Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Europe collapse in anger and shame

The New York Times, the BBC, and the Washington Post all agree that the European summit has collapsed and that the future is bleak. A compromise over the budget couldn’t be reached.
Chirac objected to "the British check", and blames Britain for the "serious crisis," while Blair wanted reform. "Most embarrassing for the European Union was an attempt by its 10 newest members to salvage the budget agreement late last night. They offered to give up some of their own aid from the union so that the older and richer members could keep theirs." (NY Times) Behind all this is the deeper ideological dispute, with the New Europe (and Denmark) wanting freer trade, and free movement of labor, while the Old wants to avoid the "Anglo-Saxon economic model" by preserving socialism and the welfare state. The Old Europeans don’t understand that if they want to become a superpower they have to work for it. Look for a better relationship between the New European countries, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., with some from the Old bloc jumping aboard, including Denmark and Italy. Alliances are forming. Das ist alles, baby. Thirty years from now, the rest of Europe will be backwater.


From beauty to horror. In Zimbabwe the Mugabe horror continues; it’s called Operation "Drive Out Trash," or, murambatsvina.
See before and after pictures of demolished homes here.

Raphael’s true love

How to read a painting, is the question. Raphael’s
portrait called "Fornarina" is said to reveal his true love, a baker’s daughter. I have no idea if it’s true, but it is a good story. You can see her here.
The painting is travelling, and is now at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This Raphael isn’t bad, either.

NYT and the separation of powers

Here’s the predictably simple-minded way in which the NYT editorial board understands the role of the judiciary under our Constitution:

Since the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison in 1803, it has been clearly established that the courts have the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution. But right-wing ideologues, unhappy with some of the courts’ rulings, have begun to question this principle as part of a broader war on the federal judiciary.

The genius of the American system is that the founders carefully balanced power among three coequal branches. Mr. Hostettler’s amendment would throw out this brilliant structure, and 200 years of constitutional history, and make Congress the final interpreter of the Constitution.

I guess that in 1860 this editorial board would have defended the constitutional interpretation of the Taney court against that ideologue Abraham Lincoln, who was so presumptuous as to entertain a different interpretation of the Constitution. Or perhaps not. What matters, after all, is the result. When the courts support the correct result, the NYT supports them. When they don’t, who knows?

For a less simple-minded and results-oriented view of this issue, go here

Tha brains of men and women

Had a...shall we say, full I took my son’s bike out for a spin around the local farms. His bike resembles some short people I have known: tough and loud and mean, needing to prove himself at every turn in the road. Great fun with that V-twin throbbing under you, but it’s tough to keep it up more than fifty miles a ride. But those fifty miles are enlivening (and loud). My ears are ringing still (ear plugs mean nothing to this bike, as it growls its strength). So, the sun is setting, and I come across this is the Los Angeles Times. A scientist named Sandra Witelson, "a raven haired Canadian psychologist with a taste for black leather and red show girl nails," has made a discovery: A

women’s brain and a man’s brain are different. It’s a long story, so grab your NLT mug and enjoy. John at Powerline wonders if it’s not too late for Harvard to get its $50 million back!

And then there is this.

Teaching and learning our history

David Gelernter explains why programs like this and this, funded in part through this program, are so important. 

Paul Johnson on Europe

Here’s a snippet:

:The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L’Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L’Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"

No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Tom Cerber has more thoughts here, linking Johnson’s piece with this one by David Brooks. Here’s Brooks’s concluding paragraph:

Today more people go to college. They may be assigned Rimbaud or Faulkner or even Hemingway. But somehow in adulthood, they tend to have less interest in that stuff than readers 40 years ago.

Why, gentle readers, do you think this is the case? I have my thoughts. What are your’s?

Senator Durbin’s want of wit

Senator Durbin "Sen. Dick Durbin refused to apologize Wednesday for comments he made on the Senate floor comparing the actions of American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay to Nazis, Soviet gulags and a "mad regime" like Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s in Cambodia." There are times when I restrain myself. This is one of those times. I think a United States Senator has a perfect right to make all kinds of arguments about Gitmo, and how to handle prisoners of war. He can even become a bit polemical and loose in his reasoning while doing so, pretending, for example, that closing down Gitmo will solve those issues he thinks the administration is ignoring. Fine, but to say that the behavior (and by indirection even the policy) of Americans to that of Nazis and Soviet gulags and such, is beyond the pale. Anger and thinking don’t go well together so I have nothing to say. But Scott at Powerline has a few words on this subject.

