Volume > Issue > Briefly: January-February 1991

January-February 1991

King's Pawn

By Bill Fitzgerald

Publisher: Loyola University Press

Pages: 502

Price: $19.95

Review Author: Bill Fitzgerald

Among the canons of the reviewer is the duty of ac­knowledging any significant connection with the author of the work reviewed. I am proud to acknowledge that I was a student of George H. Dunne, S.J., at Loyola Univer­sity (now Loyola Marymount University) in Los Angeles during the academic year 1946­1947. Throughout my life he has been a cherished inspira­tion, especially on the issues of race, ecumenism, and eco­nomic justice, and an exemplar of the proposition that scholar­ship and political activism are not opposites but correlatives. Those of us fortunate to have known Fr. Dunne for a life­time will be called to a renew­al of concern for those values in reading his memoirs. Read­ers who come to his book with little or no prior exposure to the man are in for not a few shocks.

The Catholic Church in which Dunn was baptized in 1905, the Loyola where he was educated as a high school, col­lege, and law school student from 1918 to 1926, and the Jesuit order he joined in 1926 are all significantly altered in­stitutions today. So, two haunting questions recur throughout this book. One, did administrators in the hi­erarchies of Church and order really behave this way? They did. Two, why did Dunne continue to function within structures that so often and so crucially assaulted his deeply rooted sense of justice and dignity? The second question is the one with which these memoirs deal. The response is, like the man, complex.

What was it like for a person of Dunne’s intelligence, courage, and conviction to function within institutional constraints that censured and then banned him from St. Louis University in 1946 for promoting full black-white in­tegration of the student body? Constraints that caused him to be banished from the Archdio­cese of Los Angeles in 1947 for his work with the Catholic Interracial Council and his efforts on behalf of labor union reform in the film industry? Restraints such as the ban on any involvement with the National Conference of Chris­tians and Jews during his graduate student days at the University of Chicago in the early 1940s?

The facts detailed in the previous paragraph are central to Dunne’s story, but the ten­sion he has experienced for a lifetime is revealed in his own words concerning a possible return to China in 1945 (he had served in the missions there from 1932 to 1936): “I wished neither to return to China, nor did I wish not to return to China. I accepted whatever decision the superior — himself — should make. That was my understanding of Ignatian indifference.”

Discipline, knowing how to take and give orders, is not exclusively a concern of the Church. However, the vow of obedience is a vital part of re­ligious life. After all, obedience is not, as one Jesuit once told me, “doing what your superior would tell you to do if he real­ly understood the situation.” But let us hear Dunne on the subject: “I took refuge in the Jesuit teaching on obedience, which, following Saint Ignati­us, maintains that the will of God is manifested to us through the decisions of supe­riors. I have serious reserva­tions about this doctrine, except when qualified by a strict exegesis. In this situa­tion, however, I fell back upon it and waited for…a decision.” This is not the posture of someone oblivious to the need for authority, intent on his own way because it is his own way. But let us hear more: “I am not disobedient. On the few occasions — and they are all recounted in these memoirs — when a superior has or­dered me to abandon a project, I have obeyed, which is not to say that I agreed that his decision was correct.”

Dunne’s memoirs bespeak a life of integrity faced fully in all its paradoxes. They provide a cautionary tale on the uses and abuses of authority. I witnessed two events wherein Loyola Marymount University, where I teach, honored Dunne — in 1975 when he received a medal for distinguished lead­ership, and in 1986 when he received an honorary degree. But I also saw that same insti­tution banish him from its halls in 1947. How much is lost when we celebrate a maverick 30 or 40 or 400 years after the heroic behavior we could not countenance when it occurred?

Where is the audience for King’s Pawn? A flip response I heard before it was published was, “It’s a book for insiders, inside the order, inside the Church.” I think not. Are you interested in such questions as the clash of conscience and authority, the corrosive effect of institutional racism, the need for persons of all faiths to co-operate enthusiastically in efforts for peace and justice? “Insiders” are inevitably most likely to read it first, but King’s Pawn should not remain an in­siders’ book. A number of communities to which George Dunne belonged seemed com­pelled to cast him out. So let’s “expel” Fr. Dunne for one last time. Only on this occasion it will not be a remonstrance and a rejection; it will be a loving effort to share his gifts of heart and mind and soul.

John Donne: Selections from Divine Poems, Sermons, De­votions, and Prayers

By John Booty

Publisher: Paulist

Pages: 320

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Nina Anne M. Greeley

John Donne lived in a time of intense religious and political controversies which profoundly affected his life. Born in 1572 into a recusant Roman Catholic family, he took holy orders in the Angli­can Church in his later years, after much consideration and struggle. Though he is most familiar to modern readers through his poetry, his con­temporaries knew him pri­marily as a popular and re­spected preacher.

Although the question of why Donne made his decision to leave Catholicism continues to fascinate readers, the pop­ularity of his devotional works does not depend on theological controversies. Indeed, while Donne was extremely well ­versed in theology and canon law, and certainly an able apologist for the Church of England, his letters and poetry demonstrate a belief that, ultimately, a particular church serves as a necessary vehicle for salvation but is not salva­tion per se. What is vital is that the individual’s choice of reli­gion proceed from a vigorous and absolutely honest search for truth.

His devotional writing, while sometimes difficult in form or language for a modern audience, still moves us today because, like the Psalms, it gives voice to the most uni­versal spiritual experiences. In particular, his works express the Christian tension between full, contrite knowledge of one’s sins and avoidance of the despair such knowledge can bring.

Donne’s divine poetry is particularly attractive because its speaker is so clearly a man of passion. Coming to the priesthood relatively late in life, Donne had much experi­ence in worldly matters of city and court. As a young man he had written love poetry using religious imagery, and his di­vine poetry often expresses his desire for God in sensual terms. He drew his imagery from every area of study and experience, often using what seemed to later critics indeco­rous or incongruous meta­phors. But this is the quality that prompted T.S. Eliot’s praise.

Donne’s poetry simultane­ously shows a dancing, sure wit and a deep humility before God. Thus, his compelling “A Hymne to God the Father” uses clever plays on words in an address to God which overwhelms us with its sense of the enormity of God’s mercy.

This collection will be of great value, not only to stu­dents, but especially to those wishing to enrich their own spiritual understanding and experience.

The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Elec­torate in the Reagan After­math

By Kevin Phillips

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 277

Price: $19.95

Review Author: Stephen Settle

Kevin Phillips demon­strates that Reaganomics was a religion demanding of its ad­herents an unquestioning evangelistic fervor. As Phillips puts it, “the supply side stal­warts…were not unlike the Je­suits of an earlier time or Ha­waii-bound nineteenth-century Congregationalist missionaries. Conviction suffused their ef­fort, making investment, free markets and entrepreneurial­ism a popular cause….” By 1980 America, fed up with feeling guilty over Vietnam and tired of enduring taunts from the Third World, desper­ately desired to believe in itself again. Who said we should apologize for being the land of opportunity? Thus “what had been vices became virtues. Av­arice became achievement — a display, almost, of social fit­ness.” (Indeed, economic Dar­winism, while taking its name from an avowed atheist, has strong parallels with that Pur­itanism that sees wealth as evidence of one’s favor and “fitness” in the eyes of God. The Horatio Alger myth em­bodies this predestinarianism. Grace is revealed as gump­tion.)

The storyline was set; the script demanded a leading man. Enter Ronald Reagan, the P.T. Barnum of political showmanship. Nixon may have become a crook, but Rea­gan was a con artist from the start, peddling a snake oil prescription for “Morning in America.”

Under Reagan, Norman Vincent Peale’s power of pos­itive thinking could be synop­sized in two words: Money talks. Dynamic capitalism be­came for the Reaganistas what santeria was to the Duvaliers. (The term “voodoo econom­ics,” coined by George Bush, had far deeper significance than its author originally in­tended.) Reagan sought “less to cope with U.S. world de­cline than to deny it by reen­acting past glories. In econom­ic policy this included the conspicuous accumulation and display of wealth,…overseas borrowing to build U.S. indus­try, and mimicry of the tax cuts and stock market booms of the 1920s.” So, we went from being the world’s leading creditor nation to its leading debtor nation in one decade.

For Reagan the actor, fan­tasy was a vocation, and most of his audience enthusiastically obliged by suspending all dis­belief. However, like Michael Jackson when his hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, reality intruded. The prosperity that was sup­posed to “trickle down” in­stead ballooned at the top, creating an economic profile that might best be described as Dolly Partonesque.

Today, half of all federal income tax receipts are target­ed to servicing the national debt, while the wealthiest 20 percent pay 11 percent less taxes and the rest of us pay 36 percent more than a decade ago. Everyone seems scared and out for Number One. Whether or not free-market utopianism might’ve worked, tax cuts for the well-to-do were not reinvested, as sup­ply-siders had promised, but blown on weekends at Palm Springs.

George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty furnished the supply­siders’ bible. A book “brimful of sheer ideological enthusi­asm,” it magisterially pro­claimed that supply creates its own demand, certainly no news to any narcotics agent. Reagan’s words, “What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always get rich,” could’ve been the motto of every two-bit dope merchant from Key Biscayne to Olympia Falls. “Miami Vice” showed that money could be ill-gained, but that message was over­shadowed by fascination with its power. The word was: Greed is good, so go on, have a taste. America got hooked on junk bonds, and Marx’s line that religion is the opiate of the people cried out for an addendum: Capitalism is their amphetamine. The nation, in short, was enthralled by a fundamentally materialist reli­gion which true-believing Rea­ganistas propagated with a zeal to shame Mao’s Red Guards.

Phillips has produced a meticulously researched, in­deed exhaustive, indictment of economic libertarianism.

Daniel Berrigan: Poetry, Dra­ma, Prose

By Michael True

Publisher: Orbis

Pages: 352

Price: $12.95

Review Author: John C. Cort

Among those to whom the name Daniel Berrigan, S.J., is familiar, there are mainly two schools: those to whom he is a national Catholic treasure and those to whom he is a national Catholic disaster. I count my­self among the former, al­though once in the feverish 1960s, disagreeing on the sub­ject of the Black Panthers, I felt the sharp edge of his tongue.

Orbis Books has now giv­en us a treasury of the treas­ure entitled Daniel Berrigan: Po­etry, Drama, Prose, with some new material, but mostly excerpts from articles and his 36 books (nine poetry, 23 prose, one drama, and three “conversations”).

It is curious that, as ad­vocates of peace and nonvio­lence, he and brother Philip favor forceful tactics. Even Dorothy Day, who loved and supported them, was some­times critical. After the Ca­tonsville break-in she com­mented, “I believe in the Golden Rule and if we bust up their offices we can’t complain when they bust up ours. Gan­dhi never used violence even against inanimate things.”

Even so, Dan’s a gutsy, good guy. Also a good poet, when not being too T.S. Eliot­ obscure. This passage, above all, I like: “Any and all claims attached to academe, regarding superior moral discernment or development are universally false…. It is rare to find, in theology departments for example, that scripture or a given religious code, is con­sidered binding, or a call to faith. Theology, like every other discipline, is often con­sidered an object of compe­tence, not of faith; dry grist for the mill. Religious traditions, which have historically nour­ished heroes and saints, are treated as matters of ‘spe­cialty,’ ‘expertise.’ Their out­come in a given instance is nothing like a unitive con­science, political sense or pas­sion, wisdom. None of these. But a small-minded, cold-fish attitude toward the world….”

Lent: The Slow Fast

By Star­key Flythe Jr.

Publisher: University of Iowa Press

Pages: 152

Price: $17.95

Review Author: Caroline Mulrooney

In the title story of Starkey Flythe’s Lent: The Slow Fast, we meet Jo Ellen, a 30-ish wife and mother of two, who has been appointed head of the food committee in her parish at the very start of Lent. The fat, unctuous Father Peter is so enraptured with her cooking that he asks for more and more meals, keeping Jo Ellen sweating in the parish hall kitchen. Jo Ellen must balance Father Peter’s demands with those of her husband and children. The story opens early Easter morning, with husband Chris demanding sex as Father Peter demands food over the telephone (“We’re all down here and there’s nothing to eat,” he says, helpless and hungry). Jo Ellen finally turns down Father Peter, only to meet the expectant eyes of her family (her husband looks at her, “waiting”). She sees a chocolate egg in one of her children’s Easter baskets; we are told “the thought of taking it from them, against their will, gave her .an odd pleas­ure,” and the story ends.

The story exemplifies the structure of Flythe’s fictional world, in which there are three elements: the suffering central character; the oppres­sor, who takes the form of Family, Church, or Society; and the chocolate egg of long­ deserved indulgence, which the central character might or might not feel the freedom to seize. (The egg appears in only some stories.)

In “For A Good Time Call Matthew,” Jeannie, a recently widowed 30-ish woman, rather indistinguishable from Jo Ellen, admires the physique of 20-ish and carefree Matthew, the boy who mows the lawn. Her hus­band, we discover through her reflections, was a rigid, don’t ­smell-the-daisies man; vaca­tions were a waste of time, and fun was “what was the matter with the country.” Thus we have our oppressor, who, ogre-like, allows us to feel good about Jeannie when she grabs her chocolate egg, Mat­thew. As she kisses him in the bathroom, she feels — yes — good about herself, and here we have Flythe’s prose at its most bland: Jeannie “knows her saying yes is her own an­swer, nobody else’s, that she is responsible, a person, Jean­nie, not an attachment to the social order….”

“Learning Italian” portrays Bea, an 18-year-old college freshman, who accompanies her sister Zanne to get an abortion. Of course, the focus of the story is not the choice made, but rather the general difficulty of living in our com­plicated society, which makes Bea wonder if she wants to grow up — “the violence of education began to strike her.”

Of course, I have my ob­jections to this sad-sack world view, yet Flythe’s fiction suf­fers not because of his philos­ophy — many good writers agree with him — but because it is all he has. He fails to translate his philosophy into good fiction. His oppressors are as routine as those on a sit-com, while his central characters all coalesce into one large blob of sensitivity. Flythe stays very psychologically close to these characters, sympathet­ically tracing every subtle turn of their thoughts; but the gen­eral feeling evoked is always the same, and so we can’t distinguish one character from the next. His characters are robbed of what makes fiction fun — quirkiness, unpredict­ability, and, most of all, in­trigue. There is no flash of evil in the good, no sudden revela­tion of good in the evil, no mystery of motivations. We are sleepily left to assume that the ogres will remain ogres, and that the down-trodden will someday seize the egg at the end of their long, slow fast.

Inside the Soviet Writers' Union. By John and Carol Garrard

By Henry Milner

Publisher: Free Press

Pages: 303

Price: $22.95

Review Author:

Coining a phrase evocative of his vision of a materialist utopia, Stalin once referred to writers as “the engineers of the soul,” thus deeming the Marxist “soul” as worthy as a hydroelectric plant. John and Carol Garrard’s exhaustive new study provides the mel­ancholy account of how three generations of these “en­gineers” — poets and novel­ists, geniuses and hacks — were collectively shaped into an organ of state control. With the carrots of privileged status and the sticks of intimidation and terror, they were corrupt­ed into transforming a Russian literature of towering stature into ideological pap and prop­aganda.

With a meticulous, some­times overly dense, detailing of events, the Garrards serve the reader a thick borscht of Russian names and acronyms, the price of commendable scholarship, as they offer an­other agonizing chapter in the intellectual history of our times. It forces us to confront George Steiner’s thesis, deriv­ed from the lessons of totalitar­ianism, that neither literacy nor “high culture” guarantee an appetite for justice, or a compassionate heart.

While no one who didn’t face the terror can judge even its potential victims, it is still depressing to read of writers, the legatees of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, being treated and, worse, treating others as chattel. Some, with an appetite for power (and a talent for be­trayab| became Soviet-style millionaires, while others, brave or stubborn, disappeared into the gulag. Ultimately, the “Union” became more effective in institutional coercion than “Glavlit,” the official censor­ship organ.

The last two chapters — “The Threat of Glasnost” and “Promise of Perestroika” — are most pertinent and fascinating, and still relevant despite the velocity of current events. (All such books run the risk of in­stant obsolescence). The role of anti-Semitism and the emer­gence of “nationalism and chauvinism,” powerful despite the Party-line disavowals, demonstrate the “centrifugal tendencies” which tear at the very center of Comrade Gorba­chev’s reeling supra-state.

Finally, most sobering is the degree to which Lenin’s ideology is revealed to be central to the ongoing debates, and to Gorbachev himself. The stifling demands of “socialist realism” have been largely dis­carded, but the Party, as of this book’s printing, still has a firm grip on the Writers’ Union. In fact, the poet Yevtu­shenko, a brave man but an “approved radical,” was de­feated by the hardliners in his effort to gain union office. And Solzhenitsyn, the first to denounce the cult of Lenin, is still ritually denounced. The “engineering” mentality sur­vives, and now it is, undoubt­edly, computer-aided. It seems unlikely that the liberating spirit of literature, the sacred notion of a person as irreduci­bly unique, will be compatible with any new Soviet “guidance system.”

Perhaps we can hope for a truly free Russian literature when, once again, they call the city on the Neva, “Saint Petersburg.”

Sweden: Social Democracy in Practice

By Judith Stoughton­

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 260

Price: $39.95

Review Author:

“Socialism won’t work,” the conservative intones. The obvious retort is: What about Sweden (not to mention Norway or Austria)? “Well,” shoots back the right-winger, “look at Sweden’s high rates of suicide and alcohol abuse; socialism gives people nothing to live for.” How then could it be, comes the reply, that Sweden has achieved a stand­ard of living that at least matches that of the U.S. — and produces better cars than comparable American models? “Sweden isn’t really socialist,” the conservative answers.

Pity the Swedish socialists: When things seemingly go wrong, they get the blame; when things seemingly go right, they get no credit.

As for the suicide rate, Henry Milner notes in this book that it’s actually typical of advanced non-Catholic coun­tries. Regarding alcohol abuse, Americans consume almost twice as much booze per per­son as do Swedes.

As for the economy, Mil­ner is persuasive in showing that Swedish socialism’s highly regulated market economy is “different in kind” from the “competitive capitalism” we have in the U.S. For example, some 40 percent of Swedish workers are in the public sec­tor and public expenditures constitute about 70 percent of GNP — figures which would make any conservative see red. By virtue of strong state inter­vention in the economy by socialist administrations going back to 1932, Sweden has done what free marketeers say is impossible — successfully combine equitable distribution with exemplary productivity, low inflation, and political freedom.

One obvious case of so­cialism’s success in Sweden is its socialized health care sys­tem: Sweden spends less of its GNP on health care than the U.S., but has a significantly lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy. More­over, Sweden has the lowest level of income inequality of any Western society; 17 per­cent of Americans are below the poverty line but only five percent of Swedes are; and the crime rate is over 10 times higher in the U.S. than in Sweden. Understandably, not even Sweden’s conservative party is hospitable to Reagan­ite/Thatcherite policies.

But aren’t taxes high? Yes, but Swedes are smart enough — and moral enough — to appreciate that what they pay, they pay to themselves, their loved ones, and neighbors (fortunately, Swedish public administration is cost-effective). High taxes don’t discourage Swedes from working hard, much of that being due to what Milner calls “the inherit­ed Lutheran work ethic.” Inherited, indeed! Sweden is now highly secular, and its family structure is in trouble (as is America’s), and one wonders how long Swedes will be able to live off their Luther­an moral capital.

When one hears the term “welfare state,” one often thinks of people loafing around on a dole. But in Swe­den “welfare” is focused on getting people into the labor force and helping those al­ready working, and the unem­ployment rate in Sweden is less than half that of the U.S. Yet, much of the success of socialism in Sweden is due to the people’s ingrained desire to work productively. Where the work ethic is weak (as in, say, Panama or America’s ghettoes), one wonders how socialism could work — in­deed, how any economic system could function well. As Milner says, “Culture mat­ters….”

This is where American liberals could learn something: It’s great to design programs for the disadvantaged, but if those programs don’t provide incentives to work and if a disproportionate number of the recipients are moral cripples, those programs aren’t going to accomplish much. In spite of its secularity, Sweden enjoys a moral consensus about work and about helping one anoth­er, and America’s “rights” minded liberals have been tragically inattentive to such issues of moral context.

Sweden is no utopia, no substitute for the Kingdom of God — but it does give evidence that it’s possible to do better than capitalism, that “do-gooders” can do well, even in economics.

Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek: Ade Bethune, Catholic Worker Artist


Publisher: North Star Press (P.O. Box 451, St. Cloud, MN 56302)

Pages: 144

Price: $19.95

Review Author:

Ade Bethune, who was born in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels and now resides in Newport, R.I., is one of Bel­gium’s great gifts to the Cath­olic Church and to America.

Perhaps most renowned for her striking black and white illustrations for The Cath­olic Worker, her Church-cen­tered work also includes stained glass windows, mas­sive mosaics, candle holders, and tapestries. Her art is heartening for the bold and strong and unsentimental ways in which it presents the Gos­pel — not unlike Dorothy Day’s style of Gospel-living.

This book, containing the story of Bethune’s life and ov­er 300 illustrations (37 in col­or), is a treasure and an inspi­ration.

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