In View

Election Night in the Neighborhood

On November 3, I waited for the election returns at the Ridgewood, Queens headquarters of my congressional candidate, Dennis Shea. The 31-year-old nominee of the Republican and Conservative parties ran an extraordinary campaign against incumbent Tom Manton, the check-bouncing Queens County Democratic boss.

The seat, once held by Geraldine Ferraro, had been in Democratic hands since 1948 and was considered by most pundits as impregnable. Dennis Shea, Harvard Law School Graduate and counsel to Senator Dole, viewed it from a different perspective. In early 1992, he left his job in Washington to give up a year of his life because he believed that regardless of the election’s outcome, he wanted to give something back to the neighborhood, parish, and family that provided him with the virtues he needed to attain a slice of the American Dream.

Before the New York polls closed, it was apparent that the President was going down the tubes. I was frantic that Bush would drag down our local candidates.

My neighborhood, Ridgewood, Queens, is Reagan Democrat Country. This ethnic working-class area (dubbed “Archie Bunker land” in the ’70s) overwhelmingly supported Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. But in 1965, a change began to take place in the citizenry’s voting pattern. William F. Buckley, Jr., the Conservative Party candidate for mayor received over 30 percent of the vote. In 1968, 65 percent of the vote was cast against Humphrey, and in the 1970 Senate race, Conservative James Buckley received 66 percent of the ballots cast. Nixon in ’72 garnered 80 percent of the vote and Reagan went on to carry the area by similar margins.

Ridgewood was a microcosm of the shifting political allegiance of America’s working-class people. These voters embraced politicians who portrayed themselves as the antithesis of cultural liberalism. Tired of being ridiculed by the social engineers, they turned to Ronald Reagan because he viewed these local defenders of traditional values as America’s real heroes: “parents who sacrifice long and hard so their children will know a better life than they’ve known; church and civic leaders who help to feed, clothe, nurse, and teach the needy; millions who have made our nation and our nation’s destiny so very special—unsung heroes who may not have realized their own dreams themselves, but then who reinvest those dreams in their children.”

The results from polling places began to pour in about 10:30 P.M. Dennis Shea lost, but he received 46 percent of the vote—the best showing in a quarter-century. Everyone in the headquarters was dejected, but news came in that lifted our spirits: the “pothole” U.S. Senator, Al D’Amato, carried the area with over 65 percent of the vote. Serphin Maltese, our incumbent Republican State Senator was re-elected with 70 percent. Unlike the 1964 Goldwater debacle, Bush’s defeat did not drag down local Republicans.

In New York, Clinton received his largest plurality—he carried the State by 1 million votes. Yet working-class Reagan Democrats who punished Bush stuck with Republicans who stood with them. Al D’Amato was re-elected, Republicans picked up a congressional seat and maintained control of the State Senate. On the national level the results were similar; Republicans picked up seats in State legislatures, the House of Representatives, and held their own in the U.S. Senate. The election was solely a rejection of George Bush.

Back in 1988, George Bush mistakenly believed the American electorate specifically wanted him in the Oval Office. His advisors, the so-called pragmatists, smugly referred to the Reagan Presidency as the Pre-Bush era. They were all wrong—the people voted for Bush because they figured he was the closest thing they could get to a third Reagan term.

George Bush perceived the presidency, not as a bully pulpit, but as a mechanic’s shop. Governing to him meant being the consummate insider, the compromiser who tinkers with the machinery of government. For George Bush, expressing philosophical beliefs was unmanly. He was the patrician—bred to rule—who preferred the inside corridors to the hustings.

As president, George Bush betrayed the Reagan coalition. The man who stated in 1988, “I’m getting this vision thing down pretty good,” turned out to be an empty suit. He sold out on taxes, quotas, and government regulations.

In his fine new biography Theodore Roosevelt, Nathan Miller describes President William Howard Taft with these words:

Taft had honesty; he had integrity but he lacked Roosevelt’s ability to appeal to the average American. He did not have Roosevelt’s catlike grace in working both sides of the political street without permanently crossing from one side to another. Nor did he have the explosive vitality that Roosevelt had used to keep mutually antagonistic factions subordinate to his leadership…. Taft had been a follower not a leader.

Read that paragraph again, but this time substitute the names Bush and Reagan.

It is interesting to note that all the mechanics who occupied the White House in this century—Taft, Hoover, Carter, Bush—received eviction notices at the end of their first term. They were rejected because they were incapable of providing a vision of how people could obtain or retain their piece of the American turf.

