Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: March 2024

Letters to the Editor: March 2024

Our Collective Moral Failure

Jason M. Morgan offers a series of meditations on modern elitism in his column “The Exalted & the Despised” (Cultural Counterpoint, Dec.). Within the United States, it is an elitism that has changed. Matters may not have been better 50 years ago, but they were different.

In the mid-20th century, a WASP elite ran the universities, law firms, and banks, and they were not Prof. Morgan’s “rich men north of Richmond.” They were classist, of course. Classism came with the territory because these men were the old rich; they had inherited their money. But these men would not run these institutions long. By 1970 this elite had mostly disappeared, even at places like Harvard.

The old WASP elite had been (a bit) embarrassed by their place in the world. They did not wear their status on their sleeves, at least during the week — though some of the men did wear it on Saturdays on their pastel-colored pants. Instead, with their embarrassment, the WASP elite had a sense of noblesse oblige. Given their accident of birth, they expected each other to give back to society: to serve, to give to the church (they attended church), to support the poor, to help their community. And when at the universities, they did not attempt to limit what a scholar might say. Joe McCarthy tried, and they shut him down. You can overstate their tolerance, but they understood that they had not earned their position.

Not so our new elite.

The new elite live north of Morgan’s Richmond because of their academic credentials, certified by diplomas from places like Harvard. The old elite gave back to the world because they realized (at some level) that they enjoyed advantages they had not earned. The new elite hold their status (they believe) simply because they are more able than everyone else. They aced the SAT. They earned a magna cum laude from Columbia. Certified as they are in their brilliance, they have no reason to be modest. Morgan calls this a question of “character,” and so it is. As St. John Henry Newman put it, “knowledge is one thing,” but “virtue is another.” Wisdom “is not conscience,” and “refinement is not humility.”

No, certainly not humility. Instead, with their self-confidence has come intolerance, what Morgan calls “ugly little cliques around shared, secret vices,” with a concomitant “disappearance of integrity, honesty, and joy.” Three years ago, I ran into that intolerance. I had asserted in print — based on historical evidence — that many (perhaps most) of the prostitutes working in the brothels next to Japanese military bases during World War II had probably taken the job for the money. Destitute young women peddle sex at military bases everywhere, and they always have. Destitute women peddled sex next to the Japanese bases during World War II. That is what the historical evidence shows.

But this is not what 21st-century university professors of Japanese history allow. I was a “racist,” a “denialist,” and a “fraud,” they announced, and they orchestrated a full-scale professional ostracism. You might wonder what racism and denialism (denial of what?) have to do with 1940s Japanese history. I wondered that, too. But to the attackers, the accusations justified the ostracism. “Giving space and legitimacy to racists, historical denialists, & scholarship without merit through ‘debate’ does harm to the academic community & the broader public by amplifying dangerous positions and/or untruths,” announced one of my most hostile critics (Paula Curtis on Twitter, July 2, 2022). By calling someone a racist, denialist, or fraud, they could — in their minds — validly deny him a chance to defend himself. When I posted a long and detailed response to my critics on the Harvard Law School working-paper series, one of the critics even tried to intimidate the professor handling the series into taking down my response. Fortunately for me, my colleague refused.

During an ostracism, nights are long. Actually, the days can be long, too, but the nights are especially bad. Ostracism haunts. It is lonely, and it is brutal. To be sure, ostracism also teaches. Ostracism is about sorrow, and (in Dante’s words) sorrow “marries us again to God.” I was raised by ministers but had largely forgotten how to pray. Ostracized, I taught myself anew.

In being ostracized within the university community, I am hardly alone. “We are, each of us, always a moment away from being spotlighted and dehumanized,” writes Morgan. Cancelings today are a dime a dozen.

We on the faculty need to reflect on how this came to be. Even those of us not on the far Left need to reflect. Indeed, those of us not on the far Left especially need to reflect — because we are the ones who let this happen. The cancelings, the punishments, the DEI bureaucracy, the endless list that we could all recite — all this happened on our watch. We saw it happen but did nothing. We were too busy. We were scared to speak up. We — we on the faculty — let our universities become what they are. The universities that we have are the result of our own collective moral failure.

It is high time for us to take a stand. “The place where you made your stand never mattered,” wrote Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King). “Only that you were there…and still on your feet.” We need to do it now.

J. Mark Ramseyer

Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies, Harvard Law School

Cambridge, Massachusetts

I was awed by the insightful analysis in Jason M. Morgan’s column. At the same time, he left me wondering whether he was issuing a call to action or simply calling out sin and sinners as he sees them, a prophetic task that is part, but not all, of what’s needed.

Morgan and I share the same occupation — college-level instruction — so when I read that “most people in academia will say anything to keep their titles and their salaries…. Today’s academics are chameleons with pensions,” I concluded that Dr. Morgan must know a different group of academics than I do. Perhaps teaching engineering gives me more freedom of speech regarding extracurricular subjects than if I were to teach humanities, as Morgan does. A Christian friend of mine who teaches engineering at my institution tells his students whatever he thinks they need to know, including how to come to Christ. He says, “What’s the worst they can do? Ask me to retire!” So far, they haven’t.

Living in Japan, as Morgan does, and viewing the United States mainly through the distorting lens of the Internet may make things look worse than they are. In saying “It isn’t the fault of social media,” Morgan belittles the truly diabolical power social-media firms exert by catering to the seven capital vices in everyone who has a smartphone, which is nearly everyone. People have done stupid and terrible things for millennia, but we now have multibillion-dollar industries that profit from bringing these things before the eyes of millions.

I agree that the Devil and his demons seek to divide the Body of Christ by any means, and the “exalted-despised” division, in which both sides sin in different ways, is one of their most successful ploys. But Morgan takes the view that we are being forced into one or the other of these categories by simply living in the United States, and he posits no escape route that I can see.

The only trace of hope I find comes when Morgan writes, “We become, without charity and grace, the in-crowd and the outsiders, the exalted and the despised.” Charity and grace are the gifts of the Holy Spirit we must appropriate in order to avoid the diabolical dichotomy to which Morgan tries to condemn us.

I know I have done things wrong in my academic career, but I think it is still possible, in some geographic areas and in some disciplines, to maintain integrity as a Christian and still serve students without taking sides in the demonic cultural battle Morgan describes. Noting that Morgan earns his living the same way, I hope he can maintain his integrity, too.

Karl D. Stephan

Ingram School of Engineering, Texas State University

San Marcos, Texas

Near the end of his column, Jason M. Morgan concludes, “I have come to believe that what I have seen in my lifetime — this crazed disunity of the exalted and the despised — is not political, not economic, not social, not cultural, and not even human in many ways. It is diabolical.” The current reality is that the Devil is “on a roll,” deeply entrenched in the primary culture-carriers of the West. Our ancient enemy has steamrolled through our fragile defenses, gaining momentum as he goes.

Not many people would agree with this; not many people today are aware of the intensity of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. When 69% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation, that the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, calling it only a symbol, it is no wonder there is faint awareness of or even belief in Satan and his hatred of mankind. Add to this the growing number of “nones,” those with no religious affiliation, many of whom believe religion is incompatible with a scientific worldview, for whom talk of things diabolical seems absurd.

Historically, the most formidable defense against the Evil One has been the Catholic Church. However, the Church has grown weak, her authority undermined or compromised. In response to this, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Church is there so that God, the living God, may be made known — so that man may learn to live with God, live in His sight and in fellowship with Him. The Church is there to prevent the advance of Hell upon earth and to make earth fit to live in through the light of God” (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith).

How can the Church prevent the “advance of Hell” if she cannot present a powerful, united front, cannot be a bulwark to block and repel insistent diabolical assaults on all aspects of human life? Scripture says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Given that Satan is well established in our consumer culture, in domestic and international politics, and in most forms of entertainment, a clear vision, a new way forward, is required. Benedict proposed just that. He said, “Since a consumer culture exists that wants to prevent us from living in accordance with the Creator’s plan, we must have the courage to create islands, oases, and then great stretches of land of Catholic culture where the Creator’s design is lived out” (Encounter with the Youth, April 6, 2006).

These are not the whimsical musings of an aging pope. In fact, new and older ecclesial movements are pursuing Benedict’s vision, developing networks of committed relationships of men and women in love with Jesus Christ, eagerly striving to grow in holiness. These movements have strong leadership, common ideals and agreements, vibrant family life, and zeal for living the Gospel and Church teaching, and they are sincerely loyal to the Magisterium. They have formed “islands” and “oases” of Catholic counterculture, in the world but not of it — and not without suffering persecution.

Today’s ecclesial movements are prophetic signs, beacons of hope to the world and, most especially, to the Church — a way forward, a way to rebuild a sturdy bulwark to “prevent the advance of Hell upon earth.” Kudos to Morgan for exposing the Devil and his works, bringing light to the present darkness.

Bob Filoramo

Warren, New Jersey

JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:

Karl D. Stephan’s thoughtful letter gives me a good opportunity to clarify some things from my column. He is right to lay plenty of blame for our hobbled society at the feet of social-media companies, which do profit from the divisiveness they sow. Yet I see those companies, and the people who use them, as lost in a much bigger wilderness. Whatever Big Tech delivers, it is not their trademarked brand, and it certainly isn’t new in the world. There are no cellphone videos of Red Guards beating up teachers, and no selfies showing a member of a Parisian mob holding up a guillotined head. The human heart is half-dipped in venom and has been since long before we started boasting of it casually online.

Prof. Stephan also confirms something I have heard before, namely, that engineering departments at American universities have sane people in them. This is something of a fable we sometimes hear whispered in humanities departments. I hope our cousins in engineering will hold what they’ve got — and hold fast. Among the names of the academic disappeared and traumatized — Joshua T. Katz (Princeton), Laura Kipnis (Northwestern), Carol M. Swain (Vanderbilt), Bret Weinstein (Evergreen), Peter Boghossian (Portland State), Jordan B. Peterson (Univ. of Toronto), Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford), Nicholas A. Christakis (Yale), Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal Univ.), Amy Wax (Univ. of Pennsylvania), the list goes on and on — there are no engineers.

Whether it is possible to maintain one’s integrity and dignity while teaching in anything other than an engineering department at just about any academic institution in the United States is a question I have been fortunate enough this past near-decade not to have to answer. But perhaps one act of charity that engineering professors in America can perform is to check on the humanities departments from time to time. (You’ll be able to find them easily thanks to the shrieking harpies and the sulfuric fumes.) There are lost souls there by the boatload. In addition to preaching Christ to undergrads, well-meaning engineering academics can do a world of good by preaching Him also to postgraduates in English and history departments.

