What men want

I had to have surgery on my colon a few weeks ago; it had gotten twisted, and I now have two feet less of it than I did before.  Everything went okay, but it will be a few weeks before I have my energy back, during which time I’ll have to save my energy for teaching, proposals, and my daughters.  Expect light blogging.

While the doctors were doing tests on me, they found a bunch of other stuff wrong.  Apparently I have very high blood pressure, and at some unknown time in the past one of my kidneys died.  It’s nothing that will kill me tomorrow, but it did get me thinking, in my hospital bed, that I may not have as much time left as I had thought.  Set aside for a moment practical worries about my life insurance and retirement savings.  I asked myself what I really want to get for myself out of the remainder of my life.  I found that the thing that I really cared about was that my children should remember me, and I wanted them to remember me as I was, being able to chase and throw them, and not just as I will be when frail and dying.  They’re 5 and 2 right now, so I’ve got to hang on a while longer; I have no recollection of my paternal grandfather who died when I was 2, nor of my kindergarten teacher I had when I was 6.  Interestingly, I found that I felt no urgent need to be known and remembered by grandchildren, much less by future generations in general.  Nor could I work up much interest in my ambition to finally find my problem and make a big contribution to physics, which I had thought was the whole reason I’d done all that work of going through school and postdoc and getting tenure.

It was a clarifying experience; I believe I have genuinely discovered something about myself.  It’s well known that humans care a great deal about things that happen after they die–their legacy, the fate of things they love that survive them–even though they will necessarily not be there to experience it.  This could create problems if we let the eventual extinction of humanity impose a sense of futility on everything.  Fortunately, our horizon of concern doesn’t extend nearly so far.  I just need 16 years to see my daughters to adulthood.  Not that I’ll then face death with any particular stoicism.  The survival instinct, the terror of oblivion, stays till the end, or so I imagine.  But I’ll have accomplished the real objective good (see my discussion of desires and goods in The Audacity of Natural Law) that I most want.

While I was in the hospital, the Democratic candidate for President took the unprecedented step of delivering a speech attacking illiberal internet sites.  The Alt Right is naturally thrilled, and I am happy for them if also a little jealous.  Religious conservatives are, one regrets to admit, now too unimportant to be worth attacking.  And to think this wasn’t so a mere decade ago, back when George W. Bush, and not Donald Trump, was Hitler.  I’ve learned not to let the Democrat attack machine get my hopes up.  I doubt Trump is any more a principled racist than GWB was a theocrat.  Nor should we imagine that the Alternative Right, which by and large has no interest in preserving Christendom or the patriarchal family, could really deliver us from the evils of the modern world, even if serious persecutions were not coming its way.  Still, the spread of particularist ideas is to be welcomed, especially in Catholic circles.  For too long, our intellectuals have spoken of “solidarity” as this ever-expansive force, internally driven to smash the boundaries of real, distinct communities, limited only by an antagonistic principle of “subsidiarity” that allows these defectively-solidaristic (because non-universal) communities some space to control their own functions.  What these people have gotten wrong is not a failure to appreciate subsidiarity, but a failure to understand solidarity.  Love of one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s ethnic group, one’s country, one’s religion, desire to preserve them, happiness at being immersed with fellow members of them–that’s real solidarity.  Catholic social thought will not be healed until the bishops repent their condemnations of racism.

24 Responses

  1. Godspeed in your recovery. I, too, had what I now know to call a “medical episode” at the end of the summer, so I’m freshly familiar with these melancholy reflections. I wasn’t on death’s doorstep, but I could see the smoke that rises from from the chimney of the house of death, and this threw a great many thing into a new light. Like you, I felt a significant increase in anxiety for my children, who are not so young as yours, but are very far from full grown. I also had a few bitter thoughts about becoming a faded memory. My professional accomplishments seemed even more meager than before, meaning they were in the Guinness-Book-of-World-Record class of meagerness. For what its worth, my “medical episode” ended up as a rather cheering experience, since it seemed that I wasn’t going to die anytime soon, and this suggested that there were still one or two things I was meant to do in this world. As you know, we are all supposed to reflect daily on the “last things,” but this duty is easily neglected, and is in any case hard to do in more than an intellectual way. Memento Mori are not exactly rays of sunshine, but neither are they altogether cursed things.

