May 3rd is Constitution Day in Poland. Signed in 1791, the Polish constitution was, in the words of the great historian Norman Davies, “the first constitution of its type in Europe.”
Unfortunately, soon afterwards Poland was cruelly partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria, losing its independence for more than 120 years in a rather brutal illustration of the fact that enlightened ideals are no match for overwhelming power.
Still, they count for something - and bravery and dedication count for more. Poland reclaimed its independence and its grasp on history. All exclaim in unison,"Enough of this captivity!" We've got the scythes of Racławice, Kościuszko, if God wills.
Obligatory shilling. This week I wrote for the Spectator’s American outlet about being a vegetarian in Poland and on the right. The piece is available online and in the highly recommended print edition.
I also wrote a piece for the same issue about death, place and visiting England during the pandemic. I was quite proud of this article.
Finally, I wrote for my paying Substack subscribers about why and how thirty-somethings cling to adolescence.
Ideas don’t have consequences. Michael Warren Davies is one of the best writers on the right - ferociously sharp, provocative and entertaining - and this attack on the shape-shifting qualities of professional commentators is riotous and righteous:
Whole magazines tried to suicide-bomb the populist movement; when that didn’t work, they quickly donned their MAGA hats and joined the rabble. Because ideas don’t have consequences.
The piece is full of zingers, this being my favourite:
Expecting a conservative pundit to have convictions is like getting mad at Apple for bringing out a new iPhone that’s actually worse than the old iPhone.
I said last week that I want to be a writer, not a pundit let alone a “thought leader”, but I still have a responsibility to get things right - or at least to behave humbly when it is quite possible that I am wrong. Feel free to tell me when you think I have failed to do this.
Teacher of desire. I don't think Blake Bailey's Philip Roth biography should be cancelled but the charges against him are disturbing. According to his alleged victims, he spent years, as their teacher, fostering a degree of emotional dependence that should have set off alarm bells long before the alleged assaults that he inflicted on them once they had grown up. If it is true, and I hope there will be court proceedings to resolve that question, one can only call it grooming, and a betrayal of the teacher-student relationship, where young people should be encouraged to become stronger and wiser and not more reliant on their elders.
Sanctimony literature. I have not read the novels Becca Rothfeld critiques in her Liberties essay on “sanctimony literature”, so it is possible that she is less than wholly fair, but it is a bracing and enjoyable analysis:
Isn’t it funny that a good person, as envisioned by Lerner and Rooney, is exactly like Lerner and Rooney and all of their readers? And isn’t it striking that all these Lerner-clones and Rooney-clones are depicted as irreproachably upstanding, while all of their enemies are represented as one-dimensionally irredeemable? The heroes and heroines of sanctimony literature are so steeped in self-satisfaction that they provide an inadvertent moral lesson. It turns out that someone can have all the de rigueur political opinions without thereby achieving any measure of meaningful ethical success.
I have wondered if the belief that the “personal is the political” is premised at least partly on an attempt to align “holding correct opinions” with “having moral behaviour”.
The medium and the malice. Edward Feser attacks Twitter:
Marshall McLuhan’s famous remark that “the medium is the message” was never more true than in the case of Twitter. And the message is malign.
No one tell Professor Feser about TikTok.
Deconstructing Hollywood. Katherine Bayford writes for Athwart about celebrity, femininity and the golden age of Hollywood:
The transformative falsehood of “Rita Hayworth” was immediately in itself a story, regardless of how small a career she had held up until this point. The false object was beginning to become more interesting than the actual subject.
And yet it never managed to eclipse the true character underneath.
A fine essay which achieves the admirable feat of taking a subject I had no interest in and making me interested.
In Edgelands, a new series of videos for UnHerd, I’ll explore the strange and unsettling manifestations of our new political era. Travelling across the country, and further afield, I’ll meet people on the edge of politics — conspiracy theorists, idealists, visionaries and eccentrics — who each in their own way encapsulate this political moment.
Home front. My dog is sleeping on the other side of the room. I wonder what opinions my dog would hold if a dog could hold opinions. But the very act would betray the dogish spirit. Dogs know who and what they like, and who and what they hate, and have no time for chin-stroking ambiguity. No wonder we like them.
Have a lovely week,