Here are some things worth reading (or not, as the case may be).
If there is one cliché worth avoiding in the wars over free thought it is this observation offered by Nigel Hawkes in The Times as a supposed defence of religious faith against the claims of science: "While science answers the 'how' questions, it leaves the 'why' questions hanging in the air."
I have problems with Richard Dawkins's exposition of atheism, but I share his impatience with this sort of apologetic, on the grounds that "if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes anybody think religion can?" (The God Delusion, 2006, pp. 56.) Hawkes evidently thinks he's making a telling point with his observation that: "To deny religion is to dismiss most of human history as an error, only now being corrected." I know literally no one who would "deny religion" in the sense of disputing its salience in human history. But whether there exists a personal God with an interest in our affairs is surely a question with a right and a wrong answer. I see no particular reason to demand of religious believers justification for their faith, provided - and it's an important qualification - they leave me alone. But I have little patience with the notion that those of us who reject, in the words of the Apostle Paul, the things which are not seen and are eternal, are somehow being obtuse in taking the question seriously. There is a point of honour here. Religious belief is a body of dogma, not of knowledge.
It's a common belief that Tony Blair's highest point as premier was the Good Friday Agreement and his lowest was the Iraq War. I doubt that this will be the verdict of history, in either respect. In the Sunday Telegraph, Kevin Myers comments on the "grotesque legacies" of the Belfast Agreement, and I have much sympathy with what he says:
The Agreement has turned religion from being just a denominational and theological matter into a permanent political identity. Meanwhile, the compromises made to keep Sinn Fein-IRA in countenance, regardless of all else, have effectively destroyed the centrist parties, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. Left standing are the two groups that have been the authors of so much misery, bigotry and suffering down the decades: Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, and of course, the political arm of the IRA, Sinn Fein.
Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal, maintains that Barack Obama has "taken political risks to show moral leadership". But then Rauch offers this chilling qualification:
Lord knows, the public is right to want a change from the bullying hyperpartisanship of Bush-era Republicanism. I'm not saying that Obama should take the low road. But I'm old enough to remember the last time the voters got tired of divisiveness and went shopping for a politician with a purifying personality. We don't need another Jimmy Carter.
Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine is home for some hair-raising prejudices. It stakes out a position of isolationism, nativism and domestic reaction (like the Daily Mail, though without, so far as I know, the astrology and junk medicine). The expertise of some of its contributors is difficult to understate. They include Justin Raimondo (of whom I've commented here) and - my readers will be overjoyed to learn - Neil Clark. But the magazine has just posted something worth noting by the historian Andrew Bacevich. His piece is entitled "The Right Choice? The conservative case for Barack Obama".
Some background is in order here. I referred a few days ago to the isolationist movement of the 1930s and early 1940s in the United States. One of its most prominent intellectual influences was the historian Charles Beard, who advanced the Jeffersonian aversion to "entangling alliances". In his book American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy, 2002, Bacevich makes a qualified defence of Beard's approach to foreign policy. Beard's reputation has never recovered from the publication in 1948 of his book President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941, in which he attacked FDR for supposedly provoking the Pacific War. But this perverse and disreputable work does not necessarily invalidate his criticism of the principles of interventionism, and it's this that Bacevich seeks to resurrect.
I have strong objections to Bacevich's case, but will argue them another time. (Note, incidentally, that in 1994 Bacevich was advancing Beard's principles against "the paleo-Wilsonian clamor for intervention in Bosnia where American airpower will presumably untie the knot jerked tight by centuries of animosity". This was a nice instance of Bacevich's incomprehension of the Bosnian war as an intractable communal conflict rather than - as it was - a war of genocidal aggression by one side. When Nato airpower was indeed employed the year after Bacevich wrote his derisive comments, it speedily forced the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table.) I note here only what Bacevich concludes about the choices in the Presidential election: "For conservatives, Obama represents a sliver of hope. McCain represents none at all. The choice turns out to be an easy one."
On this point I'm hopeful Bacevich is right. I do not believe McCain represents conservative principles, which is the reason I favoured him from the outset for the Republican nomination.