Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

They Said It:

In the last days of Pope Eugenius the Fourth, two of his servants, the learned Poggius and a friend, ascended the Capitoline hill; reposed themselves among the ruins of columns and temples; and viewed from that commanding spot the wide and various prospect of desolation.  The place and the object gave ample scope for moralizing on the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave; and it was agreed, that in proportion to her former greatness, the fall of Rome was the more awful and deplorable.  “Her primeval state, such as she might appear in a remote age, when Evander entertained the stranger of Troy, has been delineated by the fancy of Virgil.  This Tarpeian rock was then a savage and solitary thicket: in the time of the poet, it was crowned with the golden roofs of a temple; the temple is overthrown, the gold has been pillaged, the wheel of fortune has accomplished her revolution, and the sacred ground is again disfigured with thorns and brambles.  The hill of the Capitol, on which we sit, was formerly the head of the Roman empire, the citadel of the earth, the terror of kings; illustrated by the footsteps of so many triumphs, enriched with the spoils and tributes of so many nations.  This spectacle of the world, how is it fallen! how changed! how defaced!  The path of victory is obliterated by vines, and the benches of the senators are concealed by a dunghill.  Cast your eyes on the Palatine hill, and seek among the shapeless and enormous fragments the marble theatre, the obelisks, the colossal statues, the porticos of Nero’s palace: survey the other hills of the city, the vacant space is interrupted only by ruins and gardens.  The forum of the Roman people, where they assembled to enact their laws and elect their magistrates, is now enclosed for the cultivation of pot-herbs, or thrown open for the reception of swine and buffaloes.  The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked, and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.”

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume Six, 1782.



Some of you – maybe most of you – probably remember Bobby Knight, the former men’s basketball coach at Indiana University (and later Texas Tech), who won three national championships and 902 games, which is the second-most of any coach in college basketball history.  Knight, you may recall, was – and still is – famous not just for his coaching ability, but for his . . . ummm . . . “colorful” language.  Among his more memorable pronouncements, nearly thirty years ago, Knight told Mrs. Maury Povich (i.e. Connie Chung) that “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”  Naturally, Knight, realizing what he’d said, tried to soften the comment a bit, but the damage was done and his twisted point was made.

Knight was – and still is – beloved by many, some for his coaching brilliance, in spite of his occasional bouts of verbal diarrhea; and many others not “in spite” of his brusqueness, but because of it.  Bobby told it like it is, they say, and more power to him for doing so.  Knight coached at IU for twelve seasons after his comment to Chung, and then coached seven more at Texas Tech.  And when he retired and handed his coaching duties over to his son, he became a college basketball analyst for ESPN, eventually leaving that gig after yet another incident of “telling it like it is.”

But while “the General” is now gone, retired for good, his spirit lives on.  And this is not especially good news.  Indeed, it is terrible news, for the United States, Europe, and the entirety of Western Civilization.

Now, we know what you’re thinking.  But we are NOT going to pick on Donald Trump by comparing him to Bobby Knight.  Or would that be picking on Knight by comparing him to Trump?  Whatever.  In any case, Trump isn’t the successor to Knight we have in mind today.  No, the guy we have in mind is beloved by millions, some in spite of the ridiculous things he says, others – mostly on the political Left – because of the ridiculous things he says.  And, for the record, he says an awful lot of ridiculous thigs, a great many of which are so ridiculous as to be mind-boggling.  Just the other day, in fact, he reprised Knight’s “relax and enjoy it” bit, although apparently without Knight’s belated good sense to try to clarify his meaning.  The man of whom we’re thinking, sadly, is one Jorge Mario Bergoglio, better known as Pope Francis.  His “relax and enjoy it” comments went as follows, as retold by Politico:

The influx of migrants from Syria is an “Arab invasion,” Pope Francis said, before adding that it will make Europe stronger.

The pontiff was speaking to a group of French Christians Thursday when he said that Europe has seen many invasions over the course of history.  “How many invasions has Europe experienced in the course of its history?  It has always been able to overcome them; moving forward and finding itself better through the exchange between cultures,” he said.  “Today we can talk about an Arab invasion,” he said. “It is a social fact.”

According to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the pope said that Europe has always been able to “go forward and find itself enhanced by the exchange among cultures. . . .”

