One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.” No where is that disproven more consistently than in California. We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.
The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle. For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences. Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means. It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.
This is what happens when the party of “the people” becomes the party of the elites. Perhaps this is why the Republicans made the inroads they did in California during the last election.
My dear Marcellinus: This work which I have begun makes good my promise to you. In it I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder.
Flavius Marcellinus was a high official of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius. In 410–the year Alaric sacked Rome–he was given orders to suppress the Donatist churches in North Africa, which he proceeded to do. But the Donatists resorted to the old Late Roman trick of laying a charge of treason against Marcellinus and his brother, accusing them of supporting a separate rebellion. The Roman general Marinus, who had just put down the rebellion, put them on trial, secured a conviction, and had them executed just two short years after Augustine began the City of God. Honorius exonerated Marcellinus the following year, but by that time it was too late.
When it came to “what happens when careerism goes south,” Rome was never a walk in the park, but after Marcus Aurelius things really got bad. Careers of the great and incompetent alike ended in execution; Honorius, the weakest emperor at the most critical time, had his capable general Stilicho executed a few years earlier because he saw him as a rival. The informant system–with information true and false–was destructive or deadly for many Romans, carried out by such masters of the art as Paul the Chain. The river of blood continued after Rome fell apart, with Boethius writing his classic The Consolation of Philosophy while waiting execution, which came, after his fall. Gregory of Tours’ account of Gaul beginning its transition to France was likewise a river of blood of those who ended up on the wrong side of ruthless power-holders such as Fredegund.
Christians tend to consider the fall of Rome as a result of a decline in their sexual morality, but there’s no evidence that Rome’s sexual morals were worse in the late period than the earlier one. What was worse was what the French historian Ferdinand Lot referred to as the “corruption of the public spirit,” the decline of civic life and the communal idea that goes with it. The Roman system was patronage driven from top to bottom, but when it was working properly it meant that those who aspired created a clientele which benefited from them while they moved up. When the system broke down it was replace by an autocratic system where money and resources were forcibly pushed to the top to be dispensed to a bureaucracy which kept the power holders in place. This led to the onerous taxation system of which Lactantius was the most famous chronicler. Lactantius also noted that those who lived off of the tax system were more numerous than those who paid the taxes, and although that may have been an exaggeration there was definitely a retreat of the productive portion of the society, which in the end led to the system’s bankruptcy.
Protestants generally put down monasticism, but it represented an attempt to live in a more Christlike fashion in a world which made that very difficult. Is ours any better? To some extent it never has been, but in a world where laid, high or drunk is the battle cry of those at the top, and which is prepared to ignore blatant influence peddling and employ cancel culture (and also vindictive prosecution, as Marcellinus experienced) to enforce their idea, it’s time for American Christians to re-examine their naive belief in the lack of moral and personal hazard in moving up. That may seem like blowing retreat, but in blowing retreat Late Roman Christians laid the groundwork for the advance which transformed European civilization, and ultimately ours.
Today our left is making “little lists” of people to destroy. Our current game is to intimidate law firms from representing clients we don’t like; that’s a quick way to skew our justice system, and not in good ways. Most of those lists are those who might achieve high position; they don’t want the competition. Is it worth it to find yourself on one of those? There are times when we have to endure persecution for bearing the name of Christ, but if it’s for our careerist ambition, that puts things in a new light. It’s time for American Christians to stop being so reflexive about moving up, and to look at their eternal objectives more than their temporal ones. This empire, like Rome, will pass, and we need to take some lessons from those who responded to its decay.
The Democratic Party, unlike most of its left-of-center brethren in the developed world, has never been a true labor party, but it seems plausible that many voters view it as a party representing a state that never helps them, even as they, personally, practically beg for a large and powerful state that would step in to improve their lives.
The question Democrats now face is whether saying they will empower the state to improve people’s lives will actually work on anyone.
By background, I should be a leftie. I’m not. One major reason is that the American Left has always struck me as a group of people who are really good at starting movements, taking moralistic positions, and passing rules when they get into power. But they’re not builders. And, of course, they’re good at getting themselves good bureaucratic positions (from whence the rules come) but poor at really solving problems and moving things forward.
Need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere? Can’t bring themselves to embrace nuclear power even as a transitional phase because they’re afraid they’ll grow the suburbs, those bastions of phoniness. We’ve wasted at least twenty years of progress on this because their tush is in a wad on the subject. Need to address income inequality? So why has every President since Richard Nixon, Democrat and Republican, presided over growing income inequality and wealth distribution? And why do Democrats gleefully take the money of the plutocrats and then expect greater “social justice?” (They expected to win a few Senate races, and that didn’t happen either…)
But the biggest drain to the left’s claim to fame on “social justice” is their obsession with identity politics. How can they claim to be “Marxists” when they, in classic suburbanite fashion, hide in shame class differences and obsess over every identity difference they can amplify?
