42

With a growing backlog of books to review (Polanyi: what a fraud! Oops, sorry, should have spoilered that!) and about 120 draft posts to clean up/finish/toss/whatever, I digress:

If you already know the answer to life, the universe and everything, such that your dearest, most heartfelt belief is that everything is explained and all ends known with certainty, all discussions either support the conclusion, or are irrelevant noise. The very idea that something, something real or even some line of thought, might not fit in with the already known and sacred conclusion is anathema. Those who insist on bringing up challenges to The Answer are to be silenced with extreme prejudice.

The only worthy intellectual exercise is explaining and expanding on just exactly how 42 is the answer. An intellectual exercises his mind and creativity in coming up with ever more ingenious and detailed ways of getting to 42. The new ways 42 is demonstrated to be the one and only answer is a great comfort to the true believer, and a shield and bulwark against any line of thinking that might cause unease.

This much should be obvious. A little more subtle: Since 42 is the answer beyond challenge, any way of getting to 42 is valid regardless of the method used. 42 is beyond logic, beyond criticism of any kind. It explains – it must explain! It explains everything! – all attempts to unseat it. While it might be possible to have esthetic arguments about how one way to get to 42 is more elegant or thorough or technically accurate, it would be bad form to criticize the logic or structure or heaven forbid, the truth of any explication, so long as it gets to 42 in the end.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, it might be helpful if some of the observations upon which the presentation (it won’t do to call it an argument) are true, or that some of the connections proposed (again, can’t invoke logic) are obvious and reasonably granted. When Polanyi and Marx point to the suffering of the urban poor when industry replaced rural life with slum life, they are pointing to something real. The emotional appeal is also real – what sort of heartless monster would be indifferent to the suffering of the children?

File:Child Labor in United States, coal mines Pennsylvania.jpg
Breaker Boys

Suffering, especially suffering that primarily benefits somebody else, is nothing to be laughed at. Ignoring the suffering of others is a bad thing (under a moral code that recognizes right and wrong, of course). Yet identifying suffering is not the same thing as understanding what causes suffering. Even less is it an argument for whatever solution one might want to propose.

Ultimately, the truth of the observations, references and connections made as part of the presentation meant to demonstrate the truth of 42 do not reflect – are not allowed to reflect! – on whether 42 is in fact the answer. Quite the contrary: 42 becomes the filter used to determine what lines will be pursued and which will be ignored, and what tidbits of reality will be allowed to intrude. Marx and Polanyi have their defenders, rabid defenders, even, despite reality and history (you know, what happened, as opposed to mythical History, which make things happen in the future). The Soviet Union didn’t quite pan out? Well, Polanyi was right about the Asian Financial Crisis! (Except for the part where it was a hiccup in the now 75 year long planet-wide rise in economic productivity and subsequent drop in poverty and violence. Places where the likes of Polanyi are taken seriously being the exceptions, of course). Workers of the world are still not revolting (they have, increasingly, nothing to lose but there vacation packages, hi-def flat screens, second automobiles and iPhones).

The existence of injustice in the world – and there’s plenty to go around, don’t get me wrong – does not in fact prove anything about whether 42 is the answer or not. Describing problems is cheap; solutions are not, and may not even be possible.

Your math proving 42 not add up to 42? No problem! You got the right answer, that’s what counts.

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Feser and the Galileo Trap

File:Bertini fresco of Galileo Galilei and Doge of Venice.jpg
Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use a telescope.

Edward Feser here tackles the irrationality on daily display via the Covington Catholic affair, and references a more detailed description of skepticism gone crazy:

As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.  This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.  

Readers of this blog may recognize in Feser discussion above what I refer to as the Galileo Trap: the tendency or perhaps pathology that rejects all common experiences to embrace complex, difficult explanations that contradict them. In Galileo’s case, it happens that all common experiences tell you the world is stationary. Sure does not look or feel like we are moving at all. That the planet “really” is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and whipping through space even faster proves, somehow, that all those gullible rubes relying on their lying eyes are wrong! Similar situations arise with relativity and motion in general, where the accepted science does not square with simple understanding based on common experience.

Historically, science sometimes presents explanations that, by accurately accommodating more esoteric observations, make common observations much more complicated to understand. Galileo notably failed to explain how life on the surface of a spinning globe spiraling through space could appear so bucolic. By offering a more elegant explanation of the motion of other planets, he made understanding the apparent and easily observed immobility of this one something requiring a complex account. But Galileo proved to be (more or less) correct; over the course of the next couple centuries, theories were developed and accepted that accounted for the apparent discrepancies between common appearance and reality.

We see an arrow arch through the air, slow, and fall; we see a feather fall more slowly than a rock. Somehow, we think Aristotle was stupid for failing to discover and apply Newton’s laws. While they wonderfully explain the extraordinarily difficult to see motion of the planets, they also require the introduction of a number of other factors to explain a falling leaf you can see out the kitchen window.

Thus, because in few critical areas of hard science – or, as we say here, simply science – useful, elegant and more general explanations sometimes make common experiences harder to understand, it has become common to believe it is a feature of the universe that what’s *really* going on contradicts any simple understanding. Rather than the default position being ‘stick with the simple explanation unless forced by evidence to move off it,’ the general attitude seems to be the real explanation is always hidden and contradicts appearances. This boils down to the belief we cannot trust any common, simple, direct explanations. We cannot trust tradition or authority, which tend to formulate and pass on common sense explanations, even and especially in science!

Such pessimism, as Feser calls it, is bad enough in science. It is the disaster he describes in politics and culture. Simply, it matters if you expect hidden, subtle explanations and reject common experience. You become an easy mark for conspiracy theories.

I’ve commented here on how Hegel classifies the world into enlightened people who agree with him, and the ignorant, unwashed masses who don’t. He establishes, in other words, a cool kid’s club. Oh sure, some of the little people need logic and math and other such crutches, but the pure speculative philosophers epitomized by Hegel have transcended such weakness. Marx and Freud make effusive and near-exclusive use of this approach as well. Today’s ‘woke’ population is this same idea mass-produced for general consumption.

Since at least Luther in the West, the rhetorical tool of accusing your opponent of being unenlightened, evil or both in lieu of addressing the argument itself has come to dominate public discourse.

A clue to the real attraction of conspiracy theories, I would suggest, lies in the rhetoric of theorists themselves, which is filled with self-congratulatory descriptions of those who accept such theories as “willing to think,” “educated,” “independent-minded,” and so forth, and with invective against the “uninformed” and “unthinking” “sheeple” who “blindly follow authority.” The world of the conspiracy theorist is Manichean: either you are intelligent, well-informed, and honest, and therefore question all authority and received opinion; or you accept what popular opinion or an authority says and therefore must be stupid, dishonest, and ignorant. There is no third option.

