Mirror of Justice

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cardinal George

 

I thank Rick for his kind invitation to offer personal thoughts about Francis Cardinal George, OMI. In my almost five years in Chicago, I would see the cardinal from time to time on business matters—mostly regarding the Church in public life, Catholic education, and religious freedom subjects—at his residence or at his office, which was across the street from mine. These meetings were filled with his intelligence. Like Thomas More, the cardinal knew that God created the human person to engage God in the tangle of His mind.

But there was another aspect of the cardinal’s life that few people would have seen. He and I both received our cancer treatment and evaluation at the Loyola University Medical Center. On several occasions, our encounters were simple passings-by in the halls of the Bernardin Cancer Center of the Loyola medical center. On those junctures, there would be from him the friendly “how’s it going?” However, on one Thanksgiving week, we met in the same radiology imaging lab. I was waiting for an MRI when the cardinal entered. He was going to have a CAT scan. We spoke not about business matters addressing public life or religious freedom but about being Christians and priests. The ultimate issue of what is it all about came up.

His Eminence offered a simple and yet brilliant response. His answer to the question focused on salvation. As priests, our responsibility was and remains to help others on their paths to the salvation offered by Christ. But, as mere pilgrims, he mentioned that we, too, were on that same general path and not to forget it. I am confident he found his path without much difficulty and is now in the warm embrace of God. The cardinal mentioned that our suffering, especially from the same general disease we shared, was a gift to help us understand better what our human existence is about and the goal that is our destiny. He found the road that took him home to God. Aware of my own sinfulness, I still struggle to do the same.

 

RJA sj

 

April 18, 2015 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink

Friday, April 17, 2015

Cardinal George, R.I.P.

I just learned from Commonweal that Francis Cardinal George has died.  Here is the Chicago Tribune obituary.  God bless him.

When I was a visiting law professor, at the University of Chicago's law school, in 2007, I taught a class on "Catholic Social Thought and the Law."  It was a wonderful experience.  And, a highlight was our first meeting, over lasagna in the student lounge, at which Cardinal George was the guest speaker and participant.  That he took the time to come and inspire a group of law students meant a lot to the students, and to me.

I know that some other MOJ-ers knew Cardinal George well, and I hope others will share some more worthy thoughts about him, his work, his thought, and his gifts.  

April 17, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tocqueville on "countercultural" churches

Peter Lawler has this essay, at the Imaginative Conservative, called "Tocqueville on Keeping Our Countercultural Churches."  Very interesting.  Here's a bit:

The danger in democracy is that Christian churches lose their capacity to be genuinely countercultural—or teach the truth that will be neglected “on the street” in middle-class democracy. And so the separation of church and state is to keep the church from being corrupted by excessive concern with endlessly egalitarian justice and the logic of the market. The separation is for the integrity of the church by limiting the claims for truth and morality of the democratic “social state,” which includes the democratic state.

But it’s both futile and even un-Christian to think that there could be, in the modern world, a state that favors or properly appreciates the church. Orestes Brownson, the greatest American Catholic thinker ever, said all the church should need and want from America is freedom to pursue its evangelical mission. That means, of course, that Americans should understand political freedom to be freedom for the church, for an organized body of thought and action. And we can see that the church flourished in America in the relative absence of politicized intrusion or corruption for a very long time.

The danger now, as always, is that the individualistic yet highly judgmental democracy—our creeping and creepy mixture of progressivism and libertarianism—will seek to impose its standards on our countercultural churches. 

April 17, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mad Men, Religion, and Law: What If Religion Were Like Advertising? – Just Ask Planned Parenthood!

