Principles of Catholic Morality X: the challenge of modernity and the contested legacy of Thomism

In the eighteenth century, the Church found itself faced with a new foe, which was to prove deadlier than paganism or Islam.  The destruction of the Catholic Church–first its social marginalization, and then its complete annihilation–has always been the first and overriding goal of the philosophes and their progeny, the liberals and socialists.  By definition, no peace is possible with people whose whole organizing purpose is your extermination.  Whenever the Church has foolishly offered concessions, she has been met by steepening demands and escalating attacks.  Although the philosophes were extremely second-rate as thinkers, they did form an ideology that powerfully appeals to mens’ baser instincts:  individualism, utilitarianism, libertinism.  Whoever wishes to cast off the holy bonds of community, tradition, and natural law finds in these a ready justification.

The Church would, of course, reject individualism in all its forms, and doing so would lead to significant developments in her understanding of both herself and the temporal order.  This began with the counter-revolutionaries.  Although derided by progressive (and even Burkean) historians, they were original in some important respects.  The focus of Louis de Bonald was quite new.  Rather than basing his system on a view of individual human flourishing or even of collective national flourishing, his concern is above all to defend a set of relations (power/minister/subject; father/mother/child; king/ministers/subjects) understood to be willed by God as the way His authority is communicated to Earth.  Individuals are less important than the roles they fill.  Society itself is important only as the sum of these relations.  Bonald was also an early proponent of the Catholic view of tradition as enabling reason, rather than substituting for it.  We cannot reason, he says, without language, and language is something we receive from our culture, which received it in the beginning from God Himself.  However, the fact that we owe the means of our reasoning to tradition doesn’t imply any cultural relativism.  Once we have linguistic reason, we apprehend objective truth with it.  The counter-revolutionary attack on individualism would come to fruition in Rene de la Tour du Pin’s vision of a Christian corporate state.  Every profession is organized corporately; all of them participate in the political process and are directed by authority toward the common good.  The counter-revolutionaries were to have an important effect on Pope Leo XIII and his denunciation of economic liberalism.

At the same time, the Church’s newly explicit anti-individualism was having a profound effect on her understanding of herself.  In Germany, Johann Adam Moehler was to apply the communitarian understanding to the Church.  The Church is not a mass of individuals, but a single corporate body–the body of Christ–with a collective soul, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.  Corporatism allows us to see the Church as the continuation of the Incarnation across space and time, visually organized through the hierarchy.  Another German, Karl Adam, would take this idea of spiritual corporatism and present it as Catholicism’s very spirit.  He convincingly argued that this idea makes sense of many Catholic doctrines that Protestants find inexplicable:  the sacraments, the ordained priesthood, the communion of saints, and indulgences.  The culmination of this corporatist ecclesiology was Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, a definitive statement of the Church’s self-understanding.

Meanwhile, in England, John Henry Newman was to defend the Church against the liberals’ claim that the appearance of mutability in the Church’s doctrine over time disproves her claim to authority.  If the Church is infallible, shouldn’t she say precisely the same thing at all times?  If her teaching is apostolic, shouldn’t it all be found in first-century writings?  Newman agreed that the Church should not contradict herself with time, but he saw Christianity as more than a set of explicit beliefs expanding outward only by logical deduction.  The Church is an organic community.  Like an organism, she can mature and change while maintaining her distinct nature; like an organism, there is an objective distinction between corruption and maturation along the lines of one’s nature.  The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, was part of the Church from the beginning, implicit in her scriptures and rituals, but she had to “grow” intellectually before she could formulate it in an explicit dogma.  The “development of dogma” is really the process of the Church bringing to light the truths encoded in her rituals and other practices.  Christians prayed for the dead, for example, long before they had a dogma that made sense of that practice.  Here again, we see the Catholic view that obedience to tradition does not mean you ever have to shut off your brain.  If a traditionally established Christian practice doesn’t make sense given currently doctrines, this is an opportunity for deeper investigation of the Church’s hidden treasures, rather than to simply dismiss either the doctrines or the practice.

