Friday, May 26, 2006


Here's Michael Long's explanation for his pick as the best conservative rock song ever:

If conservatism were expressed as one line from which the rest could flow, it might be this: Human nature does not change. This is not pessimism so much as realism: The banners of every war are carried over from the last. Liberation should live between quotation marks, because new regimes are so often similar to those that came before. Thus the French Revolution gives rise to the tyranny of Napoleon.

Or you could put it this way: The party on the left will become the party on the right-revolutions slide from attack into self-preservation. They begin softly, like the insistent synthesizer that drives the track, and then roar into the main, all power chords and bullet holes. But it always ends in a throat-ripping scream.

Almost without exception, revolutionaries are greedy little prigs, planning utopia while measuring for the office drapes. Sometimes they swear to put the public itself in charge. That's what Brother Karl proposed to do. But this never comes to pass, since every selfless idealist so far has decided that the populace wise enough to propel him to power is not quite wise enough to hold the reins themselves.

It's not just the Left. Anyone who has watched our own government has met the new boss and come away with the scent of the old boss in his clothes. Forty years of Democratic rule in the House of Representatives turned to bloat and arrogance. A decade of Republican dominance is now yielding much the same thing. Revolution, where is thy sting?

Power corrupts both Left and Right, hence the deep conservative passion for reducing the power of government itself. Some of us go further, advocating that we smash government into little bits that, if need be, can be crushed under your shoe or dusted off the collar with your fingertips. Better to keep the burden light, since at some point we will have to throw off the burden. We get fooled again and again. We always do.

Civilization that lasts more than a lifetime requires understanding all this: that the world is a place where human nature does not change and where revolutions are coming-out parties for perfectionists with shotguns. The only lasting revolutions are personal and spiritual and they may be the only way-to "get on my knees and pray"-we don't get fooled again.

If you haven't figured it out yet go here. The entire list of fifty songs is here.

Neil Postman's Commencement Address

Last year at this time I posted a graduation speech composed by Neil Postman. Despite his numerous achivements, Postman was never invited anywhere to deliver such an address so he made the speech available to anyone who wanted to use it. It's a speech that every graduate could hear or read with profit:

Members of the faculty, parents, guests, and graduates, have no fear. I am well aware that on a day of such high excitement, what you require, first and foremost, of any speaker is brevity. I shall not fail you in this respect. There are exactly eighty-five sentences in my speech, four of which you have just heard. It will take me about twelve minutes to speak all of them and I must tell you that such economy was not easy for me to arrange, because I have chosen as my topic the complex subject of your ancestors. Not, of course, your biological ancestors, about whom I know nothing, but your spiritual ancestors, about whom I know a little. To be specific, I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them-Democritus by name-conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology.

About 2,000 years ago, the vitality of their culture declined and these people began to disappear. But not what they had created. Their imagination, art, politics, literature, and language spread all over the world so that, today, it is hardly possible to speak on any subject without repeating what some Athenian said on the matter 2,500 years ago.

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders-ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics.

Like the Athenians, the Visigoths also disappeared, but not before they had ushered in the period known as the Dark Ages. It took Europe almost a thousand years to recover from the Visigoths.

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us-in this hall, in this community, in our city-there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question-these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind's most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth's language aspires to nothing higher than the clich�.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday's newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word "idiot." A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

And so, whether you were aware of it or not, the purpose of your having been at this university was to give you a glimpse of the Athenian way, to interest you in the Athenian way. We cannot know on this day how many of you will choose that way and how many will not. You are young and it is not given to us to see your future. But I will tell you this, with which I will close: I can wish for you no higher compliment than that in the future it will be reported that among your graduating class the Athenians mightily outnumbered the Visigoths.

Thank you, and congratulations.

Thanks to Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost from whom I was able to borrow the speech.

What the World Needs Now

Mary Katherine Ham deconstructs the difference between how our institutions handled the case of the Duke lacrosse players and Taheri-azar. You don't know who Taheri-azar is? That's pretty much the point. She concludes her piece with this.

I have heard it said that what America needs to win the war on Islamofascism is moral clarity - a strong belief that our ideology and theirs are not comparable; that there is a good and an evil and we are on the good side; that Western civilization, for all its faults, is a damn sight better than that which seeks to destroy it.

Taheri-azar and the Duke lacrosse players were all technically innocent until proven guilty. In one case, public officials, the press, and the local community did their best to deny the accused that particular courtesy of American justice. Tellingly, it was not the case of the murderous thug who confessed to attempting to kill his classmates [at UNC by running them over with his car], in a fashion reminiscent of Mohammad Atta, just for being non-Muslims - and then detailed his plans and motivations in letters to a local paper.

Moral clarity is what we need. It was in short supply in a pair of college towns this spring.

Read the whole thing. It's very good.

Debunking the Anti-Bush Myths

Here's Peter Whener at The Wall Street Journal:

Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations--the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn't possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so--and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them. Let me examine each in turn...

Which he proceeds to do. In the process he demonstrates how irresponsible, perhaps even dishonest but certainly reckless, many of his critics are. He closes with this:

These, then, are the urban legends we must counter, else falsehoods become conventional wisdom. And what a strange world it is: For many antiwar critics, the president is faulted for the war, and he, not the former dictator of Iraq, inspires rage. The liberator rather than the oppressor provokes hatred. It is as if we have stepped through the political looking glass, into a world turned upside down and inside out.

It is indeed strange to hear people still today - when so much evidence of Saddam's complicity with terrorists has been unearthed and so many good reasons have been adduced for assuming that Saddam was working on WMD - it is indeed strange to see people clinging tenaciously to the myth that Bush lied about these things. I suppose there are psychological reasons for the tightness with which Bush's opponents grasp these thin reeds. To admit that they were completely and utterly wrong in their assessment of the president would be so devastating to their ego and to their credibility that they cannot bring themselves to do it.

They'd rather ignore the evidence and continue to impugn the president's character than to face up to the fact that they have been miserably and detestably irresponsible and wrong. Professing themselves to be wise they prefer nevertheless to look like fools rather than admit their error.