The Long View 2008-02-21: Campus Lockdown; Times misfire; Spengler Meets John Brown; Gerson and Providence; Vox Day Blast


John J. Reilly makes the excellent point that as beloved and influential as C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are, most of their work is between 60 and 100 years old, and the obsessions of the broader culture have changed quite a bit in the intervening decades. Apologetics must change with the times.

Campus Lockdown; Times misfire; Spengler Meets John Brown; Gerson and Providence; Vox Day Blast

I saw the five helicopters at 11:30 AM yesterday. They were holding station in a star formation over the western side of the city; I was looking from the east side, by the Hudson River. It was immediately apparent that something was very wrong. There are often observer helicopters and small planes over Jersey City, because of the Holland Tunnel entrance and New York Bay, but I had never seen so many paying such sustained attention to so small an area.

A little later I discovered the problem: St. Peter's College, had been locked down, with no one allowed to enter or leave the campus (which occupies about two blocks of urban real estate, straddling a major boulevard). A note had been found in a hall or stairwell that seemed to some administrator to threaten a reprise of the recent Northern Illinois University massacre.

To that assessment one might reply that such incidents generally are not preceded by warnings to the intended victims, and that in any case St. Peter's is not a gun-culture school, by which I mean that few students or faculty are likely to be hunters or otherwise have firearms easily available. Still, the school had to do something, which would have included informing the police. In today's security climate, the police would have insisted on doing everything. I wonder that the campus was not carpet-bombed as a precaution.

I remember when bomb threats were taken in stride.

* * *

Mere massacre is nothing compared to the New York Times' unsourced revelation yesterday that, eight years ago, Senator John McCain was not exactly accused of having an improper relationship with a female lobbyist, for whom the senator is not suspected of doing regulatory favors. This is like Bilbo Baggins' Birthday Party Farewell speech. The difference is that you can, with a little work, figure out whether what Bilbo said was a compliment or not.

I sense that something misfired here. Hillary Clinton and McCain were both endorsed by the Times as nominees for their respective parties, but Clinton would clearly be the newspaper's favorite for the general election. I imagine the Times began working on this piece when it seemed obvious that Clinton would have the nomination sewn up by now and be trading more-ethical-than-thou assertions with McCain. The story, such as it is, might have helped then. It would not have sufficed for a Friday-afternoon-before-Election-Day story, though.

I am quoting Instapundit quoting CNN: the story here is the Times. Remember Dan Rather.

* * *

This is surreal, even for a British report on American politics:

Mark MacKinnon, who designs Mr McCain's advertisements, said he could not face being part of a campaign that "would inevitably be attacking" Mr Obama.

John McCain is likely to seal the Republican nomination, after the endorsement of Mitt Romney "I have met Barack Obama. I have read his book. I like him a great deal. I disagree with him on very fundamental issues but it would be uncomfortable for me and it would be bad for the McCain campaign," he told National Public Radio...Mr Obama has dubbed Republicans leaning his way "Obamacans".

Two points about this:

The bad news is that it is not a good sign when a part of the political class begins to regard the failure of their candidate as inconceivable. That seems to be what is happening here; it is just one step away from regarding the election of the other candidate as illegitimate.

The good news is that the independent door swings both ways. There is a substantial fraction of the electorate that might vote for either McCain or Obama. What other Republican candidate in recent years would have had even the possibility of persuading those voters?

* * *

Regarding Michael Gerson's Heroic Conservatism I have already had a few things to say. Now comes Stephen H. Webb at First Things to offer some thoughts.

Webb compares Gerson to the early fourth-century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, but in the nicest sort of way: Webb agrees that the salutary separation between church and state in the American tradition is in no way threatened by the theologically informed rhetoric and political agenda that Gerson promoted as Bush's speechwriter. However, Webb does offer these cautions about equating providence with progress:

Gerson is right that providence is a great motivator, but it is also a great humbler. Secularists hear arrogance in every religious invocation, but the jingoism of manifest destiny is foreign to the way providence deepens, rather than eradicates, the mystery of God. Providence points us in the right direction, but it does not guarantee continuous progress along the way. The nineteenth century was the high point for the doctrine of providence in America, but one of the most popular sayings of the day, “Man can appoint, but God can disappoint,” reflected more realism than idealism. On its face, this saying might seem like a denial of the wisdom of God’s ways, but for people used to witnessing the folly of human affairs, disappointment is the only true ground for hope.

I know Eusebius only through Burckhardt's Age of Constantine the Great, where he is cited as an Awful Example of disingenuous imperial flackery. (Eusebius reputation as a historical source has risen since Burckhardt wrote in the late 19th century.) Webb says that Eusebius thought himself to be living at the high point of history, when the mission of Christ was seen to have succeeded. Gerson, it seems to me, is essentially a postmillennialist, someone keen to reach a high point that still lies in the future. Eusebius, perhaps, was relieved by the way history had gone. Postmillennialists, like Gerson, are never satisfied.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Eschatology is a feature of personality as well as doctrine.

* * *
For pure apocalyptic, we turn to that Spengler at Asia Times, who assures us that Blessed are the pre-emptors:

Europe’s Man of Destiny is Geert Wilders, the 35-year-old leader of Holland’s tiny Freedom Party. He has provoked the world Muslim community in order to draw the violent jihadists out of the tall grass, and he seems to be succeeding....At the moment the Dutch government is quaking over the consequences of a 10-minute film that Wilders plans to release in April denouncing the Koran...No civilized state can abide a rival from within who contests the monopoly of violence of legitimate government. If governments refuse to act, the optimal course of action is pre-emptive: bring matters to a decision as fast as possible before the rot destroys the entire house. ...Wilders recalls that authentic American hero, John Brown, the anti-slavery "extremist" whose 1859 raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry hastened the outbreak of civil war in 1861...Abraham Lincoln stands out as America’s greatest statesman precisely because he pushed America into war at the earliest opportunity....If America’s Civil War had not broken out in 1861, the Union probably would have lost the war, and the Southern slave system would have spread like cancer through South America. If the South had bought time to ally with France under Napoleon III, who invaded Mexico in 1862, and Britain under Lord Palmerston, the Union never could have imposed a blockade on the Confederacy...If the South had not seceded with a violent tantrum, firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the North might not have mustered the support for a civil war...John Brown takes a great deal of the credit for the missteps of the South.

Actually, there were several opportunities for civil war before the crisis that arose in connection with Lincoln's election to the presidency. Had any of them been taken, the Union would probably have lost, simply because the two sides would have been more evenly matched. The pace of economic and demographic growth was on the side of the North.

* * *

Moving beyond these blood-thirsty thoughts, let us turn to the gentle reflections of Vox Day, in which Anthony Sacramone of First Things finds great merit:

In short, The Irrational Atheist is a blast and will no doubt occasion many a late-night debate. And don’t forget to thank your village atheist when you get the chance. Like heretics before them, atheists are inspiring a steady flow of truly inspired Christian polemic, which may prove to win the world for Christ in ways that must send shivers down the collective spine of that most “Unholy Trinity” [Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens].

Read the review and buy the book through the Amazon link there, if you have a mind to. I have not read the book because I have not read the literature it seeks to counter. (I do know that Vox Day's website [see my blogroll] is a blast, too.) In any case, the First Things review should be taken as a hint. I love the works of C.S. Lewis, but they were written for a time in which the intellectual climate was dominated by Freud and Marx. Somebody, or lots of somebodies, needs to keep producing 21st-century apologetics.

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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