Roger’s Rules

Roger’s Rules

Annals of Corruption: What’s Real, What’s Parody?

April 27th, 2015 - 6:08 am

Real/Parody?

Which is real, which is a parody?

Stumped?  The first is a parody, the second two are real, all too real.  But who can reliably distinguish between satire and reality these days?

How about this: crude joke, what James Carville (he was speaking about scandals at the Clinton Piggy Bank, er, Foundation) called “diddly squat,” or non-diddly squat corruption on a sickening scale:

  • Bill Clinton travelsto Kazakhstan, meets his friend Frank Giustra who wants to buy uranium mines there.
  • Clinton gives a press conference with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and extols the leader’s human rights record and democratic progress, even though he had just received 91% of the vote in an allegedly rigged election.
  • A couple of days later, Kazakhstan gives Giustra the uranium concessions he requested.
  • Giustra then donates $31 million to the Clinton Foundation with a promise of $100 million more to follow.

Ricochet has the whole story here.

No, it is impossible to distinguish between parody and fact any longer, because, as Mark Steyn points out, our entire political apparatus is thoroughly corrupt. Eric Holder may not yet have signed up with JPMorgan Chase.  But it’s early days yet, and who would be willing to bet that his seat at the DOJ won’t be cold before he picks up a super lucrative spot at a 1) huge law firm or 2) financial institution?

Steyn is right: the biggest issue facing our political world right now is corruption. Jay Cost, in A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of Political Corruption, provides some historical perspective on the issue.  In “Oligarchs for Hillary!,” Steyn shows just how bad the corruption has become. “The corruption nauseates me,” Steyn writes, “and, if it doesn’t nauseate the candidates, then that explains a lot about why nothing happens on any of those other matters [all the other policy items that are amiss in the Republic].”

We have a “justice” department that prosecutes a senator who made the mistake of crossing the President (Menendez) but declines to do anything about a tax collector who treats American taxpayers differently on the basis of how they vote (Lerner). We have a revenue agency that regards itself as the paramilitary wing of the ruling party. We have replaced equality before the law with a hierarchy of privilege, so that no-name ambassadors can be fired for breaking federal record-keeping requirements by a department whose boss outsources her federal records to her own server and then mass-deletes them with no more thought than when she’s parking her van in the handicapped space. We have a federal police agency in which 26 out of its 28 hair analysts gave false testimony favorable to the prosecution. We have a cabinet officer who managed to get more firepower deployed to toss her designated scapegoat videomaker into the county jail than she assigned to the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. We have a president who rules by decree on everything from immigration to health care—and a legislature of castrati too craven to object.

Feeling scared yet?  Pause to savor the Clintons’ role in all this more fully, Steyn is right: Hillary is “the most openly corrupt candidate of the modern era.” Even the New York Times is responding to the stench. Writing about Peter Schweitzer’s new book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, the Times reports the allegation that:

“Foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

“We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes.

His examples include a free-trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Department…
“During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, he writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.”

Is this OK?  Is it “Diddly-squat”?  I admit that it is a sort of joke, but the joke is firmly on us.

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Is Ed Miliband Insane?

April 26th, 2015 - 4:27 pm

Here’s a question for Ed Miliband, the socialist leader of the Labour Party in Britain and eager aspirant to the premiership of the Britain that, were he elected, would certianly no longer be Great: would he arrest his predecessor, Tony Blair? I think he might have to. After all, Tony Blair just went on record to warn that the world must unite to “defeat Muslim extremism.” Isn’t that, Dear Reader, a patent example of Islamophobia? As the heavy Dragoons declare in Patience: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Let’s leave to one side the fact that Islamophobia is a fantasy tort: a “phobia,” as your dictionary will tell you, is an irrational fear or loathing of something that in the normal course of things is not fearsome or worthy of loathing.  But how about Muslim extremism? I know, I know, the people currently in charge of this country are all in the running for the “see no evil” award when it comes to our Koran-toting, scimitar-wielding brethren. Muslims run aircraft into the World Trade Center, and we’re told that Islam is the religion of peace. Muslims bomb a night club in Bali, a train in Madrid, the underground in London, a marathon in Boston: no Muslims here, only “violent extremists.” A couple of deranged Muslims raid the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, leaving a dozen people dead while informing the world that “the prophet has been avenged,” and a colleague across town kills four people in a Jewish supermarket.

Need I go on? I easily could, you know.  But there is some radical disconnect between the “violent extremist” crowd, adamant about not uttering the talisman “Muslim,” and reality. “Islamophobia” is a made-up crime, but if the label is going around, then I am a proud Islamophobe: I fear and loathe Muslim extremism and think civilized countries should do everything they can to stamp it out. Tony Blair is 100% right that “the world has not yet fully come to terms with the scale of the radical Islamist problem or the need to deal with it.” Quite right!

But here’s the question: if (heaven forfend) Ed Miliband actually moves into Number 10, will he arrest Tony Blair? For he has just gone on record saying that he wants to make “Islamophobia” a crime. Yes, that’s right.  Not only does Ed Miliband want to expropriate wealth from the productive class, he wants to make an attitude a crime. “We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime,” Miliband told Ahmed J Versi, the editor of The Muslim News.

In the normal course of things, this frightening (and insane) declaration would assure that Ed Miliband would end his career declaiming from a soap box at Speakers’ Corner.  But these are not normal times, and I have a terrible inkling that the Brits might just be silly enough to elect this enemy of their civilization.  I hope I am wrong.

Jihad in Catalonia

April 25th, 2015 - 9:02 am

While Barack Obama is busy telling Americans that Islam has been “woven into the fabric” of America since its founding, police in Spain have just arrested eleven members of a jihadist cell that, woven into the fabric of Spain, was plotting to bring ISIS-style beheadings to a western city near you.

As Soeren Kern notes in an important and depressing post at the Gatestone Institute web site, police have accused the cell of planning to bomb various public and private buildings in and around Barcelona and of—this is especially nice—plotting to kidnap and behead a random person. I’m not sure that the Muslim presence in Spain has gotten the attention it deserves here, but as Kern points out Catalonia not only has the largest Muslim population in Spain, it also has the largest concentration of radical Islamists in Europe. “The cell’s primary objective,” Kern reports, “was to show that terrorist attacks such as those perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could be carried out in the West.”

Prosecutors allege that, among other plots, the group was planning to kidnap a random member of the public, dress their victim in an orange jump suit, and then film him or her being beheaded. The group also allegedly planned to kidnap for ransom the female branch manager of Banco Sabadell, a local Catalan bank, as a way to finance their terrorist activities.

Among those arrested is Antonio Sáez Martínez, a Spaniard who converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim woman. A police raid on Álvarez’s house uncovered a large cache of radical Islamic literature, how-to guides for terrorists, and many weapons, including grenades, military firearms, ammunition, and sharpshooter rifle scopes. His targets included police and military installations, as well as the Catalan Parliament building. Martínez, Kern observes, “is an acquaintance of a Spanish neo-Nazi ideologue named Diego José Frías Álvarez. The two are said to share a mutual hatred of Jews and allegedly discussed bombing Jewish targets in Barcelona, including synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses.”

While Martínez was busy dreaming of blowing things up, other radical Muslims in Spain are taking a longer view. Abdelwahab Houzi, a local jihadist preacher, has this chilling bit of advice: “Muslims should vote for pro-independence parties, as they need our votes. But what they do not know is that, once they allow us to vote, we will all vote for Islamic parties because we do not believe in left and right. This will make us win local councils and as we begin to accumulate power in the Catalan autonomous region, Islam will begin to be implemented.”

Do you doubt it?

 

Remember the First Amendment?

April 18th, 2015 - 12:27 pm

What psychologists call the association of ideas offers some amusing conjunctions.  When I read that Hillary Clinton, aging presidential candidate, was considering a constitutional amendment to circumvent the First Amendment, one of the first things that popped into my head was an episode from the classic comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.”  It’s the one that begins with Calvin addressing his dad: “Hey Dad, remember our car?” “Why sure,” he says, lying on the couch and reading a book. Then the penny drops. “Wait a minute,” he snaps in the next frame. “What do you mean ‘Remember?’” Yuck, yuck, yuck.

It’s pretty funny in a comic strip. The comedy, if there be comedy, is of a decidedly darker hue when it comes to the multifarious assaults on free speech we witness all around us. Remember the First Amendment? That’s not so funny, is it?  I’ve had frequent occasion to dilate on this problem, both in this space and in The New Criterion, here, for example, and here, here, and here. The assault is multifaceted. On campuses Muslim student organizations, abetted by a radical Palestinian front group called the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), regularly endeavor to shut down free speech whenever any affront to Islamic sensitivity is discovered or invented. The indispensable Investigative Project on Terrorism had a characteristically incisive piece about this front in the war against liberty just yesterday under the title “Free Speech Losing to Campus Thought Police.” But CAIR would get nowhere if college administrators told them to buzz off. They don’t. Nor do they intervene to insist on a little sanity when other students get into the victimhood sweepstakes. This month in The New Criterion, I report on an egregious violation of free speech at Marquette University, which, like most Jesuit institutions these days, has only a tenuous relationship with Catholic orthodoxy but which hasn’t forgotten its inquisitorial skills.

I touch on these other assaults on free speech to provide a context for Hillary Clinton’s foray into the battle to shut people up (a procedure, it is worth noting, that is often a harbinger of a battle to lock people up). The constitutional amendment that Hillary Clinton told the world she would consider would be directed against the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United.  “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system,” quoth Hillary, “and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment.”

“Unaccountable money”: what do you suppose that means? It is sometimes said that the Citizens United case had to do with contributions to political candidates.  The Left hates the decision, it is said, because it removes limits on the amount of money that rich individuals and corporations can contribute to candidates.  But in fact, it has nothing to do with individual contributions to candidates.  That remains $2,600 per year. The Citizens United case had to do with free speech in a much broader sense.  At issue was a movie critical of Hillary Clinton that the conservative activist group wished to distribute. The U.S. government attempted to stop the distribution of the movie.

Think about that for a moment.  Then get your mind around this: what the government argued was that it had the right to stop the distribution of a movie or the publication of a book if they were made or sold by a corporation and could be interpreted as having a political message.

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The inaugural Disinvitation Dinner

April 16th, 2015 - 5:42 am

Last night, the William F. Buckley Jr. Program hosted its inaugural “Disinvitation Dinner.” A couple hundred of the best and brightest  assembled at the Pierre Hotel for the black-tie event. The keynote speaker was George Will, the subject was the attack on free speech that has become such a prominent part of those bright college years we underwrite at such great expense.  As chairman of the program, I had the honor of introducing George Will. Here is what I said:

 I suppose I should begin with a trigger warning: this evening may be dangerous to your complacency. As you take a moment to check your privilege, I should also warn you that  micro-aggressions are likely to be perpetrated tonight, and that Management cannot guarantee that you will find this a safe space sanitized of thoughts you find offensive. In other words, this is not a contemporary America college campus.

When Lauren Noble founded the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale a few years ago, her idea was partly to help propagate the central ideas of its eponymous inspiration.  Bill Buckley was a passionate advocate for the virtues of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility. He favored local initiative over centralized bureaucratic authority, understood that democratic capitalism was the greatest engine for the production of wealth ever contrived by human ingenuity, and he looked upon life as an invitation to personal fulfillment, not an endless opportunity for indoctrination.  Since such ideas are utterly foreign to most college campuses today, Lauren also undertook the important missionary work of bringing the gospel of Buckley to Yale and other elite redoubts of intellectual and moral conformity. The vigorous response to tonight’s program is a testimony to her success. With the Buckley Program, Lauren has managed to institutionalize this impulse of freedom, and I’d like to take a moment to applaud her courageous and effective efforts on behalf of the liberating conservatism that Bill Buckley devoted his life to propounding.

Tonight’s speaker cut his journalistic teeth at National Review in the 1970s,  and like Bill he has devoted his career to advertising the advantages of limited government and individual liberty and doing battle against the Leviathan of political correctness and the Piranesi-like nightmare that is the modern regulatory state.  Also like Bill Buckley, George Will is as industrious as he is percipient.  His syndicated column appears in some 450 newspapers nationwide, he is a ubiquitous presence on serious television commentary programs, and he lectures often all across the country on a wide variety of exigent policy questions. The similarities to Bill Buckley continue.  Like Bill, George Will is so well known that introductions are mostly superfluous. You already know that George Will went to Trinity College, studied philosophy at politics at Magdalen College, Oxford, and took a Ph.D. at Princeton University. Despite these disadvantages, George Will has managed to make himself one of the most authoritative and influential public intellectuals of his generation. Like Aristotle, he understands that rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and his commentary is agreeably nimble and amusing as well razor-sharp.

