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Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012

March 25th, 2015 - 7:16 am

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Today, March 25, is the birthday of my friend and colleague Hilton Kramer.  Hilton died on March 27, 2012, at 84. Today, I suspect, Hilton is remembered chiefly as the founding editor of The New Criterion, the magazine I now edit, which he and the pianist and music critic Samuel Lipman started in 1982.  But in the years before, Hilton was the awesome voice of The New York Times’s arts and culture pages. The phrase “arts and culture” is key because Hilton, though perhaps best known as an art critic—he was for many year’s the chief art critic of our former paper of record—was so much more than an art critic. He wrote regularly about literature and other aspects of culture for the paper’s book review and for other sections of the paper. In comparison with the politically correct Lilliputians now teeming in the culture pages of the Times he was a giant indeed. 

Hilton’s was always a lonely voice on the cultural landscape. For one thing, he was absolutely incorruptible. There was never any hint of positive reviews for favors given or go-with-the-flow acquiescence in the latest art world trends. Hilton always called things the way he saw them. And since he was so well informed and could draw upon an unusually wide range of cultural and intellectual reference, his judgments were respected even where they were feared or resented.

I have been lucky to have had many attentive and engaging teachers over the years, but no one was more of a mentor to my work as a critic than Hilton Kramer. In May 2012, just a couple of months after his death, I published “Hilton Kramer and the Critical Temper,” part recollection, part homage, to this remarkable man. On the sad occasion of what would have been his 87th birthday, I thought my readers might be interested in revisiting what I had to say then:

No one, if he could help it, would tolerate the presence of untruth in the most vital part of his nature concerning the most vital matters. There is nothing he would fear so much as to harbor falsehood in that quarter.
—Plato, The Republic, Book II

Prose. Many of the recollections that followed Hilton Kramer’s death, age 84, on March 27, dilated on the nature of his prose. “Clarity” usually came towards the top of the list. George Orwell somewhere likened good prose to a transparent window pane. It revealed what it was about without calling attention to itself. It disappeared in rendering the thing it described. Hilton’s prose displayed that Orwellian clarity. Not only did you always know where you stood reading an essay by Hilton Kramer, you knew exactly where he stood, too. And you knew precisely what he thought about the subject under discussion.

You might suppose that is the least you should ask for from a writer of critical prose. You would be right. It is the least you should be able to ask for. The disappointing thing is how rarely you get it. You always got it from Hilton. Column after column, essay after essay, year in and year out for more than forty years, Hilton delivered the goods about art, literature, politics, and cultural life generally. He was not only remarkably clear in his writing, he was also prodigiously productive. The four plump compendia of his critical writings—The Age of the Avant-Garde (1973), The Revenge of the Philistines (1985), The Twilight of the Intellectuals (1999), and The Triumph of Modernism (2008)—contain only a portion of his published work. Until illness silenced him in the last decade of his life, Hilton was an indefatigable as well as an articulate observer of the cultural scene.

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Here we are, on the eve of Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to both houses of the United States Congress. The Obama administration is acting like a petulant twelve year old  — how dare the prime minister of Israel come to the United States and speak before Congress when he wasn’t invited by us? — and the rancid Pelosi-Reid contingent of the Democratic Party has promised to take their marbles and go home: they won’t even listen to what he has to say.

The ostensible issue is Iran, with which the Obama administration is currently capitula– er, negotiating. The presence of a Jew, and a Jew from Israel, in the nation’s capital (and Capitol) is sure to offend the mullahs in Tehran, and it might just upset the delicate diplomacy by which Obama privately assures that Iran gets nuclear weapons while publicly pretending to prevent that eventuality.

Back in 2001, when Barack Obama was in the Illinois state Senate and still battening on the wisdom of the “Reverend” Jeremiah (“God-Damn America”) Wright, Netanyahu was more forthright, and more percipient, than most politicians about the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Those attacks, he said, were part of “a war to reverse the triumph of the West.”

Netanyahu was right then, and he is still right. For the prime minister of Israel, it is an existential — a life-or-death — issue. (Actually, it is an existential issue for the entire world, as Ilan Berman shows in his forthcoming book Iran’s Deadly Ambition.) The tiny, dynamic country of Israel is surrounded by Islamic states of varying degrees of radicalism, monstrousness, and doctrinal identity; nearly all are united in hating Israel and plotting for its destruction.

“A war to reverse the triumph of the West.” For Netanyahu, and for you, I hope, Dear Reader, that is a bad thing.

For Barack Obama?

I cannot answer the latter question with any confidence. But as I contemplate the long war to “reverse the triumph of the West,” I find it sobering indeed to contemplate the deeds of the Obama administration around the world. Its naivete, fueled by its arrogance, poisonous racialism, and allegiance to “progressive” ideology make it a powerfully corrosive instrument of cultural dissolution and political instability.

Behind Netanyahu’s comment about the “triumph of the West” was a recognition of how long in coming, and how painfully won, that triumph had been. There was also, I fancy, an appreciation of how disastrous the alternatives are.

Anyone looking for an illustration doesn’t have far to seek.

If your stomach is too delicate to watch the many snuff videos flooding the internet of people being beheaded, pushed off tall buildings, stoned, flogged, or incinerated, take a look at this depiction of Islamic State legates reading from the Koran and smashing priceless 3000-year-old sculptures in aMosul museum.

A few years ago, in an essay on “The Lessons of Culture” in Future Tense: The Lessons of Culture in an Age of Upheaval,  I had occasion to quote Netanyahu on the war “to reverse the triumph of the West.” Since that war has been proceeding apace, I thought it might interest some readers to revisit an edited version of that essay as the world prepares for the prime minister’s address to Congress. I begin with these hors d’oeuvres:

We sit by and watch the Barbarian. We tolerate him. In the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his reverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us: we laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond. And on these faces, there is no smile.
— Hilaire Belloc on the ruins of Timgad

If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.
—Tancredi, in Lampedusa’s The Leopard

The simple process of preserving our present civilization is supremely complex, and demands incalculably subtle powers.
—José Ortega y Gasset

And then to business.

