rather than tending to our own affairs.  This disorder expresses itself in different forms in our society.  There are the people who feel compelled to “do something” about Terri Schiavo, there are the Save Darfur folks, and there are legions and legions of people with an activist frame of mind just like them.  There is a drive at the heart of it that may well be that old freethinkers’ impulse to make everyone else just as “free” as you are.  This concern for others is so obsessive and overwhelming that it obliterates all concern for restraint and limits.

I haven’t seen the start of the new season of 24, but I am more than familiar with the nature of the show over its past five years.  In spite of everything that could be said against its insane worship of the Presidency (according to which, if the President authorises it, it is probably permissible to irradiate nursing homes or to drop a nuke on Denver–if it serves the cause of stopping the terrorists), its complete disregard for something we like to call “the law” and the complete implausibility of being able to routinely get across L.A. as easily as everyone in CTU does, it is fun to watch.  It is the action genre’s answer to campy romantic melodrama; it is the American equivalent of Bollywood pics dedicated to episodes of conflict with Pakistan and jihadis.  Unlike those, however, we are spared the sight of Paul Blackthorne’s Stephen Saunders singing to his daughter.  (Unlike most people appearing in 24, though, Paul Blackthorne has had experience with Bollywood, when he played the irremediably unpleasant British captain who challenged Aamir Khan’s villagers to a cricket match in Lagaan.)  

As in those fine Indian action films, the characters on 24 absurdly overplay family and office dramas that somehow manage to fit together with the efforts to prevent the impending disaster.  Noble Arab-American speechifying about being good citizens in season 4 brings to mind Akshay Kumar’s loyal Muslim copper in Sarfarosh.  Shadowy scenes of Geraint Wyn Davies’ Nathanson ordering various terrorist attacks in season 5 call forth, unbidden, memories of scenes of the beturbaned mastermind behind Mission: Kashmir.  The line between 24-ridiculous and hysterically bad is actually a very thin one, and one that the writers have not always stayed on the right side of.  Everyone knows how close it comes to being a really, really silly show, but it is as if we have all agreed to not mention this because, as with some of us and Bollywood, we just like it too much to dwell on the absurdity of it all.  Don’t spoil the fun–we want to see what Jack does next!  Should Amitabh Bachchan ever guest star in a future season (which would be marketing genius), the connection between the two will be complete.   

24 fans know the structure of a season pretty well by now.  In the beginning, there is the progress of a ho-hum, routine day suddenly broken up by some shocking event that only presages the coming string of threats.  This is followed by some terrorist plot or act that would, on its own, be sufficient to fill out a feature film that covers an entire week, but which must, for obvious reasons of time (of which Jack Bauer claims to never enough, but which always turns out to be just sufficient in the very end), be concluded in a matter of two or three hours.  In real time!  Then there are the ludicrous plot devices (e.g., the inevitable uncovering of yet another mole in CTU–don’t these people have any security checks?), and the inevitably tiresome dialogue (which is all too realistic in the constant re-explaining of the situation, such as when the New Guy has just come over from Division, which is 24’s equivalent of the Inferno).  Then you have the unavoidably cliche “we really don’t want to do this, but we have no choice” scenarios and the increasingly predicatble and de rigueur subplot involving the rulebook-following toady from Division who does virtually everything wrong for the entire season until he is forced by events to become an unlikely hero (the latest–Samwise, er, Sean Astin).  But in spite of all these things, we love our 24.  It is not because it is necessarily all that good or good for us, but because, like Bollywood, it is a complete flight of fantasy away from the real world in which we live. 

That world, for Americans, is largely so safe, dull and humdrum that we hungrily feed on the constant tension and action of 24 the way that hundreds of millions of unhappy Indians feed off of the bubblegum-pop happiness of a masala flick’s star-crossed lovers.  No one would actually want to live in the world that Jack Bauer inhabits, and happily no one does, but it is 24’s genius to make us think for at least one hour every week that we actually do live in that world and that the plots unfolding in front of us are realistic because they are happening in “real time.”  Fortunately for us, they are not realistic.  Unfortunately, many of 24’s biggest fans think that this is exactly what the real world is like.  This may explain why the policies preferred by the show’s loudest fans are not even as effective in the real world as the melodramatic romance of Bollywood is at creating the successful template for relationships between men and women. 

Watching Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which finally hit the shelves this week on DVD, I couldn’t help noticing its uncanny resemblance to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Sure, Idiocracy is a low comedy, full of kicks to the groin and monster-truck rallies, while Children of Men is a serious dramatic thriller about the extinction of humanity. But both movies are chilling visions of a future dystopia extrapolated, with pitiless logic, from our current moment. Both feature a reluctant hero (Clive Owen in Children of Men, Luke Wilson in Idiocracy) who’s jolted from his depressive complacency and asked to save the planet from destruction. And both posit human reproduction (or the lack of it) as the problem that threatens the future of the human race. 

One other commonality: Both movies were scandalously underpromoted by the studios releasing them. Judge’s film sat on a shelf for two years at Fox before being hacked down to its current 84-minute running time and dumped, unadvertised, into only a few cities on the slowest movie weekend of the year. Children of Men’s fate has been slightly less ignominious; it was released nationwide, largely untrumpeted, on Christmas Day, and only this week, after countless critics (including me) put the movie on their 10-best lists, has Universal rushed to mount a too-little-too-late push for Oscar consideration.

The burial of Children of Men was lame, but comprehensible. Figuring that few viewers would flock to such an unremitting downer of a film, Universal must have decided to market the movie modestly, hoping at least to break even with attention from art-house audiences. But Fox’s choice to withhold Idiocracy even from the markets where it was most likely to find cult viewers—New York? San Francisco?—and to eschew all advertising is simply bewildering. The shrouding of Idiocracy in what amounts to a marketing burqa is especially ironic given that the film’s most pointed satire is aimed at the ubiquity of advertising in American life. ~Dana Stevens

On Children of Men, I think Ms. Stevens gives the studio too much credit.  It isn’t just that the movie is an “unremitting downer of a film” (some might say that Schindler’s List is something of a downer, too, but that didn’t stop the studio from promoting it like crazy), but that it is a downer with an obvious but decidedly uncomfortable message for the wine-and-cheese set: if every couple in this country had only one child or had no children, the future for our people would be just as bleak as it is for all of the people in Children of Men.  Natalists immediately saw the potential significance of the movie as something that would dramatise their arguments for them.  I suspect that it received such pitiful studio support because it might make natalism the respectable, sane option in the same way that dystopian stories of totalitarianism have made various forms of anti-statism the obvious alternative.  However, as we all know, natalism is the preserve of fundamentalists and fascists and therefore forever off limits to respectable people, or so some people would tell you.

The reason for the opposition to Idiocracy is more obvious: it was not acceptable, even as a big joke, to tell a story about the dysgenic results of the ever-declining average intelligence of humanity achieved through the prolific breeding of morons.  You can’t even talk about that without some penalty, much less put it on screen!  (Here’s Reihan’s old review of Idiocracy.)  Before it’s all over, Ms. Stevens must also register her own disapproval:

Ultimately, Children of Men’s vision of the future is more inclusive, and kinder, than Idiocracy’s. Judge’s gimlet eye is so ruthless that at times his politics seem to border on South Park libertarianism—a philosophy that, as has often been observed about South Park, can flirt with the reactionary. And there’s more than a little classism in Idiocracy’s fear that the dumb—here pictured as trailer-park trash and fast-food-swilling losers—will inherit the earth. Would we be better off in a world in which the brittle, infertile yuppies shown in the movie’s opening moments had populated the earth with their spawn?

That’s right: the movie that depicts the near-extinction of mankind is “kinder” than Idiocracy.  Ms. Stevens is pulling out all the stops: it’s libertarian! it’s like South Park! reactionary! classist!  (I confess that I have never before seen the word “classism,” but in our age of race-class-gender studies, we would have to have classism to go with racism and–coming soon–genderism to accommodate all the transgendered out there.)  The answer to her question is pretty clearly yes.  The idea behind the movie is that the world would be better off if those yuppies at least managed to reproduce at replacement levels.  That is what frightens the studios.  Here’s a possible reason: studios are having a hard enough time getting people to go to movie theatres in an age of Netflix, DVDs and, soon, the iPhone, so the last thing they can afford is for their childless, moviegoing audience to get crazy ideas about having large families that will consume more and more of their time and leave them fewer occasions to go to the cinema.  Therefore all movies that might encourage middle-class professionals to start having more children must be kept out of sight for as long as possible.  What do you think? 

It will sell like proverbial hot cakes when it goes on sale in the US in June — but why? What’s the point of having so many devices on something that is still essentially a phone? Did I miss something? I thought a mobile phone was about being able to make and receive phone calls while you’re on the move. ~Dennis Marinos

Apparently Mr. Marinos and I inhabit another world in which being able to carry around a phone in your pocket is technological revolution enough for one lifetime.  It would appear that he is something of a curmudgeon, and so am I, and thank goodness for that.  The marketing genius of the iPhone, like the iPod before it (another one of Steve Jobs’ gifts to mankind that I don’t have and whose amazing reputation I don’t really understand), is that there is literally no good reason for it to exist–but technological ingenuity and the dynamo of consumerism have produced something new, shiny and intriguing to whet the appetites of consumers who have already become bored with something so last year as a “Razor” or “Chocolate” phone.  (I don’t even know what makes a Chocolate phone a Chocolate phone–I have heard the name, and that is all I care to know.)  Now a new waste of money and time approaches on the horizon–rejoice, O ye gullible and easily persuaded!  Give Steve Jobs credit for creating a massive media hype (to which even curmudgeonly critics are contributing) for a product that literally no one needs.  The last time I heard this much hype about a new innovative miracle of technology that was going to blow us all away, someone released the Segway, that ridiculous high-tech scooter, which is something that virtually no one outside of a few metro police forces uses.  A lot more people will use the iPhone, but what nobody seems to appreciate is that iPhone and Segway users will share the honour of being big dupes. 

But, the fans enthuse, you can touch the screen and select things with your finger!  It’s like magic or Star Trek or Star Trek and magic together.  You can listen to music on your phone!  Forget about the shabby world of ringtones–the future is now!  Before long, there will be Apple products that will be able to create a subspace bubble–or whatever–that will allow us to travel through time.  Who cares?  It’s just a phone.  If it has lousy reception or poor network coverage, it will actually be a step backwards from the ho-hum, boring cell phone (mine has no camera, no music, no artificial intelligence matrix to organise my daily planner and cook me breakfast) that I have grudgingly gotten into the habit of using.  (I have had the exact same cell phone for over three years now, and somehow my life has not fallen apart.)  If it works just as well as other phones, you will have to pay a lot more to get the exact thing I have.  You will also have a bunch of really impressive-sounding junk that you don’t need and will not use often enough to make it worthwhile.  Count me out.       

My copy of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics As If Families Mattered arrived today, and I look forward to digging into it over the weekend (Nativity services permitting) and being prepared to join, albeit from afar, the conversation that will be beginning next Monday at the blog.

From an E.F. Schumacher quote cited at the start of Chapter I:

If an activity has been branded as uneconomic, its right to existence is not merely questioned but energetically denied.  Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools.  Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be “uneconomic” you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper.

He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.

“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative

Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases.  Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire).  In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.

Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully?  For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power?  Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco?  Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence.  It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America.  Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.

From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.”  If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only.  It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing.  As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands. 

This approach has two additional liabilities.  This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures.  To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater. 

If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression.  This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything.  Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression.  Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure!  I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous!  Who do they think they are?  We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions!  (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.)  In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government.  They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.”  (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?)  These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren.  Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all.  It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making.  To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side.  To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires).  When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations.  Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.    

Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression.  This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense.  There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth.  Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along.  Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war.  Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests.  In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile.  The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one.  Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.       

Meanwhile, the woman [Rice] is still with us, more powerful and more disconnected from reality than ever. She apparently still believes there’s no point in talking to Syria and Iran. She still believes that democracy is a feasible goal in Iraq. At the State Department dinner, I watched her speak about the arts. “Arts flourish most when they happen in a democracy,” she said. “The arts give expression to human spirit and give expression to human freedom.” ~Nora Ephron

Raise your hand if you believe this nonsense.  No one?  Good.  Art as an expression of human freedom is itself a tired Romantic fantasy.  Art is an expression of the human desire for beauty and the yearning for proportion, balance and order in space and movement. 

But, by any meaningful standard, it is impossible to believe the claim that “the arts” flourish better in a democracy.  (Leave aside for now the obvious problem that freedom and modern democracy have nothing necessarily to do with each other.)  Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the rise of democratic politics and all manner of egalitarian flim-flam in different parts of the world have tended to coincide with a degeneration of anything like high artistic standards in those same places.  Democratisation and mediocrity do go hand in hand.  Excellence and egalitarianism do not go well together, and the latter will always drag down the former.  If you are a believer in the virtues of democracy, you might very well say that this is an acceptable trade-off, but a trade-off undoubtedly exists. 

“The arts” flourish most in societies with two things: a great deal of material wealth and a relatively high level of education that cultivates new generations of artists and creates an audience capable of understanding or at least valuing in some way the art they create.  It is possible that a democratic culture might allow more people access to “the arts,” but this does not therefore mean that “the arts” are flourishing more than they would have done under a different kind of regime.  To the extent that democratic mediocrity weakens the quality of everyone’s education, it is likely that the practice and culture of democracy positively harm the flourishing and appreciation of “the arts.”  The arts are closely related to the classes that are always considered expendable in public school budget-cutting, because voters will usually treat these classes as extraneous and of secondary importance.  The reservoirs of high bourgeois culture in opera, theater, orchestral performance, art galleries, etc. are now theoretically open to all but are, in practice, still the preserve and the interest of a relative few (and those ticket prices don’t make it easy to broaden their appeal!).  Even though the federal government should have nothing to do with funding the arts, it is not surprising that arts funding takes a low priority, as there are no large constituencies that will be offended by the neglect of this.  

Remarkably greater sums of wealth go towards mass entertainments of low and dubious quality, and consequently there is much more of this sort of thing available at far more affordable prices.  This is the way of things in the world of mass consumption and mass politics, but we do not have to keep lying and pretending that democratic societies enjoy some efflourescence of artistic creativity because of “freedom.”  If “the arts” flourish at all, it is in open defiance of the logic of democracy with its leveling, its refusal to rank and its counterintuitive claim that everyone is equal.  Art is one field of human endeavour where whatever equality of nature men may have (i.e., everyone is equally human–as meaningless a statement as there can be) becomes ridiculously irrelevant in the face of the vast gaps in ability and vision that exist.         

Mel Gibson, of course, is very far from the only filmmaker who makes a fetish of gore. What’s so bothersome about Gibson, at least in this movie, was captured by LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan in his NPR review this morning. Turan notes that “Apocalyto” begins with that famous quote from historian Will Durant: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” Gibson’s apparent message to us with this film is that our own decadence could easily lead to our destruction. A solid and necessary point, to be sure. But Turan points out that by any sane measure, our civilization’s capacity for reveling in extreme violence is a sign of decline. On evidence of this film, says Turan, Gibson is not the cure for the problem, but part of it. ~Rod Dreher

Rod offers a sober and appropriate corrective to the Apocalypto enthusiasm that I have been indulging lately.  He makes an important argument that this is a work of art that incites the passions and may even indulge something of the demonic.  I think I will be going to see it, probably today, but even if it proves to be as well-made as Peter and others claim I may not be able to recommend it. 

The first limit we require is a geographical human limit to the interchangeability of identity. Individuals must reclaim coherent narratives of living, working, doing, and being, and master as close to a single self as may be afforded in a world which rewards parody, self-caricature, reinvention, and Protean Pelagianism. And groups of like-souled people — no, this is not a feint at predestination; I mean people who can more than stand to be around each other, can trust each others’ psyches — must be allowed to maintain geographically contiguous regions of local co-population. This is not a political program except insofar as it sets itself culturally against a political program. Probably only by the power of politics — that is, the acquisition and deployment of the monopoly on force — can cultural locality be succesfully destroyed. In so doing it applies political means to what are assuredly non-political ends: the first hallmark of the abuse of justice. ~James Poulos

The need for limits is paramount.  Limits serve to provide the coherence Mr. Poulos mentions.  Limits define what is our own, thus telling us what our business is that we should mind before anything else.  Cultivating homonoia, that oneness of mind of the “like-souled people,” inside those limits is the beginning of introducing some modicum of good order into the relations of the community. 

Most traditional notions of honor, good manners, and the like seem to be aimed at addressing exactly these kinds of problems. For example, if everyone were like Mr. Pink, the entire profit model of waitressing would break down. ~Chris Roach

It is enough to make one pine for the forces of Reaction. But is John Gray right that we live in irrevocably cosmopolitan times? That diversity has penetrated too deep to be reverted? That the hope for an Old Right-style unitary civilization is as foolish as the hope for a Neocon unitary civilization, a Neolib unitary civilization, or a Commie unitary civilization? Yes, as far as it goes — but Gray seems to miss out on the central truth of paleocon thought, and really conservative thought generally in the United States, which is: national monoculturalism was never the objective, never even a desire. That impulse for cultural absolutism in America was a purely Yankee phenomenon, and New England succeeded largely in Yankifying enough of the USA to establish a powerful cultural hegemony. Southerners and Westerners, on the other hand, fit into two general groups: one wanted to be left alone at some sub-cultural level (me, my family, my township) whereas the other wanted to be left to its own devices at the cultural level (Southern imperialists, Mormons, cotton interests, etc.). It should be clear that cultural imperialism aiming outside the United States, in the Southern style, is not to be cheered for or excused instead of internal cultural imperialism in the Northern style. But the brilliant point of the American Revolution was that a regime could be gotten out from under without overturning it; secession suggested that revolutions, as they had forever been known, were unnecessary. To get what I wanted I didn’t need to install myself Head Despot in Paris. I just had to quit the country. And this was okay — because I didn’t want absolute rule over the nation. I didn’t care about commanding the political and social and cultural lives of the People. I wanted my own portion of world, with those who lived and worked as I did. ~James Poulos

Mr. Poulos joins in the ever-widening circle (okay, so there are five of us now) debating Austin Bramwell’s recent TAC article on the state of conservatism and the merits of “ancestral loyalties” and the paleo and traditional conservative appeals to such natural affinities and attachments as central elements of what we are trying to conserve.  Closely related to this debate was the friendly scuffle Peter Suderman and I had a little while ago about “lifestyle conservatism”.

In the post cited above, I believe Mr. Poulos understands the paleocon position as well as any non-paleo ever has.  This is encouraging in and of itself.  As I understand it, this respect for regional and local diversity he mentions has been centered around two basic ideas: first, that it is far better to mind our own business and tend to the affairs of those around us, and, second, that complex and historically evolved social institutions and customs will never naturally fit a pre-determined uniform pattern or national standard and attempts to make them fit will do untold violence to the health of a society.  What is euphemistically called rationalisation is, like any appeal to equality, an appeal to coercion and the forcible uniforming of the rich variety of life.  Yankification (the word itself sounds painful) is such an appeal to coercion on the cultural plane, the desire to make everyone think in the same “freethinking way” that they do (as the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil put it so well) “without regard for station, or stature, or custom, or propriety.”  With the Freisinnigen and Red Republicans’ assaults on these hallmarks of civilised society, there can be no compromise.   The objection here is not to coercion per se, which will and must exist to some degree in a fallen world, but to the leveling and straightening of the developer and the centralist who would reduce the fine texture and lush growth of a vibrant social world to the grey goo of homogeneity.   

Before he gets to the part of his post quoted above, however, Mr. Poulos first frames the debate over ancestral loyalties with what are some of the central questions in that debate:

Basically the battle line is this: are paleoconservatives, with their God, grass, and genes position on the crucial function of religiosity and locality and family in the maintenance of social order, fools for a primitivist approach to human life that betrays enlightened (yes, loaded word) conservatism? Wouldn’t life be severely retarded if American society actually undertook the paleocon program? Haven’t the old myths of the loving-and-sacrosanct family and the loving-and-sacrosanct community been burst by decades and even centuries of internecine conflict of the most petty yet deep-seated sort? Hasn’t the noble skepticism of that other conservative tradition worked to beat back the oppressive power of clerisy and establish unitary yet benevolent national government and inspired rugged individualists to set out on their own and make what world they may?

The answer, as usual, is yes-but.

These questions reveal a fascinating, if somewhat annoying, divide among conservatives.  Let us begin with the last question and move back up the list, starting with the idea of the “unitary but benevolent national government.”  Benevolence is to some degree in the eye of the beholder.  A despotic government can be well-intentioned and can have good desires for its subjects, which does not mean that the attempt to bring these desires to fruition will do anything good for those subjects.  Besides, if we could trust that a unitary state would always remain benevolent, no one would have any reason to fear consolidation of power in a few hands; if the process of consolidation itself did not pervert and corrupt a government towards a certain unavoidable malevolence, no one would have ever complained about absolutism or usurpation. 

It might also be the case that a government might be benevolent to most, but rather wickedly brutal to a minority of those it claims to be under its jurisdiction (for instance, the Ottoman treatment of Armenians and Assyrians), or it might be benevolent to a narrow minority and cruel to the bulk of the population (e.g., the favouritism of all previous Iraqi regimes shown to Sunnis at the expense of other communities).  It has rarely, if ever, been the case that a government has been ”unitary” and also “benevolent” to all its charges.  Many unitary governments begin as the projection of power of one polity or a group of polities over others; others represent the perversion of a confederation into a consolidated state.  The kingdom or the states responsible for inaugurating the process of unification are always the overwhelming beneficiaries of that process (indeed, one of the main reasons for the struggle for unification is usually to secure such benefits), and those compelled to join or forced to remain are invariably the big losers in this process, sowing a basic structural and political injustice into the fabric of the “unitary but benevolent national government” against which the people of the losing states or kingdoms will always chafe and which they will always resent for as long as they remember something of the old arrangement.      

Then there is the claim about the government being
“national.”  It is difficult to have a unitary national government without nationalism, since a national government, which will allegedly embody and express the national will, is usually one of the first goals of any nationalist and where these nation-states appear nationalists are always behind them.  Nationalist myths, including our own, have always played up as noble and progressive the drive for unification as the realisation and fulfillment of the national potential.  This realisation is being held back and retarded, the nationalist might say, by the petty squabbles of different jurisdictions and the provincial interests of hidebound aristocrats.  In our case, the myth has been a story of moral as well as political and economic progress, a very Whiggish story that reassures us that every destroyed Southern town, every obliterated Indian tribe and every wrecked Filipino village have gone down to destruction for the sake of a greater good.  First the devastation, then, eventually, the benevolence.  In the German case, unification was driven by the desire to finally overcome the structural and political impediments to effective cooperation and mobilisation of resources that routinely prevented German states from being able to compete effectively against foreign adversaries (and even after unification, because the Reich was mostly consolidated by coordinated war efforts against non-Germans, the federal structure of the Reich continued to make it relatively unwieldy in comparison to the more highly centralised powers of Britain and France).  In the Italian case, it was the toxic mix of liberal idealism and dynastic ambition that laid southern Italy and Sicily to waste and planted a deep divide at the heart of the Kingdom, which festers in some form to this day in the Republic.  These are the most familiar examples of unification, but I imagine more could be found.  

Looking back to more ancient history, Chinese nationalists have admired Shih-huang-di for welding together the last seven kingdoms at the end of the Warring States period and creating the core of what they know to be Zhongguo.  The Emperor and the Assassin, one of the better Chinese dramas of recent years, portrays Zheng, the king of Qin, as sympathetically as he has probably ever been represented, showing him giving an emotional speech about protecting all of the people under heaven by bringing an end to the frequent wars between the several kingdoms.  He means well!  In the end, after much slaughter in the conquest of Zhou, we see the pitiable tyrant abandoned by his retainers and alone.  The hero of the piece, as the title would suggest, was the man sent to kill him.  This is a story I think a paleocon instinctively appreciates.  Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (Where they make a desert, they call it peace.)  Such was the old response to the Shih-huang-dis of the world, put into the mouth of the Briton Calgacus by Tacitus.  Our response is much the same.

Undoubtedly myths of “loving-and-sacrosanct” family and community have been burst asunder, but this was partly because these myths were put together and then reproduced at times when family and community were coming under immense strain and were cracking under the pressure.  Before both began to dissolve and break down with greater frequency, there was no need to romanticise them and treat them as ideals to which we must return.  No one who has ever been in a family needs to be reminded about the petty disputes and jealousies and inane rivalries that make up family life; were more Americans exposed to their extended families more often, they would experience still more of this.  No one who has ever been in a small community for very long (I hesitate to speak of “tight-knit” communities, lest I be accused of reifying myths about some harmonious Mayberry-in-Elysium) imagines that it is necessarily where everyone loves one another in some great web of interdependent communion.  To make a community or family lovely and loving, one must begin by loving it, which means first accepting it as it is while also seeing it with the eyes of a lover, which is necessarily to see it with a kind of distortion, if we are speaking “objectively.”  But then people in relationships do not speak objectively about their relations and acquaintances–not if they want their relationships to succeed, anyway–since it is not usually considered terribly good form to objectify one’s relations and acquaintances. 

Family and community should be “loving and sacrosanct,” if you will, but because of men’s flaws and fallenness they often are not.  A certain realism tells us that we cannot expect to be rid of the foibles, pettiness, gossip, social cruelties and the little imperfections that go with living with other people in something like close relationship.  With some of these things, we should probably acknowledge that they are unavoidable, endure them as best we can, do what we can not to participate in the worst of them and otherwise leave them be.  What we should not do is what many of us would like to do, and what all of us are tempted to do, which is to give up on something because it imposes burdens on us and requires things of us that we are not always wanting to give.  What we certainly not do is be satisfied with the ersatz community of the unitary consolidated nation when that nation can only acquire its fullest meaning for us through our local, state and regional attachments.  Abiding in a community and in a family means living with all of the limitations these things impose on us, and it means accepting the hassles, frustrations and disappointments that can come with these things because they are vital to a full, sane and humane life. 

If I might take a slight detour, parish church life provides an example of what I think a real community can be, what it can offer and also what it requires of us that, say, a megachurch or a large nondenominational church might not necessarily offer or require.  The advantage of the nondenominational church or the megachurch is that, in many ways, it caters to the individual and allows the individual sufficient “space” and anonymity to take what he wants from the experience and leave the rest if he so chooses.  Whether or not this is the design or the intention of those in charge of the church, this can often be the effect.  This does not rule out the possibility of becoming more involved and more integrated into the life of that church, but in these churches it is much easier to avoid taking on a larger role.  It is possible avoid such a role at a parish, but especially in smaller parishes it is impossible to have anonymity for very long at all.  At the best parishes, the people there want you to be there, and they want you to become involved in the life of the church and before long you find yourself committing what you might have originally thought was considerable time to the parish that now seems like no time at all.  A small community, such as a parish can be, inspires this response in people, because it is an eminently natural response.  Meanwhile, attending a megachurch like that of Joel Osteen in the old Summit in Houston, surrounded by tens of thousands of others watching the show on the jumbotron (rather than, say, participating in the work of the people), may leave you with some inspirational sayings and may leave you with some good feelings, but it also leaves you fundamentally disconnected from everyone else there.  It does not demand very much from you; the setting of Osteen’s services suggest that the entire experience is more one of spectacle and less one of worship.  It does not make a call to kenosis, and consequently cannot offer the same fullness.   

Finally, as Mr. Poulos said, we don’t care, or at least we don’t care very much, whether the entire nation lives exactly as we do, much less the entire world.  (We do think that rooted, small-scale community life is the most sane and sustainable way of life, and it would benefit everyone to live in such a way, and we will argue strongly for this, but in the end we want to mind our own business and be allowed to mind our own business–it would therefore be best for us if everyone else were convinced that minding one’s own business was an important part of justice.)  While we are far from unaware of or indifferent to the rest of the world, we do not go out in search of “broader canvasses” to paint.  This tends to give the forces of consolidation the initiative and the advantage, but I can see no way for us to imitate most of their methods without abandoning who we are.  Like the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil, we might well say:

That’s when I realized that the Yankees will surely win, because they believe everyone must live and think just like them. We don’t want to make everyone be like us. We shall surely lose because we don’t care how other people live-we just take care of ourselves.         

Perhaps because of this the Yankees will always win, but I see no reason why the rest of us should accept it or yield before the invaders. 

What our little experiment has shown the world (assuming the world has watched) is, first, that even under the best imaginable conditions, divided countries are hard-pressed to become nations, and second, that even in a successful and individualistic society, “civic nationalism” doesn’t cut it with most people. They seem to need and want a “real” nation. ~Andrew Cunningham

I would go further and say that it is especially in a “successful and individualistic society” that civic nationalism doesn’t cut it.  It is, unfortunately, usually the only thing being offered, because no one is inclined to imagine a different kind of national identity or a different kind of bond uniting the people within a polity.  But civic nationalism is uniquely unsatisfying to a people who have often already attenuated or shucked off their other, stronger identities and who are only relatively recently rediscovering or attributing political significance to their language and history.  In the end, it has everything to do with a sense of belonging and whether one has a stronger sense of belonging in a nation defined by language, a shared history and some kind of cultural distinctiveness or whether one has a stronger sense of it in a “multicultural and multilingual” federation.  The weaker sense of belonging will eventually yield if it is not constantly reinforced and unless its rivals are continually beaten down and undermined.  A civic nationalism is among the most fragile of all.  Like an ideological nationalism, it survives because of the enforced absence of as many natural attachments as can possibly be pushed to the margins.   

I also suspect, and the title of the blog has always suggested that Americans are primarily consumers of products - that our other pre-political bonds or identities are overwhelmed by our identities as consumers. We don’t look at each other as members of sections, or religious communities so much as we latch onto hobbies and rank whether someone is relatively close to our status. Oh you like hot wings too? Have you ever tried this kind? You’re into audio equipment? Have you seen that new tube-driven CD player in Audiophile magazine? This used to be just a tiny part of a man’s eccentricity. But in the age of Patio-Man it is his identity. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

There is a lot of truth to this.  I think this is partly why Austin Bramwell criticises defenders of “ancestral loyalties,” partly why the anti-crunchies literally cannot understand the virtue of putting obligations to a community first, partly why some libertarians view opponents of immigration as madmen and proto-Nazis.  It is one of the reasons why neocons think it is an insult to claim that other peoples have greater attachment to “tribe or religion or whatever,” because they so plainly regard the accusation of any such attachment as the worst kind of insult, and it is one of the reasons why the only tribal loyalty David Brooks can muster is loyalty to the anti-tribal, universalist tribe of the proposition nation, an imaginary tribe, a tribe bound by ideas and not blood or custom or faith.  It is partly why Trent Lott cannot understand why Sunnis and Shi’ites are killing each other, and perhaps also why most Americans could only shrug in confusion when they were confronted with the wars in the Balkans.  It is why they had to attribute sectarian and ethnic warfare in the rest of the world to disputes that stretch back centuries.  This falsehood was often uttered in relation to the Yugoslav wars–”they’ve been killing each other for centuries!”–as if the sheer antiquity of the grudge was the only thing that made it understandable to people whose blood and sect loyalties are as weak as ginger beer. 

This represented the failure to understand that these feuds have everything to do with immediate loyalties to kith, kin, church and place and less to do with unusually long memories about slights and battles from long ago.  The memories of old injuries are kept alive because the rivalry is ongoing and fresh in the minds of those who remember.  The old fights are not old, but continue in some form even now.  Only antiquarians would normally bestir themselves over the outcome of Culloden, but for Scottish nationalists who have a mind to detach their country from Great Britain it might have an immediacy and relevance that more recent battles do not.  The characteristically short American historical memory, which prevails everywhere except perhaps for some areas in the South, is a product of having kept few powerfully strong attachments to the old ties of blood and faith that cause men to tell the stories of their past victories and defeats and the old outrages against their people.  There is an advantage to this ongoing amnesia, which is that Americans are unlikely to resent one another over the injuries that your people did to mine 50 or 100 or 200 years ago and are less likely to engage in actual violence against their ancestral foes, but it also means that they have no idea who they are and only passing antiquarian interest in where they came from (genealogy is most popular, naturally, in the country where it is also supposed to be the most irrelevant).  Because we are trained to be less atavistic than other peoples, we are tied less to our history, which is from my perspective mostly a blight and a curse; because the conventional national myth today is one of progression away from the old ways, we consequently have much less respect for our forefathers and find ourselves increasingly unable and unwilling to defend the patrimony they have left to us.  This keeps us from the extreme declensions of vendetta and brutality against neighbours from another tribe or sect, but it also dissolves and eats away at our capacity to have meaningful community and to have neighbours who are more than geographically proximate.  There is something deeply unnatural and abnormal about this, and if Europe is any indicator of where we are headed we should be able to see that no people can long survive the abjuration of loyalty to itself.   