Ah, yes.  Europe is indeed enduring an “invasion” – the rape in the Knight analogy – and it should just relax and enjoy it, i.e. “enhance” itself through an “exchange between cultures.”  How nice.  The only difference here between Pope Francis and Bobby Knight, is that Knight was speaking metaphorically, while the Pope, unfortunately, is speaking perfectly literally.  Which is insane.

Pope Francis is, we’re absolutely certain, a lovely and kind man with an exceedingly generous heart, which aids in his mission of bringing help to those who need it most desperately.  That said, he is also, apparently, a man unable to allow any thought to go unexpressed.  Additionally, and more to the point, he’s a man who appears not to understand the cultural aspects of his position, the historical role that the Church he leads played in the formation of Western Civilization, or the part that this Judeo-Christian civilization has played in the improvement of the human condition.

It’s probably not fair on our part to compare Francis intellectually to his two predecessors, since both men were intellectual giants.  But it is interesting – and telling – that this Pope appears to see Europe in a much different light than did his immediate predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  As we noted at the time of his election and throughout his papacy, Pope Benedict believed that one of his chief functions in the role of Vicar of Christ was to restore the Church in its ancestral homeland, the part of the world formerly known as Christendom.  Pope Benedict, apparently in contrast to Pope Francis, understood the importance of Europe in the formation of the Church as we know it today and in the promulgation of the faith throughout the world.  He believed that rescuing Europe from its secularization and restoring it to Christian orthodoxy would not only help to save souls but to spread a confident, advanced, and exceptionally “liberal” culture to the rest of the globe, which could use a little confidence, advancement, and liberalization.

Additionally, Pope Benedict understood that Islam – the animating force behind the current “Arab invasion” – is also more than a mere religion. It too represents a culture and a civilizational tradition.  In his famous 2006 lecture at Regensburg University, Pope Benedict dared Islam to conduct itself in the spirt of faith and reason coexisting harmoniously.  He explained that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and with the nature of the soul.”  In so doing, he challenged Islam to reject violence, to reject an arbitrary and willful God who demands violence of his people, and thus to accept God as perfectly and completely rational.  In short, he called on Islam to discard the cultural force it has become and to embrace the broader culture born in the same part of the world.

Needless to say, Islam has thus far not rejected anything, save Benedict’s entreaty.  And this, in turn, explains why Francis’s declaration of cultural exchange is so manifestly insane.  What Francis is suggesting is that the Europeans “relax and enjoy” the destruction of their lives, their communities, their traditions, and the cultural heritage that gave rise to the greatest advancements in human knowledge, understanding, and progress in recorded history.  Or, to put it another way, Pope Francis is suggesting that Europe relax and enjoy its “cultural exchange” with the type of people who would use a humanitarian crisis to sneak into Europe and slaughter some 130 innocent people in Paris, or who would attack a RETIREMENT HOME run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen last week, killing sixteen people, including four nuns.  Like we said, insane.

Now, unless you happen to have spent the last century or so living in a cave, you undoubtedly know that the intellectuals of the self-loathing West have determined that the greatest monster in the history of the world is NOT the radical Islamist who would murder frail retirees and nuns, but the “white male,” a term which is more or less interchangeable with “European male.”  According to the academic and cultural arbiters of our age, the white male is responsible for all the evil in the world, all the hate, all the ills, all the troubles that have befallen mankind.  Islamists got you down?  Blame the European male, who incited the poor, innocent Muslims’ desperation and violence through oppression and cultural subjugation.  The white male does that, you know.  The white male enjoys privilege, but does nothing to deserve it.  Indeed, what he does do suggests that he is undeserving of any benefit at all and actually owes substantial debts to the rest of humanity.

This belief, which has its roots in the cultural relativism and post-modernism of the last century, is prevalent in some circles, particularly those circles that have access to the developing minds of Western civilization.  It has thus become an accepted article of faith in much of the culture.  It is also entirely backward and wrong.

To be clear, we have no interest whatsoever in trying to make the case that white/European males are awesome, perfect, or better than anyone else.  They – we – are not.  Like all people throughout human history, European/Western/white men are a mixed bag, some remarkably good, others heinously evil, and all sons of Adam and thus predisposed to sin.  Sure, European culture produced Sir Isaac Newton.  But it also produced Adolf Hitler.  It gave us Adam Smith, but also gave us Mussolini.  For every Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, or Thomas Aquinas one can identify, one can also name a Robespierre, a Leopold of Belgium, or a Josef Mengele.

With all of that said, though, we need to reiterate a point we have made for decades in these pages, namely the fact that cultures, unlike people, are NOT created equal.  Some cultures are superior to others, no matter what the multicultists say.  And in the name of historical accuracy, we must point out that Western civilization is uniquely powerful, uniquely enlightened, and uniquely levelling among all the civilizations that mankind has created.

It is true, of course, that Western civilization engaged in slavery, the wholesale theft, bondage, and retailing of human beings based solely on the color of their skin.  It is also true that Western civilization has historically oppressed women, denying them their equal rights under natural law and keeping them in virtual servitude.  The West has discriminated and still does discriminate against minority populations, by means both large and small.  And the West still overvalues material wealth, affording greater access to the fruits of society to those who possess it.  Western civilization is far from perfect.

In all of these cases, though, Western Civilization has behaved no differently than every other civilization in human history.  But what makes the West unique is that it – and it alone – eventually acknowledged and has earnestly and stalwartly tried to remedy these faults, to rectify its shortcomings.  Yes, the Brits and the Americans engaged in chattel slavery of Africans, but the British navy and the soldiers of the American Union army also gave countless lives to end the practice at home and abroad.  And yes, women were unequal, but they no longer are and, in fact, now constitute the greater percentage of Western youth receiving higher education and engaging in professional careers.  And only in the West have both the originating documents of the various states and the efforts of the people over centuries been dedicated to rectifying the imbalances created by wealth and/or minority status.  The West has had its faults, in short, but it alone has made a heroic effort to correct those faults.

As we have noted before in these pages, the origins of this uniquely Western effort to advance equality and liberty can be found in the Judeo-Christian notion that all people are created in God’s image, that all people thus have God’s life within them, and that all people are thus endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  This notion – imago dei – is the foundation of Western Civilization and of the Western claim to exceptionalism.  It is not the only basis on which Western Civilization stakes this claim, but it is the most important one, and it has been buffered over the centuries and millennia by other notions that have combined to create a uniquely affirmative civilizational environment.  Last September, in a piece titled “The Future of Christendom,” we put it this way:

“The West” as we understand the term is a unique blend of traditions, all of which flourished in the Mediterranean region two to five thousand years ago.  This blend – a mix of classic Greek and Roman cultures and especially the Judeo-Christian tradition – fostered a civilization that was unlike any in the history of man, established on two bedrock principles: that all individuals are equal and important before God; and that there are commandments that transcend human traditions and conventions that apply to all individuals equally, at all times, and in all places.

These two foundational values – the irreproachable worth of the individual and the transcendence of natural law – have their seeds in the Jewish and the Greek traditions and are embodied in two celebrated quotes, the first from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Jeremiah, and the second from Sophocles’ drama “Antigone.”  They are as follows:

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  And before you were born I consecrated you.


Creon: And still you had the gall to break this law?

Antigone: Of course, I did.  It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation – not to me.  Nor did that Justice, dwelling with the gods beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.  Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions. They are alive, not just today or yesterday: they live forever, from the first of time, and no one knows when they first saw the light.  These laws – I was not about to break them, not out of fear of some man’s wounded pride.”

These traditions, plus the New Testament – the Gospels and the letters of Paul – were interpreted and clarified by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who integrated Platonic and Aristotelian concepts respectively into Christian theology, all of it forming the substance of a civilization dedicated to the notions “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This civilization – Western civilization – was summed up succinctly and poignantly by one of its last true heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., who in 1963 put it this way in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights [emphasis added] . . . Now . . . how does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?  A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.  To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  Any law that uplifts human personality is just.  Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

All of this and more – much, much more – is the inheritance of the West, the explicitly Christian West.  Aquinas begat Locke who, in turn, begat Jefferson and the political apotheosis of natural law and individual liberty.  Likewise, the Reformation begat John Calvin and the Scottish Presbyterians, who, in turn, begat David Ricardo and Adam Smith and the economic apotheosis of natural law and liberty.  There is a reason, after all, that the last Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, made the restoration of Christianity in Europe a priority for his papacy.  All that is good and powerful and unique in Western civilization is the legacy of the Hellenic-Judeo-Christian tradition.  And only by restoring the “Christian” aspect of that tradition could Pope Benedict or anyone else hope to restore the virtuous and justifiably evangelical nature of the civilization, of Christendom itself.

Nearly a quarter century ago, the renowned social scientist, James Q. Wilson penned a book called The Moral Sense, which attempted to explain the common nature and common moral foundations of all men and all civilizations.  In a later chapter “The Universal Aspiration,” he went further and noted the West’s uniqueness, arguing far better than we that the West is a unique and powerful civilization that has advanced man’s interests in unique and powerful ways.

Rather than quoting the entire eminently quotable chapter for you, Roger Kimball’s summary, from his review of Wilson’s book, hits the highlights.  To wit:

Perhaps the most powerful part of The Moral Sense is the chapter called “The Universal Aspiration,” in which Wilson describes the way in which the moral sense was gradually extended beyond one’s kin or tribe or nation to embrace all of humanity.  As Wilson notes, “Mankind has a moral sense, but much of the time its reach is short and its effect uncertain.”  The roots of this extension of the moral sense go back to the Greeks and the moral teachings of Judaism and Christianity.  It reached full flowering in the Enlightenment and remains one of the chief contributions of Western civilization to the moral capital of the world.  Mr. Wilson is quite right to exclaim that “the most remarkable change in the moral history of mankind has been the rise — and occasionally the application — of the view that all people, and not just one’s own kind, are entitled to fair treatment.”  He is also right to insist that “the greatest and most sustained expansion in the boundaries of the moral sense occurred in the West.”  It was in the West, and only in the West, that freedom for all men became a fundamental moral principle, a universal aspiration.  And it is this above all that makes the cozy nihilism of so many academic intellectuals morally irksome.  Beneficiaries of freedom and tolerance, they blithely set about denying their foundation.  Wilson is consistently gentle and judicious in this book, but he is surely, and frighteningly, correct when he observes that “the kind of culture that can maintain reasonable human commitments takes centuries to create but only a few generations to destroy.  And once destroyed, those who suddenly realize what they have lost will also realize that political action cannot, except at a very great price, restore it.

Now, you will note that we included here a little more of Kimball’s paragraph than his description of Wilson’s “Universal Aspiration,” continuing on through his condemnation of the moral idiocy that predominates in among the Western intellectual class today.  We did so for a few of reasons.  First, as Kimball points out, those who deny Western Civilization’s powerful legacy nevertheless benefit from that legacy in ways that few others ever have or ever will.  Nowhere else in human history has such a sustained and remorseless critique of an alleged “oppressor” class been tolerated.  Indeed, nowhere else could such a critique be made, let alone become the dominant intellectual paradigm of the age.  Western intellectuals who deny the West’s exceptionalism do so only by of the grace of that exceptionalism.  And the fact that they don’t understand this, that it never occurs to them, serves simply to emphasize their ultimate ignorance and to reinforce the fact that they are incapable of addressing the real world as it is.  They thus have forged for themselves an alternate world, one that denies the very existence of reality and insists that the real measure of a civilization can be found not in its deeds but in the language it uses to express power relationships.

Second, we mention this because it strikes us that the current Pope, a truly genuine and generous man, is nonetheless a fellow traveler among those who are incapable of grasping the uniqueness and exceptionalism of Western/Judeo-Christian civilization.  Pope Francis, sadly, is a cultural relativist, a man raised and educated in the post-modern, relativist milieu of post-colonial Latin America.  As we noted in that September piece, then-Cardinal Begoglio was one of the first within the Church to criticize Pope Benedict’s challenge to Islam at Regensburg.  He worried that Pope Benedict might have “ruined” the Church’s relationship with Islam – as if that relationship has had any sort of effect on the violence perpetrated in Islam’s name.

The current Pope’s naivety and ignorance of the West can be seen in much of his earthly ministry, from his insistence that “mercy” alone should guide immigration decisions to his scathing and uninformed critique of Western capitalism.  As Wilson points out, the distinctively British conception of property and the right to it contributed mightily to West’s ideas about individualism and the universality of rights.  Without this right to private property and the capitalism that it engendered, the conception of the individual and his unique worth that is taken for granted today might never have developed fully.  And that says nothing of the material relief and benefit that capitalism and private property have provided ALL of humankind over the last few centuries.  All of which is to say that when Pope Francis tells the people of Europe to relax and enjoy their cultural exchange with Islam, he is, apparently, in denial about the hostility of Islam to Western culture and about the tragedy would befall mankind if said culture is damaged in this “exchange.”

He is also in denial about the fragility of that culture at this particular moment in history – which brings us to our final point.  Last week, Anne Applebaum, one of the few thoughtful and knowledgeable liberal writers still working for Slate (and the Washington Post) penned a column noting the precariousness of the current global order.  She wrote:

Back in the 1950s, when the institutions were still new and shaky, I’m sure many people feared the Western alliance might never take off.  Perhaps in the 1970s, the era of the Red Brigades and Vietnam, many more feared that the West would not survive.  But in my adult life, I cannot remember a moment as dramatic as this: Right now, we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union, and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it.

In the United States, we are faced with the real possibility of Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump, which means we have to take seriously the possibility of a President Trump.  Hillary Clinton’s campaign might implode for any number of reasons, too obvious to rehash here; elections are funny things, and electorates are fickle.  That means that next January we could have, in the White House, a man who is totally uninterested in what Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan — as
 well as Johnson, Nixon, and Truman — would all have called “our shared values.”

Trump advocates torture, mass deportation, religious discrimination.  He brags that he “would not care that much” whether Ukraine were admitted to NATO; he has no interest in NATO and its security guarantees.  Of Europe, he has written that “their conflicts are not worth American lives.  Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.”  In any case,
 he prefers the company of dictators to that of other democrats.  “You can make deals with those people,” he said of Russia.  “I would have a great relationship with [Vladimir] Putin.” . . .

And Americans aren’t the only ones who find their alliances burdensome.  A year from now, France also holds a presidential election.  One of the front-runners, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, has promised to leave both NATO and the EU, to nationalize French companies, and to restrict foreign investors.  Like Trump, she foresees a special relationship with Russia, whose banks are funding her election campaign. . . .

By the time that happens, Britain may also be halfway out the door.  In June, the British vote in a referendum to leave the EU.  Right now, the vote is too close to call — and if the “leave” vote prevails, then, as I’ve written, all bets are off. 
Copy-cat referenda may follow in other EU countries too. . . .

It’s not hard at all to imagine a Britain unmoored from Europe drifting away from the transatlantic alliance as well.  If the economic turmoil that could follow a British exit from the EU were sufficiently severe, perhaps the British public would vote out its conservative government in favor of the Labour Party, whose leadership is now radically anti-American.

In other words, then, the world has arrived at an especially precarious moment.  We have written many times and over many years about the importance of the West in global history.  We’ve written, as we did today, about the West’s role in elevating the individual and his innate rights.  We’ve written about material, legal, and economic benefits that have accrued to all – or nearly all – of the former British colonies.  The United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, India – the most successful nations on virtually every continent – all benefited immeasurably from their (involuntary) contact British common law, with the British reverence for private property, and with the capitalist spirit that arose in large part from the British Presbyterian interpretation of Christian theology.  Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, and others are materially and socially better off than their neighbors, largely because of the influence of the American version of British culture.  The West has long been and remains a force for good in a troubled world.

Nevertheless, at this moment in time when the world needs the West the most, both circumstances and the nihilism of the post-Western cognoscenti are pushing hard to ensure the collapse of the world’s stabilizing force.  They don’t understand the West and don’t appreciate it.  And they don’t realize the hell they will unleash if they force the collapse of the West as we know it.  Without NATO, for example, who will save Turkey from predations of Czar Vladimir?  Without the EU, who will save Greece from being fully overrun by Islamists who need only cross only a narrow channel to reach the European mainland and to do to the ancient relics of Hellenic civilization what they have done and are currently doing to the ancient relics of the Middle East?

Without American military might and strategic intelligence, who could even conceivably protect the Christians in the Middle East whose numbers grow smaller by day and for whom Pope Francis cries out?  Come to think of it, without American military might and strategic intelligence, who will protect the Pope himself, who has repeatedly been named as a legitimate target by the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups?  Who will protect plurality of Christians in Lebanon as that country becomes the battleground for the great Sunni-Shiite war?  Who will do anything at all to stop, mitigate, or forestall any of the horrors that will almost certainly befall the people of the world over the course of the next several years?

The answer, of course, is no one.  If the West falls, the world will collapse back into the dark ages that preceded the West’s rise.  We know that Barack Obama doesn’t much care about any of this.  We know that Donald Trump doesn’t either.  What bothers us is that the one man who should care most about this, who could forestall the collapse of the West, doesn’t appear to understand what is happening or why it matters.  The man who should be defending and invigorating the West as the civilizational conduit for the faith he leads is instead preparing for a cultural exchange with those whose stated goal is the destruction of the West.

Relax and enjoy it, he says.  After all, “it is a social fact,” which is to say it’s inevitable.


Copyright 2016. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.