The Public Square
Last fall the nation was seized by a spasm of race-related excitements. Not really, of course. Most people were going about their daily business. But the media had elected race as the crisis of the season, and the chattering classes couldn’t get enough of it. (But then, where does that put us as we chatter on about the chattering classes?) In fact, the spasm was not simply the product of media hype, although it was inseparable from that disease. Among the publicly attentive, even the most sober minds suspected that some major change in black-white relations may be underway”or at least a major change in the way we think and talk about black-white relations. The immediate occasion for the excitements can be stated briefly: O. J., Farrakhan, Powell.
My friend Jim Nuechterlein has thoughtfully opined on the O. J. verdict (“O. J. Simpson and the American Dilemma,” December 1995), and most people probably feel they’ve had enough of that subject. If I could add but one word, it is that all the post-verdict talk about blacks and whites “perceiving reality” in incompatible ways was great grist for second-hand deconstructionists in the media, and played nicely into the new tolerance for racial separatism in our public discourse. Certainly Minister Louis Farrakhan was pleased; almost as pleased as he had a right to be by the more than 400,000 black men who turned out for his Million Man March. About that event the editorial line was that we must distinguish the message from the messenger, and it is true that the mostly middle-class black men who gathered in Washington seemed to be affirming, in a most welcome way, fairly traditional truths about personal and family responsibility. Their being there also testified to their recognition of a racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, hatemongering separatist as a legitimate leader of black Americans. Maybe even the premier leader.
Then there was Colin Powell. One could not help but be amused by the fervor with which liberal Democrats touted him for the Republican nomination. Fearing that their political party had self-destructed, they hoped he would take over the Republican Party on their behalf. Seeing the game afoot, some conservatives, far from being amused, went into a frenzy of strident and unfair criticism of Powell, threatening to bolt if he is on the Republican ticket. As it happened, Powell declined to run (although not very convincingly foreclosing the number two spot) and the election was left to the usual suspects. The whole thing was a marvelous exercise in what Milan Kundera calls the imagology that has replaced ideology. The O. J. image: Omigod, we really are two nations, separate and hateful. The Farrakhan image: Blacks are embracing the separatism they claim has been forced upon them. The Powell image: The Great Black Hope (not too black, many thought) who will bring us together again.
A Catalog of DiscontentsAlways relishing a good show, the gods of public theater contrived to publish, smack in the middle of all this, Dinesh D’Souza’s The End of Racism (Free Press), a big, fat, seven hundred-page tract that provides whites with countless reasons for disliking blacks, and blacks with as many reasons for disliking themselves. Dinesh is a friend and an honorable man, and that is not what he intended to write, but sometimes a project gets out of hand and arguments get hijacked for purposes one did not have in mind. Anyone who writes regularly on topics in dispute knows the experience. Some reviewers peremptorily condemned the book as racist, which is false. But it is easier than engaging arguments and evidence that must make any thoughtful person uneasy.
Although author and publisher make no secret of their intending the book to be Controversial!, it has in fact generated relatively little public debate. Certainly nothing like the furor surrounding the 1994 study, The Bell Curve , by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which purportedly demonstrated, not to put too fine a point on it, the cognitive inferiority of most blacks. One reason, no doubt, is that, unlike Herrnstein and Murray, D’Souza is not an established scholar but a young journalist with a penchant for the provocative. And provocative he certainly is.
Among the arguments he makes in detail is that slavery is not some uniquely American sin about which we need feel eternally guilty. Until the nineteenth century, slavery was a near universal institution, and it continues on a sizable scale in parts of the world today. The remarkable thing is not that the American South had slaves but that the American North didn’t; and even more remarkable is the achievement of the West in abolishing slavery. On this question, D’Souza follows an argument that has been made very effectively by Thomas Sowell over the years.
The end of racism in D’Souza’s title refers to “scientific racism””i.e., the theories developed by some of the best and most respectable thinkers over the centuries in order to explain why Africans, Asians, and other “primitive people” lagged so far behind the advanced societies of the West. The title refers, secondarily, to what is ordinarily called white racism in this country, which by almost all relevant studies has dramatically declined and is today effectively ostracized. It is very much part of D’Souza’s purpose to debunk the myth of white racism and other notions invoked to support affirmative action programs, which, he rightly contends, inevitably end up with quotas. Here he is at his muckraking best in exposing what quotas have done in education and employment. The quota system also invades business. For instance, special deals in buying and selling television stations are set aside for the “disadvantaged””disadvantage being defined by race. Vernon Jordan and other civil rights leaders, as they used to be called, have made big money on such deals. He might have noted that two other disadvantaged millionaires, O. J. Simpson and Colin Powell, have taken advantage of these provisions designed to help the alleged victims of racism.
D’Souza makes much of “rational discrimination,” meaning, for example, that cabdrivers and storekeepers, whether black or white, rationally shy away from dealing with black males of a certain age and demeanor. That, he contends convincingly, is not usefully or accurately described as racism. And I think no one could come away from the evidence he produces and still claim that “black racism” is not an appropriate and necessary term. D’Souza’s conclusion is that there are three possible explanations for the sad state of so many black Americans, especially the millions in the urban underclass. It is the burden of the book to demonstrate that it cannot be explained by white racism. He also rejects”although he does not argue his rejection”the explanation of genetic inferiority along the lines suggested by The Bell Curve . And so he comes down on the side of civilization or culture as the key. Blacks in trouble are suffering the consequences of a pathological black civilization, and blacks are chiefly”at points he comes close to saying solely”responsible for their unhappy plight.
People who really do not like blacks but feel guilty about that will come away from this book feeling much better about themselves. That is certainly not D’Souza’s intent, but he could and should have been much more careful in preventing his book from being used as an apologia for white racism. The odious racial views of a Mark Fuhrman, the police officer in the O. J. trial, are relatively rare, but they are not so rare that we can forget the imperative of stigmatizing them as odious. D’Souza certainly does not deny that imperative, but neither does it play a conspicuous part in his depiction of race relations today.
“For all its variety the black community nevertheless maintains a distinct and recognizable black culture,” he writes. That’s partly true, and therefore partly false. In his telling, the variety does not come through nearly as much as it should. Not all the streets of the inner city are “irrigated with blood, urine, and alcohol.” And that is far from being the only thing, or the main thing, to be said about those streets that are. From my seventeen years at St. John’s in Brooklyn, I know there are honorable, hardworking, courageous people on those streets as well. And it is by no means the case, as many readers of D’Souza’s book might be led to infer, that all middle-class blacks are filled with guilt and resentment stemming from their being beneficiaries of unjust preferments. Nor do many, perhaps most, blacks share the angry alienation from America that D’Souza takes to be a mark of “the black culture.” The End of Racism contains a great deal that is true, and painful, and necessary to ponder. The enemies of political correctness may be excused for relishing it. But exposing the falsehoods and fatuities that distort our thinking about race in America, while a necessary task, is not sufficient for dealing with the problems that are upon us.
“Benign” Race ConsciousnessMany who have thought hard about these problems have now reached the conclusion that our original sin”or at least since the civil rights acts of the early 1960s”was to start counting by race. The usual way of putting this is to say that Dr. King had it right when he said in his great “dream” speech of 1963 that people should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Morality and the common good have a curious way of hanging out together, and Dr. King was right, both morally and in terms of public policy. As Glenn Loury, the distinguished black thinker at Boston University, has observed, once we start counting by race in order to benefit blacks, we invite those who do not have the interest of blacks at heart to do a complete count of the black reality, including much that in the recent past was not mentioned in polite company.
Of course we are told by voices on all points of the political spectrum that “color-blindness” is a naive ideal. What is naive and not at all ideal, however, is the idea that the government should continue to count by race. People cannot always be color-blind, and one can make the case that sometimes taking race into account is appropriate and necessary. But the government can and must be color-blind”as in “equality under the law.” Part of the problem with governmental race counting is that the government can’t do it and doesn’t do it. How does the U.S. Census decide who is white and who is black? It doesn’t. You do, by saying you are black or white or whatever.
Yet great interests are at stake in race counting. Government grants, voting districts, school transfers, and much else is determined by the race count. If your claim is contested, the “one drop rule” of any blood other than Caucasian gets you counted as a minority, with attendant entitlements. The 1990 census says 80 percent of Americans are white, 12 percent are black, about 9 percent are Hispanic, and nearly 3 percent Asian. Recognizing the arbitrariness of the count, Census officials are talking about adding other categories, including “multiracial.” Not surprisingly, minority activists strongly oppose this, fearing any dilution of their numbers and their consequent claim on benefits aimed at compensating them for their “disadvantage.” This state of affairs, more and more Americans are realizing, is simply crazy; and dangerously crazy because it inevitably exacerbates the race consciousness that has so plagued our history.
The civil rights movement under Dr. King was largely successful in fighting malign race consciousness. The great mistake since then was to institutionalize a supposedly benign race consciousness that has generated new and potentially greater racial suspicion and hostility than we had before the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956. Jorge Amselle of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington think tank headed by Linda Chavez, the former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, says, “You don’t cure the problem of people treating each other differently because of race by having government treat people differently because of race. If you want a color-blind society, you have to have color-blind public policy.” That puts it very nicely.
It may be that there will always be racial discrimination in America, and most of it not very “rational.” Some have suggested that real color- blindness requires racial intermarriage almost as the national norm, but that doesn’t seem to be in the offing. The census says that in 1990 there were 242,000 black-and-white couples, double the number in 1980, and up 375 percent since 1960. But that is still only 2.2 percent of the married population. The most basic discrimination in America, despite laws against it, is in housing”in the dynamics that determine where people live. And it may not be accurate to call this discrimination. Nobody has studied these matters longer or more intelligently than Harvard social scientist Nathan Glazer.
Then and NowIn the Fall 1995 issue of the Public Interest , Glazer notes that the overwhelming majority of blacks, both poor and affluent, live in overwhelmingly black neighborhoods. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of blacks and a majority of whites say they would like to live in an integrated neighborhood. One problem is that blacks define “integrated” as 50-50, while “whites have little tolerance for racial mixture beyond 20 percent black.” It has been the case for years, both in the city and in suburbs, that anything above 25 percent black is the tipping point at which neighborhoods begin to become resegregated as black. The residential racial mix that people, both black and white, prefer inevitably will have a strong bearing on the racial configuration of neighborhoods.
Glazer invokes a demonstration by Thomas Schelling that he calls “elegant and decisive.” “Take a checkerboard and distribute nickels and dimes on it at random, with ten percent of the coins nickels and a few spaces empty. Then move one coin at a time into an empty space, with only this rule: The nickel would like to have at least one of its neighboring spaces occupied by a nickel and the dime would like to have one of its neighboring spaces occupied by a dime. In a relatively few moves, the nickels begin to concentrate in one section of the checkerboard. If the preference is for two neighboring nickels, or two neighboring dimes, the concentration will occur faster.” Is this a result of prejudice or of preference, and how do you tell the difference? Experience counts. “It is not easy to separate out from prejudice the influence of fears that, with an increase in black occupancy, crime will increase, schools will decline, and house values will drop.” People prefer not to live in neighborhoods where these things happen. On these matters, there is no difference between whites and blacks on what constitutes a “bad neighborhood.” Those who can move out do move out. And the checkerboard effect remains relentlessly in play.
