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The New Criterion

It operates as a refuge for a civilizing element in short supply in contemporary America: honest criticism
- The Wall Street Journal



Advice for the Governor from Frank Sinatra

by James Bowman

Posted: Aug 27, 2014 11:45 AM

“The law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.”

When at the end of Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble the Beadle is informed of what was formerly known as the Principle of Coverture under English Common Law, he replied in words that have echoed down the years since his own time: “If the law supposes that,” said the Beadle, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.” The Principle of Coverture was abolished in England by the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 and by various states in the US beginning in the 1830s. Interestingly, Virginia considered and rejected legislation to the same effect in the 1840s and only got around to getting rid of coverture after the Civil War. Some of my fellow Virginians may be wishing they’d left things as they were. 

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It’s all about him

by James Bowman

Posted: Aug 07, 2014 10:42 AM

How wonderfully appropriate that the tape of Bill Clinton speaking in Australia on September 10, 2001, “just hours before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” should have emerged from the sink of time at the same moment as reports of the death of Theodore Van Kirk, navigator on the B-29, “Enola Gay,” which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan sixty-nine years ago yesterday. Here’s Bill, according to Fred Barbash of The Washington Post:


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Of Natural Injustice

by James Bowman

Posted: Aug 04, 2014 09:59 AM

"The only thing of weight that can be said against modern honor is that it is directly opposite to religion. The one bids you bear injuries with patience, the other tells you if you don't resent them, you are not fit to live."

Bernard de Mandeville



In the British media at this time of high international tension and the imminent prospective break-up of the United Kingdom, it sometimes seems as if female sensitivities and resentments are the only topic of conversation. I confess to a certain thrill of pleasure to see that Richard Dawkins has stepped in deep doo-doo by purporting to classify rape by the degree of severity with which it should be regarded, according as it is committed by a stranger or an acquaintance. As Sian Norris put it in The Independent, in the course of rehearsing well-worn feminist arguments against any counsel of sexual prudence,“it’s not up to men to try and define women’s experiences of violence for them.” And who could disagree with that? Meanwhile, Eleanor Robertson in The Guardian was taking the occasion for a more general assault on Professor Dawkins’s arrogance, in the course of which she quotes Professor Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

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From Super to Nuts

by James Bowman

Posted: Jul 24, 2014 10:12 AM

Marvel Comics' new Thor

The other day Ann Hornaday, film critic for the Washington Post, had an interesting piece in the paper inspired by the new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In it, she asked why, much as she admired the film, it fell into a now-familiar pattern of “darkening” in movie adaptations  stories and characters that began life in comic books or the equivalent. “Dawn’s funereal tone,” she wrote, “seems to be the norm these days, especially for reboots of legacy franchises that, in their efforts not to succumb to sentimental nostalgia or trivialized camp, succumb to amped-up carnage and inflated self-seriousness instead.” Ms Hornaday suggests several reasons why this might be so, among them the fact that “they flatter the sensibilities of studios and the executives who greenlight these projects, reassuring them that their core competency—raiding their and others’ archives for valuable ‘pre-sold’ source material—can be one of gravitas and meaning, rather than simple repurposing of pop signifiers.”

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Cherchez la tribu

by James Bowman

Posted: Jul 11, 2014 04:34 PM

Reporting on a new poll about the fact that most Americans, even in these days of unpopular political parties, still identify themselves with one party or the other, Jaime Fuller of the Washington Post explains the matter thus: “So why do voters stick with political parties even when they aggravate them? The same reason we stick with our families — because it’s not like there’s a real alternative. . . So basically: Can’t live with ‘em, can't live without ‘em.” It’s a persuasive argument, but I think it needs a slight amendment. Political parties are not so much like families as they are like tribes — something that hardly exists anywhere else in Western society. In fact, it is only in politics as currently practiced that we can acquire any insight, these days, into what it’s like to live in a tribal society, as most of the world still does. 

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Stomach Trouble

by James Bowman

Posted: Jun 13, 2014 03:56 PM

Was it Locke or Hobbes — I can never remember — who said that princes always exist in a state of nature with respect to each other? At any rate, it is clear that the state of nature in which princes — or, as we should say, nations — do exist is a Hobbesian one. Another way of putting it would be to say that international relations take place in a moral environment so different from  that of civil society that it might be called pre-moral or even immoral, which I think was the point of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). Still another way of putting it would be to point to the fact that, in international relations, the ancient and once all important honor culture which has all but died out in the civil society of America and Western Europe is still very much alive. 

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Leaving the military culture behind

by James Bowman

Posted: Jun 05, 2014 05:15 PM

The appalling decision of the Obama administration to pay a ransom to the Taliban of five of their own fighters, imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl gives rise to the thought: will this finally be the moment when the military breaks out of its 60-year trance during which it has  allowed itself to be persuaded that deference to civilian authority must be cultural as well as political? It would be nice to think so, but there are reasons to doubt it, since the brass themselves have lately got into the habit of forgetting that any armed force, in order to function properly, requires a certain cultural autonomy. They ought to be the first to point out, publicly as well as privately, that rules and especially rights that are entirely accepted and appropriate in civilian life cannot exist in the military culture without destroying it. 

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That’ll teach me to get up early

by James Bowman

Posted: May 31, 2014 02:14 PM

Although I’m on my feet at six o’clock of a week-day morning, I usually allow myself a bit of a lie-in on the weekend, and so, as an added benefit, I normally miss the President’s weekly radio address, which comes on at 6:35. I often hear the Republican “reply” at 7:35, but do not much miss it when I don’t. There must be something catching about the blandness and emptiness that most politicians of both parties indulge themselves in on these occasions. Today, however, I was up in time to hear Mr Obama tell those who, unlike him, are early risers that “in America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.  The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.” And, just in case we didn’t get the message, he then added that, “as President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Here he combines two of his favorite rhetorical devices: first, the identification of a supposed false choice being offered by unidentified political opponents — as when, in his first inaugural address he said, “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — and then, immediately following, he produces a straw man who, not content with offering us a false choice, wants “to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” In other words, he counters the alleged false choice of the unnamed opponents with a genuinely false choice of his own. We know it’s false because it’s so easy, unlike the “Hard Choices” his former Secretary of State has named her new memoir after. Hasn’t she heard? There are no hard choices in the Obama rhetorical world. 

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Too true to be good

by James Bowman

Posted: May 16, 2014 12:17 PM

Apparently, in biblical archaeology, there is something called the “too good to be true” rule, recently invoked in connection with the “Jesus’s wife” fragment of papyrus that some have tried to use to justify a re-think of 2000 years of Christian teaching, not only about the life of Christ but also about sexual morality and Church discipline. The rule states “that if a relic emerges that seems to address exactly the concerns of a modern audience — such as sex and women in Christianity — then skepticism is warranted.” Yet almost as interesting as the rule itself is the fact that we only heard about it after other reasons for doubting the authenticity of the papyrus emerged. I suppose that, up until then, it would  have seemed too much like party-pooping or raining on the parade of those who were so excited by the discovery just because it was too good to be true.

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Laughing on the outside. . .

by James Bowman

Posted: May 06, 2014 12:50 PM

The best joke from Joel McHale’s appearance at the White House Correspondents dinner — as transcribed for the Washington Post — ran as follows:

America is doing just fine, guys. How do I know that? Because we are making a fourth movie about trucks that turn into giant robots. And why are they making a Transformers 4? Because there is still so much story left to tell. So chin up everyone, this country is still number one in the all-important categories of cream- filled pastries, face computers and robot trucks. Education, the economy and the environment? Hey, we’ll get them next time.

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The New Criterion

About ArmaVirumque


( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)


In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.


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October 24, 2014

Young friends event: Bushwick Beat Nite

November 04, 2014

Friends and Young Friends Event: Election Night Party

November 12, 2014

Friends and Young Friends Event: Book Launch Party with Andrew Roberts

More events >