‘Et Tu, Francisce?’
My heart goes out to my Catholic friends who are suffering from Pope Francis’s outrageous abrogation of the Latin mass. When I was a Catholic, I was not a devotee of the Traditional Latin Mass, but I was very glad that TLM communities were part of the Church, and I could see real fruits from them. The only people who seemed to hate the TLM communities were liberal ideologues. They viewed the continued existence of the Tridentine mass as a threat to the glorious Vatican II revolution. It made no sense to me — rather, it made no morally defensible sense to me — for the Vatican to restrict the old mass.
The TLM is growing. Look at this story about the success of the FSSP parishes, which celebrate the TLM. Francis has all but killed this.
And among the clergy, Francis receives his greatest support from older priests, who are dying off, rather than younger ones who are the future of the church. … Finding young candidates for the priesthood, meanwhile, who support Francis and want to be celibate is like looking for Catholic unicorns …
What was done today by this pope was an act of abuse — not just by him, but by all the wheedling bishops around the world who have been clamoring for this for the past 14 years. Francis isn’t a liturgy guy, but he is very much concerned about things that affect the balance of his power and the spread of his ideology. Nobody has opposed him more fiercely than traditionalists who are seeking to stay within the Church and under his legitimate authority while fighting his agenda where it goes astray. He made sure to send a signal, issuing this instruction on the very month of the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. He is grinding their faces in it.
I don’t know what things will look like going forward from here. I only know that they will be an even bigger mess. Chaos in the Church has become the norm.
But for the pope who uses “Hagan Lio!” as battle cry — “make a mess!” — this should come as no surprise. This is in perfect conformity with the entirety of his malignant pontificate. And as the faithful repeat, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” the abusive shepherd God has allowed to be placed over them — a man who sees himself as the harbinger of a more merciful Church — will continue the merciless beatings.
My friend Irenist, a well-educated and faithful orthodox Catholic who loves the old mass, let loose with some absolutely scathing rhetoric about Pope Francis and beyond. I link to it not to endorse that rhetoric, but to show people what some of the most stalwart Catholics I know are thinking and feeling in the wake of Francis’s decision. Irenist’s fiery blasts are typical of what I’ve been reading on Trad Catholic Twitter.
Here’s an editorial by Rorate Caeli, the leading Catholic Trad site. The boldface emphasis is in the original:
As confident as we were in our sources forecasting today as the day of reckoning for Summorum Pontificum and the traditional Latin Mass as we know it, in the back of our minds we had hoped it was merely an unfounded rumor. After all, Pope Benedict XVI is not only alive, but fully cognizant, dressed in a white cassock while living in the Vatican gardens. To that end, would a sitting pope be so arrogant as to publicly humiliate the 94 year old pope emeritus?
Alas, the answer is yes. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is without a doubt the most arrogant pope in the history of the Catholic Church. From day one, if not before, it has always been about him — whatever the subject. Labeled “humble” by the mainstream media due to token stunts such as carrying a bag and wearing polyester vestments, Bergoglio is in reality a man of vengeance. A pope of vengeance. An angry bitter Jesuit settling scores through vengeance.
What ought traditional Catholics to do in response to the latest attack on the Mass and all those who love tradition? Simply put: ignore it. Ignore its message. Ignore its motivation caused by pure hatred and vengeance. Keep calm and keep on going as if it does not even exist.
How can you do that and still be Catholic? How can you defy the Pope in good conscience, as if his order was never made? I honestly don’t know how one remains Catholic if that’s what one believes about the Pope and the exercise of his authority. The only truly stable thing within Catholicism of the last sixty years has been the papacy. If you cast that aside — and that’s what Rorate is calling for in effect here — what do you have left? If you defy the Pope, even in the name of Catholic orthodoxy, how are you not a de facto Protestant? How is that remotely tenable? Somebody needs to explain this to me.
It seems to me that some Trads are in the same place I was back in 2005 with regard to the faith. I found it impossible to believe — not just unpleasant to believe, but impossible to believe — that my salvation depended on being in communion with the Catholic bishops. I came to the conclusion that I had probably been wrong about papal infallibility, and about Catholic claims to exclusive authority. Protestantism was not an option for me, for historical reasons. That left Orthodoxy. I mourned losing my Catholicism for years, because it was extremely painful, but I eventually healed, and I thank God for my Orthodox faith, which is solid as a rock — but which I will not take for granted, as I once did my Catholic faith, and which I will never allow to become a primarily intellectual thing, as I did with my Catholicism.
That said, being Orthodox helped me understand why the Traditional Latin Mass matters so much to Catholic Trads. I came into the Catholic Church with the Novus Ordo — the new mass promulgated by Paul VI in 1970. I never knew any different. I never loved the liturgy itself; I only was grateful to it for producing the Eucharist. Years later, I attended some TLMs, but it just did not move me like it did others. I was a defender of the existence of the TLM, but it did not appeal to me.
The Orthodox Divine Liturgy — the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom — is a very different thing. The Orthodox typically celebrate it in the local language. My family discovered it at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas. I had no idea that liturgy could be so beautiful and so reverent, that it could lift you out of yourself and place you in God’s presence. (Most Eastern Rite Catholics use this same liturgy, by the way.) Discovering genuinely beautiful, heart-shaking liturgy was a revelation to me. It was also a revelation to discover how small the priest was in the Divine Liturgy. The immensity of the liturgy dwarfed the figure of the priest, in a good way. You had the impression that you were being summoned to the presence of the All-Holy. To be sure, even in the shabby Novus Ordo, you are in the presence of the All-Holy. The difference is that the words and rituals of the Divine Liturgy reveals more fully Who is actually there in the Eucharist. It’s the difference between the King coming into a room with full ritual solemnity and pomp, and the King walking into the room wearing Dockers and a Polo shirt. It’s still the King, but in one instance you have been prepared to receive him as your sovereign, and in the other, not.
Anyway, however frustrated I might ever become with the Orthodox episcopate or priesthood, I would never, ever leave the Divine Liturgy. It, and the Eucharist at its center and summit, is the foundation of my Christian life. We are very, very blessed in the Orthodox Church that the bishops never, ever tamper with the liturgy. It’s simply Not Done. Well, yes, it has been tampered with before — it’s not the case that the liturgy was delivered in its current form to us through the hands of St. John Chrysostom — but the point is that Orthodox bishops are loath to tinker around with the liturgy. This is a safeguard against what has happened to Catholics since the Second Vatican Council, and boy, am I grateful for it.
Last night, when I got the Francis news, I thought about how I would feel if the Orthodox bishops took away the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and replaced it with an ersatz, stripped-down modern liturgy, then forbade the celebration of the Chrysostom liturgy without the prior permission of bishops (which is not likely to be given). I would be incandescently angry. I would be filled with contempt for the bishops, even if it was their right to do what they did. It would call into question, in my mind, their authority. Which, to judge by what I’m reading on Trad Catholic Twitter, and on Trad websites, is what Pope Francis has done to himself in the eyes of some of the most faithful Catholics on earth.
UPDATE: A priest e-mails:
By his own admission the Pope has made his decision for prudential reasons, so there is no way this is an infallible pronouncement. One can dissent from his decision without committing heresy. So one can continue to hold the Catholic faith.By refusing an administrative act one could be in schism the Pope, but that’s not the same as leaving the Catholic faith.Such a situation is complicated, of course, but centuries ago there were 3 guys claiming to be Pope and yet everyone was still holding to the Catholic faith. The Pope is visible head of the Church, but he’s not he Church or the Faith.
It seems pretty simple to me:
A number of bishops wanted the tools to restrict celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, and Pope Francis gave it to them.
There you go.
I mean, we can talk history, ecclesiology, theology and liturgy all day long, but that’s about as basic as it gets or needs to be. I was there. Well, not literally, but I can tell you that this generation of clergy and church activists – now maybe from their late 60’s on up – were formed in a way that they cannot envision a healthy Church in which the TLM is still a part. At all. I mean – it’s inconceivable and ridiculous in that generation’s minds. It’s almost as if they can’t believe they’re still having to deal with this, amiright?
What is striking, if not at all surprising, is the, shall we say, flexible use of various concepts in this document and letter, since that flexibility is characteristic of most people in positions of power and yes, of this papacy.
In short: a papacy that, in words, emphasizes synodality, accompaniment, listening, dialogue outreach to the margins and consistently condemns “clericalism” – has issued a document that embodies a rigid approach to the issue, and then restricts, limits and directs more power, ultimately, to Rome.
And shows no evidence of actually “listening” to anyone except bishops who are annoyed by the TLM and TLM adherents who conveniently fit the “divisive” narrative.
Shows no interest in generously and accompanying those who find nourishment in the TLM and may find themselves at the margins because of it.
Shows no interest in exploring any fruits of this aspect of Catholic life or even posing the question of how the “Spirit might be moving” in it.
There are a number of concerning and odd aspects to this document – but they are of a piece with what we’ve come to expect: presentism, catchphrases and a lack of engagement with theology, tradition or history at a deep level.
§ 2. is to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes);
No one seems to really understand what this means. It’s pretty terrible if it means what it seems to – you’re not supposed to have the TLM in a parish church?
But it’s expressive of the gist of the entire document: push TLM goers out of the mainstream. To, yes, the margins.
(So when they are on the margins again, does that mean they can get priority? Because they’re on the margins?)
And here’s the injustice of this, really:
In the United States, at least, there has been great growth in the TLM in diocesan parishes. Not everywhere – because of course, it’s dependent on bishops – but it’s certainly there. And it’s been emphasized over and over again that this is a good thing, and it’s certainly what’s implied in Benedict’s original decree. Mutual enrichment and all that. And thousands of Catholics, many of them young with growing families, have been faithful to this – and have engaged their interest and followed their pull to the TLM by sticking with diocesan and approved religious orders’ celebrations of the Mass and communities.
And now they are being told – nice try. You did what you were told, but that actually wasn’t what we wanted all along. Keep going. Maybe you can rent out the VFW social hall and have Mass there. Or, cemeteries. Cemeteries are nice.
Oh, and because, pastoral, too. Much, much pastoral.
This is another example of liberals not holding to their own principles. The American Booksellers Association is against banning books, but abases itself for having recommended an “anti-trans” book. Pope Francis is all about “going to the margins” — except when it’s time to exile Catholics he doesn’t like to the margins. It’s a scam.
