(I have been working on a piece directed to our orthodox Catholic Bishops. It is a sort of light version of the sort of strategic counsel I used to give public officials – and still do informally. I hope to have it ready this weekend. In the mean time, I repeat this lightly edited piece I published on the old Next Right Step site. I think it has aged remarkably well – CJ)
The New Barbarism is the Old Normal
(Original publication date: June 21, 2017)
“How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” – Luke 13:34
To be a serious student of history does not engender optimism. The arc of history no more bends towards justice than the arc of botany bends toward elegantly intricate formal gardens. Both history and gardens are what men shape them to be. If the men of an age are brutish and crude, so will it be with the history and gardens they leave behind them.
All of recorded history is a monotonous repetition of various factions of men seeking to rule through the use of force and violence, taking command, ruling ruthlessly, then ultimately collapsing or being overthrown by other factions using the same tactics against them. It is the default setting for humanity. The founding of Christianity carved out what should have been an enclave for personal conscience and dissent. Certainly, its founder, Jesus Christ, insisted that people were to come to Him by evangelization rather than coercion. People are supposed to know we are Christians by our love for each other and for all. It sometimes worked that way. The way for Christianity to be favored in ancient Rome was paved even in the midst of the persecutions as more than a few Roman tribunals turned a blind eye to Christians in their midst and encouraged the same in their superiors. The reason? Christians were noted for giving care and succor to all, regardless of religion – and the Romans were hard put to provide adequate relief, themselves, to the suffering. Alas, when prosperous and dominant, Christians, themselves, have often used the human tools of oppression, force and violence to enforce their will, quite in defiance of our Founder.
The Anglo-Saxons were notable in, over time, limiting the power even of kings. The Magna Carta of 1215 was an early formal document limiting that power, but it was not quite the bold statement on the rights of man many imagine it to be. It merely limited the king’s arbitrary power over feudal barons – barons who still retained arbitrary, brute power over the common people in their own lands. Still, this seed sprouted over centuries into a growing conviction that men had some rights that even a victorious king could not trespass against. In the century before the American Revolution, England had advanced quite remarkably in respecting the rights of minorities in the home country, even as raw force and brute power were the means to control the common rabble in most of the rest of Europe. Whatever refinement England had developed on the subject rarely applied to its colonial subjects.
Most (though not all) of the religious wars were only tangentially religious: they were wars for territory or dominance and used religion as a fig leaf over the real intentions or to whip troops into a fighting frenzy. Even so, religious authorities often did themselves no honor. Everyone knows about the Catholic executions of people for heresy. Fewer are aware that after the Reformation, the Protestants executed an order of magnitude more “witches” than the Catholics ever did heretics. England’s King Henry VIII embarked on a murderous, bloody repression of Catholics after he founded the Anglican Church. When, a century later, Catholics re-took power in England they embarked on the same murderous, bloody repression of Protestants. When the Protestants re-took power, more of the same. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Catholic France was a sickening episode of treachery and slaughter. The Catholic King had lured Protestant Hueguenots to Paris for the marriage of his sister, Marguerite to the Protestant King Henry III of Navarre, pretending a reconciliation. Then was launched several weeks of targeted assassinations and mob violence against the Protestants who had come under the banner and promise of peace. With St. Joan of Arc, I was particularly struck when I first learned that the evil conspirators took a break in the midst of her trial to celebrate Holy Week. It was striking they did not see the stark parallels between the judicial murder of Jesus, which they were celebrating and the judicial murder of Joan, which they were committing. Even had Joan been a fraud, her accusers would have brought the wrath of God on themselves for their malice, lies and deceptions. They decided from the beginning there was no acceptable outcome but her death – and lied, cheated and deceived to get it. Most despicable, her tormentors constantly claimed that they did what they did out of “charity and love” for her. Nicholas Loyseleur, who spied on Joan in her cell while pretending to be her friend, recommended out of “charity” for her soul and “love” for her person that she be tortured until she confess. There ever has been a species of false piety that deceives itself by calling its malice charity and its vicious assaults love. But God gets His own in striking ironies: Nicholas Midi preached a two-hour homily preceding the burning of St. Joan, comparing her relentlessly to a leprosy on the Body of Christ. He insisted the only way to deal with leprosy was to burn it out entirely. Shortly after her death, Midi was consumed with leprosy and died miserably.
