January-February 1990

Emma Goldman in Exile: From the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War.  By Alice Wexler. Beacon. 301 pages. $24.95.

Deported from the U.S. in 1919, Emma Gold­man, America’s most loved and hated anarchist, ended up in the Soviet Union. But she was not happy in the land where the future was said to have arrived. Agreeing with Michael Bakunin’s dictum that “socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality,” she was appalled by the machine of repression that Lenin and his henchmen had fabricated. In legitimating the totalitarian state, Marxism had fulfilled its destiny, Goldman argued. In her commitment to the “values of the future,” which she de­fined as “the sanctity of hu­man life, the dignity of man, the right of every human be­ing to liberty and well-being,” Goldman transcended sectar­ianism and entered the com­pany of those courageous men and women who have labored to stanch the hemorrhaging of decency in the 20th century.

But Goldman is less than heroic to Alice Wexler, who is distressed by the near “cult of personality” that surrounds the anarchist leader. Wexler con­victs Goldman of an “obsessive anti-Communism and anti-Marxism” that anticipated the harsh rigidity of later Cold Warriors. By refusing to distin­guish among Marxism, Lenin­ism, and Stalinism, “Goldman helped lay the foundations for a caricature of Russian history that served interests profound­ly hostile to her own.” For Wexler, Goldman’s most fla­grant sin lay in her failure to recognize the beauties of Soviet socialism as it briefly flowered during the NEP era under Lenin. “Her analysis of an enslaved, brutalized, terror­ized country with no breath of freedom greatly exaggerated party control over many do­mains and denied benefits — for example, to the peasantry — that even she would later acknowledge. In reality, the Soviet 1920s were an era of unprecedented social and cultural freedoms prior to the great reversal of 1928-1929, when Stalin assumed power over the party.” In order to exonerate Marx and Lenin, Wexler denigrates one of the most humane and engaging figures to grace the Left in the 20th century.

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Catholic Colleges and Federal Funding.  By K.D. Whitehead. Ignatius. 115 pages. $7.95.

How many of the 230 or so Catholic colleges and uni­versities in the U.S. are truly Catholic? Not many, one suspects, for as K.D. White­head points out, Catholic educators plead that they must jettison Church control in order to obtain federal funds. The argument won’t wash, as Whitehead proves definitively — and he ought to know, for until just recently he served as Assistant Secretary for Postsec­ondary Education in the feder­al government’s Department of Education.

The federal government bases eligibility for aid upon accreditation, and the various accrediting agencies have al­ways recognized the unique mission of church-related col­leges and universities. Catholic educators could have their cake and eat it too: could re­main truly Catholic and receive federal monies. But as White­head suggests, this concern for government funds is a mere subterfuge. Total freedom from Rome and the American hier­archy — that is what is really wanted.

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Mother of All Nations: Visions of Mary.  By Joan Ashton. Harper Row. 223 pages. $9.95.

Like fundamentalists hang­ing on the edge of expectation, feverishly scanning the heav­ens for signs of the apoca­lypse, some Catholics burn with longing for a spectacular apparition of the Virgin that will settle the unbelievers’ hash once and for all. But our Lady refuses to co-operate. Instead of popping up on the front lawn of the White House, descending upon the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, or flashing into sight at high noon in Red Square, she most often materializes in out-of-the-way places — tiny towns and remote regions in Portugal, France, Mexico, the Central African Republic — and manifests herself to obscure people, to such insignificant individuals as peasants, shep­herdesses, and small children.

Although Joan Ashton, an English writer, recounts the astonishing phenomena — dancing suns and such — that have accompanied the Virgin’s appearances, she concentrates more on interpreting the mes­sages the Virgin brings. They seem surprisingly common­place, almost banal, at first glance. Our Lady speaks of peace, love, hope, mercy, and brotherhood: all the virtues we have heard preached interm­inably, to the point that we af­firm their desirableness with­out thinking seriously about them. But then one grasps the salient and stunning fact: This is our Mother — Mother of God and mother to all men and women, to people of every race, religion, creed, and nation — who is trying heroi­cally to help save us, to communicate to us something of the most epochal impor­tance. Have we no ears to hear? Have we broken her heart one too many times? Have we ignored her once too often? Almost as an aside, Ashton mentions the startling news the Virgin is said to have conveyed to the visionaries of Medjugorje: “this is the Last time that she will be seen on earth.”

