Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Published in Literature, Poetry, and Books

Men and Women

Defending Julia

Defending these other Julias--and not the woman in Orwell's 1984. From Robert Herrick:

WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

... Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
O how that glittering taketh me !

You really wanna get rough with Julia, try John Donne's "Julia," Elegy 14:

Her hands, I know not how, used more to spill
The food of others than herself to fill ;
But O ! her mind, that Orcus, which includes
Legions of mischiefs, countless multitudes
Of formless curses, projects unmade up,
Abuses yet unfashion'd, thoughts corrupt,
Misshapen cavils, palpable untroths,
Inevitable errors, self-accusing loaths.
These, like those atoms swarming in the sun,
Throng in her bosom for creation.
I blush to give her halfe her due ; yet say,
No poison's half so bad as Julia.

Finally, try Julia Shaw, who unfavorably compares Obama's Julia to Tocqueville's American woman, whose superiority was responsible for American greatness.

Categories > Men and Women


Obama as Composite

While autobiographies don't need to be factual in order to be worthwhile reading, the notion of self-creating persons as presidents strikes at the core of what it means to be a self-governing America. Andrew Malcolm rose to the occasion. See his portrayal of the young Obama, together with his then-lover, as a composite. Sample:

He had lived in exotic foreign places, he claimed, consumed strange foods and painfully recounted his longing for an absent father that caused him to wildly over-spend other people's money, desperately seeking to fill some hidden void by repairing bridges and hiring union teachers. He regularly talked of receiving dreams from his father.

Categories > Presidency

Political Philosophy

Leon Kass on the Real War on Poverty

At the AEI annual dinner Dr. Leon Kass explains life--work, love, service, and truth. He concludes with the need for hope:

In this most fundamental sense, hope is not a hope for change, but an affirmation of permanence, of the permanent possibility of a meaningful life in a hospitable world. Hope in this sense is not only a Judeo-Christian virtue. It is not only the most essential--and abundant--American virtue. It is the condition of the possibility of all human endeavor and all human fulfillment. Yes, there is still much spiritual poverty in America. But we go forward with confidence that our spiritual hungers can yet be nurtured in this almost promised land, provided that we have the courage to insist that the well-being of the spirit is central to our notion of national success and personal flourishing. This war on poverty--on our spiritual poverty--will not add a cent to the deficit. It can enrich our lives beyond measure.

Today, poverty, like pollution, needs a deeper understanding.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Remembering Twain

Mark Twain died today in 1910. The "greatest American humorist of his age" was also lauded by William Faulkner as "the father of American literature." An American treasure, his talents and legacy have been recalled by succeeding generations of fine Americans.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Shakespeare's Coriolanus

"He's a very dog to the commonalty." These are the words we hear about Caius Marcius before we even meet the man, and they ring true both within the context of the play and in the context of much of society's view of the play. Shakespeare's Coriolanus has been called the greatest of the Bard's tragedies, the tragic character surpassed perhaps only by Lear and Cleopatra. Despite most people recognizing something great about it, it is also among the least-loved of Shakespeare's plays. It is seldom read and almost never acted; you would likely be hard pressed to find it on someone's list of favorite plays. There are, perhaps, two great reasons for this. The first is that the play seems to be quite critical of democracy, and that rubs the people of liberal democracies the wrong way. The other is that it is just really hard to like the play's tragic hero, Coriolanus. He's a great man, but not lovable. It's hard to feel sorry for him, but you realize that there is something tragic in his eventual fall. It's complicated.

In his new film adaptation of this play, Ralph Fiennes captures this complication tremendously. With the support of well-tested screenwriter John Logan (whose other work includes Hugo and Gladiator) and a cast of excellent actors rounded out by Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox, Fiennes thrusts this story into modern-day dress. Shakespeare's words come out of television screens by men in suits and ties; his soldiers run around with automatic weapons and hand grenades; his rabble follows politicians around with their cell phones out to record the goings-on. It does this all seamlessly, and shows the timelessness of Shakespeare's understanding of human nature--you come to see that this could have happened in the modern-day Balkan-like setting where it is acted out.

It is a good story for us to try and understand, because Coriolanus presents a problem that societies based upon a certain type of equality must struggle with: what do we do with a man who is an embodiment of inequality, a greater man who we all know is great and who he himself knows is great? We were lucky in our Founding that Washington understood something else about ambition, equality, and nobility that most men do not, and that our great generals after him--Grant and Eisenhower chief among them--have followed in his example. The French with Bonaparte, the Mexicans with Santa Anna, and the South Americans with Bolivar were not so lucky. Though, those men were not quite as good and noble as Coriolanus was, so perhaps that is unfair to him. Perhaps the closest type of statesman we have met recently is Churchill, who, like Washington, managed to overcome these particular faults (or are they virtues in extremis?).

I highly recommend the film. Yes, lines had to be cut to make way for movie audiences and explosions--at the expense of some of the true humor of Menenius and exploring more of the relationship between Coriolanus and his wife--and I do have some qualms with the interpretation of part of the ending, but it is some of the best acting I have seen in film, and likely the high point of the acting careers of both Fiennes and Redgrave to-date (at least of what I've seen of their work). If you get a chance, see it.

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln as Shakespeare Critic

Douglas Wilson, who recovered how Lincoln criticized and edited his speeches (link corrected, thanks, reader), reflects on his serious study of Shakespeare. Wilson notes that Lincoln knew the differences between Shakespeare's texts and the stage versions used by actors. It does give insight into his direction of America's greatest drama--the Civil War.


Moral Rhetoric

Our old friend Bob Reilly explains the need for a Republican moral rhetoric that can beat Obama's. "Political language is inherently moral, not managerial. It must convey visions, not just plans. It must explain why some things are good and others bad." A moral rhetoric is not a moralizing one, either. And it is essential for survival, too:

If you cannot articulate the cause for which you are fighting in moral terms, you will lose. Because they cannot do this, businessmen suffer from a sense of illegitimacy when they come to Washington. When your opponents scent this vulnerability, they go in for the kill.

Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

No Nobel for Tolkien

We know how amazing and well-considered the Nobel peace prize choices are. If you've ever wondered how the Nobel prizes in literature are awarded, note the discovery that J.R.R. Tolkien was blackballed, despite a recommendation by C.S. Lewis.  Tolkien was denied even a nomination for consideration, because his work "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."

Foreign Affairs

Havel RIP, the Declaration Lives

Following Justin's entry below, recall Vaclav  Havel's message to Congress: 

"Consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim....

 "[Y]ou Americans should understand this way of thinking.  Wasn't it the best minds of your country, ... who wrote your famous Declaration of Independence...and who, above all, took upon themselves practical responsibility for putting them into practice?" 

A text of the speech can be found here; the links are unhelpful, though.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Timothy Steele

I just discovered what a sapphic is.  From Timothy Steel:


Angered, may I be near a glass of water;
May my first impulse be to think of Silence,
Its deities (who are they? do, in fact, they
    Exist? etc.).

May I recall what Aristotle says of
The subject: to give vent to rage is not to
Release it but to be increasingly prone
   To its incursions.

May I imagine being in the Inferno,
Hearing it asked: "Virgilio mio, who's
That sulking with Achilles there?" and hearing
   Virgil say: "Dante,

That fellow, at the slightest provocation,
Slammed phone receivers down, and waved his arms like
A madman. What Attila did to Europe,
   What Genghis Khan did

To Asia, that poor dope did to his marriage."
May I, that is, put learning to good purpose,
Mindful that melancholy is a sin, though
   Stylish at present.

Better than rage is the post-dinner quiet,
The sink's warm turbulence, the streaming platters,
The suds rehearsing down the drain in spirals
   In the last rinsing.

For what is, after all, the good life save that
Conducted thoughtfully, and what is passion
If not the holiest of powers, sustaining
   Only if mastered.