The Horse’s Mouth
A group of Cuban dissidents who have suffered imprisonment and torture at the hands of Fidel Castro are making what could turn out to be a most significant visit: they are taking their personal accounts of abuse to the Soviet Union. For the past two decades the Soviet Union has served as a kind of wholesaler of revolution, with Cuba serving as a sort of retail outlet. Now Mikhail Gorbachev has reduced the Soviet appetite for foreign bloodletting, and the Cuban dissidents are hopeful that direct evidence will harden his distrust of Latin America’s most flamboyant tyrant.
The Cuban group is being headed by Ricardo Bofill, who founded the Cuban Committee on Human Rights in 1976. Bofill used to be a professor of Marxist theory at the University of Havana, but then Castro jailed him for 12 years for “ideological deviationism” and for speaking out too loudly in favor of human rights.
Sponsored by the Puebla Institute, this ideologically significant journey to the belly of the beast is being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. Cuban apologists in the American churches aren’t saying anything yet, but there is evident nervousness about the fate of the Latin dictator who, only a few years ago in a laudatory book by Frei Betto, was championed as a convert to the cause of liberation theology.
Several of our readers wrote to Christian Brothers Investment Services, asking how the group could invest in Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations while claiming to promote Catholic moral principles. CBIS director Francis Coleman responded with some interesting arguments.
“CBIS does have as part of its policy a provision that restricts the purchase of stock of companies that produce abortifacient materials,” he wrote. On the other hand, “Our work on behalf of our participants focuses on companies who directly engage in offending behaviors. Planned Parenthood is not a publicly traded company. Companies who donate to it do not themselves directly engage in their work. Therefore, they are not a direct target of our activity.”
While one must respect CBIS for using a moral compass, it seems that the group is much more vigilant about targeting companies that threaten the familiar litany of liberal social causes than it is about targeting companies that subsidize abortion. Given Planned Parenthood’s abortuaries and abortion advocacy, it strains credulity to argue that companies funding the organization are not pro-abortion. They may not “produce abortifacient materials,” but they do produce aborted fetuses.
How About Parity?
Former Wimbledon champion and now tennis commentator Arthur Ashe began a recent address at Northeastern University in a strange way: “President Curry, faculty and staff, students, friends, parents, spouses, stepmothers and stepfathers, stepsisters and stepbrothers, interlopers, freeloaders, significant others, African Americans, blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, WASPS… Red Sox fans.”
Ashe’s point is that our society has suddenly become balkanized into highly self-conscious groups, mostly defined by race and ethnicity. In the name of “cultural diversity” and “multiculturalism,” these groups seek preferential treatment in university admissions and the work place over better-qualified whites, whom they regard as bigots or at least the beneficiaries of ancestral bigotry. As a black American, Ashe concedes historical injustices but asserts, “I don’t want affirmative action, I want human parity.” Because it assumes that minorities cannot meet the same standards as others, Ashe finds preferential treatment “insulting.”
Asked by a black student whether he feels isolated as a black athlete in a virtually all-white sport, Ashe replied that “Tennis matches are not decided by a panel of judges holding up cards. A ball is either out or in. You either win two sets out of three, or you don’t.” In other words, when merit or achievement is the measure, it doesn’t matter what the racial composition of the group may be. Courageously, Ashe asked minority students in his audience to strive for excellence: “Don’t confuse excellence with elitism.”
Professor Duncan Kennedy of Harvard Law School has proposed that law professors should regularly change places with law school janitors. While most Harvard neophytes were appropriately awed by the notion, second-year student Brian Timmons interviewed several janitors and reported their view of Kennedy’s proposal in the Wall Street Journal: “The only thing worse than scrubbing a toilet would be to have to pretend to be some fancy-pants, egghead college professor, usually some dweeby guy who could never do anything well but read books,” one maintenance man commented. A second janitor exposed the posturing at the heart of the Kennedy proposal by remarking: “If he were really that concerned about the work we do, he’d offer to come help us once in a while…. We can’t even get these guys to empty their own trash.”
Art and Entertainment
Everyone remembers the excuse the juror gave in Cincinnati’s unsuccessful case against the Mapplethorpe exhibition: “It’s like Picasso. Picasso from what everybody tells me was an artist. It’s not my cup of tea. I don’t understand it, but if people say it’s art, then I have to go along with it.” Unfortunately, no one remembers what Picasso said about his own “art.” Walter Berns and Herbert I. London have recently recalled Picasso’s judgment on his work, one doubly true of his lesser epigones like Mr. Mapplethorpe:
“In art the mass of the people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which have passed through my head, and the less they understood me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.”
Abortion is legal in Japan, and yet although most Japanese are not religious, the practice is viewed with general disdain, according to Elizabeth Bumiller of the Washington Post. Bumiller reports that many Buddhist temples now sell miniature stone statues of babies, and literally thousands of Japanese women sorrowfully buy them to commemorate dead offspring. Many women place offerings before these images in the temple, again as a sign of penitence and regret. At Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, women regularly bring little stuffed animals, pacifiers, and baby bottles of apple juice to set beside the statues. It seems that some cultures are willing to acknowledge guilt more conspicuously than others.
We hate to keep poking fun at the denizens of ivory towers, but we can’t always resist the temptation. After the Washington Post’s estimable book critic, Jonathan Yardley, had registered reservations about the work of “popular culture” scholars, one of them attempted a self-defense that resembled nothing more than hari-kari: “Comic strips need to be examined as refracted images—i.e., as socially constructed representations of reality expressing our beliefs, expectations, fears and other cognitive orientations and as influences that, in part at least, acculturate us to society’s norms.” Tell it to Bart Simpson, dude.
The First Plenary Council of Baltimore held (following Alexis de Tocqueville and Orestes Brownson) that the American Founding was the work of Providence. Not so say the current editors of the American edition of Communio, who think that America was ill-founded. John Courtney Murray, S.J., thought the American Founding more Catholic than Protestant. Not so the American editors of Communio, who more and more take on the appearance of developing a small, precious sect of their own—not building communion at all, not seeking inclusiveness or reaching out with charity but, on the contrary, fomenting bitter divisions.
The American edition now battles in nearly every issue to prove the intellectual and moral superiority of its own small band of contemporary Catholic thinkers. In the fall 1990 issue, Robert A. Connor argues that a “revolution” in metaphysics has provided a new link between esse, relation, and sanctity. In this new view, the American Founders were do-gooders, but “uncommitted in their deepest selves to the service of God and others” because of a deficient “ontological principle.” Not to be alarmed, though—nearly the whole of the Catholic tradition has also operated apart from this revolutionary view. Even a great number of Thomists have missed it, although John Capreolus (“the prince of Thomists”) rescued a select few.
But what is the relation between having the correct metaphysical views and the practical work of building a decent society in a world of sin? Will having the correct metaphysical views produce a nation of saints, as well as a nation of unparalleled social cooperation, creativity, and opportunity? Will the possession by a few scholars of a correct metaphysical view help a nation to free its poor from the prison of poverty, as America did for our grandparents? Perhaps this brand of metaphysics should carry a label: May Cause Hubris Among Those Susceptible.
Scale of Priorities
If you think things are bad here, consider the situation facing our former rulers, Great Britain. According to a recent survey by the Mori firm, young Brits between the ages of 18 and 34 espouse a scale of “values” remarkably at odds with traditional morality. Yes, yes, five out of six identified with a religious denomination, nearly two-thirds believe in God, more than half believe in heaven. But see the following chart for what activities they judge morally wrong.
Here is a list of issues which some people might think are immoral or morally wrong. Which of them, if any, do you personally think are morally wrong?
Use of hard drugs, e.g., heroin………………………………………………….89%
Scientific experiments on animals…………………………………………….52%
Use of soft drugs, e.g., marijuana……………………………………………..46%
Having sexual relations with someone married to someone else…38%
Pornography on TV………………………………………………………………….34%
Scientific experiments on human embryos………………………………..31%
Scenes of explicit violence on TV……………………………………………..30%
Homosexual relationships between consenting adults……………….29%
Soft porn magazines in shops and newsstands……………………………20%
Having a child with a person you are not married to…………………..8%
Unmarried couples living together……………………………………………4%
Sam Donaldson, Right-winger
How those poor folks way out in left field at the National Catholic Reporter do suffer. Now they’re complaining that Sam Donaldson on “This Week with David Brinkley” is too biased—in favor of the right. He says awful things like, “Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet system is a terrorist system.” He once “referred matter of factly to Daniel Ortega as ‘the Nicaraguan dictator.’ ” Worst of all, Donaldson “habitually refers to the U.S. government with the pronoun ‘we.’ ”
With Friends Like Cuomo
If Thomas More were alive today, he would probably be rolling over in his grave. In an introduction to Interpreting Thomas More’s “Utopia“, published last year by Fordham University Press, New York Governor Mario Cuomo placed himself squarely in the tradition of the great saint and martyr. Like St. Thomas, Cuomo bases his own “wonderfully detailed program for the reform of society on the… idea of the family.” Like More, Cuomo believes that “the wealth of nations does not trickle down.” Like More, Cuomo is engaged in a “delicate balancing act” between the next world and this one.
Not surprisingly, Cuomo does not even mention the reason why More became a martyr. It was, of course, because he would not subject to secular authorities his Catholic conscience—formed not in private judgment but according to the teachings of the magisterium—that More fell afoul of those authorities and lost his head. On the abortion issue, Cuomo has sacrificed moral truth to political expediency. What chutzpah it must have taken for Cuomo to write, “I know my own progress in public life [is] made more comfortable… by the example of Thomas More.”
Modern Orthodoxy and Intolerance
Forrest M. Mims, a widely published science writer for decades, was about to take over the “Amateur Scientist” column for Scientific American. Then it transpired in a conversation with the editor that Mr. Mims is a skeptic when it comes to evolution. That was simply too heretical. He was promptly denied the job, even though he insisted that he had come to his views on creation and evolution on strictly scientific grounds, was not a “creationist,” and thought of himself as a “conservative,” not a fundamentalist who doesn’t “listen to other points of view.” He added, “I have never, ever written about creationism, nor has the subject ever come up with other publishers.”
Of course, evolution was not the only dogma that caused Mr. Mims trouble; his abortion views were also suspect. In ironic contrast to Scientific American’s intolerance, Mims’ own publication, Science Probe, has “pro-choice people, even atheists” on its staff. Mims still hopes one day to write for Scientific American: “I even told them I could be their token Christian, but they didn’t smile at that.”
The Souls of Undergraduates
In a blunt speech to his campus, Stanford president Donald Kennedy confessed that the university may not be “delivering a well-planned, challenging, and inspiring education to our undergraduates.” The same admission is beginning to be made at colleges across the nation with the main cause for the decline said to be an emphasis on research at the expense of teaching. That is no doubt part of the answer, but we wonder if anyone remembers the old truths that Werner Dannhauser, Allan Bloom, and Marion Montgomery, for example, have tried to remind us of, namely, that only someone with a respect for—and belief in—the soul can educate the young, and only genuine liberal arts can speak to the whole soul. If educators want to tackle the crime of today’s undergraduate education, they might start by considering its root causes.
One would have thought it long dead and unmourned, but the ugly racist idea of blacks as incapable of sexual continence and uncomprehending of sexual morality is reappearing on the Left. A progressive letter-writer to the New York Times says her time in Kenya and her appreciation of cultural relativism have led her to understand that sex in Africa is “as natural as feeding… and without the ego involvement and acceptance-rejection that plagues our culture.” She envies “their lack of anxiety,” she adds, before concluding that “the Western view of sex,” especially its foolish “ideas of right and wrong, just doesn’t compute” in Africa. The woman was writing to pooh-pooh a Times article that had revealed promiscuity among certain groups played a large role in Africa’s AIDS epidemic.
…And Healthy Traditionalism
If you’re a man between the ages of 45 and 64 and concerned about your health, don’t worry about smoking, drinking, obesity, or exercise. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have discovered that those things are trivial. If you want to double your chances of surviving another decade, live with your wife.
The California study proved the value of old-fashioned sexual ethics on two other points. First, women who live without a spouse also tend to die sooner, though the statistical effect is less dramatic than with spouseless men. Second, men who live with someone other than a wife—including their children, parents, or “non-relatives”—fare as badly as men who live alone. “The critical factor seems to be the spouse,” says Dr. Maradee A. Davis.
Unfortunately for women, however, married women “did not seem especially content compared with women without husbands.”
Leonard Bernstein, R.I.P.
The psaltery and harp sounded for Leonard Bernstein on October 14, barely five days after the announcement of his retirement from the podium. Emphysema and other lung disorders, it had been explained, made dangerous the aerobic exertion of conducting.
All who knew him were certainly worried by that announcement. “If I can’t conduct, I’m leaving,” one friend recalled Bernstein saying. Still, one heard reports of Bernstein composition projects. A chamber ensemble was in the works; a new musical theater piece, too. Bernstein had resigned as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969 (he was later named its laureate conductor for life) for the stated reason that he wished to devote more time to composing. The pieces he wrote in the two decades following had occasionally pleased, but more frequently disappointed and irritated. The mess that was his so-called “Mass” (1971) and the limp “American” opera “A Quiet Place” (1983) were typical. Perhaps now, without endless rounds of guest-conducting engagements to occupy him, Bernstein might fulfill the promise made by such works as the Serenade for violin, strings and percussion (1955), the operetta “Candide” (1956; revised 1974), “West Side Story” (1957), the early ballets, his three symphonies, and the “Chichester Psalms” (1965).
It was not to be. Bernstein died with his best compositions well behind him, their ultimate place in the repertoire in question. His legacy as a conductor, of course, is secure in the form of hundreds of recordings with the orchestras of New York, Israel, and Vienna, among others. Bernstein’s two cycles of the complete Mahler symphonies are sufficient to ensure artistic immortality. He virtually rescued Mahler for posterity.
“Broadway Lenny” and “Rabbi Bernstein” were his two persona:. The former gave us musical comedies; the latter, televised concert-lectures and books like The Unanswered Question. All the scribbling about Bernstein’s having “spread himself too thin” ignores the fact that composing, performing, teaching, and writing were duties shared variously by Bach, Mozart, Berlioz, and Wagner. If Bernstein spent himself prodigally, it was not, alas, exclusively a musical prodigality. The leftist howling of his politics, made notorious by Tom Wolfe, never abated. As late as 1989, he “composed” a rap for the Sandinistas. His personal license increased after the 1978 death of his devoted wife, Felicia Montealegre, as documented in Joan Peyser’s controversial biography. Bernstein in a cloud of cigarette smoke, a bottle of Scotch in front of him and a young man beside him, is one authentic picture of America’s greatest musician near the close. It is no mean-spirited judgment to observe, with sorrow, that in Bernstein, chic ideology and plain sin weakened and deflected a great talent and noble mind.
His talent shone so brightly that personal and political foibles seemed ultimately of little importance, however. On the occasion of Bernstein’s seventieth birthday, music critic Samuel Lippman—a neoconservative and Bernstein’s ideological opposite—pronounced that Bernstein was, “in his eighth decade, still America’s greatest hope” for classical music.
That hope is gone. We shall have to look elsewhere.
Malcolm Muggeridge, R.I.P.
During the last 20 years of his life, Malcolm Muggeridge often described his recurrent experiences of disembodiment in the dead of night, when he felt that he was somehow floating in mid-air, looking down on his battered form and that of his sleeping wife. He always felt tempted to leave that husk behind, along with the world and its vanities, and travel on toward the Light. But, he said, he always decided to stay for his wife Kitty’s sake. Now he has received the definitive Call.
Even now, despite the autobiographies and the diaries and the picture books about his life, it is doubtful that many people see the full scope of Muggeridge’s achievement. In Britain his name immediately conjures up “the man on the telly,” the sardonic and irreverent television panelist and commentator, mocker of all established institutions. In America, he is more often than not perceived as “Saint Mugg,” the Christian apologist, defending the faith and urging us on to ascetic practices and mystical visions. Depending on which direction you come from, Muggeridge wears devil’s horns or a gleaming halo.
The truth is that Muggeridge’s life and works are all of one piece. Perhaps the figure he most resembles is St. Augustine, with whom he felt a great affinity. Both men started out their lives as “vendors of words” who used language to advance their careers, regardless of whether those words obscured the truth. Yet both men had restless hearts that could not remain content with words that were detached from the Word. From lechery to asceticism, from political rhetoric to prophetic utterance, Augustine and Muggeridge struggled to purify their gifts.
T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Malcolm Muggeridge spent most of his life straining to face reality unflinchingly. More often than not, he saw the grinning skull beneath the skin. Whether he was puncturing the fantasies of the media, or those of the totalitarian and welfare states, or of the intelligentsia, Muggeridge knew the wages of sin. Like most prophets, he tended to see the world in apocalyptic terms, with the Four Horsemen of Death, Lust, Fantasy, and Power galloping across the waste land. But he was also vouchsafed brief glimpses of the radiant glory of God’s grace, which transfigures the world and makes it new again, as on the first day of creation.
What kept Muggeridge from becoming a fanatic was his ability to treat himself in the same way he treated others. The harshest critic of Malcolm Muggeridge was Muggeridge himself. If he achieved, in the later years of his life, the moral high ground, it was because he pointed out how long he had dwelt in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Muggeridge’s reception into the Catholic Church was the culmination of his spiritual odyssey, but it was not an easy choice for him. His entire being was shaped by his scorn for, and aloofness from, human institutions. Only toward the very end of his life did he sense that the Church had a supernatural grace that ultimately protected it from the dry rot of human folly.
Though he often deprecated his years of journalistic writing, much that came from his pen will endure. Essays like “The Great Liberal Death Wish,” and books such as In A Valley of This Restless Mind, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, along with the incomparable autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, will reveal Muggeridge to future ages as one of the few voices crying out the truth in the wilderness of the twentieth century.
May his restless heart find the rest it so deeply craved.