The Enemies, and Friends, of the Humanities

A funny thing happened when Michael Novak brought Herbert Marcuse to lecture to his students. It was the early-1970s when campus rebellion had entered its darker phase, and Marcuse was an idol of the Movement. His theory of “repressive tolerance” served as an essential touchstone for protest, and his volatile mix of Marx and Freud seemed an edgy, relevant style of intellectualized activism. Continue Reading »

Their Suspicious Circles—And Ours

If you want to know why liberals had so much political trouble in the 1980s, you could do worse than read Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge. The book itself is a partisan account of politics from 1973-1976, but what stands out is Perlstein’s framing device: Reagan stole the chance of liberal critics to redefine America. Perlstein writes of a friend who hated Reagan because Continue Reading »

Recognizing American Saints

Most attention-paying U.S. Catholics are aware of the beatification causes for Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Catholic Worker co-foundress Dorothy Day. Five more causes, currently in the works, illustrate the rich diversity of American Catholicism and the extraordinary ways in which the Holy Spirit enlivens “heroic virtue”—the mark of a saint. Continue Reading »

In the Wake of Heroic Theology

In 1997 Avery Dulles was asked by Commonweal magazine to respond to a disputed question: “How Catholic is the Catholic Theological Society of America?” The impetus was Cardinal Bernard Law’s charge that the CTSA, the largest and most prestigious association of Catholic theologians in the United States, had become little more than a “wasteland” of dissent against official Church teachings. Continue Reading »

The New Nonconformist Conscience

Mozilla’s Brendan Eich, the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones, HGTV’s Benham brothers: 2014 has been a good year for those seeking to enforce the new moral orthodoxy by depriving others of their livelihood. It’s bad enough to see people joining these bandwagons without pausing to reflect on dark side of such feeding frenzies, but even more dispiriting are those who argue, in the cold light of their own reflection, that such tactics are righteous. Continue Reading »

Dante's Heavenly Idealism

The great French historian Jacques Le Goff credited Dante with doing more than any theologian to make purgatory a meaningful part of Christian tradition, and, more recently, Jon M. Sweeney has argued that Dante practically invented the modern idea of hell. Whatever the merits of these claims, I would like to suggest that Dante exercised a similar influence on the Christian understanding of heaven—and that this influence is not what Dante’s many modern devotees might suspect. Continue Reading »

Is It Legal—or, Who’s the Victim?

One of the more intractable aspects of sexual politics today for traditionalists is the emergence of the courtroom as the arena for settling every debate. Even when they have a democratic majority, not to mention centuries of sexual-marital mores, on their side, the contrary will of one-to-five politically-appointed individuals can prevail. Of course, judicial activism is an old problem, undemocratic and arbitrary, placing monumental decisions in too few hands. But there is another problem, an indirect one that follows precisely from critics taking seriously the courtroom’s power. We could call this problem the “legalization” of debate, meaning not whether something is legal, but instead the conversion of moral, social, religious, and other dimensions of an issue into legal, or legalistic, terms, or at least the neglect of them because of a focus on what the judges will say.

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Mary's Most Loyal Children

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a solemn feast day and a holy day of obligation that we celebrate each year on August 15th, is the Church’s most ancient Marian feast. Christians living in Jerusalem celebrated the “dormition of Mary” (Mary’s going to sleep) from at least the third century—gathering in Palestine to remember the Mother of God, and to honor her as queen of heaven and earth. Continue Reading »

Politics and the Arts

Jed Perl warns in the August 25 issue of the New Republic of a new threat to the arts. Art for art’s sake has been displaced by a view of “art as a comrade-in-arms to some more supposedly stable or substantial or readily comprehensible aspect of our world.” Art is losing its “purposeful purposelessness” and is becoming a bondservant to “some more general system of social, political, and moral values.” It’s hardly news, Perl knows, when art is enlisted for some extra-artistic cause. The new danger is that many have drawn the conclusion that “art has no independent life.” Continue Reading »