For the past quarter-century, the Republican Party has won national elections when it has championed traditional cultural beliefs that unite the South, the Farm Belt, and inner-city Catholic ethnics. The 1992 results in Ridgewood, Queens, proves that this approach still works.

The inside-the-beltway pragmatists who scoffed at this strategy will have to go. And the revamped Republican Party will have to be led by the young Dennis Shea’s, who understand that the electorate in America’s neighborhoods yearns for leadership that will promote a view of government that prohibits the state from destroying their way of life.

George J. Marlin

Weakland’s Surprise

Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee has gained such a reputation that he amazes people when he does the orthodox thing. The Milwaukee Journal reported recently that both Weakland’s supporters and critics “expressed surprise” at Weakland’s decision to forbid clergy from appearing in court as counsels for teenagers seeking abortion.

Milwaukee’s parental consent law requires that minors must get the permission of their parents in order to have an abortion; failing that, they must go to court with either a family member or a clergyman and make their case. In a letter to the parish, Weakland warned that Catholic priests or lay church officials who abet the abortion process could face excommunication.

“Any assistance with such petitions,” the Archbishop said, “would constitute an act of positive cooperation in the procurement of an abortion, an act clearly prohibited by the Church. Such cooperation may lead to excommunication, and would render a person unable to further exercise their orders or function as a church official.”

Democratic Representative Richard Grobschmidt said it seemed odd for Weakland to make such a statement, given his reputation and given church support for the parental notification provision. Barbara Lyons of Wisconsin Right to Life said she was surprised but pleased.

Dirty Little Secret

Pro-lifers and other conservatives are often mocked for accusing the media of bias and elitism, and so it is arresting to see Jon Katz, media critic for Rolling Stone magazine, confirm the charge in a Washington Post review of Rush Limbaugh’s new book. After trashing Limbaugh and conservatism in general, Katz admits, “It is the national press corps’ dirty little secret that many reporters are out-of-synch with much of America, talking to pollsters and spokesmen more than people, sympathetic to Democratic causes and issues, clinging to the ridiculous and transparently false premise that they are objective and without agendas of their own. In contrast, Limbaugh’s fearless openness is almost refreshing.”

The Sensitive Ignoramus

There could be tough academic times ahead for students in Pennsylvania who have wasted their time studying math, English, and science, unless they have devoted at least as much effort to “understanding and appreciating their worth as unique and capable individuals,” “making environmentally sound decisions in their personal and civic lives,” and being capable of “relating in writing, speech, or other media the history and nature of various forms of prejudice.” The state Board of Education, you see, is currently deciding on the final version of a new set of “learning outcomes” that will replace traditional high school graduation requirements.

No longer will students be subjected to the draconian requirement of studying four years of English; three years of math, science, and social studies; and two years of arts and humanities. These antediluvian emphases are to be replaced by five new “goals of quality education”: self-worth, information and thinking skills, learning independently and collaboratively, adaptability to change, and ethical judgment. The success of a student in meeting these goals will be determined in a set of Si learning outcomes, which focus on a variety of “skills,” ranging from the academic to the aerobic, that balance traditional school subjects with “caregiving,” child care, my awareness, good nutrition, “recognizing the intrinsic uniqueness” of other people, and “exploring and articulating” the “contributions of diverse cultural groups, including groups to which they belong.”

As one school superintendent commented, “If dumb regulations are a problem for schools, can stupider ones really help?”

Columbus and the Missionaries

Apparently Pope John Paul II does not hold the most advanced views on Christopher Columbus. Speaking to the Fourth General Conference of Latin American bishops, the pope used the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ landing not to bemoan the pernicious influence of Western civilization, but to celebrate the introduction of Christianity to the Americas. Pondering the Pope’s words, we are tempted to reflect on Ronald Reagan’s question to Jimmy Carter, suitably enlarged for context: are not the peoples of the Americas better off than they were 500 years ago? We offer the following excerpt from John Paul II’s remarks:

Jesus Christ is the eternal truth who became manifest in the fullness of time. It was specifically to transmit the good news to all peoples that he founded his church with the specific mission to evangelize: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). These words can be said to contain the solemn proclamation of evangelization. Thus the church began the great task of evangelization on the day when the apostles received the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul expresses it in a crisp, emblematic expression: “Evangelizare Iesum Christum,” “to proclaim Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:16). This is what the disciples of the Lord have done in all ages and throughout the world.

