Saturday, January 21, 2012

Until I have time to answer...

Travelled this week, so I'm catching up with the family, catching up with the office, and cleaning up the Curmudgeon estate for a get-together we're hosting tonight tonight. So no time yet to boil down a concise answer to the comments from Simpleton and Kookybura. Until there is, I'll leave you with a little snippet from Robert Bolt in A Man for All Seasons which will serve as the epigraph of the response when it finally comes....

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Santorum or Paul ?

I (and dozens of other folks) received a political endorsement from a very nice, well-meaning woman from my traditional Mass group this week. She was excited that Rick Santorum was talking publicly about the problem of birth control, and she asked us all to support someone who “shared our values.” Her Santorum plea intrigued me—I haven’t seen a faithful Catholic run for highest office, except for Buchannan, who was in a way “before my time”—but I’m still not in Santorum’s camp, to say the least. The Ron Paul sticker is still on my car.

Anyways, I spent a couple of hours crafting a response to her endorsement. I haven’t “stretched my polemical legs” in quite a while, so I’m grateful she gave me the opportunity and the inspiration. Since I was moderately satisfied with how my response turned out, I’m converting it to a blog post. Here goes:

Santorum's personal rejection of contraception is admirable, of course, and it's somewhat in contradiction to...say...Ron Paul, who--as an obstetrician in the 70s and 80s--presumably prescribed contraceptives and performed sterilizations. I'm making that assumption because he's a Protestant, and if he hadn't wrote scrips for the pill, NARAL and Planned Parenthood would surely have found out and painted him as an extremist by now.

But I don't think Santorum's personal position on contraception...even in contrast to someone like Paul who must have personally promoted it (whether he knew better or not) enough to compel my vote. Why not? Obviously, someone like Ron Paul isn’t consistently pro-life. But at the most basic level, Santorum isn't consistently "pro-life" either. Santorum’s "pro-life" personal views didn't get in the way of his politics when it would have mattered most: his support of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Senate primary a few years ago. When Santorum could have backed another pro-lifer, Pat Toomey, and tipped the scales, he didn't. Instead, he supported Specter, who was NOT ONLY a pro-abort who controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee (where the best pro-life judicial nominees need not apply, even in the GOP's best days), but was also a turncoat who switched to the Democratic party a couple years later. Every observer I've read agrees that if Santorum had stuck to principle and stumped for Toomey, Toomey would have won (instead of lost by 1.7%), we'd have had a better Judiciary Committee, hence better federal judges, and the Dems wouldn't have had a filibuster-proof majority in the next go-round. (BTW, Toomey did beat Specter the next time and go to the senate after Santorum lost his own seat to a Democrat!)

And really, the issue of outlawing contraception in national doesn't simply matter, and Santorum won’t pursue it. I'm not saying that it shouldn't matter. It should, but it doesn't. Maybe some day it will at least matter at the state level. It's like nationally outlawing all pornography or buggery or usury or no-fault divorce. They are all admirable goals but candidly, they are not achievable on a national level at our present time and place. Although the link between abortion and all that bad stuff I mentioned above is obvious to us traditional Catholics, most non-Catholics (and heck, perhaps most novus ordo Catholics) aren't intellectually or spiritually equipped to deal with the link right now. We laymen should work one-on-one to convert people away from contraception, and our Bishops and priests should preach against it. However, too much public talk of outlawing contraception by a national political candidate at the present moment will be counterproductive. It will be exploited by his pro-abort enemies and slow down all our efforts to stop the greatest and "most fixable" of these evils...abortion. On this issue, we will only succeed if we tackle only one thing at a time.

The lady said Santorum “shares our values.” Well, leaving the pro-life issue and moving on to look at Santorum's other values? I honestly can't say they're the same as mine:

FIRST Santorum's an interventionist, looking to keep a huge United States military presence throughout the world--running up more debt, getting more American boys killed, and making more foreign enemies. For Santorum, patriotism is about geopolitical power. For me? Nope, patriotism is about loving ones’ land for what it is, not loving one’s government for the power it can project over other governments. Patriotism for me doesn't include going from one undeclared war to another….especially when the next one will be against a huge, prosperous country with a large, well-organized and educated populace that can really fight back—i.e., Iran. Nor does it involve the same bankrupting globalist busybody strategy as that other recently-collapsed empire: Great Britain.

SECOND, Santorum loves Israel--a state and a society which is absolutely hostile to the Church, and which is the very cause of that the "Islamo-Fascism" that Sean Hannity and Billy O’Reilly and the other neoconservative blowhards denounce. I, on the other hand, recognize that Israel is not a reliable ally, and that Moslems don't hate us for our freedom--they hate us because guys like Santorum vote to send Israel the guns and tanks and planes (and bombs marked "Made in the USA") that are used to kill their co-religionists, or if they’re lucky, merely expel them from their ancestral homes and leave them fenced in and starving.

THIRD, Santorum also believes in centralization of government, for example, federalizing education and doubling the number of education bureaucrats (99% of whom probably hate homeschooling). I adhere to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity--that is, the exercise of power by the lowest level capable of doing so (the family, the local church, the community, the state, and only where absolutely necessary, by the feds).

FOURTH, Santorum loves the police state, having voted for all sorts of restrictions on our ability to travel and communicate, and all sorts of new mechanisms for monitoring the daily activities of people in the United States. I value freedom of movement and (in my 30 or 40 flights a year) recognize that the TSA goons, the humiliating porn scanners, and the other monitoring of our activities don't keep us "secure"--they are simply part of a subtle retraining US residents to be sheepish and compliant subjects of the totalitarian state.

Neoconservatives like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich love the general growth in government as much as "moderates" like Mitt Romney and liberals like Hillary Clinton and Barry Obama. While their rhetoric is couched slightly differently, all of them want more government, more federal intrusion on our daily life, more perks for their friends (be they Obama's Chicago Daly Machine wonks or Mitt's Goldman Sachs pals or Santorum's military contractor donors or Newt's insurance company lobbying clients). Santorum won't make it easier for the Church to pursue its mission. He won't make it easier for faithful Catholics to raise holy families. He won't make it easier for our boys to find good jobs. He won't create the conditions necessary to rebuild Christian culture in the United States. And of course, he won't outlaw contraception. He has so many "backs to scratch" that he probably won't even get around to nominating judges that will unwind the nonsensical web of Constitutional "privacy" jurisprudence that prevents states from regulating contraception, prohibiting abortion, and discouraging buggery.

A friend of mine who’s since moved out of state—a very well-formed guy--once recommended Frank Sheed's book, Society and Sanity. Sheed is on solid Catholic ground, and he's an eloquent apologist. One of the central points of the book is a consideration of Christ's answer to the Pharisees, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's...." He approaches modern politics (circa 1960, I think) in the form of two questions about government which should be distinct in everyone's mind, but which are often muddled...they are paraphrased by me as "Who gets to be Caesar?" and "What things are Caesar's?" which I'll further rephrase as "How far does Caesar's authority extend?" My friend also pointed me to where St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the same issues, but I found Sheed to be much more accessible.

So here we are in 2012: this is an election which should be more about the second question than it is the first. All but one of the candidates is focused entirely on the first question. They all want me to believe that if they're Caesar, I can trust them because they share my values, and they can do more for me, and they can do it better. The organs of the federal government will be more efficient and stronger, but they’ll serve my interests. Only one of the candidates has anything substantive to say about that second question, and only one wants you to think about the limits of Caesar's reach. And unfortunately, it ain't Catholic Rick Santorum. It's Protestant Ron Paul.

In a field of imperfect candidates (all either statists or liberals), Ron Paul not only opposes abortion, but he is the one who is the most likely to REALLY give new momentum to the life movement (perhaps more momentum than he himself intends). He'll install judges who read the Constitution as it is (imperfect though it may be) and throw out the reasoning in cases like Roe and Doe and even Carpenter (the case that invented the "right to privacy" that prevented states from regulating contraceptives) and Lawrence (the case that prevents states from outlawing buggery). He’s not touting a huge program of federal prohibitions in their place like some pro-life lobbyists want, but really, such a prohibition is a pipe dream. Returning the life issues to the states (where the battle can be fought and won at least in most places over time) is really the best we can hope for—and the best we should hope for. The several states, after all, are where the plenary power to punish offenses against life and property properly rest.

Also, even though Paul's economic positions aren't perfect, there isn't a Rerum Novarum candidate to compare him to. His Austrian economic theory (BTW, at least he can speak intelligently about economics--the other candidates can't) is a much more sound basis for economic policy than Obama's soft socialism or Romney's Goldman Sachs TARP capitalism or Santorum's military industrial cronyism. In the absence of a candidate with a workable Distributivist program (if there is such a thing), quoting or at least plagiarizing Hillaire Belloc, Pope Leo XIII, and GK Chesterton, Paul's the one candidate who will at least redirect the country in a general direction that could ultimately be refined to a Catholic economic order.

As for militarism and interventionism—Paul’s obviously not a jingo. And as for subsidiarity--that big question about the scope of Caesar's authority--it's clear that a Ron Paul administration will have a smaller federal government--leaving more room in our society for families, the Church, communities, and states to operate and seek the Good on their own. I don't think anyone would argue that point.

The restoration (or rather reformation) of American culture on sound Catholic principles won't be easy. Barring a huge cataclysm, it won't happen in my lifetime. But whenever and however it happens (if it happens at all), it can only come back if we clear away the choking roots of our out-of-control, anti-Catholic, antagonistic federal government, and leave some open ground for the shoots of a civil society where Catholic principles to grow and flourish. A Catholic Humanae Vitae candidate (or…for the pre-Vatican II crowd…a Casti Conubii candidate) who otherwise promises more central government control of society, more war, and more spending, isn't going to do that. But a Protestant obstetrician will do it, even if he may not really appreciated what he was doing with his prescription pad a few decades ago. Ultimately Ron Paul is not the best possible candidate, but this is a multiple-choice test, not fill-in-the-blank.

As I said before, the question is "Who understands what things are really Caesar's?" In each case, Ron Paul is the answer that comes closest to the correct one.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

George Eliot?

My daughter, at 9 years old, asked me about TS Eliot: "Was he the man who betrayed St. Edmund Campion?

"Why no," I said, "TS Eliot was an Oklahoma-born poet and literary critic who moved to England and became one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century. Why do you ask?"

"Because the man who betrayed Edmund Campion was named Eliot. He was George Eliot."

" do you know that?"

"Because, Daddy, I read it in a book from the lending libarary." It so happens that our chaplaincy's lending library is being stored in our basement.

"Hmm. Did you know there was important 19th century novelist...a woman who used the pen name George Eliot?"

Of course she didn't. She's only nine years old, for goodness' sake!

But it makes me wonder. We know why Mary Ann Evans took a pen name. I remember discussing it in my 19th century literature class in college, lo these two decades ago. (Answer: partly for marketing because books by women had a limited market back then; partly for anonymity because she was apparently living a scandalous life).

Why did she choose George Eliot as her pen name? That answer was not readily available via Google, so I must rely on my more literary readers to help out.

Why did she choose "George Eliot" as her pseudonym?