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After Tragedy
National Review,
June 20, 2005
Cultural impact, as much as political consequence, distinguishes a once-in-a-generation event from a mere disaster. So how we remember September 11 will be defined in no small part by how the culture reckons with the day, and with its fraught and frightened aftermath.

It Didn't Happen Here
Policy Review,
February-March 2005
There have been a thousand anti-Bush books, and none so good as Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. But this is Roth, and it is his business to be better.

The Crisis of Sam's Club Republicans
The Los Angeles Times,
January 11, 2005

Politicians are often vilified for pandering to their base, but on matters economic, the GOP needs to do more of it. By focusing on the interests of Sam's Club voters, farsighted conservatives can build a lasting majority.

The Metaphor Analyst
The New York Sun,
December 28, 2004

George Lakoff's ideas may be informing the progressive movement at the moment, but they are surprisingly illiberal. His book often reads like a counter-Enlightenment tract of the Romantic period.

So, You Want to Win the Culture Wars?
National Review,
December 13, 2004

Over the last 40 years, the Right has labored in the wilderness, building a counter-establishment of magazines, think tanks, and news networks. But when it comes to literature, television, and film, the Right has mainly reduced its power to shape the artistic landscape.

What We Will Be
Policy Review,
October-November 2004

One need not share the more perfervid fantasies of Pat Buchanan to worry that the emerging America is closer to a democratic imperium than it is to the democratic republic of the founding fathers. But America’s position in the world has never been more secure. What decay there is lies within.

A Worthy Coalition
The New York Sun,
October 6, 2004

At the first presidential debate, Senator Kerry dismissed the multinational force in Iraq as a sham. This argument for a Kerry administration relies on a certain species of amnesia. Somehow, Mr. Kerry has willed the coalition of the willing into nonexistence.

Will Bush's Speech Matter?
The New York Sun,
September 2, 2004

President Bush and his political strategists are shrewdly focusing on mobilizing evangelical voters in key states. This approach will likely secure his re-election. It will also alienate young voters and unmarried women, and it won’t arrest the drift of Latinos to the Democrats.

Conflicts Religious and Secular
Policy Review,
August-September 2004

From the beginning, Zionism and Arabism shared the same intellectual patrimony and spoke the same language. But neither movement, just as each was trying to dignify a dormant nation, could bear an injury to its nationalist aspirations.

No Defense
The New York Sun,
August 27, 2004

At Martin Luther King Jr. High School on Amsterdam Avenue, a "War Crimes Tribunal" convened. On trial for not only war crimes but also crimes against humanity were President Bush, Vice President Cheney, General Tommy Franks, and "others to be named."

The One They Love
National Review,
August 23, 2004

David Brooks is every liberal's favorite conservative -- or so every liberal says. But a host of liberal commentators have now made the appalled discovery that the conservative they adored when he was archly limning meritocratic manners is, well, a conservative.

The Other Americas
The New York Sun,
July 28, 2004

Barack Obama’s worldview, gleaned from the remarkable stump speech that fueled his meteoric rise, is that of a humane egalitarian, a cosmopolitan democrat, a believer in the central value of social solidarity — in short, he is a social democrat.

Agitprop
The New York Sun,
July 22, 2004

Galleries from Chelsea to Madison Avenue are stuffed with anti-Bush exhibits. As long as we're being such sticklers about the law, perhaps we should call this artwork what it really is: political advertising.

The Vision Thing
The New York Sun,
July 20, 2004

What Mr. Bush badly needs is “the vision thing.” When it comes to the war on terrorism, Mr. Bush has vision in spades. That’s not enough.

A Democratic Test
The New York Sun,
July 14, 2004

Cynthia McKinney faces a July 20 primary that is a test for the Democratic Party. For it’s becoming clear that Ms. McKinney’s rantings represent the sentiments of at least part of the party’s activist base.

The Politics of the WHO
The New Atlantis,
Fall 2003

The World Health Organization’s usefulness lies precisely in its ability to bring scientific evidence to bear in political disputes that often lose sight of facts on the ground. The group’s recent history, however, reveals a bureaucracy increasingly unhinged from the real world.

The Word is Nigh
Claremont Review of Books,
Fall 2003

The prophets did not address themselves to some otherworldly mystical reality. For them, the moral law was a living presence here on earth, entrusted to human stewardship.

Focus on Evil
National Review,
September 1, 2003

Perversely, mass murderers often become figures of fun. Living at a safe distance, we can afford a macabre laugh or two. As it turns out, we experience evil not so much as banality but as kitsch.

Theorists and Mullahs
Policy Review,
June-July 2003

If literature and theory are no longer “politically transformative,” it is precisely because they have been so politicized. In their attempt to force literary works into an ideological schema, both the theorists of Chicago and the Islamists of Tehran ignored that which truly makes a novel transformative: its ability to make us look at the world with different eyes.

Wonder Boy
National Review,
May 5, 2003

Jedediah Purdy, the American Left's winsome scourge of irony, is a great one for name-dropping. There may be few fresh ideas in Being America, but at least there are plenty of old ones -- and Purdy agrees with them all.

Getting Real
National Review Online,
May 2, 2003

What most distinguishes The Real Cancun is how harmless the whole businesses is: there's simply no time, in a week-long vacation condensed into ninety minutes of footage, for real heartbreak or real corruption — or real epiphanies and awakenings, I suppose. (Though with these 16 would-be stars, there was never much danger of the latter.)

A New Kind of Empire?
The Dissident,
Spring-Summer 2003

A consumer culture with anti-American undertones may be just what is needed in Iraq. It allows people to keep up the pretense of hating America while nevertheless affirming the most quintessential of American values: prosperity. Its goodness, however, comes not from the fact that consumerism is American, but from the possibility that it can lead to peace.

Freedom of Expression 101
Hoover Weekly Essays,
March 3, 2003

Many intellectuals invoke "academic freedom" not to protect the ideal of disinterested inquiry but to shield their own ideological agendas from public scrutiny. When professors attack their critics as McCarthyites, it is they who are trying to silence dissent through intimidation.

Humans, Animals, and the Human Animal
Policy Review,
February-March 2003

It’s the modern left that believes people stand outside and above nature, peering down on the rest of creation with a godlike power to manipulate it for our own purposes. Conservatives have counterpoised a belief in the permanent truths of human nature to the liberal faith in the perfectibility of man. The idea of human malleability is nowhere more vividly refuted than in descriptions of kinship between man and animal.

The Christian Future
Policy Review,
February-March 2003

Global Christianity threatens to shatter the illusions of the post-Enlightenment intelligentsia, which has assumed for generations that Christianity will either disappear entirely or gradually accommodate its teachings to the spirit of the modern age. Westerners have failed to come to terms with what may be the defining religious development of the next century.

To Be Young, Conservative, and Cool
Claremont Review of Books,
Winter 2002

The suffocating liberalism of modern college life is so strong that any conservative unlucky enough to arrive without a sturdy intellectual base for his convictions will be inevitably yanked leftward within a year – or less. This isn’t simply a war of ideas – it’s a war of attitudes, in which conservative-bashing is the last acceptable form of bigotry.

Defining 'Culture'
The Washington Times,
December 15, 2002

What we're defending, it turns out, are not the various customs of our culture, unmediated by reference to objective standards of civilization, undirected toward any purpose. What's at risk is civilization, a universal system of standards that can act as a guide for all human societies.

Among the Pack
National Review Online,
November 5, 2002

'Journeys With George' probably won’t hurt George W. Bush's public image, but neither is it likely to charm the cold hearts that haven't yet warmed to our 43rd president. Its ultimate significance has more to do with how skillfully it depicts the sorry state of American presidential politics, and the media coverage thereof.

