The Long View 2006-01-18: Suicide, Iran & Environmental Collapse? Damn the Demographics!

I was first introduced to James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis' work with the Gaia Hypothesis through the simulation game SimEarth. A year ago I posted to an interview with Lovelock, and at the time I assumed that he was crazy things because he was old. I can now see that Lovelock was always crazy.

Lovelock is 98, and still around to give astonishing interviews. Margulis is not, but she was equally crazy. She did one big thing right, supporting the notion that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as independent prokaryotes, and then massively went of the rails everywhere else.

Suicide, Iran & Environmental Collapse? Damn the Demographics!


Regarding the Oregon Suicide-by-Doctor law, which the Supreme Court has just upheld, let me repeat that I dislike this law as a matter of public policy. Nonetheless, the statute was valid. It did not contradict federal drug-control statutes, much less the federal constitution. The question, in fact, was enough of a no-brainer that it was an embarrassment to see that three justices were willing to say they thought otherwise.

Look, the Conservative Party is supposed to be the Principled Party. That means the party that is willing to accept defeat on a partisan issue if that is what is necessary to maintain the rule of law. Had a majority of the court voted to overturn the law, a specific evil would have been avoided, but at the expense of the rule of law and of the credibility of the justices. The court is going to need that credibility if the case that overturns Roe is to be seen as anything more than a press release from the Republican National Committee.

* * *

And what of Niall Ferguson's credibility? A historian is always regarded with suspicion by his colleagues when he speculates about the future, as Ferguson does in the brief essay: The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented:

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 [between, probably, Iran and Israel] represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

We should note any such conflict today could not expand in the fashion of the First World War. In 1914, an algorithm of treaty obligations and diplomatic understandings ensured that, in a matter of weeks, the war would spread across Europe. (Ferguson has said otherwise; he's wrong.) Even the lesser European powers had deployable forces all ready to go. That was an unusual start for a major war, of course. Compare World War II, which arguably began when the Japanese pushed south into China in 1937 and was still adding major participants in 1941. That is the sort of slow accretion that an initial strategic nuclear exchange would exclude. Israel as a nation might not survive such an exchange. It would be surprising if the Iranian state survived. The wild card would be what would happen to Islam if the holy sites in Saudi Arabia were nuked and the hajj became impossible.

And of course, the hypothesis of an "exchange" is unlikely, too. Iran wants ballistic nuclear weapons to obtain a measure of immunity from regime removal by the United States. That would allow Iran to operate a terror network and conventional forces with a measure of impunity. That calculation would work until missile defenses can reliably stop short and medium-range ballistic missiles. We can expect that to happen at no distant date.

* * *

According to James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. As he notes more in sorrow than in anger in The Independent:

This article is the most difficult I have written...Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news. ...She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics...Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space... We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

Collapse is not quite so imminent that we might not hope to read all about it in Dr. Lovelock's forthcoming book, The Revenge of Gaia.

Regarding this article at hand, readers of Olaf Stapledon's First and Last Men may be reminded of the end of the First Men, who survived in the Arctic in a few small groups after Earth undergoes a sudden and violent heating. Elsewhere in this article, mention is made of a future ruled by barbarian warlords, which gets us back to Mad Max country. All in all, the article is an exercise in apocalyptic nostalgia.

Lovelock's assessment is that ecological collapse is irreversible. Some of the brighter environmentalists understand that this view might interfere with fundraising:

"If any of us back up behind that idea we might just as well slit our wrists," said Aubrey Meyer, the director of the Global Commons Institute, which campaigns hard for an approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions known as Contraction and Convergence, based on moving to equal emissions entitlements per person everywhere around the globe.

The Gaia Hypothesis has a sensible version: the biosphere and the atmosphere interact over time to keep the surface temperature within a narrow range. That's probably true. However, there is also a nonsensical version, promoted at times even by Lovelock himself, that says the biosphere is a living thing, with many of the attributes of a deity. That is, to put it politely, a category mistake.

I am a great fan of decreasing CO2 and methane emissions, if only as a matter of better engineering. Actually, I am quite as capable of panicking about global warming as the next guy: when I woke up this morning, the temperature was 60-degrees Fahrenheit. By 8:00 AM, the sky was still so dark that the street lights were shining. Neither of these things is supposed to happen in the New York area in mid-January. However, the environmentalists are the last people I would ask for an explanation of what is happening or what to do about it. The environmental industry derailed nuclear power in the 1970s; today they advocate vacuous non-solutions like windpower. The really strange ones are trying to discourage hydroelectric power. And all their specific predictions have been wrong for 40 years.

* * *

And demography is worse, if you believe J. R. Dunn in his article How Demography Fails. He takes particular aim at the notion that Europe must inevitably turn into Eurabia, a development that is now regarded in some quarters as inevitable as environmental collapse:

The argument is straightforward: the native European population is dropping, with birthrates in all countries below replacement level. The Muslim populace, for the most part unassimilated, is still expanding. One curve is going up, the other down. When they cross, Europe will have effectively come under Muslim control.

But is it truly that simple? After all, there’s a reason why you’re not reading this in a U.S. with a population of 500 million+, which is what demography foresaw in 1950. Or in the 2006 world of 8 billion souls, as predicted ten years later. And certainly not in the 21st century universally forecast in the 70s, in which a few survivors grub about in the ruins left by the Great Crash following a runaway population explosion.

Yes: where do they sell Soylent Green? Perhaps they will on Svalbard Island, when the remnants of humanity in that Arctic country grow peckish.

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The Long View 2006-01-13: After Roe; Predators; Indigos; Pigs; Panspermia

Lots of fun little bits in this one. There are reasonable protections to extended to protect wilderness, and then there is the Wildlands Project, a scheme to return vast areas of the United States to howling wilderness. This goal isn't particularly hidden, but you can find references to it in the project materials linked in Wikipedia.

I like natural landscapes too, but this is all a little nutty.

There is also a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's creepy book Childhood's End. Many of the mid-twentieth century sci fi authors had really weird streaks, and Childhood's End displays Clarke's. Gnosticism is always lurking somewhere.

Also. Glowing pigs.

After Roe; Predators; Indigos; Pigs; Panspermia


Plausible deniability: this was all the Alito hearings were about. There was never much hope that the nomination could be stopped. The Democratic senators were chiefly concerned to ensure that the cultural left does not strike at them when Roe v. Wade is overturned. As I have remarked, the party will greatly benefit from that event, because the party will be able to field pro-life candidates, or at least candidates who do not have to take a pro-choice position. The opportunities in the Red States are for the future, however. In the near term, the senators had to placate the interest groups that made their election possible.

The hearings were yet more evidence that Roe would have to be repudiated even if it were about double parking. (I know I have said that before; it's a good line.) The cultural left has adopted the position that there is an invisible ham sandwich in the Liberty Clause of the Constitution. Since the existence of this sandwich cannot be demonstrated by text or history, constitutional jurisprudence has become the art of selecting those very special judges who can see it.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that it will not be enough for the Supreme Court to repudiate the holding in Roe (it might be possible to justify the holding in Griswald, the case that found a right to use contraceptives, but with far narrower reasoning). The Court has to repudiate the style of constitutional interpretation that made the decision possible. If the decision that overturns Roe simply declares that the Court, of its goodness, has determined to exercise its discretion in the opposite direction, then we will just be waiting for the next constitutional explosion.

* * *

But foreign courts are worse, as we see in this outrage from Sweden:

A Swedish farmer sentenced to six months in prison for shooting a wolf on his farm in Dalsland, central Sweden, is appealing to the government for a pardon...The man was found not by the district court not to have broken the law, but he was convicted in the court of appeal. It was decided that although the man had reason to believe that the wolf would attack, as the wolf had attacked his neighbour's sheep an hour earlier, too much time has passed between the attack on the sheep and the farmer shooting the wolf.

I am at a loss to understand the fondness of the environmental lobby for dangerous predators. The reasons for keeping dangerous creatures away from farms and homes are primordial:

A South African anthropologist said Thursday his research into the death nearly 2 million years ago of an ape-man shows human ancestors were hunted by birds...[An] Ohio State study determined that eagles would swoop down, pierce monkey skulls with their thumb-like back talons, then hover while their prey died before returning to tear at the skull. Examination of thousands of monkey remains produced a pattern of damage done by birds, including holes and ragged cuts in the shallow bones behind the eye sockets...Berger went back to the [australopithecus child's] skull, and found traces of the ragged cuts behind the eye sockets.

The dangerous animals don't need to be extinct. Because developed countries are rapidly becoming reforested, there should be no lack of places for them to live. That's why they should be shot on sight when they enter inhabited areas.

Tough, but fair.

* * *

Speaking of impending extinction, this lifestyle piece from the New York Times is extremely sinister:

If you have not been in an alternative bookstore lately, it is possible that you have missed the news about indigo children. They represent "perhaps the most exciting, albeit odd, change in basic human nature that has ever been observed and documented," Lee Carroll and Jan Tober write in "The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived" (Hay House). The book has sold 250,000 copies since 1999 and has spawned a cottage industry of books about indigo children.

More prosaically, "indigo children" seem to be intelligent tykes with attention deficit disorders whose mothers prefer to believe that their offspring are the next stage in human evolution than that these kids need either drugs or no-nonsense discipline. "Indigo" is supposed to describe the auras of these prodigies. The term "indigo" is sometimes used these days to mean a young, creative person. There are some links here

I knew from my studies of esoteric fascism that this notion of a mutant generation was the sort of thing that Madame Blavatsky used to go on on about. I quickly discovered that I was not the first to make the connection:

We are the last generation of the 5th root race. Our soul color is violet. Since about 1975 the first generation of the 6th root race has been coming in. Since the year 2000, 100% of the children being born are of the 6th root race. Their soul color is indigo. These are the "new and improved" spiritually evolved humans. Every Indigo Child has a " creative genius" within them waiting to be discovered and expressed. They have something new, something advanced, to bring to the world to evolve humanity, be it in the field of art, science, technology, philosophy, religion, and so on.

We went through all this in the 1960s, you know. Remember Consciousness III in The Greening of America? Now the question is whether sales of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End are picking up again.

* * *

Indigo children may be imaginary, but fluorescent pigs are a fact, according to the BBC:

Scientists in Taiwan say they have bred three pigs that glow in the dark...They claim that while other researchers have bred partly fluorescent pigs, theirs are the only pigs in the world which are green through and through...The pigs are transgenic, created by adding genetic material from jellyfish into a normal pig embryo....In the dark, shine a blue light on them and they glow torch-light bright.

The scientists did not just do this on a bet: it's easier to work with genetic material if it fluoresces. If they begin to work on flying pigs, however, we will know they are not serious.

* * *

The term panspermia does not appear in the NASA pages about the Stardust mission. Stardust is the space probe that collected dust from the comet Wild 2; Stardust is supposed to land in the Mojave Desert this weekend. "Panspermia," of course, is the notion that life spreads through space in the form of living or nearly living spores. If that is the case, then we are relieved of the embarrassment of figuring out how microorganisms appeared so quickly after the Earth formed.

Stardust was dispatched in part to answer questions about proto-biology, but I have not seen any speculation about whether the probe might bring back something living. When samples were brought back from the moon, both the samples and the astronauts were quarantined against the possibility that they might carry an infectious lunar organism. In connection with a comet, though, such precautions would make little sense. Cometary material is always raining into Earth's atmosphere: if Wild 2 carries spores from deep space, they would be here already.

Actually, I seem to recall that an Indian scientist proposed that novel infectious diseases do in fact drift down from space. Better not to think about it.

* * *

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The Long View 2006-01-09: Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam

I had forgotten this short bit on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI claiming that Islam cannot reform, which is, as John noted, in line with what Muslims say too. It is also true that the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence are quite clever at finding ways to be flexible in interpretation. An example that springs to mind is Mudarabah (مضاربة)  and Musharakah (مشاركة or مشركة) home purchase contracts, that avoid the prohibition of charging interest, but otherwise work much the same as a mortgage.

The Salafi movement, which is misleadingly called a reform movement on Wikipedia, is in part a reaction to this brand of cleverness, seeking to return to a simpler way of doing things.

Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam


A world without pillars: that seems to be Wretchard's assessment today at The Belmont Club:

. Of the pillars that held up the political world in 2003 only a few remain standing. Arafat dead; Sharon in a coma; Schroeder a factotum of Vladimir Putin; Chirac a shadow of himself; the European Union moribund, the UN a standing joke; Blair badly weakened and America obsessed with cookies left on browsers on government websites. And 2006 just beginning. Interesting times indeed.

This is the important thing about the international system in the 21st century so far. It's not that the United States alienated its traditional allies and showed disrespect for international institutions, though arguably some of that happened, too. It's that the alliances, and indeed some of the allies, have been revealed to be too insubstantial to rely upon, and that few of the international institutions remain credible. The flipside of this, of course, is that America's foreign interlocutors must be wondering whether Washington is about to enter another impeachment spiral.

* * *

One long-predicted Chinese collapse has finally occurred:

Once one of the hottest markets in the world, sales of homes have virtually halted in some areas of Shanghai, prompting developers to slash prices and real estate brokerages to shutter thousands of offices...Although the city's 20 million residents represent less than 2% of China's population of 1.3 billion, Xie says, Shanghai accounts for an astounding 20% of the country's property value... today, prices at [one] complex have fallen by a third, and the lines of frenzied buyers are gone.

Does this mean that the Middle Kingdom will now be riven by real-estate riots? Possibly not, though it does make hash of the near-term effort to fix the banking system.

Actually, I am more concerned about the value of real estate locally. Property-tax rates have just increased by about 15% in Jersey City. The people are irate.

* * *

But the rump government of New Orleans is beyond satire:

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7 - The city's official blueprint for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina, to be released on Wednesday, will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission...But ultimately, the areas that fail to attract a critical mass of residents in 12 months will probably not survive as residential neighborhoods, ...People who rebuild in those areas will be forced to leave, according to the proposal. Though such a requirement would be emotionally wrenching, the commission will propose a buyout program to compensate those people at the market price before Hurricane Katrina, but it is not clear whether there will be federal financing for such a program.

The state of Louisiana, at least, realizes what nonsense this "plan" is, and certainly the federal government is not going to donate a nickel toward implementing it. Meanwhile, though, urban activists have secured court injunctions to prevent state and local authorities from clearing the remains of ruined houses, including houses whose ruins are now blocking the streets. Nothing will serve but the election of a new municipal government by the people who have actually returned to the city. The old mayor and council have prevailed upon the state to delay the election, however.

* * *

That Spengler at Asia Times follows the statements of Benedict XVI very closely. So do I, or so I thought, since Spengler found this and I did not:

Now Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ...Strange as it may seem, the pope must whisper when he wants to state agreement with conventional Muslim opinion, namely that the Koranic prophecy is fixed for all time such that Islam cannot reform itself. If Islam cannot change, then a likely outcome will be civilizational war, something too horrific for US leaders to contemplate.

Note that Muslim jurists have long since become adept at interpreting the Koran to make its application flexible, quite without rejecting the principle of its immutability. Still, the Koran does pose problems for political science that the Christian Bible does not. The Bible does not purport to be a law code or a constitution, though dim Christians have used it for that purpose. Note also that Benedict would probably be horrified if he knew his assessment was being used as an argument that intercivilizational war is inevitable. Maybe he reads Asia Times and is horrified already.

* * *

Speaking of horrors, headlines like this call up memories of old movies:

Stolen human tissue ends up in several mountain patients who went into the hospital for surgery

And was any of the material a criminal's brain?

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The Long View: In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Here is a 2003 book review where John makes the point I highlighted yesterday; all the piss and vinegar has been taken out of the 20th century ideologies by now. In the early 21st century, we keep using the same slogans, but nobody means it.

I was also struck by John's off-hand comment that any serious history buff would have a mostly-unread copy of Mein Kampf sitting around. In the current craziness, books like Mein Kampf and Das Kapital are no longer doorstops for people with a book collecting problem, but have rather become props for people who LARP as political extremists. Last century, books like that actually changed the world. Now they are just part of the scenery.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies
By Harry Turtledove
New American Library, 2003
454 Pages, US$24.95
ISBN 0-451-52902-2


Strange as it may seem for someone who writes quite a lot about alternative history, this is the first book by Harry Turtledove I have ever read. That was partly because I did not want to take on yet another long series of novels. In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a stand-alone work, however, and the premise is obvious enough to warm the heart of any acquisitions editor. The Third Reich wins the Second and Third World Wars, but later undergoes the process of reform-reaction-collapse that ended the Soviet Union in the world we know. The characters through which we observe these events are secret Jews, living otherwise ordinary lives in and around Berlin. The title, incidentally, comes from Psalm 23:5. (A poetic rendering runs: "You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil: my cup overflows.")

In the Presence of Mine Enemies has many of the features common to Nazi-victory timelines. We learn once again how many St. Peter's basilicas (16) would fit into Albert Speer's Great Hall in Berlin. There are brief references to the nuclear standoff with the Japanese Empire. On the whole, however, the author is notably circumspect about filling in the details of world history to 2010, which is about when the story is set. We find out in passing that the US was neutral in the Second World War and on the losing end of the Third, which occurred around 1970. We also learn that the US capital has moved to Omaha. Similarly, though the Germanic Empire seems to be almost everywhere as an occupier, colonizer, or overbearing ally, we are spared lectures on geopolitics in a Nazi world. The author's chief conterfactual mischief concerns one Kurt Haldweim, the gerontocrat Führer whose death marks the start of the reform era, and whom we must in no way confuse with the factual Kurt Waldheim.

We do learn quite a lot about the life and ways of Heinrich Gimpel, a financial analyst at the Oberkommando Wehrmachts headquarters in Berlin and arguably the most prosaic protagonist in all possible worlds. By day he is a mild-mannered bureaucrat who fields diffident questions from Omaha about the annual financial assessment on the US; by night he is an equally mild-mannered father who instructs his eldest daughter in the rudiments of Judaism. (The children are let in on the secret when they are ten.)

Heinrich is not without passions, however. He and his hausfrau wife are fanatical bridge players. There are many pages of text like this:

"He pulled Willi's trumps, one by one; Willi couldn't make any of them good. And he made the contract-doubled.

"'A deep finesse,' Willi said mournfully, 'Who would have thought you would run a deep finesse? And who would have thought it would work?'

"'I had to,' Heinrich answered. 'It was the only way I even had a chance to make four. So I thought, why not?'"

Why not indeed? No doubt there are readers, more familiar with bridge than I, who will see ways in which these games comment on the story. Still, the ordinary amusements and vices of the characters do serve to normalize the Nazi world.

The Gimpels have a friend, another secret Jew named Susanna, who is rather more dramatic, or at least cranky. A professor of Middle English, she is a rarity as a female academic in the German higher education system. Early in the story, she goes to a conference in London of the Medieval English Association. However, she wanders across the street to the annual meeting of the British Union of Fascists, who, of course, are the ruling party of Great Britain. To her surprise, she becomes the belle of the ball.

The British fascists drink beer and favor heavy boots, but they appear here as populist good fellows, who enjoy the support of King Henry IX. They introduce her to a movement for democratic reform that seeks to use the resources of Nazi doctrine. The Eurocommunists of our own 1970s deployed Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts against Leninism. In this alternative world, reform Nazis cite a text from the first edition of Mein Kampf, which emphasizes the need for the Party leadership to be democratically responsible to the Party membership.

I suspect that every history buff on Earth has a largely unread copy of Mein Kampf on his bookshelves. My Sentry edition, the 11th printing of Ralph Manheim's translation, has the original passage at page 344. There is also a footnote containing the Second Edition version, which Hitler made after he suppressed his rivals and became keen on the Führerprinzip.

The concept of "reform Nazi" sounds no less odd to the principal characters in this story than it does to us. Even as Heinrich and Susanna root for well-meaning Heinz Buckliger, the unfortunately named new Führer, they realize that no one has said a word about rehabilitating the Jews. Indeed, though Jews in Germany are almost as rare as elves, the SS has not relaxed its hunt for them, and antisemitic propaganda continues to be an important feature of the school curriculum. It would be giving away too much of the story to relate just how these people come to the attention of the security services, but that aspect of the book does provide real suspense.

On the other hand, the parallel histories of the reform movements in the Germanic Empire and in our own Soviet Union are close enough to preclude much suspense. The similarities extend even to the publication of critical letters-to-the-editor, alleged to be from ordinary citizens opposed to reform, but actually planted by reactionary party bosses. There is nothing objectionable in an author's adhering to his story's premise: Tolkien says that hobbits like their books to be set out fair and square with no contradictions, and I am inclined to agree with them. However, the parallel to the Soviet Union does not give much guidance about the underlying causes for the crisis of the Germanic Empire. We are told that the budget is chronically in deficit, and that the Reich's software industry is falling behind its Japanese competitor's. (The Reich's standard operating-system is deplorably clunky, which suggests another real-world parallel we will not pursue.) The late Soviet Union, it has been argued, was in many ways just an oil-state that collapsed when commodity prices fell in the 1980s. Even if that assessment is too flippant (as it almost certainly is), some comparable mechanism would have made the premise of this book seem less arbitrary.

Stories based on greater success for the Nazi regime than occurred in the real world are not rare. Some of them are exercises in sado-masochism; some seek to show off a detailed knowledge of the Nazi era: I have run across only one that seemed intended as apologetics for the Nazis. In the Presence of Mine Enemies is proof that it is possible to write a novel with this premise that does not further strain credulity with a plot involving spies, Satanists, and interdimensional travel. Still, even the best of these stories ring hollow for me, in a way that goes beyond the inevitable implausibilities of alternative history.

The Nazis did not come to power with detailed plans to conquer the world. Hitler did suggest from time to time that the problem for his generation was Russia, and that the problem for the next would be America. This is the framework that Turtledove uses for his novel, and it's perfectly justifiable for fiction. The problem is that it ascribes to the Nazis a unique ability to shape the future according to their designs. History after the Second World War did not turn out quite how the victorious Soviet Union expected. The same was also true for the United States, even after the end of the Cold War. Technological progress had something to do with it, but the differences between one generation and the next were more important. More important still was the fact that styles of life and philosophy continued to change according to the rhythms of modernity, even in the isolated Soviet Union.

Oswald Spengler, to take my favorite macrohistorian, was often wrong, but about the Nazis he was mostly right. He understood that the movement was in many ways simply incompetent. He saw them as nothing more than an incident in the era of Western modernity, an era which he expected to last through the 21st century. The end of the story for the modern world might, he thought, be a new Roman Empire. If it materialized, the sun would set on the West in a kind of political and spiritual peace. The alternative, as he saw it, was mere collapse and barbarian chaos. In either case, he had a lively sense in the 1930s that the end of history was still many generations away, and that the Nazis were dangerously deluded about their own importance.

That, really, is the problem with most stories based on unbroken Nazi success. The premise takes the Nazis at their word about the importance of the movement, and credits them with the ability to make a peaceful desert of a world that should still have several generations of tumult remaining to it. This is anachronistic both forward and backward. It is unreasonable to expect to see Spengler's imperium mundi in any timeline much before the 22nd century. It is equally unreasonable to see the mesmerizing power that political ideology held in the 1920s and '30s transposed to the early 21st century. Even Philip Dick, in The Man in the High Castle, probably stretched a point when he put a world of fanatical Nazis in the 1960s. Certainly we know that, long before the Communist regime collapsed, there were few real Marxists in the Soviet Union.

Popular uprisings rarely overthrow ideologies; rather, even the secret police eventually lose interest.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-07: The Next China & the Next Socialism; The Next Liturgy

By Limitchik - I took this picture in 2012 with a Canon 30D, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Limitchik - I took this picture in 2012 with a Canon 30D, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There is another silly reference to Gordon Chang here [still wrong], but this quote is interesting:

That said, though, we are probably about to enter a generation in which there will be greater distrust of market mechanisms. What distinguishes the early 21st century from the early 20th is the almost total evaporation of Marxist eschatology, indeed of any sense of historical development. The purpose of social policy is no longer paradise. The purpose can become the prudential care for all, a concept which includes public safety and public health as well as economics. Oswald Spengler's term for this was "Ethical Socialism."

What made Marxism so potent was its millenarianism, the fervor of the convert and the true believer in Marx's reading of history. These kids who are fashionably espousing Communism are more like prosperity gospel Christians. A popular and enduring movement that has had a real effect on people's lives, but at least an order of magnitude less powerful than the First or Second Great Awakening.

It is probably a good thing for everyone that the eschatological element of Marxism died out [or burned out], but I do wonder what the point of calling yourself a Communist is now.

The Next China & the Next Socialism; The Next Liturgy


Thoughts on China's future is the title of a posting on Samizdata by James Waterton, who has recently visited that country. There he found that the ATMs were usually out of cash, from which he surmised that the financial system might be close to imploding. (He does not cite Gordon Chang's The Coming Collapse of China, but his logic is the same, and the anecdote about the ATMs is not frivolous: you have to use information like that because all the official statistics about the banking system are imaginary.) A major disruption of the Chinese economy would be bad enough economic news, but Waterton says the implications go far beyond that:

I am concerned by the consequences of a Chinese economic collapse, and these concerns reach far beyond any short to medium term economic pain. I fear a worldwide economic slump prompted by the collapse of China and its supposedly free market will provoke a popular backlash against globalisation and the liberal market reforms carried out in the 80s in the most successful economies of the West. Capitalism and liberalism will be blamed if people create a nexus between China's collapse, its market reforms and its intertwining with the greater world economy...Policy reversals may follow and suddenly we're staring down the barrel of a neo-Keynesian revolution. Consider what the average person knows about China's economy.

That's a good bet, but as any Daoist can tell you, it's one of those yin-and-yang developments. Libertarianism and command economics are both extreme positions. Neither ever entirely goes away, but their strongest manifestations are always ephemeral. The interesting question is whether the Next Socialism will greatly resemble the old one; or indeed, whether the Next Socialism will be a Left phenomenon at all.

There are people, many of them Latin American, for whom the 1960s never ended. Some of them are now running Venezuela and Bolivia. This is worrisome in some ways: Venezuela will be able to keep the communist system in Cuba afloat until the price of oil falls again, and Bolivia is now controlled by drug exporters. Still, it is hard to see such regimes as representatives of any historical trend, except perhaps entropy. Then there is poor Comandante Marcos and his Other Campaign in Mexico. The rhetoric is mostly good old-fashioned populism, but it has grown turgid with the language of the cultural left:

Hermanos y hermanas obreros y obreras, campesinos y campesinas de todo Mexico

"Brothers and sisters; workmen and workwomen; peasants and [I don't know: peasantinas?]": Spanish is a language where gender inclusivity really should not be an issue. Any movement that imports this associate-professor stutter is liable to meet the fate of liberation theology.

That said, though, we are probably about to enter a generation in which there will be greater distrust of market mechanisms. What distinguishes the early 21st century from the early 20th is the almost total evaporation of Marxist eschatology, indeed of any sense of historical development. The purpose of social policy is no longer paradise. The purpose can become the prudential care for all, a concept which includes public safety and public health as well as economics. Oswald Spengler's term for this was "Ethical Socialism."

* * *

Meanwhile, at the Conference of Catholic Bishops, they are debating a new English translation of the Latin Mass that Rome promulgated after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

The role of Latin the Catholic liturgy takes a little explanation. The Mass is rarely celebrated in Latin. When it is, it is usually the old Latin Mass that is celebrated, the one that prevailed until the Council. However, the original of the new Mass, the Novus Ordo, is also in Latin. That is the version from which translations are supposed to be made into the various living languages. One of the advantages to this system is that the conventions of translation from Latin to the modern languages are long-established and well-known. Translation from Latin to English is a no-brainer.

At any rate, it's supposed to be. In fact, the translation committee that did the translation into English 30 years ago turned a horse into a camel. The Vatican told the English-speaking countries to fix it. Unfortunately, as we learn from the indispensable Adoremus Bulletin, there were announcements like this one from chairman Bishop Donald Trautman at the meeting of the bishops last November:

We have set aside a good one half-hour for questions and comments. Before I introduce the panel I want to thank you for responding to our consultation. One hundred and seven Latin Rite bishops responded with 1,147 suggestions. Let us look at the results of this second consultation. [Indicates slides with diagrams of surveys projected on a screen.]

With reference to the words of institution, 140 bishops said "I believe the best translation of 'pro multis' is 'for all'".

In fact, of course, the only possible translation of "pro multis" is "for many." The Latin quotes the New Testament where Jesus says his blood "will be shed for many" for the forgiveness of sins. There is a theological reason for saying "for all." Catholic doctrine has it that Jesus did in principle die for all, though that does not mean all are necessarily saved. You can make that point with other scriptural citations. You can't make it here, though, and still call the result a translation.

Finally, Cardinal Francis George, as well as many of his colleagues perhaps, was laboring under this misapprehension:

The discussion is now somewhat complicated as we all know. Instead of the two poles -- fidelity to the Latin or adaptation to the English -- there’s a third pole, and that is the pastoral concern. The people own the present translation, even though it may be deficient -- as some of us have said -- as ICEL itself has recognized when adopted a different way of going at it. But nonetheless it’s ours. And they possess that text in a dialogical worship service in a way they never possessed the Latin text. They got used to the Latin text, but it wasn’t theirs, it wasn’t their language, and it wasn’t -- you know -- so dialogical and shaped our worship in the way that the new Missal has.

The congregation knew the old Mass as scraps of familiar phrases and in translation. They owned it, however, because the text was immemorial and unchangeable: certainly it was unchangeable by their local priest, as the new Mass too often has not proved to be. They owned it in much the way that Protestants owned the archaic modern English of the King James Bible.

