Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Boomer American as Cant-Ridden Noble Savage

At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. ... These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society's values. ... They are less in rebellion against society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.

They feed back exactly what is given to them. Because they do not believe in words--words are for 'typeheads,' Chester Anderson tells them, and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips--their only proficient vocabulary is in the society's platitudes. As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one's self depends upon one's mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from 'a broken home.' They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words.
-Joan Didion, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," 1967

via Rod Dreher

"Christianism" Has Already Been Used, And Used Better

Time columnist Andrew Sullivan recently tried to start a taxonomic fad by labeling politically active Christian traditionalists "Christianists" in an awkward parallel to "Islamist." Unfortunately for this would-be neologizing pundit, the word has already been used by prominent French thinker Remi Brague. He uses the term for those who promote the cultural trappings of Christianity, but not Christ himself.

One of Brague's inspirations for the term is Action Francaise, whose atheist founder Charles Maurras tried to fuse neo-monarchism and religious nationalism. Likewise, Brague is concerned that the "Christian roots of Europe" controversy over the wording of the EU's constitution represents a confusion about both Christ and culture. He was interviewed by the Italian journal 30 Days, under the title Christians and "christianists"�

The word "christianist" is not very nice perhaps. But I'm not sorry to have proposed it. First of all because it's amusing. And then because it pushes people to reflect on what they really want. Those who defend the value of Christianity and its positive role in history I certainly find more likable than those who deny it. I certainly don't intend to discourage them. It would even please me if they were more numerous in France. And this is not because they may be "objective allies". But only because what they say is true. So, thanks to the "christianists" therefore. Only I would like to remind them that Christianity is not interested in itself. It's interested in Christ.


It's true that we are sick. And the most alarming symptoms can be called "relativism" and "nihilism" which certainly have something good about them: they make intolerance impossible. You can neither die nor kill in the name of something you only believe in relatively, or you don't believe in at all. The trouble is that nihilism doesn't let you live either. Rousseau had already seen it clearly: atheism doesn't kill human beings, but it does prevent them from being born. But there's no need of Christianity to combat relativism and nihilism. Basically there's no need to combat them: they cancel themselves out, as a parasitic growth ends by strangling the tree it lives off, following it into death. Is Christianity the antidote to these poisons? I'd have two reservations. One of principle. The other purely pragmatic.

...has one the right to turn faith into an instrument? I also ask myself whether it's always correct to speak of Christianity. The suffix can be perceived, wrongly, as indicating a theory, on a par with other "isms", liberalism, Marxism, etcetera. Saint Augustine says somewhere: what there is of Christian among Christians is Christ. To be Christians is to be in contact with a person. Now you can't turn a person into an instrument."

Brague's "christianism" would not include right-wing American Christians. Rather, the term encompasses the secular bourgeois in the GOP leadership or the Straussian school; having little interest in Christ Himself, they nonetheless regard the Christian religion as a salutary influence or at worst a safeguard against nihilism and relativism. While perhaps better than outright anti-Christian ideologies, Christianity reduced to a cultural patina helps generates secular Holden Caulfields who recognize the phoniness of such facades but forget the reality of the Person who is Truth.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Memento Mori for Memorial Day

Markups in the funeral industry have always been high. But in the past five years, funeral prices have risen three times faster than the cost of living. Knowing that mourners don't shop around at their hour of need (a lack of price sensitivity the Loewen Group described in a report to the SEC as one of the "attractive industry fundamentals"), chains often raise prices soon after acquiring an established independent home, sometimes upping fees more than 100 percent. Caskets, which typically make up half a funeral's cost, can be marked up more than five times. Stewart's South Park Cemetery in Pearland, Texas, for instance, charges $3,495 for Batesville's Kensington Green casket, which wholesales for $675. At many mortuaries, two hours of hearse time, which cost about $25 to provide, are billed to the bereaved at $200 or more; flowers, grave vaults, monuments, thank-you cards--all are marked up 300 to 800 percent. With a cemetery plot and marker, the typical American funeral now costs $8,000 or more.
-Miriam Horn, The Deathcare Business, US News and World Report 3/23/98

Sad story including collusion between priests, bishops and funeral homes. Charging exorbitant prices to bereaved families sure doesn't jibe with any corporal work of mercy I know of.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Limits of Non-Confessional Professionalism

The New Pantagruel crowd has been annoying the nice folks at Get Religion about a stray quotation from Luther implying he believed Jesus was an adulterer. Jape calls these questioners "socratic pests," which reminds me of an old line I picked up while studying Plato: "The more I read of Socrates, the less I wonder that they poisoned him."a hr

Here are the words of a man who will, I hope, avoid the hemlock, Caleb Stegall:

"You said, in essence, that no reasonable person could come to the conclusion that Luther believed that Jesus had sex with MM. I think it is very pertinent to ask whether you would say the same thing with respect to Christ's resurrection. You sense a trap and don't want to answer the question, and you're right, because I think this question exposes the weakness and contradictory nature of your position vis-a-vis reporting in the public square.

If you say that reasonable people can disagree about Jesus's resurrection, ultimately, your explanation for the difference between the two historical question will boil down to something along the lines of: some things can be known by a positivistic methodology that is neutral and objective while other things can only be believed or accepted by faith. No person can disagree with the former without revealing themselves to be either wickedly dishonest or a brainwashed ignoramus, while disagreements regarding the latter fall into the category of "mere opinion." Luther would not approve."

In this instance the standards of professional journalism create difficulties for the confessing Christian, but such difficulties happen in many other areas: medicine, law, education, and even small-business ownership or employment generally. I do not think it merely coincidental that the word "profession" has creedal connotations as well as secular ones. In some circles "unprofessional" can be as damning a charge as "heretic" is in others. It's the old pluralism-particularism dispute, a question of dueling catholicities: who's the sectarian here? It's a good question to ask, and a better question to answer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Waiting for Cultural Change, Too, Can Mislead

Mark Stricherz comments:
At some point, taking a purely change-the-culture-first strategy stops being admirable and starts being naive and impractical. Most secular elites, whose whole worldview is based around the idea of individual autonomy, won't change their minds about abortion and same-sex marriage. By contrast, getting religious people and ordinary Americans to vote on issues they already support is not only more productive but also a lot easier.

