Lately Ive been reading Jonathan Schells ridiculous 1982 book The Fate of the Earth (dont ask why--too long a story right now), and theres one entry in the index that captures the whole mood of the book in just four words:
"despair, see also futility"
I suspect this will be a long entry written in the chronicles of the Democrats after they fail to break through in this election.
Is blogging, this despite the fact that he is a "print snob."
To my mind, getting published in print -- whether in a book or a magazine or a newspaper -- confers a certain status on the author -- a status that cannot be matched by a blog. The latter is self-produced, demonstrating nothing at all about the quality of my ideas, other than my own fondness for them. A book or a magazine/newspaper article is different. Its existence proves that some small community of editors and other literary judges stands behind the quality of the ideas. That may not be much -- I may have merely flattered their prejudices, I may have merely affirmed the conventional wisdom in the most obvious of ways, I may have merely attacked widely accepted beliefs in order to gain attention -- but it’s something. Certainly something more than the purely subjective self-certainty of blogging.
I’ve never been an editor, except of a book, and my other editorial experience is limited to refereeing articles for professional journals. I like (some) editors, though I won’t name names in order to avoid offending those I don’t name. But the blogosphere exercises its own kind of discipline, some of it civil and incisive even. It’s much mroe of a two-way street than much of the editing I’ve experienced.
And then there’s this:
I tend to believe that political and cultural commentary is best when the critic stands back from the fray to meditate and reflect, to allow his passions to cool, and to gain some perspective. Needless to say, the Internet -- with its rapid-fire pronouncements and reactions -- makes such detachment difficult.
I wish I could regard Damon’s book as having lived up to this standard, but I discern a good bit of passion there, to go along with the intelligence, and sometimes even (I fear) to mislead the intelligence. But I can’t render a full judgment until I’ve finished the book.
Update: Damon links (how many times will I use that expression?) to Adrian Wooldridge’s review of his book, which is generally laudatory, though it says that DL overestimates the importance of his subjects:
In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique. Secular America has more potent enemies to worry about than the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues.
As a criticism of the book, this has to warm the heart of anyone who actually worries about the designs of DL’s subjects. As I noted above, however, I’m not as convinced as Wooldridge of DL’s "dispassionate tone." Well, maybe the tone is dispassionate, but not the thinking it expresses. As I read along, I keep thinking that Damon should know better than the framework he implicitly poses as an alternative to Michael Novak’s syncretism (which I’ll concede is at least sometimes a stretch) and the concerns that many of his subjects express that America can’t retain its identity and aspiration without a religious soul. There’s a long argument here that I don’t have time to make (I’m in South Carolina visiting with my parents), but I find myself wishing as I read the book that DL had actually seriously engaged that argument in the course of the leisure purchased by his advance. Instead, he seems to fall back on a kind of oversimplified secularism, worthy perhaps of
Michelle Goldberg, but not of someone with his learning and experience.
Update #2: The more I think about it, the more ambiguous Wooldridge’s review seems. Does the threat to secular America come from Americans other than the folks at FT, or from genuine theocrats overseas? I vote for the second, but those who know Wooldridge’s work and perspective better than I do may have a different view.
Now available online is Jim Stoner’s timely article on elected officials’ constitutional resistance to the unconstitutional claims of activist judges. But Stoner tends to take it for granted that we know what unconstitutional activism is when we see it. Is there any doubt that ROE falls into that category? Are GRUTTER and KELO really activism, given that they let decisions of state and local government stand?
Heres the latest statement of Evangelicals and Catholics together, the theocrats as some would call them.
Byron York is the latest to file a report suggesting Republican election fortunes are rising, and I doubt it is purely a coincidence that Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel came out so forcefully about Cesar Chavez, . . . oops, I mean Hugo Chavez, yesterday. (Gave away my California roots there.) Anyway, I am sure Democratic strategists are losing sleep and pouring extra stiff whiskeys right now. Meanwhile, even as several conservatives were arguing recently that the GOP might be better off strategically in 2008 if they lost this election, now we are seeing a few folks on the left saying, Hey wait a minute! Maybe those Rovebots are on to something. Check out Jacob Weisberg on Slate today.