There is just not the same relationship to a vernacular liturgy. It is literature, and it belongs to its author.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-05: 666 as a Date; Predatory Democracy; Other People's Felonies; While Earth Slept

An always timely reminder that democracies pursue wars for venial ends as much as just ones.

666 as a Date; Predatory Democracy; Other People's Felonies; While Earth Slept


The Year 1666 was full of portents for contemporary religious fanatics, such as Isaac Newton. The Great Fire of London; the Apostasy of Shabbatai Zvi; the outbreak of the Russian Raskol: the list could be extended. Newark, New Jersey, was founded in the same year. This year we have another such date: the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of the century, a date that will read "06-06-06" both in Europe and America. Already signs are appearing:

AMSTERDAM — More weddings than normal are being planned for 6 June in the Netherlands this year, apparently because of the reference in the Bible to 666 as the 'Number of the Beast'.

Of course, as far as I know, no one has actually said they are planning a wedding for this reason. As the report also notes:

One explanation for the enthusiasm for the date is that it is easy to remember: 6-6-6.

Occams' Razor cuts again, perhaps.

* * *

That Spengler derides Victor Davis Hanson in Spengler's latest column at Asia Times, in which he takes issue with Hanson's reading of Athenian political culture and Hanson's attempt to apply that reading to events today:

In the minds of democracy fanciers, Athens still represents the foundation stone of Western civilization, the model for the United States' founding and, by extension, the solution to the problems of today's Middle East...The trouble is that Athenian democracy committed suicide during the 27-year-long war with Sparta.

We should remember that Athenian democracy was not destroyed by the Peloponnesian War: it underwent a revival in the next century. My recollection is that a lot of the old constitution continued to function even in Macedonian and Roman times, though Athens was no longer an independent power. Nonetheless, That Spengler has a point when he says that the behavior of Athens at its height does not support the theory of the democratic peace, and neither do some episodes in American history:

The contemporary Greek historian Thucydides also was troubled. He explains precisely why democratic Athens voted for an attack upon the Sicilian city of Syracuse, also a democracy: the Athenian mob wanted loot...I want Bush to forget about Middle East democracy and deliver a military ultimatum to Iran. Democracy does not necessarily promote peace and stability...Democratic America resolved to make war upon Mexico in 1846 in order to seize territory for the expansion of slavery, [Ulysses S. Grant] Grant observed...[I]f the demos is cruel, corrupt and rapacious, democracy will yield dismal results. In the case of the Southern demos of 1861, it was necessary to change its composition by first exterminating a whole generation of young men.

This really should not be a surprise. Pirate ships in the 17th and 18th centuries were generally democracies. So are barbarian war bands in most times and places. If you are interested in looting in person, in fact, democracy is probably the ideal way to organize the enterprise. All the participants are motivated to fight and to do their best, because the fight gives each of them the opportunity to become rich. The question is whether democracy supports group-on-group predation at every level of size and sophistication.

Immanuel Kant thought not. His idea of a war was an 18th-century "cabinet war" of the sort that was so familiar in Germany before its unification. The decision to go to war would be made by the king and his cabinet, often for reasons that had no bearing on the well-being of his subjects. After the wars of the Reformation, these conflicts were not very devastating and were conducted with small, professional armies. Cabinet wars did often require oppressive taxes. Kant believed that no sane body of taxpayers would fund a typical cabinet war if they were consulted about it. He describes with derision the behavior of monarchs who declare war and then carry on with their ordinary amusements.

The distinction between belligerency in Classical democracies and in the modern world is that, in ancient times, war was often a business enterprise from which the participants could hope to benefit directly. (This was true even under the Roman Empire, whose soldiers hoped for booty in addition to their regular salaries.) As a rule, this has not been the case in the democracies that grew out of the Enlightenment. There were exceptions: the filibustering Americans who founded Texas really were in the position of the army of Alcibiades, but apparently with better leadership. The matter becomes more doubtful in connection with the Mexican-American War: the US inherited the strategic position of the Republic of Texas as well as its debt. I don't think it applies at all to the Civil War, though. There were Confederate leaders who dreamed of a Latin American empire, but the Army of Northern Virginia fought to keep the Yankees on the nether side of the Potomac.

In the Middle East today, democracy would probably work more in the Kantian than in the Houstonian fashion. Wars in the region (with the exception of the Israeli War of Independence) are experienced by the populations involved as pure cost. Both sides often lose. Even a republic of demons would avoid war in such a case.

* * *

One no longer reads the New York Times every day, but when one does, one notes that the editorial page has wholly succumbed to Krugman Disease. Yesterday's editorial, "On the Subject of Leaks," decries the attempts by the Justice Department to find out who told the Times about the secret but presumptively legal cross-border wire-tapping that the National Security Administration began after 911:

Given the Bush administration's appetite for leak investigations (three are under way), this seems a good moment to try to clear away the fog around this issue

The Times revs up its wind-machine by distinguishing any leaks that patriotic citizens might have disclosed to the paper from the underhanded smear campaigns of the Bush Clique:

The longest-running of the leak cases involves Valerie Wilson, a covert C.I.A. operative whose identity was leaked to the columnist Bob Novak.. The question there was whether the White House was using this information in an attempt to silence Mrs. Wilson's husband, a critic of the Iraq invasion, and in so doing violated a federal law against unmasking a covert operative,

Has anyone suggested that the White House was trying to "silence" Mrs Wilson's husband? The underlying issue here was whether he was sent to Africa on a fact-finding mission because he was a trusted expert or because he was the husband of a woman who had been working at Langley for six years. As for the statute about disclosing the identity of covert agents, the special prosecutor has moved on to the metaquestion of whether his investigation into the possibility of violations of the statute may have produced violations of other laws.

These are matters of fact, not opinion. Does anyone edit this paper anymore?

* * *

Disturbing news from NASA:

Rob Suggs of Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, US, was testing a new 10-in telescope and video camera assembled to monitor the Moon for space strikes. ...On 7 November, his first night using the telescope, he observed one... "People just do not look at the Moon anymore," said Dr Suggs, of Marshall's engineering directorate.

We are not monitoring the moon? Have we learned nothing from 911?

* * *

A note to publishers: I am in need of a day job. If you think I could make myself useful, please contact me here. I volunteer to try to save the Times, hopeless though the project may appear.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-03: The Perennial Stones; the Implosion of the NYT; A Critique of Steyn

John felt in 2006 that new ownership was needed for the New York Times. In 2008, Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, and occasionally the world, bought an 8% stake, later increased to 17.4%, making him the largest shareholder at present of the most influential newspaper in the United States.

Since synchronicity is a thing, here is Ross Douthat ranting against Mark Steyn, and other demographic doomsayers:

John Reilly occasionally linked to Steyn, and I have myself, but neither John nor I are convinced that Steyn's take on Western exhaustion is quite right. Far too many inconvenient facts get ignored.

As for me, I prefer to just have more kids than most educated Westerners think is reasonable or sane. Light a candle, rather than curse the darkness.

The Perennial Stones; the Implosion of the NYT; A Critique of Steyn


Here is the scariest piece of news from the last year:

THE ROLLING STONES have smashed US touring records - their 2005 BIGGER BANG circuit of North America is the most successful US concert tour of all time, according to concert website Pollstar.

The Rolling Stones are still touring? The Rolling Stones are making money? The Rolling Stones are still alive? When I was in high school I thought of the Stones as an old band.

* * *

Is the New York Times about to implode? Here is what its own "public editor" (a sort of ombudsman for readers) has to say about the fishy timing and motivation of the NSA story:

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence: For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush's secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States. ..The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having "delayed publication for a year." To me, this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.

Again, my own explanation for this is that the Times management judged that the story would have embarrassed the Kerry campaign had the story been published during the 2004 election, because Senator Kerry would have had to make a public assessment of the necessity and legality of the surveillance program. The public editor notes that the chief the explanation the Times itself has offered is inadequate:

...One is that Times editors said they discovered there was more concern inside the government about the eavesdropping than they had initially been told. Mr. Keller's prepared statements said that "a year ago," officials "assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions." So the paper "agreed not to publish at that time" and continued reporting. But in the months that followed, Mr. Keller said, "we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program" and "it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood."

This is what is known as an argument against the text. The story the Times actually ran was not about a disagreement within the Bush Administration about the legality of the program. In any case, the point is irrelevant: Even if every lawyer in the federal bureaucracy believed that the NSA program was legal, the Times would certainly have sought independent legal opinion. In fact, that's what the Times did, but it does not seem to have like the answers it got. The Times has covered the legal question primarily through innuendo.

If The New York Times is to be saved as a national institution, its ownership must pass into other hands.

* * *

Mark Steyn in The New Criterion has favored the world this January with a compendium of dark surmise entitled It's the Demography, Stupid:

For thirty years, we’ve had endless wake-up calls for things that aren’t worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society—the ones truly jeopardizing our future—we’re sound asleep...Much of what we loosely call the western world will survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most western European countries. There’ll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands— probably—just as in Istanbul there’s still a building called St. Sophia’s Cathedral. But it’s not a cathedral; it’s merely a designation for a piece of real estate....

Steyn notes things like the irrationality of hysteria about deforestation in countries that are in fact getting woodsier every year. He suggests that Western societies really should be focusing on the fact that their terminal demographics means that the Islamist enterprise could in fact succeed:

If this were like World War I with those fellows in one trench and us in ours facing them over some boggy piece of terrain, it would be over very quickly. Which the smarter Islamists have figured out. They know they can never win on the battlefield, but they figure there’s an excellent chance they can drag things out until western civilization collapses in on itself and Islam inherits by default. That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder”—as can be seen throughout much of “the western world” right now. The progressive agenda —lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism—is collectively the real suicide bomb.

We may note that Pope Benedict XVI recently also quoted Toynbee. I suggested a few years ago that Toynbee was about due for a revival. I said that in connection with a prediction of a return of historical optimism, and I see no reason to change that opinion: simply posing the question of macrohistorical teleology invokes resources for hope that postmodern historical theory was designed to suppress.

Meanwhile, though, we should consider that the proposal to make demographics a political issue may be a category mistake. It smacks of Bertholt Brecht's dictum that when a government loses the confidence of the people then the government must immediately elect a new people. Governments have found that it is notoriously difficult to buy babies, in the sense of subsidizing a rise in the fertility rate. Of course, most of the world has had some form of an anti-natalist demographic policy for the past half century, either overt as in China or covert, as in most Western countries. I wonder, though, whether all this has been a case of the phenomenal tail imagining that it wags the noumenal dog. Policy follows life.

Be that as it may, Steyn suggests that the inability of Western (and Japanese) publics to focus on issues of survival derives from the infantalization of the citizenry by their government:

But the problem now goes way beyond the ruling establishment. The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life—child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents—has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point—I would say socialized health care is a good marker—you cross a line...A government big enough to give you everything you want still isn’t big enough to get you to give anything back....

This is not obvious. For one thing, the United States had an infantalized welfare class until the 1990s, a group with a notoriously high birthrate. Another point: health care has changed category. It used to be the sort of thing that individuals could and probably should have provided for themselves. Today, in developed countries, the infrastructure and costs of medical care are so great that just about no one can really buy it for themselves, or indeed pay for their own insurance.

In any case, Steyn suggests a provocative explanation for why US and EU attitudes toward the welfare state are so different, and so, according to his theory, why the US birthrate remains at about the replacement level:

This isn’t a deep-rooted cultural difference between the Old World and the New. It dates back all the way to, oh, the 1970s. If one wanted to allocate blame, one could argue that it’s a product of the U.S. military presence, the American security guarantee that liberated European budgets: instead of having to spend money on guns, they could concentrate on butter, and buttering up the voters.

To that, one might ask why Russia has among the worst demographics in the world, though it spent a far higher percentage of its national product on the military than the United States spent for its own defense. Steyn might argue that Communist social policy infantalized the people. Maybe, but that undermines the argument that the West is, in effect, choking on luxury

Finally, we should reconsider the meaning of this observation:

The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens—from terrorism to tsunamis—can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of western civilization. As Jean-François Revel wrote, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

Maybe so, but this is a function less of despair than of the strain of restless dissatisfaction that runs right through Western history. Multicult, as Steyn observes, was essentially a device to absolve students of the need to learn about other cultures. Instead, it offered a screen between the student and the world on which a cartoon was printed that used exotic motifs to express political platitudes. In fact, when progressive Westerners cannot avoid encountering a genuine foreign culture, they are more likely than conservatives to want to rip it up and reconfigure it. Such encounters are becoming harder to avoid.

* * *

A note to publishers: I am in need of a day job. If you think I could make myself useful, please contact me here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The End of the Affair Book Review

By Source, Fair use,

By Source, Fair use,

by Graham Greene
Penguin Books, 1975
192 pages
ISBN 0140184953

I fully intend to spoil this book, but since it was published sixty-six years ago, I don't feel too bad about it. Also, the priest spoiled the ending in his homily, so I'm just paying it forward. You were warned.

This book was recommended by our associate pastor, and so my wife and I read it. The last Graham Greene book I read was Monsignor Quixote, nearly twenty years ago. I vaguely remembered liking it, and checking Wikipedia for a plot summary, I find that in his later life, Greene was something of a proto-Tradinista, looking for a reconciliation of Communism and Catholicism.

Written thirty years earlier, The End of the Affair is a mid-century English novel much like Brideshead Revisited, dealing with the mysterious way in which grace works upon sinners. Waugh and Greene were both attempting to write believable novels about conversion and grace, but when that conversion involves the Catholic Church, an Englishman is automatically at a disadvantage given long-standing English prejudices. Both authors found a similar solution: make their characters despicable, so that they would not appear to be writing hagiographies. However, Greene was a very different kind of Catholic than Waugh, and the feel of his book is very different [also much shorter].

The book can be roughly divided into thirds. The first is Maurice Bendrix's bitter reflections on his defunct affair with Sarah Miles, and his fruitless attempts to pursue her again after she abruptly broke it off. The middle is a series of Sarah's diary entries, to which we are privy to because Maurice paid a private detective to steal it. The final act is Maurice's desperate reactions to the revelations in Sarah's diary, and Sarah's transcendent death.

The greatest similarity to Brideshead is the protagonists' lack of character. I positively hate Maurice, and I can't quite comprehend what Sarah ever saw in him. Maurice's bitterness about the end of his affair colors his actions of course, but even before that his interactions with Sarah were a bizarre mix of arrogance and insecurity. 

And not only Sarah. The class-snobbishness of Maurice towards the detective he hires to spy on her is appalling. For example:

'It's in the boy's capacity,' Mr Parkis said with pride, 'and nobody can resist Lance.'
'He's called Lance, is he?'
'After Sir Lancelot, sir. Of the Round Table.'
'I'm surprised. That was a rather unpleasant episode, surely.'
He found the Holy Grail,' Mr Parkis said.
'That was Galahad. Lancelot was found in bed with Guinevere.' Why do I have this desire to tease the innocent? Is it envy? Mr Parkis said sadly, looking across at his boy as though he had betrayed him, 'I hadn't heard.'

Lewis of course could have provided Maurice with an answer.

Given my dislike of Maurice, the first third was rough going. Access to Sarah's diary provides Maurice [and us] with some answers, but for him, no comfort. I found this part of the book my favorite. Sarah's childish bargain with God to save Maurice after a buzz bomb hits his flat, her struggles with doubt, backsliding, and the fear of running into Maurice and losing her will to stick to the bargain, were endearing. In the first third of the book, Sarah comes across as flighty and insubstantial, and a wanton slut, but that is perhaps because we only see her through Maurice's eyes, and he is too damaged to see the good in anyone.

Sarah herself seems to have been well-liked, except by the wives of her husband's colleagues at the Ministry of Home Security, who feared her beauty and her predation of men. I find it interesting that Greene never attempted to describe Sarah concretely. She is simply 'beautiful.' Just how beautiful she was could only been seen in the reactions of others.

Some wives had accompanied their husbands. They at least were satisfied with ceremony – you could almost tell it from their hats. The extinction of Sarah had left every wife safer.
'I'm sorry,' Sylvia said.
'It wasn't your fault.'
I thought, if we could have embalmed her, they would never have been safe. Even her dead body would have provided a standard to judge them by.

The true fruits of Sarah's bargain with God only become clear after her funeral in the final third. In a burst of Englishness, Maurice moves in with Sarah's bereaved husband Henry to keep him company. The wild freethinker with a disfigured face that Sarah befriended in the midst of her struggles with inescapable faith finds himself unexpectedly healed. Young Lancelot Parkis is cured of a nasty bout of appendicitis after reading one of Sarah's old school books with an odd scribble inside the front cover.

We end the book with Maurice doggedly resisting the obvious implications of the things that followed Sarah's death. One almost has to admire the sheer stubbornness of the man. There are hints that his resolve was wavering a bit, but I wonder whether Maurice would have turned out much differently than Greene himself, who converted at the age of 24 [only one year younger than me when I did], but lost his faith as he grew older.

 In the short story, 'A Visit to Morin', Greene writes of a famous Catholic novelist who has lost his faith:

“What a strange idea you have of the Church. No, not of what the priest would say. He would say nothing. I dare say there is no greater gift you can give a priest in the confessional, Mr. Dunlop, than to return to it after many years. He feels of use again. But can’t you understand? I can tell myself now that my lack of belief is a final proof that the Church is right and the faith is true. I had cut myself off for twenty years from grace and my belief withered as the priests said it would. I don’t believe in God and His Son and His angels and His saints, but I know the reason why I don’t believe and the reason is– the Church is true and what she taught me is true. For twenty years I have been without the sacraments and I can see the effect. The wafer must be more than wafer.”
“But if you went back…”
“If I went back and belief did not return? That is what I fear, Mr. Dunlop. As long as I keep away from the sacraments, my lack of belief is an argument for the Church. But if I returned and they failed me, then I would really be a man without faith, who had better hide himself quickly in the grave so as not to discourage others.” He laughed uneasily. “Paradoxical, Mr. Dunlop?”

All authors draw upon their own experience when writing, but Greene strikes me as unusually literal and direct in the way he does this. For example, The End of the Affair was written after he ended an affair with a married woman. Greene's short story, written eight years later than The End of the Affair, but thirty-three after his conversion, seems to simply be Greene describing his faith, or the lack thereof. There are tantalizing hints that he might someday return to the faith of his youth, but he never did.

Maurice doesn't seem the religious type, and apparently Greene wasn't either.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-01-01: Notes on 2006

John makes some predictions for 2006 here, which makes it easy to assess his track record:

  • I don't recall whether anyone noted the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's letter to the GPO on spelling. I'm guessing the answer is no.
  • Iraq War veterans weren't hugely in demand as political candidates. Weirdly, in 2017, a lot of power in President Trump's cabinet has gone to generals from that war, but it sure wasn't true in 2006.
  • Iran has ended up dominating Iraq after the Iraq War. John did not guess correctly that some deal about Iranian nuclear programs would be made: he was probably unduly influenced by fools like Michael Ledeen.
  • A number of movies I really liked came out in 2006. Cars. Idiocracy. 300. The Devil Wears Prada
  • The end of 2005/beginning of 2006 wasn't a good year for John's track record. Previous years weren't quite so bad.

Notes on 2006


I strongly believe in prescience in all its forms. I also believe that it's pretty useless: even if you are right about some future event, you will almost certainly be wrong about what it will mean at the time it happens or how important it will be. With that in mind, let us proceed to a short list of observations and predictions for the coming year:

Yes, the presidential election of 2006 does start this year, in the sense that by year's end we will know who the contenders for the party primaries will be. The names that most frequently come up are the US Senators Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican); and look: there are polls of the "whom would you vote for today" variety. McCain beats every Democratic opponent if he is the Republican candidate. More interesting, perhaps, is what happens if Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, the current president's brother, is the Republican candidate, and McCain runs as an independent:

ALL voters: 
Bush-18 Clinton-34 McCain-40 Unsure-07

Bush-00 Clinton-64 McCain-28 Unsure-8

Bush-07 Clinton-34 McCain-47 Unsure-12

Bush-40 Clinton-08 McCain-49 Unsure-03

Polls at this point are worse than useless. Jeb Bush is almost certainly not going to run, for one thing; maybe none of these people will be on the ballot in 2008. Nonetheless, I mention these numbers now because the hypothesis of an independent bid by Senator McCain is closely connected to how poorly the Republicans do in the congressional election of 2006. If they lose both Houses of Congress, then the business & evangelical coalition that has controlled the party for the past two election cycles will be in such disarray that McCain could be nominated almost by default. On the other hand, if the Republicans limit their losses, then the establishment will be able to turn aside his candidacy one last time. I suspect that the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives; that will not be enough to cause panic.

In that case, an independent run by McCain is a real possibility. It might segue out of another lost bid by McCain for the Republican nomination, in a way closely parallel to Theodore Roosevelt's third-party run on the Progressive ticket in 1912.

Historically, third-party candidates have been spoilers: H. Ross Perot, for instance, was probably why the first President Bush was not reelected. McCain, in contrast, might actually be elected. After the Clinton impeachment and the Electoral College decision in 2000, anything seems possible.

* * *

Speaking of Theodore Roosevelt, 2006 is the 100th anniversary of his famous Executive Order that tried to institute a minor reform of English spelling, or at least of the spelling used by the Government Printing Office. I am informed by knowledgeable members of the Spelling Reform Hierarchy (hey, Joe!) that we can expect the press to take notice of this anniversary, particularly because it falls in August, when newspapers are not overburdened with pressing news. You read it first here.

* * *

There will be superlative natural disasters in 2006, of course, perhaps even some big enough to knock spelling reform off the front pages. However, as you may have noticed, disasters seem to become more costly in lives and money every year. This is not because the atmosphere is behaving in an unprecedented fashion but because there are more people and more infrastructure to injure. The absolute amount of damage goes up; the relative social cost goes down. We can expect this pattern to continue until at least the last quarter of this century, when the population of the world will begin its centuries-long decline

* * *

The parties will bid for veterans of the Iraq War as candidates, something that is already happening in a small way. That will be the political significance of the military for the near future: not as a new, mass voting block, but as a source (one of several, of course) of the future political class. There should be just enough such candidates this year to attract passing notice In future elections, we can expect the trend to become prominent.

The Republicans will be better positioned, initially, to benefit from the trend. However, the Democratic Party will, in the long run, find its policy positions changing in order to accommodate the new source of electable candidates.

* * *

Hostility to Iran will become the first settled foreign policy of the new Iraqi government. This will be because of the conflict between the centers of Shia learning in Iran and Iraq. The model here is the enmity that developed between the Soviet Union and China during the 1950s, and even sooner between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The latter relationship made Yugoslavia, a Communist country, a de facto American ally through most of the Cold War.

The really interesting question about Iran is whether it will be forcibly relieved of its nuclear-weapons potential. No one is talking about invading Iran, but the sites in question could not simply be bombed. This is difficult at all levels, not least the legal one: Baathist Iraq in 2003 was in violation of the armistice that had saved the regime in 1991; there is no comparable rationale for action against Iran. So, if the attack happens, someone must devise an incomparable rationale.

* * *

There will be no good movies in 2006. Just look here at the upcoming releases. I look forward to Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, about ancient Mezoamerica, but the attraction is Science, not Art. There is small hope for the film version of The Da Vinci Code, I suspect. The story is no stupider than that of any other find-the-object thriller. However, from what I gather, the book is not easily filmable. Moreover, the protagonists will be doing things that outrage their audience's religious sensibilities, which means the screenwriters must have found it difficult to make those characters sympathetic.

Among the sequels, only Sin City 2 raises high hopes. There will be many remakes. The Incredible Shrinking Man will be redone as a Wayans comedy. That makes a certain amount of sense, since special-effects technology have improved greatly since the 1950s original. (As a comedy, though, it must match Lily Tomlin's Incredible Shrinking Woman.) On the other hand, I see that someone is remaking The Omen. This is probably a mistake: the original worked because the director had the sense to be sparing of special effects. The decapitation of David Warren, discerning critics agree, was tastefully done, and almost the only gore in the film.

I see there is going to be another Indiana Jones movie, but it will probably not premier until next year. Alas.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-29: Generations, Thermodynamics, Defeatism

November pageviews

November pageviews

I took a long break from the blog for Thanksgiving, but I'm back refreshed. Here we are at the end of another calendar year of John's blog. John's book reviews tend to be the most popular, but sometimes a blog post or two will sneak into the top ten.

Items about Tradition are perennial favorites. Evola and Guénon represent something genuinely different than anything mainstream Western politics have to offer. I don't think we really want to find out what will happen if Tradition gets its day in the [black] sun.

Generations, Thermodynamics, Defeatism


My regard for Strauss & Howe's model of American history remains undiminished. This is one of the class of models that view history as a recurring sequence of generational types. I still get mail asking whether the Crisis has begun yet. Be that as it may, even back in the tranquility of the late 20th century, it was clear the model would be capable of generating a kind of millenarianism among its adherents. Consider, for instance, The Fourteenth Generation, an essay by recent college graduate Hans Zeiger, which seems to be a realization of this possibility. There are some novel elements, however:

If, as President Bush said last year, it is to be “liberty’s century,” the members of the Fourteenth Generation are the appointed guardians...The first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel opens the New Testament with a genealogy...Matthew 1:17 summarizes the genealogy. “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Fourteen is a Providential number....Fourteen generations ago was the age of the men and women who first called themselves Americans. It was the elder generation of the Founding Fathers, the contemporaries of the Great Awakening: Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams. About fourteen generations before them lived Christopher Columbus...The vanguard of the Fourteenth Generation is now graduating from high school, in college, entering the work world, and defending America in the Middle East. ...We are not protesters or slobs like the Baby Boomers. We are not slackers or radical individualists like the Xers.

For comparison, you might want to look at the model of Joachim de Fiore, the 12th century abbot who created the prototype for the three-stage outline of history (and who is usually remembered, quite unfairly, for predicting that the world would end in AD 1260):

For Joachim, the basic unit of history is the Status (Status=age or stage). History is divided into three ages, each with seven steps. The first status is the age of the Father, captured in the Old Testament, with seven steps represented by the seven seals mentioned in the book of Revelation. This first age had a germination period of 3x7 = 21 generations from Adam to Jacob and a fruition period of 3x7 = 21 generations from Jacob to Ozias. The second status is the age of the Son, with seven step represented by the opening of the seven seals in the book of Revelation. This second age had a Germination period of 3x7 = 21 generations from Ozias to Jesus and a fruition period of 3x7 = 21 generations from Jesus to St. Benedict.

As for the 14ers themselves, their defining characteristic so far is that they have haircuts like new chia pets.

* * *

Here is an embarrassment for you, from Granville Sewell, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso and visiting professor at Texas A&M University, who defends the proposition that Darwinian evolution is incompatible with the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

Anyone who has made such an argument is familiar with the standard reply: the Earth is an open system, it receives energy from the sun, and order can increase in an open system, as long as it is "compensated" somehow by a comparable or greater decrease outside the system...In these simple examples, I assumed nothing but heat conduction or diffusion was going on, but for more general situations, I offered the tautology that "if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable." The fact that order is disappearing in the next room does not make it any easier for computers to appear in our room -- unless this order is disappearing into our room, and then only if it is a type of order that makes the appearance of computers not extremely improbable, for example, computers. Importing thermal order will make the temperature distribution less random, and importing carbon order will make the carbon distribution less random, but neither makes the formation of computers more probable.

This is, of course, a good argument for why hurricanes could not occur. Hurricanes are quite complicated structures that are possible because Earth is an open system. Under the influence of Coriolis Force, they form spontaneously in the atmosphere over the oceans. Complicated things routinely form out of simpler things. No one, as far as I know, has ever argued that the fact a system is open is an explanation for why that happens, just that openness is a prerequisite

* * *

So you want a lost war, do you? Here some oddly familiar spin from Francis Parker Yockey, the American Nazi spy and later Soviet agent. The excerpt is from Imperium, the magnum opus that he wrote in the late 1940, which is now, perhaps not altogether fortunately, available online here:

Not only Europe, but also the American People, lost the War. Since the Revolution of 1933, this People has been working, producing, and exporting. It has given its treasures and the lives of hundreds of thousands of its sons; it has blindly obeyed Culturally alien leaders not of its choosing, and in obedience to them it has curtailed its standard of life and parted with its soul — and in return it has received nothing of any kind, spiritual or material. Nor is its time of sacrifices over. It will continue to pay for the Second World War, which it lost, for many a year. In America's cup of "victory," there was poison for the soul of America.

This is exactly what the extreme Right and the extreme Left say about the Iraq War. I, for one, find this coincidence disturbing.

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The Long View 2005-12-27: Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

This year, we've made a batch of Alton Brown's aged eggnog. It is quietly mellowing in the back of my fridge as we speak.

Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms


Ever have mulled wine? A retired English couple in exile from Blairistan were kind enough to ask me over for high tea on Boxing Day (just try to rent a pair of jodhpurs on short notice over Christmas) and they had made some mulled wine. It tastes like warm, liquified apple pie, spiked with cinnamon and brandy. It's pretty good, really, but like Christmas eggnog, it's one of those drinks you need an excuse to make.

* * *

Intelligent Design has never been one of my enthusiasms, so I have no reason to quarrel with the holding in the decision by Judge John Jones of the Federal Middle District of Pennsylvania striking down the requirement by a local school board that would have made an allusion to Intelligent Design mandatory in biology classes. It was not necessary for the court to touch on any profound philosophical issues to decide the case. Unfortunately, the judge did, and so wrote passages like this in his opinion:

Further support for the proposition that ID requires supernatural creation is found in the book Pandas, to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are directed. Pandas indicates that there are two kinds of causes, natural and intelligent, which demonstrate that intelligent causes are beyond nature...Professor Haught, who as noted was the only theologian to testify in this case, explained that in Western intellectual tradition, non-natural causes occupy a space reserved for ultimate religious explanations.

The judge seems to be saying here that intelligence is non-natural, and so cannot be the object of scientific inquiry. This is a weird proposition. However, the weirdness is not of the judge's making. For years now, the scientific investigation of consciousness has tied itself in knots because the investigators generally begin with the assumption that the phenomenon they are trying to explain does not exist. Strictly speaking, this premise would preclude government support for any SETI project, because a search for intelligence would be, by the judge's definition, a search for the supernatural

* * *

This headline made me grumpy, even under the influence of mulled wine: Customers Order over 108 Million Items Worldwide During 11th Holiday Season; More Than 99 Percent of Orders Shipped in Time to Meet Holiday Deadlines Worldwide

This was the first year when I had trouble with Amazon. I ordered in good time, but they cancelled one order and, just before Christmas, told me the rest would not arrive until almost the end of the year. In a dazzling display of misplaced efficiency, Amazon did manage to deliver the remaining items, on Christmas Eve, but not before I had bought replacement presents.

Amazon is always polite and helpful, but maybe they have bitten off more than they can chew.

* * *

Perhaps you know NUMB3RS, the CBS television series about the mathematician who solves crimes in consultation with his police detective brother, under the benevolent eye of their retired father, played by Judd Hirsch. I like the series, and I have read enough popular science to be able to recognize the math. What strikes me, though, is that the investigations are a little like Gulliver's adventures on the flying island of Laputa. The island is ruled by natural philosophers, the 18th-century precursors of scientists, who never encounter a problem so small or obvious that they cannot complexify it past the point of comprehensibility.

In any case, I mention the series here because I was looking for some information about it, and I found that much the best source was the Wikipedia link. This is getting spooky. The scope of Wikipedia has reached the stage where I am afraid to ask "What have I got in my pockets?" for fear of finding out that Wiki already knows.

* * *

Speaking of popular culture, the Grinch-like Mark Steyn observes that familiarity with it is quite consistent with a lack of sympathy for the wider culture it imperfectly reflects:

The two are not mutually exclusive. They never have been. The Merry Widow was both the biggest smash on Broadway and Hitler’s favourite operetta. In a not entirely persuasive attempt to humanize the old KGB hard man, Yuri Andropov was widely touted as a Glenn Miller fan. The world’s former Numero Uno Commie, China’s Jiang Zemin, could hardly attend a state banquet without getting up and singing Elvis’ “Love Me Tender”. Saddam Hussein is not just assimilated with western culture, he’s eerily assimilated with National Review’s back page columnist: The old Baathist mass-murderer and I share the same favorite singer – Frank Sinatra. If you dialed up’s “We have recommendations for you!” CD page, Saddam’s and mine would be identical.

On the subject of Hitler, we all know that Hitler's favorite movie was the 1933 version of King Kong. At any rate, we all say that, but there is some difficulty in sourcing that assertion. I've read it, too, but I cannot remember where. The assertion is not in any of my books. Any ideas?

* * *

Wikipedia does not know everything. Here is what other people keep in their pockets.

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The Long View 2005-12-22: Europe and Its Discontents

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

In this blog post, John Reilly points to a sublime essay written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the height of his powers: Europe and Its Discontents. Published in English by First Things magazine, Benedict analyzes the idea of Europe through a grand sweep of history, religion, and politics.

You should go and read it.

I was quite excited when Pope Benedict was elected, and this essay illustrates why. Benedict has an extraordinarily sharp mind, and he turned his mind towards the largest questions of our age. I think his diagnosis of the crisis of European civilization, broadly defined to include the European diaspora and those parts of the world brought fully into the European cultural orbit, holds up well eleven years later.

In particular, it seems to me that Benedict was right that the default position among the centrist coalitions that dominate politics in Europe and America and their cultural partners, that there is nothing of value in Western culture or history, is profoundly weak, and this weakness has enabled nationalist populists of various sorts to gain political power by simply not expressing disdain for their nations or their history.


I don't think these movements are really what Benedict had in mind:

What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

I think Benedict was trying to build a more peaceful future by looking squarely at what was happening, but also by trying to build bridges between the powerful and those in Europe who felt marginalized. In his characteristic way, he sought this way through truth.

He frankly said this about immigration and low birthrates:

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.
Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted.

Eleven years ago, Benedict attempted to head off the political crises we have now by warning that low birthrates and high rates of immigration with the frank intent to replace the missing natives were bound to reach a tipping point that sparked a backlash. Would that we had listened.

Europe and Its Discontents


The essay "Europe and Its Discontents," by Pope Benedict XVI, appears in the January 2006 issue of First Things. (This is the piece’s first appearance in English; it was apparently published in Europe last year.) The pope tries to define Europe geographically and religiously; to diagnose the causes of the loss of morale in European societies; and to outline certain remedies.

Europe, for the pope’s purposes, includes the historically Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox regions of the Old World from the Atlantic to the Urals. To some extent, it also includes the Americas and the Russian East, but Benedict’s historical observations apply chiefly to Western Europe. He proposes the interesting hypothesis that the original self-consciousness of post-Roman Europe was an awareness of finality and mission provided by the model of history in the Book of Daniel. However, Benedict emphasizes that the notion of a distinction between church and state is very old in the West. As early as the fifth century, Pope Gelasius (492-496) cautioned that secular and spiritual authority were united only in Christ, not in any human institution. At the time of the Reformation, the traditional practice of close cooperation between church and state was challenged by the model of the state church, a model which later included provision for the toleration of free churches. The Enlightenment and the French revolution saw the beginning of laicism, under which religion was treated as a private matter and the public sphere was secularized as much as possible. The United States took a middle ground between these positions. The American stance is based on a combination of the religious disestablishment demanded by the free-church tradition with a national sense of universal religious mission. The result is not so far from the model of Pope Gelasius.

Throughout Europe, and also in the United States to a lesser degree, religion was in decline in the 20th century no matter the model that a given country favored. The same was true of socialism, which had briefly tried to replace religion or (in its democratic forms) supplement it. Thus, the terms in which Europeans had identified themselves for centuries lost their meaning. The loss of identity has apparently also meant the loss of the societal will to live. The symptoms are both demographic, in the form of below-replacement birthrates, and cultural, in the form of a multicultural refusal to embrace the European heritage or to pass it on.

The essay considers whether there is anything to be done about this situation. Benedict notes Oswald Spengler’s model of history, with its pattern of civilizations that grow, bloom, and decline toward death. The biological metaphors that Spengler used leave little room for hope. The pope is far more pleased with Toynbee’s model. It is not deterministic, and in fact it diagnoses the problem of modern Europe as a loss of social cohesion that arises from a loss of religious faith. Toynbee counseled that Western Civilization needed a new spiritual foundation. His Holiness, perhaps predictably, is of like mind.

The essay suggests three specific points of identity that Europe needs to regain:

Human rights must be acknowledged to have a transcendent origin;

Marriage and the family must conform to historical norms;

There must be respect for the sacred; even atheists can be expected to manifest ordinary respect for what other people hold to be holy.

Returning at the end to Toynbee, Benedict notes that the well-being of a civilization depends on its creative minorities. He says that Christians should look on themselves as just such a creative minority. They should help Europe to regain its identity and thereby allow Europe to serve all mankind.

* * *

Reading Benedict’s short essay, one is reminded of Henri Pirenne’s observation that it is much easier to write briefly of a large subject; narrow topics, in contrast, must be treated at length. Actually, it is probably a failing on my part that my summary is as long as it is. So, rather than compound the error by long commentary, let me just highlight a few points that touch on my own peculiar interests.

It is a mistake to see too much daylight between Spengler’s and Toynbee’s views on the future of the West. Both spoke in terms of a civilization-wide revival of religion. The chief difference is that Spengler said “is” and Toynbee said “ought.” Spengler’s prophecy of the Second Religiousness is not perhaps wholly complimentary to religion; certainly it does not understand of the malaise of modernity as a religious issue. Nonetheless, it does point to a substantial resacralization of thought and of public life. It might be said, in fact, to predict the return to religion that Toynbee advised.

Note that Toynbee is a problematical prophet, however. Sometimes he seemed to think of the future not in terms of a revival of historical Christianity, but of the appearance of a new universal faith that would be the underpinning of a future ecumenical society. This new faith would have a large Christian component, of course, and it might even be considered a development of Christianity. Inevitably, however, it would be a Christianity with quite a lot of syncretic elements, certainly with regard to expression and possibly in terms of dogma. What use would such a Christianity be for the reconsolidation of a European Europe, whose problem is precisely the forgetting of the historic forms that this new Christianity would replace?

This brings to the three essential points that Benedict says must enter into a European identity. The items he mentions are unobjectionable, indeed obviously necessary. The problem is that there is nothing particularly European about them. Inalienable rights; a human model of the family; reverence for reverence: what part of the world does not need these things? One could argue, of course, that having returned to essentials, Europe would again embrace that part of its heritage that was consistent with them, and then move on to a new golden age. One fears, however, that such a thin understanding of the European identity would prove a bit like John Rawls’s theory of ethics: an economy of principles often produces an economy of results.

Then there is the basic question of whether religion should be recommended for its practical benefits. Jesus did not come into the world to save Western Civilization; he came to save souls. Augustine provided a partial answer to this objection, of course: Christians have an obligation to work for the betterment of the human condition, and it is no great stretch to argue that the revival of Europe would make the world a better place. However, there is a difference between a situation in which Christians know what they have to do and the practice of commending Christian principles to the world at large for their curative properties.

As for applying Toynbee’s notion of “creative minority” to the Europe’s dwindling stock of Christians: that would be a fine thing, but one does not create a creative minority at will. There is nothing wrong with elites per se; Toynbee is perfectly correct when he says they make the world go round. As we know, however, anyone who wants to belong to an elite does not deserve to be a member. Elites are constituted by the work they do; at their best, they scarcely notice their own status. An elite that knows it’s an elite is more likely to be what Toynbee called a “dominant minority,” the ruing class of a civilization in its terminal phase.

Having made all these carping remarks, let me conclude by saying that there is actually very little in Benedict XVI’s essay that I disagree with. The points I have made here are more in the nature of qualifications than of criticisms. Like Spengler, I am of the “is” rather than “ought” disposition. The difference is that I have persuaded myself that the “is,” the most likely future, is not so bad as some people (notably Spengler himself) would have us believe. Of course, for an inevitable good outcome to happen, we must act as if the outcome depends solely on our own efforts, which in fact it does.

It is entirely possible that I have thought about all this too much.

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The Long View 2005-12-20: Domestication; Wiretaps; Scandals Past

Earlier this week, I said that Greg Cochran's the 10,000 Year Explosion was one of the five books that have influenced me most. I've probably given different answers to this kind of question in the past, but right now this is pretty accurate.

In this 2005 blog post, John Reilly mentions some of the things that Cochran and Harpending discuss in their book.

Domestication; Wiretaps; Scandals Past


The human condition is cast in a troubling light by this finding:

A detailed look at human DNA has shown that a significant percentage of our genes have been shaped by natural selection in the past 50,000...This analysis suggested that around 1800 genes, or roughly 7% of the total in the human genome, have changed under the influence of natural selection within the past 50,000 years. A second analysis using a second SNP database gave similar results. That is roughly the same proportion of genes that were altered in maize when humans domesticated it from its wild ancestors...Genes that aid protein metabolism – perhaps related to a change in diet with the dawn of agriculture – turn up unusually often in [the] list of recently selected genes. So do genes involved in resisting infections, which would be important in a species settling into more densely populated villages where diseases would spread more easily. Other selected genes include those involved in brain function, which could be important in the development of culture.

Am I the only one who remembers the song that goes, "We'll make great pets"? Evidently not.

* * *

More gerbil-brained behavior was evident in the reactions of members of Congress to President Bush's observation that they had, in fact, been informed of the extraordinary wiretaps he had directed the NSA to conduct:

Some Democrats say they never approved a domestic wiretapping program, undermining suggestions by President Bush and his senior advisers that the plan was fully vetted in a series of congressional briefings.

Some now say that they were troubled by this outrage from the very beginning and protested most vehemently:

"I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities," West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said in a handwritten letter to Vice President Dick Cheney in July 2003. "As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney."

So also says:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., received several briefings and raised concerns, including in a classified letter, her spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.

In contrast, the brighter ones know enough to play dumb. If they had enough information to raise the suspicion that something might be wrong, after all, then they should have done something about it. That is what consultation with the Executive Branch is for. So, we are also getting reactions like this:

Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who was part of the Intelligence Committee's leadership after the 9/11 attacks, recalled a briefing about changes in international electronic surveillance, but does not remember being told of a program snooping on individuals in the United States.

"It seemed fairly mechanical," Graham said. "It was not a major shift in policy."

And to similar effect:

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said he, too, was briefed by the White House between 2002 and 2004 but was not told key details about the scope of the program.

Daschle's successor, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he received a single briefing earlier this year and that important details were withheld. "We need to investigate this program and the president's legal authority to carry it out," Reid said.

Confusion makes merry with a death-wish in this comment from Jonathan Alter:

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

In reality, it is hard to see how President Bush's executive orders in this matter could ever wind up in the Supreme Court: the only people who could file a lawsuit to contest them would be the people whose communications were monitored, and their names are secret. More interesting is the notion, which has been popping up in recent weeks, that a change in the control of the House of Representatives in next year's election would mean impeachment for President Bush, if not necessarily conviction in the Senate.

I may be quoting Instapundit again, but impeachment might be the one issue that could maintain a Republican majority. Many people, including me, had been considering voting Democratic next year, to punish the Republican Party for its irresponsible fiscal policies and its refusal to acknowledge the malfunctioning of the health-care system. If it becomes clear that voting to put a Democrat in office means voting to eject President Bush from office, however, there will simply be a repeat of the election of 2004.

And speaking of the election of 2004, we know that the New York Times knew about the NSA program before that election and considered running with the story then. Why did they decline? Their candidate, John Kerry, was trying to look serious on defense issues. If the NSA program had been revealed, he would have been faced with the choice of saying he would have done the same thing, or opposing what no one denies was necessary surveillance because of some questionable technicalities. Perhaps the Times realized that Kerry would try to say both.