————————-

The lessons of culture: What are they? One of the leitmotifs threading its way through the essays that compose “Future Tense” is the recognition that we are living in the midst of one of those “plastic moments” that Karl Marx talked about. Future tense: not just subsequent, but also fraught. To revise an old song: Will there always be an England? That “will there always be . . .” is everywhere on our lips, in our hearts. And it’s not just England we worry about. The law; the economy; the political prospects; changes in our intellectual habits wrought by changes in our technology; the destiny that is demography: America, the West, indeed the entire world in the early years of the twenty-first century, seems curiously unsettled. Things we had taken for granted seem suddenly up for grabs in some fundamental if still-difficult-to-grasp way. Fissures open among the confidences we had always assumed — in “the market,” in national identity, in the basics of social order and cultural value. Future tense: the always hazardous art of cultural prognostication seems brittler now, more uneasy, more tentative.

Granted, the parochial assumption of present disruption is a hardy perennial. As Gibbon observed in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.” But we know from history (including the history that Gibbon gave us) that there are times when that natural propensity has colluded seamlessly with the actual facts. In Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, Burke (as usual) got it exactly right:

To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind; indeed the necessary effects of the ignorance and levity of the vulgar. Such complaints and humours have existed in all times; yet as all times have not been alike, true political sagacity manifests itself, in distinguishing that complaint which only characterizes the general infirmity of human nature, from those which are symptoms of the particular distemperature of our own air and season.

A book called Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents will always be pertinent. Burke’s point is that whereas some discontents are part of the human condition, others are part of the conditions humans forge for themselves. o highlight in this series of essays.

Is there something unique, or at least distinctively different, about the economic crisis that began in 2008, was supposed to have evaporated by now, but that is lingering on if not getting worse? Has the ideology of transnational progressivism made such inroads among political elites that it threatens American self-determination and individual liberty? (I think of Burke again: “It was soon discovered, that the forms of a free, and the ends of an arbitrary Government, were things not altogether incompatible.”) Is America on the brink (or even beyond the brink) of a “fourth revolution” —  following on the original revolution of American Independence, the Civil War, and the revolution wrought by FDR’s New Deal — are we, another eighty years on, facing a new revolution that will fundamentally reshape political and cultural life in this country? The social commentator  Charles Murray has asked whether “a major stream of artistic accomplishment can be produced by a society that is geriatric [as ours, increasingly, is]? By a society that is secular? By an advanced welfare state?” We do not know the answers to those questions, Mr. Murray observed, because “we are facing unprecedented situations.”

We have never observed a great civilization with a population as old as the United States will have in the twenty-first century; we have never observed a great civilization that is as secular as we are apparently going to become; and we have had only half a century of experience with advanced welfare states.

Which leaves us—where? In 1911, the poet-philosopher T. E. Hulme observed that “there must be one word in the language spelt in capital letters. For a long time, and still for sane people, the word was God. Then one became bored with the letter ‘G,’ and went on to ‘R,’ and for a hundred years it was Reason, and now all the best people take off their hats and lower their voices when they speak of Life.” I think Hulme was on to something, both in his observation about the inveterate habit of reverence and the choice that sanity dictates. I wonder, though, whether we as a culture haven’t shifted our attention from “L” for “Life” to “E” for “Egalitarianism” or “P” for “Political Correctness.”

It is noteworthy, in any event, to what extent certain key words live in a state of existential diminishment. Consider the word “Gentleman.” It was not so long ago that it named a critical moral-social-cultural aspiration. What happened to the phenomenon it named? Or think of the word “respectable.” It too has become what the philosopher David Stove called a “smile word,” that is, a word that names a forgotten or neglected or out-of-fashion social virtue that we might remember but no longer publicly practice. The word still exists, but the reality has been ironized out of serious discussion. It is hard to use straight. Just as it would be difficult to call someone “respectable” today without silently adding a dollop of irony, so it is with the word “gentleman.”

Leo Strauss made the witty observation that the word “virtue,” which once referred to the manliness of a man, had come to refer primarily to the chastity of a woman. We’ve moved on from that, of course. Chastity was for centuries a prime theme of Western dramatic art even as it was an obsession of Western culture. Who can even pronounce the word these days without a knowing smile? And as for manliness, well, the philosopher Harvey Mansfield wrote an entire book diagnosing (and lamenting) its mutation into ironized irrelevance.

Here’s the question: Absent the guiding stringencies of manliness, which are also the tonic assumptions of cultural confidence, how should we understand “the lessons of culture”? In his reflections on Pericles for “Future Tense,” Victor Davis Hanson noted that “the unabashed confidence of Pericles in his own civilization and national ethos . . . were once gold standards for unapologetic Western democratic rhetoricians.” And not only rhetoricians, but for Western democracies tout court. Pericles, Hanson observes, reminds us that “should a great culture not feel that its values and achievements are exceptional,” then no one else will either. The eclipse of that fundamental confidence is “injurious” to small and insignificant states, but “fatal” to states, like the United States, with aspirations to global leadership.

And where does that leave us? In one of his essays on humanism, T. S. Eliot observed that when we “boil down Horace, the Elgin Marbles, St. Francis, and Goethe” the result will be “pretty thin soup.” “Culture,” he concluded, “is not enough, even though nothing is enough without culture.” In other words, culture is more than a parade of names, a first prize in the game of “cultural literacy.” Let me return to and elaborate on Hanson’s observations about Pericles. What lessons does the great Greek statesman have for us today? Does his example as a leader of the Athenians at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War have a special pertinence for us as we think about “the lessons of culture”?

To answer these questions, one first wants to know: What is it that Pericles stood for? To what sort of society was he pointing? What way of life, what vision of the human good did he propound?

In his history of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounts the public funeral oration that Pericles, as commander of the army and first citizen of Athens, delivered to commemorate those fallen after the first year—the first of twenty-seven years, be it noted — of war with Sparta. As Hanson reminds us, the short speech is deservedly one of the most famous in history.

The funeral oration outlines the advantages of Athenian democracy, a bold new system of government that was not simply a political arrangement but a way of life. There were two keynotes to that way of life: freedom and tolerance on the one hand, responsible behavior and attention to duty on the other.

The two go together. We Athenians, Pericles said, are “free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law” — including, he added in an important proviso, “those unwritten laws,” like the lawlike commands of taste, manners, and morals—“which it is an acknowledged shame to break.” Freedom and tolerance, Pericles suggested, were blossoms supported by roots that reached deep into the soil of duty. Burke again: “Manners are of more importance than law. . . . The law touches us but here and there and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform and insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.”

Athens had become the envy of the world, partly because of its wealth, partly because of its splendor, partly because of the freedom enjoyed by its citizens. Athens’ navy was unrivaled, its empire unparalleled, its civic and cultural institutions unequalled. The city was “open to the world,” a cosmopolitan center. Political life was “free and open,” as was private life: “We do not get into a state with our next-door neighbor,” Pericles said, “if he enjoys himself in his own way.”

Of course, from the perspective of twenty-first-century America, democracy in Athens may seem limited and imperfect. Women were entirely excluded from citizenship in Athens, and there was a large slave class that underwrote the material freedom of Athens’ citizens. These things must be acknowledged. But must they be apologized for? Whenever fifth-century Athens is mentioned these days, it seems that what is stressed is not the achievement of Athenian democracy but its limitations.

To my mind, concentrating on the limitations of Athenian democracy is like complaining that the Wright brothers neglected to provide transatlantic service with their airplanes. The extraordinary achievement of Athens was to formulate the ideal of equality before the law. To be sure, that ideal was not perfectly instantiated in Athens. Perhaps it never will be perfectly instantiated, it being in the nature of ideals to inspire emulation but also to exceed it.

The point to bear in mind is that both the ideal of equality before the law and the cultivation of an open, tolerant society were new. They made Athens the model of democracy for all the republics that sought to follow the path of freedom—just as America is the model of freedom today. Pericles was right to boast that “Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now.” To continue the theme of aviation, we might say that in Athens, after innumerable trials elsewhere, democracy finally managed to get off the ground and stay aloft. In Periclean Athens what mattered in assuming public responsibility, as Pericles said, was “not membership in a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.” To an extraordinary extent, within the limits of its franchise, Athens lived up to that ideal.

It is also worth noting that life in Athens was not only free but also full. Here we come to the lessons of culture. When the day’s work was done, Pericles boasted, Athenians turned not simply to private pleasure but also to ennobling recreation “of all kinds for our spirits.” For the Age of Pericles was also the age of the great dramatists, the age of Socrates, the great artist Phidias, and others. Freedom, skill, and ambition conspired to make Athens a cultural as well as a political paragon.

A recurrent theme of the funeral oration is the importance of sound judgment, what Aristotle codified as the manly virtue of prudence. The blessing of freedom requires the ballast of duty, and informed judgment is the indispensable handmaiden of duty. It also requires courage: the indispensable virtue, as Aristotle pointed out, because it makes the practice of all the other virtues possible. A free society is one that nurtures the existential slack that tolerance and openness generate. Chaos and anarchy are forestalled by the intervention of politics in the highest sense of the term: deliberation and decision about securing the good life. When it comes to cultural activities, Pericles said, Athenians had learned to love beauty with moderation — the Greek word is euteleias, “without extravagance” — and to pursue philosophy and the life of the mind “without effeminacy,” aneu malakias. The lessons of culture were to be ennoblements of life, not an escape from its burdens.

The exercise of sound judgment was required in other spheres as well. In their conduct of policy, Athenians strove to be bold, but prudent, i.e., effective. “We are,” Pericles wrote, “capable at the same time of taking risks and of estimating them beforehand.” The exercise of sound judgment was not simply an intellectual accomplishment; it was the tithe of citizenship. “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business,” Pericles observed, “we say that he has no business here at all.”

Pericles did not mean that every citizen had to be a politician. What he meant was that all citizens had a common stake in the commonwealth of the city. And that common stake brought with it common responsibilities as well as common privileges. At a time when everyone is clamoring for his or her “rights” — when new “rights” pop up like mushrooms after a rain — it is worth remembering that every right carries with it a corresponding duty. We enjoy certain rights because we discharge corresponding responsibilities. Some rights may be inalienable; none is without a price.

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Rudy Giuliani & King Canute

February 22nd, 2015 - 2:52 pm

So White House spokesman Josh Earnest “feels sorry” for Rudy Giuliani. Save your sympathy, Josh: you’re going to need it closer to home as America wakes up to the rude truth of Giuliani’s recent comments about your boss. 

Everyone now knows that “America’s mayor” created a firestorm with his off-the-record-but-nevertheless-reported remarks at a “private” (Ha!) dinner for Scott Walker in New York last week.  Barack Obama, Giuliani suggested, didn’t “love America,” not really. He hastened to add that he was not questioning the president’s patriotism. Oh, no, never that. It’s just that Obama’s habitual denigration of  America (he believes in American exceptionalism in the same way that the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism, he once said) led him to conclude that Barack Hussein Obama was not viscerally connected to this country in the same way that, for example, Ronald Reagan was.

The MSM sure didn’t like that. And they liked it even less when Giuliani decided to underscore his comments in the following days.  Not only did Obama not really love America, Giuliani said, but also he was deeply influenced by America-hating Communists growing up, from his parents to Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, and the “Reverend” Jeremiah (“God Damn America”) Wright.

Kevin Williamson was right when he observed in his National Review column that for the “progressive” (sorry about “progressive,” but I can’t light on a better term: “liberal” certainly won’t do it) worldview, of which Obama is an example,

there is very little to love about the United States. Washington, Jefferson, Madison? A bunch of rotten slaveholders, hypocrites, and cowards even when their hearts were in the right places. The Declaration of Independence? A manifesto for the propertied classes. The Constitution? An artifact of sexism and white supremacy. The sacrifices in the great wars of the 20th century? Feeding the poor and the disenfranchised into the meat-grinder of imperialism. The gifts of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Astor? Blood money from self-aggrandizing robber barons.

Kevin continues, coming close to that alternative for “progressive” I was looking for: “There is a personality type common among the Left’s partisans,” he writes, “and it has a name: Holden Caulfield. He is adolescent, perpetually disappointed, and ever on the lookout for phoniness and hypocrisy.” Sound familiar?

But it is now clear that Rudy Guiliani’s performance these past few days was nothing in comparison to his speech at a conference on Obama’s policy toward Iran on February 13.  Vladimir Putin may be the single most dangerous individual walking God’s snow-covered earth these days, but among state actors the theocratic mullah-mad country of Iran deserves a place at the tip top of badness.  They have, as Giuliani said, probably sponsored more terrorism than any other country.  Their ambitions are boundless. (Ilan Berman has the lowdown on this in his forthcoming book Iran’s Deadly  Ambition.) They hate Israel and have repeatedly said they wish to wipe it off the face of the earth. They are avidly, single-mindedly, tirelessly seeking nuclear weapons.  And Obama is helping them do just that. This is too important an issue, Giuliani said, to be left to a feckless creature like Barack Hussein Obama. Congress should be brought in to study and approve any agreement made with the insane people running the Shia hellhole. He is quite right about all this. His speech was full of wonderful one-liners: Netanyahu is a man that fights for his country, quoth Giuliani, “unlike our president.” “Wake up, Mr. President,” he said. “Come off the golf course.  Come back to earth.” Actually, I’d rather Obama stay on the golf course and out of Washington.

The Left of course is going nuts over Giuliani’s remarks. The off-the-cuff line about Obama not really loving his country was bad enough.  But now it turns out he has turned over the whole slimy rock and look what crawled out: Bill Ayers, Obama’s America-hating Commie parents, the “Reverend” Jeremiah Wright, and on and on. Giuliani understands terrorism as well as anyone and he doesn’t like it. He isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. When the people committing terrorist massacres do so while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” you don’t neeed an advanced degree in hermeneutics to work out that their activities have something to do with Islam—not the suburban varieties supposedly on offer everywhere that Muslims are not busy beheading, flogging, and incinerating people for the tort of being Christian, or Jewish, or homosexual, or a woman.  No, Giuliani is quite right. He calls a spade a spade.  When Major Nidal Hasan went on a shooting spree at Ft. Hood, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and killing 13, he wasn’t an emissary of the Methodist Church or the Fraternal Order of Elks or the Lions Club.  He was acting out an Islamic jihadist fantasy for which he’d been prepped by imams in Yemen.

The Left-leaning media, from Mr. Earnest down through the New York Times and other rancid specimens of Holden Caulfield group-think, are screaming about Giuliani, who has even received a few death threats.  The positive response, however, has been overwhelming. It’s as if some distorting filter has been removed from people’s ears and, suddenly, they hear the truth, not what the New York Times tells them.  They hear and they are roused to shock and anger.  They hear and they ask themselves, How have I been duped so long?  In the famous story about King Canute, the fabled monarch is said to have dragged his throne down to the water’s edge and ordered the incoming tide to turn back. It didn’t, thus demonstrating the King’s humility and the cravenness of his flatterers.  But I wonder whether Rudy Giuliani may not be a more potent, modern-day Canute, turning back not the nautical tides but the tides of politically correct, anti-American propaganda with which the Holden Caulfields of the world (and they are legion) have been filling the newsstands and the airwaves.  I sense a sudden change in the direction of the Zeitgeist’s current.  I suspect that Giuliani’s impassioned and forthright performance may be a contributing factor.  I pray that it is not too late.

None Dare Call It ‘Islam’

February 19th, 2015 - 4:53 am

First of all, Islam has not “been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” as Obama said yesterday in his speech about combatting terrorism. Indeed, like most of his public pronouncements, the speech was a Lillian Hellman performance as described by Mary McCarthy: every word including “and” and “but” was a lie.

Has there ever been a more anti-American president than Barack Hussein Obama, representative of the Weatherman left, student of Bill Ayers, the Reverend (“God Damn America”) Wright, and Saul Alinsky? There have been ostentatiously incompetent presidents before — Jimmy Carter leaps to mind — but has there ever been an anti-American president before BHO? I can’t think of anyone who even comes close. Even the bumbling fool Carter was a patriot. No one would accuse Barack Obama of being an American patriot (much though he likes its beaches and country clubs).

Every American should attend to what Obama has said about combating terrorism. Here he is last September: “Now let’s make two things clear,” he said. “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents.”

“ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’” Really? Was the Ayatollah Khomeini “Islamic?” How about Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan: is he “Islamic”? A few years ago, Erdogan told the world that the phrase “moderate Islam” is “ugly” because “Islam is Islam.” Democracy, he said, is just an express stop on the train whose destination is Islam.

Who, in fact, speaks for Islam? Who gets to say what it is and isn’t?

The Saudis, the biggest and richest Sunni nation? They torture bloggers for “insulting Islam,” stone adulteresses, maim thieves, and treat women like chattel. Do they represent Islam? Last month in this space, I dilated on this question: “Who Speaks for Islam?

 We are assured that it’s not the group that now calls itself Islamic State … [W]e know that they don’t speak for Islam because our political leaders and our media have told us so. It’s the same with Boko Haram, the Nigerian Muslim group. This morning, quoting the Australian journalist Andrew Bolt, I noted that they had kidnapped and sold into sex slavery 300 Nigerian school girls. That was before I saw the story that Boko Haram had just invaded another town killing as many as 2000. Boko Haram appears to believe that they represent Islamic teaching, but no: our leaders have assured us that that is not the case. Ditto about Syria: this summer an adulteress or two were stoned to death, but that, of course, was the work not of Islam but of “extremists,” if not quite “lone extremists.”

But let’s return to the president’s speech. “No religion,” he says, “condones the killing of innocents.” Can Obama really be that ignorant of the glorious history of Islam and the glittering deeds of Mohammed?

We have it on the highest (for Muslims, the only) authority that he regularly slaughtered innocents. Consider, to take just one example, the year 627 siege of Medina, then home to a Jewish tribe. After a couple of weeks, the inhabitants surrendered unconditionally. Mohammad then had the 600-800 men butchered, and sold the women and children into slavery.

“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama said yesterday. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” Let’s see, that would be the Iranians? No, no: we like them now, remember? After all, the president of the United States has reversed himself and is doing everything he can to assure that the radical Shia state can acquire nuclear weapons. He doesn’t say that, of course, but actions — including non-actions — speak louder than words. Where are those unperverted Muslims of whom the presidents is so fond? In the common rooms of American universities? Maybe. In our cities and suburbs? Perhaps. But I think we can agree that it is not (to make an arbitrary and woefully incomplete list) the people behind such actions as

  • The 9/11 terrorist attacks (mostly Saudis involved in that little escapade)
  • The Bali nightclub bombing
  • The Ft. Hood “workplace violence” event
  • The London tube and bus bombings
  • The Madrid train bombing
  • The Boston Marathon carnage
  • The Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket slaughter last month (“folks shot in a deli” was how Obama described the latter)
  • The Danish shootings just a few days ago by another “Allahu Akbar”-shouting chap.

Islam, or perversion of Islam? At some point, as Hillary Clinton might put it, what difference does it make? Under Barack Obama, it is painfully clear that “we are not at war with Islam.” The trouble is, it has become increasingly obvious to everyone except Barack Hussein Obama that Islam is at war with us.

The Swedes and the Clash of Civilizations

February 15th, 2015 - 4:21 am

The indispensable Gatestone Institute reports on some very disturbing news out of Sweden.

In 1975, the Swedish parliament unanimously decided to change the former homogeneous Sweden into a multicultural country. Forty years later the dramatic consequences of this experiment emerge: violent crime has increased by 300%.

If one looks at the number of rapes, however, the increase is even worse. In 1975, 421 rapes were reported to the police; in 2014, it was 6,620. That is an increase of 1,472%.

That makes Sweden the rape capital of the West, second globally to only Lesotho in Southern Africa in the number of rapes it suffers. Politically correct academics in the U.S. are sounding the alarm bells about a “rape culture” on U.S. campuses. In fact, the groves of academe across the fruited plain are among the safest, most coddled environments in the world. If the “mattress girl” at Columbia wants to find a hostile environment for women, she need look no further than Sweden.

What happened?  Samuel Huntington, whose book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) looks ever more prescient, warned that Islam and the West were on a collision course. What we have come to call “multiculturalism” was a recipe not for comity  and progressive enlightenment but for increasing conflict. That the huge influx of Somalis, Iraqis, and Syrians into Sweden has led to this expanding rape culture would not have surprised him.

For their part, Swedish bureaucrats prefer to explain the expanding rape culture by denying it. The Gatestone Institute cites some of their excuses (none rises to the level of an explanation):

▪   Swedes have become more prone to report crime.

▪   The law has been changed so that more sexual offenses are now classified as rape.

▪   Swedish men cannot handle increased equality between the sexes and react with violence against women (perhaps the most fanciful excuse).

Note that conspicuous by its absence is any mention of who it is who is committing the rapes.  Gatestone quotes Michael Hess, a local politician from the Sweden Democrat Party: “When will you journalists realize that it is deeply rooted in Islam’s culture to rape and brutalize women who refuse to comply with Islamic teachings. There is a strong connection between rapes in Sweden and the number of immigrants from MENA-countries [Middle East and North Africa].”

For that bit of plain speaking, Hess was handed a fine and a suspended jail sentence by a Swedish court.  Was what he said untrue?  Truth was not something the court cared about: “The Court [Tingsrätten] notes that the question of whether or not Michael Hess’s pronouncement is true, or appeared to be true to Michael Hess, has no bearing on the case. Michael Hess’s statement must be judged based on its timing and context.”

For those whose chief concern is not towing the politically correct line but in the truth, the evidence Hess has assembled tells a disturbing and unequivocal story: “Twenty-one research reports,” Gatestone reports, “from the 1960s until today are unanimous in their conclusions:

Whether or not they measured by the number of convicted rapists or men suspected of rape, men of foreign extraction were represented far more than Swedes. And this greater representation of persons with a foreign background keeps increasing:

▪ 1960-1970s – 1.2 to 2.6 times as often as Swedes

▪ 1980s – 2.1 to 4.7 times as often as Swedes

▪ 1990s – 2.1 to 8.1 times as often as Swedes

▪ 2000s – 2.1 to 19.5 times as often as Swedes

Even when adjusted for variables such as age, sex, class and place of residence, the huge discrepancy between immigrants and Swedes remains.

Just how huge is suggested by these statistics:

It emerged that in 2002, 85% of those sentenced to at least two years in prison for rape in Svea Hovrätt, a court of appeals, were foreign born or second-generation immigrants.

A 1996 report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention reached the conclusion that immigrants from North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) were 23 times as likely to commit rape as Swedish men. The figures for men from Iraq, Bulgaria and Romania were, respectively, 20, 18 and 18.

Et cetera.

It gets worse.  For not only is rape epidemic in Sweden, also very much on the upswing is gang rape, which has increased “spectacularly” between 1995 and 2006. Courts have tended to be lenient with the perpetrators, handing out light sentences or acquitting them outright.

You know how the Western media prays, just prays, that when a violent crime is committed in the U.S.  the perpetrator be a white Christian male?  The Swedes suffer from a kindred disease.  Earlier this month, all the Swedish media reported on a brutal gang rape that took place on a ferry running between Stockholm and Åbo in Finland. At last, they seemed to have their Swedish rapist:

▪       “Several Swedish Men Suspected of Rape on the Finland Ferry” (Dagens Nyheter).

▪       “Six Swedish Men Raped Woman in Cabin” (Aftonbladet).

▪       “Six Swedes Arrested for Rape on Ferry” (Expressen).

▪       “Eight Swedes Suspected of Rape on Ferry” (TT – the Swedish News Agency).

But as Gatestone reports, a look behind the headlines reveals a very different reality. “It turned out that seven of the eight suspects were Somalis and one was Iraqi. None of them had Swedish citizenship.” Oops.

George Orwell once observed that the only way to challenge totalitarianism was by having the courage to call things by their real names.  Political correctness is so dangerous because it is based on a lie and it promulgates itself by enforcing a lie on the rest of us.  The reality of Islamic influence in Sweden is brutal and dehumanizing.  It won’t get better by pretending that Sweden is a multicultural paradise. Sweden is lucky to have truth-tellers like Michael Hess. We are lucky to have outlets like the Gatestone Institute.  Will we listen?

Today’s funniest news item comes to us courtesy of the Washington Post. Here’s the headline:

As Scott Walker Mulls White House Bid, Questions Linger Over College Exit

Not a side-splitter, I admit, but I did savor the humor. Listen:

MILWAUKEE — Scott Walker was gone. Dropped out. And in the spring of his senior year.
In 1990, that news stunned [stunned!] his friends at Marquette University. Walker, the campus’s suit-wearing, Reagan-loving politico — who enjoyed the place so much that he had run for student body president — had left without graduating.

Gosh. I mean, you don’t say. This, you will have noticed, is the tone that newspapers reserve for Serious Revelations. The short sentences. Staccato. Ernest Hemingway meets Bob Woodward.

