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Culture Briefs

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

Democratic soul

"In 'The Road to Serfdom,' Friedrich Hayek, hearkening back to Alexis de Tocqueville's analysis of 'democratic despotism,' noted that 'the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of a people.' The nature of that change was partly an enervation, partly an effeminization.

"The Islamofascists have a fanatical belief that theirs is a holy mission, that incinerating infidels is their bounden duty. For them, suicide is a gateway to paradise. For us, suicide is just that: suicide. The question is whether we believe anything with sufficient vigor to jettison the torpor of our barren self-satisfaction. ... Or was the French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel right when he said that 'Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is trying to destroy it'?"

From "Libel Tourism" in the May 2008 issue of the New Criterion

Black soul

"The notion of the Great Fall, and the attendant theory that segregation gave rise to some 'good things,' are the stock-in-trade of what Christopher Alan Bracey, a law professor at Washington University, calls (in his book, 'Saviors or Sellouts') the 'organic' black conservative tradition: conservatives who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention, but whose black-nationalist leanings make them anathema to the Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh.

"When political strategists argue that the Republican Party is missing a huge chance to court the black community, they are thinking of this mostly male bloc — the old guy in the barbershop, the grizzled Pop Warner coach, the retired Vietnam vet, the drunk uncle at the family reunion. He votes Democratic, not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels — in fact, he knows — that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing on "This Is How We Lost to the White Man," in the May issue of the Atlantic

Russian soul

"In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev famously told the West, 'We will bury you.' Over 50 years later, in her new book 'Imagining Nabokov,' ... his great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, suggests that Russians need to bury the centuries-old myth of their own uniqueness. ... The idea that Russia has a special messianic status has pervaded the country's culture for centuries, from the notion of Moscow as the Third Rome to Russian imperialism. ...

"This belief in the greatness of the Russian soul, Khrushcheva argues, is simply smoke and mirrors used to excuse the country's backwardness. Russians prefer to fall back on this dreamy myth rather than take responsibility for their own lives. Rational individualism has never taken hold with Russians, and it is instead external forces such as fate and the state that provide meaning to their lives. ...

"The Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, Khrushcheva writes, offers a way out of this backward state through the example of his own life and his characters. As a member of a wealthy family, he went into exile after the Revolution. His past and country destroyed, Nabokov was forced to rely on himself and create his own meaning for his life."

James Marson, writing on "Speak, Nabokov," in the May 16-23 issue of the Moscow Times' Context magazine