Reflections on the Revolution in America

by John Médaille on November 23, 2012 · 62 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Politics & Power

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This article first appeared in Ethika Politika, the Journal of the Center for Morality in Public Life. 

To all appearances, nothing happened. On Monday, we had a Democratic President, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House, and on Wednesday, after the expenditure of billions of dollars, we had a Democratic President and Senate, and a Republican House. But in that “nothing” there is concealed a revolutionary “something,” or rather several “something’s.”

Let us start with the small something, the condition of the Republican Party. It would be too easy to blame the defeat on the ineptitude of the campaign, but that would be to confuse cause and effect. The campaign was inept because it had nothing to say, or at least not anything that Bush wouldn’t have said, and “Bush” was the one thing the party couldn’t say. The very name became the party’s four-letter word, not to be mentioned in polite society, nor invited to the convention.  Romney was forced to keep his plans vague, since details could only come from Bush’s coterie of neo-conservatives, the same people who brought us these crises, domestic and international. Any actual details would make it sound like the unmentionable name.

Not only did they not know what to say, they didn’t know to whom to say it. The shock that gripped the Fox News room was genuine. They could not accept that they had not won because their models showed them that they could not lose. Dick Morris, their polling guru, staked his reputation on a Romney landslide; Karl Rove, “Bush’s brain,” went into meltdown over Ohio, and even the more sensible George Will didn’t think it would be much of a contest.

The problem was that their portrait of America was painted in the wrong colors. Even since 2004, the nation was more Black, more Brown, and more Yellow. But the campaign addressed only Angry White Men, and even at that they could not accurately locate the cause of their anger. But here’s the rub: a nation with more African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians should be more conservative (and certainly more Catholic) not less so. Ronald Reagan was half-right when he said, “The Hispanics are conservative, they just don’t know it.” The Hispanics are indeed deeply conservative, with a conservatism deeply rooted in strong family and communal values; they just refuse to recognize the Republicans’ Corporate Capitalism as “conservative.” In this, they know the Republicans better than the Republicans know themselves.

The Republicans have joined themselves to a corporate oligarchy that can never be conservative. The Fox Corporation may tout “family values” on its news channels, but it does everything it can to destroy them on its entertainment channels. The message is clear: values are good only to the point where they might interfere with profits; then they are to be abandoned, since profit is the final good. The irony is lost on Republicans but apparent to everyone else.

Another irony is that the Unintended Consequence of the Citizens United decision might be the destruction of the Republican Party. They are more dependent than ever on a corrupt corporate oligarchy, an oligarchy that is completely out of touch with the nation and incapable of ruling. As G. K. Chesterton put it, oligarchy is not a government; it is a riot, a riot of the rich. They cannot rule; they can only ruin. The Republican Party, having become intoxicated with this endless source of funds, can only stumble around and cannot find its way.

But let us move on to more important matters and a more important institution: The Catholic Church.  Here we can sound the depth of the Revolution by noting that on Election Day, four states did what no state has ever done before, in 32 attempts: approve at the ballot box homosexual “marriage.”  Heretofore, this monstrosity, this ontological impossibility, has been imposed by courts or sometimes legislatures, but never before by popular vote. Most people were surprised by this. Indeed, there is a suspicion in some quarters that “marriage amendments” were sometimes placed on state ballots as a means of encouraging the Catholics and evangelicals to get out and vote. George Will, among others, thought that the presence of the marriage amendment on the Minnesota ballot would be sufficient to move that state into the Republican column. If that was ever true, it is certainly no longer true. This is revolutionary.

There was one group that saw this coming and made an all-in bet, two bets, in fact. That group was Obama’s political team.  For Obama made two moves that seemed, at the time, to be counter-productive and wholly unnecessary. The second of these bets was Obama’s sudden endorsement of same-sex marriage, which occurred last May, fully six months before the election. Up until that moment, politicians of all parties could get around the issue by endorsing the fiction of “civil unions,” thereby hoping to mollify gay voters without alienating Catholics, Blacks, and Hispanics. By going all-in on this, Obama seems to have risked his re-election chances. But his campaign had made another calculation entirely, one that was related to his first bet.

That bet was the “contraceptive mandate,” issued last January.  Contraceptives are cheap, Sandra Fluke’s objections notwithstanding, and there seemed to be little to gain and much to lose in picking such a quarrel with the Catholic Church. Catholics represent one-fourth of the electorate and have supported the winner of the popular vote in every election since 1972. So why do it?

I have no insight into the President’s campaign, but it is safe to assume that he has some of the best number crunchers in the business, and when they crunched the numbers, they saw things moving in their direction. The losses among white Catholics were small enough to be offset by gains elsewhere. That is to say, they bet that the average Catholic would not follow the Church on the issue of contraception.

And why should they? It is an issue the American Church has barely mentioned in the last 40 years. It is therefore hardly surprising that the vast majority of Catholic women, even those who attend Mass regularly, have used artificial contraception at some time.  The Bishops themselves acknowledged this discrepancy when instead of fighting the issue on the evils of contraception, they chose to stage the wholly absurd “Fortnight of (Religious) Freedom,” as if the ban on contraception was merely a strange part of Catholic ritual, like the use of chasubles or the Lenten fast.  The opposition to artificial contraception is not a mere “religious” quirk, but foundational to an integral view of human sexuality. It is the biggest technological change in history; every other technology magnifies some physical or mental power of man; this one changes the very nature of relations between men and women. It has demographic, economic, and sociological consequences which need to be exposed. But the bishops passed up the teaching moment to make a political statement, one that ultimately failed.

Indeed, the Church has been on a losing political trajectory for the past 40 years. It has mainly focused on the single issue of abortion. In itself, this is not a problem, since the sanctity of life is indeed a foundational issue. But it cannot be a foundation if it does not found anything; isolated and cut off from other issues, it becomes a part of “single-issue” and “interest-group” politics. What really happened Tuesday? The re-election of the President was the least of it; the more important event was the complete collapse of the Church’s political agenda.

That agenda, rooted in the politics of abortion, and marketed under the name “pro-life,” was aimed towards a “human-life” amendment protecting the human person from the moment of conception. But as things now stand, a similar amendment did not even carry Mississippi and could not pass the nation under current conditions. This is because only 20% of the people support a complete ban on abortion (Gallup); with such low numbers, even the Supreme Court–no matter who appoints the judges—would not touch it. The Church has put the political cart before the evangelical horse; we have to convert the nation before we can carry an election, not after. And in getting the proper order wrong, they cut abortion completely out of its doctrinal contexts, away from contraception on one side and the whole area of social justice on the other. In return, the Church got neither good politics nor effective evangelism.  Further, they split the American Catholic population into two mutually hostile groups: those who ignore the abortion issue in favor of social justice issues, and those who do the reverse. This is not a strategy that can win either the evangelical battle or the political struggle.

Yes, a majority now considers itself “pro-life,” but that is only because the term has been dumbed-down to include all sorts of exceptions. In truth, 20% support abortion under all circumstances and 20% oppose it under any circumstances, and everybody else is in the middle. And these are the same numbers as in 1975. Nothing’s changed in 40 years. This is because the Bishops understand neither politics nor evangelization. They sold their flocks to the Republican Party and got nothing in return. And now, there is no longer a “Catholic Vote” for them to deliver to the lowest bidder; they have lost all credibility. We, the laity, will have to do the job ourselves.

But can the job be done? I think it can be, and we can accomplish a real change if we really want to. The Republican Party will go through a period of soul-searching, but in the end it will do what losing parties always do: try to become more like the winning party. This will further isolate the “paleo-conservatives,” the ones who really do oppose the individualism and corporatism of the age, and who really believe that the purpose of an economy is to serve the family, and not the other way round. So what will they do as the GOP moves leftward?

The way forward has been outlined by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, perhaps the most sophisticated and wide-ranging of the social encyclicals. Benedict rooted his encyclical in three documents from Paul VI: Evangelii Nuntiandi, concerning evangelism, Humane Vitae, concerning human life and contraception, and Populorum Progressio, concerning humane development. Evangelization rooted in human life and humane development. This is something that can have a tangible political component. It is one that would allow the anti-abortion movement to become a true “pro-life” movement. A true pro-life movement would indeed have uncompromising opposition to abortion as its base, but would also be pro-family, pro-women, pro-just wage, pro-ownership. It would be able to distinguish between common goods, such as education, infrastructures, and health care, which are allocated in some measure to all, and market goods, which are allocated by free market pricing mechanisms, with some getting as much as they want and others getting nothing at all.