The Enlightenment rose among French intellectuals in the very late 17th Century, explicitly elevating the “rights of man” as a primary philosophical and political imperative. The American Revolution was the first flowering of the Enlightenment – and the only flowering before the divorce of faith and reason. If the Enlightenment did well in enshrining the “rights of man” as a priority, it disastrously redefined the nature of man as a consumer – a complicated animal – rather than a subordinate creator imbued with innate dignity from his Divine Creator. Faith without reason is mere superstition, but reason without faith quickly degenerates into unreasoning brutality and tyranny.
Soon, all revolutions and upheavals were done in the name of “the people” rather than national glory – and the new humanists seemed determined to show that when it came to murderous mayhem visited on innocents, religious folk were shabby second-raters compared to the new leftist utopians. The French Revolution overthrew the established order and God along with it, while terrorizing the people of France (in the name of “the people,” of course) until the terror consumed quite a few leaders of the revolution, as well. Order was finally re-established, if a bit rockily, with the rise of Napoleon. The atheist utopian movements of the 20th Century alone (Bolshevism, Nazism, Chinese Communism) butchered more people than were killed in all the religious wars of history combined. Nothing changed with the Enlightenment except that murder was always done in the name of “the people” and the ambitious hyper-charged their murderous rage, unconstrained by concern that they might ultimately face a just God. If some people did not bend to their utopian schemes, their response was to kill the dissenters – and then surely utopia would reign.
Strikingly, there has not been a genuine intellectual among the monstrous “idealistic” revolutionaries who have shed so much blood, except perhaps for Vladimir Lenin (who had some real abstract heft, but was seriously deficient in logic and in the practical matter of administration). Lenin was also the only one who, reaching the end of his life, was sincere enough and smart enough to see he had erred, perhaps tragically. He had unleashed brutal methods for a half-baked idealistic cause and came to suspect that, in his aftermath, it would be all brutality and no idealism. “I am, I believe, strongly guilty before the workers of Russia…” he wrote in his last year – and denounced Josef Stalin – but too late. The utopian ideologues imagine themselves to be enlightened, even though they wholly abandon intellectual rigor. They embrace an ideology which, they think, explains everything, so it relieves them of the obligation of actual study and learning. They mount childish, unexamined fantasies as the formula for utopia. Any failure has to be the result of sabotage or incorrect thinking. Rather than examine themselves critically, they attack critics, first denouncing them, then jailing them, then (with no Christianity to restrain them) executing them. Even massive executions do not make their crackpot schemes any more effective, so they almost always end by executing allies before the whole project collapses. The contrast between the dull-witted, but thuggish, stupidity of the atheist utopians and their fatuous self-regard as brilliant and enlightened is remarkable.
Somehow the leftist utopian movements almost always incorporate some form of genocide before they collapse. In Revolutionary France, it was against aristocrats – and some Jacobin partisans complained that not enough children of aristocrats were being regularly executed on the guillotine. In Russia, it was the kulaks (peasant landholders). Kulaks were always regarded by the Soviets as enemies of the state, for anyone who owned a cow, two chickens and a quarter acre of land was obviously an incipient capitalist. Some seven million kulaks were intentionally starved or executed (mostly in Ukraine) by Stalin’s forces. This did NOT increase Soviet grain production, as Stalin promised it would, but set it back 20 years. Only a Communist could believe murdering millions of your top farmers could increase crop yields. Nazi Germany’s genocide against Jews particularly, but Catholics, gypsies, the handicapped, and Christians generally is well known. Mao Zedong probably beats all in sheer numbers and comprehensive brutality. During the four years of the “Great Leap Forward” he killed about 45 million of his own people through forced starvation, and working or beating them to death. Prominent among his victims were the peasants who had helped bring him to power. Then in the later decade of the “Cultural Revolution” he murdered many of the very people he had used to enforce the Great Leap Forward. Put simply, socialism is the ideology of the death camp and atheism the theology of genocide.
