Archive for the ‘Philosopher Kings’ Category.

Catholicism and Secularism and Nostaligia


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Is a Christian cakemaker required to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, in violation of his religious beliefs? That is the issue in a case currently before the US Supreme Court. The case looks like yet another major clash between the forces of secular progressive liberalism and their Christian targets. And yet some Christians are so optimistic as to hope for a truce. For instance, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat has appealed to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who as so often will almost certainly cast the deciding vote. Despite Kennedy’s record – he composed the 2015 Obergefell decision which divined a right of same-sex marriage in the Constitution – Douthat hopes that the judge will vote to protect the baker, and so bring about some peace, of uncertain duration, between liberalism and Christianity.

In so doing, Douthat illustrates a pervasive tendency among Catholic intellectuals today: the temptation of nostalgia. He casts a wistful glance backwards, to a time in which secular progressive liberalism and what he calls “religious conservatism” peacefully coexisted. When exactly? One candidate is the period just before the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, but it seems likely that by 2014 it was already too late to disband the competing forces. A better candidate is 1950-70, which Douthat believes future historians will identify as the glorious peak of the American polity. Douthat is slightly coy about whether he thinks these future historians will be correct, but it is clear that he thinks something went very wrong in American life in the 1970s, and that Hugh Hefner played an important role. One can see why 1950-1970 would appeal to a certain strain of traditional Catholic. The immediate postwar period was a time in which Catholics peacefully coexisted with the liberal Imperium, and indeed became increasingly integrated into it, helping to elect a quasi-Catholic President. Anthony Kennedy is no John F Kennedy, as it were, but in Douthat’s view “you appeal to the emperor you have.”

. . .

Why are self-described “trad” Catholics prone to nostalgia? The typical mistake is to conflate the traditions of the Church with the traditions of the broader society. These are very different things; the Church is an ark afloat on a dangerous sea, which preserves its own internal traditions in part with walls that prevent it from being deluged by secular practices and mores. 1 Peter thus connects Catholic rootlessness and homelessness with a rejection of human political traditions, enjoining Catholics to “live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe, for you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood …” Catholicism is not Burkeanism. Because Catholics are exiled in the world, they can ultimately have no attachment to man’s places and traditions, including political traditions. They can have no final affection for the misty English landscape that always stands just behind Scruton’s prose, for Reno’s polite distinction of liberal tradition and liberal creed, for the bipartisan fedora-hatted governance of Douthat’s postwar golden age, or even for Ahmari’s era of the triumph (albeit short-lived) of liberal democratic freedom after 1989.

As secular liberalism attacks the Church, Catholics can’t afford to be nostalgic

I am going to risk a prediction: 2018 will be the year we see an end to the fighting over Amoris Laetitia.

This might seem rather presumptuous, given that just this week five bishops have underscored the Church’s traditional teaching on the reception of Communion by the divorced and remarried. The bishops’ statement is a positive delight to read for its clarity of thought and expression – especially after some of the tortured sophistries we have had to endure of late.

The document unflinchingly reminds us that some things are just wrong, and no amount of personal reflection or mitigating circumstances can change that.

Seeming to address directly the various interpretations of that single contentious footnote in Amoris Laetitia (the one Pope Francis cannot remember), the five bishops quote St John Paul II: “The confusion created in the conscience of many faithful by the differences of opinions and teachings … about serious and delicate questions of Christian morals, ends up by diminishing the true sense of sin almost to the point of eliminating it.” This describes all too well the results, and I would say the intentions, of many of the opaque and tendentious “pastoral” guidelines which have followed Amoris Laetitia.

The doctrinal errors in interpreting Amoris Laetitia are part of a serious movement afoot in the Church to undermine her clarity of thought and expression on the moral order, especially regarding marriage, sexuality and personal conscience. What drives this movement? Let’s be clear: it has nothing to do with helping divorced and remarried Catholics. Those of us who work in marriage tribunals, where canonists and priests have more contact with such couples on a daily basis than most working in bishops’ conferences have in a year, can tell you that the divorced and remarried are, in the vast majority of cases, desperately seeking clarity from the Church, not to be told to “do whatever they think is right.”

. . .

At the time of the cultural and sexual revolution, the Church spoke powerfully and prophetically against the inevitable consequences of what was happening. In the last half-century, Paul VI’s encyclical has proven ever more prescient and relevant. It is a bitterly comical irony that, just as wider society is beginning to wake up to the consequences of a sexual ethic based solely on consent and the pursuit of personal fulfilment, the Church is having to defend herself against those within who deny not just the Church’s teaching, but the last 50 years of history which have so convincingly vindicated it.