Some might object to the presence of evangelism in all this, but in fact every political movement depends on some prior and on-going evangelization. There are no neat boundaries between the secular and religious domains, but rather a necessary inter-penetration. We must convert as well as campaign. And indeed, the reigning individualism and hedonism is as much a “religion” as anything else, and one who’s “evangelization” efforts—advertising—are supported with unlimited amounts of funds from corporate America.

Such a movement as I have outlined might be a third party, or it might be a caucus within the Republican Party, but in either case it would function as a swing party, moving its votes from party to party as the decisive influence on elections. For the reality of two-party systems is that the only votes that really count are the marginal votes, the “independents” that provide the margin of victory at each election.

Is any of this possible? I think it is. The current system will not work, and the crises we see are merely the working out of its internal contradictions. Obama will not make it work and Romney would only have made it worse. Change will come, whether we will it or not. The only real question is whether the change will come from collapse, or whether we will direct the change to better ends through peaceful means. But the only romantic impossibility is the status quo. There are, to be sure, those who would make the Church a part of what Dr. John Rao calls the Grand Coalition of the Status Quo, that trans-historical effort to always subvert the work of the Church into a prop to support “business as usual” and pre-empting any challenge to the powers that be. But the powers that be stand on increasingly shaky ground that will no longer support them.

A final word. I have focused on the role of Catholics and the Catholic Church. It seems to me that up until now, leadership in the conservative movement has largely passed to the Fundamentalists.  They provided, as it were, the “lowest common denominator” for Christian concerns in the political agenda. While this may have made political sense at one time, I do not think it works any more. Wider concerns must come to the fore, concerns that reflect the greater richness of the Christian theology of the older traditions. In this, the Catholic Church, if it is true to its own teachings, is uniquely qualified to offer this leadership.

To be sure, the Bishops cannot be mere party bosses in mitres, always threatening their congregations with damnation if the vote” wrongly.” That is not their role. But the Church can provide invaluable support and guidance to a lay movement dedicated to advancing the kingdom of God, even in the confines of American political order. And this is both our religious and patriotic duty.  For the Church’s work has never been just a matter of a purely individual salvation, but has always aimed at building up the world and the kingdom of God, as Benedict points out in Spe Salvi. We are concerned both with men’s souls and his integral development in human society. And we might indeed move the world and the nation closer to that kingdom.

And that would be a revolution worth some reflection.

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar robert m. peters November 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

I always come back to the model prayer which our Lord taught His disciplines:

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

The Church is the vanguard of His coming kingdom with the end purpose that His will will be done on earth as it already is in heaven. Though the will of the Father, the blood of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit by means of the humble instrument of the Church, the Body and the Bride of the Christ, His will in fallen creation is working Redemption.

Quite frankly, I am impatient with waiting for the wheat and the tares to mature so that the former can be gathered for God’s good harvest and the latter can be cast into the fires of hell; but I am not God; so I yield to his authority which continues to work its way by means of mercy and grace, in love postponing the Day of Wrath until the appropriate time.

So, in all matters, including matters of “pro-life,” the Church must faith its way on the narrow way: one the one side, steep and dangerous, not wanting God’s wrath to be visited untimely on a fallen world; and on the other side, steep and dangerous, giving up because God’s actions are not properly apprehended and thereby falling into the world’s own abyss of lostness.

avatar David Naas November 24, 2012 at 10:39 am

A good analysis of what is wrong with the Republican Party today, but one does have certain reservations. With the Know-Nothing nihlists, the neocon warhawks, and the pimps for the rich now running the Republican Party, my personal hope for an outbreak of common sense is not bright. There is just as much chance for Catholics to take over the social agenda of the Democratic Party as to succeed in reforming Republican boorishness. The old expression about being caught between a rock and a hard place applies. No matter which faction of the upper crust wins, the people, and Catholics especially, will lose.
Come to think of it, the natural constituency of the Church is already voting Democratic. If the Bishops can learn to persuade, not command, it might be easier to work within the Democratic Party than from within the Republican, having become the Party of the Confederacy.
Finally, I am not sure that one can characterize the stance of Catholics as “conservative”, perhaps more of advocating a morally sustainable society (as opposed to the apcoalyptic visions of both Left and Right).

avatar Ray Olson November 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

“The Church has put the political cart before the evangelical horse; we have to convert the nation before we can carry an election, not after. ”

Just so. And, barring the unforeseen, conversion in re sanctity of life issues well may take more time than is spanned by the entire history of the United States to date, more time than will be spanned by the whole lifespan of the United States.

Thank you, Mr. Médaille.

avatar Matt Talbot November 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Great stuff, John.

This:

[T]he Church has been on a losing political trajectory for the past 40 years. It has mainly focused on the single issue of abortion. In itself, this is not a problem, since the sanctity of life is indeed a foundational issue. But it cannot be a foundation if it does not found anything; isolated and cut off from other issues, it becomes a part of “single-issue” and “interest-group” politics. What really happened Tuesday? The re-election of the President was the least of it; the more important event was the complete collapse of the Church’s political agenda.

That agenda, rooted in the politics of abortion, and marketed under the name “pro-life,” was aimed towards a “human-life” amendment protecting the human person from the moment of conception. But as things now stand, a similar amendment did not even carry Mississippi and could not pass the nation under current conditions. This is because only 20% of the people support a complete ban on abortion (Gallup); with such low numbers, even the Supreme Court–no matter who appoints the judges—would not touch it. The Church has put the political cart before the evangelical horse; we have to convert the nation before we can carry an election, not after. And in getting the proper order wrong, they cut abortion completely out of its doctrinal contexts, away from contraception on one side and the whole area of social justice on the other. In return, the Church got neither good politics nor effective evangelism. Further, they split the American Catholic population into two mutually hostile groups: those who ignore the abortion issue in favor of social justice issues, and those who do the reverse. This is not a strategy that can win either the evangelical battle or the political struggle.

…is something that I hope the Church comes to see and takes to heart. We need an authentic Catholic voice in our culture; the Church has been positioned as The Republican Party On Its Knees for over 40 years, and has nothing to show for it.

A far more effective Pro-Life Movement would have opposition to abortion embedded within a much more comprehensive account of human dignity than that put forward by the current iteration of the movement.

avatar robert m. peters November 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Mr. Naas,

The Republican Party was and remains the enemy of the Confederacy. It has quite successfully hoodwinked reconstructed, New-South Southerners into supporting it as they quest for “respectability” in that idiom of Modernity known as “America.” The natural home of Confederates of all strips, and many stripes thereof there were, was the Democratic Party. That party began abandoning us with Wilsonian war-time socialism, usurping our poverty to join its socialist agenda. By 1972, the Democratic Party completely abandoned us; and we, in turn, abandoned ourselves by turning to our enemy, the Republicans. All of this talk of which party Catholics should follow is folly. The two parties are merely subordinate parasites to the Hobbesian state, implanted as the serpent’s egg into obscure clauses of the Constitution by Hamilton and his cronies; nurtured by the Whigs; and hatched as a cockatrice by the Republican’s in the persona of Lincoln. Until the Hobbesian state is dead, there is to be gained by conservatives at the “national” level. Nurture home and hearth, kith and kin, blood and earth as best you can and walk humbly with our Lord.

avatar robert m. peters November 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Mr. Talbot:

Your words:

“A far more effective Pro-Life Movement would have opposition to abortion embedded within a much more comprehensive account of human dignity than that put forward by the current iteration of the movement.”

I could not agree more. I got a call from one of the “Pro-Life” groups asking for money and assuring me that if I gave, victory was just around the corner. It seems that for many “pro-life” organizations, the means have become the ends.

avatar John Haas November 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Mr. Peters’ aversion to the Hobbesian state seems not to have noticed that it was the Confederate States of America that first chose to draft its citizens, more than a year before the Union. It also suspended habeas corpus, requisitioned supplies, and passed an income tax. Wilson–a Ku Klux Klan-loving son of the South–was merely following precedent . . .

avatar robert m. peters November 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Mr. Haas,

I am quite aware of all of the things which you cited. Confederate leaders realized in great and anguishing debates on each of the issues which you raise the dangers of having to attempt to survive a protracted war of aggression against a much more powerful enemy in that one ran the grave risk of becoming the enemy which one fought. Southerns were not fools, Mr. Hass; for they realized that the very values for which they had seceded were threatened by the means by which they had to wage war to protect that secession. I am quite sure that you have read the transcripts of the debates on these issues and that you have reviewed the checks which were also put in place against the excesses of these war measures. War is indeed the health of the Hobbesian state.

You are quite correct about Wilson. Although Wilson’s mother was from England and his father was from Ohio, his parents, particularly his father, had taken up the Confederate cause; yet, Wilson, like so many emerging intellectual leaders in the South had become thoroughly reconstructed. Southerners, even the rank and file, had become the willing Janissary of the very forces which had drive ol’ Dixie down. Today, the average Southerner is an abject nationalist. The KKK of Wilson’s era did not have its epicenter in the South but in the Midwest, although it existed in the South. The KKK had also taken up nationalism and was in lock step with the Hobbesian state which was consolidating its nationalist guise. The nativism of the KKK of that era where clear echoes of the nativism of the Republican Party among their New England Puritan elites and their Free Soilers.

Wilson’s war-time socialism became the spring board for Hoover’s failed interventions in the financial crises of 1929, and Roosevelt’s equally failed interventions which we know as the New Deal. War gave the Hobbesian state a “great leap forward.”

Again in WWII, in the mobilization of the masses and in the atrocities which we were will to commit to successfully execute that war we came to look more and more like our enemies and enhanced the power of the state.

During the Cold War, the machinations of the KGB and the CIA, became indistinguishable. To win, we had to or thought we had to become more like them. The power of the state was again strengthened.

So, Mr. Haas, as a Southerner, I fully understand the power of the Hobbesian state to transform even its enemies into its image. It has indeed been quite successful among us Southerners. My hope against the Hobbesian state is that it will collapse because of its own internal contradictions, if I may borrow a metaphor from Marx who said that Hobbes is the father of us all. I am, however, sober enough to realize that what might come in the aftermath of its fall might prove to be much worse.

The Hobbesian state tolerates no competitors. It must at its core reject Christian subsidiarity and accept no other authority, not that of God, not that of the family, not that of the Church, not that of principalities, not that of free cities and not that of republics.

In its quest for power, it placates the whims of allegedly autonomous individuals like women and their reproductive rights, whatever those are. By leveraging such alleged rights it strikes a blow against its competitors: God, the family, the Church and local community. That, Mr. Haas, is the battle which we are in. I am no longer fighting the War of Secession. That war was merely an skirmish in the war in which we find ourselves. I simply make historical reference to where we have been when I outline the events from Hamilton to Lincoln who was to America in the advent of the Hobbesian state what Bismark was to its advent in Germany and Garibaldi was in Italy – the birth of the Hobbesian state in the guise of nationalism. Today, old nationalists like Pat Buchanan, whom I respect on many issues, cannot accept the fact that the same Hobbesian Leviathan which created the nationalist states of the 19th and 20th century, no longer needs those states, which were all to one degree or another artificial, with Lincoln’s being the most artificial, and is now shedding is nationalist guise to become the global empire through the United Nations, through NATO, through the WTO, through the WHO, and through the corporations which it has spawned and in an act of judicial alchemy turned into persons while denying to the unborn the status of persons, which, perhaps, brings us back to the actual topic of this thread.

avatar Chris Travers November 25, 2012 at 12:21 am

Great thoughts, as always. I would have gone further and said that Romney’s real problem in figuring out what to say or who to say it to was that his record was identical to Obama’s platform. We, the voters, were presented with candidates who were effectively indistinguishable and anyone unhappy with the current trajectory, had no real options: we had to choose between giving the current president a second term (status quo) or voting him out and getting a candidate who would have acted no differently in but lied about it.

Also I thought your discussion of the objection to artificial contraception was very helpful. I hadn’t really thought about it that way before. As a heathen, I remain in favor of keeping these decisions in the family, but it is nice to get other viewpoints. I would also say that I believe the contraception mandate violates the laws duely passed by Congress, and therefore the courts will ultimately find against this president. It is also worth noting that the existence of condoms in the medieval and ancient worlds is under debate within the archaeological community so it may not be that big of a technological change in the last century.

But overall, I think your post gives voice to what I have been saying for a little while, which is that you don’t want to appear to be just opposed to things, but it is more important to sell a positive vision. Drawing the line at same-sex marriage, for example, means surveying the land and picking the least defensible place to make a stand. One shouldn’t worry about that issue but rather work to create and support the family as a unit of childrearing again. This means confronting the same anti-traditional forces but doing so from a standpoint which forces them to defend their assumptions. Somewhere along the line the issues will transform and then can be re-evaluated. What is needed by the traditionalists (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Heathen) is an attempt to build up our social foundations and our traditions.

avatar Karen November 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

“The opposition to artificial contraception is not a mere “religious” quirk, but foundational to an integral view of human sexuality. It is the biggest technological change in history; every other technology magnifies some physical or mental power of man; this one changes the very nature of relations between men and women. It has demographic, economic, and sociological consequences which need to be exposed.”

The changes contraception wrought between men and women have been entirely beneficial to women. Without the ability to completely control our fertility, we can’t participate in public life and work. Without money, we have no power. Women must have educations and employment, otherwise we are the helpless victims of males. All of your nonsense about “hookup culture” and porn pales in comparison to the ability walk out on a worthless or abusive or just flat boring male. Yes, many women are irresponsible. So are many men. Now, we are no longer stuck with a choice between loneliness or life with a bum. Unless you can find a way to keep the benefits of modernity for women, children, and dark-skinned people that the last fifty years have produced, you are doomed. You can’t do so, and I will celebrate your end.

avatar Ray Olson November 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Karen’s remarks, while those of someone who doesn’t seem well acquainted with FPR, indicate how great a work of conversion is to be done. For her and those who agree with her, black may not be white, but white is most assuredly black.

avatar John Haas November 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Mr. Peters says, “The Hobbesian state tolerates no competitors. It must at its core reject Christian subsidiarity and accept no other authority, not that of God, not that of the family, not that of the Church, not that of principalities, not that of free cities and not that of republics. In its quest for power, it placates the whims of allegedly autonomous individuals like women and their reproductive rights, whatever those are. By leveraging such alleged rights it strikes a blow against its competitors: God, the family, the Church and local community.”

This account strikes me as somewhat backwards. It was, after all, among the states that the supposed right to an abortion first emerged. The federal government came along later.

avatar Karen November 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Ray Olson, please explain. How can you have a traditional society that allows women education, agency, and employment?

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Mr. Haas,

Yes, you are quite right. In a minority of states among their ideological elites abortion was first trumpeted. The states, one by one, were the places and would have been the places for the struggle between the prevailing traditions and the emerging abstractions of neo-Jacobinism to take place, in the last vestiges that were left of the old pre-1865 Union. What happened, however, was that an arm of the general government, namely the Supreme Court, nine unelected men appointed for life using extra-constitutional powers in a narrow vote swept the debate which we should have had state by state off the table and overthrew the then prevailing consensus about life and abortion. That is in fact one of the three components of the Hobbesian state working to perfection: it has the ability to define the limits of its own power; the primary instrument to that end has become the Supreme Court operating extra-constitutionally and outside, particularly in the case of Roe v. Wade, the prevailing traditions, customs and habits which make up the rule of law. Roe v. Wade. Again, the Hobbesian state tolerates no competitors, including those of states in which the consensus of citizens might be other than that of the Hobbesian state.

avatar Phillip November 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm

“[T]he Church has been on a losing political trajectory for the past 40 years. It has mainly focused on the single issue of abortion. In itself, this is not a problem, since the sanctity of life is indeed a foundational issue. But it cannot be a foundation if it does not found anything; isolated and cut off from other issues, it becomes a part of “single-issue” and “interest-group” politics. What really happened Tuesday? The re-election of the President was the least of it; the more important event was the complete collapse of the Church’s political agenda.”

I’m not sure that’s the case. The Church has spent a good deal of effort on the issues mentioned as well as other issues. From the economy to health care, the USCCB and the vast majority of bishops have been quite active apart from a “single issue.”

No, the matter lies elsewhere. Perhaps in sin.

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Phillip,

Sin is indeed a good place to begin. We of the Occident might well be at that horrible point which is outlined in Romans I: our sin has become so great that the Lord has given us up to our reprobate minds, withdrawn His sustaining hand from us, revealed what evil can do when it is not on His leash.

In such times, the Church could well be experiencing a winnowing of the chaff from the wheat of the Lord’s coming harvest. Our to use another metaphor, He might be driving the mice out of the cookie jar, who have come to think of themselves as cookies simply because they have taken up residence there.

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Karen,

Your words to Mr. Olsen:

“How can you have a traditional society that allows women education, agency, and employment?”

None of those Jacobin/feminist issues would be issues in a traditional social order; for a traditional social order is not predicated on issues, ideologies and grievances. It is predicated on living life within the limits of the traditions, customs and habits which define its common good and make up its rule of law. In a traditional social order it is not the task of the polity thereof to seek out alleged victims and use their grievances to overthrow the very order of which the polity is an expression. A traditional social order is predicated on home and hearth, one kith and kin, on blood and earth and not on Enlightenment abstractions such as the autonomous individual, the “objective” state, and rights. The Jacobin agendas of liberalism and Modernity, enemies of the created order and the order of being, are like unto some fish or set thereof which get it into their minds that their natural place, i.e. having their being in water, is evil and detrimental; so they begin to convince the other members of their paraphyletic group to flop out on dry land when possible or to take measures which will drain the water out of the creeks and the rivers in which they thrive. They will likely even postulate some silly notion, a kind of metaphysical escape hatch, that future generations of them will develop legs and walk out. Of course, they will envy and not like turtles, frogs and snakes who can come and go out of the environment which they have come to hate. They will not like them and other creatures who but transit water; in that hate, they will employ the piranha of their number to bite and destroy them where possible. One could write a corollary to Animal Farm.

avatar John Haas November 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm

“on blood and earth”

Not even going there.

avatar Rodger November 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm

“or just flat boring male.”

Ah, the hidden secret here is that all males are boring to the eternally solipsistic female mind eventually. So modernity enables the basest and most selfish urges of humanity. I wish people (and especially women) would be more honest that they really just like doing whatever the hell they like, without consequences, and other people be damned.

avatar Karen November 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm

So, Mr. Peters, you believe in feudalism? Serfdom? If not, can you describe for me who gets to do what in your ideal world? Who makes decisions? How? If the victims of those decisions don’t like them, can the victims change the decisions? How does this all work?

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Mr. Haas,

Would it be that if you went to “blood and earth” you might find a Nazi; for indeed that particular set of Hobbesian socialists were very adept at usurping legitimate symbols and terms. I am not sure that the term can be, if I may use current Marxist jargon, “rehabilitated;” however, I am not afraid to use the term since all which I hold dear is antithetical to nationalism socialism and to all other “isms” predicated on the existence of the Hobbesian state. One who has an agenda may, of course, make of it what one will.

avatar Chris Travers November 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm

@Karen

“The changes contraception wrought between men and women have been entirely beneficial to women. Without the ability to completely control our fertility, we can’t participate in public life and work. Without money, we have no power. Women must have educations and employment, otherwise we are the helpless victims of males.”

This is a fancy way of saying, “society should not be a union of households but of individuals.” I completely disagree with that, and I also think that the problem here is that liberal capitalism is sufficiently unfair to women that this shift from focusing on the household to focusing on the individual seems like a win. As I say I am in favor of contraception as a Heathen because I think that the decision of when to have kids should be left to the household and without state interference, but I also disagree that we protect women by the integrity of undermining households.

To back up that point I will note that many studies have shown that the gender wage gap occurs specifically after marriage and particularly after having kids. The fact is that men and women are differently situated regarding reproduction and make different choices in work and public life as a result. An economy which penalizes these choices because the incentive is just to produce and work hard will never be just towards women.

If we look back to the Middle Ages, it is worth noting that a significant number of industries were nearly exclusively run by women. The reason why we call a midwife a midwife is because it was only women doing this (compare with the obsolete word “alewife” to refer to a woman owning a tavern). The suffix -wife in English means “woman” just like -man means “person.” (In Old English, man meant “person” and was gender-nonspecific, while wif meant woman, and the male equivalent was wer, which today only survives in werewolf, which is why I say that all werewolves are male. Wifman becomes woman, and wapman, the male equivalent, dies out.) In medieval Iceland, for example, women literally made money (homespun cloth was legal tender). In fact I would argue that a major part of the reason for modern feminism is that women were effectively and progressively kicked out of the economy from the late Middle Ages up through the 19th century, and forced to go back to work under the terms of men.

So while I disagree with the Catholic Church on contraception I think that real gender equality in the economic sphere will not come from women trying to move into the male roles of yesteryear but rather questioning the very assumptions of our economy and trying to build something different and more just. Here, I think Catholic thinkers are likely to be very valuable allies.

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Karen,

I have no ideal world, just the real world of the created order, which, though created is also fallen. There was no such thing as “feudalism” to believe in. The “ism” which we have arrogated to impose on that long era from our “superior” vantage point of the Enlightenment and Modernity is an abstraction which we have been taught to loathe because since we live in a seemingly different era of high-minded superiority we need to have something, namely the past in general, to look down on.

You assume that there are always victims. What you seem to be saying is that anyone who is subordinate to another is a victim. The order of being is predicated on subordination. It is true among ants, bees, wolves and people. We begin live subordinate. One is absolutely subordinate to one’s conception and to one’s death. One is subordinate to the very DNA of one’s body and to the fact that one is born male or female, with bodies geared for certain specific roles in the created order.

Two things are true: one can attempt to rebel against all of this, but in the end, such attempts are doomed to fail; and since the created order is indeed fallen, then being subordinate to another is indeed fraught with danger. Policemen can abuse citizens with their authority; doctors can abuse patients with their authority; social workers can abuse clients with their authority; politicians can abuse citizens with their authority; wardens of prisons can abuse prisoners with their authority; teachers can abuse pupils with their authority; house parents can abuse orphans with their authority; foster parents can abuse children with their authority; husbands can abuse wives with their authority; parents can abuse the children of their own flesh with their authority; priests and ministers can abuse parishioners with their authority; masters can abuse their serfs and their slaves with their authority; kings can abuse their subjects with their authority; alpha persons in a homosexual relationship can abuse their partner with their authority; mothers can abuse the unborn with their authority, unto death, even.,

In a culture, the person is freed from his whims, desires, and compulsions to that he can do his duty, fulfill his responsibility and carry out his obligations to deities, to family, to religious institutions and other associations of a particular social order.

In an anti-culture, the person is freed from those responsibilities, duties and obligations so that he can pursue his whims, desires and compulsions.

So, in a culture one is subordinate to duties, responsibilities and obligations and is freed from one’s whims, desires and compulsions.

In an anti-culture on is subordinate to one’s whims, desires and compulsions and is freed from one’s duties, responsibilities and obligations.

In both instances, we are free of something and subordinate to something.

In the theological context, we are either, as Saint Paul tells us, slaves to Christ or slaves to sin. Paradoxically, to be truly free one must proclaim Christ as Lord.

It used to be that a flesh-and-blood father as the head of a household determined when a daughter could get married, etc. Now, it is the state, which not only tells one when one can get married, but what the conditions of marriage are. It even determines when one can legally fornicate. So, down with fathers and priests and up with faceless bureaucrats who placate our whims, desires and lusts and eagerly aid and abet us in getting rid of troublesome things like God, fathers and priests.

A friend of mine once said that the Jacobin “fraternité” was a brotherhood without a father; I reminded him that this abstract brotherhood did indeed have a father, the Hobbesian state which aided and abetted his spawn in destroying subsidiarity and the institutions, traditions, customs and habits associated with it.

So, Karen, that is how it all works.

avatar Chris Travers November 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Karen wrote:

So, Mr. Peters, you believe in feudalism? Serfdom? If not, can you describe for me who gets to do what in your ideal world? Who makes decisions? How? If the victims of those decisions don’t like them, can the victims change the decisions? How does this all work?

I think the fundamental question here is whether we want to try to construct a society with strong familial support structures, where society is as Aristotle said, a union of married households, of whether we want it to be a union of isolated and relatively unsupported individuals, the Lockean model.

The simple fact is that people in fact do fight and redraw lines and this is an organic process. It is worth noting that Morocco which has a great deal of disempowerment for women also has a very high divorce rate even compared to Nevada and despite general procedural blocks there. What I don’t think is necessarily healthy is the redefinition of society from a union of married households to a union of isolated individuals. If you provide family support structures for people they will do ok. If you isolate them from that, then the state has to supplant families more and more until we get things like laws that are effectively abortion mandates proposed by Republicans and that reproductive “freedom” becomes just another tool of oppression.

I think the answer is in strong support from extended families rather than erosion of those families in the name of modernity.

avatar Chris Travers November 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Evidently I misspelled the end of blockquote, above. Karen’s quote is just the first paragraph.

avatar Chris Travers November 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Mr Peters:

I actually disagree with this:

In a culture, the person is freed from his whims, desires, and compulsions to that he can do his duty, fulfill his responsibility and carry out his obligations to deities, to family, to religious institutions and other associations of a particular social order.

The fact is that what a traditional culture does is provide support. Whims and desires may or may not be acted upon as circumstances allow, but the support structures are stronger and so very often if you can make them productive, you follow them through quite a bit better. Also strong family autonomy supports greater real diversity than it does in our society today.

avatar robert m. peters November 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Mr. Travis,

I had typed out a long missive in response which disappeared of a sudden into a cyber hole. I will return to this discussion on the morrow. Suffice it to say for the moment, the content of the main body of your thought supra does not seem to disagree with the quote from me which you present, although your preamble states otherwise. Perhaps we can clarify this tomorrow.

avatar James A. Kramer November 26, 2012 at 8:19 am

What a waste of time to read! Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. If one wants to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and is therefore God, and wants to hope in an eternal life after one dies, because Jesus was able to pay for our sins, by his death, as a substitute, and was able to rise from the dead, because he was perfect, and without sin, one can do so, and have the hope of eternal life. I do so. I am of a Christian Reformed background, a Dutch Reformed background. But I have embraced Pope John Paul II’s christian personalism. I have chosen a perspectivet that would be similiar to Mother Theresa, Brother Lawrence, St. Therese of the Little Flower. I have decided to follow Jesus, an invisible resurrected Jesus, who I invited into my heart a long time ago. I wear a cardigan and a tie, like the late Rev. Fred Rogers, and ask Jesus to use me uniquely each day. I am so tired of secular political examinations and talk of all kinds, whether conservative, liberal, or radical. I vote every 4 years for a president, and I vote as a christian social independent with my own christian political philosophy, which has no representation. I feel that now with decades of debt additions that now America is really over the fiscal cliff, and I fear for the economic future. But I go back to my “little” life, and ask an invisible, resurrected, living Jesus to be in me again each day, admit my continuing sinfulness,
and ask to be used uniquely. Today, I will go and pick up food donations, and deliver them to a Salvation Army. I will also continue my vocation as a “missionary” and in being a in home care giver to my mother in law, and I will continue my involvement with a “climate neutral” corporation that makes excellent researched natural products, the Shaklee Corporation, that I believe has a real natural law philosophy, put in place by its founder, Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee, whose birthday I will celebrate tomorrow, November 27. He was born Nov. 27, 1895, and I hope to meet him, and Fred Rogers, some day in Heaven. But I have chosen a company that I can believe in that I believe offers more than either the Republicans or the Democrats offer. Join us in Shaklee. I believe that they really respect our health, and Nature, and most of those who do have Shaklee businesses are women. But I admire many, many people in Shaklee. Well, I need to go. I have written too much already. But you now know my opinion. God bless. Bye for now.

avatar Ray Olson November 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Karen–My apologies for not answering you sooner. I chose to do other things with the rest of yesterday–offline, as it were, since I try not to spend more than 4 hours a day with my laptop, and those preferably broken up in two or more sessions. I believe Mr. Travers and Mr. Peters have each answered for me quite well–definitely more systematically than I could and out of deeper knowledge than I command.

You ask, “How can you have a traditional society that allows women education, agency, and employment?” I want to answer that you can’t have a traditional society. What you can have are ways or models of living conducive to–for lack of a more precise term–the good life. And you must not discard them, as revolutionaries (socialists, communists, fascists, libertarians, liberals, monopoly capitalists, feminists) seemingly always do, because not everybody finds the good or good-enough life. Those ways of living will be traditional because they have histories that clearly show their effectiveness. They’ll have been effective because human nature can be seen, from the perspective of all human history, as unchanging (looked at materialistically, H. sapiens just hasn’t had enough time to achieve great changes through evolution).

What kind of “ways of living” do I have in mind? Stable, nurturant families (“nuclear” and extended) and responsible sexuality (i.e., monogamy and fidelity), to begin with. I don’t see how those two, in particular and per se, hamper the agency and the education of women or how they impinge on women’s employment.

avatar Rob G November 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

“The changes contraception wrought between men and women have been entirely beneficial to women.”

Hmmm…while simultaneously being greatly beneficial to predatory males — i.e., cads, pimps and “players”? How, pray tell, is THAT possible?

“…modernity enables the basest and most selfish urges of humanity. I wish people (and especially women) would be more honest that they really just like doing whatever the hell they like, without consequences, and other people be damned.”

Right. In effect feminism tells women, “For too long men have been selfish bastards who take no responsibility for their actions. Now it’s our turn!” Not exactly the best plan of action for improving one’s lot in a healthy manner.

avatar Chris Travers November 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Just a note to Rob G:

One has to be very careful about tarring all of feminism with the same brush. In more recent times there have been some very interesting post-modernist, pro-traditionalist forms of feminism develop. I have recommended this book before on here but I will again: “Birth as an American Rite of Passage” by Robbie Davis-Floyd, which explores how modern childbirth practices are disempowering to women and why a shift to natural childbirth is important. The book has been relatively influential but not nearly enough so. It will also change the way you think about gender and society. Read it and ponder it if you dare (I am not saying I agree with everything in the book of course, but it is incredibly thought provoking and well done).

There is a discussion occurring right now in feminist circles as to whether to embrace anew domesticity and/or traditionalism. I suspect that Elizabeth Warren’s important book “The Two Income Trap” is a part of that but the debate goes much further. The thing to keep in mind is that the the feminist traditionalists I know of recognize two important truths:

1) The corporate workplace will never be fair towards women (see Marissa Mayer saying she’d only take a couple of weeks maternity leave after being chosen as Yahoo’s CEO) and

2) That staying at home does not mean being economically unproductive or not earning money. Rather there is an opportunity to merge family and work life in such a way as to empower women both economically and socially. Additionally there is a recognition that this is the historical order and that history is not a march towards greater female power.

avatar Chris Travers November 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Two thoughts on a traditional social order.

In most more traditional societies, women work from home after getting married, but may work outside the home prior to getting married. In most traditional societies, there are major market sectors dominated by women. In Europe for example these ranged from some domains of medicine, such as midwifery, to basic production such as textiles.

In most more traditional societies, a significant percentage of men also worked from home, either a smallhold farm, or a shop with the dwelling-space located immediately above, or the like. Often times these were joint enterprises between married couples. In a more traditional society, hence, work life and family life are not at all separate.

avatar Chris Travers November 27, 2012 at 12:48 am

Mr Peters:

I haven’t seen the promised response which I expect to find quite interesting. So instead I will offer one brief thought.

To some extent we may mostly be divided by our language on some of these issues. I maintain that society arises from the interplay of the individual and the social structure. People individually and collectively re-purpose and transform societies, particularly in traditional ones, sometimes very quickly as needs change and yet the traditions can be the same. It is easy to see tradition as something solid and static, but field research into traditional societies (see Victor Turner’s books) shows this is not the case.

I think the major shift is from the Modernist identity with whims and desires, i.e. that I *am* my whims and I am my desires to the Traditionalist identity with works and accomplishments. I *am* my deeds. I am what I have *done.* This is also why I see a distinction between Distributism and Libertarianism in terms of liberty of *works* vs liberty of *contract* to be a deceptively deep division. But it isn’t that whims go away. I may still decide to start brewing a batch of ebulon on a whim and because the season is right. It is just that the focus is on the work of making the alcoholic drink (brewed from malt and elderberries, and when I make it, I do the fermentation in oak), rather than on the mere desire to do so. So I suspect we are more or less on similar pages. Perhaps this helps to clarify.

avatar robert m. peters November 27, 2012 at 10:14 am

Mr. Travis,

The response is coming, just not within the time I had hoped. The familial has made demands which take first priority.

avatar robert m. peters November 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Mr. Travis,

My response:

A culture as per my definition does not eliminate whims, desire, compulsions, etc. It subjugates them the the common good which is the expression of the traditions, customs and habits of a given social order.

The Beatitudes given in the 5th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew outline a process of moving from a fallen barbarian to a person in the image of the Christ. The main Beatitude is “Blessed are the meek….” Meekness has nothing to do with weakness. It means that the person has subjugated himself, including his whims, compulsions and desires, to serve the purposes of the Master.

I used to raise and train Catahoula Leopards who had a natural instinct to herd along with the requisite toughness. I used them to hunt and to capture feral hogs. Their instincts – herding and toughness – were useless to me unless they subordinated themselves to me for the common good – hunting and catching feral pigs without injuring them.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius and General Robert E. Lee both tough military leaders both said that a man cannot lead unless he first learns to be subordinate.

Culture, as opposed to the anti-culture, molds us to pursue the common good which is the expression of the prevailing traditions, customs and habits of a given social order.

avatar Chris Travers November 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Mr Peters:

Of course family comes first. Just hoped you hadn’t forgotten ;-).

As for this:

Culture, as opposed to the anti-culture, molds us to pursue the common good which is the expression of the prevailing traditions, customs and habits of a given social order.

I think that is certainly what the left feels regarding social security, giant government bureaucracies regarding health care, the welfare state, etc. and it is also what the “economic conservatives” on the right do regarding deregulation, wanting to privatize social security and medicare, etc. So if that’s how you define it, it is hard to say we are living in an anti-culture. I think you are trying to get at something else, which is that as the Stoics noted, without self-control there is no freedom and thus modern notions of liberty do not necessarily lead to freedom. (I normally don’t think much of Norman Vincent Peale but his “Sex, Sin and Self Control” is actually pretty insightful and demonstrates how much Stoicism has survived in Christianity.)

But I would offer as an alternative that the definition of culture and anti-culture you are searching for might be easier to reach through ecological metaphors and comparing a wheat field to a permacultural food forest. In the wheat field, you have low diversity and large numbers of plants which are poorly supported save by outside influence (chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, etc). This is the state of our cities and the welfare state currently and it is not sustainable either as a farming practice or as an approach to farming people in cities. Perhaps the metaphor is not so much of an anti-culture as a monoculture. Our society is eroding its foundation just as surely as conventional wheat farming kills the soil.

A food forest on the other hand has high diversity, smaller numbers of far more productive plants, and those plants support eachother in intricate ways without external input. The approach doesn’t scale mechanically but one can get significantly higher yields per acre than with factory farms. It only works on a human scale, but this is what strong families do.

avatar Roman November 28, 2012 at 11:31 am

Amongst this discussion, which I am thoroughly enjoying, I’d like to add:

John, very good read. As a Reformed Christian with a Dutch Reformed background in theology (who just happens to have grown up Byzantine Catholic), I do always enjoy reading you even when I disagree with the way you seem to portray all Christians outside the Catholic Church as fundamentalists. Maybe that’s not your intention, but it’s the perception I and the other Reformed on FPR are getting. The entire church, not just Catholics, needs to take the lead. I really appreciate your words on “Pro-Life”, what it means and what the church should be doing about it.

Mr. Peters,
Your responses have been wonderful. You say so much of what I would like to say with more precision and historical detail. Much of your analysis of Enlightment/Jacobinism sound like Groen Van Prinsterer and other Dutch Reformed minds that are deeply engrained in my thinking…mixed with subsidiarity and other localist philosophy. My river of political/economic/cultural thinking has converged at this point. I think Catholic social teaching has much to offer to the Western Protestantism that has been hijacked by hyper-individualism.

avatar John Médaille November 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Roman, I apologize if I gave the impression that everyone not Catholic is fundamentalist; that certainly is not my belief. Nevertheless, leadership does need to be exercised, and that usually means one group stands for a larger group. The has often been the fundamentalists, as sort of the Least Common Denominator of the Christians. I think we need the Greatest Common Denominator. Of course, at that point, the Orthodox are likely to chime in, “You mean us, right?”

And that’s okay too.

avatar Roman November 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm

John,

Thanks for the response and clearing that up. I should note that the “I and other Reformed on FPR” I stated above are only a couple of us. I don’t know all the Reformed Christians around these porches! The term “fundamentalist” in my parts has always described a sort of strictly legalistic-baptistic fray of protestantism that reject most, if not all of culture (no alcohol, no politics, no internet, no dressing this way, etc). Of course, it can be used a bit more loosely…just as long as it doesn’t include me :). Sorry to interrupt this conversation. Cheers.

avatar robert m. peters November 28, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Mr. Travis,

Stoicism has very much survived “in” or “with” Christianity. Some Christian apologists, although certainly not all, saw Stoicism, particularly as it was lived out by men like Marcus Aurelius, as a necessary antecedent to Christianity. Stoicism, at least in its more modern idiom, has been a default, particularly in the South, when the Christian faith gives way. I man who personifies that is William Alexander Percy.

My references to the anti-culture have as their antecedent “The Triumph of the Therapeutic ” by Philip Rieff. The anti-culture is more than a metaphor. There is a mind behind it whose presence is made manifest by the dualism of the Hobbesian state – an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power, and driven by a strong will – and the abstract autonomous individual, the would-be Promethean self outfitted with both his Lockean and Jacobin “rights,” both in a paradoxical alliance against subsidiary – God, family, Church, free associations and republican polities. The anti-culture in merchandizing and in advertizing as well as in statutory law stresses the cult of personality, i.e. acting out one’s whims, desires and compulsions, over against culture which stresses the rule of law – traditions,customs and habits – which enhance character which is a limited self, restrained by having acquired, internalized and living out the great virtues. The hallmark of the anti-culture is unbelief, which is more than mere atheist. Unbelief stand athwart belief which as “religion” dominates culture, no matter how primitive or how sophisticated, whether heathen, pagan, Christian or others. As a Christian, I have more in common with an Aztec priest who cuts the heart out of a captive than I do with the majority of people walking down Wall Street, Fifth Avenue or Hollywood Boulevard; for what the priest and I have in common is that we are creatures in a created order and that there is Something pushing at us through the created order which demands a response and that response is a blood sacrifice. Those folks strolling the streets, avenues and boulevards have no notion that they are creatures, that there is a created order, that there is a creator or that some creator is demanding a response which they must give. The void between the Hobbesian state and the autonomous individual, a void created by their conspiring to destroy the restraining institutions, traditions, customs and habits of culture, is filled by unbelief. No, the anti-culture is no metaphor; we are embedded in it;and it is embedded in far too many of us. Most of my adult life has been spent exorcizing the anti-culture in me as I have become aware of its fruits in my own life.

avatar robert m. peters November 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Mr. Roman,

I am myself a Protestant, a Baptist, although some fellow Baptist have invented the fiction that we are not Protestants, of the Southern Baptist idiom; nevertheless, I assert that it is less likely that we have been hijacked by hyper-individualism; it is more likely, although one can certainly debate it, that we have been co-conspirators with it. Although there have always been competing strains and factions of Arminians, Calvinists and Apostolics among American Baptist, the puritanical fundamentalism such as abstinence from alcohol and Biblical inerrancy are products of a very successful doctrinal reconstruction of Northern Baptists and their Southern converts. Most Baptists of the antebellum South had an orthodox rather than a fundamentalist understanding of these issues.

avatar John Médaille November 28, 2012 at 8:46 pm

The hallmark of the anti-culture is unbelief, which is more than mere atheist. Unbelief stand athwart belief which as “religion” dominates culture, no matter how primitive or how sophisticated, whether heathen, pagan, Christian or others.

The void between the Hobbesian state and the autonomous individual, a void created by their conspiring to destroy the restraining institutions, traditions, customs and habits of culture, is filled by unbelief.

Excellent stuff! But particularly trenchant is the observation that we cannot easily get outside this: No, the anti-culture is no metaphor; we are embedded in it;and it is embedded in far too many of us. Most of my adult life has been spent exorcizing the anti-culture in me as I have become aware of its fruits in my own life.

avatar Chris Travers November 28, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Mr Peters;

First, I remember my amazement when, on reading Renaissance books on philosophy, I began to note that at least some intellectual historians in that period attributed the Trinity to none other than Plato. I remember being even further amazed when I found the basis for that attribution. I think it is no exaggeration to say that Christian Theology is quite rooted in Greek and Roman philosophy generally.

As to the question of anti-culture, first I want to recognize that this is a semantic argument. We both recognize the sickness of the modern world. However from my different vantage point, I see things from a different point of view. Where you see a secular society which seeks to marginalize religions, I see a society which has an unacknowledged religion which I think both of us recognize as problematic. Instead of the Cult of Personality though, I think the fundamental one is the Cult of the Machine. The Cult of the Machine holds that the Great Machine is the universal archetype.

So there is no misunderstanding what I mean by universal archetype is a model on which models of the universe, the human, and society. Parallels include the World Tree in Norse Paganism, the Tree of Life in Kabbalistic thought, the Human Form in Platonic thought (see Republic applying this to society and Timaeus applying it to the cosmos) and the like.

The Cult of the Machine holds that everything is a machine: social institutions are machines, our bodies are machines, our homes are machines, we farm as though the land is a machine, and the universe itself is a machine, deterministic and discoverable. In our culture our universal archetype is that of the machine with interchangeable parts, and which can, through human ingenuity, be improved through advanced engineering.

In this view the Hobbesian state is a machine, engineered by its creators and maintainers to do certain things, and all that is left to the individual are the whims, ideas, and desires. You too are a beautiful, unique ear of wheat standing in a wheatfield, awaiting the combine of corporate advertising which will efficiently harvest you for monetary gain as if you were not unique at all. Consequently the Cult of the Personality is more or less like the small statue of Roma standing outside the great Temple to Caesar.

Moreover voting is portrayed as the primary form of political activity because it is the only part that fits into this narrative, where one vote is much like another, and where one voter is much like another. It is also the only part which purports to give legitimacy to the machines of government.

The result of course is that we are all isolated, reduced to cogs in machines, and denied real individuality, and yet we are told we have more individuality than we ever have in the past. But in a more traditional society, people are known by their works and consequently people are less replaceable than we are in our society today and therefore we are less individualistic. It is like the yuppie who talks about the need for diversity but can’t stand the fact that they eat guinea pigs in Peru or horses in Quebec, and would freak out if his grocery store sold cow intestine wrapped up in neat little packages, sold next to the rib steaks.

So I don’t think it is so much a matter of unbelief as much as that faith in machines has supplanted faith in people, so one form of belief and one religion has supplanted another. (As a brief side-note, it is easy to see questioning the Cult of the Machine as questioning science, but the fact is that scientific data collected in Western Europe shows that, for example, on average midwives have better outcomes than obstetricians given equivalent environments, so the scientific method must be separated from the faith in human engineering and the machine as universal archetype.)

As far as commonality, yes, I would say I have more in common with you than with the vast majority of Americans and this includes the question of blood sacrifice. I would suggest you might find Walter Burkert’s chapter on Greek blood sacrifice in “Homo Necans” to be quite interesting.

As far as the current culture goes, I think three words describe my thoughts: hubris ante nemesis, and in our collective modern hubris, we have impoverished ourselves and driven away everything which sustains and supports life relying more and more on the fertilizers from the machine (in the sense of government programs) where mutual support would be better. If we don’t correct course, when Nemesis shows up, it will be bad.

avatar Kristopher S. Pierce November 29, 2012 at 4:19 am

This is inspiring stuff to me. I am an evangelical Christian and a student at my local community college. When I turned eighteen in 2003, I registered as a Republican. I’ve been a Republican ever since.

But my views since I started college have changed a lot. I have come to the conviction that the Iraq War was not a “just war”. I also have come to believe that it is “conservative” to care more about environmental conservation. I see it as a stewarship issue. Rod Dreher’s book “Crunchy Cons” opened my eyes to a world I never imagined existed: a world where evangelicals, Catholics, and other traditionalists actually cared about environmental conservation and questioned the GOP’s love affair with Big Business. This was all new to me. And very inspiring!

Somewhere in all of this I discovered distributism. I started reading The Distributist Review and watching lectures by you, Mr. Medaille. I was very drawn to the ideas I found there. Now, I know distributism is mostly a Catholic thing. But I can’t really think of any reason why an evangelical Christian couldn’t embrace many(or possibly all) of these ideas.

And that’s not the only thing I agree with the Catholics on. My wife and I also have come to agree with the Catholic Church on contraception. For me, the whole philosophy behind it is suspect from a biblical point of view. (An interesting sidenote: Websites and blogs dedicated to Natural Family Planning and to exposing the problems with our “contraceptive culture” are popping up on Facebook).

So, I am feeling less and less at home in the GOP. I agree with them 100% on social issues like abortion and so-called gay marriage. But I don’t find myself agreeing with them on things like foreign policy and the environment. I would love to see a third party arise–one that could attract the social conservatives and provide a more holistically Christian approach to issues. Of course, other traditionalists besides just Christians would be welcome in this party.

I am going to do my part in helping this along. I am printing some flyers from The Distributist Review that introduces people to distributism and posting them on the bulletin boards at both my community college and a nearby university.

Imagine that! An evangelical(with a Southern Baptist background, mind you!) passing out flyers about ideas that are rooted in Catholic social teaching. These are strange times indeed.

avatar Chris Travers November 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

Mr Pierce:

I want to assure you that Distributism is alive and well even beyond the confines of Christianity. I have found it to be quite popular among Norse Neopagans, for example, and I suspect that other culture-specific Neopagan groups (what we might call the “right wing” of the Neopagan movement) may be moving this way too.

avatar David Smith November 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

Dr. Peters:

You say, “Although there have always been competing strains and factions of Arminians, Calvinists and Apostolics among American Baptist, the puritanical fundamentalism such as abstinence from alcohol and Biblical inerrancy are products of a very successful doctrinal reconstruction of Northern Baptists and their Southern converts. Most Baptists of the antebellum South had an orthodox rather than a fundamentalist understanding of these issues.”

I certainly understand the tendency toward legalism as expressed in “puritanical fundamentalism” that has come to characterize much of Protestant Evangelicalism. We will rightly condemn the New Testament Pharisee as the Lord does, who drew lines where God never did, elevating their traditions above the Law itself. And yet we will totally miss the Pharisee looking back at us in the mirror every morning, either potentially or manifestly. In my teaching and preaching, I suppose it’s become something of a rant, a pet peeve, for me to inveigh against mere cultural Christianity, a species akin to the very Pharisaism that we all purport to condemn.

What I’m not clear on is your (seeming?) condemnation of Biblical inerrancy. Again, as Deuteronomy 29: 29 makes clear, the things revealed belong to man, while the things He has chosen not to reveal belong to Him. To reiterate my reiteration, let’s not draw lines where He has not nor speak authoritatively where He has left things ambiguous. I absolutely agree with that. But surely we have to hold the truth of His Word as inerrant, at least insofar as we correctly translate it, or we are set adrift on a sea of relativism.

I have settled down into what I believe to be a good-natured Calvinism, hopefully akin to Dr. Dabney’s or Pastor Spurgeon’s and not the ‘puritanical” caricature of the Yankee variety that developed into the meddling Universalism that has plagued us for so long. Where do we disagree?

BTW, just as we must beware of our tendency to become the very Pharisees whose legalizing practices we condemn, I love where you have written of being similarly aware of the elements of anti-culture that have taken hold within ourselves. As I heard a former pastor of mine often preach, “There may be one admonishing finger pointing to you all in the congregation, but that also means there are three fingers pointing back at me about the same thing!”

Amen!

avatar Jeff Taylor November 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Roman, You can count me among the Reformed, as well–although my theology is irenic and broader than simply “Reformed” because I don’t believe denominationalism is found in the NT, with the exception of its condemnation in I Cor. 1:12-13. Still, labels serve some purpose because they distinguish between genuine differences and help us to get a handle on a complex reality.

I belong to a Christian Reformed Church congregation and teach at a CRC college.

avatar Jeff Taylor November 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm

p.s. – To round things out, in connection with robert and John, I was affiliated with a Southern Baptist congregation for several years in Alabama before returning to my home state last year, and, like Roman, I have developed an appreciation for distributism. It isn’t the same thing as sphere sovereignty, but the two dovetail nicely with each other.

avatar John Médaille November 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I find “sphere sovereignty” to be a very useful concept and a good addition to solidarity and subsidiarity. Subsidiarity retains a hierarchical view of society, even though it stands that hierarchy on its head. SS adds a sort of “networked” and “nodal” element and is hierarchy breaking.

avatar robert m. peters November 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Mr. Smith,

Your words:

“But surely we have to hold the truth of His Word as inerrant, at least insofar as we correctly translate it, or we are set adrift on a sea of relativism. ”

Before ever one word was penned by the agency of man as our Lord’s instrument for the inspired Bible, God is (not was) the Creator and interacts with man. Therein is all relativism vanquished; for it cannot exist because God exists and is most really known in the person of the Living Christ as opened to us by the Holy Spirit who woos us and through His Body, the Church. An Icon with a capital I is,however, not to be confused with the ultimate Reality behind it. You note about a “correct translation” should set one to thinking and whether or not we possess an “Urtext” to be translated and whether or not we are mere creatures, and fallen ones at that, have the capacity to determine that we possess the inerrant Urtext. In the desire to paragraphize God we reveal two things: our fear of faith and our quest to control God through knowledge acquired via a means deemed to be as inerrant as He is.

avatar David Smith November 30, 2012 at 11:33 am

Dr. Peters:

I think I see your point, but I will have to chew on it further in order to extract its fulness. However, I wonder if what you’re saying here is at all akin to what I have heard from fellow conservative evangelicals in cautioning us not to idolize the Bible itself, or, even, to have faith in faith, as if that will save us in and of itself, apart from the God who grants it?

Likewise, I have often taught and preached against the common statement among us “Bible-thumpers” that “Prayer works!” Most of the time, I know what folks mean, so I don’t wish to quibble too much. But let’s be clear, “prayer”, our quiet times with our laundry lists of requests, by themselves, don’t accomplish a thing! It is only the Object of our worship and prayer Who makes any of this meaningful, and He is not a cosmic vending machine!

avatar robert m. peters November 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm

We do not have faith in faith. First of all, faith itself is a gift of God, a means and not an end. One does not have “faith” in a means. The faith with which God has graced us has as its quest and its Master the Living Christ in whom the Fullness of the Godhead dwells. Faith is not an abstraction; and neither is the Living Christ. Our task as Christians is to wake up every morning and ask the question, “Domine, quo vadimus?” (Lord, where are we going?) We then take up our cross on that morning and struggle and stumble to follow Him. In that daily quest we have duties to and assets from the the Holy Spirit, the Church, The Eucharist, the Bible and prayer, even the created order itself if we have the spiritual sense to perceive God in His created order. (Don’t think Pantheism! Do think in the image of and Incarnation.)

avatar David Smith December 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

Dr. Peters: “Faith is not an abstraction; and neither is the Living Christ.”

Indeed! And of course He is neither an abstraction nor a mere object to be manipulated at our whim, but a Person, the Person of Persons! I like the way Dr. Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” renders the well known John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The Eucharist is one of the the best curatives (possibly the best?) for the pernicious gnosticism that ever lurks at our doors. “This is My body . . . This is My blood . . .” are constant reminders that His sacrifice is both spiritual and physical, as real as that bread, that wine, or even the created order we live in.

avatar robert m. peters December 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Mr. Smith,

Indeed! Indeed!

avatar S.H.Gritz December 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Re: JCM’s letter to editor of The American Conservative “…the goal of liberty, pursued in disregard of any other *proper* goal will always double back…to become its own opposite.”
What is *Proper”?
PS: my site may interest you.

avatar robert m. peters December 7, 2012 at 10:54 am

Mr. Gritz,

The proper goal of liberty is to be the expression of emancipation or freedom from our whims, lusts, desires and compulsions, in short, from our barbaric and would-be Promethean selves, so, free therefrom, we can fulfill our ultimate purpose which is to glorify God as His creatures, to edify His church, to honor our parents, to live in fidelity to our spouses, to nurture our children, to show hospitality to our kith and kin and even to the stranger among us, and to love our enemies, first having acknowledged that we have enemies rather than pretend as does Modernity that we can tolerate them away, and with apprehensiveness and attentiveness hear, receive and carry out the calling which our Lord gives us, for our lives and on a daily basis as we each morning take up our cross and ask at the dawn, “Domine, quo vadimus.” In the very short, liberty is being a slave to our Lord and not being a slave to our fallen selves and to that being who aided and abetted that fall.

avatar S.H.Gritz December 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Excellent philosophy! With respect, would it apply – in your mind – to a person unable to accept God, or a “Religion, but a believer in this philosophy ?”

avatar robert m. peters December 8, 2012 at 12:18 am

Mr. Gritz,

It is not a philosophy. It is learning to live, in reality, as a creature in the created order. There is no doubt that in the classical age, men apprehended this ultimate truth; that is why they gave us the cardinal virtues and the capital virtues. That is why Aristotle understood that to have a republic one had to have “republican” men, those liberated from themselves by the ars liberalis. The fullness of what these men apprehended was revealed in the person of our Lord. Dante spells this out much better than can I in his Divine Comedy. One could, I suppose, go back to Aristotle and others of the classical period and attempt to live as if one did not know that what they had apprehended and ordered their lives around was fulfilled in Christ; however, unlike them, the one who did that would be living a lie.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins December 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

The re-election of the President was the least of it; the more important event was the complete collapse of the Church’s political agenda.

Perhaps the problem is that the Church has a political agenda. So long as any church seeks to dominate political discourse, legislation, elections, there is the ominous specter of theological totalitarianism lurking in the near background. Then again, the Roman variant of Christianity may have focused on a political agenda because it knows it cannot win by changing hearts and minds — too many are not available to be changed to said church’s satisfaction. It can’t even rule its own baptized adherents — and thank God for that.

No political program is going to end all abortions. There are plenty in the pro-life movement who prevent a significant number of abortions, by reaching out to pregnant women, giving them reasons not to abort, offering whatever support, including material support, they need to confidently carry their pregnancies to term. Not every woman responds, and in my seldom humble opinion, no coercive powers of the state should be invoked to make her do so. But I suspect many women who are receptive to the pro-life message are woman who would twenty years later be standing on the “I regret my abortion” platform. It is better that pro-lifers reach such women before they make the decision.

It is even conceivable that over time, persistent, but not overtly aggressive, pro-life persuasion could make abortion rare, as well as safe and legal. That would be a real accomplishment. It not only can be done without criminal legislation, it can only be done without criminal legislation. It could, however, change our culture.

I don’t really see much relevance of confederate nostalgia to this thread, but as the great-great-grandson of an officer in the 11th Tennessee Cavalry, United States Army, commissioned in 1863 by military governor Andrew Johnson, I would like to note that the reason the confederacy implemented conscription is, as some despairing southern newspaper editors conceded with disgust, the young men of the southern states were by no means inspired by the cause of secession to volunteer. That alone should, by the purported principles of the rebellion, have motivated the leadership of the confederacy to stand down. If the people aren’t willing to fight for the standard, don’t raise it.

avatar robert m. peters December 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

Mr. Jenkins,

I know of few people who are nostalgic for the Confederacy. The Confederacy is dead. It died in 1865 as a political expression of the traditions, customs and habits held in common by the Southern states as a union of constitutionally federated republics The South, in weal and woe, did not, however, die. Also, the union of constitutionally federated republics known as the United States died in that same year. Both unions were replaced by a consolidated and centralized state. If conscription and desertion are measures of viability, then Lincoln’s nascent empire was in deep trouble by 1863, the conscription trying to stay apace of desertion and with the impressing of thousands of otherwise unwanted Irishmen into the empire’s ranks. By 1865, alien Germans, nationalists and Marxists, made up a substantial percentage of Lincoln’s officers corps.

avatar S.H.Gritz December 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm

The problem as I see it, is that each of us has an opinion based on our upbringing (“Conditioned Response”) and experiences; every issue is seen from dozens of perspectives, and no one is right or wrong, though each of thinks we are right. I personally believe we should consider that the nation, and the world is a lot different than the founders conceived, and should be dealt with on present insight. As for a church leader speaking politics, we should simply waive all tax breaks.
Abortions should be no one’s business; morality should not be a government’s business. The national government should not relate to the individual citizen.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins January 2, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Well the confederacy certainly turned the tide and started to win battles once it has conscripted a sufficient volume of cannon fodder for its generals to cast into the fray. Accordingly, the government of the United States of America had little alternative but to match them in volume. The carnage was of course greatly increased, compared to what it would have been if only those were to be found in the respective armies who volunteered to be there.

The loose confederation of constituent republics ended with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America. If fewer than nine states had ratified, it would not have gone into effect at all. If only nine states had ratified it, then the remaining four would have been free to go their separate ways, or enter into some other confederation among some or all of each other. None wished to face the world alone, and so in the end, all ratified. From that point, freedom of movement, full faith and credit, free trade, patterns of migration and settlement, relinquishing overlapping claims to western territory, essentially tied each part to the whole, and made it impossible for any one state, or any several states, to take their marbles and go home, in any manner that respected what every other state was equitably entitled to.

There were, and remain, powers not delegated to the federal government that remained with the states. One of the better services the Rehnquist court delivered was to affirm that, e.g., it is for the states to pass criminal penalties for carrying loaded firearms in the vicinity of schools, not congress. The same for civil actions against rapists, albeit nobody approves of rape or massacring school children. Its a matter of jurisdiction, and it is still very much part of our federal republican framework.

Catholics also made up a good part of Lincoln’s officer corps by 1865. He appointed Rosecrans to command, over the more competent Thomas (although Rosecrans conducted the Tullahoma campaign with great skill), because he needed a prominent Catholic general to encourage Catholic participation. Any objection to the Catholics in the officer corps? The Know-Nothings would have. I don’t much object to Germans, or even Marxists, provided the army was carrying out orders, not setting policy.

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