All of these qualities have put George Will in great demand.  Businesses, think tanks, politically mature enterprises like the Buckley Program all clamor for George Will’s invigorating oratory. Until recently, the same was true of college campuses. My use of the preterit brings me to the occasion of tonight’s festivity, the phenomenon of “disinvitation” at American universities. April 15 is a black day on the American calendar not only because it is the government’s chief redistribution-of-wealth day, but also because it marks the unofficial start of the college disinvitation season.  Among the champions of the season last year were Brandeis University, which invited then disinvited the distinguished critic of radical Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Azusa Pacific University which invited then disinvited the great social scientist Charles Murray, and Rutgers University made it impossible for former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice to speak on campus. George Will joined this distinguished company when Scripps College in California invited and then disinvited him from speaking.

Why? Doubtless the pampered denizens of Scripps College could find many things in George Will’s writing to horrify them.  But in this instance his particular tort was to challenge the absurd idea that American campuses are home to a “rape culture” so rampant that, according to one made-up statistic, one in five women is raped during her tenure behind the ivy-covered bowers of academia. George Will had the temerity to point out that the really dangerous epidemic on campuses is not a “rape culture” but the cult of victimhood, and that when colleges “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

All true, of course, but truth is not on the menu at many of today’s colleges. It used to be said of the graduates of the elite École Normale Supérieure that they knew everything; unfortunately, that was all they knew. Such vacuous omniscience is inseparable from the illiberal liberalism that the culture of political correctness enforces. If one has peered into the heart of the universe and understood everything, then dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy appears not as a difference of opinion but as heresy. The proper response to heresy is not argument but prohibition. Thus it is that so much debate today takes the form of Ring Lardner’s expostulation: “Shut up, he explained.” Campus culture is so instinct with moralism because it is wedded to an unearned certainty. As earlier devotees of the genre understood, intoxicated virtue can countenance no doubts. Robespierre articulated the essential dynamics of this species of political correctness when he spoke of “virtue and its emanation, terror.” Contemporary colleges do not—not yet—field guillotines, but they are nevertheless sedulous in (metaphorically) severing heads from bodies. The great irony is that the cult of conformity, underwritten by a minatory if amorphous leftism, has taken root in an institution whose stated purpose was to foster a liberal spirit of inquiry and debate.

Looking around campus culture today—indeed, looking around the world at large—there is a lot to give one pause.  The fact the American culture is still able to produce such articulate champions of freedom as George Will is a rare bright spot in a gloomy and forbidding landscape.  On behalf of the William F Buckley Jr Program, I am delighted to welcome George Will to this inaugural disinvitation dinner.

 

Clinton Fatigue Returns

April 12th, 2015 - 7:26 am

In a few hours, Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for the presidency of the United States. Is she in time? It is clear to the foggiest observer that what the commentator Michael Goodwin calls “Clinton fatigue” is growing apace. Will it have reached critical mass by the time the campaign gets underway in earnest?  I think so. At least, I certainly hope so.

The whole phenomenon of the Clintons’ celebrity is something of a mystery to me. Part of the reason it is so difficult to analyze is that it is not all of a piece.  The engine  of the enterprise is Bill Clinton. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. He provides the pheromones for the enterprise, and absent that, what do we have?

It’s hard to say.  On her own, Hillary Clinton has to be one of the least likeable people in politics. I’m talking about her personality, her “people skills.” Does anyone, anyone, believe she competes in that arena? Barack Obama is a chilly narcissist, but next to Hillary he seems like Roy Rogers. It should be, but somehow isn’t, an embarrassment to the feminist sisterhood chanting for Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, that right from the beginning hers was a “coattail career.” Back in 1977, when she became the first female partner at the Rose Law Firm, that was—surprise, surprise—just after Bill Clinton was sworn in as the state’s attorney general.  Think there was a connection?

And so it’s been ever after. Although she, not Bill, is the couple’s chief ideologue and Minister of Propaganda, she has always existed in the echo chamber of his accomplishment.

A question to ponder: how was it, exactly, that she, as resident of Arkansas, managed to become a New York senator in 2000? Yes, I know she bought a house in Chappaqua, New York, before the election, but really, what were her qualifications? That she was married to Bill Clinton.  That was the chief qualification. The auxiliary credit was her sex: in contemporary American the fact of being female, even if one is only a technical specimen of the genus, like Hillary, is like running in a rotten borough in early nineteenth century England.

