In Remembrance of Dr. James Patrick: His Insights, Thought, and Teaching


Friends and Patrons of the Lewis Tolkien Society: 

As Dr. Patrick would say, we’re still in the business of saving Western Civilization. In that unflagging, irrepressible spirit, I’m writing to affirm that every program you’ve loved—every program Dr. P cared about, stood for, and set in place, continues.

Specifically that means:

  • Text & Talk on Saturdays
  • The Lewis Tolkien Society dinner in November
  • Rofters (Readers of First Things)
  • Annual honorary lectures, such as the Thomas More, Thomas Howard, and John Henry Newman lectures.

Dr. Patrick’s presence is keenly felt in programs featuring a lineup of scholars and speakers who knew and admired him. Join us to meet the people, share the ideas, and continue to nurture and enjoy and grow in all that Dr. Patrick planted. 

Step one is this Saturday at noon, the first in a five-week Text & Talk series at Christ the King Family Center.  Dr. Ron Muller—longtime friend and colleague of Dr. P—will lead. (See announcement below.)

In his long life, just by teaching what’s true, Dr. Patrick drew people who became lifelong friends, influencing one another in the love of learning.

Join us as we continue the common tradition to read, think, discuss, learn, and grow.


Jim Roseman

Chairman of the Board of The Lewis Tolkien Society.


You’re invited to join the friends, members, and associates of the Lewis Tolkien Society


In Remembrance of Dr. James Patrick:

His Insights, Thought, and Teaching

12:00 noon

Beginning Saturday, April 13

Christ the King Catholic Church

8017 Preston Rd, Dallas


Please make plans now to attend a new series of Saturday “Text and Talk” sessions to review and remember the vision and legacy of Dr. James Patrick, author, professor, lecturer, and Provost Emeritus of the College of Saint Thomas More.  Join the Society, founded for the renewal of the common tradition of Western civilization to advance learning in the light of Christian revelation and those insights which form a truly human life, as we honor Dr. Patrick’s unceasing dedication, industry, and love for truth.


Moderated by Dr. Ron Muller and members of the Lewis Tolkien Board, the Saturday sessions will explore topics and themes taken from Dr. Patrick’s extensive writings, lectures, and memorable teaching. Those attending will be invited to participate through active discussion reflecting on topics such as:


“Ideas have Consequences”

“The Legacy of Athens and Jerusalem”

“Great Books and Great Ideas”

“The Christian Worldview”

“Lewis’ Abolition of Man


Join via Zoom if you’re unable to attend in person by finding the link at

America and the Irish

The battle of the Boyne in July 1690 decided the fate of James III, who fled to France, which assured the Protestant Ascendancy. How land ownership in Ireland moved into the hands of absent English aristocracy is a longer story, but it is the essential element in Irish history. At mid 19th century native Irishmen owned very little of the land that is Ireland. Most of it was in the hands of middlemen who collected the rents from the landlords and may never have visited the plantations.

The famine of 1842-1850 triggered an unprecedented immigration, mostly to the United States, but also to Canada. Thousands took ship from the northwest in vessels frequently unseaworthy. Their destinations were often Boston, where Irish Protestants were tolerated but Catholics were viewed as a threat, their religion being inimical to American freedom.

This was not the first time the Irish had immigrated to the United States. It had begun before the War of the Revolution and increased after the Rebellion of 1795.  Of particular interest is the immigration of Irish protestants during and immediately after the revolution, which established Presbyterianism in the American backcountry of Virginia and North Carolina.

Boston, where Catholic immigration threatened Puritan control of the city government, became a center of the Know-Nothing Party, which took control of the Massachusetts legislature in 1854. In the face of the great immigration between ‘42 and ‘50, the legislature passed laws barring Catholics from being buried in public cemeteries, denying church officials any control over church property, and requiring children to read the bible from the Protestant King James version in public schools. The legislature formed a nunnery committee that raided Catholic schools and convents on trumped-up pretexts. In the long run, several Catholic churches were burned. Interestingly, the intellectual founder of the Know-Nothing movement was Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, eminently respectable, respected American, and rabid anti-Catholic. In a screed entitled “Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States,” Morse accused the Vatican of seeking to subvert the values and ideals of Anglo-Protestant America.

Catholics lived through the Know-Nothing Movement (a total dislike of everyone who wasn’t an Anglo-Protestant). There was the task of providing churches for the unprecedented immigration, as well as schools and colleges. The only crisis in the development of the Catholic Church in America was Testem Benevolentiae Nostre, in which Leo XIII warned against what he considered “Americanism,” the claim that American Catholicism was different and needed room to engage the Protestant culture.  This sometimes included the thought that the more difficult teachings of the Church need not be represented. In his letter, the pope warned against valuing the active apostolate more than the apostolate of prayer, which was pursued in monastic devotion.

It’s possible to see Americanism as defining the fracture that has characterized American Catholicism for the last century. Americanism tended to divide the Church into Accommodationists—people who believe the American republic somehow was unique and deserved a place of special consideration—and the old-line Irish Catholics. Over the next century the Accommodationists were represented by America, the flagship magazine of American progressivism, and Father Hesburgh’s Notre Dame. The old-line Irish were represented by The Wanderer newspaper, and their control of the diocesan hierarchies.

The text of Testem Benevolentiae includes what Americans will always see as freedom of the press: “The confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt on any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now greater need for the Church’s teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful, both of conscience and duty.”


Having lived through the Americanist difficulty and the outbreak of modernism in the early 20th century, the Catholic Church enjoyed a century of what appeared to be real and solid progress. All this was disrupted in 1952 by the Second Vatican Council. In the wake of the council the fracture that could be discerned in the Americanist controversy grew wider. With the Accommodationists adopting the Land o’ Lakes Proposal that the only criterion for success in the universities was rejection of the role of theology in favor of a standard of secular success.

What happened to the Irish in all this? There is no scientific answer but anecdotally I would expect to see the Irish who remember grandmother’s religion clustered around EWTN and the National Catholic Register. EWTN is the most successful communications exercise sponsored by the Catholic Church. It is loudly detested by the Roman authorities as a purveyor of what Pope Francis called “backwardism.” Like the National Catholic Register, it promotes traditional Catholicism in the face of the Progressive Ascendency since 1955.

Now after five generations of immigration it is impossible to identify who is Irish and who is not because almost everyone is Irish to some degree. The religion to which the Irish clung for four centuries appears to have crashed, but we don’t know the end of the story. Meanwhile we can keep doing genealogy, some of which will lead back to Ireland.


Making it to the War

            Many years ago I was a harmless Episcopalian bedeviled by the inconsistencies of the theology of that church. Kings could be divorced or annulled—take your choice—but into the 19th century an ordinary member of the Church of England needed an act of parliament to secure a divorce.

