Richard Fernandez discusses Dostoevsky and abortion, noting that
Fyodor Dostoevsky, speaking through Ivan in his Brothers Karamazov, wrote that the only questions which really mattered were the eternal ones. They are what return in various guises generation after generation not because we can never resolve them, but because we resolve ourselves in them.
This week, looking at writers as disparate as Thomas Paine and John Adams, we talked in my classes of the concept of human rights, of the importance of the belief that they were God-given, inalienable. We talked of the Puritan belief that all souls were equal before God and the British one that saw men equal before the law; these concepts mutated and grew perhaps, but remain because they are, as Wretchard observes, “an unbroken thread throughout its history.” Would that Wretchard could come to my class and address those students, moving them as he so often moves me. He speaks of the great questions:
The source of liberty, the provenance of inalienable rights, whether all men are created equal and if God Himself had a role in the public space are issues that run like an unbroken thread through its history. The reason for the enduring topicality of these themes may lie in the lack of artifice in the choice of political system America has chosen to adopt. A democracy will inevitably bring the deepest fears and hopes of common humanity to the front and center; while an aristocracy eventually concerns itself with manners. The survival of basic human themes as subjects of American political discourse is testimony to the proposition that it has — not yet — left its roots.
Tonight, we saw a man of action in McCain, but one who had clearly confronted those eternal questions. He has had a long and tough life; both in the intensity and the length of his years, he seems to have come to know who he is. His nature is clearly shoot-from-the-hip; he has a populist streak that can be a little unnerving. He wants to put blame when the truth is complicated. Nonetheless, I’d prefer a president who thought about those questions. Such a man thinks in terms of blame & shame, because he also thinks in terms of responsibility & honor. Nor would he assume that the reality of such standards negates the equally important fact that all men are united, involved with one another. Sometimes he’s bi-partisan because of a certain self-righteousness, but this is made more attractive by the shifting nature of his allegiances. He really does care about the substance rather than the politics and respects others, from both sides of the aisle, or at least engages them.
We would be lucky, it seems to me, to have a leader who has that density of experience-taught thought. He’s not going to be perfect, but we feel he’s been there before – and he’ll be there again. In the center, taking responsibility, taking risks – but risks that are worth it because he knows how much the story of America is worth it.
And, of course, Belmont is full as always: on the debate, on Afghanistan, on the Obama campaigns rather alarming habit of threatening to sue those who disagree.