Recently, I raised the issue of the worldview of the Resistance to President Trump (“Resistance, in the Light of 1776”). I would like to delve further into the matter. It will take a few installments. Basically, what I hope to do is to put order in some readings, observations, impressions, and overhearings (I live in a university neighborhood, and one establishment I regularly eat at is the aptly named “One World Café”). This effort is neither scientific nor conclusive. Call it “political” in the sense Pierre Manent employs when he says les choses politiques arrivent en gros (“political things first come to sight in rough outline”).
I met the late Michael Novak as the lone Protestant attending the first Tertio Millennio Seminar. The first year it was a month-long seminar held in Liechtenstein. The basic form continues today, with around ten U.S. students joining around twenty European students. The European students that first year were mainly eastern Europeans; it was just a few years after the wall fell. Joining Novak in organizing the first seminar were George Weigel, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Rocco Buttiglione, and Fr. Maciej Zieba, OP.
The centerpiece of the seminar was focused study of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus Annus and, more broadly, Catholic social doctrine and teaching. Several American works were included at the time as well, including a couple of essays from The Federalist and a few selections from Novak’s book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.
What Miracle on 34th Street Teaches Us About the Virtues of Capitalism.
Earlier this week I found myself watching Miracle on 34th Street. I never before noticed what a fine job it does explaining the connection between the market economy and virtue. If I taught economics rather than history I might use a few clips from the movie in class.
The culture war rages on. Recently the New York Post reported that the state of New York has fined a couple for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their farm. This provides some context for, in Ezra Klein’s words, “the politicization of absolutely everything.” The complaint has its ironic dimensions, and leads us to ponder what caused that politicization—and what can we do about it. Klein points to surveys showing that Americans are growing increasingly partisan. In one study he cites, participants were given resumes to review. The results showed that, as Klein writes, “race mattered. But political orientation mattered…
The thoughtful and meticulous analysis by our friend Joseph Knippenberg got me thinking about civic engagement. Well, that’s not quite true. I was already thinking about it while trying get a book done on the technocratic threat to higher education (which is greater than the politically correct threat to higher education, although the two are not unrelated).
There is an expert-driven trend in higher education–facilitated by foundations, the American Political Science Association, professors of political science and professors of education–to transform the teaching of political science through civic engagement. The literature on this is full of jargon and otherwise depressingly low in its cognitive pay grade. The consensus seems to be the need for a third way of studying politics. One approach, allegedly rigorously scientific, is the nonpartisan detachment of the behaviorist. Another is the textual approach of political philosophers, who talk about what Plato said Socrates said while hanging out in the marketplace but never actually take students to such a public forum. The third way is for students to learn through actually participating in political life.
The Senate as a court of impeachment for the trial of Andrew Johnson. (Library of Congress LC-USZ62-1732)
In a previous post, I asked what may strike some readers as an obtuse question. If our society is no longer grounded in Christianity, as it once was, or in the biblical tradition, and if the normative passion of our time– namely, equality– is a not an affirmative ideal or vision so much as a negative and parasitic one, then what sort of society do we live in now? How should we describe the affirmative convictions or commitments (if any) that give meaning and shape to our society?
President Obama’s claim of executive omnipotence (“I can do whatever I want”) merely brought attention to the constitution under which we have been living: The chief, and those whom he appoints directly and indirectly, are not obliged to any law. Congressmen and senators too, free from votes for which they can be held responsible, can enjoy their rank among brokers of the profit and prestige, of the Trillions, which the modern administrative state dispenses. Obligations exist only among this vast public sector’s functionaries and beneficiaries — the ruling class.
So President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership are going to end inequality? A half century after President Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to eliminate poverty, progressives aim higher. While cynics may think the real goal is changing the subject from Obamacare, most progressives actually have kept the faith. Eliminating inequality guarantees the moral high ground, especially with a supportive media who also desperately want to believe and who will faithfully transmit whatever theme their political allies send their way.