It’s not that I’ve been ignoring the great posts by Pete and Ralph. I just haven’t had time to respond to them. But I have been emailing back and forth on them with various distinguished conservative experts. Of course I agree with Pete, and soon enough everyone else will too. Before we agree with Ralph, we have to figure out exactly what he’s saying. Ralph’s posts provoked this response from a traditionalist Catholic:
Incidentally, it seems to me that Ralph’s really fine pomocon contribution in the form of a question dovetails nicely with your [meaning MY] stuff. Basically, he’s saying that we’re all becoming more and more “personal” and so are freer and freer from nature (which can be oh-so judgmental); this is really a result of Christianity more than modernity. Where you and Ralph seem to differ is that your analysis is offered as a kind of consolation—don’t worry, traditional Christian types, since things are much more Christian than they look. Ralph, on the other hand, is jumping up and down and yelling, “What are we going to do about this?!”
Naturally, I’m more inclined to Ralph’s reaction. But of course, there’s an irony in the current situation, isn’t there? it’s traditional Christians like me (or, in this case, Mormons like Ralph), inheritors of the judge not lest you be judged teaching and all that, who are racking their brains for a way to bring a little shaming back in. Not to mention honor.
Of course I don’t remember telling traditionalist Catholics (such as MacIntyrean Aftervirtue-ites) not to worry. That’d be telling grass not to grow. I tell Christians in general not too worry SO MUCH, because there’s a providential God and all. Unlike those who say politics is everything (or everything but philosophy), we know that salvation and damnation are not in our hands (thank God, because we’re bound to screw things up).
Not only that, I’m all about talking up the neglected Stoic dimensions of our American tradition (with the help of Percys and Tom Wolfe) in the service of gentlemanly shame and honor. Christianity is weak on honor, but Christian gentleman is not an oxymoron. And Christians have generally been good at not neglecting shame.
What this neo-Ralphian meant, I found out in subsequent emails, is that I’m too sanguine in my neo-Tocquevillian theorizing about things always getting better and worse. So I say, following Tocqueville and Walker Percy, that recent history is not all about some moral/religious decline and fall: There have been (uneven and ambiguous, to be sure) gains in justice, just as there have been losses when it comes to greatness (where are the gentlemen these days?) and manners and some other key components of relational moral decency. But there are also, of course, various evangelical revivals in our country, the modest but real rise of orthodox/traditional religion, and (don’t forget) the fall of communism. I could even say something about the benefits of various forms of techno-development on the justice front, but not right now. There have been significant victories on behalf of the free person in our time. (Of course I could go on to talk about justice issues too–the gains for the free person who is the individual woman are hardly just if they’re at the expense of the person who is the unborn baby.)
The neo-Ralphian is on the money when he says that I want to give traditionalist Christians (and new natural lawyers and so forth) more of a clue about what they should be worrying about. Maybe we are too personal (meaning Christian in a sense) these days! I don’t think our nonjudgmentalism is charity, though. Charity is the central virtue of Trinitarian relational personalism, not our heretical nonrelational personalism. Nonjudgmentalism, for us, is a feature of the apathetic indifference of (Tocquevillian) individualism, a feature of Locke’s past-tense, uncaring God.
I will admit that I’m weak in telling people what we have to do politically. That’s why we have Pete. And if music starts to get better, maybe we can thanks Carl.