Many cynics have claimed that the GOP could never actually enact "theocon" legislation and judicial decisions because they'd lose their juciest carrot for their stubbornest donkey. Such men might cite "changing hearts and minds" rhetoric as yet another delaying tactic, which is possible. However, I think cultural change advocates beat the culture drums for other reasons. I'll focus on pro-lifers:

First, they have some diffidence about their prospects of electoral success. Perhaps some think the electorate really is more on the side of the secular elites than ambivalent poll results suggest.

Second, cultural change is a vague concept, seeming to be above the rough-and-tumble world of lobbying, compromised politics, and specific policy recommendations. Culture means different things to different people, potentially fragmenting the pro-lifers' focus. Economic or social justice issues, crisis pregnancy work, and eroding libertine influence, though certainly worthwhile activities in themselves, lack the kind of unified effort that one specific law proposal can generate. At the same time, such efforts often make one think one is changing the culture more than one really is.

This is because cultural change will have few indications that it has in fact occurred until laws are actually passed. Granted, abortion rate decreases and sympathetic poll results are events to be cheered, but they seem too contingent a basis to announce that lasting cultural change has indeed taken place. Roe v. Wade signaled such a change for the worse. What else other than new law will signal a sure change for the better?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ethnic Catholics Exiled from the "Democratic Party Eden"

A non-Catholic finally understands "my people":

Rod Dreher reports on Bill Galston's speech "Religion, Moral Values and the Democratic Party":

Galston, who is Jewish, is one of the leading American scholars of Catholic social thought. He says he spends a lot of time among Catholic intellectuals of all kinds, and says the sense of having been thrown "out of the Democratic Party Eden" is profound. "And the abortion issue is at the center of that expulsion. I cannot manage to find a Catholic intellectual who will not in conversation refer to what happened to Bob Casey at the 1992 Democratic convention." Says it's important symbolically that the Dems are trying to right that wrong with the Bob Casey, Jr. candidacy in Pennsylvania.

One of my cousins is a local Dem politician who, despite his incredible charm, ethical sense, and political talent, has been consistently held back by the state party leadership. My family, nostalgic for Chicago's ethnic Catholic party machine, still resents the leadership, and is increasingly voting GOP because of it.

Looking forward to Mark Stricherz's book, which is said to examine the exile and exodus of my kind from the Democratic party. As for Casey Junior, I'm not optimistic. Consider the precedent set by local Catholic Dem gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter, who grovelled before Moloch instead of taking a principled stand.

Cultured Cowboys

via The Rat via Eve Tushnet:
"Bluntly equating literary discourse with sexual intercourse, Wister indicates [in the novel The Virginian] that a cowboy can make love to a woman only by first gaining intellectual access to her through an acquaintance with canonical fiction."
Blake Allmendinger, The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture

One intellectual stretch deserves another. I therefore reference Waylon Jennings' "Let's All Help the Cowboys":

Cowboys they are ladies men all right
They'll love 'em up and talk 'em up all night
But they're lonely when there's nothing else to do
And that's what makes the cowboys sing the blues
He does a little Shakespeare and he sings
He plays the mandolin and other things
He looks for love beauty and IQ
And that's what makes the cowboy sing the blues

Cowboys have to fall in love get hurt and all that bit
Let their hearts hang out so they can write you all a hit
So ladies if they ask you don't refuse
Let's all help the cowboys sing the blues

I'm intrigued by these depictions of cultured rural laborers, simply because such pictures have informed my own family. I'll hold off on calling my Wyoming ranching ancestors cultured until I read their diaries. But the gentlemanly ideal of the cowboy poet, romantic to the point of being pure cheese, stands in notable contrast to the songs exalting white trash or even their more respectable kinsmen, the rednecks.

There is a curious parallel on another side of my family tree, in Irish tales of pre-emancipation culture. These speak of country boys who between farm chores learned Latin and ancient Greek at the hedge schools, keeping watch lest an Englishman break the peace.

For the present, husbandry, music, and Shakespeare is, sadly, a neglected combination.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Note to Self: Avoid This Literary Mindset

The characters in guy lit are stuck in boyhood. Their creators may use up every clever undergraduate phrase they've ever jotted down during a boring literature class, but stringing together such back-of-the-class witticisms does not make a novel, and feckless indifference is a posture hard to sustain. Yeah, sure, Kunkel and the others are funny once in a while. But frankly, I'm not at all sure that Holden — or I, for that matter — would want to be friends with them.
Michael Kimmel, "Guy Lit--Whatever

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mary Ann Glendon on Immigration

Professor Glendon holds forth on immigration in the newest First Things.

She credibly links American demand for young workers to our culture's antipathy towards reproductive sex. Many have complained mass emigration from Mexico relieves pressure on elites to address the corrupt areas of their culture. Though Glendon doesn't explicitly make the connection, being sympathetic to mass migration herself, immigration into the United States relieves pressures of our own, like the need to reconsider our own anti-natalist corruptions.

Glendon writes compellingly about the cultural effects of private actions en masse:

Those same years, to be sure, saw impressive advances for many women and members of minority groups. But not all the innovations represented progress. Some tended to undermine the cultural foundations on which free, just, and egalitarian societies depend. For example, the notion gained wide acceptance that behavior in the highly personal areas of sex and marriage is of no concern to anyone other than the “consenting adults” involved. With the passage of time, however, it has become obvious that the actions of private individuals in the aggregate exert a profound influence on other individuals and on society as a whole.

Yet it is more than a bit obvious that the actions of immigrants from abroad will themselves bring private habits with major effects in the aggregate. Glendon raises the very serious problem of cultural practices in sexual matters, but as is typical in immigration debates she shies away from analyzing the specific cultural transformations which, for good and ill, Hispanic immigration will likely bring. If one can analyze the dysfunctions of libertine culture with intelligence, it seems one should grant Latin culture similar consideration.

