Rod Dreher

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German Homeschoolers Lose

The Wunderlich family defeated in European Court of Human Rights (Photo via ADF)

Terrible news from Europe:

Today, the European Court of Human Rights announced its judgment in the case of Wunderlich v. Germany. The ruling stated that the German authorities’ actions were not in violation of the Wunderlich family’s fundamental rights.

“We are extremely disappointed with this ruling of the Court. It disregards the rights of parents all over Europe to raise their children without disproportionate interference from the state. Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply wanted to educate their children in line with their convictions and decided their home environment would be the best place for this. Children deserve this loving care from their parents. We are now advising the Wunderlichs of their options, including taking the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International and lead counsel for the Wunderlich family.

In August 2013, more than 30 police officers and social workers stormed the home of the Wunderlich family. The authorities brutally removed the children from their parents and their home, leaving the family traumatized. The children were ultimately returned to their parents but their legal status remained unclear as Germany is one of the few European countries that penalizes families who want to homeschool.

Here is a link to the Deutsche Welle report on the ruling. Homeschooling has been banned in Germany since 1919.

Here is a link to the actual text of the ruling (in English). It says, in part (emphases mine):

49. It also notes that the German courts justified the partial withdrawal of parental authority by citing the risk of danger to the children. The courts assessed the risk on the persistent refusal of the applicants to send their children to school, where the children would not only acquire knowledge but also learn social skills, such as tolerance or assertiveness, and have contact with persons other than their family, in particular children of their own age. The Court of Appeal further held that the applicants’ children were being kept in a “symbiotic” family system.

50. The Court further reiterates that it has already examined cases regarding the German system of imposing compulsory school attendance while excluding home education. It has found it established that the State, in introducing such a system, had aimed at ensuring the integration of children into society with a view to avoiding the emergence of parallel societies, considerations that were in line with the Court’s own case-law on the importance of pluralism for democracy and which fell within the Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in setting up and interpreting rules for their education systems (see Konrad and Others; Dojan and Others; and Leuffen; all cited above).

51. The Court finds that the enforcement of compulsory school attendance, to prevent social isolation of the applicants’ children and ensure their integration into society, was a relevant reason for justifying the partial withdrawal of parental authority. It further finds that the domestic authorities reasonably assumed – based on the information available to them – that children were endangered by the applicants by not sending them to school and keeping them in a “symbiotic” family system.

There you have it. Terrible. Learning “tolerance” is so important in Germany that the state can override the rights of families.

I see on Twitter that someone is taking this ruling as proof that I’m wrong about The Benedict Option — this, along the lines of, “See, the State will not let Christians do the Benedict Option.” This is exactly wrong, as people who have actually read the book will know. This false binary thinking keeps people from understanding the meaning of the book.

Let me put it to you like this: what do German Christian families who cannot homeschool do now that (what seems like) the final door has been closed to them? They have no choice but to submit. So, what now? How do they work to form their children as faithful Christians in spite of this? This is why they need the Benedict Option, developed by German Christians for the German situation. 

Of course they should also work politically to change the law. But in the meantime, what do they do? In my book, I write about the Czech anti-communist dissident Vaclav Benda, and his Catholic family. Under communism, they had no choice but to send their children to state schools. And yet, all of their children, now adults, held on to their Catholic faith, despite the overwhelming hostility of the society in which they were embedded — including the hostility of the schools to which they were forced to submit.

Benda’s big idea was the necessity to build a “parallel polis” to the official culture. This is precisely what the German state today wants to prohibit. Certainly the Czech communist government wanted the same thing. So what! People have to try to do the best they can under the circumstances. Here’s a relevant excerpt from The Benedict Option:

From this perspective, the parallel polis is not about building a gated community for Christians but rather about establishing (or reestablishing) common practices and common institutions that can reverse the isolation and fragmentation of contemporary society. (In this we hear Brother Ignatius of Norcia’s call to have “borders”— formal lines behind which we live to nurture our faith and culture—but to “push outwards, infinitely.”) Benda wrote that the parallel polis’s ultimate political goals are “to return to truth and justice, to a meaningful order of values, [and] to value once more the inalienability of human dignity and the necessity for a sense of human community in mutual love and responsibility.”

In other words, dissident Christians should see their Benedict Option projects as building a better future not only for themselves but for everyone around them. That’s a grand vision, but Benda knew that most people weren’t interested in standing up for abstract causes that appealed only to intellectuals. He advocated practical actions that ordinary Czechs could do in their daily lives.

“If you didn’t like how university education was going, help students find an underground seminar taught by one of these brilliant professors kicked out of university by the government,” [Prof. Flagg] Taylor says, explaining Benda’s principles. “Print good novels by samizdat and get them into the hands of the people, and let them see what they’re missing. Support theological education in one of the underground seminaries. When people see [that] resistance is connected to something that’s really meaningful to them, and that is possible only if there are a certain number people committed to preserving it in the face of the state’s opposition, they will act.”

Whether you call it “antipolitical politics” or a “parallel polis,” what might the Czech dissidents’ vision look like in our circumstances? Havel gives a number of examples. Think of teachers who make sure kids learn things they won’t get at government schools. Think of writers who write what they really believe and find ways to get it to the public, no matter what the cost. Think of priests and pastors who find a way to live out religious life despite condemnation and legal obstacles, and artists who don’t give a rip for official opinion. Think of young people who decide not to care about success in society’s eyes and who drop out to pursue a life of integrity, no matter what it costs them. These people who refuse to assimilate and instead build their own structures are living the Benedict Option.

If we hope for our faith to change the world one day, we have to start locally. Benedict Option communities should be small, because “beyond a certain point, human ties like personal trust and personal responsibility cannot work.” And they should “naturally rise from below,” which is to say, they should be organic and not handed down by central planners. These communities start with the individual heart and spread from there to the family, the church community, the neighborhood, and onward.

I should say that Benda wrote later in life that the failure of people interested in the “parallel polis” to establish a workable educational alternative was one of his greatest regrets.

Despite this law, and this ruling, German Christians have more freedom than Czech Christians did under communism. If they want to educate their children in a supplemental way, in addition to what they get in state schools (even contrary to it!), the secret police will not be monitoring them. Sure it’s going to be hard, but what choice do they have? And heaven knows American Christians are incomparably more free to act — for now, at least. These liberties must be defended, politically and legally. This is why it’s important for Christians to join and support the Home School Legal Defense Association, and to donate to organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, which fight for these kinds of liberties.

But the day may come when we lose these liberties. America is rapidly de-Christianizing. What happens if American Christians find themselves in the same place as German Christians today, regarding their childrens’ education? What happens when there is no political hope left — there is no popular clamor in Germany to repeal the anti-homeschooling law — and we have exhausted all legal recourse? You’d be a fool to think it couldn’t happen here.

