Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Coming Failure of Liberalism

The opening paragraphs of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest piece in the Weekly Standard point to a problem that the next Democratic President will have (the bulk of the piece, O’Rourke’s discusion of Senator Sununu’s political philosoph is also worth reading):

American political methodology is an ontological construct. No, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it’s true anyway. Political "science"--like that puppy from the same litter, the dismal science of economics--is not science; it’s a branch of moral philosophy. Yet try talking moral philosophy with a politician. Politicians will talk strategy and tactics and policies and programs until they’re blue in the face, or you strangle them and they turn blue.

The problem on the left is, now that Karl Marx has forsaken them, they have no philosophy. Thank goodness. Think what evil creeps liberals would be if their plans to enfeeble the individual, exhaust the economy, impede the rule of law, and cripple national defense were guided by a coherent ideology instead of smug ignorance.

Now that no one (or very few) admit to being socialists, now that few, if any, believe that social science can manage society, and now that the vast majority of people on the Left (at least those who are likely to get into office) admit that the world, by its nature, can never become the world of universal peace, plenty, and brotherhood, what is it that drives the Left?

My own understanding is that the Left still believes that a good society is one that delivers on the promise of socialism. That’s what makes the Left the Left. At the same time, they don’t believe in the project as much as they used to. Once they are back in power, might they be forced to see the contradiction? Is that why Brown looks like he’s about to lose in Britain, and why Sarkozy, Merkel are on top in France and Germany, and why Burlusconi, however great his flaws, is, once again, in power in Italy?

If Senator Obama becomes president, and if the Democratic party has control of both houses of the legislature in 2009, as seems quite likely, governing might be a rude awakening. The benefit of being in opposition is that one needn’t be specific. The trouble with governing is that one must be so.

If part of the reason why President Bush has had such a rough time of things is that Americans are tried of the modern administrative/ bureaucratic state (even as they don’t want their own benefits cut, or many regulations eliminated), and if Democrats think that the reason why Bush is unpopular is that he’s been governing as a conservative, they could be in for a rude awakening.

Random Observations

Based on a quick surf of the web:

1. There’s lots of talk about McCain’s inability to deliver a speech. Why does he think he would benefit from lots of events on the same stage with young and eloquent Barack? Mac will have to practice a lot to get the convention bump that always comes from nailing a stirring acceptance speech. Even our president rose to those occasions, but he’s never thought for a moment that he was above the need to practice.

2. If the election were held today, according to the various studies, Obama would probably win--unless McCain managed to sweep the rust-belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Obviously regular guys have issues with bobo Barack. But will they be able to resist voting for CHANGE in the face of a weakening economy and for a man who’s virtualy incapable of seeming to feel their pain?

3. Surely the cleverest thing Obama could do with Hillary is to make it clear to the voters that she would be his first appointment to the Supreme Court. That would in a way lock her up for good. And the idea of HER on the Court would thrill feminists of all stripes.

Freedom of Speech, Canadian Style

As the show trial of Mark Steyn continues apace, we have even more to recommend the land of the Mounties as a great bastion for the defense of free speech. Roger Kimball reports on the case of one of the most innocuous (and, frankly, boring) sounding political billboards I’ve heard described. It was put forth by a Candadian pro-life group. The billboard was judged by Advertising Standards Canada to be "deceptive" because, in giving a very straightforward accounting of the Canadian law in question (i.e., that it is legal to abort during all 9 months of a pregnancy), the billboard did not take into account questions of "access" to abortion. Apparently, if you’re not left wing in Canada, you have to anticipate the argument against you coming from the left and not try to rebut it if you want to be permitted to express your own views. That’s fair, right?

In the meantime, Canadians have really important questions of national interest with which to concern themselves. Who can be bothered with speech rights?

Grandpa Broke up the Kegger?

Kathleen Parker likens McCain to "grumpy ol’ granddad breaking up the keg party" because of (what others here have called) his dusty old CEO speech. She thinks he should have acknowledged the thing that made her (involuntarily) smile upon watching Obama victorious. What was that thing? Parker argues that it was a kind of "born again" moment for America--a birth for which we all ought to get some credit as midwives. McCain’s laundry list of attacks on Obama didn’t take into sufficient account the feelings that Parker believes inspired her involuntary smile. She argues that McCain needs to get people "to avert their gaze from the shiny new object of their affection" before he can start hammering Obama with a point by point refutation of his policies. This election will not be about Obama’s policy prescriptions--and even less so about McCain’s--it’s going to be entirely about the "idea of Obama." In a race so personal and also so embedded in abstract (and undefined) things like "hope," is there any way that an ultimate victory by McCain can be seen to be "simply be a loss for Democrats -- and not a loss specifically for African-Americans?"

Parker said that she slapped herself when she caught herself giving in to the involuntary smile. A lot of people are not going to be as disciplined as she in this respect. Can McCain win without slapping them? I’m inclined to say "no." Thing is, that’s a tricky place to be in American politics.

It wouldn’t be the 2008 campaign season, however, if I didn’t close on a note of hope. If Parker is right and a good description for McCain is "grumpy grandpa breaking up the kegger" consider this: don’t kids act out sometimes because they actually WANT to get caught? If the American people are caught up in a childish infatuation and are about to take some radical step just because it makes them feel good, a good part of them is likely to be looking back over their shoulders to see if there isn’t someone shouting to make them reconsider. A kegger can be great fun . . . and McCain ought to acknowledge this . . . but in the morning there’s always a terrible mess to clean up. And then you have to worry about the consequences of the mess and the broken stuff and the stains in the carpet that won’t go away. Perhaps there are enough sensible Americans who can recognize the virtues of a fine drink without feeling compelled to get all drunk and crazy with it? McCain has to try to break up the party by suggesting there’s a better way to the same feeling. We can be good Americans who believe in racial equality without having to drink from this particular cup.

Sex in the Sixties

I’m taking advantage of my AWESOME NLT power to move the Sixties discussion with Carl, Ralph, Kate, Steve, and many others from the thread below to here.

1. Carl asked: Why did I say Marx would have predicted the "effectual truth" of the sexual/women’s liberation of the sixties? The good news: Women become free individuals just like men. The bad: Women are more or less compelled to become wage slaves just like men. The competitive logic of the market enters into every facet of relations between the sexes. Sex itself is commodified; the body becomes yet a natural resource to be used at will. The libertarian logic of "preferences" enters sexual life; sex is separated from biological imperatives, including what Marx called the "halos" that come from the illusions of love.

2. The best Sixties theorists, like Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse, loved to talk up "polymorphous perversity" as the alternative to "genital tyranny." Sex, freed from the imperatives of reproduction, could flourish as never before. Does that mean that we’ll we all about easygoing recreational rutting in all sorts of ways, that our whole bodies will so be AROUSED we won’t be able to calculate or consent? Or does that mean that our erotic instinct will mix with unfettered imagination to produce a new "art of life" (Marcuse) with unprecented flourishing of music, art, philosophy and the other features of high civilization? Like Marx himself, our New Lefties really thought that the conquest of scarcity by technology could free us from work and for joy. And like Marx himself, they were pretty confused about what that freedom will be like.

3. The Sixties also aimed to free sex from the constraints of love, while simultaneously teaching that love is all you need. How can love be separated from sex? Drugs!

4. On Sixties drugs: Doesn’t it seem that every work of art they inspired was curiously unerotic--nothing like the mechanical rutting of rock ’n roll criticized by Bloom? (Think the Beatles first--lots of that stuff really is beautiful and finely crafted.) LSD in particular seems to have produced a mixture of an incredibly inflated sense of oneself and a sort of loving pantheistic oneness. Drugs really are required to free the imagination from necessity and the obsessions of self-consciousness, and especially to separate good moods from the whims of other people.

5. Mood-altering drugs are bound to have a big place in our biotechnological future. More than we want to think, the soft drugs of the Sixties were the most effective feature of their liberationist utopianism.

VP Prediction: Think Hoosier

The more I puzzle over Obama’s potential Veep choices, the more I can see him picking Evan Bayh of Indiana. An unexciting but solid and moderate white guy from Republican state causes all kinds of problems for McCain and his campaign. It would send reassuring signals to several of the voting blocks with whom Obama is weak, and would reject the identity-politics imperative that demands Obama pick a woman not named Hillary. The downside is that he is from a neighboring state (though Obama seems confused about geography as we have seen). Anyway, I’m going to drop some chips on Bayh at the gaming sites.

The whole Veep business makes me wonder whether some Democratic Party reformers won’t start agitating to have Veep candidates run in primaries, too, or be chosen by the delegates at the convention. Given the growing importance and role of Veeps in office, it is an increasingly strange anachronism that we let the nominees choose them willy-nilly, without "popular" party participation. If Obama wanted to be really bold, he’d consider throwing the Veep slot to the convention, except that he knows he’d end up with You-Know-Who (hint: wears pants suits). (Of course, that might be one way to accommodate party sentiment without directly giving in--Ed. Yeah, but the result would still be the same; how’d you like to have all your food tasted twice for the next four years?)

The Party of New Ideas

Sometimes I think that idea that America’s liberals have new idea and comservative have old idea is, itself, the oldest idea in the book. Some things do, in fact change, but much remains constant.

From the 1972 Democratic Party Platform:

Energy Resources

The earth’s natural resources, once in abundant and seemingly unlimited supply, can no longer be taken for granted. In particular, the United States is facing major changes in the pattern of energy supply that will force us to reassess traditional policies. By 1980, we may well have to depend on imports from the Eastern Hemisphere for as much as 30 to 50 percent of our oil supplies. At the same time, new forms of energy supply—such as nuclear, solar or geothermal power—lag far behind in research and development.

The Environment

The problem we face is to choose the most efficient, effective and equitable techniques for solving each new environmental problem. We cannot afford to waste resources while doing the job, any more than we can afford to leave the job undone.

We must enforce the strict emission requirements on all pollution sources set under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

We must support the establishment of a policy of no harmful discharge into our waters by 1985.

We must have adequate staffing and funding of all regulatory and enforcement agencies and departments to implement laws, programs and regulations protecting the environment, vigorous prosecution of violators and a Justice Department committed to enforcement of environmental law.

We must fully support laws to assure citizens’ standing in federal environmental court suits.

Strict interstate environmental standards must be formulated and enforced to prevent pollution from high-density population areas being dumped into low-density population areas for the purpose of evasion of strict pollution enforcement.

The National Environmental Policy Act should be broadened to include major private as well as public projects, and a genuine commitment must be made to making the Act work.

Our environment is most threatened when the natural balance of an area’s ecology is drastically altered for the sole purpose of profits. Such practices as "clear cut" logging, strip mining, the indiscriminate destruction of whole species, creation of select ocean crops at the expense of other species and the unregulated use of persistent pesticides cannot be justified when they threaten our ability to maintain a stable environment.

Where appropriate, taxes need to be levied on pollution, to provide industry with an incentive to clean up.

We also need to develop new public agencies that can act to abate pollution-act on a scale commensurate with the size of the problem and the technology of pollution control.

Expanded federal funding is required to assist local governments with both the capital and operating expenses of water pollution control and solid waste management.

[Health Care]

"Good health is the least this society should promise its citizens. The state of health services in this country indicates the failure of government to respond to this fundamental need. Costs skyrocket while the availability of services for all but the rich steadily declines.

We endorse the principle that good health is a right of all Americans. America has a responsibility to offer to every American family the best in health care whenever they need it, regardless of income or where they live or any other factor.

To achieve this goal the next Democratic Administration should:

Establish a system of universal National Health Insurance which covers all Americans with a comprehensive set of benefits including preventive medicine, mental and emotional disorders, and complete protection against catastrophic costs, and in which the rule of free choice for both provider and consumer is protected. The program should be federally-financed and federally-administered. Every American must know he can afford the cost of health care whether given in a hospital or a doctor’s office;"

[Other Rights listed in 1972]
The right to a decent job and an adequate income, with dignity;

The right to quality, accessibility and sufficient quantity in tax-supported services and amenities —including educational opportunity, health care, housing and transportation;

The right to quality, safety and the lowest possible cost on goods and services purchased in the market place.

Top Animated Films

Yahoo readers give us a very disappointing top 30 list of the all-time best animated films. Finding Nemo was number 1. Now, I liked Finding Nemo (once or twice) and my kids still like it. But number 1?! It’s cute and tells a warm and fuzzy family story (except for the ever-popular Disney theme of the death of the mother!) . . . but the Dad is sort of a neurotic head-case . . . a hapless hero. Is that what inspires our children today? I hope not.

Further, inexplicably and notably, the brain-dead Enchanted towers over the masterful and artistically gorgeous Sleeping Beauty (long my daughter’s favorite movie). When I remember the innocent and moving "love scene" between Princess Aurora--where the Prince is captivated not only by her beauty but also by the purity of her spirit and sets about a plan to marry her despite her "lowly" status--and contrast it to the bumbling and awkward romance of the (very phony--to the point where she is a literal cartoon) Princess of Enchanted and remember that she only lands her Prince by becoming hardened and "real" (and, of course, appropriately whimpifying him) . . . I sigh. At least Beauty and the Beast still ranked high . . . that girl loved virtue and books!

And should I be embarrassed that there were only 5 films on this list that my kids and I have not seen (and most of them more than once!)? Probably. But, still, I’m not.

Frenchies Fry Their Liberties

First there is the case of poor Bridget Bardot, here reported by an Algerian newspaper in an interesting and notably unsympathetic way. What would PETA say?

Next there is this odd case of the annulment of a Muslim couple where the groom was, apparently, surprised and disgruntled about the non-virginity of his bride. A French court granted the annulment on the grounds that it was a breach of contract in this particular kind of (i.e., Muslim) marriage.

But in treating the case as a breach of contract, the ruling was decried by critics who said it undermined decades of progress in women’s rights. Marriage, they said, was reduced to the status of a commercial transaction in which women could be discarded by husbands claiming to have discovered hidden defects in them.

