Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The trumpet of American brotherhood is not a dog whistle for racists

What is your take on the recent rioting in Milwaukee, and the speech that Donald Trump delivered?
The sheriff of Milwaukee County -- David Clarke

David Pence: Mr. Trump said, "Crime and violence are attacks on the poor." That is exactly how a public man should talk about organized riots and the daily criminality. We obviously need an entirely different discussion about race and crime in America. Trump’s remarks and Sheriff Clarke's approach are hopefully a beginning -- a very different beginning from what we have heard before. In that one speech, Mr. Trump said more about civic order and the Democratic party’s relation to blacks and crime than any Republican in my lifetime. Sheriff Clarke is a remarkable American guardian angel. He talks from his soul. All men -- black, brown, and white -- should tune our souls to hear his fatherly and fraternal message. Mr. Trump can’t say everything that needs to be said, but he has opened a door for a much more profound discussion by the rest of us. Trump is the most urban presidential candidate we have seen in a lifetime; it clearly makes a big difference in how he sees the world. When Ted Cruz denigrated "New York values," Trump immediately talked about firemen. That is an urban builder’s mentality whose sense of government is shaped by local public works departments. Mr. Cruz and a lot of suburban Republicans were stunned to see their talking point turned against them.

Will the failure of Democratic politicians, in places such as Chicago, to keep their cities safe eventually cost them their hegemony?

Pence: Urban Democrats are pretty tribal. A forceful male figure could rise in any city to point a new way. I think it is just as likely that he will be a new-style Democrat breaking from the corruption of "Clinton Democrats." The Democrats need their own Donald Trump to force them to represent urban black men and manual laborers again. A new kind of city man invested in protecting his community and providing for his family is the kind of personality which needs to emerge. That is precisely the personality that cultural feminism has suppressed in the Democratic Party coalition that rules our inner cities. Gay parades display their male urban culture. Advancing women in the Supreme Court, US military, and governmental offices is their signature achievement. Black males (or as Hillary says: "men off the reservation") have been left behind in the diversity racket. Feminists got the Supreme Court, and inner-city black males got Al Sharpton. It may actually turn out that a male Democrat will explain this best.  

Regardless of whether Mr. Trump prevails in November, how do you see the future of the coalition of black and white workingmen?

Pence: Sheriff Clarke says the police used to be seen as "protectors and guardians." Well, so did men. Until the black men of America see themselves again as guardians, they will not respect and honor the armed men who do that every day in law enforcement. We need to reassert the shared male identity as protectors which binds black and white men as fellow countrymen. The policemen are the officer corps of the larger civic body of male protectors. That is the classic idea of American citizenship in the frontier town as well as the Puritan city. This is a project for Christian ministers as well as civic leaders. Christian and civic brotherhood is a huge untapped reservoir of good will and social capital. The ideology of the sexual revolution, along with political correctness, has blocked a Christian American revival which could tie men across the color line in a shared brotherhood of protecting and providing. This sensibility would hit our cities like a tsunami of the Spirit! Christian American men need to converge on the cities and have our own "riots of the Spirit" which break out in brotherhood.

When you say Christian America and Christian  nationalist, is that your white-boy KKK dog whistle?

from 'The Forward'

Pence: I learned about Christian nationalism from John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. They were the two men in my youth who most often cross-quoted the Christian Bible and America’s founding documents. In their powerful masculine and biblical rhetoric they said if we are to be loyal as Christians to the Bible and Americans to the Constitution and Declaration, then we had better act as brothers and fellow citizens. Christianity and American citizenship are two collective identities which overcome racial hatred and suspicion with brotherly love and civic friendship. They are the solution, not the problem. When the diversity industry traded in the loving language of the Christian civil-rights movement for the hatred of Black Power and resentment of feminism, we all got a bad deal. Crime is a male problem -- and Christian nationalism is a strategy for male socialization. In one way, race relations have worsened in the last few years. But at a deeper level, there has never been such agreement among Americans to move beyond skin color and affirm our foundational loyalties: fellow men, fellow Christians, fellow Americans. Donald Trump may not articulate this, but he has opened space in the public forum for distinctly masculine Christian patriots to sound a trumpet which is no dog whistle.

Rev. King visiting the president with other civil rights leaders

Dr. David Pence was editor of 'City Fathers' from 1998 to 2002. The magazine was about Religion, Men, and Urban Politics based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, August 27

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE FRANCIS AND HIS 'STAYCATION'Leisure by staying home or visiting the neighborhood. Some great insights on Pope Francis. Ratio vs. intellect. The "busyness" of vacations vs. the leisure of staying home in the hood by Austin Ivereigh.

WHERE ARE THE CHRISTIAN INTELLECTUALS? An excellent historical review of the eclipse of the Christian intellectual in American life by Baylor’s Alan Jacobs in Harper's magazine. It leaves one wanting much more.

THE PRIESTS IN GERMANY: About 30 percent of Germans identify as Catholics (23.9 million), 10% attend weekly Mass. In 1965 there were 500 new ordinations to the priesthood. In 2005 there were 122. This year there were 58.
The German Catholic Church is the richest church in the world, receiving huge government funds for every registered Catholic. Their priesthood is riddled with homosexuals, and their national conference is openly non-orthodox in teaching on sexual roles in the church and sexual morality. The clerical holders of the purse are not hurt by low numbers in the priesthood (fewer slices from the big pie). Defection of registered Catholics, however, is a monetary issue for them because that determines their yearly government check. The German bishops have threatened people who de-register from the Church that they will be ineligible for sacraments.
Consider the 14,000 German priests today (20,000 in 1990). More than half of the best-paid and most corrupt national clergy in the Catholic Church report that they go to confession once a year or less. The CNA article.

THE JEWS IN TOLKIEN: A Jewish father makes a discovery. What surprises me is how this Jewish man and so many lovers of Tolkien have not recognized that "the Dwarves are the Jews." To Tolkien it was embarrassingly obvious. It shows the loss of historical imagination in our age - even among the Tolkien lovers. It was not so of the author whose story written amidst the World Wars of the early 20th century is as much about corporate peoples as individuals.

THE UNIVERSE AND MAN: The anthropological principal in understanding the Cosmos.


TURKEY, ISLAM, AND ERDOGAN: A very readable good short history.

SUNNI AND SHIA FROM THE INSIDE IN SYRIA: A fascinating article on getting the sectarian narrative right in Iraq and Syria. He rejects the "Sunni disenfranchisement" tale. and sees the Assad government as much more mixed than simply Alawite-Shia. Part one by an anonymous, well informed author. Part Two will be featured here next week. It has just been published.

"The House of Saud became very, very wealthy and very, very frightened – wealthy because of the huge spike in oil prices by the end of the decade, taking them from a couple of billion dollars a year in foreign earnings to 20 billion dollars, and frightened because of two events: the fall of the Shah and the coming to power of Islamists to govern in Tehran among the hated Shiites, and the takeover attempt in Saudi Arabia, which was really a coup attempt that resulted in the takeover of the great mosque in Mecca by Islamist terrorists for a time.

