Wednesday, August 8, 2018

He looked at me and smiled.

"You understand but you do not love God."


"You do not love Him at all?" he asked.

"I am afraid of Him in the night sometimes."

"You should love Him."

"I don't love much."

"Yes," he said. "You do. What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve."

"I don't love."

"You will. I know you will. Then you will be happy."

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Human love is of many kinds. In its highest form, it comes as a gift, freely bestowed on another person along with the offer of support. But such love does not come without a cost. There is a cost to the subject, and a cost to the object. Love can be betrayed by its object, when he shows himself to be unworthy to receive it, and incapable of returning it. And to undergo this experience is one of the greatest of griefs. But love for that very reason imposes a cost on its object, who must live up to the trust bestowed on him, and do his best to deserve the gift. Love is a moral challenge that we do not always meet, and in the effort to meet it we study to improve ourselves and to live as we should. It is for this reason that we are suspicious of loveless people -- people who do not offer love and who therefore, in the normal run of things, do not receive it. It is not simply that they are outside the fold of human affection. It is that they are cut off from the principle spur to human goodness, which is the desire to live up to the demands of a person who matters to them more than they matter to themselves.

Roger Scruton, Confessions of a Heretic.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Conscience: Phenomena and Theories, by Hendrik Stoker

Conscience: Phenomena and Theories
by Hendrik Stoker (Author), Philip E Blosser (Translator).

Conscience: Phenomena and Theories was first published in German in 1925 as a dissertation by Hendrik G. Stoker under the title Das Gewissen: Erscheinungsformen und Theorien. It was received with acclaim by philosophers at the time, including Stoker’s dissertation mentor Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, and Herbert Spielberg, as quite possibly the single most comprehensive philosophical treatment of conscience and as a major contribution in the phenomenological tradition.

Stoker’s study offers a detailed historical survey of the concept of conscience from ancient times through the Middle Ages up to more modern thinkers, including Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, and Cardinal Newman. Stoker analyzes not only the concept of conscience in academic theory but also various types of theories of conscience. His work offers insightful discussions of problems and theories related to the genesis, reliability, and validity of conscience. In particular, Stoker analyzes the moral, spiritual, and psychological phenomena connected with bad conscience, which in turn illuminate the concept of conscience.

The book is deeply informed by the traditions of western Christianity. Available for the first time in an accessible English translation, with an introduction by its translator and editor, Philip E. Blosser, it promises to be of interest to philosophers, especially in Christian philosophy and phenomenology, and also to all those interested in moral and religious psychology, ethics, religion, and theology.

* * *
"The scholarship is solid and amazing, displaying a sound knowledge of related literature reflected in notes and wide-ranging references. Stoker was on the forefront of knowledge about the leading figures of various fields of study. His exposition on the ideas and conceptions of the leading intellectuals of his time is impressive and in many instances could serve as a brief orientation in the views of the authors discussed by him." — Danie Strauss, North-West University

"Few subjects are more important today that the question regarding the nature of moral conscience and its origin, development, reliability, and validity in a person’s life. In this profoundly original and significant work, the late South African philosopher Hendrik Stoker (1899–1993) addresses this question in a masterly way—a point highlighted by philosophers Martin Heidegger and Max Scheler—that is of relevance not only to scholars in the areas of moral and religious psychology and philosophical anthropology but also to theologians, epistemologists, and those interested in moral issues generally. Translator Philip Blosser, who also wrote an illuminating introduction to Stoker’s thought in this English translation of Stoker’s 1925 German work, should be congratulated for retrieving Stoker’s unfortunately neglected study of conscience. May this eminently accessible and readable work be enthusiastically received for its contribution to a crucially important subject." — Eduardo Echeverria, author of Divine Election: A Catholic Orientation in Dogmatic and Ecumenical Perspective

"Blosser's scholarship is excellent. He has done the tedious work, important to scholars, of correcting Stoker’s references to his source literature when they are in error regarding date or place of publication. The text is quite readable: it is stylistically up-to-date, and the description of obscure but important phenomena is clear." — Eugene Kelly, New York Institute of Technology

"There are books that get more attention than they deserve, and there are books that, due to unfortunate historical contingencies, suffer unjust neglect. Stoker’s Conscience is one of the latter. Though Scheler and Heidegger recognized the significance of Stoker’s book when it first appeared in 1925, it did not get the reception that it merited. Philip Blosser has done an important work of retrieval by translating this work and making it available again. Everyone interested in the primordial human phenomenon of conscience has something to learn from Stoker. Notre Dame Press has given us a major new resource for a fundamental issue of philosophy.” — John Crosby, Franciscan University of Steubenville

ISBN: 978-0-268-10317-0
420 pages
Publication Year: 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Here and There

  • “Submission”: The Crumbling of the Secular West, by Jane Clark Scharl. The Imaginative Conservative A straightforward reading of Michel Houellebecq’s book shows that the author wants to consider the possibility that religion—not spiritualism, not some kind of therapeutic deism, but true, practiced, day-to-day religion—soothes our longings and grants us some measure of peace and satisfaction, a measure withheld by secular liberalism.

  • Michael Novak: A Model for Social Scientists, by C.R. Pakaluk. Public Discourse 11/09/17. The “real human person” was the persistent subject of Michael Novak’s life’s work. Novak wanted real, gritty, ordinary persons, in ordinary life, and he wanted a political and economic order for those real, gritty, ordinary persons.

  • Who Are You? Alt-Right "Identitarianism," Violence, and the Intellectual Roots of Western Civilization, by Jordan Wales. Public Discourse 12/20/17. By making our common humanity irrelevant to the question of identity, Richard Spencer sets himself in diametric opposition to the intellectual roots of the “Western” civilization to which he would lay claim.

  • Romano Guardini’s Diagnosis of the Modern World, by Jeremy Knee. The Imaginative Conservative 11/27/17. "As one looks at the modern landscape, one sees that each of these men is still with us. Man is no less lonely, less technologically-minded, or less oriented towards the mass than he was in Guardini’s time."

