Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Ten Commandments displays again

Score one for the Alliance Defense Fund, as a federal judge in Oklahoma upheld a privately-financed Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Haskell County courthouse in Stigler, Oklahoma.

As I noted some time ago, the Supreme Court’s confusing jurisprudence invites the sort of challenge the ACLU mounted in this case.

Afflicting the comfortable

Michael Skube (scroll down), a rather cranky old acquaintance, reflects sadly on the (il)literacy of students with gilded high school gpa’s. Given how coachable the SAT is, I’m not sure I’m with him in trusting the SAT more than the gpa. But I do agree that a substantial part of the problem is that too many kids--even relatively bright ones--don’t read for pleasure.

Now I’ve Heard Everything

I’m in Seattle for a few days, partly to do this (in case any Seattle NLT readers would like to turn up), and the local alternative paper, Seattle Weekly, has a review of an opera based on Ted Kennedy’s infamous Chappaquiddick mishap called Black Water.

An opera. About Chappaquiddick.

It is based on a book the same title by Joyce Carol Oates--somehow this book missed my reading list when it came out--and this operatic adaptation was first performed in Philadelphia almost a decade ago, proviong that the Left Coast doesn’t have a monopoly on loopiness. The review says little about Kennedy’s snakelike morals, and is instead portrayed as "a pointed skewering of the very class that’s traditionally supported opera." Yeah--that’s what we all think of when Chappaquiddick comes up.

You can read the entire strange review here, if you want. Up next: An operatic adaption of the murder saga of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel?

Bold atheists

Edmund Burke said:

Boldness formerly was not the character of Atheists as such. They were even of a character nearly the reverse; they were formerly like the old Epicureans, rather an unenterprising race. But of late they are grown active, designing, turbulent, and seditious.

I wonder what he’d think of this?

The Classics

I just returned from a wonderful concert by Jenny (Detra) and the Detranators, who are based in Rome, GA and are rapidly becoming the best cover band of classic rock ’n roll in the South. The performance inspired me with a few other experts to figure out the five best rock ’n roll acts of all time. There are a lot of complicated factors that go into the decision-making process, but one of them is a long and consistently popular career. Here they are, in no particular order: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen. In each case, there was a conservative factor involved in the selection--the artists’ choice of artistic truth over ideological trendiness. The case is weakest with repect to the recent Peter Seeger-loving Springsteen. But he still deserves the lifetime achievement award. Can this kind of popular music ever be called conservative?
Is it possible to be politically liberal--even stupidly liberal or loony Marxist--and still be aesthetically conservative? And of course, any such list is meant to provoke and not really to be definitive. Believe me, I know this is weekend fluff, and this thread must die before Monday morning.


I don’t have enough to do, so, on a lark, I started a personal blog--Knippenblog (thanks, Steve)--tonight. Comments are enabled.

My first post (other than a test) contains a list of speakers I’ve scheduled for the fall at my home institution. The highlight thus far is Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. I’m still working on lining up a few additional speakers.

I’ll cross-post some of what I write, save some of my longer posts for the personal site (linked here, of course), and put Georgia-focused stuff on the other site.

I have to say that Townhall makes it pretty easy to start your own blog.

Peter Lawler

For a particuarly noble example of unbelieving, conservative American respect for religion, let me remind you of the neglected tradition of Southern Stoicism, kept alive in our time by the novelist Tom Wolfe in A MAN IN FULL and I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS. But my favorite southern stoic actually appears in Walker Percy’s "The Last Phil Donahue Show" in LOST IN THE COSMOS. The character is "Colonel John Pelham, C.S.A., commander of the horse artillery under General Stuart."

How the colonel shows up on Phil’s final show need not bother us here. But he thinks that most of the people are on the show are "white trash." By contrast: "A gentleman knows how to treat women. He knows because he knows himself, who he is, what his obligations are. And he discharges them."