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Protestant Thought and Natural Science.  By John Dillenberger. University of Notre Dame Press. 310 pages. $12.95.

To the pigheaded secu­larist, the relationship between Christianity and science evinc­es no subtleties. Mention Ca­tholicism, and he evokes poor Galileo cowering before the malefic Inquisitor. A reference to Protestantism elicits from him a wisecrack about the Scopes trial and Tennessee’s “gaping primates,” as H.L. Mencken tagged the funda­mentalists who rallied to the defense of Holy Writ.

John Dillenberger’s Prot­estant Thought and Natural Science (first published in 1960 and now re-issued) reveals that the situation has been more complicated than the secular­ist’s threadbare commonplaces would suggest. Dillenberger traces the interaction of science and Protestant theology from the early 16th century, an era that witnessed the simultane­ous emergence of classical Protestantism and the early stages of the Scientific Revolu­tion (Luther and Copernicus were contemporaries), to the late 19th century and the hubbub provoked by Darwin­ism. Regarding his own per­spective, Dillenberger declares his distaste for both the fundamentalist and liberal stances of the 20th century, the first because it “defied the new science,” the latter be­cause it “capitulated to its ethos.”

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Virgil Michel: American Catho­lic.  By R.W. Franklin and Robert L. Spaeth. The Liturgical Press. 161 pages. $7.95.

When Virgil Michel — the father of the liturgical move­ment in America — died in 1938 (at only 48), the Benedictines and the whole Catholic community lost one of the heroes of personalism. His friend Mortimer Adler said in eulogy, “In the crisis of our times, he saw the need to go straight to the point, leaning neither to the right nor to the left. He was almost alone in this country in his Christian understanding of the position the Church must take toward fascism and Communism in the struggle for a just society…”

Fr. Michel’s guiding vision was that in the liturgy, our sharing in the Eucharist, we can find the elements for imagining and constructing a more just social order. In the liturgy we can recognize and begin to overcome the exaggerated individualism of American life. And in the liturgy we can honor the sacredness of each human person. It’s no surprise that Michel’s vision inspired both Dorothy Day and Catherine de Hueck Doherty in their direct-action apostolates among the poor. Michel also introduced Emmanuel Mounier to Ameri­can Catholics by translating Mounier’s A Personalist Manifes­to.

But Michel’s gifts to us exacted their price. Franklin and Spaeth show a man driven to communicate to almost every level of culture. In so doing he again and again jeopardized his health. Michel led the liturgical movement, edited journals, pioneered new catechetical methods, managed The Liturgical Press, taught philosophy, served as the dean of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and somehow managed to meet a demanding speaker’s schedule. Michel dreamt great dreams and strove mightily to give them life.

What would he make of the Catholic Church in Ameri­ca today? His biographers are properly sober. One observa­tion is telling. “Since Vatican II an entire generation has grown up deprived of the history and the traditions of Christian symbolism in music and art.” This reminds us that deepen­ing our appreciation of the liturgy is not the work of just one person or one era.

A last and ironic point: The final sentence of Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal After Vir­tue advises that “we are not waiting for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very dif­ferent — St. Benedict.” Virgil Michel, O.S.B., was not that momentous figure. But he made a real difference by looking long and hard at his era in a spirit that breathed the communitarian genius of St. Benedict.

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The Thinking Revolutionary: Principle and Practice in the New Republic.  By Ralph Lerner. Cornell University Press. 238 pages. $8.95.

Ralph Lerner endeavors both to elucidate the thinking of Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers, and to extol them as models still worthy of our emulation. He discerns their most ad­mirable trait in the key word from the title of his book: “thinking.” The leading intel­lects of Revolutionary America were statesmen who “took thinking clearly to be their paramount duty.” They “act­ed,” Lerner points out, “as though dedicated intelligence might make a difference.” They derived from the En­lightenment its most attractive feature — devotion to the powers and possibilities of “reasoned understanding” — while eschewing one of its worst tendencies: the urge to wield abstract reason in the construction of utopian schemes. “These thinking revolutionaries saw their task and opportunity in fashioning a new beginning,” Lerner maintains, “but without presuming a magical transmu­tation of the species.”

In these wonderfully il­luminating, elegant, and eru­dite essays that touch upon a variety of issues faced by the founders, Lerner adheres to the rule he would impose up­on all who would contemplate the era of Revolution and na­tion-building: “to make a spe­cial effort to rise above our age’s maxims and think anew.”

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