"But due to the combination of the oil wealth of the Gulf, the compatibility of the Sunni Islamists’ support for the Caliphate and the history of the Caliphate in Sunni Islam, the long-term objectives of the Wahhabis – I believe the Sunni Islamists present an extraordinarily serious ideological threat.

"And the reason I always say 'Islamist' is that I mean to connote precisely a totalitarian movement masquerading as a religion. We do not in retrospect need to accept Torquemada’s claim that his life, which repudiated everything that the Sermon on the Mount preached, was emblematic of Christianity or that he represented Christianity, and we do not need to accept the Wahhabis’ claim that their hatred is emblematic of or represents the great religion of Islam."
FROM FOREIGN POLICY SITUATION ROOM (8-16-2016): And here comes Beijing. Guan Youfei, an official with China's Central Military Commission, was in Damascus Tuesday where he met Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij. Guan said that China wants a closer relationship with Syria, and "China's military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria's military," China's Xinhua state news agency reported.

FRANCE SAYS NO COVER-UP ON THE BEACH - MIGHT INCITE SOMEONE: The home of the avant grade and decadent at Cannes finally sees a sight that makes her blush. Banning the Burkini. The Germans might want to focus on figuring out the intentions of their male refugees. Here is an article with some useful definitions and pictures of Muslim veiling practices. Governments often find it is easier to regulate the law-abiding than stop the criminals.

CATHOLICS DEBATE "IS ISLAM A RELIGION OF PEACE?" A very important debate. We think Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch is over the top in many things, but  read his daily report to hear about things not reported elsewhere. In this debate, the Monsignor is proposing an untenable option, and then ascribing a level of magisterial authority which should make the most extreme papist blush. Robert Spencer and Msgr. Swetland. As Pope Francis says: "Disagree face to face; man to man." We need more of this. William Kilpatrick is a frequent informed source for many conservative Catholics on Islam, Christianity, and atheism. Like Spencer, his rejection of Islam is totalistic. Unlike Spencer,  he doe not seem driven by a palpable hatred. Here is our critical but appreciative review of his important book.


HILLARY CLINTON - WAR PLANS FOR SYRIA AND JOBS FOR INTERVENTIONISTS WHO WILL MAKE HER LOOK TOUGH: An excellent review of who her appointees will be and what that means for policy. Where is the anti-war Left when you need them? If personnel is policy, then see the regime change hawks who support Mrs. Clinton.

TRUMP - A FOREIGN POLICY VERY DIFFERENT THAN REPUBLICANS: Analysis of Trump speech - there is a huge choice here. He is anti-war everywhere except toward ISIS. His focus allows new allies: Russia and Syria, and after the election probably Iran.

"CRIME AND VIOLENCE ARE AN ATTACK ON THE POOR" That was Donald Trump’s best line as he visited Milwaukee after the violence there. There could be nothing more dramatic than a Trump initiative toward the young men of the inner city as FELLOW AMERICANS. The campaign to properly socialize males, and the repeated public proposition that police and black males share together a male duty as Americans to protect our cities, may not come from Trump himself but it certainly can rise from his supporters. All who see the disaster of anti-male feminist policies of the Democratic Party’s sexual revolutionaries should realize the inner-city is where the disaster is most obvious. President Obama is the first president who has attacked patriarchy as an evil. That may resonate with feminist careerists, but isn’t the rule of fathers just what the black community needs most? The nation’s cities do not need another white feminist leading America. We have just had eight years of one, if you grant that President Obama is in many ways much more the son of his white feminist anthropologist momma as he is of his absent African dad. Trump in Milwaukee. A very different Trump - most powerful appeal to black Americans by a Republican in decades. Powerline blog, which has been tepid or negative about Trump, has the best take on the speech with a full video was well. The speech that will win the White House.

A CLINTON WAR COMES BACK TO HAUNT: Before Crimea, before Libya and Syria, there was another air war led by liberal interventionists. "No American boots were on the ground" but a major European city was bombed. A baby-boomer President and his female Secretary of State showed their toughness by bombing Belgrade to force Serbia to relinquish control of Kosovo. Madeleine Albright admits the bombing "was illegal but it was fair." This showed the helplessness of the Boris Yeltsin government and led to the rise of Vladimir Putin as a Russian who would protect the Orthodox East from the Muslim-friendly, atheist Westerners. Vice President Joseph Biden recently visited Serbia and was greeted with taunts and 'Vote for Trump' signs by crowds who understand very well the kind of globalism that rained down on their capital for 78 days of "humanitarian bombing" in the spring of 1999. This was one of the pivotal catastrophes of the post-Cold War baby boomer presidents in losing the peace their fathers had bequeathed them. A video news clip. These are the kinds of events that are great opportunities for serious journalists to report and learn from history. It places the discussion of Russia, the Ukraine, and Crimea in an important context. Good review of Bill Clinton's foreign policy. NATO expansion and Serbia.



CHINA AND THE FISH OF THE SEA: Without agreeing to solutions, here is the problem.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday BookReview: Bernie Madoff and the snoring watchdog

When the SEC was formed in 1934, who was its chairman?
Joseph Kennedy, father of America's 35th president.

"The government agency charged with being the industry's watchdog was deaf, blind, and mute... I realized that I had two opponents, Bernie Madoff and this nonfunctioning agency that seemed to me to be doing everything possible to insulate him."  (Harry Markopolos)

A short and sweet primer on the completely ineffectual Securities and Exchange Commission. In the end, the world started listening to Harry Markopolos.

This segment from '60 Minutes' on the fraud investigator from Boston fleshes out his efforts to expose the crimes of Mr. Madoff. (Now imprisoned in North Carolina, the one-time chairman of the NASDAQ told a reporter on the phone: "I'm not a horrible person." Madoff chooses to ignore the thousands of lives he destroyed, including his own family).

