What I Love About John C. Wright…

… is that he is the soul of chivalric courtesy, generous wit, and intelligent engagement. Here he is, f’rinstance, irenically replying to somebody whose worldview is utterly foreign to John’s in many ways, and doing it with grace and aplomb and with a generous appreciation for what can be held in common between them.

And here he is, again very graciously and thoughtfully, replying to what he takes me to be saying about the OWSers.

My good friend Mark Shea is convinced that the Occupy Wall Street mob represents an honest protests against the excesses and dishonesty of bankers and capitalists, and that the bad publicity they have been receiving in the media is due to an ideological slant trying to make them look bad.

He points out how badly the Tea Party protesters were and are portrayed, and cautions his readers not to take the media presentation as unbiased.

Since I used to work in the newspaper field, both as writer and editor, for two newspapers that were both bankrupt (I suppose hiring me acts as the reverse of the curse of Midas) I am not hasty to dismiss Mr Shea’s complaint of news bias.

John is almost right about what I think, but not quite. I’m not sure I would call OWS an “honest” protest any more than I would call the Tea Parties that. I would say that both are, by and large, understandable insofar as they are protests and that is simply because I think the evils that provoke them are so open, naked and obvious that I would be astonished at a civilization that did *not* react in some form of protest. I emphatically do *not* believe the bad publicity they have gotten is due to an ideological slant. The stories of rape, excrement, silliness, hypocrisy, shallowness, refusal to report sex crimes and so forth have all been documented, as have the cringeworthy stuff about down twinkles, female-bodied persons, trust fund brats whining for somebody to pay their tuition and the rest. It ain’t “bad publicity” when you actually get caught on camera being a smelly hippy, nut, creep or criminal. It’s your responsibility and you own it, OWSer.

That said, I do think that the OWSers and Tea Partiers have a point and it’s not hard to grasp: gross and growing economic injustice exists because of an incestuous alliance between Caesar and Mammon. The problem, as I have noted before, is that (as Chesterton says), people in revolt against an evil generally have a pretty good idea what the evil is. What they seldom have a clear idea about is what to do about it and they typically advocate remedies worse than the disease unless they have really thought things through (meaning, “Thought about things in light of Catholic teaching”). This is on full display with both the OWSers and the Tea Partiers. In both cases, you often have people who are stunningly confused and/or stunningly dishonest about their goals (much more the former, I think). Both, for instance, are chockablock with people who protest the power and immensity of the Caesar/Mammon incest while lobbying hard for the state to fix it (either through a massive and wasteful empire enforced by a bloated military and through entitlements they pretend to hate, as the Tea Partiers often do) or through some other wild scheme of utopian state intervention as many OWSers advocate. Tea Partiers tend to fall for Ayn Rand’s poisonous snake oil; OWSers for Marx’s.

But (you knew there would be a but) neither the Tea Partiers nor the OWSers are wrong about the central thing: our system is grossly unjust and getting more so every day and I sympathize with them in much the same way as I sympathize with any other mob of ordinary people who denounce a serious wrong, particularly when the people who regard them with the most focused enmity are enormously wealthy and powerful and own all the guns and pepper spray. The Tea Parties were largely co-opted by the GOP and the Dems look to me like they are striving to co-opt the OWSers, such that these rogue forces of nature will be harnessed used, yet again, to drive the chariots of Powerful People and, in the end, loving Big Brother. If so, it will be a loss, I think, and not one our Republic can afford at this hour. On the other hand, both movements (who are largely angry at the same thing) still have the potential to do great and terrible damage too, particularly if the OWSers on the Left and fans of leg-breaking thuggery on the Right (described by Greenhut below) achieve a violent synergy that erupts into Beirut-style urban warfare (a real possibility if the economy seriously tanks and people get desperate and radical).

But on the bright side, I note that the experience of those Catholics who have tried to engage OWSers with actual Catholic social and economic teaching has largely been positive and met with great interest (though I don’t know what, if any, has been the experience of those who tried to engage Tea Partiers with that teaching. My own experience has consisted often of hearing Chesterton, St. Thomas and the Magisterium denounced as “socialist” by comboxers who have no clue what Chesterton, St. Thomas, the Magisterium or socialism is. But comboxes are not very good samples of general opinion oftentimes.) This suggests to me that this is a teachable moment and that Catholics interested in turning all that OWS/Tea Party energy toward implementation of “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” should take it as an opportunity to bring the Church’s sophisticated magisterial teaching to OWSer’s and Tea Partiers rather than scorn them. Are a lot of them muddled pagans? You bet! But nobody knows better than the wise, courteous, generous and insightful John C. Wright what terrific Catholics pagans can make if you just meet them where they are and teach them the gospel their own background has been preparing them for. Will they all respond favorably? No. Some modern pagans, like ancient ones, will hate the gospel. But the game is still worth the candle. Any movement where Chesterton is given a warm and engaged hearing is a movement that Catholics should regard as field white for harvest, not as enemy territory. I think large percentages of both the Tea Parties and the OWSers fit that bill.

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  • A wonderful, wonderful post, Mark. I can’t imagine anyone would disagree with this (though there will be some, no doubt :)).

    And thanks for introducing me to Wright a while back: it’s led to some excellent novels and great analysis from the man himself.

  • Confederate Papist

    I agree with your conclusion that Distributism would be embraced by many OWSers and Tea Partiers, as long as they are presented with the actual facts…that’s the key. I am sure that there will be misunderstandings, but the ones that really care will get it.
    I will point out, however that OWSers (not all) have fomented a sort of anarchy with the irony of freedom of speech and assembly, plus engaging with law enforcement in many of the cities they are occupying. I don’t recall (and I could be wrong) any Tea Party dustups with cops or anybody else.

    • I don’t recall (and I could be wrong) any Tea Party dustups with cops or anybody else.

      That’s because Tea Partiers camp out in RVs parked at WalMart.

      • Generalize much?

        • Confederate Papist

          “That’s because Tea Partiers camp out in RVs parked at WalMart.”

          Umm….okay? And? Unless Wal-Mart called the cops asking them to vacate and the Tea Partiers refuse, you’re shooting at ghosts…

          Is that the best you’ve got?

  • kenneth

    Who among you will play Paul to these teeming masses of unwashed hippies and angry rednecks? Who I say? 🙂

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    If our government is as corrupt and illegitimate as every tea partier I know claims it is …

    The total lack of dust ups with said authority would seem a black mark on them. They lack the manhood to face evil forcefully.

    • SKay

      Well perhaps Obama friend Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn(both were members of the terrorist group Weather Underground) will give the Tea Party lessons on how to create a “dust up” like he(Ayers) is promising to do for groups of the young OWS members. The Weather Underground liked to blow up people and things in their hayday so I suppose he wants to relive his youth through the OWS. Of course -this time his friend IS the government so he will be going after “evil wealthy” to take the spotlight off of his friends roll in the loss of jobs –before the election.
      The Tea Parties are generally made up of the working middle class 50% of tax payers who like to build up the country–not tear it down- so they probably would not be interested in his methods.Maybe they will come up with a better way than anarchy