So there have been a lot of great posts by Pete, Carl, Ralph, Kate, and John in my (fairly brief) absence.
I especially appreciate Carl reminding us of the fine book by our friend Philippe Beneton (a very melodious name, sing it to the tune of “Felice Navidad”) that Ralph expertly translated. The distinction between SCIENCE and SCIENTISM always fills me with SELECTIVE NOSTALGIA. I remember it from any number of lectures during my undergraduate education (which occurred during the confused final days of neoscholasticism as the core of Catholic higher education in America). It’s also big for Walker Percy (who probably adopted it from Maritain and other French Catholics).
SCIENTISM is turning science (or what we can see with our own eyes about the way things really are) into a comprehensive, materialistic explanatory scheme that simplifies reality, above all, by abstraction from the human soul (or “who WE are”). So MARXISM was, of course, a very pernicious ideology. DARWINISM at one time was also fairly pernicious, not so much now. Those new atheists–who differ from many old atheists only in being more vainly and stupidly scientistic–aren’t so scary. They certainly aren’t for species-based eugenics, as some of those old “progressive Darwinians” were. Of course we have the more recent NEUROSCIENTISM, which includes really ridiculously reductionistic stuff–like neuroliterary studies and neurotheology. And don’t forget ECONOMISM (which does, in fact, include what Marxists teach but also what many libertarian professors of economics teach).
One antidote for SCIENTISM is to play forms of scientism off against each other. That’s why I try to get the Darwinans and the Lockeans in “dialogue” with each other. Each form of scientism does, after all, embody or vulgarize scientific insights which really are (partially) true. But the definitive limit to all forms of scientism is the Christian discovery that LOGOS is PERSONAL (see the writings of our philosopher-pope emeritus).
SOFT SCIENTISM includes various social-scientific explanatory schemes that suggest that people are held hostage by forces beyond their control. One form, in my view, is SECOND-TERMISM. Presidents for the last half century inevitably flail and fade during their second terms, because the 22nd Amendment keeps them from having a third one. They cover up and push back every crisis until after they’re reelected, thinking that the second term will be a time of statesmanship undistorted by electoral politics (as Obama told Putin). But it turns out that the various covered-up “issues” come to the surface, become uncontrollable, and the president doesn’t have the means of self-defense of appealing to the people through seeking reelection.
So the second terms of NIXON, CLINTON, and BUSH THE YOUNGER seem pretty well explained by SECOND-TERMISM.
And PRESIDENT OBAMA’s friends are saying that what’s happening to him right now isn’t his fault. He’s falling prey to SECOND-TERMISM.
It’s true that the president skillfully got through the election without dealing much with the covered-up BENGHAZI fiasco and the fact that ObamaCare is such an ill-considered mess that it can’t be implemented. And nobody listened to the TEA PARTIERS and such when they said the IRS was out to get them until the lamely incredible proactive apology.
We can deny in each case that the president is being victimized by “forces” while expecting that each of these problems is going to continue to get more daunting for him.
The personal element remains. How the president fares depends a lot on how intelligently he responds to the challenges of “delayed maintenance.” And how the Republicans fare depends on their personal response. Consider the difference between GINGRICH’s failure in 1998 and RAHM EMANUEL’s magnificent success in 2006. The situations were different, you say. Well, of course, I respond. Still, historical comparisons don’t have to be very exact to be instructive.
The Republicans have to start listening to PETE and YUVAL if they’re going to turn SECOND-TERMISM into a big victory in 2014.