Saturday, March 28, 2009

Twilight Chic

Our pop culture has turned the vampire from monster to hip Other.

By Tony Woodlief
March 27, 2009, 0:00 p.m.

It probably all turns on what happens when the fangs touch your throat. Not that vampires are real, so far as I know. This means you must imagine the moment of penetration — a phrasing which, in our Freud-besotted culture, is fraught with suggestion. So maybe it’s Freud’s fault that vampires turned sexy. A substitution of modern movies for old novels is also to blame. This is the only explanation for Atlantic writer Caitlin Flanagan’s suggestion — in her December review of that teeny-bopper vampire sensation, the Twilight series — that Lucy and Mina in Bram Stoker’s Dracula were enthralled, in a sexual manner, by the smooth-talking count. It’s a common misreading of the novel these days that has yielded an art-imitates-lit-theory phenomenon currently manifested in the Twilight movie. It sold three million DVDs the first day of its release this week , and the book may receive a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice award this weekend. Most adults have tacitly assented to the notion that vampires are hot, and it’s so little wonder our kids have followed suit.

That Dracula was a monster rather than a masher, however, was apparent to Stoker’s contemporaries. The Bookman called him an inhuman villain, and the Daily Mail called Stoker’s novel a “weird, powerful, and horrorful story.” Letting your weak-kneed aunt read Dracula, intoned the Pall Mall Gazette, “would be manslaughter.” It took decades of creative interpretation to alter this common-sense reading.

It’s a little-disputed assertion today, of course, that Victorians had sex on the brain. Stoker may have intended, as he explained in his notes, to render a demonic monster, but we know what he was really thinking when he turned that long-toothed sex fiend from the old country loose on England’s cream-skinned virgins. It’s an article of faith, now, that any story about vampires must, as Flanagan asserts, really be a story about sex. Literary theorists love this angle, penning breathless articles like “Feminism, Sex Role Exchanges, and Other Subliminal Fantasies in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Their pop-oriented counterparts, meanwhile, churn out novels like Dead until Dark, a bloodsucking mystery/bodice-ripper in which vampires “come out of the coffin.” Vampires, in these modern novels, are like gays and lesbians — people just like you and me who are marginalized only because of their sexual tastes.

It’s not surprising then that vampires, transmogrified into sexual beings by numerous modern film adaptations of Dracula (one of the most egregious of which is Francis Ford Coppola’s misleadingly titled Bram Stoker’s Dracula), have now become vegetarians and — in the Twilight series — even abstainers from premarital relations. The genius of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer was to make them suitable for children. Never mind that Meyer can’t write “worth a darn,” as horror master Stephen King puts it. She has invented a kinder, gentler vampire — the kind you’d let your daughter date.

We have fully reversed the symbolism of Stoker’s vampire, who represented a demonic assault on a virtuous community. Today’s vampire is the hip Other, and the community around him is either bungling, intolerant, or simply a source of comedic relief (as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night, for example). The modern vampire is in touch with his sexuality, but the community suppresses it. The modern vampire is coming to take away your girlfriend, and she kind of likes it. The modern vampire is the guy you wish you had been in high school, or the guy you wish you’d dated in high school, and Meyer has turned that into gold.

The trouble with this evolution is that fictional monsters serve a valuable cultural purpose. They remind us that we live in communities, and that our communities must be defended from those who would rend them asunder. Though he is no conservative ideologue, Stephen King always seemed to fathom this intuitively. His stories and books featuring vampires made them evil through and through. The difference between his Salem’s Lot and Stoker’s Dracula is that King is also a bit of a dystopian, so while the community in Stoker’s novel worked together in the end to stop the menace, King lets the community fall. Still, he’s wise enough to know that creatures lacking in fundamental attributes of humanity don’t make for good neighbors.

By inverting the traditional vampire tale, so that the community is predatory and the monster an object of empathy if not admiration, we have found one more avenue along which to push the tired idea that community is, rather than a source of life and happiness, a locus of oppression. The Twilight series simply carries our modern love affair with the undead to its natural conclusion; the lovelorn vampire and the object of his infatuation get married and make a baby.

I’m all for multiculturalism, but this is too much. As Freud is supposed to have said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Likewise, sometimes the Other isn’t a cool countercultural rebel who puts a thrill up your leg, he is a monster who wants to suck your blood or, if he is technologically savvy and has a religious ax to grind, blow up your kids’ school bus. I’m not worried that the modern vampire movie will lead filmgoers to agitate for reconciliation with Osama bin Laden just because the terror master of 9/11 is also pale, has a funny accent, lives in a cave, and is a bloodthirsty egomaniac. But I do think there is value in entertainment that draws a clear line between good and evil.

While many parents are fine with having their youngsters read the Twilight series and watch the accompanying movies, I think there might be some merit in recent fare like the horrifically bloody (and financially less successful) Thirty Days of Night, in which vampires descend on a remote town in Alaska once they know daylight won’t return for a month. These creatures devour throats with viciousness, and the few townspeople who survive are saved only by the voluntary self-sacrifice of their leader. On the surface, Twilight might be more suitable for preteens, but maybe they could use reminding that creatures that prey on communities don’t often make cool boyfriends. Because there are monsters, Virginia, and sometimes they just need killing.

— Tony Woodlief writes about faith, parenting, and sometimes even vampires at

Government's grasp going global

Obama and Geithner want to eliminate any haven from regulation.

By Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, March 27, 2009

Writing in the Chicago Tribune last week, President Barack Obama fell back on one of his favorite rhetorical tics: "But I also know," he wrote, "that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people."

Really? For the moment, it's a "false choice" mainly in the sense that he's not offering it: "a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism" is not on the menu, which leaves "an oppressive government-run economy" as pretty much the only game in town. How oppressive is yet to be determined: To be sure, the official position remains that only "the richest five percent" will have taxes increased. But you'll be surprised at the percentage of Americans who wind up in the richest five percent. This year federal government spending will rise to 28.5 percent of GDP, the highest level ever, with the exception of the peak of the Second World War. The 44th president is proposing to add more to the national debt than the first 43 presidents combined, doubling it in the next six years, and tripling it within the decade. But to talk about it in percentages of this and trillions of that misses the point. It's not about bookkeeping, it's about government annexation of the economy, and thus of life: government supervision, government regulation, government control. No matter how small your small business is – plumbing, hairdressing, maple-sugaring – the state will be burdening you with more permits, more paperwork, more bureaucracy.

And don't plan on moving. Ahead of this week's G20 summit in London, Timothy Geithner, America's beloved Toxic Asset, called for "global regulation." "Our hope," said Toxic Tim, "is that we can work with Europe on a global framework, a global infrastructure which has appropriate global oversight."

"Global oversight": Hmm. There's a phrase to savor.

"We can't," he continued, "allow institutions to cherry pick among competing regulators and ship risk to where it faces the lowest standards and weakest constraints."

Just as a matter of interest, why not? If you don't want to be subject to the punitive "oversight" of economically illiterate, demagogic legislators-for-life like Barney Frank, why shouldn't you be "allowed" to move your business to some jurisdiction with a lighter regulatory touch?

Borders give you choices. Your town has a crummy grade school? Move 10 miles north, and there's a better one. Sick of Massachusetts taxes? Move to New Hampshire, as thousands do. To modify the abortionists' bumper sticker: "I'm Pro-Choice And I Vote With My Feet." That's part of the self-correcting dynamism of capitalism: For example, Bono, the global do-gooder who was last in Washington to play at the Obama inauguration, recently moved much of his business from Ireland to the Netherlands, in order to pay less tax. And good for him. To be sure, he's always calling on governments to give more money to Africa and whatnot, but it's heartening to know that, when it comes to his wallet as opposed to yours, Bono, like Secretary Geithner, has no desire to toss any more of his money into the great sucking maw of the government treasury than the absolute minimum he can get away with. I'm with Bono and Tim: They can spend their money more effectively than hack bureaucrats can. We should do as they do, not as they say.

