Sunday, October 24, 2010

“Turn and face the strange ...”

In the days ahead, readers of mwbh may notice a gradual shift in editorial slant.

In May of 2007, I published a manifesto of sorts entitled “Red Eye for the Straight Guy (or, I just figured out why I’m a conservative!).” And while I harbor no shame for my convictions, lately I have wondered about the company it keeps. It began when I read a piece written by the late Joe Sobran entitled “The Reluctant Anarchist” which was republished in March of 2009 at

Chesterton, himself a “Little Englander” and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling’s view: “He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.” Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.

Of course Chesterton was right. You love your country as you love your mother — simply because it is yours, not because of its superiority to others, particularly superiority of power.

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Everything had to have its own nature and limitations, including the state; the idea of a state continually growing, knowing no boundaries, forever increasing its claims on the citizen, offended and frightened me. It could only end in tyranny.

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What if the Federal Government grossly violated the Constitution? Could states withdraw from the Union? Lincoln said no. The Union was “indissoluble” unless all the states agreed to dissolve it. As a practical matter, the Civil War settled that. The United States, plural, were really a single enormous state, as witness the new habit of speaking of “it” rather than “them.”

So the people are bound to obey the government even when the rulers betray their oath to uphold the Constitution. The door to escape is barred. Lincoln in effect claimed that it is not our rights but the state that is “unalienable.”

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In short, the U.S. Constitution is a dead letter. It was mortally wounded in 1865. The corpse can’t be revived. This remained hard for me to admit, and even now it pains me to say it.

I am not sure I could take the last comment that far. (For that matter, there was a time when neither could he.) And yet, I was impressed with the idea that a man could stay on a straight line in his evolution of thought, only to result in a paradigm shift of unexpected (and not entirely inexplicable) magnitude. This impressed me so much, I sent a copy to my son Paul, who after reading it, called it “the most awesome thing I've ever read on the subject.” Here it was, the work of a longtime contributor to Bill Buckley's National Review, resonating with a not-so-reluctant anarchist.

Is it possible, then, that two political ideologues, ostensibly diametrically opposed, could be so diametrically opposed, and becoming ever more so, until they met elsewhere, at what was not a line of thought, but was instead a circle?

We have heard much of so-called "tea party activists." They say they want smaller government, more local control of what government we have, lower taxes, and less interference in their lives. We read of well-established politicians who are quick to get on board, but who cannot think of a single major entitlement program they would cut or eliminate. Instead, they take the safe route, and speak of tighter controls, major reform. Just get them elected first, then we will see what is actually done.

Their adversaries gave similar assurances about "Obamacare." Just let us pass the bill, they would say, then we will actually read what it says. For both sides, the consequences matter less, than being there to take the credit, or pass the blame, whenever it happens.

It is here, where Catholics wishing to inculcate our values in the public square, begin to mobilize behind one alliance or another. Opponents of misuse of funds in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will cite the use of such funds for "liberal causes." They do not use the word in the sense of moral error, but of political error. Those who are identified with the banner of "liberal," are associated with the call for a more holistic approach to the Gospel of Life, including an end to preemptive military action, and ... oh, maybe an end to abortion, maybe not. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, abortion is just one of many issues.

But really, how much of the rhetoric is even about the issues?

Ask someone about the Tea Party movement. Oh, they're all racists, they hate people who don't agree with them, they engage in the politics of fear. You would think that those who expound this drivel spent hours interviewing people who showed up on the Mall, as opposed to simply antagonizing them.

Do you want to know the real meaning of fear in the public arena? Imagine living in Salem, Massachusetts in the early colonial days. A young woman walk down the street, minding her own business, and some old matron confronts her, pointing and shouting "WITCH!" How much do you suppose the facts matter at that point? So it is with most of the talking heads on television, all shouting labels at others, letting the hysteria lead where it may, and making a good living fanning the flames of ignorance.

And so, we are left on Election Day with deciding the lesser of two evils. I could be on the phone with a Catholic spokeswoman for Amalgamated Right to Life, Incorporated, who is telling me that I am endangering my soul for voting for a morally acceptable third party candidate, and not voting for the Republican candidate. After all, he's only lukewarm on abortion, while his Democratic opponent embraces it outright. And didn't Monsigeur Megaphone say as much on CNN the other night?

I will say here and now what I have said for years: The prolife movement has been the lapdog of the Republican Party, and conservatives in general, ever since the Supreme Court ruling that was Roe v Wade. For that matter, most Catholics have been as much for one political party or the other. Some of us held our noses as we voted for John McCain, not for what he was, but for what he wasn't. He wasn't a man who would legalize abortion in a heartbeat, right up to the last second in the womb. A man who couldn't run a campaign for County Dog Catcher was our Last Great Hope. Have we become that desperate?

There is an honest effort by organizations such as, to mobilize faithful Catholics beyond partisan restrictions. But a comprehensive effort of this order will require a massive paradigm shift. At the end of the day, given the choice, I am likely to be more comfortable in the company of conservatives than of liberals. Perhaps it is like comfort food; it is what you grew up with, and you feel at home. I am never faced, for example, with meeting a "married" gay couple, and having to guess which is the husband, and which is the wife. Apparently there is some sort of convention, but it eludes me. But even to wonder leads some to conclude that I "hate" gay people, when in fact to ask such a question does not even imply disagreement, merely inquiry.

Come this Saturday, the groundwork for such a manifesto will appear on this page. It is the result of years of reading and reflection, and the recent discovery of written work that has received little attention since it was written a decade ago.

Until then ...

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