Saturday, September 24, 2022

CRT, Critical Race Theory, a Primer, Definition, and Explanation

A summary from Neal Hardin:

Over the past several years, few ideas have ignited more debate than critical race theory (CRT). Terms that critical race theory uses, such as systemic racism, white privilege, anti-racism, whiteness, and microaggressions, have become common.

Everywhere we look, we see CRT invoked as either something to be feared or something to be loved, something to be endorsed or something to be refuted. It’s a polarizing issue.

And that makes sense, because under critical race theory, there is no middle ground. You are either an “oppressor” or “oppressed,” a “racist” or “anti-racist.”

Racism is wrong. Every person is deserving of equal treatment and respect. But CRT (can) compound the problem.

But what do we need to know about CRT? Where does it come from? Where is it spreading? And how might it affect you and the freedoms you care about?

It’s an exceedingly complex topic, so let’s break it down.

What is critical theory?

Critical race theory can, in part, be traced to a field of postmodern academic thought called critical theory. The term “critical theory” was coined by Max Horkheimer in his 1937 essay “Traditional and Critical Theory.” According to Horkheimer, the role of critical theory is to critique (hence “critical”) and ultimately change society as opposed to traditional theory that merely sought to describe it (usually in a scientific manner).

Today, there are many bodies of critical theory, including critical gender theory, critical queer theory, critical postcolonial theory, critical intersectional feminism, and more.

Writing for National Review, Cameron Hilditch notes that critical theory was established by “a group of German Marxist thinkers known as the Frankfurt School.” Hilditch writes:

Critical theorists … believe that societies, cultures, and civilizations are almost entirely social constructs … The most important question to the critical theorist is therefore Cicero’s famous “Cui bono?”—“Who benefits?”

Who benefits? Who has power? As Tim Keller helpfully notes, under secular critical theory, “reality is at bottom nothing but power.”

From this understanding of power flows a radical skepticism toward objective knowledge.

James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, scholars who have researched critical theory, write that its proponents reject objective truth, reason, and empirical evidence. Instead, critical theorists assert that only identity and oppression matter.

Critical theory divides society according to whether one is a member of an oppressor or oppressed group or groups. Critical theory’s warped understanding of power and knowledge undermine confidence in the foundations of liberalism: equality, universality, and individual rights.

The origins of critical race theory

While many ideological underpinnings of critical race theory came from critical theory, critical race theory originally emerged in the 1970s and ’80s out of a field of legal scholarship called critical legal studies (CLS). As you might guess, CLS also has its roots in critical theory.

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, critical legal studies looks at how “the law supports a power dynamic which favors the historically privileged and disadvantages the historically underprivileged.”

In other words, CLS posits that laws are inherently biased because they were created to serve the self-interest and to enhance the power of a privileged few. This perspective stands in sharp contrast to the American constitutional tradition, in which the law secures rights equally for all people.

The Conference on Critical Legal Studies was founded in 1977 by legal scholars who had been influenced by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the social and political upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s.

Some of those same CLS scholars would go on to develop critical race theory because they were seeking to explain why the changes in law gained by the civil rights movement on racial issues (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964) were still being ignored, resisted, or obstructed by many state governments and other institutions.

CLS scholars believed that if a change in the laws were the only thing necessary to achieve equality, then the passage of civil rights legislation should have guaranteed the rights of racial minorities in the United States. But since there were still disparities in outcomes, they believed other institutionalized forces must have been at work.

The “critical” aspects of CRT led to a radical skepticism that there was any real improvement in the first place.

Derrick Bell, considered one of the first and most influential proponents of critical race theory, wrote an article in 1980 in the Harvard Law Review in which he called into question the motives behind the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools. The Supreme Court’s decision should have been celebrated as an example of righting a wrong. Instead, Bell framed it as opportunism, claiming that it was possible only because the interests of the white majority, which he believed were saving face internationally and developing the South economically, converged with the interests of the black minority, which were achieving equal treatment and equal access.

Out of these seedbeds of scholarship for critical theory and critical legal studies grew what we now know as “critical race theory.”

One of the most pernicious ways we see critical race theory affecting our society is in our K-12 education system.One of the most pernicious ways we see critical race theory affecting our society is in our K-12 education system.

What is critical race theory?

The term “critical race theory” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw at a 1989 conference called “New Developments in Critical Race Theory.” According to Crenshaw, the conference was designed to attract those “who were looking both for a critical space in which race was foregrounded and a race space where critical themes were central.”

The conference explored the intersection of critical theory, critical legal studies, and race. Crenshaw recalls that several themes arose from that first conference, such as “critiques of neutrality, objectivity, colorblindness, meritocracy, and formal equality.” Many of these themes have continued to define CRT to this day.

With that background in mind, what is critical race theory? To answer that, let’s pivot to two of CRT’s foremost scholars: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.

In their seminal work Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Delgado and Stefancic write:

“The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

While there’s no one list of principles that all scholars of critical race theory agree on, Delgado and Stefancic lay out several tenets that have come to define CRT:

1. “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational.”

One of the most important beliefs of CRT scholars is that racism permeates society, the law, and all institutions. Proponents of critical race theory claim it is the air we breathe and the water we swim in, something so normal that it is “unacknowledged” by most people. To maintain this assertion, critical race theory redefines “racism.”

Racism has long been understood as prejudice and discrimination based on race. But under critical race theory, racism comes to mean any disparity observed along racial lines.

For example, if one racial group is outperforming another group in academic achievement, that is, by definition, racism. The fact that a racial disparity exists is “racism”—regardless of whether it is the result of prejudicial attitudes. This redefinition shifts the emphasis from equal treatment to equal outcomes.

2. Interest convergence

As Derrick Bell argued in his article about Brown v. Board of Education, critical race theory asserts that the majority will only secure civil rights for minorities when it serves the majority’s self-interest. In other words, any concept of altruism is thrown out the window.

3. Race as a social construct

Delgado and Stefancic write that in critical race theory, “Race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient.”

In other words, CRT advocates claim that while groups of people do share certain biological traits, the fact that we group ourselves according to qualities like these rather than characteristics like “personality, intelligence, and moral behavior” demonstrates that race is a social construct.

4. Intersectionality

This term was also coined by Crenshaw. Delgado and Stefancic note, “Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances.” Therefore, people will experience unique forms of oppression or discrimination based on the intersection of their oppressed identities.

For example, according to this logic, while a black man or a white woman might experience different forms of discrimination, a black woman, based on the combination of her two oppressed identities, will experience unique forms of oppression. The converse is also true. A white man will experience unique forms of “privilege” based on the combination of his privileged identities.

5. Unique voice of color

Critical race theory also holds that members of racial minorities enjoy a unique perspective with “a presumed competence to speak about race and racism” in ways that white people, being in the majority, are not.

This perspective involves “story-telling” and engaging in “revisionist history” to develop counternarratives and histories centered on the experiences of minorities rather than majorities. One example of the “unique voice of color” is the 1619 Project, which seeks to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” This also means that society can discount the views of those in the majority simply because of their skin color.

In addition to the principles laid out by Delgado and Stefancic, one final principle common among CRT scholars is a rejection of “colorblindness.” In the framework of critical race theory, the notion of colorblindness serves only to keep white people in a position of power by feigning neutrality in racial issues. As one author put it, regardless of one’s personal attitudes, “racism can be evidenced in the outcome of processes and relations irrespective of intent.” In other words, CRT teaches that a person can still be racist even if they hold no prejudicial attitudes toward another race.

But the implications of critical race theory go beyond race.

As a theory with intellectual roots in Marxism, it’s not surprising that CRT and other critical theories view all Western values—including religious freedom, the importance of the nuclear family, and Judeo-Christian conceptions of morality—as inherently oppressive.

For example, CRT proponents reject American ideals such as hard work or equal treatment under the law because they view them as rooted in oppression. They see those principles as means through which power and privilege are projected throughout society. Such values, CRT concludes, must be reformed, replaced, or overthrown until racial equity (rather than equality) is achieved.

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Contrary to Dr. King’s dream, in a society dominated by critical race theory, one’s race is the most important aspect of a person’s identity. It determines whether someone is categorized as an oppressor or oppressed.

The ideology of critical race theory is already dominating America’s most influential institutions.The ideology of critical race theory is already dominating America's most influential institutions.

What are the practical implications of critical race theory?

After reading all this, you might be wondering, “How does critical race theory affect me? How does it affect my freedoms?”

Since CRT rejects principles of constitutional law—indeed, rejects the entire liberal order out of which the U.S. Constitution arose—it cynically casts aside rights like religious freedom and free speech, which were key to advancing the civil rights movement. In reality, free speech lifts people up and leads to justice. But proponents of critical race theory view these fundamental freedoms as more ways for the powerful to oppress the powerless. Since CRT’s adherents characterize opposing views as racist, discussion is not an option. They are prone to resorting to censorship and silencing critics. And CRT’s victims aren’t just conservatives or people of faith.

Delgado and Stefancic also address the pervasiveness of critical race theory:

“Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, affirmative action, high-stakes testing, controversies over curriculum and history, and alternative and charter schools.”

This ideology is already dominating America’s most influential institutions, including government, major corporations, and academia.

Critical race theory in K-12 education

One of the most (influential) ways we see critical race theory affecting society is in our education system. CRT is informing the trainings that many public-school teachers and administrators receive and the curricula they are tasked with teaching children.

In these schools, students aren’t learning about Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, or Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. And that fact conveniently allows many to deny that critical race theory is being taught in schools at all. But that masks the truth: schools are implementing classroom practices rooted in a CRT-influenced ideology that often masquerades by the name “anti-racism.”

Anti-racism is critical race theory’s answer to racism. While “anti-racism” may sound good on the surface (who doesn’t want to stand against racism?), it actually mandates more racism by treating people differently based on race.

Ibram X. Kendi, a leading proponent of critical race theory, embraces this new form of racism in his book How to Be an Antiracist when he says, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Because racial equity (equal outcomes) rather than racial equality (equal opportunities) is the goal of CRT, racial discrimination is necessary to achieve those outcomes.

In CRT, discrimination and racism become the solutions to discrimination and racism. Ironically, anyone who does not embrace this logic and become an “anti-racist” advocate is branded a “racist.” There’s no middle ground.

This ideology runs directly contrary to the Supreme Court’s own precedent. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” You can’t stop the evils of racism and discrimination with more of the same.

While some supporters of CRT may sincerely seek to address racial inequalities, their methods harm children of all races.

Monday, September 5, 2022

4 steps to destroying the ideals and values of the middle class

[Small snippet of an article by Ronald Dworkin in First Things magazine, link HERE]

"...The Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) method gradually penetrated American cultural life and changed our politics. The effect was first felt in the 1960s, when CBT penetrated the civil rights movement. Notions of self-esteem and personal identity became central to the movement’s worldview, replacing the older emphasis on voting rights and access to jobs and housing. Soon followed the focus on group identity, the belief that racism is both a conscious and a subconscious phenomenon, and the idea that racism’s effects can be invisible—all hallmarks of today’s identity politics.

The transformation of civil rights into a right to self-esteem was only the beginning. Millions of unhappy people, angry about life but impotent to do anything about it, found psychological release through a four-step method reminiscent of CBT. In the process, they changed American politics.

1) In the first step, civil rights activists demanded that all disadvantaged people enjoy a feeling of equality with average, middle-class people. Although the movement was motivated by noble goals, it risked impracticality at certain points. For example, in 1970, the City University of New York lowered its admission standards to give everyone a shot at middle-class success and respectability. Yet rather than raise up disadvantaged and remedial students, the reform simply lowered the college’s academic level, making it harder for anyone to get a good education there.

2) A second step followed. When some disadvantaged people still failed to achieve middle-class success and respectability, they did what CBT encourages. Just as the man who blames an ethic of success for his unhappiness finds relief by smirking at successful people—those who felt aggrieved by their relative lack of success took average, middle-class people down a notch through ridicule. Activists slandered middle-class people to obscure their positive attributes. They belittled middle-class attitudes toward sex and religion, conservative dress, and efforts to become “solid” citizens.

Still, the values of middle-class success and respectability survived, even as some people failed to achieve them. People might have laughed at the life habits that went along with them, but they could not escape the conflict within themselves between their desire for these things and their impotence to get them. 

3) Thus, the third step: To take average, middle-class people down another notch, activists depreciated middle-class success and respectability, calling these things insignificant. In social science, for example, adulthood and maturity ceased to be measured by whether one had a job or a mortgage or was financially responsible—typical middle-class achievements—but by whether one possessed certain psychological traits, such as tolerance and empathy. The social model of adulthood gave way to a psychological model that consisted of values that anyone could possess, including the marginal and disadvantaged.

Activists during this phase did not say that middle-class success and respectability were bad, only that the measures of traditional middle-class success and respectability were bad. Adulthood was still praised—but now a tolerant, empathic thirty-something who dressed in grunge style and played video games all day was considered more mature than a bank executive with a house and a family who lacked the same ethical consciousness. New avenues to middle-class success and respectability opened as a result. Nevertheless, there remained people who failed to achieve any semblance of success or respectability. Their inner tension, manifested in an impulse of resentment, still begged for release.

4) Release came in the fourth and final step, whereby middle-class success and respectability ceased to be good and became evil. Success itself was said to be the product of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and transphobia, and impossible to reconcile with the values of inclusivity. The nuclear family, once good, became a manifestation of the evil patriarchy. America’s success as a country became evil; patriotism, once good, likewise became evil. Free speech became an enemy of progressive values. Good manners became evil, as they prevented activists from shouting down the defenders of middle-class respectability. Police who protect life and property—two major bourgeois concerns—went from good to evil. Art that appeals to middle-class sensibilities, ranging from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, went from good to evil—or at least suspect—while art steeped in revolutionary social justice became the supreme good.

Psychologically, the systematic reinterpretation of middle-class values promised a great deal more than the depreciation of middle-class success had: It brought release to millions. Successful and respectable middle-class people, once a cause of pain and envy for others, were now to be pitied rather than respected. They were, if not evil, then at least beset with evils. The disadvantaged and marginal, especially the unhappy among them, were the pure, the elect, and the good.

All that remained was for successful, respectable middle-class Americans to buy into the new values, to poison their own minds, to feel guilty and ashamed of their success and their country’s heritage, to wallow in the morbid and to dwell fanatically on the lives of victims. Many do. Hence the dawn of woke politics, which is perhaps best understood as CBT on a mass scale..."

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The ancient antiphones of the 7 days preceding Christmas

Dated to about 600 A.D. or so, these seven ancient antiphones are for the each day of the final week of Advent leading to Christmas. The first letter of the Latin of each phrase forms the acrostic, "Ero cras" meaning, "I will be tomorrow".

I – December 17

O SAPIENTIA, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, who come from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:5),
you extend to the ends of the earth, and order all things with power and sweetness (Wisdom 8:1): come and teach us the way of wisdom (Proverbs 9:6).

II – December 18

O ADONAI, dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.

O Lord (Exodus 6:2, Vulgate), leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and on Mount Sinai gave him the law (Exodus 20): come and free us with your powerful arm (Exodus 15:12-13).

III – December 19

O RADIX Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the peoples (Isaiah 11:10), the kings of the earth are silent before you (Isaiah 52:15) and the nations invoke you: come to free us, do not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

IV – December 20

O CLAVIS David et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Key of David (Isaiah 22:23), scepter of the house of Israel (Genesis 49:10), who open and no one may shut; who shut and no one may open: come, free from prison captive man, who lies in darkness and the shadow of death (Psalm 107: 10, 14).

V – December 21

O ORIENS, splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: veni et illumina sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Star who rises (Zechariah 3:8; Jeremiah 23:5), splendor of the eternal light (Wisdom 7:26) and sun of justice (Malachi 3:20): come and enlighten those who lie in darkness and the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:1; Luke 1:79).

VI – December 22

O REX gentium et desideratus earum, lapis angularis qui facis utraque unum: veni et salva hominem quel de limo formasti.

O King of the nations (Jeremiah 10:7) and their desire (Haggai 2:7),
cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16), who reunite Jews and pagans into one (Ephesians 2:14): come and save the man whom you formed from the earth (Genesis 2:7).

VII – December 23

O EMMANUEL, rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Dominus Deus noster.

O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), our king and lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22), hope and salvation of the peoples (Genesis 49:10; John 4:42): come to save us, O Lord our God (Isaiah 37:20).

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Friedrich Schiller, Ode To Joy, (Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, An die Freude)

An all time favorite, written in 1785, used in Beethoven's final (fourth) movement of his Ninth Symphony in 1824.


Freude, schöner Gotterfunken,       Joy, lovely divine spark,
 Tochter aus Elysium,                daughter of Elysium,
 wir betreten, feuertrunken,         drunk with fire, we approach
 Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!         your sanctuary, O holy one!

 Deine Zauber, binden wieder         Your magic reunites those
 was die Mode streng getheilt,       whom custom sternly separates;
 alle Menschen werden Brüder,        all men shall be brothers
 wo die sanfter Flügel weilt.        wherever your gentle wings tarry.

 Seid umschlungen, Millionen!        O you millions, let me embrace you!
 Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!         Let this kiss be for the entire world!
 Brüder, über'm Sternenwelt          Brothers--a loving Father must
 muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.        dwell above the tent of stars.

 Ihr stürzt nieder Millionen?        Do you prostrate yourselves, O millions?
 Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?       Do you sense your creator, O world?
 Such ihn über'm Sternenwelt!        Seek Him above the tent of stars!
 Über Sternen muß er wohnen.         He must dwell above the stars.

 Seid umschlungen, Millionen!        O you millions, let me embrace you!
 Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!         Let this kiss be for the entire world!

 Freude, schöner Gotterfunken,       Joy, lovely divine spark,
 Tochter aus Elysium,                daughter of Elysium,
 wir betreten, feuertrunken,         drunk with fire, we approach
 Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!         your sanctuary, O holy one!

 Ihr stürzt nieder Millionen?        Do you prostrate yourselves, O millions?
 Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?       Do you sense your creator, O world?
 Such ihn über'm Sternenwelt!        Seek Him above the tent of stars!
 Brüder, über'm Sternenwelt          Brothers--a loving Father must
 muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.        dwell above the tent of stars.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Capitalism to you: 1 thru 5, or 6 thru 10?

(From Edward Fesser blog...)

When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:

1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production

2. Market competition

3. The existence of corporations as legal persons

4. Inequalities in wealth and income

5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things.  Indeed, some of them (such as private property and a government that respects subsidiarity) are required as a matter of natural law.   Eliminating all economic inequalities (as opposed to remedying poverty, which is a very different matter) is neither possible nor desirable.  The concept of the corporate person has long been recognized by, and regarded as salutary within, the natural law tradition (whatever one thinks about its instantiation in modern business corporations).  Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil.

On the other hand, other people using or hearing the term “capitalism” might have in mind things like:

6. A doctrinaire laissez-faire mentality that is reflexively hostile to all governmental economic intervention

7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel

8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion

9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative

10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation-state and local communities.

Now, all of these things are bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative.  And what it illustrates is that it is unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop.  The term has too many connotations for that, and needs to be disambiguated.  Hence the sweeping claims often made by both sides in the debate over capitalism inevitably generate excessive heat while reducing light.  When people say “I support capitalism,” they often mean “I support 1-5” but their opponents hear them as saying “I support 6-10.”  And when people say “I oppose capitalism,” they often mean “I oppose 6-10,” but their opponents hear them as saying “I oppose 1-5.”  To a large extent, they talk past each other.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Hope, Anger, Politics, CS Lewis, Seneca, and Acid...

Some snippets gleaned from the March issue of First Things. For some time our political parties have made utter and complete enemies of the opposing party members. I do not belong to either party and neither party represents my ideas and beliefs. But I think the currently prevalent attitudes and pronouncements of politically active people, both politicians and citizens, are outside of the bounds of useful discourse and help nothing. Is there hope for out country to ever be a semi-united nation again? To that question the following clips from various columns in the aforementioned digest maybe have something to say:

"The virtue of hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage: anger with the way things are, and courage to change them for the better."

Hope is a choice we make in the face of suffering and disappointment. Georges Bernanos once described hope as “despair overcome”. Hope has a strength that comes of struggling with doubt and fear."

Like many Americans, I am angry at the way things are. Certainly, patriotism and respect for elected officials are important Christian duties. They’re especially vital in America, where the law, not ethnicity or religion or even language, is the glue that holds us together. Disregard for the law is uniquely toxic in our country."

(America was founded with no place for a king. The law, in the form of the Constitution, sits in the place of a throne for America, and all decisions must comply and fall under its guidance. Without this, America is not what it was founded to be.)

"Anger is the easy daughter. C. S. Lewis warned that the pleasure of anger lies in “the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry. Then the other person is pure black, and you are pure white.” It’s hard to imagine a better description of the current condition of American politics. In the long run, that’s fatal to national community."

"If our leaders (of both parties) want national unity, then they cannot demonize and punish their opponents. They cannot turn their reverence for the Republic, the law, on and off like a spigot, according to their party’s current agenda. If our leaders want national healing, they need to respect and listen to people they disagree with and don’t like."

"Seneca concluded his essay On Anger with these words: “[Nothing is] great which is not at the same time calm.” Anger untempered by patience and prudence, anger fixed on revenge or vindication of the self, anger not directed to the common good, can only diminish and destroy. Absent love and the interior peace it brings, all of life is conflict, and our faith is empty. Absent love, speaking the truth is not merely useless; it becomes an instrument of self-righteousness and a weapon against others."

"(Two) key points about Augustine’s view of Christians and politics."

"First, Augustine never offers a political theory, for good reason. He doesn’t believe that human beings can know or create perfect justice in this world. Our judgment is always flawed by our sinfulness."

"Second, no political order, no matter how good, can ever constitute a just society. Errors in moral judgment can’t be avoided. Therefore, the Christian needs to be loyal to her nation and obedient to its legitimate rulers. But she also needs to cultivate a critical vigilance about both."

"Hope feeds and grows on the experience of love, the will to persist in that love, and the letting go of anger, no matter how vicious or lunatic the times. Nations rise and fall. Ours has no special immunity. But in the meantime, God and his love for us endure. Strong tremors are shaking our society. If you’re like me, you’re feeling knocked off balance, and you’re casting about for explanations."

"Those on the left spy resurgent racism, xenophobia, and other pathologies, which they assume are radicalizing a populist base."

"Those on the right worry about utopian dreams on the left, which fuel a new totalitarianism. By my lights, these lines of analysis can tend toward hysteria (“Fascism!” “Socialism!”) rather than understanding. They are ... not pathways toward a sure footing in this time of staggering and stumbling."

"(A wise person) once said “Lack of trust is the acid eating everything.” He was not referring to trust in God. He was pointing to the decline of trust in many once-stable authorities. Mistrust runs through public life as well. Trumpian loyalists denounce some Republican senators as “traitors.” They are denounced in turn by respectable conservatives as an emerging “extreme right” that is captive to conspiracy theories." The accusations fly and get more and more entrenched."

"We not only distrust one another. We also have lost confidence in institutions that in an earlier time easily won our loyalty. We should seek people and institutions we can trust. Unlike faith, this trust needs to be partial, not complete. No worldly institution backs up its promises with the certainty of God’s power and righteousness. We are not called to be chumps. Yet we must beware the acids of mistrust and counter them with gestures of loyalty."

(A complete and bitter mistrust of everything outside my own small realm of ideas and those that agree with me will "eat everything like acid")

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Pessimism of the West - Snippets from First Things column by R. R. Reno

Some sections I wanted to preserve from the Jan 2021 issue:

Western civilization exerts unprecedented influence. Science commands the intellectual loyalty of elites around the world. Western strands of Christianity have enjoyed extraordinary missionary success in Africa and Asia. Communism—a Western ideology—migrated to China, destroyed its Confucian culture, and over the past generation has evolved into a materialist and technocratic mentality far more indebted to Bentham than to Mencius. Globalization is an American-led project, and it has gone from strength to strength. Yet, at the apogee of the West’s cultural power, we are riddled with guilt and doubts.

China poses a threat, but as was the case with early-­twentieth-century Japan, which brought war to Asia in the 1930s and to the United States in 1941, Chinese power today arises from the great extent of its Westernization. The clearest sign of cultural triumph is when one’s adversaries adopt one’s weapons. My fear of Chinese dominance is not a fear of being under the thumb of an alien Confucian civilization. Rather, I see in twenty-first-century China a perverse version of the West: the promise of wealth and security in exchange for submission to ­technocratic control.

What, then, accounts for our gloom? To some degree, it arises from our investments in failed utopias. As the Christian vision of the final triumph of God’s justice and peace was secularized in the modern era, the West gave birth to many vain dreams of reason. Descartes epitomized the “begin afresh” mentality, one that imagined that with sufficient intelligence and goodwill we could demolish the flawed city we had inherited and rebuild it as an impeccable empire of reason. In this spirit, we proclaim that democracies don’t go to war with one another. Or that global trade brings peace. Or that scientific management can eliminate inequality, poverty, and every other social evil.

For a recent football game, the University of Minnesota replaced the players’ names on their jerseys with the words “End Racism.” It was but an instance of today’s desperate ambition. But the modern Western spirit of “eliminationism” is countermanded by reality. Man combines the noble with the base, the grandeur of transcendence with grave defects that can never be eliminated—short of eliminating mankind, which is what environmentalist radicals and population-growth fanatics propose. Nobody was more pessimistic about postwar prosperity in the West than the ardent Marxist. He saw the spread of prosperity as a curse, not a modest blessing. Its meager satisfactions induce false consciousness and delay the revolution that will eliminate all injustices—the only aim worth attaining.

The West is not Marxist, but all of us are affected by the secular utopianism to which Marx gave powerful expression. Why hasn’t the “spirit of progress” triumphed? Even if things get better, utopianism exercises such a powerful influence over our public imagination that we can see ourselves only in the dark light of present (and past) failures. That a single black man should be wrongfully killed by police is intolerable, and society explodes with outrage. That one woman in college should feel pressured to have sex is unacceptable, and we set aside due process. Anything short of perfection is cause for upheaval. We have always still farther to go.

Ironically, modern utopianisms, for all their idealism, are built on drab utilitarian foundations. This, too, contributes to our malaise. Noble acts inspire men. Warm rhetoric stirs hearts. Yet such appeals have no place in the empire of reason. Technocracy operates in accord with the predictable. As a result, the modern West tends to reduce human beings to congeries of interest. We tell ourselves that we are utility-maximizing machines—or, if we are sufficiently postmodern, power-hungry organisms bent on domination.

We often hear about the great sins of the West: ­colonialism, racism, genocide. This litany demoralizes us. But our sense that we are unfit to govern the world we dominate (as we nevertheless do, often without hesitation) stems above all from the low view of the human person encouraged by technocratic reason. We lack a vocabulary with which to articulate freedom’s heroic possibilities. Thus, the singular triumphs of the West seem unmerited, even perverse. We turn to the myth of the noble savage. Multiculturalism denigrates the West while championing anything it imagines unsullied by Western influences. The “non-Western” offers us our best hope for moral and spiritual survival.

John Paul II had a name for the pessimism of the West: the culture of death. It is manifest in the widespread acceptance of abortion, the death-dealing tool by which we prevent new life from interfering with what we take to be our “essential interests.” The same holds for euthanasia, which is often freely chosen to relieve us of life’s final burdens.

These are efforts to wring from life what we can get, rather than accepting life as a gift. The increasing childlessness of adult life in the West is less manifestly death-dealing, but it has a pervasive influence. In Norway, the number of women who had no children by age forty-five went from 9 percent in 1985 to 15 percent in 2017; for men, the percentage went from 14 to 25. To one degree or another, most countries in the West are trending toward childlessness, including the United States.

Children are the future. They are lines we cast forward in time. In children, we are drawn toward emotional investments in affairs beyond our limited years. The children in whom we place our hopes need not come from our loins. Parents have fundamental rights that must be given priority. That said, the public is rightly concerned with the welfare of children, which is why we quarrel over how to educate them. In a society charged with the current of new life, we are drawn beyond ourselves, giving birth to ideas, inventions, and endeavors that outstrip our ­immediate interests as we seek to provide the next generation with things we will not survive to enjoy.

Look around and count the absent children. In 2017, demographers reported the lowest birthrates on record for the U.S. The birth-dearth is unprecedented in human history; it is chosen, rather than imposed by disease and famine. In 2020, the diminished scope of our concerns led us to borrow money from the future to sustain our lockdowns, during which we have suspended the education of children, curtailed their play, and retarded their development so that eighty-year-olds will enjoy a marginally lower risk of dying. Long gone is the Christian horizon of life, which refuses death’s final and supreme claim. We imagine ourselves committed to ideals. Yet the culture of death empties ideals of their power. Frustrated by our inability to confect redemption on earth, humiliated by the disenchanting effects of technocratic reason, and increasingly childless, we’re reduced to the animal imperative of survival.

Is it any wonder that the West is haunted by our perceived inability to make the world more just, more sustainable, more at peace? Perhaps we are unworthy because we are impotent. We have inherited a vital civilization that has captured a great deal of the world’s imagination. But we are becoming, at best, its sterile custodians.