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Just days before his scheduled visit to the Muslim-majority nation of Albania, Pope Francis is told he may be in the crosshairs of assassins from the Islamic State. Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican warns of “credible threats” against the life of the 77-year-old pontiff.

Sadly, His Holiness is as obvious a target of ISIS Ideology as much as the World Trade Center and Pentagon have been.

nic haros,
Admin, FacebookApostles.org

The End of Progressivism by Peter Lawler



Since the election in 2008 of Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed “Progressive,” many American conservative intellectuals have become convinced that resistance to Progressivism is the essence of their cause. They believe the American political tradition, flowing from the philosopher John Locke, is grounded in the immutable “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”—and preeminently in the God-given equal rights of free individuals to give or withhold consent to government. Progressivism, by contrast, is the poisonous fruit of European (that is, un-American) post-Darwinian and post-Hegelian speculations about society as an evolving organism in which the free individual is reduced to a cog in a Historical process that trumps both nature and natural rights. In principle, therefore, Progressivism can recognize no fundamental limits to state power. This message of the conservative intellectuals is reflected in the convictions of the admirable members of America’s Tea Party: Obama’s “change we can believe in”—his attempt to expand the welfare state during an economic crisis—is the latest episode in a longstanding and increasingly successful effort to displace our Founders’ vision of limited government.
There is some truth in this conservative message, but it is not the whole truth. And it distracts us from the real challenges we now face as a nation. The truth is that, whatever our Progressive president might want to do, our welfare state is imploding, and the era of Big Government is necessarily coming to an end.

Locked in combat against Progressive thought, conservative intellectuals have neglected the fact that there is an idea of progress in John Locke’s political theory, too. Locke wrote to promote the liberty achieved by the labor of individuals who progressively “humanize” an otherwise indifferent natural world. The most convincing narrative of the history of our country is that of the individual freeing himself (or herself) from nature for an ever-more-secure and self-determined pursuit of happiness. The truth is that Lockean or individualistic progress (with a small “p”) is in the process of achieving an overwhelming victory over Historical or Big-Government Progress (with a capital “P”). The idea that the free individual is the bottom line has defeated the idea that individuals or persons could ever be mere cogs in any statist or Historical vision. This has had, and will continue to have, big consequences in American political and social life.

Individualism and the Birth Dearth

Change in America over the last generation or two has largely been progress in Locke’s sense. The change we can actually see has been in accordance with Locke’s basic individualistic insight about who we are or might become—though sometimes in ways Locke himself did not anticipate. It didn’t occur to Locke, it seems, that so many free persons would become so self-absorbed that many would choose to stop having enough children to replace themselves. The main reason for the “birth dearth” among our sophisticated classes is not merely the transfer of dependence from family to government, but a kind of choice for radical personal autonomy over being “species fodder.” Nature may intend me to be replaced by my children, but we Lockeans are more concerned with living for ourselves—and so, among other things, with thwarting nature’s intention by staying around as long as possible, however great the health-care cost.

When Alexis de Tocqueville described the emotional withdrawal of “individualism,” he was mainly concerned that individuals would lose the spirit of resistance characteristic of citizens, and so create the preconditions for democratic or soft despotism. He thought that the natural limit to individualistic self-absorption would be the family: even in a democracy, free individuals would persist in thinking of themselves as parents and children. He had a kind of sociobiological faith that the limit to individual liberation would be the natural social inclinations that lead the species to perpetuate itself. Locke seems to have had that faith too. He thought people would continue to have children, and their natural inclination, supported by law, would cause them to stay together long enough to raise them.

But, in principle, Locke couldn’t have rejected the conclusion of our Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) that women have an equal right with men to be free individuals and so to define for themselves their personal identities. On this view, a right to abortion can be justified as what’s required for women (when other contraceptive methods fail) to be liberated from the natural inclination to be moms, so that they can become equal participants in the nation’s economic and political life. Individuals saddled by nature with female bodies have the right not be species fodder or reproductive machines for the state. They have the right, as autonomous beings, not to be determined by their natures, not even their bodies.

Until well into the 1960s, the Republicans were the relatively Lockean or pro-business party, and for that reason the Republicans were the party that pushed the Equal Rights Amendment. The Democrats were the more “paternalistic,” union-enabling, welfare-state party that aimed for a family wage earned by a husband-breadwinner. That position presupposed the dignity of “unproductive” motherhood. The liberation of women to become wage slaves just like men began in the 1960s, and that liberation became identified more as Democratic than Republican only because the Democrats became the feminist party, the party more dedicated to liberating women to be Lockean individuals. But neither party objected to women flooding into the workforce—which ended the dream of the family wage for most Americans, made it much more difficult for women to find dignity without earning money, and inevitably reduced the average size of the American family. With our Lockean premises, nobody denied for long that justice demanded equal opportunity for women as free individuals. Our two parties reached a consensus that government would have little to do with the encouragement of virtues untethered to productivity, and the Democrats fairly quickly ended their flirtation with “welfare rights”—which is to say, the right not to be productive.

This new consensus was not about letting people live as they pleased in any 1960s “do your own thing” sense; it was about perfecting our meritocracy grounded in productivity. Insofar as “neoconservatives” worried about the family, they were mainly concerned with fending off dysfunctional behavior that undermined individual liberty and economic prosperity. We can affirm that the liberation of women was more good than not, without denying the downside in terms of sustaining the safety nets that used to constitute the minimalist American welfare state that had its heyday in the 1960s.

One result of the liberation of women—and of men, who were given a license to behave badly—is an explosion of the number of lonely single moms who desperately need the welfare state to get by. What they need, government is going to be less and less able to provide. And the routinization of divorce (far beyond Locke’s or Tocqueville’s expectations), with the individual’s pursuit of happiness in mind, has also produced lots of lonely men. The fastest growing demographic category today is men over sixty- five who aren’t close to either a spouse or children. They, too, are going to need public help as they increasingly fade away into chronic forms of age-related debilitation, but it is clear that we won’t be able to afford what those individuals need either.

Working Hard to Stay Around

Locke probably would not have been surprised that so many free and sophisticated individuals would so prudently attend to the health-and-safety risk factors that threaten to extinguish their very being as individuals. Given Descartes’s big promise about free individuals employing modern science to produce indefinite longevity for particular persons, it would have surprised Locke even less that medical technology has been so successful in keeping so many persons alive for so long. More than ever, free individuals regard their health and safety as something under their own control, and not in the hands of either God or fortune. Given what we now know and can do about risk factors, we increasingly regard death as an evil to be avoided through prudent calculation. And so, more and more, we consider death as the product of stupid, unsafe choices. We used to think only the good die young; now, we think it’s the ignorant and self-indulgent who do. Sophisticated individuals are increasingly repulsed by people feckless enough to be fat, and we even think there should be a law or a tax to discourage their irresponsible behavior.

