BenOp and Catholic radicalism

  1. BenOp and Catholic radicalism
  2. Mortifying and horrifying
  3. GOP Idiots
  4. Argumenta ad hominum
  5. “Far Right”
  6. The Oddball Chronicles

1

I spent a lot of the weekend book-reading instead of blog-reading, which doesn’t lend itself to links and chattiness. But Monday morning has brought some internet food for thought, tying in with my reading.

Although Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option book will not be released until tomorrow, I’ve been following Dreher for some ten years or so now, since I delighted in Crunchy Cons that I was not really, entirely alone. Come to think of it, that book was a kind of turning point for me, as I’ve continued to follow not only Dreher, but folks like Joel Salatin, who I believe was one subject in the earlier book.

Some have said that the Benedict Option has been in the making ever since Crunchy Cons, and that’s at least qualifiedly true: counter-cultural conservatism is (at least) one common thread. Nobody who has followed Rod’s blog can be surprised that the book is coming. The only surprise will be whether there are any surprises left in the book after Rod’s ten-year strip-tease.

Rod has generally been appreciative of thoughtful pre-release critiques from his left, including those of Elizabeth Stoker Breunig, Russell Arben Fox and now Damon Linker.

I’m not surprised he appreciates the Linker review. I read it this morning and thought “I recognize Rod’s argument, and not as a straw man. I recognize how Rod differs from Richard John Neuhaus (and more recently, Charles Chaput, from what I’ve gathered through about a third of Chaput’s book). I agree with Linker that there’s one major change since The Naked Public Square — the Sexual Revolution’s triumph — that leads Dreher to a different assessment of our moment than Neuhaus had of his moment.”

And I thought Linker’s question was well-put …

What if Dreher and other conservative Christians could know that they would not be forced to bake cakes or provide other services for same-sex weddings, that religious colleges would not be forced to permit same-sex cohabitation, and that employees would not be fired or otherwise penalized for holding traditional views about sexuality? Would that render the Benedict Option unnecessary?

… as was his speculative answer. So I wasn’t surprised minutes later to read Dreher appreciating the review as one of the good ones.

For what it’s worth, I tend viscerally to be on Dreher’s side, against Neuhaus, Chaput and, to some extent, Anthony Esolen, all of whom are more sanguine than I suspect Dreher’s book will be about the possibilities of “pulling this thing out.”

Linker’s insight reminds me of Patrick Deneen’s important essay from 37 months ago, A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching. After denying that the showdown is between Catholic liberals (they’re dead) and conservatives (a label he uses despite it all) and denying a couple of other supposed battle lines, Deneen hunkers down:

The real battle is … pits two camps of “conservative” Catholicism (let’s dispense with that label immediately and permanently—as my argument suggests, and others have said better, our political labels are inadequate to the task).

On the one side one finds an older American tradition of orthodox Catholicism as it has developed in the nation since the mid-twentieth century. It is closely aligned to the work of the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, and its most visible proponent today is George Weigel, who has inherited the mantle from Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. Its intellectual home remains the journal founded by Neuhaus, First Things. Among its number can be counted thinkers like Robert GeorgeHadley Arkes, and Robert Royal.

Its basic positions align closely to the arguments developed by John Courtney Murray and others. Essentially, there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism …

On the other side is arrayed what might be characterized as a more radical Catholicism. Its main intellectual heroes are the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and the theologian David L. Schindler (brilliantly profiled in the pages of TAC by Jeremy Beer). These two figures write in arcane and sometimes impenetrable prose, and their position lacks comparably visible popularizers such as Neuhaus, Novak, and Weigel. Its intellectual home—not surprisingly—is the less-accessible journal Communio. An occasional popularizer (though not always in strictly theological terms) has been TAC author Rod Dreher. A number of its sympathizers—less well-known—are theologians, some of whom have published in more popular outlets or accessible books, such as Michael Baxter, William T. Cavanaugh, and John Medaille. Among its rising stars include the theologian C.C. Pecknold of Catholic University and Andrew Haines, who founded its online home, Ethika Politika. From time to time I have been counted among its number.

The “radical” school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible ….

You can substitute “Orthodox” for “Catholic” and that question remains the same.

I’m not of Deneen’s caliber, nor of those “radicals” he lists (I thought it worthwhile to reproduce the list, though I cut the details about their contrasting positions), but my gut tells me they’re right.

On the other hand, my convictions tell me the world is fallen and will never quite suit my persnickety tastes, and maybe liberal democracy’s the best we can do. So I’m paying close attention to the Chaput book as I read it (an Archbishop can’t indulge the vivid polemical tropes of an Anthony Esolen), trying to decide whether reality allows me not only to be hopeful, but optimistic.

2

National hate crime data is notoriously unreliable. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s stats, which are cited frequently, use a rather elastic definition of hate crimes, and are little more than a loose collection of anecdotes culled from media accounts and subjective self reports. The FBI dataset, which is based on a more objective metric of “prosecutable” hate crimes, depends on voluntary reports by local police departments and hence is hopelessly incomplete. Still, after many years of decline, the FBI registered a 6.8 percent uptick in hate crimes in 2015, the last year for which data is available. A bit more than half of these attacks were racially motivated against blacks. Meanwhile, crimes against Muslims spiked by 67 percent — although they still constitute a small percentage of the total. Hate crimes against Asians were just 3.3 percent of the total.

(Shikha Dalmia, regarding the three shootings of Indians in the U.S.) Shootings of Muslims would be horrifying. Shootings of Indians under the misimpression that they’re Muslims is humiliating and horrifying.

3

When you have the most famous hymnodist of the Reagan Era telling you that it’s time to change the tune, for heaven’s sake, you would have to be an idiot not to listen.

(Rod Dreher alluding to Peggy Noonan’s column last Friday on Republican insensibility)

I’ve now blogged everything important I have to blog today. You can skip the rest if you like.

4

President Trump is becoming famous among B.S. watchers for argumenta ad populum, as when he’s asked for evidence of some startling proclamation or Tweet and he comes back with something like “A lot of people have come right out and said I’m right.”

Unfortunately, the mainstream media tend not to have many adept B.S. watchers. They instead have a lot of thought police, who get the vapors that someone has said something that isn’t acceptable in their circles — their bubble. Indeed, their own world is one of tacit argumenta ad populum. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com calls them out:

Political experts aren’t a very diverse group and tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of other experts and other members of the political establishment. Once a consensus view is established, it tends to reinforce itself until and unless there’s very compelling evidence for the contrary position. Social media, especially Twitter, can amplify the groupthink further. . . .

Journalists should recalibrate themselves to be more skeptical of the consensus of their peers. That’s because a position that seems to have deep backing from the evidence may really just be a reflection from the echo chamber. You should be looking toward how much evidence there is for a particular position as opposed to how many people hold that position: Having 20 independent pieces of evidence that mostly point in the same direction might indeed reflect a powerful consensus, while having 20 like-minded people citing the same warmed-over evidence is much less powerful.

(Via Wall Street Journal’s Notable & Quotable)

 5

The mainstream media have labeled so many public figures “far right” that it’s become white noise to me.

I just don’t know what to make of Marine LePen, Geert Wilders and some other European figures in the news because I don’t understand what the “far right” label means other than disapproval and thus refuse to credit it. And I don’t have the time to engage in largely academic digging beneath the label because I can’t influence French, Dutch (or even American) electorates.

6

Add to the proof that I’m an odd-ball: I hadn’t even noticed that Richard Simmons had gone missing. A podcast speculating about such matters is reportedly the #1 download on iTunes.

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.