On The Bacchae and Discourse In America

About 10 years ago, Virginia’s bloggerati held the world in the palm of our hand. Our perspectives were not just consulted — they were feared. Such was the power that columnists and editorial boards held over the minds of Virginians that elected officials feared this new set of variables.

Yours truly happened to be one of those voices. To some degree — though we have scattered a bit — that same handful of perspectives still holds sway. Norm Leahy writes for the Washington Post as a columnist, Brian Schoeneman still manages to rack a few column pieces (even if he is in self-imposed exile), Rick Sincere has taken over The Score from the Lee Brothers, and Kenney the Younger still pokes around as a writer… just invariably not on politics.

Sure, the The Bull Elephant continues to define itself against Bearing Drift. Our friends at Blue Virginia seem to have figured out the keys to success early with a Democratic Party that understood why it was important to subsidize a narrative. For all the griping that Republicans do about the “liberal media” and the pay-to-play leftosphere, Republican digital media seems to have endured as a volunteer-only endurance marathon (until certain pay-to-play actors accuse others of in fact being pay-to-play… witness the pettiness of Virginia politics).

Today’s environment sees publications like The Republican Standard, The Virginia Mercury, and Richmond 2 Day rising above the amateur op-ed writers. In a time before Facebook, the lowly “blog” was the only means of really disseminating information beyond the legacy media.

If I seem terribly down on the legacy media vs. digital media, it isn’t because of the medium itself. After all, most of us in the digital arena would crawl across broken glass to be picked up by the Washington Post or the Richmond Times-Dispatch if even for peanuts. Rather, one sees today some of the best investigative reporting ever done — VICE, Politico, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — and some of the best opinion writing in places such as National Review, The Weekly Standard, and Quilletteand no one is reading it.

We are all lying to ourselves… and we love it.

It is difficult to write in such a time as to stand athwart history yelling “STOP!” while there is a cacophony of noise catering to our every whim, telling us to keep going and leveraging our feelings against us. Marketing does this. We buy Coke vs. Pepsi because we are attracted to red over blue. We buy Ritz crackers because it is perfectly spherical and attractive to the eye. We react viscerally to advertising and buy the products — not because we like or even want the product, but because the reaction itself felt true, ergo the argument must be true.

Are we all really this stupid.

Yes.

We are.

Or more importantly, we have entire industries set up to convince us that we aren’t as stupid as we constantly feel. For instance, we have a social media apparatus designed for hook-ups feeding us 85% of our social media and 67% of our news consumption (what 45% responding that they get “some” of their news). From a dating site turned pro, guys.

Worse than that, we have entire cottage industries set up to tell stupid people that they are in fact educated souls. Most college diplomas are crap. Even if they are in the humanities, how many people can truly say they are better for the exchange? $50,000 in debt for an undergraduate education can buy you the Great Books Series several times over… and you’d be $45,000 better off.

This is where I still hold out tremendous hope for the humanities in the sense they might actually teach us to read, consider, think, and slow the hell down a bit.

…but they don’t. People have been taught that verification of one’s ideas and thoughts comes with attention. The more attention, the more valid the feelings, and ergo the more valid one’s ideas.

After all, isn’t that how we built this entire blogosphere thing in Virginia?

What disappoints me most, perhaps, is the revelation that most people really don’t want to learn a damn thing. I have barn cats; they follow me because they expect to be fed on a rare occasion. Most people don’t want to be helped in the end… they just want to be fed.

Thus otherwise good people will justify absolutely horrible things in the name of “principles” and so forth. Tolerate the worst abuses, tear apart another person’s character, or seek to absolutely obliterate an opponent in the political arena — because she who believes most wins. Is it worth it? Is it really worth one’s soul?

I have been thinking a great deal on this line in the Matthew 19:

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

For those who have seen the compromises power forces others to take, when was the last time you saw a wealthy man who was a morally decent one? I’m not even talking about Daddy Warbucks here — even moderately successful people.

In fact, most Americans are this person indeed. Most working class Americans enjoy luxuries unavailable even to Roman emperors. We are well fed, housed, entertained beyond our wildest dreams, informed and wonderfully distracted.

But does any of this mean we are really good people at the end of the day? Sure we pay taxes, go through the motions, attend church, flip that guy in the median our $3.86 we got back in change after we purchased our Big Kahuna Burger, and maybe even itemized our charitable contributions.

…but is that it?

Maybe we put our heads on our pillows claiming to be a part of a cause? Volunteering for the PTO? Doing our jobs really well? Maybe we even perform extracurricular stuff like local or state politics? You know — righteous anger against those people coming to take our rights away, destroy what it means to be an American, and deny other people their basic rights.

There are far too many people who base their goodness on what they do. We don’t need better brands; we need better souls. We don’t need more identity; we need stronger minds.

One thinks of the parable of the rich man and all the compromises one must make to become wealthy, considered, even honored by others. Things we would never normally excuse, others will wantonly excuse in the pursuit of power. People we would willingly embrace, we would tear apart once objectified as an diabolical other. We manufacture hatred because we have no charity ourselves.

Politics in America just seems to bring this fatal personal flaw in people to the fore in ways I’d never imagined even five years ago, much less 10 or 20 years ago when I got started. Again, they don’t want to be helped… only fed.

I have thought a great deal about keeping a diary the same way Victor Klemperer did during the rise of fascism in Germany and the concurrent arrival of the communists in East Germany. Both claimed to be utopias; neither had conscience… and we seem absolutely bound and determined to create American versions of each.

Who wins this fight? Certainly not the people.

Yet there is a presentation of inevitability in the contest. Participate in politics, they say, lest you be governed by evil men. The counterpoint? Better to be insane with the mob than sane alone…

For myself, I see this wave of “creative destruction” in our institutions and society proglumated by people with rotten souls and malformed minds, both sides chasing appetites knowing what the rich man knows — that it is far easier to steal than it is to build.

Can there be a politics when rational discourse is reduced to pathos on the left and ethos on the right? That narrow field for logic and discourse (logos) seems to be growing more and more narrow by the day. One gets the sense that people don’t even really believe what they say they believe anymore — provided it either carries their tribe to victory or denies it to those whom they profess to dislike. To keep such factions in line, Roman emperors used to resort to colors such as Blues and Greens and then force them towards civic projects — the key point here that an emperor was required to keep faction down.

I am reminded of a recent biography on Secretary of Defense James Mattis that one can still find in bookstores. The title of this book was rather quaint: No Greater Friend, No Worse Enemy. I’m sure a good number of folks (in both parties) got a chest-thumping hurrah out of such a title without even considering where it was from or whom it references.

The line is Sulla’s epitaph, the man who overthrew Rome’s corrupt leadership and restored some sense of constitutional law before Pompey and Caesar engaged in their death struggle to rule.

A dangerous sentiment indeed. One imagines who wins and loses fostering such thoughts… but I assure you, it will not be the common man. Rather, it will be some apparatchik or group thereof who see this as a game they can win, ignorant of how to govern and willfully blind to the consequences of stupid.

Schopenhauer used to argue that intellect is invisible to the man who has none. The same could be true for individuals in power; the same is definitely true for a mob. Yet when even the best and brightest set down their pens for fear of retribution? When some of the best journalism in recent memory is drowned out by a series of “fake news” (either state-sponsored or privately fostered)? When honest opinions and legitimate thought are muzzled and pay-to-play hackers and the rage of feelings is the norm?

Euripides wrote in his tragedy The Bacchae how the young women of Thebes, whipped into an ecstatic frenzy by Dionysus, ends up killing Pentheus — with his own mother helping to rip him apart using their bare hands. The ecstasy wears off, and the Maenads see what they have done. Pentheus’ own mother, Agave (still in an ecstatic state) presents her son’s head to the king believing it to be the head of a mountain lion. As the ecstatic frenzy wears off, Agave sees what she has done and is exiled for it. Dionysus himself leads a barbarian horde to wipe out the city of Thebes in vengeance.

Now we might lie to ourselves and suggest that our petty principles really are about the future. Deep down, we know they aren’t. Euripides is a warning about what happens when we whip ourselves into a frenzy and put principles over values, one might say. Pathos over ethos.

Will we learn? Five years ago, I was more hopeful. Today, it is harder to cut through the noise to even have the discussion. One sees more bacchanalia than discourse, I’m afraid.

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In The End, The World Will Break Your Heart

“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought he had a little more time.”
— Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1963)

Mise Éire: I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara.
Great is my glory: I who bore the brave Cúchulainn.
Great is my shame: My own children who sold their mother.
Great is my pain: My bitter foes who terrorize me without end.
Great is my sorrow: The hope I placed in my people; died.

Mise Éire: I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara.

— Padraic Pearse, Mise Eire (1912)

The hidden conceit of every writer is that we always hope that there will be one essay — just one completely coherent thought — that will actually crystallize opinion and change the way people view the world, ideally for the better.

Needless to say, the world seems to have become much more coarse since the early naughties when the internet was brave and new.

I have been writing in Virginia for about 15 years now. The world was a better place for ideas back then, as social media (such as it was) consisted of books, ideas, art, culture, and so forth.

Then came Twitter. The mythological School of Athens we thought digital media would provide us after the straightjacket our legacy media outlets continued to cram us into simply dissolved into the Coliseum.

In some sense, social media has been a net positive, though one does lament the demise of newsprint. To some degree, the legacy media did bring it upon themselves — too sclerotic to improvise; too angry at digital media for stealing advertising revenue they believed was sacrosanct; too livid at digital media for “stealing” their work only to turn it into commentary.

Yet in many ways, the newcomers simply imitated the sins of the past, with our attempts to institutionalize and our narrow editorialization of the news. Bloggers — that eponymous term for all things print media despises — simply imitated the standard they recognized. As print media declined and digital media interposed, journalists of the old school yielded to rank reporters of the new — imitators of a legacy, but pale ones at that.

Meanwhile, the opinion class merrily chirped away.

For myself, I find it much more difficult to justify writing on current affairs. It’s boring, for a start. Moreover, the only way we seem to have any impact is if we are absolutely savaging our opposition — be it internal or external.

Moreover, it’s what our reporters expect from us. “If it bleeds it leads” isn’t a term that we invented, after all.

The sad truth is that opinion leaders really aren’t leading a damn thing anymore. To quote one such leader of the French Revolution, “There are my people! I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” Such is our pathetic excuse for political leadership today that we find that our elected officials are more courtesans than statesmen. Conservatives love to pound the table that we are more republic than democracy, yet one wonders whether this is true in practice anymore.

Of course, l’affaire Kavanaugh brought us a determinate contact point regarding mob justice. Neither side was really invested in the idea of getting to the bottom of things; both sides merely crammed facts into their hypothesis and let the chips fall where they may. Yet much more serious to me was the fact that — in real time — we watched as Senate Democrats finally cashed out the very last penny from the public trust.

I don’t believe that the progressive left truly understands the damage they have done. Before September 2018, Republicans at least made a pretense that the Democrats really would observe due process. Instead, we were treated to a spectacle of shame followed by the outrageous behavior of a mob pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some have said that if the Democrats truly believed that the U.S. Constitution represented the values of white supremacy and rape culture, they would be arming themselves and actually holding a revolution — not merely intimating violence.

Yet that intimation of violence is precisely the problem. In the week after the Kavanaugh confirmation, the political talking point was… to act like Trump. The chattering classes on the left at first tried to fob this off as metaphor, then pounced upon a Pennsylvania governor’s remarks that — of course — could not possibly be metaphor.

What bothers me intensely is that we are getting to point in this country where we are treating our neighbors as a metaphor. This metaphorical ‘they’ is looking to steal your income, deny you basic human rights, even enslave you to their will.

In many ways, the father of ‘identity politics’ wasn’t Barack Obama, though his campaign certainly weaponized it in a way we have never quite seen before in modern American politics. Rather, the idea that one is either with us or with the terrorists was a talking point of President George W. Bush.

Many will argue that we have seen such times before: Japanese internment camps during the Second World War, anti-German laws during the First World War, the suspension of habeus corpus by President Lincoln, the confiscation of loyalist property during and after the Revolutionary War.

Yet if the end state is really a condition between us and them? Who are us?

Senator Ben Sasse pens this article for the Wall Street Journal wondering whether loneliness is the condition that is afflicting American society:

Lone­li­ness is every­where in the U.S., across every sec­tor of so­ci­ety. A sur­vey of more than 20,000 Amer­i­can adults con­ducted ear­lier this year by the health in­surer Cigna and the mar­ket re­search firm Ip­sos found that a ma­jor­ity of us are lonely, based on re­sponses to the UCLA Lone­li­ness Scale. The high­est scores were re­ported by the youngest adults, ages 18 to 22. The re­searchers de­scribe it as a “lone­li­ness epi­demic.”

None of this should sur­prise us. Amer­i­cans to­day have fewer shared projects than our par­ents and grand­par­ents did, and we be­long to fewer civic groups. Be­cause we change jobs more of­ten, we have fewer last­ing work friend­ships. We de­lay mar­riage, have fewer chil­dren and live in larger homes, more sep­a­rate from those of our neigh­bors. We move from place to place for re­la­tion­ships, eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and bet­ter weather—and we end up with eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and bet­ter weather.

Some good things to say here, but I think Ben Sasse misses the point. It’s not ‘loneliness’ that is plaguing the American public, but mediocrity.

In short, we have become a vulgar, boring people… and you can see it every day on social media, legacy media, commercials, entertainment, sports, etc. Our loneliness isn’t the problem — we’re just not interesting anymore (neither to ourselves or to one another).

So we have to manufacture virtue rather than work on becoming better, more interesting people. Turns out, virtue can’t be purchased. So we opt for wit, humor, condescension and the like rather than insight, relevance, and dialogue.

Is it a problem of education? Perhaps so.

What I do know is this. The solution here is very simple — but it’s not easy.

Empathy and character only get folks to a certain point, but they are useless without dialogue — and while we have taught ourselves that emotive is rewarding and disengagement is the best defensive measure, rarely do people discuss ideas trying to understand the perspective of “they” — but rather with the objective of asserting the power of “us”.

Perhaps this is the logic of power, and perhaps power is always a zero-sum game where anyone outside of “us” is a pathogen to the body politic that must — at all cost — be destroyed.

Yet as I grow older and re-read the things I have written in the past, one concept occurs as inescapable — that I am a Christian personalist in a world that is neither Christian nor personal.

For instance, most people will readily identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, whereas I would places such terms in the very last of the ordinal hierarchy of labels. A conservative before I am a Republican, a Virginian before I am a conservative, a Christian before I am a Virginian, and my Catholicism as the fullest expression of who I am and what I believe — that’s me, my family, my core.

I have been a tremendous fan of Montaigne’s Essais ever since picking them up many years ago — in fact, the proto-blogger himself and the father of the essay. Sadly, more recently I have found myself picking up and reading through Victor Klemperer’s essays and diaries he collected as he survived Nazi Germany before enduring the German Democratic Republic. My thoughts have been drifting towards the Spanish Civil War and its root causes — the grasp for power, the decline of institutions, the blind fanaticism of the Spanish Nationalists (fascists) and the Spanish Republicans (communists).

One can only imagine how Fr. Jose Maria Escriva must have thought during that time as he was founding Opus Dei, enduring both the persecution of the communists and the recriminations of the fascists.

One of my favorite films of all time is Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis which begins with the epigram — “The Mediator between the head and the hands is the heart!” Thea von Barbou — Lang’s wife who penned the script for Metropolis — had the Catholic Church in mind as that institution which welds the aristocracy to the demos.

Yet even a cursory look at the Catholic Church (both in America and in Europe) finds a Catholicism convulsed by the power struggles of secular religions interposing upon the sacred. One is either a “conservative” Catholic or a “liberal” Catholic. I am neither. I just want to be a Catholic.

It is difficult to see things one believe as settled be overturned in a matter of years. Once upon a time, I did not believe that racists could occupy positions of power in the Republican Party (much less in Virginia!) — and I was wrong.

Once upon a time, I believed that violence in the public square was something to be abhorred by both sides of the political spectrum — and I am being proven wrong again. I believed and was taught that what was unique about America was that we would allow 100 guilty men to go free if it prevented the conviction of one innocent man, whereas the Soviets would plow through 100 innocent men to get to a guilty one — and I see that spirit dead in America today. I believed that to be a good Catholic, one had to feed the poor, visit the sick, clothe the naked, rebuke the oppressor, and hunger for righteousness — and I see that our own bishops do not believe much less practice this.

Most of all, I believed in a certain Jeffersonian optimism that if people were given the tools to be self-sufficient and create better lives for themselves and their families, they would.

One feels as if this presupposition — this confidence in the American person — is being eroded daily by those who simply cannot leave their neighbors alone — or worse, by those who demand positive rights from society (thou shall) rather than keeping to negative rights (thou shall nots) that fundamentally undergirds this grand experiment we call America.

In short, I see too many people willing to become a part of a mob. Willing to give up their own humanity in order to matter. Willing to sell out the humanity of others in order to gain a little temporary advantage. We have commercialized the sacred and sacralized the commercial. We treat mediocrity as excellence and treat excellence with a vulgar contempt. We disguise ideology as fact while dismissing facts as ideological privilege.

Sociologists will tell us that every generation thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Others will tell us that the long arc of history bends towards justice… but these are both lies we tell ourselves — adult fairy tales so we can sleep at night and not worry about being responsible citizens.

The very fact of the matter is that something broke in the American public this September, and it will not be easily fixed. Battle lines are being drawn — clear ones — ones that break the heart of anyone who reads their history. Those of us who are climbing into Plato’s Cave to sound the alarm can only articulate a handful certain truths to those too deaf to hear: history is bloody and violent, not just… and that banking on the civility of others while practicing none is a grift — it is not progress, and it certainly is not politics.

St. Padre Pio would tell us to pray and do not worry. For one, I pray and worry intensely — not because I worry, but because one can only feel tremendous sadness at what we have chosen to become. We can’t blame social media, nor can we blame liberal institutions or Fox News, Soros or Koch.

The fault, dear Brutus, is in our stars.

Perhaps this is what brings me to the Moynihan quote some 55 years after the news that President John F. Kennedy had been brought low by an assassin’s bullet.  Mise Éire: this is the curse of the Irish — to know that in the end this world will indeed break your heart.

If this is truly the endgame of the demos in America, then I find myself as Fr. Gabriel in The Mission speaking to Fr. Rodrigo:

If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.

Of course, we can stop this at any time we choose.  The question remains — do we have the courage to do so?  If courage is rooted in humility, and violence in pride, then I fear we have much work to do… both individually and collectively.

UPDATE: A reader helpfully forwards the following two posts from Econlib, one much more recent, the other from 2014:

Once you identify with any large, unselective group, you will be regularly tempted to commit the villainous act of standing up for your groups’ villains.  When they do wrong – as they inevitably will – your impulse will be to ignore, minimize, or justify their misdeeds.  To quote the underrated 8mm, “If you dance with the devil, the devil don’t change. The devil changes you.”

Shades of Kierkegaard’s The Present Age as he discusses how human beings will do the most terrible things to one another in the name of principle:

“It is acting ‘on principle’ which does away with the vital distinction which constitutes decency. For decency is immediate (whether the immediate is original or acquired). It has its seat in feeling and in the impulse and consistency of an inner enthusiasm.

“‘In this way everything becomes permissible if done ‘on principle’. The police can go to certain places on ‘official duty’ to which no one else can go, but as a result one cannot deduce anything from their presence. In the same way one can do anything ‘on principle’ and avoid all personal responsibility. People pull to pieces ‘on principle’ what they admire personally, which is nonsensical, for while it is true that everything creative is latently polemical, since it has to make room for the new which it is bringing into the world, a purely destructive process is nothing and its principle is emptiness — so what does it need space for? But modesty, repentance and responsibility cannot easily strike root in ground where everything is done ‘on principle’.” (emphasis added)

— Soren Kierkegaard, “The Present Age” (1846)

Caplan offers a solution of a sort: never identify with large groups; only with small ones.  Which is a solution of a sort… but more Benedict Option than grand solution.  After all, small tribalism doesn’t seem like the solution to big tribalism — it’s Rod Dreher misinterpreting Alasdair MacIntyre while refusing to grapple constructively with the idea that yes, we do have a moral responsibility to be a part of this great big messed up world of ours (and I pull specifically from Romano Guardini’s The Church and the Catholic on this point).