So are people finally figuring out the disconnect between rhetoric and action? Perhaps in a visceral way, but that visceral way may explain why the left cannot quite finish the job in the way they’ve always hoped to do.
But let’s get back to social media. I’ve been doing this website thing for more than twenty years now. When it all started I was under the impression that the web was a place for an open exchange of views and ideas with wide reach and low overhead. No where was that more evident than the “blogosphere,” which drove the web in the early years of the millennium.
Having started with static websites, I was admittedly slow in transitioning to that format. This site led the pack with an interactive format in 2005 and WordPress in 2006. By then social media–at the time MySpace–was getting started. I was slow in getting there too, not going on YouTube until 2008 and Twitter and Facebook the following year. (Linkedin came much later, but that’s really a topic all its own.) Much of what drove that was to keep up with the goings on in my church; that ended with my job at same going away in 2010.
I’ve been active on social media ever since. It was especially useful during the years I worked on my PhD and really didn’t have time to do this and my other sites justice. But there’s always been something about it that has bothered me, and that’s the simple fact that the content you put there really isn’t your own. Do you hold copyright to it? What happens when they don’t either like some of your content, all of your content, or just don’t like you any more? Does everything just go away? Those considerations and more have held me back from going “full bore” with social media, especially Facebook.
All of these fears have been realized, not necessarily for me but for others. It’s become evident that, for those of us who really think for ourselves (as opposed to those who think they do,) social media is a risky place, and you need to build some provision into your plan to disseminate your content without it. This is something churches in particular need to pay attention to; they’ve become addicted to social media during the pandemic, it would be a tragedy if they were cut off without a Plan B.
But there are upsides too. All of my sites save one are in blog format, and they’re doing well. After something of a dry spell, I’m seeing more interest in following blogs again. The biggest challenges are the capricious search engines, especially the One That Cannot be Named. There are alternatives but it is, as it was for Chairman Mao, a long march.
It’s one we need to make. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey basically told Congress this week that, if people couldn’t get their stuff on Twitter, they could go elsewhere. We should take him up on that. We need to stop being poker-playing dogs on social media, because when we are we’re sitting ducks. How or when we get shot depends upon who wins next Tuesday, but there’s no sense in making it easy for them.
Now Krugman has come out and admitted, offhandedly, that his own understanding of economics has been seriously deficient as well. In a recent essay titled “What Economists (Including Me) Got Wrong About Globalization,” adapted from a forthcoming book on inequality, Krugman writes that he and other mainstream economists “missed a crucial part of the story” in failing to realize that globalization would lead to “hyperglobalization” and huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America. And many of these working-class communities have been hit hard by Chinese competition, which economists made a “major mistake” in underestimating, Krugman says.
There were dissenting voices in the 1990’s on this subject, but they were marginalised in the debate. The problem, however, is more fundamental than that, and I’ll use China to make the point.
My family business’ experience in China, coupled with a lifelong study of the culture, informed us that we were dealing with a civilisation and politico-economic system that is in many ways different from ours. And I think that most of those who we worked with there likewise understood that. The problem is that Americans, no matter how much education they have or how high they rise in their own system, tend to assume that everyone else in the world is “just like us,” and Americans who have figured out otherwise don’t rise in the system. It’s a form of cultural imperialism that blinds people to the reality around them. In the 1990’s the fashionable assumption was that China would be come a “liberal democracy” like us, but again those of us who knew the truth knew better. (In reality we are a pseudodemocracy run by pseudosophisticates, but that’s another post…)
The other problem, of course, is that, under all the gaudy rhetoric about retraining, our elites basically don’t care about anyone else in this country except people like themselves.
Which leads us to the next hot topic:
Asked whether the mistakes made by him and other economists helped lead to the rise of Trump, Krugman responded: “We’re still debating this, but as far as I can tell Trump’s trade policy isn’t resonating with many people, even his blue-collar base. So it’s kind of hard to blame trade analysts for the phenomenon.”
It’s impossible to get people who hate Trump to admit that they helped to facilitate his rise, but it’s true. My Anglican/Episcopal readers will understand the analogy of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori. Not even the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003 was enough to inspire a meaningful search for an alternative. But her “scorched earth” policy regarding the property and dissenting bishops and clergy was a major factor in the formation of the ACNA.
No one likes to admit that they overplayed their hand but, as was the case with the Spanish Civil War, it happens and has consequences.
The Senate has been on the brink of ending the filibuster twice in the last 15 years. In 2005, Majority Leader Bill Frist, frustrated by a Democratic filibuster of seven federal judicial nominations that had gone on for months, considered changing Senate rules to end the filibuster. In the end, Frist made the decision not to “go nuclear,” concluding that, long term, keeping the filibuster in place was better for the institution of the Senate and, therefore, better for the country.
Eight years later in 2013, it would be Harry Reid and a Democratic majority that would do away with the filibuster for executive branch appointments and judicial nominations, with the exception of the Supreme Court. Despite warnings from the minority that it was a decision they would live to regret, Reid and the Democrats deployed the nuclear option anyway.
Let me be clear: when I say “packing the court” I don’t mean nominating many judges of one idea or another, like Joe Biden does. I mean it the way FDR and those who came after him understood it, i.e., increasing the number of members of the Supreme Court to make sure that there are enough judges of your idea to make “it” happen, no matter what “it” is.
Technically speaking, it’s not a constitutional issue either way. The filibuster isn’t enshrined in the Constitution and neither is the number of Supreme Court judges (unlike, say, the number of Senators or Representatives.) The fact that the legitimacy of our judiciary hangs on procedural/legal issues and not constitutional ones is a weakness of our system. Personally I don’t think the Founders envisioned the large role the judiciary plays in our system, but when John Marshall unilaterally made the Supreme Court the arbiter of constitutionality, that pretty much settled the issue. Getting rid of the filibuster for judicial nominees was Harry Reid’s expedient to get his way on them. It was controversial at the time; even some of his supporters said it would come back to haunt the Democrats. It has.
The fundamental problem on a Federal level is that our legislature either cannot pass proper legislation or, when it can, cannot write it properly. The ACA is a classic example of this. Sprawling and complicated, the Supreme Court up until now has had to fix its deficiencies. A country with long established entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare should be able to make something like this stick, but it’s been a struggle. (The authors and administrators also engaged in overreach, something that triggered things like the Spanish Civil War.) If our legislature would be more strategic in its vision and detail-oriented in its drafting, our courts wouldn’t have as much to do. But it’s not, and we have the mess we have.
In the midst of everything else that’s going on, next Monday (Lord willing) we’ll start confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett to be the newest justice on the Supreme Court. In light of the fact that she was and is in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, I’ve tried to shed some light on what that really means and not be taken off on rabbit trails by our uninformed media.
In 1988 my church facilitated the resettlement of twenty-four Ukrainian Pentecostal refugees. For someone who had been regaled with stories of the persecuted church, to have real contact with these people was a chance-in-a-lifetime experience. The fact that I had made my own first trip to the USSR the previous spring only added to the anticipation. We struggled with the language barrier but we did learn quite a bit about their life under communism.
The first is that the USSR was as hard on Christians as everyone said it was. That varied with the generation. Many of the older people had done hard time in Siberia. One had been sent to an “orphanage” because her parents had been shipped to Siberia and couldn’t raise their child. The younger ones had it better; under Brezhnev, things lightened up. The biggest problem was that you couldn’t go on to higher education unless you were in the Young Pioneers, which meant that you had to be a communist, in outward form at least. This was unacceptable to them, although they had relatives who had backslid along the way.
The second is that their churches did have organization but it was informal in that there were no paid clergy. (Some of the reason for that is here.) They were house churches, organized around the families that came. (There were more formal Evangelical churches with buildings, my wife and I visited one two years later.) Their leadership tended to be strong (it still is in Slavic churches over here) but more than just the pastor was allowed to speak during their meetings, something I also saw in covenant communities (I think the latter kept a tighter rein on what got said.)
The third is that they had no problem participating in the underground economy (or «marché noir» as my African contacts called it.) Although it’s easy to understand why one would disrespect a government which was trying to eradicate your religion, the Ukrainians lacked the punctilious obsession American Christians have with abiding by every law and regulation the government comes up with. (Within the church they were capable of serious legalism, something people in the Church of God could relate to.)
The fourth is that they were a lot of fun. They had a good sense of humour and knew how to enjoy life. If I had to make the greatest contrast between them and covenant community people, it was that, I always felt that the latter were too serious. Beyond that, covenant communities were a synthetic response to coming persecution; what the Ukrainians experienced was real.
For me, having experienced both of these groups, the reason why it’s important to put Amy Coney Barrett on SCOTUS is to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting ourselves into the same situation that our Ukrainian Pentecostal friends found themselves in and from which they’ve tried to escape. But the irony that we’ve nominated someone who is a product of a community that was formed, in part, to weather the storms of the “laid, high or drunk” crowd is one of those ironies that makes us say “you just can’t make this stuff up.”
H. Bruce Franklin was the center of attention at Stanford University’s White Plaza one winter day in 1971. The steely-eyed, raven-haired associate English professor delivered a fiery speech during a campus rally. Stray dogs ran laps around the crossed legs of student revolutionaries as Franklin spit his ire toward an unlikely target: the campus computer center. As he and other activists had recently learned, the facility was helping the U.S. Navy develop a program named Gamut-H, which would be used for an amphibious invasion in North Vietnam.
The time for token acts of protest was over, Franklin declared, urging protestors to do real damage to the institutions of imperialism and citing the building as a “good target.” Soon after Professor Franklin’s speech, more than a hundred students scaled the fence of the center, broke open the back door, climbed to the roof to hoist flags in support of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, and occupied the building. Their actions resulted in a daylong revolutionary melee. Riot police stormed the campus, the teenage son of a history professor was shot, and Franklin became the first tenured professor to ever be fired from Stanford.
Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
That’s pretty much where the American left is at. Their dreams, Luddite to the core, have never changed, and they are certainly “older but no wiser”. They can wrap themselves in their “scientific” flag all they want, but their vision of life would take us back to a more primitive stage of living if fully implemented (assuming we survived the shock). That’s why, for example, they would never dare consider nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, even though Greenpeace’s founder has seen daylight on the issue.
Today we’re pretty much on steroids with all of this. The Antifa and BLM people who terrorize our cities are the successors of those 1960’s and 1970’s radicals, complete with the children of the privileged at the ramparts. This time, however, they have more support from those who own and operate this society, although they will pull the plug if they think their own privilege is being threatened.
The more serious question is this: it wasn’t a given that this country, weakened then as now by these kinds of movements, avoided loss to the Soviets. So what’s going to stop a country, weakened again by its own guilty elites, from being rolled by the Chinese?
The week after next the grilling of our latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, will begin. There will be a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the fact that she is a serious Roman Catholic. That happened during the last nominating process; Diane Feinstein’s remark about the dogma living loudly within her reflected that. There will be more focus on that.
But is that focus misplaced? She is a product of a covenant community, the People of Praise, and a major one at that. This puts her whole relationship with Roman Catholicism in a different light. The relationship between the covenant communities and the Church is a complicated one. This isn’t going to be a “blow by blow” account of that, but more of a personal reflection based in part on experience and in part on knowledge gleaned from others with more personal–and in some cases unhappy–experience with covenant communities (most of my personal experience comes with prayer groups that did not formalize a covenant commitment.)
That brings us to the ecumenical nature of prayer groups and covenant communities. Catholic permission for ecumenical activities is, even after Vatican II, fairly restrictive. Ecumenical groups such as the People of Praise weren’t really “according to Hoyle” but the hierarchy, from the parish level up, was so shell-shocked that they let it slide. It’s interesting to note that many of the objections to this state of affairs comes not from traditional Catholics but from the left, from the likes of J. Massyngberde Ford or John Flaherty. And the influence of those communities and prayer groups on parishes was usually limited. I was confidently told that there was a certain Mass at St. Rita’s in Dallas where members of God’s Delight gathered, and I went, but you really had to look hard to detect their presence.
At this point I want to stop and say with a decent degree of confidence that the type of Christianity that Judge Barrett experienced in the Catholic Charismatic renewal was different in important ways from either the conventional Catholicism of the day or the Trad/Rad Trad Catholicism that is fashionable in some circles today.
However, like the covenant communities themselves, this situation was metastable. The thing that changed was the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978, who was determined to bring some order to the chaos of the waning decade. The existing renewal was impacted and responded in various ways. One of them was the Sword of the Spirit network, led by Steve Clark and Ralph Martin, who wanted to continue on as they had with the ecumenical and authoritarian communities by more or less going “underground.” (The People of Praise split off from this.) In other cases the Church brought these communities to heel, either by forcing them to abandon their ecumenical ways (God’s Delight) or by dissolving the community altogether (Servants of Christ the King.) But another effective weapon was the imposition of Marian devotions, which was guaranteed to split covenant community and prayer group alike. I was involved in a prayer group that experienced the latter; it was one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen in a Christian group. This kind of thing generally came from the inside, which only made matters worse.
My advice to everyone is to evaluate Amy Coney Barrett on what presents itself now and not try to impose some ideal construct of what Catholicism is or is supposed to be. In addition to being from the New Orleans area (which always complicates things) her antecedents coming out of a covenant community are more complicated than they look. I doubt that members of the U.S. Senate will do this, but stuff like that is one reason why it isn’t the deliberative body it used to be.