Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Where rationalism fails

Education today is flawed. Its rationalistic approach forgets that an existential commitment is a necessary condition for a genuine experience of truth, and therefore for conviction to exist. We cannot understand reality unless “we are in it.” Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote … “it is from this that one perceives that he has a soul, is alive, and exists, because he perceives that he feels and thinks and somehow performs other actions of life.”

Even the clearest evidence will not become a conviction unless one becomes familiar with it, unless one opens one’s self to it attentively and patiently, unless one gives it time and lives with it, in short, unless one loves it. Modern rationalism either forgets or denies that the self is fundamentally dependent; it either forgets or denies that evidence is a great, original surprise.

Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education, page 69.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Spitting in the soup

That people associated with a university would invite a hateful mythmonger like Richard Spencer to campus is a tragedy; but it’s a greater tragedy that someone like Spencer is a public figure at all. That’s not something that even the best university administration can fix.

I might add that when people say that they want conservative ideas to be represented on campus and then invite Ann Coulter or Milo or Richard Spencer to speak, they have zero interest in ideas. They just want to spit in their neighbor’s soup.

(Alan Jacobs, part of his delayed reaction to the New Atlantis article I recently alluded to)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Revival isn’t inevitable

It brought to mind a conversation I had last night, out with friends. We were talking about the degeneration of stable ideas of family, sex, and gender. One of my friends, a lawyer, cited Stein’s Law: “Whatever can’t go on, won’t.” His point is that the gender ideology madness is bound to burn itself out, because it is incompatible with reality, and therefore unsustainable, in the same sense that communism was unsustainable. I suspect he’s right about that, but it’s going to take a long time for that to happen, because gender ideology fits so perfectly with the basic ideology of our time: autonomous individualism, which is to say, Anthonykennedyism: The belief that one is entitled to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

In response to this, I pointed out that Stein’s Law has not predicted social conditions for the black underclass in America. Since midcentury, the black unmarried birth rate has soared. When the Moynihan Report came out in the 1960s, 25 percent of black births were to unmarried women — far higher than the white rate. Now the black rate, as I said, is over 70 percent, and the white rate is higher than the black rate in the 1960s.

The bad social outcomes of this phenomenon have not retarded its growth for any demographic group. As out-of-wedlock childbearing becomes intergenerational, so does poverty …

It’s straight out of Charles Murray’s worst nightmare …

These are the people middle class and upper middle class folks don’t see. They don’t come into this world ineducable or doomed to dysfunction. They are crippled mostly by culture. The mystery is why these cultural habits persist, even though the outcomes for the children raised in it are so poor. According to the theory, people should recognize that living in this particular way means suffering and misery, so they will change their views and their way of life to live in a more sensible way. But that clearly does not happen often, or at least not often enough. Why?

The point I’m trying to make is that the belief that cultural revival is inevitable, because people will inevitably turn away from destructive ideas and behavior, strikes me as insupportably optimistic. People are not reliably rational actors. Civilization is a far more fragile thing than we suppose ….

(Rod Dreher)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.


Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

There are two more paragraphs in this Wall Street Journal “Notable & Quotable” from Jonathan Haidt, the last sounding a hopeful note about America’s resilience.

I, too, see signs that the great ship of culture is swinging around on some of the issues that concern me, as, for instance, younger people begin re-populating our walkable cities, many of them choosing not to own an automobile.

There’s no government edict to depopulate the suburbs, and the fears (justified) of peak oil are abated. But as if by instinct, people are behaving as if they grok this little slice of fossil-fuel reality, whether or not they articulate it.

I suspect that some shift will happen, too, in America’s recent tendency toward secularization, though I can’t claim to know how the shift will come about, or just how the new landscape will appear.

No, God never promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against the Church anywhere, howsoever temporarily, but I doubt that America’s becoming so unfaithful that Africa must send missionaries with the Gospel any time soon. (To echo Jonathan Haidt, though, I have very low confidence in my optimism about this.)

But I am bearish on Evangelicalism (if you hadn’t noticed). Coincidentally (providentially?), Michael Gerson has some supporting commentary both for resilience in general but with specific bearishness on Evangelicalism:

It is sometimes assumed (including by me) that the presidency sets a moral tone for the nation, influencing what society considers normal and acceptable in a kind of trickle-down ethics. But the sexual harassment revolution emerged from society in spite of — or even in defiance of — a president who has boasted of exploiting women and who stands accused of harassing more than a dozen.

This is a reminder that the moral dynamics of a nation are complex, which should come as no surprise to conservatives (at least of the Burkean variety). This is a big country, capable of making up its own collective mind. Politics reaches only the light zone of a deep ocean. It is a sign of hope that moral and ethical standards can assert themselves largely unaided by political, entertainment and media leaders ….

[R]apid shifts in social norms should be encouraging to social reformers of various stripes. Attitudes and beliefs do not move on a linear trajectory. A period of lightning clarity can change the assumptions and direction of a culture.

I elided some comments about how the country is moving to a better place on sexual harassment, because of that I’m quite skeptical, for reasons I’ve mentioned in recent blogs. But Gerson has a big Evangelical fish to fry:

And where did this urgent assertion of moral principle come from? Not from the advocates of “family values.” On the contrary, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family (now under much better management), chose to side with GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama against his highly credible accusers. “I have been dismayed and troubled,” Dobson said, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”

It is as if Dobson set out to justify every feminist critique of the religious right. Instead of standing against injustice and exploitation — as the Christian gospel demands — Dobson sided with patriarchal oppression in the cause of political power. This is beyond hypocrisy. It is the solidarity of scary, judgmental old men. It is the ideology of white male dominance dressed up as religion.

This is how low some religious conservatives have sunk ….

Dobson isn’t just “religious.” He’s Evangelical. As is Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s angry son, a reliable voice in support of guys like Roy Moore. I know of at least one other Evangelical scandal that could explode, involving a substantially fraudulent CV of a prominent Evangelical apologist. I’m not sure why it hasn’t exploded yet.

Some places remain, though, where student are given lenses other than “power”:

Imagine a beautiful garden in the midst of a gray, industrial, bleak city. The city’s architecture is functional only, given totally to the making of money or to the most ephemeral, when not downright base, forms of entertainment. This city is all big box store and mega-super-cinema-plex. But the garden is lovely, lush, and inviting. It is full of beautiful growth and well-crafted stonework. It is a place for true recreation and joyful exercise. And it is ancient, passed down through generations of city-dwellers as a place of relief and regeneration.

What would you think of the generation that let that garden die?

What would you think of a people who intentionally destroyed it?

In short, the main reason Western civilization, with an emphasis on “Great Books,” deserves a prominent—indeed, the prominent—place in the curriculum of the Christian university is stewardship ….

(Benjamin Myers, The Christian University: Steward of Western Civilization) At Myers’ university, there’s a required 15 credits in Western Civilization. Bully for them! Myers:

Let us not cheapen the noble goal of exploring world cultures by pretending that three hours in Polynesian folklore is as good as fifteen hours in Western civilization, when we really just want to open up twelve more hours for the study of management or sports nutrition.

Remember the old quip—I think it was from William F. Buckley—that the problem with liberals (“progressives” probably would have been more apt) is they can’t begin to describe the utopia in which they’d finally be conservative because all at last was well?

I cannot overemphasize how important it is that universities and liberal arts colleges like Myers’ be left unmolested because those who would homogenize education and stamp out unfashionable truths are themselves unstable chasers-after ephemera and delusions. This has been my conviction for nearly 50 years.

Have you read A Canticle for Leibowitz, by the way?

Resilience. I like that hopeful word. It’s a nice balance to my usual doom and gloom.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.