A Darkling Plain



Leo Strauss wrote of the “all men are created equal” sentence in the Declaration of Independence, “The passage has frequently been quoted, but, by its weight and its elevation, it is made immune to the degrading effects of the excessive familiarity which breeds contempt and of misuse which breeds disgust.” Doesn’t this also hold for the closing lines of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach?

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The passage is familiar. But as one surveys the American landscape on Washington’s birthday in 2013, it seems particularly apt.

The plain is darkling. The world grows more dangerous. Yet we heedlessly slash ...

Brooklyn US Attorney's Office

The Matter in Handschu


Pakistani national Shahawar Matin Siraj and a friend, Irish-Egyptian-American James Elshafay, went to the Herald Square subway station on 34th Street in New York City on August 21, 2004, shortly before the quadrennial Republican National Convention was scheduled to ...


What a Defense Secretary Does

Pace Hagel, it’s a policy-making job.


Sen. Chuck Hagel

In September 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin received a request from the U.S. commander in Somalia for extra tanks, armored vehicles, and AC-130 Spectre gunships to support U.S. operations in Mogadishu. Aspin refused the request. The White House was not involved in the decision. Days later, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, some 84 were wounded, two U.S. choppers were shot down, and one pilot was captured. Aspin, who later conceded he had erred in denying the commander’s request, appeared weak when responding to detailed questions during a congressional hearing. His resignation followed less than a year into his hapless tour running the Pentagon.

Myriad concerns have been raised about Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, including his voting record, impolitic statements, two unremarkable Senate terms, scant management experience, and embarrassing performance at his confirmation hearing last ...

How a Republican can Win

How to Win in 2014

Stop Obama, promote the farm team.


Nearly four months after the election, most everybody seems to agree that something is amiss with the GOP. This consensus has provoked a stream of free advice for how Republicans can get back on their feet. Some of it is constructive and helpful. For instance, ...

golf obama

Unrequited Love

The unions went all in for Obama. What’s he done for them?


On February 17, some 35,000 people showed up for a march outside the White House to protest construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The environmental lobby is going all out to stop the pipeline, which will transport oil from Alberta, Canada, to ...

Rahm Emanuel

The Guns of Chicago

And the safe sidewalks of New York.


President Barack Obama recently went to Chicago to promote his poverty and gun violence initiatives and actually spoke a good deal of truth. “There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable ...

Miss you!

Electing the Next Pope

The race is close, and turnout promises to be high.


The next pope will be Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna. The principal editor of the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, Schönborn was among Benedict’s favorite students back when the current pope was a theology ...

Pope Benedict

Benedict and the Rabbi

A Christian pope on the Hebrew Bible.


After Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement that he would resign from the papacy, leading adherents of diverse faiths immediately began to evaluate his legacy. Catholic theologians have emphasized the enduring import of the thought of the man who spent most of his life as the theologian ...


The American Way with Guns

Our national story is firearms all the way down


A gun.

Among the guns I own, my favorite is a Pennsylvania long rifle made for me by an old friend. It is a flintlock, shoots a .50 caliber ball, and uses black powder. The wood is rich, sinuous, curly maple. The trigger guard and butt plate are brass. It is a beautiful piece, and only the most ardent anti-gun zealot could resist its palpable appeal. First you admire it, then you want to hold it, and next you feel the urge to put it up to your shoulder and fire it.

And it shoots. Oh, Lord, does it shoot. I’m competent with it but the man who made it can really shoot, and he is good out to 300 yards with that rifle. I’m comfortable out to 100.

As seductive as that gun is to shoot, its legend is even more appealing. “That’s a purely American gun,” the man told me when he gave it to me. “We beat the British with guns like that. Shot their ...

In Erbil, it is indeed.

The Other Iraq

Kurdistan prospers, even as pressure from Baghdad grows


Two years after the self-immolation of a street vendor protesting police corruption in Tunisia, the promise of the Arab Spring remains unrealized. Instead of ushering in an era of stable self-determination, much of the Middle East remains in disarray. Syria is in flames, Egypt almost ...

Books & Arts

Servant of the Law

The experience, and good sense, of Robert Bork.



The death of Robert Bork this past December brought forth tributes to a man bearing no resemblance to the grotesque caricatures that emerged during the long debate over his 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court. Widely noted were his unswerving loyalty to friends and principles, his seminal intellect, his acerbic but not unkind humor and wit, and his lifelong sense of service and duty to his country.

Yet his life will never be free from the controversy that trails those who actually have something to say. The dust jacket of this book, a memoir of his service in the Nixon administration, shows a young Bork with cigarette in hand and his trademark red beard. Had he stopped smoking and started shaving, some things might have turned out better for him; but then again, that wouldn’t have been Bob. His willingness to buck convention was his strength. He lived life on his terms.

The enigma that was Richard Nixon will always tantalize historians. Bork’s view of him is ...

Henri Matisse and glass panel (1948)

Better with Age

The creative impulse improves as well as declines.


‘Matisse: In Search of True Painting” is a smallish but superb show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It focuses on pairs and series of related paintings, and the sheer loveliness of its best pieces resounds through the huge building and out onto Fifth Avenue. But it is sad that this ...

Robert J. Lieber

Alive and Well

American power and influence need not be on the wane.


Intellectual error is not necessarily bad. It is sometimes the price of imagination and bold thinking. But it may also be the result of sloppy reasoning, wishful thinking, or the venal desire to sell copy. So it is not necessarily good, either.

Few subjects have been more fruitful of ...


Free Use and Abuse

The pitfalls, and potential, of copyright.


Following the Republican shellacking in the recent election, David Brooks highlighted some voices shaping center-right conversation on the Internet. One of his more surprising choices was that of a Republican Study Committee staffer who had penned a (quickly withdrawn) memo for the caucus of ...

Kevin Spacey in 'House of Cards'

I See Nothing

The busy life, and the busier television schedule, call for desperate measures.


Someone living in Barack Obama’s America, circa 2013, says these words to you: “I’m so behind.” In previous epochs—say, the Age of Lewinsky, or of disco—this might mean any number of things. A person might have failed to collate the year’s receipts for his accountant. Another might not have ...


Weepers Keepers

Joseph Epstein on sob stories


weepers keepers

An old journalistic axiom holds, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This means that stories of violence—of murder and arson, tornadoes and hurricanes, floods and carnage—always get primary attention in newspapers and on radio and television news. They still do, but coming up fast on the outside, especially on television news, are stories of deep personal sadness. So regular a feature of nightly television news has the spectacle of heartbroken people become that a new axiom is needed: “If it weeps, it keeps.”

I have in mind those stories that cause people, in response to the questioning of journalists, to break down in tears. I saw one the other night about a couple who were in the advanced stages of adopting a Russian child when Vladimir Putin decided to outlaw American adoption of Russian orphans. Pictures were shown of the couple playing with the child during visits to Russia. The story ended with the journalist ...



Michael Jackson

Democrats and Double Standards

The ol’ double standard was alive and well last week, as former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, pleaded guilty in a Washington federal court to stealing three-quarters of a million dollars from campaign funds.

No, the ...

Lisa Jackson

The EPA’s Secret Email Accounts

Last week, James Martin, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator for Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, announced his intention to resign for “personal reasons.” The more likely reason for his resignation is that ...


As the Globe Turns

The Scrapbook believes that the wounds afflicting the newspaper business are, for the most part, self-inflicted. Not entirely, of course: The rise of the Internet has been problematical for newspapers, and to the “news business” ...


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