The two most enjoyable activities of mankind are gossip and metaphysics—the sparkles on the shallows of conversation about people, and the vast ocean of thought about reality, where the deeper you dive, the greater the darkness and the pressure grow.
I suppose there’s a way to make this a serious idea: Connect it, say, to the Nicomachean Ethics and Aristotle’s account of friendship and contemplation as the best forms of human activity. But the simple fact of the matter is that this isn’t one of those profound claims about the human condition. It’s merely true: People like to talk about other people, and they like to talk about how the world works, and though they often get things wrong, still they sometimes get things right, and when they do, we know it—for the observation arrives with a little click in the listener’s mind, like the precise and gentle sound as a well-made wooden box snicks shut.
Irving Kristol was one of those rare individuals with the ability to get it right a great deal of the time. He had a ready insight into people, and a strong sense of the interplay of ideas, and a wordsmith’s talent for phrasing the result in a memorable way. Think of all those well-known phrases and quips with which he branded his times: A neoconservative is “a liberal who has been mugged by reality,” while a neoliberal is “a liberal who got mugged by reality but has not pressed charges.” Or “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions—it only guarantees equality of opportunity.” Or “In the United States today, the law insists that an eighteen-year-old girl has the right to public fornication in a pornographic movie—but only if she is paid the minimum wage.” Or even, way back in 1952, “There is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with some justification.”
He could be an indifferent conversationalist: indifferent in the strict sense of indifferent to the fact of conversation. And though he was famous for his constant cheerfulness—“I have had,” he once told an interviewer, “much to be cheerful about”—he was equally famous for his occasional brusqueness. Abrupt, he could be, to the point of dismissal. In a surprisingly long and generous obituary, the New York Times quoted Andrew Sullivan’s observation that the man seemed “to have emerged from the womb content”—just as, in a surprisingly mingy obituary in Slate, Christopher Hitchens reported the first and abruptly punctuated conversation he had with Irving Kristol. “I don’t recollect quite how the evening ended,” Hitchens noted, “but if we had parted with mutual expressions of esteem, I am sure I would have remembered it.”
The first real conversation I had with Irving was at dinner at Michael and Karen Novak’s house—only ten years ago, but of the people around that table, Jeane Kirkpatrick is gone, and now Irving and marvelous Karen herself (our loss of Karen Novak in August is the subject of the sad and wonderful memoir by Mary Eberstadt on page 22 of this issue of First Things). Doesn’t it seem to have been a bad year—season after season besieged by hearses, the long funerals blackening all the way? Loss after loss after loss.
But that first conversation with Irving at the Novaks’—he wanted to talk about the Book of Psalms, as I recollect, and the question of religious poetry, and so we did, till I quoted a favorite passage from Robert Lowell, and then he talked about what Lowell had been like, and Stephen Spender, and all the other poets he had known.
The Influence of Ideas
“Neoconservative,” the epithet indelibly attached to Irving’s name, was less an ideological category than a phenomenon which he brought into being: the migration into the conservative movement of new ideas and new blood that resuscitated a reviled and marginalized current of American politics. After Barry Goldwater’s 1964 defeat and Richard Nixon’s 1974 disgrace, it seemed as though the conservative moment and its Republican political home might be sidelined for a generation. But the triumph of American conservatism in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory was already in gestation, and with it the epoch-making contributions of conservative thinking—the longest economic expansion in American history and the West’s victory in the Cold War. The ideas and—even more decisively—the optimism that energized these ideas gestated in the seemingly small but profoundly influential group of publications and institutions that Irving brought into being.
The galaxy of officials, advisors, and publicists who populated the Reagan movement was filled to an improbable extent by people whom Irving made into nationally known figures. His self-effacing exterior—he appeared in a cover photo for Fortune magazine in an old blue blazer and rumpled grey trousers—described a man who devoted more effort to promoting the careers of conservative talents than in pursuing his own well-deserved stardom as a journalist and writer. The graduates of the Kristol kindergarten are an extraordinary assembly. We can report this to you from the platform of First Things because Irving helped arrange the funding to sponsor a clergyman named Richard John Neuhaus at the predecessor of this publication.
What later became known as Reaganomics first appeared in 1974 in the Public Interest under the byline of Jude Wanniski, later the Wall Street Journal editorialist who coined the term “supply-side economics.” Irving Kristol’s quarterly, and his think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, became the hothouse for the new ideas that the economic establishment dismissed as “voodoo.” Irving and his protégés taught the new economics to Congressman Jack Kemp—another great man to whom we had to say farewell this year—and Jack brought the ball to the goalpost with Reagan. The populist optimism of supply-side economics allowed the Republicans to make the issue of economic growth a central part of their message, reversing a weakness that had persisted since the Great Depression.
The stars whom Irving launched into important careers are too numerous to mention. Jeane Kirkpatrick, later Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, sounded in the Public Interest the tone of strategic optimism that helped persuade a generation that the Cold War was winnable. Coming from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, Kirkpatrick was part of another migration to the conservative movement. Again, this infusion of new talent, this “neo-conservatism,” made Reagan’s Republicans the party of American strategic superiority.
There are too many other names to mention. James Q. Wilson, the sage of conservative sociology, rose through the Public Interest. Irving recommended an obscure Texas professor named William Bennett to head Reagan’s National Endowment for the Humanities. His young assistant editors at the Public Interest at one moment included this magazine’s contributing editor Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review’s editor Tod Lindberg, and the Weekly Standard’s Richard Starr.
His friends called Irving the “Godfather” because he had done more things to help more people than anyone in public life—and there was never the slightest trace of envy or vengefulness in his character. His generous personality was uniquely suited to a providential moment: He led an exodus of American intellectuals out of the Egyptian bondage of liberalism into a new conservative movement.
It is all the more astonishing in retrospect, considering how meager the resources he wielded at the key point in his career. Circulation of the Public Interest never exceeded 10,000, but Irving understood that the right ideas at the right moment could not be held back: With a circulation of one hundred people you could change the world, he averred, provided they were the right hundred.
The Poetry of Aphorism
As it happens, the next time I saw Irving and his wife, the great Victorian historian Gertrude Himmelfarb—Bea, as she is called—Irving hardly said a word: He sat the whole time before dinner with my toddler daughter Faith on his lap, letting her take off and put back on him, over and over, the reading glasses she had pulled from his pocket, laughing while she laughed and indifferent to all the rest of us. Bea had to carry that evening’s conversation, which she did, if I remember, by accusing me and the poet Dana Gioia of somehow supposing that poetic associations could be a substitute for the proper rational connection of ideas.
Funny to think, but Leon Kass once charged me with the same thing—and there’s no doubt that they are right: Rational public discourse cannot find much traction in the slippery stuff of poetic association. Except that it actually can, every once in a while, and in Irving Kristol’s case, it did.
No one ever accused Irving Kristol of being a poet. He was born in 1920 in Brooklyn, to impoverished, nonobservant Jewish parents. “We were poor,” he later recalled, “but then everyone was poor, more or less,” and he never fully lost the self-sufficient toughness that he gained from the experience. Perhaps that’s why he recognized the toughness, for good and for ill, that is fixed and irremediable in human nature. He was drafted into the Army shortly after his marriage to Bea at age twenty-two, and it was there that he had his youthful Trotskyism knocked out of him by the hard-handed, hard-minded Midwesterners he saw. “I can’t build socialism with these people,” he decided. “They’ll probably take it over and make a racket out of it.”
That’s a great line, and it expresses something akin to what, say, the great Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield would analyze with a discussion of the inescapable political effect of thumos, or spiritedness, in Aristotle’s psychology—as Mansfield did in his 2007 Jefferson Lecture (published in the August/September 2007 issue of First Things). But Irving didn’t phrase the thought in the language of the higher sort of rational public discourse, and he didn’t arrive at it through scholarship. He came to the thought the way poets do, by observation and association, and the rhetorical result has a fine poetic balance to it: the clicking-shut of the well-made box.