* * *

Speaking of technicalities, the continuing discussion at The Volokh Conspiracy shows how close a question the legality of the NSA wiretaps was. The basis for discussion there is Orin Kerr's analysis of the constitutional and statutory issues. His assessment is that the NSA program was probably constitutional, but that it probably violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by failing to require judicial warrants. That is, by the way, more or less the Bush Administration's position, too. However, the Administration also argues that the Congressional act, passed after 911 to authorize the use of force to prevent further attacks, superceded FISA in this context: intelligence, after all, is part of the use of force, and so the surveillance of communications between al-Qaeda contacts in the United States with al-Qaeda abroad was authorized by the later and narrower statute.

This is a toughie. The Supreme Court did find that the post-911 authorization act did allow the military to make arrests in Afghanistan, but the relevant decision was written by Justice O'Connor, so no one knows what it means. As Kerr point out, it would be a stretch to extend that act to cover wiretaps, but the argument is not unreasonable.

The comments to Kerr's analysis are very good, too. They point out that the NSA program may not have been within the purview of FISA at all, if the intercepts were done outside the United States, or if the people whose communications were being watched could be classed as foreign agents, or if the taps were on email addresses and telephone numbers rather than people. These are factual questions, of course, and they may be the sort of facts that have to remain secret.

A final point, by the way: legality means nothing in an impeachment prosecution, in the sense that no court could review what Congress does in this area. President Bush could be impeached even if the NSA program were authorized.

Perhaps now the impeachment of President Clinton for nothing in particular seems like a less dandy idea?

* * *

Again, I could be missing something, but it seems to me that this will be another case where the accusation becomes the scandal rather than what the accused is supposed to have done.

My favorite meaningless scandal is, of course, the Affair of the Necklace, the baroque (no, roccoco) intrigue at the fringes of the court of Louis XVI. The Affair, a great fraud in which a cleric, who sought to return to the queen's favor, was duped into facilitating the theft of a necklace of legendary cost, went a long way toward persuading the French people that everyone involved, innocent and guilty, was a head too tall. It's a long story, but look how it turned out:

The cardinal de Rohan accepted the parlement of Paris as judges. A sensational trial resulted (May 31, 1786) in the acquittal of the cardinal, of the girl Oliva and of Cagliostro. The comtesse de Lamotte was condemned to be whipped, branded and shut up in the prostitutes' prison, the Salpêtrière. Her husband was condemned, in his absence, to the galleys for life. Villette was banished.

Yes, in those days that had Cagliostro for their scandals. There was never any reason to believe he might have been involved; he was arrested because in the neighborhood. How the world has worsened.

* * *

Merry Solstice! Remember, you can send The Long View a Solstice Present here.

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The Long View 2005-12-19: Bush Speaks; Spengler Smirks; Aslan Roars

More tedious political crap from 2005.

Bush Speaks; Spengler Smirks; Aslan Roars


It is otiose, as a rule, for a blogger to quote Glenn Reynolds, since if you read any blogs at all you probably read his. Nonetheless, let me note for the record his take on President Bush's address from the Oval Office last night:

BUSH DOUBLES DOWN: I just watched Bush's speech. Nothing new there for anyone who's been paying attention to the speeches he's been giving over the past couple of weeks. But one big thing struck me: In this national televised speech, Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war. He repeatedly talked about "my decision to invade Iraq," even though, of course, it was also Congress's decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his.

Why did he do that? Because he thinks we're winning, and he wants credit. By November 2006, and especially November 2008, he thinks that'll be obvious, and he wants to lay down his marker now on what he believed -- and what the other side did. That's my guess, anyway.

That is possible, but the hypothesis is unnecessary: Bush needed to be seen to be in favor of his own war no matter how he thinks it is going. In any case, let me also note these remarks by that old calumniator, Mark Steyn:

One day Iraq will be a G7 member hosting the Olympics in the world's No. 1 luxury vacation resort of Fallujah, and the Defeaticrat Party will still be running around screaming it's a quagmire. It's not just that Iraq is going better than expected, but that it's a huge success that's being very deftly managed: The timeframe imposed on the democratic process turns out to have worked very well...

The Iraq election's over, the media did their best to ignore it, and, judging from the rippling torsos I saw every time I switched on the TV, the press seem to reckon that that gay cowboy movie was the big geopolitical event of the last week, if not of all time.

He is correct about the establishment-media treatment. The policy of the US opposition seems to be that no outcome in Iraq can be judged to be anything better than a disaster, at least as long as the Bush Administration is responsible for it.

As for silence about good news, I note that the The New York Times must have had an advanced copy of Bush's speech in good time to make an editorial comment about it in today's edition, but no such comment appeared on today's editorial page. That's not censorship, though it's odd enough to suggest a division of opinion in the paper's management. More troubling about the Times was the publication, on the day after the Iraqi elections, of the story about NSA wiretaps or residents of the United States who mad been in communication with possible terrorist organizations abroad. The wiretaps were colorably legal, and the people being monitored were reasonable objects of surveillance. The appropriate members of Congress had been informed.

What stinks to high heaven is the timing of the story. The Times had sat on the information for two years. They released it when they did, apparently, for no other reason than to have something else on their frontpage besides coverage of the notably successful elections. (There was also the fact that the journalist who reported the story is about to publish a book on the subject.) To paraphrase a recent Times editorial, we have to ask whether the country can tolerate having a newspaper of record this bad.

There is reason to believe the story will backfire. Bush justified the wiretaps at length in his press conference this morning. He took special care to note his consultation with Congress. Many of the president's most ardent supporters are fed up with him, but I think that the public now appreciates how artificial these "scandals" have become.

* * *

Despite the good news for the White House, That Spengler continues to blaspheme against the implacable benevolence of Immanuel Kant and his Democratic Peace:

Apropos of Washington's triumphal response to the high voter turnout in last week's Iraqi elections, we should ask this simple question: why do political leaders believe that democracy fosters peace, despite innumerable examples to the contrary? History shows us that the broad electorate can be as bellicose as the most bloodthirsty tyrant. But there is a sound reason to equate democracy and peace; sadly, this argument has a fatal flaw...The trouble is that entire peoples frequently find themselves faced with probable or inevitable ruin, such that no peaceful solution can be found...That is why Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is the Islamic world's pre-eminent democrat...By the same token, Hamas represents the popular will in Gaza and the West Bank.

That Spengler's many admirers will recall that he has a theory that the Iranian theocracy is doomed six ways to Sunday, so the theocrats quite literally have nothing left to lose. The same is true, he tells us, not of Islam, but of its Islamist deformations.

Be that as it may, I am reasonably sure that the outcome of the recent Iraqi elections was not a victory for Iran. Unless I am greatly misinformed, Arab Shia think that Iranian Shiism is something of an impertinence. Watch.

* * *

As for stability fascists, let them choke on this:

'Drastic global warming threat from Pantheron Dileoxide': Chief Wolf speaks out

By Our Own Correspondent, Digdirt the Dwarf

Today, the Wolf Council of the White Queen, Imperial Majesty Jadis, Empress of the Lone Islands, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, the Witch of Narnia, ('May She Freeze Forever!'), howled an apocalyptic warning in the Narnian Independent that the world is threatened by drastic global warming from the continued emissions of Lion's Breath, Pantheron Dileoxide (PL2). "PL2 is a dangerous, roaring greenhouse gas", the Chief Wolf, Maugrim, growled. "It melts everything, even frozen fauns and fountains. Climate change is the biggest threat ever to Narnia - we might even have Christmas, and the Queen's war chariot polar bears will have nowhere to live", he snarled.

* * *

Many intelligent people never got the memo about Alternative History, and those who come upon that section of my website sometimes take for real the items there. Well, I at least have menu page that explains what AH is and clearly lists all the AH items. In contrast, what excuse will the Weekly Standard be able to give for Joe Queenan's "Keeping it Real," which appears without warning in the December 19 issue of the magazine?

[F]rom Schubert to Shakur, musical violence is an old story

The recent shooting of record mogul Suge Knight at a music industry celebration has evoked the usual handwringing [but recent scholarship contends] that violent internecine behavior has been a staple of Western music since at least the 18th century..."Brahms blinded his first agent, fed his publisher's ear to his pet piranha, Sasha, and paid to have an opera critic gang-raped by lovesick Montenegrin goatherds," says [one scholar] "And Brahms did not even write operas..."

* * *

Here's another paranoia engine for you, called They Rule (Thanks, Tim!). This one cover CEOs, financial moguls, and their corporate entities.

It seems to me, by the way, that the real use of this engine is as an aide to customer complaints. If you have some intractable billing problem, for instance, but can't get satisfaction from Customer Service, try writing to the whole board of directors. Remember to be brief and polite.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-12-16: Better Paranoia; Testable Origins; Kantian Complacency

The manner in which radial organizations of the Left and Right are supported by organizations with nefarious motives, is a topic that doesn't seem to lose its currency.

Better Paranoia; Testable Origins; Kantian Complacency


Legend has it that, in the days of the Republic of Venice, a hollow statue of a lion stood in the Plaza of St. Mark. Into the statue's mouth informers could drop notes that anonymously identified the enemies of the Republic. For several centuries, that lion was the last word in paranoia technology. Now, however, the folks at Frontpage Magazine have set a new standard with their Discover the Network engine.

In some ways, it's like any other database. You enter the name of someone on the Left you want to know about, or perhaps of some foundation that supports lefty causes, and you will get a prose narrative describing the malefactions of the object of your suspicions. The wonderful part, however, is the Image Map. Click on the icon for that, and you get a spider-web graphic that shows who that party knows and who finances that party's operations.

David Horowitz, whose industry brings us this service, really is onto something. Scratch the surface of the noisier antiwar groups, and you will find that many of its constituent parts belong to the creepy-crawly region of the Left. They are the sort of people who show up for every demonstration, but who have to work through front organizations, because their own agendas are too repulsive to expose to the public. The Frontpage folks also have a lively sense that this old New Left network is now in cahoots with Islamism, which is arguably now the world's most formidable revolutionary ideology.

Still, without having examined the database exhaustively, it seems to me that it misses something. The network is not merely Red-Green, but Red-Brown-Green, at least on the ideological level. Fascists and mystical nationalists are mixed up in it, too. The really radical Right in the US, the LaRouchies, the Russian Eurasianists, and the deformation of Shiism that rules Iran can, at times, be heard to sing a remarkably similar tune. Are there organizational links as well? I don't know, but a hunt merely for the residual Left could obscure the question. The mid-century hopes of Black Traditionalists like Francis Parker Yockey have progressed from insane to merely very unlikely.

* * *

The herd of independent minds is even larger than I thought. I had planned to post here about a certain advertisement that seemed to me to sin against geography, but then I found that many other people had noticed the same thing. Consider Diary of a Necromancer:

A question, raised by lying about watching TV all afternoon because I wasn't exactly up to much else yet: some of you may have seen that CG Coca-Cola commercial where the penguin gives the Coke polar bear a bottle of his favorite sugarwater; now, speaking off the top of your head, do you know if this is a likely scenario? Because I mentioned this to Mum as a prime example of how dumbed-down Society has gotten, and she expressed her doubts as to whether the average American on the street would think twice about the penguin and the polar bear...

There are no polar bears in Antarctica. Apparently, everyone knows this, but we all think that everyone else does not know. The one good point about solipsism is that you have so much company.

Of course, if there were polar bears near the South Pole, they would be antipolar bears.

* * *

Whatever happened to primordial soup? When I was in school, every biology text had a section on Stanley Miller's famous experiment that seemed to suggest that life could be expected to arise spontaneously in a reconstruction of the primitive environment of Earth, which you could reproduce using Tupperware and ordinary household cleansers. Thanks to a link from Danny Yee, however, we can now all get up to speed on the origin-of-life question. Science writer Richard Robinson, in his article Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks, has this to say about the Miller experiment:

“The initial Miller experiment was earth-shaking,” says Harold Morowitz, Professor of Biology at George Mason University, and a long-time theorist and researcher in this area. The suggestion that random chemistry could produce the molecules of life “held the field for a long time.” But later calculations appeared to show that the early atmosphere contained much more carbon dioxide and much less hydrogen than Miller's model required, and correcting these concentrations cast doubt on the likelihood that complex molecules would form in abundance. Where, then, might organic precursors have come from? There is some, albeit scant, evidence for their arrival on comets colliding with the earth, but there is little enthusiasm for this as a solution. Finally, there is no geologic evidence, in either sediments or metamorphic rocks, that such a soup ever existed.

The thinking now is that the kind of life we have today, with its DNA heredity, could not have arisen from prebiological components in any conditions that now obtain on Earth or that obtained in the past. (Why? I think the short answer is that early DNA and its catalyzers would have destroyed each other before they could organize.) However, it is possible to imagine that RNA-based life might have arisen spontaneously, because RNA, unlike DNA, can both encode information and catalyze other bits of RNA. It is not such a big step to imagine RNA life acquiring a DNA component, with RNA retreating to the auxiliary role it plays in the biology we know.

Apparently, some interesting feedback loops have been created using RNA. Should such reactions one day produce RNA life in a test tube, then the Intelligent Design hypothesis would have been falsified. Again: can anyone suggest a comparable test of Darwinian evolution?

* * *

But who first settled the Americas, you ask? A programme aired by the BBC supports something that a mad physical anthropologist told me almost 30 years ago:

"DNA lineage predominantly found in Europe got to the Great Lakes, 14,000 to 15,000 years ago"

The speaker is one Douglas Wallace of Emory University, who has been keen on explaining why the famous Clovis Point of Clovis, New Mexico, which has been dated to 11.5k years ago, resembles tools make in Europe during the Solutrean Ice Age. Modern Eskimos say that they would have had no trouble navigating around the edge of the extended ocean ice sheet between Europe and North America. Now, apparently, there is a bit of DNA evidence involving the Ichigua people, who live around the Great Lakes, to suggest that someone may have done it.

When I went to find more information about the Ichigua, by the way, I found that White Nationalist websites were featuring this story, in the misguided hope that a new model of the peopling of the Americas would allow them to win the game of more-indigenous-than-thou. Actually, though, you would have to reconcile any such claims with other new findings, such as this:

The 7,500- to 11,000-year-old remains suggest the oldest settlers of the Americas came from different genetic stock than more recent Native Americans. Modern Native Americans share traits with Mongoloid peoples of Mongolia, China, and Siberia, the researchers said. But they found dozens of skulls from Brazil appear much more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans.

Somedays I think Tolkien's make-believe history is less misleading than the archeological consensus.

* * *

Fans of Peggy Noonan will know that, though she generally supports President Bush for much the same reasons I do, she also finds that the style of the Administration grates.

David Brooks noted last Sunday on "Meet the Press" that in private Bush aides are knowledgeable and forthcoming about the war--this is working, this isn't, we made a mistake here and are fixing it in this way--but that in public they rely too much on platitudes and talking points.

It's true. The Bush White House treats the message of the day as if it were the only raft in high seas. Hold, cling, don't let go. Their discipline seems not persuasive but panicky.

They think their adherence to spin is sophisticated and ahead of the curve, but it is not. What is sophisticated is to know that the American people have been immersed in media for half a century and know when they're being talked to by robots who got wound up in the spin shop. They are not impressed by rote repetition, cheery insistence or clunky symbolism. They see through it. When you have the president make a big speech and he's standing under the sign that says VICTORY, the American people actually know you're trying to send an unconscious message: Bush equals victory, Bush will bring victory, victory is coming. It's not so much nefarious as corny.

This political style seems to be shared by the Bush family. The elder President Bush had a sterling record of public service at every level of government. Few more knowledgeable men had ever sat in the White House. Nonetheless, he chose to run his 1988 presidential campaign as an extended visit to a flag factory.

On the other hand, Bush the Younger is not really ineducable. He has started to present his strategy for Iraq repeatedly and cogently, and events on the ground seem to be cooperating. Now it is the proponents of immediate withdrawal who seem locked in a logic loop when they repeat that the president has failed to articulate a strategy. This is all well enough, as far as it goes, but the White House must resist the temptation to move on "to the rest of its agenda." The war is the agenda. There is no other.

Speaking of events on the ground, Instapundit echoes some pointed questions about the establishment media's coverage of yesterday's parliamentary election:

THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Ed Morrissey wonders why the New York Times editorial page isn't excited about Iraq.

Similar questions might be asked about me, too, but my silence is not malicious: I rarely talk in detail about events in Iraq, because I have no special sources of information. As for the significance of those events, I tend to follow the example of the old guy in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy:

I would sit here, in perfect confidence, if the [imperial forces] landed on the planet, Trantor, itself.

Anyone seeking a similar degree of metahistorical equanimity might consult the website of R.J. Rummel. Kant's Perpetual Peace, plus some AH novels: what more could a reasonable man ask for?

Well, Hegel, maybe.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

John mentions the Rosenbergs in passing here, citing a book by Ron Radosh. I knew that the Venona transcripts had decisively identified the Rosenbergs as Soviet spies in 1995, Radosh put the pieces together without classified information in 1983. Well done.

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

John also mentions other former Leftist radicals like Eldridge Cleaver, who eventually became a Mormon Republican. I kind of admire the way in which the Black Panther Party tried to suborn the Second Amendment in the name of racial justice. However, they turned out in retrospect to be pretty much the kind of people their enemies painted them as.

Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey
by David Horowitz
Touchstone Book, 1997
$15.00 (Paperback), 468 Pages
ISBN: 0-684-84005-7


World's Oldest Red Diaper Baby Tells All


It is possible that David Horowitz is wrong in believing himself to be "the most hated ex-radical of [his] generation." His sometime colleague, Ron Radosh, may have earned that distinction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Rosenbergs were guilty (well, Julius anyway). Nevertheless, Horowitz is indeed the most prominent former polemicist for the New Left of the 1960s who not only had "second thoughts" in the 1970s, but who now champions what are usually characterized as conservative causes. It is quite a trip from his first major book, "The Free World Colossus" (1963), which made the revisionist interpretation of the origins of the Cold War respectable, to his current magazine, "Heterodoxy," which seeks to make life a misery for the radical faculty on university campuses. The tale of how this transformation took place is as gripping an autobiography as you could hope for from a man who has spent his working life filling up blank sheets of paper and attending editorial meetings. Still, at the end of the book, I found myself asking just how important the New Left really was.

A "red diaper baby" is a person who was raised in a Communist family, particularly during the `40s and `50s, when the Communist Party USA was large enough to provide its members with a remarkably comprehensive subculture. David Horowitz was born in 1939 in a Communist colony in the New York City borough of Queens, so he was raised in that special world of leftist summer camps, folksingers who insisted they were 200% American and anodyne euphemisms designed to disguise from outsiders just what his family's political affiliations actually were.

His parents' dedication to the cause was heroic. They followed the twists and turns of Soviet policy in the 1930s without a murmur. To the considerable aggravation of their non-Communist neighbors, in the 1940s they tried to stop the break-up of their cooperative housing development into private lots: the Communists insisted they had a right to pay rent. They even lost their jobs as public school teachers in the `50s. (They did get their pensions back after the loyalty legislation in question was declared unconstitutional.) Through all this, they never despaired of the Revolution, though they had little to do with the Party itself after the Khrushchev Report of 1956.

American Communism, at any rate in New York City, was largely an activity of anti-religious Jews. Horowitz has a lively sense that people like his parents had, in effect, escaped from the protective ghettos of Eastern Europe only to construct an unnecessary ghetto in America, a ghetto that chiefly benefited the Georgian mountain bandit who ruled the Soviet Union during Horowitz's youth. (Even in Sunnyside, Queens, there were people peripherally involved in espionage for the Soviets.) One of the specific issues that made Horowitz break with the Left by 1980 was its increasing support for the destruction of Israel, a consideration that also motivated the more prominent neo-conservatives to change sides a few years before. More generally, though, he had come to accept the idea that Marxism for many Jewish radicals was essentially a sublimation of the desire to belong, since Marxism was an ideology that disposed of the question of ethnicity by dissolving it in millenarian universalism. His change of heart might be summed up as the realization that the species of universalism afforded by traditional American pluralism was about as good as anything history was likely to afford.

The New Left began during the Kennedy Administration. Horowitz's own political life began in association with other red diaper babies in Berkeley, California, in the early 1960s, on a magazine called "Root and Branch." (Horowitz would actually miss several years of its development during a stay in England and Sweden from 1965 to 1968.) It was not simply an outgrowth of the Old Left. For one thing, it was never a creature of the orthodox Communist Party, which had become an anachronism by the end of the 1950s. For that matter, neither was it an enterprise predominantly of red diaper babies, Jewish or otherwise. The model New Leftist was perhaps Tom Hayden, principle author of the Port Huron Statement, whose background was neither Jewish nor Communist. The New Left was, however, remarkably anti-American right from the start.

This antipathy extended to John Kennedy and all his works. One of the hypocrisies that Horowitz highlights in the memoirs of other New Leftists that have appeared in recent years is the pretense that their authors had begun as moderate Kennedy-worshippers who were driven mad by Kennedy's assassination and then by the war in Vietnam. This is simply a lie. The New Left was a Marxist revolutionary movement that looked for guidance to the Third World, or at any rate to the ideologues who affected to speak for that chimerical region. Its chief peculiarity, perhaps, was its tendency to racialize revolutionary praxis, to substitute ethnic tensions for class struggle. In its final form, at least as Horowitz encountered it, it hoped to foment a race war in which white radicals would act as a fifth column for a revolutionary army of color.

By 1970, Horowitz's chief claim to eminence on the Left was as co-editor of Ramparts magazine with Peter Collier. Ramparts, based in San Francisco, was a politically engaged publication of the sort that was too pure to ever actually turn a profit. It depended on a series of financial angels and the fundraising skills of its managers. Collier and Horowitz took it over in a coup made possible by the fact that the angels of the East Coast could not be bothered to come to a board of directors meeting in San Francisco to discuss the latest financial crisis. Once in control, they attempted for a while to institute a regime of Maoist equality. Everyone got the same salary, all major decisions were made by collective agreement, even the names on the masthead were arranged alphabetically to avoid the taint of hierarchy.

One thing that this experiment proved was that hierarchy is an instrument of kindness. Without it, every dispute must be personalized and decided in public. Ordinary staff meetings became day-long struggle-sessions that not only wasted time, but envenomed personal relations. And behind it all, of course, was the fact it was a fraud. Collier and Horowitz actually ran the magazine as long as they had the angels on their side. It followed the policy they set, and their most unfortunate policy was to promote the Black Panther Party as a revolutionary vanguard.

The Black Panther Party was essentially a street gang that adopted fashionable revolutionary rhetoric. It had some success organizing nationally, though its base remained in the San Francisco Bay area. Even at the height of its leftist respectability, its leadership was prone to fission. Eldridge Cleaver went into exile in Algeria, claiming, with some reason, that Huey Newton was out to get him. Elaine Brown was both put into power and removed by Newton. Nevertheless, as far as the radicals at Ramparts were concerned, the Party could do no wrong. If a member was accused of killing a policeman, then obviously the Panther was as innocent as the Rosenbergs. If a Panther was in jail, he was a political prisoner. If the Party was accused of gangland slayings aimed at taking over the prostitution and drug trade in the Bay area, then the rumors were counterintelligence disinformation concocted by the federal government.

When not directly supporting the Panthers, Ramparts delighted in publishing information about US intelligence activities. In one case, they publicized classified National Security Agency information that probably got agents in the field killed. In retrospect, Horowitz is ashamed of this, but he did not began to realize the gravity of what he was doing until someone he knew himself was killed.

Horowitz had helped the Panthers organize a model school, and he sent a bookkeeper from Ramparts to help them straighten out the Party finances. Apparently she asked too many questions: in early 1975 her body was fished out of the water a few weeks after she failed to come home from Panther headquarters. The party blandly told her family that she had been dismissed. Within fairly short order, one of Horowitz's friend, a leftist attorney who had helped represent the Panthers, was shot and paralyzed in her home for refusing to sneak a gun to a "political prisoner." Another whose life's work was teaching youths with criminal records was killed by one of them. Rumors that the Panthers had a killing field in the Santa Cruz Mountains for the execution of their enemies, both political and criminal, turned out to be true. These facts were not exactly secrets on the Left. They were, however, unreportable by anyone who wished to avoid ostracism.

The 1970s were good years for criminal cults, especially though not exclusively in California. The Panthers for a while became fixtures of Bay area electoral politics. Far from being the victims of police conspiracies, the police were afraid to touch them and had even been infiltrated by their supporters. The same was true of the Reverend Jim Jones's People's Temple, which at the end of the decade would become famous for organizing what remains the greatest mass suicide in modern history. The Students for a Democratic Society, for whom the Port Huron Statement had been written, had shrunk and hardened into the Weatherman. They conducted armed bank robberies and blew up buildings, often by accident with themselves inside. Some of their leaders expressed admiration for the remarkably deranged Charles Manson and his homicidal followers.

For Horowitz, all this was a sharper lesson than the disillusionment his parents felt when Khrushchev revealed the nature of Stalin's regime. The Soviet Union was far away, after all, and the distortion of the Revolution there could be attributed to inessential historical "mistakes." This time, Horowitz knew the people involved. He also knew that they did not suffer from fear of foreign invasion or from primary poverty, factors that were often said to excuse revolutionaries in other parts of the world. As for events in the idealized Third World itself, these were the years when the victorious North Vietnamese was organizing a familiar Gulag system in the south of their reunited country, while the Khmer Rouge were doing something so strange and terrible to the people of Kampuchea that it even today it still seems like bad science fiction. Slowly, over a period of years, Horowitz acknowledged that these things were not accidents. The Panthers were not a corrupted Leninist vanguard; by world standards, they were typical.

"Radical Son" is not exclusively a story of ideas, since Horowitz tries to weave the events of his personal life into the story of how his politics changed. He turned forty about the time he abandoned the Left, and the tale he tells of his mid-life crisis is singularly disedifying. Part of the problem was that just about then, for the first time in his life, he started to make serious amounts of money. Working with Peter Collier, he co-authored a series of highly regarded biographical studies of American "dynasties," notably of the Rockefellers and the Kennedys. Within a few years of souring on the Panthers, he had divorced his faithful wife, bought a sports car and taken up with ever younger women, two of whom he married, with results that even he seems to think served him right. For a while, he had enough money to spend on large houses and to consort with Hollywood-types and fashionable New Age people, at least until the divorce settlements caught up with him. He apologizes to everyone in the whole world for this behavior. By his account, he is again on good terms with his first wife and four kids, all things considered.

Horowitz's emergence as a conservative did not happen all in a day, and in the early 1980s his leftist credentials were still good enough to get him a hearing. Working again with Collier, he produced one of the first studies of the politics of AIDS, back when it was still an unusual infection affecting a few thousand gay white men in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. What they discovered was another example of the lethal potential of New Left politics.

By 1983, the scientists knew that AIDS was a blood-borne, sexually transmitted disease. The relevant public health officials knew it. Even the leaders of the various gay communities knew it. Nevertheless, the truth about AIDS was as unreportable as the truth about the Panthers had long been. Anyone who mentioned it in public was fairly certain to meet political ostracism, since homosexual activity had been defined as a civil right. Gay leaders long resisted, successfully, any attempts to close the bathhouses that were one of the chief venues of infection. Public authorities would not do the contact tracing that was normal with sexually transmitted diseases. When information was finally provided to the public, it falsely equated heterosexual transmission with homosexual transmission. Horowitz and Collier were among the first to say these things not just in public, but to a leftist audience. The fact that they were eventually proven right did nothing to repair their tarnished reputations.

They continued to shed friends through the 1980s while writing their dynastic biographies. The process perhaps culminated in the publication of their joint memoir, "Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the `60s" (1989), which demolished what was left of the romanticized myth of the Panthers. Of course, they also acquired allies at the same time. There are still people on the Right that Horowitz cannot abide, but he soon discovered that William Buckley does not have horns. In 1991, Ronald Reagan even made a witticism to him at an awards ceremony: "I had second thoughts before you." The greatest surprise was how little institutional support conservatives actually had. The major foundations, Ford and Rockefeller and MacArthur, still support a slightly diluted version of the cultural agenda that the New Left enunciated in the 1960s. While there are smaller foundations to fund conservative think tanks and projects (Horowitz has a little foundation of his own, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), the fact is that people like Horowitz are still swimming upstream in the major institutions of American life. The upshot is, as under his parents' roof, he can once again think of himself as countercultural. He appears to find this comforting.

Perhaps the key to the assessment of the place of the New Left in American history is Horowitz's account of his return to Berkeley in January 1968, after having spent three years in Sweden and England. When he left, even the most radical radicals, even in California, wore ties and buttoned-down shirts to free speech demonstrations. When he got back, people were painting themselves funny colors and listening to music of a volume and description theretofore unencountered by human man. "Anything is possible," he thought in stunned amazement at a concert of electronic instruments. This may or may not have been true, but in any case the Left was deluded in thinking that it could take advantage of the situation.

There is an old comedy routine dating from about that time in which President Johnson, dressed in pajamas, appears on television at 3:00 a.m. and announces to the startled viewers: "Good evening, my fellow Americans. This is your President speaking. I don't know what's happening. If any of you think that YOU know what's happening, please write the explanation down and mail it to me, Lyndon Johnson, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. Good night and God bless." The problem with the Left, New and Old, was that they did think they knew what was happening. They were Marxists, after all, and Marxism was the key to history. The fact that no Marxist, anywhere, ever, had imagined anything like America in the 1960s was beside the point.

Horowitz's parents had lived sober, careful lives, so that they could be models of socialist rectitude to the proletariat when Der Tag came. Horowitz's slightly younger radical contemporaries lived lives of promiscuity and impulse, because disorder conduced to a revolutionary situation. In both cases, they were simply exaggerating tendencies that were already present in American culture, tendencies which they did not foresee and could not control. They were as blindsided by history as ever Lenin was. Perhaps they added nothing really essential to those years.

