The American Divide

This is not an essay about politics but I have to begin with politics because it stands between you and me and what I want to say to you, which concerns our darkened hearts and our dreadful tribalization of a country whose motto is E pluribus unum.

The politics are this: I have an unfashionable view of human rights and nature. I stand for localism and classical education and reverencing life; I stand against warmongering and utilitarianism and corporate cronyism. As a consequence, I have no place among Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians. If your guiding lights are not restraint and community and Holy Scripture, then I want no part of your goddamned party.

None of which is to say that you are a bad person for being a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, or even one of those undecided Independents journalists like to interview before elections, as if inability to commit is evidence of wisdom. One or both of us is wrong, and it doesn’t matter; I’ve retreated to my rural corner and you may have the world for all I care, just leave me and my family out of it.

All this is to say, however, that I have no fondness for our current president’s worldview. Nor the one before him, nor the one before that one. It’s not their fault; they are harbingers of the times. They give us what we want, because our wants form the standard of justice. Politicians cobble together electoral majorities with empty words because we will tolerate no less and no more.

My lack of fondness for President Obama is only relevant because it accentuates the praise I want to offer him—while perhaps in the process damning a fair portion of the rest of us. [Read more...]

It’s Always 1984

July 4, 1984. I don’t remember the day, but surely jokes were made back then; the irony of America’s anniversary, celebrating liberty and self-reliance—falling within the year that symbolizes tyranny and oppression.

Few are unacquainted with Orwell’s masterwork, 1984, featuring an ever-present state, “Big Brother,” with an eponym that connotes good, wholesome things—family, protection, strength. In the novel, Big Brother ominously moves about life’s foreground, reminding civilians that the system is perpetually awake, watching out “for” them.

Ah, the ambiguity of that preposition. Big Brother takes Christ’s pledge—“I am with you always”—and perverts the meaning to anti-Christical heights. [Read more...]

The Little Sisters of the Poor: Religious Conscience and Government Mandates

When you’re poor for your entire life, it’s possible to become somewhat inured to misery. If you keep your line of vision low, keep from looking too far to the right or left, and manage your expectations properly, then—through practice—it might even be possible to control the thoroughly natural desire to possess more.

“What you’ve never had, you never miss,” I’ve heard it said.

But I wonder about the likelihood of such a thing when the poor grow old. For at that time, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune are sure to be felt more keenly. When the labor required merely to exist is no longer possible, sufferings are more acute, as the meager distractions that toil provides are gone as well. The aged poor have a unique plight, caged mentally and physically within a prison of need.

Like most inadequate Christians, I do a bit here and there to provide for them. For instance, there’s a nursing home nearby that’s run by an order of nuns, The Little Sisters of the Poor. [Read more...]

Secession, or Why This New Yorker Won’t Be Joining the Enlightened States of America

Shortly after the November presidential election, I was sent an e-mail on the assumption that given my zip code and presumed party affiliation I would celebrate its content and join the victory stomp.

Seeing how peeved I was instead, perhaps it was a good thing that the matter coincided with the start of my recent brief hiatus from the blog. I knew I’d return to the topic my first post back, but not with such timing: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day coincides with the presidential inauguration.

In the spirit of disclosure, I’m a registered Democrat who pulled the lever for Obama without hesitation in 2008. I voted the same in 2012, though not with nearly equal certainty as I did the first time.

This had less to do with the candidates or even their platforms than it did with my own evolving standpoint that feels more and more like a no-man’s land between the two camps. [Read more...]

Cicero and Machiavelli: Being and Seeming

Cicero said that it is better to be than to seem. Some fifteen centuries later, Machiavelli said it was better to seem than to be. The greater good, thought the former, lay in what you actually were rather than in what others thought you were. Loser talk, thought the latter.

Cicero’s tenet was consistent with Aristotle, who said the more valuable of two things is that which men would be satisfied only with possessing outright, rather than that which they would be satisfied with only appearing to possess.

Health, therefore, is valued higher in this scheme than courage, since we want to be truly healthy rather than only seem to be so and we’re pretty satisfied with only appearing to be courageous.

Regardless of such distinctions of actual worth, Machiavelli saw that power lay in the ostensible as much as it did in the actual, and with far less cost.

The healthy man can run as many marathons as he wants. While he’s doing that, the apparently courageous man will accede to the throne of the fiefdom—as long as he also appears to be healthy, intelligent, charming, etc.

The people are suckers for that stuff, Machiavelli did not say, but could have. [Read more...]