Orwell's Example
Policy Review,
October-November 2002

Christopher Hitchens has long taken Orwell to be a kind of intellectual father. Yet in his revulsion for orthodoxy, Hitchens goes too far; the contrarian view almost becomes an orthodoxy itself. Orwell saw the error of this clearly.

Protesting Too Much
National Review Online,
October 1, 2002

My new friends, earnest sophomores protesting globalization, regaled me with their tales of the horrors that America and the IMF and the World Bank had committed, or encouraged, or allowed, all across the developing world. By the time they finished talking, I was primed — no, I was pumped for the revolution.

Comfort's Cost
The Washington Times,
September 1, 2002

The most distinctively human impulses — the artistic or philosophic impulse — begin in awe and apprehension at the vast incomprehensibility of the world. Today, however, the anxious wonder that is the root of human excellence can be cured with a generous dose of Prozac.

The Church-State Tangle
Policy Review,
August-September 2002

In recent history, courts have worked to push religion out of public life. So it’s understandable that many now fear that publicly funded school choice will undermine schools’ religious missions. But such an attitude fails to appreciate the emerging change in the court’s understanding of the First Amendment.

The Empty Decade
Doublethink,
Summer 2002

The 1990s were anomalous in that the United States had no enemy—indeed, the 1990s were shaped by the belief that all fundamental conflicts had ended. In the relatively peaceful and demobilized 1990s, Americans could easily evade troublesome moral judgments and retreat into comfortable, private universes. Clinton-era politics was about private comforts rather than broad national interests.

Teaching Evil
Policy Review,
April-May 2002

If our politics rests fundamentally on self-interest, then how can one expect the heroic selflessness Kaplan admires in Churchill and others? If the ultimate goal is self-preservation, why should anyone risk his life? The “heroic outlook” Kaplan attributes to the Greeks was possible precisely because they recognized a purpose higher than themselves.

Albert Speer at Harvard
The Harvard Crimson,
March 4, 2002

In 1937, as part of a program of academic exchange with German universities, Harvard named Albert Speer as a visiting professor of architecture and urban planning. There was some controversy about this appointment: not only was Speer a member of the Nazi party, he was the Third Reich’s leading public architect and a close friend of the Fuehrer.

Charmed by Tyranny
Policy Review,
February-March 2002

We may understand why intellectuals living under tyranny, jaded by the degradations of war and intimidated by a totalitarian state, would submit to regnant orthodoxy. But what accounts for tyranny’s apologists in free societies?

Let Us Now Praise Cornel West
The Harvard Crimson,
January 11, 2002

There are many marvelous professors here at Harvard, many glittering luminaries of the academic world. But there is, alas, only one Cornel West. And we are in danger of losing him. Let us pause for a moment and consider the greatness of the man who Lawrence Summers, in a moment that will haunt his presidency for years to come, may have driven from our ivory tower.

Israel's New Best Friend
The American Enterprise,
December 12, 2001

After the early December suicide bombings in Israel, Hillary Clinton compared Arafat’s regime to the Taliban. Recently, Senator Clinton has emerged as an ardent champion of Israeli interests—a surprising development for a politician who, as First Lady, was the nation's foremost advocate of a Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat, Zionist
National Review Online,
November 8, 2001

The Palestinians, imitating Zionism, have also concerned themselves with establishing historical rights to the land of Israel, and erasing Jewish history there.

Pastors for Castro
National Review Online,
July 7, 2001

To enter the world of the Pastors for Peace is to enter a place where the Cold War never ended, where the battle with the capitalist, racist, crypto-fascist United States is still being fought, one case of Yanqui imperialism at a time. The Pastors for Peace are not exactly “useful idiots,” they seem to be out-and-out Communists, eagerly awaiting the coming of worldwide revolution.

Matters of Life and Death
The Dartmouth Review,
March 12, 2001
On March 12, the first of two trials in the 1999 murder of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising began in Bentonville, Arkansas. With few exceptions, the news media hasn’t mentioned the story at all. Some lives, it seems, aren't politically valuable.

Abolishing High School
The Harvard Crimson,
March 12, 2001
This time, his name is Charles Andrew Williams, and he is 15 years old. He has a slender frame and a soft, sad-looking face, and in photographs he seems young and lost, and yes, even innocent. He isn't innocent, though. Not since Monday, March 5, when he took his father's gun to school and fired it 30 times at his teachers and classmates, wounding 13 people and killing two.

The Yuck Factor
The Dartmouth Review,
January 15, 2001
Perhaps most striking for those confined to academe is the public consensusin evidence now for a number of yearson abortion, a consensus that opposes the radical abortion rights advocated by campus feminists and codified in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

Double Dorm Standards
The American Enterprise,
October-November 2000
The military says its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy promotes the unit cohesion needed in combat by reducing sexual tension and respecting personal privacy. University administrators insist troops in mortal combat should be able to handle the tension of living in mixed quarters. But it turns out that college kids living in dorms and frat houses, threatened by such dangers as beer kegs and basketball games, are quite a different matter.

I'm Going to Say It Now
The Dartmouth Review,
Sept. 18, 2000
The national tickets of both major parties indicate a growing bipartisan public consensus against the PC nonsense—the political propagandizing and divisive identity politics—that goes on in American universities. But colleges continue to establish academic communities marked by ideological hegemony.

Hide That College Fund!
The New York Times,
November 21, 1998
The Government's need-based financial aid system acts as a tax on the wealth that a family accumulates before and during the time that a family's child attends college. The system punishes families for wise economic planning, and discourages saving.

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The American Scene: An ongoing review of politics and culture.

Rights and Duties: If you're not sick of rights-and-fetuses argumentation yet, here are Daniel Larison's comments on the "right-to-life" approach to abortion:
Casting the entire argument in terms of competing rights, as "RTL" inevitably and really mistakenly does, has already let the horse of autonomy out of the barn, empowering the very logic of "choice" that brought us to our current predicament, and ultimately forces some external authority to adjudicate the competing claims of the rights of the different agents. RTL has mainly been aimed at trying to have the "rights" of the unborn child recognised and protected by law (and certainly I agree in the strongest terms with the practical goal of protecting the unborn from the ravages of abortion), but even once this is done the contest between the competing claimants will be profoundly uneven, as the unborn will always need advocates to affirm their "rights" against their immeasurably more powerful opponents. The recourse to rights language is a function of widespread aversion to thinking in terms of obligation--it would undoubtedly be less "effective" on the hustings to speak of the obligations women owe their children, for example, the obligations children owe their aged and infirm parents or the obligations men have before God, even if it would be more coherent as a moral argument--but the use of this language simply feeds the sense of autonomy and entitlement that talk of rights will produce.
And since it's "put up long quotes from Noah Millman" day around here (as every day should be), here are some related thoughts that he posted in the comments section:
. . . there are perfectly good religious positions on abortion that are neither Christian nor rights-based. I don't recognize a concept of "rights" in Judaism. I don't think that's unrelated to the fact that Judaism approaches abortion very differently from Christianity. Judaism is not rights-based but wrongs-based. There is no zone of autonomy within which you have the right to do what you like, but rather every decision in life is rule-bound, and the rules ultimately revolve around avoiding doing wrong or causing wrong to be done through inaction. I am much more comfortable with this framework than with the alternative with which we are currently faced. Because our current rights-based intellectual framework posits a clash of absolutes: *either* a woman *owns* her body and its "contents", and hence has an *absolute right* to dispose of same as she sees fit; or the developing child in her womb has, from the moment of fertilization, an *absolute right* to life, with all that follows. And neither perspective accords with my own moral sentiments nor, I believe, those of most people.

