Saturday 2/18/17

  1. Conservative ≠ Anti-Liberal
  2. #Proxy #Fail
  3. Donald and the IC
  4. Why are we provoking Russia?
  5. Childhood dreams
  6. Donald and David

1

In 2005, the rightist historian John Lukacs wrote that America’s political future might well be decided on the Right, in a contest “between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals.”

Thus does Rod Dreher introduce his effusive praise of a forthcoming book by poet/teacher James Matthew Wilson, who I first encountered as one of the “Porchers.”

Ours is an age full of desires but impoverished in its understanding of where those desires lead―an age that claims mastery over the world but also claims to find the world as a whole absurd or unintelligible. In The Vision of the Soul, James Matthew Wilson seeks to conserve the great insights of the western tradition by giving us a new account of them responsive to modern discontents. The western― or Christian Platonist―tradition, he argues, tells us that man is an intellectual animal, born to pursue the good, to know the true, and to contemplate all things in beauty. Wilson begins by reconceiving the intellectual conservatism born of Edmund Burke’s jeremiad against the French Revolution as an effort to preserve the West’s vision of man and the cosmos as ordered by and to beauty. After defining the achievement of that vision and its tradition, Wilson offers an extended study of the nature of beauty and the role of the fine arts in shaping a culture but above all in opening the human intellect to the perception of the form of reality. Through close studies of Theodor W. Adorno and Jacques Maritain, he recovers the classical vision of beauty as a revelation of truth and being. Finally, he revisits the ancient distinction between reason and story-telling, between mythos and logos, in order to rejoin the two.

Story-telling is foundational to the forms of the fine arts, but it is no less foundational to human reason. Human life in turn constitutes a specific kind of form―a story form. The ancient conception of human life as a pilgrimage to beauty itself is one that we can fully embrace only if we see the essential correlation between reason and story and the essential convertibility of truth, goodness and beauty in beauty. By turns a study in fundamental ontology, aesthetics, and political philosophy, Wilson’s book invites its readers to a renewal of the West’s intellectual tradition.

(Amazon book note)

Dreher persuaded me with such praises as this:

Wilson’s book gives a defense of the Western tradition that is breathtaking in its depth and clarity, conveyed in prose that genuinely delights with its elegance, lucidity, and splendor. I have never read a book in which content so profound takes flight with such lightness and style. It’s like watching a 747 maneuver with the grace and precision of a hummingbird. Future generations of conservatives will look back to their encounter with The Vision of the Soul with the same sense of gratitude and awe that we today remember the first time we read Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk. This book is not only true and good, but also beautiful. I know that I will be reading it, and re-reading it, for the rest of my life. The Vision of the Soul should be a cornerstone for every classical school. This is one of the ten books you take to your Benedict Option monastery, and around which you build the rest of your intellectual life.

Read the whole thing and see if you can resist pre-ordering the book.

2

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, has lost her discrimination case unanimously in the Washington (State) Supreme Court.

A lawyer for Ms. Stutzman, Kristen Waggoner, said the court had erred both in interpreting the law and in the specifics of the case. The same-sex couple were not refused service because they were gay, Ms. Waggoner said, but only turned away for a specific ceremony that Ms. Stutzman could not abide because of the dictates of her conscience …

Because a flower arrangement is an artistic expression, Ms. Waggoner said, the court effectively ruled that the state could regulate, with punitive government authority, what artists may sell.

“All creative professional expression is at risk,” Ms. Waggoner said in a telephone call with reporters.

Ms. Stutzman and her lawyers, using dictionary definitions of “art” as well as expert testimony regarding her creativity and expressive style, argued for a broad reading of protected speech that encompassed her “unique expression,” crafted in “petal, leaf and loam.”

The justices rejected that argument. In looking at what sorts of conduct or service constitute free speech, protected under the Constitution, they found that even if Ms. Stutzman was artistic in her flower arrangements, the statements she made in selling the arrangements were not protected free speech, as defined by the United States Supreme Court.

I understand that a refusal to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding could be a proxy for discrimination against homosexuals. But it was clear that Barronelle Stutzman did not discriminate against homosexuals. She had sold flowers to this couple for years, knowing they were a gay couple. Any presumption that “not a wedding” was a proxy for “not gay people” was false. Her final refusal truly was a line her conscience wouldn’t allow her to cross: creating floral arrangements specifically for a “wedding” that her faith could not countenance.

Washington’s Attorney General thinks the state can distinguish pretexts from principle:

Ms. Stutzman herself, the court said, contradicted the argument that wedding flowers were a statement when she said in a deposition that providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.

I respond that those analogies strike me as flawed, but that in any event it’s not the job of the state to suppress or sanction supposedly irrational religious convictions or line-drawing while allowing rational ones.

I think Stutzman should win if SCOTUS takes her case, but it declined a New Mexico photographer’s case, which legal scholars think was a stronger free expression case than hers. For now, florists who share Stutzman’s convictions may need to make the significant sacrifice of posting “We do not serve weddings,” and that may be lethal to some small operations.

The jackboots are also coming, as noted, for photographers, and bakers and calligraphers and any other craftsman whose services might make a wedding more festive.

The ACLU, most of the media, the legal establishment, the Democratic Party — they all hate us. I mean, hate us. If Barronelle Stutzman were a Muslim, we never would have heard of this story. She is a Southern Baptist, therefore she must be destroyed.

Like I keep saying: this may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world. When the might of the State of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union comes down on the head of gentle, grandmotherly, small-town florist, and seeks her ruin for declining to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, you know that we are dealing with a bottomless well of hatred. You know exactly what we are dealing with here. So, prepare. We are all going to be asked to pay the cost of discipleship. When I interviewed her last summer, Stutzman said to me: “If they can come after me, they can go after anybody.”

