The Bostonians

I finally finished a book I have been reading forever - The Bostonians ! You shouldn't be mislead by the length of time it took me to conquer the book; it was really a fantastic novel. Think an updated version of Pride and Prejudice, with a bit of Persuasion. Or, if you're already a Henry James fan (I think there are at least three of us out there..), it's a romantic version of The Portrait of a Lady, which, if I remember correctly, wasn't romantic at all. At any rate, this novel has it all: a crotchety young feminist; a less-crotchety older feminist; a beautiful young sophist; her ill-kempt, hippie partents; and a dashing young Southerner whose chivalry cuts through their feminist b.s. in a fitting tribute to Mr. Darcy.

Here's the gist of it: Oliver Chancellor is an uptight champion of women's rights in Boston in the 1870s. She writes a letter to her long-lost southern cousin (the handsome Basil Ransom), who journeys to New England to meet her. She realizes he is hopelessly opposed to her radical cause; he sees she is a stuffy bachelorette who categorically dislikes all men who aren't falling over themselves to embrace feminism. After ten minutes together, she vows to hate him for all eternity, and he realizes that following her around for the day will really irritate her - so he insists that he accompany her to a gathering of supporters she is attending after dinner. He tags along and meets Verena Tarrant, a beautiful, but slightly vapid, up-and-coming feminist lecturer. Clearly, Basil instantly falls in love. But Olive already has her sights set on Ms. Tarrant, whose talent for discoursing on feminist nonsense is just waiting to be exploited. As you can probably guess, the remainder of the novel is a battle royale between Ransom's chivalry/chauvanism and Olive's feminism. Ransom wants to marry Verena and put her gift for discourse to use on the homefront, while Olive wants to harness her talent for her own purposes. It's really a struggle between one end of the spectrum (Olive's extreme feminism and disdain for all men) and a more middle ground place, occupied by the caring, but firm in his beliefs, Ransom.

I think that James does a brilliant job with the book; most feminists would have you believe that a woman must either renounce all connections with men (as Olive wants Verena to do) or those same men will make sure you stay barefoot and pregnant, but James paints a much more nuanced picture on Ransom's side. Ransom truly cares for the innocent Verena, and though marriage would effectively put an end to her lecture circuit, he astutely sees the feminist movement as using Verena's gift to further its own ends, at the expense of her happiness.

As usual, the back of the Penguin Classics version (which I read) completely mischaracterizes the novel as either "embody[ing] the triumph of chauvinism or mourn[ing] the tragic collapse of avant-garde feminism," so my recommendation would be to skip the blurb on the back and the useless introduction until you've worked your way through The Bostonians and can make your own opinions about its content. I promise you won't be disappointed.


things forgotten

Here is Edmund Burke, speaking against the popular grain, then and now:
You would have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedient people, taught to seek and to recognize the happiness that is to be found by virtue in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of mankind, and not in that monstrous fiction, which, by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and imbitter that real inequality, which it never can remove; and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must leave in an humble state, as those whom it is able to exalt to a condition more splendid, but not more happy. You had a smooth an easy career of felicity and glory laid open to you, beyond any thing recorded in the history of the world; but you have shown that difficulty is good for man.

- Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 35 (Dover Thrift ed.)
Here are some truly unpopular truths. True happiness is to be found in virtue! Virtue can be pursued by any human person, irrespective of material, social or intellectual circumstances. That this capacity for goodness is the foundation and source of our true equality. That over-emphasis on material equality can create and aggravate inequality, which is written into our very nature. That Nature itself sets limits on politics.

These are some of the things forgotten or ignored by our nation of religiously optimistic pragmatists whose only god is the equals sign. These ideas are more or less entirely absent from our popular political discourse. American politics is nothing but a tired argument about who will give what money to whom. I think this is one reason it's generally pretty boring and never surprising. Modern politics isn't about truth - which is interesting and important and moves hearts and minds - politics is about ambition and power and ultimately, control.

This needs to change!


an attempt to describe the present regime

What of America, these days?
In the new dispensation, we are not the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave.” We are the cause of domestic and foreign ills. We need to acknowledge our sins before the world. Our new leader gladly takes up this noble task.

“Democracy” has replaced “republic.” The republic was a mixed-regime, with separation of powers, checks and balances, designed to guarantee responsible rule by limiting the ignoble or tyrannical tendencies of any one branch of government or of the people themselves.
Federalism was designed to leave most important government activities as local as possible. Our states and often our cities themselves compare with many nation-states. Our “neighbor” is usually not “next-door.”