But let’s return to Clinton, Inc.’s celebrity. That it exists is patent. Look, if your stomach is strong enough, at the cover of the current issue of Elle, which features a dolled up image of the fruit of the Clinton loins, Chelsea, under the headline “Chelsea Clinton Opens Up About Motherhood and Women’s Rights.” Make-up is a wonderful thing, but note that air-sickness bags are not included.

Still, how do we account for the overall nimbus of celebrity, the slick bubble of invulnerability that envelopes these morally repugnant people? 

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An antidote to climate-change hysteria

April 3rd, 2015 - 11:24 am

After the most prolonged spate of “global warming” I can remember, Spring seems finally to be arriving here in the Northeast.  Yes, it was snowing a few days ago, and there are still little piles of the dirty white stuff strewn around. But “for all this,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in his exquisite sonnet “God’s Grandeur,” “nature is never spent”:

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs

Etc. etc. Al Gore really ought to read Hopkins.

He also ought to read Climate Change: The Facts.  Just published by The Institute of Public Affairs, this scintillating collection of essays (or do I mean “this collection of scintillating essays”?)  offers a tonic and refreshing breeze after all the lucrative posturing by scientific illiterates (but commercially savvy mountebanks) like Al Gore and litigious frauds like Michael “tell-the-truth-about-me-and-I’ll-sue-you” Mann. I linked to the Amazon page for the book above, but if you’re like me you’ll want to get a personalized  copy.  The book, edited by the Australian economist  Alan Moran, includes many top-drawer contributors, including the national treasure Mark Steyn.  Order Climate Change from his web site and you can get an autographed copy.

I’ve only read a few of the essays so far, but it’s clear already that this volume is a necessary antidote to the hysterical yet cynical bluster that surrounds the topic.  Some 30 years ago, the philosopher Harvey Mansfield observed that “environmentalism is like school prayer for liberals.” It seemed funny at the time. As the church of environmental nuttiness has attracted more and more adherents and more more overheated rhetoric, it seems less funny than ominous.  It has become clear that environmentalism is a political, not a scientific, tool, whose end is not staving off ecological catastrophe (for none threatens) but mere to blackmail productive countries and institutions to fork over money to salve their consciences (and, not incidentally, feed the greed of the eco-warriors). The first essay, “The science and politics of climate change” by Ian Plimer, a retired professor of Earth Sciences, is worth the price of the volume. Plimer goes through the various charges leveled by eco-nuts one by one and shows just how preposterous they are. His conclusion:

Climate change catastrophism is the biggest scientific fraud that has ever occurred.  Much climate “science” is political ideology dressed up as science. There are times in history  when the popular consensus demonstrably wrongs and we live in such a time. Cheap energy is fundamental for employment, living in the modern world. and for bringin the Third World out of poverty. . . .  

[T]hree short decades of irresponsible climate policy will take at least a generation to reverse because there are now armes of bureaucratics, politicians, scientists, and businesses living off the climate catastrophe scare. Furthermore, the education system has been captured by activists, and the young are inculcated  with environmental, political, and economic ideology.

Good stuff!  And when I tell you that this is only one of more than 20 essays, and that the others are written by such stars as Mark Steyn, Andrew Bolt, and James Delingpole, you will want to get not one but several copies of the book in order to arm yourself and your friends against the nonsense of environmental catastrophism.

 

 

 

 

Some more fruits of “Smart Diplomacy”

March 27th, 2015 - 10:01 am

Just a quick note to ask what you think of this headline: “Saudi Arabia says it won’t rule out building nuclear weapons.” It’s just another bonus brought to you by Obama’s patent-pending Smart Diplomacy™.         There have been lots of other headlines trumping the results of Obama’s foreign policy. Here’s one that doubtless has something to do with Saudi Arabia’s new interest in nukes: U.S. Caves to Key Iranian Demands as Nuke Deal Comes Together.  Here’s another from the same desk: Obama’s Mideast ‘free fall.’

The President of the United States has many things to attend to. He is a busy man. But his number one responsibility is to keep the United States safe.  How is the community organizer from Chicago working out on that job?

 

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.

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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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