Now is the time to start building the networks of the parallel polis. Besides, many people who might like to homeschool can’t do it, for economic or other reasons. What can the churches do for them? They need the parallel polis too. They need the Benedict Option also.

Seriously, reader: think about what you would do if you were a German parent who had no choice but to send your children to state schools, where you knew that their faith, as well as moral truth, would be denied or at least undermined by the lessons and the ethos there? You would, I hope, understand that the formation of your children’s hearts and minds required you to be deeply countercultural, and to do so in community. That’s when you need to meet others interested in the Benedict Option, and work together — quietly, if necessary — to undermine the indoctrination.

I hope German Christian readers of this blog will share their perspective.

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The Wall And Ecology

The Rio Grande

Readers, don’t forget that I’m traveling today, headed to Spain. A lot of the posts you will see over the day will have been written in advance, and scheduled to post. Please be patient about my approving comments. I’ll get to them as I can, between flights.

Here’s an interesting email from a conservative reader:

I agree with you (and Trump, and Cesar Chavez) about the need to reduce immigration and control the border. But the wall is an asinine idea. One of the things that ought to concern us most is its impact on the migration of wildlife.

Desert ecology is fragile to begin with, and man has enormously screwed up that country already, mostly through carelessness and ignorance. But we are getting better and better at understanding it an fixing the problems we created, but the wall will be a big barrier (pun intended) to those efforts (I moonlight as a professional ecologist and have helped with restoration projects for bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope in the transpecos — a wall would screw up both populations and many others). And I’m convinced it will have a negligible impact on smugglers willing to invest in a robust saw or a plasma torch.

The wall is just a dog whistle meant to rile up the base. The immigration solution has to do with better policy and more personnel / enforcement.

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The Martyrdom Of Peter Boghossian

Peter Boghossian, Enemy Of The People (The Rubin Report screengrab)

Peter Boghossian is one of a trio of liberal college professors who pulled off an awesome hoax last year: they placed a number of fake research papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. The papers were designed to demonstrate that you could write any idiotic thing in so-called “grievance studies” fields, and get it published as long as you took the politically correct view, and used the correct jargon.

You didn’t think left-wing academia was going to let them get away with this, did you? Now Boghossian’s university in Oregon, Portland State, is preparing to punish him. Jesse Singal at New York magazine writes about what’s going down. Excerpts:

Boghossian, in his university’s view, failed to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for his research and fabricated data when he and his team claimed, for their dog park article — I’ll, erm, defer to the language from their Areo write-up — “to have tactfully inspected the genitals of slightly fewer than 10,000 dogs whilst interrogating owners as to their sexuality.” (Boghossian has publicly posted the documents he got from PSU, which lay out the charges in detail, here.)

The thing is, Singal demonstrates that Boghossian probably did violate standard IRB protocols to pull off his hoax. In other words, he almost certainly broke clearly established rules in academia, rules that were not put in place for political reasons.

On the other hand, given the political nature of his stunt, and given how left-wing his university is (Boghossian, I repeat, is a liberal), it’s impossible to separate this attempt to punish him from the political statement that his hoax made about the emptiness of Grievance Studies. Do you really think Portland State would be going after this guy if he had carried out a rule-breaking hoax that embarrassed some right-wing cause or field?

It is generally accepted that when journalistic organizations break standard rules for the sake of exposing something harmful to the public interest that could not have been exposed through normal channels — i.e., like going undercover to do an investigation — that the ends justify the means. Ethically, that’s pretty shaky, but I bring it up simply to show that we make exceptions to the rules all the time in daily life. After all, whistleblowers almost always publicize confidential information that they were forbidden by company rules to publicize. Boghossian and his two academic colleagues functioned as academic whistleblowers in this case. The people upon whom the whistle was blown aren’t happy, and they’re out to excise their pound of flesh.

If you think Boghossian deserves to be punished for breaking the rules, you need to ask yourself if you think all whistleblowers everywhere should be punished for breaking the rules — and if not, why single Boghossian out? Is it because of the kind of people, and the kinds of causes, that he humiliated?

Here’s a January 9 letter of protest on his behalf that Boghossian published on Twitter. It’s by a man named Cam Boden, who dropped out of Portland State after being alienated by its “cult-like” political correctness, which both he and his partner say infiltrated every class other than engineering and math courses:

Because of how it’s formatted, I can’t take the text out of the image and make it more readable. I hope you can discern it, though. Boden says that Prof. Boghossian is one of the best professors at the college, in part because he sees his task as teaching students how to think, instead of what to think.

Boden says that there is a growing sense of rebellion against these garbage courses and this “cult-like” institutional mindset at universities. I hope he’s right. Watch what happens to Boghossian.



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Wuerl Lied

DC Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Today show screengrab)

Ed Condon and J.D. Flynn have been doing fantastic reporting over at the independent Catholic News Agency. When I think about Archbishop Georg Gänswein last fall praising the independent Catholic media’s truth-telling on the scandal, one of the first news organizations I think about is CNA, which is owned by EWTN.

Tonight they report that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in his previous post as Bishop of Pittsburgh, was informed about Cardinal Ted McCarrick’s sexual predation in 2004. Excerpts:

An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, despite Wuerl’s insistence he knew nothing about McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct until 2018.

Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against McCarrick was presented to Wuerl while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek.

In a statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Jan. 10 that laicized priest Robert Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss an allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.

“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.”


The news that Wuerl received a formal complaint against McCarrick as early as 2004, and forwarded it to the apostolic nunciature in Washington raises serious questions about the intended meaning of Wuerl’s 2018 statements concerning McCarrick.

Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick.

In the same letter, Wuerl affirmed that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

Well, that’s technically true, isn’t it? “During his time here in Washington.” Of course Donald Wuerl was dissembling. He knew. They all knew about Uncle Ted. McCarrick and Wuerl were among Pope Francis’s top American advisers. Pope Benedict XVI had put McCarrick out to pasture, but Francis brought him back.

Who among these senior prelates can you believe? Any of them?

Michelle Boorstein also is reporting this story at the Washington Post. I don’t know which source had it first. I saw it first at CNA. Boorstein recalls in her piece a lie Wuerl told to the Catholic Standard last year:

In some cases his denials were broader, such as in a July 31 interview in the archdiocesan paper Catholic Standard, in which Wuerl said:

“There have also been numerous stories or blog posts that repeated long-standing rumors or innuendos that may be out there regarding Archbishop McCarrick… In the past month, I have seen some of those new public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them. With rumors – especially old rumors going back 30, 40, even 50 years – there is not much we can do unless people come forward to share what they know or what they experienced.”

