The characteristic posture of the prophet – having one ear to God and one ear to the ground – has always been found uncomfortable by those who have adopted it. And the prophetic role itself has ever been as much misunderstood as it has been burdensome. That role is not, primarily, to foretell but to forth-tell: to relate the purpose of the eternal to the limitations of the temporal. It is a task that must ever be carried out, even as the prophet is accused of interpreting what is merely a falling acorn as the collapse of the sky itself.
It is thus a continuous responsibility; and perhaps never more so than today when the Divine voice of reason, peace and grace is all but drowned out by the shrieks and clamor of evil on every side. To say that will doubtless evoke references to Chicken Little, but only on the part of those who have embraced palpable ignorance, confusion and obscurity, and who turn their backs on truth.
The editor of First Things, R. R. Reno, has recently described the social decomposition of the United States. “The warning signs are everywhere. Anyone visiting Seattle or San Francisco is struck by the packs of feral youths living on the streets. People shoot up in public. The smell of marijuana is now commonplace in most major cities …. A fish rots from the head down. The social dissolution of our nation is a direct consequence of the mentalities, policies and actions of our ruling class.”
Among the signs of that decomposition there is the terrible slaughter by abortion. The Didache, as long ago as the First Century A.D. taught that: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” It is murder, prohibited by Divine decree. Yet twenty centuries after the Didache our political leaders are still permitting, if not advocating, such evil.
“One of the awful facts of our age,” wrote the monk Thomas Merton, “is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.”
We need to take that dread warning with the utmost seriousness; and it should be a matter of great alarm that most of our leaders – spiritual as well as secular – are not, apparently, doing so.
Consider this vignette. There is a small and beautiful community of contemplative nuns in France – The Little Sisters of the Lamb – most of whom are handicapped by Downs Syndrome. Compare that with the fact that all of the current slate of contenders for the Democrat presidential nomination are unequivocally pro-abortion. Of course, these two facts are not directly related. But where could you find a more striking assertion of the chasm of contrast between life and death, light and darkness, love and selfishness, good and evil.
“Times have changed”, says presidential candidate Joseph Biden, as he backs off his previous stance on the Hyde Amendment. Well, not for the better, as Merton asserts. But God has not changed. He remains – in the Nicene words that Biden, as a soi-disant Catholic proclaims at Mass every Sunday — the Lord and Giver of Life. Yet, in the great words of Henry Francis Lyte, “Change and decay in all around I see … O thou that changest not, abide with me.” And Joseph Biden should care to remember that he is named for the Husband of Mary and the protector of the Holy Family. Nor should he forget the words of Alice von Hildebrand: “One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness.” Those words come from her book The Privilege of Being a Woman. [cf. #MeToo]
Barbara Tuchman, the acclaimed historian and Pulitzer Prize winner died in 1988. Just before her death, one of her essays appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Here is portion:
“Decline of a nation or a society” (she wrote), “is a provocative historical problem. In Rome, it is associated with external pressure coupled with internal weakness. In the ancient Greek cities of Asia Minor (like Ephesus), it can be traced to the silting of harbors through environmental neglect, closing them to access by sea. In the Aztec Empire of Mexico, it was the invasion of ruthless Europeans. … In the United States, who knows? Will it be moral collapse from within? One certainly experiences a deteriorating ethic at every level of society, and with it incompetence from the people who no longer function at their utmost, who grow lax and accept the mediocre. Violence is also symptomatic of a nation’s decline, and today’s deepening climate of bloody violence is not reassuring. More disturbing, however, is what is missing in American attitudes and public opinion: Where is the outrage? Why aren’t people angry about violence, injustice and immorality? Why aren’t we angry over misconduct and incompetence in Government by public officials of the highest rank? Where is the outrage over racism, over fraud in business, over deceit and betrayal of trust, over the trivialization of morality, where it is ‘moral’ if it works or makes us feel good? Anger when anger is due is necessary for self-respect and for the respect of this nation by other nations.… What has become of national self-respect, not to mention common decency? Why do we keep turning back to Sodom and Gomorrah?”
Half a century earlier, in 1940, Dorothy Sayers (whom I, as a child, was privileged to meet briefly), wrote this:
“Something is happening to us to-day which has not happened for a very long time. We are waging a war of religion. Not a civil war between adherents of the same religion, but a life-and-death struggle between Christian and pagan. The Christians are, it must be confessed, not very good Christians, and the pagans do not officially proclaim themselves worshippers of Mahound or even of Odin, but the stark fact remains that Christendom and heathendom now stand face to face as they have not done in Europe since the days of Charlemagne. In spite of the various vague references in sermons and public speeches to the (the Second World) War as a ‘crusade’, I think we have scarcely begun to realize the full implications of this. It is a phenomenon of quite extraordinary importance. The people who say that this is a war of economics or of power-politics, are only dabbling about on the surface of things. Even those who say it is a war to preserve freedom and justice and faith have gone only half-way to the truth. The real question is what economics and politics are to be used for; whether freedom and justice and faith have any right to be considered at all; at bottom it is a violent and irreconcilable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma.”
At the heart of this quarrel (but, in truth, not so much a “quarrel” as a radical life-and-death battle with Satanic evil) lies the family. Divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography, same-sex “marriage” (a relationship intrinsically closed to procreation cannot be a marriage anymore than a triangle can have a fourth corner or an elephant can be a penguin) are all deadly enemies of family life and the happiness of children.
Mary Eberstadt’s hugely important book, How the West Really Lost God, was published in 2013. In it she demonstrates convincingly what she characterizes as the “double helix” of Faith and natural Family – the complex relationship that links inextricably the welfare, the blessings, the woes of the Church and of the Family. When one suffers, so does the other. But when both flourish, they do so for the welfare and happiness of society.
It is impossible to consider these things without reference to the fathers of families. Fatherhood and – yes, patriarchy – are threatened species today. Yet Almighty God has revealed Himself to us precisely as Father, presiding over, providing and legislating for his family; and, in so doing, he provides us with the template and (literally) the pattern for human society. We do not elect our human father who, within his family is prophet, priest and – yes—king; and, as such, he is entitled to our love and fealty.
The Fourth Precept, of the ten given to Moses, reads: “Honor you father and mother” – words which, inter alia, provide us with a perception of the moral significance of hierarchy. And it should be noted that this is the only one of the Ten Commandments to which a promise is attached: “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” There is no absolutely no justification here for what has been described in the words of the founder of the Paneuropa Movement, “We are experiencing the most dangerous revolution in world history: the revolution of the State against man. We are experiencing the worst idolatry of all time: the deification of the state.” — Richard N. Coudenhove-Kalergi, Totaler Staat – Totaler Mensch (The Totalitarian State Against Man).
As long ago as 1969 (in a Christmas radio address) then-Father Joseph Rattzinger warned that the “totally planned world sought by progressives would devalue individual agency – along with human connections like family and local community.
But, in the memorable words of the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, “Europe was built on three hills: the Acropolis, which gave her the values of freedom, philosophy and democracy; the Capitol, which represented Roman legal concepts and social order; and Golgotha …” quoted by Metropolitan Hilarion, at a symposium held in London on Sept 22, 2017, on the Christian Future of Europe.
Notwithstanding the upheaval of the United Kingdom’s apparent determination to leave it (because, perhaps, of the abandonment of the vision afforded by the summit of those three hills?), the European Union is surely to be counted as one of the great Christian Democrat achievements. And it was precisely that ideal, sought by the founders of the PanEuropa Movement, and Robert Schumann, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperri, Henri Spaak – themselves inspired by the vision of the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudiem et Spes.
However, several months ago, in the Catholic Herald, Andrew Cusack suggested that Christian democracy is a spent force. We see the trajectory of “democracy” into plutocratic oligarchy. How can the members of Congress, the majority of whom are incredibly wealthy and who enjoy Congressional pensions and medical benefits that would exceed the dreams of most, be – in any meaningful way – “representatives” of the very many who live from paycheck to paycheck.
Judge Andrew Napolitano celebrated this year’s Independence Day by observing that the Jeffersonian ideals of personal natural rights have become myths. “In Jefferson’s day, the voters knew all that the government did, and (the government) knew nothing about them. Today, the government operates largely in secrecy, and it captures our every communication. In Jefferson’s day, the government needed the people’s expressed permission to tax and regulate them. Today, the people need the government’s permission to do nearly everything.”
Although Judge Napolitano does not say this, it would seem that Congressional term limits and a determined dedication to subsidiarity must be sought.
Years previously (June 2010) Dr James Patrick wrote (in Tradition, a publication of the College of St Thomas More, Fort Worth) that “our country has never before been governed by a temper that can only be described as godless. And this fact, the fact that the government has moved from neutrality plus nods to God to aggressive godlessness brings home to those who will see the whole tenor of history since 1300. For if we look at the grand sweep of the last five centuries, we can see that a movement that began in the Garden by proclaiming the freedom and omnicompetence of the human race, reigning unchecked since the Renaissance, has ended in slavery.”
That indeed is the trajectory of “democracy” – an idea which is founded upon a fatal fallacy, as the magisterial work of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his truly great book Liberty or Equality has demonstrated with scholarly eloquence. [It was first published in 1952, and there is a second edition in 1993.] He insists that liberty and equality are in essence contradictory. Potentiality and actuality should not, he says, be confused. “Judas Iscariot expiring in the noose and St. John the Evangelist closing his eyes on Patmos are spiritually not equals. If we focus our attention upon the biological, characteriological, intellectual and physical status of the individual, the inequalities are even more apparent.”
Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Professor Emeritus of Economics at UNLV and Distinguished Fellow with the Mises Institute) has written this:
While it is impossible to predict the exact outcome of the permanent democratic struggle of all against all, except to say that it will lead to ever higher taxes, to a never ending flood of legislation and thus increased legal uncertainty, and consequently to an increase in the rate of social time-preference, i.e., increased short-term orientation (an “infantization” of society), one outcome of this struggle, one result of democracy can be safely predicted, however. Democracy produces and brings about a new power elite or ruling class. Presidents, prime ministers, and the leaders of parliament and political parties are part of this power elite, and I have already talked about them as essentially amoral demagogues. But it would be naive to assume that they are the most powerful and influential people of all. They are more frequently only the agents and delegates — those doing the bidding — of other people standing on the sidelines and out of public view. The true power elite, which determines and controls who will make it as president, prime minister, party leader, etc., are the plutocrats. The plutocrats, as defined by the great but largely forgotten American sociologist William Graham Sumner, are not simply the super-rich — the big bankers and the captains of big business and industry. Rather, the plutocrats are only a subclass of the super rich. They are those super rich big bankers and businessmen, who have realized the enormous potential of the State as an institution that can tax and legislate for their own even greater future enrichment and who, based on this insight, have decided to throw themselves into politics. They realize that the State can make you far richer than you already are: whether in subsidizing you, in awarding you with state contracts, or in passing laws that protect you from unwelcome competition or competitors, and they decide to use their riches to capture the State and use politics as a means to the end of their own further enrichment (rather than becoming richer solely by economic means, i.e., in better serving voluntarily paying customers of one’s products). They do not have to get involved in politics themselves. They have more important and lucrative things to do than wasting their time with everyday politics. But they have the cash and the position to “buy” the typically far less affluent professional politicians, either directly in paying them bribes or indirectly, by agreeing to employ them later on, after their stint in professional politics, as highly paid managers, consultants, or lobbyists, and so manage to decisively influence and determine the course of politics in their own favor. They, the plutocrats, will become the ultimate winners in the constant income and wealth redistribution struggle that is democracy. And in between them (the real power elite staying outside the limelight), and all those whose income (and wealth) depends solely or largely on the State and its taxing power (the employees of the always growing state apparatus and all recipients of transfer payments, its “welfare clients”), the productive middle class gets increasingly squeezed dry.
There is nothing to reassure us in all this. Even so, there are those who – like Larry Diamond ( a professor of Sociology and Political Science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution) – lamented in Time (June 24, 2019) the decline in democracy across the globe, which he described as an “emerging crisis”. You may suppose that he was speaking of Venezuela or, perhaps, Hong Kong. But no: he spoke – with particular reference to Hungary and Poland – of what he calls “the dark period that has descended upon Europe”. His words are characteristic of the liberal hysteria that erupts at any mention of Hungary’s Fundamental Law:
“We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian State on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago.
We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country.
We are proud of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the Hungarian people.
We are proud that our people has over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles and enriched Europe’s common values with its talent and diligence.
We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country.
We promise to preserve the intellectual and spiritual unity of our nation torn apart in the storms of the last century.
We proclaim that the nationalities living with us form part of the Hungarian political community and are constituent parts of the State.”
If then, democracy is a spent force, if God Himself has indicated the foundational structure of human life and society as hierarchical, familial, paternal – and, as the Catholic Faith insists, sacramental — then we must return to a serious and (though this may difficult for Americans to appreciate) non-hysterical consideration of monarchy with its concomitant values of chivalry, personal loyalty and honor, offered to a person and not to an abstract symbol. The Emperor Franz Joseph, once asked in a moment of candor by Theodore Roosevelt what he considered to be the role of a monarch in the present age, replied: “To protect my peoples from their governments”. As Aristotle said: Monarchy is the one system of government where power is exercised for the good of all.
One of the great Christian thinkers of our own time was C.S.Lewis. This is what he said:
“Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach – men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”
There is much to concern and disturb us in the contemporary scene. “The night is dark, and I am far from home”, wrote John Henry Newman. But the glittering words of the fundamental Hungarian law are full of hope. And we must remember the words of Robert, Cardinal Sarah: “I would like to point out that everything is prepared for a renewal. I see families, monasteries, and parishes that are like oases in the middle of a desert. It is from these oases of faith, liturgy, beauty, and silence that the West will be reborn.”