♦ An exchange of emails by Clintonistas, available courtesy of WikiLeaks, has provoked a great deal of commentary. The chain starts with a message from John Halpin, a fellow at the Center for American Progress. He’s writing to John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, and Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director.
Halpin: “Ken Auletta’s latest piece on Murdoch in the New Yorker starts off with the aside that both Murdoch and Robert Thompson, managing editor of the WSJ, are raising their kids Catholic. Friggin’ Murdoch baptized his kids in Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.” He goes on to say, “Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) from the SC and think tanks to the media and social groups. It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
Palmieri responds: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.”
Halpin shoots back: “Excellent point. They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.”
♦ Then there’s Sandy Newman, president of Voices for Progress, writing to John Podesta in 2012 when the HHS mandate was announced: “This whole controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage even though 98% of Catholic women (and their conjugal partners) have used contraception has me thinking . . . There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could happen[?] The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight. Does the Catholic Hospital Association support the Administration’s new policy, together with ‘the 98%’ create an opportunity?”
Podesta replies, “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up. I’ll discuss with Tara. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the other person to consult.”
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) was founded in 2005 by operatives from the John Kerry campaign who were then shuttling between work at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Democratic party jobs. Elizabeth Frawley Bagley was chair of CACG for a time. She served on Obama’s 2008 finance committee and raised over $350,000 for his campaign.
♦ One wonders why Michael Sean Winters isn’t denouncing the ideological use of the Catholic faith? Ah, but he does exactly that in his commentary on the leaked emails, pointing out that those who think these emails are worthy of commentary are “Republican operatives who hold the portfolio for Catholic outreach doing their part to ingratiate themselves with Trump.”
♦ Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett’s assessment of this WikiLeaks episode is spot on. “It should be troubling—to ‘progressive’ Catholics as well as others—that political operatives like John Podesta, who has been associated with Clinton campaigns and administrations for decades, admits that his organization set up (with funding from the Koch Brothers . . . I mean, George Soros) groups with the purpose of promoting a ‘revolution’—a ‘Catholic Spring’—‘in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.’ This is not a call for dialogue among Catholics about how best to live out the faith; it’s strategy-and-tactics about how to co-opt and marginalize an opposing force.”
♦ Eye of the Tiber, Catholicism’s answer to The Onion, has its own interpretation of the Clintonista interest in “facilitating” the development of Catholic doctrine: “A new series of emails released yesterday by WikiLeaks connected to its dump of John Podesta’s server show that ancestors of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton attempted to sabotage the Catholic Church by creating the Society of Jesus hundreds of years prior to her nomination.”
♦ Carl Trueman argues that confessions establish constitutional restraints on church power: “In an age when words, especially words that make truth claims, are always suspected of being part of some manipulative power game, it is perhaps counterintuitive to think of confessions as delimiting the power of the church. Yet a moment of reflection makes it clear that this is exactly what they do. An elder in the church [Trueman is a Presbyterian, and Presbyterian churches are governed by elders] has authority only relative to those matters that the confession defines. Thus, if someone in church declares the Trinity to be nonsense or commits adultery, the elders have both a right and duty to intervene. Both issues are covered in the Westminster Standards. But if someone wishes to turn up at church wearing a bright-yellow suit or decides to become a vegetarian, the elders have no right to intervene. They might have personal reservations about the person’s sense of appropriate dress or wonder how anyone could live without the occasional burger, but it is not the church’s business to address either matter. Indeed, this is what stops churches from becoming cults: clear and open statements about where church authority begins and ends, connected to transparent processes of exercising that authority.”
♦ A new kind of clericalism is one of my concerns about Pope Francis’s preference for discernment over clear canonical standards. In his approach to the question of divorce, remarriage, and reception of the Eucharist, he speaks of the need, in some cases, to rely on the “internal forum,” which means private consultation with a priest. In practice, that can turn the priest into an unaccountable, one-man private marriage court.
♦ Writing for the left-wing site opendemocracy.net, Byung-Chul Han, a South Korean cultural theorist who teaches in Berlin, notes the market’s colonization of social relations we once considered outside its scope. Silicon Valley enthusiasts cheer the “sharing economy,” which “is supposed to replace the economy of property and possession.” The new economy will bring us community, not competition. Not so, observes Han. Uber’s rhetoric of ride sharing isn’t sharing; it’s a new kind of buying and selling. Airbnb “has even made hospitality into a commodity.” The home is both a home and a business. “The ideology of ‘community’ or a ‘collaborative commons’ leads to the total capitalization of existence.”
I agree with Han, which is why I’m a conservative. To be a conservative is to regard some dimensions of life as intrinsically valuable, to be cherished rather than bought and sold. Faith is one dimension, and so is family and patriotic loyalty, which can mean loyalty to a local place just as much as to a modern nation-state. I wonder if Han will allow that it has been progressivism’s penchant for endless critique that has done a great deal to diminish the traditional authority of non-economic relations, preparing them for colonization by the market.
♦ In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Yale President Peter Salovey defends his university’s dual commitment to “the principles of inclusion and free expression.” The latter is a fairly clear concept. The former? He uses the word “inclusion” about a dozen times, affirming Yale’s pledge to be “an inclusive community.” This is an odd affirmation, given the fact that Yale prides itself on being selective. Last year, Yale accepted only 6.3 percent of its applicants. That doesn’t seem very “inclusive.” Those admitted are taken from that tiny group of high school students who are super high achieving, and most come from well-to-do families. The median family income for Yale students is well over $100,000. (The national median is slightly more than $50,000.)
There are times when I’m grateful for having read Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, and other Frankfurt School Marxists when I was a student under the tutelage of Cornel West. This is one of those moments. Inclusion has no precise meaning. Like its close cousin, diversity, it’s a handy, plastic term used by our ruling class to prop up its self-image as an open, egalitarian, and just meritocracy. Meanwhile, places like Yale become less and less living communities of learning. That’s because, when implemented as a policy, “inclusion” is a technique of social engineering, not a goal or end for a social group. The imperative of legitimating elite education in our present moment overrides clear thinking about what higher education seeks to accomplish: unity of purpose in pursuit of truth.
♦ Edward Shils, the influential and quirky University of Chicago sociologist who flourished in the middle of the last century, once wrote, “There is no permanent solution to any important problem in human life.” It’s also true that there is no failure that makes an important problem in human life permanently insoluble. We’re always doing the best we can, and neither final success nor final defeat releases us from the travails of our fallen but not irredeemable world. We need to keep this in mind.
♦ The Catholic Herald, a British weekly, asked me to write about our leadership class. The result was “Decline and fall of the post-Christian elite.” Here’s my conclusion:
I believe we are heading towards a political and cultural crisis in the West. The most important and perilous political reality of the 21st-century West is a resurgent nationalism. After World War II, for obvious reasons, the West sought to expel from its political imagination the perennial impulse towards strong loyalties and national solidarity. The Cold War delayed the full force of this project. After 1989, it took hold without resistance. This is why neo-liberalism became so dominant, not just as an approach to economic management but also as an overarching vision for social reality as a whole. Now we are rejoining the rest of the world, where an intense loyalty to place, culture, faith and nation is the norm.
As this is occurring, those most credentialed and certified to lead us are worse than useless. The very training that they imagine legitimates their power blinds them. The global elite, which is really an Ameri-centric Western elite and their Western-trained (again, Ameri-centric) clients, cannot grasp the true economics of the soul, which St Augustine described so well. They cannot see that men do not wish to live in an empire of utility overseen by the hearth gods of health, wealth and pleasure. We long for nationalism because we long for something higher and more rooted, nobler and more alive.
The affairs of men are muddy and uncertain, now perhaps more so than at any point in recent decades. Plato knew that. He teaches that we live in a cave, bewitched by the play of shadows we imagine to be reality. Today’s populism participates in deceptions of this sort, and is therefore politically dangerous, as public passions always are. But the spiritual trajectory of Plato’s thought is otherwise than that of today’s global elite. The truths that can purify our confused, even perverted worldly loyalties, are above, not below.
♦ It was only too predictable. In August, the New Atlantis published a 113-page report on the science of gender and sexual orientation, titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences” and authored by two Johns Hopkins professors, pyschiatrist Paul McHugh and biostatistician Lawrence Mayer. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest gay-rights organization, swung into action, demanding that Johns Hopkins distance itself from the “falsehoods” that “attack the entire LGBTQ community.” A petition was organized, stating that “McHugh is tarnishing Hopkins and causing significant harm to LGBT communities within Hopkins and beyond. McHugh’s actions are an embarrassment to those within Hopkins and who have trained there.” It goes on to issue a call to action: “This misguided, misinformed attack on LGBT communities under the protection of the Hopkins name must stop.” The petition then warns that, should Hopkins fail to disavow the report, the medical school will be punished by a lower rating in the HRC’s “Healthcare Equality Index.”
♦ Johns Hopkins administrators responded with the usual “I hear your pain” concessions to the HRC’s faux anguish over the harms inflicted by a dry report on the current state of the science on matters of sexual orientation and gender—but they stopped short of disavowal.