To the list of canceled professors above must be added my friend and colleague J. Mark Ramseyer, who writes eloquently about a hell he endured. I know a bit about it because, as someone guilty of the same historical heterodoxy as he, I was on the receiving end of a very tiny fraction of the truly unhinged hate that hit him every time he opened his email inbox. Attempts to reason with our attackers utterly failed. They were as people possessed. I saw men and women I had once considered fairly respectable sell their self-respect wholesale just to keep the rabid herd of which they were part from turning around and attacking them.

Mark is a gentle Christian soul, a good and loving father and husband who cares deeply about his neighbors and friends. In the manic ravings of the humanities professors, however, he was pilloried as a “white supremacist,” a “misogynist,” a “racist,” and a “Holocaust denier.” The people going for his jugular were all self-styled elites with Ivy League degrees, shortlisted for prestigious book prizes, and proud to hold the “correct” opinions about whatever the topic at hand. The hate those people vomited up was beyond tribal. It was demonic. Sure, they used Twitter to spew it. But it came from darkened souls. I have seen it and felt it in the American academy for a long time. The political battles of the 1960s are over. There’s no politics of which to speak anymore. There’s no milk of human kindness to soothe jabs from sharp partisan elbows. There is an unthinking stampede, hellbent on trampling down whoever stands athwart the in-crowd to interject that perhaps it would be good to think things through. I wish I could say it was an honor to be despised by those exalted professors, but the truth is they are out for blood and will stop at nothing to purge the academy of dissent.

I hope Bob Filoramo is right. I hope we can hope. I know we should, but in my weakness and blindness I sometimes despair. I grew up in a decent country, where people were basically good to one another and nobody I knew actively hated anybody else. That was a sin, and we all knew it because the Bible told us so, and so did our priests on Sundays. The moral code of America was still more or less based on the commandments we all knew by heart, even if we didn’t always follow them all equally.

I turn on the news now, though — and maybe Prof. Stephan is right that the distortions should not be taken for truths — and I see a nation populated with Satanists, warmongers, mutilators of adolescent genitalia, sodomites, thieves, and people proud to hate their brothers and sisters with different-colored skin. I know there are still Oliver Anthonys out there, good ol’ boys who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. I know there are men of goodwill. They write letters to me in this magazine, and I thank them all.

And yet, I fear Mr. Filoramo is right in the prophecy that speaks clearly about that toward which my jeremiad only gestured. I fear that the persecution is coming, and is already here, and that the Gospel will be known from here on out only by those whom the rich men north of Richmond are throwing into prison as enemies of the exalted elites.

The Purpose of an Origins Story

Joseph Lewis Heil dreams of making the square of Darwinism compatible with the circle of intelligent design, but his dream never materializes because Darwin’s purpose was to show a purposeless universe whereas design means that the cosmos, including the mammalian heart Heil so exactingly describes, could only be made for a purpose.

Heil writes that Darwin did “not attempt to explain the beginnings of anything.” But going from inert matter to the simplest cell requires new, complex genetic information, like the information required for an organism to produce a heart, feathers, or fins. Darwin’s goal was to demonstrate that nature alone, relying on natural selection, spawned life. But natural selection is a weeding-out process from what already exists; it fails to explain the arrival of novelty, which is the purpose of an origins story.

Heil writes that “Darwin founded his account of distinct species’ origins on the idea that God created one life form (or very few life forms) on which natural selection could act.” D.H. Lawrence told us to “trust the tale and not the teller.” That is, Darwin, in attempting to make his theory more appealing, was pulling the same bait-and-switch his acolytes have pulled these past many years. As science historian Michael A. Flannery wrote in Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution From Natural Selection to Natural Theology [reviewed in the April 2020 NOR — Ed.], “Darwin’s allusion to Genesis in his phrase ‘breathed into a few forms or one,’” was wording that, as Darwin wrote to Joseph Hooker in 1863, “I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion & used Pentateuchal terms of creation.”

Darwin had a weak stomach, literally and figuratively. Witness his satisfaction at having Thomas Huxley, a.k.a. Darwin’s Bulldog, verbally attack his critics so he could appear to be a disinterested scientist. Thus, his letter to John Fordyce, which Heil uses to support his argument, is not to be trusted.

Darwinism, with its appeals to “scientific consensus,” is like climatism, more a conformist cult and much less a scientific endeavor.

Terry Scambray

Fresno, California

Joseph Lewis Heil’s article was a waste of four pages. Why? Because it recommends we tell children that a being intervened directly in the design of animals, plants, and other life forms instead of letting God’s invention of evolution achieve His desired ends. Heil advocates intelligent design, an explicitly nonscientific hypothesis scientists have no means of defining or testing that corrupts their fundamental assumption of explicitly natural explanations for all observations. He says not teaching intelligent design fails to open “children’s minds to all possibilities in search of truth.” Such a principle allows all manner of nonsense to be tolerated and taught in the interest of “opening minds.”

Heil writes that “mammals comprise a group of vertebrate animals that possess backbones and skeletal systems,” and “Among the thousands of vertebrate animals…all are classified as mammals.” Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates that are covered in fur and feed their offspring milk from mammary glands. To omit the defining characteristics of mammals in the opening paragraph of an article on a subject dealing with science sets aquiver all a reader’s alarm bells. Or is this just an instance of sloppy editing?

Heil writes that mammalian hearts are “the world’s only perpetual-motion machines.” There is both a falsehood (“only”) and an abuse of a term (there is no such thing as “perpetual motion”) in this statement. If a heart need only keep an animal alive to be a “perpetual-motion machine,” why don’t birds’ hearts and reptiles’ hearts qualify? And how “perpetual” is a life span? Not very long.

Heil claims that the variety of life observed on Earth cannot be explained by natural and sexual selection because we don’t know how life on Earth started. Darwin never claimed to explain how life began, and today’s scientists still don’t claim to know this. Our ignorance has no bearing on how some existing life forms change over time in the face of environmental and breeding pressures. In fact, it was those very forces that caused Tawa hallae and all its peers from the Late Triassic Period to develop from the animals that existed before them.

Heil claims that Darwin “had 66 million years and several surviving species after the calamitous asteroid event to prove his theory,” as if this theory did not apply to all the animals, plants, and other life forms before and after the calamitous event, and as if Darwin were limited to the animals of the past 66 million years.

In lieu of this useless flailing against the hypotheses of science, I recommend commissioning a writer to describe the implicit religion of scientism. For example, science has shown that Earth is not the center of our planetary system, that the Sun is not the center of the universe, and that evolution cannot have a goal. However, to continue the claim that we are not central to the universe, some scientists are inventing cyclical universes to avoid admitting there was an act of creation, postulating unfalsifiable multiple universes to address cosmological constant-tuning for our existence, proposing future artificial intelligences to explain our consciousness, and citing dark matter and dark energy to avoid our current incapacity to explain what we observe.

We religious conservatives worry that people are losing faith because of incomplete stories of reality, but that is no excuse for insisting we be allowed to corrupt the scientific process by inserting a nonscientific designer into science, and no excuse for creating another incomplete story of reality. We believe God created us and gave us a soul. Why isn’t that enough?

John Dyer

Vienna, Virginia

JOSEPH LEWIS HEIL REPLIES:

I regret that John Dyer regards my article as “a waste of four pages.” His reason, however, is an egregious misreading of the article. I never suggested that we teach children the origin story in Genesis. That’s creationism, not intelligent-design theory. On the contrary, I wrote, “The universal nature of the heart’s design leads to important scientific conclusions: first (and in confirmation of Darwin’s theory) is that Homo sapiens have evolved from those ancient, remnant mammals that survived the asteroid event.”

Dyer claims that intelligent design is “an explicitly nonscientific hypothesis scientists have no means of defining or testing.” Sir Fred Hoyle, father of the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and a professed atheist, wrote in his book The Universe: Past and Present Reflections that “some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006. When he received the results from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite about ripples in the space-time continuum showing incredible fine-tuning at the initial moment of creation, he called the discovery “the fingerprints of the Maker.”

Dyer criticizes my article for its abbreviated definition of mammals. But a longer one was not required for my argument. I suspect he was the only reader who was “set aquiver” by that omission.

I concede that it was a bit sloppy of me to claim perpetual motion for the mammalian heart, but I believe most readers got the point that the self-starting and self-sustaining human heart is sufficiently remarkable as to be worthy of the hyperbole I bestowed upon it.

Dyer also accuses me of claiming that “the variety of life observed on Earth cannot be explained by natural and sexual selection because we don’t know how life on Earth started.” That is his profound misreading. What I wrote was this: “After 66 million years and the evolution of thousands of distinct species, all mammalian hearts have retained the same arrangement, that is, a common, basic design.”

In response to Dyer’s characterization of my article as “useless flailing against the hypotheses of science,” I again cite my exact words: “Intelligent-design theory is banned as unscientific, but it is not. It accepts the evolution of the cosmos, as well as Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Utilizing that knowledge, it speculates about the cause of those realities.”

Lastly, Dyer and I share the belief that God created us and gave us a soul. Dyer, however, rhetorically asks, “Why isn’t that enough?” It isn’t enough because the human mind and heart relentlessly desire answers to all kinds of questions, scientific and philosophical ones.

I suggest that Dyer, and all who have an interest in science and what it has brought us to, read Fr. Robert Spitzer’s recent book Science at the Doorstep to God: Science and Reason in Support of God, the Soul, and Life after Death.

Fiction Must Not Contravene Logic or Dogma

I congratulate Joseph Bene­vento on his delightful short story “The Innkeeper’s Wife” (Dec.). After reading a couple paragraphs, I started over and read the entire thing aloud to my wife, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have only one misgiving. There are two instances in which Joseph mentions the Holy Spirit. At the time of the story’s setting, the triune nature of God had not yet been revealed to man. It was an eternal truth, yet it was awaiting revelation to us by the Son of Man. So the existence of the Holy Spirit could not have been known by anyone at least until the newborn babe acquired the capacity for speech.

Fiction is wonderful stuff. It fires the imagination, making points that are otherwise difficult or impossible to convey, filling voids where actual facts are unknown, or revealing a truth beneath the actual plot line of history. There’s fiction in Scripture, such as in the books of Tobit, Job, and Jonah, each with its own agenda. But to my way of thinking, fiction ought never to contravene certain knowledge or logical consistency.

Jim Rice

Arlington, Texas

I was taken aback when reading the way Joseph Benevento portrays the birth of Jesus. One of the few dogmas of the Church, which all Catholics are required to believe, is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This teaching means that Mary was not subject to Original Sin and consequently would not experience pain in childbearing. She was free from the curse God gave to the woman in Eden: “I shall give you intense pain in childbearing, you will give birth to your children in pain” (Gen. 3:16).