  • Free Love, But No Lovers Wheat and Weeds 11/30/17:
    Among the things that make me sad about the apparently bottomless pit of unseemly revelations about our celebrities (in every field) is that for all of "free love's" promise of beautiful, healthy, unrepressed sexual experiences, the actual experiences people are having are ugly, tawdry, solipsistic, and self-ruining.

  • Clocking Out, by J.D. Daniels. N+1 :
    FILE UNDER DIONYSUS the feelings a rock concert aims to induce: careless ecstasy and careless unity, dissolving in the careless crowd. Is Dionysus all-embracing or is he instead all-consuming, all-digesting, reducing all to homogenous shit-stink? Why has no one mentioned that John Lennon’s “I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one” is a sentiment suitable for chanting at a Nuremberg rally?

    The solution to mass-market Dionysianism is the obvious corrective tilt toward the Apollonian. Apollo is the contrary principle of form, clarity, precision, and individuation. Sculpture is the art of saying No to the rest of the mountain.

    Apollo and Dionysus need one another, but only Apollo seems to understand this; Dionysus is busy vomiting into the toilet ...

  • Andy Warhol’s [Catholic] devotion was almost surreal Catholic Herald 02/09/18. The Vatican Museums exhibition will be something of a homecoming for the artist.
  • Who would have predicted that Slayer fans would have the Catholic church to thank, for rescuing Dave Lombardo's parents from the Castro regime? -- Revolver magazine on Dave Lombardo's Emotional Return to Cuba after 50 Years 03/22/18. Original Slayer drummer left the country of his birth when he was 14 months old. He recently traveled back for the first time to reconnect with his roots.

Friday, March 9, 2018

"The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies"

The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, by Ryszard Legutko.
Encounter Books (April 19, 2016). 200 pgs.

Ryszard Legutko lived and suffered under communism for decades—and he fought with the Polish ant-communist movement to abolish it. Having lived for two decades under a liberal democracy, however, he has discovered that these two political systems have a lot more in common than one might think. They both stem from the same historical roots in early modernity, and accept similar presuppositions about history, society, religion, politics, culture, and human nature. In The Demon in Democracy, Legutko explores the shared objectives between these two political systems, and explains how liberal democracy has over time lurched towards the same goals as communism, albeit without Soviet style brutality. Both systems, says Legutko, reduce human nature to that of the common man, who is led to believe himself liberated from the obligations of the past. Both the communist man and the liberal democratic man refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty. And both systems refuse to undertake any critical examination of their ideological prejudices.

Ryszard Legutko is a professor of philosophy at Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland, specializing in ancient philosophy and political theory. His most recent book is on the philosophy of Socrates. He has served as the Minister of Education, Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the late President Lech Kaczynski, and Deputy Speaker of the Senate and is active in the anti-communist movement in Poland. He is currently a Member of the European Parliament, Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Group of European Conservatives and Reformists, and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Reviews & Discussion

  • What a Dissident Notices, a Quarter-Century after Communism, by Carl Eric Scott. National Review "Legutko is one of the first of our conservative philosophic thinkers to really take down us into a nuts and bolts exploration of how contemporary democracy could develop into a new form of totalitarianism, and in some ways already has."
  • You Can't Say That!, by Matthew B. Crawford. Weekly Standard 08/11/17:
    Legutko’s book will appeal to people who can point to no overt political oppression, but who feel that the standards of acceptable discourse increasingly require them to lie, and to accept the humiliation of doing so. Like other dissident writers from the Soviet sphere, Legutko provides a historical parallel to our own time that helps us parse that feeling and discern its logic.
  • Liberal Democracy’s Challenge to Freedom: A Conversation with Ryszard Legutko (Audio)
  • Liturgy of Liberalism, by Adrian Vermeule First Things January 2017.
  • How Democracies Perish, by S. Adam Seagrave. Claremont Review of Books October 19, 2017:
    ... These three critiques of Ryszard Legutko’s account—neglecting the truth of natural rights and human equality, largely ignoring the American case, and mishandling the issue of race—are closely connected. Indeed, if there is a way to resist the “totalitarian temptations in free societies,” it lies precisely in resurrecting the true idea of natural rights and equality, as embodied first in the American Founding, and then applied by Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and others to the issue of slavery before the Civil War. In America, as Tocqueville observed, there is a model for appreciating the truth of certain liberal democratic principles without jettisoning religion and falling prey to all of the harmful “isms” Legutko so eloquently refutes.

    My suspicion is that Legutko would, if more thoroughly acquainted with the American context, and especially African-American history, be sympathetic to this criticism. As it stands, his book is an illuminating window into the contemporary situation in Europe and provides a fruitful point of comparison to America’s current situation. The Demon in Democracy is both a visit from the ghost of liberal-democratic future, and a reminder of the crucial importance of the spirit of our own liberal-democratic past.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Among the most glaring indications that we are in exile is the necessity of contending for the most basic truth of the dignity of the human person. If we don’t get that right, we are unlikely to get right many other questions of great moral and political moment.“

— Richard John Neuhaus

Thursday, February 8, 2018

On "The Dictator Pope"

The author's name, "Marcantonio Colonna", is a pseudonym. Having finished the book, particularly the stunning accounts of Francis' vindictiveness and the fate of those who have crossed him -- it occurs to me that the author was wise to write under a pseudonym. (According to the LifeSite news exclusive interview, the real Marcantonio Colonna was born in 1535, an Italian aristocrat who served as a Viceroy of Sicily, best remembered for his service as admiral of the papal fleet in the Battle of Lepanto). The author writes with the stated intent of "[exposing] the myth of the supposedly liberal Pope who was elected in 2013 and to urge the cardinals at the next Conclave to avoid electing an unknown figure who turns out to be quite different from what he had been thought."

Why the title? -- according to the author, who has researched Bergoglio's past, "Bergoglio is ... very much the product of the peculiar political culture of Argentina, formed by the populist dictator Juan Perón, of whom Bergoglio was a follower from his early years, and whom he very much resembles in his style of government." Cultivating (with the help of the media) an image of mercy, kindness and openness, Francis in private reveals himself to be rather the opposite:

[Francis] had long been known in his native Argentina as a manipulative politician and a skilful self-presenter. Behind the mask of a genial man of the people, Pope Francis has consolidated his position as a dictator who rules by fear and has allied himself with the most corrupt elements in the Vatican to prevent and reverse the reforms that were expected of him.

Bad papist that I am, I admit to having not kept up with the latest news of Francis' pontificate over the past several years -- between the frequent denunciations of the "trads" and the repetitive -- or should I say interpretive -- apologetics of the pro-Francis contingent (ex. "he may have said X, but what he REALLY meant was X"), following along got so tiring after a while. That being said, The Dictator Pope offers a remarkable opportunity for everybody who has kept their head in the sand to acquaint themselves with all the major issues and scandals that has rocked the pontificate. Philip Lawler -- whose journalistic work I'm familiar with -- attests to the accuracy of the author's reporting, "he clearly knows his way around the Vatican, and has excellent sources inside the Roman Curia"; likewise Robert Royal acknowledges in his review: "It sometimes stretches evidence, but the sheer amount of evidence it provides is stunning. About 90 percent of it is simply incontrovertible, and cannot help but clarify who Francis is and what he’s about."

Even if you exclude from consideration the author's conspiratorial portrayal of the "St. Gallen Group" -- a conspiracy of bishops who identified and lobbied for Bergoglio as candidate to push reforms in opposition to the pontificate of Ratzinger -- or the shocking (but as yet undocumented) claim that "Peter's Pence" were diverted to fund Hillary Clinton's electoral campaign, there are enough publically known and footnoted points of concern here that would alarm all but the most furvent Francis-apologists.

Beyond the accounts of financial corruption at the highest levels; the papal manipulations of the Bishop's Synod and tolerance (even promotion) of permissive interpretations of Amoris Laetitita; the liberalized "reform" of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family; the papal repression of a Franciscan religious order after it expressed its wish to celebrate mass under the old rite (or "Extraordinary Form") -- I would have to say the most disappointing, upsetting subject was Francis' deficient response to the crisis of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

According to the author, the CDF under Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the first to take the crisis seriously, adopting a hardline response and imposing a policy of "zero tolerance":

"According to data presented by the CDF to the UN Human Rights Commission in January 2014, Benedict XVI had defrocked or suspended more than 800 priests for past sexual abuse between 2009 and 2012. In 2011, the CDF sent a letter to the world’s bishops’ conferences, asking them to adopt stringent guidelines on how to respond to allegations that were to include assistance to victims, protection of minors, education of future priests and religious, and collaboration with civil authorities. The guidelines required bishops to forward all new cases to civil authorities and to the CDF. In a March 2010 pastoral letter to Ireland’s Catholics, Benedict criticised the lax application of the Church’s laws by bishops, whose failures had “seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.” He noted a “misguided tendency” against applying canonical punishments that he said was due to “misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council.”
(On this topic, see also: Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal Our Sunday Visitor, 2010).

Appallingly, Benedict's "this reform of accountability appears to have evaporated with Benedict’s resignation":

... in the name of his favourite theme, “mercy,” Francis decisively broke with the Ratzinger/Benedict programme of reform, reducing the penalty for priest abusers to “a lifetime of prayer” and restrictions on celebrating Mass. In February 2017 it was revealed that Francis had “quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of paedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders.
The author cites Associated Press’s Nicole Winfield's article, "Pope quietly trims sanctions for sex abusers seeking mercy", noting that Francis has "surrounded himself with cardinal advisers who botched handling abuse cases in their archdioceses." Moreover,
... Francis scrapped the [sexual abuse advisory] commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.
(It's also worth noting that, post-publication of The Dictator Pope, this topic has resurfaced this past week with yet another instance of Francis' inattention and disregard to the gravity of the issue, failing to either read or act on an eight page letter from a victim detailing his abuse and a diocese' inaction).

Returning to the general topic of the Francis pontificate, I found this book a rewarding, disturbing-if-not-particularly-surprising, read. Two other critical books are slated to come out this year, Phillip Lawler's Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (February 2018) and Ross Douthat's To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (March 2018). I'll be curious to see how this measures up to them.

The Dictator Pope - On a related note:



Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Hillbilly Thomists" -- Dominican Bluegrass!

The Hillbilly Thomists Old bluegrass classics, great folk standards, and a dash of Scotch-Irish instrumental music, all brought to you by a band of Dominican friars. What is a Hillbilly Thomist?
In 1955, the southern author Flannery O’Connor said of herself, “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas. . .I’m a hillbilly Thomist.” She said that her fiction was concerned with the ways grace is at work among people who do not have access to the sacraments. The Thomist (one who follows the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) believes that the invisible grace of God can be at work in visible things, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Christ.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Edward Feser's helpful overview of Thomistic philosophy

Revisiting and worth reading. Edward Feser's helpful overview of Thomistic philosophy:
I had originally intended to include in chapter 1 of Aquinas a brief overview of the history of Thomism. But as things turned out, the book was running too long, and since the section in question did not fit entirely smoothly into the chapter anyway, my editor and I decided to cut it out. Still, since it might be useful to readers looking for a quick rundown on the (often bewildering) variety of schools of thought that have developed within the Thomist tradition ... I’ve broken it into two parts: this post covers the history of Thomism up through the mid twentieth century; the second will cover analytical Thomism and offer some recommendations for further reading. Proud owners of Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide interested in a “Director’s Cut” can print and paste them between chapters 1 and 2.

Recommended Surveys on the history of and various schools of thought within Thomism by Edward Feser:

What goes around, comes around.

During the recent online culture wars, and their spillover into campus and protest politics, feminists have tried to embrace transgression with the Slut Walk movement and sex-positive pro-trans, pro-sex worker and pro-kink culture that was central to Tumblr. However, like the right, it has run up against a deep philosophical problem about the ideologically flexible, politically fungible, morally neutral nature of transgression as a style, which can characterize misogyny just as easily as it can sexual liberation. As Lasch understood, for progressive politics anti-moral transgression has always been a bargain with the devil, because the case for equality is essentially a moral one.

Equally hated and loved critic Camille Paglia argued that de Sade’s depiction of human evil as innate was a form of satire directed against the Rousseauist tradition, from which contemporary feminism springs. De Sade’s work famously features sexual violence as well as abhorrence for family and procreation, instead creating a violent transgressive sexuality based on the values of libertinism and individual sovereignty. [...]

That the transgressive values of de Sade could be taken up by a culture of misogyny and characterized an online anti-feminist movement that rejected traditional church-going conservatism should also not be a surprise. The Blakean motto adopted by the Surrealists, ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires’, dominance as sexual ‘sovereignty’ and the freeing of the id from the constraints of the conscience have all descended from this transgressive tradition. Just as Nietzsche appealed to the Nazis as a way to formulate a right-wing anti-moralism, it is precisely the transgressive sensibility that is used to excuse and rationalize the utter dehumanization of women and ethnic minorities in the alt-right online sphere now. The culture of transgression they have produced liberates their conscience from having to take seriously the potential human cost of breaking the taboo against racial politics that has held since WWII. The Sadean transgressive element of the 60s, condemned by conservatives for decades as the very heart of the destruction of civilization, the degenerate and the nihilistic, is not being challenged by the emergence of this new online right. Instead, the emergence of this new online right is the full coming to fruition of the transgressive anti-moral style, its final detachment from any egalitarian philosophy of the left or Christian morality of the right.

Excerpt, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right, by Angela Nagle. pp. 38-39.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Michael Novak's "God of Ordinary Things"

A great quote from Michael Novak, from C.R. Pakaluk's thoughtful reflections on co-teaching with him
"My God is a God of ordinary things, of routine, of the grind and jading of everyday life -- of a simple cigar, of a grain of sand, of boredom and tedium and hard work as well as moments of rapture. One way I test politicians, theoreticians, poets, activists, philosophers, and friends is by how alert they are to the mysteries of the ordinary. The . . . quest for “ecstasy,” “revelation,” “faith”, and “transparency” gives me a certain fear of those abstractions in whose name concrete, complex human organisms are so often crushed." [The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays] -- Michael Novak

It reminds me of when Novak circa 1976 as a fiery young liberal idealist wrote:

". . . the hollowness of so much of American life; the vacant eyes watching television and drinking beer; the tired eyes of the men on the commuter train; the efficient eyes of the professor and manager, the sincere eyes of the television politician. Americans . . . do not know who they are, only what they are useful for; they are bored and apathetic because they are manipulated; they are violent because they secretly resent the lies they are forced to live. Unable to live with themselves, Americans level the earth, build and destroy, attempt to master matter and space and human history. Americans play God." ['A Theology for Radical Politics' 1969]

And later, in 1982, writing in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, excoriated himself for his youthful presumptuousness:

That this was a superficial, unfair, and ideological description of real Americans became clear to me when I looked more closely at my neighbors and companions, and less at literary conventions.

Monday, October 30, 2017

"Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents"

Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents (Dissident American Thought Today)
by Patrick J. Deneen.
St. Augustines Press; 1 edition (November 30, 2016)
"Opinions about America have taken a decisive turn in the early part of the 21st century. Some 70% of Americans believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and half the country thinks that its best days are behind it. Most believe that their children will be less prosperous and have fewer opportunities than previous generations. Evident to all is that the political system is broken and social fabric is fraying, particularly as a growing gap between wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots increases, a hostile divide widens between faithful and secular, and deep disagreement persists over America's role in the world. Wealthy Americans continue to build gated enclaves in and around select cities where they congregate, while growing numbers of Christians compare our times to those of the late Roman empire, and ponder a fundamental withdrawal from wider American society into updated forms of Benedictine monastic communities. The signs of the times suggest that much is wrong with America. This collection of thematic essays by Notre Dame political theorist and public intellectual Patrick Deneen addresses the questions, is there something worth conserving in America, and if so, is America capable of conservation? Can a nation founded in a revolutionary moment that led to the founding of the first liberal nation be thought capable of sustaining and passing on virtues and practices that ennoble? Or is America inherently a nation that idolizes the new over the old, license over ordered liberty, and hedonism over self-rule? Can America conserve what is worth keeping for it to remain--or even become--a Republic?"

Extended Debate: Robert R. Reilly and Patrick Deneen

* * *

Reviews and Related Discussions

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought"

Democracy and freedom of thought: An interview with Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Robert George
Dr. Robert George and Dr. Cornel West, high-profile scholars from opposite ends of the political spectrum, published a statement in support of truth seeking, democracy and freedom of thought. Their statement ( begins, “The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.” To date, the statement has more than 5,000 signatories.

Dr. George and Dr. West have been described as an ideological odd couple. Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, is one of the country’s leading conservative intellectuals. Dr. West, a professor of public philosophy and African and African-American studies at Harvard University, is a self-described “provocative democratic intellectual.”

Yet, despite their differences, they have been teaching a course together at Princeton for a decade. They do this, in part, to model the kind of integrity, openness of argument and love of truth that their students are going to need, not only in their education but also for the preservation of a free society.

In my interview with both of them, they modeled to me all of this and much more.


Monday, September 11, 2017

"How I Lost" / "What Happened?" / "Unbelievable!"

Perspectives on Election 2016.