On the religion of John Calvin, who also appears on the show (don’t ask!), the colonel says: "Well, I respect his religious beliefs. But I have never thought much about religion one way or another. In fact, I don’t think religion has much to do with whether a man does right. A West Point man is an officer and a gentleman, religion or no religion. I have nothing against religion. In fact, when we studied medieval history at West Point, I remember admiring Richard Coeur de Lion and his recapturing Acre and the holy places. I remember thinking: I would have fought for him, just as I fought for Lee and the South."

Obviously, as Percy shows us, there are problems, especially when it comes to justice, with the southern stoic or any stoic position. But there is some American greatness there. If only our atheists were gentlemen!

This Week’s Podcast

For this week’s podcast, I spoke with frequent Ashbrook and NRO contributor, Mackubin T. Owens. Mac is professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. We discussed many things, but primarily the status of the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. We also touched on India’s potential to be a world power within the next few decades.

The Empire of Consent

Well, I thought I’d introduce another passage from Manent’s A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS? to illustrate the concern that does or should separate the conservatives who favor mediated rights from the liberals who want rights derived immediately from the wholly abstracted or isolated individual. For conservatives, the freedom accorded by the proper understanding of the idea of rights is for performing one’s duties as a citizen, creature, parent, or child, and not an absolute "right of secession" from every tie to other human beings or to God:

The empire of consent spreads, the process of individualization intensifies, and thus the authority of different orders in which human beings hitherto found the meaning of their life--the nation, the family, the church--declines more and more each day. The nation is henceforth a community among others and no longer the community par excellence; the family is an optional, uncertain, and recomposed association; the church is the place where one tentatively looks for meaning, no longer where one recives it. The French and Catholic father of a family--the man who was defined by the communities to which he belonged--has become an individual in search of his identity.

Beinart on Lamont

Peter Beinart says that Lamont and his supporters are more opportunistic than principled. This is meant to puncture the McGovern-Lamont comparison and to encourage Democrats to think in a principled way. I fear, however, that if they find principles, they won’t be Beinart’s, but rather McGovern’s. (In other words, I don’t take as seriously the vaguely hawkish noises that punctuate the cut-and-run chorus.)

For a somewhat different view, focusing on how narrow the gap in 2008 will be between any two administrations, see this post by Power Line’s John Hinderaker:

As a practical matter, I question how much the Democrats’ apparent tilt to the left will matter in policy terms. It’s true, in principle, that a hard liberal like Feingold will be less inclined to use American military force in post-Iraq situations than a more conservative Democrat, or a Republican. But the reality is that no administration that takes office in 2009, Republican or Democrat, will have any appetite for another ground war in the Middle East. For the foreseeable future, that isn’t going to happen, no matter who inhabits the White House.

That leaves Iran, and the prospect of using force short of an invasion to prevent or deter Iran from becoming a nuclear power. What the Democrats intend to do about Iran is a dark secret, and, if they have their way, will remain one until 2009. Their only strategy at present is to be well-poised for second guessing. But it looks increasingly as though Iran can’t wait until 2009. One way or another, that problem will have been addressed by the time the next Presidential election rolls around, and the debate will have shifted in ways that we can’t now foresee.

So I think the most that can be said is that an antiwar Democratic administration will be somewhat less likely to use military force, as a general matter, than a Republican administration would be. But, given our experience in Iraq, that gap may not be very wide.

His assumption seems to be that events will compel GWB to come as close as possible to finishing the job before his successor assumes office.

Conservatism and atheism

There’s lots more on this subject over at The Corner. See especially Mark Steyn, Goldberg channeling Buckley, and Goldberg channeling Voegelin. (Von Heyking can tell us whether JG’s emailer got Voegelin right.)

I’d add this: a proselytizing atheist who exudes contempt for religious believers and wishes to debunk religion at every turn thereby gives evidence of a belief that society can prosper either in the light of reason or in the light of self-consciously understood myth. I don’t think that either stance is conservative.

On the other hand, a non-believer who professes respect for religion, either out of an acknowledgement of his own fallibility and finitude or out of a recognition that widespread enlightenment is impossible, is, for all practical purposes, a conservative.

The generic ballot

Jay Cost explains why we shouldn’t put too much stock in the generic voting preference questions pollsters ask this early in the season. The situation is desperate, but not yet serious.