Mad Men Logo

April 5th, Easter Sunday, marked the return of the AMC series Mad Men for the second-half of its seventh and final season.  I confess to being a fan of the show, a television drama that tells the story of a Madison Avenue advertising agency across the span of the 1960s.  The writing and acting are strong, and the fashion and art direction faithfully reproduce the look and feel of the era.  Moreover, the epoch making events of the 1960s (the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Apollo 11 moon landing) and the political and cultural struggles that defined the decade (civil rights, Vietnam, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, recreational drugs, and the counter-cultural lifestyles of both urban beatniks and commune-bound hippies) serve as a backdrop and source of thematic content for the lives of the characters who inhabit the world of the Sterling Cooper ad agency.

As a young child in the 1960s I recall some of this background – Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, the moon landing, my parents attending an anti-war rally – such that the show evokes, not a sense of nostalgia, but a searching recollection of earlier days that linger on the edge of memory.  No doubt the show has inspired a similar response in other viewers (together with genuine nostalgia for an older generation), a quality which, I suspect, accounts for some of its popularity.

Mad Men has become something of a social phenomenon, partly for reasons that are emblematic of the superficiality of our culture: the physical beauty and attractiveness of the cast members, a certain fascination with style, and the dynamic whereby that which was once irredeemably “retro” again becomes genuinely “hip.”  But the show is in fact deserving of serious attention in that it provides a kind of portrait that accounts for the world in which we live today.  The characters that inhabit the world of Mad Men reflect the disordered desire of the age – the pursuit of happiness conceived in terms of the acquisition and consumption – of things, people, and experiences – a pursuit that is ultimately vapid and lifeless, and so invariably leads to frustration and despair.  This mistaken understanding of happiness (and the use of human freedom to attain happiness) can have a corrupting influence not only on the culture generally, but on religion specifically – a point that I hope to bring into relief by highlighting two recent letters issued as part of Planned Parenthood’s religious “ministry” to its abortion patients.  In closing I draw some contrasts between advertising, religion (properly understood) and law.

The central character in Mad Man, Donald Draper, is the creative director at the Sterling Cooper ad agency – a man whose advertising imagination seems fueled by talent, cigarettes, cocktails and sex.  When we are first introduced to Don he is married with a wife and two children in Ossining, and a mistress in the Village.  Don’s theme, and one might say the theme of the 1960s as the decade progressed, is set in an early episode.  Rachel Menken, a client (with whom Draper later has an affair) is somewhat taken aback by Don’s brazen cynicism about life and love.  “For a lot of people love isn’t just a slogan,” she insists.  In response Draper doubles down (see the video here):

By “love” you mean a big lightening bolt to the heart, when you can’t eat, and you can’t work, and you just run off, and you get married, and you make babies.  The reason why you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist.  What you call “love” was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.

You’re born alone and you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget.  I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.

Despite the suave appeal with which this epicurean nihilism is delivered, several characters come to see this as a dead end.  Joan Harris, the office manager and onetime mistress of one of the name partners, rejects the proposal of Bob Benson, a young executive and closeted gay man who needs a spouse to complete his cover.  Although he offers comfort and financial security for Joan and her child, she is adamant that she wants love and not simply “some arrangement.”

Similarly, Peggy Olson, Don’s former secretary and creative protégé, has risen to the top of the profession.  Despite the success of her career, and notwithstanding the meanderings of youth and the sexual experimentation of the era, Peggy longs for a relationship of real love and serious commitment – one that manifests itself in marriage and children.  “What did I do wrong?” she tearfully asks Don during one late night brainstorming session (see the video here).  “You’re doing great” he assures her, which, judged by his own standards of domestic success, is not untrue.

In the recently aired season opener, Peggy refuses to sleep with a guy on the first date.  When her companion remarks that she is “so old fashioned” she tells him that she’s “tried new fashioned” but intimates that it just doesn’t work. 

Despite these dissenting views, Don’s morbid, albeit stylish, philosophy dominates the lives of various characters on the show who do indeed live as if there were no tomorrow.   Roger Sterling, the endlessly charming and philandering name partner of the agency, divorces his wife of over twenty years for his then secretary, whom he also later divorces, experimenting with LSD and orgies with twenty-somethings.  Younger functionaries within the agency fair no better.  Trudy Campbell, the wife of Pete, an ambitious young account executive, experiences a similar emptiness notwithstanding their growing material success.  “Is this all there is?” she asks, despairing that she already knows the answer.  Even after the couple have a child and leave Manhattan for a house in Westchester, Pete, seduced by what the culture tells him (a culture that he helps to create through his work at the agency), pitifully concludes “I have nothing.”

