How To Lose Friends…

Taki Theodoracopulos isn’t generally considered a great fan of the government of Israel. But did you know that he once volunteered to fight for Israel in the Six-Days’ War? Not long thereafter, though, the great Yehudi Menuhin told Taki to take another look at the plight of the Palestinians. What he saw prompted him to rethink his enthusiasm for the IDF. Taki tells the story in his contribution to The American Conservative‘s symposium on Left and Right — in stores right about now.


Shakespeare the Catholic?

Probably not. A few days back, Tim asked if I would solicit Paul Cantor’s opinion on Clare Asquith’s arguments for a crypto-Catholic Shakespeare. Professor Cantor said he hadn’t read her book but has been skeptical (to say the least) of the claim whenever it’s been made by others. He referred me to one of his pieces from the Claremont Review of Books (actually, two of his pieces, but I don’t think the other is on-line) for some of his thoughts on the matter — particularly his thoughts on the anti-Catholic themes of Measure for Measure. He suggested that one reason even left-wing scholars sometimes jump onto the Shakespeare-was-Catholic bandwagon is that it might be the only way they can claim him for a minority group.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles

In an hour or so I have to catch a shuttle from Auburn, Ala. to the Atlanta airport. Get back to D.C. around 7 pm — and then I have to leave again at 3 am(!), taking Amtrak to Connecticut. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be taking a 3 am train if I had any other viable options, but the Amtrak alternatives were more expensive and not much better.

Even though I’ll be in a tech hub of sorts for the next week, I may or may not have reliable internet service. That’s the drawback of using ethernet in the wireless age. Ah well. Blogging will be sporadic if I can’t find a terminal somewhere to exploit, although chances are I will be able to find one.

The summer symposium issue of TAC should be showing up in subscribers’ mailboxes and bookstores right around now. By the way, here is a link to the old Commentary symposium from 1976 that was our inspiration. (It’s a pay archive, but you can get the whole Commentary symposium for the price of one regular article — about $5 or a little less, if I recall. It’s worth it for Robert Nisbet’s contribution alone.)

Everyone In South Lebanon Is a Terrorist

And you know what that means. James Bovard looks at the BBC’s report that Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon has “said that in order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops moved in.” According to Ramon, “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah.”

Foreign Policy and the American Mind

The title of this post comes from an essay by Robert Nisbet that first ran in Commentary circa September 1961 and was later reprinted as a pamphlet in 1978 by the Institute for Humane Studies. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been collected anywhere — there are several important Nisbet essays, including his brilliant piece on the radicalism of the American revolution, that are woefully out of circulation.

Though first published 45 years ago, the essay’s practically as relevant now as the day Nisbet finished it. A sample:

What else but transcendent moralism lies behind what George Kennan, in Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, calls egocentrical and embattled democracy: “It [democracy] soon becomes a victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision on everything else. Its enemy becomes the embodiement of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life will no longer be worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all problems will become soluble…”

In this way we carry our absolutist conception of history, our sense of destiny, into war and peacemaking. The enemy — whether German or Russian or, almost comically, Cuban — becomes not merely the ready scapegoat for all ordinary dislikes and frustrations; he becomes the symbol of total evil which the forces of good must mobilized to destroy completely.

Not only does this mentality prevail even long after the Soviet Union’s collapse — applied as ludicrously to Hitlers-of-the-month like Saddam and Slobo as it once was (and still sometimes is) to Castro — but the same idiocy now characterizes America’s internal politics: in this sense, the culture war really is the sequel to the Cold War. In neocon nomenclature, according to which there have been three or four or umpteen World Wars, the culture war must be the second (or third or fourth or fifth?) Civil War.

Save the Penny

Clifford Thies’s article on the penny — which John Fund and other ne’er-do-wells would like to abolish — isn’t quite the defense that I’d like to see, but it’s a start.  Then penny is indeed nearly worthless and actually costs more to mint than it’s worth. But tax money wasted on ineffecient minting is actually less harmful than tax money used to bribe voters or bomb foreign countries. It’s also a useful reminder to the public of just what the government has done to “our” money.

Not-Quite-Live Blogging

I’ve just arrived in Auburn, Alabama (home of the Ludwig von Mises Institute), where I’ll be attending the “Commerce and Culture” seminar with Paul Cantor this week. At spare moments in the evenings, I’ll post some thoughts on the lectures.

I didn’t have the chance to get through everything on the recommended reading list, but the volumes I did read — The Economy of Literary Form by Lee Erickson, Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, Frederic Spotts’s engrossing Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, and Mises’s Anti-Capitalistic Mentality — were all well worthwhile. I’d recommend any of them. (Cowen can be reductionist in places, particularly when he’s discussing what he calls “cultural pessmists” — i.e., anyone who thinks that there’s something seriously wrong with high and low culture today — but as a primer on the economics that make culture possible, the book is valuable indeed.)

It’s been a few years since I read Professor Cantor’s own Gilligan Unbound, but time hasn’t eroded any of my admiration for the work. It’s a penetrating look at the social and cultural significance of four American television series (“Gilligan’s Island,” “Star Trek,” “The Simpsons,” and “The X-Files) emblematic of their eras. The book should have garnered a great deal more attention; unfortunately, it was released early in September 2001. (Sept. 10, if I recall…)

(Here’s a very brief Nick Gillespie interview with Cantor. And here’s Cantor on irony after 9/11.)