The Marching Season in Ulster appears to Americans bizarre and difficult to comprehend (what do battles in the 17th century really have to do with people today, some might ask) because we rarely attach our current status in society to the outcome of old internecine fights.  The Russian commemoration of the victory over Polish occupation during the Time of Troubles probably strikes many of us as odd in the extreme for similar reasons.  The Orthodox recitation of the Synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent, listing and re-condemning the errors of all of the major heresies of the past, is for many other confessions slightly inexplicable, because for many others this emphasis on right teaching is, if not foreign, hardly as ingrained as it is in the Orthodox Church.  Catholics, while many take doctrine very seriously, do not annually get together and denounce the Cathars, Luther and Calvin.  There is a certain mentality tied to this kind of ritual denunciation that Americans usually share only in the context of endorsing their own universalist political ideas against the list of enemies of the 20th century.  That enthusiasm for America as something other than a Brooksian universalist tribe is not really permitted in much of the current discussion is proof of the self-destructive tendency in denigrating and minimising pre-political loyalties.  If men are not defined by kin, birth, place and the web of traditions handed down to us, no enduring identity exists that is not subject to the dictates of a state and the whims of individuals.   

An angry Mormon NRO Reader writes to Goldberg: 

As a Mormon, I am offended by the arrogance of Evangelicals like your reader from Kansas City. Why does he refuse to let me self-identify as a Christian, (he says to “compare [Mormonism] with Christianity”. Indeed I am a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ…” Each Sunday I take upon myself the name of Christ through a sacred ordinance we call the sacrament. I pray in the name of Christ. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. Again the list could go on.

Some Gnostic sects of the second century also claimed to be Christian and understood the Logos as one of a myriad Aeons who populated a complex and often baffling mythology of generations of Aeons and the hierarchy into which they were arranged.  Perhaps the Valentinians are in this respect comparable to Mormon “henotheism” with their pantheon of Jehovah, Elohim, etc. (who are, unless I am very much mistaken, considered to be distinct divinities, albeit perhaps “manifestations” of one supreme deity).  Some Vaishnavites (worshipers of Vishnu) believe that Christ was one of the latter-day incarnations of Vishnu, following the more well-known avatars Rama and Krishna, to name only two, but this obviously does not make them Christians. 

Perhaps more relevant is the example of the Arians.  Arians claimed to be Christians, indeed were coming from within the Church, but according to everything that virtually all Christians have believed for 1,600 years they were not really Christians.  That did not stop the Arians from considering themselves to be orthodox Christians, but their saying it did not, as far as anyone else was concerned, make it so.  It was also untrue, which is the rather crucial point here.  This ceases to be a contest over labels at some point and becomes very much one of clashing truth claims.  Put bluntly, many Mormon truth claims are absurd from the perspective of every Christian confession on the planet.  In short, either what they claim is true, and everyone else is a false Christian, or what the major confessions agree on (for example, that God is unoriginate, or that God is One in Trinity) shows their doctrines to be utter nonsense and proves them to be far outside the bounds not only of any one confession’s definition of orthodoxy but far outside the bounds of any recognisable Christianity.   

As Fr. Neuhaus said in his 2000 discussion of Mormonism, the most apt comparison may be with Islam.  That will sound particularly pejorative nowadays, but it is not intended to be.  It is not simply the abstemious Mormon avoidance of alcohol (and nicotine and coffee) that makes the comparison apt.  Their confident claim that the Jews and Christians (or, in their view, pseudo-Christians) distorted the “true” Scriptures is identical to the claim of the Qur’an about the Tanakh and the Gospels.  In the case of the Qur’an, this allows for Muhammad’s garbled, half-remembered stories derived from both sources to be taken as the true accounts against which the “corrupt” versions will be compared and found wanting.  I confess to not having read Joseph Smith’s “revised” Bible, so I cannot say just how much has been changed, but the presumption of changing it at all creates a significant problem for virtually all Christians.  The gentleman writes to encourage all to read the Book of Mormon “along with the Bible.”  But, of course, the question will come up: which Bible?  Theirs or ours?  Isn’t the reality of a significant difference between the two yet another example of the disconnect between their claim to be Christian and the reality that LDS are not?  The list of doctrinal errors could go on.   

No one can stop Mormons from self-identifying any way they please.  No one is trying all that hard to stop them.  But it is a bit tiresome to hear the complaints that Mormons are somehow being oppressed because the rest of us will not indulge what appears to us to be a false claim.  The hard-line Mormon view, as I understand it, is that the rest of us are not Christians, which must make it especially galling to them to have us, the pretenders, tell them that they are not really Christians.  But it shouldn’t be galling; it should be something they expect.  If Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, non-Chalcedonians, etc. and all our predecessors going back to the first century are frauds, as they hold we must be if their church is the “re-established” Church of Jesus Christ, why would it matter what we call them or whether we, the frauds, credit them with the name of Christian?  It is as if they wish to be included at our table as part of a kind of Christian big tent, when in fact they (or at least their church authorities) have no interest in any such thing.  They would like us to acknowledge their claims to being the true church, but if they believe they are right about us they must know that we, frauds that we are, will never acknowledge anything of the sort.  There is a certain integrity to this view that they are the true church, and it is one that I can understand (the Orthodox Church makes the same claim about Herself), but if you want to insist on that claim you should be prepared to find your most outlandish doctrines closely scrutinised and roundly criticised when they deviate from what virtually all Christians have accepted for at least 1,600 years.       

Some 40 couples showed up at a country club in the tiny Ohio town of Van Wert on November 11th—not boyfriend and girlfriend but fathers and their school-age daughters, several as young as 10, dressed up in glittery gowns and heels.

After the pastor finishes, fathers and daughters sign pledges to help keep the girl chaste before marriage. Daughters agree to “remain sexually pure until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband.” Then the father gives the daughter a ring, to be worn on her fourth finger until it is replaced by a wedding band. Hugs ensue, then a prayer, and then fathers and daughters take to the floor to the strains of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”


The concept is spreading around the country. Van Wert got its ball after the pastor and his wife moved from Albuquerque, where they had run another such event. The Van Wert ball is now in its second year, and has inspired two other nearby towns to begin their own. In Colorado Springs, Lisa Wilson, the ball organiser, says she has sent information packs to groups in 21 states and four countries—New Zealand, Sweden, France and Canada. Sponsors, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s in Van Wert, sometimes help pick up the tab for the events.

But what about the boys? Surely they bear at least half of the blame for the scourge of pre-marital sex? In Colorado Springs, Ms Wilson and her husband have created a private “manhood celebration” for their 12-year-old son. He is handed an engraved sword and urged to “grow into the weight of manhood”, which includes purity. In Van Wert, ball-goers agree that there should be an event for the boys. Which, if indoctrination of the girls works, seems a reasonable idea. Otherwise the chaste will constantly be chased. ~The Economist

American Muslim “matrimonal banquets” seem relatively normal to me by comparison.  Am I missing something, or is there something distinctly odd about having girls as young as 10 making public pledges about sex? 

But perhaps what the conservative cups illustrate, even more than diversity, is the conservative mindset: The right may thumb its nose at liberal culture, but it really wants to be invited in. ~Conor Clarke

Most of Clarke’s article is an unremarkable story about the clamouring of certain pundits to become part of the “get people thinking” quotes on the side of Starbucks cups.  But there is something to this observation about the desire of some conservatives to be invited into the liberal conversation.  It applies especially to prominent conservative pundits.  You do get the sense that behind every lament about liberal intolerance and prattling on about the need for real diversity is very often the cry, Why won’t you take me seriously?  I’m a good cosmopolitan just like you!  I just like lower taxes–please let me come to your party!  This need also afflicts a lot of younger conservatives, or those who have come to call themselves conservatives (though they would not know Bolingbroke from Babbitt).  We know these people.  They are the people who want to find a conservative application for alternative music, or who think being a Republican in high school was an edgy and rebellious thing to do (look at me, I’m a nonconformist!) or who want to find a Christian message in the debased mythology of The Matrix.  Nothing boringly conventional about these people!  No, instead they manage to be boringly and conventionally unconventional. 

In all of this is the desperate need to be patted on the head and granted approval from the gatekeepers of the culture.  It is as if, to fight the culture wars, these folks believed that collaborating with the adversary was the path to ultimate victory over them.  The entire genre of Christian rock (and, God help us, Christian hip-hop) might be explained by this basic desire.  Be culturally subversive for Christ, they might proclaim.  Which, besides being infantile and likely to produce really bad music, is pointless. 

Dan McCarthy points out the blog of Larry Arnhart on Darwinian Conservatism.  There might be something to be said for a Darwinian conservatism in the sense that conservatives acknowledge certain biological realities as given parts of the structure of our existence (they may be realities that change over time, but they are real nonetheless) and that you cannot really change the nature of a being or that you can do so but only with great risks of perilous and unforeseen consequences.  In this sense, both social and genetic engineering, while both theoretically possible, might well be undesirable and unethical from the perspective of a Darwinian conservative because of the numerous potential pitfalls and bad mutations, so to speak, that might arise as a result.  What is not particularly conservative about Mr. Arnhart’s Darwinian conservatism is the claim:

Conservatives object, arguing that social order arises not from rational planning but from the spontaneous order of instincts and habits. Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary history.

When I hear the phrase “spontaneous order,” I reach for my arqebuss.  As I said some months ago about this phrase:

For my part, I will say that I’ve never liked the libertarian phrase “spontaneous order,” which sounds like the kind of order that has suddenly burst into flames.

I am often curious what people think they mean when they say, “spontaneous order.”  Presumably they mean that order just happens.  No one sets down the norms that govern a society–the norms just well up from the ground, so to speak.  That is what the phrase suggests.  But as anyone might notice perusing the news from, say, Iraq, order doesn’t just happen.  More to the point, I have never known a conservative thinker who, while sober, ever suggested that order just came about by chance.  When he looks at the natural world, moreover, he does not see “spontaneous order” because he does not see much order at all. 

Order is an artefact of civilisation and the discipline of civilisation, just as liberty is.  Humans are naturally sociable, yes, but that does not mean that that they have organised their societies by anything like a principle of spontaneity where practices and habits come together to form some kind of cultural melange without some guiding authorities dictating and approving of this or that habit.  Practice becomes regulated by customary observances and is defined by the expectations of those in positions of respect and authority.  What is appropriate, what is pious, what is meritorious–these things are not determined by some randomly developed consensus, but but certain people or classes of people saying that it is so and other classes of people accepting these definitions.  Culture is not just the outgrowth of human practices and habits, but is reinforced and enforced by authorities using stigma, social pressure and coercive methods.  

It is quite one thing to say that men here below cannot perfect themselves through rational planning and that it is not possible to transform human behaviour completely by creating an environment favourable to perfected man.  It is quite another to talk about “spontaneous order,” which has not existed and will never exist.

That being said, Mr. Arnhart also says some very smart things on Iraq, many of which echo my own stated views. 

Be on the lookout for for the new The American Conservative (11/20) (not yet online).  In addition to my article, The Gospel According to Bush, Austin Bramwell delivers a powerful indictment of National Review’s post-9/11 foreign policy (or, rather, the lack of one) and neoconservative influence on the conservative movement, including this simple and accurate statement:

(National Review Online, which now far outshadows the magazine in influence, has become the world’s most prolific organ of neoconservative opinion.)

And again, a devastating line:

If Americans understood that soldiers were dying not to kill the bad guys but to prevent them from killing each other, Bush’s popularity would evaporate.

The piece is filled with simple but powerful insights such as these.  But no one on the right will be happy with Mr. Bramwell’s diagnosis, for in it all conservatives are gravely ill of one error or another.  No real respite for the dissident conservative, the traditionalist, the paleo or crunchy; according to Bramwell, we are all more or less complicit in different aspects of the farce of conservatism today.  (I can’t quite go that far, but he often makes it difficult to disagree with his withering descriptions.)  More than that, Bramwell likens “the movement” to an Orwellian dystopia.  One can find points where his dismissal of all conservatives of every kind overreaches in some places, but 1984 serves as a shockingly good model for how much of the movement seems to work.  Consider the Two Minute (or Five Day, depending on how you want count) Hate of Kerry or the long list of dissidents set upon by the jackals. 

It will be of little avail, I suppose, to note that the bulk of Mr. Bramwell’s analysis rests on the claim that conservatism is an ideology, when any conservatism worthy of the name is non-ideological.  It is an anti-ideology.  Prescription and prudence, if they make what someone might call an ideology, make a very ”thin” ideology indeed.  Someone will presumably say that this, too, is an ideological claim, but it cannot be stressed enough that there are conservatives (perhaps not many, but they do exist) who never subscribed to the thing Mr. Bramwell describes as conservative ideology.  But he is right that boundary maintenance and the perpetuation of the movement’s identity as “the conservative movement” are the movement’s priorities, not discernment or truth. 

But what the movement’s Two Minute Hates accomplish is not to invent bogeymen, but to exaggerate their power and the threat they pose.  ”Judicial activists” are not something that we pretend exist for the sake simply of our own boundary maintenance, just as Byzantines did not completely invent the existence of Bogomils, but the content of their ideas and extent of the danger posed by such people are often wildly exaggerated (especially around election time).  But even if it has become a stock phrase to bemoan the impact of “moral relativism,” and invoking such a thing has become a replacement for serious thought, it is not the case that such a thing does not to some degree exist.  The greatest problem of conservatism is that it perceives real problems, but simply starts screaming, “There is a really BIG problem over here!  It is gigantic!  It’s going to wipe out life as we know it!”  Then it retires to the parlour for an obscure discussion of who insulted whom during the 1992 presidential campaign over drinks and cigars . 

Nonetheless, it is surely true of the movement, broadly speaking, that it does not generate important or interesting ideas anymore and is almost structured not to generate such ideas.  It is structured to reproduce itself and confirm its own assumptions about its intellectual vitality and diversity, when neither is really in evidence in most places.  If dissidents in the conservative resistance do indulge in the claim that the movement once had solid principles and now is tossed to and fro by every wind of false doctrine, even though what those “principles” were always remained the province of the leadership (with movement chiefs thus settling on the dubious combination of international anticommunist activism, untrammeled capitalism and vague perfunctory nods towards Christianity and the Constitution, which the other two had rendered completely moot), it is at least because they espouse those principles and insist on the hope, perhaps the myth, that something worthwhile remains of conservatism because there was once something true about it.  But it seems to me that if the movement lacked real principles, there were principled conservatives–some of whom gave the movement far too much credit and some of whom who have since sobered up–who saw this at each stage and gave their warnings.  In the year 1984 (appropriately enough), John Lukacs derided the “narrowly nationalist and broadly Californian view of the world” held by many conservatives–”narrow enough to be ignorant, broad enough to be flat.”  He had many more things to say besides that, but the point is surely that the superficiality, triviality and mind-numbing uniformity of the movement has been clear to principled conservatives (or, as Prof. Lukacs prefers to call himself, reactionaries) and they have typically dropped out or gone (or been driven) into the proverbial wilderness to the degree that they have insisted on retaining principles that they can and do defend with reasoned argument, appeals to history and precedent and a desire to preserve what they have inherited from their ancestors.

But where I really must part company with Mr. Bramwell is when he says: “At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive.”  Subversive of what?  Well, he will tell us. 

The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root [and? I must admit I fail to see the point here-DL]; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan [succeeded how? to do what? the state succeeded in weakening family structures and increasing its power–is that the “success of the West,” and if it is why do we want it?-DL].

I often see conservatives say things like this whenever they want to defend modernity or “the West” (as opposed to, say, Christendom) against critics (”behold, we have gotten rid of pious veneration of ancestral customs and we show enormous disrespect towards women–be like us!”), by holding up our present state of affairs and saying, “We could never have had all this had we not curtailed the reach of the extended family and rid people of their ancestral loyalties.”  To which, it seems to me, the proper conservative answer is: And this makes me want to oppose these things why exactly?  Those things may be desirable because of these effects.  The reactionary response is still better: Who wants the present mess?  This is all the more reason to bring back the extended family and cultivate ancestral loyalties!  Arranged marriages for all! 

Okay, maybe not arranged marriages for all (the king gets to choose his own bride, after all), but nowehere does Mr. Bramwell’s piece better reveal the schizophrenic tendency of American conservatives to praise the worst aspects of modernisation (the weakening of the extended family, and consequently the relatively increased dependence on artificial institutions, just as the breakdown of the nuclear family further helps to empower the state today) while deriding the natural attachments that seem to me to be the stuff of what a conservative ethic has tried to protect because such attachments can be taken to excess or can become socially dysfunctional.  “Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East.”  Of course, to already define ancestral loyalties as uncivilised is to close the debate before it even begins.  One might as well do the same thing with religious piety: “Religious piety is the curse of uncivilised peoples, most especially in the fanatical Middle East.”  Would you call that a compelling argument for thoroughgoing secularism, or a rather ridiculous attack?  If Omar in Iraq marries his first cousin, the argument seems to run, we must flee anything that puts too much importance on the extended family.  If the Shi’ites commemorate Shoura and remember the slights to the Imam Husayn, are we therefore obliged to forget our ancestors, heroes and martyrs or risk becoming Moqtada al-Sadr?  To ask the question is to reveal the alternatives as false ones and the argument as uncharacteristically weak and sloppy for someone as insightful and wise as Mr. Bramwell.   

Is it true that the United States had to “extirpate” the ancestral loyalties of the natives (and here I assume he means native-born Anglo-Americans) in order to survive?  In an obvious sense, the War of Independence saw a significant old attachment to Britain severed and the loyalty of Loyalists was indeed suppressed brutally, but in what other sense does this really hold?  Surely it was the central point of Kirk and Bradford on the Constitution that the patriots were defending their patrimony, their ancestral rights as Englishmen, and were therefore conservative revolutionaries.  Now perhaps a compelling argument could be made that this is all wrong, but it will not do to dismiss an abiding view of the War of Independence with the flick of the wrist.  But, more to the point, even if true, why would a conservative-minded person look on this with equanimity, as if that example demonstrated that such loyalties were undesirable?  Which, in fact, takes a higher priority: the survival of a new confederation of republics, or loyalty to kith, kin and place?  The answer smacks us across the face: obviously the latter takes greater priority.  Put it in more immediate, tangible terms: to whom do you owe greater loyalty, your wife or the President?  This is not a trick question, and there is only one right answer. 

If Westerners have sacrificed those goods to acquire a highly centralised state and what is now a deracinating economic order, it will hardly answer the critic to say, “But if we make these loyalties the priority, we might have to give up our centralised states and creative destruction!”  Yes, we might.  Surely that is yet another reason to give these loyalties priority, and not an argument against them.   

The chief reason they might be undesirable to a confederation is that they might cause the fragmentation of that confederation, and would guarantee the weakness of a central state.  I don’t think any Antifederalists would be crying over that one.  Neither do their heirs–which is what some of us consider ourselves to be.  I remain absolutely unconvinced on this point that there is something misguided about attachment to “ancestral loyalties.”  Without these, there are scant few other loyalties worth having. 

Mr. Bramwell is surely engaged in his own kind of boundary maintenance when he fires off two warnings shots to these particularists: 

Most ominously, praise of local attachments now comes in the guise of multiculturalism, perhaps the most insidious threat to a just order today.  Not for nothing did communitarianism become a left-wing vogue.    

Yes, obviously if we place higher priority on family, kin, church and place than we do on other things we are sliding irrevocably into the maw of multiculturalist claptrap.  Right.  Note the reliance on the crutch of the left-wing bogey of communitarianism (no, not that!) and the scary mention of insidious multiculturalism (multiculturalism is insidious, but it is strange to hear of it from someone who is about to tell us how we all cook up bogeymen to ridicule phantasmagorical enemies).  It takes one back to the crunchy con wars: “You can’t believe that!  It’s just like leftism!  How do I know?  Because I just said it was like leftism!”  It simply makes no sense to warn us that we should be wary of all localism because it can be turned into a justification, as it has started to be in David Cameron’s Britain, for implementing local-level shari’a.  Obviously we can appreciate the importance of loyalty to your place and your home as depicted in The Napoleon of Notting Hill without concluding that we must yield to the demands of the rabid cleric who preaches jihad in the East End.  Surely we can discern the difference and weigh the virtues of different kinds of localism and local attachments, and we would weigh them against claims of justice and what we believe to be the truth about human nature and society.  The choice is not between Brave New World or Kafiristan, and if it were the choice I think the Kafiris might have the better of the argument. 

But in any case we tend to find multiculturalism itself obnoxious not because it fronts for diverse cultures (which it does only superficially), which hardly trouble me in and of themselves, but because it is a clear example of Western self-loathing and a lack of confidence in our capacity to have local and regional diversity of customs and cultures without collapsing into a a heap caused by the complete abandonment of all standards and all Western norms.  Decentralism does not equal moral, social or cultural chaos; only in the absence of real, living, local communities have we seen people fall back on their more elemental identities to the detriment of national cohesion because there are no communities to which such people might even theoretically adhere themselves.  What option does Mr. Bramwell leave us then?  A homogenous, superficial monoculture to which all pay lip service?  If we must not have multiculturalism (and I agree here) and we must not have local varieties of our own culture, we are left with having a national or supranational uniformity in which there will be very little recognisable as culture.  

This invocation of multiculturalism in response to calls for localism is rather like the sometimes tiresome refrains that appeals to “the common good” are code for state regulation or collectivism–what else could it possibly mean, right?  It is likewise a failure of imagination to assume that all particularist appeals are the same or that by affirming the one we must enable the insidious Other.  It is as if to say that you cannot talk about community without forever legitimising people who talk about setting up utopian communes, when you are doing nothing of the kind.  In correctly defining and defending a thing, you exclude, delimit and reject the false or distorted notions of it.  Affirming Orthodoxy, for instance, entails the rejection of heresy.  If I say, “God,” I do not mean Robespierre’s Supreme Being, Bush’s “God of universal freedom” or Shiva, and by my explanation of what I mean by saying, “God,” I necessarily rule all of these others other as being something other than God Himself.  Pale reflections, mockeries or travesties, perhaps, but not God.  Multiculturalism is a mockery of real organic cultural diversity; it is the fraudulent show of cultural diversity, no better than a buffet line filled with different kinds of ethnic food, designed only to dissolve what little cultural consensus actually remains while doing little or nothing to defend or approve the various cultures under Tolerance’s protective shield     

However, do not let my criticisms dissuade you from reading Mr. Bramwell’s piece.  It is an important and challenging article that every conservative ought to read, if he is interested in something other than bashing the other side with cheap rhetorical clubs and defining who is part of the club to the exclusion of all the actually important questions.  In spite of my strong objections to one part of it, I heartily recommend it to you all as first-rate work and thought-provoking analysis. 

Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can’t support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve. ~Ralph Peters

But to state an obvious truth that our system of government depends on an entire culture made up of long-tested and established habits and practices that is not necessarily transferrable to all other societies is not to be a cynic.  People with ludicrous, hyper-optimistic expectations of the impossible call people with an acquaintance with reality cynics when they are disappointed in their own unrealistic and possibly delusional hopes.  No one who really knew anything about Islam in Iraq, the tribal and sectarian nature of Iraqi society and the complete lack of any heritage of representative government and any experience upon which they could draw ever believed that the democratisation of Iraq would succeed in doing anything other than politicising ethnic and sectarian identity in a dangerously heterogeneous society and making politics a rehashing of old grievances that would end up erupting into violence when these grievances could not be addressed otherwise. 

As I wrote in February 2005:

Nonetheless, that road to unrest and violence has been made all the smoother by the direct politicisation of ethnicity, sect and religious fundamentalism. I want to stress that this is the fault of democracy to the extent that it has been allowed to exist in Iraq, and not attachment to ethnicity, sect or religion as such: on their own terms, these things are often quite good and healthy attachments, but when they become the cheap symbols and slogans of demagogues they are turned into some of the ugliest and worst fanaticism. Naturally this was unforeseen by the Bush administration, as it has no grasp of what these loyalties really mean or how powerful they really are beyond their own limited use of religion and national pride as props in their absurd performance during elections.  

I also wrote the following in February 2005 in response to Krauthammer’s infamously dismissive ”tribe or religion or whatever” crack:

I would be the last one to begrudge anyone expressing his loyalty to his people or religion, but it is also in just such a society where these loyalties are binding that mass politics is the most provocative and dangerous. It is no accident that democracies in tribal societies organise their politics along tribal lines, and also no accident that such societies are more prone to civil strife than most any other. The tribal or ethnic differences, which might have hitherto been merely facts of life and only occasionally cause for conflict, have become perpetual political boundaries about which regular contests are held. The Ivory Coast is a shining example of how democracy has ruined a perfectly stable and relatively prosperous African country by politicising ethnic groups and turning them into rivals for power.

Those of us arguing against the invasion understood this about Iraq a lot earlier than 2005.  There were those who predicted the likelihood of just this sort of bloodletting back in 2002 and early 2003, having seen the horrors of Hutu majoritarianism in action and having left the disastrous wreckage of Yugoslavia behind us only a few years before.  Anyone familiar with the history of the 19th and 20th centuries who was not an ideological democratist could not look on the introduction of democratic politics to developing nations with anything but horror at the terrible consequences that would follow.  

Such people were not “cynics” in the sense that word is usually meant; they weren’t cynics of any kind.  They were simply better informed and had a better understanding of the region that others thought, in their stupendous arrogance and hubris, they could transform by apparently doing little more than toppling a government and holding an election or two.  Freedom is universal!  Democracy for all!  If you don’t agree, you’re racist and condescending!  As we have all started re-discovering, or as some of us have known all along, some societies are suited to representative, constitutional and popular regimes, and others are not.  Full stop.  Cultural, religious and social habits create the vital foundations for any hope of successful representative, participatory or popular government, and Iraqis possess few if any of these.  This is not a flaw or moral failing on their part, though Peters gets on his high horse and condemns them for valuing attachments that all normal people throughout time have valued more highly than the institutions of a government or other idols of the democratist. 

More to the point, I would bet that many of the Iraqis do not desire such a type of regime if it would mean sacrificing or weakening their prior commitments to family, tribe, sect and religion, which, of course, a functioning mass democracy does require.  (This is why, as a conservative, I have no great love for mass democracy, because these other things are far more important and essential to the stability and health of society than whether or not the mob gets a vote every two or four years.)  Everyone likes freedom, and everyone likes the idea of an accountable, relatively just government, but how much is a given people willing to give up to have those things?  What, in fact, are those things really worth?  As it happens, most people are either obliged by duties to parents, elders or other authorities to not give up certain attachments and loyalties or they are themselves unwilling to give them up. 

In this they are far more normal and like most people throughout history than we are.  Our experience is supremely unusual and atypical.  It is something remarkably rare, like a delicate orchid, that, if we value it, must be assiduously protected and tended; it is not something that can become the monoculture of the world (if such a thing were even desirable, which it is not).  For all of the benefits that we can see in our system of government and our way of life, to a great many people who do not possess anything like either of these they appear and are freakish and horrifying.  This may strike some as hard to take (though it is probably easiest for traditional conservatives of all people to understand more fully), but I believe that is the case.  Of course you can find exceptions, people who do desire all of what we have (rather than wanting to be able to enjoy the benefits of Westernisation or democratisation without the necessary sacrifices from their existing way of life), most of whom end up emigrating from their home countries and come to the West to live the kind of life they know they will never have back home because the weight and constraints of these natural loyalties and affinities prevent it.  Of course, even those who come here cannot shake off the traditions of their fathers like so much dust.  Even emigres and exiles are defined and shaped by the traditions and place they inherited, even if they want to flee from both; in flight, they are forever haunted by their origins.  This is also why it matters supremely to the nation that takes them in what kind of political and religious culture immigrants possess, how they understand the contestation for power and influence and what their political values are.  This is more dramatically clear with Muslim immigrants in Europe, but the same thing is true of immigrants from Latin America or Asia.

“Islamic democracy” as such has succeeded nowhere; it doesn’t exist; it is a fantasy of people who know a little about democracy and less about Islam.  Democracy in majority Muslim nations has succeeded to some degree to the extent that Islam has been officially and largely removed from politics (Turkey) or to the extent that, as in a place such as Mali or Indonesia, the Islam practiced by the people is traditionally of a far more eclectic and accommodating type that would not meet with the approval of any form of Islam practiced in the Near and Middle East today.  However, Indonesia is a danger zone to the extent that Muslims in Indonesia have only experienced democratic government for eight years or so; prior to this were the dictatorships, colonial Dutch rule and then local kings and chiefs.  Whether in the future Wahhabism or similar versions of Islam take hold of a large portion of Indonesian Muslims or not will likely be one large factor in determining whether that country will succeed as a democratic state or collapse even more rapidly into conflicts among its constituent regions and ethnicities.  The entire project of the “freedom agenda” and democratisation presupposes that Islam and democracy are compatible in the Near and Middle East because of such exceptional examples.  It is a very dangerous and foolish way to go about making policy for an entire region when you take the marginal and exceptional and regard them as the model for the rest to follow.  This is to expect that all Muslims are as ecumenically-minded as Ibn Arabi rather than as strict and ”dogmatic” as Hanafi, when Hanafi’s influence is, in fact, vastly greater and always has been.  It is often an argument based in anecdotal experiences, “I met a very nice secular Muslim fellow once in college, so why can’t they all be like that?” or “I have been to Turkey a few times, and democracy seems to work just fine there!”  Yes, so long as the army is always ready to step in and depose Islamist governments when they get too, well, Islamic–that’s what I call a functioning democracy!  If the case of Turkey is not a particularly impressive one, why would anyone have expected better of Iraq (as artificial and arbitrary a “nation” as any that has ever existed, whose chief representative of secular nationalism we were setting out to overthrow)?  People with some sense never did expect anything better, which is one of the reasons why they rejected the war and why they are calling for our soldiers to return home.  Remaining in Iraq simply makes no sense, just as going there never really made very much sense (even if most of the government’s claims were true).  Bring them home.   

I interviewed [Bruce] Frohnen on my radio show recently and found it more appealing still. He lamented what he called “Wal-Mart conservatives,” by which he meant people who worship at the alter [sic] of the “cheapest price,” and the utilitarian values of the market right generally. He expressed dismay with the Bush Administration on everything from foreign adventures to his imposition of federal standards on local schools and the diminution of local control.

His dismay was akin to that of many on the decentralist left when the Clinton Administration stumped for corporate globalism; and when his “liberal” appointees to the Supreme Court voted to affirm the power of local governments to use eminent domain to kick people from their homes and give the land to Wal-Mart.  (That’s “public purpose”?)   There is congruity here, if not outright convergence.  It would be a stretch to call a Russell Kirk a commoner, or a father of them.  He had too much of a patrician quality, too much distrust of the rabble.

Still, someone who is a friend of Wendell Berry and Ralph Borsodi, and hangs with the thinking of Jane Jacobs and E.F. Schumacher, is sniffing around the right tree.  When was the last time we heard a Democrat in Washington invoke such people?  Those of us who are concerned about reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth [bold mine-DL], have got to stop heeding ideological stereotypes.  There are allies out there. ~Jonathan Rowe

Mark Shea pointed out Mr. Rowe’s smart discussion of the important agrarian and conservationist figures who appear in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (ISI, 2006) and the possible points of contact between what I take to be his green/decentralist left view and an authentic conservative (which includes the decentralist right) one.  Mr. Rowe also refers to his surprising discoveries at Crunchy Con, so he would probably also have an interest in the figures lauded in Bill Kauffman’s book Look Homeward, America and the related blog Reactionary Radicals.  Better still, he would find a treasure trove of conservative thought on all of these important themes of local community, conservation, agrarianism and more at Chronicles, which is a superb magazine regardless of whether you agree with its politics or not.  The gentlemen (and a few ladies) there have been blazing the trail on these and other vital questions for 30 years now, and I think it is fair to say (although I am biased as an occasional contributor) that they continue to get better as time goes by.  Speaking of Wendell Berry, whom Mr. Rowe mentions, Chronicles had a fairly lengthy interview with him in the 30th Anniversary issue of the magazine this past summer (July 2006), where he said:

There is a kind of alliance in this country of people who want to take care of things–children, dark nights, the land, architecture, forests, ecosystems, rivers, and so on.  I don’t know the degree of competence there is in this movement.  I don’t feel much assurance that we know how to take care of much of anything over the long haul.  But the sense that things need to be taken care of is growing, and it’s a good thing. 

That description of an alliance is strongly reminiscent of the description from The End of the Modern Age of the ideas of the patriots mentioned as one part of the opposition that Prof. John Lukacs sees between nationalists and patriots (cited by Caleb Stegall at Crunchy Con):

Our “conservatives” care not for the conservation of the country, and of the American land. Yet: more than tax policy, more than education policy, more than national security policy, more even than the painful abortion issue, this is where the main division is beginning to occur. So it is in my township. It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live. (Landscape, not wilderness. The propagation of wilderness, the exaltation of “nature” against all human presence, is the fatal shortcoming of many American environmentalists.) Beneath that division I sometimes detect the division between a true love of one’s country and the rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people; between the ideals of American domesticity and those of a near-nomadic life; between privacy and publicity; between the ideals of stability and those of endless “growth.” 

