In no place in America are the abrupt changes in the nation’s security posture so keenly reflected in real estate and lifestyle than the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In the decade after 9/11, it has grown into a sprawling, pretentious representation of the federal government’s growth, vices and prosperity, encompassing the wealthiest counties, the best schools, and some of the highest rates of income inequality in the country.
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For [Mike] Lofgren, “Beltwayland” is perhaps best described as analogous to the Victorian novel the Picture of Dorian Gray—a rich, shimmering ecosystem in which all of the ugly, twisted aberrations are hidden away in an attic somewhere, or rather sadly, in the poverty-blighted wards and low income zip codes of “the DMV” (The District, Maryland, and Virginia).
Oscar Wilde might have seen a bit of his Victorian England in Washington’s self-indulgent elite, but unlike the gentry of Dorian Gray, men and women here see not leisure, but amassing personal wealth through workaholism, as a virtue of the ruling class. For them, a two-front war and Washington’s newly enlarged national-security state, much of which is hidden in plain sight, have ushered in a 21st-century gilded age only replicated in America’s few, most privileged enclaves.
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“The federal government is a $3.6 trillion beast in the district’s backyard that keeps the lights burning and the paychecks printing from government office buildings on Capitol Hill down along the Dulles Toll Road to the tech consulting firms in Virginia,” wrote Derek Thompson in The Atlantic in 2011, when the area was growing at three times the rate of the rest of the country in its post-recession years.
“Uncle Sam directly employs one-sixth of the district’s workforce and indirectly pays for much more.” It is the “much more” that Lofgren likes to focus on, pointing out that government workers, who might enjoy more job security and pensions, actually have a cap on annual salaries and benefits. It’s the private class that has remade the landscape, the worst characterized by “the K Street lawyers, political consultants, Beltway fixers and war on terrorism profiteers who run a permanent shadow government in the nation’s capital,” he writes.
These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.
The New Dark Ages, by G.K. Chesterton
A father told his 3 sons when he sent them to the university: “I feel it’s my duty to provide you with the best possible education, and you do not owe me anything for that. However, I want you to appreciate it. As a token, please each put $1,000 into my coffin when I die.”
And so it happened. His sons became a doctor, a lawyer, and a financial planner, each very successful financially. When their father’s time had come and they saw their father in the coffin, they remembered his wish.
First, it was the doctor who put 10 $100 bills onto the chest of the deceased.
Then, came the financial planner, who also put $1,000 there.
Finally, it was the heartbroken lawyer’s turn. He dipped into his pocket, took out his checkbook, wrote a check for $3,000, put it into his father’s coffin, and took the $2,000 cash.
He later went on to become a member of Congress. . . .
Besides having the narrative of our own lives to deal with, other narratives are constantly being urged upon us, begging for our notice – often with all kinds of tricks to demand our attention. Buy this new car, shown driving up a mountain (which few of us will ever do). Then there’s the Star Wars saga, sucking us into multiple sequels and prequels, and littering the house with “memorabilia” of things that never happened, that many, even so, reorganize their lives around. And there is Disney’s monetizing of childhood; the hours spent binge-watching Breaking Bad. Or buying something guaranteed to “change your whole life.” We add such things to our own life story sometimes reasonably, often enough not so much.
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Followers of this story are the real heroes, not the fictional ones who in our jaded culture have to be upgraded to “superheroes” in order to make any impression. They are actual women, men and children, clergy and religious, who follow Christ.
This truth should lead you to ask yourself: Who are you surrounding yourself with? What are you reading today? What movies are you watching?
A good way to cultivate popularity, in politics or religion, is to preach constantly against the sins to which we are not tempted.
Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California who specialises in the treatment of childhood obesity. A 90-minute talk he gave in 2009, titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has now been viewed more than six million times on YouTube. In it, Lustig argues forcefully that fructose, a form of sugar ubiquitous in modern diets, is a “poison” culpable for America’s obesity epidemic.
A year or so before the video was posted, Lustig gave a similar talk to a conference of biochemists in Adelaide, Australia. Afterwards, a scientist in the audience approached him. Surely, the man said, you’ve read Yudkin. Lustig shook his head. John Yudkin, said the scientist, was a British professor of nutrition who had sounded the alarm on sugar back in 1972, in a book called Pure, White, and Deadly.
“If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive,” wrote Yudkin, “that material would promptly be banned.” The book did well, but Yudkin paid a high price for it. Prominent nutritionists combined with the food industry to destroy his reputation, and his career never recovered. He died, in 1995, a disappointed, largely forgotten man.
Perhaps the Australian scientist intended a friendly warning. Lustig was certainly putting his academic reputation at risk when he embarked on a high-profile campaign against sugar. But, unlike Yudkin, Lustig is backed by a prevailing wind. We read almost every week of new research into the deleterious effects of sugar on our bodies.
For an alternative, see the Perfect Health Diet
The Founders knew that liberty is never really popular, and that it cannot be entrusted to elected officials who must answer in the end to the demos, which is why they put the first liberties first, right there in the First Amendment. If we are willing to let a low-rent carny like Harry Reid take those liberties away from us, or a sanctimonious old crook like Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Elizabeth Warren, the most wooden Indian of them all, then maybe we didn’t deserve those first liberties in the first place.
First Amendment, Liberty, Free Speech
By the end of this morbid session, I thought I was in a eugenics court. Then it dawned on me, I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the modern Progressive movement has been dominated by a self-anointed elite, like several of the justices, who had contempt for the common people. In the early 20th century, they even promoted social and economic policies driven by anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic impulses.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Read the excellent new book by Princeton’s Thomas Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Under the banner of a “New Nationalism,” progressives called for a centralized administrative state manned by expert managers and planners, who would use “scientific methods” to enhance human welfare.
Believing that social progress “required the individual to be controlled, liberated and expanded by collective actions,” progressive intellectuals perceived human persons as “lumps of human dough” to be formed on the “social kneading board.”
That molding, Leonard points out, was to be done “by the best and the brightest, those who, uniquely, ignored profit and power to serve the common good – which is to say, the progressives themselves.”
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Today, however, the new “progressives” in the White House and on the presidential campaign trail are promoting an agenda, similar to their forbears, that includes ideological conformity, suppression of free speech and religious liberty, unlimited abortion, and euthanasia.
Progressivism’s Dark Side, by George J. Marlin
Statolatry and Eugenics, Ozymandias
The prejudice against children begins from an immoderate desire for order. Order, the first need of all, is like all other goods in that it can be taken too far. And disgust with the intrinsic disorder of children (especially boys) takes this good to the point of denying the value of life itself. When one adds to this prejudice the social science myth that traditional societies remain poor because they include too many children, one gets a powerful argument against life. Some traditional societies are ruled by policies, such as subdividing inheritances and multiplying the obligations of family members, that do in fact discourage economic advancement. That said, however, contemporary policies in the West have gotten to the point of substituting the government for the family so thoroughly that they, too, have undermined entrepreneurship while having the further disadvantage of sapping the spirit out of communities and increasingly isolated individuals.
Traditional societies are poor for many reasons. They survive because their families remain strong. Modern societies, after decades relentlessly pursuing wealth, are becoming poorer, and increasingly have only the state to look to for “social” security. That state, while seemingly unstoppable in its growth and grasp for power, is running out of money and drowning in the bureaucratic red tape it uses to bind the rest of us to its will.
In addition, society itself is becoming increasingly disordered even as we in effect consume our children. As our middle class disappears, those children who do survive until birth are either palmed off to the state, then to drugs, technology, and further dependency, or put onto “the path to success” at the hands of various facilitating professionals who coddle them in a stress-filled manner creating sky-high suicide rates and the pathetically fragile creatures who inhabit elite institutions of education. This is a society suffering from a veritable death wish, as those with the responsibility for raising responsible adults either eschew children altogether or abandon them to others while they pursue their own vision of personal success, treating spouses and children as mere accoutrements, consumer items made more precious by emotional attachments that, alas, are rooted in precious little practical experience at shaping lives and characters together.
It would be all too easy to throw up our hands and say that this is the inevitable route of decadent cultures, and especially of cultures rooted in the drive for economic well-being. While understandable, such a reaction would be misguided on several levels. First, material goods are in fact good. It is pursuing them for their own sakes, rather than as necessary but limited tools in building a good life for one’s family, that is wrong. Moreover, the progress toward our atomistic society was not paved merely with greed, but more fundamentally with a revolt against nature. By this I mean not merely the rejection of traditional families and the necessary role of women as primary caregivers, but also rejection of men’s obligation to marry, have children, and stay married, supporting their families in good times and bad.