Schiavo’s Autopsy

Would any of the contributors here care to comment on the revelations that came from Terry Schiavo’s autopsy--i.e., that there was no reasonable chance that she would have recovered? It has certainly been played up in the media as complete vindication for her husband.

I’m honestly not looking for a fight here. I have no particular competence when it comes to bioethical questions, which is why I avoided weighing in on the controversy when it was actually going on. But I would be interested in hearing from some of those who argued against removing Schiavo’s feeding tube. Do the results of her autopsy change anything, or would you still have held the same position that you did, even if you knew at the time what we apparently know now about her condition?

Money matters

Deep Throat sells his story to Universal pictures for $1 million (both book and movie). Bob Woodward’s The Secret Man will be out in two weeks. The runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, made a deal with a company that is pitching a movie about her life to networks. Powerball winner of $220 million (gets 85 million after taxes), intends to invest the money and become a billionaire within 15 years. The 405 tribal casinos in the U.S. generated about $19 billion in gross revenues last year. Bill Lerach, the well-known California attorney whose firm Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins represents the downtrodden shareholders of dozens of corporations has notched settlements of more than $4 billion from the two biggest U.S. banks, all in less than one week. "Right now, he stands to rake in at least $258 million in fees for the Enron litigation."

Bernie Sanders, Mainstream Democrat?

I remember when Bernie Sanders was first elected to Congress in 1990 explicitly as a socialist, Tom Bethell wondered in The American Spectator how we would tell the difference between Sanders and the Democrats, with whom he decided to caucus.

Now that Sanders is planning to run for the Senate as a Democrat, today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page points us to a remark of Howard Dean in his recent interview with Tim Russert, who asked Dean if there was room in the Democratic party for a socialist.

Dean: "He’s not a socialist really. . . He is basically a liberal Democrat."

Game, set, and match to Bethell.

Florida vouchers again

Clint Bolick shares my worries about what the Florida Supreme Court has in mind. In addition, he offers a powerful argument, replete with statistics, about how the voucher program is actually improving student performance in and out of Florida’s public schools. Read the whole thing.  

For more on voucher programs elsewhere, go here and here, as well as to this site.

Update: Katie Newmark has more.

God’s Politics

Here’s a very critical review of God’s Politics posted on a generally liberal (but quirkily unpredictable) website. A taste:

In the age of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore, most mass-market political books are compiled, rather than composed, and are unlikely to win any literary prizes. However, God’s Politics is sloppy beyond all reason; it reads like an unedited Dictaphone transcription. While this book’s political thought is stale and its religious expression lacking in intellectual rigor and occasionally gooey, what pushes this work beyond the mediocre and less than fun to read and into the territory of the terrible and the unreadable is the apparent absence of an editor.

Read the whole thing.

Rove on Reagan

Karl Rove, speaking at the Reagan Library, on Ronald Reagan.  

Harmful books again

Tom Cerber notes that Andrew Sullivan has (predictably) jumped on the bandwagon carrying those who would bash the list of ten most harmful books, already discussed here and here on this site.

I wish that I had said some of what Tom says, especially this:

One could reasonably argue that books by Nietzsche, Kinsey, Dewey, etc. are harmful because they seduce people into thinking thoughts that harm their souls. But Sullivan the libertarian doesn’t seem to recognize this. For him, harm is reduced to bodily harm. This strikes me as overly crude.

Moreover, judging whether or not a book is harmful says nothing of whether one should read it. There’s good reason to read a book that might harm your soul, if you have the maturity to understand what’s going on.

Further, a book that’s good for your soul might prove to be harmful. Didn’t Athens execute Socrates because his philosophizing threatened its political rule? Sullivan needs to be more sensitive to the fundamental challenge that philosophy itself makes on politics.

Game, set, match to Cerber, over Sullivan, who can only jump to the conclusion, unworthy of someone as intelligent as he is, that regarding a book as harmful is tantamount to wishing to ban it.

This, by the way, is an example of a move I often encounter in people who object to the mere possibility of "moral absolutes." If I believe that something is "absolutely wrong," I’m told, I must want to suppress it and ban it legislatively. Freedom, it seems to these folks, demands that we be non-judgmental and indeed relativistic. But I can regard something as morally wrong without thinking that it is the role of government to prevent or prohibit it. Consider, in this connection, this passage from that noted latitudinarian St. Thomas Aquinas:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

For other passages along the same lines, go here (Third Article) and here (Fourth Article).

Update: Win Myers has more provocative thoughts on book lists and Andrew Sullivan, who, he says, comes closer to describing the Left than the Right in his comments. For still more commentary, go here and here.

Annan and the Oil Probe

Kofi Annan is back in the spotlight. Two interesting memos have appeared that seems to indicate a much closer involvement than heretofore thought. From CBS News: "One of the e-mails describes an alleged encounter between Annan and officials from Cotecna Inspection S.A. in late 1998 during which the Swiss company’s bid for the contract was raised.

The second, from the same Cotecna executive, expresses confidence that the company would get the bid because of "effective but quiet lobbying" in New York diplomatic circles." Worth paying attention to.

Going after the ratlines

Mac Owens explains our "River Campaign" (one of the main "ratlines") in Iraq, and why it is successful. "But while military operations have weakened the insurgency, military means alone cannot defeat an insurgency. That is why it is necessary to bring the Sunnis into the government. Recent evidence suggests that the steps so far have already begun to drive a wedge between the Sunni and the foreign jihadis who have come to fight for Zarqawi." We are getting much better intelligence, especially from the Sunnis.

Ramirez Cartoon


Mark D. Roberts comments at length on this nasty piece of work by Doug Ireland. Here’s Ireland’s response to Roberts, whose blog is often promoted by Hugh Hewitt.

Ireland’s original article quotes at length Chip Berlet, whom I quoted, somewhat favorably, here. Clearly Berlet’s opposition to demonization is context-specific. When he’s speaking for consumption in the mainstream press, he comes across as one who wishes to pour oil on troubled waters. When he’s speaking to a more "select" audience, he’s somewhat less restrained. If calling people names is counterproductive, then clearly Ireland and his readers (check out the comments) haven’t gotten the memo.

Havel on Burma

Vaclav Havel says increase the pressure on Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi is going to be 60 on Sunday and he would also like to give her a rose. He thinks that Castro made fools of the EU, and hopes (a hope needs no foundation in reality) that the same will not happen again with Burma.

The Corner has moved

NORO’s The Corner has moved its site. Be sure to bookmark it.

Primary for Portman’s House seat

The GOP primary for Portman’s House seat was won by Jean Schmidt. Note that Senator DeWine’s son (a county commissioner) came in fourth. About a month ago, he was thought to be in the lead, and had the most money.

Tired Europe

Roger Cohen asks, "Has Europe become a sideshow?"
What could French Prime Minister Villepin mean when he says, "globalization cannot be our destiny"? Tired, unambitious, relaxed, post-modern, Europe is in trouble. If you don’t get it, he notes, compare it to India, which is dynamic, young, fluid, and willing.

He writes from Venice, and concludes with a description of once all-conquering Venice as it surrendered to Napoleon: "The fact of the matter was that Venice was utterly demoralized. It was so long since she had been obliged to make a serious military effort that she had lost the will that makes such efforts possible. Peace, the pursuit of pleasure, the love of luxury, the whole spirit of dolce far niente has sapped her strength. She was old and tired; she was also spoilt."

also reports on the upcoming Brussells meeting Thursday and Friday. It is a pessimistic report: "it may be hard to prevent an impression that the EU is unravelling," and "European leaders with a chance to show that the EU still works - but all the signs are that they will fail."

Update: Robert Samuelson also thinks that Europe is finished. Europe is "going out of business" because of a larger reality than the question about the EU constitution: "Unless Europe reverses two trends -- low birthrates and meager economic growth -- it faces a bleak future of rising domestic discontent and falling global power. Actually, that future has already arrived."

Church & state in Colorado Springs

Ken Masugi brings us up to date on the "scandal" of evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy, noting, among other things, his letter in today’s NYT.

Over at Get Religion, Terry Mattingly calls our attention to a shockingly even-handed article on the Academy, one that "covers this story as if people on both sides of the debate have constitutional rights that need to be protected."

Next generation of conservatives

Win Myers calls our attention to and comments on this article describing the Heritage Foundation’s internship program. Here’s Win:

Most of the young people interviewed by the Times know that they have much to learn; that is, they know there are things they don’t know. That’s a crucial step towards wisdom, and it’s a virtue that young people in every generation should cultivate. Because conservatives respect the broad sweep of Western culture, their youth are encouraged to read from among thousands of writings dating to antiquity, as well as more modern works by self-consciously conservative authors. That’s quite a task -- more than anyone can accomplish in a lifetime.

A left-wing equivalent of Heritage’s internship program, if it existed, would certainly be more activist-oriented, and its graduates would emerge with a wider network of contacts, but little connection to their intellectual ancestors. That’s a heavy price to pay for "relevance," but it’s the inevitable cost of holding the intellectual tradition of one’s civilization in contempt.

Heritage, by the way, doesn’t offer the only game in town. Among other noteworthy efforts at educating the next generation are those of
the Claremont Institute, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Witherspoon Fellowship. I heartily recommend them all.

Update: Mike DeBow tells me that there are still more noteworthy programs out there, including the Alliance Defense Fund’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship internship, the Institute for Justice’s conference and internship programs, GMU’s Center for Study of Public Choice Outreach Conference, the Foundation for Economic Education’s seminar programs, and Mises University. He also notes that Hugh Hewitt has picked up the story, as, by the way, has Terry Mattingly.

The political war in California

Gov. Schwarzenegger "ordered a Nov. 8 special election that could trim the power of California’s Legislature and dampen the influence of the public employee unions that help finance its Democratic majority," according to ther L.A. Times. This is the San Francisco Chronicle story on the same: "The election will be the most critical test of Schwarzenegger’s administration, a test in which he faces well-funded opponents and some reluctance even from powerful figures in his own party.

It sets the stage for a political war for control of Sacramento pitting the governor’s big-business allies against Democrats and labor unions, two of his principal detractors. And it’s a confrontation that political experts say could have national ramifications." The outcome will have national repercussions, especially if Arnold wins.

China down, India up

Mark Steyn says that China is not a psychologically healthy state; don’t let the facade fool you. "If the People’s Republic is now the workshop of the world, the Communist Party is the bull in its own China shop...But Maoists with stock options are still Maoists - especially when they owe their robust portfolios to a privileged position within the state apparatus." He warns--rightly, I think--that "Commie-capitalism" is not exatcly what they would have us believe it is. And this will not turn out to be the Chinese century. He then passes to India as a related question:

India, by contrast, with much less ballyhoo, is advancing faster than China toward a fully-developed economy - one that creates its own ideas. Small example: there are low-fare airlines that sell £40 one-way cross-country air tickets from computer screens at Indian petrol stations. No one would develop such a system for China, where internal travel is still tightly controlled by the state. But, because they respect their own people as a market, Indian businesses are already proving nimbler at serving other markets. The return on investment capital is already much better in India than in China.

Read the whole well-crafted piece.  

Birthday of the U.S. Army

Two months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, on June 14, 1775, 230 years ago, the U.S. Army was born. The Second Continental Congress met as a Committee of the Whole and adopted "the American continental Army" and undertook to "raise ten companies of rifelemen." John Adams recommended that that fellow from Virginia, George Washington, age 43, be given command of the army. Washington attended the Congress in uniform (of his own making, from the French and Indian wars) looking, as one delegate said, "no harum-scarum, ranting, swearing fellow, but sober, steady, and calm." When Washington accepted the command, he told Congress that if "some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentlemen in the room, that I this day declare...that I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with." Less than a month later George Washington would ride from Philadelphia to Boston to take command of the militias ringing the city. The tactical situation was still not good by July 1776, but the principle for which the Army fought was perfectly clear. Although battles for lost, by 1778 it became clear that the British could not win. Strategic victory was ours. The U.S. Army had some glory in its birth, much in its valor, and even more in its skill, both then and now. May it always be so. Happy birthday.

The McCain Mutiny, Continued

Today John McCain wins the E.J. Dionne primary in the Washington Post. A sure sign, if onemore were needed, that McCain’s prospects as the Republican nominee in ’08 are doomed. (Since when has E.J. Dionne ever had the best interests of Republicans in mind?)

Summer Reading

When I was book tagged
I neglected, according to a couple of readers, to mention any fiction. What fiction do I like? What would I recommend for good summer reading?
Well, the first I ever read (and re-read many times) are Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Before age ten I also read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Last of the Mohicans. I like almost everything Mark Helprin writes, A Soldier of the Great War is the favorite. I like Willa Cather, especially Death Comes to the Archbishop, and am currently reading A Lonely Lady. I like Jerry Pournelle’s science fiction, especially, Higher Education and The Mote in God’s Eye. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is excellent (although made into a bad movie).
Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels is worth reading. So is Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. Maybe something amusing? If you have never read any P.G. Wodehouse you should immediately shoot yourself, or, if a coward, then just go out and get any of his. Also glance at Peter De Vries, say, The Blood of the Lamb. It’s about a onetime Calvinist and his search, a kind of tragicomic Pilgrim’s Progress. I remember laughing a lot when I first read it. In a different vein, any Flannery O’Connor story, maybe "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I recently read Sandor Marai’s Embers and thought it a very good book, balanced like a good wine; nice slow pace to it. Take your time with it. Almost any Elmore Leonard novel for a good, well crafted story that will never bore and always makes you smile. Leonard is at home with words. Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage is a good read. So is almost anything by Alan Furst, kind of spy novels, taking place in the dark and subtle Europe of the 30’s and 40’s. I also liked Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead; a preacher about to die, writes to his son about himself, his father, and his father’s father, back to before the Civil War. Man and God, and war and mercy. Thought inducing and graceful. If you want to do a good turn for your ear (you know I favor reading aloud), and be mesmerized by a great story, listen to Derek Jacoby read The Iliad, while you look at the words in front of you. Wonderful.

Dems and middle class yet again

Mike DeBow of Southern Appeal told me today that this report is finally available on-line. I’ve posted about it before here, here, and here.

The report notes that white middle class voters (once again, earning $30,000 - 75,000) behaved in 2004 much the same way as did their wealthier brethren, and that as their income increases, Hispanic voters are much less likely to vote for Democrats.

The only middle class voters that Democrats can count on are blacks, unmarried
women, and those with a graduate education – roughly one-third of the middle class
electorate. This group of middle class voters kept Democrats within shouting distance
of Republicans in the last election.

The behavior of graduate educated voters--the only middle class constituency that doesn’t obviously vote for Democrats for reasons of history or (perhaps) economic insecurity reminds us of the importance of encouraging intellectual pluralism on America’s campuses. (I know it’s more complicated than that, but at moment, I’m out of blogging time.)

Update: Mike also called my attention to this article at NRO.

Mansfield on Brann on modernity

Tom Cerber calls our attention to Harvey C. Mansfield’s excellent review of this excellent book. Tom gives you the ultimate paragraph. I’ll leave you with the the two that immediately precede it:

Our principle has become Just-Now. Nobody can live by that principle consistently, and so nobody should try to do so. It’s crazy to live all the time in your own time, regarding the past as a junkyard. You can instead choose to live with discrimination in the modern age, rejecting the idea of any historical necessity to stay within your zeitgeist. While the modern hurtles ahead toward the postmodern--and that very name shows that both modern and postmodern are clueless about what lies in the future--you can watch TV and rejoice in the good fortune of being an American. At the same time you can send your children to St. John’s College.

Well, that is a friendly gibe. It means only that Tutor Brann wants you to recognize that there is no alternative principle to Just-Now. At least for the present. A good education, if you manage to get one, will teach you to distrust modernity but not to reject it. Our modern Constitution allows you to be critical even of modernity. It gives you the opportunity to learn about the soul, where modernity is to be distrusted. But it would be a good idea to hold fast to the Constitution, which is modern and based on the self.

Read the whole review, which will likely persuade you to read the book.


Philip Anschutz and Hollywood

As we know, there aren’t many good guys in Hollywood. Ross Douthat writes a very interesting piece (not available on line) in the May issue of The Atlantic on Philip Anschutz. While Anschutz is not well known (not yet anyway), he is a very impressive character (and very wealthy). He was the founder of Qwest Communications, a devout Presbyterian and Republican, head of Walden Media and Anschutz Film Group (Ray, Because of Winn-Dixie, Holes, and now working on Charlotte’s Web, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). He is going into Hollywood in a big way, and, apparently entirely in the interest of fine and decent movies. Worth paying attention to.

Harbinger of Reform?

The lead story in today’s Washington Post, "For Chinese, Peasant Revolt Is Rare Victory," tells the story of rural peasants holding off a massive police raid to shut down their protest. And what were they protesting?

Pollution. (The New York Times reported on this a few months ago as well.) Seems the peasant farmers were tired of being the dumping ground for soaring air pollution, which is reached the point of severe and obvious crop damage, anong other effects.

Recalling that the Chernobyl nuclear accident was among the many factors contributing to the demise of the Soviet Union, perhaps a backlash to China’s environmental degradation will contribute willy-nilly to political reform.

Religion, enlightenment, and toleration

A little over two weeks ago, I posted a comment about Timothy Shortell, then the likely chairman of the Brooklyn College Department of Sociology. He has, you may have heard, withdrawn from consideration, though not without making some noise.

Here’s a portion of the insubstantial rant that caught people’s attention in the first place:

Faith, like superstition, prevents moral action. Those who fail to understand how the world works—who, in place of an understanding of the interaction between self and milieu, see only the saved and the damned, demons and angels, miracles and curses—will be incapable of informed choice. They will be unable to take responsibility for their actions because they lack intellectual and emotional maturity.

On a personal level, religiosity is merely annoying—like bad taste. This immaturity represents a significant social problem, however, because religious adherents fail to recognize their limitations. So, in the name of their faith, these moral retards are running around pointing fingers and doing real harm to others. One only has to read the newspaper to see the results of their handiwork. They discriminate, exclude and belittle. They make a virtue of closed-mindedness and virulent ignorance. They are an ugly, violent lot.

What is striking about Shortell is his own "faith" in what he calls "scientific rationality," best exemplified

I have been attacked recently in the New York newspapers because of an essay I wrote criticizing religion. I suggested humanity would be better off without it. (This puts me in the company of such esteemed social theorists as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Guy Debord -- company I will gladly keep.) It is true, I used some unkind language. Such is the nature of political rhetoric. Many people took offense. It is terribly sad to realize that so many people believe that others don’t have the right to say anything that they find offensive.

We aesthetes -- we who have taken the time to think carefully and with an independent mind about such things -- believe just the opposite. Let the public sphere be a cacophony of voices from every conceivable point of view. And let there be debate; may the strongest argument win the day. It is worth noting that none of the angry letters I received from believers contained any kind of persuasive argument. There were only expressions of outrage and fundamentalist pronouncements. None of the faithful even tried to dispute my main assertion, that religion is harmful to humanity.

This is, I think, what makes the faithful nervous. Faith, after all, is by definition not rational -- that is, it is belief in the absence of verification. (Since some believers who might be reading this have trouble with vocabulary, I provide a dictionary definition of faith.) So, if every assertion is subject to question, the faithful will have to admit that they hold their beliefs without rational basis. If the public sphere were to promote the free contest of ideas, religious belief would wither under the scrutiny of scientific rationality. As with nationalism, faith is secured by appeals to emotion, not critical thinking.

This is not profound stuff, not penetrating as social analysis and quite unsophisticated and quaintly old-fashioned (in a kind of 19th century British way) in its naive faith in the efficacy of the marketplace of ideas (if only, of course, if it were permitted to function as it ought). It’s no accident that the tag-line on his personal website is a quotation from Bertrand Russell. Shortell is a latter-day Tom Paine, an apostle of the "age of reason," who says he is "proud to be among a group of intellectuals who have argued for a free, secular society, including Voltaire, Marx, Freud, Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain, Richard Dawkins, and many others," and who remains "convinced that humanity would be better off without religion."

Katha Pollitt takes the occasion of Shortell’s withdrawal to worry about academic freedom:

Besides, so what if Shortell’s essay is offensive? Brooklyn College is a public, secular institution, not a Bible college. The Sun claimed Shortell’s disdain for religion would cloud his judgment of job candidates, but there was never any evidence that this would be the case. No student ever complained about his teaching; his colleagues trusted him enough to elect him to the post; the student work posted on his website is apolitical and bland. Predictions of bias, absent any evidence, are just a backhanded way of attacking his beliefs. You might as well say no Southern Baptist should be chair, since someone who believes that women should be subject to their husbands, homosexuality is evil and Jews are doomed to hell won’t be fair to female, gay or Jewish job candidates. Or no Orthodox Jew or Muslim should be chair because religious restrictions on contact with the opposite sex would privilege some job candidates over others.

I find this line of argument particularly interesting, for it echoes a claim Shortell makes about himself and contradicts one liberal opponents of President Bush’s judicial nominees have frequently made. Here’s Shortell’s argument:

In my professional scholarship, I study political rhetoric. I understand the kinds of speech forms that can be used when one is making a political argument. Indeed, I enjoy the variety of speech forms that are used in political debate. So when I write, not as a scholar but as a political actor, I understand the norms that govern such expressions. I know that the manifesto is a recognized and acceptable form of political speech.

I also understand that the manifesto is not an appropriate form of speech in other contexts, such as the classroom. Just like any competent adult, I can switch roles when necessary. I know when I am playing the role of political actor and when I am playing the role of teacher. Just as I know when I am playing the role of baseball fan and when I am playing the role of mourner.

It is funny how easily people forget about context when criticizing others’ speech, even though they know all about playing multiple roles and role switching.

Shortell says he knows that different sorts of speech (and presumably behavior) are appropriate in different arenas. Advocacy is not appropriate in the classroom, just as dispassionate academic analysis is not effective in a political manifesto. "Any competent adult" can recognize what’s appropriate and what’s not in any given setting. (I wonder, parenthetically, about "moral retards." Are they "competent adults"?)

Shortell has his finger here on something important, something advocates of the appointment of judges like William Pryor have claimed on his behalf. I put it this way in my
commentary on "Justice Sunday":

It is possible for grown-ups to have theological differences and still find common moral ground, which is at the heart of what is sometimes called the pan-orthodox alliance (between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Jews) on the traditionalist side of the culture war. And it is possible for a grown-up to hold some such theological position and recognize that it does not affect the legal or civil rights of fellow citizens or of the parties to a case which he or she is to adjudicate. That Thomas Pickering as President of the Mississippi Baptist Convention said that "Christians ought to base their decision-making on the Bible" does not mean that Thomas Pickering as a federal Appeals Court Judge will substitute the Bible for the Constitution. While this is not the time or place to enter into the complicated history of the Christian attitude toward civic obligation, this separation—rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s—certainly has a long-standing and distinguished heritage.

At the heart of life in pluralistic "liberal" society is recognizing that different kinds of speeches and arguments carry different kinds of authority and make different kinds of claims on us in different settings. I can believe that something is morally wrong, and indeed even bear witness to my belief (using any sort of argument or rhetoric I please, though obviously some sorts may be more effective than others, depending upon the setting), without necessarily believing that legal sanctions ought in every instance to support my moral judgments, no matter how strongly I hold them or how authoritative I think they are. I can be a judge, like Thomas Pickering or William Pryor, or a governor, like Mitt Romney, or a president, like George W. Bush, and differentiate between my responsibility as a public official and my responsibility as a bearer of moral and religious witness.

This ability to recognize different roles and act accordingly is something Shortell claims for himself (and I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, trusting but verifying, as a great man once said), but something it seems to me he polemically denies to people of faith (except, apparently, when they are members of the religious Left and agree with him). If this capacity to distinguish between different roles and arenas (I won’t say between "public" and "private," because that strikes me as too simple) lies at the foundation of a certain sort of toleration (not just John Locke’s), then it seems to me that there are people of faith (and not just on the Left) who may be better exemplars of it than are anti-religious self-proclaimed rationalists, like Timothy Shortell.


Dylan Evans says that Beethoven harmed classical music, and "managed to put an end to this noble tradition [the connection between mathematics and sound, and, hence an objective goal] by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul." But Algis Valiunas argues this:

The defiant pugnacity with which Beethoven faced his physical and emotional afflictions translated into music of ardent excellence—music that explored what it meant to be noble. From pain he wrested sublime beauty, beauty that acknowledges it could never have come to be without that pain. To become the most splendid of democratic artists, the most inspired celebrant of the new human type emerging from millennia of injustice and subjugation, he had not only to overcome his personal torments but also to lift from his own breast the millstone of an artistic tradition laden with uncongenial aristocratic presuppositions. His is the grandest triumph of the newborn democratic soul. He knew what men were and what they could become, and, with Verdi, he was the subtlest and most heartening political thinker in music there ever was.

Liberty over democracy

Peter Berkovitz (again) has a thoughtful piece on the difference between promoting democracy and liberty. Promoting the idea of liberty is better, he urges, because it is incremential, doesn’t demand regime change (note Jordan), and always takes steps toward democracy, rightly understood.

On our fading universities

Peter Berkowitz uses the format of a review of Donald A. Downs’ book, to remind us what is ailing with our universities, and what may be done about them. I like this paragraph:

And universities must cultivate courageous and eloquent leadership. In part this means governing boards and trustees willing to select leaders with guts who would rather lose their jobs than kowtow to campus thought police. In part it means leaders with the confidence and clout to shift resources and implement changes: Institutional frameworks must be revised; new courses must be developed; a new generation of scholars and teachers must be trained. And not least it means leaders who will use their positions as bully pulpits to speak on campus and to the wider public on behalf of the worth of a liberal arts education. Not since A. Bartlett Giamatti stepped down from the presidency of Yale in the mid-1980s has the leader of a major American college or university seen it as part of his or her responsibility to educate students, faculty, and the nation about the true mission of the university.

Cox for SEC chairman

George Will savages the NY Times for how it reorts on Bush’s nominee Rep. Chris Cox to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Note, among the other matters Will discusses, that the Times called Cox "a devoted student of Ayn Rand" whereas, according to Will: "Cox, however, has never read a Rand novel. He sampled her work only when preparing, for the Times, a less-than-reverent review of a collection of her correspondence. Still, the "devoted student" tag swiftly reverberated in the echo chamber of Washington journalism, where much of the reporting about Cox’s nomination has had a cartoon-like quality."

Cornell pres resigns

The president of Cornell University has resigned, after two years in office, due to fundamental differences with the board of trustees, especially its chairman.

Battlefield camera

There are personal vidcams for ther battlefield. "As video cameras, and digital storage devices (like the iPod), grow smaller and cheaper, they have become useful as a military intelligence tool. The latest example of this is a lightweight video camera that can be attacked to a helmet, and the video stored on a 30 gigabyte hard drive the size of an iPod. That provides enough storage for 2-46 hours of video (depending on the resolution.)" I bought a video cameria for Becky’s 21st birthday (it was yesterday) and could not believe all that they can do and how small they are. Very impressive, stuff you can just buy off the shelf. This is even more impressive. (via Instapundit)

Milwaukee voucher program

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a report on the school voucher program there. John J. Miller at The Corner calls it fair.

Kinsley on the Downing Street memo

Michael Kinsley points out that the Downing Street memo, allegedly a smoking gun demonstrating the Bush Administration’s plans to cook intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq, is little more than a summary of the major headlines around the time it was written (July, 2002), not some privileged and new inside information.

Nevertheless, he’s enjoying the brouhaha "as an encouraging sign of the revival of the left."

Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it to the very edge of national respectability takes a certain amount of ideological self-confidence. It takes a critical mass of citizens with extreme views and the time and energy to obsess about them. It takes a promotional infrastructure and the widely shared self-discipline to settle on a story line, disseminate it and stick to it.

It takes, in short, what Hillary Clinton once called a vast conspiracy.

By his standards, it seems to me, the left has never been gone.