Month: August 2015

Did Catholicism become ‘compatible with the American experiment’ before or after the pope-burning stopped?

The author believes the answer to the question posed in the headline, “Is Catholicism compatible with the American experiment?” is yes. I also suspect he and most people would say the answer to the question, “Was Catholicism compatible with British colonial America?” is no, since it was officially suppressed in most colonies.

So: When did this country become ‘compatible’ with Catholicism? 1776? 1783, when the yoke of a protestant empire that had used anti-catholicism as a political glue was thrown off? Or was it 1868, when the last protestant test oath for public office was revoked? The United States have nothing comparable to, say, the baptism of Clovis.

Brendan McConville, among others, has supposed that the three defining qualities of British colonial identity were attachments to a capitalist economy, protestantism, and the monarchy. Our revolution only got rid of one of them.

The appeal to religious toleration as a Catholic (or Catholic-‘compatible’) principle rooted in the Enlightenment is the least convincing thing in Gregg’s piece, because religious liberty was not embraced by a pope until 1965. And with good reason, because programs of “toleration” often went hand in hand with efforts to check the power of the church. In British North America, toleration was never understood to extend to Catholics, that was a later thing — right up until the revolution the pope was burned in effigy yearly. This was a key civic ritual that helped cement their identity as citizens of the British Empire, and anti-catholicism was one of the few things dissenters and Anglicans had in common.

The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom reflects the same compromise between the state church and dissenters. “[T]he impetus provided by this Enlightenment concern,” for religious liberty is really rather vague, and there’s a strong case that the Statute is only remotely a philosophical document. Religious toleration in Virginia was necessary because an embattled Anglican oligarchy needed the support of religious dissenters, reconciling the secular-minded ruling class and the anarchic revivalism taking root at the time. The concept of religious liberty prior to the revolution, in both Massachusetts and Virginia, meant hostility to Catholics and bishops of any kind.

Jefferson’s new law arose from an earlier debate during which he and James Madison conspired to quash religious education, something, again, dissenting protestants and a mostly secular-minded gentry could agree on. It also led directly to the only instance in American history of church land being systematically confiscated by the state in the Glebe Acts. The Statute on Religious Freedom is not a victory for religion, it’s close to the opposite.

Since conservatives are out of power, today they are the ones begging for “toleration” where it once was baptists, congregationalists, and so on, the leftists of their day. Gregg seems convinced that a lefty could be persuaded to support religious liberty with a pitch along the lines of, “see, as a person whose intellectual genealogy goes back to the Enlightenment, you should believe in religious toleration too.”

I also don’t get his coldness to David Hume, he extols the Scottish Enlightenment but seems to strongly dislike the most interesting part of it. He finds Hume too “irreligious” but won’t say an ill word of the man who cut up a Bible, wrote the anti-religious Statute, and banned Hume’s History of England from UVA on account of its alleged Tory bias.

Edit: Justin Logan points out that Conor Cruise O’Brien thought it was McCarthy and Kennedy:

McCarthyism was an engine for the social promotion of the Catholics in America and the promotion of Irish Catholics in particular. McCarthy backed Spellman, conveyed to millions of non-Catholic anti-Communist Americans the novel idea that Catholics were a specially reliable and especially tough breed of anti-Communists … Before the McCarthy-Kennedy breakthrough of 1950-60 American Catholics had their tents pitched in the temple of the holy nation. After that breakthrough there is a Catholic altar in the temple itself.

(For far more erudite criticism of Actonians, I refer you to Opus Publicum)

The 1% would still rule under a Bernie Sanders administration

Much ado has been made about the presidential campaign of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

The self-styled democratic socialist is scaring the pants off libertarians and conservatives who see his rise in the Democratic primary as a legitimate threat to the country. “Bernie Sanders Is The Most Dangerous Man In America,” declares libertarian activist Christopher Cantwell. Pundit and internment-defender Michelle Malkin thinks Sanders’ “socialist odor” stinks, and would be a bad scent for the nation. Historian Tom Woods is dedicating an entire e-book to why Sanders is wrong for America.

Progressives are just as intrigued by the Sanders surge as conservatives, if not more. “Hillary Clinton can’t afford to ignore Bernie Sanders any longer,” contends Princeton professor Julian Zelizer. The septuagenarian senator is not only out-polling Clinton in New Hampshire, but is drawing massive crowds across the country. Even comedian Sarah Silverman is feeling the Bern: she recently introduced the senator at an L.A. rally, declaring he “is not for sale.”

I admit it: At first I was piqued by the independent senator’s quixotic bid for the White House. Sanders refuses to have a Super PAC – an infinite spending machine meant to provide a vehicle for the wealthy to invest dollars and gain favors. He is against open borders, saying that without national boundaries there is “no United States.” He speaks openly and passionately about the struggle working-class Americans face as they are falling behind in an increasingly competitive economy. Plus, my family hails from Vermont, and the Green Mountain State is one of the best in the Union.


Historical reasoning and ideological bias

One of the great myths often invoked in debate, political or otherwise, is the objective, undisputed truth of so-called “history.”  In reality, history is the result of a certain competition in interpretation of events, where interpretations themselves are impacted by biases and ideological underpinnings.

Here are a few paragraphs from Expert Political Judgment, University of Pennsylvania political science professor Phil Tetlock’s book on political forecasting, that take this skeptical approach to historical learning farther than most.

P. 145

Learning from the past is hard, in part, because history is a terrible teacher.  By the generous standards of the laboratory sciences, Clio is stingy in her feedback: she never gives us the exact comparison cases we need to determine causality (those are cordoned off in the what-iffy realm of counterfactuals), and she often begrudges us even the roughly comparable real-world cases that we need to make educated guesses.  The control groups “exist” – if that is the right word – only in the imaginations of observers, who must guess how history would have unfolded if, say, Churchill rather than Chamberlain had been prime minister during the Munich crisis of 1938 (could we have averted World War II?) or if, say, the United States had moved more aggressively against the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 (could we have triggered World War III?).

But we, the pupils, should not escape all blame.  A warehouse of experimental evidence now attests to our cognitive shortcomings: our willingness to jump the inferential gun, to be too quick to draw strong conclusions from ambiguous evidence, and to be too slow to change our minds as disconfirming observations trickle in.  A balanced apportionment of blame should acknowledge that learning is hard because even seasoned professionals are ill-equipped to cope with the complexity, ambiguity, and dissonance inherent in assessing causation in history.  Life throws up a lot of puzzling events that thoughtful observers feel impelled to explain because the policy stakes are so high.  However, just because we want an explanation does not mean that one is within reach.  To achieve explanatory closure in history, observers must fill in the missing counterfactual comparison scenarios with elaborate stories grounded in their deepest assumptions about how the world works.

& P. 161

This chapter underscores the power of our preconceptions to shape our view of reality.  To the previous list of judgmental shortcomings — overconfidence, hindsight bias, belief underadjustment — we could add fresh failings: a) the alacrity with which we fill in the missing control conditions of history with agreeable scenarios and with which we reject dissonant scenarios; (b) the sluggishness with which we reconsider these judgments in light of fresh evidence.  It is easy, even for sophisticated professionals, to slip into tautological patterns of historical reasoning: “I know x caused y because, if there had been no x, there would have been no y.  And I know that, ‘if no x, no y’ because I know x caused y.”  Given the ontological inadequacies of history as a teacher and our psychological inadequacies as pupils, it begins to look impossible to learn anything that we were not previously predisposed to learn.

Rise of the stoics

I tie Walker Percy, Harper Lee, gay marriage, and southern resistance all together in my latest Taki’s Mag piece. An excerpt:

Percy was careful to separate Southern stoicism from Christianity. Where the Stoic watched carefully over the rights of the underclass, he did so not out of love for human dignity but to retain heritage and tradition passed down from before. Christianity actually welcomed integration of public schools. “The Christian is optimistic precisely where the Stoic is pessimistic,” Percy wrote. With the forcing of same-sex marriage on the nation, it appears now that even Christian Southerners are forced to push back on federal overreach.

Nonparticipation is one of the few remedies left to take in a country where majoritarian impulses rule. As public life becomes secularized, faith is forced into private life. As much as I admire the social cohesion that defines a country and its people, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America, anyone with a conservative Christian mind-set is no longer welcome to express their views. The only course of action left to take is a retreat in the form of opting out.

Read the rest here, before the Southern Poverty Law Center demands it be disappeared.

Image source

The X-Files, Anarchy on TV


The X-Files is one of the most iconic shows of the 1990s, conspiracy theories and aliens would seem an odd idea for TV but it became a hit. David Duchovny, who plays Fox Mulder, once said that when he shot the pilot he never feel sure that they would be on TV, but they were for nine seasons. The X-Files will be back in January of next year for a small season of six episodes.

The show developed an intense fan base, it was one of the first shows that hit in the age of the internet, so since the beginning there have been a lot of online forums developed to the series. The geek culture was shaped by a show where the heroes were almost geeks themselves. It was a success both in America and overseas.

But it wasn’t just another Hollywood show. Libertarian academic Paul Cantor argues that X-Files wasn’t left or right but posed the question of the legitimacy of nation-state — after all, a key premise was that the government was part of a conspiracy involving aliens to conquer the world. After the Cold War, a show like The X-Files had the license to be anti-government. The FBI is portrayed like a bureau institution which is against the interests of the citizens. A curious thing is the strange conservativism of the show, in several episodes foreigners weren’t treated with sympathy, the strange traditions of some groups of immigrants were feared by the local population. It also seemed to have some sympathy for militias. However, some episodes had more left-wing themes, like suspicion of corporate culture or planned residential communities. The logo of the show “Trust No One” could be interpreted as a libertarian mantra.

The funny thing about a series that insinuate that the government is involved in a big conspiracy is that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have confessed in press conferences that some fans had told them they joined the FBI, CIA or other government agencies because of them. It doesn’t like the most logical step, but a hunger for answers exerts a powerful pull on young people. If one can fathom why a libertarian like Edward Snowden could decide to work for the government, he might have taken a similar path to Fox Mulder.

Another interesting element was The Lone Gunmen, three hackers who were friends of Mulder and Scully, these computer geniuses mixed some ideas from geek culture, conspiracy paranoia and a vague concept of achieving social justice with technology. The Lone Gunmen were some kind of precursor of Anonymus, though in the last season they were portrayed as patriotic, unlike Anonymus which is mostly described as anarchist.

There were particular aspects that made a show like The X-Files a success in America and abroad, among them the sentiment found basically anywhere in the world, that their politicians are corrupt.

The 90s were a particular time, now with a popular politician like Ron Paul it’s not difficult to imagine that today the series could have made an issue of the spying, drones and growth of the Military-Industrial Complex, positions that were before at the fringe and now have become relatively mainstream. It would not be a surprise if the new X-Files episodes retain their anti-statism. The lesson of the X-Files is that people may distrust their leaders, but they still like heroes. It doesn’t matter if their name is Fox Mulder or Edward Snowden, sometimes the anarchist is the real patriot.

Yes, we should still feel bad about nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This past week we witnessed the collective remembrance of a terrible, fiery explosion before the world. No, I’m not referring to the 24 million who tuned into the first Republican presidential debate. What I’m talking about is a real crime perpetrated by the amoral monsters in our nation’s capital.

The previous week saw the 70th anniversary of the day the United States government did the unthinkable: dropped a nuclear bomb on a living city. The fallout ended World War II but demonstrated just how dangerous nuclear weaponry can be. The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t stand a chance. It’s estimated that over 100,000 lives perished in the bombing.

There is still the popular understanding that the atomic bomb was instrumental in bringing Japan to its knees, and ultimately defeat. This sentiment was recently argued in a Wall Street Journal editorial by foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens. Normally, the inanity and moral corruptness of the media hardly stirs me. But I could hardly keep down my lunch upon reading the title of Stephens’ article:

“Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”

Excuse me? Those words might as well have lept off my computer screen and kicked me square in the gut. The pit of my stomach actually turned while considering the meaning. How, in all of God’s creation, can someone speak such moronic, blasphemous nonsense? How can a person, flesh and all, bestow our Lord’s sanction on the instant killing of a hundred thousand people so blithely? Granted, Stephens stole the line from a 1981 essay by Paul Fussell, who was an American lieutenant fighting in Pacific theater before the bomb saved him from the prospect of invading Japan’s home islands. But even so, the total immorality of the utterance is bewildering. He might as well have said God bless sodomy or incest.