David Horowitz notes that there were two radical movements in America during the 1960s, though he was almost oblivious to the fact at the time. In addition to the New Left, there was the movement on the Right that succeeded in nominating Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. It, too, commanded youthful enthusiasm, and its supporters were the sort of people who were willing to make the "Long March through the institutions." Though long in eclipse, this radical movement is the one that seems to have the best chance of permanent success. There is a lot to be said for William Strauss and Neil Howe's hypothesis that the 1960s were simply another of the Great Awakenings that occur in American history every three generations or so. They begin as anarchic events but end up being profoundly conservative. Horowitz's memoir is evidence for this pattern. Still, even if this is true, the destructive element of the Awakening this time around did take the form of the New Left, and there is still a lot of damage to be fixed. The racialization of public life continues through most affirmative action programs, for instance. Even the goal of arbitrary "socialist legality" has achieved petty embodiments in infinitely flexible concepts like "sexual harassment" and "hate crimes." For that matter, it may be that the reflexive liberal opposition to strategic defenses owes something to the tradition of "defending socialism" by making the United States vulnerable. In recent years, David Horowitz had done useful work in combating these `60s leftovers, and sensible people can only wish him well.

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Freedom & Necessity

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel By Jakob Schlesinger (1792-1855) - Unknown, Public Domain,

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

By Jakob Schlesinger (1792-1855) - Unknown, Public Domain,

A failure of my philosophical education up to this point is that I never quite got to modern philosophy in my graduate studies. I've got Hegel sitting on a shelf 5 feet from where I sit, but I haven't been in any kind of hurry to rectify that.

Freedom & Necessity
Steven Brust and Emma Bull
TOR Fantasy (Tom Doherty Associates), 1997
$6.99 (paper), 589 Pages
ISBN 0-812-56261-5


A Hegelian Allegory


You don't find many 600 page epistolary novels in the science fiction racks. You also don't find many current novels anywhere at all that seek to illustrate the operation of the Hegelian dialectic in life and history. "Freedom and Necessity" is all those things, with the added distinction of being the only book in my experience whose characters' principal recreation is reading Hegel's "Science of Logic." We are not dealing here with existentialist fiction, but with a Hegelian allegory.

"Freedom & Necessity" is apparently a minor publishing phenomenon. Steven Brust ("The Phoenix Guards") and Emma Bull ("War for the Oaks") are both noted fantasy writers. The tale they tell, however, is a fairly straightforward historical melodrama. It is set in England in 1849, and is chiefly concerned with the conflicts among the younger cousins of the intricately interrelated Cobham, Voight and Callendar families. Some of these people want red revolution, some are part of a murderous occult group straight out of "The Golden Bough," and some just want the family inheritance. All of this intrigue is intended to illustrate concretely a set of philosophical propositions that otherwise would be too stupefying for words.

Most of the story treats of the history and adventures of James Cobham, the Byronic eldest son. In fact, the bare bones of the book is that James moves from Non-Being (he is mistakenly thought dead as the story opens) through Becoming (as he learns the dark secrets of his family history) to completed Being (which takes the form of his reunion with the love of his life and their son in, for some reason, Baltimore, Maryland). James's problems are not entirely family-generated. For his whole adult life, he has been a confederate at the street-fighting level of the radical Chartist movement, whose members spooked the establishment of the Industrial Revolution with their demands for universal male suffrage, labor legislation and, at the extreme end, the abolition of the monarchy. In the aftermath of the failed pan-European Revolutions of 1848 (which also included a minor uprising in Ireland), people like James are in more than usual danger of being imprisoned or transported. In addition to threats from the British government, certain agents provocateurs in the pay of Prussia are trying to foment labor unrest in Britain in order to induce the forced repatriation of political fugitives from the recent rebellions. Chief among the fugitives is Friedrich Engels, an important minor character who loses no opportunity to press his acquaintances to read "The Science of Logic."

Despite these early modern trappings, the thesis to which James's life is the antithesis is thoroughly archaic. For several generations, his family has been involved with a dark cult, rather misleadingly known as "the Trotters' Club." Although some of his allies among the younger cousins are opium-using mystics who have a generic idea of what the Trotters' Club might be up to, James himself had always been singularly incurious about why his side of the family is so oddly lacking in adult males. The real conflict in the story, we learn by the end, has always been between James and his father. Under the rules of the cult, one must kill the other. The authors appear to be trying to suggest that Hegel's ideas chime well with the great themes of mythology. That, at any rate, would seem to be the logical inference to be drawn from the fact James ultimately becomes the wounded Fisher King and is transported like a Celtic hero to the uttermost West.

If nothing else, this book is a useful reminder that there was always a great deal more to Hegelianism than dialectical materialism. Despite the fact most of the characters chatter about "class consciousness" like assistant professors, "Freedom & Necessity" is hardly a Marxist tract. James and his allies do go to meet "the workers," but he meets them on midnight rendezvous as if they were leprechauns, shy of the company of ordinary mortals. The workers impart a kind of primordial wisdom that he and Engels puzzle over like messages from Delphi. James is startled when Engels remarks offhandedly that, of course, one can choose one's own class. That was how James the squire's son and Engels the successful industrialist could both really be proletarians. So much for the principle that class is a function of the relationship to the means of production.

"Freedom & Necessity" really is about what its title suggests. The problem of freedom, from a Hegelian perspective, is how we can be free in a world in which the outcome of any choice we might make is predetermined by physics and history. The answer is that, as our knowledge increases with experience, so the measure of our freedom does, too. This happens because real choice is possible only when we know the actual context in which we choose. The discovery of the "actual context" is the "Becoming" of history. It is also the "Becoming" of the story. We go through 500 pages worth of soap-opera revelations about family scandals, political assassination, bastardy and infanticide before we find out the only real issue, the only point on which choice is relevant, is whether James will kill his father or his father will kill James. There are, I suppose, briefer ways to make this point, but in the Hegelian universe prolixity is often the functional equivalent of concreteness.

Is the exercise worth the effort? Most of the book consists of long letters between the principal characters, supplemented by excerpts from their journals and actual news articles from the Times of London in 1849. The authors do succeed in making all the characters sound different, which is no small accomplishment. However, this does not necessarily make them sound interesting, particularly one long-winded opium-using cousin. Quite aside from the viscous effect that often attends a narrative composed of personal letters, this is one of those novels whose action tends to occur in situations where there is lots of mud and not enough light. The snappiest parts to the story are the ones where everyone just talks about Hegel. I can easily see how "Freedom & Necessity" might become an undergraduate favorite. Persons who are simply interested in its philosophical message, on the other hand, might do better just to read "The Science of Logic."

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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Freedom & Necessity
By Steven Brust, Emma Bull

The Song of Roland Book Review

Pater Europae

Pater Europae

Translation by W. S. Merwin, Notes, Glossary, and Select Bibliography by M. A. Clermont-Ferrand
The Modern Library, 2001
137 pages
ISBN 978-0375757112

The Song of Roland is a classic of Western literature, part of the mythology surrounding Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. Probably composed in this form sometime in the 11th century, the Song of Roland was hugely popular for a very long time, and it informed what it meant to be a Christian knight during the High Middle Ages.

While the Song of Roland contains the fanciful embellishments common to all epic poetry [the superhero movie of medieval Europeans], the core of the story seems to have been transmitted substantially intact: the rearguard of Charlemagne's army, led by Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, was ambushed and killed to a man in Roncesvalles Pass in 778. The only things resembling a historical record of this come from a brief passage in a revised edition of the Life of Charles the Great, and a coin bearing the names "Carlus" and "Rodlan".

However, something noteworthy seems to have happened in that mountain pass, given that the story appears to have been already popular by the time it was written down. With the evidence thin on the ground, barring the discovery of any heretofore unknown manuscripts, a heroic folk memory is likely to be all we have.

My own interest in the Song of Roland has been developing slowly for fifteen years. I had heard of the book before then, but it was the game Halo that really sparked my interest. There is a tradition in science fiction and videogames of drawing upon the deep wells of classical literature and mythology. Probably because both are popular art forms that speak to our souls, and anything old enough to truly be classical usually has to also be popular, or to have been popular for a long enough time to survive accidents of history.



Roland and the other paladins of Charlemagne carried named swords, weapons of unusual power granted as boons to worthy warriors. These swords, among them DurendalJoyeuse, and Curtana, all featured in the epics that grew up around the character of Roland. Real swords that still exist are known by these names, usually used as part of the mythology of legitimacy that surrounds kings of ancient lineage. It is at least possible that some of these objects might actually date to the periods in question, although many of them lack the supernatural qualities the epics describe.

Ogier the Dane

Ogier the Dane

The statue that appears in the sidebar of my own website, Ogier the Dane, or Holger Danske, came out this same milieu. It is conceivable that Ogier actually lived in the eighth century, and that he was a servant or vassal of Charlemagne, although it is also possible that he is simply a figment of our collective imagination. In the epics, Ogier carried Curtana, a sword with the tip broken off, to symbolize mercy. Since it is the tip of a European style sword that is truly dangerous, this random bit of chivalric legend has appealed to me for a long time.

The more I learn about the myths and legends like the Song of Roland, the better I like them. Random bits of history, technology, and theology I learn tend to accrete to them in ways that make them more plausible as bits and pieces of real events passed down over many generations. Stories are never just stories.

My other book reviews

The Song of Roland
Modern Library

The Art of Aardman: The Makers of Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and More Book Review

by Ruth Hobday (Editor), Peter Lord (Foreword), Geoff Blackwell (Editor), Sharon Gelman (Goodreads Author) (Editor), David Sproxton (Foreword), Marianne Lassandro (Editor)
Chronicle Books, 2017
204 pages
ISBN 978-1452166513

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

I enjoy reading things written by people who are passionate about their work. The forewords by Peter Lord and David Sproxton make me want to be a character designer, artist, and lighting director, even though I have no real interest or talent in those fields. Their love of their craft comes through in these brief passages, and it is infectious.

The remainder of the book is sketches, character studies, and production stills of Aardman's many popular characters. I sat down with my five-year-old, a Shaun the Sheep fan, and flipped through the images here. He was curious about the characters he had not yet seen, such as from Aardman's pirate movie. He enjoyed looking at the book, but it also whetted his interest in other series and movies, which I suppose is the point of a book like this.

A fine coffee table book for fans of Aardman.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2005-12-14: Frauds & Provocations

John did guess right here that Australia would see less interethnic violence than France in the coming years.

Frauds & Provocations


The recent riots in France probably were an episode in the clash of civilizations. The even more recent Australian riots, however, look more like West Side Story, but without the annoying music. I gather from the links at The Null Device that there is a Middle Eastern youth gang problem that be could discussed only obliquely for multiculti reasons, and which provoked a reaction that was fanned into a riot by talkshow hosts. The original beach riot seems to have begun as a protest by Anglo Australians that got out of hand.

On the other hand, if you believe reports today, the situation could be taking a nastier turn:

A suspicious fire at a Sydney church hall early Wednesday and shots fired during a Christmas carol service heightened tensions as Australians braced for more racial violence between whites and ethnic Arabs...Four men were seen near the Uniting Church hall, which is next to an Islamic centre in the multicultural suburb of Auburn, before the fire broke out in the early hours of the morning...

I am not much impressed with suspicious fires, particularly fires that are suspicious because they are "near" something else, but the harassment of churchgoers does sound like an attempt to put the dhimmis in their place.

* * *

A federal judge has outlawed Christmas, if you believe The Onion, which of course you shouldn't:

"In accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation, this court finds Christmas to be unlawful," Judge Rinehart said. "The celebration of the birth of the philosopher Jesus -- be it in the form of gift-giving, the singing of carols, fanciful decorations, or general good cheer and warm feelings amongst families -- is in violation of the First Amendment principles upon which this great nation was founded."..."Getting rid of every wreath or nativity scene is not enough," [Senator] Kennedy said. "In order to ensure that Americans of every belief feel comfortable in any home or business, we must eliminate all traces of this offensive holiday. My yellow belly quakes with fear at the thought of offending any foreigners, atheists, or child molesters."

This would be over the top, if the judge were not supposed to be in the 9th Circuit.

Please note that the description of the outlawing of Christmas that appears in that piece is exactly what millenarian novels describe as happening during the Tribulation.

* * *

But some people can't take a joke, at least in Scotland:

Satan's Grotto, a tinsel-free "fun" alternative to Santa's Grotto, has opened its doors to the public at Edinburgh Dungeon....where the Prince of Darkness interrogates young and old to try to track down Santa Claus who has escaped his clutches....The Rev William Armitage, minister of [a] church, said they had objected to the "satanic Christmas". He added: "We got loads of e-mails from groups in the United States supporting us, and other churches in Edinburgh said if they had known about it they would have formed a campaign."

Nothing in that grotto could be as scary as Tim Burton's 1993 film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. That's the stop-action masterpiece in which Halloween tries to take over the management of Christmas. We tend to forget that Christmas is, generically, much the same sort of season as Halloween: a year-end celebration in which the boundaries between this world and the other grow thin. The tradition of telling ghost stories over Yuletide seems to survive chiefly in grotesque recastings of A Christmas Carol, and of course in the release of all those end-of-the-year horror flicks.

There was a brief period after The Nightmare Before Christmas appeared when it seemed like prophecy. Christmas displays took on a gothic cast. At least one of the major department-store window displays in Manhattan featured spider webs and gremlins in red caps. The danger passed, however.

* * *

Here's how one grinch got his comeuppance, according to the physicist Stephen Barr:

The philosopher Daniel Dennett visited us at the University of Delaware a few weeks ago and gave a public lecture entitled “Darwin, Meaning, Truth, and Morality.” I missed the talk—I was visiting my sons at Notre Dame and taking in the Notre Dame-Navy football game. Friends told me what I missed, however. Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.” After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.

Note that the cleverness is not on the Supreme Court's part.

* * *

Speaking of comeuppance, the recent massacre of protesting farmers at Dongzhou could turn out to be very important, precisely because of the efforts of the government to suppress information about the incident. As the New York Times reported today behind its own self-destruct shield:

Beijing casts net of silence over protest: One week after the police to violently suppressed a demonstration against the construction of a power plant in China, leaving as many as twenty people dead, an overwhelming majority of the Chinese public still knows nothing of the event.

That was a bad incident, and reporting it would certainly embarrass the provincial and possibly the national government. However, the government was by no means able to suppress all information. All it succeeded in doing was to ensure that the reports were fragmentary and unofficial. Moreover, quite a lot of people in newsrooms and in ISPs had to be told what to delete. The government has, in effect, ordered the national communications system not to think about white bears. We can imagine what lurid horrors are being added to the reports about the event that must be circulating surreptitiously.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

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An archive of John's site