♦ Jonathan Ratcliffe, an Australian graduate student studying Asian history but cultivating an interest in technology and politics, has this to say in a recent web article (“Voegelin Among the Machines”) about transhumanism and other millennial speculations that make Silicon Valley true believers so confident that they are ushering in a New Age of Man: “God is simply replaced by the cargo cult of the computer as ‘universal machine’ able to make simulated models of everything and solve all.”
♦ If we’re a secularized country, our political culture hasn’t gotten word of it. At one point in the recent vice presidential debate, the candidates were asked about the role faith has played in their lives. Both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence warmly recounted the importance of their religious convictions. Kaine pronounced himself Jesuit-trained and called the Jesuits “heroes of my life.” Pence spoke openly about his “personal decision for Christ,” which he made as a college freshman. Then the topic turned to abortion. Pence gave a winsome defense of the sanctity of life, drawing on the scriptural passage in which God speaks of knowing us before we were formed in the womb. He observed, rightly, that a society is judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable, which includes the unborn. He called for Americans to create a stronger culture of life.
Kaine started out with a version of the “personally opposed but publically supporting” argument based on the specious claim that the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents us from imposing our religious “values” on public life. But he quickly turned to an outright defense of Roe v. Wade, perhaps because it’s obvious that prohibitions of abortion are no more an “imposition” of theology than are laws against murder. He argued that people should be able to make their own choices about “important moral issues,” and that our country is better off for Roe’s judicially imposed regime of abortion on demand. (I suppose we know where he stands on assisted suicide.) This belies the claim that he is personally opposed to abortion. Abortion is, for Kaine, a “choice”; if that’s the case, then it’s not intrinsically evil, as the Catholic Church (and a properly formed conscience) teaches. Abortion is “tragic,” but a woman should always be free to choose if the unborn child lives or dies.
There are plausible, if tenuous, arguments to support a decision not to criminalize abortion. One can conclude that such a law could not be enforced. Or, political prudence can conclude that we must forgo protecting the unborn in order to sustain the coalition necessary to attain crucial public goods. This was the calculation some of the founders made when they accommodated themselves to the evil of slavery. But to defend Roe as a moral achievement? That’s what Kaine did when he described our society as more just after Roe than before.
♦ In early October, Le Monde reported that Catholic universities in the national French system have doubled enrollments in the last dozen years. The five institutions—in Lille, Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Angers—are small, enrolling 28,000 students in 2015 compared to 1,500,000 in the country’s secular universities. But this growth fits with a larger revival of Catholicism in France, one that Samuel Gregg wrote about last fall for the Catholic World Report (“France’s Catholic Revolution”).
♦ A friend wrote, taking issue with my characterization of Rush Limbaugh as someone who has “made his career by denouncing people.” Limbaugh has a schtick, of course, one intended to irritate liberals. He’s a performer who knows how to deliver a good line. But my friend observed that criticizing, which Limbaugh often does with tart panache, is not the same as denouncing. Fair enough. I retract my denunciation of Limbaugh as a denouncer.
♦ One of the selling points of Wyoming Catholic College, announced on a T-shirt I saw a student wearing: “The only school in America where you can’t have a cell phone but you can have a gun.”
♦ I saw the student with the shirt in the WCC student-run coffee shop, The Crux. It features an indoor climbing wall and makes a very good espresso, which satisfies two of my addictions. I recommend stopping by the next time you’re in Lander.
♦ Fr. Robert Bubel is running a ROFTERs group in the mid-Hudson region of New York. They meet the third Friday of each month in St. Mary’s Church, 160 Broadway, Kingston, NY. You can get in touch with Fr. Bubel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ A ROFTERs group is forming in the San Mateo and San Francisco area. To join, contact Chris Foreman at email@example.com.
While We’re at it Sources: Podesta emails: wikileaks.org, October 7, 2016. Michael Sean Winters: ncronline.org, October 14, 2016. Richard Garnett: mirrorofjustice.blogs.com, October 18, 2016. Clinton’s Jesuits: eyeofthetiber.com, October 14, 2016. Carl Trueman: opc.org, February 2013. Market colonialism: opendemocracy.net, October 23, 2015. Expression and inclusion at Yale: wsj.com, October 17, 2016. Decline and fall: catholicherald.co.uk, October 6, 2016. Transgender politics at Johns Hopkins: washingtonblade.com, October 12, 2016. Voegelin among the machines: voegelininview.com, September 26, 2016. Booming French Catholicism: lemonde.fr, October 10, 2016.