Maureen Gunn

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Canada

JOSEPH BENEVENTO REPLIES:

To Jim Rice

My short story “The Innkeeper’s Wife,” which is taken from one of the chapters of my novel My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son, is a fictional account of the Holy Family from the viewpoint of St. Joseph. Although the Jewish people had no belief in a Holy Trinity, they did include as one of their names for the divine Ruach-Ha-Kodesh, which can be translated as “Holy Spirit.” Moreover, the Angel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk. 1:35). So I feel comfortable that Mary and Joseph could have discussed the power of God as Ruach-Ha-Kodesh, even though they would not have had knowledge of the Catholic concept of the Holy Trinity.

To Maureen Gunn

I see that you took offense to my portraying the Blessed Mother as having suffered the normal pain women experience in childbirth. You cite the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as proof that my story is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. But I’m confident that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not insist that Mary did not suffer pain in childbirth; that is a supposition many assume is part of the dogma when, in fact, it is not.

“The Innkeeper’s Wife” and the novel it comes from are both works of fiction and do not purport to be the literal truth; nevertheless, it is not inconsistent with Catholic doctrine or dogma to imagine that Mary had to suffer some of what all women suffer in childbirth. We must believe that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, that she remained sinless throughout her life, and that she was assumed into Heaven, but not that she was exempt from normal human suffering. Rather, my novel and story make a consistent attempt to celebrate the full humanity of Mary and Joseph. In fact, my book has been sharply criticized by a few Baptist ministers precisely because of how “perfect” Mary is presented to be. They believe she was a sinner and that only Jesus was perfect. My novel sticks strictly to all Catholic belief regarding Mary.

What We Have Lost

By his own admission, the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, was not the primary topic of Donald Lospinuso’s evocative article, “‘Not as the World Giveth’” (Dec.), but it serves admirably as a symbol of a recent past, which saw so many priestly vocations that some men seeking admission to that seminary had to be sent elsewhere because its 200-plus rooms were full.

The building is still there. The 220-acre parcel of land on which it stands still breathes an air of loveliness and tranquility. Permanent deacons are educated and formed there in preparation for their ordination. Each year, thousands of retreatants spend days, weekends, and sometimes longer periods in what ceased to be an active seminary about 15 years ago after it merged with St. Joseph’s in Yonkers. The theological library, housed on the fourth floor of the building, where Lospinuso spent so much time perusing old volumes of The Tablet, the Brooklyn diocesan newspaper, is, as he indicated, mostly quiet and unused, but it remains a treasure trove of memories, documented and preserved — at least for now.

From The Tablet Lospinuso culls stories of men and women, some legendary to us who grew up on Long Island and are familiar with Brooklyn diocesan lore, who, to paraphrase Lospinuso, poor themselves, gave of their meager wealth in order to help persons poorer than they, and who as priests, nuns, brothers, and laymen decided to become missionaries, traveling to the most remote, inhospitable parts of the earth.

The supertitle of Lospinuso’s article, “The Lost Civilization of American Catholicism,” perhaps colored my interpretation of what he had to say. Like so much of what is written comparing the pre- and post-Vatican II Church, Lospinuso’s words sound like a lament for “the good old days,” a lament to which I confess a good bit of sympathy. Nevertheless, I was struck by the fact that the Catholic civilization Lospinuso so movingly evoked collapsed seemingly overnight. Could it have been as strong and genuine as it appeared to have been and yet have come to an end so quickly? As far back as 1969, Joseph Ratzinger predicted the collapse in a remarkably prescient and prophetic talk. Fulton Sheen, in the 1950s, spoke about the West’s worshiping a cross-less Christ, in contrast to communist Russia, which worshiped a Christ-less cross. Institutions, like persons, can look wonderfully well while being riddled with cancer or, to recall T.S. Eliot’s haunting warning, can “do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

In a basement chapel at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception (which retains the name, if not the reality) there is an extraordinary mosaic of Christ the King enthroned at the end of the world. He holds a Bible in one hand, the pages facing out, the following words on those pages: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Strewn at His feet is the debris, including a bishop’s miter and broken crozier, of fallen civilizations. The story goes that when Bishop Thomas Edmund Molloy, who implemented the building of the seminary, came to view the finished product, he was delighted with everything — until he was brought to the Bishop’s Chapel and saw the mosaic. We probably all treasure the trinkets of this world out of proportion to their real worth and capacity to endure. Why should a bishop be any different?

On my desk I keep a reminder to avoid that temptation. It’s a plaque on which are written the words (in English) inscribed over the three great doors of the magnificent Milan Cathedral in Italy: “All that is pleasing is passing. All that is painful is passing. All that matters is eternal.” Perhaps that is what Lospinuso meant in saying the dead, memorialized in those yellowed, decades-old volumes of The Tablet, live and will always live. “And this, too,” he concludes, “is peace,” a fitting and comforting close to a bittersweet article.

Msgr. Charles Fink

Notre Dame Church

New Hyde Park, New York

Caution should be exercised while reading Donald Lospinuso’s article on “The Lost Civilization of American Catholicism.” His reportage might enrage you at what was lost — needlessly lost.

Emotion runs high with each passing paragraph. Lospinuso sets our feet in a past Catholic world that seems too good to have been true. His article is elegiac without being sorrowful, though sorrow follows closely as he reminds us of the splendors of the pre-1965 world of Golden Catholicism, now simply a memory. It was a Church stitched together by a Catholic population of clerics and laity who basked in the glories of the faith. It was a time when Roman Catholicism unabashedly trumpeted the high aspirations of sanctification through virtue, penance, and prayer — a Catholicism pulsating with a majesty that brought men to the point of intoxication. Its sacred liturgy, its churches and schools, universities and colleges, seminaries and convents, hospitals and vast system of good works left men awed. Lospinuso carries us back to this wondrous world through the lens of a tiny part of the Church Universal — the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Center in Long Island — and, more specifically, through his friend Msgr. James W. Asip.

The good Monsignor was a model priest in an age that burst with model priests. Lospinuso’s descriptions of this exemplary priest (as well as scores of others) leaves the reader emotionally rent. But he doesn’t stop with Msgr. Asip. He gives accounts of other priests, each surpassing the other in heroic virtue.

Lospinuso spent many hours carefully perusing The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan weekly (at that time covering all of Long Island as well, since the erection of the new diocese had not yet taken place), in which “nearly every issue” featured “a report of a new church, school, convent, hospital, or other institution, or additions to existing ones, and in some weeks more than one,” with artists’ sketches accompanying “the announcement of a plan or campaign or groundbreaking, and drawings and photographs of a completed building at its dedication.” Ironically, Lospinuso read these back issues in the library of a former seminary that shut its doors years ago due to a lack of vocations.

One of the high points of the article is when Lospinuso treats us to part of a speech to lawyers delivered by Fr. Laurence McGinley, president of Fordham University in 1952. It was a typical Jesuit tour de force on America’s decline, owing to her forgetfulness of the natural moral law. Yes, that was Fordham. O tempora! O mores!

Lospinuso’s article raises the question: Why did this idyllic Catholic world vanish? Why did such a robust Church, teeming with vocations, dedicated laity, and storybook priests and nuns, require an “update”? Why did a Church bellowing the need for sanctity and works of charity need fixing?

It seems the Church should have been left alone to flourish and cover the earth, for it was a Church mirroring the Face of God, a Church bringing His glorious Face to the world.

Fr. John A. Perricone

Secaucus, New Jersey

I thoroughly enjoyed “‘Not as the World Giveth,’” not only for its content but for its ancillary emphasis on the import of archival preservation. As a researcher, I envy Donald Lospinuso’s hours “searching for the remnants and traces, the documentations of a lost civilization.” As a historian, I lament that the library where he did his digging has since closed to the public.

I hope the “enormous tomes” Lospinuso handled haven’t since been cast into the dumpster. The closure of Catholic libraries, seminaries, convents, monasteries, churches, and schools has put the original documents of our rich history at risk of such a fate.

Determining whether the answer is digitization, combining archives under a diocesan or congregational umbrella, or something else is the task of the annual Preserving Our Heritage Summit begun in 2022 in Pittsburgh. The summit, sponsored by the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, brings together archivists and historians from all-places-Catholic in Western Pennsylvania to address this great concern. The next summit will take place on May 3 at Duquesne University.

I hope similar steps are being taken in other parts of the country. As our institutions are transformed for the future, we need to find ways to protect the past from the same fate as morning coffee grounds.

James K. Hanna, Vice President

Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania

250 Roscommon Pl., McMurray, PA 15317

DONALD LOSPINUSO REPLIES:

Fr. John A. Perricone’s letter is gratifying to me because it was written by someone very knowledgeable about history and dedicated to the Church and her traditions. He gives voice to an indignation that is entirely natural, understandable, and admirable over the tragic loss of so much. Would that more would experience it, but even more that they would share his appreciation for those inspired and inspiring persons I hoped to introduce through my article.

I applaud the efforts of James K. Hanna and his associates, and I would welcome such endeavors in Eastern Pennsylvania and all four corners of every state of the Union where the Catholic Church was planted and cultivated.

Msgr. Charles Fink’s appreciative words are most welcome, and I am rewarded by the idea that he is like the one in the Parable of the Two Thieves in my article’s first paragraph who sees what is precious and treasures what he finds. The good Monsignor then raises the questions on the minds of so many of why and how what he calls the “collapse” of the Church occurred, and so quickly, and he provides a rather definite view. About this I would like to give some commentary.

The word Lost in the supertitle of my article, though it contains overtones and undertones of sensibility and emotion, is primarily intended as descriptive. When archeologists unearthed a village, a city, a civilization in, say, Egypt or Mesopotamia, they had no nostalgia or thought of “the good old days,” and no premature knowledge of the effects their findings might have on anyone either immediately or with time. Their findings might have no influence at all or they might lead to protean transformations — or anything in between. All historical research has this triple potentiality as to its outcome, which cannot be predetermined.

When considering times as recently as 50 to 100 years in the past, and places identical for the researchers and subjects, you would think, because of the proximities of time and space, such research would be simple and easy. Yet an apparently unbridgeable gulf may exist, owing to a lack of imaginative sympathy. A worthy goal, then, of historical investigations is to promote bridge-building through the development of such sympathies. This has been one of my goals.

Msgr. Fink makes specific assertions about which I have questions. Was Joseph Ratzinger speaking about the Church in Europe or did he have the American Church in mind? What did he know of the American Church? As Pope Benedict XVI, he is perhaps best known for his interpretive method of seeing “continuity,” and does this not imply the endeavor to understand, recapture, and treasure the ages prior to the Second Vatican Council? Doesn’t this obviously mean there existed that which deserves such attention and respect?

Was Fulton Sheen (recall that he was head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and one of the most popular media stars of his day) speaking of the Catholic Church or was he giving an appraisal similar to Patrick Scanlon’s about the United Nations Organization (as it was then known) or Fr. Laurence McGinley’s about the personal, legal, and international consequences of a rejection of the natural law?

What was the context of T.S. Eliot’s statement? How does it apply specifically to the generalization of a pervasive lack of genuineness (likened to a cancer) for which no proof is offered, but which, to be quite direct, may very likely (especially for the uninformed, weak, or timid) have the effect of “poisoning the wells” of discourse, something John Henry Newman, in prefacing his Apologia, identified as a major obstacle to his clearing himself from the accusations of mendacity presumed by his detractors?

From what source is the anecdote about Bishop Molloy taken? A word about the good Bishop, someone pretty much unknown to the inheritors of the very dioceses to which he was a model of what a bishop ought to be: Msgr. Asip knew him personally, was ordained by him, and always spoke of him with the greatest respect. A school is named Archbishop Molloy High School. Why “Archbishop” since Brooklyn is not an archdiocese? Pope Pius XII had such veneration for him that he bestowed the title in pectore. Every indication I have seen is that such reverence was more than warranted.

Msgr. Fink may be giving voice to the desperation many experience when confronting the catastrophic, that something must have been wrong, that some internal necessity can be found that is explanatory. If any explanation can be found, the quest for it requires great historical investigation always informed by the requirements of justice: justice toward each and every person. Generalization and overreaching characterization should be studiously avoided, especially those of a dismissing or disparaging nature. Doubtless, saints have lived in every age. Among the “multitude, which no man can number,” are the benefactress in her wooden tenement and Modesto the leper in his hut.

All the questions raised above cannot be addressed here, but I hope discussion about them will continue. I trust this can occur because Msgr. Fink uses the humble word perhaps and expresses consolation toward the end of his letter, and this uncertainty and this hopefulness provide the open door to understanding some of my intentions in my article.

Overthrowing a Corrupt Regime

In his review of Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future (Dec.), John Médaille does a good job of explaining Patrick J. Deneen’s critique of America’s ruling elite. Where Médaille fails is in understanding and appreciating Deneen’s proposals for “regime change” and how to achieve it.

Deneen finds much to fault in the so-called conservative challenge to rule by the liberal elite. He makes the case that libertarianism and neoconservatism (major influences in the current conservative movement) are incapable of mounting a challenge to the rule of the liberal elite because, at their core, they are not really conservative but reflect different forms of liberalism.

The only real solution to the failed liberal agenda is to replace it with a “common good conservatism” that reflects the concerns of a majority of Americans. As Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio aptly put it, “Deneen does more than show how our present ruling class has declared war on beauty, tradition, and the social institutions that make life worth living; he articulates a vision for a populist politics that can rebuild what has been torn down.”

America faces two diametrically opposed forces: the cultural elite and the popular majority. The counterculture of the 1960s has become the dominant culture of today and has imposed on America a secular, liberal agenda. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans still retain their Christian, conservative roots, but those roots are under constant attack. The late political philosopher Willmoore Kendall referred to this majority as being “conservative in their hips.”

Deneen understands that the only real solution to this crisis is to depose the liberal elite and replace it with an elite committed to the advancement of the principles of a “common good conservatism.”

The task will not be easy. The liberal elites will not give up their power readily. To succeed, conservatives must act as guerilla warriors in this struggle to overthrow a corrupt regime that is rotten to the core.

Médaille attacks Deneen for his advocacy of using “Machiavellian means to achieve Aristotelian ends,” implying that Deneen favors immoral means to achieve this end. That is an unfair criticism. There is a passage in the Bible, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I think what Deneen is driving at in using Machiavelli as a reference is that we are in the fight of our lives and must turn the Left’s tactics against them. If you want to win this fight against the ruling elite, you must outsmart and outmaneuver the liberal regime. Things will get messy in the process, and we had better be prepared for it. Either we win or the Left wins. There can be no compromise.

Médaille also dismisses Deneen’s specific examples of proposed reforms as “just another exercise in academic idealism.” I beg to differ as one who spent many decades in political battles against the Left. Getting rid of big money’s control of our political system is necessary for regime change. Deneen proposes “using caucuses rather than party primaries” to nominate party candidates and “enlarging the number of Congressmen.” These moves would help greatly to reduce the influence of big money. His suggestion that boards of trustees get active in changing the make-up of the overwhelmingly liberal administration and faculty at most of our colleges and universities is essential for “regime change.”

America is in rapid decline and is doomed to become a post-Christian society unless we wake up and take back our country. Deneen has sounded the alarm and is charging ahead. Let us not be timid at this moment of crisis.

Tom Pauken

Dallas, Texas

JOHN MÉDAILLE REPLIES:

I thank Tom Pauken for his careful reading of my review. Nevertheless, I find much of his response perplexing in light of both what Patrick J. Deneen’s book actually says and what the cultural/political situation actually is. I believe we are all agreed — Prof. Deneen, Mr. Pauken, and I — that there is no real “conservatism” in America. As Deneen noted in his previous book, Why Liberalism Failed, American politics are largely an argument between left-wing and right-wing versions of liberalism. What American “conservatism” actually conserves are the values of the Enlightenment as understood by the Founders and interpreted by the corporate elites. Deneen proposes replacing this with what he calls a “common good conservatism.”

That’s where the problems begin. The content of this “conservatism” is never defined. Deneen seems to identify it, at a general level, with Benjamin Disraeli’s Tory paternalism, or “Tory Socialism,” if you will, but this program has been largely accomplished in Western Europe and, to a far lesser degree, in the United States. But in neither place has it addressed the problems that trouble Pauken and Deneen. It may well be that the majority really holds to this “common good conservatism,” but without a definition of what that is, or evidence that the majority actually holds it, no one can make an informed judgment. Theorizing apart from definitions and evidence is a dangerous habit of mind.

Pauken believes this is a battle between “the cultural elite and the popular majority,” and that the “counterculture of the 1960s has become the dominant culture of today and has imposed on America a secular, liberal agenda.” This is perplexing for a variety of reasons. In the first place, a majority of Baby Boomers went for Trump; indeed, they provided his margin of “victory,” such as it was. But further, the “popular majority” supports, by wide margins, such things as abortion, same-sex marriage, workplace equality for women, separation of church and state, and all the major elements of the “secular, liberal agenda.” And though Pauken might believe these were “imposed” on us, the truth is otherwise: they were not “imposed” on us; they were sold to us. The one thing capitalism does well is marketing. And this talent is reinforced because the one thing Catholics and Evangelicals do poorly is evangelize. In the contest between their marketing and our evangelization, the capitalists win every time. In a consumerist culture, superior marketing takes the prize. But this consumerist, capitalist culture, the culture that gives our opponents the advantage, is never addressed.

The language of “imposed” has another effect: It leads to the mindset that says, “If they imposed this on us, we may impose something on them, and by any means necessary.” This brings us to the dark idea of Machiavellian aristopopulism. Pauken says I “implied” that “Deneen favors immoral means to achieve [his] end.” I implied no such thing; I stated it outright. There are, of course, benign interpretations of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, but all concede its consequentialism, its bias toward a might-makes-right and an end-justifies-the-means morality, and surely such a morality is the opposite of conservatism. It was not for nothing that The Prince was put on the Index of Forbidden Books. And being called immoral by a Medici pope is the equivalent of being called ugly by a frog.

Regardless, Deneen himself excludes the benign interpretation when he quotes approvingly Machiavelli’s praises of the violence of the civil war in Rome when, the contemporary historians tell us, the gutters ran red with blood. Talk about “imposing” your ideas! I know of no history that says these events led to a “common good conservatism”; quite the opposite: the elites won.

Pauken would justify Machiavellian politics with a biblical quote about being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In a contest of Best Proof-Texting of the Bible, this would take home all the awards. Pauken concludes by saying, “Things will get messy in the process.” Well, yes, they would: blood-running-in-the-gutters messy. It is not a promising program and certainly will not lead to a “common good conservatism,” but more likely to a new Terror and to a new Vendée-Vengé.

Pauken says we should get rid of “big money’s control of our political system,” and on this point, we are in absolute agreement. But I am surprised. Control of political spending has never been part of the right-wing agenda. Quite the opposite. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision gutted campaign-finance controls, and corporate spending subsequently exploded. It allowed for “dark” money, totally anonymous contributions, so that now we are not permitted to know the name of the man shouting “fire” in the crowded theater. I would be more than happy to join Pauken and Deneen in a campaign to overturn this decision and get reasonable controls in place. Whether we could get anyone on the Right to join us is another question.

Pauken wants to hand the appointment of college faculty and administration to boards of trustees. But this is perplexing, as those boards are usually made up of members in good standing of the corporate elite. It’s regarded as a reward for fundraising or for just being rich. So, we will overturn elitism by giving the elites greater control of the universities? I fail to see how that would work. If Deneen is serious about being an anti-neoconservative, he ought to be careful of what he wishes for. I am old enough to remember when William F. Buckley Jr. made this same suggestion in God and Man at Yale, which he stated in purely consumerist terms: “The alumni, as the purchasers and consumers of Yale’s product, and as the supporters of Yale through their contributions, deserved the same sovereignty as did the consumer in the marketplace.” Russell Kirk responded to such educational consumerism with Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition. Surely, we would not classify Kirk among the liberals or the neocons.

Finally, Pauken complains that we are “doomed to become a post-Christian society.” That already happened long ago when we became a liberal capitalist and consumerist society along the lines laid out by John Locke. Indeed, what passes for “conservatism” today is largely 19th-century liberalism. But this is not a subject modern conservatives, with some exceptions, are willing to address. Instead, they align with the capitalists, asking only for a religious veneer on an essentially liberal culture.

Deneen’s answer is an “aristopopulism” in which the mob would rule, but a mob “tutored” by “aristocrats” — meaning, presumably, intellectuals from the University of Notre Dame — while the intellectuals would be “disciplined” by the mob. How such a scheme would actually work, he doesn’t tell us; he offers no historical parallel — outside the civil war in Rome — and no practical way to put it into practice. This is simply ivory-tower theorizing. And if that weren’t enough, in a book on elites, Deneen gives us no definition of elites, no account of what function they perform or by what means they change. And in a book titled Regime Change, he gives us no historical examples of regime change, and certainly not one occasioned by a “Machiavellian aristopopulism.” In other words, his book fails on its own terms.

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