The year 1492 marks a key date in this unique process. On October 12—exactly five centuries ago today—Admiral Christopher Columbus with the three caravels from Spain arrived at these lands and planted the cross of Christ. Nevertheless, strictly speaking, evangelization began with the second journey of the explorers, who were accompanied by the first missionaries. Thus began the sowing of the precious gift of faith. How can we fail to thank God for that, along with you, my dear brother bishops, you who today embody in Santo Domingo all the particular churches of Latin America! How can we fail to give thanks for the abundant fruits of the seed sown over the course of these five centuries by so many dauntless missionaries!

With the coming of the Gospel to the Americas the history of salvation expands, the family of God grows and multiplies “so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15). The peoples of the New World were “new peoples… entirely unknown to the Old World until 1492,” but they were “known to God from all eternity, and he had embraced them with the Fatherhood that the Son had revealed in the fullness of time (cf. Galatians 4:4).” In the peoples of the Americas, God has chosen for himself a new people whom he has brought into his redemptive plan and made sharers in his Spirit. Through evangelization and faith in Christ, God has renewed his covenant with Latin America.

Thus we thank God for the throng of evangelizers who had to leave their homeland and who gave their life in order to sow the new life of faith, hope, and love in the New World. They were not drawn by the legend of El Dorado or personal interests, but by the pressing call to evangelize some brothers and sisters who did not yet know Jesus Christ. They proclaimed “the kindness and generous love of God our savior” (Titus 3:4) to peoples, some of whom even offered human sacrifices to their gods. With their lives and their word, they gave witness to that humanity that results from encounter with Christ.

Changing Signs in the ‘Times’

Not long ago, representatives of Third World nations gathered at the U.N. in New York to demand from the developed nations their wealth, the rationale being that the “North” was rich because the South was poor. Now President Soeharto of Indonesia, newly installed as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, appears in a full-page ad in the New York Times trumpeting a recent speech he delivered to the U.N.: “A nation must not depend on others for its own development,” he declares, “but must assume responsibility for it, and pursue it on the basis of self-reliance.”

Two centuries ago Samuel Johnson observed that levelers never level up, but always down. President Soeharto’s ad gives hope that with the collapse of communism we will finally see a genuine leveling up of the Third World—or as Soeharto puts it, echoing a prominent democratic capitalist, “national development… of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Extreme Measures

One of our readers, Father Rawley Myers, writes to draw to our attention one of the less-known incidents in early Church history. It involves Saint Patrick, who was baptizing King Aengus of Cashel when he accidentally thrust the spike of his staff through the king’s foot. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Saint Patrick asked afterwards. The king replied, “I thought it was part of the ceremony.”

Wisdom of the Ages

In the aftermath of the L.A. riot, Dan Quayle and other conservatives asserted that the country’s basic problem was the breakdown in family’s values. Do you see any truth in that?

Well, the putative leadership of the country represents such a level of ignorance and backwardness that I really can’t comment on it. All I can think of is that we should all be thinking of an entirely new form of leadership. For the presidency I propose a triad of three grandmothers: a Native American, an African American, and a European American. And I recommend three women whom I think would be wonderful: Wilma Mankiller, who is the head of the Cherokee Nation; Maxine Waters, who is in the Congress; and Gloria Steinem.

Novelist Alice Walker, in the San Francisco Examiner

Derrida’s Caveat

The attack mounted against the Western literary canon has taken place largely under the banner of “deconstructionism.” This notion, developed in France, has found fertile soil in the New World, particularly in the English departments and literary journals of major American universities. Yet Jacques Derrida himself, one of the founders and key figures of deconstructionism, has a warning for those progressive educators so eager to deconstruct Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Milton into irrelevance.

“People who have a certain image of deconstruction and associate it with me would be very surprised by the way I teach, by the way I read papers, the way I give advice to students; it’s apparently a very traditional way. The scenario is very classical…. I call my students in France back to the most traditional ways of reading before trying to deconstruct texts; you have to understand according to the most traditional norms what an author meant to say, and so on. So I don’t start with disorder, I start with tradition. If you’re not trained in the tradition, then deconstruction means nothing. It’s simply nothing…. I think that if what is called deconstruction produces neglect of the classical authors, the canonical texts, and so on, we should fight it. I wouldn’t be in favor of such a deconstruction. I’m in favor of the canon, but I won’t stop there. I think that students should read what are considered the great texts of our tradition…. If deconstruction is only a pretense to ignore minimal requirements of knowledge of the tradition, it could be a bad thing.”

Cultural Relativism Update

The Associated Press reports that in Alice Springs, Australia, several aborigines attacked three policemen and pelted them with kangaroo tails, but before they could be apprehended they ate the evidence, according to reports filed with the local court. Senior constable Mark Coffey reported that the cops were attacked with frozen kangaroo tails purchased at a local store. They suffered cuts and bruises but no one was seriously injured. Six men were arrested and charged with assault, but no kangaroo tails could be introduced into evidence, Coffey complained, before they were eaten by the aborigines.

Who Killed Communism?

Throughout the comings and goings of new elections and new regimes in Eastern Europe, one man has remained at the center of political activity in the country where the revolution against communist rule began. That country is Poland, and the man is its president, Lech Walesa.

In the most recently published volume of his autobiography, Walesa emphasizes that the Catholic Church played a crucial role in the survival of his movement. “Without the Church, there would have been no Solidarity.” He details how the Church “literally opened its doors” to furnish Solidarity with a forum for public and secret meetings. Walesa credits the Pope’s three visits to his native land with sustaining the movement through the most difficult days of the struggle. Significantly, the Church provided “moral support” for Solidarity, as well as spiritual and practical guidance. Walesa reminds us that we must not overlook the role the Church had in shaping and informing his decisions: “Where would we be if we hadn’t repeated the Church’s message that violence breeds violence?”

June Cleaver Meets the Microwave

As the not-so-old phrase goes, “invention is the mother of necessity.” This is easily demonstrated by peeking into the kitchen of most American households. In 80 percent of them you will find a microwave, and often next to the microwave you will encounter a harried student, spouse, or parent who will swear “I don’t know what I’d do without it.” Yet for all the problems that such fast food can cause the digestive system, it may also be the savior of the American Dinner (half-) Hour.

The Washington Post recently noted that the family dinner has become one of the many unfortunate victims of the rapid changes in our society as more women are not only mothers but breadwinners. Many parents, however, have not forgotten the feelings of comfort and stability that their more traditional childhood meals once provided them, and so try to preserve the institution at all costs. These costs often translate into a quick dinner served in a plastic dish with no homemade apple pie for dessert. Still, 57 percent of American families believe that this abbreviated family reunion is worth the sacrifices. While this may not be the stuff of a Norman Rockwell painting, the central issue is not food or presentation, but family. Unless today’s average eight-year-old is an aficionado of classic TV, he will not know about Beaver Cleaver’s five-course meals, and therefore the least time spent together with family will increase his sense of closeness and instill a confidence in routines that is an important aspect of a child’s emotional growth. In this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas—two of the few times that this tradition is elevated to truly honored heights—parents need to remember that the year-long dinner ritual cements the family bond. It is encouraging to see that the majority of people recognize the importance of this cultural cornerstone; after all, the family that microwaves together stays together, with the key word being together.


Random Thoughts in Winter

Halloween night and the classical radio station is predictably playing Bach’s organ music. This Halloween is cold and damp with drizzle and fog, and few children come to my door. I suspected we would have an early winter when the leaves started falling in August, an unusual occurrence in this part of the country. For me there is an indefinable something about this time of the year: the energy generated from the parade of holidays that pass for review all too quickly; the crisp, cool air tenderly caressing my face; the autumn-colored leaves, red and gold and brown, falling from the trees; the smell of wood burning in the hearths and the lights glowing from windows of unseen houses after darkness falls; the warmth I feel when I come into my own home out of the cold; and the Christmas trees and decorations lighting up the city and the countryside.

What better way to spend a cold, windy, wintry evening than curled up by a warm, glowing fire reading a good book of poetry? Among my many lucky finds at a book sale this past spring were several poetry books. One was entitled, The Poetic Works of William Cowper, Esq. (1857). William Cowper, “the descendant of an ancient and honorable family,” was born in 1731 in Hertfordshire. Cowper’s mother died in 1737 when he was but six, and he was subsequently sent away to boarding school. Being of “delicate habit both of mind and body,” he was unmercifully bullied by his fellow schoolmates and throughout his life held bitter memories about those early years. At 18 he apprenticed under a lawyer but disliked the legal profession, and “like many other men of genius, he neglected the law and gratified the bent of his mind in the cultivation of poetry.” In a letter to a friend he said of himself, “From the age of 20 to 33, I was occupied, or ought to have been, in the stuff of the law; from 33 to 60, I have spent my time in the country, where my reading has only been an apology for idleness, and where, when I had not either a magazine or a review,

I was sometimes a carpenter, at others a birdcage maker, or a gardener, or a drawer of landscapes. At 50 years of age I commenced author;—it is a whim that has served me longest and best, and will probably be my last.”

