Our sixth grandchild was born today!
So bright-eyed and alert already!
Michael Gerson on Rick Santorum’s brand of conservatism:
Perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to its center. Rick Santorum is not just an outspoken social conservative; he is the Republican candidate who addresses the struggles of blue-collar workers and the need for greater economic mobility. He talks not only of the rights of the individual but also of the health of social institutions, particularly the family. He draws out the public consequences of a belief in human dignity — a pro-life view applied to the unborn and to victims of AIDS in Africa.
Electability Republicans can live with Santorum’s populism and moralism. Anti-government activists cannot and have begun their assault. Santorum is referred to as a “pro-life statist.” David Boaz of the Cato Institute cites evidence implicating him in shocking ideological crimes, such as “promotion of prison ministries” and wanting to “expand colon cancer screenings for Medicare beneficiaries.”
But Santorum is not engaged in heresy; he represents an alternative tradition of conservative political philosophy. Libertarians may wish to claim exclusive marketing rights, but there are two healthy, intellectual movements in American conservatism: libertarianism and religious (particularly Catholic) social thought.
Libertarianism is an extreme form of individualism, in which personal rights trump every other social goal and institution. It is actually a species of classical liberalism, not conservatism — more directly traceable to John Stuart Mill than Edmund Burke or Alexis de Tocqueville. The Catholic (and increasingly Protestant) approach to social ethics asserts that liberty is made possible by strong social institutions — families, communities, congregations — that prepare human beings for the exercise of liberty by teaching self-restraint, compassion and concern for the public good. Oppressive, overreaching government undermines these value-shaping institutions. Responsible government can empower them — say, with a child tax credit or a deduction for charitable giving — as well as defend them against the aggressions of extreme poverty or against “free markets” in drugs or obscenity.
This is not statism; it is called subsidiarity. In this view, needs are best served by institutions closest to individuals. But when those institutions require help or protection, higher-order institutions should intervene. So when state governments imposed Jim Crow laws, the federal government had a duty to overturn them. When a community is caught in endless economic depression and drained of social capital, government should find creative ways to empower individuals and charities — maybe even prison ministries that change lives from the inside out.
Santorum has been dismissed in some of our comments as a “big government conservative.” But isn’t his political philosophy, if Gerson is right, more Burkean in its attention to other social institutions? (For example, he blames poverty in part on the breakup of the family.)
Do you see anything distinctly Roman Catholic about this version–”subsidiarity”–or can it fit just as well with Protestant theologies? Does it assume the church’s earthly authority (which both Catholics and some Reformed could agree with)? Does it work with the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms?
Mark Steyn, connecting the birth of John the Baptist to the West’s current demographic and economic woes:
Of the four gospels, only two bother with the tale of Christ’s birth, and only Luke begins with the tale of two pregnancies. Zacharias is surprised by his impending paternity — “for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.” Nonetheless, an aged, barren woman conceives and, in the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, the angel visits her cousin Mary and tells her that she, too, will conceive. If you read Luke, the virgin birth seems a logical extension of the earlier miracle — the pregnancy of an elderly lady. The physician-author had no difficulty accepting both. For Matthew, Jesus’s birth is the miracle; Luke leaves you with the impression that all birth — all life — is to a degree miraculous and God-given.
We now live in Elisabeth’s world — not just because technology has caught up with the Deity and enabled women in their 50s and 60s to become mothers, but in a more basic sense. The problem with the advanced West is not that it’s broke but that it’s old and barren. Which explains why it’s broke. Take Greece, which has now become the most convenient shorthand for sovereign insolvency — “America’s heading for the same fate as Greece if we don’t change course,” etc. So Greece has a spending problem, a revenue problem, something along those lines, right? At a superficial level, yes. But the underlying issue is more primal: It has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren — i.e., the family tree is upside down. In a social-democratic state where workers in “hazardous” professions (such as, er, hairdressing) retire at 50, there aren’t enough young people around to pay for your three-decade retirement. And there are unlikely ever to be again.
Look at it another way: Banks are a mechanism by which old people with capital lend to young people with energy and ideas. The Western world has now inverted the concept. If 100 geezers run up a bazillion dollars’ worth of debt, is it likely that 42 youngsters will ever be able to pay it off? As Angela Merkel pointed out in 2009, for Germany an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. The Continent’s economic “powerhouse” has the highest proportion of childless women in Europe: One in three fräulein have checked out of the motherhood business entirely. “Germany’s working-age population is likely to decrease 30 percent over the next few decades,” says Steffen Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. “Rural areas will see a massive population decline and some villages will simply disappear.”