Let me put it this way: you might convince me that abortion is always and everywhere wrong. You are not likely to convince me that a fertilized egg in a petri dish has a *right to life* in any meaningful sense. All that asserting that it does have such rights convinces me is that the very concept of rights *as such* has gotten out of hand, and that we need to be reminded, as Matthew Arnold reminded us, that there *are* no rights as such; what we think of as rights are only the reciprocals of duties. And the thing about duties is that they are *never* absolute, but always proportionate.

A wrongs-based, duties-based approach to abortion would not focus on debating whether an embryo is a rights-bearing entity, or at what miraculous point it becomes one, but would ask what our duties to that entity are. It seems obvious to me that *even if* we don't think an embryo is morally equivalent to a human child, that we have *profound* duties of care towards that entity, that it is not mere *property* to be disposed of as we will. Which means that the idea of a *right* to abortion is absurd on its face. But there might be some circumstances in which *other duties* overrode our duties to an embryo, or where conceiving of our duty of care in an absolute sense would be disproportionate.

This is, I think, what is bothering people like Berkowitz about Ponnuru's argument. It's unfortunate that the way he's articulated this aversion is by recourse to "hidden law" or "moral instinct" because these things are historically contingent. The real objection is that the concept of rights is just as much a totem and a myth as anything else; you can certainly reason from the premise that we are bearers of absolute, inalienable rights to the pro-life position, but the premise itself is not reasoned in any meaningful sense. But I don't think Berkowitz wants to say something like that, so he limits himself to Burkean queasiness about the "abstraction" involved in the pro-life position. But the only "abstraction" involved is the right-to-life. Embryos aren't abstract. They're just small.
I'm pretty ambivalent about the concept of rights myself, and I certainly didn't mean to suggest that because the concept derives, in some sense, from Christianity that Christianity itself requires such a concept. Rights are, as Noah says, "the reciprocal of duties," which is why it was a relatively easy leap for first Protestant and then later Catholic Christianity to accept the political move from "thou shalt not kill, because human beings are made in the image of God," to "human beings have a right not to be killed, because they are made in the image of God." But rights-talk ultimately opens up a whole language of choice and autonomy (in which God and Nature get thrown out, and people "claim" rights as a means to self-fulfillment) that is ultimately alien to monotheism, and that explains the widening fissure between liberalism and Christianity. Berkowitz's Policy Review essay from a while back on the working-out of this trend is very good; what he describes as the "conservative liberal" dilemma is also the Christian one:
Both interpretations of the substance of equality in freedom — that which focuses on releasing individuals from fetters and that which concentrates on the need to restrain individuals and prepare them for the responsibilities of freedom — belong to the liberal tradition. Yet in the contest between them, the liberal spirit naturally prefers measures that enlarge the realm of individual autonomy or promote a more egalitarian society over those that seek to contain the social costs of those measures and to conserve the background conditions that keep autonomy from deteriorating into anarchy . . . This progressive proclivity is rooted in the nature of the liberal spirit and sown into the fabric of human nature. The rights in terms of which the liberal tradition defines freedom are essentially expansive in nature, steadily eroding the limits on individual choice established by law and custom.
Yet allowing all this, and allowing that a Christian or a Jew or a conservative liberal might increasingly doubt the wisdom of rights-talk as the foundation of political order, we are nonetheless citizens of a country in which rights-talk is basically the only kind of talk there is - and I have a hard time seeing the case for pro-lifers abandoning the idea of a "right to life" in favor of a language of duties and obligations that might be philosophically closer to the truth but would definitely be less politically appealing. In so doing, they would be giving up the one great arrow in the pro-life quiver right now, which is that abortion isn't consonant with American liberalism as originally conceived, and the original interpretation of American liberalism still has a lot of purchase on our country's political mind, in a way that arguments based on duties and obligations just don't. Indeed, by abandoning a "right to life" language, pro-lifers wouldn't just be giving up on any short-term hope of changing America's abortion laws, they would be effectively giving up on liberalism altogether. Some people think that time has come (or that liberalism was a mistake from the beginning); I'm not persuaded.

Ross Douthat :: 6/14/2006 :: 7 comments
______________________

Comments:

I was once at a meeting in Wash DC in which a prominent Christian pro-life activist said, in effect, that we have to use rights-language in order to connect with this country's political discourse, even though that was not the real justification for the pro-life position from a Christian perspective. And indeed, some of the most straightforward arguments against abortion have nothing to do with rights. (I would not have wanted to be aborted; do not do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you; I should not abort anyone else.)

What rights-language does is force an inner doctrine/outer doctrine split: to the public we say one thing, among ourselves we say another. This is workable (and honest) only so long as the two discourses are not too far apart; but if--as some thoughtful people have argued--the two discourses are now strongly divergent, then it may be workable (and honest) no longer.
 

Ross:

What's wrong with saying, in effect, "liberalism is a *good idea* but it isn't *True* with a capital T." That is to say: letting people alone to do what they like is generally a prudent course; argeed-upon property rights are a precondition to prosperity and generally promote a more virtuous society; entanglement between religion and government can dangerously corrupt both; the marketplace of ideas is the most efficient way to determine and spread the truth; elections are a vital feedback mechanism that prevents self-dealing as well as more catastrophic failures or even tyranny; etc. etc. You can say all of that without signing on to the proposition that there are inalienable rights - whether to life, liberty or property - endowed by God and, as such, presumably inviolable by government at any level.

I'm not even sure the above constitutes a "break" with liberalism. If I don't much like Rousseau, Jefferson or Paine, but want to hang on to Burke, Montaigne and James Madison, am I no longer a liberal? "Liberal" properly has something to do with "liberty" or "liberality" and I don't see why I can't be liberal in either sense while still having real problems with our dominant rights-based discourse.

For that matter, what's wrong with arguing in the alternative - *if* you really believe in a right to life, *then* surely you believe that an innocent baby, even one that has not yet gone through the formality of being born, has such a right; whereas *if* you don't believe in a right to life that is absolute and inviolable, then *surely* you don't believe that a far lesser right - like the right to privacy - is absolute and inviolable.

As a matter of public rhetoric, both of the above are probably too complicated; far better to quote the Declaration and be done with it. But Ramesh Ponnuru wasn't writing a speech; he was writing a tract. I have to assume that Ponnuru *believes* the Lockean premises which he argues from. I don't.
 

Ross:

Your recent postings on abortion have been marvelous. But something worries me about the discussion so far.

In an earlier post, you state what you call the "pro-life premise": "that intentionally killing innocent human beings is always wrong and should always be forbidden, regardless of the consequences for society." Let's set aside the "forbidden" part and focus on the "always wrong" part.

My problem with this is that this *can't* be the pro-life premise since virtually no pro-lifers accept this premise. And with good reason: the premise is plainly false.

Why? Because it isn't true that killing innocent human beings is always morally impermissible. Suppose, for example, that you are a soldier for the Good Side in a just war. I am a soldier for the Bad Side and innocent as can be (I'm a conscript, let's say, forced to fight by Bad Side's evil dictator). It seems obviously true--and, perhaps more importantly, it's something few pro-lifers would deny--that you do nothing morally wrong if you kill me in combat. My death is morally tragic, no doubt. I am after all an innocent conscript. But you've done nothing immoral.

My problem, then, with the whole discussion thus far is this: even if one grants the pro-lifer everything the pro-lifer wants (that early fetuses are innocent human persons, that they have rights to life, that their mothers have duties towards them, etc.) what you call the pro-life premise *still* doesn't follow.

Of course, this point doesn't show that the pro-life position is false. It merely shows that pro-lifers can't defend their position by insisting that the unborn are just like the born. Thoughts?
 

Guys (Ross and the other smart sidekick, Noah),

The obverse of choice is coercion--if I cannot choose, someone else chooses upon my behalf. In many instances, this is merely softly patronizing, even harmless. In the case of compelling childbirth against a woman's will, it is, by definition, invasive, conscriptive, and punitive.

And asserting that the modern history of "rights" as I described them in their largest political manifestations, are primarily about "self-fullfillment" is just a way to challenge the seriousness of these claims. The "right" not to be enslaved (Burke, a name that's been thrown around here, didn't think much of this hoary social custom--was he proposing that slaves undertake a vapid form of "self fullfillment " by seeking to free of their bonds?); the "right" to to be treated fairly and paid a decent wage at work; the "right" of women to considered the full equal of men--these are not the self-indulgences of a corrupt, materialist society, but the pre-requisites of a humane, just society. But, again, our rights based society are that way for a reason--from The Rights of Man to the "right of return", rights singularly capture not only, or even most importantly, the individual's efforts to afford herself a measure of human dignity, but entire classes of previously disenfranchised peoples efforts to do the same--by colony, class, race, gender, sexual orientation. You may or may not find this edifying, but this is the narrative of human emancipation and learned empathy for those different from the dominant groups in power carried forward by Western societies since the late 18th century--you won't stop or even minimally mitigate that narrative until it loses it resonance for hundreds of millions of people, something it shows no sign of doing. Disembodied textual citations of great thinkers--something I'm equally capable of doing--will fail to grasp this dynamic of historical and social development in the West since the early 1700s. To call this narrative one of "self indulgence" is, well....whatever the word is that means "risible times 100."

Ross's "self indulgence" trope leads logically to Berkowitz's "conservative liberal" emphasis on individual restraint--and who among us is not in favor of such restraint in countless areas of national life? Surely, we all believe that the "self indulgence" of drunken drivers" and criminal CEO's threaten the community at large and the tenets of liberalism, properly understood--and the prevention of same "help keep autonomy from deteriorating into anarchy."

Clearly, in your view, a woman choosing to terminate a pregnancy rather than carry it to term lacks "restraint", in Berkowitz's sense. But, at another place in the two entries above, such a woman is merely protecting a morally anodyne "right of privacy" (making her desire to maintain her bodily integrity against the power of the state no more significant than, say, asking for a family member to knock on a closed door before entering a room). But I think the phrase with which I started this consideration best captures the lack of moral empathy on display here: the woman is, of course seeking "self fullfillment."

You're two very, very smart guys--but you still won't precisely address the distinction I've drawn: the right (yes, the right) of a woman to maintain her bodily integrity against the extraordinary state intrusion (not a mere "invasion of privacy", like an unwanted knock on the door)of conscripting her body to carry a child to term against her will--and only in the case when the fetus is non-viable (again, you haven't even addressed this quite careful distinction I've drawn). As I have said repeatedly here, when the fetus reaches medical viability, i.e. is capable of a social constituted existence outside of the womb, the state's interest in its existence is equal to that of the woman's, and the fetus should, effectively, gain the protections of new born infant.

Women aren't abstract. They're just large and very much alive.

If you want some duty talk, however ineffectual: how about the duty we have to women to respect their bodily integrity and their capacity to discern for themselves whether or not they wish to be mothers?

Self-fulfillment? Hardly--how about protecting the minimal integrity--defense of your body from the imperatives of the state--necessary to even affirm one's self as unique moral agent?

p.s. Weird, Noah, that you think, even by implication that Rousseau buttresses an abortion rights argument. The absortion of the self into the General Will as theory and R's wholesale misogyny as life credo don't readily lend themselves to feminist arguments of any kind--or liberal ones. Shades of democratic arguments, yes, but not liberal ones (c.f. Mill regarding this distinction in reverse).
 

Note: In the above entry, the times I cited "self indulgence", I meant to write "self fullfillment." In each case, my larger point still stands.

Actually missed Jim's remarks above before--he makes a good, if obvious point about the fallacy of the language of "intentional killing" always being wrong.

However what caught my eye is Ross's reification at the end of his pro-life axiom, a rousing defense of what he calls the protection of innocent life "regardless of the consequences for society."

No, Ross: "regardless of the consequences" for the woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy. Not society--here society is, indeed, the abstraction of which Noah spoke earlier.

It's the woman, Ross, the pregnant woman. As long as you keep the discussion on the plane of rights vs. duties, or esoteric analyses of exactly/precisely when the precious human life which you value more than the rest of us begins, you "lifers" always have the rhetorical high ground--it's a highly effective polemical combination of dispassionate intellect and quintessential moral fervor--ice and fire.

But, for this ploy to keep enthralling and distracting your readers, you have to elide that troublesome woman from your narrative--they are annoying, aren't they? If you can do that--as you've done here for page after page after page in a remarkable exercise of eloquent obtuseness--you're pretty much home free.


So see if you can make your pro-life argument by taking full account of the "consequences" for the pregnant woman that you insist, supported by the power of the state, bring a child to term against her will. Conscription is what I've been calling that process--consider that a challenge to your talent for euphemism. Just mentioning this heretofore invisible woman might be a start--maybe you might ease your way into it by talking to a few woman who have acted as adult, moral agents under circumstances you will never have to face.
 

yeselson,

This isn't exactly a rebuttal to your argument, since your emphasis is on the autonomy of the woman to choose what to do about the growing life inside of here, but it would seem only fair for you to acknowledge the negative aspects of abortion, such as those described here.

"It's the woman, Ross, the pregnant woman." Well, it's not just her, but even if one focuses on her, abortion isn't such a great idea. Certainly the way it is portrayed by most of the pro-choice crowd is a highly misleading picture. Like I said, this doesn't explicitly attack the notion that the woman has the right to choose to abort, but the notion that such a choice is the best alternative in more than a small fraction of the 1 million+ instances where women make that choice every year.

-Mike S.
 

Mike,

I'm not saying it's the best thing for the pregnant woman, it may or may not be--I'm saying you, me, Ross, the pope, and the woman's sister don't have the right to make that decision for her. She might screw it up, she might regret it later--but she's an autonomous moral agent, and it's her call regarding a living, but not human entity (BIG difference), and a potential, but not actual person (another BIG difference) within her own body--those crucial distinction are no longer made by Ponnuru, apparently, and Ross in his entries here (in one, he rails against the dangers of treating a fetus like a "nonperson" or something like that--well, of course it's a non-person, by definition--so, therefore, how can the state treat it as if is a person? It's certainly not a baby--that's simply a category mistake, pure and simple.)

The anecdotal evidence about women bearing children against their will--both the unwanted pregancies and the subsequent unwanted burdens of parenting--are also revealing. It's a great big wash--but it's not up to a paternalistic and cooercive state to make that call.

Either women are equal moral agents to men--and, therefore, equal human beings in eyes of the law--or they aren't. If they are, the state simply can't exercise this most profound and uniquely gender specific decision on their behalf.
 


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The American Scene: An ongoing review of politics and culture.

The American Scene

Panorama

The American Scene: Panorama

When liberals and conservatives alike discuss the United States' role in the world, it is hard not to marvel at what a florid romance Americans make of America.
. . . . .
Liberals usually fear nationalism - but as collective identities of class, ethnicity and religion fade away,
national identity may be the last resting place for the communal commitments that the left holds dear.
. . . . .
Many people buy The Complete New Yorker but never crack it open. Perhaps they fear being lured into
a Borgesian labyrinth of interlocking chambers, spiral stairs, and odd detours - a permanent dusk of nostalgia.
. . . . .
Other nations might make things better and cheaper, but Americans probably invented the thing in the first place. We've always been a nation of tinkerers - of
young inventors, proto-geeks, and science boys.
. . . . .
“Liberty is sweet,” George Washington's cousin wrote during the American Revolution. He was lamenting
the tendency of his slaves to bolt for British lines, and freedom.
. . . . .
For women in developed societies, the old patterns - full-time childrearing, and no work outside the home - are as dead as subsistence agriculture.
Now it's time to grapple with the new patterns, and their consequences.
. . . . .
Philip Roth is
the great recorder of Darwinian Man, and his characters inhabit a truly post-religious world, in which we do not have immortal souls, only sick, lively desire, and the dying of the animal.
. . . . .
He expected it to end badly, and it did. An ally was asked, years later, how he could have brought himself to turn against Robespierre.
"Ah," he said, "if you had seen his green eyes . . ."
. . . . .
Journalists who ferret out racists in their familial woodpile and then write books about them often seem to believe, mistakenly, that how you feel about a story is more interesting than the story itself.
. . . . .
There was a dark and joyless time in America when one could go about daily life without ever encountering pornographic images. And then came Hugh Hefner,
the man behind today's plenitude of porn.
. . . . .
"Serious" film theorists rarely bring up movie critics - the Eberts, the Kaels, the Otis Fergusons - except to dismiss them. But as a new anthology reveals,
movie criticism is a distinguished branch of American letters.
. . . . .
The craft of fiction has been compared to
the creation of a vivid and continuous dream. Small wonder that when the British writer Rupert Thomson starts a novel, he suffers from nightmares.
. . . . .
Movies are like dreams, a philosopher argues, and looks forward to
the day when films will take place wholly inside our heads. That might be a lot of fun, but it wouldn't be the movies.
. . . . .
Americans spend lavishly on appliances - subzero refrigerators, enameled cast-iron Aga stoves - even as our domestic competence declines.
Are we worthy of our kitchens?
. . . . .
After the fabulism of Joseph Ellis, the plagiarism of Doris Kearns Goodwin, and the lies of Michael Bellesiles, public confidence in historians is at a low ebb.
But was professional history's status ever that high to begin with?
. . . . .
What ails modern men is that
manliness is underemployed: It favors war, likes risk, and admires heroes, and so goes unwanted in an age of professionalism, feminism, democracy and bourgeois comfort.
. . . . .
The "music trance" that engulfed Victorian listeners is no longer available to us: The catastrophes of the twentieth century have made it
impossible to compose, or listen, without irony.
. . . . .
Why do writers insist on putting so much that is potentially compromising into their work? And what do they do when
their children grow old enough to read their parent's novels?
. . . . .
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.
. . . . .
Biblical style is famous for its stony reticence, and
Robert Alter’s remarkable new translation honors both the text’s grave simplicity and its almost novelistic attention to different literary registers.
. . . . .
Friedrich Engels rode to hounds, and today his House of Commons descendants prefer the abolition of his sport to socialism.
Robert Conquest, our last great polymath, appreciates the irony.
. . . . .
There wasn't a “dime’s worth of difference” between Democrats and the GOP, George Wallace complained. But
Tweedledum and Tweedledee enjoyed the public's trust, whereas today's more polarized parties don't.
. . . . .
A love story, D.H. Lawrence sneered, is "a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it's always daisy time."
But he was wrong.
. . . . .
Wordsworth's best poetry emerged, not from his revolutionary sympathies, but from
his reaction against republican abstractions, a rejection that focused his art on the concrete particulars of experience.
. . . . .
History is full of leaders — Danton, Trotsky, Nkrumah — who seemed to arrange their own destruction.
How does a leader become an anti-leader? Just ask Adlai Stevenson and Joseph McCarthy.
. . . . .
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is not a major work, but it's a brave one:
it dares to speak up for pedophilia, and suggest that a "bad" desire can without changing its essence mutate into "good."
. . . . .
James Frey is an enormous douchebag, a tenth-rate Norman Mailer manqué - but even so it's upsetting that no one has risen to defend
fiction-as-fact, one of the noblest literary forms.
. . . . .
Part visionary, part fascist and part fraud, Michel Houellebecq is a modern Céline: a right-wing misanthrope who has produced a resonant picture of an obscenified and isolating society.
. . . . .
There will never be another group like the Beatles: No one has matched their success, and the culture in which they achieved it no longer exists.
But is their music worth listening to?
. . . . .
The auteur theory succeeded in casting the director as the genius behind cinematic art.
But what of the screenwriter? Can a "Schreiber theory" restore him to his rightful prominence?
. . . . .
A true satirist hates the world and everyone in it. A sentimental satirist has a soft spot for the innocent and well-meaning.
Jay McInerney is no satirist at all: he loves his characters, each and every one.
. . . . .
England's creeks and bogs and standing stones are home to a host of creatures - hobs and buccas, black dogs and pixies, boggarts and freshwater mermaids, all of which are
catalogued in a new bestiary.
. . . . .
The "domino theory" view of the last quarter-century - from Solidarity to the Orange Revolution - has a touch of Polish messianism, but there's truth to the claim that "today was born in Gdansk."
. . . . .
During a 1920s sojourn in China, Wallis Simpson worked for two intelligence agencies, peddled drugs, visited brothels and slept with two Italians Fascists. Small wonder
no one wanted her as queen.
. . . . .
Google is
the only mammoth company in the world that's also a spelling mistake. Its founders named it for 10100, but they misspelled the number - it should have been googol.com.
. . . . .
The novel's declining readership has bred
hysteria over a supposed "reading crisis", and a foolish belief everything a writer does, no matter how reprehensible, is a blow in the service of literature.
. . . . .
The choice between liberalism and relativism reflects a poverty of political imagination, to which
a brief for a revived cosmopolitanism is a useful corrective - but one that doesn't go far enough.
. . . . .
People talking about D.H. Lawrence sound like
the quarrelsome couples of his own novels: they hate him, they say, or they love him, or both at once.
. . . . .
Ex-dictators have been interred in unmarked graves, returned to their families for a proper burial, and impaled on a spike in public view for several years.
What should we do with Saddam's body?
. . . . .
Richard Wright represented a strange paradox: He was the angriest and most outspoken black writer the country had ever seen, and a best-selling author with a vast white readership.
. . . . .
Eventually, nearly every discussion of the Jews gets around to their alleged singularity. But
perhaps the Jews are not unique, and only European provincialism makes them seem that way.
. . . . .
The Church of England once prayed on Good Friday for God’s mercy on the Turks; now Britain champions Turkey's EU membership. But what of
Turkey's mercy to its Christian subjects?
. . . . .
William T. Vollmann is
a writer who is both stylish and garrulous, a rare combination. He is also both tough and sentimental, a more familiar mix: he's seen it all but hasn't lost his innocence.
. . . . .
Most movies about journalism take for granted the trust- worthiness and good intentions of the average reporter - which is only possible because
the filmmakers know nothing about how the media actually works.
. . . . .
Ayn Rand wrote trash, but trash of the most bewitchingly odd lines and angles -
a mad and maddening farrago of sex and Modernism that made for two really good bad books.
. . . . .
You can never have too many reasons to reread Thucydides, and the best achievement of Victor Davis Hanson’s new history of the Peloponnesian War may be that it encourages us to return to the original masterpiece.
. . . . .
Welfare reform was more of a success than its liberal critics expected, one of those critics now argues, but
both proponents and opponents overestimated its likely impact.
. . . . .
Boxing in the 1930s was at once a melting pot and a place for where the races clashed, and fights like Joe Louis's bout with Max Schmeling were
clumsy, cheesy political symbols for the unwashed.
. . . . .
Few things rankle the modern mind like religious apparitions. For educated people, the idea that
the Virgin Mary has visited children in Bosnia-Herzegovina belongs to the twilight zone of pious fanaticism.
. . . . .
Is the thought of utopia even possible after Stalinism? The answer may lie in an overlooked canon of anti-anti-utopian narratives -
the offbeat science fiction novels of the 1960s and '70s.
. . . . .
A new biography of Laurence Olivier captures the truth of Alec Guinness's remark that his fellow thespian "
always carried the threat of danger . . . as an actor but also, for all his charm, as a private man."
. . . . .
George McDonald Fraser's Flashman began as
the antihero of Empire, the negative of the imperial virtues - but lately he seems to have become an actual hero in spite of himself.
. . . . .
The same qualities that make Proust so brilliant - his deliberate, fussy prose, the nuances of his descriptions - make him a challenge for the translator,
who may capture the meaning and still lose the luster.
. . . . .
"Spirituality" is part of religion, not an alternative. If John Greenleaf Whittier's prophesy ever comes to pass -
that "altar, church, priest and ritual will pass away" - spirituality would go with them.
. . . . .
Designer babies are a quint- essentially American dream, and the boutique childbirth center is the logical extension of
"Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry."
. . . . .
The Civil War has been so mythologized that it's good to have a writer try to put the hell back in. But war is hell because it happens to people, and
there are no people in E.L. Doctorow’s new novel.
. . . . .
However unpleasant people found the social turmoil of the late 1960s,
most everyone had it easy compared with Paul "Bear" Bryant and the University of Alabama football team.
. . . . .
War books tell the same story. But wars are different even if the books remain the same, and
as the memoirs of Iraq appear, we can begin to see the particularities of this one.
. . . . .
For the force of human genius, read Shakespeare; for the futility of human learning, read his commentators.
The same goes - almost - for Sherlock Holmes.
. . . . .
The draining away of delight from the Harry Potter books, the narrowing of Harry's horizons to a single dreadful task, may confirm
every child's worst suspicions of what it means to grow up.
. . . . .
Foreign policy realists are often accused of being amoral and calculating - and indeed, Old-World realpolitik often was. But
the distinctively American realist tradition does not disdain moral considerations.
. . . . .
Her conjunctions, her vocabulary, her voice, her late-sixties hairstyle - these are among the many
things that writers have taken from Joan Didion.
. . . . .
It's been fifty years since it was cured, and it's easy to forget that in the 1950s,
the "enemy within" that Americans feared most wasn't Soviet Communism - it was polio.
. . . . .
J.M. Coetzee has always faced up honestly to
his helplessness before violence and suffering - and to the aesthetic difficulty, and moral conceit, of turning man-made suffering into art.
. . . . .
Getting people to believe in the supernatural realm is one thing; getting them to believe in God is something else. After all,
if there are supernatural forces, must they necessarily be sane?
. . . . .
The works of Gabriel García Márquez contain a great deal of love, usually depicted as a doom or a demonic possession -
a disease that, once contracted, cannot be easily cured.
. . . . .
The Spanish misadventures of Dos Passos and Hemingway illustrate the danger of writers plunging into politics and war, and offer
an unlovely portrait of the engagé artist as useful idiot.
. . . . .
Americans
admire whistle- blowers but disdain squealers; we distinguish the noble act of providing tips from the sordid habit of snitching. It's a tricky distinction - just ask Pavlik Morozov.
. . . . .
Remember remember the Fifth of November - a plot that, had it succeeded, would have been
the most dramatic act of terrorism in world history, closer to Hiroshima than 9/11.
. . . . .
Catholicism claims that its moral teachings are unchanging and unchangeable, but there have been obvious about-faces on slavery, usury, religious freedom, and divorce.
Or have there?
. . . . .
Assisted by a dime novelist and a shrewd PR man,
William Cody built a fictional hero named Buffalo Bill and then embodied the fiction, a make-believe hero who enchanted millions.
. . . . .
Benito Mussolini's body led an extraordinary afterlife - beaten, hung, buried, exhumed, stolen, hunted, gossiped about, and finally reinterred in 1957, after a decade as the hardest-working corpse in Italy.
. . . . .
The heroic reputation that Mao earned from
credulous accounts of the Long March helped build Chinese support for the Communist Party, though his heroism was almost entirely imaginary.
. . . . .
If you believe that Catherine the Great died while having sex with a horse (she didn't), then the tacky, error-riddled, fitfully amusing
Sex Lives of the Roman Emperors is probably for you.
. . . . .
Brooklyn's Park Slope seems like an ideal place to raise a family, but
Noah Baumbach's depiction of Park Slope's pathologies suggest that no zone could be more hostile to monogamy.
. . . . .
Today's college students have lost the space in which to give something narrow their deep attention. The ideal is now versatility,
four years of learned attention deficit disorder.
. . . . .
The English critic John Bayley writes essays which - at least when they are stalking the common reader - are
levels below his best intelligence. They unravel yards of delightful babble.
. . . . .
Think of Andrew Jackson as your Scots-Irish grandfather. He's racist, violent, and illiterate, and he often makes you shudder. But he's flesh of your flesh: You hate him, but you can't cut him out of you.
. . . . .
The rabbit heroes of Watership Down have the manners and mores of middle-class English conservatives - but like most great works of fantasy, the novel takes them out of comfort and into extremity.
. . . . .
The era between Suez and the Beatles marked the end of a Great Britain, and British PM Harold Macmillan - who “exuded a flavour of mothballs" - seemed to embody the national decline.
. . . . .
Book covers might seem beneath serious critical notice, but nothing human is alien to the academic discipline called “cultural studies,” which has now turned its gimlet eye on the dust jacket.
. . . . .
The late M. Scott Peck became famous by
telling people what they didn't want to hear - that delaying gratification, putting pain first and pleasure later, was "the only decent way to live."
. . . . .
American political novels are ruined by moralism. Instead of bracing satire, they offer two-dimensional fables in which the same lesson is always learned:
spurn the process and save your soul.
. . . . .
Ending African poverty is a shoal on which many buoyant ideologies have run aground. Optimists have been talking a good game lately, but
it's the pessimists who know the continent best.
. . . . .
Fame is something one earns - through talent or achievement - while celebrity is something one cultivates, or has thrust upon one.
Ted Williams was famous; Paris Hilton is a celebrity.
. . . . .
Pearl S. Buck and not Graham Greene?
Dario Fo but no James Joyce or Nabokov? In the world of books, there's no higher accolade than the Nobel Prize - and nor is there a stranger one.
. . . . .
Two new peril-in-the-sky movies offer post-9/11 lessons. In ''Red Eye," it's that you must act like a terrorist to fight terrorists—and in ''Flightplan," it's that
American supermoms make the best terrorists.
. . . . .
Little is said about Venice that hasn't been said before -
including that observation itself, and the observation about the observation, and so on. Which may explain why John Berendt's new book feels so commonplace.
. . . . .
Tony Judt's new history of post- war Europe takes as a theme
the continent's emancipation from the United States. For him, Europe is at its best when it's everything that America isn't.
. . . . .
Christopher Lasch looked at an American and
found him peering into a mirror, anxiously rating himself and wondering how to combat the inexplicable emptiness he felt.
. . . . .
A Rick Moody novel is generally about only one thing and that is
Rick Moody's ability to write very long, occasionally graceful sentences - and his latest work is no exception.
. . . . .
The precipitous decline of the Ellery Queen mystery is one of the most total, and in some ways inexplicable, cases of devalued stock in the annals of American letters.
. . . . .
It's no accident that
the siege of Minas Tirith echoes the siege of Constantinople: J.R.R. Tolkien knew how large Byzantium's fall looms in the European subconscious.
. . . . .
James Agee is best known for portraits of rural poverty, but in his last and greatest book, A Death in Family, he became
the first poet laureate of the urban South.
. . . . .
Great scientists come in two varieties - the foxes who know many tricks, and the hedgehogs who know only one. Albert Einstein was a hedgehog;
Richard Feynman was a fox.
. . . . .
George Packer has written a penetrating, nearly-unblinking account of
a catastrophic war that he supported. But he blinks once - when he can't admit that he was wrong.
. . . . .
Is it always wrong to steal a bus ticket in order to attend a close friend's wedding? Americans say yes, but Indians say no - which raises questions for anyone trying to
fashion a science of morality.
. . . . .
Zadie Smith might help do for blacks what Saul Bellow did for Jews; that is, make them
normal subjects for the novel, regular people with all the privileges of self-contradiction, error, and tragic force.
. . . . .
7 Middagh Street in 1940s Brooklyn may not have been home to
"all that was new in America" - but it did have Auden, Carson McCullers, Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee under one roof.
. . . . .
Neil Armstrong’s high-school yearbook photo was captioned
“He thinks, he acts, tis done,” a recognition of the seamless opacity that defined the captain of the first moon mission.
. . . . .
In the category of
works that are admired more than they are read, a dictionary must be at the absolute top of the list. But Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language deserves better.
. . . . .
A persecuted artist, a protomartyr for gay rights, a decadent and aesthete - Oscar Wilde was all of these. But a major movement of his life was
his long and difficult conversion to Roman Catholicism.
. . . . .
A new and formidable handbook on Renaissance art amounts to a Savonarolan bonfire of most art historians’ assumptions, or wishes, about
the role of paganism in the transition to modernity.
. . . . .
The World War II generation tried to protect their children from misery and toil, by sealing them off in golden, sunlit nurseries. Be careful what you wish for:
The children got older, but they never grew up.
. . . . .
God isn't dead after all, and the persistence of religion in the modern world has left atheists baffled and dismayed. But out of this disarray,
a new and vibrant intellectual atheism may be emerging.
. . . . .
Ungawa! It's Tarzan's timber- rattling call - the perfect choice to salute
a new set of MGM's six Tarzan films, and the mot juste whenever you can't think of the right thing to say.
. . . . .
We've been hearing about the death of the novel since the day after Don Quixote was published, and now V.S. Naipaul is the latest to write the obituary.
That makes Jay McInerny a necrophiliac.
. . . . .
Television is Hugo Chavez's natural medium, and whether he's denouncing the United States or persuading Julio Iglesias to warble "O Sole Mio" with Jiang Zemin, he makes for fascinating reality TV.
. . . . .
The Italians say,
traduttori, tradittori: translators are traitors - and Bible translators have too readily embraced the way of the tradittore. Fortunately, Robert Alter's new translation is an exception.
. . . . .
The aftermath of Katrina was awful, certainly - but many sociologists insist that the impression of Hobbesian violence was
created largely by rumor and credulous reporters.
. . . . .
In an era when meanness, manipulation, and backstabbing seem to dominate female adolescence, we need Nancy Drew -
the quintessential Nice Girl - more than ever.
. . . . .
The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes it painfully clear that to understand Iran, Western policymakers must listen to all Iranians,
not just "our Iranians."
. . . . .
Robert Kaplan has turned from describing the world's ills to proposing a remedy.
The antidote to anarchy is empire, policed by American soldiers with an assault rifle in one hand and a candy bar in the other.
. . . . .
When Hilary Mantel was seven years old, she saw the Devil standing in the weeds beyond her back fence. It's no surprise, then, that
her novels are full of devils.
. . . . .
Mark Twain was the first American rock star: he craved adulation, milked every scrap of life for profit, alternated hits and flops, abused his friends, and flew into rages at publishers and fans.
. . . . .
Incendiary is probably
the first novel addressed to Osama; it's also improbable, tiresomely knowing, and sunk in bathos. It's supposed to be about terrorism, but it's really about class.
. . . . .
There’ll always be an England, the casual visitor reminds himself. Outward signs - cricket and football, hedgerows and country churches - appear to confirm the thought. But
these are Potemkin vistas.
. . . . .
A new biography of Saint Augustine is consistent only in
its mistrust of Augustine's telling of events. There is hardly a heresy he confronted that his biographer does not praise.
. . . . .
The ascendancy of online communication means that
the age of "collected letters" may be gone forever. But fear not - there's always the collected email of Dave Eggers.
. . . . .
Historical novels often make us itch to consult a book of straight history, to get the facts without the fiction. Not so E.L. Docto- row's The March,
which illuminates the past as only fiction can.
. . . . .
The Bible, according to a maxim of the early Church, is a
"river in which a gnat can swim and an elephant can drown." For the elephants among us, Jaroslav Pelikan offers a life preserver.
. . . . .
An Anglican guide to worship suggests substituting "We say hello!" for "Lord, open our lips," and retitling Confession, “Doing the dirt on ourselves.” It's what you'd expect
from a psychotic kindergarten.
. . . . .
Of all the cities that have been flooded, burned, sacked, leveled by earthquake, or buried in lava, only a few dozen were perma- nently abandoned.
Cities tend to get rebuilt no matter what.
. . . . .
Once it was a secret; then it was a "right"; now it is a duty. Sex in the twenty-first century is a performance sport, and
the goal is always orgasm.
. . . . .
The Beach Boys are arguably
America's quintessential pop group, but their importance has been unfairly diminished by the cultural fads with which they are associated: surfing and hot rods.
. . . . .
A political scientist has tried to prove, mathematically, that there is
no connection between Islam and suicide bombing. But his method rests on assumptions that simply aren't credible.
. . . . .
In Lord of the Flies and his unjustly-neglected later works, William Golding’s theme was the fallenness of humanity. He felt that
man produces evil as a bee produces honey.
. . . . .
A.N. Wilson's new history, After the Victorians, offers a novel stab-in-the-back theory,
blaming Britannic decline on the perfi- dious Yanks - especially Truman, FDR, and Henry Morgenthau.
. . . . .
An Israeli guard gave a copy of Lolita to Adolf Eichmann, and the prisoner returned it two days later, calling it
"a very unwholesome book." Did the indignant Nazi have a point?
. . . . .
Salman Rushdie's novels offer a sparkling, voracious onrush, each wave topped with foam, each paragraph luxurious and delicious, but the net effect
perilously close to stultification.
. . . . .
There is desperation behind a new translation English translation of Dante – the terror that nobody will pay any attention unless his words are
jazzed up in contemporary slang.
. . . . .
Boss Tweed's reign still captures our imagination for the same reason that accounts of Caligula, Nero, and Elagabalus do - we enjoy
watching brazen wickedness in action (from a safe remove).
. . . . .
What links Homer's Margites, Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Won and Sylvia Plath's Double Exposure? All of them were written, and then