After World War II, the Church found herself confronted by a world dominated by two powers, both representing the Enlightenment, but different strands of it.  The United States represented the “moderate” tradition of Locke and the founding fathers:  deist and democratic, hostile to religious establishment put friendly to its private excercise, and with an idealism tempered by prudence.  The Soviet Union represented the fanatical, atheist, and totalitarian tradition of the Jacobins:  bloodthirsty, cruel, openly anti-religious and Satanic, unrestrained by humilty, tradition, or even basic human pity.  While the Church saw errors in both positions, she certainly could not be neutral between them.  An American world would be a challenge; a Soviet world certain death.  Thus the wise Pius XII through his entire weight behind the free world and against the godless communists.  Christian thinkers began to reevaluate the moderate Enlightenment with more sympathy.  Surely, if these Lockean liberals could be steadfast allies of Christianity against the Nazis and the communists, they can’t be all bad?

This brief sense of friendship between moderate liberalism and Christianity is the spirit of “the fifties”, which really lasted from 1945 to about 1965.  It was a time when people like Jacques Maritain, Arnold Toynbee, and Reinhold Niebuhr could find a large and receptive audience.  Maritain, the Catholic of this bunch, had been a Catholic communitarian during his days in Action Francaise.  He mistook the papal command to leave this organization as an order to help Catholicism get with the liberal program.  So Maritain spent the rest of his life trying to square the circle of imagining a spiritual community that is worldview-neutral.  Quite a waste, really.  The main statement of this incoherent vision is his Integral Humanism.  The key to Maritain’s new Christendom was community based on the natural law, which in the haze of the “fifties” Maritain imagined to be shared by Catholics, liberals, and even socialists.

Also during the fifties, an up-and-coming theologian named Has Urs von Balthasar wrote a spectacularly foolish book called Razing the Bastions:  On the Church in this Age.  Balthasar claimed that the Church’s separate organizations and her defenses against modernity were harmful and should be abandoned.  They just prevent fruitful “engagement” with the world and keep converts out.  Therefore, all the Church’s plausibility structures should be abandoned, and Catholics should immerse themselves in the hostile general culture.  Seriously, that’s the argument.  It’s as if a soldier were to say to his general that all their defenses against the invading army should be torn down, because they’re discouraging incoming defectors!  The Church, defended by the Holy Spirit from heresy but not from boneheaded stupidity, took Balthasar’s advice, and the results were what one would expect from unilateral disarmament.  Once the walls were breached, Maritain and Balthasar (when the latter wasn’t writing incomprehensible books on Christology) would both defend their city heroically, but it’s not clear that they ever realized their past errors.

Since Aeterni Patris, most orthodox Catholic intellectuals have been calling themselves Thomists, so the argument of how to respond to modernity has taken the form of a civil war between Thomists.  The Radical Orthodox theologian Tracey Rowland in the book Culture and the Thomist Tradition has characterized this conflict as a disagreement over how the Church is to understand culture.  The “Whig Thomists” see culture as a theologically neutral set of practices–such as speaking German vs. speaking French–and the Church must simply “translate” herself into the culture she finds herself immersed in.  Today, that culture is modernity, and the Church must reexpress herself in its idiom by chucking hellenistic philosophy and pre-democratic political sensibilities.  Third-world “inculturation” advocates certainly takes such opinions, but Rowland has in mind primarily American Catholic neoconservatives like Michael Novak, for whom the Church inculturing herself means specifically baptizing (i.e. capitulating to) democratic capitalism.

Neoconservatives are, of course, rather easy to dismiss, intellectually speaking.  A more serious set of “Whig Thomists” are the proponents of the New Natural Law, such as John Finnis and Robert George.  This group is convinced that Hume’s is/ought distinction is a serious blow to the original Thomist natural law theory, based on the Aristotelian notion of a normative human telos.  So they propose to replace human nature with a list of “goods of human flourishing”.  Of course, any such list could only be anchored in some normative human nature, so this move really buys them nothing.  What they do with it is worse.  Their fundamental principle is that these goods are effectively on a level and one may never act against any of them.  Thus trivial goods like “play” can impose moral obligations as weighty as serious goods like “religion” (this latter category being their only half-recognition that God may have something to do with human flourishing).  Saint Thomas himself never advocated such a moral system, which is not surprising, since it is absurd.  Despite their obviously flawed system, the new natural lawyers have been some of the ablest public defenders of Christian morality of late.

