In a satirical “Putin’s Diary” column, which overall I rank “Fail,” David Brooks has one memorable line:
I liked it better when the West conquered countries with the 82nd Airborne; now they just use the I.M.F. Fortunately, as one expert put it, they always bring a baguette to a knife fight.
Speaking of the days of the “82nd Airborne” (metaphoric for hot war, not literal), Roger Cohen, also at the New York Times, has a lyrical anamnesis about World War I:
Any sentient being who walks the byways of northern Europe, so placid now with their glistening poplar trees and villages clustered around church spires, must occasionally feel the intrusion of the painful thought that beneath the soil lie the corpses of millions, young men sacrificed for the gain of a few meters, and often in Kipling’s phrase only known unto God.
World War I erupted at a time when much of humanity was persuaded that rapid technological development, scientific progress and accelerated communications (connectivity in today’s parlance) had consigned warfare to the past. It was sparked by a single gunshot in Sarajevo, made possible by strategic miscalculation, and ended with the collapse of several empires, the world of yesterday demolished in an unimaginable bloodbath whose unsettled scores would soon produce another cataclysm.
Inspired by some centennial historic writings, Tom Streithorst (H/T Rod Dreher) reminds us what all these wars in the last century have achieved:
Few events are more central to the history of the 20th century than the First World War. Without Sarajevo, Tannenberg and the Somme, we have no Hitler, no Lenin, no Hemingway. The history of the past hundred years flows directly from the happenstance series of events that led to Europe destroying itself for little reason between 1914 and 1918.
And yet, if we imagine a German diplomat or general falling asleep in February 1914 and waking up today to see a prosperous Germany dominating a peaceful Europe, he would be pleased but not be surprised. The fall of the multiethnic Austrian Hungarian and Ottoman empires and their replacement by nation states was also predictable. No one in 1914 would have been astonished to learn that 100 years later Russia would remain an exporter of raw materials and its politics would be authoritarian, oligarchic, and corrupt. Britain’s half-hearted relationship towards the rest of Europe would startle no one. What would shock our German general is the realization that it took two brutal world wars and the rise and fall of communism to achieve this outcome. Disastrous defeat twice over did not impede Germany’s rise.
So we have a conundrum. On the one hand, even deeply important historical events can be seen as accidents or flukes. On the other, over the longer term history seems tied to the profound processes of demographics, technology, culture and institutions that have little to do with the actions of mere men. To put it another way, even if Christopher Columbus had never gone to sea, cassava would nonetheless be a staple crop in Africa today and a Nahuatl speaking emperor would not be ruling Mexico. If we explore the counterfactual and assume that World War I had not broken out in 1914 and so the Russian Revolution not occurred in 1917 and Hitler not come to power in 1933, we might still end up with a world pretty close to what we have today. I’m not sure what that tells us about the value of the study of history.
The “most complex machine ever built” is a nuclear reactor “based on an idea that Andrei Sakharov had in the 1950s” which will create “an artificial earthbound sun” by fusing hydrogen atoms into helium, releasing enough heat to “solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years”. Cost so far: $20bn. Start-date: 2020. The site in France looks like something “drawn from the imagination of JG Ballard” (14,790 words)
The New Yorker‘s teaser, in an early photo caption, reveals a bit more:
Commercial reactors modelled on ITER could generate power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste.
“Religious freedom,” said Daniel Mach of the ACLU to the Times, is “not a blank check to … impose our faith on our neighbors.” True. But who is imposing whose beliefs here? The baker who says he’s not making your wedding cake? Or those who want Arizona law to declare that either he provides that wedding cake and those flowers for that same-sex ceremony, or we see to it that he is arrested, prosecuted and put out of business? Who is imposing his views and values here?
Maybe he’s fighting fire with fire, but Pat Buchanan‘s “arrested, prosecuted” is, for the time being, hyperbole. “Put out of business” is not hyperbole, because that’s the eventuality of Human Relations fines and Orders to “compromise,” as the New Mexico Supreme Court insouciantly commanded:
At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less.
But I don’t think Buchanan’s trope is as Orwellian as “impose our faith on our neighbors.”
In his indictment of George III, Jefferson wrote of the king: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Is that not what we have today in spades? Why do we need this vast army of bureaucrats? They exist to validate the slander that America is a racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic country which would revert to massive discrimination were it not for heroic progressives standing guard.
And, indeed, some bigots might revert to type. But so what? Cannot a free people deal with social misconduct with social sanctions? And isn’t this what freedom is all about? The freedom of others to say things we disagree with, to publish ideas we disbelieve in, even to engage in behavior we dislike? As for the Christians of Arizona and same-sex unions in Arizona, if they don’t like each other, can they not just avoid each other? After all, it’s a big state.
Anyone can walk into a kosher or halal butcher’s shop and buy a chicken, but if asked to cater a party with bacon burgers, the butcher will refuse. Should that invite a lawsuit? People understand that you don’t bother religious butchers with requests they cannot honor. Should we be permitted to demand services of a cameraman, or a florist or baker that tread upon their religious sensibilities?
It’s too bad that laws and courts must become involved with what used to be the simplest of lessons: Not everyone thinks the same way, but everyone is entitled to their opinions; if that kid won’t play with you—or that baker will not make your cake—someone else will, so just kiss them up to God, and move on. Or, as Jesus told his apostles when he sent them off to preach the good news, “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet, in testimony against them.”
The thread running through this? May I suggest that it’s another version of orgasm as The Last Freedom? And why this thread, now? More than anything, I think it’s backlash against the extremely tendentious reporting of Arizona’s Religious Freedom Act amendment, which embodies the
outrageous notion principle that religious freedom should allow you to decline the request of your neighbor as well as the demand of the government (which demand you neighbor will in due course procure – absent an amendment like Arizona’s).
To be taken seriously, those who critique elites must be without flaws, whereas the elites themselves are forgiven their most egregious errors in judgment.
Populists don’t have to be flawless, but they do have to be credible.
It is interesting that the story of mankind’s first sin involved eating. We didn’t eat too much, only the wrong thing in the wrong way. But as sins go, it seems rather mundane. Murder is more dramatic (that was a second generation sin). Betrayal makes for a better novel. But there it was – we ate our way to perdition.
It’s not widely known, but you can eat your way to paradise as well, at least, in a manner of speaking.
In Classical Christianity it’s called “asceticism.”
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Eating your way to Paradise)
It seems not to have registered widely that Pope Francis sent a video address of considerable length to a gathering of Pentecostals – and not just any Pentecostals, but the most disreputable “prosperity-preaching” kind (like which I thank God I’m not).
Dale M. Coulter, the ne plus ultra of irenic Pentecostals comments, but has far too little “tut-tut” in his column for my tastes.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)