As an ELCA Lutheran I share James Nuechterlein’s concerns in his “Ecumenical Conundrums” (March). I’m not sure I can agree with Pope John Paul II that the present institutional exp ression of the faith in some thirty–six thousand denominations worldwide is scandalous and weakens “the voice of the gospel.” Unless I’m mistaken, the voice of the gospel is God’s own and has the power to create faith in those who hear it. Perhaps God is less concerned with having one authoritative structural “voice” in control of the broadcasting of the gospel and more concerned with getting a hearing wherever and whenever His servants actually focus on loving unbelievers enough to proclaim and live the gospel in their presence.
Believers are being made every minute all over the world because the Holy Spirit, the gospel, and sinners are a volatile mix that no single earthly structure can contain. The Book of Acts and missionary history testify to that. The harder modern ecumenists try to squeeze everyone into one mold, the more eruptions of this mixture will escape between their fingers.
(The Rev.) Jeffrey A. Stoopes
Grace Lutheran Church
Predictably, the local ecumenical service that James Nuechterlein described did not limit itself wherever possible to what virtually all Christians through the centuries and across the globe agree upon. Instead, it thumbed its nose at a huge majority of Christians by prominently featuring something entirely unknown or prohibited throughout the City of God outside the tiny ghetto of late–twentieth–century liberal Protestantism—a clergywoman. The substantive issue is not the gender of the minister but the overarching authority recognized by the sponsors of the service.
Submission to the ecumenical mandate requires, first and foremost, recognition of some authority that has the right to issue difficult mandates. Thus, true ecumenists seek agreement on whether Scripture, tradition, ecumenical councils, or Peter’s successor have the highest claim to speak for Christ. An ecumenical service ought either to acknowledge up front which particular ordering of those sources it recognizes as the voice of the Shepherd (and let those who disagree participate as observers), or else limit itself to those things that all four voices agree upon.
All four voices, for example, call for unity in the Church, providing the impetus for ecumenism in the first place. At the same time, they all speak against the ordination of women. Therefore, an ecumenical service presided over by a woman, no matter how uplifting or orthodox her message, necessarily militates against true ecumenism, because clergywomen can only exist where the “sufficiently leftward politics” that Mr. Nuechterlein views so dubiously is the highest spokesman for Christ in the Church. Such leftward politics prevails wherever natural knowledge of God wrongly trumps revealed knowledge, allowing reason and conscience, warped by total separation from fixed truths, to have veto power over revelation in matters of doctrine.
Having intentionally erased the only useful thing about denominations—the delineation of internally coherent confessions of faith flowing from particular orderings of revealed authority—typical ecumenical services go on to reinforce the primary danger of denominationalism by cultivating the attitude that our view of authority (in this case that of late–twentieth–century liberal Protestants and their Catholic sympathizers) is the one that really counts. Thus, they can offer nothing other than what Mr. Nuechterlein calls an “incoherent hodgepodge” of a service that serves no purpose other than to make those in attendance feel open–minded, which in turn only serves the very un–ecumenical goal of jettisoning revealed truth as the norm of Christian reason, conscience, and ultimately, doctrine.
Those who put on such services tend to view their church bodies’ nominal authorities, generally either the Bible or the Pope, as stumbling blocks in the way of progress. Not coincidentally, such ecumenists are also the only Christians in history who regularly fail to see abortion and homosexual conduct as sinful. Participating in the rigidly sectarian “ecumenism” that these services offer does not prove that one loves one’s brothers and sisters in Christ; it only makes the ecumenical conundrum worse.
(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Faith Lutheran Church
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Thanks to James Nuechterlein for his commentary—brief, incisive, caring.
Another commentary on ecumenism, brief, incisive, and flip, came in the form of a cartoon some years ago. The cartoon showed a church with its doors wide open and a nearby sign reading, “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” Through the doors a column of clergy were making their exit in pairs. The first wore a miter and carried a bishop’s staff; his partner wore a clergy suit and clerical collar. Next: a clergyman with a very tweedy jacket; his partner, female, was still singing heartily. Next: a clergyman wearing shorts and what might have been beach attire; and so on.
