Volume > Issue > Briefly: July-August 2009

July-August 2009

Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education

By Anne Hendershott

Publisher: Transaction Publishers

Pages: 249

Price: $39.95

Review Author: Mary McWay Seaman

In times past, when Catholic universities were the envy of the world, they were run by religious orders for students with religious values. Now many have succumbed to postmodern moral relativism — a conversion that Anne Hendershott attributes to an inferiority complex. Her new book, Status Envy, focuses on leadership: “Faculty are reminded of the perceived inferiority of Catholic colleges and universities each year when the U.S. News & World Report surveys on higher education include few of the 224 Catholic colleges and universities….” Even after decades of aping secular institutions’ politically correct progressive agenda, Hender­shott asserts that Catholic academics still blame their schools’ lower ratings on the Catholic brand.

Hendershott’s richly researched background material offers the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and Vatican II as motivating Catholic faculty demands of “autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical….” University leadership was ceded to independent boards of trustees pledging just that. Hendershott also highlights the influence of moonlighting leaders in secularizing their institutions — e.g., the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, whose success on boards of secular organizations “can be viewed as stemming from his ability to distance himself from the authority of the Church and sometimes from its teachings.” The papal document Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990) called for theologians on Catholic campuses to obtain mandates from local bishops testifying that their curricula were in communion with official Church teachings. Theologians Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame (a media darling) and Daniel Maguire of Marquette rejected it out of hand. One of Maguire’s shocking nostrums proclaims that “the Church not only allows abortion, it celebrates it by rewarding with sainthood those who are pro-choice.”

A good portion of Hendershott’s book details intellectual pluralism’s romp through theology courses. If Catholics think that elements of numerology, witchcraft, Kabbalah, astrology, Buddhism, radical feminism, and Marxism are absent from theology courses on Catholic campuses, they should think again. Hendershott’s study of radical feminist theologians on Catholic campuses highlights their claim that Jesus inaugurated “a proto-feminist movement that venerated female leaders like Mary Magdalene.” The radicals vilify St. Paul as a sexist and a homophobe, and their “alternative feminist canon” approves abortion, same-sex marriage, and women priests. The Jesuits’ departure from their founding purpose “to defend Church and papacy” presents a sad saga. The order’s extremist comrades embrace a quasi-Marxist liberation theology and have allied with the Sandinistas, Fidel Castro, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Soviets. Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., convinced Catholic politicians (the Kennedys, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, et al.) that they could support abortion with a clear conscience, and in 2006 Georgetown University created a human rights chair in Fr. Drinan’s honor.

Hendershott’s round-up of federal fund-seekers reveals Catholic academic elites troubled by campus “sectarian purposes.” They contract schiz­o­­phrenia during financial campaigns, assuming non-sectarian postures for public funds and then genuflecting before bishops and Catholic donors. Marketing materials laud “peace and justice” and inanities like “multiculturalism,” subverting the true purposes of education — teaching and learning. Remarks from Prof. Gerard Bradley of Notre Dame render a reality check: “You do not set up a university in order to do soup kitchens. You do not keep a university going so that young people can go on retreats.”

DePaul University, cited as one of the “Top 100 Best Campuses” for homosexual students, is the first Catholic university in America “to offer the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer studies minor.” Hendershott sees such gay campus cultures and the clergy sex-abuse crisis as decimating Church authority: “While the issue of homosexuality has taken on a life of its own on Catholic campuses and within seminaries and parish rectories…it is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem. The real problem is the failure to recognize that there are indeed rules — and a natural law basis for such rules….”

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus lamented the “crisis of faith” on Catholic campuses, but Hendershott would add that there’s also a “crisis of leadership.” Since the Vatican has “responded punitively on only a few occasions” to radical priests and bishops, her work outlines grass­roots prescriptions for the way forward, notably through confrontations like the Cardinal Newman Society’s “ongoing protest against inappropriate commencement speakers and honorees at Catholic colleges and universities.” She sees hope in a new generation studying at Christendom College, Franciscan University of Steuben­ville, and Thomas Aquinas College — schools recognized among the “best” colleges by U.S. News & World Report in 2007 — which she describes as “orthodox Catholic colleges.” Is the ancient Faith devolving into formal divisions like Judaism — orthodox, reformed, secular? That answer eludes us now, but Anne Hender­shott’s splendid exposé of Catholic academics’ false doctrine — secularization for status — leaves no doubt about the devastation wrought by politicizing Catholic higher education.

