The commission to gut Humanae Vitae: why I’m not too worried

If Pope Francis is thinking of giving contraception the Amoris laetitia treatment, I expect him to give up on that pretty quickly.  Before Amoris, everybody knew that the divorced and remarried, being according to Catholic doctrine unrepentant public adulterers, can’t receive communion.  The whole point of Amoris and the synods was to throw up enough dust that this would no longer be clear.

Ask yourself:  how many Catholics know that contraceptive use bars one from the Eucharist?  And that by this is included 1) pills, 2) condoms, 3) surgical sterilization, 4) non-procreative sex acts, and 5) masturbation.  See–a half century of neglect has already given contraception the Amoris treatment.  Starting any kind of “discussion” now risks Catholics learning something that the whole point of the exercise is to obscure.

Repost: Christianity and Love of the Other (On the consistency of particularism and Christian charity)

It is a good thing to want one’s fellow man to be happy in the everyday use of the word.  It is an even better thing to want one’s fellow man to be virtuous, better still to want him to be holy.  To love God, to affirm His Eternal Law and be conformed to it, is man’s highest calling.  Yet charity does not rest even with this, that he and I should both separately obey and separately adore God.  As Aquinas said, benevolence alone is imperfect friendship; perfect friendship also requires communion.  This, then, is charity’s end:  that my neighbors and I should be united in worshipping God, that we should praise Him–as it were–with one voice and make a collective obeisance to His Law.  As Augustine insisted, this and this alone constitutes a group of men as a true republic.  It’s fullest form is, of course, the Church herself.  In the Church, believers are united in one body that is none other than the mystic body of Christ, engaging in one collective sacrifice that is none other than Christ’s own sacrifice sacramentally re-presented.  However, while the Church is the supreme corporate offering to God, she is not, and does not wish to be, the only one.  Every authoritative organization–family, tribe, local and national community–is grounded in a recognition of a transcendent moral order and ordered to a collective conformity to this order.  So far is the Church from that jealousy that marks the secular state–the godless state that prefers to rule over a social desert so that it can rule alone–that the Church’s greatest wish for these other authorities is that they should recapture a sense of their true grandeur.

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The condemnation of Action Francaise, a parallel for today’s denunciations of the Alt Right

The Southern Baptist condemnation of “Alt Right” “racism” has made me grateful that Pope Francis has thrown the Catholic Church into complete doctrinal confusion.  If John Paul II were alive today, we might be witnessing an infallible declaration that borders are immoral.  It seems as if God, in His wisdom, has allowed the Church to fall into a sort of protective intellectual hibernation.  Because we cannot yet think clearly, it is better if we speak only in postmodern gibberish.  The Magisterium is to be humiliated but preserved, and a final victory over this present egalitarian madness–if there is to be any–is to be the work and the glory of Him alone.

One hundred years ago, a movement similar to today’s Alternative Right existed in Charles Maurras’s movement Action francaise.  Like today’s Alt Right, Action francaise was a movement led by intellectuals (based on a journal, there not yet being an internet) on the principles of particularism/nationalism and rejection of democracy.  Like today’s neoreaction, its founding thinker was a nonbeliever, but the movement was friendly to the Church as an institution and so managed to gain many Catholic adherents, especially among the young, intellectual, and right-wing.

The Church was presented with a dilemma.  On the one hand, this new movement was attacking liberalism–the prime heresy of the age and primary enemy of the Church–and defending without apology the ancient regime Catholicism had built.  On the other hand, although Catholics associated with the movement such as La Tour du Pin and Maritain seemed to remain loyal sons of the Church, there was the danger that Catholics under Maurras’s sway would adopt his consequentialism and instrumentalist view of the Church.

The Church chose to condemn–Cardinal Andrieu’s statement being a mix of name-calling, attribution of Maurras’s private beliefs to the whole organization, and outright lies–and in doing so dealt a terrible blow to French monarchism and made a great gift to anti-clerical republicanism.  Eventually, Action francaise submitted, but only after being reduced to a fraction of its former self.  Such has long been the status of the Church that it has power only to harm its friends.  Pius XI wrote a whole encyclical against communism, and this did nothing to check the horrors of godless socialism.

From Volume 9 of Henri Daniel-Rops’ History of the Church of Christ:

Criticism had long been directed against Action francaise or, more exactly, against the principles on which Charles Maurras claimed to base his political doctrine…the French bishops asked that Maurras’s works be placed on the Index.  On 26th January 1914 the consultors announced that seven of those works stood condemned; and their decision was confirmed by the General Congregation, which added the paper Action francaise.

Pius X, however, delayed publication of the verdict.  When it was reported to him on 29th January, by the secretary of the Congregation, he replied that the works in question were certainly prohibited, that the condemnation would be promulgated from that date, but that the decree was not published until such time as he personally thought fit.  ‘Maurras’, he declared, ‘is a good champion of the Church and of the Holy See.’  Other reasons for this clemency were his unwillingness to disturb Catholicism in France on the eve of a war which he regarded as certain, and his anxiety not to offend the many distinguished Frenchmen, religious and secular, who had begged him to deal gently with the culprit.  Benedict XV adopted the same attitude:  in 1915, after careful consideration, he decided that if the decree were published during the war, “political passions would prevent a fair assessment of such an act on the part of the Holy See”.  So there the matter lay, as expressed by Pius X:  Damnabilis sed non damnandus–condemnable but not to be condemned.

The affair took a new turn after the accession of Pius XI in 1922…

Pius was still studying the works of Maurras, Daudet and Bainville, as well as the pages of Action francaise itself, when alarming reports reached the Vatican of the movement’s rapid progress among Catholic youth.  A quarter, if not one-third, of French seminarists were adherents of Maurras, while A.C.J.F. complained that Action francaise was drawing off the most active elements of right-wing Catholic youth.  The Camelots du Roi, a royalist organization for propaganda used by Action francaise for public demonstrations and acts of violence, particularly struck Pius XI.  In May 1925 the Cahiers de la Jeunesse catholique belge organized a referendum on this question:  ‘Among writers of the past twenty-five years, whom do you consider as your masters?’  Maurras headed the list with 174 votes; Cardinal Mercier came last with six.  The Belgian episcopate took fright; a group of distinguished Belgian Catholics published a warning, and Pius XI resolved to stand no more nonsense.

The Pope, however, refrained from immediate recourse to stern measures.  The Action francaise movement included so many excellent Catholics who did not share all Maurras’s philosophical ideas–although they were more or less contaminated by the ‘pernicious atmosphere’ of positivist naturalism–that he thought it more useful to enlighten them before striking a final blow.  After vain approaches to various members of the French hierarchy, he delegated this task to the aged Cardinal Andrieu, Archbishop of Bordeaux.  On 27th October 1926 there appeared in Aquitaine, the diocesan bulletin, a declaration by that prelate.  Having had to reply to a group of young Catholics ‘on the subject of Action francaise and the attitude they should adopt toward it’, he advised them to break away from it as quickly as possible.  The wording of the archiepiscopal declaration was extremely harsh, describing the directors of the movement all together as ‘atheists or agnostics’, as ‘Catholics by profession but not by conviction’, as ‘amoralists’, and so on.  The document, however, made the whole problem absolutely clear by denouncing in the plainest terms the Maurrasian heresy.  Its only faults were a lack of serenity, the attribution to Action francaise as a whole the philosophical ideas of its leader, and even the attribution to Maurras himself of opinions he had never taught, e.g. the need to re-introduce slavery.  The stroke was therefore excessive and not very skillful; but it was an important warning , exceeding in importance that of the tired old man who had delivered it.  There could be no more room for doubt when, on 5th September, a letter from Pius XI to Cardinal Andrieu was published, congratulating him upon having denounced ‘a rebirth of paganism.’

It may be that Pius XI thought that sufficient, that the Catholics of Action francaise would listen to his appeal and abandon the movement.  There appears, however, to have been some hesitation in the ranks of Action francaise as to what attitude should be adopted.  Some, e.g. Jacques Maritain, believed it would be possible for Catholics to remain within the political movement while eschewing doctrinal errors.  Others protested that the papal condemnation was only a political and even a police measure inspired by politicians of the Briand type, and that if they had to choose between their two loyalties they would prefer Action francaise.  Many ecclesiastical authorities, with Cardinal Maurin, Archbishop of Lyons, at their head, advised a course of ‘wait and see’.  Whid did the directors of the monarchist movement suddenly favor a more stubborn attitude?  On 15th December, in reply to various notes in Osservatore Romano and under the title ‘Rome et la France‘, Charles Maurras’s journal published an article of astounding vehemence, accusing a ‘small gang of simoniacal agents’ of insulting good Frenchmen ‘in their conscience as believers and in their honour as men’.  Five days afterward, in Consistory, Pius XI retorted by expressly forbidding all Catholics to belong to the undertakings, to remain in the school or to read the journal ‘of men whose writings set aside our dogma and our morality’….Rome replied on 29th December 1926 by publishing the decree of the Holy Office as drawn up in 1914.  To it was added an explicit condemnation of the journal Action francaise.

…Pius was coldly resolved upon victory.  At his request 116 French bishops signed a manifesto approving and explaining the condemnation; those who believed they ought not to sign paid dearly for their refusal.  Cardinal Billot was obliged to resign and retired as a simple Jesuit to a house of the Society.  Several religious also, some of them notorious, were punished…Meanwhile the Sacred Penitentiary decreed that any priest who gave absolution to supporters of Action francaise would be suspended from hearing confessions, that seminarians faithful to the movement would be dismissed, and that the faithful who remained stubborn in rebellion would be regarded as public sinners and refused the sacraments.

France became at once a tragic stage upon which friendships were destroyed and families divided among themselves, as in the days of the Dreyfus affair.  Good Catholics were seen carried to a civil grave because of their allegiance to Action francaise; priests censured for having taken the last sacraments to fathers who stood condemned; marriages and baptisms performed as in the worst days of the Terror.

[Fast forward a decade to 1937]

After a visit to Paris by Mgr. Ottaviani, assessor of the Holy Office, a new letter was sent to Rome, in which the [governing] committee [of Action francaise] expressed its ‘sincere grief’ for what had been ‘disrespectful, offensive and even unjust’ in their attitude, and rejected ‘every principle and every theory opposed to the teachings of the Church’.  The Holy Office replied on 5th July by lifting the condemnation of Action francaise, but without mentioning that of Pius X against Maurras’s philosophy.

To be clear, Catholics did have a duty to disassociate from Action francaise while it was condemned, because the Pope did have the authority to command it.  The virtue of obedience is never clearer than when the command is foolish.  Still, no one has the authority to keep us from recognizing it as foolish.  Someday, the Church will ready to pronounce on the questions posed by European nationalism, but not until her current fever has passed.  When it does, will there still be any European nations?

Cross-post: graduating seniors, please don’t try to make the world a better place

Original on the Orthosphere

If I were to give a commencement address:

Graduating seniors, my message to you is simple:  do not try to make the world a better place.

I realize this contradicts everything you’ve been told since you arrived four years ago.  Since your freshman orientation, you have been encouraged to engage in activism, to join protests, to raise the consciousnesses of your benighted and bigoted elders.  But that’s strange in itself, isn’t it?  The presumption must be that you are wiser and more compassionate than the mass of men who make up the status quo.  After all, if you were uninformed or had an overly simplistic understanding of the world, it would be better if you didn’t change the world until after overcoming these defects, since there would be no reason to think your changes would be for the better.

Now, the prior speakers have already praised your passion, idealism, commitment to social justice and so forth, so let us grant for the moment that you are wiser than the men of previous generations who bequeathed to us the existing order.  When did you get this way?  To be really confident that other men’s group attachments or understandings of sex are mere bigotry, that other men’s religions and philosophies are mere superstition, that other men’s property is unjustly held, requires arduous prior study.  You must have sought out the strongest arguments of the other side and subjected your own to ruthless examination.  You must have approached those you would condemn and listened to them with sympathy to be sure there is no aspect of the case you have failed to consider.  A century ago, men like Planck and Einstein revolutionized physics, but even though they were certainly geniuses, they first had to have a very deep understanding of classical, Newtonian physics, its strengths (which their new theories had to reproduce) as well as its weaknesses.  Likewise, for you to condemn a society, you must have come to understand it better than its own defenders and participants.

When, exactly, did this happen?  Did it happen while you were here?  Even if so, it’s odd that you were encouraged to start inflicting your virtue on the world from your freshman year, before this process could be completed.  Do you regret any position you took prematurely as a freshman?  Have you found all your early positions ratified by further study?  What luck that would be!  I’m twice your age, and many of the things I said in my twenties, even with a bachelor’s degree to my name, now embarrass me.

But how could this process of rigorous critique have happened here, when you have demanded, and the administration has granted, that no beliefs of which you disapprove may be presented on campus, that aspects of Western and non-Western civilizations you deem “hateful” have “no place in our community”?  So, in fact, this detailed examination of our civilization, which you find so grievously wanting, must have happened before you even arrived here–or else it would have been foolish to have let you decide what ideas may and may not be given respectful consideration.  It must have been in high school that you gave all those “dead white men” their careful hearing and exposed their errors.

Or perhaps it didn’t happen at all.

To learn, one must at least suspect that one might be ignorant, and I hope I have planted a seed of suspicion in your minds.  Not that you are wrong, but that you cannot really be so confident that you are right.  Here, though, are two truths of which you can be certain.  First, it is easier to destroy than create; you’ve known this since you started playing with those legos for toddlers.  Second, simply maintaining a level of civilization–to say nothing of advancing in technology or “social justice”–is tremendous work, work that must be repeated each generation.  We often fail to show our ancestors sufficient gratitude for this work.  Yes, society is natural to man.  But just as it is natural to the predator to hunt its food and yet any day this may be exhausting work with uncertain outcome, so we humans must expend great effort to maintain a good that is natural to us.  Given this, it would be no small accomplishment to leave the world not worse than one found it.

Consider one more argument against trying to make the world a better place.  You will probably fail.  It is statistically certain that most of you are not destined for the history books.  By the time you reach middle age, your lack of world-historical importance will hopefully have become clear to you, and with it a growing acknowledgement of your own mortality.  How will you make sense of your life?  How can you find some meaning in your short time on Earth?  You may ask yourself how most men and woman have faced these questions throughout history, having realized at last that you are not different than them.  You will find that past generations drew solace from their very smallness, the fact that although they were unimportant and their time was brief, they participated in something larger:  a fixed and divinely-ordained order of nature, the multi-generational chain of memory of a particular culture, nation, or race.  These are the ideas that you, as an emancipated, rational citizen-of-the-world now want to undermine.

You might well ask me what an ambitious young man or woman should do, if not make the world a better place.  Well, you could try raising a family.  If you ask yourself what your parents’ main accomplishment was, most likely this would be it.  Why imagine you should do anything grander?  Remember my second truth.  Just carrying things forward–holding down a job, caring for children and teaching them well, maintaining a house and the friendship of neighbors–is a huge undertaking, the work of a lifetime.  Or how about this:  instead of trying to make the world a better place, why not let the world make you a better person?  After all, you are still very young, and the world still has much to teach you.

Bushido: the soul of Japan

Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history.  It is still a living object of power and beauty among us, and if it assumes no tangible shape or form, it none the less scents the moral atmosphere and makes us aware that we are still under its potent spell…It is a pleasure for me to reflect upon this subject in the language of Burke, who uttered the well-known touching eulogy over the neglected bier of its European prototype.

Fair play in fight!  What fertile germs of morality lie in this primitive sense of savagery and childhood.  Is it not the root of all military and civic virtue?  We smile (as if we had outgrown it!) at the boyish desire of the small Britisher, Tom Brown, “to leave behind him the name of a fellow who never bullied a little boy or turned his back on a big one.”  And yet, who does not know that this desire is the cornerstone on which moral structures of mighty dimensions can be reared?  May I not go even so far as to say that the gentlest and most peace-loving of religions endorses this aspiration?  The desire of Tom is the basis on which the greatness of England is largely built, and it will not take us long to discover that Bushido does not stand on a lesser pedestal.  If fighting in itself, be it offensive or defensive, is, as the Quakers rightly testify, brutal and wrong, we can still say with Lessing, “We know from what failings our virtue springs.”

— Inazo Nitobe, from Bushido:  The Soul of Japan (1905)

Dr. Nitobe was a man of impressive broad-mindedness:  a Japanese convert to Quakerism who wrote this study to help Westerners appreciate the spiritual grandeur of a martial code that his adopted faith would not let him completely share.

Self-consciously modern people will not tolerate a good word for European chivalry, but they can sometimes be tricked into feeling some respect for the samurai.  I actually found this book at my university’s bookstore among the required reading for an “Asian Studies” course.  It may be one of the few books they read in college that leave them better (and more open to forbidden thoughts) than it found them.

Nitobe has a delightful trick of granting a modernist’s objection in a way that exposes its pettiness.  For example

I am not entirely ignorant of Mr. Spencer’s view according to which political obedience–loyalty–is accredited with only a transitional function.  It may be so.  Sufficient unto the day is the virtue thereof.

And I’m going to remember to use this one

Democracy may make self-confident retorts to such a statement and fling back the question–“When Adam delved and Eve span, where then was the gentleman?”  All the more pity that a gentleman was not present in Eden!  The first parents missed him sorely and paid a high price for his absence.  Had he been there, not only would the garden have been more tastefully dressed, but they would have learned without painful experience that disobedience to Jehovah was disloyalty and dishonor, treason, and rebellion.

One last quote

I have noticed a rather superficial notion prevailing among half-informed foreigners, that because the common Japanese expression for one’s wife is “my rustic wife” and the like, she is despised and held in little esteem.  When it is told that such phrases as “my foolish father”, “my swinish son”, and “my awkward self”, etc., are in current use, is not the answer clear enough?

To me it seems that our idea of marital unions goes in some ways farther than the so-called Christian.  “Man and woman shall be one flesh”.  The individualism of the Anglo-Saxon cannot let go of the idea that husband and wife are two persons–hence when they disagree, their separate rights are recognized, and when they agree, they exhaust their vocabulary in all sorts of silly pet-names and nonsensical blandishments.  It sounds highly irrational to our ears, when a husband or wife speaks to a third party of his or her other half–better or worse–as being lovely, bright, kind, and what not.  Is it good taste to speak of one’s self as “my bright self”, “my lovely disposition”, and so forth?  We think praising one’s own wife is praising a part of one’s own self, and self-praise is regarded, to say the least, as bad taste among us–and I hope, among Christian nations too!

Nitobe goes over the main facets of the samurai way:  loyalty, politeness, stoicism, suicide, the virtues appropriate to women.  He predicts that Bushido as an explicit code will not survive the modernization of Japan, that in the end materialism and Christianity will divide the world between them.  Nevertheless, his hope is that Bushido might live on as a moral sensibility in (presumably) Christian Japan as Stoicism does in Christian Europe.

The alternative to freedom of religion

I value my Protestant conservative allies.  I notice they seem to get concerned when they hear that traditionalist Catholics object to the principle of religious freedom.  Presumably, they worry that, should Catholics ever again gain power, we will start persecuting Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and so forth.  I can sympathize; if I were a Lutheran, Anglican, or Methodist, I would prefer that people be willing to tolerate me.  However, they’re going about reassuring themselves in the wrong way.

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Is it time to retire the word “freedom”?

Like J.S. Mill, I stipulate that I am speaking of political liberty, not the philosophical problem of free will.

The plain meaning of freedom is being able to do what you want, but there is no way to maximize this.  Power is conserved; distributing it is a zero-sum game; any decision means more freedom for some set of people and less for some other set.  See Zippy.

One way liberals get around this by introducing the idea of a private realm that is one’s own concern.  “Freedom” means few restrictions in the private realm while in the public realm that affects everybody decisions are made impersonally so no one oppresses anyone else.  Freedom requires structuring society a certain way.  If my right to move my arm ends where my neighbor’s body begins, than freedom means giving everyone as much elbow room as possible.  This atomization process destroys communal goods that many would rather keep, but liberals are getting very comfortable about telling these people that their desires are evil and not true exercises of freedom.  And if power only over your private realm seems a paltry thing, you can participate in the impersonal public decision making machine (voting, jury duty), just as long as you only invoke motives that liberals approve as “public reason”.  Such is the price of freedom.

Conservatives have long noted that this model of expanding freedom in fact leaves everyone isolated and powerless before an impersonal government.  A better model of freedom, we have sometimes said, is provided by subsidiarity.  Don’t strip all authority from people and concentrate it at the top in an impersonal bureaucracy.  A better model of freedom is power distributed to as small units as possible.

There is some truth to this, but we should be careful about basing our case for the authority of fathers, bishops, and local governments on subsidiarity concerns, as if the only thing that mattered were spreading power and not who in particular gets it.  We insist that God has granted authority to these categories of people in particular (meaning both that He affirms the right to self-rule of the institutions these people represent and lead, and He endorses a particular hierarchical constitution of these institutions).  Defending the authority of fathers on the grounds of freedom from the state is playing on dangerous territory, because the state will invoke the liberal understanding of freedom to “liberate” the children.

Dissenting Sociologist has made an ingenious suggestion that we invert the liberal scheme of “freedom as no power of one person over another, rather power held impersonally” with “freedom as power held by responsible persons within an explicit hierarchy”, which would indeed mean a much more livable world, one that resembles less than the liberal one what we intuitively recognize as tyranny.

In my Defense of Tradition, I offer another way that conservatives might acknowledge the desire for freedom.

Cultures also have established standards of courtesy which recognizes persons as dignified by an accepted place in society…As Montesquieu noted, each people also has its own conception of freedom, the dignity we accord persons as beings with free will addressed by the moral law.  This culturally conditioned freedom can be quite different from liberal autonomy.  For example, a soldier is a free man rather than a slave—even if he was conscripted, even though his life is minutely regulated, even though he may be ordered to risk his life.  What makes him free is, ironically, his duty to obey.  To command someone over whom one has recognized authority is to appeal to him as a moral agent.  An animal could only be conditioned, and a slave could only be threatened.  The distinctive mark of freedom is also seen in the treatment of criminals.  A free society does not excuse or condition them; it punishes them.  Punishment appeals to a belief in free will and a common standard of justice.

Each of the above behavior codes varies from culture to culture.  In some aboriginal cultures women bare their breasts, while in some Arab cultures women cover their faces.  This doesn’t scandalize the traditionalist, any more than one would worry that different languages have different words for the same thing.

Freedom means not being treated like a child, which can mean completely different things in different cultures.

Other attempts to save the quest for freedom from incoherence exist.  For Hegel, true freedom is rationality, and the state exists, to speak very roughly, to make things make sense and to make us fully self-aware.  Virtue ethicists distinguish mere license from “freedom for excellence” which involves actualizing one’s own nature.  This seems to be what Tolkien meant by the “free peoples of Middle Earth”.  These definitions come close to replacing freedom as a distinctly political category with a fully actualized free will–self-control, understanding, “freedom from sin”.

Sure, there are definitions of “freedom” for which pursuing freedom is a good thing, but in all these cases, isn’t there a better, clearer word for what we are really pursuing?  If we want subsidiarity, personal (i.e. responsible) rule, culturally-conditioned expressions of respect for subjects, rationality, or virtue, wouldn’t it just be better to say that instead?

But we are conservatives, which means validating common sense categories.  If people value “freedom” and abhor “tyranny” so much, there must be something to it.  Even if the good of “freedom” is identical with some other good, the word “freedom” must be capturing some particular aspect of that good.  Maybe one of the above illiberal views of freedom is adequate, maybe not.  The intellectual work on the Right shall continue.