Cross-post: becoming a traditionalist is only the beginning of thought

My quarrel with the thinking man

In his essay What we think about, G. K. Chesterton relates his perplexity at finding someone  write “Mr. Chesterton does not mean to enlighten us, for all we know he is modernist enough in his own thoughts.”

What the man really meant was this:  “Even poor old Chesterton must think; he can’t have actually left off thinking altogether; there must be some form of cerebral function going forward to fill the empty hours of his misdirected and wasted life; and it is obvious that if a man begins to think, he can only think more or less in the direction of Modernism.”  The Modernists do really think that.  That is the point.  That is the joke.

Now what we have really got to hammer into the heads of all these people, somehow, is that a thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, but not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism.  We have got to make them see that conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive, and even adventurous life of the intellect.  For that is the thing that they cannot at present bring themselves to believe.  They honestly say to themselves:  “What can he be thinking about, if he is not thinking about the Mistakes of Moses, as discovered by Mr. Miggles of Pudsey, or boldly defying all the terrors of the Inquisition which existed two hundred years ago in Spain?”  We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle, and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow, and dusty as a nasty piece of scandalmongering in a New England village.  Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world….To set out to belittle and minimize the Mass, by talking ephemeral back-chat about what it had in common with Mithras or the Mysteries, is to be in altogether a more petty and pedantic mood; not only lower than Catholicism but lower even than Mithraism.

In our day, we are familiar with the “thinking Catholic”.  “Thinking” means that he accepts the modernist consensus without question, and “Catholic” means he insists the Church adjust herself to accommodate his lack of imagination.  Similarly, we all know the “thinking conservative”, the type who only ever thinks about what new concessions we must make to liberalism.  I have pointed out before this asymmetry between the Left and Right, that the intellectual leadership of the Left is expected to be more radical than most Leftist voters, whereas the intellectual leadership of the Right is expected to be more moderate than most Rightist voters.  This is one of our major disadvantages.

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Show me your conscience; don’t tell me about it

Wrong:

Catholic institutions shouldn’t have to pay for their employees’ contraceptives because it goes against our consciences, and we should have religious freedom not to have to violate our consciences.

Right:

Contraception is evil.  It desecrates the marital bond, offends against chastity, and is a menace to public morals.  It is reprehensible to engage in contraceptive acts or to cooperate in them in any way.  This is a matter of natural law; it has nothing to do with religion.  Public bodies should not be promoting or enabling this sin.  Neither Holy Mother Church, nor any other group, religious or secular, nor any individual should be forced by government to divulge funds for such wicked purposes.

The first message, the wrong one, can be translated as follows:

We Catholics have this weird idea that contraception is bad.  We have no reason for this belief.  Don’t look at us, man; it’s the old man in Rome.  He made up this rule and the rest of us are stuck with it.  It’s like the Jews and pork–a ‘religion’ thing.  However, even though poor, poor women (Who cares about men, after all?) are going to, like die, or whatever it is that happens to chicks who don’t get their contraceptive pills, we are selfishly sticking with our arbitrary dislike, and we think we’ve found something in the constitution that forces you to let us.

If you say the second thing, people might think to themselves

Whoa.  They really believe this stuff.  I guess it would be wrong to force them to do something they think is that bad.  Maybe these laws are getting a little pushy.  And maybe it isn’t a ‘religion’ thing; maybe we’ve been running over peoples’ consciences for a long time, and it’s only now that the target was big enough to fight back.

So, what’s actually going to happen?  I think this comment at What’s Wrong with the World sounds most plausible:

I predict the following:
1. Most if not all the bishops will start out sounding strong in solidarity in trying to get this reversed.
2. Some catholic organizations (colleges, hospitals, clinics, etc) will refuse to go along with the bishops, will not follow their lead, and will give in to the demand to provide the insurance.
3. Some bishops (but not all) who have Catholic orgs in their diocese who give in (#2 above) will “enter into” dialogue with them, and this dialogue will become extraordinarily complex to sort out. Aug 2013 will pass without resolution of the dialogue. (Recall the complex discussions Cardinal Law had about a Catholic org entering into contracts with non-Catholic entities for shared space?)
4. Approximately 6 bishops who have orgs in #2 above will timely excommunicate members of the boards. Bruskewitz of Lincoln NE (if he has any boards so foolish as to tempt him) being first, followed quickly by Olmstead of Phoenix, Chaput of Philly, and Loverde of Arlington VA.
5. Several org boards will simply renounce their Catholic ties and become non-affiliated orgs. Then they will buy the insurance. (This has already happened by one group, so it doesn’t take much prescience.) They will hope to avoid excommunication this way.
6. A large number of theologians will announce that giving in to the regulations is not (a) formal cooperation with evil, and (b) is not immediate material cooperation with evil, and therefore is subject to the usual “cooperation with evil” rule, requiring proportionate good.

The practical problem the bishops (as a body) have with making any kind of effective political stand is the combination of 3, 5 and 6 above. The more they hold a hard line with solidarity, the more pressure some board members will feel to sever Catholic association, and use 6 to justify themselves – resulting in a noticeable number of rats leaving the ship, upsetting the ONE LARGE BLOCK UNITED IN OPPOSITION picture. If they were unified and pro-active they would pre-emptively formulate a strategy together to _all_ (a) give a 1-month hard deadline to all orgs trying to go with the HHS regulation for all “discussion”, and (b) publicly punish all orgs and their boards that EITHER sever ties over this or buy the insurance, and (c) formally silence theologian dissent on the issue. I don’t even know if these are readily possible within Canon Law.

Time for the Republicans to retire

I try not to pay attention to them, but I haven’t been able to completely avoid hearing about the aspiring Republican candidates.  Except for Gingrich, they’re not a bad lot personally, but all these primaries mean that we’re forced to look at the ugly reality that is “Republican ideas“.  I’m afraid I don’t think that anybody who is sympathetic to the idea of imposing a flat tax or of bombing Iran has any business being anywhere near political power–the first because I can’t imagine why a massive transfer of tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and a corresponding transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, would be a desirable thing, the second because I generally think wars are things to be avoided, at least when there is absolutely no reason for provoking one.  Then there’s the whole “The national debt is out of control!  We have to cut taxes!” think that just makes it hard to take them seriously.  Yes, among the Republican establishment, we social conservatives are morons for supporting normative gender roles, but holding as dogma that the U.S. economy is always on the right side of the Laffer curve–that’s the heart of conservatism, right?  It pains me to say it, but it is now the Republicans who are the class warfare party.  Revenue neutral tax change by definition means a burden is being taken off one group and put onto another.  Hence, neoconservative publications–even First Things, as I’ve noted before–have started making noises about how the bottom half aren’t pulling their tax weight, and republican virtue demands that those slackers pony up.  On the other hand, corporate income taxes and capital gains taxes must be reduced.  It was hard work, but the Republicans have succeeded in living down to image of them painted by their enemies.  They do make the Democrats’ accusation of being the rich man’s party hard to dismiss.

Sometimes they try to prove that they’re the “conservative” party, but this doesn’t impress me, since the Republicans don’t know what conservatism means.  I’m more reactionary than anyone registered with that party, and I see no reason why people shouldn’t be forced to buy health insurance–put an end to those free riders, I say!  I also don’t understand this stubborn refusal to consider the possibility that global warming is real and man-made.  What does any of this have to do with defending Christendom and the patriarchal family?

The Republicans simply can’t be trusted with power.  They would do no good on the issues we care about, but because we are unfairly associated with them in the public mind, their incompetence would tarnish us.  I can’t work up any desire to see them defeat even our unambiguous enemies–the baby-killing, sodomy-promoting anti-clerical Democrats.

Why, though?  Why can’t a national party even appear to be worthy of public trust?  The end of the Cold War has been very bad for the Republicans.  Back when communism ravaged half the world and promised to bring its hellish rule to the other half, the Republican positions kind of made sense.  It was good and necessary that the one nation capable of resisting the Reds should do so, making its own the interests of all mankind.  Today, the Red menace is gone, and American hegemony has become a fact in search of a purpose.  In the face of communist agitation, condemnations of “socialism” and defenses of the free market as by far the lesser evil were also good and necessary.  Today, nobody’s talking about nationalizing industries, and all this talk about “socialism” is meaningless.  The Cold War gave the Republicans a sensible stand on foreign policy and economics–the two areas in which they got a reputation for being “strong”.  The lack of a communist threat rendered all of that irrelevant.

Still, one would think that the collapse and discrediting of socialism would have been more disorienting for the parties of the Left.  Yet they got through it without a hitch, arguably stronger than before, now that they were no longer associated (fairly or not) with a brutal tyranny.  And the center-right parties went into ideological drift, no longer sure what their purpose was to be, and easy prey to every charismatic charlatan looking for followers.

I think the ultimate reason is the rout of conservatives from academia.  People on this blog–including, sometimes, me–attack the pretensions of experts, but one really can’t run a modern nation-state without them.  The Republicans have no experts that they can trust, so they’re running blind.  The physicists tell them that their missile defense plan will never work.  That’s something we should be able to speak on.  However, the Republicans knew that most physicists are commies and would rather America not be able to defend herself from Soviet or Chinese missile attack; therefore, the experts can’t be trusted.  So the Republicans insisted on throwing more and more money at this boondoggle.  The Republicans decide that we should put a manned base on the moon, and then put men on Mars.  Where did they get this hare-brained idea?  Certainly not from the astronomers; we would have told them what a waste of money this is and how it will cripple the valuable space exploration and science work that NASA has been and is doing.  But most of us are commies, so another boondoggle had to be carried along until a Democratic president thankfully killed it.  And those are just the two biggest partisan issues in my personal field.

The Republicans thought they could do without the universities, because they would have think tanks instead.  This has obviously not worked out.  Academia’s peer review process is certainly imperfect, but the think tank system seems to be totally without merit.  Throw enough money at unaffiliated intellectuals, and you’ll find people to tell you want you want to hear.

I of course have a prejudice, given where I work, that universities are the center of the world.  There is some truth to it though.  I would rather that my beliefs were respectable among the intellectual elite than that they could win votes among the masses.  The masses have inertia but no initiative.  What the elite want them to believe, they will believe; it just takes a generation to make the shift.

They’re coming after us

Some coalition of hackers has decided to “out” reactionary bloggers so that we can be exposed to ridicule and job loss.  Apparently, being anonymous and insignificant isn’t protection enough anymore.  Behold the vindictiveness of our enemies.

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves, or are we screwed?

A crisis moment for the Anglo-American Left?

Suppose it is true that, in its enthusiasm for buggery, Anglo-American liberalism has decided to drop the pretense of neutrality between competing comprehensive moral systems.  What will this mean for Leftism in these countries?  Is this just another case of progression towards greater self-awareness and self-consistency on the Left, of the Left dropping no-longer-necessary compromises and achieving greater ideological purity?  Is it just a change in how Leftists will argue with their opponents, or how they will understand their own commitments?

Why is it, we should ask, that the Left (at least in England and its offshoots) has always made such a boast of its “neutrality”?  I have sometimes suspected that this is just an argument tactic, that liberals think that it will be easier to sell their beliefs as the neutral position, the “agreeing to disagree” position, than to establish that their beliefs are actually true.  They want the reward of having proved their beliefs true–government policy organized on their principles–without having to actually supply the proof.  If that is what some liberals are thinking, it seems pretty misguided to me.  I think one can make a much more plausible case that Leftist social policy is objectively just and good than that it is in any interesting sense neutral.  Of course, I don’t agree with that former claim either, but, to give a concrete example, it’s a lot easier to make the argument that traditional gender roles are oppressive than to argue that Leftist policy is neutral on the question of whether they should be encouraged or discouraged.

However, when I read liberals’ writings, I usually get the impression that their claim to neutrality is more than just a tactic.  It seems to be an important part of how they understand themselves.  I see two reasons for this.  First, Leftists cannot seem to accept the fact that they are the establishment and not some small band of intrepid rebels.  (A couple of years ago, I read an amusing story, related by Mark Steyn, about how one of President Obama’s ministers had gone to ball out someone, some government functionary or businessman or something like that, and said in doing so she was “speaking truth to power”.  Steyn said something to the effect of “Dude, you are the power.  Admit it.”)  Of course, their whole “plucky underdog rebels” self-understanding is getting harder and harder to take seriously as their hegemony becomes more and more overpowering.  Second, the Left’s fundamental principle is autonomy, of which they take a very expansive view, to the point of demanding that each person be free to define the meaning of life, the universe, and everything for themselves.  This makes it very difficult for them to say that some moral system (even their own one based on autonomy!) is objectively true and should be enforced by the State.  There are the makings of a contradiction here.  Perhaps a subtle liberal understanding of autonomy and government action could get around it, but the claim to be neutral (and that this “neutrality” somehow involves enforcing liberalism on all aspects of life) makes it easy.  Dropping this would presumably force the more reflective ones to grapple with the question of what it could actually mean to enforce autonomy, which–because this is their ultimate goal–could prompt a real existential crisis for the Left.  It would mean abandoning their current synthesis of liberal thought, and it’s not obvious what they would replace it with.

I suspect that most Leftists are hoping that this whole issue will blow over before it provokes any real crisis.  They are calculating on the resistance to the androgynist/homosexual agenda being weak, and that it will collapse under a small amount of coercion.  Whether or not that coercion was really consistent with liberal neutrality theory will then be a mute issue.  It will be no more danger to their ideology than, say, the issue of whether laws that one must display one’s license plate on one’s car are neutral toward people who think this is a horribly wicked thing to do.  Since such people are entirely hypothetical, nobody cares if we’re being neutral toward them.  Even dissenters who are not hypothetical, but are in the past, are not a real threat.  The fact that liberalism “broke” this dissent using illiberal means is just an irony of history, an accident of the fact that those were rougher, less liberal times (and thus, ironically, the illiberal behavior of liberals is made to seem the fault of their victims, the society they were transforming).  Someday, looking back on this incident, they may think “Of course the patriarchists were treated roughly.  Back then, everyone was made brutal by patriarchy, even the liberals who exterminated it.  How horrid patriarchy was, that it made even its enemies so cruel!  Let us be grateful that they put all of that behind us.”

If this is what liberals are hoping will happen, then it means we can provoke a crisis for them just by visibly surviving.  If, in the next couple of years, some people lose their jobs or get some intimidation from angry mobs, and then everybody falls into line, then liberalism will be secure.  If, twenty years from now, people are still getting fired and terrorized in large numbers, that’s a crisis for them.  To avert such a crisis, they may try to escalate the repression, but the harder they make it, the worse their position will be if it doesn’t work.

Evangelization: how to do it?

I’d like to discuss something with my fellow Christians.  I’ll be writing from a Catholic perspective, but the Protestant position is basically the same, so I’ll be interested in everybody’s thoughts.

Jesus told us to bring the Good News to all people; evangelization is a serious duty for each of us.  My simple plan for converting the world is as follows:  there are about 1 billion Catholics in the world, and 6 billion non-Catholics.  Therefore, each of us should convert 6 people.  Done.  How hard could that be?  Just six people.  I must know dozens of non-Catholics and interact at least in small ways with hundreds.  I’ve probably got six decades of adult life, so if I wanted to, I could target one person for a whole decade (not that I think that would be a particularly effective strategy).

All right, let’s do it.  Let’s make converts.  But how?  How about the direct approach?  Preach at street corners; witness to our co-workers.  The trouble is that I can’t imagine one chance in a million of this actually working, or accomplishing anything but pissing people off.  How about the indirect approach?  “Preach” by example, by works of virtue and mercy.  This is what clergy usually tell us to do nowadays, and of course it’s a good thing, but it sounds like an excuse to not evangelize and pretend you did.  Faith can’t be spread entirely by spiritual osmosis.  At some point, we must bring up the subject of Christianity to the potential convert.  Besides, if the idea is to impress via good deeds, doesn’t that mean we have to make a point to show off to everyone how virtuous we are?  There are Biblical strictures against that.  The third strategy is prayer and fasting.  Again, those are definitely things to do, but is that really all we’re going to do to spread the faith?

To tell the truth, I have no idea how to make converts.  The correct answer, I know, is that we never really do.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not from us.  That can’t mean that we are to just sit back and wait for the Holy Ghost to start hitting people over the head; we have been told to spread the faith.  The effect (conversion) is always disproportionate to our contribution (witnessing, good example) to the cause.  Still, there must be an intelligible connection between what we do and what the Holy Spirit brings out of it.  Otherwise, why not just sit in your room and play marbles, saying that God may take your concentration on the game and, in His mysterious ways, use it for the salvation of souls?  Here’s where a theology of evangelization would be helpful; instead, theologians have spent the past century giving us arguments why we don’t need to bother with evangelizing (because, you know, everybody is already an “anonymous Christian”).

I can’t think of anything I could do to get through to these people.  I have had friends and family leave the Church, and there was nothing I could think to do to stop them.  I would always end up doing very little, thinking I should be careful to maintain a positive relationship, don’t let it turn into an argument, set myself up to “subtly” win them back later (although the opportunity for “subtle” action never does seem to arise.)  In retrospect, I half wish I had just made an ass of myself, and demanded they repent their heresies for reasons X, Y, and Z.  I can’t imagine it working, but at least when I face judgment I would have been able to say that I did something.

Right now, aside from trying to shelter the souls of my wife and daughter, this blog is my main evangelization effort.  That’s pretty puny, given that this isn’t even an apologetics blog, and I don’t give my readers reasons to convert–although if anybody wants to hear why I think he should be a Christian, I’d be happy to oblige.  However, my impression of the culture is that the main things that keep people away from and hostile to the Church are philosophical/moral/social beliefs rather than strictly theological ones.  To be a Christian, you must believe in stuff like the Incarnation, but most nonbelievers never even get as far as asking whether they believe this.  They know that the Church is hierarchical, patriarchal, and anti-democratic; they think these are damning faults, and so they never even consider the Church’s more distinct doctrines.  If I can knock down these false philosophical positions in some people, their main obstacle to the faith will be removed, and that seems like a major thing.