            And there was the intractable pro-life issue. The sign that says “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” is correct. Add to this the complication of figuring out what Jesus said–if he said anything–and there was always more than one interpretation of what he meant. Buried down inside it all was the clarion call of Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

            It was bound to strike anyone alive in the Pontificate of Pius XII that expectations for Catholics were different from expectations for your run-of-the-mill Episcopalians. And something about that clarion call cast all theological conferences, all of the bright-intelligent books based on continental authors, into the shade because the Lord had said, “Do what you can. Do everything you can, and don’t stop until you’ve done the very most you can do.”

            Guided by this inspiration I left the Episcopal Church with its friendliness and goodwill and made for the further shore of the Tiber.

            Becoming a Catholic was not easy. Once in California I climbed down one mountainside and up another to reach a Catholic seminary where I’d be greeted with advice not to worry because Episcopalians were good people too. That attempt to join the Catholic Church failed; the monsignor suggested I have a cocktail and cool off.

            My next attempt was with a crafty Jesuit at the Catholic church on the hill in Knoxville. He generously received me leaving such questions as confirmation in abeyance.

            During the next year—this would have been 1972—I worked my way into being a decent member of the Catholic faithful, abetted, it would be only fair to say, by the gracious pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville, Father Hinkle. In truth I was the last thing the Catholic Church wanted: a former Episcopalian there for all the wrong reasons, namely, convinced as I was that the Catholic Church bore the burden of divine revelation.

            Over the years I would find a place in the Roman Catholic Church in service to the flagship Texas academic institution The University of Dallas, where I chaired the theology department and then was the school’s academic head. After that, happily, I spent 30 years with the College of St. Thomas More in Ft. Worth, the love of my life.

            In 2014, the College, having chugged along for 30 years, was destroyed by my own ineptitude in alliance with those who should have been anxious for its preservation. And I now know that with regard to wonderful things like the College of St. Thomas More there are no second chances. But let it be said that I did not pass up the opportunity to join the fight.

            I was reminded just the other day of my maternal great-grandfather, Alan Jasper Harris, and Benjamin Harris, brothers determined not to miss the war.  On November 3, 1864, when the cause was surely lost, they made their way from Copiah County in Southeast Mississippi to the front lines of the Confederacy, which then lay in Middle Tennessee. My grandfather lived to return to south Mississippi. His brother—my great uncle—was shot on Dec. 30 in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, having served as a lieutenant before falling to the onslaught. He died the next day, on Dec. 1, and was buried in McGavock Confederate Cemetery on the Carnton Plantation—later remembered by Alan Tate in his Ode to the Confederate Dead.

            I hope in the autumn of my life that it will not be said that I failed to make it to the front lines. The battle formations are shifting now–ecclesiastical authority aligned delicately but unmistakably with the comfort of the world, but there is always the Lord’s advice to all of us:  “Do what you can. Do everything you can, and don’t stop until you’ve done the very most you can do.”

Accessing the New Creation

Most evenings  I contentedly watch right-wing television, hearing the old story one more time, told by the same persons, with familiar graphic illustrations, a pro-life father about to be imprisoned by the F. B I. for protesting abortion, a trans person in the process of trying to reverse surgical mutilation, a retired  colonel who is supposed to know about Iran, and  so on. All very contented, but then comes an advertisement to interrupt my peace by loudly proclaiming that Christ is about appear like lightening shining from east to west, that at his appearing believers will be caught up to meet Jesus, leaving behind the earth and the unbelievers on to presumably await their destruction.

This is a theology generated by  First Thessalonians 4:16, which tells us that on Christ’s return those living as well as all those departed believers will go out to meet the Lord in the air, and so we  will always be with the  Lord.  The First Epistle to the Thessalonians uses the Greek word  ἁρπάζω, meaning “to snatch away” or “to seize”. “This view of eschatology is referred to as dispensational premillennialism, a form of futurism that considers various prophecies in the Bible as remaining unfulfilled and occurring   in the future.“  This understanding of the return of Jesus was put forward by J. R. Darby in the 1830s and has since always had a following. It tends always to assign  the world, invested as it is by sin, to destruction. 

Thessalonians 4 is not the only text that may be used to support Darby.  The parable of those suddenly taken from the mill, the shop, and the field may be used to support Darby.  The account of the Apostle Peter that the cosmos will be destroyed by fire (while presumably the elect are saved) supports Darby obliquely because it assumes the destruction of the cosmos. 

Let it be said that in the first three centuries, one might say even  now, there is great confusion about the Christian future, which in no case is defined or depicted as thoroughly as we might like.  It is not that we know too little but that we know too much.  The third century saw an important controversy between Dionysius of Alexandria  who believed that the Christian future would be ‘spiritual’ and an obscure presbyter named Nepos who believed the Christian future would be ‘real.’   One might suggest that both Dionysius and Nepos had missed the truth that the supernatural is the realm of glory that manifests itself to us in the resurrection of Christ and perhaps occasionally elsewhere.   The supernatural is more real than the real world.   It is perhaps to be regretted that the Creeds and the Councils do not tell us much about the life of the world to come, just “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  However that may be, the great Irenaeus undertook to supply the deficiency in the last chapters of the last book of his great Adversus Heresies.  Remember that he had spent much of his distinguished career as bishop in Lyons combatting Gnosticism, one of the principles of which is the certainty that the created order has no future, indeed perhaps no substance, being as it is an illusion, destined for destruction.  Irenaeus was an Asian who had migrated to Gaul.

The Adversus heresies is a long book, written in Greek but known to us mostly in a Latin translation that was never lost during the centuries when transmission of texts was difficult.  Valentinus is perhaps the obvious target, but there are also chapters against Marcion, and other Gnostics. 

In the last chapter of Against Heresies Irenaeus turns to consider the last things.   The principle of his treatment of the topic is this:

Since there are real men, so must there be a real establishment, that they vanish  not away among non-existent things but progress among those things that have an actual existence.  For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated (for faithful and true is he who established it.) but the fashion of the world passes away, that is those things among which transgression has occurred, since man has grown old in them.  Therefore he made this present fashion temporary . . . . When this present fashion passes away and man has been renewed  and flourishes in an incorruptible state so as to preclude the possibility of growing old,  then there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, in which man shall remain, always holding fresh converse with God.

The point of Irenaeus theology of the new creation is the belief that just as the human person has a teleology, passing from finite sinfulness into eternal glory, so to must all creation have a teleology, which, as in the case of man, involves not destruction but purification and renewal,    This is the burden of the highly suggestive text in Romans 5:  “Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected  it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” 

On the grounds of natural insight one might reasonably ask, especially as we know more about the history of nature itself, if it is likely that this vast drama of creation, proceeding from chaos to order,  from the age of the flying serpents to the zoo, a world of animals that man can and does dominate, in which the seasons are stable; if it is likely that, assuming the providence of God, this should come to nothing.    Looking at man and the world always as something being born rather than seeing it as destined for destruction undergirds a whole worldview that is distinctively Christian and which dominated imagination until the fifteenth century.   One of the most significant shifts in Chrisian imagination is the abandonment of the image of Christ returning to the new creation in favor of the crucifix, the image of Christ suffering that echoes in Christian life.   This in a sense represents the abandonment of future hope in favor of present experience, and it is the original de-eschatologicalization, not of course denying that Christ will return but refocusing thought and imagination on the present.  

