Monday, June 20, 2005

Dying Cultures

Historian Paul Johnson cites three reasons for Europe's current malaise and apparent decline. First are the resentments it harbors to the United States, second is its refusal to jettison socialist economic policies and the onerous welfare systems it has evolved, and third is its rejection of its own historic past.

Europe, Johnson writes, was essentially a creation of the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has, in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU Justice Commissioner. He goes on to say that:

Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L'Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"

No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.

In short, the EU is not a living body, with a mind and spirit and animating soul. And unless it finds such nonmaterial but essential dimensions, it will soon be a dead body, the symbolic corpse of a dying continent.

Well, of course. Secular socialism fails everywhere it's tried. It offers its citizens no lofty purpose. It possesses nothing with which to inspire. It offers people no meaning, no rationale for shared sacrifice, no justification for striving for greatness. Indeed, it cannot even define what national greatness would consist in. Most of all it ignores a fundamental truth about human nature captured in a statement of Jesus (Mat. 4:4):

"Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God."

Secular socialism seeks to manage the masses of people like zookeepers manage animals in a zoo. Feed and shelter them and they'll remain docile, pliable, and live out their lives in relative passivity. But men are more than animals. Render achievement and individual greatness impossible, as socialism does, and you deaden the human spirit. Rip the spiritual out of a nation, as secularism does, and you may as well tear its heart out also. Bereft of an animating faith in transcendence, men have nothing left to make all their strivings worthwhile. They have nothing left to make their lives satisfying and purposeful. Nations filled with such men find their collective will to survive oozing out of them like blood from an open wound.

The Great Pretenders

Of liberal nuttiness there apparently is no end. A bunch of anti-Bush folks met Thursday in a basement in the Capitol building to make-believe that they were having a hearing to impeach the President. Not all went well at the "hearings," however:

The session took an awkward turn when witness Ray McGovern, a former intelligence analyst, declared that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, Israel and military bases craved by administration "neocons" so "the United States and Israel could dominate that part of the world." He said that Israel should not be considered an ally and that Bush was doing the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Israel is not allowed to be brought up in polite conversation," McGovern said. "The last time I did this, the previous director of Central Intelligence called me anti-Semitic."

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who prompted the question by wondering whether the true war motive was Iraq's threat to Israel, thanked McGovern for his "candid answer."

The slide of the conspiracy theorists over the edge of sanity was evinced at Democratic headquarters, where an overflow crowd watched the "hearing" on television, activists handed out documents repeating two accusations -- that an Israeli company had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that there was an "insider trading scam" on 9/11 -- that previously has been used to suggest Israel was behind the attacks.

The event organizer,, distributed stickers saying "Bush lied/100,000 people died." One man's T-shirt proclaimed, "Whether you like Bush or not, he's still an incompetent liar," while a large poster of Uncle Sam announced: "Got kids? I want yours for cannon fodder."

Great fun, we're sure. Word has it that when they were done pretending to impeach the president they all repaired to the Capitol rotunda where they spent the afternoon playing cowboys and indians.

Mugabe's Reign of Terror

If this were happening in South Africa twenty years ago the international Left would be shrieking in outrage, but because it's being perpetrated by a black government neither the Left, nor too many others, for that matter, seem to care. It's as if blacks are not expected to be able to attain the same standards of civilized behavior as whites are held to.

Reduced expectations for blacks is an expression of racism of which both Left and Right are guilty. It's a way of saying that blacks just aren't capable of achieving the same understandings of human rights and free institutions that whites are. The odd thing about it is that blacks seem as prone to it as are whites.

Thanks to No Left Turns for the tip.

Good Intentions

An unfortunate sign of the times:

As a new journalism professor at American University, Alicia Shepard wasn't prepared for students demanding A's:

During the spring semester, they showed up at my office to insist I reread their papers and boost their grades. They asked to retake tests they hadn't done well on. They bombarded me with e-mails questioning grades. More harassed me to change their final grade.

. .. . My colleague Wendy Swallow told me about one student who had managed to sour her Christmas break one year. Despite gaining entry into AU's honors program, the student missed assignments in Swallow's newswriting class and slept through her midterm. Slept through her midterm! Then she begged for lenience."I let her take it again for a reduced grade," Swallow says, "but with the warning that if she skipped more classes or missed more deadlines, the midterm grade would revert to the F she earned by missing it. She then skipped the last three classes of the semester and turned in all her remaining assignments late. She even showed up late for her final."

Swallow gave the student a C-minus, which meant she was booted out of the honors program. The student was shocked. She called Swallow at home hysterical about being dropped from the program. To Swallow, the C-minus was a gift. To the student, an undeserved lump of Christmas coal.

. . . .John Watson, who teaches journalism ethics and communications law at American, has noticed another phenomenon: Many students, he says, believe that simply working hard -- though not necessarily doing excellent work -- entitles them to an A. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard a student dispute a grade, not on the basis of in-class performance," says Watson, "but on the basis of how hard they tried."

Sometimes, Mommy or Daddy complains. They're paying tuition, and they expect A's for their money.

On BrightMystery, the world's most patient math professor shares his exchange of e-mails with the mother of a student who didn't want to learn how to solve problems. That didn't fit his "learning style."

Anyone who has spent any time at the front of a classroom has had similar experiences. I have often wondered what background some of my college students had in high school that they could possibly entertain the expectations they do regarding what they are entitled to as students.

The Exalted Cyclops

Good thing this wasn't Trent Lott or else the sensitive, caring folks would've really been upset. Since it was a Democrat, well, then, that's different:

In the early 1940s, a politically ambitious butcher from West Virginia named Bob Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the "Grand Dragon" for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter.

As Byrd recalls now, the Klan official, Joel L. Baskin of Arlington, Va., was so impressed with the young Byrd's organizational skills that he urged him to go into politics. "The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation," Baskin said.

The young Klan leader went on to become one of the most powerful and enduring figures in modern Senate history. Throughout a half-century on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has twice held the premier leadership post in the Senate, helped win ratification of the Panama Canal treaty, squeezed billions from federal coffers to aid his home state, and won praise from liberals for his opposition to the war in Iraq and his defense of minority party rights in the Senate.

Despite his many achievements, however, the venerated Byrd has never been able to fully erase the stain of his association with one of the most reviled hate groups in the nation's history.

"It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career, and reputation," Byrd wrote in a new memoir -- "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields" -- that will be published tomorrow by West Virginia University Press.

While Byrd provides the most detailed description of his early involvement with the Klan, conceding that he reflected "the fears and prejudices I had heard throughout my boyhood," the account is not complete. He does not acknowledge the full length of time he spent as a Klan organizer and advocate. Nor does he make any mention of a particularly incendiary letter he wrote in 1945 complaining about efforts to integrate the military.

Byrd's book offers a truncated description of his days with the Klan that does not completely square with contemporaneous newspaper accounts and letters that show he was involved with the Klan throughout much of the 1940s, and not merely for two or three years.

According to his book, Byrd wrote to Samuel Green, an Atlanta doctor and "Imperial Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan, in late 1941 or early 1942, expressing interest in joining. Some time later, he received the letter from Baskin, the "Grand Dragon" of mid-Atlantic states, saying he would come to Byrd's home in Crab Orchard whenever Byrd had rounded up 150 recruits for the Klan.

When Baskin finally arrived, the group gathered at the home of C.M. "Clyde" Goodwin, a former local law enforcement official. When it came time to choose the "Exalted Cyclops," the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.

Byrd asserts that his Klan chapter never engaged in or preached violence, "nor did we conduct any parades or marches or other public demonstrations" -- other than one time delivering a wreath of flowers in the shape of a cross to the home of a member who had been killed in a pistol duel.

Byrd said in the Dec. 11, 1945, letter -- which would not become public for 42 more years with the publication of a book on blacks in the military during World War II by author Graham Smith -- that he would never fight in the armed forces "with a Negro by my side." Byrd added that, "Rather I should die a thousand times, and see old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels."

Byrd won the primary, but during the general election campaign, Byrd's GOP opponent uncovered a letter Byrd had handwritten to Green, the KKK Imperial Wizard, recommending a friend as a Kleagle and urging promotion of the Klan throughout the country. The letter was dated 1946 -- long after the time Byrd claimed he had lost interest in the Klan. "The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia," Byrd wrote, according to newspaper accounts of that period. Byrd makes no mention of the letter in his new book.

Four years later, Byrd's Klan past became an issue again when he joined with other southern Democrats to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Byrd filibustered the bill for more than 14 hours as he argued that it abrogated principles of federalism. He criticized most anti-poverty programs except for food stamps. And in 1967, he voted against the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first black appointed to the Supreme Court.

One irony in this is that Byrd's Democratic colleagues were declaiming a year ago about George Bush's unfitness for high office because of dubious allegations about missing some National Guard meetings as a young man, yet the Democratic party didn't see any reason not to elevate Byrd to Senate majority leader twice.

Why are blacks so loyal to this party?