The New York Times stressed what it saw as a chasm in Irving’s thought—the impossibility of reconciling his knowledge of flawed human nature with his awareness that over-invested ideas can lead us astray: “In his opinion, his fellow GI’s were inclined to loot, rape, and murder, and only Army discipline held them in check. It was a perception about human nature that would stay with him for the rest of his life, creating a tension with his alternative view that ordinary people were to be trusted more than intellectuals to do the right thing.”
I suppose there is a tension in there somewhere, which the deep theologian would address by speaking of Revelation’s answer to the Fall and the high political theorist would address by speaking of the teaching function of the law. But I’m not sure Irving himself felt it that way. He had a poet’s kind of associational solution, seeing in people both their ordinary goodness and their ordinary badness, and he was always suspicious of the proposals of grand theories.
In part, that showed itself in the practical sociology that characterized the Public Interest, the journal he and Daniel Bell founded in 1965: “The legitimate question,” he wrote, “to ask about any program is, ‘Will it work?’” And, in part, it showed itself in the humility he demanded of idea-mongers: “If your aims are modest,” he once said, “you can accomplish an awful lot. When your aims become elevated beyond a reasonable level, you not only don’t accomplish much, you can cause a great deal of damage.” Thus, he insisted, “It is the self-imposed assignment of neoconservatives to explain to the American people why they are right, and to the intellectuals why they are wrong.”
Mostly, however, it showed itself in his support for religion. “I don’t think morality can be decided on the private level. I think you need public guidance and public support for a moral consensus,” he noted. “The average person has to know instinctively, without thinking too much about it, how he should raise his children.” And where does that average person get that necessary but unthinking knowledge? “People need religion,” Irving answered. “It’s a vehicle for a moral tradition. A crucial role. Nothing can take its place.” In the absence of religious belief, “the world falls apart.”
As it happens, the particular content of that religious belief didn’t seem to interest him all that much, and I was never certain what his faith really was. “I’ve always been a believer,” he once said, “but don’t ask me in what.” He had an utter conviction of the social utility of Judeo-Christian religion, but the rebuttal of social-utility arguments is easy: The good social effects of religion are not gained when people practice religion for the sake of its good social effects; those effects come, instead, only when people practice religion for the sake of itself.
Irving Kristol knew that—how could someone as brilliant as he was not know it? But, taking the word metaphysics in the strict sense, he seemed the least metaphysically concerned man I’ve ever met or even heard of. Religion is ethically necessary, the metaphysical foundations of that necessity must be possible, and the possibility of religious truth is sufficient to make religious practice efficacious. And that appeared to be enough for him. Certainly he never had much use for religious enthusiasm: “Extremism in defense of liberty,” he explained, in answer to Barry Goldwater’s declaration at the 1964 Republican convention, “is always a vice because extremism is but another name for fanaticism.” Fanaticism, even in a good religion, is still a dangerous thing that must be suppressed.
“Just as a victorious Christianity needed the Old Testament in its canon,” he wrote, fitting the pieces together, “because the Ten Commandments were there—along with the assurance that God created the world ‘and it was good,’ and along, too, with its corollary that it made sense to be fruitful and multiply on this earth—so liberal capitalism needed the Judeo-Christian tradition to inform it authoritatively about the use and abuse of the individual’s newly won freedom.”
All men are metaphysicians, at the end, and in his last decade, Irving Kristol was more interested in the tenets of Judaism than he had reportedly been before. To hear him speak of even that, however, was to hear something less like an argument and more like a poet’s kind of association: a bundle of ideas that go together because . . . well, because they do go together, and we all know it, and when their going together is expressed well, it comes with the click of recognition.
Lines of Czeslaw Milosz have been in mind lately—mainly, I suppose, because so many writers I’ve known have died in recent months:
I imagine the earth when I am no more.
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves.
And yet, Irving Kristol wrote surprisingly little—astonishingly little, really, given the great wordsmith that he was. Early in his career, he abandoned a novel and a study of the American founding, and the four books he did publish were collections of magazine essays. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a neo-something,” he once explained. “A neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative and, in religion, always a neo-orthodox, even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist. I’m going to end up a neo. Just neo, that’s all. Neo-dash-nothing.”
Those are more of those great Kristol lines, this time from an interview, but there was, in truth, something conversational about all his prose. A rhythm, more than anything else, I think—something that owed its balance and its shape to the way we speak more than to the way we read. When he struck a good line, your tongue wanted to repeat it.
But, then, gossip and metaphysics are the two most enjoyable activities of mankind, and they often happen best in conversation. Irving Kristol was a man who made things happen with his talk.
For his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and his children, Bill and Elizabeth, the loss is sad and serious. But even for the rest of us, the world is less bearable without Irving’s voice in it. As Czeslaw Milosz once wrote:
We drove before dawn through frozen fields,
The red wing was rising, yet still the night.
And suddenly a hare shot across our path.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago and both are dead:
The hare and the man who stretched his arm.
O my love, where are they, where do they lead,
The flash of a hand, the line of movement,
the swishing icy ground?
The sparkle of his conversation about people, and the click of his conversation about ideas—and that always-ready ability to say it right. “Words are all we have,” Samuel Beckett once wrote. He meant it as a counsel of despair, but for Irving Kristol it would have been a cheerful declaration of just how much human beings can accomplish.
While We’re At It
• The folks at Eternal Earth-Bound Pets offer a service guaranteed to ease your worries about the exegesis of Amillennialism and Premillennialism. For a $110 fee, Eternal Earth-Bound Pets will send a “confirmed atheist” to your home to take possession of your pets, should your entire family be caught up in the Rapture, leaving your “left behind” pooch without so much as a chew toy to see him through the Tribulation. It makes sense, in a way. Wouldn’t only the cold-hearted let their pets endure the Tribulation alone?
Perhaps not, if you’re an Amillennialist or Postmillennialist, and can take care of your pets until the Second Coming. In fact, the services of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets would seem only to have a market among Pretribulationalists, and to a lesser extent, Midtribulationalists, who believe the Rapture will take place before or during the time of persecution.
The people at Eternal Earth-Bound Pets insist their service is not a joke, but it is hard not to discern their parody with catchphrases like “Committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.” Perhaps the founders spent a bit too much time surfing the various Wikipedia pages on eschatology, which are adorned with chronological maps of competing end-times schemes. All the same, one measure of serious thought has gone into Eternal Earth-Bound Pets’ terms and conditions: “If subscriber loses his/her faith and/or the Rapture occurs and subscriber is not Raptured . . . EE-BP disclaims any liability; no refund will be tendered.”
• Sandow Birk started out just “looking for good waves,” but he may soon reap a whirlpool. The California surfer and painter has released the first installment of his work “American Qur’an,” which consists of verses from the Muslims’ holy book, paired with loosely related scenes from contemporary American life. The series is the fruit of the artist’s long-standing fascination with Islamic culture that began with time spent surfing off the coasts of the Islamic world. Although Birk says he is not religious, he defends his work from its Muslim critics with an argument that he clearly thinks will have power from a believer’s perspective: “The Qur’an,” he says “is supposed to be a message from God. . . . If God is speaking to human beings, I should be able to pick up this book and think about it. I should be able to contemplate what it means to me.”
Unfortunately for Birk, most Muslims seem to frown on such highly personalized, largely unmediated encounters with holy writ.
• Of course, there is something to be said for the Muslims’ view of Birk’s project. The desire to gain private illumination outside a community of interpretation can easily lead to abuse of the text as a tool for illusory epiphanies and grandiose self-expression. But there is also something to be said for the characteristically Christian attitude manifest in the “vaguely Presbyterian” childhood that Birk says he had. For Christians, God’s Word is first a person. That person wants to become the intimate friend of all men, in part through the concrete words of Bible, which, unlike the Qur’an, can be validly translated into any language that can receive its meaning. Sacrilege is a standing danger, because, as the Cross shows, intimacy is vulnerability. But this intimacy allows a properly intense experience of the Incarnation. It reveals the God who condescended to be human and speak human words. This God calls each soul by name, speaking gently and heart to heart.
• Fr. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, has written an apologetic letter to the university’s community in the wake of last spring’s agitation over the awarding of an honorary law degree to President Obama. Well, kind of apologetic. Actually, not really apologetic. In fact, completely unapologetic. The letter concludes that “division,” not moral scandal, is the incident’s most regrettable consequence. Jenkins begins by indicating the need to engage our culture’s “struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and related issues”—the aim of which, he suggests, is to “witness to the sanctity of life.”
How President Obama’s honorary degree constitutes such a witness is lost on many in the Notre Dame community. And Jenkins’ refusal to dismiss trespassing charges against eighty-eight pro-life protesters—whose single intention was to give witness—makes one wonder how he plans to discern witness in the future. Fr. Jenkins goes on to mention his intention to participate in this year’s March for Life and to announce the formation of the “Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life,” which, with faculty support, will sponsor “serious and specific discussion” about pro-life concerns. He also calls attention to his advisory role in the Catholic-run Women’s Care Center.
So the man is privately pro-life—which no one ever doubted. But, see, privately opposed just isn’t enough. It’s not enough for a Catholic politician, and it surely isn’t enough for a Catholic university.
• New England’s Cushing Academy has figured it out. “This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library,” the Boston Globe reports. “The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks—the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.”
Oh, yes? “‘When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. ‘This isn’t Fahrenheit 451 [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’”
Shape emerging trends? Ah, well, we are living at a time near the end of the world. The reference desk, by the way, will be remade into “a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”
• “He felt his cell phone vibrate. Carhart ignored it, finishing the abortion before checking his phone.” That’s from the opening scene in a recent Newsweek article that profiles the late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart. An odd piece of writing. At times, it marvels at Carhart’s willingness and determination to continue performing abortions after the murder of George Tiller. Then, as quickly as Carhart is praised, his procedures are described in disturbing detail: “There are a few different procedures to terminate early pregnancies; Carhart uses one called suction dilation and curettage, or suction D&C. . . . In a suction D&C procedure, the cervix is dilated with rod-shaped instruments and the contents of the uterus removed with a tube connected to a suction device. Sometimes a thin metal instrument (a curette) is used to scrape out the uterus. Carhart enters the operating room, introduces himself as Lee, and begins operating.”
If the article seems conflicted, the author seems even more so. In a follow-up piece on Newsweek’s website, Kliff described her experience writing the original story, of watching an abortion for the first time: “The suction machine made a slight rumbling sound, a pinkish fluid flowed through the tube, and, faster than I’d expected, it was over. Women spent less than a half hour in the operating room. I’d anticipated some kind of difficulty watching an abortion; it wasn’t there. At least not physically. But there was a discomfort I hadn’t expected, my emotional reaction to watching abortions.”
A discomfort, yes.
• Speaking of LeRoy Carhart, four of his former employees have reported unsafe and illegal practices at his abortion clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska—including unsanitary conditions and unlicensed staff starting IVs and dispensing medication. “Ex-Employees Aid Abortion Foes,” declares the headline of the angry story in the Omaha World-Herald. Those faithless employees! Praise of whistleblowers seems to depend on whose whistle it is.
• In an article in the journal Contraception, Elizabeth Westley, Francine Coeytaux, and Elisa Wells worry about the future of emergency contraception. “Two decades ago,” the authors reminisce, “Dr. Felicia Stewart, then serving as Medical Director of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Sacramento, California, began her campaign to let out of the closet ‘America’s best-kept secret’—emergency contraception. The method had been suppressed because many providers thought the method was ‘not effective enough,’ or would lead women to use it ‘too much’ (in place of using other more effective methods).”
These early objections were swept aside, however, and emergency contraception products are now available worldwide, with a pharmaceutical company in the United States even providing “full-on, direct-to-consumer marketing.” But, as it turns out, the early naysayers might have had it right all along: Westley, Coeytaux, and Wells now acknowledge that two recent analyses suggest that emergency contraception is “not as effective in reducing unwanted pregnancy rates at a population level as we once hoped.”
That’s putting it lightly. One of the studies, appearing in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, concludes that “increased access to emergency contraceptive pills enhances use but has not been shown to reduce unintended pregnancy rates.” So more women might be using the morning-after pill now because of relaxed regulation, but overall unintended pregnancy rates have not been affected. How, if this is the case, could EC have rallied so much support, especially when there were vocal critics from the beginning?
The authors give us a hint: “Our expectations for EC’s effectiveness were biased upward by an early estimate that expanding access to EC could dramatically reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and subsequent abortion. This estimate made a compelling story and is likely a key reason why donors and others were willing to support efforts to expand access to EC.” So emergency-contraception advocates were able to tell a compelling story—based on false and unsubstantiated claims—and this led donors and politicians to support increasing access.
Of course, now that it has “hit the mainstream,” news of the method’s ineffectiveness will not put the pill back in the box. But perhaps that’s the whole point: When advocates of the next best thing in sexual liberation want to push their agenda, all they have to do is ratchet up the hopes of the public, exaggerating when necessary. Even if science eventually comes down on the side of the opposition, any efforts to reverse the reforms will be stigmatized.
• Body Worlds, the traveling exhibit of plasticized human bodies, is now devoting an entire show to copulating cadavers. The exhibit will start in Switzerland, because, as the show’s German creator Gunther von Hagens admits, the country was the first that “said from the outset that we could show whatever we wanted.” Back when the show positioned its “plastinates” in strictly non-sexual positions, Thomas S. Hibbs, writing in the New Atlantis, was willing to call the exhibit what it was: “dead-body porn.” Now that this term is more literally true, however, one wonders if the phrase could even be intensified—“dead-body-porn porn,” perhaps.
• Sweden recently passed measures to ban homeschooling for all children except foreigners and the disabled by 2011.
Indeed, “religious or philosophical” reasons are now declared by the Swedish government to merit no consideration in claims for exemptions by homeschooling parents.
The Swedes’ targeting of religious and philosophical concerns is a predictable political move, as these no doubt constitute the most coherent popular threat to their educational philosophy. But more disturbing is the Swedish Riksdag’s apparent belief that religious and philosophical reasons exist only to frustrate the government’s goals for Swedish education.
• In a recent interview with the Washington Post (part of their ominously titled “Voices of Power” series), Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius discussed Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s request that she not present herself for communion because of her public support for legalized abortion: “Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that’s what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.”
It would be painful to parse completely this jumble of worn excuses, but at its heart lies the old “personally opposed, but publicly supportive” line of the Catholic politician ever since Mario Cuomo. But the logic behind it has changed. It is no longer despite the fact that Catholic politicians are personally opposed to abortion that they publicly support it. It is because their opposition to abortion is personal, because it is religious, that they must publicly support it and with gusto. The underlying premise seems to be that for any Church teaching, there cannot be a nonreligious argument, simply because it is Church teaching. It must be as mysterious as the Incarnation and followed in the same way a Catholic follows the Church’s call for Friday fasting.
• Your average nonbeliever in the United States today is young, male, and Irish. Or so, at least, a new study from Trinity College in Hartford declares. “The secularity of the American public is undoubtedly increasing, but the pace varies considerably. . . . The overall trend is being pushed by men and the young but slowed down by women’s greater religiosity.” That’s not terribly surprising to anyone who knows today’s undergraduates. But ominously for the Catholic Church, “former Catholics make up 35 percent of new Nones, the largest single group.” The population segment targeted by the Church for vocations to the priesthood is the most likely to be newly ex-Catholic and secular.
• On past occasions, First Things has deplored conspiracy-mongering and fanaticism on the part of professional anti-Semite hunters. The fears of the most fevered imagination, though, seem benign in the light of recent events. We refer to the revival of the blood libel by the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, which reported on August 17 that the Israeli army is murdering Palestinians to harvest organs for the black market. Think about that for a moment. An obvious and violence-creating lie about the Jews was printed—and then defended—by the editors of the leading daily paper in liberal Sweden. First Things withdraws its past claims that the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith was overreacting. We should have deplored instead its shocking complacency about latent anti-Semitism, especially the sort lurking behind enlightened secular opinion.
• In sermons for the Jewish New Year this September 19, rabbis across America denounced the United Nations’ Goldstone report on purported Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Many Jewish leaders excoriated the report as old-fashioned anti-Semitism. But perhaps it’s something even worse: Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who led the committee alleging that Israel has committed war crimes, is of Jewish descent and serves as a trustee of Hebrew University. Old-fashioned anti-Semitism despised everyone of Jewish ancestry. Enlightened secular anti-Semitism persuades putative Jews to act like anti-Semites, which is even worse.
Goldstone’s charge for the UN is prejudicial in the extreme: Isn’t it the terrorists, firing rockets behind a civilian screen, who are responsible for the loss of innocent lives? For that matter, the Israelis have a daintier hand at dealing with such problems than anyone else, including American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. But enlightened secular opinion excludes the possibility of determining right and wrong, and can do nothing but reconcile contending “narratives.” In that twisted prism, terrorists, and the armed forces of a legitimate state suppressing that terrorism, are equally guilty. Next year, perhaps, American rabbis might say something about the secular liberalism that informs kangaroo courts like Richard Goldstone’s.
• The New York Times explains it all: Michael Moore is a leftist because he is (was?) Catholic. “Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church.” At least until John Paul II.
• First Things’ distinguished board-member Russell Hittinger has been newly named to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which exists “to promote the study and the progress of the social sciences, primarily economics, sociology, law, and political science. The Academy, through an appropriate dialogue, thus offers the Church the elements which she can use in the development of her social doctrine, and reflects on the application of that doctrine in contemporary society.” This is the second pontifical academy to which Russ has been appointed.
• The relentless quest for environmental sustainability has finally come to its logical conclusion: People are the problem—so get rid of them. The best way we stewards of the earth can preserve the planet for our children and grandchildren is not to have those children and grandchildren. According to a report from the London School of Economics titled “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” contraception may be the most cost-effective method of reducing future carbon-dioxide emissions and thereby slowing climate change.
You see, for every $7 spent on contraceptives over the next four decades, carbon-dioxide emissions would be reduced by more than a ton; it would cost nearly five times that much to achieve the same result with low-carbon technology.
“It’s always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions,” said Roger Martin, the head of the Optimum Population Trust, which commissioned the report. And thus, “stabilizing population levels has always been essential ecologically, and this study shows it’s economically sensible, too.”
Just what is a stable population level, you might ask? Ah, well, according to the Optimum Population Trust, a world population of five billion might be sustainable, but to give ourselves a little breathing room, the optimum population would be three billion—less than half the world’s current population.
While these figures might seem frightening to some, we believe the Optimum Population Trust might find allies in unexpected quarters—if they would just reduce their figure to 144,000.
Public Square Sources: Irving Kristol’s obituary, New York Times, September 18, 2009. Christopher Hitchens, Slate, September 20, 2009.
While We’re At It Sources: Unraptured pets, eternal-earthbound-pets.com. Surfer Koran, New York Times, August 30, 2009. Fr. Jenkins’ letter, America, September 17, 2009. Throwing out the books, Boston Globe, September 4, 2009. Carhart’s clinic, Newsweek, August 15, 2009 and August 16, 2009. Carhart’s employees, Omaha World-Herald, August 28, 2009. Emergency contraception, Francine Coeytaux, Elisa S. Wells, and Elizabeth Westley, “Emergency Contraception: Have We Come Full Circle?” Contraception, Editorial July 2009, and E.G. Raymond, et al., “Population Effect of Increased Access to Emergency Contraceptive Pills,” Obstetrics & Gynecolology, January 2007. Body Worlds, Reuters, September 11, 2009. Swedish homeschooling, LifeSiteNews, August 12, 2009. Kathleen Sebelius, Washington Post, September 15, 2009. American religion report, Trinity College press release, September 22, 2009. Blood libel, Aftonbladet, August 17, 2009. Goldstone Report, UN press release, September 14, 2009. Michael Moore, New York Times, September 16, 2009. Russell Hittinger, Vatican press release, September 15, 2009. Carbon emitters, United Press International, September 9, 2009.
WWAI Tips: Meghan Duke, David P. Goldman, Stefan McDaniel, Ryan Sayre Patrico, Kevin Staley-Joyce.