A review of Mr. Markopolos' book which appeared in an actuarial magazine:
Readers of 'The Actuary' may remember a well-known fund manager disparaging the role of actuaries in investment matters... A few months later, her fund shared in the $65 billion loss when Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed. 
Harry Markopolos studied Madoff’s strategy and investment performance, establishing a decade before its collapse that the two did not tie up. Over several years, Markopolos painstakingly documented a long list of red flags, each of which raised a suspicion of fraud. For example, the strategy should produce far more losses than it did. Returns should have been correlated to the stock market, but they weren’t. Given the funds Madoff had under management and the claimed strategy, the number of options he’d have to buy and sell would be huge — in fact, more than the open interest for the whole market on the options exchanges. Yet, there was no trace of Madoff’s deal flow either on the exchanges or in the over-the-counter market. Furthermore, Madoff organised his business in some very odd ways. Although effectively operating as a hedge fund, his organisation was constituted as an agent running trading strategies for his clients. 
His auditor was a sole trader a few blocks down, who apparently had no other audit clients. All the stock and option positions disappeared each year-end, and the financial statements showed only treasury bills. Madoff wouldn’t let anyone else near the books, even accountants acting for investors seeking to carry out due diligence before placing funds. Madoff was offering substantial commissions to feeder funds, providing high and stable returns. Why pay these costs when bank loans would be far cheaper? And then there’s all the secrecy. Investors widely believed that their ability to invest in these funds was a personal favour from Bernie Madoff, and were forbidden to discuss their good fortune with anyone else. This list of red flags formed the basis of Markopolos’ regular correspondence with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 
Markopolos also discovered why investors continued to invest with Madoff despite the red flags being common knowledge. Madoff ran a large and well- known brokerage. Could he be ‘front running’; that is, buying on his own account ahead of brokerage client buy orders, watching the market price rise and then selling onto those brokerage clients at a higher price? Front running is a form of insider dealing, which robs brokerage clients in favour of investors. Markopolos reckons that Madoff’s investors knew they were benefiting from something illegal, hence the willingness to invest in the absence of due diligence. The critical calculation concerns whether you keep your gains when the crime comes to light. The answer: probably yes if it’s insider dealing, but no if it’s a Ponzi scheme. 
The scheme finally collapsed when Madoff simply turned himself in, after 20 years of trading unmolested by the SEC. Unlike many financial professionals, Markopolos has nothing more to lose from irritating the SEC, which he exploits mercilessly in an outpouring of vitriol that is both shocking and refreshing. A theme of ‘I told you so’ rises in a gentle crescendo as the book progresses. In the end, Markopolos positively revels in the discomfort of senior SEC employees as they struggle to defend their jobs. This smugness has to be balanced by Markopolos’ constant fear for himself and his family. In his whistleblowing days, Markopolos fears retribution from mafiosi types who may blame him for bringing Madoff down. Later, he fears dirty tricks from the SEC as they rush to suppress evidence while scrambling to paint Markopolos as a deranged fantasist whom they were justified in ignoring. 
This was easily the most exciting book I have read this year. The audacity of the fraudster, the complicity of the investment community, the incompetence of the regulator — all are laid bare. But this book is more than a profoundly impressive technical account of a fraudulent investment scheme, more than a keen analysis of regulatory failure. At heart, it is a very human account of lonely life as a whistleblower, with the discouraging conclusion that, most of the time, nobody listens. 

The Great Depression of 1929 was worldwide, and lasted a decade.

In 2006, housing prices began to fall. When the housing bubble burst, the Great Recession was upon us. It lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

The "subprime mortgage crisis" was caused by banks lending hundreds of billions of dollars to homebuyers, who then were unable to pay them back.

Sept 2008: Lehman Brothers declares bankruptcy -- the largest such filing in US history
(Lehman was the fourth biggest investment bank in the country)

Nov 2008: Senator Obama is elected president

Dec 2008: Bernie Madoff is arrested by the FBI

Here are some of Mr. Madoff's comments regarding the SEC.

(In that article, mention is made of Madoff's niece, Shana, and her marriage to a SEC attorney. More can be found here.)
Shana Madoff and husband Eric Swanson

"For three-quarters of a century, the SEC was aggressive, waging high-profile investigations against insider trading, corporate bribery, and fraud... In the last few decades of the twentieth century, however, the SEC had begun filling its ranks with lawyers instead of traders, analysts, bankers, or other people with Wall Street experience. The SEC was established for the sole purpose of regulating the financial industry, yet it was hiring people with no financial background."                                                        (Erin Arvedlund, author of a book on Bernie Madoff) 

UPDATE -- Here is an excerpt from the 'primer' interview with Mr. Markopolos mentioned above:

Why do you think the S.E.C. failed to wake up to Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme until he turned himself in?
They weren’t even asleep at the switch; they were comatose. They didn’t respond to heat and light, much less evidence of wrongdoing. They were not engaged in the fight.

Mr. Donaldson -- chairman 2003-2005

This was when William Donaldson was head of the S.E.C.? 
Donaldson was too tough on Wall Street, so he got the ax. Then you had Christopher Cox, because he wasn’t going to do his job. That’s why he got the job.

Mr. Cox -- chairman 2005-2009
(had been longtime California congressman)

You met last year with Mary Schapiro, the current head of the S.E.C. How did that go? 
I would say she was coldly polite. Her general counsel, David Becker, did most of the talking. He and I did not get along at all. He was getting ready to come across the coffee table and strangle me.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

'SHE DOGS AND TOM CATS' -- a poem by William Tell

Gloria Steinem was fond of telling her audiences that monotheism is the root of all evil in the world. Here is a song of a different vision.


Shedogs and Tomcats 

She wore the tie and gave the speech
She raised the chalice and spoke the words
She raised her skirt and emptied her womb
And called the bloody sacrifice
A declaration of her right
… against a history of oppression 
… against her very nature

He put away the sword and gun
He kept his job and cell phone
He said it didn’t matter
which flag his own he’d call 
Because he said
He’d never fight
For any flag at all

We shall never bow or genuflect
Both of them had said
For they had learned in college 
That old male God was dead

No sacred precincts of word or love
No strictures ruling from above
A serpent lurked in the suburb’s lawn
And smiled upon his latest spawn 

Then the mothers gathered their children
and covered their heads
as the old man gathered the warriors
who uncovered their swords

They chased the tomcats out of public
They lit up the filthy nests of shedogs
It was then the blood of innocents cried out
…and there was a terrible reckoning


[Shedogs: slang for a male playing a female role.
Tomcats: slang for a female playing a male role]

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, August 20

by Dr. David Pence 


POPE AND CHINA AGREE ON BISHOP SELECTIONS: The Pope wants to find a way for a regular relationship with China. The country is experiencing a dynamic proliferation of Christian communities and a growing Catholic Church. It is also a nation "in search of its dream" as the governmental structure of the Communist Party remains, but the ideology of communism is forsaken.

CATHOLICS IN CENTRAL ASIA: A short review of Catholistan. Russia worries about its southern neighbors in Central Asia. A good round-up of Catholics in the Central Asian nations and a  reminder of how the Russian land giant sees the world and its neighbors.


CATHOLIC HOMOSEXUAL MONSIGNOR EXPLAINS CELIBACY TO HIS MALE VICTIM: A high-ranking priest from Stockton, California, has made a common argument we heard from sexually active homosexuals in the seminaries. Celibacy only applies to not being married. The sexual corruption in the Catholic Church is not about pedophilia, but rampant male homosexuality in the episcopacy and priesthood.