Against the Whig Thomists, Rowland points to the “postmodern Augustinian Thomists” who recognize that culture is not morally neutral, but always contains at least implied moral standards, and who identify liberal modernity as a culture/tradition at least partly antithetical to Christianity.  The best known proponent of this view is Alasdair MacIntyre.  A convert from Marxism, MacIntyre came to see that a tolerable ethics would need something like the Aristotelian sense of virtue and human excellence.  However, he thought Aristotle’s natural philosophy was obviously wrong (an opinion he later changed), so something other than an Aristotelian form would have to be found to supply this standard of virtue.  In his most famous book, After Virtue, MacIntyre suggests that virtues may be an emergent property of communities.  In modern bureaucratic organizations, only the final product, the output, matters.  Healthier communities have “practices” which are done for their own sake; it doesn’t just matter that such-and-such gets done, but that we do it.  To be able to excel at “practices”, a person must develop certain qualities, and these are the virtues.  Thus, someone can only really be virtuous in a certain type of community, and modernity/democratic capitalism isn’t it.  What’s more, we need narrative traditions to fully make sense of our lives and the virtues, a theme MacIntyre was to develop more fully in Whose Justice?  Which Rationality?  This book again identifies liberalism as a distinct tradition incompatible with Thomism.  The way to rejuvinate ethic life is not, MacIntyre believes, to replace the liberal state (he hasn’t seen that far, unfortunately), but to create small communities where the genuinely virtuous life can thrive.

Rowland, as I said, is a member of the Radical Orthodoxy movement.  Although largely an Anglican movement, a major inspiration of this group is the mid-century Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac.  Lubac is best known for his attack on “extrinsicalism”, the idea that grace and nature are completely unrelated, so that the natural human order can get along just fine without God.  Lubac attributed this belief to his scholastic enemies, and he blamed it for the rise of secularism.  The cure, he thought, is to emphasize man’s natural desire for God.  The Radical Orthodoxy application of this is to say that no human activity is autonomous.  All should be ordered to God.  The danger they often understate is that the distinction between nature and grace may be lost.

The conciliar document Gaudium et spes more or less assumed that culture can be changed with as little effort or consequence as changing a set of clothes.  The results of this false assumption have been ruinous.  We are now coming to understand that a certain cultural context is important for the fostering of the Christian virtuous life.  Morality is not a private matter.

Principles of Catholic Morality IX: Dante on Purgatory

There’s an idea held by both Protestants and not a few Catholics that the doctrine of purgatory is Catholicism’s way of assuring us that spiritual mediocrities get into heaven.  Christ may have demanded perfection, but we can be more generous;  we say that all souls not guilty of obvious wickedness are good enough, but they just have to sit in some sort of waiting room for a while as punishment for their venial sins.  Those who are never put to the test, as the martyrs were, will get into heaven easy, without ever having to overcome their cowardice and weaknesses.  In fact, the doctrine of purgatory means the opposite.  Every one of the souls in heaven is holier than the holiest saint on Earth, braver than the bravest hero, more single-minded in his devotion to God than the most extreme fanatic.  Heaven can be occupied by no other type, and God’s love is too generous for Him to leave us untransformed.  Although, if we are protected by God’s grace, we will die without stain of mortal sin, still none of us leave the Earth in this blessed state.  Our love of God is real but imperfect, hampered by disordered attachments.  We must be purified.

Dante’s Purgatorio has always been my favorite book of The Divine Comedy.  A minor reason is that this is the book where Dante is on a level with the souls he encounters.  In hell, he was a spectator, standing “above” the reprobate souls and not taking part in their agonies.  This was appropriate, because virtue–or at least Virgilian rationality–is the best vantage point to understand sin.  The less intelligible is best understood with reference to the more intelligible.  Sin being unintelligibility and non-being, it has no logos that Dante could only understand by sinking to its level.  In paradise, Dante is again the odd man out, only coming to the same level as the other souls at the end, when he glimpses the Trinity, which they’ve been seing the whole time.  But at the Gate of Purgatory, Dante himself has the seven ‘P’s marked on his forhead.  As he ascends Mount Purgatory and has these marks removed, he follows the same path as all the souls there, although he doesn’t endure their penances.  At the last Cornice, he himself must walk through the fire, and afterwards he drinks from the rivers Lethe and Eunoe.

The major reason that Purgatorio is so appealing is that it is the most dynamic of the three books.  The souls in hell just wallow in degradation; the souls in heaven just repose in bliss.  In purgatory, there is a definite sense of movement and continual progress.  The very imgage of Purgatory as a giant mountain to be scaled is a powerful symbol of the action in store.  There is a goal not yet reached and a sense of how each experience pushes souls forward toward it.  The torments endured by the purging souls are sometimes not milder than those of the damned, but the context is entirely different.  The souls in purgatory undergo their penances willingly; they understand that what they endure is making them fit for heaven.  The atmosphere is one of hope.  Although chatty like all of Dante’s characters, they are anxious that they not be distracted from their penances for long.  As Dante and Virgil ascend the mountain, we see ever stronger evidence of the superhuman devotion and self-control these souls are acquiring.  I vividly remember how, at the seventh (final) Cornice, Dante encounters souls being tormented by fire (symbolizing both the lust they are rejecting and the purity they are gaining).   They are made curious by the presence of someone who is obviously not yet dead.

Then some among them, with great caution, came \ Approaching me, till they could come no nigher, \ Being scrupulous not to o’erstep the flame.

scrupulous not to o’erstep the flame“.  How’s that for dedication!  That’s the kind of devotion a soul needs to enjoy God in heaven.  He Himself will transform us (God is definitely present in purgatory, as represented by the sun, in whose absence no one can make progress on their ascent.), but He won’t settle for less.  I find it a frightening thought, even if we take all these torments as metaphorical (as of course we should).  It is certainly the case that, before I see God, I will have to become the sort of Christian who endured tortures in the arena or the gulag, praising God and forgiving his killers with his last breath.  One way or the other, we must all walk through fire.

Dante’s understanding of the moral life, as presented e.g. by Virgil in Canto XVII, will be familiar to us from Augustine.  The important thing is to love correctly:  loving the right things in the right way.  All actions proceed from love; the root of evil is evil or disordered love.  The sins of lower purgatory have to do with love of evil things, namely the malice whereby we love our neighbor’s harm.  Next there is imperfect love of God (sloth), Who we ought to love above all things but don’t.  Finally, there is disordered love of finite goods.  Being goods, it is correct that we should love them, but we should love them in God and subordinately to God.

In Paradiso, we encounter the virtues and vices one last time.  In the lower spheres, we see the vices perfectly vanquished.  In the higher spheres, the emphasis becomes positive as we behold Christian excellences:  justice, martyrdom, theology, contemplation.  Finally, the emphasis shifts again, even more positively, to the Object of contemplation.  By this point, we have gone far beyond morality, and thus beyond the focus of this series.

The dogmatic spirit in Protestantism, lost and restored

Cardinal Newman claimed that the dogmatic spirit is a key feature of Christianity, and I have come to see that this is very true.  Some other relitions seem to get along fine without dogma, but Christianity without detailed doctrinal support quickly reduces to sentiment, and sentiment not even deeply felt.  In his latest essay, Alan Roebuck traces the decline of doctrinal precision in the Protestant churches and its ruinous effects.