Lockeans are often criticized for reducing personal morality to health, safety, and consent, but they are very serious—very puritanical—when it comes to that individualist trinity. Our individualism is not about living as you please, but rather about doing what’s required to secure one’s own personal future. And our so-called transhumanists give us an unprecedented incentive: with the right regimen of diet, exercise, and lots of supplements, they say, young people can reasonably hope to stay around until the “singularity” arrives and something like personal immortality becomes possible. St. Augustine was right that it’s most important not to screw up when eternal life is on the line, but what was wish fulfillment for Augustine is now something we can do for ourselves, according to some of our Lockeans. Certainly we are not told to relax and enjoy ourselves when it comes to eating or sex. In some ways, we are more preoccupied than ever with the bad things both of those natural processes can do to free beings with bodies.

The sustainability of Social Security and Medicare depended on people being more easygoing about eating (or health in general) and the natural consequences of sex than sophisticated people are now. Those programs depended on the demographics of the 1950s and the 1960s, with men often dying in their late fifties or early sixties (and so, not drawing a dime from entitlement programs for the elderly), while having three or more children to pay for those programs in the future. Our welfare state depended, in other words, on the risky behavior displayed for us as insane on the television show Mad Men.

Our Demographic Trend

By thinking of ourselves more and more as free individuals who are responsible for ourselves, we have produced an aging society with a growing number of old people and fewer young ones. The result is that the ratio between productive and unproductive Americans continues to tilt in favor of the later, despite the fact that we put more of a premium than ever on being productive. (One reason among many why viewers are appalled by the advertising executives on Mad Menstaggering back to the office from multiple-martini lunches is the loss of a half day’s productive work.)

It is impossible to overstate the extent to which our existing entitlement programs were premised on “Baby Boom” demographics. As long as the population and the economy were both growing briskly, we could easily afford to sustain and even expand benefits for the elderly. Public policy deliberations in the late 1960s and early 1970s were also informed, however, by deep concerns about overpopulation. So President Nixon’s Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1969) actually endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment as a way of discouraging female fertility—a way to get women to think of themselves less as mothers and more as free individuals. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that our experts were intent on undermining the demographic foundation of the welfare state. If it were reasonable to hope we could soon be anywhere close to returning to Baby Boom birthrates, there would be no talk today of entitlement reform.

Lockeans might begin to attempt to solve our demographic problem by saying that the old should just become more productive: we need to push the retirement age back—way back. If the elderly are healthy, they should keep working. We can expect that to happen, and responsible experts say many or most people might well be stuck working as long as they can. But there are obvious limits to that remedy. A high-tech society is full of preferential options for the young; the old might be healthy, but they still often lack the mental agility required to keep up with incessant techno-change. Even in college teaching—not a demanding profession—there’s plenty of complaining that the abolition of mandatory retirement is keeping around the ineffective and out-of-touch at the expense of scholarly productivity and consumer (student) satisfaction. The aging, overpaid professorate is probably the most compelling argument against tenure, one that will prevail soon enough in our techno-meritocracy. If the old keep working, we will quickly realize, it will have to be in less productive and (much) lower-paid positions. After all, we value the wisdom connected with age less than ever, and we’re getting more skeptical of the thought that being old means being entitled.

Some of our Tea Partiers—especially those in the rural South—believe that the dissolution of the welfare state will restore the situation that prevailed in most of our country’s history of liberty. The elderly, like on The Waltons, will return to live in the homes of their children and grandchildren. I actually favor government programs that would facilitate that change, but again there are limits. A Lockean or techno-productive society has dispersed families throughout the country and the world. The ties that produced extended families are weaker than ever. It seems less natural or normal for parents and their grown children to share the same place.

Throughout most of our history, the health-care system has been dependent on most caregiving being done voluntarily by women. But that isn’t usually possible in a Lockean country where women have become productive individuals just like men, and where there are fewer young people to provide caregiving, whether paid or voluntary, for the burgeoning number of elderly. Not only that, health care will remain far too costly for ordinary families to afford, and techno-progress by itself cannot make it cheaper. We are getting better and better at keeping the old and frail around, but our wonderful success in sustaining their biological being often takes decades of expensive medical intervention. The good news is that we are steadily pushing back cancer and heart disease. The bad news is that the default form of dying is becoming Alzheimer’s, which is a long, predictable, costly, caregiving-intensive disease for which there is no cure. For young women compelled by duty or circumstances to care for a parent with such a disease, there will be less opportunity than ever to become a mom, and so the situation they face will be worse still for the generation to follow.

Locke himself rather coldly suggested that the only compelling tie parents will have on their grown children will be money. He wanted to free individuals from the constraints of patriarchy; he didn’t want parents to be able to rule their adult children. And he didn’t want the relations of free individuals to rely on love—except the love for little children (who are temporarily incapable of taking care of themselves). If you’re going to get old—which Locke was in favor of—you’d first better get rich. Our libertarians aren’t wrong to say that we should do what we can to encourage people to save for their own futures. But our 401(k)s can no longer be counted on to produce returns that outpace inflation. The average person is less sure than ever that his money will last as long as he will, but nonetheless he surely knows that he’ll be stuck depending largely on his own money to live well.

The implosion of the welfare state, which is caused most of all by our aging society, doesn’t look like a new birth of freedom for old folks. As we learn from Socrates’s musings in The Republic, there may be nothing more difficult than being old and poor in a democracy, a regime which has no idea what old people are for. That is not to say that we are going to begin euthanizing the elderly or even “rationing” them to early graves. We know that the elderly are free persons—they’re not nothing—and so we’re committed to helping them stay around as long as possible. To say the least, however, we don’t know much about how they might have purposeful lives in our increasingly individualistic world.

The Entitlement Implosion

The primary experience of most ordinary Americans these days is the erosion—with the prospect of implosion—of the various safety nets of our relatively minimalist welfare state. The change we can actually see has been, and will continue to be, from defined benefits to defined contributions. Private and even public pensions are done for. They will continue to be replaced by 401(k)s. That kind of change will also be true of health care, as employer-based plans become unsustainable. It will also soon be true of Medicare and probably Social Security—if not quite as soon as Representative Paul Ryan thinks. Ryan, it is already obvious, will come to be known as a man just slightly ahead of his time. In that sense, just as obviously, he is the real progressive—the prophet of the more or less inevitable world to come. And his opponents, who are called Progressives, are just as obviously the real reactionaries.