WHY WON'T CLOSETED AMERICAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS DISCIPLINE JOE BIDEN'S NEW CLERICAL ROLE AT MALE WEDDING PARTIES? The answer is in the question. Rod Dreher’s piece is for the picture, not his errant reasoning about Pope Francis. The sexual corruption of American bishops, and the betrayal of working men for gender ideology by the Catholic wing of the Democratic party are deeply related. The Washington DC episcopacy from the notorious reign of Cardinal Theodore ('Uncle Ted') McCarrick to the duplicitous mansion dwelling of Cardinal Donald ('Donna' in the seminary) Wuerl has kept the Catholic Democratic sexual revolutionaries safe by ensuring there would be no masculine shepherds in the nation’s capital to correct them.


EUROPE - A UNION OF NATIONS OR A NEW UNITED STATES: A good history showing Brexit as a kind of legacy of Charles DeGaulle who always argued for a community of intact nation states. He had a deeply spiritual sense of the nation (especially France) and thought the genius of Europe was to harmonize the nations, not replace them.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BREXIT? A great interview with Nigel Farage who led the movement for Britain to leave the EU. An eloquent and clear speaker - many insights for America. Here are seven takeaways:
  1. A major premise of the EU was that nation states were the cause of world wars. He counters that with the more accurate notion that nation states are a defense from wars. 
  2. Polls about Brexit vote were wrong because many pro-Brexit voters were people who had never voted before AND THEY WERE UNDERPOLLED. 
  3. Social media, especially YouTube, is an incredibly powerful way to bypass big media if you can explain things in speeches and put them up as good videos. 
  4. His succinct description of incestuous media / academy / think tank / politicians was a brilliant word-for-word description of American elites. 
  5. Putin was right on Ukraine and Crimea. There was massive Brussels type intervention in Ukraine politics for years. It was EU and NATO supporters (and American NGOs) who helped overthrow a democratically elected president which precipitated the crisis. 
  6. On Nationalism in Europe: In Spain, Italy, and Greece nationalists are on the Left. In northern and eastern Europe they are more on the Right. In France nationalists are culturally conservative and economically leftist. Germany has a gigantic guilt complex from the Nazi era but they are enthusiastic European flag wavers. They are piously reverent about EU symbols in a manner not seen with other nationalities. Being European has become their new communal identity. [This serves their dominant status within the EU, without reminding them of their previous strategy for consolidating Europe].
  7. On Nationalism in Britain: Farage is actually Scottish. He believes the Scots will not leave Britain to join the EU because they will not attach themselves to the sinking ship of the Euro currency. Farage was a commodities trader. At least in this interview, he spoke much more in the language of economic and national sensibilities than religion and culture.
GIBRALTAR, THE BRITISH TERRITORY AT THE END OF THE IBERIAN PENNINSULA - IS IT IN PLAY AFTER BREXIT? A very good historical review of claims on Gibraltar at the strategic entrance of the Mediterranean Sea.

PEW REPORT ON REFUGEES TO EUROPE: 73 percent are males. Europeans overwhelmingly disapprove of how the EU is handling the influx.

GERMAN GUILT AND OPEN BORDERS: 'WSJ' columnist Peggy Noonan talking to an acquaintance of Angela Merkel:
"Last summer when Europe was engulfed with increasing waves of migrants and refugees from Muslim countries, Ms. Merkel, moving unilaterally, announced that Germany would take in an astounding 800,000. Naturally this was taken as an invitation, and more than a million came. The result has been widespread public furor over crime, cultural dissimilation and fears of terrorism... Ms. Merkel’s acquaintance sighed and agreed. It’s one thing to be overwhelmed by an unexpected force, quite another to invite your invaders in! But, the acquaintance said, he believed the chancellor was operating in pursuit of ideals. As the daughter of a Lutheran minister, someone who grew up in East Germany, Ms. Merkel would have natural sympathy for those who feel marginalized and displaced. Moreover she is attempting to provide a kind of counter-statement, in the 21st century, to Germany’s great sin of the 20th. The historical stain of Nazism, the murder and abuse of the minority, will be followed by the moral triumph of open arms toward the dispossessed. That’s what’s driving it, said the acquaintance."


SPENGLER: TRUMP VS FOREIGN POLICY ELITE: David Goldman who writes as 'Spengler' at Asia Times has always been notable among journalists  for bringing a deeper sense of history to his commentaries on foreign affairs. His take on Trump and the elite.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SYRIA’S ASSAD: NBC does a good job in talking with a government we should ally with, not overthrow.

THE WAR ON THE HOUTHI SHIA OF YEMEN: President Obama’s greatest foreign policy mistake? Where is the anti-war Left as the  Senate rearms the Saudis to bomb a neighboring nation? All the talk about Russia invading a sovereign nation in the Ukraine seems not to apply to the young Saudi prince who is making his reputation with hardline Wahhabi clerics as a credible slayer of the Shiites.

NEOCONSERVATIVES BECOME NEOLIBERAL: The class and culture of East Coast elites finds Hillary one of them. Trump and NASCAR not so.

FRANCE BANS A FULL BATHING SUIT FOR MUSLIM WOMEN: If we are in a cultural religious war, do we want to be on the side that prohibits too much modesty for women? Atheist culture uncovers the women and dissipates the males. Christian culture unites men in public brotherhoods of protection and production, while modestly-covered women perform acts of mercy and kindness. What do French laws say about the elaborate female coverings of traditional orders of Catholic sisters? The covering of women is a dramatic and universal religious statement about femininity, interiority, and transcendence. The Muslims in this instance are simply reminding us of the older Jewish and Christian traditions. The Christian nations certainly must awaken to our war with salafist jihadists, but does anyone really think that part of waging that war is to expose a little more female flesh?

SOUTH SUDAN - TRIBALISM DIVIDES YOUNG COUNTRY INTO WAR: The mostly Christian Republic of South Sudan broke from the mostly Muslim North in 2011. It has now sundered along tribal lines. The blue helmets of the UN police have run away multiple times when faced with armed men attacking UN camps of refugees. Mostly female refugees have not been protected by a force that takes a good wage home, but runs in the face of fire. It makes us ask  that age-old question: "Who wants to die for the UN?" Politics is about protection. Risking death to protect necessitates some compelling communal loyalty.

RELIGION IN RUSSIA: Troubling law against smaller churches. A law meant to give more tools against jihadists may end up harming Protestants and Mormons.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday BookReview -- Philip Rieff’s 'The Jew of Culture': on Personal Authority, Character, and Culture

by David Pence

"The great teacher is he who because he carries within himself what is already known can transfer it to his student; that inwardness is his absolute and irreducible authority."

This last book (The Jew of Culture: Freud, Moses, and Modernity) in the series 'Sacred Order/Social Order' by Philip Rieff is the one volume of the trilogy I would recommend to a new reader of Professor Rieff (1922-2006).

It has been much more rigorously edited than his other posthumous works. The editor, Arnold Eisen (Chancellor of the Theological Seminary of America), has an advantage over those of us who have simply read Professor Rieff. Eisen studied with Rieff in person. That affords a crucial perspective when learning from a teacher who defines a bearer of culture as one who has internalized the culture's commands in his character. ("Until recently it seemed true that without imitations of compelling characters, character itself could not develop. Morality abhors impersonality.")


Rieff understood his presence was as much his lesson as his propositions, and in this he taught sociology as Michael Polyani taught the proper epistemology of science (see Personal Knowledge). This text gains clarity from an excellent introduction, the use of several previously published essays that could stand alone (on Benjamin Disraeli and Oscar Wilde) and a crisply edited new work "Is not the truth the truth?" That last section is a riveting crystallization of his accusations in My Life among the Deathworks. The accusations are stinging and even his student blanches at their full meaning. And yet, Chancellor Eisen blesses us by insuring that the last words we hear from Professor Rieff are a defense of the personal nature of G-d.

Phillip Rief began as an academic expert on Freud. He became renowned as a profound critic of culture.  He died as  a prophet of the religious nature of truth. There is an inexorable logic in his work. First he teaches of the necessity for authority to safeguard community and shape character. But then, in his own life, he cannot escape the abiding authority who specifically elected the Jews to tell the truth about creation. The canon cannot be emptied of its contents. If the Jew of culture is in the officer class, he is the officer in an army with a General. For Rieff, any Jew who claims he can be a Jew but deny G-d has joined "the Deathworks" and betrayed the Jewish character which bears a command which is not self-constructed. Rieff does not tread lightly on that Christian love for whom "Jew hatred remains its most transgressive motif." At the same time, he challenges the atheistic logic of the cultural secular Jew and condemns Freud as a murderer of the Jews for murdering Moses the Father.

The self-congratulations of Jewish Studies academics that Freud and Marx show what great intellectuals the Jews are will find no good-natured backslaps from Professor Rieff. He sees them as transgressors against the authority of G-d, and transgression is not a compliment in his lexicon.

This collection shows the transformation of Rieff and his relationship to Freud over the course of his life, as he pits the therapeutic man in Jewish culture against the religious man. He wondered if he should publish his counter-cultural views of authority and prohibitions because there was "no longer an audience" for the most important of his insights. If this last book is Rieff coming to terms with the implications of his insights for himself and his fellow Jews, his other posthumous work is a defense of Catholic liturgical culture against Protestant sociology. In Charisma Rieff argued that the gift of grace was shared by whole communities through history as long as the original prohibitions were heeded. Charisma and grace are communal experiences which can be transmitted through the generations. He objected to the Protestant reading by Max Weber which assigned charisma to the original founder but then treated historical institutions as hopelessly flawed degenerate bureaucracies. He thought that undermined the Catholic sensibility that Grace -- a continuing presence of Love, Life, and the Divine -- was possible within exactly the institutional borders created by ritual, prohibition, and prescription. Vitality depended on authority; authority depended on a personal character; and the transmission of vitality depended on receiving life in a bounded circumstance maintained by prohibitions: the fire of "no."

In The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), Reiff foretold the mass appearance of psychological man. Therapeutic man, psychological man, was a very different kind of personality than the man shaped by the interdicts of religious authoritative communities.

"Religious man was born to be saved, psychological man is born to be pleased." 
"Psychological man may be going nowhere, but he aims to achieve a certain speed and certainty in going. Like his predecessor, the man of the market economy, he understands morality as that which is conducive to increased activity. The important thing is to keep going."

Rieff's final works are not prophecy as in prediction, but prophecy as in witnessing to G-d's truth and seeing reality in the light of His abiding presence and commandments. He shows, again, how much clearer the vision from the foot of a holy mountain is than from the top of a desacralized hilltop.

Rieff's understanding of Israel is also drawn much clearer here than in any previous work. He describes Israel as the Machstaat necessary for the Kulturestaat (if the Machstaat is reduced, then "the sacred self loses its surround. It is without that completion of self in the social self that needs its political expression in order to achieve the primordiality... of sacrality. Eternal truth does not derive from historical. On the contrary, historical truth derives from the eternal. Sacred order is far more stable than social order.") What a lesson for Christian America! This is the same insight of G.K. Chesterton who described the social contract as men first finding a sacred spot and then becoming a political/civic community in order to defend the sacred center. The nation forms the walls of our city to safeguard the sacredness of our temples.

There is a nagging question I always bring to reading Philip Rieff. Is he another Jewish intellectual who benefits from the great rabbinic tradition but who disavows the Living G-d? His toying with doubt struck me again when I read his accusation of the modern intellectual. "I too aspire to see clearly, like a rifleman, with one eye shut; I too aspire to think without assent."

Professor Rieff seemed to me like so many modern Jews of this era of stiff-necked intellectuals. He knows he must submit to believe, but feels if ever he seriously began praying then he would have to obey all 613 laws or be a hypocrite. Rieff and many Jewish men like him need an authoritative rabbi (or a new teaching order) who can spare them the transgressive bat mitzvahs without demanding the whole of temple laws. The nations need the Jews in our midst to once again teach us submission to G-d. We need to hear them pray the Sh'ma Yisrael: "Hear O Israel..."

If reading Phillip Rieff makes you more likely to preen about the sophistication of Jewishness than to pray prescribed prayers to G-d, then you are missing this great teacher's hard-won lesson. To learn, one must accept prohibition and authority. First pray and then learn. For it is only in prayer and worship that man acknowledges what Rieff called that "without which authority cannot exist" -- a Presiding Presence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

AESOP: the Fox and the Crow

The Greek storyteller Aesop lived about six centuries before Christ. Here is one of his fables, as re-told by Fred Chappell (poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997-2002):

Fox spots Crow in the top of a tree.
“That carrion she pecks must come to me.”
He ponders how to ply his wit
And award himself the whole of it.

“Who is that who trills so grand?
The great soprano Dame Sutherland,
Whose voice charms every audience
From Sydney, Australia, to Paris, France.
O fortunate hour! What blessing is mine
To catch a glimpse of the Diva divine!
Can I persuade you, just for me,
To sing one bar of ‘Un bel di,’
Or the ‘Air des bijoux’ of Charles Gounod,
Or a single note of ‘Dove sono’?”

Crow, unused to being wooed,
Quickly adopts a musical mood.
She fills her lungs and sings out “Croaw!”
And delivers her morsel into Fox’s paw.


The flatterer has a plan in mind
That may not benefit all mankind.
His words are honey, his smile is warm;
His hand in your pocket intends no harm.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, August 13

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

CHRISTIANS IN CHINA: A short essay on the explosive growth in the last 60 years. A short video and article on the  campaign to remove crosses.