That said, one must ponder that if Democrats dont take a majority, they may melt down in the aftermath and be in even worse shape in 2008. For one thing, a number of older Democrats like John Dingell, the Representative from General Motors, might throw in the towel. Rangel has already said he will quit if they dont win a majority. (How could you possibly replace that great voice?) Recruiting good candidates, a problem for Dems in this election cycle, becomes even harder in the aftermath of a poor showing. Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel with face each other with pistols as 20 paces.
Wal-Mart slashes prices on generic prescription drugs. Is this a real prescription drug benefit? Just asking. Im no expert.
Here’s a thorough and rather optimistic read of the recent Gallup poll. Bush helps Republican congressional candidates when it comes to the war on terror, and he doesn’t seem to hurt as much as we thought when it comes to Iraq. A 44% approval rating ain’t good, but it’s far from diastrous or unprecedented. A quick surf of Real Clear Politics and NRO reveals good news in MD (Steele has drawn even--a chance for a R upset and pick-up!), OH (also now a genuine tie), and PA (where Santorum is only down 7%). Allen continues to drift toward implosion, though.
"You do not come into my country, my congressional district, and you do not condemn my president. If there is any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans, whether they voted for him or not. I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president, do not come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State." Said Charles Rangel (D), New York; here is video. And then Rep. Nancy Pelosi calls Hugo Chavez a "thug." If they keep talking like this, maybe they will win back the House! Well, maybe not.
This article explains why Democrats for Life came up with its own bill, and also makes clear to any who didnt already know it that the timing of these proposals has everything to do with election-year posturing and nothing to do with any genuine expectation of legislation.
Let me go further: if either of these proposals, sponsored by a tiny proportion of the Democrats in the House, actually succeed in persuading folks to vote for Democratic candidates in November, theyre even less likely to become law. After all, a Democratic House majority is unlikely to go along with anything that casts doubt upon moral neutrality of choice.
This from the Chattanooga paper is interesting:
Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said his group supports efforts to reduce abortions. But he said Rep. Davis’ bill lacks programs for promoting contraceptives as a prevention method.
The government first should fully fund programs that provide people with access to birth control and a comprehensive sex education program that goes beyond abstinence, he said.
"The problem is not that too many women are having abortions," Mr. Teague said. "It is that too many women are facing unintended pregnancies. Why don’t we prevent the pregnancies in the first place?"
And in the article Davis denies that its an election-year ploy. Right. Im sure hes sincere, but hes providing cover for folks who will never vote for his measure.
The election season is moving, several weeks early, into the farce stage. Back during the Clinton-Lewinski scandal days I recall thinking that if you went into a Hollywood studio with the Clinton story line tucked under your arm, proposing to make a TV-movie-of-the-week, they throw you out for the sheer absurdity, not to mention implausibility, of the plot. It brought back to mind Malcom Muggeridge explaining why he gave up satire at Punch magazine--real life had become so comical (Archbishops saying things like "Long live God!") that it was impossible to do satire any more.
So this week we are treated to Hugo Chavez auditioning for a guest host slot (or news network anchor position--watch out Katie!) on Saturday Night Live by holding up a Noam Chomsky book at the UN--what a hoot. With oil prices plummeting, Chavez may have to watch his household budget a bit. Meanwhile in New Jersey, a scandal-plagued Democratic Senate candidate is slipping steadily behind the Republican in the polls. Where have I seen this movie before? How soon until New Jersey Dems dust off the Torricelli option? What was that Marx said about history repeating itself first as tragedy, and then as farce? Or maybe we should repair to Edna St. Vincent-Millays great line, "History isnt one damn thing after another--its the same damn thing over and over again." At least it seems to be over on the Left.
George Weigel has an erudite and concise op-ed in todays Los Angeles Times explaining in the plainest language possible the true meaning of the Popes speech last week. I have seen nothing clearer or more to the point.