So, now we know for sure what Donald Wuerl is.

In a piece he wrote for the Washington Post, Ed Condon, who is also a canon lawyer, points out that the Vatican is expediting the McCarrick case, and is said to want it wrapped up before the big Rome meeting in February on sex abuse. Condon says this could be a bad idea for the cause of reform. Here’s why:

But what about the seminarians whom McCarrick is alleged to have abused over the decades? Any decision against the former cardinal that leaves their cases unresolved will be incomplete. So too will be any conversation in February that doesn’t take account of adult victims of abuse, or any effort at reform that ignores their legitimate demands for justice.

In a typically thorough take on media coverage of the McCarrick case, Terry Mattingly writes:

So what will reporters, and thus ordinary Catholics, learn about the sins of McCarrick, as opposed to the sins of [Opus Dei priest C. John] McCloskey? In particular, what will Vatican insiders allow to surface on this critical question, linked to the McCarrick abuse of seminarians and priests: Who protected McCarrick from investigations of the rumors that surrounded him for decades and who profited from his favor during that era?

Keep watching the headlines and look for crucial gaps in the secrecy.

To put it in the simplest possible terms: if Rome puts Uncle Ted away for abusing minors, and doesn’t talk at all about what he is alleged to have done to seminarians, you should be very, very suspicious of the game being played here.

(A side note: I’m leaving on Friday morning for Spain, but I will probably be able to blog some in the airport waiting for the connecting flight. I’ve got to pack now, but I’ve just started reading Peter Steinfels’s 11,000 word piece in Commonweal laying out his case for why the Pennsylvania grand jury report was a deeply flawed document that misled people and even slandered the Church.  I am sure that I won’t have time to give a piece so big and so controversial the analysis that it deserves, given my travel schedule, but I’m going to do my best tomorrow. Steinfels, a Catholic, is a veteran religious journalist, and anything he writes has to be taken seriously. Whatever the piece says — and I haven’t read it yet, only the introductory paragraphs — you cannot accuse Peter Steinfels of shilling for the Church. I bring it up here because Donald Wuerl is a big part of that grand jury report, and if Steinfels has uncovered injustice to Wuerl — and anybody else — in that bombshell report, you need to know it, and we all need to consider what Steinfels says with utmost gravity. Again, I doubt very much I’ll be able to do the long essay justice in the short time I’ll have online tomorrow, but I want to make you aware of it now, and encourage you to read it.)

UPDATE: Folks, I’m not defending the Steinfels piece. I haven’t read it! I am simply saying that Peter Steinfels is a serious journalist, and whatever he writes should be taken seriously. He may be wrong, though!

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Trump & GOP Are Wall Hypocrites

I’m more in favor of some kind of border wall, or barrier, than I am opposed to it, but here’s the thing: Trump and the Congressional Republicans have shut down the government over an issue that they didn’t do jack on for the two years the GOP controlled both houses of Congress, and, of course, the White House.

If Trump declares a national emergency to bypass Congress to get the money for the wall, he will be wrong, and his own party should stand up to him. But I don’t want to hear too much caterwauling from Democrats, who went along with it when President Obama pulled a similar move for DACA.

Still, Trump and his party stand on very weak ground. Philip Klein, writing in the Washington Examiner immediately after the president’s televised address, underscores the point:

We heard a lot tonight about illegal immigrants committing crimes and about the necessity of locking down the border. But that’s a case that he’s basically been making since he launched his presidential campaign three and a half years ago.

He’s been president for nearly two years, and up until last week, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At any point during that two years, Republicans could have passed a bill to fund the border wall, and he could have gotten at least $5.6 billion.

Republicans were ready to use the reconciliation process, allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, to repeal and replace Obamacare. They successfully used the procedure to pass a massive tax cut. They certainly could have found a way to use it to put some money into building a border wall had Trump actually fought for it earlier in his administration.

In 2017, Trump had just won the presidency and building a wall was a significant part of his platform. At the time, he had significant political capital among Republicans, who would have been reticent to defy him on such a central issue.

Instead, he waited until now to make a firm stand, at a time when his party just lost control of the House and he has zero leverage over Democrats, whose base expects maximum resistance.

National Review, opposing an emergency declaration for wall construction, is right:

Legalities aside, this would be a very bad practice. It’s an offense against the spirit of our system for a president to fail to get he wants from Congress — in a dispute involving a core congressional power, spending — and then turn around and exploit a tenuous reading of the law to try to get it anyway.

We know this seems increasingly quaint, especially after President Obama’s pen-and-phone governance in his second term, but we believe presidents have an obligation to honor the role of the respective branches of government, even when it’s not in their political interest, even when there seems to be a clever workaround.

This has to stop. It’s bad enough that the Republicans are going along with the government shutdown over an issue that neither they nor Trump dealt with when they had the power to do. The fact that the Congressional Republicans aren’t drawing a bright line on a matter of principle right now is even worse.

Again: I would rather see a wall of some sort, at least on much of the US-Mexico border, than not, as part of a broader overhaul that changes asylum laws. The status quo is not tenable. But the Republicans and the Republican president could have done whatever they wanted for the past two years about the border barrier. They did not. For this they’ve now shut down the government? I think about all those federal workers who are living paycheck to paycheck, and are now hurting because Trump realized that he was on the verge of his base figuring out that he never really cared about the wall in the first place.

UPDATE: Here’s a comment from reader DS, whom I know personally, and who is a conservative Evangelical:

It’s just like abortion — George W Bush talked a good game, but did nothing while his party controlled Congress and the executive branch.

Rile the base and do nothing … until nothing can be done, then pretend to be thwarted by the evil opposition.

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Was Man Made For The Market?

Whose side is the Republican Party on? (Dejan Dundjerski/Shutterstock)

In a long National Review essay, Michael Brendan Dougherty lets conservative critics of the Tucker Carlson monologue have it. MBD’s basic point is that yes, it’s important to talk about the role “personal responsibility” plays in establishing familial and social stability, and the conditions for prosperity. But saying that that’s the only thing we should talk about is deeply misguided.

It’s easy for conservatives to see this when liberals talk about how the only thing keeping poor people poor is the structure of the economy, ignoring the key role personal behavior and habits play. There is no economic structure in the world that is going to guarantee stability and prosperity for most people who don’t want to be self-disciplined in their work and personal habits. But an economic system that doesn’t reward virtuous behavior, and worse, makes it hard to raise families and live virtuous lives, is unjust. This is what far too many on the Right will not recognize. MBD starts by quoting the Prophet Micah pronouncing divine judgment on the elites of Israel, then sarcastically chastising the prophet for encouraging a “victim mentality.” He goes on:

I’m sure some readers are sick of hearing about Tucker Carlson’s monologue. But it has become the focus of a debate because Carlson pointed to the real molten fissure that is burbling sulfur on the American right. By doing so without ever mentioning the name, the character, or the political fortunes of Donald Trump, he allowed everyone to be more frank than usual. Carlson’s case is that elite-driven economic and social policy has destroyed the material basis for the family life, that our technocratic elite has the wrong measures of national health. Further, he argues, if the American Right doesn’t give up on its absentminded idolatry of “the market,” the country will quickly move toward socialism.