In one poem, “The Winter Evening,” Cowper addresses this cold mistress:

O Winter, ruler of th’inverted year,

Thy scatter’d hair with sleet like ashes fill’d,

Thy breath congeal’d upon thy lips, thy cheeks

Fring’d with a beard made white with other snows

Than those of age, thy forehead wrapp’d in clouds,

A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne

A sliding car, indebted to no wheels,

But urg’d by storms along its slipp’ry way,

I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem’st

And dreaded as thou art! Thou hold’st the sun

A pris’ner in the yet undawning east,

Short’ning his journey between morn and noon,

And hurrying him, impatient of his stay…

I crown thee king of intimate delights,

Fire-side enjoyments, homeborn happiness,

And all the comforts, that the lowly roof

Of undistrub’d Retirement, and the hours

Of long uninterrupted ev’ning, know.

There is no better season in which to celebrate Christ’s birthday… but He knew that.


The Political Temptation

A friend of mine, a conservative Catholic, has been in a funk ever since the election. Two weeks after Bill Clinton’s victory he still hadn’t been able to get over the results, he told me. How well do I remember his euphoria in November 1980, after Reagan had won and everything looked plain sailing. He has a lot of company, of course. Many other conservatives now feel the same sense of gloom and futility. For myself, I keep thinking back to my recent visit to Downside, where I was at school in the 1950s. About two weeks before the U.S. election, I stayed overnight at the Benedictine monastery that is an integral part of the school. Already by then, with only the English newspapers to read, it was plain that George Bush was going to lose.

I arrived in time for Vespers. Twenty-four cowled monks filed into the large, chilly and well-remembered abbey church. The Benedictine community at Downside is now about one-third as large as it was when I was at the school. There have been precious few novices since Vatican II, although there has been a slight upturn in recent years. None has joined from the school itself, however. In my day one or two school-leavers a year would become postulants. I only recognized two or three of the monks filing into the church—among them Dom Aelred Watkin, a former headmaster of the school and son of the theologian E.I. Watkin. For years Dom Aelred had been away tending the parish of Beccles, in Suffolk, a Downside responsibility. He also became Abbot of Glastonbury, I think an honorific title. Now at last he was back.

The same heavenly Gregorian chant. They kept that going, thank God. In fact, my impression during my brief stay was that more of the monastery’s tradition had been preserved than might have been expected, given the tremendous changes that have occurred everywhere in the Catholic Church. I had supper in the refectory with the monks. The usual silence was observed, and there was a reading from Kenneth Woodward’s book, Making Saints. I went to see Dom Aelred in his room. “My dear Tom….” He was still smoking like a chimney, and there was a stuffed ashtray at his elbow. Recently he had suffered a minor stroke, but plainly he was ignoring doctor’s advice. In the course of our conversation I mentioned a common acquaintance who long ago had been involved in some scandal. He didn’t remember it but held up his hands: “Nothing would surprise me, nothing….” Then he lapsed back into silence. I mentioned two or three monks who had been among my teachers years earlier; I had spoken to them on my last visit to the school, in 1985. All had died since then: Dom Simon Van Zeller, Dom Hilary Steuart, Dom Cuthbert McCann.

There was in these Downside monks, as in the English Benedictines generally, a gaiety, a reserved hilarity, each with his distinctive idiosyncracies, that was very much at odds with the plain black habit each wore, and with one’s preconceived notions of monkish solemnity. They were immensely appealing to me at the time and have remained so ever since. They were also, as I can now see, very much out of touch with the spirit of the times: no discernible preoccupation here with social justice or the national distribution of income! There were faults, no doubt, a snobbish tendency, but welfare workers manques they certainly were not.

The next morning I went out to the monk’s graveyard, a grassy sward in the shadow of the monastery library. Uniform, black metal crosses were arrayed in neat rows. It was a chilly day, as almost always in the Mendip Hills, with low clouds scudding in from the west. Here was Dom Simon, junior house master when I arrived at the school. I still remember a summer trip to the grounds of Longleat, so many years ago. More recently, on my last visit, I spent an hour in his room—his cell—while he turned the pages of an old photograph album, and we looked at faded snaps of skinny youths. We laughed together at remembered foibles, but then he grew tired, sighed, put the album aside.

…How fast has brother followed brother, from sunshine to the sunless land…

Here lay his older brother, Dom Hubert Van Zeller, craftsman and prolific writer of books on apologetics. I think he wrote them more rapidly than anyone could read them. He preferred America to Downside, if I’m not mistaken. He spent years in the States, where many still remember him, but in his last years he went back to Downside. Once, for no reason at all, he sent me a box of chocolates out of the blue. Now here was Abbot Wilfrid Passmore, headmaster in my day, and who could forget him? The story was that in the 1950s he had attended a private-school headmasters’ meeting, and someone had asked, as they sat around the table: “What are we educating these boys for?”

“Death,” Passmore is said to have replied.

Now almost all my old teachers are underground in neat rows, beneath new black crosses as uniform as their old black habits. The inscriptions, in Latin, record simply their name, age, and date of death. In time, too, they will be forgotten almost completely on this Earth. And it won’t be very long before we join them. All of us—within a few decades at the most. Our children will remember us, but our great-grandchildren? We should all try to bear these things in mind. If we do, election results are apt to seem rather trivial by comparison. The four last things should take precedence over the composition of the Clinton cabinet and the California congressional delegation. We only have to think back to the election results of a few decades earlier to recognize that in a few decades’ time the current political moment will not seem all that momentous.

Beside the individual and certain prospect of death and judgment, heaven or hell, the collective and uncertain vicissitudes of politics are not something that we should be worrying about very much. I keep thinking about the remark of the writer Hugh Kingsmill, Malcolm Muggeridge’s friend, who said of salvation that those who seek it alone will reach it together, and those who seek it collectively will perish alone. What shall it profit a man if he suffers the loss of his own soul and yet his party retains control of the White House?

It’s a terrible delusion to think that we can save a whole country. And save it how? By preserving capitalism? There is no economic salvation. The free market is morally preferable, and materially far more productive, than a system of coercive redistribution or any fantasy of production based on force rather than consent. But that is all. Conceivably, even, the great material prosperity that capitalism alone can yield is a threat to salvation: Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

Jesus was fairly explicit on this point, it seems to me, with his observations about God and Mammon and the difficulty of getting a camel through the eye of a needle. The problem with material prosperity is not that the market distributes it unequally, as the Left so misguidedly believes, but that it encourages a worldly cast of mind. In fact it is remarkable that the Catholic hierarchy, so eager to denigrate capitalism in recent years, should have neglected the obvious, spiritual grounds on which to do so, and chosen instead thoroughly materialistic grounds—that it produces an unfair distribution of wealth.

Samuel Johnson said, “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” It’s true, of course, that the “politics” that today’s conservative tries to oppose is more dangerous than anything that Dr. Johnson knew in the eighteenth century. Moreover, if the Soviet Union were still in business and intercontinental ballistic missiles were still pointed in our direction, I doubt if I would have even begun to think along the lines that I am suggesting here. The problem we face today is that modern politics is totalitarian in its ambition. Despite the Soviet collapse, utopian liberalism persists unrelentingly in its mission: the attempt to establish a world without God; to reform human nature along more progressive lines, and to erase the innate distinctions of gender; to achieve an equality of condition here on Earth, to establish a presumption of guilt against the past, and above all to stamp out all “organized” religion, Christianity in particular.

We are indeed in a cultural war, as Patrick J. Buchanan and others have pointed out (and pointing this out is not the same thing as declaring that war). I suppose the best answer to what I have said here is that it’s all very well to claim that some things are more important than politics, but nowadays the most important things are politicized, whether we like it or not. Therefore, politics cannot be escaped. Increasingly, this is true. Furthermore, our church leaders seem largely to have resigned themselves to the subordination of faith to politics (where they have not actively encouraged it). In response to pressure that can only be called political, the Lord’s Prayer is being rewritten with a view to placating feminists. Late in life, C.S. Lewis expressed concern about the increasing politicization of life in the postwar world. Today, with the Political Missal presumably only a matter of time, things are much worse.

Still, we should continue to be wary of politics. It is the Way and the Truth and the Life for those who (overwhelmingly, I would guess) do not believe in an afterlife. For the rest of us, I submit, it is a temptation.

Shortly before leaving Downside, I said goodbye to Dom Aelred, in the aisle of the abbey. I thought it unlikely that I would see him again, and I asked him to pray for me. He most earnestly and humbly replied, patting my hand, “And you for me, my dear.” Here was “politics” in its proper place: the democracy of salvation, and in an establishment not noted for its democratic inclinations! I shall pray for him as best I can.

Thomas Bethell

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