Until recently, at least in the United States, “Evangelical” basically meant “non-liberal Protestant.”…But in recent years much of Evangelicalism has gone off the rails. Although many Evangelicals still practice traditional Protestantism, and almost all Evangelicals still use the language of their theologically conservative ancestors, the movement is characterized overall by a refusal to adhere to, or even to identify, most of the body of traditional Protestant teaching. Crucial doctrines such as the Trinity of God, the Resurrection, the Atonement, justification by faith alone and the Second Coming are still generally taught. But the details of the systematic theology that makes Christianity a coherent system and makes sense of all the Bible says (and that builds the individual’s faith) are not taught, the excuse generally being that “doctrine is divisive.”
A personal example may help clarify. In the late 1990’s I began attending and eventually joined a large Presbyterian church in the Los Angeles area. Although the church was not known to be liberal, and was considerably more conservative than the liberal United Methodist Church I had recently left, I cannot recall the pastors or teachers ever teaching any of the distinctive Presbyterian
doctrines…And at no point during the six-week new members’ class were we instructed in Christian doctrine. The closest we came was when the senior pastor led us in the “Sinner’s Prayer,” a common Evangelical ritual which involves asking people to pray along with the leader as he recites a far-too-brief summary of the basic gospel message of our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves and our need to have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Although the Sinner’s Prayer does contain important Christian truths, it is practically worthless if not followed up with a regular parish life of proper instruction in Christianity. At this church, and the other three Evangelical churches with which I was seriously involved, the leaders acted as if Christian clichés were enough to save lost sinners.
…the basic problem with fundamentalism is not being too conservative. The problem, which is the same with Liberalism and Evangelicalism, is that many of these Christians have denied the faith and cut themselves off from the theological wisdom of the ages.
Indeed, the essence of theological liberalism is the desire to make Christianity agree with the spirit of the age. Classical theological liberalism changed Christianity to agree with Enlightenment-style rationalism. “Seeker-sensitive” Evangelicals make Christianity agree with contemporary marketing theory. And “Emergent”Evangelicals make Christianity agree with postmodern relativism. In this, they are all liberals.
The cure to watered-down Protestantism is, Roebuck believes, Confessional Protestantism, that is Protestantism that takes its statement of doctrine seriously.
What then is the antidote for Protestant infidelity? As mentioned above, there is a fourth type of Protestantism. This type is not widely known, but it is usually called“confessional” or “creedal.” A confessional Protestant church requires clergy and laity alike to know and affirm agreement with at least one of the comprehensive Protestant confessions or catechisms such as the Westminster Confession of Faith for Presbyterians, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordtfor the Reformed, the Augsburg Confession for Lutherans, the London Baptist Confession for Reformed Baptists or the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion for Anglicans/Episcopalians. Each of these creeds has authority only by virtue of being a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches, the Bible being the supreme (and only inerrant) authority on every subject about which it speaks.
If I were going to be a Protestant, I think I would be a Calvinist.  Calvinism is serious.  It’s not trying to be appealing; it’s trying to be true.

“We are actually ashamed of ceasing to be ungrateful”

We must yield to God when He urges us to let Him reign with us.

Did you hesitate or resist so much when the world sought to seduce you through its passions and pleasures?  Did you resist evil as stoutly as you resist what is good?  When it is a question of going astray, being corrupted, lost, of acting against the inmost consciousness of heart and reason by indulging vanity or sensual pleasure, we are not so afraid of going too far; we choose, we yield unreservedly.  But when the question is to believe that we, who did not make ourselves, were made by an all-wise, all-powerful Hand–to acknowledge that we owe all to Him from whom we received all, and Who made us for Himself, then we begin to hesitate, to deliberate, to foster subtle doubts as to the simplest, plainest matters.  We are afraid of being credulous, we mistrust our own feelings, we shift our ground.  We fear to give to much, though we never gave Him anything yet.  We are actually ashamed of ceasing to be ungrateful, and of letting the world see that we want to serve Him!  In a word, we are as timid, shrinking, and shy about what is good, as we were bold and unhesitatingly decided concerning what is evil.

–Francois Fenelon (from The Royal Way of the Cross, Ed. by H. M. Helms)

The Continental Catholic conspiracy

Peter Hitchens on the history of the EU:

After Suez had failed, largely but not wholly because the USA had wrecked it (it was a stupid plan anyway),  the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told Guy Mollet, Prime Minister of France, ‘France and England will never be powers comparable to the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor Germany, either. There remains to them only one way of playing a decisive role in the world, that is to unite to make Europe. England is not ripe for it but the affair of Suez will help to prepare her spirits for it. We have no time to waste. *Europe will be your revenge*.’
This is recorded in the memoirs of the then French Foreign Minister, Christian Pineau.
Adenauer and Mollet were meeting in Paris that day (Tuesday, 6th November 1956) to finalise the founding arrangements of the Common Market, which as we see here is, was and always will be an anti-American project, though the US State Department and the CIA have never, it seems, been able to work this out.

As for Britain not being ripe, I should hope we would never be ripe for such a thing. I doubt very much whether Konrad Adenauer had much understanding of Britain – few continental politicians do, Charles de Gaulle being a rare exception. The two men, for instance jointly attended Mass in Rheims Cathedral, their continental Roman Catholicism binding them together just as it excluded the Protestant British islanders from their world.

If we must have a world government…

I suppose a confederation of nations dedicated to the common good might have some advantages.  Still, if I had to choose, I would prefer that one nation to just conquer all the others.  After all, a confederation would probably just amount to an a pooling of the vices of each nation’s ruling class, whereas for one nation to conquer all the others would require it to have some real virtues.  Also, and this is crucial, the conquerers must not subjugate the world in the name of the common good.  It would be far better if personal glory was the motive.  If they conceive of some sort of moral duty for their conquests, then they will have to regard nations who defend themselves as wicked, and victory will be followed by punishment, as it was in 1945.  At the very least, the conquered would have to endure lectures about what a big favor was done to them by having their sovereignty stolen, as the Piedmontese rats did as they devoured Italy.  Julius Caesar, on the other hand, was famous for his mercy toward those he defeated.

Spengler predicted that the rule of money run amok would bring about the return of Caesarism.  Thomas Molnar gave voice to the reactionaries’ hope that civilization might be saved by a new Augustus, a dictator who uses his powers to reinforce authority and public morals rather than to undermine them.  Given the more likely alternatives, being conquered by a new Caesar and ruled by a new Augustus would have its attractions.

What’s wrong with world government? Against nuclear arguments

Where in the Bible, the Catechism, the decrees of any ecumenical council, or the Summa Theologica does it say that multiple nation-states are better than a single world-empire, and that the latter is in fact wicked?  Were Jerome and Dante heretics for thinking otherwise?  Anybody who wants to convince me that the Pope has somehow apostasized by preferring a world authority had better be able to point me to something.  I would think we should have some humility before the great number of saints, Western and Eastern, who thought the world empire of Rome a benevolent instrument of God and who deeply regretted its passing.

There is an argument going around now that world government is not just a bad idea, but is actually heretical.  It supposedly denies man’s sinful nature, because it assumes that world authority would never be abused.  Thus, anyone who supports any supernational authority denies the Fall.  The other argument is that this is some sort of immanentizing the eschaton.  Thinking that all the nations can cooperate in this way means one thinks we can build a heaven on Earth, and that we have no need for God.

This is all rubbish.  The trouble with these arguments is that they work just as well against just about anything.  The argument about trust being a denial of the Fall could be used to declare any authority heretical.  Are we heretics for believing that fathers should rule their families?  For being appalled by the idea of giving children powers to “balance” that of their parents?  The “heaven on Earth” accusation could be leveled at anyone who wants to improve the human condition in any way.  Certainly, not all evils can be abolished, but some can be, and others can be mitigated.  Every one of us has some ideas of how we would like to make the world, or at least our little corner of it, better.