Bahnsen writes: “Carlson wrongly chooses to assign blame for the decisions people make to macroeconomic forces, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences people absorb.”

To those who object to Carlson along these lines I would ask: At what point can we actually move on from the subject of personal responsibility and onto governance? Or, to put it another way, are there any political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible aren’t the best counsel you could give an individual?

It seems that it would be just as true to say these things in Russia during the post-Communist period, which saw soaring substance-abuse problems and plunging life expectancies. Then as now, the best advice you could give an individual Russian man was not to drink until his liver failed and he died. You could advise Russian women not to abort so many of their children. You could advise people to go back to church. All that would be salutary and more practically useful than having them wallow in elite failure. But none of that advice is inconsistent with political reflection and action for building a more flourishing society.

And our jobs at National Review and the Daily Wire include writing about and reflecting on political conditions. We are, all of us in this debate, dedicated to causes in which political effort and coordination is difficult. Would any of us really conclude that because the Russian state wasn’t forcing men at gunpoint to drink, Russia’s mortality rate had nothing to do with the corruption, venality, and misgovernance of the era? I doubt it.


Let’s move on to discuss another victim mentality — that of elites. Large financial institutions are excused for their failures. How can they help it, what with the animal spirits and all? French finds it insidious that Carlson seems to be teaching his viewers that some “them” are doing a disservice to “us.” Presumably he thinks this will weaken their incentive to take charge of their own life, live within their means, and advance. Does that not apply to elites as well?

What’s truly insidious is that the docile response of “us” Americans to unjust financial bailouts a decade ago is counted by “them” as a positive. It is a sign that when we discover once again in the future that these institutions are too big to fail, Americans will consent to be fleeced again to save them. Shapiro and French implicitly advocate that the market encourages self-discipline and industry. But, at the highest level, it actually subsidizes failure and irresponsibility.

Bloomberg tried to figure out the true cost of the bailouts. The government had lent, spent, or otherwise guaranteed $12.8 trillion. In other words, the banks and Wall Street got a New Deal, a Fair Deal, a Great Society, and a guaranteed income. That industry had its losses socialized with an ocean of money that makes federal welfare outlays look like a dribble near the Goldman Sachs urinal. The common man could use the bailouts to do the long arduous application for a new home refinance, often at unusual and abusive terms. A middleman bank would get paid by the government for creating and servicing that loan, too.

Where were the lectures about personal responsibility, the sacrosanct judgements of the market, and the consequent virtue of adapting in 2008? If conservatives believe that any number of American blue-collar industries are obsolete in a global economy, why didn’t we conclude the same about America’s financial industry a decade ago? Did anyone argue that America just can’t compete with the City of London and other financial capitals anymore? Did anyone say that the British just have the competitive advantage, and the subsidies required to sustain this native industry are just intolerable distortions of the market, funding the lifestyle of losers who should adapt to the gig economy or just do heroin if they can’t figure out what else to do with their lives?

No, of course not. Almost everyone in power has friends in that industry or hopes to work in it someday. I’ve gone to conferences of former politicians and their advisers. Nearly every one of them works for an NGO, a financial institution, or a firm that consults with financial institutions. We simply concluded that having a financial industry is strategically, economically, and politically vital for our country. We calculated that the social costs of allowing this industry to wind down or die were too deleterious to contemplate. And we saved it.

I can’t do justice to the piece by just quoting it. Read the whole thing. The final paragraph is the same lesson that FDR learned about what he needed to do to save capitalism.

The core question conservatives need to be asking themselves is: what is the institution most necessary to conserve? If the answer is “the family,” then the free market should be subordinate. As it stands now, too many conservatives view the needs of the family as subordinate to the needs of the market.

And too many liberals view the needs of the choosing individual as more important than the needs of the family. I wish the Left would have that argument within its own ranks.

UPDATE: Reader Old West writes:

When I played that Tucker Carlson monologue for my wife, she responded, “I can’t believe it! How long have we waited to hear someone say those things?” Well, a very long time. Trump gets close in his own way with a reptilian-brain approach, but we have been completely failed by the conservative “elites” who are supposed to be able to see and intelligently articulate such a vision. The fact that Carlson took heavy flak (as I knew he would) from doctrinaire conservatives is the reason that the GOP has already lost our money and has been working hard to lose our votes.

Mrs. Old West and I are the kind of people who these days overwhelmingly Democrat. We are 1%ers in both income and net worth, we have graduate degrees, we regularly travel to Europe and spend much of the year in one of the country’s “cultural capitals,” frequenting opera, symphony, and art museums.

Our flaws are that we come from humble backgrounds and we are devout Orthodox Christians to whom faith and family are the most important things in the world. We have been voting Republican all of our lives, although it keeps getting harder and harder. Sure, voting for McCain and Romney and W was a no-brainer when it comes to self-preservation as traditional Christians, and I don’t see us voting Democrat anytime soon given their aggressive anti-Christianity.

But it’s getting harder to make the case for expending the energy to vote GOP when religious liberty isn’t being preserved and when the GOP “elite” has such obvious disregard for the kind of people we grew up with and around and to whom we are still deeply connected. Sure, the Democrats have even more contempt for us, but you know, the GOP needs to offer a clear choice, and right now it isn’t offering one–not the politicians, and certainly not the conservative legacy media. Not for working and middle-class Americans.

As Carlson said in his monologue, the Republican Party is the only party that is going to be able to speak to and for the vast middle of what he refers to as “normal people.” The question is whether some Republican leader will see the light.

Today in my part of the world Georgia-Pacific announced that it was shutting down most of its operations at the local paper mill. Two-thirds of the work force is being let go. This is going to be a big blow to local folks, especially in my hometown, where men have worked at the mill for decades.

It’s not corporate greed, exactly. They made mostly office paper in that mill, and the shift to electronic documents in the economy has driven down demand. Still, the president of my home parish speaks the truth here:

“I can think of hundreds right off that work there so it’s kind of a gut punch to those of us up here,” says West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard. “There’s not a lot here to begin with so to lose something like this a terrible thing that will affect the entire region.”

The school system that depends on the mill for two-thirds of its property tax revenue is going to be walloped. 

Again, people didn’t stop using office paper because of corporate greed. GP is not relocating the mill to a foreign country. Still, a lot of families here in Trump country are going to be hurting hard. What does the Republican Party have to offer them? I’m not asking facetiously or rhetorically. Understand me here: I’m not saying the GOP should offer them all jobs. I am saying that the conservative party has to have something more serious to say about things like this than cheering for creative destruction and praising the wisdom of markets.


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The Francis Fix In February

As the Catholic Church approaches its big February meeting at the Vatican on the sex abuse crisis, things really seem to be building to a crescendo.
The Vatican journalist Sandro Magister has a piece that brings the scandal even closer to Pope Francis. Excerpts:

In this letter as well, in fact, as he had previously done with the bishops of Chile, Francis places himself on the side of the powerless and the victims of power, meaning the innocent “people of God,” against the clerical caste that indeed abuses sex, but in his judgment abuses more than anything else and first of all nothing other than “power.”

It doesn’t matter that in the case of Chile Francis himself was the one who, to the very end and against all the evidence, defended the innocence of bishops whom he finally had to acknowledge as being guilty. Nor does it matter that in the case of the United States he stands accused of having given cover and honors to a cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, in spite of knowing about his reprehensible homosexual activity. In both cases Francis absolved himself either by blaming those who had advised him badly or by refusing to respond to those who – like former nuncio in the United States Carlo Maria Viganò – personally called him to account. And also at the summit at the end of February he was getting ready to reproduce this typically populist dynamic, with himself in the guise of purifier of a clerical caste soiled by power.

But now that the case of Argentine bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta has exploded, all of that becomes more difficult for the pope.

Read the whole thing. It is impossible to believe that Francis didn’t know about this man’s background before promoting him. The Daily Beast has lots of details on the new scandal. Excerpts:

When 53-year-old Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta abruptly left his post as bishop of Orán in Argentina in July 2017, he cited “health reasons” and a need for “treatment.” Many were concerned that he might have a terminal disease, according to local press reports at the time. After all, the popular bishop didn’t even seem well enough to hold a farewell mass.

Zanchetta tendered his resignation to Pope Francis, who often sits on such matters for months. Instead, the pope granted it within three days, according to the Associated Press, which broke the story, and soon Zanchetta was on his way to Rome, first spending time at an undisclosed location in Spain.

Now safely in Vatican City where he enjoys diplomatic immunity, the bishop stands credibly accused of sexually harassing young seminarians in the home country he shares with Francis.

Not long after resigning, Zanchetta showed up on Pope Francis’ doorstep in Rome, apparently miraculously cured. Francis, who had made his fellow countryman a bishop right after becoming pope in 2013, naturally helped him out. Francis, back when he was Cardinal Jose Bergoglio and archbishop of Argentina, apparently knew Zanchetta well. He gave the younger man a high-ranking position in the Argentinean Bishops Conference when he was president of the organization. It made sense that he would find a place for a fellow Argentine in the Curia in Rome.


The charges laid out in the Argentinean press include mismanagement of diocese funds to buy the silence of several young seminarians between the ages of 20 and 25 that Zanchetta had allegedly sexually harassed and tried to convince to enter into a sexual relationship. El Tribuno cites “masturbation, groping and psychological pressure” brought on by the powerful bishop against the priests in training. One report outlines lavish gifts used to buy the silence of the young seminarians.

Catholic journalist George Neumayr comments:

It was only after authorities in Argentina opened up a probe into Zanchetta’s misconduct and media coverage mounted that the pope finally cut him loose this week. The Vatican is once again playing dumb, claiming it knew nothing of the allegations against Zanchetta at the time of his new appointment. But who believes that? This is a pontificate that turned a predator known to Francis, Theodore McCarrick, into a papal envoy and dispatched him to the ends of the earth.

The pope’s plum-throwing to perverts is simply a habit he can’t break, not even at the most intense moment of the abuse scandal. A couple of weeks ago the pope vowed that the Church would “never’ conceal predators again. At that very moment, Zanchetta was working down the hall, overseeing the real estate holdings of the Church, even though one of the reasons for his disappearance from his diocese was that he had misused Church funds in furtherance of his misconduct.

Meanwhile, Catholic journalist Phil Lawler, who has seen some dark days, slips further into the abyss:

But even after all that bad news, I have to confess that what sent me into a tailspin was a statement by Pope Francis. Not because he said anything particularly shocking or objectionable, but because the statement defied rational analysis. Here’s the line, from the Pope’s message for the World Day of the Sick, that stopped me cold:

Dialogue—the premise of gift—creates possibilities for human growth and development capable of breaking through established ways of exercising power in society.

It’s my job to report statements from Rome, and help readers to understand them. But I couldn’t tell you what that sentence means, because it’s nonsensical. Curious, I checked to see how Vatican Vatican News handled it, and found this:

The Pope also mentioned dialogue—the premise of gift—that, he said, creates possibilities for human growth and development capable of breaking through established ways of exercising power in society.

Well, that doesn’t get us much further, does it? It’s the same word-salad, without any explanation. Maybe Vatican News couldn’t make heads or tails of the sentence, either. I couldn’t blame them.

In the end I decided to include the sentence, verbatim, in our CWN news story, and let readers wrestle with it for themselves. That was a coward’s choice, I admit. But there are days—and yesterday was one of them—when I just don’t have the energy or the inclination to keep offering rational explanations of statements that don’t bear rational scrutiny.

No wonder Greg Burke resigned.

Meanwhile, First Things editor R.R. Reno is as serious as five heart attacks and an angina in his analysis of what he terms “a failing papacy.” Excerpts:

The current regime in Rome will damage the Catholic Church. Pope ­Francis combines laxity and ruthlessness. His style is casual and approachable; his church politics are cold and cunning. There are leading themes in this pontificate—­mercy, accompaniment, peripheries, and so forth—but no theological framework. He is a verbal semi-automatic weapon, squeezing off rounds of barbed remarks, spiritual aperçus, and earthy asides (­coprophagia!). This has created a confusing, even dysfunctional atmosphere that will become intolerable, if it hasn’t already.


Pope Francis seems to regard … uncertainty and instability as desirable. His anti-institutionalism tends to disembody the Catholic faith. A “field hospital” church can pick up and leave. The Church of brick and stone makes a claim to permanence. It contests with the City of Man for territory. It bears witness to the certainty and stability of God’s covenant fulfilled in Christ.

Looking back, we can see that Jorge Bergoglio wrecked some of the institutions he was in charge of before he was seated on the chair of St. Peter. He sowed division at the Jesuit seminary during his term as rector. When he stepped down as head of the Argentine Jesuit province, conflict and bad feelings reigned.

To be sure, some things need to be broken. I’ve written about the sclerotic chancery culture in the United States. Long ago, Joseph Ratzinger warned that the Church in the West must discard self-important illusions, legacies of her role in Christendom, in order to restore salt to her witness. By some accounts, Bergoglio broke down some of the corrupt connections between the Church and elite interests in Argentina. We can all think of needed reforms.

But those occupying the offices of leadership in the Church must also build up, unify, and encourage the troops. This Francis seems unwilling to do. He’s like a supreme commander who prizes his bold commando platoons while deriding the common foot soldiers. This leads to disaster, for the everyday soldiers, the grunts, are the ones who take and hold territory.

Read the whole thing.

The Reno piece made me see more clearly why in Italy, at least, many Catholic conservatives are embracing The Benedict Option in partial reaction to the Francis papacy. They know that with the institution and its teaching authority so unstable (for the moment, at least), establishing and holding solid ground is something they have to do on their own.

Watch that February meeting. If it doesn’t discuss the sexual abuse of seminarians by prelates, or the role of homosexual clerical networks in perpetuating a culture of abuse, you can be certain that the Francis fix is in.


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The Tragedy Of Franco’s Spain

Franco propaganda

I’ll be leaving on Friday morning for the Benedict Option book tour in Spain. I am really excited about it, thanks to all the reading I’ve been doing about Spanish history these past couple of weeks. Thanks to the readers who recommended reading historian Stanley Payne. He really seems to be balanced in his appraisal of the Spanish Civil War, which was a tragedy the dimensions of which I had never imagined until I started reading, and watching the 1983 Granada television documentary (which is on YouTube — please watch it!).

I’m so very glad I read this afternoon Peter Hitchens’s First Things review of a new biography of Gen. Francisco Franco, who defeated the Republicans in the civil war, and who ruled as dictator until his death in the 1970s. Hitchens, as you may know, is a Christian and a conservative. He recognizes that had Franco not won, Spain would almost certainly have fallen under left-wing dictatorship, and been no better off — and perhaps worse off.

But he also recognizes that Franco was not a good man, and that there’s really no way for Christians to get around that fact. Here, Hitchens talks about how Solzhenitsyn admired Franco as the man who saved Spain from Communism. Hitchens says one can understand why a man who had suffered as Solzhenitsyn had under Communism would draw that conclusion. However:

But should these reasonable resentments be allowed to blind conservatives and Christians to crimes committed by their own side or those claiming to be on their side? I cannot see why. We are no more free to make excuses for the indefensible acts of “our” side than those on the left are to make excuses for theirs. If we do, we risk behaving as foolishly, and with the same sort of self-deception, as the fellow-travelers who defended Stalin’s empire as a new civilization, and later made excuses for its excesses. Infatuation on the rebound, the force that pushed ­Solzhenitsyn into the arms of Franco, seldom works out well—in politics or in life.

Hitchens makes an important point here. Note the distinction between preserving something and saving it:

When he went, everything he stood for turned to dust, like a mummy exposed to fresh air after thousands of years sealed beneath a pyramid. The Spanish Christian civilization that Solzhenitsyn admired had been preserved but not saved. It crumbled into a heap of dust and spiders’ webs immediately after the caudillo made his final journey from his stuffy palace to his gigantic, hubristic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. If Franco had been the preserver of Christian Spain, it is interesting to go there now and see how completely it has disappeared. Every element of the 1960s, from sexual liberation to ­marijuana, swept across Spain and, above all, Madrid, not long after ­Franco’s last breath. If he had truly been the preserver of faith and restraint, would they not have survived him in better condition?

The key question:

What should Christians do about politics? How do we defend what we love without making false alliances with cynical powers?


I’m not going to tell you how Hitchens handles that question. Read the whole thing.  Coming at the end of all this reading about the Spanish Civil War that I’ve been doing, the Hitchens review made me feel deeply the tragedy of the war for Spain. There’s no way you can read the final paragraph of that review and be at ease with the mutual contempt rising between Left and Right in America today. Towards the end of Part I of that British documentary, an old man who had fought on the Nationalist (Franco) side said that by 1935, on the eve of civil war, both Left and Right just flat-out hated each other. That hate stretched out for decades.

There is simply no way for Christians to read about what the Left was doing to Spanish Catholics before the civil war, and to believe that the wrong side won that conflict. George Orwell, himself a socialist who went to Spain to fight for the Republic, saw firsthand what the Spanish Communists, under Stalin’s direction, were capable of. Hitchens acknowledges that a communist-ruled Spain — and we should be under no illusion that the Spanish Republic would have been anything but a phony “People’s Republic” had the Nationalists lost — might easily have meant the Church’s annihilation, as well as the annihilation of much of Spain’s cultural patrimony. And yet, that victory came at a terrible cost. Franco was merciless to his enemies, even in victory:

When we consider men such as Francisco Franco, and are tempted (as even I have been) to make excuses for them because they seem to be on our side in one thing, we make a serious mistake. Do not, if you can possibly avoid it, take that path. It leads into a long and dark valley.

The book, by the way, is Franco: Anatomy Of A Dictator, by Enrique Moradiellos.

UPDATE: Reader Reditus (who is Latino) writes:

I get the strong feeling reading these sorts of things that Anglo and culturally Protestant authors have very little sense of how much clerical and anti-clerical forces hate each other in the Latin mind, to the point of de-humanizing the other side. I’ve known leftists and I’ve known people whose families have participated in right wing coups in Latin America: both sides for better or for worse have “clear consciences”. Then again maybe we in the English-speaking world expect better from our rulers and history. I don’t see anything wrong with that, it’s admirable on one level. But I don’t think it’s particularly “more Christian” since once you enter the realm of war and politics, often it becomes and issue of what you have to do vs. what you should do. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be like that but no one has devised an alternative yet.

I sense from the comments below that some people don’t grasp that I am glad that Franco won the war. But that does not mean that he and his regime were without sin. Surely being morally realistic in our judgment of the war and its aftermath requires us to recognize that. Same with Pinochet in Chile. In post-communist Czechoslovakia, the Catholic anti-communist dissident Vaclav Benda, who went to prison under the Communists, was widely criticized for defending Pinochet for saving Chile from Communism. I think Benda’s stance was entirely justified … but that does not make the Pinochet regime angelic.

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Second Thoughts On Pot

You don’t expect the New Yorker and Mother Jones to be places where you read anti-marijuana articles, but Tell Your Children, the new book by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson is knocking some people flat. The book examines what we know scientifically about marijuana use, and it turns out to be pretty damn scary.

I have never been a pot smoker, though back in my youth, I ate space cake in Amsterdam. Meh. I’ve always had ambivalent views about marijuana legalization. I can’t stand the way the stuff smells, and found the people I hung out with in college who were big fans of it to be incapable of talking about much else. But I accepted the line that pot was largely harmless. I don’t like the fact that it’s being legalized everywhere, but couldn’t come up with a compelling reason to oppose it. I chalked that up to social custom. Frankly, I didn’t much care.

Berenson’s book is a game-changer. In his New Yorker piece, Malcolm Gladwell writes straightforwardly about the overwhelming scientific evidence that marijuana is a hell of a lot more problematic than many of us think. Excerpt:

Berenson begins his book with an account of a conversation he had with his wife, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating mentally ill criminals. They were discussing one of the many grim cases that cross her desk—“the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment.” Then his wife said something like “Of course, he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.”

Of course? I said.

Yeah, they all smoke.

Well . . . other things too, right?

Sometimes. But they all smoke.

Berenson used to be an investigative reporter for the Times, where he covered, among other things, health care and the pharmaceutical industry. Then he left the paper to write a popular series of thrillers. At the time of his conversation with his wife, he had the typical layman’s view of cannabis, which is that it is largely benign. His wife’s remark alarmed him, and he set out to educate himself. Berenson is constrained by the same problem the National Academy of Medicine faced—that, when it comes to marijuana, we really don’t know very much. But he has a reporter’s tenacity, a novelist’s imagination, and an outsider’s knack for asking intemperate questions. The result is disturbing.

I’ll say. Read his piece to find out why. Or even better, check out Stephanie Mencimer’s detailed report in Mother Jones, the San Francisco-based left-wing magazine. I’m sure it’s going to wind up subscribers. Excerpts:

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn’t have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games—they didn’t hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.


Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC—the active compound in cannabis—is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who have quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness, and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous—especially for people with a family history of mental illness and for adolescents with developing brains.

2002 study in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that people who used cannabis at age 15 were more than four times as likely to develop schizophrenia or a related syndrome as those who’d never used. Even when the researchers excluded kids who had shown signs of psychosis by age 11, they found that the adolescent users had a threefold higher risk of developing schizophrenia later on. One Dutch marijuana researcher that Berenson spoke with estimated, based on his own work, that marijuana could be responsible for as much as 10 percent of psychosis in places where heavy use is common.

These studies are hardly Reagan-esque, drug warrior hysteria. In 2017, the National Academy of Medicine issued a report nearly 500 pages long on the health effects of cannabis and concluded that marijuana use is strongly associated with the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. The researchers also noted that there’s decent evidence pot can exacerbate bipolar disorder and increase the risk of suicide, depression, and social anxiety disorders: “The higher the use, the greater the risk.”

Given that marijuana use is up 50 percent over the past decade, if the studies are accurate, we should be experiencing a big increase in psychotic diseases. And we are, Berenson argues. He reports that from 2006 to 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of ER visitors co-diagnosed with psychosis and a cannabis use disorder tripled, from 30,000 to 90,000.

Mencimer admits that she was red-pilled by Berenson’s findings:

Before talking to Berenson, I didn’t realize it was possible to smoke your way to the ER. I smoked plenty of weed in high school and so did all my friends, and none of us jumped off a balcony or killed anyone—we could barely get off the couch. But the marijuana sold today is not what we smoked, which at 1 percent to 2 percent THC was the equivalent of smoking oregano. Today’s weed is insanely more potent, as are products like “wax” and “shatter”—forms of butane hash oil designed to be vaped or dabbed that come pretty close to 100 percent THC. And these high-potency products usually contain very little CBD oil, the ingredient in cannabis that’s supposed to account for many of its supposed health benefits.

These potent products can cause hallucinations, restlessness, and, as anyone who’s smoked even weak pot is familiar with, paranoia. After reading Berenson’s book, I fact-checked it a bit, and inadvertently discovered all sorts of websites advising pot users on how to manage their paranoia and ride out the psychotic effects. I also found plenty of news stories about bad trips on pot. Such incidents are typically treated jokingly. “But a lot of the time it turns out not to be a joke,” Berenson told me. “A lot of the time it’s a 22-year-old guy who maybe has some history of aggression, and he winds up throwing himself off the balcony or beating up his girlfriend.”

One more passage:

Paranoia and psychosis make people dangerous, so rising use of a drug that causes both would be expected to increase violent crime, rather than reduce it as pot advocates claim. Berenson looked at data for the four states that legalized weed in 2014 and 2015—Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Colorado—and calculated a combined 35 percent increase in murders in those states from 2013 to 2017, compared with a 20-percent rise nationally. This “isn’t a statistical anomaly,” Berenson writes. “It’s real.”

The role of weed in rising violent crime rates in legalization states is a hotly contested question, especially in Colorado, where murders in Denver are at a 10-year high. Berenson admits he can’t say for sure whether those upswings are due to legal weed, but the raw data, he says, definitely contradicts advocates’ claims: “What I want people to stop saying is that legalization reduces violent crime. It doesn’t.”

Read the whole thing. It’s important that you do.

In his review essay, Malcolm Gladwell compares the laissez-faire attitude we have developed towards pot with the way we regard nicotine. Gladwell talks about how the FDA just announced a crackdown on flavored vape juice, in an effort to discourage vaping among teenagers, who are becoming nicotine addicts because of it. Gladwell writes:

A week after [the FDA commissioner] announced his crackdown on e-cigarettes, on the ground that they are too enticing to children, Siegel [a public health advocate] visited the first recreational-marijuana facility in Massachusetts. Here is what he found on the menu, each offering laced with large amounts of a drug, THC, that no one knows much about:

Strawberry-flavored chewy bites
Large, citrus gummy bears
Delectable Belgian dark chocolate bars
Assorted fruit-flavored chews
Assorted fruit-flavored cubes
Raspberry flavored confection
Raspberry flavored lozenges
Chewy, cocoa caramel bite-sized treats
Raspberry & watermelon flavored lozenges
Chocolate-chip brownies.

He concludes, “This is public health in 2018?”

A lot of people made fun of Tucker Carlson for his seemingly out-of-left-field swipe at how marijuana use affects young people in his famous monologue last week. I too thought it was a bit weird. But based on Berenson’s findings, Carlson was closer to the truth than many of us think.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I’m a reader of your blog and an ER doctor, now in [small town] but trained and worked primarily in [major city]. I read your post on marijuana and psychosis/violence just before starting my night shift tonight, and my first patient (in [small town], mind you) is a psychotic young woman who recently assaulted her fiancée with a broken shard of mirror. [The patient tested negative for every drug but cannabis.] I can attest that this is quite common.


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An Expatriate Of The Heart

A sad comment from an Atlanta reader in another thread:

Little of what I was taught as a young boy still exists in this country. When I was young we went to church, our parents (lifelong Southern Democrats) worked middle class jobs and told us to be patriotic. I became an eagle scout, served in the military, raised 3 daughters and sent them to Christian colleges. What I got for my trouble of following what I was told to do as a young person was my wife leaving me for another woman, my house taken in divorce court, and the company I helped build taken over by hostile investors. Nothing political, economical or social I was told to count on still exists – not even the loyalty of my wife.

I did not despair for long though. I changed religions, became an Orthodox Christian, and began to think about how none of this matters. None of this political stuff, none of the economic stuff, none of it matters. The only thing that matters is if the gospel is true.

Now having determined that it is true, and that I want to live it out – this old “Country First Conservative” who rebelled against my Democrat parents with my Republicanism, well I’ve decided to accept defeat on this continent. I have began to travel to other countries to find a place where I can hopefully retire in peace and escape the madness of the United States. I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

Good luck with your hopes that a liberal like Elizabeth Warren will turn America around. This nation has become laughable except for the tragedy of our never ending wars, self loathing and vice. Next stop – East Africa.

Well, I don’t realistically hope that a liberal like Elizabeth Warren will turn America around. I don’t think politics can do it. But that’s not why I’m posting this comment separately.

I’m posting it because it really got to me, this Atlanta reader’s despair over America. If you want to post to mock his pain, save yourself the trouble. I’m not going to post it. If you disagree with him, by all means feel free to comment.

What got to me about this man’s commentary is how he’s given up on the idea of America. I’m neither going to praise nor condemn him for that. I want to understand it. Giving up on your country is no small thing. I don’t feel the same temptation, but just this morning I was talking to a friend, telling him how much I wince that my 14-year-old son is talking up the prospect of serving in the military. I was raised to be the kind of father who would be proud that he had a son who wants to serve. And I want to be that kind of father!

Still, I was taken aback by the intensity of the negative feelings I had about it. It’s not that I look down on the military — not at all. It’s that I hate what our civilian leadership has done to the military, with these never-ending wars. I want to believe that America is a force for good in the world, but I don’t really believe that anymore, at least not in the same way I once did.

A small example: there has been an important schism in the Orthodox world. Many Ukrainian Orthodox have split from the Moscow Patriarchate, and have declared their own autocephalous church. It’s a very big deal. I have avoided commenting on it, because the situation is extremely complicated, and I honestly don’t know enough about it to feel comfortable making a clear judgment, beyond lamenting schism. Politics, on both the Russian (Putin) and Ukrainian (Poroshenko) sides, are at the heart of this terrible rending of the Orthodox fabric.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia. Last year, the US Ambassador to Ukraine walked at the front of the gay pride march in Kiev.  This did not happen under Barack Obama; this happened under Donald Trump.

Along those lines, two years ago, under Obama, I wrote about how the US State Department, in partnership with George Soros’s NGO, translated into the Macedonian language Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, and distributed them there in an effort to undermine the country’s traditional moral customs.

It gets worse. In 2016, the State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

Again, these are relatively small things, but significant to some of us Orthodox Christians, who wonder what business America has trying to tear down the Orthodox Church and Orthodox culture abroad. (And before you say it: No, this doesn’t mean that Vladimir Putin is now our BFF.)

The US Government is not the United States of America. You can love your country, even if you don’t love your government. But I wonder if a lot of us aren’t closer to the despairing Atlanta reader than we think. Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Henry Olsen, writing in American Greatness in support of Tucker Carlson’s much-discussed monologue, says:

Carlson and Trump agree that American business owners have long since stopped thinking they owe anything to American workers or communities because they are American. They contend too many American executives, responsible only to shareholders who in turn value only the highest monetary return possible, are unconcerned about whom they contract with so long as the contracts are upheld. Nearly everyone concedes this is how business operates today; the question is whether correcting or influencing this is a proper matter for public action.

Conservative dogma has said “no” for about 25 years. Treating economic action as a solely private preserve, any attempt to regulate or interfere in the terms of trade or the allocation of capital has been attacked by intellectual conservatism and its increasingly powerful libertarian allies. The fact that this has made ever more and more of industrial America a wasteland littered with closed factories, abandoned houses, and Dollar Stores doesn’t matter to these market fundamentalists.

As I’ve written here many times, American liberals view individual rights (and not duties) with the same sacrosanctity that American conservatives treat economic individualism. What we are rapidly approaching, if we’re not already there, is the creation of a polity in which nobody feels a binding sense of loyalty to anybody or anything beyond themselves. This is neither a liberal nor a conservative problem. But it’s a problem.

In 2016, in a comment under this post about cultural decline, reader Annie wrote:

There’s the commenters saying this isn’t a big deal and it has always been going on and turn off your television because it’s distracting and we all just need to relax.

The foster care system here is snapping beneath new pressures, but it’s easy to ignore if you’ve always heard it’s stressed. There aren’t enough homes for the children. There aren’t enough relatives long enough in one place. The drugs, the brokenness, the belief that pure sensation is our purpose in life… all these contribute to the empty gazes and scarred faces I see. Say it’s not real, sure. I’ve lived in the elite centers, and worked in the no-go zones outside the gentrification circles. I know the difference between the comfortable and the broken, and I’m seeing more and more brokenness.

When I walk the streets of the dingy towns surrounding Pittsburgh, or when I glance at the local stories and arrests that come after front page politeness, I see a story unfolding of families falling apart that aren’t even families. It’s just broken people trying to catch one another, shifting alliances and living arrangements every few months. It’s children moving from parent to grandparent to foster parent to uncle with trash bags of mildewed clothing and it is a cycle that doesn’t stop.

When I talk to the aging progressive or conservative community leaders in those towns, I hear confusion and foreboding. No one, wherever they fall on the political spectrum, “feels good.” If Hillary had won, perhaps there’d be a false euphoria. Certainly much of their hysteria is a result of pernicious comfort and entitled expectations. And there is certainly a false confidence amongst the Trump supporters. But there is no one among them who says things are well, or who denies we are living beneath strange, new winds. We all know.

There’s a crisis, but some people want to say because there have always been tough times or places, it’s impossible that things could get worse. That’s simply not true. It’s wiser to admit we don’t entirely understand what is afoot than to tell Rod to fiddle while the colonies of Rome are burning.

To be clear, I don’t at all expect ever to leave America. For conversation’s sake, though, I would like to know you readers’ thoughts about this. Have you left America (for whatever reason — left-wing, right-wing, or otherwise)? What has your expatriate experience taught you? Do you regret it? Have you ever seriously thought about leaving, but chose not to? What changed your mind?

Can you imagine leaving for good? Where would you go? Why would you go there? Do you really think you can get away from what would be driving you away from the US? I’m not asking in an accusatory way; I’m just interested to know what people think.

Reminder: if you want to mock the Atlanta reader, I’m not going to publish your comment.

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