At the head of the recessional, the bishop with the staff says to his partner, “See you next year!”
E. Earl Anderson
Waterloo Lutheran Seminary
Waterloo, Ontario Canada
Who’s Got That Swing?
Re Hugh Liebert, “It Ain’t Got That Swing,” March: In 1998, social critic and jazz fan Martha Bayles, the author of Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music, wrote a wonderful piece about jazz for the Public Interest. In the introduction, Bayles reminded readers that in 1939 the great jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins recorded his now–classic take on “Body and Soul,” and that the piece was dismissed by both the left and the right. To the right, wrote Bayles, jazz “was considered a violation of traditional musical standards committed for the basest of motives.” On the left, jazz was seen as “the shameless commercialization of a once–authentic folk music or, in the highbrow anti–Stalinist opinion of Partisan Review, as kitsch: cheap, disposable, and derivative of genuine art, which it threatened to cannibalize.”
More than sixty years later, we have an interesting amalgamation of these two ideas. In Hugh Liebert’s piece about swing and my book If It Ain’t Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown–Up Culture (Mr. Liebert slyly omitted my subtitle, which helps shore up his argument that my book is about music and not culture), we have a conservative who thinks that jazz is artwell, kind of, that is to say, certain kinds of jazz, even though it could be in a base way that may be insulting to God, even if it is nonetheless good for “the common man” (!)—and that rock and roll is trash.
I’ve been fighting this battle with conservatives ever since I became a serious Catholic, and I always find myself circling back to the same thing: whether it’s Gershwin, Ellington, the Beatles, the neo–swing band Indigo Swing, or the new Radiohead album I bought last month, much of pop music is art. To claim otherwise by retreating into political stances or making a demarcation between genres—or, in Mr. Liebert’s case, making demarcations within demarcations by banishing all neo–swing from the garden of swing–era swing—is just silly hairsplitting. It’s also against our God–given instincts. When we hear a great song or symphony, we experience a joy, a swelling–up, that I believe is religious in nature. We are hearing something beautiful that touches us deeply and elevates our senses and spirit. Genre doesn’t matter, sound does. Further, saying, as Mr. Liebert does, that we run the risk of worshiping music rather than God in doing so is like saying we shouldn’t go to church services because we run the risk of worshiping the church building.
But then, Mr. Liebert doesn’t seem too concerned about the facts. He claims that because I make a connection between Elvis and swing—anyone with ears can do the same thing—and call the Beatles brilliant musicians, I advance the notion that “rock bears a close resemblance to swing.” In my book I make exactly the opposite argument, noting that much of rock went sour in the 1960s when it lost its connection to American popular music.
What I didn’t do, and should have done, is to have been much kinder to modern popular music, which began with the Beatles and continues to produce art. Mr. Liebert calls today’s popular music “blues–driven, power chord dependent noise that today’s ten–year–olds can play after a few weeks of guitar lessons.” This is just, excuse me, dumb. Has Mr. Liebert ever heard the song “One” by the Irish—and Christian—band U2? I doubt any ten–year–old, even a ten–year–old Mozart, could have written it. It is unspeakably grand, has no connection with the blues that I can see (as is the case with most post–Beatles pop music), and has some lyrics (“You say love is a temple / Love the higher law / You ask me to enter / And then you make me crawl”) that can make one glad that the strict moon/swoon conventions of swing–era lyrics were tossed out.
Of course, Mozart wouldn’t have written “One,” and there’s another rub. As Martha Bayles pointed out in her article, classical music and popular music or rock and roll are different animals. Comparing them is like comparing painting and sculpture. As Terry Teachout once noted, Ellington and classical composer Aaron Copland “are both masters of American music, each in their own way.” Ellington and the Beatles—and, yes, the gifted young rock band we’ll hear about next week—are all masters of American popular music, each in their own way. Conservatives know this in their hearts like a natural law—come on, the Supremes don’t make your heart sing?—and they should stop forcing themselves to switch the station when “She Loves You” comes on. Sit back and enjoy it.