The West’s War on Children, by Bruce Frohnen
“[A]s communities become more ethnically diverse they in fact become socially frayed,” as Jonah Goldberg wrote in The Tyranny of Cliches:
Putnam found that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust plummets. People tend to “hunker down,” in Putnam’s words banding together with a shrunken and shrinking group of friends or alone in front of the TV. Trust in political leaders, the political process, and even voting decline precipitously. Volunteerism, from charitable giving to carpooling, deteriorates. Political activism increases as people look to government to solve problems that once might have been solved by a simple conversation across a coffee table or a shared fence between neighbors. Note: Putnam did not find that diversity fuels racism; the vast bulk of the people interviewed for the study were not bigots. What he found was that diversity promotes alienation, disengagement, and social isolation. This all runs counter to a host of prevailing clichés and pieties.
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A healthy, vibrant society requires citizens who see themselves as parts of things that are larger than themselves, in which they must play important, though rarely central roles. This means that families, churches, voluntary associations, and states are part of a way of life. They are aspects of our nature as social beings.
When we ignore our social nature—or substitute mere political activism for community life—we may enjoy ourselves as flies of a summer, whether singly or in swarm-like mobs. More likely we will merely make ourselves miserable in pursuit of pleasures and honors of the moment that will never satisfy because they have no place in any larger order and so lack any intrinsic meaning or value. And so, no matter how many toys we accumulate before we die, we die fundamentally alone and un-mourned, in a society that is dying, largely unnoticed even by its own members.
While the secular world is focused on chocolate Easter bunnies, colorful baskets, and marshmallow eggs, it is easy to forget that, in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago, the first Easter Sunday changed the course of human history. Regardless of whether you believe that an itinerant rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday, He has touched your life, in more ways than you probably realize.
Yet the final word remains hope. Not a self-centered hope, a private hope, but hope that’s radically communal, and hence truly Catholic. In words that still echo the discovery of de Lubac’s Catholicism, Benedict writes: “Our hope is always essentially hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.”
The great Eastern icon of the Resurrection depicts the victorious Christ who descends to sheol. He firmly grasps the hands of our first parents, liberating them from their self-imprisonment. But the Christian imagination can also envision the sequel. Having released them from bondage, Jesus now turns them toward one another so that, after such long separation and hostility, they may once again embrace. The silent embrace of Holy Saturday, before they ascend together to Easter joy.
Liberal pieties embrace the new age, fixate on a final transformative era of history at the hands of messiahs who promise hope and change, who will uplift us and inspire us to make the world into a better place. But history never ends. That is the lesson of the Holocaust, of Purim and of countless other horrifying intrusions of the old into the new. The shining new era that begins with grand public spectacles and displays of the power and might of an empire, ends with corpses and men and women fighting and running for their lives.
Flannery O’Connor wrote, “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.”
Here’s what she’s getting at: People who have left the Christian faith wish to retain the remnants of the Christian faith. They want beauty without truth. They want spirituality without religion. They want forgiveness without sacrifice and they want a life that has tenderness without toughness. They want Christianity without a cross, compassion without control and charity without discipline.
The liberal West has been driving on the fumes of Christianity for about a century now and the car won’t go much further.
Think about the greatest crimes against human life today. Aren’t they cloaked in the language of compassion? “Every child has a right to be loved.” “A woman has a right to control her own body.” “The terminally ill should be able to die with dignity.” And yet, where does all of this compassion lead? To an unborn child being ripped limb from limb in a suction machine. To a disabled baby being neglected and left to die. To an elderly, depressed person who feels obligated to die before medical expenses eat through the family inheritance.
There’s compassion for you.
Dr. More is the one who exposes Comeaux and eventually works to dismantle these projects. But the prophet who goads him to see the wider implications on the insidious activities is the eccentric Father Renaldo Smith, who lives as an ascetic, a modern-day Simeon the Stylite, high in a forestry watch tower. When he was a young man, he tells More, he traveled to Nazi Germany where he encountered physicians and scientists, cultured men dedicated to the betterment of humanity. It was these same men, he reflects, who gave medical sanction to the Holocaust.
We are after all, human, and when the State attempts to substitute artificial “tenderness” and “fairness” for humanity, well, “that way lie the tumbrels and the guillotine.”