The Long View 2006-10-23: American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

I would concur with John Reilly here that a sung Mass, whether High or Low, is a remarkable experience. There are a variety of sung settings for the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, by well-known composers. It is unfortunately difficult to find one in practice. I had the good fortune to participate in a Mass in Vienna that was a Mozart arrangement.


American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

A Nadir of American Power is the way The Washington Post describes the current state of things:

In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile...Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? ...It would be nice if this merely proved that tough talk can backfire. But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. ...Now Russia's pro-Western voices are being snuffed out, ...In Somalia, a Taliban-style group of Islamic militants has seized part of the country. ...Sudan's tin-pot dictator thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam and dispatches more death squads.

And as if that were not enough:

[T]he United States has several economic frailties and can't seem to address any of them. Every honest politician knows that entitlement spending on retirees is going to bust the budget....Every honest politician knows that support for globalization is fraying because of rising inequality at home....In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. ...I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.

The comparison with the situation just before the Reagan Administration is instructive, but chiefly because of the differences. The US was not just suffering foreign-policy reverses in those days: it was apparently losing the long-term strategic contest with the USSR. In the 1970s, the "economic frailties" were not merely potential. The country was becoming accustomed to nearly Latin American levels of inflation, which mysteriously were occurring at the same time as high unemployment and economic stagnation. The centers of major cities were in ruins after more than a decade of abandonment and sporadic race riots. Needle-shaped warcraft from the Pegasus Galaxy swooped down over suburban streets and abducted pedestrians who were never seen again.

I made that last part up.

What is different this time is that the problem is not so much an enemy, or even a constellation of enemies, but entropy. Consider the issues connected with North Korea and Iran and the Sudan. If the US is flubbing them, then the world is flubbing them, too.

Well, these turbulent bits don't last forever.

* * *

Orson Scott Card, as we see in his upcoming book, Empire, seems to have gotten the memo about the Hellenistic Analogy:

[W]hat Torrent was saying about America and empire made perverse sense. While the other students sidetracked themselves into a discussion about whether Torrent's statements were "conservative" or "liberal," "reactionary" or "politically correct," Reuben could not shake off Torrent's premise -- that America was not in the place Rome was in before it fell, but rather in the place where Rome was before civil war destroyed the Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Caesars.

I can only repeat, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a national empire and a universal state.

* * *

Art Weekend ended yesterday here in Downtown Jersey City. Helium balloons and numbered signs marked the stoops of the houses where artists have their studios. Visitors from New York, for the most part black-clad men and unusually tall women, followed maps about the district from numbered location to numbered location.

The one confusing point about this otherwise admirable procedure is that the displays the artists put out to mark their studios were not so different from the displays that realtors put out to attract people to an Open House to view a property for sale. I could not help but wonder whether unscrupulous realtors misidentified their properties as Houses of Art, so that people who came to view the last word in neo-ironic pointillism would find themselves asked to consider the merits of a four-story walkup just 5 minutes from Manhattan.

* * *

My local parish may get some press coverage when the Vatican issues the new rules that ease restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass: we have been doing it long enough that we have more or less got it right by now. The latest rumors say that the new rules will actually create a right to the old Mass in any parish where 20 people ask for it, provided the local bishop has not specifically forbidden it.

Frankly, I have never been very keen on creating a right to anything unless you are also creating a supply. The problem is not so much the lack of priests as the lack of the cultural infrastructure needed to do the Latin liturgy right. As a matter of preference, though not of principle, I would say that the Latin Mass is not worth doing unless it is sung, and for that you need a decent schola. Organizing a schola is not intrinsically difficult, but it is beyond the capacity of most parishes today. The fact is that the typical parish music ministry is ideologically committed to sing-along choirs at maximum amplification. The result of the new indult could be a lot of dry-as-dust, unsung, Low Masses: very quick, but not very nutritious.

* * *

Thanatophobia continues to spread, with Max Brooks demonizing Differently Animated Americans in a way that recalls the militant intolerance of Mark Steyn. First it was The Zombie Survival Guide, and now we have World War Z. Throughout the media, in fact, irresponsible persons continue to encourage violence against the Differently Animated. No judicial hearing, no habeas corpus: a quick shot in the brain is the only due process that interests these bigots. Their unthinking discrimination between the living and the undead is an affront to the principle of inclusion. Putting an end to beating-heart privilege will be the final frontier in equal protection of the law.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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