This Is Important (Part III)

Frederick Douglass


I’m going to quote Benjamin Rush, and then I’m going to quote George Washington — because Kimball does. Okay, here’s Dr. Rush:

“The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without it there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object of all republican governments.”

Okay, here’s Washington:

“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”

Today, I think they would be regarded as men who don’t understand the First Amendment — who don’t understand the idea of the country, really. At worst, they would be regarded as anti-Americans. Men guilty of “hate speech.” “Theocrats.”

Kimball has a chapter on Pericles, or involving Pericles. The chapter is headed “Pericles and the Foreseeable Future: 9/11 a Decade Later.”

I love what Roger says about Athenian democracy — which, in modern eyes, would be no democracy at all: “[C]oncentrating on the limitations of Athenian democracy would be like complaining that the Wright brothers neglected to provide transatlantic service with their airplanes.”

Kimball quotes Benjamin Netanyahu — to the effect that 9/11 was a furious salvo in “a war to reverse the triumph of the West.” Kimball writes, “Netanyahu’s words should be constantly borne in mind lest the emollient tide of rationalization blunt the angry reality of those attacks.”

Nice. I mean, not “nice” — but very well put.

Let me give you another slice of Roger, just for the fun of it — the serious fun of it:

The hollowness of the left-liberal wisdom about the [War on Terror] brings me to another illusion that was challenged by the events of 9/11. I mean the illusion that the world is basically a benevolent, freedom-loving place, and that if only other people had enough education, safe sex, and access to National Public Radio they would become pacific celebrants of democracy and tolerance.

Old-time comedians used to say that if you mentioned the word “Schenectady,” you got a laugh. “Schenectady” was funny. So was “Poughkeepsie.”

“National Public Radio” has a similar effect on me.

Kimball speaks of “the ponderous scramble to uncover ‘root causes’” — i.e., “the search for sociological alibis that might absolve the perpetrators of evil from the inconveniences of guilt.”

Let me give you a line from a speech I gave on the first anniversary of 9/11, at a conference in Greece: “. . . understand them, people say. And one does: But sometimes understanding is not comforting, or flattering to the understood.”

“Make up your minds,” said Pericles, “that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous. Let there be no relaxation in the face of the perils of the war.”

I love what John Buchan says about democracy: “It provides a fair field for the Good Life, but it is not itself the Good Life.” A fair field, yes — perfect. (Kimball devotes a chapter to Buchan, I should say.)

According to Buchan, “[t]here are no more comfortable words in the language than Peace and Joy.” He gives us some definitions: “Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown. But Joy is a positive thing; in Joy one does not only feel secure, but something goes out from oneself to the universe, a warm, possessive effluence of love.”

Now, “[t]here may be Peace without Joy, and Joy without Peace, but the two combined make Happiness.”

In November, I spent some columns on Gertrude Himmelfarb’s latest book, which she calls “an essay rather than a history proper”: The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, from Cromwell to Churchill. In writing my notes, I sang the praises of Arthur Balfour. From Roger, I learned what Buchan said about Balfour: “the only public figure for whom I felt a disciple’s loyalty.”

One more word from Buchan, before knocking off for the day? “The world is at no time safe for freedom, which needs vigilant and unremitting guardianship.”

Actually, one more word? “The world must remain an oyster for youth to open. If not, youth will cease to be young, and that will be the end of everything.”

See you tomorrow (while we’re still young!).

To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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