There’s a movement to undermine Catholic morality – Communion is just the start

Growing in wisdom involves growing in the discernment of who is wise, and who only parodies wisdom. While there are many ways to parody wisdom, two stand out in the age of the internet. At first glance they might seem to be opposites, but (on closer inspection) they reveal themselves to be alter-egos of one another. Tragically, each of these tendencies has plenty of public representation. Let us label their distinctive brands as “Prophetic Performers,” and “Authenticity Acts.”

. . .

“Prophetic Performers” prey upon the humans’ natural (and good) instinct to respond to certain modes of rhetoric and prophetic inflexibility. Since humans are sometimes liable (some more than others) to say “whatever” too often, to be morally lazy, or to fail in their capacity to protect sheep from wolves, it is important that we can nevertheless be psychologically accessed by a strong rebuke, by a reminder that some things are hard, that some bits of reality are unsavory and rough-edged, sometimes you have to confront your own will and sentiments, etc.

. . .

More popular in our era is the “Authenticity Act.” Sometimes, but not always, this person started out in the first camp and ends in the second. One will frequently hear this sort waxing eloquent about how “messy” and “complicated” life is. Rather than reducing the complexity of life, they will tend to reduce the complexity of God’s law (not to mention His character) to some vague platitudes about infinite empathy. These persons are frequently hurting and broken, and use the public platform they have to tell their personal narrative, process their lives, and garner empathy for their spiritual destination, or the turns their “journey” has taken.

. . .

What do these two characters have in common? Fundamentally, they have a narcissistic relationship to reality. Even when they are correct (as they sometimes accidentally are), their relationship to the reality that they presumably elucidate is inflected through their final goals of self justification – whether it be of the deeply fearful valiant badass for Jesus in the case of the former, or the deeply broken demander of infinite affirmation in the case of the latter.

In both cases, what is required is getting out of one’s own head and into the world. Wise men do not safely wax about a reality which functions as their shield, but speak of it with fear and trembling. Wise men are humble before God. Wise men often admit that life is complicated. Wise men sometimes do not know the answer. Wise men are also willing to receive an answer that they find unsavory. And most importantly, wise men will ask divine help to bend their will to savor reality over their distorted sentiments.

Prophetic Performers, Authenticity Acts, and the Need for Wisdom


The Butterfly Circus

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Why Bureaucracies Don’t Stop Terror

The Sayfullo Saipov case is another instance of serial institutional failure.

Of course Sayfullo Saipov “had been on the radar of federal authorities,” as the New York Times put it in a report that had the stink of inevitability on it.

Who else was on the radar of the relevant law-enforcement and intelligence agencies? Omar Mateen, Syed Farook’s social circle, Nidal Hasan, Adam Lanza, the 2015 Garland attackers, the Boston Marathon bombers . . .

The 2015 Paris attackers were “on the radar” of French authorities, as were the Charlie Hebdo killers. The Copenhagen terrorists were known to local authorities. Man Haron Monis, who staged an attack in Sydney, had written a letter to Australia’s attorney general inquiring about whether he’d get into legal trouble for communicating with ISIS. The men behind the Quebec car-ramming and the shooting at parliament were known to Canadian authorities. Mehdi Nemmouche, who murdered four peoples at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, was a convicted armed robber who was under surveillance after traveling back and forth to Syria.

In that, terrorism is a lot like ordinary crime. Almost all of the murderers in New York City have prior criminal records, and New York is not unusual in this regard. A great deal of violent crime is committed by people who already have criminal histories.

Law-enforcement bureaucracies are like any other bureaucracy.

. . .

The Sayfullo Saipov case is another instance of serial institutional failure, from immigration authorities to domestic counterterrorism forces. We’ve given them tremendous amounts of money, manpower, and investigatory authority. Now we need to see results.

Why Bureaucracies Don’t Stop Terror

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Your Birth Control

It’s Democrats who oppose over-the-counter sale of contraceptives.

There are many horrifying things about President Donald Trump that I am prepared to believe, but the claim put forward by Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times — that he has loosened up the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate out of sexual traditionalism — is not one of them.

The Trump administration has, to its credit, issued a more liberal version of the employer-provided birth-control mandate, one that offers conscience protections to institutions beyond churches and closely held business concerns, and that expands the exemption beyond narrowly religious objections to include moral objections that are not necessarily religious in nature. A free society makes a lot of room for moral and religious disagreement, which is why the original mandate was thrown out by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that government use the least onerous means when burdening religious exercise and that it do so only in the pursuit of a legitimate public interest.

For context, consider the fact that during World War II — an existential crisis not only for the United States but for the entire free world — the United States routinely offered exemptions from military service to members of pacifistic religious sects such as Quakers and Brethren. The federal government went so far as to establish alternatives to war bonds for those who objected to supporting the war through financial instruments. Perhaps you believe that a federal law mandating employer-provided no-copay birth-control pills is very important — it isn’t as important as whipping Hitler.

Greenhouse argues that the move represents a step toward transforming the United States into something more like Saudi Arabia, a bit of hyperbole that is risible even by the basement-dwelling standards of the New York Times op-ed pages. That the Times’ generally excellent reporting remains institutionally shackled to its insipid and second-rate opinion pages must be a source of frustration for its reporters, even — especially? — the ones who share that plain-Democrat-vanilla viewpoint.

. . .

Republicans have, on the matter of contraception at least, adopted a live-and-let-live attitude, one that would make birth control available to women on the same basis as any other consumer good and that would — let’s not forget — still oblige most employers to include it, free of copay, in their health-insurance plans, unless they have strong religious or moral objections to doing so. Democrats have opposed efforts to make birth control available over-the-counter. Why?

Neither Trump nor the GOP Wants to Take Away Your Birth Control

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“Urban Renewal” and The Kakistocracy


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 1 – Tim Tielman in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo

Urban renewal was the lethal marriage of progressive urban engineering with what Tim [Tielman] calls the “kakistocracy“—thieves who justify their crimes against place in the canting and condescending language of efficiency and inevitability.

New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, while being driven through urban-renewal-decimated Auburn, New York, “In the 1950s, with a progressive government and newspaper, you got into urban renewal and destroyed everything of value in your town. If you’d had a reactionary newspaper and a grumpy mayor, you might still have it.” Try to imagine Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand saying something one-ten-thousandth as perceptive. (Confirming Moynihan, the largest American city to reject urban renewal funding was Salt Lake City, whose voters, following the lead of their delightfully cranky libertarian Mayor J. Bracken Lee, rejected the federal bulldozer in 1965 by a vote of 29,119 to 4,900.)

Moynihan had a soft spot for Buffalo, probably because it was filled with the ethnic Catholics who claimed his heart, if not always his head. His support was critical in saving Louis Sullivan’s terra cotta-ornamented Guaranty Building (1896) from senseless demolition. (In a 1961 essay in Commentary, Moynihan called Buffalo “a big, ugly, turbulent city.” I once asked him if that description caused any problems in his campaigns. He looked at me incredulously. “How many people in Buffalo do you think read Commentary?”)

Tielman says, “Absent the federal and state money, none of this devastation occurs in Buffalo or Niagara Falls.” He elaborates: “Where did this free money go? To the existing power structure”—whose acts of destruction were facilitated, I regret to say, by urban Catholic mayors, who sacrificed significant portions of their cities to the Greatest Generation’s Greatest God: Progress.

. . .

[T]he Canal District [in Buffalo] is now threatened by every parent’s nightmare: a children’s museum, a $27 million project, jointly funded by a state development corporation and corporate donors, with the city offering a $1-a-year lease for forty years.

Tim is not enthusiastic. “Did you know Buffalo is the largest city in the country without a children’s museum?” he asks in mock outrage. “We can’t let that stand!” More seriously, he notes that “children’s museums attract fewer people than cemeteries,” and that this one “has nothing to do with the Canal District—it could be anywhere.” (It could be anywhere—what an apposite caption for so many of the edifices that deface our cities: This could be anywhere.)

. . .

Jane Jacobs occupies the catbird seat on Tim’s bookshelf. He rhapsodizes Jacobsian over pre-urban renewal Buffalo, which was “dense with buildings and crowded sidewalks, where one could wander block upon block, past shop after shop, restaurant after restaurant, office building after hotel, without apparent end. Buffalo was a beehive, where all of life’s necessities, pleasures, and luxuries could be had within the square mile of its core.”

Its demolition was not the work of some invisible hand or inscrutable force but rather, in Tielman’s phrase, “social engineers” who destroyed the essence of the city.

. . .

Next time you’re in Buffalo—and you really ought to visit; the Buffalos and Lowells and Pittsburghs are so much better for the soul than Orlando or Myrtle Beach—take one of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo‘s open-air bus tours.