UPDATE.3: A reader in England sends this from the Catholic Diocese of Clifton (Bristol):
Meanwhile, also in that diocese:
The fact that a Roman pontiff has effectively banned Latin masses, but tolerates LGBT masses, and celebrates the pro-LGBT ministry of his fellow Jesuit James Martin, is something that was unthinkable in the Catholic Church only a short time ago.
You really have to read Tim Stanley’s absolutely blistering response to the Pope’s action, published in The Spectator. Excerpts:
Why does this matter for Catholics and non-Catholics alike? Because it’s a lesson in how liberalism in this gerontocratic, Brezhnev-esque stage behaves – utterly intolerant of anyone who breaks from the party line. It is not enough to be quiet or even submit. You must conform.
Francis’ case is flawed on three levels. First, he is known as the Pope of mercy, but this is decidedly unmerciful to those parts of his flock who love the Old Rite. He routinely attacks rigidity in the faithful, meaning conservatism, but can be as rigid as steel. He has pushed for a more decentralised church but is now invading people’s very consciences. And he says he wants unity, but his decree is most likely to promote schism. In short: this is a classic case of hypocrisy, of a politician being everything they accuse their opposition of.
They will also leave the wider world scratching its head in confusion. Why, in the middle of a pandemic – with child abuse dogging the church and communist China suppressing religion – launch a crusade against a pretty liturgy that is said in very few places and does no harm to anyone? Because liturgical wars, like debates over art or architecture, are a cover for ideological obsession. We betray ourselves by our priorities.
Liberalism once promoted diversity; now it is in power, it has hardened into orthodoxy, a design for life that we must all follow. The conservatives used to run the Church and were often nasty with it, that’s true: but they lost the war. Now that they are out of power, all they want is the right to be left alone. Well, they can’t have it, and it’s naive to think peace is an option. The reason why what Francis has done matters is because some day the kind of liberalism he embodies will come for you — for the simple, sweet thing you were doing that wasn’t bothering anyone else but, by its mere existence, was an existential threat to the governing regime. You are next.
Read it all.He’s right: the Left today can’t stop talking about diversity, but diversity is the last thing they actually want.
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ABA: ‘We’re Book Banners — But For The Left’
The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) is a sponsor and advocate for Banned Books Week, which celebrates the freedom to read by encouraging readouts, bookstore displays, and community activities designed to raise awareness of the ongoing threat of censorship. Held each year during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, according to the American Library Association.
The theme of this year’s event is “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” This year’s motif is a pair of hands sharing a book, superimposed on a globe. The 2021 theme is intended to be inclusive, emphasizing the ways in which books and information bring people together, help individuals see themselves in the stories of others, and aid the development of empathy and understanding for people from other backgrounds.
Look, they even have a swell graphic:
“Um, Dave? Yeah, I’ve got a free speech emergency here. The bad guy is in the house.”
They’re talking about Abigail Shrier’s massive bestseller Irreversible Damage: How The Trans Craze Is Harming Our Daughters.
Let me remind you that this is the trade association of independent booksellers, yet they believe that simply mentioning a popular book that offends against woke dogma is “a violent incident.” They are abasing themselves FOR MENTIONING A BOOK THAT IS FOR SALE!
These are the same people who squawk on self-righteously about Banned Books Week. They are advocating banning books (“banning” by their standard). You can’t make this up.
See, this kind of thing is why I’ve become more radicalized this summer. I don’t believe that the leading voices of the Left have any confidence in traditional liberal principles anymore. They — or at least their organizations, like ABA — are illiberal leftists. I would like to be wrong, but this is a perfect example of what Wesley Yang says of wokeness: that it’s the “successor ideology” to liberalism. A liberal American Booksellers Association would never have put out that kind of cringe, disgraceful tweet. Woke ABA would, and did. They remind me of this great line from Annie Hall:
UPDATE: Good grief! ABA members are not angry with the organization for its hysterical censorship, but rather for not going far enough! Read it and weep.
We are so screwed as a culture. We really are. I love to think of independent booksellers as heroic Davids standing up to Amazon’s Goliath. I guess I’m wrong.
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Black Lives Matter: Commies
When people tell you who they are — and BLM has been saying from the beginning that they are Marxists — believe them. This, from the official BLM Twitter account:
There you have it: Black Lives Matter — which raised $90 million last year — endorses the brutal repression of the Cuban Communist regime, which is shooting its own people in the streets as they protest for vaccines, for food, and against their own deep poverty.
I am not in favor of US military intervention in Cuba (but any other help we can give the people, let’s do it!). But for God’s sake, the Cuban people are suffering terribly — and these BLM dirtbags stand with their persecutors! It’s infuriating. Read Antonio Garcia Martinez’s account of going to Cuba on a reporting trip, and see the conditions Cubans are living under in that Communist hellhole. This is what BLM defends. BLM did not have to take a public position on Cuba — but it did.
Here are 18 companies that gave money to Black Lives Matter. They include Amazon, Nabisco, 23AndMe, Dropbox, Unilever, Microsoft, and DoorDash. If they don’t repudiate the BLM organization, they are complicit in the crushing of the Cuban people.
I’m sick of the free pass these BLM Marxists get in this culture. Everybody needs to call them what they are. No more silence. Going forward, anyone who takes the knee is kneeling on the neck of oppressed Cubans.
UPDATE: Look, I favor ending the embargo, which has not worked. I don’t care if BLM, or anyone else, favors ending the embargo. What infuriates me about this statement is that BLM blames America for the oppression that has been the lot of Cubans since 1959. It is disgusting, and utterly discrediting, in moral terms, of BLM.
When you were at Berkeley, you’d run into this parochial and childish worldview of neurotic super-lefty anti-US projection, and you’d think, ‘this is bad but these people will never run anything.’
Then you look up 20 years later and realize their mentality is running everything. https://t.co/hZRcA3H6Ad
— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) July 15, 2021
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Putin’s Bachelor Party
I ran into these three wild and crazy Czech guys on the street in Budapest today. They are here for a bachelor party, and, well, here they are:
If you are too young to get the joke, Czech (ahem) out this clip from the first season (1975) of Saturday Night Live. Here’s Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin:
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Taxonomy Of Christian Intellectuals
Boy, do I have a lot of blogging to get caught up on! I’m on the train back to Budapest from Prague, which brings my summer travels with my son Matt to a close. Regular blogging recommences starting now. Here’s a link to Ross Douthat’s new taxonomy of conservative Catholic intellectuals, which appears in the new First Things. It’s a rich, thought-provoking essay. Here are the highlights:
First, there are the populists, who regard many Trump-era shifts in conservative policy as congruent with Church teaching, and a welcome corrective to the libertarian errors they associate with figures such as Paul Ryan. The populists tend to champion a corporatist turn in economics, seeking strategies to recreate a family wage through industrial policy or family subsidies or some mixture thereof. They generally favor immigration restrictions to protect domestic workers and rebuild social solidarity; they are amenable to antitrust actions against Silicon Valley behemoths; they seek a more aggressive culture-war strategy, a counterattack after a long retreat, on issues such as transgenderism and internet pornography. And though they are divided on Trump’s capacities and morals, they mostly regard his rise as salutary and his presidency as at least the lesser evil, and probably a good.
Philosophically, the populists are often described as post-liberals or anti-liberals, and sometimes they describe themselves that way. But it’s not clear that the label fits. The Catholic editor of this ecumenical journal, R. R. Reno, speaks for many populists when he argues for populism as a solidaristic and religious corrective within the liberal order, rather than some kind of alternative to American constitutionalism. One can assume that the politicians who have championed policy ideas associated with this populism—including the Catholic Marco Rubio, the Protestant Josh Hawley, and the Mormon Mitt Romney—would wholeheartedly agree.
This idea of populism as a corrective within liberalism separates populists from the next group, the Catholic integralists, for whom liberalism is beyond correction because it was rotten from the start. The integralists are the heirs of Triumph, L. Brent Bozell’s disputatious magazine, and further back of the nineteenth-century popes and their ringing anti-liberal anathemas. Like King Josiah (who lends his name to the leading integralist website) recovering the lost book of the law, they believe that they are calling Catholics back to the true and only Catholic politics, obscured for a time by fond delusions and Americanism, but now, amid the crisis of liberalism, visible as an alternative once again.
The integralists align with the populists on pro-family economics and industrial policy (Gladden Pappin, an integralist editor at the journal American Affairs, publishes regularly on those themes), but they are more divided on other aspects of the new right-wing politics: immigration restriction, climate-change skepticism, and the idea of the nation as something worthy of loyalty. The integralists ultimately believe in Catholic empire, not Catholic nationalism, and they regard some of the leftward elements of Pope Francis’s magisterium as implicitly integralist—particularly the ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, whose admonitions and prescriptions do not feature prominently in populist politics at the moment.
Despite this critique, the integralists tend to look favorably on nationalist politicians, from Trump to Viktor Orban. They prefer illiberal nationalism to liberal internationalism, and they believe that nationalist-populist uprisings provide an opening for a Catholic insurgency within the West’s elite.
Because this insurgency is not exactly visible as yet, the practical impact of their ideas remains uncertain. But the integralists are engaged in at least two real-world projects: pushing Church officials toward a more vigorous assertion of the Church’s legal rights and juridical power over the faithful, and pushing both populist and neoconservative Catholics toward a more fully Catholic politics and a more aggressive use of state power. They believe, above all, that the conditions for a reinvigorated Church and a Christian revival in America can come about only if there is a revolution from above.
In this, they make a stark contrast with the third group, the benedictines, meaning not the religious order but those Catholics who accept Rod Dreher’s diagnosis, in The Benedict Option (2017), of the near inevitability of continued secularization and continued Christian retreat—who agree with Patrick Deneen’s conclusion, in Why Liberalism Failed (2018), that local experiments are the key to revitalizing our once-Christian culture—and who are particularly interested, with writers like Brandon McGinley and Leah Libresco Sargeant, in internal renewal as a precondition for any new form of Christian politics.