Feser traces the roots:

Crude as this dichotomy is, anyone familiar with the intellectual and cultural history of the last several hundred years might hear in it at least an echo of the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, and of much of the philosophical and political thought that has followed in its wake. The core of the Enlightenment narrative – you might call it the “official story” – is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners “spoke truth to power,” liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.

If being enlightened, having raised one’s consciousness or being woke meant anything positive, it would mean coming to grips with the appalling stupidity of the “official story”. It’s also amusing that science itself is under attack. It’s a social construct of the hegemony, used to oppress us, you see. Thus the snake eats its tail: this radical skepticism owes its appeal to the rare valid cases where science showed common experiences misleading, and yet now it attacks the science which is its only non-neurotic basis.

Participation Trophy and The Cool Kid’s Club

As mentioned in previous insufferable biographical posts, I am a blue collar kid. Dad grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and worked in sheet metal, mom was the granddaughter of Czech immigrants whose father, coincidentally, also worked sheet metal – most all her relatives were farmers, so she got a full set of farm skills, too. (1) Neither had more than a high school education, apart from dad doing a lot of night school – he was certified in all types of welding and learned bookkeeping, etc. He was a real go-getter, with that farmer’s mentality that, if there was something to do, spending 16 hours a day doing it was how life worked.

The adults I knew as a child leaned strongly toward welders and other blue collar folks, and housewives. Later, when I was a teen and dad had made a successful go at running his own little company, he started hanging out a bit – golf (his doctor told him to get some exercise), that sort of thing – with a doctor friend and the pastor at our church. But I never got to know these people. I knew Billy Joe, Roy, Jose and Delbert down at down at dad’s shop. Guys who got their hands dirty. Starting at age 12, I spent many of my Saturdays and much of my summers working for my dad with these men, so these guys were my adult male role models.

Ah! This is like looking at pictures of the old neighborhood! The tools in dad’s shop were much cleaner, otherwise it’s a match.

Nonetheless, I managing to get into St. John’s College. They were pretty desperate, back then – basically, if you showed the initiative needed to complete the application essays, they’d give you a shot.

College was different. Not at all like my first 18 years.

I dimly expected college to be filled with smart people, at least, smarter than the folks I’d grown up with. Isn’t that what everybody thinks, having heard it from the cradle? Instead, I met lots of people not noticeably smarter than the people I knew from my childhood, but with markedly different expectations. The sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers and other professionals came to college so fully convinced that college was how they cemented their place in the ‘smart’ world that it never rose to the level of consciousness. They might agonize over whether to become a lawyer before or after doing a stint in the Peace Corps, or even consider becoming an artiste, or living the life of the communist agitator – all perfectly within the realm of smart people careers – but they didn’t consider becoming bricklayers, say, except as some form of protest (irony as a goal had not yet reached St. John’s as of the late 70s).

No, whatever course they chose, their place among the professional elite was assured. Of course, there are exceptions – me, for example – but we exceptions, insecure of our place in that particular world, lacking the automatic graces and attitudes growing up like that seems to create, we – I – really didn’t and don’t assume we have any place among these folks. (2)

In highschool – and St. Paul’s in Santa Fe Springs, CA, considers itself college preparatory – there were still plenty of people who did not expect to be part of the elite. One of my basketball buddies, for example, got his girlfriend pregnant in his senior year – and graduated, married her, and got a job. That an 18 year old dude would get married and have children and get a job to support them was not out of the realm of acceptable behavior, circa 1975, in my little bubble. (Getting her pregnant before marriage was frowned upon, but much less than people now imagine – that he did the right thing afterwards made it only a minor, easily forgiven and forgotten slip up.)

I remember this dude because he was clearly smart, easily as smart as the typical St. John’s student. His expectations were wildly different, however.

Let’s talk about those experiences, whatever it is that corresponds in the lives of the sons and daughters of the professional class to my experiences of growing up with blue-collar people. I acknowledge up front that I’m arm-chair psychoanalyzing people here, because, obviously, I don’t know firsthand. The appearances do seem to support this analysis.

  • There’s the simple assumption, possibly unspoken but possibly not, that the people in our house and our friends are smarter than the people we hire to fix it when it breaks.

This can also take the form of false comradeship: we are brothers with the workers. That they don’t recognize it is because they are unenlightened. No, no, no – you think we’re insufferable snobs, and maybe that you hate us, but you really only hate the *bad* rich people! We’re your buddies! Nobody really believes this.

  • There are certain jobs approved of in our social network. They are the better, more worthy jobs held by the better, more worthy people. The classics would be doctor and lawyer (and college professor), but the right kind of politicians and businessmen are also admired, as well as do-gooder fields that make us feel good about ourselves. Community organizer, say.
  • We prove our own virtue and goodness by how we encourage and welcome the little people into our ranks.

This attitude has been institutionalized in colleges and universities. Look at all the gyrations colleges go through to get ‘diverse’, how the question: “would this person benefit from what we offer?” never really gets asked. Of course they would! What kind of nut wouldn’t want to be one of us!

Since it’s painfully obvious they belong to an exclusive clique, these members of the professional class are desperate to show they don’t, to keep that cognizant dissonance at bay. That’s why a character like Obama, who I have accurately described as a ‘towering mediocrity,’ gets canonized in advance of any actual positive achievement (for which we are still waiting). He’s the proof! See how good and sharing we are! It’s also worth noting in this context that it’s all optics – I’m closer to being from the ‘hood than O is. Dude grew up overseas and in Hawaii, for crying out loud! He’s the son and grandson of the 2nd most privileged class (to use language with which they are familiar) in America: academics. These are the folks that think, for example, they by rights can simply redefine any words they like – for our own good. Talk about power and privilege.

That’s why they are much, much more committed to getting black kids into Harvard than they are to helping black kids get some jobs training. Black kids with jobs and families don’t reinforce the professional class’s goodness, while sending people to college in order to welcome them into the tribe does.

  • Low, low risk economic environment. I’ve long thought of wealth as being most accurately measured by how big a problem, expense wise, you can take care of without it destroying your standard of living. Most people live in the 4 to 5 figure range: Need 1st & last for a new place? Need a new car? Need bail money? These can usually be taken care of by most people without breaking the bank, maybe through borrowing from mom. Need $200K to go to college? We have many people today who fully expect mom and/or dad to spring for this. Real economic want is just not a concern. Then, they’ll eventually inherit a house or two worth maybe 7 figures, which they will at worse have to split with one sibling (and maybe a few half-siblings).

These attitudes are absorbed with their baby formula. As Chesterton said, it’s the things simply assumed that are the most reliably learned.

  • Membership is the achievement, such as it is. Since it is just expected that the sons and daughters of the professional class will become professionals themselves as a consequence of being in the group, actually getting that career is more an affirmation of group membership than an actual achievement. Just as Uncle Billy can get you a job down at the docks if you show up on Thursday, 6 a.m. sharp and dressed to work, Uncle Chad has a spot at the law firm ready for you, if you check the right boxes. Every effort will be made to help you check those boxes. (3)

Thus, we get the participation trophy culture we now live in. It’s not a new thing brought about by mush-headed and guilty parents, but rather a simple expression of the true nature of the world, as they see it. There is little if any achievement in their lives. It’s all just group membership. Their college life, their careers, perhaps even their families are not experienced as an achievement, primarily, but rather as the all but inevitable outcome of group membership. (4)

We also get – or don’t – a whole set of group signifiers. In my day, the late 70s, the college boys owned a sports coat, some khaki slacks and a few button down collar shirts – except for the few of us who would have never had an occasion to wear that sort of gear prior to college. One of the young ladies I knew commented that her boyfriend at the time was the only man she knew who kept his $10,000 wardrobe on the floor. (She, presumably, kept her $10,000 wardrobe hung neatly in the closet.) I think I could have replaced every item of clothing I had with me at school for under $500. (This, even though my dad by that time was probably worth as much as most of their dads, after 15 years of 16 hour days at his shop. It really isn’t about money. He got his hands dirty.)

More subtle signs: what I will call a New York Times Book Review approach to learning. If you subscribe to the NYTBR and skim it every week, you will know what the cool kids are talking about and – more important – what the New York Times considers the proper attitude towards those books. You’ll have something to say when another group member (who, himself, is unlikely to have read the book) name drops. This confirms group membership while conveniently reinforcing you shared world view, giving you predigested acceptable responses while avoiding the risk of meaningful exposure to opposing ideas. (5)

  • Outcomes are essentially irrelevant. For people secure in their group membership and not having any real sense of economic risk, failure emotionally means something like having to borrow money from or move back in with mom and dad. It’s sad it didn’t work, but you gave it a good shot, that’s what matters! Next time, it will work! Thus, it’s bad form to harp on how everything from civil rights legislation to affirmative action to Prohibition to Obamacare to Communism have failed. As long as it reinforces group membership, it can’t fail, or, more to the point, it doesn’t matter if it fails. (6) Supporters of Obamacare truly did not care if it had any chances of providing what it promised to provide, even less that that whole ‘you can keep your plan’ was a bald-faced lie. The important point was that we good people support everybody getting healthcare. That the actual bill did nothing of the sort means nothing, and you’re a bad person and not of the tribe if you keep pointing that out. Just move along.
  • A corollary: real successes, real improvements in people’s lives are also dismissed or simply ignored insofar as such successes happen outside the bubble. When one is so uncool as to point out the direct correlation between free markets and improved welfare of the poorest people under such systems, as opposed to the relationship between communism and extreme repression and poverty, one get a knowing smirk or some sort of outrage, similar to what one gets if the similarity between fascism and communism is pointed out. Nope, the group accepts that the economy must be managed by the good, smart people – for the sake of the poor! – and that Nazis and Commies are *totally* different, so you must be crazy, evil, or both to suggest the opposite.

In some sense, our current little culture war is the reaction of people who accept this group membership as the obvious goal (if the the question ever reaches consciousness) of all good, enlightened people. Who doesn’t want to sit in the front of the class? Who wouldn’t want to be a lawyer or doctor or elected official from the proper party? Who doesn’t want to be behind all the progressive steps on the right side of history. Who would not want to have their thinking done for them by our hive mind?

The pain, the cognitive dissonance, of having to face a world of people who reject all of that is too much! Such people must be Eeeevil! They must be Literally Hitler! The weaker members flee for their literal (or figurative: college) safe spaces. The less weak roll their eyes hard when they’re not expressing group-approved heartfelt fear for the Future of the Nation. Beneath this range of reactions is the cultivated disbelief that anyone smart could possibly really disagree.

Heads are exploding. Bring popcorn.

Final note: perhaps we are on the verge of a collapse into barbarism, during which all the infrastructure, both physical and cultural, upon which civilization is built, will be destroyed by the mob. Dark Ages, cannibalism, cats and dogs sleeping together – you know the drill. Could be. But it also could be a Soviet Union style collapse, where the rot just got to be too much, so much so that a former B actor and a Polish bachelor in a funny hat could end it just by standing up to it and pointing. Recall how unlikely that scenario looked before it happened. Unfortunately, if there is a just God, that outcome is much, much better than we deserve.

  1. Mom could reduce a live animal to dinner with surprising alacrity. Glad she was on our side.
  2. Yet, by attending college, we lose our standing in the blue collar world. Was once a volunteer on a construction site, in college. I approached one of the foreman, who started speaking, in Spanish, before he’d turned around to see who it was. “Sorry, I thought you were one of the boys.” I am clearly not one of the boys (although the boys couldn’t do much of anything I couldn’t do). That 3 second encounter has stuck with me for 40 years now.
  3. Met a charming gentleman last week, who told how he, another son of the working class, had applied to illustrious Wall Street firms upon graduation, thinking: shoot for the top. He discovered that all the other men in his area were sons of prominent political or business leaders, CEO of this, cabinet secretary of that. For him, that job was a huge achievement; for them it was an entitlement, just another step in world they belonged to.
  4. Also, this may explain the odd deification of the tech geek billionaires, who are pretty much exclusively from this class. They are forward thinking, progressive and brilliant! They talk not about their vast wealth, but about how they are going to change the world! Good Lord, spare us from these people!
  5. Had this happen to me the other day, which is why I’m reading Polanyi’s Great Transformation: in catching up with a long-time college buddy, I asked about Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, I’ll admit it, to tweek him a bit. He asked if I was aware of Great Transformation. Later, in the course of reading and subsequently reading about that book – silly me, I thought that’s what one did! – I ran across the NYTBR review of Deneen. And – surprise! – the reviewer pretty says Deneen is way behind the times, that Polanyi explained all about how Liberalism, understood as Capitalist free markets, failed and continues to fail. So, we can safely dismiss any concerns over liberalism failing, because that’s not what we mean – we mean the good stuff! The NYT says so! Chances this buddy of mine has read Polanyi? Too close to zero to measure.
  6. Knew a man who said he always voted for the party that promised to take more of his money. The idea that that party might do either good or evil with the money thus taken didn’t enter into it.

Weekend Update & Link-fest

A. Trying to write a review of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, and it’s painful. I’ll get it done in the next few days. Pure Communist propaganda hiding behind reams of faux erudition. Since a simple straightforward statement of his Marxist ideas would invite withering criticism from anyone who has not drunk the kool aid, he lards on irrelevancies with the implied ad hominem – you only disagree because you are not enlightened enough to get it. Or cold-hearted – look at all this suffering! If only enlightened managers had control, why, they’d fix everything! But don’t look at the gulags or killing fields.

He wrote a few years before Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, and before the post-war worldwide economic boom (still ongoing, despite a few comparatively brief hiccups) began driving world-wide material poverty and suffering down and health and life expectancies up year after year, everywhere in proportion as Marxist ideas are not implemented. Back then, it was still possible for your typical Marxist to claim the Soviet Union is the future that works, not a bloodbath of totalitarian control. Funny how that didn’t pan out.

B. Revisiting the heresy of Americanism. Foxifer was kind enough to link to my humble speculations over on American Catholic. The comments are interesting.

It’s easy (and convenient) to dismiss Americanism, as the near-contemporary Catholic Encyclopedia and, to a lesser extent, Wikipedia today do, as a phantom heresy: just some rabble rousers getting in the Pope’s ear, Pope overreacts, nothing to see here, move along.

Related image

But let’s break that down a bit. The Pope’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons is a typical Vatican-style letter (old school division) where the praise is general and the condemnations relatively more specific. A more general way to state the issue: are you judging America by the Church’s standards, or the Church by America’s? Pope Leo XIII condemned:

  1. undue insistence on interior initiative in the spiritual life, as leading to disobedience
  2. attacks on religious vows, and disparagement of the value of religious orders in the modern world
  3. minimizing Catholic doctrine
  4. minimizing the importance of spiritual direction

Unless one is in utter denial, the absolute best one could seriously argue here is that Leo jumped the gun by a few decades. But I don’t think that’s the case.

In the last post, I mentioned in this connection Archbishop John Ireland, the leading ‘liberal’ in the American hierarchy at the turn of the last century. He’s yet another figure I’ll need to find out a lot more about. Superficially, at least, his actions imply serious cluelessness or worse, casual dishonesty. Right around this time, he gave a speech before the National Education Association, an institution that was viewed by many Catholic leaders as, at the very least, latently anti-Catholic. The NEA’s main thrust, then as now, was improving the lot of public school teachers through support of compulsory public schools and standardization through certification of teachers. The Catholic Church ran thousands of private schools staffed by religious sisters who were trained on the job and whose relevant certification was that they were Catholic sisters, not tools of a state that hated Catholics.

For Ireland to address such a crowd and suggest that, soon and very soon, Catholics would just accept the public schools and send their kids there, would be – insane? Unbelievably clueless? Dishonest? At the very least, wouldn’t this idea be something you’d float among the other bishops first? You know, the people who shepherd the flocks whose toil and money went into building all the parochial schools created specifically to keep their kids out of the public schools? When the other bishops reacted with predictable horror, Ireland tried to downplay the incident. The pope’s letter Gibbons, especially in light of his previous letter praising those who sacrificed much to keep their kids out of anti-Catholic schools, certainly would not have cast Ireland in a positive light.

Ireland’s actions could be seen as supporting at least points 2, 3, and 4 from Leo’s letter. You send your kids to public schools, and they’re learning by immersion that 1. the vows taken by those Catholic sisters teaching in the parochial schools don’t really matter much, certainly not as much as state certification; 2. at best, not hearing Catholic doctrine every day in the classroom, with the very real likelihood you’ll hear subtle and not so subtle disparagement of doctrine, is no big deal; and 3. being undirected spiritually – again, a best-case scenario – is perfectly OK for kids, as their parents will of course undo all the damage and supply the guidance between 5:30 and bedtime, minus dinner and homework time.

But the most important observation: everything the Pope condemns has passed into routine Catholic practice in America at some point in the last century or so. It either sprang Athena-like from some Progressive forehead in, I dunno, 1955? 1960?, or it was in fact a current among certain Catholics dating back to some period before Leo’s letter. How we personally feel about God and Church teachings is primary; vocations have fallen off a cliff, relatively speaking; priests are afraid (or letting their silence imply consent to dissident positions) of speaking out about hard doctrine from the pulpit or anywhere else for that matter; and spiritual direction? What’s that?

Of course, I generalize, and, at least in some areas, a corner has been turned. But anyone who thinks this is not the state of the American Catholic Church is living in a bubble. Go teach a 1st communion or confirmation class, and get back to us.

C. Related: turns out Isaac Hecker, the French intro to whose biography triggered Leo’s letter to Gibbons, was in fact well acquainted with Orestes Brownson, and was greatly influenced by him – Hecker reconsidered and then joined the Catholic Church after Brownson converted, and they discussed the matter in correspondence. He became a priest after consulting Brownson. So, while I have no first-hand information on Hecker’s views as yet, Brownson’s views I’ve discussed here. Writing as the Civil War concluded, Brownson was extremely optimistic about the Church’s future in America, declaring that it was God’s Providence that had created America in order to form one united Catholic nation comprising the entire Western Hemisphere. Since the principles upon which the Republic is established can only be supported by uniquely Catholic doctrines (that’s Brownson, not me, to be clear), it becomes inevitable that all the states of the New World will join America:

There was no statesmanship in proclaiming the “Monroe doctrine,” for the statesman keeps always, as far as possible, his government free to act according to the exigencies of the case when it comes up, unembarrassed by previous declarations of principles. Yet the doctrine only expresses the destiny of the American people, and which nothing but their own fault can prevent them from realizing in its own good time. Napoleon will not succeed in his Mexican policy, and Mexico will add some fifteen or twenty new States to the American Union as soon as it is clearly for the interests of all parties that it should be done, and it can be done by mutual consent, without war or violence. The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together. Annexation, when it takes place, must be on terms of perfect equality and by the free act of the state annexed. The Union can admit of no inequality of rights and franchises between the States of which it is composed. The Canadian Provinces and the Mexican and Central American States, when annexed, must be as free as the original States of the Union, sharing alike in the power and the protection of the Republic—alike in its authority, its freedom, its grandeur, and its glory, as one free, independent, self-governing people. They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.

Brownson, the American Republic

Note first the primacy of place given to American doctrines, as the clear expression of what is implicit in Church teaching. Next, we have, as the cool kids say, immanentized the eschaton big time. Finally, note the implicit criticism of Europe and the non-American Church. If America is the (Hegelian historical?) expression of the Church, the European Church is chopped liver, more or less.

Now we look back at the French writer of the introduction to Hecker’s biography, who was by all accounts looking to America and America’s native saint (Hecker is a Servant of God as of 2008, first step toward canonization) for inspiration in restructuring European Church/State relations and in moving power to the people.

What could possibly go wrong?

D. I found this totally refreshing and revealing:

College Student to Synod Organizers: Don’t Listen to Me!

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom.”

Even as the bishops attending this month’s Youth Synod in Rome strive mightily to demonstrate that they hear the wishes and concerns of young people, I was surprised when a Catholic college student told me that he doesn’t much care if the Church listens to him.
Isaac Cross first heard about the Youth Synod when he was asked to participate in the preparatory survey. One of the opening questions has stuck with him: “As a young person, do you feel that the Church listens to you?”

Isaac didn’t like the question.

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom,” he told me. “The Church is built upon thousands of years of tradition and doctrine, and I have especially found at college how striving to understand that doctrine of the Church is a vital means of strengthening [one’s] faith.”

I don’t like lies. From the late 60s on, it was one lie after another from advocates of Church reform: we were told that all the changes were mandated by Vatican II – no, they were not; we were told the new music was for us kids – no, it was not, no one ever asked us if we wanted insipid pseudo-folk music; they claimed to be listening to us – never happened, except for those kids coached to say what our managers wanted to hear. All objections were treated as tantamount to heresy, never mind that no where in the documents actually issued by the Church Council could support be found for what was being rammed down our throats. (1)

So, here’s a kid willing to state the obvious: kids are stupid. We love them, we trust them, we educate them by example – but we would be even more stupid to expect wisdom from the mouth of babes on any but a rare exception basis. Goodness, innocence and charity, yes – the sense in which we are to be like children. But not so much gun control, immigration and tax policy. Or Church direction.

E. Don’t remember where I wandered across this:

“Time to Consider Changing the Name of Woodrow Wilson High School”?

Seems – finally – someone noticed that Wilson’s racism as evidenced by his resegregation of the federal government, which involved demotion or out and out firing of thousands of black federal workers, was a bad thing. Who’da thunk it? As an icon of progressive liberal thought, as architect of the League of Nations, as a champion eugenics and of public schooling (designed, after the wishes of the recently retired William Torrey Harris, to keep the population stupid and docile), Wilson has gotten the usual Liberal pass. See, a Confederate hero, for example, even if not a slave owner or even if personally opposed to slavery, is to be condemned – and here’s the important part – without discussion. A progressive hero is to be lionized, again, without discussion. And have schools named after him.

This could be very dangerous. What if people start looking even harder at Wilson? What if they start looking at, oh, Margaret Singer? John Dewey? (He’s got schools named after him, too.) Heck, any of the left’s heroes from around that time? If we give them a pass because all the cool kids were doing it at the time, I hope we’ve kept those Confederate statues safe, because we’d need to put them back up on the same principle.

Not that consistency has ever mattered much. I predict that their betters will put the anti-Wilson forces back in line, and nothing will happen. But I’d love to wrong, and I’d love to see dominos start to fall. Logic does have its own inertia and gravity, requiring a strong, steady stream of lies to keep it at bay. But the lies cannot be recognized as lies by too many people, or the damn breaks.

  1. As mentioned elsewhere, I have recently been blessed to attend the Novus Ordo said reverently in Latin ad orientem with chant – in other words, as the actual council documents describe it. If that had been allowed, back in the 60s and 70s, most of trauma – and it was traumatic – caused by the sudden, vehement and merciless adoption of the Spirit of Vatican II version of the Mass could have been avoided. One suspects the trauma was the point for many of those involved in implementing the changes.

Book Review: The School of Darkness, by Bella Dodd

I began reading The School of Darkness, published in 1954, simply as background material for understanding the tactics and spread of Communism in America. It does provide that, but also gives great details on the Communist takeover of the Teacher’s Union in New York and elsewhere, and tactics used to get and gain control of education. So double reason to read this book.

Brief summary: Bella Dodd was a first generation American born to Italian parents, who grew up in and around New York shortly after the turn of the last century. She was intelligent and ambitious, and so advanced through school, getting a college degree and becoming a lawyer. She taught school and then college, helped found the Teacher’s Union in New York, and fell in with the Communists just as the Great depression was taking hold.

She was attracted by the personal austerity and sacrifices she saw among the Communists she knew, and their dedication, as she saw it, to improving the lot of the poor and victims of the economic collapse. The traditional churches and societies did little or nothing, as she saw it.

She gradually moved up the ranks, serving as a labor liaison, legislative contact, and political organizer, until she was asked to be a member of the American politburo. She was deeply involved for many years with what the Communists were up to, both at the highest levels and feet on the ground activities.

Exposure to the ambition, pettiness, lives of luxury, and power plays of the upper levels of the party, and their inherent dishonesty, manipulation and utter lack of concern for the wellbeing of even their own party members, eventually drove her to speak out. Not playing ball got her purged from the party, defamed, and shunned by people she had thought her friends.

The last chapter and a half deal with her conversion, or reversion, to her Catholic faith. Alone, rejected, exhausted and sick in body and soul, she eventually reconnects with some Catholics she had known, who steer her back to the Church. She was conditionally baptised, shriven and given first communion by Bishop Sheen. She spent the rest of her life exposing the Communists.

How does it happen that the better education schools make Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, an obvious work of Communist propaganda, required reading? To balance all the paens to the free market in the rest of the curriculum? What works would those be? How does it happen that pragmatic moral relativism, embodied in the Trolly Car problem and as championed by the Communist apologist Dewey, gets taught in our schools? How come the vast majority of our teachers, K-grad school, lean hard left?

It’s as if it were some sort of plan was in place. Just as I am fond of pointing out that the Mob has never been purged from Chicago politics, the Communists were never purged from education. Dodd mentions in this book that, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee came after the Communist professors and teachers, they were only able to expose and remove about 40-50 out of the 1,000 or so that Dodd knew of through her work with the Teacher’s Union. So 95% of the Communists influencing education in New York were still there after the Rapp-Coudert, and were largely free to continue their work of shaping education. They appear to have done quite the job of it.

Freire’s entire point is that proper education radicalizes the student. (1) Educating them in the sense of teaching them stuff like reading, writing, arithmetic and job training was not only not the goal, but was to be positively avoided, as happiness and success don’t lead to revolution. No matter how often the Marxists say that the revolution is the goal, we still don’t get it, and imagine all the faux-sympathy shown to the poor and downtrodden mean they actually want to improve life for the suffering. No, they want a revolution, and, where improving working conditions and life in general conflict with moving the revolution forward (and they always do!), they oppose such improvements.

Dodd could be writing today. The ‘we’ in the following are teachers and professors in general:

As I look back over the conferences I attended on educational policies and methods and progress, I realize that we never discussed or thought about what kind of man or woman we expected to develop by our educational system. What were the goals of education? How were we to achieve them? These questions few asked. Are we asking them today in the higher echelons of the public schools, and what are our conclusions?

Only recently I heard the chief of the New York public schools speak on television on juvenile delinquency. It was soon after the wrecking of a school by young vandals. He said that what was needed was more buildings, more teachers, better playgrounds. Those devoted to progressive education and to preparing youth to live in the “new socialist world” are abstractly sure of what they want, but they seem not to know that they work with human beings. Aside from teaching that children must learn to get along with other children, no moral or natural law standards are set. There is no word about how our children are to find the right order of harmonious living.

I, too, had to learn by hard experience that you cannot cure a sick soul with more buildings or more playgrounds. These are important, but they are not enough. Abraham Lincoln, schooled in a one-room log cabin, received from education what all the athletic fields and laboratories cannot give. All his speeches reflected his love for his Creator. He knew that God is the cure for godlessness.

The School of Darkness, Dodd, Ch. 10

Dodd found herself and other idealistic Communists working themselves to death for the Cause. This consumption of the worker bees did not seem to concern the Communist leadership:

I should have known, however, had I reflected on the implications of Lenin’s speech delivered at the Third All-Russian Congress of the Russian Young Communist League on October 2, 1920: “ . . . all our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.”

Or, as Dewey said in defense of Trotsky,

Since Mr. Trotsky also indicates that the only alternative position to the idea that the end justifies the means is some form of absolutistic ethics based on the alleged deliverances of conscience, or a moral sense, or some brand of eternal truths, I wish to say that I write from a standpoint that rejects all such doctrines as definitely as does Mr. Trotsky himself, and that I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed.

Their Morals and Ours
Published: New International, 1938

Dodd gets a job that entails keeping records for the Communists, and has it explained to her:

As I began to prepare for the work I was assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this bourgeois structure.”

Ch 12

By even considering such things, she committed thoughtcrime and became double plus ungood. After a few more years and escalating incidents of failing to get in line, the party purges her. She discovers she can’t just leave, that’s not how it works, but must be condemned, smeared, and shunned. She finds herself friendless and alone, with nowhere to turn.

Finally, she meets some old Catholic friends.

In his office I met Mary Riley, his assistant. Since Dr. Greenberg could not see me at once, Miss Riley and I began to talk.

She had been a high-school teacher for years. Loved and respected by all, she represented a type of teacher becoming increasingly rare, as though they were being systematically eliminated from our schools. She was a woman of poise and dignity whose love of God permeated all her relations.

Ch 17

“Systematically eliminated.” But Miss Riley and her moral moorings are what is needed.

Now I saw in true perspective the contribution that the teachers and the schools of America have made to its progress, just as I was sadly aware of the darker picture some of the educators and the educated among us have presented. Justice Jackson has said that it is the paradox of our times that we in modern society need to fear only the educated man. It is very true that what a man does with his knowledge is that which, in one sense, justifies or indicts that education. A glance at the brilliant scientists who served the Hitler regime, and the Soviet scholars who serve the Kremlin, a look at the men indicted for subversion in our own country – all lead us to re-estimate the role of education. We are told that all problems will be solved by more education. But the time has come to ask: “What kind of education?” “Education for what?” One thing has become transparently clear to me: rounded education includes training of the will as much as training of the mind; and mere accumulation of information, without a sound philosophy, is not education.

Ch 17

Essential book. Available online for free. Read it.

The Schools Will Burn

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The esteemable William Briggs comments on a teacher who was fired for failing to use male pronouns to address a girl whose parents had decided she was a boy.  Many parents protested, and the principal involved said she could appreciate their feelings, but that the offending teacher would remain fired. 

Dr. Briggs, who himself, despite sterling credentials and years of experience,  is no longer employed as a professor due to his failure to comply, points out that this is just one incident among many. The few remaining teachers and academics at all levels who see through the nonsense have learned to keep their heads down and pay lip service to gender theory and, by extension, all critical theory, which is explicitly the weaponized academic aspect of Marxism. If they want to keep their jobs, that is. 

We are at a very interesting juncture in history, in exactly that sense in which we pray God to spare us from interesting times. Two forces are arrayed in diametric and mortal conflict: the force of those sharing a largely inchoate love for simple, personal things: family, friends, the quiet enjoyment of what can most rightly be called theirs, versus the force of destruction, a force that above all hates those things.

In both parties, a large number, perhaps even a huge majority, are not yet aware of, let alone completely clear on, what they believe, what is at stake and how the battle will be fought and won. Thus, those whose actions and statements support destruction scoff at this characterisation. I, too, they may well say, have friends and family I love. In fact, I’m saving the planet for them, saving the government for them. For them, I want every person on the planet to be free to come to America without any hindrance or judgement of their motives – because these things are essential to any world my family and friends want to live in, or would want to live in were they more enlightened.  

Similarly, I suppose the major characteristic of the vast majority of people opposed to these positions is annoyance. What is with all this wild stuff that keeps coming down? I mean, geez, sure, let women have access to all the professions and opportunities men have, leave gay people alone, protect blacks and immigrants against poor treatment, and so on – but doesn’t this train ever stop? Do we really need to pretend boys are girls and visa versa? Do we really have to pretend that two guys are as much a married couple as any married mom and dad? Do women really not have to put up any evidence or proof to destroy a man’s life with accusations of rape or even accusations he was a cad once? Where does it stop? 

This vagueness plays strongly into the hands of the forces of destruction. Where a focused, strong response is required, a tepid sense of annoyance is all that’s offered. Thus, the schools will burn. They should burn, but through having all public funding removed yesterday, K through PhD. and all compulsory education laws revoked. You think you’re going to get the indoctrination stopped any other way? You think people addicted to lying are going to respond to persuasion? Polite pressure?

No. Two things would happen if all state and federal funding and compulsion were removed from education. The make-work aspect would end. People would figure out alternatives, like people did for centuries before Fichte. If the schools were burned down in this manner – and I’m not real hopeful here – the teachers who can really teach anything people might actually want their kids to learn will end up with teaching jobs. High-end Vo-Tech like law and business degrees will find a level the market will support, and some people will make a living teaching those things. And all the more traditional jobs training, from welding school to beauticians, will employ teachers as they have done. Those unable to find work weren’t really providing any value before. 

But what about those kids whose parents won’t force them to get educated? We’d fail them! We’d leave them behind!

Guess what? We’re failing them now. They are left behind now. Even with the billions spent on education, even with the full power of the state’s enforcement arm behind forcing kids into schools, a huge (and consistently understated) percentage, well over 50%, of kids in ‘underperforming’ schools drop out anyway. Got that? The full strength of the law and billions of dollars, and huge numbers of kids fail under the terms set by schools themselves! 

The people who support compulsory state run schools and the gamut of state ‘free’ services do not really desire the supposed outcomes of these programs. Stop and consider this again: the people in favor of compulsory state benefit programs do not in fact desire the outcomes promised by those programs. That’s not what attracts them and fires their enthusiasm. They lie to themselves, or let others lie to them. The tell-tale signs: these are the people undeterred by repeated failures (how’s that war on poverty coming? Any day now, right?). Further, these are the people who will brook no discussion of how things are supposed to work when they get their way. As Alinsky puts it:

RULE 12: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”


In other words, do not allow the lack of a constructive alternative to derail your attack. The attack is the important thing. Committed progressives will not name that toward which we are assumed to be progressing in any but vague, ultimately meaningless phrases. Fairness. Equality. Democracy. When pressed, they retreat into some variety of ad hominem. What are you, some sort of nut who doesn’t want equality and fairness? Are you opposed to the will of the people?  

Recall, for an example still fresh in many minds: Obamacare. Critics pointed out two critical and obvious flaws: That there were no mechanisms in the law to control costs in a meaningful way, and that layering on new requirements effectively destroys many existing plans. The first objection means that, under Obamacare, healthcare costs should be expected to  continue to rise, most likely faster (after a brief pause for digestion) than they would have otherwise, as a massive new set of rules and the bureaucracy to enforce them  must also be paid for. If you extensively redefine what is an acceptable healthcare plan, it’s only because you don’t like the way current healthcare plans are set up. It’s only because you *want* to make those old plans illegal. You want to make them go away. 

So, we got two bald-faced lies: first, that Obamacare would make healthcare cheaper in the long run, and second, that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. 

The important point is not that these statements have proven to be lies, and were known to be lies when they were uttered. It’s not even that some people may have believed them. It’s that proponents of the bill didn’t care in the slightest. In their minds, the details of how it was supposed to work, and even the little detail of if it could work at all, just didn’t matter. They were not looking for a concrete mechanism to improve healthcare. They were looking for the Promised Land. They were voting to hasten the coming of the holy millennium of peace and justice. It was the abstract idea embodied the the bill’s *title* that carried the weight, that embodied all hopes and desires: Affordable Health Care. Pointing out the problems with the mechanisms enacted by the actual legislation merely marks one for future culling. 

This is the pattern. How many times do we hear that Socialism has not failed, it just have never been tried. This is only true if one assumes there are options to the leaders who have already tried to put it into practice, people not at all like the power-crazed amoral zealots (and those are the better class of socialist!) who are all we’ve ever seen, for mysterious reasons. No, all socialism needs to succeed is a limitless supply of genius saintly bureaucrats, incorruptible politicians and the deaths of the millions who dare oppose or criticize it (or can be plausibly imagined to possible criticize it in the future, or who are simply in the way). With the exception of Antifa level crazies, socialists are a little hazy on that last requirement. But killing millions is a requirement. In fact, it’s a major attraction. 

The striking thing, one that has impressed itself on me more and more recently, is that supporters of utopian fantasy – communists, socialists, progressives, along with anarchists and self-identified liberals – are simply not interested in real-world outcomes. No amount of failure will ever impress them. (1) Insisting on pointing out the failures, or, worse, pointing out how based on everything we know that a particular course of action, say, Obamacare, is doomed, merely labels us as reactionary fuddy-duddies, stupid (that one always cracks me up!) and, in any event, one to be reeducated or worse once power has been seized people vote in the right leaders. 

So, we burn the schools, or they do. What they will do, following Freire, is dispense with the fiction that the schools are anything else beside indoctrination centers and reeducation camps, after, of course, burning down all alternatives. The hatred the left evinces toward homeschoolers and, indeed, anyone who chooses any other way than public schooling is truly frightening. Or do you think the Bern supports college for everyone out of the (what would be the incredibly stupid, even for him) belief that college education creates good jobs for every grad? I’d bet a lot, without even checking, that, in addition to his popularity among college kids, his support among teachers unions and ‘educators’ was very, very high.  In fact, the former is a result of the latter. The logic is compelling: compulsory state schooling is good! Only bad, evil, stupid people disagree. We will destroy their schools and plans for their own good! (And destroy them, themselves, if they make a fuss.)  

My only hope, and it’s not one I’m proud of, is that the left’s program of eating each other progresses fast and far enough to cause a collapse before they set match to kindling.

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The point of all the above: the enemy does not have a plan. Or rather, watching the world burn IS the plan. I was continually amazed at the resistance and petulant anger with which met any questioning along the lines of ‘how is that supposed to work, exactly?’ until I realized, as expressed here, that this lack of interest in real-world outcomes is a feature, really the key feature, and not a bug. Gramsci points out that you have to destroy the ‘hegemony’ – essentially, what normal people love about the world, but framed as, somehow, the mechanisms of oppression (2) –  in order to bring about the glorious people’s revolution. Their enemy is nothing other than happiness. Their enemy is Truth. 

Voting is Like Taking Out the Garbage

Yes, over-the-top clickbait style title. Just thinking out loud here…

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In order to have civilization, you have to take out the garbage.  When people are few and far between, you can dispose of your refuse any way you want, partly because you’ll likely produce little refuse, and that refuse will be biodegradable or at least ‘natural’, partly because you don’t have many neighbors to complain about it.

But once you get civilized, the root meaning of which is ‘living in cities’, garbage disposal becomes an active concern. Your neighbors very likely will care where you dump your garbage. Your own home will become a dump by default if you don’t make the effort to get rid of that stuff.

No one mistakes taking out the garbage as the purpose of civilized life, even though proper waste disposal is essential to it. Instead, if we think about it at all, we think proper waste disposal is something we all do in order to make and keep space for doing what is more important to us. A comfortable, non-smelly home with places for meals, conversations, sleeping and so forth is the goal on a personal level; on a community level, we want similar standards applied to public places for similar reasons. Therefore, we take steps both for our personal garbage disposal and for methods and places to deal with our collected garbage.

Thus, every city, town and village has its garbage men and dumps. Public piles of trash outside of dumps are a sign that civilization is slipping away or has never completely arrived. Privately, Hoarders, cat ladies and people who never seem to clean up their own messes are a tolerable nuisance, usually, but could become a public issue if their personal garbage gets too far out of hand.

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Oh, the huge manatee!!

Few imagine that their success or excellence in dealing with garbage is a defining characteristic of their personhood. True, out here in California, you will meet the Prius-driving composters who would never use a plastic straw nor fail to recycle a soda can and who thinks anyone who fails at these steps is Destroying the Planet and therefore probably irredeemably eeeeeevil. But even out here, people tend to be more sane than that, and take into consideration other personal factors, such as friends, family, hobbies, and achievements before marking a person for future culling once the right-thinking people achieve their peaceful, righteous totalitarian paradise.

Not so with voting! In two different senses, voting seems to be popularly considered an indispensable sign of full personhood. First, not having the right to vote makes one less than fully human in the minds of many. Second, to some, voting *wrong* makes one an unperson, as evil, stupid and suitable for extermination as people who consciously put plastic straws in the San Francisco Bay.

I contend, rather, that voting is much more like our duty to take out the garbage than it is a defining aspect of full personhood. Voting is something we do for the sake of other, much more important things. It is those important things – family, friends, possessions and the freedom to enjoy them – that give voting its meaning.

Historically, in America, we had a revolution to a large extent over the colonists chafing at the very idea that a government an entire ocean away could make and enforce rules and taxes without so much as a how do you do to the people to be ruled and taxed. Coming from Britain, the colonists had inherited a belief in a commonwealth reflected in common law – the idea that certain rights and duties had been established by centuries of precedent, and that the day to day laws were to reflect and reinforce those precedents. More simply, the English in Britain had one commonwealth, which included peculiarly English laws and traditions, royalty, parliament and so forth, while the English colonists in America had developed, over the centuries prior to the Revolution, a different commonwealth, which included, among other things, the practice of self-government. That the Crown would attempt to unilaterally impose its will with no regard to the colonists’ long-established practices shined a stark light on the fact that America was not the same naturally-constituted Nation as England.

In such an environment, the simple act of voting, of having a say in your own government, took on the sacramental quality of religious dogma. “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” – this is a religious dogma in its very formulation. Compare this to the early English practice of having local votes on local issues, such as each man who bore arms got to vote on (local) issues of war: because it was my life I was putting on the line, I get a say. In medieval practice, a woman, or a teenager we might consider a child, might get a vote in local decisions if they were the ranking representative of their family. Voting was more or less tightly bound to personal duties and obligations the voter would be expected to be personally responsible for.

Having a farmer or miller vote on ‘national’ issues or ‘candidates’ made no sense, not the least because the modern idea of a nation or candidate are complete anachronisms when applied to the Middle Ages. Instead, I, the local farmer, owed allegiance to a local lord, who in turn vowed to protect me and mine and to honor our rights. That lord owed allegiance to a greater lord in a similar way. Such allegiances might or might not roll up to a king or emperor someplace, but even such nested loyalties were built upon local, often face to face, loyalties, duties and rights.

The English systems grew out of these medieval roots, and, at the time of the Revolution, weren’t all that far from them. Indeed, the new Republic’s voting ideas reflected those English roots to some extent: State governments selected Senators and Electoral College members however they saw fit; the President therefore worked for the States and only indirectly for the people. The federal judiciary was yet one step further removed from popular vote. Only the House of Representatives was the direct result of state-wide elections.

But this removal of most of the Federal Government from direct election by the People contradicted the dogma that government gains its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and, even more important, the inescapable corollary that the individual is the sole sacred locus of all legitimate political power. It is clear from the Federalist Papers that insulating the bulk of the government from the whims of voters was an active goal, reflecting the republican idea that we share an inherited commonwealth that is not open to revision by vote. Such a commonwealth included the notion of individual rights, and government of, by and for the People.

The idea of the sovereign individual who reigns supreme via his consent given at the ballot box conflicts not only with the idea of an inherited commonwealth that his vote cannot overrule, but with reality in general. It seems the Founders assumed voters would be like them – men for the most part thoroughly invested in family, children and usually land. Those families, especially those children (“our posterity”) are the direct embodiment of the commonwealth. A voter could only legitimately exercise his franchise to support the commonwealth! A voter votes as a son, father, and husband, or his vote is not legitimate. Those of us who are sons, fathers and husbands get this instinctually.

This conflict between the sovereign individual and the family man produced by and protecting a commonwealth can go one of two ways:  either individual sovereignty becomes THE measure of worth in society such that not having it is being relegated to non-person standing, or voting a secondary or tertiary thing that only has value insofar as it promotes and protects the commonwealth that is the place where individual rights reside.

Further, if we go the sovereign individual route, the commonwealth itself cannot be off limits. We must be able to vote away our rights, for example, or we are not truly sovereign individuals – something completely contrary to what the Founders stated, but an inevitable result of the logic’s gravity.

In the hoary American tradition, we’ve mostly whistled past this issue for 200+ years while sliding with greater alacrity toward sovereign individualism. In a final twist, a large number of the latter-day recipients of the franchise – women, blacks, 18 year olds – choose to vote for various flavors of the idea that the individual is nothing, the masses everything. Inheritances such as free speech and due process are attacked daily – by popularly-elected officials. The gravitational pull of sovereign individualism toward destruction of the commonwealth is not just a theory.

Under a republican understanding, where a Republic consists of a common wealth held by all to the benefit of all, a citizen does not need to be defined as a voter. Citizens are all those who share fully in the benefits of the commonwealth. Voting becomes the means to an end: the protection and promotion of the commonwealth for the sake of family, and, particularly, our posterity. It would be absurd from this view to pit the right to vote against duty to family and Republic, since voting exists for the sake of those things. Under this view, voters should be those who are best situated to defend the Republic. The idea that voting could be allowed to drive a wedge between members of the same family would be a horror, or at least wildly counterproductive.

Rather than the ultimate expression of our full adult personhood, voting is more like taking out the trash. It needs to be done in order to have a civilization, but it is not that which defines us a full adults.

Finally, sovereign individualism flies in the face of reality in another sense: we Americans with few exception spend tiny amounts of time and effort on voting. If we really believed voting is the highest expression of our human dignity, maybe we’d hold votes more often that once every year or two? Maybe get the week before election day off to allow proper study of the issues and candidates? Perhaps have quarterly or monthly holidays on which to hold local meetings to discuss politics and try to understand our neighbors? In other words, shouldn’t we ACT a little more like voting is all-important if we claim to believe it is?

(Just realized I almost went full Starship Troopers here…)