Anti-neocon innuendo

Eric Alterman accuses the neocons of sacrificing America’s interests to Israel’s. Here’s a priceless line:

Kristol can title his editorial "It’s Our War," but Hezbollah was not shooting missiles into Manhattan.

Do we have to wait until they do?

1974 Midterm Elections

Andy Busch continues his series on midterm elections by considering the great Democratic victories of 1974. The "Watergate Babies"--the post-’60s, pro-counterculture, anti-military wing of the Democratic Party--would dominate the House until 1994. He thinks voters should think about what they accomplished before they vote this November. 

Delba Winthrop

Delba Winthrop died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. She translated, with her husband Harvey Mansfield, Tocqueville’s DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. She was a first-rate and often quite innovative authority on Aristotle, Solzhenitysn, Tocqueville, and, more generally, on the most realistic and responsible currents of Western thought. Here’s a sample of her thought, drawn from the December, 2002 SOCIETY:

Tocqueville wanted to visit America, he said, to see what a great (grande) republic is like--and by that I doubt he meant "big." He was an unabashed lover of liberty and a hesistant admirer of democratic equality. The latter he endorsed in the end because in its justice he could appreciate "its greatness and its beauty." He, in a tacit departure from most liberals, does not ground democratic equality on natural rights discovered in a state of nature, but accepts equality as a fact and looks to the kind of life democracy may provide. In an explicit departure from them, he would gladly trade some modern virtues for the singular "vice" of pride....For Tocqueville, democracies must think about honor and greatness in addition to justice and interest because meaningful democratic self-government cannot long survive without this thoughtfulness.

The Spirit of Biocapitalism

For those who want some background on the conservative vs. libertarian split on bioethics that will drive the emerging conflict over organ markets, see Eric Cohen’s article in most recent THE NEW ATLANTIS. Either this won’t link or it just won’t link for me, but there is a webpage.
For libertarians, organ markets are, in a way, compassionate conservatism. They will increase the number of kidneys available for transplant, save lives, and free people from a miserable existence on dialysis.


Here’s a link every American should know about. Surf away. The biggest issue before the President’s Bioethics Council is now a market in kidneys from live "vendors." One version is that the price for such kidneys be "regulated" or set by Medicare. Read the eloquent if finally misguided testimony by Epstein and Hippen for more.

Ruling Class Rap

While we’re doing music video day (a commenter on my post below says that this is the greatest music video ever, and I have to admit it has strong credentials), have a look at how the ruling class raps.


My no doubt eagerly awaited response to Heather Mac Donald is here, though it pales before Michael Novak’s gentle but firm chiding.

Andrew Sullivan, predictably, applauds her contribution. Hat tip: Rob Vischer.

Update: More Sullivan, albeit nothing new, here.

Faith-based social services

The Lebanese way.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The. Best. Music. Video. Ever.

Brookhiser’s Summary View

Richard Brookhiser puts it altogether in the compass of his latest column in The New York Observer. Short, but worth reading twice.   

Lamont reintroduces himself to the voters

He’s a pragmatic entrepreneur, not a single-issue ideologue. Over at The Corner, Stephen Spruiell won’t let him escape his past.

Partial victory for free student speech

This past March, two conservative (and religious--one Christian and one Jew) students filed a lawsuit against Georgia Tech, alleging that a number of university policies violated the First Amendment. Well, they’ve won a partial victory, with Tech agreeing to alter its policies. (You can find the text of the judge’s order through a link in the Inside Higher Ed article.)

Tech officials are spinning it as a minor concession, affecting only students who live on campus. Does that mean we now have a two-tier speech code at Tech, with commuters subject to one set of rules and residents another? Or was there a two-tier policy before? Inquiring minds want to know.

Others will perhaps spin it another way, as the Atlanta paper’s headline does--"Insults allowed at Tech," which implies that all that the students sought was the "freedom" to insult and offend others. Inside Higher Ed, not exactly a conservative mouthpiece, plays it straighter with its headline--"Freer Speech at Georgia Tech."