Here and There

  • Young Hemingway's Wound and Conversion, by Matthew Nickel. PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience:
    "If I am anything I am a Catholic. Had extreme unction administered to me as such in July 1918 and recovered. So guess I am a super-catholic.... Am not what is called a ‘good’ catholic.... But cannot imagine taking any other religion seriously." - Hemingway, 1927
  • Chris Cornell - 1964-2017 Unam Sanctam Catholicism reflects on the passing of the frontman for Soundgarden. 05/28/17.
  • The Sufis: Islam’s Anti-Terrorists, by Robert Carle. The Public Discourse 07/13/17. "Growing numbers of Muslims are adopting Sufi practices that promote peace, hope, and harmony among religions."
  • Stop Donald Trump From Colonizing Your Brain, by Anne Marlowe. The Tablet 05/21/17. "Like a Libyan dictator of old, the leader is everywhere, including inside your head."
  • The Saint You Hate, by Chase Padusniak. Jappers and Janglers 11/29/16:
    In fact, Merton came to love her, to be truly devoted to her: how? Well, he recognized that she took what she was given, took the world she knew, and sanctified it. Even if she "kept everything that was bourgeois about her […] her nostalgic affection for a funny villa called 'Les Buissonnets', her taste for utterly oversweet art, and for little candy angels and pastel saints playing with lambs so soft and fuzzy that they literally give people like me the creeps," she transcended these things. Merton struck up a spiritual friendship in appreciation precisely of his differences with the Little Flower, and this blossomed into fruit in his own life; he entrusted his brother to her and came to see her as “the greatest saint there has been in the Church for three hundred years.”
  • Catholicism in an Age of Discontent, by Thomas Joseph White. First Things November 2016.
    We need both Balthasar and de Lubac rather than the one or the other. Balthasar helps us recognize that only the fullness of Catholic wisdom that arises from a Christocentric focus can heal our fallen, God-forgetful human culture. With de Lubac, and against postmodernity, the Church must restore to the human person a sense of the natural human capacity for the universal, and with it the possibility of an ennobling unity based on shared metaphysical truth rather than the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance. Our postmodern age needs both the radiant light of Christ’s theological wisdom and encouragement to venture out in search of decisive philosophical understanding.

    Along with these two imperatives we must adopt a third, one brought to the fore in the current pontificate. Our theological and philosophical efforts to overcome postmodern fear of—and despair about—truth must be accompanied by spiritual charity toward those who live disoriented and loveless lives in today’s secular culture. ...

  • Caleb Bernacchio offers an interesting take on Macintyre and Dreher: MacIntyre, Dreher, and American Politics. Ethika Politika 05/23/17:
    ... American conservatives were never really interested in MacIntyre’s politics. There was no discussion of MacIntyre’s extended account of the social relationships and political institutions of local communities in Dependent Rational Animals (published in 1999) nor was their any consideration of his earlier text Marxism and Christianity. Instead, conservatives Catholics were reinterpreting MacIntyre’s brief discussion of St. Benedict in the closing pages of After Virtue — a passage intended to highlight the importance of a local politics of community building — as a call for fidelity to the Magisterium after Vatican II. In other words, they were equating MacIntyre’s brief sketch of a renewed politics of community building with his later defense of the Catholic intellectual tradition (primarily outlined in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry). [...]

    [Rod Dreher's] The Benedict Option must be seen as another episode in the political reception of MacIntyre’s work among American conservatives. Ironically, as I have noted, this reception has involved the least political portion of MacIntyre’s work, his defense of the Thomist tradition, rather than his explicit discussions of local politics (which seems to be largely irrelevant to the American conservative political project). This is why academic critics of Dreher are mistaken to think that it is sufficient to argue that Dreher has misunderstood MacIntyre. [...]

    If MacIntyre is correct, American conservatives will not be able to develop a coherent and plausible identity without rediscovering a local politics of associations, municipalities, and activism within social movements. (See MacIntyre’s recent defense of municipal government as an important locus of political activity.) Dreher’s vision in The Benedict Option is too narrow because it fails to recognize the relationship between local politics, issues-based activism (fighting for labor rights or health care), and national party politics [as expressed in his latest, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity].

  • Breaking Free of Identity Politics, by Stephen Adubato. Ethika Politika 05/11/17:
    The inconvenient truth about us humans is that we are complex, we are mysterious, and there is always more to the story. You can slap an easily comprehensible label onto a person that may only tell you very little or even nothing at all about that person’s unique experience. We need to be able to open a space for a way to make sense of that “something more” that defines us as humans. Perhaps we can begin by ceasing to reduce religion to a mere identity category that is equated with others like race and gender, and affirming it as the complex phenomenon that it really is.
  • Francisco Romero Carrasquillo (Ite ad Thomam):
    As of late, I have been searching the internet for downloadable PDFs of works relevant to Thomism and to pretty much anything else related to traditional Catholic thought. Highlights include much of St. Thomas' Leonine Edition and lots and lots of works by Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. and Santiago Ramírez, O.P. in various languages. And I'm just getting started; there's lots more out there. ....

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Hemingway's Dark Night"

Hemingway’s Catholic and artistic vision contained many of the same philosophical and theological principles these other Catholic intellectuals supported. For instance, his affinity for the cathedral at Chartres, Saint Louis IX, the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes, Roland and Roncevaux, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Mont-St.-Michel, and many other medieval figures and places exemplify the way Hemingway also wedded antiquity and the avant garde. His exemplary characters, after a profound recognition of original sin, always seek reconciliation with imperfection, yearning toward repentance through a form of traditional rituals: Jake Barnes acknowledges his wound and still prays, attends Mass, processions, and confession; Frederic Henry suffers the dark night while learning from the priest how to pray, how he may become very devout; Robert Jordan learns slowly and then all at once in that moment of conversion through la gloria, which ultimately leads to his sacrifice; and Santiago, the old fisherman, promises to say ten Hail Marys, ten Our Fathers, and to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the marlin. Hemingway’s interest in the poetry of Baudelaire and Villon paralleled his resistance of ennui through his quest to identify the sacred in ordinary moments of communion between friends, with wine and spirits and good meals, before the dark mystery returned in the night. And finally, the most mystical moments in Hemingway’s fiction are seen in ordered and disciplined action, which reveal the presence of mystery and actual grace in rituals like the bullfight, and sports like bicycle racing, hunting, fishing – in the act, like the great faena of the torero, “that takes a man out of himself and makes him feel immortal while it is proceeding, that gives him an ecstasy, that is, while momentary, as profound as any religious ecstasy; moving all the people in the ring together and increasing in emotional intensity as it proceeds” (Death in the Afternoon, 206-207).