On the other hand, these “nuclear” arguments–they can blast away anything–do seem to make important points.  I wouldn’t want to throw them out entirely.  An uncritical trust of big organizations will lead to trouble, and so will the conviction that every problem has a solution and all we need is the right law or regulator.  Such warnings are simply very hard to weigh when making any particular decision.  For any particular issue, the advantages of another, higher level of control will usually outweigh the vague concern that lower levels are atrophying.  No particular reform can be accused of trying to bring heaven to Earth.  But if we keep making decisions one at a time, with such concerns always losing out to the more immediately evident benefit from high-level control, we’ll end up with an inhuman tyranny.  Can it be that no particular decision was wrong, but somehow the sum of hundreds of such decisions–all pushing in the same direction–was wrong?  But where do we draw the line?

Here I think authoritarians like me have an advantage.  We have some very clear lines that the state (or world-empire) may not overstep, even for the alleged common good.  Those are the authority of parents and the Church, which we believe derives as directly from God as does that of the state.  Indeed, I claim that the authority of the Church is categorically superior to that of the state, and the authority of fathers over their children trumps that of the state in a limited sphere.  I’m sure the Pope would agree that a world government would be subject to the same restrictions even if it were to destroy the sovereignty of individual nations–which no one is advocating.

This reminds me of another nuclear argument–the neocon’s warnings about “appeasement”.  We must never appease hostile powers, they say, or else we’ll just get more belligerence.  Remember Hitler!  Now, it’s true, some bullies are unappeasable, and so you simply must stand up to them when you’re in a position to.  If the hostile power breaks up his demands into small enough pieces, no particular one of them might be worth the trouble of fighting for.  Surrendering on all of them, though, might be worse than war.  On the other hand, if we let the argument “never appease” rule us, we will refuse to ever compromise; we will become the bullying, predatory power that not appeasing was supposed to stop.  Here again, some clear lines would be helpful, but I’m not sure what they should be.

A distributist argument for tenure

Academic tenure is a matter of debate again, most recently at First Things.  To my mind, these discussions fail to get to the heart of the matter because both sides assume that the purpose of tenure is to protect academic freedom, to promote independent thinking.  The argument is supposed to be that if we don’t give professors tenure, they might be fired for offending the establishment with their bold new ideas.  (And, of course, authorities never have good reasons for resisting bold new ideas, do they?)  Now, I agree that, if that’s the argument, then we should abolish tenure yesterday.  For guaranteeing independent thought, it’s worse than useless.  Independent thought will positively harm one’s ability to perform two of the key requirements for securing tenure:

  1. getting grants
  2. buttering up to the senior faculty

The thing is, tenure is not primarily about academic freedom.  Let’s try and be scientific and do an experiment with one variable:  what’s the difference between a tenured professor and an untenured research faculty member?  Does the former have more research freedom?  Not really.  The two are both free to work on whatever they can get funding for.  There are really two differences.  First, the tenured professor has more non-research duties.  He must teach classes, directly mentor students, and serve on committees.  All of the business of keeping the department operating is ultimately the responsibility of the tenured faculty.  On the other hand, the tenured professor can’t be fired, even if he loses his funding.  Of course, he’s still out of a job if the university closes the department itself, which, in the current financial climate has become a live possibility.

How are these two things connected?  This gets to the “unwritten constitution”, as Burke and de Maistre might put it, of the university.  It’s not what’s on the books, but it’s what people implicitly assume.  In this case, the unwritten constitution is that, if a university department is like a business, the tenured faculty are more like owners than like employees.  How dare I say such a thing?!  I’m sure that if one were to ask who officially owns, say, the English department of the University of Illinois, answers might be “the university”, “the state of Illinois”, or “the tuition-paying students”.  But really, these are more like clients or partners or customers.  The faculty own the department in the only morally significant sense of the word:  they are responsible for it.  When we think of ownership in terms of responsibility, we realize that fostering it can be a good thing.  We want the faculty to feel that they have this relationship of responsibility to their department.  They are not employees who just have to do their jobs and meet the expectations of some higher authority who is ultimately responsible for making the enterprise run.  If an academic department is being mismanaged into the ground, it might be reasonable for the students and postdocs to think “What’s that to me?  I’m doing my job and publishing papers.  I’ll be out of here in a few years anyway.”  But we mustn’t have everyone thinking this way.  In the unwritten constitution of the university, the faculty feel (or at least should feel, if they are properly socialized) that the common good of their department is distinctly theirs.  Given this understanding, it makes sense that tenured faculty can’t be fired.  If they could, they would see themselves as employees.