With respect to those divisions, it seems clear that traditional conservatives and Mr. Rowe’s folks would very likely on the same side.  An ideal of stability, not of endless “growth”–surely, that is what conservatives should want to pursue.  Real growth is natural and needs only good soil and wise gardeners to encourage it; it is not hastened by the unnatural hyperactivity of endless consumption and acquisition.  

That idea Mr. Rowe mentioned of “reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth” sounds excellent to me, and it sounds very much like a major part of what conservatives should be trying to do.  In fact, that is what conservatives do (allow me to explain), and those who do it are conservatives, though they may not care for the label and may never have heard of Richard Weaver.  Those who fail to do that but talk a lot about conserving this or that may be sympathetic to many conservative appeals and may well incline in the right directions most of the time but have yet to fully become living conservatives and conservators of a living tradition, living way of life (and I must plead guilty to being lacking in some respects in being the latter) and a specific place to which they are bound by time and fidelity.  Still others who can make quips about immanentising the eschaton but either a) don’t really understand what that means in the real world or b) don’t live as if they understand what it means are in worse shape yet. 

As Jeremy Beer observed in the recent American Conservative symposium, “What Is Left? What Is Right?” the localist, historic preservationist, conservationist and community values that should be hallmarks of conservatism are embodied instead in civil associations that are not self-consciously conservative and tend to align themselves with a different part of the spectrum all together.  Mr. Beer outlines who these people are and he then cites the example of Kirk the local patriot as inspiration:

The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.

Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.

Mr. Rowe mentioned being surprised at the inclusion of Bryan in ACE, but there is really nothing all that surprising about including a latter-day hero of the Country party in a conservatism that can proudly embrace the Antifederalists, Agrarians and Bradford in its tradition.  But, then, you would never know that these people form an important (some might even say central) part of that tradition if your acquaintance with conservatism was limited to the main magazines and talking heads of the last ten years.  Conservative enthusiasm for Bryan and the Populists is not necessarily universal even among traditional conservatives (though I think almost all would readily prefer him to McKinley or T.R. given the choice), but where that enthusiasm exists it is powerful indeed.

If there are tensions between patricians and commoners here, this should be less troubling than might seem necessary, because decentralists across the conventional spectrum tend to affirm many, though certainly not all, of the same basic political, social and economic goods and share many of the same assumptions.  Men of backgrounds as diverse as Harrington, Bolingbroke and Chesterton understood the importance of widely distributed real property, resistance to the concentration of wealth and opposition to the consolidation of power as all being essential to the preservation not only of liberty but also, more importantly, the preservation of humane and stable community life. 

Update: More Jeremy Beer (again via Caleb at Crunchy Con) on the history of conservationism among conservatives, the obstacles to the potential future green-conservative alliance and the beginnings of a possible way forward:

You might not know it from the exhibit tables at most conservative gatherings, stacked as they are with explicitly anti-environmental flyers, articles, and books, but America’s conservative movement was once intimately linked with conservation. The influential conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote warmly about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was published in 1962 and frequently held forth on the dangers of pesticides, the protection of endangered species, and the preservation of farmland. In fact, a near-apocalyptic tone suffused the environmental writing of many conservatives during the first decades after World War II. So, how did we get from there to where we are now, with environmentalists firmly established as the favorite whipping boys of conservative intellectuals, pundits, and politicians?


… This issue is particularly important to Christians, whose faith counsels a sacramental vision of nature and opposition to the hubris underlying the modern economy and its institutionalized disregard for the care of God’s creation. “You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility,” writes Wendell Berry.


However, the environmentalist movement itself must deal with its own confusing and contradictory alliances with the left. As John Lukacs has written, Greens are often the self-made prisoners of their leftist and anti-establishment inclinations. They are split-minded: traditionalists and anti-traditionalists at the same time. They want to conserve the land, and they are opposed to the inhuman progress of bureaucracy, automation, technology. In that respect they are conservatives, in the proper, larger-than-political sense of that word. Yet at the same time they favor abortion, feminism, unlimited immigration, nomadism—at the expense of the traditional family, of traditional patriotism, of traditional humanism, of the traditional respect for rights of property.


Who knows? Perhaps Greens would not have been driven to embrace such allegiances if conservatives had not abandoned their conservationist roots. The crowd that forms around Lukacs whenever he speaks to young audiences is an encouraging sign that someday soon, there may be a conservative movement that is dedicated to healing that schism.

So today is Halloween, which was originally in some parts of Europe the Christian answer to the pagan autumn festivals that marked the end of summer and the coming of winter and, symbolically, death.  The Irish festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-wain) had previously marked the end of the harvest and commemorated the dead.  The Christian answer in western Europe was to commemorate the faithful departed and, through them, to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and the hope of the Resurrection, thus turning the logic of the annual raging against the dying of the light on its head.  The modern Mexican dia de los muertos, about which we were often taught in New Mexico when I was growing up, actually seems to retain more of this Christian sense of the celebration (though it has, like everything else, also been transformed into an excuse to throw a party). 

There is still some small element in the modern Halloween in which the original facing down of death and the attempt (with costumes) to ward of demonic and destructive forces is present, but one notices in the conventional celebration of Halloween a frequent misunderstanding that misses that the ghoulish and frightening costumes were once meant to scare away evil spirits.  Now, for most of the people who are really into Halloween, it is a time to endorse the evil spirits. 

The festival is undoubtedly a holdover from old superstitious practices, and today it has become worse than worthless in its increasingly ridiculous use as little more than a candy-buying extravaganza and an excuse for adults to dress transgressively or shamelessly.  As much as the part of me that is Irish wants to hang on to Halloween if only as a part of my heritage, and as much as I did enjoy Halloween as a kid (growing up as a completely secular kid, I found it was just about the most “spiritual” and “mysterious” day of the year), there really isn’t much to it that holds my interest anymore.

Michael Ledeen, in the unending quest to make everyone adopt the term “Islamofascism,” notes that the Iranian Prez has been making pro-natalist noises - and pro-natalism, of course, “is right out of the fascist manual,” because both Hitler and Mussolini supported it.

Well. It was one thing when Ledeen urged us to adopt a foolhardy foreign policy course vis-a-vis Iran - but now that he’s attacking natalism, well, the gloves are coming off. How about this: Both Hitler and Mussolini supported strong militaries, interventionist foreign policies, and ideas of “national greatness” - so presto, American neoconservatives are really Amerifascists! Right? Right? How do like them apples, Mr. Ledeen? Teach ya to f– with the natalists! ~Ross Douthat

I think Ross could have ended his post right there and he would have been all right, but he does go on to qualify his rather strong reaction:

No, I’m being too flip. There is something about fascism’s tendency toward blood-and-soil rhetoric - and by extension, toward an essentially biological concept of national strength - that made natalism a particularly good policy fit for a fascist regime. For that matter, I’ll go further in my quasi-agreement with Ledeen, and admit that a term like “Islamofascism,” while obviously intellectually flimsy in certain respects, almost makes sense as a quick-and-dirty way to describe the Iranian regime; there’s no obvious term for that country’s cocktail of Persian nationalism, Shi’ite radicalism, and run-of-the-mill populist authoritarianism, and if the people throwing around “Islamofascist” wanted to restrict it to Tehran’s quasi-Islamist, quasi-nationalist dictatorship, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.

But, as some of us have noted, the word Islamofascism (or Islamic fascism) is not reserved for Ahmadinejad’s supposed Sturmabteilung of Basij fanatics.  (Note: I obviously don’t find the ascription of the label to the Iranian government and its ideological cocktail very useful, descriptive or obvious, but let’s return to that later.)  Ross continues:

But of course, they don’t want to so restrict it; they want to use it describe al Qaeda as well, which is silly, and they want to use it as a rhetorical club to convince everyone that 2006 is just like 1938, or maybe 1936, and Ahmadenijad is just like Hitler, and all the rest - which is silly and dangerous.

Excellent.  But I would add a couple other points.  As some of the advocates for this term would have it, Islamofascist is supposed to extend to far more than Al Qaeda.  Thus Cliff May said:

The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria). 


So Islamofascism must embrace any and all opponents of U.S. hegemony, real or perceived, regardless of whether they are religious and jihadi or secular and Baathist.  To take May at his word, Islamofascism has to be able to embrace Deobandis in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Salafis in Jordan and Iraq, Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Baathists in Syria, and presumably also the Sudanese government, the Islamic Courts of Somalia, and Kashmiri jihadis.  According to this view, all of these groups are somehow now our problem because they fit the ever-expanding mould of Islamofascist.  Islamofascist must not only include all of these groups, but it must impose upon theme a common goal and unified purpose (I suppose it would be “they hate us for our freedom,” right?), even though it is fairly clear that they are disparate groups with divergent interests tied to their local circumstances and local grievances. 

To conflate them all into one more or less homogenous jihadi cause–thus mirroring their delusions of a concerted, unified effort to destroy Islam around the world–is not only to give substance to their recruiting rhetoric but also to ignore cleavages and fissures among different kinds of jihadis that we might exploit to our advantage.  Many of the hegemonists apparently missed divide et impera in neo-imperialist school.  All of these things tell me that the use of “Islamofascist” and “Islamic fascist” is a way to import some very dubious assumptions about the nature and necessity of U.S. intervention in various Near and Middle Eastern countries into our thinking about combating Islamic terrorism, which leads to some remarkably bad and dangerous beliefs (e.g., Santorum’s “Iran is bent on world conquest with the help of mighty Venezuela!” spiel) designed to channel the legitimate desire to fight jihadis and the vital importance of the anti-jihadi fight into public support for a hegemonist agenda that is only tangentially related to actually fighting jihadis.  I say tangentially because the main targets in the sights of the jingoes these days are not Taliban camps in Waziristan or, more outlandishly, Lashkar-i-Muhammad training facilities in Sindh, but the secular Syrian regime and the clerical regime in Tehran, which have been fishing in Iraq’s troubled waters but had been on the whole slightly cooperative with anti-jihadi efforts in late 2001 and 2002.  Rather than avoid conflict with these regimes with which we have few real significant causes for conflict, these people want to escalate our hostility against them.  Given the record of the past four years, that seems to me to be an obvious mistake, but one that does not have to keep being repeated.  Rather than build from these early successes by working with these regimes against our common foe in Sunni jihadis, our government chose to treat these regimes as part of the same phenomenon and part of the same general adversary.  To continue to use rhetoric that reinforces this kind of strategic folly is not clear-eyed truth-telling nor is it Churchillian courage–it is the throwing of rhetorical garbage for lack of a coherent strategy that can be defended on its merits.

I would just note here that nationalists in general tend to be natalist (see the Gaullists in France or the Partido Popular in Spain), regardless of whether they are necessarily actually fascist, because nationalists in general believe in blood-and-soil rhetoric and organic metaphors for nationhood.  More to the point, they think that defending and preserving the natio has something to do with the nation biologically reproducing itself. 

Ledeen’s focus on Iranian natalist policies (a policy also adopted in Aymara-dominated Bolivia, which, as Sen. Santorum tells us, will be the front line of the great Cubano-Venezuelan empire) and his labeling of them as simply fascist policies does make you wonder: do Ledeen and those who, such as Sen. Santorum, use this “Islamic fascism” rhetoric believe that natalist policies are inherently undesirable in themselves or because they are tainted by associations with fascism (or both)?  In our anti-fascist zeal, shouldn’t we stop having children all together?  That would teach the Nazis a lesson!  Ha ha!  Presumably Sen. Santorum would be rather embarrassed to find natalism, which is something I assume he does not oppose in principle and probably even actively supports in some ways because of his religious convictions, denounced as something taken out of the “fascist manual.” 

Surely the reason to be concerned about other countries’ natalist policies is not because they are fascist or proof of Islamofascism, but that they are aimed at increasing their numbers while the population growth of Western countries tends to need significant boosts from immigration to even try to keep pace.   

The thing that should leap to the forefront of our minds is this: if even the batty Ahmadinejad can see the rational advantages of encouraging more births in his country through formal policy, why are so many people in this country so instinctively hostile to the idea?  Why is the first response among this crowd to news of Iranian natalism not, “We cannot allow a natalist gap!” but instead, “See, Iranians are fascist!”?  Because they don’t want to be like the nasty Islamocylons?  Please.  (The article is yet to be written on the possible cultural significance of BSG’s ambivalence towards procreation and childbirth–associated overwhelmingly with Cylon coercion and religious fanaticism–as shown by a race on the verge of extinction as the humans in that series are.)  American suspicion of natalism is, to my mind, yet more proof of the disintegrative influence of individualism and the harmful consequences of an ethic of self-satisfaction and self-indulgence according to which appeals to the common good are always statist tricks and totalitarian plots to control your life. 

Incidentally, you could see this retreat to invoking fascist parallels in the debate at Crunchy Con last spring when the critics of the crunchy con idea only too readily associated a belief in transcendent norms and the importance of their application to everyday life with fascist ideas of transcendence (as if there were no other kind!).  To see ethical dimensions in everyday life was to “politicise” them, which in one sense was perfectly true, since ethical life is intimately connected to the life of the polity, but it was also supposedly to make a religion out of politics, which was such utter nonsense that it was embarrassing to see the charge made.   

It seems to me that in certain cases of anti-crunchy criticism and again with Ledeen’s cheap shot against natalism you begin to run up against the divisions in what Mr. Bottum described as the “new fusionism,”  the current alliance of pro-lifers and morally “serious” interventionists that he found in modern conservative and GOP circles.  People on one side of the divide do believe in a transcendental order, an “enduring moral order,” typically an order set down by God, and believe that this order has profound relevance for the entirety of everyday life, and the others on the other side of the divide may be respectful of these views and even nominally supportive of them but when the claims of transcendence come knocking on their own door they want no part of it.  They seem to be saying: we must have “moral clarity” in our foreign policy, and we all agree that abortion is horrible and ought to be discouraged because it is violating human rights, but let’s keep that self-examination and those heavy-handed claims of the eternal verities out of my personal, private business.  It does not hurt that the first instinct of some of the Moral Clarity Brigade members is to associate something as life-affirming as natalism with fascism and thus make their own ambivalence about supporting natalism into a foreign policy issue (which is what, as you may have noticed, these folks seem to make out of everything) so that the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” comes across as part of the rhetoric of a dictatorial Fuehrer who wants to destroy your individualist way of life. 

That makes you wonder: how long will the “new fusionist” alliance, to the extent that it exists, hold up as some of the basic moral and social goods valued by the religious conservatives in the alliance are (yet again) either ignored or, when noticed, mocked in the context of pointing out the supposed reactionary and fascist nature of a foreign government?      

Perhaps we are entering a new stage in history in which the demographic flaws in liberalism will become more apparent, paving the way for the return of a communitarian social model. This may still leave democracy, liberalism and mixed capitalism intact. But it will challenge modernism, that great secular movement of cultural individualism which swept high art and culture after 1880 and percolated down the social scale to liberalise attitudes in the 1960s. Cultural modernism has accompanied technological modernisation in the west, while the non-western world has usually modernised its technology rather than its values. Daniel Bell prophesied that modernism’s antinomian cultural outlook would prompt a “great instauration” of religion as people sought spiritual solace from the alienation of modern life. Bell has so far been proved wrong, but history may yet vindicate him as we bear witness not to spiritual revival, but to a religious reconquista based, ironically, on the nakedly this-worldly force of demography. ~Eric Kaufmann, The Prospect

Via Ross Douthat

In front of us is an opportunity. For the next twenty-four months candidates for president, congressman, senator, governor, representative, judge, county clerk, and sheriff will be seeking the Christian vote, and our money, and our energy. Every politician needs evangelicals. And like a teenage boy on a date with a beautiful girl, they will say anything and everything to get what they want.

Let’s not give it to them. Let’s tell them we are fasting from politics for a season. ~David Kuo

I have to say that this sounds like a good idea, at least in certain respects.  As a blogger and something of a political junkie, I am only too aware of the potential toll focusing on such things can take on more important priorities in life (he says as he writes on his blog about a political question).  I am not even particularly politically “active” in the sense that Mr. Kuo is talking about, but I can imagine how much more distracting and exhausting actual campaigning and regular activism would be.  Still, I am reluctant to adopt this proposal straightaway, even though I can see a great many advantages to what he proposes.  It seems almost undeniable to me that if Christians in this country put the energy they put into supporting the GOP or this or that ballot initiative or railing about liberal perfidy, they would probably accomplish more in their own communities, would build stronger families and would raise more God-fearing children.  (The story of the conservative Congressman or staffer who goes to D.C. to shore up moral values but ends up wrecking his own marriage in the process has been an all together too common one.)  But I am not certain that we can temporarily suspend our responsibilities as citizens. 

The country will not go to rack and ruin (or at least not much more than it would have anyway) if we sat out for one cycle, but whether or not there would be negative consequences does not answer the question of whether we are free to dissent, that is to sit apart, from politics all together for such a time.  And if we are free to do so, what does oblige us to enter the arena in the first place?  Now the Catholics learn from their Catechism that as “far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1915) which comes in the context of having an obligation to work for the promotion of the common good.  To koinon agathon, a concept unfortunately derided of late by some because of its popularity as a phrase among left-liberals (which should make conservatives wonder how they ever allowed these people to hijack the concept in the first place and why there is not a robust conservative understanding of the common good widely known today), is the standard by which Catholics would judge how and when to participate in public life, and it includes the conditions that contribute the most to the fulfillment of our nature and true human flourishing.  If seems clear that if it is plausible that Christians can do more for the common good outside of party politics for a couple years than they can do in the middle of them, they not only can but ought to pursue those other activities with the same zeal with which they have pursued their political goals.  If Christians judge that they can contribute more to the common good through political action, the same obligation to act in the political realm would be there.   

But there is much wisdom to the idea that a man won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, as the old saying has it, and that the GOP has to earn the support of conservative Christians before they lend it their support in the future.  Letting them have a taste of what a completely demobilised, disenchanted Christian base would be like for them and what it would mean for their election prospects would bring a number of the party’s leaders to their senses, at least for a short time.  We would need to understand that this would almost certainly ruin the GOP’s chances in 2008 and guarantee a Democratic President.  The simple response to this would be: yes, and what’s your point?  What good has GOP rule been?  Certainly, conservative Christians should be a lot less forthcoming with their support unless they see the chance of some real return on what they are giving.  The parable of the wicked servant should be foremost in the minds of Christians who have been entrusted with even one talent, as I think too many Christians have taken that one talent and, instead of burying it as the wicked servant did, donated it, so to speak, to the local Republican candidate for Congress or a PAC aimed at stopping the godless liberals.  Stopping godless liberals is all well and good, but perhaps there are better ways to use what you have been given.  To ponder the question is not to betray anything.  When the Master comes to make an accounting of what we have done with what we have been given, He may look dimly on frittering away our gifts on something unworthy. 

The advantage of Kuo’s recommended “fast” seems obvious to me because I see how things are in the Orthodox Church in this country, or at least how they have been in my three years as an Orthodox convert in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  We are, with the exception of a few concentrated areas, too small of a church in America to wield any great influence, and there are numerous jurisdictional boundaries that prevent widespread cooperation across the country, which has many disadvantages for church life but which also has the advantage of making concerted political action by a united front of American Orthodox next to impossible.  Therefore secular politics does not enter into the Church to the degree that it seems to do in other churches, and the kind of cultural warfare that evidently takes place in parish life elsewhere is largely absent.  There is no question of what is to be preached in our parishes.  It has been and will continue to be the Gospel, and homilies almost always are about the Gospel reading.  I have never heard a homily on a contemporary political issue in an Orthodox church.  The closest to something “political” I have ever seen was a moleben for the Orthodox victims at Beslan, which was an entirely appropriate commemoration of deceased Orthodox Christians.  Thus politics does not enter into the equation, and I am able to be united to fellow Orthodox who I happen to know hold sometimes radically different politically views.  It also creates the beginnings of unity in Christ that make it possible to speak intelligently and soberly to one another about these questions and, often enough, we find (especially the green and paleocon Orthodox out there) that we have much more in common politically than we would ever have supposed had we not encountered each other in church. 

I have heard it said that those who do not participate in the fasts of the Church do not participate as fully in the joy of the feast when it finally comes.  Certainly the move between the kenotic work of fasting and the fullness of the feast is a powerful one that has the greatest meaning for those who have faithfully kept the fast.  Moreover, fasting reminds us of the transitory nature of all things here below, it reminds us of the sacrifice and death of the Lord and of the call to die to ourselves, and it is through fasting that we make a few small steps in this denial of ourselves.  As a priest once told us, “Fasting is to be called into the company of the saints.”  In denying the world and the will of the flesh in ourselves through actual fasting, we become more alive to the work of the Spirit and possess more of the mind of Christ.  There is a sense in which the denial of the world represented by renouncing political activity for a time fits very well into this experience of fast and feast in the life of the Church.  Ironically, I fear that Mr. Kuo’s appeal will make the most sense to those of us, like myself, who belong to a church that is not terribly politically active in the first place.  It will unfortunately likely be met with hostility in precisely those churches where it is most needed because it comes from someone who (gasp!) once worked for Democrats in some capacity; in my view, the worst thing that can be said about Mr. Kuo’s political record is that he worked for the Bush administration, but he seems suitably aggrieved by this as well so I won’t hold it against him.     

Naturally, at NRO they are not enthusiastic about this.  Says Ponnuru on Kuo:

Kuo sometimes writes as though they’re [conservative Christians] the only kind of Christians around, which is a bad habit.

It would be a bad habit if Kuo were doing this.  But it seems clear that Kuo doesn’t claim to be addressing all Christians here, but very clearly has targeted this message to Republican-voting, conservative Christians.  The entire context of the post tells you as much.  Ponnuru says that you shouldn’t expect politics to save your marriage (no kidding! I thought that was a recommended method!), which badly misses Kuo’s point about divorce.  The point, surely, is that while evangelicals have, for example, been banging the war drums to stop gay “marriage,” no one has been doing very much that has been successful in creating more stable heterosexual marriages.  While they have been successful in many states in protecting the definition of The Institution of Marriage, real marriages continue to break down at the same rates they have done before.  Surely the real point is that this is far more socially and culturally destructive and also something that churches might well be able to do more about if they weren’t distracted with highly symbolic, oftentimes seemingly irrelevant pitched battles with radical leftists.  The more that the Faith can be understood and embraced as a living, transforming Faith rather than a battle standard in a political conflict, the better.  If I were a GOP flack, I would, of course, be very nervous that that any prominent Christian is saying things like this, because the GOP needs Christians to keep serving as useful idiots and cannon fodder, so to speak, for each election cycle.  It can’t start letting the cannon fodder think too much about whether they should even be in the army. 

Update: Poor David Kuo!  Not only is he getting all the usual grief for being part of an overarching liberal conspiracy to sap our purity of essence (I exaggerate only slightly), but because of links to his blog from Rod Dreher the Con Crunchy hyenas have descended upon his comment section.  If you need confirmation that Kuo’s proposal is an idea whose time has come, just read the comment thread that follows his post. 

Time has an excerpt from Obama’s new book (when exactly does the man find the time to “write” all these books?), The Audacity of Hope (other bad titles that were already taken: The Insolence of Optimism, The Impudence of Faith and The Derring-Do of Confidence). 

The problem with the excerpt is that we have heard it almost all of it before, and we were not impressed by it the first time.  The doctor from the University of Chicago urges him to use “fair-minded words” in his rhetoric about abortion, and Obama, ever-conscientious, heeds the good doctor’s advice.  Okay, it’s a nice story.  Maybe it’s even a true story–wouldn’t that be remarkable in itself?  But how dull is it that the first part of the excerpt put up in the Time coverage is the very same anecdote recounted by Obama at his June “look at me, I’m religious, too!” speech

“The message from the doctor at the University of Chicago” is beginning to become Obama’s signature anecedote, and it isn’t that good of an anecdote.  The end of the excerpt is his recounting of his election debate with Alan Keyes, where the preposterous Keyes (preposterous for a very different set of reasons than those Obama would give) said, “Christ would not have voted for Barack Obama.”  Yet again, this was a main part of his “Call to Renewal” speech from June.  The text of the Keyes section and the commentary that follows appear to be lifted virtually verbatim from the book’s manuscript and inserted into the speech, or vice versa.  One wonders what else there is in this book, since the things Obama apparently prefers to talk about are Alan Keyes, the problems progressives have with religion in politics, his religious upbringing and the doctor from UofC.  Nothing in these remarks is terribly interesting or new.  What is supposed to be interesting is that Obama is saying them–a real, live Democratic politician is talking about these things and seems to have some working familiarity with Christianity!  This did not used to be a remarkable, stop-the-presses event.  It says volumes about how warped the Democrats’ relationship with Christianity is that Obama’s commonplace statements are supposedly so powerful and resonant.  I mean, he…actually…believes…in…God!  Look out, fundies, here comes Obama! 

The rest of the excerpt is the recounting of another story related to abortion politics, where we are again treated to just how fair-minded (and pro-choice) Obama is (”I understand your deep conviction on this matter, which I am now going to dismiss with stock soundbites about the safety of women”), which apparently ought to make other “fair-minded” people happy enough to notice that he hasn’t really addressed the central question of whether abortion can be morally justified or not, whether it is right for a Christian man to sanction or tolerate the constitutional fraud that gives legal protection to the murder of unborn children. 

Of course, it can’t be justified and it isn’t right, which is why “fair-minded” Senators who might one day like to be President have to engage in roundabout justifications for their position, saying that they support “choice” for the sake of poor women everywhere.  The phantom of the back-alley abortionist, whom the pro-choice pol has summoned from the ether, hovers nearby and is supposed to cloud the judgement of people who recognise a moral abomination when they see it.  But the phantom just provides a comforting excuse to endorse something that it would be politically dangerous for a Democrat in most places to oppose.  All of this is supposed to show us that Obama is thoughtful, rather than callous, profound rather than predictable, but it does not.  It is the tactic of the man who says, “I appreciate your point of view,” when in fact he does not appreciate it and wants to neutralise your criticism by deflecting the question in an entirely different direction.  President Bush uses this same kind of tactic when he says, “Good and patriotic people hold this view, but I just strongly disagree.  I believe freedom transforms regions, burble, burble.”  He then concocts a straw man position, “Those who say that Iraq would be better off as a fetid wasteland filled with suicide bombers are simply wrong,” and declares victory. 

Recourse to the phantom of the back-alley abortionist is an old stand-by on the pro-abortion side,  which is suppoed to work because we are supposed to believe that having the option of outlawing a vicious practice that does kill millions of children would be worse than banning said practice and potentially risking the lives of a relative handful of women.  But Obama is telling us that we should be grateful that he is so thoughtful that he has chosen to condescend to us with the tired old trope. 

Let’s grant that Obama is “thoughtful,” after a fashion.  Is it really better to have a pro-abortion Democrat who seems to sound eminently reasonable and supposedly does not vilify his opponents, but instead claims to “understand” their views even as he waves them away with the flick of his wrist?  I doubt it.     

And, driving the point home:  “The price for same-sex marriage is paid by children.” ~Kathryn Jean Lopez, quoting Mitt Romney

Perhaps I am confused, because the last time I checked homosexual couples by themselves don’t typically have all that many children.  This is usually one of the things raised against them.  One of the primary reasons why homosexuality itself is deeply disordered and wrong is that it is contrary to nature and will never result in procreation.  Yes, nowadays you have stories (and even plotlines in a cable television show) about a number of lesbian women who have children as a result of artificial insemination, and you do have the possibility of gay couples adopting children.  But surely, if opposition to gay “marriage” is all done “for the children,” which would be legitimate, those would be the things that need outlawing as much as gay “marriage,” and perhaps more.  It is those things that probably have an even greater negative impact on the well-being of children than the mere existence of legal recognition of homosexual “marriage.”  Anyone can oppose gay “marriage,” since the name itself is nonsense and the concept absurd.  Romney is good at saying just enough to get the crowd behind him, but what exactly does he do that has some people so excited? 

Jonah Goldberg notes some tasteless, slutty Halloween costumes on sale at that community-friendly emporium, Wal-Mart.  Already I can hear the retort, “They’re just giving people what they want!”  Which is exactly the problem. 

Today, while the religious conservatives and the social libertarians have their culture war flashpoints — how many crèches can you fit on the head of a publicly funded pin? — the traditionalists are interested in how to strengthen institutions that breed responsible people. How do you encourage marriage at a time when 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock? How can you embed young men in American cities, or in Iraq, in the constructive world of work, so they won’t drift into the world of violence? How can you build preschool programs so children from chaotic homes will have at least one stable place to develop self-control? How can you assimilate immigrants so they will internalize the social norms of the United States? How can parents keep cultural garbage out of their homes? ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Let’s take the first one.  You might begin to encourage marriage by, well, actively encouraging it and actively stigmatising and punishing all other sexual relationships.  That doesn’t mean that the President occasionally gives a speech in which he does the Mom and apple pie routine and says, “Marriage is an important institution.”  There has to be a lot more behind it than that, possibly including rewriting laws to remove disincentives to marriage.  And by stigmatise the other relationships, I mean really stigmatise, up to and including stigmas against bastardy.  Most of this would come in the form of social pressure, but there could be a role for legislation as well.  You could give people tax exemptions when they get married; you could tighten divorce laws; you could keep driving home the social upheaval caused by unstable and failed marriages and making it stick that marriage is not always going to be a pleasure cruise or a journey of self-satisfaction, but is hard work done for the sane and successful rearing of the next generation and the integrity of the community (to speak simply in purely secular terms for the moment).  You could openly denounce cohabitation and teach your children that it is unacceptable; landlords could refuse to rent to cohabiting couples; businesses could refuse to grant the kind of benefits to “significant others” that could be reserved for spouses.  We could stop referring to “cohabitation” by this euphemistic weasel-word, which makes it seem as if we were referring to animals that inhabited the same ecological system, and get back to very old-fashioned, judgemental-as-all-get-out phrases like “living in sin.”  Wouldn’t that be a fun throwback? 

Of course, all of that would require some kind of understanding of why these alternatives are wrong, which is a large part of the battle.  To be a credible alternative to the moral absolutists, Brooksian traditionalism would need to demonstrate that it is not social conservatism’s answer to “compassionate conservatism”: a sell-out of principle done in the name of pragmatic “problem-solving.”  One could start, Dave, by not supporting “civil unions” in a bid to cater to the notions of what is acceptable and right-minded in Manhattan.  That might be a start to show that Brooksian traditionalism isn’t driven by the “hunger for approval,” but by an interest in reducing the damage of social and moral disorder.  

We traditionalists observe that when policies fail, it’s usually because they are based on inaccurate assumptions about human nature. So we don’t base our thinking on the abstract arguments of theology. Nor do we base it on economics, with its image of profit-maximizing individuals. We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Leave aside for a moment the glaring problem that conservative assumptions about human nature–its fallibility, its fallenness, its tendency towards passionate excess–are at least partly rooted in theological teachings about human nature.  Set aside, if you can, that speaking of a common human nature must be at some level a philosophical abstraction from the variety of experience, which does not mean that it isn’t true.  It simply means that flinging the term “abstract” and hiding behind empiricism do not a coherent moral philosophy make.  But there is something even more galling about the statement quoted above. 

As some more credible traditionalists might say after reading this, ”What do you mean by we?” Consider what Brooks says: “We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like.”  Sure, Dave, whatever you say.  That has certainly been the hallmark of your writing for the last ten years.  Realistic appraisals of distinct cultures have been synonymous with your name.  I am always saying to Michael, “David Brooks sure does talk a lot about the particular character of distinct human societies; he never stops talking about the profound differences created by historical contingencies.  Yes, I can remember back in his Weekly Standard days when he just couldn’t stop denouncing the universalist fantasies of the philosophes.  Who can forget when he wrote that masterpiece on the genius of Joseph de Maistre?”      

This would be the same David Brooks, friend of progressive globalism and recent initiate into the awareness that the world is a big, scary place where cultures significantly differ and some people really don’t like each other.  This is the same David Brooks who said of Americans and Iraq:

Americans blew the postwar administration of Iraq because they assumed they were liberating a nation sort of like their own. 

David Brooks was among the Americans who believed that Iraq was a nation “sort of like” our own.  Not only did the man not pay attention to what the human beings “in particular places” were “actually” like, but he and many of his cohort of pro-war pundits did their very best to stress the universal applicability of liberal democracy in the most blinkered of one-size-fits-all ideological certainty to the exclusion of the mountain of evidence that Iraq was nothing like our nation and was beset with a host of actual problems particular to the Iraqi situation that Brooks in all his “social traditionalism” and remarkably empirically-informed moral philosophy overlooked along with the rest of democratists.  He didn’t learn his lesson earlier, saying:

The hard lesson of the last five years — that we live in a jagged world filled with starkly different and contesting groups — makes democracy promotion more difficult but more necessary. Only democratic habits will prevent the inevitable clash of the tribes from turning into a war of nuclear annihilation.

Should anyone now take his claims of profound concern for the particular circumstances of how different human beings “actually” live seriously?  I don’t see why “we” should.