Hemingway’s life would lead him on a continual quest for sacramentals, and Catholicism offered a confirmation of the sanctity of the world he lived in. His rejection of his parents’ piety was a rejection of sentimentality, of excess, of an over-emphasis on innocence, and the possibility that any man or woman can be perfect on earth. His rejection, evident in the above quoted letter to his mother from before the war, was theologically Catholic before he even encountered Catholicism. His characters and his stories attest to another piety, that which accepts the presence of sin and certain rituals of atonement, that which acknowledges imperfection while seeking, through grace, a joy in earthly objects as reflective of the heavenly good. This piety is contained in the image of Jesus and His compassion and mercy, His self-sacrifice for the salvation of humanity from sin. Or it can be found in the image of the pietà central to Christian mystery: the Blessed Virgin Mother holding her dead child Christ, an image which is at once a reminder of mankind’s imperfection through the death of Christ, our participation in his crucifixion, as it points toward a resurrection, an ultimate redemption.

-- Excerpted and adapted from the first chapter of Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway, by Matthew C. Nickel. New Street Communications, LLC (January 20, 2013).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Defending My Enemy" by Aryeh Neier

The controversial assembly and march of white nationalists, members of the KKK and national socialists in Charlottesville VA reinvigorated within social media and the press the debate over the First Amendment -- unfortunately, the question of “should we permit ‘Nazis’ to have free speech” quickly escalated, among many armchair vigilantes, into the notion that not only the answer was firmly in the negative, but “punching Nazis” was a perfectly legitimate and only rational response (and to suggest otherwise made one a bad American).

Others entertained the idea of foregoing Constitutional rights altogether and adopting a manner of legal censorship currently employed by Germany, whose Strafgesetzbuch (Criminal Code) prohibits outright the public display of “symbols of unconstitutional organizations” outside the context of "art or science, research or teaching.”

Apropos of this discussion and harkening back to a similar debate, I checked out Aryeh Neier’s Defending My Enemy: American Nazis, the Skokie Case, and the Risks of Freedom from our library.

Mr. Neier was National Executive Director of the ACLU from 1970-78, an organization committed to arguing (often controversial) cases in defense of the First Amendment. The book chronicles one such case in 1977, National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, in which the ACLU took up the right of Frank Collin, leader of the National Socialist Party of America, to hold a rally in Skokie Illinois -- a deliberately provocative move in light of the large population of Holocaust survivors within that particular city. (Also interesting is the fact that Mr. Neier himself is a survivor of the Holocaust, born in Berlin in 1937 and having escaped to England with his parents at the age of two).

Neier spends the initial part of the book providing a history of anti-semitism and activity of national socialist movements in the United States (the German-American Bund of the 1930’s and George Lincoln Rockwell’s post-WWII founding of the American Nazi Party in the 50’s, The National Rennaisance Party in the 60’s, The National Socialist White People’s Party and the National Socialist Party of America in the 70’s, et al., et al.). The term “Party” is deceptive here, as Neier makes clear they were in those times relatively small in membership and for which reason they -- much like today -- craved the publicity of the media to cultivate a much larger impression of themselves among the general public. We learn that it was once the position of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council that “public protests against [Rockwell’s] appearances and noisy and violent mass demonstrations merely provide him with increased publicity and bolster the image of martyred hero which as such an appeal to the elements he seeks to attract to his banner” -- which I suppose is the modern-day equivalent of the online admonishment: “don’t feed the troll.”

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to presenting the background and specifics of the Skokie case itself. He reviews the criticisms of those who opposed the Nazi march in Skokie (both external critics as well as internal dissenters within the ACLU), and the reasoning that ultimately led the organization to affirm the Nazi’s right to a march and to challenge the various measures -- ultimately found unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court -- which the city of Skokie sought to stop them (ex. ordinances demanding exorbitantly high insurance for the holding of public rallies; an injunction forbidding the distribution of literature that incited hatred, the display of the swastika, the wearing of uniforms). Some of the explanations for why Nazis should be forbidden to speak may ring familiar to those on social media or college campuses today: the Anti Defamation League, for example, sought an injunction against the march on grounds that it would be tantamount to the infliction of “menticide” or emotional harm.

Curiously this was not the first legal case of its kind for the ACLU, nor the first time that it had defended Nazis’ right to speech. According to Neier, the ACLU handled more free speech cases in the 1960’s than at any time previously in the organization’s history. It was pretty much understood that anybody who had a legitimate case to exercise their constitutional right -- Nazis, the KKK, Communists, unionists, civil rights and anti-war demonstrators, et al. -- would receive their assistance. “The streets were so crowded with demonstrations of all sorts In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that the appearance of a few Nazis attracted little interest.”

What then, made the ACLU’s defense of Skokie so controversial? -- Neier blames himself: “the fault, it became clear, was in our (my) failure to provide adequate information to the membership. It was not enough, Skokie proved, to say that the ACLU defends everyone’s right to speak.” Apparently many fairly recent and "progressive" members within the ACLU (not familiar with the demonstrations of the 60’s), while affirming a general and abstract right to speech, found themselves backtracking when said right became a tangible, defensible reality for those to whom they were ideologically or politically opposed. More than 4,000 ACLU members would respond to Skokie by sending in their letters of resignation, despite the unanimous approval of the state and national leadership to move forward with the case.

In chapter 5, Neier discusses several related legal cases to Skokie including that of Rockwell vs Morris (arguing for the Nazi right to demonstrate in NYC’s Union Square Park) and a fascinating and controversial case in 1977 involving the ACLU’s defense of both members of the KKK and black soldiers against the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, CA, another display of “poisonousness evenhandedness” which, unlike Skokie, would elicit great internal dissent between (the again, "progressive") local chapter of the ACLU and the principled national leadership.