Of course, Deneen has shown strong sympathy for both populist and integralist arguments, and McGinley recently co-authored an integralist-tending book with Scott Hahn—proof that these categories are unstable and overlapping, not settled or fixed. But though some benedictines may vote for populist politicians or endorse integralism at some level, and others may have more left-leaning sympathies, they are generally skeptical about national political solutions and doubtful of the prospects for any kind of top-down Christian restoration, preferring to pour their energy into institution-building from below. Their watchword is Joseph Ratzinger’s famous admonition:
[The Church] will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. . . . As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members . . . [it] will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.This means that benedictines are often more ecumenically inclined than integralists, with sympathies for anti-political Protestant figures such as Stanley Hauerwas and Wendell Berry and communities like the Bruderhof. It means they prefer Alexis de Tocqueville to Carl Schmitt, and strategies of community-building and evangelization to strategies of power. And it means their cultural influence waxes and wanes depending on the apparent prospects for Catholic politics at the national level: The marginalization of religious conservatives in the late Obama years made the benedictine option more attractive, whereas the seeming widening of political possibilities in the Trump era pushed their ideas into abeyance. They may return, should a Biden presidency usher in a long liberal age.
The fourth group Douthat calls “tradinistas,” who are supposedly traditional on theology and morals, but socialist on economics. More:
Even if it lacks the direct political influence of the populists or the ambitions of the integralists, tradinismo nonetheless has a clear political theory: The conditions for Christian renewal depend on breaking capitalism’s chains, and thus to ally with secular socialists may be to seek the good of the Church in the long run, notwithstanding the gulf between a figure like Bernie Sanders and Church teaching on just about every non-economic issue. And to the extent that they participate in some small way in the larger revival of socialist thought, which in turn participates in some way in the Biden presidency’s ambitious economic agenda, these “LeftCaths” can claim at least a modicum of remote influence over our second Catholic president.
All of these categories, again, are unstable and shifting. One could easily subdivide them further, and it’s possible to move from one camp to another, or simply straddle them. One can be an integralist-tradinista for whom socialism is the political economy of the integralist state, or a benedictine drawn to populism because it promises political protection for the local and experimental, or an integralist who turns tradinista out of distaste for Donald Trump. (I can identify writers who have made versions of these moves in just the last few years.)
What do we make of this? I appreciate how Douthat talks about how these categories overlap. I am about two-thirds benedictine (small b, note well) and one-third populist, because as Douthat says, it promises political protection for the local and experimental. I have no faith at all in American elites; the unwillingness of the John Roberts-led SCOTUS to take up the Arlene’s Flowers case and the trans bathrooms case signals to me that in the end, most conservative judges will not be traitors to their class on social and cultural issues. Of course all the other institutions are by and large lost. Politically, I see the only real hope that people like me will be left alone is in strong and competent populists willing to use the power of the state against elites. But even if that were to happen, it will mean nothing if we don’t renew the faith, the family, and institutions of civil society — which is where the Benedictine part comes in. My dispute with the integralists is that I think their project depends on the basic spiritual and moral health, and theological orthodoxy, of Catholic/Christian communities, which I strongly doubt.
Let me ask you readers: what would a taxonomy of contemporary US Protestant intellectuals look like? Of contemporary American Jewish intellectuals (by which I mean those who identify as religious)? Help me understand those worlds, would you?
A second question: to what extent are these religious intellectuals relevant to the broader public debate in a rapidly secularizing America? The whole Neuhaus-Colson project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together really meant something in its day, but I think Christian intellectuals now are fairly marginal. If you haven’t seen it yet, Michael Hanby’s terrific 2014 essay about “The Civic Project Of American Christianity” is a must-read. Here’s how it begins:
According to Hans Jonas, the birth of modern science was bound up with the advent of a radical new view of reality, a “technological ontology” that conflates nature and artifice, knowing and making, truth and utility. This metaphysical revolution has set in motion a perpetual historical revolution, whose interminable machinations continually threaten to overwhelm the revolutionaries themselves. Confronting the obvious question of how a perpetual revolution could be recognized or measured from the “inside,” Jonas offered for consideration the span of an ordinary man’s life:
If a man in the fullness of his days, at the end of his life, can pass on the wisdom of his experience to those who grow up after him; if what he has learned in his youth, added to but not discarded in his maturity, still serves him in his old age and is still worth teaching the then young—then his was not an age of revolution, not counting, of course, abortive revolutions. The world into which his children enter is still his world, not because it is entirely unchanged, but because the changes that did occur were gradual and limited enough for him to absorb them into his initial stock and keep abreast of them. If, however, a man in his advancing years has to turn to his children, or grandchildren, to have them tell him what the present is about; if his own acquired knowledge and understanding no longer avail him; if at the end of his days he finds himself to be obsolete rather than wise—then we may term the rate and scope of change that thus overtook him, “revolutionary.”By this measure, there can be little doubt that we live in revolutionary times, even if this revolution is the full flower of seeds planted long ago. What availed as the common wisdom of mankind until the day before yesterday—for example, that man, woman, mother, and father name natural realities as well as social roles, that children issue naturally from their union, that the marital union of man and woman is the foundation of human society and provides the optimal home for the flourishing of children—all this is now regarded by many as obsolete and even hopelessly bigoted, as court after court, demonstrating that this revolution has profoundly transformed even the meaning of reason itself, has declared that this bygone wisdom now fails even to pass the minimum legal threshold of rational cogency. This is astonishing by any measure; that it has occurred in half the time span proposed by Jonas makes it more astonishing still.
Such are the logical consequences of the sexual revolution, but to grasp more fully the meaning of its triumph, we must see that the sexual revolution is not merely—or perhaps even primarily—sexual. It has profound implications for the relationship not just between man and woman but between nature and culture, the person and the body, children and parents. It has enormous ramifications for the nature of reason, for the meaning of education, and for the relations between the state, the family, civil society, and the Church. This is because the sexual revolution is one aspect of a deeper revolution in the question of who or what we understand the human person to be (fundamental anthropology), and indeed of what we understand reality to be (ontology).
All notions of justice presuppose ontology and anthropology, and so a revolution in fundamental anthropology will invariably transform the meaning and content of justice and bring about its own morality. We are beginning to feel the force of this transformation in civil society and the political order. Court decisions invalidating traditional marriage law fall from the sky like rain. The regulatory state and ubiquitous new global media throw their ever increasing weight behind the new understanding of marriage and its implicit anthropology, which treats our bodies as raw material to be used as we see fit. Today a rigorous new public morality inverts and supplants the residuum of our Christian moral inheritance.
This compels us to reconsider the civic project of American Christianity that has for the most part guided our participation in the liberal public order for at least a century. Encompassing the Social Gospel movement of the early twentieth century and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the beginning of the twenty-first, this project has transcended the historical and theological division between Catholics and Protestants. This has been particularly the case as Protestant adherence to divisive confessional commitments has declined and Evangelicals, filling the void left by the decline of mainline Protestantism, have found common ground with Catholics on moral and social issues in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade. Though popular imagination identifies this project in its latter stages with political conservatism, it also transcends the division between the Christian left and the Christian right, which partly explains why their opposing arguments so often appear as mirror images of one another.
Of course, for Protestants, the fate of the United States and the fate of American Protestantism have been deeply intertwined from the very beginning, so adherence to the civic project must stem not simply from confidence that American liberty was generally hospitable to the flourishing of Christianity but from a deep, if inchoate, conviction that the American experiment itself was the political outworking of a Protestant sense of “nature and nature’s God.” For Catholics, whose experience in this country was at least initially very different from that of Protestants, common commitment to this project is testimony to the long shadow cast by John Courtney Murray. Catholics generally find his argument for the compatibility of Catholicism with the principles of the American founding convincing because they believe that the argument has been vindicated by the growth and assimilation of the Church in the United States and by the apparent vitality of American Catholicism in comparison with Catholicism in Europe. Rarely do political or theological disagreements penetrate deeply enough to disturb this shared foundation. Liberal or conservative, postconciliar Catholicism in America is essentially Murrayite.
Broadly speaking, we may characterize the civic project of American Christianity as the attempt to harmonize Christianity and liberal order and to anchor American public philosophy in the substance of Protestant morality, Catholic social teaching, or some version of natural law that might qualify as public reason. George Weigel articulated one of the assumptions animating protagonists on all sides of this project when in Tranquilitas Ordinis he wrote that “there is no contradiction between the truth claims of Catholicism and the American democratic experiment.” This assertion rests on some form of Murray’s familiar distinction between articles of faith and articles of peace. This view defines the state as a juridical order that exists principally for the purpose of securing public order and protecting our ability to act on our own initiative. It therefore renounces all competence in religious and ontological matters. This ostensibly modest view of government opens up space that is then filled with the Christian substance that animates civil society.
One needn’t be ungrateful for the genuine achievements of American liberalism in order to question the wisdom of this project and its guiding assumptions. First, a purely juridical order devoid of metaphysical and theological judgment is as logically and theologically impossible as a pure, metaphysically innocent science. One cannot set a limit to one’s own religious competence without an implicit judgment about what falls on the other side of that limit; one cannot draw a clear and distinct boundary between the political and the religious, or between science, metaphysics, and theology, without tacitly determining what sort of God transcends these realms. The very act by which liberalism declares its religious incompetence is thus a theological act. Its supposed indifference to metaphysics conceals a metaphysics of original indifference. A thing’s relation to God, being a creature, makes no difference to its nature or intelligibility. Those are tacked on extrinsically through the free act of the agent.
Liberalism’s articles of peace thus mask tacit articles of faith in a particular eighteenth-century conception of nature and nature’s God, which also entails an eighteenth-century view of the Church. Moreover, liberalism refuses integration into any more comprehensive order over which it is not finally arbiter and judge. It establishes its peculiar absolutism, not as the exhaustive dictator of everything one can and cannot do—to the contrary, liberal order persists precisely by generating an ever expanding space for the exercise of private options—but as the all-encompassing totality within which atomic social facts are permitted to appear like so many Congregationalist polities, the horizon beyond which there is no outside. Hobbes’s thought aspired to this kind of sovereignty, and Locke’s thought more effectively achieved it, but it was Rousseau who really understood it.
Basically, Hanby, a Catholic philosopher of science, says that the institutionalization of the Sexual Revolution in American law and custom, most definitively with the affirmation of homosexuality, is the Waterloo of Christianity as a philosophy guiding public reason. This is because of the ontological grounds upon which the legitimization of homosexuality has to be built:
Whether this is the logical outworking of the metaphysical and anthropological premises of liberalism or a radically new thing—and Hans Jonas’s analysis would suggest that these are not mutually exclusive alternatives—it marks a point of no return in American public philosophy. And it effectively brings the civic project of American Christianity to an end.