This bill strikes me as more worthy of support than the one I discussed here. It focuses almost entirely on supporting pregnancy and promoting adoption, and seems to have a relatively small price tag. Co-Sponsors include Chris Smith, Charlie Melancon, James Clyburn, Harold Ford, and Jim Marshall, among others. And there’s this from the press release:
Organizations who have sent statements in support of the bill include the National Association of Evangelicals, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, Democrats for Life of America, National Council on Adoption, Life Education and Resource Network, Redeem the Vote, CARENET, Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, Joe Turnham, Chairman, Alabama Democratic Party, U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey, and actor, Martin Sheen.
If ex-President Bartlet, a thoughtful TV Catholic supports it, what more could one ask?
Did you know that today is Leo Strausss birthday?
Im sure theres a hidden meaning there somewhere.
I had a very good short conversation with Andy Busch yesterday on the coming elections and we ended up focusing on the latest polls. I will be talking to Andy each week from now on through the election.
I just read the description of my views in a book I think it’s best to ignore. I will say that book says, quite correctly, that I’ve been published and written about in FIRST THINGS. So now it’s time for me to express by gratitude to one Damon Linker as the one responsible for those ambiguous or even pernicious facts. Here’s how the generous (and really mean that) editor Linker summarized my position in my book ALIENS IN AMERICA in a long review in FIRST THINGS:
Lawler maintains that conservative critics [such as Allan Bloom and even Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama] of current trends do little good by reninforcing the view that the souls of Americans have undergone some kind of fundamental degradation. Instead, they should be working to revive a vocabulary that can do justice to the full range of human experiences in all times and places, incuding the present.
And here’s the review conclusion, which includes the only criticism (a stylistic, not substantive, one):
While his quirky style of writing--which combines long, occasionally tedious paraphrases of arguments from other authors with dense patches of original analysis and criticism--detracts at times from his argument, the power and importance of that argument is undeniable. As conservatives [a category that seems to include the review’s author] ponder why and how to resist the temptation to reach for all the good things in life, they would be well advised to do so with Lawler on their side..
I leave to you to determine how these comments square with what their author says about me in his new book, which suggests that I’m part a theocon conspiracy traumatizing Americans with scary scenarios about the very future of their humanity. (Don’t worry. The book says nothing slanderous, and I’m always glad to be mentioned. I’m only suggesting that someone’s mind change a lot.) I express my differences with Kass etc. on the whole "last man," Brave New World thing more thematically in STUCK WITH VIRTUE, and I’m now saying for the first time publicly that Leon told me I would be appointed to the Bioethics Council because of my fundamental disagreement with his views.
OK, I lied. Here’s one more--Maggie Gallagher’s--comment on the pope’s speech. I recommend it as a simple and clear statement of the real issue: "The alternative to a new synthesis of faith and reason...is to remove reason from the most urgent questions human beings face, including this one: How do we live together in peace?"
Washington, D.C. area readers shouldn’t miss this conference, put together by Patrick Deneen and featuring a stellar cast of speakers, including Justice Antonin Scalia, Hadley Arkes, John Seery, some guy named Lawler, James Ceaser, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Benjamin Barber, Dan Mahoney, George Weigel, and Peter Berkowitz, among others. (I guess E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Bill Galston were too busy talking to themselves to make it onto the program.)
Consider this my penance for bashing Georgetown a few weeks ago, for this is a part of the university that is eminently un-bashable.
Be there or be square.
Kathryn Lopez of NRO confirms the profound observation made in one of our threads that Nip/Tuck is a conservative show. The show opposes by displaying the misanthropy of cutting-edge technological efforts to produce a "designer" future free from all risks and imperfections. Despite their silliness and seeming celebration of self-indulgence, stories about nipping and tucking might be, Kathryn suggests, basically "pro-life propaganda."
Well, now. A former Archbishop of Canterbury has come out foursquare on the side of the Popes remarks abot Islam. Actually, hes even more blunt than the Pope, quoting a contemporary rather than a 13th century emperor. Sample:
Lord Carey, who as Archbishop of Canterbury became a pioneer in Christian-Muslim dialogue, himself quoted a contemporary political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who has said the world is witnessing a “clash of civilisations”.
Arguing that Huntington’s thesis has some “validity”, Lord Carey quoted him as saying: “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
Too bad hes the former Archbishop. Youd expect riots over this, except that no one cares about the Anglical Church much any more.
This article describes this study, also summarized here. I’m not surprised by the results, which suggest that bigger churches with active outreach programs were more likely to seek support from the government than were the myriad small and poor churches in the African-American community. Here’s the most politically interesting observation in the WaPo article:
Black churches in the Northeast and those with self-identified progressive congregations and liberal theologies were most likely to be taking part in the program, a finding that surprised the researchers, who concluded that the White House has not used the program as a political tool as some critics have suspected.
"Those people who were most worried can exhale," said Robert M. Franklin, a professor of social ethics at Emory University who worked as a consultant on the survey. "Churches have not been manipulated by Karl Rove. They have not sold out."
Bet you won’t see these findings trumpeted by the religious left.
Update: A reader sent in
this article, which shows how a Democratic challenger distorts the meaning of the co-religionist exemption in the faith-based initiative as part of a campaign to persuade African-American voters that Rep. Anne Northrup supports discrimination. I guess John Yarmuth doesnt care about how the faith-based initiative has helped African-Americans help themselves.
In order not to clutter NLT with lots more Knippenverbiage, I posted some thoughts on Democratic efforts to find, er, take the middle, er, high ground on abortion here.
Hungarys PM (a Socialist, heading the only government to be re-elected since the fall of the Communists) admits to lying on taped conversation during the election in the Spring ("We lied morning, noon and night"), tapes revealed, then riots break out in Budapest. About 150 people were injured, over a hundred were police officers. Here is the AP report. This is the Magyar Hirlap (in Hungarian) for the civilized reader!
The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows Bushs approval going up to 44%, the highest in a year.
. . . that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day?
Somehow I have trouble envisioning Schramm taking part. As for me, Im fresh out of rum and whiskey.
To put Pope Benedict XVI’s recent speech in the broader context of his political thought, let me offer something from his recent encyclical GOD IS LOVE, which should charm Christians and libertarians--not to mention Christian libertarians--alike. I only promised not to say more about last week’s speech for now, but I can’t ignore Rat Choice Theory altogether.
There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a merely bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person--every person--needs: namely loving, personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need....In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live "by bread alone"...a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.
The latest sign of the seemingly irreversible decline of civilization in Europe: moves to ban skinny models from fashion shows. Oh well, I suppose it really doesnt matter, since women will be covered head to toe after the Islamists take over.
And for you nervous homeowners watching your home equity leak out day by day, there is a special blog just for you: The Housing Bubble. Happy Tuesday!
While he cant resist the occasional partisan shot, and while his prescriptions are predictable, it is a substantial effort that contributes to the sustained Democratic attempt to court "values voters."
This article summarizes this report. Theres some interesting material here, which I need time to chew on. It seems, for example, that the form of civic engagement that I am practicing at this very moment is on the upswing (thanks due to my efforts, of course), but that its shallow and perhaps even polarizing (surely not my intention). Perhaps Ill have to st....
Ill leave hunting down profound responses to the Popes very smart disquisition to Peter L., but I couldnt resist linking to Anne Applebaums column this morning (which is politically smart, but not deep). A taste:
[N]othing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe its time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldnt the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britains chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?
Maybe its a pipe dream: The day when the White House and Greenpeace can issue a joint statement is surely distant indeed. But if stray comments by Western leaders -- not to mention Western films, books, cartoons, traditions and values -- are going to inspire regular violence, I dont feel that its asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I dont see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.