The culture war has become self-parodic, so people are hungry for a morality that is neither absolutist nor nihilistic. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

When I read things like this, I am reminded of the excellent Simpsons parody of the sorry spectacles that are our presidential elections when space aliens replaced Dole and Clinton and were forced to undergo a crash-course in the weasel-worded rhetorical appeals that were vital to electoral success in a modern mass democracy.  After being booed for giving absolute support to abortion, and then being booed for absolutely opposing abortion, the alien playing Bob Dole said, to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd, “Abortions for some, small American flags for the others!”  That is about as coherent of a view as a morality that is “neither absolute nor nihilistic.”  This is a classic statement of trying to split the difference between coherent worldviews, and of trying to have it both ways.  It is the perfect example of wanting to live off the deposit of the inheritance of your civilisation while contributing nothing to and reinvesting nothing in it.  It is almost the application of via media for its own sake (well, that and the likely broader base of political support you might hope to cultivate with it), as if splitting the difference between truth and falsehood would lead to a higher truth because, in the common wisdom of the 1990s, “the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.”  (Incidentally, notice how no one ever says that about things like Holocaust denial or white supremacy?  I wonder why!)  

I wonder just how many are included in Brooks’ general claim about what “people” are hungry for these days.  Isn’t this really just an elaborate way of saying, “I want a morality that is neither absolute nor nihilistic.”  I am strongly reminded also of Jonah Goldberg’s definition of conservatism as a “partial philosophy of life.”

On a slightly related note, remembering that old debate brings back to my attention something that I wrote earlier this year about what I think is a proper conservative understanding of organicity and what the Slavophiles called integrality (which has obvious connections to my more recent criticisms of what I considered a deficient or limited use of the idea of organicity):

The “organic holism” Goldberg rebels against is the normal state of affairs for men of the conservative persuasion. There are false conceptions of that “organic holism,” which you do see in socialism, communism and fascism, just as there are false conceptions of the Good–that does not mean that we toss out “organic holism” or the idea of the Good. Abuse does not invalidate use. Remember that one?

If conservatism is a mentality or sensibility, it would permeate the whole of one’s life. If it is a “philosophy of life” (talk about your New Age, self-help language!) at all, it would inform the whole of life. How does one have a partial philosophy of life without having a “partial life”? A partial philosophy of life is moral schizophrenia. There is something false and fragmented about this approach to things, as if each “sphere” of life were hermetically sealed and preserved from interference from the other “spheres.” But what we believe to be true about God must affect what we believe about truth, beauty and virtue, and that in turn must affect what we believe about human relations, and that in turn must affect what we believe about the different sorts of relationships (political, economic, social, etc.) that men have. Goldberg has lost the sense of the what the Slavophiles called integrality–he shouldn’t feel too bad, as they believed that this was something the West had lost some time ago, but it is precisely that fragmented mind that Rod perceives and criticises. Goldberg is making Rod’s point for him, though it will undoubtedly once more be beyond him why this is so.

If conservatism is at all rooted in the Western intellectual tradition (and I rather think that it is), there is one Good in which all other goods participate and resemble. What is good in political life cannot diametrically oppose what is good in aesthetics, because of the unity of the Good. Yes, that is Plato, but I find Plato convincing here. So did Weaver. If conservatism does not understand this, it is little more than a fad, a pose, maybe a hobby or perhaps a kind of cult (in the negative sense). Worst of all, it could simply be an ideology. If someone claims to seek the Good, the True and the Beautiful, he cannot then be indifferent in practise to ugliness when it stares him in the face. That is Rod’s point. The difference between that and the idealisation of the Volk or the proletariat is so vast that Goldberg should be embarrassed to have drawn a connection between them.

Looking back on this relic of the Crunchy Wars, I think it holds up pretty well.  I might have developed a bit more the contrast between a conservatism that is actually a practical philosophy and a conservatism designed to organise a political coalition.  The former will concern itself with the affairs of the whole of everyday life because, well, that is what practical philosophy and ethics in particular do, while the representatives of the latter will beg off talking about questions of everyday life, the way of life of their supporters, because they are not particularly interested in a good vision of order.  When they think of virtue, they think of ways to stoke the fires of cultural conservative indignation over homosexuality in order to increase turnout (some of them probably also agree, at some level, that radical claims about gay “marriage” are absurd, but they are hardly staying up late at night worried about this problem).  But, pretty clearly, they are not thinking about the eunomia of the soul, which would include the restraining of the passions, the reign of the intellect over our desires and the right ordering of our intentions towards the True, the Good and the Beautiful.  Asceticism is admittedly a lousy election theme, so for conservatives who are mainly thinking about the next election talk of asceticism, sacramentality and communion is not just distracting but positively terrifying in a way (they might ask: how will talking about sacramental living win OH-18?). 

They are interested in keeping people on board with the “movement” and the party, keeping people voting and, in the case of the initial anti-crunchy explosion at NR, keeping people subscribing to their magazine.  (Just imagine if we had started laying into “stockjobbers” and “the moneyed interest” and used the full panoply of Jeffersonian attack rhetoric on “bank rule”!  Kudlow would have had a heart attack.)  In his own way, Brooks is trying to do damage control for the “movement,” declaring the path of the theocons and religious conservatives more generally to be a dead end and eschewing the “do your own thing” ethic of the libertarians.  You might call it a modified Sullivanism that makes the same moves in rejecting absolutes and rhetoric about moral truth and certainty, but which does not turn into galloping subjectivism by at least allowing for some kind of consensus standard for morality.  (One of the funnier things about the recent Cato appearance of Sullivan and Brooks is that nowhere, except perhaps in the audience, was there a perspective that affirmed abiding, eternal moral truth that was not negotiated and redefined arbitrarily by the individual or the group–and this was a discussion about the state of conservatism.  I think the participants in the discussion represented the parlous state of conservatism better than anything they may have had to say.) 

Because conservatism for many of these folks is really a vehicle to provide intellectual justifications for the preferred policies of whoever happens to run the “movement” at the moment (okay, it is not quite that cynical, but it is a lot closer than some might like to admit), and presumably few would advocate actual policies and laws that pertain to the way that people live their everyday lives they assume that every attempt to talk negatively about the cultural habits and ethos of ordinary Americans is part of some scheme to get the government involved in “legislating morality” (which, conventional wisdom has it, shouldn’t happen and can’t work–which would probably be surprising to prosecutors and judges) or, worse yet, engaging in…regulating…the…economy!  Aiee!  Knowing which side their bread is buttered on, they are not likely to run around declaring, George Grant-style, that corporations are inimical to traditional, stable societies.  Agrarianism is nice for poets (and who doesn’t like free-range chicken?), but, they are really saying to us, please don’t rock the boat.  What Brooks is saying here, by contrast, is that “the boat” itself has begun to sink and he thinks he has found a handy stopgap that will satisfy what Sullivan has started calling “the politics of meaning” without encouraging the religious conservatives who frankly embarrass people like Brooks and outright horrify people like Sullivan.  Where Sullivan wants to drive the religious folks back into their closet to pray (insert joke here), Brooks wants to appease them with some watered-down moralism that will have all the intellectual punch of that quintessential focus-group term, “Judeo-Christian values,” but a broader appeal than talking about things that are possibly very frightening, such as truth and virtue. 

We traditionalists observe that when policies fail, it’s usually because they are based on inaccurate assumptions about human nature. So we don’t base our thinking on the abstract arguments of theology. Nor do we base it on economics, with its image of profit-maximizing individuals. We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Now if most religious conservatives used “abstract arguments of theology” to make their claims, Brooks might have a point, though even then it would be mistaken.  Since religious conservatives almost always use claims derived directly from Scripture and take Scripture as revealed authority, what really bothers Brooks is not their “abstract arguments of theology,” but their fundamental claim that God has decreed certain things forbidden and that the conventions of men cannot legitimise through long practice and pragmatic experiment.  Indeed, anything in theological argument that cannot find at least some warrant in Scripture–as understood through the interpretation of an authoritative Church Tradition–would not be of central importance to these people, since they are concerned, broadly speaking, with fundamental questions of virtue and the good order of the soul and polity alike. 

Traditionalists, if they are serious, do not simply say, “The passage of time and long experience have given us such and such a practice, therefore it is of no importance whether this practice is contrary to nature or not.”  St. John Chrysostom did not say, “Enjoy the bloodsport and the chariot racing.  They are hallowed and antique Roman traditions, and they help reaffirm our identity as Romans.  Go Venetoi [Blues]!” 

Religious conservatives will always, always, always give the inherited practice the benefit of the doubt, and more than a benefit of the doubt, but they do not endorse things simply because they developed over time and people seem to like them.  Carthaginians thought the odd human sacrifice was efficacious, and had a longstanding custom to this effect.  That alone does not vindicate a practice.  Where the conservative and traditionalist object to the disestablishing of customs or the dissolution of traditions is when these things, which serve real social and political functions, are cast aside with no consideration or are actively undermined in pursuit of disordered desires.  But fundamentally basing morality on sentiment alone, on what a consensus happens to agree on and what people like, is insufficient.  It is certainly a kind of ethics, but one that will invariably encourage self-satisfying desires rather than the kind of askesis required for moral sanity.  People like social democracy to differing degrees–given the chance, they will always vote for some form of it, at least until it comes time to pay the bill.  That does not mean it is the most desirable or advantageous form of government for the promotion of human happiness or the well-being of a commonwealth.  People in this country seem to prefer not to get married, as one of the stories in today’s Times tells us.  If left unchecked or unchallenged, this habit could become a well-established one and would then become a new norm for Brooks’ supposed “social traditionalists.”  To be a “traditionalist” in this way is simply to ride along with the river god during the flood, occasionally pointing out the flood damage along the way as if you were a tourist, “Oh, look, there’s the dissolution of marriage!  Next stop, infanticide!”   

On the other hand, God has decreed certain things meritorious and desirable that human sentiments, left to their own fallen devices, would not embrace.  It sounds very clever to find a way around referring to Scripture and the theological claims derived from it, except that they are by and large not abstract (a brilliant use of traditionalist rhetoric that I have scarcely before seen Brooks use, suggesting that he is actually a defender of inherited custom and rooted identity and not the chaos of the globalist social revolution).  They are, as the faithful understand them to be, both profoundly real and personal because they are the self-revelation of the Three Persons of the One God in Trinity.  Typically, when a secular conservative, be it is Brooks or Sullivan, wants to find a problem with religious conservatism he locates it in some form of dogmatism: for Brooks, dogma is abstract and divorced from life, when serious Christians would understand that such a thing isn’t possible, while for Sullivan any attempt at formulating or expressing a dogma is a kind of violence on the freedom of the individual conscience (a faculty which he completely misunderstands).  This has the advantage of not having to address the substance of the theological claims, even though these claims are made according to reason, so that the secular conservatives who don’t want to face them can say, “They’re just so abstract!  They’re so dogmatic!  I prefer experience.” 

Experience, in its proper place and understood correctly, is invaluable and central to any conservative’s view of moral questions.  Brooks here plays on a powerful, legitimate strain in the conservative tradition that tells us to look to prescription and the argument from circumstance.  This is the tradition of Kirk and Bradford.  (The irony, or sacrilege, is almost too great to bear.)  But they both affirmed the existence of a transcendent moral order.  Indeed, Kirk, following Voegelin, recognised the commitment to a transcendent order as one of the essential features of the conservative mind.  It was what separated conservatives from every kind of materialist.  Brooks’ morality of sentiments, taken as it stands, strikes me as the fast lane to relativism as sure as anything.  Here is his description of Smith’s morality of sentiments:

Smith argued that more than just about everything else, people hunger for approval. We feel intense pleasure when we experience the sympathy of others. In a well-structured society, he continues, our desire for sympathy leads us to restrain our selfish or egotistical behaviors.

Of course, one can see the social pressure and stigma put on religious conservatives and traditionalists to adhere to new norms that violate all of the old canons of behaviour.  Particularly when outnumbered by social liberals, the “hunger for approval”–which is indeed great–can make many people falter or water down their commitment to the transcendent moral order; it can lead them to move step by step towards a position that would make our desire for sympathy and praise the standard by which we determined our moral judgements and actions.  Thus the Brooksian “social traditionalist” (please, no laughing there in the back) would presumably not do anything so gauche as defend traditional marriage if his neighbours were increasingly convinced that it was irrelevant and even oppressive in certain ways.  He would, surely, become a proponent of “civil unions” or whatever meaningless euphemism we have chosen to bestow on the legal equality of perversion, and Brooks himself has done just that.  Brooks has hijacked the language of prescription to undermine prescription itself; he is trying to steal the mantle of tradition in order to dismantle our inherited traditions and create a sort of happy-go-lucky morality that will allow him to mingle with the great and good without embarrassment and without endangering the praise of friends.  Indeed, the hunger for approval is very great, and it must particularly acute in the token conservative columnist at The New York Times.   

If there is any valid critique of Dreher’s “crunchy cons,” surely it is their predilection to easy distraction. They, by and large, still want to be nice. Where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the liberal order? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the Linker/Gallagher bargain? ~Fr. Jape

It is encouraging to see that Fr. Jape can bestir himself to send a carrier pigeon from the grave when the occasion requires it.  I think I know where we can find some populists, or at least some inspiration for those populists, but what about the anarchists?  Any wild-eyed anarchists out there? 


Back last night from Mecosta, and too much to get caught up on at the office today to do much blogging. Alas. But I exchanged e-mails with Maggie Gallagher, a critic of “Crunchy Cons,” this morning on an issue that came up (unbeknownst to her) over the weekend at the Kirk Center conference. The theologian Vigen Guroian, criticizing the crunchy-cons concept in Mecosta, said that there’s something phony about the idea of trying to adopt a tradition that doesn’t come down to you organically. Vigen said it’s a very modern thing to try on different traditions (e.g., converting from one religion to another), and he’s skeptical about the whole “back to tradition” aspect of the neotraditionalism advocated in “Crunchy Cons.” If I got his argument correctly, he’s simply saying that what I propose is not feasible. ~Rod Dreher

Rod gives what I consider to be a good answer to these charges, but I’d like to offer my own as well.  It is similar, but I think it goes a bit further.  Organic traditions are best.  Ascribed identities are best.  This is true.  This is also of absolutely no use to people who have never been part of organic traditions worth mentioning and have always been bumbling along on the deserted highway of choice.  This conservatism and traditionalism says to us, “Organicity or bust!”  In which case, those of us who have not had the privilege of having received rooted, traditional identities can do nothing, because the very act of grafting ourselves onto a vine is deemed excessively individualistic and self-determined.  Furthermore, it maintains the fiction that people who have received ascribed identities and inherited traditions from their ancestors are somehow free from modernity, as if there is not today with each affirmation of the old ways on everyone’s part a self-conscious decision to adhere to that tradition rather than let it go.  It is true, as MacIntyre has argued, that even those who abandon or actively reject the traditions they have received are shaped by those traditions.  In this sense, there is no escaping where you come from.  The exile is forever shaped and haunted by his home country.  But according to the rooted, exiles are not really allowed to settle anywhere else.  Once in exile, always in exile.   

For these refugees wandering through the virtually tradition-less lands such as myself, the arguments of Prof. Guroian and Ms. Gallagher are not only not helpful, they are something of a slap in the face.  It is as if they are saying, “We’ve got ours.  You’re simply out of luck.  You can’t acquire a tradition not your own.  You will never have what I have, so you might as well give up.”  Perhaps that is not what they mean to say, but every single time they make their objections, whether to Crunchy Cons, “neotraditionalism,” simple “traditionalism” or conversion to a different church that is what it sounds like.  They say things like, “Don’t talk about tradition, live it!”  To which I say, “Well, obviously.  Now that I am doing that, do you think you might acknowledge it?”  To which they say, “But you’re still just choosing what you want.”  Perhaps they would not be satisfied until the refugees adhered themselves to a tradition they positively loathed as a way of showing everyone that it was not just the fickleness of taste that motivated them but a dreadfully serious desire to belong to a tradition in spite of itself.  Of course, this would correctly merit the charge of being perverse.

If I participated in the “tradition” in which I was raised, if we can even call it that, I could not be a Christian, because my parents never raised me as one and no one in my family going back three generations was a regular churchgoer when I was around.  In the real world, that is where the regime of pluralism, choice and intermarriage gets you.  Were it not for our family’s keen interest in genealogy, I would have had no notion that a generation or two before our family had several ministers.  The extended family I grew up with had gone to church in the past, years and decades before, but not anymore.  We were as happily (or unhappily) secularised as you please. 

So I either go “back to tradition” by picking and choosing among the various churches of my ancestors (the wonders of pluralism strike again!), which would still not be satisfactory for the rooted, since I am picking and choosing, or I can go “back to tradition” by looking to the Orthodox Church, as I have done, as possessing the fullness of Truth and the unbroken Tradition of the Apostles, which will also not satisfy the rooted (apparently not even the “cradle” Orthodox) because I have now chosen a tradition from which I cannot even claim distant descent (unless you take things back a long, long way to ancient Orthodox England).  So I may as well become a secular Republican, since that is the closest thing that I know to an ascribed identity; let my scriptures be The Wall Street Journal, let Sunday morning football be my liturgy.  That is what I grew up with.  That sounds like a fine improvement over Scripture and the Liturgy, doesn’t it?    

When it comes to religion, when your parents do not actively hold fast to the tradition of their fathers, there is not actually anything more “natural” and less “arbitrary” about turning to the tradition that your ancestors once had (in my case, say, joining the Methodists, Presbyterians or Quakers) than there is in turning to a Christian tradition that actually prizes living, organic Church Tradition, such as Orthodoxy.  Prof. Guroian, who is Orthodox as I am (though I am a convert), would seem to be suggesting that it would be preferable for me to go off to join the folks at PCUSA or the United Methodist Church because some of my ancestors were once ministers in those traditions, regardless of whether those churches even remain true to the traditions they have inherited.  In this sense, we are being told that cultural tradition ought to trump what appear to be more genuine expressions of Christian tradition. 

As a matter of descent, I could technically automatically be a Quaker, so perhaps I should go to their non-liturgical meetings and wait for the Spirit to inspire me to protest the war.  Even though my mother doesn’t typically go to Friends meetings, because she does not remotely recognise the Quakerism of her youth, I should start going.  That would be, according to this fetishisation of organicity, better and more genuine than looking for a different tradition.  But even if I did that, it would still be me who was doing the choosing and the tradition-selecting.  This fixation on ascribed identity becomes almost an equal and opposite absurdity in its rejection of individual choice: not only is it better not to choose, but if you ever choose something it is therefore by definition less genuine than if you received it.  This is a mirror image of the individualist’s declaration that “I decide who I am.” 

As I read this, this means that the person born into the tradition not only belongs to it more than you, the convert (which may be true), but in your very act of conversion you are simply replicating modern, non-traditional ways of doing things and cannot really be taken seriously.  Even if you are not a “church-shopper,” but actually stop and adhere yourself to this or that church for the rest of your life you are no different from the “church-shopper” and the person who never goes to church because he chooses not to.  Even in making a sound choice, opting for the rooted person’s own tradition, you are being arbitrary–no matter how many good reasons you have!  

Even if you, the convert, can end up teaching the “cradle” folks about their own tradition, which you have had to learn about, admittedly somewhat superficially and intellectually on one level, and which they have taken for granted (and, I’m sorry, but they have taken it for granted, because it has been granted to them without their even asking for it), you are never really part of that tradition.  In the eyes of the rooted, you will seem to be something of a parasite, living off the healthy body of an organic tradition to which you are ultimately always going to be alien.  Of course, according to a truer definition of organicity you could be metaphoricallly grafted onto one of the branches of the tree, and according to a more realistic understanding of belonging you could be adopted into the clan even though you do not share their blood.  But according to this static understanding of organic tradition, there are no ways in and it is never possible to truly attach yourself to it.      

Besides the rather glaring problem that this poses for the idea of Orthodoxy and the vocation of the Church, to jump to whether or not this or that church represents the most genuine embodiment of the fullness of the truth is precisely the move that these rooted folks expect us to make.  Even when I say, “I have come to believe that Orthodoxy represents the fullness of the True Faith,” they will say, “Aha!  You have chosen to belong to Orthodoxy, you have determined it to be the best choice, which only proves our point.”  In other words, there is no way for the refugee to win the argument and convince the rooted that he can become rooted, or at least to make a start of it.  So rather than get into weighty discussions of why, as a matter of history and theology, it is frankly obvious to me that Orthodoxy is best and the surest road to salvation–and in saying this I am affirming what I have received from the Church and the Fathers–I will instead turn back to the fetishisation of organicity and tradition behind these critiques.

Later in Rod’s post, Maggie Gallagher says:

Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods.

So we have Prof. Guroian assuring us that some people really do belong to traditions and really do inherit them, but that attempts to attach yourself to them are artificial.  Then we have Ms. Gallagher telling us that nobody today has any such tradition and that we are all simply consumers.  The latter claim is plainly false, as any visit to an ethnic Orthodox parish will confirm in two seconds.  So in the first case we have a sort of idolatry of organicity and on the other an idolatry of tradition.  In the first, organicity seems to think that there are only ever full-grown plants and never seeds.  It seems to claim that you cannot graft anything to an existing vine.  Not only is this contrary to what we understand about things that grow in the earth, but such organicity isn’t even fully alive if its partisans insist that those who graft themselves on are somehow less connected to the living tradition.  It assumes that there is no relationship between the plant and its natural surroundings, that it can continue to exist as if encased in amber while somehow also remaining alive.  In order to find fault with those who seek to return to a tradition, living tradition must be made into a caricature of itself.

For Ms. Gallagher, nothing is traditional anymore.  Not even adherence to a tradition.  This is a sort of parody of the conservative view of modernity, as if there was an Age of Tradition in which everyone adhered to what has handed down to him as if they were automatons (because in this fantasy, no one prior to, perhaps, 1500, had the ability to decide anything himself) and then came the Age of Choice in which no one received what was handed down to him but simply starting choosing all things, including the traditions to which he belonged.  Which, of course, are apparently not traditional.  Perhaps a later date would be even more appropriate, since we are really talking about the predicament of 19th and 20th century Westerners and not all moderns. 

But the central difference between pre-modern and modern man, or even between modern and late modern man, is not exactly simply the relatively greater role of individual choice in the life of the latter, but comes instead in in the relationship between choice and authority.  Submitting to authority is as traditional as it gets.  At some point, everyone has had to submit to a teaching authority for the first time–that does not make obedience to that authority artificial in any sense.  Those who want to privilege choice and make the self and the satisfaction of the self the standard by which they judge what is good and what is not are necessarily hostile to the dictates of authority.  Such an authority proposes to give them a standard outside of themselves that they must either accept or reject.  A traditionally-minded person embraces the claims of that authority, yields to it, denies his own will and tries instead to will what the authority calls him to will.  This is as basic as the redirection of our desires away from ourselves and towards God; it is the abandonment of autonomy and the entrance into koinonia, in which ourselves are no longer ours but Christ’s.  Indeed, we are called to put away ourselves, to die to ourselves, and thus become truly human and truly personal for the first time.  This is the perfect example that is dimly reflected in every submission to authority: the death of the self, the embrace of authority, the vivification of the person.  Those who claim that such submission is impossible, or is always artificial when it is attempted, are sentencing the refugees–or perhaps sentencing all of us–to the living death of selfhood.  Not only is it irritating to those of us who are trying to make the best of the measly scraps we have been given, but I believe it is fundamentally untrue.   

Arguably no one in the modern age has been traditional in the way that medieval people were traditional, because the options for the latter were perhaps fewer (though, in fact, as the proliferation of medieval heresies shows, there were always just as many haireseis available to pre-modern people as there are to us–the difference is that they did not make choosing such a privileged act), but at every step in the chain of transmission of tradition people actively reproduced and passed on what they had received.  The rulers of some European nations, some of which became Christian as recently as the tenth or eleventh century, had to decide for Christianity and against the paganism of their past, just as, at one point, Romans and Greeks had to do the same.  At some point, the most ancient and venerable tradition began when a multitude of people actively, consciously chose it.  Not only were they traditional in submitting themselves to the authorities of that tradition–which is the true measure of acceptance of a tradition (not whether you find it self-satisfying or even “authentic,” which are beside the point)–but they were instrumental in making the tradition that later generations would be able to take for granted because men such as Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Gregory Nazianzenos, and Grand Prince Vladimir chose to make Orthodoxy their own.  Was their participation in the tradition artificial or forced, or are they not in fact examples of how a living tradition adapts and embraces those that adhere to it and so becomes even more vibrant and healthy? 

It is difficult to imagine St. Paul writing, “Hold fast to the traditions that I have given to you, whether in word or by epistle, unless you happen to be a convert, in which case you may as well go back to making blood sacrifices to Apollo because you lack a sufficiently organic connection to the Church of Christ.”  It is difficult to imagine Moses telling the people of Israel, “Sorry, folks, we have to go back to Egypt, because I have it on good authority that if we departed from Egypt now in search of some so-called Promised Land we would just be engaged in a lot of self-conscious identity construction that doesn’t really count for very much.  It is better to abide in the fine traditions of the Egyptians, who, after all, have really old traditions.  The God of our fathers?  Overrated, if you ask me.  We don’t want to be a bunch of self-absorbed consumers seeking authenticity in a fabled land of milk and honey.  No, I think we should go back and be slaves.  After all, it’s what we know!”  Of course neither of them would have said anything remotely like this.  And both of them freely chose to embrace the calling with which they were called by the living God.  But, if we are to believe the rooted folks, St. Paul and Moses were precocious moderns experimenting with some new-fangled ideas.  Personally, I take my chances with trying to follow, however poorly and ineptly, their example and leave behind the fetishists of traditions to which no one (or at least no one else but them) can belong.    

But here in the parched canyons along the Yellow River known as the Loess Plateau, some parents with dead bachelor sons will go a step further. To ensure a son’s contentment in the afterlife, some grieving parents will search for a dead woman to be his bride and, once a corpse is obtained, bury the pair together as a married couple.

“They happen pretty often, especially when teenagers or younger people die,” said Yang Husheng, 48, a traveling funeral director in the region who said he last attended such a funeral in the spring. “It’s quite common. I’ve been in the business for seven or eight years, and I’ve seen all sorts of things.” ~The New York Times

Steve Sailer quotes one of several readers writing in on the dating scene today:

My experience in the undergraduate dating scene, such as it is, has been that Feynman’s admonition against paying compliments to women is somewhat outmoded. He was writing at a time when chivalrous traditions in America were still relatively strong, everyone thought that the way to woo and wed was trhough [sic] whispering sweet nothings. Not to be melodramatic but today chivalry is dead or at least in a persistent vegetative state. What this means for the women in my social circle is that they almost never receive compliments from men. I noticed this and have found that when I do issue a compliment they are remarkably greatful [sic]. Obviously compliments alone don’t do it, you have to show enough ‘machismo’ to be in the game, but their rarity has allowed compliments to regain a certain amount of value today.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but this seems to me to be almost completely and in all ways untrue.  Not only are compliments rare, but when they are offered they are a sure sign of a man who has no idea what he is doing.  Men who persist in this habit are almost assuredly living in a time warp or are, like myself, dedicated reactionaries. 

I do not presume to know much of anything about this part of life, but I can tell you that chivalry is (unfortunately) only too dead and complimenting ladies has gone the way of wearing powdered wigs and waistcoats–as has the distinction of referring to some women as ladies–because the compliments, while technically appreciated, are worse than useless.  They are in most cases counterproductive or as good as putting up a giant, blinking sign that says, “Hey, I’m desperate and a walking, talking anachronism!”  This is a loss for the ladies, and for women in general, and a loss for civilisation, but there it is.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic mother of five from San Francisco, has fewer children in her district than any other member of Congress: 87,727. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a Mormon father of eight, represents the most children: 278,398.These two extremes reflect a stark demographic divide between the congressional districts controlled by the major political parties.Republican House members overwhelmingly come from districts that have high percentages of married people and lots of children, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2005 Census Bureau data released last month.GOP Congress members represent 39.2 million children younger than 18, about 7 million more than Democrats. Republicans average 7,000 more children per district. ~USA Today  

It’s interesting that information about this divide in American politics is finally filtering out more and more into the press, but it should be noted that Steve Sailer has been on the case of both the “baby” and marriage gaps for quite some time.  It is easy to say this in retrospect, now that these “gaps” are receiving more and more attention, but how was it that these social trends and their political impact evaded notice for so long?  Shouldn’t it be obvious that, on average, those with more children and relatively stable marriages are more likely to favour policies and rhetoric tailored to these sorts of families, and those with fewer or no children and those who are not married or who have had far less stable marriages will prefer an entirely different set of policies and rhetoric?  Presumably, talk about defending marriage would tend to fall on deaf ears in many of these Democratic districts because there are, on average, fewer married people who would find threats to the institution of marriage at all worrisome.  This clearly puts left-liberals in a real bind demographically, as they are typically committed to positions that are at least supposedly more friendly to the unmarried and childless, which means their existing base is unlikely to reproduce itself in sufficient numbers to remain competitive with the other side.  This makes mass immigration ever more attractive to most liberals, who were already in favour of it, but which in turn makes them even less attractive politically to the burgeoning numbers of married people in the heartland with larger families.  I suspect those who have a lot of children will likely be more averse to mass immigration, because they have already made an investment in the future of the country and will viscerally want to make it more likely that part of the country’s resources and territory go to their descendants rather than someone else’s.  Besides the obvious benefit of votes for their chosen party, it makes sense that liberals would be more indifferent to new peoples coming into the country, especially when these are predominantly their parts of the country in California, since at some level they know they do not expect their children and grandchildren to be there in great numbers, if they will be there at all.  This troubles them less than it might otherwise because there is at least the hope that the immigrants will fuel the future of progressive politics into which these people have invested so much of their hope and energy.  They expect their values to be reproduced in the new immigrant populations, which makes actual reproduction less important to them politically.  Maybe that isn’t right, but it sounds plausible to me. 

On a tangentially related note, I think this gap, and the related insight that those who are married with larger families tend to become more conservative in their ”values” and voting habits, also helps explain why academia has been going leftwards for quite some time.  Professional academics have to invest a great deal of time, money and energy into becoming professional academics–all of which might have gone into having and raising children otherwise.  We waste, er, spend between six and ten years after college graduation just getting our degrees and several more getting established in something resembling stable employment.  Academic lives are initially very rootless–for the ambitious, there is the constant traveling to conferences, giving talks, doing research for this or that fellowship and the frequent moves to different schools before you are on the tenure track–and while grad students may get married often enough (though I would have to guess that cohabitation or long-term relationships between singles represent a much larger proportion of grad students than is true of the general population our age) they will inevitably have fewer children early on and ultimately end up having fewer all together because of 1) relative lack of financial resources, 2) the perception of insufficient time for raising children and 3) the initial insecurity of academic appointments.  Add to these things that many schools, including some of the most prestigious, are in cities and states with a higher average cost of living, and you have an acute case of the costs of forming a family being too high for the academic and his spouse.  Add to this the fact that people who opt for grad school tend to come overwhelmingly from households with more liberal politics (since, for various reasons, some of them quite good, conservative households tend to inculcate a desire to do practical and, well, productive work that does not lend itself to going off to graduate school to study early modern Italy), you have a recipe for a permanently left-leaning academy because academic life imposes the kinds of pressures on family life and creates the kind of people who would end up being more attracted to liberal politics even if they came into grad school with other “values.”  There will, of course, be exceptions and qualifications to this (and there are oddballs such as myself who try to resist being pulled in these directions).  I suspect it would make a huge difference whether the grad students are very religious or not.  But the bottom line is that unless you come into grad school with strongly-rooted conservative attitudes, you will inevitably be pulled leftwards–not so much by the intellectual biases of academia as such, though these don’t help–because of the nature of academic life and the social consequences for those who participate in it.  If I am wildly off base here, I welcome stories of the English Lit Ph.D. student with five children.  Perhaps such people exist, but I have never encountered them or heard of them.    

On a related topic, it is curious that 20th Century Fox undermined the release of Idiocracy as much as it did when, as an academic friend of mine recently observed after seeing it, “this is what is happening today,” meaning that the well-educated and intelligent people are not reproducing in sufficient numbers and the thoughtless, less intelligent masses are having children all over the place.  (In fact, it isn’t as if birthrates are exactly exploding anywhere in this country, but the gap is certainly real and noticeable.)  In any case, this is the perception of one academic after seeing the movie.  She looked on this prospect with horror.  The hyper-educated and, typically, the fairly liberal (the two tend to go together for the reasons given above) see themselves only too well in the yuppie couple in the opening of the film who never find time to have children, who do not reproduce themselves and do not pass on their genes and leave the world to be inherited by the less intelligent.  The elitist impulse in highly educated (or perhaps I should be careful here and say highly schooled) liberals runs up against their egalitarian fantasies, and what they fear in private can, of course, never really be talked about in public debates.  These sorts of anxieties would have to be translated into comedy, like Monty Python’s old sketch from The Meaning of Life about the teeming hordes of Yorkshire Catholics and the apparently childless, dry-as-dust Protestant who assures his wife, whom he hasn’t gone near in a year, that he could have sex anytime he wants without worrying about having children because of the wonders of contraception.     Serving the liberal pieties that intelligence and heredity have nothing to do with each other, the studio sabotaged and failed to promote Idiocracy, even though the very liberals whose pieties would theoretically have been offended by the entire subject would have secretly been nodding their heads and looking askance at the teeming hordes of “breeders” (to use the charming term preferred by some homosexual and population control activists) who, in addition to being obnoxiously likely to have more children, are also in the estimation of these same liberals the dim-witted, dangerously religious, backwards, Bush-voting masses in flyover country whom they suffer with barely constrained rage.

Do you notice one thing in that list that seems like a bit of an odd fit? And yet, conservatives have long fought for phonics with the same revolutionary zeal that they bring to the rest of their agenda. And they don’t merely argue that phonics should be a substantial part of any good reading program — which it should — but that phonics should be the exclusive method of teaching reading to kids. “Whole language” meets with about the same reaction as a cry to arms against “secular humanism.” I’ve never quite understood how phonics came to occupy the same pedestal as the Lord’s Prayer, but there you have it. ~Kevin Drum

Er, well, if you say so.  I am skeptical that phonics actually holds anything like the hallowed place among conservatives that Mr. Drum describes, and I am also skeptical that there are untold legions of phonics purists insisting on a phonics-only education.  There are clearly some who take this view, and some have even reached positions of authority in the government, but the onset of phonics-only fascism is as far away as the future theocracy.  

Let’s take a look at some of the components of the godless “whole language” program that I ought to despise with every fibre of my being:

The components of a whole language literacy program include:

  • literate classroom environment;
  • reading to and with students;
  • individualized instruction;
  • independent reading;
  • students as authors;
  • integrating literacy skills into curriculum across disciplines;
  • increased parent involvement.

The villains!  Increased parent involvement?  I know that no God-fearing conservative would stand for that!  Independent reading!  Everyone knows that conservatives don’t allow any kind of independent activity for their children–we keep them tied to our belts with elastic rope (we have become much more lenient in recent years) and we teach them to stare at the ground until it is time for their phonics exercises.  Students as authors?  Whoever heard of such a thing?  Where would it end?  Before you know it they’ll be writing subversive tracts and setting up their own blogs!  No, clearly no conservative would ever want to have anything to do with these things. 

Maybe there are proponents of phonics who take such extreme positions on how to teach children to read, omitting all attempts to instill creativity, use reading in an interdisciplinary way (read history? nah!) or teach them to understand meaning and context, but I doubt very much that very many people listen to them or that they represent anything like a majority among conservatives who work on educational methods or conservatives in general.  This seems to me to be a ludicrous attack that is uncharacteristically sloppy for Drum.


If nothing else, he’s captured Allen’s self-absorption. Watching Garden State, it’s impossible not to remember that Braff is writing for himself and directing himself. As such, it’s kind of annoying that 80 percent of the shots are close-ups of Zach Braff. It’s also irritating, for that matter, that he created a role that requires Natalie Portman to fall in love with him. ~Josh Levin, Slate

This reminds me of the discussion of the “indie girl” stereotype, for which Portman in Garden State was the archetype (”manic depressive without the depressive“).  It causes me to wonder: if most every guy today supposedly wants the Natalie Portman ”indie girl,” does that mean that all of them have to become the “insufferable tool” Zach Braff? 

To follow up on Braff’s self-absorption with a different Natalie Portman connection, one gets the feeling that if Braff had co-starred with Portman in V for Vendetta all of the masks worn by V and the crowds at the end of the movie would have been reproductions of Braff’s face, not that of Guy Fawkes.  And V for Vendetta would have then managed to be even worse than it already is–if that is possible.

“If we called it speed dating, it will end up with real dating,” said Shamshad Hussain, one of the organizers, grimacing. ~The New York Times

Strange as it may sound (and my readers may not find it all that strange if they have been reading my blog long enough), and as laughable as calling a speed date a ”matrimonial banquet” is (for starters, it doesn’t do much for the reputation of real “matrimonial banquets”), I can appreciate the idea behind it.  Though I cannot speak from experience as a parent, I think there are a lot of parents who would appreciate an organisation like Mothers Against Dating.  For those who like euphemisms, ”assisted marriage” is as nice a way to describe arranged marriage as I can think of.  You’re not being forced to marry someone–you’re being helped along the way! 

Why this aversion to referring to dating, even for these limited meetings?  Well, for a different generation the reasons would have been obvious, and the reasons are actually even more compelling today in their way:

Basically, for conservative Muslims, dating is a euphemism for premarital sex. Anyone who partakes risks being considered morally louche, with their marriage prospects dimming accordingly, particularly young women.    

The sad thing is not just that it is often a euphemism for that, but that there can sometimes be nothing more to it than that.  Is it any wonder that traditional, morally conservative immigrants have to concoct things as odd as speed “matrimonial banquets” to cope with the age of hook-ups and Promiscuous Girl?  As I read over these sorts of stories, I have to ask: why should these people want to assimilate to our society, when it genuinely does appear to be something of a moral wasteland?   

Edsall notes that one-third of American children — and almost 70 percent of African American children — are born to unmarried mothers. Then, in an astonishing passage about this phenomenon, which is the cause of most social pathologies, from crime to schools that cannot teach, he explains how Americans differ concerning what he calls “freedom from the need to maintain the marital or procreative bond.”

“To social conservatives,” he writes, “these developments have signaled an irretrievable and tragic loss. Their reaction has fueled, on the right, a powerful traditionalist movement and a groundswell of support for the Republican Party. To modernists, these developments constitute, at worst, the unfortunate costs of progress, and, at best — and this is very much the view on the political left as well as of Democratic Party loyalists — they constitute a triumph over unconscionable obstacles to the liberation and self-realization of much of the human race.” ~George Will

Yes, I hate unconscionable barriers to liberation–like fathers or intact homes.  Thank goodness we are removing those “obstacles” at a steady rate.  Putting young men on the path to prison is a much better to help them “self-realise.”  This is the progressive story: man is “emancipated” from his social nature and from the obligations of his social relationships, and this is what the progressive calls freedom.  What all sane peoples throughout time have regarded as sacred or at the very least crucially important relationships for the well-being of men and society as a whole, the progressive presumably writes off as several thousands of years of effective propaganda (based in structures, of course, of racegenderclass–say it all together now!).  The wisdom of ages is just another obstacle to be overcome to achieve liberation.  And if you point out the significant dislocation, the huge social costs, the death of humane society that result from these things, the progressive tells you not to idealise the families of yore (”they weren’t perfect!” he will tell you unhelpfully) and says, “These are the unfortunate costs of progress.”  Case closed.  “Progress” has been served, therefore it is an acceptable loss.  After all, you can’t make an emancipated, self-realised world without wrecking a few homes and creating a few criminals!

What is striking is not how unreconstructed Edsall is in his contempt for natural human institutions (in the era of Clinton, this sort of thing would be shunned on the left and pushed to the outer fringes); any committed progressive ideologue could not be what he is and not have contempt for these things.  What is striking is how similar this kind of decidedly anti-family, anti-marriage argument is to the arguments advanced in support for the gale forces of “creative destruction” when it comes to small businesses and small communities.  The structure of the response is the same: 1) minimise the problem; 2) show how the destruction of old ways and institutions is actually “liberating” and part of our “freedom”!; 3) dismiss opponents as romantics who ignore the flaws of the alternatives (which is almost always false); 4) enter into deep denial when the deleterious effects of the destructive forces you are encouraging are held up for all to see.

When Edsall says middle- and working-class cultural conservatives vote for Republicans who then use their power “for noncultural objectives,” he is voicing a familiar liberal lament: All would be well if voters would vote based on important issues — material, economic concerns; their wallets — rather than unimportant ones such as abortion, the definition of marriage, the coarsening of the culture and other moral anxieties. But if those issues are unimportant, why is it that liberals, adamantly supporting partial-birth abortion and celebrating judicial redefinitions of marriage, are so uncompromising about them? ~George Will, The Washington Post

Via Rod Dreher

On the whole, Will shows Edsall to be a strange, unreconstructed progressive of the truly old school, for whom redistributive justice is not a contradiction in terms but a guiding principle, and duly belittles the bizarre canards that Edsall throws out that bring us back to the winter of 1995, the winter of bitter contempt (”the Republicans want to destroy the welfare state”! if only!).  But I think he is so caught up in smashing Edsall to tiny bits on everything else that he has missed something important here by mischaracterising the nature of Edsall’s point.

I think I see how Will drew his conclusion from Edsall’s statement quoted above, but surely if there is anything that Edsall echoes here when he complains about cultural conservatives’ support being translated into support for an agenda unrelated to the very cultural questions that win the GOP these conservatives’ support it is a cultural conservative’s lament.  This is the lament that says more or less the following: cultural conservatives are being foolish, not because they ought to vote their ‘real’ economic interests and allow cultural issues to confuse them into voting GOP (the Thomas Frank thesis), but because they lend their support as cultural conservatives to a party that does next to nothing to advance their interests in the “culture wars” beyond the merely rhetorical.  In other words, they vote for fighting the culture wars and get government expansion, profligate spending, tax cuts and foreign wars; yes, they get some of their judicial appointments, which are many cultural conservative bafflingly regard as sufficient and good reason to accept the ongoing neglect they receive, so long as they get the appropriate lip service every once in a while.  As a co-dependent cultural conservative might say, “You had me at ’culture of life’.” 

If Will has quoted Edsall correctly, Edsall has hit on something that most liberals/progressives tend to miss in their general fear of the coming theocracy and all the angry conservatives coming to terrorise them: that middle and working-class cultural conservatives have been ripped off on precisely those things that matter most to them.  Not only would a progressive regard this harping on cultural issues to be a kind of misdirection from the things that ‘really’ matter to these folks (and here Will is right to make a connection with the What’s The Matter With Kansas argument), but here Edsall makes it plan that the whole thing is a rather elaborate con to win supporters who will receive no ‘payoff’ in the form of getting an agenda that they want. 

Forget questions of growing wage inequality for a moment; forget all of the “bread and butter” issues on which Democrats are (in their own quaintly deluded minds) “better.”  What Edsall claims is what some traditional conservative already know: the GOP is diffident, if not sometimes outrightly subversive, in its support for precisely the things that cultural conservatives take seriously.  Then, having successfully conned these people out of their support in exchange for no substantive policy changes, they throw them bones in the form of obviously over-the-top, zany crusades, such as federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.  This would be like the abusive husband buying the battered wife some elegant piece of jewelry to show her that he really loved her, and never mind about the time he slammed her head into the wall.  Likewise, look at the craven pandering of the Terri Schiavo intervention–as clear an attempt to buy off supporters as the GOP’s exploitation of Elian Gonzalez for propaganda purposes was–and never mind about sticking a shiv into Judge Roy Moore during the Ten Commandments fight (Bush), or signing off on Plan B (Bush) or approving federal funding for stem cell research (Bush again), and so on and so forth.  For some cultural conservatives, the entire faith-based initiative was the ultimate Trojan Horse for a secularist invasion of Christian charities in particular.  Where real cultural conservatives–or at least those who would consider themselves to be the ‘real’ thing and not the knock-off version–see the intrusion of the government in the form of government money, and all the attachments and requirements that can potentially bring with it, “compassionate conservatives” see a useful way to exploit the issue of some generic “faith” to show that the GOP cares about “values” more than the other guys.  Yet for the people who actually embrace these “values” as a way of life, the actual policies of “compassionate conservatism” represent the same kinds of unwelcome intrusions on their way of life under a different flag.  Nothing could point more clearly to the disjunction between what the GOP proposes and what many of its religious and cultural conservative voters want to see.   

For dedicated conservative anti-Republicans, such as myself, none of this lament is news, but it is interesting that an otherwise unimaginative and rather dreary liberal seems to appreciate this point, since I have personally encountered liberal Democrats who simply stared at me with a look of confusion mixed with horror when I brought up a similar point.  I was dining with an academic and his wife from Indiana-Bloomington one night in the spring before the ’04 election and they were making various lamentations about the general foolishness of Indiana voters (”they just vote on abortion!” and other such stellar What’s The Matter With Kansas observations before WTMWK came out).  Trying to put an unusual spin on this tired old story, I said something like, “The ridiculous thing is that the Republicans will do nothing for their pro-life cause.”  Evidently they did not see this as particularly relevant, and the conversation moved to something else.  Edsall is interesting to me in that he sees this observation of the GOP’s considerably cynical exploitation of cultural issues as relevant to his own side’s way to combat Republican advantages among these folks. 

Meanwhile, Will satisfies himself with the easy batting practise of knocking Edsall’s much more obviously inane observations out of the park.  Batting practise is fun for columnists and bloggers–I personally enjoy the fat, hanging curveballs served up on a regular basis at The Corner–but occasionally even the sloppiest pitcher can slip one by you if you become complacent. 

For a portrait of an influential and provocative public intellectual, The Theocons has some curious omissions. Linker describes Neuhaus as “a handsome and charismatic man who delights in public attention,” eliciting great loyalty and even affection from his followers. Yet the nature of this charisma is never explained. Occasionally we get a glimpse of Neuhaus and his cronies, cigars and brandy snifters in hand, reacting with “blind rage” to this or that liberal deprecation. But the man’s personality remains opaque; he comes across more as an inexhaustible engine of argument than a flesh-and-blood person. Furthermore, if it is true that Neuhaus’s “ultimate goal is nothing less than the end of secular politics in America,” why did Linker go to work for him in the first place? Not knowing what made Linker enlist in what he now regards as a dangerously authoritarian movement raises serious questions about his forthrightness and credibility. Yet The Theocons never offers an explanation of his change of mind and heart. ~Paul Baumann, The Washington Monthly

Via Ross Douthat

When Linker’s book first came out and back around the time the Year of Books Denouncing American Theocracy had begun, I was struck by the bitterness and intensity of Linker’s rage against Neuhaus and First Things in the New Republic article he wrote that summarised the main argument of his book.  The intense bitterness seemed all the more inexplicable given that Linker had been editor of the magazine.  There are people, including those on the right and including myself, who often disagree strongly with Neuhaus who nonetheless cannot summon up quite this much fury against him or the magazine.  It is a pity that Linker did not attempt to explain how some personal dispute had “revealed” to him the nature of Neuhaus’ theocratic master-plan, since that would at least explain where this mania came from.  I think something very personal must have set him off in this direction, as almost nothing else explains the extreme rhetoric of Linker’s attack. 

It would not have been the first time that some personal or professional falling out had precipitated criticism of the old boss.  This is especially true among academics and intellectuals, who feel obliged to dress up their petty personal disagreements (you didn’t give my wife a job, you gave my book a bad review, etc.) in the fancy dress of profound theoretical clashes (you want to destroy the American way of life, you despise truth itself, etc.), and the more “public” an intellectual is the more necessary it is to make the costume in which you dress your personal grievances really elaborate, colourful and Mardi Gras-esque with all of the grotesquerie, zaniness and exaggeration that this implies.  It is not enough that your boss treated you poorly or failed to appreciate your work to your satisfaction–his intellectual project must be dark and dangerous, too!  That makes your petty inconveniences and suffering part of a narrative of resistance to the Dark Side, which is much more appealing for someone who thinks highly of himself and feels aggrieved by workplace setbacks.  It is probably because of this sort of thinking that we wind up with the apparent excessive rhetoric and melodramatic conclusions of Linker’s work.

There is certainly nothing in the record of Neuhaus or First Things that would lead me to believe that they are preparing the doom of secular America.  Indeed, one of my long-standing criticisms of the entire First Things approach to the public square has been that they not only have no intention of eliminating secularism from America (or anything of the kind) but seem all together too interested in justifying participation in the debate just to be part of it and simply having a seat at the table so that they are less willing to take the kinds of strongly conservative positions on the social and moral ills that they really need to take to mobilise Christian opinion in America.  They are at root accommodationists with secularism (and also, at heart, they are really progressives of one sort or another), because I believe their guiding vision has been one that sees a basic harmony between the taproot of modern secularism–Enlightenment liberalism–and Christianity where there is no such real harmony.  As with the heresy of ecumenism (and it assuredly a heresy in its present forms), the revealed truth will have to give way to make this unholy alliance work, and so I think First Things‘ approach contains as much danger to a faithful, socially and politically involved Christianity as it does to secularism.  If Neuhaus and First Things are the center of the future American theocratic movement, they are decidedly odd theocrats; one might even say that they give theocrats a bad name. 

Needless to say, I also don’t think much of their long-standing and ongoing alliance with some of the figures who have crafted neoconservative positions on foreign policy, and if anyone wanted definitive proof that these are not theocrats-in-waiting it would have to be the magazine’s engagement with what the new editor, Mr. Bottum, called the “new fusionism,” which is an alliance dedicated to being basically pro-life at home (against abortion, euthanasia, etc.) and pro-death overseas (in favour of every war you can think of).  Just as the old fusionism between “libertarians,” generic anticommunists and “traditionalists” worked to the distinct disadvantage of the traditionalists in most respects, the secular and foreign policy-oriented side of the “new fusionist” alliance proposes, and the religious side disposes, getting virtually nothing of what it hoped to gain from the bargain.  What is the logic of this alliance in the first place?  It’s all about being dreadfully, seriously moral (or at least talking about morality with a dreadfully serious demeanour)–that’s what makes invading Iraq and protecting the unborn so clearly related.  What worries me more about First Things is not that it is a vessel for the coming theocracy (the idea really is risible), but that it is an all together too willing cheerleader for interventionism and has shown itself willing to anoint the most appalling policies abroad with the chrism of Christian justice (while running interference against the actual authorities of Christian churches who have opposed the very same ventures).  

Which brings me back to Linker.  As Baumann notes:

Again and again Linker lapses into the worst rhetorical excesses of the theocons he is trying to discredit. Baptized into the apocalyptic world of the theocons not long ago, he has returned to warn us that at Neuhaus’s direction the Republican Party is leading the nation into “the arms of absolute ecclesiastical authority.” Apparently, evangelicals provide the foot soldiers and Catholics the intellectual generals in the theocon battle plan. Linker’s worries that the theocons want to put an end to religious pluralism in America sound paranoid. First Things, after all, remains an “ecumenical” journal. Presumably Neuhaus would like his many conservative Protestant and Jewish friends to follow him to Rome, but he would not compel them to do so even if he could. Detecting The Grand Inquisitor behind every Roman collar is an old and ugly canard.

To see any kind of Inquisitor here would be very difficult, and if you did it would sooner be the cynical socialist Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s imagination rather than any of the actual Inquisitors of history.  In the wake of consistent anti-Vatican criticism from First Things editors and contributors on questions of war in Iraq and Lebanon, which does not even take into consideration any other areas where contributors and editors may have voiced dissent against Vatican or American bishops’ statements, Linker’s claim that Neuhaus and his colleagues desire the establishment of ”absolute ecclesiastical authority”–regardless of whether it would be possible to realise–strikes me as so obviously untrue that it is remarkable that anyone would publish, much less read, his book.

But if Baumann eviscerates the credibility of Linker’s claims, he concludes with a note that seems intended to leave you with a worse impression of Neuhaus than Linker has offered:

If, as Linker suggests, Neuhaus has a prophet’s uncompromising temperament, it is the temperament of a prophet strongly drawn to the stark and simple truth of getting and keeping power. Neuhaus has made a number of surprising but very canny conversions in his lifetime. If I were a betting man, I’d pay careful attention to where he is headed. For better or worse, the nation (or a slim electoral majority, at any rate) is usually not far behind, led by a cohort of voters who also happen to be religious believers. It would be a welcome miracle if liberals could get there first, with a plausible appeal to some of those same voters. 

This ends up leaving you with the impression of Neuhaus not as an impatient prophet preaching for the downfall of the present order so much as a cynical operator who sees which way the wind is blowing and gets to the front of the line for the latest trend.  As much as I disagree with Neuhaus and First Things, I think this is as extreme and untenable a claim as any that Linker makes.

I have never believed (and I still don’t) all the claims made against Pat Buchanan (by people like William F. Buckley) alleging that he is some kind of anti-Semite or racist, but I have always been alarmed by his inability (shared by most conservatives) to recognize the incompatibility between his quasi libertarian side and his raging nationalist side. Some recent comments that a friend pointed out from this interview were particularly worth second guessing:

What do we have in common that makes us fellow Americans? Is it simply citizenship? Or is it blood, soil, history and heroes?

Blood and soil?  Uh, there is one word to describe this line: creepy. What’s next, a speech on how we’re “one people, one fatherland”, etc.? ~Ryan McMacken

I have never believed (and still don’t) the claims made against libertarians that they are bunch of self-absorbed individualists who care nothing for their nation, but I have been alarmed by their inability to recognise the incompatibility between their quasi-patriotic side and their raging ideological side.

I suppose I can’t blame a libertarian for finding references to “blood and soil” creepy, since I suppose it would have to be creepy for people who idolise Freedom to imagine having loyalties to anything so concrete as kin and place.  How atavistic!  How communal!  It must have something to do with red-state fascism!  Now I happen to know that a lot of libertarians, especially paleolibertarians, do value kin and place and typically do not go galloping off into the wild and wooly regions of abstract theory in which nations are merely conventional demarcations on a map with no inherent significance and where a people with a similar way of life and similar customs has no moral claim to preserve the character of their country.  But you would have a hard time telling that from Mr. McCracken’s immediate resort to Nazi parallels, or the more general Rockwellian habit of denouncing everything they oppose in modern conservatism in the most extreme terms as revived fascism and Nazism.  As it is apparently necessary, I will repeat: the fascists and Nazis are all dead (or possibly living in Argentina).  There are certain parallels with historic fascism with what has been happening to this country, but all this talk of generalised fascism has started to reach the point of derangement.   I stay away from this sort of rhetoric, as it has a tendency to reach a level of self-parody and, like the administration’s use of the same language, it tends to muddy the waters and introduce confusion into the debate when precision and not hyperbole is essential.  It also hardly helps to throw the word fascist around when the time comes to debunk bogus neocon uses of the word fascist and their equally bogus foreign policy parallels that rely on invoking Nazism. 

As it happens, I think their criticisms of administration policies are almost always right on every point, and the comparisons with certain aspects of fascist regimes are sometimes quite apt, but it has got to be the height of laziness to reach for the rhetorical club of shouting, “Nazi!” in this case.  Yes, we know, Blut und Boden was a slogan in Nazi Germany.  That’s fascinating.  Michael successfully sets this objection aside here by literally setting it aside and ignoring it.  Well done, Michael.  That is the treatment such rhetorical tantrums deserve. 

The Nazis also built a federal highway system and represented the interests of artisans, so presumably these things are automatically “creepy” as well.  (And, yes, there are good decentralist arguments against federal highway systems as mechanisms of state control and cultural revolution, and I agree with these arguments, but I think you get the point that the old resort to Nazi parallels is not a real argument–it is a gesture in search of an argument.) 

Do libertarians have any arguments against thinking of national identity in these terms, except that it has been abused in the past?  Not really–none that I have seen anyway.  Abuse does not invalidate use.  This is as basic as it gets.  Do any libertarians have an understanding of national identity that is more credible that does not fall back on the (from my perspective) creepy ideological definitions of the “proposition nation”?  Does anyone opposed to the “blood and soil” rhetoric have an idea of what constitutes national identity that does not lean on fatuous “nation of immigrants” and “proposition nation” slogans?  Anyone? 

Do libertarians think that nations as such really exist, or are these just myths perpetrated by the state?  Do they have any coherent model of society that rises above the level of the mass of individuals or the exchange mechanism of the market?  Not as far as I can tell.  I would be glad to be proven wrong on any of these points, since it would suggest that there is some serious side to libertarian discussions of immigration that goes beyond appeals to the “free movement of labour” that is beloved of no one so much as Eurocrats in Brussels. 

The funny thing about my disenchantment with libertarianism is that I used to consider myself a libertarian about ten years ago.  I devoured Bastiat and Friedman and I was a convinced believer that there was something deeply insidious about Blue Laws (someone is imposing morality!  get your gun!) and even entertained seriously Friedman’s claim that prostitution was just a contract no different from any other.  Had the Wal-Mart debates been going on back then, nobody would have been a more eager apologist for corporate power and the concentration of wealth than I would have been (though I could hardly have written panegyrics to the home of low prices that included quite as many saccharine appeals to helping the poor), and nobody would have been more liable to scoff at the obvious oppression of the early child labour laws.  Then somewhere along the line I mentioned in passing to another self-styled libertarian that I believed the federal government should adhere to the limits set forth in the Constitution, whereupon I was denounced as a statist (though not a fascist!).  It was from that point on that the libertarians began to lose me, and they have been losing me ever since.  The tendency among their more doctrinaire fellows to denounce as fascist or statist almost any law that intrudes on the hallowed sphere of individual autonomy has made it increasingly difficult over the years to take their positive positions seriously.  Now Mr. McCracken has just made it that much harder for me to take libertarian arguments on immigration and national identity seriously.      

The imagery of forests appears in David Brooks’ new column and Ralph Peters’ Weekly Standard article: in the former, the forest is metaphorical, part of the big, bad, disordered world, and in the latter he quite literally means forests as strongholds of the world of magic and local cults.  Interestingly, neither of them exactly suggests a St. Boniface-like approach to the forest-dwellers, since they may be aware of the sticky end that St. Boniface met.  Anyway, the “dark forests” fill the horizons of Brooks’ “jagged world”:

Now my mental image of the landscape of humanity is not made up of rolling hills. It’s filled with chasms, crevices, jagged cliffs and dark forests. The wildernesses between groups seem stark and perilous. 

I might make a suitably Balkan observation that wide chasms make good neighbours.  Contests between groups are never so intense as between those who barely differ from one another.  The vast and “perilous” wilds that separate cultures should be reassuring, in one sense, if for no other reason than that it should convince reasonable people to not try to cross that wilderness if they can possibly help it.

In Peters’ article, the real forests often represent the limits of expansionist religions and ideologies, as the peoples who dwell there prove less receptive to the new message.  It is perhaps not inopportune to recall that the great allies for good in The Lord of the Rings were the Ents, the guardians of the forest, which would make the proponents of the glaring invasion of progress something rather more like Saruman and the Orcs.  From this perspective, it is not the ancient copses and woodlands that are filled with darkness, but instead represent one of the last bulwaks against the shadow. 

This is not to overly romanticise or idealise forest tribes as stand-ins for the Ents or the Elves, which would be a bit much.  But it should cause us to ponder what to do with the knowledge that there are places and peoples in this world who have never really completely yielded to any foreign idea and the additional knowledge that this resistance exists in every people in the world to some degree.  Does this knowledge not tell us to leave well enough alone and generally mind our own business?  What is the compulsion, in Brooks’ case, to push on with the democracy project?  What is the rationale?  That democracy and “democratic habits” will smooth out the rough edges of the “jagged world”?  This is certifiable madness.  In the last two centuries since the advent of the beginnings of modern democracy, would any conclude that the world has become significantly less “jagged” in terms of cultural differences?  I know, I know, we’re supposed to believe that the world is flat and every man shall have his Lexus or some such thing, but back in the real world does anyone honestly believe that giving political power to the masses who have strong, powerful tribal and religious around the world will make the world more “smooth”?  It will undoubtedly make it more interesting and it will definitely make a mockery of people spouting off about the “end of history” or the “direction of history,” so at least there’s that small consolation, but it will also make the coming century as unstable as the last, and possibly more so.  Whether this will result in terrible conflagrations is difficult to say, since the same process that is heightening these loyalties is also breaking down the states that organise the massive violence of conventional warfare.  But that does not mean that there will be less conflict.  If anything, there will be much more of it on a small scale around the world as each tribe and branch of a tribe fights for its share of the pot.  We pretend that we here in America are immune to this at our own peril, as the world of tribes will be upon us before we know it.  This is not necessarily an entirely undesirable development to the extent that it will break us out of tepid and tiresome universalist sermons about ”ideological” and “proposition” nations, but it will mean some reordering in everyone’s way of life as all those things that we have officially deemed irrelevant come back with a vengeance. 

Becker says he’s not optimistic that any of the schemes underway in Europe and elsewhere to encourage having babies will work. “Since 1970,” he writes. “no country has had a large increse in its total fertility rate after this rate had fallen much below the replacement level.” The only solution, then, will be large-scale immigration, which presents its own massive set of problems. But by the time that choice is squarely in front of us, there will likely be no other choice.

It strikes me that this whole topic makes people extremely squeamish for a variety of reasons. When I published some time ago a Phillip Longman essay about it in the section I edit at the Dallas Morning News, I got several critical comments from co-workers about how Nazi the whole thing sounded, re: having babies for the national good. ~Rod Dreher

Now I think people who respond to natalism or the idea of encouraging more births as a matter of policy with references to Nazism are rather silly, but they are not entitrely wrong on the facts.  What drove Italy and Germany to pursue such pro-natal policies?  (A separate question: is such a policy ‘reactionary’, ‘modern’ or simply common sense in certain circumstances?)  The first reason is obvious: both countries had lost a considerable number of men in WWI and both understood that in an age of mass labour and mass armies a larger population was the key to productivity and international power.   The other reason is more philosophical, and comes from fascism’s affinities with modern nationalism: the belief in the priority and preexistence of the nation, and the related belief that each individual owes his existence to the whole that has made his life possible. 

One of the things that did characterise historic fascism and Nazism was the assumption–hardly unknown among nationalists of various stripes and not entirely unreasonable–that the nation and the political community (which nationalists unfortunately frequently identify with a consolidated nation-state) take precedence because they preexisted any individual or group within the nation.  On a smaller, more humane scale, this may be less difficult to understand; in Aristotle’s Politics, he held that the polis was by nature prior to the family, “since the whole is of necessity prior to the part.”  Aristotle here sees the political community as a corporate entity of which individuals and families are members and this membership is easily demonstrated, he goes further, because individuals on their own cannot be self-sufficient.  In any case, humans are social and political beings, not naturally given to living in isolation. (Pol. I, 1253a) 

Everything about both the nationalist and Aristotelian ideas drives devotees of liberal autonomy crazy.  It suggests that you have obligations that you did not “choose,” and that you exist in relationship with others in ways that you should not be able to opt out of.  It suggests that your life ought to contribute to the good of the whole, or the common good, that is it not simply your single, solitary, individual life to be lived entirely as you see fit.  Probably what scares most devotees of autonomy about this is that it is an eminently normal way of thinking about social and political life, but this kind of thinking will interfere with everyone’s private and autonomous sphere.  Of course, when raised to a national level and once it involves a consolidated nation-state, the abstract nature of the ”community” and the coercive apparatus of the consolidated state become real practical problems.  The scale of our political system becomes a significant barrier to arguing in favour of the obvious social good of the nation reproducing itself.  Because it is vaguely reminiscent of political systems where the obligation to the nation was taken to excessive and idolatrous extremes, people across the spectrum have been taught to be wary of these sorts of things, but the real reason why people react viscerally against the idea of a policy that encourage people to have more children is that it crosses several red lines of privacy and autonomy that modern Americans, especially in the post-Roe world, take far more seriously when it comes to reproduction or any aspect of their “private” life than they do about anything else.  (Americans will cede every constitutional right they have if it will help provide for “national security”–this is a kind of sacrifice they are frequently only too glad to make–but they will riot if you suggest that their preferences in “private” life are somehow askew.  One might go so far as to say that protection from real government abuse matters less to Americans than being able to shop at Wal-Mart without criticism.) 

Even if a policy does not actually “intrude” on a person’s private life in any discernible way, but makes some sort of common sense, boilerplate value judgement that “having more children is desirable for good of the political community,” people feel that it is intruding on the realm of individual “choice” by implying that the choice to have fewer children, or none at all, is unsatisfactory or wrong.  (Of course, as far as the political community is concerned, it is unsatisfactory and in some sense lacking in virtue.)  There are probably relatively few people who really object, as a matter of principle, to an actual natalist policy, but quite a large number of people will react badly to the idea because they do not want their lifestyles to be judged and found wanting from the perspective of the natural purpose of sex and one of the purposes of the institution of marriage.     

Like Rod’s co-workers, Americans today tend to see the idea of the precedence and priority of the political community as leading in a straight line to totalitarianism, because they have been conditioned for two generations to think that any system that opposes liberal autonomy and “freedom” must perforce be fascist or totalitarian.  It seems to be the only opposition that people can imagine: if one is not autonomous, one must become an ant in the fascist anthill.  It would be interesting to go into how autonomy helps to create the tendency towards such regimented conformity, but that is not the subject at hand.


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But this system, however efficient, is valid only as a particular and subordinate sector of human relations.  In the contemporary world, the market ceaselessly extends its influence, not only geographically (economic “globalization”), but also temporally (Sundays fall increasingly under the sway of the market) and socially: the market rules more and more in sports, in culture, and in the arts.  It all but dominates the powerful machine known as television.  Its influence is visible everywhere; the drumbeat of its slogans is inescapable (in North America, advertising extends to politics and even prescription medications).  Since exchange is an activity that presupposes the consent of both parties, by what principle can the contractual procedures of the market be limited?  If (as in fact happened in California) a woman who can afford it contracts with her Hispanic maid to carry her child to full term, this is a contract like any other.  The market economy no longer serves ends beyond itself; it is no longer one element of the social order.  Rather, it tends to dominate as a form of civilization–the civilization of the market. ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default

Philippe Beneton conjures for us the image of a horrifying future (or, if your name is Anthony Sacramone, a comforting utopia).  You may, of course, replace the name of the company in question with any other, be it the corporation so many love to hate, Wal-Mart, or any other megacorp, multinational or one of their imitators (as Beneton says, “By McDonald’s, of course, I mean more than McDonald’s.”):

The McDonald’s system is also a triumph of procedural rationality, a rationality appropriate to a market economy.  There, as in the supermarket, the pure spirit of the market reigns.  Nothing troubles the purely functional, abstract, impersonal relationship between the seller and the buyer.  Here every person, whoever he or she may be, is exactly like all the others; he or she is a consumer, nothing but a consumer, entirely a consumer, a consumer from head to toe.  McDonald’s is universalist; its calling is to embrace the whole world without regard to divisions.  Once one passes through its doors, an alchemy takes over and erases whatever distinguishes and separates; the person becomes a consumer and every consumer’s money is as good as any other’s.  This is the wonder of the system: it neutralizes differences and divisions among people, differences in traits of character, as well as social, natiional, political, religious, or other differences.  It makes coexistence and cooperation possible among people who have nothing in common except respect for the same rules of the game.  All over the world, in New York, Paris, Istanbul, or Beijing, McDonald’s restaurants welcome in the same way (automatic smile, guaranteed hygiene, industrial food), whether you are of the left or of the right, Turk or Kurd, Chinese apparatchik or dissident, a child or his grandfather, a policeman or a criminal, a racist or an antiracist.  McDonald’s is the missionary of a new humanity, the builder of a new world, in collaboration with all the other businesses set to conquer the world market and sharing this great cause with a view to the greatest profit.  This new world is undifferentiated, destined to unify itself on the basis of uniform consumption–an egalitarian world, except of course for the only distinction that matters (money), a world called to achieve unity by the grace of the market.  The political problem par excellence, the problem that arises from differences among human beings, is finally about to be resolved: consumers of all lands, unite over a Big Mac!

This vision of uniformity, dullness and mediocrity terrifies.  It is the world, as he says, “at once perfected and decivilized.”  It abolishes differences in time, and as for consideration for manners, propriety, station, custom, meaning, beauty, love–these are completely banished from such a world.  As he says later, “Who would declare his love over a cheeseburger?”  And before someone volunteers, let me suggest that anyone who would do such a thing profanes love and mocks his beloved. 

It summons to mind the absurd self-justifying essay of Mr. Meilaender, who prefers the tedious hegemony of Burger King (quote via Spengler): 

Making a long drive home from a meeting late last summer, I found myself hungry in the early afternoon. I needed something that would be quick inexpensive, and good. And there (providentally?) was the sign: a Burger King off the next exit. I felt like a flame-grilled Whopper, and the beauty of it is that you can “have it your way” which in my case meant hold the tomato and mayo, add justard. Hear is a realm of life where being pro-choice is just the thing for me…As I began to eat, two young boys (probaby about ten and eight years old) sat down with their parents at an adjoining table. Both boys had on Chief Wahoo caps, so I would have known they were Cleveland Indians fans even if they had not been discussing the previous night’s game, whcih they had seen on ESPN. It happened that in my hotel room I had myself spent the last part of the evening watching that same game. I decided therefore to venture a brief conversational gambit. “Go Tribe,” I said to the younger of the two boys…Our ability to watch the Indians on television even though we did not live near Cleveland created a little shared community among us as we sat there eating in Burger King. The experience was so satisfying that I went back up tot he counter for a Hershey’s Sundae Pie and stayed longer than I’d planned.

As I noted at the time, this is a deeply troubled view, and Fr. Jape agrees. If Fr. Jape agrees, there must be something to it. But Beneton’s description of what is to come (indeed it is already here!) is terrifying not just in the hideous future it holds out–and Beneton makes clear here that this is the future of a world of globalisation and multinationals–but in the recognition that breaks in as you read it that a great many Westerners would find themselves nodding in eager anticipation of its arrival. The libertarian would say, “Yes, you see, the millennium of peace and brotherhood is coming, and it will be brought to you by The Market!”

The people who yearn for this age of uniformity are the people whom Adam Wayne fought in the streets of Notting Hill; they are the people who built the Crystal Palace; these are people who still believe that the Golden Age is coming, and expect that it will be televised and available in high definition. I find it hard to conclude that they are not the enemies, unwitting though they may be, of everything vital and real in human life, another gang of political optimists with a different scheme but just as misguided and deluded as all the rest.

Finally, vital differences among individuals are effaced.  For the economist, all human beings are alike, not of course because they have some higher calling in common but because they all rationally pursued objectives that are equally irrational.  Homo economicus is cold, rational, and utilitarian; he is gifted in calculating but empty of substance.  Human beings are indistinguishable in their way of being; they can only be distinguished by their incomes, their levels of consumption or productivity.  Here, everything that Peguy loves, all that he celebrates–good manners and morals, fine workmanship, beautiful language, simple joys, bonds of the flesh, the honor of the poor, the genius of Homer–none of this has any meaning.  We are indeed in the world of equality by default. ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default

Rather than being inept ideologues who want to somehow Christianize science and academe, I think Dembski and Marsden have made fatal concessions to the deeper institutional and ideological structures they purportedly wish to change. They are figureheads for two strategically similar negotiations between Evangelicals and established elites in the institutions and regimes of expertise, mainly the academic world. ID is a very hard-line, anti-positivist, anti-materialist-reductionist movement with specific agendas, but it actually makes major concessions to positivism and materialist reductionism as the necessary rules of the game to which one must adhere to get any hearing at all. Marsden represents or helped foment a soft and very loosely organized movement with a vague agenda of softening or subverting anti-religious secularism in universities. Unlike ID, no particular scholarly theory or goal is prescribed; this is simply advocacy for (surely not every instance of) “Christian scholarship” that proceeds by appealing (and thus conceding) to the the rules of “tolerance” and “inclusivity”—the “multicultural” model of “pluralism” that prevails in academe and other segments of American society today and which is rightly perceived by many as inherently an assault on Anglo-European and Judaeo-Christian history, culture, and tradition. Though similar as “wedge strategies,” Intelligent Design and “the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship” are not at all comfortably united efforts to purchase status, credibility (if not authority), and influence for certain Christians. (It is odd that Balmer does not seem to see the internal divisions and that Wilson was not moved to point them out.)

These “wedge strategies” have been concocted in order to make superficial gains—to acquire some mainstream intellectual careers for certain Christians of approximately one’s own kind. It has, predictably, become very much a game of “Who benefits?” (Marsden’s Pew-funded purse fed “Evangelical” and then broadly “Christian” scholars, including certain Catholics and others who are not necessarily Evangelicals in the usual sense and who may or may not be differently “evangelical” than Evangelicals.) The great common ground has been simply a desire for “Access” that is at times more and less disguised as a process of “cultural transformation” or “redemption.” This very Evangelical desire to be an “instrument” ends up becoming more than a means to an end but an end in itself as a pillar of identity. There is little discussion and no real answer to the question about ends. Why would it be good to have a Deistic Theism regarded as respectable and relevant in science? Why would it be good to have “Christian perspectives” regarded as respectable and relevant in all fields of research and education? Good, I mean, in results other than greater cultural prestige, access, and authority for certain religionists. ~The Japery

Let’s try this one again:

Here is another surely-radical opinion:

Kids, if you care for your souls and desire to find a different way than that which you have glimpsed out in the world today; if you find in yourself some strange hunger for beauty and meaning, although if you have grown up as I did in this culture these things are but enigmatic figures, opaque promises; if you have any wish to recover authenticity, life in its natural way; then, kids, do not go to college.  

Expect the derision of all for such a radical step that they will say will certainly prevent any economic achievement in your life on your part (the proof that this is their summum bonum).

Instead, before you shackle yourself beneath the gods of usury, choose to learn a trade and work with your hands, live with the poor or handicapped, find a tutor and some like-minded students, in a beautiful place, read Scripture and the Great Books in your leisure, otherwise play music and sing, dance and paint, be festive as you at last will be able to be, and celebrate the Divine Liturgy every day. (And if you find a place like this and it calls itself a “college” or “university”, if such a place exists, don’t worry, they are equivocating, for they certainly then cannot have anything in common with what a college or university is taken to mean today, and feel secure in going to that place.) ~Matt Fish

The economist takes no account of the nature of economic goods, any more than of free goods.  Wealth and poverty, the optimum and the rational, growth and national product, standard of living and utility have nothing to do with what is beyond the world of the market.  But the GNP cannot account for the services furnished by mothers to their families–”your remark is beside the point, since these are nonmarket services.”  Consider another example: what if ugliness and boredom increase with productivity–”I do not deal with such matters.”  Or what if too much economic rationality undoes social bonds and isolates human ebings–”Why do you persist?  I tell you that this is none of my affair.”  But what if the gap widens between what is good economically and what is good for humans as humans–”I choose not to answer you.” ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default 

Most issues can either be painted as very glorious or very repulsive, depending on the wielder of the brush. I think the role and place of women is just such an issue. It is too easy to either view women as equal in role to men, thus brushing over the glorious distinctions God has given the two sexes, or conversely to harp on the servitude of women and their need to keep a “proper place” in society. The male writer of the Forbes article did not do either, but there was still no beauty in his painting of a woman’s role, no esteem for her position. She was a statistic who shouldn’t compete with men. Period.

The Bible paints a different picture, though. Women have a different role than men. Woman is created to be his helpmeet, walking beside him hand in hand through life. Marriage is a union, a binding of two lives that the two might work together more effectively than apart. In that beautiful union, woman does take the role that is often deemed “demeaning.” She is a guard of the home, a nurturer of children. She takes the home as her sphere of influence gladly, not because it is statistically better but because she belongs there. She was created for a special purpose. She is not free household staff, but a cherished wife and a mother. And yes, she is an obedient wife. ~Susan Garrison

Such are the sensible words of Ms. Garrison, who blogs here, responding to the deficiencies in Mr. Noer’s original Forbes article and making her very succinct summary stressing the importance of complementarity in Christian marriage and emphasising the honourable and vital role of women as laid down in Scripture.  Readers should look at the entire post to determine whether the young lady is, as Mr. Suderman offensively averred, either “backwards” or a “lunatic.”  I believe that readers will find a moderate, intelligent woman who seeks to live out her obligations before God in a manner well-pleasing to Him.     

When I think of the alternative to Wal-Mart, the supposed ideal society of small shopkeeper and the family farmer, I’m reminded of the abyssmal [sic]service, high prices, lack of selection, and utter dreariness of Hyde Park, Chicago, where I went to school. ~Chris Roach

Now perhaps I have been living in Hyde Park for too long and have been taken in by the place, but the words abysmal and dreary do not pop into my mind when I think of it.  I won’t pretend that it is a marvelous neighbourhood, or that it is an instantiation of the small community ideal, but it is actually still something of an urban neighbourhood community (to the extent that this has not always been something of a contradiction in terms), which cannot be said for its counterparts in Glen Ellyn, Aurora and Naperville with their antiseptically beautiful rows of identical houses full of people who do not know each other.  Evanston is similar to Hyde Park in many of the same ways with respect to being free of the box and chain stores, and while it has plenty of problems no one I know could reasonably describe it as abysmal or dreary.      

The neighbourhood co-op does not seem to be charging such terribly expensive prices (since it is the main grocery store for the neighbourhood, I don’t have many handy comparative examples to know whether their prices are competitive–presumably, as a small co-op chain, they will not be perfectly competitive with a much larger chain such as Dominick’s), the selection seems perfectly adequate and the service in dreary old Hyde Park is no better or worse than that found in chain groceries in the suburbs of Chicago.  The neighbourhood is, of course, oriented around the University and so tends to be heavy on services (mostly restaurants) and light on other kinds of stores.  And no one would deny that the South Side surrounding Hyde Park is of an almost entirely different character from the neighbourhood.  But if we want to speak about dreary places in Chicago, the “revitalised” Cabrini Green would be a better target than Hyde Park, which remains one of the few bright spots on the South Side in part because of the presence of the University.  It is also undeniable that for things like appliances or furniture or any of the durable goods that the box stores sell in huge numbers that Hyde Park does not have stores that offer these things, but it is not hard to imagine why small stores providing these services would not exactly flourish in the age of Target and Wal-Mart. 

In any case, Hyde Park is hardly a complete hold-out against chain stores of all kinds nor is it some hard-core center of mom ‘n’ pop businesses, though you will never encounter one of the sprawling megastores here or anywhere east of the Dan Ryan and south of Roosevelt.  The city has made sure of that.  I don’t know whether native Hyde Park and South Side residents would prefer to have Wal-Mart open in their neighbourhoods, but I strongly doubt it.  Undoubtedly, opening these chain stories would save the people some money, perhaps quite a lot of money.  But perhaps there is something else about their place, for all its flaws and higher prices, that they would rather save.  Perhaps the people who live in the dreary abyss do not see it as such, but instead love it for what it is and would rather bear the costs of keeping it more as it is than succumbing to the rush to homogenise every corner of America. 

Chicagoans will certainly have their chance to turn out the city councilmen who have kept the Lords of Bentonville from entering the city, but I think we all know that this isn’t going to happen (this is Chicago, after all, not some sort of kooky democracy).  Probably in the end, in the name of growth and efficiency, the Wal-Marts and the chain restaurants will come, which will not mean a vibrant and happy Hyde Park to replace the abysmal dreariness that some remember, but simply a neighbourhood with shuttered windows on every block.  

Pessimism, however, is the most un-American of philosophies. This nation was built on the values of reason and progress, not to mention the “pursuit of happiness.” Pessimism as philosophy is skeptical of the idea of progress. Pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand. ~Adam Cohen, The New York Times

What thinking person isn’t skeptical of the idea of progress?  Look at the 20th century and tell me with a straight face that there is real progress, if you can.  Americans retain their optimism because they were spared most of the disasters of that century, and because most sections of the United States do not retain–or never possessed–the tragic sense that is vital to a more realistic appraisal of the world.  Southerners have historically possessed this tragic sense in greater abundance because they have experienced complete defeat, an experience that is–fortunately for us–completely alien to all other sections and largely alien to the whole of modern America. 

Pity the nation that is “built on reason and progress.”  Envy the nation that grows according to sentiment and tradition.  Both may err badly, but the latter remains closer to the ground, to the fullness of human existence because the tradition has not allowed them to forget the intangible aspects of the human predicament.  The latter has a much better chance of correcting its course and deriving some new wisdom from its traditions.  The rational and progressive nation blunders blindly on its path of self-improvement. 

Reason will lead you to think that you can solve the human predicament through better techniques, faster mechanisms, more efficient methods, and on some technical level you will even begin to see progress of a kind.  But this is the lure that traps you in the inextricable web of progressive fantasies, because with each advance your become less and less satisfied as your realise ever greater capacities to afford yourself material satisfaction.  The cult of progress neglects the cultivation of restraint and the limitation of desire, which makes the quest for real satisfaction hopeless; boundless optimism is the surest cause of despair in any man.  Nourishing and overindulging this dimension of man’s existence, the progressive races onward faster and faster, becoming more deeply entangled in the web, increasingly unaware of and indifferent to the loss of all those things that nourish a humane, full and good life.  They advance so far in solving the predicament of man’s material existence that they no longer really remember that there is any other kind of predicament or, if they remember, they no longer have the slightest clue what to do about it.  When they hear the phrase, Man does not live by bread alone, they ask, “Why not?” and begin working on trying to build a better man, a new man.

But Mr. Cohen is wrong when he says that pessimists believe pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand.  Pursuing happiness is the errand of man, pure and simple.  The wise and the foolish alike will try to seek it.  Only the fool believes that he will necessarily find it or that he has a sure-fire method to procure it without pain or effort or loss, but both he and the wise man pursue happiness.  They will, of course, not define it in the same way, which is why the fool almost never finds what he is looking for, while the wise man already possesses some part of it before he begins and has a reasonable chance of finding the rest by the end. 

Pursuing happiness is part of who we are.  But what the pessimist does say–and I think I can speak for the pessimists here–is that happiness must have its limits if it is to be possessed, it will be fleeting, as all things are in this world, and it will come at some price, be it a price in discipline, loss, suffering, regret or even the abandonment of some principle or high ideal.  It is, above all, often overrated.  In saying this, the pessimist is not trying to be gloomy or bitter, but simply honest in assessing the nature of things.  Pessimism is a reasonable position not because bad things keep happening–that wouldn’t be much of a basis for a philosophical view–but because man is a finite, flawed, created being who cannot overcome the structures inherent in his existence.  If one learns to live within these structures and accepts them as basically unchangeable, then he will know a measure of peace and happiness as he pursues his good desires within reason.  In pessimism there is hope, wisdom and, yes, even a measure of happiness.  So what are you waiting for?  Expect the worst, and be glad when you are wrong!   

These are ideal times for the release of “Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit,” by Joshua Foa Dienstag, a U.C.L.A. political theorist. Mr. Dienstag aims to rescue pessimism from the philosophical sidelines, where it has been shunted by optimists of all ideologies. The book is seductive, because pessimists are generally more engaging and entertaining than optimists, and because, as the author notes, “the world keeps delivering bad news.” It is almost tempting to throw up one’s hands and sign on with Schopenhauer.

Pessimism, however, is the most un-American of philosophies. This nation was built on the values of reason and progress, not to mention the “pursuit of happiness.” Pessimism as philosophy is skeptical of the idea of progress. Pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand. Pessimism is not, as is commonly thought, about being depressed or misanthropic, and it does not hold that humanity is headed for disaster. It simply doubts the most basic liberal principle: that applying human reasoning to the world’s problems will have a positive effect. ~Adam Cohen, The New York Times

Now, who wouldn’t want to be part of the more engaging and entertaining set?  Who wouldn’t prefer to be the sort of person who chooses to bear his burden rather than seeking to revamp entire social and political systems at unknown cost to countless others?  Perhaps Mr. Bush’s recent turn towards Camus for some light summer reading has its source in a pained recognition that political optimism is not just fatally flawed (and doomed to fail) but also deeply dissatisfying because it promises satisfaction and resolution.  Only people who believed that Iraq could be remade should be discouraged that the remaking is failing; only people who believed the government should feel betrayed that it launched a war without reason; only those who trusted in princes should feel dismayed that they have used and abused the people.  Remember, gentle reader, if there is no solution, there really is no problem.  As Chantal Delsol wrote in Icarus Fallen, it is the trait of modern man to expect solutions; it is the mark of traditional man to bear burdens and to assume that the structures of life are not problems to be solved but realities that cannot be negotiated away.  As it happens, this is also the mark of the pessimist: 

But pessimism’s overall spirit, as Camus noted, “is not to be cured, but to live with one’s ailments.”

Mr. Cohen writes that Bush has robbed America of its optimism.  Now if this optimism was anything other than a pose, a mindless embrace of myths of progress and improvement that had no basis in the real world, we should be glad to be rid of it, because it was in that case artificial, a fake belief.  If it was something more deeply rooted in our national character and history, if it was something integral to human nature itself, I doubt very much that Mr. Bush could have stripped us of it, though he might have dampened American spirits a bit. 

Hope is, of course, a theological virtue, essential to Christian life.  In my view, orthodox Christian hope and pessimism in the world are two sides of the same coin.  Only the meliorist, the gnostic, the immanentising chiliast believes that the hope of eternity and transcendence can also be more and more ours in the world if we apply the right methods and solutions, establish the right kind of regime, pass the right laws, elect the right people, kill the right enemies.  Someone preoccupied with improving the world does not really believe that the world has been overcome already; a Christian preoccupied unduly with improving the world probably lacks the conviction that Christians are not of the world.  Without a reasonable pessimism, there is no true hope.   

Larison chides me for allegedly not being willing to recognize her commitment and submission to her faith, trying to make it seem as if my argument was that she made a bad choice by deciding not to go to college. But that wasn’t my point at all: I wasn’t alarmed at Suzy Homemaker’s choice for herself; I was bothered that she seemed to take it as correct Christian doctrine that her decision was the best, most sound decision for the majority of Christian women. She was, to be blunt, making a fairly plain statement that, due to their faith, Christian women should generally avoid going to college. And, at the risk of being harsh, I would continue to characterize that as a backward, fundamentalist, lunatic notion. ~Peter Suderman

Now Mr. Suderman didn’t just object to her broader recommendation that Christian women not go to college, but declared essentially that her view had no validity.  That seems pretty well pointed at declaring the decisions of this “misguided” young woman, Ms. Garrison, to be very bad indeed.  But perhaps I did not state things properly last time.  I tried to acknowledge that her general recommendation to other Christian women is that they ought not go to college because college does nothing for preparing for those duties that they believe they are called to do in the rest of their lives.  She specifically does not argue that they should stop learning or stop studying, but that they avoid institutions of “higher” education.  Her assessment of the value of going to a university (and a secular university at that) was that it was not worthwhile from the perspective of a Christian woman interested in becoming a wife and mother; she believed her time could have been better spent in other ways and recommended that others avoid making what she believed was a mistake.  Throughout all of this she seems to be on fairly sound Biblical ground about the role of women in the family and the church.  But perhaps someone can show me the passage in Ephesians that speaks of women being called to an MBA.  Ms. Garrison extrapolates from these teachings to conclude that spending time on a college education that does not contribute to her fulfillment of these fundamental duties is a waste and a distraction.  In other words, she puts her duties first. 

That many modern Americans are prone to view traditional Christian attitudes towards relations between men and women or the role of women as “backwards” or even “lunatic” is a problem, sure enough–a problem that these modern Americans have.  I called on Mr. Suderman to acknowledge that  her position is a serious one based in Scripture and the traditional arrangements of Christian societies lo these many years.  He opted to demean that position again in the most pejorative terms.

Your family could have arrived on the Mayflower or in the back of a van, but if you believe in the values of this country as embodied by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Civil Rights Act, then you are American. ~James Forsyth, Foreign Policy Blog

Hat tip to Michael Brendan Dougherty

I remember Bob Dole saying something like the first part of this in 1996: 

A family from Mexico arrives this morning legally has as much right to the American Dream as the direct descents [sic] of the Founding Fathers.

At the time, I was not old enough to vote, so it didn’t cost Dole my vote (it definitely cost him my father’s), but I found it offensive nonetheless.  This is because in such a statement lies a contempt for the historic America and the peoples who have comprised the historic America, as if any group of people from anywhere might have gathered together and created the same kind of country.  It expresses an indifference to inherited culture that would be incredible for a conservative to utter.  It assumes that the people who arrived today have the same claim and the same stake in this country as people whose ancestors have lived here for almost four centuries–this is deeply wrong.  It does make a difference and it should make a difference whether your family arrived in 1607 or 1997–and it does not matter where you are coming from.

Mr. Forsyth objects to Mr. Buchanan’s call for American identity to be rooted in “blood, soil, history and heroes.”  I confess to being perplexed as to why this call should actually be controversial.  Yes, I know why many people think it is controversial, but their position makes no sense.  No real national identity of any kind, and certainly none that ever lasted, has ever endured without being solidly based in these things.  Indeed, what else could our national identity plausibly be rooted in?  Most Americans today do not hold to the political philosophy of the Founders in their attitudes towards consolidated government and their preference for the rule of law over the rule of men.  This is unfortunate, but it will happen in the course of time that peoples adopt different and even diametrically opposed political creeds.  The Loyalists did not accept the ideas of the Declaration, but they were real Americans whose fathers had helped to create our country in its colonial days.  The Antifederalists did not accept the Constitution, but they were real Americans who helped win the War of Independence and forge the Confederation.  The Confederates would not have accepted the Gettysburg Address and did not accept the so-called “new birth of freedom” to be realised at the expense of Union and Liberty, but they were real Americans who maintained their fidelity to the principles of ‘87 and sought to reenact the drama of independence to secure the liberties protected for them by their ancestors.  In the same loyalty to the Constitution, much of the early modern conservative movement opposed the Civil Rights Act as the federal usurpation that it was (and is)–they, too, were real Americans.  Indeed, the formulation that Mr. Forsyth has put forward retroactively must strip many of our most noble and admirable patriots of the name American.  Any definition of American that could conceivably exclude Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee is a meaningless, ridiculous definition. 

As for myself, I have strong reservations about the “values” expressed in the Declaration, at least if we are to take the platitudes expressed therein as claims of truth about the real world; I respect and honour the Constitution, but recognise the serious consolidationist flaws in it; I cannot in good conscience accept anything in the Gettysburg Address, mendacious piece of revisionist propaganda that it was, nor can I accept the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act or the enthusiasm for egalitarianism that inspired it.  According to Mr. Forsyth, I am not an American, though some part of my people have been here since 1634 and most of my family has been here since the early 1700s.  I obviously cannot and will not accept such a definition of my nation that would put me–and a considerable number of my countrymen–outside its boundaries.  I cannot countenance a definition of national identity that makes one’s loyalty to a political position the basis for belonging to the nation.  I want no part of any “ideological,” “credal” or “proposition” nation–you cannot love a proposition. 

There is nothing more artificial, more insubstantial and more dangerous than categorising a nation according to ideology–this is to make honest disagreement over political principles a betrayal of the nation itself.  It is to make dissent into a kind of treason; it is to make fidelity to older traditions that contradict the reigning ideology a mark of disloyalty to the nation.  Fundamentally it is also to confuse ideas for concrete realities and to give them the loyalty we owe to real things.  It is to ignore the concrete realities of kin and place and our memory of our kin and place down through the centuries for the sake of abstractions.  This sort of thinking may very well make it easier for people to enter the country, but it makes it impossible to say any longer what kind of country it is, where it came from or who we are as a people.        

Powell and Raspail were ostracized for what they said and wrote. Their stories are related in my new book, “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” Time to revisit the question: Were these men false prophets rightly reviled, or prophets without honor in their own countries? ~Patrick Buchanan

“Don’t marry career women” is a pretty blunt title for an article, but Forbes runs with it, providing a fairly convincing list of reasons why marriages to career-minded women are statistically doomed to unhappiness. This is no doubt problematic for all those women who’ve been told that they can’t have happiness and empowerment without a degree and a job, but it’s also terrible news for guys like me who’re attracted to those educated, accomplished, motivated women who stalk the city streets in their heels and suits—much better looking intellectual sparring partners (who often seem to thrash us mercilessly in the ring). ~Peter Suderman

Mr. Suderman makes a good point here that the confirmations of the advantages of more traditional social arrangements do indeed seem very problematic to professional men and women alike.  The women have been taught to strive to be professional women; the men have been taught to strive after women who want to be professionals.  Entire cottage industries have sprung up aimed at defining and discovering compatibility in terms of sameness (which very likely has less to do with compatibility than they or their unfortunate clients will ever realise), which almost requires professionals to pursue and marry other professionals, thus apparently being more likely to doom them all to less happy lives. 

On a related note, domestic life dominates American society in strange ways, and its influence has grown with time as the public places where men congregate with other men–the plaza, the cafe, the bar–are no longer (or, in some contexts, never were) so much places for men to socialise among themselves as they are now venues for the pursuit of the ever elusive “sparring partner.”  But let us be serious: are we talking about creating a marriage and a family, or are we setting up a debating society?  In the past there has, of course, been the same desire for women who are highly educated ”sparring partners”–a desire fulfilled by courtesans in most pre-modern societies–but rarely has it become such a widespread attitude that it affects choices for marriage as strongly as it does today.  Much of this comes ultimately from detaching marriage from many of its social and familial functions and making it principally into a love-match, which encourages all of the unrealistic expectations Mr. Suderman rightly criticises and raises the bar even higher for what constitutes “compatibility.”  For these bizarre and confused notions of human relationships the 19th century Romantics and English novelists have much to answer, but even worse are their modern disciples and admirers.    

The sorts of things that modern men look for in potential wives (the “educated, accomplished, motivated” sparring partners that Mr. Suderman describes) would simply baffle and bewilder almost every generation of men that has come before.  All of those things are very nice in their way, but none of them ever had very much to do with marriage before a very short time ago.

But I have to say that I understand what Mr. Suderman is talking about with respect to the effect of movies on our conceptions of relationships and marriage only too well.  If you make the mistake of watching too many Bollywood movies (someone will murmur that watching one is too many), which are even more excessive in their glorification of unrealistic expectations of happily ever after among the beautiful people, you may come away with very distorted ideas and expectations.  In the Indian context, I expect that these movies are a sort of protest against the way that relationships and marriage still are governed by the demands of family and station in a way now completely alien to us and so may not have nearly so many deleterious effects, but when we in the West are exposed to them the damage is even worse than that inflicted by our own films.  If regular romantic fare from Hollywood is like cocaine, Bollywood melodrama is the cinematic equivalent of crack for its potentially destructive, distorting influence on what we expect in relationships.  If some have an unhealthy obsession with the “indy girl” and Natalie Portman in Garden State, it is even worse to have an obsession with the Indian girl and Rani Mukherjee in Hum Tum.  Both are quite unrealistic, but the latter is simply as fantastical and unobtainable as the Indian movies themselves.    

It’s almost enough to make you give a somewhat serious reappraisal to otherwise obviously backward, fundamentalist loonies like this poor young lady, who writes:


In general I would not recommend college to other women. I think, in general, that young women would make better use of their time and spiritual development by pursuing studies on their own and serving their family and their church during their years of singleness.


Only “almost enough,” of course, because there’s really no question that even if one were to grant some credence to the validity of sentiments like hers (I don’t), it’s totally laughable (not to mention probably morally wrong from any reasonable perspective on gender equality) to turn back the clock toward a society like what Suzy Homemaker wants. ~Peter Suderman

I don’t mean to dwell overmuch on patriarchy and the Forbes article on career women today, but Mr. Suderman’s post makes some interesting points that I would like (in as non-Ender-Wiggin-like fashion as I possibly can) to discuss further.  First there is the problem of Mr. Suderman’s condescension towards Ms. Garrison, the “poor young lady” (as if she is deranged or in need of medical attention), and the characterisation of her as an “obviously backwards, fundamentalist” looney.  The young lady does seem to be a fundamentalist, or at the very least a very traditional Christian woman, which does not seem to me to make her either looney or “backwards” (one of those terms, like hidebound or obscurantist, that conservatives should take care in applying to others when it can so readily be applied to them).  She is one of those people who adheres to a living religious tradition (whether or not, as a fundamentalist, she thinks of it in terms of a tradition) and actually submits herself to its requirements rather than skipping over the bits that she finds inconvenient.  For some reason, quite a few modern Christian conservatives develop a visceral dislike of people who actually live the tradition that they, the conservatives, talk about all the time as the very thing that they, the conservatives, want to try to preserve.  It is almost as if there is an unspoken rule: traditionalist rhetoric, si, lived tradition, no.  And if the young lady is “backwards,” what, one might ask, is terribly appealing or admirable about being “forward-thinking” in this case?  Perhaps there is some happier middle ground between the two extremes (the time-honoured tradition of women’s colleges preparing young ladies for their MRS. degrees has often been a successful, if much-mocked compromise), but the young lady’s view is neither so bizarre nor so unreasonable as Mr. Suderman would have us believe. 

Her determination that college is largely useless for young women who hope to be wives and mothers is fairly unusual in our time, and particularly in my generation (in all honesty, I have never once met a young woman who held this view, but then there would obviously not be a lot of these women roaming the UofC campus), but in holding this view she is a) more like most generations of women, including most of our ancestral mothers up till a very recent time and b) more or less right. 

First of all, it seems to me that we declare her ”backwards” and “looney” at the risk of denouncing our grandmothers or at least our great-great grandmothers.  Someone will say, “Not so.  My great-great grandmother ‘had no choice’, but this young woman does and so must be a looney to prefer the role women have traditionally held.”  That is quite a strange position to take in the way that it peremptorily dismisses the habits of generations with the flick of the wrist.  We could also denounce Xenophon as backwards and looney for his Oikonomikos and his portrayal of a wife’s proper role, or we could consider what in the Oikonomikos is reasonable and true and what, if anything, is looney.  Indeed, as conservatives it is incumbent on us to justify our particular, personal views in the light of the traditions to which we belong. 