If you listen to the principal spokesmen for U.S. economic policy – Obama and Geithner – they grow daily ever more explicitly hostile to the private sector and ever more comfortable with the language of micromanaged government-approved capitalism – which, of course, isn't capitalism at all. They'll have an easier time getting away with it in a world of "global oversight" where there's nowhere to move to. Unfortunately, even then it won't work. Think about it: It takes extraordinary skill to create and manage a billion-dollar company; there are very few human beings on the planet who can do it. Now look at Obama and Geithner, the two men currently "managing" more money than any individuals in human history: not billions but trillions.

Notwithstanding the Treasury secretary's protestations that the Yes/No prompt buttons of Turbo Tax were too complex for a simple soul such as himself, it's no reflection on the hapless Geithner that he's unable to fix the planet. When the Bolsheviks chose to introduce Russians to the blessings of a "command economy" 90 years ago, they were dealing with a relatively simple agricultural society largely contained within national borders. Obama and Geithner are trying to do it with a sophisticated global economy in which North American consumers, European bankers, Asian suppliers, Saudi investors and Chinese debt-holders are more tangled than an octopuses' orgy. Even with "global oversight" – with the Toxic Tims of Germany, Argentina and India all agreeing on how to fix the game – it can't be done.

Barack Obama, even when he's not yukking it up on "60 Minutes," barely disguises his indifference to economic matters. He is not an economist, a political philosopher, a geopolitical strategist. He is the President as social engineer, the Community-Organizer-in-Chief. His plan to reduce tax deductions for charitable giving, for example, is not intended primarily to raise revenue, but to advance government as the distributor of largesse and diminish alternative sources of societal organization, such as civic groups. Likewise, his big plans for socialized health care, a green economy, universal college education: they're about extending the reach of the state.

Unfortunately, all of it costs money he doesn't have. So he has to borrow it, in your name. Where does the world's hyperpower go to borrow more dough than anyone's ever borrowed in human history? More to the point, given that, partly at the behest of Obama and Geithner, almost every other Western government is ramping up national debt to cover massive bank bailouts and other phony-baloney "stimuli," is there enough money out there to buy up the debt that's already been run up? Last week, at the official British Treasury auction, investors failed to buy the full complement of so-called "gilt-edged" 40-year bonds. Two such auctions have already failed in Germany. The U.S. Treasury, facing similar investor reluctance to snap up $34 billion of five-year notes, was forced to increase the interest it will pay on them. The Chinese and the Saudis have long taken the view that it's to their advantage to own as much of the Western world as they can snaffle up, but it's unclear whether even they have pockets deep enough for what America and the many Bailoutistans of Europe are proposing to spend.

In their first two months, Obama and Geithner have done nothing but vaporize your wealth, and your children's future. What began as an economic crisis is now principally a political usurpation. And, to return to the president's "false choice," that "chaotic and unforgiving capitalism" is exactly what we need right now. It's the quickest, cheapest, fairest, most efficient route to economic stabilization and renewal. A regimented and eternally forgiving global command economy with no moral hazard will destroy us all.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Star search can corrupt

By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff
March 27, 2009

Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun speaks during a news conference at the men's NCAA college basketball regional tournament in Glendale, Ariz. , Friday, March 27, 2009. Connecticut will play Missouri in a college basketball regional final Saturday. (AP)

The people who really know the turf say this University of Connecticut recruiting thing is bad news for Jim Calhoun.

But should anyone be surprised? It's hardly the first time in the Calhoun era UConn has been accused of malfeasance, NCAA impropriety, or whatever you'd like to call it, and it certainly isn't the first time Calhoun has gotten involved with a young man of dubious character.

You can't win without great players, you know.

Calhoun, like countless other coaches, including perhaps - who knows? - one or two of his counterparts at the NCAA Regionals, will do what he has to do to attract and maintain the eligibility/availability of players to put the best possible team on the floor. Any fan who doesn't comprehend this is probably as shocked as Inspector Renault was to discover that gambling was taking place at Rick's Café.

The NCAA attempts to perpetuate the notion that all the young people wearing Division 1 basketball uniforms are exemplary individuals whose eventual career choices, should the NBA not prove to be a viable option, will include law school, medical school, and becoming an international relief worker in Darfur. Hence the laughable insistence about what the members of these teams should be called.

At every press conference run by the NCAA, the participants must be referred to by the moderators as "student-athletes." You or I would call them, you know, "players." That's because they are, you know, players. Players. P-l-a-y-e-r-s. This is not a derogatory term. It's a perfectly legitimate designation for someone who happens to, you know, play on a basketball team.

This insistence on referring to the players as "student-athletes" is stunning in its pomposity, and, as many people know, it is, on more occasions than most people realize, 100 percent inaccurate. In the modern world of collegiate sport, we have encountered the phenomenon of the "one-and-done" players who enter school in the fall, play one college basketball season, then declare for the NBA draft. In some schools, I am told, it is possible to arrange the player's situation so he never has to go to class.

"Student-athlete," huh? How about "Hired Hessian"?

And even if the players do attend class and turn out to be legitimate students, when they are presented for interview purposes it is because they have been, or are about to be, playing a game. I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say that so-and-so was "student-athleting" a game.

So where were we? Ah, yes, the supposed shenanigans at Connecticut.

What strikes me about these allegations is the recklessness involved. The fascinating volume of "impermissible" phone calls and texts to the recruit in question by Calhoun and his staff over a two-year period (more than 1,500) doesn't bother me, because it's a silly rule and, frankly, I really don't care.

But I do care that Calhoun was foolish enough to get involved in the recruitment of Nate Miles as long as the player was personally involved with sports agent Josh Nochimson, a former UConn student manager. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel, the Yahoo! writers who broke the story, Calhoun knew the NCAA officially considered Nochimson a "representative of UConn athletic interests," and was therefore prohibited from "contacting the player, or giving him anything of value."

Calhoun's continued involvement in the recruitment of Miles was beyond stupid in terms of risk-reward. The only way to rationalize this would be if Miles were the next LeBron James, in which case it might be worth taking a chance and hoping you wouldn't get caught. Now maybe it's because I had never heard of Miles before yesterday, but I'm going to go out on a limb and state categorically that he is not the next LeBron James. So by that reasoning, Calhoun's involvement in anything connected with Nochimson is way beyond stupid. Did he think no one was going to notice?

What must be understood here is that this is simply rules violation case No. 2,786,543, give or take a thousand, in the oft-sordid history of college basketball recruiting. Coaches have always been willing to compromise themselves when the subject is the pursuit of the great young basketball talent.

Recruiting is a notoriously nasty business, and it's far worse now than ever before because the breeding ground for recruits is not necessarily the high school, as in olden days. Adolescent basketball has been hijacked by the loathsome AAU, which sinks its fangs into both boys and girls as they turn 13 and introduces them to a nonstop whirl of gifts, inducements, and far too many games played far away from home. Woe to the college coach who doesn't make nice with the coach of the local AAU juggernaut.

As a corollary, an amazing percentage of top-flight prospects change schools as readily as managers head to the pitching mound. Why? Well, it's not because of the math department, if you get my drift. Then throw in the proliferation of fly-by-night prep schools, many with quasi-religious trappings, who seem to exist solely to play basketball.

What emerges from all this are young people who: A) have never worked in their lives, and B) have no real sense of what's inherently right and wrong, cynical kids who have always been treated like commodities and who have been well-schooled in the art of Looking Out For No. 1.

Calhoun isn't the only one who gets involved with these seedy AAU leeches and messed-up kids. I can't say they all do, but among the teams who consistently show up in the Top 40, most of them do, however much they hold their noses when they decide they simply must have a particular play . . . oops, student-athlete. And I'm talking about colleges of every description, whether they are standard private schools, big state universities, or religiously oriented schools. They are all united in their quest for athletic excellence.

These coaches are not like you or me. Think about Calhoun. He has done the impossible by making Storrs, Conn., a destination. He has won two national championships and could very well be on his way to a third. He already is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. If he doesn't win another game, his legacy is secure.