Profiles in Courage

As most everyone knows, Al Gore traveled the nation mostly by private jet to promote his film deploring greenhouse gas emissions by us mere plebians. Comes now this report from WSPD TV in Chicago:

Illinois Senator Barack Obama warns citizens at his 50th Town Hall meeting about gas guzzling. It was among many points made to the standing room only audience at the Metropolis Community Center. Obama spoke on everything from DC politics to global warming. He says part of the blame for the world’s higher temperatures rests on gas guzzling vehicles. Obama says consumers can make the difference by switching to higher mileage hybrids. Today the Senator said, "It would save more energy, do more for the environment and create better world security than all the drilling we could do in Alaska.

The punchline: "After the meeting... Obama left in a GMC Envoy after admitting to favoring SUV’s himself."

Manent on Judicial Activism

Other than MANLINESS, the best political analysis I’ve read this year is the English translation of a series of lectures by Pierre Manent--A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS? (I should put an amazon link here, but that would encourage dependency and insult your intelligence.) One glimpse of Manent’s contemporary wisdom:

"...the power of judges today [in many nations] rests ulimately not on the laws of the nation, not on its constitution, but on the foundation of the laws and the constitution, that is, ’human rights’ and the idea of ’humanity.’ Setting aside local laws, accepted usages, and international conventions and treaties, judges more and more claim to speak immediately in the name of humanity....[T]he new power of judges illustrates our impatience with mediations, in particularly political mediations, and our desire to recognize and achieve humanity immediately."

We can, of course, recognize Justice Kennedy’s unmediated interpretation of the single world "liberty" in the Fourteenth Amendment here in Lawrence v. Texas.

We can also see that the true division in American politics might not be, as James Ceaser contends, between the foundationalist conservatives and the non-foundationalists liberals.

Instead, it might between the left that insists on transforming all of life according to an abstract understanding of rights unmediated by the social, political, and religious truth about human nature and a right that insists that our understanding of rights must be mediated by that truth. It is between the "Europeans" and their American imitators who live lost in a postpolitical, postreligious, and postfamilial individualistic fantasy and Americans and their European sympathizers who think realistically of themselves not only as free individuals by as citizens, creatures, parents, children, and so forth.

The understanding of our country as divided into those devoted to mediated and those devoted to unmediated rights explains why we conservatives, despite our differences, are united in our opposition to judicial activism.

Before being too convinced too fast, remember that Manent is a controversial figure among readers of The Claremont Review. (Here there should be a link to articles in that review dealing with Manent, especially the strident criticism given by Bill Allen.)

Apologies for deleted entry

I mistakenly deleted a post linking to this WaPo article detailing the way in which funds contributed to relieve earthquake victims in Pakistan were diverted to help finance the most recent airline bombing plot.

Apologies also to the commenters, whose remarks can be found by clicking on the "Comments by Our Readers" button on the let sidebar.

Michael Gerson on 9-11

Here. A taste:

There are still many steps of diplomacy, engagement and sanctions between today and a decision about military conflict with Iran—and there may yet be a peaceful solution. But in this diplomatic dance, America should not mirror the infinite patience of Europe. There must be someone in the world capable of drawing a line—someone who says, "This much and no further." At some point, those who decide on aggression must pay a price, or aggression will be universal. If American "cowboy diplomacy" did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.


Five Augusts from 9/11, in a summer of new fears, in a war on terror that has lasted longer than World War II, public weariness is understandable. And that exhaustion is increasingly reflected in our politics. In a conservative backlash against the president’s democratic idealism. In a liberal backlash that has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Ned Lamont, in his primary victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman, summed up the case this way: "We are going to get our troops out of Iraq ... we’re going to start investing in our own country again." Lamontism—the elevation of flinching to a foreign policy—is McGovernism, and a long way from "bear any burden, pay any price."

Read the whole thing.

Neocons here and abroad

John Zvesper reviews a couple of not altogether inspiring books by British proponents of neoconservatism, and Norman Podhoretz reflects on the Bush doctrine. Here’s the conclusion:

So far as the implementation of this new strategy goes, it is still early days—roughly comparable to 1952 in the history of the Truman Doctrine. As with the Truman Doctrine then, the Bush Doctrine has thus far acted only in the first few scenes of the first act of a five-act play. Like the Truman Doctrine, too, its performance has received very bad reviews. Yet we now know that the Truman Doctrine, despite being attacked by its Republican opponents as the “College of Cowardly Containment,” was adopted by them when they took power behind Dwight D. Eisenhower. We also know now that, after many ups and downs and following a period of retreat in the 1970’s, the policy of containment was updated and reinvigorated in the 1980’s by Ronald Reagan (albeit without admitting that this was what he was doing). And we now know as well that it was by thus building on the sound foundation laid by the Truman Doctrine that Reagan delivered on its original promise.

It is my contention that the Bush Doctrine is no more dead today than the Truman Doctrine was cowardly in its own early career. Bolstered by that analogy, I feel safe in predicting that, like the Truman Doctrine in 1952, the Bush Doctrine will prove irreversible by the time its author leaves the White House in 2008. And encouraged by the precedent of Ronald Reagan, I feel almost as confident in predicting that, three or four decades into the future, and after the inevitable missteps and reversals, there will come a President who, like Reagan in relation to Truman in World War III, will bring World War IV to a victorious end by building on the noble doctrine that George W. Bush promulgated when that war first began.

I hope he’s right.

Welcome Peter!

Lawler, that is. (The Other Peter needs no welcoming.) Now Knippenberg has some competition! As soon as Lawler learns how to link, it’ll be all over. Sort of like when Paul Johnson junked his typewritter for a word processor.


Well, let me use this forum to get some help. I’m in the early stages of writing an essay for the Bioethics Council on the meaning of human dignity. One indispensable source, of course, is Mansfield’s MANLINESS--a book that has been widely but not yet very seriously reviewed. There, he says that men need to feel important, and that need, he suggests, is at the foundation of individuality. Manly men (and women, of course) dramatically and with exaggerated self-confidence assert their noble or "transcendent" and indispensable individual greatness. But asserting one’s own importance is not the same thing as actually being important. Is the real source of individual dignity more than dramatic individual assertion? Do we need revelation to give a positive answer to that question?

Conservatism and liberalism today

I’ve just begun to dip into this symposium on the state of conservatism and liberalism today. From what I’ve skimmed, I don’t expect to like much of it, but I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised. Any thoughts out there?

Update: Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru and Heather Mac Donald are fussing at one another over her contribution to the symposium. I’ve put together some thoughts on it as well. When and where they’ll see the light of day, I don’t yet know.

For the record, Ponnuru likes the pieces by Austin Bramwell, the almost ubiquitous Ross Douthat, and Michael Lind.

The Truth at Last!

Peter Schramm has asked me to come out of hiding and actually or really or truly become a blogging man. No doubt I will be more effective when I figure out how to LINK. Here’s the issue at Berry College today: Why do good colleges put up with all this assessment, learning outcome, rubric stuff imposed on them by third-rate schools of education? I welcome other issues, marginalized voices, confused identities etc.


Mark Helprin is certainly one of the best writers still at work. Although everything he writes is interesting and thoughtful, I still think his best is A Soldier of the Great War. This is a good interview with him. Note this exchange on beauty:

DT: Why are you so obsessed with beauty?

MH: Because it’s beautiful.

DT: [laughs] This is something I’ve gotten from all your work, over and over again.

MH: That’s an interesting question. See, that’s one of the questions that I’ve never, never had put to me. So I’ll have to think about that for a second. I suppose it’s the inverse of why I am repelled by ugliness. One is attracted to beauty. Beauty is the coordination of things, in such a way, that it is what attracts you. It’s almost self-defining. I know at a personal level, I have always been interested in it, and I have always sought it out, and was comforted by it, because it was comforting. I think in one of my books I say it’s a promise that there is a purpose in life, because if things can be arranged, coordinated in a way that made you react in that fashion, then perhaps it means that everything has a purpose in the end.