She is more or less right that college education has nothing to do with being a good wife and mother (quite a few women have managed these things very well without college); if she believes this is what her proper and main role in life is, she is making a fairly rational decision to not waste time–as she sees it–on developing skills that will be of little use to her while developing other skills that will have limited application in her real life.  Not surprisingly, the young lady’s rational choice and her calculation of costs and benefits in living her own life don’t seem to count for much in this case for Mr. Suderman, who could pass over them in silence (or not mention them at all) but feels obliged to declare her sentiments as potentially morally deviant (she strays from the true path of gender equality–aiee!) and dismiss the implementation of her view as “laughable.”  Why?  Do we, as conservatives, actually believe that something called “gender equality” exists?  Do we believe that equality even exists?  If so, in what sense does it actually exist and how does it even necessarily pertain to the question at hand?  (Does a woman who opts for a life simply as a wife and mother in lieu of other avenues forfeit this equality?  Does she lose the dignity and respect that men are obliged to show a lady?  Is she somehow less reputable, less worthy of respect?  Are we supposed to believe that this traditional arrangement actually degrades and oppresses women across the board?)  If we do not believe that these things exist (and I have to say that I think very few of us really believe it when it comes to our own lives), why would we form opinions or judge others’ opinions as if we thought they did?  

I have some mixed feelings about the young lady’s view, since it seems to me that Christian women who aspire to teach their children, particularly those who wish to homeschool, ought to have as much education to their credit as they can.  Of course, I must be careful and not make an assumption here.  The young lady clearly states that she is not recommending opting out of education and learning (which is surely the only thing that Mr. Suderman could find offensive about this view), but opting out of college, and the two are very different things.  I am also keenly aware that most of what passes for “education” in most colleges has less and less to do with the sort of things that good Christian women (there’s a quaint phrase!) would want to be teaching their children.  Certainly the social atmosphere at many colleges and universities is often downright hostile to living a faithful life.  Once upon a time, the idea of sending your daughters off to university would not have simply seemed bizarre or socially unacceptable for other reasons, but would actually have been seen as detrimental to the moral character of these women.  The modern vast moral wasteland that includes many American universities and colleges (there are assuredly a few exceptions–typically limited to the backwards fundamentalist looney corners of America) is a testament to how right that view would have been.  In the present age, perhaps the only thing as important for a father to do for the sake of his daughter’s future as keeping his daughter “off the Pole,” as the saying has it, is to keep her out of university.  If you think I am engaged in hyperbole or that I am being ridiculous, you have evidently not lately been to an American university. 

There is an argument to be made in the present age of rampant divorce that, because marriages are so unstable and the protection it provides women so uncertain, a woman would need a degree at the very least as something she could rely on to support herself if and when the marriage dissolves.  Indeed, the young lady quoted here finished her degree to provide just such a “fallback position.”  But here we encounter the rather grand irony of the whole thing: the Forbes article warns against marrying professional women because their own careers create tensions and strains that make divorce more likely, but the response of a young woman to avoid becoming one of these professional women–thus giving herself a better chance of remaining in a stable, lasting marriage–is decried as backwards and looney.  Near as I can tell, it is supposed to be backwards and looney because it is motivated by religious injunctions about a woman’s place in the home and in society, which, as We All Now Know, can’t possibly be true or good–or can they? 

This young lady, Ms. Garrison, states certain inconvenient truths about Biblical teaching on the role and place of women, and she applies this teaching rigorously–more rigorously, indeed, than the members of most churches today.  Perhaps in her rigour she has gone astray somewhere, and we could talk about that without dismissing her outright.  These are truths that the people who believe the onward march of egalitarian democratic capitalism as God’s will or the people who are ready to bow before Equality but not prostrate themselves before an icon of Christ do not appreciate.  Since I would like to think Mr. Suderman is neither one, he might refrain from belittling the young lady’s beliefs quite so enthusiastically.  As someone who presumably takes Biblical teachings rather seriously (when was the last time you read an account of a young woman this distraught over failing to honour her parents’ wishes?), this young lady seeks to live her life in accordance with them, which rather necessarily means ignoring shibboleths of gender equality, progress and all those other entertaining fictional stories that liberals tell their children at bedtime.  I find her attitude rather creditable; it is certainly not entirely unreasonable. 

We might consider whether, from a conservative or indeed a Christian perspective, the young lady is actually wrong, or if she has simply stated something we would rather not address because it would force us to say things about revered “gender equality” that would be controversial.     

Though the article is several months’ old, and there may not be that much more to say that hasn’t already been said, here is my belated post on “The Return of Patriarchy.” 

As governments going back as far as imperial Rome have discovered, when cultural and economic conditions discourage parenthood, not even a dictator can force people to go forth and multiply.

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood.  Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization.  Why then did humans not become extinct long ago?  The short answer is patriarchy.

Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule.  Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station.  It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles.  Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents’ investments in their children.  No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.

Through a process of cultural evolution, societies have adopted this particular social system–which involves far more than simple male domination–maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas those that didn’t were either overrun or absorbed.  This cycle in human history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a comeback. ~Philip Longman, Foreign Policy (March/April 2006)

The article came out shortly after the Crunchy Cons blog had started up, and the participants there made a few remarks on it.  Ross Douthat also commented on it at the Scene just before bringing it into the crunchy conversation.  Steve Sailer discussed the article as well.  This theme of more traditionally patriarchal families having more children than their countercultural, liberal or non-traditional rivals (if we think of this in evolutionary terms, the two groups are rivals for resources, territory and status) has cropped up several times this year in other ways, mostly related to the connections between demographics and political preferences in America.  Steve Sailer analysed the “baby gap” and the “marriage gap” between the red-staters and blue-staters and the conservatives and liberals within each state (the last part is an important qualification that Sailer has seen too many others miss).  More recently Arthur Brooks has made an attempt at doing something similar, which Sailer then criticises here.  In his criticism, he mentions the negative effect that a high cost of living has on young people starting families, and refers to his article on “Affordable Family Formation.”  The problem of affordable family formation in turn calls to mind Ross Douthat’s recent criticisms of Jeremy Beer (whose article I approvingly cited here) and the crunchy cons and Rod’s response to them.  Thus we have come full circle.  Isn’t blogging fun?  I have already written a post and managed to say nothing of my own–sort of like compiling a florilegium

Now if Brooks’ claim is true that children tend to overwhelmingly (80% of the time) identify with the party (and presumably many of the political values they think are associated with that party) of their parents, that would suggest that the political values of the people who have more kids are more likely to reproduce themselves, so to speak, and outpace the reproduction of competing values.  It intuitively seems even more likely, on the whole, that the transmission and reproduction of religious and cultural values would be even more successful if part and parcel of these religious and cultural values is a commitment to be fruitful and multiply.  Might it not be the case that the specifically religious origin and nature of the drive to have larger families and the different valuation of children as gifts of God rather than the fruits of lifestyle choices actually serve to further dissuade the secular liberal from having children or at least dissuade them from having more than one or two children?  (Might the new Battlestar Galactica be an elaborate commentary on liberal anxiety about their own birth dearth and their own fears of perceived religious zealots–inhuman zealots at that–outbreeding them?)  In that case, all other things being equal (i.e., no large infusion of immigrants with radically different values), it seems very likely that people with these values will be more successful in passing on their genes and, in turn, their progeny will be more successful than those of their rivals in reproducing their parents’ cultural and religious memes. This would suggest, as many commentators have already averred, that the race of the culture wars goes not to the swift or the politically well-connected, but to the prodigiously fertile.   

There’s more: According to a wide-ranging review of the published literature, highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.) Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat. ~Forbes

So marrying a professional woman with a graduate degree would be a particularly bad idea.  Hm, this is not promising for certain graduate students who shall remain nameless.

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill ( American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier ( Institute for Social Research).

Why? Well, despite the fact that the link between work, women and divorce rates is complex and controversial, much of the reasoning is based on a lot of economic theory and a bit of common sense. In classic economics, a marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in labor specialization. Traditionally men have tended to do “market” or paid work outside the home and women have tended to do “non-market” or household work, including raising children. All of the work must get done by somebody, and this pairing, regardless of who is in the home and who is outside the home, accomplishes that goal. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.  ~Forbes

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women–even those with a “feminist” outlook–are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner. ~Forbes

Patriarchy is having a good PR year.  First Foreign Policy talks about the return of patriarchy this spring (sorry, by the way, for never having come back to talk about this article as I had said I would), and now Forbes reports that marriage to a professional woman is–surprise, surprise–likely to have many more unhappy consequences (and having husbands as the primary earners tends to have some happier consequences).  Before you know it, Filmer will be required reading in every school and they’ll start founding colleges named Laud-Filmer across the United States instead of naming them after certain Whig heroes.  Too optimistic?

Update: At the bottom of the linked article, see also Forbes‘ “Nine Reasons To Steer Clear of Career Women” in pictures.


David Brooks, bringing you “development and modernization” as he gets them

The reason there are such wide variations in ticket rates is that human beings are not merely products of economics. The diplomats paid no cost for parking illegally, thanks to diplomatic immunity. But human beings are also shaped by cultural and moral norms. If you’re Swedish and you have a chance to pull up in front of a fire hydrant, you still don’t do it. You’re Swedish. That’s who you are. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

The Swedes may be grateful that an American columnist on the right has finally made a reference to them that does not involves references either to socialism or selling weapons to Germany during WWII, but you still get the sense that if Brooks understands that human beings are not simply products of economics they are not a lot more than that.  The item he chose to illustrate cultural difference was parking habits by nationality, which might tell us something about certain national habits when it comes to obeying ordinances and signs and respecting the relative orderliness of urban space, but even so to call this observation superficial would be to give superficiality an even worse reputation.  It’s almost as if Brooks doesn’t quite want to accept the existence of virtually ineradicable cultural difference, so he tries to demonstrate it in the least disturbing way possible: Chadians and Sudanese thumb their noses at parking restrictions, but Scandinavians and Israelis are very puncitilious in parking legally.  Perhaps it is an irenic attempt to say that the differences aren’t really that great; cultural difference, at the end of the day, is really just a small disagreement about parking etiquette.  Perhaps this has a far more powerful meaning for people in a parking-strapped city awash in foreign diplomats, but does an attitude towards parking really reveal the significant obstacles to “development and modernization” in these cultures?  Probably not, but let’s move on.

In some ways, a conservative should like the idea of development.  He might even be expected to like development when the term is applied to the social, political, and economic spheres in certain ways.  It is an organic, psychological and physiological metaphor based on the idea of natural (physical, spiritual and emotional) development of human beings.  Like a person, the idea goes, a society has stages of development: infancy, adolescence, adulthood, old age and, of course, finally death.  It lends itself to a cyclical theory of history, though it can be fairly easily hijacked and used for progressive narratives of history as well, and this is what Brooks does with the term.  But, in many ways, development is a worthwhile concept for thinking about society and political order as things that have grown and come into being over time rather than having been ”founded,” which no sane social or political order ever has been. 

Nowadays development is also a rather troublesome term.  Today it is associated with the Reconstruction of small towns to suit the interests of business, developers, “growth” and local government revenues in the post-Kelo world.   (To paraphrase Prof. Lukacs, growth is not necessarily progress–cancer is also growth.)  There is definitely a sense that increased uniformity, drabness, ugliness and dependency on distant economic masters are the things that are being developed and these are the things towards which talk of “development” leads here at home.  Overseas it is typically associated with the latest dispensers of “economic development,”  and this has crept into every part of our language when we talk about the rest of the world and ourselves: there is no more First or Third World but developed and developing nations, as if we were the flowers in full bloom and they were the bulbs still waiting to spring forth, and we are ready to dump copious amounts of fertiliser via the WTO and the Doha round on those bulbs to help them “grow.”

The thrust of the article is that cultural difference accounts for different rates of development, but then this presupposes that Brooks’ idea of development is some innate, obvious or otherwise self-evident standard of development to which everyone would objectively agree were it not for their cultural hang-ups.  There is a general standard for determining the sanity and well-being of a society, and this is human nature.  It is commonplace to assume that Brooks’ kind of “development and modernization” (and it is important to note that the pairing here is really more of a redundancy–for Brooks, the two are one and the same) are basically well-suited for human nature, bring out more of the full potential in man than would otherwise be the case and do not fundamentally contradict that nature.  But I would submit that the sort of development that corporations are foisting on “developing” nations and the towns and countryside of America alike has little relationship to man’s proper nature and works insidiously against that nature to try to reduce man to the level of an economic functionary.

In 1930 twelve Southerners, scholars, men of letters, poets and patriots, issued their defense of a way of life and an understanding of how to live well that they had received from their arts, their fathers and their Southern patria: the book of essays in defense of the Southern agrarian tradition, I’ll Take My Stand.  They were, as M.E. Bradford described them, “the natural heirs of Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline, and the better side of Jefferson–anti-Hamiltonian, antistatist, conservative Democrat….Community was their a priori ideal–an informally hierarchical social organism in which all Southerners (including the Negro, insofar as the survival of that community permitted) had a sense of investment and participation.  In brief, a patriarchal world of families, pre- or noncapitalist because familial, located, pious, and “brotherly”; agrarian in order not to produce the alienated, atomistic individual to whom abstractly familial totalitarianism can appeal; classically republican because that system of government best allowed for the multiplicity that was the nation while at the same time permitting the agrarian culture of families to flourish unperturbed.” (Remembering Who We Are, p.86) 

As Dr. Tom Landess recounted to us in a talk last month, the South to which the Southern Agrarians referred and which they defended was neither an imaginary product of nostalgia for the antebellum South nor a the fruit of longing for the days of the Southern aristocracy.  The South of their hopes and loves was the South of the small farmer, the yeoman, the small businessman, the shopkeeper, the South that existed, the one which they knew, and the one which they knew was threatened and in danger of passing away under the new onslaught of industrialism and abstract notions.  In that land, there was a way of life not unique to the Southern experience but one that was nonetheless peculiarly present in the region that was attuned to the “rhythm of the seasons and the uncertainties of life,” tied to nature and to the passage of time, and thus to history, in a way that, as Dr. Patrick reminded us in his talk on Allen Tate, cultivated a mind all together more historical and culturally European than the mind malnourished in the cities of the Northeast. 

On account of the agrarian way of life of the smallholder and the farmer and the culture of the people who settled the South, the region’s people had a keen sense of place that itself grew from an awareness of being fixed and rooted in a place and forming part of the continuity across the years that bound ancestor and descendant.  That experience could fuel the imagination of a Faulkner to tell the story of the Sartoris clan where the generations of a family together formed a character in its own right, for perhaps the most complete story and the most fully formed characters come from the experience of multiple generations bound by place and their relationship to that place. 

Memory across generations ties a people to their past and lends the place where they live meanings that had been hidden by the veil of time.  This sense of the past was fed by the reception of memories from their fathers in the form of simple stories told and retold, the recollecting of their people’s lives that wove together anecdote, gossip and report into the remembrance of who they were and what they were doing in the particular time and place where they were.    

The Southern mind saw history as something concrete, the fruit of a series of events that does not move us onwards towards a goal but is embodied in the tangible reality of habit and memory (and Bradford tells us to love the inherited nomos of our place and people rather than rush on madly towards the telos of the teleocrat).  This mind saw history as a process of growth and change that those closest to the land understand better, and it remembered that history through the telling of the stories of their kin.

Receptive to memory, the Southern mind was also submissive to nature and God.  As the “Statement of Principles” in I’ll Take My Stand tells us:

Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society.  Religion is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creatures within it.  But nature industrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nature but a highly simplified picture of nature.  We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent.  The God of nature under these conditions is merely an amiable expression, a superfluity, and the philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in the religious experience is not there for us to have.

And in its piety the Southern mind did not, like some Eunomian heretic, scrutinise and weigh the essence of God. On the contrary, it tended to set anything that smacked of rationalism to one side in the understanding of the Faith such that the Southern religion might even be called in many respects “arational,” as Dr. Patrick explained to us, and in its spirituality potentially and dangerously prone to think of religious experience as an escape from history rather than a living out of the Word incarnate and the Word enfleshed and embodied in us in the sacraments.  And yet it was this same religious spirit in the South that does instinctively recognise the createdness of things and the dependence of the being of all things on the will of the Creator, a recognition that comes and must come in no small part from the relationship to the created order of one who tends and cultivates rather than one who uproots and exploits, which is to say an agrarian relationship rather than that of an industrialist and a consumer.  It is there in the tending of the “cultivated garden” that man understands his place before creation and his Creator, particularly by being in his own place where he will give praise to his God for the bounty that has been provided in God’s goodness.  It is there that he remembers who he truly is, seeing his connections to his place across the generations in the fields and groves that nourished him and made him into what he is.   Then, having remembered, he will tell his sons and daughters of their history on that land, so that they will know it is loved and should be loved, and to see that they must love and care for it because, in a way, the land has already loved and cared for them.  As Bradford concluded his essay in defense of the Agrarians (and all agrarians), so will I conclude today, with a few lines from Donald Davidson:

Is good, but better is land, and best
A land still fought-for, even in retreat:
For how else can Aeneas find his rest
And the child hearken and dream at his grandsire’s feet?  

More to the point, Dougherty says that Joe Francis’ unhinged lewd behavior makes his brain play the word libertarian on repeat—it’s not my favorite track, it just got stuck, he protests—and so maybe, sure, this is what anarchic freedom gets you in a secular, pluralistic, sexually “free” society like we have today. But I don’t need to remind Dougherty that Francis’ crudeness isn’t a result of a dominant libertarianism in government, because that’s not something we’ve had. Maybe this is just my ideology talking (now I fear the wrath of Larison!), but it seems to me that lifestyle libertarianism is apt to be more dominant in a society with a powerful state; the more power you give to a monopolistic secular authority like the government, the more secular your society will become. ~Peter Suderman

As glad as I am to jump on the old guv’mint for just about anything, and as much as I think there is something to the idea that what a state actively promotes as cultural values will have considerable impact on the state of the culture, I am a little perplexed.  What real difference does it make whether libertarianism is “dominant” in the government?  When it comes to “cultural libertarianism,” it is dominant in the society at large in some of its most obnoxious and abusive forms.  From Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous Girl to the dreck on television to the mores governing relations between the sexes to the idiocies of The DaVinci Code, the entire culture is inundated with the message: do and believe what you feel; human nature and reality are irrelevant. 

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Perhaps most significant, many men without college degrees are not marrying because the pool of women in their social circles — those without college degrees — has shrunk. And the dwindling pool of women in this category often look for a mate with more education and hence better financial prospects. ~The New York Times

Via Steve Sailer

As if it weren’t bad enough that modern education and professional psychiatry neglect and overmedicate boys when they are in school, the system is actually managing to educate their marriage prospects right out of their income bracket! 

Regarding another element of social and cultural breakdown, the experience of having gone through their parents’ divorce and the realistic probability that their marriage might end in divorce are enough to dissuade those in a position to marry from doing so.  As the article notes, to no one’s surprise:

For some men, living with a girlfriend is an attractive alternative given the possibility of a messy divorce. Many men fear that a former wife will take all their money. For blue-collar men, the divorce rate is twice that of men with college degrees.

This is, to put it mildly, a highly abnormal state for any sizeable number of people to be in.  We might then go into the social costs of the pursuit of chimerical gender equality, discuss the social disorder of a large population of permanent bachelors, generally berate a society obsessed with autonomous choice, point to the inevitable results of pushing women into the work force while simultaneously allowing the desanctifying and undermining of marriage, highlight the creation of job insecurity thanks to offshoring and outsourcing and other beneficial effects of “creative destruction” that make marriage very difficult for labourer and professional alike, or note the impact of immigration on the labour force and housing market.  Mr. Sailer has already touched on some of these.  However, I haven’t even had breakfast yet, so I’ll let those ideas float out there for your consideration.

That his The Passion of the Christ earned so many millions of dollars in spite of a concerted campaign labelling it anti-Jewish, must have grated on some movie heavyweights’ nerves.

This pathetic and ugly incident on the side of Malibu’s Pacific Highway appears to be their chance to finish Gibson and thus has been blown way out of proportion. ~Tory Maguire, The Sunday Telegraph

With the video release of one of the most overrated movies of the year, V for Vendetta, libertarians are once again in a tizzy over the excellence and general wonder that is this terribly disappointing tale of resistance against despotism.  Imagine Braveheart without heroism or humour, but piles and piles of PC garbage about homosexuality and Islam, and you have an idea of what Vendetta is like.  And add to that a tribute to Guy Fawkes that does Fawkes no justice but makes him a puppet for the Brothers Wachowski to make their entirely hum-drum, predictable leftist rant or, as TNR has it, their bank shot against Bush

Aside from another reason why libertarians should not be taken seriously on cultural questions, I am obliged to recall just how bad the movie itself is.  The plot is hard to take seriously.  For one, how does the notorious associate of a known terrorist (Evey) go undetected in a society where there is supposedly strict surveillance and control over everything?  Then there is the problem of understanding anyone’s motivation (except for that of V, whose motivation is very clearly one of revenge that he dresses up as high-minded principle).  There is, of course, the ludicrous world in which Anglican bishops cavort with authoritarian dictators and fascists, which shows the author of the “graphic novel” to know nothing about the spirit of modern Anglicanism and confirms the ignorance of the Brothers Wachowski.  Then there is the spontaneous, popular uprising at the end, which is completely unbelievable–how have the stupefied, terrified masses suddenly discovered the inner love of anarchy?  Worse than insulting, Vendetta is silly, no worse than many a B action movie but certainly no prize. 

I understand the anarcho-capitalist ideological urge to praise a movie that pretends to exalt anarchism, when all it manages to do effectively is glorify violence and mock Christians, and I also understand that this ideological lens blinds our libertarian friends to the sheer mediocrity of the piece.  Still, that does not excuse abominably bad aesthetic judgement.  Rather than  rehash the movie’s flaws, both dramatic and philosophical, I will leave the reader with my previous comments on the film and the general Rockwellian craze to praise and honour the film.  Here, in a few posts, are my thoughts on V for Vendetta and related matters.

If there wasn’t enough love to go around, here is a Protestant blogger who goes rather easy on Gibson.  You see, he’s Catholic, which means that he’s automatically an anti-Semite, so this fellow was not surprised by the outburst in the least.  Here is a taste of the ludicrous anti-Catholic bigotry on display:

Gibson, as a devout Roman Catholic, proved that the heart of Roman Catholicism has always been anti-Semite: something that honest historians and theologians know but nonetheless decline to say so thereby contributing to the Roman Church’s deception. 

Yes, the “honest” historians and theologians know all about it (that doesn’t make this guy sound like a conspiracy nut, no, not at all).  Actually, he’s got us dead to rights: the Jesuits make all history graduate students sign a pledge to lie on behalf of the Pope.  I have my Papist certificate of approval hanging on my wall. 

This is the sort of trash I expect from the Goldhagens of the world, not from Christians of any confession.  Good grief, I would have thought nonsense like this would have vanished by now.   

Rod Dreher notes a John O’Sullivan column from two years ago, when The Passion first came out, making a point similar to the one I made in response to Jimmy Akin’s complaints about the “nuanced,” sympathetic Pilate and allegedly uncomplicated and unsympathetic Caiaphas.  O’Sullivan also adds this important point about how moderns’ own preoccupations and prejudices (shocking, I know) shape their viewing of the film:

Yet there is also a less admirable reason why the modern world finds Pilate sympathetic. He is the patron saint of doubt and thus attractive to an age that regards doubt itself as a virtue—or at least as a mark of sophistication in the face of certainties with which we happen to disagree, whether they are the certainties of the religious right, or of fundamentalist Moslems, or of political ideologies. Many intellectuals, academics and (generally liberal) politicians have come to see doubt in these modestly heroic terms.

The secular moderns, for whom “faith is the path of least resistance” (from Woody Allen’s Match Point), or the Christians of the Obama/Sullivan school, for whom doubt is the key to faith, see Gibson’s portrayal of Pilate as sympathetic because they are sympathetic to someone who does not know what truth is (and perhaps are not interesting in finding out!).  I will say more.  They find the depiction of Caiaphas and the other chief priests offensive and, therefore, probably anti-Semitic (what else could it be?) because they abhor religious certainty and the religious persecution that sometimes accompanies it, and so they assume that Gibson must especially hate Caiaphas and all his kind because they find themselves hating these characters when he shows them violently affirming their religious convictions.  They know that they are not really allowed to feel hatred for these characters, so it must be Gibson’s anti-Semitic visual trickery that has made them do it.  A stretch?  Maybe, but no more preposterous than the idea that telling the Passion story in all its essentials with few significant additions is either a subtle or overt attack on all Jews.  The movie does make one claim that, in certain circles, is truly unforgiveable: that Jesus truly was, and is, God and the Christ promised of old to Israel.  That is very simply the foundation of the Christian Faith, and it is this that really offends those who become so exercised about the alleged anti-Semitism in the film, because that claim carries with it certain negative implications about the claims of every other religion.  I think what a lot of the critics really hate about the movie, but which they are not foolish enough to say out loud, is not that it supposedly portrays Jewish characters in classically anti-Semitic ways (I remain entirely unconvinced on this score), but that it portrays the Gospel as true.  

Faced with this, like Pilate, many modern men feel uneasy and are obliged to find some excuse to wash their hands of the matter and put the burden of his discomfort on someone else under whatever pretext they can find.  Like Pilate, they ask, Quid est veritas?, and, when offered an answer, cannot stand  to hear it.      

But no, the film ignores all of this, and it does so in favor of one thing and one thing only: physical suffering. The film is not merely marked by graphic depictions of physical pain, it is entirely and purely about it. This is not to say that its depictions are too intense, too gory, or excessive in the way that so many have claimed; instead, I would argue that its violence is too much because it squashes all else. The film has little to no story arc, little in the way of dramatic tension, and precious little insight beyond its insistence that this was indeed the most grueling bit of physical punishment ever put on a man. No story, no characters, just a cinematic sledgehammer built of out bloody flesh.

I see this not merely as a flaw from an artistic perspective, but also from a spiritual perspective. As a Christian, I obviously consider Christ’s death and resurrection the central event of human history, and it would be one thing if the film were actually about those two events and why they matter: But again, it cares little for theological or historical significance, at least when there’s more blood to be spilled. Gibson’s, erm, passion is for pain and pain alone.

More importantly, I would argue that the primary element–or at least the most common one–of most believers’ Christianity is not Christ’s pain, or even his death—but their individual relationship with the Son of God. By ignoring all but Jesus’ physical suffering, Gibson didn’t just give us a dramatically worthless character, he gave us a hollow, non-relational—but good’n bloody as hell!—Lord. ~Peter Suderman

I understand this objection, and as I suggested in an earlier post there are Orthodox arguments against the tremendous emphasis on physical suffering that The Passion has, but then these are the same arguments that the Orthodox would have against entire sections of Catholic spirituality from stigmata to the flagellants of medieval Europe, the spirituality of the Devotio Moderna with its emphasis on the imitation of Christ and the Penitentes of Chimayo in New Mexico with their reenactments of the Crucifixion (up until relatively recently they reenacted it with real nails and everything–talk about imitatio Christi!). 

Because Gibson is unabashedly making a Passion play, where the passio is central to narrative and the peculiar spirituality of mortification and suffering that arose in the Latin west, it is inevitable that suffering is dominant.  The title tells us what is coming, though we may not realise what it entails.  Now, I am willing to find fault with the movie’s theology, but I can do so only because I don’t agree with the soteriology of the tradition to which Gibson belongs.  Anselm’s idea of the Atonement imposes a kind of necessity on God that does not mesh with Orthodox patristic thought, but nonetheless Anselm’s conception is the one from which all Western Christians more or less derive their own understanding.  Once you conceive of the sins of man as a debt to paid, rather than a debt cancelled, the penalty to be exacted will be great, and if you emphasise Christ’s suffering as the means of making good that debt He will suffer tremendously to fulfill the demands of justice.  Understood this way, the immense violence done to the God-man reflects the artist’s conception of the profundity of the sins of men.  This is, of course, not at all fascistic, as some loopier critics said at the time, but powerfully kenotic and a great example of the profound condescension and humiliation that God undertook for our sake.

If seen from inside that tradition, it is hard to see how Gibson could have made a substantially different movie.  The bloodshed is copious, and can tend to overwhelm the audience, I agree, and was probably excessive even by the standards of his tradition, but it is far more intelligible in light of a tradition that celebrates a feast of Corpus Christi and venerates the Sacred Heart.  No one would pretend that this is not a robustly Catholic film, regardless of the large crowds of Protestants who lined up to see it, and when this is granted what seems bizarre to many viewers of the film will seem far less so.

Mr. Suderman makes a pretty debatable claim when he says:

More importantly, I would argue that the primary element–or at least the most common one–of most believers’ Christianity is not Christ’s pain, or even his death—but their individual relationship with the Son of God.

Of course, Mr. Suderman has a point here.  Most people do not typically meditate on Christ’s Passion or relate specifically to these events, except perhaps around Eastertide, but it is without a doubt the crucial turning point in salvation history that fulfills exactly the kind of personal communion and relationship with Christ and makes that relationship not just some spiritual buddy system but unites us to His death and thus to His Resurrection, whence comes our very salvation.  If the movie is to have the integrity of conveying the message of the Gospel that Christ suffered and died for our sins, it had to focus on the redemptive suffering and death of Christ rather than making Him into an interesting fellow with Whom we can relate.

This leads me to one of my two larger complaints about the film, which is that it just doesn’t work as a standalone movie, separate from all the Biblical context most of its supporters bring to it. (Too many of the film’s boosters argue from this perspective, treating the movie as, essentially, an addendum to years of Bible-reading and Sunday school. Considering that it is a mass-market film for a popular audience, this seems absurd. Also, the fact that it’s not, you know, canon.) The villains, Jew and Roman, are all bug-eyed caricatures, sneering, cackling manifestations of unhinged evil. To call them flat characters is an understatement; they are not people at all, just whooping, stereotyped manifestations of mad rage.

Worse, Jesus—the central figure in Western civilization for two thousand years—is similarly lacking in depth. We get a few flashbacks, and a few pivotal scenes are dramatized, but the film offers us nothing about Jesus as a dramatic character, as history’s only sinless man, as the sovereign Lord of man and son of God. Surely Jesus, of all the people who ever lived, should be a gripping, infinitely compelling onscreen character. ~ Peter Suderman

Mr. Suderman’s first point is a good one.  I cannot say how The Passion would appear to someone with only a limited or non-existent acquaintance with the Gospels, and it might be that the movie only really works for people who already come to it with more familiarity with Scripture.  That said, the story of Christ’s Passion is perhaps one of the most famous in our civilisation, references to it abound in our cultural history and you would have to be something of a complete cultural illiterate to have no requisite background for understanding the film and the entire backstory of Christ’s life to that point.  We might as well say that an adaptation of Henry V cannot stand on its own because no one any longer knows anything about the Hundred Years’ War.  As a portrait of Christian theology, The Passion’s reach may be limited to those with eyes to see, but as a work of dramatic storytelling I am unsure why it needs significant introduction.  Besides, everything you need to understand about the characters and their motivations is revealed in the course of the film: the Passion narrative sums up and recapitulates what was most important in Christ’s ministry.

The charge that the “villains, Jew and Roman, are all bug-eyed caricatures, sneering, cackling manifestations of unhinged evil” seems less compelling, when you consider that Pilate, his wife, the soldier Abenader, the centurion at the Cross and Caiaphas are certainly better developed and better played than this.  There is at least some complexity in each of them.  Satan certainly sneers, but also provides an embodiment of evil that goes beyond the predictable way of showing the Prince of Darkness.  The villains who fit Mr. Suderman’s description here are the soldiers who scourge and beat Christ, who fill the roles of brutal henchmen; we do not typically hold it against a film that its brutal henchmen are flat, superficial characters–they are henchmen!  Perhaps this is a deficiency of film-making, but it is one no different from every other film in which there are henchmen.  The other villains, though perhaps not as multi-layered and conflicted as we post-moderns like our villains, are not quite so shallow as all that. 

Portraying the character of Christ has always been problematic, which is typically why artists have not attempted to delve too deeply, lest they wander off either into Nestorian errors out of a need to portray a human that they, as artists, can understand and describe or simply jump off the deep end like a Kazantzakis.  It is true that Christ should be the deepest character one can imagine, since He is the God-man, but it is quite one thing for this to be theoretically true and quite another for an artist to attempt to describe the mental state, interior life or motivations of the Word Incarnate.  Right away, I think Mr. Suderman will see the problem with his objection: no orthodox Christian could, short of Kazantzakian or Nestorian blasphemy, or would attempt to flesh out a character for God the Word.  Gibson makes brief efforts to inject moments from ordinary life into the film, but this is not the same thing.  So, I suppose what I am saying is that Mr. Suderman is right to a certain extent that The Passion’s Christ lacks depth, but it could not have been done any other way and still remain faithful to the common orthodoxy of all major Christian confessions.  The artist must be true to his material, and in this case that required Gibson to allow the words spoken by the Word to speak for themselves; he could not significantly embellish or elaborate on them without doing violence to his subject. 