We are now a “democracy” in the classic sense; that is, a regime of “liberty” now redefined to remove any distinction between good or evil in how we live. Our laws reflecting life, family, and human integrity begin to enforce their new definitions established by positive law.
Our democratic rule is based on theoretic relativism. Truth or order is its principal antagonist. If we admit truth, we deny liberty. The resultant moral chaos is acknowledged. But we do not address the cause and the consequences remain. They require a new politics of “care” for the whole society.

But this “care” cannot be personal. It is non-preferential, egalitarian, same-for-all. Government is its best administrator. If people do whatever they want, they often must be “taken care of.” They are primarily victims of themselves and of old “structures.” They need someone to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Everyone needs equal access to what anyone else has. The “natural” distinctions caused by differing talents, wills to work, habits, and virtue are unjust. They cause the poor to be poor. Human nature needs some change.

We become more of a one-party, central command system. The state is “all-caring.” We are not the best judges of our own good. Our model is not ourselves and our wretched traditions. The president does not speak of American standards being good for the world, but of (selective) world standards being “good” for us. We should imitate the world and apologize to it. Our “uniqueness” has caused most of the wars and unbalances in the world.

Looking over his initiatives, Victor Davis Hanson remarked that, on balance, the president is “neither a pragmatist, as he insisted, nor even a liberal, as charged. Rather he is a statist. The president believes that a select group of affluent, highly educated technocrats…supported by a phalanx of whiz-kids fresh out of blue-chip universities with little or no experience in the market place, can direct our lives for better than we can ourselves.” The people have lost their grip. They need to be guided, taken care of for the common good.

Out of democracy’s chaos, Plato said, will arise a “leader.” Such a “leader,” Fouard Ajami writes, is familiar: “(The president’s) politics of charisma was reminiscent of the Third World.” He was familiar to Aristotle too.
This is a sad read because it's true.


What's worse: being branded a socialist or being tagged a racist?

Considering a large portion of the world seems to think that the first epithet is actually a positive one, I would have to go with racist as the greater of two evils. Which, I think, is exactly the gameplan the President and his motley crue are running recently: bench Van Jones; sub in a "teary" Nancy Pelosi; have the peanut farmer toss the race card as a Hail Mary pass; and hope no one notices that you're ramming health care through while cozying up to Russia. Unbelievable. And since Americans are left with only two choices, being called a socialist or a violent racist, the administration is counting on you weighing the social stigma and hopping on board with a socialist agenda. For the President and his administration, everything is an either/or proposition: you can't object to Obama's policies without being a racist, and you can't raise your voice in opposition without being violent. Funny, though, that the San Francisco violence and bigotry that the emotionally wounded Pelosi is referring to in the YouTube video were the murders of Mayor Moscone and the openly gay Harvey Milk at the hand of a fellow Democrat. And Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard has recently noted that, off the 10 documented acts of violence at townhall meetings and protests, 7 of these were Obama supporters attacking opponents of healthcare - including one story where a Democrat crossed a busy street to incite a scuffle with an old man that culminated in the former biting off the finger of the latter, and then, during the turmoil of recovering the appendage and getting the old man to an emergency room, the biter returns to his side of the road to continue his support of the President! Does that sound like someone you want in your camp?

I'd cry if those people were on my team, too, Pelosi. Except I think I'd be able to make it look a little more authentic.


"this is the reality, people"

And if we stood back to take in the view of the whole, what would we see? In the first place, we see the bill brought forth under the most radical pro-abortion president the country has ever seen: a man who opposed the move even to protect a child who survived an abortion; who promised his supporters than any program of medical care would cover “reproductive” rights; and whose administration pushes that notion of “reproductive rights” at every conference under the United Nations, and in every place where there is discretion under our laws. This president has declared his intention to remove the protections of “conscience” put in place for doctors and nurses in dealing with abortion, and to repeal the Hyde Amendment that barred the use of federal funds to support most abortions.

Every level of the administration is filled with people who regard abortion as a medical procedure legitimate, desirable, urgently necessary. And so when the bill mandates “professional services of physicians and other health professionals”; when it seeks a new Health Advisory Panel to recommend other medical procedures to be covered; and when the recommendations are made to a Secretary of Health and Human Services who is famously pro-abortion – with all of these ingredients in place, what is one reasonably to expect? The presumption must be that abortion would be amply covered at many points unless there is an explicit move to forbid the coverage of abortion in the bill. And yet, when amendments of that kind were offered, they were routinely voted down in committee along party lines by the Democrats.

What is unique about Barack Obama was revealed during the controversy over his opposition, in Illinois, to protecting the children who survived abortions. When this news broke out in the presidential campaign, his response, audacious and clever, was to accuse his critics of lying for bringing the news. They would be tarred as liars for telling, about him, such a monstrous truth. And what worked in the campaign is now taken up as his standard operating procedure. What hasn’t been fully grasped about Obama is that he lies even when there is no need to lie; he lies in the way that concert pianists need to practice every day. For apart from the utility of it, he needs to practice, as any true artist needs to practice, for the sake of cultivating his art at its highest level.

Hadley Arkes at his finest.


modern martyr

(CNN) -- Authorities have charged an Owosso, Michigan, man with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the Friday shooting deaths of an anti-abortion activist and another man, a prosecutor's office said.

Activist Jim Pouillon was shot and killed Friday while protesting outside Owosso High School.

Authorities say the suspect, Harlan James Drake, was offended by anti-abortion material that the activist had displayed across from the school all week.

Drake, 33, is accused of shooting anti-abortion activist Jim Pouillon, 63, and Michael Fuoss, 61, who were killed in separate locations Friday morning, the prosecutor's office in Shiawassee County said.


It's scary how easily the President lies

Forgive me while I temporarily lapse into semi-thoughtful emotionally charged political commentary: A lie is an intentional distortion of the truth. The truth is correspondence with reality. Therefore a lie is anything that intentionally distorts the correspondence between one's knowledge of reality and the intentional meaning of one's words. Either
(a) President Obama does not know the content of his party's health care bill
(b) President Obama does know the content of his health care bill
(c) President Obama knows some of the content of his party's health care bill
If (a) President Obama is not a liar - just delusional. If (b) or (c), this President lies more easily than perhaps even President Clinton, and lies even more insidiously. He is intentionally trying to distort the truth, and he does it so easily and so "persuasively". And what really gets me is how obvious it all is. Listening to some of the content of the President's speech, I cannot help but wonder how anyone does NOT know he is lying. He so clearly avoids speaking plainly about anything. Almost everything he says is a half-truth.

The Democrats, good Machiavellians that they are, know that a lie in service of the greater good is a justifiable, and therefore a good lie. Christians, with the true knowledge that God is perfectly just, can rest comfortably knowing that no lies, no matter how they may serve the putative goodness of some cause, go unpunished. And so we continue to pray for the immanetization of the Eschaton when true justice will be served.

(For a look at the lies in the President's speech, see this website.)


life at high speed

Time flies


Same tired stuff

I originally posted this over a year ago, but I just stumbled upon it again and it's worth rereading Father Schall's article. It's funny how some things never change: whether it's Obama trying to smooth things over while sweeping things under the rug; Father Schall being devastatingly spot on with his critiques of politics; or Plato telling it like it is while everyone chooses not to listen...

In an age when the trendiest political slogans are "Together we can" and "Change you can believe in," it's nice to hear someone bringing the Utopian masses back to their senses. Fr. James Schall, in a pithy contribution to the Ignatius Press website, writes about a question that has dominated the Western mindset for millenia: How can we make life better? And not in the future, but right now? Illustrated by Deval Patrick and Barack Obama's vapid campaign slogans, the "forward-looking" Progressive quest for improvement is humorously ironic, in that it is the same quest that Plato remembers having experienced as a young man. At the age of 40 in 334 B.C., the philosopher is reminded of his youthful enthusiasm by an encounter with a boy who has yet to be jaded by politics. Plato is empathetic with the youth's optimism and belief that his city of Syracuse "ought to be free and live under the best of laws," but experience (not the least of which includes his relationship with Socrates and hemlock) leads Plato to understand "how difficult it is to manage a city's affairs rightly." One's own daily experience with the fallible nature of man provides easy corroboration for Plato's claim. How is it that some people can find so much wrong with the world and still insist that it would take so little to make it all right? If only we had universal health care, if only this law were in place or that law were repealed or free market economies were magically changed to some Utopian ideal. Ahh, wouldn't things be wonderful then? Obama says that's change we can believe in. Patrick says that if we all work together, we can achieve this ambiguous and elusive state of happiness.

But what exactly is it that these politicians are campaigning on? If Plato, in 334 B.C., knew that the perfectly just city was to be forever beyond the earthly grip of man, what are Progressive politicians promising the masses? Fr. Schall notes that "Some philosophers even say that this very desire to have the perfect city is the cause of all political evils that do happen in the world." In my opinion, the careers of politicians of this stripe can have one of two endings: First, they may prove neutered and insipid like Patrick's, having failed to deliver on any of the grandiose promises made on the campaign trail. Second, and infinitely more dangerous, they may follow the path outlined by the philosophers of which Schall speaks in the last quotation, sacrificing many for the good of the whole.