If the problem with socialism is, as Mrs. Thatcher says, that eventually you run out of other people’s money, much of the West has advanced to the next stage: It’s run out of other people, period. Greece is a land of ever fewer customers and fewer workers but ever more retirees and more government. How do you grow your economy in an ever-shrinking market? The developed world, like Elisabeth, is barren. . . .
For most of human history, functioning societies have honored the long run: It’s why millions of people have children, build houses, plant trees, start businesses, make wills, put up beautiful churches in ordinary villages, fight and if necessary die for your country . . . A nation, a society, a community is a compact between past, present, and future, in which the citizens, in Tom Wolfe’s words at the dawn of the “Me Decade,” “conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream.”
Much of the developed world climbed out of the stream. You don’t need to make material sacrifices: The state takes care of all that. You don’t need to have children. And you certainly don’t need to die for king and country. But a society that has nothing to die for has nothing to live for: It’s no longer a stream, but a stagnant pool.
If you believe in God, the utilitarian argument for religion will seem insufficient and reductive: “These are useful narratives we tell ourselves,” as I once heard a wimpy Congregational pastor explain her position on the Bible. But, if Christianity is merely a “useful” story, it’s a perfectly constructed one, beginning with the decision to establish Christ’s divinity in the miracle of His birth. The hyper-rationalists ought at least to be able to understand that post-Christian “rationalism” has delivered much of Christendom to an utterly irrational business model: a pyramid scheme built on an upside-down pyramid. Luke, a man of faith and a man of science, could have seen where that leads.
I think barrenness is a profound metaphor for our contemporary condition in the West. I would extend that to artistic barrenness; that is, a general lack of creativity in our art, literature, and music. There is still interesting stuff going on, of course, but even the most radical-seeming is tired, as if we have seen it all before, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. (The opposite of barrenness would be bringing forth new life. One can “create”–making something new–without it being alive.)
For example, Hollywood has 3D and spectacular special effects technology. But the movie industry keeps looking backwards–remaking old movies, re-releasing old movies, filming old comic books, rehashing old conventions. There are few new stories to go along with the new technology. So movie attendance has hit a 16-year low. Barrenness.
Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, but the Roman Catholic church, which does not believe in divorce, has granted him at least one and maybe two annulments! According to canon law, annulled marriages were never marriages at all. So if there was no marriage, there was no adultery, no divorces, and Newt is a once-married paragon of family values.
From the New York Times:
In 1980, Mr. Gingrich left his wife of nearly 20 years, the former Jackie Battley, for Marianne Ginther, with whom he was having an affair. In 1981, Mr. Gingrich married Ms. Ginther, but he later left her for Callista Bisek, with whom he had been having an affair for several years. They married in 2000.
The third Ms. Gingrich is a Catholic, and in 2002, Mr. Gingrich asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta to annul his second marriage on the ground that the former Ms. Ginther had been previously married. “We were married 19 years, and now he wants to say it didn’t exist,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In 2009, Mr. Gingrich converted to Catholicism. It is not clear if he ever tried to have annulled his first marriage, which, if between two baptized Christians, would be considered valid by the Catholic Church. Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, could not be reached by telephone and did not reply to e-mails.
OK, so we don’t know if Newt got an annulment for the first marriage, but apparently he is a communicant member of the church, which must be satisfied with his status. Here is a Catholic take on the question:
To the fact that Gingrich has re-married twice, as part of his coming into the church he went through the annulment process and as a result of those findings is validly married in the eyes of the church. This may not impress those who do not like or understand the church’s annulment process, but it does give Catholics who wish to forgive Gingrich his previous infidelities some evidence that he has attempted to make right. Catholics, as often as they encounter scandal and disappointment in their elected leaders, want to hope that forgiveness and conversion is possible, too.
How a valid, legal, consummated marriage that lasted nearly two decades–with children, who thus must be considered illegitimate–can be annulled by the church staggers the mind and the moral imagination. Surely that practice is worse than divorce, bad as that is, since divorce at least faces up to what the breaking of a marriage is and does not cover it up with a pious facade. (In effect, annulments are divorces granted by the church, even as it (commendably) teaches against divorce! Protestant churches may be too tolerant of divorces, but at least they don’t grant them!)
This is not a matter of simply undoing church actions. The Gingriches were not Catholic at the time of their marriage. I have heard that annulment simply recognizes that a marriage was not valid. In this case because the previous Mrs. Gingrich had been married before. But other reasons for annulment include such things as immaturity at the time of the marriage or the two not knowing what they were getting into so as to prevent proper consent. So what I want to know is how any of us can know if we are really married. I could go on and on citing other problems with this, but I’ll stop. This just seems like ecclesiastical over-reaching of the sort that necessitated the Reformation.
Maybe I’m missing something. I’d be glad to hear from a Catholic who could justify this practice.
Here is Herman Cain’s initial statement about an Atlanta woman’s contention that she has had an ongoing affair with him:
“Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace – this is not an accusation of an assault – which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.
Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door.
Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media.”
What is missing in this statement? (Hint: Does he say it isn’t true?)
In subsequent statements, Cain has come closer to a denial, referring to “events that never happened” and “I did nothing wrong.” But I’m not sure those are out-and-out denials either.
One might argue that consensual relationships should be private and have nothing to do with a person’s fitness to hold public office. But Cain is a married man.
Some of you Cainites (Cainanites?) rejected the earlier accusations of sexual harassment against him. Is this any different? Are you still supporting him?
Elizabeth Marquardt notes that three different strands are coming together to legalize group marriage: the far left, the far right, and the new reproductive technology:
From the fringy left: Polyamory
Polyamory describes relationships of three or more people — it literally means “many loves.” Polyamorists say they practice “ethical non-monogamy,” or relationships that emphasize open communication, respect, and fair treatment of one another.
The debate about legal recognition of polyamorous relationships is already well underway. A major report issued in 2001 by the Law Commission of Canada asked whether marriages should be “limited to two people.” Its conclusion: probably not. A British law professor wrote in an Oxford-published textbook that the idea that marriage meaning two people is a “traditional” and perhaps outdated way of thinking. Elizabeth Emens of the University of Chicago Law School published a substantial legal defense of polyamory in a legal journal. She suggested that “we view this historical moment, when same-sex couples begin to enter the institution of marriage, as a unique opportunity to question the mandate of compulsory monogamy.”
Mainstream cultural leaders have also hinted at or actively campaigned for polyamory. Roger Rubin, former vice-president of the National Council on Family Relations–one of the main organizations for family therapists and scholars in the United States–believes the debate about same-sex marriage has “set the stage for broader discussion over which relationships should be legally recognized.” The Alternatives to Marriage Project, whose leaders are featured by national news organizations in stories on cohabitation and same-sex marriage, includes polyamory among its important “hot topics” for advocacy. The Unitarian Universalists for Polyamorous Awareness hope to make their faith tradition the first to recognize and bless polyamorous relationships. Meanwhile, a July 2009 Newsweek story estimates that there are more than half a million “open polyamorous families” living in America. Nearly every major city in the U.S. has a polyamory social group of some kind. . . .
From the radical right: Polygamy
Coming from a very different direction, another challenge to the two-person understanding of marriage is resurging–polygamy, a marriage form with deep roots in human history and still in evidence in many parts of the world.
The debut in spring 2006 of HBO’s television series, Big Love, which featured a fictional and in some ways likeable polygamous family in Utah, propelled polygamy to the front pages of American newspapers and put the idea of legalized polygamy “in play” in some surprising quarters. That March, a Newsweek article with the title “Polygamists Unite!” quoted an activist saying, “Polygamy is the next civil rights battle.” “If Heather can have two mommies,” he argued, “she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.” That month the New York Times devoted much attention to the subject of polygamy. One economist snickered that polygamy is illegal mainly because it threatens male lawmakers who fear they would not get wives in such a system. In an opinion piece, then-columnist John Tierney argued that “polygamy isn’t necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy.” He concluded, “If the specter of legalized polygamy is the best argument against gay marriage, let the wedding bells ring.” . . .
Back home, a pending court case is offering a defense of polygamy, with lead counsel and noted legal scholar Jonathan Turley of George Washington University arguing this summer in the New York Times that the Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court decision in 2003 should protect the private choices of polygamists.
From the labs: Three-person reproduction
Another route to legalized group marriage could evolve via new court decisions and expert proposals that recognize group-parenting arrangements. Judges in the U.S. and Canada have already given legal parental status to a sperm donor father whose offspring had two legal mothers — resulting in the first instances ever in which a child has three legal parents. In New Zealand and Australia, commissions have recommended allowing egg and sperm donors to “opt in” as children’s third legal parents. Meanwhile, scientists in the U.K. have received state permission to create embryos that have the DNA of three persons. It will not be long before group marriage proponents ask: How can children with three legal parents be denied the same marriage rights and protections for their families that children with only two parents have?
Do you see any legal obstacles to this, now that the door has been opened to define marriage in any way we want? (What’s best for children and women won’t carry any weight, if recent rulings are a guide. It has to be about “rights.”)
HT: Joe Carter