It’s the sort of prose that is wheeled out when an 18 ½ minute gap is discovered in the president’s secret tapes of his Oval Office conversations. This is serious, possums, pay attention!

But what did WaPo have for us? That Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and likely GOP presidential candidate, decided to leave college without graduating.

Wow. And they meant it to sting.

As damaging revelations go, this does not even rise to the non-story that Mitt Romney had transported a family pet on the roof of his car. (By the way, the pooch, as Ann Romney recalled, “loved it.”)

No, the news that Scott Walker concluded that he had better things to do than hang about the ivied halls of Marquette University is about on a par with the revelation that Harry S. Truman had no middle name or that he had been a tailor, not a swell.

My own feeling — and I suspect that it is a feeling that will be shared by many Americans (though perhaps not those in places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Berkeley, California) — is that, given the corrupt nature of American academia, the less exposed a presidential candidate is to so-called higher education, the better.

Would you like to know why the Washington Post commissioned this flaccid hit job? All is revealed in this sentence:

Since 1993, [Scott Walker] has run 11 races for state legislature, county executive and governor — including a highly unusual recall election in 2012 — and he has won them all.

Yikes. The GOP just might run someone who is not an off-the-rack, ready-to-wear guaranteed loser like John McCain or Jeb Bush. Maybe, just maybe, they have wised up. Maybe they will run someone of demonstrated political savvy who is a genuine but non-scary conservative and is by all accounts a likable chap. What then?

The faint acrid scent you discern rising from this fetid little piece of partisan slobber is the smell of desperation. That, of course, is what makes it funny. Scott Walker left college and got a job. Stop the presses! Maybe the WaPo gumshoes or Hillary’s (or Jeb’s) “opposition research” will discover that he bullied some creep in second grade or that he drank a beer when he was 18. Jeesh.

Though I am morally certain they won’t find that he accompanied a pedophilic billionaire on his private plane to his island getaway where a bevy of tender young ’uns awaited. They won’t find that he lied about a terrorist attack that left four American dead in Benghazi. Nor will they uncover evidence of serious financial hanky-panky involving preferred treatment in the commodities market.

Scott Walker left college and got a job. Is that the best they can do?

I suspect that it is the best they can do for the simple reason that Scott Walker, unlike the vast majority of politicians of either party, is what he appears to be: a hard-working, small “c” conservative who is well liked and is possessed of serious political skills.

Walker, in other words, is the Democrats’ biggest nightmare.

They are right to be worried. Who will they put up against him? A fake Indian whose yuppie “progressivism” is wildly out of touch with America? Or a moth-eaten political hack whose tin ear is almost as serious a liability as her appalling record or her notoriously repellent personality?

Scott Walker is emerging as a formidable candidate. Hysterical melodramas about imaginary torts will make his opponents look craven and downright silly.  They will do nothing to derail his candidacy, which is yet another reason I found the story about him in the Washington Post amusing.

No, I am not suggesting a perverse game of “let me count the ways.” The question is not as easy to answer as you might think.  That he is a bad president I take as given, as a look at the U.S. economy, race relations in the U.S., and the dismal state of the world whose dismalness is due to the fecklessness of U.S. foreign policy inarguably show.

I know that there are those who dissent from my assessment, but then there are people who dissent from the judgment that the Great Society welfare policies of the Johnson administration were and (to the extent that they persist) are an utter disaster. People really can be, as Wittgenstein said, “captivated by a picture” of the world, blinded by their attachment to what we have come to call “the Narrative.” According to the narrative, Great Society welfare programs are a good thing. They are framed (weren’t they?) to help poor people (and, not incidentally, to make the people framing them feel better about themselves) ergo they cannot be a failure, not really. Do they, as a matter of fact, institutionalize rather than abolish poverty? Do they make an entire class of people more and more dependent on government? Do they encourage a range of social pathology, from teen pregnancy and single-mother households?  Do they nurture a Janus-faced culture of dependency that involves a huge government bureaucracy, captive politicians, as well as official “clients”?  None of that matters to The Narrative, which persists through it all partly by demonizing its critics, partly by dispensing public largess to said politicians, managers of the bureaucracy, as well as (of course) to the officially designated objects of government benevolence.

If you can’t dislodge people from their attachment to so ostentatious a failure as the Great Society welfare project, how do you suppose you can dislodge them from their allegiance to a half-black international man of mystery with no visible qualifications to be president but who is the very incarnation of every leftist aspiration from the gospel of environmental economic suicide and hatred of the United States to an “evolving” metrosexual affirmation of polymorphous eroticism (has any other president dilated on “transsexuals” in his State of the Union speech?) to his embrace of an ideology—I mean Islam—diametrically opposed to America’s traditional commitment to limited government and individual liberty?

That’s a long-winded way of saying “good luck, it can’t be done.” Partisans of Obama will be with him to the bitter end no matter how ostentatious his lawlessness, how flagrant his incompetence, how surreal his proclamations, how disastrous his policies.

Consider, for example, his  recent interview with Mr. Plagiarism, Fareed Zakaria. The interview turned largely on Obama’s attitude towards terrorism and Islam, two words—“terrorism” and “Islam”—he is loath to see in the same sentence.  (Why? Perhaps Obama’s early tutelage in the Muslim religion in Indonesia has something to do with it.) It was a remarkable exchange. After saying that, of course, he has oodles of sympathy for the families whose loved ones were slaughtered by those whom he elsewhere has called “violent extremists” (i.e. Muslims), he goes on to  insist that we maintain a “proper perspective” by not “over-inflating” the importance of those terror networks. Above all, said Obama, we wouldn’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking that we regard them—i.e. Islamic terrorism—as an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.” Sure, “they can do harm,” Obama acknowledged, but—pay attention now: semantic slippage ahead!—“but we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are.”

Eh? Has the air gotten foggy all of a sudden? The leader of the free world continues:

That means that we don’t torture, for example, and thereby undermine our values and credibility around the world. It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing Whack-A-Mole wherever a terrorist group appears because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military.

Feeling better? Then this will really set your mind at ease:

Ultimately these terrorist organizations will be defeated because they don’t have a vision that appeals to ordinary people. It is — it really is, as has been described in some cases, a death cult, or an entirely backward looking fantasy that can’t function in the world.