THE DEATH OF YEMEN’S CHILDREN: From 'Foreign Policy Report':
"United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki­-moon came under withering criticism earlier this year after bowing to threats by Saudi Arabia to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in U.N. funding unless it removed Riyadh from a blacklist of armies, rebels, and terrorists that maim or kill children in conflict zones. But on Tuesday Ban pushed back, 'telling delegates at a special U.N. Security Council session on the plight of children in armed conflict that he has ongoing concerns about abuses of children in Yemen. The United Nations, he added, stands behind its claim that the Saudi­-led military coalition in Yemen was responsible for some 60 percent of the 1,953 child deaths and injuries there during the past year.' The Saudis, predictably, were not happy."
Saudi options in Yemen by Bruce Reidel.

FRENCH PRIEST MARTYRED: His last words to his killers. A Christian duty to defend by Father George Rutler. His last words define the war by defining the enemy. AOA on Pope saying religions are not at war.

THE RIGHT TO CARRY, AND HOMELAND SECURITY: When will we get over the run, hide, then maybe fight syndrome taught in conceal and carry classes?

TRUMP - POLICY ON RUSSIA AND ON ECONOMICS AS TWO NOTABLES DROP OUT: Russian expert Stephen Cohen on the new Cold War with Russia and the unexpected push for dialogue by Donald Trump. Trump speech at Detroit Economic Club to the inner city with a message of choice in schools and renewal of manufacturing work for inner cities. Here is a rich man, but not a Mitt Romney. The Donald Trump-Mike Pence team has been challenged as temperamentally unfit for the presidential office by Republicans who showed their own judgment of temperament by supporting the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket of 2008.

Republican feminist senator Susan Collins and Catholic neo-con Republican George Weigel have said they will not vote for Trump. Neither defection is a surprise.

An excellent cultural analysis from 'The Imaginative Conservative': Trump and manliness.
Joseph Pearce, Director of the Center for Faith and Culture and writer-in-residence at Aquinas College in Nashville, wrote a penetrating book about Alexander Solzhenitsyn after multiple face-to-face interviews with the great Russian author. Pearce brings considerably more historical and religious perspective to understanding Vladimir Putin than the hysterical anti-Russian crowd trying to refight the Cold War with the wrong enemy. His essay: Putin, Solzhenitsyn, and Perspective.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday BookReview: Tolstoy's ANNA KARENINA (part 2)


This is the concluding part of the essay we published last week by Professor Gary Saul Morson.

If Dolly represents what goodness is, then her husband Stiva [brother of Anna Karenina] represents what evil—most, if not the worst, evil—truly is. And the first thing to notice about evil is that it is not as ugly as sin but as attractive as pleasant company. That is why there is so much of it. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Evil is not alien but resembles us, because we are most responsible for it.

Stiva is immensely charming, and so everyone likes being with him. What’s more, he does not have a shred of malice. Tolstoy wants us to appreciate that most evil results not from active hostility but from mere neglect, something like criminal negligence. It is largely negative, an absence, a forgetting. It is caused primarily by what we don’t do. And so we can easily be responsible for it while thinking well of ourselves. When Stiva forgets to fix up the country house for Dolly, Tolstoy remarks: “No matter how hard Stepan Arkadyevich tried to be a concerned father and husband, he never could remember that he had a wife and children.”

Stiva is the perfect hedonist, totally immersed in the pleasures of the moment...

Families in Tolstoy’s novels are not collections of individuals who happen to be related but distinct miniature cultures. Each family appreciates the world in its own way. The Shcherbatskys—Dolly’s family—understand the world in terms of family life. The Oblonskys are quite different, and the first thing to understand about Anna is that she was born an Oblonsky.

Like Stiva, Anna commands an amazing receptiveness to the people in front of her. When she wants to, she can make herself the perfect listener, which is how she manages to persuade Dolly to forgive Stiva for his affair. Her manipulation is both skillful and deliberate.

Stiva is anything but weighed down with remorse, much less repentant. The novel opens with him waking from pleasant dreams about feasts and women, and he calls himself honest because he is incapable of feeling any guilt over what he has done. Yet Anna tells Dolly just the opposite: “He is wretched, remorse is killing him.” Dolly is dubious. “Is he capable of remorse?” she asks. Anna replies:

“Yes, I know him. I could not look at him without pity. We both know him. He is good but he is proud, and now he is so humiliated. What touched me most”—and here Anna divined the main thing that could touch Dolly—“he’s tormented by two things: he’s ashamed for the children’s sake, and while loving you….yes, yes, while loving you more than anything in the world.”

“Here Anna divined what would touch Dolly most”: Her guesses at such moments are unerring, and she says what she needs to. That, indeed, is why Stiva has summoned her to patch up the quarrel.

But Anna differs from Stiva in one important respect. She has a conscience. She feels terrible guilt for her affair and the pain it causes her husband. Her response to this guilt constitutes one of the book’s most remarkable psychological studies.

To escape from conscience, Anna practices an elaborate process of self-deception. So insightful is Tolstoy’s description of this process that this novel could well be the touchstone for any study of lying to oneself...

Unlike the book’s other educated characters, the agrarian intellectual Levin thinks for himself. Instead of just adopting approved enlightened opinions, he actually learns both sides of an issue. When the progressive theories he adopts to modernize his farm and improve the peasants’ lot fail, he does not change the subject or seek some ad hoc justification of progressivism. Rather, he admits his mistake and seeks some other solution, however unconventional it may be. How many intellectuals can ever admit that their critics were right? In Tolstoy’s view, Levin’s honesty is vanishingly rare...

Levin believes in marriage as a perfect idyll. But his wife, Kitty [younger sister of Dolly], who understands the intimate love of good families, knows that story is as false as romance. In intimate love, one’s spouse is a less-than-ideal person whose thoughts and feelings are hard to appreciate. Such intimacy takes work and, until the couple come to know each other, it occasions quarrels.

Contrary to common opinion, the early days of a marriage are likely to be the hardest. Levin, with his fantasy views of marriage straight out of storybooks, is surprised at the prosaic truths that Kitty has known all along, but here, as elsewhere, he eventually comes to value her wisdom:

Levin had been married nearly three months. He was happy, but not at all in the way he had expected to be….Levin was happy, but having embarked upon family life, he saw at each step that it was not at all what he had imagined. At each step he experienced what someone would experience who, having admired the smooth, happy progress of a little boat across a lake, should then actually get into that boat. He saw that it was not enough to sit there evenly without rocking; that one also had think, too, without forgetting for a moment where one was floating, that beneath one’s feet was water, and that one must row, and that his unaccustomed hands would hurt, and that it was only easy to look at, but doing it, though quite joyful, was also quite difficult.

Difficult delight resulting from constant hard work: That is what family love demands. The reward is knowledge of each other almost from within...

In his daily work, Levin comes to appreciate the importance of the ordinary and prosaic. If one lives rightly moment by moment, and trusts that daily practice has its own wisdom, then the questions troubling Levin are not exactly answered, but they disappear. When Levin recognizes these Tolstoyan truths, he is overcome with joy:
'I was looking for miracles, regretting that I had not seen a miracle that might convince me. But here is a miracle, the sole miracle possible, existing continuously, surrounding me on all sides, and I didn’t notice it!…I have discovered nothing. I have only recognized what I already knew….I have been freed from falsity, I have found the Master.'
In his time, Tolstoy was known as a nyetovshcik—one who says no (nyet) to what almost all educated people believed. If anything, his views are even more at odds with educated opinion today. In this novel’s rejection of romantic love, in its challenge to the inauthentic ways intellectuals think, in its trust in practice over theory, and above all, in its defense of the prosaic virtues exhibited by Dolly—in all these ways, Anna Karenina challenges us today with ever-increasing urgency.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Miss Bartoli accompanied by oboe

Cecilia Bartoli, born in Rome to professional singing parents, is one of the most exciting opera stars of our day.

From a concert of some of the music of the 18th-century priest VIVALDI, don't miss this selection (beginning at the 15:30 mark, it runs for eight minutes).

The English spelling of 'oboe' wasn't common until around 1770. Earlier, the word was hautboy.

UPDATE: Cecilia sings here with the irrepressible Pavarotti!


Here is an interview with Miss Bartoli (only the first minute is in Italian; the rest is English) in which she praises the music of Antonio Vivaldi -- and of the maligned Antonio Salieri.

The host starts by asking about her name saint, Cecilia, the patroness of musicians and an early martyr of the Church in Sicily.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, August 6

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE SAYS RELIGIONS ARE NOT AT WAR - IS THAT RIGHT? There are many on the right who are quite offended when the Pope says the slitting of the priest’s throat during Mass was not part of a war between religions. The Pope, like President Bush and President Obama, has refused  to cast the conflict as a war of Islam vs. America, or Islam vs. Christianity. Marion Le Pen of France calls the enemy ISLAMISM. American Republicans have said we should call them RADICAL ISLAM. Islam means submission to the will of God. It is not the will of God that Christians be beheaded, that Jews be hated, and that Shiites be murdered. What should we call the Salafist jihadists who consider themselves a purified form of Islam? Any term which links the violence to Islam but makes distinctions from the religion as a whole is a far better solution than treating terrorists as individual criminals with peculiar violent pathologies. We do not like either of these expressions because they further a narrative of religion as a carrier of irrational violence. We must keep our eyes on both of the enemies which are flanking us - the jihadists and the atheist gender ideologues. Each are hiding under the cover of a good - one speaks for God and the other speaks for freedom. In the name of individual freedom the sexual ideologues are preventing the natural protective alignment needed for war - males united guarding the periphery under strong male leadership.

It is not a war among religions. Religions obligate men to God. This is a war with men who are not obligated to God or their fellow men. There are demonic forces twisting both Islam and Christianity. Muslims who love God and desire to fulfill His will (and there are plenty of them), and Muslims who believe in national communities as worthy of fundamental if not ultimate loyalties - these Muslims will help us fight the jihadists.

The Salafist jihadi movement which has many armed fronts such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Al Shabaab should be identified as agents of Satan -- not men of religion. That is the naming which gives religious men the license to take up arms. Yes, we really do think we have God on our side. Only God is big enough to enclose the coalition of Christian and Muslim nations needed to erase the jihadists. Men of religion have an obligation to fight these forces. It is not the will of God to behead Christians, teach hatred of Jews, bomb the Shiites of Yemen, and slit the throat of a priest during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We look for Muslims who will break with the epicenter of this ideology -- the Wahhabi cult holding Mecca and Medina under the protection of the Saudis. These Muslims will have to be radically clear that their allegiance is to the will of God, not the twisted movement that now infects so much of Sunni Islam. (In that sense, truly radical Islamists are allies, but we understand that language is not helpful). Our Muslim allies have to be radically tuned to God’s will, not the deceit and blackmail of the Salafist jihadists. They will have to fight in some national form or seek some new national protectorate for the Holy Cities. Islam (submitting to the will of God) is the spiritual force which must defeat the demonic jihadist ideology. As Christians we call it the primary petition in the Lord’s prayer: that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Submitting to God’s will can unite Muslims with Christian men who also seek to do God’s will and fight His true enemies. The Pope will not organize this coalition - temporal national leaders with religious sensibilities must. It is the men of religion against the men of Satan. For those who say we cannot call these killers demonic - what shall we call them? Too fervent Muslims? And to those who are against calling Christian men as Christian men to protect Christians around the world and in our own countries, would they rather have our foreign policy dictated by atheists who have a Darwinian view of friends and enemies? Religions are not at war. Men of God and our communal forms - religions and nations - are at war with Satan and those who are spreading the cult of death in both jihad and the sexual revolution. Father Jacques Hamel was the priest killed while saying Mass in France. He had been a soldier in the Algerian war. He kicked at his killers before they killed him. He resisted their order to kneel. His last words named the enemy and have given us our battle cry- ‘Va-t’en, Satan!’ — ‘Begone, Satan!’”

FRANCE: Marion Le Pen says we kill Islamism or they kill us. Much more importantly, she urged Christians to join the military. She is a serious Catholic who accepts the secularity of the French government and the cultural dominance of Christianity in France. Pierre Manent on France after the death of a priest.

MODERNITY AS METAPHYSICAL COLLAPSEOne of the best articles I have ever read.


ISRAEL AMONG THE NATIONS - NETANYAHU'S MAP TO SHOW FOREIGN POLICY (SEVERAL SURPRISES): Let’s hope this Men & Maps approach to explaining the world catches on. This formulation by Netanyahu should cause a good deal of American conversation. The Prime Minister shows with his color-coded map that Israel has five active enemies: Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea. Among the countries in red (newer better relations) are Russia, India, China and Turkey. His new allies are very encouraging - the way he assembles his enemies, however, is at odds with much of US strategy. This deep division with “our primary Mideast ally” has to be resolved. We should stop talking about Palestine and start trying to build a coherent strategy in which Israel and the US are fighting the same enemies and cultivating the same allies.

RUSSIA, DUGIN, AND MACKINDER - UNDERSTANDING THE GEOPOLITICS OF RUSSIA NATIONALISM: An excerpt from new book by Charles Clover on Russian nationalism.


COULD TURKEY BE THE SUNNI NATION THAT WILL HELP AGAINST THE JIHADISTS OR DOES IT SEEK THE CALIPHATE ONCE MORE: Interesting musings by William Kilpatrick. Turkey has 50 US nuclear warheads. Is NATO looking like an alliance or a danger for the US? Or will Turkey help Europe look south and stop ISIS?  A history of coups have never meant exit from NATO. De-Gulenification - a good thing, a bad thing? It is definitely happening. More on the intra-Islamic battle.

HOW DO YOU FIGHT AN IDEOLOGY AND A MOVEMENT, NOT AN ORGANIZATION: Good distinctions by George Friedman of Stratfor.


ARMS DEALERS - ARE THEIR CONCERNS OUR CONCERNS: Whenever I hear that arms dealers are the cause of war, I think of old 1920 pacifists blaming them for WWI. But now, I think there is more story here than we usually ascribe.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday BookReview -- Tolstoy's portrayal of Anna Karenina: which love do we really want?

Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910

What is the real work of the artist? 
"Acquiring the habit of perception -- learning to notice details
 easily overlooked -- [improving our] skill of noticing what is right before us."

(from Gary Saul Morson's introduction to Anna Karenina)

One of the finest essays I have come across in recent years was written by Professor Morson. It appears in the Marian Schwartz edition of Tolstoy's classic.

Some excerpts from Mr. Morson's 'The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina':
Often quoted but rarely understood, the first sentence of Anna Karenina—“All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—offers a paradoxical insight into what is truly important in human lives. What exactly does this sentence mean? 
In War and Peace and in a variant of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy quotes a French proverb: “Happy people have no history.” Where there are dramatic events, where there is material for an interesting story, there is unhappiness. The old curse—“May you live in interesting times!”—suggests that the more narratable a life is, the worse it is. 
With happy lives and happy families, there is no drama to relate. What are you going to say: They woke up, breakfasted, didn’t quarrel, went to work, dined pleasantly, and didn’t quarrel again? 
Happy families resemble each other because there is no story to tell about them. But unhappy families all have stories, and each story is different. 
We tend to think that true life is lived at times of high drama. When Anna Karenina reads a novel on the train, she wants to live the exciting incidents described. Both high literature and popular culture foster the delusion that ordinary, prosaic happiness represents something insufferably bourgeois, a suspension of real living. Forms as different as romantic drama, adventure stories, and tragedies suggest that life is truly lived only in moments of great intensity. 
Tolstoy thought just the opposite. 
The dramatic understanding of life that Tolstoy rejected has, if anything, grown still more powerful. Today very few people question that “true love” is the grand and glorious feeling that consumes one’s very being, as in Romeo and Juliet and countless debased imitations. By contrast, Tolstoy wants us to recognize that romantic love is but one kind of love. It is an ideology of love, in fact, but we do not recognize it as one. In Anna Karenina, Kitty at first prefers the dashing and romantic Vronsky to the kind and staid Levin because she has assumed, as most of us do, that she should marry the one she “loves”; and she has been told that “love” is romantic rather than prosaic. She does not yet recognize that what she feels for Levin is also a form of love, and that she has a real choice. Which love does she really want? 
Over time Kitty comes to recognize that in addition to romantic love there is also intimate love. Only intimate love is compatible with a family. Tolstoy wants his readers to be aware that this choice exists for them as well. 
The myth embodied in great romances tells us that love envelops our whole being. Romantic love presses upon us with irresistible intensity. It transcends all ordinary prosaic conditions and lifts lovers to a realm of resplendent meaning. All-consuming, it allows no room for anything else. Lovers love, not so much each other, but love itself. 
What is more, according to this ideology, we do not choose such love. It befalls us. We “fall in love,” we do not jump in love. Such love is a “passion,” not an action. It is something we suffer, an idea prefigured in medieval literature by love potion and in modern thought by unconscious forces overwhelming the will. 
For this reason, romantic love feels like fate, and an ideology of amoral fatalism often accompanies it. Lovers live in a realm beyond good and evil. After all, good and evil depend on choice, and where fate governs, choice is out of the question. No matter how much pain the lovers cause, one cannot condemn them. Adultery becomes as noble as revolution, and only cramped moralists worry about the pain caused the betrayed spouse or abandoned children. 
That is the story Anna Karenina imagines she is living. As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance. But Anna’s sense of herself is not Tolstoy’s sense of her. He places his romantic heroine not in a romance, where her values would be validated, but in the world of prosaic reality, where actions have consequences and the pain we inflict matters. 
Oprah Winfrey, who chose Tolstoy’s novel for her book club, followed many others in viewing Anna Karenina as a celebration of its heroine and of romantic love. That gets the book exactly wrong. It mistakes Anna’s story of herself for Tolstoy’s. Just as Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novel she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or her adulterous lover Vronsky. They do not seem to entertain the possibility that the values they accept unthinkingly are the ones Tolstoy wants to discredit. 
Perhaps such readers simply presume that no great writer would take the side of all those shallow moralists. Would a genius endorse what we dismiss as bourgeois banality? But in an unexpected way, that is what Tolstoy does. He shows with unprecedented psychological subtlety the shallowness of the romantic view... 
Anna Karenina interweaves two major stories—the story of the destruction of Anna’s marriage and life and the making of Levin’s life and marriage. But it is the novel’s third story, concerning Anna’s brother, Stiva, and his wife, Dolly, that provides the book’s moral compass. 
If by the hero or heroine of a novel, we mean not the one who occupies the most dramatic space but the one who best embodies the author’s values, then the real hero of Anna Karenina is Dolly. Her everyday goodness, her ceaseless efforts for her children, and her fundamental decency attract no attention, but they are, from Tolstoy’s perspective, the most meaningful possible activities. Here, as in many other works, Tolstoy teaches that we do not notice the really good people among us. 
If a life well lived is one without major events, how does one write a novel about it? Tolstoy’s solution is to put the life based on mistaken values—Anna’s—in the foreground, while Dolly’s virtues and troubles remain in the background where they can easily be missed. Readers, critics, and filmmakers often treat Dolly as nothing more than a boring housewife—merely a good mother, as Stiva thinks of her—but for Tolstoy, nothing is more important than a good mother. Life’s most important lessons are acquired in childhood or not at all. Vronsky will always remain a shallow person because, as Tolstoy explains, he never had a family life. How one is raised truly matters. 
Perhaps the novel’s key moment belongs to Dolly. She finds herself in the country with her children in a house that Stiva has promised but neglected to make suitable for them. At last, she manages to get things in order: 
And for Darya Alexandrovna her expectations were being fulfilled of a comfortable, if not peaceful, country life. Peaceful with six children, Daria Alexandrovna could never be… But in addition, however hard it might be for a mother to bear the fear of illnesses, the illnesses themselves, and the grief at the sight of signs of bad tendencies in her children, the children themselves were even now repaying her sorrows with small joys. These joys were so small they passed unnoticed like gold in sand and in bad moments she saw only the sorrows, only the sand; but there were good moments, too, when she saw only the joys, only the gold. 
Gold in sand: That is what true happiness is like. It occurs at ordinary moments and does not call attention to itself, much as Dolly does not call attention to herself. And yet it is moments like these that make a life meaningful.

     [The second part of this essay will appear next Friday].

"... if the world could write directly, it would write like Tolstoy"

His final resting-place at Yasnaya Polyana