The good news here, the new birth of freedom celebrated by the Tea Party, is more choice—a lot more choice—for individuals. The bad news is that risk is being transferred from the employer and the government to the individual. All of our entitlements will have to be transformed in a Lockean or individualistic direction in what might nevertheless be futile efforts to save them. Other, related changes that Lockeans should believe in include the fact that unions, both public and private, are also done for—despite President Obama’s efforts to prop them up. Their reactionary attempts at protectionism have no place in a globalized and rigorously competitive marketplace. The same can be said of the ideal of employer and employee loyalty. People will be able to be—and will have to be—a lot more entrepreneurial and self-employed. One reason among many that employer-based health care cannot survive is that it depends on an increasingly obsolete model of employment. The present health-care system is actually not particularly good for the self-employed—which is to say, for more and more of us. Fear of losing insurance shouldn’t be a reason for passing up an entrepreneurial opportunity, and guilt about an employee’s health-care situation shouldn’t be a reason for not firing superfluous or inadequately productive employees.

All these economic changes have, of course, both good and bad aspects. We might say that they are changes we can sort of half believe in. The Tea Partiers are enthusiastic about a new birth of freedom and a return to the Lockean Constitution of our Founders. And there really is a lot of good to be said about a renewed emphasis on individual responsibility, just as there is a lot of good to be said about perfecting the productive meritocracy that is the main source of our prosperity. Perhaps there will also be a new birth of voluntary associations—such as the extended family, the church, and the neighborhood—and voluntary caregiving for the social support even free individuals need to live well. Lockean political and economic reform is not incompatible with Christian charity, and anxious, lonely individuals futilely pursuing an ever-elusive happiness and even more futilely trying to cheat death might have more reason than ever to turn to the organized and relational religion of the personal Creator. Certainly the usually solidly churched, big-family, and otherwise communitarian Tea Partiers don’t really share the comprehensive libertarianism of our sophisticated autonomy freaks.

Status Quo Conservatism

It would be wrong, however, to call these changes popular. The Tea Party has peaked, and it never got anywhere near to a majority of Americans. People can’t help but be conservative when it comes to preserving the entitlements on which they have come to rely. Consider that, at present, the Republicans continue to dominate the debate on health care; people remain convinced that Obamacare will wreck their employer-based plans without replacing them with anything nearly as good. Republicans are mostly campaigning against the president’s bigger-government change without offering a clear alternative. They know, of course, that the employer-based schemes don’t have much of a future. The Republicans’ advantage over the president might fade quickly if they were to begin emphasizing the reasonable view that there is really no alternative but to have each individual buy his own private insurance, and have means-tested subsidies to make it possible for everyone to be covered. Individuals would have their own insurance; they would have more choice and could be cost-sensitive consumers; but they probably wouldn’t get the coverage they have now at (to them) such a low cost.

When it comes to health care, most people are neither Progressives nor Lockeans. They are status quo conservatives, believing that change in any direction will not be progressive in the sense of serving their personal interests. But like it or not, change in the Lockean direction will come, and the institutionalization of Obamacare over the next few years will only delay the inevitable in a needlessly costly way. For now, however, this is a message no one seems prepared to hear.

With Medicare, the Democrats now have the advantage. They seem to be the status quo conservatives, defending the existing, defined-benefit, fee-for-service program. Americans have forgotten, for the moment, that one source of funding for Obamacare will be cuts in Medicare. And the Democrats don’t deny that sustaining the current program will depend on waves of cuts. Newt Gingrich was clearly wrong when he called Representative Ryan’s Medicare reform plan “radical social engineering”—branding it with the kind of attack Republicans usually reserve to describe Progressive experiments in bigger government. Payments under the Ryan plan would go to private insurance companies, and the resulting competition might well drive costs down (as they did in President Bush’s unfairly maligned prescription drug benefit program). The Ryan plan would likely stretch the government dollar in ways which give people the best deal they can get in a time of diminished resources. But Gingrich did play to the true popular mood when he created, in effect, a moral equivalence when it comes to any significant change in the present entitlements regime. People think all change is risky and undesirable. Although everyone really knows that Medicare and Social Security as we now know them cannot last, devolving responsibility to the prudent calculations of the individual is, at best, ambiguous news.

The Change We Can Actually See

The progress of American individualism in the past generation has not been toward apathetic contentment (Tocquevillian individualism) but toward the intensification of personal self-obsession (Lockean individualism). People are more detached from others than ever, or less animated by personal love or less moved by thinking of themselves as part of a whole greater than themselves. That means that, in the Lockean sense, we are thinking more personally or individually; we believe that the “bottom line” is keeping the free person alive as long as possible. The result can only be, we now see, the increasing anxiety of individual responsibility. Americans have not been living any Progressive or Marxist dream of having freed themselves from scarcity for unalienated self-fulfillment. And they know, now more than ever, that such a dream can never become real in some postproductive age.

In this respect, the vision of our libertarians (or Lockeans on steroids) turns out to have been, to a point, most realistic. The Marxian idea that the modern techno-conquest of nature could allow people to live unobsessive, and so unalienated, lives was naïve—a naïveté present, for example, in the 1960s version of our Progressivism. Naïve, too, was the idea that government planning could remove worry and anxious planning from individual lives. People are, it turns out, stuck with working. And the demands of productivity actually accelerate as technology progresses. They are also in some ways more future-obsessed than ever. Free individuals tend to believe that their own deaths are the extinction of being itself, but as Lockeans we are less whiny-existentialist and fatalistic about that than we are powerfully resolved to do what we can to stay around as long as possible. (We can exempt our religious minority of observant believers from this view of who we are, just as we can notice that they are actually the ones who are mitigating our birth dearth with their many babies. It is always possible that there could be a religious solution to the crisis of our time.)

Our libertarians were wrong, however, to think that we could flourish in abundance by understanding ourselves with ever-more-perfect consistency as free and productive individuals progressively untethered by biological direction. It turns out that it is not free individuals but men and women in touch, so to speak, with who they are by nature who have enough babies to secure our productive future and so to pay for our minimalist entitlement programs. So it also turns out that the hyper-Lockean attempt to detach individual autonomy from birth and death and love is the wrecking ball of the welfare state. The least that can be said is that the free individual has triumphed over the feckless dependent.

Our demographic “crisis” has destroyed the Progressive dream of a schoolmarmish social democracy humanely enveloping us all. The good news is that Tocqueville was wrong to worry that we would slouch into subhuman contentment. The road to serfdom, we see now, will never get to serfdom. The bad news is that to the extent that we understand ourselves as free individuals (and nothing more) we pursue happiness, as Locke himself explains, but hardly ever find it. The next stage in American progress, we can hope, is that we will discover, or rediscover, the truth that the free or personal being is necessarily a relational being. That would, however, take us a step beyond Locke in thinking about who we really are.

On World Communication Day: Is the Internet a Gift from God? by Dr. Eugene Gan

On World Communications Day: Is the Internet a Gift from God?

Posted on 05/30/2014 by Dr. Eugene Gan

Pope_Francis_Sunday June 1, 2014 is the 48th World Communications Day in the Universal Church. Pope Francis’ message on this year’s theme, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” can be found in full here.

Pope_Francis_Holy Internet Batman! Gift from God? I thought they said Al Gore invented the Internet!
Pope Francis released a 2014 World Communications Day message saying that the Internet is “something truly good, a gift from God.” Are we looking at a media-savvy Pope? Or is this a variation of a “can’t beat ‘em so join ‘em” kind of resignation? Maybe even a new marketing angle for the Catholic Church to attract the young and tech-savvy?

I dug deeper. World Communications Day was the only official day of celebration proclaimed during a world-wide gathering of bishops and cardinals in Rome in 1963. The first World Communications Day message was released on January 24, 1967. January 24 was picked because it is the day the Catholic Church celebrates another festival: that of Saint Francis de Sales, who is acknowledged by Catholics as the patron of writers and journalists, and so a patron of the communications media. (And here we thought January 24 was significant because it was the day Apple Computers launched their first Macintosh personal computer. But that was January 24, 1984, many centuries later.)

Then there’s the question of origin regarding the “gift from God” phrase. Digging deeper still, you can find this phrase repeated multiple times throughout the Catholic Church’s more than 78 years’ worth of media documents and communiques, all conveniently Google-able online and searchable at http://www.vatican.va. You’ll find this phrase about media as “gifts from God” implicitly and explicitly expressed in all the Catholic Church’s official documents about the media, from the first document released in 1936 to today. We have to pause for a moment to consider the scene in 1936, since I bet many of you reading this aren’t old enough to remember what it was like back then. In 1936, most folks didn’t know what a television set was, let alone own one. 1936 was before Orson Welles’ broadcast of his landmark, media-shaking War of the Worlds drama that scared folks silly. And it was during a time in our history when the media was viewed suspiciously as a tool for propaganda. Despite all this, the Catholic Church held out that media is a “gift from God”.

There’s an elegant simplicity to the Pope’s 2014 message too: as much as the media connects so many of us, the media can’t magically unite us in solidarity. That’s a human task, not a technological one. Pope Francis writes: “Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.” Maybe it’s the visual contrast he uses or maybe it’s simply his own personal, lived experience expressed in so many words, but something about this statement is disturbingly familiar..

If we can choose to ignore the people around us, how much easier it becomes to ignore the human person behind the login name or behind the online avatar. Or the irony of how all this connectivity with people far off can cut us off from people close by.

“The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.” Even this sentiment hits too close to home. It’s too easy to let the time slip by when we’re online. Whether at work or at play, we know we ought “to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.” Listen to others, and listen to ourselves, sometimes to just be, for our own sanity if nothing else.

Again, the same positive message about media from the Catholic Church: “The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people…. As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first.” It’s not about “bombarding people with religious messages” he says, but about “patiently and respectfully” being a true friend to both that person we meet online and to Jesus Christ.

Dr. Eugene Gan is faculty associate of the Veritas Center, Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States, and author of Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media (available in paperback and e-book).

– See more at: http://www.cufblog.org/on-world-communications-day-a-gift-from-god/#sthash.kO4a8yUL.dpuf

Plato’s Big Mistake by Louis Markos


Plato’s Big Mistake

Plato never cared much for the sophists, viewing them as amoral peddlers of a relativistic kind of wisdom with the potential to corrupt the souls of those who hired them. It is therefore not surprising that when they appear in his dialogues, they are generally treated in a negative or at least suspect manner. InProtagoras, however, Plato treats the sophist of the title with considerable respect. He even has Socrates debate with Protagoras—on fairly equal terms!—a two-part question that Plato considered vital: what is the nature of virtue and can it be taught to others? Although the more elitist Socrates begins the dialogue by asserting that virtue cannot be taught, as the dialogue proceeds, he slowly adopts a position concerning the nature of virtue that drives him—almost against his will—toward the necessary conclusion that virtue can be taught.

In striking contrast to the Christian doctrine of original sin, Plato argues in Protagoras—and elsewhere—that human evil is not the result of rebellion or disobedience. Although G. K. Chesterton was certainly right when he claimed that original sin was “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” Plato seems to have overlooked this proof in favor of a different cause for vicious behavior. “For myself,” says Socrates, “I am fairly certain that no wise man believes anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any evil or base act. They know very well that all evil or base action is involuntary” (345e). Later in the dialogue, Socrates explains more clearly what the cause is of this involuntary evil:

…when people make a wrong choice of pleasures and pains—that is, of good and evil—the cause of their mistake is lack of knowledge….no one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course when he might choose the better. To “act beneath yourself” is the result of pure ignorance, to “be your own master” is wisdom. (357e, 358c)

Evil actions, that is to say, are caused not by sin but by ignorance. If we knew of another, better course of action, we would take it. Continue reading

The Conservatives vs. the Intellectuals? by Peter Lawler

IntellectualsConservatives vs. the Intellectuals?

by Peter Lawler

So everyone’s talking about the article by the intellectual Russell Jacoby on the alleged fact that there are no conservative intellectuals anymore.

The article isn’t much good, in fact. One problem is that it doesn’t really explain what an intellectual is.

The first outstanding criticism of modern intellectuals came from the lefty philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He explained that in a modern, sophisticated society they’ll be a “new class” of people attempting to distinguish themselves by their devotion to ideas. They would be driven much more by vanity than love of truth or concern for others, and their main impulse would be displaying their superiority in the public square. They would be the source of the fashionable dogmas—kinds of popularized science and other forms of self-helpy expertise—that would tend to displace religion and patriotism. The new dogmas wouldn’t really be more true than the older ones, and they would have the huge practical disadvantage of “deconstructing” moral virtue as most people experience it.

So against the witty and fashionable intellectuals Rousseau praised ignorance. His authority in that respect was Socrates—the philosopher who said time and again that all I know for certain is that I know nothing. Socrates didn’t know enough to be an atheist, just as he didn’t know enough to affirm the gods of Athens. Socrates distinguished his endless quest for what he didn’t yet know with the activity of the sophists—the experts who thought they possessed the true and scientific theory of education and should be paid the big bucks for sharing those most useful and enlightened techniques with others.