  2. What has Racism to do with Christendom? What has this nineteenth century heresy with the One Holy Universal Church? How will the bishops repenting “their condemnations of racism” when such condemnations are based on the doctrinal foundation of the Holy Faith. To quote the great Catholic Dietrich von Hildebrand:
    “How is it even possible for the glorification of race to enthrall a person who has been born ‘not of blood nor of will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God’? This whole sphere has long since lost the power to attract such a person- to say nothing of the horrible materialism of blood which, with its explicitly anti-Christian inversion of values, ought to awaken the impassioned protest of any Christian who is spiritually awake.
    “Racial Identity- in its objectively proper place, free from all idolization- can never enthuse or excite the Christian, because it belongs to much too low a stratum. Unlike bonds of family love, which are primarily based in the realm of the spiritual, feelings of kinship or estrangement which originate in blood constitute a sphere that is triumphantly transcended by faith and the supernatural attitude.”

  3. You can sincerely believe all those things you say about blood and racial identity and you’ll still be branded a racist.

  4. HR @ I think Hildebrand was a little bit drunk on his own eloquence there. Obviously we have all been born of the will of the flesh and the will of man, and this instrumentality, created by God, was necessary to our being reborn in Christ. Thus it is nonsense to write of “horrible materialism” because material existence is the antechamber of Heaven. In any case, there is a vast range of possible attitudes between “idolization” of race, which I don’t believe Bonald espouses, and “transcendence” of race, which Hildebrand seems to idolize. Obviously, race does not belong at the top of our list of loyalties, but any reading of the Bible makes it clear that the nations have their place in the present order of creation.

  5. @JMS Nations indeed have their proper place in the order of creation, and it is lower place than love of Country or love of Mankind, love being understood in the sense of Willing the Good. “Christianity does not merely teach the descent of all human beings from Adam and Eve, nor does the Church only teach that human persons constitute one family… The unity of all human beings, the totality of Mankind, is an indispensable presupposition of Christian doctrine.” The twin heresies of Racism and Nationalism do not arise from love of Nation and Country (the Nation and the Country are by no means the same thing), but from disordered idea of identity. In the hierarchy of communities ordered to the Common Good, the voluntary allegiance which forms countries and Civilization is of a higher order than involuntary nationality.

  6. @HR I sympathize somewhat. Noticing race and seeing racial differences doesn’t constitute racism proper. Not really. Racism is disordered attachment to race and conflating it with character.

    Just because we’ll be branded as racists is no reason to make common cause with the Racial Marxists. I’ve seen it repeated elsewhere that not being a racist “won’t save me” or its “virtue signaling”. You shouldn’t be a racist because racism proper isn’t true.

    All of that being said, your health will be in my prayers Bonald. Don’t worry too much, we’re lucky to live in an age where all kinds of things are treatable which weren’t before.

  7. Godspeed in your recovery Bonald.


    First of all, you are massively equivocating concerning the meaning of the word “racism”. Second of all, your insane conclusions give the lie to voluntarism. The most important of natural obligations are those that are chosen involuntarily.

  8. Get well, Bonald.

    With regards to the Donald, I don’t think he’s actually a “racist” either. If he were, it would have been noticed during the forty or so years that he’s been in the public eye hanging out with celebrities black and white alike.

    I am a bit more optimistic about him than you are, however. He’s an instinctive right-winger who is neither supported by, intimidated by, nor intellectually convinced by the reigning establishment. With the increasing fragility of the liberal state of things, an authentic conservative can be forgiven for being excited about the wide-open possibilities for him and the future.

  9. @ Hoyos, I acknowledge there are certain differences between members of different races which are of a material nature, and have certain secondary effects on persons. But if Racism is defined as “disordered attachment to race and conflating it with character…” then I cannot accept such statements as “Catholic social thought will not be healed until the bishops repent their condemnations of racism,” as anything other than wrong.

    @AR, if I am “equivocating concerning the meaning of the word ‘racism’,” was Pius XI equivocating in Mit Brennender Sorge or Ven. Pius XII in Summi Pontificatus? The principle is the same, though I should like to ask how you define Racism? Secondly, I did not say that it was because the Country is voluntary that it is of a higher order, but because countries are of themselves something ordered toward the Common Good, while nations of themselves are not. But Charity, Love of God and all that follows from it, is voluntary, or else it is not Love as defined by the doctors of the Church. Grace does not act without the consent of free will (cf. Aquinas “To love is to will the good of another.”).