This is not to say that Christians should disengage or retreat, the usual misinterpretation of the so-called Benedict Option. There is no ground to retreat to, for the liberal order claims unlimited jurisdiction and permits no outside. We do not have the option of choosing our place within it if we wish to remain Christian. We cannot avoid the fact that this new philosophy, once it is fully instantiated, will in all likelihood deprive Christians of effective participation in the public square. Hobby Lobby notwithstanding, appeals to religious liberty, conceived as the freedom to put one’s idiosyncratic beliefs into practice with minimal state interference, are not likely to fare well over the long haul as these beliefs come to seem still more idiosyncratic, as religious practice comes into conflict with more “fundamental” rights, and as the state’s mediation of familial relations becomes ever more intrusive. And attempts to restore religious freedom to its proper philosophical place, as something like the sine qua non of freedom itself, presuppose just the view of human nature and reason that our post-Christian liberalism rejects from the outset.
To say that the civic project of American Christianity is at an end is not to say that it will simply cease, however. There will no doubt be those who continue to fight on, like Japanese holdouts after the Second World War, unaware that the war is over. And they should carry on in some fashion, doomed though the civic project may be. Religious freedom is worth defending after all, even in its flawed liberal sense, and Hobby Lobby shows us that it is still possible to win some battles while losing the war. Moreover, if liberalism is indeed absolute, so that there is no longer any outside, then a contest of rights is really the only ground on which liberal public reason will permit itself to be publicly engaged.
Do you readers have any idea of how Christian intellectuals can be influential in public debate in this post-Christian era while remaining authentically Christian (instead of Christian-ish)? I’m struggling to see it myself.
UPDATE: Reader Anonicommentar writes:
OK, others have better answered the Jewish question, but I will have a go at offering a typology of Protestant thinkers in contemporary American politics. I will proceed by giving a brief outline of each group and then providing some exemplars of thinkers who I would place in each category. Admittedly, my focus here is on white evangelicals, a group of which I am a part. I’m not so up to speed on what conversations are happening in mainline and black protestant spaces.
1) The Revanchists. These people are the true believers, holding on to the Falwell/Moral Majority synthesis of nationalism, American values, capitalism, and traditional Christian morality. They tend to blame all the problems faced by American Christianity on externalities, and therefore believe that if these outside enemies are neutralized then Christianity will flourish anew in the United States. Hence, their main political project is to defeat whatever external factor they believe is currently bringing ruin upon the church and American society: the gay lobby, liberals, the Democratic party, activist judges, postmodern critical theory, Black Lives Matter, etc. Removing these groups will pave the way for a return to the ‘true American’ values of the 1980s, 1950s, or whatever point in the mythical past you would like to choose.
Their project is fundamentally negative, which is why this group is the one which most openly and enthusiastically embraced Donald Trump. They viewed Trump as the hammer which would beat back the church’s external enemies and allow the church to flourish in his wake.
Because they locate root causes as external to the church, they are primed to interpret events such as the recent sexual abuse scandals within the Southern Baptist Convention as being magnified by enemies of the church. Likewise, the influence of critical race theory within the church is seen as a greater sin than racism. They don’t see any necessary causal connection between, say, unfettered free-market capitalism and liquid modernity which dissolves social institutions and frays the bonds that hold a community together. They don’t see any contradiction between Christian commitments, nationalism, and American individualism.
Exemplar: John MacArthur
2) The Accomodationists. This group tends to have a bit more social status than the Revanchists, live in suburbs in upwardly-mobile growing areas. They see better than the Revanchists how far America has gone from being described as a Christian nation, and don’t put much stock in elections to turn this around.
What they share with the Revanchists is a commitment to America as an ideology. They believe in free markets, individualism, individual rights, and the Constitution. Yet, they recognize that Christians no longer form a majority, and hold out hope that by coupling vocal denunciations of the church’s failings with vigorous legal defenses of the rights of Christians (ultimately having faith that the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court will protect religious liberty), they will be able to secure a future where Christians are free to practice as a minority faith.
This group is far more likely to locate many or most of the church’s problems internally rather than externally, suggesting that a tolerance for bullying, Trump, racism, abuse, etc has done more to undermine the church from within than anti-Christian forces have from without. Politically they have spent the last five years sliding towards the Democratic Party, and likely played a role in Biden’s stronger than usual showing in places like Dallas or the West Chicago suburbs.
Exemplars: David French, Russell Moore
3) Postliberal Protestants. The Protestant equivalent to the Catholic integralists, the Postliberals are far more willing to offer radical critiques of American ideology. While the Revanchists locate the source of the present crisis in an array of enemies, and the Accomodationists look within, the Postliberals dig much deeper, indicting the entire system of liberal democracy and individual rights.
Some in this movement are direct intellectual descendants of Christian Reconstructionists like R.J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, or Gary North. Nowadays, they’ve generally ditched the project of trying to create a theocratic state based on Old Testament law (or at least they don’t talk about it in public), while appropriating and sharpening Rushdoony et al’s critique of liberal democracy and American individualism. Much like the integralists, they see American ideals of individual liberty and equality as gateways to liquid modernity.
Exemplar: Peter Leithart
4) The Protestant Left. This is the hardest one to summarize because it’s a constantly moving target, changing to react against whatever the right is doing at a given moment and conforming to the left’s latest non-negotiable position. Nevertheless it’s hard to underestimate how much influence these movements have had, especially among millennials and Gen Z. I’ll try to parse out a few threads that have risen and fallen over the past two decades:
4a) Neo-Anabaptists. This group rose to prominence in the early 00’s partly due to younger evangelicals’ discontent with their parents and churches’ support for the Iraq War. Neo-Anabaptists preached pacifism, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism while maintaining (at first) traditional Christian commitments with regards to sexual morality. Obama took the wind out of their sales a bit as anti-interventionism suddenly wasn’t a left-wing priority after 2009, and other members of the movement (Shane Claiborne) came under fire for not being LGBT-affirming in their theology. SomePre found their way to the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers) while others accommodated themselves to state power and social liberalism and became progressives.
Exemplars: Brian Zahnd, Scott McKnight, Shane Claiborne
4b) Progressive Evangelicals. Progressive Evangelicals (mostly millennials, with a few Gen Xers) embrace the entire liberal canon – LGBT, BLM, CRT – wholeheartedly. Their two defining theological commitments are probably being LGBT-affirming and denying the penal substitution theory of Christ’s atonement. This is a movement which was driven by bloggers and others operating outside of formal church governance. Progressive evangelical churches are theologically indistinguishable from mainline protestant denominations, and generally their difference is more one of style than substance (low church, contemporary music etc). As their views are generally indistinguishable from the mainstream left-liberal consensus, their ability to influence the direction of the Democratic Party is limited and their primary use is to provide cover for the political persecution of evangelicals by being the ‘good Christians’ who are compliant to the state.
Exemplars: Rachel Held Evans (RIP), Rob Bell
4c) Exvangelicals. Predominately an online movement, this consists of people who grew up evangelical but left the church, either for atheism or some vague “spiritual but not religious” mindset. Their primary purpose is to pressure Neo-Anabaptists and Progressive Evangelicals into adopting more and more mainstream left-liberal positions.
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Postcard From Prague
Finally, I’m online again! In my infinite good fortune, I checked Matt and me into a hotel in old town Prague that has unworkable WiFi. I haven’t been able to log on with my laptop since Monday. I found a nearby Starbucks, and here I am. I will get to approving all the comments that piled up later on today, when I’m on the long train ride back to Budapest.
Matt goes back to America on Saturday, and wanted to see at least a bit of Prague before he took off. It’s also the case that his favorite beers are Czech pilsners, especially Pilsner Urquell. For my part, I wanted to see the old Benedict Option crew — my translator and publishers — and to pay a visit to Kamila Bendova, to once again thank her for all she has done for me, and for the cause of helping us all prepare for what’s to come.
On my first night here, I met with a couple of journalists for beer. One of the men had been very, very pro-American over much of his career, and is now suffering from a sense of dislocation. It was with these two men that I first heard a version of a question that recurred in every meeting I had with Czechs: What is happening to America?
They all follow us closely. It is hard to overstate the prestige the US has long had here, because of our opposition to Soviet communism. My experience is only anecdotal, of course, but it was disconcerting to see the pained puzzlement in the faces of my Czech friends. They really do fear that America is tearing itself apart. What could I tell them? I think so too. The transgender thing, I find, is the most mystifying to Central Europeans. They struggle to understand it as a phenomenon, and really struggle to understand why a society like America’s would celebrate this disorder, and even privilege it.
What can I say? They’re right. To find oneself abroad, in conversation with Europeans who love America, and who are looking for assurance that she has not lost her mind, and to be unable to reassure them, is to realize how bad off we really are. They also know that whatever starts in America eventually comes here. I spoke to a Czech from a small village far from the capital. He said that he has an old friend back home whose older teenage daughter recently announced that she’s a lesbian, and whose younger teenage son just announced that he’s a girl. These are country people from the village, but even that was not far enough to escape this thing. I was sharing this yesterday with a Czech friend back in the US, a man who hated Communism so much he fled to America when he was young. This man said, “We live an a patently evil world and at the end it was the US — not the USSR — who made it possible.”
If he were a standard leftist saying that, it would be one thing. But he’s not. He’s a fierce conservative and Christian who really did think America was a land of hope. He married and had kids in America. He is living through disillusionment now, but knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of despair. He is preparing for very hard times ahead, and reminds me from time to time that he’s actually more pessimistic than I am. It’s probably because he lived through Communism, knows what it’s like, and knows that the ideological madness that has America in its grip is going to play out in similar ways. In fact, he was a nominal Christian until the Great Awokening made him aware that the only way through what is here, and what is to come, is through a deeply committed, sacrificial relationship to God.
