The Long View 2005-05-24: Manicheanism & World Order

Ed West noted recently that progressives have been becoming more and more globalist as times goes on, since this is seen as nationalism, the root of all evil. I call it globalism instead of pro-empire, because the the Empire is a socially conservative place, but I know what Ed means.


Manicheanism & World Order

 

The great debate continues about whether The Revenge of the Sith is anti-Bush propaganda. The most intelligent comments I have seen so far come from Constantly Risking Absurdity, such as this:

No, this wasn't a Bush-bashing film. Lucas couldn't have made one even if he tried--he can’t escape his own universe. If anything, this film is an argument against Richard Rorty and his school of "ironists," because it favors moral absolutism, objective standards, and a metaphysical foundation for society. Those who blame Bush for being an absolutist who clings to outdated notions of "good" and "evil" should find no support from this film.

If you will recall, Lucas was originally criticized for fostering a Manichean view of the world among Youth. Well, the Youth who lined up in multiplex parking lots to see the original Star Wars in 1977 are all grown up now. They are pretty much running the country; or, like the Manichees of the Michael Moore Left, would very much like to.

In any case, CRA also makes this useful observation:

Footnote: (1) [A.O.] Scott [of the New York Times] got the line wrong. It's not "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes," but, "Only a Sith deals with absolutes." I wonder if the future bumper-sticker manufacturers will take note.

Let us nip this misquote in the bud.

* * *

There is some merit to the works of Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and another book I actually read, Lullaby. Certainly they have ingenious story premises. However, as Tom Shone argues in his review in the New York Times Palahniuk's latest (Haunted: A Novel of Stories), ingenuity isn't everything:

The curious weakness of Palahniuk's neo-brutalist aesthetic is how hermetically sealed it must remain from anything that might challenge it: the air of hard-core debauch must be wall to wall or else crumble to nothing.

Is that a principle of general application? Does it apply to moral example, or just to esthetics?

* * *

Speaking of strategies to defeat Evil, Joseph Bottum's piece in the June/July issue of First Things, "The New Fusionism," tries to puzzle out just what the Kantians-in-Arms and the Pro-Lifers are doing in the same political coalition. The piece points out that this strange alliance has proven remarkably durable, but comes no closer to a satisfactory general theory of the matter:

The abolition of abortion and the active advance of democracy have more in common, I believe than is usually thought. But even if they are utterly separate philosophically, this much is true: They both require reversing the failure that has lingered in America since at least the 1970s, and success in one may well feed success in the other.

The goal in either case is to restore confidence--in what, exactly? Not our own infallible rightness, surely. But neither can we live any longer with the notion of our own infallible wrongness. We need to restore belief in the possibility of being right.

To that I might quote what the protagonist of C. S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress says to the Three Pale Men when they react inadequately to his report of the barbarian threat from the North:

Do you think you can rout a million armed dwarves by being "not romantic"?

Again, Walter Russell Mead's Power, Terror, Peace, and War offers a persuasive geopolitical rationale for the re-moralization of America: the US can never legitimize its place in the world if it is chiefly thought of as the world capital of atheism and debauchery. So, that is why the Kantians need the Evangelicals. But why do the Evangelicals need the Kantians? Dante, of course, proposed a class of solution to this question. By different logic, the Roman Catholic Church's social teaching has acquired a parallel trajectory. It may be some time before anyone really wants to connect the dots. Except me, of course.

* * *

Like millions of other Americans, I have sat motionless before my television set as the debate in the Senate about the filibuster has proceeded, chiefly because I had fallen asleep. Yes, there are important issues at stake, but following this is like watching...oh, I don't know: pick your favorite boring sport, maybe one of those events they include in the Olympics that no one has ever heard of.

Most distressing of all is that I could not find a comment from Ambrose Bierce about the filibuster, not even in the heterodox editions of The Devil's Dictionary (unless the definition "filibuster, n. Throwing your weight around" is from him). Attempts to expand the canon of Bierce's definitions have rarely proven happy. For this emergency, though, let me suggest this:

filibuster, n The only inert gas known to be generated by living organisms.

That is not brilliant commentary, but it is short.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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