Daniel Larison

Hurrah for the Vampire Moonbats!

Well, along those lines, check out Reactionary Radicals for the next phase of free-market bashing, wild-eyed populist anarchy. It’s like the NRO crunch blog on acid in a Ferrari going 125mph down the highway with no rails. These are vampire moonbats, my friend; next to these guys, Crunchy Conservatives resemble George Bush and John McCain. ~Pauli, The Contra-Crunchy Conservative

That’s an awfully mean thing to say about the crunchy cons (who wants to be compared to John McCain?), but the Radicals will be thrilled to hear it. I cannot imagine better praise and vindication for what the gentlemen at Reactionary Radicals are promoting than the horror it instills in the dedicated contra-crunchies.

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Most Unintentionally Hilarious Statement of the Week

Certainly, somewhere beneath her steady pose, Rice must know all this. After all, she has a doctorate in international relations, a field where such observations are carved into basic principles. And her essays, at least those written before she joined George W. Bush’s administration, reflect those principles. ~Fred Kaplan, Slate

Not necessarily to knock folks in IR or academics in general, but I promise you that people who spend as much time in school as it takes to get a doctorate in anything are far more out of touch with the real nature of conflict (except petty intra-departmental squabbling) than the average guy on the street. That said, Rice is hardly the poster lady for competent international relations scholars these days. But it does not take a doctorate in international relations to be aware that sometimes, as the man says, “these guys really don’t like each other.” Pondering on the distant seventh-century sources of the resentment does not necessarily make your awareness of this any more keen. What it does take is a less Pollyanna-ish view of human nature and a lot less of our own official nonsense that tells us that people of radically different backgrounds would all get along just fine if they got to know one another better and lived in “freedom and democracy.” If we want to stop the “jibber-jabber” on Iraq, we should surely start by stopping the “jibber-jabber” about democracy and the health of multiethnic societies.

As the late Sir Steven Runciman (who, I have on good authority, was received into the Orthodox Church before his death) observed about the Latins and the Byzantines, the Fourth Crusade was the climax of a period in which these two peoples got to know each other more and more and found out that they could not stand each other. To credit extensive background in IR with a serious grasp of reality is to take the first step down the primrose path to destruction.

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For Ideologues, Historical and Cultural Complexity Is “Bullshit”

Does McCain really think that the disputes between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis—a complex of historical, social, tribal, cultural, religious, and economic fissures—amount to nothing deeper than “bullshit” that can be swept away by a session of sit-down and straight-talking? ~Fred Kaplan, Slate

Well, yes, actually, I think that a good politico trained up in the school of Washington typically regards complexity of all kinds as a kind of smokescreen that he, the supposed rational lawmaker, is here to dispel. The atmosphere is not helped when Dobleve assures everyone that everyone in the world yearns for freedom and democracy makes everyone peaceful. Well, if it’s that simple, what else could be behind fractious in-fighting except a lot of ego and BS? (There is also the possibility too painful for the McCain-loving media to allow, which is that the man may not be so very terribly quick-witted and regards complex divisions in a society as “bullshit” becasuse he cannot be bothered to understand them.) But at bottom those who prattle on about the “Rights of Man” have no patience for sectarians squabbling over their share of the political pie. What is there to squabble about, after all? The universal principles of democratism are there for the taking and, as Prof. Ryn would say of the neo-Jacobins, “it’s all so clear.” Approaching complex cultural and historical divisions with the mind of a terrible simplifier, these divisions will appear to be the fruit of just so much arbitrariness and nonsense, because the simplifier has already deemed anything that does not square with his preconceived notion of what politics ought to be to be irrational and ridiculous. If people in the real world object to this overly simplistic view, that is their problem, not his.

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“Far Less Byzantine Than Homosexuality…”

That’s a quote from Glaivester in a post entitled, “Lesbianism Sure Is Complicated.” I am here to register a complaint with this use of the word Byzantine here, and not for the obvious reason. I know that people routinely use the word byzantine to mean excessively complex, labyrinthine or generally confusing, but besides being an annoying holdover of anti-Byzantine prejudice this impression of intricate complexity has far less to do with the Byzantines than many might suspect. The Byzantines did have a bureaucracy with a number of different officials, each with his own functions, and I assume that it is from the alleged complexity of the bureaucracy (which is, of course, a function of bureaucracy itself, and not of any particular people) that has lent the Byzantines this bad name. But there is simply nothing about being specifically Byzantine that is inherently more complicated, much less excessively so, to justify the meaning of this word. So, there’s that abuse of language taken care of. Now we just need to reacquaint everyone with the proper meaning of iconoclast, and we’ll be on our way.

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The White Countess

Last week I watched the DVD of The White Countess, one of those classy Merchant Ivory productions that critics adore and virtually no one goes to see. This is not because these are usually bad movies, but because most people wouldn’t know compelling filmmaking if they ran over it with their car (they would likely keep driving and never look back). It is the product of bringing together screenwriter Kazuo Ishugiro with director James Ivory of Remains of the Day fame once again. Ismail Merchant, the producer side of the Merchant Ivory label, died in the same year the film was released.

Starring Ralph Fiennes as a blind American retired diplomat Todd Jackson, now lending his name to give credibility to a business venture in Shanghai (gotta love that Open Door!), and Natasha Richardson as the eponymous White countess Sofia Belinsky, who is living in exile with her family, the film can best be described as a sort of Casablanca in reverse or, better yet, Casablanca inverted. (I should give credit to Leon Hadar’s post on The Lost City, which reminded me of the Casablanca comparison I wanted to make with Countess.)
Read More…

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Forthcoming Volume on the Three Chapters

Patristic scholars, rejoice again! Crisis of the Oikoumene, a multi-contributor volume on the mid-sixth century Three Chapters controversy fought initially over the doctrine of Theodore of Mopsuestia and the anti-Cyrilline writings of Theodoret of Cyr and Ibas of Edessa, is being released this month.

As the controversy expanded, and the churches of the Latin west responded negatively to Justinian’s anti-Nestorian program because of its attack on an exegete (Theodore) whom the Latin churches honoured and because its Christology that seemed to (but, in my estimation, did not in the least) undermine the claims of the Tome of Leo accepted at the Council of Chalcedon and so attack the authority of the Pope. The controversy was technically resolved in 553 at the Fifth Ecumenical Council, but this council did not win Roman acceptance until the late sixth century and continued to be a point of contention in the Aquileian church until the late seventh. The Three Chapters controversy is not only relatively little studied, but when it has been studied it has usually been misunderstood in important ways.

Mischa Meier, author of the relatively new Das andere Zeitalter Justinians, has made convincing claims that debunk the traditional view of the Three Chapters controversy as an elaborate ruse to lure dissident monophysites back into the Church. This is all the more compelling when one realises that the sources for this tradition are both hostile, North African Latin bishops who assumed the worst about Justinian’s motives and falsely imputed Origenism to the emperor’s advisor, Theodore Askidas, to explain why Askidas has pushed for the condemnation of the Three Chapters.

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New Volume on Theodore Abu Qurrah

Patristics scholars, rejoice! I certainly did when I saw the translated works of Theodore Abu Qurrah available in a handsome new volume (BYU Press, 2005). As some may know, Theodore Abu Qurrah was the Orthodox (Chalcedonian) bishop of Harran in what is now Iraq in the early ninth century and is perhaps best known in the West as one of the theological defenders of icons and icon veneration. His treatise in defense of icons had already been translated, but now for the first time Theodore’s other Arabic theological works are available in English. An important theological witness to Orthodoxy and one of the first Christians to write in Arabic, Theodore is a worthy subject of study for all those interested in the history of Christianity and Orthodox theology. For our Catholic friends, there are also some intriguing passages referring to the authority of St. Peter that represent an unusual Eastern affirmation of the role of the bishop of Rome (bearing in mind that for most of the time Theodore lived there were no Orthodox patriarchates not under Islamic rule).

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Look Homeward, America Reviewed at TAC

Understand, this book is not for everybody. Kauffman is no party man, God bless him. He is an ardent eclecticist with a soft spot for just about anybody with the moxie to buck the system. It takes a certain kind of conservative to appreciate Kauffman’s gonzo vision; I happen to be that kind of right-winger and found Look Homeward, America tonic for a soul weary of the philistine populism and straitjacketed know-nothingness that dominates mainstream conservatism today. If you are the kind of conservative who despairs over the chain-store, geography-of-nowhere, slob-in-the-grey-velour-sweatsuit consumerist crapulence that is devouring the American cultural landscape like kudzu—well, Bill Kauffman is your man. ~Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

Via Dan McCarthy at Reactionary Radicals

Rod gives a very positive review to Bill Kauffman’s new book (speaking of which, have you visited Reactionary Radicals lately?) and embraces the “hokum,” to use a word Mr. Kauffman seems to like very much, by recognising that the “hokum” is the stuff of everyday life and the normal, sane, humane and local worlds that are routinely sacrificed to the cause of Empire and its hangers-on. I have held back from offering my comments on the book as a whole until the Radicals had gotten going, and I think I should be able to put up something by way of my own review in a a week or two. As a preview of that, I should ask, in response to Rod’s remark about Carolyn Chute, what is there not to love about the “militia of love”?

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New Fiction at The New Pantagruel

In addition, Amy Welborn has a short story, Shooting, at The New Pantagruel.

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New Review at The New Pantagruel

Also now available at The New Pantagruel is Jess Castle’s review of Philip Rieff’s Sacred Order/Social Order, Vol. 1: My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority. Here is an excerpt:

For Rieff, the unprecedented aspect of this third culture is that it makes no effort to translate sacred order into social order, which is for him the true task of culture. Rather, it is devoted to the destruction of previous cultures’ sense of sacred order, especially the sacred order of second culture, inseparable as it is from divine commandment. As he puts it, “I intend to describe that unprecedented condition of fighting against the cultural predicate that organized all human societies until almost our own time. That predicate I call sacred order.”

Sacred order, hierarchy, seems to be an inescapable structure of life, but it is one, like so many other permanent structures of our condition that we are intent on resisting in the present age. The political and social consequences of this anti-hierarchical fight are plain for all to see, and the struggle against the structures of politics, economics and religion detailed in Icarus Fallen finds its common ground in opposition to various kinds of hierarchy. Indeed, we have reached a point in our history where sacrality and rule–which were once assumed to be intimately related–are assumed to be opposed, and dissent against arche and rebellion against order are taken as new kinds of sanctity. But if done without any qualification as a general protest against the hierarchical order of things, dissent and rebellion do not undermine lawless men of power though they do negate the sacred boundaries that impose constraints even on lawless tyrants.

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