The Real Buffalo Rises: How one American city lost, and then reclaimed its destiny.


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 2 – Tim Tielman visits two office buildings in Buffalo


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 4 – St. Paul’s Cathedral and Sullivan’s Guaranty Building<

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“Politics is unalloyed idiocy”

[O]ne of the reasons why I so thoroughly detest politics: it insults my intelligence. Even overlooking all of its many other faults, politics remains insufferable because it’s so completely imbecilic. It traffics in assertions that are either hilariously false or utterly meaningless. Politicians and their operatives then expect those of us on the receiving end of their moronic assertions not only to believe these assertions to be true, but also to marvel at the amazingness of the politicians who, we are assured, regularly perform the unbelievable feats described by the assertions.

Politics is unalloyed idiocy treated even by – indeed, especially by – the intelligentsia as if it is a solemn and serious undertaking. But it’s not. Politics is overwhelmingly the domain of megalomaniacal frauds, liars, and con artists.

Politics – Don Boudreaux

For too many, politics and the the state are their idols.

Statolatry. Ozymandias.

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“Tysons Corner, the Bubble Inside the Beltway Bubble”

Tysons [Corner, in McLean, VA] is an easy target for anger, with its combination of ostentatious wealth and its utter lack of coherent planning or design. It is the very archetype of ugly American sprawl: neither truly suburban, in which a leisurely drive or stroll down a sidewalk is at least in theory possible, nor truly urban, with all of the cheek-by-jowl rough-and-tumble life and character of a city. Tysons Corner instead consists of miles of grim concrete big-box stores, parking garages, flashy towers, garish office blocks, and decaying mid-century kitsch, all lining an expanse of 10-lane expressways that will kill you instantly if you crane your neck toward the dismal view for more than a second. It is the visual equivalent of putting a Beethoven symphony and a Metallica concert in a blender and piecing them back together at random.

But what should draw more attention is the fact that the greater Washington area now boasts one of the highest concentrations of wealth anywhere in the United States, much thanks to the ginormous federal bureaucracy and National Security State which has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks. As of 2015, fully half of the top 10 highest-income counties in the nation are in Maryland and Virginia, within an hour of the capital. There are probably as many Teslas in Fairfax County as there are in Silicon Valley.

None of this, of course, negates the reality that there is plenty of poverty, some of it desperate, right in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. For example, there are the inner-ring suburbs of southern Maryland, largely decaying time-capsules of the 1950s which might be largely abandoned if not for people left behind by the 2008 financial crisis, low-wage workers who likely spend their days servicing their wealthy neighbors, and a deluge of poor immigrants, not all of them legal. These pockets of poverty only make the bloat and waste of the government—and its symbiosis with the sprawling, ever-increasing network of contractors, consultants, lawyers, and establishment media organs—more shameful. It is not as if these counties are rich through a roll of the dice: it is rather through what James Howard Kunstler calls “asset-stripping”—the matrix of financialization, offshoring, and an ever-increasing “Deep State” bureaucracy.

If the government should ever shrink, if the financial system should ever truly collapse, or if the military industrial complex stopped turning, this whole region would be depopulated. The “Alexandria” of The Walking Dead might prove prophetic. Without the steady flow of federal dollars, the 10-lane superhighways, luxury apartment towers, those kitschy mid-century diners, not to mention most of Loudoun and Clarke counties, would make Detroit look like a boomtown.

Tysons Corner, the Bubble Inside the Beltway Bubble

Ozymandias

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History and “Presentism” and Other People’s Money

[Camille Paglia says,] “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.’

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams. We have so much material prosperity, they think, so why don’t we have more perfect people to enjoy it?

Not only does this outlook produce a dangerous parochialism and fervor among the young. It hampers their education. When people judge the present solely in present terms, not in relation to the past, diversity becomes not the pursuit of knowledge of other cultures, religions, and civilizations. It becomes, Paglia says, a “banner” under which we presume to “remedy” contemporary social sins. At that point, we should realize, education has turned into indoctrination.

Camille Paglia’s Teaching

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana (a rephrasing of what he said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”)


Innocents Betrayed

For example, what’s happening in Venezuela is just “bad luck”….
– “Castro, Chavez, and ‘bad luck’
– “Venezuela’s descent into anarchy is only beginning

Also seeAs the Left Surges Back, Marxism’s Bloody Legacy is Covered Up“, by Roger Scruton

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

Robert A. Heinlein

When socialism runs out of money and has no more free stuff to give, it wreaks havoc on a country’s economy and its people. Just ask Venezuela.

If You Want Medicare For All, Get Used To Eating Rabbit Now


Roger Scruton on socialism

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Ban Catholics from public life!

Those in England who have always worried more about Catholicism than any other religion seemed to spy in the [Pope] Benedict visit a chance to let out their fears. The railing against [Jacob] Rees-Mogg for diverging too heavily from modern values, and the suggestion he should be put out to political pasture, looks like another possible expression of such atheism-cum-anti-Catholicism.

That Rees-Mogg is being singled out for a more savage-than-usual Twittermobbing and media criticism is clear if one compares him with Muslim public figures. There are many Muslims in public life who hold similar views to his. But the likelihood of any Muslim ever appearing on the front page of the Guardian next to the word ‘bigot’ is literally zero. What we can see here is an extraordinary double standard on religion. A combination of a long-standing liberal fear and loathing of Catholicism with a censorious reluctance ever to criticise Islam, even traditional forms of Islam, means Catholics can be demonised far more harshly than Muslims for believing similar things on marriage and abortion.

Indeed, today we have the perverse situation where to criticise Islam’s repression of women is treated virtually as a speechcrime, as Islamophobia. So not only does the chattering class hold back on criticising Islam – it pressures everyone else to do likewise. How about we have a truly equal and secular form of freedom that allows all religion to be criticised, and all people to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose?

So, should we ban Catholics from public life?

See also:
– “Dianne Feinstein renews her decades-long crusade against Catholic judges
– “Dianne Feinstein and the Anti-Catholic Bigots
– “Concerns of ‘anti-Catholic bigotry’ as judicial nominee questioned about faith

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“Price Gouging”


Is Price Gouging Immoral? Should It Be Illegal?

The laws of economics are not suspended in an emergency, no matter what the laws of politicians attempt to do. When goods are more scarce, they will be costly to obtain, whether those costs are in terms of money or something else. The importance of letting market prices do their job and determining who gets what is that this process is also the way in which we make sure that there is stuff to be allocated in the first place. The only way to make sure we have sufficient production is to let market prices determine consumption.

Hurricanes Don’t Blow Away Economic Law

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Euthanasia and the Culture of Death in Canada

Those who persist in denying that the Church is engaged in a culture war, the combatants in which are aptly called the “culture of life” and the “culture of death,” might ponder this June blog post by my summer pastor in rural Québec, Father Tim Moyle:

Tonight I am preparing to celebrate a funeral for someone (let’s call him “H” to protect his privacy) who, while suffering from cancer, was admitted to hospital with an unrelated problem, a bladder infection. H’s family had him admitted to the hospital earlier in the week under the assumption that the doctors there would treat the infection and then he would be able to return home. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the attending physician had indeed made the decision NOT to treat the infection. When they demanded that he change his course of (in)action, he refused, stating that it would be better if H died of this infection now rather than let cancer take its course and kill him later. Despite their demands and pleadings, the doctor would not budge from his decision. In fact he deliberately hastened H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine “to control pain” which resulted in his losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid. In less than 24 hours, H was dead.

Let me tell you a bit about H. He was 63 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters who are both currently working in universities toward their undergraduate degrees. We are not talking here about someone who was advanced in years and rapidly failing due to the exigencies of old age. We are talking about a man who was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We are talking about a man who still held onto hope that perhaps he might defy the odds long enough to see his daughters graduate. Evidently and tragically, in the eyes of the physician tasked with providing the care needed to beat back the infection, that hope was not worth pursuing.

Again, let me make this point abundantly clear: It was the express desire of both the patient and his spouse that the doctor treat the infection. This wish was ignored.

Canada’s vulnerability to the culture of death is exacerbated by Canada’s single-payer, i.e. state-funded and state-run, health care system. And the brutal fact is that it’s more “cost-effective” to euthanize patients than to treat secondary conditions that could turn lethal (like H’s infection) or to provide palliative end-of-life care.

. . .

But in Canada, a mature democracy, that utilitarian calculus among government bean-counters wouldn’t survive for long if a similar, cold calculus were not at work in the souls of too many citizens. And that is one reason why the Church must engage the culture war, not only in Canada but in the United States and throughout the West: to warm chilled souls and rebuild a civil society committed to human dignity.

It’s a Culture War, Stupid

Ozymandias

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