all were irrevocably lost.
. . . . .
The humanities are ruined, and the universities full of crooks. Art in America is neglected, coddled, and buried under chatter. Or at least
so says - who else? - Camille Paglia.
. . . . .
There are a hundred theories on
where to find the Ark of the Covenant - beneath the Temple Mount, on a Baltic island, in Utah's Sanpete Valley. But Ethiopia's claim is the most persistent.
. . . . .
Theodore Dalrymple has seen and done more than most people, and whatever topic he turns to -
sex, serial murder, public morality or poetry - he graces with style and humane wit.
. . . . .
The charm of dictators can reduce the hardest men to jelly. Warm handshakes and piercing eyes appear to go with the position, and
the despotic Kims of Korea are no exception.
. . . . .
About half of all American blacks had moved into the middle class by the 1960s, but then progress stalled.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan knew why, but nobody wanted to listen.
. . . . .
The music business is one of those spangled redoubts of modern mass culture where the novel rarely strays. Yet
pop music offers a deeply alluring landscape for the writer to colonise.
. . . . .
Like too many contemporary books, Oh the Glory of It All seems to have been written by an unreflective person, which is
the literary equivalent of being a color-blind painter.
. . . . .
The Highlands of Scotland lends itself easily to
romantic oversimplification - all heroes or scheming villains, gallant soldiers or oppressed crofters, sublime scenery or savage wilderness.
. . . . .
Describing the editing process, Thomas Wolfe wrote of "the ten thousand fittings, changings, triumphs and surrenders that went into the making of a book." But
nobody edits anymore.
. . . . .
While we worry about having our identities stolen online, the greatest identity theft of all is taking place in video games, our high-tech method of
inventing and reinventing the self.
. . . . .
In the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson wrote happily, "I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States
who will not die a Unitarian." He ought to have known better.
. . . . .
Are the post-Soviet states semi-authoritarian or semi-democratic? A new book says neither: They're the home of “virtual politics”, a system in which
all political activity is staged.
. . . . .
David Mamet once said of a screenplay he wrote that he felt toward it like an aunt toward a nephew: “I love it, but it’s not really my child.” Such is
the lot of screenwriters.
. . . . .
Editors always try to eliminate repetition; but great writers like Saul Bellow understand that when you repeat a word with deliberation,
the word undergoes a change.
. . . . .
Universal history - the work of Wells, of Toynbee, of the Durants - may be
beyond the historian's appointed task, but the impulses behind it seem to be undergoing a rehabilitation.
. . . . .
Somehow, someone at Warner Books became convinced that
Michael Eisner's days in summer camp - full of overnight treks and unsettling "lake smells" - are the fodder of bestsellerdom.
. . . . .
Flannery O'Connor's God put her to a severe test - yet there is no one, among the major figures of American literature,
with faith so deep and heartfelt.
. . . . .
Burma features in some of George Orwell's most famous essays, and he was writing about the country on his deathbed. Now a new book takes up
this meager but tantalizing connection.
. . . . .
Thomas Sowell's essays
promote unfashionable theses. All cultures aren't equal; Western culture is better than others; Differences in behavior can be explained by differences in culture.
. . . . .
Emund Wilson didn't engage well with literature at the textual level. But he was a great critic of the work, who made it feel as though a book’s interior
were lit by a thousand-watt bulb.
. . . . .
W.B. Yeats wrote: "The intellect of man is forced to choose, / Perfection of the life or of the work." Writers who try to have both must face
the conflict between marriage and art.
. . . . .
What's the difference between garbage and a girl from New Jersey? Ask
the elusive creator of Truly Tasteless Jokes.
. . . . .
Scientists have come to expect fundamental theories to be "tough, surprising, and exciting," writes John Polkinghorne -
much like trinitarian theology.
. . . . .
The most intimately-known family of the English Middle Ages isn't the Tudors or the Lancasters, but the Pastons - minor gentry with a fortuitous habit of
preserving their letters.
. . . . .
Each of Henrik Ibsen's famous plays is a ferocious attack on marriage - an indictment that gives Ibsen
his extraordinary modernity, a modernity that has only increased over the last century.
. . . . .
Cormac McCarthy is a colossally gifted writer, certainly one of the greatest observers of landscape. He is also one of
the great hams of American prose.
. . . . .
Picking three difficult Faulkner novels for her famous book club, Oprah has launched
a sneak attack on the idea of beach reading. And it appears to be paying off.
. . . . .
The British
called it the Indian Mutiny, but no one is sure what it really was. A military uprising that got out of hand? A race war, or a war of religion? The first Indian war of independence?
. . . . .
If you treasure an image of the Crusades as a bloodthirsty raid on a peaceful and sophisticated Muslim world, then you aren't going to like
what recent historians have to say.
. . . . .
Like Marx, Thomas Friedman believe that globalization is compatible with only one economic system, and like Marx he believes it will enable us
to leave war, tyranny, and poverty behind.
. . . . .
Is the American South "
an alien child in a liberal family, tortured and confused, driven to a fantasy life"? Or does it embody the country's paradoxical mix of conservatism and radicalism?
. . . . .
James Brown is the godfather of soul - and maybe
the godfather of rap, too. But he isn't happy with where its gone, and how its lyrics and images conform to the imaginings of the worst racists.
. . . . .
Salonica, once the Ottoman Empire’s chief European port, is now
a city of ghosts - haunted, among other shades, by the memory of Greek anti-Semitism.
. . . . .
Say you're a salesman in the religion business who's concluded that your company's oldest and most trusted product doesn't really exist. How do you
spin the death of God?
. . . . .
Since the Iraq invasion, movies have become ever more hideously violent and disaster-conscious, as if they are actively
looking for a war metaphor.
. . . . .
Was
Shakespeare a secret and militant Catholic, encrypting his poems and plays to transmit forbidden truths about the Reformation? It would be fascinating, if it were true.
. . . . .
Iris Murdoch - a major novelist and minor philosopher, or a scheming yet obtuse slut showing off her breasts?
Her ex-lover reports, you decide.
. . . . .
Sometimes, the closed world of film noir is too corrupt to admit the possibility of upright conduct. But in the best noirs, it's the devil, not society, that
makes the anti-hero do it.
. . . . .
A novel about
the Irish sojourn of Erwin Schrödinger - he of the famous cat - will probably have limited appeal. But those who read it will remember it for years.
. . . . .
Modern marriage was born in the Enlightenment, when love became an implicit part of the pursuit of happiness. But Cupid has proven
an undependable guard of the matrimonial bed.
. . . . .
Roald Dahl is a beloved children’s writer whom
many adults have distrusted, though they have not always found it easy to say why.
. . . . .
H.G. Wells is getting all the attention this week, but Jules Verne - bowdlerized in translation and pigeonholed as a boys' adventure writer - may have had
the greater knack for prophecy.
. . . . .
First Blockbuster, now Netflix: It's
the end of the indie video store - the place crammed full of all the Great Lost Films and Insane Schlock ever made available to the viewing public.
. . . . .
What drives the anti-Americanism, and pro-Arabism, of so many continental journalists? Maybe it's
a hankering after aristocracy.
. . . . .
Did the United States really blunder into Vietnam because of fears of creeping Communism? Or was it because America's leaders thought they
held all the cards and couldn't lose?
. . . . .
The best Batman comic book today is one in which the superhero rarely appears. Which may be his most effective role right now:
less of a character, more of a presence.
. . . . .
Is there no end to publishers' putting out
ever tinier biographies of prominent historical figures? Apparently not - and Washington and Jefferson are the latest to get the less-is-more treatment.
. . . . .

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