Glazer’s is a melancholy reflection on what he hoped for thirty years ago and what he has learned since. “Government action can never match, in scale and impact, the crescive effects of individual, voluntary decision. This is what has raised group after group, this is what has broken down the boundaries of ethnicity and race (yes, race, when it comes to some races) in the past. But these effects have operated excruciatingly slowly when it comes to American blacks. They have operated to some extent, as we see by the greatly expanded number of blacks making middle-class incomes, by the creation of integrated middle-class neighborhoods. It is the scale that has been so disappointing. Why our expectations were so disappointed is still obscure to me, and all the research does not make it clearer. We have to go to the disaster that encompasses the black family, the failure to close educational achievement gaps, the rise of worklessness among black males, the increase in crime, and, behind all these, there are other factors in infinite regress.
“This failure leads many to propose larger-scale government action, unlikely as the prospects for such are in the present and foreseeable political climate. But even if that climate were better, it is hard to see what government programs could achieve. They would be opposed by the strongest motives that move men and women: their concern for family, children, and property. However wrong I was in expecting more rapid change to result from the civil rights revolution, a greater measure of government effort to promote residential integration directly was not the answer, and is still not the answer. The forces that will produce it are still individual and voluntaristic, rather than governmental and authoritative. To adapt the title of Glenn Loury’s book, it will have to be one by one,’ individual by individual, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood. Slowly as these work, there is really no alternative.”
Bliss It Was To Be AliveI, too, look back. More than thirty years, to when I first began to march with Dr. King. The manifestos, the demonstrations, the vigils, the arrests and jailings, it all seems like only yesterday. Those of us on the cutting edge of the movement were called prophetic, and were praised for the sacrifices we made and the risks we took. Little did people know. It was the joy of being part of something grand and indubitably good. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very Heaven.” With Dr. King, I believed that what Gunnar Myrdal had called “the American dilemma” was turning out to be something like the redemption of the American experiment. I recall Dr. King saying over a leisurely lunch, “If we die tomorrow, we will know, and history will know, and God will know that we did our part.” Heady stuff, that. But it was not yesterday. It was a long, long time ago.
The O. J. verdict, Farrakhan, and the widespread desire, even a palpable yearning, for a leader such as Colin Powell. The rubble of broken dreams, the stark terror of broken lives in the urban underclass. It is a very different time. Books such as The Bell Curve and The End of Racism add to our awareness that it is a different time. It is a time of candor when thoughtful people who do not have a racist bone in their body are exposing the lies of a civil rights establishment and its liberal claque that have no legitimate claim on the luminous moment that was the civil rights movement of Dr. King. It is also a dangerous time when permission slips are being issued to say things heretofore forbidden. The haters, white and black, are taking heart.
But for most Americans it is probably a time of disappointment mixed with relief. They feel that over these thirty years they have done what they were supposed to do, and it did not work out at all the way they hoped. So now they have decided that, unless they or their families are threatened by it, they are going to stop worrying about race relations in America. They have decided to stop even thinking about it. One feels one should argue against that decision, but it is hard to know just how.
For those of us who will not, maybe because we cannot, stop worrying and talking about it, several resolves are in order. When we speak about black America, and especially about the underclass, we must speak with respect for the humanity of others. The dope-pusher, the rutting teenager who is father of five and father to none, the thug who kills the Korean grocer, they are all, nonetheless, created in the image of God. That is not liberal sentimentality. That is hard-core Christian doctrine. People who want to get back to basics must want to get back also to that. As much as possible, we must think and speak in a color- blind manner. Social problems in America are human problems. They are not only “their” problems, they are also our problems. Yes, there are important differences in culpability. But as the late Abraham Joshua Heschel frequently observed, “Some are guilty, all are responsible.” That maxim is not without its ambiguities, but the alternative is to accept the end of one nation under God.
If we understand that, we have no choice but to condemn and stigmatize as effectively as we can separatisms and racisms in whatever form. Pusillanimous academics who have been intimidated by radical shuffles must find the courage to challenge the racial separatism now so deeply entrenched at most major universities. People who say they are speaking “as a white male” or as an “African American female” are to be told in no uncertain terms that they have nothing interesting to say unless they are prepared to speak as themselves. They should know that, if they are to claim serious attention, they cannot demean themselves by reducing their identity to a contingency over which they have no control.
If we understand what is at stake, in every forum on every subject there will be zero tolerance of the abdication of personal responsibility. Nothing will do but a frankly moral condemnation of crime and vice, whether the vice be drug addiction or everyday sloth. The old excuses are out. Victim politics is finished. The American people have simply turned a deaf ear to all that. They’ve had enough, they’ve had more than enough. That seems harsh, and it is, unless joined to the hope that there is still a will to overcome the American dilemma, as in “We shall overcome.”
If we want to overcome black-white hostilities, we will have to do it the old fashioned way: blacks befriending whites and whites befriending blacks, and learning to trust one another and work together. Undaunted by the checkerboard effect, we can do what we can do. As Loury puts it, change comes one by one and from the inside out. This is a different kind of affirmative action that can make a difference for the better. In many parts of the country, black and white local churches, one by one, can form real partnerships, and stick with it. Will the white churches usually be more affluent and therefore tempted to patronize the black churches? Maybe so, but so what? The temptation can be resisted, and the important thing is that what is done is done together as equals in Christ.
Not the End of Public PolicyNor, despite all the public policy disappointments, are we bereft of political remedies. Leave it to others to argue that welfare reform is a fiscal imperative. Welfare reform is a moral imperative. Those who claim to speak for the poor but don’t know any poor people stand exposed as the frauds that they are. Hundreds of welfare experiments in all fifty states must get underway, and must be carefully tested not-or not chiefly”by whether they save money or cut down the size of government but by whether they help people take charge of their lives and enter the mainstream of American opportunity and responsibility.
Then there is adoption. In recent years all kinds of policies and procedures have been put into place making interracial adoption impossible or extremely difficult. Such policies must be called what they are. They are racist. Hundreds of thousands of children have their lives blighted by being shuffled from place to place in foster care while millions of American couples yearn to adopt them. Couples pay many thousands of dollars to have people search out children in Asia and Latin America, while ideologically driven social workers and psychologists here at home tell us it is better for a child to die in a drive”by shooting than to have his “black identity” confused because he is adopted by white people. This is madness, and cruelty, of a high order.
And we can institute real school choice. Parental choice in education is a matter of simple justice, and for many poor parents it is a matter of survival. Government monopoly school systems in New York and every other major city are an unmitigated disaster. They cannot be fixed, they must be replaced. The monopoly is defended by what is probably the most powerful political lobby in America, the teachers’ unions. Whatever the noble intentions and heroic efforts of many teachers, these unions are the enemy of the children of the poor. With very few exceptions, nobody in these major cities who can afford an alternative sends their children to the public school.
In New York City, it is generously estimated that one out of ten poor children beginning first grade will graduate from high school prepared for a real college education””real” meaning not majoring in “black studies” or some other pseudo-discipline, and not dropping out in the first or second year. Ninety percent of the students in the parochial schools of the city”drawn from the same population”go on to college or technical training for a real job. The government school spends $9,000 per year per student, the parochial school considerably less than half of that. Middle-class and wealthy Americans have school choice. They pay tuition or move to where the schools are better. In opposing vouchers and other remedies, the government school establishment invokes the separation of church and state. What we need, what the poor most particularly need, is the separation of school and state.
The O. J. verdict. Farrakhan. A Great Black Hope who declines to save us. Thirty years of mostly well-intended policies that have turned upon us with a vengeance. It’s not what we had in mind back then; it’s not what we had in mind at all. But now we know where it started going wrong. It started going wrong when we tried to remedy malign race- consciousness with benign race-consciousness, when we started counting by race. So what is to be done? Perhaps just a few things in public policy, but those few things need urgently to be done. For the most part, it is a matter of one by one, from the inside out.
Subjects Both Big and Important
Subjects Both Big and Important
Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism . Big subjects, those. The book of essays by that title is edited by Kenneth L. Grasso, Gerard V. Bradley, and Robert P. Hunt and is published by Rowman & Littlefield (271 pp., $26.95). The subtitle is The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Moral Foundations of Democracy , so you can see the subject is, to say the least, comprehensive. You know I would not have written the foreword to this book if I didn’t think it was very important. Herewith what I wrote:
This book makes a very ambitious proposal. The proposal is that Catholic social thought can contribute significantly to revivifying the American experiment in liberal democracy. That there is a need, an urgent need, for such a revival is today widely recognized by thinkers across the political and philosophical spectrum. Some of the essays here are polemical and others apologetic, but the book taken all in all is a proposal. As such, it must make its case sometimes in conversation with and sometimes against other proposals that are advanced in the public square of democratic discourse.
The fact that it is a Catholic proposal does not give it privileged status. Indeed, in the opinion of many, that fact may make it distinctly suspect. Catholicism and democracy, after all, have had a rather rocky history. For many readers, the arguments pressed in these essays will have to win acceptance despite, not because of, their Catholic provenance. Part of the ambitiousness of this project is to demonstrate that Catholic also means catholic; that Catholic social thought is truly comprehensive of the truths and concerns important to those who are not Catholic, and that its being comprehensively catholic is fully faithful to its being authentically Catholic.
Readers would be suspicious, and rightly so, of Catholics presenting an otherwise convincing public philosophy that does not square with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Just as rightly, they would have slight interest in an argument that does no more than demonstrate that democracy is compatible with Catholic teaching. That argument was of great concern to an earlier generation of Catholics, but it is chiefly of interest to Catholics. On the far side of the older argument over the compatibility of Catholicism and democracy, this book seeks to convince us that the principles and practices of the free society are made necessary by Catholic teaching. Beyond that, we are asked to examine the claim that Catholic teaching proposes the most compelling understanding of a society that is both free and just.
Something NewThere could not have been a book like this fifty years ago. And maybe not even fifteen years ago. Fifty years ago, a self-consciously immigrant Catholicism was still in a largely defensive posture, uncertain about its place in the American experiment, and even more uncertain about the fit between Catholic teaching and the constituting principles of the American public order. Fifteen years ago, also in an essentially defensive mode, Catholic thinkers were eager to demonstrate that they could be good liberals just like everybody else”it being assumed that everybody else defined what it meant to be a good liberal. Of course, both fifty and fifteen years ago, there were exceptions, but as a rule Catholics had neither the confidence nor the inclination to propose Catholic social thought as a critical and constructive resource for putting the American experiment on more solid philosophical and moral foundations.
The new moment of which this book is one evidence is made possible, in large part, by the much-discussed “crisis of liberalism.” As more and more secular intellectuals became aware that they could not offer a philosophical defense of the liberalism that they cherished, an opening was created for substantively different arguments. Aside from those who, like Richard Rorty, are content to say that the liberal society is their “ironic” preference, thoughtful citizens recognize that this kind of experiment must be philosophically and morally legitimated if it is to be sustained. The crisis of liberalism coincided with the dramatic development of Catholic teaching on the free and just social order. The Magna Carta of that development was the Second Vatican Council, and it has been vigorously advanced and elaborated by the pontificate of John Paul II. One edges only a little distance out on the limb by saying that this book could not have been written before Centesimus Annus .