I call this a “distributist” defense of tenure, because the key idea of distributism is that we need more people with a sense of ownership as opposed to people who feel like the business they work for isn’t theirs.  University professors are notorious for imagining that they are rulers of their own little kingdoms.  This is an attitude for which the distributist will have some sympathy.

Steve Sailer on Pat Buchanan

It’s worth considering

With John McCain issuing a vague death threat against Vladimir Putin following NATO’s hit on Gadaffi, it’s worth considering that McCain is an elder statesman of mainstream Republicanism, while Patrick J. Buchanan is a terrifying extremist….

As I mentioned in my review in VDARE of Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan is one of the few people in Washington who took the end of the Cold War as a signal for anything other than self-congratulation. The struggle with the Soviets meant we had had to do many things that were painful, costly, dangerous, or distasteful; therefore, Buchanan reasoned in the early 1990s, let’s now stop doing them.

In the linked DVARE article, Sailer calls Buchanan the “wisest, most objective-minded man in American public affairs”.  Buchanan is smart and perceptive, but I don’t know that he’s brilliant or profound, and yet Sailer’s estimation of him is probably true.  What makes him the wisest public man is that he’s willing to look at the world without ideological blinders–neoconservative, classical liberal, or Leftist–to a much greater extent than his colleagues.  He’s much more open-minded than The American Conservative magazine with which he is associated.  (Most contributors to TAC don’t seem to care about anything but attacking Israel and American involvement in the Middle East.  For domestic-oriented conservatives like me, this gets old really fast.)  Of course, Buchanan hasn’t broken all the mental fetters of modernity.  He seems to be sold on democracy, but I can easily forgive him for that.

Faustian morale

Had Nietzsche regarded his own times with fewer prejudices and less disposition to romantic championship of certain ethical creations, he would have perceived that a specifically Christian morale of compassion in his sense does not exist on Western European soil.  We must not let the words of humane formulae mislead us as to their real significance.  Between the morale that one has and the morale one thinks one has, there is a relation which is very obscure and very  unsteady…

The Faustian Culture has produced a long series of granite-men, the Classical never a one.  But in the North the great Saxon, Franconian, and Hohenstaufen emperors apear on the very threshold of the Culture, surrounded by giant-men like Henry the Lion and Gregory VII.  Then came the men of the Renaissance, of the struggle of the two roses, of the Huguenot Wars, the Spanish Conquistadores, the Prussian electors and kings, Napoleon, Bismarck, Rhodes.  What other Culture has exhibited the like of these?  Where, on the hights of Faustian morale, from the Crusades to the World War, do we find anything of the “slave-morale”, the meek resignation, the deaconess’s caritas?  Only in pious and honored words, nowhere else.  The type of the very priesthood is Faustian; think of those magnificent bishops of the old German empire who on horseback led their flocks into battle, or those Popes who could force submission on a Henry IV and a Frederick II, of the Teutonic Knights in the Ostmark, of Luther’s challenge in which the old Northern heathendom rose up against old Roman, of the great Cardinals (Richelieu, Mazarin, Fleury) who shaped France.  That is Faustian morale, and one must be blind indeed if one does not see it efficient in the whole field of Western European history.  And it is only through such grand instances of worldly passion which express the consciousness of a mission that we are able to understand those of grand spiritual passion, of the upright and forthright caritas which nothing can resist, the dynamic charity that is so utterly unlike Classical moderation and early-Christian mildness.  Ther is a hardness in the sort of compassion that was practiced by the German mystics, the German and Spanish military Orders, the French and English Calvinists.  In the Russian, the Raskolnikov, type of charity a soul melts into the fraternity of souls; in the Faustian it arises out of it.

—from Spengler’s The Decline of the West