- - Monday, November 22, 2010

Eternal monarchy

“[British] republicans who would abolish the throne will be sorely disappointed if they think that the excesses of flummery and plumage that accompany such royal occasions will leave Britons cold. In 2002, the media predicted that the celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee would be a flop. Cynicism and apathy were expected to win the day. Modern, democratic Britain had no time for antiquated pomp and circumstance, they predicted.

“Yet then, and again today, republicanism is always on the verge of a breakthrough that never quite comes. The jubilee was a triumph and a surprisingly moving one at that. More than 1 million people gathered in central London to celebrate the Queen’s 50 years on the throne.

“Even the Guardian newspaper, which favors an elected head of state, was compelled to admit that the jubilee’s success had given republicans ‘food for thought.’ It was as if the words of 19th-century constitutional scholar Walter Bagehot had been written yesterday: The monarchy was, he wrote, ‘the dignified part of the constitution,’ an institution that ‘excites and preserves the reverence of the population.’ Few Britons today might put it quite like that, but the royal family remains more revered than might be thought probable.”

Alex Massie, writing on “God Save the Colonies,” on Nov. 19 at Foreign Policy

Eternal teaching

“George Weigel, who wrote the foreword to [Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Light of the World’], diagnoses the ‘false assumption(s) beneath the latest round of media condomania’: that the Church’s teaching on sexual morality is a policy position that can change, like tax rates; that all papal statements of whatever sort are equal; and that a change in Catholic teaching would ever be announced in an interview. (‘It will perhaps come as a blow to the self-esteem of the fourth estate to recognize an elementary fact of Catholic life, but the truth of the matter is that no pope with his wits about him would use the vehicle of an interview with a journalist to discuss a new initiative, lay out a pastoral program, or explicate a development of doctrine.’)

“And the biggest problem, he says, is the media obsession with ‘the notion of Salvation by Latex.’ He points out that in the last media maelstrom over condoms for AIDS, the media mostly forgot to discuss the efficacy of abstinence and fidelity.”

Mollie Hemingway, writing on “Vatican condomania: the day after,” on Nov. 22 at Get Religion

Eternal silence

“The new censoriousness on campus — which, for the record, is as profound a problem in Britain as it is in the US — highlights some worrying new trends in today’s war on freedom of thought and speech. It shows that it is not only the state or even sections of the authorities that demand censorship today — all sorts of advocacy groups, educators and youthful organisations now crusade like modern-day Torquemadas for the silencing of their opponents.

“And it demonstrates the extent to which censorship today both springs from and reinforces a new degraded view of human subjectivity, a view of individuals as fundamentally psychologically fragile and thus in need of protection from allegedly dangerous ideas. In such circumstances, censorship can even be re-presented as a public good, designed not necessarily to police morality in any old-fashioned way but rather to manage relations between the various fragile sections of society. Perversely, censorship is repackaged as a way of protecting the powerless.

“That idea, more than any other, needs to be challenged, and the authoritarian, patronising, divisive, knowledge-hampering consequences of modern-day censorship exposed. We could really do with starting a [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] in British universities, too.”

Brendan O’Neill, writing on “Students are supposed to read books, not burn them,” on Nov. 18 at Spiked

Eternal music

“Why did [Richard] Wagner loom so large to his contemporaries? The answer is that he evoked, in the sensuous, intimate realm of musical experience, an apocalyptic vision of the Old World. Wagner’s stage works declared that the time of the Old Regime was over — the world of covenants and customs had come to an end, and nothing could or should restrain the impassioned impulse of the empowered individual. Wagner’s baton split the sea of European culture.

“It is hard to make sense of what has become of the West without engaging Wagner on his chosen terrain in the musical theater, for electronic media are a poor substitute for live performance. To engage Wagner on that chosen terrain is harder to do as directors bury him under supposedly creative interpretations. We have had Marxist, feminist, and minimalist versions of ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’ and a production of Wagner’s last opera, ‘Parsifal,’ dominated by a video image of a decomposing rabbit.

“A demythologized Wagner opera, much less a decomposing one, is not Wagner at all; as Thomas Mann said, Wagner’s work ‘is the naturalism of the nineteenth century sanctified through myth.’ Without the myth, there is no sanctification, and Wagner’s effort to substitute art for religion becomes incomprehensible.”

David P. Goldman, writing on “Why We Can’t Hear Wagner’s Music,” in the December issue of First Things

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