People fall for the rapture theology because they want to believe that their lives come to something.  Part of that theology is the belief that true Christians will be spared the hard times called the tribulation.   But there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that suggests that believers are spared the troubles of the last days that are history between Christ’s first coming and his return.  But amidst these troubles it is reasonable and faithful to believe that the world and man in it is coming to something glorious.

Backwardism and Progress

It is remarkable that an Argentinian from Italy can think of a neologism that is translated “Backwardism,” proposed evidently as an antonym to progress, which is what the pope endorses and encourages. 

The dynamic of Backwardism versus Progressivism manages to obscure several important and highly relevant topics.   One is the doctrine of the Development of Doctrine, which proposes to unpack the original revelation given in Scripture and Tradition to create a body of intelligible and interrelated truths.  Christian doctrine has been developing from the original sketch through the mill of popular piety into careful consideration and promulgation by wisdom, the theological schools, and authority, the Church.  It is the specific claim of the Church that in the process nothing has changed in the sense that the end was implied by the beginning.   If this is progress it is progress of a particular and narrowly-based kind.  Examples of this process abound.  The teaching of the Apostle Peter intended to relieve the pressure of fervent expectation of the Lord’s return with the teaching that God of his mercy might delay winding up history for a long time is a fine early example of development.   The development of the doctrine or dogma of the Trinity is the classic example.   Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit required resolution in a doctrine which acknowledged the equality of the three while recognizing the Father as the origin of all.  Development is not progress as post-modernity understands it.

The concept of progress was implied if not invented by the secularizing movements of the eighteenth century, with the enlightenment claiming to bring civilization out of the dark past into the clear light of secularism and science, to leave behind the regimen of priests and kings, and to establish perfect liberty.  “The term “dark ages” was widely used by 19th-century historians as  in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt in 1860.    “Progress was assumed in early-19th-century social theories, especially social evolution as described by Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer.”  It was present in Enlightenment’s philosophies of history, as, for example, in  Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. As a goal, social progress has been advocated by varying realms of political ideologies with different theories on how it is to be achieved.   The Whig theory of history as progressive has become a common trope.   

It remained for the nineteenth century to make progress in the presupposition of thought and life.   The general conviction that the world was moving from inhuman conditions into a better world,  fostered by John Ruskin and Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Dickens, was caught up in the more systematic Hegelian myth and in the popular myth of  “March of Mind,”  which saw such things as the settling of the American West, undoubtedly an acquisition of land and an extension of power, as progress.   In the United Kingdom the reforms that enlarged the franchise were assumed to be progressive.   In politics in the United States progress blossomed as the Progressive Era (1896–1917),  “a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States focused on defeating corruption, monopoly, waste, and inefficiency.”  Begun in the United Kingdom, and derived ultimately from Robert Owen and from the Rochdale group, “the cooperative movement, based on mutual assistance rather than competitive individualism, proposed a  ‘New Moral World’ whose superiority, once established through the working of communities in which labor was the unit of currency, would drive out the irrationality of capitalism.” The First World War was a speed bump in the progressive movement, in its various manifestations but its advocates might have lived to see the era of Roosevelt progressivism.  But political change is no better than Francis Bacon as an interpreter of the moral meaning of human experience. 

Viewed as the fruition of Francis Bacon’s project for the utilization of nature, progressivism has been a stellar success.   If 1830 is taken as the base line, everything subject to the ingenuity of humanity has improved.   Average life expectancy was then 37; now it is in the eighties.  It took Andrew Jackson three weeks to travel from the Hermitage near Nashville to Washington in 1824. By 1860 the trip might have been made in a day.  After 1849, with the invention of the telegraph, information traveled at the speed of an electron moving along a copper wire. By 1880 slums were considered an urban embarrassment and the attempt to build better has been begun, often with the imposition of building codes. By 1940 life in the United States was not perfect. But the ‘ ‘standard of living” had reached a height heretofore unknown.   The history of the next century is the story of Baconian science triumphant, with belief that nature could be mined and controlled, which had characterized the world before 1940 incorporated in a much larger project involving ambitious goals:  fusion and fission, population control by state fiat and propaganda, Chemical sterility for the majority, scientific-medical determination of gender, universal instantaneous communication, imitation humans who are better than the  original, and finally control of the climate.  To the degree that the goal has remained the control of nature, who could deny that the Baconian project has been a great success.   In Baconian terms the world is much improved, even if more dangerous.

The difficulty with the scene of improvement I have set before you lies in the fact that the inheritors of the Baconian project have not themselves made progress, being the same creatures who started a war over a woman at Troy in the eighth century BC; the same creatures who will wreck the system as Brutus did when their opponent, Julius Caesar,  seems triumphant; the same creatures who will in England in 1520 destroy the religion of a people through pusillanimity and  fear and sycophancy; the same people who will not happily consent to the reduction of Social Security  benefits or an increase in taxation to save the system, which absent such measures will surely go bankrupt; the same people who stubbornly refuse to understand that the collapse of private morality will be reflected in the failure of public morality and vice versa.    

The tradition of the wise men, Confucius and Cicero, with Epictetus, to say nothing of the tradition of the Hebrews,  in one form or another provide  a kind of theoretical check on the folly of fallen mankind, with what Christians call “the fall” being a doctrine accepted across the world in one form or another; the Greeks knew all about hybris, which threatened all human projects from the smallest to the greatest.  The greatest moralists in the classical world, Aristotle and Epictetus, gave good advice, sometimes followed, but the wise men of the ancient world did not propose to renovate human nature.  There have been modern attempts.  Rousseau and Voltaire believed that there had been a kind of cosmic misunderstanding, which they proposed to clear away.  The belief in God, the moral tradition they had inherited, the regime of kings and priests, had imposed a morality of guilt and obedience that had warped human nature, which, once freed from this destructive past, would blossom.   A century later Sigmund Freud proposed another revision:  we had been mistaken in believing that conscious life defined personality. The disciples of Rousseau have their modern disciples aplenty Whether these proposed revisions in fact advanced knowledge of human nature is contentious, a matter of argument.   That they changed it is even more in doubt.   

That was reserved for Christianity, which came not only with laws and counsel but with power, the power to open the soul toward God and to fill it with the divine life itself through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. We are, says the Apostle Peter, called to participate in the divine nature, given the Holy Spirit as a living presence in Christian life.  

The reign of grace does not change human nature; it heals and elevates, producing the only condition that looks like progress, but is in fact restoration.  The difficulty with religious progressives is their tendency to draw an analogy between the success of the Baconian project and the illusion that human nature in itself has improved.   This in turn reinforces the progressive moral illusion that there could be such a thing as progress that would render some part of the moral canon moot.   For example, in moral theology this might mean that the two-thousand year old prohibition denying access to the Eucharist to those in mortal sin has been a mistake, or, alternatively, that the understanding of what constitutes mortal sin is a mistake.

Pope Francis obviously considers this, to mention only one of the proposed moral revisions, to be progress and progress, improvement, silently construed on the Baconian model,  to be self-evidently good.  Doctrine on this model does not so much develop, it progresses, so that it is possible that actions uniformly considered wrong can be right,

The word “backwardism” aimed at American Catholics could equally well be aimed at conservative American protestants.  Perhaps is has to do with the existence of a preference for the traditional Latin mass among some American Catholics.  But this is a small group; perhaps the Pope thinks the troublesome Bishop of Tyler represents American Catholics.   Would that this were true.   In any event, the progressive model has been progressively destructive, removing, among other things in the name of progress (and kindness, the only progressive virtue) the legal structure that supported marriage and piety. The only salvation lies in supporting and defending backwardism.  The Baconian model, in none of its forms,  is suitable for understanding the moral universe.    If Backwardism means fighting to preserve the great moral and moral-theological tradition, long may it live.

Can Faith Survive Socialism?

The obvious answer is no.   But first, what is socialism?  At the heart of socialism as a political movement from the beginning was distrust of individualism and a complementary conviction that the conceiving of culture as a collective whole organized for efficient production by the state, whose objectivity would enable it to overcome the inefficiencies and inequities of capitalism.  Elements of this political theory were adopted by the Labor Party in England and, with qualifications,  by the Democratic Party in the United States.  For both the traditional goals of politics, the administration of justice and the defense of the realm were obscured by an increasing willingness to see their role as the protectors of the poor and the middle class against the unreliability of market forces.  These working people were not so much interested in the theory or theories of Socialism.   In 1945 the British Labour Party took as their reward for supporting Churchill’s wartime government a national health service, the which to touch means political suicide.    

Socialism as a religion has no moment of transcendence; being as it is a systematic materialism.    Jesus had taught his followers not to be anxious about tomorrow, what they would eat, what they would wear;  our Father in heaven knows we need these things.   Socialism teaches the necessity of fighting to the end for a fair share of the social wealth, which means that, justly or unjustly, it wants someone else’s property.  Somewhere along the way the Christian vision of a world whose vision was fixed on the future, when Jesus would return in glory, succumbed to the essentially utopian vision of a world administered to give the poor (and the middle class) a fair share of the national wealth and in the end to blunt the consequence of the fall (disease, poverty) with universal health care and social insurance. 

  The evidence is that to the degree that this goal has been accomplished Christianity has vacated the field.    The Scandinavian countries are effectually post-Christian, while boasting programs that cushion the risk of living, not by outlawing capitalism but by taxing it to provide relief from the most-feared dangers of life:  unemployment and disease, a penurious old age, offering thereby a kind of salvation.  They are the bellwether followed by most western states, whose leaders have found ways to link free-market capitalism to domestic socialism.  

            Socialism slipped its nose under the Christin tent first by providing an alternative to Christian orthodoxy as that orthodoxy suffered blow after blow and then by co-opting the second great commandment.    Does not love of neighbor, mean desiring the best for everyone?   Does not care for the poor mean providing them as a minimum   a guaranteed income and health insurance?   And is not the government the best agent for securing these good outcomes?  And what can a religion shorn of a doctrine of creation (Darwinism) and without an eschatology (Schweitzer and Weiss) be but some version of moralistic therapeutic deism, seeking brotherhood among all, laboring to limit climate change, welcoming all, especially those whom traditional morality marginalizes, its vision firmly focused on this world.   In this new world Christianity is an outlier, with its belief in the Creator, its love of a divine-human person, its emphasis on the conversion of the heart, and its acceptance of suffering, and its contempt for “the world” in its character as “the kingdoms of this world” firmly in the domain of the Adversary (Mt 4:8–9).

 ‘Christian; Socialism was the trojan horse, attempting to combine the fundamental aims of socialism with the religious and ethical convictions of Christianity, promoting cooperation over competition as a means of helping the poor. The term was coined in Britain in 1848 after the failure of the reform movement known as Chartism. It is organized around a desire to meliorate the living and working conditions of the urban poor.  Perhaps it was John Ruskin who first excited interest in the condition of those living in dirty, vermin-infested tenements.  Typically they had moved to town to work in the factories or to enter domestic service.   They were poorly paid and ignorant.   Ruskin’s scheme was to move them back to the country, in aid of which he bought farmland, divided it into small plots, and proposed that the urban poor return to farming.  This was ineffectual but typical of the age of good intentions that was the middle decades of the nineteenth century.  F. D. Maurice attacked ignorance with the workingmen’s colleges.  There was the famous incident in which Newman entered into controversy with Sir Robert Peel over the Tamworth Reading Room.

            Before Socialism could become the religion of nations the old faith must be  Peal.  In the background during the last half of the nineteenth century was the question of the reliability of the Biblical text.  The ‘higher’ criticism challenged many widely held facts about the Old Testament, and Darwin’s account of the genesis of creatures could not be reconciled with the Biblical view.  But it was not until popular Christian belief suffered two damaging blows in the last half of the century that Christian Socialism invaded the churches of the Anglosphere.  First Darwinism then the Konsequent eschatologic movement delivered a one-two punch to popular Christianity;  no creator had created and established an ordered universe, Jesus was a failed prophet whose message that he would come again had proved false.   These opinions provided an opening for what came to be called Modernism, which proposed that  the betterment of the human condition was a goal that could replace the traditional Gospel, which had  been proved false by history:  no creator, no second coming.     

It was a perfect storm.  Just then, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century historicism, a philosophy built around Hegel’s Philosophy of History (E. T. !888), became academically reputable and in some circles dominant.   [Whatever subtleties Hegel may have intended the message was:  history is a self-justifying process that had no need of the transcendent God of Christianity.]  The great ecclesiastical establishments saw what was at stake,   Leo XIII wrote Lamentabili and Pascendi condemning  Modernism in   1907.   Presbyterian Fundamentalism, a work of 1910,   was a deliberate attempt to contradict the  Modernist theses.  

            These movements in theology and philosophy matured in the age of McKinley and Roosevelt while a parallel movement in politics that did not need the qualifier Christian was becoming important.   The word  socialism was used by Pierre Leroux, in the Parisian journal Le Globe in 1832.  Leroux was a follower of Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the founders of what would later be labeled utopian socialism. Socialism rejected the liberal doctrine of individualism that emphasized the importance of the moral agency of every person in favor of the collection of the state. The original utopian socialists condemned this doctrine of individualism for failing to address social concerns, including poverty, oppression, and vast wealth inequality during the Industrial Revolution. They viewed capitalism as harming community life by basing the economy on competition. They presented socialism as an alternative to liberal individualism based on the shared ownership of resources. Saint-Simon proposed economic planning, scientific administration and the application of scientific understanding to the organization of society. By contrast, Robert Owen proposed to organize production and ownership via cooperatives; in  Britain it was  Owen who became one of the fathers of the cooperative movement.

            Much time could be spent on another day in examining the relation between the acceptance in part of the socialist program with its relentless materialism and the general debasing of culture in the pursuit of pleasure. 

            To return to the original question:  can faith survive socialism? If we mean Christianity as dominant in the culture, the answer is that to date it hasn’t been done.  As active Church membership has slipped below fifty percent in the United States transfer payments have reached record levels.   It was Sir William Harcourt, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer who in the 1880s coined the phrase:  “We are all Socialists now.”   It is to be remembered that Socialism means different things to political scientists and ordinary folk.   To the political scientists it is a theory in political economy with many interesting variations.   To ordinary people it means, whether called by that name or not, a system providing some confidence in the future.    Of course a Christian would reply that the future Socialism guarantees is short and secular, ultimately debasing.   But the evidence is that this, while true, doesn’t matter. 

            In fairness, urbanism means socialism as defined above, for the poor and middle classes will not, or cannot, be trusted to save for old age, and lacking a collective safety net would fall into chaos.   

The Working Class and Others

One definition is: those who have nothing to sell but their labor.  But this immediately degenerates into an unmanageable ambiguity.    This is not simply the lineman and plumber; it may include the computer programmer and the bank clerk and the teacher.    It describes a condition of property lessness, characteristic of many who came to live in industrial cities in the nineteenth century, the poor in the age of Jackson and Grant, of Victoria, often depicted by Dickens.  

It is a tribute to capitalism and socialism in the West that this class has largely disappeared, property lessness being ameliorated by social security and other safety networks, and by a generally rising market economy.  It is difficult to find persons without social security;  64% of Americans own their homes and 32% have a 401K, while private pension plans are numerous.  This is not to say that there are no more propertyless persons.

Often the working class is not imagined economically but according to slippery defining characteristics.   Working with one’s hands, laboring manually, should define a member of the working class, but this definition catches piano tuners, the folk who hold the “Slow” sign at the site of street repairs, the cable tv repairman who can climb the pole as well as figure out just which of the little wires is disconnected, the HVAC installer, the bricklayer, the finish carpenter and hundred of other hands-on projects, and a vast range of ‘tech’ workers.   Interestingly, tech people who now inhabit offices by the thousands are not considered working class, although they are now often the landless peasants of post-modernity. Among some of these, especially in the building trades, craftsmanship survives. Then there is the popular image of the working man, who used to drink Bud Light, drives an F150, who finished High School but did not go to college, who usually thinks religion is a good thing whether he does much of it or not, and whose moral education is various.   A good number of these folks are technically racist; they sometimes compete with African-Americans.  These are the folks from among whom come a disproportionate number of the soldiers and sailors that make the projection of American power possible.  They are to be found mostly in the South and Midwest.   They are usually decent.  They do the dry-wall,  bring the mail, manage the McDonald’s,  man the Seven Eleven, mow the lawn.  At its upper edge is the Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus, where working men culture overlaps with the bourgeoisie.   They read People.  Only at the very top edge of this ‘class’ will anyone listen to PBS; they are glued to Fox or Newsmax.  

 If “working class” cannot be defined functionally, there are other characteristics.  They are united against a class the dimensions of which they probably discern but dimly.   It is a class whose members feel responsible for rearranging society  to amend social ills, especially inequality; they are theoretically socialists although they are often haut bourgeois rentiers, living off the capital somebody in Oklahoma bequeathed to them. They graduated from a northeastern college; they read the Atlantic,  Washington Post, and New York Times.  They are located disproportionately in the Northeast.  They know wine.  They know opera.  They listen to PBS. They are generally untroubled by religion.   Sometimes they are refugees from the midwest.   Their careers are in law, finance, academia, government, and the nonprofit world.  Their charities are not libraries and schools but projects working men do not understand and, when they do understand them, view with apathy or hostility;  more birth control in Kenya, equality projects in Louisiana, climate melioration in Morocco.   . 

The realities that bind the elites to working men, making them citizens of one country,  are the tax system, national elections, and Delta Airlines.   How did the separation between the elite and workingmen develop?   National organisms and organizations that had been national became regional or sectional.   The national religions, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholicism have to some degree become regional, with conservative Protestants, often in rebellion from the national church, located disproportionately in the South and Midwest.  The political parties that have always been sectional to some degree have become decidedly more so.   It is difficult for a democrat to gain state office south of the Potomac, and impossible  for a Republican to be elected in a blue city.   National elections will depend upon the outcome in fours states—we pretty well know how the other forty seven will vote.  All universities are to some degree woke, but red state universities are generally less woke.  It would be interesting to have someone do a study of the differences in student culture between Texas A & M and the University of Massachusetts, the differences if not dramatic might still be significant.  Working men country is still marginally closer to mother earth than the elite northeast.  Not only is the farm likely to still be in the family, but if you are rich in Dallas as well as a townhouse in 75205 you have a ranch.   Elite folks ski in Colorado or Switzerland, where they may own a chalet.  They listen to PBS and CNN.  

To seal the differences between these two cultures, the high priestess of elitism, running hard to be the first woman elected president, called working men deplorable.    That crystallized the differences between working men’s culture (and their allies in the bourgeois middle class) and the elite.  [Incidentally, someone with a sympathetic eye should study the American bourgeoisie middle class, which thrives on a mixture of capitalism and socialism.]  The ‘deplorables’ remark, which had force because it represented the contempt of not just one woman but of elite, left working men with a permanent sense of resentment, not least because as Massachusetts has always done, the elite proceeded to activate, passive aggressively, the southern racial minority against the majority.     But a more substantive difference was on the question of access.   The elite controlled the national capital and its culture, the means of communication,  existential access to power, to senators, to the national press.   

But the working men found a populist champion, a champion who could not be defunded because he had enough money,  and who understood the resentment, who now represents the interests of working men,  the degree to which this alliance is cynical on his part being left to individual insight,   [Another study needs to be made of just why the elites hate the populist champion.  It is true that he dislikes the bureaucracy and might try to dismantle it, but the contempt is visceral and runs deeper. Why?]   There are analogies to his political success.   One thinks of the liberal party’s victory in 1906, which ended Tory dominance for a generation, but a more apt analogy may be the rise of Benito Mussolini in 1921  It is important to understand the very personal connection that working men feel with their hero,  who repeatedly says, they are coming after you, I’m just standing in the way.     This resonates because it is true, “they,” understood to be the elite bureaucracy, are coming after your truck—they want you to buy an electric car, which is intuitively understood to be an attack on freedom—they want  your natural gas heaters, and most importantly they want you children; they want you son to consider seriously the possibility that he may be a girl, and they want your children to start thinking about sex when they are six.    On top of this the elite intuitively despise your religion as a matrix for racism and resistance to wokeism.  

This is the situation, and it is unlikely that anyone from the right can achieve political power without earning the loyalty of the working men and women who flock to his rallies.   A kind of moral sense exists among them as well as a sense of independence, and   because they are often not quite propertyless, there exists a fierce defense of what they have.

Wrong Order

Last week it was suggested that everything matters because everything is properly an expression of the order of God’s own glory, with glory identified as the transcendent ground not only of ideas but of every event, action, and object, its highest term being Christ Glorified, with the art of living being the summary expression of glory with holiness in this life the anticipation of eternal glory. 

Glory promotes in this life an order which it imposes in eternity, the order of glory.   That this is not recognized as such by many is not disqualifying; our history began in rebellion against God’s order.   What the left-minded call Fascism, to the confusion of those ignorant of Woke political philosophy, is order gone wrong, or order they see as illegitimately proposed and inauthentically imposed, order that is superficial, not rooted in broad consent, Thus to argue that there are two genders or to defend the family or to disapprove of deviant sexual behavior is for the Woke on its face the imposition of an alien and unjust order.   Parents who want their children taught to use the pronouns of Tennyson or Shakespeare, like traditional Catholics, who are suspected of doubting that the state is the ultimate authority, are a shame and a scandal, to be suppressed.      

The twentieth century offers several examples of attempts to impose a cultural-political order by violence.  The number of Russians who really wanted Marxism will always be unknown, but there is enough evidence that the system in the beginning was not a majority movement but was imposed by the revolutionary zeal of  bourgeois theoreticians.   Similarly, long before the 1939 start of World War II, Adolf Hitler proclaimed a ‘European New Order’ publicly on 30 January 1941: “The year 1941 will be, I am convinced, the historical year of a great European New Order!.”  Peronism in Argentina and Bolivarian Populism in Venezuela are examples of order imposed nationally having the consent of part of the population.  All of these imposed orders are inimical to human flourishing; some, National Socialism, Marxism, Wokeism are demonic.   

All are substitutes for the Christian order that prevailed before 1789, the principal character of this order being the inculturation of Christianity by way of God-approved Kingship, with religion rooted in a near-universally practiced liturgy which reflected a common morality, a situation now unimaginable.  The old order was hierarchical, which endured for about a thousand years, reflected the fact that creation and every classical political order is hierarchical, including contemporary egalitarian, democratic political orders, in which hierarchies of wealth and power are carefully disguised, while the real hierarchy of morality and beauty is suppressed.  

The splintering of Christendom, with its complex causes, followed by the Peace of Westphalia, with its cuius regio eius religio (whose the  regime, his the religion)  doomed that order, and since that time there has been a struggle, sometimes violent as in Spain in the thirties, sometimes contained within a political system, between the remnant of the old Christian order and various attempts to stabilized government and culture on a popular basis such as the consent of the governed, with the old Christian order dying (politically), slowly, under the assault of rationalism packaged as science, presenting itself as a better alternative to the older un-scientific order.   What is now taking place is the last act of this drama, with Progressivism (now Woke) challenging the cultural space occupied as recently as the 1950s by the ghost of the old order.

The difficulty at the heart of cultural unrest is the existential fact that no cultural-political order is effective, or even legitimate, unless it is rooted in the heart of the people it proposes to represent and, in a sense, govern, which is more than the consent of the governed.  This dissonance occurs when an older order is failing because it has become inorganic, dissociated from the heart of the culture.   It happened in the late eighteenth century when the feudal order collapsed.  It happened in the twentieth century, becoming obvious in the 1960s and institutionally dominant by 2000, as what we might call the bourgeoise order, with its notes of responsibility, property, and religion gradually collapsed.   In both of these examples the old organic order was unable to defend itself culturally.  Not that it lacked adherents, but in the contest the best lacked zeal and the worst displayed demonic energy.   Resistance was scattered and was itself divisive.  The zip had gone out of the old culture.  In a sense the payoff for Deism was the French Revolution.   The payoff for the abandonment of revelation in the early twentieth century is wokeness.  

Be it remembered that the sixties  were the days of the ‘Death of God’ theology;  In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God was published, arguing that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, concluding that for the modern mind “God is dead.”   An Emory religion professor Thomas J. J. Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry; however, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming belief in a transcendent God.  The October 1965 and April 1966 issues of Time featured the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. The April issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: “Is God Dead?”   And not to forget Paul van Buren and William Hamilton.  Somehow Dietrich Bonhoeffer got caught up in this movement.   Had it not struck a nerve It would never have achieved currency in the theological communities; probably it never really penetrated popular Christianity.  Certainly not the Roman Church.    But you could feel the starch leaching out of the professional academic class and their book-reading colleagues in the broader population.   

It occurred to everyone all at once that God really might be dead as far as American and Western European culture was concerned. The movie “The Graduate” told the story.    What the civilization for which hundreds of thousands had died in two world wars was a career in plastics and a tryst with one’s fiancé’s mother.  The seeds of hatred of western civilization, now a university commonplace, was planted by books such as The Making of a Counterculture and Paul Goodman and Herbert Marcuse.  Reason, as represented by Aristotle, was now under attack.   I recall that friendly author remarking that he was a bit ashamed of his book, which I had asked him to sign, because rational defenses of Christianity, which his work offered, were now impossible.    

The difficulty was that the Death of God theology, perceptive as it was in a gently cynical sense, left the remnants of Christian civilization naked in the public square.   The sixties saw the de-criminalization of homosexual behavior with Illinois in 1961, no fault divorce began in California in 1969.  The birth prevention pill became universally available in 1963, the year of Kennedy’s assassination in November. The Vietnam War festered, hated by the communicating class, ambiguously supported in the general population, finally, by 1969, requiring 500,000 US troops, only to lose to the rag-tag North Vietnamese Communists amid a repudiation of the cause by prominent Christians:  William Sloan Coffin and the Berrigans.   Contributing significantly to the unsettling of American religion was the Second Council of the Vatican.  Whatever the intention of the Council was, it succeeded in showing that there was nothing permanent; the Church, in Tolkien’s words, ceased being a refuge and became a trap.  Catholics, having been told for 400 years that the mass of Pius V was sacrosanct were confronted with change that occurred in a day, replacing the august Latin of perhaps seventeen centuries with a liturgy not so much wrong as ordinary and marginally patient of the banal.   In 1967 the Episcopal Church replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with the Green Book, thereby destroying on of the props of the English language   In the same year in a resolution supporting changes in abortion laws, the General Convention expressed its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.”  

When the hope of glory goes, what remains is corruption and decay.  There was no will to resist these rebellions and innovations.  The unraveling of the mainline protestant denominations begun intellectually in the sixties worked its way through church culture until in 2022 there were two varieties of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, the issue being the behavior for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, now defended by the Mainlines.  And not to suggest that this and related moral issues have not put the Roman Church under great stress. 

The response to this catastrophic decay has all too often been an attempt to restore Christian culture or Christian civilization.  Restoration is noble and foredoomed because the arena in which the war must be pursued is only secondarily and marginally civilization.  The battle is fought in two arenas not accessible to politics, the heavens, the realm of glory, where the battle goes on until the end, and the human heart, and while the first of these must be left to the powers and authorities, the second presupposes the mystery of conversion, which is the work of the Holy Spirit wrought upon witness.  On the years before Constantine, when Hellenistic culture was certainly debased and the leadership often depraved,  the fathers took little notice; generally,  they wrote about the truth and prayed.

Democracy and Danger

Mr. Eden in the house the other day expressed pain at the occurrences in Greece, ‘the home of democracy.’  Is he ignorant or insincere?  ‘Democracy’ was not in Greek a word of approval but was nearly equivalent to ‘mob-rule.’                                           

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1944

          The United States as a polity has survived for 247 years because it was not and still is not a democracy.   Our government as it happened was envisioned as a constitutional republic, in a world of monarchies, variously absolutist (Austria-Hungary, Prussia) or constitutional (United Kingdom) .  The term republic, res publica, is from Cicero, the public thing or public arrangement.   There was an ancient Roman  republic pre-Augustus, admired by no less than St. Augustine, that had, as Aristotle might have predicted, devolved into a euphemistically presented autocracy.   Attempts to revive the republican model in its native terrain had been ephemeral.    But there were certain characteristics that belonged  (at least in theory) toe republican government:  a constitution, written or unwritten, a ruling oligarchy,  a numerous and successful m middle class, broad consent of the governed, and a restricted or qualified franchise, limiting electoral power to property owners or others thought foresightful.  Founded as a republic, the United States has become more and more a democracy:  abolition of any property qualifications, direct election of senators, proposed abolition of the electoral college (which represents states not populations}, expansion of suffrage so that in some cases citizenship is not required.   

           Above and beyond these considerations there was and remains the question of authority.   For the Hellenistic world in which Aristotle wrote his Politics, authority came from the gods, and government was instituted with prayer and sacrifices.  In Rome the Capital was associated with the worship of Jupiter, the Father of all. In the Christin monarchies that followed, the prince was installed at a coronation assumed to represent the blessing of God with whose authority the prince then ruled. 

          In the anglosphere what remained of the theory of the divine right of kings was stringently qualified after 1689 by the theory that authority came from the consent of the govern med., a doctrine formalized by John Locke in the Second treatise      Republican government was largely an invention of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.  It took different forms:  the quasi-constitutionalism of 1689 in England, the revolutionary republic of France after 1789.  Authority no longer descended from God, giving the king or prince rule by divine right.   This was essentially settled when the axe fell on Charles I in 1648.   

          In the late eighteenth century there were books and authorities; the world was full of theories: Hobbes,  John Locke, Montesquieu, the Cromwellian experiment, and above all in the background Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics..  And there was Aquinas.    “In his later years, in the Summa Theologica, Aquinas proposed a hybrid of the three. The best form of government, he argued, would be one where a monarch would be kept in check by a group of elected aristocrats who were put into power by a polity of the masses.”  It is difficult to know whether  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison ever read Aquinas, but they were influenced by these ideas five hundred years later as they wrote the founding documents of America.  They resemble Aristotle’s prescription for the best government.  

          If authority is not divine, the prince is the people.     Authority in the American republic was to have two sources;  the consent of the governed framed by certain truths held to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which rights were to be rendered specific by the Constitution.  Whether these truths are in fact self-evident, as well as the definition  of ‘equal,’ have become increasingly vexed over two centuries,  In American jurisprudence it is toxic to make reference to something as harmlessly transcendent as natural law.   This leaves democracies with the appeal to themselves.   First Things quotes Oliver O’Donovan The Desire of the Nations:

 The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private , local, and un-political purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive, moral debilitation, which from time to time inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions

          Lacking any transcendent ground for their authority, democracies are not especially stable because they are subject to the political passions of the electorate,   an electorate that inevitably increases from the limited numbers of those fulfilling certain qualifications as the founding of a republic to an expanded franchise that does not sometimes include non-citizens.  Masculine republics (valuing justice and truth) give away to feminine democracies (responding to electoral priorities), and feminine democracies give way to tyranny.  “Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.”  “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”  Thus Aristotle.  

In democracies the masses, that is you and I, are notoriously subject to short term interests, passions, and resentments, and more than a little subject to the influence of demagogues, political leaders who seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of the electorate rather than to justice.  And causes do not always mean a leader; they simply need a cause.   The hard times of the thirties and forties were laid on by the failure of liberal democracy: in Italy in 1921, in Germany in 1933, in Spain in  1936.   In two of these the idea of a political savior who would set things right and avenge past wrongs  [ It could be argued that democracy was weakened in the United states by the economic measures of Franklin Roosevelt, who, had he lived until 1948 might well have been elected again. ]  In the case of Italy, Germany and Spain, the precondition for the collapse of democracy was a bitterly divided people. 

          Who should have stopped the slide of these governments into self-destruction?    Aristotle and Aquinas would have answered that it is the business of the wise men, the aristocrats or ‘ ‘the best ” to have put a halt to the descent of societies into chaos.   Where are the wise men unmoved by political passions and dedicated to the political peace and good of the country?    Such men are, alas, the products of a culture and of an education.    

The salvation of contemporary democracy lies in keeping the attention of the population carefully focused on their economic blight, ministering to that successfully and avoiding deeper questions, but those questions will arise.

Oppression and Its Victims in a Perfect World

Presented at Text & Talk with Dr Patrick – Saturday, 17 June 2023

Oppression and its victims are not to my knowledge topics heavily canvassed in Hebrew culture, classical or medieval culture.   It is remarkable that in the Old Testament God is the defender of the poor and the judge of usurers and oppressors, the poor, we would say economically disadvantaged, the vast majority of the population, were not conceived to be victims.  In the New Testament, not only the poor in spirit, the humble, but the poor generally were considered blessed, and the entire moral apparatus of the Gospel of Matthew is directed toward the ultimate reward of those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.     Wealth, on the other hand, is seen as a stumbling block, a frustrum, capable of keeping souls out of the kingdom if they became attached to it and confident in its safety.    As far as I know, neither the slaves who threatened Rome with servile rebellion nor the peasants who revolted in the fourteenth century were considered victims of an oppressive system.

The absence of the categories victim and oppressor is due in part to a deep seated belief ensconced in a hierarchical society that the order of things in the world, down to and particularly including every man and woman, was the result of God’s providential will.   

The makers of Upstairs, Downstairs depicted the butler Hudson offering evening grace in the servants hall of Eaton Place recognizing that God is to be thanked for putting them in the place they occupy as servants of the Bellamys.   That represented, about 1900, the end of something.  The undermining of these ideas had deeper roots.    There was that contemporary of the Bellamys  Hudson, one Karl Marx, who thought that “oppression largely involved the consciousness of being forced into living an undesirable life.” By which standard most of the world was oppressed.

For Lenin, “the key was for the Great Russian working class and the revolutionary party to make clear their unequivocal opposition to every manifestation of Great Russian oppression, privilege and racism. The party had to be the leader in fighting for equality of language rights, equality of education and of cultural rights.”  One wonders how many of the millions who died at the hands of Russian Marxism shared these concerns.

But something happened along the way to the twenty-first century.     And what happened was rationalism, the popularity of the conviction that the knowledge could be gained and the condition of mankind ameliorated by reason alone.  Rationalism and revolution are twins. The philosophers of the eighteenth century, determined to philosophize without God, wrote as though a perfect world, hitherto fore obscured by the fraudulent claims of the Church, was now within reach.   Voltaire so despised the Christian dogma of the Original Sin that he actually wrote one long treatise dedicated to this, which he titled Pache Originel.  

This doctrine, according to Voltaire, is an insult to God.  [Here one might remember the revolutionary attempts to make a religion out of worship of the goddess Reason.]   Rousseau was not quite so vehement, but the Christian doctrine of original sin could not survive in the context of Rousseau’s theory of original goodness.   

But this doctrine, far from being a mere ecclesiastical footnote, is the lynchpin of Christian thought and practice, the first presupposition of a system that requires a Savior for a race caught inescapably in a condition that as it justifies the necessity for punishment of the great rebellion explains the conditions of partial achievement and partial  discomfort and dissatisfaction in which ordinary people live.    It is the doctrine of original sin that explains what is to contemporary Christians a scandal:  Saint Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which Paul advised a beloved servant to be a good slave to the glory of God.  What undergirded this view was the belief that slavery was emblematic of the condition of every man, with slavery to sin seen as worse than bondage.   

Without recognition of the fact of original sin philosophy enthusiastically opens upon a utopian world and it follows that the often unsatisfactory conditions of human life must be the result of human failure, although since that failure cannot be personal it must be political, and if it is political it ought to be set right through reason itself.   What followed was the abolition of feudalism, the remnant of the dying system of promises and obligations that had provided social stability for about a thousand years, with its own set of securities and injustices,  in favor of  the new industrial system that Marx so much hated.  [In this forum we have often pondered: why did so many leave the gentle hills of the Cotswolds or the lush terrain of the Midlands for Leeds or Manchester?]

Chronologically, the first opportunity to test the new theory of the perfectibility of everything came just as the marriage between rationalism and revolution was consummated.   Slavery, which had all but disappeared in Europe, made a dramatic comeback when the plantations of the British and Spanish empires needed cheap labor, slavery being the least expensive.  The system, the evils of which will not be cataloged here, offered an ideal opportunity to test the theory that all men should be free in the modern sense.    Thus for about a century, until 1865, those parts of Europe that were involved in the settlement of the new world fought a war against the oppression of slavery.    Who was the British critic; was it Samuel Johnson, who pointed out the irony of the eighteenth century American defense of freedom in a social context that tolerated slavery?   It had to go.   What went with it were many very bad things, but also something good:  the acceptance of the truth that in a fallen world there will for most of mankind always be bondage of some kind.   

Naturally, in a new world that did not labor under the disabilities previously attributed to original sin, in which no one was responsible for the vast cavalcade of human follies that characterized human society, in which the world if it could be perfected should be,  other victims of oppression were identified.   Patriarchy had been considered normal and inescapable, established by divine revelation in the third chapter of Genesis, which had pronounced as Eve’s punishment difficulty in childbearing and this:  your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.   [The same text condemned the descendants of Adam to labor against a resistant nature, and punished the entire race with death.]  Although Christianity transformed Genesis 3 with Ephesians 5, the ideal of mutual obedience, patriarchy survived and flourished.   

In 1793 William Godwin published Political Justice,  arguing that “humanity will inevitably progress: it argues for human perfectibility and enlightenment”  Political Justice is … first and foremost a critique of political institutions. Its vision of human perfectibility is anarchist in so far as it sees government and related social practices such as property monopoly, marriage and monarchy as restraining the progress of mankind. “Godwin proposes a society in which human beings use their reason to decide the best course of action.”   From Political Justice to John Stuart Mill’s 1861 “The Subjugation of Women,”  through  the novels of Thomas Hardy to Betty Friedan is a straight line arguing that women have been victims for millennia and must now be freed.  

It is part of  the perfect world theory that progress requires the dismantling of every law, form, tradition, manners and custom, and finally of nature itself, which in giving form to human life is seen as oppressive.   Having done away with acknowledging the imperfect form of human life as of divine decree, it is now loudly proclaimed that oppression is simultaneously everybody’s’ and nobodies’ fault .  It is built into the system and until consciousness is reformed to see oppression for what it is, there will be near-universal victimhood.   

This is an aspect of oppression that is largely missed in popular culture when we consider whether we or others are being oppressed. Indeed, when living day to day in concert with the constraints of a given cultural milieu, we seldom consider whether we are actually being oppressed. Instead, we tend to think that one who wants to live according to the constraints of her culture is making a free choice.

Here is a different concept of oppression in contrast to the Marxian one, that of “willing” rather than “forced” slavery. Indeed, a significant number of women living in the United States today (those who have what social workers call a “victim mentality”) still believe they are lucky to be under the control of men who treat them abusively or like possessions. (Wikipedia)

An African who is reasonably content with his or her situation is, under this paradigm obviously oppressed, a victim of systematic fascism which is no one’s fault but is pervasive.    Obviously these oppressed victims must be liberated.   So must those enslaved by heteronormativity, by the belief that anything is normal, or tending to reflect the norm or rule.  

Since the pervasive oppression that threatens universally is nobodies’ fault, the fault must lie in the political system, which must be seen as itself oppressive and against which on a certain day violence of any kind is justified.   The failure of the cultural ability to accept the brokenness of nature and human nature, the project to remand all evil, even all discomfort, to the faults of political society has created at center the culture of grievance and disappointment and at the margins  the culture of the enraged.