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning

By Jonah Goldberg

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 496

Price: $27.95

Review Author: Clem Dawkins

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is, as the title suggests, an explanation of why fascism is a dysfunction of the Left rather than the Right, as is popularly believed. His premise is simple: The totalitarian horrors visited upon humanity in the 20th century were ideological descendants of “progressivism” that flowered in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He ably demonstrates how FDR, Hitler, and Mussolini were socialists — on the Left. The only difference between ours and theirs (including Stalin, Goldberg neatly explains) is one of degree and technique — i.e., an American “soft-core” fascism versus the more traditional hardcore version implemented in Europe. In short, yesteryear’s American progressives are today’s liberals, and they are leading America to a socialist utopia and full-blown fascism.

Liberal Fascism provides substantial evidence to expose and eviscerate American liberalism, with only minor snags, such as Goldberg’s use of the Enlightenment as the benchmark for judging today’s political antics. “Without the standards of the Enlightenment, we are in a Nie­tzschean world where power decides important questions rather than reason,” and “enlightenment notions of universal humanity are routinely mocked on the academic left.” Yes they are, but such notions were around for some time prior to the so-called Enlightenment, courtesy of Christianity. Goldberg ignores a millennium of prior history, which was neither socialist nor Nietzschean but Catholic, and which provided the same Western civilization now in decline.

Other comments are puzzling too. For instance, Goldberg says, “Now, when I say that the politics of meaning, and Hillary Clinton’s ideas in general, are fascist, I must again be clear that they are not evil.” Yet, as his book’s cover indicates, evil doesn’t always show itself with a Satanic snarl but more often as the benign smile of a Nurse Ratchet. If Goldberg’s implication is correct, that fascism is evil, and if Hillary’s ideas are fascist, they logically must be evil too, even if in a more palatable form.

It is also difficult to understand Goldberg’s classification of the movies Braveheart, Gladiator, and 300 as fascist. Maybe I missed something, but each film’s theme was the resistance to fascist powers that sought to control a free and self-governing people. Each “bad guy” represented traditional, masculine, European fascism — Edward, Commodus, Xerxes — desiring absolute paternal control of his subjects. Goldberg points out that “the clans of the Scottish Highlands were hardly constitutional republics.” Well, no, but does that excuse English subjugation?

Goldberg favorably compares George W. Bush to Woodrow Wilson a few pages later: “Bush’s democracy agenda — which I support — has become synonymous with a kind of neo-fascism…. It’s a curious irony that the most Wilsonian president in a generation is seen as a fascist by many people who would bristle at the suggestion that Wilson himself was a fascist.” This is more than a little curious because Goldberg devotes an entire chapter to persuasively arguing how Wilson was the most fascist president of the 20th century. With Bush uttering words close to Wilson’s “make the world safe for democracy” prattle, Goldberg’s favorable view of Bush is perplexing.

Goldberg concludes by targeting Pat Buchanan as a conservative fascist who’s racist and anti-Semitic. He sees no difference between Buchanan’s sounding the alarm for race suicide and the progressives’ historically racist view of immigrants: “Conservatives should ask themselves how such sentiments are any different coming from Buchanan.”

I have, and the answer is simple: In contrast to the progressives’ racism, Buchanan rightly fears the actual extinction of Western peoples of all races due to the twin evils of contraception and abortion, which have already caused noticeable declines in Western populations.

Likewise, Buchanan’s alarm over our porous border with Mexico, which Goldberg implies is racially motivated, gets him called “an immigration restrictionist horrified by the influx of Hispanics into the U.S.” Again, a legitimate concern for national security would be a more logical conclusion. Any nation that cannot govern her borders doesn’t remain a nation for long.

Goldberg also claims that Buchanan “pushed his boss [President Nixon] to attack east coast elites, often in code, Jews,” alleging him “to have a dismaying problem with Jews,” though Goldberg cites no examples. As Goldberg should know better than anyone, “east coast elites” is not code for Jews but for liberals. The fact that a disproportionate number of them may be Jewish does not make the one who notices it anti-Semitic. Thus, suggesting that Buchanan is anti-Semitic is troubling because it’s right out of the liberal playbook: any criticism of a liberal will be met with accusations of racism or anti-Semitism.

Regardless of its shortcomings, Liberal Fascism remains a timely and superb work. It is a must-read for anyone who wonders how, in the span of a century, America became a de facto socialist nation. It also explains how a people elected a community organizer as the next FDR-type president.

Last Rites

By John Lukacs

Publisher: Yale University Press

Pages: 187

Price: $25

Review Author: Anne Barbeau Gardiner

In Last Rites, John Lukacs, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, past president of the American Catholic Historical Association, and author of some two dozen books, reflects on the “twilight” in which we live, the end of an age that has lasted 500 years. Though his tone is elegiac, Lukacs writes with charming candor and self-deprecation, even as he mourns the loss of our great Western civilization. While the “ruling ideas” of the past half-millennium were “not entirely wrong” — ideas such as progress, evolution, enlightenment — “the acceptance of their formulation as absolutes” was indeed so.

After World War II came a general and profound crisis that, Lukacs contends, climaxed in 1969. There was a strange “duality” in the 1960s — clamors for the protection of rights of privacy coincided with the loss of “even the desire of personal privacy.” Among the symptoms of our dying civilization were the disappearance of intellectuals as a class, the decline of liberalism, the multiplication of “rights,” and the rising “tide of cynicism” among educators who underestimated the intelligence of American students. Lukacs especially laments the loss of beauty in our time: “Having liberated mankind from all kinds of fetters, having declared the end of slavery, emancipation of women and of children, entire liberties of speech, of print, of pictures, etc., men’s images of men and women are more sordid, more ugly, more desperate than ever.”

With regard to American politics, Lukacs sees little difference between conservatives and liberals in manners and morals. He finds both self-contradictory: Liberals fight for “the extension of limitless human ‘freedoms'” while clinging to “Darwinist categories of evolution and ‘progress'” that run counter to the defense of human dignity; conservatives extend American power across the globe while embracing a thoughtless belief in the endless benefits of technology that runs counter to every conservative view of human nature and its limits. One of Lukacs’s most amusing quips is that American presidents today travel with a retinue that dwarfs King Louis XIV’s. He also sees recent presidents as cultivating a new, aggressive nationalism, instead of a traditional, defensive patriotism.

One part of his book is devoted to his two American wives, for whom he expresses deep gratitude. Each converted to Catholicism on her deathbed, and Last Rites is dedicated to Fr. Francis X. Meehan, who received the second, Stephanie, into the Church. Lukacs expresses gratitude for having lived 54 years in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and, among other things, mourns the decline of Philadelphia. Lukacs also writes lyrically about “old Hungary,” which he fled at age 22 in 1946. After the fall of communism, he traveled to Budapest every year for 17 years, and on his 80th birthday was moved to tears at hearing on the radio, by chance, a reading in Hungarian of part of his book Confessions, about his Jewish grandparents.

The most important part of Last Rites is where Lukacs expresses his conviction that history is larger than science, because science is part of history and not the other way around. Some historians may think that the purpose of history is to attain a definite and final establishment of truths, but for Lukacs history is like memory, incomplete and fallible. A recognition of its limits only enriches us.

So far so good, but one must disagree with Lukacs when he turns admiringly to Werner Heisenberg’s Gifford Lecture of 1955, in which he said that science by its interventions can alter the objects it investigates, and that methods and objects can no longer be separated. Lukacs embraces Heisenberg’s thinking, and upon it grounds his new “anthropocentric and geocentric view of the universe,” because “the universe is such as it is because at the center of it there exist conscious and participant human beings who can see it, explore it, study it.” He rallies Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics for support, declaring that “the human observer cannot be separated from the things he observes.”

He is mistaken. This interpretation of quantum mechanics has been shown to be false by the brilliant physicist-theologian Stanley L. Jaki, also of Hungarian background. The late Fr. Jaki exploded the errors of Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Copen­hagen school in several of his works, particularly in the chapter “Determinism and Reality” in Patterns or Principles and Other Essays. Fr. Jaki shows plainly the illogic of Heisen­berg’s claim to have “definitively” invalidated the law of causality by quantum mechanics. The penalty for his blindness was that he fell into “anthropocentric subjectivism.” Sadly, Lukacs follows him.

But not entirely, since Lukacs is a serious Catholic for whom it behooves “Christian believers to think that the coming of Christ to this earth may have been the central event of the universe.” He is a Catholic for whom the “Church, my church…must remain a single, lonely lighthouse of human comprehension, of wisdom, a proponent of love. For God’s (and their own) sake, Christians must steel themselves against temptations of popularity and success.” For these statements and for most of his thought-provoking, elegiac work, one may be thankful.

Enjoyed reading this?



You May Also Enjoy

Liturgical Triumphalism

During the early 1980s I was involved in a?Catholic music ensemble that had started out…

Conscience: When Ignorance Is Not Bliss

One of the joys of working with college students is that they have an astonishing…

Letter to the Editor: November 2015

Still Wondering... Bringing a Bold Truth to the Quad... Putting Away the Sword, Embracing the Cross... What Failure?... We All Lost... Warn the Bullies... Will We Need Another Gregory?... The Right of Necessary Disobedience... and more