As for its anti-Semitism, let me clarify. Jew-hatred is not its primary purpose, nor even a dominant one. The film doesn’t make a point to lash out at Jews, but, I think, it does manage to caricature them when it has an opportunity. The anti-Semitism is not overt—it’s not what the film’s about—but the simplistic, cartoony stereotypes of sniveling, power-hungry, money-obsessed Jews it gives us certainly smack of classic anti-Semite portrayals of Jews. It’s not so much what we see them do; rather, it’s how we see them do it. ~Peter Suderman

I appreciate Mr. Suderman’s thorough response to my earlier post, and I would like to thank him for elaborating in some greater detail on both why he sees anti-Semitism in the movie and why he regarded it as an artistic failure.  His technical critiques of the problems with the storytelling and the characters are interesting, and I would like to come back to them in a different post.  But let me try once more to persuade Mr. Suderman that there not an iota of anti-Semitism in The Passion of the ChristRead the rest of this entry »

The Mel Gibson business has been good business for those keen on policing thought.  There is actually something very odd about the modern, post-Christian need to root out things like “prejudice.”  What is it, after all, that they are trying to root out?  The human habit to draw general conclusions from specific experiences, or the equally human habit of bearing grudges?  They may as well lobotomise us all, for that is what it will take to get rid of these habits–provided that we do not seek a greater spiritual sanity in revealed religion. 

It is not in this case a question of changing anyone’s behaviour, because, barring his momentary outburst, Gibson has been a perfectly respectable citizen whose main offense has been to tread on the toes of ridiculous people.  It is not really done to prevent those inclined to act violently from taking out their prejudice on someone else, since these are precisely the sorts of people who are uninterested in avoiding the stigmas of polite society anyway.  Stigmatising the prejudiced seems to be done to maintain a weird kind of non-religious spiritual or ideological purity.  It is, in the woolly language of cultural studies, “boundary maintenance,” defining your identity and setting down what you consider to be legitimate and acceptable: it is something you do to others to make a statement about yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

This context makes Gibson’s current unprovoked explosion of crude and appalling anti-Semitic sentiments all the more shocking. ~Michael Medved

It is also a defining moment for American Christianism. Christianists protected, promoted, lionized and harbored this Jew-hater. And they need to be held account for it in a terribly dangerous time. ~Andrew Sullivan

Prompted by the salsa-dancing Michael Brendan Dougherty and encouraged by the Big Lebowski-watching Chris Roach, I am wading into the morass of commentary on Gibson himself after having gone over the reasons why the charges of anti-Semitism against his film are nonsense.  Medved’s otherwise predictable column does make one very interesting point: Gibson had never exhibited, so far as anyone knows, attitudes or behaviour anything like this before now.  All of which tends to suggest that there is something else going on here rather than the expression of deep-seated prejudice, unless we are supposed to believe that he managed to conceal his attitudes for his entire life from public scrutiny. 

It would hardly surprise me if the white-hot hatred of him and his movie in the American Jewish community had not given him a bad attitude about the individuals who came after him that gradually grew into a general resentment.  I remember a comment he made to WorldNetDaily once that if he had not removed the potentially inflammatory language, His blood be on us and on our children (Matt. 27:25), he feared for his safety:

I wanted it in. My brother said I was wimping out if I didn’t include it. But, man, if I included that in there, they’d be coming after me at my house. They’d come to kill me. 

Perhaps that was hyperbole (though given the poisoned atmosphere around the run-up to the movie, maybe it wasn’t that hyperbolic), perhaps it was an attempt to increase controversy and interest in the movie, or perhaps that was an expression of the level of hostility being aimed at him personally about which we in the public know (or remember) far less.  Men tend to take a dim view of being threatened like that, and there’s no telling how much that experience embittered him.  Considering the abominable, despicable prejudice against Christians and Christianity that has always been driving the war against The Passion and Gibson, it is not surprising, though it is unfortunate, that Gibson might respond to his critics’ vitriol and hate in equal measure.  However, Christ commands us to forgive and pray for our enemies, not answer their slights with our own.

That being said, Sullivan’s never-ending quest to disparage all Christians who actually practice some form of normative Christianity, and who believe the Faith has something to do with real life outside of the realm of opposing torture on your blog, has just managed to reach a new low.  Now the Christianists, always subverting the American way of life, must be held to account for harbouring a ”Jew-hater.”  Should Sullivan then be held to account for being a hater of most other Christians?  For that matter, when will we be drumming all the Christian-haters out of the media, academia and government?  I realise it might create a brief personnel crisis, but I think we should take a stand against bigotry.  Or would that be a little too even-handed and fair? 

But I’ll have to disagree with Matt when he praises Gibson’s The Passion. While that movie was undeniably visionary and one of the few films that can truly be called “uncompromising,” I found it problematic, troubling, and outright off-putting on any number of levels, not the least of which was its anti-Semitism. But none of this has much to do with Gibson or his personal views. The movie didn’t work because the movie didn’t work, and Gibson’s propensity for loathsome remarks doesn’t change the work one way or another. ~Peter Suderman

It seems to me that there are two solid grounds for objecting to The Passion of the Christ: the first is that it is poorly executed as a piece of film-making, which I find very difficult to credit; the second, and more important, is one often voiced by my friends at church that its entire understanding of salvation and the Augustinian-cum-Anselmian view of our predicament and the Atonement is badly skewed and awry (a secondary Orthodox objection is to the carnal portrayal of the God-man and the movie’s ability to imprint the memory of an actor’s face as the image of Christ).  The first honestly baffles me.  The picture is moving without being saccharine (no mean feat, that), and it is compelling without leaving you with the sense that you have been cheated or manipulated.  If it is “problematic, troubling, and outright off-putting on any number of levels,” as Mr. Suderman says, I would be interested to know where the flaws are.  Perhaps I am not a good judge of quality films, but to date no film or cultural critic has made a compelling argument that did not end up coming back to queasiness about the “fascistic” violence or discomfort at the portrayal of the Jewish authorities.  Some have made reasonable arguments in the name of realism that the sheer amount of violence inflicted was over the top, but I regard this as the main flaw that strains credulity.  But, however much I had to suspend disbelief at some points, the film was never “off-putting.”  The interweaving of the Last Supper and the Sacrifice on the Cross, with its obvious liturgical and Eucharistic significance, was done as artfully as anything I have seen.     

Objecting to its non-existent anti-Semitism is annoying to me for reasons I have stated on a couple of occasions, but which I will sum up again with a few different points: by the standard that judges Gibson’s film to be anti-Semitic, the Passion Gospel readings in particular and most patristic commentary on those readings for the first eighteen or nineteen centuries of Christian history would have to be deemed (anachronistically and hyperbolically) anti-Semitic.  Indeed, The Passion would have to be judged less anti-Semitic than the Gospels, because of certain concessions Gibson made to the hysterical critics during the editing process (famously, he cut out the line from Matthew, His blood be on us and on our children, because of fears that it would stir up violent feelings).  Not only would I not grant this, but I don’t believe 90% of Passion critics are willing to make that leap, either.  Many would like to have it both ways: the Gospels are lovely and timeless, provided that we don’t pay too much attention to detail, which might cause a certain discomfort, so it is much easier to transfer all of their discomfort with what the Gospels say to Gibson’s film.  It has now become an even more ripe for this sort of transferrence because of Gibson’s, er, faux pas

Early Christianity was born in the midst of a Jewish world and became what it was in no small part by defining itself in opposition to the Jewish authorities around them and the Law they upheld.  Christians were increasingly met with scorn, derision and persecution, and the Johannine tradition with its strong roots in and around Jerusalem particularly reflects the hostility between the two increasingly estranged communities.  From that day on it became a common way of understanding the “royal road” of Christianity as rejecting the errors of Judaism and Hellenism alike; from the time of the Pharisee convert Paul, Jew and Greek became standard representatives of the errors into which Christians could fall if they were careless.  To tell the story of Christ without this antagonism with none other than the Jewish authorities would be to tell the story with half the narrative cut out.   

The Passion tells the story that the Gospels tell, adding scarcely any details not found there (except, admittedly, for a lengthy elaboration of the scourging and the Via Dolorosa and the inclusion of the story of St. Veronica), which is not to the sanitised eyes of modern men an all together pretty story.  It is the story of lawless men inciting mobs to near-riot to bring about the death of an innocent Man who, as the story goes, understood their religion better than they did because He was, and is, its Author.  It is the story of men who, when offered their Saviour or a murderer, cried in ignorance, Give us Barrabas!  It is the story of every man’s proclivity to follow the father of lies rather than to embrace the Truth, acted out in all its brutality and physicality, which in turn also underscores the reality of the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

It is a story of petty human jealousy and pride grasping at what belongs to God and resenting God’s salvation when it comes, to which all flesh is heir, and the failure of the custodians of the patrimony to step aside when the Heir arrived.  It is the story of men, who should have been faithful stewards, acting as hirelings.  It is the universal story of man’s betrayal of God, told in the most striking way: the turning away of most of the leaders of God’s own Chosen People from His Son.  It is the story of men’s ignorance of their own degraded state and their lashing out at the very Saviour Who has come to heal them: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.  

If these are some of the central, important truths about the degraded, postlapsarian state of man according to Christian teaching, the film showed us these truths in a powerful way.  If the film convincingly showed Christ’s Suffering, Death and Resurrection as the means to redeeming fallen man, it succeeded in dramatically telling its story.  I do not believe anyone can say that it failed in these respects.  The theological objections to the manner in which Christ redeemed us, or the rationale why God became man, over which some Orthodox exercise themselves with respect to this picture, are valid objections, but I simply find the carping about the film’s artistic quality or its supposed prejudice entirely unconvincing. 

Today, even more than when the film came out amid general furore and uproar, I find the attribution of anti-Semitism to The Passion more insulting than I did then, because it is all together so much easier today to assume that Gibson has left little dabs of anti-Semitism in the film because he has supposedly been “outed” (like Dostoevsky, for what it’s worth, Gibson still maintains that he is not an anti-Semite).  It was a little bit risky for secular conservatives, neoconservatives and liberals to jump on that Christ-hating bandwagon (which is, I’m sorry, largely what it was) two years ago.  Today, there will hardly be room for all the people who want to climb onto the anti-Passion fad.  All the more reason to insist on just how wrong this accusation of anti-Semitism in The Passion really is.             

My recounting of the sessions of the summer school will be done along certain common themes that seem to me to link different sessions, as I think this will provide a more coherent and complete picture of the entire experience than if I listed the points of each session one by one in chronological order, so I will be starting mainly with the Chesterton talks to set the tone and then move into the other lectures in the coming days and weeks. 

One of the important themes of The Rockford Institute’s summer school on “The American Agrarian Tradition” that kept recurring, particularly in Fr. Boyd’s talks on Chesterton, was the supreme importance of the Incarnation for the Christian vision and, by extension, agrarian and Distributist visions of life and society.  The quote that stayed with me most strongly was, I believe, from Chesterton: “The central idea of our civilisation is the doctrine of the Incarnation.”  It is a doctrine that forces us to reassess the meaning and order of all things, as the Incarnation is “the radical reversal of human values.”  I would add that it is also the supreme act of God entering into history, becoming embodied and dwelling amongst us in everyday life.  And it is the stuff of everyday life–”daybreak, daily bread and daily labour”–that must be made “interesting in themselves” if our civilisation is to endure.  Related to this, as Fr. Boyd noted in his first talk, for any social reform to be successful there must be a sense of wonder about the created order, possessing Chesterton’s sensibility as a “sacramental Christian” that, as Chesterton wrote in his riposte to Yeats, ”where there is anything, there is God.” 

The title of this post is taken from St. John of Damascus, who defended the veneration of holy icons on the grounds that God had become matter for our sake and worked out salvation through matter, which is to say flesh, redeeming and remaking matter so that it was possible to venerate material images of heavenly realities.  But in conjunction with the lectures on Chesterton and his application of Incarnation theology to social and economic questions, following those in the Anglo-Catholic circles in which he moved, the revaluation of the material world inherent in the reality of the Word having become flesh takes on new significance for the revaluation of the daily life and daily work of ordinary men.  In the Chestertonian vision, according to Fr. Boyd, the Incarnation tells us that ordinary men are sacred.  Chesterton’s conviction derived from this was that the institutions of family, property and community are essential to sustain and support them. 

Of these three, all of which are steadily and constantly undermined and sapped by mobility, deracination and the concentration of power and wealth, the most undervalued and least protected today is property, as Dr. Fleming explained in the first session.  Yet fundamental to any agrarian vision is the secure and widely diffused possession of real property that cannot be infringed upon.  Distributism itself is, as the name implies, a commitment to the wide diffusion of land ownership as a means to sustain the dignity and freedom of ordinary men, because, as Fr. Boyd put it, “property is the sacramental solidification of liberty.”  Fr. Boyd emphasised that Chesterton was not engaging in a “romanticisation” of the common man, but sought, if I recall correctly, to accord ordinary men the dignity and stature that God had already bestowed upon them in Christ and find the economic and social means to make these things secure.  Chesterton’s Distributism was not systematized and abstract, and so was not really an -ism at all, but was a description about humane everyday life.  Fundamentally, Distributism was (and is) concerned with the very grounded realities of earthly life, starting with the owning and cultivating of land, without which ordinary men will be (and have been) pressed together into servile masses subordinate to centralised elites of state and corporation. 


Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.

This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen. ~Anthony Sacramone, First Things

Surely if there was a place for cant, it would be First Things under Mr. Bottum’s esteemed guidance, and Mr. Sacramone shows himself to be right at home at the intellectual Bottum.  One definition of cant, after all, is:

The use of religious phraseology without understanding or sincerity; empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; hypocrisy. 

Check Mr. Sacramone’s sad invocation of the New Jerusalem as a justification for rancid urbanism and consumerist degradation to see whether he meets this definition.  Perhaps Jeremy Lott will write a sequel to his current book that would be entitled In Defense of Cant, and Mr. Sacramone can be his chief defendant.  I missed this latest wave of cant at First Things while high-tailing it to northern Illinois (the Ozarks were too far away), where, as it happens, I had some sausages for dinner at the Saturday dinner for the summer school on America’s agrarian tradition (whether they came from a salesman of sausages, or were instead homemade, was not made known to the assembled guests).  Fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty took up my usual role of angry reactionary blogger and gave him and those like him a good hiding.  

Now, as Mr. Sacramone may or may not be aware, the only problems that matter are old ones (who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose?), and the only solutions worth their salt tend to also be old and venerable ones.  He may have heard something about the accumulated wisdom of generations providing us with time-tested truths that tell us about human nature, the good life, and so on.  Supposedly First Things, given the name, might be expected to take these things seriously, since they pertain to the permanent things, the serious things, things of the first order of importance in human existence.  It might be worth noting that the prophetic and eschatological witnesses to the Kingdom being not of this world, monastics and ascetics, typically have fled the wretchedness of the cities.  But what did those monks and saints know?  Besides, they’re all so very old.  Nobody fashionable goes into the desert, into the country, to follow Christ anymore–you might be accosted by all manner of rustics with guns! 

But who are we kidding?  There is apparently nothing so serious that the semi-learned gentlemen at First Things cannot trivialise and mock it.  I have rarely seen such a self-indulgent, cynical display of intellectual hooliganism–and nihilism–as Mr. Sacramone has given us.  Glad to know that this is what First Things stands for–it confirms what I have assumed about that journal for many years.   

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told the Vatican publication Famiglia Christiana that researchers who destroy human embryos, and politicians who approve laws allowing such destruction, will be excommunicated. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo also criticized countries that had passed such laws, saying they had “thrown out fundamental laws of nature.”

With respect to excommunication, the Cardinal appears to be referring to the excommunication latae sententiae already prescribed in Canon Law for those who procure or assist in procuring an abortion. But it will be interesting to see what Benedict XVI says on July 8-9 when he visits the World Meeting with Familes in Spain, a country that under its current Socialist leadership has already thrown several “fundamental laws of nature” and appears eager to throw out some more. ~Tom Piatak

What would this kind of regional populism look like in an actual political platform? Broadly speaking, it would seek at every turn to end the dependence of its constituents on elites. It would oppose, for example, the nationalization of any sector of our economy, from health care to agriculture. Instead, it would seek creative ways to open regional markets for regional goods.

It would seek to permit regional cultural and religious particularities to emerge from the fog of federalized regulation and be made manifest in our schools, courthouses, businesses and civic organizations. And it would provide incentives to keep cultural capital local. It would encourage people to work, study and raise families close to where they grew up. It would seek ways to promote local culture and would cultivate loyalty to our neighbors and a fierce love for our own places.

But in the end, what this kind of vibrant regionalism requires is something much more difficult to obtain than a slogan. It is a renewed appreciation for society over and against both the individual and the state. Society defined by what the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry calls “membership” – a network of social interconnectedness and shared obligation. To be a member of this kind of social order is the best hedge against manipulation by the central planning committee for “growth” and “prosperity.” It is, to put it plainly, to be free. ~Caleb Stegall, The Dallas Morning News

In the mid-20th century, economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism – the acknowledged world-historical champion in terms of producing wealth and prosperity – would, by a process he called “creative destruction,” eventually undermine the very social institutions that gave it birth and guarded its existence. He pointed out that market capitalism exposed more natural ordering structures – the “ties that bind” – to a brutal new calculus. Commitment to kin, community and place entail making heavy economic sacrifices and provide benefits not easily entered on a balance sheet. The more cost-efficient process of market economics fomented an ongoing progressive revolution that eventually rendered those social and family ties largely superfluous. Lord Acton observed that “every institution tends to perish by an excess of its own basic principle.”

This tendency of our political and economic culture toward a state of permanent revolution is the hallmark of any modern progressive society. And if there is one deity today to which every politician, right and left, will pay obeisance, it is the god of progress. ~Caleb Stegall

Via The Japery

The newest American Conservative (July 17 issue) is full of excellent articles (sorry, no links as of yet).  To name just a couple, W. James Antle III writes an interesting report on the electoral struggle of Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), one of six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war; Chilton Williamson levels a devastating and powerful critique of the aimless life of acquisition and consumption Americans embrace.  Crunchy cons, Pantagruelists and traditionalists, take note.  These two alone are worth getting a copy of this issue, and there is more to be had besides these. 

I wanted to start out with this preface highlighting all the good articles in the 7/17 issue, because I also feel compelled to comment on a number of rather egregious errors in Marcia Christoff Kurapovna’s “Reconciling Christendom.”  In what seems to have been intended as a crash-course in church history and ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, Ms. Kurapovna made several mistakes and omissions, some theological and others historical, that are irritating to me for their inaccuracy but still worse they are misleading for those readers who are less familiar with the particulars of the divide between Catholics and Orthodox.  These errors and omissions do not facilitate the cause of rapprochement between the two churches in the Truth, which is a goal that all faithful Christians of both confessions ultimately hope for, but rather confirms in the minds of skeptics and anti-ecumenists that those interested in ecumenism are strong on a spirit of reconciliation and weak on matters of substance.  For those unfamiliar with teachings of the Faith, these errors can confuse, mislead or even scandalise those through misrepresentations of Christianity.  For those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, which includes a great many Christians, these errors and omissions can also present a less than clear and accurate portrait of the Orthodox Church, and this also requires some correction.

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I wish everyone a very happy Independence Day!  230 years ago today the Declaration of Independence (which had already been signed on July 2) was proclaimed in each of the new states, and the political bonds between the colonies and the Mother Country were severed.  Typically, how we understand the actions of the early patriots colours to a great extent how we understand American identity. 

There are those, such as Irving Kristol, who believe we are an ideological nation with a mission, and that the Declaration of Independence is one source of this national ideology as transmuted by strange 20th century revolutionary agendas.  There are others, such as Harry Jaffa, who believe that the Founding is typified by a peculiar, ahistorical Lincolnian reading of the Declaration of Independence, which happens to comport very nicely with a doctrine of modern egalitarianism.  There are still others, not far removed from either of these, who define being American with an acceptance of certain propositions, most of which are, again, culled from the text of the Declaration of Independence.  For these people, being American is an ideological pose or affiliation to a certain set of political views.  In this camp also falls the tiresome Ruben Navarette, Jr.  More on his latest column in a moment. 

On the other hand, there are those who see the Declaration of Independence as a final statement of grievances about the violations of established, chartered rights of Englishmen by Crown and Parliament, rights which the signers of the Declaration had inherited from the English constitutional tradition as a matter of legal right as subjects of the British Crown.  It was solely on the basis of their status as Englishmen and British subjects that the signers would have had much confidence that their rebellion was lawful–their right to revolt, as they understood it, was not based in the natural order of things or the law of nature, but in a very contingent, fragile web of constitutional inheritances tying the generations together. 

The Declaration did also include a number of rhetorical nods to the early Enlightenment and Whig thought of late seventeenth century Britain, as Locke and Sydney, among others, had sought to justify the Great Rebellion and, in the case of Locke, also the “Glorious Revolution.”  The constitutional guarantees confirmed in the Bill of Rights of 1628 and the Petition of Right of 1689, and secured by the main force of regicide and foreign invasion, had become the patrimony of our forefathers and represented the established and venerable custom that they then sought to preserve against perceived innovation and usurpation.  Though exceedingly minor, the infractions against which they rebelled represented for them the thin end of the wedge and, if left unchecked, the source of future usurpation based on the precedents then being set. 

Fidelity to their republican spirit and their constitutionalism would seem to me to be an important element of what it means to be American, just as the defense of their constitutional patrimony represented for our forefathers their identity as Englishmen.  However, even that standard would be to make American identity dependent principally on the acceptance of a certain political regime; defense of the constitutional inheritance should be done in the spirit of preserving the broader cultural patrimony we have received from our British ancestors. 

Our fundamentally British culture, as Russell Kirk termed it, is at the core of who we Americans are.  Should newcomers embrace that culture, or at least what is left of it, they may be welcome, depending, of course, on a host of other considerations and pursuant to respect for the laws of the nation, but if they approach being American in an ideological way (”I like freedom!  I llike democracy!”) it is doubtful that they will ever become American in this meaningful sense, regardless of what their status as citizens may be.

This brings me to Mr. Navarette and his laughable list of political positions that he uses to define his Americanness.  The list is designed in no small part to make being a good American and being a good servant of the current regime identical.  Here is a taste of some of the more absurd bits:

I’m an American because I love and appreciate freedom, and I want people around the world to have the chance to experience it firsthand. When liberty is threatened, or when a tyrant preys upon the weak and defenseless, I favor sending in the troops to set things right.

I’m an American because I don’t believe in isolationism or disengaging from the rest of the world. I agree with those who say the United States is the world’s one indispensable nation, and that it’s our solemn responsibility to be – not “the world’s policeman” – but its role model and defender.

I’m an American because my sympathies lie with the little guy (especially when he is being pushed around by the big guy) and because I won’t stomach bullies, foreign or domestic. The country is most righteous when it defends the underdog and shows the world how to be tough and compassionate at the same time.

I’m an American because I reject protectionism. If we don’t run and hide from foreign armies, why should we run and hide from foreign trade? Whether our competitors come from India or China or Latin America, if we produce unique and quality merchandise, we’ll outsell anyone – even if our prices are higher because our labor costs are higher.

I happen to disagree with every single one of these policy positions, and I tend to regard interventionism on just this side of treachery, but that is not the only reason why I find this list laughable.  It is the presumption that any of these things has something to do with being American.  If espousing these beliefs, or opposing these positions, is what makes one an American, immigrants certainly have no need to come here–they may be Americans wherever they are.  They can vigorously hate isolationism and protectionism without all the muss and fuss of coming to this country.  If this is the case, I heartily recommend that they save themselves the trouble.  But Mr. Navarette is, as usual, mistaken: adherence to policy positions do not a national identity make.  Perhaps this is a problem that third-generation Americans like Mr. Navarette and even more recent arrivals have: lacking anything more substantial to connect them to their country and their national identity, they must latch on to the superficial loyalties of support for this or that government endeavour.  It is a serious problem.  It is, however, Mr. Navarette’s problem, and not that of the rest of us.  Why the rest of us, especially those who regard the policies he endorses as ruinous or well-nigh dangerous to this country, should seriously entertain his definition of what it is to be American remains a mystery.    

In short, Mr. Navarette believes he is American because he supports the government intervening in foreign countries and conflicts, because he supports internationalist foreign policy and because he supports free trade.  There are plenty of Americans who have supported all of the things he favours (alas!), but there are also just as many who have opposed them over the years.  “Isolationism,” so called, was the tradition of the United States for perhaps 140 years until Woodrow Wilson broke with that tradition definitively (McKinley certain did some damage, but it was meager compared to Wilson and those who came later).  Any number of great and notable men in our history have rejected all of the things Mr. Navarette chose to cite among the first policies that define him as an American.  Personally, I find anyone whose national identity is circumscribed by the limits of which government policies he favours to be sad and pitiable.  Whatever one may say in favour of any of these policies (I cannot think of many things to say in their favour), it has nothing in particular to do with being American.  Mr. Navarette is the son and grandson of Americans–he should start with this genuine claim to American identity and build from there.  Unfortunately, those with such an ideological frame of mind are likely to regard such things as “arbitrary” and irrelevant.  It is their loss. 

Cross-posted at Enchridion Militis

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone. ~The Washington Post

This story is now fairly old as the news cycle and the world of blogging goes, but since I did not have a chance to say anything about it earlier I thought I would note a couple of things that struck me about this. 

First of all, it is stunning to me that so many people have so few close friends or even none at all.  Perhaps it is a function of responding to the upheaval of nine years in academic flux, but I try to make a point of retaining and cultivating the close friends I have had over the years, and the idea that a quarter of all Americans have no one in whom they can confide seems almost unfathomable to me.

This is a significant confirmation that the constant mobility, upheaval, rootlessness and individualism of modern American life have come together to cut off millions of people from anything resembling real social, much less community, life.  As the article notes, the people surveyed may have a horde of online contacts and numerous acquaintances with whom they correspond, but the depth of these relationships scarcely extends beyond the surface. 

With trends like this, it is doubtful that appeals to a life centered around local community will have any meaning for people who have no idea what that community might resemble.  These people might be hungry for real community, but might not even know how to go about finding it.  Not only are these people lacking in koinonia, but they seem to be bereft, at a fundamental, intimate level, of even the most basic human affinities outside of the now increasingly unstable institution of marriage.  I defy the libertarians out there to tell us that this trend towards isolation is a good development; I defy them to tell us that it is not a product of the very social and political individualism they champion, or that an even greater emphasis on the self would benefit all concerned. 

When Barack Obama speaks, do people listen?  I don’t know, but Post columnists do start writing about how wonderful he is.  In addition to Hoagland’s nod to the Obama “Call to Renewal” keynote address, E.J. Dionne fell all over himself praising “Obama’s Eloquent Faith.”  So what did the man of eloquent faith have to say?  Here is an excerpt that reveals a lot about Mr. Obama’s assumptions about religion:

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they’re coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

While Daniel Pulliam at GetReligion was not impressed by the speech (his post is a great resource for links to the various responses to the speech), this sort of Hallmark sentiment-meets-Anthropology 101 simply blows the average liberal columnist away.  And no wonder, as this is just about as profound and serious as liberals ever allow themselves to get about religious yearning and the inborn desire for truth and meaning!  However, so long as liberals choose to think of religious conviction in terms of self-fulfillment and relief from loneliness they will not penetrate any deeper, and they will certainly not convince a lot of Christians they either understand or care about the latter’s faith.

Intolerance — whether exercised by “Islamic” fundamentalists blowing up the mosques of other sects or by “Christian” activists blowing up abortion clinics — is rapidly becoming a decisive force in domestic politics and foreign policy in nation after nation. ~Jim Hoagland, The Washington Post

Yes, that rash of abortion clinic bombings has been troubling everyone lately, I’m sure.  Never mind that there is one such clinic bombing every fourth leap year, and any number of attacks on mosques and churches alike (though obviously attacks on churches tend to be the more common) every year by Muslims in countries as various as Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan.  Here the relatively exceptional Eric Rudolph will stand in for all of Christianity, while the depressingly commonplace violence of Islamic militants against all and sundry is safely filed under the generic intolerance of everyone who takes religion seriously.  The content and merits of any one religion do not count in this assessment, but all religions will be smeared equally with the crimes of the worst creeds and most unbalanced fanatics.  Notice how this weak parallelism allows Mr. Hoagland to identify Intolerance decisively with generic Religion, of which there are various manifestations (all of them troubling), which he then uses to set up the rest of the unfortunate column (the fight against the “crisis of intolerance”!).

One of these troubling manifestations Mr. Hoagland describes as follows:

The spiraling growth of evangelical Christianity in the United States — as well as in Latin America, China and Africa — reflects the central reality that also helps drive the radicalization of Islam across the Middle East, Central Asia and the northern Caucasus. When people feel threatened by rapid and mystifying change, they turn to the most literal forms of religion for explanations and justifications.

The evangelicals are coming!  Run for your lives!  Now, I am hardly what you would call evangelical-friendly on matters theological and ecclesiological, but I recognise a ridiculous insult against evangelicals when I see it.  Evangelical Christianity presumably does serve social and cultural functions that make it very popular in both late modern and modernising societies (e.g., perhaps its capacity for greater individualistic expressions and practices of faith, perhaps a seemingly more intense emotional religiosity, etc.), but depicting it as refuge for the shell-shocked victims of rapid change hardly does it credit and certainly does not make any attempt at understanding the phenomenon.   

The claim that people turn to religion, much less the “most literal forms” of religion, to cope with rapid change is, at the very best, simplistic.  The social and cultural functions of religious belief will be as varied and complex as the societies that embrace a given belief.  Gone are the days, I hope, of the myth that people embraced mystery religions, and Christianity most of all, in the later empire in large part because their world was crumbling around them.  I suspect this religion-as-flight-response is the sort of thing some sociologists wish were the case (more than a few sociologists not being all together big fans of religious people themselves), as it would provide a fairly easy psychological explanation of why people turn to religion that will fail to account for religious attitudes in periods of rapid change as often as it succeeds. 

Mr. Hoagland has arrived late on the scene if he thinks the debunking of the modernisation-leads-to-secularisation model is news.  For the last 15 years we have seen many kinds of religious fundamentalism (which is, as many have noted, itself a product of modernity) moving arm-in-arm with technical and political modernisation–the fundamentalists are often the modernisers of the moment.  See India and the rise of the BJP as a prime example, or consider Erdogan’s Islamists in the AK Party in Turkey.  The rise of Christian democracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is hardly an unknown phenomenon, would similarly baffle those wedded to such a self-serving progressive theory.  Perhaps before we get carried away with interfaith conferences our own secularists should acquaint themselves with even the most basic outlines of the religious mind in their own civilisation.  They might also take some time to study the rise of religious movements as something other than a sign of rising “intolerance,” which to the ears of religious people is pejorative and tendentious rhetoric.  Perhaps then they might find that their religious neighbours are at least barely tolerable.

Why do editors and columnists prepare articles on religion like this one to publish on Sunday morning?  Is it just to irritate the odd reader about to leave for church who finds random Washington Post columns thrust into his local paper’s op-ed section?  Perhaps I should have ignored the paper this morning, but the pull quote from Hoagland’s piece today (which is actually a quote from the South Side’s own Sen. Obama) caught my attention.  It sums up everything that is wrong with the article and the broader argument it is making about the place of religion in democratic politics:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. 

My immediate reaction to this was something along the lines of, “If that is what democracy demands, we won’t be having much need for it.”  But give Sen. Obama credit for unpacking modern democrats and universalists’ assumptions about what “democracy” allows and “demands”: it does not allow religious expression in terms of “religion-specific values,” which is to say religious values as such are irrelevant to public debate and public policy, and it demands that adherents of religions (and, to cut through it, we all understand that we’re talking essentially about Christians and about  no one else) accept one of the alternative secular schemes that are deemed suitable for “democratic” politics and consign their religious convictions to the corner where they can safely gather dust. 

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The second point is, quite naturally, that identity formation grows within a CONTEXT. If you do not understand the social, economic, cultural and political underpinnings of a society, you cannot understand either its corporate or individual identities, affiliations or loyalties. Anyone who tries to pinpoint an Iraqi in terms of a static rubric (Sunni/ Shi’i/ Kurd/ Assyrian/ Sabean/ Turcoman) will be forever lost in the wilderness. And he/she will probably deserve to be so.~ Hala Fattah, Askari Street

Hala Fattah is an Iraqi historian currently living in Jordan and my favourite blogger bar none. Her blog is by far the most informative and worthwhile at HNN or at most any other news or weblog site when it comes to matters pertaining to Iraq. Her blog is pretty much exclusively dedicated to the history and current affairs of Iraq, but this focus allows her to explain things so very well.

Her posts are rich and detailed, and it is clear that she puts far more thought into each of them than most bloggers (myself included) would ever bother to do. For anyone interested in understanding the situation in Iraq more thoroughly with some historical perspective, or is simply interested in solid, short historical articles online, Hala’s blog is the one to read.

Words changed meaning. A people who fights for its legitimate sovereign is a rebellious people. A traitor is a loyal subject. France was an Empire of lies: journals, pamphlets, discourses, prose, and verse all disguised the truth. If it rained, we were assured it was sunny. If the tyrant walked among the silent people, it was said that he advanced among the acclamations of the crowd. The prince was all that mattered: morality consisted of devoting oneself to his caprice; duty was to praise him. Above all it was necessary to praise the administration when it made a mistake or committed a crime.

~ Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, On Buonaparte and the Bourbons

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