Atheist Poetics, or the Lack Thereof

"They want us to believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead, but then tell us it is blasphemy to suggest that he had done something prosaic like engage in an affair or have offspring."
-American Atheists

Daniel Mitsui: Increase the Number of Cultural Drop-Outs

Via Godsbody, a jeremiad from a master artist exhorting us to "stop drinking the vampire's blood" that is pop culture:
In our modern culture, intellectually insulting and aesthetically offensive art is not only ubiquitous - it is popular, and immensely profitable, in a way that it never was previously. And the reason is that the art of our modern culture is unnatural - it is not produced by a collective genius, piety and intelligence, developed over time through tradition. It is produced by an enormous machine - the industry of entertainment, which is governed only by its own avarice.
Part I

I think that the attitude of evangelization needs to be the same as that of true sacred art - we need to stop thinking about what effect we are having on our audience and altering our methods is anticipation of its response - and to simply be faithful. To communicate the divinely revealed truth in the most precise way possible, letting the message dictate the method. To do otherwise is to make the same mistake as abusers of the liturgy - it is to not trust our faith to succeed on its own merits. If we think that our message is so unappealing that it needs to be dressed up as something else, then we can expect everyone else to concur that it is indeed unappealing. Part II

Daniel Mitsui also has a post on music and one on Latin palindromes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Christians as Fall Guys for Cultural Transformation

An old essay from my mentor Rev. Edward T. Oakes, SJ ties together the Freud post from below and the unfortunate Da Vinci Code mania:

From the democratic perspective, particular cultures are critically evaluated in the light of the way they give distinct concrete expression to universal capacities and values. [Yet] the objective of a liberal democratic culture is to respect-not to repress-ethnic identities and to encourage different cultural traditions to develop fully their potential for expression of the democratic ideals of freedom and equality, leading in most cases to major cultural transformations [emphasis added].

But these transformations don't come cheap, which is precisely why the issue is so neuralgic. The contradiction lurking in all this rhetoric is the quite unspoken presupposition that governs this debate: that some culture has to be the chump and play the role of the fall guy, an admission that perhaps only comes to light in this telling line from respondent Susan Wolf: "And the problems of those who have been urged to ignore or suppress or remove their differences from white Christian heterosexuals can remind us of the dangers of trying to deny the significance, say, of gender differences that may run very deep." A nice touch there, that glancing reference to "Christian."
-Attention Must Be Paid

Friday, May 19, 2006

P. Hitchens on Human Rights and Other Things

From across the pond, Peter Hitchens derides the simultaneously ineffective and authoritarian politics behind that lofty concept, "Human Rights":

Which brings me to 'Human Rights'. If there were any human rights, surely one of them would be that you would not have to be ruled by people who actively despised their own country and its people. No such luck. 'Human Rights' don't actually exist. They are worthless paper money, invented by idealistic lawyers 56 years ago at a conference in Rome. The only 'rights' you have are the ones the liberal lawyers and judges are prepared to let you have.


Britain and the USA were not free because they had 'rights'. They were free because they had limited government. Their peoples have - or in our case used to have - freedoms to live in peace, secure from having your door smashed down, free to say and think what you like, because of good, hard restrictions on state power.


Thanks to these limits on the state, we have become free. By contrast, Europe's wishy-washy 'rights' to privacy, to marry, to life, are all conditional. The 'right to life' has come to mean the right of convicted murderers not to be executed. It has not saved the life of a single innocent baby in an abortion clinic, nor will it save the old and inconvenient from the fatal injections which the liberals long to 'permit' them.

Hitchens also has the story about the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster's recent firing of his press secretary. The secretary somehow believed that introducing his previously unknown partner in unnatural vice to his boss was a good idea. He also 'wanted to fight to change the Church's attitude to homosexuality from the inside'. One almost wonders about his and his fellow subversives' opinions are on the age of consent. But of course, there is no such thing as the Lavender Mafia, and evil reactionary traditionalists have an iron grip on the church's various bureaucracies.

One Cow Better than One Vote

Over at the Reactionary Radicals Weblog, Caleb Stegall plugs Catholic priest Luigi Ligutti, a man of distributist stock:
Ligutti fouded and directed the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and was a passionate defender of agrarian life and advocate of widespread ownership of land. “The farm is the native habitat of the family” Ligutti maintained. Working primarily in the 40s and 50s, Ligutti declared that “no man who owns a cow can be a communist” and further argued that the surest path out of poverty was a family cow. It is important to note the singular in Ligutti’s argument, “a cow” as opposed to “heads of cattle.” For Ligutti all the necessary virtues could be inculcated in a man through the ownership of a cow: thrift, rootedness to a place, pride of ownership, sense of peace and an end to restless alienation, hard work, orderly use of time, and a strong incentive to have children. Most importantly, perhaps, the family cow provided self-sufficency in that it produced a large amount of food for the family. In Ralph Borsodi’s terms, this represented a level of freedom and independence far greater than that created by ”the infinitesimal fraction of political power represented by a vote.”

Thursday, May 18, 2006

There is another species of lying, perhaps more iniquitous still, more disastrous in its consequences upon both the one who lies and upon the community, upon Humanity, than any other species of lying known. And the kind of lying, I now allude to, is never mentioned under that name. It is called sometimes caution, circumspection; generally, prudence. The man who is guilty of it is rarely censured. lie enjoys the confidence of his fellow-men, and may be counted one of the most respectable members of the community. His word is always taken, and the slightest hint from him would prevent all the respectable portion of the community from coming into a Hall like this, to hear such notions of morality as I am in the habit of dealing out. I have reference now to your sleek man of the world, who acquiesces in public opinion, never violates the general sense of the decorous, and who is never known to advance a new, a singular, or an unpopular opinion; who keeps his own thoughts to himself, and never ventures to question those of others. He is constant at the most popular church in the city; he pays a large pew-tax; is very intimate with his minister, with whom he always agrees ; and yet he is one who does not believe a word of the creed of the church he supports, or the doctrine of the minister he hears. There is, perhaps, another church in the city, organized on principles which he wholly approves, embodying, as he believes, a great, a glorious, and a world-regenerating truth ; and it enjoys the labors of a man, as minister, whose views in all respects coincide with his own, for whose moral and intellectual worth he has the greatest esteem ; yet he never attends that church; he never listens to that minister; and perhaps seldom speaks of him, without a sneer or a shrug of his shoulders. Why ? That church is not in the fashion, and that minister is perhaps a plain, blunt-spoken man, who tells the truth in a homely way ; and moreover is a man who has some notions, which, because they are only half understood by the public, are generally condemned.
-Orestes Brownson

Romantic Psychotherapy Powered by Whirlwind of Desire

The New Pantagruel has just published a stunningly brilliant essay on Freud, Democracy, and the Therapeutic Ethos. Steven L. Gardner's "Psychological Man: Eros and Ambition in Democratic Desire" is a must-read examination of Freud and his influence in democratic societies. It possesses so many choice quotations I had to check my desire to simply steal the whole thing.

Freud offers an indispensable orientation to the psyche of modern man, but he is also a barrier to deciphering adequately the secret mechanisms of modern man’s passions. Ironically, this is not because they are buried in the unconscious depths of the body, as depth psychologists might like to think. Rather it is because they are so near at hand, on the surface, right beneath our noses. What obscures them are the mythemes of depth psychology itself, above all the idea of the somatic unconscious canonized in the libidinal theory of desire. In his book on Freud, Rieff shows that his somatic theory of desire is a “scientific” decantation of romanticism. But romanticism, I suggest, is the “natural religion” of democratic culture, its spontaneous mythology, which Freud baptizes in affording it one of its most sophisticated intellectual justifications and forms. The fundamental exigency of democratic culture is the claim to originality, individuality, or genius. In a world of equality, everyone must distinguish himself in order to count. These are constitutive dogmas of romanticism. Freud’s somatic theory of unconscious libido serves the romanticism of democratic culture in two ways: first, it ascribes this originality or individuality to virtually everyone, in the unconscious “poetry” of their desires; and second, as Mikkel Borsch-Jacobsen has shown (The Freudian Subject, 1988), it underwrites Freud’s own claim to genius.


For this new type, psychology would replace ontology or theology, and therapy would replace community, hitherto the most potent psychic medicines in Western culture. Emancipated by modern technology, commerce, law, and consumerism from integral community, the modern individual found himself abandoned to contradictory passions and impulses and alienated from the remnants of a cultural order that, nonetheless, he could not do without. He thus entered into the twilight zone of modernity, the realm of ambivalences and ambiguities that ensue when every fixed point of reference is dissolved into the sheer interplay of individuals in a culture that can no longer sustain its origins. Freud appeared as his savior and advocate, the inventor of a technique of survival not physical but psychical. He promised to teach the modern individual how to desire in a world where all desires were equal and arbitrary, void of any intrinsic order, but not necessarily equally permissible or socially estimable. Here was a human type where interiority and its dilemmas were not a mark of the spiritual or transcendent but exactly of their absence, at best of their fading images-where interiority and the sense of alienation from the outer reflect the social fact of “negative community.”


The fundamental law of Psychological Man is the law of temporization, to keep things going, in the absence of any definitive, authoritative ends. The problem for Psychological Man is not, finally, that of the satisfaction of desire, because he is conditioned in advance by the knowledge that desire is inherently unsatisfiable, at least in any definitive, classical, or teleological sense. His problem, rather, is how to keep desiring in the face of that knowledge. His aim is how to postpone the inevitable, the end of desire. His greatest fear is Pascalian boredom, the helpless feeling of not being able to desire, the loss of the power of distraction. The individual who is to survive in the modern world must become the “genius” of himself, the artist of his desires as the vital source of his being. In crafting a “scientific” advocacy for this individual, Freud wanted to help him become his own advocate, the negotiator of his desires, mediating between his eros and the demands of society. In Freud, Psychological Man came of age; in Freud, he found his classic exemplar, his ethical model, his theorist, and his doctor.

Conservatives Just Thinking About Tomorrow... When There'll Be Sun

Christopher Lasch denounces Polyanna conservatives, bringing to mind not only that charming little girl, but also the no-worries theme song from Annie:

Not only do conservatives have no understanding of modern capitalism, they have a distorted understanding of the “traditional values” they claim to defend. The virtues they want to revive are the pioneer virtues: rugged individualism, boosterism, rapacity, a sentimental deference to women, and a willingness to resort to force. These values are “traditional” only in the sense that they are celebrated in the traditional myth of the Wild West and embodied in the Western hero, the prototypical American lurking in the background, often in the very foreground, of conservative ideology. In their implications and inner meaning, these individualist values are themselves profoundly anti-traditional. They are the values of the man on the make, in flight from his ancestors, from the family claim, from everything that ties him down and limits his freedom of movement. What is traditional about the rejection of tradition, continuity, and rootedness? A conservatism that sides with the forces of restless mobility is a false conservatism. So is the conservatism false that puts on a smiling face, denounces “doom sayers,” and refuses to worry about the future. Conservatism appeals to a pervasive and legitimate desire in contemporary society for order, continuity, responsibility, and discipline; but it contains nothing with which to satisfy these desires, It pays lip service to “traditional values,” but the policies with which it is associated promise more change more innovation more growth, more technology, more weapons, more addictive drugs. Instead of confronting the forces in modern life that make for disorder, it proposes merely to make Americans feel good about themselves. Ostensibly rigorous and realistic, contemporary conservatism is an ideology of denial. Its slogan is the slogan of Alfred E. Neuman: “What? Me worry?” Its symbol is a smile button: that empty round face devoid of features except for two tiny eyes, eyes too small to see anything clearly, and a big smile: the smile of someone who is determined to keep smiling through thick and thin.

via Rod Dreher

Lasch's words are a bit hyperbolic, but conservatives wouldn't attract such accusations of free-market messianism if they did more than trumpet tax cuts, low unemployment figures, and a high DJIA at The End of History. The theocons get all the negative press attention while econo-cons get most of their agenda passed, fiscal responsibility budget demands excepted.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pat Buchanan Speaks the Unspeakable

I didn't think it was possible for a major media pundit like PJB to say what he has written in his commentary upon a particular, vacuous upcoming movie:

Like the "Hitler's Pope" smear of Pius XII, a man who did more than any other to save the Jews in World War II, "The Da Vinci Code" is a Big Lie that, though readily refuted by the facts, will be believed.

But that it will be a box-office smash, that it is the subject of lavish praise in the press, that it is the best-selling novel of the 21st century, tells us we live not just in a post-Christian era, but in an anti-Catholic culture not worth defending or saving, for it is truly satanic.

On the occasions I feel like shocking people, I've sometimes adopted a cynical pose out of The Onion's news article "American People Declared Unfit to Rule." There is of course a great deal to dislike about my fellow Americans. In my more hypocritical moments I imagine more to dislike about them than to dislike about myself. Perhaps Buchanan could have reminded himself and the rest of us that we ourselves, sinners all, aren't particularly worth defending or saving either.

As for myself, in truth I have yet to apostasize from a basic respect and admiration for American culture. Even Hollywood has its bright spots in its preternaturally dim firmament.

Yet every time I venture into my spam folder and observe a subject heading advertising unspeakable violent prurience, there's a part in me that weeps. And before I am finished weeping the temptation to pull a Lancelot appears like the dagger before MacBeth: let us declare "we will not tolerate this age!" and traitoriously agitate for its destruction. At those grim times I'm most sympathetic to the aforementioned sentiments.

I hope the movie in question will just be another forgettable Kingdom of Heaven. However, the ease with which so many have enabled this mockery of God provokes self-aggrandizing comparisons to Noah in his old world's last days, or to Lot in Gommorrah. To my mind the most apt comparison is a line from another movie about the holy grail, the boyhood favorite Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At a bookburning rally, Jones Senior turns to his son declaring "we are pilgrims in an unholy land."

In a tragic irony, Dan Brown's novel--the height of audacious novelistic "freethinking"--is in danger of giving bookburning a good name. Ennobled by breathless media treatments and backed by millions of dollars, Mammon's lackey is now in open attack upon Christ the Lord. It is now not a lack of true books, but a sea of false vanities masked by the verisimilitude of mass advertising and feel-good spirituality. Without truth, freedom is false and enslaving. Where's a Savonarola when we need one?

Buchanan has adopted the despondency usually delegated to the less widely-known paleocons. His quondam boss Ronald Reagan was known for his sunny disposition, his theme "It's Morning in America" playing far better than Jimmy Carter's "Malaise."

But just as pessimism is sometimes merely despair posing as profundity, sometimes optimism is only insipid auto-suggestion. Buchanan has weathered various storms of controversy, but by opening the question of cultural legitimacy--and by delivering the answer "illegitimate"--I think he's crossed a Rubicon. The jealous god of American nationalism might have just found its target of the hour.

Should he face the wrath of a people scorned, he could perhaps sing some lines from "Were You There When They Marketed My Lord?":

Were you there when they rewrote His True Life?
Were you there when they rewrote His True Life?
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they rewrote His True Life?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Text and Pretext at Claremont

The Claremont Institute's bloggers have of late been souring my opinion of the Straussians. After Claes Ryn's vituperative Philadelphia Society speech against his bete noir, neo-Jacobinism, Claremont bloggers have been all atwitter about Professor Ryn's Burkeanesque suspicion towards abstraction. They've put forward many catty retorts, such as claiming Ryn would have been among those who poisoned Socrates. To these remarks Ryn has responded with patient explanation, with a thoroughness lacking in his PhillySoc speech which catalyzed the dispute.

Yet the Claremontistas continue to snipe with snideness, showing little substantial engagement with Ryn's thought. Their responses are cavalier and curt, qualities one would expect from pundits, not scholars. The whole endeavor reminds one of a child repeatedly attempting to strike a patient elder with a grime-caked flyswatter, only to be parried easily by an adult index finger. From Matthew J. Peterson comes one such attempt to swat:

Of course, Ryn means that we can’t know moral principles in the abstract. What about the ten commandments? Would Ryn say that "'Thou shall not murder' endorsed in the abstract, without regard to what it might mean in practice in a particular historical situation, is pernicious?" Or as Professor Jaffa asked, what about Jesus's statement that "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets?" Ryn answered that "Jesus's sayings engage the religious and moral imagination" and "defy strictly rational explanation." Maybe so, but has Ryn proven that we are not able to understand the clear, rational meaning of the "golden rule?"

Peterson and his colleagues have invoked Saint Thomas Aquinas as a teacher of unchanging abstract principles, so let's examine Aquinas' consideration of the question "Is the Natural Law Changeable?" Aquinas had to resolve such moral imperatives as those found in the Ten Commandments with Biblical events where God commanded apparent transgressions of the moral law. His second objection to an unchanging natural law proceeds as follows:

"Further, the slaying of the innocent, adultery, and theft are against the natural law. But we find these things changed by God: as when God commanded Abraham to slay his innocent son (Genesis 22:2); and when he ordered the Jews to borrow and purloin the vessels of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35); and when He commanded Osee to take to himself "a wife of fornications" (Hosea 1:2). Therefore the natural law can be changed."

The Angelic Doctor's reply to this objection reads as follows:
All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Kgs. 2:6: "The Lord killeth and maketh alive." Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another's wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another's property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists. Nor is it only in human things, that whatever is commanded by God is right; but also in natural things, whatever is done by God, is, in some way, natural, as stated in the I, 105, 6, ad 1.

Aquinas, of course, holds any such changes in natural law to be rare and of secondary importance to the prime and truly unchanging mandate of natural law, namely to obey the will of God. God is the only necessary being, while both natural law and humanity itself are contingent in their own way. When this position is ignored today, one ends up with Christians inadvertently aiding those atheists who, citing those accounts in Scripture scandalous to modern ears, charge God with mass-murder and human rights violations.

The Claremont Institute, being a non-confessional organization, is hampered from engaging the Christian tradition on its own terms and so ends up cherry-picking Scripture and Tradition to detrimental effect. The Ten Commandments were meant first for living, and then for philosophical reflection. They make little sense on their own without reference to God and His formation of the Hebrew people. The works of Aquinas himself are best read while in a regimen of prayer and fasting, not in a hung-over university seminar or a petty weblog debate. There's pithy remark that goes "A text without a context is a pretext." If Claremont continues to indulge in such pretexts, the Straussians will soon gain a reputation for incompetence to accompany their comic-like reputation for dissimulation.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Roe Lawyer to Bill Clinton: Don't Hate Poverty, Hate the Poor!

I don't think you are going to go very far in reforming the country until we have a better educated, healthier, wealthier population...

You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country. No, I'm not advocating some sort of mass extinction of these unfortunate people. Crime, drugs and disease are already doing that. The problem is that their numbers are not only replaced but increased by the birth of millions of babies to people who can't afford to have babies.

There, I've said it. It's what we all know is true, but we only whisper it, because as liberals who believe in individual rights, we view any program which might treat the disadvantaged differently as discriminatory, mean-spirited and...well...so Republican.


[G]overnment is also going to have to provide vasectomies, tubal ligations and abortions. . . . There have been about 30 million abortions in this country since Roe v. Wade. Think of all the poverty, crime and misery. . . and then add 30 million unwanted babies to the scenario. We lost a lot of ground during the Reagan-Bush religious orgy. We don’t have a lot of time left.

You Could Do it, Mr. President-To-Be. You are articulate and you've already alienated the religious right with your positions on abortion and homosexuals. The middle-class taxpayer will go along with this plan because it will mean fewer dollars for welfare. The retirees will also go along because poor people contribute very little to Social Security.

And the poor? Well, maybe if we didn't have to spend so much on problems like low birth weight babies and trying to educate children who come to school hungry, we might have some money to help lift the ones already born, out of their plight.

The biblical exhortation to "be fruitful and multiply" was directed toward a small tribe, surrounded by enemies. We are long past that. Our survival depends upon our developing a population where everyone contributes. We don't need more cannon fodder. We don't need more parishioners. We don't need more cheap labor. We don't need more poor babies.

-Ron Weddington, Co-Counsel in Roe v. Wade,
Letter to Bill Clinton Jan. 9, 1992

via Ramesh Ponnuru via Relapsed Catholic

By way of cross-reference, Dale Price commented on this hollow man's 2003 letter to the New York Times.

Such sentiments were once voiced openly, and it is a sign of improvement that such views are now whispered. But such whispers betoken the utter moral corruption of the Democratic Party. I would not be surprised to find such sentiments among the fiscal conservatives of the GOP either.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fiction Review: Donna Tartt's A Secret History(Minor Spoilers)

I don't suppose a book counts as light reading if it includes untranslated Greek phrases. Nevertheless, Dona Tartt's The Secret History has been one of my more enjoyable lighter reads of the year.

To perform an imitation of a jacket cover summary: On a Northeastern college campus a clique of classics students and their eccentric professor-guru regale in the wisdom of the ancients. Straussian-like, they seek to unmask long-hidden secrets. Some of their number attempt to recreate a Dionysian bacchanal, and against all probability they succeed. Possessed by frenzy, they even perceive a manifestation of the god himself! But as their wild self-forgetting night of enthusiasm comes to an end, they find the mutilated body of a local farmer at their feet, his flesh and blood held in their shaking hands.

With a masterful, charismatic teacher, the book seemed set up to become an impersonator of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Not so. Likewise it is no meditation on morality or the transgression thereof, as in Hitchcock's Rope. Rather, it focuses upon the students and the escapist features of modern college life. In Eve Tushnet's adroit summation, it is about looking for ecstasis in all the wrong places, whether in the standard booze, sex and drugs of campus life or in the arcane rites of antiquity.

Approaching the book from a background in classical studies gave me an uncanny sympathy to the group, feeling like I too was one of the elect. I grasped the oblique references to Greek grammar, the tossaway Greek asides, and I even empathized with their panic when in the presence of their teacher they could no longer hide their secrets by conversing in the ancient tongue.

Tartt also savvily portrays the disconnect from reality found among certain scholars. One student never heard of the moon landings and looked up poisoning advice in 15th century Arabic texts. Present also is the traditional collegiate gap between the poor striver and the well-to-do children of leisure: embarrassed by his new friends' financial wealth and cosmopolitan grace, the narrator hides his family's poverty and scanty learning.

Yet there are some disappointments. Dionysius' appearances are all too fleeting and ambiguous. As one weaned on horror films, I had hoped for more substantive descriptions of these supposed manifestations of the long-dead god. Tartt, perhaps aware of her weaknesses, avoided any description of a bacchanal. The off-stage action generates more suspense than the outcome of the book, which (also echoing Muriel Spark) is already known within the first few pages.

Flaws aside, this is an excellent read for the classically-inclined.

As for Tartt herself, she seems to have been targeted by more malicious gossip than any author in recent memory. Her apparent pledge of celibacy has made her sex life an object of titilating speculation. Perhaps this was the price of success, or perhaps I missed something. She does look downright spectral.

Tartt is also a Catholic convert, a fact which made me take notice of this conversation between the narrator and his mentor, Julian:

"After lunch, when the dishes had been cleared away and we were talking about nothing in particular, Julian asked, out of the blue, if I'd noticed anything peculiar about Bunny recently.
"Well, no, not really," I said, and took a careful sip of tea.
He raised an eyebrow. "No? I think he is behaving very strangely. Henry and I were talking only yesterday about how brusque and contrary he's become."
"I think he's been in kind of a bad mood."
He shook his head. "I don't know. Edmund is such a simple soul. I never thought I'd be surprised at anything he did or said, but he and I had a very odd conversation the other day.
"Odd?" I said cautiously.
"Perhaps he'd only read something that disturbed him. I don't know. I am worried about him."
"Frankly, I'm afraid he might be on the verge of some disastrous religious conversion."
I was jarred. "Really?" I said.
"I've seen it happen before. And I can think of no other reason for this sudden interest in ethics. Not that Edmund is profligate, but really, he's one of the least morally concerned boys I've ever known. I was very startled when he began to question me--in all earnestness--about such hazy concerns as Sin and Forgiveness. He's thinking of going into the Church, I just know it. Perhaps that girl has something to do with it, I suppose?"
He meant Marion. He had a habit of attributing all of Bunny's bad faults indirectly to her--his laziness, his bad humors, his lapses of taste. "Maybe," I said.
"Is she a Catholic?"
"I think she's Presbyterian," I said. Julian had a polite but implacable contempt for Judeo-Christian tradition in virtually all its forms. He would deny this if confronted, citing evasively his affection for Dante and Giotto, but anything overtly religious filled him with a pagan alarm; and I believe that like Pliny, whom he resembled in so many respects, he secretly thought it to be a degenerate cult carried to extravagant lengths.
"A Presbyterian? Really?" he said, dismayed.
"I believe so."
"Well, whatever one thinks of the Roman Church, it is a worthy and powerful foe. I could accept that sort of conversion with grace. But I shall be very disappointed indeed if we lose him to the Presbyterians."

Rather like a mirror image of the scene in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist, where Daedalus remarks: "I've lost my faith, not my self-respect!"

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Still Feeling the Effects of Materialist Anti-Communism

To the extent that many American conservatives have accepted these views, "fusionism" and the reliance on specifically libertarian justifications for deregulation and lower taxes are partly to blame among conservative pundits, but more generally it is a function of the mistaken strategy of defining opposition to socialism and welfarism primarily in terms of the individual vs. the state and in terms of the greater efficiency of capitalist production.

This inevitably reduced the more complex conservative conception that free exchange and the right to property were essential to a well-ordered, stable and healthy polity to talking points and slogans about capitalism "delivering the goods" and giving people what they want in a more efficient and effective way. It has been this leftover strain of classical liberalism in "conservative" rhetoric for the past 30 years that presumably convinced entire generations that the reason why capitalism was preferable to socialism was not because it potentially far better respected property rights and the dignity of the human person than a coercive, command economy but because capitalism better served the desires of the self and allowed for faster, cheaper and "better" indulgence by the self.