Of course, our capacity for response has long molded by the culture of victimhood, in which the offended complain and the offenders apologize. Think the complainers around the world might be at least vaguely aware of that?
Here’s the brilliant SLATE science editor William Saletan on rapid slippery-slope developments in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, the procedure used to weed out defective embryos. It’s easy to imagine a time not too far down the road when having the babies the old-fashioned or unimplanted way will be viewed as involving too many risk factors to be acceptable. And so sex, in the name of safety, will be completely separated from reproduction.
Lets see: turns out you can get e-coli from organic spinach, which is another reason not to eat vegetables. Ive always been suspicious of the organic food craze.
Thanks to John Podhoretz over at The Corner, I learn about a splendid new blog with the provocative title Hatemongers Quarterly. Wish Id thought up that.
Thomas Byrne Edsall writes in The New Republic that "Whatever happens this November, no one should be fooled: The Democrats are still in deep trouble."
And then theres this. Words fail me.
This is my last post on the popes speech. The controversy that surrounds it just needs to die down, and certainly hes said everything he reasonably could to contribute to that goal. The final word should go to the distinguished medieval historian Thomas F. Madden. Madden writes that "the lecture...is, in fact, not about Islam at all. Benedict is calling a crusade, but it is one against a Christianity stripped of reason and a science stripped of transcendent truths. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, an inquiry into the rationality of faith."
Here is the Washington Post article on the Allen/Webb debate on "meet the Press". And this is New York Times version of events. Note the great photo, cowboy boots vs. combat boots. The thrust of both articles and the MSM in general is that Allen didn’t do as well on the air as he should have (I saw only part of it, but agree with that opinion). After all, Webb might be a smart guy and all, but a clever and experienced politician should have been able to put Webb on the defensive for not only some positions he holds (or has held) on the mid-East, but for some of his would-be associations (e.g., Kennedy, Reid, Pelosi, et al) if he were elected. This didn’t happen and Allen was put back on his western heels. Webb is a smart guy, a warrior, certainly a fine writer, and one capable of building trust with citizens, a real old-fashioned Southerner (see his Born Fighting) who could have been elected a generation ago. While the polls will have this race tightening, Allen will hold it. The only way he would not is if there really is a tidal wave against Bush’s Iraq policy. If there is, then Webb will become the best they have (and will also discombobulate the national Democratic Party); think about Webb campaigning with either Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton. You might want to review Mac Owens piece on Webb when he announced for the Democratic primary in February.
Vicki and I went up to Hillsdale for Nancy Silver’s memorial service. She was well remembered at the fine service, and her two sons Arthur and Tony were solid through the event and the months of hardhsip.
It so happened that Ashland was hosting Hillsdale in football while we were at the service. The game concluded during the reception at president Arnn’s house. Ashland won 30-24. Ashland’s president Fred Finks made a well timed phone call--I was talking with Larry when it came in--to remind Arnn that he will have to wear an Ashland sweatshirt one day at work, as they had bet the loser president would wear the others logo. Arnn said he would. I badgered Arnn, Craig, and the other Hillsdale partisans a bit about their decline, their lack of virtue, and so on. But once I noticed water-drops staining the men’s cheeks--their women’s weapons worked me well--I felt pity for the lot of them and fell into silence. Here is our story on the game, and here is Hillsdale’s. Sometimes the world is just.
Heres a particularly fine analysis of the misunderstanding that has provoked such outrage over the Popes speech in the Muslim world. But the truth of the matter is that "If hes having a go at anything, its not Islam, its the patronizing notion...that religion is incompatible with independent thought." The author adds that theres a real critique of Islamic conception of God "tucked away in the text" that is meant, in fact, to provoke the most fundamental kind of theological dialogue. So far its mostly been ignored.
I’ve scheduled a lecture by Jon Macfarlane, a new colleague most recently at Notre Dame.
Charlotte (N.C.) area readers might be interested in this event at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
I’d be interested in hearing what others’ institutions are doing.
Update: We probably shouldnt overlook this event for those in the D.C. area.