In all fairness, Neier devotes one chapter (“They Have Rights?”) to presenting the various arguments made by the opposition as to why Nazis should be prohibited from rallying, and a subsequent chapter (“The Risks of Freedom”) countering them. He particularly excels in the remaining chapters of the book demonstrating, via copious historical examples, how the very arguments proposed, and policies employed, to suppress the speech of Nazis or the KKK -- whom we would (justifiably) regard as deplorable -- are often turned around by authorities to suppress groups we might find laudable or on the side of justice (civil rights workers, anti-war protestors and anti-nuclear or environmental activists). Consider several examples:

  • The National Espionage Act of World War I punished the uttering, writing or publishing of disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language intended to cause contempt, scored, contumely or disrepute to the form of government of the United States, the Constitution, the flag, or the uniform of the Army and Navy. State and local laws patterned after the act, and contributed to "the gravest period of political repression in American history" — denying the freedom of speech or political action to Communists (displaying a "red flag" at a youth camp), Jehovah's Witnesses (breaching the peace through distribution of anti-Catholic literature) and the Industrial Workers of the World ("Wobblies"). Though meant to only apply in time of war, the remaining provisions of the act were "sweeping enough to have allowed the Nixon administration to indict Daniel Ellsberg in December 1971 for disposing publicly the contents of the Pentagon papers." [p. 109-117]
  • Chicago Mayor Daley expressed support of a proposal to prohibit depictions of excessive violence on television; when asked to provide an example of such violence, he referred to a documentary including graphic footage of Chicago police beating up anti-war and anti-Daley protestors. [p. 140]
  • Joseph McCarthy and his colleagues, in their zeal to defend America against "enemies of freedom", prosecuted Stalinists and anti-Stalinists alike — fellow travelers and liberals they mistakenly identified as Communists. [p. 146]
  • Parliament adopted the Public Order Act in an effort to suppress English fascists in the 1930's, making it a crime to use "in any public place threatening, abusive or insulting words with the intent to provoke a breach of the peace" and to empower police to suppress such political marches. The act also prohibited the wearing in public places uniforms expressing a political point of view. During the Cold War and beyond, the government invoked the Public Order Act to suppress the demonstrations of Communists and later, anti-nuclear activists. [pp. 149-159]
  • In 1965, Parliament adopted the Race Relations Act, making the incitement of racial hatred a crime and prohibiting the distribution of abusive, threatening or insulting literature directed at any racial group. In a move that the National Front would find most pleasing, such measures were adopted by parties ranging from student unions on college campuses to the United Nations General Assembly to suppress the speech of Zionists campaigning for a Jewish homeland. (Meanwhile, the National Front circumvented the Act by adopting code words substituting for race (i.e., "immigrants"). [pp. 149-159]

"In Britain, Parliament has the law word," observes Never. "A parliamentary law abridging the freedom of speech is only susceptible to challenge by Parliament itself." Under the Official Secrets Act, Britons are routinely denied information about the proceedings of their government, and laws against libel and public comment on judicial proceedings are used to curb the public. (p. 150).

Noting that England has no equivalent of the First Amendment, Neier notes that the British citizen "whose freedom of speech has been curbed cannot challenge the Public Order Act, the Official Secrets Act, or the Race Relations Act. They can only resist and hope that officials charged with administering the laws will be wise and will exercise self-restraint." (p. 158)

According to Nier, though Thomas Jefferson and John Milton “understood the risks of freedom, they knew that it is far more dangerous to entrust the government with the power to determine what doctrines may be safely expressed by the people. (p. 136) … it is far more dangerous to allow government to deny the freedom to speak to the enemies of freedom. Almost inevitably, government confuses the enemies of its policies with the enemies of freedom. (p. 146)”

I found Defending My Enemy: American Nazis, the Skokie Case, and the Risks of Freedom to be very educational reading on this topic, providing an insight against how a Holocaust survivor could defend the constitutional right of Nazis to hold a march in the United States. Others are certainly entitled to disagree with Mr. Neier on this point, refusing the recognition of free speech to those who espouse ideologies adversely at odds with their own or America's founding principles. But as Mr. Neier demonstrates, while it might provide us with great personal or emotional satisfaction to suppress (by city ordinance, or even at times through vigilante violence) the speech of those we disagree with or consider a threat, there may be long-term consequences to doing so.

“The best consequences of the Nazis’ proposal to march in Skokie is that it produced more speech, a great deal more -- it stimulated more discussion of the evils of Nazism and of the Holocaust than any event since the Israelis captured Adolf Eichman in Argentina in 1960 …

The worst consequences of the Nazis proposal to march in Skokie is that the argument against permitting the march have fostered the impression that a community can asert that those whose views are anathema to it can be forbidden to enter its boundaries. It is not the first time a town or neighborhood has asserted a power to exclude views or dislikes from its own “turf.” The practice, however, had been largely discredited after Mayor Frank Hague lost his battle forty years ago to keep labor organizers out of Jersey City. Skokie revived the idea that it might be legitimate.” (p. 145)


Page citings refer to the 1st (1979) edition.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mark Lilla's "The Once and Future Liberal"

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics
by Mark Lilla.
Harper (August 15, 2017). 160 pages.
In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of American liberalism over the past two generations. Although there have been Democrats in the White House, and some notable policy achievements, for nearly 40 years the vision that Ronald Reagan offered—small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism—has remained the country’s dominant political ideology. And the Democratic Party has offered no convincing competing vision in response.

Instead, as Lilla argues, American liberalism fell under the spell of identity politics, with disastrous consequences. Driven originally by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, the left has now unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than in party politics.

With dire consequences. Lilla goes on to show how the left’s identity-focused individualism insidiously conspired with the amoral economic individualism of the Reaganite right to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good. In the contest for the American imagination, liberals have abdicated.

Now they have an opportunity to reset. The left is motivated, and the Republican Party, led by an unpredictable demagogue, is in ideological disarray. To seize this opportunity, Lilla insists, liberals must concentrate their efforts on recapturing our institutions by winning elections. The time for hectoring is over. It is time to reach out and start persuading people from every walk of life and in every region of the country that liberals will stand up for them. We must appeal to – but also help to rebuild – a sense of common feeling among Americans, and a sense of duty to each other.

A fiercely-argued, no-nonsense book, enlivened by Lilla’s acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal is essential reading for our momentous times.

Reviews and Discussion

Monday, August 14, 2017

Are Nazis entitled to the First Amendment? - Revisiting Skokie, IL

To permit or deny the right to speech? -- Appropos of recent events in Charlottesville, VA comes to mind a similar incident from years past:
In 1978, the ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU's unwavering commitment to principle. In fact, many of the laws the ACLU cited to defend the group's right to free speech and assembly were the same laws it had invoked during the Civil Rights era, when Southern cities tried to shut down civil rights marches with similar claims about the violence and disruption the protests would cause. Although the ACLU prevailed in its free speech arguments, the neo-Nazi group never marched through Skokie, instead agreeing to stage a rally at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

"Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA"

The Article



Saturday, July 8, 2017

When I hear an exclusivist humanism waxing indignant about the crimes and errors of the church in history, I often partly agree. We all feel this today at some point; who defends the Inquisition? My feelings are divided, complex. But I also see a complexity in my interlocutor, who has an important moral point but is also resisting something: resisting the insight that the love of God is something bigger and more important and more powerful than all this human bumbling and evil. But then that makes us brothers under the skin. We all — believers and unbelievers alike — spend a lot of energy resisting God. It takes a lifetime of prayer to melt the resistances, and even then. . . . And one thing we can immediately see, from our own case as well, is that anger, righteous anger, is a great weapon of resistance. Our modern Western world is awash in righteous anger, reciting litanies of abuse and obloquy. The point is often well taken, in that the abuses are or have been real and crying.

Beyond this, what the anger is often doing for people is stopping their moral and spiritual growth because it's a tremendously effective resistance against it. For one thing, I feel good about myself because, whatever my minor imperfections, they pale into insignificance in face of the horrible deeds of those (communists or capitalists, white males or feminists, etc.). For another, I certainly don't need to bother about any insights I might gain from those unspeakable enemies of humanity, God, or whatever.

We have to be more aware of what anger is doing for us, as resisters — and therefore against us, as lovers of God.

Charles Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture p 124 (Oxford UP, 1999)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Charles Taylor on Modern Humanism and Social Justice

... A third pattern of motivation, which we have seen repeatedly, this time occurs in the register of justice rather than benevolence.We have seen it with Jacobins and Bolsheviks and today with the politically correct left and the so-called Christian right. We fight against injustices that cry out to heaven for vengeance. We are moved by a flaming indignation against these: racism, oppression, sexism, or leftist attacks on the family or Christian faith. This indignation comes to be fueled by hatred for those who support and connive with these injustices, which, in turn, is fed by our sense of superiority that we are not like these instruments and accomplices of evil. Soon, we are blinded to the havoc we wreak around us. Our picture of the world has safely located all evil outside us. The very energy and hatred with which we combat evil prove its exteriority to us. We must never relent but, on the contrary, double our energy, vie with each other in indignation and denunciation.

Another tragic irony nests here. The stronger the sense of (often correctly identified) injustice, the more powerfully this pattern can become entrenched. We become centers of hatred, generators of new modes of injustice on a greater scale, but we started with the most exquisite sense of wrong, the greatest passion for justice and equality and peace. [...]

The blindness is typical of modern exclusive secular humanism. This modern humanism prides itself on having released energy for philanthropy and reform; by getting rid of "original sin," of a lowly and demeaning picture of human nature, it encourages us to reach high. Of course, there is some truth in this, but it is also terribly partial and terribly naive because it has never faced the questions I have been raising here: what can power this great effort at philanthropic reform? This humanism leaves us with our own high sense of self-worth to keep us from backsliding, a high notion of human worth to inspire us forward, and a flaming indignation against wrong and oppression to energize us. It cannot appreciate how problematic all of these are, how easily they can slide into something trivial, ugly, or downright dangerous and destructive.

A Nietzschean genealogist can have a field day here. Nothing gave Nietzsche greater satisfaction than showing how morality or spirituality is really powered by its direct opposite—for example, that the Christian aspiration to love is really motivated by the hatred of the weak for the strong. Whatever one thinks of this judgment on Christianity, it is clear that modern humanism is full of potential for such disconcerting reversals: from dedication to others to self-indulgent, feel-good responses, from a lofty sense of human dignity to control powered by contempt and hatred, from absolute freedom to absolute despotism, from a flaming desire to help the oppressed to an incandescent hatred for all those who stand in the way. And the higher the flight, the farther the potential fall.

Charles Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture pp. 32-33 (Oxford UP, 1999)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, by Edward Feser

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment
by by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette.
Ignatius Press (May 29, 2017). 500 pages.

The Catholic Church has in recent decades been associated with political efforts to eliminate the death penalty. It was not always so. This timely work reviews and explains the Catholic Tradition regarding the death penalty, demonstrating that it is not inherently evil and that it can be reserved as a just form of punishment in certain cases.

Drawing upon a wealth of philosophical, scriptural, theological, and social scientific arguments, the authors explain the perennial teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate—not only to protect society from immediate physical danger, but also to administer retributive justice and to deter capital crimes. The authors also show how some recent statements of Church leaders in opposition to the death penalty are prudential judgments rather than dogma. They reaffirm that Catholics may, in good conscience, disagree about the application of the death penalty.

Some arguments against the death penalty falsely suggest that there has been a rupture in the Church's traditional teaching and thereby inadvertently cast doubt on the reliability of the Magisterium. Yet, as the authors demonstrate, the Church's traditional teaching is a safeguard to society, because the just use of the death penalty can be used to protect the lives of the innocent, inculcate a horror of murder, and affirm the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures who must be held responsible for their actions.

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed challenges contemporary Catholics to engage with Scripture, Tradition, natural law, and the actual social scientific evidence in order to undertake a thoughtful analysis of the current debate about the death penalty.

"Based primarily on the natural law, this excellent and much-needed book will be valuable to Catholics and readers of any faith who ask why capital punishment is justified."
--J. Budziszewski, Ph.D., University of Texas

"At long last, we have a serious and intelligent look at all aspects of the death penalty its causes, its justification, its consequences for the victim, the criminal himself, and for civil society." --James V. Schall, S. J., Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University

"An illuminating study of a subject often clouded by emotions. An essential read for anyone who wants to understand this thorny subject."
-- Robert Royal,President, Faith and Reason Institute

"The arguments in this book have clarified many of the contentions of this critical issue in my mind."
--Fr. Robert A. Sirico, President, The Acton Institute