    @Bonald, God grant you health and a long span years, that you may do His holy will.

  10. Many years to you, Bonald. My father had a heart attack at forty, and we thought that it was the beginning of the end. That was two decades ago, and he has had few problems since. So, who knows? Still, I wish you the best and a long and fulfilling life. May the Queen of Heaven pray for your health and salvation.

  11. HR @ If racism is defined as “disordered attachment to race,” then we can all agree that racism is indeed disordered. Our problem is not with the definition of the word, but with proper application of the word so defined. When Bonald expresses the wish that the Bishops would “repent their condemnation of racism,” I am quite certain he is not saying they should turn a blind eye to racial violence and hatred–a truly disordered attachment to race. I believe he is saying they should stop using this powerful term to condemn benign and natural patterns of association (and, perhaps, that they should begin to direct some of their anti-racist fulminations at non-whites, among whom disordered attachment to race is hardly unknown).

    I’m not sure that love of country necessarily ranks above love of nation. If we look at the old Hapsburg Empire in central Europe, for instance, we see that there was very little love of the Empire. There was a widespread love of the Emperor, but the love of country was a love for a particular duchy, kingdom, or principality, and for the fairly homogenous (i.e. inbred) population that inhabited it. My wife is Austrian, so I am somewhat familiar with national sentiment in the former Hapsburg lands. It is well to remember that the English word country in most cases translates the Latin patria terra, or fatherland.

    Love of mankind is a Masonic doctrine, and also Stoic. The Christian doctrine of loving one’s neighbor does not scale up. You are right to say that there is not racial requirement for neighborliness, but neighbors do have a way of becoming interrelated, and of eventually forming a nation.

  12. Best wishes on your recovery too, JMSmith.

    It’s understandable for HR to object to my call for the bishops to repent, but that is the correct course of action when one is guilty of slander. I have taken the time to become familiar with the thoughts of actual racists and have found no trace of the feelings or inclinations our bishops so recklessly attribute to them. Can it really be true that of all the world’s extended kinship groups, only one has nothing good about it, so that attachment to it can only be attributed to hatred of others? Should not our spiritual guides have made some effort to be sure this was true before attaching themselves to such an improbable and uncharitable, if popular, belief?

  13. @JMS I am not saying that love of your Nation is not a good thing, but it is of a lower order. If one looks at the Empire, one sees Silesian Germans, Transylvanian Saxons, Styrian Magyars, Hungarian Romanians, in short, nonhomogenous populations inhabiting the same area. These formed a constitute country with the other inhabitants of their respective areas despite being quite distinct nations often spread across many countries. And as for Love of Mankind being stoic or masonic, far from it; one need only look at Summi Pontificatus . “The first of these pernicious errors, widespread today, is the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the redeeming Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross to His Heavenly Father on behalf of sinful mankind. The Apostle of the Gentiles later on makes himself the herald of this truth which associates men as brothers in one great family, when he proclaims to the Greek world that God “hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation, that they should seek God” (Acts xvii. 26, 27). A marvelous vision, which makes us see the human race in the unity of one common origin in God “one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in us all” (Ephesians iv. 6); in the unity of nature which in every man is equally composed of material body and spiritual, immortal soul; in the unity of the immediate end and mission in the world; in the unity of dwelling place, the earth, of whose resources all men can by natural right avail themselves, to sustain and develop life; in the unity of the supernatural end, God Himself, to Whom all should tend; in the unity of means to secure that end.”

    @Bonald, “Can it really be true that of all the world’s extended kinship groups, only one has nothing good about it, so that attachment to it can only be attributed to hatred of others? Should not our spiritual guides have made some effort to be sure this was true before attaching themselves to such an improbable and uncharitable, if popular, belief?” If this is so then should not you be calling the bishops to repent not of condemnation of racism, but of racism itself? That seems more reasonable to me that accepting the label of a heresy one does not profess.

  14. @HR

    I guess one thing I needed to tweak my understanding on is that it isn’t about what people want or say but why they want or say it.

    For example I have no problem with married priests, there have always been married priests (although having celibate priests as well makes sense). However many who push for married priests have a “why” that view it as a stepping stone to female priests.

    When we hear condemnations of racism, why are they condemning it and what do they mean? Is the message aimed at all men? Or is it really only aimed at one demographic? If so, why?

    All told though, can’t stand actual racism. I immediately have more in common, not just in theory but my actual experience, with a fellow Christian of a different race than a heathen of my own. I would much rather build a society with them as well. Trying to handle race independently of faith and culture seems like a distraction.

  15. @Bonald. Well, that was unexpected. I have had chronic ill health from several (accumulating) causes for about 25 years, but not that kind of emergency. I hope you recover and get well again soon – but after a big procedure you should expect it to be several months before you feel back to normal, even if all goes optimally. If you want any fruits of my relevant medication experience, drop me an e-mail. Yours, Bruce

  16. Glad to see you doing well (internet) friend. I’m not a doctor, but I know that you can live a normal life with relatively little kidney function – this is what they told my dad.

    On the definition of “racism”, Peter Frost has indicated that the word was a translation into French (and then into English) of the German “volkische” a term the German Left used to describe the German nationalist right. The word quickly became a synonym for Nazism. I think we should dump the word “racism” but if we are to retain it, it should mean Nazism or Nazi-like belief.

    Dr. Bill understands what the contemporary definition of racism is. He told ya’ll. See his comments.

  17. You can add me to your well-wishers – glad to hear that the procedure went safely and I hope you make a full and speedy recovery. Thanks as well for the thoughts on what is truly important to you.

  18. HR @ To see “Silesian Germans, Transylvanian Saxons, Styrian Magyars, Hungarian Romanians, in short, nonhomogenous populations inhabiting the same area,” one must look at those areas at particular scales. At the scale of the empire, they all, of course, inhabit the “same area.” Zoom in a little bit and one sees identifiable ethnic areas. These certainly have ragged fringes, as well as minority enclaves and outlying archipelagos of settlement, but the main ethnic enclaves are to this day relatively homogeneous. Zoom in a good deal more, and one sees that the ragged fringe was composed of separate villages and settlement districts, often differentiated by altitude and terrain. Styria is the landschaft I know best, and this is indeed rather mixed, but the mixing looks very different at different scales of representation.

    Some of the disagreement here seems to result from the anti-racists using an extremely rigorous definition of race. It’s actually more rigorous that the definition one finds in the writing of Nazis and early twentieth century racialists like Lathrop Stoddard. My guess is that this is because they get their definition from their own propaganda against Nazis and other racialists, and therefore project onto their opponents expectations for purity and antiquity that are altogether unjustified. Stoddard, for instance, greatly admired what he called the “Nordics,” but he recognized that pure Nordics were exceedingly rare, and that a great many “Alpines,” and even some “Mediterraneans,” had been effectively “Norticized.”

    Obviously, these writers got many things wrong, but they fully understood that ethnogenesis always begins with a somewhat mixed population, and that ethnogenesis did not begin and end with the separation of sons of Noah. Their real crime, in the eyes of today’s anti-racists, is that they believed that (a) the composition of the original mix made a difference, and (b) that blended populations were not always improved by further admixture.

  19. The anti-racist movement lacks prudence, like all liberal movements. It seems obvious that prudence is a more important virtue than fairness, but the Left doesn’t care. And our bishops don’t care. It’s better to die, to burn, to disappear than to be unfair. It’s the essence of nihilism: between pain and nothing, they choose nothing.

  20. Doesn’t look like you’re going to get your wish, I’m afraid. Prepare for more of the same, if not worse.

    News today: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/how-the-catholic-church-needs-to-fight-racism-91331/

  21. The issues that we face are not Catholic issues. They are American issues,”

    I couldn’t have described their ramblings better myself.

  22. Glad to hear your operation went well, that alone entails its own risks. I have two young children, a little younger than your own, and had a cancer scare with a lung lesion that turned out to be benign. My experience was the same as yours – great concern for the wellbeing of my children and wife – and much else (that is, what takes up most of my time) as seeming of little to no importance.

    I’m still in purgatory, in a sense, needing to find out the results of other tests. I’ve also been praying for another 15 years or so.

  23. Thanks for the offer, Bruce C. I’ll keep it in mind.

  24. Best of luck on the other tests, George.

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