So why would he risk the censure of the NCAA and the scrutiny he's getting now, for any one play . . . oops, student-athlete, let alone one entangled with the red-flagged Josh Nochimson?

So, Jim, Jim, Jim. What was the matter with you? Stupidity? Arrogance? Didn't you trust your superb coaching ability enough to think you still could win your fairly predictable 30 and make a run at the title if you had allowed someone else to have Nate Miles? Didn't you have some warning mechanism to let you know that it was time to back off?

Or is winning that powerful a drug?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on He can be reached at

Today's Tune: Bryan Ferry - Slave to Love

(Click on title to play video)

Obama's Sights on Second Amendment

By Jan LaRue
March 27, 2009

While campaigning for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, Barack Obama said he believed in the individual right to bear arms. Those aware of his record and rhetoric reckoned he was referring to his wife's penchant for sleeveless attire, not the Second Amendment.

During his 2004 run for the Senate, Obama said

"I think that the Second Amendment means something. I think that if the government were to confiscate everybody's guns unilaterally that I think that would be subject to constitutional challenge."

No kidding.

He didn't say it would be unconstitutional, just "subject to constitutional challenge." Nor did he express any opposition.

During the presidential campaign, a case challenging Washington D.C.'s draconian gun laws was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. The laws banned all handgun registrations, prohibited handguns already registered from being carried from room to room in the home without a license, and required all firearms in the home, including rifles and shotguns, to be unloaded and either disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

In June, the Court released its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that the laws violate the individual right to keep and bear arms unconnected to service in a militia as secured by the Fourth Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, emphasized that the individual right to bear arms pre-exists, and is independent of, the Constitution:

Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it "shall not be infringed." As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876), "[t]his is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed . . . ."

Obama admitted in a Feb. 11, 2008, interview that he supported the handgun ban, and that it was "constitutional." On June 26, he said he agreed with the Court's decision, but added that the right to bear arms is subject to "reasonable regulations." He never "explained" how an absolute ban on handguns is "reasonable," or how he can agree with the ruling, which said it was unreasonable. Obama's inconsistencies are numerous, as John R. Lott Jr has noted.

Obama continued to duck and cover by talking about getting illegal guns off the streets, background checks for children and the mentally ill, and attacking the NRA.

Since his election, finding mention of the Second Amendment on the White House Web site takes about as long as getting to the front of the line at a gun store. What is on the site could be engraved on a .22 shell casing.

WH: The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms. [Emphasis added.]

It's far from the high caliber opinion of the Court or those of the Founders who fought for and secured the right:

* "Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation ... Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." - James Madison, The Federalist 46

* "Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?" - Patrick Henry

* "That the Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe on the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent "the people" of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms." Samuel Adams

* "A free people ought ... to be armed." - George Washington

* "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." - Thomas Jefferson

* "If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state." - Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 28

Despite the Heller ruling and his professed regard for the Amendment, Obama will push legislation to make possession and purchase of guns and ammunition as burdensome as the constitutionally comatose congressional majority will enact.

We should heed the warning of James Madison, "Father of the Constitution":

"There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

Jan LaRue is Senior Legal Analyst with the American Civil Rights Union; former Chief Counsel at Concerned for Women; former Legal Studies Director at Family Research Council; and former Senior Counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families.

Touchdown Obama

The Obama Watch

By George Neumayr on 3.27.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

The Catholic Church in America has bred her own destroyers, graduating from doctrinally corrupt catechetical programs, schools and colleges two generations of pro-abortion politicians. Barack Obama, in his effortless Alinskyite style, has exploited this phenomenon to the hilt, seeking out Catholics such as Joe Biden and Kathleen Sebelius to serve as his agents of destruction.

The controversy this week at Notre Dame is one more snapshot of this self-implosion. Here we have the American bishops' most prominent university planning to confer an honorary degree upon Obama even as he accelerates the destruction of its moral teachings.

Were Saul Alinsky alive today, he would have to smile at the ease of it all. Obama can not only thwart the Church at every crucial turn and still retain the Catholic vote; he can even expect over the next few years prizes and pats on the back from Catholic colleges for doing so.

Jesuit Georgetown University is no doubt itching to honor him too; its professors ranked seventh among all university faculties in donations to Obama during the campaign, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Jesuit magazine America and Jesuit Thomas Reese rushed to Notre Dame's defense this week.

Perhaps Obama enthusiast/fellow Alinskyite Father Michael Pfleger can travel over from Chicago for ND's commencement exercises to fill in for the boycotting Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy.

To his credit, D'Arcy, a long and lonely opponent of Notre Dame's secularization, wants no part in the sham, correctly noting that the school is once again panting after "prestige" at the expense of "truth." Four decades of surrendering to secularist culture and championing progressive politics at Notre Dame have culminated in an honorary degree to the most pro-abortion president ever.

Responding to this criticism, its president, Father John Jenkins, has had to dust off the "dialogue" defense from the recent Vagina Monologues controversy on campus to justify his decision.

Out rolled from the president's office the familiar cart of clichés. "You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them…show respect for them and listen to them," Jenkins was quoted as saying.

What's the logic here? To dialogue with a public figure a school has to confer an honorary degree upon him? This makes no sense, but it is the kind of head-faking non sequiter that appeals to Jenkins.

Just as he twisted the Vagina Monologues controversy into a beside-the-point discussion about the value of free speech, so he is casting this recent one as some sort of test of Notre Dame's commitment to "positive engagement."

The White House, sensing the drift of this script, joined in the charade, saying in response to the controversy that it welcomes the "spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues."

Which makes one wonder: When exactly will the debate take place? Before, during or after the commencement exercises? Will it proceed like Jenkins' "creative contexualization" panel discussions about the Vagina Monologues? Or is Obama's interest in "healthy disagreement" about as plausible as Jenkins' notion of "positive engagement"?

Notice also that for additional PR protection Jenkins is playing the race card. "It is of special significance that we will hear from our first African-American president, a person who has spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation. Racial prejudice has been a deep wound in America, and Mr. Obama has been a healer," he was quoted saying this week.
Again, how is this relevant to honorary-degree-conferring from a Catholic university? Does opposing racial injustice absolve supporting other injustices?

Imagine a reverse scenario, say a politician who supported the Church's moral teachings down the line but had some racist blot in his past. Would Jenkins honor him? No, he woudn't dare. But somehow Obama's formal cooperation in the injustice of destroying innocent lives just isn't so bad.

- George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report and press critic for California Political Review.

“Social justice” Catholicism hits bottom

by Laura Hollis
March 26, 2009

I have been plenty ashamed of my alma mater in recent years. Allowing performances of the artistically meritless and gratuitously vulgar play, “The Vagina Monologues” on a campus named for the woman whose body Catholics believe bore the Son of God was a new low.

But now the University of Notre Dame has sunk even lower, by inviting President Barack Obama to give the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremonies in May, conferring upon him a doctor of laws honoris causa.

Obama’s enthusiasm for the deliberate destruction of human life is well-known by now. He does not merely tolerate it; he has consistently used his political power to advance it. And to advance the careers of others who support it.

For the benefit of the pro-Obama Catholics out there, let’s review, shall we?

When in the state legislature in Illinois, Obama voted against the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” proposed legislation which would have required medical assistance for babies who survived botched abortions. His reasoning, as always, was specious and false. Obama protested that Illinois already “had a law on the books” that provided for medical assistance to children surviving abortions, and so BAIPA was unnecessary. This lie was particularly heinous, since the law had been introduced in the Illinois State Legislature as a result of the botched abortions at Christ Hospital in Chicago. Nurse and pro-life activist Jill Stanek brought these despicable practices to the Illinois legislature’s - and the public’s - attention. The outcry against this infanticide was immediate, and the support for the BAIPA was strongly bipartisan. Except for Barack Obama.

When running for President, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, an abysmal piece of proposed legislation that would destroy virtually every shred of legal protection states have enacted, including parental notification for minors, licensing requirements for physicians, health and safety regulations for facilities, and informed consent laws.

Shortly after being elected President, Obama named Ellen Moran as White House Communications Director. Moran’s earlier position was Executive Director of EMILY’s List, an advocacy group for pro-choice female political candidates.

Three days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an Executive Order reversing the “Mexico City Policy,” authorizing the expenditure of federal funds for organizations overseas that provide abortions.

Earlier this month, Obama nominated pro-choice Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Secretary of Health and Human Service. Despite being Catholic, Sebelius has provided support and political cover to notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller (now on trial).

Obama also nominated Dawn Johnson to be head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; she who equates unplanned pregnancy with “involuntary servitude.”

The White House also announced a move to eliminate the Bush administration’s “conscience rules,” protecting health care providers who do not wish to participate in abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

Most recently, Obama signed another executive order, this one authorizing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research – a move which even unreligious observers like Charles Krauthammer characterized as an “outrage.”

What part of this don’t Catholics get? Do they think it’s all a series of wild coincidences? What about the fact that it’s just about all Obama has done? In the two months since Obama was inaugurated, we have watched him bumble and fumble every possible way on the economy – which was, allegedly, what he was elected to “change.” And he has been equally hapless in matters of international diplomacy. But when it comes to human life, he has been chillingly consistent and tragically effective.

My brother (also a graduate) wrote a letter voicing his objection to Notre Dame Alumni Association Executive Director Chuck Lennon. In response, Mr. Lennon said, “The invitation to President Obama to be the Commencement speaker shouldn’t be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions that contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. Rather, the University has invited the President to campus for what he’s done for racial equality, and for his stands on poverty, immigration, education, infectious disease, and seeking peace.”
This is predictable. But as with all of Obama’s religious posturing, it is false.

"Racial equality"? Obama was a 20-year member of a race-baiting, white-hating, Marxist, black supremacist church. His economic policies are grounded firmly in class envy and racial division. And that is in the New Testament where?

As for poverty, all decent persons would love to eliminate it. But most of us are not willing to dismantle the entire free-market economic system in order to achieve the equality of misery. Yet those whose writings inspired Obama, do, and say so. More coincidence? Furthermore, morally serious people can and do question the efficacy – not to mention the morality – of subsidizing the very bad choices that create and perpetuate poverty in this country. Where is Obama’s moral courage there?

Obama’s attitude about immigration? That those who defy and disobey our laws should be allowed to stay in the country, and those who have abided by the laws can take a flying leap. Why? Because Obama knows that many of the illegal immigrants will vote for the candidate who promises the most government-provided goodies. [Here's a question for you: name ONE other country that someone can illegally walk into, expect to live in, and demand health care, education and housing - for free. (Michael Moore in Cuba doesn’t count) Here's the answer: NONE.]

Education? How about cancelling the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund? So HIS children can attend Sidwell Friends, because he's rich, but the two children in Sasha and Malia's class who are there on the Opportunity Scholarship will be forced back into D.C.'s failing public schools. And why? Because Obama is in bed with the teacher's unions. Oh, yes - he's wonderful on education.

Infectious disease. Hmmm. Would this be among the things for which we can find cures by destroying tiny human beings? If so, then that's ok, right?

And as for "seeking peace," that must mean Obama’s obsequious outreach to oppressive regimes, and provision of nearly a billion dollars for a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. A reminder for the Catholic Obamaniacs out there: Christ was a JEW. His Mother was a JEW. His earthly father was a JEW. His apostles were JEWS, as were most of his earliest followers. When did "seeking peace" mean sucking up to those who want to destroy not only the Chosen People, but the rest of us infidels?

And none of this even addresses his economic “policies,” which consist of oppressive and confiscatory taxation, irresponsible borrowing, unsustainable spending, calls for the nationalization of banks and other financial institutions, unconstitutional ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.

Obama gets away with this, in part, because he couches his views in religious platitudes. This effrontery should make his violation of Christian beliefs and American principles all the more offensive. Instead, lefty religious types embrace his WORDS and ignore the DEEDS (Matthew 7:15-23, anyone?), and in so doing provide exactly the kind of cover and sanction that he desperately needs to prop him up while he undermines our political, economic and religious liberties. Notre Dame is doing precisely this by awarding Obama an honorary doctorate.

That a Catholic (and some say, the premier Catholic) university would overlook Obama’s appalling record on human life, disregard the inconsistencies in his positions, and bestow an honor of this magnitude upon him is more than disturbing. It is a travesty. It is a lie. And it is the culmination of the lies that Catholics commit and endorse when they hide behind the leftist rubric of “social justice,” which is nothing more than a pious euphemism for wealth confiscation and redistribution. There is nothing religious about it (indeed, some religious writers point to the 10th Commandment as proof). But anti-life, and anti-American activists and politicians like Obama have been using “social justice” for decades to deceive decent, unsuspecting, well-meaning Catholics (and others) into supporting policies and organizations that undermine everything they stand for. Saul Alinsky was quite straightforward about the need to use established organizations like the Catholic Church to convey respectability. So it should not come as any surprise that Obama uses the same tactics. It is surprising, however, that after 40-plus years of this deception, any Catholics still fall for it.

This kind of ignorant complicity might be excusable in an uninformed, uneducated individual. But Notre Dame has no excuse.

Big Bedfellows

The bigger the business, the more reliable the partner for big government.

By Jonah Goldberg
March 27, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

Maybe we have it all backwards.

Here’s the basic story President Obama wants to tell. The last eight years were an economic disaster because President Bush and the Republicans ignored necessary government regulations and “investments.” The economic crisis has discredited “market fundamentalism,” as some liberals call it. Now, thanks to Bush’s hands-off approach to the economy, Obama has no choice but to get government much more involved. “To kick these problems down the road for another four years or eight years,” Obama sighs, “would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point.”

Indeed, Obama doesn’t feel compelled to merely remedy the mistakes of his predecessor; he believes it is vital that we renew the New Deal-style economic policies we strayed from when Ronald Reagan was elected. Not only must we pour vast sums of money into highways and mass transit, along with social-insurance programs, we need to “reset” the relationship between government and big business. Just this week, the administration announced that it wants new powers to control not just banks, but other financial institutions and businesses that are “too big to fail.”

What if they’re looking at the economy through the wrong end of the telescope? For starters, Bush was hardly a laissez-faire president who ignored Obama’s oft-stated domestic priorities. Sure, Bush was more laissez-faire than Obama. But that’s not a very high bar.

Education spending under Bush rose 58 percent faster than inflation. Medicare spending, thanks largely to Bush’s prescription-drug benefit (the largest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society), went up 51 percent during the Bush years. Spending on health research and regulation rose 55 percent. Spending on highways and mass transit went up by 22 percent.

Maybe that’s too little in Obama’s eyes, but it hardly validates Obama’s fictions about the last eight years. Let us also recall that Bush’s Wall Street bailout efforts were largely indistinguishable from Obama’s. Indeed, Obama’s Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was the co-pilot for Bush’s Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson. Now that Geithner’s in the captain’s chair, there haven’t been many course corrections.

But perhaps the bigger picture is backwards as well.

First, one needs to remember that the New Deal was not the assault on big business that its fans claim. FDR may have talked a good game about going after “economic royalists,” and he did love confiscatory personal income taxes. But he and his Brain Trust also loved cartels, big businesses, and other “big units” of society. The notion that big business and big government are at war with one another is one of the great enduring myths of the 20th century. The truth is that ever since Teddy Roosevelt abandoned his love of trust-busting, progressives have liked big businesses big, really big. The bigger the business, the more reliable the partner for big government.

That’s why any huge corporation that plays ball on health care, or “green jobs,” or countless other initiatives, is hailed as a “forward-thinking” or “progressive” company. Companies such as GE, which stands to make billions from Obama’s energy proposals, are vital sidekicks in the new era of public-private partnerships. Why is Obama working tirelessly to save Detroit automakers? Because GM is a wonderful poster boy for peddling nationalized health care, and UAW is an indispensable cog in the Democratic Party.

Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan required working with large corporations and other firms. It was little guys for whom she had nothing but contempt. When warned her plan would crush smaller businesses, she shrugged, “I can’t go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

Again, this is hardly a new story. Chiefly under the auspices of the National Recovery Administration, the New Dealers sought to create huge cartels and trade associations that could work side by side with economic planners. Small and independent firms, from movie theaters to dry cleaners to poultry distributors, were hounded and harassed by a government determined to “rationalize” the economy by sweeping away all those pesky-but-innovative competitors. Would Barney Frank rather work with one giant Fannie Mae that will always take his phone calls and do his bidding, or a thousand smaller firms that would need to be herded like cats? I think we already know the answer.

Everyone agrees that we are spending trillions of dollars on firms “too big to fail.” Many of these firms got so big because politicians in both parties liked to have important businessmen take their phone calls, do their bidding, and fund their campaigns. And maybe, just maybe, the lesson from the financial crisis isn’t to get big business and big government even more involved with each other, but to finally bust the trust between them.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - I'm On Fire

(Click on title to play video)

Love That Hate!

By Paul Kengor
March 26, 2009

"We must teach our children to hate," Vladimir Lenin instructed his education commissars. The Bolshevik godfather declared that hatred was not only "the basis of communism" but "the basis of every socialist and Communist movement."

Class envy has been a defining staple of the left for centuries, from the frenzied mobs leaping around the French guillotines to the Soviets to, well, the new masses circling AIG executives today. The difference is merely the degree of response -- a question of socially acceptable force or violence.

Historically, this behavior is both foreign and antithetical to the American experience.
Unfortunately, modern Americans don't understand their founding and the nation's core principles -- our educational system doesn't teach those things. Thus, they are now voting, and behaving, in kind. And we are now witnessing our own homegrown socialist movement in action, inspired by hate.

Some Americans, whipped into poisonous hatred by their elected representatives, have literally called for death for AIG executives, and one U.S. senator openly requested that these businesspeople commit suicide.

Liberals in Congress, from Senator Chuck Schumer to Senator Chris Dodd, plus a wild gaggle of unleashed central planners in the House, have conducted a show trial of AIG executives, with the larger purpose of placing American free enterprise in the dock.

The interrogation by this anointed body made me think of the old Soviet "Extraordinary Commission," the operation of which was explained by its awful head, the Latvian M. Y. Latsis:

In your investigations don't look for documents and pieces of evidence about what the defendant has done, whether in deed or in speaking or acting against Soviet authority. The first question you should ask him is what class he comes from, what are his roots, his education, his training, and his occupation. These questions define the fate of the accused.

Latsis characterized his commission as a tribunal acting on the home front against the capitalist class.

Liberals -- if they'd ever heard of Latsis, which they probably haven't in their universities -- might ridicule the extremism of my analogy. After all, they aren't talking about "eliminating the bourgeoisie as a class," as did Latsis. Fair enough. But, again, it's a matter of degree. Certainly, the acceptable demonization of an identified, despised class, for the purpose of working the masses into a rush of rage for political exploitation, is not terribly different.

As members of Congress target the likes of AIG chief executive Edward Liddy, mobs target the homes of AIG employees in Connecticut.

Of course, our sophisticated members of Congress separate themselves from the fray by choosing a non-violent but, ironically, somewhat Bolshevik-like response: they confiscate AIG pay ("bonuses") at a flat, full tax rate of 90%.

Will this financial penalty satiate the mob's bloodlust? No. That's the problem when deadly sin -- envy -- becomes government demagoguery and policy. The torch-carriers spill into the streets to take "social justice" into their own hands.

A case in point is a remarkable New York Times article, titled, "Scorn Trails AIG Executives, Even in Their Driveways."

Though frightening, the piece is not surprising. It begins with AIG executive James Haas trying to make his way into his home in Fairfield, Connecticut -- a "bay-windowed house," as the Times described it. "I feel horrible," said Haas, "this has been a complete invasion of privacy."

But Haas's tormentors do not respect things private. They seek to expropriate the private.
"You have to understand," pleaded Haas, fighting back tears, "there are kids involved, there have been death threats."

Haas explained how he had offered political penance -- to pay reparation: "I didn't have anything to do with those credit problems. I told Mr. Liddy I would rescind my retention contract.... Leave my neighbors alone."

The neighbors, however, are fit to be tied. They want a body. The Times quoted a loving New England resident who for 24 years lived down the block. Driving by, dripping with rage, surely after watching the morning news shows, she practically spit as she fulminated against AIG bonuses - which are a microscopic sliver compared to the trillions of dollars in debt Obama and the Democrats have racked up in only eight weeks.

"It makes me absolutely sick," scowled the neighbor, in reference to AIG, not the federal government. "It's despicable. It's disgusting what these people have done. They should be forced to give every cent back."

AIG workers are being demonized, noted the Times; they are hiring bodyguards. And it isn't only AIG. Merrill Lynch is dealing with similar assaults.

And that's just the start. It's only a matter of public exposure until another group of private-sector "reptiles" -- Lenin's word -- is identified for the proletariat. Congress and the White House will be happy to call out the next group of kulaks.

Alas, among the eager comrades joining this effort -- and, predictably, not investigated by the liberal media camped outside AIG homes -- are the ringleaders behind the packs of protestors across the country, including those carted around in "bus tours" of AIG executives' homes.
These alleged unprompted uprisings of "the people" are, of course, hardly spontaneous. They are organized, particularly by the odious Service Employees International Union.

Personally, I knew where to follow the footsteps. I went to the website of People's Weekly World, an organ of Communist Party USA. There, among the articles praising Obama's "mandate for change," praising the "Employee Free Choice Act," and so forth, was an article titled, "Angry about AIG? Here's how you can do something about it."

The CPUSA article emphasized that "President Obama calls AIG's behavior an ‘outrage.'" "But what can [you] do about it?" asked the communists. Well, "if you're angry," you can join the "March 19 Day of Action Against Corporate Excess." CPUSA then linked to a "complete list of cities and events."

"Don't see your city on there yet?" carefully guided the article. "Sign up to organize your own Take Back the Economy rally -- all the materials you need are available through the site." Indeed, they were: PDF's of fliers and all kinds of things.

Following the links, one ends up at the sponsors for the Day of Action. Topping the list, naturally, is ACORN, the training ground for the current President of the United States and leader of the free world. Joining Obama's alma mater is SEIU,, the National Lawyers Guild, the Mass Nurses Association, and other usual suspects.

Dependably, the useful idiots of the Religious Left were there: Interfaith Worker Justice, United for Peace and Justice, Catholics United, American Friends Service Committee, Brockton Interfaith, Catholic Scholars for Social Justice, Mass Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, New England Jewish Labor Committee, and other fellow travelers.

But most significant, the greatest dupes of all -- the liberal media -- are relied upon as the ultimate sucker: The ringleaders count on the press to report the tiniest protest; they understand that the mainstream media is educator-in-chief to most Americans. From there, the likes of James Haas's Connecticut neighbor learn how to feel about the Haas family's bay windows.

That's the process. Thus, the mob.

Well, the mob wants someone's head on a platter -- now. Time to eat the rich. Perhaps our dear leader, President Obama, can go to Connecticut to play the role of healer, addressing the faithful, calming their fears, a political sermon on the mount. Blessed would be the peacemaker.
But not yet -- for now, this hate is just too excellent, too perfect for advancing the agenda of the leftist ideologues and envy-mongers running the republic.

Who's to blame? The American people are to blame. I'm tired of the populist nonsense from talk-radio on how Americans "deserve better than this." They do? Why? They voted for this. Obama is being Obama. Pelosi is being Pelosi. Schumer is being Schumer. The American people cast the ballots.

You reap what you sow. Enjoy the hate, America. You elected it.

- Paul Kengor is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).

Sense and Sensibility

No good deed of Hume's went unpunished by Rousseau.

by Gertrude Himmelfarb
The Weekly Standard
03/30/2009, Volume 014, Issue 27

The Philosophers' Quarrel
Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding

by Robert Zaretsky and John T. Scott
Yale, 264 pp., $27.50

"No man is a hero to his valet," the old adage goes. Nor to his biographer. And eminent men--poets, statesmen, or philosophers--are all the more vulnerable. Their personal lives may be seen as, at best, a distraction from whatever it is that makes them worthy of study.

The Philosophers' Quarrel, the account of a bizarre episode in the lives of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, lends itself to this objection. Yet it raises interesting questions beyond the scope of the book, not only such obvious ones as how the term "Enlightenment" can be used to embrace two such antithetical philosophers and their philosophies, but more general questions about the relation between the personal and the public, between ideas as they are conceived and as they are received, between philosophy as the philosopher understands it and as the historian sees it unfolding in history. Short of such perennial and perhaps insoluble issues, The Philosophers' Quarrel may be read as an "entertainment"--as Graham Greene said of his thrillers to distinguish them from his more serious works--about two characters in a novel that might have been written by Tom Wolfe.

The book opens with a memorable scene in London, on March 18, 1766, when the "quarrel" (a word that hardly does justice to that affair) erupted. Rousseau, a renowned exile from his own country ( mile had been pronounced heretical by the Archbishop of Paris), was living in England courtesy of Hume, who had escorted him from Paris three months earlier and had arranged accommodations for him in London. Now, Rousseau, tiring of London (another corrupt city, he decided, like Paris), was on his way, again through the efforts of Hume, to Wootton Hall, the estate of Hume's friend, Richard Davenport, in the north of England. He was spending the night in Hume's apartment when he realized that Davenport, wanting to spare him some of the expense of the trip, had secretly contributed to the coach fare.

Assuming that Hume knew of this subterfuge, Rousseau burst into the drawing room in a frenzy of indignation and outrage, accusing Hume of deceiving and humiliating him, treating him like a child or a "beggar on alms." Taken aback by the ferocity of the attack, Hume tried, in vain, to engage him in reasonable conversation. Rousseau was implacable until, after almost an hour, he suddenly leaped into Hume's lap, threw his arms around his neck, and covered his face with tears and kisses.

"Is it possible you can ever forgive me, my dear friend?" cried Rousseau. "After all the testimonies of affection I have received from you, I reward you at last with this folly and ill behavior. But I have notwithstanding a heart worthy of your friendship. I love you, I esteem you; and not an instance of your kindness is thrown away upon me." Weeping and overwhelmed by this display of emotion, Hume reassured Rousseau of his love and friendship. "I think no scene of my life," Hume wrote to a friend shortly afterwards, "was ever more affecting."

These, it must be remembered, were not adolescents or protagonists in a rather absurd romantic novel but mature and celebrated men, indeed, leading lights of the Enlightenments in their respective countries. Nor was it a transient episode occasioned by a moment of misunderstanding and misplaced passion, for the "quarrel" went on and assumed much larger dimensions. Nor was it merely a familiar example of that wise maxim, "No good deed goes unpunished," although it was that as well.

The affair had its origins four years earlier when Hume, then living in Paris, heard of Rousseau's plight, thought he was in hiding in Paris (he had, in fact, fled to Switzerland), and offered to find a haven for him in England and a pension from the royal treasury. "Of all the men of letters in Europe, since the death of Montesquieu," Hume wrote him, "you are the person whom I most revere, both for the force of your genius and the greatness of your mind." Rousseau was flattered but politely declined Hume's offer. Three years later, finding himself unwelcome in Switzerland, he accepted it. He was to return to Paris secretly, where he would join Hume before making their way to London.

The two met on December 20, 1765, at the not-very-secret salon of the Countess of Conti. (The authorities turned a blind eye as Rousseau went to the opera, paraded in the Luxembourg Gardens in his peculiar dress--he had taken to wearing an Armenian-like caftan--and was publicly feted and celebrated.) Hume was also much taken with him. "I find him mild, and gentle and modest and good humoured," he reported, much like Socrates, both being "of very amorous complexions," although that too was "much to the advantage of my friend." Several weeks later in London, Hume used much the same words in writing to a French friend: Rousseau was "mild, gentle, modest, affectionate, disinterested, and above all endowed with a sensibility of heart in a supreme degree."

"Mild," "gentle," "modest"--that hardly describes the Rousseau who, the following month, created that dramatic scene of denunciation and reconciliation. Hume might have been reminded of another letter he had written earlier: "The philosophers of Paris foretold to me that I could not conduct him to Calais without a quarrel; but I think I could live with him all my life in mutual friendship and esteem." Among those philosophers was Baron d'Holbach, who had warned him, on the eve of their departure from Paris: "You do not know your man. I tell you plainly that you are nursing a viper in your bosom."

Hume had occasion to recall those warnings in the months to come, for Rousseau's declarations of remorse and love proved to be short-lived. The quarrel escalated as Rousseau found more reason to accuse Hume of deceit and betrayal. As soon as he arrived at Wootton Hall, referring again to the subterfuge about the coach fare, Rousseau wrote him "to stop playing once and for all these small tricks from which no good can come." To friends in Paris, Rousseau reported on other "sinister" circumstances. Hume "tampered" with his mail by opening letters forwarded to him and not sending others. (Hume had forwarded only a sampling of the letters because Rousseau had complained of the cost of postage.) And Hume was one of the "abettors" in the publication of anonymous letters intended to dishonor him. (The satirical letters were actually written, and were known to have been written, by Horace Walpole and Voltaire, who needed no abetting from Hume to get them published.)

All this time, while Rousseau was berating him personally and reviling him to others, Hume was negotiating, finally successfully, for the royal pension. Rousseau at first accepted it and then, after the Walpole incident, rejected it. What might have been a letter of thanks to Hume was a bitter denunciation. Hume had brought him to England, Rousseau complained, ostensibly to give him asylum, but really to "dishonor" him: "The public loves to be deceived, and you are made to deceive it." Rousseau was reminded of what he had said to Hume during that emotional scene in London: "If you were not the best of men, you must be the blackest." In view of his "secret conduct," Hume must now realize that he was not, indeed, "the best of men"--hence "the blackest." The letter concluded with Rousseau's refusal to have any further contact with Hume or "accept any affair in which you are a mediator, even if it is to my advantage."

David Hume

Bewildered and hurt, Hume replied by professing his "unbounded and uninterrupted" friendship for Rousseau and asking to be told the name of the person who had been maligning him so that he could prove his innocence. Rousseau did write again, in spite of his earlier promise not to do so. That letter--38 folio pages (17 printed pages), carefully written and composed (it went through several heavily revised drafts)--was an even harsher indictment of Hume and, not incidentally, an impassioned testimonial to himself.

Hume had asserted his innocence, but it was Rousseau who portrayed himself as the true innocent. He did not "live in the world," he told Hume, and was ignorant of what went on in it. "I know only what I feel," and in presenting his case against Hume, "I will present the history of the movements of my soul." As in a judicial case, he proposed to speak of Hume in the third person, except that in this case Hume was to be not so much the defendant as the judge against himself.

Hume had asked for the name of his accuser, but the only accuser, Rousseau told him, was Hume himself. In addition to the earlier charges--the private letters opened or not sent, the mere "appearance" of arranging the pension, the "plot" of those anonymous public letters--Rousseau now added other items to his indictment. A portrait of Rousseau Hume had commissioned was "hideous" (especially compared with that of Hume himself); the copy of Julie he had put in Rousseau's London lodgings was, of all his books, "the most tiresome to him"; a theater engagement Hume had arranged (which Rousseau clearly enjoyed, basking in the presence of the King) forced him to miss an appointment with a librarian in the British Museum; and it was because of the machinations of Hume that the English press, which had been initially favorable to him, turned against him. Rousseau also recalled their final meeting in London, when Hume had fixed upon him a "steadfast piercing look, mixed with a sneer," which induced in him "the most inexpressible terror," and was relieved only by "an effusion of tears." "No, no," he remembered saying as he embraced Hume, "David Hume cannot be treacherous. If he be not the best of men, he must be the basest of mankind." To which Hume had responded only with the politest and briefest assertions of innocence.

Even more disturbing was the memory of the four words Hume had uttered when they shared a room one night in an inn on their journey from Paris to London. Rousseau could not tell whether Hume was awake or asleep when he said, "Je tiens J.J. Rousseau"--"I have you, Rousseau." "Not a night indeed passes over my head," Rousseau now wrote, "but I think I hear, 'Rousseau, I have you,' ring in my ears as if he had just pronounced them." Rousseau concluded by challenging Hume to prove his innocence, or not write him again.

In his reply, Hume also recalled that last meeting, especially Rousseau's begging his forgiveness for having so misunderstood his acts of friendship. "The story as I tell it," Hume protested, "is consistent and rational. There is not common sense in your account." Everything he had done was meant to provide for Rousseau's "repose, honor, and fortune," and he regretted that it had all been turned against him. In the margins of Rousseau's letter, he was more specific, noting, after each charge of the indictment, the word "lie," making for a total of a dozen lies. About those four damning words he presumably uttered, awake or asleep, he commented that Rousseau himself did not know whether he was awake or asleep when he heard them. (Hume might also have pointed out that an Englishman, whether awake or asleep, would not be likely to be speaking in French.)

"Adieu, and forever," Hume had concluded his letter. But it was not quite "adieu," because he continued to pursue the matter of the royal pension. In April the following year Rousseau finally, grudgingly, accepted it. By then, however, the matter was moot, because Rousseau and his mistress Thérèse fled from Wootton Hall after her quarrels with the servants had made life there intolerable--and fled from England as well.

So far, these events might have remained private, awaiting perhaps the discovery of their letters in an obscure archive by an enterprising historian. (Hume had sent them to the British Museum, which did not, however, accept them.) In fact, the letters were circulated by the protagonists themselves among their friends--and thus their friends' friends. Rousseau, vowing to keep silent about the "universal plot," the powerful and skillful "league" that had formed against him, sent his last, long letter to his publisher, asking him to show it to others. Hume, suspecting that the letter would be published as a two-shillings pamphlet, and that the affair would feature prominently in the memoir Rousseau was known to be writing, sent the whole correspondence to d'Alembert to publish if he saw fit. (It does not, in fact, appear in Rousseau's Confessions, which was published posthumously and stops short of this period.)

Some of Hume's friends, including Adam Smith who dismissed Rousseau as a "rascal," counseled against publication, but d'Alembert, learning that Rousseau's letter was in possession of his publisher, persuaded Hume that the entire correspondence should be published. The book appeared in France in October 1766, and in England the following month, under the title A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute Between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau. The "dispute" thus became something of a cause célèbre in both countries, not only among the literati, who knew the disputants personally, but among readers and reviewers of that "Concise and Genuine Account."

The devil is in the details. No abridgment of this affair, no paraphrase of quotations from the letters, can do justice to it. Writing to Davenport the day he received Rousseau's letter, Hume described it as "a perfect frenzy" and worried that his poor friend might find himself "shut up altogether in Bedlam." Voltaire, reading the published account, wrote an open letter to Hume describing Rousseau as "completely mad"--mad in his conduct towards his benefactor, but also mad in his writings, which were those of "an empty ranter spun out in an often unintelligible prose." A modern reader might prefer the word "paranoid." The authors of The Philosophers' Quarrel are more judicious; they only report on the responses of others. And those responses are almost as curious as the affair itself.

Apart from the philosophes who had good reason to think of Rousseau as their enemy, popular opinion in France was overwhelmingly in his favor. This was the author of the bestselling novel of the era, Julie ou la nouvelle Héloise--a man of "sensibility," of "candor, integrity, and sensitivity," in contrast to the insensitive and obtuse Englishman. More surprising was the fact that so many Englishmen shared this view, like the reader who rebuked Hume for not appreciating the "extreme sensibility" with which Rousseau responded to his extreme difficulties, or the fellow Scotsman, writing as "A Friend to Rousseau," who recommended his country (and Hume's) as a fitting home for that "illustrious exile."

Rousseau himself made this identification with Julie explicit when he explained that in his letter to Hume he would do what he had done in Julie. He would write only about his feelings because he knew only what he felt. His feelings, the movements of his "soul," were his warrant of truth. It is also interesting that he should speak of the Julie "letters" (the novel was written in the form of letters) as if they were on a par with the Hume letter, the fictional letters having a sincerity and authenticity lacking in the unfeeling prose of Hume.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The public response to this affair suggests that it was more than a falling-out between two people who happened to be eminent philosophers, although this would have been intriguing enough. What made it more provocative for their contemporaries was the impression that something more was at stake, that the quarrel reflected two very different philosophies, or at least philosophical temperaments that lent themselves to distinctive philosophies. No one argued about the details of the case: Hume's deception about the coach fare to Wootton Hall, or his complicity in the publication of Walpole's or Voltaire's letters, or his ill-will in holding back some of the letters from admirers, or his "horrifying stare" at their last meeting. To the partisans on both sides, the issue was simple: It was a conflict between heart and mind, feeling and reason, sensibility and common sense--between, as one Frenchman put, the creator of Julie and the historian of England.

A philosopher today, who takes both men seriously as philosophers, may dismiss this quarrel as of no importance, a blip in the personal lives of all-too-human men. But to a historian of ideas it may have a larger importance. In any case, it is not the historian who is intruding on their personal lives, making public what should have been private. It is they themselves who brought this affair into the public arena, making it part not only of the historical record but also of the philosophical record. In their charges and countercharges, they gave meaning and legitimacy--moral and philosophical legitimacy--to what might otherwise have been dismissed as eccentricity or perversity. Paranoia may be just paranoia. But sometimes, just sometimes, it may be something else as well. "The personal is political," we have been told of late. By the same token, the personal may be philosophical.

Early in the book, the authors confront the question of the Enlightenment. How can such disparate figures as Rousseau and Hume be comprehended within that singular term? After some agonizing, they dispose of the problem by retaining the term. It is, they decide, "easier to live with the Enlightenment than without it"; as the legacy we live with and as the conceptual framework for scholars, "the Enlightenment is indispensable." Well, perhaps not. A historian, and a philosopher as well, may conclude The Philosophers' Quarrel by appreciating, more than ever, the multiplicity of "Enlightenments" and even "anti-Enlightenments" lurking within that term, the romanticism inspired by a Rousseauean cult of sensibility coexisting uneasily with the rationalism of the philosophes and the skeptical empiricism of Hume.

A historian may also recognize the ambiguities of Rousseau himself--the author of Julie who was also the author of The Social Contract. It was the latter Rousseau who emerged into prominence in the French Revolution--the philosopher to whom statues were erected throughout Paris, whose bust was installed in the Assembly Hall, whose body was transferred to the Pantheon together with a copy of The Social Contract resting on a velvet cushion, and to whom Robespierre paid homage when he ushered in the Reign of Terror (the official name of the new regime) which would realize the "general will" and bring about a complete "regeneration" of man.

This was the Rousseau that Edmund Burke, anticipating the Terror, saw as the evil genius of the Revolution. Burke also saw the relationship between Rousseau the man and Rousseau the philosopher. Reading Rousseau's admission in the Confessions that he had fathered five children, each of whom he had promptly turned over to the foundling hospital, Burke was moved to decry the philosopher who was so wanting in natural parental affection while professing the most exalted ideals. "Benevolence to the whole species, and want of feeling for every individual," "a lover of his kind, but a hatred of his kindred"--this, Burke said, was the "philosophic instructor," the "moral hero" of the Revolution, who counseled the "regeneration" of man while sacrificing the real man, the human being.

It is this Rousseau, the historic Rousseau, who created not only a culture of sensibility but also a philosophy of sensibility, and, more momentously, a politics of sensibility. And it is this Rousseau who remains a challenge to philosophers and historians today, as he was to critics and admirers in his own day.

- Gertrude Himmelfarb is the author of the forthcoming The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot (Encounter).

Don’t Know Nothing

A frontal attack on the Catholic Church aims at religious liberty in general.

By Michael Augros & Father Thomas Berg
March 26, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

‘Catholics and Catholicism are at the receiving end of a great deal of startling vituperation in contemporary America, although generally those responsible never think of themselves as bigots.”

With these words, the historian Philip Jenkins opened his 2003 study entitled The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. Mr. Jenkins might well consider it time to produce an updated edition. In it, he might ponder whether the recent renewal of anti-Catholic politicking is only an opening salvo in an unprecedented campaign to curb religious liberties in the United States. In which case, all of us — not just Catholics — stand to lose big.


On the national level, the Obama administration has not dallied in launching an assault on the pro-life convictions of millions of Americans. President Obama’s 60-day spree of Culture of Death accomplishments, as the Bioethics Defense Fund puts it, has been truly breathtaking. Nor has he shied away from what Catholic institutions must perceive as a direct assault on their exercise of religious freedom: the threat to rescind the “conscience clause” regulations instituted last December by the Department of Health and Human Services, which protect a health-care professional’s right to abstain from participation in what he or she would deem to be morally objectionable medical practices.

But beyond this animosity toward religious freedom on the federal level, a renewed barrage of jaw-dropping anti-Catholic mischief has been at work around the country.

In the spring of 2007, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a law forcing all hospitals to administer emergency contraception (“Plan B”) as part of their rape protocols. No exception was made for Catholic hospitals, whose standing protocols required the administration of an ovulation test (in addition to a pregnancy test) prior to making the oral contraceptive available. Rather than respecting legitimate differences of prudential judgment over whether both tests were necessary, the Connecticut legislature settled the matter with a law that forbids health-care professionals from using the results of an ovulation test in treating a rape victim.

In California, the Catholic Church is the target of venomous scorn for publicly supporting Proposition 8 (the measure that supports a traditional definition of marriage, as between a man and a woman), which was passed by California voters last November. In a recent instance, a Catholic church in San Francisco was vandalized with swastika symbols next to the names of the pope and the San Francisco archbishop.

In New York State, a proposed new law would lift the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse, allowing individuals to sue institutions for abuses alleged to have taken place decades ago. But there’s a catch: only if the alleged abuse occurred in a private institution. For abuse in government-run institutions, such as public schools, the current law gives victims only 90 days to file their claim (or, if the victim was a minor, 90 days after reaching the age of 18), and the proposed law would not change that. Never mind that accusations of sexual misconduct against New York City public-school employees are at an all-time high: 595 allegations were made last year alone, of which 105 have been substantiated, as reported by the New York Post. (It appears the New York Times did not deem that news “fit to print.”)

Even more over-the-top was the anti-Catholic bigotry on display in Hartford (again) three weeks ago in the form of proposed legislation that would remove control of church assets from bishops and pastors in the state of Connecticut.

On March 5, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, co-chaired by Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, introduced a bill (SB 1098) that would force a radical reorganization of the legal, financial, and administrative structure of Catholic parishes. Titled “An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations,” the bill sought nothing less than to restructure the Catholic Church in Connecticut. According to the proposed legislation, each parish would be run by a lay board elected by the members of the parish, with the pastor and the bishop effectively excluded.

After an immediate and thundering cry of foul play by thousands of Catholic voices, reaching all the way to national media outlets and culminating in a rally at the state capitol on March 11, the bill was quietly withdrawn from consideration by the committee.

While SB 1098 is dead for the moment, its proponents have asked Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal to render a formal opinion on its constitutionality and on that of existing state laws concerning religious corporations, which differ from one major denomination to another. The different treatment in the withdrawn bill does in fact appear to be contrary to the Connecticut state constitution — but proponents of SB 1098 may solve this difficulty with a new version of the bill that would impose a congregational structure on all “religious corporations” in the state; since many already have that structure, the Catholic Church being the most notable exception, the force of the new bill would be the same.

Now, the stated purpose of the bill was “To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations.” Supporters of the legislation cited the sad case of a Bridgeport pastor who was convicted of stealing $1.4 million in parishioner donations to support a lavish (and covertly gay) lifestyle. If that’s the real concern, however, a thicket of difficult questions arises:

* Why was the bill aimed only at Catholic churches? Don’t other denominations and houses of worship fail in this area on occasion?

* Why, indeed, should the bill be aimed only at religious corporations? Are misappropriations of funds more common or of greater magnitude in religious institutions than in, say, the business world?

* Do we accept that any government has the authority to restructure private entities at will, in order to make it easier to enforce laws against fraud? Would we all be okay with our state government telling the Elks or the Odd Fellows how, henceforth, they shall elect officers, or how and where they shall spend their money?

* Since people are free to stop donating to their parish if they believe their money is being misused, but not free to stop paying taxes if they believe tax revenue is being misspent or embezzled, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus such legislation on, say, the General Assembly?

Call us cynical, but these questions poke such gaping holes in the supposed rationale for the bill that we cannot but suspect that ulterior motives were afoot.

First of all, Messrs. McDonald and Lawlor happen to be two of five openly gay members of the General Assembly. They also recently introduced a bill to legalize assisted suicide. (That bill was quietly withdrawn as well, after another outcry from Catholics and right-to-life advocates.) Could McDonald and Lawlor perchance hold a grudge against the church for not endorsing their personal views about homosexuality and life issues?

If a bill like SB 1098 were to become law, in Connecticut or elsewhere, its impact would obviously extend beyond the question of who controls the church coffers. SB 1098 is written to appear as if it restricts the power of the proposed lay boards to financial matters only, leaving the pastors’ and bishops’ authority over doctrinal and liturgical matters intact. But if by law Catholics were prevented from putting money into the hands of their clergy, where does that leave the religious authority of pastors and bishops? Suppose one of these newly constituted parish boards votes to give a paycheck to the first Catholic priest willing to officiate at a “Catholic” gay wedding. What could the bishop do to put a stop to it? Nothing at all if the priest answers only to his parish board. Now, wouldn’t that be a prized turn of events for the gay lobby around the country?

If truth be told, the anti-Catholic bigotry from without has been coupled with secularizing elements from within the church itself. Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) is a group of Catholics who take pride in their rejection of Catholic teaching on any number of substantive questions of faith and morals. It came as no surprise when they prominently supported SB 1098. Activists of their ilk have been trying to socialize and secularize the Catholic Church — along European and mainstream Protestant lines — for years. VOTF’s press release on SB 1098 clearly revealed its ideological bent, dismissing Bishop William Lori’s objections to the bill as “irrational, erroneous, illogical and biased.” As Anne Hendershott so aptly observed in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant earlier this month: “And for organizations like Voice of the Faithful that want the church to become a ‘democratic’ institution, the state becomes a partner in creating an egalitarian church that reflects the will of the people rather than the guidance of her leaders.”

In fact, SB 1098 is unconstitutional, running afoul of the First Amendment right of every American to practice religion free from government meddling. In the case of Connecticut, the proposed bill also trampled the seventh article of the state constitution, which guarantees the right to “support and maintain the ministers or teachers” of one’s faith. The same article also guarantees that every religion will have equal powers, rights, and privileges — again violated by SB 1098, which singles out the Catholic Church for the special privilege of state micromanagement.

Our country has seen its share of anti-Catholic bigotry in its past. Today we are witnessing a kind of Know-Nothingism redux, only with sexier and more sophisticated packaging. That is a tragic step backward in a period of American history hailed as a new age of progress and hope. As the accolades continue, Americans must keep a steady eye on their religious liberties. Open anti-Catholic bigotry is only one part of a much broader project of cultural “change” no one should believe in.

— Michael Augros is vice president and senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of Nature. Father Thomas Berg is executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.