The Long View 2006-12-18: Class of the Year; Past the Apogee; The Latin Mass

This post by John J. Reilly was written about six months before the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was published, giving universal permission to celebrate the Mass in the Latin Rite according to the pre-Vatican II rubrics. I have a pending review of the book A Bitter Trial, containing letters between Evelyn Waugh and other famous Catholics about the liturgical changes that came from Vatican II. It will be interesting to reflect on how things have changed in the last twelve years.


Class of the Year; Past the Apogee; The Latin Mass

I have won the Time Man of the Year award for the second time in my life, according to this report:

NEW YORK (AP) - Congratulations! You are the Time magazine "Person of the Year."...The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals - citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web. ...It was not the first time the magazine went away from naming an actual person for its "Person of the Year." In 1966, the 25-and-under generation was cited; in 1975, American women were named; and in 1982, the computer was chosen.

The awarding of honors to classes of people was one of Ayn Rand's nightmares. On the other hand, I am also reminded of the time Norway awarded itself the Nobel Peace Prize in a show hosted by John Cleese. The show was entitled Norway, Land of Giants.
It was a joke. I think.

* * *

But speaking of nightmares, consider Past the Apogee: America Under Pressure, which Charles Krauthammer delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute's annual dinner last month:

When I wrote the article “The Unipolar Moment” (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990/91), it achieved some renown because, remarkably, I was the only one saying at the time, that in fact, with the end of the Cold War, the United States would end up as the unipolar power, the dominant, hegemonic power in the world. There would be none even close to us in ranking. The old bipolar world would yield not to a multipolar world but to one with only one great influence, and that would be us. ...

Sept. 11 ushered in the second era of this unipolar era, which I would call the era of assertion, where the power that had been latent in America shows itself. I would date this era from 9/11 to the March 14, 2005, a date probably unfamiliar to you and not particularly renowned in our history today, but a date that I think will be remembered by historians as the apogee of American power, the peak of the arc of the unipolar era. ...

The Bush Doctrine held that besides attacking the immediate enemy who had perpetrated 9/11, it would have to engage in a larger enterprise of changing the underlying conditions which had given birth to this idea of Islamic radicalism, and to change the conditions that had allowed it to recruit and breed, particularly in the Arab world.

Let me interject that the Iraq War should be viewed as continuous with the Serbian War of a few years earlier: both were expressions of the original concept behind the United Nations, an organization grown too crooked to act even as a mask for serious efforts to carry out its original purpose.

After that, of course, was the swift initial victory in Iraq, in which the capital fell within three weeks. After that was a ripple effect in the region. Libya, seeing what we had done in Iraq, gave up its nuclear capacity; then the remarkable revolution in Lebanon in which Syria was essentially expelled. And that demarks the date that I spoke of. March 14 is the name of the movement in Lebanon of those who rose up against the Syrians and essentially created a new democracy—fragile, as we will see. You have all of these events happening at once: you have the glimmerings of democracy in the elections in Egypt, some changes even in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and of course what we had in January 2005 was the famous first election in Iraq, which had an electric effect on the region. That winter-spring of 2005, I think, is the apogee of this assertion of unipolarity and American power.

For a variety of reasons, however, the initial impulse dissipated:

Since this [is] an evening honoring Benjamin Franklin, I want to recall to you one of his most famous statements. When leaving the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what they had accomplished. His response was “A republic, if you can keep it.” What we have done in Iraq is given them a republic, but they appear unable to keep it.

This judgement could yet prove premature. Be that as it may, though, I am extremely skeptical of this assessment:

What is becoming clear is that the overall international strategic situation in which we had unchallenged hegemony for the first decade and half the unipolar moment is now over. We are seeing on the horizon the rise of something that is always expected in any unipolar era, which is an alliance of others who oppose us. ...What I think we are beginning to see now is Iran positioning itself at the center of a regional alliance against us, again with the—Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Sadr—looking to overawe the entire region with the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which would make it the regional superpower. And Iran is receiving tacit backing for its regional and anti-American ambitions from two great powers: Russia and China. That, I think, is the structure of the adversary that we will be looking at for the decades to come.

Russia is supporting Iran, of course, but for commercial rather than strategic reasons. As for China, the remarkable thing is how little influence it attempts to exercise in the Middle East. The United States has, arguably, lost the Kantian Mandate of Heaven that perfect communion with the UN once afforded. We must wonder, though, whether the United States or the mandate has been discredited.

We have all been reading too much into the results of the recent congressional elections. They cannot signify the snapping of imperial over-stretch among an exhausted electorate, for the excellent reason that the electorate has been asked to sacrifice nothing. We also know for a fact that the country does not regard the loss of American lives in Iraq as intolerable: the military has been having no trouble meeting recruiting or reenlistment goals. George Bush was reelected in 2004 because he promised not to be Lyndon Johnson, a promise he broke. As for the behavior of the Republican Congress, the less said the better.

* * *

If we must over-interpret an election, this may be a good place to start:

Ultra-conservatives close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have failed to sweep twin Iranian elections with embattled moderate forces recording a respectable performance, initial results have showed. ...Centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appeared to have sprung a surprise by reaping by far the most votes and beating a hardline rival in the election for the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the supreme leader.

The chief reason to discount models in which Iran becomes the linchpin of an anti-American coalition is that the Iranians don't really have the inclination or, one suspects, the capacity for the political cohesion that would be necessary for such a role.

* * *

As for events in Iraq itself, I am not overly comforted by this report:

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and -- mother of all surprises -- it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

This development is as morbid as what is happening in Venezuela: in both cases, a transitory pure-consumption economy is masking the disintegration of productive activity. The real news here is that oil production in Iraq is recovering, which is some evidence that the government there really can do things that engage its enthusiasm.

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At First Things, meanwhile, Fr. Neuhaus has commented on the Affair of the Blue Mosque, the incident during Benedict XVI's recent visit to Istanbul in which the pontiff prayed, or perhaps simply engaged in a moment of reflection, at a noted place of Muslim worship. Fr. Neuhaus comments chiefly by quoting John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter on the matter. Allen, of course, noted it would be absurd to read syncretism or relativism into anything done by Joseph Ratzinger. Fr. Neuhaus then goes on to say:

But a gloss is really not necessary.

To that I can only reply, "Yes it is." What the pope did was understandable; it may even have been unavoidable. However, it would be a grave mistake to think that it was costless.

* * *

In happier Benedictine news, we see from the latest rumors that the general permission to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass may be just days away. Reporters in the New York area who would like to see what an established Tridentine revival can look like might visit Holy Rosary parish here in downtown Jersey City. After the Sunday Mass in Latin, which usually ends around 11:15 AM, there is coffee and munchies in the basement. I am not really the guy to talk to, but you can contact me or the parish to set up interviews with some people who are.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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