Socrates differed with the sophists by not thinking that the education of the whole human being could be reduced to some technique, just as he differed from excessively patriotic and pious—and so sometimes excessively angry—good citizens who thought that education is only adhering to traditional moral principles or obedience to the gods.

Education has a lot to do with technical knowledge, but it also has to do with morality, with knowing who you are and what you’re supposed to do as a being with a soul (or a self-conscious mortal animated by more than merely materialistic impulses). Socrates claimed to be ignorant because he knew he didn’t have a comprehensive theory of education that brought together and did justice to both our technical and moral dimensions. So he thought that those—including both fundamentalists and sophists or intellectuals—who thought  they had such a comprehensive knowledge of the human good assumed they knew much more than they really did.

Our fundamentalists these days know a lot less than they think they do. But so do our “new atheists,” evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists, and so forth. The latter—when they become public intellectuals—typically fall victim to scientism, to highly speculative and ideological systems of explanation that go way beyond what they really know through science. Arguably the truth is that the arguments for and against atheism—and universal determinism—are pretty much the same as they were in Socrates’ time.

Arguably, the biggest change since the time of Socrates is the idea of the free person—one introduced into the world by Biblical and Christian thought. When our deterministic scientists deny the real existence of the free person, they, today’s conservatives often object, are asserting more they really know. That denial, of course, includes the denial of the real existence of the virtues, beginning with courage. It makes nonsense out of the indispensable moral categories of praise and blame and good and evil.

Today’s best conservatives don’t object to elites as such, but to elitists vainly or unreasonably contemptuous of the longings and beliefs of ordinary people.

Let me add that it’s not been my experience at all that conservatives are either contemptuous of or lacking in true erudition. I recently returned from the week-long honors program of the conservative foundation, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Both the students and professors in the program are so serious about the wisdom to be fund in our great intellectual tradition that they actually have devoted themselves to all sorts of highly disciplined intellectual pursuits quite uncharacteristic of our liberal public intellectuals. Several of the students are majoring in classics and many others are studying Greek or Latin as part of majoring in theology and philosophy. The most charming and accessible of the young professors is a Harvard specialist in medieval Latin.

They all agreed that to be civilized and genuinely educated depends upon overcoming the dogmas of our time—both fundamentalist and scientistic. And so they’re all about reading the Greek and Roman authors in their original texts—including, of course, the brilliant theologians St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They know all about Maimonides and Buddha too.

There was no talk of Palin, and almost none of ObamaCare. But there were all sorts of highly informed and open-minded arguments concerning the real existence of God and the real existence of the human person.

There were also lots of deep lectures than ranged across all sorts of great books and millennia of history. But there was no PowerPoint. And there was, to say the least, no shortage of good questions.

Alexis de Tocqueville, as I’ve said before, contended that public intellectuals in democratic times should focus attentively on the Greek and Roman authors as indispensable antidotes to the prejudices of our time, beginning with techno-atheistic prejudices against metaphysics, theology, and the human soul and its distinctive needs. I don’t see our liberal intellectuals, for the most part, having what it takes to free themselves from our sophisticated prejudices.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Tocqueville countercultural churches on Keeping Our Countercultural Churches by Peter Lawler

Tocqueville on Keeping Our Countercultural Churches

by Peter Lawler

countercultural churches

To begin with a simple point, one basic insight of Tocqueville is that things are always getting better and worse. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Tocqueville could be used to defend the advantages of religious establishment. He, more generally, is unrivaled in arousing a kind of selective nostalgia that helps us remember the advantages of aristocracy. He says, in Democracy in America’s conclusion, that aristocracy is better in cultivating great individuality, and, as a partisan of greatness himself, he’s chilled when he thinks about how little room there will be for men such as himself in a democracy. Democracy, however, is more just. Tocqueville takes the Creator’s view, and not his own, by preferring democratic justice to aristocratic greatness. His tasks are to make democracy as compatible with greatness as possible, and to see greatness in democracy.

Tocqueville says modern democracy is, in fact, Christian in inspiration. What Aristotle and Plato taught was, in the crucial respect, untrue:

The most profound and vast geniuses of Rome and Greece were never able to arrive at the idea, so general but at the same time so simple, of the similarity of men and of the equal right of freedom that each bears from birth; and they did the utmost to prove that slavery was natural and would also exist […]

All the great writers of antiquity were part of the aristocracy of masters, […] and it was necessary that Jesus Christ come to earth to make it understood that all members of the human species are naturally alike and equal.

There’s a lot here opposed to the Aristotelian idea that it’s the function of the state (or city) to inculcate a higher or spiritual/aristocratic understanding of moral virtue in people. The classical view was that all human beings—except perhaps the rare philosopher—are stuck in the natural slavery of the “cave” or the political order. But the truth taught by Jesus—the truth about persons—is that all creatures made in God’s image have “the equal right of freedom” from some comprehensive civil theology or even from some established or politicized church.

Tocqueville almost begins Democracy with a judicious appraisal of a Christian heresy that was the basis of the first American founding. The Puritans, he explained, were educated political idealists who founded a real and unprecedented democratic country that was less distorted by political prejudice than even Plato’s city in speech. They were all about egalitarian political participation and the education of everyone as beings with souls. Their egalitarian idealism was admirable and remains an indispensable feature in elevating our democracy above individualistic self-concern. But the Puritans erred by criminalizing every sin, using Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy as the foundation for civil legislation, and for intrusively offending the right to freedom of conscience. There’s nothing about the teaching of Jesus, Tocqueville claims, that could justify making political life that comprehensive for religious reasons.

Not only that, religion can be effective in America only insofar as it stands apart from the general tendency of democratic development. The Americans, Tocqueville explains, are Cartesians without ever having read a word of Descartes. That’s because the democratic method is grounded in the same principle as the Cartesian one—doubt. It’s the doubt of personal authority that frees the democratic mind for self-determination. It’s an offense against my egalitarian freedom to allow priests, parents, politicians, and so forth to rule me by privileging what they think. But the problem with this assertion of personal pride is that it points in a direction of a more overwhelming personal weakness. It’s true that no one is better than me, but I’m no better than anyone else. That means I have no point of view by which to resist public opinion or the other impersonal forces—such as pop science, history, technology, and so forth—that surround me. So American freedom leads, finally, to the apathetic passivity of what Tocqueville calls the heart disease of individualism, of being emotionally locked up in the tiny world of your puny self.

But the Americans, Tocqueville reports, exempt religion from their habitual doubt. Their view is that they need some dogma to exercise their political freedom well, to have the confidence to think and act well. That creates space for religion to perpetuate what’s true about aristocracy: Human beings are distinguished by their souls, and each of us by taking his or her singular and immortal personal moral destiny seriously. That’s what Americans, Tocqueville reports, hear in church on Sunday. It was in Tocqueville’s time as it is in ours that the observantly religious Americans have a countercultural confidence that insulates them from democracy’s degrading excesses. It’s our religious observant Americans, after all, who can extend their hearts enough to have babies enough that the global “birth dearth” displays itself much more gently in our country.

The democratic truth is that we’re all created equal, but truth, by itself, easily morphs into apathetic passivity and material self-indulgence. The aristocratic truth is that to be human is to have a singular greatness (and misery) not shared with the other animals. The Christian truth is that all men were equally created to display the greatness of unique and irreplaceable individuality, and part of that greatness is the truth about who we are that we can joyfully and responsibly share in common. The danger in democracy is that Christian churches lose their capacity to be genuinely countercultural—or teach the truth that will be neglected “on the street” in middle-class democracy. And so the separation of church and state is to keep the church from being corrupted by excessive concern with endlessly egalitarian justice and the logic of the market. The separation is for the integrity of the church by limiting the claims for truth and morality of the democratic “social state,” which includes the democratic state.

But it’s both futile and even un-Christian to think that there could be, in the modern world, a state that favors or properly appreciates the church. Orestes Brownson, the greatest American Catholic thinker ever, said all the church should need and want from America is freedom to pursue its evangelical mission. That means, of course, that Americans should understand political freedom to be freedom for the church, for an organized body of thought and action. And we can see that the church flourished in America in the relative absence of politicized intrusion or corruption for a very long time.

The danger now, as always, is that the individualistic yet highly judgmental democracy—our creeping and creepy mixture of progressivism and libertarianism—will seek to impose its standards on our countercultural churches. Tocqueville was alive—although maybe not alive enough—to that danger. Who can deny that that the danger is greater now than ever? Today’s issues, Tocqueville would probably say, have their origins in the surrender of our contemplative Sunday to commerce and “seventh-day recreationalists.”

But anyone who thinks today’s remedy would be an established church would do well to remember how the establishments in Spain, Ireland, and Quebec worked out, the hyper-secularist and sometimes nihilistic countermovements in the name of democracy they generated. Those attempts to wield fundamental political influence produced clericalism and a kind of intrusiveness we Americans associate with the Puritans. The film Philomena is distorted by a kind of fanatical anti-Catholic ire, but, peel away that unfairly self-righteous anger, and we still see evidence of a Puritanical Irish church and society not particularly solicitous of the equal rights of person—include mothers wed or unwed—to liberty.

The Greatest Moral Film of All Time by Timothy Gordon

The Greatest Moral Film of All Time

3:10 to YumaStricken with infirmity of the helpless visceral sort this Christmas, I wrapped myself in blankets…and list making. As I convalesced and my thoughts clarified, I undertook to make an infallible list of my twenty-five favorite movies of all-time, a vast errand if done properly.

As the reader can see clearly below, not all of my top twenty-five are “great” films. This was no cardinal ordering of the best movies ever. Many are simply relentlessly entertaining movies and nothing more. In fact, the primary criterion for my list boiled cinematic history down to scenes: these twenty-five films should have no boring scenes, wire to wire. This means that any “great” films happening to appear by accident on my list of favorites inform a special sort of greatness—being both entertaining andwhatever makes for greatness. And they could in theory be grouped together into a second list comprising “top great films without a single boring scene.”

I never got around to making the second list. But at this point, with a view to my first, I could do so easily.

More importantly, I can tell you which film would sit near or at the top of that second list. Sharks with lasers, arachnid men, “special effects,” and the prurient interest aside, pretty much all that has ever interested me is morality. In that sense, the greatest film of all time may very well be James Mangold’s 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma.

Unsure (and unheeding) whether “the experts” have ever made just such a claim, I’m actually eager to stick my neck out for 3:10 to Yuma. (I don’t even think this movie even makes perennial “top conservative movie” lists, sadly.) I’m no film critic concerned about “sets” or “props” or “costumes.” But it does all these very well. Far more importantly, it accomplishes something antedating all the glittering trappings of cinema: it tells a profound moral tale. It credibly explicates the irresistible moral impulse in man to do the good, even with—especiallywith—the countervailing likes of an aesthetically primeval villain like Ben Wade (a rolerequiring Russell Crowe) on the other side making wickedness look spuriously sharp.

I’d been misreading and underestimating the moral of the tale until my most recent viewing this Christmas: formerly I’d misread the film’s message as more postmodern than that which is truly buried there. Only when I realized what the message was—a call for the person to do the right thing even unto death—did I begin to think about this film as the greatest ever. It manages to make such an unpopular moral mandate…fashionable. And realistic.

One finds the plot structure uncommonly simple, meaning the plain moral theme of the film rests on the mantle in front of the viewer’s very eye like a purloined letter. Evans (Christian Bale), whom I like to call simply “the rancher,” finds himself—as the viewer meets him in medias res—and his family in a dire situation. In the opening scene, the rancher’s creditors burn his barn over missed payments, and threaten to remove the family from their land within a month. To make matters worse, the rancher’s youngest son has tuberculosis and must live there. Against such exigency, the rancher and his sons begin to search for their scattered cattle (also an effect of the creditors’ bullying) when they come upon the famous outlaw Ben Wade, immediately after a stagecoach robbery. Through happenstance, they become involved in Wade’s capture, and the rancher insinuates himself for the price of$200 into the transport posse charged with getting Wade to the prison train, running out of nearby Contention.

The task is to be infinitely dangerous because Wade’s infamous gang will surely track the posse, intercept Wade, and kill his captors if they can. The rancher agrees to take on such a task, of course, only on account of his issues with solvency.

The film’s theme of moral realism could not be instantiated nearly as starkly as it is had the crippled, desperate rancher not had every excuse to knuckle under to Wade’s sustained “buy out” proposals throughout the trek. Even the party from whom Wade stole—the “railroad man” commissioning Wade’s capture—eventually encourages the rancher, at a certain peak in the danger, to opt out and to save his own skin. “There’s no shame in it.” By the end, the accomplishment of the task has come to lie beyond even the railroad man’s expectations, because it has come to jeopardize his and the posse’s safety. Continue reading

Reinvigorating Culture by Russell Kirk

CultureReinvigorating Culture

by Russell Kirk

Anyone who pushes the buttons of a television set nowadays [written in 1994, Ed.] may be tempted to reflect that genuine culture came to an end during the latter half of the twentieth century. The television set is an immense accomplishment of reason and imagination: the victory of technology. But the gross images produced by television are symptoms and causes of our civilization’s decadence: the defeat of humane culture.

The contrast between the success of technology and the failure of social institutions is yet more striking when we look at any large American city. Some time ago I spent a day in Detroit, once styled “the arsenal of democracy,” latterly known as “America’s murder capital.” I have known Detroit ever since I was a small boy, and have observed the stages of the city’s decay over the decades. Except for some financial and political activity, and a little surviving commerce, about the foot of Woodward Avenue near the river, old Detroit is a dangerous wreck. The length of Woodward Avenue, up to Eight Mile Road and beyond, one drives through grim desolation: Beirut in the midst of its troubles might have seemed more cheerful. One passes through Detroit’s “cultural center,” the Institute of Arts on one side of the avenue, the Public Library on the other. Immediately north or south of those splendid buildings, immediately east or west, extends the grimy reality of a broken and dying city. “Culture” has become something locked into an archaic museum.

Detroit’s technology has produced immense wealth in goods—and still does so, if at a diminished rate. Detroit’s society has produced an inhumane quasi-anarchy. Take Detroit as an ugly microcosm of America, and one may perceive the pressing need for a recovery of humane culture.

Our inherited culture is involved in great difficulties. I suppose that most people nowadays will assent to that statement. Forty years ago, not long after the Second World War, I often encountered people who waxed indignant at my venturing to suggest the possibility of cultural decadence among us. It is otherwise now.

Sometimes, true, I come upon men and women who profess to be well satisfied with our world, and with their diversions—rather nasty diversions, not infrequently—therein. Yet these are not tranquil people: instead they bring to mind a poem by Adam Mickiewicz:

Your soul deserves the place to which it came, If having entered Hell, you feel no flame.

As marvelous innovators in the physical sciences, as wondrously efficient creators of technology, we moderns surpass our ancestors. But as for humane culture, we seem bent on destroying our civilization. Can anything be done by way of reinvigoration? Continue reading

The Catholic Tolkien and the Knights of Middle-earth by Stratford Caldecott

The Catholic Tolkien and the Knights of Middle-earth

catholic tolkien

This month, fans around the world will flock to the cinema to watch the first of three installments of Peter Jackson’s adaptation ofThe Hobbit—the “prequel” to the award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy that was also released in three parts between 2001 and 2003 (The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey will be released in U.S. theaters Dec. 14.). Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novels, the films depart from the original storyline in significant details, but goes to great lengths to respect the author’s vision of Middle-earth—a world of great natural beauty and intense moral drama, set in the distant past.

Many will argue that translating such a story from book into film, no matter how impressive the result, is a mistake. A movie presents the audience with the filmmakers’ visualization, not the author’s or the reader’s. Conversely, reading or listening to a story engages the imagination at a deeper level than watching it on screen. Yet if a film had to be made, we should be grateful that efforts have been made to remain faithful to the spirit and texture of Tolkien’s stories.

The Catholic Tolkien

The spirit of Tolkien’s hugely successful fantasy novels is deeply Christian. Born in 1892, the author was a devout Catholic who grew up under the influence of Blessed John Henry Newman’s Oratory in Birmingham, England. All through his busy life as an Oxford professor and popular writer, he tried to attend Mass every day. His eldest son even became a Catholic priest. The stories that Tolkien wrote were more than entertainment; they were written to express a profound Christian wisdom.

In a letter Tolkien drafted to the manager of the Newman Bookshop in 1954, but never sent because it sounded too self-important (Letter 153 in the published collection), he admitted that his aim in writing the stories was “the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments, that may tend to ‘bring them home.’” In another letter to a Jesuit friend in 1953, he explained that while he had consciously “absorbed” the religious element “into the story and the symbolism” (because he had no intention of making religious propaganda), The Lord of the Rings remains “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”

Tolkien’s Christian wisdom can pop out at readers in unexpected ways, but most often it simply sinks in at a deep level without distracting our attention from the story. I noticed an example as I read The Lord of the Rings to my youngest daughter recently. The story concerns the attempt to destroy a magical “Ring of Power” that threatens the freedom of all the peoples of Middle-earth. As the little hobbits Frodo and Sam struggle up Mount Doom in the final stage of their quest to reach the volcanic furnace in which the Ring can be unmade, Frodo comes to the end of his strength—drained by the ever-growing weight of the Ring he bears around his neck and the constant temptation to claim its power for his own.

His faithful servant Sam, who knows he is not permitted to bear the Ring, invites Frodo to climb onto his back. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!” Staggering to his feet, he finds to his amazement “the burden light.” Tolkien writes, “[Sam] had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off.”

Does this not remind you, as if in a faint echo, of a certain well-known passage in the Gospels? I am thinking of the one where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

The echo may be faint, yet the whole journey of the two Hobbits across Mordor—including descriptions of the Ring and Frodo’s many falls under its weight—recalls the Way to Calvary, where Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin. Those who are familiar with the Gospels can hardly fail to recognize a similarity. If the Ring is analogous to the Cross (because it represents sin), and Frodo as Ringbearer is analogous to Christ, then when Sam hauls the burden up onto his shoulders he finds exactly what Christ has promised: It feels light because Christ himself is still bearing the major part of the weight.

The link to the Christian story is even reinforced by the calendar date. The Ring is destroyed on March 25, which in our world is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary to bear our sins away.

Nobility of the Soul

There are plenty of other parallels with Christianity in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but as the author insisted, the important point lies deeper than this. The story is meant to be enjoyed for its own sake, not merely decoded. A story is a way of exploring the way the world works. No author can avoid bringing his own understanding of free will and fate or providence, not to mention some conception of good and evil, to his writing. Tolkien’s understanding was shaped by his faith, which is the truth revealed by God about the way the world really works — and not only this world, but every possible world.

An important part of Catholic wisdom is the ethical tradition that rests on the natural laws of our nature, made in the image of God. This tradition could be called “nobility of soul” or “spiritual chivalry.” We see both in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings a learning process that Tolkien called “the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble,” which he believed was an important theme of his writing as a whole. In both novels, the hobbit heroes (Bilbo in the one, Frodo and Sam and their friends in the other) are lifted from the narrow, comfortable world of the Shire into a much vaster landscape to play key roles in battles that decide the fate of Middle-earth. This was a process that Tolkien observed among the soldiers he fought beside in the Battle of the Somme, in the First World War.

Through suffering and trial, the hobbits are fashioned into heroes, empowered to save their little world of the Shire from the spiritual evil that has corrupted it while they were away. Gandalf the wizard tells them, “That is what you have been trained for.” Although the film versions of The Lord of the Rings unfortunately omit this last stage, it is still clear that the hobbits have attained greater maturity and courage through their adventures.

After all, Tolkien wove the idea of “nobility of soul” very deeply into his mythology. This concept is represented partly in the Elves. The human beings and hobbits who are closest to the Elves by influence or nature are the noblest: Frodo (named “Elf-friend”) among the hobbits, Aragorn and Imrahil and Faramir among the men. The “elvish” tendency in man is always towards physical beauty, artistic ability and respect for creation. It is associated with a love for God’s creation that seeks to improve, protect, celebrate and adorn.

The “chivalry” that reveals this nobility is shown in behavior towards others, such as kindness and mercy, the refusal to mistreat even prisoners of war, and the showing of honor to the bodies of the dead. We see this, for instance, when Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor and leader of the fellowship of the Ring, insists on a proper funeral for Boromir before they continue with their quest. The knights of Middle-earth defend the weak from their oppressors and remain faithful to friends and liege-lord. Such behavior outwardly signifies the presence of heroic virtue within the soul, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice.

It is with these virtues that we are equipped to defend the truly important things, the little things, the domestic world of the free family, and the love that binds people together in fellowship.

Aragorn exemplifies all of these virtues in the highest degree, but we see them develop in the hobbits, too, as they learn to submit to discipline and overcome their fear to achieve great deeds without hope of reward — just because it is the right thing to do. This is Tolkien’s challenge to us: to become, in our own way, the knights of Middle-earth.

The Age of Intolerance by Mark Steyn

DECEMBER 20, 2013 6:00 PM

The Age of Intolerance

When Worlds Collide: Pajama Boy and Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson

Mark Steyn 

Mark Steyn 

Last week, following the public apology of an English comedian and the arrest of a fellow British subject both for making somewhat feeble Mandela gags, I noted that supposedly free societies were increasingly perilous places for those who make an infelicitous remark. So let’s pick up where we left off:

Here are two jokes one can no longer tell on American television. But you can still find them in the archives, out on the edge of town, in Sub-Basement Level 12 of the ever-expanding Smithsonian Mausoleum of the Unsayable. First, Bob Hope, touring the world in the year or so after the passage of the 1975 Consenting Adult Sex Bill:

“I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.”

For Hope, this was an oddly profound gag, discerning even at the dawn of the Age of Tolerance that there was something inherently coercive about the enterprise. Soon it would be insufficient merely to be “tolerant” — warily accepting, blithely indifferent, mildly amused, tepidly supportive, according to taste. The forces of “tolerance” would become intolerant of anything less than full-blown celebratory approval.

Second joke from the archives: Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra kept this one in the act for a quarter-century. On stage, Dino used to have a bit of business where he’d refill his tumbler and ask Frank, “How do you make a fruit cordial?” And Sinatra would respond, “I dunno. How do you make a fruit cordial?” And Dean would say, “Be nice to him.”

But no matter how nice you are, it’s never enough. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, in his career-detonating interview with GQ, gave a rather thoughtful vernacular exegesis of the Bible’s line on sin, while carefully insisting that he and other Christians are obligated to love all sinners and leave it to the Almighty to adjudicate the competing charms of drunkards, fornicators, and homosexuals. Nevertheless, GLAAD — “the gatekeepers of politically correct gayness” as the (gay) novelist Bret Easton Ellis sneered — saw their opportunity and seized it. By taking out TV’s leading cable star, they would teach an important lesson pour encourager les autres — that espousing conventional Christian morality, even off-air, is incompatible with American celebrity.

Some of my comrades, who really should know better, wonder why, instead of insisting Robertson be defenestrated, GLAAD wouldn’t rather “start a conversation.” But, if you don’t need to, why bother? Most Christian opponents of gay marriage oppose gay marriage; they don’t oppose the right of gays to advocate it. Yet thug groups like GLAAD increasingly oppose the right of Christians even to argue their corner. It’s quicker and more effective to silence them.

As Christian bakers ordered to provide wedding cakes for gay nuptials and many others well understand, America’s much-vaunted “freedom of religion” is dwindling down to something you can exercise behind closed doors in the privacy of your own abode or at a specialist venue for those of such tastes for an hour or so on Sunday morning, but when you enter the public square you have to leave your faith back home hanging in the closet. Yet even this reductive consolation is not permitted to Robertson: GLAAD spokesgay Wilson Cruz declared that “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” Robertson was quoting the New Testament, but hey, what do those guys know? In today’s America, land of the Obamacare Pajama Boy, Jesus is basically Nightshirt Boy, a fey non-judgmental dweeb who’s cool with whatever. What GLAAD is attempting would be called, were it applied to any other identity group, “cultural appropriation.”

In the broader sense, it’s totalitarian. While American gays were stuffing and mounting the duck hunter in their trophy room, the Prince of Wales was celebrating Advent with Christian refugees from the Middle East, and noting that the land in which Christ and Christianity were born is now the region boasting “the lowest concentration of Christians in the world — just four percent of the population.” It will be three, and two, and one percent soon enough, for there is a totalitarian impulse in resurgent Islam — and not just in Araby. A few miles from Buckingham Palace, Muslims in London’s East End are now sufficiently confident to go around warning local shopkeepers to cease selling alcohol. In theory, you might still enjoy the right to sell beer in Tower Hamlets or be a practicing Christian in Iraq, but in reality not so much. The asphyxiating embrace of ideological conformity was famously captured by Nikolai Krylenko, the People’s Commissar for Justice, in a speech to the Soviet Congress of Chess Players in 1932, at which he attacked the very concept of “the neutrality of chess.” It was necessary for chess to be Sovietized like everything else. “We must organize shock brigades of chess players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess,” he declared.

Six years later, the political winds having shifted, Krylenko was executed as an enemy of the people. But his spirit lives on among the Commissars of Gay Compliance at GLAAD. It is not enough to have gay marriage for gays. Everything must be gayed. There must be Five-Year Gay Plans for American bakeries, and the Christian church, and reality TV. There must be shock brigades of gay duck-hunters honking out the party line deep in the backwoods of the proletariat. Obamacare pajama models, if not yet mandatorily gay, can only be dressed in tartan onesies and accessorized with hot chocolate so as to communicate to the Republic’s maidenhood what a thankless endeavor heterosexuality is in contemporary America.

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