True. Expect no justice, tolerance, mercy, or love in these matters …

As regular readers know, I do not like Donald Trump and do not like the glee with which so many of my fellow conservatives view his trashing of longstanding rules and conventions of political behavior. Trump is tearing things down, but what will be left after he’s done that? Having said that, when I contemplate a system and a society that is willing to pour everything it has into crushing a little old Southern Baptist lady who arranges flowers for a living, I find that I have very little enthusiasm for defending that system. A society that would do this to a Barronnelle Stutzman is a corrupt and unjust society. At times like this, it is hard not to adopt a “let the dead bury the dead” attitude toward the whole.

(Rod Dreher)

3

Michael Gerson (Reality will get its revenge on Donald Trump) seems relatively unconcerned about the “intelligence community” undermining the current administration with leaks:

Trump appears utterly shocked that he does not hold the copyright on counterpunching. And the intelligence community is particularly good at it. During my time in the George W. Bush White House, there were also some damaging intelligence leaks. I have no intention of excusing them. I only point out that it is daunting to argue with people who weaponize information for a living — like challenging a Navy SEAL to a fight.

There is a certain kind of New Yorker who really believes Frank Sinatra: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” The world of Manhattan real estate must have seemed to Trump like the big leagues. It wasn’t. And the techniques that succeeded in his little world — the taunting, the exaggerations, the bluster, the threats, the bullying — do not translate well in dealing with real professionals …

With less than a month in office, Trump is beginning to see reality’s revenge. His overall strategy seems disturbingly ambitious. Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who directed both the CIA and the NSA, describes it this way in an interview: “A systematic effort to invalidate and delegitimize all the institutions, governmental and nongovernmental, that create the factual basis for action . . . so they won’t push back against arbitrary moves.

That is, well, terrifying. But American institutions, it turns out, are pretty durable, at least so far. The checks have checked. The balances have balanced. In this scenario, it is good news that the Trump administration has been so inept, at least in conflicts with other institutions. We should be thankful that Trump is a figure much smaller than his schemes.

That’s the most reassuring version I’ve seen of spooks turning their attentions homeward — if one credits the bolded characterization of a Trump “strategy,” or perhaps even if one sees it not as strategy but as eventuality.

More:

  • declaring war on the judiciary … is not costless. It creates an atmosphere in which future executive orders and actions will be examined by an equal branch of government.
  • on Capitol Hill, Trump is draining not the swamp, but the reservoir of goodwill.
  • Eventually Trump will be down politically — really down in the polls, down in a scandal, down in morale. What GOP leader would take up his defense with genuine enthusiasm?

Damon Linker is toward the other end of the concern spectrum.

4

Why in hell are we antagonizing Russia? In the last month of Obama’s term — and for the first time in many years — NATO moved a bunch of tanks close to Russia’s border with the Baltic states. Do you really think Russia wants to reoccupy these countries for the pleasure of subsidizing them and draining the Russian treasury? In those twilight days of Obama, government officials made wild and unspecific charges about “Russian aggression,” and vague assertions about Russian plans to dominate the global scene. Major what-the-f*ck there. There’s the ugly situation in Ukraine, of course, but that was engineered by Obama’s state department. Do you know why Russia annexed Crimea after that? It couldn’t have been for more transparently rational reasons. And what exactly is our beef with Russia in Syria? That they’re trying to prop up the Assad government because the last thing the Middle East needs is another failed state with no government whatsoever? What’s our plan for Syria, anyway? Same as Somalia, Iraq, and Libya? These stories about Russia’s intentions seem insane on their face. It’s amazing that readers of The New York Times swallow them whole. It must say something about the deterioration of the coastal gene pool. The story-mongers have a purpose though: to promote a state of permanent hostility, neo-cold-war style, to justify the grotesquely overgrown operations of the IC.

Now, it may be the case that President Donald Trump is batshit crazy, but cooking up fake hostilities with the world’s second-leading nuclear super-power is a strange way to run a coup d’état against the White House. I mean, if it’s that bad, the generals and the senior spooks ought to just step up to the plate without further pretense and remove the f*ck*r — as I’ve been predicting they would inside of sixty days from the inauguration. But then even if Trump is crazy and incompetent, what’s so great about a Deep State security matrix that refuses to be subordinate to anybody, that can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants?

(James Howard Kunstler, That War You Ordered)

5

“Growing up, my dream was to start a condom company with my dad,” Ms. Hollender, 29, quipped to the staff at Ricky’s.

(Eco-friendly, Nontoxic and Vegan: It’s a Condom)

6

The Sabbath synagogue service pairs readings from the Five Books of Moses with a passage from the Prophets. The selections for each week of the year were chosen by rabbis centuries ago, but often they are eerily relevant to current events.

Consider the dying words of the patriarch Jacob, who gave insightful and high-minded blessings to his sons. The rabbis matched these words with the dying proclamations of a very different type of leader, King David. The monarch’s words to his son Solomon are jaw-dropping. He reminds his son of “Shimei the son of Gera the Benjamite of Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim.” The dying king then instructs: “You shall bring his hoary head down to the grave with blood.” David also tells Solomon to reward friends for their loyalty: “Let them be of those that eat at your table, for so did they befriend me.”

The annual comparison of Jacob and David took on a new meaning this year. David’s words seemed like a caricature of Donald Trump’s tweets.

As a new era begins in Washington, it is worth asking whether the similarity between President Trump and King David goes any deeper.

Both men came out of nowhere to deal with an urgent national matter. Each was initially treated as a joke by the experts. When David offered to face Goliath, King Saultold him, “You are a lad, and he is a warrior since his youth.” Yet both prevailed, and each did so by spending far less than his adversaries.

Mr. Trump and David also scandalized the sexual standards of their times ….

(Michael Segal)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.