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The New Criterion

Quite simply, the best cultural review in the world
- John O’Sullivan



The real thing

by James Bowman

Posted: Jan 27, 2015 12:08 AM


One thing you may have noticed, as I did, about the media’s coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week, is how often the President’s grip on reality was called into question. This is nothing new coming from Republicans like Karl Rove, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the speech “was disconnected from economic reality.” Likewise, Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary noticed that the speech had "a tone that was [...] divorced from the reality of Obama’s six years in office.” But even the massively pro-Obama media may be beginning to think this or similar views of the matter worth reporting if not wholeheartedly endorsing. Thus Peter Baker in The New York Times wrote that the President “made no reference at all to the midterm elections, offered no concessions about his own leadership and proposed no compromises to accommodate the political reality.”

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The torture report as the ultimate harvest of media bias

by James Bowman

Posted: Dec 12, 2014 04:46 PM

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty

As Charles Lane points out in today’s Washington Post, the biggest of the many problems that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture revealed about American security services may be the one that hardly anyone is talking about: namely, that security itself has become irrevocably politicized. The CIA, I fear, cannot avoid its share of blame for this, in view of its own history of leaking and briefing against elected authority during the Bush years. But the biggest share of the blame must accrue to the Senate Democrats who have allowed themselves to become captives of the anti-American left. They in turn are egged on by the media, whom the Democrats know they can trust not to moderate their treatment of the report as a scandal by any mention of the partisan nature of the conclusions drawn. Now we know that there is nothing in our public life, not even national security, that can be treated as being above partisanship.

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Manners makyth man

by James Bowman

Posted: Nov 20, 2014 02:06 PM

Sir William Dugdale, Bt.

“Know thyself” — in the words of the ancient Greek maxim that was inscribed outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and once known to all who received the education of a gentleman. It would have been good advice for Matthew Norman, a columnist for London Independent, who apparently did not receive such an education. He writes today with an almost unbelievable smugness and condescension of his own, of the recent death of Sir William Dugdale, an uncle of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, that he typified his class’s remoteness from everyday life and sympathy with ordinary folk.

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Some Thoughts on Veterans’ Day

by James Bowman

Posted: Nov 11, 2014 01:35 PM


The unseemly squabble among Navy SEALs and the authorities they once served over how Osama bin Laden was killed and who killed him provides a good example of what happens when a country loses its honor culture. The native or reflexive honor is still there, reinforced by a specialized military honor culture, but the larger social environment no longer retains any sense of what honor means, apart from one’s personal beliefs and values. Without that understanding, even our men of honor — in this case the SEALs — don’t know how to behave. Nor, I scarcely need add, do the journalists who have come forward to criticize Matt Bissonnette, author of No Easy Day and Rob O’Neill, now revealed (though not without further controversy over the claim) as the SEAL whose bullets to the head killed the terrorist leader.

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Party On

by James Bowman

Posted: Oct 30, 2014 11:42 AM

Remarkable. An organization rather vaingloriously calling itself “Intelligence Squared” tells me that it is holding, or has held, a debate on the motion: “Income Inequality Impairs the American Dream of Upward Mobility.”

Surely, you would think, even intelligence unsquared must be equal to the task of reasoning required to see that it is only income inequality that could make the American Dream of upward mobility possible in the first place — and thus that the motion is nonsense? Too bad I only received an invitation to take part in this nonsensical debate, now available as a DVD or podcast, on the same day it took place. I’ve got to think they really didn’t want my input after all but were only pretending to invite me because they thought I would be flattered by the pretense of my inclusion, even via spam, in such highly intelligent company. I’m not. I tend to agree with Stephen Hawking that “people who boast about their I.Q. are losers.” Sorry Mensa. I have a slight curiosity to see if any of the IQ2 initiate were bright enough to understand that the content of their “debate” was a null set, as they would no doubt put it. But not enough to take the trouble to find out.

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A great man's passing

by James Bowman

Posted: Oct 22, 2014 01:37 PM

Sir Donald Sinden at 75; picture via LES

Sir Donald Sinden is dead, having outlived his style of acting by approximately half a century. Yet by turning from Shakespeare to farce and TV sitcoms, he became one of the grand old men of the British theatre before his death. I remember going to see his King Lear in London in 1976.  I don’t remember whether it was my own idea that he was a sort of fossil even then, or if I got it from the critics I read or the other young people I talked to. What was unforgettable was the resonant, declamatory style of speaking the verse that was the exact opposite of the “method” school of acting, which I was used to and which naturally preferred mumbling incomprehension and emoting like crazy. I must have gone along with the crowd in regarding this old-fashioned character as an irrelevancy in that day and age, though I do remember being secretly impressed by him—and thinking that his method must have been much more like what Shakespeare had in mind for the part when he wrote it than anything else I would ever see.

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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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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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