One grand solution that Caplan does point towards is the recent kerfuffle over Robin Hanson’s admonishment that we once again take people at face value and quit presupposing their motives:

Let us instead revert back to the traditional intellectual standard: respond most to what people say, and don’t stretch too hard to infer what you think they mean in scattered hints of what they’ve said and done.

One presupposes that we are all muck farmers now.  Everyone racks up the suppression points… and only then can we have a conversation?  Doesn’t quite seem like an ideal starting place, now does it?

 

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A Small But Heroic Return

Twice I have attempted to shut down this public journal.

Once before in 2007 when I took on the responsibility of representing the Republican Party of Virginia as their communications director under happier times with Ed Gillespie as chairman and the inestimable Charlie Judd as executive director, and once again as I merged my own writing into other projects.

The list of projects thus far is not a very long one, and almost all of them have been digital publications in a way that I felt I could get thoughts off of my chest and into public consumption.  Bearing Drift was the first and longest lasting of these experiments, followed by the revival of The Jeffersoniad before moving to The Republican Standard.

Other publications kind enough to take my scribbling have been digital journals such as Ethika Politika and The Wanderer — the oldest Catholic publication in the country and a mainstay of Catholic traditional thought.  In truth, writing for Der Wanderer has become one of the most pleasurable experiences, allowing me to express my faith to fellow travelers — and it helped me discover what I missed about my own writing today.

Continue reading

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The Top 10 BANNED Thomas Jefferson Quotes of ALL TIME!

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A handful of faculty and a ton more students at the University of Virginia decided to sigh a petition entitled co-sign an e-mail to University of Virginia president Theresa Sullivan that might as well have been titled “Please Tell The Alumni To Stop Giving To This University” — from the Cavalier Daily:

Some professors from the Psychology Department — and other academic departments — did not agree with the use of this quote. Their letter to Sullivan argued that in light of Jefferson’s owning of slaves and other racist beliefs, she should refrain from quoting Jefferson in email communications.

“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”

The letter garnered 469 signatures — from both students and professors — before being sent out via email Nov. 11. Signees included Politics Prof. Nicholas Winter, Psychology Prof. Chad Dodson, Women, Gender and Sexuality Prof. Corinne Field, College Assistant Dean Shilpa Davé, Politics Prof. Lynn Sanders and many more. Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted the letter.

In that spirit, we would like to help with the TOP 10 BANNED THOMAS JEFFERSON QUOTES OF ALL TIME!

10. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

9.  I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

8. The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.

7. All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.

6. That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical…

5. The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.

4. The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.

3. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks. Never think of taking a book with you.

2. When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become corrupt as in Europe.

1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

You have to admit, #3 should come with a trigger warning.

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Forgot To Brag About This… But Ireland Rugby DESTROYED The All-Blacks Last Week

I forgot to brag about this, but Ireland beat the New Zealand All-Blacks quite convincingly on November 6th in Chicago — for the first time in 111 years.

If you want to watch this (as I am doing right now) and see just how popular rugby can be in the United States? Check this out… that’s Soldier Field packed to the gills.

New Zealand responded to this loss with a 68-10 drubbing of Italy this week, as Ireland beat Canada in a stunner.  The two teams will now head to Dublin on 19 November for a final match.

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Social Security Deferments: Playing Off One Entitlement Against The Other

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Two Republican candidates in Virgnia — Mike Wade in VA-04 and Tom Garrett in VA-05 respectively — have embraced what has to be the most underreported solution put forward this election cycle.

What is perhaps more amazing about the proposal is that it did not come from a Washington think-tank, nor did it come from a policy wonk.  Rather, the idea came from Albemarle County’s Republican unit chairman, Mr. Elliott Harding.

The white paper is entitled Student Security, and it is worth an evening read.  In short, the federal student debt load is already subsidized by the government and is a tremendous drag on GDP growth.  Social Security likewise is a multi-trillion dollar wall that will effectively force certain financial realities in terms of either massive cuts or massive tax increases (or the elimination of the SSI cap).

What Harding attempts to resolve is a simple question: how does one convince Millennials to continue to subsidize a Ponzi schematic to benefit a generation that drove America into debt — for an entitlement that few Millennials expect to benefit from? Continue reading

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Oh Great, The Falangists Are Back…

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I’ll begin with the basics — I had no idea that Catholic socialism still existed, given its utter repudiation by Pope Leo XIII.

Still, it would appear as if the old dragon still draws breath, in no small part as a reaction to the neo-conservative moment within the Catholic intelligentsia in the United States (spearheaded perhaps by First Things) and countered perhaps by the “revolutionary Aristotelians” such as MacIntyre and Dreher.

If you are a layperson, consider four camps within Catholic intellectual circles: two on the right, two on the left.  Within the right there are two camps — conservative (John Paul II) and traditionalists (SSPX).  Within the left, there are two camps as well: radicals (liberation theology) and progressives (Pope John XXIII).

What is interesting here — and a worthwhile moment to pause — is the effort between some of the radicals to appropriate the language of the traditionalists, primarily in an effort to synthesize a few disparate ideas:

  1. Distributist ethics and a rejection of capitalism.
  2. Traditionalist language and norms.
  3. The spirit of integralism as a check against the corrosion of a post-modern society.
  4. A baptism of liberation theology (stick with me on this one).
  5. A reinforced emphasis on localism and subsidiarity.

The core problem here is that the tradinistas have been here before, and it is a radically different form of integralism than that proffered by the traditionalists.  In a previous incarnation, they carried a different name: falangists. Continue reading

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Your One Hour and Fifty Minutes of Civilization

Courtesy of Frederic Chopin — and all of them.

Chopin wrote 21 nocturnes during his lifetime, and great listening for gloomy weather such as we’ve been experiencing in Virginia as of late.

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Catholic Relief Services Stands With Planned Parenthood?

Here we go again.  Courtesy of the Lepanto Institute we find supposedly Catholic leadership actively on the side of the enemies of the Catholic Church:

On November 28, 2015, Garrels posted a “#StandwithPP” overlay over one of her pictures, indicating that she supports Planned Parenthood and endorses continued government funding of the big-box retail chain of abortion stores.  As is indicated in the image below, there are 36 “likes” of this post by Garrels … three of which came from other CRS employees.

Obviously, folks should be concerned about an employee of Catholic Relief Services who “likes” organizations that are diametrically opposed to the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  That should be enough for concern.  Full stop.

Critics will naturally raise a deeper objection — that being, how far can the Church go in stomping out “dissent” as it were.  What if it were a conservative employee who say, supported the defense industry?  The abolition of the minimum wage?  A more restrictive immigration policy?

There are two responses to this, the first being self-evident.  Rerum Novarum, the encyclical by Leo XIII that began the tradition of Catholic social teaching, does a marvelous job at dictating the ends — a living wage, centered around the family, and an open disdain for socialism and corporatism.  How one gets there — whether through a mandated living wage, the free market, or a more Thomistic application of custom and social norms — remains an open topic.  Namely, so long as one agrees on the ends, one is relatively safe when it comes to “dissent” on certain questions.

…but not all.

Pope Saint John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor helped whittled down the how in reaction to a seeming tidal wave of proportionalism that threatened to crash upon the Church in the post-modern age, a fight that Benedict XVI and Francis have continued marvelously, specifically the now famous cf. 75:

But as part of the effort to work out such a rational morality (for this reason it is sometimes called an “autonomous morality” ) there exist false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action. Some authors do not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the will is involved in the concrete choices which it makes: these choices are a condition of its moral goodness and its being ordered to the ultimate end of the person. Others are inspired by a notion of freedom which prescinds from the actual conditions of its exercise, from its objective reference to the truth about the good, and from its determination through choices of concrete kinds of behaviour. According to these theories, free will would neither be morally subjected to specific obligations nor shaped by its choices, while nonetheless still remaining responsible for its own acts and for their consequences. This “teleologism”, as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called — according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought — “consequentialism” or “proportionalism”. The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the “greater good” or “lesser evil” actually possible in a particular situation.  (emphasis original)

Unfortunately, we do indeed live in the world.  Not everything is clean in a world of government grants, as many a grantee and grantor will cheerfully explain at Catholic Relief Services.

Yet Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia helpfully provides a little chart on how one formally or informally co-operates with evil.  Whether or not it is a grant made to a heterodox organization, a grant accepted to tolerate a little evil to do a greater good, or any other form of casuistry to explain away formal co-operation, the basic premise is the same — you cannot do evil to achieve good.

The second point?  Lies in a certain form of diversity among Catholic bureaucrats working within and among the support staff that seem to surround our Catholic bishops and priests.

One could rationally make the case that if a Republican (rather than a Democrat) were working on the staff of any Catholic organization, one could — perhaps rightly? — raise the question as to their personal values and leanings.

Perhaps… but the problem here is twofold: (1) Planned Parenthood is an enemy of the Catholic Faith, with the vast majority of their work shoveled into the maw of their abortion industry, and (2) among those employed by organizations such as CRS, where are all the conservatives?

The point of diversity of opinion falls unceremoniously flat when the vast majority of those employed are left-leaning and openly embrace positions directly contrary to Catholic social teaching.  If one saw evidence of a true diversity of opinion?  Perhaps a case could be made… but not here, because “diversity” seems to apply only in the instance of the political left, and not the width and breadth or Catholic opinion.

To the Lepanto Institute’s larger point, this seems to be a recurring problem — especially at institutions such as Catholic Relief — where decidedly non-Catholic or in many instances politically leftist anti-Catholic opinions seem to run rampant and without check.

From the perspective of the Catholic bishops, surely this has to be concerning, though the idea that Catholic bishops are basically powerless to change this dynamic is the gauntlet that CRS and others seem to be throwing down.  The fog of bureaucracy does a great deal to obscure facts on the ground, while a Goodbye, Good Men scenario seems to proliferate among seminaries and staff.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times?  That’s enemy action… and this proliferation of politically-driven leftism inside the Catholic bureaucracy is starting to become not just a scandal, but a discouragement.

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First Things: The Return of Ethno-Nationalism

A conversation earlier this week about the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ observation that the Catholic Church is literally a “here comes everybody” sort of institution — a living embodiment of Christ’s command to preach to the ends of the world.

So it is not without a bit of concern that many Catholics see the rise of ethno-nationalism in the wake of economic tightening, as Brandon McGinley writes in the pages of First Things:

Whatever else is said about the election of 2016, we will remember this campaign for the reemergence of explicit ethno-nationalism as a force in American politics. Rather than listing and litigating the well-publicized instances of pandering to white identity politics that have marked this campaign, let me make some personal observations that I believe are widely shared: I have seen and heard—in public, in private, and online—more unambiguous racism in the past year than I can remember from the rest of my (admittedly rather short) life, combined. I have been exposed to terms of racial abuse that I had not known existed. I have communicated with non-white Americans who are frightened by our politics in a way they never were before.

I was one of the many foolish people who thought a resurgence of explicit white identity politics in America was impossible. The politics of race is an area in which American conservatives often apply a whiggish hermeneutic: We want to believe that the politics of racial and ethnic hierarchy are well and truly behind us—that our society has evolved. This optimism has been encouraged in part by the success of salutary norms of public discourse that mark out of bounds any rhetoric that gestures toward racial supremacy. (This is not “political correctness,” but a humane response to more than four centuries of de facto or de jure oppression on the basis of race.) These norms are currently being eroded at an alarming pace.

Ditto here.

Of course, the Catholic experience in America has typically smacked of these labels: the Irish, the Italians, the Slavs, and today the Hispanics.  As McGinley observes, the Catholic Church has traditionally been on the side of the downtrodden and poor — if for no other reason than the Catholic Church has been the faith of the very same.

Many Catholics of the intellectual bent are struggling with the rise of a populism that is completely alien to the idea of “here comes everybody.”  In that sense, Catholicism is far more globalist than nationalist, and traditionally has served a role that transcends nationalism in the wake of the Protestant Reformation (and earlier than this — certainly during the collapse of the Roman Empire, this was the precise political role of the Catholic Church).

McGinley argues that mainline Americans did not want Catholics in the past, and we are discovering very quickly that we are inconvenient to the political religions of the present day.

Perhaps he is right.  Then again, the temptation to reduce ourselves to our little Trotskyite platoons was never an option.  Rather, Catholics ought to remain and speak contra mundi.

After all, this is the Great Commission, whether we are welcomed to do so or not.

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