If Goldberg didn't want people to come en masse making demands, perhaps the "movement" of the last 25 years shouldn't have an ethic of self-satisfaction in the ways that conservative pundits and politicians increasingly encouraged habits of consumption and the rhetoric of individualism while distancing themselves from the language of restraint and discipline.
-Daniel Larison

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Michael Ruse Goes Ambivalent on Eugenics

via Mark Stricherz we have found Michael Ruse's review of a book on American eugenics, Better for All the World.

Paragraph of note:
Bruinius suggests, rightly, that compulsory sterilization was horrible and not something of which the nation should be proud.


Consider a case that Bruinius mentions, that of a woman with an IQ of 71 -- just about the level that even today's Supreme Court thinks makes a person incompetent -- who had eight children out of wedlock. Is it absolutely wrong if the state says, "Get sterilized or we will keep you out of society until you are past reproductive age"? I keep thinking of all of those kids. Even if they are not genetically inferior, I doubt very much that they are going to have the warm, nurturing upbringing I have tried to give my children.

The edited elision was a rebuke to Bruinius' reductio ad Hitlerum, but it is curious to see such a forceful disapproval of sterilization lead with unconscious dissonance into a sympathetic consideration of the very object of disapprobation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Everything I know about Judaism I learned from a drunken viewing of Yentl."

"Needless to say, Phillips' book is rife with bizarre assertions. He writes that "many Orthodox Jewish females cannot even study the Torah...""
-David Brooks on Phillips' American Theocracy

Egg Donors: The Ignored Party to Stem Cell Research

For many cash-strapped females, the chance of financing two years of tuition or a postgraduate degree with a simple operation seems like a no-brainer. And egg brokers know exactly how to target this money-hungry population. Campus dailies run large ads on a regular basis, and some newspapers, including The Stanford Daily and Columbia Spectator, devote entire online sections to couples’ searches for egg and sperm donors.


Many donors, keen to make a quick buck and confident in their health, pay little attention to the risks involved. A 2001 study by Dr. Andrea Gurmankin Levy, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that many agencies do not provide complete information about the health risks involved.

Unlike sperm donation, the female procedure is both lengthy and invasive. First, the donor must take oral contraceptives to synchronize her menstrual cycle with the recipient’s. Then she must regularly inject the drug Lupron, which shuts down the normal ovarian stimulation process. After two weeks of self-administered shots, donors receive further injections that stimulate the ovaries. Finally, a needle is inserted through the vaginal wall to withdraw the eggs while the patient is anesthetized. The whole process takes approximately six weeks.

Donors not only make a lengthy time commitment—difficult enough when juggling classes and surgery—but may also face medical complications. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome occurs in one percent of all donation cases and can cause a life-threatening build-up of fluid around the heart and lungs. Donors also risk infection and adverse reactions to the anesthesia. Other may experience significant discomfort.

“The majority of egg donors can breeze through this,” says Dr. Mark V. Sauer, director of the Center for Women’s Reproductive Care and professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “But some people are going to have these complications and not everybody, especially younger women, thinks of this. A lot of programs don’t define who pays the bills if something goes wrong.” If things do go wrong, an 18-year-old donor could face major debt as well as ongoing health concerns. “I’ve seen donors quite upset to find they’re hospitalized with a $20,000 bill, which they assumed would be paid because they were an egg donor,” says Sauer.
-Newsweek, Babies To Order

Professor Marilyn Coors, a bioethicist for the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and brewer Pete Coors' better half, brought this facet of human genetic engineering to my attention during her recent Theology On Tap discussion of embryonic stem cell research(ESCR). A neglected topic in the ESCR debate is where all these eggs are supposed to be coming from. Dr. Coors informed her audience that out of the hundreds of thousands of embryos on ice, only about 10% have permission from their parents or owners to be destroyed in scientific research. Leaving unanswered for the moment the grave question of whether such destruction is an evil in se, embryonic research will require thousands upon thousands of ova. The shortage is so acute that the Korean phony cloner Dr. Hwang Woo Suk used his own female subordinates as a source, an irregularity which led to his exposure as a fraud.

The New York State Health Department cheerfully lists the various complications of egg donation, giving an idea of what might create a $20,000 hospital bill:
In mild OHSS[ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome], you may have abdominal pain, pressure and swelling. This should go away after your next period. In moderate OHSS, you may require careful monitoring, bed rest and pain medication. Severe OHSS is rare but can cause serious medical complications, including blood clots, kidney failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, and shock. In rare cases, hospitalization is necessary and the condition can be life-threatening. One or both of your ovaries may have to be removed.

Meanwhile, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman cheerfully papers over any downside to paying naive young women so much money for such an invasive and potentially fatal procedure. Her body, her choice. However, in the rare, unlikely, and improbable event of catastrophe, she's somebody else's problem.

These questions concerning the donors of human ova create a severe problem even for those anti-ESCR scientists and ethicists who have hoped that altered nuclear transference could provide a morally acceptable alternative to embryonic destruction. Casual ignorance is not an ethical option.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Optimal Classicism

via Godsbody, a nice discussion of contemporary classical studies:
"At Boston University, we have almost a hundred Classics majors now. There are far more than there were twenty years ago. I think there are a lot of reasons for it. In the humanities, there's been praise for critical theory and kind of non-literary enthusiasms in various departments, and that turns off students that are natural humanists because they want to read. They love to read and they love literature. So, they tend to gravitate away from English departments and other language departments toward Classics because this is real literature and very, very good literature. And, it's still taught as literature."
-Jeffrey Henderson

To make a token criticism, I am compelled by pedantry to remark that, strictly speaking, one cannot really gravitate away from a thing. Yet I applaud Professor Henderson's fearless slam of bad English departments and his implied endorsement of a hierarchy of literary worth. Among classicists there is a silly temptation to embrace an anti-elitist pose, which is of course fatal to the very definition of Classics. Fortunately this is a temptation easily resisted. A simple survey of many English department courses is often enough to drive a mediocre Latinist to total revulsion as he realizes his field's superiority in humanistic studies. The Western patrimony is safe so long as classicists use their elitist powers for good, and not for evil.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lee Harvey Oswald: Doubly an Assassin

I still have little grasp on just how deeply the Kennedy assassination affected the country. I had absorbed my parents' and grandparents' ethnic and religious pride at having one of "us" rise so high and exit the stage of life so dramatically, Kennedy's potential still seeming to have been unwasted. Walker Percy was so moved that he scrapped work on his novel The Last Gentleman and started over almost from scratch--an action still mysterious to me. Then there are Don DeLillo's novels which dive into the paranoid disbelief and cynicism which ironically betray the idealism of the man considered to be a president-martyr.

A recent article in Commentary supplies an analysis of the assassination's effect, showing how the cynics' interpretation of the event both gravely wounded establishment liberalism and helped to spawn the rough beast of sixties radicalism. Select excerpts:

It is one of the ironies of the era that many young people who in 1963 reacted with profound grief to Kennedy’s death would, just a few years later, come to champion a version of the left-wing doctrines that had motivated his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. But why should this have been so? What was it about mid-century liberalism that allowed it to be knocked so badly off balance by a single blow?


What, then, explains the resilience of such fanciful and conspiratorial thinking? Part of the answer surely lies in the enduring need of the Left to circumvent the most inconvenient fact about President Kennedy’s assassination—that he was killed by a Communist and probably for reasons related to left-wing ideology. If the case against Oswald can be clouded or denied, it opens up the possibility that Kennedy was killed by a more familiar villain, one of the many malignant forces on the Right.


This idea, too—that the nation as a whole was finally to blame for the assassination—came to be repeated widely and incorporated into the public’s understanding of the event. Liberals in particular tended to see Kennedy’s death in this light, that is, as an outgrowth of a violent or extremist streak in the nation’s culture. Yet doing so required its own species of doublethink, for the fact is that Oswald was not in any way a representative figure. He played no role in any domestic extremist movement. His radicalism was wholly un-American and anti-American. Even as a Communist or radical, he was sui generis. There was nothing about Oswald that even remotely reflected any broader pattern in American life.


For many American liberals, the shock of Kennedy’s death compromised their faith in the nation itself. Against all evidence, they concluded that a violent strain in our national culture was somehow to blame. A confident, practical, and forward-looking philosophy with a heritage of accomplishment was thus turned into a doctrine of pessimism and self-blame, with a decidedly dark view of American society. Such assumptions, far from marking a temporary adjustment to the events of the 1960’s, have proved remarkably durable.
-James Piereson, Lee Harvey Oswald and the Liberal Crack-Up

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Swift & Co of Greeley settled charges against a plant in Minnesota that it over-scrutinized job applicants who looked foreign. Federal law lists 29 different documents that can be used to establish identity and employment eligibility.
Rocky Talk Live

Any employer actively attempting to hire only legals and native Americans will just face the wrath of the racial grievance industry and its lawyers. Practice socially responsible hiring practices, and they'll get sued for suspected racism. If employers shirk their new responsibilities under pending legislation, they'll also get sued.

Most everything is illegal now in one way or another, so political or journalistic patrons are becoming more and more necessary to keep ourselves out of trouble. Somebody remarked that our national anthem is one long question. Its saddest question begins:

"O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave... ?"

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Choice: A Crunchy Tragedy

Gilbert Meilander has reviewed Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons in the latest issue of First Things, beginning with this anecdote:

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 (providentially?) 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, and mustard. Here 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, which 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.

Meilander went on to attack Dreher for elitism, smugness, and preening, though there is a certain type of "Just Plain Folks" smugness evident in his own review, making it ripe for evisceration.

Daniel Larison critiques Meilander's critique:

Just consider the language Meilaender used to describe his veritable pilgrimage to the shrine of the Burger King: he wanted something "quick, inexpensive and good." In other words, everything Rod was saying about family meals, communion, sacramentality is completely lost on this man who thinks that eating is about getting things quickly and cheaply and who mistakes Burger King fare for something good.

Larison echoes an Italian cleric who opined a few years ago that Fast Food is Protestant:
"The style of fast-food completely ignores the sacred dimension of meals," Salani told the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire on the occasion of his book launching this January. "At McDonalds you satisfy your hunger in a rushed way so that you can move on to do other things," he lamented. Adding fuel to the fire, he insisted: "It lacks the communitarian or sharing aspect of a meal. Fast food is not Catholic. It is Protestant."

Not only is Meilander a Lutheran, but he praises such things as the community he thought he found while eating alone!

Larison's critique continues:

...using the word community in connection with fellow supporters of a pro baseball team, with whose city you don't even have a personal connection, suggests that you have no idea what "community" is. This is not Meilaender's problem alone. Entire generations of "conservatives" have grown up in rootless America not knowing what community really is, or grew up believing that the common good had something to do with Hillary Clinton trying to socialise health care, which is why they both virulently reject any attempt to promote community even as they lamely grasp onto whatever shreds of it they can find, because I suspect they know the desperate truth that man is not meant to live as so many of us do, but they have no idea how to change.

Men like choice, but one of the fundamental things that conservatives need to relearn is that choice is unnatural. We were not created with choice, a choosing will. We were created with free will, and the difference between the two is all-important. Our choosing, deliberative will is not only a product of our fallen state, but the source of our continuing waywardness. Prizing choice is like prizing doubt and uncertainty. It is not something to be prized, but something to be restrained and mortified.

The abortion movement is euphemistically, but significantly, called pro-choice. Though this whole crunchy con fad can distract from important endeavors like combating the abortion regime, it has revealed that the same presuppositions which animate pro-choicers have much influence among their opponents as well.

Someone wiser than I remarked that the phenomenon of human choice is essentially tragic, because it means that man does not truly know his own good. All choices are made through some combination of reason and virtue with vice, ignorance, or innumerable other personal shortcomings. Like all political movements, contemporary conservatism is set up for a dramatic failure, commitment to choice being one of its tragic flaws.

Monday, May 01, 2006

"The lighter side of fascism" sounds a subject for P.J. O'Rourke, but one has to admit that there is comic relief to be found here -- and not just from the anti-regime jokes that hearteningly persisted throughout. Even the story of Italian imperialism in Africa, though replete with shocking cruelty, was part opera buffa, as shown by the life of Italo Balbo, a fascist leader who began as a saber-rattling patriot and ended -- in more senses than one -- as governor of Libya. This had been Italy's first African acquisition, in 1912, fully 10 years before Mussolini came to power, and Italian rule was a farce throughout. Fascism boasted of how its empire would enrich the patria, but the Italians managed to rule Libya for decades without ever noticing that it contained a vast oil field. Then in 1940, Mussolini cynically and opportunistically declared war on France and England and began his doom. Shortly afterward, Balbo became one of his country's first victims of the war when his plane was shot down -- by an Italian anti-aircraft battery whose gunnery was better than its aircraft recognition. Sometimes you do have to see the funny side of things.
-Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Sham and Bluster"