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Three great reads

There are threads connecting three exceptionally memorable essays that I have just read, but I lack the time to draw them out beyond the barest outline.

First read this righteous polemic by Robert Zubrin, adapted from a chapter in his recent book. In vivid detail it summarizes the cruel despotism visited upon the developing world by the “family planning” complex of private agitation and public funding, which by means of mendacity, coercion, blackmail, and intimidation has tyrannized and abused millions, earning in spades the full force of Zubrin’s term holocaust. “In just five short years, the U.S. non-military foreign aid program was transformed from a mission of mercy to an agency for human elimination.” It’s not an exaggeration.

Next read Walter Russell Mead’s probing discussion of meritocracy and its discontents, the second half of which throws light on the inner incubators of that autocratic mentality whose rotten fruit Zubrin details.

Finally, read this beautiful appreciation of Burke’s prodigious eloquence and his remarkable wisdom, framed by a lyrical sketch of the great Irishman’s own inner life; attend particularly to the passages on his fury at the calamity of man’s inhumanity to man, which his wisdom discerned and to which his eloquence bore witness, throughout his long, grueling public life of service.

Comments (14)

George Grant, one of my former teachers, has just started to post a list of logomorphs, many of which apply to the first article. For example:

Fetalphobia: Fear of children—often resulting in the “Disposable Tissue Syndrome,” or DTS.


Anthropophobia: An inveterate and consuming fear of all things human--despising the comforts and joys of civilization.


All very good, the one on Burke perhaps the best of all.

The righteous polemic is important. And it is important for Americans to know that the outrage of worldwide population control efforts, in which America's government is all too complicitous, continues to this day. It is (I say as a person who sometimes does not vote in presidential elections) one of the areas most influenced by a change of administration. A Republican President, if he can gain a majority in Congress, or, in some cases that lie within his executive power, even without such a majority, removes funding from such horrific programs; comes the next Democrat President and promptly, yea, proudly and instanteously, reinstates the funding. So the seesaw goes back and forth, and in these programs most of all, America brings shame upon herself as complicitous in very grave evil, evil which ought to raise the anger of left and right alike, but, alas, does not.

The one on "meritocracy" is interesting. Wesley J. Smith would be interested in it, as he often warns about the coming of the technocracy. I think the comment about a tension between the populist and the technocratic wings of the left is shrewd. What we are seeing, though, is that the technocrats essentially define certain people out of the human race and then promise greater equality and "fair distribution" among the ones who remain! Thus they sell their profoundly bigoted poison under an egalitarian banner. I think the author may be using the term "meritocracy" in a somewhat invidious manner, though. As he briefly acknowledges, we don't want just anybody to be a surgeon. When conservatives rightly speak of meritocracy, what they are speaking of is retaining standards of excellence where those standards are needed. To a large extent the invidious technocracy is not really a meritocracy but a pseudo-meritocracy. The field of medical ethics is a good example. It is not as though infanticidal medical ethics papers really take a lot of brilliance to write. There is a pretense that these people are "experts" in whether it is right or wrong to kill babies (or grandmothers), but in fact that is not the sort of thing in which one can be an expert nor the sort of thing that one's brains qualify one to pronounce upon. Meanwhile, standards are continually lowered in fields where standards really are needed, often to satisfy a destructive spoils system for preferred groups. It is the latter against which "meritocrats" on the right are speaking. I would not be surprised to find that most of those same people are opposed to the pseudo-meritocracy of the technocrats as well.

The Burke piece is simply splendidly done. It resembles some of C.S. Lewis's best writing about people he loved, in his letters for example. And the figure of Burke emerges as, in fact, a rather Lewisian figure himself. Well worth reading. I never knew most of that about Burke. The scene of him striding through the riots to the House is hair-raising and makes one want to stand up and cheer.

I learned quite a bit about Edmund Burke's private character - the man his wife called Ned - from Brian Doyle's effusive observations. But I found the 'lyrical prose' of Mr Doyle too lush for my taste. The whole piece is overwritten.

When public figures are being written about, I prefer the scrutiny to be detached and astringent. And the astringency is perhaps more palatable when laced with a dash of irony. There isn't enough distance between Mr Doyle and his material.

"I found the 'lyrical prose' of Mr Doyle too lush for my taste. The whole piece is overwritten."

Back in the day there used to be a word for this. They called it "style."

And the astringency is perhaps more palatable when laced with a dash of irony.

Huh? I mean, why? Is there some rule somewhere that if you are a political figure future people aren't allowed to love you and delight in your character but must write about you with irony and detachment?

No, there's no rule in questions of 'style'. It's just a matter of taste: in this case, my taste.

Burke died in 1797. He's a historical figure, not a personal acquaintance. By all accounts he was a lovable man in private life. There's no reason why this side of his character shouldn't be written up sympathetically. But his political life should be examined, I think, with more restraint - i.e. more objectively than is managed in Brian Doyle's piece.

1. How is the piece on Burke introduced? "A scholarly detached reexamination of Burke's political writings"? Or- here, let's just paste it- "Impassioned orator, eloquent statesman, esteemed writer—but who was Edmund Burke the man?"

Oh. The personal. _Not_ the political. Huh. Well, that's just wrong. Dunno, sounds like someone failing to grasp the thrust of a recent thread on whether Burke, being dead and all, is a 'was', or still has an 'is' or two left in him.

2. The American Scholar has been iffy at best and generally a force for non-good in the world since the esteemed Mr Epstein was unceremoniously removed from editorship. So it is refreshing to see a piece so admirable appear there. One cheer for the ol' PBK.

The writer for The American Scholar (which I confess I am not very familiar with, post Epstein or not) has a tendency to be standoffish toward Burke's political teaching. I think in that sense, but that sense only, the essay is overwritten. Burke was a teacher of mankind, especially in man's capacity a public or political animal. We should and must heed his wisdom. That he was also a great and brave and generous and unique particular man only adds visible color-light to the great burst of full-spectrum energy that was Edmund Burke.

But contrast the service that Burke gave to his country and to his people and to his community and to his family with the derangement of meritocracy exemplified in what Zubrin shows us. It is not wonderful (as that generation would say) that one might compare Burke to this despots and say that after all aristocracy, constitutional monarchy, and a church establishment had a few things going for it?

Except I don't think Burke was an aristocrat, was he? He was elected to the House of Commons. His father seems to have been solidly upper middle-class--a solicitor.

Right. But he definitely defended a society that included an aristocratic element, as he did its monarchical element; and did not begrudge those who held honors above him. He could appreciate the more equal arrangement of America, which sympathy was quite beyond the power of many Englishmen of his day. But in any case he insisted that the ancient organic constitution of Great Britain did embrace a structure of nobility.

Dunno, sounds like someone failing to grasp the thrust of a recent thread on whether Burke, being dead and all, is a 'was', or still has an 'is' or two left in him.

It does not follow from what I said about Brian Doyle's style in his essay on Burke, that I don't admire the conservative virtues of Burke in his own time and recognize his political relevance in our age.

I probably deplore as much as anyone else who comments here, the flip and ignorant attitude toward Dead White European Males which we encounter even among educated folk, sometimes.

I just told the story of Burke walking through the rioting crowds and identifying himself on the way to the House of Commons to my kids. They loved it. Very impressive. I brought it up apropos of Acts 20 (I believe is the chapter) which we were reading. The Apostle Paul almost gets killed by a rioting mob in Jerusalem. The Roman soldiers see that something is going on and come and rescue him. (Well, "rescue" him. As usual with the Romans, they assume he's the problem and load him with chains. But they do save him from being torn limb from limb by the crowd.) They are carrying him away to safety, up the stairs of the Fortress of Antonia, when Paul politely asks the Captain if he can speak to the people. So they stop on the stairs, the crowd is quieted (momentarily), and he turns around and gives a sermon. It definitely reminded me of Burke. Where anyone else would think this was a situation to get out of as rapidly as possible, people like Burke and St. Paul think of it as a chance to show their colors and talk to people. It's a kind of bravery, amounting almost to recklessness, that I think enriches the human race, though I don't claim to possess it.

Very well said, Lydia. I'll tell the story in the context of the Book of Acts to my own kids.

The issues deplored in the Zubrin article have recently been treated in a very good book on population control in Asia in the past sixty years: Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.

I invite you to read my brief review of it on Amazon here.

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