Archive for January, 2006

The Social Justice Challenge

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and which kind of fits in not only with Daniel’s last post below but with Deus Caritas Est. Not to mention Caelum et Terra.

Maclin Horton

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It is often remarked by those not caught up in it that American political discourse these days has reached a new low. True, bitter political divisions have always existed, but there seems to be something innate in modern media which appeals to  crude demonization of one’s enemies and militates against thoughtful dialogue, or even an intelligent argument.

It’s like a big brick wall has been erected down the middle of the Republic. On the right side are lined up Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and the rest, throwing bricks and insults over the wall. On the left side of the wall stand the lesser known Franken, Stephanie Miller, and the others, throwing bricks and insults right back. Both sides hold the other to be totally evil, and hasten to defend their own kind, no matter what hypocritical or corrupt act they have committed. Instead of discussion there is only yelling and insults, and shouting down the opposition is considered a victory.

Enter The American Conservative, Patrick Buchanan’s journal, founded in 2002.

When Mr Buchanan first ran for president, as a sort of extreme version of Republican orthodoxy, I declared to a friend that I wouldn’t vote for him if he was running against Satan himself. After the shocked silence, I hastened to add that I wouldn’t vote for the Devil either, but would sit out the election.

Then Buchanan ran again, and after meeting and talking with laid-off workers and seeing for himself the devastated American industrial landscape he had a change of heart. He came to question big business as well as big government.

To his credit, Pat Buchanan has long opposed the American imperialist itch. And he is one of the very few Catholic conservatives who has without hesitation condemned the use of nuclear weapons as immoral.

So by 2000 I, in good conscience, cast my vote for Patrick Buchanan in his–probably final–quixotic bid for the presidency.

He no doubt finally concluded that, as happened more than once in his career, any sign of momentum on his part triggered a coordinated attack by the combined forces of the political establishment and the national media. Such a combined effort is–or was–apparently unstoppable.

So he returned to journalism, and launched The American Conservative.

The journal is refreshingly free of the dominant political Manicheism and is so good that it is a shame that the title will keep so many people from reading it.

In a world where the "conservative" label has been appropriated by an administration intent on centralizing the power of the Presidency, circumscribing traditional rights, and embarking on an ideologically powered drive to establish a global empire, Buchanan’s brand of conservatism seems odd
indeed: antiwar, anti-imperialist, and unafraid to acknowledge not only that the better sort of leftist is not evil-minded but may actually have something of value to offer. The NAC  offers hope to those of us weary of the shouting match.

In the most recent issue, for example, besides a tribute to the late Senator Eugene McCarthy, was a lengthy and admiring article, by Bill Kauffman, on that other Upper Midwestern Democrat, Senator George McGovern.

Mr. Kauffman–a sort of localist/libertarian with a hip sensibility–notes that McGovern has been falsely caricaturized by the Right as the wild-eyed social radical who led the Democratic Party away from mainstream American values into the la-la land of gender politics, gay rights, and shrill eccentricity.
Whatever you want to call this development–Id Leftism?–it was born in the wake of McGovern’s resounding defeat in 1972, but it was not his child.

The real George McGovern, as opposed to the the cartoon McGovern, was and is quite another creature.

George McGovern is a lifelong and apparently devout member of the Methodist church in his small South Dakota hometown, where he still lives. He is, in his 80s, still married to his hometown sweetheart (Kauffman remarks that many of the "family values" politicos lead less conventional lives). His political thought stems, not from Berkeley-style New Leftism, but from the older Democratic populism of the northern prairies. McGovern values rural life, the natural world and its limits and cycles, and simple unbureaucratic democracy. He is a decorated veteran of World War II, and Kaufmann remarks that if his
humility hadn’t prevented him from exploiting that fact- unlike certain other, later Democratic politicians- he may well not have suffered such a spectacular defeat in 72.

All in all, Senator McGovern seems a thoroughly decent man, of the sturdy Midwestern type that is one of the glories of America.

Of course, you are probably thinking, as I was while reading the article, "but what about abortion?"; after all, wasn’t McGovern the first American presidential candidate to hold a prochoice position?

Well, sort of. What his platform actually called for was for the issue to be left up to the states, not the federal government. This may well have been deemed a "prochoice" position before Roe V Wade, but it is identical to what every "prolife" Republican I am aware of is calling for today. And Kauffman notes that McGovern’s running mate was Sergent Shriver, a prolife Catholic and
admirer of Dorothy Day.

This got me thinking.

Neither the populists of the Left nor of the Right have the numbers to challenge the neoconservative establishment alone. But however much the Nader Left and the Buchanan Right have come to have in common, the "social issues," with abortion at the top of the list, keep them divided and ineffectual.

But if the old "prochoice" position is in effect identical with the new "prolife" postition, might not this be a key to setting aside, at least temporarily, our differences to engage in a unified struggle to take the country back from the imperialists and the oligarchs, from the corporate globalists that both those to the right and the left of the Republican/Democratic mainstream see
as the enemy?

Of course the NOW and NARAL types, for whom abortion is the Most Important Issue in the World would not join in. Nor would those prolifers for whom anything but total victory is seen as betrayal, who would rather maintain their purity of principle than achieve partial victory.

As politics is "the art of the possible," and most of us recognize that America will not tolerate complete criminalization of abortion this side of some sort of miraculous mass conversion, a working compromise such as this could mean the birth of a new and vigorous movement that would transcend the dominant and mind-numbing Right/Left paradigm.

This prolifer, for one, would sign on.

Daniel Nichols

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This Culture is Ugly: Dark Thoughts on Roe Day

Maclin Horton

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(continuing the thought about big business below)…can we finally put a stake through the heart of the idea that big corporations are inherently or even typically conservative? High-tech corporations in particular are often decidely liberal in their social policies. A top Microsoft exec is a major funder of the anti-Christian campaign waged by Richard Dawkins–see the comments in this Open Book thread for specifics–scroll down to the comment about connecting dots.

Maclin Horton

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So I’m sitting here at my desk leafing through Software Magazine ("The Software Decision Journal"). And I see an article about the sad state of Novell, a software company which fell victim to Microsoft. One paragraph is entitled "Know Your Enemy and Beware of Predators." The paragraph begins "Microsoft is the ultimate predator in the software industry. It lets others do the R&D–and then it goes in for the kill."

As anyone who’s ever been anywhere near big business knows, this is typical language. (And as anybody who’s been anywhere near Microsoft knows, it’s perfectly accurate.) The vocabulary of battle, enemies, predation–and, especially, although it doesn’t occur in this example, survival of the fittest–is the standard way of describing the competitive environment. (The place of Darwinism in this mental landscape could be an essay in itself.)

Ten and twenty years ago, when intellectuals like George Gilder and Michael Novak were painting a glowing picture of the ethics of capitalism, I always thought they sounded like they really didn’t have any experience of the corporate world. I don’t necessarily consider myself anti-capitalist–I would want to define the term pretty carefully before saying whether it does or doesn’t describe me. But spare me the cant about mutual benevolence.

Maclin Horton

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Report from the Hurricane Coast

Maclin Horton

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and other gaffes by lectors (via Open Book).

It seems that the cathedral Mass I attended yesterday was not the only one where the congregation was  admonished to "avoid immortality."  I would be surprised if any Catholic could read this thread and not laugh out loud at least once.

Maclin Horton

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On the Last Day of Christmas

Maclin Horton

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"Topples" refers to attendance figures, of course. Could there be a better symbol for the divisions in our culture than the above headline? If you’re not aware of Hostel, it’s a horror movie that, according to a review I read somewhere (you couldn’t pay me to see it)  takes the perverted combination of sexuality and violence yet further.

It always has to be further, doesn’t it? There’s always some new depth to plumb. But if you look at a movie (or book) like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you don’t see any dimension that brings to mind the word "further." "Better," "more," and an infinite possibility for "different" may present themselves, but where exactly would you go from here that you would call "further"? That’s the language of sensationalism, which by definition always has to go further.

Maclin Horton

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Catholic Ghettoes

Interesting couple of paragraphs from an interview with John Allen on Open Book. The whole interview is at Godspy but I haven’t read it–it’s mostly about his new (and interesting-sounding) book on Opus Dei. Here’s the key point on intra-Catholic divisions:

"When you look around at the Catholic scene, you see that you’ve got
your traditionalist-liturgical Catholics, your social justice
Catholics, your charismatic Catholics, your neo-conservative,
intellectual Catholics, your Church reform Catholics, and others. They
all speak their own language, go to their own meetings, read their own
publications, think their own thoughts. If they ever pop their head up
above the walls to look at somebody in another circle, it’s often not
with a genuine interest in the thought of the other. It’s with what you
might call a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’. ‘I’m not really sure where
this person is coming from and I’m not really sure if we’re on the same

Now, I think there are in fact very good reasons underlying a lot of this, chiefly the presence of so many people, including people in authority, in the Church who pretty obviously don’t believe some of the core teachings. But it’s gotten way out of hand.

Maclin Horton

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