The American Founders accomplished a myriad of astonishing things, not by adopting some ideology that relieved them of the obligation of studying evidence, facts, logic and history; but by considering all of these with starkly rigorous honesty, then working to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. They created a self-governing republic that defended liberty while maintaining stability. It was an unprecedented accomplishment. They set up a system that allowed for the most vigorous of disputes to be settled without routine resort to violence and bloodshed. Given the history of the world, it was as striking, rare and fragile as a rose growing in a dung heap. They accomplished this primarily in two ways: First, they adopted universal standards of justice that were to be objectively applied to all, great and small. Standards could be changed by the majority act of the governed, but judges and law enforcement were to be governed by those standards rather than personal opinions or affections. Second was the separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial authority so that none was supreme over the others, and the division of powers between the federal and state governments, creating a form of subsidiarity to prevent power from centralizing and becoming unaccountable. In the United States, you gained power by the persuasiveness of your case, not the force of your fist. Should you try, instead, to brutalize your opponent or commit violence to take power, the whole society would pursue your arrest and imprisonment. To sustain this, a great deal of emphasis was placed on maintaining the integrity of processes. This was critical for the same reason that process is critical to a baseball game. If umpires are routinely able to say that some batters only get two strikes before they are out and others get four, it won’t be long until confidence in the game, itself, collapses. To maintain public consensus in a system in which all sometimes – and many, often – lose, the standards must be seen to be rigorously fair, objective and equally applied to all.
After a pause of about 50 years, nations throughout the globe slowly began to adopt versions of the American system, desperate to escape the routine violence and brutality that rocked their own systems. To get an idea of the proportion of human history and global geography that has lived in a society where disputes were settled by peaceful means rather than by violence and brute force, imagine a postage stamp on a football field. Many of us have lived on that postage stamp for so long we have forgotten how terrible the normal way of settling disputes was. And, so, a new atheist utopian movement has risen in America and the west. The movement is as ignorant as its forebears, as airily certain of its own brilliance and rectitude, as unwilling to engage in real and rigorous scholarship, and as impatient to impose its own vision on its contemporaries by any means necessary. Incapable – and unwilling to put in the effort – to accomplish its aims through persuasion of contemporaries, it thinks it has stumbled onto something new by subverting legal processes, using brute force, and encouraging violence to achieve its aims rather than something depressingly tiresome and old.
Confronted with the depredations of the atheist left, the leadership of Christians and the right has been utterly ineffective in defending freedom or even basic standards of law and jurisprudence. I am not entirely unsympathetic to the right’s impotence: it suggests, at least, that it knows how horrible things will get if the atheist left does not return to objective and equally applied standards of law, does not stand down from the rebellion against legal norms. So leaders on the right and among Christian communities make shows of good will, which do not lead the left to live by objective standards of justice, but persuade it that its shrieking hysteria is winning. Historically, there are only three ways stability is restored when a culture has reached this level of division and volatility. Either the aggressors stand down their violent rhetoric and riots (very rare), society cracks down on the aggressors with sufficient vigor to put an end to the offenses and sufficient restraint to let them re-integrate into lawful behavior without triggering opposite abuses (rarely well-calibrated), or widespread violent strife or revolution comes, to be contained ultimately by some level of dictatorial power.
The aftermath of the attempted mass murder of Republican Congressmen on June 14 makes it almost certain we will go the way of widespread violent strife. It is not the shooting itself that clinches it, but the aftermath. Even the healthiest societies are subject to occasional atrocities and tragedies. When an atrocity comes, a healthy society quickly and forcefully unites to condemn the terror in unambiguous terms. We had a day of pro forma denunciations and then went back to business as usual. Worse, many on the left – and in the establishment media – suggested that seriously wounded Congressman Steve Scalise brought it on himself by being conservative. Joy Reid of MSNBC suggested it was his fault for being “racist.” She gave no examples of his racism, because there are none – but the left has re-defined racism to mean being conservative, regardless of one’s actual attitudes on race. CBS Anchorman Scott Pelley hideously suggested that Scalise’s wounds were “self-inflicted” because of the injection of violent rhetoric into the political system. The only example of violent rhetoric Pelley showed came from Bernie Sanders, not Scalise. The gunman was a far-left Democrat who had volunteered on Sander’s campaign for president. This was not just a smear, but an incoherent one. Leaders on the right did not steel themselves to demand that the left adopt a commitment to equal justice under law. Lois Lerner, who oversaw targeting of Christians and conservatives at the IRS is still free and collecting her pension. John Koskinen, who headed the IRS during this targeting – and publicly dared Congress to do anything about it – is still IRS Commissioner. I could go through a litany of leftist violence against Christians and conservatives, but suffice it to note that it has reached critical mass and has mainstream left-wing approval.
While the modern left shares all the intellectual deficiencies of its socialist antecedents, it lacks their low animal cunning. Oh sure, it has adopted Orwell’s Newspeak enthusiastically. Just as Lenin maintained that the truest form of democracy is the dictatorship of the proletariat, just as Stalin adopted a constitution that promised free speech, so long as it was “proper” speech – any other kind would get you a one-way ticket to Siberia if it did not get you shot, the modern left comically calls its fascist tactics “anti-fascism;” calls attacks on free speech, liberty; and calls the flouting of the law, justice. It has failed in a critical respect, though, that all its predecessors took great care in. Marat, Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao all took great pains to cultivate substantial support in their countries’ military and police communities. They took great pains to heavily arm themselves while disarming the ordinary population. The modern left treats both the military and the police with open contempt and hostility. They have tried, ineffectively, to disarm the populace while ostentatiously disarming themselves. I am reminded of Casey Stengel’s forlorn lament about the incompetence of the ’63 New York Mets: “Don’t nobody here know how to play this game?”
The left’s agitation is like Peewee Herman trying to pick a fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime: the suspense continues only so long as Arnold ignores Peewee. As soon as he engages the fight is over. I can only think the left believes ordinary people will turn out to be as flaccid in defending themselves as conservative and Christian leaders have been in defending them. The people’s restraint thus far does not mean they will submit to be ruled and bullied by progressive whim. The restraint has held in the forlorn hope that the leadership class would defend both them and American traditions. And so, a great battle will come. Though the left has been agitating for it, the right will prevail (though it will be bloodier than it ever had to be had leaders simply done the job of insisting that equal standards of justice apply to all). Under normal circumstances, a right-wing dictatorship would prevail, at least for a time. What I would fear under those circumstances is that bitterness and anger would so reign for a time that the right might mount similar or worse depredations to what the left has mounted. Yet for all the historical reality and imperatives, I remain an optimist. It is because I know and trust in God, the God who, for the sake of ten righteous people, would have saved Sodom.
At Fatima 100 years ago, Our Lady promised that, in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph, despite the terrible offenses that man keeps inflicting on himself in defiance of God. I have said all along that a primary purpose of this Storm has been to reveal hearts, to show where people actually stand in contrast to what they say. How terrible it is to see so many hearts being revealed to hold such malice and venom! My optimism sometimes veered into naivete. I assumed that, if Our Lord revealed the Kingdom to all by sending Our Lady to appear to us all, people would stand down from their errant defiance. The furious, irrational and unrelenting rage of the atheist left since the inauguration (of Donald Trump) has disabused me of that notion. I should have known. I wrote of the great atheist naturalist, Emile Zola, and how when he was presented with compelling evidence of God’s goodness and willingness to intervene through a miracle, just doubled down on his rage and hate. He would not accept something greater than himself under any circumstances, even if it were to destroy him. I knew that, with the raising of the siege of Orleans in 1429, St. Joan of Arc reversed in a few days the conviction of 85 years, both by the English and the French, that France could not survive as in independent nation. After that victory, neither the French nor the English thought France could ever be defeated – a complete reversal of the conventional wisdom of the past century. Even so, the fighting lingered on for another 24 years after all involved had concluded that subjugating France was a lost cause. Watching the furious malice of the atheist left the first half of this year (2017), I no longer expect them to accept the embrace of Christ even after they know that defeat is certain and continued defiance will destroy them. It is the pointless nihilism of the satan’s original rebellion – and he rejoices in taking so many to share in his needless destruction.
In all of these events, God is not just reclaiming us, but instructing us in what we are called to do and to be. Most of those who read this site have not been involved in the assaults on the faith or on the faithful. Yet we were called to be guardians of the faith and defenders of the faithful. We have failed badly in that call. What are some of the lessons God would have us internalize?
First, we need to banish the myth of the milquetoast Christ. Jesus was not always gentle and sweet – and He most emphatically did NOT approve of everyone as they are. He was quite frequently harsh and condemning to those who, out of lust for power or self-congratulatory self-righteousness oppressed the faithful and the little ones. Read the Gospels. Many have abused the universality of Christianity – that no ethnic, racial, national or other external characteristics would be a bar to full Christianity to mean that even avowed enemies of the faith must be enabled in their assaults on the faith and the faithful. The blood of Christ has not gone anemic. He defended His own against such assaults – and we are to do the same.
Even so, victory is not in our hands. Victory is in the hands of God and not dependent on our calculations. We are all called to defend the faith, hearten the faithful, and defend the faithful. When we take that next right step, we become like one of Gideon’s 300 chosen men (Judges 7), invulnerable against even a multitude. But God’s primary intention is the rescue of the souls of as many of His children as can be rescued. We will all be held to account for every depredation against the faithful that we could have stopped, but did not out of timidity. We will also be held to account for every soul we could have effectively evangelized, but did not out of anger. It is an impossible task that we will often fail in – but God’s grace will justify us so long as we keep our eyes on and our hearts in Him. We are called to be just, to judge righteous judgment with both charity and resolve.
There are three great examples I like to contemplate when considering how to behave in extreme, tumultuous circumstances. First is St. Joan of Arc. Usually, for an hour or more before she commenced battle, she would plead with the English to retreat, to save themselves and to be just. On the occasion when they fled, she was content to let them go. But if they had not retreated after her pleas, it was all hammer and tongs until the victory was won. After it was won, she took great care to see that the wounded enemies were well cared for. She fought with vigorous resolve, but entirely without malice. Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address is one of the most beautiful and noble speeches ever given. Lincoln pressed on with unshakeable resolve to win the war, but did it with malice towards none and charity towards all. His main aspiration was to re-unite the country as brothers, not to destroy the rebels as enemies. Finally, there is the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. I cannot read it without misting up. It is the best instruction on how to resist evil without becoming the evil you resist I have ever read.
Do not fret about those good things you can’t do, lest you neglect the good you can. Don’t let either passion or apathy cause you to neglect the little good you can do, for such are the building blocks of God’s kingdom on earth. In short, play your position well, man your post, be it humanly little or grand. Acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those around you.
A couple of years ago, I casually wrote a phrase I have come to cherish deeply. I wrote, “As you look at your life, you cannot measure it by the books published, the soup kitchens worked, the refuges built-though if you do those things they are good. Rather, you must judge it from the perspective of the hope you inspired, the peace you spread, the joy you engendered, the love you kindled- for these are the sure marks of the Kingdom of God. All else is detail.” If we live this fully, God will seize the victory, for we will be a Godly people – and we will fully participate now as the heralds of the Triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart.
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
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