Still, I suspect that what I just wrote is just rationalization, that I am substituting something difficult and frightening–actually outing myself as a Christian and preaching the Gospel to people who will hate me for it–with something easy and enjoyable–blabbing anonymously on the internet.  I haven’t significantly helped in the conversion of anybody, so I’m definitely not on track to make my quota.  Even in my extended family, where I have made some efforts–encouraging prayers before meals, arguing the Church’s positions against my modernizing elders and contemporaries–it’s not clear that I’m making anything but a superficial difference.  I really don’t know what to do.

So tell me, what do you do to spread the faith?

Why refight old lost battles?

There have been some responses to my defense of monarchy against democracy at The Thinking Housewife, so far mostly negative.  One question that people have raised against me, there and previously, is  “Why bother arguing for monarchy?  Even if you’re right, there is zero chance that America is ever going to have a king.  Aren’t you just distracting us from more pressing issues?”  Of course, proponents of democracy don’t mean that, since the practical debate is over, both sides should just move on and there should be no more claims of any sort on the relative merits of monarchy and democracy.  They mean that we monarchists should acquiesce in the wrongness of our position and the rightness of our opponents’ becoming common knowledge.  So one response I could always make is “you started it”.  I generally don’t bring up the issue, but I’ll defend my beliefs when they’re attacked.

But why not just drop that one belief?  Am I not unnecessarily marginalizing myself by embracing a position that is complelely rejected by the mainstream?  Could I not have a bigger effect by shutting up about my more eccentric beliefs and just focusing on those issues where public opinion might actually be moved?  As a short-term strategy, that has a lot to recommend it.  If I were running for political office (which would arguably be hypocritical for someone of my anti-democratic beliefs), I suppose I would have to learn discretion in what opinions I disclosed.

In the long-term, though, I think conservatism has suffered greatly from surrendering on what seem like impractical or unwinnable issues.  Cummulatively, all of this surrendering gives our enemies complete control of the historical narrative.  In the history books studied by our children, progressives are always right, and conservatives/Christians/anti-egalitarians are always wrong.  We have always supposedly been so wrong that our actions can only be explained by reference to irrational fears and hatreds or by selfishness and greed.  We’ve given in on the meaning of every past progressive-reactionary clash:  1776, 1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1936, 1960, 1968.  For each historical argument, it always seemed easier for us to give in and focus on present issues instead.  We may poke fun at the idea that the 1950s red scare was pure paranoia, but we don’t fight it enough to make a difference, and it remains the official view, the only one that anyone who’s not a Cold War history buff is ever likely to encounter.  We get irritated when we see the Left romanticizing the Spanish Republicans; but the Left still gets to teach our children to admire those priest-butchering savages.

It just never seems worth enduring the hatred of the Leftist hivemind over academic historical arguments.  We’d prefer to take our stand on something current.  But when we do that, we guarantee ourselves failure.  Imagine for a moment how things look to the average public-school educated, television entertained voter when Left and Right square off on some issue of current import.  He sees two sides, one of which is acknowledged by common consent to have always been right in every past argument of this kind.  The other side admits that it has always been wrong in the past, but insists that this time–for the first time ever–things are different.  In the past, appeals to tradition and natural law have really just been unconscionable defenses of privilege and injustice, but this time they’re actually valid!  That doesn’t sound very likely, does it?  The voter has been given one historical narrative to use in understanding the present:  heroic progressive faces off against the forces of oppression and ignorace and inevitably prevails.  Since this script is the only one in his head, he’s always going to end up being sympathetic to the Left.

Of course, what makes me absolutely livid is the implication that we Christians and conservatives owe the Left, that they did us a favor by vanquishing us, and we’re better off under their rule.  Supposedly, these freemasons and deists had a better idea what a “truly Christian” society looks like than actual Christians did.  The treaty-breaking Piedmontese conquerers did the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies a favor by devouring them.  The pope should be thankful for being “relieved” of his temporal domains, these self-righteous pricks have the gall to suggest.  We Christians should be grateful to be ruled by benevolent atheists, because otherwise we’d just kill each other.  We are incapable of self-rule; we need Leftists to rule us.

So perhaps you understand better why I can’t and won’t let these issues go.  I will go on cursing the American and French revolutions, the Risorgimento, Spanish, French, and Mexican anti-clericalism, communism in all its forms, and the sixties.  I will continue to defend King Louis, Tsar Nicholas, and Pope Pius.  This for the practical reason that if the Left is allowed to control the past, it will control the future.