My colleague Paul Zummo wrote recently here at TAC responding to presidential candidate Herman Cain’s recent remarks about mosques: The Constitution Isn’t a Suicide Pact. It is not my intention to either defend or criticize Herman Cain, nor to talk about radical Islam, per se, but Zummo’s article touches on a topic that is too frequently ignored. Whether we are talking about abortion, terror-supporting mosques, so-called ‘gay marriage’, pornography, or any other topics where issues of morality come up in politics, we should recognize that people of faith are always going to be butting heads in the public sphere with those who claim that the Constitution gives us the freedom to do evil. Does the Constitution give us the freedom to do evil? No. It doesn’t.
Does the Constitution give religions the freedom to preach terror? I would argue that the answer to that is no. This is what I’m sure Herman Cain was referring to, and I agree with him on the point, however ineloquent he may have been.
The Constitution must not be read in a vacuum. It was authored by people of faith, for people of faith. It proceeded from the Declaration of Independence and has foundation in the Declaration’s principle that all men are created equal by the one Creator recognized by Jews and Christians universally. The Founders were certainly aware of Islam, but I doubt they would have thought that Americans would stand for allowing Islamists to put our lives at risk under the guise of ‘freedom of religion’.
Jews and Christians to this day continue in their shared acknowledgment that we owe our rights to the same Creator. This is why we say that America is a Judeo-Christian state. Even so, we should welcome those of other faiths, provided that they live in the same respect for human dignity that is inherent in the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Because the vast majority of Americans – whether Jew or Christian – understood from the beginning that our rights come from God alone, it was understood universally, as well, that we do not have freedom to do evil. Instead, we are all bound to be what we believe the Creator has called us to be. The first Americans understood this clearly, whereas today, the Constitution is frequently held up as a document that protects the freedom to do evil. As of late, the call is for evil to be enshrined as good, and for good to be condemned because it challenges evil. The latest clear example is the recent ‘gay marriage’ law passed in New York.
The primary example of this enshrinement was the 1973 Roe v Wade decision which legalized abortion. Slavery might have been similarly enshrined as a Constitutional “right” by the Dred Scott decision had people of good will not risen up to correct the wrong. As more and more people rise up to correct the wrong which was the Constitutional enshrinement of abortion, a new movement seeks to enshrine another evil: “gay marriage”.
Let us not make the mistake of enshrining evil as good, be it in giving radical Islam protected status as “religion” or in giving gay marriage protected status as if it were a legitimate union for the good of society.
Much is at stake in our time. Let’s pay attention and not throw any babies out with the bathwater.
According to Three Fingers of Politics, you have to have been “living under a rock” not to know who Mila Kunis is. I had actually never heard of her until I read an article at Pajamas Media about her by my friend and former editor, Dave Swindle. The fact that Kunis is a very well-known movie actress who makes this claim about promiscuity and communism — in one breath, no less — is enough to get this Catholic’s attention:
GQ: Your new movie is called Friends with Benefits. Ever been in one of those relationships?
Mila Kunis: Oy. I haven’t, but I can give you my stance on it: It’s like communism—good in theory, in execution it fails. Friends of mine have done it, and it never ends well. Why do people put themselves through that torture?
It’s certainly refreshing to hear someone of notable fame expressing good judgment in regard to what we Catholics (and many others alongside us) recognize as two great evils: communism and promiscuity.
Swindle, who is himself a member of Generation Y, writes:
Don’t expect the trend of a rebellious youth culture to continue indefinitely.
That is certainly good news, if he is right. Still, he makes the argument from a perspective that is based on reason alone. I don’t think Swindle holds exclusively to the “reason only” philosophy, but since he uses reason only in his argument, I’d like to address that.
Swindle makes the point that it’s not conducive to self-preservation for one to be “sticking one’s privates in a blender“. Is this what Kunis was referring to when she said “torture”? I’m not sure. Maybe she was talking about the torture of hell. Would it be too presumptuous of me to suggest that? I have to ask because I don’t know anything else about her. Whatever her intention may be, those who base arguments on reason alone do have an easier time convincing people of their arguments than we Catholics do, I suppose, as we have to argue for “moral reasoning”, not just “reasoning”. Making the argument against promiscuity based on health consequences, or perhaps even sociological arguments regarding the practical benefits of bonding, is something we Catholics are charged with, too, but we are charged with the further burden of explaining the moral dimension that is bound to reason. Unfortunately, that part scares some people away…and always has.
Consider this history lesson from Fides et Ratio:
With the rise of the first universities, theology came more directly into contact with other forms of learning and scientific research. Although they insisted upon the organic link between theology and philosophy, Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas were the first to recognize the autonomy which philosophy and the sciences needed if they were to perform well in their respective fields of research. From the late Medieval period onwards, however, the legitimate distinction between the two forms of learning became more and more a fateful separation. As a result of the exaggerated rationalism of certain thinkers, positions grew more radical and there emerged eventually a philosophy which was separate from and absolutely independent of the contents of faith. Another of the many consequences of this separation was an ever deeper mistrust with regard to reason itself. In a spirit both sceptical and agnostic, some began to voice a general mistrust, which led some to focus more on faith and others to deny its rationality altogether.
In short, what for Patristic and Medieval thought was in both theory and practice a profound unity, producing knowledge capable of reaching the highest forms of speculation, was destroyed by systems which espoused the cause of rational knowledge sundered from faith and meant to take the place of faith.
Man’s own propensity toward self-interest (e.g., avoiding promiscuous behavior to preserve bodily integrity) works against him, in the end, because mistrust of religion becomes inherent in the way he observes facts. Reason inevitably becomes less important to him than self-interest. An example of this is Planned Parenthood’s rejection of science to promote an abortion agenda, something they would themselves have characterized as unthinkable a few decades ago.
I happen to know that Swindle believes, as we Catholics do, that man has a fallen nature, but I’m not sure he defines “fallen nature” the way we Catholics do.
Human nature since the fall of Adam. It is a nature that lacks the right balance it had originally. It is a wounded but not perverted nature. Since the fall, man has a built-in bias away from what is morally good and toward what is wrong. He is weakened in his ability to know the truth and to want the truly good. With the help of grace, however, he can overcome these natural tendencies and become sanctified in the process.
Let’s take a look at the particular subject: bad health consequences due to promiscuity. Certainly, even animals which possess perishable souls and no moral reasoning will avoid things that they believe are dangerous to their health and safety. Often, too, animals have long-term mates with whom they form a bond. But animals do, overall, engage in rampant “promiscuity” while not suffering from disease as a result. Imagine that. God has, by and large, reserved these consequences (“tortures”) first and foremost for humanity. Faith tells us “why”. Science may only tell us “how”.
Back to the “living under a rock” point. Personally and subjectively, I tend to think that “living under a rock” would be an appropriate term for those who actually know who people like Mila Kunis are…but then, I’m with the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person…not Hollywood. Perhaps it’s understandable that Hollywood seems like a place “under a rock” to me. A dark and lifeless place. “Glitter” is not “life“. I take no offense at the suggestion, however, that I live “under a rock” because I didn’t know of this woman until she said something notably moral.
Fortunately, I know that Swindle knows that I love him, respect him and appreciate him. We are friends, so he won’t take our difference of perspective on “why Kunis’ comments are good” as a personal slam. In fact, we both agree they’re good for the same reason…but mine has a moral dimension, too. An important point, though, is that we both know and understand her remarks to be a good thing. I find comfort in knowing that Swindle and I (and perhaps Kunis?) will almost certainly vote for the same person in the general presidential election because we are both disgusted by the socialist philosophy, as well as any government policies that would directly promote promiscuity, not to mention any number of other ills in government that we both believe to be pulling our country into an abyss, economically and otherwise.
Isn’t that comforting? It is comforting to me.
On second thought, there is one troubling point he makes about Generation Y, on page 2:
And yes, after multiple generations that exploded the divorce rate in this country, you’ve got plenty of young people who are taking the institution of marriage a bit more seriously. (But don’t expect this to necessarily translate to being against gay marriage.)
Maybe Generation Y should look to the animal world for guidance on that one?
At least, here’s hoping that all of us who are generally opposed to the pro-promiscuity Left, socialism, etc., will eventually vote for the same person. I think we will…but then, there’s always a write-in option if the Republican supports gay marriage.
Prof. Dr. Richard Russell, a former CIA analyst who is a convert to the Catholic Faith, a man who describes himself as a “student of war”, recently delivered an address in The Netherlands about the messages of Our Lady of All Nations. All I can say about this is that is truly fascinating, and I strongly recommend a listen.
It’s Wonderful – with a capital ‘W’ – to be able to write an article like this, thanking a bishop for doing the right thing.
Thomas J. Allio Jr., retired senior director of the Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office, has penned an op-ed that appears today in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that is probably intended to raise some eyebrows. The op-ed is highly critical of Bishop Richard Lennon for his decision to forbid all parishes from participating in meetings of the Greater Cleveland Congregations.
Mr. Allio writes:
To date, there has been no public explanation regarding the lack of diocesan support.
Hmmm. Well, Mr. Allio, I cannot speak for any bishop, but this article from earlier this month in the Cleveland Plain Dealer offers a whole boatload of clues. I’ll excerpt the biggest red flag, but do read the whole thing. I mean, my goodness.
Ari Lipman, a longtime community organizer, has helped start similar groups around the country through his work with the Industrial Areas Foundation.
Industrial Areas Foundation? Well, there’s your main problem right there, Mr. Allio.
I recommend …..
The IAF founder’s admiration of Lucifer (Satan) should be a red flag plenty big enough to see, but there’s far more, as you can see for yourself.
Clue for Catholics: Satan’s way is the bad way. The way of the Church is the way of Christ…not of Satan. Got it?
Thank you, Bishop Lennon, for understanding the dangers that such things pose for your flock and for advising them appropriately to steer clear of these groups. Perhaps other (non-Catholic) pastors in Cleveland will be encouraged by your example and do the same. I trust that they, like we Catholics, are far more interested in God than in Lucifer, right?!?! Of course they are!
Oh, look! It appears to me that Bishop Lennon has come up with a better way for Catholics in the Diocese of Cleveland to address social ills. If I were in Bishop Lennon’s diocese and wanted to explore social justice ministry, I would definitely be looking into the “Rooted in Faith, Forward in Hope” program. That sounds exciting! I, for one, am rejoicing.
God bless Bishop Richard Lennon and all the Catholics of Cleveland.
Yesterday, I was having a discussion with some of my fellow Catholics about the presidential election, and there arose a brief debate about the concept of libertarianism. It never ceases to amaze me when I see committed Catholics embracing libertarianism…but then, I remember, most of them probably were not catechized very well. Also, we should take into consideration that for years many of us have been rightly troubled by a far-reaching government engaged in what the Catholic faithful invariably see as injustice. I suppose I can understand why many Catholics might think that libertarianism is a legitimate way to put that unjust government in check. Though well-intentioned, they have fallen into a snare.
Stephen Metcalf writes at Slate today about what he calls ‘The Liberty Scam’. His article is essentially a rebuke of libertarianism, at least as he believes it was defined by Robert Nozik. David Boaz at CATO Institute takes issue with him on that point.
It’s interesting that Boaz makes a couple of arguments against Metcalf’s article that I’ve grown accustomed to hearing from libertarians in response to criticisms of their ideology. In a nutshell, first, we who are opposed to libertarianism are apparently not allowed to claim that one of their heroes can be said to have defined it with any certainty. We find this in Boaz’s seeming annoyance with those who believe they have “grappled with libertarian ideas” if they have read Nozik. Secondly, if we disagree with the libertarian ideas set forth, it automatically means that we are misunderstanding it, hence Boaz’s headline ‘Misunderstanding Nozik, Again‘.
Unfortunately, again, the libertarian runs up against the wall of reality and finds himself stunned.
As for Metcalf’s final complaint that advocates of a more expansive state have been “hectored into silence” by the vast libertarian power structure, well, I am, if not hectored, at least stunned into silence.
Libertarians frequently cannot see the forest because the trees get in their way. How dare we think that libertarians have a shared value system that results in any kind of society that has power! Hence we see a self-refuting principle in libertarianism. Human beings are “social animals”, if you will. They will, invariably, join together with like-minded people to bring about political change that reflects their views of justice. All such associations are “societies”, whether or not they are governmental or political. One need look no further than one of the infamous episodes of astro-turfing for Ron Paul in straw polls and the various Campaign for Liberty rallies to see a libertarian act of “social justice”, per se. The very act of joining a campaign is an act of joining a power structure to bring about one’s sense of “justice”. Granted, libertarian “social justice” is nothing like the Left’s “social justice”, but that is neither here nor there.
Metcalf paraphrases Nozik, the libertarian who apparently either doesn’t speak for libertarianism or is misunderstood?:
To the entire left, Nozick, in effect, said: Your social justice comes at an unacceptable cost, namely, to my personal liberty…
This is, to be sure, the libertarians’ basic argument. Ironically, the libertarian movement’s social justice is similarly problematic in that it so frequently promotes license over liberty. As Mortimer Adler has written:
Herein lies the distinction between liberty and license. Liberty is freedom exercised under the restraints of justice so that its exercise results in injury to no one. In contrast license is freedom exempt from the restraints of justice and. therefore, injurious to others in infringing their freedom as well as violating other rights. When no distinction is made between liberty and license, the freedom of the strong an destroy the freedom of the weak.
Most Catholics still understand on some level that abortion and same-sex “marriage” are opposed to true justice. As such, they are opposed to authentic liberty. Just as we know that the word “choice” is misused in the abortion debate to preserve a license to kill, we should also understand that the word “liberty” is used by libertarians to preserve license on any number of issues, including abortion and the re-definition of marriage.
If you take nothing else away from this article, know this. There is a libertarian movement. It exists. It has arisen as its own society, a social group being made up of individuals who share a common definition of “justice”. Their common view of “justice” is the act of joining together in a society to oppose those who would seek to bring about “social justice” which they view as a monster because the Left’s version of “social justice” is, in fact, a monster. In other words, the libertarians have engaged themselves in an exercise in hypocrisy.
What’s a Catholic to do? Well, we can begin by helping people to understand what authentic social justice is. (Sorry, libertarian Catholics, but that’s the way it is.) Certainly, all Americans are able to make a decision to either be complacent (that is, to be the “sleeping giant”) or to actively work through the political process to bring about a society that reflects our view of justice. Catholics are not free to be complacent. We each have a duty to be politically involved….to enter into associations with others to work for authentic social justice. It is my hope and prayer that we can do so as One Body. The more we talk about these issues in peace with each other, the better.
At the Catholic Herald today comes an important story offering an overview of the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Egypt and the plight of Christians who are now suffering greatly in the aftermath of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Further political success may come the Muslim Brotherhood’s way. The interim military government which followed Mubarak has announced parliamentary elections in September and presidential elections two months later. Reflecting on the potentially huge political changes to come, one bishop told us: “Under Mubarak the Muslim Brothers were under Gestapo control; they were underground. Now they are very visible. They may get up to half the seats in the next election. This is a great concern for us. There was a strong message awaiting us when we met Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib in his office in Cairo. A gentle, self-effacing man, Patriarch Naguib wasted no time in saying: “Now is the moment to really participate in the evolution of society. What matters is to have confidence in our beliefs and to have the strength to express our message.”
Be sure to read the whole thing. Regular readers at my blog know that I’ve tried to keep abreast of the situation in Egypt even since long before the ousting of Mubarak. I consider the article to be an accurate accounting of what is happening there, from a Christian perspective. If you read only one article on Egypt, read the article at Catholic Herald.
Remember that President Obama and the mainstream media supported the ousting of Mubarak while conservatives in America (notably, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton) expressed serious concerns since Mubarak was successfully holding the Muslim Brotherhood at bay. In Five Revolutions Backed by George Soros, in February, I expressed misgivings about Soros funding of the revolution. Egyptian Christians have expressed some mild disdain for such criticisms, but as things become more and more bloody there, perhaps those critics have changed their minds.
At FrontPageMag, for your consideration: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Penetration of the Obama Administration.
Below is the latest news about the Muslim Brotherhood from around the web. Be aware that opinions in these links are very diverse and may or may not be entirely accurate portrayals of what is occurring with the Muslim Brotherhood. Please use good judgment.
On Twitter, follow @Nefrette (Nefrette Halim) and @CopticNews for updates on the plight of Christians in Egypt. On Facebook, my friend David Nageh does a good job sharing updates from the perspective of a Christian in Egypt.
Many thanks to the Catholic Herald for their excellent reporting on Egypt’s Christians.
Would you like to know where Republican candidates for President stand on the issue of preserving traditional marriage? Here they are, in their own words, in alphabetical order. Only those candidates and potential candidates who could be found expressing their position on video are included. If you find video for others not included here, send me an email and I will add them as an update.
Suggested things to look for include:
1) Whether or not the candidate is expressing a position that is in keeping with Catholic teaching on this issue.
2) Whether or not you believe the candidate is comfortable defending his/her position.
3) Whether or not you believe the candidate has an eloquent and convincing message.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann:
Businessman Herman Cain:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman:
Congressman Ron Paul:
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty:
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney:
Former Senator Rick Santorum:
Vice President Joe Biden was in Rome today to mark the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification. While there, he met privately with Pope Benedict XVI. Biden is a Mass-attending Catholic who supports “abortion rights”. Many of the Catholic faithful have called for his excommunication due to his support for abortion. No official announcement has been made, as of this writing, in regard to this visit.
In February, 2009, pro-abortion Congresswoman and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met privately with Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican issued a statement afterward that was widely considered to be a scolding.
“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”
Official announcements from the Vatican are available at the Vatican Information Service blog.
The latest from Chicago:
From WLS, Chicago:
Father Michael Pfleger celebrated his 62nd birthday Sunday as well as his first mass since being reinstated as pastor of Saint Sabina Catholic Church.
Father Pfleger apologized to his congregation for the unsettled period over the past three weeks during his suspension, but he expressed his gratitude to Francis Cardinal George and encouraged parishioners to do the same.
The cardinal suspended Pfleger following comments Pfleger made about leaving the church rather than being removed from Saint Sabina.
Pfleger today said that his words were misinterpreted.
I have personally spoken to four members of St. Sabina parish and have found them to be sincere, caring people who love Jesus…but who have not really been taught the Catholic Faith, particularly the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I do not think it is fair to refer to the parishioners as “disobedient” or “dissenting”. It has become clear to me that, though Fr. Pfleger has done much good in the community, particularly for young people, his failure to instruct his flock in core teachings of the Faith has resulted in the fullness of the Faith being hidden from them, something that can only be detrimental to their spiritual lives, not beneficial.
As always, I ask for prayers for the members of St. Sabina parish, for Fr. Pfleger, and for Cardinal George. Let us pray for the return of this prodigal son who has taken a positive step in reflecting a sense of obedience to Holy Mother Church. All things are possible with God.
Apparently there is a big flap between Rick Santorum and John McCain on the issue of waterboarding (enhanced interrogation) which was used to gain the cooperation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed — cooperation that led to his giving information which enabled our forces to find Osama Bin Laden.
Read “The Waterboarding Trail to Bin Laden: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said that as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from harsh interrogations”
I have been back and forth on the waterboarding issue, but I have come to the conclusion that this whole thing is being blown out of proportion due to a lack of understanding of what waterboarding is. Today, Mark Shea, who I love and respect, is engaging in some brutal ad hominem against Rick Santorum. So who is right and who is wrong here? Let’s take a step back, a deep breath, and consider the facts.
Is waterboarding “torture”? I would agree with these remarks below from Fr. Brian Harrison at Catholic Culture:
Even deciding what exactly we mean by torture is not easy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as “physical or moral violence” (CCC 2297); the definition given by the 1984 United Nations Convention on Torture is “the intentional infliction of severe pain.” The words violence and severe are themselves somewhat vague. Who draws the line — and where? — as to which specific practices are harsh enough to correspond to those words? What has become clear in the contemporary debate is that while many shudder-evoking practices (which needn’t be spelled out here) are recognized by everyone as meriting the name torture, there is no consensus about whether other less extreme interrogation techniques really count as torture: for instance, sleep deprivation, being kept under harsh temperatures or in uncomfortable positions, or “waterboarding” (which causes a brief, panic-inducing sensation of being about to drown but no pain or injury). Since no Catholic magisterial intervention so far offers any real guidance for resolving this controversy, the only methods we can be sure are included under “torture,” when that word appears in Church documents, are those in the former group.
“Inducing panic”, such as we find in waterboarding, is not “torture”. Considering that it is not torture in the first place, all other points appear to be moot.
Rick Santorum responded on the Mark Levin Show yesterday to the false claims that he endorses the use of torture. (CLICK HERE to watch video at The Right Scoop to hear his remarks.)
Again, I’ve been back and forth on the issue, because I did not understand fully what waterboarding is and how the Church defines “torture”. Now, I know. It’s not torture and it did gain information necessary to capture Osama Bin Laden. It was not used to force anyone to confess a crime but to gain information. The intent was to defend life and the action was not torture. Case closed.
Related at Catholic Online: Silence on Santorum is Deafening: Republican Establishment Sends Signals
Related at WMUR, New Hampshire: Conversation with the Candidate, Rick Santorum
The Catholic Church has, for two millenia, in keeping with the Incarnation, defended the dignity of all human beings. One example of this is the Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul III in 1537, Sublimus Dei, regarding the “enslavement and evangelization of Indians“.
The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.
We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.
This is an inconvenient truth for those who would have us believe that Christopher Columbus’ Catholicism had something to do with the mistreatment of Native Americans after the arrival of Europeans to North America. Indeed, though men may fail, the teachings of the Church never have, never do, and never will.
Just as the Church defended Native Americans 474 years ago this month (May 29, 1537), so today the Catholic Church continues to defend — through Her very clear teaching — the most vulnerable of all, the unborn child. Just as in the time of Sublimus Dei there were Catholics who protested the Church’s guidance, so today there are Catholics who deny the humanity and dignity of the innocent unborn child.
Most, if not all, Americans today understand the evil of slavery precisely because of the good work of Christendom, but most particularly the Catholic Church which stands as a visible beacon to the world. Satan devises his manner, but the Light continues to shine. So it is that I have hope that some day, Americans will look back upon this time as the brutal age of abortion, and Catholic politicians who did not stand against it will have the most shameful place of all in the annals of history.
Spanish American philosopher George Santayana once noted, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Fallen man will make essentially the same mistakes that his forbears have made unless he learns from the lessons of history. For this reason, the study of political and philosophical history is essential to understanding current political theory in order to ensure that dangerous philosophies — those which threaten the inalienable rights of human persons — may be identified and rejected through reasoned, free and informed debate before their dangers become brutal reality. People educated in the lessons of history are people wise enough to reject its horrors. So it is that I have come to understand the necessity of learning more about Marxism in light of the current administration’s political machinations which seem to be, on some level, inspired by it.
Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders – The Golden Age – The Breakdown by Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski is widely hailed as the definitive work on the subject and his book is credited with “laying some of the paving stones that would eventually lead to the Solidarity movement”, a movement which itself led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As I read through this volume, which is actually three books in one, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on what I am learning from it. This will be part one in a series and covers the introduction.
Avoiding subjective presumptions.
Kolakowski outlines the reasoning behind the methods he uses to offer an accurate history of Marxism. He immediately mentions the German philosopher Karl Marx and notes that the very fact that Marx was German may, in and of itself, invoke in the reader certain presumptions about his philosophy. When we make an assessment about something, we always bring our subjective experiences to the table with us. One might be familiar with the differerent schools of thought in the world and presume that Marx, because he was German, held a philosophy somewhat consistent with the German philosophers most commonly known at the time in which the reader is living. Subjective presumptions like this often get in the way of finding out the truth about something. I recall once hearing a teacher tell her class in Kentucky that she had moved from Pennsylvania and was surprised when she got to Kentucky that there were not many people running around barefoot. Reality is very often completely inconsistent with what we presume must be true. Kolakowski sets out to answer questions about the Communism of his day by studying the history of Marxism with a determination not to let subjective presumption get in the way.
Things rarely occur in real life exactly as written on paper.
Kolakowski notes the difficulty in his endeavor being primarily that one cannot precisely connect the dots between the words of a particular philosophy on paper and a social movement of people who follow that particular tradition and thereby prove that one absolutely beget the other with no other factors having impact. As a Catholic, I see this dynamic in the Church which defines through theMagisterium what is believed by Catholics to be absolute dogma leading us to the highest good while, due to man’s fallen nature, the highest good is never fully manifest among her members as a whole. There are Catholic saints alongside those who betray the doctrine through various levels of dissent. So it is with any philosophy, even if the philosophy ostensibly guides a large number of people. The historian should do his work with the understanding that what Marx wrote on paper should not necessarily be presumed to be exactly what Communism became as a social movement of living, breathing people. So it is that we cannot reasonably indict Karl Marx alone for Communism, nor say that Communism is fully Marxist, to the absolute exclusion of everything else. Kolakowski argues that the social movement itself, though it may represent itself as the body of true keepers of a given ideology, is generally quite stronger than the ideology itself.
The particular rallying point of any movement is one key to understanding it.
All movements have their rallying point. For the current Tea Party movement, which is decidedly anti-Marxist, the rallying point is widely credited to the February 19, 2009, plea by Rick Santelli from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Though this came decades after Kolakowski penned “Main Currents of Marxism“, his claim that other factors cause social movements to evolve over time is ringing true in the Tea Party movement now, less than three years after the rallying point. It is because of this inevitable evolution that we find it difficult to delineate with accuracy what ideals make one a “true” Tea Party “patriot” or “representative”. This same difficulty faces Kolakowski in his examination of Marxism, and he argues that for any “historian of ideas”, the correct question on this matter should be to find out what ideas caused the rallying point in the first place.
No single, flawed human being can represent the epitome of a philosophy.
Kolakowski offers an important caution, that it is a fruitless endeavor, at least in the context of historical analysis, to insist that only those who hold to the particular idea(s) that launched the rallying point are the “true” representatives of the movement. A president may be “Marxist”. He may even be a “true” Marxist, but at the same time disagree on key issues with other “true” Marxists. The leader of the movement does not necessarily precisely define the movement or the ideology, nor vice versa. Further, there may be different groups which carry the banner of “Marxist” (or “Tea Party”, or “Progressive”, as the case may be), and movements may change from generation to generation. These are all difficulties for historians of philosophy. The primary reason for this point is to explain that while a study of the history of a philosophy entails the study of the ideas of individuals who clearly, on some level, hold forth that philosophy, this process of discovery is misused if it is given as reason to classify certain individuals as being absolutely “true” or absolutely “false” representatives of that philosophy. Certainly, people have their loyalities to particular political leaders, and fallen man will seek to put a brand name on his hero or his opponent in order that others may be encouraged to follow, or reject, that leader. We see this phenomenon at times in the Tea Party movement with the debate on who leads the movement and with the Left’s attempt to smear the brand “Tea Party” in order to discredit its leaders. Such debates, inevitable due to man’s human nature, are reflections of the very same difficulties Kolakowski describes as being problematic during his Communist-era historical study of Marxism.
The role of culture in the development of philosophy.
Culture plays a significant role in the development of philosophy, and Kolakowski describes his view of the role of culture as being similar to that of the German writer Thomas Mann. Mann did not seek to absolve German culture of the evils of Nazism. Rather, he approached the question by seeking to find those aspects of German culture which allowed Nazism to take root. Though Mann was, as a citizen of Germany, a part of the very same German culture he studied, he did not seek to protect Germany from learning hard truths about the culture which may or may not have facilitated the horrors of fascism. The very clear influence of Nietzsche did not, after all, occur within a vacuum. Again, we see this point about culture holding true in America today with the Tea Party laying claim to the hallmarks of American civilization in the use of imagery of the Founding Fathers, the American flag, the American Bald Eagle, etc.. This cultural imagery represents America’s historic opposition to totalitarianism. Meanwhile, as the far left rejects the idea that one culture is better than another, there is backlash against the use of American imagery and, often, the propogation of Islam in an attempt to establish it as a major cultural component of our national identity. An interesting question to pose might be whether or not the “multi-cultural” far left in America has a culture itself and, if so, what does that culture look like? Also, is there, as with a power vacuum, a danger in having a “cultural vacuum”?
Limitations regarding the flow of information.
There are practical limitations in studying the history of Marxism specifically. Among them is the fact that so many of Marx’s works were not even in print until the Communist Revolution had already taken place, though they were later considered by Communists to be essential works. Fortunately, in this age of more advanced technology, it is far easier to offer for mass distribution the writings of college student Obama, community organizer Obama, or Senator Obama so that the public might examine trends in his thinking and whether or not those trends are the source of his current policies as president. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Another difficulty is that Marx addressed multiple fields — “basic philosophic anthropology, socialist doctrine, and economic analysis” — and that varities of opinions abound, not only on the particular division of fields, but also on the question of how (and whether) they are related. We see this same difficulty in our examination of the far left in America as a movement made up of various dimensions including radical environmentalism, multiculturalism, anti-capitalism, etc. Despite this variety of “talent” and goals, it is still possible to assess similarities in thinking which are common threads in the philosophy.
The role of tradition.
We will always find, even in the anti-tradition Left, a certain level of adherence to traditional thinking. Though the “democrat” may reject the idea that tradition is worthy of our consideration, surely he points to figures from tradition, like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln (both of whom were Republicans) and claims them as forbears.
Catholic philosopher G.K. Chesterton wrote on the topic of “democrats” and their rejection of tradition:
Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils.
Surely, the Communist regime had the deceased Karl Marx at their “councils” in the form of adherence to his ideas. So, too, we may endeavor through the research of common threads to see if Karl Marx is similary seated at the table with President Obama’s Cabinet.
The impossible goal of Utopia.
Considering the many challenges involved in the analysis of a philosophy, Kolakowski resolves to focus his efforts “on the question which appears at all times to have occupied a central place in Marx’s independent thinking…” which is the question of how one can possibly adopt a utopian ideal when there exist so many variables that contribute to what is, in reality, an inevitable diversity of opinions and of outcomes. There is a further difficulty, as well, that Kolakowski points out. Marxists believe that history has “progressed”, and will continue in a “progressive” manner, in stages of class warfare, with the end result being “true” socialism. I am reminded of a quote from our progressive President Obama which he borrowed from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
The “bending arc” toward “justice” is one way of describing Marxist thought about history’s “progressive” stages toward socialism. Unfortunately for us, the “moral universe” of Marx rejects both tradition and natural law, finding its basis in economics and class warfare, unlike Dr. King’s “moral universe”. King said that law not rooted in natural law is unjust. Dr. King himself borrowed his quote on the arc of the moral universe from Theodore Parker, who inspired Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and was a proud grandson of Captain John Parker, American Revolutionary leader at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Perhaps the historians of the future can sort out the reasons why a progressive would use a quote about justice from a Christian preacher who stood firm on the justice of natural law. Was President Obama’s quote an act of preserving or usurping traditional values? I would argue that it is an usurpation.
Indeed, values and philosophies are carried on from generation to generation, from sea to shining sea and beyond. Some preserve while others usurp. I look forward to reading more of “Main Currents of Marxism” and sharing my thoughts with you as I delve deeper into the history of Marxism.