When you look at ISIL, it has no governing strategy. It can talk about sitting up the new caliphate but nobody is under any illusions that they can actually, you know, sustain or feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work. And so we can’t give them the victory of over-inflating what they do, and we can’t make the mistake of being reactive to them. We have to have a precise strategy in terms of how to defeat them.

By doing what?  By releasing 5 terrorists in order to secure the release of one Army deserter (here’s looking at you, Mr. Bergdahl)? By describing ISIS as a “jay-vee” operation right before it started (speaking of Whack-a-Mole) beheading people in earnest?  By insisting that Major Hasan’s murderous “Allahu Akbar” rampage at Ft. Hood was an instance not of Islamic terrorism but of “workplace violence”?  And on and on and on.

In that remarkable interview Obama also said that “it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for. Order, peace, prosperity.” Do you wonder where he got that statistic?  Leave aside al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, the assorted wackos who murdered Theo van Gogh, who slaughtered innocents at the Boston Marathon, who just murdered 16 people in Paris, some for drawing cartoons, some for being Jewish.  Forget about them, and forget about the madmen who did for Daniel Pearl, who blew people in London to bits, who incinerated a Bali nightclub, or a train in Madrid.  How about the millions—millions— in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Syrian who agree with what Obama lightly dismisses as a “medieval” interpretation of Islam? What about them?  Why should we believe that a dozen secularized Muslims living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Washington, D.C., speak more authentically for what Islam is and aspires to than those millions? Why?

Just about the first thing he did when he took office in 2009 was embark on a world’s tyrants tour. He bowed to despots the world over. He apologized for the United States. And in Cairo, he gave a speech in which he outlined his hope for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” “one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam . . .  overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

“Progress,” “tolerance,” the “dignity of all human beings.”  Progress like subjecting a blogger in Saudi Arabia to 1000 lashes because he “insulted” Islam. “Tolerance” like that extended to the women who were just beheaded in Iran. Or the “dignity” extended to Jews by, to take just one example, the Egyptian cleric who said that it doesn’t matter what the Jews do or refrain from doing. “The Prophet” commands us  to “fight the Jews and kill them.”

So to return to my original question: What makes Barack Obama such a bad president? In brief, his unwillingness to face up to reality, his insistence on his beneficent-sounding (but ultimately poisonous) narrative in the face of an avalanche of contradictory facts.  Obama, like some other infamous political leaders in history, is a fantasist.  Some people share his fantasies. But it’s the rest of us who will have to bear the brunt of his blinkered and ideologically motivated stumblings.

Who Speaks for Islam?

January 11th, 2015 - 11:28 am

During these long winter nights, my son and I are reading aloud Greenmantle, John Buchan’s World War I thriller. Early in the novel Sir Walter Bullivant of the Foreign Office puts our hero, the dashing Richard Hannay, into the picture about a German plot to enlist a nascent Islamic uprising to the side of the Kaiser. “The ordinary man,” Sir Walter mused, believes that Islam is succumbing to “Krupp guns,” to modernity. “Yet—I don’t know.  I do not quite believe in Islam becoming a back number.” Hannay agrees: “It looks as if Islam had a bigger hand in the thing than we thought. . . . Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other.”

It was passages like that, no doubt, which caused the BBC to cancel a dramatization of Greenmantle in the aftermath of the London Tube and bus bombings in 2005. That event demonstrated pretty vividly, as had 9/11 before it, that Hannay was right. And yet we weren’t supposed to say so.

It wasn’t Islam, we were told, but rather a twisted perversion of Islam. The religion itself, as President Bush publicly insisted within days of 9/11, was a religion of peace. It would be tedious to multiply examples of this trope. They are as common as dirt. So I’ll just mention what is perhaps my favorite example. It’s from Jacqui Smith, the former British home secretary.  Henceforth, she told ministers in 2008, terrorist acts that happened to be committed by Muslims were to be described as “anti-Islamic activity.” Why? Because the “extremists” involved “were behaving contrary to their faith, rather than acting in the name of Islam.”

Taken in isolation, that statement is not absurd.  I mean, it is conceivable that a crazed Muslim (or Christian, or Jew, or Buddhist) should go on a murderous rampage, massacre some number of people, say that it was in the name of their religion, but that the claim should turn out to be false. That is possible. But here’s the question: does it speak to the reality of our situation with respect to Islam?

We were told that the 9/11 terrorists, though Muslim, did not speak for Islam. OK, maybe they didn’t.  But how about the London subway bombers? They claimed to be murdering people in the name of Allah or Mohammed. But maybe they were wrong. Maybe they read the wrong parts of the Koran or Hadith, or interpreted those eyebrow-raising passages too literally or something. Maybe.

Yet here’s my puzzlement. Let’s agree, for the sake of the discussion, that the 9/11 bombers did not speak for Islam. Ditto the London murders. Indeed, let’s say that neither the Boston marathon bombers nor the people who murdered a total of 16 people in Paris last week (the 12 at Charlie Hebdo and four at the kosher market), let’s say that they did not speak for Islam either. Like Major Hasan, who murdered 13 people at Ft Hood in 2009 while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” they were just “lone extremists” who carry out murder and mayhem while shouting “Allahu Akbar.” But that has nothing to do with Islam. OK. Got it.

But here’s my question: Who does speak for Islam? We are assured that it’s not the group that now calls itself Islamic State, but which, following Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I am considering calling Daesh, a name they apparently dislike. Anyway, we know that they don’t speak for Islam because our political leaders and our media have told us so. It’s the same with Boko Haram, the Nigerian Muslim group.  This morning, quoting the Australian journalist Andrew Bolt, I noted that they had kidnapped and sold into sex slavery 300 Nigerian school girls. That was before I saw the story that Boko Haram had just invaded another town killing as many as 2000. Boko Haram appears to believe that they represent Islamic teaching, but no: our leaders have assured us that that is not the case. Ditto about Syria: this summer an adulteress or two were stoned to death, but that, of course, was the work not of Islam but of “extremists,” if not quite “lone extremists.”

So who, according to the establishment gospel, does speak for Islam? The Ayatollah Khomeni was the spiritual leader of Iran, a great Shia Muslim country. Did he speak for Islam?  He didn’t like a novel by Salman Rushdie and told his followers to kill him for insulting Islam. Did the ayatollah speak for Islam?

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‘Our Gutless Surrender’

January 11th, 2015 - 5:49 am

The Melbourne-based journalist and television commentator Andrew Bolt is celebrated and reviled by all the right (i.e., all the left) people throughout his native land.  He’s been threatened, sued, and otherwise harassed by the politically correct establishment that, despite the great Tony Abbott in the prime minister’s seat, holds sway in Oz. Along with the writers associated with Quadrant magazine in Sydney, Bolt is one of only a handful of people who have effectively challenged the sclerotic orthodoxy of establishment opinion on all matter of issues, from the Aborigines and immigration to the virtues of free-market economics to the cesspool of hatred that is the ideology of radical Islam.

There has been an enormous amount of sentimental posturing in the wake of the massacre of 10 journalists and 2 policemen at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week. Even now tearful crowds are parading across France holding up placards reading “Je Suis Charlie.” The whole production is slightly nauseating in its fakeness, its self-aggrandizing narcissism, and its essential mendacity.

In As We Were, his charming memoir about Victorian England, E.F. Benson tells the story of the pompus classics don O.B. Browning presenting himself before Tennyson at a party. “I’m Browning,” said O.B. Tennyson looked him up and down and replied, “No you’re not.”

It’s the same here. Those skirling throngs are not Charlie, not at all.  And that is the point of Andrew Bolt’s superlative column in yesterday’s the Herald Sun. Are we really Charlie?” he asks. “No, and shamefully no.” “They lie,” Bolt writes.

 The Islamist terrorists are winning, and the coordinated attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and kosher shop will be just one more success. One more step to our gutless surrender.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen didn’t attack Charlie Hebdo because we are all Charlie Hebdo.

The opposite. It sent in the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi because Charlie Hebdo was almost alone.                                     

Yes, that’s right, almost alone, despite the hundreds of thousands marching with their “Je Suis Charlie” placards. The more you think about it, the more you can understand why the surviving journalists at Charlie Hebdo regard all their new “friends” with scorn and contempt. “We vomit on these people who suddenly say they are our friends,” said one of the magazine’s cartoonists.

“Almost alone,” Bolt said. Even the Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that originally published the cartoons that provided Muslims with a pretext for mayhem and murder, even that paper has declined to republish anything that might be “offensive” to Muslims because, they said, “violence works.”

I’ll have more to say about this and related issues in the coming days.  For now, I want to call my readers’ attention to Andrew Bolt’s incisive column. Let me recommend in particular his phrase “our gutless surrender.”

“Our gutless surrender.” Remember that, please, the next time a Muslim goes on a shooting rampage at a U.S. military installation, killing thirteen while shouting “Allabu Akbar.” Islamic terrorism or just, as the Obama administration insisted, mere “workplace violence”? Remember it the next time a mullah in Tehran calls upon the faithful to murder a novelist because said mullah decided that the book “insulted” Islam, Mohammed, or his aunt Nellie. Remember it the next time that a marathon race in Boston is bombed by young Muslims, or a subway in London is bombed by Muslims, or some coffee shop patrons in Sydney are killed, or some skyscrapers in New York are destroyed by Muslims. Islam is a religion of peace, President Bush said after 9/11. A United States consular facility in Benghazi was overrun by al Qaeda-trained terrorists on September 11, 2012, and four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, were murdered. Response? The United States says that regrettable event was a “spontaneous uprising” sparked by a sophomoric internet video making fun of Mohammed. We can’t even acknowledge what really happened. When Boko Haram jihadists kidnapped nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, Bolt reminds us, “forcing them to convert to Islam and selling them to be raped, Islamist apologist and terrorism lecturer Waleed Aly refused even to acknowledge on Channel 10 that Boko Haram actually had an Islamist agenda, describing it merely as a group of vigilantes.”

“Our gutless surrender.” It’s not merely capitulation to external intimidation.  Self-surrender, self-censorship is also part of the agenda. Australian journalists, Bolt reports, “haven’t really needed a muzzle. They have been only too eager to shut themselves up rather than call out the growing threat of jihadism, brought to us by insanely stupid programs of mass immigration from the Third World.”

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Students of ancient history will recall that, back when the Anglican Communion described a form of the Christian religion, there were thirty nine articles universally promulgated within the faith.  These declarations were meant to describe the basic elements of the confession, and paid up members of the confraternity were expected to assent in their hearts (and sometimes publically, by an oath) to the substance articulated therein. You can get a good feel for what the thirty-nine articles required by savoring the first two:

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
  2. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Quaint, what? James Burnham was perhaps the most underrated political philosopher of the twentieth century. A month or two back Encounter Books published a new edition of his Cold-War classic Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. The book has a great deal to recommend it. Though published in 1964, when the Soviet colossus had yet begun to teeter, it is if anything more pertinent to our situation today, circa 2015, when Communism is hibernating but totalitarian Islam is on the march.  Burnham’s book was Janus-faced: one the one hand, he had a lot to say about the totalitarian threat of Soviet Communism. Mutatis mutandis, what he says there applies also to the threat of militant Islam. But in his efforts to account for the “contraction of the West,” Burnham the diagnostician also looked inward, at the beating heart of liberalism.

Who were the liberals Burnham was talking about? He proposed a list of thirty-nine propositions as a means of identification. Readers were invited to look them over and say whether they agreed or disagreed “by and large, without worrying over fine points.” I invite my readers to take the same quiz.

 1. All forms of racial segregation and discrimination are wrong.

2. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

3. Everyone has a right to free, public education.

4. Political, economic or social discrimination based on religious belief is wrong.

5. In political or military conflict it is wrong to use methods of torture and physical terror.

6. A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.

7. The government has a duty to provide for the ill, aged, unemployed and poor if they cannot take care of themselves.

8. Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.

9. If reasonable compensation is made, the government of a nation has the legal and moral right to expropriate private property within its borders, whether owned by citizens or foreigners.

10. We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.

11. The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.

12. Any interference with free speech and free assembly, except for cases of immediate public danger or juvenile corruption, is wrong.

13. Wealthy nations, like the United States, have a duty to aid the less privileged portions of mankind.

14. Colonialism and imperialism are wrong.

15. Hotels, motels, stores and restaurants in southern United States ought to be obliged by law to allow Negroes to use all of their facilities on the same basis as whites.

16. The chief sources of delinquency and crime are ignorance, discrimination, poverty and exploitation.

17. Communists have a right to express their opinions.

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