A couple more small things. Mr. Liebert claims that my view that “swing is the first fad that has kids looking to grandparents and traditional rules for what’s hip” is “tenuous at best.” Okay. What other pop fad that predated swing had kids looking to grandparents? The hula hoop? Mr. Liebert also says that I “wax nostalgic for the bygone communitarian paradise in which swing first emerged.” Good heavens, haven’t conservatives won this argument? Haven’t we proved, with books like The Lost City—and, ahem, mine—that the past was more complicated than the ready–made chimera the left offers up of repressed housewives and gray–suited drones? I was surprised to see this cliché advanced in First Things.
Judge Potomac, Maryland
Congratulations on Hugh Liebert’s “It Ain’t Got That Swing.”
There are, however, a few important points that Mr. Liebert left unexplored. He quoted Richard Weaver rightly as having said: “In swing one hears a species of music in which the performer is at fullest liberty to express himself as an egoist.” Mr. Liebert gives partial credence to this false notion by saying: “No jazz musician plays for the greater glory of God, nor any universal idea.”
This is a profound misconception, which I fear is rather widely held. Jazz does not presume to begin with God; instead it arrives at the divine with a particular sort of humility. Man has inflicted much suffering on his own kind by the reverse presumption—that he can know God outside the quotidian context of this existential life. Jazz is first existential. It deals with that which is the case for man kind, and begins by redeeming each man to every other. This is an idea held to be universal even in the age of the pre–Socratics.
Secondly, jazz emerges within, projects, demands, and embodies freedom. This is the extent to which it is political. Yet, in one respect it is inherently Christian, since its overriding demand is submission. The solo performer plays within a cycle of risk, open to all challenges—including humiliation by some unknown artist. And when, indeed, he succeeds at this, he is certainly heroic, but that is tempered by the inevitable truth of tomorrow, and tomorrows to come. In this sense he is not triumphal because he is aware of his limitations of age, time, and death. John Coltrane was the apotheosis of this sentiment, which is both biblical and Greek.
Mr. Liebert is right to suggest that “art detached from transcendental ends is decadent.” I do not believe, however, that anticipating or desiring an audience limits the transcendent impulse. Beethoven, whose art may be the highest human expression of the divine, not only obsessed about audience, he was inspired by the mundane events of everyday life.
T. S. Eliot wrote more on these questions than any modern. His criterion for art was that it address something external to and larger than itself. Jazz then has a double discipline: the chords and harmonies within, and the fellow performers and audience without—and in its apparent apostasy embodies a sensuous universality long absent in American Christianity.
Gilbert N. M. O. Morris
George Mason University
I am utterly baffled by Hugh Liebert’s somewhat abstruse concept of a political divide between conservatives and swing, jazz, call it what you will, relying, it seems, on the painful antagonism of someone like Miles Davis for support. It is a fringe argument, utter nonsense on its face, particularly when one considers that young conservatives are mainly in thrall to rock and roll (Bill Bennett, Fred Barnes, Rush Limbaugh) while the old fogies, both left and right, if musically oriented at all, are still pining for the Barnets, the Basies, the Goodmans, and the Millers. Mr. Liebert, I would hope, will think over this eccentric premise and give it the heave–ho.
As to his other assertions, I must say, with all due respect, that Duke Ellington’s songs were not necessarily among the most popular of the period, nor were they, in everyone’s view, always that fetching. Brilliant as he was, he was not the apotheosis of American songwriters. There is a body of music produced in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s bulging with breathtakingly beautiful songs by Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, Arthur Schwartz, Gershwin, Berlin, Cole Porter (whom Mr. Liebert mentions in passing), and many others. Mr. Liebert’s reference, by the way, to “The Way You Look Tonight,” without composer attribution, as a “jazz classic” was enough to set the teeth on edge. It was a ballad, and a stunning one, by Jerome Kern. Oscar Peterson did a marvelous up–tempo “jazzy” version in his Jerome Kern Songbook. Bing Crosby and wife Dixie Lee leave one misty–eyed with their little–known recording. It can be performed variously. But it is in its musical core cast in an Americanized European structure.