But then one quickly edges back again, lest the impression be given that these essays subscribe to the pernicious notion that there are two Catholic Churches, the preconciliar and the postconciliar (or the pre- John Paul II and John Paul II churches). The Catholic intellectual tradition and, more specifically, Catholic social teaching long predate our historical moment, as, for that matter, does reflection on “the moral foundations of democracy.” The singular nature of this moment may be that it provides the opportunity for a less inhibited engagement of Catholic teaching and democratic theory”less inhibited from the Catholic side because of the historical ascendancy of democracy in the framework of the Anglo-American experience, rather than the French revolutionary framework with its powerful animus against religion in general and Catholicism in particular. And the engagement is less inhibited on the side of the friends of democracy because it has become evident also to many non-Catholics that, at the edge of the Third Millennium, the Catholic Church is, intellectually and institutionally, the world’s most influential champion of human freedom.
That the Catholic Church is such a champion may not be self-evidently true to some readers. These essays may not convince them of that claim, but they are surely a persuasive invitation to entertain the possibility of its being true. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio , John Paul II writes, “The Church imposes nothing; she only proposes.” A critically important question is whether that is a statement of principle or only an acknowledgment of limitations upon the Church’s power under contemporary circumstances. John Paul clearly intends to say that, even if the Church could impose, she should not and would not. The free society is composed of free persons who are called to respond freely to the truth proposed by the Church. No other kind of response is desired by the Church or pleasing to the Church’s Lord. In Catholic teaching, human freedom is not grudgingly acknowledged but theologically imperative. Freedom is ordered to truth but freedom can never be coerced to truth.
This book should be viewed, then, as a proposal. It proposes a more secure moral foundation for liberalism, community, and democracy, and it proposes better ways of understanding liberalism, community, and democracy. Put differently, this is not just a case of Catholicism coming to the moral rescue of liberal democracy in crisis. It is catholic thought in the service of better understanding of how the crisis came about, and it is Catholic thought proposing a different, more morally compelling, and more enduring idea of the democratic experiment. To be sure, a few of the essayists perhaps are not entirely untouched by a suspicion that the democratic experiment was and remains a misbegotten idea. In that sense, these pages reflect a reciprocal testing”a testing of democratic theory and practice by Catholic thought, and a testing of Catholic thought by democratic theory and practice. For a few participants in this discussion, the suspicion may be that one or the other must prevail; for most, the clear hope is that both will emerge stronger by virtue of their mutual and vigorous engagement.
A Mole Self-Exposed
A Mole Self-Exposed
Conservative Catholics in this country are frequently unhappy with political and economic statements issuing from the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), the action arm of the U.S. bishops. And it is true that all too often the staff of the USCC”with exceptions, such as the splendid pro-life office”sounds like an auxiliary of the Democratic Party. But whatever the justified discontents of Catholics here, they are small compared with the complaints of Catholics in Canada.
For seventeen years Tony Clarke, an Anglican, directed the Social Affairs department of the Canadian bishops conference, working in tandem with liberation theologian Gregory Baum. Now Clarke has written a book about that experience, Behind the Mitre: A Mole in the Chancery (HarperCollins). Clarke, a champion of class struggle who has been enamored of almost every lefty cause that has come down the pike, exults in the fact that, with the help of a few friendly bishops, he was a very successful “mole” in undermining a conservative hierarchy that is captive to the “corporate agenda.” He writes, “By the end of the [1980s], the Canadian bishops were producing between 8 and 10 percent of the world’s output in Catholic social teaching documents, far beyond our proportional representation in the global church . . . . Our world-wide reputation in the social justice field [had been] growing since the sixties.” What a curious boast of quantified productivity; he sounds almost like one of those despised capitalists.
The mole’s greatest victory was the 1982 manifesto by the bishops conference, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis . He writes that it garnered nineteen editorials, mostly favorable, and even the Washington Post and New York Times took note of it. Small town socialist makes it big. By this time, however, some bishops were beginning to suspect that Mr. Clarke’s economic reflections posed an ethical crisis. After failing to get the bishops to oppose the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), Clarke took a leave of absence to fight it himself, and at the 1992 NAFTA signing ceremony stood up and called Prime Minister Brian Mulroney a liar. The bishops were not amused, and refused to give him his old job back. Another victory for the “corporate agenda.”
Grumbling that moles get no respect, Mr. Clarke is by no means prepared to call off the revolution. At the end of the book he is looking for other institutions that might fill the moral vacuum left by the abdication of the bishops. It is reported that the Canadian percentage of “the world’s output in Catholic social teaching documents” has sharply declined in the last few years. A pity, some might think. It was nice to have a neighbor to the North that made the USCC look so very sensible.
Humor on the Crusty Side
Humor on the Crusty Side
In the Church of England, in the Episcopal Church, and, soon, in the entire Anglican communion, it seems that Anglo-Catholic convictions and their proponents are being thoroughly routed, and rooted out. A century and a half ago, John Henry Newman concluded that Anglicanism as a via media between Catholicism and Protestantism is a delusion”a “paper church” he called it”and his judgment now appears to many to be vindicated beyond reasonable doubt. The long-standing Anglican concern that Rome recognize the legitimacy of Anglican orders is now largely a thing of the past. The dominant view among Episcopalians in the U.S. appears to be that this is “our church” and we can arrange things, including ordered ministry, as we think best. That, in unmistakable contrast to the Anglo-Catholic claim that Anglicanism is, along with Rome and Orthodoxy, a branch of the one Catholic Church.
It is difficult to overestimate the sense of betrayal felt by Roman Catholics and Orthodox who have over the years been so ecumenically engaged with Anglicanism. In response to Anglicanism’s declaring itself to be one more Protestant denomination among others, there are signs of crustiness among their former ecumenical partners. One Roman Catholic prelate, for instance, recently found himself on a platform with several Episcopal bishops, including a woman bishop. In the course of the meeting, he several times referred to her as Bishop _________, and afterwards a very conservative Catholic questioned the propriety of lending credibility to the claim that a woman could be a bishop. “Why not?” responded the prelate, “She’s as much of a bishop as the rest of them.”
Also on the crusty side is the story told by another Catholic bishop and ecumenist who has been intimately involved in Anglican relations. Several years ago, he says, he visited a priest friend who was in the hospital. Asked how things were going, the bishop mentioned the enormous ecumenical difficulties posed by the likelihood that the Church of England would vote to ordain women. His bed-ridden friend rose on his elbows and declared, “But why on earth should that be a problem? They can’t ordain men , can they?”
Anglicans will probably not find these anecdotes amusing, and a few years ago ecumenically minded Catholics would not have laughed at them either. But things have changed, and behind the humor is a great disappointment among Anglicans and Roman Catholics who not so long ago thought that they sighted on the horizon at least a glimpse of the possibility of reunion. Some Anglo-Catholics have left the Anglican communion to join new groups professing to be orthodox Anglicanism, many others are entering into full communion with Rome, and Rome has declared that disappointments and setbacks require a redoubling of ecumenical effort. As for the eclipse of the prospect of reunion, it seems not to phase those who now seem to be in charge of the Anglican communion.
The Way of Honor
The Way of Honor
There is hardly a more civilized voice in contemporary public discourse than that of Glenn Tinder. He is a person whose arguments, also in these pages, hold out hope that old-fashioned liberalism, understood as intelligence and decency, is not entirely dead. Tinder, who for many years taught political science at the University of Massachusetts, wrote a book some twenty years ago called Tolerance: Toward a New Civility . Now a much rewritten version has been published by the University of Missouri Press under the title Tolerance and Community (247 pp., $39.95
Then Tinder was writing against radical intellectuals such as Herbert Marcuse and Robert Paul Wolff, on the one hand, and against liberals of an historically optimistic cast, such as Mill and Locke, on the other. As reflected in the title, the new edition takes up many of the themes associated with “communitarianism,” a movement that gained considerable attention a few years ago. Tinder’s argument turns importantly upon the distinction between society and community; a reasonably just society makes community possible, the latter being defined in terms of engagement, attentiveness, and openness to others. And, finally, to the Other. “The most conspicuous difference between the present work and anything I would write now on tolerance,” Tinder says, “is probably that it is not related explicitly to the principles of Christianity. Although I was a Christian when I wrote the earlier work, I had not yet learned to write as a Christian.”
Tinder certainly writes as a Christian now, and the reader may be excused for thinking that, although not so explicitly, he wrote as a Christian then. For instance, this from his conclusion: “It may seem that the tolerant society thus sketched”careful of its cohesion, even to the extent of limiting tolerance, yet attentive, democratic, and pluralistic”is incomplete, somehow in need of rounding off. Incompleteness, or tentativeness, however, is precisely the quality I have intended to suggest. No society is a community and no institution speaks with absolute authority concerning the requirements of community; practically every major argument in this essay has led us in the direction of these conclusions. What they imply is that we must resist our desire for a complete, rounded-off social ideal. We must bear the discomfort of a world in which no social arrangements, not even arrangements that are merely theoretical, can be wholly trusted.” To which today’s Tinder might add the observation that “we have here no abiding city.”
Civility is today often judged to be a wimpish virtue or no virtue at all. For Tinder, it is the difficult achievement of the disciplined soul. “Here we find ourselves drawing together some of the main threads in these reflections”attentiveness and openness, veracity and responsibility. It is unnecessary to try to describe all of the correlations among these virtues, which are numerous. What matters to us here is that these virtues provide a general definition of civility”of the stance of a person who, as far as possible, is deliberately and carefully related (attentively and openly, veraciously and responsibly) to all members of the human race, so far as they are encountered in one’s life, yet makes these relations the substance of a resolutely critical and independent personality. Such a person”a civil person” stands apart from the impersonal forces of society and history, maintaining a certain integrity of soul. Yet this integrity arises from recognition that personal being is not single and self-contained but consists in relationships that implicitly comprise all human beings. Civility is personal independence achieved through resolute attentiveness to others and openness to all truth.
“Civility is a stance for all times, but it is perhaps one particularly suited to our own times. This is partly because it counters political despair. It rejects the temptation, arising powerfully from the tragedies of our time, to turn away from the life of humankind and to look for refuge in private life. It denies that the self can be saved by withdrawal, whatever the violence and senselessness reigning in history. What is more, it rejects the temptation, also arising powerfully from recent experiences, to sacrifice the self to a leader, a party, a political dogma, or some other idol. It is based on the Socratic- Christian conviction that your primary responsibility is in some sense not for history but for the state of your own soul”a conviction expressing, not indifference to history, but rather a sense of the limits of an individual’s wisdom and power. Yet it acknowledges that caring for your soul depends on taking a responsible place in history, for a human being cannot achieve humanity in a state of abstraction from the human species.”
Achieving humanity, also known as saving your own soul, is very much at the center of Tinder’s concern. “But tolerance is mainly to be recommended not for its consequences, since a realistic tolerance must acknowledge that these are uncertain, but for its inherent fitness. It is truer to the obscure and trying character of reality and the limitations of human beings than are the ideologies. Above all, it is truer to our supreme responsibility, that of keeping ourselves facing in the direction of humanity and truth in times that tempt us to despair of everything but immediate pleasure. Tolerance is the practice of this fidelity; it is a readiness for speaking and hearing the truth in love.’ In maintaining such a state of readiness you will probably not save humankind and the world, but at least you will see to what is your main concern”your own communal and truthful bearing in an age of tribulation and despair.” Remember when people would say of someone that he is an honorable man? Meet Glenn Tinder.
In Defense of Strangeness
In Defense of Strangeness
I knew Hannah Arendt slightly and admired her greatly. Her writing on totalitarianism, in particular, had a powerful influence on my being an unapologetic anti-Communist even in my days as a young man of the left. I therefore share a measure of the disappointment expressed by so many upon the publication of Elzbieta Ettinger’s book examining the relationship between Arendt and Martin Heidegger. Writing in the New York Observer , Anne Roiphe summarizes the tale: “The Hannah Arendt- Martin Heidegger story is about a professor who slept with his student, used her, sent her away, lied to her, joined the regime that wanted to kill her, and then used her again to rehabilitate his reputation.” That’s about it. Roiphe then adds, “A sorry tale, but not so strange.”
Then she goes off the deep end. “When I read about the recent column in the Columbia Daily Spectator by a black student saying that Jews were responsible for spilling African blood, I felt a chill. My father, brother, husband, and daughter are Columbia graduates. Just down the street on Broadway, somebody is using the dehumanizing language of leeches and bloodsuckers again. Of course, times are different. The Million Man March hasn’t turned into Kristallnacht, not yet.
“But I don’t feel friendly. I don’t accept excuses. I know that fear is a healthy response. I hate this black kid back. I’m not ashamed to hate my enemy. What worries me: Could I be Hannah Arendt, foolishly in love with a seductive America? Will I be reading the New York Review of Books when the next pogrom starts? My illusion of safety may be a delusion. Will I be quoting Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Emerson as they come for me? The black student on the Columbia campus is not Martin Heidegger, though Cornel West and the others who clapped their hands for the Washington march may be. I hope at least I’ll return the flowers sent by my enemies.”
Leave aside the risible suggestion that Cornel West’s agitprop might be taken for world-class philosophy, what’s wrong with this is the hysterical self-dramatization laced with paranoia that refuses to let the strangeness of the Arendt-Heidegger tale remain strange. The facile identification of America with the Germany of the 1930s, of ugly expressions of black racism with the Holocaust, and of a bright young journalistic self with the intellectually formidable Hannah Arendt”all this is the enemy of clear thinking. Roiphe says the case of Arendt is “not so strange.” Her explanation is that Arendt didn’t fear enough and didn’t hate enough. Fear and hate, presumably, will keep Roiphe and others from making Arendt’s mistake. Heidegger’s Nazi friends might have agreed. The sorrow and the strangeness is in Arendt’s disordered love joined to a respect for philosophical genius, also for genius shadowed by evil. The ways of love are always strange. Hatred is easy to explain.
While We’re At It
While We’re At It
If it seems odd, it is because it is odd. It happened this way. Professor Stanley Fish submitted his article on why we can’t get along together in this liberal society, and we were greatly interested in it for two reasons. First, because it very provocatively addresses the question of truth, and specifically religious truth, in public discourse. And second, because Stanley Fish is a person of considerable influence in current debates about, inter alia, the nature of liberalism. The problem was that his argument is, in our view, quite wrongheaded. So we thought it might clarify some questions of central importance to FT if we published an exchange, with Professor Fish having the third and last word. Of course on such matters there is no really last word, and one of the nice things about being Editor-in-Chief is that I do not lack opportunities to resume the discussion in these pages. For the moment, I will only say that it is most agreeable to note that Professor Fish now seems to think that, if we work at it, maybe we can get along together after all. At least his response does not press the original claim that we cannot get along together. But there is much more to be said on all this, and no doubt it will be said”in these pages and elsewhere, by myself and others.
The Dutch medical profession, without exception, heroically refused to cooperate with the Nazi killing programs imposed under German occupation. That was a long time ago. In the last forty years, one of the most staunchly Christian (Calvinist and Catholic) countries in the world went secular with a rapidity that has astonished sociologists of religion. And, of course, now the Dutch have their own killing programs. Although the killing of thousands of the old and sick each year is not, technically speaking, legal, the government has provided official guidelines on how to do it with legal impunity. In more than half the euthanasia cases, doctors kill without the patient’s knowledge or consent. Recently, the Dutch medical association has issued guidelines for killing handicapped newborns and mentally incompetent adults. Last October, however, a Dutch court did convict a physician of wrongdoing in the death of a sixty-three-year-old coma patient. The doctor violated every “safeguard” in the book. Neither the patient nor his wife had asked for euthanasia (though their children had!); there was no “unbearable suffering” because the patient was unconscious; and other physicians were not consulted. The convicted doctor was given a three- month sentence, suspended.
A reader who apparently feels some sort of moral obligation to keep on reading, despite all, the New Yorker sends us a letter received from an Andrew Solomon who wrote in that magazine an encomium to doctor- assisted suicide and related escapes from the curse of life. In response to our reader’s objection, Mr. Solomon writes: “While I would not wish to oversimplify the case, and though I recognize that there are many liberal Catholic thinkers who are tolerant on this subject, the Catholic Church as an institution remains singularly and aggressively antagonistic on the subject of euthanasia, and does more than any other organization in the world to stand in the way of death with dignity.” Thank you, sir.
As everybody knows, the progressive position is in support of assisted suicide. Thus a recent national poll shows that voters aged eighteen to thirty-four are in favor (56 percent to 40 percent). People sixty-five and over are against (55 percent to 37 percent, with 48 percent strongly opposed). Older folk are the supposed beneficiaries of a legal “right to die.” Funny they don’t see it as being in their interest. Young people, of course, are not at all sure that they are going to die, or even grow old. On this question, as on almost everything else, religion is a powerful variable. A majority of mainline Protestants support assisted suicide, while Baptists and Catholics are generally opposed. Far more important than denomination is regular church attendance: 65 percent of weekly churchgoers oppose legalization (with 56 percent strongly opposed), while 70 percent of those who rarely or never attend church think it a good idea (with 47 percent in strong support). The Hemlock Society people are right in saying that the question is, Whose life is it anyway? They just have difficulty in grasping the fact that there’s another answer to the question.
Methodists of the Wesleyan persuasion (it cannot be assumed that all are) will be interested in the Aldersgate , a quarterly newsletter published by the Wesley Studies Society (c/o Christ Methodist Church, 410 N. Holden Road, Greensboro, NC 27410). Subscriptions are $8 per year. The Society is closely associated with Duke Divinity School.
Whether in defense of orthodoxy or in opposition to tackiness”or more likely both”there have been numerous criticisms of what is called the church growth movement and the inroads it has made among oldline Protestant churches. (There are also inroads, or at least inpaths, among Catholics.) Up there with the best of the analyses of this phenomenon is Frank C. Senn’s “ Worship Alive’: An Analysis and Critique of Alternative Worship Services’” in the May 1995 issue of Worship , a journal published by Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minnesota. While Senn is a Lutheran, his account encompasses current worship patterns in almost all the sectors of Christianity in America. Drawing on history, theology, and the social sciences, Senn demonstrates that the working assumptions of the church growth movement and its forms of worship have their roots in European pietism and rationalism of two hundred years ago. What matters is experience and what “works””both in generating religious experience and building the religious institution. It was Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) who combined these dynamics in American “revivalism,” and that, according to Senn, makes him “the church father’ of the church growth movement.” Church growth folk”who commonly abandon denominational identity in their “community churches””promote what some call “entertainment worship” in order to draw the crowds (and they do draw them). Senn notes that it is a very appealing model for oldline denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, et al.) who have been on the institutional skids for a long time. He cautions, however, that these “alternative” worship forms, self-consciously designed in opposition to historic liturgies, are visiting havoc on orthodox Christian teaching. The old maxim lex orandi lex credendi ”as we pray so we believe”still holds true. “Orthodoxy,” says Senn, “means right praise.’ The praise is right’ not just if we feel that we have had a genuine encounter with God by doing it, but if it is directed to the right God”the God who has revealed himself precisely through his word and sacraments.” Orthodoxy is Trinitarian, Christological, incarnational, and eschatological”the last meaning, among other things, that it readies us for the final judgment. What is being widely done in Protestant churches today is sorely deficient on all these scores, Senn believes. And it does not matter much whether such churches think of themselves as conservative or liberal”or whether they join the “Beyondists” (David Frum) in claiming that they are beyond such conventional categories. Senn also has some sharp things to say about why “contemporary music” in these theaters of religious showbiz is not really very contemporary at all. But enough. It’s an article worth going to the library for.
At its twentieth anniversary convention in Arlington, Va., the Women’s Ordination Conference was still able to draw about a thousand participants, despite the 1994 statement by Rome that the Church is not authorized and therefore cannot ordain women to the priesthood. Taking a new turn, many of the women announced that the grapes of ordination were toxic in the extreme. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School feminist, declared, “Ordination means subordination [to] an elite, male-dominated, sacred, pyramidal order of domination.” So who wants that? Sister Maureen Fiedler of the Quixote Center in Maryland demurred. Abandoning the goal of ordination, she protested, would be handing a victory to the hierarchy. “We need spokespersons outside the walls,” Sister Maureen said. “We also need people with chisels inside, chiseling away at that institution, or it’s never going to come down.” (I love Sister Maureen because, among other things, she gave the editor of catholic eye such a lovely line. A while back Sister and I were on a television program discussing the state of the Church, including women’s ordination. The editor reported, “Neuhaus Romed while Fiedler burned.” The man is shameless.) Also in favor of sticking with the Conference’s founding purpose was Sheila Briggs, who teaches religion at the University of Southern California. She said, “To ordain women is to give this rotten totalitarian system that the Roman Catholic Church has become the push into the grave.” Feeling somewhat uneasy about the goings on was Jackie Hawkins, editor of The Way , a London-based journal of spirituality. “The role of Christ here is entirely ambivalent,” she said. “He is my God, He is the person I wish to be ordained to serve. Who are we disciples of? My feeling is that the god has become equality itself.” The planners of the meeting seemed to have precisely that in mind. They proposed that the goal should now be a “discipleship of equals,” and set out an elaborate plan for a church without hierarchy or priests endowed with special power to administer sacraments. Catholic traditionalists can be counted on to grumble that, if that’s what these women want, they should go join one of the Protestant churches that fits the bill. But that is to miss the point. To sustain the excitements of being part of a global feminist revolution against religious totalitarianism, you have no choice but to be Catholic. Unless you want to take your chances with the Imams of the Middle East. The Arlington meeting included the rituals now standard at gatherings of religious feminists. American Indian rites were blended with a Jewish seder and something like a Christian eucharist, and at the end there was an all-around laying on of hands that one of the organizers, Diann I. Neu, said could be taken as ordination by those who so wished. And so it is that after twenty years the Women’s Ordination Conference has, as they say, come a long way. Those who as little girls once played at being priests have in middle age turned bitterly against an institution that did not accede to their demands and now are playing priests again. Flannery O’Connor famously said that Catholics must suffer much more from the Church than for the Church. She knew that there is no escape from the burden by making up your own church. One hopes that there were at Arlington also many other women who, although deeply disappointed by the Church’s decision on ordination, know that Jackie Hawkins had it right. For women and for all of us, the question is: Whose disciples are we, anyway?
“This Ain’t No Circus: It’s Transgender Reality.” That’s the heading of an announcement from Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), Cambridge, Mass., for a panel discussion with Laurie Jean Auffant, who is identified as a “Unitarian Universalist Activist,” and Dan and Yvonne Cook-Riley, who are connected with the International Foundation for Gender Education. The “Mistress of Ceremonies” is listed as “David L. P. Carter, Prudence- Moon.” Don’t ask. In the good old days, Unitarian Universalist activists would try to get you to believe in almost nothing. There’s no telling what they try to cram down people’s throats today. (Recall Chesterton’s bon mot about the problem with people who don’t believe in God.) The affair in Cambridge is sponsored by the Transgender Caucu