Monday 8/29/16

  1. Ruse’s addendum
  2. How good is your will?
  3. Democrat dog-whistles
  4. Naked Emperors


You can always tell who thinks they’ve won the debate by who gets to sneer.

(Austin Ruse, Ruse’s Addendum to Mansfield’s Law)


How good is your will? It’s of use from time to time, but also seems to be pretty dysfunctional at other times. It is not the core of your being. God Himself is the core of our existence. The traditional focus of the Christian life is growth in union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not a moral improvement society. There are many to be saved who will seem like the worst moral failures among us. In His compassion, Jesus loved them greatly. They have suffered much, often at their own hands.

The excellence of moral agents, like the wealth of the successful American, is not a matter for boasting. Everything is a gift. We have earned nothing. The gifts of God are given to us for the purpose of giving Him thanks and to share with those who have less. The excellence of a moral agent is measured in deeds of compassion and self-offering, not in the fastidious adherence to a code of conduct that is often little more than middle-class conformity.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)


A bit over a month ago, First Things began a podcast. I tried to listen to it in the car, with my wife, but the “production values” (slightly echoing voices) were not very high, so I stopped.

I returned to Episode 1 Sunday at the gym, and the content is way, way better than the production values.

“First, the editors tackle Trump’s faith. Is The Donald a disciple of Nietzsche, as many pundits contend—or of positive-thinking guru Norman Vincent Peale?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is, more or less, “yes.”)

Q: Rusty, do you have a sense, for the common voter, of what Trump seems to represent and what Clinton seems to represent? What’s the choice they’re making?

[Rusty] Reno: I think with Clinton, she’s the establishment candidate, she’s the status quo. “We’re going to evolve as a nation towards a kind of more universal, more multicultural society that will be ever more kind of the universal American nation.”

And I think for Trump you have a sense of “he represents people who are concerned about preserving something distinctive, a distinctive way of life.” I think that could be cast as xenophobia and bigotry, but I think it’s more of a deep human concern that people have that they want to be from somewhere, that they want to have a place to live that’s home. Our ruling class increasingly doesn’t live anywhere, but lives kind of — they live in airport lounges as they travel around the world making the world a better place.

Interjection: People say “I’m based in. Based in New York. I don’t live there, I’m based there.” …

A: That’s a good point. There’s an appealing universalism in that way of talking, that you see yourself as a “citizen of the world.” But the problem is that’s only accessible to the very top end of society. And I think voters are increasingly concerned that they’re going to get sold out to this universal vision that will be of advantage to those who are based in New York but don’t live there, while the people who live in New York are going to be left behind.

Then Carl Trueman, one of our sharpest writers, Skypes in. He disputes mildly with Rusty about the meaning of the recent outbreak of “bigot-baiting” in Bakersfield, California.

Reno: Bigot-baiting is to evoke for the general population the specter of bigotry and racism in order to motivate liberal voters to go the polls in order to stamp out or in order to prevent some of these injustices from happening. So my sense is that in our current political culture the nature of the Democratic Party is such that it really needs to have racism and bigotry as a fundamental problem in our society in order to keep people focused on the need to fight it. And that’s a unifying project for the Democratic Party in a way that the other economic and social issues do not unify it …

In this context gay rights is really important because it’s a bigotry issue that really also is an upper middle-class issue, so it allows the mostly white elites to unify around a problem of discrimination that is very much a 1% problem. Transgender rights is a really good example of microscopically, vanishingly small percentage of the population that is receiving this disproportionate amount of energy … the Obama Administration making it a priority. And one has to wonder what is going on. And I realize it’s the need for there to be a civil rights issue. And a civil rights issue that doesn’t actually threaten the economic and cultural preeminence of liberal elites …

… If I had to think “how can I invent an issue to distract voters from the real problems of American society, which are very significant [examples omitted]?”, I can’t imagine a better topic than transgender rights, because it has relevance to almost nothing of importance. It is a vanishingly small portion of the population. There are 800 people in the United States that have had sex-change operations — 800 people have had sex-change operations — and we focus on this as  the great issue of our time … The most rational explanation is that it serves the political interests of the Democratic Party.

Imagine that! Democrats cynically hyping a fairly trivial issue to rally the base against a boogey-man! I thought only Republicans did that (not really). And not just a boogey-man, but a relatively poor and defenseless one:

Carl Trueman: [Is there a strategy to fight back?]

Reno: … The Civil Rights language is extremely powerful once the general public is convinced that it’s a legitimate analogy. So I think we have to attack the analogy. I call it “the Selma analogy.” If you look at the gay couples that have filed lawsuits against the alleged discrimination of people who don’t want to bake cakes or take photographs, they’re consistently upper-middle-class people “punching down” to people of lower economic status. So one strategy we need to take is that gay right broadly, and especially transgender rights, is really a rich person’s luxury ….

Ironic that the GOP should have become the populist party for the little guy, but pull back the Democrat curtain and you’ll find — well, the kinds of leaders who are based somewhere but live nowhere, and who are manipulating “discrimination” the way the GOP has manipulated abortion for the enthrallment of its base. (Just where is Hillary based again?)

Episode 2: “First up: Schmitz reported in this week’s Catholic Herald that liberal Catholics are growing impatient with Pope Francis. What if the liberal pope fails to institutionalize his reforms? Matthew Boudway, associate editor of Commonweal, is our guest in this segment. He offers a learned defense of liberal Catholicism and questions whether we really know what a ‘liberal Catholic’ is.”

Not only that, Boudway distinguished (convincingly, I think) liberal Catholics from progressive Catholics.

Good stuff. The reasoning is way above popular media, more on a level with the smarter shows on Public Radio or TV (except that these are smart people, paid to think about religion and public life, rather than certified experts or narrow academics).

The relative lack of academics also puts it a little lower intellectually than Mars Hill Audio, but it’s free and more immediately relevant to the political issues of the day than is Mars Hill, which has a more distant horizon and an emphasis on culture rather than politics.

I’m not going to fail to listen again. But I hope they increase the sound quality.


Naked Emperors

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.