There happen, in fact, to be a number of slow, limpid songs that have indeed become jazz classics by virtue of a particular performance. Artie Shaw’s rendition of “Indian Love Call,” a song originally as sedately operatic as possible, is an outstanding example. Basically, one gets the feeling that none of those, with some notable exceptions, who are younger than seventy–seven know enough yet to express valid opinions on the subject.
Post Mills, Vermont
I greatly appreciated reading Hugh Liebert’s opinion piece. As a twenty–something myself, I share his discriminating skepticism regarding “neo–swing,” which already seems to have run its course and is fading fast from the pop scene.
But I was puzzled that his discussion of jazz and its (as conservatively criticized) apparent lack of spirituality failed to mention the strong undercurrent of religious themes in jazz music. One of the widely accepted masterpieces of jazz, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” set forth as its sole purpose to give praise to the Creator. I have rarely been moved more in religious meditation than when listening to Coltrane’s band chant “a love supreme, a love supreme . . .” Moreover, a substantial amount of Ellington’s work articulates profound religious themes. (I recall attending Wynton Marsalis’ Ellington tour a few years ago, when he played his sacred piece “The Shepherd,” moving the well–educated, relatively affluent audience to an exhilarating religious fervor.) If Mr. Liebert was attempting a criticism of the conservative perspective on this point, he missed the most obvious point of contention. Perhaps, here, he agrees with the conservatives he criticizes.
In which case, he’s overlooking the diversity of the jazz genre. Of course, jazz generally speaking is not a sacred art form. But then again, neither is classical music since Mozart. And the case could be made that composers like Mozart and Wagner were as “decadent” as Miles Davis and Count Basie.
Travis J. Scholl
Lutheran Hour Ministries
St. Louis, Missouri
Hugh Liebert replies:
Mr. Morris is right to stress how humility and submission are closely linked to the freedom embodied in jazz. The freedom of a virtuoso jazz soloist also presupposes a certain submission insofar as a jazz musician must attain considerable skill before soloing well. Critics often say that jazz music is merely emotive and therefore undemanding—indeed, jazz musicians who do not give themselves enough credit often support such a misunderstanding. Mr. Morris is right to note that this is not so.
I did not argue that desiring an audience as such limits the “transcendent impulse.” In Christian ages, something like a transcendent impulse is required for winning an audience. In secular times, however, this is not the case. Modern musicians’ desire for an audience does, I think, limit the religiosity of their music, or at least there are strong pressures to appeal to an audience’s less pious impulses.
Both Mr. Morris and Mr. Scholl mention John Coltrane as an example of a jazz musician who plays for the greater glory of God. This is an excellent point, which calls our attention to the diversity of the jazz genre, as Mr. Scholl suggests. However, Coltrane’s appeal to transcendent ideas is not of the same nature as the transcendence of, say, Handel. In Christian ages public life—including public art, like music—is more easily oriented towards higher ends. An audience accustomed to enjoying meaningful music within a world largely ordered with regard to the same ideas and emotions expressed in that music must be somewhat different than any of Coltrane’s audiences, which are necessarily composed of modern men and women. Coltrane can—and does—express transcendent impulses, of course, but they are nevertheless different from those of previous forms of music. As Mr. Morris suggests, the same might be said of more or less all classical music since Mozart, not only jazz.
Mr. West notes that there are other great jazz musicians besides Duke Ellington. I couldn’t agree more. My article focused on Ellington due to my taste for the virtuoso soloing of the Swing Era. This is not limited to Ellington, but his band (with such greats as Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, and Clark Terry, to name a few) exemplified this aspect of jazz more than great musicians like Gershwin or Cole Porter. I take exception to Mr. West’s claim that one must be at least seventy–seven years old to write about the Swing Era; thankfully, the essence of that era was preserved on record.
Mr. West calls my claim that conservatives have never adequately appreciated swing “utter nonsense on its face.” On this point, Mr. West misunderstands my argument. Of course many contemporary conservative “fogies” pine for swing (although Mark Judge hardly qualifies as a “fogy”). But their pining is insufficient to the extent that they fail to recognize the genuine quality of swing music. They like jazz simply because it is old or because its lyrics tend to be preferable to those of Snoop Doggy Dogg. This is how, for example, Robert Bork praises jazz in Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Swing music is unique because it is both popular and high, but to understand the latter one must address the music itself.
In my article, I claimed that Mark Judge failed to do this; based on his letter, I see no reason to amend this argument. Mr. Judge is of course right to speak fondly in his book of communities like Shaw in Washington, D.C.—such communities are indeed preferable, as he notes, to the suburbs. But New Urbanism does not quite capture what makes jazz great (and as far as I know, prior to Judge’s book it never claimed to do so).
At the beginning of his letter, Mr. Judge claims that my article is an amalgamation of two dismissals of jazz. This could not be more contrary to the spirit of my article, an obvious defense of swing. I did not write that swing was “insulting to God,” merely that most jazz does not call forth the same emotions as the music of Christian ages. I did not write that jazz is “good for ‘the common man,’” merely that common men rather enjoyed swing, to swing’s credit. Nor did I argue that Mr. Judge’s book is “about music and not culture”; on the contrary, I think that his book is almost oblivious to swing music and focuses on culture entirely too much.
Later in his letter, Mr. Judge takes issue with my doubt that neo–swing has kids looking to their grandparents to learn what’s hip. Since the Swing Era ended around 1945, the last group of Americans to spend a significant amount of time as members of a swing dancing, record buying public were born in the early 1920s. Today, that generation is pushing eighty—which is to say, the last living link to the Swing Era is largely deceased. Today’s kids would have to ask their great–grandparents to tap memories of swing’s salad days. This distance from the Swing Era is all too evident in the neo–swing movement Mr. Judge favors.
More important than Mr. Judge’s misunderstanding of my argument is his insistence on a sort of musical democratization: “Genre doesn’t matter,” he writes, “sound does.” This is fine as far as it goes—there are certainly some recent pop songs that are quite good, as Mr. Judge notes. Classical music, jazz, and rock are not “different animals” in at least one important sense—they are all forms of music. Each calls forth certain emotions and lends itself to certain virtues. Today’s pop music favors a half–hearted rebelliousness or an ugly lust (with exceptions, of course). Early rock did much of the same, though without the maliciousness of Mick Jagger and everything that followed. Jazz is considerably more ennobling, even while being popular (due to records and radio) in a way classical music never could be. This is why jazz is great. Conservatives like Mark Judge, who insist on equalizing genres and are reluctant to discuss swing music itself, only obscure this greatness, even while appearing to praise it.
Getting Locke and Jefferson Right
In his review of A New Birth of Freedom (March), George McKenna criticizes Harry V. Jaffa on at least two points. First, Mr. McKenna believes Jaffa is not careful enough to distinguish Locke’s thought from the Founding:
Surprisingly, for such a noted student of Leo Strauss, Jaffa seems to assume that Locke fits smoothly into the natural law tradition of Western thought. But in Natural Right and History Strauss made a convincing case that Locke’s “state of nature” represented a radical break with the tradition and brought him closer to Thomas Hobbes.
Mr. McKenna makes a common mistake in reading the Hobbesian Locke into the Founding. This has the effect of claiming the Founders read Locke as a moral relativist. There is no such evidence. Just because Strauss found Hobbes in Locke does not mean the Founding Fathers did. This is the essential point Jaffa makes in his essay “The American Founding as the Best Regime,” but it can also be inferred from his chapter on the Declaration of Independence in Crisis of the House Divided. More pointedly, Jaffa explicitly denounces such an interpretation in his review of Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (Interpretation, Fall 1988).
No one has maintained more persistently than I have . . . the importance in the American Founding of Locke’s teaching. . . . But to say that a radical atheism discovered in Locke’s esoteric teaching was part of what they understood, believed, and incorporated into their regime—when every single document bearing on the question contradicts it, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it—is just plain crazy.
While there is no evidence for Mr. McKenna’s interpretation of a Hobbesian Locke, there is evidence that the Founders despised Hobbes. Both James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton regarded his doctrine as “repugnant,” “absurd,” and “impious.” Their low opinion of Hobbes is in contrast to their high opinion of human ends.
Second, Mr. McKenna asserts that Jefferson “pioneered in the same crackpot scientism, the same methodology for treating some people as less than fully human, that Jaffa rightly deplores in Calhoun and Stephens.” Jefferson certainly did not subscribe to “the same” science. While Jefferson may have held that certain characteristics of blacks were wanting, he never questioned their humanity. Jefferson did not even intimate, unlike John C. Calhoun and Alexander Stephens, that blacks should be enslaved “for their own benefit.” Nor did he disinherit them from salvation as Stephens and Jefferson Davis did when they likened the slaves to the cursed race of Canaan, thus making them “fitted for that condition which [they occupy] in our system.”
It is true that Jefferson recognized the slaves as “inferior,” but in the same “Query” (number 14) from the Notes on the State of Virginia from which Mr. McKenna quotes, Jefferson does not assert that they have lost their rights as a consequence. Rather, Jefferson speaks of a gradual emancipation, while also not ruling out that the slaves could catch up with their learned masters through education. Concerning the physical and mental differences, Jefferson’s concerns were wholly practical. He had little hope that blacks and whites could live together after emancipation. Yet justice demanded it. In his 1820 letter to John Holmes—the famous “Fire Bell in the Night” letter—Jefferson lamented the rejection of the Founding by defenders of slavery: “If they would dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.”
Jefferson never wavered in his devotion to that “abstract principle.” The Declaration was a beacon of hope not to a few, but to all. In his 1826 letter to Roger Weightman, Jefferson stated explicitly that the principles emanating out of the Declaration “are the grounds of hope for others.” These sentiments are so dissimilar from the opinions of such Confederate icons as Calhoun and Stephens that there is no rational connection between them.
Erik S. Root
John Locke Foundation
Raleigh, North Carolina
George McKenna replies:
In my review of Harry Jaffa’s A New Birth of Freedom I noted that Jaffa brackets together a number of thinkers who in important respects were really quite different from one another. For example, Jaffa assumes that Locke and Jefferson fit comfortably into the medieval and classical tradition of natural law. Leo Strauss, I thought, rightly challenged that assumption. From this, Erik S. Root reads that I have branded Locke a “relativist”—and therefore also Jefferson, Hamilton, James Wilson, and all the other Founding Fathers. He goes on to show that the Founders were not in fact relativists. But since I never ventured to brand Locke a relativist in the first place, all the cars on Mr. Root’s train seem to be proceeding without an engine.
What Strauss said, correctly, I think, is that Locke, like Hobbes before him, broke with the natural law tradition by denying that man is by nature a social and political animal, holding instead that man is naturally independent and once lived without government in a state of nature. This forces him into the fiction that all just government must originate in some primitive “contract.” I don’t think this amounts to relativism (Locke seems to have believed that some version of the contract was applicable to all times and places), but it certainly is a very different foundational concept than that of Aristotle or of the medieval natural law theorists, and it has very different implications for governance.
I regret leaving the impression that Thomas Jefferson denied the humanity of blacks. At times he came pretty close—as when, for example, he speculated that the preference of black men for white women over black women was analogous to “the preference of the Oranootan [sic] for the black women over those of his own species.” But he never explicitly denied their humanity. So far as I am aware, neither did John C. Calhoun and Alexander Stephens. What all of them shared was a belief that blacks belonged to a lower order of humanity. This prejudice was widespread in the nineteenth century, but in the previous century it was Jefferson who was one of the first to give it the patina of objective “science.” So, if we must arrange thinkers into contending armies, as Jaffa seems to do in his book, it is not so easy to decide where to put Jefferson. For the most part, I am sure, he belongs with the forces of light, but there is a dark side of Jefferson that cannot be ignored.
Proper Fraternal Reproof
David B. Hart’s contribution to the symposium on “The Future of the Papacy” (March) deserves special commendation. He acknowledges gratefully how hard John Paul II has tried to span the distance separating the Eastern Church and the Roman Catholic Church. That the results have been disappointing must be a source of sorrow to the ailing Pontiff. Moreover, Mr. Hart expounds with clarity and sincerity the obstacles that lay in the path of a reconciliation. He seems to draw the conclusion that the moment has not yet come. The Kairos is not yet ripe. The obstacles are many and the solution lies not in human diplomacy, but will be the fruit of prayer, sacrifices, penance, and an ardent desire on both sides to mend a tragic separation.
But what I particularly appreciate is Mr. Hart’s conviction that there are obstacles that the Latin Church could remove, obstacles that have no doubt increased the difficulty of reaching a fruitful dialogue between East and West. He deplores the desacralization of the Liturgy—“disfigured by rebarbative banality, by hymnody both insipid and heterodox, and by a style of worship that looks flippant if not blasphemous.” Alas, this severe fraternal correction is justified: blasphemous masses have proliferated since Vatican II.
Mr. Hart charitably chides the Latin Church for not censuring theo logical heresies, thereby giving the impression that her faith has become pluralistic. “Academic theologians explicitly reject principles of Catholic orthodoxy, but are not (as they would be in the East) excluded from communion.” These words—spoken in fraternal charity—are a clarion call for authorities in the Roman Catholic Church. Those truly faithful to the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church have suffered unspeakable anguish for the last forty years for the reasons bluntly stated by David Hart. Let us hope that the criticisms of an “outsider” will be gratefully received by those to whom they are addressed.
Alice von Hildebrand
New Rochelle, New York
What Makes a Just Wage Just
Stephen T. Worland’s “Just Wages” (February)—as its title implies—tries to dismiss the suffering of American workers with a quick wave of a scholarly wand and a dash of discredited economic theories. Mr. Worland labels support for a higher minimum wage “class warfare.” The minimum wage in this country has been falling rapidly for thirty years. It would have to be over $8 now, instead of $5.15, to restore it to its level of three decades ago. It would have to be much higher than that for many families to be able to afford housing. While income has remained the same or fallen for most Americans, the richest among us have seen their wealth skyrocket. The tax cuts for the wealthy now being planned in Washington constitute class warfare, but notice which class is being victimized.
Yes, victimized. Mr. Worland dismisses Marx’s idea of surplus wealth as a myth. I dismiss Mr. Worland’s argument as attacking a straw man. Has anyone proposed the elimination of profit? At most, some have proposed slicing a bit off the ever–growing profits of quite secure corporations. Meanwhile, such radical journals as Business Week and Crain’s have admitted that living wages do not cause unemployment. On the contrary, in many cases they have reduced turnover and increased morale, productivity, and competition.
Mr. Worland not only ignores these facts. He ignores the entire problem of growing poverty and homelessness in the United States. The concept of a living wage, he tells us, belongs to the Catholic Church of a century ago, and may still be relevant in the Third World. But this is coopting a concept in order to kill it. The living wage movement, which columnist Robert Kuttner has called “the most exciting grassroots enterprise to emerge since the civil rights movement,” has grown up in the United States over the past seven years, and for good reason.
Mr. Worland is, of course, right that it makes no sense for American factories in the Third World to pay high wages (especially since the same companies refuse to do so in America). But, again, few if any have argued to the contrary. Many, however, have argued that workers everywhere should be permitted to organize. This is how Pope John Paul II put it: “It is a fundamental right of workers to freely establish organizations to defend and promote their interests and to contribute in a responsible manner to the common task.” Until union–busting of the sort engaged in by American corporations abroad—or by the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for that matter—stops, all high–minded economic arguments for holding down incomes will remain laughable bunk.
Mr. Worland seems to think wages will go up when productivity does. Yet he remains oblivious to the glaring fact that productivity in the United States has shot up in recent decades, while wages have not.
Cardinal Roger Mahony has shown us an admirable example with his efforts on behalf of janitors in California. His is the path we should follow, not that of pseudo–academic apologists for oppression.
Stephen T. Worland replies:
The “living wage movement” David Swanson refers to is mainly intended to protect workers employed by firms that contract with city and county governments. To understand such a movement it is important to keep in mind the crucial difference between public and private sector employment. Public sector employees can negotiate themselves a raise, and then use their political leverage to secure the taxes to pay for it. To provide moral cover for this procedure they can recall the memory of Pope Leo XIII and invoke the concept of “a living wage.”
A private sector business firm has to meet payroll out of sales revenue. The cost of a wage increase cannot be covered by raising taxes. Because of the connection between sales revenue received and wages disbursed the firm cannot be required to pay more than what theologian Michael Naughton identifies as the “sustainable wage.”
Too Cursory Dismissal
I was disappointed to read the rather cursory dismissal of Joseph Pearce’s Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile in the March issue of First Things. The book in fact is a useful and important addition to the literature on Solzhenitsyn. Michael Scammell’s massive 1984 biography contains much original research but is openly hostile to Solzhenitsyn’s religious convictions and far from fair in reporting his fundamentally moderate political positions. Scammell’s book is marked by an aggressively secularist, liberal academic bias. It is also far too long to be of much value to the ordinary reader. D. M. Thomas’ well–written 1998 biography more accurately reports Solzhenitsyn’s views but is marred by a bizarre Freudian interpretive framework. Pearce’s more manageable biography provides little original research but has the merit of presenting a readable and quite accurate account of Solzhenitsyn’s life and thought, one which sympathetically engages his deepest moral and political convictions. It is a good place to begin one’s reading on Solzhenitsyn.
Pearce does indeed go too far in assimilating Solzhenitsyn’s views to those of E. F. Schumacher and G. K. Chesterton. But like them, Solzhenitsyn is a critic of industrial mass society and an advocate of decentralization, small–scale technology, and local self–government. There may be a touch of romanticism in these views, but they need to be thoughtfully engaged and not summarily dismissed.
The “one long interview” that Pearce is said to make “too much of” includes interesting details on Solzhenitsyn’s life, reconsiderations of older writings and essays, a fascinating account of Solzhenitsyn’s 1993 meeting with Pope John Paul II (on the fifteenth anniversary of the Pope’s pontificate), as well as remarkable reflections on how the Church might come to terms with modernity without losing its soul. I found this material quite helpful as I completed my own soon to be published work on the “political philosophy” of Solzhenitsyn.
Pearce’s book concludes with an Appendix that reproduces nine never before translated “prose poems” of Solzhenitsyn’s that were originally published in Russia in 1997. These poems have an elegiac quality and thoughtfully deal with such subjects as nature, death, and the power of conscience against the backdrop of Russia’s new “time of troubles.” These alone are worth the price of admission.
Daniel J. Mahoney
More to the Story
Richard John Neuhaus would have been better served to have gathered all the facts before commenting on the controversy concerning Baylor University and Professor William A. Dembski (While We’re At It, February). It is true that William Dembski was removed from the leadership of the academic unit formerly known as the Michael Polanyi Center. However, his removal was related to matters of internal relationships and not to his academic work. The fact remains that Bill Dembski is still a faculty member at Baylor University. The project known as Intelligent Design—among other projects related to science, the philosophy and history of science, and science and religion—continues. Dr. Bruce Gordon, a friend of Bill Dembski and also an advocate of Intelligent Design, is now the director.
Baylor University is indeed committed to a thoroughgoing integration of faith and learning and the implications for an academic institution of the confession, “Jesus is Lord.” (See Thesis I of Father Neuhaus’ superb essay, “The Christian University: Eleven Theses,” first delivered at activities related to my inauguration, later printed in First Things [January 1996], and discussed and analyzed every year by incoming students in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core.)