The court decision "is a real fatwa against the emancipation and liberty of women. We are returning to the past," said Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, the daughter of immigrants from Muslim North Africa, using the Arabic term for a religious decree.

Interesting . . . but there’s more:
"Today, the judicial system of a modern country cannot hold to these savage traditions, completely inhuman for the young woman," said the rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur.

He likened the court decision to "equating marriage with a commercial transaction."

Like some others, Boubakeur, a moderate, voiced fears that Muslim fundamentalists would seek to profit from the Lille ruling "as they have done with the veil. ... Fundamentalists use (head scarves) like their flag."

"We ask Muslims to live in their era," he said.

One hardly knows how to begin to unpack all of that . . . "Savage" traditions? I thought we were not allowed to pass judgments or use words like that. Bardot found out what happens when you do that. "Commercial transaction"? I’m confused. I thought secular liberals wanted marriage to be reduced to a commercial transaction so as to keep religion and morals out of it. But now we see that treating it as a "commercial transaction" may invite some of the more undesirable aspects of some religions right back in . . . It’s a tough spot for these guys and I feel for them. Relativism is a tricky master. Ahhh . . . but I see now. It all comes down to the "live in your era" argument. Get with the times and so forth . . . But here the trouble is that it begins to be pretty clear that history does not "progress" in quite the straight line they had been willing to hope it would. Everything old is new again and, this time, they meet the argument disarmed.

A Question

If Obama’s selection as the Democratic nominee marks a departure from Clinton style politics, why does it feel like déjà vu all over again? At what point do those disenchanted with the Clintons and their corrupt and navel-gazing politics begin to wonder if they haven’t picked a new boss who is the same as the old boss?

Ronald Reagan RIP

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the passing of Ronald Reagan. His daughter, Patti Davis, reflects upon the man who was her father and why, after all the struggle and heartache, she could not help but love him. I think it is always wise to listen to the reflections of a daughter upon the character of her father. For one thing, there are few people in this life who have more of an interest in understanding the character of a man than his daughter. So she’s been at the job for a long time, had better access to him and--though she admits to willful misunderstanding in the past--seems to be coming to a deeper, better, and more mature understanding of him now. Of course, there is a temptation on her part to wish to see him rediscovered as the ultimate and true liberal in her understanding of the term. If we’re using a small "l," I think I’d give her that.

She’s right that the man she knew could not possibly be the caricature painted by his political enemies--the racist and the heartless man they said he was. But you can see from this piece that she is still struggling to circle the square--to make his politics fit with the character of the man she loved. They do . . . but she doesn’t quite see how, so instead she dismisses them and talks instead of attitudes in politics and graciousness and demeanor and just "being nice." It’s a start.

Of course, in America, being a true "liberal" means you’re actually a conservative. What is it that we’re trying to conserve, after all? We are trying to conserve the ideas of Revolution . . . and it’s no accident that people talked of a "Reagan Revolution." Perhaps one day Patti will come to see that as well. And perhaps not. No matter. She gives us a beautiful reflection on the soul of the man and, though (perhaps) she misses the larger picture, she is not wrong about his good nature and his inability to be "mean." We do miss that. We ought, always, to do our best to imitate it and so honor the man who deserves our admiration and respect. Rest in peace, Ronald Reagan.

How the Party of Lincoln Can Out-Organize an "Organizer"

Karl Rove explains some of the nuts and bolts of electoral politics while drawing upon the political wisdom of Old Abe. 

Turn Your Key, Moira. Turn Your Key!

Hillary Clinton has resolved to be the Democratic Party’s girlfriend from Hell. There’s just no breaking up with her. She refuses to let the detail that somebody else won the nomination keep her from deciding, on her schedule and terms, the future course of her "campaign." In last night’s speech, celebrating her victory in the fantasy league nomination contest, she invited her supporters to visit the official website (hillaryclinton.nuts) to help her determine her next step.

The conclusion of this campaign is a cynical betrayal of the idea of gender equality. The mean journalists and politicians who won’t wait for her to recognize her defeat until she’s good and ready, had better be careful. They’ll hurt her feelings and make her cry . . . and then make her angry. And there’s no telling how much trouble she can cause if that happens. Better to humor her.

This denouement is entirely fitting, because the premise of the Clinton campaign was also a cynical betrayal of the idea of gender equality. The historic breakthrough was always counterfeit. The first female president would have been the former first lady, whose accomplishments were entirely derived from her husband’s. Her claims to be the experienced candidate were as bogus as her claims to have faced sniper fire. She has now directed two big undertakings – the health care task force and a presidential campaign – and managed in each instance to turn an advantageous starting point into a humiliating defeat.

Good riddance.

Fun With Military History

While poking around the web a few days ago, looking for a helpful map of the American revolution, I happend upon this fantastic website created by the folks who teach history at the U.S. Military Academy.

The site has all kinds of battle maps for the major wars in which the U.S. has participated.

Beyond that, there is stuff like this animated presentation of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. Just click anywhere on the slide and follow the path to victory in the South in 1781. This one of the 1776 campaign is fun too.

A couple of points

Just a few quick points to Peter Lawler below:
1. I am told that the Governor (and former Miss) Alaska is ver smart, a fine speaker, and very well liked. I think McCain has to pick her or Bobby Jindal, and this has to do with the second point. 2) McCain’s speech was his normal delivery mode, and Lawler’s right, he talks like a CEO (and Dubya). That is, because they are not in the habit of talking, CEO’s don’t do it well. He has to consider this, especially because Obama is a great talker--at least in the formal setting--and act accordingly. For example, he has to give only short formal talks, and, make up for his boring tone in conversational mode with Obama where McCain can be clever, biting, and even sharp (Obama’s less good at that than in lecturing). 3) I think Hillary’s speech last night--her inability to be anything but self-serving--was awful and fully revealed her vices. It is obvious that she doesn’t care about anything but winning, and she will do anything to be running, even as VP. Shameful. At least she could have been clever, or indirect, about it. But she is forcing the issue; this is political rape and Obama had better be able to resist it. He will not make her his runnign mate, I predict. He cannot, honor and manliness will not allow it.

Random Observations

1. Hillary making herself available to be Obama’s running mate is a pathetic end to a strange campaign. As a matter of honor he can’t pick her, given how much she’s (unnecesarily) cost him. Still, it would be a very strong ticket.

2. I was impressed by the case for Sarah Palin for Mac’s VP Peter linked below. McCain will unnecessarily cost himself votes by picking a white male. Picking a pro-life family woman (mother of five)--who’s nonetheless not associated with "the religious right" and comes from THE libertarian, gun toting state--seems pretty shrewd. I won’t say anything about her new Down Syndrome baby except that they are very cute. Is she scary smart? Eloquent? I don’t know. She is a looker.

3. All sorts of media outlets are now touting our remarkable recent successes in Iraq. A Republican talking point: We don’t want another Vietnam in the sense of giving up again when we’ve just about won.

4. I’m writing an article on THE SIXTIES. I can sort of remember them. What do the Sixties mean to you?

5. McCain’s speech last night was, to put it gently, very poorly delivered. He seemed like an old CEO who doesn’t do much public speaking. The podium, as they say, is not his friend.

VP stuff

All the numbers are now lined up for Obama to be able to say that he has the number of delegates needed, since so many superdelegates came out for him during the day today, and then this AP count seems to confirm it even without the delegates he will win in today’s last primaries. The most interesting story of the day is that Hillary, in a phone call with Democratic legislators, admitted that she might be willing (or even interested) in becoming Obama’s running mate. While her mode of doing this is a bit cold and calculating, it should not surprise. She will still be the story, even on his day. He will gently decline, but not just yet, and she will say she was misunderstood, that she isn’t campaigning for the position. No one will believe her, yet she will have put him in a tight spot. Clinton politics all the way to the end.

In the meantime, this small note
on why Sarah Palin (Gov of Alaska) should be McCain’s running mate. I am amused by a comment on a thread in the form of a palindrome, a suggestion for a perfect campaign button:
"Harass sensuousness, Sarah". Another wag suggest that’s not as good a "Amabo Obama", but I like it.

Optimistic Pessimism

. . . from Jonah G. about the future of conservatism.

Well . . . That’s a Relief!

According to AP, FLDS Church elder Willie Jessop has important news:

Late Monday, elder Willie Jessop said the church won’t allow underage girls to marry. Jessop said the new policy will forbid any girl to marry who is not of legal consent age in the state where she lives.
I guess that will be the end of that now. Like we said, if consent is the only issue then numbers don’t matter.

Tolerance is Intolerance

Andrew Coyne has an amusing live blog of the trial of Mark Steyn for hate crimes.

Let’s pursue the logic here. If publishing things critical of Islam can be construed as a hate crime, would the very presence of churches and synagogues be hateful to muslims? Wouldn’t their very existence imply that Mohammad was a false prophet and that the Koran was written by human hands? Surely, Canada’s "Human Rights" bureaucrats ought to construe that is an insult to all good Muslims.

Such is the logic of hate crimes laws.

Throwdown with Bobby Flay Hayward and Deneen

I’ve posted the following challenge on Pet Deneen’s blog, in response to his response to my earlier response (got all that?):

First of all, I’m not a market-worshipping purist. To the contrary, I’ve publicly advocated a carbon tax (http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.26286/pub_detail.asp). But as to your question--"would you consider that the market was working 20+ years after the oil shocks of the 1970s?"--the answer is an emphatic Yes if you know what you’re looking for. This is a large story with many parts, but ask why the oil price rise of the last few years has had much less of an impact on the economy than the comparable oil price rises of the 1970s. The short answer--the full data take a while to walk through-is that oil is a much less of a factor in the U.S. economy than it was in the 1970s. One stat: in the 1970s, oil accounted for 2/3rds of total U.S. energy consumption; today it is only 1/3rd, with electricity (and gas and coal) accounting for the other 2/3rds. Between 1949 and 1973 energy efficiency in the U.S. only improved by 12 percent; between 1974 and 1999 U.S. energy efficiency improved 40 percent (usually in advance of government mandates such as auto CAFE standards); between 1949 and 1973 per capita energy consumption increased 64 percent; between 1974 and 1999, by only 2 percent. Pretty good evidence to me that markets and prices work, and that in fact we did make big changes as a result of the new energy world of post-1973. And I suspect we’re going to make big changes in the years just ahead, with or without (almost surely better without) government mandates (see: ethanol debacle). In other words, the dynamic restraints of the marketplace will almost always (note: I said "almost") be superior to politically-imposed restraints.

Regarding McMansions: many of them (not the Gore/Edwards monster-size) use exactly the same amount of energy as the average new house in 1970; in other words, we traded energy efficiency gains (better insulation and appliances, etc) for more square feet in which to live. Is this really such a sin?

I could go on and on (I’m a maven for these stats, and I’ve practically memorized the exhaustive tables of the Energy Information Administration), but let’s make this interesting: How about a Simon-Ehrlich style wager. I say that three years from now, oil will be below $75 a barrel. Let the loser of this wager buy the winner his choice of any hardbound book in the Liberty Press catalogue. Shake?

Prince Caspian

On Saturday, I joined my kids (and the rest of my daughter’s third grade class) at a viewing of the new version of the C.S. Lewis classic, Prince Caspian.

Joe Carter reviews it at Evangelical Outpost and opines that its great virtue is that it is a war movie (in the best sense) for children. I reply that he is certainly correct about it being a war movie and he is certainly correct that this is one of its great virtues. But I don’t think this is its chief virtue or that the book from which it is drawn is inferior to the movie version, as Carter claims. I think that the movie version is what it has to be in order to tell the narrative ("talky" as Carter calls it) story of Prince Caspian.

Carter further opines that "this is a Dad’s movie" because:

Moms simply won’t be able to appreciate seeing a teen boy getting thrashed in single-combat against a man twice his age. They won’t cheer heartily at seeing a teen girl expertly dehorse a half-dozen soldiers with a bow and arrow. Nor will they gasp with delight upon seeing a six-year old draw a dagger when faced with an opposing army.
To which, I say: poppycock. I sat with and was part of a whole row of moms perched on the edges of our seats, cheering and clapping at each of these scenes. Perhaps Carter thinks this because he’s hanging around with the wrong sort of moms? In any case, much of the criticism of the movie comes from those who say that it is too much like an action flick . . . relying too heavily on the battle scenes Carter (and my posse) cheered. But the critics are probably the sort of people who don’t really believe that there is anything worthy of the kind of risk and sacrifice on display in these scenes. Indeed, Carter himself comes dangerously close to forgetting there’s more to this "action" than the action itself. It is a war movie but, like all good war movies, it’s much more than that.

Carter is critical, for example, of the Prince Caspian character and of the portrayal of the animal characters, such as (my favorite) Reepicheep. He thinks they were given too much screen time (I think not enough) at the expense of the development of the Penvensie children’s characters. He’s right that the Prince Caspian character was probably selected for his devastating good looks and he’s right that his accent was pretty stupid (Castilian? I had always pictured Miraz and his kingdom as a kind of Middle-Eastern fiefdom . . .). But Caspian is a central character in the unfolding Chronicles drama. And, eye-candy or no, Ben Barnes did a very good job of establishing Caspian’s place in the story. The back and forth between him and Peter was perfect. Peter and Susan are (and must be) fading characters. Their pride--which I took to be a kind of metaphor for the pride of the Church--must come into and pass from being. The truth remains and passes on to a new set of guardians with each succeeding generation--and once a generation master’s its pride--it is time for it to go home. Besides, I think it would have been almost impossible for the Penvensies to have been any more fully developed.

The actors who play the Penvensie children are either possessed of great genius or they were supremely directed. The Peter and Edmund characters, especially, tell so much of the story with their eyes and expressions that it makes you wonder what sort of profound wisdom informs their understanding of the story. Even the added elements to the movie version (e.g., the proto-romance between Caspian and Susan) serve the higher truth of the film. As Peter is humbled by his need for Aslan, so too Susan (the warrior queen) is humbled by her need for the intercession of a strong male. Human pride (and, in Reepicheep’s case, mouse pride), not simple war for its own sake, is the real subject of Prince Caspian. Pride brings on the war, makes it necessary, and further complicates it as it gets underway. Submission to the natural order of things and trust in Aslan’s will (and mercy) sets things aright.

The Vice of Gloom and Doom

Steve, your post reminds me of this bit of wisdom from Franklin’s Autobiography:

There are croakers in every country, always boding its ruin. Such a one then lived in Philadelphia; a person of note, an elderly man, with a wise look and a very grave manner of speaking; his name was Samuel Mickle. This gentleman, a stranger to me, stopt one day at my door, and asked me if I was the young man who had lately opened a new printing-house. Being answered in the affirmative, he said he was sorry for me, because it was an expensive undertaking, and the expense would be lost; for Philadelphia was a sinking place, the people already half-bankrupts, or near being so; all appearances to the contrary, such as new buildings and the rise of rents, being to his certain knowledge fallacious; for they were, in fact, among the things that would soon ruin us. And he gave me such a detail of misfortunes now existing, or that were soon to exist, that he left me half melancholy. Had I known him before I engaged in this business, probably I never should have done it. This man continued to live in this decaying place, and to declaim in the same strain, refusing for many years to buy a house there, because all was going to destruction; and at last I had the pleasure of seeing him give five times as much for one as he might have bought it for when he first began his croaking.

Le plus ca change . . .

Steyn on Obama’s Church Shopping

A must read. Gotta love the bit about the bike path . . . still laughing.

Come November, We May Have to Love Michigan

Sensible Buckeyes may have to swallow hard in November and say, "Thank you, Michigan" according to this fine article by Thurlow Weed. There’s more than a great pseudonym to recommend this piece. Weed argues that Saturday’s decision to split Michigan’s delegates may cost Obama the state’s electors in November. The decision to split them was a stupid move on many levels, according to Weed. Not only does it give Hillary a reason to keep going (closing off the possibility of her exiting the race with dignity) it offends the sensibilities of Michigan voters who see the heavy hands of arbitrary party hacks at work to keep their views at bay. Weed doesn’t say it explicitly but, of course, this move also plays right into the hands of those assembling the mounting evidence that Obama and his supporters are elitists who believe that they know better than "those people" what is best for them. Michigan’s not the only state that has a heavy population of "those people." Indeed, the Buckeye State (where Obama has a deceptively large lead over McCain for the moment according to a poll that Weed disbelieves) may learn a great deal from the Michigan example.

Thought for the Day

With all this talk about the environment, peak oil, recession, and what-have-you on this site today, perhaps this is a good time to recall Thomas Babington Macaulay’s query from 1830: “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

Environmental Taxonomy

More to Peter’s post immediately below, Chris DeMuth and I adumbrate many of these same distinctions in the very first issue of AEI’s Environmental Policy Outlook, which I founded there in 2002. We call it "practical environmentalism" versus "romantic environmentalism." Worth a read, I think.

As for Peter’s Point #4, I noted in my most recent edition of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators that one of the most popular books of 2007 among environmentalists was The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which projects a “thought experiment” about what would occur if human beings were suddenly or somehow removed entirely from the planet. Answer: Nature would reassert itself and remove nearly all traces of human civilization within several millennia. Naturally many environmentalists thrilled to the frisson of the book’s nightmare scenario of the ruin of mankind’s built environment, which Weisman shrewdly gilded with the standard boilerplate about resource exhaustion and overpopulation. I am often asked why so many environmentalists thrill to doom-and-gloom scenarios. The answer I finally arrive it is that it makes them happy. Go figure.

"A Cavernous Narcissism"

Todd Purdum’s phrase describing Bill Clinton in this not-to-be-missed Vanity Fair article. People will be talking about this piece for months I suspect. Clinton has already issued a rebuttal at what he’s calling "a smear."

Environmentalism

Here are a few comments on Drs. Deneen, Adams, and Hayward below:

1. The fundamental distinction is between prudential environmentalism and moralistic environmentalism.

2. Prduential environmentalism is anthropocentric. Human responsibility is fundamentally personal. Thinking of ourselves as part of an impersonal whole called nature is a form of self-denial.

3. Moralistic environmentalism is quite different from previous forms of modern, secular religions. Communism etc. were HISTORICAL. Moralistic environmentalism is PANTHEISM--t’s about the end of history, about the end of distinctively human footprint upon nature.

4. Moralistic environmentalism often tends to hope for a techno-catastrophe that would return the world to the scarcity that made morality and community easier. Prudential environmentalists tend to think the bomb probably won’t fall, so to speak, and that’s good. They think about the virtue required to live well, to live responsibly with what we can’t help but know and do now. Moralistic environmentalists tend to be romantics; prudential environmentalists are realists.

5. Because prudential environmentalists are realists, they don’t really think that technology and markets can take the place of moral and political deliberation about our true situation. The prudential environmentalist is the mean between the extremes of libertarianism and moralism.

Causus Belli?

According to this report, the French are trying to regulate country-line dancing,, because, you know, it’s another one of those insidious Yankee exports, like Disney World and J.R. Ewing. I say send in the Marines.

THE WASHINGTON POST and Iraq

Free Frank Warner, easily the best of liberal, patriotic bloggers, reminds us that America’s best political paper has been reporting that Iraq war might be nearly won. Actually, I still think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we’re certainlly moving the right direction. It would be somewhat ironic if Bush’s success made Obama’s plan for gradual withdrawal responsible.

Green Peace and War

A scenario: Suppose, for the sake of argument, our best science indicates that the continued use of fossil fuels will have not only great but also profoundly negative consequences for human life on earth. Suppose further that the U.S. manages to substitute nuclear, solar, wind, etc. for virtually all our energy (and switches to electric cars).


Given that scenario, if the powers that be in China conclude that the global environmental movement is a trick by the West to keep them down and, therefore, China keeps building new coal-fired plants and using gas-powered cars, thus creating environmental hazar for the rest of us. Would the U.S. have a legitimate cause of war upon China? Discuss.

Going Environmental

Here’s a thought in progress. It’s rough, but perhaps it will spur dicussion or thought.

For much of the 20th Century, socialism was the opiate of the intellectuals. Nowadays, it seems that environmentalism might be taking that same role. In part, the latter is merely the latest version of the former. As. P.J. O’Rourke noted, many environmentalists are “watermelons,”–“green on the outside and red on the inside.”

But is there something deeper at work here? Why socialism and environmentalism? I suspect it might have something to do with the character of modern science. If one studies history, it seems to be the case that men are, as John Adams said, “praying beings” by nature. Where men gather, there tend to be religions. If that is the case, and if our intellectuals cannot accept that reality, they must create a religion in disguise.

What is the character of this religion? It tends to be historical. Why is that the case? Perhaps it has something to do with the scientific method. The key to modern science is the method developed by Francis Bacon and others. According to that method, scientists study the world as it appears to our senses, and from repeated observations, and repeated experiments, it discovers patterns and correlations. Those patterns and correlations, plus mathematical calculations and equations are the essence of modern science. Given that, history becomes religion. What I mean by that is that since modern science is good at describing lines of force moving over time, and since science can only describe facts, but cannot account for values, the only way science can give direction to society or politics is by turning history into a religion. (The scientific method admits defeat if it truly acknowledges that the fact/ value distinction is bunk. Many intellectuals allow that the distinction is problematic, but, being pragmatists, they go along as if that were not a real problem.)

Henry Adams makes this point in the Education

Historians undertake to arrange sequences,–called stories, or histories–assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect. These assumptions, hidden in the depths of dusty libraries, have been astounding, but commonly unconscious and childlike; so much so, that if any captious critic were to drag them to light, historians would probably reply, with one voice, that they had never supposed themselves required to know what they were talking about.

The modern historian describes lines of social development over time. By describing such lines of development and, further, by projecting them into the future, history can fill the void left in the secular soul. History can give direction to life in a seemingly scientific manner.

Environmentalism is the latest manifestation of this phenomenon. Given increasing carbon in our atmosphere (or should I say “atmos fear”?) science can draw a line describing the likely impact of that upon the planet. Describing that impact gives scientists and those who follow them, a means of suggesting what we ought to do without admitting that they have deserted the scientific method and have entered the realm of politics and religion. Moreover, as with the socialist understanding of history, it gives a coalition of natural and social scientists an excuse to take over the political system.

Traditional Market Logic is Failing Us Now

...Dr. Pat Deneen reports that the WALL STREET JOURNAL is baffled when it comes to oil: When demand goes up, the incentive should be there to increase the supply. But not so with oil these days, and so economists really can’t predict how high the price might go. Deneen sticks it to the economists even more: How come they can’t explain why people aren’t acting more like "rational actors" and rapidly curtailing their dependence on oil? I’m not a "peak oil" guy for now, but there’s cause for concern. Our inflation numbers would already look a lot worse if the rapid increase in the cost of oil wasn’t compensated for by the falling cost of houses. Question for discussion: Exactly how much concern makes sense? At the beginning of this campaign, the Giuliani supporters especially were touting the excellent performance of our economy. How far have we moved away from those days?