Anyway, back in Prague, I met a friend for lunch at a restaurant near the Prague Castle. I had one of my favorite Central European dishes: thin-sliced cucumbers in sour cream:
After lunch, Matt and I went over to visit Kamila at her flat. Her English is not great, so she invited a childhood friend who speaks perfect English over to interpret. I can’t emphasize how much it meant to me to be able to introduce my son to this hero. “She is living history,” I told Matt, who is a history major. Kamila welcomed us into her high-ceilinged parlor, which was the site of so many dissident seminars and meetings under Communism. The secret police bugged this room. Here is a passage from Live Not By Lies:
Kamila Bendova sits in her armchair in the Prague apartment where she and her late husband, Vaclav, used to hold underground seminars to build up the anti-communist dissident movement. It has been thirty years since the fall of communism, but Bendova is not about to lessen her vigilance about threats to freedom. I mention to her that tens of millions of Americans have installed in their houses so-called “smart speakers” that monitor conversations for the sake of making domestic life more convenient. Kamila visibly recoils. The appalled look on her face telegraphs a clear message: How can Americans be so gullible?
To stay free to speak the truth, she tells me, you have to create for yourself a zone of privacy that is inviolate. She reminded me that the secret police had bugged her apartment, and that she and her family had to live with the constant awareness that the government was listening to every sound they made. The idea that anybody would welcome into their home a commercial device that records conversations and transmits them to a third party is horrifying to her. No consumer convenience is worth that risk.
“Information means power,” Kamila says. “We know from our life under the totalitarian regime that if you know something about someone, you can manipulate him or her. You can use it against them. The secret police have evidence of everything like that. They could use it all against you. Anything!”
Kamila pointed out to me the scars along the living room wall of her Prague apartment where, after the end of communism, she and her husband had ripped out the wires the secret police used to bug their home. It turns out that no one in the Benda family uses smartphones or emails. Too risky, they say, even today.
Some might call this paranoia. But in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it looks a lot more like prudence. “People think that they are safe because they haven’t said anything controversial,” says Kamila. “That is very naive.”
Here is a photo I took yesterday of Kamila, with a portrait of her young self:
Kamila and Jan, her friend, wanted to know: What is happening to America? So I told them. I watched Kamila’s face grimace, and then later, when I told her about how we have created a culture in which the Left praises people who denounce their friends and family for ideological errors, she shook her head and laughed. I’m sure this old Cold Warrior, whose husband went to jail for his dissident activities, never imagined she would live to see this again, much less in the United States of America.
I asked Kamila about a book once published in Czechia, a collection of her and her late husband’s letters from when he was a political prisoner. She showed me the copy. I told her I would see if we could get it translated and published in America. People need this information! If you are a publisher interested in this, e-mail me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and I’ll put you in touch with the Bendas.
That woman, that Iron Lady, kept her family together despite her husband being imprisoned by the state. When the Communist regime offered to set him free if he would agree to go abroad with his family, she told him to refuse the offer. If we leave these people behind to save ourselves, she said, we will violate the principles for which we have been suffering. Her husband refused the offer. When the Communists imprisoned Vaclav Benda, he left Kamila to raise six children, the oldest of whom, Marek, was ten. The burden she carried was enormous. Think of it! But she did it, and did not bend, and did not break.
From the 2018 interview, here’s Kamila:
We were also pulling [our children] into our struggles. Sometimes when we wanted to send something confidential, it was a child who was sent because it was less likely that he would be captured. So he would go to the park, and the other person would go to the park also. So if he was not arrested by the police, he could go through the park and give the message. There were small messengers among families. When the secret police came to inspect the house, the children were the first ones to be sent outside to go to the phone booth to call the people around to warn them. And also carrying the small pieces of paper that we sometimes had to swallow. There was an inspection in the house, and my husband had to bring something, to speak about the fact that we are here doing the inspection, and the word is out already. And the police would say it’s the children, always running around spreading the information. For example, when they arrested my husband, my son Martin’s teacher at school was concerned about his dad. And she would say, “Martin, I heard something happened at home.” And he would say, “Yes, he was arrested. It was legal number this and that. Apartment this and that.” So in that way, he would inform her what happened.
Can you imagine growing up like that? In that same interview, Kamila said she and her husband taught their children to be more afraid of lies than of the state. Heroes, I tell you. A family of heroes. There should be a movie of this couple’s marriage, of this family’s life. Think of all the stories like this all over Central and Eastern Europe, from the Communist period — none of them told by Hollywood. I hope the team raising money now for the Live Not By Lies documentary can manage to get over here to interview Kamila and her generation of heroes while they are still with us. Their stories, and their advice, are absolutely needed today.
Back in 2018, when I first interviewed her, Kamila told me that her husband Vaclav joined the anti-communist movement after the Soviet invaders burned down his favorite bookstore in 1968. “When they did that, it was the moment we had to resist,” she told me then. In 1977, they formally joined the Charter 77 movement. For people of conscience, she said, “it was impossible not to join.”
Think about that today, in our situation. They are cancelling books in America, but few people are resisting it, and God knows the gutless literary establishment isn’t. My friend Justin Lee posted an extraordinary thread on Twitter yesterday:
On woke hysteria in New York publishing:
My friend, a POC, was told by his high-powered agent that NY won’t touch his novel—a gritty, urban coming-of-age story informed by personal experience—unless he rewrites the protagonist to match his own ethnicity. 1/
— Justin Lee (@justindeanlee) July 13, 2021
What are we doing, people? What are we doing to ourselves? Brave men and women like Kamila Bendova are trying to wake us up!
After we said our goodbyes, I walked Matt over to Wenceslas Square, so he could see the balcony from which Vaclav Havel addressed the throng during the Velvet Revolution:
Then I took him to the top of the square, by the national museum, to see the spot where, in 1969, Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire to protest Communist repression and the 1968 Soviet invasion. Here is a newsreel clip from his funeral:
According to a doctor who was the first to treat the severely burned young man, Palach did not set himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion per se, but rather to wake up the demoralized Czech people:
It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, that all the decent people were on the verge of making compromises.
Here is the memorial on the spot where Jan Palach killed himself:
I hope Jan Palach will pray for America. Our fate is not determined in advance — but it will be determined as long as good people stay silent, and allow these wicked people to rule us, to take the minds of our children and ruin their lives, and to make us hate each other on the basis of race. Fight! This is not going to be short and easy … but like Kamila and Vaclav Benda in 1977, what choice do we have?
I find that my Czech friends are shocked by how many copies of Live Not By Lies we have sold — 125,000 — and by the fact that there has been no major media interest. I tell them that the media have a clear interest in making sure that the voices of those who survived Soviet communism go unheard today. If people listened to them, they would realize that the woke project to which our Pravdas and Izvestias are devoted is totalitarian, and is going to destroy the nation.
UPDATE: Later this morning, I met Ludva, the No. 1 TAC fan in all of Bohemia!
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Arpad & The Uses Of History
Good morning. I’m on the train to Prague with my son Matt, who goes back to the US on the weekend, but who wants to see the Czech capital first. Had a fantastic weekend on the Slovenian coast. It has been five years since I was last at the beach. I’m not much of a beach person, but boy, the Adriatic has its charms. The water was cool, the sun was warming, the people were lovely, and the grilled calamari and octopus were perfect. More people should know about Slovenia. More people should go there.
My friend John O’Sullivan and I came back to Budapest with a nice professional driver I’ll call Sandor. We talked all the way back. I really liked him, and learned a lot about Hungary from talking to him. He’s 40 years old, a former teacher who left the classroom mostly because the pay was lousy, and he can make more money driving clients around the region.
After we got to know each other a bit, Sandor said there was another reason he left the classroom. “I don’t want to offend you, but one of my jobs was teaching English. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I realized that I was teaching my students how to speak a language that would make it possible for them to get jobs elsewhere and Europe, and they would leave the country.”
It is true that Hungary suffers from an outmigration of its young. Salaries here are lower than in western Europe. Last night in a pub, watching the England-Italy match, I talked to the bartender, who is demoralized by the economic situation here. She said you have to work so much longer just to make ends meet than you do in the rest of Europe. Sandor resists English as the language of cultural imperialism. He didn’t use those words precisely, but that’s exactly what he meant.
Talking to him, I realized like I had not yet done in my three months in Hungary what it feels like to be a citizen of a small, beleaguered country — beleaguered not only by politics (the European Union is always at Hungary’s throat), but also by the sense of loss. Nobody else in the world speaks your language. Your population is shrinking, both from emigration and lack of replacement. It’s a rotten place to be in.
Sandor is angry at the Orban government. He believes it overinvested in football stadiums and underinvested in teaching. Yet he expects to vote for Orban’s party, Fidesz, in the 2022 election. He says the opposition has nothing to offer, other than that they are Not Orban. Besides, he sees Hungary’s identity at stake. Sandor has thought a lot about globalization, in ways that Americans, and people of bigger, richer countries, rarely do.
He doesn’t understand the people in Hungary who are eager to imitate the West, particularly the young. Don’t they know that if Hungary is dissolved and assimilated, there will be no getting it back? Why, he wonders, do they never think about what it means to have a home, a place where people speak your language, and share your own history? He didn’t think about this either when he was young, but now it means a lot to him. He could go abroad in Europe and look for a better job, but Hungary is home. There is no other Hungary.
Why does the West demand that Hungary imitate it? He says that Hungary has had to deal with this kind of thing for a long time. The Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, he says, ordered Hungarian schools to suppress history lessons that told the Hungarians about their pre-Habsburg ancestors — this, in an effort to control the cultural memory of the subject people, the Hungarians.
“If you don’t know who you are, it is easier for others to control you,” Sandor says. Yes, I tell him, I write about this in my latest book. Sandor’s words brought to mind this fascinating Harper’s magazine piece from 2019, about the contemporary move in Hungary to recover the Magyar people’s distant past for current uses. It begins at a big annual festival celebrating the barbarian history of the Hungarians. Excerpts:
Fidesz’s sponsorship is also why László Kövér, the speaker of Parliament, was addressing festival attendees in the conference tent shortly after I arrived. He began by welcoming the “heirs and worshippers of Attila and Árpád’s people,” the latter name invoking the chieftain who formed Hungary’s first royal dynasty, and in a few short minutes laid out his own version of the conspiracy preventing Hungarians from knowing their true past. Once upon a time, he explained, the Huns broke their enemies with their ferocious mounted archers. Today, the enemies of the homeland employ a more insidious strategy: they attack the mind. They falsify history and sow confusion about people’s “gender, family, religious, and national identities” until they don’t know who they are or where they are from. But Kövér knows. Hungarians are “the westernmost Eastern people.” Their real roots are on the battlefield, on the steppes, with the nomads. With Attila the Hun.
Almost every country in Europe has a moment in its deep past that serves as its symbolic origin. These speculative beginnings are usually placed in the age of barbarians, where documentation is conveniently sparse. Along these lines, France has Clovis the Frank and “our ancestors the Gauls,” while the Germans celebrate Arminius, who beat back the Roman legions in the Teutoburg woods. Across the Atlantic, even the United States once flirted with the idea of Dark Age roots. Thomas Jefferson originally wanted to place Hengist and Horsa, the two ur-Saxons who launched the post-Roman conquest of Britain, on the Great Seal of the United States, arguing that they exemplified the “political principles and form of government we have assumed.”
The Hungarian version is only a little more extreme, although, as far as canonical history is concerned, Hungarian origins are already fairly spectacular. The early Hungarians appeared in ninth-century Europe as a collection of migrating tribes who raised hell across the continent for a century before settling down in the flatlands of the Carpathian Basin. As a result of their migration from points far to the east, Hungarians speak a language that is virtually unique in Europe. (Their closest linguistic relatives are a handful of tiny tribes living in central Russia, and they also share a distant link with the Finns.)
However, the mythology on display at the Kurultáj posits that Hungarians, rather than being the orphans of Europe, are members of a great interethnic brotherhood, whose heroes include everyone from Attila to Tamerlane to Genghis Khan and whose territory stretches all the way from Budapest to Manchuria. Huns are this brotherhood’s shared ancestors, as are Scythians, Parthians, and scores of other nomadic would-be world conquerors. Thanks to this shared inheritance, the thinking goes, one can find traces of Hungarian kinship and influence in Turkey, in Mongolia, in Azerbaijan, even in Japan. This is why representatives of all these peoples and more were gathered in a field outside Bugac—to celebrate their common heritage as horse lords from the grassy heart of Eurasia, received history be damned.
Read it all. It’s pretty fascinating. There is some kitsch mixed in with this, some political nationalism, and some real history. The writer makes it clear at the end that the revival of Hungarian ethno-nationalism, rooted in a semi-mythical past, is all about trying to figure out if Hungary should lean into the West, and modernity, or into the East. I brought this essay up in conversation with Sandor, and told him that I strongly sympathize with the Hungarians who wish to resist the West, and its modernity, but that I also recognize that the Nazis leaned heavily on a mythologized pagan past to rally the German people around their rule. I don’t think that’s what Orban is doing (and in any case, as the essay makes clear, this kind of nationalism comes from the 19th century), but I think it’s worth bearing in mind.
Sandor did not realize that the Nazis had done this, and anyway he rejects the comparison. Again, I sympathize with him, though if we had had more time, I would have shared with him my concern that this project centers Hungary’s national identity in a pre-Christian, pagan past. Hungary has been Christian since St. Stephen received baptism around the year 1000, but today, most Hungarians are only nominally Christian. A Christian has reason to worry about where this might go.
Nevertheless, this discussion with Sandor resonated with me because of the way I’ve become much more defensive of Hungary, Poland, and other Central European countries and peoples who are under pressure from the globalist, post-Christian EU establishment to abandon their traditions and assimilate. Sandor is right to consider the EU, and the West more generally, to be a culturally imperialist power (though he bristled when I pointed out that Hungarians did this to non-Hungarian people’s under their rule in the “Magyarization” project of the late 19th and early 20th century). It seems to me that Orban’s outreach to China can only really be understood in light of his urgent wish to protect Hungary and Hungarian identity from EU assimilation, and more broadly from the annihilating aspect of liquid modernity. Any American religious or social conservative faced with the soft-totalitarian drive of wokeness should be able to understand how the Hungarians feel.
I finished over the weekend an excellent book, The Light That Failed, by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They are forthrightly liberal academics who explore in its pages the reasons why liberal democracy has had such a rough go of it in Central Europe and Russia since 1989. They also discuss Donald Trump and Trump populism as part of the same anti-liberal phenomenon.
Krastev and Holmes talk about how liberal democracy, led by Americans, was a missionary project to the rest of the world. The Soviets, of course, saw Communism in the same way, as did Mao’s China. According to Krastev and Holmes, it was the fate of the world’s non-democratic countries eventually to embrace democracy, liberalism, and capitalism — this, according to the way Westerners see it. The world must be shown that the American way of understanding politics and culture was the correct way. This is why you see the EU coming down on Hungary like a ton of bricks over its recent law regulating LGBT education and speech aimed at kids. To the EU, this isn’t simply a matter of Hungary, which is more socially conservative, choosing how to educate its own kids in line with its own cultural values. This is a counterrevolutionary insurrection that must be ruthlessly suppressed.
Modern China is not like that. It is certainly an imperialist power, in that it wants to spread its influence around the world. But unlike America “in the heyday of liberal hegemony,” they write, China doesn’t care what kind of government its allies have. It only wants to know that they will act favorably to China’s interests. “The expectation that others should adopt Western-style liberal democratic institutions and norms seemed as natural as the rising of the sun,” they write. That day is over. The liberal hegemony of the European Union, with its demands that Hungary accept its policies regarding LGBT, migration, and the rest, is driving a Western country, Hungary, into the arms of China, as a means of assuring national survival.
There is something to learn here about how our own internal politics work in the US. We are all living right now through the internal colonization of our country by the woke, who control nearly all the major institutions of American life. The woke are ruthless missionaries determined to exterminate ways of living and seeing the world that conflict with their ideological model. We see what they are doing in schools, but consider also the immense power of woke capitalist corporations, accountable to no one, to nullify the decisions of democratically-elected state legislators when those decisions conflict with woke principles. And with respect to the ethnos, the woke and their powerful, well-funded soldiers are making war on the received history of the American people, and in particular on the histories and experiences of white European peoples, trying to inculcate shame and self-hatred so that whites will become demoralized and accept woke totalitarian rule. (Whites, of course, appallingly did the same thing to Indians they conquered in North America, as the Anglo-Americans did to the Cajun French; no conquering culture’s hands are clean.)
Anyway, my driver Sandor correctly understands that economic globalism and liberal cultural hegemony wish to dissolve nations and peoples, and make everyone into deracinated consumers who have cast aside religion, traditions, and all impediments to “diversity,” by which they mean whatever the progressive ruling class says diversity means today. I don’t know if the strategies by which Hungary’s political leaders have chosen to fight this are correct, or at least usually correct. But I admire that they are at least fighting. It is certainly true that nationalist-populist politicians can use these ideas, and histories (real, invented, or a mixture of both), for disreputable, even wicked, ends. But it is also true that the ruling ideology of the West — liberal, democratic, free-market, wokeness — is far too often the enemy of sovereignty, of tradition (especially European), of religion, and of national self-determination. Flawed though it sometimes is, I prefer the way Orban is fighting back to the way our own conservative American politicians are not fighting back. The Hungarians know, in the particular way that people of a small country do, how much depends on the answers to the questions, “Who are we? What are the stories we live by? Who gets to tell them?”
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Today In Soft Totalitarianism
Check out this abstract of a recent paper in medical ethics:
Got that? Maura Priest, the philosopher writing here, says that Love Will Not Win unless parents have no right to say whether or not their children can be injected with sex hormones, have their breasts removed, be treated with psychotherapy to convince them that they are the opposite sex, and so forth. Here’s a link to the abstract; I can’t access the whole paper. In 2018, Maura Priest made similar points in a bioethics seminar captured on video here; she claims, for example, that children should be seized from parents for sex changes on the same principle that allows the state to force blood transfusions on the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, over parental objections.
Maura Priest has been going on about this for some time. In 2019, Wesley J. Smith analyzed an earlier paper of hers. Excerpt:
The American Journal of Bioethics is a mainstream professional publication with wide distribution among members of the bioethics movement and within the medical intelligentsia. If advocacy appears in AJOB, it is considered respectable; it is considered defendable; it is considered justifiable.
Which is why the article I am about to describe should alarm the hell out of everyone. A bioethicist named Maura Priest, from Arizona State University, argues that children with gender dysphoria have the right to have their puberty blocked medically — and that if parents don’t consent, the state should push them aside and do it anyway. From, “Transgender Children and the Right to Transition:”
The formal argument runs as follows:
1. The state has a duty to protect minors from serious harm inflicted by their caretakers.
2. Harm that leads to suicide is a serious harm.
3. Transgender youth with non-supportive parents are at a high risk of psychological harm leading to suicidal tendencies.
4. Therefore, the state should pay special attention to, and has a duty to protect, transgender minors from psychological harm inflicted via their caretakers.
Notice that the concept of “harm” is turned on its head: Parents are harming their children who identify as the other sex for refusing to permit radical, body-altering transitioning interventions wanted by the child before puberty, i.e., long before children have decision-making capacity. Why, refusing to block puberty promotes suicide!
This is utterly nuts. Parents can love and support their gender-dysphoric children in many ways beyond yielding powerlessly to a child’s desires. A gender dysphoric kid’s suffering and despair can be compassionately addressed while refusing to allow their child to be injected with strong drugs and hormones.
Besides, blocking puberty is itself a harm. It should be seen as unethical human experimentation, the long-term health consequences of which cannot be known given that it has only been clinically applied for the last few years. Preventing the natural development of secondary sex characteristics and normal maturation can also cause immediate deleterious side effects, such as a loss of bone density.
And guess what: Some dysphoric children move past their other-sex gender identification and go on to live happily as the sex they were born biologically.
That could happen less if Priest gets her way. Rather than treating the condition, she would reinforce gender dysphoria in those so afflicted.
Which is why Priest argues that the state should propagandize dysphoric children to want this radical intervention, and moreover, to strip objecting parents of their right to decide:
My strategy for defending the formal argument above revolves around arguing in favor of two normative claims:
1. Transgender youth should have access to treatment that is not dependent upon parental approval.
2. There should be state-sponsored, publicly available information regarding gender dysphoria, transgender identification, and means of appropriate treatment.
More specifically, Priest argues that schools should propagandize for transgenderism and provide medical and psychological interventions without parental consent:
Implementing this policy only is half the battle. Transgender youth without supportive parents are not helped unless they access health care clinics and counseling that will help with the transition. Hence, there is an additional duty of the state to help facilitate sharing this information with vulnerable youths. I argued that one of the first places this should be done is in public schools. In addition, information should be available at publicly funded health clinics.
Eventually, as you knew she would, the ironically named Priest shouts her bigotry against traditional faith values:
One objection to my proposal is simply a concern about the intrusion it imposes on the autonomy of the family. Imagine that parents have religious values against children expressing transgender dress and behavior. Are not parents allowed to raise their kids according to their own religious values? And if so, how can I argue that parents must be forced not only to accept, but to facilitate, transition?
The mistake here is in thinking that parents have rights to raise their children according to their religious values, full stop. Like nearly all rights, the right of parents to raise children according to their own values is not absolute. Rather, parents have such authority up to and until the point at which a given decision or practice threatens serious harm. According to some religious sects, after all, girls who are raped should be put to death. Obviously, parents have no right to do this regardless of whether doing so accords with their religion.
Good grief. Refusing to allow your child to be the subject of experimental interventions is equivalent morally and should be legally, she says, to killing a child who was raped? That’s just flat-out nuts.
It turns out that the Trans-Industrial Complex and its medical enablers really are coming for your children. A friend in Texas snapped this photo in the Barnes & Noble section for toddlers over the weekend. He said, “There was a whole display about it.”:
Seriously, people: in a major medical journal, they are now talking about why it is necessary to essentially kidnap children from parents to turn them into the opposite sex. This is not Nazi Germany. This is liberal America. And we just keep on chewing our cuds, thinking that It Won’t Happen To Us.
Rat out your own family members to the FBI. Wow. A reader e-mails:
The whole push for citizen informants was mysteriously missing from the ISIS terrorist attacks in the US and Europe from 2014 to present. It illustrates how the left is incapable of targeting jihadists but exceedingly eager to turn them on conservatives.
I’m going to keep saying it: Read Live Not By Lies and start preparing for the future. For example, we need to start building underground railroads now to help dissident families keep their children from being set upon by these Dr. Frankensteins.
Along these lines, let me commend to you Abigail Shrier’s latest newsletter, this time commending Christopher Rufo for his powerful and effective work fighting back against Critical Race Theory. Shrier contrasts Rufo’s methods with the lame methods of other conservatives. Her title says it all: “Want To Save America? Don’t Act Like A Conservative”. Excerpts:
And while academics and other pedants quibble over whether “Critical Race Theory” is the right term, Rufo is out there identifying the problem, alerting the public, and sounding all available alarms. If he hasn’t yet slain the beast, he has at least awakened American parents from their coma, convinced them that they cannot trust the teachers and administrators and school boards who treat children, not as students, but as recruits for their revolution.
How did Rufo do it? By gathering evidence and pointing out the glaring harm in clear, unapologetic (but never crass or rude) language. He speaks not to the elites, but to Americans, and he makes an intelligible argument: “Anti-Racism” is just racism in progressive clothing; it’s teaching our kids to hate themselves and each other.
Rufo engages with the culture in the straightforward manner of a gentleman soldier. He neither grovels to the intellectual class nor strains to fit his arguments into the warped mold of their lingo. And he doesn’t pick fights for their own sake.
In other words, Rufo has thus far sailed clear of the Scylla and Charybdis conservatives so often pinball against: hyper-polite fecklessness on one side of the boat and chest-thumping ignorance on the other. When parents ask me how to combat Gender Ideology in their schools, this is the course I tell them to follow as well.
Contrast this approach with Republican Senator James Lankford’s June 10th questioning of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Mr. Lankford noted that the HHS had “shifted in places from using the term ‘mother’ to ‘birthing people’?”
Why the change? Senator Lankford wanted to know.
“I’d have to go back and take a look at the language that was used in the budget,” Secretary Becerra said, as if this were a technical matter of budget arcana—“But I think it simply reflects the work that’s being done.”
“I definitely get that,” Senator Lankford replied affably. “I would only say the language is important always. We don’t want to offend in our language. I get that. But would you at least admit calling a mom a ‘birthing person’ could be offensive to some moms?”
“Senator, I’ll go back and take a look at the terminology that was used,” Secretary Becerra replied.
Consider the scene: The HHS deletes the word “mother” and the Republican response is to muse aloud about this—as if the HHS has done nothing more than referred to “cookies” as “biscuits.” It’s a clip worth watching because it exemplifies decades of Republican failure in culture wars that have seen Leftists wipe the floor with them.
Aw Shucks Conservatives are willing to disagree with the Left, but they first want to get all the terminology right—“Now, which is it again: is ‘non-binary’ the same as they/them? Or ‘she/they?’” They don’t understand that the chaos is the point. While they strain to avoid a faux pas, they don’t even feel the dagger going in. They chuckle with their buddies that Woke beliefs are “nonsense upon stilts,” to use Bentham’s term—and that voters will surely respond in the next midterm election. They do not fight Silicon Valley—they are confused about whether their belief in free market economics allows it. They do not fight for women—not if it means any mud splashed on their full-break trousers. They have lost every important cultural battle and – if given over to their protection – we would lose America.
They pine for a return to debating the Kiddie Tax or privatizing Social Security. They are polite and naïve. To the activist Left, they look like a meal.
There is another sort of conservative, of course—the youthful, chest-beating, triumphalist sort. It lacks neither fight nor heart. It relies heavily on mantras. Some of its instincts are correct—but it rarely seems to know why.
Chest-Beating conservatism offends on purpose, as if offense itself were an argument. It ham hocks the Left’s grist—CRT or Gender Ideology—into an overstuffed and unappetizing conservative burrito: “This is all because of gay marriage!” “This is all because of Roe!” “Ban in vitro fertilization!” “Blame Caitlyn Jenner!” and the like.
Think what you want about abortion or same-sex marriage, but neither has anything to do with the crisis at hand—or how to repair it. Abortion is an important moral and political question—but not every other serious issue we face bears upon it or derives from it. And neither same-sex marriage nor Caitlyn Jenner poses any threat to children.
Conservatives were handed a political gift they did not win and do not deserve—the disaster of the Left’s ascent. The activist Left’s policy agenda is widely disliked. Its positions veer between unreasonable (Defund the Police), unlivable (indulge looters, larcenists, and vandals), unsustainable (open the borders), and untenable (transwomen are women). Almost no one actually agrees with any of this. But rather than find common cause with moderates who would join the fight, Chest-Beating Conservatives would rather heap contempt on moderates, score points for Team Red, and sully themselves in rudeness. They can have no lasting impact on a culture they are quick to condemn but lack the curiosity to engage.
The Left wages war every day, in every school system in America and, no doubt, many a summer camp. It knows the stakes are high and it comes prepared to fight. It has an uncomplicated revulsion for Judeo-Christian religion, American traditions, American symbols, our founders, and individual rights. It despises the nuclear family, like good Marxists do—which is the real reason it cannot abide the words “mother” and “father.” (It understands no one was ever moved to family formation by the dream of becoming a “gestational parent.”) It does not disguise its plan to replace all of these things.
The Aw Shucks Conservatives meet the Left reluctantly and meekly, praying like hell the other side will forfeit. (It won’t.) They allow themselves to be convinced that the current madness will burn itself out, or that they could not possibly respond to even the most outlandish of Woke claims—like whether biological men’s participation is healthy for women’s sports—without a PhD in kinesiology. They dream that America will come to its senses.
The Chest-Beating Conservatives at least do not underestimate the task at hand. But they lack discipline and restraint and occasionally even seem to revel in ignorance. They find their personification in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the greatest thing to happen to the Left since Roy Moore.
Far too impatient to comprehend America’s current crisis, they howl “This is insane!” over and over, until they are the ones who seem unhinged. It is no accident that they are error-prone: they do not believe facts are important and they never bother to learn them. They think the gist of an argument is enough. They win claps from the same smarting-red hands and never manage to persuade a single open mind.
Read it all. It’s so, so good. I don’t agree with every aspect of it, but man, is it ever necessary reading for the Right. We are losing our country, and the Republican Party is either unwilling to fight the actual battle we are in, or its factions are too emotional, undisciplined, and given over to grift to do the hard, hard work of resistance. As I have said here many times in the past, people on the Right are far too easily satisfied by emotionally satisfying outbursts of anti-liberal contempt that actually change nothing.
That can change. It had better. Parents have got to start loudly and insistently fighting back, and asserting our rights. It would be mighty nice if some GOP politicians could find the courage to help us.
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Justice Through Public Degeneracy
Writing in the Boston Review, Joseph J. Fischel says that if we don’t allow kinky sex and nudity at Pride events, Love won’t Win, but racism and homophobia will. Excerpts:
All this talk of public sex acts that violate can make one lose sight of the more sanguine correlate: the varieties of public sex practices that we might want to revalue as benign, amusing, mildly to moderately inconvenient, or, finally, politically potent. We might then think about the wicked intentions of the flasher as an exception to a norm of public sex accommodation. For whatever the intentions of Pride participants, whether we are wearing wedding rings or dog collars, we are there to celebrate queer love, queer family, and queer sex; we parade not to humiliate others but to dignify ourselves.
Turning, then, from the question of what can make “sex” in “public” wrong (or not), let us focus upon the more generative question: Why might some “sex” in “public” be right and good?
Gender studies scholars Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant conclude their queer cri de coeur, “Sex in Public” (1998), by describing a scene in which a man induces a younger man to vomit, pushing milk and food down his throat, onstage, at a leather bar in New York. Berlant and Warner are not exalting public puking as an antidote to heteronormativity. But they use this extreme example of nonreproductive, nongenital erotics to redefine “sex” and “public” and to occasion reexamining our norms and rituals. When we go to a leather bar for its weekly talent show, or to Pride for its yearly parades, is this not what we came for, to be shook and shocked, to be introduced to alternate pleasures and publics? And what kinds of harmful intrusions do we invite by asking that these acts be regulated by the state or shamed back into the “private” bedroom?
What a sicko. Fischel is saying that if queer people aren’t allowed to have sex in public, then America is right back to the closet. There can be no difference between public and private life when it comes to displaying sexuality. If you believe there is, he explains, then you are racist. You’ll have to read the whole thing to encounter the pathetic sophistry he undertakes to make that claim.
Here’s the “coming for your children” part:
Over at Vox, my friend and colleague Greta LaFleur has less patience for the kink-at-Pride debate than I do, averring that the full-throttle corporatization of Gay™ has defanged Pride of any political promise or power. I suppose I see another payout. My argument, all along really, has been for the children.
Like Robin Dembroff, another friend and colleague quoted in that same Vox article, I believe queerness is anchored in “political resistance to hegemonic ideas of how humans ought to be.” Leather chaps and nipple clamps and boys kissing boys and girls kissing girls—even on an otherwise unexceptional Bank of America float—model modes of living and loving that many kids and teenagers attending Pride have never seen, or have just seen online, and only as pornography (not that there is anything ipso facto wrong with pornography, but the more models of queerness, the better). When parents or people ventriloquizing parents oppose public indecency at Pride on the grounds that it may upset children, the opposite is more likely the case: their children might like it, and that upsets the parents, not the children. What is the presumptive harm if a child happens upon a guy sporting a chest harness, or sees an adult’s butt cheeks, or even an adult’s genitals or breasts? Would such children necessarily feel violated, or might adults be feeling violated on their behalf? Might the child be as likely to respond with curiosity?
The “problem” with gay sex or kink in public, like the “problem” of early twentieth-century young Black women carving slices of pleasure and intimacy out of brutal city life, is that it models how to have gay sex, or how to be kinky, or how to squeeze fun (or a living) out of socially mandated misery. For an antiracist, democratically hedonic, and more just future, we ought to celebrate kink, butts, and boobs at Pride. And we should do so especially for those kids whose opportunities and curiosities are stifled by racist violence, economic inequality, or their heterosexual nuclear family.
There it is. Fischel argues that gay sex in public is necessary to fight racism, poverty, and the nuclear family. When confronted by kink at Pride, he says, “Might the child be as likely to respond with curiosity?”
This. Is. Grooming. There it is. Grooming as liberation. Read it all.
This is not new. Gayle Rubin is an academic cultural anthropologist and sadomasochism enthusiast. Her 1984 essay “Thinking Sex” is considered a founding text of queer studies. In it, she defends all sexual expression, including pederasty. Excerpts:
She is doing to fellow progressives what Joseph Fischel is doing: attempting to shame them into permitting and affirming kink. In the essay, Rubin laments that “no tactic for stirring up erotic hysteria has been as reliable as the appeal to protect children.” And then she defends adults who have sex with children:
And here she defends adult incest and sadomasochism:
So, when the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus trills that they will “convert your children,” what they mean is that they want to corrupt their moral imaginations. I was given one idea of what this means the other day in Slovenia, talking to a man who came to hear my Live Not By Lies lecture. He told me that his 11-year-old daughter made contact over the Internet with some people on the US West Coast who have convinced her that she has to choose her sexual identity now, before biology does it for her. He said she has been paralyzed by this thought, and can think of nothing else. They offered her 26 different identities, and now the child is terrified that she will choose wrongly, and is obsessed with the topic. The father sees her in torment, and rues the day he ever let her get on the Internet. I asked him why he did, and he said that all the kids had to have computers to do their school lessons under Covid restrictions. Anyway, the thought has already been put into this poor kid’s head, and it is breaking her.
Don’t come at me with the usual “Dreher is just nutpicking again” crap. This very issue was discussed on the op-ed page of the Washington Post the other day, in an op-ed arguing that children should see kink at Pride, because it will be good for them. This is what we are dealing with. You have to be willfully blind to not see where this is headed in our suicidal culture. We can be grateful to Joseph Fischel for saying the quiet part out loud.
What we are seeing here is a sign of civilizational collapse. There will soon be violence. Count on it. I wrote last year:
Over the weekend I finished reading Rites Of Spring: The Great War And The Birth Of The Modern Age, by Modris Eksteins (only $7.21 on Kindle). It’s as good as people say; thank you Rob G. for recommending it. Eksteins is a (now retired) Latvian-born Canadian historian who specializes in German culture. This book is a cultural history of the West from the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (the ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, and produced by Serge Diaghilev) till the death of Hitler in 1945. Eksteins focuses on the transgressiveness of Western culture in Modernism. I found this passage especially interesting:
Diaghilev’s ballet enterprise was both a quest for totality and an instrument of liberation. Perhaps the most sensitive nerve it touched—and this was done deliberately—was that of sexual morality, which was so central a symbol of the established order, especially in the heart of political, economic, and imperial power, western Europe. Again, Diaghilev was simply an heir to a prominent, accumulating tradition. For many intellectuals of the nineteenth century, from Saint-Simon through Feuerbach to Freud, the real origin of “alienation,” estrangement from self, society, and the material world, was sexual.
“Pleasure, joy, expands man,” wrote Feuerbach; “trouble suffering, contracts and concentrates him; in suffering man denies the reality of the world.” The middle classes, in particular, of the Victorian age interpreted pleasure in primarily spiritual and moral rather than physical or sensual terms. Gratification of the senses was suspect, indeed sinful. Will, based on moral fervor, was the essence of successful human endeavor; pure passion, its opposite. That the issue of sexual morality should become a vehicle of rebellion against bourgeois values for the modern movement was inevitable. In the art of Gustav Klimt, in the early operas of Richard Strauss, in the plays of Frank Wedekind, in the personal antics of Verlaine, Tchaikovsky, and Wilde, and even in the relaxed morality of the German youth movement, a motif of eroticism dominated the search for newness and change. In the United States Max Eastman shouted, “Lust is sacred!”
The sexual rebel, particularly the homosexual, became a central figure in the imagery of revolt, especially after the ignominious treatment Oscar Wilde received at the hands of the establishment. Of her Bloomsbury circle of gentle rebels Virginia Woolf said, “The word bugger was never far from our lips.” André Gide, after a long struggle with himself, denounced publicly le mensonge des moeurs, the moral lie, and admitted his own predilections. Passion and love, he had concluded, were mutually exclusive. And passion was much purer than love.
Despite a fascination among the avant-garde with the lower classes, with social outcasts, prostitutes, criminals, and the insane, the interest usually did not stem from a practical concern with social welfare or with a restructuring of society, but from a desire simply to eliminate restrictions on the human personality. The interest in the lower orders was thus more symbolic than practical. The search was for a “morality without sanctions and obligations.”
Hannah Arendt said something similar about pre-totalitarian culture. She said intellectuals and artists were happy to see the habits of civilization destroyed just for the fun of transgression. That worked out well for us, didn’t it?
Certain liberals in this blog’s comments section love to scratch their heads and puzzle over why social and religious conservatives are so preoccupied with sex. They ought to read a little history. Sexual revolution was at the core of the Modernist revolution. In the 1960s, Philip Rieff, the great interpreter of Freud, said this cultural revolution — of a morality based on feeling, and of forbidding to forbid — was more significant than the Bolshevik Revolution, because the Bolsheviks, atheists though they were, still believed in a binding transcendent order.
With the Eksteins passage above in mind, take a look at Carl Trueman’s latest in First Things. He’s writing about Critical Theory, of which Queer Theory is a part. Excerpts:
What exactly is the endgame here? What do these people want in terms of positive philosophical and political construction? I eventually concluded that the answer was really quite simple: The purpose of critical theory is not to establish anything at all. Rather, it is to destabilize as potentially oppressive any claim to transcendent truth or value. Its target is the destruction of all metanarratives, and thus the bombastically rebarbative prose is itself part of the “argument.” Leaving readers hopelessly confused about even the simplest things is an important part of the game, pellucid simplicity being one way the oppressors made their oppression seem natural.
Trueman explains why the acceptance of transgenderism and queerness is so extremely radical, far moreso than many people (especially Christians) realize. More:
The debate over LGBTQ issues is not a debate about sexual behavior. I suspect it is not really at this point a debate with the L, the G, or the B. It is the T and the Q that are carrying the day, and we need to understand that the debate is about the radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon. Until we clarify that and adjust our strategy of engagement accordingly, we cannot develop the arguments needed to persuade our fellow Christians of the truth, let alone anyone else.
It is important that you — that we — understand the meaning of what we are seeing and hearing and living through. These “blessings of liberty.”
UPDATE: Thinking further about what people like Fischel and Rubin are after reminds me of Tanner Greer’s important recent piece, “Culture Wars Are Long Wars.”In it, he says:
Generational churn helps account for the “gradually, then suddenly” tempo of social revolution. Cultural insurgents win few converts in their own cohort. They can, however, build up a system of ideas and institutions which will preserve and refine the ideals they hope their community will adopt in the future. The real target of these ideas are not their contemporaries, but their contemporaries’ children and grandchildren. Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn. Future generations will be open to values the current generation rejects outright.
This will not be apparent at first. Beneath the official comings and goings of the cohorts above, a new consensus forms in in the cohorts below. Ideas will fester among the young, but their impact will be hidden by the inability and inexperience of youth. But the youth do not stay young. Eventually a transition point arrives. Sometimes, this transition will be marked by a great event the old orthodoxy cannot explain. At other times it is simply a matter of numbers. In either case, the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.
For them it was a trickle. They spent their time with members of their own cohort. The revolution occurring below did not echo in their souls. It won no converts among their friends, nor even among their rivals. The new values remained the preserve of weirdos and extremists. Not so for the rising generation!
Might the child be as likely to respond with curiosity? writes Fischel. This is the heart of the matter. Many people here “we’re going to convert your children” and think “they want to have sex with my kids.” I don’t think this is what these revolutionaries mean. They rather want the youth to embrace the full spectrum of sexual desire, including perversion, as liberation. They not only want to create children who grow up into kinky adults; they want to create children who grow up to be adults who think it’s progressive and wonderful to take children to Pride parades to watch perverts lead their catamites around on leashes like dogs.
Think about that Slovene girl whose mind is occupied by tormenting thoughts about what her sexual identity should be. This should never have been allowed to happen. Any society that allows its children to be possessed by such thoughts has failed them, and is failing itself. I wonder if we in the decadent West are even capable of pulling back from this particular brink.
UPDATE.2: Meanwhile, in London, Love continues to Win, with Labour’s help:
Redbridge Labour commissioned a furry rainbow monkey with a huge dildo and exposed anus to dance in front of children as part of a reading project at libraries this summer. People complained to Labour and were blocked and called ‘lecturing Johnny come latelys’ by its leader 1/2 pic.twitter.com/UTT1DZz5Jb
— ripx4nutmeg (@ripx4nutmeg) July 11, 2021
UPDATE.3: A reader writes: