France & America

 

France and America are countries linked at birth and have always seen in each other funhouse-mirror visions of the other, and they have used the other to try to understand themselves. Writers such as Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century and Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber in the 20th wanted France to be more like America; today, Gobry argues, America is turning into France, and in the wrong ways.

(Editor’s note on each of the articles I’m about to excerpt)

1

As of the most recent count, the French government spends an eye-watering 57 percent of the country’s GDP every year, with the crazy taxes that go along with that. The country ranks a paltry 72nd on the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, behind such free-market champions as Kazakhstan and Malaysia.

An administrative-law professor of mine once quipped, “In terms of administrative law, the French Revolution never happened.” By this, he meant that all one sees in the French law is just a long, uninterrupted power grab by the central government. The aristocracy and the Church had to go not because they were inegalitarian, but because they doled out status by birth or, what’s worse, by God, which challenged the State’s monopoly on status-conferring.

To speak generally, what a typical Frenchman wants out of life is some status granted, directly or indirectly, by the government. The government’s job, then, is to find some way to distribute status and economic rent in a way that keeps the social peace while preserving its own power and paying off the losers.

Hence civil-service laws, whereby civil servants cannot be fired and are paid by the state until death.In France, to be a bureaucrat is not a job, it is a status.Under Brussels-mandated austerity rules, French civil servants have barely had a pay raise in five years, and they have mostly taken it lying down — but everyone knows they would strike or even riot if something was done to threaten their status.

(America’s Francification, Part Deux)

2

If there’s one way in which America and France differ from each other, it’s in the role of religion. America famously stands out among Western nations for its religiosity, and France for its rigidly enforced secularism.

But the picture is more complicated than that. France has many religious people, andAmerica has a strongly secular contingent, which tends to occupy the country’s elite perches.The Christian sociologistPeter Berger famously quipped that if the most religious country on earth is India, and the most secular is Sweden, then America “is a nation of Indians run by Swedes.”

But the ground has begun to shift. Americans are less and less religious — or at least, less and less churched. As Ross Douthat has pointed out in his invaluable book A Nation of Heretics, Americans are not turning into Christopher Hitchens–style militant atheists; they believe in God, in spirituality, in the numinous, in numbers at least as large as ever. What they are rejecting however, is institutional forms of religion, whether Protestant or Catholic, whether black or white. They are therefore rejecting Christian orthodoxy, with significant cultural consequences.

In terms of politics, however, this may end up being a distinction without a difference. After all, as the secularist creed proclaims, it doesn’t matter what people believe in their hearts of hearts, so long as they leave it there.(That this creed is hypocritical, since secularists have no problem bringing their own metaphysical commitments to politics, is another matter.)

(America’s Francification, Part Trois: Secularism, emphasis added)

3

Paris is to France what the Boston-Washington Corridor and Silicon Valley are to America: Giant magnets that pull young brains out of the heartland:

If you’re drowning in college debt and the economic future looks bleak for all but the most successful, it becomes almost a matter of survival to jump on the meritocratic hamster wheel and run as hard as you can.

Men and women who would have become regional elites in a previous generation now all congregate around New York and Washington, playing their national games instead of enriching their local communities.

(Washington Wealth and the American Desert? Not Yet, But It’s on the Horizon)

4

America has a strange bipartisan blind spot. The Left’s social liberalism and the Right’s libertarian tendencies combine to make the family the great forgotten institution in American politics. Republican officeholders can talk a good game about “family values” and, sometimes, social issues related to the family, but when it comes to policies aimed at materially supporting and strengthening families, one hears crickets. But the family is the basic unit of society, and if supporting the family isn’t conservative, then that word is meaningless.

By contrast, family policy is an ancient commitment of the French political class, shared broadly across almost every political divide, for over a century, through regime changes and constitutional crises. There are quibbles around the edges, but there is broad agreement on the idea that strengthening the family is one of the pillars of government policy.

None of the objections on the right to pro-family policy hold water. The libertarian Right argues that pro-family policy is “social engineering,” but this is nonsense. The idea that tax policy, for example, should take into account only the individual as the most basic economic unit is an a priori metaphysical stance that is no more or less “social engineering” than structuring policy around the family, which after all was considered the basic economic unit for the great bulk of human history. What’s more, in practice, pro-family policy would only — though far from sufficiently — act as a pushback against the decades of effectively anti-family social engineering pursued by the Left.

Every one of the ills I’ve been writing about in this series is connected to the atomization of American society, which has been perhaps the main driver of the country’s deleterious turn over the past few years. In the face of runaway divorce and illegitimacy rates and declining birth rates, the decline of the American family is not merely one problem among many, it is a national emergency. In this context, policy tools such as marriage incentives and child tax credits are not luxuries, but bare minimums.

(America’s Francification: La Fin)

* * * * *

“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.

The Catholic Integralist/Liberal Revanchist straddle

 

From Jake Meador’s long and helpful article, Indexing Political Theologies: Six Christianity and Culture Strategies:

[L]et’s consider the six most common strategies that Christians seem to be embracing. They are:

  • Catholic Integralism
  • Post-Liberal Protestantism
  • Post-Liberal Retreatists
  • Radical Anabaptists
  • Liberal Protestantism
  • Liberal Revanchists

I also want to note that I have ordered them in a particular way. The first four approaches are all variations that reject modern liberalism. The first two approaches, Catholic Integralism and Post-Liberal Protestantism, retain a fairly robust idea of civil society and the polis while the third and fourth strategies, Post-Liberal Retreatism and Radical Anabaptist, would offer a similarly stinging critique of liberalism but are much less hopeful about the possibility of reinvigorating civil society and are often even skeptical as to whether such a work is necessary or desirable, although that is a contested point within these groups.

The fifth group, the Liberal Protestants, are the first of the two groups that are much more at peace with modern liberalism. What separates them from the Post-Liberal Protestants is that they are more hopeful about the possibility of a just society existing within our current social order. What separates them from the sixth group is that they are also quite skeptical of any sort of “God-and-country nationalism” or other similar rhetoric from the religious right. Finally, the sixth group, the Liberal Revanchists, are those who see the American experiment as being compatible with a just society but who think that we need to take back large swathes of society in order to achieve such a goal. On the evangelical side of things, this is the old Religious Right plus many Trump-supporting evangelicals. Amongst Catholics, this is the John Courtney Murray wing of American Catholicism.

One reason I have made this option sixth and placed Catholic Integralism first is that the current editor of First Things, Dr. R. R. Reno, strikes me as someone straddling the line between the first and sixth options in a “so far left he’s almost right” sort of way. He also seems to be a transitional figure in the history of First Things. Richard John Neuhaus, the founding editor of the magazine, clearly belongs to the sixth school. Younger editors like Matthew Schmitz and Elliot Milco (himself a founder of The Josias) are clearly part of the first school. So Reno is a major figure here both because he seems to represent a transition chronologically and because he seems to be the only prominent Catholic thinker in the US right now trying to blend some of the Integralist insights with the more pro-American ethos of writers like his predecessor Neuhaus as well as George Weigel.

I added the emphasis to show why I thought Reno’s recent salvo was really a big deal. It seems to me that Reno no longer has one foot planted in Liberal Revanchism. Whether that foot is suspended in mid-air, or planted in Catholic Integralism (or somewhere else) remains, as they say, to be seen,

* * * * *

“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.

Wednesday 9/6/17

Much frustration with the computer Tuesday, but I had already decided that maybe the best thing I could blog was Ron Belgau’s letter to Rod Dreher and Rod’s response. It’s long, but very rewarding if you’re interested in the kind of discussion I’ll now summarize:

Ron is a celibate Christian gay man, founder of Spiritual Friendship, all of whose contributors are celibate Christians with same-sex attraction. He was disappointed with Rod so enthusiastically endorsing the Nashville Statement, telling his experience growing up Southern Baptist and gay, and reminding Rod of many things Rod has written that seemed to run contrary to his enthusiasm for a statement Ron found quite defective.

Rod’s reply started was basically, “Remember, I’ve never been Evangelical. In my Christian circles, the problem hasn’t been gay-bashing ‘preaching to the choir,’ but deafening silence on sexuality, which the Church really does have ample resources to deal with. As a new convert who had been sexually promiscuous, I could have used guidance that wasn’t forthcoming. That’s why I so appreciated a forceful and clear statement of a more-or-less orthodox position on what the Statement covered even if it didn’t cover everything.”

Belgau is masterful and kind to Rod. Rod’s response surprised me; I keep forgetting that his spiritual history was direct conversion from horny young bounder to Roman Catholicism, later Orthodoxy, with Evangelicalism not really having been so much as a familiar phenomenon from his geographic environment — and that he was left to his own devices after conversion on matters of chastity. These are two guys who’ve thought a lot about sexuality and hold each other in high regard, as do I hold both.

If this is the sort of thing you go for, then you’ll really go for this.

Here’s my take on what Ron says:

  • I don’t doubt a word of it, though I cannot recall ever sitting through any “preaching to the choir” gay-bashing sermon.
  • I’ve encountered few people (but not none) who can state a principled position against homosexual activity other than “the Bible forbids it” or “it’s icky.” Neither suffices to meet the present challenge.
  • I’m inclined toward the Spiritual Friendship type response to the “gay identity” questions raised by Nashville Statement Article 7, though I see both sides and see a big risk in the wrong take on “I am a gay person.”

Here’s my take on what Rod says:

  • I suspect that Parish Priests, with few exceptions, do not feel that they have personal mastery of the resources to deal with sexuality (even if the Church does). They need to develop that mastery.
  • Some priests may have some cognitive dissonance going on.
  • Parish priests in weekly homilies are rightly constrained by the appointed Gospel and Epistle texts; it would be inappropriate to go off on a discourse about Christian anthropology or the Trinitarian explanation of the ontological impossibility of same-sex marriage, just because, say, Obergefell was just handed down, when the Gospel text is the Parable of the Sower. We can’t let the world’s shenanigans make us forever reactive.

After Rod published, Denny Burk, both a signer and (I think) prime mover of the Nashville Statement, stepped in:

I think where we disagree is whether The Nashville Statement addresses the fact that evangelical churches are already woefully compromised on the issue of marriage. I think it does. He believes that it doesn’t. Our difference is over this paragraph in the preamble:

Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

Ron reads this paragraph to mean that the church may become compromised but is not compromised yet. I understand this paragraph to mean that although many among us have already bowed the knee to Baal, there are many who have not. This paragraph frames the document, in my view, as a statement for a compromised church. The question is who is going to win out? The ones who have bowed the knee or the ones who have not?

(Emphasis added) What Burk supposedly understands the paragraph to mean is sheer fabrication. It means no such thing.  It  gives not a hint that all is not well in Evangelicaldom, let alone that it is woefully compromised.

Burk continues:

One of the most important things to understand about The Nashville Statement is that it was not primarily aimed at the outside world. It is aimed at the evangelical Christian world where so much confusion on these questions seems to remain. As I said in my opinion piece for The Hill over the weekend:

The Nashville Statement is not a culture-war document. It is a church document. It stakes out no public policy positions. It advocates for no particular piece of legislation or political program. Rather, it was drafted by churchmen from a variety of evangelical traditions who aim to catechize God’s people about their place in the true story of the world. And fundamental to that storyline is our “personal and physical design as male and female.”

This doesn’t strike me as false or as wishful thinking, and it’s part of the reason why Nashville’s Mayor had no business dissing it. Whether the tone matched that aim I’ll leave to others to debate.

* * * * *

“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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes