Americanism is an interesting concept: one form is a heresy, while the other just refers to the native genius of America. Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae about these two forms: “certain endowments of mind which belong to the American people, just as other characteristics belong to various other nations, and…your political condition and the laws and customs by which you are governed…” or 2) “…the confounding of license and liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, [and] the assumed right to hold whatever opinion one pleases on any subject and to set them forth in print to the world…” Delighting in the first is not only lawful but necessary for any red-blooded American. The second describes the malaise of our times: nothing is sacred and everything is permitted.
Pope Leo XIII
To the wrongheaded Americanism, I might also add the confounding of America’s will with God’s will. We are right to think that God has especially blessed this country; but, we are only blessed to the extent to which we adhere to God’s will. We can and have erred in our history. Our particular endowments, characteristics, and political conditions do not count as the universal human standard.
Many of our dear readers may have noticed that this year marks the hundredth anniversary of the plague of communism being released upon the world. As we look back the the October Revolution of 1917 and how the Red Menace afflicted the 20th century, we ought to recall the significant factors which led to the fall of the Russian Tsar Nicolas II. In doing so, the American reader will be surprised about how the political landscape of turn of the 20th century Russia recalls present day America.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky on the left. Maxim Gorky on the right.
Yours truly first became interested in the similarities between Russia and America while reading Leftism: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse by Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddhin. (If you want a deep understanding of the roots of Leftist politics in the French Revolution and its history up to the mid-twentieth century, there is no better book.) He recalls a series of meetings between MacArthur and a Russian leader. They were quite cordial, and MacArthur one day remarked about how friendly the Russian was towards him:
Reading Fultin Sheen’s Treasure in Clay offers the reader many great insights. One of the best comes in the following quote:
The curious would like me to open healed wounds; the media, in particular, would relish a chapter which would pass judgment on others, particularly because, as a French author expressed it: [n]ous vivons aux temps des assassins–“we live in days of assassins”–where evil is sought more than good in order to justify a world with a bad conscience. (310)
This idea is salient on the question of social justice vs. individual justice, over which Sheen claims Vatican II was debated. Moderns have in large part discarded individual for social justice. In doing so, they can see the collective guilt of societies, but not the guilt of their own souls. To them, righteousness is something gained by being on the right side, not through individual deeds.
I recently finished reading Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror, by Walter R. Newell, and I highly recommend it to the student of history. Newell takes the reader on a curated journey through the history of Western tyranny (with the occasional detour to the East), treating in turn the ancient world, the birth of the modern state, and the revolutionary terror that that has reared its ugly head ever since the French Revolution. Along the way, Newell identifies three primary types of tyrants: the garden variety, the reformer, and (most salient of all) the millenarian.
The garden-variety tyrant is what perhaps springs immediately to mind when most people think of a tyrant: a ruler who wields absolute (or near-absolute) power for his own benefit, caring only about the good of the nation insofar as it contributes to his personal schemes. Examples include tyrants of early Greece (though some of these were perhaps constrained by the knowledge that ambitious fellow chieftains might try to dethrone them should they rule too immoderately), and some of the Roman emperors.
These days, America is storm-tossed by endless political debate, the 24-hour news cycle, haranguing, and even physical combat over Trump’s government. I wonder why people don’t want to calm down? Trump has done nothing to harass U.S. citizens. Sure, he’s ramped up deportations of illegal aliens, but these are not citizens nor individuals endowed with constitutional rights. The threat of two wars may be looming–“may be” are the operative words. But, ach, why does anyone put themselves through such an aggravating and inconclusive thing as politics?
A clear thinker would point out that a community’s common good is the goal for any true politician. He strives to implement policies intended for the general welfare, public order, moral behavior (as much as the law can prudently enforce), and the defense of life, liberty, and property. Many competing avenues exist on to how to produce the public good, which we see in schools of philosophy and economics: Austrian Economics, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, capitalism, capitalism, communism, fascism, Islam, monarchy, constitutionalism, democracy, etc. All these modes claim to effect the best possible society.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I’ve previously reviewed Kindly Inquisitors: New Attacks on Free Thought by Jonathan Rauch. Rauch was very concerned that Progressive Liberalism, aka Marxism, with its ideas of political correctness and hate speech codes was the greatest threat to freedom of speech in the West. Liberals promote political correctness in the name of not offending people (the humanitarian angle), but they also have prescribed ideas of what accounts as offensive dialogue and refuse to admit ideas or topics which run against their political ideology (fundamentalism). Hence, if you combine these two factors, one rightly dubs them “Humanitarian Fundamentalists.” Their philosophy is no less dangerous to free debate than Islamic fundamentalism or other kinds of religious fundamentalism.
Note that Rauch’s subtitle goes deeper than freedom of speech. The title calls out “New Attacks on Free Thought.” Words express ideas. If one cannot speak the words, the ideas attached to these unspoken words die a slow death. What good is a Christian who refuses to show his faith to others for fear of his peers’ opinion? A person who will not speak of his faith in times of peace will not defend it in times of persecution. Political correctness with its litany of sins (sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.) tries to prevent people from voicing legitimate concerns when dialogue sheers away from mindless equality. The very fact that there are men and women, different races, different cultures, different expressions of sexuality, and different religions implies inequality. If all was the same, why would we have names to mark distinctions?
I just thought that I’d share Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech, which he delivered during the candidacy of Barry Goldwater for president. I can’t think of a better speech delivered in recent memory, and it should be a real treat for liberty-loving Americans who have never hear it before.