Pete thinks he has nothing because he has been taught to want everything.  Advertising is a dynamo that fuels a ceaseless pattern of consumption, an insatiable drive to acquire more and more.  Draper stokes the embers of an undying lack of satisfaction in making a pitch to a potential client, encouraging them to switch agencies (see the video here):

You’re happy with 50 percent?!  You’re on top and you don’t have enough.  You’re happy because you’re successful, for now.  But what is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.  I won’t settle for 50 percent of anything.  I want 100 percent.  You’re happy with your agency?!  You’re not happy with anything!  You don’t want most of it!  You want all of it!  And I won’t stop until you get all of it!

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most poignant ad campaigns debuted by the copywriters on the show focus not on satisfaction of the insatiable.  They focus on the themes of family, commitment, stability, and fidelity – not the new values of the Space Age, the pill, and rock and roll, but the “old fashioned” values that helped to build the country and that sustained it over time.  The irony of the show reflects a post-post-modern sensibility.  We know that society cannot do without the family (which is betrayed at so many turns) but we mock it anyway, claiming that its demands are unrealistic and inevitably end in hypocrisy (though perhaps cognizant that our mocking helps to make this domestic failure a self-fulfilling prophesy).

At the end of the first season (see the video here), Don delivers a powerful campaign for the new Kodak slide-projector naming it "The Carousel.”  He movingly describes how it “lets us travel the way a child travels – round and round and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”  In the closing scene of the episode Don “turns round” and “comes back” to his wife and children at the family home, only to find them no longer there.

In the hands of an artful copywriter, two sisters dividing a Popsicle is not the equal allocation of a consumer item (see the video here), but the ritual of sharing at the heart of every family: “Take it, break it, share it, love it.”

When the agency is in danger of losing the Heinz Beans account, Don and Meagan (his former secretary and second wife) turn to the family once again (see the video here).  “We’re all so busy, and we rush around, and it will probably always be like that,” Megan explains, “but a mother and child and dinner.  That’ll never change” – a story that gives rise to the slogan “Heinz Beans . . .  Some Things Never Change.”

Similarly, in the mid-season finale of the seventh and concluding season, Peggy delivers the winning campaign for Burger Chef (see the video here).  The real world American dinner table is, she says, a place of conflict between the generations, “with the TV always on and Vietnam playing in the background . . . and you’re starving, and not just for dinner.”  But Burger Chef is clean and safe, where families can truly come together.  “There may be chaos at home,” she says, “but there’s always ‘Family Supper at Burger Chef.’”

The dissonance between the ads that Don crafts for his clients and the reality of his own family life and background eventually catch up to him, building to a kind of self-hatred.  In pitching a campaign to sell Hersey’s chocolate bars (see the video here), Don fondly recalls how his father would tussle his hair and reward him for cutting the lawn with a treat from the local candy store, and how the Hersey’s bar that he chose is now always identified with his father’s love.  The story is a complete fabrication – a yarn of faux sincerity meant to rope the client and its customers in.  The viewer of earlier episodes knows the story is false, but now the lie becomes public as Don is moved to expose his true identity.

Don’s whole life has been a lie.  Don Draper is in fact Dick Whitman, an awkward, impoverished farm boy from West Virginia whose father was a drunk and whose mother was a prostitute who died in childbirth.  His widowed step-mother sought help from her sister who raised him in a whorehouse in Pennsylvania.  Wounded in Korea, he assumed the identity of another soldier, killed in battle, stealing his dog tags.  He builds a new life as Don Draper, but this American success story is only faintly Gatsby-esque.  He does not seek to “romp like the mind of God,” only to use his agile mind to impress the client and land the next account.  Nor is he driven by the great love of a Daisy Buchanan or any one woman, only the momentary pleasure of many women.  He is a serial adulterer – bedding the freelance artist who works for the agency, bedding his daughter’s elementary school teacher, bedding the female client and the male client’s wife, bedding the firm’s consumer research consultant, bedding his secretary (two of them), bedding the upstairs neighbor.  Like the world of advertising, Don’s life is forever in flux, but the one constant is that his libido always makes copy.

Peggy, Don’s apprentice, learns to tell the big lie as well – the lie that bestows a new identity and makes possible a new life.  Among all her co-workers, Don alone discovers that Peggy has had a child out-of-wedlock, and visits her in the maternity ward of the sanatorium.  Don tells her to “do whatever they say to get released” so that she can move on with her life.  “This never happened,” he assures her.  “It will shock you how much this never happened.”

Lives built on lies are truly mad indeed.  Although I may be proven wrong with the concluding episodes, I tend to think that the ultimate theme of the series is an elaborate play on the words of the show’s title.  “Mad Men” doesn’t simply refer to the Madison Avenue address of New York advertising executives. Rather, those whose job it is to generate support for this product or that, to engage in the art of manufacturing desire for the acquisition and consumption of things, are truly mad.  The substance of their lives is triviality.  Their job is to spin lie after lie – even when artfully mixed with some measure of beauty and truth.  Those whose job it is to seduce others are themselves seduced – not by the individual messages that they spin, but by the message implicit in all of them: You will be happy only in having more – more money, more things, more power, more sex, and one more drink. Their lives are hollow – a tragic nothingness masquerading as something, as deep as the ink on the page, as sincere as the glossy smile of a magazine cover, as permanent as the thirty-second spot aired in prime-time. 

The opening credits do more than simply hint in this direction (see the video here): The dark silhouette of the main character arriving with his briefcase at the office, transposed with various ad campaigns, as the world collapses and he descends, falling into oblivion – the suicide plunge from a Manhattan office tower of an advertising executive gone mad.  The images of his work and the chaos of his life drift past, but instead of colliding with the pavement below the silhouetted figure then appears on the office sofa, cigarette in hand, unfazed, cool beyond words.  Truly mad indeed.

What does all this – what does the world of advertising – have to do with religion and with law?

John Paul II eloquently diagnosed the malady at the heart of a consumerist culture.  It involves “a direct appeal . . . to [people’s] instincts – while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free – then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to [their] physical and spiritual health.” (Centesimus Annus ¶ 36).  Sadly, the outstanding feature of the developed countries in the West is “an excessive promotion of purely utilitarian values, with an appeal to the appetites and inclinations toward immediate gratification” (¶ 29).  The danger in a society of this sort is that it lacks “a correct scale of values” (¶41) such that its members come to believe that a style of life “is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.” (¶ 36). 

The proper response to this phenomenon is not so much legal as it is cultural.  Indeed, in a society that values a robust right to freedom of expression, the legal response to advertising must be somewhat circumspect.  Although occasions for regulation (i.e. “false advertising” as in the case of fraud and other forms of misrepresentation) do exist, these must be narrowly defined. 

The cultural problem is at its zenith when the appeal to “appetites and inclinations toward immediate gratification” becomes commonplace, indeed, when it becomes commonsense.  Here, Don Draper’s explanation of advertising in the pilot episode is most telling (see the video here):

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.  And do you know what happiness is?  Happiness is the smell of a new car.  It’s freedom from fear.  It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s O.K.  You are O.K.

The strategy of affirming the individual in his or her life choices (whether it involves a new car, a brand of deodorant, or a younger spouse) applies even where the product or service promoted is lethal, like Lucky Strike cigarettes (a signature account for Sterling Cooper), or, although not part of the Sterling Cooper portfolio, so far as we know, abortions courtesy of Planned Parenthood. 

Draper’s description of the essence of advertising as personal affirmation – “You are OK” – is eerily similar to the idea of religion present in two recent letters (see the links below) that Planned Parenthood has offered as part of its “ministry” to women who are contemplating abortion and women who are post-abortive.

The first letter, from Planned Parenthood’s “Clergy Advisory Board,” states that the purpose of the letter is “to support you in your decision.”  It assures women that “there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.”  In other words, you can be confident that “You are OK” in choosing to abort your child because other people think you are OK.   The letter tells women: “Allow yourself to be at peace with your decision.  God loves you and is with you no matter what you decide.  You can find strength, understanding, and comfort in that love.”  And if a twinge of doubt creeps in, no worries.  You will be affirmed.  “If you’d like to speak with a clergy person, your local Planned Parenthood health center can refer you to someone who will [sic] be supportive of you and your decision.”

The second letter, from Planned Parenthood’s “Religious Affairs Committee,” likewise states that its purpose is to support the woman “in whatever course you choose.”  Given the fact that Planned Parenthood clinics actually have abortion quotas to meet their operating budgets (a fact established based on internal Planned Parenthood documents and the testimony of former clinic workers, see here, here and here) they are (like any good business) likely to be more supportive of some courses of action rather than others.  Indeed, the letter is in no way concerned with women who choose to give birth.  Rather, the entire purpose of the letter is to affirm the woman who has had an abortion or who is contemplating one, but who may have misgivings because of her religious faith.

To that end, the second letter treads deeper into theological waters than the first – at least as deep as a theology of self-affirmation will go.  It boldly declares that “the decision to have an abortion will not threaten your relationship with God.”  “God is not angry with you and will not punish you for any choice you have or might make.”  Instead, the letter postulates: “If you have thoughtfully decided to have an abortion then you should be at peace with your decision.”  The person must be affirmed even when her own conscience may indicate otherwise.  Thus, the letter says that experiencing sorrow, doubt, depression over an abortion “does not mean that your decision was a bad one” only that you are a “sensitive person.”

Of course God (at least the God of Judaism and orthodox Christianity) does love and affirm every person, even women who have abortions.  But this love and affirmation does not extend to every action undertaken by the person. This is because some actions are sinful – they impair the good of individuals, they cause others to suffer injustice, and they constitute a rejection of God’s love.  John Paul II famously made this very point in speaking directly to women who are post-abortive.  He bluntly states that “what happened was and remains terribly wrong,” but the tragic choice of abortion does not preclude God’s love.  By confronting what happened and “fac[ing] it honestly” God stands ready “to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation” (Evangelium Vitae  ¶ 99).  The person who engages in sin is not OK, but the offer of God’s loving mercy carries with it real hope and the promise of transformation.

By contrast, a God who offers only self-affirmation, a God who doesn’t teach the sinner, a God who doesn’t challenge the individual, a God for whom truth is irrelevant –for whom there is no moral truth, no good and evil, only the sanctity of “choice” – is a God made in our own image – a God fashioned by advertising executives, a God for Mad Men.  “Whatever you’re doing, it’s OK.  You are OK.” 

Father Alexander Schmemann, the famous Russian émigré, Orthodox priest, and longtime professor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, perfectly captured this “Gospel of Self Affirmation” to which both Don Draper and Planned Parenthood give voice (here):

Now in our own day . . . it is always in the name of good, of freedom, of concern for mankind that people are enslaved and murdered, deceived, lied to, slandered and destroyed.  “Every evil screams out only one message: ‘I am good!’” And not only does it scream, but it demands that the people cry out tirelessly in response: "You are good, you are freedom, you are happiness."

Religion, at least the Christian religion, is not like advertising.  Advertising is about seduction.  Religion – at least the Christian religion – is, as Chesterton said, “a romance,” “a love affair.”  It is the great love story – God’s courtship of humanity.  It is the sacrifice of the Bridegroom for his bride, the Church.  And this, despite our inconstancy, our infidelity, our serial adultery – chasing one false idol after another that, once unveiled, always reveals an image of the idolater – it shows us an image of ourselves that says “Whatever you’re doing, it’s OK.  You are OK.”

Law, like religion – traditional religion, or religion that is not post-modern – does not scream “You are OK.”  Although (as per H.L.A. Hart), not every law is a command, not every legal ordinance is a “primary rule.”  Still, the law instructs and directs.  It distinguishes right from wrong to preserve justice and defend the public order.  And to those who violate its dictates the law says: “You are not O.K.  You harmed another.  You violated the public trust.  You must now render to the individual who has been injured and to the community as a whole that which is due, that which your transgressions failed to satisfy.”

While religion, at least the Christian religion, is not like advertising, it is like law: “You shall not kill.”  It is like law because Christianity (like Judaism) is fundamentally about a relationship with God.  The rules of Christian morality reflect principles meant to preserve and foster that relationship in its integrity.  “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Of course, we all desire some affirmation, and Christianity affirms the human person repeatedly, and in a profound way.  “You are a child of God!  You are God’s beloved!”  But this affirmation is an acknowledgement of the truth of our inmost being, our most basic identity and thus our only true desire.  It is not an affirmation of our ephemeral desires for the next girl or boy, the next drink, the next client, the next thing.  Indeed, desire for a person without love (i.e. real love, the gift of self for the benefit of the beloved) is not desire for a person, but a thing, an instrument, and thus only a distraction.

There is, in man, says John Paul, a “contradiction in his heart between the desire for the fullness of what is good and his ability to attain it, and above all, the need for salvation which results from this situation” (Centesimus Annus ¶ 13).  “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you” (St. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 1).  Only an infinite love can satisfy an infinite desire.

April 15, 2015 | Permalink

Catholic Legal Theory: In Person

The Ninth Annual John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics, and Culture will be held at Villanova Law on Friday, April 24, 2015.  The topic of this year's conference names the project that has for more than a decade animated this blog: Catholic legal theory.  The conference program is here.  We'll see what "the God of surprises" has in store!

I am exceedingly grateful that a number of the longtime contributors to this blog will be speaking at the conference, which is open to the public.  For the benefit of those who can't attend, conference speakers may later share their contributions here on MOJ. 

April 15, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Education as a "non-family enterprise"

On the campaign trail in Iowa, while answering a question about the Common Core, Ms. Clinton referred to "education" as "the most important non-family enterprise in the raising of the next generation[.]"  Some have pointed out that this comment overlooks the growing reality of home-schooling. In any event, it might be time for Catholics (and others!) to review Gravissimum educationis (1965), the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education: 

Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators.(11) This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. Hence the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs. It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and office of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught from their early years to have a knowledge of God according to the faith received in Baptism, to worship Him, and to love their neighbor. Here, too, they find their first experience of a wholesome human society and of the Church. Finally, it is through the family that they are gradually led to a companionship with their fellowmen and with the people of God. Let parents, then, recognize the inestimable importance a truly Christian family has for the life and progress of God's own people.(12)

The family which has the primary duty of imparting education needs help of the whole community. In addition, therefore, to the rights of parents and others to whom the parents entrust a share in the work of education, certain rights and duties belong indeed to civil society, whose role is to direct what is required for the common temporal good. Its function is to promote the education of youth in many ways, namely: to protect the duties and rights of parents and others who share in education and to give them aid; according to the principle of subsidiarity, when the endeavors of parents and other societies are lacking, to carry out the work of education in accordance with the wishes of the parents; and, moreover, as the common good demands, to build schools and institutions.(13) . . .

April 15, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Education as a Matter of Social Justice"

Archbishop Chaput explains, here, that and how "education is a matter of social justice."  More to the point, it is unjust for a political community to refuse to support parents who chose schools other than traditional public schools for their children.  John Coons said it so well here ("School Choice as Simple Justice").  And, Nicole Stelle Garnett and I tried our hand, a while back, in this paper ("School Choice, the First Amendment, and Social Justice").

April 13, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Douthat on Nisbet and "The Quest for Community"

This is well worth a read.   A bit:

What was Nisbet’s insight? Simply put, that what seems like the great tension of modernity—the concurrent rise of individualism and collectivism, and the struggle between the two for mastery—is really no tension at all. It seemed contradictory that the heroic age of nineteenth-century laissez faire, in which free men, free minds, and free markets were supposedly liberated from the chains imposed by throne and altar, had given way so easily to the tyrannies of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. But it was only a contradiction, Nisbet argued, if you ignored the human impulse toward community that made totalitarianism seem desirable—the yearning for a feeling of participation, for a sense of belonging, for a cause larger than one’s own individual purposes and a group to call one’s own.

In pre-modern society, this yearning was fulfilled by a multiplicity of human-scale associations: guilds and churches and universities, manors and villages and monasteries, and of course the primal community of family. In this landscape, Nisbet writes, “the reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.”

But from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together, while intermediate powers and communities either fell away or were dissolved. As social institutions, these associations would be attacked as inhumane, irrational, patriarchal, and tyrannical; as sources of political and economic power, they would be dismissed as outdated, fissiparous, and inefficient. In place of a web of overlapping communities and competing authorities, the liberal West set out to build a society of self-sufficient, liberated individuals, overseen by a unitary, rational, and technocratic government.

The assumption, indeed, was that the emancipated individual required a strong state, to cut through the constraining tissue of intermediate associations. “Only with an absolute sovereign,” Nisbet writes, describing the views of Thomas Hobbes, “could any effective environment of individualism be possible.”

April 13, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Is saying "No" to federal funds going to work for religious institutions?

That's one of the questions set up in this New York Times piece ("To Keep Free of Federal Reins, Wyoming Catholic College Rejects Student Aid").  A bit:

To the college’s leaders, rejecting government-backed aid was an expensive effort to defend against what they called growing government threats to religious freedoms. If you do not take the money, leaders argue, the government cannot tell you what to do.

“It allows us to practice our Catholic faith without qualifying it,” said Kevin Roberts, the college’s president, a Louisiana transplant who now wears a black cowboy hat to work in this town of 7,500. “It’s clear that this administration does not care about Catholic teaching.”

This might "work" - but, I feel sure, only for a while, only for some small institutions, and only to an extent.  The regulatory strings about which Catholic and other religious institutions might be concerned are and are going to be attached not only to student-loan funds but, increasingly, to accreditation decision, contracts, research grants, sports-conference membership (!), and the like.  I do not think, in the long run, the smaller institutions with very strong animating missions should think that they can avoid the struggle that the larger research institutions are going to have to wage.

April 13, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

"There Are No Abortion Cakes"

Katha Pollitt has done what perhaps might be called the "service" of writing a book that argues unabashedly for what most Americans regard as extreme positions with respect to the issue of abortion.  With this piece, "There Are No Abortion Cakes," she continues that work, and attempts to leverage the recent events surrounding Indiana's RFRA-type law in support of those positions.  She concludes:

It's time for progressives who rallied against the Indiana RFRA to show the same energy and conviction and urgency in support of women's reproductive rights. At least thirty-eight states have feticide laws, after all—this is not an issue for just one state. (Consider, too, that about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.) If CEOs are concerned, rightly, that their LGBT employees be treated as equals in Indiana, they should show as much concern for their pregnant and potentially pregnant employees. The same RFRA laws that open the door to discrimination against LGBT people lay behind the Supreme Court's infamous Hobby Lobby decision, which permits business owners to use religion to deny their employees health insurance coverage for birth control.

I understand that same-sex marriage and reproductive rights are different: marriage is about love, and abortion is about freedom. There are no abortion cakes. But freedom is a bedrock American value, even when it's for women. . . .

April 13, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink